Mind-numbing Numbers


What is it like to sell 10 million copies of your books? I found it mind-boggling until I recently watched the Jackie Collins documentary. She sold 500 million copies of her 32 novels. But, hold on, Barbara Cartland wrote 723 romances and sold over a billion of them.

I recently interviewed Jane Green, who wrote a chick lit book “for fun” and went on to pen 20 more romance novels. She’s the author who sold the 10 million copies, and every title was a New York Times bestseller. I guess the numbing numbers are all relative when you consider that many other writers’ sales are up in the stratosphere, too.

The way the book business is these days sudden fame and fortune can appear out of nowhere, even after you’ve given up hope.  J.K. Rowling wrote and self-published two books, one a Harry Potter, that went nowhere until a publisher picked it up from a bin in a secondhand bookstore as something to read on the train, as the story goes.

Fifty Shades by EL James, was also self-published as an eBook on an obscure Australian online blog site, The Writer’s Coffee Shop, until the novel was scooped up by traditional publisher Random House. The erotic novel subsequently sold 15.2 million copies. It is now a trilogy. Back in 2016 the original online publishers, two ladies, were fighting over royalties of the books in a Texas courthouse. It appears to be a tangled web as the plaintiff was a school teacher who claimed she was “done wrong” as Eliza would say, regarding her share of royalties. Which begs the question: why should the Coffee Shop blog owners receive royalties rather than a one-time fee?  My research failed to answer such questions, especially one on how Texas and the Coffee Shop, based in a Sydney suburb, became embroiled in a lawsuit in the U.S.  It sure sounds like a jolly interesting plot for a murder mystery.

Do I find it daunting to read about such sales? Do you? Should these figures encourage us to keep writing? Happily, I feel neither jealousy nor resentment. The more people are reading, the more they will buy books, although one is tempted to throw a few sex scenes into the mix.

Since moving to Connecticut and just an hour from New York City that throbs with best-selling authors, I feel inspired to keep going and in fact, I am resurrecting the Tosca mysteries between marketing the memoir I just published. It will be great to get back to creating a chilling murder after writing about aviation art.

There are book clubs galore here along the Eastern seaboard with Very Earnest Members, although I am still searching for one that discusses crime novels. Sisters In Crime Conneticut is a start.  I know there are some book clubs online but after two years locked up I am relishing attending meetings in person.

As for book sales, I think of the tortoise and the hare and I plod along, blessed by the fact that I am able to write as freely as I wish without worrying about numbers or having a publisher breathing down my neck. A local writer said his Big Five publisher made him change his POV twice, and another writer confessed she was forced to rewrite her ending to suit the Highly Important Editor. Thomas Wolfe is famous for arguing incessantly with his editor, Maxwell Perkins, about cutting his classic Look Homeward, Angel down to a reasonable word count from the 333,000 words Wolfe is said to have written, but it worked and the result was magnificent. It continues to sell today. As it should.

Your thoughts on the big bucks?



Image by kalhh from Pixabay 


Weather…Or Not?

The extent to whether or not weather should influence a plot line, or impact a character’s actions, is a writing line of thought I’m currently pondering right now on my “writer’s road…” And why? Could it be my thoughts about how important setting is are still nagging at me?  Indeed, climate, which consequently influences what the characters and readers see. But how about what our characters do?

My personal example from my current WIP is—does Leiv proceed forward in the 100◦ weather he’s experiencing, or does he demand Glover take him back to Shiné, and not meet the Packston sisters? Does he instead (as I’m writing it), hurry into the house, and consequently really appreciates the ice tea being served and think. “Thank goodness,and what a nice lady for seeing how flinging hot I am…” Indeed, and this may sound nitpicky, but I’ve found myself fussing at a book I was reading that the character should have been motivated in a completely different direction by the weather! In my defense, I really want a reader to enjoy the story in a way that brings pleasure to them.

Having lived in both Washington States’overcast and rainy Puget Sound, and California’s moderate bay area: and having been born and raised in cold windy Chicago, and now living in and loving the sometimes blazing Mojave, I do accept for myself, “yes,” maybe I would have done some things differently if I’d paid attention to the weather. Hmm…

Bottom line on my current WIP from my meandering weather thoughts is, Leiv is going to do a completely different action than I first wrote (months ago.) And, his weather related changes will also change the ending. But I think for sure, his character is stronger and more admirable for the weather directed action he takes early on.

My thoughts have further led me to thinking back on my earlier books self-critique—such as my Pacific Northwest setting and California’s Ridgecrest area, and now out here in the Mojave…makes me think I personally need to enhance the aspect of Mojave weather affecting my heroes and villains on more levels and in more ways than before. And my queens of murder mystery(Ngaio, Agatha, etc.–who are always in my mind) don’t make a big deal about weather…or do they? I need to take a rereading deep dive(smile), or binge on DVDs and Brit Box! Research(smile)

All thoughts are welcome.

Also, this post is sooo short because it’s still hot, IN OCTOBER, and zapping my energy, ha, ha….

Happy Writing Trails

Endings: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

by Jackie Houchin

There are many kinds of endings – your years in school or college, work (retirement), the last chemo session, the last crumbs in the cookie jar, cereal box, coffee canister, friendships and marriages, letters, books (reading or writing), payments on your home or car, a movie episode or series on TV, the ink in a favorite pen, a headache or toothache, a lovely vacation, a calendar, a blog.

Some endings you are grateful for, some leave you sorrowful, nostalgic, or simply inconvenienced. And with some, you are relieved and satisfied. You brush your hands together, stand up tall, and walk away. You’ll “think about it another day,” as Scarlett O’Hare so famously said.


Of course, this is a blog by and about writers, writing, publishing, marketing, and even for some (like me) reading and reviewing books.  Writers LOVE to type “The End” on a manuscript, be it a lengthy tome, a 3,000-word short story, or a 600-word review. There is a sense of accomplishment. And as writers, we hope those endings appeal to our readers and keep them coming back for more.  As readers, we want to be surprised, entertained, and yes, satisfied that the bad guy got caught, the mystery was solved, or the romance was sealed with a kiss and a ring.

Can you think of a book whose ending you absolutely loved for whatever reason? Mention it in the comments below.  Or one that was the worst ever – so bad that you threw the book across the room, or directly into the trash?

If you are a writer, how will you end the book (story, article, review) that you are working on right now?  Can you give us a hint?


A few of us here have discussed the demise of this blog at the end of 2022.  Oh, we still have some good posts lined up for you from us six “Writers In Residence” as well as a helpful guest blogger in November.

We would LOVE to hear your thoughts. Don’t just “massage our egos” but tell us outright how you feel. Would you miss reading this blog each Wednesday?  Or is it with a big sigh and resolute determination that you log on, once again?

If we vote for another year of The Writers in Residence, what topics would you like to see upcoming?  Are there guest bloggers you would love to hear from?  Is there someone you’d especially like for us to interview?  Would you enjoy some kind of quiz or giveaway (be specific!)?

Interests change, we know, and readers have less time to visit and perluse blogs. Maybe there are other venues that pique their interests or grab their attention. Is that you?  If so, please be honest.

What say ye? Please leave thoughts and suggestions in the comments section, or share them with any of us on Facebook.

The End

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash


Let’s Talk about Dialogue

By Gayle Bartos-Pool

Aristotle That Aristotle guy was smart. He understood the basics in writing a story: Plot, Character, Dialogue, Setting, and the Meaning of the story. If the writer doesn’t address all those points… what’s the point of the story? Of course you have to have a Plot. Something’s got to happen. And without people or even a furry face, there is nobody to watch as they uncover those twists and turns. Without a Setting you have no place to wander through while the main characters are exploring that environment. And without a Meaning to the story the reader is going to wonder: Why am I here?


But what about Dialogue? That is the way each character tells the reader who they are and even sometimes explains what that environment looks like in personal terms. Remember, one character might see a desert as a wasteland while another might see it as a beautiful vista. That being said, dialog can be tricky. Ask an actor who has to interpret those words and make their character have personality and not be just another passenger on the bus. I learned this lesson when I took acting lessons back in California.


There was a time I thought I would write for the movies and television. Yeah, me and about ten million other people. In California, half the people you meet want to be actors, the other half want to write for the silver screen. I thought a good way to see what these actors needed from a screenwriter was to take acting lessons and learn firsthand. I actually learned a lot from the acting teachers I had.


The first teacher was actor Bruce Glover. What a character, and I say that with deep respect. He was in the movie Diamonds are Forever with Sean Connery. He played one half of the “killer” duo that wanted those diamonds and did whatever they could to retrieve them. The patter between Glover’s Mr. Wint and Puffer Smith’s Mr. Kidd was reminiscent of the old Vaudeville act featuring the song: “Absolutely, Mr. Gallagher. Positively, Mr. Shean” in the movie Ziegfeld Girl 1941.

Glover took that a step further and made sure his character had not only the delivery right, but he did a little bit of business so the camera picked up on his actions. Don’t they say: Actions speak louder than words?

typewriter-and-deskSo as a writer you need to give your character something to say that fits his or her character, but also have them do something that nails that character while they are speaking. Whether you are putting those words on the page to be read in a book or writing a scene for a movie, describe those characters with words unique to them and give them something unique to do. And I don’t mean just your main characters. Why have somebody show up on the page or in a scene who adds nothing to the story. If you don’t want to add a superfluous character, have someone literally send a telegram and then let an established character read it out loud. But remember, when they’re reading that message let them give it some personality… it’s either good news (slap your thigh)… or bad news (cringe)… or it’s a disaster (dive under the table!)



Ladies sitting around having tea and mentioning the great weather doesn’t move the story.

Ladies sitting around having tea, mentioning the weather and the latest fashion doesn’t move the story, either.


                        But how about this…

Ladies sitting around having tea, mentioning the weather, talking about the view, noticing the flower arrangements in the restaurant and the latest fashion being worn by other guests doesn’t move the story until one of the ladies finally says: “Let’s stop talking about nothing and talk about Sarah’s murder. Somebody killed her and we’re going to find out who did it.” Now that gets the ball rolling.


Let’s explore the last example. We can see/hear the ladies chatting. Each character’s view of her surroundings will tell us a little about that character whether one lady is envious of someone’s very expensive outfit or they notice the guy this other lady is with and they know he isn’t her husband. Meow!


Or how about the lady who thinks the prices on the menu are a tad too high and she reveals that her husband just lost his job.


Or maybe one lady doesn’t want to mention that the handsome guy coming in the door of the restaurant with the little floozy used to be her boyfriend, but one of the other women points it out in a catty remark.


But the gal who wants to get down to the important things like who killed their friend is setting the story off in another direction. And what if all the ladies are raring to go to solve the crime except one of their group who is hesitant. She doesn’t say much or maybe says nothing. Does she know more about this than she’s willing to admit? What if our main character picks up on that lack of comment and confronts her later? Or maybe somebody else confronts her and one of them turns up dead?


What they say… or what they don’t say. That’s part of Dialogue. And their actions as well. Sometimes actions do speak louder than words. What if the quiet one excuses herself early from their tea and the next thing we hear is that one lady’s home was broken into and that someone just might have something to do with the death of poor Sarah?


Ah, Dialogue. That Aristotle, who was born in 384 B.C., knew of what he spoke. Words have consequences. And how they are delivered can even change their meaning. How about this: two versions of the exact same Dialogue.


First Version: A guy and a gal are on a date. He has been a little free with his affections with another lady and she knows about it, but she will forgive him.

He says, “I’m sorry I was such a fool, Gwen. It’ll never happen again. I’m crazy about you.”

She says, “I’m just mad about you, too, Harry,” she responded, touching his face lovingly, seeing the love in his eyes.


Compare it to this version:

He says, “I’m sorry I was such a fool, Gwen. It’ll never happen again. I’m crazy about you.” He says this while looking off in another direction.

She says, “I’m just mad about you, too, Harry,” she responded, grinding her cigarette into the plate of uneaten lobster.


Does Harry have a chance in version two? Probably not.

What a character says and how he says it and what he is doing while he is saying it tells a story.


So, as you write Dialogue always ask yourself:

                        Does it advance the story?

                        Does it enhance the story?

                        Is it redundant? Is it redundant?


Write On!

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