Building a Platform – Days 7 & 8

Day #7

Paddle Your Own Boat. Submit articles to on-line writers’ magazines or write for your local weekly newspaper. You can submit book reviews or articles on local writers like yourself, or maybe cover community news or write special interest articles. Write newsletter articles for the groups to which you belong. You will be writing and people will be seeing your name in print.

As a freelance reporter, you can get out there and talk to people, the very people who just might show up at your first book launch. You will be somebody who is doing something in your community rather than sitting back and waiting for things to float your way. Paddle your own boat and you will get to your goal a lot faster.

Day #8

Planning Ahead. Okay, you have honed a few skills, maybe you have even sold a short story or two. You are contemplating the time when that brilliant publisher realizes that you have a publishable book and snaps you up. You will finally have something in print with your name on it. Hooray.

Question: What will you do then?

Answer: Find people who want to read it.

Problem: You didn’t think about this part earlier.

Solution: Let’s think about it now.

Selling one book at a time at a local bookstore might be a little slow. How about finding a group of people who might be interested in your particular subject matter? Sue Ann Jaffarian’s protagonist, Odellia Grey in Booby Trap, is a pleasantly plump paralegal. Sue Ann speaks at paralegal conventions. And lawyer conventions. She parlayed her real life job skills into a series of novels and then doubled down to promote herself and her books at conferences featuring the vary same people. That’s a good marketing technique.

Say you wrote about a “super chef/sleuth.” You might try asking a cooking utensil convention to let you come and speak. Or a food convention. Or a cruise line that caters to caterers. Find groups of people with whom you have a connection. If your protagonist is over forty (or maybe even in their sixties), try senior citizen groups. If your plot centers around the aerospace industry, ask NASA if you can speak at their next get-together.

So, planning ahead sounds like a good idea, doesn’t it? You might even rearrange your plot to put some big business entity in it (in a good light) just so you can be invited to their next convention.

Market your book and yourself. Examine your skills, talents, interests, previous or current job and see how they can be used to promote that book of yours. Remember: you want to sell books, but mostly, you want to sell yourself.

An Interview with Web Designer Rick Taylor

We are pleased to have with us Web Designer Rick Taylor. If you would like to take a peek at a sample of Rick’s work, you can check out our own Jackie Houchin’s web site. And, in full disclosure, Rick is currently putting together a web site for me. If you’re worried that you aren’t very good at conveying images, I am the most visually impaired (creatively) person I know, and Rick hasn’t offed me yet! So without further ado, I give you the infinitely patient Rick Taylor!

What are some of the purposes of a web site and the advantages to having one?

First I’d like to thank you for this opportunity to be interviewed for the Writer’s in Residence web site, Jackie, and I want all of the readers to know I’ll be happy to answer any question we do not cover here today.

All right, some of the purposes of a web site include personal pages such as family photo sharing and e-mail, to e-commerce business applications where folks can buy your product and have it shipped to them. One of the most popular uses of a web site these days is to host a blog site, such as Writer’s in Residence.

There are many advantages to having a web site, whether it is a free blog or a paid solution. Free sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Photo Bucket are perfect for friends to share updates about their lives, post photos, and keep in touch. These sites are also a good means of promoting professional web sites as well.

As for having a custom web site for your business, it is downright essential nowadays. More and more, even if you do business in person, your clients will look you up online for detailed information about your services. It is important to have a professional web site in order to build brand recognition and confidence.

Are there any new trends in websites that you can tell us about?

In the 15 years that I have been watching web site trends, the enduring and most important one has been to make web sites more useful—to make them do more for the end user. In 1994 when the Internet was first opened to the public, most sites were nothing more than a vanity page or business card. Now you can purchase anything and everything online, seeing it in various styles and colors before making your choice.

As a web designer, you have to be part techno geek, part creative genius, and part therapist. What information and suggestions should a client already have in mind before they contact you for web site design?

Most importantly they should have in mind what they want users to be able to do on their web site. Is it to simply share information, exchange ideas, or to enable visitors to make a purchase? Decide this first and I can help with the rest.

Any time creative professionals deal with people’s imaginings versus reality, they risk having a gap between the two. What should potential clients realistically expect from a web designer?

As far as the design goes, it is best for a client to provide a few links of web sites with a design that appeals to them. Rather than copy these sites, the designer will be inspired to create something new which will have a similar “feel” to existing sites. A great web designer can make people’s imaginings become reality, but usually at a cost, so budget has to be considered when planning a web site.

What is the biggest challenge that you run into when working with clients?

Oh, that would definitely be with providing content. This is not much of a problem with writers, but it can be for those with a new business idea. “Content is king,” I tell my clients. Without good text content on the home page, for instance, the major search engines like Google may never index their web site. A good domain name and lots of relevant text makes a world of difference.

Branding is becoming a big deal, especially with authors. This is when the author creates an image or identity through their website, blog, appearances etc. Do you address this at all through your services?

Great question. I often buy books based on the author’s name only, and this is a result of good branding. With the author’s website used as the starting point, and branching out to all blogs, interviews, appearances, etc, the brand name becomes consistent instead of fragmented. The author’s web site must not be “yet another” site she/he is found on, but instead it must be the foundation from which all other site postings are based. I definitely believe in this and guide the author all the way toward strong brand recognition.

How long does it take to design a web site from first consultation until the site goes live?

Of course this depends on so many variables, but what I like to do is give the client a basic presence immediately and then build upon that. The design process may take a few weeks, but in the meantime there is some home page content and a means of contacting the web site owner. Alternatively, I can bring the web site live all at once, it just depends on the customer’s preference.

What are the costs involved?

Again, this will depend on a few variables, though I daresay that a web presence is affordable for just about anyone as long as their expectations are realistic. Just as an example, a 5-page web site with a contact form would be $299.

Can a client make changes, additions, and updates? What’s involved?

Yes, if I know upfront that the client would like to make their own changes later I can build the site in such a way that it has an “administrator” mode which allows them to add or edit content. This mode is very easy for anyone to use, so it takes a bit more work for me to create. A very inexpensive web site would be edited in “HTML”—the language of the web—so it would have no such client mode. It all depends on the customer’s wishes and budget.

Does the webmaster “promote” the site in any way, such as advertise it on Google?

A good designer will build a web site so that it is “search engine optimized.” This means that search engines such as Google will automatically index such sites because of the way they are constructed by the designer. Additionally, I do let Google know when a site is live and ready for indexing.

Is there something that you would like to tell our audience? 

I would be happy to talk to anyone reading this article, and you may reach me for a live chat by visiting my website and clicking on the “Live Support” button. You can also visit my contact page at for toll-free number, fax, email, and more.

Thanks again for this interview!

Rick Taylor

Building a Platform – Day 5

Day #5

Acquire the ‘Write’ Type of Friends. Join a hands-on writer’s group in your area. Knowing you aren’t alone in this very lonely business is good for the psyche. You might have to join more than one before you find one that fits your age group and temperament. (There is a difference.) Some writers still appreciate proper grammar and spelling. (Some don’t.) And remember: you aren’t married to these groups, so leave if one doesn’t click. Or start your own group with people sharing your values, temperament, and needs. You want to improve your writing skills, so make sure this is a learning experience. And be very generous with your skills. Sharing your writing knowledge with others is part of the “platform” building.

Join on-line writers groups to keep your finger on the pulse of the business, and to make contacts and maybe get a few readers when your book comes out. This is another way networking pays off.

Day #6

Stand Up and Be Counted. After you have joined a national writers organization like Sisters-in-Crime or Mystery Writers of America, and you find you like what they offer, ask what you can do to help out. Volunteer. People will learn that they can rely on you. If the board members see that you are a good worker, you might find yourself on a committee or two. Get that face of yours out there. If you are willing to go the extra mile, see if you can get on the board and be one of those deciding what that group of writers can do to help each other as well as the community at large. This shows that you are a mover and shaker.

If you have a talent for teaching, you might try your hand at giving a class about writing or the business of writing. Kate Thornton, a short story writer with over a hundred short stories to her credit, has taught a course in “How to Write a Short Story.” Eric Stone (Shanghaied) has set up his own book tours when each of his books came out. He also teaches a course: “Setting Up Your Own Book Tour.” Their expertise has led to them sharing their knowledge with others. You just might have a class in you, too.

Keep notes of your writing progress, experiences, and things you have learned. They just might be the basis of a class you can give at a local library or at the next writers’ conference. It’s another presentation where your skills will come into play.

Your leadership skills are being polished and you didn’t even know it. It’s another “platform” to add to your collection.

Interview with Kate Carlisle

We are happy to have with us today Kate Carlisle, author of the Brooklyn Wainwright mystery series.

“Homicide in Hardcover” was your first bibliophile mystery, and “If Books Could Kill” comes out in February of 2010. Your character, Brooklyn Wainwright, is a book restorer. How did you come up with this unusual occupation?

From the time I was six years old, I’ve been making books. Granted, those early attempts were pretty pathetic. A raggedy piece of cardboard for the cover with a wobbly stack of lined school paper inside, all punched and held together with string. Very sad! But since then, I’ve taken numerous bookbinding classes and one of my dear friends is a master bookbinder. I also went through a period during which I collected rare and finely bound books and used to haunt the local antiquarian bookstores. I guess you could say I’m fascinated with books. So when I decided to write a new mystery series, the idea of a bookbinder, specifically a rare book restoration expert, as protagonist was irresistible. Thus, Brooklyn Wainwright was born. Unfortunately, whenever Brooklyn comes in contact with a beautiful rare book, somebody always dies.

You have a background in romance, and you can see it in the light, fun relationship that develops between Brooklyn and British security officer, Derek Stone. Do you think that mystery and romance are a natural combination?

Oh, absolutely! My favorite mystery series have always included a romantic interest (or two – Ranger and Joe, anyone?), going back to the days of Agatha Christie’s Tommy and Tuppence, then Cherry Ames and Nancy Drew. I think a touch of romance adds more dimension to any story. These days, I’m a big fan of Nancy Martin, Diana Killian, Kate Collins and Juliet Blackwell, among many other traditional mystery authors, and they all include a hunky hero in their stories—for which their protagonists are thankful, I’m sure.

As a writer, I most enjoy writing dialogue, and the flirtatious banter between Brooklyn and Derek is always fun for me. It’s my favorite way of developing their characters as well as advancing the plot. I always read the dialogue out loud to make sure it sounds natural. If I can make myself laugh, that’s a huge bonus.
And since I also write romance, I should add that a romance novel can always benefit from a touch of mystery or intrigue. All the best ones include both, in my humble opinion.

Brooklyn’s parents are members of a commune headed by Guru Bob, and her father and Guru Bob are a unique combination of spiritualism and successful capitalism. Where did these fabulous and funny characters come from?

Oh, dear. If I tell you I was once in a commune, will you be shocked? No, of course you won’t be. I was raised in California in the 60’s, after all! So yes, many years ago, I was involved with a spiritual and artistic community up in northern California where we also had a vineyard and a winery. I suppose you could say it was mildly successful. Additionally, my brothers were huge fans of the Grateful Dead and I was smart enough to tag along with them to a few concerts. It was amazing to get a peek inside that fascinating subculture and I loved using some of what I saw as background for Brooklyn’s parents. And then there’s my mother. She’s … hmm, unique! I couldn’t help using a bit of her personality when it came to writing Brooklyn’s mother. Anyway, I took all the bones of those people and experiences and created Brooklyn’s parents and family and friends and the wonderful Guru Bob.

These days, I warn my family and friends that anything they say or do may be stolen and used in my books. These days, they’re very careful around me!

When we left Brooklyn at the end of “Homicide in Hardcover”, she was on her way to England with Derek Stone. Does this mean we are going to see more of this luscious security officer? Are they set to solve mysteries as a team?

Definitely! I don’t think I’d want to write a book without dashing Derek! So yes, he’ll be back in book two to torment—or be tormented by—Brooklyn. And not to give too much away, but he’ll be back in book three, as well. I must admit, I really love Derek, and I think Brooklyn seems to like him a lot, too!

Have you any desire to set one of the series’ books in England?

Yes. And while it’s not quite England, the next book does take place in Edinburgh, Scotland, at an annual book fair along the Royal Mile. I was very excited to use that city as a backdrop for the series because it has such a rich history—and lots of ghosts.

Also, if the series continues to be successful (fingers crossed!), I’m hoping to set a book in Lyon, France, where there’s a world-renowned school of book arts. And I would love to set another one in London, perhaps centered around one of the auction houses there. We’ll see how it goes.

OK. I just about keeled over laughing when I read “All About Kate” on your website which chronicles your journey into publishing. It includes headings such as “When Good Things Happen to Bad Girls” and “Lying for Fun and Profit”. Your parents had you marked as a telemarketer (excellent phone voice), a bookie (loved ponies), and a sales person (hawking chocolate bars to sailors). How do they feel about published author?

I’m so glad you enjoyed my biography. It’s all true, of course (ha ha!). Needless to say, my mother is absolutely thrilled that I’m finally published. (After twenty years, we all had our doubts.) But she’s my biggest fan now and at least once a week, she goes over to her local Barnes & Noble to check that my books are still there with the covers facing out. She also goes around giving my books to all the libraries in her area, which I heartily encourage. I have a large, extended family and all of them have been wonderfully supportive, showing up at my book signings, buying books to give to local libraries and hospitals, and talking me up among friends and co-workers. It’s great to have that kind of support.

What’s next for Kate Carlisle?

I’ve just started book three of the bibliophile mysteries, which takes place in San Francisco and the Sonoma wine country. Naturally, I had to do extensive research for that! I’ll also be taking lots of bookbinding classes over the next few months because for part of this book, Brooklyn will be teaching a master bookbinding class.

Additionally, I recently finished my first romance novel for Harlequin and I’ve just sent in a proposal for two more. I’m also involved with two group blogs every month so I’m always trying to write my entries early to keep ahead of schedule. And I’m very excited to be attending my first Bouchercon convention in ten years, in Indianapolis next week, so that should be fun.

Finally, book two of the bibliophile mysteries, IF BOOKS COULD KILL, will be out in February 2010, so I’m currently attempting to organize my life so that I’m not racing to meet a deadline while also trying to promote the next book. That way lies madness.
You can pre-order If Books Could Kill through, or visit Kate at her website.

A Review of Homicide in Harcover by Kate Carlisle

Homicide in Hardcover by Kate Carlisle

What trouble could Brooklyn Wainwright get into? She’s only a book restorer. But when her mentor, Abraham, is murdered at a private showing, she is suddenly surrounded by suspects and suspicions. The dead man’s last words are “Remember the devil”. Does this have something to do with the star of the showing—an allegedly cursed copy of Goethe’s Faust? The same book that Brooklyn is now in charge of restoring? If so, Brooklyn’s going to have to watch her step, or she could wind up the next victim. But with so many potential killers around, whom should she keep an eye on?

First, there’s Minka LaBoeuf, Brooklyn’s favorite choice for killer, maybe because Minka has a history of messing with Brooklyn that includes an “accidental” attack with an X-Acto knife. Abraham recently fired Minka, and experience tells Brooklyn that Minka doesn’t handle disappointment well.

The Winslow family, owners of the private collection, are acting strangely, and Brooklyn overheard Mr. and Mrs. Winslow argue about a problem with “the book”. Were they referring to the Faust or an old family bible that Abraham had also been restoring? Did her mentor discover family secrets worth killing over?

Even Brooklyn’s own mother can’t escape suspicion. Brooklyn saw her sneaking down to Abraham’s work room shortly before he was killed.

Derek Stone, a British security officer hired for the private showing, vacillates between suspecting Brooklyn and wanting to protect her. Eclectic best friend Robin keeps Brooklyn occupied when she’s not searching for answers. And if she’s searching for answers to more philosophical questions, she can always ask Guru Bob, the spiritually and financially successful commune leader.

Brooklyn makes a delightful sleuth, and the details about book restoration are a fascinating addition to a mystery that’s a joy to read.

Building a Platform – Day 4

Day #4

Is anybody out there? Now you are thinking, “OMG, this writing stuff is harder than I thought it was going to be. Do other people really do all this?” Find out by joining several writers’ organizations in your chosen writing genre. (Mystery writers have groups like Sisters-in-Crime and Mystery Writers of America.) After you join, talk to other members and find out if they are going through the same things and are as nervous as you are. (The answer is yes, but still ask.)

Go to events sponsored by these groups. Meet other people who are going through the same things you are, or talk to those who have progressed a little further and learn more of the ropes from them, and share your experiences. Say hello to the featured speakers. Make contacts. There will come a time when you will be selling your book at an event and you will want people sitting in the audience listening to you. Be there for others and maybe they will be there for you.

Interview with Bruce Cook

As a huge fan of Blood Harvest, I’m happy to see Marshal Lawe return to print in Tommy Gun Tango. Will this book take on the point of view of other characters as Blood Harvest did? Any animal POV’s?

It’s so nice of you to interview me, Jackie—thank you! And I am happy that you are a fan of Blood Harvest.
Yes, I am once again using multiple first person points of view in Tommy Gun Tango. That was an experiment in Blood Harvest, and I found I really enjoyed the process. I am sticking with fewer points of view this time around—four people, instead of six humans and two animals. By the way, I borrowed this idea of contradictory/contrasting first person POVs from the Japanese film Rashomon, by Akira Kurasawa.

I greatly enjoyed writing from the point of view of a dog and a crow last time, and some of my readers found it amusing and entertaining. But that choice—to write as an animal some of the time—caused a tremendous split among readers and reviewers. They tended to love or hate the book based on that criterion. I decided to forgo that technique this time around—and besides, Marshal Lawe has moved across the country by car in 1932. His police dog Chief had already passed on to the Great Hunt in the sky.

This story begins with the POV of Marshal Lawe. We then see things from the POV of his serious girlfriend, Gladys, who lost her diner back in Massachusetts and moved to be with family in Los Angeles. We also hear from Jackie Sue, the sexually precocious and ambitious 13 year old from Blood Harvest. She is now 16 and is working as an actress in Hollywood. The final voice is a new character, Al Haine, a handsome Irish gangster, con man, and smooth talker. (Side note: Al Haine is the grandfather of Sam Haine, the lead character in my first novel, Philippine Fever.)

For Tommy Gun Tango, Bruce Cook collaborated with alter ego Brant Randall. What did each self bring to the process?

The Bruce Cook side of me is a scientist and mathematician by training. I worked on the Apollo Project in the 70’s as a laser physicist, before becoming a film maker. Bruce tries to be a close observer and factual reporter.

Brant Randall is the story teller, memory-keeper, spinner of tall tales, researcher of times past and customs vanished. He grew from my work in Hollywood as a screenwriter, director, cameraman, film editor, and sound designer.

You have two very different protagonists in your novels—Marshal Ichabod Lawe and ATF Agent Sam Haine. Do you find it difficult to move between their mindsets? And do you ever work on both series at the same time?

I have written 30 screenplays, none of them sequels to each other. I do not find it difficult to invent new characters. None of them are myself—but they all have aspects of my personality.

This is seasoned with the traits of my friends, family, co-workers, passersby, and enemies.
I haven’t worked on both series at the same time, but I don’t see that it would be a problem. I see it in much the same way as when you move from workplace to home to church to public space—you display different aspects of your personality. When I move from contemporary times to the past I switch attitudes and mores to match the setting.

In Tommy Gun Tango, you take on a real person, actress Jean Harlow, and an incident in her life—the death of her second husband, Paul Bern. This had to be intimidating. How did you approach your research, and were you nervous about upsetting Harlow fans?

I read plenty (and there is plenty to read!), re-watched her films, talked to film buffs—just immersed myself in Hollywood of the 1920s and 30s. I enjoy research, so it was fun, not intimidating.

I perused news accounts of the death of Paul Bern. I was able to get hold of some court transcripts. I found late-life memoirs of people involved with Harlow, Bern, and MGM. I read the gossip sheets from the era. The material was fascinating and contradictory. Bit by bit a pattern emerged (to my eye, at least) of Hollywood studio cover-ups of crimes by stars and producers. The police and city officials were complicit in these cover-ups. From all this data I drew my own (reasonable, I think) conclusions about Bern’s death.

You seem so comfortable writing “outside the box”, whether it’s placing your story on foreign soil in Philippine Fever or traveling back in time for Tommy Gun Tango. I know you lived in the Phillipines, but you certainly weren’t around when Blood Harvest took place in the 20’s. Is this simply great imagination? Painstaking research? Magic?

I’ll pick research and magic.

Seriously, I read accounts of the times written by many different voices. And then I interviewed people who were alive during those times and let their memories flesh out my vision of the past. I also found fabulous visual and audio resources. I was greatly aided by fiction films and documentaries made during that era. The internet and Netflix are wonderful tools.

You are also a teacher. Do you think this impacts your writing and how?

Yes, indeed. I constantly try to improve my teaching—which I see as the process of getting ideas and information from my mind to the mind of the student. And of course that is the same task that an author faces. Sometimes techniques from the craft of writing change the way I teach—and other times the tricks I have learned as a teacher work just as well on paper.

Among your former students are Matt Groening (creator of The Simpsons), actor Laurence Fishburne, six Academy Award nominees and winners, and twelve Emmy nominees and winners. You obviously have something important to say to artists. What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
The difficult thing is to develop a voice and world view that is your own—recognizable to others so that they can identify with it, but quirky (or twisted or off-kilter or…) enough to force the reader to see things freshly. The writer is a storyteller first of all, a conservator and purveyor of the culture—but if he/she isn’t also an innovator, then the story is old and formulaic, not worth the reader’s trouble.

I have to ask. You used the names of people you know in Tommy Gun Tango. (Including our own Gayle Pool and Jackie Houchin.) Are you careful to be complimentary when you do this?

I asked permission first to name characters after these fellow authors, and told them briefly what kind of character each would be. Once I had written a substantial passage that included them I sent it to them to vet. If either had been offended or homicidal about her portrayal I would change the character name to Jackie Vick.

My buddy Robert Fate also shows up in this book and other friends and family have been used as well. It’s meant to be fun—so if it’s not, I don’t do it.
What’s next on Bruce and Brant’s agenda?

Well….Bruce is writing a textbook on screenwriting just now. When that is out the door Bruce and Brant are going to collaborate once again. The next book is set in contemporary Los Angeles and features a number of ancient gods, mythical characters, and other immortals of waning power and influence. They all are trying to break into show biz to re-establish their identities in popular culture and regain solidity in the Jungian world-mind. The book will be called Nasté, Brutus, and Shorte.

And yes, there will be animals: Odin’s talking ravens, Hugyn (Thought) and Mugyn (Memory), for those of Scandinavian inclination.

You can order the book by clicking on the cover. You can also visit Bruce online.