"If any literary work is too long to be read at one sitting, we must be content to dispense with the immensely important effect derivable from unity of impression—for, if two sittings be required, the affairs of the world interfere, and everything like totality is at once destroyed."–Edgar Allan Poe
I suppose I write short mysteries because my style is to write in a fever and in the zone. All writers understand what I mean when I talk about “in the zone.” Let’s explain it this way: Michael Jordan has a basketball and a court, but he is on the moon inside a gymnasium. This guy has enough innate athletic talent that he can figure out the game and how to shoot all by himself. When he gets back to Earth, they put him on a team, and he goes wild under a coach’s direction. He is now in the zone.
Writers are like that also. When we’re in the zone of our white heat, nobody can stop us until the story gets out on the page. Call it “Zen and the Art of Storytelling,” if you like. Or the “Shamanistic Magic of Innate Talent.”
The innate talent, of course, must be there. Sadly, most of the drek of self-published or “indie” storytelling comes from folks who fell in love with the scrolling magic of the computer (wow, I can see it aligned and all, and that must make me a real writer!) but really never read that much and certainly never honed their craft back on Earth by getting feedback from authors (players) who’ve sold a few copies (made a few baskets) and possessed what Stephen King might write about as: “The Following” (fans).
It is this “following” I want to address in this article. I also want to discuss the coming age of “shorter novels” being more popular with readers who are having a difficult time finding TIME between their hectic lives (both real and virtual) to squeeze in a little story reading. First of all, is short becoming the new popular with readers?
Indie pubbers know my hatred of the dreaded “Penguin” (he was, after all, a villain in the old Batman comics), but you may want to know that even this roving beastie is getting on the “short train” ebook bandwagon. When the conglomerates are doing it, then you know they’re scared, very scared they might lose their “following.”
There are many of these “short tales of success” on the Internet. I never really explored this trend when I wrote my own “mini-mysteries,” but I am now certainly going to market to it! In fact, fellow mystery author, Elizabeth Spann Craig, wrote an entire blog entry about this phenomenon.
Okay how about “The Following”? Well, it’s the holy grail of every author out there in web land. If you write genre fiction, if you don’t have a following, then your next great mystery (or whatever genre you write in) may just as well be drek. These are the folks who keep you in business, and all publishers know this hard fact. This is the main reason we’re in this “Battle of the Amazons” that I spoke about in a different post. If an independent author can hook “The Following,” then he or she can become a big player all on his or her own! This is the hidden game we’re all competing for in storytelling land, and it’s quite serious because it means bucks in the pocket and a happy following down the road.
I now sell “mini-mysteries,” and I’m proud of this fact. My followers can load up their Kindle, Sony, iPad, or iPhone with my latest bite-sized sizzler and travel back in time to do some righteous sleuthing with my vet Detective, Patrick James O’Malley! They won’t have to take all summer to read it, either, and since it’s been honed down to the essential and entertaining ingredients, my followers have never complained (as yet).
When I wrote my first historical detective mystery, Forevermore, I had a clear goal in mind: I wanted to write the best story for my reader to enjoy. This is the goal of every independent author out there, and the reason I want to communicate this fact of indie publishing is that many of the “big publishing houses” are not publishing the best stories for their readers. Please allow me to elucidate.
I have been published by a big publisher. It was called “Harcourt-Brace,” and it was the small professional arm of the corporation, “AP Professional Press” that published my book, The Digital Scribe: A Writer’s Guide to Electronic Media. Notice the quaint reference to “electronic media.” Back in the late nineties, we were still bedazzled by the newness of digital technology and its “multimedia” aspect. Today, digital multimedia is part and parcel of most of the “packaged novels” that get submitted by the big agents out there. They’ve already looked ahead to all the money to be made on movies, computer games, translations, Chinese edited versions, ads on the walls of urinals, and on and on with the corporate merchandising aspect of business. This was 1996, so publishing had yet to go through the gigantic and tumultuous war with the Amazons (coming soon to a screen near you!), and I was too much of a rookie to see the writing on the Amazon wall, so to speak. Amazon, after all, was also a “big corporation.”
Flash forward to 2013, and I am completely entrenched in the “indie publishing movement.” Yes, I am politicizing this because there is a grassroots “political” movement going on that dares to stand-up to the big publishing giants and call them on their intrigues and misrepresentations. I wrote a “little mystery” that I was proud to say was a “big publisher’s worst nightmare.” Why? First of all, it was short (114 pages in paperback, 12 pt. font); it was not padded with description and useless back story; it was, in short, the best short mystery I had ever written, and it was meant to grab the readers’ interest and keep them entertained for the entire 114 real pages and 2415 Kindle pages. I used the simple and straightforward distribution method of Amazon’s (there’s that creepy name again) Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). This method allowed me (ME, ME, ME, a thousand times ME) to control all of the content, all of the revisions, all of the covers, all of the entire blasted book! Oh my God! It was if I had been re-born! I now had a direct line to my reader! No longer would I have to haggle with an editor about using a drawing of a male monk in the Middle Ages on my book’s cover because, she said, “Eighty percent of readers are female, and they would not want to see a male monk.” But, I argued, monks were male in the Middle Ages! Anyway, I had to “compromise” and use the “hands of the monk” holding a feather pen! With KDP and those lovely Amazon ladies, I was able to make all of these big, “executive decisions” about my own book! What power! All of that concentrated energy infused my body! (Or perhaps too much caffeine?)
Of course, I must give a spoiler alert to all you would-be indie pubbers out there. Unless you know what goes into a really good story, and you’ve consulted with other indie authors about how to set-up your book, you had better stay away from the wild forest where the Amazons roam. They will capture you, possibly castrate or dismember you, and put you in a pot for Mah Jong hors d’oeuvres later that day. Suffice it to say, get somebody to “have your back” when you go down the indie road into the dark Amazon forest of KDP or even the seemingly “friendlier” places where they Smash Words or read together with Sluggo and Little Lulu. I suggest you check-out places like Indies Unlimited. They have some crusty old buggers who have been down many of the self-publishing roads, and they are really friendly to newbies! Don’t, under any circumstances, fall for the scams out there! You thought Amazons were tough? You haven’t experienced anything until you’ve been raped by Author Solutions and its vast minions of corporate goons!
Okay, where was I? Oh yeah, me (my favorite topic). So I wrote this tiny little mystery that began to receive some favorable reviews on Amazon (up to 11 so far) from my readers. These weren’t reviews from some paid author who publishes his books at the same big publisher as I do, or some “computer harvested mass of reviewers” who are paid by big publishers to receive some other “reward.” No, these were actual readers of the book (the best kind for reviews, by the way). I know they are the best kind because I have been hoodwinked by so-called “professional” reviewers who never read my book. In fact, my favorite short story is “Bullet in the Brain” by Tobias Wolff. In this story, the protagonist, Enders, is a professional book reviewer of this ilk, and he receives his just desserts!
The final bullet in my brain came from my hero detective author, Lawrence Block. He was saying how he recommended all would-be mystery writers to become independent if they want to bypass the “screwing over” that was becoming the norm in big publishing. This is a gentleman who could practically “name his advance” in the detective mystery genre, so when he barked I sat up.
Are there independent author success stories? I’ll let you be the judge. This ain’t a war for nothin’, ya know!
I love filet mignon over a big steak. I enjoy the heart of the artichoke rather than the prickly outer leaves. I also create my murder mysteries short. Short is good. Short is beautiful, insightful and dynamic. In short, I think the “big publishers” often try to rip-off readers by having their authors “pad” the genre novels so they can justify their over-priced books.
I wanted to see what my fellow writers were saying about making their work shorter, so I put up a discussion post at one of my favorite haunts, the Fiction Writers Guild on LinkedIn.
This is an open forum now, so if any of you “civilians” want to find out what we writers talk about, then check it out.
You can read what they said here. The comments are coming in, and they seem to agree with me that readers want shorter books to go with their busy lifestyles these days. Please respond to this post with your comments to see if what I am doing is benefitting your reading needs.
Patrick James O’Malley, the newly minted detective in my mystery series set in post-Civil War New York City, almost proved that Edgar Allan Poe was murdered in Baltimore in the first novel of my series, Forevermore. Alas, although much information was discovered, and O’Malley made some lasting friends, definitive proof was lost forever(more).
In the next mystery in my series, O’Malley must track down the heinous kidnapper of the wealthiest Jew in America, Arthur Mergenthaler.
This kidnapping takes place inside Manhattan’s precursor to Mt. Sinai Hospital, known until 1866 as the “Jews’ Hospital.” There is no corpus delicti, and O’Malley is quickly pulled into the underground morass of anti-Semitism existing within the bowels of his beloved New York.
O’Malley is no stranger to “Jew-baiting.” He grew up in New York, and his childhood friends would often pick out a “Christ-killer” in the neighborhood and persecute him in a variety of nefarious ways, but O’Malley finally thought it had gone too far when a bookish young tyke of thirteen years, Bernard Feinstein, was killed by a future criminal named Shannon O’Hara.
Our detective had also met with the insane shenanigans of his general, William T. Sherman, who would often rail against what he called the “infestation of Christian commerce,” by the hordes of Jewish merchants who followed Sherman’s Civil War victories in order to take advantage of the ravaged countryside and its downtrodden people. Sherman was not anti-slavery, and he was close friends with another anti-Semitic Union leader, Ulysses S. Grant.
In fact, General Order No. 11 was the title of an order issued by Major-General Ulysses S. Grant on December 17, 1862, during the American Civil War. It ordered the expulsion of all Jews in his military district, comprising areas of Tennessee, Mississippi, and Kentucky. The order was issued as part of a Union campaign against a black market in Southern cotton, which Grant thought was being run “mostly by Jews and other unprincipled traders.”
While permitting some trade, the United States licensed traders through the United States Army, which created a market for unlicensed ones. Union military commanders in the South were responsible for administering the trade licenses and trying to control the black market in Southern cotton, as well as for conducting the war. Grant issued the order in an effort to reduce corruption. O’Malley, who worked for Sherman, witnessed, first-hand, the result of this order.
Grant said, “I have long since believed that in spite of all the vigilance that can be infused into Post Commanders, that the Specie regulations of the Treasury Dept. have been violated and that mostly by Jews and other unprincipled traders. So well satisfied of this have I been at this that I instructed the Commdg Officer at Columbus [Kentucky] to refuse all permits to Jews to come south, and frequently have had them expelled from the Dept. [of the Tennessee]. But they come in with their Carpet sacks in spite of all that can be done to prevent it. The Jews seem to be a privileged class that can travel anywhere. They will land at any wood yard or landing on the river and make their way through the country. If not permitted to buy Cotton themselves they will act as agents for someone else who will be at a Military post, with a Treasury permit to receive Cotton and pay for it in Treasury notes which the Jew will buy up at an agreed rate, paying gold.”
Grant continued, “There is but one way that I know of to reach this case. That is for Government to buy all the Cotton at a fixed rate and send it to Cairo, St Louis, or some other point to be sold. Then all traders, they are a curse to the Army, might be expelled.”
The order went into immediate effect; Army officers ordered Jewish traders and their families in Holly Springs, Oxford, Mississippi, and Paducah, Kentucky to leave the territory. Grant may not have intended such results; his headquarters expressed no objection to the continued presence of Jewish settlers, as opposed to cotton traders. But, the wording of the order addressed all Jews, regardless of occupation, and it was implemented accordingly.
A group of Jewish merchants from Paducah, Kentucky, led by Cesar J. Kaskel, sent a telegram to President Abraham Lincoln in which they condemned the order as “the grossest violation of the Constitution and our rights as good citizens under it.” The telegram noted it would “place us . . . as outlaws before the world. We respectfully ask your immediate attention to this enormous outrage on all law and humanity . . .” Throughout the Union, Jewish groups protested and sent telegrams to the government in Washington, D.C.
The issue attracted significant attention in Congress and from the press. The Democrats condemned the order as part of what they saw as the U.S. Government’s systematic violation of civil liberties; they introduced a motion of censure against Grant in the Senate, attracting thirty votes in favor against seven opposed. Some newspapers supported Grant’s action; the Washington Chronicle criticized Jews as “scavengers … of commerce”. Most, however, were strongly opposed, with the New York Times denouncing the order as “humiliating” and a “revival of the spirit of the medieval ages.” Its editorial column called for the “utter reprobation” of Grant’s order.
Kaskel led a delegation to Washington, D.C., arriving on January 3, 1863. In Washington, he conferred with Jewish Republican Adolphus Solomons and a Cincinnati congressman, John A. Gurley. After meeting with Gurley, he went directly to the White House. Lincoln received the delegation and studied Kaskel’s copies of General Order No. 11 and the specific order expelling Kaskel from Paducah. The President told General-in-Chief Henry Wager Halleck to have Grant revoke General Order No. 11, which Halleck did in the following message:
One of Halleck’s staff officers privately explained to Grant that the problem lay with the excessive scope of the order: “Had the word ‘pedlar’ been inserted after Jew I do not suppose any exception would have been taken to the order.” According to Halleck, Lincoln had “no objection to [his] expelling traitors and Jew peddlers, which I suppose, was the object of your order; but as in terms proscribing an entire religious class, some of whom are fighting in our ranks, the President deemed it necessary to revoke it.” The Republican politician Elihu B. Washburne defended Grant in similar terms. Grant’s subordinates expressed concern about the order. One Jewish officer resigned in protest and Captain John C. Kelton, the assistant Adjutant-General of the Department of Missouri, wrote to Grant to note his order included all Jews, rather than focusing on “certain obnoxious individuals,” and noted that many Jews served in the Union Army. Grant formally revoked it on January 17, 1863.
On January 6, Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise of Cincinnati, leader of the Reform movement, led a delegation that met with Lincoln to express gratitude for his support. Lincoln said he was surprised that Grant had issued such a command and said, “to condemn a class is, to say the least, to wrong the good with the bad.” Lincoln said he drew no distinction between Jew and Gentile and would allow no American to be wronged because of his religious affiliation.
After the Civil War, General Order No. 11 became an issue in the presidential election of 1868 in which Grant stood as the Republican candidate. The Democrats raised the order as an issue, with the prominent Democrat and Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise urging fellow Jews to vote against Grant because of his alleged anti-Semitism. Grant repudiated the controversial order, asserting it had been drafted by a subordinate and that he had signed it without reading, in the press of warfare.
O’Malley discovers that the kidnapping victim, Dr. Arthur Daniel Mergenthaler, made most of his money from the “carpetbagger business” going on in the newly emancipated South. Of course, O’Malley’s boss during the war, Sherman, made his famous “march to the sea,” wreaking havoc upon the Southerners in his wake. It was Mergenthaler who, in 1866, formed a group of businessmen who sent out “political appointees” who settled in the South and became mayors, entrepreneurs and plantation owners who wanted to change the racist attitudes of this former land of slavery and also make some money for themselves and their families.
My sleuth gets pulled into the world of post-war anti-Semitism as former Union General, Ulysses S. Grant, campaigns for political office. O’Malley’s former boss, Sherman, is busy making the “West safe for Manifest Destiny,” by slaughtering millions of American Natives (savages). Amidst all of this American progress, O’Malley sees the depravity of his own people, the Irish, who have reacted to the migration of Southern Negroes and immigrant Jews with a vehemence he never realized existed. In fact, the kidnappers live within this hotbed of racism and anti-Semitic activities, and O’Malley must find them before another killing can take place.
However, there will be several murders in the course of the novel, before O’Malley can finally track down his quarry. He will also learn about his own family, especially his father and his brother, and how they became embroiled in the anti-Semitism of the times. His old pal from the first novel, Plug Ugly Gang leader, Walter McKenzie, assists O’Malley in finding suspects, as does his sweetheart and brothel Madame, Rebecca Charming.
Look for this new historical mystery, The Disappearance at Mt. Sinai, coming to both Amazon and other fine books stores. It will also become a digital recording read by Irishman and superb dramatist, Shandon Loring, who read my first novel in the series, Forevermore. I look forward to my readers’ comments and suggestions.
If you want to write historical fiction, then you must come to terms with the fact that people who read it want accuracy. I don’t mean they want the “truth” of what exactly existed at that time and place; I mean they want the reasonable approximation of what reality was like at that time and place. True, you must look up whether or not a certain historical figure existed during the period about which you are writing, and certainly the setting you describe must not have any glaring historical inaccuracies, but the most important task for the historical novelist is to keep the reader in “the flow of the moment.”
I found this out writing my first historical mystery, Forevermore. I learned that it was my characters’ needs that drove the story (as they always should in any fiction), and the “facts” of the history surrounding them were used to color the landscape as an artist colors the details in his painting. You simply want to bring out the brilliance of the reality of your characters and their actions inside your novel. Historical details should be selected the way you select dialogue or plot events. You must first measure them against what I like to call the “John Gardner Rule” of thumb. John Gardner was one of the foremost teachers of creative writing at the college level, and many of his suggestions serve me today in my own teaching and writing. His rule said that one must filter all of the story’s content (setting, plot and dialogue) through the consciousness of the characters you are using. It seems simple enough, but those writers who can master this one skill are the ones who succeed in writing superior historical novels.
James Michener was a gentleman writer who used the research of his “minions” to “plug-in” to his brilliant character-driven plots! That’s what made novels like Hawaii, The Covenant, and Chesapeake such winners with his readers. His history served the characters like a well-rehearsed dialogue serves a successful Broadway play. Yes, it was his characters and their “perception of their surroundings” that made his novels popular with his readers. Therefore, when I read a historical novel that gets bogged down in long passages of factual description under the guise of “making it real,” I know the author will not, most likely, fulfill the first rule of thumb in Creative Writing 101: Let reality flow through your characters and their needs.
This is why when a reader tells me that he enjoyed the characters in my novels, even historical mysteries like Forevermore, I know I have not failed to follow my mentor, John Gardner’s rule. Also, I hope young writers out there heed this rule as well, as it will transform their stories and novels into character-driven masterpieces instead of reality show dramas.
I have always enjoyed listening to audio books. They allow me the freedom to explore other adventures and drive a car, and the drama is escalated by a good reader.
But, at other times, my enthusiasm is met with comments such as “That’s not really reading, is it?” or “I won’t let my students listen to audiobooks because that’s cheating.” Listening to books is certainly different from reading books, but is it cheating? Does listening to audiobooks count as reading?
An audio book contains a recorded version of a print book. While audio books for the blind have existed for decades, the commercial audio book market blossomed with the advent of books on tape in the 1970s. If you have a great speaking voice and want to earn extra money, or if you’re an author looking for another way to sell your product and record it for the audio market, then here’s how to make an audio book.
Locate the source material. Get permission from the book or article’s owner to record it as an audio book. If you’re recording your own work, make sure that you’ve copyrighted the original version and the sound recording. Practice the material before recording. Get acquainted with the pacing and vocabulary of the piece. Try different accents and be certain of how to pronounce names or difficult words. Modulate your voice. Avoid speaking in a monotone; change pitch and timbre to get your point across and keep the listener engaged. Don’t speak in a rapidly changing “sing-song” voice, but let the material dictate your tone of voice.
Choose the best recording equipment you can afford. A simple mixing board will do. Check sites like Musicians Friend to find deals on four- or eight-channel mixers. Unless you expect to features lots of sound effects in your audio book, more channels aren’t necessary. Invest in a good microphone, like a Shure or Telefunken.
Hire an engineer and voice talent for more complicated projects. If the book in question needs more than one narrator, or if you need to record music and sound effects, consider hiring voice talent and an engineer. If you don’t have time to do so on your own, find an audio book producer to package your book for you.
Decide which product format you want to sell. CDs and digital downloads (MP3s) have replaced cassette tapes as the format of choice. Then figure out where to sell your audio book. You may want to use your own website, or sell it through a site like Audible. I used ACX, Amazon’s audio platform. In this site you can “recruit” possible voices for your book and “hire them” for the job based on their posted samples to you.
For example, I needed somebody “Irish” to record my mystery, Forevermore, and I was able to hire Shandon Loring to read my book. He has an interesting voice; it is deep and resonant without being distracting to the ear, and I enjoyed his sense of drama while reading. I hired him to share the proceeds of the sale of my book, 50/50, as I truly believe that the important job of reading my novel, and making it come to life, deserved a big share, and I also believe the “voice” can make or break the success of an audio book–especially a mystery. Here’s Shandon reading the Prologue and part of Chapter 1 of my new detective yarn, Forevermore.
Therefore, you should choose your talent wisely when you decide to create an audio, and be ready to give them the chance they so richly deserve. If my audio version of the first novel in my “Pat O’Malley Historical Mystery Series” is a success, I will owe it to my friend and business partner, Shandon Loring.
I wish you all the success in your own enterprise, and please drop me a line if you want to share your own experience making an audio recording!