I’m excited to be part of this unique project. Around thirty authors (myself included) will be contributing mystery/crime stories centered around a wedding. Each story will be complete in itself, but each will also contain a clue to an overall mystery, which you’ll learn about at the beginning of the book. Solve the big mystery and win some interesting prizes. My current working title for my story is The Other Wedding Crasher. Learn more and sign up to be notified when the Kickstarter goes live here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/marlabradeen/malice-book?ref=4oje6u
A Surprising Gift
Each of my somewhat irregular newsletters contains a drawing. The prizes vary, but sometimes include copies of my books. Alicia H., one of the recipients of a prize from a recent drawing sent me these lovely pictures she took of my book, Wired for Murder, with some of her beautiful flowers. I was delighted by these:
You can have a chance to win books and other prizes by signing up for my newsletter using the box on the right!
The Night Prowlers: Publication Story
The Night Prowlers
I first contacted Avalon Books to query after my daughter had read a couple of their novels she got from the library and suggested that I could write something similar.
I’d been writing for about eight years at that point and had completed four novel-length manuscripts. When daughter mentioned Avalon Books, I read a couple of their books, and realized that the kinds of stories they published appealed to me, though none of the things I’d written to that point would be appropriate for them.
Still, I had an idea, so I quickly tapped out three chapters and an outline of a story I thought would interest them. Then I waited. I actually completed another book in progress at the time while I waited. A year or so later, I got a response from an editor at Avalon. She liked my idea, thought it would work for them, and wanted the full manuscript.
And that’s where it got interesting. I found the first three chapters I’d sent, but I couldn’t find the outline anywhere. This is so not me. I tend to be very organized and a bit of a packrat. I can’t imagine that I wouldn’t have kept a copy of the outline. But I searched both my digital files and paper ones and came up empty.
I had only the vaguest recollection of what I had put in the outline. I went ahead and wrote the book as it seemed like it should work, which I hoped was at least similar to what I’d promised. I actually completed that book pretty quickly, in just over a couple of months, as I recall. I liked the way it worked out even if I wasn’t sure how close it was to what I’d promised.
Hoping that the editor wouldn’t remember the original outline either, I sent off the completed manuscript. Apparently it worked for her, too.
A couple of months later I got the Call. Avalon offered me a contract for the book, however they didn’t like my original title for the book and suggested “The Night Prowlers” instead.
It was published about a year later. This is the cover for the original hardback version:
Looking More Closely at a Couple of Scam Emails
Like most people, I get lots of scam and phishing emails. They’re getting more sophisticated and personalized, which makes them even more dangerous, but there are still enough clues to alert you before you try to answer the email or click on the link. I’ve copied two of them to show some of those clues. The first one is less sophisticated and easier to identify as spam:
- There is no company identification on this one at all; any legitimate message about email issues will include the name and usually the logo of the email host.
- The “from” address is my own email address; it should be from the email host service. (Note: “From” addresses are ridiculously easy to fake, so don’t let one that looks legit fool you into thinking the rest of the message is.)
- The message is addressed to my email address rather than to me by name. My email service knows my name and would address any legitimate email messages to me personally.
- The big one: When I mouse-over the green box, the actual link pops up as you see here. It doesn’t look anything like an address for my actual email server. Always pay particular attention to what is between the “https://” and the first dot because that’s the base server the link is sending you to. In this case, it looks like “fleek.ipso.io”. That bears no resemblance to my email host service address, which look more like “email.hostservice.com”. I’m using “hostservice as a placeholder, even though the next one actually does show the name of my email host service.
This one is a bit more clever:
- It does include the name of my hosting service, InMotion Hosting in the “From” line, but the actual email address shows cpanel.net, not inmotionhosting.xxx.
- Once again, the email is not addressed to me personally. They know my name and legitimate emails from them include it.
- The email uses “InMotion” but the company name is “InMotion Hosting, Inc.” and always identifies itself that way.
- This is a bit more technical, but the message about updating the SSL certificate for email is a bit of gobbledegook that sounds legit but in fact is nonsense.
- The final test. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get a screen grab that included the link that showed when I moused over the green box. But this is it: “https:// opwer90adfjepaawliapjerio.sdlficvuammosir. dweb. com / #email@example.com” (I’ve added a few spaces to ensure the link doesn’t activate.)
I think these are both credential-stealing attempts. Clicking on the links would likely take me to a page that looked legitimate and asked me to sign into my email account with my user name and password. That would give them complete access to my email server. Alternatively, the link could take me to a page loaded with malware that would try to download to my computer. Both are actually possible as well. I’m not about to click on those links to see what would happen.
Note: I haven’t blacked out the name of my hosting service because it’s also very easy for anyone to find out with just a tiny bit of effort.
Bottom Line: Examine carefully ANY email that asks you to click on a link. Always mouse-over the link area and look closely and carefully at the actual destination.
February’s Featured Book: The Night Prowlers
I’m trying to give some of my backlist books a bit of a jolt and some extra love during times when I don’t have any current releases scheduled. What better place to start in February with the book that was my very first professional sale?
Avalon Books, which was bought out several years ago by Amazon, made an offer for The Night Prowlers in 1988.
The first version was published in hardcover in 1990. Several years ago, I reclaimed the rights to many of my backlist books, this one included. For the month of February, I’m putting it on sale for $.99.
The Blurb: Graduate assistant Jan Lindell has her hands full supervising a team of archaeology students as they excavate the site of a Colonial-era inn in central Virginia. Sweltering heat, feuding students, vandalism, a visit from the local lunatic fringe, and complaints from the handsome son of the property’s owner are all complications she doesn’t need.
Her problems increase when it becomes clear someone doesn’t want them around. Vandalism turns into threats and then attacks on the students. On the bright side, when Gary Simpson, whose mother owns and lives on the property, assists her in the effort to thwart and identify the assailants, they discover a mutual attraction.
But someone seriously wants to stop them. When the attacks escalate and threaten to turn deadly, Jan realizes she’s fighting for more than a graduate degree and an archaeological site. All of their lives may be at stake.
In future posts, I’m going to talk about the story of how the book was sold to Avalon and also how I researched the archaeology facts.
That time between waking up in the morning and actually getting out of bed is when I get many of the ideas for my books. This morning I lazed around a bit longer than usual and ended up half-dreaming the next scene in the WIP. I’ve been wrestling with it for two days but now I know exactly how it works out.
Good Gracious! January is Over. Where Did it Go?
The first day of February! What happened to January? How did it go by so fast?
I blinked and I think I missed it. I didn’t get much accomplished writing-wise and that bugs me. I’m going to do better in February!
But I’m also starting something new here in February. It’s time to give some love and a boost to some of my older books. So, on months when I don’t have any other releases, I plan to feature one of my older books for the month, with special pricing and some background info on the book. Stay tuned for the first one, coming soon.
Christmas Trip to See Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience
My daughter and I had both been wanting to see the Van Gogh Immersive Experience almost since we first got word of it. However, the right opportunity hadn’t come up—until this previous Christmas. The exhibit in Raleigh, N.C. is within driving distance, and we’d have the time during the holiday season.
Shortly after Christmas we packed up the gang, including her four sons, aged 5 to 11, and headed to a shopping center on the outskirts of Raleigh. We were late for our appointed time, but it didn’t really matter. The main feature–the large surround video–runs on a loop.
Before you get to that, though, you walk through a series of exhibit rooms that feature an overview of Vincent Van Gogh’s life and dip into several of his paintings (and series of paintings) in more detail to talk about the inspiration for them, sketching and painting technique, and noteworthy details. The boys enjoyed walking into the setup of Van Gogh’s bedroom from his paintings and standing in front of a life-size version of another, but beyond that they mostly wanted to move on.
There were several video presentations that highlighted a single painting or groups of works that the older boys found interesting. The younger two did a bit more running around.
We finally reached the main room, the large space where the really immersive experience takes place. To my considerable surprise, all of the boys enjoyed this part and sat relatively calmly (as calmly as small boys can) for most of the 40-minute loop.
There’s very little audio (only a couple of Van Gogh quotes read out loud), but the visuals keep changing at a pace calibrated not to strain the brain in keeping up, but steady enough to maintain interest.
And it really does come close to letting you feel as though you’re in his paintings. The displays completely fill your field of vision, though a few poles interfere with some angles. The animations highlight some amazing features of the paintings. Some help illustrate his brush techniques, show his state of mind, and bring out details you could otherwise easily miss. The paintings themselves sometimes roll into action in front of you.
As my daughter pointed out, Van Gogh’s paintings lend themselves to this type of exhibition due to the built-in dynamism of so many of his works, but I think it could work with other artists as well.
The main feature, of course, is one of Van Gogh’s best-known and astonishingly compelling paintings: Starry, Starry Night. Almost everyone recognizes it. Almost everyone responds to it at a visceral level without knowing why. The exhibit offers clues to that pull in the way the stars roll and tumble in the sky; the dark, spear-shaped cypress tree pushing up into that space; and the quiet village, with its scattered illuminated windows, tucked peacefully beneath the almost-living sky above and the looming mountains behind it. The spike of the church’s steeple also pokes up into the sky, less dramatically than the tree.
The village sits quietly at the center of all this natural action going on around it. Taken as a whole it suggests so much about the nature of reality, our illusion of control of our lives, the threats we have to disregard to keep going, and so much more.
But there’s much more to this rolling video than just that one painting. You soak in the works inspired by Japanese prints. Landscapes engulf you. Storm clouds gather in some of his darker works. It’s wonderful and fascinating and I didn’t want to leave.
Moving on after the large room brought you into a space where the organizers provided desk space, crayons, and coloring pages of several of the art works. All of the boys took advantage of the opportunity, but I noticed that some adults also tried their hand. Once done, a scanner at the end of one of the tables transmitted a digital copy of the colored picture to a large digital display on the far wall.
We walked through a room that offered booths and headsets for a virtual reality tour of Van Gogh’s home and environs, but we didn’t want to try to boys’ patience any further and proceeded on through to the inevitable gift shop that completed the experience.
The whole thing is kind of pricey, especially when you take the whole family. Was it worth it? Absolutely.
Can you take the whole family? From my experience I’d also answer this in the affirmative, though parents have to judge for themselves whether the format would work for their children.
Sensitive Feelings and Thick Skins
Early in my writing career – more years ago than I even want to think about— a wise older author warned me that if I wanted to have a career as a published author I’d need to grow a thick skin.
That seemed a bit odd to me since I knew most authors are actually pretty sensitive. You need to be if you’re going to write stories with enough depth and understanding of people that readers will relate to the characters. Like many authors I experience things deeply and my empathy quotient is high.
And yet, almost forty years in the business have forced me to grow that thick protective skin the old hand warned I would need. Because I would not have survived the ups and downs of the publishing world for this long with sanity intact (at least I think it is!) without it.
Eons ago, it seems, after several years and probably a hundred or more rejections, the sixth complete novel I’d written finally sold to Avalon Books in 1989. I went on to contract three more books with them over the next three years. I thought I had it made.
Then the editor I worked with at the time left and the new editor didn’t like my work as much as the previous editor had. She rejected my next two books. It stung, but I kind of shrugged it off, thinking that with my published credentials I wouldn’t have any trouble finding a new publisher. I wanted to take my writing in a different direction anyway.
Five years and many, many more rejections later, I had a contract offer from a major New York publisher. Again I thought I had it made. A week later, before I’d even signed the paper, the publisher shut down the line I’d sold to and canceled the contract offer.
Two more years, many more rejections, and I got another contract offer from a smaller upstart publisher. This time the paper was signed, but the company went out of business before my book saw the light of day.
A few more years and I was published by several different small presses, only one of which is still in business today (after being acquired by a larger publisher). But in 2009 I sold a mystery novel (A Gift for Murder) to Five Star/Cengage, which published beautiful hardback books aimed at the library market. The book, the first in a projected series came out in 2011. Unfortunately life intervened in the form of my mother’s illness and death, and it took several years to write the next book. But I completed it, and in early in 2015 I sent in Wired for Murder. I got an editorial acceptance a few months later. I waited for the contract. And waited. And waited. After several months, I started to suspect the worst, and I was right. In January, 2016, Five Star announced they would be shutting down their mystery line. They released all rights back to the authors.
I was back in the same old boat. At that point I decided to take things into my own hands and I’ve self-published the next books in the series. Sales haven’t set the world on fire, but they’re not terrible either. Harlequin bought mass market paperback rights to Wired for Murder for the Worldwide Mystery Library imprint. I recently published the third book in the series, Playing at Murder. I’m now at work writing another book (possibly the start of a new series) and mentally plotting the fourth book in the Market Center Mysteries series. I have ideas that will not be ignored.
In the meantime, I’m grateful that I’ve managed to grow that thick skin. Although I’ve had what might look like reasonable success in this business with more than a dozen books published by companies both big and small, I will never again think I’ve got it made. You never have it made in a business that changes as fast as the publishing industry.
Rejections still come and they still sting, but I get through it pretty quickly. Bad reviews happen. Publishers come and go and sometimes take hopes and dreams with them when they die.
Now I’m the one who’s been in the business for a while and I’m passing on the best piece of advice I received when starting out. If you plan to pursue a career as a published author, grow a thick skin. There are so many things that can go wrong, can bruise you, cost you all your enthusiasm for writing, if you let them. For all the success I’ve had, I probably have fifty rejections for every book published. I’ve gotten my share of bad reviews. Publishers have folded; lines have ended; editors have moved on and left me with someone less appreciative of my work. You have to learn to deal with it. Or find a less stressful profession.
Best Books I Read Last Year
I’d have a hard time ranking them or deciding which I thought was the absolute best. There’s only one non-fiction title on the list and the fiction leans heavily toward science fiction, fantasy, and mystery. Not really surprising, I suppose, since my writing leans heavily that way as well. Most were released before last year, but sometimes I’m slow to catch up.
So, in no particular order, these are the best books I read in 2022:
And these were my biggest disappointments (not providing covers for these):
Verity – Colleen Hoover — Despite a number of rave reviews I read, I just didn’t like it. I didn’t like the characters and found the plot unrealistic. The “twist” bordered on absurdity. I regret the hours I wasted on this one.
Lessons in Chemistry – Bonnie Garmin – Actually, this was a pretty good book. The hype just led me to expect more than I got.
The Midnight Library – Matt Haig — Ditto