Tom Fowler

Mystery and thriller writer

Category: Writing (page 1 of 2)

Thor: Ragnarok

Thor: Ragnarok (let’s just call it Thor 3 for short) is raucous, good fun. It features good action scenes, some great images, plenty of laughs, and a story that moves the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) forward. There are some moments where it’s a little too cheeky for its own good, but you can look past them and enjoy the ride.

The movie: Fresh from stopping the demon Surtur (voiced by the great Clancy Brown–yes, the guy who is both The Kurrgan and Mr. Krabs) from starting Ragnarok, thunder god Thor (Chris Hemsworth) returns to Asgard. He exposes Odin (Anthony Hopkins) as Loki (Tom Hiddleston) in disguise. The brothers then go in search of their missing father, aided by Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch). Odin tells them that his first daughter Hela (Cate Blanchett) is coming, and he can’t hold her back now that his time is up.

Hela arrives soon enough, laying waste to the brothers and destroying Thor’s hammer Mjolnir in the process. When Thor and Loki flee via the Bifrost, Hela follows and knocks them out into the void of space. She returns to Asgard, where she gains henchman Skurge (Karl Urban) and begins taking over.

Thor crash-lands in a dump, where a bounty hunter (Tessa Thompson) quickly captures him. She takes him to the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum), who puts Thor into his network of arena fighters, all waiting for a crack at the champion. If you’ve seen a trailer for this movie, you know the champion is the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo). After their fight (which, of course, each thinks he won), Thor recruits the Hulk (and Loki) to help him take Asgard back from Hela. He learns that the bounty hunter who collected him is actually the last remaining Asgardian Valkyrie, and she eventually agrees to go back home and lend a hand.

Thor: Ragnarok

Not the god of hammers.

Heimdall (Idris Elba) has been hiding the people of Asgard from Hela, but she discovers them eventually. Thor and his “Revengers” arrive and the Big Boss Battle ensues. Hela is too strong, however, as she draws her power from Asgard, forcing Thor and Loki to undertake a desperate gambit to stop her.

The writing: Thor 3 hits the notes you would expect from an MCU film. The characters are written well, and their motivations are generally clear and believable. Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie probably has the best arc, though Thor learns quite a bit about himself in the arena against the Hulk and battling Hela at the end. (“Are you the god of hammers?” is a memorable line.)

I mentioned at the beginning that the movie was too cheeky in a few spots. It was legitimately funny, and it showed us that Chris Hemsworth has good comic timing. I think a few scenes were played too much for laughs, though, even at the expense of the characters (including Thor himself a couple times). Those moments aside, the movie entertained me the entire time. Mark Ruffalo gets a good turn as both the Hulk and Bruce Banner, and we get some insight as to the conflict between them. Of course, you’ll want to stay through the credits and see a scene that continues the setup for Avengers: Infinity War.

Thor: Ragnarok is a solid addition to the MCU. It’s probably the funniest movie they’ve made, but despite that, it has serious action chops and a few somber moments that are done well. It’s the best of the three Thor movies, and I say that as someone who liked Thor: the Dark World more than most.

Go see Thor: Ragnarok.

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Book Launch Lessons and Plan

I can say I had a six-figure book launch.

Yes, the launch of The Reluctant Detective hit six figures . . . if you give me the decimal point and four places after.

It’s only been out for two weeks, so I’m not panicking. I didn’t expect to becomes James Patterson overnight. That will take until at least 2019! Further, I didn’t setup any marketing or promotion for the book prior to launch. Why not? It’s the first book in a series. That means the series currently has one book in it. One of the benefits of a series is read-through. People who read and like book one will go on to buy book two. If they like the first two, they’ll nab book three. And so on.

May still benefit from a book launch

I have no other books to sell. (Yes, I have a short story set, Pro Bono, available. It’s not the same as a novel.)

For future books, I’ll do some marketing before the launch, precisely because I’ll have at least one more book to sell. And I’ll be curious to see the effects of a more coordinated book launch on the sales of other books.

For this book, I have some marketing ideas coming up. I’ll be doing newsletter swaps with other mystery and thriller authors, trying to coordinate things around their release schedules so we can both benefit. When the other authors put out their newsletters, I’ll coordinate a Kindle countdown deal, so the price is lower and more attractive. I’ll also try out some Amazon ads, as well as sites like Bargain Booksy to drive traffic (and, I hope, sales).

It’s one book. I’m still a n00b at the indie author thing. There will be more books. I’m trying not to check my KDP dashboard every day, but of course, I do. Once I can stack a few promotions (probably next month), I’ll try to refrain from checking it every hour. And I’ll probably fail. It’ll almost be like a second book launch, and I know my curiosity as to its effectiveness will get the better of me.

If you’ve already bought The Reluctant Detective (or Pro Bono), thanks for your support! If you enjoyed the book, I hope you’ll also leave a review. Follow the book link, click on “Write a customer review,” select your star rating, and write a few words (or a lot of words). Reviews help indie authors like me get discovered, provide some validation for people who come across our books, and help us qualify for promo sites like BookBub. So if you enjoyed the book, please take a moment to leave a review. Thanks!

We’ll talk again next week.

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Instafreebie is Rocket Fuel

Following the advice of many indie authors, I recently signed up for Instafreebie. Like the headline suggests, it has been rocket fuel for my mailing list.

You can’t just sign up for Instafreebie, post a book, and wait for the new subscribers to roll in. Instafreebie is not “set it and forget it.” One of the great tools available for both authors and readers is the group giveaway.

As an author, you apply to join the giveaway. Most of them are genre-based, so there will be different promos for mystery writers, romance writers, etc. I applied using The Confessional, the novella I wrote specifically to give away to potential readers and drive interest. Let’s just say the promos have driven interest.

Confessional cover

My total mailing list subscribers went from about 60 to (as I write this late on the morning of September 23) over 570. I may have promised you no math, so I’ll do the calculations: that’s an increase of over 800%. All because my book is in three group giveaways (with at least one more coming).

Speaking of the group giveaways, here are the links:

Mystery/Suspense Cross-Promo

Thriller and Mystery Giveaway

The Sixth Crow – Stories of Death and Murder

These group giveaways benefit readers, too. You can download as many of the books as you want, and they’re all free. Many of them will require joining the author’s mailing list (full disclosure: mine does), but that’s part and parcel to getting a free book. You’ll probably see some overlap between books in these giveaways, but among all three, you probably have about forty books to choose from. And if mysteries aren’t your bag, you can find giveaways for any broad genre you prefer.

Whether you’re a writer or a reader, it’s worth being on Instafreebie. Writers can gain a lot of exposure and mailing list signups, and readers can fill their devices with free books. I hope you’ll check out the group giveaways linked above, and if you download my book, I hope you enjoy it.

Writing a Novella

Not every idea germinating in a writer’s mind is a novel. Some are short stories. One that gets trapped between those two is a novella.

Novellas don’t get a lot of love. Everyone wants to write novels. Readers want to read novels. Some writers will put out a collection of short stories (which I’ve done). Not many will write novellas. I think there’s some unexplored space here.

I think part of the reason we don’t get a lot of novellas is pricing. A lot of traditionally published paperbacks are $9.99. Where do you price a novella? Many are about half the length of full novels, but will the publisher and author make money on a $4.99 book? Probably not. What about $6.99? Would readers think that price is too high for half a novel? This is another advantage for independent authors, in my opinion. If a full novel is $3.99 or $4.99, it’s easy to price a novella at $2.99. The author still makes money, and readers don’t feel like they’re paying too much.

A few days ago, I finished a novella. My goal was 30,000 words, and it checks in just under that. What’s that? You’d like to see the cover? Sure thing!

Confessional novella cover

This novella began its life as a short story. In fact, it was the first short story I wrote featuring my private investigator protagonist C.T. Ferguson. I’ll be honest: the story wasn’t very good. What it did, however, was start me on the road to finding C.T.’s voice, both as a character and a narrator. This novella is a lot different than the original short story, and I think it’s a lot better.

My process was similar to writing a full novel. I start with the story idea, usually know who did it, and know how I want the book to begin and end. Then I make a brief outline, setting out my expected number of chapter and how I think the story will progress over them. It never works out the way I outline it, but my system (if we can call it that) is flexible enough to add, remove, and shift events around. My full mystery novels check in somewhere in the 70,000-75,000 word range. The Confessional is around 29,000 words.

Here’s something that may surprise you: I’m not selling this book. It’s a giveaway, exclusively to readers who have signed up for my mailing list. I’m going to keep doing novellas this way. Each will be set between novels, so this one takes place between The Reluctant Detective and the still-unnamed second novel. Spoiler alert: C.T. survives the first novel, but because this is a series, you probably figured he would.

Now I’m on the hunt for ideas that are compelling but wouldn’t make a full novel. A writer’s work is never done, and we prefer it that way.

What do you think about novellas? Their pricing? Hit me up with questions or comments.

To get your free copy of The Confessional, in your ebook format of choice, sign up here.

-Tom

Moving Delays a Writer

Yes, I’ve been a little quiet recently. The reason is that we’re moving.

Moving always sucks. Even when you contract the heavy lifting to someone else, the process is no fun. We have to move three people, all of whom own a lot of stuff. Some of that stuff will donated, some sold, and some will come with us (to combine with new stuff we’ve bought for this house). While getting new stuff (like a king bed, w00t!) is neat, I’m ready for the moving process to be over. The fact that I’ve ripped out carpet and worked on putting down laminate may influence this.

Snoopy is moving too

I’m not moving to a different website, though. Everything will continue to be here, including links to my books. And speaking of books, as the title suggests, the move is delaying my book. Those of you looking forward to The Reluctant Detective will have to wait a bit longer. (And if you want sample chapters and character bios to preview the book, you can get them right here.) I had hoped to put the book out around the end of this month. Now it looks like it’ll be the end of September. Just in time for Labor Day reading!

My next post will probably be after the move. Happy reading and writing.

Working with an Editor

I’ve written a couple reviews recently, and I’ll have more coming in the near-ish future. What I haven’t done recently is write about writing. Today, I want to share some experiences I’ve had working with an editor. This will be an irregular ongoing series, one I’ll add to when I have new or interesting experiences to share.

First, I think every independent author should hire a professional editor. No, they don’t work for free, but we also shouldn’t expect them to. No one can find all the flaws in their own manuscript. Even if you’re good at proofreading (and I think I am), you’re going to miss things. Your readers will notice them.

I hope your editor isn't like this.

Not how it should go. (Image (c) Nicola R. White)

Additionally, a good editor does more than just double-up your spelling and grammar checker. They’ll also check for word repetitions, grammar issues Word may not catch, genre conventions, character and plot issues, and more. (Some of this approaches a developmental edit, which is separate. But a good editor should be able to tell you if your protagonist stumbles into a plot hole.)

I had an editor for The Reluctant Detective, and it was a great experience. It’s kind of like paying someone to tell you all the things you’re doing wrong. But that’s how we grow as writers. I learned some of the things I don’t do well in the process, and now I know to look out for them in the future. (The editor also told me what I did well; it shouldn’t just be a string of criticism.) Knowing this doesn’t mean I won’t need an editor next time. In fact, I plan to work with the same one again.

Working with an editor made my book stronger. I think you’ll be able to see that when it comes out. You can put my claim to the test and go here to get the first two chapters.

Have any stories about your own experiences? Drop me a line.

Happy writing and editing.

Review: Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman is easily the best movie in the DCEU. Considering the competition, I’m sure you could interpret that as damning with faint praise. It’s not. This movie is great. It’s a shining light in a sea of otherwise dreary and mopey grey.

The movie: Young Diana, the princess of the island of Themiscyra, wishes to train with her fellow Amazons. Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) initially refuses, but, as Diana grows into a teenager, tells Antiope (Robin Wright) to train the girl harder than any Amazon before.

As a woman, Diana (Gal Gadot, who’s absolutely terrific) has become a great warrior. After training one day, she sees a plane crash off the shores of the island. Diana resuces the pilot, American Air Force Captain Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), on loan to British Intelligence against the Germans. The Germans discover the plane and attack the island, which goes poorly for all of them and a few of the Amazons.

Learning of “the War to End All Wars,” and fearing that war god Ares has returned, Diana and Steve leave Themiscyra, seeking the war. It doesn’t take them long to find it. When they arrive to find the small town of Veld under constant siege by the Germans, Diana is horrified by the Allies’ indifference and takes matters into her own hands. And it’s awesome. Mostly by herself, she lays waste to an entire German batallion.

Womder Woman, as played by Gal Gadot

Diana, Steve, and their small band of misfits have to stop German General Ludendorff (Danny Huston) and chemist Dr. Maru (Elena Anaya) from unleashing chemical weapons and undoing the upcoming armistice. Even when they think they’ve succeeded, Diana discovers that Ares has indeed returned, and she has to stop the god of war to end the war.

The writing: The best part of the writing is the character of Diana (she’s never called “Wonder Woman” in the movie, btw). Credit Gal Gadot for a great performance: she’s fierce, sympathetic, anguished, and curious at the right times and in the right amounts. Good writing and acting went into the humorous fish-out-of-water scenes, as we see this world through Diana’s eyes. The most important thing is that DC finally got a hero right.

See, Diana is the inspiring hero who genuinely wants to help the helpless we should have gotten with Superman in Man of Steel. Instead, we got Sir Mopes-a-Lot. Diana cares about the oppressed, is appalled when the Allied soldiers won’t help, and opens a giant can of whoop-ass on the Germans. It’s tremendous, and if it doesn’t make you want to go out and punch an evildoer in the face, the problem is yours.

The first two acts of the story are really, really good. The third is the generic Fight Against the Big Bad (Ares, in this case). Based on the quality of the first two acts–especially the second–I expected more from the third. It’s not bad, but it’s underwhelming in context. Diana seems to accrue new powers (or more power) in the fight, I guess because she collected enough plot coupons or experience points to level up.

The third act not living up to the first two is all that’s bad here. The boss fight is fine, and the identity of Ares may surprise you if you weren’t paying attention. But this movie earns its accolades on the backs of the actors who turned in good performances, and a script with a damn fine second act.

Go see Wonder Woman.

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Get two free chapters of my upcoming novel The Reluctant Detective, plus exclusive bios of the characters! Information is right here.

Review – Logan


Preamble: this movie review, and others you’ll see on this site, will focus on both the movie and the writing. This is, after all, a site about writing by a writer. This review covers the recent movie Logan, the final entry in the Wolverine saga. Yes, I’m lame enough that I missed it in theaters.

The movie: Logan is set in 2029. In this dreary future, no mutant have been born in the last 25 years. No longer going by Wolverine, Logan (Hugh Jackman) is driving a limo and dealing with a healing factor that’s no longer working well. The adamantium bonded to his bones is poisoning him and, coupled with his dodgy healing ability, is causing him constant pain.

Logan poster

Logan also cares for Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart), now 90 and suffering from Alzheimer’s. If you think it sounds bad that the world’s most powerful telepath has a brain disease, you’re right: Xavier’s seizures have devastating consequences for anyone around. The movie hints that one seizure killed seven X-Men. Only Logan seems able to function, more or less, during one of these episodes.

Logan and Xavier eventually meet Laura (Dafne Keen, terrific in her film debut), a mutant not born but grown in a lab by Alkali/Transigen. She also has adamantium claws and can regenerate, but she’s eleven, and has all the self-control you might expect from an eleven-year-old. Not surprisingly (though Logan seems surprised for some reason), Wolverine’s DNA runs in her veins. Transigen wants Laura and other escaped young mutants back, and to retrieve them, they send a clone of Logan called X-24.

Laura and the other young mutants are trying to get to North Dakota, where they will cross the Canadian border to some type of sanctuary. (Comic geeks, like me, may presume that Alpha Flight is going to host and protect them.) Transigen, its security chief Pierce (Boyd Holbrook) and X-24 find Logan and the kids before this can happen, of course, and we get a pretty epic final battle out of it.

The writing: I’m trying not to spoil anything here, so I’ll just say that the characters (and what happens to them) benefited from good writing. Logan is much a road movie as it is a superhero one. If not for a few mutant powers, this wouldn’t be a superhero movie at all.

The pacing is mostly good, though I think it drags in the second act. Logan was right to want to move on and not stay at the Munson family farm. The resultant scenes were good and moved the story forward, but it vexes me when characters do things they know are dumb. At least there’s a payoff. Also, the Canadian border as some magical sanctuary bugged me. Even if Alpha Flight were there and waiting, Transigen had a squad of Reaver mercenaries. It didn’t appear to be a sure thing, at any rate.

This movie is rated R, and it’s a pretty hard R. There’s a lot of neck stabbing, face stabbing, belly stabbing, leg stabbing . . . this is just a stabby movie. The violence is swift, brutal, and done well. Language is the other factor earning this movie its R rating. (Tidbit: you only get one F-bomb in a PG-13 movie.) I have no problem with cursing in fiction (books, TV, or movies), but several of the F-bombs felt gratuitous. It was like the movie was making up for being constrained in the cursing department with the prior two Wolverine scripts.

The story is good, though, and the characters (both good and bad) are written and portrayed well. I definitely recommend seeing Logan, but know going in that it’s violent, bloody, and sometimes swears to hear itself doing so. But it’s good.

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If you haven’t already, go here to get your free sample chapters and character bios for my upcoming mystery novel The Reluctant Detective!

Review: No Middle Name, by Lee Child

No Middle Name collects all the Jack Reacher short stories into one volume.

Whatever your opinion of Reacher, this collection won’t change it. I’ve read all the books (and seen both movies), so I like the character. However, I also recognize that he has his faults. Reacher can be pretty pompous and annoying at times, bordering on insufferable in some moments. The good and the occasionally vexing are all in here. The good wins out. I’ll focus more on the longer stories in this review.

The book opens with “Too Much Time,” a brand-new novella. (All the other stories were previously published somewhere.) In a small Maine town, Reacher witnesses what looks like a random purse-snatching and intervenes. Of course, it ends up being a lot more than that, and Reacher ends up arrested on a trumped-up charge. He has to figure out who had him locked up and why. And what was in that bag to cause all of this? It’s a good story, probably not meaty enough for a full novel, but great as a novella.

No Middle Name cover

“Small Wars” goes back to 1989, when Reacher, still an MP, works the case of a young, fast-rising officer shot in her sports car on a random forest road. The local police run their own investigation, which complicates things. This story does a good job of showing how smart and adaptable Reacher can be, as he assembles some disparate facts, plus a few assumptions, and figures it out.

“Not a Drill” takes us back to Maine. Reacher, looking to see the northern terminus of I-95, finds himself in the Maine woods with some campers. When the hiking trail is closed by the military, Reacher and one of the hikers set off to figure out why. “High Heat” sets the wayback machine to 1977. Seventeen-year-old Reacher is in New York City in the middle of a heatwave. He runs afoul of a local made man, romances a girl, and sees a strange character outside of a car. This is one of the time Reacher borders on annoying, as the man’s movements lead Reacher to conclude things about his past and eventually posit that he’s the Son of Sam. Which, of course, he is. Still. the story is entertaining.

“Second Son” cranks the rewind even harder, showing Reacher as a preteen newly-arrived in Okinawa. He’s mostly the same as he is as an adult, just smaller. In this story, Reacher beats up an older, smelly bully and manages to solve a case that has confounded the MPs. Child’s writing is always compelling, and he’s great at pacing and moving the story forward. This story strained credulity, however. I’ll come along for the ride and buy Reacher as a smart brawler at seventeen. I could probably go down to sixteen, but that would be it.

“Deep Down” takes Reacher back to his Army days again. He’s trying to find the spy among four female officers. Maybe all four are clean. Maybe one is dirty. One definitely ends up dead, but was she the double agent? “Guy Walks into a Bar,” “James Penney’s New Identity,” “Everyone Talks,” “The Picture of the Lonely Diner,” “Maybe They Have a Tradition,” and “No Room at the Motel” are shorter stories that complete the book. “James Penney’s New Identity” was my favorite of the bunch. They’re all pretty quick reads, usually just covering Reacher in one situation, rather than navigating a harrowing problem.

No Middle Name shows a great character in many different situations. Some are like Child’s bestselling thrillers; some are more like vignettes. If you like Reacher, you’ll like No Middle Name. If you’ve never read any of the Reacher books, this is a good introduction to the character. After finishing this book, go directly to Killing Floor. Do not pass Go.

But do buy this book.

How Important is Setting?

Today, my wife and I took our daughter to see Peter and the Wolf in Hollywood. “Wait,” you may be thinking. “Since when is Hollywood the setting for Peter and the Wolf?”

That’s the point. It’s usually not. But for this performance, it was, and it worked. There were a few changes, but anyone familiar with the story would still recognize it, and the narration and music accompaniment were very good.

That got me thinking about setting. For some books, it’s vital. The Spenser novels wouldn’t be the same if they got transplanted from Boston to, say, Dallas. With some series, the setting almost becomes a character unto itself. We as readers get used to the author describing certain roads, houses, buildings, restaurants, etc. Would Lawrence Block’s Matthew Scudder novels have been the same in Phoenix instead of New York? Would L.A. Confidential have been the same if it were Memphis Confidential?  You can certainly tell a crime story in Memphis, but not that one. An unlicensed PI could solve cases in Phoenix, but he wouldn’t be Scudder. Someone could write a mystery series set in Dallas, but not the Spenser novels.

Insert tumbleweeds here...

Not the setting of many noir novels.

For other books, setting may not be as important. (Let’s leave out speculative fiction set in author-created worlds; those are obviously hard to relocate.) Maybe it’s a genre thing. A gritty urban fantasy set in New York may work just as well set in Washington D.C. A literary fiction novel may be taken from Portland, Oregon and plopped into Portland, Maine with little loss. The Jack Reacher series by Lee Child is set everywhere. Reacher as a character moves around a lot. One book will be in Europe, and the next will be in some tiny town in the US. And they all work because Reacher (and good storytelling) keeps everything together.

My crime novels are set in Baltimore. I hope I can make it seem like another character in the books, like Parker did for Boston and Block did for New York.

For writers, here are your books set? Could they be set somewhere else? Do you want to make setting more important? Those are things you’ll need to decide. For readers, how much do you value setting? Do you prefer books where the setting is important? Drop me a line and let me know.

 

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