Tom Fowler

Mystery and thriller writer

Tag: 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

Review: Little White Lies

Robert B. Parker’s Little White Lies, by Ace Atkins.

Little White Lies is Ace Atkins’ sixth Spenser book since the Robert B. Parker estate chose him to continue the series following Parker’s death. The books have ranged from just OK (Kickback) to quite good (Wonderland). Little White Lies lands solidly toward the very good end of the scale.

The venerable Spenser gets a referral from his longtime lover Susan Silverman. Connie Kelly wants him to find M. Brooks Welles, an alleged former CIA operative and current commentator who swindled her out of about $300,000 in a real estate scam. Spenser soon learns Welles is a phony; he fabricated his intelligence background and the resulting expertise he claims.

Cover of Little White Lies

It doesn’t take long for Spenser to tie Welles to a local gun club and its owner, Johnny Gredoni, who also seems to be involved in the land swindle. The ATF’s interest means Gredoni (and maybe Welles) are running guns. Spenser soon finds Welles and the two men are shot at, and then Gredoni is killed. Now Spenser has to find Welles again, and he does, as Welles surfaces as Pastor Wells (no E) in the Atlanta suburbs. (Connie, still in love with Well(s)s for some reason, also winds up there.) With longtime ally Hawk in tow, along with Tedy Sapp and the ATF, Spenser goes after Well(e)s and his gun-running friends.

Little White Lies is a solid entry in the Spenser series. Ace Atkins has been on the Spenser beat for six years and, in that time, he has found the voice of not only our intrepid hero, but also the supporting characters. Hawk, Susan, Frank Belson, even Henry Cimoli, all sound like they did in the Parker heyday. That’s no easy feat. Atkins doesn’t write his own books in Parker’s sparse style but he’s done a better job of replicating it as the series has gone on.

The last several Spenser books that Parker wrote didn’t measure up to the best in the series. The plots were a little thinner, and the stories more reliant on dialogue than narrative. Still, each book had some true Spenser moments, as well as the snappy dialogue Parker wrote in every book. Little White Lies is a good book and, more importantly, a good Spenser book. Welles, as the villain, is easy to dislike but not without charisma. (He’s probably based in part on former commentator Wayne Simmons, accused of fabricating his CIA background and defrauding a lover in a real estate scam in 2013.) If you’re a Parker loyalist who has been skeptical of the Atkins Spenser books, shelve that and pick this one up. I think you’ll like it.

Recommended for Spenser fans, Atkins fans, and mystery readers in general.

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.

Book Review: Smart Baseball by Keith Law

Smart Baseball, by ESPN senior writer Keith Law, is a comprehensive and entertaining look at the world of baseball statistics, both the better new ones and some older ones that have lost relevance.

Yes, I’m something of a baseball nerd. Over the years, football has become my favorite sport to sit and watch on TV, but baseball is still my favorite sport to follow. A large reason for that is the game’s statistical history and depth. I collected baseball cards when I was young, culminated by having a complete Topps 1983 set.

Keith Law will tell you that many of the stats on your old baseball card are garbage.

Smart Baseball cover

I had learned this previously. In the words of Bowie, it came as some surprise. I missed the Bill James revolution, but internet baseball writers like Rob Neyer, Joe Posnanski, and Keith Law opened my eyes to newer and better stats.

If you’ve been a participant in the sabermetric revolution, there’s still plenty in Smart Baseball for you. The first part of the book, dubbed “Smrt Baseball” (“smrt” is a Simpsons reference, and it’s worth Googling if you’re not familiar with it) talks about older stats whose time has come. Law tosses things like batting average, pitcher wins, and saves onto the fire, and pillories sacrifice bunts for good measure. Most importantly, he explains what those stats don’t tell us, and why they’ve fallen out of favor over the years. If you enjoy Law’s snark, it’s displayed most often in this section.

Part 2 (“Smart Baseball”) looks at the more modern stats defining the game today. Here is where you’ll find OBP, WAR, UZR, WPA, and more. A common complaint of the newer stats is that you need a spreadsheet to calculate them (and, implicit in there, this somehow makes you less of a baseball fan). That may be true, but how many people sit on their couches and calculate batting averages? Even if you don’t know how to compute WPA or WAR–and I don’t–Law explains them in terms readers can easily understand.

Part 3 (“Smarter Baseball”) looks at the future of data in baseball. How are clubs using Statcast info, along with their own metrics, to evaluate players? What’s the role of traditional scouting in this data-driven era? These are some of the questions Law asks and answers in this section.

Some of you may be wondering why I’m reviewing a baseball book. After all, I’m a fiction writer, and (I presume) many of the people reading this blog are fiction readers. The reason is that good writing is important, and Smart Baseball is good writing. We as writers can learn from nonfiction, too.

If you like baseball, even if you don’t consider yourself a fan of old or new stats, I think Smart Baseball is worth the read. It’ll broaden your horizons as a fan and teach you a few things. That’s not as awesome as watching your team win the World Series (I’ve been waiting since 1983; come on, Orioles!), but it’s still pretty good.

Definitely recommended.

Pro Bono is Now on Amazon!

A couple weeks ago, I started circulating a set of three short stories to introduce prospective readers to C.T. Ferguson, my private investigator protagonist. Two days ago, I put it up on Amazon. It’s in Kindle Unlimited, so it’s free if you have that. Here’s the cover (it looks better in higher resolution, I promise):

Pro Bono cover

The Amazon US link is right here.

I had been giving away Pro Bono to anyone who signed up for my mailing list. Now, with the stories on Amazon, I’m giving something else away. Today, I started offering the first chapter of the upcoming novel The Reluctant Detective, plus bios of the major and minor characters. You can preview the book and learn about the characters before it goes for sale. If you’re interested in this, click the “Get Free Stuff” link near the top of the home page.

The Reluctant Detective is now in editing. I expect to release it to the electronic world around late June to early July. The inexact timeframe is due to a complicating factor: we expect to be moving. Pending good inspections and appraisals, we’ll settle on a new house in a month and move in over the next couple weeks. If my wife follows the pattern of our wedding, she will give me the hairy eyeball if I sit down and work on something other than The Task. So, in the interests of hairy eyeball avoidance, I can’t say exactly when the book will come out. But figure sometime in six to eight weeks.

In the coming weeks, I have some interesting blog posts coming, including looking at great first lines of mystery/thriller writers, and writeups on interesting detective characters from TV. And I might throw in a book review or two. If you have a favorite first line from a mystery or thriller novel, email it to me or tweet it at me.

Happy writing (and reading).

Free Short Stories!

Years ago, Guns n’ Roses said, “I put the pen to the paper ’cause it’s all a part of me.” We’ve moved on from pen and paper in the intervening years, but I did the 21st-Century equivalent and put electronic words onto a screen. I kept up the modernity and assembled those words into a short story set. It contains three short stories, designed to introduce you to the world of unconventional private investigator C.T. Ferguson.

Here’s a look at the cover:

Pro Bono cover

The cover looks a lot better in high-resolution. Shrinking it to make it not dominate this post reduced the quality a little. Anyway, the set of short stories is free, and is now available for download in .pdf, .mobi, and .epub formats. You can go HERE to find out how to snag your copy.

You may be thinking to yourself, “Self, what makes C.T. Ferguson an unconventional PI?” It’s a few things, really. First, as you may have deduced from the cover image, C.T. is more of a hacker than a detective. He thinks he can do most of his work in the pale glow of a computer screen. Most of his cases will prove him wrong (to varying degrees). Another thing that sets C.T. apart from his PI brethren is that he doesn’t charge his clients. How does he make his living? You can read the answers to those and other questions in the short stories, and in the upcoming novel The Reluctant Detective. Right now, it’s being professionally edited. Look for it sometime toward the end of June, on Amazon and other popular ebook sellers.

This story set will be available on Amazon soon. Right now, you can get it for free. Here’s the download link again: right here.

When it’s available, I hope you’ll go and leave a review. And I hope you enjoy C.T.’s cases.

Challenging Yourself: Writing Groups

Like many writers, I’m in a writing group (sometimes called a critique group). I checked out a couple of writing groups before joining my current one. The first group I tried to join didn’t want to take on another genre writer.

This is what I’ve wondered for a while, as a general query: is it bad for a writing group to favor genre authors, as opposed to those who just write mainstream (or literary) fiction?

Obviously, some groups will devote themselves to a certain genre. You’ll have romance writing groups, mystery groups, fantasy groups, etc. Those groups will immerse themselves in the ins and outs of a certain genre and work to get published (or keep getting published) within that genre.

I hope it’s not like this… (Image copyright Drew Myron)

For a more general group, however, is there a tipping point when you have too many genre authors? I don’t know. I can see that each author has to know how their genre works, what the expectations are, what the market is, etc. The other writers in the group will probably not know that information. If I were in a writing group with a romance writer, I couldn’t give her a very deep critique. I could talk about the style, word choices, and technical things like that, but I know nothing about the genre (and I would argue I shouldn’t have to). My advice could be the opposite of what she really needs to know.

So, does this mean writers who write in a genre should only join a writing group that focuses on that genre? I don’t think so. I think being exposed to different genres allows you to spread your wings as a writer and a reader. Let’s use the romance critique from before: I don’t read that genre, so my ability to critique it is limited. But reading it takes me outside of my comfort zone. What I should now be thinking is how I can apply something I saw in that submission to my own writing. Even if what I write is pretty far from romance (and it is), that doesn’t mean the writer has nothing to show me. And it shouldn’t mean I have nothing to say to her.

Stepping out of your normal reading and writing comfort zones can be a good thing. I would encourage anyone to find a good writing group. You can check with your state or local writers’ associations or look here.

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