Dani Amore is the author of DEATH BY SARCASM and DEAD WOOD. Today she was kind enough to stop by the blog and tell us about her path to publication.

I decided to become an independent author because a famous writer gave his reason for why you shouldn’t self-publish.  Basically, he said that if you’ve written a novel and can’t attract interest from an agent, you probably haven’t written a good enough book. So don’t self publish.

I had written a novel that attracted attention from an agent. In fact, I’d written two different novels that had attracted two different agents.

The agents had several things in common:

1.  They both represented New York Times bestselling authors.
2.  They both believed in my respective crime novels.
3.  They each represented me (one in 2003, the other, in 2005)
4. They absolutely could not sell my respective crime novels.  Despite going out to many publishers.

So I after the second agent couldn’t sell the second book, I found myself without agent representation.

I’m feeling pretty low.  I’ve taken to calling myself Miss-Can’t-Sell-A-Book.

Of course, I can’t stay away from the blank page.  So I write a thriller.  My most ambitious work to date.  The manuscript is 600 pages or so.  110,000 words.  It’s dark. Gritty.  Bad-ass. I love it.

Hey Author Friends:

I have a few features on my blog that I've been ignoring for far too long, and now, with your help, I'd like to put a little more effort into them.

I'm looking for authors (mainly crime fiction, but I'll consider others as well) to contribute to "Path to Publication," "Author Interviews," "Question o' the Day," or any other topic you might like to guest blog about. This blog is kind of geared toward aspiring authors, so anything in that vein would be great. I'd especially like to beef up the "Path to Publication" section because everyone loves a good success story, don't they?

The only caveat is I reserve the right to refuse if I don't think your content is right for my audience. Oh, and I don't get paid, so neither do you, except in all those book sales your presence on my blog might generate. I may add more caveats if I find I get too many requests or something like that. We'll see.

Anyway, I like to promote authors whose work I like. So that's what the purpose of all this is, as well as to give readers some content that informs, inspires, and/or entertains.

Contact me here in the comments, on Twitter, or on Facebook if you'd like to participate.

I've been thinking about book promotion lately. Not sure why–probably because Left Coast Crime 2011 just finished up and a lot of my friends went. It made me ask the question:

These days writers have to do quite a bit of their own promotion to spread the word about their books. How much time do you spend "on the road" each year promoting your books? (This could mean conferences, book tours, local events, etc).

Final_cover_long_knives Rebecca Cantrell:

More time than I'd like! For A NIGHT OF LONG KNIVES, I did a 10 city tour that took a month (but I took several days off at the beginning and the end to just hang out in San Francisco and New York with my family). Plus Bourchercon and LCC (4 days each).

For A GAME OF LIES, I'm packing it into a 1 week tour, 4 days for Tuscon Festival of Books, 4 days for LCC, 3 days for the Hawaii Island Book and Music Festival. Still haven't decided on Bouchercon.

Holly's note: You'd better go to Bouchercon, Rebecca!

Eric Beetner:

Not much time at all 'on the road'. Most of that is due to two things for me: money and interest. Not 94212919 interest from me, I feel like I'd go anywhere, but interest from stores or any other place that does author events. I'm actually finding it surprisingly difficult to get anyone to have me. I discovered that the treatment I got at The Mystery Bookstore spoiled me and now I can't even get an email returned from any number of indie stores where I've sent books (at my expense for the purchase of the book and postage).

I know they are busy and are inundated with requests all day long but the lack of response has been a shock.

I've done two LCC's now and B-Con last year. I have every intention of doing B-Con again in St. Louis but that may change. Conferences for me are all about networking and meeting other authors, not book sales. Last B-Con I didn't sell a single book. Still had blast though so totally worth it.

Rebecca Cantrell is the author of the award-winning Hannah Vogel series and iDrakula (writing as Bekka Black).

Eric Beetner is the co-author of ONE TOO MANY BLOWS TO THE HEAD and BORROWED TROUBLE, and author of numerous award-winning short stories.

Questionmark Since I'm in the process of plotting my second novel, the question of outlining (or not) is on my mind. I asked my friend Kelli Stanley, author of 2010 LA Times Book Prize finalist CITY OF DRAGONS, whether she is an outliner:

KS: Do I outline? Yes and no. It's complicated. 🙂

I use a rough outline to break down the story into acts or parts. CITY OF DRAGONS–and all the Miranda books–are constructed on a five act play structure. A contemporary thriller I'm working on is built on three acts.

Certain things need to happen at certain points along the way, and the division helps me make sure they do. I then break down the acts into chapters, and set a page limit for the chapters themselves.

As I write, I narrow the focus, so the outline becomes more detailed. But I never get too specific, Curse-Maker-3D-199x300 particularly at the beginning, because one of the primary joys in writing–for me–is the process of discovery. I like the freedom of letting characters develop themselves, steal scenes, and I love the thrill of the unexpected–I like to be surprised as much as a reader would. At the same time, crime fiction demands a certain pace, which itself constricts and expands depending on the scene, your goals, and the stage you are in the plot. Writing an outline keeps me focused on those elements–it reminds me of what's next, and acts as the spine of the novel–which I can then flesh out with much more freedom, knowing that key plot elements are planned ahead.

Kelli Stanley is the award-winning author of NOX DORMIENDA, CITY OF DRAGONS, and most recently, THE CURSE-MAKER.

Eric Beetner and JB Kohl are the authors of One Too Many Blows to the Head and the recently released Borrowed Trouble. Just to get you in the mood, here is the trailer for Borrowed Trouble: 

Not bad, eh? This is a book I can’t wait to read.

Eric and I met at Left Coast Crime in Los Angeles in 2010 and have since become friends. To celebrate the release of Borrowed Trouble, we took some time out to chat about our writing processes.

Question_mark I had this idea to ask published authors random questions now and then, all geared toward aspiring authors like myself.

Today, Stephen Jay Schwartz, author of BOULEVARD and BEAT, was kind enough to answer one of my questions about his experience with getting published.

A bit of background: Stephen was the Director of Development for film director Wolfgang Petersen. He's also written screenplays, and worked as a "script doctor," along with many other accomplishments in film.

I asked Stephen: "Did your background in film help you land an agent and/or book deal?"

SJS: "My background in film helped only in that I took a rather aggressive approach to finding an agent. The film business is a bit dog-eat-dog, in case you haven't heard, and it's good prep for almost anything else you do in life. However, I didn't know any book agents and I had to begin at the beginning. I did a ton of research to determine who the great agents were and I went out to pursue them, sending my query letter and the first fifty or so pages of my manuscript. My experience in film did help validate me on paper–it let the agents know right away that I had a history working with story. So, it probably helped to get them to start reading my material. By the way, I've circled back a bit now. I've got a screenwriting assignment for an action feature. So, I hope to write the screenplay and two novels in 2011."

Good to know, Stephen! Thanks!



December 23
Day 23

Kelli Stanley Interview

Before I get on with today's post, I want to remind you I'm donating $1 for every new Twitter follower between now and December 31 to Reading is Fundamental. Details here.

Due to some wires getting crossed (yeah, I know–but it still happens in this wireless world), I didn't include an interview in my recent post about Kelli Stanley. Yesterday, Kelli was kind enough to answer my questions post haste, and as a result, today I'm featuring her again.

Me & Kelli at the Mystery Bookstore

1) You write two historical crime series, one set in Roman times and the other set in 1940s San Francisco. Is one easier/more fun to write than the other?

Hmm. Good question! I'd say that neither series is easier to write than the other, but that because the Roman series is lighter, it's easier on me emotionally and offers a good contrast in tone–Arcturus, though facing his share of internal issues, has a loving bond with Gwyna that makes him a much less psychologically dark person than Miranda.

With the Roman noir novels, I get to be a bit playful, too, but as anyone who has ever performed comedy knows, "lighter" doesn't mean easier. And while hardly comedic, "Roman noir" is a pun on the French literary term as much as it is a description of time, place, and style–so the expression of it in the series is an acknowledged tribute to the genre as a lens through which we can view life.

My goals for both series are different, too–with the Roman series, I'm trying to make a very remote and

seemingly alien culture become more accessible for the modern reader–trying to demonstrate how little has changed within human behavior, and why, therefore, history is relevant. With Miranda, I don't even see the series as "historical" … really, it's my own peculiar attempt to examine our very recent past, question the mythology we've built up around it and ourselves, and rewrite the rules of noir without the gender stereotypes and Hays Office censorship code that pervaded the entertainment media.

I will confess that I enjoy spending time in 1940 more than in 84 AD, because I've always been drawn to that particular era … so in terms of setting, the Miranda series wins out. 🙂

2) Describe your perfect San Francisco day.

Well, a perfect day would mean a day off from the day job. We’d start with the weather—about 63 degrees, sunny, a few clouds, and a breeze from the West. I’d get up early, walk the dog, check email, and probably head to the San Francisco Public Library—main branch—to browse through the newspapers for research and (if I have time), the History Room.

I’d grab lunch in Chinatown (of course), snap a few photos, and get home in time to settle down to a few good writing hours for the next Miranda. I’d reach a benchmark—usually the end of a scene, sometimes the end of a chapter—feel good about it, check email again, make dinner, and settle down with a book before bed, or possibly a DVD. Or maybe more research … I’ve been known to take large, dusty newspaper compilations into the kitchen or bedroom when I’m on a research jag.

That probably sounds terribly boring … but honestly, writing is not something I’m free to do full time or even every day, so for me—it’s perfect!

3) Where do you do the majority of your writing?

I alternate between two places: in front of my computer, which is a Dell 64 bit I purchased after I sold CITY OF DRAGONS (I wrote my first three books on a Dell, so I had to buy another), and my writing desk, which is where I go over hard copy edits and do most of my plotting, thinking and research. These are both in one room, facing opposite walls. I do a bit of writing outside the house—on the bus, occasionally, or whenever something strikes me. Sometimes in the shower! The truth is, I’m actually writing ALL the time, in my head, once I’m working on a book, but the act of putting words to paper usually happens in front of my computer (or, if I’m on the road, on my laptop).

4) Writing aside, what is your greatest aspiration?

It’s just about impossible for me to put writing aside, because it really IS my life. I devote all my time and energy to it, and we sacrifice quite a bit of other things (like movies, museums, vacations, etc.) to make sure I have both the time to write and the equally necessary time to tour, promote, etc. Writing is my passion but it is also a business, and—as a former small business owner—I can testify to the fact that ANY business you begin will take over your life. So … my greatest aspiration is to be able to write full-time, to be successful enough for that to be a reality.

If I force myself to take writing out of the equation, we still come back to a related aspiration: make the world a better place. Sounds corny, but it’s true—and writing is the way I’d like to contribute to the world, to help people. I have a profound respect for the power of any creative act, and believe as a matter of principle that writers, artists and creative people should use the power they wield for the good of the world, not to exploit it.

5) What inspires you, in writing or otherwise?

People inspire me. They fascinate me … and, even though I’m a noir writer—and maybe because I’m a noir writer—I believe that they’re fundamentally good in many ways. Hearing stories from people I meet is wonderfully inspirational, and my family in particular has always been an inspiration to me on every level of my life.

Film noir, of course, has been hugely influential. My first novel, NOX DORMIENDA, and the whole idea of “Roman noir” was conceived during one of my annual pilgrimages to the Noir City Film Festival in San Francisco. Great narrative film-making in general inspires me and certainly informs my style of writing.

Books and other writers—of course. Raymond Chandler, Hammett, Woolrich, Hemingway, Steinbeck, Fitzgerald … I love the lyrical in writing, and used to spend my time in classes writing poetry when I should have been studying the topic of the class! Poetry has always been a major inspiration, and I adore writers or playwrights that touch on the lyrical—Tennessee Williams, for instance, or Eugene O’Neil.

Nature inspires me. I grew up in a rural, remote area, surrounded by animals, wild and otherwise. My love of nature and desire to protect what wildness we have left on the planet generally crops up in the Roman noir series, and is something I share with Arcturus.

Finally, San Francisco and the 1930s/40s—with Art Deco style, Big Band swing, long, low cars and skyscrapers—is a constant source of inspiration, and I try to convey some of the beauty of the era in the Miranda books.

Thank you for stopping by, Kelli!

If you're buying books as gifts this holiday season, please consider purchasing from your local independent bookshop. The level of customer service you'll receive is unmatched, you'll have the added benefit of making new friends of the staff, and you'll help support a local business.

Some of the books featured in this post can be purchased from the Mystery Bookstore in Los Angeles (orders@mystery-bookstore.com).

December 17
Day 17

Hiliary Davidson

When I first heard the premise of Hilary Davidson's debut novel, THE DAMAGE DONE, I knew it would be at the top of my "To Be Read" pile as soon as it released. Unfortunately, I had to wait like 6 months for it to happen.


Here's the premise: Lily Moore is a travel writer who has moved to Spain to escape her troubled sister, Claudia. But when Claudia is found dead in her bathtub, Lily returns to NYC to deal with the aftermath, only to find that the dead woman in the tub isn't her sister, and that her sister has disappeared.

Pretty good, huh? Yeah, I thought so too.

Turns out, the novel was worth the wait. In THE DAMAGE DONE, Hilary creates a truly compelling portrait of two troubled sisters and their dysfunctional history, enticing the reader to care deeply about the outcome of Lily's search for her sister. Combined with the romantic backdrop of its Manhattan setting, this book was one of my favorites this year.

I've been fortunate enough to get to know Hilary over the past year, and it's been an even greater pleasure than reading her book. She was kind enough to answer some of my questions for this post:

1) Much of your career has been spent writing non-fiction (travel). Apart from the fact that in fiction you're "making stuff up," how is writing fiction different from writing non-fiction?

The level of intensity is much greater. With nonfiction, I would usually write one draft of an article and turn it in. With fiction, I'm obsessive. I write and rewrite and carry the story with me wherever I go. My husband jokes about me walking into traffic, because my brain just keeps twisting the story around and around, and the real world recedes, bit by bit. It makes me feel like Mr. Magoo.

2) Your debut novel, THE DAMAGE DONE, has received (deservedly) many accolades. Is being a published fiction author different than you thought it would be?

First, that is really kind of you to say. Thank you. Things are different from what I imagined, even though I thought I knew something about the publishing business. I expected to handle my own publicity for the book, but I never used to think about issues like how books end up in stores. I mean, isn't that automatic? Doesn’t the publisher handle everything? Um, no, actually. I've been on a steep learning curve for the past year, and it has given me such a deep appreciation for independent bookstores. There are some — The Mystery Bookstore, the Poisoned Pen, Murder by the Book, Sleuth of Baker Street, and Mystery Lovers Bookshop all come to mind — that have played a huge role in getting my book in front of people. I assumed that it was my publisher’s job to deal directly with indie bookstores, but now I’m glad that it’s mine.

3) Writing aside, what inspires you?

I love just walking around New York and observing people. Even when I’m in one of my Mr. Magoo fugue states, that inspires me and fires up my imagination. Museums, too — I love photography exhibits, because I’ve gotten some of my wildest ideas looking at photos and telling myself a story about what’s really going on inside the frame.

4) Do you listen to music while you write? If so, what?

I like quiet when I’m writing a first draft, but I often listen to music when I’m editing and rewriting. I made a playlist for THE DAMAGE DONE. It had a lot of songs by Billie Holiday and Sarah Vaughan and Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald, because that’s what Lily, the main character, listens to. But there were songs I added for the other characters, too. “The Needle and the Damage Done” by Neil Young was on it, and that eventually inspired the book’s title.

5) Any hints as to what's next for you or Lily (or ideally, both)?

Well, I can tell you that Lily will be back. My second novel is called THE NEXT ONE TO FALL, and it’s set in Peru three months after the end of THE DAMAGE DONE. Forge is publishing it in late 2011 or early 2012. I have a third book with Lily that I want to write, and I also have a standalone that I’m working on now. On the short-fiction front, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine is publishing a story of mine this spring, and I have a story in the upcoming CRIMEFACTORY anthology.

Thanks, Hilary! I'm so happy about the success of THE DAMAGE DONE, and I can't wait to read the next Lily Moore book.

If you're buying books as gifts this holiday season, please consider purchasing from your local independent bookshop. The level of customer service you'll receive is unmatched, you'll have the added benefit of making new friends of the staff, and you'll help support a local business.

Books featured in this post can be purchased from the Mystery Bookstore in Los Angeles (orders@mystery-bookstore.com).

December 15
Day 15

David Liss

There are two authors featured in “25 Days of Books” who, while they aren’t the reason I’m a writer, they are certainly big reasons for what I’m writing.

One of these authors is David Liss.

Before I continue, I’d like to note that David’s debut writing the new BLACK PANTHER: THE MAN WITHOUT FEAR #513 comes out today (12/15).


Now back to the really important stuff. David Liss is one of the reasons I write what I write. I don’t want to go into a long explanation of why this is. Suffice to say I knew I wanted to write a historical set in the England of Charles II (1660-85) for as long as I can remember. I’d always assumed it would have to be a romance. Unfortunately, romances never really interested me, and it never occurred to me I could write a historical crime novel (I know. Sometimes I’m dense).

Until I read David’s novel A CONSPIRACY OF PAPER.


Something clicked, and although I did not actually begin writing DIARY OF BEDLAM for a few years after that, I can, with great conviction, say that David Liss is one of my primary influences.

And if you know David, you understand that’s a somewhat frightening prospect.

CONSPIRACY OF PAPER and the subsequent novels in the series, A SPECTACLE OF CORRUPTION, and THE DEVIL’S COMPANY, are set in early 18th century London. They feature Benjamin Weaver, a former boxer turned thief-taker, who, as a Jew in Christian England, is an outsider. He uses his wits and his brawn to make his living bringing criminals to justice, often mixing with London’s elite, who loathe him almost as much as they need his services.

More than the plots of David’s novels, which are, of course, compelling, I am attracted to the voice and setting. The glimpse they give into 18th century London feels authentic, and though David makes this look easy, I can tell you, acheiving this in a historical novel is a daunting challenge. Furthermore, Benjamin Weaver is now one of my favorite literary characters; the kind that women fall in love with and men want to be. I hope to see more of him soon.

David also contributes short stories to many anthologies. An example is WHAT MAISIE KNEW in THE NEW DEAD Zombie Anthology. It is a deliciously creepy story that actually haunted me for a few days afterward. Good stuff.

David was kind enough to grace us with his presence on my blog by answering a few questions:

1) You are now writing the new Black Panther. Which is more fun to write, comics or novels? Bonus points for why.

They are differently fun, which sounds like a cop-out, but it’s true. Comic books are inherently fun, but they are also tightly contained – each issue is 22 pages, pages should be no more than six panels, in general, and most times less than that. It’s fun to work with the characters and stories, and it’s nice that a script doesn’t take nearly as long as a novel, but it’s also hard to experience the pure creative burst you get when writing in prose.

2) You’re known for your historical novels. What attracts you to writing historicals?

I knew a lot about a particular period in history. I started out with the idea that I wanted to write a novel, and then I had to figure out what I ought to write about. I was doing my dissertation research on 18th century England, so I thought I’d write about that. I had previously enjoyed some historical novels, but I didn’t consider myself a fan of that particular genre. I still don’t read a lot of them (reading books to similar to what I do often feels more like work than pleasure), but I absolutely enjoy writing them.

3) What is your dream bottle of wine?

If I had to choose one favorite, I’d probably say syrah from Northern Rhone. Hermitage is way too expensive for me to drink on any kind of regular basis, but I’ll certainly accept all gifts.

4) What trait(s) do you share with Benjamin Weaver?

We both have feet.

What about the Black Panther?

Even less than I have with Benjamin Weaver, especially in his old incarnation as the king of Wakanda. Now that he has been stripped of his powers and his kingship, he’s a much more human character, and so easier to identify with. I think we can all relate to his experience of being in a strange place, surrounded by strange people, not really knowing what to do or say. In fact, I just had that experience at my son’s preschool holiday sing-a-long.

5) Can I buy you another drink?

Just one?

Thanks for letting me interview you, David. I hope to buy you many drinks, and even a bottle of Hermitage, in the future. Oh, and sorry I made you look like an alcoholic in this post.

If you’re buying books as gifts this holiday season, please consider purchasing from your local independent bookshop. The level of customer service you’ll receive is unmatched, you’ll have the added benefit of making new friends of the staff, and you’ll help support a local business.

Books featured in this post can be purchased from the Mystery Bookstore in Los Angeles (orders@mystery-bookstore.com).

December 9
Day 9

Stephen Jay Schwartz

One day I walked past my local coffee shop and I saw a flyer in the window. It was advertising a book called BOULEVARD by an author named Stephen Jay Schwartz. Apparently, much of the novel had been written in the shop, and I made a mental note to check it out.

Fast forward to March 2010 and the Left Coast Crime conference in Los Angeles. Stephen Jay Schwartz was there, and I made a point of introducing myself (and I will totally forgive him for not remembering). I bought the book during that conference, and I read it shortly after.


BOULEVARD was a book that made me, for lack of a better word, squirm. It's protagonist, Hayden Glass, is a vice cop who happens to also be a recovering sex addict, and his job often places him in the role of protector to the same women he at one point (and sometimes, still does) exploited–prostitutes.

The story itself is intense and unflinching. Hayden is called to a murder scene involving the homicide of the niece of a prominent LA politician. As he attempts to solve this crime, more murders happen and Hayden is led by the investigation to believe that the homicides are linked, not only to each other, but to him and his addiction.

The most important aspect of this novel isn't the plot, but Hayden Glass himself. Stephen Jay Schwartz nails what I call the "addict mentality" so accurately that I actually felt uncomfortable at times, being in Hayden's head. For this I say to Stephen, "bravo!" for such an experience is a rare and wonderful thing.

BEAT, the sequel to BOULEVARD, was released in September 2010, and is set not in LA but San Francisco. Hayden Glass on the streets of San Francisco? You can't go wrong.

Since that first meeting at Left Coast Crime, I have met and spoken with Stephen on many occasions, and I'm fortunate to be able to call him a friend. He was kind enough to answer a few questions for this post:

1) Hayden Glass is a great cop, but a fairly troubled man. What gives him hope?

It is his desire to change that gives him hope. He wants to be a better person. It is sometimes hard for him to see that he is innately good. But others see it, and they help lead him to the light.

2) What inspires you (writing or otherwise)?

My children inspire me. As with all children, they are innately good. My job is to encourage this goodness, to give it room to grow and a place in this universe to play.

3) What is your favorite meal, beverage included?

Favorite meal is the eggplant parmesan at the North Beach Restaurant in San Francisco. I’ll take a bottle of Stags’ Leap Cabernet Sauvignon to go with it.

4) Besides writing, what is your most important aspiration?

First, to be a good father. After that, to direct feature films. Next, to learn jazz guitar.

5) Any hints on what might be next for you (or Hayden Glass, or both)?

Looks like I’ll be doing a screenplay rewrite on a zombie-action film. That’ll be cool. I’ll juggle that with writing my next novel, which is an international thriller set in the U.S. and Europe. It won’t be a Hayden piece, but it will be dark, fast and furious. I’ll come back to Hayden in a year or two.

Thanks for answering my questions, Stephen. I can't wait to read whatever you publish next. It's sure to be great.

If you're buying books as gifts this holiday season, please consider purchasing from your local independent bookshop. The level of customer service you'll receive is unmatched, you'll have the added benefit of making new friends of the staff, and you'll help support a local business.

Books featured in this post can be purchased from the Mystery Bookstore in Los Angeles (orders@mystery-bookstore.com).