Friday, November 24, 2017

In Praise of Micro-Publishers

On November 23rd, The New Publishing Standard reported that sales from micro-publishers in the UK have soared by nearly 80% in the last year.
I'm glad to hear it. Micro- and small presses are responsible for my career, and I'm proud to have been published by four of them, three from the UK: Babash-Ryan, MWiDP, and Kotu Beach Press. Popcorn Press  which published two of my books in 2011, is in the US.

Babash-Ryan and MWiDP have stopped publishing, and Popcorn has gone back to exclusively publishing poetry and games. But Kotu Beach is still going strong. Next month they'll publish my nonfiction book, THE AUTHOR BLOG: EASY BLOGGING FOR BUSY AUTHORS.

I'm not surprised that smaller presses are doing so well. Things in big publishing are getting very same-y. There hasn't been a major new trend for a number of years.

The biggest trends in publishing generally come from small presses. The primary goal of small publishers is to produce good books rather than please corporate shareholders. With the smallest
the ones called "micro-presses"the owners are the editors and marketers as well, and they are often labors of love. 

That's why small presses start trends, rather than follow them.

Consider the Harry Potter series, first published by Bloomsbury, a small UK press, in 1997. And Fifty Shades of Gray was first published by an Australian digital micro-press, the Writer's Coffee Shop, in 2011. 

Why Small Presses Thrive in an Innovation-Starved Market

In another article on the subject this week, The UK's Guardian suggested a number of other reasons for the recent uptick in small press sales
  1. Smaller presses based outside London have found success by reaching markets beyond the white middle classes and recruiting authors from more diverse backgrounds.
  2. They pick up established authors dropped by large houses after disappointing sales or when the authors want to write in a different genre.
  3. They offer "something that readers want rather than just another novel with a dead girl on a train."
  4. They support literary fiction. "Advances from independents compare well with those offered by larger houses for literary fiction. And in some cases, they can be higher."
  5. They offer something new. “People are tired of being sold books based on what they bought earlier.”
When I was querying agents with my first two books, Food of Love and The Best Revenge, the almost universal response was "great writing, but this isn't on trend." If I got offers of representation, I would be given instructions to rewrite the book to the conventions of category romance or then-trendy shoes-and-shopping chick lit.

They all told me that literate romantic comedy with a social conscience was impossible to sell to big publishing.

But it was exactly what indie presses were looking for.


I will be forever grateful to James Brown, Michael Hall, and Richard Eadie of Babash-Ryan (later called Shadowline Publishing) for taking a chance on an unknown Yank writer and even giving me a place to stay in their sprawling printshop/warehouse/office/ living quarters in Gainsborough, Lincolnshire.

My biggest cheerleaders were James Brown, a wild man who followed no rules of publishing, or any other institution, and
James Brown
Michael Hall, a literary techie with a Ph.D. from the University of Nottingham. Together, they inspired my character of "Peter Sherwood," who appears in two of my Camilla books, Sherwood, Ltd. and So Much for Buckingham.

Like the fictional Peter Sherwood, the real James Brown disappeared off his boat in 2005, and his body was never found. 
Michael Hall

Babash-Ryan/Shadowline didn't survive more than a year after James' disappearance, in spite of the hard work of Michael Hall and Richard Eadie.

So I was out of print and back on the query-go-round. I went back to freelance writing for a number of local publications and got a steady gig at Inkwell Newswatch, the journal of Freelance Writing Organization—International

Popcorn Press

I spent five discouraging years trying to find a new publisher, and in 2010, I started my blog for writers, now at I was considering jumping on the new self-publishing bandwagon, when a new publisher found me. Lester Smith of Popcorn Press started reading my blog and offered me a contract to republish the two Babash-Ryan books, Food of Love and The Best Revenge.

Although Popcorn primarily published poetry, Les took a chance on my books, and gave me the encouragement I needed to keep writing.


At that point, the UK's Mark Williams International Digital Publishing was expanding like mad. Mark's own thriller, Sugar and Spice (written under the pen name Saffina Desforges) was a top-selling indie-published book—11th in the UK for 2011. He and his partners wanted to spread the wealth around, and took on 30 or so authors, including me, and published two of my new books, The Gatsby Game and Sherwood, Ltd.
Mark Williams

I discovered Mark Williams' "international" tag is literal. He moved back and forth between London and Banjul, in the West African country Gambia, where he supports a school in a remote village.

In Africa, Mark caught a life-threatening tropical disease and was airlifted back to London, where it took nearly a year for him to recover. His partners were not able to keep the company going, so MWiDP fell apart.

Kotu Beach Press

Mark Williams at his Gambian village school
But Mark finally recovered and returned to Africa, where he continues to publish my books with his micro-press, Kotu Beach Press, as well as supporting his school and writing his books.  He also is now the managing editor of The New Publishing Standard.

I'm going to keep hanging on as long as Mark is willing to be my editor. He can be fierce, but he's almost always right. I know it's not easy for him to fit me in with the daily power outages, iffy Internet and water shortages in his village.

These days, Mark's focus is on the international publishing scene. Besides his work at the New Publishing Standard, he moderates a Facebook community, the International Indie Author. 

Have you read books from small presses? Have you ever been published by a small press? What kind of books do you wish micro-presses would publish?

SHERWOOD, LTD: Camilla Mystery #2 
Only $2.99!

Inspired by my epic adventures with a UK small publishing company! 

Suddenly-homeless American manners expert Camilla Randall becomes a 21st century Maid Marian—living rough near the real Sherwood Forest with a band of outlaw English erotica publishers—led by a charming, self-styled Robin Hood who unfortunately may intend to kill her.

When Camilla is invited to publish a book of her columns with UK publisher Peter Sherwood, she lands in a gritty criminal world—far from the Merrie Olde England she envisions. The staff are ex-cons and the erotica is kinky.

Hungry and penniless, she camps in a Wendy House built from pallets of porn while battling an epic flood, a mendacious American Renfaire wench, and the mysterious killer who may be Peter himself.

Sherwood, Ltd. is available in ebook from all the AmazonsiTunesGooglePlay Scribd24SymbolsInkteraKobo, Nook, and SmashwordsAnd in paper from Amazon and Barnes and Noble
Sample Reviews:

"A wily tale of murder, deceit, and intrigue that can stand with the best of them. Her characters are all too real and her dialogue took me from laughter to chills" David Keith on Smashwords

"Smartly written and nearly impossible to put down, I found myself counting the hours until I could leave work and get back to reading! Well done!" T.L. Ingham on Smashwords

I've just finished Sherwood Ltd and I loved every scabrous word. It's an hilarious lampoon of crime fiction, publishing and the British in general. Anne Allen gets our Brit idioms and absurdities dead to rights. Whether you enjoy crime suspense, comedy or satire - or all of them together - you'll have enormous fun with this cleverly structured romp. Highly recommended!...Dr. John Yeoman

Friday, October 20, 2017

The Queen of Staves: Can Tarot Cards Solve a Mystery?

The new Camilla comedy-mystery, The Queen of Staves goes on a countdown sale!

The sale goes from Saturday, October 21-Thursday, October 22, 2017. The ebook, regularly $4.99, is only 99c in the US and 99P in the UK. It's also available in paper (on nice paper with large print — great for gifts!) for $14.99.

I've always been fascinated by the Tarot and bought my first deck of tarot cards sometime in the late 1990s. The history and the symbolism intrigued me, and I found that working on interpreting the cards gave me a lot of insight — not into the future  but into my own mind. Reading the tarot is a great way to sort through your own feelings about a subject and find a focus and a path of action. 

What prompted me to bring the tarot into my Camilla mystery series was the same incident that prompted me to buy my first tarot deck. 

I was working in a bookstore in Morro Bay when a distraught woman rushed in, demanding "a reading." At first I thought she was an author wanting a public reading/signing of her book. The store was too tiny for that sort of thing, which I tried to explain. But slowly I realized she wanted — in fact, felt she needed — a tarot card reading. There was a New Age bookstore around the corner and she had probably confused us, although she was too upset to believe me. She just kept pounding the desk and demanding her "reading."

The woman obviously had some mental health issues, but the intensity of that woman's need made the incident stick with me. I went to the New Age bookstore the next day and bought some cards and a handbook for learning to read them.

All these years later, now that I've given Camilla her own Morro Bay bookstore, I thought it would be fun to bring in the desperate tarot lady and explore what her needs might have been.

The result is The Queen of Staves. 

I use the older word "Staves" instead of "Wands" as it appears in the Rider Waite Tarot, becauses a "Stave" (Staff) sounds so much sturdier than a "Wand," and the earthy woman who embodies the "Queen" of the title is nothing if not sturdy

The cover, by the marvelously talented Keri Knutson of Alchemy Designs, is based on the 1910 Rider Waite Tarot deck, drawn by illustrator Pamela Colman Smith from the instructions of mystic A. E. Waite, and published by William Rider and Sons in LondonBut instead of a small black cat at the queen's feet, there's a rather large tuxedo cat — Camilla's cat Buckingham. I hope people will enjoy the sly humor of that. 

I always picture Ronzo looking like Jon Bon Jovi
I also hope people find it funny that the person who steps up to read the Tarot cards is none other than Camilla's secret boyfriend Ronzo, the tough-guy Iraq war veteran with the Tony Soprano New Jersey accent. 

I guess I have a special fondness for Ronzo, which is why he's lasted longer than any of Camilla's other boyfriends. In this book he gets to tell his own story, with half the chapters told from his point of view. In a lot of ways it's his story. 

Camilla doesn't really believe his Tarot readings are anything but a con, but his belief in the Tarot is sincere, and in the end, the cards come through for both of them.

Ronzo is seriously down on his luck at the opening of the Queen of Staves. In the last book, So Much for Buckingham, he'd given an unfavorable online review to a band called Leftenant Froggenhall, who set out to destroy his life. 
Buckingham is on the case

Ronzo can only escape the band's gruesome persecution and threats to his loved ones by faking his own death and living as a homeless dumpster-diver.

In this book, he's forced to hide his blossoming relationship with Camilla to keep her safe from the band's vengeful clutches. Not easy when they're together every day, as Ronzo's unexpected tarot-reading skills keep Camilla's failing Morro Bay bookstore afloat.

When a mysterious Irish poet shows up dead on a tarot client's beach, it's up to secret lovers Camilla and Ronzo—and the tarot cards
to find the killer. Hopefully before the homicidal Froggenhalls arrive in Morro Bay... 

Luckily Buckingham the cat is on the case, ready to fight the bad guys, tooth and claw.

And yes, your knowledge of poisons will help you solve the mystery, but I can't tell you any more. Spoilers! 

What about you? Have you ever wondered about the symbolism of the tarot? Grab a copy while it's practically free! 

Friday, September 29, 2017

Lead: Poisoning People for Fun and Profit #30

Lead kills. Everybody knows that. Lead is what bullets are made of. Bam. Acute case of lead poisoning. 

But lead itself, the elemental metal, (atomic number 82, symbol Pb) when not propelled by a charge of gunpowder through the cylinder of a gun, can still be lethal.

In fact, its widespread use has resulted in extensive environmental contamination and significant public health problems in many parts of the world.

Lead is a Major Hazard to Public Health. 

According to the World Health Organization these are some of the hazards:
  • Lead is a cumulative toxicant that affects multiple body systems and is particularly harmful to young children.
  • Lead in the body is distributed to the brain, liver, kidney and bones. It's stored in the teeth and bones, where it accumulates over time. Human exposure is usually assessed through the measurement of lead in blood.
  • Lead in bone is released into blood during pregnancy and becomes a source of exposure to the developing child.
  • There is no known level of lead exposure that is considered safe.
  • Lead poisoning is entirely preventable.

The WHO says lead was responsible for at least 830,000 deaths in 2013 alone, almost all accidental, mostly in the developing world.

History of Lead Use

And yet people have used it for over 6000 years. A lead necklace found in Turkey is thought to be 6000 to 8,000 years old and a lead mine nearby is at least 6500 years old.

The ancient Romans seem to have had a special fondness for lead. They used it in everything from wine to water pipes. In fact the word "plumbing" comes from the Latin word for lead, plumbum.

Ancient Romans added "sugar of lead" to their wine
There's a theory that many wealthy Romans unknowingly poisoned themselves with lead in the form of an artificial sweetener called "sugar of lead" (lead acetate.) I have to admit that before I researched this article, I had never heard of sugar of lead, but it's a thing.

The Romans had no sweetener but honey, but they would boil down the fruit mash left over from making wine in lead pans, and the acid in the fruit mash corroded the pans to form lead acetate, which had a sweet taste. They called it sapa and often added it to beverages.

In my five years of studying Latin, I never came across the word sapa/sapae but I guess most of those texts we slogged through had more to do with soldiering than wine-making.

The Romans knew sapa was powerful and could be dangerous, because ancient Roman hookers used it as a way to induce abortions, but they thought it was safe to drink a little mixed in with their wine.

I don't quite get this, since the area around Rome has been producing some very tasty wine for a couple of millennia now, without any added sweetener, but maybe some young Romans preferred a Boone's Farm type of alcoholic beverage. (Yes, for those of you waxing nostalgic for that sticky-sweet wine of your youth, they still make Boone's Farm Strawberry Hill and it's still cheap.)

But I digress…or maybe I don't. Who knows what damage we may have done to ourselves with all that Strawberry Hill?

The ancients did know that lead wasn't exactly good for you. Hippocrates wrote about a lead miner who had terrible symptoms from lead poisoning. 

Did Elizabeth I to Lose her Hair because of Lead Poisoning?

Obviously people didn't pay enough attention to Hippocrates.

Pope Clement II died in 1047 from drinking wine sweetened with sugar of lead (although many think this might have been administered purposely by an assassin.)

Europeans were still adding sugar of lead to wine in the late 1690s, when there was a severe outbreak of intestinal disease In the German city of Ulm, which was traced to wine from a monastery where they used lead acetate to sweeten their wine.

From the Renaissance through the 19th century, people used sugar of lead as a cosmetic and "cure" for skin ailments. That white face powder Elizabeth I made so fashionable was probably responsible for her losing her teeth and hair. The powder, called ceruse, could corrode the skin, cause tremors, and even kill. (Lead in cosmetics is believed to be what killed the famous London courtesan, Kitty Fisher.)

Lead has also been dangerous to painters, since a number of paints contain lead. In 1787, painter Albert Cristoph Dies accidentally swallowed lead acetate and although he recovered, he had symptoms the rest of his life. And it probably contributed to Francisco Goya's death.

When Beethoven died, doctors found his hair contained 100 times the normal level of lead.

There's evidence President Andrew Jackson died of lead poisoning too. His death had long been attributed to mercury poisoning from a medication he took regularly, but a study of hair clipped shortly before his death showed high levels of lead. It was probably caused by a bullet lodged in his shoulder for 20 years after a gunfight.

Lead as a Murder Weapon

In the 19th century, when people began to realize that lead could be lethal, it became a method of murder.

In 1882, Londoner Louisa Jane Taylor got a doctor to prescribe her some sugar of lead to treat a fictional skin disease. Instead she used it to poison a Mrs. Tregillis, the elderly lady she cared for.

Poisoner Louisa Taylor was hanged at Maidstone Prison

But what Mrs. Taylor didn't realize is that lead takes a long time to kill, and even though Mrs. Tregillis was dying, she lived long enough to testify against her murderer. She pointed to Taylor and stated she had seen her pour a white powder into her medicine. After Mrs. Tregillis died, Taylor was convicted of murder and hanged at Maidstone prison.

Symptoms of Lead Poisoning

The symptoms of acute lead poisoning of the type Mrs. Tregillis suffered, include blackened teeth, blue gums, and black vomit. Victims suffer sudden memory loss and confusion as well as intestinal distress, difficulty breathing, and often go into a coma.

Painter Albert Christoph Dies died of lead poisoning.

Slow lead poisoning can be lethal too, and so often people aren't aware they're being exposed. The dust of lead paint in a house can be a factor. So is drinking wine that has been kept in a lead crystal container. Some pottery glazes contain lead too. Also old metal toys, some Mexican candies and folk remedies for skin rashes and breast pain in nursing mothers.

The symptoms of slow lead poisoning:
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Gout
  • Joint and muscle pain
  • Difficulties with memory or concentration
  • Headache
  • Abdominal pain
  • Mood disorders/aggression
  • Reduced fertility
  • Miscarriage, stillbirth or premature birth in pregnant women
  • Lowered IQ in children. 
Lower levels of lead poisoning can be treated with chelation therapy, either oral or intravenous. 

Lead in contemporary Life

Canada and the European Union have banned most lead compounds in gasoline, paint, and industrial uses since 2005. California lists it as a carcinogen.

But in most countries, lead acetate (good old sugar of lead) is still completely legal.

It's even present in Grecian Formula men's hair coloring.

I'm not sure a bottle of Grecian Formula would contain enough to kill, and it would be tough for a murderer to administer, I should think.

But lead acetate is still used in the US for textile dying, mixing paint, and also cleaning guns. It's available by mail order in the US contiguous 48 states.

For a crime writer, using lead as a murder weapon could work. If somebody drank lots of wine he kept in a lead crystal decanter, it might be possible to kill him undetected by adding lead acetate to the decanter.

As long as the murder doesn't take place in Canada or the EU, you might have the perfect (if unnecessarily nasty) murder.

Had you heard of "sapa" or sugar of lead? Did you know Elizabeth I lost her hair and teeth because of her make-up? 

Here's a list of all the poison posts in this series:

SALE!! 99c at Amazon

THE BEST REVENGE: The prequel (Camilla Mystery #3)

When Camilla Randall, a 1980s New York debutante, is assaulted by her mother’s fiancé, smeared in the newspapers by a sexy muckraking journalist, then loses all her money in the Savings and Loan Scandal, she seeks refuge with her gay best friend in California. But her friend has developed heterosexual tendencies and an inconvenient girlfriend, so Camilla has to move in with wild-partying friends. When a TV star ends up dead after one of their parties, Camilla is arrested for his murder. She must turn to a friendly sanitation worker, a dotty octogenarian neighbor and the muckraking journalist who ridiculed her--who also happens to be her boss. 

The Best Revenge is available at all the AmazonsSmashwordsKoboGoogle Play Apple, and NOOK. It's also available at Page Foundry (Inktera) and 24 Symbols

Friday, August 25, 2017

Antimony—Poisoning People for Fun and Profit #29

Antimony is an element, a "metalloid" like arsenic. Its symbol in the periodic table of the elements is Sb, because it is most commonly found in the sulfide mineral stibnite

In the ancient world, stibnite was known as kohl. Egyptians famously used it for eye make-up. It was an important part of their culture as early as the Proto-dynastic Period (3100 BC ) They believed it protected the eyes from eye ailments and the glare of the sun.

Egyptians used antimony for eye make-up

Antimony compounds were often used for medicine. Pliny the Elder described several different compounds, which he designated "male" and "female" to be used in small doses for treatment of various ailments. 

But they were all known to be poisonous in larger doses. 

"The Monk-Killer"

In fact, the name antimony is said to come from the Greek word ἀντίμοναχός, anti-monachos. Which means "monk-killer". Some dispute this, but since compounds containing antimony can kill, the name makes sense.

Antimony by itself hasn't been proved to have a toxic effect on humans. It's the compounds that are the problem.
Antimony is rarely found in its pure metallic state

The thing is, antimony is rarely found in its pure isolated form. But it is part of many compounds, both natural and manufactured. A lot of those compounds are poisonous.

Inhaling antimony trioxide dust can cause a number of lung ailments, including lung cancer. And antimony chlorides are corrosive to skin. Scary stuff.

Symptoms and Treatment

Symptoms of an antimony overdose usually appear within 30 minutes of ingestion. There will be vomiting, sweating, diarrhea, and an acrid, metallic taste in the mouth. External exposure can cause skin irritation. Severe antimony poisoning has symptoms similar to arsenic poisoning.

Some people work in industries where they are at greater risk of exposure to antimony compounds, and the cumulative effect can cause health problems like skin irritation "antimony spots," lung irritation, and gastrointestinal problems. Port workers often come into contact with toxic levels of antimony because it is used in brake pads on the vehicles used for loading ships.

Treatment is the same as for arsenic and other heavy metal poisoning—gastric lavage if it has been ingested recently, then treatment with chelating agents that will bind with the metal so the body will eliminate it naturally. Three common drugs for treatment of metal poisoning are: BA. (Dimercaprol), Calcium EDTA (Calcium Disodium Versenate) and Penicillamine.

Uses of Antimony

Today antimony compounds are used in the manufacture of such varied products as flame retardant, polyester, safety matches, paint, glass art, and the manufacture of TV screens.

Combined with lead, antimony is used in lead-acid batteries, bullets, electrical cable sheathing, type (in printing machines), solder, pewter, and organ pipes.

In medicine, the antimony compound, Potassium antimonyl tartrate, or tartar emetic, was used as a treatment for parasitic infections in humans and animals for many years, although it has been replaced more recently.

Other antimony-based drugs, such as meglumine antimoniate, are still used in veterinary medicine for skin conditions and infections.

The Most Infamous Antimony Poisoning Case: Dr. Charles Bravo

The 1875 poisoning death of London barrister Charles Bravo, four months after he married his wealthy second wife, the scandalous Florence Ricardo, was one of the great unsolved mysteries of the Victorian era.

Bravo had been involved in scandal himself since he had fathered a child out of wedlock, and Florence had been shunned by her family for her extramarital affairs. 

Charles Bravo was poisoned with antimony
Charles Bravo was known as a bully and an abuser. His groomsman and housekeeper described him as a nasty employer.

Bravo's death by antimony poisoning (in the form of tartar emetic) was drawn out, lasting from two to three days, and painful. The strange thing about it was that he would do nothing to help his doctors find out the cause of his condition.

Many people thought he might have accidentally poisoned himself while trying to poison his wife, who had developed a mysterious chronic illness right after the wedding.

He himself was taking laudanum for a toothache, and the theory is that he mistakenly took the "medicine" he'd been giving his wife, and it killed him.

Apparently he told his housekeeper he had accidently taken the tartar emetic, but later changed his statement, perhaps in hopes of incriminating his wife.

But other investigators suspected the housekeeper herself of the murder. The unhappy groomsman was a suspect too.

The coroner held two inquests, and the details were considered to be so scandalous that women and children were banned from the room while Florence testified. The first had an inconclusive verdict. The second returned a verdict of murder.

But no one was ever arrested. Florence died two years later.

Books Inspired by the Bravo Case

The first time I heard about the Bravo story was in reference to John Dickson Carr's classic Gideon Fell mystery from 1949 Below Suspicion.

Agatha Christie also refers to it in her Ordeal by Innocence

The 1948 Ray Milland film So Evil My Love (based on the novel by Marjorie Bowen) has elements of the story as well. 

Had you heard the story of Charles Bravo? Can you think of any other books or films where antimony is the murder weapon. Do you read John Dickson Carr? You don't hear much about him anymore. 

Here's a List of All the Posts in the Poison Series

Part 28: Mustard Gas

It's HERE! The New Camilla Randall Mystery

It's #6 in the series, but can be read as a stand-alone
At all the Amazons (FREE in KU)

Why does everyone think Camilla has the lost Portuguese crown jewels? And what has turned polite little Buckingham into an attack cat? Can Camilla keep her boyfriend Ronzo safe? Or will the murderous Mack Rattlebag find out Ronzo faked his own death?

It's one surprise after another in this warp-speed comedy-mystery where a too-perfect doctor may or may not be in cahoots with a bunch of homicidal New-Agers. Will Camilla and Ronzo, and the tarot cards, solve the mystery?

Friday, July 28, 2017

How to Write a Novella...and Why Readers Love Them

Books are getting shorter these days. Amy Collins at The Book Designer reports the average NYT Bestseller is now half as long as it was in 2011.  And the brand new Smashwords survey shows bestselling romance novels have decreased by 20,000 words since 2012. 

The fastest growing fiction form right now is the novella. 

Novellas, once the pariahs of the publishing industry, are now in demand with readers. The stodgy Big 5 publishers are still demanding a word count of 60K plus. (And alas, newsletters like Bookbub won't take them.) But I'm sure that will change with their growing popularity. 

  • Traditionally published authors self-publish them to fill in the time between the snail-speed production schedules of their own publishers and increase their revenue stream. 
  • Indies use them to explore characters in their series that readers want to know more about. 
  • Readers who have less time to read than they used to enjoy getting into a meaty story that has a satisfying beginning, middle and end, but doesn't take weeks to get through. 

Perhaps the popularity of the novella also comes from our love of movies. As novella author Paul Alan Fahey wrote for our blog in 2014, the novella has a lot in common with a screenplay. It is also the fiction form most easily adapted to film.

My own publisher keeps encouraging me to write novellas to fill in the gaps in Camilla and Plantagenet's history.

Have I followed the advice?

Nope. The new Camilla book, The Queen of Staves, due in August, is the same 83,000 word length as my others.

I find writing novellas really hard. I think in terms of the "long game". How can I explore a big topic in 20,000 words?

But I know some talented writers who can do if brilliantly

In January 2014, I asked award-winning novella author Paul Alan Fahey for some advice. Paul's book The Other Man was honored by the American Library Association , and received a Rainbow Award in 2013. The View from 16 Podewale Street, the first of his beautifully-crafted novellas set in WWII Britain, won a Rainbow Award in 2012. Since then, his books have won many more awards, including the anthology Equality, which was nominated for a Rainbow this year.

I hope his advice will help us all to keep up with the new trend....Anne

How to Write a Novella

Paul Alan Fahey

Author of The Short and Long of It

Years ago, when I started writing fiction—as opposed to journal articles for career advancement in academe—I fell in love with flash fiction. That love affair lasted throughout the 1990’s, well into the millennium, and beyond. I loved the form and was quite content to stay within those teeny-tiny word limits. At the time, I also took classes in flash, presented writing workshops on the form, and participated in several online critique groups for flash writers.

When I taught at Allan Hancock College, I edited Mindprints, A Literary Journal, devoted to flash fiction and memoir pieces of 250-750 words. Here's a piece I wrote giving tips for writing good flash fiction.

During that time, I managed to write and publish a few short stories other than flash, but nothing beyond the 5,000 to 6,000-word range.

With the advent of the E-Age, I began to think seriously about writing longer work. The novel absolutely terrified me, so I gravitated to the novella: something in between a very long story and a novel.

When I began writing my first WWII novella, The View from 16 Podwale Street, and later with Bomber’s Moon, I told myself I was only writing flash, and that each scene or chapter was a kind of mini-flash piece with its own story arc. Little did I know that this strategy would work, and I’d soon be off and running with a romance series and a much larger story to tell.

Novellas in the E-Age: A Definition

Searching for a precise definition of a novella can be a maddening experience. Some consider novellas very long short stories, while others call them short novels, or say they’re synonymous with novelettes.

Nothing specific there, right? I was just about to give up when I stumbled upon a terrific article in the New Yorker by British novelist and screenwriter, Ian McEwan. Not only did he define the form, but he specified word limits most publishers, including my own, would agree with—give or take a few thousand at the top or bottom of the range.

"Novellas are between twenty and forty thousand words, long enough for a reader to inhabit a world or a consciousness and be kept there, short enough to be read in a sitting or two and for the whole structure to be held in mind at first encounter.”

McEwan went on to discuss the strong similarity between novellas and screenplays in their overall unity and economy.

"To sit with a novella is analogous to watching a play or a longish movie."

I have to admit I was totally stoked when I read that. I’d been using screenplay techniques as a pre-writing strategy for flash fiction and short stories for years. In fact I wrote an article for Byline magazine about the flash-screenplay connection in 2005. It's since been reprinted at Fiction Fix. Is it any wonder I was drawn to the novella form?


Let’s see how this prewriting thing works. We’ll take a look at my novella, Bomber’s Moon, and apply the strategy.

Step 1: Find a Story Idea

The idea for Bomber’s Moon came from an incident in my childhood. Mom and I were sitting at the breakfast table discussing a lovely Englishwoman she worked with in an upscale dress shop, someone who had lived through the London Blitz and still suffered in the late 1950’s from what we’d probably now call PTSD.

I took this idea and went into a “what if” frenzy, asking myself all sorts of questions: How did Londoners manage to survive day to day under such unimaginable conditions? What was it like being gay back then, and in a relationship, having to keep it all a secret except perhaps from your closest friends? These questions and many more would later guide character development as well as plot development in Bomber’s Moon.

Step 2: Turn the Idea into a Logline

Anne has previously written an excellent post on loglines. So there’s really no need to reinvent the wheel here other than to say a screenplay logline is a short, one-sentence statement of the film’s premise. Think TV Guide descriptions of cable movies.

Here’s an example:

Nebraska: An aging, booze-addled father makes the trip from Montana to Nebraska with his estranged son in order to claim a million dollar Mega Sweepstakes Marketing prize.

And another one:

August: Osage County: A look at the lives of the strong-willed women of the Weston family, whose paths have diverged until a family crisis brings them back to the Oklahoma house they grew up in, and to the dysfunctional woman who raised them.

Here’s the logline for Bomber’s Moon:

During the London Blitz, and after losing his life partner in a tragic accident, Leslie Atwater, a young gay man, discovers his lover’s death may not have been an accident and sets out to uncover the truth.

**I know, I know. It ain’t Shakespeare. You’re using it as a guide or throughline for developing your story. No one but you will see it.

Step 3. Write the Story Theme from the Logline

Often I know the book’s theme before I start to write. Sometimes I don't and it surfaces later in the writing. Still, it’s a terrific bonus if you do can articulate theme because it provides a wonderful subtext for scenes and dialogue.

"Journeys end in lovers meeting" is the main theme of Bomber’s Moon.

Step 4: Determine the Three Acts and As Many Plot Points as Possible

First, here’s a quick overview of three-act structure.

  • Act I, Set Up: Introduces setting, characters and the main story conflict or the inciting incident. 
  • Plot Point 1: The first major turning point or event that closes the first act and moves the characters into… 
  • Act II, Confrontation: The main character struggles to achieve his/her goal amid ever increasing obstacles. 
  • Midpoint: A subtle turning point in the plot midway through the story. 
  • Plot Point 2: A devastating setback or reversal in the main character’s fortune that leads to… 
  • Act III, Resolution: The final confrontation and highest point of action (climax) before the character reaches goal. 

Here’s what I knew about Bomber’s Moon before I began writing:

  • Act I: Set Up: During the day, Leslie works as a clerk in a modest bookshop in Central London. By night, he’s an air raid warden in his district responsible for the safety of his “flock.” In an effort to feel closer to Edward, he spends his evenings in their flat reviewing his partner’s sketches and soon discovers irregularities he can’t explain. 
  • Plot Point 1: Leslie, convinced his lover’s death wasn’t an accident. Despite warnings from friends to let well enough alone, he sets out on a journey. How did Edward die? 
  • Act II Confrontation: Leslie learns more about Edward’s work assignment the day he died. He begins to question family members and colleagues at The Globe. This leads him on a journey through London and into the countryside as he follows the clues. (Vague? You bet, but it works for now.) 
  • Act III Resolution: I envisioned a climax in a lighthouse overlooking the English Channel with enemy aircraft overhead. The ending would be a happy one—journeys end in lovers meeting—since Bomber’s Moon is a romance, and I was following conventions of the form. 

This pre-writing three-act paradigm for Bomber’s Moon, adapted from a screenwriting text by Syd Field is far from complete. But having the structure planned out as much as possible beforehand, kept me focused on the storyline, while I filled in the blanks of the paradigm as I went along in the first draft.

For a more thorough discussion and examples of the three-act structure, please see: The Elements of Cinema.

This process may or may not work for you. I can only say it does for me. And in a big way.


Paul Alan Fahey created and edited Mindprints, an international literary journal for writers and artists with disabilities, at Allan Hancock College in Santa Maria, California. During Paul’s seven-year tenure, Mindprints made Writers Digest’s “Top 30 Short Story Markets” list for two consecutive years. He is the author of the Lovers and Liars Gay Wartime Romance series, published by JMS Books. Paul is the editor of the 2013 Rainbow Award winning anthology, The Other Man: 21 Writers Speak Candidly About Sex, Love, Infidelity, & Moving On. His first WWII novella, The View From 16 Podwale Street, also won a Rainbow Award in 2012.

Paul's Latest Book is a memoir that's novella length. It's a fantastic read
poignant and funny and hair-raising all at once. 

Debuts on August 31st

In the tradition of Patrick Dennis, Truman Capote, and of Tennessee Williams’ memory play, The Glass Menagerie, Paul Alan Fahey’s memoir, The Mom I Knew, The Mother I Imagined, recounts a son’s loving yet often maddening relationship with his mother over four decades. Told in a hybrid mix of memoir, short fiction, and poetry, the author tells of their nomadic existence in the 1950s; his mother’s four month visit in Africa while he completed his teaching contract; and the last decade of her life.

It will debut August 31st. 


And I've also just read the ARC of a fun new novella by veteran screenwriter Barbara Morgenroth. It's a mystery set in 1933 Hollywood and the tone is very "It Happened One Night" and "Bringing up Baby" (two of my favorite movies of all time!)  

Available August 1st!

It’s 1933. When hard news reporter, Caro James, reveals the secret life of a politician in New York, much to her dismay, The New York Sentinel newspaper sets out to teach her a lesson about the rules of journalism. They send her to Los Angeles to write fluff pieces on the film industry.

The contact in Hollywood who is supposed to guide her for the week of punishment, is the handsome and unpredictable movie director, Sugar McLaughlin. Soon a story falls in Caro’s lap. A young, beautiful starlet has been missing for two weeks and is in great danger. Caro and Sugar must find June Fowler before she is lost forever. When the one person who knows what happened to June is murdered, Caro and Sugar can’t help but think they’ve reached a dead end. As Sugar knows, every story has an Act III and Caro is in for the ride of her life as they race to find the starlet.

Friday, June 23, 2017

You May Be a Bestseller on Tralfamadore! Why Writers Write.

This blogpost first appeared on Nathan Bransford's blog on Jan 22, 2010, and it launched my blogging career.

I thought it would be fun to revive it.

Even though the self-publishing revolution has changed the logistics for new writers, the reality is the same: only a few of us are really successful at writing fiction.

So why do we all feel compelled to keep turning it out?

It's the Tralfamadorians! 

Kurt Vonnegut's drawing of a Tralfamadorian actress
Nathan Bransford once posed a question on his blog: “How Do You Deal with the ‘Am-I-Crazies’?

Those are the blues that can overwhelm the unpublished/ underpublished novelist as we slog away, year after year, with nothing to show for our life’s work but a mini-Kilimanjaro of rejection slips.

The truth is, most fiction writers spend our lives sitting alone in a room generating a product that has zero chance of ever making a penny—or even being seen by a person outside our immediate circle of friends, relations and/or personal stalkers.

So—not surprisingly—we occasionally ask ourselves that big, existential question: WHAT ARE WE—NUTS?

Trying to answer can plunge a writer into despair. So how do we cope?

Most of the over 250 respondents to Nathan’s post answered with variations on the following advice:

1) Embrace the crazy and accept that we are, most of us, deeply and certifiably Looneytunes.
2) Chocolate helps.
3) Ditto booze and caffeine.
4) Ditto sunrises, music, and long walks.
5) Ditto the company/blogs/tweets of other lunatic writers.
6) And reading good books.
7) Or crap books, because we know we can do better than THAT.
8) Funny, nobody mentioned sex,
9) But denial is good. Really good.
10) And keep writing, even if it’s just for ourselves, or the one person who reads our blog, or the dog, or whoever…because: WE CAN’T STOP OURSELVES.

Kurt Vonnegut in 1972
And why is that?

Well, I have a theory: It’s the Tralfamadorians. If you’ve read your Vonnegut (and what business do you have calling yourself a writer if you haven’t read Vonnegut?) you know about Tralfamadore. 

It’s a planet where a super-race of toilet plungers exist in all times simultaneously. The name of their planet means both “all of us” and “the number 541,” and they control all aspects of human life including social affairs and politics.

Since these beings have infinite time on their hands, I figure they’ve got a lot of leisure to fill up with reading. And how do they get their books? Of course! They compel earthlings to write novels. Hundreds of thousands of them. Way more than earthbound publishers and readers can handle. But on Tralfamadore—hey, they’re consumed like Skittles.

On Tralfamadore, books are consumed like Skittles
In fact, the Tralfamadorians are so eager for new material, they’ve figured out how to transmit stories right from our brainwaves to their TralfamaKindles the minute you type “the end” on that final draft.

And it could be that right now, as we speak, your first novel—the one that has been sitting in the bottom of a drawer along with its 350 rejection letters and the restraining order from that editor at Tor—could be at the top of the New Tralfamadore Times bestseller list.

Think about it. You could be the Dan Brown of that whole part of the galaxy, where readers are desperate—pining, pleading and panting—for your next book.

And that voice in your head telling you to pound away, day after day, trying to finish that opus, even though everybody, even your girlfriend—and your MOM for god’s sake—says it sux? That’s a transmission from the Doubleday Company of Tralfamadore saying, “Hurry up, dude, we gotta have this for our Christmas list!”

Hey, just prove to me it’s not true.

What about you? Do you feel compelled to write? Even if nobody much seems to be reading? How do you deal with the "Am-I-Crazies?"

Smart, funny mysteries with a touch of romance

"Anne R. Allen is P.G. Wodehouse for the 21st Century!" 
... Sidonie Wiedenkeller

GHOSTWRITERS IN THE SKY:  Camilla Mystery #1 

After her celebrity ex-husband’s ironic joke about her “kinky sex habits” is misquoted in a tabloid, New York etiquette columnist Camilla Randall’s life unravels in bad late night TV jokes. Nearly broke and down to her last Hermes scarf, she accepts an invitation to a Z-list Writers’ Conference in the wine-and-cowboy town of Santa Ynez, California, where, unfortunately, a cross-dressing dominatrix named Marva plies her trade by impersonating Camilla. When a ghostwriter’s plot to blackmail celebrities with faked evidence leads to murder, Camilla must team up with Marva to stop the killer from striking again.

Ghostwriters in the Sky is available in e-book at all the Amazons iTunesGooglePlay  KoboInkteraScribd and NOOK.

It is available in paper at Amazon  Barnes and Noble and Walmart

It's FREE at iTunesInktera, and Kobo!