Friday, September 27, 2019

Using Fiction to Process Real Life Trauma: How I Survived an Online Troll Attack

This week one of my readers suggested that I put more autobiographical material in my novels. She especially wanted to know more about the time I was stalked and terrorized by a gang of Amazon review trolls and Goodreads bullies.

The truth is, some scenes from So Much For Buckingham take a whole lot of material from my real experiences back in 2012. 

So I decided to post a scene here today.

I think writing this scene helped me process my own trauma and put it in perspective. By adding the cat for comic relief, it also helped me lighten my attitude to my own experience.

When I was under attack, I hadn't committed the cardinal sin Camilla has—responding to an online review. But I had witnessed the bullying of a teenager who had responded negatively to an online review and that meant I got on the full Goodreads bully treatment. (Goodreads later banned the ringleaders of that notorious gang.)

The obscene threats are taken verbatim from threats I saw or received via email, blog comment, and “review.” The bullies did indeed send me a photo of my house along with death threats, to escalate my fear. 

I only figured out later the photo they emailed me was simply taken from Google Maps. At the time I feared these people were right here on my property, photographing me. The Google image had been taken only months earlier and the photographer happened to get my garbage bins in the shot. The night I got the death threat, it was garbage night and the bins were at the curb just as they were in the photo.

The panic Camilla feels is what I felt. I knew I couldn’t get any help from law enforcement, since I had no proof these lunatics planned to carry out the threatsand it turned out they didn't. But I had no way of knowing that. So I was as terrified as if these murderer-wannabes were really outside my door.
photo of my house from Google Maps

I think online bullying has only got worse since then. But I don’t think it’s as prevalent in the online writing community as it was in the wild days of the "Kindle Goldrush."

Like Camilla, I have worked in bookstores, although I've never owned one, as Camilla does. She’s an author, like me, but she writes etiquette books, something I would fail at miserably.

I did not have Buckingham to save the day.
I did once have a tuxedo cat who banged my screen door the way Buckingham does in this scene, but alas, I didn’t have him to save me from the psycho review bullies during my night of terror.

In the following scene, Camilla is alone in her cottage, unable to contact her best friend Plantagenet, who has flown to England (Where he meets the ghost of Richard III, but that's another subplot.) 

Plus her publishers haven't returned her calls for weeks. So she feels alone in the world when she gets the death threat. She has been getting nasty "reviews" and comments from the self-styled "review police" after committing the gaffe of responding to a review, but this is the first time her life is threatened.

Later one of the trolls, "DickonthePig" is found murdered during a historical reenactment in the English Midlands, and Plantagenet is a suspect. But here Camilla doesn't know if these people are truly homicidal, or just obscenity-obsessed online crazies. 

This passage from So Much for Buckingham is from Part III The Kingdom of Perpetual Night

There were a dozen more one-star "reviews" on my Amazon book pages. Especially Good Manners for Bad Times.
These poisonous reviews were even more toxic and threatening than the last batch. Some accused me of criminal behavior and others of sexual deviance. Lots of them threatened me with rape. Some also threatened somebody named Hinckley Lutterworth.
I didn't even know anybody named Hinckley Lutterworth, although the name rang a distant bell.
I felt a burning in my gut as I skimmed the headers. Part of me wanted to click away and pretend it wasn't happening, but I knew I had to face the full catastrophe.
The most recent "review" had come in only a minute before.
"Jezbellzbooks" said "Dr. Manners is a BBA. Sumbudy shud teach HER sum manners. Maybe with a **** up her ***. Or get a gun. Just shoot that old bat. Put her out of our misery."
A gun. They wanted to kill me. Apparently the crime of responding to a ridiculous "review" was a capital offense to these people.
I refreshed the page and another one came up.
"Owain Glendower" said: "These bloody reviewers have completely lost the plot. As William Shakespeare said, 'Hell is empty and all the devils are here'. Looks like the work of You-Know-Who-You-Are-You-Sodding-Prats. The filth on Book Reviews dot Com is even worse. Utterly depraved. What's wrong with you people? Henry Tudor was one of the greatest kings Britain has ever seen."
Except for the weird reference to English history, that was the first "review" that had made any sense. It even gave me five stars.
I Googled Book Reviews dot Com and searched for my books.
What came up turned my stomach. There were many pages of obscene comments. "Author Should be Sodomized Sideways with a Garden Gnome" was repeated at least 50 times by different "reviewers" with monikers like "SmarterThanYouBitch", "Pottymouth" and "F***U2". Some had odd symbols instead of names. But they all called me a "badly behaving author" and threatened me with rape and torture. Hinckley Lutterworth got a number of threats too, although he didn't seem to get the "badly behaving author" accusations.
The only person who defended me was my Amazon friend "Owain Glendower," who appeared to be a civilized, non-psychopathic person. As a result, subsequent reviews attacked him, too.
DickonThePig, who seemed to be everywhere, said he knew where Owain lived and threatened to cut off his private parts with rusty garden shears. The one called "Alfred the Cake" threatened to blow him up with a fertilizer bomb, and "Libra Rising" thought Owain deserved garden gnome rape as well.
Gardening seemed to be a theme here.
There was also excessive verbiage about Richard III and Henry Tudor. What these people thought I had to do with medieval English monarchs I couldn't even guess.
With my publishers AWOL and Plantagenet refusing to return my phone calls, I had no idea what to do about any of this.
I took off to eat some dinner, but when I came back, there were plenty more toxic reviews. On Book Reviews dot Com, Owain Glendower and somebody called Jasper Tudor seemed to have got themselves into a "flame war" with DickonthePig, Libra Rising, and Alfred the Cake. It was horrific, but also pretty laughable. Luckily, they dropped any mention of me early in their Tudor-vs-Plantagenet battle in the comment thread, but they all threatened each other using obscenities that nearly seared my eyeballs.
Why did the Internet bring out such bad behavior in people?  
I started to feel panicky.
I checked my email. Plant would have to reply to my frantic messages sometime. 
Oh, good. I had one new email. From a U.K. address.
I started to feel relief. It had to be either Plant or somebody from the publishing company.
The relief didn’t last long.
"The rape train is coming. Your raped and mutilated corpse will be in tomorrow's Bay News. We will choke you with Hinckley Lutterworth's severed penis. Libra will rise."
There were two attachments, photos. When I enlarged the first I saw a 1930s California bungalow-style stucco cottage. Mine. The second was a picture of my bookstore.
I started to shake. Partly with fear and partly with rage. These rapist, misogynist monsters had been here. In my very own courtyard, taking photos of my house. They could be out there right now.
My first instinct was to call the police. But then I realized it was pointless. People made stupid threats on the Internet all the time these days. You could see them in the comments of every online news article. In fact, I remembered reading that the Supreme Court had recently ruled that making online threats was perfectly legal if the threatener didn't mean to carry them out.
How was I supposed to know if these crazed "book reviewers" really intended to rape and murder me?
And who on earth was Hinckley Lutterworth? And why didn't these people have lives?
The screen door banged.
And banged again.
If this was a prank, it was entirely too close to home. It was time to call the police, no matter what the Supreme Court said.
I reminded myself I needed to breathe. But I had to do it silently. I didn't want whoever was out there to know for sure that I was here.
This wasn't Internet bullying anymore. This was real life. I had rapist psychos banging on my front door.
It occurred to my rational brain that they must be very lightweight rapist psychos. I hadn't heard any footsteps. People always made noise crunching through the gravel in the courtyard.
But I wasn't taking any chances. I dialed 911.
The door banged again.
As the phone rang, I grabbed the empty wine bottle by the neck to use as a weapon.
"What is your emergency?" the operator said.
"Somebody keeps slamming my screen door," I whispered into the phone. "They've sent me a threatening email. I think it's a bunch of lunatics from Amazon. They know where I live. They sent a picture of my house. They want to rape and murder me, apparently. And mutilation will be involved."
"Amazon? The online store? Are you being physically threatened?" The woman's voice was businesslike, but soothing.
"Um…They said news about my corpse would be in tomorrow's Bay News. I guess they don't know it's a weekly." I worked hard to make my voice sound calm. I didn't want to sound like a paranoid crazy person. "They also threatened somebody named Hinckley Lutterworth, and I don't even know anybody by that name. Not that I can remember. They also said something like 'Libra will rise'. I have no idea what that's about. I'm a Scorpio."
"Can you see who is at the door, ma'am?  Do they have weapons?"
I could see nothing from the front window. Not even a shadow thrown by the bright security light that illuminated the path between the store and my cottage.
I drew up my courage, set down the phone, and unlocked the door.
"I have the police on the phone!" I shouted into the courtyard as I yanked on the doorknob.
But I saw no one. The person who had been banging the door had disappeared. Which made no sense. I still hadn't heard any footsteps on the gravel.
I picked up the phone again.
"I don't see anybody," I said. "But they could be hiding."
"Are these people threatening you now, ma'am?"
I let go of the door handle and looked in horror as the screen door moved away from me, seemingly on its own.
Then it banged again.
I looked down. There was my cat Buckingham, with his claws hooked in the screen, pulling back the door.
He unhooked his claw and gave me a look that said, "You can't be this stupid. Open the damn door."
"I, um, maybe it's not…" I felt my face flush. "I'm so sorry. It seems to be a false alarm. Sorry. It's only my cat. Don't bother the police."
"A unit has already been dispatched, ma'am."
I closed my phone and gave Buckingham a stern look.
"I'll let you in on one condition," I said to his smug little white-mustached face. "When the rapist reviewers come for me, you will use those claws on them."

Have you ever been the victim of online trolls? Did they send death threats? Did you call the police? Have you ever processed a trauma by fictionalizing it? 

Until September 30th
"Delicious wit, wonderful eccentric characters, and a beguiling plot. Camilla Randall is a delight!"...Melodie Campbell, Canada's "Queen of Comedy"
It's a comedy-mystery about cyberbullying, the gangs of new media, and the ghost of Richard III. Plus a cat named Buckingham.

"This wonderfully satiric comedy is a joy to read. On the surface, it's a frothy romance cum suspense story about a whacky writer, Camilla, whose life is threatened by trolls and who topples from one hilarious disaster into the next. But underneath, it provides a perceptive insight into the mad world of modern publishing, the sub-culture of Internet lunatics and the mindset of cultists who can - and do - believe ten impossible things before breakfast. The reader is left with the question: how much of the story, perish the thought, might be true? Tremendous fun, wittily satiric and highly recommended."...Nigel J. Robinson

Available in ebook from:
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Friday, August 30, 2019

The Dinner Party Question and others: Debra Eve and Anne R. Allen in Conversation.

Back in 2012, I gave an interview to Debra Eve of the Later Bloomer. I thought it would be fun to revisit it.

Anne on the wicked stage
Debra: After many years in theater, you published your first novel. What motivated you to become an author? 

Anne: Writing was always my first love. My mom told me that when she tried to explain the "facts of life" when I was around seven, I said I didn't need to know that stuff because I was going to be a writer and live in a little cottage by the sea, so a husband and children would just get in the way. 

When I hit forty, my father died suddenly and it was a wake-up call. I realized that if I was ever going to realize my dream, I'd better get a move-on. So I gave up my theater job and used my inheritance to buy that little cottage by the sea. 

Poster for my first book signing
My first novel actually landed me an agent and an almost-deal with Bantam. But everything fell apart and I got discouraged and didn't write for about five years after that. But that writing bug wouldn't let go of me, so I went back to writing and knocking on agents' doors. 

I filled a whole file drawer full of rejection letters between 1997 and 2002—before I got FOOD OF LOVE accepted by that first UK publisher. I finally burned all those rejections in a big bonfire last year.  

Debra: In How to Be a Writer in the E-Age, you advise, "DON'T put something in a novel "because that's the way it really happened." Could you expand on that, especially as it relates to your Camilla Randall mystery, Sherwood, Ltd.?

Anne: Great question. Sherwood was inspired by my adventures living and working in an erotica publishing house on the banks of the River Trent in Lincolnshire from 2002-2005. 

A lot of things happened there that were far more preposterous than anything I could put in a novel. One of the people I met at the company was related to a famous murderer. Another had been a pretty well-known punk rocker. 

And there was a whole lot more drinking going on than I could put in the book (Drunks are pretty boring in fiction.) The setting is close to accurate, but none of the characters is actually based on a real person. Each one is a composite. With a lot of made-up stuff thrown in.

The truth is that life can be more outrageous than fiction. Fiction needs to have a logic to it that real life does not. 

Debra: If you could invite any five literary personages from any time period to dinner, who would they be and why? 

Can I have six? For some reason, I thought of six right off the bat. 

1) Dorothy Parker—if just to sit back and listen to the bon mots

2) Agatha Christie—I really want to find out what happened during those weeks she disappeared. 

3) Oscar Wilde—Can't you just imagine a snark-off between him and Dorothy P? 

I'd love a chance to meet Elliot Paul
4) Elliot Paul—He was a comic mystery writer who's almost forgotten now, but he wrote hilarious mysteries set in Paris in the twenties, when he was very much part of the literary scene. I'll bet he'd have amazing stories. He also wrote a memoir called The Last Time I Saw Paris. The title got ripped off by Hollywood and pasted on a Fitzgerald story that had the perfectly good title of Babylon Revisited. 

5) George Eliot/Mary Ann Evans—She's a special hero of mine because I once met her ghost. Or at least it seemed like her ghost. The building where I lived in Lincolnshire was only a block from the house where she lived when she wrote The Mill on the Floss, and sometimes I could feel her presence there. She was such an amazing pioneer in so many ways. She brought empathy and a modern sense of compassion to the Victorian novel. 
Angela Lansbury as Madame Arcati

6) Noel Coward—As long as we have these wildly entertaining wits at the party, it wouldn't be complete without the master. The only thing that might lure me back into the theater would be a chance to play Madame Arcati in Blithe Spirit. I quit the theater just when I was getting to be the right age to play her.  

Debra: What advice can you give late-blooming writers who have families and day jobs? 

Anne: Network with other writers. Don't try to go it alone. Family and friends may be completely non-supportive even though they love you. They may feel you're trying to be "better than" them. And they may begrudge your writing time if you used to spend that time together. 

Non-writing friends may refuse to read your stuff or they might give nasty, clueless critiques—so it's best to line up other writers to be your beta readers in order to hang onto your friendships. Let friends and family read your work when the book comes out (and be aware they may not even read it then.) I learned that lesson the hard way. 

Most important: remember publishing is a business—a business that takes a long time to learn. When you aren't producing a saleable product, people will reject that product, but it's not a rejection of YOU. Educate yourself and keep learning and growing. Eventually, you'll sound and act like a professional and you'll be accepted as a professional—because that's what you are.
What famous people would you like to invite to a dinner party? 

Book of the Month

SHERWOOD, LTD: A Camilla Mystery 

Sherwood Ltd. takes aim at the world of small press publishing and all things British. It's a madcap tale of intrigue, romance and murder set near the real Sherwood Forest in the English Midlands.

After discovering a dead body near the dumpster where she's been diving for recyclables, down-on-her luck socialite Camilla Randall escapes to England, enticed by the charming Peter Sherwood—a self-styled Robin Hood who offers to publish a book of her etiquette columns at his unorthodox 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. 

Sherwood, Ltd. is also available in paper from Amazon and Barnes and Noble

Friday, July 26, 2019

Bag Lady Syndrome: How "No Place Like Home" Helped Me Face My Fear

What’s Bag Lady Syndrome? According to financial columnist Jay McDonald, “Bag Lady Syndrome" is a fear many women share that their financial security could disappear in a heartbeat, leaving them homeless, penniless and destitute”

The Washington Times reported “90 percent of women say they feel financially insecure…and almost half are troubled by a ‘tremendous fear of becoming a bag lady’.”

Bag lady syndrome can be paralyzing, according to Olivia Mellan, a Washington, D.C. therapist who specializes in money psychology.

She says “Lily Tomlin, Gloria Steinem, Shirley MacLaine and Katie Couric all admit to having a bag lady in their anxiety closet.”

"It cuts across women of all social groups; it's not like wealthy women don't have it," says Mellan. "Heiresses, women who have inherited wealth, have big bag-lady nightmares because they really feel like the money came to them magically and can leave them just as magically."

When you quit your day job to write full time—especially if you’re single—those fears can escalate to nightmares, anxiety attacks and debilitating self-doubt. 

My Bag Lady Moment

For me, my anxieties hit a crescendo when my first publisher went out of business and I had to go back to square one, writing query letters to agents and editors again like a newbie.

My magazine writing gigs had dried up, too: either the journals had gone under or they were no longer paying. I’d been out of the workforce for years and the world was in the middle of a recession. My savings were dwindling fast.

I feared I’d made all the wrong financial choices and I’d soon be living under a bridge.

I started having a recurring nightmare about living in a rusted, wheel-less truck in some kind of dump full of rats. My skin was crawling with insects. Sometimes parts of my body would fall off. I’d wake up screaming.
My nightmare home

Even the Ultra-Rich Can Lose Everything

One morning I woke from one of those horrific dreams to an interview on NPR’s Morning Edition. (Yes, I have Public Radio on my clock radio: I guess that qualifies me as a super-nerd.) They were talking to a successful Manhattan magazine editor who had lost her life savings to Bernie Madoff.

Look: it can happen to anybody, I told myself—even people with a ton of savings who have done everything right.

I got up and read my local morning paper, which was full of letters to the editor complaining about how homeless camps and panhandling were ruining our town’s idyllic image as “the happiest town in America.”

I flashed on how that posh magazine editor I’d heard on NPR could be one of those scruffy people standing outside the San Luis Obispo Mission with a cardboard sign. She could be one of those despised people living in the “filthy” camps.

So could I. 

A Lot of People Are One Catastrophe from Homelessness

An awful lot of us are only one Bernie Madoff or catastrophic disease away from those camps.

After I heard that story, I took a day off querying and outlined a novel about a New York magazine editor who is not only conned by a Bernie Madoff type, but married to him.

She not only loses everything, but is accused of being complicit in his crimes. On the lam and destitute, she ends up living in a homeless camp in the idyllic wine country near where I live.

For me, picturing somebody like Martha Stewart living in a tent and cooking over a Sterno stove, worrying about where to go for showers and basic bodily functions—not knowing which homeless people she could trust—helped me to walk myself through my fears and see that it would be possible to survive. 

Thinking the Unthinkable
Edvard Munch's "Anxiety"

Thinking the “unthinkable” sometimes helps us to cope with fear. If we can visualize ourselves in a terrifying situation that has a positive outcome, it can help us overcome the terror.

That’s why fiction—reading or writing it—can help us treat our anxieties.

A columnist called "The Anxiety Doc" says “When it comes to treating anxiety, panic attacks and phobias, creative visualization techniques have proven very therapeutic for sufferers. In order for the visualization to be completely effective, the person must involve all their senses in the process. They need to see themselves performing the behavior, hear the sounds associated with it and feel any tactile sensations. In some cases, even the senses of taste and smell will be involved.”

That’s what a writer does! So when I visualized my character, Home decorating magazine editor Doria Windsor, in a homeless camp, I pictured her surviving each of my own fears: the lack of hygiene, the stink, the cold, hunger, loss of dignity, etc.

And if she could do it, so could I.

It also helped that I write romantic comedy. I had Doria—and my ever-unlucky sleuth Camilla—both find romance (and some perspective) as they face homelessness because of the Ponzi-scheming villain’s crimes. 

Homeless People are Survivors

To give the homeless people in Doria’s camp personalities and backstories, I talked to the homeless people who panhandle in front of some of my favorite stores in Morro Bay. One woman was remarkably plucky and full of humor. She became the model for my character of Lucky.

I decided not to make my homeless characters objects of pity, but strong-minded survivors who help solve the mystery of a homeless man’s murder. In a way, they’re the real heroes of my story. 

I used metaphors from The Wizard of Oz to show the journey Doria takes and the helpful friends she finds along the way.

Not long after I started the book, I got an offer from the editor of an independent press to publish my backlist. Then another offered to look at the new stuff. Between September 2011 and December 2012, we published 7 of my books, followed by  
No Place Like Home the following year.

I now have 13 published titles, several of which have become bestsellers.

Things are looking up. I think making my characters face the “unthinkable” helped me to think it through for myself. I hope it will help my readers, too.

I’m not saying that I’m entirely over my bag lady fears. Some of us never will be. But I don’t have those nightmares anymore and the panic isn’t lurking under the surface every time I lie down to sleep.

What about you? Do you have "bag lady syndrome" or a fear of homelessness? Do you know anybody who does?

NO PLACE LIKE HOME: Camilla Mystery #4  

Comedy with a conscience. Doria Windsor, the uber-rich editor of Home decorating magazine loses everything, including her Ponzi-schemer husband, when their luxury wine-country home mysteriously goes up in flames. Homeless, destitute, presumed dead and branded a criminal, 59-yr-old Doria has a crash course in reality…and a second chance at love.

Meanwhile, reluctant sleuth Camilla Randall is facing homelessness too, as Doria's husband's schemes unravel and take down innocent bystanders along the way. When the mysterious—and dangerously attractive—Mr. X. turns up at Camilla's bookstore looking for clues to the death of a missing homeless man, Camilla joins in the search.

With the help of brave trio of homeless people and a little dog named Toto, Doria, Camilla and Mr. X journey to unmask the real killer and reveal the dark secrets of Doria's "financial wizard" husband.

Anne. R. Allen weaves her usual blend of archetypal images (this time from The Wizard of Oz) with unique and wacky characters, hilarious situations, and laugh-out-loud one-liners that all somehow come together and make perfect sense at the end.

No Place Like Home is the fourth of the Camilla Randall Mysteries, but can be read as a stand-alone novel.

No Place Like Home is available at all the AmazonsNOOK, and iBooks, It's also available in paperback from Amazon USAmazon UK, and Barnes and Noble, in regular and LARGE PRINT. LARGE PRINT is also available at Barnes and Noble.

It's also available in an audiobook, narrated by Anne and award-winning narrator, C.S. Perryess. You can find it at Audible and iTunes UK. It's also available at iTunes US

Another version of this piece first appeared in the anthology "Indiestructable" published by Vine Leaves Press

Sunday, June 30, 2019

What is it REALLY Like to be a Full Time Author?

Oh, the glamorous life of an author! Meeting with the intellectual and artistic elite in the cafés of Paris, dining with the rich and famous, the vacations on the Riviera, the wild champagne-fueled parties… and of course, running around solving murders like Richard Castle and Jessica Fletcher…

Not exactly.

I don’t know how those famous writers had time to get up to all those antics in the past (or even in fiction.)

But most writers today have no time to do any of that stuff.

Well, okay, my friend Catherine Ryan Hyde did fly off to Lapland a couple of years ago to have an adventure driving a dogsled and seeing the northern lights. But that was just for a week. Mostly she works a lot of hours and has her adventures on paper.

Just like me.

It's amazing how many people think authors have a lot of free time. Well, if they'd watched Castle or Murder She Wrote, they could be excused for thinking that. 

But the truth is my life is all about butt-in-chair in my office at 8 AM every morning (after stretching and eating a sensible breakfast.) I break for lunch and exercise at noon and work again from 2-5 and if I’m working on a deadline, probably back to work from 7-9. I try not to work past nine, or my brain is still generating ideas when I’m trying to sleep…not a good plan.

That’s seven days a week. Yes, I do take off time on weekends to be with other humans and sometimes go out and play. Catherine and I meet for Thai food at regular intervals and I get together with other writers in the local Sisters in Crime chapter and our local Nightwriters Club.
Jessica Fletcher only typed during the opening credits
Of course there are always the medical appointments and investment decisions and cleaning and cooking and shopping and other things that people do to keep ourselves alive in this increasingly complex world.

But mostly I work. A lot of that work is marketing: social media, answering emails (endless emails: when you have a popular blog, everybody on the planet wants something from you.) Then there’s writing posts for my two blogs, answering comments, and composing guest blogposts.

And some authors put out newsletters too. I draw the line there. I hate getting newsletters, so I don’t inflict them on my readers. It’s just as easy to subscribe to a blog, and a blog draws new readers, too.

And don’t forget personal appearances. And bookstore events and other local sales opportunities. Plus presentations at writers’ conferences and other workshops, which require a lot of preparation.

Then there’s the desperate slog of trying to get reviews…no, I don’t even want to go there. I’ve recently seen the statistic that most writers get one review for every 1500 sales. Sounds about right. Ack!

And then, of course we’re pressured to put out at least two books a year. I know some writers who put out six or seven.

But when I sit down to write, and characters and stories start to flow onto the page and the magic happens…then I realize it’s all worth it. It’s still one of the best jobs in the world.

Even without the Paris cafés.

What about you? Are you a full time writer? Do you hope to be one someday? 

Okay, I didn't tell the truth entirely. I did have some sort of exciting adventures as a writer. When I went to England to promote my book with my first publisher. Pretty wacky. I used the experience as fodder for the second Camilla book, Sherwood, Ltd


SHERWOOD, LTD: Camilla Mystery #2

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 Amazons 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

This piece, in slightly different form, first appeared on the blog of South African author Ronel Vanse Van Vuuren in April 2018.

Friday, May 24, 2019

How to Tell a Story: Follow the Rule of Three

Storytelling is an ancient art that takes lots of practice

Recently I’ve attended some local storytelling events—mostly ones that mimic the NPR “Moth” Radio Hour stories. People gather around to tell true stories about events they’ve experienced. Alcohol or caffeine may be involved. 

I say they “mimic” the Moth Radio Hour to be polite. It’s amazing how many people have no clue what storytelling is. They don’t know there's a world of difference between telling an entertaining story and blathering on about that time back in 1972 when you and your buddies dropped acid on that fishing trip and there was a bear…except it was a raccoon...and Fred thought it was a hat...and Kevin started singing the Davy Crockett song...and you got in a fight over whether Davy "kilt him a bear" or "built him a bar" when he was only three...

And eventually the bored crowd semi-politely claps you off the stage.

After a particularly excruciating night of “Old Men Falling off a Train of Thought” at a local coffee house, I sat down to write this handy guide.

I never found a way to present this diplomatically and the gatherings stopped soon after. But if you have any friends who love to talk, but need some help in shaping that talk into an actual story people want to hear, maybe you can point them in this direction.

It also helps newish writers make sure their WIP doesn’t get derailed following that fascinating character who just showed up and you've followed him down a rabbit hole and you have no clue where any of it is going…

To Tell a Story, Follow the Rule of Three

The backbone of any story, whether it's an anecdote, play, or novel is the three-act structure.

There's an old saw in the theater that describes it this way, "Act I—Get your character up a tree; Act II—throw rocks at him; Act III—get him down again."

And it still works.

Act I:  Get Your Character up a Tree

Get your protagonist up a tree

This is the set-up: a.k.a. the inciting incident or "call to adventure." 

Tell us who your protagonist is and what s/he wants. (And yes, you need a protagonist. One.) A story needs less exposition than you think. We don't need anybody's life story—just tell us the stuff about the characters that's relevant to getting them up and down that tree.

When you're telling a story live, it helps to have the first line prepared, so you don't waste time throat-clearing. Consider some classic first lines:

  • "I had a farm in Africa at the foot of the Ngong Hills." (Out of Africa)
  • ''In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly-fishing.'' (A River Runs Through It)
  • "Come and listen to a story about a man named Jed." (The Beverly Hillbillies)
So you've got their attention. Now there's something your character wants that gets him up that tree. Figure out what it is, and that's your inciting incident.

Act II: Throw Rocks at Him

Gather a lot of rocks if you want a long story

This is where you build tension.  

As  your hero tries to get what he wants, introduce one obstacle after another. 
  • S/he may meet mentors/helpers who offer aid and or complications. But don't let them hijack the story.
  • Each incident should be more intense than the one before. Bigger and bigger rocks! 
  • Don't take any detours away from the tree unless they're relevant to the goal or the outcome.

Yes, I know you're entranced by that rabbit and you're dying to follow him down that intriguing hole. But don't do it unless the rabbit will bring you back to the hero in his tree. Stick a pin in those ideas for a later story. 

Your hero will thank you for it. And so will your audience.

Act III: Get Him Down

People love a Happy Ever After ending

Build to a climax. Then end it.

This is where you reach a scene (or sequence of scenes) where the tension of the story gets to its most intense point.

So maybe the hero is hanging from one wimpy branch, about to fall from the tree into the mouth of the fire-breathing dragon.

Suddenly, princess Dragonia emerges from the sky on her own pet dragon and whisks him from the tree to her own kingdom where they have a fabulous destination wedding.

So the problem is resolved, hopefully leaving the characters with new insight and understanding.

Once you've done this, your story is over, so take a bow and don't step on your own applause.

You might want to prepare a final line that emphasizes the insight, especially if your story is based on a particular theme. Here are some famous last lines:

  • "It was beauty that killed the beast." (King Kong)
  • "There's no place like home." (The Wizard of Oz)
  • "So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past." (The Great Gatsby)

 See it's that easy. I know. Laugh here. Good storytelling is one of the toughest things there is. But if you keep the rule of three in mind, it helps enormously.

What about you? Do you follow rabbits instead of focusing on the tree when you're telling a story? Can you manage to take the story back to the hero's story in the end

Camilla Randall Mystery #6
(But it can be read as a stand-alone)

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?

"I really enjoyed the book from start to finish. Wonderful characters and a ripping story which never lets up right up to that fabulous showdown !"...award-winning Irish humorist Tara Sparling

Ebook is available all the Amazon stores
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And in paperback at Barnes and Noble and Amazon