Writer's Notes

Fans and Flowers: Fans are the Heart of a Writer’s Life

By Ally Shields

May 25, 2018

 Ally Shields illusWho doesn’t love book fans? Those intrepid readers who snatch up every book you write on the day it’s released, the book clubs who analyze your characters from motives to what they wore in a particular scene, and the bloggers who sing your praises in online reviews. Sigh. Fantastic. The kudos are wonderful…like warm fudge cake with double chocolate frosting.

But fans can also be your most persistent critics. Such as the reader who takes you to task for too many commas or too few, for the over-usage of “warm” words, or complains that the model on the cover doesn’t look like her concept of the heroine. And I vividly recall the reader/reviewer who’d read all of my Guardian Witch novels but was sharply indignant that one of my characters, in one book, used the word Ugh! She explained at length how this didn’t fit the character’s personality or the atmosphere of the scene. (By the way, I agreed with her. While proofing for the print edition, I deleted the word!)

How could I—or any author—not be flattered by all of this? They’d read my books! And carefully enough they could talk about them, in minutia. They knew the characters, the plots, and subplots better than I did. An author couldn’t wish for more.

reviews picBut book fans don’t always understand the power they can wield. Series live or die on sales, and those are often dependent on the number of positive reviews. The best book in the world will never be enjoyed if readers don’t know it’s there. Placements in search engines and on best seller lists, even acceptance for advertising, and ultimately sales are driven by reviews. And believe me, my publisher pays even more attention to them than I do. She can quote from them.

demon picAre there “bad fans?” That almost seems like an oxymoron, but yes, there are those who carry fandom too far, who stalk authors online, or even worse, bully other readers who aren’t fans of their favorite author. Like others, I’ve been on the receiving end of someone’s misdirected fans, and it’s best just to ignore them. Most authors don’t want or appreciate this kind of support. Personally, I believe these “trolls” need to get a life. But enough said about that aberrant minority.

Real book fans are the life and breath of authors. Like roses thrown upon the actors’ stage, we love hearing from you. I respond to every email and any tweets I catch. Whether it’s a personal note, a comment on the blog, or a review posted somewhere, I hope readers keep them coming. Authors are depending on you….

And feeling so grateful you “get” their books.

Ally’s website is here:





Writer's Notes

When is it THE END?: Terry Shames

T Shames Unsettling Crime_coverNot So Fast, Honey by Terry Shames

Done! Finished! The End!

I wrote several novels before I got published. When I sent them off, publishers said, “Close, but no cigar.” I always thought that if I wrote just one more book, the new book would leap the hurdle. I thought secretly, as I know many pre-published authors do, that it was “them,” not me. It took an important workshop to force me to reconsider. In the workshop, author Sophie Littlefield cautioned that if we were writing one book after another and not getting published, we ought to consider that it was not “them” (publishers) at all—it was the book. She said she knew from personal experience because she had written many books before she finally hit her groove. She urged aspiring authors to reach deep inside to write the best book we could write.

Immediately after the workshop, I came up with the idea of the Samuel Craddock series. It seemed as if it had always been there, waiting for me. I gave the first book to my writer’s group to read, and they loved it. They said I had finally found my voice. The only problem was that the end came too fast. It wasn’t the first time this criticism had been rendered in the books I wrote, but it was the first time I took it seriously.

This time I really pondered what I had to do to satisfy readers. What did not work in the end? I realized it wasn’t what I had written that was at fault, but what was left unwritten. In general, the book had depth, so what was missing? If I had gone back to my old habit of simply dismissing the critique as irrelevant, I would most likely have missed what now seems to me to have been the obvious “real” ending.

Last year, when I wrote the sixth book in the series, An Unsettling Crime for Samuel Craddock, I hoped I had finally mastered getting to the end. I was satisfied when I sent it off to my agent. Not so fast, honey! My agent said it wasn’t really finished. After grumbling to myself that it couldn’t possibly be true, I knuckled under yet again. I asked myself these questions:

1)    Have I resolved every aspect of the crime? In one of the books, I had hinted at the resolution, but had not put it in an actual scene. I realized that it’s important that the reader have the catharsis of being present for the resolution. In “Unsettling,” the answer was no, I had not resolved every aspect, but I had accounted for why it couldn’t be so—it was in my original intention.

2)    Had I met my original intention? Sometimes in the writing, a book strays from the original goal. This is okay, but the end needs to address what actually happens in the book.

3)    Have all the characters been accounted for? In the first book in the series, I added the last chapter after my critique group said it felt unfinished. I didn’t know enough to actually ask myself these questions, but by luck I came up with a “finishing” chapter that accounted for a character who had slipped away. And this turned out to be the answer to how to finish An Unsettling Crime for Samuel Craddock. One of the characters I loved had simply dropped off the page. It took staring into space and really considering how to bring her back in before the answer came to me clearly. I actually cried when I got to the real end.

Had I depended only on myself to get these books right, the ending to all of them in the series would have been stunted. Why can I not see this for myself? I think it’s because I’m so glad to get to the end, that I stop writing the best book I can write, and just write a “good enough” book—the kind that got rejected again and again before I got published. That’s where a good critique group or a good agent who reads critically comes in. I keep hoping that one day I will be able to ask those three important questions on my own, but until then I depend not on the kindness of strangers, but of people I trust to help me get it right, all the way to the end.


Terry Shames writes the award-winning Samuel Craddock series, published by Seventh Street Books. It’s her understanding that fans of the novels fall into two categories: women want to marry Samuel Craddock, and men want to be him! Find more about Terry on her website, You can also find her on her author Facebook page,


Cop loc auth close upMalice cover

Read Thonie Hevron’s books:

By Force or Fear, Intent to Hold, and Malice Aforethought are available through Amazon.


Writer's Notes

What’s Up?

By Thonie Hevron

I haven’t posted a progress report since November 12, 2016. I’m overdue and hope to make up for it with this. Last winter, I wrote that I had re-gained my book rights from Oak Tree Publishing due to the publisher’s ill health. In the intervening months, I’ve taken two major vacations, struggled with some worrisome health problems (all good now) and polished my third manuscript, With Malice Aforethought. I’ve been submitting queries to agents (for representation) and publishers (for a contract).

authorThis week alone, I sent three queries out to two agents and a publisher. The deal is, I must wait for a response. But here’s the kicker: the timeframe for an answer (if I even get one) is anywhere from three weeks to six months—yikes! Who has that kind of time? Normally I wait a few weeks, then move on to another agency. All these queries must be researched. Agents receive from 20 to 100 queries a day. Given that workload, it wouldn’t be wise to submit a mystery query to an agent who only handles children’s book, would it? And even more checking is needed to make sure my mystery agent handles thrillers/police procedurals as my genre is defined. Again, a cozy (think Agatha Christie) mystery literary agent wouldn’t look twice at my sub-genre.

So. A lot of work. Which takes away from writing.

Book report:

I have a fourth book in the wings. I wrote it in the mid-90’s so it needs updating and re-structuring. I hope to have it ready for a publisher/agent later this year.

open bookAs if I don’t have enough to do, my blog seems to be growing. A third retired LAPD officer is now sending me stories in addition to Hal Collier and Ed Meckle. Their posts are entertaining and serve my mission to de-mystify police officers to the public but particularly writers.

However, lately, I’ve been feeling like I’d like to butt in, too. Not stories but commentaries on the writer’s life, hence Writers Notes. So, I plan to write one post per month and publish it on Fridays. On May 12th, I’ll begin with, “It Takes a Village,” my take on the myth of the solitary writer.

My friend and colleague, Marilyn Meredith, will offer her ideas on the same subject on May 19th.  Amy Bennett, author of the Black Horse Campground Mysteries, will chime in on May 26th. I’ll provide links so you’ll be able to click right onto their websites.

June will bring another challenge. What topic and who will weigh in?

Writer's Notes

Those Annoying Word Counts-Why Bother?

By Thonie Hevron

Counting words is downright annoying. Yet demands for word count are everywhere—agent/publisher guidelines, contests, academic papers, magazine and news articles all are at the whim of the digit. So imagine my delight when Microsoft Word tucked an unobtrusive little tally on the lower left hand corner of each word document.


Gore Vidal
Gore Vidal

Keeping track of the number of words has morphed into a work tool that I use to measure my productivity. I know, I know—artists should be at the mercy of the muse not the calculator. I’ve heard this by many successful writers through the years but it’s never really worked for me. Gore Vidal said, “Amateurs hope, professionals work.” Thankfully, I read that quote early in my serious writing career. What matters is getting words on a page. Period.
As a kid, I spent a lot of time looking out the window, day dreaming. Teachers often told me I could amount to something if I quit day dreaming and applied myself. In retrospect, while it wasn’t totally wasted time (where do you think those stories came from??), I didn’t have anything to show for it. No short story, novel, screenplay, nothing. I squandered a lot of time.
At some point in my life, I finally figured if I didn’t write something, all my stories would die. When I found Gore Vidal’s quote, something clicked. I had to stop thinking of writing as fun, a hobby, something to while away all my spare time (spare time doesn’t exist, if you want my opinion). Writing became work. Work I love, but a job nonetheless.
Working included sending out query letters to find an agent and/or publisher. Each agent has very specific criteria for reading potential client’s work: submit a 100 word synopsis, the first 10,000 words of your manuscript, and a one page cover letter specifying why you are the best person to write this story. I caught on quickly—keep track of word count. It matters. These days I have several bios: 50 word, 100 word and 500 word. I keep these and similarly constructed synopsis and outlines of all my marketed books. I’ve learned to have these on hand when someone taps me for an interview or story. They came in very handy last month when my computer crashed. I was between pcs and I got an interview request. But it came with an expiration date, one that was prior to the new pc delivery. Out came the thumb drive and off went the info—all done on my tablet.
writer at keyboardWord counts are helpful to keep up my motivation as well. When I sit at the keyboard with a general idea what I want to accomplish, I mull over the plot points, point of view, and scene goals and start in. I fall prey to the same anxiety all writers suffer from—what if I can’t come up with anything to say?
Here’s where word count comes in. If I put 500 words on a page, edit them, massage phrases, find synonyms and delete whole paragraphs, I’ve done my job. I’ve made those 500 (or 300 or 700 …) words count but it wouldn’t have worked if I hadn’t put them on paper in the first place.
In my writing studio, I usually work in the early morning. I can get anywhere from 200 to 1000 words down in a couple of quiet hours. I’m goal-oriented enough to work for a number, hopefully a minimum of 4 digits. For me a good day is any day I can tally an increased number of words from the last total.

The only way I know is to look at my word count. Just another tool to get the job done.

Writer's Notes

The Announcement

Image   Fridays are the weekly round-up day for my publisher, (ohhhh, I still get goosebumps when I type that) Oak Tree Press.

This week the contest winners were announced. If you’re interested in reading it, look at the second article in the post. Woo-hoo!

%d bloggers like this: