RULE

Ann Rule

Last month, I had the opportunity to take on a true crime book, but I turned it down. It wasn’t an easy choice. It was an interesting cold case, but I felt that I wasn’t ready for the project at this time. It would have required travel that I didn’t want to do, and time that I just couldn’t commit, at least not if I wanted to finish the book in less than a decade.

 

While I was considering the project, I also studied how to do true crime books. I have covered criminal cases when I was a newspaper reporter and even done investigative pieces. I’ve read some true crime books as well, but I wasn’t sure what goes into writing one. For instance, should you have your manuscript vetted by a lawyer? If so, that would have made it very different from other types of writing.

I found an interesting article that had some good tips from the “Queen of True Crime” Ann Rule. If anyone knows how to write a true crime book, it’s her. She is the author of books like Small Sacrifices and Heart Full of Lies. Her first book, The Stranger Beside Me, was about her co-worker, serial killer Ted Bundy. 138454

While she has great advice for being a writer, in general, here are her tips for being a true crime writer.

  1. You can usually get a press pass, but there’s often a deluge of writers trying to obtain one. Rule calls the prosecutor’s assistant.
  2. Study the witnesses, watch the jury, and soak up the entire experience. (I used to try and take notes during trials, but I finally started recording them so I could do just this. If a writers soaks in the experience, it helps in setting the mood and scene when you write.)
  3. Try to obtain the court documents from the court reporter or the prosecutor, or purchase them.
  4. Observe the other reporters in the room, and analyze what they’re doing.
  5. If you’re sitting out in the hall with potential witnesses, don’t ask them about anything. You can comment on the weather or the courtroom benches being hard, but “Keep your eyes and ears open and your mouth pretty shut.” (She says this to keep you from getting in trouble with the judicial system, but it also follows the old adage, “If you’re talking, you aren’t listening.” You never know what you might hear if you are quiet and sitting in the right place.)
  6. Don’t take newspapers into the courtroom.
  7. Know what you’re getting yourself into. “You don’t want to start a nonfiction unless you’re really in love with it, and usually you want a go-ahead from an editor.” (This was one of my hesitations with the true crime project I was presented. I was interested in it, but I wasn’t obsessed by it. Because of that, I was willing to let other things get in the way of me writing the project.)
  8. Absorb detail. “When I’m writing a true-crime book I want the reader to walk along with me.” Rule describes the temperature, how the air feels—“I think it’s very important to set the scene.” As far as the writing, you can novelize, but keep all of your facts straight.
  9. Don’t use the real name of a rape or sexual crime victim in your writing. (Though Rule has written about a few who have asked to have their names included.) As Rule said of her subjects at large, “I always care about my people. And if I didn’t, I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing.”

x4459True crime is an interesting genre because you might actually have a real-world impact, such as catching a criminal. However, it also has plenty of things that could cause you headaches if you aren’t careful. Maybe one day I’ll find that true crime project that I can’t forget, and when that happens, I’ll take the leap.

Here’s the link to the original article where I found Ann Rule’s tips.

 

 

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gjon-mili-writer-damon-runyon-working-on-script-at-deskI’m trying a different type of post today. The Gettysburg Writers Brigade is a group of writers who both support each other and learn from each other. Our group’s founder, Will Hutchison, usually moderates discussions different topics. He also teaches more formal lessons from time to time.

You can click on the link below and download the slides from one of these lessons about creating a story.

Would you like to know how to structure a novel? The slides will give you tips from Will and famous writers on how to find your story and develop it.

Let me know what you think.

And if you would like to participate in the group, we meet every Wednesday at O’Rourke’s Eatery and Spirits at 44 Steinwehr Avenue in Gettysburg, PA. We meet in the second-floor dining room at 7 p.m. Come find us.

Story Story Story

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20170815_135518.jpgBoy, it’s hard getting back to work after a vacation. My family returned from a Caribbean cruise on Saturday. We had a good time, but the following day, I had to get things sorted out so I could hit the ground running on Monday.

Then Monday came, and I was sluggish. I was barely getting any work done. Today, I’ve been experiencing the same thing. It appears that although the calendar says that my vacation has ended, my body has yet to realize it.

That’s one of the drawbacks about vacations. Before I went, I had hit a certain groove. I had my deadlines under control. I had certain routines that kept me on top of things. Things were moving smoothly and efficiently.

Vacations disrupt that. It’s like the cruise ship that I was on. Pulling out of port, it moved slowly at first. Then it gradually built up speed until it was moving along at 22 knots. (Don’t ask me what that is in miles per hour. I have no idea.) Once it gets up to speed, though, it’s easy to maintain it.

I’m that cruise ship right now, and I’m looking for a way to get back up to speed.

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norwegian-escape_i2894798.jpgYou know you’re in trouble when you are gearing up for your busiest selling time of the year and dreading it.

My fall and Christmas season are packed with events, mostly festivals, where I do a lot of my sales during the second half of the year. I was filling out applications and checks this morning and looking at my calendar with just about every Saturday and most Sundays filled up from September through Christmas. Rather than looking forward to the opportunity to get out and meet readers, refine my selling techniques, and make a living, I had a sense of dread.

That’s a warning sign to me that I’m starting to burn out. I need a break. It’s been a stressful summer because of things other than writing, but apparently, it’s taking a toll on my work life.

Luckily, we have a family cruise planned to the Caribbean. I love cruises and wish I could do more. I can see that I need this break, which is coming up next week. Of course, to get to that much-needed break, I have to pretty much double up on my workload this week.

That, combined with the burnout I’m already feeling, means I may not want to come back from the vacation.

Writers need vacations like everyone else. It gives us a chance to step away from work and deadlines and allow the creative subconscious to percolate with new ideas. If we’re lucky our choice of vacation will throw some new ingredients into the mix that our subconscious can work with. Years ago, when I returned from a vacation in the Netherlands, I wrote a creepy story set in a windmill that I still enjoy today.

So, the countdown to relaxation has begun, and if you don’t hear from me in two weeks, don’t come looking for me. It means that I’ve decided to live in the islands!

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A part of the discussion among members of the Gettysburg Writers Brigade this past Wednesday involved where to find festivals where we can sell our books.

Here are two websites that I use that make searching for festivals easy.

Festivalnet.com allows you to search for the details of festivals across the country for free. If you want more details, you can either join the website, or you can do a web search for the name of the festivals you find.

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I’ve been doing the latter, but it is becoming time-consuming so I will be joining with a basic level membership.

Given that the Gettysburg Writers Brigade is in Pennsylvania, I found another site called PA-vendors.com that gives, even more detail about Pennsylvania festivals than Festivalnet.com.

You can also find similar sites for festivals in New Jersey, Maryland, and Delaware.

So if you would like to find a long list of potential places where you can market your books, check out one of these websites.’

BookCoverPreviewI came across this post yesterday, and with the title “There’s no such thing as historical fiction,” it certainly stopped me. I mean, if there’s no historical fiction, then what have I been writing for years?

Here’s the post by Paul Lynch on Literary Hub so you can read for yourself. If I’m reading it right, it is saying that historical novels aren’t about the history but about exploring universal truths.

“Let’s suppose you are a novelist writing fiction set in an historical era. Ask yourself this question: What reader from 1817 would recognize themselves in a novel written 200 years later? That reader would collapse in a cold swoon and wake up bereft and bewildered,” Lynch wrote.

He says that the accurate creation of history “is an act of prestidigitation.”

“Of course, we read the “historical novel” and marvel at its simulation of the past. But pay attention and you will see the historical novel can speak with cool clarity about what is timeless in the present,” Lynch wrote.

With that, I think Lynch gets to his point, which is that history viewed through the prism of the present is tainted. This is something I see not only with historical fiction but also books that are touted as non-fiction.

I’ll go even further and say, it is the same problem that plagues the modern media. Events are reported through the biases of the writer. This leads to facts being left out, underemphasized, or overemphasized.

I think it is unavoidable. At the best, if you try to create an accurate portrait of the past, there will be things you don’t know and not even realize it. However, if you have done your best as an author to create a believable past and authentic characters, then you can be forgiven such mistakes.

The problems arise when you ignore information because it doesn’t fit within the narrative you want to create.

Sure, it’s fiction, but I learned a lesson in writing fantasy and science fiction that also applies to any fiction. If you want readers to believe, or at least accept, the unbelievable, you need to make as much as you can believable. This builds your credibility with the reader.

If you want to write about history, get as much right as you can.

So, while I disagree with the title of Lynch’s post, he makes some good points. There is historical fiction. Our job as writers is to make sure that it doesn’t become fantasy.

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s-l500About a month ago, I wrote about ways that I’ve been trying to increase my sales from festivals and other events where I sell books. I do well at festivals, but in talking with other vendors, I have realized that books aren’t the biggest sellers, although they probably have a better profit margin than many other items.

The reason that I want to maximize sales at festivals is because my costs for a festival are fixed. The booth space cost one price and my gas costs another. They don’t change whether I have more or less to sell.

One of the things that I talked about doing was to offer additional items for sale that are related to my books.

I have been selling 1 oz. copper coins with various designs on them for five festivals now. They have sold well. In fact, at a small event last Saturday, I sold four times more coins than books. That was the first time the coins outsold my books and it certainly made my attendance at that event worthwhile.

I also added hand-crafted coal figures for the past three festivals that I’ve done. The prices on these vary widely, but they have been selling. They tie in nicely with my book, Saving Shallmar: Christmas Spirit in a Coal Town, and I do some of my events in coal country.

The results? The extra items have added an average of 27 percent to each event’s gross sales. It’s definitely worth adding these items. I’m not sure how much of my annual income comes from festival sales, but I’m guessing that if that percentage holds, it will add a few thousand dollars to my income.

The other thing that I’ve noticed is that the shiny coins and varying size figures on display attract more people to the table. It’s easy to overlook books, but they are curious about the figures and what they are made of. They want to see what is on the coins.

Once they stop at the table, they tend to look at everything so I get a chance to pitch my books.

While I can say that the extra lines have increased the traffic to my booths, I can’t say for sure whether it has increased book sales. My sales have increased, but they were already increasing nicely before I introduced my additional lines.

So adding extra lines is one experiment that has proven successful.

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dictation_recorders-mainI’m always looking for ways to increase my productivity. As a one-man show, I either have to do the job or pay to have someone else do it. So I’m always trying to get more from my day to tick off another few items on my “to do” list.

I have been thinking about dictation for awhile now. I even bought the Dragon Talk software. However, I quickly figured out that my most likely time to use dictation was not necessarily when I was going to be sitting at my desk.

I let the idea fall by the wayside for a while. Last week, I decided to try it again.

I downloaded a speech-to-text app onto my phone. Then the next time I went walking, I pulled out my own and started dictating a chapter in the book that I’m working on. When I had finished, I emailed the text to myself.

When I got home later, I opened my e-mail and copied the text into a word document. Then I took a couple minutes to read through the text, add punctuation, correct spelling, and format. Within about a third of the time that it would have taken me to type 1,000, I had my draft of the scene done. Plus, most of the time that it took to prepare the scene, I did while I was walking.

That’s an increase in productivity!

The other place where I’ve found the app pays off is when I go to bed. As I lay there winding down each night, I tend to think of things I need to do or scenes I want to write.

Now when that happens, I grab my phone and start dictating. Then I can review what I dictated in the morning.

Next up, I’d like to find a way to have my computer translate interviews that I conduct while I’m researching. I can’t simply use the app because there are translation errors that I would need to be able to refer back to original interview to check. I’m thinking I need to record the interview and then see if I can play it into my phone so that it’s translated.

Whether it works or not, dictation has definitely increased my productivity. I also think that it helps improve the flow of my writing, particularly when I’m writing dialogue.

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I want to go to one of these stores just to see how it compares to other bookstores. I found a list of the current stores here: https://www.amazon.com/b?ie=UTF8&node=13270229011

Pages Unbound | Book Reviews & Discussions

Discussion Post

I recently had the opportunity to visit the Amazon Bookstore in Manhattan (there will be a second one in a couple months) and was surprised by how much I enjoyed it after reading some ambivalent reviews from mainstream sources.

The primary complaints seem to be:

  1. You have to pay list price for the books unless you are an Amazon Prime member (i.e. The physical stores are really an avenue to push Prime sign ups, though no employee would probably actually say this).
  2. The stores stock “only” about 3,000 titles (because covers–not spines–face out on the shelves).

Personally, I loved the set-up of the store.  I think there’s a benefit to being able to really see a curated selection of books, rather than getting stuck staring at the spines of 10,000 books I was never interested in buying anyway.  So, no, I wouldn’t go to a physical Amazon store to purchase…

View original post 633 more words

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So I am just finishing up a long weekend of book signings. I had a signing every day from Friday through Monday. I also had a talk on Saturday afternoon that was filmed by C-Span. Luckily, all of the events were in Gettysburg where I live.

I’m always surprised by how much signings and festivals tire me out. For the most part, I’m just sitting around. There’s some physical activity with the set up and take down of an event. In between, though, I just talk with people and sign books.

When I get home, though, I am invariably tired. Then I have to do the unloading of the car, putting away all of my equipment, and unpacking books.

So is it a sign that I’m getting old? I hope not because I plan on doing this work for many years to come.

I especially like attending the festivals. Not only do I tend to sell a lot of books there, but I enjoy seeing what other people are selling. I have met some wonderful artists and craftsmen at these event. Plus, I can get my two favorite festival foods, Italian sausage sandwiches and funnel cakes.

It also gets me out of my den so I can meet my readers, which I enjoy doing.

I just wish I didn’t get so tired.

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