Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Summer Reading Recommendations!

I'm a bit tardy with this, but what do you expect from me? I'm already overclocked.

(ahem) Here are my recommendations for your summer reading. I've already read them and approved them for you. They carry the Good Shalanna Seal of Approval. *honk*

Most of these books are available in Kindle format as well, but I have linked you to the dead-tree editions. I think it would be nice to get some of the last remaining debut paper novels. Also, it's easier to haul a paper book to the beach, read it, not worry about getting it wet, and leave it behind in the hotel room drawer to be discovered by the next intrepid reader. Be sure to put a sticky note on the front cover explaining that you've given the book to the Free Library and that the new person should keep or pass the book along, as (s)he prefers. If both of you would review it on Amazon--that would be gravy! And you know you love gravy! WOOF!

First up--MY books. Because this is MY blog, and I CAN. I promise you I will get to several books by other people. In just a minute. Scroll down to see. If you simply cannot BEAR another WORD about my stooopid BOOOKS, hit PageDown a couple of times to see the other writers' mystery novels that I commend. Page down to see the Beatlemaniac caper and the ghost, if you must. *sobbing* It's OK, really. Really.

Do you like LONG books? One that won't be finished in a day, that you can drag to the beach and back for a couple of days or that will sit on the nightstand for three?

How about the winner of the 2011 Oak Tree Press First Mystery Novel contest? Yeah, yeah, you've heard already. But why not read it for yourself?

NICE WORK by Denise Weeks is a longer, more absorbing mystery than the typical contemporary genre read. (Try it on stubborn spills--you'll see it's more absorbing.) It's big like Grisham's current 400-pager, but not QUITE as long at 366 pages. Thanks to my wonderful publisher, I finally found a home for the book that both St. Martin's Press and Bantam said was lovely but too long for mystery readers to stick with. Let's prove them WRONG! Make the world safe for long books again!

Elevator pitch: Jacquidon Carroll could've killed her boss when he downsized her--or so the police think. Can she and her sister find the real killer in the maze of BDSM clubs and secret societies that her (ex-)boss turns out to have been involved in--before it's too late?

(No explicit stuff--everything's played for laughs. It's a "Snoop Sisters" sort of romp like Anne George's Southern Sisters series, but with sisters in their mid-twenties rather than elderly like Jessica Tandy/Ruth Gordon.) Jacquidon and Chantal do some things you wouldn't do (and that I wouldn't do), but they retain their innocence. Except for that break-in . . . and stealing that journal, not to mention the wad of cash found next to it . . . but they were just BORROWING it, see, and they didn't actually break-and-enter, but had a friend of theirs let them in, and anyway Jacks used to work at the place. ANYHOW, they HAD to. It was all to clear Jacquidon of the murder she'd been accused of. Oh, it's impossible to explain in a paragraph. Just read it. We'll write more. (In fact, we already have.)

First in a series. That is, if you lot buy the book! Then I can get the next book published, and the next, and the next. You know the drill.

At Amazon: Nice Work--AMAZON

STILL on SPECIAL for $12 plus FREE SHIPPING at Oak Tree Press Direct! Such a DEAL!

Nice Work CHEAP

Interested in fiction that takes an unusual look at the world and examines fantastical/paranormal experiences? Murder by the Marfa Lights by Denise Weeks, a cozy/traditional mystery, is another of my books that was selected by the judges to compete in the final round of last year's St. Martin's/Malice Domestic contest, although it did not win that contest. It SHOULD have. Am I biased here?? Although I haven't seen the book that won. Why not read them BOTH and report back to me, STAT!

Ariadne French has waited almost a year to hear from her boyfriend. A call from practically anywhere, though Aaron left her to find his fortune in Montana with promises to send for her as soon as he was settled, would suit her just fine. But to hear that he's dead of a heart attack in Marfa, Texas--and that he has left her all his worldly goods, including a cabin he built with his own hands--shakes her to the core. Aaron dead? And only a year after her sister Zöe lost her young son and became a virtual hermit. Against her sister's advice, Ari leaves Dallas for Marfa to help settle the estate--but also to investigate Aaron's death.

Aaron had apparently been trying to sell his revolutionary encryption software routine--which was claimed in the e-mails Ariadne finds on his computer to be as secure as but twice as fast as the standard RSA public-key algorithm--to several interested corporate and government buyers. But there's no trace of the software on his computer, and Ari suspects it has something to do with Aaron's death. Where is the money that he was paid in advance by several buyers? As she searches for the source code (she's certain he backed it up and had several copies) and tries to build a case to show he was murdered, more and more suspects show up on the doorstep of his cabin. She finds herself in an exotic world of religious cults, a smarmily charming minister, a mystic-minded Cherokee lawyer, a secretive musician, and Aaron's eccentric family, which has somehow picked up a sister whom Aaron never mentioned in all their time together. After enduring everything from a chase through the desert by the Marfa Mystery Lights to some very real death threats from Aaron's erstwhile heirs, Ari finds herself recruiting Zöe to help her put together the pieces and solve the ultimate mystery: why Aaron was killed, and who killed him.

Murder by the Marfa Lights by Denise Weeks is a soft-boiled cozy/traditional mystery that has a dark side, but is leavened with eccentric character-based humor in the vein of Joan Hess, Donna Andrews, and the late Anne George (whose Southern Sisters mysteries featured a pair of sleuthing sisters who were much older than my young pair.) It holds appeal for those who are fascinated by the great and diverse state of Texas, especially the "old west" area in which Marfa is located, and Texas flavors the work so much that it serves almost as a character itself. Because of the multiple UFO sightings recently in small-town Texas and the video of the Marfa Mystery Lights that was all over CNN this spring, I believe that my book will please readers who are fascinated by the supernatural or the suggestion of paranormal elements.

Murder by the Marfa Lights at Amazon

But other people write mysteries, too. Imagine!

The Baffled Beatlemaniac Caper by Sally Carpenter is the first in a series starring Sandy Fairfax, a has-been teen idol from the seventies (think Bobby Sherman and Andy Gibb) who attends a Beatles fandom convention to re-start his career.

Remember how if you played the Beatles album track backwards, you'd hear "Paul is dead" . . . um, no, it's not Paul after all! Get set for a wacky ride to a retro Beatles fan convention in this cozy/traditional mystery. Author Sally Carpenter gets the details of fandom right, down to the starry-eyed fangirl Bunny, escort for Our Hero Sandy Fairfax, a former teen idol/singer/TV star who at age 38 has returned as a special guest at this convention. Sandy, now almost forty, was the Shaun Cassidy of his day when he starred in the TV series "Buddy Brave, Boy Sleuth," analogous to the Hardy Boys Mysteries. Unfortunately, Sandy has had a tough time over the years restarting his career and is fighting alcoholism to boot. But after he ends up solving a murder, he finds himself a changed man and pulls him out of his bad attitude to focus him on a new beginning. This book reminded me of Bimbos of death sun but without the sneering attitude of the main female character towards everyone in the con, especially the fat woman whom she completely treats as scum. I gave this one a glowing review on Amazon. I wasn't kissing up, either--I always say what I mean in reviews. You can order this one on Amazon or direct from Oak Tree Press.

The Baffled Beatlemaniac Caper at Amazon

You know what a ghostwriter is, don't you? Well, sometimes someone crosses the Veil without finishing his greatest work. That's what happened to famous romance writer Max Murdoch (who produced the lovely tomes as Maxine DuBois). So when the young and unemployed (we prefer to call it "between gigs") computer programmer Nan Burton inherits her great-aunt's California beach cottage, she discovers she has also signed on to be the one to complete Max's final and greatest novel.

Lorna Collins (NO RELATION) has written a beach/ghost story for people who can't get enough of ghosts. Until I actually finish and sell my own ghost story, LOVE IS THE BRIDGE, you'll have to make do with other people's stuff, and this is the one to pick. It sort of reminded me of _The Ghost and Mrs. Muir_. I haven't finished the book yet, so don't spoil it for me. Go out and get your own copy.

Ghost Writer at Amazon

The Pot Thief Who Studied Pythagoras by J. Michael Orenduff

I can't be too effusive in my praise of Mike Orenduff's POT THIEF series. I am not at all biased by his having recommended my MARFA LIGHTS novel to his editors at Oak Tree Press and to other influential types. No, REALLY. His books stand on their own. They are a mix of lore with intellectual analysis. The plots make sense and are not derivative of anything else.

His is not the usual flat, plain, no-style writing that you get in so many best-sellers. You'll think you're reading dialogue from Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, Rock Hudson and Doris Day, Cary Grant and anyone else--it's that funny.

He wins a lot of awards, and this is the ziilionth book in the series, so you're in for a treat! His new publisher, Aakenbaaken (and I'll have eggs sunny side up with that bacon) and Kent, needs your money (LOL), so buy this book now.

The Pot Thief Who Studied Pythagoras

Absinthe of Malice by Pat Browning

Don't let the pun in the title put you off. (I had a boss who ADORED puns. So did my most beloved and sorely missed AP English teacher. But they are still the lowest form of humor. Except for frat-boy idiocy. And anything Adam Sandler. Still, I kind of like puns. Shhh.)

It's an urban cozy set in California that explores how the past and its secrets mold and affect those living in the present. The female protagonist is clever--which counts for SO MUCH in these days of "too stupid to live" female P. I. characters and the airheaded types who never learn not to go down into the dark basement without a flashlight to find out what that terrible howling noise is. I can't say too much about the plot without risking spoilers (although several studies say spoilers don't spoil fiction--but let's not go there right now). Just pick this one up if you love small-town intrigue and amateur sleuthing.

Absinthe of Malice

My two mysteries at ~300 pages not long enough for ya? Love Jane Austen and "Five Little Peppers" and Proust? Adore historicals? Know what Prussia was (or want to learn)?

Try this 600-page historical set in 19th-century Prussia! One reviewer said Prussian Yarns by Laurie Campbell is like "Upstairs, Downstairs," where you get to see the landowners' problems as well as the servants' tribulations. Lots and lots of voice and charming characters. She's been working on this one as long as I've known her (and that is a LONG time!) I think you'll like it.

Prussian Yarns

Are you ready for a short, faster-paced fantasy/adventure? A great summer read, a beach read--good for young adults as well as grown-ups who have never lost that sense of wonder. A contemporary urban fantasy with magic! If you liked "How to buy a love of reading" or the Millicent Min books with a first-person genius girl narrator, this is your cuppa. April, Maybe June by Shalanna Collins, for middle grade readers and UP. Mostly UP.

April Bliss (yes, she gets teased for her name) is a precocious teen girl genius with a sister who is a year and a half older and even smarter. Of course April knows she's smart and funny--but not necessarily in the ways that she believes she is. Her life has been on an even keel until the day the police show up at their mansion and their family is thrown into chaos. Never mind that June slips on a magic ring and goes wild, or that April finds a magic book that shows her alarming pictures. They've got to rescue their cousin Arlene from a renegade coven of evil witches--or is that a double-cross?

Train scenes! Magic! Kidnapping! Crazy family! And lots more.

April, Maybe June

If your preferences in contemporary urban fantasy run a little grittier--here's something aimed at slightly older audiences (because of some sexual situations and language, though nothing explicit).

Camille MacTavish runs away from her new stepfather who has been attempting to abuse her and runs smack into a magical netsuke. If you don't know what that is--read this and learn something cool. Renfaire fu, tramp convention fu, shoplifting oops. Remember: Magic is dangerous--it's not Santa Claus or the Good Fairy--and never tempt a demon.

Camillle's Travels by Shalanna Collins, available on Amazon in print or Kindle editions.

Camille's Travels (or Travels Without Charley)

At last, something by someone other than MOI, but still fantasy/science fiction.

Lately I've been turning to small presses for the stuff I like to read, the sorts of books I am not getting from the New York houses. Yard Dog Press is very active at conventions and in fandom. You may already be familiar with the various books and lines they put out.

New this summer is The Anthology from Hell: Humorous Stories from WAY Down Under, edited by Julia S. Mandala. This one is a goodie. It's a collection of short stories about you-know-where and what happens there. Several of the authors are Grandmasters: Lawrence Watt-Evans, Spider Robinson, Robert Sheckley, Esther Friesner, and Mike Resnick, to name a few. BUT!! The IMPORTANT part is that my best friend from my college days has a story in it, and so does one of my other long-term friends who has gone to many events with us, and the first person in our old writers' critique group to be published does, too. In fact, the last of these is the editor of this collection! I think that says it all--of course you will go pick up this anthology. Be sure to check out the stories by Linda Donahue (my college friend), her hubby Christopher Donahue, and our friend Katherine Turski. Order direct for the best price!

The Anthology From Hell by my oldest and dearest friends!!

How about a splash of nonfiction? If you want to learn something, learn from the master. A professor who knows how to talk to the regular people!

The Lexicographer's Dilemma

Of "Grammar, And Nonsense, And Learning" speaks the learned professor Jack Lynch. You can't go wrong with one of Jack's books, from his tome on Shakespeare to his stuff on Dr. Johnson and the first dictionary. This one is a good place to start. Why not learn something about the way the English language has grown and adapted over the years, instead of just working on your tan (you shouldn't be out in the sun without SPF lotion, anyway)?

Here's the more literary, Serious Stuff.

One Bead of Gold by Lorraine Stanton This is another book by a long-time writing comrade and good friend of mine. Unfortunately, it deals with child abuse and her experiences of growing up under a cloud of it. If this stuff triggers you, you might want to consider carefully how you will react and prepare accordingly. This is an unvarnished look into the foster care system through the eyes of abused children. Worth your consideration.

One Bead of Gold

Of course if you like literary chick lit with a paranormal twist--there's always my masterpiece/book of my heart, LITTLE RITUALS by Denise Weeks. About which you have already heard so much here. I can't let this opportunity to pmp the book pass by.

LITTLE RITUALS, Daphne under a curse and learning to sail

Okay, now get ready to dig through the used book store. If you find any of these, snatch them up. You won't be disappointed.

TRUST ME ON THIS by Donald E. Westlake
BELLWETHER by Connie Willis
THE EGYPT GAME by Zilpha Keatley Snyder
THE FORTUNATE FALL by Raphael Carter
SCIENCE FAIR by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson

Happy reading!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Things You Didn't Know About Me, Pt. 1

Three things I've done that you may not have done.

I went to New York City as one of eight finalists in the 2008 Scotch Brand Most Gifted (Gift) Wrapper Contest. According to the public relations firm that handles this extravaganza every December for 3M/Scotch, I am still ranked eighth in the nation. I didn't win that year, but the trip itself was prize enough.

I was born with the spelling gene. Back in the day, you could only compete in the Scripps-Howard National Spelling Bee up until you were in the sixth grade or so (or else that is when the Plano ISD cut off the preliminary rounds and sent us into full adolescent screech mode.) I competed in fifth and sixth grades and went to the state level both years. The first year I missed the word "pursuant" (I had an "e" instead of the "u," thinking of "per-" words). The second year I was panicking because my dad, who had just recovered from a massive heart attack (and this was just before the bypass became commonly used, so he was considered extremely fragile), clutched his chest and left the TV studio just before I was up to spell. I misspelled "affiliated" (I doubled the "L"), probably because I had watched so many TV ads for Affiliated Food Stores and had double vision. I was almost relieved to be able to leave the line and go see what had happened to my dad. (The spelldowns were the only time he really took any interest in me as a preteen.) It turned out that he'd been too nervous to watch and had gone outside for a smoke. Yes, sports fans, he still smoked and they weren't making people quit back in the day. No, REALLY.

I wish I had a photo of the bee. Before digital cameras, everyone was all worried about "wasting film" and cameras were big and bulky with huge hot flashbulbs and we simply don't have photos of the significant events in our lives the way y'all have now. It isn't fair. I demand a do-over.

Here I am with my dad at Christmas in my fifth-grade year. We hadn't done the Bee yet, but we would begin studying "Words of the Champions" the following spring. Ah, for that sweatshirt now! And "Dancerina," my big present. She came with a cardboard record with selections from the "Nutcracker Suite." The record and the doll were given to one of my young cousins as soon as my mother decided I was too old to have dolls. So it goes.

Note the wall of avocado green draperies. (Standard for 1969-70.) Note the console stereo. My dad built that himself. Note the real Christmas tree with plenty of tinsel. Mama did that one herself. Note the snazzy yellow stretch pants! I could still fit into those because they were so stretchy! (Not.)

And now I've forgotten the third thing. Oh, yeah, my CD. "Mixtape" by Shalanna Collins. It was only produced in extremely small test quantities (I burned a couple of copies for the van), and I discovered that it needs to be remastered in some type of listenable way. Eventually, I'll get around to re-recording the songs and making it sound good. Tracks include three of the pieces that my heroine Paige in LOVE IS THE BRIDGE wrote and performed in the novel. I really like the CD cover, too. It will be a while before I get time to work on that, though. What will I do with the Paige tracks in the meantime? When LOVE IS THE BRIDGE sells and gets into print, I plan to offer them as free MP3 downloads to all purchasers. Or maybe just anybody. Haven't decided yet.

That's me around age eight, swimming underwater after taking a six-week swimming course at the neighborhood country club. Somebody had a fancy underwater camera setup and was taking "you got your certificate!" photos of the graduates of the Small Splashers. I scanned it in and somehow it got all pixelated like that, and I liked it better than the original. Was I ever that scrawny? Like a frog in the water! (Obviously, I outgrew that phase.)

What have you done that other people haven't?

Friday, July 20, 2012

NICE WORK by Denise Weeks is LIVE on Amazon!

The suggested price is somewhat higher than it is on the Oak Tree Press direct sale page. That link, again, is:
(TWELVE DOLLAR SPECIAL--page down 24 PageDown keys to the book cover and ADD TO CART)

This is cool! If you can't afford the book at Amazon--and I'll understand if you prefer to get it direct for $12 and free shipping, or if you have to wait for the Kindle edition within a few days, or whatever--PLEASE click through and click on the "Like" button that's up there with the book title on the Amazon page. It helps to bring the book "up" in the rankings, which will also reduce the price. We at Oak Tree Press are not privy to how Amazon figures the price and lowers it as the book moves up, but this happens, so we ask everyone to LIKE the book. These days everything's a popularity contest, I swear.

Keep cool out there! And pity me as well, because Hubby is about to go out there to Denver where they just had the problem. *sigh* It's gonna be lonesome here with just me and the dog and the elderly mother. . . .

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Summer Heat--Hot Titles Sale!

I've just gotten word that the printer our publishing house contracts with has approved all the files for NICE WORK, cover and text, and we'll have books in about ten days or so! The Amazon link should go live around the 27th.

Right now, we still have the special HOT DISCOUNT of $12 and FREE SHIPPING on the direct sales site. Here's the link again to the button for pre-ordering NICE WORK.

Page down to the "N" section, about twenty-four PAGE DOWNs. NICE WORK by Denise Weeks--trade paper edition--366 pgs. Use the "Add to Cart" button and you'll see the special direct buyer price.

I hope we do have some pre-orders, as I basically promised my publisher she'd start seeing sales as soon as we went live. Doubts creep in . . . will anyone "get" the heroine and the book? Will people laugh at the funny events and clever dialogue and hilarious lines? Will people identify with Our Heroine and Our Other Heroine? Will people like the setting, the supporting cast, the parodied spelling bee and private clubs, and all that stuff? *AND* am I right in believing that hardcore readers prefer a LONG book that isn't convoluted or overly complex, but just is longer in order to explore the plot and subplots (including a romantic subplot for Our Longsuffering Heroine) fully, at its organic length?

I wish I had a buy-back program in place right now so I could guarantee you a no-risk purchase. I'm working on that, in fact, because if it's good enough for airport bookstores, it'll work for me. At the moment, though, it'll just be a leap of faith when you click to purchase the book.

Come on! Only TWELVE DOLLARS! I gave more than that for a couple of burgers and drinks at lunch today. (And I didn't even GET a burger. Those were for Mama and Hubby. He is suffering because he will have to be gone on a long business trip starting early Saturday morning. I am suffering because I know I'll be sick the entire time he's gone. I need to go to Disneyland!) You get a sturdy, good-looking, easy-reading trade softcover with a custom-drawn cover (by my cousin the famous artist/architect, no less) to put on your keepers shelf. It makes you look smart and never collects dust.

Take a look at the various hot titles out there on the Direct Sale page while you're there. You never know what you might find that you'll be glad you didn't miss. Is that a convoluted way to phrase it? Well . . . too bad. The blog's free. I don't go back and edit it. (LOL)

Help me NOT be the disappointment to my publisher that I have always been to my family! Buy a book! Plant a weed! Save a horse--ride a cowboy!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Is this real?! OR am I being played like a Stradivarius?

HEY, Y'ALL!! What do you know about these blog awards? I've supposedly been nominated and I'm supposed to reply to "accept the nomination."

Which blog was it that got nominated? Possibly not this one. This one is the pro blog. My personal journal is more of a "rip open soul and rummage through to see what revelations might stun the masses most" blog. Maybe the other blogspot one. Who knows?


Should I be flattered?

Or is it a scam in some way??

Is my blood sugar just low or something? This triggers my doubt-meter for some reason. But I would be thrilled if I were actually finally GETTING some recognition. Go figure the egoboo.

Here's the "nominee badge" that we're encouraged to display. Their site wanted me to "copy this code to display the badge," but I don't like to point to pictures on someone else's site; they often remove the pic and leave a photo-hole in my blog entry, and they convolute matters. So I just copied the dang badge. Sort of strange? OR legit?

Ever seen that before? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller. . . ?

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Pre-Order Sale! NICE WORK for $12 FREE SHIPPING

After much bullying on my part of the long-suffering and amazing Oak Tree Press sales site people, there is finally a button for pre-ordering NICE WORK!

Page down to the "N" section, about twenty-four PAGE DOWNs. You had no idea that Oak Tree Press carried so many fiction and nonfiction titles, did you? Well, there are lots. Mine is the newest!

NICE WORK by Denise Weeks--trade paper edition--366 pgs.

The book won't physically be available until the last day of July, a couple of weeks from now. So why would someone want to pre-order it?

1) You'll be among the first to see our beautiful new creation! I hear that the newest hottest blockbuster is FIFTY SHADES OF GRAY, which deals (eventually; you have to stick with it for a while, I am told) with BDSM. Well, MY book deals with a murder whose roots are in a BDSM community gone wrong! It's played for laughs, granted, as my naive young Snoop Sister sleuths have to go to clubs and get on mailing lists to try to figure out where to look for clues. But this mystery is edgy! You'll be the first to get this book, which is BIG and LONG. That means it's more than a couple of hours' reading. It has a BEACH BOOK potential.

2) For years now, people have been waiting for me to publish something other than fantasy. Here it is! It's the first in a mystery series. No explicit stuff and no awful cussin', either. Funny stuff. Sisterly banter. Think the Snoop Sisters, the Thin Man movies, and Anne George's late lamented Southern Sisters series. My family can FINALLY read something of mine without whining about "fairy tale stuff" and "I hate magic because it isn't real/is of the DEBBIL/is stooopid." Really!


My publisher has put the book up on the sale page with its normal suggested retail price listed in the description. This price would make anyone gag and faint. "You think you're David Foster Wallace's protege or something?" Because this trade paperback is 366 pages. Yes, sports fans, you read right. We managed to keep this one big. BUT WE ARE SELLING IT FOR LESS THAN LESSER BOOKS!

When you click the pre-order yellow button that reads in green "ADD TO CART," your system will go to the PayPal cart window--and you will see that the book is on pre-order sale for $12.00. YES!


This is a thrill. Compared to my fantasy novel DULCINEA, which is not quite as long but still sells for around $19 on the publisher's site (and sometimes at Amazon for $22, which I think is awfully depressing and puts some readers off--although it's now available from used book stores), this is a BARGAIN. No, REALLY!! Go to Barnes and Noble and stroll through, picking up some of their trade softcovers at 350+ pages. You will see that they sell for $24, $18, and so forth.



5) BONUS!!

If you buy the book and then review it on Amazon (and this is an impartial review; if you really dislike it and can construct a cogent review that isn't like the ones written by fourth-graders who don't understand what the teacher has told them to read and review for class, I will be happy to hear any and all of your thoughts), YOU SHOULD THEN E-MAIL ME. I WILL SEND YOU A CODE BY RETURN E-MAIL that will let you GET A FREE OAK TREE PRESS BOOK from the selfsame OTP page, ANY OTP BOOK AT ALL!

A FREE BOOK just for reviewing the book on Amazon! This is a special arrangement with my publisher because she is awe-inspiring and she likes me best (ha). If you want the code printed on a bookmark, say so, and we'll do the deal by snailmail.

NOTE: If you want an autographed copy, mention that, and I'll send you an autographed bookplate and my various bookmarks/decorative objects. If you are one of the first twenty-five responders on this, you will also get a free pen! A FREE PEN! YIPPEE! HOORAY!! WHAT A DEAL! Okay, it's kind of silly, but hey, it's free stuff. (Right now, I only have 25 pens left. If I sell any books, I'll re-order those. It's neat to "accidentally" leave them around on bank counters and grocery store checkout stands and think that people are picking them up and perhaps noticing my pretty little cartoon and name and website address.)

If you feel that an autographed copy has to be an AUTOGRAPHED COPY where I write on the page, come to one of my signings. I'll be signing in September, possibly in August, in Dallas/Ft Worth/Fairview/Allen and in Plano and in Austin and in Oklahoma City/Norman and various other locations to be announced. You could mail me the book and I could mail it back, but that gets expensive and my signature is not yet worth what Clark Gable's goes for.

I think it's worth giving the book a chance. After all, it won the Dark Oak contest. It has finaled in the St. Martin's contest two years in a row (several years ago). It can't be any WORSE than "Twilight." (Kidding!! Kidding!!)

ANYHOW . . . my only caveat is that I'm not exactly certain when you'll receive your books. If you order now, the book will be packed and shipped as quickly as possible that first week of August. Shipped from the Chicago area. So it could reach you as late as the second week of August. Still, this is probably the most stress-free way to do it. If you wait for Amazon, you might get it a bit earlier, but Amazon's listing won't go live until the 25th of this month, and even with two-day shipping, I'm not exactly convinced you'll see books that much sooner. And they will probably cost $14. Unless we can work a deal.

PLEASE consider pre-ordering now or buying the book when it hits Amazon.

For one thing, I'd like to see it climb out of the Amazon ranking pits of around 456,666 or whatever to some more reasonable number like 13,000 or 6,999.

For another, I am thrilled that Oak Tree Press has consented to take a chance on me. I have assured the publisher that I will make my Close Personal Friends and family members buy copies as soon as possible. To break even, she has to see me sell about 400 copies. I did not accept an advance in order that the book could remain at its organic length (I believe the story took this many pages to tell--it's like the early Diane Mott Davidson books, not like a shortened genre mystery that you see coming in around 85K words.) We both made sacrifices and compromises because I promised to sell that many copies as soon as possible!

In the past I have occasionally set goals that were impossible to meet. Let's hope this is not one of them. If "The Secret" worked at all, I would not even need to beg here; you'd just KNOW somehow to get the book. But since we live in a world of begging and pleading, I am asking you to consider buying the book. Hey, what the heck--it costs about the same as a fast-food meal or a dinner out (at least these days! I paid $18 for two dang cheeseburger meals at Whataburger the other day, and I didn't even GET one of them because I am still on that dadblasted super-restrictive "not even dirt" diet).

I don't know what else to say. I probably shouldn't all-out beg and plead for you to get a copy. But I am simply not the sort of person who can with a straight face tell you how much you will adore this excellent story written in cadenced prose and that you will LOVE it and all that, because not everyone adores every book, of course. I can only ask that you try it and hope that you do like it.

I pray that it becomes a "keeper" for at least a few of y'all. If not, you can always donate it to a used book store or to a nursing home and take it off your taxes as a charitable contribution. That's the beauty of a real paper book!

(There will also be a Kindle/e-book edition. Coming soon--the Kindle-izing person is backed up over at OTP.)

Comments or questions are welcome here or at any of my other blogs.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Got business cards for the book tour.

I decided I wanted something to hand to people who act interested when they find out that I write books. The postcards seem to scare them.

Do authors need business cards? Discuss.

Saturday, July 7, 2012


We have a cover for NICE WORK, the mystery that's coming out at the end of this month.

The cover artist is none other than my cousin, Jay Cantrell. He is an artist and architect who has won major awards, including being sent to Paris and Rome to do sketches of the buildings. My husband and I did the cover graphics.

We have a lot of control over how the book looks because of the wonderful publisher of Oak Tree Press, Billie Johnson. She has been magnificent to work with on this, all the way. Plus, she had the final say on which book won the contest! So I owe this all to her. Should have put her on the dedication page. Well, next time for sure.

I will be having a launch party in Richardson (north Dallas area), one in Ft Worth (probably Hulen area or maybe downtown), and one in Sherman (Tx) where my cousin runs a restaurant. If you want an invitation to the launch party, just email me at and I'll get you on the list! There will be snacks and cake as well as talking and door prizes at each party!

Also, I have put a fantasy novella online as a Kindle Short on Amazon. It will be FREE from Sunday, July 08, 2012, to Tuesday, July 10, 2012! This was written for Marion Zimmer Bradley's FANTASY magazine and/or anthologies, but Ms. Bradley passed away and the people who inherited the S&S anthologies eventually shut the magazine and then the books down and sent my story back some time ago. So this is BRAND NEW. It's a SHALANNA COLLINS story, unlike the novel, which is a DENISE WEEKS mystery, so the tone is completely different. It's a young adult fantasy sort of deal. Just so you know what you're getting for free! But you can judge somewhat whether you'll like my style in the novels or not, I think.

If you have a Kindle or a Kindle app on one of your computers or pad-tablet type devices, you can get A WILL OF ITS OWN (about a magical dagger that dogs a poor little worker bee girl in medieval times) by Shalanna Collins from the Kindle Store absolutely free!

A Will of Its Own for Kindle

Free from Sunday, July 08, 2012, to Tuesday, July 10, 2012--3 days!!

I do so hope you take advantage of the offer and enjoy the tale. And feel free to ask questions about NICE WORK, my process, my path to publication, and so forth.

Stay cool. It's raining in Richardson right now, in fact. Hallelujah!

Watch for the book launch around the last week of this month!

Monday, July 2, 2012

CRAFT: Polishing Plots

Let's talk about story structure. Plotting is probably my weakest point, as I don't read for plot. I read for character, voice, and story (which is not the same as plot, IMHO). That's why I feel my plots are the weakest link. What, then, do I check my story arc against to see whether the plot is strong enough?

From Aristotle to Northrop Frye to Joseph Campbell, writers through the ages have been aware of a basic mythic structure that drives stories.

Yes, I believe that not EVERY story must follow the Hero's/Heroine's Journey. Some literary novels and much of chick lit (bless its defunct heart) follow their own paths or a different pattern. However, for your first few novels in today's market, I believe you cannot go wrong following the Hero(ine)'s Journey. It is convenient to use the terminology and outline set up by Joseph Campbell, who did a PBS series and a few books about the Hero(ine)'s Journey.

Ordinary World: This is the character's everyday life.

Call to Adventure: Someone or something challenges the hero out of his everyday life. Say, the heroine is offered a promotion, but it means she has to travel back to the small community she fled at the age of seventeen.

Refusal of the Call: The hero thinks of all the reasons he shouldn't take on this adventure/problem. Why is this the worst possible choice for him?

Meeting the Mentor: Someone says or does something that makes the character realize he/she should take the call/adventure.

Crossing the First Threshold: This is when the character takes the first step toward change. The heroine accepts the promotion.

Tests, Allies, and Enemies: These make up most of the middle of your book.

The worst thing for a book is a "sagging middle." So this section should not be flabby or bore the reader. A few pages of skimming leads to the book hitting the wall!

Here is where we discover that the original goal is not the real one. Or that we need to accomplish subgoals before worrying about the real goal. Or we have to get past a dragon, befriend various "helpers" or at least eliminate them as hindrances, and answer a riddle. Stuff like that, but tailored to your heroine's private inner and outer journeys. (Your heroine has an inner journey that is going to be internalized by the readers, even if you are only presenting the outer journey in text. The inner journey may take place completely in subtext.)

Our Hero(ine) tries different strategies to reach the (possibly changing) goal and fails time and time again. (Three is typically the magic number.) She makes friends (allies) along the way as well as enemies (villains). She has to pass tests. When one attempt at his goal fails, he has to find another way around the problem.

Let's return to the example heroine I originally postulated. Let's say her story goal is to gain acceptance in the small town she comes from. She tries to join the local [Junior League, PTA, Blue Hair Reading Club], but they freeze her out. She buys a house in a nice area of town and the neighbors refuse to talk to her. She keeps trying things until it seems as though she'll never win.

Approach the Inmost Cave: The hero is starting to realize that he must change in order to accomplish his goal. He can't achieve his goal superficially.

Reward: The hero is rewarded somehow for his efforts. You can't have your character suffer, suffer, SUFFER, and keep it believable that she is still trying. There must be small rewards or affirmations that "this is the right path" now and then. And there must be a reward here at the climax/falling action or else we will feel cheated. She went through all this for a Dairy Queen dipped cone? I don't THINK so. We may see the reward she expected, a better one, or an entirely different one, depending on her character arc and how her expectations/goals have changed.

The Road Back: The hero must return with the "elixir" or the answer to his dilemma.

Resurrection: The character has changed, sometimes profoundly. He has returned from the abyss or has avoided falling in, and is now reborn as a new person with new purpose and accomplishments. You MUST SHOW how the character has changed rather than just telling readers what he/she will be like from now on. (This is different from some older stories that just said "he never did that again" or whatever.)

Return with the Elixir: Yay! We have slain the dragon and accomplished our goal, whether it was the original goal or a new, corrected goal that we formulated to replace it. We may also have side effects and unexpected good rewards. This is the resolution in which we tie up every loose end possible and answer every story question we've raised. We are back at our "home" spot or the newly created one, and we are ready to bask in the glory--for a while, anyway.

This is all pretty vague and high-level. Let's see if we can't have a few details.

1) You must give your hero a real problem. This problem can't be minor. It has to be life-threatening or life-changing. It must be something that forces your hero to change the way he sees the world and the way he responds to the world.

2) The hero must deny that there is a problem or run from the problem until--

3) --he is forced to face the problem and make a decision to DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT. *This is around the end of the third chapter in most books.* Here's where the body has to drop in a mystery, or where the evil mage has to cast a spell on someone important in a fantasy. This is where your character really enters into the adventure and there is no turning back.

4) Your character, by human nature, will first try the easiest solution. Of course that CAN'T work or your story would be over. He must then try the next hardest solution. This should happen, on average, at least twice before success.

5) Every time your character tries a solution, you must throw a setback in front of him. One step forward and two back.

6) About three-quarters of the way through your book, there must be a black moment. This is when things seem as though they could not possibly get any worse. How will your character ever overcome and meet his story goal?

7) The character must change as a result of this challenge. He must decide to change and overcome this obstacle.

Let's say you are writing suspense. The hero has been hired to protect a child but the child is kidnapped in the first chapter, so the story goal becomes to get the child back.

As the hero works at getting the child back, one setback after another occurs. The money he is taking for the ransom is sucked out of the helicopter window; the kidnappers don't show up at the agreed-upon spot; he is in a bad accident and doesn't make it to the pickup place; he thinks he has located the abductor's hideaway but discovers it was a ruse.

The black moment might be that he thinks the child is dead. Things couldn't get much worse than that, could they? Now let's say throughout this book you've set up the idea that the hero is terrified of heights. The only way he can be sure that the child is dead is to climb to the top of a high tower. He has to change and overcome that fear in order to rescue the child (this is a simplistic internal conflict, but it should help you get the idea).

This also has to do with making your hero(ine) face his/her innermost demon. This is the thing the hero(ine) is most afraid of and must overcome in order to do what is required. You have (of course) set up this fear of spiders/snakes in advance. Think of Indiana Jones.

8) Once the character has changed, wrap things up quickly. Tie up loose ends and leave things happily-ever-after.

Can you have an unhappy ending? Sure. I just don't like them, and most genre fiction editors don't allow them. They believe readers despise them, and that they belong in literary fiction. Even horror novels generally tie things up such that the good guy wins.

All right, how do we structure this heroine's journey?

In the classic plot (and this works for MOST genres), there are three acts, between which there are four main "shifts."

By shift I mean major changes in the paradigm or in the way the characters understand what is happening. BIG scenes. MAJOR events.

1. Hero and/or Heroine is/are introduced and there is some sort of conflict. (See my earlier post about "action is not conflict.")

2. The character(s) attempt(s) to solve problem one, but only slip(s) deeper into trouble.

3. Black Moment: Just when it seems as though things can't possibly get any worse...they do. All seems lost. Will this couple/person ever work their problems out?

4.Change and resolution. The character changes somehow and through that change decides on an action that resolves the conflict.

Be sure that your character CHOOSES the action to resolve the conflict. Don't use a deus ex machina, the gods from the sky, to rescue them, whether that be the police or an ocean wave that carries away the bad guys. Let it be your character's act that wins the game.