Thursday, July 31, 2014

Writer’s Conferences -- What can you expect?

Who done it?
Last weekend I attended the Mystery Writers Conference at Book Passage in Corte Madera, California. The conference offered four days of events and sessions that totaled more than 35 hours of lectures, Q&A’s, conversations and great food. Some of the authors involved in the sessions were: Isabel Allende, Cara Back, Laurie King, John Lescroart, D.P. Lyle, Anne Perry, Sheldon Siegel, Tom Rob Smith, and Jacqueline Winspear. There were also more than a dozen other agents, writers, authors, and booksellers that added their experiences and expertise.

Subjects included understanding the craft of the thriller and suspense novel, opening sentences and paragraphs, character development, maintaining suspense, plotting, and who really is a hero and a villain. Most sessions were too. Thanks to all who gave their time and energy to many of us attendees who more often than not hadn’t a clue what we were doing. Some of the most enjoyable moments were the reflective conversations by Anne Perry and Isabel Allende.

Ms. Perry is the author of more than 80 novels—yes 80 novels. Her books are historical detective stories set in England (amongst a dozen other locations and non-detective stories as well). She is known for her Thomas Pitt and William Monk series. So to sit and listen to a woman who knows her craft and art so well and is more than willing to share most everything she knows is more than an honor, it is revelation.

Isabel Allende is almost the polar opposite—just five feet tall (compared to Ms. Perry’s resolute presence), they had to gather some thick books to help her reach the microphone. Ms. Allende talked of her life in Chile and her first books and the experience as a writer of historical novels, family sagas, and books that portray characters trying to find a new life or escape an old one. Two years ago she decided to write a thriller and by all accounts she has succeeded with her novel, Ripper.

What I enjoyed most was talking with aspiring writers who are hoping to publish their first novel. Some have just started, some are midway, some are waiting for their muse. If there is one thing that the conference is short of it’s muses—the common answer is that you have to find one your own. For most this was their first Mystery Writers Conference and by Sunday morning exhaustion had set in. But they hung in and I expect that many will return next year.

If there was one aspect of the conference that is lacking is a serious discussion of the turmoil that the publishing industry is in right now. There was a session on ebooks and traditional publishing but my take was that they were at least a year behind the curve about what is really happening out there. No bookstore—the sponsor Book Passage is one of the best in the western United States—wants to acknowledge that the paper book is under dire threat. But it is and that peril won’t go away. The change to electronic publishing in all its forms is the future. Convenience, cost, accessibility, and flexibility (formatting for one thing) is driving readers to ebooks and devices such as smartphone, tablets, ipads, and even the computer. Vilifying the product will not change the outcome. I hope that in years to come they will offer sessions that help the new and seasoned mystery writer learn how to become an independent publisher. Case in point: Earlier this week it was shown that at Barnes & Noble the independent publisher (in all its many forms) is selling more ebooks than all the five big publishers combined. Now that is a mystery/thriller that needs to be written.

More later . . . . . . . . .

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

My Favorite Week of the Writing Year

This week is the Mystery Writers Conference at Book Passage in Corte Madera, California. Three plus days of intense conversations about killing, mayhem, murder, crimes of the century, guns, knives, explosives, and all the other paraphernalia necessary to create complex stories that deal with, “Trying to get away with it!” If you were in line at San Francisco Airport talking like this they would throw you in the slammer, never to be seen again.  Cool huh?

This year’s conference has a stellar line up: Sheldon Siegel, Jacqueline Winspear, Cara Black, Anne Perry, D.P. Lyle, Kirk Russell, Tim Maleeny, George Fong, Valerie Plame, Isabel Allende, David Corbett, Otto Penzler, and John Lescroart. All I can say is “WOW.” This is a conference every mystery and thriller writer should do at least once.

The sessions deal with character development, dialogue, real crime case studies, dealing with agents (many in attendance), writing styles, plot constructions, developing the bad guys and the good guys, even marketing and promotion. This allows for some serious conversations with the moderators and authors who have probably more than a hundred best sellers amongst them.

This is the 21st  annual conference at Book Passage that puts writers, great authors, and teachers together to help hone their craft. There will be editors, agents, and even a publisher or two to help beginners and even experienced writers learn more about their profession.

This is a hands-on conference with Q&As and discussions with FBI agents and detectives, forensic experts, and even a judge. All it needs is a few criminals to make it real.

Here’s what Jacqueline Winspear has to say about the conference:

From Book Passage’s Promotion page:
In this short Q&A, bestselling novelist Jacqueline Winspear discusses why she enjoys participating in Book Passage's Mystery Writers Conference, which will be held from July 24-27, 2014 in Corte Madera, CA. Winspear is on the faculty this year as a conference chair. She is the author of New York Times bestsellers A Lesson in Secrets, The Mapping of Love and Death, Among the Mad, An Incomplete Revenge, and Leaving Everything Most Loved, as well as four other nationally bestselling Maisie Dobbs novels. Her next novel, The Care and Management of Lies, will be published on July 1st. Winspear has won numerous awards for her work, including the Agatha, Alex, and Macavity awards for Maisie Dobbs, which was also nominated for the Edgar Award for Best Novel and was a New York Times Notable Book.

What is the most rewarding part of teaching at the conference?

JW: The most rewarding part of the conference is in seeing the participants bloom over the course of the four days that they are with us - their confidence in themselves as writers increases dramatically, and you can see the content really having an impact on the work, and how they approach issues such as revision, character development, dialogue and the important quality of knowing how to weave their background research into the narrative.

What do you hope aspiring writers will get out of this conference?

JW: One of the points I always make during the opening session, is for participants to have a clear idea of what they want to come away with. I encourage them to take some time alone and write down aspects of their work and life as writers that they would want to see impacted by the conference - this helps them to make choices when there are optional sessions, and it inspires them to ask questions of the faculty that will help them in their work. I hope that each participant leaves with a breadth and depth of knowledge that they did not have at their fingertips before.  But more than anything, I want them to leave fearless and enthused about their work - indeed, with a plan to take the next major step in becoming a published author.  Many come without a clear path - but we do all that we can to ensure they are on track towards publication and success in their writing careers.

All the information is here:

I’ll report next week on the activities and who the murderer really was.

More later . . . . . . . . 

Thursday, July 17, 2014

10 Reasons to Buy an Independently Published Book

How do you select the next book to put on our iPad or Kindle? Or more importantly why do you select a particular author? I’m sure the reason isn’t the publisher such as Penguin or Random House, or Simon & Schuster. We don’t ask, “ I wonder what Random Penguin has out this month?” No, it’s always the author, “Does Daniel Silva have a new book? I wonder when the next Child book is coming?” But there are times when you want to explore, and that’s when it’s fun to read through the book descriptions at various web sites, retailers (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc.), book reviewers, and even book bloggers. What you will often find in these literary back alleys are some jewels that don’t fit the mold of the traditional publishers and are often surprising and delighting. So here are ten reasons to look to indie and self published authors regardless of genre and subject.
  1. They are often more creative and interesting.
  2. The author has put their heart and soul into the story.
  3. The author has even put his own money into the production and editing of the book.
  4. The author sincerely wants to entertain you.
  5. It is a way to find a new and wonderful writer that speaks to you without all the marketing hype and in your face drama (Today Show, The View, etc.) of the typical traditional release.
  6. The price and affordability of the work (ebooks especially).
  7. The chance to communicate directly with the author through their web site or emails.
  8. You want to help this new industry (self-publishing) by buying their books and spreading the word.
  9. You have grown tired of the formulaic novels now being sold where the story is same no matter who the author is.
  10. You yourself are independent and quirky and seek out those that fit your own style and interests - the independent self-publisher.

I’m sure there are other reasons beyond cost and quirkiness but please understand there is a revolution going on in the writing and publishing industry (the obvious and very public bloody battle going on between Amazon and Hachette is a good example). The traditionals go out of their way to demean the indies by calling them poorly written and produced. But some of the recent books I’ve read published by the trads still have weak story lines, are formulaic (James Patterson’s last five books for example), poor editing, and often glaring typos. Just saying.

More Later . . . . . . . .

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Free O'Mara Books


Until the end of July all the Sharon O'mara books and Elk River are FREE at SMASHWORDS. Just type Gregory Randall - no middle initial. They should show up as free when you check out. If a problem let me know.


Thursday, July 10, 2014

Sharon O’Mara is Back


A contract is a contract, once Sharon takes it on, nothing can stop her.

I am hoping for an October 21, 2014 release date for the next installment of the Sharon O’Mara Chronicles. The new release will be called Diamonds for Death and takes our girl and her friend Kevin Bryan to Cuba, Amsterdam, London, Baghdad, and of course San Francisco. There’s baseball diamonds, South African diamonds, jewel thieves and base thieves, and the best bar in Lafayette, California, Geno’s – owned by the sexy libationist, Gina Cavelli.

This is the fifth book in the series and Sharon is finally getting the facilitator gig under control. Her business is helping friends and friends of friends through tough situations. In the past she’s hunted down importers of fake handbags and saved young Chinese girls from the sex trade, she returned multi-million paintings to a family who lost them to the Nazis in World War II (and also foiling the rise of the New Reich), and taken down Iranian spies when she discovered the real reason why an America’s Cup captain was murdered.

She’s had bike chases in Paris, gun battles on the Grand Canal of Venice, and now in Diamonds For Death has to deal with seriously bad guys and gals in Cuba and Amsterdam.

More later about give aways, a tee shirt contest (not a wet one guys), pre-orders, and book signings.
What do you think of the cover for Diamonds for Death, let me know.

More later . . . . . . . . . .

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Rebranding and Reblurbing

I seldom push my books on my readers. It is quite obvious that I’m a writer and author (see sidebars), but to harangue and flog those that spend a few minutes on this blog about buying my work is not what this site is for. Sure I hope that a few people do take the time to buy and read these absolutely brilliant pieces of Grit-Chick-Lit, but it’s not the primary reason.

What I really like is the feedback and comments; some support and some don’t my ideas about the process of creative writing and self-publishing, that’s what makes publishing this weekly missive fun.

I am releasing my next O’Mara thriller in late summer or early fall; it’s called Diamonds for Death. I will be posting more about that later in the month. What we are doing is revising and updating the covers for the past four Sharon O’Mara’s in anticipation for the next launch. I am looking for critical feedback from my readers; here is a chance for you to help put a new face on Sharon. Below are the new covers and blurbs, all I ask is a comment or, if you’re not comfortable with that, send me an email at

One look at the bloody wet body of Richard Franklin laying in the empty BART parking lot was enough. Homicide is never acceptable in the tony eastern suburbs of San Francisco. But Sharon O’Mara has a job to settle the insurance claim, a job that is sucking her soul dry. Was it the land deal, his wealth, his alcoholic wife that led to his murder. Or was it a deranged killer who hides beneath a cloak of respectability and privilege. O’Mara struggles with the insane thought that he was killed to cover up a bigger crime, a crime of lurid vengeance…

What’s in those millions of steel containers crossing the oceans and on our roads and railways? Sharon O’Mara discovers on a blistering beach in Mexico that it’s luxury knockoffs, sex traffickers, and death. Who were those bodies left for weeks in a shipping container and what’s their connection to Chinese Tongs and Mexican Cartels. O’Mara is irresistibly drawn to finding out the source of the depravity found stacked on the wharfs of Oakland and hidden in the back alleys of San Francisco…

Sharon O’Mara’s friend asks a simple favor, help her dying godfather return four magnificent Impressionist paintings to their rightful owners. But when O’Mara learns they were plundered during the final days of World War II from a Nazi treasure trove she’s confronted with horrific events that throw her back into Hitler’s obscene war against the Jews. O’Mara finds a new low in human depravity by those that desperately want a secret key hidden in Paris that will enable these international criminals to restore Hitler’s dream of a New Reich . . .

Sharon O’Mara is hired for a simple job; find out who killed the great America’s Cup skipper and technical genius, Catherine Voss. Was it out of envy and greed? Or was it an international scheme to steal her high-tech boat? Catherine’s twin brother wants answers. 

As the ultra-rich battle for the America’s Cup on San Francisco Bay and the canals of Venice, Sharon must fight to find the truth. But who would kill for the secrets hidden in the technological heart of the lightning fast hydrofoil? Will Sharon discover who is behind this before they kill her? Can she outwit the bad guys and stop World War III?

Thanks and have a great and safe 4th of July.

More later . . . . . . . . . .