Thursday, July 30, 2015

Should You Kindle Scout?

There are so many possible paths to publication nowadays, and Kindle Scout is just one possibility. [If you haven’t heard of Kindle Scout, it is an Amazon platform to allow readers to “nominate” books for Kindle Press to publish as ebooks. Think “American Idol” meets corporate behemoth Amazon.]

To help you decide if Kindle Scout might make sense for you, I’ve designed a little decision tree. If you answer “no” to any question, Kindle Scout is not what you want. If you get through all the questions and are still yessing, then I have some links to help you make a final determination.

Is your manuscript fiction? [No? The Kindle Scout program is only open to fiction. It started with Romance, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller and Science Fiction/Fantasy, and later added Literature & Fiction, which includes Action and Adventure. Nonfiction won’t go, nor will children’s literature, foreign languages, etc.]

Do you have a U.S. bank account and tax number? [No? So far the program is only open to people who Kindle Press can pay in the U.S., even though your books are sold throughout the world wherever Amazon does business. Update: In September KP opened this up to other countries, including Canada and much of the old British Commonwealth. Check for their current requirements.]

Will you be satisfied with a nontraditional publishing contract? [No? You need a traditional publishing contract, which Kindle Scout is not.]

Are you willing to have different publishers for the print and electronic versions of your book? [No? The Kindle Press contract only covers ebooks and digital audio books. If you want a print edition of your book, you must either obtain a print-only publisher or self-publish.]

Are you willing to have your ebook and audio book only available on Amazon? [No? The Kindle Press contract locks your electronic books to the Amazon platform.]

Are you willing to have your electronic books part of the Kindle Unlimited subscription service? [No? Kindle Press is not for you.]

Is it okay if no digital audio book is made in the first two years? [No? Kindle Press is not required to produce an Audible book; your rights revert back to you if they don’t produce one within two years. In their first six months of operation they have not yet produced any.]

Is your manuscript finalized so it can be published without any further copyedits? [No? The Kindle Press contract does not require them to make any changes to the text you submit. Of course, if that answer is no, you aren’t really ready to self-publish either. Note: Kindle Press has copyedited all books it has published to date.]

Do you have a professional-looking book cover? [No? Kindle Press requires you to have a book cover. During the thirty-day nomination process that is the first thing prospective readers (called “Scouts”) will see. Again, you should have this for a self-published manuscript as well.]

Are you willing to give up pricing and promotional decisions to a ginormous corporation? [No? Then you really need to be an Indie publisher.]

Are you willing to wait two and a half or three months for publication? [No? Because you must have a complete manuscript and book cover to enter the Kindle Scout nomination process, you could be Indie publishing as soon as you format the manuscript and upload it. The Kindle Scout nomination process takes around forty days from submission to approval. Because Kindle Press has been copyediting, add another six weeks or so plus a week for formatting and, best case, you are ten weeks out. With glitches (and I had several) it will be a longer delay.]

Congratulations, you’ve said “yes,” or at least not “no,” to all of the questions. Kindle Scout may make sense for you.

What advantages might Kindle Scout have compared to Indie publishing?

$1,500 advance on royalties paid within thirty days of being selected

Amazon promotion – there are no guarantees, and Kindle Press is only one of a number of Amazon imprints. However, early Kindle Press publications have received various pushes from Amazon.

International sales: Your electronic book will be available in North America, the U.K., Australia and Germany through Amazon subsidiaries.

One final copyedit—again, not promised, but currently they are contracting with Kirkus editors for copyedits. Every author I have talked to has been very pleased with their edits.

Free publicity during the thirty-day Kindle Scout nomination period. If you are selected by Kindle Press, those who nominate your book will receive a free Kindle version (and are asked to leave reviews). If you are not selected, those who nominate your book have recently been given the option to receive an email when your book does become available (from your Indie publishing or from another publisher.)

Decent royalties (given there is an advance): 50% on ebooks; 20% on digital audio

Rights reversions are clear: After two years if book does not hit minimum royalty levels ($500 in any trailing twelve-month period) you may reclaim your rights. After five years if you haven’t received at least $25,000 in royalties you may revert your rights. If Kindle Press does not publish within six months (ebook) or two years (digital audio) you may reclaim rights.

What are the disadvantages of Kindle Scout relative to Indie publishing?

As an Indie publisher you can choose whether to distribute through all channels or receive higher royalty rates going exclusively with Kindle. Thus, if you are going to stay within the Amazon umbrella anyway, you are giving up royalties per book.

[Added 9/12/15: If you are not selected by Kindle Press, people who nominated your book receive an email notifying them that your book was not selected. If you wanted, the email has a link to your website, however, some authors think that notification implies their book is "not good enough." They worry their fans may not purchase that book when it finds a publisher or you self-publish it. Further update: When your nonselected book comes out, Amazon sends a message to those who nominated it letting them know it is available for purchase.]

As an Indie you retain control over pricing, whether or not to have an audio book, promotions, etc. With Kindle Press you are relying on Amazon’s marketing power and self-interest to benefit you.

That, I think is the crux of your decision if you compare Indie to the Kindle Scout route. Will the Amazon marketing power make a difference in sales? So far, most of the Kindle Press published authors have been happy with their results. As the program continues to roll out, I think it will be worthwhile to pay attention to the opinion of Kindle Press’s authors. Recognize that it is in their interest to promote the Kindle Scout program, so if you hear issues or complaints or concerns, dig deeper.

As promised, here are some links with additional details.

Official Information About Kindle Scout:
Official Kindle Scout guidelines for submission:

Kindle Scout Selected Books:

This post originally appeared on the Judy's Stew blog, June 3, 2015

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Cheryl Hollon - Guest Author

Today please welcome Cheryl Hollon whose debut novel is released September 29, 2015. I first met Cheryl as a member of the Guppy Chapter of the Sisters in Crime. Cheryl says she is cheerful, loyal, calm, curious and persistent. You’ll find her writing to be warm, light, witty, clear, and quick. And wait until you read about where she writes…

You have a table for four at your favorite restaurant and can invite any three people, living, dead or fictional. Who are your guests (and why) and where are you eating (and why)?

At my dinner table, I have invited Dorothy Sayers, my favorite golden age mystery writer, Louise Penny, my favorite modern mystery writer, and US Navy Rear Admiral Grace Hopper, my inspiration for achievement against impossible odds. The venue is Queen’s Head Eurobar & Restaurant in the Grand Central District of St. Petersburg, FL.

We will start with the amazing seared scallops and crispy chickpeas – followed by seared salmon, steak and ale pie, fish and chips, and New York strip steak – crowned by sticky toffee pudding with white balsamic honey, whipped cream, and butterscotch ice cream. Local craft beer will be paired with each course.

Describe your most productive writing venue. What makes it best for you?

I write in the woodshed out back. Yes, you heard right, I do. We converted my husband’s former woodworking shop into a writing retreat. It has the perfect key elements of complete privacy and all the creature comforts a writer could wish – a comfortable desk that adjusts from sitting to standing, a coffee maker for energy and a view of the bird feeder for inspiration.

What is your most productive time of the day (and do you need caffeine)?

My best writing time is early morning. Between the magic hours of seven to eleven, the words just spill onto the page. Apparently my internal editor doesn’t show up for work until the crack of noon. I have my only cup of coffee at about six thirty then break for strong tea after the first concentrated sprint.

How many books do you read in a typical month? Do you read in your genre while you are writing? What’s your most recent “great” book?

I read two to three books a week. One of them is usually non-fiction about the craft of writing. In fiction, I read across the entire fiction spectrum from YA, Science Fiction/Fantasy, Thriller, Cozy and sometimes Westerns – rarely romance – although I will read that as well. I can also read more than one at a time, so they are strewn all over the house in little ‘to be read’ stacks. I constantly read in my genre of Cozy Mystery to keep up with my friends and sharpen my writing tools to learn new trends. My most recent “great” read was for my library’s mystery book club, Ghostman, by Roger Hobbs.

What is the most challenging area for you as a writer? What are you doing to address the issue?

I loath the approach of the middle muddle in each manuscript. I enjoy the start and have a great time introducing the characters, the unique setting of Central Avenue in St. Petersburg, FL, and then, whoops, there’s a body. After that, the hard work begins and doubt seeps into my flying fingers. I’ve started to focus my already detailed outline more strongly in the middle with a definite event at the midpoint. That helps. After I get through it and can see the finish, I perk up and race to the most beautiful words in a writer’s world – The End.

What motivates you to write?

The thrill I feel after laying down my words keeps me writing. I’ve always loved to tell stories, but writing them down give me an unexpected sense of well being. When the words are flowing, I’m extraordinarily happy.

How did you develop the idea for your most recent work?

My current traditionally published series with Kensington, Webb Glass Shop Mysteries, started with the idea of combining my love of all things glass with my love of writing. My husband and I have a glass studio in a converted apartment behind the house and we’ve been producing artworks for many years. We take classes, get advice, and buy materials from a local business, Grand Central Stained Glass. Merging the two arts has been magic for me. I hope it shows in the writing how much I love the combination.

What was the best piece of writing advice you ever received and why was it so valuable?

The best advice for me was from the first book I read about the writing life, Write Away by Elizabeth George. She says, “Here’s what I tell my students on the first day when I teach one of my creative writing courses: You will be published if you possess three qualities – talent, passion, and discipline.” I keep this book within reach.

You can find out more about Cheryl and her books at

And if that wasn’t enough to intrigue you, here’s a little blurb about Pane and Suffering:

To solve her father's murder and save the family-owned glass shop, Savannah Webb must shatter a killer's carefully constructed fa├žade. . . 
After Savannah's father dies unexpectedly of a heart attack, she drops everything to return home to St. Petersburg, Florida, to settle his affairs--including the fate of the beloved, family-owned glass shop. Savannah intends to hand over ownership to her father's trusted assistant and fellow glass expert, Hugh Trevor, but soon discovers the master craftsman also dead of an apparent heart attack.  
As if the coincidence of the two deaths wasn't suspicious enough, Savannah discovers a note her father left for her in his shop, warning her that she is in danger. With the local police unconvinced, it's up to Savannah to piece together the encoded clues left behind by her father. And when her father's apprentice is accused of the murders, Savannah is more desperate than ever to crack the case before the killer seizes a window of opportunity to cut her out of the picture. . .

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Allan J. Emerson - Guest Blog

Today we get to learn more about a fellow Kindle Press author, Allan J. Emerson, who describes himself as humorous, serious, quirky, simple, and wry. He chose writer, reader, daydreamer, procrastinator, and technophobe to describe his writing (Ed. note: his answers did arrive by email and I know he has a website so, I’m interested in this technophobe issue, but I’m afraid if I ask, he’ll procrastinate and we won’t have an answer – maybe in the comments we’ll find out?) Here are Allan’s choices of questions and his answers (which I think you are going to enjoy a lot).:

You have a table for four at your favorite restaurant and can invite any three people, living, dead or fictional. Who are your guests (and why) and where are you eating (and why)?

I’d invite Alice Munro, winner of the 2013 Nobel Prize for Literature. I’ve met her a couple of times, and she’s down-to-earth, charming and witty. Not to mention an incredible writer. And yes, I’m name-dropping.

And I’d invite the wonderful English writer, Diana Athill, author of Somewhere Towards the End: A Memoir, an unsentimental take on what it means to grow old. Athill is still writing at 97 and is as witty and clear-sighted about life and mortality as ever. There’s a YouTube clip showing her on a panel with Alice Munro.

Finally, I’d invite Dashiell Hammett, the creator of Sam Spade, Nick and Nora Charles, lover of Lillian Hellman, and defier of communist witch hunts during the ‘fifties. As far as I know, he and Alice Munro never met, so I’d have to introduce him to her. Oh, and to Diana also, of course.

If we’re getting separate bills, I’ll say we’re in Barcelona, because I’ve never been there and I want to go. If I’m paying the whole shot, the Food Fair here at the mall is fairly quiet on a Sunday morning. Alice and Diana would probably have poutine (a Quebecois dish of french fries topped with cheese curds and gravy). I’m pretty sure Dash—all his friends call him Dash—would have a burger, and so would I. Coffees all around, except for Diana, who’d have tea. There’s a Dairy Queen, and I’d get our selfie transferred onto an ice cream cake for the dessert course.

We’d talk about writing, of course, and Alice would show us her Nobel medal. Diana would talk about her lovers, and Dash his time in the slammer. I’d give them each a signed copy of Death of a Bride and Groom. After lunch, I’d drive them to the nearest transit loop and wait to make sure they got on the right bus. Later, we’d “friend” each other on Facebook.

Describe your most productive writing venue. What makes it best for you?

I’m most productive in my home office, a messy rat hole filled with books, cast-off Christmas decorations, tattered tabloids with headlines like “Baby Born with Wooden Leg,” and ancient computers used as shelving for coffee mugs. I can relax there, and the visual overload forces my eyes to the white, empty monitor screen, and that triggers the need to fill it with words.

What is your most productive time of the day (and do you need caffeine)?

The caffeine is needed in the mornings, although I don’t write then. My body gets up around seven a.m.; my brain sleeps until ten.  Without the caffeine I’d stagger through the day like Frankenstein on muscle relaxants. Mornings, I read and respond to emails, or do other prosaic stuff that doesn’t require creativity. I write between late afternoon and midnight.

How many books do you read in a typical month? Do you read in your genre while you are writing? What’s your most recent “great” book?

I probably read six to eight books per month, depending on their length. It took me a week or ten days to read The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, while I read Chesil Beach, a beautifully-written novella by Ian McEwen, in a couple of hours.

I do read mysteries while I’m writing. I recently finished Patricia Stoltey’s Dead Wrong, which I enjoyed, and a terrific noir novel from Sam Wiebe called The Last of the Independents. Wiebe isn’t afraid to take chances, and the shocking opening of Independents took me by surprise and kept me reading.

What is the most challenging area for you as a writer? What are you doing to address the issue?

Figuring out how the sleuth figures out who the killer is. What am I doing about it? Occasionally I read books about plotting, or attend seminars which explain in general how to do this. Strangely, not one of them ever outlines exactly how my sleuth catches the killer in my book. So I fall back on the only method I know: fret, procrastinate, write possible scenes, give up, repeat.

What motivates you to write?

The urge to tell a story. To create a world that doesn’t exist except in my mind, set it spinning, and get people to visit.

How did you develop the idea for your most recent work?

In Death of a Bride and Groom, I started with a single scene: the discovery of the bodies of a man and woman dressed in wedding attire atop a wedding cake parade float. Once I had bodies, I needed a sleuth and I came up with Will Halsey, ex-RCMP, now small-town police chief. The wedding cake parade float suggested the setting—a near-bankrupt town re-inventing itself as a honeymoon resort. From there, the story seemed to grow organically into a dryly humorous small-town mystery.

What was the best piece of writing advice you ever received and why was it so valuable?

The best advice I got was to stop obsessing over the quality of my first drafts. They always depressed the hell out of me—the brilliant, funny, original creation I held in my mind’s eye had congealed into this on the page?

Unfortunately, it took me a long time to accept the advice, so my first drafts were often my last. Eventually, I came to terms with the idea that the first draft isn’t anything but lumps of story clay that need to be worked into a final shape. Even so, I still flinch sometimes when I read the first draft. (And if your first drafts are things of beauty, I don’t want to hear about it.)

For more information on Allan J. Emerson and Death of a Bride and Groom, visit his website and check out his blog, see his Facebook profile, or view the Amazon listing for Death of a Bride and Groom

From the blurb for Death of a Bride and Groom:

When the body of writer Iris Morland is discovered in full bridal array atop a giant wedding cake parade float, the little resort town of Honeymoon Falls is left reeling. Not only is its reputation as "the Romance Capital of the World" at risk, its very survival is threatened. Murder, it seems, has a chilling effect on those considering venues for potential nuptials. 
Chief Will Halsey, head of Honeymoon Falls' three-person police force, must find the killer among Iris's host of enemies. And he'll have to do it while coping with small-town politics, feuding among his subordinates, and the ferocious attentions of the media.

From the author: Death of a Bride and Groom is the first in the Honeymoon Falls series. It's a small-town mystery containing humor, a little sex, and some surprising relationships (kind of like the author’s life, except for the murders).

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Monte Dutton - Guest Author

Today we welcome author Monte Dutton whose Crazy of Natural Causes won a Kindle Scout nomination. He describes himself as opinionated, stubborn, independent, gregarious and intuitive His writing is honest, conversational, irreverent, satirical, and evolving. I have a feeling you’re ging to enjoy reading his other answers.

You have a table for four at your favorite restaurant and can invite any three people, living, dead or fictional. Who are your guests (and why) and where are you eating (and why)?

I’d want to eat at the cafeteria of a cattle barn because, invariably, the food is good at auction sales and farmers’ markets, and I’d be joined by John Steinbeck, Larry McMurtry, and FDR. Steinbeck, I believe, was the best American writer, but his brilliance intimidates me a mite. He is the literary equivalent of what Jake Gaither said about Bear Bryant: “He can take your’n and beat his’n, or take his’n and beat your’n.”

McMurtry? I consider him great but not intimidating. I relate to his writing style.

Roosevelt was the most significant figure of the Twentieth Century. He was a political genius. He’d charm the rest of us and get whatever he wanted. With Steinbeck, in particular, that would be fascinating to watch.

What is your most productive time of the day (and do you need caffeine)?

Morning. Time seems to accelerate as the day progresses. I’m most creative early. Afternoon is for chores and obligations. Nighttime is for reading, playing guitar, and watching TV. Once upon a time, I only drank coffee when it was free. Now I rely on it. It’s what I do when I start to yawn. I don’t like naps.

How many books do you read in a typical month? Do you read in your genre while you are writing? What’s your most recent “great” book?

I try to read regularly. The best way to learn how to write is to read. Writing cuts into reading, though. I read what strikes my fancy, and it’s quite a mix. Sometimes it’s heavy. Sometimes it’s light. My reading is probably two thirds fiction, one third non. I intersperse history, sports, and biography with mystery, crime, and classics. I try to fill in the gaps. A couple years ago, I read Don Quixote for the first time. I was captivated not too long ago by Colleen McCullough’s The Thorn Birds.

Name three not well-known authors you would recommend and tell us what you like about their writing.

The novelist I think most underrated is the late Wallace Stegner, who is more known as a teacher of great novelists than a great one himself. I relate to him because I think, in a different time, he had a father much like mine. I’m fond of John Fante’s irreverence. I see some kinship with John Steinbeck’s whimsical novels. Now for someone who is alive. I’m a fan of Chuck Klosterman, whose fiction and non-fiction are similarly amusing.

What themes do you regularly employ in your writing?

Depicting the world as it is, not as it should be. Making the world better isn’t my goal. It’s easy for me to call things the way I see them. It’s hard to write to meet expectations.

Journalism taught me not to be afraid of rejections. I want to get as close to the truth as I can. If I don’t piss off about fifteen percent, I’m probably putting them all to sleep. When I’m writing dialogue, I feel as if I’m inside the head of the character, and I can’t do that unless I talk the way he talks. Writing requires the guts to shoot straight.

What motivates you to write?
It’s what I do. It’s what I was meant to do. I couldn’t avoid it if I tried, and I have. I’m one of those kids – they’re in every town – who started writing sports stories for the local weekly when he was 15 and just evolved from spot news to features to magazine stories to non-fiction to short stories to novels, and now I’ve reached my destination and get to hone my style in an environment that is altogether fitting.

What motivates your protagonist (if not a series, then use the protagonist of your most recent novel)? What influenced who they are today?

Chance Benford is a good, imperfect man cast among the slings and arrows of life’s absurdity. He’s a survivor. I often thought of Jonathan Edwards’ sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” while writing Chance’s adventures. He is a survivor, literally as well as figuratively, constantly avoiding, as best he can, the aforementioned slings and arrows. He takes a hit, deflects it, and moves on.

What was the best piece of writing advice you ever received and why was it so valuable?

“Do today’s work today.” The editor of a weekly newspaper told me that years ago, and it’s an area where spending decades as a journalist left me good work habits. I’ve never had writer’s block because I just write. My own slogan is, “On my good days, I’m a writer, but most days I’m just a typist.” That’s all right. Write it. Later on, go back and make it better, but, for now, just write. I often warm up by writing a blog early in the morning. It gets the creative juices warm so that they will flow better.
To learn more about Monte and his writing check out his website, .

Here’s a quick blurb for CRAZY OF NATURAL CAUSES:

At the beginning of Crazy of Natural Causes, Chance Benford is a football coach spinning progressively out of control. His wife has left him, and it seems as if the more erratic he becomes, the better his high school team performs. Then, within the space of a single morning, he’s fired from his job and almost killed in an automobile accident. He must start a career, any career except coaching, all over again, and has no memory of what happened before the crash. Crazy is just getting started. Chance finds redemption, but with it comes more trouble. He learns to roll with the punches in a world of absurdity. When Chance becomes religious, religious men want to destroy him. He gets by with help from an array of friends and by using his own stubborn vow to remain true to himself.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Joe Clifford Faust - Guest Author

Please welcome Joe Clifford Faust to our game of ten questions. Joe’s book Drawing Down the Moon is also published through Kindle Press. He describes himself as witty, creative, quirky, constant, and introverted. His writing is quirky, suspenseful, witty, stimulating, and engrossing. I want to give Joe full credit for being the first guest author to accept my offer to rearrange the questions into his own order.

Describe your most productive writing venue. What makes it best for you?

Over the years, through necessity, I've had to make do with writing wherever and whenever I could work it in. The best is always the traditional Home Office setting, but I've worked on novels during lunch hours at work, at Starbucks, and most recently in a doctor's office while my wife is getting physical therapy. My most unusual writing venue was in a store during a mass book signing. I plugged a monitor into my laptop so passersby could see what I was working on and could stop and ask questions if they wanted. No, the interruptions didn't derail me – but that's a story for another day.

What is your most productive time of the day (and do you need caffeine)?
I'm a night person, and during the years when I had a day job, my traditional writing hours were in the evening, which sometimes took me into the wee hours of the morning. However, I've also done a lot of shift work, so over the years that optimal time had to move around. Right now I try to work afternoons when nobody but the dog is in the house.

As for caffeine, being a night person I do need a cup of coffee in the morning just so I can show some semblance of being a civilized human being. Do I need it to write? No. My drug of choice there is music, which I always have cranking when I work. To that end I have my iTunes player stocked with ~15k songs, most of which are decidedly uncommercial. I'm kind of strange that way.

How many books do you read in a typical month? Do you read in your genre while you are writing? What’s your most recent “great” book?
I read about two books a month. For some reason I can't shut out the world like my wife and daughter can when they're reading, and my progress is hampered by easy distractions. I'm also in a perpetual state of distraction when I read fiction – I analyze it as I go – so I tend not to read it when I'm in the midst of writing it.

If you're confining great books to fiction, the last couple I've read that were great were Elmore Leonard's Freaky Deaky, which shouldn't count because I just reread it after having discovered Leonard a couple of decades ago. Was also very impressed with Garth Stein's The Art of Racing in the Rain, probably the best dog book since The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which technically isn't a dog book. I'm much easier to please with non-fiction. The last one that blew me away was The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, which I try to force into the hands of anyone who asks me for a great book to read. [ed. note The Immortal Life is by Rebecca Skloot.]

Name three not well-known authors you would recommend and tell us what you like about their writing.

I'm taking this question because it's hard for me. I tend to be loyal to individual books rather than authors, because I find that most authors, like myself, are wildly inconsistent about the works they produce. That said, here are some authors I do follow, roadblocks notwithstanding.

Elmore Leonard – I'd say that Leonard is the exception to the inconsistency rule, just because a Leonard book that is not as good as some of the others is still a great read. A master of style, a master of dialogue, and a master of throwing the unexpected at you – think plot twists that are unexpected yet come logically out of what is happening at the moment. An American treasure.

Roger Ebert – There's a reason he's the only film critic to ever win a Pulitzer. The guy was a good writer. Really good. Great powers of description that made me want to see the movie even if I wasn't interested, and when he was ripping on a film he hated, his wit was unparalleled.

Mary Roach – I read a lot of science books, and Roach's are the only ones I laugh out loud at. She's got a great curiosity about science and is not afraid to ask the weird kind of questions of scientists that I would ask. She's also not afraid to become a guinea pig for the sake of getting a great story. If you don't like science, Roach may likely make you love it.

Name three writers from whom you have drawn inspiration and tell us why.

Michael Crichton – I was twelve years old when I walked into the library and saw The Andromeda Strain sitting on the New Releases table. It looked fascinating, so I checked it out and was blown away by it. I remember finishing it and saying to myself "Wow! This is the kind of book I want to write!" You can really see its influence in A Death of Honor, which I describe to people as "The Andromeda Strain meets Casablanca." And even though I've drifted out of writing Science Fiction, you still see that influence in Drawing Down the Moon, which has that element of science in it, albeit in a much smaller, Crichtonesque dose.

Donald Barthelme – Having a typical public school education, I was taught that a story needed a beginning, a middle, and an end, along with the other elements of character, conflict, and so on. When I walked into my first college level English Lit class and saw some of Barthelme's work in the textbook, I was blown away. That was the first time I saw someone toss out all the rules, but the end result worked so well. It also helped that he has a dark sense of humor and so do I, so maybe that's where the connection was made. So reading his stuff there and later on as I looked more of it up really opened to me the possibilities of what literature could do. Of course I stay within the rules most of the time, but I don't feel as restricted by them because I know I can break out of the box – and get away with it – if I have to.

Lawrence Block – A great mystery writer, but most importantly, his book Writing The Novel: From Plot to Print was extremely influential on me. And of course, his body of work gave him the cred to back it up. Speaking of that book, see the next question…

What was the best piece of writing advice you ever received and why was it so valuable?

It was found in Lawrence Block's book Writing the Novel: From Plot to Print – "There is no right way to write a novel. The right way to write a novel is the one that works for you."

This was my Holy Grail of Writing as a young writer. I read Writer's Digest and The Writer religiously, trying to find The Right Way To Write A Novel and was always distressed by the way The Experts said you had to do it. When I finally started my first novel, I did so knowing that I wouldn't be writing it The Right Way. So when I bought Block's book and came to that line, it was extremely liberating.

By the way, that book is still in print, and I think I'm partly responsible for that because I keep recommending it to people – and sometimes buying copies for them - when I find out they're struggling with their first novel.

How did you develop the idea for your most recent work?

Drawing Down the Moon began its evolution after I first moved to Ohio from Wyoming. I saw a news story on a Cleveland TV station about a convention of witches in the area. They interviewed a woman with a spider web tattooed on her belly – this was before tattoos had mainstreamed – and that image stuck with me, although I didn't know what I was going to do with it.

< SPOILER >Meantime, I had started developing an idea for a thriller involving the recovery of some lost scrolls that proved Christ Wasn't All He Said He Was. This was in the days before The DaVinci Code, and there were lots of these books with that plot going around, and they were all about conspiracies by various religious groups to cover them up. And I thought, "What if some scrolls like this turned up, but they were fake to begin with? What then?" Somehow the witch and the Ricky Gold character got attached to that one, but as I started working on it, I became more interested in the pretense of a relationship that brought them together, more interested in seeing how many ways I could keep them from having sex. So the scrolls ended up becoming the MacGuffin, which is what Hitchcock says is "the thing the spies want but the audience doesn't care."< /SPOILER >

[Ed. note – I love the pseudo html coding Joe just used for his spoiler alert. I am announcing I plan on stealing that, and here’s your credit Joe, which I plan to cover me forever on the theft.]

What motivates your protagonist (if not a series, then use the protagonist of your most recent novel)? What influenced who they are today?

In Drawing Down the Moon, the motivator is sex. Ricky Gold is on the chicken run, fleeing a relationship that, though it's broken, had the benefit of giving him sex pretty much whenever he wanted. Then he meets Cicada in a bar in the first chapter, and he's operating under the power of anonymity. He thinks the bartender has given him a green light to approach her, and he's looking for the kind of comfort he couldn't find in alcohol. Of course they get thrown together, and they go through a series of sexual near misses. His conscience is nagging him about being virtuous, but the world is sending him sexually oriented messages at every turn, and he's constantly walking this tightrope and wavering as he goes.

So you've got that duality fighting inside of him through the book, his Baptist upbringing (from which he has lapsed), and the libertine he thinks he's become. And the more he keeps sexually pursuing Kada, the more he finds out about her past, and he comes to see her as somebody's daughter, a human being, someone who is damaged and hurting. The book is about that progression, among other things.

You can learn more about Joe from his website To learn more about Drawing Down the Moon, here’s the blurb:

Cable TV personality Ricky Gold has problems. He's on the run from a bad relationship. He hasn't shown up for work in a week. His iPhone is at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico. And now his life is about to be turned upside down… It starts when he meets Kada – short for Cicada – in the middle of West Texas, and finds himself intrigued by her name, her tattoo, and the way an angry redneck chases her out of a bar. When someone close to Kada turns up dead their flight begins, first from an assassin… then two… then from every law enforcement officer in a five state area. Drawing Down the Moon is equal parts Hitchcockian thriller and romantic comedy, filled with memorable characters. It's a witty screwball noir thriller that follows Ricky and Kada as they fight to survive… and hope to find some really great Chinese food.