Author Archives: Liesa Malik

About Liesa Malik

Liesa Malik is a freelance writer & marketing consultant living in Littleton, CO, with her husband and two pets. Liesa has built on her writing interest with a long-standing membership in Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and recently joined the board of Rocky Mountain Mystery Writers of America. She is the author of Faith on the Rocks: a Daisy Arthur Mystery. Most days you can find Liesa either at her desk or at a local ballroom dance studio. For more about Liesa, please visit her website: LiesaMalik.Wordpress.com.

Collecting People

By Liesa Malik

How many books have you read recently on building characters? Not building character—as in developing your own moral compass—but building characters that you can write about in your next novel? A quick search on Amazon recently pulled up over 100,000 titles when I searched for “books, characters in fiction.” Whew!

As commercial fiction writers we know that good characters are some of the most important ingredients to any story. Where would we be if Scrooge weren’t such a delightfully well-rounded reluctant hero?

We’ve often been instructed on how to build characters, but today I want to talk about collecting them through real life adventures. Characters are in the people all around us. If we learn to use our powers of observation, and note people continuously, our stories will have a real boost up when seeking publication.

Here are some ideas for your “collecting” process:

  • Have a place to keep your collection. This could be a spiral notebook, a file on your computer, or a binder with tabs for collecting and sorting your observations. Thing is, try to keep this collection in one place. Mobility simply gives you opportunity for losing precious work (I still have a poetry book out in Atlanta, Georgia somewhere. Grr!)
  • When you’re in a restaurant, look around. Find the most interesting or the most boring, cutest or ugliest person in the room and jot down a quick biography of him or her. So what that you don’t know them? You’re working on fiction. Pretend you’re Sherlock Holmes and note things like the way they use their flatware, whether they’re glued to their phone or are looking about, how they sit, how they chew, how they interact with the room around them. Give them a name that truly suits them. Bingo! You’ve just “collected” your first person. Here’s an extra tip. If you go to a bagel or coffee shop each morning, as I do, you’ll see the same people over and over. In the course of a week, you could build quite a lot of notes and history about your character. Pop them into your collection file. When you need that character, he or she will be ready to polish and run with.
  • Make a list of lists. Sitting around for fifteen minutes? You could play a game of Sudoku, or you could make a list of lists. Pull out your trusty notebook and jot down lists of people to remember. Start with the phrase “My favorite ___ is . . .” The favorites is a list of occupations or roles of people in your life: teachers, neighbors, relatives, movie stars and so on. At a later time you can choose one of these favorite roles and list actual people, or choose one favorite person and write about them.
  • Drive around and snap a photo of a house you’ve never been in. Okay. Got this idea from the July/August issue of Writer’s Digest, but I just love it. They didn’t say to take a photo, but what the heck? Live dangerously. You could only be accused of stalking, prowling, or “casing the joint.” Once you have the photo or a clear image of the house, write down the story behind it and the people who live there. Bonus! You’re learning to describe setting as well as build characters.
  • Be a busy body. Whenever I go to get a haircut or chat with someone on my street, inevitably people tell me stories from their lives about relatives I’ll never meet, or bosses who only get worse with each retelling. When I get home I try to jot down at least part of my friends’ story. It’s good for building a character. One word of caution. When it comes time to retell any true tale, try to change something significant about the person gossiped over. I mark these notes with a phrase like “true recollection” and the name of who told me this, so that I know how much needs to be changed around.

This is such a fun topic that I could brainstorm all day with you. Bet you have some great ideas too. Why not comment here and let everyone know your best character-collecting tip?

Or join me this Saturday at the Lakewood Art Council’s Art Gallery, 85 S. Union Street (behind the Wendy’s) from 1:00 to 2:30. I’ll be talking about repurposing books into arts and crafts and signing my book, Faith on the Rocks. Bet the place will be full of characters.

Critical Questions with Sandra Dallas

Sandra DallasIt’s no great secret that next to advances and royalty checks, book reviews are an author’s best friend. But getting reviews are hard to come by, and no guarantee of success. Just ask Sandra Dallas, current columnist and book critic for fifty years with the Denver Post, and who is also a successful author.

“I don’t know how many books are published a year. Isn’t the figure around 400,000?” she said in a recent interview. “It’s a huge volume. You may run two to four reviews a week. What then are the chances of getting a book reviewed? It’s very discouraging for authors.”

And from the reviewer’s perspective life isn’t any easier. “Reviewing is a sideline,” said Sandra. “The Post stopped paying last year, and they never paid much anyway. It’s not keeping bread on the table. National reviewers are paid more, but local papers don’t.”

LOOKING FOR GOOD NEWS

On the bright side, Sandra said that the Post has a new editor for it’s book section; one reason Denver authors should consider themselves lucky. Many papers have done away with this section entirely. And the new editor has hinted at more articles about authors.

Also, with more blogs on the Internet focusing on book reviews there may be opportunities for writing reviews of your own to build a great reputation and add another plank to your author platform.

If you do want to write reviews for public consumption, here are some thoughts Sandra shared about the process:

WHEN TO CRITIQUE AND WHEN TO SAY “NO”

“When I started out, I was told by Stanton Peckham (the Post’s book editor at the time), ‘If a book isn’t very good, don’t review it,’” said Sandra. “‘Why give space to a book that isn’t very good, when there are so many good books out there?’ You review only the books you think are worthwhile. And keep your reader in mind. Your loyalty is not to the author. Your loyalty is to the reader.”

Sandra spoke about new critics and their biggest challenges. “You can tell a novice reviewer by a couple of things. Number one, they love to point out errors. They will take a date that’s a year off and make a big deal out of it. And then they love to be clever and to be critical. And they love to write negative reviews. You see a lot of this in blogs. I think usually they’re trying to be clever at the author’s expense.”

She said that one time a book review blogger just creamed one of Sandra’s books, and then closed by saying that she would review War and Peace in next week’s blog. There was a chuckle to go with this thought.

WHAT TO WRITE IN A BOOK REVIEW

First, you should love reading. Really love it. As Sandra’s sister says, “Hell for us (readers) is being someplace without a book.”

Then, when Sandra does a review, she says she usually keeps a paper or the book’s press release in the book and jots down notes and page numbers as she goes. This is because she rarely keeps a book she’s been given to review, so she doesn’t like to mark them up before giving them away. Occasionally, with an ARC, she’ll underline texts she wants to use.

“I look for interesting things—for catchy phrases—for summations of the book,” said Sandra. “But your job is not to please the author or to promote the book. Your job is to tell readers about the book.” She noted with another light laugh that some authors who practically beg to have their book reviewed will often focus in on the one negative she might point out at the end of a review and give her a hard time for that, forgetting that having a generally positive review is rare and valuable.

ABOUT SANDRA

Sandra didn’t start life as a book critic or author. From journalism school at the University of Denver, she joined the staff of Business Week Magazine, a true thought leader in its heyday, and still a strong voice in business as a member of the Bloomberg Press conglomerate of business news sources. She became the first woman bureau chief and covered the Rocky Mountain Region on a wide variety of subjects, “not just business, but about issues that business people needed to know.”

Then, about 25 years ago, she turned to fiction. “It was kind of a fluke,” she said. “I had never intended to write fiction. I didn’t even read fiction. And I just sort of fell into it, and I love writing it. You know that old line about someone asking you ‘do you like writing?” And the answer is ‘no, but I like having written.’ Well, I actually like sitting down and the writing process of seeing what happens with fiction. I really enjoy it.”

Today, Sandra Dallas has thirteen novels and ten non-fiction books published.

WHAT’S NEXT FOR SANDRA?

This fall she has two new books coming out. The first is targeted toward children readers between ages ten and twelve. Red Berries, White Clouds, Blue Sky comes out in September, and A Quilt For Christmas, and adult novel will appear shortly after.

“My last novel was called Fallen Woman, which was about the murder of a prostitute in Denver in 1885,” said Sandra. “I originally called it Holiday Street, because that was Market Street’s original name, and this was the red light district. So my agent said, ‘You have to change the title because your readers are going to think this is a Christmas book.’ And then she said, ‘Why don’t you write a Christmas book? Why don’t you write a Christmas quilt book?’ And so that was the origin of this book.

So now it’s your turn. Do you have favorite book critics you like to read? How do you think their review process works? Are  you a reviewer? Please add to the conversation and let us know how you judge a book.

Alice Kober Has Your Reading Covered

By Liesa Malik

How many books will you read this year?

Alice KoberAs authors, we have a certain obligation to become “super readers,” which are readers, according to Alice Kober of the Arapahoe Library District, who read at least eleven books a year. If this sounds like your kind of goal, then you are doing well. But Alice may have you beat. She tries to read approximately 100 books each year.

This wonderful former host and judge committee of one for the annual Rick Hansen Simile contest at the Colorado Gold Conference has a substantial commitment to reading, writing, and all things books. A member of RMFW since 1993, Alice has made the world of books her domain.

 Super Reader

“It’s so hard for me to hang out with people who don’t read,” said Alice recently. “Reading is a passion of mine.” This is a good thing, as Alice’s role with the library is that of Adult Fiction Collection Librarian. That means she buys the print, audio, e-books, down-loadable materials and anything related to adult fiction for all of the Arapahoe Library District. “I’m an on-line shopper,” said Alice with her typical ring of humility.

Besides her personal commitment to a high level of reads for each year, Alice also posts several reviews on Goodreads. She said she used to review on Amazon as well, but doesn’t go there any more.

“I just hate Amazon reviews because they have paid reviewers. People are all saying it’s just crooked. There were authors out there deliberately panning other people’s books. I have found a lot more authenticity on Goodreads,” she said.

Dedicated Librarian

Besides her job as personal shopper for the patrons of Arapahoe County, Alice spends a good deal of her time looking for the next great book. She refers to many sources for top-selling titles that may be of interest to patrons.

“For less commercial books, I look at Indie-Next—The Independent Booksellers’ Association. And I also read Romantic Times, Locus (for science-fiction), Mystery Scene, Oprah’s list, Entertainment Weekly, People Magazine, New York Times Review of Books. So I’m looking at everything from literary fiction to action/adventure.”

“I look at my job as buying chocolate, in that reading is entertainment. There’s dark chocolate and there’s milk chocolate and there’s nuts’n’chews. There’s even orange centers.

“I really dislike it when some people will criticize inspirational fiction or romance or whatever. I feel that I represent the taxpayers of the Arapahoe tax district. Some people want erotica, some people want what we call ‘clean reads,’ and I try to get something of everything.”

Picking Books To Shelve

Another part of being the Adult Fiction Collections Librarian, is to develop sets of books patrons may want to read. One of the collections Alice works on is a local author set.

“We have a Colorado Author’s collection at Arapahoe County and I’ve been posting that on the RMFW loop. Those books have a special sticker for Colorado Author, and they circulate well,” said Alice. “Our patrons are very interested.”

If you are a published author and member of the RMFW loop, please contact Alice with your title, ISBN number and publishing date, so she can review your book for possible future purchase.

Some other tips for getting your books in the libraries:

  • Librarians prefer requests via email as opposed to phone calls.
  • When you query, provide links to reviews, past publishing successes and awards, and anything that shows your author platform or publication history.
  • Know and be able to articulate your reader appeal. For example, if your book is a futuristic romance then let your librarian know that it would appeal to readers of Jayne Castle.
  • Americans are visual. Make sure your cover is professional looking.
  • If you’re an independently published author, be sure your work is thoroughly copy-edited before publication.
  • Please don’t ask for a book review.
  • Remember, libraries are a great way for readers to discover new authors. Visit and get to know your librarians.

For Alice, the trends in reading constantly change, so purchasing for Arapahoe remains a challenging and fun position.

“I’ve read a lot of articles and I think people are reading shorter things. They talk about people’s attention spans changing, but there’s a Pew study on e-reading that says ’3 in ten adults read an e-book last year. Half of them own an e-reader.’ Reading is all over the place. I keep buying my books and hoping.”

So, what’s your next read? Tell us in the comments below. Alice and all of us at RMFW would be interested to know. Maybe you can get it at the library.

J. Ellen Smith; Pioneer in Modern Times

By Liesa Malik

JEllenSmith“I’m so excited that people want to hear what I have to say,” said J. Ellen Smith, publisher and owner of the Champagne Book Group, as we talked together about our upcoming Colorado Gold conference and other writing thoughts.

Champagne Book Group publishes both electronically and in paperback formats, and Ellen will be coming from their offices in High River, near Calgary, Alberta to speak about the publishing process, meet new talented writers, and accept pitches at the Gold Pitch Sessions. She expressed a small concern, however, that writers use a professional attitude during the conference time.

“I’ve always prided myself on being approachable,” said Ellen, “but please treat us smaller publishers with the same courtesy as the large press. Don’t shove a book at me and demand that I read it.”

A few other signs that shout out “newbie writer” to Ellen include:

  • Submissions with a copyright symbol on them. “I don’t need to be told this work isn’t mine,” said Ellen. “Why copyright something that hasn’t even been edited yet?”
  • Interrupting. Getting interrupted, especially when Ellen and another editor are in conversation, is a real put-off. There are ways to find more appropriate opportunities during the few days we have together. She chuckled on this thought. “Once, at my very first conference, some woman followed me into the bathroom and kept shoving her manuscript under the door. I didn’t know what to do, so I kept shoving it back.”
  • Inebriation. “It’s a red flag to me when I see someone who has had a few too many.” Ellen says she understands that the conference is a celebration of writing and writers, but makes a point to remember that she’s out representing her business at these affairs, and wants to be prepared to conduct business with a clear head always.

Still, Ellen has sympathy for new authors and will be looking forward to meeting them. “As a guest, they like to work you to death at these conferences,” said Ellen, “but that’s okay. It’s an honor to be invited.”

She said if she sees 30 people in her pitch sessions, it’s likely she’ll ask for full reads from about five, sometimes a little more. Her role in these sessions is to help a person feel confident and get rid of their 3 x 5 cards. “‘Now,’ I say, ‘just tell me about your book.’ I want to see the passion of the author in the pitch.” She says that she knows the journey to publishing is difficult, having been a writer herself, and she’s anxious to find and encourage fresh new voices.

The path to publishing and publisher started for Ellen in her early school years, when she would write stories that she and a few friends would act out for others. “Skits and plays, really,” said Ellen. “As a little girl, I had a vivid imagination. My stories always had humor in them. It was fun to make our friends laugh.”

Later, Ellen became a nurse, but continued to write in her spare time. She had some success, but disappointment with contracts, quality of production, and publishing houses that were disappearing as fast as they went up, stole motivation from her.

One day at a coffee shop, Ellen’s friend, Penelope, said, “You’ve been complaining for years about this. Why don’t you get going and publish yourself?” They talked over the idea for a while, and Ellen continued to mull it over.

She found a small publisher in Calgary and apprenticed for a year with them, learning the ins and outs of the publishing business.

Finally, in December of 2004, with a website and $20 in the bank, Champagne Books started work. By April 2005, they were ready for a cyber-launch of their first four titles. “I totally believe in the old saying that you don’t run before you’re ready,” said Ellen. So, for six years, she kept working as a nurse as well as a publisher. The company grew and became a leader in e-book publishing.

Today, proudly loan and debt-free, Champagne Books has ten categories of e-book fiction posted and several more titles in printed form. The company believes that eBooks are the future of publishing, and Ellen and her team are ready to lead the way.

Have You Ever Considered Writing Nonfiction?

By Liesa Malik

Gasp! As storytellers and novelists, the word “nonfiction” can sound very constraining.  It conjures up all sorts of nasty images, like:

  • Deadlines
  • Pressure
  • Talking to, or interviewing total strangers
  • Taking notes when people talk too fast
  • Maybe even boring topics to write about.

But after over twenty years in marketing, and with a degree in journalism, I have to say that writing nonfiction is a terrific occupation for those of us who aspire to becoming published authors. Here’s what I mean.

Many Great Fiction Authors Started in Nonfiction Work

Ernest Hemingway started his writing career as a reporter for the Kansas City Star, and his work in the Spanish Civil War generated the background for his novel, For Whom the Bell Tolls.

Stephen Crane never participated in the Civil War. Instead, his experience covering the Spanish-American War for the New York World led him to create The Red Badge of Courage.

And these are not the only journalists-turned-novelists. Mark Twain, John Steinbeck, E.B.White and many more learned the craft of writing through their reporting of the day’s news before launching successful careers in fiction.

Writing Nonfiction Improves Your Research Skills

My granddaughter once told me she likes writing fiction because “you don’t have to get all the stuff right.” As experienced writers we know this isn’t true. You cannot put your protagonist at a gold mine located in Limon, Colorado, because a little research will tell you that Limon is a flat, prairie town named after a railway man, and gold mining had little to do with the formation of the municipality.

But research can become a rabbit warren of wasted time without a plan. When it comes to writing nonfiction, writing several small articles on a topic of interest turns it into the background you may need for your next novel. Often, the response to one well-developed question will result in a full article of, say, 1500 words.

Robert Lewis Stevenson wrote several travel essays as he explored his world, and through the experience developed the knowledge that would help him write such great tales as “Treasure Island” and “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.”

If you write science fiction, your research naturally lends itself to writing science. If you haven’t the expertise to write deeply on a subject, you can still write for children’s magazines and grow both your knowledge and your credentials from there.

If you write murder mysteries, police magazines may be a great place to both soak up the atmosphere and give you a venue to write up information you garner on investigating murders.

After all, it is said that writers often write to learn.

Writing Published Nonfiction Will Help Your Author Platform

Today, the author platform is all about you being a real person to your readers.  Unfortunately, while you and I know we’re “real” we may not be “real-well-known” in the areas of literature we want.

But, when you start building a reading audience by guest posting on friends’ blogs about topics you are expert in, you’ll build demand for your work.

Let’s say you have an elephant for a main character in your book (don’t laugh: think “Water for Elephants” by Sara Gruen). A couple of trips to your local zoo, and a few articles written based on your growing knowledge will help others to see you as the expert you’re becoming.

You’ll also gain more audience from people who are interested in elephants.

And can you hear them now? “So-and-so wrote a great article on elephants for  Zoo Lovers’ Digest. Now they have a novel out with elephants in it. Maybe I should give it a try.”

Writing Nonfiction Adds a Positive Effect to Your Bottom Line

We are all engaged with the “starving artist” image. But do you really want to go through life without the funds you’d like, just because you write for a living? Writing nonfiction articles placed in magazines, newspapers, blogs or even your own corporate business news can pay good money. Carol Tice writes a great blog on writing commercially. She has enough business that she can even afford to turn some down.

In his book, The Freelance Writer’s Bible, author David Trottier posts these popular nonfiction writing prices:

Case Studies . . . $50-$60 per hour
Ghostwriting . . . $25 – $60 per hour
Business Article . . . $.75 to $1 per word

This all adds up to great opportunity, if you’re willing to use nonfiction as your stepping stone to fiction writing success.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Liesa MalikLiesa Malik is a freelance writer and marketing consultant originally from Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, but currently living in Littleton, Colorado with her husband and two pets. She has always enjoyed reading mysteries, from The Happy Hollister series, through Trixie Beldon and into Reader’s Digest’s Great True Stories of Crime, Mystery and Detection. A graduate of the University of South Florida with a degree in Mass Communications,

Liesa has built on her writing interest with long-standing membership in Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and recently joined the board of Rocky Mountain Mystery Writers of America. She is the author of Faith on the Rocks: a Daisy Arthur Mystery. Most days you can find Liesa either at her desk or at a local ballroom dance studio. For more about Liesa, please visit her website.

Bookends at the Broadway Book Mall

By Liesa Malik

Malik_RonandNinaElseWhat can you do when you and your spouse own more books than is possible to read in a lifetime? Open a bookstore, and end up with even more volumes, of course. For Ron and Nina Else, this is just what happened, and for the former Human Relations specialists with the government, it is a dream comes true adventure.

Ron and Nina own Who Else! Books, within the Broadway Book Mall on Broadway at Cedar. The mall houses nine vendors with a large variety of new and used titles, and a thriving community of both writers and readers to keep the place a Denver must see.

Malik_BooksonBench“We went into book selling to get rid of some of our extra books,” said Nina. She glances over at Ron and they both begin to chuckle.  The Broadway Book Mall is overfilled with books, posters, and other items on just about every surface, and tucked into every corner. Ron adds his own special perspective. “I think we’re hopeless book-aholics,” he says.

The couple, married for 28 years, has been working side-by-side since they opened a stall at the former Denver Book Mall just a few blocks north.  He is gifted in display and stocking, and she handles the bookkeeping and general operations.

As word came that the old store was closing, Ron and Nina made a play to buy it out, but the deal fell through. Undaunted, the couple took a group of nine other booksellers and re-opened at their present location. For over four years they have been a staple of the surrounding community.

“The good part of opening this mall was that we got to choose the people to bring with us,” said Nina.  “We selected them carefully, and only one person has since left—and that was for health reasons.” The criteria that the Elses used to select the vendors were:

  • The people needed to be in the new venture for the love and knowledge of books
  • They had the business skills to close out the cash register properly each evening
  • They had to be very good with people. Very.

Malik_LogoAlthough the Elses are the owners of the mall location, for all intents and purposes this is a cooperative venture with several operational decisions being made by vote.  That’s how they came up with the name.  And Ron quickly points out that the moniker is so good they could even use it if they moved to New York. Nina looks over to shake her head and smile.

Another vote determined that unfortunately, there couldn’t be a cat mascot in the store.  A few people had allergies, so that plan wouldn’t work.  Instead, the Elses put out water dishes and welcome neighborhood dogs in for a drink and a treat.  Nina prefers dogs to cats anyway, and the dogs seem to know this.

One canine friend, Carl, brings his realtor dad in frequently. But Carl is part active foxhound, and he tends to bang into corners and other things. Ron and Nina came to the rescue.  They put out plastic corner covers that they call “Carl’s Corners,” and all is well.

The Elses’ strong devotion to community and authors make them a favorite for authors in search of a good book signing venue. “From the beginning, we made a commitment to support local authors,” said Nina. As a result they tend to carry a wide variety of local authors.

“I just think local authors become such friends over the years,” said Nina. “I cherish that.”

And the Elses prove the point every day, both with their customers and their colleagues.  Laura Givens, artist and another vendor within the Broadway Book mall said, “They are definitely an old married couple, very much a pair. When Nina broke her foot Ron was as nice as butter in your mouth to her. We’re happy to be with them.”

You might even say that Ron and Nina make a perfect set of bookends for the Broadway Book Mall.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Liesa MalikLiesa Malik is a freelance writer and marketing consultant originally from Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, but currently living in Littleton, Colorado with her husband and two pets. She has always enjoyed reading mysteries, from The Happy Hollister series, through Trixie Beldon and into Reader’s Digest’s Great True Stories of Crime, Mystery and Detection. A graduate of the University of South Florida with a degree in Mass Communications,

Liesa has built on her writing interest with long-standing membership in Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and recently joined the board of Rocky Mountain Mystery Writers of America. She is the author of Faith on the Rocks: a Daisy Arthur Mystery. Most days you can find Liesa either at her desk or at a local ballroom dance studio. For more about Liesa, please visit her website.