A Study in Scarlett (Or: Can I Be Sued For Writing That?) Part 2 of 2 … By: Chuck Greaves

2016_Chuck GreavesYesterday we discussed defamation. Today we'll cover two related concepts that can also expose a writer to liability, as well as some defensive strategies that writers may wish to adopt.

"Right to Privacy" simply refers to the right of an individual to be left alone in her personal affairs. As with defamation, privacy laws vary from state to state, but with common elements in most states. Generally speaking, an aggrieved plaintiff must prove (a) that publicity was given to matters concerning her private life, (b) that the matters made public would be highly offensive to a reasonable person of ordinary sensibilities, and (c) that the matters publicized were neither newsworthy nor concern any legitimate public interest.

This last element of the tort – newsworthiness or public interest – effectively precludes invasion-of-privacy suits by celebrities or other public figures. But authors of biography, true-crime, and other forms of nonfiction often write about real people who are not celebrities, and even novelists will sometimes base their characters on people they know. Care must be taken in these cases to avoid invading the privacy rights of your subjects, whose identities are either explicitly stated or can be gleaned from the context of the writing.

Memoirists who publicize private and embarrassing information about their (non-celebrity) friends or family run an especially high risk of being sued for invasion of privacy, and this is doubly true of self-published authors who cannot cite a traditional publisher’s support for her work as evidence of its inherent “public interest.”

As is the case with defamation, only a living person can sue for invasion of privacy. Unlike defamation, however, the truth of the statement in question is no defense against potential liability.

"Right of Publicity" refers to the commercial value of an individual’s name, likeness, or identity. If you’re planning to sell t-shirts with Justin Bieber’s unlicensed image, for example, or to use his name to advertise your other products or services, you can expect to be sued.

Unlike defamation or the right to privacy, which are considered “personal” rights, an individual’s right of publicity is a property right that exists during her lifetime and that, in many jurisdictions, survives her death and may be enforced by her estate. (So much for your fallback plan to sell Elvis Presley t-shirts.)

But can you put Justin or Elvis on the cover of your latest book? The answer is . . . it depends.

Unfortunately for authors whose works are, of necessity, published in all fifty states, the laws governing right-of-publicity actions are a veritable hodgepodge of inconsistent state laws. Roughly half the states, for example, have statutes that expressly govern right-of-publicity claims, while half still rely on common law principles that prohibit unfair competition or preclude the misappropriation of a person’s name or likeness on privacy grounds. Moreover, in those states that have enacted legislation, the laws vary widely, with some affording post-mortem protection to all citizens and others protecting only those persons whose name or likeness had demonstrable commercial value during their lifetimes. Also, in those states with right-of-publicity statutes that include post-mortem protection, the length of that protection varies, from a low of 20 years after death (Virginia) to a high of 100 years (Indiana.)

Fortunately for authors, some states expressly exempt books, as well as advertisements for books, from right-of-publicity claims. Many, however, do not. And while the First Amendment has been held to protect so-called “creative or expressive works,” both factual and fictional, some courts limit First Amendment protection only to those works whose creative or expressive character is found to “predominate.”

The upshot is that authors, unlike commercial advertisers, should be safe from suit on right-of-publicity grounds where their work is predominately creative or expressive in nature. That means (subject to the photographer’s copyright) using Elvis’s image on the cover of your Elvis Presley biography is probably safe, whereas using it on your Elvis coloring book is inviting a trip to the Heartbreak Hotel.

Remember also that First Amendment protection may not extend to works that are published or to suits that are filed abroad, as the Scarlett Johansson verdict – a five-thousand Euro defamation award in France – clearly illustrates.

There are a few commonsense steps that you as an author can take to avoid being sued. In choosing your book's subject matter, for example, you can avoid reference to living persons. For authors of true crime and historical literature, that may mean choosing events that occurred more than a century ago. If that is neither possible nor desirable, then take care in your research to avoid factual errors or embellishments. In memoir, consider changing the names, physical descriptions, or other identifying characteristics of the real people – particularly the non-celebrities – about whom you write. In fiction, be sure your characters do not closely resemble real people you know or have met. When in doubt, consider obtaining written permission from those you wish to portray.

Lastly, please bear in mind that the foregoing is merely an overview, as was yesterday’s discussion of defamation, and that a full explication of the law in this area could and does fill entire textbooks. At the end of the day, buying an hour or two with a lawyer experienced in the publishing field may be the best investment an author can make.

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

A retired trial lawyer, Chuck Greaves is the author of five novels, most recently Tom & Lucky and George & Cokey Flo (Bloomsbury) a Wall Street Journal "Best Books of 2015" selection. You can visit him at his website.

A Study in Scarlett (Or: Can I Be Sued For Writing That?) Part 1 of 2 . . . By Chuck Greaves

2016_Chuck GreavesYou’ve heard the horror stories. Scarlett Johansson sues acclaimed French author Grégoire Delacourt for invoking her name in describing a fictional character. A jury awards Jesse Ventura $1.8 million against the estate of American Sniper author Chris Kyle over Kyle’s account of an alleged barroom brawl. Novelist Haywood Smith suffers a $100,000 jury verdict for her pseudonymous description of a friend in her bestselling The Red Hat Club. Augusten Burroughs settles with the family depicted in his bestselling Running With Scissors and agrees to rewrite the book’s Acknowledgments and Author’s Note.

As these and other cases illustrate, there are risks inherent in writing about real people. And since most publishing contracts require the author to indemnify the publisher in the event suits like these are filed, those risks fall squarely on the writer’s shoulders. Fortunately, lawsuits over literary depictions are rare, and adverse outcomes rarer still. Authors should nonetheless familiarize themselves with three legal pitfalls that, if ignored, could expose them to substantial attorneys’ fees and costs and, in some cases, to liability for monetary damages.

Today we’ll discuss defamation, the first and most common, and therefore the most dangerous, of these pitfalls:

Defamation refers to false statements of fact that result in reputational injury to another. Spoken defamation is called “slander,” while written defamation – the kind we’re concerned about – is called “libel.” While the laws governing libel vary from state to state, all have certain elements in common. In order to win a judgment for libel, an aggrieved plaintiff – that's the person bringing suit – must usually prove that a statement of fact (a) was published, (b) was false, (c) was not privileged, and (d) caused injury to the plaintiff’s reputation.

Note that libel laws pertain only to statements of fact, and not to opinions. Thus, the statement “I think Jones is a jerk” should not be actionable, whereas the statement “Jones is a child pornographer” would likely be actionable, depending on Jones’s ability to prove the other elements of a libel claim. Note also that simply couching a statement as opinion – i.e., “I think Jones is a child pornographer” – will not necessarily insulate its author from liability where, as in this example, the statement implies the existence of supporting facts.

“Publication” in the context of libel does not mean that the false statement was actually printed and sold; it simply means that the statement was communicated to a third person who understood it. Thus, a libelous falsehood that appears in the first draft of a manuscript that the author shares only with her agent, or with a few beta readers, has been “published” for purposes of the libel laws.

Because “falsity” is an essential element of defamation, it follows – and this cannot be overemphasized – that truth is an absolute defense to a claim of libel. But if suit is filed, who has the burden of proving the statement’s truth or falsity? Ordinarily it is the plaintiff in a civil action who must prove all elements of her claim. In libel law, however, a “media defendant” – which includes an author, journalist, or publisher – bears the burden of proving the statement’s truth unless the plaintiff is herself a public figure or official, in which case the burden remains with the plaintiff to prove falsity.

“Privilege” will often, on public policy grounds, insulate an otherwise libelous statement from liability. The First Amendment, for example, protects authors and journalists who fairly comment on matters of public interest, or who accurately republish official statements or proceedings. The U.S. Supreme Court has held that the false reporting of facts about a public figure or official by a media defendant enjoys First Amendment protection unless the defendant acted with “actual malice,” meaning with knowledge of the statement’s falsity or reckless disregard for its truth.

“Injury” to one’s reputation requires more than just hurt feelings, and a libel plaintiff must ordinarily prove actual monetary loss. Where, however, the libelous statement accuses the plaintiff of a crime, or of sexual misconduct, or of conduct (such as dishonesty) that’s incompatible with her trade, business, or office, then monetary damage will sometimes be presumed.

A final, important attribute of defamation law is that you cannot defame a dead person. This means that neither a deceased person’s estate nor her heirs or descendants can sue an author for libel unless the false statement in question also independently defames the suing plaintiff.

That’s a brief overview of the law of defamation. Tomorrow we’ll discuss the related concepts of invasion of privacy and the right of publicity, as well as some defensive strategies that writers may wish to consider.

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

A retired trial lawyer, Chuck Greaves is the author of five novels, most recently Tom & Lucky and George & Cokey Flo (Bloomsbury) a Wall Street Journal "Best Books of 2015" selection. You can visit him at his website.

Returning to the Horror of it All … by F. P. Dorchak

After I released Voice last year, my thoughts once again turned to something I’d been considering for a while...

Short stories.

Now, I’m not an award-winning anything (I’d always wanted to be some kind of a William F. Nolan— who at one point claimed to have published everything he’d ever written—but I’m not...), rarely known (in fact some of my writer friends still greet me as “Heeey, youuu...”), and I’m no longer agented (five years, three novels, no takers, parted amicably). I’m an Indie author and for good or ill I’ve been writing since I was...well...very young. To be honest (and not unlike all of you), I love making shit up. Love messing around with the imagination. And I did a lot of that through short stories, most of them unpublished. Arguably, these stories weren’t doing anyone any good where they were (in cold, dark, computer files...), so why didn’t I take a look at them and see if any were worthy of non-traditional publication?

So, I dove in and now have nearly 20 of them out there on one of my blog sites; in fact, I’m currently scheduled out through the beginning of July with them and have (plenty?) more still to be released. Some are not as good as others, but the ones I am releasing are the better of my repertoire (to use a cool word). They’re not released in a particular order, and I release a new one every Friday.

But there was another reason I’d gone back to all my old short work: I’d wanted to revisit the roots of my writing.

2016_Dorchak_VoiceI’d cut my teeth (and other body parts—not all of which were mine...) on horror fiction. I wrote about blood and gore and creepiness. I’ve since largely departed the horror scene for what I call “paranormal fiction,” where I write about the weird and the metaphysical and supernatural...but I’m not above throwing in a little grit now and then. It is quite eye-opening to see where my head was at as a younger guy. Some of my work was quite nasty—and not all of it is meant to see the light of day—but it’s interesting to see “The Possession of Frank,” as he was driven to write all this early stuff. Since we’re talking 30 years, I’d actually forgotten about many of these stories! So, it was (and is, since I’m still doing this) quite enlightening! I’d experimented with different kinds of stories, done some prose and those other “rhyme-y kind” of poems, and for a period of time even tried to write as short a story as possible...and this was before anything called “flash fiction.”

I believe, above all else, story is King (or Queen, if you prefer). To me, I’m inspired by the story...and again perhaps like many of you, I don’t sit around and intentionally think this stuff up. It just comes to me and I feel compelled to write it down...effect the incorporeal corporeal. None of them are perfect, but that’s another cool part about them...their imperfections...the imperfection of a twenty-something-or-younger trying to find his way...his voice...his story...and do his best in bringing all of it to liiife!

Yes, some of my older work is, indeed, horrific—and not in a genre-kind-of-way—but, still, it’s fascinating to me. Future-Me is unearthing Past-Me, and I’m uncovering all kinds of passion and art in these archaeological digs. I willingly gave (and still do, though not to the same zealous extent anymore) much of my life to sitting down behind a typewriter-and-later-computer to create and work these things at the expense of a lot of other things. It has rekindled the passion of Past-Me into Future-Me. I am going to publish the better of these short stories under my Indie imprint, Wailing Loon in the next year or so. In fact, I’m soon-to-be releasing one of them, “Clowns,” as an e-short story on Amazon’s KDP Select. It’s one of those “short-shorts” I’d mentioned. Two pages. A fun, creepy tale of good clowns gone bad. And knives are involved.

I hope all writers (and artists) out there will have a time in their lives where they, too, can afford to revisit the roots of their writing. When I was younger I was still propagating my roots; when I was done with one piece, I literally was on to the next. Not much looking back. I was constantly blasting forward...sending things out, out, and out. Writing, writing, writing! Constantly starting new stuff, so much so, that after thirty-some years (I started treating writing as a business in the mid-eighties), I’d forgotten about all the stuff I had written...but now I’m rediscovering them.

Rediscover your roots.

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

F. P. Dorchak has written many short stories, forgotten most of them, and is the author of Voice, Psychic, ERO, The Uninvited, and Sleepwalkers. Hopefully these are not forgettable. His short story, “Tail Gunner” is in The You Belong Collection – Writings and Illustrations by Longmont Area Residents regional anthology, and his latest release, the very short story, “Clowns,” is soon-to-be-available through Amazon’s KDP Select, once the cover is complete. As far as he can recall, he blogs at Runnin Off at the Mouth and Reality Check. His recently remembered website is www.fpdorchak.com, and as far as he can tell, his Twitter handle is https://twitter.com/fpdorchak. He vaguely recalls other forms of social media...all of which are on his website. He’s forgotten more than he ever knew.

The Absolute, Total, No Doubt about It, Guide to Writing … by Richard Keller

Rich-KellerTake a look at the Internet – without stopping for cute puppy videos – and you’ll find dozens, if not hundreds, of blog posts and news items labeling themselves as the be-all, end-all guides to writing. Compare them to each other and I bet you’ll find large similarities between them all. There’s a finite amount of material these people provide, and most of it comes from sites other people have put together from other people on the web have put together that –. Well, you see what I mean.

Now come back here, because I have tremendous news. I am now going to provide the absolute, total, no-doubt-about-it guide to writing. Regardless if you’re a seasoned author or someone sharpening the last pencil in their vast collection, the following is the definitive guide to become a galactically-successful author. You no longer need to go to any other site for writing advice.

1. Don’t write what you know. Let me clarify. You can write what you know if you’re a space alien ready to invade Earth, a superhero, or a super spy with a whole bunch of cool gadgets. You can also write what you know if you’re a musician/actor/artist who had a horrible childhood, gained humongous success, burned out on drugs, got clean, burned out again, got clean again, found God, and was probed by aliens. Should you be someone who’s greatest achievement is getting free premium channels when you didn’t pay for them, think about writing about space aliens, or a superhero, or –.

2. Be a snoop. Do you know how Weird Al Yankovic came up with the hit parody “Like a Surgeon?” He heard Madonna had asked her friend when Weird Al would parody “Like a Virgin” with “Like a Surgeon.” You know how J.K. Rowling came up with the idea for the Harry Potter series? She watched wizards and witches run through a column on Platform 9 of Kings Cross Station. Authors need to have their eyes and ears open at all times in order to absorb a potential story idea. Just don’t put together a book of stories inspired by overheard conversations at the coffee shop. I have that gig in the bag.

3. Admit Writer’s Block is just an excuse to watch Real Housewives. Please, you’re a creative talent! Story ideas and words should be flowing through your mind from the time you wake up to the time you to bed. And, as long as strange inner voices aren’t interrupting those ideas and words, there’s no limit to what you can put down on paper. Can’t think of the next chapter for your manuscript, switch to a short story, a poem, or a letter to Bravo asking them to start a Real Housewives of Hoboken series.

4. Copy current trends. Let’s see … that means you should imitate the following themes: dystopian futures; apocalyptic futures; dystopian, apocalyptic futures; teen angst; dystopian teen angst; apocalyptic teen angst; dystopian, apocalyptic teen angst; futuristic, dystopian, apocalyptic teen angst; and cookbooks.

Finally,

5. Well, maybe you should go to other sites.

A version of this post was first published on Patricia Stoltey's blog in November 2014.

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

New Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers member Richard Keller is the founder of Wooden Pants Publishing and the Associate Director of Northern Colorado Writers. Richard has written over two thousand articles over the last three decades for various media outlets, including USA Today, RM Parent, Fort Collins Magazine, BellaSpark, The Coloradoan, and AOL TV. Richard resides in Northern Colorado with his wife and five children. In his spare time, Richard likes to read, travel, perform Improv, and sleep in a sensory deprivation chamber to get at least one minute of peace.

To learn more about Richard and his publishing company, visit the Wooden Pants Publishing website. He can also be found on Facebook.

Romance – my addiction of choice … by Desiree Holt

DesireeHolt200x263Okay, okay, so I’m a sucker for a happy ending. But here’s how I look at it. Every day there is so much pain and misery in the world, not to mention the problems we face dealing with everyday life. When I curl up with a book, I want to know that the ending will be happy and satisfying and the hero and heroine will end up together. Oh, their road to happiness will certainly be filled with rocks and thorns. Where’s the fun in having them meet, fall in love and just trot off into the sunset? And who’d believe it , anyway?

Because romance, for all that it’s fantasy, also has to be grounded in reality. The readers I know who love romance want to change places with the heroine. They want to meet the hero, flawed though he may be, and be the woman he falls in love with. They want to be tall, short, thin, curvy, blonde, brunette, redhead—something they are not in real life. Because even in the happiest and most fulfilling relationships, there is always the desire to dream and fantasize. Romance gives women that opportunity.

I didn’t come to the romance genre at once, though. I thought I would write mysteries, because that’s what I read growing up. But when I finally sat down to write that first book, I could not get past chapter three. Then I read my first romantic suspense and I thought, This is what I am going to write. I wrote that first book in an effort to create my own hero like the one I’d fallen in love with—dark, dangerous, self-controlled except in bed. A bad boy who did good. And so sexy I wanted to find a way to bring him to life.

It certainly wasn’t all skittles and beer after that, though. There were far fewer opportunities to “break the barrier,” so to speak, then there are now. Self publishing wasn’t even on anyone’s horizon. But I plugged away at it (totally necessary) and eventually got my first break. Others followed. And as my backlist grew along with my readership,. I discovered I could spread my wings and test other subgenres.

Maybe it was my age. I was seventy years old when my first book was published, arriving at a time in life where I didn’t feel constrained to be bound by strict rules. I read two romances about wolf shifters and fell in love with the genre. Five series have been born of that. I love the wolf. I think he is a magnificent, romantic animal so writing about wolf shifters was easy for me.

2015_Holt_DH_RawEdgeofDanger_KindleI enjoy action adventure movies and television, and read thrillers by several authors, so it was natural for me to say, okay, let’s try that subgenre. And what fun that turned out to be. No one told me I couldn’t do it, because by then the marketplace had changed drastically. I loved creating those darkly adventurous men who jumped out of helicopters, fought terrorists and took down the bad guys. And of course, were incredible lovers. As a writer I was free to let my imagination run wild and I did, drawing with words the kind of heroes I wanted to drag into my house and lock the doors!

Then I got a little more adventurous, and created heroines I wanted to be myself. They practiced at gun ranges, were crack shots, could take down criminals without blinking an eye. And were rewarded with a romance that sizzled their toes.

It has been and continues to be such fun letting my imagination run wild. As I said before, you reach an age where you ignore restrictions and create in the pages of your stories the kind of life experiences you’d like for yourself. And romance is really the only genre where you can do this unfettered.

I’ve met a lot of people on my journey. I should probably dig out my tee shirt that says, Careful or you’ll end up in my next book. Because that happens so often. I meet interesting or good looking people and immediately start creating a story line for them.

But let’s complete the circle and get back to romance. In a romance story you can push the boundaries, give your imagination free rein, write scenes that your readers can live vicariously. As you get older, it becomes so much easier to do that. To “cast off the bonds of restriction.” To write yourself into a story, playing out your fantasy.

Do you have a story in your head? A character you’d love to create? Or meet? Then sit down and put your fingers on your keyboard. Let your imagination flow and go wild. I promise the end result will be worth it.

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

Known as the oldest living author of erotic romance, Desiree Holt has produced more than two hundred titles in nearly every subgenre of romance fiction. Her stories are enriched by her personal experiences, her characters by the people she meets. After fifteen years in the great state of Texas, she relocated back to Florida to be closer to members of her family and a large collection of friends. Her favorite pastimes are watching football, reading, and researching her stories.

Learn more about Desiree and her novels at her website and blog. She can also be found on Facebook and her Facebook author page, Twitter, Pinterest, Google+, LinkedIn, and Goodreads.

Note from Desiree: I will pick one commenter at random (using random.org) to receive a $25.00 Amazon.com gift card. This giveaway is open to anyone anywhere, but please post your comment by midnight U.S. Mountain Time on Thursday, December 17th.

The Power of Communal Marketing … by Mari Christie

2015_Mariana GabrielleA year ago, I released my first Regency romance as an indie author, Royal Regard, under the pen name Mariana Gabrielle. Two days ago, one of my books was mentioned in USA Today, a box set that has been on the Amazon Hot New Release and Bestsellers lists for three months, and today, my newest book, a perma-free novella, hit the Amazon lists for the first time.

So, does this mean I am “successful”?

At the risk of breaking the secret author code, let me jump into the numbers a bit. I have increased my income this month—from $1/day to $6/day—though one never knows when such a drastic change will occur or how long it will hold true. As of August, I had been pretty consistently selling an average of half a book a day for months, with occasional rises for new releases and sales. For the past three months, I am averaging three hundred downloads a day (though the royalties do not accrue to me), and I have momentum, which, to me, feels meteoric. I don’t have an agent or publisher or virtual assistant, but somehow, I have managed to claw my way onto the very first rung of the ladder to becoming a HistRom lower-mid-lister. A milestone, by the by, that doesn’t even remotely come with a paycheck yet.

At this rate, after all the promo copies and contests and swag, and box set royalties to charity, I won’t break even financially for another 100 years—1000 years, if you think I should be paid for my time, too.

Bluestocking Belles logo-02But still, ‘tis the season for gratitude and celebration! So, I decided to reflect on how I got here in a year. There are a couple of primary factors, foremost the holiday box set featured in the USA Today column, which was predicated on the best marketing decision I have made thus far—creating the Bluestocking Belles.

To be clear, I have been a marketing and promotions professional since pre-Internet days, but the “E-Book Marketing Milieu” is really a whole new world for me, often highly uncomfortable. But the more things change, the more they stay the same, and I have been a co- and cross-promotion proponent for years. When I saw Mark Coker’s general advice, about a year ago, in a spectacular Smashwords blog post on the future of the industry, a few things really resonated: “Take the long view. Network with fellow indies. Take risks, experiment, and fail often. Publish multi-author box set collaborations. Dream big dreams. Celebrate your fellow authors’ success.”

As members of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, of course, we believe in the power of writers banding together to advance ourselves and our industry, but this article made me wonder, as a long-time co-promoter, whether it might it work in a more targeted, individualized, sales-focused way, even in the Amazonian jungle of a marketplace? These ideas coalesced into a general online call to other historical romance authors interested in long-term co- and cross-promotion. After talking to a couple dozen writers over the space of a couple of months, eight of us finally committed to a long-term group plan and officially launched The Bluestocking Belles in March 2015. I have no compunction in suggesting that we are the hardest working Regency writers online, busting our tails to entertain our readers.

And it has paid off nine months later, to the tune of 300+ $0.99 downloads per day of our box set (guesstimating about 9,000 total by the time this blog posts), with the 35% royalty going to the Malala Fund. With another three months left in this sales cycle, we have already raised more than $3,500 for charity via royalties and direct fundraising, far more than I could have raised alone. And as far as sales of my income-generating books, my perpetual half-a-book-a-day is currently three books a day. (Meteoric, I say!)

To be sure, the success of the box set was also predicated on many hours of work the Belles have put in on other projects, establishing ourselves as a brand in the historical romance marketplace.

On top of our own individual marketing efforts—blogs, websites, social media pages, etc. —common to all of the Bluestocking Belles, managed by various individuals and committees, we have a website; an excerpt book; a twice-weekly Regency “gossip rag,” the Teatime Tattler; Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest pages; a monthly book discussion group; a quarterly newsletter; constant online events, an impromptu storytelling group on Facebook, the Bluestocking Bookshop; and a very active street team with its own, secret web page.

2015_Gabrielle_booksThis “communal marketing” concept is not a game for the faint of heart, but it has, in the main, been working.

  •  Our first box set, Mistletoe, Marriage, and Mayhem, has spent three months in multiple Top 20 Amazon Hot New Releases and Bestseller lists, in Regency Romance and Holiday Fiction, earning thousands for the Malala Fund and many new readers for the Belles’ books.
  •  Our excerpt book, The Bluestocking Belles’ Guide to a Good Time, which we use as both promo tool, street team gift, and prize, features more than fifty pages of games, puzzles, riddles, and historical romance excerpts, available as a free PDF download or bound as a fundraiser for the Malala Fund.
  •  All of the Belles (even “Bluestocking Belles,” with its own Author Central page) have, at some point or another, now seen an author ranking in the Top 100 of Amazon Historical Romance writers.
  •  All of us are seeing increased sales to varying degrees.
  •  Our monthly book discussion group and guest spots on the Teatime Tattler have attracted appearances by multiple USA Today and New York Times Bestselling HistRom authors, like Grace Burrowes, Ava Stone, and Lucinda Brant.
  •  Our street team members are recommending and sharing Belles’ books and posts regularly and automatically, and are steadily reading their way through our 34 (and counting) books and writing reviews.
  •  Our books appear next to each other regularly in “Also Bought” and “You Might be Interested in” on retailer sites.
  •  We have a central “swag depot,” where one Belle acts as “swag queen” and postmistress general, making sure our contest winners get everyone’s materials.
  •  We all now have a physical presence at personal events and appearances we couldn’t otherwise attend. My coupons will be at a table at the Wairarapa Book Fair in New Zealand next week, and our Belle in Dubai can give out signed excerpt books at the RWA convention without lifting a finger.
  •  We have a communal marketing budget, an attitude of sharing when it comes to ideas and opportunities, and an inherent circle of support when it is needed.

The process of uniting into a functional group was not without its growing pains (still) and it has required a stalwart bunch, with reliable senses of humor, broad and complementary skill sets, and a lot of communal wisdom, but if I had to start over as an indie tomorrow, and I could only choose to bring one of my marketing tools with me, there is no doubt, it would be my Belles.

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

Mariana Gabrielle is a pen name for Mari Christie, who is not romantic—at all. Therefore, her starry-eyed alter ego lives vicariously through characters who believe in their own happy-ever-afters. And believe they must, as Mariana loves her heroes and heroines, but truly dotes on her villains, and all bring hearts bruised, broken, and scarred long before they reach the pages of her books.

She is a professional writer, editor, and designer with almost twenty-five years’ experience, and a member of the Bluestocking Belles, the Writing Wenches, and the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. She has released four Regency romances, Royal Regard, Shipmate, ’Tis Her Season, and La Déesse Noire: The Black Goddess, and will soon release a mainstream historical, Blind Tribute.

You can learn more about Mari and her books at her website and blog. She can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, on her Amazon Author Page, and Goodreads.

About the Belles

The Bluestocking Belles' books carry you into the past for your happy-ever-after. When you have turned the last page of our novels and novellas, keep up with us (and other historical romance authors) in the Teatime Tattler, a Regency scandal sheet, and join in with the characters you love for impromptu storytelling in the Bluestocking Bookshop on Facebook. Also, look for online games and contests and monthly book chats, and find us at BellesInBlue on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. Come visit Amy Rose Bennett, Susana Ellis, Sherry Ewing, Mariana Gabrielle, Jude Knight, Vanessa Riley, Caroline Warfield, and Nicole Zoltack at www.BluestockingBelles.com and kick up your bluestockinged heels!

You will find the Bluestocking Belles’ fundraising campaign for the Malala Fund at www.classy.org/BluestockingBelles.

Words of Warning …. by Kay Bergstrom

Kay BergstromThere are no bad words...only bad writers.

Some words, however, set off warning alarms, signaling that the writer is venturing toward a danger zone and should back away slowly. Before you use these words (if you must) be aware of what you’re doing.

Here are a few examples:

Suddenly: The word is okay to use in children’s books because children’s books are limited in word length. The author doesn’t have time for motivation, transition and goal. “Suddenly, I came upon a dragon” is perfectly fine. In fiction targeted at grown-ups, “suddenly” might indicate that the writer hasn’t made a transition. Where did the dragon come from? How did you find it? Or “suddenly” could show a lack of motivation. What does it mean to find a dragon?

Almost: Catalogued with almost are: nearly, kind of, sort of, a little bit, and so on. Check these qualifiers. You’ll almost always (sorry, it got by me) find a stronger way to say what you want. “A little bit of scotch” becomes “two fingers of scotch.” “Almost afraid” becomes “afraid.” “Kind of greenish-blue” becomes “jade and teal.” Almost isn’t accurate, i.e., almost pregnant.

Very: Consider the same warning as almost but in the opposite direction. A “very large kitchen” becomes “a kitchen as big as a basketball court.” There are times when “very” is accurate. As any mother who has been even a few days overdue will tell you that there is a state of “very pregnant.”

Laugh: The phrase “we laughed” doesn’t make the reader want to laugh. We laughed so hard that we all fell down and peed our pants is worse. Pointing out humor doesn’t make it funny. As writers, we have accept the fact that much of our cleverness and wit will go unnoticed by the reader.

Smile: Imagine the variety of emotions Meryl Streep can convey with a smile. She could be sad or loving or menacing or nervous or angry, etcetera. And the observer would understand because he could see her face and hear her tone of voice. Alas, as writers we don’t have a Streep to illustrate what kind of smile is being given. There are many words to describe facial expression. Pick one that more clearly indicates what the character is feeling.

Walk: While we’re on the topic of finding the best word to suit the action, “walk” is a warning word. Whenever I use “walk,” I visit Ms. Thesaurus to look for something better: sashay, stride, shuffle, dance, leap, bound, skip. Each of those words conveys an image that plain old “walk” doesn’t show.

Exclaimed: It’s hard to think of a situation when “exclaimed” isn’t redundant. Use an exclamation point! I have two digressions here. 1) There’s nothing wrong with exclamation points as long as they aren’t popping up on every page. 2) In dialogue tags, using “said” doesn’t become redundant. Similar to a script where each piece of dialogue is labeled, “said” disappears.

Phat and other cute slang: Slang that’s current now is dated in a couple of years. I’ve never thought of my books as something that would be read years from now, and so I have been known to indulge in slang. At times, I threw around “dude” like Wayne’s World. The joke is on me. My first book was pubbed in 1984 and is available as an e-book.

“Ah jist knows dat’s de bestest.” Dialect should be used very gently. Consider whether you want the reader to stumble.

F-Bombs and all their x-rated friends: I love the f-bomb and use it frequently in first drafts to convey down and dirty rage. In final draft, the profanity usually comes out. There are too many readers that get pulled out of the story by cursing.

Not a car: If you’re writing anything set in Colorado, your character will probably be in a vehicle. Be careful not to identify the character as the car. “I made a U-turn” isn’t accurate. The car turned, you didn’t. Nit-picking, but why not?

Feel: As a writer of romance and suspense, my characters are feeling all the time. They’re scared, sexy, courageous, seductive, outraged and hurt. Whenever I use “feel” (guilty admission: yes, I use it), I stop and think about another way to say how the character feels. Better yet, I need a better way to show how they feel. Is it worth a scene to show? Where did the feeling come from? Do I need a flashback?

It: Not the Stephen King novel. Each and every time you use “it,” you’re missing a chance to say something more descriptive. Unfortunately, “it” is one of those necessary words that can’t be totally avoided. “It” is always there, like Pennywise the Evil Clown. When you see “it” on the page, let it be a warning to you. There might be a better way.

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

Kay Bergstrom (aka Cassie Miles) is the author of 79 novels of romance and suspense, has been on the USA TODAY Best-seller list and has twice been RMFW’s Writer of the Year. Her next book, Colorado Wildfire, will be available in January 2016.

Kay is starting a developmental editing service. Contact her at: kaybergstrom (at) hotmail (dot) com

Friends Writers Need and When to Shut Them Out … by Margaret Mizushima

“Without great solitude, no serious work is possible.” ~Picasso

Margaret MizushimaWhen I was a kid growing up on a cattle ranch in the panhandle of Texas, I had a tumbleweed for a friend. Seriously. Miles from the nearest neighbors and school, our home was surrounded by thousands of acres of natural buffalo grass, cattle, and yes—weeds. To keep my tumbleweed from blowing away in the never-ending wind that swept the plains, I tied it to our back porch with a piece of yarn.

My mother negotiated a deal with the public librarian in our closest town: we could check out all the books we wanted as long as we brought them back each month when we made the trek into town for groceries. So, while friends were sparse during those days, my inner life became rich and fanciful. (How else could a child enjoy the companionship of a tumbleweed?) My parents and teachers often called me to task for daydreaming. Little did they know that I was a young writer in training.

Writing is a lonely business, but that loneliness can be countered with the right friends. (And many of these friends should be people.) Find fans—or at least one—who love what you write; mine are my adult daughters. Fans don’t have to be writers, but it’s helpful if they love to read, and it’s best if they like to read in your genre. The fan role is to encourage you along the way, cheering you on when you want to give up. They read your work, tell you they love it, and then answer your specific questions about characters, plot, and scenes to tell you how they think it could be improved. After a fruitful visit with these friends, you need to return to the solitude of your writing space and revise.

Mizushima_Killing TrailThen take your work to another group of valuable friends: your critique group. This group of friends must be made up of writers. They will give honest feedback on the work; pick apart grammar, plot, and character development; scribble “show, don’t tell” in the margins; and sometimes leave you wondering why you ever attempted to write in the first place. But what’s most important is that these friends will help you improve your writing.

Showing your work to your friends requires that you have written something. It means we writers need to shut out our friends and abandon our tumbleweeds on the porch so we can enter the solitude we need to complete the serious work referred to by Picasso. Most of us don’t have the luxury of an office or studio to write in. We eke out a creative space in the back bedroom, den, or basement. Some people have an extraordinary power of concentration and can write in coffee shops or while sitting with family in front of the television. I once saw a seasoned writer sit in the hallway at a writing conference for hours, surrounded by people, tapping away at a keyboard. (No, I didn’t stay to watch him; I merely observed him every time I came out of a session.) I admire that type of focus, but I don’t have it. I write in the back bedroom at a desk surrounded by photos of friends and family, motivational greeting cards, and inspirational sculpture and posters. I light candles made by my daughter before beginning my writing sessions.

So it’s okay to embrace your tumbleweed, but beware the prickles. It can be fun—dare I say great fun—for writers to mingle with friends in coffee shops, in online chat rooms, or on social media talking about their characters and ideas for all the wonderful books they’re going to write. But at the end of the day—or better yet for me, at the beginning—we must write! We must be alone to create our masterpiece. Fight for your own space within the house; hang up that sign that reads, “Do not enter—murder and mayhem reign behind this door.” Balance friends and fun with the solitude of work, and do the work until you finish. You’ll be glad you did.

Who are your writing friends? Where is your creative space, and why is it perfect for you?

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

Margaret Mizushima is the author of Killing Trail: A Timber Creek K-9 Mystery to be released December 8, 2015 by Crooked Lane Books. After earning a master’s degree in speech pathology, Margaret practiced in a hospital and her own rehabilitation agency, and now she assists her husband with their veterinary clinic and Angus cattle herd. Her short story “Hay Hook” was published in the 2014 Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers anthology Crossing Colfax. She enjoys reading and hiking and lives in Colorado on a small farm where she and her husband raised two daughters and a multitude of animals. She can be found on Facebook/AuthorMargaretMizushima, on Twitter @margmizu, and on her website.

Many Hats: Making the Most of Your Author Platform … by Margo Christie

2015_MargoChristieWe all know the challenge of selling fiction to the reality-crazed techie generation. Time and again we’ve been told we need a “platform” – that area of specialization that enables us to sell books to people who aren’t necessarily shopping for them.

In writing my debut novel, THESE DAYS, I was partly motivated by the resurgent interest in the Depression-era art of burlesque. THESE DAYS takes place on an historic burlesque strip, The Block in Baltimore, which also happens to be where I came of age in the late 1970s.

In 2007 when I sat down to write, “New” Burlesque was in its formative years. I was 45 – well past “formative” but still agile enough to compete as a performer. And I had that special something that appealed to aficionados of the art: I’m a “baby legend”: a performer who was around at the tail end of old burlesque. As one who bridges the gap between the old and the new, I knew my tale of coming-of-age on a notorious burlesque strip would appeal to the newbies of the craft.
With the aid of social media, I connected with the Denver burlesque scene and began performing. Author/Burlesque Performer: I wore two “hats.”

Unfortunately, that didn’t make me an instant success. I’ve sold books at burlesque shows and discussed burlesque, old and new, with bookstore audiences. I’ve given readings in towns where I’ve performed, thus tying the two together. Still, selling books in areas where I’m unknown is a challenge. I have little trouble getting events in Baltimore, where THESE DAYS takes place, or in Denver, my home for 16 years. Other cities have presented more of a challenge, however. While performing in Laramie, I gave a reading to a bookstore audience of four, one of whom was my husband and two of whom were employees – I’ll let you do the math.

This past winter, while on my third Baltimore book tour, I reached out to a bookstore in Philadelphia, ever-hopeful but expecting the usual spiel regarding the need for a local following. That came, but with a twist: “Can you teach a writing workshop?”

I hadn’t taught a workshop, but I’d talked with many in the burlesque and literary areas of my life about the process of creating. I sat down with literary and burlesque friends to brainstorm. The concept that came up most often was that of dressing up.

Writing fiction and performing burlesque both involve dressing up. In burlesque, performers spend countless, unpaid hours fashioning elaborate costumes. To entertain and amuse, we create characters that are sub- and super-human; over-the-top, even. In fiction we want our characters to be relatable; down-to-earth, yet we still strive to give them that extra “umph” that will make them walk, talk or dance their way into readers’ hearts.

We also strip them bare, manipulating them in and out of tricky situations to show what they’re made of. We do the same in burlesque, but with flair and tease – There’s nothing like expectation to keep audiences on the edge of their seats. We can make a tight-fitting gown without spending our extra dollars on sequins and rhinestones. It will suffice for peeling out of at just the right moment, but will it pop off the stage, shining at its biggest and brightest best?

No. Nor will our fictional characters be their best without details, details, details. Their backstories, motivations and predicaments are what make them shine. For better or worse, details are their “sequins.”

At Philadelphia’s Big Blue Marble Bookstore, I filled a room with aspiring writers and a few curious passers-by. I sold a dozen or so books and gained a bit of a following in previously uncharted territory. Thus I discovered “hat” number three: Workshop Presenter.

On November 7, I will present “Dressing Up and Baring All: A Workshop for Fiction Writers” at the Standley Lake Library in Arvada (Denver). Bring a sample of your writing and be prepared to “dress it up.”

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

Event Details
Dressing Up and Baring All: A Fiction Writer’s Workshop

Burlesque Performer and Prize-Winning Author, Margo Christie will present a workshop on dressing up your fictional characters to make them larger than life and stripping them down to keep them real. Through her experience on the burlesque stage and examples from her own and other novels, she will talk about “adding the sequins” to otherwise everyday characters then “baring it all” to keep readers emotionally-hooked. She will also demonstrate ways to supercharge your public readings by adding some G-rated burlesque pizzazz.

No matter your style or genre, Margo's exercises will help you bring your characters to life.

November 7, 2015
1:00 PM - 3:00 PM Mountain time
Standley Lake Branch Library - Jefferson County
8485 Kipling St.
Arvada, CO 80005

FREE FOR MEMBERS & NON-MEMBERS
No RSVP Required

Learn more about Margo and her work at her website. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

Is It Enough To Simply Tell An Entertaining Story? … by Glenn Rogers, Ph.D.

Glenn RogersIs it enough for a writer to simply tell a good story? No. In the process of telling an entertaining story, a good writer, even if only implicitly, deals with important ethical, social, relational, or personal concerns. A good writer helps readers think about important things while they are being entertained.

There is a long and proud tradition in the Arts and Literature, going all the way back to ancient Greece, that utilizes stories as a way not only to entertain, but to teach and to provoke consideration of and reflection on important issues and concerns. Being born in 1951, one of the cartoons I grew up with was Rocky and Bullwinkle. One of the regular segments of Rocky and Bullwinkle was Aesop’s Fables, a collection of morality tales designed to teach important concepts. Aesop was a Greek storyteller who probably lived between 620 and 560 BCE. His stories were meant to teach lessons about good character and proper behavior. They were designed to make people think. Why did the creators of Rocky and Bullwinkle use these ancient stories in a cartoon program meant to entertain children? Could it have been that they believed that it was the responsibility of those who have the attention of people, even children (or maybe especially children), to say something meaningful, to provoke thoughtful consideration?

But even before Aesop and the ancient Greeks, tribal peoples utilized stories not only as a way to entertain but to teach. Anthropologists who work with tribal peoples know that this is still the case even today. Through storytelling, tribal peoples taught their children about their origin as a people, their religion, their culture, and wise and moral behavior. Storytelling has always been a way of teaching and provoking insightful reflection.

Good storytelling—in our Western tradition, good writing—has always involved more than just entertainment. A good story has to be entertaining. But it must also provoke insightful reflection. Consider Shakespeare’s work. He writes about moral corruption, social interaction, politics, love, and desire. He provides contrasts between virtue and appetite, sobriety and revelry, being trustworthy and untrustworthy. And in what may have been Shakespeare’s last work, The Tempest, at least one scholar believes him to have provided a theodicy, that is, a justification of God’s benevolence in a world filled with evil and suffering. Shakespeare did not simply write to entertain.

Later in the 1960s, Gene Roddenberry created Star Trek. One of the reasons the TV and movie franchise has remained viable may be due to the fact that Roddenberry’s approach to exciting and entertaining storytelling, an approach that has remained foundational to the franchise’s success, was the use of morality plays. Episode after episode of Star Trek, especially the original TV series, deals with important human issues or concerns.

Those who are considered great writers today have adopted that same approach. Consider a few examples:

Jane Austin, in Pride and Prejudice, deals with the status of women and the institution of marriage in eighteenth century England.

John Steinbeck, in Grapes of Wrath, addressed the economic challenges faced by the rural class during the depression.

F. Scott Fitzgerald, in The Great Gatsby, wrote about conspicuous consumption, the generation of wealth by questionable means, and a deplorable general lack of interest in the social concerns of his day.

Ernest Hemingway, in For Whom The Bell Tolls, wrote about the brutality of war.

Upton Sinclair, in The Jungle, wrote about the dangers and health risks of the food industry of his day.

Harper Lee, in To Kill A Mockingbird, wrote about the coexistence of good and evil and the moral nature of human beings.

George Orwell, in 1984, wrote about the dangers of totalitarianism.

Rogers_THE IMMORTAL AlabasterWhat made those writers great? Was it that they got the grammar right? Probably not—though getting the grammar right is important. Was it that they knew how to construct an intriguing story? That was probably part of it. But each of those authors has a distinct writing style and their books have a different feel. So what made those books great books produced by great writers? While there was likely not one single thing that made their work great, I suspect one of the things was that they wrote not just to entertain, but to provoke thoughtful reflection. The fiction of these well-known writers (all of it, not just the stories mentioned above) helped readers think about important issues. They (and other authors like them) didn’t just write. They wrote about something, about something important.

Could it be that too many writers today have lost sight of this important component of good writing? Is it enough to simply write an entertaining story? No, it is not. The good writer finds a way to touch on some important human issue or concern. The good writer not only entertains, but also provokes thoughtful reflection.

The important human issues or concerns don’t always need to be huge issues such as the status of women, the brutality of war, social equality, or health issues. Things that might be considered lesser concerns by some can still be important. Issues such as personal integrity, self-control, loyalty, friendship, kindness, discretion, moderation, courage, trustworthiness, and the like are important concerns for human life and interaction. Think about what J.K. Rowling did in her wildly popular and influential Harry Potter books. While she entertained us with a wonderful world of magic, she wrote about the struggle between good and evil. She wrote about courage, friendship, loyalty, determination and sacrifice. And while some critics might say that Rowling is not a great writer, maybe it is possible for a good writer to write a great book … or two or seven.

Writing that focuses attention on important aspects of human existence, even if only implicitly, is, I believe, better writing than that which simply entertains without provoking any kind of thoughtful consideration.

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

Dr. Glenn Rogers is Professor of Philosophy and Social Sciences at Iowa Lakes Community College in Estherville, Iowa. He is the author of twenty-six academic books on cultural studies, theology, and philosophy. Dr. Rogers is also a novelist, writing mysteries and thrillers. His fiction includes a frontier thriller trilogy: The Colemans The Reckoning, The Colemans The Journal, and The Colemans The Knife. He has a mystery series featuring a private investigator named Jake Badger: Family Secrets, Love and Lies, and Abducted; and another mystery series featuring an immortal detective named Aaron Archer: The Immortal Alabaster, The Immortal Betrayal, and The Immortal Carnage.

Glenn is a movie buff and a dog lover. His favorite author is Robert Parker. He especially enjoys Parker’s Spenser series.

Glenn’s fiction can be found on his website: booksbyglennrogers.net