How to Get Your Blog Noticed

The best way? Write something that will really stir people up.

One approach is to be super negative.

For instance, Adele’s new album has been breaking sales records and she has zillions of adoring fans. Imagine writing a blog that says 25 is crap, she’s over-rated, and not remotely as good as Lana del Ray or any other singer of your choice.

You’d be sure to get lots of hits and people would RT like crazy in their rage. But then among the crowd would also be lots of people who actually agreed with you–so you’d get those readers, too.

Another approach: Defend a common target of ridicule.

Example? Blog that the Kardashians have been misunderstood. Say they represent the best in family values. Say they stand for everything that makes America great. Given their high profile, one way of another, anything about them is likely to generate hits, and that’s what you’re after: click bait.  A sexy title and photo or two helps.  And some funny gifs.

Now, what do you do in either case about the badly spelled emails from people who think you’re a total moron and should be put down like a rapid dog? And the tweets that vilify you in worse terms? And the comments pointing out the smallest typo and trash everything from your writing skills to your sanity?

Ignore them.

You’re not blogging to start a conversation or prove you’re God’s Gift to Blogging. Your aim is publicity, and the best way to generate that is by posting a controversial blog.  But beware, this can happen even by accident.

So.  Are you tough enough to handle it?

Lev Raphael is the author of The Edith Wharton Murders and 24 other books in genres from mystery to memoir.

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Crime Makes TV People Dumb

Gran Hotel is not a crime show.  It’s a sexy, romantic, exciting Spanish series that ran for three seasons, beldning blends Downton Abbey with Dynasty, but ups the temperature by adding robbery, rape, murders, bombs, and relentless skulduggery.

It’s set in northern Spain on the Atlantic coast at a luxurious hotel and there’s constant interaction at many levels between the staff and feuding Alarcón owners, a family with secrets coming out of their jewel boxes.

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The decorous 1905 clothes cover up seething passions: revenge, adultery, jealousy, lust, hatred, and much more.  It’s a festival of felonious behavior, with a handsome, dynamic cast and great comic touches to lighten the tension.

But true to form, people in it do the dumbest things imaginable when faced with crime or criminals.  Like the daughter married to an impoverished  Marquis.  She finds someone stabbed to death in her beautiful suite.  Does she scream?  No.  Does she run from the room?  No.  Does she even ring for a maid to bring her some tea or brandy?  No.

She picks up the bloody knife and you think, “Sure, that’s exactly what I would do if I found a body in my room–pick up the murder weapon.”  This happens all the time in crime shows and movies and it’s beyond stupid.

Then there’s an altercation in another episode where a blackmailing thug is wounded in the hotel office, but supposedly escapes.  We see blood inside the hotel and assume he’s hiding there (if we’re veterans of crime fiction).  One of the guests who’s a family friend goes to her room and when she closes the door, finds blood on her hand from the French-style door handle.  Does she flee?  No way!  Unarmed, she creeps into the room, oh-so-slowly, to see who’s there.  Of course she’s taken captive by the gun-wielding miscreant.  Which is doubly unbelievable because she’s a lawyer and one of the smartest, most independent-minded characters in the show.

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These are just two sad examples from a show which fields strong women except when it comes to crime scene behavior.  Apparently the screenwriters privilege plot over believability, and by doing so, they make otherwise intelligent characters seem moronic.  I’ve seen it happen in show after show, movie after movie; all too often, it’s the women who end up playing the part of the dummy.

Lev Raphael is the author of 25 books in genres from memoir to mystery including The Edith Wharton Murders. A different version of this blog appeared at Mysteristas.

Ebook Sales Are Down: It’s My Fault

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Well, not really.  But I am one of those people who’s not reading as many ebooks as before.  The thrill is gone.

In the beginning I was excited to download books instantly whenever, wherever.  Forget two-day delivery with Amazon Prime.  If I wanted a book on my iPad at 3 AM, voilà–and the font and page color could even be adjusted.  How cool was that?

But then the books started massing and I lost track of how many there were, unlike being able to see and sort the TBR pile in my study. I know, not a problem the Pope had to address at the UN, but still–

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Then I noticed that far too many ebooks, from all sorts of publishers, seemed badly proofread, if at all.  Spacing was off, typos were bizarre, sometimes whole sections or chapters were in italics.  As an author and reviewer, I know errors creep into books, but this was a level of sloppiness that felt new to me.

Dealing with insomnia after a car accident, one solution recommended by experts was to avoid e-readers (and laptop or PC screens) at night because of the light, so that forced me to cut down.

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But I had found myself drifting away from ebooks anyway by that point.  I’m an extrovert and can be easily distracted.  I turn to reading as a form of meditation. I want to be completely lost, mesmerized by storytelling whatever the genre.  Holding a device where I can check my email or the news can break the spell.

More than that, I still enjoy the physical feel of an open book in my hands, especially a hardcover.  I relish the sensuous experience of turning the page, marking passages I enjoy, making notes, comparing pages–things that are totally different experiences with ebooks.

However, I rely on ebooks for trips at home and abroad.  Back in the day, I could never decide what exactly to take with me and either packed too many books or the wrong ones.  That never happens anymore.  And if it somehow does and there’s absolutely nothing that interests me left on my iPad, I can still browse wherever I am.

If the WiFi is good.

So what about you?  Are you reading more ebooks than you used to?  Are you reading fewer?  Or about the same?  Why?

Lev Raphael is the author of The Edith Wharton Murders and 24 other books in genres from memoir to horror.

Why Should You Write Every Day?

Too many writers worry about how many words they write per day. Some get manic about it and some even post their tally on Facebook as if it’s a global competition.

 

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And if they’re not writing at least 500 or 1200 or 2000 words or whatever quota they’ve set, they feel miserable. Why aren’t they working harder? Why are they stuck? What’s wrong with them?  How come everyone else is racking up the pages?

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If that kind of system works for you, fine. But I think too many writers are somehow caught in the assumption that if they’re not actually physically writing a set number of words every single day, they’re not just slacking, they’re falling behind and even betraying their talent. Especially when they read about other people’s word counts on line.

Many well-known authors like Ann Lamott advise beginners to hold to a daily minimum, but some days it’s simply not possible. Hell, for some writers it’s never possible. Why should it be?

Other writers say that you if you’re feeling “stuck” you should re-type what you wrote the previous day. Well, even if I weren’t a slow typist, that’s never had any appeal for me or made much sense.   I’d rather switch careers then do something so mind-numbing.  I’d feel imprisoned.

I don’t advise my creative writing students to write every day; I advise them to try to find the system that works for them. I’ve also never worried myself about how much I write every day because I’m almost always writing in my head, and that’s as important as putting things down on a page.

 

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But aside from that, every book, every project has its own unique rhythm. While recently finishing a suspense novel, my 25th book, I found the last chapter blossoming in my head one morning while on the treadmill at the gym. Though I sketched its scenes out when I got home, I spent weeks actually writing it.

Some people would call that obsessing. They’d be wrong. What I did was musing, rewriting, stepping back, carefully putting tiles into a mosaic as it were, making sure everything fit right before I went ahead, because this was a crucial chapter. I was also doing some crucial fact-checking, because guns are involved and I had to consult experts as well as spend some time at a gun range. It took days before I even had a rough draft of ten pages, yet there were times when I had written ten pages in a day on this same book.

 

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The chapter was the book’s most important one, where the protagonist and his pursuer face off, and it had to be as close to perfect as I could make it. So when I re-worked a few lines that had been giving me trouble and found they finally flowed right, that make me very happy.

I never panicked, because the book was always writing itself, whether I met some magical daily quota or not.

Lev Raphael is the author of Assault With a Deadly Lie, a Midwest Book Award Finalist, and 24 other books in many genres which you can find on Amazon.

Mysteries In Name Only?

Back when I launched my Nick Hoffman series, Woody Allen did Manhattan Murder Mystery.  That film was missing a crucial piece: there was no discernible reason for the amateur sleuth to get involved in investigating the murder.  Despite some funny lines, the movie was hollow.  It’s natural for cops and PIs  to investigate a murder, but amateurs need a believable motive and leaving it out showed a lack of respect for the genre.  The film seemed tossed off with an anyone-can-write-a-mystery attitude.

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I recently tried watching Columbus Circle about a wealthy agoraphobic living in an exclusive Midtown building.  New neighbors suddenly started brawling in the hallway and I thought 1) they’re faking 2) they want to lure her outside 3) they’re after her money.  It all proved true within minutes.  Unbelievably, the woman neighbor badgered the agoraphobic into walking down the hallway and there was no reason why the shut-in should have succumbed. So the psychology was bogus and the writers didn’t respect the thriller genre enough to make anything remotely believable. I see this in films and on TV way too often.

Then there’s Sherlock.  The show started out as an innovate reboot of Watson and Holmes.  It even played with the homoerotic nature of their bromance:  Sherlock discussed it with aplomb, Watson with annoyance.  Most amusing.

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The special effects that were originally fun have overtaken the show and became distracting.  More than one fan told me he enjoyed them because they demonstrated the chaos in Holmes’s mind.  And his mind is anything but chaotic, it’s extremely organized.  Explosively fast editing works in a Jason Bourne movie, but Sherlock’s thinking should be awe-inspiring, not stupefying.

There was progressively less story in the show and I wondered why. Then I saw the writers on PBS practically boasting that Sherlock wasn’t going to be “about solving a crime ever week.”  Really?  Why breathe new life into a fabled character and then totally subvert what he does?  Their attitude and preference for FX showed contempt for the genre they were in.

Elementary with Johnny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu fields an even bolder take on Holmes, making him a recovering addict and turning Watson into a woman and his “sober companion” when the show debuted.  There’s no flashy camera work or FX now, but just as much substance.  Crimes have typically been solved, not ignored.  By making Watson a woman, it opened up the Sherlock story up in a unique way.  This Watson is a strong, complex, fascinating woman.

Part of the joy of Elementary has been watching her develop into an amateur detective, and in seeing her navigate a complex, layered relationship with Sherlock.  But it’s sadly come to feel like a primer on Alcoholics Anonymous: progressively less action-oriented and less about sleuthing.  Mysteries aren’t really actively solved so much as talked about and there’s more standing around and jawing that there is detecting.  Again, you get the feel that the writers are bored.

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For the real deal, I’ve turned to watching The Bridge, a Danish/Swedish co-production I rent from Netflix.  It’s smart, deep, dark, and funny when it needs to be.  The writers clearly love the genre they’re in, and it shows.  It starts with a body found exactly midpoint on the stunningly beautiful bridge connecting Denmark and Sweden, which means police forces from both countries have to cooperate, and that’s more complicated than we might expect.  There are language issues, jurisdictional issues, procedural issues–and the lead detectives are wildly different characters.  One is sloppy and cuts corners, the other is humorless and rule-bound.  Yet they gradually make an effective, compelling team.  The show is dramatic, tense, moody, exciting.  And there’s real, powerful mystery at its core–something this mystery author and lover craves.

Lev Raphael’s 25th book is the novel of suspense Assault With a Deadly Lie.  You can read about his other mysteries here.

When Motives Miss by a Mile

I started reading crime fiction in high school: Agatha Christie, the Swedish writing team Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, John Creasey, and the comic work of Phoebe Atwood Taylor.  I wasn’t great at solving puzzles, but I was always fascinated by what would actually drive someone to murder.

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That fascination took a different turn when I started reviewing crime fiction for The Detroit Free Press in the 1990s and continued to do so for about a decade.  Motive now wasn’t just something to study, it had to to be convincing, it had to fit perfectly into the entire clever construction of plot–or the carefully-built edifice buckled and sometimes even collapsed.  Reading crime novels where the motive for murder or mayhem was weak made me determined to ensure that my own mysteries never fell short that way.

And because I watch a lot of crime drama on TV and crime movies, I’m often thrown when a motive just doesn’t seem believable.  Case in point.  In an episode of last year’s Forever, whose sleuth was a medical examiner, a ballerina’s foot was found at a theater.  She was initially presumed dead until it was forensically determined that the foot had been surgically removed so as not to kill her.  Weird, right?  The suspects narrowed down quickly to her ex-surgeon brother and all the evidence was discovered in his home.

But why?  Jealousy?  That didn’t add up.  They’d escaped Cuba together so she could have a great career and she on the point of stardom, about to be dubbed a prima ballerina (the show actually got this wrong, mistaking a prima ballerina assoluta for a prima ballerina)

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There’s a good chance in crime fiction that the “least likely” suspect is the one who did it, and when she was was found alive, I couldn’t imagine why she would have had her brother do it.  But she did, and here’s the bogus motive the writers came up with: 1) she had a degenerative bone disease and 2) she had only a year to dance and so 3) she wanted to go out in glory and be remembered forever that way.

I’ve known dancers and I thought this was ludicrous.  What dancer would consent to having her foot cut off even if she wouldn’t be able to dance again?  What person would consent to being horribly mutilated  and left crippled for the rest of her life?  Nothing about this dancer made her seem unhinged and willing to do something so radical.

Sometimes crime writers of all kinds try so hard to be original or surprising that they end up just coming off as ridiculous.  This was one of those times.  After all, she was still able to dance and she could have danced with the title and then retired for whatever reason and remained legendary.  Now she’s become a legend in a freakish way (and is missing a foot!).  Why would any dancer want to be remembered like that?  Forever got other things wrong on a regular basis, which might be a partial reason for its cancellation.  That’s too bad, because it had its good moments, and Ioan Gruffudd made an appealing sleuth.

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Lev Raphael’s 25th book is the Michigan bestseller Assault With a Deadly Lie.  You can read about his other mysteries at his web site.

Writing Crime Fiction Changes Your POV Forever

I’ve been publishing mysteries since the 90s and whether I want to or not, I often figure out a twist in a thriller or mystery without even trying–especially if it’s a movie or show.  I just can’t stop that part of my mind from working even if I want to be an ordinary audience member.  And something about seeing it rather than reading it makes the upcoming twist much more obvious to my writer’s mind.

Recently fans of Scandal went berserk when a hero of the show, Jake Ballard, was stabbed and left for dead, and the preview for the next week showed his bloody body laid out on a table, with one of the show’s character’s, Quinn, yelling that he was dead.  Even though I was emotionally caught up in the surprise attack where Jake was viciously stabbed, as soon as it was over, I knew for sure that he wasn’t dead.  I blogged about it for The Huffington Post while the Twitterverse and Facebook erupted in disbelief and rage. The mystery writer in me knew that when writers want someone indisputably dead, that person’s throat is cut deeply to make sure they die ASAP or they’re stabbed in the head like a zombie ditto or in the heart.  Jake was stabbed in the torso; people survive worse injuries in real life and this, after all, was only TV.  The next week’s episode proved me right.

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That same week in Vikings, the third season finale ended with great drama. Ragnar Lothbrok, the King whose army had unsuccessfully attacked Paris twice was apparently dying of battle wounds.  He’d also been mourning his dead friend Athelstan, a monk captured in an earlier raid on England.  In a deal to leave “Francia,” the Vikings received a huge amount of gold and silver, but Ragnar demanded to be baptized and then later get a Christian burial. The Emperor Charles agreed and we saw Ragnar’s beautiful coffin, reminiscent of a Viking ship, borne into the walled city’s cathedral.  Watching this impressive scene, I mused, “Wouldn’t it be something if he rose from the dead, popped out of the coffin and attacked the king?”  That’s exactly what happened. His funeral Mass was a terrific ruse for sacking the city.

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I wasn’t trying to figure out either plot or second guess the writers, it’s just that the many pleasurable years of writing (and reading) crime fiction have shifted my perspective forever.  I don’t enjoy thrillers or mysteries or a show with a plot twist any less, but that inner watchful eye (much friendlier than the Eye of Sauron), just never seems to blink.

Has this happened to you?

Lev Raphael is the author of 25 books–including The Nick Hoffman Mysteries–which you can find on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.