PD Martin's Blog

March 29, 2012

Never look back

Filed under: Getting published,Murderati blogs,Writing — PD Martin @ 12:49 am

CB033842“Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.” Buddha

I love this notion of living in the present (well, in theory at least). And I even think the notion of looking forward is infinitely better than dwelling in the past. What ifs, questioning your decisions…it’s never a good idea. We all know the past can be a road to heartbreak. Right? But still, sometimes it’s hard not to wonder how things may have turned out with different options or different choices during key moments in our lives. How would the different trajectory look? I adore the movie Sliding Doors for its core concept of playing out two different paths. Although I can’t remember how it ended. Did the two paths converge?

And I guess when it comes to our personal lives, I’m also a believer of dealing with the past (and perhaps it can be a fine line between dwelling in the past and thinking about it enough to move forward).

As for living in the present…well, I can’t seem to get the balance right on that one either. I’m constantly looking forward — making plans, setting goals. It’s part of who I am. And while it’s easy to say that in an ideal world we’d all live in the present, that world would actually look pretty grim. No one thinking or worrying about consequences? No one planning forward at a personal, national or global level in terms of money, resources, environment, strategy? Scary, as hell if you ask me.

I guess the key at a personal level, is not to worry about the future so much that you miss out on the present.

Recently, I’ve been questioning whether it’s a good idea to apply the notion of “never look back” to our creative lives. Yes, I have a vested interest in this. As I mentioned in my last blog, part of my 2012 strategy (yes, looking forward) involves taking a trip down memory lane and pulling out some of those earlier manuscripts that never quite made it into print. Is there enough of a spark for resurrection? I mean, everything’s a draft, right?

Like many authors, I also teach writing. And in the past I’ve always told my students that their first manuscript(s) — one, two, three, or maybe even more — are learning experiences. Ones for that top drawer that will most likely never see the light of day.

Still, I think back to my road to publication and there was at least one manuscript for which I found it hard to take no for an answer. In fact, many publishers also found it hard to say no. This particular young adult manuscript went through the very many levels of an unsolicited manuscript at the four top publishers here in Australia. This little book got through the readers, through the junior editors, right up to the acquisitions editors only to be booted out the door at an acquisition meeting. The dreaded vote. Of course, it’s all behind closed doors so I have no idea in each case who vetoed my book — marketing, sales, management? And I’ll never know.

But with the whole ebook thing (remember, I’ve been a bit of a dumb ass with this) it made me wonder whether this book could be resurrected. Since I last worked on my three YA novels (which I wrote between 1997-2002) I’ve learned a huge amount about the writing craft. And I’ve written another seven books. So what would that experience bring to my earlier novel(s)?

Well, that’s exactly what I’ve been doing the past three weeks. Digging out “the one that got away”. And with fresh eyes (it has been nearly ten years, after all) I could see the novel’s strengths and weaknesses, but more importantly I knew a few editorial passes would address the weaknesses.

Alexander Graham Bell said:  “When one door closes another door opens; but we so often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door, that we do not see the ones which open for us.”

But what if closed doors sometimes open for us, once more? That’s where I’m heading at the moment. Back to my earlier manuscripts and a new pen name, Pippa Dee.

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March 16, 2012

Get ready, cause here I come

Filed under: Getting published,Murderati blogs,Writing — PD Martin @ 1:01 am

In some ways I was quick getting on board the whole self-published ebook phenomenon but in other ways I’ve been a slow, dumb-ass! By the way, I’d never really heard the term dumb ass until I watched That 70s Show. Love it!

You may remember that in the Australian summer holidays (January) I was away for quite some time and didn’t get much writing done. However, what I did do was a 2012 plan. I spent years working as a corporate writer and sometimes I think it’s extremely useful to bring some of the corporate tools to the creative world. One such thing is project planning (I have project plans with word targets and completion dates for pretty much everything I work on) and another thing that’s useful is a twelve-month strategy.

ComingHome10percentAnyway, the main realization from my strategy planning was that I needed to get on to the ebook bandwagon properly. I say properly, because in 2009/2010 I wrote a Sophie Anderson novella (Coming Home, the sixth book in the series) online. Literally online. Each week I’d write a chapter and then post a few multiple-choice questions for my readers to have a say in the direction of the book for the next chapter/week. It was a scary and exciting time. Scary because I didn’t know exactly what I’d write next and exciting because it was such a different way of writing and I felt like a pioneer. Once I was finished I organised cover art, got the book edited and posted it online as a free download. It was on my website (and nowhere else – big dumb ass!) for nearly a year before I became more aware of the whole self-published ebook revolution and got it up on Amazon and Smashwords for $2.99. Sales were modest, but there were sales without ANY publicity.

So, back to my New Year strategy planning. One of the key outcomes of my 2012 strategy is to get my (dumb)ass into gear with the ebook thing. First stop: Sophie. I’ve never been into short stories much, but in 2006 I was asked to write a Sophie Anderson short story for a magazine called Australian Women’s Weekly (it’s actually now published monthly, but they decided in the 1980s not to change it to Australian Women’s Monthly – for obvious reasons, I suspect). Anyway, I wrote a story called Missing and submitted it to my publicist and Aussie editor. However, I was concerned that the gist of it (child abduction) might not be appropriate for the magazine, plus it was set in Melbourne, before Sophie went to the FBI and wasn’t exactly indicative of a Sophie book. My hunch was right and I started from scratch, writing a story about a missing girl but with a very different tone and set after Body Count and in Washington DC. For that story, I had two different endings and after a discussion with my publishers we chose an ending and submitted it. The Weekly loved it and it appeared in the March 2006 edition.

TheMissing10percentSo, these two stories had been sitting on my C drive for six years!!!! Why not do something with them? I gave them another round of editing, put them into Scrivener so I could output directly into an ebook, and paid a designer to create a cover. Last week, The Missing went up on Amazon, priced at 0.99! And just for fun, I included the alternate ending for the story set in DC.

Also sitting on my C drive were two true crime pieces that I wrote for a collection called Meaner than Fiction. I was asked to contribute to this collection and when I went looking for Aussie stories that I could get an ‘in’ to (e.g. could interview someone first hand) the two stories that came my way were actually stories of wrongful conviction. The first was about Andrew Mallard, a West Australian man with mental health issues who was charged with murder. The second story was about wrongful conviction in general, and I interviewed the director of one of Australia’s Innocence Projects. Again, fascinating stuff.

WhenJusticeFails10percentSo, during my strategy session in January it occurred to me that I could package these two stories together as well. Last week, When Justice Fails, also went up on Amazon – also for 0.99.

So, stages 1 & 2 of my ebook strategy have been ticked off. Go me!

The next step in my ebook strategy rests on the idea that, like many writers, I have a draw full of finished but unpublished novels. Some of these should, and will, stay in my draw and archived on my computer. But there are others that I still believe in, including:

  1. the first book in a young adult trilogy; and
  2. a spy thriller I finished around this time last year but didn’t have any luck selling (apparently the spy thriller market is hard to break in to at the moment).

So, over the coming months you’ll be hearing about one more PD Martin self-published ebook, Hell Hath No Fury and the start of my YA ebook strategy (and the birth of a new pen name, Pippa Dee).

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March 2, 2012

Once more with feeling

Filed under: Murderati blogs,Writing — PD Martin @ 11:43 pm

In my post on Australia’s National Year of Reading, I spoke about my early love of reading and how I read to be transported into other worlds — be they realistic or fantastical worlds.

CSL2061Most crime fiction books take us into the fictional world of a cop, FBI agent, body guard, profiler, etc — but they’re based in realism. The crimes could really happen (although as Murderati’s Gar mentioned in his post yesterday, sometimes real events sound too fictional to include in a novel!).

When I was writing my Sophie Anderson series, there were different elements at play, different motivations in terms of my aim for the reader. Some of the books are classic WHOdunits — my aim was to keep the reader guessing about who the perpetrator was. They are also largely WHYdunits. Given my leading lady is a profiler, the books include forensic psychology that focuses on why the perpetrator committed the crime and/or why they exhibited certain behaviours during the crime. My Sophie books can also be described as forensic-based police/FBI procedurals, so the scientific evidence is also a key element — HOWdunit.

In my National Year of Reading post, I said that reading is also about emotion, about how a book makes you feel. And while this can be an important element in some crime fiction stories, it’s not a key factor in the Sophie series. Sure, I want people to connect with Sophie and the story — to be worried about the characters if they’re in danger, to feel losses, to feel the victim’s pain or the victim’s family’s pain, etc. But it’s not the primary driver in these books. Like I said, like many crime fiction books they’re who/why/how dunits.

SadWomanHowever, this is not the case in the book I’ve just completed. Tentatively titled Crossroads and Deadends, it’s the mainstream drama/fiction book that I’ve spoken about on Murderati briefly a couple of times. And while I hope readers will feel transported into the character’s world, my primary aim is to get an emotional response from my reader. I want them to feel the characters’ heartaches and triumphs. I want them to worry about how the characters are going to cope.

It feels very different to be writing predominantly for an emotive response, rather than piecing together evidence and suspects. I’m not analysing a crime, and neither are my main characters. Rather, my three main characters are trying to keep their lives together, despite destructive internal and external forces.

So, what is success from my perspective as the author? For the Sophie books, I felt successful when readers reported not knowing whodunit, staying up until 3am to finish a book (and generally not being able to put the books down), being scared to read late at night if they were by themselves, and telling me how much they loved Sophie. I’ve even had emails from my younger readers who read my books and were inspired to study forensics or criminal psychology at college, because they want to be like Sophie. Success.

So, what will make me feel like I’ve done my job well for this new book? Yes, I want it to be a page-turner even though it’s not in the classic page-turning genres of crime, thrillers and action adventures. But mostly, I want readers to identify with my characters and be inspired by their stories. And, quite simply, I want them to cry at least once. Like I said, this book is a completely different style of book and so it’s not surprising that what I consider to be success in terms of my readers’ reactions will be different.

Oh yeah, and I guess success is also a best seller…but what writer doesn’t want that?

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