The big day has arrived. The first two Nicole Tang Noonan mysteries are available on Amazon. The books I've been writing about in posts on formatting and related issues---Dark Mural and Dark Exhibit---have begun trickling out to people who want to read them.
You can use the Books menu above to get to a quick summary of each.
Publishing two books at the same time seems like a crazy idea, as I said before, but the way it happened was perfectly logical. When I finished my second draft of Dark Mural, I started swapping manuscripts with fellow writers. This not only got me their impressions of the work, but kept me from re-reading it for a couple of months.
While that went on, I wrote Dark Exhibit. By the time it was finished, I was ready to look back at Dark Mural and incorporate all the valuable insights I had gained from others.
While re-writing Dark Mural, I swapped Dark Exhibit with other writers, again to get their impressions. By the time I was ready to rewrite it, I could see I had only a few months to hold Dark Mural so I could publish them simultaneously.
Of course it helped that the articles I read on marketing all said it is easier to sell two books than one. So, why be in a hurry?
They also say it's even easier to sell three. Dark Picasso is scheduled for January, 2019.
Mystery novels written as part of a series let the reader enjoy the same principal characters in a new adventure. If the sleuth is Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, Harry Bosch, or Kinsey Millhone, we know each book will be fun in the same way the last one was, even as the plot serves up new puzzles to solve.
So the cover of the next book in the series has to tell the reader this book is the same, only different. I suggested to my designer, Zach McGinnis, that we do this by using the same layout for Dark Exhibit as we used for Dark Mural and changing the details.
In both covers we are looking at a work of art from Nicole's point of view, but this time it's an exhibit of pictures on a wall, rather than a mural. The fonts are the same, but Zach made the letters bright orange instead of white. Zach also gets credit for dressing Nicole in a short-sleeved dress, rather than a sweater and skirt, and showing her hair pulled forward over her shoulder, rather than hanging down her back.
I already have an idea what the cover of Dark Picasso will look like when it's ready for publication.
We may not judge a book by its cover, but we definitely choose a book by its cover. When we take a book off the shelf in a bookstore, and when we shop online, the first things we do is look at the picture..
While preparing my first murder mystery for publication, I learned that the first question a cover must answer is, "What's it about?"
The cover art for Dark Mural, designed by Zach McGinnis, tells the reader it's about a woman looking at a rural scene. Since her back is to us, we are looking from her point of view. The somber colors create an ominous feeling.
All this is true of the story inside. The rural scene is the mural mentioned in the title; the story is told from her point of view; and the action has some fairly sinister twists and turns.
I had spent many months pounding out the story, but I couldn't imagine what the cover should look like. I told my designer about the elements of the story, and he imagined what it should look like. That's what designers do.
It's very exciting to be this close to publishing a story I've lived with for so long. It's even more delightful to accomplish this step in collaboration with such a talented professional.
I've just finished formatting the manuscript of Dark Exhibit for publication with Kindle Direct Publishing. It was so much easier than formatting the manuscript of Dark Mural.
As you may see on my Books page, Dark Mural and Dark Exhibit are the first two books in my series of murder mysteries. I got this crazy idea that it would be best to postpone publishing the first one until the second was also ready.
As a result, I had my first adventure in turning a docx file into some that that looks right as an ebook and as a print book about a month ago with Dark Mural. As always with new software, there was a lot of trial and error.
This week, I gritted my teeth as I set about turning Dark Exhibit into the kind of books you can buy on Amazon. I am pleased to report it went much better. In fact I mostly set aside the directions and worked intuitively.
If I had published the first one six months ago, I probably would have gotten out of practice and had to learn this all over again. Maybe my idea was not so crazy!
Last weekend we went to our favorite place for breakfast. When I was done eating, I looked across the street and noticed the morning light was beautiful on the buildings and the tree.
I started snapping, noticed people were walking by, and managed to catch the woman in the baseball cap in front of the red doorway.
When I got this picture up on my computer screen, I noticed there was a second woman just stepping out of the shadows on the right. She wears a headscarf and carries a yoga mat.
Baseball Cap is wearing yoga pants, so maybe she is walking to a class at the place Headscarf has just left. But Baseball Cap doesn't have a yoga mat. Maybe she's going to another kind of exercise class.
Of course, Headscarf could be carrying that yoga mat as a distraction. She might have been hiding in that dark doorway, waiting for Baseball Cap to walk by, intent on attacking her.
If so, she has a problem. Again, when I got the photo up on my computer, I noticed Baseball Cap is not alone. Look just behind her front foot and you'll see another foot. Someone is walking next to her.
Did Baseball Cap get word that headscarf was laying for her and bring backup?
As Yogi Berra once said, "You can observe a lot just by watching."
Argonaut's website says it offers "fine and rare books in most fields." That is a fine business to be in, and a rare one. It's been around since 1941 and is now operated by the son of the founder, Robert Haines, jr.
The shop gets some tourist trade because it appears in Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo, or, rather, the original Argonaut did. It was six blocks away on Kearny street. And, in fact, they didn't film the scene with Jimmy Stewart in the store. Rather, they recreated the inside of the store on a soundstage in Hollywood. Still . . .
Haines still does a thriving business, as you can read about in this recent interview. It seems that in the era of ebooks, fine and rare books are valued more than ever. Haines tells a great story about the store's more recent brush with fame. It seems Danielle Steele, a San Francisco resident, dropped by one day.
True confession: I've never seen the inside of this store. Most of my books are paperbacks, nothing fine or rare about them, except the stories and thoughts inside. However, I have an idea for getting someone a gift so I just might walk through that door in the next couple of weeks.
I saw this stairway and liked it so much I had to take its picture.
It's in the Metreon, a building in downtown San Francisco where Ann and I had gone to see a movie. The wall of green outside the windows is the edge of Yerba Buena Gardens, a lovely place to linger if you're ever in town.
It reminds me of the one in the Museum of the African Diaspora, which (come to think of it) is only one block away.
Stairways like this are not hard to like especially for a guy who prefers to take the stairs and counts himself lucky in being able to do so.
But for me, they are more than just pretty. They are somehow theatrical. When walking on them, I see people outside the building and they can see me. I feel exposed, but somehow aloof at the same time.
Such a stairway might serve well for an important scene in a story. A pursuer (sleuth or assassin) might spot the pursued. The pursued might feel safe from the pursuer, but only if he can get to a higher floor and hide.
Hmm . . .
Prutting my manuscript in book form continues to teach me lessons.
For instance, that line at the bottom of the page on the left begins a paragraph that continues at the top of the following page. In book-design jargon it's called a widow. I suppose that's because it's left alone.
If you see a paragraph at the bottom of a page and its last line carries over to the following page, that line is called an orphan. I suppose that's because it's disconnected from its origin.
Word processing programs like MS Word and Google Docs usually avoid widows and orphans by keeping at least three lines of the paragraph on each page, but book designers do not. I had to teach myself this by looking through books from my shelves and seeing they frequently have widows and orphans.
This explains why some of my pages in the print previewer were one line shorter than the others. When I allowed widows and orphans, those blank spaces at the bottom of the page filled up.
As with most things about book design, I find myself saying, "I never really noticed."
By the way, those clamps holding the book down are from back when I used to repair guitars.
Recently I discovered that reading my book in Kindle Direct Publishing's ebook previewer taught me some lessons I hadn't learned by reading and re-reading my book in a word processor and on paper. Specifically I learned to use paragraph breaks in a new way for e-publishing.
Preparing my book for publication as a paperback has yielded still more lessons. Perhaps because throughout my life I've done most of my reading on single-spaced, facing pages, I never had to think of how the eye and the mind work together to turn those ink-blots into images and thoughts.
I've been over Dark Mural so many times in the past two years, I have parts of it memorized. Yet, when I saw it in the familiar form of a printed book, it looked different and read different. I became aware how parts of a scene fit together and raised questions that would be answered on the following page. In a few instances, I saw how the scene could be better built, and I've made changes.
Of course, most writers say they always want to change things, even after a book is published. So perhaps this was just one more opportunity for me to see such things. But I really don't think I would have seen them without reading it in book form.
As previously reported here, I have seized the opportunity attend a trial in criminal court as research for a book about a guy who reports for jury duty. I figured if I was going to write about it, I needed to make notes on the nuts and bolts of the process of conducting a trial.
So far I have watched as the judge and attorneys question potential jurors regarding their fitness to serve in this particular case. The process is called voir dire, a French term meaning, "speak the truth."
This is an important part of any trial, and I am glad to be reminded of how it works, but I'm learning much more about how it feels to be one of those called for jury duty. For however long it takes, your life is not your own.
On the whole, the judge is considerate of jurors' comfort, never remaining in session more than an hour and fifteen minutes. Beyond that, anything can happen: a fifteen-minute break can last twenty-five minutes; the session no sooner begins than the judge and attorneys withdraw for five minutes (stand and stretch, but don't leave the room); an attorney can spend twenty minutes questioning one juror, five minutes questioning another, and excuse both. Or neither.
Having no choice but to comply with orders that are unpredictable and seemingly arbitrary is stressful. The only thing keeping me in the room was curiosity, and I still felt trapped.
Perhaps the title of this blog post should be, "Writer Gets More Than He Bargained For."
Several years ago, I was called for jury duty, selected, and served on a jury in a case of sexual assault. We deliberated and returned a verdict of guilty.
For the first few days, I tapped out a description of each day's courtroom proceedings, so I would have the research done if ever wanted to write a story about a juror. But I stopped because I didn't think I ever would.
Big mistake. Let all us writers resolve never to repeat it.
Recently I returned to my notes and I saw how I could turn it into a story, but I would need the nuts and bolts of the trial process for my hero to work with.
So I emailed a writer friend with some background in law, and asked how I could find out when a criminal case was going trial so I could be there at the beginning and take notes. My generous friend wrote me a long email about how that is public information, but difficult to track down . . . databases, incompatible systems, etc.
Then, just last Thursday, a neighbor said she had to report for jury duty today for a murder case.
And here I am, taking notes.
Yesterday, I attended a meeting sponsored by the Northern California Chapter of Sisters in Crime. Jim Guigli was on hand to educate us crime-fiction writers regarding firearms. Though there is very little gun play in my books, I thoroughly enjoyed his presentation.
Clearly Jim can geek out about guns with the best of them. Click on the "Guns" link on his website to read his "Firearms Bio." While you're on that page, download the pdf of his article, "Firearms and Writers." It's an entertaining description things we've all seen in books and movies that don't make sense if you know about guns.
But instead of wowing us all with his knowledge, Jim geared his presentation to what might be most useful to mystery and suspense writers. He suggested we ask two questions. Why does the character carry a gun? Therefore, how does she carry it?
His demonstration was mostly about holsters. As he showed ankle holsters, leg holsters, belt holsters, and many kinds of shoulder holsters, he explained the trade-offs between concealing the weapon and drawing it quickly.
He used plastic models of common revolvers and semi-automatic pistols. The assembled writers asked many questions about different weapons and ammunition, which Jim was happy to answer. But mostly he focused on who? why? and how?
Not only is Jim a firearms expert, he's a good teacher.