Sunday, December 25, 2011


Congratulations to Darcy Lynne, winner of this week's giveaway from Cindy Sample, an ebook of DYING FOR A DATE. She commented on Cindy's blog on Pots & Pens. Darcy, please provide your preferred ebook format and, if Kindle, your Amazon email address. Contact me by commenting or by email at

NOTE TO ALL: We wish you happy holidays! The Writers' Lens will resume posting on Jan. 9.

Friday, December 23, 2011

12 authors worth trying in 2012

As 2011 comes to a close, it strikes me that finding good books is like so many things—word of mouth rules! Thanks to recommendations from others, this year I’ve tried a lot of new writers. It’s been so much fun that I thought I’d share 12 of my favorite “new-to-me” authors in case you’re starting or updating your reading list. And I'm sending you my holiday wishes for many happy hours of reading in 2012!
Maggie Stiefvater—I raced through both her series (Wolves of Mercy Falls and A Gathering of Fairies) after my friend Cole offered one of Maggie’s books on her blog in a giveaway.
Cindy Sample—I met Cindy while she was in town for Bouchercon and picked up her latest book, DYING FOR DANCE. It was so much fun, I couldn’t wait to get her first book, too (which you could win by leaving a comment today!)
Fran Friel—I had the great pleasure of attending a retreat with Fran in Virginia last January. After reading her MAMA’S BOY collection, it’s easy to see why she was twice a Bram Stoker finalist.
Veronica Roth—DIVERGENT was one of the excellent young adult dystopian books Cole told me about this year. I’ve long been intrigued by Jungian personality types and loved what Roth did with the factions.
Neil Gaiman—Goodreads turned me on to Gaiman’s NEVERWHERE, a romp through London’s underworld.
Andrew Smith--THE MARBURY LENS, another Goodreads referral, may be the most unusual story I read in 2011. It’s hard to even describe—maybe a violent alternate reality adventure story geared toward older boy readers?
Neal Stephenson—CRYPTONOMICON sat on my shelf for years after my daughter gave it to me, but since November 2010, I’ve read four of his lengthy tomes. ANATHEM was my favorite. Much like Kim Stanley Robinson, Stephenson bundles theology, science, mythology and history and makes it fun to read 1,000 pages. Now that’s talent!
Charles Stross—Also on my daughter’s recommendation, I entered Stross’ strange world of The Laundry series, where magic and technology meet, via THE FULLER MEMORANDUM.
Tim Powers—Okay, so he isn’t really a new-to-me author. I’ve been a huge fan of Tim’s work for more than a decade. But somehow I’d missed DECLARE until I saw it mentioned in Stross’ acknowedgements (so read DECLARE first). 
Jim Butcher—Harry Dresden magically transported me away from some tough situations in my “real” life this year. Thank you, Harry...and Jim, too.
Cole Gibsen—Cole’s two young adult fantasy novels—KATANA and BREATHLESS—will be released in March 2012, but I had the pleasure of reading them as they were being written. Samurai and mermaids (respectively)--what’s not to like!
Brad R. Cook—His short-story collection FOX vs. HOUND: THE WORLD WAR II CASE FILES will be available this spring, but in 2011 I enjoyed his other works-in-progess: a steampunk novel, THE IRON HORSEMEN, and EXCALIBUR STOLEN, a middle-grade contemporary Arthurian adventure.

PLEASE NOTE: The Writers' Lens will take a break from Dec. 25-Jan. 9. Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Field Research for your Novel

Field Research for Your Novel
Because sometimes you just have to step away from the computer.

By Brad R. Cook

My first post, Researching Your Novel: Always Start With Google, gave you a few pointers about online resources. Here is the second post in that series and it’s about resources to help you that aren’t online. Yes, sometimes hard copies can provide more than electronic files. I know that’s digital blasphemy.
Here are a few ideas,
  • Libraries
  • Newspapers & Journals
  • Historical Societies
  • Bookstores
  • Museums
  • Movies
  • Renaissance Fairs / Pirate Festivals / Re-enactors
  • Ride-a-longs
  • Gun Range

Libraries have more resources available to them than you could ever hope to have. They pay yearly fees for access to certain databases and many of these resources are free to use. Not to mention the thousands of books on every topic imaginable.

Newspapers & Journals capture the times they write about like no other resource. Today they may seem like a dying art form, but remember it was the internet of its day. If you need to research a time period you’ll find slang, pictures of people, of places, and events written by eyewitnesses, not some historian looking back and trying to imagine what life was like.

Historical Societies can provide invaluable information about a city, building, or people. You may not even need to dig through their records if you talk to the historians.

Bookstores, hurry before they disappear, but there is a book on almost every subject you could ever need. If you find a subject that doesn’t have a book – then you know what your next book should be. But seriously, if you are writing about a place, check out the travel books, if you are writing about a person, find another biography.

Museums, I love museums, for those writing about the past seeing the artifacts will instantly connect you to your characters and time period. Not to mention, you may even want to include the museum itself in your novel.

Movies, have been made about almost every subject you may want to write about, a small town person looking for love, the glimmer of hope in the chaotic urban jungle, and almost every time period of history. Usually Hollywood is really good about capturing the clothing, the slang and phrases, or the look and feel of a place. Just be wary, they often use illusion so make certain its really New York and not Sydney when describing your landmarks.

Renaissance Fairs / Pirate Festivals / Re-enactors, allow you to immerse yourself in the past. You don’t have to participate, but experience is what it’s all about. You can ask about the clothing, the items they used, see a small glimpse of what life was like for those without our modern conveniences. Plus you can dig into a giant turkey leg and eat like a caveman.

Ride-a-longs, if you are writing a police procedural it could be invaluable, they allow you to immerse yourself in their world, pick their brains, and experience a world that the cop drama tv shows can only hope to capture. But it doesn’t just have to be the police, when NY Times Bestselling author Angie Fox was writing the Accidental Demon Slayer Series she went on a ride-a-long with a group of bikers.

Gun Ranges. Have you ever shot a gun? You may want to consider firing a few rounds from your character’s gun. That’s where the range comes in; it will allow you to get a feel for the weapon. Find the answers to questions like, how do you load the ammunition, what kind of kick does it have, and what does it sound like? The same thing goes for swords, or almost any weapon you may write about.

What I’m really saying is that as a writer you need to get away from your computer and experience the world you are writing about. It’s like the old saying – write what you know.

A quick note about Libraries,

Not all Libraries are the same. There are differences between University, County, and City Libraries. They have access to different resources and will have a variety of different books in their collections. University Libraries will have the most but you will find more local records at the City and County Libraries. There is one other distinction to be aware of – Libraries vs. Archives. Libraries are filled with second hand sources (books written about subjects) Archives are filled with firsthand accounts about events (letters, journals, records, all direct from that time period.) So know what you need and find the right library. Just remember that Librarians and Historians are your friends. They are invaluable resources who I guarantee know more about their records than you could ever hope to – so talk to them.

If this sounds too daunting, remember that research can become a distraction from actual writing. Don’t spend forever researching, but it can be fun, and will provide the details for your story that will bring it to life.

Your computer will be waiting when you get done.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Giveaway: Dying for a Date

When her dating service turns deadly, Laurel must race to find the killer before she becomes the next victim…
Not sure if she is looking for Mr. Right, or Mr. Every Other Saturday Night, recently divorced Laurel McKay reluctantly joins THE LOVE CLUB, a matchmaking agency advertised as the safe alternative to online dating.

After Bachelor One decides he wants her for dessert, Laurel dispatches him with her cell phone. The next day she discovers her drop-dead gorgeous date has literally dropped dead. When Bachelor Two disappears during dinner, Laurel's only alibi is a friendly bottle of Dom Perignon. The investigative detective has to decide if the sassy soccer mom is a killer, or the next target.

Her boss at Hangtown Bank threatens to fire her when he learns the latest victim was an important client. Fortunately, he needs her expertise to investigate some questionable loans. Laurel and her mother, who insists her daughter is innocent because she is too disorganized to plan a murder, set out to save her reputation, her job, and her life.
After you've met Laurel, you won't be shocked to find she foxtrotted into another adventure in DYING FOR A DANCE. Check out the author's interview on Pots & Pens (and her recipe for Outrageous Hot Chipolte Cake!) Your comment on Cindy's post there or on any post at The Writers' Lens between now and Friday, Dec. 23, will enter you in the contest for a free ebook of DYING FOR A DATE. With any luck (I'll be at the mercy of travel elves), the winner will be announced Saturday, Dec. 24. Please leave your email address with your comment so I can verify your preferred ebook format if you win! 
PLEASE NOTE: The Writers' Lens is taking a break from Dec. 25 to Jan. 9. We wish you a very happy and healthy holiday season!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Project Management for Writers

I'm a tech girl at heart.  It's been a number of years, and kids, since I've been in the biz, but still I love to find technology that can help me plan and organize.  As the end of the year approaches I'm looking back on all that I've accomplished and I'm wishing I had kept better track of my time and energy.

My new year's resolution is to find a project management system, preferably in spreadsheet format that will allow me to, and this is utmost important, EASILY update, and keep organized, my projects for the year.  All the blog posts, all the outlining, writing, and revising I'll do every day throughout the year.  At the end of next year I want to see it in quantitative form.  I want to be able to look at that pie chart or whatever chart and say,"See?  That's what I've done!"  And then, of course, hold up my newly published novel! :)

So I've done some research out there on varying project management systems.  Most are costly.  I'm looking for free. Because really, unless I love a system I'm not going to stick with it.
Below are a few of the project management tools I've googled over the last week.  Let me know what you think.  And better yet, let me know what YOU'VE found out there that helps you keep your writing world organized. - looks brilliant with wonderful video tutorials but it's far from free.

Top 10 Best Free Online Project Management Application Services - just found this one, plan on checking it out today.

 LotusLive Gets Social Project Management Tools  I find this concept fascinating, but for writing projects, not so sure.

Excel for Writers and other Artists I love seeing this, as a writer I don't feel that my creativity is the opposite of tech

Let me know what you've found!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Get Your Very Own St. Louis Reflections!

Get your very own St. Louis Reflection!By Brad Cook, President of St. Louis Writers Guild

It’s Monday and here at The Writers’ Lens that means – GIVEAWAY TIME!
Today I have something very exciting. I will be giving away one copy of,

St. Louis Reflections An Anthology by St. Louis Writers Guild to Honor its 90th Anniversary

St. Louis Reflections
An Anthology by St. Louis Writers Guild to Honor its 90th Anniversary

Order it today!
Also available on, B&, and all major online retailers

Founded in 1920, St. Louis Writers Guild continues to thrive! St. Louis is known to many as home of the Cardinals, the Blues, the Rams and the Arch, and as the birthplace of Ragtime, ice cream cones and provel cheese. It has always been a literary hotbed. To show our love for everything this city on the mighty Mississippi has given us over the last ninety years, we decided to share our reflections of our wonderful, close-knit community. We honor the culmination of the Guild's 90th Anniversary Year of Festivals with this anthology written by some of today's greatest writers. Inside you’ll find 45 poems, stories, essays, and memories. Enjoy!

St. Louis Reflections contains a list of every member in 2010.

This anthology contains 45 poems, stories, essays, and memories as well as a quick history of one of the oldest and largest literary organizations in the country.

The Writers’ Lens very own David Lucas took the back cover image, and I have two pieces in there, too. It contains some great St. Louis authors like, Senior Poet Laureate of Missouri Faye Adams, former SLWG President Dr. Rebecca Wood, and Missouri Writers Guild President Deborah Marshall. As well as authors like Claire Applewhite, Linda O’Connell, Patricia Bubash, Peter Green and amazing poets like Dwight Bitikofer, Niki Nymark, and Marcel Toussaint.

One note about the giveaway: Due to shipping limitations, you have to live within the continental United States to win. Apologies to the international readers, we also have giveaways are fully online so anyone can win.

To enter the contest, simply leave a comment or question on The Writers Lens Blog between December 12th, and midnight December 17th, 2011. Please include your email so we can reach you if you win. The more comments you leave, the greater YOUR chance of winning the contest. The winner will be chosen after midnight on Saturday and the announcement made on Sunday, December 18th.

Want to learn more about St. Louis Writers Guild, you can find us at – on Facebook – or on Twitter @stlwritersguild

To learn more about Brad R. Cook please visit - @bradrcook – or my personal blog

Erica wins two ebooks!

Congratulations to Erica, winner of two ebooks: Ansha Kotyk's giveaway last week of OPEN MINDS by Susan Kaye Quinn and ZERO TIME by T.W. Fendley, as announced on the Pots & Pens blog.

Erica, please leave your contact info as a comment or contact me directly at with your preferred eBook format (and Amazon email address, if Kindle).

We appreciate your comments at The Writers' Lens!

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Best of 2011 - What about the Classics?

The Classics through Modern Eyes
By Brad R. Cook

It’s the end of the year and everyone is creating their best of 2011 book lists. Now, I enjoy all the new novels coming out, many of them are now by my friends, so I have to say that… but I love old books! So as the year winds down and the lists are formed, remember that the classics are amazing novels. That’s why they’re classics – the best books of their ages, written by authors who will still be revered by our children’s children – kind of like JK Rowling. These brilliant novels came with timeless messages, hidden subtext, plot twists to rival M. Knight, and biting commentaries about the times they lived in, kind of like And Tango Makes Three. There is nothing better than sitting back with an old hardcover book. However since I am not a wealthy author, I am often reading a modern reprint that was so nicely priced in the B&N Bargain Section. I love to read novels that are over a century old or at least close to it.

Why, you might ask? There are a number of reasons.
I love the language, like the slang of "The Great Gatsby", the "Juno" of the Twenties.
I love the stories, like the tales of Allan Quatermain or the epic journey of the "Odyssey".
I love connecting to the past, getting to experience what for them was everyday life but to us is a long forgotten past, like the streets of Jekyll and Hyde, or the sailing ships of "Moby Dick".

If you’re a little unsure about the classics here’s how some compare to our modern day stories.
"Dracula" by Bram Stoker – Horror and Romance – this is obvious, it’s the "Twilight" of 1897. No shiny chests, but there certainly is a human girl being pursued by a hot vampire.

"A Tale of Two Cities" by Charles Dickens should probably be passed around the Occupy movement.

Sherlock Holmes by Sir Walter Conan Doyle – Mystery – it even has the forensic component that has come to dominate the genre.

"The Book of Five Rings" by Miyamoto Musashi – Self help – who knew that Musashi, an amazing swordsman was the self help guru of 1645.

"The Scarlet Letter" by Nathaniel Hawthorne – actually skip this one and just watch Easy A, Hawthorne takes way too long to say anything.

"20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" by Jules Verne – Steampunk Science Fiction – If you like the genre, then find out where it all started.

"Le Morte d’Arthur" by Sir Thomas Malory – Y/A Fantasy Fiction – is the Lord of the Rings of 1485 and Middle English can be just as tough as elvish.

"The Red Badge of Courage" by Stephen Crane – Y/A Memoir – stirs up memories and causes us to pause just like the modern accounts from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

"Tom Sawyer" by Mark Twain – MG Humor – not exactly "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" but no one ever thinks of Twain as a MG author.

"Alice in Wonderland" by Lewis Carroll – MG Fantasy Fiction – takes you away to a magical world like Harry Potter, where the Red Queen chases a young girl crying “Off with her head!” Kind of like Voldemort.

"Romeo & Juliet" by William Shakespeare – Y/A Romance – puts any modern day romance to shame, and its message still resonates today. Parents just don’t understand.

So read the Hunger Games, Steve Jobs, Zero Time, or Hemingway’s Boat but then add some Hemingway to your e-reader. The best part is that you can often find Fitzgerald, Shelly, or Dumas for free – which can help with your book budgets.

For your enjoyment and to expand your reading lists – here are links to some of those Best of 2011 Book Lists I mentioned earlier.

Find out more about Brad at or follow him on Twitter @bradrcook

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Giveaways: Reaching out to readers

One of our main goals for The Writers' Lens is to share what we learn about the writing process. Since I'm just beginning the marketing phase--trying to get my debut novel in the hands of readers--I'd like to share my first steps regarding three different kinds of giveaways and the results.

Some people adamantly oppose giving away your latest book, and others say to offer as many free copies as you can to stimulate buzz. I'm taking the middle road, currently focusing on three main venues: Library Thing, Goodreads, and partnering with other bloggers. 
Library Thing: With more than 1.4 million users, Library Thing gives you a place to write about yourself and your library (I'm a huge fan of libraries!). You can list your favorite authors and bookstores, leave comments for other members, and see the interesting data about your books. After you list your books, you can sign up to become an official Library Thing Author. Memberships are $10 per year or $25 lifetime. Then you can participate in the LibraryThing Member Giveaway, which allows members to give away books to members willing to review them. Currently, 7,014 copies of 83 books are being given away. From Oct. 20-Nov. 6, I offered three Kindle ebooks in a giveaway and 48 people signed up. I haven't seen any reviews yet--I'm still hopeful--but at least four dozen readers learned something about my book!

Goodreads: Goodreads is also a book-cataloguing site where you can post reviews--these also show up in Google's bookstore--and share info about what you're reading. Goodreads has more than 6 million members...and it's totally free. Sign up for the author's program to be identified as a Goodreads Author; readers can opt to become your fan or friend. Even if you don't have advance reading copies of your book, you can offer a giveaway if you have a printed book (no ebooks). My Goodreads giveaway started Nov. 15 and ends Dec. 8. So far, 236 are vying for the two copies, and 43 people have added my book to their "to read" list!

Partnering with other bloggers: I appreciate the chance to join with others in promoting books. For instance, this week The Writers' Lens is teaming up with Pots & Pens to offer two ebooks--my own ZERO TIME and Susan Kaye Quinn's OPEN MINDS--in a giveaway for those who comment on this site through Saturday. It's harder to gauge the success of this approach, but again it's all about getting our books into readers' hands.

Between these three approaches, my giveaways have reached around 300 potential readers at the cost of four ebooks and two print copies. I'd love to hear your thoughts about giveaways as a marketing tool.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Win an e-copy of Open Minds by Susan Kaye Quinn

 When everyone reads minds, a secret is a dangerous thing to keep.

Sixteen-year-old Kira Moore is a zero, someone who can't read thoughts or be read by others. Zeros are outcasts who can't be trusted, leaving her no chance with Raf, a regular mindreader and the best friend she secretly loves. When she accidentally controls Raf's mind and nearly kills him, Kira tries to hide her frightening new ability from her family and an increasingly suspicious Raf. But lies tangle around her, and she's dragged deep into a hidden underworld of mindjackers, where having to mind control everyone she loves is just the beginning of the deadly choices before her.

I love giving stuff away on a Monday! :) Comment for a chance to win a copy of this awesome book.  And hey if you don't win, consider treating yourself this holiday, it's only $2.99 for Kindle or nook!

Good Luck!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The winner of The Case of the Caretaker's Cat and The Case of the Perjured Parrot is . . .

Congratulations to Janet Bettag. You have won the two Erle Stanley Gardner two novels in one.

Monday will be a new chance to win a book on The Writer's Lens!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Open Minds by Susan Kaye Quinn

Open Minds is the first book in a planned trilogy (Mindjack Trilogy) and is about a future world where everyone reads minds except one girl.

When everyone reads minds, a secret is a dangerous thing to keep.
Sixteen-year-old Kira Moore is a zero, someone who can’t read thoughts or be read by others. Zeros are outcasts who can’t be trusted, leaving her no chance with Raf, a regular mindreader and the best friend she secretly loves. When she accidentally controls Raf’s mind and nearly kills him, Kira tries to hide her frightening new ability from her family and an increasingly suspicious Raf. But lies tangle around her, and she’s dragged deep into a hidden world of mindjackers, where having to mind control everyone she loves is just the beginning of the deadly choices before her.

What inspired Open Minds?
It started as an idea for an online 1st paragraph contest. My then-current projects didn’t have snazzy first paragraphs, so I decided to make one for a story that hadn’t been written. I’d been playing around with a story idea of a boy who was a touch empath (could feel emotions by touch, and thus was very isolated), but that wasn’t going anywhere. When I was mulling over how to turn that into a 1st paragraph, the image of a girl sitting in a classroom filled with mindreaders popped into my head. She was painfully isolated, because she couldn’t read minds and was not only unable to communicate, but terribly ostracized as well. I dashed off the first paragraph, but the image and idea of this girl wouldn’t let go. The story grew from there.

Why Science Fiction, how did you come up with the idea of MindJacking (which is super awesome)?
The story started out being about mindreaders, but about a quarter of the way into my rough draft (which was completely pantsed, no outline, nothing), I realized that my MC had this power to control minds. The term mindjacking actually didn’t come until much later. For a long time (several drafts), the jackers were called pushers. Then someone pointed out that term was awfully close to the movie Push, so I spent about an hour working on other terms, finally coming up with mindjacker. I wanted something that had an edgy feel to it, that gave the sense of the physicality that jackers experienced when they controlled another person’s mind. And of course it’s reminiscent of hijacking, which is really what mindjackers do.

What are some of your favorite SF/Fantasy writers/books and why?
I grew up on SF with books by Asimov and Frederik Pohl – they transported me to worlds I could never dream up on my own! My current author crushes are on writers like Scott Westerfeld (Uglies, Leviathan), Suzanne Collins (Hunger Games) and Holly Black (White Cat) – they’ve taken SF&F and made it all new and exciting again!

Tell us a bit about your next book in the series, progress, release date estimate (I'm already excited for it!)
Thanks for being excited about Closed Hearts! If you’ve read Open Minds, you know that Kira’s story is far from over. I’m about half way through the first draft of Closed Hearts (which I did for NaNo this year), and hope to have the second half done by Christmas. Then it will be revisions, revisions, crit partners, more revisions. I’m hoping for a May 2012 release, but I won’t release the book until it’s ready. It is very exciting to have people already anticipating the book! You can follow the progress here on my Mindjack Trilogy website.
Thank you so much for joining us today Sue!  I can't wait for book #2!

When everyone reads minds,
a secret is a dangerous thing
to keep.

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