Friday, February 29, 2008

What I'm Grateful For ...

I wrote the first draft of Darkness and the Devil Behind Me as part of National Novel Writing Month -- 2004. It took me nearly four years to finish it. I started the next in the series last November, also as part of NaNoWriMo. Only I really don't intend to give myself four years to finish it. Actually, I'd hoped to have "finished" the second draft by now. I haven't, and so I'm frustrated. Me, yes, me. Patient Persia is frustrated. But you know what? I've decided to be grateful, grateful that I have a nice story to begin with, grateful that I've gotten so far with writing it, and grateful for the bursts of confidence that hit me every now and then and push me to dig deeper and write better than I thought I could. In other words, I'm going to stop beating myself up and give my inner writer a hug, and say, "You've done well. Keep it going."

Along those lines, I'm happy to mention that my story got a mention in Publisher's Weekly's review of The Blue Religion, the Mystery Writers of America short story collection I mentioned earlier. Here's the review:

The Blue Religion: New Stories About Cops, Criminals, and the Chase Edited by Michael Connelly. Little, Brown, $24.99 (384p) ISBN 978-0-316-01251-5

Mystery Writers of America presents a high-quality anthology of 19 original stories that explore a wide range of police experiences, from newcomer Polly Nelson's superb tale set in 1864 Kansas, “Burying Mr. Henry,” to editor Connelly's powerful and grim Harry Bosch investigation into a young disabled boy's death, “Father's Day.” The sordid mean streets, depicted in Persia Walker's “Such a Lucky, Pretty Girl,” are nicely balanced with the lighter touches of Jon Breen's “Serial Killer,” a darkly comic tale in which two police detectives recount one of their cases to a community college writing class. TV writer Paul Guyot contributes one of the volume's strongest selections, “What a Wonderful World,” about a cop's obsessive search for the killer of a hot dog vendor. This is one of those rare themed anthologies that can be enjoyed at one sitting. (Apr.)

Am I thrilled or am I thrilled? Yay!!!!

Till next week,


Monday, February 25, 2008

So emotional

I've been stuck in a scene for two days. Has that ever happened to you? It's the weirdest thing. It felt as though I wasn't connecting with the characters so they wouldn't let me move forward. Very frustrating.

In the scene, the hero confronts the heroine about an issue that's very personal and important to him. At first I thought I'd have the hero appear slightly vulnerable. Halfway through the scene, it began to read like a Puffs facial tissue commercial. I appreciate a hero who's in touch with his feelings, but this was a bit too heavy-handed. It was making me sick.

When revising the scene, I decided to give the hero a temper. Three quarters through the scene, I realized the hero needed to be dialled back a notch or 12. If someone - man or woman - spoke to me like that, I'd smack them really hard and that would be the end of our story.

What to do? What to do?

Finally, I realized the reason I was writing in circles is that I was focussed on the very personal and important issue rather than having the hero react to the heroine. There are two characters in the scene. I needed the hero to react to the heroine in order to move the story forward.

That's my lesson learned.


Saturday, February 23, 2008

Possibly One of the Greatest Characters Ever Ignored

As usual, upon waking this morning, I went down the hall and urged my son to wake up. It was time for school. Then I went back to my bedroom to throw on a sweater and while doing so, looked out the window.

I received a nice solid shock. It was snowing. Actually, it looked more like a blizzard outside. A thick layer of snow had covered the ground, the trees, the cars -- just about everything -- and more was coming down every second. Every plan I'd made for today shot through my mind. How would the weather affect it? In fact, the weather did cause me to alter some plans and delay others. I'm sure it did the same for tens of thousands of New Yorkers.

My point: the weather is an ever present and powerful force in our daily lives. Sometimes, it's quite benevolent and helpful; at other times, it makes difficult tasks even more difficult and complicates what could've been a simple matter. Most people don't dare walk out of the house without either looking out a window or checking for the weather report. Why then do so many writers simply ignore the weather when composing their stories?

Weather affects mood as well as movement. Some people have what I call the "Dandelion Syndrome." They slump when the sky is gray or the sun goes down, and perk up when the sun is high. They're melancholy when it rains, or short-tempered when it's very hot, or weepy with the full moon. (Not that dandelions are ever short-tempered!) They hate the cold and never go out when the days are short and dark. You get my drift.

Of course, you can have your serial killer schedule his merciless activities by the lunar cycle, but that's so obvious, I don't feel the urge to mention that here. What's more interesting -- to me, at least -- is when the writer shows how the weather affects individual characters and causes unexpected changes in the plot direction. Maybe you have a mother who works two jobs. It's harder to do so in the summer time because she can't afford air conditioning and it's so hot, she can't sleep, so she's extra exhausted during the day.

The weather also makes a wonderful tool to underscore and strengthen atmosphere (hot and lazy, hot and oppressive, cold and lonely, cold and refreshing, a coming thunderstorm to represent brewing anger, etc.).

Acknowledgment and use of weather is an easy way to strengthen a manuscript, to give it credibility and weight. It seems such a wasted opportunity to ignore it. The next time you sit down to work on your story, it's setting and characters, remember the weather. What time of year is it, what month and what kind of weather reigns? How does the weather affect your characters -- their moods and activities? Will the weather play a supportive role in your story, simply adding richness to the atmosphere, or will it at some point play a more active role?

For example, my latest book, Darkness and the Devil Behind Me, is set amid the cold of December. Everyone is running around with Christmas fever, everyone but Ruth Todd, the sister of a woman who vanished three years prior. Ruth's family is in agony over the never solved case of her sister's, disappearance. Now, it's December again and the anniversary of the loss, coupled with the family-oriented Christmas holidays, makes the loss even more poignant. Ruth asks society writer Lanie Price to remember Esther's case in her newspaper column. Lanie has to trudge through cold and snow as she seeks the truth about Esther's disappearance, and at the end, she has to engage in a terrifying battle on the ice in order to save her life. In writing this, I actually dug out old copies of the New York Times to check the weather for December 1923 and '26, the years in which Darkness and the Devil Behind Me plays out. It was fun and the results were worth it.

So please remember the weather when writing your tale. Be as aware of it as you are of dialog because the weather is always speaking to us, albeit subconsciously. See it as an active character and not just an inert part of a stagnant setting. See it for what it is, a living force that moves to its own rhythms, that impacts everything, whether large or small, in some way, some how. Add that extra dimension to your manuscript. You'll be glad you did.

Persia Walker

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Word-of-Mouth is Still King

In last week’s issue of Publisher’s Weekly, Felicia Pride reported on the results of the African-American Culture Study. It studied book buying habits in 2007. According to the survey, 33% buy 5 to 10 books a year and decide what to buy mainly through word-of-mouth.

In fact, 55% of those surveyed choose books through recommendations from family and friends. 34% got recommendations from bestseller lists, though only 18% through the Essence Bestsellers list, and 17% through book club recommendations. 20% got recommendations from African-American critics. But only 8% from reviews in African-American newspapers. Oprah’s influence also didn’t seem to be big factor as only 11% of those surveyed got recommendations from her book club.

One thing that shocked me was that although most of those surveyed claimed the last book they read was fiction, only 3% of those were street lit titles, making me wonder who is buying up all these street lit titles that are flying off the shelves, teens? I would have been interested to see the percentage of people who got recommendations from ads, commercials, book videos, and endorsements from other authors. I imagine those numbers must not have been significant enough to list.

In the end, I guess the lesson for authors is to write the best book you can, and if people love it, they’ll talk about it to everyone they know ; ).


Monday, February 18, 2008

Mills & Boon's crime and thriller series

I received information on a couple of my writers loops about Harlequin Mills & Boon's new crime and thriller series, Black Star Crime, scheduled to launch August 2008. In case you haven't heard about it yet, here are some details.

According to, an e-zine providing daily updates on the British publishing industry, Harlequin Mills & Boon's Black Star Crimes will initially publish five titles every two months. The series will focus more on crime fiction than romantic suspense, which is a genre Mills & Boon is more closely associated with.

According to the news brief, in the United Kingdom, the crime and thriller market has increased by 70 percent. Does anyone know how that market has performed in the United States?

To read article, click here.


Thursday, February 14, 2008

When Hollywood comes knocking, should you think twice before opening the door?

Last week was my niece's eleventh birthday. Even though I already knew what she'd probably want, like a good aunt I asked anyway, and got the typical response: Hannah Montana stuff and the Cheetah Girl game for her Gameboy. I had no idea there even was a Cheetah Girls game for Gameboy. I remember thinking to myself, wow, that Deborah Gregory is making out like a fat rat with all this Cheetah Girls merchandising and DVD sales and whatnot.

Apparently, I was very wrong. Somebody's making out like a fat rat all right, and it ain't Deborah Gregory. The Los Angeles Times ran a story yesterday about Gregory and her deal gone wrong with Disney. I read the story with a sinking heart because like many an author, I would love to have my books adapted for TV or film. But hearing story after story of how the Hollywood machine seems designed to take advantage of authors, especially unknown authors who don't know any better, like Gregory was when she signed her deal, makes me very wary.

Hey! It's Valentine's Day! Sounds like a good time to do a one day contest. Just comment on this post by midnight tonight, and I'll draw a winner from the comments and send them an autographed copy of Diva's Last Curtain Call.

Good Luck!

Monday, February 11, 2008

Contract terms

I wanted to look at a couple of contract terms with you today. Nothing fancy; just three terms for your consideration when reviewing a contract.

Basket accounting: This term comes up with multi-book contracts. Usually, the publisher will specify an amount of advance per book. For example, in a two-book contract, the publisher may specify a $1,000 advance for the first book and a $1,500 advance for the second book. The total advance on this contract then is $2,500.

With a $1,000 advance on the first book, the ideal situation is for the author to start receiving royalty payments on the first book once the $1,000 advance has been recouped through sales. Similarly, the author would start receiving royalty payments on the second book once the $1,500 advance has been recouped.

However, some publishers include a basket accounting method in the contract, which states the author will not receive royalty payments until the entire advance, in this example $2,500, has been recaptured through sales. In my opinion, this ties up an author's income too long. If the advance is specified per book, then we should start receiving our royalties per book as well.

Option clause: In a multi-book contract, it's common for publishers to include broad descriptions of the follow-up book to which the publisher will have first right of refusal. This is the option clause.

Let's say a mystery author signs a contract to write two amateur sleuth mysteries for a publisher. The publisher may include in the contract an option for the first right of refusal for the next mystery the author writes.

At first glance, this may sound fair. But the mystery author may want to grow her career by writing for more than one publisher. However, this option clause - the next mystery the author writes - is so broad it ties the mystery author to this one publisher indefinitely. The mystery author's options may be better served with a more restrictive option, something along the lines of, "The publisher has the first right of refusal of the author's next amateur sleuth mystery." That way, if the author wants to submit to multiple houses, she could write a cosy mystery or a mystery with romantic elements and not be in breach of her existing contract.

Reprint rights: The only thing I'd like to recommend about reprint rights is that a term limit is placed on these rights. Let's say the book you've sold to your publisher sells well, but you know it could do better. Publisher support was good, but it wasn't great. Or the cover was nice, but it didn't "wow" you.

Scenario one - The contract you signed specified you'd get the rights to your book back in four or five years. At that time, you take the story to another publisher. That publisher is even more enthusiastic about the material than your first publisher. They repackage it, give it a bigger push and, lo and behold, the sales are even stronger than with the book's original printing. Everyone's happy.

Scenario two - The contract you signed doesn't give you your rights back. The publisher insists they've done all they could to promote your story. Despite your best efforts, the story doesn't catch on with readers. Your book withers and dies on the vine.

Which scenario would you prefer?


Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Black Authors & Black History Month

It's that time of the year again. The time when black authors get the kind of attention we don't usually get during the rest of the year. . .Black History Month.

Author Tayari Jones has an excellent essay in lastest issue of The Believer Magazine entitled Symbolism & Cynicism: On Being A Writer During Black History Month, where she discusses the inevitable invitations that she receives to speak during Black History Month and the conflicting feelings that come with these invitations.

USA Today highlights author James McBride's new novel Song Yet Sung and Louis Gates Jr.'s African-American National Biography.

The Brown Bookshelf is shining the spotlight on Children's and Young Adult authors and illustrators every day this month with their 28 Days Later Black History Month Celebration.

And lastly, I will be doing a Q & A and book signing on February 21st from 6:30-8:30 pm at the Dayton View Branch of the Dayton Public Library.


Monday, February 04, 2008

More on contracts

Last week, we chatted about the importance of reviewing publishing contracts before signing them. Eugenia O'Neal was kind enough to share her suggestions. Eugenia recommended asking other authors and lawyers, and searching Web sites for contract information. All great suggestions, Eugenia. Thank you again.

Crime Sistah Persia Walker agreed with Eugenia's recommendation to contact a lawyer. She also directed us to the Authors Guild. Thanks, Persia.

One of the benefits of belonging to the Authors Guild is that members receive free contract reviews from its Legal Services Department. The Guild's Web site,, includes contract tips as well.

Science Fiction Writers of America's Web site,, includes samples of model contracts as well as helpful comments about specific contract clauses. Mystery Writers of America's contract page offers a link to the SFWA's contract page.

Some literary agents are attorneys or partner with attorneys to review publishing contracts. These are things you may want to keep in mind when choosing an agent.

In any event, it's a good idea to do as much research regarding contracts as you can. The more you know, the more involved you can be in guiding your career. The more confidence you'll have in addressing issues such as option clauses, basket accounting and reprint rights.

What are these issues/terms, you ask? Well, I've got to save something for next week's conversation. ;)

One last thing; I participate on a group MySpace page of Ohio romance authors, We're sponsoring a Valentine's Day contest starting today and running through Valentine's Day. We're picking a winner from people who comment any time between now and Valentine's Day. I've pasted the prize list below. If you get a chance, I hope you'll stop by.


Ohio Romance Authors Valentine's Contest prizes:
Lori Foster: Cafepress T-shirt and Tote bag; print book - Hard to Handle, print book - SERVANT: The Awakening.
Donna MacMeans: Print book - The Education of Mrs. Brimley
Alison Paige: free download - Witch Lore
Becky Barker: Print book - Chameleons
Kay Stockham: Print book - Another Man's Baby
Sophia Rae: Print book - A Stranger’s Bed
Jayne Rylon: ebook - Picture Perfect
Anne Rainey: Suni’s Gift; Haley’s Cabin
Jamie Denton: Remain Silent; My Guilty Pleasure; Coffee Mug
Patricia Sargeant: Print book – On Fire; Godiva chocolates
Saralee Etter: Print book - A Limited Engagement
Marcia James: Stuffed dog with downloadable book – At Her Command
Dianne Castell: Hot & Bothered tote bag and Arc
Erin McCarthy: Print book: High Stakes
Carol Ann Erhardt: Print book – Foxfire
Rosemary Laurey: Book bag and print book, Midnight Lover.
Madelaine Oh: T-shirt
Sandy Wickersham-McWhorter: Print book – Cottonwoodplace
Jenna Petersen: Print book – Everything Forbidden, and bound ARC – Lessons from a Courtesan (in March when ARCs arrive.)
Jacki Bentley: CD book – Horseman’s Heritage

Friday, February 01, 2008


The other day a friend told me a story that led me to remark on his sense of hearing. His aural acuity seems to have actually gotten stronger as he's gotten older. "Odd," I said. "Isn't it usually the other way around?" He agreed but said he thought it had to do with his failing eyesight. His hearing had developed to compensate for his decreasing ability to see.

Hmm ...

That led to a general discussion about differently he and I "see" the world. My eyesight is pretty terrible, too -- always has been -- but I tend to have a very strong sense of smell. It didn't used to be that way. As a child, I never noticed odors, but as I grew older and my eyesight worsened, my sense of smell bettered. It also got a jump when I was carrying my daughter. I could smell certain restaurant chains two blocks away. The sensitivity was so strong that I'd have to run in the opposite direction. My sense of taste was very acute then, too. I couldn't stand the taste of packaged sweets because I swore I could taste every lab-concocted chemical they contained. Yuck!

What does all this have to do with writing? It has to do with characterization.

There are so many ways to differentiate your characters, to make them memorable -- an odd name, an accent. Obviously, a character's driving motive or overarching concern will define him, too. But one of the most overlooked, and simplest, ways of delineating characters is the use of the basic five senses.

Make one character acutely sensitive to sounds; another to textures; and another to taste. One character walks into a room and notes the background noises: the television or radio playing in an unseen room, the sound of a truck going by outside, the cry of an infant in a neighboring apartment. Another character walks into the same room, nervously stroking her dress because it's made of velvet and the softness of its texture makes her at ease. She prefers steel to wood or vice versa. She chooses her husband's jackets as much because of the way they feel under her fingertips as how they hang on his shoulders. A third character has a sensitive palette, so sensitive that he can not only taste bitterness in food, but "taste" it in the air.

Most of us, whether we realize it or not, depend upon one or two senses more than the other three. Why not use that fact as an easy way of setting your characters apart?

Taking it a bit further, you can also use this to define your spaces, your settings. Some places are overwhelmingly loud; others hit you first because of the odors (a fish market, for example). What's very interesting about this, however, is the interaction between the objective description of a setting and a character's perception of it. I live in the city so I rarely notice its noise, for example. However, when my friends from the suburbs visit, it's the first thing they comment on, even feel overwhelmed by.

Many times, writers wrack their brains trying to find ways to describe or delineate a character or place. Using the five senses is one of the easiest ways to do it.

Wishing you day after day of happy writing,


Persia Walker

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