To Asia and Home Again!

This week sees me at home after what has to be the trip of a lifetime! Twenty-eight days in Japan, China and Thailand, with a schedule that still boggles my mind. 17 cities, 13 flights, 3 rivers and several canal boat rides. We saw silkworms eating mulberry leaves and rugs being woven from the resulting silk, jade carvers making the impressive ball-within-a-ball carvings, cloisonné workers applying intricate colors to vases and other enamelware, had tea with an artist who paints miniature scenes inside bottles, visited the home of one of the millions of people displaced by the massive Three Gorges Dam project and stared in fascination at the giant pandas in the Chongqing zoo (I wanted to hug one, but they wouldn’t let me).

We ascended over halfway to the top of Mount Fuji in Japan, climbed the Great Wall and saw the Three Gorges Dam in China, sailed four days on the Yangtze River, sailed the spectacular Li River surrounded by unending ranges of steep mountains, watched performances by the Beijing Opera, Chinese acrobats, and an awesome Thai stage show with live elephants walking the aisles through the audience! There was so much, it would take an entire book to tell it all. Knowing me, you can guess that I managed to find quite a few plot ideas and locales to use for future stories. Stay tuned!

Of course, as you know from reading my books, food is an ever-important theme with me and I had to wonder—could I handle Asian food for 28 straight days? Answer is—yes! I loved it, and even now, after being home only four days I think I could go out for Chinese again. (although I will admit that we popped out for McDonald’s a couple of times for lunches, just to get a taste of home).
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Holding a black egg from the Hakone district in Japan.
Here are some fun food facts that I learned during the trip:

 - Would you eat a black egg? Near the base of Mt. Fuji, in the Hakone district, there are sulfur springs hot enough to boil eggs. When the eggs are cooked in this water for about an hour, the shells become black and chalky-looking but the egg inside is hard-boiled and delicious. We ate them!

 - In China’s restaurants nearly all meals are served family style with a large lazy-susan in the middle of the table. Dishes are brought out throughout the meal and since dinner plates are tiny, you start serving yourself immediately and eating as the food comes. Sometimes three entrees will arrive, then soup, later comes the rice … no particular order … often a dozen dishes or more. We noted that watermelon is the favored dessert so we learned that the meal wasn’t over until the watermelon slices showed up.

 - When KFC first opened in China people were so impressed that they dressed up to go there, men in ties and women in dresses, and it was the place of choice for special occasions.

- Parents in China tell their kids to clean their plates because there are starving kids in America! (this brought howls of laughter from us when our guide told us; guess we Americans aren’t the first to think up this means of convincing our kids to finish their dinner!)

- Would you do something for all the tea in China?—careful, China grows over a million tons a year. Did you know that white tea, green tea, and black tea all come from the same plant? The difference is in which leaves are picked and at what stage. We went to a tea farm and learned how to properly pick the delicate leaves for white and green tea, then we were treated to a tea ceremony where we tasted several varieties.

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Here I am picking tea leaves at the tea farm.

Readers Want to Know!

Patty asks if Samantha Sweet’s daughter, Kelly, and Julio might become a couple, or do I have anyone else in mind for Kelly?

A. Well, I can’t honestly say that I ever thought of Kelly and Julio as a romance, but you never know…. She’s been a little rebellious in the past and the tattooed biker might put Beau on edge if Julio were to come into the family. On the other hand, since Sam already knows and likes Julio, it might spark up the plot if Kelly chooses someone else, a man Sam would have a problem with. Boyfriend troubles are always a good way to add tension to a story. What do you think—should Kelly have a boyfriend sometime soon or not?

Keep the questions coming!

If you have a question you're dying to know the answer to, email me! One lucky person will be featured in my next newsletter.
connie@connieshelton.com

 
 
New! Charlie Parker is back in book #15, Legends Can Be Murder – Pre-order it Now!

I’m excited to announce that November 15 is the release date for the next Charlie book. Legends Can Be Murder was a lot of fun to write. You may remember a hint dropped in the last book, where Drake has agreed to take a summer job in Alaska—well, this is it!

Charlie goes along and the two of them are working for a tour company called Gold Trail Adventures in Skagway; they will be piloting guests into the Alaskan wilderness to stay in cabins and try their luck searching for gold. Right away, one of the guests finds a set of bones in a cave, human remains that have obviously been in that spot for decades. The police chief has more to do than track down 40-year-old missing person reports so he leaves that task to Charlie and her new reporter friend, Mina.

Meanwhile, the world of the 1890’s Gold Rush comes alive for Charlie when she discovers a box of old letters from one of the hopeful stampeders to his wife back in San Francisco. The closer she gets to answers about the mysterious bones, the more it appears that someone in present-day Skagway will do almost anything to stop her.

You can pre-order the e-book or paperback at Amazon, Kobo and Apple. Clicking Pre-order gets you on the list to receive yours on the day of release. Your credit card is not charged until the book is delivered to you.


Working Beneath The Squirrel Super-Highway

It’s autumn and the critters here at our mountain home are busy, busy, busy! Sitting at my desk I kept hearing a thump-clatter-clatter above my head. Wondering what on earth was going on I started watching. 

An ambitious little family of squirrels have devised a pathway from our blue spruce trees in the front yard, which are full of cones at the moment … across the railing around our deck … a leap to the big ponderosa pine outside my office window, through the branches of the tree … another leap to the roof above my office (that big old thump!) … down the steeply pitched roof and another jump into the tree between our house and the neighbor’s. 

I lost track of them after that, but I suspect the neighbor’s wood pile might be concealing several thousand pine cones by now. And now you know just one of the many little distractions that a writer uses to avoid having to come up with a new plot idea!


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This little guy stopped on the railing for a bite to eat.
Readers Ask: 

Q. Edel in Ireland asks if I have a favorite time or place to write, and wonders how I keep track of my story ideas.

A. Great question, Edel! I tend to be a morning person and I find it easiest to start my writing day by getting up early, making my first cup of tea, and getting right to my word processing program (avoiding email, as that can really distract me). I write on a laptop, usually at my desk, usually with papers, notebooks, plot outline and dictionary spread out around me. I write as non-stop as possible for 2-3 hours, then I’ll take break to look at the morning’s emails, have some breakfast, go for a walk with my husband. After that, I’m back at the manuscript for another 3-4 hours. Afternoons are usually devoted to answering fan mail, book promotional activities, or just taking care of business. By evening I’m usually reading for fun (I read 1-2 books a week just for pleasure) or relaxing in front of the TV with hubby (we’ve recently become hooked on the series Fringe). Even when otherwise occupied, I always keep a little notepad and pen at my side, which leads me to …

Keeping track of story ideas—I never rely on memory. If a great idea comes to me I write it down as quickly as possible. I have an “Ideas” folder that is full of little scraps, newspaper clippings, photos, plus several composition books with the beginnings of plots—whatever has sparked an idea at some point in time. I just went through that folder last week, mining for ideas to include in the next Charlie Parker book, and came across notes that have been in there since the early ’90s and ones I added as recently as last week. 

When I taught writing classes and in my online course, Novel In A Weekend, I have always encouraged my students to keep such a folder. You may never use some of them, but then again better to have too many ideas than to face a blank page or screen with no clue what to do about it.


This Month’s E-Reader Winner!

Scott in Virginia was drawn as September’s winner. He chose a $100 gift card, since he and his wife already have e-readers and his whole family loves to read. Great choice, Scott, and thanks for being a subscriber!

What People are Saying!

"I love this series. As always an interesting story with many different intertwined happenings. Characters are believable and you find yourself caring about them. Sam and Beau are a great team. Had trouble putting it down! Get yourself a comfy chair, something to drink and make the time to read it all!"  
-Eileen about Sweet Somethings on Amazon
 
 
Publishing, as an industry, as been on a real roller-coaster ride in recent years. I've followed the news avidly, since I've been involved on one level or another in the book business for over 25 years now. I've been a writer, a publisher, an editor, a writing teacher, and a bookstore owner. Each of these roles has provided me some new and valuable piece of the great puzzle that is bookselling--moving books from a mere idea in the writer's mind to a page that a reader will enjoy to the fullest.

Now, anyone who follows my newsletter already knows that I am a huge fan of e-books--lower cost, instant delivery, availability of an author's backlist titles--there are so many reasons. BUT, I am still and always will be a fan of printed books too. I love my local library and support them wholeheartedly. I love browsing a bookstore (many of whom are now offering e-books, did you know?). What I'm saying is that I doubt any true lover of books is going to give up printed books altogether, even if we love our Kindles and Kobos and Nooks and iPads.

It was with great interest this week that I did a little catching up on the news in the retail bookstore end of things. And the news is great! After a few years of doom-and-gloom predictions, the number of independent bookstores has actually increased over the past couple of years. Part of the reason might be because there are fewer major chain stores now, with the closing of Borders, but all the dire predictions about how e-books would put bookstores out of business have just not materialized.

So . . . what's the new, big, exciting news in the last few months for booksellers? The major book wholesalers, Ingram and Baker & Taylor, have recently changed some of their terms and practices to allow bookstores to easily order titles of independent writers (I'm one of those) and small presses. This was not always the case, as I discovered during the years I owned a retail bookstore.

If you are a bookseller, this is a huge development. There has always been big frustration for those who wanted to carry a wider variety of titles but were unable to find them through wholesalers. Now, even POD books are available to you at favorable terms.

If you are a writer, it means there is a greater chance that your books will find space on the shelves. At the very least, it means that your fans can go into their favorite shop and request your book.

And if you are a reader (aren't we all?), hallelujah--you can go into your local store and ask for the book you want, even if it's an older title, and chances are very good that bookseller can get it for you.

I'm thrilled about this. In my days as a bookstore owner I worked with both of the major wholesalers and found it frustrating at times that I couldn't order certain books--for instance, the older titles of an author who was coming for a signing, or a self-published book that had gotten great reviews. I could buy it at retail from another store and sell it at a loss, but that hardly pays the rent. Having both major wholesalers bring the titles of lesser-known authors to your neighborhood bookstore can only be a good thing!

I say hurrah for the changes in the publishing industry in the past few years, because in the long run it's really about writers and readers meeting up. In an industry that has, in many ways, put roadblocks between writers and readers we are now seeing a much clearer path and a lot more interaction. I love it!

And, on that note, I'd like to add my personal thanks to every reader who has bought my books. I know there are millions of choices for you, and I am truly grateful when you choose me, whether you prefer a printed book or an e-book--thank you!!
 
 
Hard to believe it's September already---wasn't it spring the last time I turned around? Every year seems to fly by faster (am I getting older, or what?). But I have to say that I truly love the way I spend my time, mainly writing!

2012 again sees three new titles--Sweet Hearts and Bitter Sweet in the Samantha Sweet series and a new Charlie Parker, Phantoms Can Be Murder. That means a fair amount of time where I've been closed away in my office, pecking away at the computer. During the evenings when I'm not writing or editing my own work, of course I love to read. Some favorites this year: the Flavia de Luce series by Alan Bradley, several stand-alone books by Ruth Rendell . . . and a bunch more. Have also watched Downton Abbey (don't you love that series?), several seasons of A Touch of Frost  and am now getting into Foyle's War, another British TV series.

Obviously, I am on a real British mystery kick this year, including in my own writing. Shortly after the release of Phantoms I was lucky enough to again travel to the small Suffolk town of Bury St. Edmunds, the locale of the book. I visited the bookstores and watched the Olympic Torch pass through. Visit my Facebook page to see some pictures of locations featured in the book, including the Angel Hotel (Charles Dickens stayed there!) and the cemetery at St. Mary's Church, a shortcut where Charlie had to walk late one night.

For anyone who fears that Charlie strayed too far from New Mexico, don't worry. She and Drake will be back at home next time. Of course (not to give away anything in the story...) it looks like they may be flying their helicopter in Alaska sometime in the future too!

People often ask if it's hard to come up with enough ideas to keep two series going. Actually, I have more ideas than I have time to write them all down. The next two books in each of my series are already bobbing around in my head, and when there's time . . . I actually have another new series in mind. If only I could invent the 48 hour day!

Meanwhile, enjoy the lovely autumn weather and stay in touch!
Happy reading,
Connie
 
 
Wow--unbelievable that the first three months of 2012 are almost gone! I've stayed so busy that it's been a blur. As my newsletter subscribers have already heard, there have been family events--my daughter got married in January, my father celebrates his 85th birthday this month . . . I introduced the 4th Samantha Sweet book (Sweet Hearts) in late January and the Valentine themed story has brought a lot of new readers into the fold. Thank you to all my readers for spreading the word and introducing their friends to Charlie, to Samantha, and to me!

As I write this post, I am deep in the middle of the next Charlie Parker book. There is still much work to do on it, but I'm excited to say that so far we are on track for publication by late spring or early summer. I will keep you posted!

Meanwhile, my novel writing course continues to do well, and I'm thrilled that so many new writers are starting work on their own book ideas.

I hope the first quarter of the year has gone well for you and your family, as well. I think often of my readers and how much it means to me that you are there. A post now and then on my blog isn't really sufficient to express my deep gratitude. But please know that I am so grateful for your purchases and so happy when I hear from you. I try to personally answer each and every email--stay in touch!
 
 
This has been an incredible year and I'm feeling somewhat dizzied by how lucky I've been. I've met so many new readers (I'm SO appreciative of your comments about my books!), and I spent all summer writing and hoping to live up to your expectations with new stories.

The newest Samantha book, Sweet Holidays, just went live today on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords in all e-book formats. The print version is on CreateSpace and will soon be just a click away through the other bookselling sites as well, plus being available to any bookstore where you might want to order it. My home page has the links.

And . . . this past week has been a milestone for my Charlie Parker series. Amazon's promotional efforts resulted in sales of nearly 30,000 books in one short week, propelling the first Charlie title into the #1 ranking in Mysteries/Women Sleuths, the #1 spot in Thrillers/Suspense, and the #6 spot in Kindle books overall. I literally had to catch my breath when I read those stats. And it's all because of the wonderful folks who buy and read my books. You guys are awesome!

As we head into winter, I hope Sweet Holidays will bring the holiday spirit to readers and that you will have fun with Sam and Beau and the whole crew at Sweet's Sweets. Enjoy the treats, savor an extra piece of chocolate, and know that I count you as a special blessing in my life.
 
 
My July newsletter just went out today, announcing this month's Kindle winner and a few more things (if you didn't receive your copy, click here to sign up).

Since summer is such a favorite time for kicking back and reading, I thought I would include some ideas for finding more of those fun summer reads.

I've recently come across a new mystery newsletter, AllMystery! email newsletter. The editor is, herself, a mystery writer and she is doing a great job of getting the word out about new books. The newsletter features both big-name bestsellers and newer authors that you may not already know about. Each issue follows a theme (the current one is PI's and Police; future ones will include Murder at Work and Christmas Cozies). Click this link to read the current issue and to sign up to receive AllMystery! every month.

Among the other great websites that feature books and book discussion, visit Goodreads, Shelfari and Library Thing. I love getting updates from people I have "friended" on those sites because I get such great ideas for new books I want to read.

On my own Facebook page I posed the question: What are you reading now? I'd love to hear from you. Click on over there and let me know. Or follow me on Twitter @connieshelton


 
 
Last month I mentioned in my blog that several agents had suggested that I stop writing my Charlie Parker series and write something else, under a different name. A reader questioned why those in the publishing world would suggest such a thing, and I thought that would be a great topic for this month's post.

First, a little background: Publishing is a strange business. I don't know any other way to say it. Traditional New York publishing is now owned by six large corporations and publishing decisions are driven almost completely by sales numbers. It doesn't help that so many independent bookstores have gone under, in the face of overwhelming competition from chain stores and online sellers. The large chains set up sales models which were monitored by a very few buyers in a central location. Computer reports dictated what the stores would stock and this largely determined the fate of an author.

The way a book moved through the system was based on advance "buzz" about the title. If big advertising dollars were going to be put behind a title, the chains could justify ordering multiple copies for each of their stores. Publishers paid tens of thousands of dollars for placement of those books at the front of the store (don't think for a minute that some bookstore employee just takes a look through the stock and starts sticking books on shelves and tables---it's all very carefully planned), and that money was spent on the "name" authors and titles.

Okay, so what happens is that First Time Author writes a book and it gets published. Let's say there is a good amount of buzz, some positive reviews, and the author has planned a little signing tour (for all but the top ten or so bestseller list writers, all this is done at the author's expense). First Time Author's book does okay. For the sake of argument, we'll say that it sells 10,000 copies in the first two months. That's not bad. But by then new books are coming along, and the bookstores are allowed to return unsold stock to the publishers (a VERY weird business practice, in my opinion, but that's how it is in publishing). So, maybe 2,000 copies get returned, for a net sales total of 8,000 books.

The author has written book #2 and it comes out a year later. But this one doesn't get quite the buzz of the first. Face it, everyone loves the concept of discovering that fresh new voice! So, this time the chain stores look at their records and see that the author's first book didn't sell out, so they order even fewer copies of the second book--say, 5,000 total. These most certainly won't get placed on a table at the front and, buried among 50,000 other books, will likely not get noticed at all unless the author has really pushed hard for this one. So, probably half of Book #2 get returned and the publisher is thinking this is an author who is definitely on his way out the door. If they give the author a chance at a third, fourth or fifth book, it will almost be a miracle. The computer doesn't lie, and that computer is telling everyone in the publishing world that this author is a loser.

The author still wants to write. There are fans who still want to read their books. But the publisher and the stores are no longer interested. So, if the author is still on good terms with his/her agent after all this, the agent may recommend writing a whole new series or genre and submitting it under a different name.

So, that's the strange world of publishing.

Now, I must say that my own case was not quite this bleak. I was lucky to be with a smaller press in the beginning and they stuck with me through ten books. But when my original publisher changed hands and the interest seriously began to wane I just didn't have the sales to make an agent or a bigger publishing house jump for joy. That's when I began to get those suggestions from agents.

Making a long story just a little bit longer...I came to the realization that the group who were really being left out were my readers. People wanted more Charlie books and I was  determined not to quit writing them.

Enter the new realm of e-books, printing presses designed to fill demand as needed--and I was on my way! Now I can write as much as I'm capable of, and I can get them out to the people who want them. To me, it's about the relationship between author and reader. Period. As long as I can come up with fresh plot ideas, and as long as you are out there wanting new books I'll be here!
 
 
It's always so exciting for me when I've finished a new book and know it's coming out soon. My newest Charlie book, Stardom Can Be Murder, was slated for early May release but I've learned that a couple of sales outlets have gotten on it even more quickly. So, I'm having a hard time waiting to tell everyone.

Yes, there will be a paperback version. Yes, the ebook version will be out there to all sales outlets very soon... Meanwhile, for my readers who've been asking about it, Stardom is already showing up on these sites in ebook versions:

Kindle version

Sony, iPad, Kobo and others

Thanks to everyone who has encouraged me to keep writing this series. And a huge thanks to everyone who has recommended my books to their friends and posted such wonderful comments online. I couldn't do it without you!!

Happy Reading!
Connie
 
 
I guess there are several reasons why readers gravitate toward mysteries. There was some discussion of this recently among members of a writers group I belong to, Sisters In Crime, and the consensus really went along with all the reasons I've personally found the mystery genre so satisfying and fun to read.

1. Mysteries give us the sense that justice prevails. A crime happens, the sleuth follows the clues, the bad guys are caught and put away. Since real life often doesn't give us that satisfaction, finding resolution in fiction meets one of our basic needs.

2. Mystery readers love series. Unlike many other fiction genres, with mysteries we get to stay with a set of characters we like. Sometimes it's a location that appeals to us. Often the protagonist's profession is one that we find interesting. As we get to know those fictional folks and learn more about them, we develop a bond. Multiple literary agents over the years told me that I should drop Charlie after the first few books and start writing something new. But when I talked to readers they were appalled. They wanted Charlie and Drake and the whole gang to stick around. Well, guess who was more important to me?---My readers!

3. Readers often look for the bits of the story that come from the author's life. Many authors draw from their own experiences in creating their fictional worlds--be it the police department, the hospital, the courtroom or some other career. In my case, the whole world of helicopter operations comes out of my own life. My husband is that handsome helicopter pilot and his work inspired many of the situations in my books.

A lot of my own work experience before I began writing full-time was in accounting, so it was a natural to use that as Charlie's profession. At an earlier point in my life I decorated cakes and sold them for extra spending money--that became the basis for Samantha Sweet's career in my new series (okay, that and my obsessive love of all things chocolate!).

Now that you know which parts are real, I guess I need to state for the record that there are many parts of the books that are completely made up. I've never fired a gun at a person; I've never seen an up-close dead body that wasn't first prepped by a funeral home; I've never been brave enough to go chasing down bad guys. Probably at least 80% of Charlie's adventures come right out of my head.

But maybe that brings us to another thing readers love about mysteries. We get to live a lot of those outside-the-box experiences without really having to put our own necks on the line.
 
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    Author

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