Writing

Cover image for Tales from the Annexe

Just Released: Tales from the Annexe

Seven stories from Audrey Driscoll’s Herbert West Series…

The Nexus A 101-year-old professor reminisces about about his most memorable—and dangerous—student, Herbert West.

Fox and Glove To win a bet with his friend Alma, librarian Charles Milburn needs information from a dead man. But first he has to convince Herbert West to help him obtain it.

From the Annexe As if a relationship with a part-time necromancer isn’t complicated enough, what if it were more than friendship?

A Visit to Luxor On a climb up a hill near Luxor, Egypt, Francis Dexter and Andre Boudreau encounter bandits and supernatural entities.

One of the Fourteen A chance meeting in a pub brings Dr. Francis Dexter into a perilous realm between life and death.

The Night Journey of Francis Dexter Determined to confess one of Herbert West’s worst crimes to the victim’s son, Francis Dexter is subjected to a terrible revenge.

The Final Deadline of A.G. Halsey Nearing the end of her life, newspaperwoman Alma Halsey struggles to figure out what really happened to her granddaughter in Luxor, Egypt, and to warn her of threats to her heart and soul.

…and seven tales of illusions, delusions, and mysteries on the edges of logic

Welcome to the Witch House As if moving into a dump of a haunted house isn’t bad enough, Frank Elwood discovers conceited math student Walter Gilman is already living there, for his own peculiar reasons.

The Deliverer of Delusions Miranda Castaigne gives up her romantic life with artistic ex-pats in Paris to discover the truth about her eccentric brother’s death in a New York City insane asylum.

The Ice Cream Truck from Hell Friends Will and Doof investigate a mysterious ice cream truck that cruises their town at night.

The Colour of Magic Things get weird when the tenant in Marc’s basement suite insists on painting her bedroom with a very special paint.

A Howling in the Woods When Doug’s son Todd keeps playing a recording he’d made in the woods, of a strange howling sound, Doug orders him out of the truck—and into those woods.

The Glamour Fifteen-year-old Ann, convinced she was switched at birth with the daughter of a wealthy family, sneaks into their home on the evening of a celebration.

The Blue Rose Deon the Fabricator’s obsession with creating a blue rose leads him to make a perilous journey to the Blasted Lands. His childhood friend Luna of the City Guard undertakes a search for him and learns hard truths about love and duty.

Cover image for Tales from the Annexe

The pre-order price of $0.99 has been extended, but only for a short time!

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open book against blue sky with white clouds

Who Are Your Readers?

Warning: this is a mild rant. A rantlet, if you prefer.

I’m speaking as a fiction writer here. I know the situation is different for nonfiction. And yes, I have opined on this topic before. I just checked.

But I’m going to revisit it anyway. Here goes–

Writers are constantly advised to identify their reader demographic so they can direct their promotional efforts accurately.

What is a demographic, anyway? It’s a group defined by factors such as age, sex, ethnicity, education, geographic location, and interests.

For a writer, it’s the people who have bought your books and enjoyed them, with the assumption that they have other characteristics (age, sex, etc.) in common. But can you find out enough about the individuals who have ordered your book online or bought it in a bookstore to discern a demographic? Some (but not all) readers may leave a positive review at a site where you can track them down and find those details. Stalking, anyone?

Even an author who sells books in person at an event (not likely now!) can form only a limited idea of their “market.” Age and sex, that’s about all you can discern visually. And what if your buyers are both old and young, men and women? Is an author supposed to interview them as part of the sales transaction, to winkle out their occupations and interests? Salespeople in bookstores certainly never do that.

Or maybe you write books specifically intended to be bought, read, and enjoyed by a defined group — men aged between 30 and 59 who like golf, for example. How do you know if you succeed? What if people outside that group like your books more than the ones inside it? That golf-loving dude may be the ideal reader you imagined while writing, but what if young women who hate golf like your book? Is that failure on your part? Should you tailor your next book for the golf-hating young woman market?

Even if you manage to collect demographic information about some of your readers, I’m certain you won’t have complete details about every one of them. How does incomplete or inaccurate information help your marketing efforts?

I have to admit, this piece of advice, which I see often, mystifies and annoys me. The only way I know a specific person has bought, read, and liked one of my books is if they tell me, either in person, in a comment on my blog, or in a review. Even then, it’s not always possible to discern an individual behind an avatar or internet persona. Rightly or wrongly, I have only the vaguest idea of my reader demographic. (Hey — some of you folks reading this post are part of it!)

Yes, I know social media is somehow supposed to be the answer. But I just read a piece of advice saying authors should direct their social media efforts to their target market, which assumes we already know what it is.

At that point, I sat down and wrote this rant.

Maybe I’m missing something obvious. Has anyone identified their reader demographic in a useful way? Does anyone have a target market, apart from “children,” “teens,” or “adults?” How do you obtain the necessary data about your readers?

If you want to join my reader demographic, you may be interested in my latest book. It’s available at the pre-order price for only a few more days. And it’s now also available as a paperback.

Cover image for Tales from the Annexe

Available at a special pre-order price of $0.99 USD (or equivalent) from these Amazon outlets
US UK CA AU DE

Featured image by Kranich17 from Pixabay

New Book: Liars and Thieves by D. Wallace Peach

I’m delighted to announce a new book by the gifted and prolific author D. Wallace Peach: Liars and Thieves (Book One of Unraveling the Veil)

Behind the Veil, the hordes gather, eager to savage the world. But Kalann il Drakk, First of Chaos, is untroubled by the shimmering wall that holds his beasts at bay. For if he cannot cleanse the land of life, the races will do it for him. All he needs is a spark to light the fire.

Three unlikely allies stand in his way.

A misfit elf plagued by failure—
When Elanalue Windthorn abandons her soldiers to hunt a goblin, she strays into forbidden territory.

A changeling who betrays his home—
Talin Raska is a talented liar, thief, and spy. He makes a fatal mistake—he falls for his mark.

A halfbreed goblin with deadly secrets—
Naj’ar is a loner with a talent he doesn’t understand and cannot control, one that threatens all he holds dear.

When the spark of Chaos ignites, miners go missing. But they won’t be the last to vanish. As the cycles of blame whirl through the Borderland, old animosities flare, accusations break bonds, and war looms.

Three outcasts, thrust into an alliance by fate, by oaths, and the churning gears of calamity, must learn the truth. For they hold the future of their world in their hands.

Purchase Liars and Thieves HERE

A question for Diana– What was the biggest challenge for writing this story?

Probably making sure that the magic system was consistent and made sense. In the past, my magic system has been very limited (an amulet, a magic book, a single unique skill). This series was much broader with each race having specific skills that vary in individuals. And the skills grow. It’s tricky to make the magic appear logical as well as limited enough that it doesn’t solve every problem.


D. Wallace Peach started writing later in life after the kids were grown and a move left her with hours to fill. Years of working in business surrendered to a full-time indulgence in the imaginative world of books, and when she started writing, she was instantly hooked. Diana lives in a log cabin amongst the tall evergreens and emerald moss of Oregon’s rainforest with her husband, two dogs, bats, owls, and the occasional family of coyotes.

Connect with Diana:
Website/Blog: http://mythsofthemirror.com
Website/Books: http://dwallacepeachbooks.com
Amazon Author’s Page: https://www.amazon.com/D.-Wallace-Peach/e/B00CLKLXP8
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Myths-of-the-Mirror/187264861398982
Twitter: @dwallacepeach

Images for Tales from the Annexe

Pictures for Several Thousand Words, Part 2

Pictures for Several Thousand Words, Part 1, with images for stories from the Herbert West Series, may be found here.

The first two speculative fiction stories in Tales from the Annexe predate my acquaintance with Canva, so I did not have images for them when I began putting this post together. I decided to do something about that, and I am pleased with the results.

Image for Welcome to the Witch House story
As if moving into a dump of a haunted house isn’t bad enough, earnest Frank Elwood discovers conceited math student Walter Gilman already living there, for his own peculiar reasons.
Image for The Deliverer of Delusions story
Miranda Castaigne gives up her romantic life with artistic ex-pats in Paris to discover the truth about her eccentric brother’s death in a New York City lunatic asylum.
Friends Will and Doof investigate a mysterious ice cream truck that cruises their town at night.
Image for The Colour of Magic story
Things get weird when the tenant in Marc’s basement suite insists on painting her bedroom with a very special paint.
Image for A Howling in the Woods story
When Doug’s son Todd keeps playing a recording he’d made in the woods, of a strange howling sound, Doug orders him out of the truck–and into those woods.
Image for The Glamour story
Fifteen-year-old Ann, convinced she was switched at birth with the daughter of a wealthy family, sneaks into their home on the evening of a party.
Image for The Blue Rose story
Deon the Fabricator’s obsession with creating a blue rose leads him to make a perilous journey to the Blasted Lands. His childhood friend, Luna of the City Guard, undertakes a search for him and learns hard truths about love and duty.

Cover image for Tales from the Annexe

Available at a special pre-order price of $0.99 USD (or equivalent) from these Amazon outlets
US UK CA AU DE

Cover image for Tales from the Annexe

New Book: Tales from the Annexe

Tales from the Annexe, a collection of fourteen stories, is now available for pre-order.

Seven stories from the world of Audrey Driscoll’s Herbert West Series, followed by seven other tales of illusions, delusions, and mysteries from the edges of logic.

Discover Herbert West’s connections to Egypt, and how a dead man can help solve a mystery.
Share Charles Milburn’s ruminations as he explores another dimension of his friendship with Herbert.
Experience the horror of a long-anticipated revenge.
Sample the treats on offer from the ice cream truck from Hell.
Ride along with a dad who abandons his ten-year-old son in the woods where something howls.
Find out why a woman paints her bedroom a very special colour.
Accompany fifteen-year-old Ann as she tries to prove she belongs to the glamorous family on the other side of town.

These and other curious encounters may be found in this annexe to the ordinary.

Available at a special pre-order price of $0.99 USD (or equivalent) from these Amazon outlets
US UK CA AU DE

Cover image for Tales from the Annexe
Perennials in the front garden, notably Rose Campion (Lychnis coronaria)

Gone for a While

I will be skipping my usual posts for a few weeks while I wrestle hoses and watering cans in the garden, and unruly words and formatting challenges at my desk.

I’ll return clutching a soon-to-be-published story collection, about which I’ll have lots to say in the next few months.

(Actually, I just wanted a reason to feature this photo of my garden gate.)

Side gate between front and back gardens with fern and peach-leaved bellflower

Enjoy the days, be they hazy, crazy, or lazy!

Last Chance for Free

The four stories I’ve called Supplements to the Herbert West Series are free on Smashwords for one more week, until July 31st.

After that date, they will vanish. I will be unpublishing them as separate titles. Re-edited and reformatted, they will reappear later this year as part of a collection called Tales from the Annexe.

In addition to the four Supplements, the collection will include three newly-written spin-off stories from the HW Series and seven other tales. More about that later.

But wait — there’s more! All four ebooks of the Herbert West Series and its sequel, She Who Comes Forth, are at half price for the duration of Smashwords’ Summer/Winter Sale.

My copy of Islands of the Gulf Volume 1, The Journey and my glasses

Rule-Quibbling and the Science of Reading

Any writer who follows blogs has seen advice that certain words “stop” your reader: adverbs, “weak” words, “filter words.” Dialogue tags other than “said.” The word “that.” The word “was.” Writers carry out search and delete missions in their documents, hunting down these toxic words. No one wants to take a chance of alienating a reader.

As some of you know, I am a self-declared rule quibbler. Not that I’m a fan of bad writing, but when I read these sermons from the blog, I wonder what evidence supports their declarations. Has anyone carried out a scientific study of reading and how readers actually process written fiction?

Book sales may be taken as an indicator of effective writing, but as most of us know, buying a book does not necessarily equal reading it or enjoying it. Maybe sales are more an indicator of effective marketing than of brilliant writing.

There are peer-reviewed academic journals on the subject: Reading Research Quarterly, for example, and the Journal of Research in Reading. From my admittedly cursory look at the sorts of articles that appear in them, the main focus of the research they publish is how people learn to read and comprehend written language, and not so much what constitutes compelling fiction.

Is there a way to quantify good writing? Do certain words bore or otherwise alienate readers? How might such a study look?

My copy of Islands of the Gulf Volume 1, The Journey and my glasses

Here’s my idea and thought process: test subjects are given two different texts of a piece of writing long enough to require a reader’s attention for more than a few minutes. A couple of thousand words, perhaps Chapter 1 of a novel. One version follows all the rules about words not to use. The other breaks them. Both texts have the same storyline, but different vocabularies.

After reading, test subjects would be asked which version of each piece would incline them to read further. But wait — would a single test subject see both samples or only one? By the time they read the second, they will have an idea of the plot, so there would be a spoiler effect. So maybe we have two stories, i.e., four different texts. Each subject gets a text from each story, one that follows the rules and one that does not. Because the stories are different, the “I’ve seen this already” effect is avoided.

But surely it would be necessary to minimize differences in reader preference? The test subjects would have to be matched with their preferred types of fiction. If a subject reacts unfavourably to the genre of the text rather than the words used, the test wouldn’t be valid. Okay, the researcher would have to interview potential subjects so the members of the subject pool would be similar to one another, in how much time they devote to reading, types of fiction preferred, etc.

Carefully devised follow-up questions would be needed to elicit and quantify the effect of specific words on individual reading experiences. Formulating questions for studies is a field of study in itself.

My conclusion: devising, carrying out, and writing up credible experiments is not a simple matter.

The closest I got to an actual study of the kind I’ve envisioned is a paper published in 1988, entitled The Psychology of Reading for Pleasure: Needs and Gratifications. It describes five different studies on different aspects of the reading experience. The two that seemed most relevant to my question examined reading speed and readers’ rankings of texts for preference, merit and difficulty. There was even a study of readers’ physiological reactions to reading different texts. Even a cursory look at this paper shows how complex and elaborate a scientific study of reading can be.

The works from which texts were obtained for testing are varied, including fiction and nonfiction, literary fiction, classics, and genre fiction. Authors include Jane Austen, Saul Bellow, Louis L’Amour, Ayn Rand, Graham Greene, Hunter S. Thompson, James Michener, Ian Fleming, Essie Summers, Arthur Hailey, Joseph Conrad, Agatha Christie, and W. Somerset Maugham. The most recent publication date is 1975.

One thing I found interesting was that some of the books are labelled “trash” by the study’s author. The test subjects showed a preference for this “trash” as pleasure reading material, but at the same time they assigned higher ranks for merit to “elite” works that were harder to read. The final page of the paper shows extracts from three of the works, along with the ratings they were assigned.

Despite labelling certain books as “trash,” the study does not analyze the writing, only the test subjects’ responses to it. While the studies documented in this paper don’t answer my question, they are examples of the kind of effort needed to obtain solid data on reading, and by extension, on writing.

The paper does contain some great academic terms. One that jumped out at me is ludic reading, which means “reading for pleasure.” Books can be called “ludic vehicles.” So, fellow writers, that’s what we’re trying to do: turn our books into ludic vehicles to transport readers into realms of the imagination.

My final thought (for now): Read this blog post, which contains a short piece of fiction that deliberately breaks all kinds of writing rules. I couldn’t stop reading, which suggests the words an author uses aren’t as important as the way she or he arranges them (and a few other factors too, of course).

Is anyone aware of any scientific studies on the effectiveness of specific words on recreational reading? Is there any objective science to back up the “rules” for writers? Or is it just a matter of, “Well, everyone knows…”?

So What? yellow sticker

The “So What?” Factor

When I read brief descriptions of books, I must admit my first reaction is often, “So what?” So what if young Miranda and her cat must save the world from the ultimate evil? So what if Devon Hope has stumbled on a secret that will mean the end of the world if he can’t find a missing artifact before someone kills him. Meh.

So what?

The problem here might be failure to engage. For me, and maybe for other readers, it takes more than the bare bones of a dire situation to pique interest, especially when that situation is just another variation on a well-worn theme. Saving the world while escaping death — what’s more dire than that? Except generic peril is as bland as no peril at all.

But it might be something else.

Observing myself while reading book descriptions, I think the reason for “blurb failure” is not always the fault of the person (author or publisher) who wrote it. The real problem is what used to be called an “embarrassment of riches.” There’s a deluge of information coming at us all the time. Posts, tweets, ads, promos, news, views, warnings, tips, tricks, sounds, images, etc., etc. Aaaaargh, I can’t take any more!

When the brain is overloaded and distracted, not even the most artfully created blurb will do the trick. The eye skips, the brain misses, and the conclusion (barely registered by the person who experiences it) is “Sure, okay, seen it before. So what? Next!”

Image by Audrey Driscoll using Canva. “Big Data” image from Pixabay.

In this environment, it takes more than a well-written blurb to bring a potential reader to “Yes, I’m going to buy this book.” Maybe it’s repetition; if someone sees a cover image and description twenty times or a hundred times, eventually the tipping point is achieved. Maybe if it arrives via a personal recommendation from a trusted friend. Or maybe it’s a totally random conjunction of temperature, air pressure, hormones, and the angle of the light coming through the window.

So what’s an author to do?

Authors sweat blood writing the brief descriptions (“blurbs”) that appear next to their book’s cover image and on the back cover or jacket flap. They have to be short and intriguing. “So what?” is absolutely NOT the reaction a book description should provoke.

And a book description is absolutely necessary, despite the fact that it will be another drop in the flood. When I see book recommendations by bloggers, without even a brief indication of what the book is about, I pass them by.

If nothing else, creating a book description is a good writing exercise. It demands effective word choices constructed into powerful sentences. It’s a distillation of a book’s essence, an enticing whiff that makes the reader want more.

A book description may be field-tested by running different versions past critique partners, blog readers, or even friends and family. Along with the question “Would any of these make you want to read the book?”

Turning the topic over again, when I take the time to read a book description carefully, giving it my full attention, I’m not always inclined to think “So what?” Hmm, how would Miranda’s cat help her save the world? What sort of person is Devon Hope, and what is the crucial artifact he has to find?

Dang! Neither of those books exists; they’re just examples I made up.

How do you read book descriptions? Do you ever get the “So what?” feeling? Do you have any tips for writing an effective blurb?

Featured image by S K from Pixabay.

Thee Most Aweful Livelyness

Dave Higgins muses on the theme of return from death as displayed in three of H.P. Lovecraft’s stories.

Davetopia

One of the most common descriptions applied to the works of H.P. Lovecraft—especially by those seeking to refute the claim he was recounting ancient secrets—is that the magic is advanced science, that the gods are only powerful aliens. However, Herbert West: Reanimator shows, something survives death so the Mythos has some species of afterlife. Ironically, perhaps one closer to Eastern mysticism than the Protestantism so often labelled one of the pillars of the Lovecraftian “hero”.

Herbert West, a doctor, with a syringe, against a background of anatomical sketches ©Javier García UreñaCC BY-SA

Perhaps the most explicit reference to an afterlife in Lovecraft’s work is to Cthulhu who is “dead but dreaming”. This state has two prominent features: consciousness existing during death and resurrection in the same body.

However deluded one considers the cults to be about receiving messages from their “god”, Lovecraft states that artists and other sensitive minds are affected by Cthulhu’s approaching return: the similarity of…

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