Monthly Archives: December 2013

Writing Crime Fiction? Turn to Micki Browning for Help

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Micki Browning

Hi Micki, can you tell us a little about yourself?
I recently concluded a twenty-two year career in law enforcement that started in California as a patrol officer and ended in Colorado as a commander. During my career, I served as a hostage negotiator, led the Detective Bureau, managed Records, the Property & Evidence Bureau, Training, and Internal Affairs. I trained as a SWAT commander, and served as an agency Public Information Officer. Now, I split my time hiking in the Colorado Rockies and scuba diving off the Florida Keys.

You have a fascinating background, one that includes a stint with The FBI National Academy. How has that influenced your choice of genre and subject matter for your books?
We’ve all heard the adage that authors should write what they know. After 22 years of being a cop, I know the culture inside and out. I also know that nothing is black and white. Criminals do things for a variety of reasons — not all of which are nefarious. One of my favorite stories is Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. It explores issues of blind justice and redemption. Jean Valjean is an ex-convict, Inspector Javert a dedicated law officer. Both have secrets, both have good intentions. The story challenges assumptions. Crime sets the stage, but the story is ultimately about people. As a cop, I’ve seen amazing and horrible things. These experiences color everything I write. Of course, having Sue Grafton attend the Citizens’ Police Academy I coordinated was also inspirational!

You offer consulting to writers who are writing about crime and want to get the details correct. What does a typical consult consist of? 
I’ve discovered there is no such thing as a typical consult. People are at different stages in their manuscript. Writers may have a simple question about protocol.  Sometimes, an author will describe a scenario and want to know if A leads to B, will (or can) C happen?  Others have written multiple chapters that they’d like me to review for authenticity and technical oversight. Ultimately, I offer suggestions to ensure accuracy and increase the author’s credibility.

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Quite frankly, it’s often unexpected details that trip up crime writers.  For example, I just critiqued a scene where a teenager looks back at a car that’s following her and sees a New Mexico license plate. The problem? New Mexico only issues a single plate and it’s affixed to the back of the car. Or one author wanted to arm her protagonist with a sawed-off shotgun. She didn’t realize that possession of this type of modified weapon is a felony and thus turned her law-abiding heroine into a felon.

Fortunately, it often only takes a few tweaks to turn a glaring mistake into a realistic scenario.

You have a BA in Medieval Studies. How has that impacted your own writing?
I obtained my degree while working full time. I knew the degree wouldn’t have a direct impact on my job, but the classes fascinated me. In the process, I learned time management skills and the importance of research. Every story or article requires research. The trick is deciding what details to include overtly, what to layer in discretely, and what facts should be quietly forgotten. Now that I’m “retired,” structuring my time has become even more critical.

Perhaps someday I’ll be able to use my knowledge to pen a mystery series as engaging as Ellis Peters’ Brother Cadfael!

Can you tell us a little about your books and what writing you are doing now?
Up until lately, my writing was predominately nonfiction. I’ve written for magazines, newspapers and textbooks. Since retiring from law enforcement, I’ve shifted to fiction. Like many of the authors I help, I’m currently in the query process–and doing my best to develop patience. In the meantime, I’ve received recognition for several short pieces I’ve submitted to contests, and I’m hard at work on my next crime novel.

Thrillers, detective series, espionage — these genres (most of which revolve around a crime) are attracting some of the best writers today. What do you attribute that to?
Regardless of genre, the best writers have always spun tales that illuminate the human condition with great specificity. I find that the most engaging crime fiction lingers not on the crime itself, but rather its impact. How does if affect a person individually? How does it ripple through a community? Jodi Picoult and Dennis Lehane are masters at detailing the repercussions that reverberate through lives.

Do you see a difference in approach to a crime novel by authors from different nationalities?
Funny you should ask this question.  The more I travel, the more I’m convinced that people are people are people. Yes, there are cultural differences, but ultimately, we all love, we all have regrets, we all dream, we all feel violated by crime. So while there may be stylistic differences in the execution, the germ of the story originates from the same wellspring.

If a writer would like to get in touch with you for a consultation, what should they do?
It all starts with an email, micki@literarypartnersincrime. For Contact directions, please visit http://literarypartnersincrime.com/contact.htm. Once I know what an author needs, together we’ll devise a plan to achieve it.

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Interview with Paul Agostinelli, CEO of FindMyAudience

paul_1Paul Agostinelli, CEO of FindMyAudience

Your professional career has been in technology but you also won a Mellon Fellowship in Literature to the University of Chicago. How do you juggle those two interests?
Well, I studied Physics as an undergraduate before doing the Master’s in Literature so in a sense I have been living in both worlds for a long time. Twenty years ago, there was a bigger separation between the technology world and the arts world. If you were in front of a computer screen — which I hated at first! — you definitely were not reading Dostoyevsky, or appreciating great painting or probably listening to anything other than very early electronica. So at that time I just had to make sure I spent enough time away from the screen, reading, writing, nourishing myself. Today, that’s all changed, and I can be working on a spreadsheet and have a stray line of poetry wander through my head, and in two seconds be re-reading a Wordsworth sonnet. Of course, to do any meaningful work, I need to focus on the task at hand, often for hours at a time, without being distracted. That just takes the discipline to give time to each piece of work that calls to me, whether it is a spreadsheet or a blog post or a poem, and that’s sometimes hard to do.

Is there a particular period/genre of literature that you are most attracted to?
Like most people, I’ve been drawn to different voices over the course of my life. As a teenager I loved science fiction — Asimov, the Dune series, Ursula Le Guin. Through my twenties I really got into visionary writers like William Blake, D. H. Lawrence, Walt Whitman, Gerard Manley Hopkins. Those writers, along with a few I met later, like Rumi, Hafiz and Rilke, are still my spiritual touchstones, and are by the bedside for the occasional 3:00am dark night of the soul. I went through long phases with Pynchon and Faulkner from which in many respects I have not recovered. These days I enjoy psychologically astute novelists, who can tell a great story while paying attention to all dimensions of their craft: word, sentence, paragraph, chapter: Alan Furst, Zadie Smith, Carol Shields, Michel Houellebecq, and Jess Walters are some favorites.

Are you currently doing any writing yourself?
I’m doing a blog with some writings on Buddhist dharma, literature and technology (zenteknica.com). That may turn into something more cohesive like a book, or not. I don’t have any specific end product in mind, but it feels good to write.

You ordained as a Buddhist priest. How did that come about and how does your spiritual path influence your work?
That’s a good question. My path progressed from an early love of science to a love of literature then to a love of the wisdom tradition of Buddhism. I’ve been practicing Zen for 25 years, and am now teaching, so in that sense my spiritual path is my work. But at the same time, I have been operating as a tech entrepreneur, which has its own unique culture and dynamics, which is very different from the world of the meditation center. At the most practical level, Zen encourages us to pay attention to whatever is going on in the present moment, especially if it is difficult or uncomfortable. That mindset really helps when I find myself getting antsy, say I am meeting with a potential funder who I feel is missing my point, or when I am talking with an engineer who I think is over-engineering the system. Zen practice is about cultivating what we call “Don’t Know Mind”, and when I bring that to bear in those meetings, I can see that maybe that potential funder is onto something, or maybe that engineer has uncovered some deep issues in our design that I was not aware of. Any spiritual path should help you cultivate patience, humility, sensitivity and curiosity, and I find all these things essential in my professional work.

Let me put in a quick plug here for a book I just finished, The Three Marriages: Re-imagining Work, Self and Relationship, by David Whyte. Whyte’s a poet with a wonderful, lyrical voice who has reflected deeply on these three human relationships we all negotiate. A friend quoted him on Facebook and I ran to get his book. He’s awesome.

Can you talk to us a little about FindMyAudience. What is it and what do you hope to achieve with this service?
FMA is a web service that helps Creatives (writers, musicians, filmmakers, artisans) find and engage with individuals and communities across the Social Web who are likely to appreciate their work. It’s a “market intelligence” platform for the Creative class. These days, large commercial enterprise marketing departments are doing a lot of smart social media analytics and engagement; we are building out a slice of those features, intuitively designed for Creative individuals who by their nature are typically not marketers, and may even be averse to marketing themselves.

Right now there is an ongoing revolution in how books, music, films and artisanal crafts are made, distributed and marketed. The Internet, e-books, self-publishing, and DIY digital platforms have dramatically increased the number of available works. The Social Web allows Creatives to build fan bases via blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Goodreads, Soundcloud, Etsy, etc. — but the Social Web is a mixed blessing because the signal-to-noise ratio is diminishing. By helping Creatives find those people who are more likely to appreciate their work — we do this via analysis and matching of individual and community interests, styles and themes — we improve that signal strength and raise their chances of finding their audience.

In tech lingo, we are the complement to what’s known as “discoverability,” where distribution outlets like Netflix or Amazon help a consumer find works they might like based on what they have already liked. We help the works find the audience. Another cheeky way we talk about FMA is that we are like internet dating for art. We help writers and readers hook up.

When is FindMyAudience slated to be released to the public?
We’ll launch a beta to a selected group of writers and publishing industry personnel in Spring 2014. We’ll take feedback from the beta group of 5,000-10,000, and then open it up to everyone at some point after that. How soon will depend on how close we come with our initial design, but we are feeling pretty good about things right now!

Can writers help in any way?
We would love to hear from you on the FMA blog. Comment on what you’ve heard so far, weigh in on the surveys we will be putting out over the next few months, and sign up for the beta if you are interested. Writing is such a solitary activity, but all the hard work comes to fruition when your work finds a sympathetic reader. We think we have some experience, skills and tools to help make that happen. We’d love to hear what you think.

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Filed under EBook Marketing Innovations, EBooks and Advertising, FindMyAudience, Paul Agostinelli

The Writer’s DashBoard: Game On!

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Where’s Your Audience?

In previous posts we have lamented the fact that we writers don’t have a Writer’s Dashboard that would enable us, through some “algorithmic magic,” to find out where our potential readers are on the web.  Certainly the technology is there – the semantic analysis, the predictive modeling, the natural language processing. Call us optimists (we are writers, after all), but we envisioned a time when those capabilities would be used on our behalf. We envisioned a time when, prior to sitting down to write, we could consult The Writer’ Dashboard and see the smiling faces of our potential readers, all of them out there on the web, just waiting for our work. What an impetus to create!

Well, that time is coming! FindMyAudience has just received seed funding and we hope to have a beta version of our software up and running in 4-6 months.

Here’s our Mission Statement:

Find My Audience helps Writers succeed by giving them the ability to locate and engage with targeted individuals and communities across the Social Web who are likely to appreciate their work.

Our team is comprised of tech industry veterans who between them have started multiple tech ventures; secured varying levels of angel and venture capitalization; taken companies through acquisition; worked in e-commerce and publishing; and earned advanced academic degrees in literature. All are passionate advocates of the arts who have created and marketed their own work. Here are their bios.

During the months ahead, we’d love to hear from you about what you would like to see when you wake up in the morning thinking about your audience!

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Filed under EBook Marketing Innovations, The Writer's Dashboard