Magical book

Magical book

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Facebook Problem

Authors are constantly told that we must have a “Facebook presence” — it’s as necessary as a website.

But we can’t go on Facebook only to promote our books. Readers find that borrrring. They want to get to know us, to chat with us about personal things that have nothing to do with our books. If they find us interesting as people, then maybe, just maybe, they’ll be moved to take a look at our books.

Some writers have revolted and dropped off Facebook or refused to join in the first place. Others do the forbidden: they have only professional author pages, not personal pages, and they post about nothing but books, usually their own and sometimes upcoming books from other writers on their publishers’ lists. And some find genuine friends, old and new, on Facebook and enjoy chatting with them about myriad topics.

I’ve been in that last group, but I’m increasingly tempted to join the first and abandon Facebook altogether. That it’s a time-waster is undeniable. And if you care at all about the world around you, it’s not good for your blood pressure and peace of mind. Scrolling through the newsfeed brings up countless posts about politics, guns, and all manner of horrific happenings in every part of the world. It’s worse than 24-hour news. If you’re female, you also have to contend with the obnoxious trolls who send out private messages to women (dozens at a time, apparently) in the hope of starting some sort of relationship.

When I started my personal Facebook page, I “friended” the writers and other people I already knew, such as the panda fanciers, then I pretty much stopped soliciting friends. But I approved almost everyone who sent me a friend request, and I’ve ended up close to the limit of 5,000. Some of those people, I’ve discovered to my regret, have nothing to say that I am interested in hearing. Their politics appall me, their rants on social issues disgust me, their lack of compassion and kindness toward the less fortunate saddens me. I see these people’s posts because, for whatever reason, they sent me friend requests and I allowed them onto my friends list. I have generally refrained from commenting on their posts because I know better than to jump into a pool full of sharks. But if I post something political on my own page, such as a positive statement about the president, I can count on people I’ve never interacted with before popping out of the cyber woodwork to denounce me. I unfriend them and wonder why I bother with Facebook.

I’ve been online, in various groups of writers and readers, for many years, but I’ve never experienced anything like Facebook before. Every day I see the ramblings and rants of a multitude of strangers, mixed in with posts from people I like and want to stay in contact with. There’s a panda group I do not want to give up, and personal friends whose posts and photos I would miss terribly if I left. I’ve tightened my settings to allow only people on my friends list to see my personal page, and lately I’ve started culling that list, but I’ll admit the newsfeed drives me crazy.

Have I sold any books by being on Facebook? Some, I’m sure. A few people have told me they learned about my books on Facebook. But I’ve probably offended plenty of people too by letting my liberal political leanings show.

What’s a writer to do? We’re expected to be on Facebook to promote our books, but we’re not supposed to spend our Facebook time relentlessly promoting our books. We’re supposed to let our personal selves come through, but when we do we’re just as likely to make enemies as friends. And that could (gasp!) hurt book sales.

Writers in the pre-internet age had no idea how fortunate they were.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

You Are a Writer: Finding inspiration when the going gets tough

The joy of creation, the exhilaration of knowing that others are reading and loving your work, the satisfaction of a story well told—that’s all part of being a writer.

So is self-doubt. Fear of failure. The gnawing feeling that you’re wasting your life. The surge of hope slapped down by the cold hand of rejection. The certainty that you’re alone, that no one else understands what you’re going through.

But you’re not alone. Whether you’re just beginning to explore the possibilities of a writing career, or you’re trudging along the submission-and-rejection trail, or you’re wondering if you’re in a rut and need to change direction, or you’re working up the courage to plunge into indie publishing—you are not alone. Every writer has felt the same way at one time or another. And sometimes all it takes to restore our spirits and keep us going is a reminder that we are members of a tribe with shared dreams and experiences.

A new publication from Sisters in Crime called Writes of Passage: Adventures on the Writer’s Journey offers inspiration on every page. In brief essays that cover all aspects of the writing life, dozens of Sisters in Crime members share their personal stories. Contributors include such longtime bestsellers as Margaret Maron, Barbara D’Amato, Laurie R. King, Nancy Martin, Elaine Viets, along with many other familiar names.

Readers who enjoy learning about the writing process and how authors get published will also enjoy this book.

Writes of Passage, in trade paperback format, is available to anyone for $10 plus shipping and handling from this website:

My own contribution to Writes of Passage is this inspirational piece.

You Are a Writer

by Sandra Parshall

Years of rejection can warp a writer’s thinking in dangerous ways and cast a shadow over future success.

Before I was published, I was timid about identifying myself as a writer. A writer is someone who gets published and paid, after all. For years I accepted the loathsome label of “wannabe.” After a published author informed me that I was “just a housewife who imagines she can write mysteries” I didn’t even feel worthy of the wannabe title.

Then my first book was published–by a small press. I discovered that the inner doubts and the disdain of others don’t vanish with publication. My book’s excellent reviews and award win meant nothing to some people. I was a small press author, not in the same league as real authors. I’ll admit I let it get to me when a reader told me at a bookstore event that he’d never heard of my publisher (Poisoned Pen Press) and assumed it was a vanity imprint–and refused to believe me when I assured him it was an established press. I was published, but did it count for anything? Was I still a wannabe, not a real writer?

I also heard that if you can’t live on your royalties, you’re not a professional. Writing is a hobby, something you do in your spare time for pocket change. I was writing constantly, every day, giving my books all my time and energy, and it certainly didn’t feel like a hobby, but again I allowed negative thinking and other people’s pompous pronouncements to make me feel like less than a real writer.

I’ve finally come to my senses, admittedly a little late in the day. After six well-received books, I’ve earned the right to think of myself as a real writer, to announce it proudly and spell it out in the “profession” blanks on registration and application forms. Only the IRS and the state tax department have the right to ask how much I earn–and believe me, they consider me a professional and tax me accordingly.

The wide-open opportunities in today’s turbulent publishing world should be celebrated for many reasons, but they don’t guarantee bestsellers and financial success, the only achievements some people will respect. Writers still have to find a way around the pitfalls of negative thinking.

I wish someone had told me long ago, before I was published, to ditch the “wannabe” label. I was writing seriously, with the goal of publication. I was constantly studying, learning, improving. I was a writer. I should never have let anyone make me believe otherwise. After I was published, I had no excuse for dismissing my own achievements. Books with my name on them, books that other people were paying to read, were the only validation I should have needed.

Often when authors are asked what advice they would give to aspiring writers, they answer, “Never give up. Keep trying until you break in.”  Good advice, but I would add: Start thinking of yourself as a writer the moment you decide to devote your life to producing stories for an audience.

You’re a writer. That’s your identity. Don’t let anyone take it away from you.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Blog Hop: The Writing Life

Somehow I’ve managed to be a published writer for eight years without participating in a blog hop, but when friend Jeri Westerson asked if she could tag me for this summer’s version – all about The Writing Life – I jumped in at last.

I’ll answer four burning questions about my own writing and tag three other writers, who will answer the same questions on their blogs in the next week.

1. What am I working on now?

My new project is a departure from my Rachel Goddard mystery series. It’s a suspense novel, a story revolving around Those Suspicious People Next Door rather than a police investigation of a murder. My lead character is a wildlife photographer. Beyond that, I don’t want to say too much just yet.

2. How does my work differ from other books in its genre?

In my mystery series, Rachel (a veterinarian in a small mountain community) becomes involved in murder cases in various ways, but she’s not a super-sleuth amateur who outdoes the cops at every turn. Her mate, Tom Bridger, a deputy who becomes sheriff in the last book, Poisoned Ground, is quite capable of solving the murders. But Rachel is essential to the process because she can go places a cop can’t and get information that people might not share with a policeman. There’s nothing cozy about the small community they live in. It’s a rough place where everybody owns a gun and grievances are likely to lead to violence. All the books have a high level of suspense, and they’ve often been called suspense novels or thrillers.

3. Why do I write what I do?

I made Rachel a veterinarian – risking a cozy label for the books – because I love animals and want to include them in my books. But I love darker mysteries and suspense novels, and that’s what I try to write. My first novel, The Heat of the Moon, was pure suspense, and now I want to get back to that. I love writing about people going through an intense experience and coming out of it changed in some fundamental way.

4. How does my writing process work?

It’s messy, often chaotic. Getting into a new book is the most difficult, confusing, even depressing stage. I never believe I have “enough story” for a book. Regardless of how many times I’ve done it, I never believe I can do it again. But I push on, building the story bit by bit, layer by layer. The first draft is skimpy, written without editing. By the end of it, I have a good idea of what the story needs, and I begin the real writing – shaping, filling in gaps, broadening the plot and characters, enhancing the descriptions and interior passages. The first draft is scary. The rest is real writing, and quite satisfying.

For the next round of the blog hop, I’m tagging three other writers published by Poisoned Pen Press. If you haven’t read their work, you’re in for a treat!

Janet Hubbard

Janet worked as an editor, researcher, writing coach, and non-fiction writer, producing over
twenty books for Chelsea House Publishers under the name Janet Hubbard-Brown, before she sold her mystery series, Vengeance in the Vineyard, to Poisoned Pen Press. Bordeaux: The Bitter Finish, (April, 2014) is the second in Janet's series, following Champagne: The Farewell (2012). 

You will find her blog at, where she will post her blog hop answers on June 13.

Donis Casey


Donis Casey’s seventh Alafair Tucker Mystery, Hell with the Lid Blown Off, has just been published to rave reviews, including a starred review in Publishers Weekly. It follows The Old Buzzard Had It Coming, Hornswoggled, The Drop Edge of Yonder, The Sky Took Him, Crying Blood, and The Wrong Hill to Die On. The award-winning series, featuring the sleuthing mother of ten children, is set in Oklahoma and Arizona during the booming 1910s.

Readers can enjoy the first chapter of each book on her web site at She blogs biweekly about at, where you can find her responses to the blog hop questions on June 16.

Michael A. Kahn 


A trial lawyer by day and a writer by night, Michael Kahn is the award-winning author of nine Rachel Gold legal mysteries, including Face Value, published June 3. He authored a stand-alone novel, The Mourning Sexton, under the pen name Michael Baron, as well as  several short stories. In addition to his day job, where he represents individuals and companies in the fields of creative arts and media law, Mike is an adjunct professor of law at Washington University in St. Louis, where he teaches a class on censorship and free expression.

Visit his website and blog at and look for his blog hop answers there in the next week. 

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Saying Goodbye to Rachel

When I wrote The Heat of the Moon, I never dreamed I would write five more books about Rachel Goddard, a young veterinarian who discovers that everything she believed about her family was a lie.

I thought it was a stand-alone psychological suspense novel. When my agent failed to sell it in New York despite strong interest from editors at two major publishers, I gave up hope that it would ever see print. But Poisoned Pen Press bought it, it won the Agatha Award for Best First Novel of 2006, and I found I had more to say about Rachel. 

Her story continued in Disturbing the Dead, Broken Places, Under the Dog Star, Bleeding Through, and Poisoned Ground. I was able to dramatize Rachel’s evolution from the frightened young woman in The Heat of the Moon to the strong, fulfilled person she is at the end of Poisoned Ground.

Now I feel I’ve told her story and have no more to say. Yes, I could go on finding mysteries for her to get involved in, but the most important part of her story, the arc of her personal development, has been told. Some writers produce one fresh, entertaining book after another in a long series, but I don’t think I could do that. Rachel’s psychological development was always what I cared about most, and mysteries without that element would feel hollow to me. I won’t say I’ll never write about Rachel (and Tom Bridger) again, but for
now I need to move on. 
Japanese edition
My great love is psychological suspense, and I want to get back to it and write more books in the vein of The Heat of the Moon. I love stories about individuals caught up in events beyond their control and understanding, struggling to make sense of what’s happening to them and ultimately finding their way to an answer. I’ve learned a lot about suspense from writing the Rachel books — my ability to maintain tension and suspense from beginning to end has always been praised by reviewers and readers alike — and I think I can put what I’ve learned to good use in something new.

I appreciate all my readers, and your praise and encouragement have meant  
the world to me. I hope you’ll be willing to read what I write in the future. Striking out in a new direction is scary, I’ll admit. Even a series with a modest following is a sure thing, and leaving it behind makes me feel as if I’m back at square one, starting over. But I trust that if you liked the Rachel books you’ll also like the next novel I produce.

Mass market paperback
If you haven’t read my Rachel Goddard books, they aren’t going anywhere. They’re all available in print, e-book, and audio formats, and they’re in many libraries. Please visit my website at for more information and reviews of all the books. Start with the first (available for only 99 cents as an e-book download) and read them in order to better understand Rachel and her personal journey. If you enjoy them, please let me know! Nothing bolsters a writer’s spirits while she’s sitting alone at the computer more than a complimentary note from a reader.

The Rachel Goddard Mysteries in order

The Heat of the Moon
“Mesmerizing.” —Publishers Weekly
“A captivating tale of suspense.” —Booklist
“Stylish, original, compulsively readable... Sandra Parshall explores the darkest side of family love and longing with pitch-perfect, highly engaging characters and a stunning end-game surprise. ” -- Judith Kelman, bestselling author of psychological suspense

Disturbing the Dead
“Fast-paced, chilling, and compulsively readable.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Edge-of-the-seat suspense.” —Library Journal starred review
“A terrific, tangled skein of unraveling family secrets and hidden murders, beautifully plotted and excitingly told.” —Diana Gabaldon, author of the international bestselling Outlander series

Broken Places
“Grips readers with a suspenseful plot that will leave them breathless.” —Library Journal starred review
“A suspenseful tale distinguished by its sharp prose.” —Publishers Weekly starred review
Broken Places is a tense exploration of how past acts can come back to haunt the present. It kept me guessing till the very end.” Margaret Maron, bestselling author of the Judge Deborah Knott mysteries

Under the Dog Star
“Spine-chilling tension from cover to cover.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Tense and compelling…one of the un-put-downable reads of the year.” —Deborah Crombie, author of the bestselling Gemma James/Duncan Kincaid mysteries

Bleeding Through
“Combines nerve-wracking suspense with a twisty mystery.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Marvelous storytelling.” —Julia Spencer-Fleming, author of the bestselling Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne Mysteries

Poisoned Ground
“Parshall expertly maintains tension until the surprising conclusion.” —Kirkus Reviews
“A fast-paced plot with plenty of false leads keeps the reader turning the pages.” —Publishers Weekly
“Parshall perfectly plumbs the well of humanity in a small town, where longstanding feuds and deep-seated jealousies drive dark deeds—from backstabbing and betrayal all the way to bloody murder.” —Erin Hart, author of the Nora Gavin/Cormac Maguire mysteries