Sunday, December 19, 2010

Now Available on Kindle!

a novel by
John M. Daniel
He’s a high-rolling Texan with blue-collar roots. She’s a former Dallas debutante and swimming champion. They love each other, as long as he’s saving her life. Can this marriage be saved?

$4.99, Kindle Edition

D. Ray and Cissy Ramsey have come to Mexico to save their marriage. It wasn’t their first mistake. It won’t be their last. But it will be their most dangerous....
Set in the Yucatan Peninsula, Swimming in the Deep End is a fast-paced, witty novel of romantic intrigue that takes the reader on a tour of ancient and modern Mayaland, from the glamorous resort hotels of Cancun to the bustling capital of Merida, to the ruins of Cobá, Uxmal, Chitzen Itza, and Palenque to the remote beaches and cenotes of southern Quintana Roo, to the dazzling pools and treacherous waterfalls of Agua Azul.
Casey, a disenchanted piano player—no longer dependent on drugs but still frustratingly hooked on romance—is bored with his gig in a Cancun hotel lounge. He is ripe for adventure, which shows up in the form of D. Ray Ramsey, one of his customers.
D. Ray is a hard-drinking, rough-talking Texan on the lam. Accused of murdering his wife, he has federales on his trail, and he enlists Casey’s help, hiring him to drive them both to Merida, where D. Ray hopes to find refuge in the U.S. Consulate.
Along the way, they team up with Eliot Mulgrew, an anthropologist from Chicago who is on her way to the rain forests in Chiapas. Eliot is an intelligent woman, although she tends to get lost and attract—and cause—trouble. D. Ray can’t stand her, but Casey falls ridiculously in love, and she’s along for the ride. And she has an itch in her britches for D. Ray.
In Merida, they discover that D. Ray’s wife, Cissy Ramsey, is very likely still alive, and their plans change. The adventure shifts into high gear as these three unlikely companions take off on a rescue mission that leads them back into the jungle.
JOHN M. DANIEL is a freelance editor and writer. He has published dozens of stories in literary magazines and is the author of ten books, including two mystery novels, The Poet’s Funeral and Vanity Fire, published by Poisoned Pen Press. He and his wife, Susan, own a small-press publishing company. They live in Humboldt County, California, with their wise cat companion, Warren.

Ten Tips for Writing Stories from Your Life

Why do we tell stories based on our experiences? Because that’s what we know, of course. And the more we remember about our past, the more we understand ourselves. Where do the stories of our lives come from? Historical records, old letters, diaries, and journals? Old photographs? An attic full of souvenirs? Memories, both happy and sad? All of the above, perhaps, but also the legends and lore passed down through generations. And don’t forget family gossip, which may not always be true but is always important.

Why should we write these stories down? First of all, for the fun of it. It’s a thrill to craft a good story. But also, we do it as a gift: to the future, to our children, to our friends, maybe even to a larger audience of people who want to know what life during our lifetime was like, as experienced first-hand. Writing life stories is a chance to be generous and self-indulgent at the same time.

Here are a few tips to make the stories you write interesting, entertaining, and important.

1. Let the reader know what was going on in the world when the story happened. That way the reader will have some historical reference to latch onto. “In the summer of 1969, when a new generation gathered at Woodstock and a human being planted his foot on the moon for the first time, I realized that there would be no limits to what I could do with my life...”

2. Tell your reader how old you were, or where you were in your social development, so the reader can identify similar rites of passage in her or his own life. “My high school senior prom was a disaster, but breaking up with that person was probably the luckiest...”

3. And where were you in your spiritual development? Not a matter of world history or age, but of some change in your world view. “I leaned a lot from my time in the Vietnam war. The bad news is what I learned about war. The good news is what I learned about friendship...."

4. Write of change. Change is what happens in every good story.

5. Write of choices. Choices are often what bring those changes about.

6. Write of consequence. By that I mean write of things that matter. Get into the part of the story that people care about: love, joy, grief, regret, reward. Celebrate the light, but don’t be afraid of the dark.

7. Be kind. Yes, you can write about people who mistreated you, but treat them as people, not as cartoon characters.

8. Tell the truth, even if you have to lie to do it. Nobody can remember every tiny detail of what happened, but out of every story grows a message of choice and change, and that message must be honest. From your heart.

9. Write a story that’s fun to read. Give it a strong beginning, make it build with suspense to a satisfying climax, and leave your reader with the pleasure of having been entertained.

10. Have fun with your writing.

Enough said. Lesson ten is not optional.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Writer's Envy

Uh…congratulations. I mean, CONGRATULATIONS! I mean….

Okay, so your friend (your exhusband, your old girlfriend, your colleague, your client, your dentist…) has had a book published. How do you feel about that?

Terrific! Isn’t that great! And to think he’s come so far in so little time. Whoever thought she’d….

No, really. How do you feel?


How come she got published before I did? I’ve read that manuscript and I even offered some good advice on how to make it better, which he ignored, by the way. So why is she in print, why is he on the New York Times bestseller list, when here I am, every bit as good a writer, still….


Okay, okay, I hear you, but stop. Be cool.

Let’s face it: you are a writer, so naturally you want to be published. You have a friend who got published. You wonder what that will do for you, once you get over feeling jealous. Of course you do. The entire world is about you, right? I don’t mean that as a put-down. It’s just part of human nature.

Here is something true about making it as a writer, whether you define “making it” as getting on Oprah, selling out to Hollywood, taking up long-term residence on the New York Times bestsellers list, or simply having your pieces published in small press literary journals or church bulletins. There are three ingredients to success in writing: talent, hard work, and luck.

Don’t doubt your talent. If you love to write, you are talented.

Hard work is something you can do. If you can’t (if there’s always something that comes first—a garden to weed, pencils to sharpen, kids to drive to soccer practice, a sick husband who needs to go to the emergency room), then you’re probably not a real writer and you don’t have talent. But if you place writing above all else, then you will put in the hours.

What about luck? You can’t change your luck, but you can increase your odds. One way is to listen to coincidences. If you have a friend who’s lucky, maybe some of that luck will rub off on you. So don’t feel jealous. This coincidence is an opportunity in disguise.

But don’t blow it.

Here are a bunch of rules, do’s and don’ts under the circumstances. A lot of these rules are worth knowing even if you’re not an envious writer. A lot of them are just common courtesy and sensitivity to people’s feelings.

1. Buy your friend’s book. Buy it in its first edition, even if that means buying a hardback book. Spend your money. You have no idea (actually you probably do have an idea) what a gesture of friendship that simple act is.

Extra credit: buy the book from an independent bookstore or directly from the publisher, rather than from Borders or from Why? Because you’ll be supporting independent bookselling, which is good for writers, readers, and modern culture.

2. Having bought the book, go to your local library and make sure they have the book on their shelves. If they don’t, request that they acquire it. This is a bit underhanded, because you don’t really need it to be in the library (you already own a copy), but it will be good for the author and think of all the other people who will enjoy the book.

3. Read the book. That’s the reason you bought the book, right? Even if it’s not the reason, read it anyway. You might really like it.

Extra credit: Go out and buy more copies of the book to give away as gifts.

4. If you like the book, let the author know you like it. Be generous with your compliments, and make sure the praise has no strings attached. You’ll be winning points in heaven by giving this friend of yours the thing he or she wants most: appreciation.

Extra credit: Write a charming letter, note, or e-mail to the author’s agent and editor, complimenting them on their taste and express your thanks that they have done such good work for your friend. Do this without mentioning that you, too, are a writer.


1. Don’t ask the author for a fee copy of the book. Don’t even hint: don’t say, “Gee, I’d sure like to read that book,” or “What do I have to do to get an autographed copy?” Why? Because the author has had to pay for every book in his possession (except a few freebies specified in his contract with the publisher).

2. Don’t offer to buy the book from the author and then ask for a discount or a “bro deal.” An author is in business now. He’s a professional. Don’t ask for special favors. He did you enough of a favor by writing the book.

3. Don’t ask the author to introduce you to her agent or her publisher or her editor. Don’t even hint (“Are you happy with your agent?” “How is that publisher to work with?”). The author may wish to be generous with such information; after all, she’s your friend so she knows you’re a writer. But if she hasn’t done so yet, she may not be so inclined.

4. Don’t use your friend’s name without his permission. Don’t say, “My friend likes my book and since you represent him, you might like it too.” You may say, if it’s true, “My friend speaks highly of you, so I thought I’d ask....”

5. Okay, so you’ve read the book. Maybe you don’t like it as much as you wish you did, or, to be honest, maybe you don’t think the book is as good as your own. Or maybe your only way of responding to somebody else’s book is to notice where it could have been better. These are all examples of human nature, and especially of the writer’s nature. Nevertheless:

Don’t tell your friend that you didn’t like the book, or that you liked the book except for that part about..., or that the only thing wrong with the book was..., or anything, anything negative about his book. Don’t even point out typos. For one thing, there’s a good chance your motives are not pure. What you’re offering is not helpful criticism, even if you’d like it to look like that. Think about it: even if your motives are pure, and you’re offering suggestions for improvement that the author should be grateful for, what good are those suggestions, now that the book is already in print?

Finally, a few reminders:
Remember that friendship is far more important than getting published. If you exploit a friendship to advance your own ambition, you’ll be risking something of great value.

Remember that the writing game is not a competition. The fact that your friend got published does not decrease your chances of being published too. Your association with your published friend may even help your career, but only if you put friendship before career.

Unfortunately, you must also remember that there’s a good chance you won’t be published, not ever. I’m sorry to write those words, but it’s just a matter of reality. Not every writer gets published, and that’s a good thing. Not even every good writer gets published, and that’s a shame. If you, unjustly and unfairly, fall into this group, does that mean you lost, or that you’re a loser, that you should take up macramĂ© instead, that you should have been envious after all?

No. As long as you are a writer, writing because you love to write, you’re a winner. The real joy is in the writing itself. Being published is wonderful, but the true high is in the creation, not in the marketing.

If you don’t believe that, then perhaps you’re not a real writer after all.

But if you’ve read this far, I know you are a real writer, and I know you have talent. So work hard, and good luck!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


The English language sadly lacks a pronoun for second person plural. All we have is the all-purpose "you," which does double duty now that "thee" and "thou" have been claimed as the exclusive territory of Shakespearean actors and Quakers. However, as our President often reminds us, Americans are the most resourceful people on earth, so in the south we have "y'all," and in New York you got your "youse." (In certain neighborhoods "youse" is preempted by "dabodiuz," if it means two only.) Most resourceful of all, of late, are the Californians. As Woody Allen pointed out, California gave us French fried onion rings and the right turn on a red light. He forgot to mention things made out of silicon that you can't even see. And of late, more and more, our western frontier of language has given us the useful and (though slightly inaccurate half the time) endearing "youguys." As we drove down the Central Valley last year at Christmastime we were struck by (battered by) the word everywhere we stopped. "Are youguys ready to order?" "How are youguys this morning?" And my favorite, the second person plural possessive: "Yourguys's room is on the third floor, so youguys are going to take yourguys's car around to the side of the building and park near the..."

Sunday, December 5, 2010

New to E-Publishing


Lately I’ve been looking into the new and growing phenomenon of ebook publishing. It’s not something I’ve come to easily, having devoted my life (as a writer, editor, publisher, teacher, and most of all as a reader) to books as paper objects. I may never read a book in digital form (although that prejudice may fade with time), but as a publisher, as a writer, and as a writer’s consultant, it’s important for me at least to know what this phenomenon is all about, and to learn a bit about how it works. To do that, I’ll have to keep on top of changes and developments, because this is a rapidly changing and developing method of publishing.

What I Learned at Bouchercon

In October Susan and I attended Bouchercon, the annual convention of the Mystery Writers of America, which was held in San Francisco this year (2010). We went as publishers, mostly to sell books but also to learn new trends in marketing and publication technology.

What I learned about, mostly, concerns epublishing, or publishing of ebooks and short stories. Specifically I was led to believe that thanks to epublishing, it costs nothing but some time and skill to get a book into (non) print, and there are no gatekeepers to reject you. By learning and using some technology, any writer can arrange to have his or her novels or stories available to be read on Amazon’s Kindle, Apple’s iPad and iPhone, BN Nook, Sony Reader, etc.

For us writers as well as us publishers, epublishing is free and easy. Supposedly.

Intrigued, I made it my Bouchercon business to learn how to go about getting a book epublished. It started with hearing, over and over again, the name “Smashwords.”

Smashwords is a free service for getting a book epublished. Info at: As I understand it, you follow the clear directions about formatting your manuscript in Word, and bingo: your ebook will be distributed  through Amazon’s Kindle Store and Apple’s iBookstore, so that it may be read on Kindle, iPhones, and other electronic reading machines such as Sony Reader, BN Nook, etc. Smashwords takes a small royalty for ebooks sold this way, which is how they profit from the free service they offer.

You also need a cover design created to the required specifications, as a jpeg, which is a separate skill. Some people hire a professional designer for that task; others design their own. For self-designers, Smashwords recommends a program named Gimp. Website:

The third thing you need is a marketing plan, because no matter how you publish—and this for the most part even includes being published by the establishment print publishers—the success of your book will depend on how hard and how successfully you market and promote it. To learn more, Smashwords recommends that you buy and study their ebook on the subject Smashwords Book Marketing Guide: This would be a good thing to do whether proceed with Smashbooks or use another service. For example…

There is another outfit that does what Smashwords does: Scribd. I don’t know how the two systems compare, but the buzz at Bouchercon was that Scribd doesn’t work as well as Smashwords. That’s not my judgment, just a rumor that I heard more than once; the rumor could be wrong.

Yet another outfit that does this sort of thing is Lulu: They’ve been around a while. I’ve always known them as a POD publisher (and research reveals that they do this service for free, charging only for the copies you buy). But I learned that Lulu now is into ebook publishing as well.

(Aside: at Bouchercon epublishing was the topic du jour. By contrast, nobody was talking about POD, which has now become topic du yesterday.)

Another piece of buzz at Bouchercon: if you don’t format your book exactly as directed, Smashwords lives up to its name, and the result will be unreadable. I assume the same is true of Scribd and Lulu, and other ways to publish electronically. For example…

Another way to get your book or story epublished is to work directly with major vendors of ebooks and ebook reading devices, such as Amazon/Kindle, BN/Nook, Sony Reader, or Apple iBookstore/iTunes.

The Apple method is more complicated, it seems. Web:

So much for what I learned at Bouchercon in October 2010. I don’t promise that all this information is accurate; it’s just the information I returned home with.

What I Learned After Returning from Bouchercon

After I returned to the office after the Bouchercon trip, I devoted some time to learning more about all of the above. I went to all those websites and tried my best to understand them. It was slow going.

I came to the conclusion that what seemed too good to be true (that epublishing is free and easy) is perhaps true for techno-savvy folks, but it’s not for me. It would take me many difficult hours, days, or weeks to be able to format my manuscripts properly, and even then I would be worried for the first few times that I was making mistakes that would prove costly to correct. So much for it being easy.

The solution, I decided, is to find someone who knows the technology and also knows the basics of book design, somebody with a good sense of design and the necessary hardware and software to format manuscripts properly into ebooks that can be sold on Kindle, iPad, and all the rest.

Luckily for me I know somebody who does this work well. Eric Larson of Studio E Books had been designing books for over twenty years, for Daniel & Daniel as well as for other publishing companies and self-publishers. He’s good, and he’s easy to work with. Of course he does this work professionally, and that includes formatting manuscripts and books for epublication. That means he charges for the service; so much for it being free.

How much? That would depend on the size and complexity of the project, but a couple of hundred dollars might be a good guess for most book-length manuscripts. I do know that Eric is reasonable, prompt, honest, and fair. For more information, check out Eric’s website:

By the way, Eric Larson is also a talented cover designer, as you’ll see when you check out his website.

Another advantage of hiring a professional to format your ebooks is that you could then deal directly with Amazon, Apple, and other eretailers. That would save you the commission that Smashwords, Scribd, or Lulu collects on each sale.

A Personal Note

Why am I so interested in epublishing all of a sudden? Our publishing company, Daniel & Daniel, is already in that game, at least has one foot in the game, thanks to our distributor, who takes care of getting our books licensed to Kindle and other eretailers. Eric Larson has been converting our production files to epub files for this purpose. I didn’t have to know anything except that it was happening. And as a writer, I have two novels already available as ebooks on Kindle and elsewhere, thanks to my former publisher, Poisoned Pen Press. I didn’t have to be involved for that to happen.

No, the reason I now want to learn about this from the inside out is that I’m a frustrated writer who hasn’t had a book published for almost five years. It’s not that I haven’t been writing, I just haven’t been selling. I’ve always maintained that for me the joy is in the writing, not the selling; but it would be a shame to think of all my plots and especially all my characters (who became close friends as I created them) abandoned on a dark closet shelf. It would be a shame if my children and grandchildren and their unborn generations of children and grandchildren were not able to read what I found pleasure in writing.

Knowing that electronic reading is going to be around longer than I will, and knowing that at this stage in the game it can be done relatively cheaply and relatively easily, I seem to have no choice but to go forward. Which I have done, and expect to do more. To see my maiden effort, check out my first ebook-only novel, Swimming in the Deep End, as presented by Amazon/Kindle:

A Final Word

Epublishing is not for everyone, but as time goes by it will be more and more important for everyone to know what it is and how it works. If you decide to try it out, I hope you’ll have a good experience with it, and I hope you’ll let me know. As I’ve made it clear, I’m only just beginning to learn about all this, and I need to know a lot more to become good at it.