Friday, January 27, 2017

A Pinch of This, A Dash of That

Jason's sister turns out to be a shabby chic decorator

This has been a very busy week. Not as much writing as I would have liked, but productive nonetheless as I deal with translations and promo and print and audio. Some good stuff is coming in the months ahead. Something for everyone, I hope!

I did make some progress on The Monet Murders though. Oh, by the way, it's now listed for preorder on Amazon. (It's been listed everywhere else for months, but Amazon doesn't let you list preorders for more than 3 months in advance.)

This is the really time-consuming part of any book. It's figuring out things like...wait, did I ever say where Jason lives? Did I mention his partner? The names of his sisters? Did I figure out where Sam lives? Is his mother still alive? How many agents are under him at the BAU... and on and on we go.

As I'm packing for a long-awaited and much needed vacation, I thought today I'd share with you some random snippets of my research on this book, and you can start guessing as to what you think this book is going to be about. ;-)

So from my research...

1 - The Monuments Men

2 -  Knoedler

3 - Venice, California

4 - Grant Lee Phillip's Mona Lisa

4 - Monet

5 - Creepy Upstate New York Mansion

Oh, and here's another shot of Jason's new house.

I knew he lived by the water. I just didn't realize where!

Friday, January 13, 2017


Back in the heyday of romance blogs, I stumbled across this very smart, witty, civilized pundit (which sounds better than yon sonsie lass) by the name of Tumperkin. Er...even then I knew that probably was not her real name, but then--well, anyway. Tumperkin not only shared my love for Georgette Heyer and crazy-ass Charlotte Lamb novels both, she had mastered the rare ability of being passionate and polite at the same time. I liked what she had to say.

And when she turned to writing fiction as Joanna Chambers, I liked what she had to say then as well. A lot.

As I was considering my first interviewee of the New Year, naturally my thoughts turned to Joanna. Who better to provide the first footing of 2017?

Share your favorite recipe for porridge. COME ON! You're Scottish. You must have a favorite recipe for porridge. What about mince and tatties? DON'T BE SO SECRETIVE.

JC - I am indeed Scottish! And my Scottish working class credentials are so spotless, it hurts. My dad, who is Keeper of the Family Tales, used to tell me that his grandmother (who had thirteen children) used to fill a drawer in the kitchen sideboard with porridge every morning and when it hardened, she would cut it into squares and the sons would take a square each down the pit. True! My recipe, however, creates a porridge so silky and creamy and soft it would have dribbled out of Marann’s drawer and landed in a puddle on the floor. It is this: put some rolled porridge oats in a pan with a splash of milk and loads of COLD water. Like, 4 times as much water as oats. Plus a generous sprinkling of sea salt. Then you put it on the very lowest possible heat for 30 mins and completely leave it alone. Don’t touch it. Don’t even look at it. After 30 mins it will be perfect. THEN sprinkle over a teaspoon of demerara sugar and, dribble some cream over - I swear it’s the most delicious thing you’ve ever tasted. The key thing is getting a good balance between sweet and salt.

 Do you believe the sins of the father shall be visited upon the sons? What about the sins of the mother?

JC - Let’s look at this from a writerly angle. 

This calls for an example. Let’s call the son in the following example, Adrien. Adrien’s mother—let’s call her Lisa—murders Adrien’s grandmother, resulting in Adrien unexpectedly inheriting his grandmother’s valuable ranch. Let’s say that Lisa is motivated by a hatred of people with golden-brown eyes - which Granny has. Adrien has nothing to do with plotting or carrying out the murder.


Question: Do we think the sins of Lisa should be visited on Adrien in the following scenarios? 

  1. Adrien shares Lisa’s hatred of people with golden-brown eyes, was aware of her intention to murder his grandmother and did nothing to stop her
    Answer: In this case, surely the sins of Lisa should be visited upon Adrien to some extent? Adrien is not innocent here, even if his sin is on only one of omission, namely not acting to save Granny? (Although it may be that Adrien didn’t act because he was unable to do so, e.g by reason of grave illness, such as rheumatic fever). In a satisfying story, how would Adrien end up? Would him losing the ranch be enough to restore ‘order’ at the end of the story? If I was writing this, I’d burn the ranch to the ground and have Adrien make a moral choice to redeem himself.
  2. Adrien does not share Lisa’s hatred of people with golden-brown eyes but again, he was aware of her intention to murder his grandmother and did nothing to stop her – this time because he wants the ranch
    Answer: In some ways, this feels worse than (a) from a moral perspective – but why should that be? Is there a moral distinction between someone who does (or fails to do) something out of a vile but genuinely held belief and someone who does (or fails to do) it for purely monetary gain? Hmmm. If I was writing this story, Adrien would probably be hounded by his grandmother’s ghost till he throws himself from the battlements—or whatever it is ranches have instead of battlements.

       c. Adrien does not share Lisa’s hatred of people with golden-brown eyes—indeed he has argued with her about the subject vociferously—and was also entirely unaware of her intention to murder his grandmother . 

Answer: In this case, Adrien is innocent - surely Lisa’s sins should not be visited upon him? Nevertheless, he is benefitting from the ranch as a direct result of murder. So, should Adrien pay? If I was writing this, I think Adrien would go to the ranch and meet a man with golden-brown eyes—let’s call him Jake—and together they would unravel of the mystery of how his grandmother died and then live in the house together happily ever after. (And it may even turn out that the murderer wasn’t Lisa anyway, but some… I don’t know… English dude called Guy or something).
Does that answer your question? I think, long story short, I got to Yes.

I-I'm still reeling after the revelation that Lisa English is a cold-blooded murderess. WHY AM I ALWAYS THE LAST TO KNOW?
Okay. Um, leaving the unexpectedly dark and twisted murderous inclinations of the English family for a moment...standalone versus series? What do you prefer as a writer? How about as a reader?

JC - As a writer? Well, there are pros and cons of both, I’m not sure I have a strong preference, though I do look back on the trilogy I wrote fondly—having said that, I tend to forget how difficult each book was to write, after some time has passed.

 As a reader, I don’t really have a preference, but I do think that series can bring additional satisfaction. I remember the first series books I ever loved were Enid Blyton’s all-girls boarding school books about Malory Towers. Every book featured friendship conflicts, a major sporting victory for Darrell (the MC), pranks on teachers, a midnight feast and a final crisis. And each book ended with a sense of resolution about that school year, with Darrell having generally become better at life/ a better person. At the end of the last book (sixth form) she leaves school and goes to university. I cannot express how much I loved these books. I loved them the way I love romance books. I loved the shape of them, and the elements. It didn’t matter that the shape and elements were predictable. In fact, that was a major part of why I loved them. It was very much about the execution and the anticipation of the inevitable pay-offs.

 I think for a series to be ‘more’ than a standalone for me, I want something bigger than the individual books. Something that builds through all the books—that might be a single relationship or it might be a story that unfolds and reaches its denouement in the final book.

Is it true that your day job is bounty hunter? Why not? That's a very cool job. You would be good at it.

JC - No, that is not true. Unless you’re talking about moist, tender coconut drenched in dark, silky chocolate? In that case, yes and I am, thank you.

Bonbons and bounty hunters. It sounds like a cozy mystery. What do you think is the most important thing to remember when creating fully realized main characters?

JC - This is the hardest thing about writing, for me, anyway. I think it’s actually really difficult to avoid just writing yourself into characters, especially when you’re writing a scene, and you’ve got some kind of flow going. It can be hard not to just reflect what your own reactions to events would be. It seems kind of obvious to say this but I think the most important thing to remember is that the character isn’t you. Judging by how often I read characters in novels who seem to act/ speak more like someone of the age/gender/demographic of the author rather than of the supposed character, I don’t think I’m the only one who experiences this.
Fashion magazines always ask this question: What is the one cosmetic or grooming tool you cannot live without? And do you have any idea why all these fashion models are always pretending the one tool they can't live without is their EYEBROW GROOMER? 

JC - The one cosmetic I would take to my desert island would be a very red lipstick– that is the best face decoration there is, an excellent enhancement to an expression of curled-lip disgust.

Oh! Excellent choice! Well played, madam! And speaking of hauteur, how do you deal with the criticism that is part and parcel of any job in the arts?

JC - I’m okay with it actually. My RL job is all about winners and losers and there’s a lot of post-morteming/  post-facto rationalisation/ arse-covering. So, with writing, it’s kind of weirdly restful to me that there’s just a range of opinions and some people will hate your book and some will love it and some will just be *meh* about it but no one gets ultimately proved *right*. I’d probably feel very differently if my writing was my sole or main source of income, but since it’s not, I get the luxury of not minding so much.

I'm not sure why this seemed to be a natural segue, but here we go. Have you ever broken a bone? Have you ever broken anyone else's bones? You must have because your day job is bounty hunter. Have any of your victims sued you?

JC - No, no and no! I have never broken a bone, either my own or someone else’s, although I am clumsy and suspect I may have chipped my coccyx more than once. 

Is there any genre you'd like to tackle but you're kinda sorta afraid?

JC - Hmmmm. Well, for the last year or two, my major reading preference has been contemporary US set books—I’m kind of obsessed with the idea of learning about another country purely through reading a single genre of fiction—or that’s my excuse anyway. Would I want to tackle one myself though? Nah. I’m most comfortable with UK early 19th century and UK Contemporary at this point, but I have written one paranormal-fantasy story and am planning a pair of paranormals set in the 18th century so that’ll shove me out of my comfort zone on two fronts.

Oh, you have to come and visit us! And by us, I mean everyone in the U.S. We'll show you how the other half lives. Enywho. What are the elements that make a Joanna Chambers book unique? What do you consider your strengths as a writer?

JC - Um… well, credibility is important to me. When I wrote my first novel (a het romance in which the heroine masqueraded as a man – as the hero’s valet) it was because I’d decided I really wanted to write a credible chick-in-pants romance. I’d read a rash of reader blogs talking about how they couldn’t suspend disbelief with chicks-in-pants stories but I’d also read real-life stories about women who did successfully masquerade as men at the time, so I had this whole thing in my head about meeting that challenge and how satisfying that would be.  At this point, I’m mostly known as an

author of historical MM and my ambition with these stories is to have a credible HEA for my characters. When I say a “credible HEA”, I mean two things: credible for the period but also credible as a romance HEA i.e. a proper soaring HEA rather than a limited one. Since I’m a long-term romance reader, I’ve got a lot views on what makes a good HEA and what the end of a romance book should *feel* like and I really didn’t want a limited, lesser version of that for my characters, but it does take a bit of doing.
Where did you and the Mister meet?

In a student union, on the dancefloor. We were shoe-gazing to some Indie song. We shuffled up to each other and the rest is history.

 What are you working on right now? What's coming out next?

JC - My next release, in April-ish 2017, will be a Victorian historical MM set in Cornwall called A Gathering Storm. It’s part of Riptide’s new Porthkennack line featuring a number of other authors (Alex Beecroft, Garrett Leigh, JL Merrow and Charlie Cochrane). My book is set in Victorian times and features an eccentric scientist who is trying to contact his dead brother with the help of a sceptical half-Romany land steward (!) Basically it’s about the twin Victorian obsessions of science and spiritualism.

Oh! I love it already!

 As for what I’m working on now. I’m writing a contemporary spy MM story with Carolyn Crane which I’m sort of super-excited about (hopefully out first half 2017) and a second Porthkennack book for Riptide – a contemporary this time which should be out in August 2017.

 Do you believe in extra-terrestrial life? What about angels?

JC - I’m a no, on angels. I think extra-terrestrials are possible, and probably statistically likely, but I can’t say I get terribly excited about the possibility.  I’m just not fundamentally that interested in the idea of aliens, maybe because I feel like I’ve got my hands full with humans. Humans are terrifying and glorious and I still haven’t got my head round them.

Tell us something surprising. Anything. Go on. Surprise us!

JC - When I was in Brownies (you would call them girl scouts? I was 7 or 8) I was unsuccessful in my bid to win my writer’s badge. 

 Still mortified about that.

LOL. And so you should be. ;-)

You can learn more about the Joanna at her website. AND you can find her on Facebook.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Coming in 2017

Good morning and Happy 2017 to you!

I'm running a bit late today. I've spent a very busy and productive week making plans --and slightly tweaking this year's schedule. In fact, I'm surprised to find that it's already Friday. Next week I begin work on The Monet Murders, the second book in the Art of Murder series.

That's the first change of the year. Originally I was going to put Slay Ride out this month, but having done two historical releases at the end of last year, I think maybe it's just as well to stick with contemporary for now. So Slay Ride is now scheduled as a December 2017 release, which leaves me a bit more time for Jason West and Sam Kennedy.

So here is the immediate future line up...

The Monet Murders - Aiming for a late February/early March release
Fair Chance - March 15th (final book in the All's Fair trilogy)
Blind Side (DG 6) - April 21ish
Ill Met by Moonlight - May 30ish

Audio Books:
The Curse of the Blue Scarab narrated by Alexander Masters
Murder Between the Pages narrated by Kale Williams
Fair Chance narrated by JF Harding
So This is Christmas narrated by Chris Patton
The Monet Murders narrated by Kale Williams
Blind Side (undetermined)
A Shot in the Dark (narrator unknown)

Print Books
The Curse of the Blue Scarab (now available)
So This is Christmas - January
All I Want for Christmas (the two holiday coda volumes combined) - January
The Monet Murders - March
A Shot in the Dark - Ill Met by Moonlight and This Rough Magic combined - Juneish

Also for readers new to my work and looking for bargains, I'm putting together a couple of compilations of older titles. These collections are roughly half-price off the cost of buying the stories separately.

I Spy...Three Novellas: the complete I Spy series
Dark Horse, White Knight: Two novellas
Point Blank: Five Dangerous Ground novellas (we're still working on this one!)

Also, I had mentioned that I would report on my experience with Kindle Unlimited.

Short version: Never again.

Long version: I see why a lot of readers like the program. I had the opportunity of trying it out both as a reader (with a free six-month subscription through one of my credit cards) and as an author.

As a reader...well, I like to "own" books. As much as an ebook can be owned. Also I have very limited time for free reading, so I wouldn't get my money's worth from the subscription (even if most of the books I wanted were in the program -- and they're not). But I can't deny it was a LOT of fun browsing the lists and downloading titles that I might one day get around to sampling. So if you're a voracious reader, KU might be good value for you.

As a writer, KU was a disaster for me.

Now, there were some variables here that in fairness have to be addressed. First of all, the book I used as my trial run--Murder Between the Pages--was not my usual thing. Not even my usual historical thing. It was quirky, comic locked room mystery -- and historical is already a smaller audience for me. My contemporaries always do significantly better than my historicals.

Secondly, it was a novella. Had it been a novel, something along the lines of The Curse of the Blue Scarab, I would have earned more because KU is currently paying about half a cent per read page.

(On the other hand, there's a cap on the page count, so that might ultimately work against a title like TCotBS. Not sure.)

What I am sure of is that KU significantly cut into my regular Amazon sales by at least -- looking at the absolute rock bottom minimum of 500 units. And instead of earning about $2.00 per book, I earned about .70.  Ouch.

Now, if you're a writer who typically charges .99 cents a book, .70 is WAY better than the .35 net you take in per unit. But I don't charge .99 cents a book. The minimum I charge per title is $2.99. So for me this was not a successful experiment.

Nor can I find indication that I expanded my readership any. But again, that could be the limitations of the title I chose to experiment with. Besides, I already do a lot of giveaways and sales and so forth--I already have perma-free titles on all the sites.

To worsen matters, because KU requires exclusivity, I also lost about 1000 units in other vendor sales. Now a portion of those might be recouped when I remove Murder Between the Pages from KU at the end of this month. But I'm guessing not many, because you move most units in the first few weeks. It's just a fact of publishing life.

Maybe if Amazon permitted preorders at other sites it would have helped, but they don't. You are locked into KU for 90 days (on top of the preorder period) and that's basically that.

I can see that if you don't have an established readership or you're selling a book that might have a wider audience, KU might make a certain amount of sense for you. It does not make sense for an author like me.  And it definitely did not make sense for that particular title.

But I don't regret the experiment because I've been staunchly against KU without actually having the practical experience to back up that gut feeling. Now I have the practical experience.

I'm also not judging authors who choose to put their work into KU. I can see that in some instances it might make sense. I didn't make sense for me.

Anyway, that's where we stand moving into 2017. I hope the new year is off to a brilliant start for you.

Sunday, January 1, 2017


This concludes the 2016 Advent Calendar--not to mention 2016. :-)

The Advent Calendar is just a little Thank You to readers. It's a month of free...nice stuff because I appreciate, well, YOU. But this year's calendar was especially meaningful because of the contribution of so many others. So I want to take a moment to thank everyone who contributed art or stories or mixed media. Thank you so much to Johanna Ollila, Catherine Dair, Meg Perry, Haldis, Steve Leonard, Calathea, Andy Slayde and Ali Wilde, Karan Kapszuikiewicz...and please, please don't let me have forgotten anyone because all of you together made this the best Advent Calendar ever.

I also want to thank you readers for your own participation. I know a certain amount of humoring the author goes on here. :-)  If no one read or commented, the calendar would have ceased the first year, so those of you who participate can also take some credit for the success of this calendar.

Happy New Year to each and every one of you. 2017 is going to be a challenging year. We've read the entrails and that is already clear. (DON'T ASK -- JUST TAKE MY WORD) But that's okay. That's how life is. There are no guarantees. No promises. AND INSURANCE IS PROVIDED BY CORPORATE ENTITIES WHO DROP YOU IF YOU MAKE A CLAIM AGAINST ALL THAT MONEY YOU'VE KICKED IN. Life is tough. You have to be tough to survive. Especially when you know that no one gets out alive. ;-) I don't know about you, but I find that kind of exhilarating.

May this year be the year you've been waiting for. Because, let's face it, to some extent we all wait for THAT. So let this year bring you that as well as many other happy surprises.

Here's to 2017, my dears. God bless us every one.