Sunday, September 30, 2012

A Novel Idea Live

Hi Everyone,

On Sunday, October 7th, I'm going to be on Internet radio. It's a call in show, so you can hear me either

1. Mumble

2. Act foolishly

3. Curse unintentionally


4. Do a good job.

Please tune in and give me a hard time.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

An interview with Morgan St. James

Who should read Morgan St. James's work?

Anyone who loves mystery fiction. Ms. St. James has been writing it for years, especially for the small presses. I've always been impressed by her novels. The detail, the plot, the writing. It's all great. She has a new book coming out now -- Who's Got the Money -- from Dark Oak Press. I wanted to see how she promotes her work.

Here's my quick review of her book, you should read it. It's fun and interesting and everything you want from a mystery. Since this is a blog about promotion though, I won't review it in detail. Instead, I asked her about how she promotes her work.

Who's Got the Money? 
At what point in your writing process do you start to promote the novel you’re working on specifically? I mean you are clearly branding yourself as a writer all the time, but when do make that shift so you are promoting the current novel?

I begin very early in the process. As soon as I have the framework for a new novel, I make reference to various aspects of it. It helps to build anticipation for a new book. For example, when the manuscript for “Who’s Got the Money?” was partially finished I threw out tidbits on social networking sites about the fact the manufacturing in Federal prisons is an EIGHT HUNDRED MILLION DOLLAR a year industry. So many people think prison manufacturing is a small program limited to items like license plates that it was bound to spark interest.

Later I appealed to the “chick lit” element with questions about getting even with someone who stole your heart and your money, which is another aspect of the book. Opening up that dialogue, also let me talk about my other upcoming book, (now available) “Confessions of a Cougar,” which could neatly fit into that genre.

 There is so much lead time from completing the plot to actual publication that it presents a great opportunity to talk about your upcoming book or books. If the book you are promoting is not your debut novel, this is a way to let readers know they can expect more books from you.

Some people wait until just before the release date, but then they’ve lost out on the time they could have been building interest.

What percentage of the time do you spend promoting online versus meeting people face to face?

I’d say the breakdown is something like 75/25. You can do online promotion at any hour of the day or night, and it frequently comes down to the wee hours after midnight. In addition to setting up a blog or website for the book and posting consistently, by choosing targeted sites you can reach a large amount of potential readers and ask them to share the posts or links. However, it is important to get out there and put a face on the author. Particularly with the sharp increase in books being produced due to the ease of self-publishing, there is still something special about the face-to-face meetings.

One of the chapters in my book, Writers’ Tricks of the Trade: 39 Things You Need to Know About the ABCs of Writing Fiction,” is about polishing your personality. There is a vast difference between being a ho-hum author who might put an audience to sleep during a reading or talk and an entertaining, dynamic speaker. Everyone can find their own style for personal presentations or book signings, but a key element is to be engaging.

Your work is often diverse. You work with a writing partner some times. Other times you write humorously and alone. Sometimes your work feels to me like pure suspense. Does the feel of the book change the way that you promote it?

Absolutely. It would be highly inappropriate to give a humorous talk or write a humorous article about a book that deals with kidnapping and rape. By the same token, if it is one of my funny crime capers or a book laced with humor, a dead serious presentation would do nothing to encourage people to investigate further or better yet, to buy the book.

When I write with a partner, I always make certain to give credit to that partner’s contributions to the creation of the book and how the book benefited from their expertise. We all have different strengths and the key is to identify them and establish a working pattern for both writing and promotion.

What do you do for research? I know that you are kind of an expert on this. What can you tell my readers about going out there and getting real information?

For the obvious things, the internet is a wonderful source. However, since most information is not vetted before posting, it is important to verify it through other sites before taking it as the absolute truth.

It is also important to recognize when the net might not be the be the most reliable source and to enlist the help of those with expertise in a particular field. For example, in a crime situation, most police stations, law enforcement agencies and prisons have Public Affairs Officers who will be more than happy to help you with facts if you call and explain that you are an author and need some information.

When writing The Devil’s Due, I needed to know where an inmate would be housed if they were beaten to the point of being on life support for the rest of their life. The extra fact was that this scenario takes place in 1970 in Illinois. That meant conditions might not be the same as information available on the net. I called Joliet Prison and the Public Affairs Officer was great. She didn’t know first-hand, but called people who did and got back to me with the information. In 1970 he would have been housed in the prison infirmary. However, in later years, there was a special facility for such cases which is not on the grounds of Joliet.

It is also important to build relationships with people you can call for information in various fields. They might be people in your social circle, ones you meet at events or conferences, or friends of friends. It ensures accuracy and saves lots of time if you can place a call or send an email with a question that relates to some aspect of your book.

What do you see as the most productive thing you do for promotion?

That is hard to say, because different tactics get various returns. Sometimes the internet interviews and articles work well, sometimes it is personal presentations or radio guest spots. Sometimes a media release with a great hook produces lots of hits and your story turns up in many small newspapers. I do think when you are lucky enough to wrangle an article or interview in a newspaper with high visibility it gives you a definite bump. A few years ago the Las Vegas Review Journal featured an article about me and my Amazon numbers rose for about a week afterwards.

How do you choose a new book from a living writer yourself?
I love mysteries and fast moving action. I also like political thrillers and some action adventure books. I listen to lots of audio books because I frequently drive between my home in the L.A. area and the one in Las Vegas. Fortunately libraries now have good collections of audio books, so I’ll generally take something from an author I know and like, often Robert Crais, Michael Connelley, Richard Northcut, Lee Child or J.D. Robb, and then take a few other books from authors I haven’t read. It helps me to explore their work, and if I don’t like it, I simply switch to the audio book of an author I like.

By doing that, I’ve discovered some authors I love and others that made me pop the CD out after only a few chapters.

I look for believable characters, a good pace and an intriguing story.  

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

John, John, wherever did you go?

I was eating Indian food with Kyle Van Zant yesterday, a good friend and former student, trying to talk to him about how to blog. I don't know a lot, but I know some, and I realized how many of my own rules I've been violating lately.

Kyle Van Sant (Here's Kyle)

Then I read Marta Chausee's latest posts, and she's admitted to the same fault. She had a funeral among other things to attend to.

My most serious fault? I haven't been posting on other people's blogs. I have kept up with posting on my own blog, and I recorded a silly (very silly) future video blog for this blog site.

I've also let a lot of emails go unanswered. Sorry about that everyone.

That doesn't mean that I haven't been promoting and pushing and getting future readers together for my novels. It means that I've had to triage. And what have I been doing?

Raising money, raising money, raising money.

I direct Mt. San Antonio College's creative writing program, and until yesterday I didn't know if was going to be funded at all. If you know what's happening with the State of California, you know that financially, our colleges are in trouble.

Cover Photo
(Here's 26D 3411, where most of the creative writing stuff happens.)

But I've been working on our conference and readings and clubs and magazines for a decade now. They represent my career. Someone told me (with a great deal of smugness I might add) that I should just let my little program go.

"Screw you," I said in my head while maintaining a diplomatic smile. I reminded that person of the number of people who have walked away from our community college with book contracts and magazine publication and more importantly a renewed sense of self.

She said something to the effect of "Pff" and rolled her eyes.

"Screw you," I said in my head once more. Actually, that's the PG version.

Let's assume she's jealous of all the great students I have.

Anyway, I've been bouncing all over campus and beyond smiling and cursing in my head until I have been funded. We do have a program this year.

And then I've been raising money for the SGV lit fest which is coming up soon.

About the Festival

Project number one: I've been teaching poetry classes and donating the money. I used to dislike teaching poetry. It was the one part of my writing career I kept to myself. Not true any longer. The students are great and they're getting something from it. If you're in the LA area by the way and want to write poetry and have some money, contact me.

Project number two: We have a dinner fundraiser coming up and that takes work as well. It's early November if you're close by. Special guest stars. My young friend Daniel is making broadsides to sell there as well.

All of this helps my programs, but it helps me as well. Every time I meet someone and talk to them, I'm making a new contact who gets a new business card for one of the 4 new books I have out.

My next alternative marketing ploy? I'm thinking about getting a tattoo on the back of my leg with the call number for my first book, East of Los Angeles. It was just put in my local library, and I'm all atwitter with excitement.

Okay, so I'm sorry I didn't post on your blogs or return your email or give you a call, but I will. Here it comes. You'll be hearing from me in the next day or so.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

31 Readers Answer One Question

It occurs to me that if we want to start promoting our work, we should find out how many readers find books. So I took an informal poll with a terribly skewed sample size. I emailed friends and posted a question on Facebook.

What did I ask?

How do you choose a book from a living author?

The answers are kind of fascinating, but they make a lot of sense. Readers, after all, don’t want to work too hard to get their material. Why would they? I don’t spend days doing research on music or movies. It is up to the writer then (and the publisher of course) to find ways to reach them.

So here are the answers given to me about how different people choose authors, and let’s figure out the trends.

Tyler Dilts, author of A King of Infinite Space: Mostly from recommendations, either from reviewers whose writing I've come trust, or from friends and colleagues. To be honest, I also judged many, many books by their covers, which is a lot less reliable than the method above.

Product Details

Don Kingfisher Campbell, author of Theater of Life: If I've met 'em, I'm buying

Product Details

Pao Wo, Student: word of mouth :] or NY Best Seller

Katie Formosa McMurray, poet and faculty at Long Beach City College: Here's how I choose (in order):
1) I take recommendations from my trusted friends, particularly Jhoanna.
2)I listen to podcasts that include book recommendations.
3) I keep a list of books I've always wanted to read, but couldn't get to in the past.
4) When I can, I read book reviews in magazines and online.

That's it.

Anna Badua, artist and poet: Everything Tyler Dilts & Kathryn said and KCRW's Bookworm. Also, don't think anyone's mentioned it yet, but there are publishers I'm more inclined to trust like New Directions and Vintage Books!

Andrew Turner, writer: Knowing a lot of writers, I try to choose writers I know. I also look for authors whose writing I've enjoyed in the past. Reading recommendations by people I trust, or by a source I trust is good enough for me. I look for prize-winning authors as well. They had to have done something right, and I can learn from that.

Jeremy Hight, writer and photographer: from their weary bones , tired synapses and dark cinder of a heart amongst a moment of self doubt....I mean

Roy Anthony Shabla, author of Eating God, artist, editor of Tequila Tales: the cover, the first sentence, and if the author pic was taken in the shower.

Product Details

Lauren Candia, librarian: As a librarian, with as many resources I have available to me, the number one way I pick out a book by a new author is still because of the cover or the title.

Michaelsun Knapp, poet, writer, and editor of Creepy Gnome: Recommendations more than anything, though sans recommendations or any knowledge of the writer, the title will get me to pull it off the shelf, the cover will get me to flip it over to the synopsis, and if the synopsis rears enough interest I'll buy it. I haven't found a reviewer who's reviewed the books I like, and has liked them for the same reasons as I do, so until then I don't trust reviews. If I buy a book I don't like, I'm stuck with it. I don't have enough money to spend on pleasure reading to pick up a book that I don't cotton to.

Lloyd Aquino, poet, writer, and Mt. SAC professor: Mostly recommendations from friends and other sources I trust, like what other writers I like to read are reading.

Mark Olague, writer and CSULB faculty: I thought about this question a lot. Hate to get mystical about it but it's sort of intuition, a combination of geography (is that writer from a place where the stakes for literature are higher), imprint (all dalkey archive stuff I’m interested in), word of mouth/blurbs (mostly from published writers), and blind exploratory browsing. Subject matter that is too contemporary or "funny" or satirical writing turns me off. Also plot heavy or derivative stuff. I use to like the podcast marketplace of ideas (where I got turned on to Alexander Theroux) and only occasionally Silverblatt. I find bookworm to be too fawning and usually his most inarticulate and uncomfortable guests interests me. Again, I'm pounding bookstores three times a week and it's mainly intuition. That probably doesn't help. For shortcuts: quarterly conversation and the millions are blogs/sites for access to the highest quality literary fiction being written today.

Laura Whatley, poet, reader, and writer: When I was young and had tons of money, but not as many bills, I would randomly grab a book, read the first page, then the back, and if I liked it I bought it. Now I based it off threats: "seriously, Laura, if you don't read Hunger Games RIGHT NOW I will tie you to a chair, sew open your eyes, and force you to read it to me."

Natalie Morales, poet, reader, and writer: Definitely word of mouth.

Timothy M. Moriarty, student: I pick by genre and short description on the back of the book. If that grabs me and I'm in the mood for that genre, I'll give it a go. Artwork on the cover can be dangerous as it might screw up that perfect image I receive while reading the short description.

Carly McKean, artist and science teacher: usually recommendations. I'm less likely to read it if it's blown up in the media

Shalanna Collins, author of Dulcinea:  So far, using these rubrics, my obscure works are pretty much out of luck. If I could get word of mouth going, that would be the answer. I suppose the ways I choose books include all of the ways mentioned, although now that bookstores have become mostly virtual, it's tougher to run across a book and pick it up to read the blurb and a few pages from the middle. I'm just glad no one said, "The free ones." LOL

Product Details

Vicki Stevenson, librarian: Writers festivals, libraries (I hang out at a few of these ;), word of mouth.

Kyle Van Sant, writer, grad student, and founding president of Mt. SAC’s creative writing club: First, recommendations , which I often ignore. Second, going to bookstores and talking to the workers about their favorites...see recommendations. Then I spend years reading what I want from famous dead people and wake up one day remembering a recommendation from years ago, and all of a sudden I've got a new book (that's how I finally read Cat's Cradle, 6 years after you told me to). Another cool thing is to go to readings. I read some of David Foster Wallace after seeing him do a reading at Mt. SAC. I'd never heard of him at the time, but really was impressed by his work. Sadly, so many of my favorite writers are now/recently dead (Vonnegut, Foster Wallace, Robert Jordan, Bradbury). So, I'm going to say readings. Final Answer.

Lorna Lund Collins, author of 31 Months in Japan: the Building of a Theme Park: First, I pick authors I know and like. Then I pick books recommended by people who share my taste in books.

Product Details

Jennifer Olds, author of Good Night, Henry: Book reviews--I read a lot of book reviews; live
sampling--1st paragraph, last paragraph, and page 73; loaners from like-minded friends; word of mouth.

Product Details

Patricia Gligor, author of Mixed Messages: First, I read mystery/suspense novels (my genre of choice) by small press authors I've met online. I have a TBR list the size of Texas! Second, I read every new novel by Mary Higgins Clark and Joy Fielding, my two favorite "big name" authors.

Product Details

Marta Chausee, author of the Maya French series, coming soon: I buy books that I hear reviewed or mentioned on NPR that sound interesting (same w/ music purchases).

Also, when I read articles in magazines about a specific topic (eating disorders, for example) and there is a blurb at the end of the topic re the expert that mentions a book written by said expert, I'll look up her/his work on Amazon and frequently order.

Word of mouth from trusted friends works.

John, yesterday's presenter at Sisters in Crime (Pamela Samuels young, I believe) mentioned a site that gets books reviewed on prominent blogs (I have the name at home on my ipad). One pays for the service and she says it is worth every penny, as after she uses that service, her book sales always spike like crazy. This is an "insider's" or "writer's" tip, so I don't know if you'll count that.

Lesley Diehl, author of A Deadly Draught, Dumpster Dying, Angel Sleuth, Poisoned Pairings: I'm trying to read books by writers I've met who are published by the small publishers who publish me.  I like many of the Oak Tree Press writers.  I also listen to friends of mine who recommend books. I have my favorite name writers.

Product Details

Augie Hicks, award winning writer and blogger: I used to stroll through the bookstores and libraries and picked up titles that interested me, I started reading Riordan on a lark as well as Ewing who are fantastic writers. Mainly mystery genre interested  me (those free books from Jaffrain, Sefton and others at the ALA didn't hurt, now I have other authors to follow), Now I'm reading non-fiction since school is back in session, so Dr. Kreger , 2012 & the Mayan Prophesy is on the table. I also read many of the SPB. I'm doing book reviews that I read over the Summer over at my site. (Please check it out after reading my blog!)

Sally Carpenter, author of The Baffled Beatlemanic Caper: I start with other writers who are with my publisher (Oak Tree Press) and those who belong to my writers' group (Sisters in Crime). I support writers with whom I have a connection. These two groups provide me with enough good books that I don't need to search much further.

I should amend my statement that I don't limit myself to only SinC or OTP books. I'll also read free books I get at conventions and consider novels I see promoted on a blog that sound interesting.

Product Details

Marja McGraw, author of Old Murders Never Die and Bogey's Ace in the Hole: I agree with your answer, Sally, but word-of-mouth has caused me to read books far more frequently than anything else. Also, I have been reading more books because of blogs I enjoyed.

Product Details

Sunny Frazier, author of the Christy Bristol Astrology Mysteries: I will definitely pick a book from a series that I've been following, no questions asked. I already know I like the author's work. How do I pick a book from an unknown author? Either by subject matter or personal recommendation, although I gotta admit, sometimes the cover lures me in.

Product Details

Jim Barrett, Daisy Chain Killers, Ma Duncan, Steady Your Spooky Horse: Name recognition.
Cora Ramos, Writer and Blogger: I now have gotten to the point that I will only read writing that grabs me and pulls me through the story. Every time I try reading something someone says was good, I'm often disappointed in the writing. 

I find new authors on Twitter, through my on-line social network, from perusing the books that are on Amazon or Barnes & Noble, and trying free books that appeal to me that are featured anywhere (Smashwords, Amazon, Barnes, blogs, etc) --I always read the excerpts to see if the writing is good, the story is interesting, and, as I noted on my blog today, that the emotion is real and valid. With so many good books out there, I just don't have time to read the mediocre stuff. (Check it out after you've read this post!!)

Melodie Campbell, author of A Purse to Die For: I am in the same position, as Exec. Dir. of Crime Writers of Canada.  I am always getting requests to review books, and would probably never need to buy another.

However, I'm remembering back to when I was just a short story writer, not too many years ago.  I really did look at newspaper reviews.  I would look particularly for those reviews where it said, "if you like Janet Evanovich, you should like this."  I mean JE just as an example.  But it is the way I found Lisa Lutz.  I also looked at cover blurbs (endorsements) from writers I liked.  It would entice me to at least read the back blurb.

As far as Amazon reviews: I haven't found those as useful. Too many of them gush or stab.

Product Details

*          *          *

What emerges quickly and most obviously is that word of mouth is the big trend. The second is that I need to send all of my books to KCRW and NPR in general. We all do. It seems to be where some key readers have been getting their recommendations.

Most people seem to get them from recommendations online as well. The Amazon reviews are not high on the list.

Reading over these answers, my wife had an interesting and practical insight. There are really about four different ways people are getting their books, but each writer is different. The writer then needs to spend as much time exploiting what he or she is comfortable with rather than spending equal amounts of time on all methods.

How about any new insights from you? Do you see different trends here?

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

An Interview with Lorna and Larry Collins

Years ago my wife and I did the math and realized that financially it didn't make a lot of sense for both of us to work. When you figure in the cost of extra clothes, extra travel, meals out, and exhaustion, dual incomes are often pointless. I had the greater earning potential as a college professor, so I kept my daytime job, and Ann stopped being a paralegal, which wasn't a lot of fun anyway.
It gave her a chance to focus on her work, and now she's found a new career that she works out of the home. But in those early years, she decided that she was going to help me promoting my work. She sent out all of my work, generally one manuscript a day, short stories, poems, and the occassional book, and she would send to places I would have never thought of. Thus, Garrison Keillor picked me up on the radio, Sunny Frazier worked on a book with me, and . . . well I could go on immodestly but let's just say she gave me the juice to brag.
If you can work with your spouse without killing each other, then you will have magic in your career. Two people focused basically on one goal.
And that pretty much describes the relationship of Lorna and Larry Collins who write together, and importantly for this blog, promote together.
Their books include 31 Months in Japan, a memoir about building a theme park in Japan.
 Product Details
They also have written mysteries such as Murder in Paradise.
Product Details
In addition, they each write their own books. I was especially excited to talk to Larry who went to Cal Poly, Pomona, one of my alma maters. 
Here's the interview:
At what point in your writing process do you start to promote the novel you’re working on specifically? I mean you are clearly branding yourselves as writers all the times, but when do make that shift so you are promoting the current novel?
As soon as we have a commitment for publication of a new book, we start adding the information to our email signature. (i.e.: Look for New Book, coming soon from XYZ Publishing.) We also  announce the upcoming book on both our profiles and our author page on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. We have our webmaster add the information to our website. And we order business cards through VistaPrint for each specific book title. We start handing them out, telling people that the book will be coming soon. Of course, we also mention each step in the process as the book is going through publishing (first edit, final edit, galley, cover, etc.).
As part of our ongoing information, we include what we are currently working (WIP) on in some of our Facebook posts.
What percentage of the time do you spend promoting online versus meeting people face to face
We probably spend about 80% online and 20% meeting people. Although, lately, we’re doing more speaking and book events, so we are engaging more in person. We went to Disneyland twice in the past two weeks, handed out several business cards (our author ones, which we always carry with us) and are sure we sold at least four books. Those long lines are good for something! And our experience in the theme park industry always makes for interesting conversations.
You write together, and I assume that you promote together. What separate strengths do you bring to your promotion? That is, how do you divide the labor, or do you?
Actually, Lorna is the major promoter, and Larry does what he’s asked to do. If Lorna tells him to post something on his Facebook profile, he does it. He’s getting better about picking up some of the slack, but Lorna is still the primary marketing person.
Are there organizations or groups that you would suggest writers joining?
When we first were published, we joined EPIC, the Electronic Industry Publishing Coalition. Our first book, 31 Months in Japan: the Building of a Theme Park, was a 2006 finalist for the EPPIE award, and it received several other honors. For that reason, we attended EPICon that year in San Antonio. There we met so many people, some of whom have become very dear friends. And through that group’s email loop, we’ve learned more about the publishing industry in general and e-publishing in particular than anywhere else. Although EPIC membership is limited to industry professionals (published authors, editors, publishers, agents, etc.), EPICon, the conference, is open to readers, writers, and others interested in the business. Next March, the conference will be held in Vancouver, WA. (See the website for more information.)
Lorna is also a member of the National League of American Pen Women. We have recently been meeting other authors and taking part in their in-person events.
Actually, we’re basically pretty cheap, and some of the national organizations charge a great deal for what we consider little benefit. Therefore, we weigh the cost against the potential exposure. We also pay attention to what other writers who are friends are doing and consider their recommendations.
What do you see as the most productive thing you do for promotion?
Probably our online presence is the most important. We have a mailing list of over 1000 names to whom we send regular announcements, including blog information. We blog every week, usually on Mondays, and include that information plus whatever other events are upcoming. We have a beautiful website, designed and updated by our precious Japanese ‘son-in-law.’ (He’s married to one of our Japanese ‘daughters.’ We have several who, as students, lived with us on home-stay programs.) And we use social media a lot!
How do you choose a new book from a living writer yourself?
We have met so many new writers through EPIC and our publishers. We usually have a backlog of books to read. We also read for several contests, so that provides our material. Our favorite contemporary writers are Marilyn Meredith, Terry Brooks, Gail Tsukiyama, Jennifer Crusie, Holly Jacobs (all of whom we’ve met, and several of whom are good friends) as well as Janet Evonavich and several humor writers. We have very eclectic tastes, as you can see, both in reading and in writing. maybe we’re just easily bored!
One of my favorite bits of information here is how they are always promoting. Standing in line at Disneyland they sell books. Friendlieness goes a long way.

So here's the question for this blog -- working with your spouse, I love it, the Collinses clearly love it, could you do it?

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Doing Field Research -- Morro Bay Estuary

I'm a national parks junky -- which is just a symptom of being a natural world junky. Anything that we love and has a hold on our consciousness starts to work its way into our fiction. A few years ago, I decided to formalize my love and start writing consciously about the national parks in California.

Thus, my character Harrison was born. He works for the national parks and wanders the back forests worried about his son who is dealing with depression. Okay, he's more active than that, and there is magic in every short story about him. The magic coming from nature of course. His first collection (Let Us All Pray Now to Our Own Strange Gods) is coming out on February 1st of next year, and I've been working on the second collection.

I'm setting my sequel to Mann of War (out in early 2013) in the national forests as well. I'm not good at focusing on just one manuscript. I tend to kill them when I do, so I'm working on this as well.

Why not set it where I love after all? The natural world contains drama and terror around every turn. The thing is, I prefer to allow the landscape to determine the story, so that means going to natural places and letting the world take me over.

Since one of the requirements of Harrison stories is that there is a moment of natural magic, I sit and wait for the magic to come to me.

The estuary itself is magic. I don't know what kind of bird that is. Audubon people will know what the name of the bird is. I don't know. And there is magic down there. Behind that bird is the breeding ground for sea life. There are thick marshes and otters. I used to watch the small sharks in the Seal Beach Estuary gliding silently through the waters.

The thing about it is that this is not only the most dramatic, but also the moment most prone to cliche. In the Harrison stories, I don't think this will work, but in an action book, I see Robert Mann trying to escape through the high grasses and being caught and terrified. That little bird tweets above him, and he can't move.

This moment is a little more Harrison's speed. It's hard to see, but in the background you can catch the three smoke stacks of the Morro Bay Powerplant.

There's no great metaphors here, but a nice contrast. The magic? Life in and among the generator. Human needs in harmony with plant life. That kind of thing.

And here is the world's smallest oak breed, The Coast Live Oak or Pygmy Oak. These form natural outdoor rooms with their tightly woven and low canopies. A great place to hang out alone and contemplate the world or hide from the bad guys. Actually, from Robert Mann's point of view, this is a great place to set up an ambush.

Observant nature dwellers will have already spotted the problem. There's a good deal of poison oak right there in the middle of this copse.

So I think I have a good deal of the work done for Robert Mann, but where is the magic that Harrison needs? I don't think I had the right moment here. The next day, however, walking along the beach, Ann and I were followed by a sea lion. He was in the shallow water on our side of the breakers, and he kept poking his head out and watching us. He'd be down for thirty seconds or so in water so shallow I would have thought he'd be exposed. Then he'd come up and spy on us.

That's the kind of thing Harrison needs in every story.

If you want to read a Harrison story or Robert Mann story, I've included them on a different page of this blog. I hope you enjoy!