Monday, July 27, 2009

BLEEDER radio interview

I’ll be interviewed about BLEEDER on Thursday, July 30 at 8:35 am Pacific Time on KZSB AM 1290, by Baron Ron Herron. The program airs in Santa Barbara, Goleta, Carpinteria, Ventura, Thousand Oaks and Los Angeles County. The show is rebroadcast on KNRY AM 1240 in Monterey, Salinas, Santa Cruz and Pebble Beach; KNWZ-II AM 1270 in Palm Desert, Palm Springs, Indio and Rancho Mirage. So if you’re in those areas, please tune in.

The program is delayed broadcast in Australia on 99.7 FM in Queensland and to another 30 radio stations via ComRadSat.

I've prepared short answers to the most likely questions, so I'll have a 'cheat sheet' to quote from in a natural voice - if I don't freak out!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

What a Character!

I’m speaking at a writers’ conference in August on character development in fiction, and here’s the tentative outline of my talk. You can imagine how it will fill in, with definitions, quotes and examples from my work and other places. I’ll invite participants to offer examples, too, from their own writing. How’s it look to you? Anything I left out? It looks like ‘dialog’ is left out, but that’s treated in Section IV A.
One way Selena de la Cruz is developed in BLEEDER and VIPER is by her clothing. As with many Latinas, her shoes make an important statement.
Me? Sears Roebucks.
OK, here's the outline:

What a Character!
John Desjarlais

I. qualities of well-dramatized fictional characters
A. motivation
B. consistency
C. plausibility

II. types of characters
A. flat
B. round
C. static
D. dynamic

III. character changes
A. within the possibilities of the character
B. sufficiently motivated by the circumstances
C. allowed sufficient time for a change of its magnitude to take place

IV. presentation of characters
A. Directly – what the reader is told
1. by the character himself/herself
2. by other characters
3. by the author
4. by the character’s thoughts
B. Indirectly
1. reactions of others
2. Externals
a. physical appearance
b. surroundings
c. clothing
d. possessions
3. character’s speech
4. character’s actions
5. character’s name

That ought to fill an hour, huh?
Hmm - looks like the 'editor' didn't preserve the indenting. That's ok; it's still readable.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Writing Media Releases part 2

(That's Selena over there, making an important decision as usual)

In my previous posting I outlined some steps to take when writing "Media Releases" to help promote a new book. Once your book is 'out there' and you begin to line up public appearances in bookstores, libraries, book clubs, conferences and so on, you'll need another kind of media release to announce the event. Some independent bookstores and Barnes & Noble stores will put an announcement in their newsletters or in-store flyers, but it will usually be up to you - no matter what the venue - to notify local media with what they call an 'advance story.'

It's really quite simple. All you need to do is remember the "5 W's and H" of basic journalism: who, what, when, where, why, and how. And like the other media release that announced your book, this one should be free of hyperbole and puffery. Keep it short and straightforward. Just the facts, please. Don't see it as an ad; see it as a really short news item. Some newspapers will run the basic info in a 'community calendar' listing and not run it as a story (unless you have a big platform and are becoming a celebrity!).

Set up the Media Release just like the other one, with your contact info at the top left and a release date (or "For Immediate Release") at the top right. Provide a short headline (in present tense) if you like. Then, in third person, tell readers who you are, what you'll be doing, where, on what date and at what time (and for how long). Provide any other details in descending order of importance. You can provide a brief bio or other background, but expect it to be cut off. Kinda like this:

Mystery writer plots murder in local bookstore

Mystery author John Desjarlais will speak on "How to Plot a Murder and Get Away With It" at (store/library) located at (address) on (date) from (time-to-time - y'know, from 7 pm-8 pm or whatever).

He will also sign copies of his latest book, BLEEDER, released August 15 by Sophia Institute Press. Ten percent of the proceeds will be donated to (name charity or library here).

The event is free and open to the public. Wine and cheese will be served (only say this if it's true!!). Attendees will be entered in a drawing for a prize.

Desjarlais, a member of Mystery Writers of America, lives in (name the town if you're a local) and teaches English and journalism at Kishwaukee College in Malta, Ill.

-30- (remember, this symbol means 'the end')

Notice how the story maintains an objective tone and avoids the excitement you actually feel about doing this. You'll want to write, "...will sign copies of his AWESOME book (title), destined to become a BESTSELLER so be sure to come and not miss out!!" But don't do it.

With all media releases, consider what other material you may need to send with it, especially photos such as your cover art or your mug (in .jpeg if sending electronically). By mail, you could include a business card or a bookmark.

Finally, remember to post your release in web social spaces, your blog(s) and other places as appropriate. Just be careful not to become a spammer ;-)

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

BLEEDER Media Release and writing releases

Here is the Media Release I'm sending out to announce the publication of my contemporary mystery, BLEEDER. Actually, it's one of a few, as I'm targeting others for different audiences: libraries, radio stations, and so on. This is the more 'general' version suitable for newspapers. With an official issue date of August 15 (as I just learned), now is the time to send out the news so every recipient has a little lead time to process and schedule it. Some papers will run it 'as is,' some will re-write to suit their style, and others will use it as a news lead, calling me for a personal interview (I hope).

A few notes about 'releases' -- First, it should look professional and follow the usual format of a media release, with contact information up front and a release date (if time sensitive). The body ought to look like a regular news story, in format and language, without puffery or self-congratulatory statements. You have to imagine someone else - a sympathetic reporter, perhaps- writing the thing on your behalf. So it will be kindly disposed, yet have an objective tone, referring to you, the author, in third person ("I am SO excited to announce that my new book is FINALLY being published and I'm sure you'll LOVE it!" won't do).

Paragraphs should be kept very short so the piece is easy-to-read in a narrow newspaper column, without huge blocks of text that readers skip. Write an engaging opening (the 'lead'), include a brief summary of the story (something you did when you pitched the book to agents and editors already), provide purchase info and links to your web site and blog. Let media people know where to find and download .jpg photos for their coverage (a mug shot of you, cover art for the book). Include a couple of brief 'quotes' by yourself, as though someone had interviewed you for the news story. A 'kicker quote' at the very end is a time-honored journalistic technique.

Most newspapers prefer to receive "Press Releases" online and their sites might do away with all your paragraphing/formatting (Social Space blogs do that too - very annoying). That's ok. The important thing is to send it and provide a link to your web site where they can copy/paste to their liking.

At the end of the Media Release, write -30-, a symbol to indicate that the article has ended. It dates from telegraph days when reporters wired stories and ended their transmission with XXX - which is 30 in Roman numerals.

OK, here is the Media Release (without some of the italics and a few other formatting things). Copy and paste and forward it hither and yon, to thine kith and kin, maybe to your own local newspapers and radio stations, bloggers, whoever - please!

Media Release

For Immediate Release

John Desjarlais
(you'd put your mailing addy and phone here)

Mystery novel BLEEDER explores higher mysteries

Novelist John Desjarlais has “the usual suspects” in his contemporary small-town mystery Bleeder: a smart amateur sleuth, a cunning villain, baffled police and colorful locals.

But in considering the mysterious death of a stigmatic priest – a priest bearing the wounds of the crucified Christ – Desjarlais explores ‘higher mysteries.’

“I don’t necessarily mean ‘religious’ mysteries,” Desjarlais explains. “Murder mysteries in general get close to our deepest motives and fears, showing humans in extremis. Such stories have a built-in opportunity to explore life's higher mysteries – not just the mystery of death, but the mystery of undeserved suffering.”

In Bleeder, classics professor Reed Stubblefield, wounded in a school shooting, retreats to a cabin in rural Illinois to recover and to write a book on Aristotle in peace. But the town of River Falls is filled with the ill and infirm -- all seeking the healing touch of the town’s new parish priest, reputed to be a stigmatic.

Skeptical about religion since his wife’s death from leukemia, Reed is nevertheless drawn into a friendship with the cleric, Rev. Ray Boudreau, an amiable Aquinas scholar who collapses and bleeds to death on Good Friday in front of horrified parishioners. A miracle? Or bloody murder?

Once Reed becomes the prime “person of interest” in the mysterious death, he seeks the truth with the help of Aristotle’s logic. But not everyone in town wants this mystery solved.

A former producer with Wisconsin Public Radio, Desjarlais teaches journalism and English at Kishwaukee College in Malta, Ill. His short fiction has appeared in a variety of magazines. A member of Mystery Writers of America, he is listed in Who’s Who in Entertainment and Who’s Who Among America’s Teachers.

Desjarlais’ medieval thriller, Relics, set in Crusader Palestine, was re-issued by Thomas Nelson Publishers in May this year and is available at

Bleeder (Sophia Institute Press, trade paper, 272 pages, ISBN: 978-1-933184-56-2, $14.95) will be issued August 15, 2009 and will be available at and bookstores everywhere.

Readers may visit for reviews, photos, links related to the novel, and interaction with the author. A 30-second video trailer is at

“I wrote Bleeder as an entertaining read, a requirement of the mystery genre,” Desjarlais says. “But I hope it also leaves a reader thinking – and in wonder.”


(Some formatting stuff was lost in the copy/paste but that's ok. Please let me know if you forward this to any person, store, or media outlets so I can follow up. Thanks!)

Monday, July 13, 2009

Meet Selena de la Cruz video

To celebrate reaching page 200 of VIPER, featuring insurance agent (and ex-DEA Special Agent) Selena de la Cruz, I produced a little video profile for her. Check it out here:

Animoto no longer has an upload link to YouTube, so I'll have to figure out another way to post it there.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

5 things I wish someone told me about publishing

When you're writing, your focus is all about the story and the craft. But there are things about writing and publishing you're never really told along the way. Here are 5 things I wish I'd been told:

1. Just when you think you are done and the manuscript is in its best shape and finally accepted for publication, the agent or editor will ask for lots of re-writing. In my first book, nothing was changed at all. In my second book, the editor requested a few adjustments, nothing big. Those experiences were 15 years ago. Publishing has changed. Today, the competition is so fierce and the output of books so overwhelming (about 20 books PER MINUTE published in the USA) that agents and editors are much more involved in shaping and perfecting the book in order to stand out. My editor for BLEEDER asked the beginning to be shortened a great deal, the ending to be a bit more spectacular, and the motive for the killer to be deepened. There were other things throughout, too many to list - let me just say that at first I was surprised and a little hurt. But - being professional - I agreed that the changes strengthened the work and cranked out the revisions quickly. It is a better book - but I wish I'd known that there was a lot more 'intervention' these days even after acceptance. Well - maybe not. I might have gotten discouraged.

2. You won't believe how many times you'll read your own book in the proofing process. You do want it to be perfect and avoid typos and such. But what tedious work.

3. Promotion and marketing are harder than writing the book, more time-consuming, and potentially a real hindrance to writing. 15 years ago, my publishers invested in my titles with advertising, solicitation of reviews and other things. We've all heard how little publishers are putting into marketing these days, backing only their top-sellers who don't need much publicity anyway. What has made everything harder is the shift culturally from old media to new media, adding loads of work for authors to get noticed in cyberspace as well as public space. Many bookstores are reluctant to host book signings (it's more work for them with little return) and blogs and social spaces can soak up a lot of time with a questionable return. I hope I don't sound like I'm whining - I'm just saying that the business side of writing, the selling side, is a real challenge. There's always something you could be doing, and this can bite into the work you like most - writing.

4. Your book might not get into your local stores or libraries. "But I'm a LOCAL author," you say. That's a plus, but chain store buyers aren't local and don't know you from boo. The smaller, independent stores are better about this, though they check the sales record of your earlier books and if the numbers aren’t great, they won’t carry your new book. Libraries today are strapped for money and many are not purchasing new titles. If you try to set up an event at their place, some want you to donate a copy of your book to the collection (a proposed alternative is to ask if you can sell copies on the premises after your presentation/workshop, and donate 5%-10% of the proceeds to the library book-purchasing fund and then hope they buy a copy of your book with that).

5. If your book DOES get into stores, it won't be there long. The shelf space in a store is valuable real estate, and books are rotated very fast, sometimes every few weeks. That's not much time to create a buzz and build good sales numbers. That's why so much promotion has to be done BEFORE the release date of the book. And if the sales numbers aren’t super – especially if there’s no ‘sellthrough’ (meaning all or most of the copies printed were sold), then your chances of getting published again are smaller, even if you’re a pretty good writer.

All of this is not deterring me from moving ahead with my next book, the sequel to BLEEDER (tentatively titled VIPER). But I know that when I'm done with it - I'm not.
(BLEEDER is due out in August 2009. Look for it at Amazon).