Saturday, 24 March 2012

Marcie's Murder Now in Production

Marcie's Murder, the second Donaghue and Stainer Crime Novel, is now in production. The final proofs have been approved, and the book is now on its way to print.

An advance reading copy has already been uploaded to Smashwords in order to provide reviewers with access to the novel. Would you like to beat the rush and get your e-Book copy now? Here's the link:

The cover art is now being finalized before being uploaded to the printer. We had a last-minute burst of inspiration and redesigned the back cover in order to include a second photograph by the very talented Roberto A. Sanchez, whose work graces the front cover of the novel. The file is now being Mac-ified and will be ready shortly. At the same time, the book block itself will be prepared using InDesign and the trade paperback version will go to the printer. Exciting times!

We're looking forward to a launch of the paperback in the middle of April, so stay tuned for further news.

Tomorrow, when I get up, I'm going to get right back into the first draft of the third novel in the series, The Fregoli Delusion. I want to have the manuscript done by July, and as Karen Stainer would say, time's a-wastin'!

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

The Masquerade Crew is Sponsoring a Great Book Promotion

The Overnight Bestseller is very pleased to be able to participate in an exciting book promotion sponsored by The Masquerade Crew. As you can see, Blood Passage is among the 5-star books included in the fun.

The Masquerade Crew began their adventure a little more than six months ago. Since they posted their first author-requested review on October 1st, 2011, they're going to officially celebrate their six-month blogaversary between now and April 1st, which is the first day of the A to Z challenge. They encourage you to come back for that because for 26 days in April they're going to post writing tips from some of their followers.

In the meantime, they're kicking off this party with a mega giveaway. Roughly half of the authors of their 5-star reviews have agreed to give away copies of their books. This is your chance to win up to 8 free books. Click on the book covers to go to their review.

A Soul to Steal
by Rob Blackwell

Blood Passage
by Michael J. McCann

Force of Habit
by Marian Allen

The Punished
by Peter Meredith

by Zach Fortier

by M. R. Cornelius

Spirits Rising
by Krista D. Ball

Everything I Tell You Is A Lie
by Fingers Murphy

Enter Below for your Chance to Win

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Happy St. Patrick's Day

I'd like to take a moment to wish everyone a very Happy St. Patrick's Day. Those of us who are fortunate enough to be Irish or descended from Irish stock never like to miss an opportunity to talk about our proud Celtic heritage, and March 17th gives us an entire day to carry on about it!

My McCann ancestors emigrated from Forkhill Parish, County Armagh between 1841 and 1843 and settled in North Crosby township, Ontario, which is about an hour and a half drive from where I'm sitting right now. Joining family members who'd already been here for a year or two, they cleared a few acres of land from the rocky scrub up on Foley Mountain, just above the town of Westport, Ontario. Arthur McCann was 66 years old, his wife Ann Quinn was about 57, and they'd come over with their son John, 17, daughter Elizabeth, 15, and Michael J., who was 12. How the old couple survived their first Canadian winter in such primitive conditions is a story that I wish could be adequately told. It's a testament to the determination, pride, and strength of the Irish spirit that we celebrate on this day.

Anyone interested in the earliest period of our McCann history is welcome to take a look at this website I've been pecking away at for the past couple of years. I'm very much behind in my work on it, as my novels have been consuming most of my waking hours the past few months, but I promise to everyone in the family that I'll get back to it shortly and provide a full telling of the generations who were born and raised here in Canada.

Happy St. Patrick's Day to everyone!

Friday, 16 March 2012

Guest Post by Detective Karen Stainer, Glendale PD

Let's get something straight right away: this is not my idea of a fun time. As far as I'm concerned, blogging ranks right up there with knitting doilies in an old-age home, watching paint dry, and counting ceiling tiles in the Emergency ward at three in the morning. Plus, they told me I have to watch my language. Not drop the f-bomb or any other four-letter words that'll set off that damned adult content warning message that pops up before people can read the damned post. Like I give a shit.

Mike sent me a set of instructions he wants me to follow, and I see here that the first thing I'm supposed to do is introduce myself. All right. I'm Detective Karen Stainer. I'm thirty-seven, born in Ponder, Texas and raised in Fort Worth. I've been a proud member of the Glendale Police Department for sixteen years, the last few in Homicide. I'm five-three, one-oh-five, and Mike keeps writing that I'm a Tai Kwon Do black belt with a mean streak. The first part is right but the second is an exaggeration. I'm not mean; I just don't put up with gray areas. Either they come quietly or they come in pieces. Their choice.

I’m just going to ignore all the questions I’m supposed to answer on this list except the one asking what kind of music I like to listen to when I’m relaxing. There’s no mystery to that one: I’m a big fan of the late Stevie Ray Vaughan, Bonnie Raitt, Susan Tedeschi, the Allmans and, of course, the classic, Johnny Winter.

Mike wanted me to write something about my family but I’m not going to get into that. My daddy, Bobby Stainer, was a Texas state trooper. He practically raised us kids on his own. My oldest brother, Darryl, is a trooper for the Oklahoma staties, Delbert is a car mechanic in Houston, and my younger brother Brad builds houses. I’m not going to talk about Jimmy Bob and I’m not going to talk about my mother. That’s all I’m going to say about family. Mike tells me he’s going to want to get into all that stuff in detail when Sandy and I get married. Hank seems to think it’s very important I let him do that. We’ll see. Can you shoot your own author? Maybe just wound him a little?

Other than Sandy, who’s a little sweetie, Hank’s the person I’m closest to in my life. That’s Lieutenant Hank Donaghue, now my supervising officer, for those of you who’ve been living under a rock the last year or so. The Lou’s going to take his turn writing his own blog post next week, and I’m sure he’ll love it because he’s into all this kind of stuff. He’s a brainiac and a really, really sweet guy. If you don’t know already, you’ll find out. Mike I wouldn’t trust to pick up my dry cleaning for me, but Hank’s the one I want watching my six when the bullets start to fly.

I can’t spend much more time at this because I have to drive over to the Forensic Medical Center to attend the autopsy of the V.I.P. whose case we’re currently working. I can’t talk about it, but Mike’s writing about it and you’ll find out soon enough. This October, I hear. In the  meantime you can read Marcie’s Murder, which is coming out in April. It's his version of events when Hank went down to Virginia on vacation last September. Poor bastard got beat up and arrested for murder, of all things, and I had to drive down there to straighten it all out. Christ, the things we do for people.

I give Mike a pretty hard time and I stay on his case pretty good. He needs to get his butt out of his chair and exercise more often, meet new people and get a freakin’ life, but I understand where he’s coming from. He wants to tell our stories, explain to you folks what criminal investigation is like and what kind of impact it has on the lives of us people who do it for a living. He’s an idiot, but I guess I have to respect him for that much. We all do what we have to do.

My words of advice to you blog readers? If you haven’t caught Mike’s book on the Martin Liu cold case, I suggest you do so right away. You might think Blood Passage is some kind of paranormal bullshit thing, like Mike's first book, but it’s not. He sticks to the facts about our investigation of a freaky case and a little boy who spooked the hell out of me, and doesn't expect you to become some kind of believer in the other stuff. Little Taylor's a sweet kid, but spooky. I don’t know if there’s such a thing as reincarnation, I really don’t, but after dealing with that kid, I gotta say I could be talked into it.

And get a copy of Marcie’s Murder, Mike’s book about that homicide down in Tazewell County I mentioned. I never met the woman, never even saw the body, for that matter, but Hank saw her just before she got it and he’s still trying to deal with that one. He doesn’t like to show it, but he takes this stuff a lot harder than I do. Probably because of his fancy-ass upper-class upbringing or something. They all get this chronic case of the sensibilities and figure that money explains everything away better than anything else. A lot they know. Hank, though, has figured it out. He knows the price we pay for doing this job and living this life, and he's willing to stand up to his end of the bargain. But I just know he's still got those damned sensibilities poking away at him underneath.

Me? I come from a family of cops and never wanted to do anything else. The violence and death are hard to take, yeah, but you get used to it pretty fast if you're the kind who's going to stick around. I’m way too much of a hardass to let that kind of thing bother me.

At least that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

First Touch of Spring

Today we enjoyed very warm temperatures with clear blue skies, a sweet taste of the spring weather that's just around the corner. The thermometer reached +11 degrees C, which I believe is a record for this day. We've been listening to Canada Geese fly over the house for the past few days, and today I saw the first robin of the year in the back yard. Spring's definitely coming.

This is the time of year that my neighbors are busy making maple sugar. The temperature dips just below freezing at night and rises above freezing during the day, which gets the maple trees all excited and stimulates the flow of sap. My wonderful neighbor down the road usually finds a way to slip me a rum bottle filled with maple syrup sometime shortly after sugaring season, so my thoughts are definitely with her and her family right now.

I spent the working part of the day inside, here at this keyboard, where I'm making my way through the final proofs of Marcie's Murder. I'm halfway through a final copy editing, and when that's done I'll read it through once more, strictly in proofreading mode. My deadline to have the final proofs ready for publication is March 15, this Thursday. At the moment I'd say I'm on track.

When three o'clock in the afternoon rolled around I put on my coat and rubber boots, grabbed my camera and took the border collie out the back for a walk in the forest. There's a bit of swamp here and there across my strip of land and once the snow's completely melted Cody and I won't be able to go back there for a while, so we take advantage while we can! I shot a whole bunch of pictures and thought I'd share this one with you. It shows how much the snow has disappeared just over the course of the past few days.

Friday, 9 March 2012

Blood Passage Earns a 5-Star Review from The Masquerade Crew

We're very pleased to announce that Blood Passage has earned another five-star review, this time from Mark Lee of The Masquerade Crew. The Masquerade Crew maintain a book review blog that specializes in independent authors. They also run book giveaways, contests, and guest blogging campaigns.

According to Mr. Lee, Blood Passage reads "like a mix between episodes of Law & Order, Cold Case and a dash of X-Files thrown in, creating a very unique appeal." He says he has "read highly acclaimed, traditionally published books that wouldn't stand up to this one in quality and would merely equal its entertainment value."

We're very gratified that Mr. Lee enjoyed Blood Passage well enough to award it a rating of five stars out of five, and we thank him for his kind words.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

International Women's Day

Today is International Women's Day across the world, and I'd like to take a moment to salute everyone who is observing this day. There has been a remarkable evolution in the social, cultural, economic and political role that women play in our society and I'm glad I've been able to witness it during my lifetime.

Of course, this gives me a moment to salute my wife, an extremely intelligent and insightful feminist who had a remarkable career with a law enforcement agency in the public service. She began her career at a time when women were an oddity in the organization and not taken seriously. She displayed incredible determination, courage, resilience and persistence to forge ahead in her career, ultimately climbing the ladder from front-line inspector to national program manager at headquarters, and I'm very proud of her accomplishments.

All young women contemplating a career in a law enforcement agency should take courage from the dedication and perseverence of those who went before them, defied the odds and rose to the occasion.

For more information about International Women's Day in Canada, check out the federal government's website. I'd also add the international website's link, but it's incredibly busy right now and I can't land on the page. I take this as a good thing, right? That kind of traffic means that people are aware of this important day and want to know more about it.

Saturday, 3 March 2012

A Writer's Methods: My Editorial Process

Recently someone asked me online whether or not I edit my own books. When I responded that I do, which is the case inasmuch as I'm the final arbiter in what stays, what goes and what's changed in my books, I understood I was opening a door I didn't necessarily want to open. I also understood, however, that the time had come to explain the process whereby my manuscripts become publications of The Plaid Raccoon Press.

Many people have blogged about the pitfalls of self-publishing and the avalanche of poor writing that has flooded the market with the advent of self-publishing outlets such as Smashwords and Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing. Tori Alexander, whose novels are published by The Permanent Press, pointed out in a 2010 blog post contrasting indie book publishing with indie music and film production that
The initial problem the Indie publishing industry has, as I see it, is the fact that books are written by individuals and are not the product of a concerted effort such as a film is or an album is. If a project requires a number of people (at least a handful), then the project is deemed a worthy one to at least those few people. But a lone, untalented scribbler can print a book for about $100.
Alexander's point is well-taken, if condescending, inasmuch as many creative people lack the skill sets to produce a finished product that displays a high level of quality and professionalism. It's true that many writers fall in love with their own work and fail to see its flaws. As a result, the importance of independent, third-party assistance in the production process taking a writer's creation from its embryonic state to an end product cannot be overstated.

Authors under contract to legacy publishers automatically have access to a support crew whose job it is to take care of this production process, but independent authors are less privileged. We don't have agents and editors, we don't sit in on cover conferences, we don't work with publicists, and often we don't have a budget sufficient to hire freelance editors and publicists to sit in these chairs for us. If we do have a budget, we face the challenge of finding freelancers who will work with independents as opposed to "real" authors and who are good enough to do the work at a level that compares to the "pros."

Having been a professional editor, I've observed that the quality of editing at the professional level can be mixed, to say the least. Let me give two quick examples and say no more about it. Recently I re-read The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler in a paperback edition reprinted by Ballantine Books. I found at least six typographic errors in the last hundred pages or so, glaring typos that you'd think should have been caught. I take this as proof that no one is perfect. In the second example, I give you Stieg Larsson, author of the "Millennium Series" of crime novels including The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest and The Girl Who Played With Fire. Well over 2,200 pages in the editions I have here on my bookshelf, these novels begged for an editor who could reduce incredibly bloated manuscripts to polished final products. While I'm aware that Mr. Larsson passed away after handing in the manuscripts, did the editors really think I'd want to spend a page and a half, for example, learning which Ikea products Lisbeth Salander chose for her new apartment? Did I really have to plow through 250 pages in the second novel before the crimes occurred that would form the central action of the rest of the series? My entire novel is 250 pages. Well, there are standards and there are standards, I suppose.

As I've said, no one is perfect, least of all this author. That's why I've presumed upon a team of manuscript readers who generously donate their time to read my books before they're published and to provide detailed feedback during the revision phase.

When I complete the first draft of a book, I return to the beginning and go through it again about three times. Usually after finishing the story, I've taken enough to time to decide what passages or sections bother me, and I do a rewrite to take care of the problem areas. When I'm satisfied, I go through it another time to copy edit. I correct grammatical or spelling errors I might have missed and I tighten the copy by eliminating unnecessary information, chopping modifiers, tweaking sentence order, rebuilding paragraphs, and that sort of thing. When this revision is finished I go through it once again to proofread for anything that might embarrass me if my readers were to find it. Inevitably I miss stuff, however, and they find it. Trust me on this one.

I then send it out to my readers. Although I won't mention them by name here, I'll take a moment to describe them (I mention them by name in the Acknowledgements section of my books). One reader is a neighbor who lives down the road from me. She's a voracious consumer of fiction who takes books with her when she's driving her school bus so that she has something to read while she's waiting in the parking lot for the kids to come out at the end of the school day. She prefers thrillers and adventure stories and is a big Clive Cussler fan. She never hesitates to tell me when I digress from my story into something that doesn't interest her. She skips these parts, and always lets me know exactly where they were.

At the opposite end of the spectrum is a former director's executive secretary who reads every word of my manuscripts and provides me with remarkably detailed feedback on each character and scene. She has an incredible eye for detail and is a much better copy editor than many I've seen in the profession. For example, after reading Marcie's Murder she included in her detailed feedback a half-page list of instances where she thought I needed to add or remove hyphens in order to remain consistent. How great is that?

Another reader likes to focus on my characters. She gives a great deal of thought to my characters as people and lets me know where I've provided too little background or could have developed them more. As a person she's very empathetic and sensitive, and I pay a great deal of attention to what she tells me because my characters are my particular strength and the focus of my stories. If readers are not reacting to them the way I think they should be, she tells me so I can "go fix it!"

Finally, I have another reader with a law enforcement background who not only gives me several pages of summarized feedback but also makes copious notes in the margin of the binder I print out for him. He covers all aspects of the manuscript very well and additionally lets me know when I make a mistake in terms of police procedures, firearms, or other technical aspects of my story.

Finally finally, my wife reads the manuscript. Also a former professional editor, she provides copy editing advice and guidance, catches typos, and tells me when characters or plot twists don't work. She listens patiently when I describe a change I'm considering and often tells me it's not necessary or that I'm just simply off track or over-complicating things.

After this phase has been completed, I go through the entire manuscript again to rewrite or correct based on this feedback. Not everyone agrees on everything, surprisingly (!), and so I'm the final judge of what gets rewritten. I'm not stubborn, though. Why collect all this feedback if you don't pay attention to it?

After this revision process, I read the manuscript again to make sure I'm satisfied with it in its current revised form. Then I go through it again to copy edit, a process identical to the copy-editing step described earlier. Then I format the file to conform to Lightning Source's requirements for a 5.5" by 8.5" trade paperback book.

When it's formatted, I proofread the entire thing again, beginning to end, looking for any stray formatting errors and searching for typos or what have you that may have been introduced in the revision or formatting processes.

By this time I'm thoroughly, thoroughly sick of this book and never want to see it again.

Now you have an idea of the rigorous process my books endure before the Raccoon's name goes on the title page and it gets printed. You also have an idea of the range of skills and abilities my readers bring to the table. However, as I said at the outset, I'm the final arbiter in what stays, what goes and what's changed in my books. As an independent, I wouldn't have it any other way. But process aside, what book production skills do I bring to the table? After all, Alexander's accusation remains that any lone scribbler can print a bad book these days.

To begin with, I earned a Bachelor of Arts in English at Trent University in Peterborough, Ontario, Canada, and a Master of Arts at Queen's University in Kingston. I took seven years to complete these two degrees and was fortunate to have worked with some very fussy, mean-spirited and difficult-to-please professors who seemed to delight in pointing out my many shortcomings. My fondest memory of the professor who served as second reader on my M.A. thesis (365 pages in length) was his tendency to write "fatuous" in the margins of my thesis manuscript. Again and again. God, I hated that blue pencil of his. And yet when it was all done, in my last conversation ever with him, he pointed to the glass cabinet in the graduate student lounge where all the completed theses were displayed and told me that mine was by far the best one in there.

I took my love of language into the publishing business, where I was hired by Carswell Legal Publications in Calgary as a proofreader. I still remember the test I took when applying for the job. I failed to correct a spelling mistake in the word "accommodated," which the managing editor delighted to inform me when she hired me. Apparently I'd overlooked the missing medial "m," a common error. I daresay I've never misspelled the word since.

In those days we proofread typeset galleys in pairs. One of us would read aloud while the other followed silently. We'd chirp out whenever we spotted an error, each correct it on our own copy, and continue. It was great fun. Reading this way made the work more enjoyable than it was otherwise. I remember a few laughing fits when neither of us could take over reading aloud. But our galleys were always clean and the production editors almost never found omissions when they read their page proofs.

I was soon promoted to the position of production editor and assigned my own publication, Criminal Reports (Third Series). As production editor I was responsible for copy editing, sending the marked copy to the typesetter, receiving it back and having the galleys proofread by the goofballs in the coffee room who seemed to do more laughing than reading, sending the galleys back to the typesetter, reading the page proofs (at this point I could only make what are known as accidental, as opposed to substantive, corrections to the proofs), sending the final, corrected proofs for hard cover and soft cover printing, and everything else in between these steps.

I worked with a legal editor and judges across the country who were responsible for our legal content because, in fact, what we published is what's known as common law, or case law: the reasons for judgment in Canadian court proceedings. It was, in fact, my distinct honour to serve as production editor in 1982 when we published the brand new Constitution Act and its attached Charter of Rights and Freedoms, along with several analytical papers by some of the most important legal minds in Canada. It was an issue I'll never forget.

I'm proud of these accomplishments but as I said before, I understand that no one is perfect, particularly this author. I learned as a student and an editor to work with a safety net. My safety net begins with the best resources I can have on my bookshelf next to this desk. I used to tell students as a teaching assistant, and newly-hired proofreaders as an editor, that they should never hesitate to look up a word in the dictionary if they weren't sure how to spell it. There's no place for foolish pride in writing or publishing. I keep several dictionaries within easy reach, including the big two-volume Oxford English Dictionary (complete with magnifying glass) and a copy of The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language that I swiped from my dad when I moved out. I have several editions of Fowler's Modern English Usage, because things have changed in there, a copy of Longman's Guide to English Usage and The Oxford Companion to the English Language. In addition to these reference works I have the Simon & Schuster Handbook for Writers, Editing Canadian English by the Freelance Editors' Association of Canada, Caps and Spelling by the Canadian Press, Words Into Type, the MLA Style Manual and, of course, that bellwether of good writing, The Elements of Style by Strunk and White. There are others in my collection, but I won't go on. My only regret is that I recently passed up on a hardcover edition of The Chicago Manual of Style because I thought it was too expensive. Next time....

I'm proud of my writing skills and equally proud of my editing skills, but not so foolishly proud that I don't constantly refer to these volumes on a regular basis to answer any doubts or confusion in my mind.

As a result, I bring to the table a lifetime of editing and proofing skills that are well-developed but could always improve. Blood Passage has two errors of which I'm currently aware, a missing space between a closing quotation mark and the next word, and an extra word in the "About the Author" blurb that inexplicably didn't get deleted. If you find any other errors, I'd love to hear about them.

My focus now is to make sure Marcie's Murder comes to you, the reader, as that elusive creature: the perfect book.

Tori Alexander and the many other naysayers notwithstanding -- I can always try!