Thanks for stopping by…

If you like kick-ass heroines, regardless of which side of the law they’re on, you’ve come to the right place. As we get to know each other, I’ll introduce you to my characters via their own stories — and between their stories, maybe I’ll tell you a few of my own…

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The value of short fiction

short_stories_coverSome colleagues and I were recently discussing the relative value of short fiction (short stories, novelettes, and novellas) vs full-length novels. Much to my surprise, there were those who seemed to feel that short stories were of no particular value – one went so far as to suggest that the “lowly short story” was essentially a waste of a writer’s time, for a variety of reasons.

Yeah… you know me. I couldn’t leave that one alone, and because I feel so strongly that short stories are extremely valuable – both to readers and writers – I had to address the issues point-by-point.

Lowly Argument #1: Short stories are lowly in the author-recognition factor.

I have often read a short story, enjoyed it, and looked for more work by that author. As a reader, a short story is a great way to test the waters and see if I like a new-to-me writer’s work without the commitment of a full novel. As a writer, short stories are one of the best forms of author-advertising there is, for lots of reasons (see argument #4).

Lowly Argument #2: Short stories are lowly in the paid department, because the author gets no advance.

Sure, there are a lot of unpaid markets out there for short fiction, and most of the professional-paying short fiction markets will pay in the neighborhood of $.05-$.10 cents a word for a story between 3000-10000 words long (talking in averages here). So it doesn’t add up to a ton-o-bucks up front. But short fiction markets also only hold onto the rights for a very limited time (see argument #3 on contracts), and then the author can (and I have) sell reprint rights, put the short story up as an ebook at low or no-cost, offer it as an audiobook, etc., and continue earning from it.

As an example, “With Friends Like These” is a 10,000-word story I didn’t sell to a print market, but published directly as an ebook in 2010, and it’s been a consistent earner for me for nearly four years. Even at ebook royalty rates, it’s been a decent workhorse, in both the royalty dept. as well as in leading people to the companion novel, Conflict of Interest. I’ll be putting up another short in that same series this summer, in anticipation of the next book release in the fall. (see the previous topic: short stories as author-advertising)

And in the ROI department, it takes me so much less time to write a short story than a novel (orders of magnitude less!) that what I earn from a short story over its life is actually quite competitive with the earnings from a novel, in a strict, “dollars per hour” sense.

Lowly Argument #3: How about contracts?

What about the contracts? Short fiction markets in the US (whether print or online):

  • typically ask for first world English rights for a limited period
  • automatically revert the rights back to you after 6 mos – 2 yrs (depending on the publication)
  • don’t ask for foreign and audio rights
  • don’t ask for rights they’re not immediately using (i.e., a magazine doesn’t ask for anthology rights, etc.)
  • don’t include non-compete clauses
  • don’t require an agent/IP attorney to negotiate
  • don’t include royalties, so no “reserve against returns” held back from your payment
  • etc.

Personally, short fiction contracts are so straightforward and uncomplicated as to be a breath of fresh air.

Lowly Argument #4: You enjoy writing Short Stories, fine, but you should be using your time writing the book and promoting YOUR NAME.

Again (and in summary), short stories are a good way to:

  • build name-recognition among readers
  • keep your name visible between novels
  • explore a story idea which may/may not turn into your next novel
  • get to know a secondary character in greater depth
  • give your new readers an introduction to your work
  • give your current readers “cookies” to keep them excited about your work while waiting for the next novel
  • build a collection you can eventually sell/self-publish to accompany your full-length novels

Lowly Argument #5:  It all depends on what you want out of your writing.

And now we finally come to an argument I cannot refute!

If you enjoy reading/writing short stories, the more the merrier. There’s a wealth of material out there for you to enjoy. If you don’t enjoy reading/writing short stories, you’re under no obligation to either read or write them.

Of all the benefits of short stories, I think my favorite is the opportunity they give me to explore the side-streets of a larger work. I can get to know secondary characters or figure out more about a world I’m either developing or have already created.

It’s just my opinion here, on this blog, but I have to say it: short stories are FAR from lowly! And I fully intend to continue writing them.

- Lauryn

short story 01

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The mystery of marketing

I just read a thoughtful blog post by Shelly Frome over at Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers, where she talks a bit about the recommendations frequently made to writers to promote, promote, promote their own work.

I wrote a witty reply to the post, but I’m reposting it here, partly because Blogger often eats my replies to posts, but mostly because I wanted my own readers to know why I don’t barrage them with incessant Facebook and Twitter messages, send out postcards (although I will hand you a business card if I happent to meet you face-to-face), or do any of the number of other takes-time-away-from-writing activities that are all too often recommended – and often, it seems, required for writers to do.

Anyway, here’s my reply to Shelly’s post. As for me, I’ve now spent far more than my alloted Internet-time today, so I’ve got to get back to work on Meg’s next contract…

* * *

In the middle of all the how-do-I-sell-my-book- brou-ha-ha, I’m starting to see more and more writers go back to the core of all book-marketing concepts:

“Write the best book you can, get it out there, and then write the next one.”

Yes, we absolutely want people to buy our book(s). But once we’ve hooked them, what next? They’ll spend a little of their precious time in the world we’ve created and – if we’ve done our job as writers – go looking for more. And if we, as writers, have been faithfully following the magazines’ advice and spending all our time promoting our book, our want-to-be-loyal readers will come up empty-handed, call us a choice (and hopefully, creative) name or two, and move on to the next writer with a world they can immerse themselves in.

I don’t do a lot of promotion for my work – instead, I’m working on building up a collection of stories for my soon-to-be-amazing-fan following to find and drool over (I’m up to two titles in my Hit Lady for Hire series now, one long and one short, with another one in progress).

In my opinion – and the opinion of more and more writers:

The best publicity for your book is your next book.

(Which is why I’m now going to get off the internet and get back to writing!)

Thanks, Shelly, for the post, and Lois, for posting it.

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Castle – mini-series style

Yes, I admit it – I’m not a fan of most television series. It’s not that there aren’t some good series’ out there – it’s that I don’t like the whole “being held hostage to the television” thing.

Castle&BeckettBut I will pick up the season DVDs of a series that I’m following or that has been recommended to me and watch it mini-series style. Which is what we’re doing with Castle, Season 3 (yes, I know, we’re behind, but I don’t care). I’m loving it! The writers and actors have really hit their stride, and the stories have a delightful number of twists and turns, and even when I can guess “whodunit” before Beckett & Castle, I don’t mind because I’m enjoying the ride so much.

Yup. As both a writer and a viewer, I’m definitely a fan.

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How to Tell a Story

State of Play - BBC miniseries - 2003My husband and I were thoroughly engrossed by the five-part BBC miniseries version of State of Play that we watched this weekend. (Disclaimer: I thought I’d picked up the Hollywood-movie version, and will be watching it next weekend.)

But getting back to the BBC miniseries…

This is an excellent example of how to tell a story. The writers ease you into the story, letting you get to know the characters and come to care for them while gradually turning up the heat. And then there’s the matter of “the stakes.” Initially, the stakes are low – the reporters want a story. But as the story progresses, the stakes also increase from personal challenges to serious physical jeopardy. And then, just at the point where you’re beginning to wonder how long they can sustain the original threat, they raise the stakes yet again, in much the same way that a musician might change key. But even then, the movie isn’t overloaded with action sequences and fluffy filler. Instead, the scriptwritrs gave us a real treat: characters who actually talk to each other – crisp, real dialogue, that keeps you glued to your seat for the duration of the series.

I think it’s the dialogue that is actually my favorite part of the entire show. When the characters are talking to each other, you actually believe the conversations – they don’t come off as scripted or artificial, the way so many other movie conversations feel.

And there’s one scene, where Ann (in the foreground) is finally letting herself react to the day’s events, while Cal (in the background) is talking just like a normal person would, that is a brilliant piece of both dialogue and cinematography.

If you’re tired of the usual roller-coaster action-adventure ride, that leaves you breathless but wondering what the big deal was, give State of Play a chance. The storytellers – and the creative team that produced the film – really knew how to tell a story.

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The Last Sigh of the Moor

I love historical fiction – stories that connect me to a historical place and time and letting me see and experience it through the eyes of a character I can care about. But I’ve hesitated about trying my hand at writing historical fiction. I’m not a historian, and found the idea of writing a story based in a historical period rather daunting.

So when I attended a short story workshop earlier this summer, and the first assignment given by the instructor, my friend, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, was to write a story set in a historical period about which we had a reasonable level of knowledge, I hesitated – but only for a moment, because you don’t tell Kris ‘no’ when she’s given you an assignment – and then I dove in. After all, refining my short-story skills, and learning from a master such as Kris was why I’d signed up for the workshop.

The story I wrote was The Last Sigh of the Moor. Not only was it a lot easier to write than I thought it would be, but once I let myself get past the “I’m not a historian” worries, and just let what I already knew about the period (the fall of Granada, Spain), supplemented with a little supporting research, guide me, the story almost told itself.

The Last Sigh of the Moor - a short story by Lauryn ChristopherThe Last Sigh of the Moor

a short story by Lauryn Christopher

There is a place, outside the walls of Granada, and in the shadow of the mighty Alhambra, where history tells us the city’s last caliph turned and wept at the sight of his beautiful, lost city… and, perhaps, at the loss of the friend who betrayed her.

Available on Kindle, Nook, and Smashwords. $0.99

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Shades of Gray … the Anti-Hero

In most crime and mystery fiction, it’s pretty easy to spot the hero/heroine.

She’s the person in the wrong place at the wrong time, who often finds herself in some sort of peril, but, in spite of all odds, manages to rout the bad guy in the end.

He’s the intrepid investigator/police detective/average Joe, who hunts down the villain with steely-eyed determination and a resolve to see justice prevail.

Villains aren’t always quite so readily apparent, but are seldom the mustachioed characters we remember from Saturday morning cartoons.

They’re more often chameleon-like, with textures and variations that make them sometimes difficult to spot amid the Rogue’s Gallery of shady characters populating the pages of the story. But while each of these individuals may have had some combination of means, motive, and opportunity to have committed the crime-in-question, the villain is ultimately revealed – and usually captured – as the one who acted on their darker impulses as the story progresses.

Yes, I’m generalizing on the stereotypes, but since it’s so easy to identify the stereotypical heroes and villains, it should be just as easy for us to recognize the anti-hero, right?

Not always.

When I wrote Conflict of Interest, I didn’t at first realize that the main character, Meg, was an anti-hero. After all, she’s an assassin – not a typical hero’s profession; on the other hand (keeping spoilers to a minimum here), she actually chooses some heroic-type actions through the course of the story.

It was a fellow writer who read an early draft and pointed out that by telling the story from the assassin’s point of view, I’d entered the gray area  and gritty streets inhabited by the anti-hero.

Of course, that suits me just fine. Meg is a complicated person, a woman with a dysfunctional past that has molded and shaped her into the person she is – someone who can kill quickly and efficiently when the need arises, who is not above selling secrets or using what she’s learned to her own advantage or to suit her purposes. At the same time, there’s a core of humanity in her that she frequently fails to recognize – a fierce loyalty to her few friends, a protective nature that asserts itself when she volunteers at a self-defense class or invests her ill-gotten gains in underdeveloped communities.

In her own stories, Meg never sees herself as the hero, but she doesn’t consider herself to be the villain, either. In her matter-of-fact way, she’d tell you that she’s just there, doing what needs to be done. A loner, a person who gets her hands dirty because there’s a job that needs to be done, and she’s not afraid of doing it.

Just don’t ask her to think too much about it.

Paris 2008, photo by Nino Andonis“In the real world there are no villains. No one actually sets out to do evil. Fiction mirrors life. Or, more accurately, fiction serves as a lens to focus what we know of life and bring its realities into sharper, clearer understanding for us. There are no villains cackling and rubbing their hands in glee as they contemplate their evil deeds. There are only people with problems, struggling to solve them.” 

–Ben Bova

 

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Lies we tell ourselves

The novelette, With Friends Like These, is what I would call a complicated story. Not so much in the plotline, which is fairly straightforward, as in the subtext – the emotional wringer that Meg is being squeezed through as events push her closer and closer to doing something she is dreading.

Perhaps it’s a way of trying to ignore what she knows is coming; maybe it’s something else – but on more than one occasion, Meg lies to herself (and to us) about who and what she is.

Meg tells herself that she’s not an assassin, even though she routinely takes on jobs that require her to kill people – a job she is able to do with cold efficiency. But as we see in both With Friends Like These and Conflict of Interest, there are times when she isn’t comfortable with the assignments she’s been given.

Meg also tells herself she’s amoral, usually refusing to acknowledge her own peculiar brand of morality because she sees it as a potential weakness to someone in her line of work – but it is this inner morality that inspires her to help Liz the way she does (no spoilers here, but you’ll understand if you read the story).

Meg enjoys her work. Most of the time. With Friends Like These is the story of one of the assignments she would have preferred to avoid. It throws her into emotional places she doesn’t like to go, leaving her raw and vulnerable. And, as she says in the story:

“…I was angry with everyone I met or talked to or even knew existed. I wasn’t myself. And in my line of work, that’s not something you can afford. It makes you careless…”

Meg is a character I’ve enjoyed getting to know – a person with a difficult past that has shaped the strong woman she’s become. I like writing about her, and plan to write more of her stories in the future. Hopefully, that’s what you wanted to hear!

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Planning for printing

A few people have asked if I’m planning to make a print (paper) version of my crime novel, Conflict of Interest available.

The short answer: Yes.

The long answer: Yes, as soon as I’ve sold enough of the ebook copies to pay for the cover design, internal layout, and proof copies. I’m getting close to my goals, but, like all good things, it takes time. I’m trying to be patient – I want to see the book sitting on my bookshelf, too!

In the meantime, spread the word: the more people who buy the ebook, the sooner the print version will come out!

Conflict of Interest – a crime novel by Lauryn Christopher
Available on Kindle, Nook, XinXii and Smashwords. $4.99
When a professional assassin has a work-related issue, someone usually ends up dead…
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A bit of fun

My husband and I randomly happened to pick up “Wild Target” from Blockbuster yesterday – not sure why (the cover image caught my attention, the blurb hooked me…sound familiar?)

The movie is based on the 1993 French film Cible Emouvante (which I’d never heard of before, and, not being fluent in French, will probably never see). It’s about an assassin (Bill Nighy) with a problem: He didn’t kill his target (Emily Blunt) quickly enough, and now he’s not so sure he wants to – although there are times when she pushes him almost to the edge in spite of himself. Toss in an accidental apprentice assassin (Rupert Grint), a bad guy with the worst taste in thugs, and an aging mother who has lovingly scrapbooked all of the assassin’s kills, and the movie could have very easily gone over the top into ridiculousness at many points along the way.

But it didn’t.

The DVD cover blurb bills the film as “…a dangerous comedy…” and while the action is not intense and the suspense low-key, the humor is in a dry, British style that is perfectly timed. The dialog is sharp and crisp, and even when you know what’s going to happen next, you don’t care, because you’re so engaged with *how* they do it.

I don’t recommend movies often, but this was well-written and great fun. If this were a review site, I’d give it five stars. Enjoy!

Wild Target
Bill Nighy, Emily Blunt, Rupert Grint
Honest Engine Films, 2010
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Life’s Little Mysteries

It’s spring-cleaning time (yeah, I’ve been putting it off for as long as possible), and I am once again amazed at the places in my house that manage to accumulate cat hair when I’m not looking.

Like the top of the fan blades.

It was warm over the weekend, which prompted me to turn on the ceiling fan (it’s still too early to turn on the A/C). And as the blades slowly began to turn, a thin film of dust and unmistakable wisps of cat hair began to float down on the gentle breeze. Yech!

I forget that dust settles on the fan blades during the winter. They’re up over my head and not on my weekly dusting routine (out of sight [overhead], out of mind). And every spring I find myself wondering how the cat hair – which I’m used to vacuuming off the couch and the carpet and every other horizontal surface in the house – manages to find its way up onto the fan blades.

It’s one of life’s little mysteries…meow.

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