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TheListFrontCover Jones smallerIf you really want to get your heart racing you can pick up a thriller or even better, dive headfirst into social media. If you write thrillers, you’re going to have to put yourself and your books in the middle of the fray and tweet, update and post.

Then, just when you feel like you have it somewhat under control the landscape will change. A new tool will come along and an old one that you really put a lot of time and effort into will fade from popularity.

That scenario isn’t going to change, ever, if you’re an author who’d like a shot at a growing audience. Here’s a few tips on how to live peacefully with social media and a few new platforms you may want to investigate.

  1. Make peace with the idea that you won’t be able to do it all and you won’t always get the mix right. Ask author friends in similar genres what works best for them and commit to three different platforms for yourself. Start, knowing this is going to be a marathon and not a sprint. It takes time to build a following and then to turn them into readers.
  2. Find a system for yourself that works. I like Hootsuite for posting during the week. I set it all up on the weekend and let Hootsuite post to different places like Twitter and Facebook three times a day, while I’m doing other things. I also set up any blog posts at the same time and check on a few other sites.
  3. Network at conferences, both in person and online, with your fellow authors for tips. Help each other out by sharing posts, tweets or repinning on boards.

A few social media sites to check out are

LibraryThing.com - Check out their program, Early Reviewers where you can give away your ebook to readers who agree to leave reviews.

Wattpad.com - A new site where people can share stories, short or novel-length, for free and build a readership. You can find me there under MarthaRCarr. Recently a young woman got a billion readers for her first work and sold the movie rights. That’s the outlier but you can see the potential.

Pinterest - This is a familiar site for most of us but are you using it to its full advantage for your novel? Think about creating a board for your main characters and pin what they’d like to wear, what restaurants they might haunt, or if you’re a thriller writer like me, what weapons they’d prefer. You can see my boards, here.

The last one is Facebook, the granddaddy of social media even though it’s only ten years old. Consider boosting a post from your Facebook author page, (which means buying an ad, basically), once a week for just $5. Think of it as an extra trip to Starbucks. To get some ideas of what I’ve done on my page, you can see it here.

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Martha pic blue sweater 030313When it comes to a career path, there are two kinds of people. In one camp are the people who get smacked in the face with a kind of awe one day, and believe they have a calling to do something in particular. In the other camp are those who are looking for opportunity and have a lot of different interests. Their life has a kind of balance without any dogged fixation on one thing in particular. It seems ideal in a ‘grass is always greener’ kind of way.

I’ve always fallen squarely into the first camp. I’ve known I wanted to be a writer since I was five years old, standing in the center of a Philadelphia library. I marveled at the idea that some genius had thought to gather books in one building, and then loan them out.

My father talked about having a calling in his thirties to be a minister. He was already the father of three girls and an engineer but one day, something came over him.

He said, whenever someone came to him and asked if it was a good idea to enter the ministry, he asked them about their calling. He said that element was necessary to survive all of those vestry meetings.

That’s the thing about having a passion for one particular career. There are stretches that are so long and difficult that a saner person would look for something else to do.

Writers will look for ways to stay a writer.

When I was new, a seasoned writer told me the secret to being an old author was just not quitting. Most left the profession, he said. Now, I get it, but back when he was telling me that sounded crazy.

In my  career there has already been the start of internet publishing, social media platforms and one Great Recession. Any one of those was enough to thin the herd.

It never occurred to me to quit and become something else. At worst, I thought about how this was probably keeping my brain young because I was constantly having to pick up some new computer skill just to marginally keep up. It’s no longer possible to live like a recluse and sell more than a handful of books.

At best, I have set out to network with other authors and remind myself of a few things.

  1. Every author, regardless of budget, is struggling to keep up with Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google+ and whatever new platform someone has introduced last Friday. People who want balance in their life have to make choices, and keep it in perspective. I ask myself, all the time, what avenues sound like they might be at least a little fun. My audiences tend to be like me, so that’s also a good indicator of where they’re gathering.
  2. No one knows what works, for sure, even if what they’re doing is actually working. I can’t even tell you exactly when it started to work, except that it seems to move forward, faster when I’m listening to my own inner voice, instead of someone else’s idea.
  3. That leads me to my biggest lesson that I learned the hard way. Every author I know who has stayed in this business for longer than a few years has a genre they love at the center of everything they do. There may be sidelines or adventures but eventually they go back to that core of thrillers or romance or biographies. I spent some time listening to other people’s ideas and instead, spread myself thin. I did have some great adventures but it did nothing for my career, and eventually I wandered back to thrillers.

Now, I’m having more fun than I’ve ever had as a writer and a lot of it is because I’m interested in what I’m researching and writing about, and the conversations that get stirred up as a result of a book. Go figure. That’s when I connect with that little girl in the middle of the library and spin out a new story, with a few dead bodies, a little faith, and all kinds of romance. The Circle, 3rd in the Wallis Jones series will be out in April, 2015. The List and The Keeper are out now.

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TheListFrontCover Jones smallerWriting is a very personal act rolled up inside of a traditional business. Like any other art form, who we are as artists come through in what we do, whether we like it or not.

The upside as a writer, is that I unexpectedly learn a lot more about myself with each book after readers tell me what themes they’ve picked out of the book.

A light bulb goes on for me and I see what it was I was really trying to say. Sometimes I think there’s a deep, inner part of me that’s driving the bus and motivating me to write so that I can finally get at a truth.

I’d love for that part to send out a postcard and get it over with, but apparently that’s not the way it works.

In The Keeper, the current book and the second thriller in The Wallis Jones series, there are people keeping secrets, or in other words, hiding in plain sight. They appear to be one thing, and as the story progresses, it becomes clear they are something completely different. Don’t worry, that gives nothing away.

What did I learn from that? That the art and the business of my career were not syncing up and I was doing it to myself.

Let me explain. I was pouring everything I had into the books and the reviews from both the media and readers backed me up – they loved the books. That’s the art.

But I was not packaging the books correctly. I was saying they were political thrillers, and then even mumbling that I knew that wasn’t quite right without knowing a better answer. More to the point, without actively seeking out a better answer.

It was as if I didn’t want to know. Then I wrote The Keeper, and saw that I was doing something a lot of us do, and was keeping secrets from myself.

Not big secrets. It’s just that I wasn’t being myself, saying what I really think, giving my true opinion on things – so that no one was ever offended. In the end, the picture of who I am became blurry, even to me.

It’s a quandary to work so hard to try and make everyone happy and create a shell that makes sure I always feel somewhat alone.

The way out is to allow people to see who I really am, which makes me wonder how that will change everything about myself as a writer and an author.

Those two words do not mean the same thing, by the way. One is the art and the other is the business. But finding out I was working so hard to keep some things to myself has helped me to create a bridge between the two and that led me to the second part – the business.

Have you ever wandered around with a question about yourself that mystified you and yet, you couldn’t find the answer? That’s how I felt. Why do people love the books but no one can find them?

The answer was because if you, as a writer, aren’t comfortable with who you are, it will come through in what may still be a good story, but it will also come through in the packaging as an author and make it difficult for others to be sure if they’ll like the product. They’ll pass you by for something more familiar.

The Wallis Jones series belongs in the category of inspirational romantic suspense, which changes a lot of things about the packaging. That’s actually the easy part.

It will still take some courage and faith to become visible and hope it makes a difference. There’s no guarantee that it will – at least not in the way I want it to. Fortunately, I have just enough of whatever is needed to go ahead and try without all the answers up front. Often, that’s all it takes to be successful. More will be revealed.

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The 'new' Me at the end of summer (that's a herd of guinea pigs in the background)

 

There’s an old saying, ‘write about what you know’ but a much more useful saying for me has turned out to be, ‘first figure out who you are and make peace with all of it’.

A little background would be useful here. I’ve been writing professionally for almost 25 years, at the dawn of the internet. I’ve been very successful at writing and have been published traditionally three times, written extensively for the Washington Post and had a syndicated national weekly column.

However, I never felt successful and instead ran around confused, trying to figure out where I fit in the profession. The confusion showed in the different genres I tried and eventually wore me out.

I knew all along that I was getting in my own way and costing myself sales but I had no idea how I was doing it or what to change.

Then, I learned the rule of the truest intention. The rule is, no matter what I claim I want to do or believe, whatever is my strongest underlying intention will rule. Mine turned out to be that I wanted to stay hidden and fade into the background. Too many questions might lead to too much exposure. That can make it difficult to become a well-known, and bestselling author.

Someone even recently pointed out to me that I do a good job of hiding in plain sight.

The result was that I had no practice at saying much about myself but I could give a pretty good description of everyone who was in my immediate orbit at any given time.

Is it any wonder that I was drawn to thrillers? Layer upon layer of misdirection that moves at lightning speed with a lot of fun thrown in on the journey.

However, the smoke has started to clear and instead of wanting to make sure that people know only the surface layer, I’ve learned how to open up and talk about myself.

The result is The Wallis Jones series and the first two books, The List and The Keeper, and an understanding that my books fall into inspirational romantic suspense and not political thriller. It’s a much better fit.

Another big revelation is that even though I’ve been writing for well over two decades, I’ve only been writing this series for a year and a half. That shift means, I’ve started over as an author, and need to view everything from that angle.

A lot of this self-awareness has felt very painful but those feelings pass and what’s left behind is clarity and a more-defined sense of self. It’s a view that I’m really learning to appreciate, even if I still like writing twisted stories of suspense that inspire and bring people together. More will be revealed.

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Potluck CelebrationThere was a time when I thought, once I have this lesson, I won’t have to learn it again. Didn’t matter what the fear was about – financial, relationship, career. There’s something here to learn and once I have it, I can move on and be happy.

That was only partially true. In order to really get at this truth, I was going to have to pull apart the layers of thinking I had about happiness and start from scratch.

First thing I realized was, I was trying to micromanage happiness into a box that I could control and pull out whenever I needed an extra dose. My underlying belief was that happiness was elusive and based on events. If the things that were going on in my life were hard or altogether missing, then I couldn’t be happy.

It also meant that if the people around me showed signs of unhappiness I needed to figure out how to change that for them and the sooner the better. Imagine how much fun that was for all of us.

It was also disrespectful. Instead of letting people choose for themselves how they felt about any given day, I was outright telling them that there was only going to be one mood when you’re around me. Happy. Or really, false happy.

So much low-level tension when I was in the room.

Second layer that had to go was that feeling anxious or even miserable was not necessarily a sign of anything and frankly, probably wasn’t and didn’t matter. It was okay to feel that way, just don’t act on the feelings.

In the past, if I was unhappy at a job for a long enough string of days, it must mean that I wasn’t meant to be there. Time to go. Now, I know to go and reason out what’s really bothering me with only one or two people I trust to help me look for a solution. The answers tend to be a lot less drastic or dramatic. Imagine that.

Sometimes, it has even meant that it’s past time to go but maybe there’s a more constructive, compassionate and better way to go.

Third big layer turned out to be that my faith was going to have to grow to a point where I could trust that God actually does love me, as is and not because of what I do. The labels I hang all over myself like a Christmas tree like writer, mother, runner don’t matter to God and there aren’t better ones, by the way, that do matter.

I’m here for awhile, He made me, He loves me, end of that plot line.

One more big layer is when I don’t say my truth, I dishonor myself and that newly found faith. I do this usually to not upset someone else who I think won’t like what I believe. I don’t actually know that it will but don’t want to find out.

Geez, that first layer bites me again, trying to get everyone to just be false happy.

It doesn’t come naturally just yet, and I realize there’s a certain amount of discernment that’s needed but at least there’s a pause now where I hear this voice within that say, tell the truth here. Let others do with it whatever they choose. Respect them enough to let them be, however they choose to be.

Let it go, again and again.

Underneath all of those layers it turns out that happy is a choice not tied to anything. The way I choose to look at life and believe keeps leading me back to happy.

The Circle, 3rd in The Wallis Jones series, will be out in March 2015. The List and The Keeper are on sale now. If you’re a filmmaker looking for good thriller material, click here.

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Martha pic blue sweater 030313

Come see what it’s all about at www.WallisJones.com

The Circle, 3rd book in the Wallis Jones series, due out in early 2015.

It seems like a human being is a deep, narrow pool of water that is so dense, it’s impossible to see to the very bottom. But there at the bottom is where all the origins of the story of my life are swimming and playing, and teeming with energy.

Every thought, idea and most of all, belief that we’ve taken in as truth and then forgotten that there was ever a time when we didn’t know it, is buried down there in the bottom of that dark pool. At some point, our behavior starts to seem like a part of us. We must have come into the world like this.

It’s an argument to give in to the fears or limitations and work with what we are, who we are and settle. We have completely forgotten that each of those beliefs is just a layer sitting on top of all of our potential.

If only we had the insight to see past it and keep trying.

I spent so much time being afraid of what I might lose and where I might end up that just seeing past all of those layers seemed like a monumental task. I had no idea where to begin and I was positive that I would not only fail, I’d die trying. It was a truth to me and my shrinking life was proof of that belief.

Fortunately, I discovered writing thrillers and through twisted plots and well-meaning characters trying to do their best, I found a voice. For me, it was as if the depths of my soul were tired of waiting for me to come to life and had found a way to be heard.

But I still pulled my punches, trying to write in a way that wouldn’t be found offensive. I’m not sure who I thought I’d offend or what I would say that would do that but I was cautious and careful and busy trying not to look like it. Even with all of that, readers wrote me saying they identified with the characters and felt like someone was finally speaking for them.

We were all speaking to each other on some level I was still not really perceiving but some amount of a message was getting through. Still, I wondered if I had enough, deep at the bottom of the well to sustain me through an entire life. I really wasn’t sure.

My answer was to create a character, Wallis Jones, who is sure of herself and her loving husband Norman, her funny, smart son, Ned, and the life she’s created. She believes everything exists in her life because of the part she played, and the hard work she devoted to all of it. Of course she is succeeding, until she finds out none of it is really true.

What if you found out that your entire family history was a lie the older generation came up with just to keep their own ambitions alive? What if you couldn’t stop the machinery that had been in power for generations and at best, could only hope to escape it or at best, learn to live peacefully within it?

Everyone in The Wallis Jones series is trying to figure out how to be happy in a complicated world, even the characters that have less than admirable traits. Everyone has the same goal but different beliefs in how the universe works and their actions bubble up from that dark place, deep down inside and guide them to think of others, or think of no one but themselves.

Wallis watched all of this unfold in a leafy suburb of Richmond, Virginia among friends who like to play Bunko, and clients at her law firm that keep making the same mistakes, asking for her help. She’s one of us, except for that big conspiracy.

That’s exactly how I walked around for years. I’m okay, I think, except for this big conspiracy that starts from within me and says, you may not be up to the task.

I’ve started to find the beginning of a solution that involves faith and courage and a willingness to keep moving forward. I’m just going to let my story unfold in the series, which seems somehow right at home in a thriller. The first two books are out now, The List and The Keeper, and The Circle will be out early next year. More will be revealed.

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HULTON GETTY - LIAISON

It was the cavalry that needed rescuing that blistering summer afternoon 124 years ago.

Martha Note: Custer’s Mystery is brought to you from History’s Mysteries – Enjoy!

 

George Armstrong Custer, the young Civil War hero turned Indian fighter, was trapped on a desolate ridge overlooking the Little Bighorn River in the territory of Montana. Swarms of well-armed Indians surrounded him. According to legend–and many historians–Custer rallied his vastly outnumbered troops. The desperate 7th Cavalry soldiers shot their horses to make barricades and fought ferociously as hundreds of Indians, led by famed Sioux war chief Crazy Horse, overran the ridge.

But because Custer’s men were wiped out before reinforcements arrived, a definitive account of the Little Bighorn battle has eluded historians. The only eye­witnesses were the Indians, who had conflicting recollections. And so the legend of “Custer’s last stand” began to take shape. “The image of Custer blazing away till the very end with his pistols was an icon of the American West,” says John Dorner, chief historian at the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument.

The lack of reliable accounts has kept the details of the battle a hotly debated topic, and discoveries in recent years have challenged the heart of the legend. “The myth is the gallant, heroic last stand–that the Indians drove him to the killing field, where he fought to the last man and last bullet against overwhelming odds,” says Richard Fox, a professor of anthropology at the University of South Dakota.

Fox, who specializes in archaeology, completed an extensive battlefield survey after a 1983 wildfire and revealed evidence that cut to the core of the Custer legend. “My research says the outcome was a function of panic and fear, a very common thing in battle. There was no last stand in the gallant, heroic sense.”

Tomorrow: Part Two

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Photo by Locket479

Martha Note: Today’s Little Thriller is a True Story that Crisscrosses the Globe – excerpted and edited from NPR Interview with Scott Simon and Author, Roya Hakakian.

On September 17, 1992, a political assassination took place in a Greek restaurant in Berlin. Dr. Sadegh Sharafkandi, chairman of a Kurdish political party in Iran, two of his aides and an exiled dissident were shot to death. Five men, including four Iranians, were arrested by German police. Despite pressures to keep the investigation at the lowest possible level, the German prosecutor assigned to the case began to unravel a tangle of threads that led all the way back to Iran’s supreme leader.

The assassinations go back to 1979 to the Iranian Revolution when Ayatollah Khomeini came to power. He had expected all ethnicities and minorities throughout Iran to cast aside whatever ethnic or religious or minority interests they had on behalf of his broader Pan-Islamist idea. When the Kurds did not do so, it really created the kind of hostility that lingers. There was already a pattern being established around the world, so any Iranian in exile must live in fear for his or her life.

There were victims in the United States and on to Paris and Rome and Geneva. All over the world. Therefore, not only the Iranian community was certain about who had done it, but they were all certain that in this case everyone would get away with this murder. What makes this story really astounding and beautiful is that it didn’t go the way anybody thought it would.

At the same time, especially in the 1990s, Germany had many interests in revolutionary Iran. Germany had hoped to step into the empty space that the U.S. had left behind after 1979, the seizure of the American embassy and the loss of relations between U.S. and Iran. In many ways, Germany had successfully inched its way into that space, and this case just created a major obstacle in the way of all these efforts going forward.

When Judge Kubsch not only said the men who pulled the triggers will be held responsible, but for the next several minutes, Judge Kubsch traced the history of the Kurds’ persecution since the rise of the Ayatollah to the killings at the Mykonos Restaurant. By then tension had fallen away from him and he was speaking in the same measured and deliberate voice everyone knew.

Speaking the lines the exiles had never thought he would, never believed any foreigner capable of understanding their tale well enough to compose, Judge Kubsch uttered what to their exhausted ears was a lullaby, one of vindication. The orders for the crime that took place on September 17, 1992 in Berlin came from Iran’s supreme leader.

That especially controversial for this court to hold the supreme leader of Iran responsible.

It was historic that a living, ruling leader was being implicated in crimes. And it worked, meaning that it had great repercussions inside Iran for many years to come and even to this day. It was just a mere confrontation with the truth that had never been presented in this way that really made this work.

The subsequent moral stand that the European Union took, because of the judgment, really delivered a blow to the leadership in Iran in a way that no other act has ever done. The simplicity of it, that telling the truth to power can work in a great way is just what makes it sublime.

Roya Hakakian is the author of, Assassins of the Turquoise Palace.

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