September 14, 2020
by Eldred “Bob” Bird
Vancouver Symphony Orchestra with Bramwell Tovey

One of my passions outside of writing is music. I don’t just love the music itself, but also the creative process and the tools that go into making it. I ended up spending so much time at the Musical Instrument Museum here in Phoenix that I now volunteer there. Seeing all the amazing ways music is created around the world got me thinking about the parallels between an excellent musical arrangement and superior writing. A well written book is music to the eyes.

Building Your Orchestra

Like orchestral composers, writers have a lot of instruments at their disposal. In addition to different characters with diverse voices, we also call on things like location, weather, historical timeframe, and a host of other factors to breathe life into a narrative. So, let’s strike up the band and see how we can utilize these instruments to build our stories.


Just like a musical score every story needs a foundation to build on. I liken this to the percussion section in a band. Percussion sets the pace of the music and punctuates it, adding emphasis to specific moments and giving breathing room when needed.

Sentence lengths and punctuation marks perform the same function. The roll of a snare drum builds drama in the same way quick, short sentences do, while the crash of the cymbals adds the exclamation point!

Brass and Strings

The brass and string sections paint the mood and bring color to the music. I see the physical environment, such as weather and settings, in this section of the orchestra. Think about the first time you heard "The Flight of the Valkyries." The deep tones of the bigger horns conjure up visions of thunder clouds and raging storms, while the strings recall sweeping winds. The bright, brassy passages let the sun break through the clouds, lighting up the landscape.

Similarly, we can use the world around our characters to show what’s going on inside of them. We all know weather can set the mood for a scene, but how your characters interact with their environment also gives the readers clues to what drives them. One character may hold onto his hat, hunch over, and trudge through a downpour, while another might dance and sing, stomping in puddles like child at play.


The woodwinds can play the main melody in a movement, but quite often are called upon to play a counterpoint, filling spaces and adding to the overall mix. They can bring attention to specific details by complimenting or contrasting the other instruments as they play their parts.

Secondary characters perform the same function. They give your main character someone to bounce things off. It might be a conversation designed to introduce needed information or they may take the opposite side of an argument and complicate things. Sometimes secondary characters are called on to take the lead and fill the space when the main character isn’t present or is otherwise unable.

The Soloists

That brings us to the soloists—the featured players. These are the people you’re really paying to see. The whole orchestra may play the music, but the spotlight shines on these talented, creative, and sometimes surprising instrumentalists. The entire concert is built around them.

The soloists in our stories are the main protagonists and antagonists. Sometimes they play in harmony, other times they fight for the spotlight, creating conflict and tension. In the end, only one can be the star. Whether the monster our main character fights is internal or external, it’s that conflict that drives the story to its crescendo.

The Conductor

The entire arrangement is brought together by the conductor, the one standing between the players and the audience, signaling each movement to the group. While we, the authors, are the ones writing the music, it’s the conductor that emphasizes certain elements of the score and pulls the musicians back on others.

In third person, the narrator is the conductor. They point details out to the reader and lead them through the story, scene by scene. When we write in the first person, the conductor is usually the soloists, your main character. We see the performance through their eyes, allowing the reader to be a part of the experience.

Then again, your first-person conductor could be the music critic sitting in the wings watching the show and giving us the play by play as the concert unfolds. Think of the Sherlock Holmes stories. Holmes was clearly the soloist and Watson, the reporter.

The Last Chair

There’s always that one musician who was the last one to make the cut. They try their best but sometimes get a little out of tune and out of time. Everyone else in the orchestra struggles to figure out how to work together to recover from his missed beats and sour notes and bring the score back into balance.

This guy is the plot twist—the one who throws a monkey wrench into the gears. Just when things are rolling along smoothly, he drops a beat and plays one of his sour notes, sending everything sideways. Whenever things are going a little too well for your soloist, he throws in another one of those sour notes. Now you’ve got a story.

Some Final Thoughts

Sometimes we can get in a rut. We listen to the same style music from the same musicians over and over again. It’s a formula we don’t like to deviate from because it’s comfortable. The same thing can happen with our writing.

But why sit and strum the same three chords on the guitar when we have so many instruments at our disposal? By carefully combining all these elements in just the right mix, we can go from singing the same old song with a slightly different tune, to creating magnificent symphonies. Who knows? Maybe one of us will end up writing the next big hit.

Do you listen to music while writing? Are there certain songs you use to help create the right mood for a scene?

* * * * * *

About Eldred

Eldred Bird writes contemporary fiction, short stories, and personal essays. He has spent a great deal of time exploring the deserts, forests, and deep canyons inside his home state of Arizona. His James McCarthy adventures, Killing KarmaCatching Karma, and Cold Karma, reflect this love of the Grand Canyon State even as his character solves mysteries amidst danger. Eldred explores the boundaries of short fiction in his stories, The Waking RoomTreble in Paradise: A Tale of Sax and Violins, and The Smell of Fear.

When he’s not writing, Eldred spends time cycling, hiking and juggling (yes, juggling…bowling balls and 21-inch knives). His passion for photography allows him to record his travels. He can be found on Twitter or Facebook, or at his website.

The top photo is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

September 11, 2020

By Piper Bayard
of Bayard & Holmes

Writing espionage is a balancing act between being authentic and being so accurate that we embarrass political leaders, get people killed, and/or end up with some angry FBI Special Agents on our doorstep. As a general rule, while the non-violent embarrassment of political leaders who are asking for it can be rewarding, writers, like all smart and decent people, want to avoid harming any of our own people or having uncomfortable conversations with the FBI. My writing partner, “Jay Holmes,” is a 45-year veteran of intelligence field operations, and we are committed to helping writers walk that line of authenticity.

Recently, Holmes and I had the opportunity to entertain some excellent questions during an online RWA workshop, and we want to share a few of the questions and answers with you.

1. What is the American television show that comes closest to accurately portraying spies?

2. Which movies most accurately represent the CIA? Which are less accurate?

Since Holmes and I are not familiar with all of the shows and movies out there, I threw this to the Intelligence Community ("IC") on Twitter for a broader response. Many of the shows recommended are not specifically American, but so many things cut across the entire profession, such as bureaucratic interactions, tradecraft, and the challenges personnel face, that Holmes and I did not limit ourselves to American shows in our answers.

As for accurate representation of the CIA, the CIA has an extensive and diligent review board that is very careful to make sure that no movies made by employees or former employees accurately represent it, so with the help of the IC on Twitter, I pulled in movies from other services, as well.

It was a joy to see the response from the Intelligence Community on Twitter. It stirred a rousing conversation that lasted two days, producing answers we never would have thought of on our own.


THE AMERICANS is accurate in much of its tradecraft and the realities of the Cold War. Three things are distinctly fiction about it, though. First, no country would use deep cover agents for such mundane things as thefts, honeypots, or assassinations. Second, there is no fast, fake facial hair that is good enough to stand up to a marriage. Disguises that detailed take more time and effort. Third, not even the Soviets would have recruited Paige like that. The children of real Soviet sleeper agents most likely do not know to this day that their parents were not born Americans.

LIBERTY CROSSING, one of my personal favorites, is a comedy about the National Counterterrorism Center (“NCTC”). It is pure genius for showing the personalities and inter-agency dynamics. Pay particular attention to the gap between the reality of what is actually happening, what is reported by the media, and the impact of the media on politics and, therefore, the NCTC assignments. Spot. On.

THE SANDBAGGERS is an older British series that is brilliant in its portrayal of what goes on behind operations as well as in the field. Though it’s older, the international and inter-agency dynamics haven’t changed. Often, many conversations and bargains occur between organizations and between allies to accomplish intelligence operations. The series is now only legally available on DVD, and it can be found at

For more military-type personalities and espionage operations, THE BRAVE is excellent. In fact, it was good enough to upset some people.

THE NIGHT MANAGER is a BBC series based on the book by John le Carré, and you can never go wrong with John le Carré.

TURN is a portrayal of the Culpepper Spy Ring from the Revolutionary War. Excellent period piece to watch for the aspects of intelligence work that never change—the danger, the uncertainty, the courage, the motives, dead drops, and the way people of all financial statuses and backgrounds can be united in a common cause.

Holmes and I are fans of the Israeli show FAUDA, which was developed by two former members of the Israeli Defense Forces and based on their personal experiences. Heavy on smart field action, it is also rich in social and cultural depth. Fast-paced and violent. Find it on Netflix, where it is available in Arabic and Hebrew with subtitles.

JACK RYAN is fun and well written, though certainly fictional in its premise of an analyst involved in dangerous field work. Jack is a financial analyst for the CIA, not an operations officer. Many people switch back and forth between operations and analysis, but while they are working as analysts, it is unlikely that they would go out on operations that have a high expectation of violence. If they are like Jack, with no prior operational training or operational experience, it is even more unlikely. The fact that Jack is a former Marine does not change that, as even former Marines need operational training. However, I would point out that the dating difficulties Jack experiences are very real for those in the IC, even the analysts.

The French show THE BUREAU is an intelligence community favorite, as well as the first season of KILLING EVE.

As for COVERT AFFAIRS, I watched the pilot. It’s fun, but literally the only realistic thing about this show is the reference to donuts. I have it on good authority that the halls of HQ abound with a copious amount of donuts, croissants, pastries, and sweet stuffed things, as well as the occasional cookies I send to friends to share at the office.

More TV favorites of the Intelligence Community:

Deutschland 83 and 86, The Spy (Israeli series), Chaos, Intelligence (CBC), Counterpart, The Assets, Smiley's People, The Bletchley Circle, A Perfect Spy, Patriot, and Restless.


John le Carré was a former member of the British intelligence services, and it’s generally agreed that his works are among the most accurate, with A MAN MOST WANTED, THE LITTLE DRUMMER GIRL (the movie), and THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD topping the list.

The real Jan Kubis and Jozef Gabcik
Image by UK Govt., public domain

ANTHROPOID is the historically accurate movie about the operation to assassinate Reinhard Heydrich in World War II. It is outstanding in showing how messy, imperfect humans can accomplish something “impossible” in the field, even when everything goes wrong. It is true to the story of Jan Kubiš and Jozef Gabčík.

CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR is a favorite of Holmes’s and an excellent movie about Texas congressman Charlie Wilson’s involvement in obtaining US support for Afghanistan against the Soviet Union during the Cold War. However, it is not an accurate portrayal of Milt Bearden, the man who ran the Afghan efforts. Milt Bearden is not a hard-drinking individual or in any way slobbish. He is a calm, level-headed, high-respected intelligence professional.

THE LIVES OF OTHERS is a German film about Stasi surveillance of citizens of East Berlin during the Cold War.

THE GOOD SHEPHERD includes an aspect of Intelligence Community history that is not frequently mentioned in popular culture—the influence of Yale’s Skull & Bones society. While Yale and other Ivy League schools are still well-represented at HQ, there are now also many private school alums and state college grads among the Intelligence Community ranks, and the CIA and other branches actively recruit at schools known for their diversity.

RED and GET SMART, though satirical comedies, are oddly accurate in the jokes, the attitudes, and, with RED, the personalities of those who are on the kinetic fringe of intelligence operations.

SUM OF ALL FEARS is recommended for the reality of the analyst scenes, though the movie itself is far-fetched.

The least accurate movies and TV shows are anything that show CIA operations inside US jurisdiction, which includes HOMELAND and more things out of Hollywood than I can name. Equally absurd are shows that have the CIA or any other US intelligence organization deliberately killing innocent people, killing off their own people, breaking serial killers out of jail to assassinate people, or brainwashing people to assassinate people. HANNA is fun, both the movie and the series, and it has some great action, but in no universe does the CIA sequester children from birth or perform biological experiments on them. The Soviets, however? They were another matter, and that is a different post.

More cinema favorites of the Intelligence Community:

Body of Lies, Munich, Spy, The Patriots, The Black Book, Spy Game, The Angel, Bridge of Spies, Ronin, Hidden Agenda, Hopscotch, The Quiet American, Ace of Spies, Our Man in Havana, Spies of Warsaw, The Tailor of Panama, Prisoners of War, the Johnny Worricker Trilogy, Office Space, Three Days of the Condor, The Falcon and the Snowman, The Tall Blond Man with One Black Shoe, In Bruges, and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.

A big thanks to the Intelligence Community on Twitter for coming to our aid with this question. You folks rock!

It’s worth noting that after the first two hours or so of bandying about movie titles on Twitter, it was acknowledged that many of these movies recommended were not particularly accurate, but they are fun, and that is the point of fiction, after all.

What espionage questions would you like to see us address here at Writers in the Storm? Bayard and Holmes are also open for questions down in the comment section.

*  *  *  *  *  *

About Bayard and Holmes

SPYCRAFT: ESSENTIALS, takes the fiction out of spy fiction, covering the functions and jurisdictions of the main US intelligence organizations, the espionage personality and character, recruitment, tradecraft techniques, surveillance, firearms, the most common foibles of spy fiction, and much more. WIt is available in digital format and print. See Bayard & Holmes Nonfiction for links to your preferred bookseller.

Piper Bayard and Jay Holmes of Bayard & Holmes are the authors of espionage fiction and nonfiction. Please visit Piper and Jay at their site, For notices of their upcoming releases, subscribe to the Bayard & Holmes Covert Briefing. You can also contact Bayard & Holmes at their Contact page, on Twitter at @piperbayard, on Facebook at Piper Bayard or Bayard & Holmes, or at their email,

September 9, 2020

by Colleen M. Story

The subject of professional photos shouldn’t be a difficult one for authors today, but somehow, it often is.

We live in a visual world where our pictures are frequently used to identify us. Authors, in particular, become known to their readers, fellow writers, and other network contacts through their photos as much or even more than their written words.

Yet many writers claim shyness, a lack of time, unhappiness with their appearance, or other issues for the fact that they don’t have quality author photos. I’ve featured over 300 authors on my writing websites. I know.

These excuses may have worked decades ago, but not anymore. If you’re serious about being a writer, it’s time to buck up and get yourself a good photographer. You’re in the business of being an author. You need to look like a professional, creative individual.

Below are the seven most common mistakes I’ve seen authors make with their photos, and how to correct them.

1. Not Having a Photo At All

I’ve heard all the excuses. Here are a few of the common ones:

  • I don’t like how I look in pictures.
  • I haven’t had time to get a good photo.
  • I can’t find any good photos of me.
  • I’d rather not show my face and let my words speak for themselves.

These types of excuses only hurt you as an author. Today’s readers want to know who you are.

I completely understand having a private nature. I have one myself. But when you fail to show yourself online, you’re essentially hiding from your readers and they’ll know it. Even if they forgive you for it, they won’t relate to you as well as if you give them a visual reference.

You are (or aspire to be) a professional writer. Not having or being able “to find” your author photo is unprofessional, at best.

Instead: Please don’t use excuses. Make a point to have some professional (or at least professional-looking) photos taken and keep them in a safe place so you can access them when needed (which in today’s world, is frequently!).

2. Using a Photo from 20 Years Ago or More

I’m always surprised when authors do this. You’re no longer in your 20s (unless you are). Why pretend? Readers are savvy. They’ll figure out how old you really are and then they’ll wonder why you’re hiding behind an old picture.

Are you ashamed of your age? Trying to fool readers into thinking you’re younger than you are? Either way, they’re going to feel deceived—especially if they come to see you in person and find you appear vastly different than your old photo. This is not the impression you want to make.

Instead: Once your author photo becomes 10 years old or older, have another series of photos taken. It’s time to update your image to match who you are today.

3. Taking a Photo from Miles Away

This is another form of hiding. I’ve gotten pictures in which authors are standing several feet (or more) away from the photographer and the viewer can just make out their general features. Some authors go a step further and turn their backs to the camera. (Perhaps they think they’re showcasing their best side?)

Again, I understand the desire for privacy, but if you’re going to operate as an author on today’s market, you’re not doing yourself any favors by hiding. Relating to your readers is the best way to keep them coming back for more.

If you aren’t interested in growing your audience, take your photograph from as far away as you like. But if you want to compete in today's market, don't make this mistake. 

Instead: Have some photos taken specifically for your use as an author. If you want to show some scenery in a blog post or something, go for it, but make sure you have professional author photos that allow readers to see your beautiful face. 

4. Having Your Friend or Partner Dash Off a Snapshot

There’s nothing wrong with using fun snapshots in your social media posts or even in your blogs, but when it comes to your official author photos, it’s best to use a professional photographer or at least someone with a talent for photography.

Too often I receive photos from authors that are clearly amateur. They just don’t put the author in the best light. Writers may forget that their photos are usually the only visual representation readers have. If these photos make the author look distracted, goofy, unkempt, or checked out, that’s the image the reader will have of the author, no matter what the reality may be.

Instead: Invest in a professional photographer, or at least in someone who is a skilled hobbyist. It’s a good investment in your author career–once you have professional photos, you can use them over and over again across all mediums, from your print books to your website to your business cards, guest blog posts, posters, and more. Professional photos make you look your best and are well worth the money.

5. Ignoring the Background

Do you really want readers seeing you on your old dingy couch or underneath your hanging geranium? Is it a good business move to show yourself in front of a discount store or dilapidated cupboard?

Some professional authors use background, lighting, and even clothing to portray their fiction genre or area of nonfiction expertise. (Thriller, horror, and romance writers are often really good at this.) But that's not necessary. What matters is that the background doesn't give a negative impression.

Instead: You don’t have to portray the type of writing you do in your author photo (though it can be cool if done right), but at the very least, choose a neutral background that will not distract from the main subject of the photo: you.

6. Ignoring the Lighting

I’ve received many author photos that cast the author in darkness. The light is coming from behind the writer, who is the focal point in the picture, so the eye is drawn more to the background (or wherever the light falls) than to the author’s face.

Here’s what that does: It makes the reader remember the background more than your image. That’s bad for your career because you want readers to recognize your face when you see it. That’s the point of marketing online—to gradually get more and more readers to recognize you and become interested in your work.

If your photo makes the flowers or the city or the lake behind you more illuminated and interesting than your face, those who see it will naturally remember the background more than they will remember you. It’s just the way the brain works.

Instead: If you hire a professional photographer, you won’t have to worry about this. That person will know how important good lighting is to a quality photo. If you’re taking photos outside, a professional will schedule a certain time of day to take advantage of the best light, and will also bring along additional lighting to highlight your face. (If they don’t, hire a different photographer.) If you take them in the studio, your photographer will have several lights available to work with.

If you’re having a friend or amateur photographer take you pictures instead, be alert to the lighting. The softer light of sunrise and sunset always makes faces look their best, and indoor lighting to the side of the subject rather than directly overhead or in front will also create the best results. 

7. Failing to Look Your Best

This has nothing to do with trying to look like someone you’re not and everything to do with respecting the reader. If you show up in your sweats with your hair a mess and that’s your picture, you’re telling the reader you didn’t want to bother preparing for the photo—and thus didn't care about yourself or your work.

Instead: When getting ready for your author photos, think of how you’d like to appear when meeting your reader in person for the first time. You want to put your best foot forward, right? Put some effort into it and your reader will notice.

Of course, if you have a specific image you’re trying to portray in your marketing materials, go for it. The key is to put some thought into it so your photo reflects your best self.

The Important Thing About Author Photos

Take a look at your author photos and try to see them from a reader's point of view—one who doesn't know you. What does the photo say to that person? Feel free to take the photos around to some friends or even strangers to see what qualities they glean from the images. You can gather some great information that way.

If the feedback isn’t great, consider investing in a professional photoshoot. Once you go through it, you'll be set for about a decade, so it's not something you need to do often. Good photos are critical, though, to your online author platform. Do yourself a favor and don't ignore this piece of your author business!

What has worked well for you with author photos? Have you committed any of these "7 Deadly Author Photo Sins?" If so, did you hear feedback about it? Share any of your lessons learned down in the comments!

Giveaway: Would you like to get more writing done and boost your writing career? Get Colleen’s FREE worksheet, “7 Easy Ways to Become a More Productive Writer” here!

*  *  *  *  *  *

About Colleen

Colleen M. Story inspires writers to overcome modern-day challenges and find creative fulfillment in their work. Her latest release, Writer Get Noticed!, was a gold-medal winner in the 2019 Reader’s Favorite Book Awards, a 1st-place winner in the Reader Views Literary Awards, and Book By Book Publicity’s best writing/publishing book of 2019. Colleen frequently serves as a workshop leader and motivational speaker, where she helps attendees remove mental and emotional blocks and tap into their unique creative powers. Find more at her motivational site, Writing and Wellness, and on her author website, or connect with her on Twitter.

Top Image by Sanna Jågas from Pixabay

September 7, 2020

by Penny Sansevieri

With summer disappearing in our rearview mirrors, it’s time for writers and authors to grab their calendars and favorite planning tools in order to start brainstorming smart marketing strategies to promote their releases this fall and into the holiday season.

If you’d like to spread a little happiness, consider this: consumers love a deal, which is why eBook promotions, book bundles, and the like really help to push a book to new readers. One of my favorite win-win approaches is the BOGO: Buy One, Get (or Give or Gift) One. You see BOGOs all the time and in various forms. In fact, even Starbucks does these during their happy hour (buy one drink, get one free for a friend).

BOGOS are typically limited-time access campaigns, and people love them. When I recently released How to Sell Books by the Truckload, we used the pre-order phase to offer a BOGO: each purchase entitled the buyer to limited access to our AME Master Amazon Video program. I was thrilled by how successful the strategy was.

Simple BOGO Rules

You can do a BOGO, too! Here are some simple rules to follow to make yours a success. You really want to plan out these promotions; give yourself enough time to create branded images, too!

Make Sure You’re Offering Something People Actually Want

I’ve had the BOGO conversation with many authors, and some of them say, “Well, I could give them a chapter of my next book!” Which is totally fine if you have a super strong fan base, all of whom are clamoring for your next book. Otherwise I’d recommend digging in and finding something that’ll really engage readers. It could be a free eBook – maybe an earlier publication or the first in a series. I gave access to a learning program, which was something that paired well with my book.

Make it Easy to Share

To build momentum, you’ll want to offer something shareable, fun, and not overly complex. Buy One, Get One is a great deal – and it’s also an easy share on social media. Don’t make the steps too difficult – one action should equal one result. Multiple step promos may seem like fun, but it’s a lot harder to get folks on board, and they’re much harder to promote. Keep it (super) simple.

Different Types of Offers

Partner with Other Authors

If you are connected to authors in similar genres, see if they’d like to go in on a promo, which could mean gifting a copy of their book (digital or print) to whoever buys yours. You may have readers they haven’t reached yet – readers who may buy their books, too. You can also trade promotions. So, you run a BOGO with their book, and then they run a BOGO with yours. After the promotion is over, you can celebrate by trading marketing lists.


A BOGO can also be swag. For example, we have these great tote bags that read Ask Me About My Book. I had ours made on etsy in bulk, and even though a bulk order means we have tons to give away, we are still loving them – and our authors do, too! If you need a few less than a zillion, you could also go to Zazzle and design your own tote bag – or another piece of swag, as they have everything from t-shirts to coffee mugs to stickers, and more!

Buy One, Give One

This is another fun idea, one I often run around the holidays: buy a copy of my book and the purchase allows you to gift one to a friend. Generally, the “gifted” book is an eBook. So the reader sends you their receipt with the name and email and any message they want to include, and you gift the book. This one has been really popular for us, and I’ve used it a lot!

Digital Gift Packs

If you have a lot of digital content, consider offering cutting room floor versions of your book (book content that didn’t make it into the final edition). Avid fan bases always love “director’s cut” stuff. But if you don’t have that kind of material, you could always do a special interview for your readers or create other collateral pieces like character trading cards. I have these in print and digital, and we give them away in droves. My trading cards are tips-related; whether you’ve written fiction or non-fiction, these can be a fun addition to your marketing inventory.

Timing and Creating Marketing Materials

Your BOGO needs to run for a week, at least – or longer depending on what you’re doing. For example, if your promotion is a pre-order strategy, as mine was, you might want to offer it for two weeks. We paired the promotion with my book’s pre-order window, which worked great, and we created a variety of marketing materials to support this with different versions as we got closer to the BOGO deadline.

Promote, Promote, Promote

If you’re figuring out how to market a book with a special offer, make a plan to promote it heavily – via your newsletter and social media or a Twitter ad or two. Ask other authors you know to share it with their audiences (even if they aren’t involved in the promotion), using hashtags on Twitter and Instagram like: #BOGO, #authorpromo, and/or #specialdeals.

Old vs. New? 

Does your book have to be brand new to do this kind of promotion? No, it doesn’t. In fact, you can run a BOGO anytime. While it’s fun to do it at book launch, remember that readers are out there, waiting to find a great new author.

BOGOs and other special offers are fun ways to build more readership and expand your reach when deciding how to market a book. People love a deal, especially now, and they’re a solid way to gain more traction for your book, your brand, and your future titles.

What book promotions have worked for you? We'd love to hear about your experience down in the comments!

*  *  *  *  *  *

About Penny

Penny C. Sansevieri, Founder and CEO of Author Marketing Experts, Inc., is a bestselling author and internationally recognized book marketing and media relations expert. She is an Adjunct Professor teaching Self-Publishing for NYU. She was named one of the top influencers of 2019 by New York Metropolitan Magazine. 

Her company is one of the leaders in the publishing industry and has developed some of the most innovative Amazon Optimization programs as well as Social Media/Internet book marketing campaigns. She is the author of 18 books, including How to Sell Your Books by the Truckload on Amazon, Revise and Re-Release Your Book, 5-Minute Book Marketing, and Red Hot Internet Publicity, which has been called the "leading guide to everything Internet."  

AME has had dozens of books on top bestseller lists, including those of The New York Times, USA Today, and The Wall Street Journal. 

To learn more about Penny’s books or her promotional services, visit

Top Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

September 4, 2020

By James R. Preston

Her name was Enheduanna and she was a writer. We’ll talk more about her later. 

Welcome to another installment of Writers in the Storm. This one’s going to be a little different. But with any luck, we’ll be On the Road Again. Come with me.

The most traveling I’ve done is to go downstairs to get a cup of coffee.

I’ve been home, and so have you. But we’ll get out of this, sooner or later, all of us with our lives touched in one way or another, and when that happens there will be opportunities. If you’re like me, you’re thinking about things you want to do when the masks are dropped.

Meanwhile, I’ve got an essay due.

So I thought... Technical article? Revisit adapting screenplay structure to the genre novel? Stretching the boundaries of first-person? How to keep track of all those electronic documents? Maybe it’s time for a break, for something different.

My face mask is hanging on it’s hook. We have canceled this year’s vacation. My cat is happy — I’m home. 

I don’t know about you, but I’m storing up things to do once COVID-19 has been defeated. What about visiting "writer" spots that will remind you of the thread that links you to those who have gone before? Moments you can remember when you’re sitting at the keyboard wondering where the story went.

And, of course, you’ll be thinking about writing as I am. Traveling – yes traveling. Traveling and writing. Those two can go together.

Her name was Enheduanna and she was a writer. She lived 2,300 years B.C.E., in Uruk, what is now Iraq.

Once upon a time I went to Great Britain. I’ve told that story here so I’ll just talk about the end. 

We visited Stratford-on-Avon and I stood outside Shakespeare’s birthplace. Very cool, but then I saw a framed poster advertising a performance of The Merry Wives of Windsor, and Charles Dickens was one of the volunteer actors, putting on the play to raise money for the restoration of the building. I still remember the chill I got. Shakespeare, Dickens, and me. In a very, very small way, me. I was part of that stream. 

When you travel as a writer it’s a bit different. You look at 221B Baker Street and think, yeah, Doyle told some good stories and maybe it pumps you up just a bit to know you’re following in his footsteps. 

So pack a bag, make sure the laptop’s battery is charged and away we go!

Vegas, baby!

Tim Powers, Last Call

On the way to Vegas on Highway 15 you’ll see The Mad Greek Cafe. As of this writing it’s closed due to COVID-19, but the owner says they are counting the days till they reopen.  Stop in, get a gyro, and think about Scott Crane and his friends in Tim Powers’ amazing Last Call. It’s a thriller, it’s a travelogue, it’s a story of Jungian archetypes battling for supremacy through Tarot cards. I’m not making this up. It’s a great read!

Hunter Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

"We were somewhere around Barstow, on the edge of the desert, when the drugs began to take hold." 

I have read that the merry-go-round bar in Circus Circus no longer serves alcohol, but still if you sit there can’t you just feel Thompson and his 300-lb Samoan attorney slugging down drinks? And the attorney loses it and is afraid to get off the merry-go-round? And the guests in their hotel are starting to look, uh, reptilian. Check out the merry-go-round bar and flash back to the 70’s. Skip the peyote.

San Francisco

Dashiell Hammett, The Maltese Falcon. There are — or were — walking tours so you can see some of the locales. The last time I looked there was actually one of the restaurants where Spade got his chops and baked potatoes. The tour can take up to four hours, so wear comfortable shoes. 

Los Angeles

Ross Macdonald, The Lew Archer books. Lew Archer looked down at the city lights and saw the seedy underside...

Forget that — let’s go out to eat! The Musso and Frank Grill, open since 1919, is still going strong. When they reopen, have a seat and order Archer’s steak with mushrooms and onion rings. (Take-out, anyone?) And if you’re doing Tinseltown, see about a Warner Brothers Studio tour.

Ross Macdonald weaves the movie business into many of the novels. As you walk the streets you can almost sense the comforting feel of your gat snug and ready in its worn shoulder holster.


Stephen King's The Shining. This is a good one. 

Visit the Stanley Hotel at the entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park. Not only is the hotel the main setting, Room 217 is where Stephen King drafted The Shining. He renamed the hotel The Overlook and moved it to a somewhat more inaccessible location but this is the place. In 1997, it’s where King shot his own version of the novel.

As a bonus, check out the Country Boy Mine, setting for Michener’s Centennial

North Carolina

Delia Owens, Where the Crawdads Sing. This one comes with a caveat: Famous novel, millions of copies sold, and the setting of marshes and swamps is a big part of the story. However, one source says those swamps and marshes are more like Georgia or South Carolina. My guess is, if you love the book and visit North Carolina, the differences won’t matter. You’ll just soak it up and understand what Owens was writing about. 


James Lee Burke, The Dave Robicheaux books. If you are heading to New Orleans or Louisiana, you can’t do better than to read some of these fine novels. You can taste the gumbo, feel the breeze off the gulf and you will understand the powerful influence the setting has on his work. You’ll want to sit in the Cafe DuMonde with a beignet and a coffee. 


John D. McDonald, the Travis McGee books. Slip F18 Bahia Mar. This would not be complete without mentioning the home of Travis McGee, that knight in rusty armor, that slayer of savage fish.

As far as great settings, McDonald nailed it. And yes, there really was a slip F18. But remodeling killed it, and the literary landmark plaque has been moved. Nevertheless, it can be found and standing there you can feel the client approaching, looking for a “salvage consultant.”

You stand in each of these settings and feel that connection. 

While We’re Waiting . . .

My mask is still on the hook. Despite all of these inspiring places to visit and to think about stories and their creators, as of now we’re still locked down. Never fear! Here are a couple of virtual tours with literary associations.

Dan Brown, The DaVinci Code. emember how the story opens in The Louvre? With the horrific murder? Brown is a great researcher and he got it right. You can take a look online at the Louvre virtual tour site and study the results — there are usually multiple things going on. 

Preston and Child, Relic. Very creepy story (and an underrated movie) set in a museum based on The American Museum of Natural History. Click that link for virtual tours and take your pick. There are also guided events. Yes, human contact through your keyboard! Postscript: The AMNH is reopening in September. Check their website for details. 

Her name was Enheduanna. She lived 2,300 B.C.E., and she was a writer. She wrote poetry and hymns and she was, in fact, the very first writer to sign her work. She said, “My King, something has been created that no one has created before.”

Final Thoughts

“Ars longa, vita brevis,” 

— Hippocrates.

Translation: Life is short, art eternal. 

I think that says it all. And the tradition that you and I are part of goes on. 

Now it’s your turn. While our pets are happy because we’re always around, we need as much contact with other members of our species as possible, even if it’s electronic. I hope you have started thinking about inspirational places that connect to your work, or to the work of writers you love.

I hope you are looking forward to once again getting on the road. Keep reading and keep writing.

Have you perhaps been to Maui to see how Jayne Ann Krentz nailed it, despite changing the names? Or Sue Grafton’s twin-by-another-name for Santa Barbara? Share those experiences with us!

*  *  *  *  *  *

About James

James R. Preston is the author of the multiple-award-winning Surf City Mysteries. He is currently at work on the sixth, called Remains To Be Seen. His most recent works are Crashpad and Buzzkill, two historical novellas set in the 1960’s at Cal State Long Beach. Kirkus Reviews called Buzzkill “A historical thriller enriched by characters who sparkle And refuse to be forgotten.”

His webpage is He can be reached at

Image Credits:


Subscribe to WITS