Author Q&A- James W. Ziskin

Today I had the pleasure of interviewing James W. Ziskin, the mystery author of the Ellie Stone novels. He has been nominated for the and Lefty award and has won the coveted Anthony award for the Best Original Paperback in 2015. Read the interview below!AuthorPhoto1_CreditWilliamZiskin.jpeg

Q: How long have you been writing?

A: I began writing at the age of twelve. After several bad novels and forty years of starting and stopping, I finally succeeded in writing a book good enough to sell to a publisher. Now four books later, I’ve learned the most important lesson: Never give up.

Q: What inspires your writing? Do you have a muse?

A: A deadline. The best inspiration there is. That and a deep-rooted love of stories and language. Never be boring. And you’ve got to care about words.

Q: Tell me about your latest book, Heart of Stone. What was the original idea behind it?

A: Heart of Stone is the fourth book in the Ellie Stone series. It’s set in August 1961 on a beautiful Adirondack lake. I felt it was time to give Ellie some support and love in the form of her aunt Lena and elderly cousin, Max. I also wanted to explore music, art, culture, Cold War politics, and the fiery passions of old grudges. The story revolves around the diving deaths of two men in the waning days of an idyllic August vacation. One of the victims is a teenager from a nearby music camp, while the other is an unknown man. A stranger to the lake. Ellie wonders how they happened to be diving from a dangerous cliff together. Surely they didn’t know each other. Add to that a reunion with some old friends, a torrid summer romance, and a healthy dose of nude bathing and you’ve got Heart of Stone.

Q: What is your writing process like? How much ‘grunt work’ goes in to the finished product?

A: Writing a novel is a marathon. Of course I’m not the first to say that. Some days it’s a slog, while others it’s a breeze. But you’ve got to put in the time. I typically take a couple of months to outline my books. There’s a lot of time staring off into space, thinking about the plot, the setting, mood, and characters. Then there’s the research and the solution to the murder. Once I’ve done all that, I clear the decks as best I can for three or four months to write the first draft. A thousand words per day should get it done in three or three and a half months. Then comes the revision. I revise many, many times before submitting the finished manuscript to my publisher. And then I revise some more as they edit it. No, writing isn’t as glamorous as people think. It’s a lot of time alone staring at a screen, searching for the right word, followed by months, even years, of waiting to see if anyone liked it.

Q: If Ellie Stone met Nancy Drew, what do you think would happen? Would they work together or get in each others way?

A: Ellie Stone would love Nancy Drew. Surely she read all the books growing up. But Nancy Drew might be scandalized by Ellie. Nancy Drew was a “nice girl,” while Ellie most decidedly is not. She’s a nice person, just not a nice girl.

Q: What is something you want the world to know?

A: That we can do better as a civilization. Much better.

Find James Online:

Website

Twitter

Goodreads

Amazon

Barns & Noble

IndieBound

 

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Things Indie Authors Do Wrong

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So before I start this post, I just want to make it very clear that this is a rant. I’m not talking specifically about any indie authors or books, and what I say does not apply to all of them. I am just going to talk about a lot of “mistakes”, or rather “turn-offs”, that I have noticed in independently published books.


1. Cover Design

So, obviously every book has a cover. I mean, how could it not? It is a book… right?

What I have noticed with indie books, is a lot of authors get pre-made templates to use or watch a few YouTube videos about graphic designing and decide to go ahead and make their own.

Can this work? Yes.

Does this work? Most of the time, sadly not. See, it’s not that the covers are horrible or ugly (I mean, in some cases they are, but that’s not the point), it’s more that the covers are boring or unoriginal. They don’t stand out in the crowd. Nothing about them screams “Pick me up and read me right now!”

I’m going to be totally honest here and tell you that when I buy books (like actually spend my own money to purchase a book), it is either because I 100% am in love with the author and I don’t even look at the cover, or because the cover is so beautiful I can’t leave the store without it.

What can I do to fix this problem?

Why, thank you for asking that totally relevant question.

I think the best thing to do is to stay away from designing your own cover. This is for the same reason we authors have beta-readers and editors: we can’t always see the flaws in our own work.

The challenge with this is having to pay someone to create a cover. It is a bit of a catch 22; you need money for a good cover and you need a good cover to make money. There’s no perfect solution to this, but after investing all that time in writing and editing and such, why not invest a little money into a stunning cover?

If you do decide to hire someone, make sure they are a good graphic designer and have done notable books in your genre before. Otherwise you may as well save your money and take your chances designing the cover on your own. Also don’t be afraid to tell the designer you don’t like the first cover they come up with… its important to be able to convey the feeling and emotions of the book through the cover. That is what makes them so great.


2. Bad Editing

Getting a really good editor can be hard and expensive. I get that. However, that is no excuse for some of the things I have seen in indie books. I mean, I have come across some pretty awful spelling and grammar mistakes (and I mean super noticeable ones… not just little “barely-there” mistakes).

I mean lets be real here: there is no excuse for an author to shift between third and second tense in the middle of a paragraph. That’s just not okay. NOT OKAY PEOPLE. Just had to get that out there. Stick to your tense.

Then of course there are those books where I’m not even sure if the author was sober when they released. There are forgotten characters and plot lines and it just makes me wonder if the book was just written and put out into the world without so much as a proof read.

What can I do to prevent such a horrendous mistake?

Thank you for yet another totally relevant question.

Bad editing is pretty easy to avoid…. as long as you are willing to put in the time and effort. I mean, you could always hire a professional editor (if you don’t mind the cost), which of course is never a bad idea. But if you don’t want to, you could do several other things.

You could:

  • Find a bunch of beta readers who are willing to give you pointers and suggestions (and who preferable have some kind of writing experience or who are avid readers and know their stuff).
  • Join a critiquing group (just remember that means you will most likely be critiquing other peoples work as they critique yours)
  • Let your finished manuscript sit in the back of a closet for a few months then re-read it with a set of fresh eyes
  • Stalk an editor on twitter until they finally agree to edit your book for free
  • Sell your soul to the devil in exchange for a perfectly edited book

Wow. That escalated quickly.


3. Awful Book Formatting

So you know when you open up a book and it just doesn’t look right? That is probably because it wasn’t formatted well. The whole book just feels amateur-ish. It throws the book off, if you know what I mean.

If there is one thing I appreciate most about traditionally published books it is the book formatting. I have to give it to the publishing houses… they have got the page design down to an exact science; it just gives books that extra special “pop”.

I feel like a lot of indie authors overlook how important page design is. A books interior design can make or break the entire reading experience.

Now, I’m not saying that every single indie author should have a design at the beginning of ever chapter or a special symbol between scene breaks, I’m just saying that more often than not the interior of the book just isn’t put together the right way.

Tell me how to make the inside of my book beautiful. I beg of thee!

How demanding of you! But okay, okay, I’ll do my best.

So, I’m obviously not a graphic/any kind of designer, but there are a lot of them out there. If you do decide to hire someone to make a cover, ask them about interior book design. More likely than not they will have experience with that as well and be able to make the pages of your book look beautiful and amazing (and the pages of your book will match the cover).


So there you have it. Rant over (I think). Feel free to share your opinions, and any other “turn-offs” you have noticed in indie books (or published books if you want). Have you ever noticed my book turn-offs?