Category Archive: Archive

Kindle Unlimited Update

Kindle-UnlimitedAs promised back in July, I’m revisiting the topic of the ongoing developments in the Amazon Kindle Unlimited program, or KU2 as some people are calling it. Now that the actual first per-page rates have been revealed (this came out on Aug. 15th) everyone knows exactly how much royalties they’ve earned in July. The numbers led to some giddy delight from some authors and despair from others writers. More on that in just a bit.

For those of you not up to speed on the KU2 program and how these changes impacted what authors are paid might want to start reading here. This will give you some background information.

First recapping some of the developments we saw crop up during the last month and a half since the program launched.

Page count changes:

The first thing everyone noticed was the recalculation of the official Amazon page count, what is called the KENPC. Amazon made their intentions clear up front, they wanted to create a page count baseline and convert all eligible e-books into their new page configuration. However, they didn’t disclose how they planned to recalculate, leaving many confused and worried. In the end many books experience huge page count bumps using the new formula. I don’t think anyone is upset about the page count changes and it’s possible the KENPC formatting is leveling the paying field, removing extra white space and overly large fonts or margins just as Amazon intended. However, I think most authors would still like to know how the KENPC is created so they will have a better idea of what their book number is before publishing.

System bugs and new information:

It was a new program, no one expected it to run perfectly and it didn’t. But the one major glitch only dropped everyone’s data for about two days. In addition some authors have also reported something called phantom borrows. Otherwise things ran fairly smoothly.

* Please Note: I am still looking for some official data on Phantom borrows. If anyone has an Amazon link to an explanation, please share in the comments area.*

Whereas many authors knew how closely Amazon monitors each user’s preferences, most readers didn’t think about it. Now everyone knows Amazon has the ability to count and keep track of every single page a person reads in their e-reader. To some readers the Big Brother tactics are too invasive. Savvy Kindle users have learned how to turn off their updates, effectively blocking Amazon from collecting real-time data from their devices. Of course the next time the user connects; Amazon will play catch-up and download their full history anyway. Users choosing to limit Amazon’s 24/7 access to their data stream, means some KU authors have seen some wild fluctuations in their data. It’s rather a minor inconvenience, the pages will get credited eventually.

The July rate released:

Hopefully people paid close attention to my predictions on the page rate back in June. I knew it was a mathematical improbability that Amazon would pay a penny a page. It just wasn’t realistic. However, at least for the first month the rate exceeded my expectations. The August rate was about .005789 per page read. If KU payout history repeats itself in KU2, this will be the highest rate authors will ever receive. Meaning writers should expect a dip in the rate come September. Response to the rates seems mixed. Some high-ranking authors with large fan bases are thrilled with their numbers, calling KU2 a huge success. Other authors are disappointed and looking to pull some or all their titles as soon as they can.

Places KU2 need improvements:

One of the big complaints I’ve been seeing is in the reporting. Authors want to know how many books were borrowed and not just how many total pages of each book were read. Currently 15 books borrowed and each read half way through looks the same as 7 of the same book borrowed and read cover to cover. Revamping the reporting would make it possible for writers to understand their reader demographics better. They might even be able to use that information to write more successful books.

The current hope is KU2 help drive up the highest quality indie books, while also diving out the lowest quality. Will it work, who knows. I think it’s still too early to say, there just isn’t enough information at this point.

I’m interested in hearing about other author’s experiences. How did you all fair in the latest reports?


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3 Book Categories that Should Benefit Under the New KU

Reader KUToday starts the first day of the new Kindle Unlimited royalty program. As with so many things in life, there will be winners and losers. I gave my thoughts on the biggest KU losers last week and now I have the winners. Remember, this is just my prediction for the books that will fare the best under the new Kindle Unlimited per-page royalty system. Only time will tell if I’m right or I’m wrong.

Young Adult can do no wrong. I suspect this will not hurt young adult and longer length middle grade writers. Teens who read, read constantly! And if they’re paying for any portion of those books themselves they are going to be budget minded. That makes KU ($9.99 a month for all the books they can read) a good choice for them. Younger readers are open to new writers, and they like discovering something their friends don’t know about. Teens are also great at creating the next big book wave out of otherwise unheard of titles. Teen readers know what they like, and if a writer can deliver the goods, they will read a whole series of books cover to cover. In other words they are loyal and steadfast fans. Plus it’s summer. Teens in the zone between summer camps and summer jobs will spend some of those too hot days reading in the shade.


Romance should come out ahead. Let’s face it; romance is a publishing super star. They have devout and hungry readers and they exist in numbers too vast to ignore. Of course, the biggest winner in the romance category is going to be the historical romances. Those fat books packed with descriptions of castles and gorgeous gowns really plump up the page counts. It’s not uncommon for a historical romance to top 150,000 words. Although shorter than historical romance, new adult (NA) romance should also thrive. They were an e-book smash already and I can’t see that changing anytime soon.

Mystery seems like the leader. Mystery titles have an advantage because once you start one, it’s hard to turn back. You want to know who the murderer is, or why they did it. Even if the book is a bit lackluster in the middle, you will keep going just to find out the ending, unlike a romance, where a reader might skip the last 50 pages since they know the couple is going to end up together in a happily-ever-after moment. Mystery is by nature a full book commitment, crime in the front, clues in the middle, solution in the back. Aside from some odd skimming, or too much gore making the reader set the book down, I think mystery writers can expect a book started under KU is a book most likely finished.

If you’re not an e-book author, you still need to pay attention to these changes. Book sales are about supply and demand. Since the e-book explosion took off, the supply has been growing. The market groans under the weight of all the new titles. Today the seeds of a whole new crop of indie writers gets planted. And these writers are going to know if their readers stopped reading. By necessity, many of these writers will adapt. They will rewrite those slow starts and mushy middle. Their readers, by the act of putting the book aside unfinished, will become the harshest gatekeepers of all. Indie writers will learn what it takes to keep readers riveted to the pages because it’s going to pack a monetary punch they can’t afford to ignore. It means everyone will need to write stronger books, or they should expect to get left in the dust by the writers who chose to step up their game.

What do you think? Will this change the overall quality of indies? Will KU readers become the next publishing gatekeepers?

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4 Book Categories that may Suffer under Restructured KU

Kindle-UnlimitedLast week I wrote about the royalty restructuring of the Kindle Unlimited program. The new system goes into effect July 1, 2015 and it’s going to drastically change how authors are paid when a program subscriber borrows their participating book. This new system only affects writers in the Kindle Unlimited program and authors are given the option of taking their books out of the program should they choose. Currently everyone is arguing over how these changes will effect participating authors. Some writers are convinced every author will benefit under the new system. They believe the new royalty split will help remove some of the authors currently manipulating the system for higher gains, thereby leaving more funds for the remaining authors to share.

I’m less convinced and I’ve picked four groups of authors I predict will suffer under the new system. However, in the interest of fairness, there are some groups I think stand to gain, and I will have my predictions for that group next week.

Now my best calculated guesses for the writers that stand to lose under the new system.

  1. It will hurt anthologies: Prior to these changes, if a small press (or indie author group) talked one hugely popular author into contributing a story, everyone benefited from a KU loan. The anthology creator could count on the full loan revenue from every rental as long as the readers read past the 10% mark. Under the new system anthology editors looking to take part in KU are more likely to skew page counts toward the most popular writers, if for no other reason than to help recover their production costs. However, this sort of defeats the egalitarianism of making an anthology, the whole point in the past was to give unknown writers a leg up by using the star power of one or two respected authors as bait to entice readers to buy the book. I’m sure anthologies will still be made, but now the organizer behind the anthologies are bound to perceive unknown writers as an even greater liability, especially if they’re under pressure to earn back costs or turn a profit. It also might shove anthologies out of the the KU program altogether.

  2. It will weaken payouts for children’s ebooks. This one upsets the mom in me the most. School is out so the kids are home and bored. Summer is when they can and should power down some books. Yet younger kid’s books from picture book to beginning chapter books are (in deference to their fledgling readers) shorter, often just 16 to 50 pages long. Also the cost associated with image heavy books in all forms are fairly high, and these books get the double whammy of paying higher Amazon downloading fees, something that comes out of the author/publishing side during a sale. They didn’t need to pay the downloading fee on a KU loan, letting those authors keep a bit extra with each unit borrowed under the old system. I’m also concerned that under the new KU universal page count system, a 16 page picture book might end up counting as only a few pages. The current Unlimited picking for younger kid’s books has never been fantastically large, I can’t see how reducing these author’s payouts is going to help that situation.

  3. Nonfiction of every kind stands to lose out. It’s hard to know how the page count system will effect image-heavy books. Will a graph or table count as a full page? What about an illustration or photo? As I mentioned above in kid’s books, image heavy books get charged a different download rate, making the KU loan program attractive to both fiction and non-fiction authors with larger graphic loads. However, non-fiction books are notoriously under-read or skimmed. It’s not uncommon for me to get a cookbook and only look at a few recipe categories. Other readers might read only one or two chapters of interest. Granted, as other bloggers have mentioned, nonfiction has seen some heavy abuse from writers trying to game the old KU system. Reports of repackaged Wikipedia pages or books (where only the first 10% of the book is legibly written) show up as common complaints. Obviously, everyone wants to see KU abusers weeded out, but even if the new official page count system fairly takes into account images, this change could adversely impact many nonfiction writers.

  4. We may witness the end of the serial fiction boom. Readers will still want serials, they’re hooked. But writers who relied on the profitability of serial installment are in for a big shock. Before the Amazon loan program, serials (and most short stories) grew in popularity because of their sale price, usually under one US dollar. It was easy for readers to sample unknown writers without a huge financial commitment. For authors, that under-a-dollar sales price means about .35 US cents for each copy sold. Not great unless you sold a ton of books. Under the old KU payment structure, that number skyrocketed to over a US dollar per title borrowed. Remember, short stories were getting the same pay rate per title as a full length writer was getting on each book. Writers jumped into the format, creating a boom in short works. The profitability of short fiction created resentment with longer fiction writers and led to claims of widespread abuse, namely writers carving up single novels into parts in order to create more borrows. I think it’s safe to say popular short format fiction writers will still do okay under the new pay structure, but only if they don’t lament the advantages they’ve lost. If you are one of those people who thinks longer books should have the royalty advantage, you might not be too worried about this one. But I enjoy reading a tightly constructed short story or serial and I would hate to see the format lose all its steam.

So what does this all mean to you?

If you’re currently publishing (or planning on an ebook career) in one of these areas and counting on the Kindle Unlimited program to power the bulk of your revenue, you might want to rethink that! I don’t see any of these types of books doing particularly well under the new system. Come back next week when I’ll announce the 3 types of books I predict will be big winners under the new system.

What do you think? Will some authors take a larger hit with the new KU royalty rate? Will it drive some authors out? And if so is this still an acceptable loss so that book length writers can enjoy a better royalty ratio from the program?

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The New Kindle Unlimited Royalty Scale

Kindle-UnlimitedMonday morning, June 15th, the self publishing world absorbed the shock wave from the latest Amazon announcement. In case you haven’t heard, Amazon revealed a major monetary restructuring of the royalty calculations on their Kindle Unlimited program. Unlimited is the program that allows Amazon shoppers to pay a subscription fee to borrow an unlimited number of books from a list of over 600,000 titles. In the past, authors of ebooks in the Kindle Select program received a flat rental fee once the borrower read past the 10% mark of the total pages. The new system, effective July 1st, will create a per-page-actually-read pay scale. That means each author will only get paid for the number of pages a borrower actually reads in their book.

Feel free to pause and have a Big Brother Is Watching moment if you didn’t already know Amazon was keeping such a close eye on your page counts.

First some history: Amazon launched a rental program about two years ago, revising it to the current Unlimited system last year. At the launch, there were a lot of upset publishers and authors. They didn’t want the program tied to KDP Select. They were doing fine and they didn’t want any changes at all. Almost everyone hated the idea of a fixed payment rate set by Amazon. And that the amount had no relationship to the book’s sale price, or the length of the book. Many authors found their sales and their revenues plummeting after the loan program launched. Avid readers, the backbone of all book sales, loved the Unlimited program. For the cost of buying one or two e-books they could read as many books are they wanted each month for $9. 99 US dollars.

Amazon Ad

Once the uproar died down, some authors embraced the system and tried to create higher profitability by shifting away from book-length fiction, the superstar of the first indie boom, and moving into creating novellas, short stories and serials. The growth of short fiction offerings in the last two years was exponential. However, since readers could consume four times as many 50 page titles as they could 200 page titles, the pool of money being used to pay the authors had to spread to more titles, and the amount paid out per title started to fluctuate and shrink. Amazon pumped money into the pool to inflate the payout, but many established writers still pulled out of the KDP Select program so their books would not be part of the loan system. The remaining book length fiction writes have been upset about the system ever since.

Although Amazon hasn’t released too much information, they did say the new payment rate will continue to change month to month based on how much money is in the payment pool and how many pages the borrowers read. Currently a number of self publishing bloggers are wildly overestimating how much that per page payment will be, perhaps their optimism comes from Amazon’s own press release. Capture

I suggest you run these numbers. Do the payouts represented here look remotely plausible? They don’t to me. And they don’t take into account the vast number of books that are put aside without finishing. Or that readers may take several months to finish a book. Although there are too many unknown variable, like what Amazon considers a page, I think it’s pretty safe to say the payout for many authors will go down. However, we will not know the facts on how this development will effect indie writer’s bottom lines until we see the August 15th KDP sales reports.

Before you wipe your brow and happily dismiss these changes as irrelevant to you, think again. These changes could affect all of us in one way or another. This isn’t just a monetary restructuring of the Kindle Unlimited program, but a publishing development that might cause some serous ripple effects. We have never seen book royalties tied to the number of read pages before. It’s truly shocking.

Next week I’ll be talking about how these changes will affect all fiction writers. And giving my predictions for the types of books that will suffer the most under the new program.

What are your thoughts? If you write indie books and have them included in the Unlimited program, are you concerned? Or are you optimistic?

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10 Writer Goals for 2015

2015 Star ImageInspired by Brooke Warner’s post 52 Things for writers to do in 2015, I’m committing my own 2015 hit list to paper. Honestly, I felt like 52 weekly goals was a bit too much for a home-schooling, work-from-home, writer mom to tackle. I’ve created something challenging enough to make me push myself, but not so difficult that I will abandon my goals by midyear.

This year I will:

  1. Up my blog writing game. After over a year of weekly blogging with WriteOnSisters, I’ve learned a lot about my weaknesses as a blogger. For me the hardest part is being personal. That might have something to do with an appalling cyber bullying attack my family survived a few years back. However, I need to work past that experience and engage more. I refuse to let other people’s negativity define my life. I’m here in the blogosphere to stay!
  2. Buy my family and friends books for no reason at all. Books continue to be my favorite gift, and the joyful smiles all those new Christmas books created should be savored year round. If I shop for these goodies at small local books stores I’ll be helping the local economy and supporting independent book sellers at the same time. A win/win scenario for everyone.
  3. Read and review more culturally diverse YA books. I’m lucky I grew up in a home where my cultural identify was guaranteed by two Hispanic parents and a strong ethnically diverse community. But my own kids are only half Hispanic and aren’t exposed to my culture as much as I would like. We Need Diversity is a movement sweeping the book market with good reason. Books need to show all the faces of the world. As a Latina woman, and a writer, I have an obligation to promote good fictional representations of my culture, not just for my kids, but for everyone’s kids.
  4. Attend author readings. I moved in October to a smaller town, and since then I’ve seen several author meet-and-greets posted in the local newspaper. For some reason (general moving madness) I haven’t attended any of these yet. This year I vow to attend at least four author events and show some support for my local community of writers.
  5. Get involved with my local library. Again since moving to a new town, I haven’t resurrected some of my old volunteering commitments. Helping the library is a project I highly recommend. My new library has a rather impressive friends group, so my January commitment is to sign up as a member and see what I can do to help out.
  6. Show more support for my fellow bloggers. I’m so bad about leaving comments or likes on websites. When I read something I like I will tweet about it, or send a personal message to the author, but for some reason posting public blog comments always makes me cringe. This year I will get over myself and just post more likes and comments. Comments make a huge difference in my blogging life, so I need to spread the blog love around.
  7. Improve my writing skills. This year I want to take my skills to a higher level. I’ll be attending at least one writer conference, and taking part in at least one writing class. I’m open to suggestions. If anyone has a great West Coast Writer conference to recommended (preferably for the second half of the year) please send the information to me.
  8. Put my fiction writing out into the world. This year I’m going to enter contests, submit ideas for guest blogging posts, join in flash and micro fiction hops and just generally be more present with my fiction writing. Who knows, I might even publish an ebook of short stories.
  9. Create some rewards for accomplishing my writing goals. Right now if I slip on a self-imposed deadline, no one cares. I shift my Trello notes around to compensate and keep on working. It would be nice if I had something waiting for me at the end of a challenging project cycle. I will establish at least 12 prizes for each of the major writing milestones I plan to tackle this year.
  10. Finish my 2015 writing projects list. I have always have a long list of things I want to do every year, but this year the list is pretty impressive. I plan on shopping a new project to agents. I started a new book over the summer that I want to finish. And I have a new historical book fully researched and plotted, that I would love to start writing before the end of 2015. Will I complete everything on my project list? Perhaps not, but I have to try. Check back with me in a few months. I’ll post some updates on how I’m doing.

The New Year is like a bright beacon of hope, and I want to make the most of that motivational energy. If you’re a hardy soul, your list might be much longer (or more interesting) then mine. If so, please share your blog link in the comments. I’ll be sure to stop by your blog and say hello, and I’ll do it with a real comment and a like. : )
Whatever you’re striving to accomplish this year with your writing, or your life, I wish you well.


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Don’t Think, Just Write

BrainworkDon’t think. Thinking is the enemy of creativity. It’s self-conscious, and anything self-conscious is lousy. You can’t try to do things. You simply must do things.    

~ Ray Bradbury


Does Bradbury’s advice ring true to you? Or do you think he’s gone too far? I have friends who will never finish their novels because they don’t think enough about it to do some basic planning. They assume it will spring full-blown like Athena from the head of Zeus. Really. They do. And I have friends who will never finish their novels because they keep thinking about it, picking at it, and revising ad nauseum.

I also have a couple of friends whose goal is to write an “important book”. Both right now are paralyzed because it is not the author who determines if a book is significant, ground-breaking, and seminal. Rather, readers say, “That book changed my perception/understanding/acceptance of …” Their paralysis stems from the comparison of their own work with other “important books”. Authors don’t get that call, so setting out to write an “important book” may be one of those enemies of creativity Bradbury eschews.

That is part of the power of National Novel Writing Month. Bradbury’s quote could be their motto. Set aside the executive editor, that little internal critic, and let ‘er fly! Writing at breakneck speed, approximately 500,000 people took the challenge of crafting a short novel of 50,000 words in 30 days. And some of us made it. If this year’s winners reflect past statistics, about 13% will have made it past the 50K mark.

There’s some value in that kind of intensity. You are forced to focus on the driving plot line knowing you are creating the skeleton to not only put flesh on but to clothe as well in the months following the end of the challenge.

And if you aren’t a winner, you’re not a loser if you wrote any words at all. You now have more novel words for that title than you had on October 31st. So you didn’t meet the goal. Keep writing. Build on the foundation you began. That book can still emerge from the cocoon and be the butterfly you envisioned.

Because many people are highly motivated to be part of a writing zeitgeist, the NaNoWriMo folks have created a variety of participatory writing events throughout the year. They know that challenges motivate many of us.

But you don’t need them. Really. You can do this yourself. I find my tomato timer does the trick for me. I sprint-write in 25-minute segments and take a break. Knowing I only have 25 minutes keeps me intensely focused. I pound those keys trying to get out as many words as I can in the period. Then, sigh, go get some coffee, run in place, put the casserole in the oven, whatever is totally different for 5-ish minutes and then back into another 25-minute sprint.

Mr. Bradbury would approve of that kind of intensity. I write and don’t think. I correct tiny typos (can’t help myself), but I save revisions for later. This is not to say I am a total pantser. For NaNoWriMo, I prepared 40 scene cards (actually ended up with about 47 cards). When writing a new scene, I reviewed the scene cards before and after to contextualize the scene I was going to work on. Then I set my timer.

After that quick preparation, I just wrote knowing I would be fixing things later. Several times I realized that I was writing something contradictory to what I said earlier, but I continued writing the rest as if I had already changed the previous scene. When the timer dinged, I made a note on the scene card to go back later and fix the earlier section.

It’s a very freeing experience to churn out words. Maybe Bradbury was right. Sister Kathy wrote about a new author who followed the advice without being told to. Sister Caryn says trusting in our creative self to complete the scene is something we ought to do more often.

In one such experience, I had my girl in a jail holding cell, and all at once a character I hadn’t planned for, didn’t know who she was, or where she fit in the plot, started up a conversation. Where did she come from? It surprised me! Turns out she has info that will help my character solve the murder she’s charged with. Who knew?

By not thinking, just writing, I allowed myself to get off the freeway onto one of the blue line highways before finding my way back to the freeway and my central plot. A nice find, that character. I think she’ll be in the next book, too.

Don’t think. Just write.


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A Thanksgiving Pause

I’m taking the day off from blogging today to sit around the Thanksgiving table with my family. I’m stowing away the laptop and focusing on the real world for a change, giving my characters a day off too. I intend to be mindful of the simple things that give my life meaning, making sure to tell everyone around my table how much they mean to me.

So take a minute to reflect on this special day in our American calendar and enjoy its traditions, a day where we pause and give thanks, and hopefully manage to stay out of the stores. Shopping for those holiday presents can wait another day or two.


Thanksgiving Quote

                                                                                                                           Happy Thanksgiving!

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Guest Post: Do You Want to Write a Medical Mystery or Thriller? by Dr. J.L. Greger

The Write on Sisters are pleased to bring you a very different author and post. Dr. J.L. Greger is uniquely qualified to write the many medical mysteries and thrillers she’s published. If you’ve ever wanted to write the next medical thriller blockbuster, this post may help you get there.

Maybe, the Ebola virus is a good thing. It’s gotten Americans to watch news on something besides crime and celebrity gossip. Has the news made you think about writing a novel on an Ebola epidemic somewhere in the U.S.?

The first step in writing a medical thriller is research.
This type of research needs depth and breadth. Not surprisingly, many medical and scientific thrillers have been written by physicians or scientists like Robin Cook, Michael Crichton, Kathy Reichs, and myself.

Let me explain what depth and breadth means. Someone (If I tell you who it will ruin the mystery.) “poisons” a diet doctor in Murder: A New Way to Lose Weight. This toxin was the cause of a rash of real poisonings in New Mexico in the 1980s. I wove the information from two scientific articles into my tale of an intentional poisoning and set the novel in Albuquerque as an oblique clue.

To add authenticity to all my medical mysteries/thrillers, I reference key articles in the “Scientific Epilogues” of each novel.

How did I find such arcane articles? I read articles on science and medicine in newspapers and magazines and on line. I also read scientific journals, especially the journal Science, and look for trends. For example the dead diet doctor had been studying ways to modify the bacteria in the guts of obese subjects as a way to help them lose weight. I thought this research had humorous aspects and is a promising area of research.

Warning: interesting medical articles are just clutter if you don’t have a good way to locate them when you need them. I don’t know about your house, but mine doesn’t need more clutter.

The second step in writing medical mysteries is creating a filing system that allows retrieval of articles by several headings.
I cross-reference materials I stash in real and virtual files carefully. I note not only the medical or scientific issue discussed in articles but also the location (if outside the U.S. or in New Mexico) where the research was done and the possible social significance of the work.

For example, I’ve had files on Ebola and other tropical diseases from twenty years ago. No, I don’t plan to write a novel on Ebola, but I know these articles are good sources of information on the problems faced by health care workers during epidemics and the responses of citizens to quarantines.

I think Dengue hemorrhagic fever or Scrapie and the related transmissible spongiform encephalopathies could be developed into more surprising plotlines than Ebola.

Did you like those big words? No one does. You guessed it.

The third step in writing a medical thriller is basically scientific education.
It’s finding clear ways to explain complex issues in human terms.

Among the propaganda spouted by a Cuban tour guide in 2013 was the statement: Cuban scientists had patented a drug for cancer. When I got home, I investigated her claim and found researchers in Havana had patented a therapeutic cancer vaccine to treat a rather rare type of lung cancer (non-small cell). This drug revs up a patient’s own immune system to produce cells, which recognize substances found on the surface of tumor cells but not on the surface of normal cells. These immune cells then slay the cancer cells, but not the normal cells.

Okay that’s a heavy dose of science. What’s the social relevance? This patent demonstrates Cuban scientists are doing competitive science and understand the importance of commercialization of their research. I also discovered U.S. scientists were trying to augment existing scientific exchanges between the U.S. and Cuba, despite the embargo on Cuba. (Check out the editorial “Science diplomacy with Cuba” in the journal Science on June 6, 2014.)

I thought Sara Almquist, as an epidemiologist and heroine of my previous medical thrillers Coming Flu and Ignore the Pain, would be the perfect protagonist to do a little “scientific diplomacy” in Cuba. The result is my thriller Malignancy. Of course, Sara gets involved in a lot more than science; it wouldn’t be a thriller without danger.

The most important step in writing a medical thriller is being accurate about details.
In my third novel, my heroine – epidemiologist Sara Almquist – learns laborers in the silver mines of Potosí, Bolivia carry little food or water into the mines. In order to endure the pain caused by thirst, hunger, and heavy exertion at a high altitude (13,000 feet), they chew coca leaves. The active ingredients in coca leaves and its derivative cocaine are not analgesics that dull pain. They are stimulants and help users ignore pain. Accordingly I named the book Ignore the Pain not Dull the Pain.

Is that a trivial detail? Maybe, but without accurate details a medical thriller is laughable and not in a good way. Think about the movie Outbreak, where the U.S. government plans to “bomb” the town with a rare viral infection out of existence. Ironically, the movie was supposedly based on the gripping and accurate non-fiction book Hot Zone.

So are you ready to start working on a medical mystery?

cover Murder- A New Way to Lose WeightCover Ignore the PainCover Malignancy

Picture With Dog-1


J. L. Greger is no longer a professor in the biological sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, instead she’s putting tidbits of science into her medical mystery/suspense novels. She and Bug, her Japanese Chin dog, live in the southwest. Her website is


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Write What You Know? Bah.


We all have ideas rambling around about writing projects that never get written. We pick things up from time to time and file them away for future recall as something strikes us and the need to get it out is overwhelming. This happened to me yesterday as I was reading one of my writing magazines. I read an interview that raised my eyebrows over my steaming cup o’ joe. The debut author, a science fiction writer, admitted she didn’t read science fiction – in fact she wasn’t particularly drawn to it. Hunh? It sure puts the kibosh on the phrase “write what you know.”

“Writers must read,” it is said. In order to become familiar with our genre, to get new ideas, to see how the masters did (do) it, one must read more than one writes. A turn of phrase, a new word, a beautifully, nay artfully, described scene must be absorbed and studied; it’s invigorating, by golly, and will get your synapses racing.

Makes sense. Get a feel for how it’s done. That is to say, how others get it done.

I love to read, but my spare time is spent writing first, then reading. I can’t seem to stop the voices in my head and they need to be put to bed before I am, the little darlings. I have read enough in my lifetime to get the gist of it.

But it got me to thinking. We’ve had discussions here at WOS about critique groups and the impact of others on our work. I found critique groups somewhat useful when I started, but the amount of time spent getting the pages ready, critiquing others and evaluating the comments is a bad investment for me. When I didn’t have a full-time job, it was a nice way to spend an afternoon with fellow writers, but at the end of the day I went down my own path.

Which appears to be what this young lady is doing. She struck out on her own, with no road map, no precedent set before her, no rules, and no guidance, apparently. She listened to the beat of her own story, didn’t compare herself to others, and just told the tale that needed to be told. I don’t know if she had input from others (probably so), but if she did, I imagine she just shrugged it off.

So, as I do often, I did a character study of her, this woman who so intrepidly went forward with a story she had no background or interest in. I have the beginning of a short story:

Her name is Sally. No, Sarah. She’s young, not married yet, no children, a college graduate, probably a business major, slogging away in a corporate job that drains her of all her humanity. Her boyfriend reads a lot of science fiction, and she rolls her eyes and sticks with him because he’s cute. She’s an Austin/Forrester/Galsworthy/Wharton kind of gal. So she sits and listens to the music and the dialog of the movies he watches or the video games he plays and starts to make things up, if only to drown out the nonsense she’s exposed to.

She keeps her writing a secret. She sneaks in a paragraph or two at work (probably pages, but I won’t tell), dreams about the story, and gets up in the middle of the night because the aliens or the monsters or the drones (whatever science fiction has, I have no idea) are percolating in her pure, young, virginal science fiction brain. She is open to come up with new concepts, new characters, and new ideas without the influence of the weird science that came before.

Influences come from all directions – as with Sarah, the background sounds of the science fiction movie or her boyfriend’s description of the book he was reading got attached to some part of her brain and she just started working it. This is where we get our ideas, no? Reading, watching, discussing, observing human nature sparks ideas and puts a new spin on things.

She didn’t ask anyone “what happens to…” “what do you think if…” “what would Zolna do…”. She asked herself. No. Scratch that. She didn’t have to. She just did it. It came out in a torrent, and it was perfect. (Hey, it’s my story and I can have Cinderella aspects if I want.)

Sarah was just as surprised as her friends and family when her book was accepted and published and when an article written about her appeared in a writers’ magazine. No one suspected she was a writer, and definitely didn’t project a science fiction genre for her.

So how does her story end? Her boyfriend proposes, the book is a bestseller, they buy a house, settle down, have a family, and she quits that corporate job. Her days are spent writing. And, oh yeah, she has a housekeeper who cooks. Sigh.

In about two minutes I had the entire story plotted out, and the magazine was still in my hands. Sarah’s success is effortless, there’s no conflict, and she’s an instant success. It has an HEA ending, she gets to write without interruption and no responsibilities. Where do you suppose that came from?

Sarah, if she existed, used the influences bombarding her on a daily basis and produced something in a genre she knew nothing about. I know people who deliberately go to Starbucks and eavesdrop for story ideas, and some who rip off other stories (Hollywood has been doing this for years). I sit in restaurants and watch other people and make up stories about them.

Where do your ideas come from, and when do they strike?




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Moody Musings: Shopping My Novel. Again.

Isolated on white empty, half and full water glassesI feel a little down this week, or maybe I’m just being reflective. Perhaps it’s because the holidays are right around the corner, or because I’ve had a crappy few years filled with injury after injury. Being sidelined on my couch is good for writing but not so hot for the rest of my life. I know I’ll snap out of it. I always do.

Consequently, I’ve been thinking a lot about writing and concluded that it’s all about story. I know this is no great revelation and maybe it’s not so much a conclusion as an appreciation. As a writer I think about this all the time, whether I’m watching something on television, film, or reading a book. Stories fascinate me, like when you see something for the first time: your newborn baby, the Grand Canyon, a hummingbird… the awe, the wonderment, the thrill. I admire the imaginative minds that draw me into the story in the simplest of ways. How the writer found a story in an everyday situation and grabbed my emotions and tangled them into a knot and then either blew them up or slowly dragged me back to reality and sanity.

I saw two movies in the last several days: St. Vincent and Interstellar and realized that love is the theme I enjoy the most. Not necessarily a romance, but a love story. In St. Vincent it’s the love between a young boy and a cranky old guy next door who teaches him about life. I actually sobbed out loud at the end. Twice. In Interstellar it’s the love of a father and daughter. And I’m a little ticked off at writer and director Christopher Nolan, because he stole his theme from my first project as stated by one of my characters…

                 “There are fundamental forces of physics that bind the universe: electromagnetism, nuclear interactions, and gravity. But what binds us? Love. Love is powerful in small spaces, yet has profound effect on distance. Love defies time, outlasting both its source and its object. Love is faster than light, for light requires time in order to travel through space. But love reaches its object instantaneously. Love journeys forever into infinity.”

I’ll cut him some slack as I guess I’m not the first writer to embrace this theme. It really was a stellar movie, pun intended, and pretty much blew my mind. Being a die-hard science nerd, I totally embraced his depiction of black holes, worm holes, and the time-space continuum. I’d characterize it as “A Space Odyssey on Steroids.” It was a really wild ride. At one point I exclaimed loudly, “Holy Shit!” just as the movie went from ear-splitting noise to complete silence. Awk-ward…

Anyway, a few months back I announced that it was time to shop my newest project and I was girding my loins for the onslaught of expected rejection. Of course, then I was sentenced to three months of healing and rehab after rotator cuff surgery and I fell into a funk. It’s been six weeks and I’m finally able to type well enough to begin the process anew. Then I stumbled on a workshop titled “Publish Your Novel” at the Visual Arts Center where I’d just completed a workshop on Narrative. I was overjoyed! The instructor promised to hold your hand through the process, help you hone your pitch, synopsis, query letters. I quickly signed up, thrilled to have another set of objective eyes reviewing my cache of all of the above and felt a sense of relief at the approaching task.

I just received notification that the class was cancelled due to low interest and I plummeted back to earth. On my own. Again. I know. I’m whining. But sometimes the glass is full, sometimes it’s half empty and well, other times it’s dry as a desert. I just need to pull up my big girl pants (which keep getting bigger and bigger the longer I spend on this couch), fill up that glass with optimism and get the job done. I will.

So I’ll keep you posted this time. I’m thinking of trying a few Indie presses in addition to the usual cadre of literary agents. Wish me luck!


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