Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Helping Children Write

I frequently volunteer at my girls' school and know most of the teachers. In fact, the principal was my fifth grade English teacher, way back in the 70's. So when one of the teachers who I also consider a friend asked me to come speak to her enrichment cluster, I immediately agreed.

Enrichment clusters in the Jefferson Parish Public magnet school system are the equivalent of electives. This particular elective was for the purpose of writing the school newsletter, and included students in third through fifth grade.

I spoke briefly about the things involved in getting published- writing the book, finding an agent or publisher, and then promotion. I explained that writers do not generally get rich, and unless they were one of the few who make it big, they would probably need to keep a day job. I told them the three most important things they could do to was to read as much as possible, write as much as they could, every day if they were able, and to continue to educate themselves, even after they graduate college. I told them I take online courses and buy reference books all the time to hone my craft.

One fifth grader, who happens to be best friends with my daughter, asked the winning question- how do you get your books into book stores to sell and who gets to decide that.

At the end of the class, I received a treat from the teacher. Ms. Bourgeois put the Jefferson Parish Public Library website up on her high-tech Promethean Board and showed me all of the local libraries my book was in, including the regional library where it is in the Popular Section and can not be reserved or renewed. The website also showed me all the libraries the book was checked out of, the ones that the book was in transit to another local library, and the libraries where my book was on the shelf. I had no idea my book was even in the library, so I think we all learned something that day.

Next year, I am trying to assistant teach an enrichment cluster where the kids can work on a book, do some fundraising, and then self publish it through one of the self-publishing companies. I think if I had seen my name in print when I was 8 instead of when I was 40ish, (enough information here), my whole life might have been different.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

When is a Mystery a Thriller?

I've recently run across two instances of individuals saying a particular novel wasn't a thriller, but was a mystery. While I realize not all mysteries would fall into the category of thriller, I am wondering what constitutes a mystery that is also a thriller.

The first time I came across this, it was from a reviewer who stated my novel wasn't a thriller, and that most people not as well read as he claimed to be would not know the difference. I tended to categorize the book as a mystery/thriller, just to differentiate it from a whodunnit, a cozy, or any other number of sub-genres I don't think it fits into.

When I think thriller, I think of chases, scenes that are full of suspense, maybe an explosion or shooting or two. Well, first I think of Michael Jackson's zombie video, then I think of these other things. But now I'm thinking there may be an entirely different definition of thriller of which I am unaware, being not as well-read as the person who reviewed my book and all.

So I went to one of my favorite sites, dictionary.com, to see what a dictionary definition of thriller might be. The definitions were pretty basic: (1) a person or thing that thrills; and (2) an exciting, suspenseful play or story, esp. a mystery story.

So now I'm left with the conclusion that apparently my book didn't thrill the reviewer, and/or apparently was not exciting or suspenseful.

More recently, I saw on Lesa Holstine's website, a guest blog by author Gerrie Ferris Finger, rebutting a comment Lesa had previously made about something unrelated to my problem. Ms. Finger mentioned that while her novel The End Game was a mystery, it was not a thriller, but had thriller aspects. Although I shamefully admit I have not yet read her book, which won St. Martin's /Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery Novel Competition, her description of it certainly sounded like a thriller to me.

But it did start me on a new train of thought. Aha, I'm thinking now. Perhaps my novel was also not a thriller, but had thriller aspects. I can picture that. But what, then, is necessary for a book to be categorized as a thriller, and who decides these classifications anyway?

I have perused websites discussing the differences, and am not convinced, as some suggest, that a mystery involving something that has already happened can not also be a suspense thriller, where the reader is in fact on the edge of his or her seat waiting for the killer to be stopped. Or waiting to see who the killer is going to kill next.

I don't like the analogy often provided that trying to figure out who put the bomb on the bus is a mystery, but watching while someone puts the bomb on the bus and waiting to see if the bus is going to blow up before the hero gets there is a thriller. Wouldn't it be a mystery/thriller if you combined the two?

Ultimately I guess it doesn't matter whether a book is a thriller, a cozy, hardboiled, or even, (gasp) un-label-able, as long as the people who read it like it. My only problem is trying to describe a book accurately enough to make sure the audience who will probably enjoy it will know it's something they will probably enjoy.

So what is a thriller?

Monday, May 10, 2010


Barbara from the creative barbwire blog was the winner of my book, Gumbo Justice, in a random drawing. I entered the names of everyone who left a comment and/or an email.

Thank everyone for visiting my blog and making Blog Jog Day such a success. I found several new blogs of interest myself-- and not just writing or promotion blogs, a few new writers, and even ordered a book. All in all, I think I got out of it as much as if not more than what I put in.

Congrats to Barbara!

Holli Castillo

Saturday, May 8, 2010


Thank you for stopping by my Blog. Please explore all this Blog has to offer and then jog over to http://upuzzleme.blogspot.com , a great site for all kinds of puzzles. If you would like to visit a different Blog in the jog, go to http://blogjogday.blogspot.com.

Anyone who leaves a comment today on this blog will be entered in a drawing to win a signed copy of Gumbo Justice. Leave your email address with your comment if you would like to be entered, or email me at hollicastillo@cox.net to be entered.

Promotion Styles

Among most writers, especially with the smaller and independent publishing houses, the hot topic always seems to be promotion. And as many different ways as there are to promote a book, there are just as many promotion styles.

I've seen writers who join social networking sites and make everything they do about their current work. Someone posts congratulations to a mutual friend about their new grandchild, these aggressive promoters will post back, "Congrats! Oh, I just had a baby of my own, my new novel, blah blah blah. You can buy it from my website or at Amazon."

Now I'm not against blatant self-promotion. Often, you need to promote yourself or you won't sell books. I guess my objection is to that handful of individuals who feel that EVERYTHING is about their novel. Maybe to them it is, but to the rest of the world, not so much.

It would help if those types of promoters would occasionally post about something different. For instance, if they posted a status update on Facebook about something else interesting they were doing, maybe I would also become interested enough in them to think about checking out their book. If every post they do, however, just talks about the latest novel, it's not going to entice me to buy it.

The second type of promoters are my favorite. They'll post when they're working on a chapter, or even ask for an opinion on something. They'll post when their book first comes out, when there's a promotion, sale, contest, signing, etc., in other words, when there is a reason for posting, but the rest of the time they post about parts of their lives that are interesting and that fans might actually want to read about. For example, when they've gotten a new pet. Or visited some place exotic. Or even planted a garden. Posts that tell us something about the writer are a lot more likely to make me want to buy their book than posts that constantly tell me about their book.

The third type of book promoters are the overly humble and meek, the type who are afraid to mention they even have a book, listing it in their information section, posting about normal life things, but never posting when they do book signings, promotions, contests, or blogs. While this may make them feel better about using social networks to promote their work, it also doesn't do very much to promote. I completely understand not wanting to appear like a showoff or braggart, but there's little point in using social networks or even writer sites for promotion if you're too shy to promote.

Social networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, even Linked in, are good sites to post information about your works, and to give your potential audience a chance to know those things you want them to know about you, and maybe get a few more people interested in your work. It's a tedious process, and I'm guilty about not staying as on top of things as I should in this area, but in the end it can make a big difference to book sales.

That's not to say that on writer's/reader sites it isn't acceptable to post mostly about what you're working on, because the people who visit these sites tend to do so looking for information about books to read, or looking for others' perspectives on issues related to writing. I still think it's important to allow a small glimpse into your personal life if your goal is to get people interested in you as a writer.

In my opinion, a happy balance among the promotion types yields the best results. While the public doesn't need to know every time the writer uses the bathroom, the public may be interested in knowing the writer's favorite food, vacation spot, or television show, and revealing little tidbits of information may help increase sales, as long as the information is limited to those things that won't become a safety concern.

Friday, May 7, 2010

BlogJog Day is Coming

Blog Jog day is coming Mother's Day, May 9th. That day this blog will be part of a line of blogs you might be interested in. It's an excellent opportunity to see a wide array of interesting blogs and maybe bookmark some that you may want to visit again.