Friday, July 12, 2013


A mystery/suspense

-What book and/or experience made you want to be a writer?

When I was a kid most of my play involved imagining myself in a fantasy world—don’t ask me why—and I think writing fiction is a continuation of that. As a writer, the challenge is to create a coherent, consistent fictional world that a reader can believe in, and still tell an interesting story.

-What genre(s) do you write?

I’ve written a couple of unpublished comedies, then one mystery, Perfectly Healthy Man Drops Dead, which was published in 2008. I’ve got a couple more mysteries in the pipeline, and a couple of comedies. I also write short stories, mostly of a satirical or philosophical nature. In general my writing seems to be heading off in a philosophical direction.


A novel of madness, music — and murder.

A beautiful opera singer hangs herself on the eve of her debut at the Met. Seven years later the opera she was rehearsing—Offenbach’s Tales of Hoffmann—begins to take over the lives of her two schizophrenic children, the doctors who treat them and everyone else who crosses their paths, until all are enmeshed in a world of deception and delusion, of madness and ultimately of evil and death. Onto this shadowy stage steps Nicole P., a graduate student who discovers that she too has been assigned a role in the drama. What strange destiny is being worked out in their lives?


These aren’t spoilers, but I’ll give you a few more incidents that shape the story. It takes place in and around a posh private mental hospital in a small town in upstate New York.

A mental patient with no musical training or experience sits down at the piano and plays a fiendishly difficult piece of classical music…

A young doctor’s life spins out of control as he falls under the spell of three irresistible women…

A beautiful graduate student, struggling with her thesis, suspects that her psychiatrist is ruled by the fantasies of a poet who’s been dead for two hundred years…

A blackmailer stumbles on an isolated town with more crimes on its conscience than he could have imagined.

-For aspiring writers, any tips?

This isn’t practical advice, but I would say: Write the book that only you can write. The reason it’s not practical is that the whole publishing industry—including your agent if you’re lucky enough to have one—wants you to write a different book. They want you to write the book they would have written, which, no surprise, would be a lot like some recent best seller, only better. They are running a business. Still, they’re not necessarily the best judge of what will make them a lot of money. They rejected John Grisham’s first book, and Tom Clancy’s, and Dan Brown’s. So write the book that only you can write, and if they reject it, try to get as much detailed, objective criticism as you can stand before you write the next one.

-What’s your favorite book/genre to read?

I’ve read a million mysteries, but since I started writing them I don’t read many of them anymore. Now that I know how they work, I’m sort of hypercritical and can always see the ending coming at about page 25. But I’m always looking for good ones, especially if they’re funny, or quirky, or literary without being fatuous. Outside of mysteries I read a fair amount of general fiction and non-fiction, history and philosophy, including a lot of classics from earlier centuries and different cultures.

-What’s your favorite thing you’ve ever written?

I think my favorite thing is a story called “Kafka’s Creative Writing Teacher,” which, needless to say, nobody wants to publish.


Bruce Hartman lives with his wife in Philadelphia. He has worked as a pianist, music teacher, bookseller and attorney and has been writing fiction for many years. His first novel, Perfectly Healthy Man Drops Dead, won the Salvo Press Mystery Novel Award and was published by Salvo Press in 2008. If all goes well, a steady stream of new books will be coming out over the next few years. The first of these, The Rules of Dreaming, will be published by Swallow Tail Press in May 2013.

Check out his website/blog. Like his Amazon author page, and connect with Bruce on Goodreads.


Hey readers,

I really, really, really hope this never happens to me or anyone I know. Heh

Interested? Follow the rest of the tour here.

And don’t forget to comment for a chance at a prize.

Bruce will award a $50 Amazon or gift card (winner's choice) to one randomly drawn commenter.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013


An urban fantasy

Cassie Scot is the ungifted daughter of powerful sorcerers, born between worlds but belonging to neither. At 21, all she wants is to find a place for herself, but earning a living as a private investigator in the shadow of her family’s reputation isn’t easy. When she is pulled into a paranormal investigation, and tempted by a powerful and handsome sorcerer, she will have to decide where she truly belongs.

My parents think the longer the name, the more powerful the sorcerer, so they named me Cassandra Morgan Ursula Margaret Scot. You can call me Cassie.

I've been called a lot of things in my life: normal, ordinary, and even a disappointment. After the Harry Potter books came out, a couple of people called me a squib. Since I haven't read them, I have to assume it's a compliment.

Personally, I prefer normal, which is why the sign on my office door reads: Cassie Scot, Normal Detective.

You have to understand that around here, when your last name is Scot, people are easily confused. Not only are my parents powerful practitioners, but I have six talented brothers and sisters. Plus, my family hasn't always been known for its subtlety. When weird stuff happens around here, the people who are willing to believe in magic are prone to suspect the Scots.

The day I opened for business I got a call from an old woman who swore her cat was possessed by the devil. She also swore she'd read my web site, which clearly stated the types of work I did and did not do. Exorcisms were on the No list, and while I hadn't specified pet exorcisms, I would have thought it was implicit.


Award-winning author Christine Amsden has written stories since she was eight, always with a touch of the strange or unusual. She became a “serious” writer in 2003, after attending a boot camp with Orson Scott Card. She finished Touch of Fate shortly afterward, then penned The Immortality Virus, which won two awards. Expect many more titles by this up-and-coming author.

Check out Christine’s website and blog. Follow her on Twitter @ChristineAmsden, and like her Facebook page. Connect with her on Goodreads and on Google+.

Hey readers,

When I was in kindergarten, I hated having to write out my name because “It had three capital letters.” I think I would have quit if I had Cassie’s full name.

Like what you see? Follow the rest of the tour here.

And don’t forget to comment for a chance at a prize.

Christine will be awarding a $10 Amazon gift card to a randomly drawn commenter during the tour.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Conventions vs. Tropes

Genre conventions? Genre tropes? Different? Same?

I say different, but feel free to argue with me.

First, definitions.

Conventions. They’re not those things writers go get drunk (I mean, learn stuff) at. (Well, they are but not in this particular situation.) Conventions n. things that make a genre a genre. They occur in the big five as I’ve begun calling them—science fiction (sf), fantasy, horror, mystery, and romance.

Examples: SF – advanced tech. Fantasy – magic. Horror – something disturbing. Mystery – serious crime committed. Romance – happily ever after (HEA)

If you take these elements away, a book doesn’t fall in the genre anymore. So conventions are defining fundamentals.

Tropes. Not those things you vaguely remember from high school chemistry. (Those were isotopes and not related to writing.) Tropes n. things that often appear in works of a certain genre but are not necessary to said genre.

Let’s use those conventions to look at this.

-SF/advanced tech - There are lots of possibilities for advanced technology in a sf world. Tropes are the ones we see most often—faster-than-light travel (FTL), lazar weapons, teleportation chambers, group think machines, etc. Cool, but not necessary. Avoiding these and finding new potential tech (or even putting a new spin on the existing tropes) makes the story more interesting.

-Fantasy/magic – Magic is pretty broad and, really, pretty vague. George R. R. Martin’s “Song of Ice and Fire” series is fantasy, but for anyone who’s read “Game of Thrones,” you know there isn’t a lot of magic. By contrast, the wizards in “Harry Potter” use magic for everything from chopping vegetables to fighting. That’s a big spectrum.

What are some magic tropes? Well, the “magic school” is one—Hogwarts, Hex Hall, Earthsea, etc. It appears in quite a few places, but not all fantasy novels need incorporate it. The “chosen one” is another trope. Harry Potter, Garion, Richard Cypher, etc. All have been set up for greatness by elements outside their control, and none can shirk their duties because if they do, humankind will perish. Again, seen pretty often but not mandatory.

-Horror/something disturbing – I don’t just mean blood and guts. Actually, I don’t mean blood and guts at all. While that may be part of a horror book, it’s not all there is to “disturbing.” Psychological horror relies on breaking down the reader’s mental defenses. Sometimes horror is more affective when it’s not gross.

Now, tropes. Blood and guts have been done in their various forms. Zombies—oh man. So many zombie books/movies. Heck, even the “nice” zombie has been done. Essentially, the scary creature/scary ooze that will make everyone into scary creatures thing, among others, crops up a lot.

-Mystery/serious crime – Usually murder. Why? Because it needs to be something serious enough for the reader to invest interest, and murder is pretty serious. It doesn’t have to be murder, though. Grand theft of extremely valuable possessions or cash also works, as does child abuse in its various forms. So the serious crime is the convention. Murder is an often-used trope that can be replaced by an equally serious crime.

-Romance/HEA – You need a HEA in a romance. If you do not have a HEA, it is not romance. End of story. How you get there and who you get there with may vary, and there are plenty of often-used options. Alpha males, guy/girl from wrong side of the tracks. I don’t read a lot of romance but setting up a group of guys/girls and then showing a HEA for each of them throughout a series seems pretty common. Just make sure you have the HEA. Once you have that, be creative with the how. I’ve been told by people who have much more experience reading and writing romances that it’s very easy to fall into patterns and formulas but that it’s not impossible to be original.

Side note: Romance actually shows an interesting case of a convention being broken-ish. There’s a new thing going for ya or this “new adult” thing—HFN, happy for now. The idea is that younger characters might not stay with who they end up with at the end of the book. I’m not saying this is a good or bad variation. I’m just saying it exists. Debate at your own risk. It’s just an interesting example of how such a necessary convention of a genre can be altered. “Follow the rules till you make it. Then turn the rules on their head.”

I was up at my June residency for Seton Hill University’s MFA in Writing Popular Fiction program the week before last. Every res, the head of the program poses a question that becomes the residency theme. This time, it was “What are you sick of seeing in your genre?” We spent a lot of time that week talking about tropes, and it occurred to me that tropes and conventions often walk a narrow line. Sitting down to write this post, however, I have revised that statement. Conventions and tropes often can walk a fine line. There are some elements of a genre, though, that just are.

So what am I sick of in my genre (fantasy)?

I feel like a game show host. That will be the topic of next Monday’s post. “Find out…after the break.”

Until then, have a good week and maybe try to guess. Heck, leave a comment with a guess. Five bonus points to anyone who gets one right. (I don’t have a purpose for “bonus points” yet, but I have an exceptionally good memory. Someday, those bonus points might translate into cool stuff.)