Inspire Me

We are excited to announce our book is now available for the Nook. Go to and search for “Maddi Davidson.” Paperback version available… “a very soon moment now.”

A friend asked one of us recently why we decided to do a series of mysteries instead of “just write a book.” The answer is one-third shameless self-promotion and two-thirds literal self-interest. The one-third self-promotion part came in when we were looking for an agent (before we decided to self publish). We’d read that proposing a series of books was more likely to engage an agent’s interest than a single book where, at best, you’d be a one hit wonder. But the most important reason we decided upon a series is because of a dream one of us had (a literal dream, not the “I have a dream” kind of dream). The dream, wacky as it was, led to us starting a second book, a humorous paranormal. (There is such a shortage of paranormals.) We were struggling with the second book when it occurred to us that we really liked – and “knew” – the characters in Outsourcing Murder so why didn’t we continue to write about them? We tabled the troubled book – it’s still sitting in pieces in a folder some place on a hard drive – and sketched out a second book about Emma Jones, and then a third. We suspect there will be more, which, of course, leads to new challenges like how to keep the stories fresh, and how to manage your characters’ development and aging. “Aging chronologically,” that is: Emma is nowhere near Botox and Juvederm but it’s available if she wants it, a couple of decades from now, if we are still writing about her. One of us is considering personal and in-depth market research in this critical aspect of character development…

Another question we are asked is whether our characters are based on real people (including “people of the fur persuasion”) and to what degree. First off, nobody is 100% based on anybody, even if our mother is a stickler for writing thank-you notes and using well grammar. Er, good grammar. Our father has been a university professor and administrator, though he was not a classics professor. Neither of us has been a student at Berkeley, where both of Emma’s parents teach, though one of us has taken a couple of extension classes there (in classics). Which is how she knows about the dreaded aorist infinitive. (And don’t get her started on Greek participles.)

Stacey, Emma’s best friend and sidekick, is loosely based on a character one of us has worked with, let’s call her “Jane.” The real Jane has been with her employer for eons and has a well-deserved reputation as a corporate “fixer.” When the company was smaller, you’d almost see people genuflect at the mention of her name, she was so well-known for unjamming almost any nasty problem you could imagine. One of us on a business trip got a brand new phone charger she badly needed hand delivered to her by a hotel concierge thanks to Jane, who really and truly rocks in the insta-fix department. The story about freeing electronic goods from officious French officials – as we noted in the book, “is there any other kind?” – is absolutely true. We are still not sure how Jane did it. Jane is uber competent, very nice and someone you’d want to have your back in a firefight because she’d have the right caliber ammunition no matter what heat you were packing. Just like Stacey.

Parts of our formative years were spent on a military installation, where we met many officers and their wives (now, of course, we say “officers and spouses”). Magda, Emma’s landlady, is a tribute to the many military wives we met, who have adapted to so many moves, seemingly effortlessly. (One of us moved five times in three years in the Navy and that’s not even that big a number of moves, nautically speaking.) We did, sadly, meet a number of military wives who had lost one or more husbands in wartime, as Magda did. Magda’s apartment is based on many houses we visited and enjoyed hospitality in: wonderful bibelots and mementoes from duty around the world, coupled with guerilla entertaining skills. (On one evening, both of us helped a Navy captain’s wife clean up after a dinner party. We counted sixty dinner plates before we stopped (counting, not washing).) Alas, some of the disrespect for the military we allude to in Outsourcing Murder – that inspires Magda’s protest march – was inspired by real attempts in San Francisco to kill junior ROTC.

The banter between Virgil and Emma is based on real conversations one of us has had with a cherished friend who, unfortunately, died before we finished the book. “Honey bunch” and “sweetie pie” seem so tame: nothing says, “I love you” like calling someone “eel enema.” (Or, “gopher guts,” “pus sac head,” “roach rectum,” all oldies but goodies.) (You’re llama lips. Nope, you are the llama lips!) A character in our second book, Harrison, is based on our beloved Kerry. Like Kerry, Harrison knows everybody in the surf lineup (and the coffee shop and the grocery store, etc.) and can wheedle a life story out of someone in five minutes or less. And, like Kerry, Harrison is a wonderful encourager and “coach.”

Magda’s pets – Edson and Chesty Puller – were inspired by real animals. Edson is inspired by a dear friend’s Maine Coon cats, who are so social, they are almost dogs. Chesty Puller, Magda’s dachshund, is a composite of several dachshunds we have known and loved. The tradition of naming pets after military heroes was borrowed from former next-door neighbors, who always named their dogs after Confederate war generals (e.g., “Beauregard,” a standard poodle, and “Stonewall Jackson,” a basset hound). We have both had dear friends who have been members of the US Marine Corps (there are, of course, no ex-Marines, only “former” Marines) and we honor them by naming Magda’s pets after a couple – but by no means the only couple – of brave, honored Marine heroes. There are so many to choose from. Uragh.

One of our favorite inspirations proves the old maxim, “living well is the best revenge.” In book two, we give a former boyfriend a bad comb over and have him arrested. He really did have it coming, hehehe, or should we say, “he had it combing?” (Now, this isn’t a threat, but be careful how your treat us, or your name, actions and or personality may appear in a later book. We will naturally deny any connection, but you’ll recognize yourself. Except for the zits, extra pounds, and “declining hairline” we add. Hehehe.)

As for Emma…let’s just say she reflects the trials and tribulations of many a twenty something. We only wish that at that age, we’d had Emma’s backbone to take on our fears, instead of hiding from them. To be like Emma is our aspiration and inspiration, even now.

Not the Road to Riches

We are excited to announce that the digital form of our book is now available on Kindle. Search for “Maddi Davidson” on to find and purchase our near masterpiece. Now that the baby is walking – at least digitally – it’s a good time to reflect on how we got here. (No, not the birds and bees part of “got here”- the writing stuff!) We began to write a book together for enjoyment – principally because we have the same twisted sense of humor. Also because both of us have had “you cannot make this stuff up” experiences with information technology – the kind that makes for good comedy and more than a little tragedy. Along the way, as happens with many authors, we wondered if, per chance, we might become rich through our writing. Just how much do authors make, anyway? For the answer, we turned to the Internet, fount of all wisdom and plenty of foolishness. Here is what we learned.

Typically, authors earn between 6% and 8% on paperbacks and 10% on hardbacks. (Does anyone buy hardbacks anymore, besides libraries, that is?) Assuming we sold 100,000 copies – note that fewer than 500 titles do that each year – we’d make less than $40,000 each, before taxes. Thump! That sound you just heard (or read) was the hard blow of reality. Unless we become bestselling authors, writing will not fund our retirements, second homes, new cars, or even a used bike that we’d share. (Hey, I should get more than fifty percent; my writing is twice as good as yours.) (It is not. But this factoid does mean I may need a different retirement strategy, like finding a rich old coot who doesn’t believe in pre-nups.)

We would expect that many authors, faced with the poor return, abandon their writing efforts in favor of starting a maid service (“gross grout out!”) or being a pet concierge to the rich and famous (“we wow Chihuahuas!”). Clearly, a better financial decision. But a nagging question remains: if authors earn less than 10% on their work, where is all that money going? We’ve seen the demise of big chain bookstores (B. Dalton, Borders) so they can’t be the ones raking in the dough. Maybe there is a heretofore-undiscovered black hole that not only planets and asteroids but also writers’ profits vanish into.

Barring a new discovery by Stephen Hawking, we decided that it must be the publishers who suck all the profits into their maws. Yes, that makes sense, and would explain the trend towards self-publishing, where authors get to keep a larger portion of their sales. Obviously, publishing houses are greedy conglomerates. Let’s just cut them out of the equation and make big bucks! (We’d start Occupy Publishing Houses but we are too busy getting the book out to be bothered camping in a major city. Besides, we can always vent our scribal spleens in other ways, like having a publisher get offed in a future murder mystery. Hehehe.)

So off we went into the self-publishing route. Okay, there were other reasons we chose self-publishing such as unappreciative agents who didn’t buy our argument that “Harry Potter was so last year – Emma Jones is the new thing.” (One of us is exceptionally good at supplying extreme hubris when called for.) The time to publish was, perhaps, the major factor in our decision. The traditional publishing route involves finding an agent who will represent your work, sell it to a publisher, negotiate the contract and manage your business relationships. Finding an agent involves endless query letters, waiting for rejections or expressions of interest, submissions of materials and waiting for more rejections. (It’s worse than dating, as one of us knows from a truly and unpleasantly alarming years’ of experience waiting by the phone for the call that never comes, sniff.) We queried about a dozen agents and although we got some interest in our work, there were no takers. To find an agent could take another forty or fifty queries. Even after securing an agent, we’d have to hope the agent was successful in getting the interest of a publisher. And even if all that worked, we wouldn’t be published for another TWO YEARS! That’s how far out publishers schedule releases. So to heck with all that, we’d do it ourselves.

Three months and uncountable hours later, we now have a better understanding of the trials and tribulations of trying to publish a quality product. And that greediness we attributed to publishers? Forget that. Okay, not all of it. They might still be greedy, but the effort to bring a book to market is considerable. We won’t bore you with ALL the details, which bear numerous unpleasant parallels to visiting a proctologist, but here are a few.

Editing. Should be easy, right? Just go with the software spelling and grammar check. It has everything you need, except … Hawaiian words. Emma and her boyfriend, Keoni, use Hawaiian phrases, complete with kahakōs (macrons) and ‘okinas (glottal stops). These all show up as errors during spell check. Slanguage also is missing: “ohmyGod,” “eew,” “icky” and “multislacking” to name a few. Grammar checks light up the document with green lines at dialog patterns where speakers are not using complete sentences. Yup. Really, truly. Whatever. And then there are extraneous words that creep in whilst one is cutting, moving and pasting sections that, for some a reason, don’t the show up. It’s not just a Microsoft Word problem; even our professional editing service didn’t catch some of those.

Formatting. At least one of us didn’t care about Times New Roman, Myriad Pro, Garamond, Arial and so forth, before we decided to publish. Now, we both do. And we’re cognizant of the differences between a 5X8 book versus 5.25X8.25 (does my text look fat in this format? Tell me the truth!). Planning a wedding involves fewer decisions and less attention to detail than formatting a printed book. Font type and size for headers, chapter titles and manuscript take far too much effort. Let’s not forget leading – the space between lines. Do we want 10 on 12, 10 or 13, or 10.5 on 13? (I don’t look a day over 10 on 12.) What about the cover? What fonts do we use? How big is the author’s name versus book title? (Why isn’t my name in bigger font than my sister’s?) What kind of artwork will attract readers? We can make all these choices after some research, but we’re not done yet. Widows, orphans and justification are next.

Using left and right justification can create lines with few words and large white spaces. This can be dealt with by a line-by-line review of the text, increasing or decreasing spacing between letters and the judicious use of hyphens to break words. Ah, but how to do that? Look up tortilla using several online dictionaries. The syllables provided are not the same. Some will give you tor-ti-lla and some tor-til-la (does it matter whether it’s corn or flour?). It’s not because “tortilla” is a Spanish word. Try ac-count-ant, or is it ac-coun-tant? Any while you are struggling with where to put the hyphen, remember to manage widows (a paragraph-ending line that starts a new page) and orphans (a paragraph-starting line that ends a page). Now you know why we hired a professional to do this for us. Still, we had to go through several proofs.

In short, just getting the manuscript in shape to publish is a monumental task and we have a new-found respect for publishers. As a side note, we are no longer going to be quite so smug when we encounter misspelled words or other mistakes in published books.

Writing – even really good writing – will not make many people rich. Bookstores and publishing houses struggle to be profitable and the earnings of most literary agents and writers are modest, indeed. We know that writing books, by and large, will not make us rich, though we have had rich experiences in creating the characters, crafting the story, and bringing the manuscript to publication. We’ve learned more than we expected and are wiser for it. Most especially, we’ve had rich laughs as we write together, because you have to enjoy your own writing or why bother? “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine.” (Proverbs 17:22)

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