Friday, September 9, 2016

And the Oscar Goes to…

What's the most successful book-to-screen film you've ever seen? What was the least (and why)?

I’m probably like most people in that I usually think books are better than the movies made from them. Maybe it’s because my imagination is more actively engaged when reading—picturing what the characters and settings look like, rather than having the filmmakers foist their interpretations upon us. Maybe it’s the fact that we often get right into the heads of the characters in a book, something that’s very difficult to do in a film (I mean, who wants a ten-minute voiceover?). Or perhaps it’s simply a matter of time spent within the story. In a book, a reader might spend five or six hours immersed in the story, whereas a movie lasts only a couple of hours.

Whatever the reason, the best books usually seem to outdo the best movies.

So I’ll offer up a list of movies that I thought did a very good job of fulfilling the promise of their respective books:

Jurassic ParkJurassic Park – Super cool concept, and I thought the dinos were pretty darn realistic.

Mystic River – Good book, great movie. Superb acting.

Silence of the Lambs – Great book, great movie, great villain, great hero. Do not invite Hannibal Lechter over for dinner, just sayin’

A Time to Kill – In my opinion, one of Grisham’s better books.

Jaws – Who doesn’t love killer sharks?

The Martian – I really enjoyed reading this book, and I was a little afraid of what might happen when it made the jump to the big screen. Matt Damon and company pulled off a very good adaptation.Misery

And what would this list be (for me, anyway) without a few Stephen King works:

Dead Zone – Christopher Walken. ’Nuff said.

Firestarter – Do NOT make Drew Barrymore mad.

Misery – Do NOT make Kathy Bates mad, either.

As for the least favorite adaptation I’ve seen, I’ll go with The Bonfire of the Vanities. As I recall, they took a well-done satire and turned it into some kind of bizarre farce. I haven’t seen that one again, so my memory of that has faded.


(This entry is “simul-posted” on Criminal Minds.)


Thursday, August 25, 2016

Take Me to Your Roomba

Summer's almost done! Share a favorite book from your summer reading. And do you seek out different books depending on the season?

To me, summertime is ideal for re-reading. A relaxed time when you can pick up an old favorite and leisurely revisit some favorite characters or return to a cherished place, in time or space.

When I was in my mid-twenties, I tried to reread THE HOBBIT and the LOTR trilogy every summer. (I think I actually managed to devour the whole thing once or twice!) Yes, I still skimmed the overlong descriptions and the passages of poetry (who am I kidding? I skipped the poetry altogether), but I followed Bilbo and Frodo on their adventures. (Talking trees? ENTirely plausible!)

godwulfmanuscriptWhen I got older, I would, during certain summers, set a goal of rereading an entire series, right from the start, in order. Usually, I’d only get a few books in before getting sidetracked by something else (I mean, do you have any idea how many NEW books there are? Just waiting to be read?). I can’t even count how many times I read Robert B. Parker’s first Spenser book, THE GODWULF MANUSCRIPT. The fifth book? Not so many.

Of course, re-reading isn’t all sparkly unicorns and freshly-baked chocolate chip muffins. Read this post for a sordid tale.

Don’t be misled; for me, summers weren’t exclusively for re-reading. As a teenager, summertime meant more time to read. No school, no homework, and there was only so much time I could spend outside running around. I read mostly science fiction back then, so I associate summertime reading with space operas and alien invasions and robots becoming sentient and taking over the world (I’m telling you, watch out for the Roomba Revolt!).

What books make you think of summer?

(This entry “simul-posted” on Criminal Minds.)


Thursday, July 28, 2016

If it Works, it Works.

How do you feel about ambiguous endings?

This question spawned a few questions of my own.

What is an ambiguous ending? Is it one where some loose ends are left dangling (and it’s clear they haven’t been resolved)? Or is it one where the ending is not clear (either the reader isn’t sure if the main conflict has been resolved, or isn’t clear how)? Am I splitting hairs here?

Of course, I’ve read books with both types of endings.

I have no problem with books that leave a thread (or several) hanging. Most of the time, as long as the main conflict has been resolved one way or the other (oh, who am I kidding? I want the good guys to prevail!), I’m happy. I can deal with a few things going unresolved. After all, real life is plenty messy.

Honestly, I also have no problem with books having an ambiguous ending, with one major caveat: THE ENDING HAS TO MAKE SENSE! If the ambiguity is due to a nonsensical plot twist, or a completely-out-of-character action, or a deus ex machina, then fuggedaboutit!

But in general, I don’t need to know exactly what happened. In fact, sometimes it’s more satisfying to me if I have to ponder several possible outcomes. (For some reason, I find ambiguous endings more “palatable” when they occur in short stories, than in novels. But I think that’s a question for another blog post.)

When I write a novel or story, I try to elicit a certain reaction from my readers after they’ve finished. I’m going for the “Of course, that’s what happened! (Or that’s who did it!) It’s the only solution that makes sense. And boy, I should have seen it coming!” If I can achieve that type of reaction, then I feel I’ve done my job (at least plot-wise).

That’s also the kind of reaction that satisfies me as a reader. And yes, I CAN be satisfied with an ambiguous ending, if I feel the story demands it.

The Taste_cover for websiteMost of the books I’ve written have neatly-wrapped endings. I like having good defeat evil. But in THE TASTE, I leave the reader wondering what will happen next. And really, it seemed like the only way I could end the story, given the chain of events and the characters.

What about you, readers? Where do you stand on ambiguous endings: love them or hate them?

                 (This entry is “simul-posted” on Criminal Minds.)


Thursday, July 14, 2016

If at First, You Don’t Succeed…

How long did it take for you to become an overnight sensation? (How many days/months/years after you began seriously writing a novel did it take for you to get published?)

If I ever become a sensation—overnight or otherwise—I’ll be sure to let everyone know. (Of course, if I become a sensation, then everyone will already know. Hmm…)

My novel publishing history, in brief:

My fiction-writing career began in 2004 when I took a Fairfax County Adult Ed class on genre writing, taught by the wonderful Elaine Raco Chase. I remember writing a story, and although it contained about 80 semi-colons, it didn’t stink.

Which was encouragement enough.

So I kept at it, taking a few writing workshops at The Writer’s Center in Bethesda, MD (from the terrific Ann McLaughlin and the fabulous Noreen Wald). I wrote some short stories, then began a novel, and my work continued “not to stink.” I plugged away, improving my craft, and eventually hooked up with a critique group. I finished a manuscript and revised it, but I could tell it wasn’t “publishable” quality. (Right now, that manuscript is stored in a lead-lined container which is buried in my backyard, posing no threat to society.)

I wrote another manuscript. My writing was getting better, but it still fell short of where I wanted it to be. So, after attending a Citizen’s Police Academy, I began a third manuscript based on an experience during a police ride-along.

I finished that manuscript, then revised, edited, and polished it until I was pleased with the result. I took a workshop on how to write query letters and wrote a killer query. In my bones, I knew I had a winner! Over the course of several months, I sent out about 100 queries to literary agents.

Over the course of those same several months, I got about 100 rejections.

Clearly, my idea of a winner differed from the agents’ ideas. (By the way, I self-published a revised version of that novel, called RIDE-ALONG. Available on Amazon!)

But I was not deterred.

I wrote another novel, FIRST TIME KILLER (for those keeping track, this was manuscript #4). Queried it, and this time, I landed an agent. He sent it around, but no editor bought it. (I ended up revising and self-publishing that novel, too. Available on Amazon!)

My agent wanted to concentrate on non-fiction, so we parted ways.

Again agentless, I went to work on manuscript number five. Finished it and queried it. Found an agent (for those keeping score, this was agent #2), and the novel found a home some months later (at Midnight Ink). That book, DIAMONDS FOR THE DEAD, was a finalist for the Best First Novel Agatha Award. After that, I published two more books with Midnight Ink.

DIAMONDS 72From first workshop to publication: about six years (and it was my fifth manuscript).

To date, I’ve published seven novels—three and a half “traditionally” and three and a half “self-published.” I’m also on my third agent. It’s a wacky business!

Lesson learned: Don’t give up!

(*And don’t throw away your early attempts—some of them may, one day, see the light!)

            (This entry “simul-posted” on Criminal Minds.)


Thursday, March 24, 2016

Anxiety Times Thirty

What were the challenges (research, literary, psychological and logistical) in bringing your latest book to life?
runningcoverforwebsiteOne year ago, my latest novel, RUNNING FROM THE PAST, was published by Kindle Press (an Amazon Publishing imprint) after winning a contract through the Kindle Scout program.

What’s the Kindle Scout program, you ask? A brief summary:

The Kindle Scout program is sort of like American Idol for books. If you’re an author with a completed manuscript (in one of a handful of select genres) and a cover, you can enter. There’s an introductory screening, and if Amazon approves, then the cover, a bio, a short book blurb, and an excerpt (up to about 5000 words) of the novel itself get uploaded onto the Kindle Scout site, and your 30-day campaign begins.

During this campaign, readers (“Scouts”) can peruse the different campaigns and nominate those books they would like to see get published (each Scout can have three books nominated at any one time). The books with the most nominations after their campaign ends get further reviewed by the Kindle Scout editorial staff. Then, those books that the editors like (and see sales potential in, no doubt) receive contracts.

The Scouts are rewarded, too. Each Scout who nominates a winning book gets a free copy of the book two weeks before it gets published.

Now, to answer this week’s four-part question.

Were there any research challenges?
Not really. I set the book in places I’d vacationed, so there wasn’t a whole lot of research necessary.

Were there any literary challenges?
None, beside my lack of a formal education in grammar! (Me never let that stop myself!)

Were there any logistical challenges?
Again, not really. I’d put this manuscript on Wattpad, so it was already fully edited and ready to go, and I already had a professionally-designed cover.

Were there any psychological challenges?
Just every single day, for thirty straight days!

Because getting a lot of nominations is an important part of the process, I tried many things to garner votes. Some things worked, some things didn’t. Each day brought new challenges and worries, including those days when I didn’t do any promoting (I should be promoting!). Stressful!

My book was in the first wave of Kindle Scout books, and I didn’t know what to expect. There were no real metrics regarding how well the book was doing, except for a Hot & Trending List, which would get updated hourly. (Now there are more real-time statistics about how a book is doing, I believe.) So, basically, I was anxious for thirty straight days as I checked the Hot List hourly every waking hour. Yes, my mouse-clicking finger developed a callous.

But it didn’t end there—after the campaign ended, I was in limbo for a few days, waiting for Amazon’s decision. More anxiety.

I wish I could say that after I received the contract, my stress dwindled. But as many authors know, the stress doesn’t end with a book’s publication.

There’s always some marketing or promotion to do, and the feeling that you’re never quite doing enough persists!

Kindle Scout t-shirt selfie

(This entry is “simul-posted” on Criminal Minds.)


Thursday, October 22, 2015

Multicolor Mulch

If you could go back five years and change something about your writing life, what would it be?

I generally don’t harbor regrets, and I’m not much of a second-guesser (when it comes to my own decisions, anyway). Looking back, I’d probably make all of the same decisions I made with the information I had at the time. But since this week’s question specifically allows us to use hindsight, I’ll force myself to come up with something (or many things. Maybe I SHOULD become more of a second-guesser!).

colored spiral If I could roll back the odometer five years (to right around the release of my debut novel), I would:

Stick to one genre. Instead of writing mystery, thriller, horror, and YA, I’d pick one (or two) and cultivate more of a fan base/track record before trying to branch out.

Move on more quickly when things aren’t working. Rather than stay “stuck” in a certain situation, I’d make changes more rapidly. Although the waiting game is a big part of publishing, I think there have been many times when I’ve waited too long before acting.

Not get so “hyped up” over book releases. Now, after having been through more than a few, I realize how much of the promotion/marketing is really out of my hands—I can only move the needle so much through my own efforts. (I still put forth plenty of effort, but I now understand that sometimes immediate results aren’t always evident.)

Not order so many bookmarks. (If you’re driving around Northern Virginia and you see a yard where all the trees and bushes are mulched with shredded bits of multi-colored paper, that’s my place!)

Eat more cake.

(This entry is “simul-posted” on Criminal Minds.)


Thursday, September 3, 2015


We're asked a lot about how we write, but less about how we edit. How do you know what to change and when to stop?

The End When I type “The End” on a draft, it’s a great feeling, for sure. I exhale deeply, crack my knuckles, and unclench every muscle in my body. Yet, there’s a small, squeaky voice in the back of my head, whispering, “You know you’re not finished, bucko. You know the pain is just beginning.”

I do know that, but I still savor the moment. After a brief period of celebration, I stuff my manuscript in the proverbial drawer for a cooling-off period. Could be a couple days, could be a couple weeks. Could even be longer (I think I’ve got one still chilling in my drawer from 2009).

When I’m brave enough, I pull it out and the revision process can commence. First thing, I’ll reread the entire manuscript, all the way through. I generally realize it’s not as bad as I thought (in spots) and not as good as I thought (in other spots). One thing I do know: it will be very uneven. There will be plot holes and timeline issues. (I once had a day contain about 36 hours. Another time, I’d set a roaring fire in a fireplace, but it was the middle of summer.)

On my read-through, I take copious notes.

After the initial read, I’ll go back and fix things. What do I change? Everything that “doesn’t work.”

When I write the first draft, I write linearly—straight on through, no editing. When I revise, I jump around, usually fixing the bigger stuff first. I find that sometimes it’s an iterative process. Changes in one spot will prompt changes in another spot, and this, in turn, will force me to go back and change things some more.

After that, I’ll make a few separate editing passes, mostly to address specific things. The next time through is usually for the plot. Does it make sense? Does it hold together? Are there gigantic holes or flaws in logic? At this stage, I’ll map everything on a timeline to make sure it all works within the constraints of the universe

Next time through, I read for characterization. Are the characters consistent? Are their motivations sound?

Then I’ll beef up the dialogue, or the descriptions, or the settings, or any of a dozen other things.

At some point, I need to lock down some of that research I’ve put off (place names, dates, esoteric stuff that requires some one-on-one time with Mr. Google).

As I go, anything that gets deleted gets dumped into a “clips” file. Who knows, I may change my mind and put it back into the manuscript, or I may find a way to repurpose it in another work. Those words don’t always come easy, so if I can recycle them, I’ll do it!

When I write a draft, I don’t include chapter breaks; I usually wait until I’m pretty far along in the revision process before doing that.

I also don’t polish the prose until sometime toward the end of the process. (No sense doing it earlier, especially if you’ll be deleting a lot of prose along the way). I always make sure to search on my crutch words (just, pretty, that, maybe, etc.), run spell/grammar check, make sure the formatting is okay, and other important stuff.

After the manuscript is “ready,” I give it to some beta readers. When I get their comments, I start the process all over again. All. Over. Again.

When do I stop revising? I guess when the changes I make simply make the manuscript different and not better.

(This entry is “simul-posted” on Criminal Minds.)