Monday, November 30, 2009

Happy 100th

This is my 100th post.

When I started, I didn't know if I could think of enough topics to sustain the blog, even for a month. But, with only an exception or two, that hasn't been a problem. Topics seem to appear out of nowhere, and a few of them have even been interesting, entertaining, or informative. (Maybe.)

The posts have spanned quite a range. I've been able to offer glimpses into my personal life (here, here, here, here, and here), hosted guest stars (here, here, and here), and provided insights into my writing process (herehere, here, here, here, and here). I've even included poetry (here).

What have I learned during these 100 posts?

  • People seem to like the funny.
  • People enjoy participating in the conversation.
  • Writers like posts about writing topics, especially those pertaining to "getting published."
  • Long posts take longer to write than short posts.
  • Pictures are nice.
  • Links to other blogs, sites, etc. are appreciated.
  • Posting 3 times a week, MWF, works well for me.
  • My blog traffic is slowly growing. At this rate, in another twenty or thirty years, I should have a decent following.

What's in store for the next 100 posts?

Since the release of DIAMONDS FOR THE DEAD is fast approaching (April 1, for those who are calenderically-challenged, like me), I imagine there will be more posts about the different promotional activities I'll be embarking on, as well as production milestones. I'll try to keep the BSP to a minimum, though.

I'll continue to try to foster conversations--I enjoy hearing what others think about a wide variety of topics.

And I think there may be a surprise coming up soon, too.

Of course, the best thing about writing this blog is interacting with other writers, readers, and curiosity seekers.

Thanks for making blogging fun!


Saturday, November 21, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving Blogiday

This week, I'll be taking a break from cyberspace--a "blogiday." No blogging (except for this sole post), no reading and commenting on other blogs, no Facebooking, no Twittering, no ninging (okay, maybe a little ninging).

I've got a house to clean, leaves to rake, turkeys to cook, and kids to yell at (er, I mean encourage and stimulate). If someone needs to inform me that I've just won the READER'S DIGEST Sweepstakes, just send me an email (you didn't think I was going totally off the grid, did you?).

While I'm gone, look for these developments in the world of publishing:

  • Harlequin will drop any remaining pretenses and start calling themselves Harlequin Qwik Copy. For fifty bucks a page, they'll handle all your printing needs.

  • Sarah Palin will announce plans for her next book, GOING BROGUE. It's about her attempt to learn to speak Irish as she stepdances her way to the top (Did you know you can see Ireland from Alaska?).

Hope you have a great Thanksgiving!


Friday, November 20, 2009

Blog Post, Version 37, Friday, November 20

With apologies to Mr. Revere:

"The ebooks are coming, the ebooks are coming."

(See Nathan Bransford's blog yesterday for another reason why.)

Although still just a small fraction of total book sales, ebooks have grown dramatically in the past year, and all signs point to a continuation of that trend.

What do I think will happen to the publishing industry in the face of the ensuing encroachment?

Beats me.

Of course, I AM an interested party. I DO write books. Changes in the industry WILL affect me. But whatever happens, I'll do my best to adapt. In the meantime, I'll keep plugging away. Good stories are good stories no matter how they’re delivered, right?

Enough preamble. I've read a lot of opinions about ebooks vs. print books, but I've never seen anyone discuss the "perception of impermanence" concerning documents in electronic form.

Years ago, in the real world, I managed a group of product managers. We'd write business plans and marketing plans to guide us in the development of new products. Because things changed frequently, and our plans evolved, we called these "living documents." We'd refer to different versions by the date of the latest revision.

In the years since, almost all my work has been done on the computer, where it's so easy to call up a document, make a few changes, and resave the document. No one knows if there's been a change, unless they've read both the "before" and the "after." How many of you have been confused by multiple versions of the same document on your hard drive? You all can put your hands down now.


So when I read a printed book, I know it's the author's "final" say. The story is finished, in exactly the form he or she intended at that point in time (let's not quibble about editors' involvements or hurried writing due to deadlines or printing gaffes). Once a book is published, especially a novel, no further changes are made (except in rare instances, such as an edited second edition, or perhaps an altered/corrected paperback version). When it's done, it's done. Finito, complete, finished, fini, in the can. What you see is what you get.

That's all she wrote.

What's more, every single person reading that book reads the same words, in the same order. It's a shared experience (even though we all process the words differently, we still have the same, identical basis).

I don't get the same feeling when I read something in digital form. I know how easy it is to revise something. All an author has to do is make the changes and upload a revised version (to Amazon or whoever the electronic distributor is). Then everyone from that point on is reading a different book. Each subsequent change takes the document farther and farther away from the original.

Now I'm not saying this will happen. I'm simply saying it could happen. I'm also not saying that periodic revisions would make a book worse (probably the opposite). What I'm saying is, when I read something in digital form, I know it is not nearly as permanent as something printed. It feels more fleeting. It feels less substantial. It feels not quite finished.

This bothers me on some level. I mean, if there were 22 different versions of A PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS A YOUNG MAN, how would high school students know which version to hate most?


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Keith Raffel – SMASHER, Part II

Once again, I'm pleased to welcome Keith Raffel, author of DOT DEAD and the recently released SMASHER (both from Midnight Ink) to the blog for the conclusion of a two-part interview (see Part I here). If you have any questions for Keith, please ask in the comments and he'll stop by to answer them (be sure to check out his book trailer, too!).


cover_smasher DOT DEAD was terrific. Tell us a little about the next book in the series, SMASHER.

There’s a lot going on in the book, but here’s a breathless summary. A take-no-prisoners billionaire swoops in to try to seize control of Ian Michaels’ Silicon Valley start up. His wife Rowena, a deputy D.A., is trying her first murder case. While they’re out on an early-morning jog, a black car emerges from the darkness and runs them down. The police figure it a hit-and-run accident, so it is Ian who races to track down the assailant before he can strike again. As Rowena lies near death, he rushes to an atom smasher at Stanford to fulfill what may be her last wish – that he prove an unsung female physicist was cheated out of a Nobel Prize.

You've done both a "mini blog tour" and a traditional book tour for SMASHER. Which is more fun? Which is more effective? Any advice for a debut author?

I think the blog tour and traditional show-up-in-bookstores tour each play an important role. Generally, I’m trying to follow an archery target marketing plan. My efforts are most intensive in the innermost circle, the bull’s-eye, which for me is right around my hometown of Palo Alto.  If anyone in Palo Alto, Menlo Park, Stanford, Los Altos, or Mountain View has not heard about SMASHER, it’s not for lack of trying on my part. The local paper ran a two-page review of SMASHER, and my launch at Kepler’s Books had over a hundred people.

I’ve had events at two other neighborhood bookstores with the Stanford Bookstore and the Palo Alto Library coming up.  Then the next circle is the Bay Area generally. I’ve spoken at Ed Kaufman’s M is for Mystery, visited with Janet Rudolph of Mystery Readers International at a salon in Berkeley, and stopped in or spoke at more than a dozen other bookstores and libraries around the Bay. The next circle would be the rest of California. Along with Chicago thriller writer Libby Hellmann we hit the terrific mystery bookstores down south in Thousand Oaks and Westwood. The blog tour helps me reach the outermost ring of the target; I try to find potential readers outside of California with postings and interviews on websites, blogs, and ezines like MarketWatch, The Big Thrill, Criminal Minds, The Kill Zone, The Rap Sheet, The Well-Read Donkey.

What's your next project? Another Ian Michaels adventure, or something else?

What I’d love to do is follow Laura Lippman’s example of alternating between a series and a stand-alone. So that would mean a stand-alone should come next.  Last summer my then nine-year old son and I went to Israel. Out of that trip came my next manuscript, a stand-alone thriller set in Jerusalem. Lots of tunnel-crawling. 


Keith, thanks so much for the great interview and continued great success with SMASHER!

Raffel photo

For more information about Keith and his books, visit his website and check out his blog, DOT DEAD DIARY.


Monday, November 16, 2009

Keith Raffel – SMASHER

Raffel photo I'm pleased to welcome Keith Raffel, author of DOT DEAD and the recently released SMASHER (both from Midnight Ink) to the blog today for the first of a two-part interview. He's a fellow InkSpot blogger and talented all-around Good Guy (with two capital G's). DOT DEAD was one of the best books I've read in a long time, and SMASHER is rapidly scaling my TBR mountain (I can't wait!). If you have any questions for Keith, please leave them in the comments—he’ll be stopping by to answer them!


You've had quite an eclectic career--from counsel to the Senate Intelligence Committee to horse handicapper to Silicon Valley entrepreneur. Now you're writing full-time. How different a writer would you be if you had started writing in earnest, say, twenty years ago?

There was a certain breathlessness to my life a couple of decades ago. As you note, I was skipping from career to career. I married, had four kids. Starting UpShot Corporation in 1996 meant 80 focused hours a week at the office with even more time spent when you count staring at the ceiling at 3 AM. There was no time to write in earnest.

UpShot was purchased by Siebel Systems in November 2003 and I left Oracle, the company that had swallowed Siebel, in February 2007. Almost right away I started work on SMASHER. I treated it like a job. Every day I went to a local cafĂ©, drank gallons of green tea, and learned how to transport myself into the alternative universe of Ian Michaels and Rowena Goldberg. SMASHER couldn’t have been written without my experience as an entrepreneur.

Writing can be very isolating (very "in your own head"), while running a company is the opposite. How have you dealt with the change?

There’s less difference than you think. Both are team efforts. Just as I did in running a company, I’ve recruited a team to help me with my books, too. For example with SMASHER, I called on technical advisors like a neurosurgeon who made sure I got the details on comas right and a deputy DA who gave me insights into life as a female prosecutor. After finishing the manuscript, I turned it over to half a dozen readers who are analogous to the beta testers of the high-tech world. My agent, whose job it is to find a publisher and negotiate contracts, acted as my VP of sales. And a bunch of terrific writers like Steve Berry, M.J. Rose, Marcus Sakey, and Cara Black have been telling the world to read SMASHER. What they’re providing is what’s called trusted customer testimonials in the business world. Even in writing then, I have a team, a support network.

Do you outline or are you a "seat-of-the pantser"?

I heard Stephen King ask why – if you’re going to put all your creativity in your outline – shouldn’t you just sell the outline? For me the joy of writing is getting into the head of the protagonist and seeing and reacting to the world as he does. If I know what’s going to happen, it wouldn’t be fun. So I wouldn’t call myself a “seat-of-the pantser,” – more a “write-and-be-surprised-at-what-happenser.” I’m with Mr. King. That’s where the creativity is.

Say you've just finished the first draft of a novel. How do you go about revising? Where do you get feedback?

As I mentioned above, I have friends and family members who will read my first draft. By the time I’m done with that draft, I’ve lost all perspective. Their main role is to tell me if what I’ve written is a pile of shit or if redemption is a possibility. So far so good – they’ve always settled on the latter. Then I do a fresh edit and also incorporate their suggestions or at least all that make sense to me. For example, when I heard from a couple of them that SMASHER started a little slow, I rejiggered the story to move a car crash into the first chapter. Then comes the real editing. I send the manuscript to my agent who provides the kind of feedback editors at publishing houses would have a generation ago.

What's the best piece of writing advice you've gotten? The worst?

Someone along the way relayed James Thurber’s advice: “Don’t get it right, get it written.” Write without worrying about perfection, just get that first draft done! You can’t edit and polish something that’s not written. Okay, so that’s the best. What’s the worst? That you can’t write a good book unless it’s outlined first. I’m a live-and-let-live guy. If outlining works for you, great, but don’t tell me that your way is the only way.

Thanks, Keith - I can't wait to see what you have to say during Part II on Wednesday!

cover_smasher cover_dot_dead

For more information about Keith and his books, visit his website and check out his blog, DOT DEAD DIARY.


Friday, November 13, 2009


If you're a writer, you probably have a work-in-progress (WIP). Heck, if you're a writer, you probably have a dozen WIPs.

After you've completed a first draft, and after putting it aside for a suitable "percolation period," it's time to get busy with the initial round of revisions. (I know many writers edit as they go. If I tried that, I'd never get past the first chapter!)

In other words, it's time to make sausage. sausages

Here's a tiny glimpse into the beginning stage of my sausage-making operation. Sometimes I change the order of the steps or omit a few, but eventually I grind and slice and dice and squish everything together into one tasty hunk of novelwurst.

I begin at the computer, where I...

Spell check. I do this multiple times throughout the process. I don't know about you, but a gremlin lives in my laptop and likes nothing more than to jack with me by adding typos and misspellings when I'm not looking.

Examine/eradicate/change my crutch words. Using WORD's Find and Replace feature, I search for all the words I typically overuse: that, just, maybe, sometimes, pretty, little, smile, nod, exopthalmos (just seeing if you were still with me), etc. I don't get rid of every instance, but I delete a lot of excess verbiage (especially those pesky "that"s that keep cropping up). Sometimes I also search on -ly words (bad adverbs! bad!).

Insert/adjust chapter breaks. Some are "cliff-hangers," some are logical scene endings, and others are based entirely on writer's whim. I re-jigger them so I don't end up with any 2-page chapters or 42-page chapters.

Tidy up transitions. My goal is to get the reader from one scene to the next smoooooothly and (relatively) unconfused.

Pretty-up ugly prose. Tighten, tighten, tighten.

Fill in those ominous XXXs. While writing the draft, I insert an XXX "placeholder" whenever I need a particular name (person, place, thing) but don't know it. Now is when I actually do the research to fill in the blanks.

Work out/refine timeline (see earlier post on A Million Blogging Monkeys). I get a calendar from whatever year/month the story takes place and map out the timeline. This way I can avoid having my characters undertake 36 hours of stuff in a single afternoon--and other embarrassing goofs.


What's next? After I complete all of the above (on the computer), I print out the manuscript and do a hardcopy edit. My eye seems to catch different things when I read on paper. (Plus I like scratching stuff out with a big 'ol red pen.)

Then it's on to read for story flow and character development (I'll leave those details for a future post).


How about you? For those who don't edit as you go, is your process anything like mine, or is it something totally different?

How do you make your sausage?


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


Be sure to visit the blog on Monday for Part I of an interview with fellow InkSpot blogger Keith Raffel.


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Smackdown: Reading vs. Writing

On Monday, there was a very lively discussion on Debra L. Schubert's nifty blog, Write On Target, about whether reading makes you a better writer.    WriteOnTarget

Many commenters felt it was essential--to be a better writer, you have to read. Reading improves your writing.

Debra had a slightly different take. She felt that the countless years she'd already spent reading are what helped her become a good writer, and that current and future reading, while important, wouldn't help her improve as much as more writing would. (Of course, don't let me put words into her mouth, go here to see what she has to say.)

I'm inclined to agree with her.

I think the biggest way to improve as a writer is to write. And write a lot.

Don't get me wrong--I love to read. And I do think reading in a wide range of genres will improve your writing. It's just that, on an hour-by-hour basis, I think you'll get more payoff by writing than by reading. (See: Law of Diminishing Returns.)

As with everything else, it becomes a matter of priorities. There's only so much day in each day.

Of course, you gotta like a "job" where it's easy to justify kicking back with a good book for the sake of improved performance.


Upcoming blog posts: In this Friday's post, I'll be opening up a small window into my sausage-making process (sometimes called revisions). Next week, I'm excited to have a two-part interview with Keith Raffel, author of DOT DEAD, and the recently released SMASHER. Should be fun!


Monday, November 9, 2009

With Ketchup?


Who doesn't like gazing at the colorful kaleidoscope of autumn leaves on the trees?

I know I do.

It's when the leaves drop from the trees and cover my yard to a depth of four inches that I don't much care for them.

Every year, I vow to come up with a good solution for clearing my yard. And every year, I end up blowing and raking all the leaves into a huge ditch in the woods behind my house. I've dreamed up all sorts of "innovative" solutions. What about covering the entire yard with a net or some kind of mesh, then rolling it up after it's covered with leaves? How about a pedal-powered vehicle that you ride along the lawn, picking up leaves and depositing them in a towed basket? (FYI, I'm too, uh, frugal to actually go out and purchase a riding mower or pay to have the leaves cleared.)

Now I do have two boys, and they help...a little. But I still end up doing most of the work on my own. I keep telling myself it's good exercise.

When I survey the vast sea of dead leaves before I start, my task seems insurmountable (I told you, I have a LOT of leaves in my yard.) and an old adage comes to mind (which I've seen mentioned a lot lately). Elephant

How do you eat an elephant?

One bite at a time.

The same way you write a book. One word at a time.

Keep at it and eventually you'll have a completed manuscript.

Now, I'm off to do some raking.


Friday, November 6, 2009

Working On A Dream

This entry concludes Boss Week at the blog. Thanks, Boss!

workingonadream Did I mention that I went to the Springsteen concert on Monday night? Well, I did and I'm still abuzz.

I've been to some great concerts over the years, and I've been to some not-so-great ones. It's always fun to try to rank them and come up with a Top Five list, but it's a hard task. How do you compare seeing The Rolling Stones in a soccer stadium on the French Riviera to hearing Joan Jett play a little bar in Syracuse? Or seeing The Who with college friends vs. seeing Springsteen with my teenager? (BTW, seeing a concert with your teenager TOTALLY rocks!)

Different times, different places, different types of music, different frames of mind. It's like comparing Neil Diamond to Mick Jaggar. They're both good, but they're...different.

Not surprisingly, there are about a dozen concerts in my personal Top Five.

It's the same for books. I don't think I could come up with a Top Five list. My enjoyment of a book is too dependent on my mood, my stage of life, where I read it (on vacation or in the waiting room at the dentist), and a dozen other factors. Sure, I can reel off the names of a bunch of books I enjoyed immensely, but I don't think I could ever rank them.

I think I'd end up with fifty in my Top Five.

What about you? Are there certain books that you can point to and say, "Yep, that's definitely a Top Five book"? What if you limited your list to a particular genre?

Me? I'm not even sure I could do it if I limited myself to a single author.


Wednesday, November 4, 2009

When They Said “Sit Down” I Stood Up

The Boss Week continues here at the blog.

The Springsteen concert on Monday night was AWESOME. So much energy, so many great songs. I'm hard pressed to think of any rocker who can top Bruce's showmanship, specifically the way he connects with the crowd. From the very first guitar note, he's got 20,000 fans in his hip pocket.

Bruce knows exactly what they want, and he doesn't just meet their expectations, he exceeds them.

That's one reason he can charge so much for a ticket and have fans think they're the ones getting a steal. Because--speaking for myself--I sure did. I had a great time and I'd do it again in a New Jersey minute.

greetings If you continually please your fans, they'll remain your fans forever. It's no accident the crowd overflowed with middle-aged people (and beyond), many of whom have been Springsteen fans since they first heard Greetings From Asbury Park. Bruce has been exceeding expectations for over thirty years.

As writers, we'd do well to follow his example. Write the book you want, but keep your readers in mind. Set them up for a Good Read. Start with a protagonist they can cheer for and a supporting cast of charismatic, dynamic characters. Compose a great plot with unexpected twists and turns. Deliver pitch-perfect pacing and symphonic settings. Let the rhythms build and the story threads harmonize. Bring down the house with a dynamite, mind-blowing ending.

Don't skimp. Give your readers your best effort in every chapter, on every page.

Exceed expectations. Deliver a great performance. After all, you're shooting to develop fans for the long haul.


Monday, November 2, 2009

Tramps Like Us

borntorunI've been looking forward to tonight for a couple months now. Gonna see Springsteen! And he’s playing his entire Born to Run album. Yahoo!

This got me thinking about music. In college, I began amassing my collection of records (yes, vinyl records). Back then (and to this day, sadly), I was into "classic" rock--you know, all the great music of the mid-to-late sixties and early seventies. I think I shocked my dorm mates, being one of the only drug music aficionados who didn't actually do drugs. I'd study in my dorm room with the Doors or Jethro Tull or Yes playing in the background (and plenty of the Boss, too!). Sometimes quite loudly.

For some reason, it didn't negatively affect my schoolwork (I got a 4.0 my freshman year, in engineering).

Now, however, when I write, I need quiet. No music. Not even some classical symphony at barely audible levels. I think it's because the rhythm of my sentences is so important to me, and I don't want any other rhythms running through my head messing with things.

Or maybe I'm just getting old.

How about you? Do you listen to music while you write?

(Hey, did I mention I'm going to see Springsteen tonight? Baby, I was born to run!)