Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy Old Year!

goldstars It's the end of the year and time to take stock.

(Warning: If horn-tooting makes you cringe, you might want to move on to the next blog on your blogroll. I've pulled out my big brass bugle for this post! YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.)

Writing-wise, 2009 was a great year for me. (Otherwise-wise, it was a good year, too. I realize 2009 was a downer for many people, but I am truly fortunate.)

I accomplished many of my writing/publishing/marketing goals and surpassed others (of course, I missed on a few, but I won't dwell on those).


  • I sold three books, all to Midnight Ink: DIAMONDS FOR THE DEAD, a standalone, THE LAST LAFF (first in the Channing Hayes series), and an unwritten sequel. Without my great agent Kathy, I'd still be looking for sale number one. THANKS, KATHY!

  • I revised and polished two suspense novels.

  • I wrote a pretty clean first draft of another novel.

  • I learned HTML, CSS, and Photoshop, and put up a website. Gave it a facelift, too.

  • I started this blog and maintained a three-posts-a-week pace. While surfing the blogosphere, I found a host of new and interesting blogs to procrastinate with learn from.

  • I blogged at InkSpot.

  • I joined Facebook.

  • I joined Twitter.

  • I connected with dozens of other writers, on-line and in person, and developed relationships with some fascinating and inspiring people.

  • I critiqued manuscripts for my critique partners. Hopefully, I helped (or at least didn't do too much damage).

  • I designed bookmarks and new business cards.

  • I joined International Thriller Writers and volunteered to be a website editor for the Debut Authors pages.

  • I became Treasurer of my local MWA chapter.

Whew! I get tired just recapping it all.

But there's no time to rest--I have a strong feeling 2010 is going to be even busier.

And even better.


Friday, December 25, 2009


I’ll be taking a little blog break. Be back on New Year’s Day!



Wednesday, December 23, 2009

This, That, and the Other

Here's some random stuff that's going on, in my life and in my head:

See, Mom, it's not a joke:

DIAMONDS FOR THE DEAD author Alan Orloff's THE LAST LAFF, the first book in a series, featuring a stand-up comedian with a tragic past who is searching for his missing protégé while dealing with the offbeat comedy scene, to Terri Bischoff at Midnight Ink, in a two-book deal, by Kathy Green at the Kathryn Green Literary Agency (world).             

(From Publisher's Marketplace)


It's the time for year-end (and decade-end) "Best Of" lists, and I've seen a lot of book lists on various blogs (and other places). It makes me realize just how many great books I haven't read. I need to find more time somewhere. I wonder if I can read while I shower?


Who is Stieg Larsson, and why do people either love his books or hate them?


I've been working on giving my website a facelift. Look for something new and (hopefully) dazzling sometime in the early part of January. Photoshop rocks!


I just received the proofs of DIAMONDS FOR THE DEAD to review. Looks like fun, if you like that sort of thing. I'll let you know if I do after I'm finished.


I've been "elected" to the post of Treasurer for the Mid-Atlantic MWA chapter. And by elected, I mean that I volunteered and ran unopposed. Of course, I didn't realize it was a two-year term until I got my ballot in the mail. Seriously, I'm looking forward to giving back to an organization that helped me so much over the years.


I'm thinking about getting a new phone. Right now, I have one that makes and receives phone calls. No camera, no GPS, no MP3, no fancy apps. It makes phone calls (I know, how charming). Unfortunately, I'm not really sure what features/apps/functionality I need (aside from making phone calls). The question is: Do I have enough time in my schedule to learn how to operate yet another device?


In my never-ending quest to get organized, I just bought an appointment "planner." I spent about four dollars. It's paper. No batteries are involved. To operate, I write my appointments in it with a pencil. To delete, I use an eraser. Will this low-tech solution be sufficient? I guess I'll find out.


Here's my end-of-December resolution: Work on my New Year's resolutions.


What's going on in your life/head?


Monday, December 21, 2009

Take This Snow and Shove(l) It

Today’s quickie writing lesson:

Eliminate weak language and generic qualifiers to strengthen your work.

For example, instead of:

I don’t usually really like fairly large amounts of snow.




See the difference?


Friday, December 18, 2009

Please Put the Volcano There

Earth_seen_from_Apollo_17 When I was in sixth grade, we had a social studies assignment that involved creating a fictitious island nation. We needed to "design" the natural features (lakes, rivers, mountains), populate the cities, and create cultures, using a combination of history, science, and our imaginations. The cities needed to be located in logical places (say, on a river to facilitate shipping of goods) and we had to take climate into consideration when planning where to put farms. It was a pretty cool project, and I remember really getting into it (ah, the feelings of absolute power!). I must have made sixty index cards, each one describing some detailed aspect of my make-believe land.

Writing a novel is similar.

In science fiction and fantasy circles, it's called world building, which is quite accurate when you're talking about creating new and wondrous worlds, in the future or in far-away galaxies. But I'll apply the same terminology to novels in other genres as well. In any fictional story, you--the writer--are building a world for your characters. You are the designer. You are the one pulling the strings. It's all in your hands (with perhaps a little help from your editor).

For my upcoming mystery series, I've begun constructing my little "world." The first book's already written, so many of the basic facts are set. But there's still a lot left to be determined for future books.

No matter if the series runs two books or twenty, things in my world need to be consistent. You can't have an orphan in one book have parents drop by for a visit in the next (unless you've got one whale of an explanation!). Characters' physical and psychological traits need to stay the same (or at least evolve realistically), and their histories and patterns and likes/dislikes can't change like a politician's mind after the latest poll.

Let's face it. We've all read series where immutable things change from book to book. Maybe the protagonist's eye color goes from brown to blue or his great aunt becomes fifteen years younger or his best friend's name changes from Stan to Steve (or Susie). When things like that happen, it makes me think the author is lazy or careless (or both), and it certainly doesn't make me want to read more books in the series.

My Midnight Ink pal, Jess Lourey, gave me some great suggestions about compiling a series "bible." She recommended dividing a notebook into thirds, and using one part to catalog all the characters, another for maps/descriptions of physical locales, and a third for tracking character arcs across books. Then, all your information is in one handy place, ready to be accessed. Hey, it sounds good to me!

So now I need to collect my notes, give the first book another read, and bring it all together.

Then I can start working on the sequel.

I can't wait!


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Pros of Blogging: Reading and Writing

In my most recent blog entry, I bemoaned the fact I didn't have enough time to visit all the blogs I want to, without seriously cutting into my "productive" work time.

Don't get me wrong, I enjoy blog reading.

Reading blogs:

  • Teaches me a lot, about writing, about the publishing business, and about human nature (especially during flame wars).
  • Exposes me to a host of different ideas.
  • Informs me about all kinds of new and interesting books (and their authors).
  • Helps me hone my procrastination skills (not that they need much honing).
  • Provides me with links to interesting and informative sites (which I then put on my ever-expanding list of sites to visit--arggh!).
  • Gives me a great sense of community, of fitting in with other writers and readers. If I have a question, I'm confident the collective swarm will come up with an answer, which is nice (then I don't have to bother my wife).

I also enjoy writing blog entries (both on my own two blogs (this one and InkSpot), and on other people's).

Writing blogs:

  • Lets me (hopefully) help other writers with things learned from my experiences.
  • Makes it easy to start discussions on topics that interest me.
  • Keeps my skills from getting rusty (at least my typing skills).
  • Allows me to get the word out about my work more effectively than standing on a street corner and shouting (I think). And it's even more effective when I blog on other people's blogs. (In fact, I'm thinking about beginning to start contemplating putting together a rough idea for a blog tour for April's release. Maybe. Soon. If I can find the time.)

There were some excellent comments on Monday's post, but are there even more reasons you have for reading and/or writing blogs?


Monday, December 14, 2009

Maybe I Should Use a Timer

During Thanksgiving week, I took some time off from social networking (a "blogiday"). No blogging, no reading blogs, no tweeting. What were the results of my little experiment?

stopwatchUpside: I had more time to do other things. I knew I'd been spending a significant amount of time surfing and reading and commenting on blogs (as well as writing my own), but I wasn't aware of how much. I didn't put a stopwatch on it or anything, but I bet I saved at least an hour a day.


Downside: I felt more isolated than usual. Let's face it, writing is a solitary sport. I go into my office, sit down at the keyboard, and make stuff up for hours at a time. No talking with other people, no interactions with humanity. Me, keyboard, imagination, that's it (I don't even have a dog to talk to). Reading other's blogs and tweets makes me feel connected to the writing community, no matter how illusory. As much as I hate to admit it, I found I suffered from a mild case of blog withdrawal during that week.

As is the case with many of my little "experiments," there was no earth-shattering result--I simply have too much I want to do and too little time. So what else is new?

I guess I just need to keep working to find the right balance.


Friday, December 11, 2009

Handle With Care

Yesterday, I met the most fascinating character at the Post Office. I was waiting for my number to be called when a small elderly man walked in, wearing a pair of those huge, plastic wraparound sunglasses (the kind you wear after eye surgeries or perhaps while welding). He sported a big smile and wondered aloud about the existentialism of getting the number "00."

"Hi there, young fella," he said.

I glanced around, making sure he was talking to me. "Hello."

"Windy day, today. And cold." He held up a package. "For my grandchild. In Chicago."

I nodded politely.

"Yep. We were supposed to fly out for Christmas, me and the wife, then she took ill. Just came from the hospital."

"Oh. Sorry to hear it," I said.

"Stroke. Third one in the past three years." He shook his head. "I just got out of the hospital a few weeks ago myself. Liver thing."

I didn't know what to say, so I kept my mouth shut.

"Wife wanted to make sure Bobby got this." He held up the package again and tapped it with a bony finger. "She worked in the White House, long time ago. Sharp as a tack. Now..."

I couldn't tell if he was tearing up through the dark shades. He must have spotted me staring. "Don't usually wear sunglasses inside, but..." He leaned closer and lowered his voice. "Got in a fight. Got a big shiner. Happened in the hospital lobby. Some young guy was disrespecting our country and I stood up to him. You shoulda seen his face when I was done with him. I served our country. Proudly. He had no right to insult what I fought for. Took two security guys to break us up. Not bad for an old guy."

A postal clerk called my number. I went to the counter and in a few minutes my business had been concluded. On my way out, I nodded goodbye to the old guy.

Sometimes it's a shame people don't really talk to strangers. The stories they could hear.


Wednesday, December 9, 2009

You Call That Prose?

For me, critique groups are essential. I need feedback from other people--specifically, other writers--to let me know if I'm on track or lost in the deep weeds. In addition, I learn a tremendous amount about writing by reading other people's manuscripts. Fortunately, I’ve been involved in two excellent groups, and I know—for an absolute certainty—that they both helped me improve my writing immensely.

What do I look for in a critique group?

Honesty. It does me no good if all I get is lip service. I want substantive comments--I'm trying to make the work better, not get validation (or trashing) of my writing skills.

Both big picture and little picture suggestions. Anything is fair game, from overall plot ideas and themes, down to comma usage and word choice. I prefer a "no comment too small" policy. (Don't like the paper the ms is printed on? Let me know.).

Fair, balanced, and constructive comments. It's fine if someone has an agenda; I just don't want to hear about it in the guise of criticism.

Writers in similar genres. I don't think I can provide much feedback for stories in genres I don't often read, such as historical fiction or vampire lit. I want to be able to contribute to the group!

Writers in a similar "writing stage" as me. I don't want to feel like I'm teaching all the time; conversely, I don't want to feel like I'm holding everyone else back, either.

Writers who take constructive criticism well. I know this may sound harsh, but if a writer can't take criticism in stride, then things are bound to get unpleasant. The road to publication is paved with rejection after rejection after rejection after....

No sad sacks. Writing is hard and so is getting published. I don't suffer whiners very well. I want my time in a critique group to be pleasant, as well as productive!

As far as structure/format, I prefer a group that:

Reads pages ahead of time. I've been in situations where the writer reads a selection aloud and feedback is provided on the spot. Frankly, with my auditory processing issues, I stink at it. (I'm still working on the first sentence as the reader plows into the third paragraph.) Plus, I need time to think. Typically, I like to read pages at least twice, the second time after I've had a chance to stew on things for a while.

Has only two or three others in the group. Small groups mean you can get through your pages more quickly, and you have enough time to do a thorough job.

Meets frequently. I don't want to lose the momentum of what I'm reading (I forget names, too, after a long absence). A regular meeting time helps.

What do you look for in a critique group?


Monday, December 7, 2009

Introducing Channing Hayes

Today's post will be short and sweet (very sweet!).

MI Mysterys Finest HourI'm thrilled to announce that I'll be writing a new series for Midnight Ink. It features Channing Hayes, a stand-up comic with a tragic past, who is now part owner of a comedy club. The first book, THE LAST LAFF (or maybe just LAST LAFF, or maybe something else entirely), is scheduled for publication in March 2011.

Thanks to everyone at Midnight Ink, especially Terri and Brian, for bringing this on board!

Now I'm off to do some research. In other words, it's time to turn on Comedy Central.

Sometimes the life of a writer is a hard one.

(Today’s entry is “simul-posted” on InkSpot.)


Friday, December 4, 2009

Ze Brain! Ze Brain!

brain Whenever the party conversation turns to discussing the merits of being right-brained vs. being left-brained, I become confused (maybe I'm "no-brained"). I can never remember which side is the creative side, and which side is the logical side.

[Pausing to conduct a little Google research. Please, talk amongst yourselves.]

Okay, the left side is logical (easy to remember, both start with "L"), and the right side is creative. So which team do I play for?

When I was a lad, I excelled in math (My nickname in 5th grade was "The Computer" because I could add and subtract columns of numbers so quickly. Unfortunately, I soon found out that wasn't a very marketable skill. Damn those calculators!). All through grade school, and all through college and grad school, I took as many technical classes as I could, shying away from anything remotely creative (English class? What's that? Give me fluid dynamics or give me death!).

My jobs were in engineering and business, where the most creative things I did were sales and marketing projections.

Now, it seems, my right side has awakened. I spend a lot of time making stuff up and writing what I hope are creative stories (and blogs and Facebook updates and Tweets and IRS tax returns).

This brings up a slew of questions: Has my brain changed? Has my right side staged a successful coup? Am I "whole-brained"? Dual-brained? Bird-brained?

What gives?

What about you? Right-brain or left-brain? Or some brain in between?

Image courtesy of Wikipedia


Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Crank Up the Generator

lightbulbI love to brainstorm. What's more liberating than to sit back, close your eyes, and let your mind loose, free to roam where it wants?

When I worked in the corporate world, sometimes I'd devote a staff meeting to brainstorming. We'd have certain "rules." No interrupting. No judging. No making fun of someone's ideas. I'd stand in front of a flipchart with a Magic Marker and scribble down everyone's thoughts. And boy, did we get some interesting ones! (No matter how many times it was suggested, we never did go to a one-day workweek.)

After we were done generating ideas, THEN we'd gather again to evaluate them. Essential, but not nearly as fun.

Now, I use brainstorming to come up with story ideas. Big picture, little picture, in-between picture. Character traits, settings, plot points, titles (especially titles). It doesn't matter what I'm working on, I find that generating a list of possibilities helps me be more creative, and it helps me narrow down my choices at the same time (weird how the mind works, huh?).

I guess, to some extent, we all brainstorm, whether we call it that or something else.

Now I'm off to brainstorm future blog topics. (Any suggestions?)