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?)


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 café, 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!)


Friday, October 30, 2009

On Your Mark. Get Set. Type!

Halloween is coming up, but something else also is fast approaching, something much scarier.


For those NotInTheKno, NaNoWriMo is the name of a month-long writing event (National November Writing Month), where writers "pledge" to write--and write a lot!

From the NaNoWriMo website:

National Novel Writing Month is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to novel writing. Participants begin writing November 1. The goal is to write a 175-page (50,000-word) novel by midnight, November 30.

According to my math (50,000 divided by 30, carry the twelve, minus the inverse of Avogadro's number squared, plus four score...), well, that's a fair number of words every day. (Okay, my slide rule tells me it's 2000 words a day, if you take Sundays off to watch pro football. If you are a Skins fan, do yourself a favor and find something else equally enjoyable to occupy your Sundays, like getting a root canal. Make that a double root canal.)

For many, it's a challenge to keep up that pace for a whole month. But don't worry:

Because of the limited writing window, the ONLY thing that matters in NaNoWriMo is output. It's all about quantity, not quality. The kamikaze approach forces you to lower your expectations, take risks, and write on the fly.

That's the kind of writing I can embrace!

Of course, with such quality control, you know who's most frightened by NaNoWriMo?


Because many of them will have the, uh, privilege of reading NaNoWriMo efforts.

Another quick calculation: NaNoWriMo novels are finished on November 30th. Throw in three days to edit/revise. Add fifteen minutes to bang out a query. So agents can expect the query barrage to begin on December 3rd.

Of course, I'm just kidding (everyone knows it takes at least a week to revise a first draft). I think any type of program, event, marathon, party, initiative, or outright threat that gets people writing is great.

For the record, I won't be participating in NaNoWriMo. Not this year--too much other stuff going on to commit to 2000 words, six days a week. Maybe next year I'll be in a place where I can give it a whirl.

To all those participating:  Good Luck!  

To agents, I have one word: DecMoLoVac (December Month Long Vacation).


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Dear Blogging Monkey

Welcome to another installment of Dear Blogging Monkey. better Monkey-typing

Dear Blogging Monkey:

Is it hard to come up with topics to blog about, three times a week? I mean, is there ever a day when you just draw a giant blank?

Big Fan Of The Blog


Thanks for being a die-hard follower of the blog. I appreciate every single follower I can coerce, er get. And that's a mighty fine question, too. Sometimes it is difficult to come up with a pithy topic or humorous post. Yes, there are some days when I draw a giant--make that King-Kong-sized--blank.

So what do I do on those occasions? Well, I try to dig deep and step up to the plate, so I can deliver the goods (often, clichés seem to help). Being a Big Fan Of The Blog, I'm sure you know that not all my hits are homers.

On those days when I seem to suffer from "blogger's block," I still try to post something.

Even if it is totally lame.

Thanks for your fun question! And remember to stop by on Friday for another enthralling blog post.

One Blogging Monkey



How about you, bloggers? What are some of your fall-back posting strategies for those days when your imagination has taken a trip to the zoo?


Monday, October 26, 2009

Road to Publication City

There are many routes to Publication City. Here's one:*

signposts for blog At the beginning of your journey, the road appears daunting, almost impassable. So many other travelers, so many obstacles, so many turns and switchbacks and dark tunnels to negotiate.

You embark and work hard, honing your craft, pouring your story out. Word by word, sentence by sentence, chapter by chapter, it takes shape. S-l-o-w-l-y. You might take a writing class or workshop; you might join a critique group to help you from getting lost. Whatever works for you.

Be sure to ignore all the stalled and abandoned vehicles on the side of the road. Keep your eyes on the destination ahead.

You press on, undeterred.

Finally, you approach Milepost One - a finished first draft. Traffic is still heavy here, but a good number of the fast starters never made it to this point, for whatever reason. You celebrate this achievement, because frankly, you weren't sure you were going to make it this far, either.

Now you enter the revision leg of the trip, and the road becomes winding and treacherous. Signage is confusing and often contradictory. Which direction should you go? What turns should you make to stay on the right track? Expect to run into dead ends along the way and encounter scores of other writers, all going in various directions, some fast, some slow, many in endless circles. You check in frequently with your critique group to keep from wandering too far afield.

After many weeks (or months or years) traveling Revision Boulevard, you've completed a finished, polished manuscript. Congratulations on reaching Milepost Two! (Go ahead, celebrate again. In fact, take every chance you can to celebrate.) 

The trek continues. Up ahead, you see a gigantic bottleneck--people trying to merge onto the Snare-an-Agent exit. (You can take a detour here to avoid the masses, but be warned: the alternate routes are bumpy and the bridges are often washed out.) You write a query. Then rewrite it. After thirty or so rewrites, you figure it's ready. As you query agents (widely), you inhale exhaust fumes from thousands of others stuck in the same gridlock. Unfortunately, it could take a long time to get your wheels moving again. Some never do.

But your persistence pays off and you sign with an agent at Milepost Three (Yahoo!). She buckles into your passenger seat and directs you into the HOV-Agent lane of Submittal Highway. There aren't as many vehicles, but for some reason, no one is moving very fast.

With a lot of patience and persistence, you are fortunate to reach the all-important Milestone Four: SALE! party hats1

You breathe a big sigh of relief and celebrate.

Next, you abandon your car for a seat on your publisher's train. (Hey, this is my convoluted extended analogy, and if I want to mix cars and trains, I will. Now pipe down, unless you want me to turn this thing around and head back home!) Your editor-conductor tells you to sit back and enjoy the ride--he knows the way and he'll get you to your destination safely. No longer do you have to fret about which way to go. (Save your energy, there are plenty of other things to worry about!)

So you sit back and watch the milestones go by: an editorial letter, a shiny cover, the listing on Amazon. Inclusion in your publisher's catalog. Your bookmarks. Galleys, ARCs, reviews, interviews--the mileposts blur. But it's all good. And since you're no longer driving, you can concentrate on mapping a route to your next destination: Promotionville. Of course, in your spare time, you might want to pull out the laptop and get to work on your next manuscript.

After all, you want to take this crazy trip again, don't you?**


*For your enjoyment (and as a change of pace), this post is written in second-person.
**All this talk of mileposts reminds me that today is my birthday.


(This post “simul-posted” on InkSpot.)


Friday, October 23, 2009

Power Up

For me, writing goes in fits and spurts. Some days, the words seem to flow out of my fingertips, well fast. Other days, not so, uh, fast.

I know when the writing starts to really drag and sag, it's time for me to recharge my batteries. energizer-bunny-page

Here are some ways I re-energize: 

  • Read a book about writing.
  • Read a non-fiction book about something completely unrelated to writing.
  • Engage in on-line discussions about writing and publishing in general.
  • Goof around on Facebook.
  • Talk with another writer about his/her projects.
  • Read some different blogs.
  • Write a blog post or two.
  • Watch a movie about writers.
  • Exercise.
  • For a longer-term energy boost, I find writers' conferences to be especially beneficial.

What about you? What recharges your batteries?


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Is This Thing On?

Me and O At some point during the promotion of my book, I'll be stepping up in front of a crowd (well, at least a few people who aren't relatives) to do a little public speaking. Whether it's at a book signing, a library event, a conference panel, or on the platform waiting for a Metro train, I'll be talking about DIAMONDS FOR THE DEAD.

I'm sure you've all heard about the polls where the fear of public speaking "beats out" every other fear, including fear of death.

I'm no exception. I usually don't look forward to getting up in front of an audience, where all eyes--and ears--are on me.

Most of the time, I do fine. No major stammering, no fainting, no projectile vomiting. I'll prepare a few comments beforehand and wing the rest. Taking a lot of questions from the crowd seems to work well. My goal usually is to "not suck." Although I don't fall flat on my face, I feel I can--and should--do better.

I think it will help that I'm very (very!) enthusiastic about my book and about writing. It's much easier talking about something you love. As a reader/fan, I'm always enthralled by whatever a writer has to say about the writing process and the publishing business, even if that person isn't the most dynamic of speakers. So I've got that going for me, too.

I'll try to be engaging and funny and charming and interesting and compelling. I want to totally rock.

I'm planning to prepare several different presentations, tailored to different audiences. I may put together a PowerPoint slide show (the engineer/businessman in me), and I'll work up some good handouts (with help from Photoshop, of course). I'll probably even practice my spiel once or twice.

What other things should I consider to help me get ready? Toastmasters? Offer the neighborhood kids free donuts to listen and critique my delivery? Should I videotape myself? Should I wear costumes? Go in drag? Learn how to speak with a British accent?

Or should I just employ the services of a stand-in, so I can stay home and write?

As usual, all suggestions welcome.


Monday, October 19, 2009

Say What?

Every year, at least one of my kids takes a test in school to determine what type of learner he is: auditory, visual, kinesthetic, musical, televisional (that's when a person can only do homework in front of the TV) or whatever. They discuss the results for a while, and then the class goes out for recess to hurl playground balls at each other as hard as they can.

I don't have to take any test to know what kind of learner I am (besides slow). I am a visual learner, without question. If something is written down--on a chalkboard, in a book, in a manual, on a bumper sticker--I can grasp the information and file it away in the proper memory bank. If not, well, let's just say some stuff "falls through the cracks."

Luckily, my wife knows this about me. In a social situation, she'll stay by my side, absorbing whatever it is that people are telling me, just in case I need that information later. Names? Not a clue. Occupations? Beats me. Details about their sick in-laws? What in-laws? If she's not with me, I try to cope by smiling and nodding my head a lot. What I'm really doing is wondering what's all the yak-yak noise interrupting my daydreaming.

In a business situation, I'm eternally grateful to the person who invented business cards. I may forget everything someone says, but at least I can refer to him or her by name with a quick downward glance at the card cupped discreetly in my hand. I'd be lost without nametags at conferences, too. (Women, I'm not being inappropriate; I'm simply staring at your nametags.)

I'm like the dog in that Gary Larson cartoon, who hears his master's commands as "Blah blah blah, Ginger, blah blah blah, Ginger, blah blah blah." (Except for the "Ginger" part.)

I've always been this way. In college, I'd sit in the back and do crossword puzzles while the professors lectured, stopping every so often to copy down a formula from the board. Good thing I never had to pass oral exams.

Sometimes I'll get off the phone and not remember any of the details of the conversation. I guess I need to start "recording calls for quality control purposes."

My inability to "process auditory signals" is why I don't stop and ask directions. "Blah blah blah. Right. Blah blah. Gas station. Blah blah. U-turn." It's too embarrassing to ask people to write them down for me. (Note: The directions don't have to be words--I'm quite good with maps and patterns. Just as long as people aren't describing them verbally.) (Another note: My reticence to ask for directions has absolutely nothing to do with the fact I'm male, and it's a crushing blow to my ego to admit I'm lost. Nothing whatsoever.)

I wonder if this, uh, little quirk is partly responsible for me becoming a writer instead of an actor or singer or politician (aside from an overwhelming lack of talent in those arenas, of course).

How about you? How do you learn most effectively?


Friday, October 16, 2009

Hello. My Name is…

This week is the annual Bouchercon mystery convention. I went last year, in Baltimore, and had an absolute blast. Unfortunately, I’m not attending this year (see you all in S.F. next year!). Here is a “rerun” of a guest post I did for Elizabeth Spann Craig’s Mystery Writing Is Murder blog about networking at conferences and conventions:

I love writers' conferences. So much to learn, so much positive energy, so many good books to discover. But the best thing about writer's conferences? Hands down, it's the collection of writers (and readers, and editors, and agents, and…).

DSCF0288 Here are some tips for networking at conferences:

Before the conference
Do your prep work. Effective networking at conferences begins weeks (or months) before the conference. See if there is a list of attendees (authors, editors, agents, fans) posted on the conference website. Go through this list and take note of those people you'd like to meet (make a list if you have to). For those you absolutely, positively must meet, consider emailing them ahead of time to arrange a place to rendezvous. But remember: Nobody likes a stalker!

Get business cards made, if you don't already have some. There are plenty of inexpensive on-line printers that will do a fine job (I've used VistaPrint). Having all your contact info in one convenient "giveaway" beats writing your name, website, blog address, and email address on the hand of the uber-agent you’ve just met. Paraphrasing my grandmother, "Professional is as professional does."

Stay in the conference hotel. If you can swing it, stay where all the action will take place. Besides being convenient, you're bound to make friends waiting for the elevator or in the stairwell during the inevitable 3 a.m. fire alarm evacuation. DSCF0289

At the conference
Stick your hand out - often. If you see someone standing alone during a break or at a cocktail hour, introduce yourself. Arrive early to the panels and find an empty seat next to someone. Hang out in the hospitality lounge. Strike up a conversation with anybody who seems interesting. Everyone there is like you--looking to make contacts.

Make it easy to be "met." Always wear a nametag and display it in a place that's easy to see. The nametag is the first place my eyes go when I'm meeting someone new--or when I'm searching out people on my "have-to-meet" list. If you write your name on the tag yourself, make sure it's large and legible.

Don't hide in your hotel room. You might be an introvert (many writers are), but one of the big reasons you're at the conference is to meet people. So get out and meet them!

DSCF0291 Visit the book room. Booksellers are authors' best friends. Meet them, talk with them, be extra nice to them. Buy some books while you're at it.

Hit the bar. The hotel bar is the place to mingle. Even if you don't drink, think of the bar as the conference meeting place (albeit with plenty of booze). This is where you can meet the authors you've read for all those years and hear tons of great stories. [Hint: keep your wits about you, or your drunken escapades might become the punchlines to their stories the following year.] More business gets done in the bar than anywhere else.

After the conference
Follow-up. Remember all the business cards you passed out? Well, hopefully you collected plenty, too. Follow up with the people you met. Drop them an email saying how nice it was chatting (lie if you need to--you can handle a little fiction, right?). Give them book recommendations, or ideas about getting published, or tips on other great conferences to attend. Stay in touch!

Writers make up a great community. Become part of it!

(Of course, on-line networking is important, too. Friend me on Facebook and follow me on Twitter. I'm always looking to network with other readers and writers.)


Wednesday, October 14, 2009

On-line De-sign

Regular visitors to this blog may notice that, every once in a while, some new widget or geegaw or doohickey appears on the blog's sidebar (what can I say, I like shiny things). Each one--on its own--is fine; I'm not too sure about the aesthetic of the entire mass (or should it be mess?).

Usually, I care more about what's inside the package than the wrapping. But in a world that's getting more "virtual" every day, I want my on-line presence to be pleasant, not jarring or disconnected. So that's why I tinker. It’s also why I'm never sure whether I'm making things better or worse.

Same holds true for my website, although I don't fiddle around there nearly as often as with my blog. In the next few months, I’ve "resigned myself to redesign." Now that I know how to use Photoshop (at least a little), I'm sure it will be a piece of cake. Ahem. (If it’s a problem, I’ll just get Galen’s help.)

I already have a partial list of things I want to include/improve. Some will be relatively easy, others will probably have to wait until one of my kids gets his college degree in Computer Science. Of course, maybe by then, the Internet will have been superseded by direct data pipelines straight into people's brains. (Google NeuroNet?)

Anyway, I'm looking for ideas about how to improve the look (and the content, too) of both my blog and my website.

All suggestions welcome! Just remember: complete demolition is NOT an option.


Monday, October 12, 2009

What Moustache?

I sported a moustache for many, many years. (I had it continuously, except for a period of about two weeks, which, weirdly enough, was about the time I met my wife.) moustache

About eight months ago, I shaved it off. Sure, the kids were a little freaked out (Ahh! Who's the stranger in the kitchen?), but I didn't look back. Not then, not now.

I don't miss my hairy upper lip at all.

I'm like that about a lot of things (people are a different matter). Once they're gone, I don't seem to miss them. Maybe I'm simple and don't remember things once they leave my sphere of attention. Maybe I'm a soulless, cold-hearted human being. Whatever. I never really get emotionally attached to things.

The same holds true for my writing. During the revision process, if I get rid of a character, I don't give it a second thought. Ditto for a subplot or a surprise twist or a particularly clever scene. If the story is better off without those elements, out comes the hatchet. And I never look back. I'm a serial killer of my darlings, with no regrets.

How about you? Do you miss those characters, scenes, and plotlines that don't make the cut? Or are you a soulless SOB like me?


Photo credit: Rajesh Rajan, Photographer, UMS, Muscat, Oman


Friday, October 9, 2009

What’s Wrong With a 45-Hour Day?

I'm starting to realize I'm not very efficient at keeping track of my story's timeline as I write.

Here's what I do:

I start writing, using my outline as a guide. Eventually, I'll come to a scene where I have to "identify" what day of the week it is. After putting my "stake in the ground," I keep writing, only vaguely keeping track of when the action is taking place, mostly relying on my memory to keep things straight. Sometimes, to help me out, I'll type the day of the week in a different-colored font at the beginning of a scene. Unfortunately, most times I do not. As you might imagine, when I reach the end of the first draft, my story's timeline is a complete mess.

Invariably, I'll find out that I've crammed 45 hours worth of events into a single day. Or that I have characters going to church on a Tuesday or being in school on a Saturday or watching a pro football game on a Wednesday morning.

To fix things, I have to find a calendar and jot down the scenes, day by day. Then I have to rearrange scenes, change transitions, and fudge things to make them fit better.


Here's what I should do:

Find the calendar before I start writing, and KEEP TRACK OF MY TIMELINE AS I WRITE. Or better yet, INCORPORATE THE TIMELINE INTO MY OUTLINE.


Writers, how do you handle the timeline for your book during the writing process?


Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Odds and Pieces (Bits and Ends?)

I finished the first draft of my WIP last week, but I’m going to let it percolate for a while before starting to revise it. I hope the saying, “It’s never as good as you think it is or as bad as you fear it is” holds true--at least the latter part.

I got my bookmarks yesterday and was very pleased how the job came out. Kudos to The quality was great, the price was good, the turnaround time was fast, and they were easy to work with. What’s not to like?

We’re having a garage sale in a week and a half. Don’t worry, I won’t be getting rid of my Mr. Peanut items. If you happen to know someone who needs some size 4 soccer cleats (new) or a 20-year-old unopened Pente board game, send him/her my way!

I wish there would be a Talk Like A Pirate Day every month. Arrghh!

DIAMONDS FOR THE DEAD can be pre-ordered on-line at many venues. Even here. Wherever that is. (I think the answer to the question, “Is deze titel in de winkel?” is “not yet, in April.”)


Monday, October 5, 2009

Fit is It

Last Friday, I attended an event put on by The Writers Center and Northern Virginia Writers as part of their First Friday series. Author Valerie O. Patterson and her agent Sarah Davies (The Greenhouse Literary Agency) discussed the road to publication for her book, THE OTHER SIDE OF BLUE.  Other_side_of_blue

Besides giving a very interesting presentation, they talked about how important "fit" was, both in terms of a writer picking an agent and finding an editor/publisher.

I totally agree.

Think back to a time when you had to work with someone--a person or a company--who didn't see things the same way you did. Were you comfortable with how things transpired? Or were you always butting heads, making it difficult to get anything done? Did you come away from the project feeling good, or were you full of regrets, perhaps wishing you'd never gotten involved in the first place?

Of course, when it comes to getting an agent or publisher, you might not have more than one option. Just remember, having a bad agent/publisher can be worse than having no agent/publisher at all.

Make your decision carefully.


Friday, October 2, 2009

Schoolin’ About Writin’

I never took a creative writing class in high school. In fact, I didn't care much for English class, always opting to do some kind of alternative communication project when available (think videotaped speech, pantomime, or interpretive dance), rather than write a paper. Maybe if they'd called it Language Arts, like they do now, I'd have been more interested.

In college, the only English class I took was a required technical writing course. Why did engineers need to learn how to write anyway?

In graduate business school, we had plenty of writing to do, but itBuzzword Bingo wasn't very creative, unless you thought playing buzzword bingo counted ("searching for synergistic solutions and proactively pursuing paradigms is all well and good, but moving forward at the end of the day..."). Creativity was mostly limited to accounting. (CEO to CFO: "Do you know how much 2 plus 2 is?" CFO: "Sure. Whatever you want it to be, boss.")

It wasn't until many years later that I decided to write fiction. I'd always been a voracious reader, so how hard could writing be?

My first efforts weren't pretty.

But I took a few writing workshops, got into some good critique groups, and, um, read a lot of books about writing.

A few favorites:

On Writing by Stephen King

Write the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass

How to Write A Damn Good Mystery by James N. Frey (not that James Frey!)

Don't Murder Your Mystery by Chris Roerden

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

There are tons of other books on the "How To Write" shelves. Some offer step-by-step plans, some put you through "boot camps," and some promise to help you churn out a book in a month or six weeks or ninety days. Whatever works for you.

Me? I usually feel like I'm just winging it.

What's helped you with your writing? Any special books? MFAs? Writer retreats? A six-pack on the back porch every night? 


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


Wednesday, September 30, 2009

July in the Big Apple

I am a proud member of International Thriller Writers. If you’re unfamiliar with this organization, check out their website here.

ITW Logo I could go on and on about the services and info they provide,  the sense of community they foster, the mentorship and guidance to new members, and the annual ThrillerFest they put on every year (July) in New York City.

But they describe it all a lot better than I ever could. So visit their website, and, if you can, make plans to attend ThrillerFest.

I just registered and booked my hotel room.

Should be a blast!

ITW words


Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Revise or Cut Bait

Many writers ask this question:

Is it better to keep revising my first novel until it garners some serious interest from an agent/publisher, or should I ditch the first novel and write a second one?

Having faced this exact dilemma (as I'm sure others have), I say ditch the first one if it doesn't get some interest after you've given it your best shot. What does that mean? Write diligently, get in a critique group, revise and edit until it shines, then query the heck out of it.

After you've done that, however, I don't think there's any payoff spending another six months, or a year--or longer--working on something that's already proven to have little commercial interest. Sure, you could transform it into something awe-inspiring, but that's unlikely. Remember, we're talking about first novels here.

I believe your time is better spent working on a second manuscript, being sure to use all that you learned writing the first. There's a learning curve every writer must climb, and I think you climb it better (and faster) when you work on something fresh. New characters, new plots, new challenges.

I know the first manuscript I wrote wasn't fit to see the light (it resides, to this day, under my bed, guarded by mousetraps and hairy spiders). In fact, it took me a few more attempts before I had something publishable. With each manuscript, my writing improved greatly (the prose in that first manuscript? not pretty!).

Of course, I've seen/heard about successful books arising from years and years of revision. And if you've only got one story in you, then it behooves you to keep at it. But I think if your goal is to be a writer who will complete more than one book in your lifetime, you need to learn when to cut bait and start a new project.

Just my opinion. I'd love to hear yours.


Monday, September 28, 2009

999,999 Other Monkeys to Read Today

This monkey’s not blogging today.

Come back tomorrow for my thoughts on whether it’s better to keep working on Novel #1 until it sells or move on to Novel #2.


Friday, September 25, 2009

More Sticky Books

I've blogged about some books that will always stick with me here and here.

Five more:

Pet Semetary - Stephen King. The single most depressing book I've ever read. And I read every word.

watchers Watchers - Dean Koontz. He wrote (and writes) a lot of great books. My favorite.

The Unoriginal Sinner and the Ice Cream God - John R. Powers. Funny and poignant, with a very distinctive voice. Read more about this here.

Along Came a Spider - James Patterson. Terrific serial killer book, introducing Alex Cross. In my opinion, this is Patterson at his best. And solo, too.

Nathan's Run - John Gilstrap. Great characters and great pacing.


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Top Ten Best Things About A First Draft

10) It helps support the market for red pens.

9) You can test-drive a few adverbs without getting yelled at.

8) It actually sounds better when read aloud with an Inspector clouseauClouseau accent.

7) It provides amusement for your critique partners.

6) You can use lame jokes, stereotypes, bad grammar, and stilted dialogue, knowing (hoping?) they'll disappear during the revision process.

5) It's a good way to use up scratch paper.

4) You don't have to show it to your agent, editor, or spouse.

3) It makes good kindling.

2) Your dog/cat/gerbil thinks it's terrific, no matter how many words are misspelled.

And the number one best thing about a first draft:

1) There's only one place to go from there: Up.


(see this post for a previous rumination about first drafts)


Monday, September 21, 2009

Take My Bookmark. Please!

My book promotion juggernaut is starting to get into gear. This past week, I put the finishing touches on my DIAMONDS FOR THE DEAD bookmark. Here it is (front and back) for your viewing enjoyment:

DIAMONDS Bookmark Side 1  DIAMONDS Bookmark Side 2

It took me a while, but I was able to figure out just enough of Photoshop to do what I wanted. Now I need to figure out exactly where to get them printed (I'm thinking of and how many to order. Of course, they make it attractive to go whole hog and get thousands by making additional quantities comparatively cheaper. But how many--realistically--will I be able to distribute?

Any interesting bookmark experiences or thoughts you'd like to share?