Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Follow Me, Follow Me

twitter1 Not wanting to be left behind in the social network revolution, I signed up to become a Twitterer (Tweeter? Twit?) about two months ago. The jury is still out. To be fair, I've only been averaging about one Tweet every three days, so I guess I'll keep at it for a while longer before I pass judgment. (Six months from now, I'll probably look back on this post and realize I've been a complete idiot*.)

Here are some (very) random thoughts about Twitter.

  • Twitter is easy to use. Just type 140 characters in a big box at the top of your Twitter Home page. There's even a countdown feature so you don't have to be able to actually count to 140. But maybe it's too easy.

  • People have developed all kinds of "helper" applications to make your Twitter experience richer and more convenient, most of which I find way too complicated.

  • I still don't know who would care what errands I just ran (grocery store, bank, Blockbuster). I mean, I'm a boring person.

  • People tweet from all kinds of cool places, but when I'm in the middle of some experience, I don't want to be distracted-- I want to live in the now (that's why I usually don't like to take pictures or videos of stuff that's happening**). I can't imagine having lunch with President Obama and pulling out a BlackBerry to Tweet (Prez O is twitter2enjoying a tuna sandwich, on wheat. I'm having turkey. Great potato salad! These pols know how to eat!)

  • When you sign up to follow someone, you're not entirely sure what you're going to get, in terms of quality and quantity. Is it impolite to untether someone if you don't like getting two hundred tweets a day? Will they twash you in the

  • Often, I have very trouble deciphering the tweets. Too many abbreviations, too many weird symbols, too many out-of-context snatches of conversations. Frankly, I feel like I'm eavesdropping.

  • Here's a tweet I don't want to get: Driving on the Beltway, traffic heavy, hey, watch out, heyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy

  • Many people say my writing is very straightforward. But I still don't see how I could impart meaningful information within Tweeter’s 140 cha

  • If you are following a lot of people, how do you possibly keep track of what everyone's saying? At the dinner table, I have enough trouble keeping up with the conversation, and I'm only twitter4following three people. How can some Twitterers follow hundreds of other Twitterers?

  • They have cell phone novels. How about a Twitter novel, composed of 140-character chapters? (What, James Patterson already does this? Never mind.)

  • I'd like to see something like 123&VENT or @RANT****, where people get 140 characters to spew forth on something, without any chance of repercussions. Now THAT might be entertaining.

Having said all this, please follow me on Twitter: @alanorloff


But remember, you've been warned. I really am boring.

*This is nothing new. Every few days or so, I'll look back on something that happened six months earlier and realize what an idiot I was.

**I'm still a little torqued about the time I was taking video of a nighttime shuttle launch, rather than sitting back and enjoying the spectacle.

***I DO like all the words that have been Twitterized.

****Call it "anti-social" networking.


Monday, April 27, 2009


I'm beginning to believe I have a serious problem with magazines. Subtle hints are being dropped.

WIFE: Hey knucklehead, you have a serious problem with magazines!
ME: Huh?
WIFE: Your side of the bedroom is a fire hazard.
ME: Wha??

Upon further inspection, I realized my wife was right. The pile of magazines on my nightstand was threatening to topple over and crush me as I slept. magazinestack

At last count, there were exactly 176 magazines stacked precariously, towering over my lamp and clock/radio (I didn't bother to count the magazines stuffed into ten or fifteen magazine holders on the floor). That's dangerous enough, but here's the really debilitating part--I have a burning need to read every page of every one of them. Maybe not every word, but I have to at least scan the headlines and get the gist of what's going on (yes, this includes the ads).

The magazines run the gamut: Newsweek, Golf Digest, Golf Magazine, Links, Travel + Leisure Golf**, GolfStyles, Golf World (hey, I've spotted a pattern!), Wired, Alumni magazines, Consumer Reports, Washington Checkbook, Business Week, Technology Review, MIT/Sloan Management Review, Washington Post Magazine, Bethesda, Martha Stewart's Everyday Food (I like to look at pictures of food!), Architectural Digest (I like to look at pictures of houses!), Sports Illustrated, ESPN The Magazine, and Sporting News (hey, another pattern!). Plus others.

Don't get the wrong idea. I'm not well-read.

I'm simply well-subscribed.

You see, I haven't actually read most of those magazines (but I will...).

The reason for my compulsion is obvious to me. I'm afraid of missing out on some vital, world-changing bit of information. You never know when you're going to find the key to self-actualization in Psychology Today or discover the perfect powerhouse anti-oxidant-laden miracle food in the pages of the Nutrition Action Healthletter. And I know (to a near certainty) that if I read enough golf magazines, I'll get my handicap down into the single digits*** (yo, watch out Tiger). tiger_woods

Even more compelling is the belief that, hiding somewhere in that teetering stack of glossy, beckoning pages, is the kernel of an idea for my next book (and boy, it's gonna be a bestseller!). I am utterly convinced of this.

My affliction extends to newspapers, too (maybe more so--the information within can be very time-sensitive). When we go out of town, I don't stop delivery. Instead, I ask a neighbor to collect all my papers, so I can read them when I get home****. And when I return, I'm antsy until I plow through all of them. I mean, what if the secret to beating the bear market was in last Tuesday's Business section, and I missed it? How would I feel about that?

My family thinks I'm a little kooky about this. They've been encouraging me to make a trip to the recycling center to, uh, solve my problem*****. What do you think? Any suggestions to help me out?

And please, don't even ask about my skyscraper of books to-be-read. That makes my pile-o'-magazines look like an anthill!

*When my wife starts talking in ALL-CAPS, I start paying attention!

**I don't travel much, nor do I have any leisure time. Just wishful thinking.

***Yes, I probably have more than a hundred golf magazines waiting to be read, despite the fact I've only played a total of seven rounds in the past three years. Like I said, I have a problem.

****You don't even want to know about the days after we returned from a two-month, cross-country vacation a few years ago. It wasn't pretty.

*****I recycle all paper. You should too.

This post is “simul-posted” on InkSpot. (edit: and that's where the comment trail is.)


Friday, April 24, 2009

What Child Labor Laws?

This “goof” book trailer* was done (in one take-impressive!) with the old working title of HIDDEN FACETS (before the new, improved title - DIAMONDS FOR THE DEAD).

Maybe we’ll try again with the correct title. And better lighting, a better script, a better set, better sound, better special effects, a cast of thousands…

Or maybe not.


*No children, animals, or inanimate objects were harmed during the filming of this video.

REMINDER: Today is Part III of Laura Lippman’s interview with G.M. Malliet at InkSpot. Stop over and join the discussion!


Thursday, April 23, 2009

Still Not Susan Boyle

The answer to yesterday’s Guess Who is, of course:


and not:


See Part II of Laura Lippman’s interview

with G.M. Malliet at InkSpot.


Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Not Susan Boyle

Can you guess who the following person is?

She's the author of a successful mystery series.

She writes standalones, too.

She's a great friend to all mystery writers.

SusanBoyle She's not Susan Boyle.

She's won an Edgar.

She's won an Agatha.

She's won an Anthony, a Nero, a Gumshoe, a Quill, a Macavity, a Barry, and a Shamus.

She has a big--and crowded--mantle.

She "runs" The Memory Project.   

(Did I mention she's not Susan Boyle?) SusanBoyle2

She's married to a TV guy (an HBO TV guy). 

She's the Belle of Ballmer.

Her first and last initials are the same.

She's being interviewed on InkSpot (my group blog), today, tomorrow, and Friday. Stop by and see what she has to say to our G.M. Malliet!




Monday, April 20, 2009

Old Schooling

It may not be on the order of the Hatfields vs. McCoys (or even "paper vs. plastic") but sometimes I'll overhear a debate about the merits of writing longhand (on actual paper, with an actual pen or pencil) versus using the computer. For me, it's been a natural (and often painful) evolution.

When I was in elementary school and junior high, there was no choice. All my assignments were done on paper, in longhand (or more accurately in my case, chicken scratch--I was always getting a "needs improvement" grade in penmanship). My fingers ached from strangling the pencil in a deathgrip, and the teachers frequently called me up to their desks to explain the meaning of the "Sanskrit" on my papers (They're words, Mrs. Porter. In English. I swear!). At least I think they were; half the time, I couldn't tell myself.

When I reached high school, however, some of the teachers preferred typed papers. Not wanting to be left behind, I took a typing class* as one of my electives, with visions of improving my five words-per-minute hunt-and-peck to a speed in the three digit vicinity. Unfortunately, typing "Zeke, the lazy yet quizzical brown fox jumped over the stupid white fence" two hundred times a day wasn't very motivating, so I settled for being a slow (albeit well-rested) typist.

In college, the typing gods got their payback. Most of my papers and lab reports needed to by typed, and I always seemed to take much longer than my peeps (if only I had applied myself to the typing arts in high school! D'oh).

In grad school, technology had finally arrived and I began to compose my papers on the computer. And what a difference! I could rearrange my thoughts with the wonderful cut-and-paste function (thank you, Mr. Gates), I could avail myself of spellchecker (thanks again, Mr. Gates), and I stopped getting headaches from toxic Wite-Out spills. (At one point in my life, I had Wite-Out delivered to my door by the five-gallon jug, like bottled water from the Culligan Man.) Not only was using the computer faster and more efficient, I felt the quality of my writing improved.

Now, of course, I use the computer for just about all my writing. I can't imagine doing it any other way. Sure, I still scrawl a few things on real paper--grocery lists, my To-Do lists**, phone messages, notes to my children to clean up after themselves (although I think I'd get better results if I texted them).

One other thing I've discovered about my typing. I type much (much) faster when I'm on deadline. Weird, huh?

How many of you still are Old Schooling it with paper and pencil?

*Admission #1: I took this course Pass/Fail, and the instructor was kind enough to post the exact speed you needed to get a "D - Pass." Using this bit of information, along with the time allotted for each assignment, I cleverly calculated exactly how many words I needed to type in order to pass (I was much better in math than I was in typing). After achieving my goal (yes, I frequently stopped typing to count every single word), I'd put my head down on my desk and catch a few zzz's. What can I say? I was in eleventh grade.

**Admission #2: Once in a while, after I've completed a chore not on my To-Do list, I'll write it down on the list, just to have the tactile satisfaction of crossing it off with a loud scritch. So maybe there's some old school still in me.

Thursday, April 16, 2009


This week I completed the author questionnaire for my publisher, Midnight Ink (even though I've still got a year to go before publication, a lot of things need to get set into motion now). For those who aren't familiar with it, an author questionnaire provides those people who will publish and publicize your book (including your editor, publicist, sales force, cover designer, etc.) with essential information (about you, your book, and your take on your book).

They requested stuff like my biography, synopses in different lengths, URLs for my website and blog and Facebook page, promotion and marketing ideas (topics for another blog post), and other pertinent background facts (schools I attended, organizations I belong to, my favorite flavor of ice cream). Basically I told them anything and everything I could think of that would help them market my book, in as much detail as I could muster.

I was motoring merrily along until I came to the question about blurbs.

Blurbs are those quotes on the front and back covers from famous people, famous authors mostly, saying how wonderful they think your book is. (DIAMONDS FOR THE DEAD is the best book I've read today! -- Edgar Allan Poe)

I thought really hard. What famous mystery/suspense authors did I know (and admire) who would say wonderful things about my book? Stephen King? Love his books, don't know the man. James Patterson? Very successful, don't know the man. Robert Crais? Robert B. Parker? Michael Connelly? All faves, but nope, nope, and nope. (I shook hands with Michael Connelly once. Does that count?)

I've met a few writers at conferences, but to most of them, I was just another name and face (and probably one of about a hundred, on that day alone). My thoughts turned to some of my friends. Did they know any famous authors they could snag for me (or did their relatives, or friends of relatives, or relatives of friends)? I hoped that maybe someone played poker with Tom Clancy or had a cousin who cut Janet Evanovich's hair or knows someone who knows someone who changed the oil in Laura Lippman's car.

I eventually came up with a list of possible blurbers. Authors I respect who I'd be proud (and grateful) to have blurb my book. (We'll see what happens when I actually ask them.*)

All this got me thinking: How well do blurbs work? Have you been influenced to purchase a book because of the blurbs?

By the way, if anyone happens to know Dennis Lehane's mail carrier, please give me a call!

*The overwhelming majority of writers I've met at conferences have been the nicest, most generous people, willing to do most anything to help a fellow writer.


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

How to Juggle in 14 Easy Steps

Some wise soul (either Confucius or my father, I forget) once said, "He who do everything, do nothing." This saying implies, of course, that a person can't do everything, at least not well.

Confucius (or my father) never read the book, How To Do just about Everything.* Written by Courtney Rosen & the eHow** Editors, this tome promises "Concise Instructions for Daily Life."

Finally, an instruction manual for life! I could have used this twenty-five years ago (see How To Compliment a Woman Who Catches Your Eye).

Armed with this book, you'll be able to boil pasta in eleven easy steps (All this time, I've been doing it in five! What have I been leaving out?). You'll knock out that short story in eight steps (seven actually, because step #8 - Extend the Resolution Phase, is optional). You'll have batters quaking in the box from your newly-learned knuckleball. You'll travel wrinkle-free. And you'll be able to go out and trap those pesky garden gophers.

The book even tells you how to blow your nose (Tip: Wait to start blowing your nose until you've been sitting upright at least five or ten minutes).

It can help correct flaws in your current methods, too. I learned I don't whistle properly (I suck air in, rather than blowing it out). Six simple steps and I'll be whistling like a champ. Although I think I'll fall short on step #6 - Practice!

After reading this book, I've decided to write the surefire blockbuster follow-on, How To Have TIME to Do Everything.

If only I had the time.

*One of a series of How To books

**eHow is a cool website

Monday, April 13, 2009

Water, Water Everywhere...

Difficult to get to. Difficult to leave. Surrounded by deep water. Islands are the perfect storyteller's setting to ratchet up the tension and raise the stakes. Throw in the obligatory bad weather and sprinkle in a couple disasters--volcanoes, exotic wild creatures, an undiscovered--and fragile--ecosystem, weird radioactivity, a monomaniacal villain’s underground lair, shark-infested waters, a mysterious serial killer, bloodthirsty cannibals, scurvy pirates (gotta have some pirates!), and/or an out-of-control disease--and you've got yourself the foundation for a good story.

An inordinate number of great (and not-so-great) tales have been set on islands: Robinson Crusoe, Swiss Family Robinson, Lord of the Flies, Jurassic Park, half of the James Bond canon, three-quarters of Peter Benchley's books (Jaws and The Island, to name two), The Island of Dr. Moreau, Island of the Blue Dolphins, Gilligan's Island, And Then There Were None. There was even an Island of Misfit Toys.

If there was ever any doubt, you knew islands were great places for drama when reality TV embraced the concept (Survivor took it literally; all the copycats created their own figurative islands to vote people off of with abandon). Face it, dropping your cast of characters on a remote island in only their underwear is a terrific way to put them in jeopardy (and get good ratings), right from the get-go.

The inherent isolation forces characters to fend for themselves. In oppressive conditions, they must find their own food (gathering, fishing, and hunting using crude weapons), fashion essentials from palm fronds and coconuts (gotta have some coconuts!), and generally avoid island-centric dangers. Good stuff!

The other night, I watched the first episode of Harper's Island, a TV series about a wedding that takes place on, where else, an island. Each week, someone gets murdered (talk about getting voted off the island!). It's got all the necessary elements: characters with troubled pasts, love triangles, frat boys drinking beer, a brawl in a local bar, complete with a pool cue-as-weapon. It even had Harry Hamlin in a guest appearance (hey, how come LA Law didn't have an island episode?). I'm guessing that somewhere during the show's run, there will be a devastating storm, too.

Face it, while exotic islands make wonderful vacation spots, there's some underlying, ominous tension associated with them. What if a hurricane knocks out the power? What if a tidal wave levels the dock and wrecks the helipad, preventing the life-saving serum from being delivered? What if those dinosaurs (or drunken frat boys) get loose? What if Gilligan accidentally destroys the Professor’s coconut radio? How will I get off the island alive? (Islands are especially frightening for those of us who don't swim.*)

Without islands in fiction, where would we be? Treasure Isthmus just doesn't sound right.

What are some of your favorite stories set on islands?

*Full disclosure: I don't swim, because I can't swim.


Saturday, April 11, 2009

Banging the Keys

According to the adage, if you give enough monkeys (say, a million) enough typewriters* (at least a million--monkeys are notoriously poor sharers. They also are notorious for flinging crap** around their cages, but that belongs to another adage), then in a million years, they will have re-created the entire works of William Shakespeare.

These days, with the number of bloggers at work, it may take only a decade (provided someone, somewhere, has a proclivity for "thees" and "thous").

Anyway, I thought I'd enter the fray and join the other million key bangers in the blogosphere.

Come back often. Leave comments and questions. Join the discussions. Post witty remarks and keen observations. Tell me what you had for dinner. Whatever.

I'm just one of a million monkeys banging the keys and flinging the crap.

*Typewriter--an ancient device for "writing" that predates computers; originially invented to prop up the Wite-Out industry.

**Crap, literally crap.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia