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?


Saturday, September 19, 2009

Scurvy Dogs Unite!

I'm sure ye mateys already be knowin this, but today is International Talk Like a Pirate Day, one o' me favrit days o' the yarr. pirattitude-cover_smallest

O' course, me close mates and me young uns get their fill might quick, and they be all babblin' at me to walk the plank--or else. Arrgghh, them scurvy dogs!

To celebrate the day, ye might get a chucklin' by doing what Cap'n Alan tells ye:

Proceed to yer Facebook page. Scroll down to the depths, on yer left, neer the blasted copyright notice. Click whar it sez English, then spy ye whar it says English (Pirate). Click thar, and yer got yerself more fun than a barrel o' rum.

Avast and shiver me timbers! Have a grrreat day. Arrggh!


Friday, September 18, 2009

I Miss My Rabbit Ears

It's September and that means...the new TV season is upon us.

When I was younger (much younger), I looked forward to the start of every new TV season. I'd read the reviews of the new shows and prepare my viewing strategy (no VCRs or TiVo back in the day). On several occasions, I remember circling the shows in the TV Guide to make sure I wouldn't miss any great entertainment.

Of course, back then, there were only three networks.

Now there are more channels--and more shows--than I could ever watch in my lifetime. Not that I want to; most of the shows don't appeal to me. But there are still enough crime dramas to keep me coming back to the boob tube.

Growing up watching crime dramas (as I did) undoubtedly helped foster my desire to write crime fiction.

Who can forget these gems:200px-Columbo

  • Mannix
  • Barnaby Jones
  • The Rockford Files
  • Banacek
  • Cool Million
  • Columbo
  • Starsky and Hutch
  • Baretta
  • Adam-12
  • Hawaii Five-O
  • McMillan & Wife
  • The FBI
  • Mission Impossible
  • I-SpyMcCloud
  • McCloud
  • Charlie's Angels (hey, there was crime on that show, wasn't there?)
  • The Six Million Dollar Man
  • The Bionic Woman
  • Hill Street Blues

I could go on. (Of course, my viewing wasn't limited to crime drama--I watched plenty of lawyer and doctor shows, too. And don't forget The White Shadow!)

Here's the thing: Back then, I loved those shows and thought they were great. Now, if I happen to catch an old rerun or two, I realize many of them were actually pretty cheesy.

So what's the explanation? Am I just more mature/more discerning now (i.e., I don't have time to waste watching mediocre shows)? Or are the shows really better written and better acted now?

What do you think?


Wednesday, September 16, 2009

"Stick With Said," I Averred

dialogue balloon tags I try to avoid dialogue tags, instead preferring to follow up dialogue with characters' actions or reactions.

But when I use them, I prefer to stay simple. "Said" and "asked" are my bread-and-butter; once in a while I'll throw in a "whispered" or "replied." Of course, there's no right answer in this on-going debate--many writers use all sorts of more varied (and colorful) dialogue tags.

I guess it boils down to a personal preference. For me, I don't want the dialogue tag to overshadow the words being spoken.

I decided to do a little back-of-the-envelope analysis on the dialogue tags I used in DIAMONDS FOR THE DEAD. Here are the tallies (tag, followed by the number of times used as a tag):

Said 386
Asked 125
Added 6
Called (out) 5
Whispered 2
Blurted 2
Replied 1
Muttered 1
Mumbled, questioned, hissed, joked, answered, continued, responded, yelled, screamed, uttered 0

What say you about dialogue tags?


Monday, September 14, 2009

Blogged Down

frown I'm getting blogged down, big time.

Time management has been a challenge for me lately. I know it's a refrain everyone sings ("too much to do, too little time") but for me, things have gotten a lot busier in the last six months.

One culprit--and there are many--is all the time I spend on-line, checking Facebook, Twitter, ning, and "catching up" on my favorite blogs (I hate the thought of missing out on some important piece of information. See this previous post.)

To help manage my blog reading, I use Google Reader (of course, the term "manage" is a laugh, because my blog reading is anything but managed). Currently, my Google Reader tracks 116 blog subscriptions. 116! Add to those all the additional blogs I'll see mentioned somewhere that I click through to read. How can I possibly read them all?

Exactly how much time am I spending reading blogs? I've never been brave enough to tally it up. But let's do a little math. Assume only one third of the blogs I follow have a new post each day. If I spend an average of three minutes reading/commenting on each one, that works out to...about two hours!! EACH DAY!

I don't know about you, but I've got other stuff I could (should) be doing in those two hours.

Anybody have any solutions, besides "stop reading so many blogs"?


Friday, September 11, 2009


DIAMONDS from MI site

There are still seven months before the official release date for DIAMONDS FOR THE DEAD, but I'm beginning to see signs that my book will become a real, honest-to-goodness physical entity (instead of existing in some feverish, tantalizing dream).

This week, my cover art became "official."

As you probably know (or can quickly surmise by glancing to the right and checking out the covers of my fellow MIers), Midnight Ink has a tradition of producing tremendous covers. And, in my completely unbiased and purely objective opinion, this cover is no exception (giant kudos to cover designer Ellen Dahl. Thanks, Ellen!).

The overall image is (pick one or more adjectives): intriguing, mysterious, ominous, compelling. The slanted lettering juxtaposed against the slanted rectangle reflects the off-kilter feelings of the protagonist. And, amazingly, the cover manages to evoke scenes from both the beginning AND ending of the book. Very, very cool.

Also this week, a "pre-order" listing went up on the Midnight Ink website (it’s on Amazon, too!). Here’s the description:

Talk to anyone in Reston, Virginia, and they'll say Josh Handleman's dad "Honest Abe" was a real mensch. But when Josh returns home to bury his estranged father, he gets the shock of his life: his thrifty dad was filthy rich. Oy!

Who was this man who donated millions to charity, invested in the dreams of Josh's friends, and shared his home with a strange vodka-swilling Russian? Apparently, Abe collected diamonds too. But when Josh can't find the gems, he begins to wonder if his dad's death was truly an accident.

Hounded by grief and remorse, Josh resolves to find his dad's diamond stash—which could be his inheritance and proof of his father's love. What he doesn't realize is that this emotionally charged treasure hunt is taking him closer to his dad's killer.

Of course, with a great cover and a great title (kudos to the whole Midnight Ink team!), I really feel the pressure. Will my words between the covers live up to these lofty expectations?

I hope so.


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


Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Welcome Home, Buddy.

hourglassUntil this summer, my muse and I always traveled Discipline Road together. We'd ride along, two amiable pals, setting writing goals and knocking them down. Usually, we'd do it incrementally, a little each day, pounding the keys, building the story. After a while, all the increments would add up to something we deemed worthwhile. It was a system that worked well for both of us (I hope I'm not putting words into my muse's mouth).

Then, this summer we got a little lax. "We'll do some writing tomorrow," we'd say, often simultaneously. "Or maybe the day after. There's a whole mess of other things that need to get done first." So the muse and I would drift off our separate ways. I'd get busy on some new project--learning software, cleaning the house, cybersurfing, whatever. I'm not sure where my muse went most days; all I know is that he wasn't by my side. (Sometimes we did get together to crank out a few blog posts, but otherwise, I hardly saw him. Probably spent a lot of time at the beach, catching up on his reading.)

Now, don't get me wrong. I accomplished a lot this summer, and most of it was important stuff. Unfortunately, I didn't make much headway on my work-in-progress.

I missed my muse.

But, I'm happy to report, my muse returned home yesterday. And he's rarin' to go.

Which is nice.


Monday, September 7, 2009

No Rest for the Procrastinators

Today is the last day of summer, the last day the kids are home before school starts, the last day I have to get all the stuff done that I promised myself I’d get done before summer ended.

It’s going to be a long night!


Enjoy your Labor Day!


Friday, September 4, 2009

Stalwart (And Quiet) Friends

When I write, I make sure I've got three stalwart friends sitting next to me.

  • Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary
  • The Chicago Manual of Style
  • Roget's 21st Century Thesaurus

(On the bookshelf behind me, I've got tons of other reference books, including The Best, Worst & Most Unusual, The Dictionary of Clichés, What Happened When, and dozens of other little oddities. I rarely consult them.)

What books do you need at an arm's reach (thanks, Dictionary of Clichés!) when you write?

(A side note -- Last night, I had a nutty dream starring Friend of the Blog (FOB) Jack Regan (in a supporting role), taking place at some kind of book festival. Here's our exchange:

ME: Hey, guess who's my favorite baseball player of all-time?
FOB Jack: (shrug)
ME: Books Robinson
FOB Jack: (snort)

I hope I’m funnier when I’m awake.)


Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Goodbye Twinkies, Hello Bingles

I discovered something wonderful while on vacation - Carrot Cake Bingles. (I know, I know, you all are probably thinking, "Carrot Cake Bingles, why, they've been my favorite snack food for years!" As usual, I'm late to the party.) box_twinkies

I used to believe in the following: 

I think that I shall never see
A snack as lovely as Twinkie.*

But then Carrot Cake Bingles entered my life. For those of you poor, deprived people (as I was, a mere five days ago), a Carrot Cake Bingle is exactly like a Twinkie, but instead of a golden yellow cake outer layer, scrumptious carrot cake surrounds the yummy filling.

I have two words to describe the person who created the Carrot Cake Bingle: Pure Genius.

You're probably thinking, "What does a Carrot Cake Bingle** have to do with writing?"

I thought long and hard about that too. Finally, I came up with something. My description.

"...a Carrot Cake Bingle is exactly like a Twinkie, but instead of a golden yellow cake outer layer, scrumptious carrot cake surrounds the yummy filling."

Simple, direct, easy to understand. As long as you know what a Twinkie looks and tastes like, you're, um, golden. (And let's face it, who doesn't know about Twinkies?)

Isn't that better than, "a Carrot Cake Bingle is about five inches long and an inch-and-a-half tall (and wide), with a sort of oblong, rounded top. Inside is a vanilla creme filling that tastes vaguely of food-grade chemicals and furniture polish. The cake itself is somewhat reminiscent of carrot cake, if you have a good imagination. Warning: Ingesting too many Carrot Cake Bingles may be hazardous to your health."

It's so much easier to compare a new, unusual item to something that everyone is familiar with. That's a technique I try to employ in my novels, and it cuts down on wordy descriptions. (I like my novels tight, unlike my blog, where I tend to get a bit wordy).

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to breakfast. There are a couple Carrot Cake Bingles calling my name.

*Sorry, Joyce!

**I enjoy writing/saying "Carrot Cake Bingle." Try it, you'll like it, too!