Friday, February 26, 2010

I Love/Hate My Muse

My muse is so lazy that...

…when it's time to write a particularly difficult chapter, he claims he has a migraine. Whoever heard of a four-week migraine?

…sometimes he pretends he doesn't know English. But I catch him reading comic books (in English!) under the bed.

…he tells me to just "make stuff up on my own."

…he uses the same words over and over (and over, and over).

…when I ask him to "pretty, pretty please" give me 1000 words, he simply laughs at me (well, it's more of an evil snicker).

…when the weather gets nice, all he wants to do is go to the driving range and hit balls (and he usually forgets sunscreen and then complains about his sunburn for days).


Damn my muse!!


Wednesday, February 24, 2010

To Read or Not To Read

What factors do you consider when you pick up a book to buy or read?

Here's what influences me:

Word of Mouth. If someone recommends a book to me, then I'll usually give it a shot, unless it gets "disqualified." (See "First Page" below). Of course, the recommender usually has to have similar tastes as me, or at least has to read in the same genre for me to give weight to the recommendation. Mystery/suspense book bloggers definitely count in this regard!

The Author. If I've read other books by an author--and liked them--then it's almost automatic. Also, if I have some special knowledge about the author, such as hearing him/her speak at a conference, or if I've read an interview or blog entry, then I'll often go ahead and get the book.

The Premise/Story. Aside from word of mouth, this is probably the biggest factor for me. Does the story sound like something I want to invest hours reading? Sometimes, I won't read a book by a favorite author if it sounds like something I really won't like.

The Title. Catchy/clever ones will attract me, but rarely will a "bad" one cause me to put the book down. (Sometimes the titles aren't the author's "fault.")

The Cover. Again, a dazzling cover might attract me, but a bad cover won't repel me. Usually.

The First Page. I always read a little bit of the first page and use this as a "disqualifier." If the writing doesn't work for me, or if the "voice" doesn't draw me in, I'll put the book down. Also, if it's written in present tense, I'll pass (my brain just isn't wired to read stuff written that way; unfortunately, there have been some present-tense books I've really wanted to read, but couldn't get past the first few pages.)

How about you? What factors do you take into consideration when choosing what to read?


Monday, February 22, 2010

With Shovel in Hand

A new chapter begins this morning. Literally.

Today, I'm starting to write the sequel to KILLER ROUTINE. I've done my character sketches (sort of). I've outlined the plot (kind of). I've compiled a list of scenes (to some extent). Now, I'm ready to start writing the prose. Today, the dirty work commences.

I've completed a number of manuscripts, and I've always been fairly disciplined in my writing approach, able to keep to a writing schedule. I've set daily/weekly word count goals and knocked them out consistently. Two thousand words a day, five days a week (first draft quality). Sometimes the writing was more of a slog than at other times, but I always managed to catch up quickly if I fell behind.

But circumstances were a little different then. I didn't have a book to promote.

Oh, I always had other writing-related things to do, in addition to the actual "stringing words together" part. Querying, learning about the business, editing, outlining, critiquing, and networking all spring to mind. They're all important in their own way. Now, though, I seem to have a host of other (time-consuming) activities on my plate. Blog touring, preparing/giving presentations at various events, general conference prep, interviews, travel, and a variety of other promotional endeavors. If I chose, I could spend my entire day doing these tasks.

But I've got some writing to do, too.

So I need to figure out a way to get it all done. I've still set daily/weekly quotas for myself, although I'm not aiming for as many words per day as I have in the past. And I'll probably have to pare down some less essential time-wasters activities (Facebook).

But I'll get it all done.

Who needs to sleep, anyhow?


Friday, February 19, 2010

Blogging the World

These days, authors are called on to promote their books in their spare time (ha!). But seriously, except for a few superstar recluses, haven't authors always promoted their books? Don't I recall a story about Charles Dickens tweeting an invitation to join his "Best of Times, Worst of Times" Facebook Fan page?

Maybe it's just a matter of degree. Now, authors are REALLY encouraged to promote their books. We're told to GET THE WORD OUT. Transform yourself into a BRAND. Develop your ON-LINE PRESENCE. Fortunately, with the rise of the Internet as a social venue and the mega-explosion of blogs, it's never been easier to be heard. In fact, it's become tres fashionable for authors to embark on a blog tour--guest blogging on other bloggers' blogs (say that three times fast!).

And I'm always one to be tres fashionable.

So, this spring, I'll be going on a blog tour from the comfort of my office.

I'm looking forward to it. Compared to the old-time, physical-world book tour, where authors schlep from city to city hawking their wares, guest blogging has many advantages. It's cheaper. Your message can reach more people. You always have the chance that one of your witty witticisms will go viral and funnel thousands of interested readers to your website, or to your Amazon page (a guy can dream, can't he?).

And did I mention you can guest blog from the comfort of your office wearing sweatpants and a ratty old Terps sweatshirt?

(For those of you who actually have a need to see me in person, don't fret. I'll be making some real-life public appearances as well--check the events page of my website for details.)

Another advantage of a blog tour? I got to design this logo: Blog Tour Logo To date, I've got about a dozen stops lined up (see blog sidebar - thanks kind and generous bloggers!). My goal is to appear on a variety of blogs, with posts on a variety of topics. The only limit is my imagination (gag! cough! sputter!).

If you would like to host a stop on the DIAMONDS FOR THE DEAD WORLD BLOG TOUR, please let me know--I'd love to torture bore scare away alienate horrify meet your blog readers.


Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Douse Those Pants

If you haven't played my version of the Liar's Game yet, you can go back to Monday's post and join the fun. I'll wait.

I got some great guesses, and a couple of you got “partial credit,” but no one aced the test with 100% accuracy.

Okay. Now for the answers.

Which of the following nine statements are true? (Hint: at least two are.)

1) I recorded two holes-in-one during the same month (May 1986).
False. I'm still looking for my first ace. Once, a guy in the foursome ahead of me got a hole-in-one, but I had my head turned and missed it. Heard all the yelling, though.

2) TV's Al Roker was one of my college roommates.
False. I've never met Mr. Roker, and, as far as I know, none of my college roommates became meteorologists or TV personalities.

3) In 1993, I spent three weeks at McMurdo Station (Antarctica) researching environmental impacts for my newsletter company. It was cold.
False. I've never been to Antarctica, although for most of the last two weeks, I might as well have been. I do like the name McMurdo, and if I ever get a pet penguin, that's what I'm calling him (or her).

4) I qualified to swim in the Olympic trials as a teenager (backstroke), but couldn't compete because I broke my arm water skiing.
False. I. Can. Not. Swim. Nor can I water ski. I like activities on dry land.

5) In grad school, I won the MIT ping-pong intramural championship.
False. I was on an intramural ping-pong team, but I don't believe I won a single match.

6) On three separate flights, my plane had to make emergency landings, complete with fire engines and foam trucks racing alongside us on the runways.
True. After I backpacked through Europe (post-college), it took me three days to get home from Orly Airport in Paris, primarily because of two emergency landings (dumped fuel, rescue vehicles—as they say in French, l'entire shebang). I also had another emergency landing after that. My first clue something was wrong? When the pilot himself emerged from the cockpit, came down the aisle, and kneeled. Then he pried up a patch of carpet and peered through a hole in the floor to see if the landing gear was down! I AM NOT KIDDING! Don't fly with me! Or maybe you should fly with me--I landed safely each time!

7) When I was four years old, I whistled the Star Spangled Banner on a local TV morning show. I was very cute.
False. I can't whistle either.

8) I once threw my back out playing Go Fish.
True. Rough sport.

9) In the seventies, I was a vegetarian for about six weeks before succumbing to the calls of the Big Mac.
False. Back in the day, I ate hamburgers and hot dogs and all kinds of junk food quite frequently. Now, I don't, and I often think I should become vegetarian. Maybe I will someday...

Thanks for playing!


Monday, February 15, 2010

Pants On Fire

Who wants to play, “Can you pick out the outrageous truths?”



This Creative Writing Blogging Award originated with Lesa Holstine, and found me by way of Sue Ann Jaffarian. Thanks ladies!



Which of the following nine statements are true? (Hint: at least two are.)

1) I recorded two holes-in-one during the same month (May 1986).

2) TV's Al Roker was one of my college roommates.

3) In 1993, I spent three weeks at McMurdo Station (Antarctica) researching environmental impacts for my newsletter company. It was very cold.

4) I qualified to swim in the Olympic trials as a teenager (backstroke), but couldn't compete because I broke my arm water skiing.

5) In grad school, I won the MIT intramural ping-pong championship.

6) On three separate flights, my plane had to make emergency landings, complete with fire engines and foam trucks racing alongside us on the runways.

7) When I was four years old, I whistled the Star Spangled Banner on a local TV morning show. I was very cute.

8) I once threw my back out playing Go Fish.

9) In the seventies, I was a vegetarian for about six weeks before succumbing to the calls of the Big Mac.


For more lying fun, check out the whoppers told by some of my Midnight Ink blogging buddies: In addition to Sue Ann Jaffarian, visit the blogs of Keith Raffel, Beth Groundwater, and Deb Sharp. (I’ve lost track who’s playing this game, so if I left you out, I’m sorry. Just leave your link in the comments and we’ll track you down.)


Friday, February 12, 2010

Repeat After Me: Change is Good

DSCF1020 First, a snow update from the D.C. suburbs: Shoveled snow for seven consecutive days. Measured 27 inches over the weekend, another 6 or 8 or 10 inches on Tues/Wed (I lost track). Damage report: one broken snow shovel, trunks of two small trees snapped, power out for two hours overnight (we were lucky), minor muscle aches and pains. The kids have been off school since last Friday, and, miraculously, no one has been strangled. All in all, we weathered the storm just fine. Of course, I made awful use of my snowbound time, once again failing to do my taxes, clean the basement, and learn how to juggle. On the plus side, I did dabble in a new genre, snow fiction.

The picture above is my son’s car, completely encased in snow. Ha! Good luck digging out, dude! (Just kidding. I helped dig him out.)

(Whining Disclaimer: Yes, I know that for many of you living in the wilds of Colorado or Minnesota or Canada, three feet of snow is no big deal. But the Nation's Capital is not used to it, nor are its residents prepared for it. We're equipped to handle inaugurations and partisan muckraking and political scandals. And panda bears. Not snow.)

Now, today's blog entry:

I'm still a relative newbie in the world of publishing, but even I can sense a tidal wave of change in the offing.

Just a sampling:

Consolidation. Book retailers have been consolidating (and shutting down). Hardly a week goes by without another independent store closing its doors. Of course, financial troubles aren't limited to the independents (Hello Borders).

Industry layoffs. The big New York houses started downsizing in earnest when the economy went south. How they will recover remains to be seen.

Tales of the shrinking midlist. If you believe the (thousands of) publishing blogs, it's still a dandy time to be a best-seller, but pickings are slim for everyone else.

Going digital. If you've cruised the blogosphere lately, you know what's been garnering the most attention--the potential onslaught of ebooks. How will their increasing market share affect every aspect of the business, from authors to publishers to distributors to readers? Which devices will survive? The Kindle? The Nook? The iPad? Something we haven't even seen yet? What pricing model will win out? What about piracy? How will lower barriers to entry (for ebook authors/publishers) change the landscape? Who will become top dog in the ebook world? Amazon? Barnes & Noble? Apple? And where is Google in all this?

Lots of questions. Lots of predictions. (Predictions are like, uh, noses. Everybody's got one.) Few real answers. The only constant is change.

So what can we do about it all?

Much of the change is beyond our control, so we might as well relax. We need to stay current. Adapt the best we can to shifting conditions. Position ourselves to take advantage of whatever may come. Trite advice? Sure. Nebulous? Absolutely.

But we can control one thing--the most important thing. We're writers. We provide the content. We need to write damn good books. I believe if we can do that, we'll be in a good position to figure out the rest. No need to panic.

We'll be okay.

Now, get writing.


Are you an embracer of change, or does all this talk of gloom and doom send you into the bedroom, where you can pull the blankets up over your head and wait out the storm, hoping it will just blow over? You can tell the truth, we're all friends here.


(Part of this post was “simul-cast” on InkSpot.)


Wednesday, February 10, 2010

THE FIXER – Snow Fiction

by Alan Orloff 


Sometimes I hate my job.

I trudged through the deep snow toward the front door. Two and a half feet of the white stuff on the ground, another 10 – 12 inches on the way. Bah, humbug.

I patted my pocket, felt the hard metal of my pistol. Hopefully, it wouldn’t come to that. Hopefully, James Finley Wilkens would listen to reason. The white madness had to stop. Now.

At the door, I double-checked the address and poked the doorbell button with a finger. Two million residents of D.C. and the surrounding suburbs were depending on me. They didn’t care whether I liked my job or not.

A moment later, the door swung open and a boy stared at me through the lower panel of the storm door. “Hello,” he said, loud enough for me to hear clearly through the barrier.

“Hello there, sport.” I bent over to get eye-to-eye. “My name is Mr. Smith. May I come in? It’s cold out here.”

The boy’s eyes flickered. He was about eight. Maybe a mature seven. “My mommy says I’m not supposed to let strangers in.”

“It’s okay. I’m not a stranger. I’m from the federal government.” I pasted the biggest smile I could on my face. “I’m here to help.”

He tilted his head. “Really?”

“Yes. I’m with the Census.”

“Do you know President Obama?”

“Sure. Had breakfast with him just this morning. Pancakes. Blueberry.”

The boy beamed. “Come on in.” He reached up and unlocked the door. Pushed it open a bit.

I took a step in, and he took a small step back. I tapped my clipboard with a pen I pulled from my pocket. “Got a few questions for you. First, where’s your mommy?”

“She’s upstairs working on her taxes.”

“And your daddy?”

“He’s cleaning the basement.”

“Okay then. You must be James Finley Wilkens.” I nodded and consulted my clipboard, although I’d memorized his name when the home office had called with my assignment.

“Most people call my Jimmy. Except my grandma.”

“Okay, then. Jimmy it is.” Target acquired.

“How come you’re not writing anything down?” he asked.

“Huh? Oh.” I scribbled a few doodles on the paper.

“Isn’t it great?” Jimmy asked, voice full of excitement.

“What is?”

“All the snow. Isn’t it great? I love the snow. I’ve been praying for it every day for the past two weeks. I’ve been praying real, real hard.”

I know, kid. I know. That’s been the problem. “Well, uh, that’s exactly why I’m here.”

“It is?”

“Yes. In fact, it’s because of your prayers that we have so much snow. That the entire region is paralyzed.”

Jimmy canted his head again, like a dog trying to figure out a radio. “You mean this is all because of me and my prayers?”

“’Fraid so, kiddo.”

“WAA-HOOO. I did it. It worked. I knew it was all because of me. I just knew it.” Jimmy danced around the foyer, whooping and hollering. Then he stopped abruptly, closed his eyes, and raised his head upward. Little lips moved in silence.

“Hey, what are you doing?”

His eyes sprang open. “Praying. For more snow. I really hate school and I really love snow!”

“Come on, cut it out.” The pistol grew heavy in my pocket. So many people were relying on me. “You’ve got to stop. You can’t pray for snow ever again.”

Jimmy stared at me for a beat, then laughed. “Mister, I’m going to pray for snow every day for the rest of my life!” Dark brown eyes, mop of curly hair, the cutest spray of freckles across his cheeks. Was the home office serious? I mean, we had way too much snow, but was this the solution? I pictured traffic jams and grounded flights and people shoveling driveways. Utter chaos.

Jimmy tugged on the bottom of my coat. “Hey mister, do you want to celebrate?”

“Celebrate?” I don’t think so. I have a dirty job to do here, kid.

“How about some hot chocolate? You look cold.”

I was kinda cold.

“We have marshmallows.”

I was fond of marshmallows. Very fond.

I followed Jimmy into the kitchen, already feeling the hot chocolate warming my throat.

Sometimes I really love my job.


Monday, February 8, 2010

What’s White, White, and White All Over?

We interrupt your regularly-scheduled blog post with a recap of the Blizzard of 2010 (aka the Snowpocalypse, aka the Super Storm, aka Snowmeggedon, aka SnowFail, aka snOMG (thanks Carla Coupe!), aka Too Damn Much Snow, aka @#*&#^@!).

Official front yard accumulation: 27 inches

Tree damage: One small holly tree, trunk snapped

Power outage: Minimal, 2 hours during the middle of the night

Personal injury: Can’t raise arms above shoulders (I’ll get over it.)

Family members’ throats strangled: Zero (so far)

Here are some pics:

DSCF1009 DSCF1013

DSCF1027  DSCF1008



Friday, February 5, 2010

I Love the Feel of Papyrus

You might be an “old-school” reader if...


  • The only “e”-book you've read is the fifth volume of the encyclopedia.

  • You think Kindle is something you burn in the fireplace.

  • Being a prolific writer means writing TWO books a year (see Patterson, James).

  • You believe non-fiction books and memoirs actually have to be true.

  • You remember a time when dogs didn’t narrate best-sellers.


Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Please Remember to Tip Your Blogger

Back in October, I wrote a blog post about public speaking. About how I was going to try Toastmasters or practice in front of a mirror or videotape myself.

Well, I've done nothing so far.

Big surprise, huh?

A small digression: I have some bad memories of public speaking. When I was in fifth grade, I had to get up on a stepstool and introduce some kind of drama thing my class was performing. I don't remember all the details, but I do remember some raucous laughter from the audience. Unfortunately, what I was saying wasn't supposed to be funny. Socrates

The next year, my class performed a play that I helped write, a day in the life of Socrates. I only had one line, but that didn't stop me from mangling it!

Needless to say, I never volunteered to be in any more dramatic productions.

Digression over. (Now where was I?)

Back in October, when I wrote the original post about public speaking, I didn't yet know I'd be writing a series about a stand-up comic. Now that I do, another fantasy has emerged from the depths of my addled mind.

What if I work up a short act and perform at comedy club open mic nights? That's public speaking right? With even more pressure.

When I floated this idea by my agent, she laughed.

When I floated this idea by my wife, she laughed harder.

Hmm. Is that a challenge? I suppose if my Midnight Ink pal Sue Ann Jaffarian can train to run a marathon, I can do a couple measly open mic nights.



Hello? Is this thing on?


Monday, February 1, 2010

Monday, Monday

Here are a few interesting blogs to read on this first Monday of February:

Nancy J. Cohen has some great tips for authors about printed promotional items. What do you really need?

Tess Gerritsen blogs with her views on e-book piracy at Murderati. Is it the end of the world as we know it?

And JD Rhoades has some views at Murderati, too, and he feels fine.

At Mystery Writing Is Murder, Elizabeth Spann Craig makes an intriguing comparison. Was J.D. Salinger the Anti-Patterson?