Monday, August 30, 2010

Enough Already^

^Summer is for reruns, so…

Signs that you should stop fussing with the manuscript you're working on (and move on to the next project):

  • Your critique partners no longer answer your emails or return your calls. stop
  • You've memorized the first twenty pages, word for word. 
  • Your spouse has memorized the first twenty pages word for word, from hearing you recite them in your sleep.
  • You've changed the main character's name from Ryan to Bryan to Brian to Brianna to Elvis to Zzvt#%gr to King Machinar III to Fluffy and back to Ryan. Twice.
  • You've thought about pitching the whole thing into the trash and starting anew.*
  • You're debating whether the Chevy Camaro on page 245 should be white or "eggshell." 
  • You had a prologue, then incorporated it into the story, then took it out, then put it in as an epilogue, then removed it and now plan to offer it on your website as "bonus" material.
  • You've translated the manuscript into Hebrew to see if it works any better going right-to-left. (Strangely, it does.)
  • You've thought about pitching the whole thing into the trash and starting anew.**
  • You've read the entire manuscript aloud, both frontward and backward, in front of a mirror and then in front of your dog (and the fourth time through, the dog left the room). 

Finally, the most telling sign that you should stop revising your manuscript:

  • You're holding the published book in your hands.*** 

Have any to add?

*Of course, this happens at every stage of writing a manuscript.

**Of course, this happens at every stage of writing a manuscript. Multiple times.

***Of course, there's always the second printing!


Sunday, August 29, 2010

Dear Blogging Monkey

Welcome to another installment of Dear Blogging Monkey.

better Monkey-typing

Dear Blogging Monkey:

I understand you are taking a week off from the Internet. Sure, you’ll have some rerun blog posts, but there will be no commenting, no Tweeting, no Facebooking. No nothing. I also understand the fabulous Sue Ann Jaffarian will be guest blogging here on September 8th. In addition, I understand you think you’re mildly amusing. Could all this possibly be true?

Big Fan of the Blog




One Blogging Monkey


Friday, August 27, 2010

Nom de Bad Guy^

^Summer is for reruns, so…

Darth Vader, Voldemort, Saddam Hussein, Professor Moriarty, Hannibal Lechter. All bad guys. All with great "bad guy" names (and one isn't even fictional!). Without even reading/seeing their story, I’d guess they were bad dudes. Why is that?

I'm no linguistics professor, but I can detect a few underlying "clues." “Darth Vader” sounds like “Dark Invader.” Voldemort and Moriarty have "mort" or "mor" in their names, bringing death immediately to mind. “Hannibal” rhymes with “cannibal.” “Saddam” is close to “sadist.” All negative connotations. (And what about Voldemort and Vader both being called "Lords"? Not negative, but…interesting.)

People develop certain preconceptions about names. If you were terrorized by a bully named Chris Newsome in second grade (just sayin'), then you'd probably have negative feelings toward any other Chris Newsomes you encounter--in real life, or in fiction. (Too bad his name hadn’t been Darth Newsome. Then kids might have instinctively known to avoid him.)

Some of my favorite villain names come from Dean Koontz. I read an article by him (or maybe it was from his great, out-of-print book How To Write Best-Selling Fiction (1981)) where he talked about giving his antagonists "harsh-sounding" names, full of hard consonants (v's, d's, c's, and k's are popular), double letters, and difficult-to-pronounce consonant blends. Check out some of his baddies: Edglar Vess, Vladimir "Corky" Laputa, Bryan Drackman, Preston Maddoc, Vince Nesco, and Thomas Shaddack. Don't these names just ooze badness?

Of course, most of Koontz's books are horror stories and thrillers. Obvious bad guy names don't work as well in mysteries, where the reader isn't supposed to know who the bad guy is until the end. Still, they'd make good red herrings...

Sometimes I think it would be nice to write satire or cartoons or kid's books. Then you can be a little more literal with your villainous  names: Snidely Whiplash, Cruella De Vil, Boris Badenov, Bugs Meany cruella(from Encyclopedia Brown, one of my favs), Dr. No, and Dr. Evil. Those must be fun to make up.

A character's name can have a profound effect on how readers picture him or her. Try portraying a character named Mal Madoff as a philanthropist--it's not going to fly!

What are some of your favorite names of fictional villains?

Writers, how do you name your bad guys?


Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Idea Store^

^Summer is for reruns, so…

It's a common question for writers:

Where do you get your ideas?

I used to get my ideas from local, independent, mom-and-pop idea stores. Back in the day, it seemed like there was one on every lightbulb corner. You'd wander in, not quite sure what you were looking for, and some nice--and knowledgeable--idea clerk would come over, chat with you for a while, then walk you over to a certain shelf and select the perfect idea.

Why, that's it! How did you know I wanted something in an 80,000-word mystery with a twenty-nine-year-old male protagonist who works in a sandwich shop?

But the indies were overwhelmed by the big-box chain idea stores. Cavernous warehouses full of ideas. You could get lost for days, wandering the aisles looking for that hard-to-locate gem. But try to find someone who really knew ideas to help you? Fuggedaboudit! (Of course, the prices were appealing. Everyday Low Price: Ideas - Twelve for ten cents.)

Then the Internet arrived in a big way. You could go on-line, browse a catalog from the comfort of your own home, and order an idea (hey, order two--save on shipping!) to be delivered to your doorstep. But I never seemed satisfied with the quality of the ideas, and you couldn't hold the idea in your hands and give it a good squeeze to see if it was robust enough. After all, you were going to be with this idea for months, even years. You and that idea better be a good match.

So I was left with only one option. I had to think up my own ideas.

goldstars Once I started, I couldn't stop. Ideas flowed from my head like words from Joe Biden's mouth--nonstop, and some even made sense. I couldn't turn off the idea spigot. And it's still spouting ideas to this day.

The deluge of ideas presents a different challenge--trying to determine which ones are worth pursuing. (I can hear all the writers out there, saying in unison, "Ah, there's the rub.") Many, if not most, of them I talk to have tons (tons!) of ideas. It's time that's in short supply.

So how do you determine which ideas are worthy of your time and energy? Which ideas will make the best books?

Do you:

  • Write out the pros and cons of each idea, then do some kind of cost/benefit analysis?
  • Write a synopsis for each and see which comes easiest? palm
  • Make a visit to your palmist?
  • Go straight to the marketplace and ask your agent or editor what you should work on?
  • Throw the ten most intriguing ideas into a hat and pick one at random?
  • Pick whichever idea lends itself best to having a vampire protagonist? Or a boy wizard?
  • Choose the idea most similar to the last Michael Connelly book?

Any other ideas? I'd settle for a single good one.


Monday, August 23, 2010

For Extra Credit

Suppose you’re between projects. You’re waiting for beta readers to get back to you and you’ve got some time to write, but you’re not sure what to write about. How do you pick something?

Do you:

a) Go to your list of ideas and pull the top one off the stack?

b) Close your eyes, listen to your gut, and start typing about whatever moves you?

c) Systematically evaluate all your options and pick the one you think is most “publishable?”

d) Try out a different genre, different POV, and different tense than what you normally write in?

e) Write? With all the fun that’s waiting for you on Facebook and Twitter and Photoshop?


Friday, August 20, 2010

Ten Best Things About Being a Writer

dog tired Usually, the dog days of summer don’t affect me. I’m content to plod along on whatever project I happen to be involved in. This year, for some reason—be it the unrelenting heat, the monsoon-like deluges, or the crazy pace I’ve been keeping—I’m ready to just kick back and relax. And read some of the dozens of dozens of books in my TBR pile.

So no deep-thinker post today (unlike all my other posts :) ). Instead, a top ten list (with apologies to Mr. Letterman):


The Ten Best Things About Being a Writer

10. People think you know stuff.

9. A business trip means going to the bookstore.

8. Fame and fortune. Not.

7. You can blame your misfortunes on your agent.

6. You “get” to blog and Facebook and Twitter.

5. Showering is optional.

4. You can kill people who annoy you with abandon (or with a gun or a knife).

3. Watching Comedy Central counts as research.

2. Those voices in your head are supposed to be there.

And the number one best thing about being a writer:

1. Casual Friday becomes Underwear Friday.


Got any to add?


(If this post seems familiar, it’s because I posted it on InkSpot yesterday. I told you I was feeling a little lazy!)


Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Written in the Clouds

tagxedo picture


Just fooling around. (It’s a DIAMONDS FOR THE DEAD tagxedo picture.)


Monday, August 16, 2010

Experts Teach

On Saturday, I attended MWA University, a one-day symposium on mystery writing. It was great! I learned a lot, met some new friends, and caught up with some old ones.

Instead of recapping it here, I’ll direct you to Ingrid King’s blog, where she did a great job of summarizing the day’s events.

If you ever get the chance to attend one of these, my advice is simple: GO!


Friday, August 13, 2010

Care for a Bookmark?

Last week, I mentioned my bookmark project. Here’s what I’ve come up with, front and back. (The actual, printed PDF images seem a little crisper than these on-screen. Also, these images include some bleed room, ie, the margins on the real bookmarks won’t be as large.)

KR Bookmark Front KR Bookmark Back

I know, many of you think I’ve included too many words. However, when someone asks me what my book’s about, I can just hand them a bookmark, rather than go through the spiel myself. And I’m all for talking as little as possible.

Anyway, comments?


Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Don’t You Hate it When…

You spend a couple days outlining the plot for a novel, in addition to creating some character sketches. You come up with a few character names and you write a portion of the first scene. You put away the project because something more important came along.

Then, years later, you search for the file.

You look everywhere—on your computer, on your backup hard drive, on your backup CDs. You check your file cabinets, in case you printed it out, and you go through old notebooks (just in case you remembered incorrectly and actually wrote the stuff down, old-school). You even check your safe deposit box at the bank.

You consult your Ouija board, too.


The file is nowhere to be found.

Don’t you just hate that? (And don’t you hate reading stuff written in 2nd person? Well, don’t you?)


Monday, August 9, 2010

A is for Me

BACKTOSCHOOLToday, I’m honored to be interviewed at Aerin Bender-Stone’s blog, In Search of Giants, as part of her Back-to-School A-Z author interview series.



Learn what my favorite subjects were, what I looked forward to at lunch (besides the lunch ladies’ evil glares), and find out if I made the high school golf team.

Click over and check it out!

Thanks, Aerin!


Friday, August 6, 2010

2 x 7.25 Inches

Now that I’ve completed a draft of my WIP and it’s out being read by my crack critiquers, I can spend some time on other things. This week’s project: designing a bookmark to promote KILLER ROUTINE.

Over the years, I’ve been collecting bookmarks from other writers, to steal ideas draw inspiration from.

Many elements are included on these bookmarks:

  • Book description
  • Author bio
  • Author picture
  • Book cover art
  • Bibliography of other books
  • Contact info, including web addresses, blogs, mailing lists, emails
  • Publishing info (publisher, ISBN, release date)
  • Blurbs and reviews
  • Awards won

What to include? What to leave out? There’s only so much space, you know.

Any advice? What information/graphics do you like to see on a writer’s bookmark?


Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Shoe-Tying Project

I like when tasks are organized into “projects.” Being immersed in something for a finite period of time seems to be my preferred mode of operation. In past jobs, or in school, I was always more engaged knowing there’d be an ending to whatever I was working on (rather than toiling at something day-after-day with no end in sight. You know, like forever).

That’s why I enjoy writing novels.

I can bust my butt on them for two or three months (or longer), then move on to another project. Sure, I’ll come back to them for editing, but I view that as a different project—also one with a finite ending point.

That’s why I call other things I’m working on “projects.”

Every year, there’s the raspberry-harvesting project, and the getting-the-kids-ready-for-school project, and the clean-the-basement project. A few years ago, there was the cross-country-trip project. There have been family-reunion projects and bookcase-building projects, and the record-all-my-vinyl-records-to-MP3 project (ongoing). And don’t forget the tri-weekly grocery-store projects.

One of the best things about having a project orientation is being able to cross each one off your list when complete.

Now it’s time for my catch-up-on-everything-I’ve-fallen-behind-on-while-I-was-working-on-my-last-project project.

Wish me luck!

What about you? Do you prefer working in bursts on projects, or do you like working in a steady-state mode?


Monday, August 2, 2010

Ptomaine’s House of Beef

When you're writing a story, there are many times when you'll have to come up with a fictitious name for a product or place of business. To me, names are important. Some connote class, others bring to mind frivolity. Still others are descriptive, scary, mundane, exotic, or just plain ridiculous.

I always think hard when I make up names in my books.

If only people in real life took as much care.

Here are a few examples of product/place names that I thought were, uh, interesting:

Stumpy's (a stump removal service)

Prunelax (a laxative, in case you couldn't guess)

Jiffy Lube Live (concert pavilion)

And here's one of the most misguided marketing slogans I've ever seen, from a restaurant touting the freshness of its food:

"Any fresher, and you'd need a restraining order."

Well, sure, what restaurateur wouldn't want potential customers associating their establishment with stalkers and domestic disputes?