Thursday, December 12, 2013

Blinders On!

Last week, I finished the first draft of a new novel. It’s a slightly different genre than most of my books, and I had a fun time writing it. However, it looks a lot like most of my first drafts.

That is to say (depending on my mood): putrid, puerile, bad, awful, mediocre, stilted, too short, too long, infantile, off-the-wall, brilliant, boring, too fast paced, nonsensical, unsalvageable, too slow-paced, and/or hideous. I followed Ann Lamott’s priceless advice and gave myself permission to write a $#!^^y first draft. I’m proud to say that I succeeded!

My method:

When I write a first draft, I plow through, from beginning to end. I don’t go back and edit what I’ve written along the way. If I change a character’s name halfway through, I don’t go back and change it. If I add a subplot or change a location or introduce a new character altogether, I don’t go back and fix things up. If I don’t know the name of something (or if I forget the name of a character), I put in XXXX and keep on typing, knowing I’ll take care of it later. Ever forward.

My rationale:

This strategy was borne of laziness. I don’t want to spend time editing and revising something that’s going to get cut in the second draft. So I put on my blinders, sit down, and pound out the best story I can (I do outline, which keeps me somewhat on track). As I go along, I note all the changes I’ve made so I can go back and fix things. Once I’ve finished, I can step back and take an objective look at the entire hot mess. Invariably, it needs a lot of work.

But I guess that’s what the revision process is for.

How about you, writers? Do you fix/edit/revise as you go? Or do you wait until everything’s done and go back and fix it then, once you see the big picture?


Top Ten Best Things About A First Draft

10. You can test-drive a few adverbs without getting yelled at.
9. It actually sounds better when read aloud with an Inspector Clouseau accent.
8. It provides amusement for your critique partners.
7. You can use lame jokes, stereotypes, bad grammar, and stilted dialogue, knowing (hoping?) they'll disappear during the revision process.
6. It's a good way to use up scratch paper.
5. You don't have to show it to your agent, editor, or spouse.
4. Your dog/cat/gerbil thinks it's terrific, no matter how many words are misspelled.
3. It makes good kindling.
2. It helps support the market for red pens.

And the number one best thing about a first draft:

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


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


Thursday, November 14, 2013

Who Loves Ya, Baby?

Why crime? What is it about the gutters and dark alleys of the
world that compels you to write crime fiction?

Because we’re talking crime here, I think it’s appropriate to use, uh, bullet points.

  • Justice – I have a well-developed sense of right and wrong, but in the real world, justice doesn’t always prevail. In my world, justice does prevail, often with extreme prejudice.
  • High stakes, high drama – Often, crime is about life and death. For the victims, for the perpetrators, for those suffering the fallout of life-shattering events. Writing about characters in these situations makes for compelling drama.
  • Anything goes – criminals do some nasty, nasty things, so as a writer, I don’t feel constrained in any way about what I can write about. I can be as nasty as I want! kojak
  • Fascination – As a kid, my TV diet consisted of the great cop/detective shows of the 70’s: Mannix, The Rockford Files, The FBI, Adam-12, Barnaby Jones, Ironside, McMillan & Wife, Banacek, Columbo, Streets of San Francisco, Tenafly, Cannon, Baretta, Starsky & Hutch, Kojak, McCloud, Harry O, Shaft, Cool Million, and for some reason, Police Woman and Charlie’s Angels. For me, it’s not so much “write what you know,” but “write what you’ve watched a million times.”
  • Inside knowledge – It would be a shame to waste the 15 years I spent at Leavenworth.

Crime: it’s what all the cool kids are writing!

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


Thursday, October 31, 2013


How has writing your main character changed you as a person?

I’d like to think that writing about my protagonist (any of my protagonists) has made me into a sharper, more self-actualized, wittier, more thought-provoking, more handsome person.

I’d like to think that, but I can’t.

I’m the same semi-schlubby person who wears sweats when he writes. Who occasionally spills food on his shirt. Who sometimes forgets a word that he used JUST YESTERDAY which bugs the crap out of him. Still the same guy who roots for the Washington Professional Football Team no matter how poorly the team plays.

Now what has changed, due to my writing, is my writing. The more I write, the better I get (at least I think so). I came to writing fiction relatively late in life, as compared to many of my contemporaries, so I’ve had to learn a lot in a short amount of time. And I’m still learning (I’m a little weak on grammar; I don’t know a dangling participle from a flying Wallenda.).

With each scene I write, with each draft and second draft and eighth draft, I feel more comfortable creating new worlds and characters. More comfortable with plots and descriptions and dialogue and settings. More comfortable using the strike-through feature. More in control of my story.

More like a real writer.

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


Thursday, October 17, 2013

Good Morning, My Ass!

Do you ever take out real life rage on fictional murder victims? Are any of your victims based on people who pissed you off in real life?

Real life rage? I’m a mild-mannered guy. I very rarely get to the stage of “rage.” About as hot as I get is “slightly perturbed.” If things really go wrong, I might push the meter to “irked.”

Unless you count that guy who cut me off on the Beltway. Or the person who dented my bumper in the parking lot and didn’t leave a note. Or the telemarketer who woke me up at 5:30 in the morning. Or maybe if you consider the neighbor who runs the leafblower six hours a day during Fall. Or the bank teller who takes forever just to log in a simple deposit. Or the grocery store that didn’t have one SINGLE RIPE AVOCADO when I needed to make guacamole. Or the little old lady who said “Good Morning” to me when it wasn’t really such a great morning. I mean, who died and elected her Queen of Inane Greetings, anyway?

Okay, maybe I do have a slight anger management issue.

In my books, though, I can’t remember singling out a specific person, either as a victim or a criminal, to be the recipient of my real-life rage. (I definitely don’t want a lawsuit. I’m pretty sure that would piss me off.)

But in my book DEADLY CAMPAIGN, I went after an entire group of people—politicians. (Of course, after the events of the last month, is there a person in this country who doesn’t harbor a great deal of rage toward them? For the record, I wrote that book before it was in vogue to actively hate our congressfolk). I didn’t take sides; I skewered the politicos in a bipartisan fashion (I’m an equal opportunity skewerer.)

And I must confess, it felt pretty good.


giveaway graphicHere’s something else that feels pretty good. Giving away stuff! To celebrate my birthday, I’m giving away an ORLOFFAPALOOZA prize package to one lucky winner: A copy of all six of my books (three trade paperbacks, three ebook originals) plus a bonus download of FIRST TIME KILLER in audio. Click thru to enter. Go ahead, don’t be shy…You gotta play to win!


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


Wednesday, October 9, 2013

An ORLOFFAPALOOZA Birthday Giveaway

This year, for my birthday, I want to give YOU a present! Welcome to the ORLOFFAPALOOZA BIRTHDAY GIVEWAY!

Here’s what one lucky winner will receive:

giveaway graphic

To participate in this giveaway (powered by Rafflecopter—if you don’t have an account, you can sign up—it’s free!), click on the image below, and go crazy. The more points you earn, the better your chance of winning!

rafflecopter screen shot

Giveaway ends October 26—my birthday.



Thursday, October 3, 2013

Green is the New Blech

Seeing Green: In Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott spends a lot of air time on writer envy—that bile inside her that bubbles to the surface any time a friend (or frenemy) wins a big award or sells movie rights. Do you suffer from the same affliction? How do you combat it?

Bill Gates

There’s always someone richer than you.




EinsteinThere’s always someone smarter than you.




most interesting man


There’s always someone more interesting than you.



There’s always someone nicer, tougher, funnier, more determined, luckier, prettier, taller, smoother, stronger, happier, better connected, flashier, more skilled, more beloved, more respected, more more MORE.

Comparing yourself to other people is a losing proposition.

On the other hand, it’s human nature to be competitive, and writers are an observant lot. So it’s pretty hard not to notice how well other people are doing, and it’s pretty easy to feel those pangs of envy as your fellow authors win their shiny awards and get those three-book contracts and sign their six- and seven-figure movie deals, for work that’s no better than the stuff I spill my blood over and grrr, I hate their steaming guts. Kudos to them all.

Personally, not long after I jumped into the writing “biz,” and realizing what kind of nutty, often random, business it seemed to be, and seeing a lot of unhappy, bitter writers complaining about all sorts of things, most of which they couldn’t control, I made a vow to myself:

No matter what happens, I’m going to try very hard not to let things that don’t go as I wish get me down.

I think I’ve been pretty good about it. I try very hard to generate the best work I know how and let the chips fall where they may. If I never hit the New York Times Bestseller list, so be it.

I’ll still hit number one on Alan’s Gave It Your Best Effort list.

And that’s about all I can control.

(This entry is “simul-posted” at Criminal Minds.)


Thursday, September 19, 2013

It Was the Best/Worst of Times…

Brave New World: Publishers and booksellers are perishing. But how are e-books, online bookstores, self-publishing and other new industry developments affecting authors? Is it a great time to be a new writer or are things too shaky for comfort?

I can say, without a doubt, it’s a great time to be a writer. With the (relative) ease of self-publishing, and the rise of the ebook, it’s never been easier for a writer to get his/her work to a vast number of readers, quickly and inexpensively. Social media lets writers attract and interact with readers on a one-to-one basis, whether they live in Denver, Dubai, Delhi, or Denmark. Word-of-mouth has become word-of-Twitter. You don’t have to actually know someone to hear their opinions, and if you’re lucky, word of your great book can go viral. And, if you do it all yourself, the lion’s share of the royalties go straight into your pocket.

I can say, without a doubt, it’s a terrible time to be a writer. Publishers have consolidated and, in turn, have put the squeeze on the midlist author. Advances are down. Royalties remain relatively low. Outlets (read: brick-and-mortar bookstores (ie, showrooms)) are dwindling in number and size. With fewer “gatekeepers” in place, self-publishing authors are flooding the market with books that aren’t quite ready (in many cases), creating confusion for the readers. Too many distractions—Fruit Ninjas, Netflix, YouTube, Instagram, ad infinitum (isn’t that the name of another social media site?)—compete for potential readers’ attentions.

I know what you’re thinking: Alan, you’re talking out of both sides of your mouth. Again.

So which is it? Great or terrible?

As it often comes down to in writing (and life, in general), it’s all about your viewpoint. If you’re a pessimist, then it’s a terrible time. If you’re an optimist, then it’s a great time.

Here’s what I do know. Optimist or pessimist, there’s one fundamental strategy to follow: There’s only so much you can control in this business, so write the best damn book you can. Then write another. And another.

Because it’s the writing that really matters.

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


Thursday, September 5, 2013

At the Scene of the Mime

If your computer's web cam was secretly on and broadcasting you while you're writing, what's the weirdest thing your audience would see you do in a typical workday?

You’d probably see me practicing some of my classic mime moves. You know, the dude trapped in the box, carrying an umbrella in a storm, sitting on a chair sipping tea, climbing a rope. All research for my story…

At the Scene of the Mime

Detective Ted Sullivan surveyed the scene. A dead mime sprawled on the sidewalk, face down, knife in the back. Off to the side, the uniformed cops had corralled three witnesses who belonged to the same mime troupe as the victim. All wore black pants and black turtlenecks. All sported black berets. All had black smiles painted on their ghost-white faces. Sullivan strode over to begin his questioning.

He addressed the first mime. “Okay. Tell me what you saw.”

The mime made an “X” over his mouth and bugged out his eyes.

“Look, I need to know what happened here.”

The mime started working his arms, laying flat palms against walls in the air.

“The victim was being held, against his will?” Sullivan asked. “In a box?”

Three shakes of the head. Now the mime climbed an imaginary rope.

“He was trying to escape? Climbing out of a hole?” Sullivan glanced around. No boxes. No ropes. No holes. He turned to the second mime.

“Who killed your friend?”

The second mime frowned and knuckled away a pretend tear, then began eating a non-existent ice cream cone. And he was making a mess.

“Are you trying to tell me the victim was eating when he bought it?”

The mime shook his head, then leaned against a counter. Or a lamppost. Or a wall. It was hard to tell.

Sullivan always hated cases involving mimes. He moved on to the third witness. “How about you, buddy? You got something to say?”

Another “X” across the mouth. Then the mime started to fight his way against a fierce wind. A moment later, he pulled out an invisible umbrella and tried to keep it from blowing away.

“Enough,” Sullivan bellowed. “Your mime friend is lying there, dead. And you’re not helping me one bit.”

The third mime stopped struggling with his umbrella. He laid it down on the sidewalk gently. He smoothed out his unwrinkled clothes, adjusted his beret, then faced the detective. “Okay. You cracked me,” he said, aloud. The other two mimes slapped their hands over their ears and recoiled in horror. The third mime continued, “I did it. I killed Marcello. I’m sorry.”

“You killed him?”

“Yes, yes, it was me. I stabbed him.”

The other two mimes shrank away farther, pretending to bawl.

“Why’d you do it?” Sullivan asked the mime murderer.

“Jealousy. He did the best walking-in-the-wind the industry has ever seen. I just couldn’t take being in his shadows any more. I do a great wind thing myself. You’ve seen it. But it didn’t measure up.” The mime started crying; this time, the tears were real. “Please, don’t put me in jail. Please.”

Sullivan simply shook his head. Don’t do the mime, if you can’t do the time.


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


Thursday, August 22, 2013

I Should’ve Zigged Instead of Zagged

How often do you write yourself into a corner and how do you escape?

I rarely write myself into a corner, mostly because I’m an outliner.point a to point b

Of course, I outline myself into a corner all the time.

But the great thing about word processors is their cut-and-paste function. So I play around, adding scenes, deleting scenes, rearranging scenes, trying to find the best fit or testing out new sequences and new ideas. Different, more compelling, paths to the final destination. If I like the new order, or some variation of it, then it stays.

If not, I hit DELETE, and try again.

When it comes to the actual writing, I don’t slavishly follow my outlines, so I have been known to go astray (once or twice or several hundred times). Usually, I’ll just plow ahead, knowing that certain subplots or threads or tangents will need to be changed. I’ll make a note in the figurative margins, or I’ll highlight a scene in a different color, so that when I go back for the next draft, I’ll know I need to fix things in order to have my story make sense.

In other words, I usually address all the disjointed stuff when I work through the revision process. (After all, they (whoever they are) say that a good book isn’t written, it’s rewritten.)

In the first draft, I have one goal—to get it finished. BICFOK*, all the way!

Full speed ahead!


*Butt In Chair, Fingers On Keyboard

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


Wednesday, August 14, 2013


If you’re reading this on Wednesday, August 14, RIDE-ALONG is FREE!

If you’re reading this on Thursday, August 15, RIDE-ALONG is FREE!

If you’re reading this on Friday, August 16, RIDE-ALONG is FREE!

If you’re reading this on Saturday, August 17, RIDE-ALONG is FREE!

Download your very own FREE copy!

Ride Along 600x960


Trey Powers never killed a cop before. Never had to.

But after his cousin Jimmy has been framed and murdered by Officer Karla Cheng, one of Hafton Police Department’s finest, Trey has no choice.

He must avenge Jimmy’s death, one way or another.

To get closer to his quarry, Trey joins the police department’s Citizen Action Team, and when a rival team member is killed, fingers point at Trey.

Now, he’s the hunted one, and the harrowing race is on: Can Trey bring Cheng to justice before she frames him for murder?

Or does something even worse?

Ultimately, Trey finds his life in jeopardy—along with the lives of those he loves—after embarking on a terrifying ride-along with Jimmy’s cold-blooded murderer.

Trey Powers never killed a cop before.

Never had to.


RIDE-ALONG is a full-length novel of suspense, approximately 78K words.


Zak Allen also wrote FIRST TIME KILLER (thriller) and THE TASTE (horror/thriller), both ebook originals.

Zak Allen is the darker pseudonym of Alan Orloff, author of the Agatha Award finalist DIAMONDS FOR THE DEAD and the Last Laff Mystery series (KILLER ROUTINE, DEADLY CAMPAIGN), from Midnight Ink. Visit him at


Thursday, August 8, 2013

So Many Books!

What are you reading now? What have you read recently that you’d recommend?

I once picked up a book with a very cool premise. I read about 200 pages, then decided it was pretty ridiculous not to my liking. But I really wanted to find out what happened, so I finished reading it. And it didn’t end any better than it had started.

Fast forward about three years. I picked up a book with a very cool premise. I read about 200 pages, then decided it was pretty ridiculous not to my liking. But I really wanted to find out what happened, so I finished reading it. And it didn’t end any better than it had started.

Yes, that’s correct. I read the same book twice without realizing it until the very end. So I guess you could say I’m not very good about remembering books. At least not bad ones.

However, I am much better about remembering good books (not the plots or the characters, but the overall impression the book left me with).

Here are a few books I’ve read recently that I enjoyed:poachers-son1

The Poacher’s Son by Paul Doiron (award-winning debut in his Mike Bowditch series)

Shotgun Lullaby by Steve Ulfelder (the third in his excellent Conway Sax series, starting with the Edgar-nominated Purgatory Chasm)

A Wanted Man by Lee Child. (I love Jack Reacher)

Right now, I’m in the middle of Live By Night by Dennis Lehane (one of my all-time favorite writers).

What will I be reading next? Well, as I posted on Facebook last week, I have a new policy:

From now on, I will only read books that: are written by people I know, are written by people I don’t know (yet), have been nominated for awards, have won awards, have been overlooked for awards, seem interesting, have great covers, have, uh, interesting covers, are from experienced writers, are from debut authors, are in genres I like, are in a genres I usually don’t read, are serious, are funny, are recommended, I find on the shelf without any fanfare, are purchased, are borrowed, are received as gifts, OR are written in English.


(The entry is “simul-posted” on Criminal Minds.)


Wednesday, July 31, 2013

House Call

I’m very pleased that my story, House Call (people really should be nicer to their physicians), is included in the current (Summer 2013) issue of NEEDLE: A Magazine of Noir!

Needle cover

It’s got fourteen great stories by a host of very talented authors (plus me) and is edited by the very noirish Steve Weddle (whose first book, COUNTRY HARDBALL, will be out in November!).

And look at that cool cover, too!

Get your copy today. HERE.


Thursday, July 25, 2013

Bye, Bye, Beantown!

If you’d like to see my answer to this week’s question (If a dictator forbade me from writing crime fiction, what would I write?), click HERE.

I shall now answer last week’s question: If you were murdered, which fictional detective would you want on the case?

I’m sure there are plenty of capable, competent detectives who could take my case and run with it, delving into my shady past looking for motives and suspects, but I’d like to think I deserve the best. So I fervently hope I get killed in

Then my case could be a collaborative effort.

(But, seriously, who would want to kill me? What have I ever done???)

First, Medical Examiner Maura Isles would handle the autopsy. She’d be able to come up with a plausible scenario derived from all the microscopic clues she’d uncover. Then she’d feed it all to Jane Rizzoli, who would direct the official police investigation.

Of course, Rizzoli couldn’t do it on her own—there are some places/tasks only a private detective can negotiate. Enter Spenser. He’d talk to his myriad Boston connections and come up with a list of suspects, then poke around until someone got nervous. And if things got really rough, he’d call in Hawk to lend a hand (or a fist).

But since you can never have enough crackerjack PIs on the case, Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro also would get involved. Their additional Boston street smarts would be like icing on the investigative cake. And if Rizzoli, Isles, Spenser, Hawk, Patrick, and Angie needed more muscle (or the talents of a sociopath), they could always turn to Bubba.

It’s comforting to know my murder investigation would be in good hands.


First Time Killer 2 blog 156x250I’m happy to announce that FIRST TIME KILLER is now available as an audiobook from, Amazon, or iTunes. It’s ten hours of thrills and chills, narrated by the terrific voice professional Bob Dunsworth. Listen to a sample today!

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


Monday, July 15, 2013

Now Hear This!

I’m happy to say that my ebook thriller, FIRST TIME KILLER, is now available as an audiobook (at, Amazon, and iTunes). FIRST TIME KILLER cover for ACX

Ten full hours of suspenseful, edge-of-your-seat excitement.

Best of all, it’s narrated by the fabulous Bob Dunsworth!

If you toss the movies Network, Play Misty for Me, and Talk Radio into a blender and add a liberal serving of Howard Stern, you’ll get the flavor of FIRST TIME KILLER.

Here’s a description:

In shock radio, nothing is too far over-the-top in the pursuit of ratings.

Not even murder.

During his twenty-six-year career, D.C. radio talk show host Rick Jennings steered clear of outrageous radio. Wasn’t his thing. So when WTLK execs tap him for the Afternoon Circus to land a lucrative satellite deal, Rick struggles to maintain his standards—and his dignity. A chilling call (“I’m a long-time listener, first time KILLER.”) leads to the discovery of an intern’s arm in a trashcan.

Rick spars with the “First Time” killer over the airwaves. The police are stymied. Ratings skyrocket. And First Time continues to knock off members of the Circus, phoning in to gloat afterward.
In a world of psychics and poseurs, crazy deejays and crazier callers, it’s up to Rick to bring First Time down before more people perish.

Listen to a free sample, then download your copy today!


Thursday, July 11, 2013

Idaville’s Favorite Son

Who, in your opinion, is the greatest fictional
detective of all time?
(Whatever you take greatest to mean.)

Tough question. There are so many great detectives, but the greatest? Sherlock Holmes? Nero Wolfe? Spenser? Elvis Cole? Hercule Poirot? Kinsey Milhone? Perry Mason? Sam Spade? Nancy Drew? Harry Bosch? Sure, they all belong in the International Detective Hall of Fame, but I think I’ll take the little guy. Literally.

Put my vote down for Encyclopedia Brown.Encyclopedia_Brown,_Boy_Detective_(1963)

Allow me to present the facts to make my case:
He’s a fellow of fine character and ingenuity.
He’s super smart.
He solves crimes without having to resort to gunplay.
He’s the Chief of Police’s ace-in-the-hole (and his son).
He and his sidekick, Sally Kimball, have never been stumped!
He’s neither an alcoholic nor a coke fiend.
He prevented arch-nemesis Bugs Meany from terrorizing Idaville.
Lets’ face it, Encyclopedia Brown has put together an impressive body of work:
His creator, Donald Sobol, won an Edgar Award.
Encyclopedia Brown was a book series, a syndicated comic strip, a TV series, and they’re planning to make a movie starring the boy detective.

So, should Encyclopedia Brown be in consideration for title of Greatest Detective of All-Time? If it’s on a pound-for-pound basis, then he’s a shoo-in!

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


Tuesday, July 2, 2013

It’s Berry Time!

(a blog post rerun)

When it comes to my yard, I'm a naturalist.

Not exactly the kind of naturalist who works to preserve the environment (although I think that's important). I'm a naturalist in the sense that I am lazy--whatever nature wants to do, I'm cool with, as long as I don't have to lift a finger doing yard work. Fertilizer, shmertilizer, I always say.

Calling myself a naturalist somehow makes my lawn neglect more palatable. (My wife calls me a "delusionalist.")

I live on a fairly wooded, one-acre lot. It's tough for grass to grow because of all the shade.  I don't even bother trying. I'll cut whatever grows--mostly crabgrass and other weeds--but only in certain spots so the kids have a place to play catch or kick the soccer ball (and so the neighbors don't complain too much). I let the rest of the property grow wild.

Being lazy about yard work* has certain advantages.

Here's the (too-long) tale of one:

A few years ago, I noticed some blackberry canes growing in one corner of the yard (good thing I didn't cut the "grass" in that corner--I would have mowed the canes down!). I didn't pay much attention to them, and, months later when I went back to see if any blackberries were ripe, they were gone. Birds must have eaten them.

The next year, more canes grew and in June, I saw lots of little red berries popping out, on their way to becoming nice, juicy blackberries. Somehow, a rather large patch of blackberries also appeared in the front yard, intermingled with some azalea bushes (good thing I didn't weed out the azalea bed!).

Because we were leaving on a seven-week cross-country trip, I knew I wouldn't get to harvest these berries, so I alerted the neighbors. I told them they were welcome to pick the berries and gave them a heads-up to be quick, if they wanted to beat the birds to the punch.

Fast forward seven weeks. The neighbors didn't get any blackberries. Somehow, the birds got them before the berries had ripened. Oh well.DSCF1772

The following year, even more canes grew. I now had two huge patches of blackberries, one in the front and one in the back. I watched over them like a mother hen, determined to outsmart the birds and harvest some berries before they got them all. I even put netting over some of the plants. Take that, birdies!

Lots of little red berries appeared, and my mouth watered daily.

I waited and waited for those berries to ripen. And waited.

One day, the father of my son's friend came over. As he picked up his son, he commented, "That's a very impressive patch of wild raspberries."

I smiled and corrected him. "Thanks, but they're blackberries."

"No, I'm pretty sure they are raspberries."

I chuckled. "Well, I go running near here, and I pass a ton of blackberry plants. And I'm pretty sure mine are blackberries. They're just not ripe yet."

The other guy smiled. "Well, I taught plant identification in college, and I'm positive those are raspberries. And, by the way, they're ripe."**

Sometimes my wife calls me "idiot" too.

I don't argue.


*The one hour I spent doing yard work in the past year didn't go too well. See My Last Superpower. That'll teach me to fool with Mother Nature.

**No wonder my "blackberries" never got ripe and turned purple! Good news: it's looking like another bumper crop this year.


Wednesday, June 26, 2013


Today, tomorrow, and Friday, the Kindle version of THE TASTE is FREE! (Current Amazon review average: 4.8/5.0 stars.)

I daresay it will be the best horror/thriller about Amish-like cannibals in West Virginia you will read this summer.

Why don’t you give it a try? You don’t have anything to lose (except maybe your lunch).


The Taste_cover_nook


After his mother dies, Jake Wheeler returns to his birthplace of Dark Springs, West Virginia, seeking solace among his kin. But his family’s unique comfort food includes some ingredients Jake's not sure he can stomach.

They eat dead people.

Discovering that skeleton in the pantry and adjusting to a new diet turn out to be the least of Jake’s worries. Storm clouds have gathered over Dark Springs, threatening the family’s peaceful existence. Ax-wielding clan patriarch Dallas Pike and his band of renegade followers have decided upon a violent plan to increase the dwindling food supply. Why wait for your next meal to die naturally if you can hunt it down instead?

With the survival of the entire clan at stake, Jake wages war against madman Pike.

He also battles an even more terrifying opponent.


After all, Jake has THE TASTE.


Thursday, June 13, 2013

I’m No Dreamweaver

Do you ever dream about your characters? Or other people’s?

To the best of my recollection, I have never dreamed about my characters. Nor about anyone else’s characters.

Most of the people populating my dreams are real—family members, friends, people I’ve met, people I’ve seen in movies or on TV (the actors, not the characters they play, weirdly).colored spiral

Some people like to analyze dreams, putting a lot of stock in what they mean. I’m not one of those people. I believe that dreams are simply a way for my subconscious to blow off a little steam (or a lot of steam, depending on the dream). I don’t think I’d make a very good subject for a psychology experiment.

That’s not to say that my nighttime slumbering isn’t ever productive. Sometimes I will cadge a bit of dialogue from a dream and try to work it into something I’m writing. Like Tracy described in her post yesterday, I’ll wake up, scribble a few ephemeral snatches of something witty or clever on a piece of paper on my nightstand. In the morning, I’m disappointed when it reads, “Mfxxth Strxtmet. WACHNRVPQ!”

Also, on occasion, I’ll get an idea in the middle of the night. When I was at Sleuthfest last year, I woke up one morning at 4 a.m. with a mostly-fully-formed concept for a thriller with a dynamite premise.

Maybe I should take a nap now. I could use another great idea!

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


Thursday, May 30, 2013

I Wish…

What existing book do you wish you could have written?

Besides The Cat in the Hat? (And yes, I use every opportunity I can to slide a picture of me and my idol into the blog.)meandthecat

Although many (most?) of the books I like are character-driven stories, when I thought about this question, the books I wished I’d written all had a common element.

A Big Idea. A Great Hook. A High Concept. An Amazing Premise. A Grab-Me-By-The-Shirt-And-Don’t-Let-Go Situation. I don’t remember plots; I remember premises.

I couldn’t pick a single book, so I’ve compiled a short list:

Two Agatha Christie classics made the cut: And Then There Were None and Murder on the Orient Express. Both use clever devices, which, many years later, have become classic mystery plots (and have been repurposed on numerous occasions).

Firestarter – Stephen King has no shortage of great ideas, and this was one I wished I’d hatched.

The Lock Artist – Cool idea, great main character, and, oh yeah, it won an Edgar.

Ender’s Game – Set in the future, a whip-smart kid must save humanity, without succumbing to peer pressure. In a word, awesome!

And if I had to select just one book I wish I’d written, that book would be:

Fifty Shades of

Jurassic Park


Jurassic Park - Theme park! Sabotage! Tropical island! Kids in danger! And dinosaurs! (mean dinosaurs!) And sequels! And a movie! And movie sequels!





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


Monday, May 20, 2013

I Need Style

What reference work (dictionary, thesaurus, style guide, etc) is indispensable in your writing? Why?

Here’s what I’ve got on my reference bookshelf (yes, these are actual printed books!):

The Dictionary of ClichésChicago Manual
The Bantam Medical Dictionary
The New International Dictionary of Quotations
What Happened When
Woe is I
Chicago Manual of Style
The Elements of Style (otherwise known as Strunk and White)
Mark My Words
Formatting & Submitting Your Manuscript
Webster’s Dictionary
Roget’s Thesaurus
The Synonym Finder
Illustrated Reverse Dictionary
The New York Public Library Desk Reference
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary of Quotations
A Treasury for Word Lovers

Do I ever use these books? What, with the Internet a click away? Are you kidding? Truth is—for good or for bad—I do most of my research/grammar-checking/spell-checking/synonym-finding/procrastinating on line.

From time to time, however, I will crack open my Chicago Manual to check on some arcane usage question (I slept through my high school English classes). There’s just something about that authoritative tome that I trust!

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


Thursday, May 2, 2013


Are you a “carrot” or “stick” type of writer, with regard to your own motivation? Do you ever reward yourself for finishing a book/chapter/scene/sentence? How? What other types of motivation do you use?

When I’m in the middle of writing a draft, I’m a very disciplined guy. I’ve found that I don’t need much in the way of reward (or punishment). I set my daily word quota, then I sit down and bang out the words until I’m done. As I tell the students in my writing workshops, BICFOK! (Butt In Chair, Fingers On Keyboard). nike swoosh

Just Do It.

But…when I finish my quota, I get up from my desk—sometimes in the middle of a sentence—free to do something else. Unshackled from the sheer torture that is writing. So, in one sense, freedom is my reward.

[Rumor has it that sometimes I’ll dance around my office, singing “I’m Free” by The Who. Can you tell that I like “having written” much more than I like “writing”?]

When I was growing up, my parents talked a lot about intrinsic versus extrinsic rewards, and I guess I’m motivated on a broad scale by wanting to achieve my long-term goals as a writer.

And, of course, monetary riches beyond my wildest imagination.

I’d better get back to work. BICFOK!

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


Tuesday, April 30, 2013

With Malice For All

It’s almost that time of the year again.

Malice Time!

Every year, somewhere north of 500 traditional mystery fans gather at the Hyatt in Bethesda, MD to celebrate the genre at the Malice Domestic convention. Readers get to meet writers, writers get to meet readers, readers get to meet other readers, and writers get to meet other writers (I think you get the picture—there’s a whole lot of meeting going on!).

The convention runs Friday through Sunday, full of panels and interviews and receptions and banquets and an auction and lots of other fun—and mysterious—stuff.

My panel, “If Miss Marple Were A Man: Male Cozy Sleuths,” with Miranda James, Stephen Kaminski, me, and Neil Plakcy (moderated by Terry Shames), is on Saturday, from 2:00 – 2:50.

Otherwise, I’ll be buzzing around—if you see me, come up and say hi!


Thursday, April 18, 2013

Judge, Jury, and Executioner

How did you decide writing crime fiction was right for you? Was there a specific event that made you realize “hey, I can make crime pay for me”?

Like Vicki, most of my reading consists of mysteries, suspense, and thriller novels. So when I decided to take up my own pen laptop, it made the most sense to write what I knew best.

But why, exactly, do I gravitate toward reading about crime in the first place?bosox logo

I like to think I’m a good person at heart. I like to see people flourish, be happy, enjoy life. So when I read about some poor old lady losing her life savings to some con man or a mother and son getting murdered or some terrorist setting bombs meant to kill hundreds (or thousands) of innocent people competing in a marathon, I get pretty pissed off.

Okay, tremendously pissed off.

Unfortunately, I can’t do much to stop evil in this world. Not in real life. As long as people have existed, people have wronged others, and maybe it’s one of the curses of a human society, but I don’t see evil abating any time soon.

But fiction is another, uh, story altogether. There, I can create my own world and populate it with my own characters. For instance, I can paint a picture of an evil villain, bent on destroying people’s lives. I can portray the vilest creature doing unspeakable things. I can concoct the Devil himself, if I wanted to.

Then I can rain justice down on his head, with extreme prejudice.

You see, in my books, good always vanquishes evil. Sometimes there’s a hefty price to pay, but believe me, evildoers get punished in my worlds.

That’s why I like to write about crime.

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


Wednesday, April 10, 2013


My ebook thriller, FIRST TIME KILLER, is FREE for your Kindle (or Kindle App on PC, smartphone, tablet, etc.).

It’s FREE today, Wednesday, April 10.

It’s FREE tomorrow, Thursday, April 11.

It’s FREE the day after tomorrow, Friday, April 12.

After that, it will be available at the very affordable price of $3.99.

Tell your friends, your family, your co-workers, your friends’ families, your family’s co-workers, your friends’ co-workers, your co-workers’ friends, your co-workers’ families…you get the picture!


First-Time-Killer 2 iBooks 600x860

In shock radio, nothing is too far over-the-top in the pursuit of ratings.

Not even murder.

During his twenty-six-year career, D.C. radio talk show host Rick Jennings steered clear of outrageous radio. Wasn’t his thing. So when WTLK execs tap him for the Afternoon Circus to land a lucrative satellite deal, Rick struggles to maintain his standards—and his dignity.

A chilling call (“I’m a long-time listener, first time KILLER.”) leads to the discovery of an intern’s arm in a trashcan. Rick spars with the “First Time” killer over the airwaves. The police are stymied. Ratings skyrocket. And First Time continues to knock off members of the Circus, phoning in to gloat afterward.

In a world of psychics and poseurs, crazy deejays and crazier callers, it’s up to Rick to bring First Time down before more people perish.


If you toss the movies Network, Play Misty for Me, and Talk Radio into a blender and add a liberal serving of Howard Stern, you’ll get the flavor of FIRST TIME KILLER (a full length suspense/thriller – 86K words, the equivalent of approximately 350 printed pages).





Thursday, April 4, 2013

Excitement and Fear – Two Treats in One!

When writing crime/detective novels, do you ever interview actual police officers or detectives to get their comments on practices, procedures, methods, equipment, etc? If not, how do you attain the accuracy you desire?

Writers, if you want to make sure you get your facts straight when writing about police business, I have a recommendation: Attend a Citizen’s Police Academy.

I did, and it was a fantastic way to see what police departments really do (the only better way might be to enroll in the real police academy and become an honest-to-goodness cop).

hpdMany local law enforcement jurisdictions hold their own Citizen Academies (or some version of one—make a few calls, you’ll be surprised). Mine was put on by the Herndon Police Department (in VA), where everyone involved was absolutely great—friendly, informative, generous. We met every Wednesday night for 12 weeks, and the sessions encompassed a wide range of police activities.

Undercover narc cops spoke to us about the seamy underbelly of the drug world, regaling us with some amazing stories and showing us what different drugs looked like, up close and personal. Gang specialists told us about dealing with different gangs and how to spot gang activity. We watched a K9 unit demonstrate “take-down” techniques, and we hit the streets to work the LIDAR gun (sorry Mrs. Peterson, but I clocked you going 48 mph in a 35 mph zone).

We went to the evidence lab and learned how to expose fingerprints with superglue fumes; we observed the lie detector in use (excuse me, the polygraph); and we got to fire live weapons on the firing range. A word of warning: Don’t mess with me—I put all five rounds in the inner circle, and it was the first time I’d ever even touched a real gun. Okay, I think it was from five yards away, but still...

Another highlight was our visit to the County Detention Center (aka, the jail). Talk about an eye-popping experience! We toured the whole thing—intake, processing, fingerprinting, breathalyzers, the holding cells, regular cells (pods, I think they were called), as well as the “special” cells. Fascinating and mighty depressing. Talk about getting scared straight!

While all those experiences were terrific, the topper was my ride-along with a police officer.

I’ll take you back to that Saturday night on the mean streets of Herndon...

We’d been cruising for about two hours or so, checking out the normal trouble spots, and we’d gotten the usual calls. Excessive noise at a sketchy apartment complex, some possible gang activity near the 7-Eleven, a D-and-D (that’s drunk and disorderly, for all you, uh, rookies) at a local bar. Just your typical shift. Then the radio crackled to life again (notice how police radios always “crackle to life.”).

There was a report of people—several people—running through the Community Center’s parking lot with rifles. “Hold on,” the officer beside me said. “This could get hairy.” She flipped on the siren and we went roaring through town, cars parting to let us through. Screeching into the Community Center parking lot, we pulled up alongside a couple other cruisers, both empty, one with a door still flung open. Someone had left in a hurry.

The officer barked at me, “Stay here. Don’t get out of the car.”

I forced a nod, mouth too dry to talk. Of course, she didn’t have to worry. I had no intention of following her into the night with a bunch of armed goons on the loose.

She grabbed her shotgun out of the lockdown and raced off, leaving me all alone.

All alone.

My heart raced. What if the guys with guns doubled back and found me, by myself, a sitting duck in a patrol car? Would I become the unfortunate reason future ride-alongs had to be eliminated? I sank in my seat and peered out over the dashboard, hoping for reinforcements. Nope, just me and the empty police cars. I’d realized it before, but it hit home a lot harder in that moment. We don’t pay law enforcement personnel nearly enough.

Luckily, the situation had a non-violent resolution. It turned out that the people running through the parking lot were teenagers wielding air rifles. No one got hurt. But man, how easily could something have gone terribly, irrevocably wrong? In the dark, those air rifles were indistinguishable from real rifles. Some poor teenager’s head easily could have been blown off.

I’ll say it again; I heartily recommend attending a Citizen’s Police Academy. Just make sure to wear two pairs of underwear on ride-along night.

Ride Along 450x720And what did I do with this experience? I used it for the basis of the opening sequence of my new ebook original, titled (appropriately enough) RIDE-ALONG!






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


Tuesday, April 2, 2013


What pad?


For those of you not in the know, keep reading.

Here’s what Wattpad is, in their own words, from their home page:

Wattpad is the world's largest community for discovering and sharing stories. It's a new form of entertainment connecting readers and writers through storytelling, and best of all, it's entirely free. With thousands of new stories added every day, an incredibly active community of readers, and the ability to read on your computer, phone, or tablet, Wattpad is the only place that offers a truly social, and entirely mobile reading experience.

This month is Whodunit Month at Wattpad, and they’re featuring about sixty curated mystery, suspense, and thiller works.

I’m happy to say that I’m participating with a brand new, never-before-seen novel called RUNNING FROM THE PAST.


Here’s the “flap-copy” description:

Some might call it kidnapping. Colby Walker views it as salvation.

When Colby Walker gets to know his teenage son’s friend Jess, he spots the signs in short order: downcast eyes, passivity, angry red welts marching across the boy’s back. He understands what they mean because he’d been that boy, many years ago.

He’d suffered in silence, too.

Can Walker stand by and let Jess’s torment continue, leaving the boy’s future in the hands of the so-called authorities, the ones who had done nothing to help him during his own tortured childhood?

Hell no.

If you’re not currently on Wattpad, what are you waiting for? If you are a Wattpad reader/writer, I hope you’ll check out my new novel and let me know what you think about it. That’s one of the great things about Wattpad—the ability to make comments and interact with a vibrant community of readers and writers!


Thursday, March 21, 2013

Cilantro is Evil

Crime fiction deals with some dangerous—and violent—situations. How does your personal belief about guns affect your writing about guns?

I am not a fan of guns. I’ve only touched a real gun once, at a shooting range as part of a Citizen’s Police Academy. (Don’t mess with me—I put all five in the inner circle!).

mushroom cloudBut I’m not a fan of a lot of things: switchblades, ricin, nuclear weapons, child abuse, nunchuks, garrotes, poison, cilantro, cheese, aggressive drivers, ebola, bad ballet, good ballet, blowhards, cannibalism, back-stabbing, double-dealing, two-timing, UNC basketball, soccer shootouts, Iran, the DMV, poor punctuation, snow, earthquakes, baggage fees, illegal narcotics, rush hour, 4 a.m. telephone calls, rude people, liars, neckties, torn ligaments, bigots, and ingrown toenails.

Yet…I write about a lot of that stuff. And about other things many people would find objectionable. Why? Because it’s all part of the human condition, for good and for bad (okay, mostly for bad).

I’m not romanticizing these things, or making them seem cool or attractive or fashionable. But sometimes you have to write about stuff you don’t like—really icky, evil stuff—because unfortunately, there’s evil stuff in the world.

Sticking our heads in the sand and ignoring that reality is doing a disservice to our readers.

Besides, it would be pretty boring if I only wrote about unicorns, cotton candy, and rainbows. Trust me, I’ve tried.


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


Thursday, March 7, 2013

Embracing My Dark Side

Do you ever like your villain more than your hero? Which is easier for you to write?

Mwa ha ha! I love, love, love some of the villains I’ve created in my books. (“Love” in the sense that I think they are especially evil or maniacal or twisted. But, no, PeeWee, I wouldn’t want to marry any of them.)

For me, I enjoy creating a diabolical villain. Fictionwise, the stronger the villain, the more difficult it is for the hero to triumph, and the more opportunity for great conflict. But even better, writing for a villain is a lot of fun.

You can be mean. You can be crude. You can be truly evil. You can have your villain do things that a law-abiding, moral human would never do. And it’s all acceptable! Encouraged even! There are many things you can do with your villain that would get you thrown out of the author’s guild, if you tried it with your hero.

I’m not sure it’s any easier writing from a bad guy’s perspective, but it does provide me with an outlet for my aggression. Rather than kick the cat, I can live vicariously through my villains’ heinous actions. (Please, no letters. I don’t own a cat and I would never kick an animal. Heck, I take bugs outside rather than squish them.)

Of course, not all villains are over-the-top Darth Vader types. Still, there’s usually some aspect of their personality that my id can relate to and, um, enjoy. (I’m not sure what that says about me, but we’ll leave that for another blog post: When Good People Write Bad Things and the People Who Love Them.)

Besides, don’t readers like reading about evil villains?

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


Tuesday, March 5, 2013


Ride Along_cover_750x1200 from MelanieI’m pleased to announce that my latest original ebook, RIDE-ALONG, is now available on Kindle, for the “new release” price of $2.99.

Of all the books/stories I’ve written, published and yet-to-be published, RIDE-ALONG is one of my favorites, partly because the opening sequence is based (loosely) on a wild police ride-along experience I actually had on the mean streets of Herndon, VA.


I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Here’s a brief description. Of course, you can download a FREE six-chapter sample (short chapters) from Amazon HERE.



Trey Powers never killed a cop before. Never had to.

But after his cousin Jimmy has been framed and murdered by Officer Karla Cheng, one of Hafton Police Department’s finest, Trey has no choice.

He must avenge Jimmy’s death, one way or another.

To get closer to his quarry, Trey joins the police department’s Citizen Action Team, and when a rival team member is killed, fingers point at Trey.

Now, he’s the hunted one, and the harrowing race is on: Can Trey bring Cheng to justice before she frames him for murder?

Or does something even worse?

Ultimately, Trey finds his life in jeopardy—along with the lives of those he loves—after embarking on a terrifying ride-along with Jimmy’s cold-blooded murderer.

Trey Powers never killed a cop before.

Never had to.


Thursday, February 21, 2013


Do current events influence your ideas for your books and stories?

Pull up some chairs, ladies and gents,
And I’ll tell you my thoughts on current events,

I don’t like to include them in my books,meandthecat
I write fiction—not exposés of real-life crooks,

Or heroic tales of surviving earthquakes,
Reality doesn’t a good story make,

An actual thing can be a nice seed,
To grow a story people might read,

I do get ideas from what may happen in life,
But I steer clear of true war-torn strife,

I make it up! I create!
I spin tales! I conflate!

Fabrication! Imagination!

Why be tethered to what’s in the news?
Why feel constrained by what is so true?

By the time the book hits, it’s been a long time,
Since the disaster or scandal or newsworthy crime,

Most people don’t remember the when,
Or even what happened way, way, way back then,

So I don’t rip stories from the screaming headlines,
Instead, I rip things from my super-deranged mind!


(Dr. Suess’s birthday is next week, so… my early birthday tribute.)

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


Thursday, February 7, 2013

Cranial Download, Anyone?

In your ideal world as a writer, do you foresee a balance of writing hardcopy books and stories and some ‘E’ material or, gasp, will your original work only be available in e-format one day? And does it matter??

In my ideal writer world, yachts, Greek islands, and dark-chocolate-covered marzipan figure prominently.

But allow me to answer the question a little more directly.

I’m a storyteller at heart, not a book provider. Now, don’t get me wrong. I love books. I think they are pretty close to the perfect way to deliver stories. They’re relatively cheap. And portable. And they smell good.

But other media have their advantages, too, and I don’t want to eliminate any portion of my potential readership by limiting the method of delivery for my stories.mccoy

So, in summary, I’d like to provide my stories in whatever medium my readers want: ebooks and print books and audio and film and large print and direct cranial downloads, too, if it ever comes to pass.

Having said all that, I shall now contradict myself! (Just call me a fence-straddler.)

For the past year or so, I’ve been conducting an ebook experiment. I’ve self-pubbed two original ebooks, THE TASTE (horror) and FIRST TIME KILLER (thriller). In the next month, I plan to release another ebook original (RIDE-ALONG). Right now, there is no printed version available—only digital (At some point, if there’s sufficient demand, I hope to have all of these titles in print-print).

Why go the ebook original route? Many reasons: quicker to market, cheaper to produce, easier for readers to buy and a lower price tag, didn’t find a home in a big publishing house, larger royalties. However, here’s the biggest reason to offer affordable ebooks: BECAUSE PEOPLE WANT THEM. I learned in Marketing 101 that it’s generally a good idea to give customers what they want at a reasonable price.

Here’s one data point in my experiment: Last week, as part of a two-day Kindle Select promotional campaign, 11,000+ people downloaded free copies of FIRST TIME KILLER. (I know many of them won’t ever read it--a lot of people like FREE things, just for the FREE of it.) This tends to support my theory that: PEOPLE WANT AFFORDABLE EBOOKS (see above).

Does this mean from now on my work will only be available in e-format?


It’s a strange new world out there, and my goal is to have as much chocolate-covered marzipan as I can reach as many readers as I can!

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


Thursday, January 24, 2013

Me and Oprah

Exposition – there’s no getting around the need to explain what’s going on at times in a story. Are you “gather them in the drawing room and have the sleuth lay it all out” type or how do you handle this?

“So Alan, you knowingly explain things for your readers in bold, brash exposition, right in the middle of your stories,” Oprah said, leaning in for the kill. “What is that?”  me and oprah

I swallowed and tried to put on my best game face. Deny or come clean? Or waffle? “Well, Oprah, I’m a storyteller, and I know it’s wrong to always simply explain things. It’s much better to place things in context, or to dole stuff out in small doses.” I paused. “Or even to sneak explanations into dialogue. I know too much exposition is wrong, but everyone does it. In fact, I don’t think I could have written those seven manuscripts without doing it.”

Oprah sat back, smug look on her face. “Yes, but what about your millions of fans? What about all those people who looked up to you, admiring you and your incredible achievements? Don’t you know that nobody likes exposition? Info dumps are boring. And frankly, they’re the mark of an amateur.”

Millions of fans? What was Oprah smoking? Sure, my family liked my stuff, but…I regrouped. “Oprah, I do my best, I honestly do. But sometimes there’s no other way. Sometimes you have no choice but to blatantly lay out what’s going on. I try to keep it short. I try to make it interesting. I try to come up with clever ways to make my readers take their medicine. I guess not everyone agrees with my methods. One thing I can promise: I’ll continue to strive to do better.”

She nodded, clearly not believing my latest line of B.S., then spoke earnestly to the camera. “We’ve got to take a break. When we return, we’ll really put our guest on the hotseat.” An aide rushed over to freshen Oprah’s make-up, while I sat there, alone with my thoughts.

I never was a fan of exposition. I preferred action, dialogue. You know, interesting stuff full of conflict. Not dull explanations that drag the narrative drive to a screeching halt. But at times, exposition was inevitable. So I did my best to slide it in without notice. Sometimes, I tried to slip some “story explanation” into my characters’ interior monologue. You know, have a character sit someplace, alone with his thoughts, recapping what’s going on in the story. Still, I often got the feeling that my efforts were clunky and transparent.

“And we’re back,” Oprah said, turning toward me. “America wants to know why you feel the need to hide behind passive and weak sentence construction. What do you say to those charges?”

I crossed my arms across my chest, in a vain attempt to keep my career from going down deeper in flames. “Mistakes have been made.”

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


Thursday, January 10, 2013

You Bet Your Bieber!

How much pop culture and/or current references do you put in your work? Do you fear dating the material versus giving the story a sense of immediacy?

This question is as groovy as the Fab Four playing Frisbee with Mick and Keith! sgt pepper

I have absolutely no hesitation about using any and all (clever) pop culture/current references I can wedge in (as long as they fit the story and the characters, of course). I believe the type of car someone drives or the kind of beverage he drinks or the TV shows a person watches says a lot about his character. A guy driving a Ford pick-up drinking Iron City who watches Justified is bound to travel in different circles than someone driving a Lexus drinking mangotinis who’s partial to PBS. (Yes, I’m including brand names in the discussion.)

To me, including pop culture references in a character’s dialogue (or interior monologue) adds verisimilitude. I mean, there are a lot of people (in the real world) enamored with pop culture (have you seen the tabloids at the supermarket checkout counters?). So why wouldn’t my fictional characters do the same? If they didn’t, they wouldn’t seem real, at least not to me.

Am I worried about my work becoming dated? Not in the least. I’d be ecstatic if people are still reading my work far enough in the future that my current references feel dated.

I do try to hedge my bets, where possible. When I do make these references, I generally try to pick an icon or very well-established brand, for two major reasons. I want as many people to “get” the reference as possible, and I believe that the more well-known someone or something is, the longer the staying power will be.

Besides, if Stephen King can get away with peppering his stories with pop culture references, why can’t I?

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