Friday, September 28, 2007
by Tom Schreck
Author of On the Ropes, A Duffy Dombrowski Mystery
I’m gonna give this blog 110% Why—well, that’s just the kind of guy I am.
When I’m reading, I hate clichés with a passion.
Clichés are for the unimaginative writer.
Have you ever wondered why in every mystery every federal police official is white, middle-aged and rigid-- because it makes it easier for the writer. If the writer had to think of the federal bureaucrat as anything other than a boring, tight-assed prick it would take work.
What’s up with that cliché!
How about the hooker with the heart of gold? The autistic kid who is a mathematical genius? The dumb, philandering jock? The female protagonist who goes from one loser guy to the other?
By hook or by crook I want to stomp out clichés!
What about the crooked politician? The insincere and diabolical clergy? The apathetic teen? The slutty and stupid pop star?
Look I’m just tryin’ to keep it real—you know kick it raw, girlfriend. And say Later! for these clichés!
Wouldn’t it be more interesting if writers took characters and twisted them to make them different?
In On the Ropes I tried my best to dig down deep, go for the gusto and not be a slave to the cliché. In some cases I knocked it out of the park and in others well, what can I say—it wasn’t my day.
My main character is pro-boxer. Sure, he’s blue collar but he’s a blue collar social worker. He sometimes wins Rocky-style but more often than not he gets his ass kicked.
He’s got an old salty black guy for a trainer—nothing new there until we find out he’s independently wealthy and went to Dartmouth. (Not Harvard or Yale, that would be cliché.).
There’s the comic relief dog— again, no new ground there. The dog’s name is Allah-King and he flunked out of the Nation of Islam security force. He refuses to be called “Boy.” That might be a little different.
Of course, there’s a little bit of the pot calling the kettle black going on here too. I’ve got the tyrant for a boss, a stoic cop, and the buffoons who hang out at the bar. That’s pretty standard fare. There’s the Indian guy who talks funny (though he has Tourette’s Syndrome, which is a bit different.)
Nothing like livin’ in a glass house and throwin’ stones—you know what I’m sayin’!
Even the best writers get lazy. I even think some readers prefer the cliché because they’re comfortable with it. It’s why Law and Order, NYPD Blue and Hill Street Blues will always be more popular than Monk.
I’m not sure where I’m going with all this except to say when I write I give it my best shot, I keep on keeping on and I never say die until the fat lady sings and I try to remember that it’s not over until it’s over.
Dude, you know where I’m comin’ from?
It’s what giving 110% is all about.
Thursday, September 27, 2007
Last week I flew to LA for a library event and saw fellow MI author and friend Sue Ann Jaffarian, whose books are a constant delight. Next week I'll be in San Mateo, CA at "M Is For Mystery" bookstore in conversation with the eloquent and enigmatic Keith Raffel. Never would have met those nice folks if I hadn't decided to be anti-social, stay home and write books.
Anchorage is colder than I expected but so far the rain has been minimal. The mountains are spectacular, as you'd expect, and the number of bars per capita is incredible, which probably comes in handy once the sun leaves town to spend the winter in Hawaii. My panel tomorrow deals with creating a sense of place in your novels, strangely appropriate given all the places writing has taken me this past year.
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
This will be a shortish blog because I seem to have lost a character and I have to go look for him.
My work in progress has about a dozen key characters, and I feel like a mother cat with kittens. They keep wandering off. (Wasn't Winston supposed to be in the castle libary, dang it? But there he is in the sitting room talking with Tom. And where did I put Ninette?) Since they are all suspects, I have to keep track of where they are at any given moment. And where they tell the police they were.
Last night I realized I would have to come up with a schematic or floorplan of some kind, showing where each character is during the key hours leading up to the murder. I am beginning to wish I had taking a drafting course.
What I really think I need, though, is a dollhouse...then I could move the little figures about and take a photo of each new configuration in, say, half-hour increments.
How do you guys keep your timelines straight? Would some online site like Second Life help with this, do you think? Or software like Storyboard? I don't know much about how all that works. I just know I need to be able to visualize where all my "kittens" are.
Monday, September 24, 2007
How many times have I been asked, “Is it in the library?” When people find out I am a writer, and they show an interest in the book, so many times they ask me if they can get it in the library. Doesn’t it seem like they would use better judgment? I find it so rude, but they never bat an eye. I know they must see the confounded look on my face, and they must wonder what that is all about. My standard reply is that I don’t know—even if I do know. They can go to the trouble of finding out themselves.
Another winner is when you are at a miserable booksigning and someone asks where John Grisham’s (or some author who makes scads more $$$$ than me) latest book is. And have you ever noticed how many whackos frequent book stores? Or do they just come out when I’m around?
Friends and relatives. That’s another story. They are so proud to tell me they have lent my book to everyone they know! Don’t they get the point that I’m trying to make a living here? They should be out there cheerleading and telling others to buy, buy, buy! And most of the time I have GIVEN them the book! But I don’t have the heart to be frank and tell them to knock it off, so I make a joke about it. Still I don’t think they get it. I honestly also think they believe I get all the books I desire (my own books) for free.
Then there is the group who want to know where I got the book printed. Oh well, I suppose they find it hard to believe that I am a REAL writer. Actually, so do I sometimes.
If only I could get a hook-up with Oprah, then everything would change.
Friday, September 21, 2007
I myself write at a local café. My brain's gears are lubricated by pot after pot of green tea. In fact, when I try to write without sipping, my brain is like a car engine without oil. I crunch to a halt, just as my college friend did when he forswore smoking.
So, I confess. I am a tea addict. As sure as some people need nicotine, cocaine, or alcohol to function or to make it through the day, I need caffeine. Every word I write is drug-enhanced. William Burroughs (using the pen name William Lee) wrote Junky addled by morphine, and I finished my manuscript of Two Graves floating on green tea.
Some time Saturday morning, I'll feel that a belt is being tightened around my forehead. Kinda the tea DT's. Well, I've decided to cheat. Today I bought a bottle of Excedrin which is a combination of aspirin, acetaminophen, and caffeine. When the headache starts, I'm going to pop a few. That way I can focus on my wanderings from the path of righteousness and the route back to it, rather than the little gremlins jackhammering inside my head.
Here's what I would like to know. What habits, drug-related or not, help you get your writing done?
Thursday, September 20, 2007
Folks that know me personally know that I’m a pretty laid back, fair-minded woman. It takes a lot to rankle my feathers, yet someone has recently managed to do just that when Kirkus Reviews dubbed THE BLACK WIDOW AGENCY a… “bitch-a-thon.” Stop the presses! This is the same book that Publisher’s Weekly called “a sharp series debut.” This is the same book that left the reviewer from Deadly Pleasures declaring, “The Black Widow Agency needs to be franchised all over the country. I need a second book, NOW.”
As authors, we are all at the mercy of reviewers. Every author takes their lumps once in a while and hopefully the lumps are far and few in between the accolades. I’m a big girl and can handle the fact that not every reviewer is going to love my books. I’m happy to say that for the most part, the reviewers have liked THE BLACK WIDOW AGENCY because it is unique and fun and shows four strong women using technology to even the playing field to bring justice to other women. I even think a lot of men will enjoy it, though I clearly didn’t write it for a male audience.
No, what I find most disturbing about the Kirkus review is that I seemed to have touched a sensitive nerve with the reviewer and they wanted to let me know it, albeit anonymously, since that is Kirkus Review’s policy (another point worthy of discussion). A bitch-a-thon? How about reviewing my writing style, the flow of the book, the pace, the plot? A bitch-a-thon? How about saying you didn’t find the characters realistic or you didn’t care for a twist at the end? Not one word referenced the writing.
When a reviewer, especially a reviewer from a major publication critiques a book, it should stay professional. Attack me professionally. Keep it at that level. Don’t gripe because you can’t handle a story about four strong women who join forces to take on a male-owned business that allows blatant sexual harassment of its female employees.
Four smart female characters of all ages, sizes and backgrounds, some of whom are in relationships with nice guys, turn the tables on some not-so-good guys. Four smart, funny female characters who are mothers, daughters, cyber wizards, ex-cops, chefs, chocolate lovers and hot flash sufferers, choose to help another woman after she loses custody of her daughter. That’s a bitch-a-thon? No, that’s just women helping each other out.
To prove my point that women joining together to help others is not a “bitch-a-thon” but a powerful force to be reckoned with, I’m hereby officially launching the “Bitch-a-Thon” campaign. For every BLACK WIDOW AGENCY book purchased between October 1, 2007 and October 1, 2008, I personally pledge to donate a portion of the profits to my local chapter of Womenade. If you’re not familiar with Womenade, it’s a national non-profit organization with chapters all over the country that provide grass roots assistance to neighbors in crisis or who have reached a stumbling block in their lives, without any red tape. Assistance can go towards things like groceries, automobile repairs, prescriptions and the like. Since this is a cause near and dear to the Black Widows’ big hearts, I hereby challenge everyone out there to spread the news about the “Bitch-A-Thon” campaign and let’s see if we can’t turn some sour lemons into lemonade and help a few folks along the way.
For more information about the “Bitch-A-Thon” campaign, please visit http://www.feliciadonovan.com/ For more information about Womenade, please visit your local chapter’s website or the Greater Squamscott Womenade chapter at http://www.womenadenh.org/
I hope that Kirkus Reviews will see the good this can bring and make a donation as well.
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
Today I took two of my classes to the library so that our "cybrarian" could show them all of the latest miraculous research tools, most of which, of course, are online. (Not that they dismiss print sources, which are still very much available and attractively displayed).
While demonstrating to the students how to find the copyright and publisher information inside a book, she said, "And did you know we had a published author in the room?" My students stared at her blankly. They did not know. The librarian took the copy of my book, which they loyally display on the counter, and held it up for the girls, and they regarded me for a time as though I were a new zoo animal.
"I can't believe you haven't told your students!" our librarians enthused.
But of course I would never tell my students that I've written a book. It feels, to me, like a conflict of interest--like I'm abusing my educator's podium to try to rack up some sales, and so I've never done it. Some people say that this is ridiculous--that I can always just mention it in passing--and they are probably right. But I know I never will.
The last time I had an eye doctor appointment and he stood over me, breathing into my face and examining my pupils right up close with a blinding light, he talked about how much he loved reading--especially mysteries. There would be, I knew, no better opportunity to hop right in there and say, "What I coincidence! I write mysteries! Here's one that I happen to have in my purse."
But I didn't. And the moment passed. And I lost my opportunity. The reasons for this are rooted in my upbringing: in the strict Catholic world of my childhood, you did not talk about yourself (vanity), and you certainly did not brag about your achievements (pride). And even though I have my fair share of both vanity and pride, the reticence of those years is permanently ingrained upon me. I don't speak up. I am NOT a good saleswoman. I doubt I will ever be. I cannot change my nature. My only chance is to try to write books so good that people will hear about them through word of mouth. (Someone else's mouth, of course).
Even that is sort of a vain thought. See? Sister Theodora would be proud of my humility, but I'm sure she'd wince at my book sales. :)
Photo link here
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
As writers, how should we look at used book sales? I'm not talking about out-of-print books where about the only way to get a copy is on eBay. I'm talking about the book you just had published a month ago. Do you look at used book sales as money lost? After all, neither you nor your publisher earns any revenue from used sales.
If you were lucky enough to have a book that sells well, but you started seeing hundreds of used copies for sale on Amazon, eBay and other sources, would you be upset knowing those were royalty-less sales?
Here are some random thoughts in no particular order for and against used book sales.
For: If someone buys a used copy of my book and they like it, they might buy a new copy of my next one.
Against: If my sales were approaching the point where the publisher considered a second (or third) print run, I may never get it because the used sales took the place of the additional run.
For: Used book sellers sometimes hand sell books that eventually help build a writer's career.
Against: The biggest used book seller in the world is Amazon and there's no hand selling going on there.
For: All used books were originally purchased as new so there's the royalty.
Against: For each new book sold, 5-6 people may read it as a used book equating to lost royalties.
For: Used books help perpetuate my "brand" and name recognition. It gets my name out into the market place to readers who can't afford the price of new books.
Against: Used books provide the same level of enjoyment to the reader as a new copy but with no return for my efforts.
The argument for and against is a polarizing debate. For every point in favor of used sales, there's an equally opposed view. What is your feelings on this? Do you get hot under the color when you see your books being sold used or do you rejoice that your name is getting out there to a new reader?
Sunday, September 16, 2007
A. Phrases like that are kind of cinematic - almost like stage direction. So they serve that purpose. But they're also very writerly. They form standalone eight-word paragraphs, which are important in a macro-rhythmic sense. And the absence of verbs causes a subliminal stumble in the internal rhythm of the sentence, which trips the pulse forward a beat - like a 5/4 time signature in music. I'm very conscious of rhythm and pacing and propulsion, in a quasi-musical way. So they're entirely purposeful. Editors don't question grammatical issues at all, which is just as well, because my grammar is very vernacular and stylized. Deliberately, I would point out. I know the rules. I had a full-on classical education in one of England's finest schools, reading Latin, Greek, Old English, stuff like that. So I feel OK about it.
Q. Sometimes the situations Jack gets into are so totally impossible, I can only remind myself that he must get out of them or the series would end. Do you ever box yourself into a corner? You’ve said you don’t work with outlines. What do you do when you get stuck? Or do you get stuck?
A. Yes, I don't outline, so I get stuck all the time - not impossibly stuck, because I have a good sensor for impossibility, and never have to scrap anything and start again - but I get plausibly stuck in the same way that Reacher would if this was real ... which makes the resolutions compelling, I think, because I'm getting out of jams along with Reacher, in real time ... we're both thinking, what the hell do I do now?
Q. The Jack Reacher books are an unusual series because the character keeps moving around. There is a recurring cast of characters in different books (Leon Garber, Calvin Franz, Frances Neagley) who come from his days in the military. People he feels he can count on. In the two books with Frances (Without Fail and Bad Luck and Trouble), a point is made about her aversion to being touched, and possible abuse as the reason-- is there any plan to see Frances again, possibly needing Reacher's help to deal with a recurrence of that situation?
A. I don't make plans, so I can't really say either way. It's possible, but unlikely. In general I try to stay away from recurring characters, although there have been a few, as you point out.
Q. This occasionally recurring cast of characters is different from a supporting cast of secondary characters. It almost seems like each book starts from scratch. Is that freeing for you or does it ever make it difficult for you as a writer? How do you keep the series fresh? Do you ever sit down to write a new book and think, “Okay, crud, now what?”
A. The lack of a secondary "soap opera" cast was a deliberate decision, and each book does indeed start from scratch, and I think that makes it much easier to keep the series fresh. It's very freeing. I think it's much more likely that I'd be sighing, "OK, now what?" if I had given Reacher a fixed job in a fixed location. Each new page one would be the same old same old.
Q. It’s fascinating that you’ve created an iconic American hero, and yet you’re a Brit. Tell us about America. Remind us what’s right about our country. We could use a pep talk about now.
A. It's tough right now. Anyone except the most rabid partisan would have to agree that things are pretty bad at the moment. I swing between thinking that this is the best country in the world and the least-worst. But overall what's right is how little is wrong. There's a solid good-hearted, humane consensus that about 75% of the population seems to share. What distorts it is the 50-50 split that politics seems to enforce. But that by definition is superficial.
Q. Okay, free association time:
David Beckham - Wimbledon. (Not the tennis, the soccer club. Very early in his career, the young Beckham scored an amazing goal against Wimbledon - a sixty-yard shot from his own half, when he saw the opposing goalie out of position. It was a defining moment for him ... the perfect start for a star-to-be. I could have said, "Washed my car," because he did, a couple of years previously, when he was a lowly apprentice and when I worked for a Manchester TV station and drove to Manchester United's training facility.)
ThrillerFest - slick. (The first fest was very well organized - bright, professional, optimistic. I'm writing this in advance of the second, but it should be just as good, or maybe better.)
Clark’s shoes - ugly.
Marmite - essential.
Manhattan - home.
Aston Villa - a long and winding road.
Reacher Creatures - love 'em all.
Princess Di (You’ve seen that tunnel in Paris. Who would take it going 80 mph?) - Indifference. Hundreds - even thousands - of people were killed that night in cars around the world. Diana was probably the least worthy of them all.
Q. What question have you always wanted to be asked that no one ever asks? Consider it asked!
Actually I like being asked the same questions over and over, because eventually I figure out the real answers. So the new long-term project is, "Why do you tell stories at all? What are you trying to escape?" I'll let you know the answer when I figure it out.
Lee Child will be one of the Featured Authors at Love Is Murder on Dark and Stormy Nights, February 1 thru 3, 2008 at teh Rosemont Wyndham O'Hare, Rosemont, Illinois. For more information, go to http://www.loveismurder.net/
Saturday, September 15, 2007
Tom Schreck's launch party for ON THE ROPES, A DUFFY DOMBROWSKI MYSTERY is Saturday night at Albany's famous dive , The Orchard Tavern. Music by The Jailhouse Rockers, book sales by The Bookhouse and the booze is on Tom.
Thursday, September 13, 2007
I recently formed a book club with some ladies who are voracious readers. Voracious means three books a week (at least). Before I started writing, I used to be that way too. Now I feel lucky to have read one book over the course of seven days.
In any case, my friend picked the first book for us to read and it was an excellent choice. (The Samurai’s Garden by Gail Tsukiyama. It’s excellent). My pick drew a neutral response and the one after that had us all up in arms about what it means to be a modern housewife (we read Caitlin Flanagan’s To Hell with All That: Loving and Loathing Our Inner Housewife). Because we were so animated about our opinions, that book was a great pick. Next up was Ian McEvan’s Atonement and it was a dud with this group. We stirred our coffees and talked about the kids, our husband’s crazy work schedules, and everything else but the book.
So I need your help! It’s my turn to pick again and I want everyone to enjoy the book I pick yet have it be meaty enough to garner some discussion. The obvious choices (Thousand Splendid Suns, Water for Elephants, Peony in Love) and I say obvious because they’re on bestseller stands right now and women seem to love them, have already been read by my voracious-reader friends. I either need something brand new or a gem that’s been out for a while but we’ve all missed.
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
Go confidently in the direction of your dreams! Live the life you've imagined. -- Henry David Thoreau
I recently returned home from a 10-day trip to New England. It was a combination vacation/book tour/family visit, but most of the time was spent writing, researching and marketing books, and spending time with other authors. In short, for 10 days, I lived the life I had always imagined.
Last month, Bill Cameron wrote a very funny and thoughtful posting called The Frito Truck in which he disclosed some of his dreams about writing and invited the rest of us to talk about our dreams.
My dream is to write full time, in comfortable surroundings. During my recent trip East, I would rise between 6 and 6:30 am, write until about 8:30 am, then join the other B&B guests for breakfast and lively conversation. After breakfast, I would adjourn to a patio table where I would sit in the sun, facing pine covered mountains, and write for another 2 hours or so. After, I would get in the car and head out to do research for a new book, sight seeing or a book signing. When I returned, I would settle in for a bit more writing and end the day reading. WHAT A LIFE! It's the life I've always imagined for myself.
Now I'm back in Los Angeles. Back to the day job with it's petty politics and mounds of paper-pushing. Back to jealously guarding the time I set aside to write. Back to juggling two separate and often colliding lives. Now don't get me wrong. I really enjoy my day job as a paralegal, but it's what I do to earn money to live. As a paralegal, I work to live, not live to work. As a writer, I live to work. It's quite a difference.
I have to keep reminding myself that each step I take, no matter how frustrating it might seem at the time, is taking me in the direction of my dreams. Mr. Thoreau's words have become my personal mantra, and I try to live the life I have imagined, even if only for 10 days, or 4 days, or even 1 day, at a time.
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
I read Napoleon Hill’s "Think, and Grow Rich", and I’m putting his advice into action. The hardest part is in the initial draft – figuring out what I really want. Try putting your biggest dream into a one-sentence pitch to the Universe. I can guarantee you it’s even harder than an impromptu elevator pitch to an agent. I’ve done five revisions on that single sentence that Hill assures me will change my life. I’m ready to rock and roll.
Next, I have to throw my wish into the great listening sky and boldly demand that I receive my heart's desire. Of course, I have to pay a price for it, unlike those who practice from The Secret. They have only to wish hard enough and whatever they want becomes theirs. Nothing in my life has been that easy. Hill’s advice is to put that life-altering sentence out to the Universe, really mean every word of it, assume it’s on the way, and set a plan in motion to give something in return for the cold cash that will be flooding your mailbox.
The giving-to-receive part of the plan is the problem. I’m certainly willing, but I’ve had so many incoming messages about what I should write next, I can’t sift through the bedrock in my brain to find the piece of gold. Which random idea am I to follow? Which one will lead me down the path to financial gain and personal glory? And which one will cast me into the abyss, never to be heard from again?
I might have too much time on my hands. I should be writing short stories and proposals and guest blogging. Instead I’m waiting and walking and having conversations with someone in my head that I’m pretty sure is just me.
I love to write, I have to write, but I also want to make a difference in lots of lives. The only certain in my future is that I will continue to write stories. A fan sent an email last week. She’d been critically ill for four months and said the only time she laughed and felt good was when she was reading my Yooper series. I could have cried. What a relief to know that I had affected someone that way. I want to do it over and over again.
So my request is out there. I know the plan is coming. Tomorrow, I’m going to write something, not sure what, plenty of ideas, hope I chose wisely just like Indiana Jones did when he selected the right goblet. It’s all in the believing. Anything is possible once we know what we want and how to get there. Sounds easy. It's not.
Monday, September 10, 2007
Where do fictional detectives go when their authors no longer write new novels? Do they, like old soldiers, just fade away? Is there some literary limbo where detectives no longer the focus of their creator's attention continue to sleuth along? Doyle resurrected Holmes in The Adventure of the Empty House with a shaggy dog-tale of
I ask because Midnight Ink has turned down the third Nicky D'Amico mystery, leaving some considerable doubt as to whether or not there will be any more adventures for Nicky and his best friends, Roger and Paolo. Not to mention any more of those characteristically bad theater pieces poor Nicky managed through the chaos.
I don't know much about metaphysics, but I loved both the Twighlight Zone and Outer Limits as a kid, so I do believe I am fully qualified to speculate on that special place where furloughed fictional detectives retire or, as I am more inclined to think, freelance. Picture it, Nicky D'Amico, freed of his author's obligations, begins to wander into other gigs, hired for cameo appearances in other theater mysteries. Or maybe, since the public last saw him heading up those steps at Murder House to retrieve his missing notes, he spends a fictional eternity haunting the very resort hotel he was initially going to free of sham ghosts?
Then again, it's probably most likely that Nicky will hang out where he started. He'll be rattling around in my head, popping up now and then to whisper in my ear of mysteries to be solved, boys to be cruised, and reasons why it's a bad idea to invite Paolo home to meet the family. No matter where he hangs or what he does, of this I am certain: though he is unlikely to ever appear again in public, someday a small bit of him will surely slip into a new amateur sleuth. Maybe that's the answer: they don't faded away, they just transform themselves.
Saturday, September 8, 2007
Friday, September 7, 2007
Thursday, September 6, 2007
So back in March our car got broken into, right there in the driveway about ten feet from our bedroom window! The audacious thief got away with about $9,000 worth of seat belts, air bags, and miscellaneous electronics. The only reason he didn't get the wheels is the dog woofed me out of somnolence and I saw him through the window. (I document the sordid misadventure here.)
Monday night the guy—or his doppelganger—returned, but this time I heard him in action before he could do much more than get started on gaining entry. I handled the situation slightly less hysterically this time and the evildoer fled with nary a lugnut. Woot fer moi!
Now, I'm not sure how most people deal with such things. Property crimes, particularly crimes against automobiles, are only too common, so I know I am far from unique in my experience. Heck, I have a friend whose car got stripped six times in two years. And getting your car ripped off is hardly a gut-twisting trauma, annoying though it may be. I'm probably doing some of the usual stuff: checking into more sophisticated car security, such as this bad boy; adding lighting outside the house; trimming bushes and hedges to improve sight lines and reduce hiding places.
I also wake up during the night at any sound. Cat meow? I'm checking the doors and gazing through the window up the cul-de-sac. Neighbor returning home from a night out? Duly noted. Leaf drops off the dogwood out front? Locked-and-loaded! (Okay, maybe not that last one.)
And after these melodramatic vigilance attacks what do I do? Well, I get back into bed, heart-thudding, and think about how I can use the experience. I mean, hot damn, this is good material. I got your basic paranoia, and anxiety, and mistrust, and sometimes even a little fear. Who'd a thunk it? From a car break-in? I mean, sure, on the one hand I've become a fretful old lady (Hi, Mom!), but on the other, I've struck a rich, emotional vein that I can exploit in my beloved avocation!
Net result? My current novel-in-progress features a character with the ability to strip all the security components from a luxury car in less than five minutes. And I've recently written a short story in which a character's reaction to a crime is a (slightly) exaggerated version of my own. And beyond that, there are all these details that could show up in my writing down the line, such the as the fact that right now in the Portland area, Acuras and BMWs are the favored targets of thieves looking for air bags and seat belt assemblies.
So, you know, pretty cool. Which leads to my two questions. First, how about you? How has an unpleasant life experience unexpectedly born fruit in your writing? And second, anyone have any suggestions about how to protect my damn car?
Tuesday, September 4, 2007
I recently completed my fourth Derek Stillwater novel for Midnight Ink. The first two, for those of you keeping track, are THE DEVIL’S PITCHFORK and THE SERPENT’S KISS. I’m done with my contracts, the fourth book isn’t likely to be published until the end of 2008 or later, so I’m taking the time before receiving editor notes and whatever else may come my way to play with some other novel ideas.
I posted a little taste on my blog yesterday of two of the novels I’m playing with right now. Yes, two at a time. Actually there’s a third I’m playing with, too, but less seriously than those two. Those two will get written, most likely. The third, welllll…. We’ll see. One is very much along the lines of the Derek Stillwater novels—lots of action, faster pace, etc.—and the other is a political thriller written from a first-person point of view.
I have no idea if they will be published. I have no plans at all, really (okay, almost really) for marketing them to my current publisher or anyone else. I don’t even know (well, I sort of do) whether I’ll show them to my agent. I sort of know these things, but I’m shoving them to the back of my brain and kicking a bunch of clutter (quite a bit of it back there in my brain) over them so I won’t pay much attention to them.
[A footnote. I write for a living. I’m always on deadline with something. I work all the time. Edit journals, contribute to newsletters, write business reports or magazine articles. So I’m ALWAYS WORKING!]
I’ve got some ideas for more Derek Stillwater novels. Several really good ones, but I’m not working to develop them. Derek’s on vacation momentarily. I need that particular well to fill back up again.
I think this is good. I think creativity just for creativity’s sake is good. I think creativity without any particular consideration for market, readership, or money is good.
Having said that, let me repeat myself. I WRITE FOR A LIVING. That is to say, I’m busy churning my words into dollars. I turn those dollars into things like food and clothing and mortgage payments and vacations and, yeah, retirement accounts. (Not to mention all the money I donate to my government, Hasta la vista, baby!)
I think writing on deadline, writing on contract, paying attention to your market, thinking about your readership and knowing you’re going to get paid for what you write is good. Very good… Really, really, very damn good.
Sometimes you’ve just got to kick your brain into a different lane, one that isn’t overly concerned about “is this sucker gonna please my agent/editor/readership.” Sometimes you’ve just gotta tell yourself, “This one’s for me, dammit. If it sells, great, but I’ve got to write this one just… because … I … WANT … TO.”
I also think, when you’re writing your novel or whatever on contract, that there’s money on the table, etc., that you need to really work hard to get your creative brain into the same lane that’s just writing for fun. Because if you have fun, your readers should, too.
Recently a friend sent me a letter of complaint that he'd drafted after local authorities mishandled a neighborhood incident. He wanted my critique of the letter before he mailed it. Now, my friend is a darned good writer; his missive was a model of lucidity and concision. And yet I advised him not to send it as written. Why? The last paragraph contained cynical jabs at the town’s apparent attitude toward minorities. I wasn't sure whether those remarks, framed as they were, would yield the response he was seeking. Call me cautious, but I’ve learned the down side of sarcasm.
Some years ago I wrote a darkly comic play called Mimi’s Famous Company, which reviewers compared to The Bad Seed. If you know that film, you can guess that my play was about a truly evil child. Except my play was intended to be over-the-top funny…in a wincing sort of way. Mimi’s a teen-ager who has been raised by her extremely bitter single mother to believe that she deserves whatever she wants and shouldn’t let anyone stand in her way. Unfortunately, Mimi takes that advice literally and incapacitates or eliminates rivals and foes, including—eventually—her own mom. When my play ran in venues across the country, reviews ranged from “Black humor shines brilliantly” to “Utterly unfunny. The playwright demonstrates a disturbing lack of morality.”
Trust me, I know right from wrong. I didn’t write the play to advocate either ruthless child-rearing or matricide. I simply believe that certain imbalances can be best illuminated by dark comic exaggeration. Witness Dr. Strangelove.
Likewise, I’m a fan of Mark Twain’s Pudd’n’head
I haven't flexed my own sarcasm much lately. Although Whiskey Mattimoe and friends trade barbs, most of the humor in that series comes from the dogs. No satire required when describing a species that licks its privates in public and dry-humps human limbs. Nonetheless, because I love dark guffaws, I can't resist sharing this 25-words-or-less summary of an American classic:
“Transported to a surreal landscape, a young girl kills the first woman she meets and then teams up with three complete strangers to kill again.”
That’s journalist Rick Polito’s wry take on The Wizard of Oz. I challenge you to have fun with cynicism. Come up with a skewed 25-words-or-less summary of something you've written. Here's one view of the Whiskey Mattimoe mysteries:
"An oversexed Afghan hound commits numerous felonies as bodies pile up and her reluctant owner tries not to get sued."
Better yet, share with us how sarcasm has gotten you into trouble. Mimi’s Famous Company produced the most uneven collection of reviews I’ve had to date. Ah yes. My “disturbing lack of morality” still makes me smile.
Nina Wright's latest releases:
Whiskey and Tonic, the third Whiskey Mattimoe mystery, and
Homefree, published by Midnight Ink's sister imprint, Flux/Llewellyn
Monday, September 3, 2007
What does a novel make is giving oneself permission to write utter and complete schlock, diligently applying oneself to the craft, and mercilessly editing that manuscript until it is the best you feel it can be at that given time. And then letting go of it, risking rejection, and repeating the process.
When I give a talk about writing, in my pocket I'll carry what I call my secret weapon. It's a bottle of Elmer's Glue. Because the difference between the three decades I spent dreaming about writing and the last decade in which that dream has come true boil down to this:
When I finally applied my hind-end to my desk chair and found a way to make it stick, voila!
I WROTE! And then, when I had to meet my first deadline, I found out something else: even when you feel far from inspired, okay, when you feel like crap and like everything you write is crap—if you WRITE ANYWAY—if you SHOW UP—a little hummingbird of an idea can flit into your writing and surprise you with some of your most wonderful words.
I'm not sure, but I believe it was Woody Allen who said that genius is ninety percent showing up. Writing is labor just like making doughnuts or selling cars. But writing is also an invitation to something magical, and if you don't show up for work and open up the shop, nothing can get in. The beautiful thing is sometimes when you least expect it, what comes through that door into your writing can be truly magical.
Saturday, September 1, 2007
Candy Calvert will be keynote speaker for the Washington State Emergency Nurses' Assn. "Learning From Murder" Symposium Friday, October 19th 8:00-5:00 (Book signing included)
St. Joseph Hospital (St. Luke Education Center)
3333 Squalicum Parkway
Candy Calvert will present "A Nurses Guide to Murder" followed by a
booksigning at Village Books, Friday October 19, 7PM
1200 11th Street, Bellingham, WA 98225
Free and open to the public.
Midnight Ink author MARK TERRY announces that both THE DEVIL'S PITCHFORK and THE SERPENT'S KISS will be published in the following languages by the following publishers:
FRENCH: Ada Editors, Inc., Quebec, Canada
GERMAN: Verlagsgruppe Lubbe GMBH & Co., Germany
SLOVAK: IKAR/Euromedia Group, Slovakia
Mark Terry will also be at the following events:
Saturday, September 8, 2007, 11:00 AM
Mystery Author Brunch
Orion Township Library
825 Joslyn Road
Lake Orion, MI 48362
Saturday, September 8, 2007, 1:30 PM
Mystery Author Event
Romeo District Library
65821 Van Dyke
Washington, MI 48095
Sunday, September 9, 2007, 3:00 PM
Ann Arbor, MI
Mark will be moderating a panel called "Original Voices in Mystery Fiction."
To find out more, visit their website at: www.kerrytownbookfest.org
Sunday, September 16, 2007, 11:00 AM to 6:00 PM
Local Authors Community Book Fair
Sponsored by: The Ridgewriters Group of Farmington Hills
Spicer House in Heritage Park
Farmington Road just north of Ten Mile Road
Farmington Hills, MI
THE HADES PROJECT, the third installment in the award-winning Cotten Stone series hits the bookstore shelves and online today. Pick up a copy of this non-stop, action packed thriller written by the international bestselling team of LYNN SHOLES & JOE MOORE.
SUE ANN JAFFARIAN has launched a new Odelia Grey contest. For details go to the Contests page on her website (www.sueannjaffarian.com). Three winners will each receive a signed copy of the upcoming Thugs and Kisses, along with other goodies.
Sue Ann is on the road right now. On Monday, September 3rd, she'll be researching her 5th Odelia Grey novel at Mike's Maze in Sunderland, MA. (http://mikesmaze.com/) If you're in the area come on down and say hello and have some fun.
She also added a new book signing event to the schedule posted here last weekend. On Tuesday, September 4th, 2:30 - 3:30, Sue Ann will be signing books at the Borders in West Lebanon, NH. (285 Plaintfield Rd., #2).