Saturday, June 30, 2007
BILL CAMERON will be participating in a group reading/signing at the New York Center for Independent Publishing on July 11. Called LITERARY CAGE MATCH: WHO’S THE MOST CHILLING THRILLER WRITER: CHICAGO NEWSHOUND, NEW YORK EDITOR, OREGON ARTIST?, the event will also feature Jason Pinter, author of The Mark and Shane Gericke, author of Blown Away and Cut to the Bone.
WEDNESDAY, July 11 at 6:30pm
NY Center for Independent Publishing
20 West 44th
New York, NY
Learn more here.
Friday, June 29, 2007
A couple of weeks ago in this blog, Nina Wright, the charming and witty author of the Whiskey Mattimoe mysteries, wrote: “[C]hoosing a title is generally one of the last details of the book-writing process.” Yes, that’s how it usually works. My Dot Dead had a working title of Maid Dead until just before submission. The contract I signed with the publisher gave them the right to rename the book. (Someone once told me that first-time authors are all sluts – they just say yes to whatever asked.) I’d resigned myself to another title change, but Midnight Ink stuck with Dot Dead.
My work-in-progress has evolved a little differently. Now some people write from an outline. Not me. I start with a blank sheet and an idea and see where my brain takes me. That’s the fun of writing for me. I was surprised by who the killer in Dot Dead turned out to be. Recently, I picked up a tape of Stephen King being interviewed by Charles Ardai at this year’s Edgars. MWA’s newest Grand Master said something like, “You can’t expect the reader to be held in suspense if you, the writer, weren’t.” He said if a full outline is where your spend your creativity, then you might as well publish the outline. (You can order the tape here.)
Anyway my agent asked to see the first draft on my current project as soon as the ink jet could spit one out. I was a little hesitant, figuring it would be a little like tasting a half-baked cake. To my surprise, she said it was “compulsively readable.” I was suspicious but delighted. Of course there was a catch: she told me she would never send the manuscript out to a publisher with its then title, Coup. I started poking my head here and there around the Web and found this quote that dates back a few millennia: “Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.” Perfect. New title = Two Graves. Thank you, Confucius.
Then I reread the manuscript with the new title on the top of each page. While it had seemed fine when called Coup – it was after all a political thriller – the new title didn’t fit quite right. It wasn’t the title’s fault, it was the manuscript’s. It had to be reworked to live up to the new title. Two Graves crystallized what the book was about. The protagonist was no longer motivated by a desire to do the right thing; his soul was corroded by a desire for revenge. Once a nice guy, he was now sacrificing all, everything he’d stood for, to get back at the people who’d destroyed his life. Along with the character, the manuscript has become leaner and meaner. One more draft and I think he and it will be lean and mean enough and my agent can send it out. Just like a son with a famous father, my manuscript had to live up to its name.
Has anyone else had this kind of experience with a title, where the title influences the story rather than the other way around?
Wednesday, June 27, 2007
I'm glad summer is here; it's a time when I can take deep breaths, sleep a little later, enjoy my back yard, watch DVDs with my boys. This leisure is especially important now--sort of the calm before the storm. I have a book coming out on August 1st, which is just a couple of weeks before I go back to work and school. Before I took the plunge into the writing life, I didn't realize how crazy it would be to have so many jobs, as though I was several women fused together. You can get a better idea from this "Day in the Life" diary entry I composed about my job this year . . . .
Breakfast is chaotic. My children are watching Spongebob and not paying attention to the clock; then there is much yelling as they try to find homework, lunches, jackets, and somehow I am to blame. This is nothing new, so I don’t bother to protest the injustice. We run to the car, I with my bag and lunch, they with theirs. On the way my little one decides that he doesn’t like school and starts to cry. I reach awkwardly into the back seat to pat his leg, my eyes on the clock. If we are late, I will be blamed again. Mothers, I find, are blamed for everything. At school we find the appropriate lines, say our goodbyes; I dab at my son’s eyes and tell him everything will be fine. He marches in, his face as grave as a soldier’s.
So I feel guilty as I drive to another school, the school where I work. I rush in to check my mailbox and my voicemail, not to be confused with my e-mail, which I will check upstairs on my computer. Maybe someday there will be mindmails. Clutching my pile of correspondence, I stand in line at the copier with my handouts for the day. Two faculty members are ahead of me; obviously their children didn’t watch Spongebob. When I get to the front, my precious quizzes and worksheets in hand, the machine mocks me with its flashing message: “Needs toner.” This is the copy machine’s way of saying “Ha, Ha!” It turns out there is no toner; the copy machine, alas, will be unavailable for a time.
Copyless, I trudge upstairs to face Period One. They are primed and ready for the vocabulary quiz. I explain, after we pray and say the Pledge of Allegiance (with varying degrees of patriotism) that I do not have the quiz copied.
“But I studied all night!” yells one indignant vocabularian. Teachers, I find, are always blamed.
“Sorry,” I say. “It’s not like you’ll forget the words now that you know them.” The class disagrees, loudly and at some length. I glance at the clock. I need to transition into a grammar lesson and then into a bit of background on the roaring twenties before we launch into a discussion of last night’s chapter of The Great Gatsby. Time is always of the essence, even when there are ninety minutes. Trying to brighten the atmosphere, I paste on a smile and say, “Who can explain the term ‘irregular verb?’”
This is met by a stony silence. Students apparently hate verbs, perhaps more than any other part of speech.
Gatsby doesn’t fare much better. Nick Carraway is less popular than a verb today; F. Scott Fitzgerald will not be recommended to friends as fun spring break reading. I have somehow failed to convey the majesty of grammar and good literature. When the bell rings they rush out, some smiling sympathetically. I wouldn’t want your job, their faces say.
In homeroom I take attendance, then pass things out and collect other things, all the while making a “ssssshhhhhh” sound so that students will be quiet during announcements. I sound like a leaky furnace, and I receive about the same respect.
In Period Two I hand a detention to a girl with a large nose stud.
“What’s this?” she asks.
“It’s a detention,” I say. “For your nose jewelry.”
She glares at me. While all the students know the rules, not one cares to be reminded of them. In fact, this is another thing which has become my fault.
“That’s not fair,” she says. She seems to believe this, even as the large faux diamond in her nose glints in the fluorescent light. Her friends glare at me, as well. I have committed a dreadful crime. I feel suddenly tired.
In Period Four I write several isms on the board: Naturalism, Darwinism, Socialism, Nihilism. I hear sighs. Students hate isms. Still, for a time we have a lively discussion. Then students are asked to write a response to something on the board. “Write?” one of them asks. “Why?”
It might surprise people to know that despite the fact that this is an English class, I get this question all the time, as well as the “Why must we read?” query. I’m not sure exactly how students, given their druthers, would go about studying language, but apparently I haven’t hit on it quite yet. Surveys, however, don’t always help me to answer this dilemma, as they elicit responses like “Try to be less boring.”
After school I race to the grade school where my children are waiting. I have broken several laws to try to get there on time, to avoid that inevitable blame. I fail.
“You’re late,” my sons tell me, piling in the car. “We were the last ones here.” They are surly in the back seat, punishing me with their silence.
“Sorry,” I say. I drive home. There the dog and cat blame me for my absence in their own ways; I must walk the dog, even though I sense he has not waited, but left his blame in a concrete form on the basement floor.
I sit with the boys as they do their homework. I try to do some of my own; there is a huge pile of essays and journals that I must grade, but I am interrupted almost every minute. Concentration is something I once achieved, in a quieter past. By the time they are finished (and I have made hardly a dent) I must clear the table and scrounge around for something resembling dinner.
I am rarely enthused about this process; I have my own homework waiting for me, tons and tons of scholarly reading, as well as an assignment from my writing group. I have a meeting this evening, so nothing will get done, which means that tomorrow I must face the eager faces asking if I graded essays and say, “Sorry.”
“I need field trip money,” one son tells me, as the other digs through his father’s shirts for an art smock. I am distracted from dinner. When I finally provide it, it is not impressive.
My husband comes home and peers into the lonely pot on the stove. “Hot dogs?” he asks, disappointment carving itself into his features.
“Sorry,” I say. Wives, I find, are always blamed.
See why I like summer?
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
Lots of times, the person who asks us the question usually follows up with something like, “I could never come up with ideas like that.” Personally, I don’t believe that. I think everyone is capable of coming up with a stone-cold, smash hit that could be turned into a bestseller. It’s the “turning into” that’s the tricky part. But ideas are as plentiful as HeadOn commercials—you just have to know when you’ve got one that’s good enough to turn into a 100,000-word manuscript.
So where do we get ideas for our Cotten Stone thrillers? Mostly from hotspotsz.com, the real-life, Great Idea Of the Month Club website. Because our books deal with the unusual, strange, out-of-the-ordinary, supernatural, and paranormal, what better place to go for ideas than the number one site for stories on Paranormal Phenomena. It’s like the National Inquirer for writers.
We’ve included subjects in our books that cover Friday the 13th, Armageddon, The Great Flood and Noah’s Ark, quantum physics, quantum computers, human cloning, The Holy Grail, the Emerald Tablet, The Spear of Destiny, Atlantis, lost cities of the Inca, the Ark of the Covenant, Cleopatra’s Needle, the Apocalypse, the Anasazi, Lenin’s Tomb, the Secret Archives at the Vatican, the cathedrals in the Kremlin, Satanism, Fallen Angels, the Nephilim, Crusader’s tombs, The Garden of Eden, The Tree of Life, Medieval puzzle cubes, and witchcraft. This place is a virtual smorgasbord of strange stuff. There are other sites, but Hot Spots is one of our favorites.
So when we give our answer to the second most frequently asked question, and it sounds flippant, there’s actually a lot of truth to it. What’s the most frequent question? How can two people write fiction together? That’s a subject for a future post.
Where do you get your ideas?
Sunday, June 24, 2007
Was there ever an animal as insatiable, as greedy, as all-seeing and heartless as a writer on the prowl for material?
Really, why was she surprised?
Every author in the world spins the straw of their lives into gold. What else do we have to work with? We can’t be expected to make everything up.
Example #1: Tess Gerritsen writes in her blog about being walked to her car by a fan. The fan was able to correctly point out which car in the lot belonged to Tess, because it’s the same car her character drives.
Example #2: Elaine Viets failed a friend’s challenge to write about a short character. At six feet tall, Elaine doesn’t need to drag around chairs to get stuff from the top shelf of kitchen cabinets. A short character would.
(Personal disclosure: They say that on drivers’ licenses guys lie about their height, and women lie about their weight. I lie about EVERYTHING—and why the cops believe it, I sure as heck don’t know. According to the state of Missouri, I’m 5’ 3”, weigh 118, have blonde hair and blue eyes. HA! I know all about not being able to reach stuff. But I refuse to haul furniture. Instead, I use a ladle to hook the object and then duck before it hits me. Uh…usually before it hits me.)
So much of who we are shows up in what we write. In Over Exposed, my protagonist Kiki Lowenstein is a woman who’s only ever been good at two things: scrapbooking and getting pregnant.
While I have taken great care NOT to be proficient at getting pregnant, I do scrapbook and I’ve written seven non-fiction books on the subject. And like Kiki, people tend to underestimate me. We’ve already established I’m a liar. I suffer from bouts of low self-esteem, and yeah, okay, I’ve got a temper, wanna make something of it? Like Kiki, I own a very, very old BMW convertible that’s hardly worth insuring, I love animals and once owned thirteen Great Danes, none of which were housebroken. (The guy who owned the carpet cleaning service sent me a heartfelt “thank you” card and a big box of chocolates at Christmas. I had his number on speed dial.)
Even the themes we explore in our books come from the lives we live. Kiki struggles with issues of class, and in every book, there’s tension between the “have’s” and the “have-nots.” That’s another portion of my life, my personal world. I’m working it out on paper as I go. (You can guess how that’s coming along. NOT.)
So, what Vernon Winfrey’s doing makes sense to me. At the same time, I do feel a little sorry for Oprah, because this is an uncomfortable situation, and probably feels like a betrayal. All I can say is, “Oprah, dear, just count your lucky stars your daddy isn’t a scrapbooker. Because then he’d be sharing photos as well as those embarrassing personal moments you’d rather forget.”
Want to capture your family history? (Maybe you have a budding Oprah in your family?) Send me your name and postal address at firstname.lastname@example.org I’ll select one person to win a copy of Scrapbook Storytelling, one of the seven non-fiction books I’ve written on scrapbooking. Deadline: July 15, 2007. Be sure to put OPRAH in the subject line so I can find you among all the offers to, well, lengthen body parts I don't have.
Saturday, June 23, 2007
KEITH RAFFEL will be signing on Saturday, June 30, 2007 from 1 pm to 4 pm.
456 University Avenue
Palo Alto, CA 94301
We'd also like to welcome Felicia Donovan, our newest member author to InkSpot. Felicia is the author of the upcoming Midnight Ink mystery, THE BLACK WIDOW AGENCY.
Friday, June 22, 2007
The bad review.
This is how it happened for me, only the review wasn't bad, it was lukewarm (which is the only thing worse than bad), and it was for May Day, the first in my Murder-by-Month series. The review was from Kirkus, one of the big dogs, and here it is:
A small-town librarian and reporter adds sleuthing to her resume after finding a corpse amid the stacks.
Thirty-ish and unlucky in love, Mira James has moved from the Twin Cities to the small Minnesota town of Battle Lake. She snags two decent part-time jobs at the public library and the weekly newspaper, and a new lover to boot. The sex with archaeologist Jeff Wilson is terrific, and the relationship is blossoming when his murder brings it to a screeching halt. Worse, it's Mira who finds the body on the floor of the library. She can't resist probing, especially since her editor at the Recall wants a story about the crime. At first, Mira thinks Jeff's death was related to his archaeological work. The designation of a historical site could derail a local land-development plan. That theory hits a dead end, but Mira finds a clutch of likely suspects in Jeff's past. A pivotal figure in a murky romantic pentagon, he was the high school's star quarterback, involved with homecoming queen Kennie (now Battle Lake's mayor), teammate Gary (chief of police), classmate Karl (prominent banker) and coach Lartel (Mira's boss at the library). Mira digs up a closetful of dirty secrets, including sex parties, cross-dressing and blackmail, on her way to exposing the killer.
Lourey's debut has a likable heroine and a surfeit of sass...
I had to look up surfeit, and it basically means "a lot." So that's good. See the ellipses above, though? You'll see those in a lot of book reviews. That's where the author or his/her publicist took out words such as, "...but I'd sooner chew my own foot off than read another one of his books." So that's fun. The last line in mine actually said, "Lourey's debut has a likable heroine and a surfeit of sass, but the projected series needs to find its mystery footing."
When you take that last part out, though, it is no longer a bad review. It is a vague review, and the longer you are in the business, the more you're able to tell a vague, frankensteined review from a legitimately good review. In the meanwhile, let's consider the possible meaning of ellipses in other's reviews. Fun game! Below I replace the ellipses of reviews taken from the back of books by some of my favorite mystery authors with italicized thoughts on what might have been there. Notice how a few words can change an entire review.
Sue Grafton, F Is for Fugitive
San Francisco Chronicle Review:
"Exceptionally entertaining except for the part where Jim is unmasked as the killer, which was just dumb. An offbeat sense of humor and a feisty sense of justice."
Carl Hiaasen, Skin Tight
The New York Times Book Review
"This novel is Carl Hiaasen's latest dangerous weapon--Uzi satire in 9-millimeter bursts aimed at those classic baddies, vanity and greed. I wish I liked funny and terrifying bad guys because if I did, I'd like this book. No one has ever designed funnier, more terrifying bad guys."
Janet Evanovich, Hot Six
Dallas Morning News Review
"An appealing detective, a love interest, a little danger, and a lot of laughs would have been great, but instead she wrote this. I would have even settled for a classic screwball detective story."
William Kent Kruger, Purgatory Ridge
Publishers Weekly Review
"Krueger's page-turner opens with a bang yet left me constantly smelling hard boiled eggs as I read. The plot comes full circle as credibly flawed central characters find resolution and that smell of eggs becomes overwhelming. Krueger prolongs suspense to the very end."
Ok, done with my augmented reviewing. On a side note, I heart most anything written by the above four authors, and my recommendation of their writing is ellipses-free. So, fellow authors, let's show our underwear, metaphorically speaking, and no longer be ashamed of our bad (or lukewarm) reviews. They happen to even the best.
Thursday, June 21, 2007
This blog centers on writing, but sometimes life rips us away from work and books and words. Yesterday, I brought my cat Griffin (he's the tabby in the middle) to the vet and left fifteen minutes later with an empty cage. Now, I know some folks out there will think, “So what? It was a cat. Is this worth blogging over?”
In return, I’d ask this question: “How many friendships have you had that lasted for seventeen years?” That’s how long Griffin and I have been together. My longest human friendship is going to be twenty-years-old next year and I think that’s pretty amazing, but I’ve also made dozens of friends that I have grown apart from for one reason or another. Griffin saw sides of me that no friend has ever seen and no matter how dumb or self-centered or clumsy I was, he loved me just the same.
The things that will always set him apart from my other friends are:
- His ability to comfort me by settling his body next to mine and nuzzling my face with his cool, pink nose
- The way I could never spray a helping of Reddi-Wip onto a piece of pie or a bowl of Jell-o without him expecting a healthy dollop to be squirted onto the open dishwasher door for him
- How crazy he went over warm pieces of brisket or chicken. These were the only two foods that would make him sit by the table and beg like a dog
- He got stoned on catnip. I mean, seriously stoned. I’d get him a catnip mouse and after five minutes of rolling on top of the thing, he’d wobble off to the sofa like a drunk on a binge and then, if he could actually jump up on the couch, sit there glassy-eyed and chilled out.
- His ability to stretch his body out into a long line of legs and fur – just tempting me to stroke his tummy feathers (that’s what I called them). If I did, he’d do his damnedest to bite me as punishment for disturbing his yoga pose.
- The way he’d “make biscuits” on my favorite sweater (I wouldn’t notice the pulls and minute holes until I was out to dinner and suddenly my white bra was all-too-visible through my black sweater)
- His fussiness over his water source. This cat was the Fuji bottled water drinker of the feline world. He preferred his water to come directly from a running tap and if he had to drink from a stagnant source, he’d use his own bathroom glass, thank you. I don’t think my husband will ever get over this little quirk. The word “spoiled” came forth from his clenched lips on more than one occasion when he was brushing his teeth and found cat hair floating in his bathroom glass. Oops.
- He loved to play in paper bags and shred tissue paper. Christmas time was when he reverted to kitten-hood. You’ve never seen a cat shred piece of paper decorated with jolly Santas or the word PEACE so violently. I had to draw the line when he began decimating a paper Jesus on a greeting card that had the misfortune of being attached to a piece of tissue paper…
- He purred. Yeah, it’s a common sound to all cats, but to me, it was music.
Griffin purred until his heart stopped. That’s the kind of friend he was – comforting and loving me with his last breath. I kissed his head and then left him. My house feels much emptier now.
So thank you for allowing me this tribute on a blog about writing. And if you feel like it, please share with me that name of a special animal friend you’ve loved and lost. Share one of their quirks or one of the things they did to light your face with a smile. Let’s fill cyberspace with a little memorial for them in honor of my old friend.
Wednesday, June 20, 2007
Nina recently blogged about how she collects titles for stories. Strangely, I don't have such a list.
I do collect names for characters, though. I can hardly get through a book or newspaper without jotting down some interesting name or other I come across.
I think this is partly because I have a bad habit of naming a character and then changing that character's name endlessly with Search/Replace as I progress through the story. I think that happens because it is so important that the name fit the character, and as the character develops, so the name might need to change. Don't try this technique at home as it will quickly drive you crazy.
Anyway, here is my collection of interesting names - some first names, some last, some either/or:
Lucretia Coffin Mott (1793-1880 – feminist from Nantucket)
Lancelot Andrewes (real name, translated bible)
Vyvyan (male – first name of Oscar Wilde’s son)
Chantal Lavant, Levantal, or Laurant
Button Gwinnett (historical figure – revolutionary war)
Henrietta, nickname Hen
Tuesday, June 19, 2007
by Deb Baker
Are you a destination or a journey person? When I get in the car with my husband for a long ride, I’m already groaning and complaining even before we leave the driveway, because I know exactly what he’s going to do. I want to get there as fast as possible. “Any stops,” I announce, “five minutes tops.” But I’m wasting my breath. He likes to pull off the freeway every hour. Topping off the gas, another cup of coffee so we’ll have another bathroom break soon, reading announcements posted in waysides. How can he like diesel-smelling truck stops and highway blacktop when the tropics are awaiting us ahead?
All I can focus on is the destination. He enjoys the journey, talking to other travelers along the way.
I want to learn to slow down, make every minute count and savor the moment. Because there is no final destination in the getting published and staying published business. If you aren’t published yet, you probably think that getting an agent or publishing contract is Baja California. If you’re published, you’re thinking you’ll arrive in Key West just as soon as the numbers add up. You pick up speed, desperate to get there before the hurricane season.
I’ve had a great ride. In May, I turned in my sixth book. Two series, two contracts fulfilled, three of those books still to arrive on the shelves. I’m halfway around the world in my travels. I want to believe my final destination is right around the next corner in the form of another contract, bigger and better than the last. I could focus on that and watch the highway miles fly by, and miss all the action along the way.
But I’m trying to learn to enjoy the journey I have to remind myself to live in the moment, to stop thinking ahead, to stop worrying about what’s coming next. We need to celebrate every little victory – a good writing day, a plot twist that surprises even us, a new story we want to tell. Anything over and above that is a gift.
Enjoy the journey, because it never ends.
See you on the road.
Monday, June 18, 2007
I spent the last week in
On Tuesday morning I woke up in LA. I had a reading in
After traveling for several hours that felt more like two years along a brown desolation, I arrive in one of the most beautiful cities I've visited. The sun was shining in
Lesson #1: Beauty benefits from contrast. This isn't always a kind set-up, particularly for the contrastee, but that would be Lesson #2: Beauty itself is amoral and does not care.
On Friday, against the advice of my local friends, I drove from San Francisco to LA via route 101, which travels south from the city through the mountains into the Salinas Valley , toward San Louis Obispo and then along the Pacific to Los Angeles. I left at 8:00 a.m. and arrived at the northern edge of the LA sprawl at 4:00 p.m. Unlike the seemingly endless few hours on the I-5, the 10 hour trip south on Friday, offering a beautiful panoramic view of the state, seemed to go by in a moment.
Lesson #3: Beauty will not be hurried, but, if you do it right, it refreshes more than it wearies.
4:00 p.m. on Friday is one of the ten times each week that the people of LA commit the bizarre communal act of madness known as "rush hour." I spent three and one-half hours reaching the southern end of the sprawl at
Saturday, June 16, 2007
Attention all boxing fans! If you tune in to HBO Saturday night at 9:30 pm for the replay of last Saturday's pay-per-view classic Miguel Cotto vs Zab Judah you'll notice that Midnight Ink author TOM SHRECK was one of the judges. The fight form Madison Square Garden is already being called the fight of the year!
Tom Schreck's boxing novel, On the Ropes, A Duffy Dombrowski Mystery, debuts this September.
Friday, June 15, 2007
My suspicion is that, as writers, we were each exposed to a memorable storyteller at an early age, whether it was a parent, grandparent, teacher, neighbor, friend, TV personality. . . or whoever. There was someone, somewhere, who cast an incredible spell over us, had the ability to mesmerize with a word or a gesture . . . a delicious beckoning into that world of “What If?”
For me, it was my father, Orville Marley Bramble. And he had my rapt attention from my earliest recollections, because--boy howdy--the man could tell a story!
Some might have called them tall tales, fabrications of truth, even meanderings that bordered on the fringe of certifiable delusion. But for me, they were the purest form of entertainment. I would beg Dad to tell a story and he’d smile, purse his lips, and add a dramatic heavenward roll of his dark eyes, murmuring, “Hmmm . . . Well. Let. Me. See.” And then . . . the words would flow. Subject matter? Anything that caught his fancy: Magic Glow Worms. The Biggest Fish in Oak Lake. How A Dog Outsmarted The Super Flea. Space Ships in the Backyard. The Amazing Mr. Leaf. Anything was game, everything rolled off his tongue. And all were accompanied by wild arm gestures, the hiss of elongated S’s, and a maddening pause at the most critical . . . moments.
Those stories--those wonderful stories-- made every intermission at every drive-in movie, every long, carsick-inducing drive to the beach, every lights-out, stormy power failure . . . as enticing as freshly spun cotton candy.
Sunday is Father’s Day. I will be taking one last drive with my first storyteller--to a beach in Santa Cruz, California. Where, at his request, I’ll scatter his ashes in the ocean he loved to fish.
Dad's brave fight against cancer is over. And I'm glad that I was able to spend time with him toward the end. That I could tell him once more--as I did in the dedication of my very first Midnight Ink mystery--that he was “the supreme storyteller” in my life. To thank him, and to tell him that his imagination and energy will always inspire me.
My blog entry today, is in honor of my father. Thank you for indulging me.
Who was your most memorable storyteller?
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
My second novel with Midnight Ink, THE SERPENT’S KISS, will hit bookstores on July 1, 2007. It may already be available. Hey, visit your local bookstore and ask or order online!
Back on March 9, 2007, on my blog, I wrote Marketing Your Novel, Part 1, where I broke down what marketing efforts and costs I was making to promote this novel. Well, it’s time to update it and I’m going to be as candid about time and money here as I possibly can. So here goes:
Website hosting and fees to-date: $393 and approximately 2 hours total (on my part)
(Most of that is my hosting for the year, already paid in full. There will be additional fees coming soon to cover e-newsletters and some site updates.)
AuthorBuzz: $895 and approximately 2 hours to write them.
Postcards: $424 to have them printed up (About 2500). I could have gone cheaper by using online sites, but I had problems with graphic matches and getting help, so I went with somebody I could talk to on the phone. (About 1 hour total)
Mailing labels: $40.27 (1 hour to run out to Office Max and get them)
Postcard postage: $534 (15 hours to print up labels, stick them on postcards and then affix stamps to postcards, then drop them off at post office). These were primarily sent to libraries, independent bookstores, former purchasers of my books, and Michigan bookstores. (What? You didn't get one and you want one? E-mail me with your address).
Case of THE SERPENT’S KISS: $278.80. I ordered a case of books (40 books) to be used for promotional purposes. Although I might sell a few, mostly these are give-aways. I created a list of media sources and reviewers in the area—TV, public radio, newspapers, university alumni association—and sent them copies with a personal letter.
Padded mailing envelopes (20): $16.81 (4 hours to get envelopes, create letters, address envelopes, and get to post office)
Postage for books (to-date): $49.33
Total: $2631.21 and 25 hours.
That’s actually a little bit lower than I expected it to be. I’ll be giving out at least 5 books (and as a result, more mailing envelopes and postage) and there will be more Website fees. After the book is officially out I’ll be hitting the road to visit bookstores and possibly giving some book talks. I’ll be involved in a book talk at the Romeo Public Library in early September as well as the Kerrytown Book Festival in Ann Arbor. The brochure for Magna cum Murder is on my desk, but I’m holding back, waiting for my October business and family schedule to gel a little bit. It’s the end of October and I know I’ll be traveling to Washington, DC for a business trip and it looks like there’s a school event I’ll probably be required to attend with my oldest son. (I’d also like to drive down my Visa bill a bit before I throw anything more at it; my nonfiction business has expenses as well, so the above total is only a portion of my overall writing expenses).
Is it worth it? Will I have $2631.21 return on investment (ROI)? I don’t know. I commented to my wife that I was trying to do all these postcards and mailings on the weekends so I could free up my workweek for “more obviously profitable writing activities.” The truth is, I don’t know if any of this will make a damn bit of difference or bring in any kind of ROI. We do so on faith and because to do nothing clearly won’t make a difference.
I do know this: if a single TV station gets a copy of THE SERPENT’S KISS or one of the big local newspapers gets my package and decides to do a piece, then it’ll probably result in equivalent sales (at least the TV ones will). THE SERPENT’S KISS is also very Detroit-centric, with the Detroit skyline on the cover, so it’s a book local people ought to be very interested in. I also know that nobody will buy my wonderful, exciting, high-octane, thrilling, edge-of-your-seat, rollercoaster of a thrill ride novel if they've never heard of it. So I guess I'm yelling from the rooftops.
So we’ll see.
And hey, if you haven’t ordered or purchased your copy yet…
Tuesday, June 12, 2007
Whiskey Mattimoe mysteries
Writers are list makers and note-takers. Many of us won't leave the house without a micro-cassette recorder and camera, or higher-tech equivalent, in case we have a whim or inspiration that might lead to a best-selling novel. Or a solution to the messed-up draft we're writing right now.
We eavesdrop shamelessly, surf the net endlessly, and mutely "what-if?" every situation or comment that captures our attention in the course of our mundane lives. My own copious lists fill several very fat three-ring binders and include names, notions, quotations, and possible titles.
Although choosing a title is generally one of the last details of the book-writing process, more often done by editors than authors, several of my novels were born from phrases that sounded like future titles and became my working titles.
My favorite current inspiration is a three-word phrase I found while surfing the net for something entirely unrelated. Heartbreak, Silliness, Bamboo leapt out at me as the perfect title for...well, my life. Not that I'll ever write nonfiction or even fiction that looks like my daily grind. Still, I love that non sequitur perhaps because once upon a time, in the midst of a crisis, I moved to the tropics hoping for a ridiculously cinematic fresh start. It was a fiasco but great fiction fodder.
Here's what I propose: Share one or two of your current possible titles and tell us what inspired them or where they're leading you or, at the very least, what genre they suggest to you. Alternatively, pick one of mine and tell us what you think a novel by this title might be about.
There's a small chance, of course, that your ideas will inspire someone to write something commercially viable. But you can steal from this post, too. Let's have fun.
My Short List:
Deep Regards from the Dark Side of the Moon
The Width of Oblivion
P.S. You Were Right
The Virgin Widower
I Am My Own Twin
Welcome to UNFISH BAY
Now Read Clouds
Dead Men’s Ties
This Is Not the Middle-Aged Ladies Club
The Great Unslept
Saturday, June 9, 2007
Friday, June 8, 2007
by Tom Schreck, author of On the Ropes, A Duffy Dombrowski Mystery
That’s what he said when Marion Keisker, the secretary at Sun Studios asked. It was his first time in a recording studio.
He was right.
This summer will be the thirtieth anniversary of Elvis’s death and undoubtedly there will be a lot said. Do me a favor; before you join in on the fat, dope fiend, rhinestone volleys do some thinking.
The protagonist in ON THE ROPES, A DUFFY DOMBROWSKI MYSTERY, has Elvis for a hero. Not just because Duffy loves the music or the look but rather for what Elvis stood for.
Right here is where you expect to read how Elvis should be admired because he was simple, he loved his mom, never forgot his roots and was a devout Christian.
None of that is why Elvis is important and none of it is why he’s Duffy’s hero.
Elvis was important because he was dangerous.
He was dangerous because he sang black music as a white man—and this is the important part—in black style. There were white artists covering R&B but they took the sexuality out of it—homogenized it—and fed it to the unenlightened masses.
Elvis kept the soul and carried the message. He did it genuinely, not through imitation but from his identification with his own experience. You see the Presleys lived on an integrated street in the segregated South not because it was a progressive street but because it was a fucking poor street. Elvis sang the blues because the blues was for him far more than a 12 bar progression.
On that same street he listened to the rural country music (which bares no resemblance to what is called “country” today.) He listened to the sounds of the poor white gospel music and the groove of the black spirituals. He took all of it inside.
And why is this dangerous?
Because he brought it all together and the masses loved it. Black, white, poor, rich were all loving it together and the establishment—those that have something to lose if we all get together—hated it.
It was racism but more than that it was classism. The children of the haves were dancing—and grinding—to the music of the have-nots. The parents of those haves went out and created Paul Anka, Fabian and Bobby Rydell to get their kids away from it.
Many argue that Elvis caved but if you look closely you’ll realize that he never did. After the army Elvis came back to the States and told RCA he was going to record opera—he wanted to pay tribute to the social activist Mario Lanza who had recently died under suspicious circumstances.
“It’s Now or Never,” the English version of “O Solo Mio” was his biggest hit.
He continued to rebel by tributing Jackie Wilson with Return to Sender and turned on a generation of rock and rollers to Wilson’s soul sound.
Even in Vegas he insisted on combining black and white gospels singers in his group—two very distinct sounds because he wanted to mesh together everything he was about and tweak his nose at the establishment.
I know what you’re thinking. “C’mon Schreck. He sold out, he went corporate, did Vegas and for fuck sake—he hung out with Nixon!”
And he didn’t walk with Martin in Memphis when he could’ve made a huge impact—how about that? Dangerous my ass!
Yeah, well people have a way of making their impact. Elvis did it through his expression of his art. Yeah, I’m calling rock-a-billy, R&B and gospel art. Every class of people have their means of expression and the poor south has as much right to call theirs “art” as anyone.
Let me leave you with this.
On Independence Day, 1957 Mississippi Senator James Eastland held a pro segregation rally in Memphis. Three thousand five hundred people came out and cheered his rants about our sons and daughters cavorting with the nigger and how it must be stopped. It was the ugly, ugly stuff our country doesn’t think about enough.
And where was Elvis? Was he picketing the rally? Holding a sign up about love and peace? Shouting down the senator from the front of the stage?
No, he wasn’t there but he wasn’t far away.
Two miles west Elvis was giving a concert, singing to an audience of 15,000— to an audience made up of white, black, young and old. He was rock’n and rolling, bumping and grinding and swiveling his hips. I’m sure he was sneering that smile of his.
And I’m sure they could hear the cheers two miles to the east.
Now that’s fucking dangerous.
Thursday, June 7, 2007
Anyway, the book's narrative weaves together the lives of ten people who would normally have nothing in common beyond the fact that they live in the same apartment building. They might say hello in the elevator, as neighbors often do, but they have no real reason to interact until their landlord gets thrown off the roof of the building. Because he was an unrepentant asshole who gave every one of them cause to want him dead, there is suddenly a very good reason for these ten people to get to know each other. And when they do, let's just say mayhem ensues.
But I'm drifting away from the question, which is how writers deal with saying goodbye to characters they've nurtured for so long, clean the attic of their mind and move on. Fortunately I have a deadline that will force the issue, but I'm taking a week or two off from writing to catch up on my reading, maybe hear some new voices in my head like those of my fellow MI writers with new books out.
After that I'll return to the keyboard and see what kind of characters decide to show up on the page. I hope I like them as much as the ones I just stuck in a box and shipped to my agent. We'll see...
Wednesday, June 6, 2007
I have never met Kelly in person, but I’d like to think we became friends during the past few years via e-mail. I’ve never seen a photograph of her, but was once told those are her legs pictured on the cover of Scoop by Kit Frazier.
One of the things I loved most about Kelly was how diligently she worked on behalf of me and my books, always thinking of new places to obtain reviews and following-up on my requests to send ARCs to people of interest, and all with a very cheerful and can-do attitude. She was an important part of “Team Odelia” – an important part of the machine that kept my books buzzing in the public eye – and she will be sorely missed.
So good bye and good luck, dear girl. And thank you from the bottom of my heart for all that you have done for me and my career as an author.
(l-r) Suzy (black hat/Debbie Gibson), Jennifer (black/purple hair), Brian in the red Devo hat, Alison is in the front (red hair/pink skirt/Cyndi Lauper), Kelly (Madonna), Sara Collison (Spanish publicist/Alice Cooper).
Tuesday, June 5, 2007
and I forget what they are."
I was at a baseball game the other night with a friend, sitting between her and her son - a young, virile, handsome 17-year-old boy. We settle in and he strikes up a conversion with this young lady in the row in front of us. They get to chatting about things. She knows him because she’s seen him around town or some lame thing and then she asks, "Is that your Dad?" and points to me. I immediately flagged down the beer man and ordered two…for myself.
Look, I’m not a vain guy, really. No really, I’m not. I am what I am, moving along the path of life at a clip I consider reasonable. I’m happy with the accomplishments I’ve reached and I certainly don’t have a dearth of shiny and sparkling dreams to chase. There is a lot of life ahead of me and I’m looking forward to running it all down.
Although I do have this “slight” memory “problem” creeping up on me. Oh, don’t worry, it’s nothing serious. It’s not like I can hide my own Easter eggs - yet. But on occasion, I do have to stop and think about where I put the car keys. I attribute this memory “issue” to having too much going on in my life. Overload or something like that. The damn CPU that is my life is running at 100% most of the time. That little green line is flat-lined at the top of the graph.
So I’ve been taking more time for myself lately. Taking my retirement a little bit at a time (extra credit for those that know where that line comes from) and letting my mind rest a bit. Here on the blog we’ve been chatting about running around like striped ass apes trying to be a writer, promoter, mom, dad, and spouse and we forget about ourselves in that equation. Occasionally, you need to stop, fire up a nice Montecristo cigar, have a wee dram of Clynelish and enjoy the sweet, sweet summertime. Sit on the deck and listen to the neighborhood kids scream and hoot. Smile a self-satisfied smile that the rabbit you are watching is eating your neighbor’s flowers and not yours. Yeah, these days are certainly growing shorter and not longer, and I don’t want to forget to take time to enjoy them.
Monday, June 4, 2007
Every time I start a new book, I panic at the idea of sustaining close to another 80,000 to 100,000 words. I know I can talk a lot, but can I roll out a story that long that is interesting to the reader? Then, out of nowhere, the story starts to take form. Joe and I talk, talk, talk the story, and magically it keeps unraveling. Sometimes the thread goes in a completely different direction than expected, sometimes it is right on the projected track, and sometimes it snags and tangles and we have to back up. But how do we keep doing it over and over--all of us? When you think of how many books have been written, it amazes me that we keep coming up with new twists or fresh ideas. How can they not have all been taken already? Yet, everyday I come across something that stirs a new story seed. It might be a magazine or news article or a simple conversation I have with someone or overheard waiting in line at the grocery check out. But isn't it some kind of supernatural happening that allows us to build and expand that little bubble of an idea and eventually spill it out onto around 500 computer printed pages? I have come to believe that we are a unique breed. Composing a novel should be such a daunting task that nobody would want do it, Yet here we are, having at it, time and time again. Contrary to the public's perception, very few get rich from writing, and most of us can't totally support ourselves with the spoils from our books. So why do we keep doing it? Writing a book should scare the hooey out of us, and still we keep plowing through. Nobody other than another writer understands what drives us. Even if we can't put our finger on it, we have a gut-level appreciation. Thank heavens for conferences and blogs like this where we can spend some time with other nuts who have this insane compulsion to write. So, have a great day fellow mad writers. Now, go whip out 15 pages before supper!
Saturday, June 2, 2007
Ice In His Veins, a Nicky D'Amico Mystery by CHUCK ZITO is now out.
Nicky D’Amico has returned to New York to get his life in order while working on The Good Company’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. An all-male cast is a little unorthodox, but Nicky’s thrilled about working with some of his old college friends. Debuting mid-winter, Nicky’s Shakespearean vision goes quickly from dream to nightmare when one of the actors is found dead behind the theater.
The show must go on, but with someone hiding liquor bottles all over the set, more than one diva with an untrustworthy entourage, and two cute guys vying for his affections, Nicky has his hands full. Everyone is a suspect, and Nicky must figure out who the killer is—before it’s curtains for another cast member.
It’s Whiskey and Tonic time. NINA WRIGHT’s third mystery in this hilarious series is now available. . . .
Everybody in Magnet Springs is in on the not-so-secret curse of the Miss Blossom pageant. Everybody, that is, except Whiskey Mattimoe—full-time real estate agent, part-time sleuth, and long-suffering owner of Abra the felonious Afghan hound. As usual, Whiskey's a little distracted.
Any hope that Abra has reformed her purse-snatching ways is dashed when the dog disappears with the priceless Miss Blossom tiara, an heirloom insured for more than Whiskey’s net worth.
But that’s not the worst news. Whiskey discovers that every Miss Blossom must leave town . . . or die. Someone attacks the new beauty queen, who happens to work at Mattimoe Realty; then last year's winner is murdered.
Before Miss Blossom is pushing up daisies, Whiskey must find her dog, the tiara, and a cold-blooded killer--plus manage a house full of stray cats!
Read what Publishers Weekly says about Nina Wright’s latest book
Friday, June 1, 2007
In the city, booksellers from all over the country were streaming to Javits Center where BEA, Book Expo America, started yesterday. Hundreds of publishers are showing what they have on the way to the buyers for thousands of bookstores. Last year’s BEA was definitely one of the highlights of my life as a writer. One day I signed ARC’s (advanced reader copies) at the Mystery Writers of America’s booth. Margery Flax and team managed to recruit a queue of autograph seekers. Then the next day I did a general signing. The line was 50 people long! I kept asking people why they were waiting for Dot Dead, a book they hadn’t heard of by an author who was obscure. Not celebrity behavior I guess, but the experience was the zenith of my writer’s high.
Of course, after last year’s BEA, Dot Dead was published and started showing up in bookstores. In two months after publication I visited bookstores in Seattle, Portland, Southern California, Colorado, and the Bay Area. I had a great time being driven around Seattle by author and friend Ann Eisenberg as though I really was somebody. At High Crimes Mystery Bookstore in Boulder, the proprietors told me that when Joe Konrath was there, he went out into the street and recruited people for his talk. I wasn’t about to be one-upped and did the same; the result was a listing on the bestseller list of the local paper, the Daily Camera. Mary Nam, the anchor at KOMO-TV in Seattle, interviewed me live and when we were done, turned and gave me a look of utter amazement. “You’re good,” she said in a voice tinged with incredulity. Ann’s husband Matt congratulated me for getting some talk of sex in a one minute interview. Dr. Johnson once said, “The prospect of hanging concentrates the mind wonderfully.” And that’s what happened to me when I was on live TV or radio. (You can hear an interview here.) There were a couple of stops where just a person or two showed up, but those bad memories were pretty much wiped away by the culmination of the tour at my hometown store, Kepler’s, where 75 people, including some I hadn’t seen since high school, showed up.
So then my tour was over and everything stopped? Not hardly. This spring, I have:
• been the April Fools' Day guest reader at a meeting of Sisters in Crime LA,
• signed and signed 50 copies of Dot Dead at three different booths at the LA Times Festival of Books,
• arranged for a table at the local Borders where I hand sold 19 copies of Dot Dead,
• done a signing at the San Francisco Mystery Bookstore with Steve Hockensmith, Simon Wood, and fellow Inkster Tim Maleeny,
• presented to the mystery readers’ group at the Menlo Park Library,
• had the right to name characters in my next book, Two Graves, auctioned off by two charities,
• been the guest of honor at a fundraiser for a local private school (copies of Dot Dead came with the tickets),
• appeared as a featured writer during authors’ week at two high schools,
• showed up at Kepler’s book club night to be introduced and sign books,
• signed books at the re-opening of Bob and Bob,
• attended the sessions of five book groups, and
• been interviewed for an article in an upcoming issue of Gentry Magazine.
Oh, back to the beginning of this post. I was in New York this week the week of BEA to attend a Meet the Authors Night, sponsored by the Jewish Book Council. A hundred authors, including me, had two minutes to pitch ourselves as speakers to the volunteer staffs of Jewish book fairs around the country. One expects authors to be less than articulate when moving lips rather than writing words. Wrong. Of the 30 pitches I myself heard, at least two dozen discussed books that sounded terrific to me. Not much fiction was presented, though, and no other mysteries. I schmoozed with people from Maryland, Austin (including a fellow Palo Alto High grad), Indianapolis, D.C., Rockland County (NY), Richmond, Ann Arbor, Rochester (NY), Atlanta, and Detroit. If all goes well, I'll be on the road visiting some of them during their book fairs in November. The first time I met the classy and friendly Jewish mystery writer Rochelle Krich it was at one of fairs, and she recommended them highly to me.
I’m still learning about book promotion, and I’m nowhere near halfway up the learning curve. But one thing I have learned is that it never stops.
What are other authors doing after the initial post-publication round of bookstore visits and interviews?