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A Million Blogging Monkeys



Thoughts from one of them



Updated: 2017-10-12T11:59:53.160-04:00

 



And the Oscar Goes to…

2016-09-09T10:03:24.700-04:00

What's the most successful book-to-screen film you've ever seen? What was the least (and why)?

I’m probably like most people in that I usually think books are better than the movies made from them. Maybe it’s because my imagination is more actively engaged when reading—picturing what the characters and settings look like, rather than having the filmmakers foist their interpretations upon us. Maybe it’s the fact that we often get right into the heads of the characters in a book, something that’s very difficult to do in a film (I mean, who wants a ten-minute voiceover?). Or perhaps it’s simply a matter of time spent within the story. In a book, a reader might spend five or six hours immersed in the story, whereas a movie lasts only a couple of hours.

Whatever the reason, the best books usually seem to outdo the best movies.

So I’ll offer up a list of movies that I thought did a very good job of fulfilling the promise of their respective books:

(image) Jurassic Park – Super cool concept, and I thought the dinos were pretty darn realistic.

Mystic River – Good book, great movie. Superb acting.

Silence of the Lambs – Great book, great movie, great villain, great hero. Do not invite Hannibal Lechter over for dinner, just sayin’

A Time to Kill – In my opinion, one of Grisham’s better books.

Jaws – Who doesn’t love killer sharks?

The Martian – I really enjoyed reading this book, and I was a little afraid of what might happen when it made the jump to the big screen. Matt Damon and company pulled off a very good adaptation.(image)

And what would this list be (for me, anyway) without a few Stephen King works:

Dead Zone – Christopher Walken. ’Nuff said.

Firestarter – Do NOT make Drew Barrymore mad.

Misery – Do NOT make Kathy Bates mad, either.

As for the least favorite adaptation I’ve seen, I’ll go with The Bonfire of the Vanities. As I recall, they took a well-done satire and turned it into some kind of bizarre farce. I haven’t seen that one again, so my memory of that has faded.

Fortunately.

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




Take Me to Your Roomba

2016-08-25T14:31:49.261-04:00

Summer's almost done! Share a favorite book from your summer reading. And do you seek out different books depending on the season?

To me, summertime is ideal for re-reading. A relaxed time when you can pick up an old favorite and leisurely revisit some favorite characters or return to a cherished place, in time or space.

When I was in my mid-twenties, I tried to reread THE HOBBIT and the LOTR trilogy every summer. (I think I actually managed to devour the whole thing once or twice!) Yes, I still skimmed the overlong descriptions and the passages of poetry (who am I kidding? I skipped the poetry altogether), but I followed Bilbo and Frodo on their adventures. (Talking trees? ENTirely plausible!)

(image) When I got older, I would, during certain summers, set a goal of rereading an entire series, right from the start, in order. Usually, I’d only get a few books in before getting sidetracked by something else (I mean, do you have any idea how many NEW books there are? Just waiting to be read?). I can’t even count how many times I read Robert B. Parker’s first Spenser book, THE GODWULF MANUSCRIPT. The fifth book? Not so many.

Of course, re-reading isn’t all sparkly unicorns and freshly-baked chocolate chip muffins. Read this post for a sordid tale.

Don’t be misled; for me, summers weren’t exclusively for re-reading. As a teenager, summertime meant more time to read. No school, no homework, and there was only so much time I could spend outside running around. I read mostly science fiction back then, so I associate summertime reading with space operas and alien invasions and robots becoming sentient and taking over the world (I’m telling you, watch out for the Roomba Revolt!).

What books make you think of summer?

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




If it Works, it Works.

2016-07-28T07:33:29.038-04:00

How do you feel about ambiguous endings?

This question spawned a few questions of my own.

What is an ambiguous ending? Is it one where some loose ends are left dangling (and it’s clear they haven’t been resolved)? Or is it one where the ending is not clear (either the reader isn’t sure if the main conflict has been resolved, or isn’t clear how)? Am I splitting hairs here?

Of course, I’ve read books with both types of endings.

I have no problem with books that leave a thread (or several) hanging. Most of the time, as long as the main conflict has been resolved one way or the other (oh, who am I kidding? I want the good guys to prevail!), I’m happy. I can deal with a few things going unresolved. After all, real life is plenty messy.

Honestly, I also have no problem with books having an ambiguous ending, with one major caveat: THE ENDING HAS TO MAKE SENSE! If the ambiguity is due to a nonsensical plot twist, or a completely-out-of-character action, or a deus ex machina, then fuggedaboutit!

But in general, I don’t need to know exactly what happened. In fact, sometimes it’s more satisfying to me if I have to ponder several possible outcomes. (For some reason, I find ambiguous endings more “palatable” when they occur in short stories, than in novels. But I think that’s a question for another blog post.)

When I write a novel or story, I try to elicit a certain reaction from my readers after they’ve finished. I’m going for the “Of course, that’s what happened! (Or that’s who did it!) It’s the only solution that makes sense. And boy, I should have seen it coming!” If I can achieve that type of reaction, then I feel I’ve done my job (at least plot-wise).

That’s also the kind of reaction that satisfies me as a reader. And yes, I CAN be satisfied with an ambiguous ending, if I feel the story demands it.

(image) Most of the books I’ve written have neatly-wrapped endings. I like having good defeat evil. But in THE TASTE, I leave the reader wondering what will happen next. And really, it seemed like the only way I could end the story, given the chain of events and the characters.

What about you, readers? Where do you stand on ambiguous endings: love them or hate them?



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




If at First, You Don’t Succeed…

2016-07-14T09:59:39.432-04:00

How long did it take for you to become an overnight sensation? (How many days/months/years after you began seriously writing a novel did it take for you to get published?) If I ever become a sensation—overnight or otherwise—I’ll be sure to let everyone know. (Of course, if I become a sensation, then everyone will already know. Hmm…) My novel publishing history, in brief: My fiction-writing career began in 2004 when I took a Fairfax County Adult Ed class on genre writing, taught by the wonderful Elaine Raco Chase. I remember writing a story, and although it contained about 80 semi-colons, it didn’t stink. Which was encouragement enough. So I kept at it, taking a few writing workshops at The Writer’s Center in Bethesda, MD (from the terrific Ann McLaughlin and the fabulous Noreen Wald). I wrote some short stories, then began a novel, and my work continued “not to stink.” I plugged away, improving my craft, and eventually hooked up with a critique group. I finished a manuscript and revised it, but I could tell it wasn’t “publishable” quality. (Right now, that manuscript is stored in a lead-lined container which is buried in my backyard, posing no threat to society.) I wrote another manuscript. My writing was getting better, but it still fell short of where I wanted it to be. So, after attending a Citizen’s Police Academy, I began a third manuscript based on an experience during a police ride-along. I finished that manuscript, then revised, edited, and polished it until I was pleased with the result. I took a workshop on how to write query letters and wrote a killer query. In my bones, I knew I had a winner! Over the course of several months, I sent out about 100 queries to literary agents. Over the course of those same several months, I got about 100 rejections. Clearly, my idea of a winner differed from the agents’ ideas. (By the way, I self-published a revised version of that novel, called RIDE-ALONG. Available on Amazon!) But I was not deterred. I wrote another novel, FIRST TIME KILLER (for those keeping track, this was manuscript #4). Queried it, and this time, I landed an agent. He sent it around, but no editor bought it. (I ended up revising and self-publishing that novel, too. Available on Amazon!) My agent wanted to concentrate on non-fiction, so we parted ways. Again agentless, I went to work on manuscript number five. Finished it and queried it. Found an agent (for those keeping score, this was agent #2), and the novel found a home some months later (at Midnight Ink). That book, DIAMONDS FOR THE DEAD, was a finalist for the Best First Novel Agatha Award. After that, I published two more books with Midnight Ink. From first workshop to publication: about six years (and it was my fifth manuscript). To date, I’ve published seven novels—three and a half “traditionally” and three and a half “self-published.” I’m also on my third agent. It’s a wacky business! Lesson learned: Don’t give up! (*And don’t throw away your early attempts—some of them may, one day, see the light!)             (This entry “simul-posted” on Criminal Minds.) [...]



Anxiety Times Thirty

2016-03-24T10:11:02.704-04:00

  What were the challenges (research, literary, psychological and logistical) in bringing your latest book to life?   One year ago, my latest novel, RUNNING FROM THE PAST, was published by Kindle Press (an Amazon Publishing imprint) after winning a contract through the Kindle Scout program. What’s the Kindle Scout program, you ask? A brief summary: The Kindle Scout program is sort of like American Idol for books. If you’re an author with a completed manuscript (in one of a handful of select genres) and a cover, you can enter. There’s an introductory screening, and if Amazon approves, then the cover, a bio, a short book blurb, and an excerpt (up to about 5000 words) of the novel itself get uploaded onto the Kindle Scout site, and your 30-day campaign begins. During this campaign, readers (“Scouts”) can peruse the different campaigns and nominate those books they would like to see get published (each Scout can have three books nominated at any one time). The books with the most nominations after their campaign ends get further reviewed by the Kindle Scout editorial staff. Then, those books that the editors like (and see sales potential in, no doubt) receive contracts. The Scouts are rewarded, too. Each Scout who nominates a winning book gets a free copy of the book two weeks before it gets published. Now, to answer this week’s four-part question. Were there any research challenges? Not really. I set the book in places I’d vacationed, so there wasn’t a whole lot of research necessary. Were there any literary challenges? None, beside my lack of a formal education in grammar! (Me never let that stop myself!) Were there any logistical challenges? Again, not really. I’d put this manuscript on Wattpad, so it was already fully edited and ready to go, and I already had a professionally-designed cover. Were there any psychological challenges? Just every single day, for thirty straight days! Because getting a lot of nominations is an important part of the process, I tried many things to garner votes. Some things worked, some things didn’t. Each day brought new challenges and worries, including those days when I didn’t do any promoting (I should be promoting!). Stressful! My book was in the first wave of Kindle Scout books, and I didn’t know what to expect. There were no real metrics regarding how well the book was doing, except for a Hot & Trending List, which would get updated hourly. (Now there are more real-time statistics about how a book is doing, I believe.) So, basically, I was anxious for thirty straight days as I checked the Hot List hourly every waking hour. Yes, my mouse-clicking finger developed a callous. But it didn’t end there—after the campaign ended, I was in limbo for a few days, waiting for Amazon’s decision. More anxiety. I wish I could say that after I received the contract, my stress dwindled. But as many authors know, the stress doesn’t end with a book’s publication. There’s always some marketing or promotion to do, and the feeling that you’re never quite doing enough persists! (This entry is “simul-posted” on Criminal Minds.)[...]



Multicolor Mulch

2015-10-22T10:19:34.862-04:00

If you could go back five years and change something about your writing life, what would it be?

I generally don’t harbor regrets, and I’m not much of a second-guesser (when it comes to my own decisions, anyway). Looking back, I’d probably make all of the same decisions I made with the information I had at the time. But since this week’s question specifically allows us to use hindsight, I’ll force myself to come up with something (or many things. Maybe I SHOULD become more of a second-guesser!).

(image) If I could roll back the odometer five years (to right around the release of my debut novel), I would:

Stick to one genre. Instead of writing mystery, thriller, horror, and YA, I’d pick one (or two) and cultivate more of a fan base/track record before trying to branch out.

Move on more quickly when things aren’t working. Rather than stay “stuck” in a certain situation, I’d make changes more rapidly. Although the waiting game is a big part of publishing, I think there have been many times when I’ve waited too long before acting.

Not get so “hyped up” over book releases. Now, after having been through more than a few, I realize how much of the promotion/marketing is really out of my hands—I can only move the needle so much through my own efforts. (I still put forth plenty of effort, but I now understand that sometimes immediate results aren’t always evident.)

Not order so many bookmarks. (If you’re driving around Northern Virginia and you see a yard where all the trees and bushes are mulched with shredded bits of multi-colored paper, that’s my place!)

Eat more cake.

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




Ch-Ch-Changes

2015-09-03T10:00:50.157-04:00

We're asked a lot about how we write, but less about how we edit. How do you know what to change and when to stop? When I type “The End” on a draft, it’s a great feeling, for sure. I exhale deeply, crack my knuckles, and unclench every muscle in my body. Yet, there’s a small, squeaky voice in the back of my head, whispering, “You know you’re not finished, bucko. You know the pain is just beginning.” I do know that, but I still savor the moment. After a brief period of celebration, I stuff my manuscript in the proverbial drawer for a cooling-off period. Could be a couple days, could be a couple weeks. Could even be longer (I think I’ve got one still chilling in my drawer from 2009). When I’m brave enough, I pull it out and the revision process can commence. First thing, I’ll reread the entire manuscript, all the way through. I generally realize it’s not as bad as I thought (in spots) and not as good as I thought (in other spots). One thing I do know: it will be very uneven. There will be plot holes and timeline issues. (I once had a day contain about 36 hours. Another time, I’d set a roaring fire in a fireplace, but it was the middle of summer.) On my read-through, I take copious notes. After the initial read, I’ll go back and fix things. What do I change? Everything that “doesn’t work.” When I write the first draft, I write linearly—straight on through, no editing. When I revise, I jump around, usually fixing the bigger stuff first. I find that sometimes it’s an iterative process. Changes in one spot will prompt changes in another spot, and this, in turn, will force me to go back and change things some more. After that, I’ll make a few separate editing passes, mostly to address specific things. The next time through is usually for the plot. Does it make sense? Does it hold together? Are there gigantic holes or flaws in logic? At this stage, I’ll map everything on a timeline to make sure it all works within the constraints of the universe Next time through, I read for characterization. Are the characters consistent? Are their motivations sound? Then I’ll beef up the dialogue, or the descriptions, or the settings, or any of a dozen other things. At some point, I need to lock down some of that research I’ve put off (place names, dates, esoteric stuff that requires some one-on-one time with Mr. Google). As I go, anything that gets deleted gets dumped into a “clips” file. Who knows, I may change my mind and put it back into the manuscript, or I may find a way to repurpose it in another work. Those words don’t always come easy, so if I can recycle them, I’ll do it! When I write a draft, I don’t include chapter breaks; I usually wait until I’m pretty far along in the revision process before doing that. I also don’t polish the prose until sometime toward the end of the process. (No sense doing it earlier, especially if you’ll be deleting a lot of prose along the way). I always make sure to search on my crutch words (just, pretty, that, maybe, etc.), run spell/grammar check, make sure the formatting is okay, and other important stuff. After the manuscript is “ready,” I give it to some beta readers. When I get their comments, I start the process all over again. All. Over. Again. When do I stop revising? I guess when the changes I make simply make the manuscript different and not better. (This entry is “simul-posted” on Criminal Minds.) [...]



Hello, My Name is…

2015-08-20T09:56:23.309-04:00

How do you find the perfect name?

(image) I open up a phone book (remember those?) and stab my finger blindly onto the page. That’s the name of my protagonist. Flip more pages and repeat for all the other characters.

Oh, if only it were that easy.

Character names are important to me, so I spend a lot of time thinking about them. Once in a long while, a name pops into my head that’s perfect. In THE TASTE, one of the secondary characters is named Bogart, and it took me about three seconds to come up with that one.

Usually, though, it’s a much more protracted process. With a character in mind, I’ll generate/brainstorm a list of names. As my list grows, somehow the character becomes more defined in my mind, and the disparity between the names I’m generating and the “perfect” name narrows.

After I’ve got a list of between ten and fifty names, I’ll go through and start eliminating. (And adding others, as I think of them). When I’ve narrowed it down to two or three, then I sleep on it.

And often, four days later, I’ll change the character’s name to something brand new. Naming characters is more of an art form than a science.

I agree with Meredith on many counts when it comes to naming characters (see her post on Monday). Like her, I’ll test drive a name for a while (even half a book!). If it doesn’t feel right, I have no resistance to changing it.

Like Meredith, it’s important to me that my characters have age-appropriate names, so I also use the SSA website to authenticate my names. And she’s right about getting sidetracked!

Also like Meredith, I try to avoid using character names that begin with the same letter. To keep track of things, I use a chart, with the letters of the alphabet down the left hand side and three other columns: male first names, female first names, and last names. I try to fill out each block in the grid before using the same initial letter in a name.

I also try to avoid names that rhyme: Jill, Bill, Will, Phil, McGill. And I try to vary the length of the names, too—can’t have everyone with a one-syllable name!

Last rule? No characters named Alan.

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




A Little of Me, a Little of Someone Else

2015-07-23T08:58:53.168-04:00

Is your protagonist really you?
How do you separate him/her from you?

(image) I am not my characters. I’m not a depressed stand-up comic. I’m not a rich workaholic. I’m not a radio talk show host. I’m definitely not someone who must eat human flesh to survive (at least I’m pretty sure I’m not).

I am my characters. I laugh. I cry. I strive to be a good person. I get annoyed. I’m rude (not very often, but it happens!). I know what it’s like to wait in line to buy a ticket, and when I get to the front, they’re sold out. I hate traffic. I like cake (actually, I love cake).

Sometimes I even talk out of both sides of my mouth (just like my characters!).

Of course, I don’t consciously try to pattern my protagonists after myself. I mean, who in their right mind would want to read about me? I’m dull (seriously). Readers would be bored after a page and a half. And I don’t try to write characters who are simply an exaggerated version of me. That just seems weird and egocentric. Introducing Alvin Worloff, the smartest, funniest, most interesting man in the world. He doesn’t drink beer often, but when he does, it’s Dom Perignon! There he goes on his jetpack to rid the world of talking velociraptors!

Um, no.

On the other hand, how can my characters be anything but me, at least on some level? I mean, they emerged from my head; their actions are informed by my thoughts, experiences, and emotions. Their every thought is filtered through my lens. They have to be part of me, almost by definition.

Sure, I do my best to portray them as being unique individuals, unlike me for the most part. Give them a different set of values, have them believe in stuff I don’t. Make them do things I would never, ever, ever do (cannibalism comes to mind). But I think if you’ll examine any of my characters, you’ll recognize at least some aspect of me, no matter how hard I try not to let any of my DNA creep in.

But what should I expect? I created them.

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




Eyes Open! Stay Awake!

2015-06-25T14:09:33.812-04:00

(image) Sometimes you become so interested in the research for your book that it takes over the story. What do you do to keep it from becoming a treatise that only serves to make your readers’ eyes close with boredom?

Some people, old roommates mostly, call me lazy. I prefer the term efficient. I don’t like waste, be it energy, food, money, brainpower, or time (especially food).

I know a lot of writers enjoy spelunking in the proverbial stacks, unearthing long-forgotten historical tomes. Their jaws drop in wonder at a newly-discovered journal from the 1300’s or a never-before-seen map of the ancient Roman empire.

I’m not one of them. I strive to do exactly as much research as necessary and not one iota more. I don’t think I’ve ever been accused of including too much research in any of my books or stories. Ever. Really, EVER.

Readers don’t need to know how the sausage is made. They just need to know that one of my characters has stopped at a street vendor to get a delicious brat on a bun.

Don’t get me wrong, I work hard to make sure that what I write is as accurate as possible and, in order to do that, research must be conducted. It’s just not my favorite thing. That’s why I rarely worry about bombarding my readers with all kinds of arcane knowledge. I try to give them just what they need to understand whatever is going on in my book.

I operate on a simple plan: if it serves the story, it goes in.

If it doesn’t, it doesn’t.

*****

Still a few more days left in Amazon’s The Big Deal sale! More than 350 Kindle books for up to 85% off, including RUNNING FROM THE PAST for only $1.99!

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




Every Day is an Education

2015-04-18T19:32:25.824-04:00

What are three things you know now that you didn't when you started as a fiction writer?

1. Writing is easy. Writing something that is good, that other people want to read, that other people want to represent, that other people want to actually spend hard-earned money on? That is HARD. But as my father used to say, if it was easy, everybody would be doing it.

2. Writing is subjective. REALLY subjective. Before I began writing, I knew, on some level, that not everyone liked the same books (substitute: movies, songs, flavors of ice cream, Spice Girls). But I sorta figured that most people didn’t have wildly divergent opinions about the same work. Boy, was I wrong! It’s amazing to me how two people can feel totally different about the same book or story. “How can any self-respecting publishing house put out this dreck?” versus “That’s the best book I’ve read all year.” And that happens more often than you might think. Of course, this is a good thing (usually).

3. Before I began writing fiction, I’m not sure I even knew anybody who claimed to be a writer. (You know, those unkempt weirdos always mumbling to themselves and gesturing insanely in the air—I steered clear.) Now I know plenty of “writers,” and they are the most intelligent, witty, fascinating, generous, friendly, engaging, erudite (look it up, people!), welcoming, gregarious, and informative people I’ve ever met. Did I mention how welcoming they are? It’s difficult to be a wallflower at a mystery convention no matter how hard you try, trust me. (Based on the above description, I’m not sure I belong, but if you don’t tell anybody, I won’t!) I mean, it’s actually COOL to be a writer!

3A. Writers drink. A lot. Especially mystery/thriller writers.

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




Thanks for the Support!

2015-03-05T15:50:22.834-05:00

 My new release, RUNNING FROM THE PAST, came out Tuesday. I don’t much like crowds. Not at the mall. Not at concerts. Not at sporting events. I was never one to run with the crowd, either. Growing up, I usually gravitated toward a small group of friends, and I pretty much did what I wanted—no peer pressure steered me (or so I thought, anyway). But recently, I’ve come to like the crowd, especially the “crowd” in crowdsourcing. Because that’s, in part, how my latest book got published. A little background: I had this book I’d finished. I really liked it, but my agent at the time couldn’t really envision a place where it might “fit.” As an experiment, we put it up on Wattpad (a share-your-work site), which required me to get a cover, so I bought one from a professional cover designer. It got a fair number of reads on Wattpad, but I took it down after a while, and it ended up sitting on my hard drive while I worked on other projects. Fast forward to last fall, when Amazon announced its new crowdsourcing program, Kindle Scout. Conceptually, it’s a little like American Idol for books. To enter, all you need is a finished manuscript (in one of three genres) and a cover. So I figured, why not? No downside, really. I submitted my package, and after being approved, I put an excerpt up on their site for 30 days (along with many other writers). Then readers (dubbed Kindle Scouts) perused the selections and nominated those books they’d like to see get published. After the campaign was over, books with the most nominations got reviewed by Amazon staff. Using an undisclosed evaluation process, books were then selected for publishing, and I was fortunate enough to get a contract from Amazon’s new imprint, Kindle Press. I’m convinced that my success was due to a tremendous amount of support from my friends—in real life, on Facebook and Twitter, and elsewhere. So, thanks friends! The contract seemed fair enough: an advance (modest), 50% royalties on ebooks, potential sales of audio and translation rights (I kept print rights—a trade paperback is forthcoming!). But what really piqued my interest was Amazon’s promise of marketing. Say what you will about Amazon (and I have absolutely only good things to say about them!), they know how to sell books. So far, everything has been great. I got a very thorough, very professional copyedit. And things have gone smoothly with the rollout. As for promotional efforts, when Amazon talks, people listen. Their initial press release announcing the publication of the first group of Scout books was picked up by many on-line publications/websites, including: PC Magazine, Publishers Weekly, Digital Book World, Christian Science Monitor, Geekwire, Entrepreneur Magazine, MarketWatch, and Entertainment Weekly. Of course, whether all this early buzz leads to sales is anybody’s guess. Right now, I suppose it’s more of a curiosity to most people than anything else (Crowd-sourced books? Preposterous!). I guess only time will tell. And the reaction of the crowd, of course. (This entry was “simul-posted” on Criminal Minds.) [...]



Will You Review?

2015-03-04T09:42:28.603-05:00

My book came out yesterday, and today I’m faced with a task I’m ambivalent about: soliciting reviews (believe it or not, it's hard for me to ask people for things). Are there any reviewers/book bloggers out there who would like a complimentary review copy? Please let me know and I’ll “gift” you the Kindle version.

And while we’re on the topic of reviews, Amazon reviews also are important, to the author (and publisher), as well as to other readers who use these reviews when deciding if a book might be something they would enjoy. So, please, if you’ve read a book lately, consider taking a few minutes to leave a thoughtful, honest review, on Amazon or elsewhere.

This author thanks you!

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PUB DAY!

2015-03-03T09:45:58.149-05:00

Today is the official publication day for RUNNING FROM THE PAST!

 

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Tomorrow!

2015-03-02T08:59:22.398-05:00

(To the tune of Tomorrow from ANNIE)

Myyyy book’ll come out,
Tomorrow,
Bet your three-and-a-half dollars,
That tomorrow,
My book can be read.

Justttt thinkin’ about,
Tomorrow,
Gets me all excited,
That by tomorrow,
I’ll be outta my head.

Myyyy book’ll come out,
Tomorrow,
So you gotta hang on,
Til tomorrow,
Just one more day.

Tomorrow!
Tomorrow!

Unless
You want to
Pre-order it
Todaaayy!!

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Which Way Did I Go?

2015-02-19T16:09:12.978-05:00

Are you an outliner or a seat-of-the-pantser? Have you ever tried to do it the other way? What happened? I graduated college with a degree in mechanical engineering. I like plans, schematics, and spreadsheets. Formulae, laws of physics, straight lines, sharp corners, curves described by elegant mathematics. I believe in ORDER. My name is Alan, and I’m an outliner. If I tried to write something without an outline, I have full confidence it would devolve rapidly. I’d start writing a scene, and everything would be fine for a few  minutes, but before too long it would go flying off the rails. For instance, have you ever had an argument with someone, but ten minutes later, you’ve miraculously switched positions? Which reminds me of a book I read once, where the characters’ back stories kept shifting, making following the chain of events difficult, at best. Not as difficult as rocket science, but still hard. Did you ever wonder how these advanced 3-D rendering technologies have changed the way engineers design rockets? And rockets are way, way cool. Maybe I should write a book about people hijacking a rocket and settling on Mars. Mmmm, Mars. I do like their chocolate. And if anyone is interested, I prefer dark chocolate. I understand it’s actually healthy for you. And I’m all about the health. Hey! Squirrel! But I digress. (If you couldn’t tell, I often write these blog posts by the seat of my pants.) Now, where was I? Oh, yes. Outlining. I outline, but when I say I “outline,” it’s not like how we were taught in third grade. Nothing formal whatsoever—no Roman numerals, no subsection 12-G-IV-c, no indenting. First, I map out how the story begins. Then I plot out how the story ends. I also like to pencil in some of the major turning points along the way. Then I fill in the scenes that connect these “tent poles.” Sometimes I have a good idea what a scene should contain, but often my outline consists of little more than: “Scene 14: Joe and Sue meet in the old chemical plant. Joe tells her something shocking, and Sue runs off, slips, and falls into a vat of hydrochloric acid.” I should make it clear that I’m not a slave to my outline. I view it as a living, almost-breathing entity. When things change (and boy, do they ever), I change right along with them (or should I say, I change my outline right along with them). In my writing workshops, I tell outliners that if things aren’t working, consider changing your outline. (Similarly, I tell pantsers they need to change their pants (ba-da-bing!).) Sometimes I wish I had the ability to just sit down and start writing (with the reasonable expectation of producing something decent). That’s right, on some level, I envy the pantsers. So carefree. So happy-go-lucky. So…Bohemian. But even if I did write more by-the-seat-of-my-pants, I don’t think anyone would ever confuse me with a free-wheeling, spontaneous artiste. And that’s something I’ll just have to learn to live with. (This entry is “simul-posted” on Criminal Minds.) [...]



It is Fun to Have Fun (But You Have to Know How)

2015-02-05T17:22:59.257-05:00

Sophie Hannah continued Poirot and Sebastian Faulks continued Bond. What character would you most like to write about, if the estate asked you?

The idea of taking over for a deceased writer is not a new one to me. When I was in sixth grade, my best friend John and I decided to write a sequel to WAR OF THE WORLDS. (I have to admit, we didn’t bother securing the rights from the HG Wells estate; we forged ahead anyway.) We finished about three pages before we took a break to play basketball. That break lasted decades. (I'm happy to say John is still one of my most valued advance readers.)

I think there would be a ton of pressure if you took over a successful/beloved series. Unless you totally nailed it, a lot of people would have issues with something or other. And if you’ve ever read a thread on any Internet forum or social media site, you know that most of those people with strong opinions are not shy about sharing them. Repeatedly. AND LOUDLY. AND DID I SAY REPEATEDLY AND LOUDLY????

I would have loved to take over one of Robert B. Parker’s series, but others beat me to it (not that I would have been asked anyway!). Ace Atkins does a great job carrying on the Spenser series, and my pal and terrific writer, Reed Farrel Coleman, has taken over the Jesse Stone series.(image)

There is one other character I’d love to write about and I think I’d do a pretty good job—the Cat in the Hat (see photo: I even met him!). So if there happen to be any representatives from the good doctor’s estate reading this blog, please consider the following recent Facebook post as my “audition.” (I await your call.)

Go, Go, Snow

I do not like it on the streets,
I do not like it on my feets,
I do not like it on my hair,
I do not like it anywhere,
I do not like it on the ground,
I do not like it in a mound,
I do not like snow, not one iota,
I guess I should move to Sarasota.

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




Hey, Get Off My Lawn!

2015-01-27T10:27:32.140-05:00

Have you ever tried to incorporate a popular trend (such as zombies or vampires) into your own work? Have you ever felt pressure to do so to increase sales/circulation?

Some people have referred to me as Mr. Anti-Trend.

To wit:

When bell bottoms and flares were all the rage (way back when), I would only wear straight leg pants. Five years after that, when straight leg jeans were in, I was sporting flares.

I do not own a smartphone (I refuse to get a phone smarter than me).

You know those skintight leggings that runners have been wearing for a decade? I don’t own any. Instead, I run in baggy sweatpants (the same ones I’ve owned for probably a decade). (image)

Don’t own any Apple products. My MP3 player is a Sansa.

I never rollerbladed or went to spinning class. 

I didn’t start watching Breaking Bad until the series had already ended.

I’m not on Instagram or Pinterest or Tsu or Reddit or StumbleBumble or whatever.

I don’t know the difference between a mocha, a macchiato, an espresso, a frappuccino, a cappuccino, a whatheheckuccino, a latte, and a flat white (although that last one sounds like the paint color I used for my wife’s dressing room). I think there’s coffee involved, right?

I still own luggage without wheels.

When I read a newspaper in the morning, I read a newspaper.

Sometimes I wear a watch on my wrist. One whose only function is to tell time.

In fact, I’m so untrendy I don’t even know what the current trends are!

I guess my answer to this question is obvious: No, I don’t write to any current trends. I write what I want, and figure if I like it, there must be someone else out there, somewhere, who might like it too.

Now, can anyone help me program my Betamax?

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




It was the Best of Lines, It was the Worst of Lines…

2015-01-08T13:16:03.566-05:00

Some authors think that the opening line of a book is what grabs a reader. Do you agree with this? What are some of your favorite opening lines?

I’m a big fan of great opening lines. As a reader, I love getting sucked into a compelling story from the get-go. As a writer, it’s a chance to make a bold first impression, and I work diligently to come up with killer opening lines for my books.

A perfect opening line can set the tone for the rest of the book, offer a hint about what’s to come, introduce a fascinating character’s voice, or spark a question in the mind of the reader (ideally, it should accomplish more than one of those things). Perhaps most importantly, a terrific opening line can hook that reader fast and hard, letting you reel him in during the rest of the book.

Some of my favorite ones include:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.” — A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens

“Call me Ishmael.” — Moby Dick, Herman Melville.

“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” — 1984, George Orwell

“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” — Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy

“It was a pleasure to burn.” — Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury

“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.” — Rebecca, Daphne Du Maurier

“This was no time for play. This was no time for fun. This was no time for games. There was work to be done.” — The Cat in the Hat Comes Back, Dr. Seuss.

“The next to the last time I saw Tush Bannon alive was the very same day I had that new little boat running the way I wanted it to run, after about six weeks of futzing around with it.” — Pale Gray For Guilt, John D. MacDonald

“You may remember me. Think back. The summer of 1990. I know that’s a while ago, but the wire services picked up the story and I was in every newspaper in the country.” — The Lock Artist, Steve Hamilton

“The summer my father bought the bear, none of us was born—we weren’t even conceived: not Frank, the oldest; not Franny, the loudest; not me, the next; and not the youngest of us, Lilly and Egg.” — The Hotel New Hampshire, John Irving

“When Sean Devine and Jimmy Marcus were kids, their fathers worked together at the Coleman Candy plant and carried the stench of warm chocolate back home with them.” — Mystic River, Dennis Lehane.

And the favorite opening line(s) that I wrote:

“Never killed a cop before. Never had to.” — Ride-Along

 

What about you? What are some of your favorite opening lines?

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




Down With Cubbyholes

2014-11-13T10:03:21.367-05:00

As we know, there are many different sub genres for crime novels, from cozy and amateur sleuth through to police procedurals and noir. How would you characterize the kind of mystery you like to write and why did you chose this sub genre?

When people ask me what I write, I usually say novels. When pressed further, I’ll often say I’m a mystery writer. I find that it’s a whole lot easier than offering some intricate, convoluted explanation about the characteristics of various sub-genres and where I feel my work falls within those amorphous boundaries. After all,(image) most people know what a mystery is—they’ve read them or seen mysteries on television. They’ve heard of Agatha Christie, even though they may never have read any of her work.

Which is fine with me. I certainly don’t mind being known as a mystery writer (I’ve been called worse things).

The truth is, I try not to pay much attention to genres, sub or otherwise. As a kid, when I’d go to the library, I wasn’t looking for any specific type of book. I was simply looking for a good book. A compelling, captivating, page-turner with great characters and a memorable plot. I know, not much to ask for, right?

It was only when I started writing, and then querying agents, that I found I had to place my work into a specific cubbyhole. The book will have to go on a bookseller’s shelf, I was told, and they need to know which shelf it will be. The publisher will need to market the book, I was told, and the marketing types need to know which readers to target. Certain reviewers will need to be contacted, certain conferences attended, certain awards aimed for, I was told, and all of that is genre-dependent.

I never set out to write a mystery; I was just trying to write a good book.

Ideas pop into my head and I run with them, not paying too much attention to the shelves they may eventually sit upon. Now, it so happens that my brain feels most at home wallowing in the word of crime (draw your own conclusions). I guess it’s not surprising, then, that most of my ideas revolve around bad (and illegal) things happening to my beleaguered protagonists.

However, I haven’t written exclusively in the crime realm. I wrote a horror novel (bad things happened to my protagonist in that one, too). And I wrote a YA coming-of-age novel. But pretty much everything else I’ve written could be classified as a crime novel.

So I guess, technically, I’m a crime writer. But if you ask me what kind of crime writer I am, I’ll probably just shrug and start mumbling something about simply trying to write a good book.

********

If you haven’t had a chance to read the excerpt from my novel in the Kindle Scout program, there’s still time!  Check out RUNNING FROM THE PAST here. If you like it, I’d love a nomination! Thanks!

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




With A Little Help From My Friends

2014-10-27T11:04:18.929-04:00

A Grand Experiment

My novel of suspense, RUNNING FROM THE PAST, is going to be part of a grand publishing experiment. For the next thirty days, you’ll be able to read an excerpt from the book, as part of the Kindle Scout Program.

If you like what you read, you can “nominate” it for publication. The more nominations the book gets, the better the chance it will get picked up for publication, where it can reach a much wider audience.

It’s sort of like American Idol for books.

What’s in it for you, you ask?

Two things:

First, my sincere appreciation. I’m sure you’re bombarded with people asking for favors, in your inbox, on Facebook, on Twitter. So thank you for taking a few minutes to read my work.

Second, if my book does indeed get selected for publication, you will receive a free copy of the entire novel as a thank-you. Plus you can say you read it at an early stage and helped it get published!

To read the excerpt, *CLICK HERE*



(image)
Here’s a description:

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

He’d suffered in silence, too.

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

Hell no.

Instead of alerting Child Protective Services or returning the boy to his father, Walker “kidnaps” Jess, packs up the minivan, and takes his family on the lam, keeping one step ahead of Jess’s cruel father and unhinged ex-con aunt. But as the stakes increase—and his headstrong actions lead to his wife and daughter getting snatched, quid pro quo—Walker must finally conquer his past before he can save the lives of those he loves.

To read the excerpt, *CLICK HERE*


PLEASE SHARE

Because every vote counts, please let any (and all) of your suspense-novel-loving friends and family know about it, too!

Here’s a bit.ly link:  http://bit.ly/12QP79x

Thanks!




Feeding the Dark Side

2014-10-02T11:01:05.699-04:00

Which type of character is more fun to write: villain or hero (in the classic sense of the word)?

Let me recap this week’s answers, so far (see Criminal Minds).

On Monday, Meredith said that “Characters should be fun to write--no matter what their role is in your story.” In other words, she thinks writing both villains and heroes are fun. Score: Heroes 1, Villains 1.

On Tuesday, R.J. said she enjoys creating the hero more than the villain. Running Score: Heroes 2, Villains 1.

On Wednesday, Tracy proclaimed her love for writing villains (even though she was under the spell of a high dosage of pharmaceuticals, we’ll chalk one up for the dark side). Running Score: Heroes 2, Villains 2.

Now it’s my turn to weigh in.

I’m tempted to say that I don’t like writing either heroes or villains. It’s difficult (emotionally trying) to write a sympathetic hero and then subject him (or her) to a wide range of nasty incidents. It’s cruel! It’s inhumane! It’s inconsiderate! But, it makes for good conflict!

On the other hand, it’s hard to write a villain; it’s hard to worm yourself inside his (or her) twisted mind as he (or she) goes about stealing, maiming, killing, or cutting off people in traffic.

But saying I don’t relish writing either the hero or the villain would be copping out. Besides, I guess I really do have a preference. While writing the hero may be more satisfying/rewarding/enlightening, writing the villain can be more fun.

A few reasons:

High Stakes – Most of my books are about the struggles of the heroes, so the portions written from the villains’ POV are often more concentrated and more intense (and focus on something of utmost importance). In other words, the villains are on stage for only a short time, and I try to make every moment count double (or triple).

Over-the-Topness – Depending on what kind of story I’m writing, I can draw my villains a bit larger than life than the hero. After all, things like laws—and common decency—matter little to evildoers, and the villains have to present a major challenge to the heroes. (I had a great time writing the villain, Dallas Pike, in my horror novel, THE TASTE. He was a very nasty man who pretty much did what he pleased. Fun!)

Feeding my Dark Side – In general, my heroes are nice people. Sure, they’ve got their flaws, but underneath they fall squarely on the side of goodness, justice, and unicorns. Sometimes it just feels great to write about depravity for a change, know what I mean?

Running score: Villains 3, Heroes 2.

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




Hello? Anybody There?

2014-09-04T08:47:32.027-04:00

Do you feel like being a writer is a career choice or a calling? I’ve been and done many things before becoming a writer. Engineer, product planner, marketing manager, entrepreneur. In fact, writing fiction never even crossed my mind until relatively recently (ten years ago). I disliked writing in high school (Although I loved to read, I didn’t love reading all those boring, assigned books written by dead guys for class. I stuck to my science fiction, much to the consternation of my father, the former English teacher.) I disliked writing in college. I studied engineering, so I didn’t really have to write much. And certainly nothing creative, unless you consider the analysis of a system’s vibration profile creative (truth: writing a grocery list is more creative). I disliked writing in grad school. Although I more writing was required there, I managed to fill my papers with technical jargon and buzzwords. We even had a roommate competition where we came up with a list of buzzwords we had to use in each assignment. Which kept us amused, if not the professors. So if being a writer is a calling for me, the phone rang pretty late. Actually, in my case, writing was an absolute choice. More evidence: Some writers say they HAVE to write. That if they miss a day of writing, they feel bad. Not me. I can go whole weeks, nay months, without writing, and I wouldn’t feel any different. (Now, if I were to go a whole week without eating, then I would feel bad. Maybe my true calling is eating.) This question brings up something I struggle with from time to time: my identity. When people ask me what I “do,” I (still) have a hard time saying writer. Yes, I’ve published six books (three traditionally,  three self-pubbed. Note the library “shelfie” with fellow Criminal Mind Clare’s books). Yes, I’m involved with writing organizations and attend writing conferences. Yes, I teach writing workshops (some start this month, sign up HERE). But I still hesitate before I claim to be a writer. Maybe I’ll just tell people I’m an eater and ask for directions to the nearest buffet. ***   My book, RIDE-ALONG, is now available as a trade paperback. Enter the Goodreads Giveaway HERE for a chance to win your very own signed copy! (This entry is “simul-posted” on Criminal Minds.) [...]



Write On!

2014-08-25T16:34:26.394-04:00

DC-area writers: September is the perfect time to take a writing workshop, and as it happens, I’ll be teaching FOUR different ones at The Writer’s Center in Bethesda.

Three are one-day (2.5 hour) sessions:

Whodunit? How to Write a Mystery (9/6, 10 am)

Elements of Fiction: Dialogue (9/6, 2 pm)

Writing the Dreaded Query Letter (9/13, 2 pm).

I’ll also be teaching an 8-week workshop:

Fiction II - Writing Compelling Fiction (Saturdays 10 – 12:30) beginning on 9/13.

Click HERE for more details and registration information. If you have specific questions, ask in the comments or shoot me an email!

Write On!




Give Me a Hand, Will Ya?

2014-08-23T13:46:11.578-04:00

Why do you think the crime writing community is so mutually supportive?

First, let me address the assertion that the crime writing community is supportive.

Yes, yes, yes it is! The vast (vast!) majority of crime writers I’ve met have been generous with their time and advice, friendly, approachable, helpful, and supportive. They seem to operate under the credo, “If one succeeds, we all succeed.” Or “A rising tide raises all boats.” Or maybe “Mystery loves company.”

It’s a wonderful group, and I’m lucky to be a part of it.

Of course, there are many practical reasons why we (crime writers) need to be nice to each other:

    • We know dozens of ways to kill people without leaving any clues.
    • You might have to rely on a fellow writer as a character witness during your murder trial.
    • You never know when you’ll need someone to back you up with a rock-solid alibi.
    • You never know who you might need to drive the getaway car. Or who you’ll have to persuade to come out on a dark and stormy night, with a shovel, and help bury the bodies.

To be fair (at least in my experience), I have to say that most writers I’ve met, regardless of genre, have been very supportive. I guess it’s because we all struggle with that blinking cursor and the never-ending self-doubts about our work.

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