Monday, April 20, 2015

A Toast to Cons

What are your favorite writing conferences/conventions to attend?

The first thing to note in answering this highly personal question is the distinction between conferences and conventions. When I was new to the game, I didn’t realize the national/international Bouchercon was a convention and I was bemused by the flock of women who followed closely behind Laurie King wherever she went, chattering among themselves but seemingly attached to her by an invisible cord.

When another friend and I met Deborah Crombie at that Bouchercon (can’t recall the year, but it was in Baltimore), she was charming but seemed especially delighted that we were writers. It took me a bit to realize that she had been bombarded by eager fans for the half hour before that in the bar. (Her assumption was that I was a writer, not a fan, but that wasn’t really the case – I’m a big fan of the long-running Gemma/Duncan series, set in London.) A convention plays to the fans but fortifications are sometimes advised, and this martini glass is raised to Deb, who always chooses fancy drinks!.

I love the Left Coast Crime convention, partly because I seem to know everyone, or at least every author, there, and because the planners are a heroic band of crime fiction lovers who have created an ongoing festival that rotates from western city to western city but with the same band of cheerful attendees, including lots of enthusiastic fans. Blogger and salon hostess Janet Rudolph not only gets deeply involved most years, but also manages the fan-voted awards, a celebratory event that everyone looks forward to. (Yes, some year, I’d like to be a finalist!)

My first exposure to conferences, and the pivotal one for me, was the Book Passage Mystery Writers Conference, held annually in Marin County California at an influential bookstore. The first time I went, when I was tentative and apologetic at my own temerity in thinking I might write crime fiction, featured Sue Grafton, who was – and still is – so down to earth, approachable, and direct that I could stop pinching myself when I sat next to her at lunch and actually soak up a little advice and courage. I’ve been back twice since then and, in 2008, found my agent, Kimberley Cameron, there. I also met and had small classes with such accessible luminaries as Elizabeth George, Cara Black, and Jackie Winspear. Conferences are for writers because honesty, openness, and the ability to ask questions that may expose one’s weaknesses is crucial.

A new-ish conference and one I really enjoy is the California Crime Writers event (June 6-7 this year) in L.A. Sponsored and totally put together by Sisters in Crime’s and Mystery Writers of America’s southern California chapters, it’s quickly become a significant place for writers to gather, network, listen to each other, drink together, the latter being as important a part of conferences as any other aspect.

There are others, and my fellow Minds will have their own favorites. I’ll be reading theirs this week to see what further adventures I should consider. I’m guessing they’ll all have one thing in common: the party’s always at the bar! See you at CCW.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Slow Learner

By Art Taylor

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

  • The right margin doesn't need to line up.
    The first time I sat down at a typewriter was at my dad's Chevrolet dealership in Richlands, North Carolina. I remember it was a Saturday, because the receptionist wasn't there (it was her typewriter), but I don't remember the year, except to the extent that I had moved beyond picture books by that point. I slid a sheet of paper into the typewriter, quickly pecked out the first line of my story, shuttled the carriage over to start the second line, quickly pecked that one out too—and then stopped. What I saw wasn't right. I found a bottle of liquid paper, smeared it across the end of the line, tried again—with a shorter word. Still not right. More liquid paper, and a medium sized word this time, and....

    The books I was reading then had all the text justified on the right side. How did those writers always find words of just the right length? How would I ever figure it out?

    Undoubtedly, there are other lessons there.

  • There are 118 ways to do something—and they might all work.
    Once upon a time, I thought that each story had the perfect way of being told, and the trick was to find it—through trial and error, through getting feedback from readers and following it, through year after year of toiling through missteps before I reached some mastery of form. Now I recognize that perfection doesn't really happen—maybe shouldn't; that each choice has both its own rewards and its own losses; and that one person's way of telling a story may not be mine, any more than mine should be theirs, or that either of ours is the better way.

    Note: This applies to both process and product.

    Note 2: I could've said 119 things above, or 117 maybe. Likely the point would've come across the same.

  • Being a writer involves more than you and a keyboard—involves more than you, period.
    I firmly believe that the most important part of being a writer is writing. However, I've also come to believe it's not the only part.

    By this, I don't mean that we writers today also have to be our own editors and marketers and public relations experts and social media mavens and salespeople, etc. All that may be true as well, but all that is also focused on how we try to produce, package, and present our own work to the public—the next steps beyond pecking out our stories.

    Instead, what I'm talking about is that often bandied about term of literary citizenship—of participating and contributing generously to the larger literary community. Over the past year, as much of my time has been spent on other people's writing as on my own: reading and commenting on the student manuscripts from my fiction workshop at George Mason University, trying to help cultivate those terrific young talents; reading through (and so far very much enjoying!) the submissions to the Bouchercon anthology I've been asked to guest edit; offering feedback on various friends' latest manuscripts (and my wife's too—a benefit of marrying a writer, as she pointed out here); serving as a judge for a couple of major contests and hopefully bringing some great talents more firmly into the limelight; and right on down the line—even to things as simple as celebrating someone's cover reveal (Hi, Ed Aymar!) or noting a book birthday or two (Hi, Bonnie Stevens and Diane Vallere!) or attending a book launch (Hi, Jonathan Harper!) and, yes, buying and reading a book or two—or 24. Except for my work at Mason, none of that is compensated... though if Ed wants to send me a check for a shout-out, he knows where to reach me.

    As writers, we have a responsibility to ourselves and to our craft—but we also have a very real responsibility to the larger world of writers and readers in which we live and work. Being active, being involved, being part of larger conversations, making larger contributions—all that is important too.

    Corollary to above: As Alan posted yesterday, writers drink—a lot—part of the camaraderie of a literary community maybe. Turns out you can drink as part of literary citizenship too. Here's my contribution to the social media campaign around the new Mystery Writers of America Cookbook: Gary Phillips' Switchblade Cocktail. Note the dash of red cutting through the drink. And hi, Gary! We miss you here at the blog.


Thursday, April 16, 2015

Every Day is an Education

by Alan

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.


I’m giving away two copies of RUNNING FROM THE PAST (trade paperback) on Goodreads! Click thru to enter (US residents only—sorry.). Only three more days, so enter NOW!RUNNING cover

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

I Wish That I Knew What I Know Now (When I Was Younger)

What Three Things I Wish I Knew About Publishing at the Start
 By Tracy Kiely

1.     This is a business. Publishers are people, too and, as such they need to make money. Your book is an investment. They need to – if not outright KNOW – then be pretty damn sure that your book will bring in revenue. Therefore, rejections are not personal. They are a part of business. An editor can LOVE your book and still not be able to justify investing the money to print 3,000 copies of it. Think about it, your little darling brings home a watercolor giraffe formed out of his handprint. Do you love it? Yes. Will you keep it?  Yes.  Are you willing to shell out $50,000 dollars to have copies made in the hopes that this adorable hand giraffe will sell like hot-cakes and cause Oprah to come out of retirement just so she can dub it her new “favorite thing”? Probably not.

2.     This is a job. When you first (bashfully) tell someone that you are writing a book in your spare time, it’s like the beginning of a love affair. You can’t wait to see each other, you happily ditch other activities to spend time together, and being together is a non-stop thrill. But one day, it’s no longer a “little thing you do on the side” – it’s your job. You still love it, but now there are deadlines and days when you really don’t want to write and days when you simply can’t. That can suck some of the fun out of it and is why so many great authors seem to drink their feelings* (*this statement has not been proven, but is widely regarded as fact in my head).

3.     You will want more. Have you every watched an interview with a movie star and heard them say, “Well, I’m really hoping to direct one day,” and thought “God, you are such a putz!”? Well, when you first start writing, usually your goal is (after finishing the book) merely to get it published. That is your crowning achievement. Until you actually get published. Then it’s “please let me get a good review” followed by, “please let it sell well.” From there are such hurdles as “Well, an award would be nice,” followed by “I’ve been signed to write 12,908 more,” and then the “I made the New York Times Best Seller List again!” and lastly, “Oh, did you hear? Paramount is making the movie.” In a way this is good – it means you keep moving, keep pushing yourself. In another way this is bad, because you forget to stop and enjoy what you’ve achieved. So, my advice? Remember to stop and enjoy. And maybe not be so judgmental when an actor starts talking about his dream to direct.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Seven books later....

By R.J. Harlick

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

After seven books, I have learned that writing fiction is hard work. I can’t remember if I even gave it a second thought before I started this adventure, but I imagine I had the naïve idea that it was a simple matter of sitting down and letting the words flow.  And while the words do flow….sometimes….there are plenty of times when they seemed to be buried so deep inside me, that I feel they will never fill up a screen.

Even before I sit down to tap out the opening sentence, I spend many hours thinking about the story and the characters and doing any needed research, particularly when I am not familiar with the setting or the native culture I want to write about. But I also have learned that the hard work doesn’t end with the completion of the first draft, because that first draft is far from a finished product, in fact it can be downright awful. So a lot more hard work goes into revising it until it is good enough to send to my publisher, who in turn finds all sorts of fault with it and I go through another round of edits. My work with the manuscript doesn’t end until one final pass through the proofs before it is finally sent off to the printer. If I once thought the hard work ended with the publication, I soon discovered with the first book that I was wrong. My books weren’t going to magically fly off the shelf without a lot of hard work from me in letting the reading public know it exists.

Another thing I learned fairly early on in this writing adventure is to never give up. Until I’d written that first novel I didn’t know whether I could actually write a 100,000 word novel. There were many times when I didn’t think I could do it, when I wanted to stop and admit defeat, but something inside me wouldn’t let me. And low and behold I did it, I actually wrote an entire book and was convinced it would be the next hot bestseller. But the celebration lasted only until the first of the endless rejections started filing in. I suppose it was at this point that my streak of stubbornness really clicked in and I decided I would keep revising it until a publisher finally said “Yes!” And they did.

Though I haven’t had to face the same barrage of rejections from publishers since the release of my first book, I still find myself at times having to will myself to stick with it when I hit the proverbial brick wall, when I find myself staring at a blank screen with no idea how to fill it. But I now know that eventually the logjam will break free and the words will come spilling out. So I keep staring at that blank screen and type a word or two or three. I take the dogs for a walk. I make another cup of tea. But I always turn back to that blank screen. Add another word or ten, until wham I break through and the screen starts filling up with words.

By now you are likely wondering why I continue to write fiction if it’s such hard work and I have to make myself keep writing. Well that is something else I’ve also learned. I love writing fiction. I have great fun creating these imaginary worlds, entering the lives of these imaginary characters and watching them take on challenges and grow as individuals all within the medium of words. It’s a lot of fun playing with words. I love the world crime writing has opened up to me; fellow writers who have become good friends, the fabulous places I get to visit and most of all the readers and fans I get to meet. The second this writing adventure is no longer fun, I will stop. But until then, I am having a great time.

Monday, April 13, 2015

What I've learned since I got published: guest E.A. Aymar

We're so pleased to welcome guest E.A. Aymar to the blog today! He is a monthly columnist with The Washington Independent Review of Books. His debut novel, I'll Sleep When You're Dead, was published in late 2013, and the sequel is coming out June 13 (from Black Opal Books). He is a member of MWA, SinC and ITW, and also manages the social media for the debuts of that latter organization.

First off, thanks to Meredith and everyone at Criminal Minds for letting me blog with you today. 
I’m going to take the question from a different angle, since I’ve been writing fiction forever but was first published a little over a year ago. Rather than three things I’ve learned since I started writing fiction, I’m going to write about three things I’ve learned since I was published. GAME CHANGED!
  1. Most writers are actually pretty nice. That surprised me. I really thought, based off what I’d read about writers, that they were cranky assholes. And before I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead was published, I did the exact opposite of what you’re supposed to do: I didn’t network, didn’t go to events, didn’t do anything to promote the short stories I’d placed in mags and rags. I guess that, until I had a novel officially accepted and published, I just didn’t feel like a real writer so, consequently, I didn’t know any. And I get a little nervous when it comes to meeting people I admire, and I admire a lot of writers. But almost everyone I’ve met has been friendly and encouraging and doesn’t mind it if you’re a little star-struck or you blurt out that you’d like to stare into their eyes for a few minutes or whatever. And the organizations I’ve joined, from ITW to MWA to SinC, have been equally as friendly and encouraging. That was a nice discovery.
  2. You need a backstory. Everyone knows that J.K. Rowling was having money problems before Harry Potter became a success. More to the point, she was homeless, subsisting on a diet of street rats and urchins while scribbling her eventual book on random scraps of paper. That’s all true. You don’t need to slip into poverty, but you need something that sets you apart, something that you can tell the occasional interviewer or audience at a reading that makes you memorable. I’m not saying you should lie, but you should lie. Chances are, your backstory is the same as mine: “I always wrote and read a lot, and then I took it seriously around college and…” God, that’s so boring. I can’t even finish typing that sentence because my hand fell asleep. Spice it up! Liars get a bad rap nowadays, but lying is totally worth it, you guys. You need an angle.
  3. Ya gots to keep writing. According to a recent study by Library Journal, more people are publishing now, and more frequently, than at any other point in history. I just made that stat and the corresponding study up (see?), but it’s probably true. As a guy published by a small press, I think it’s great that there are so many publishing avenues out there. As a guy distrustful of authority, I love that publishing’s rigid doors have been blown open…but holy hell, the market is crowded. There may be a few standouts who can rest for years after a single book is complete, but that’s rare, and you’re probably not Harper Lee. Don’t count on it happening. If you want to get read, you’ve got to keep writing.

On that note, since I was so pleased that Meredith offered me the opportunity to blog with you all, I thought I’d take the opportunity to follow Art’s lead and reveal the cover for the second book in my Dead trilogy, You’re As Good As Dead (coming June 13, Black Opal Books). I hope you like it! If you don’t, lie and say you do. I’m cool with that.

Friday, April 10, 2015

An Eye for an Eye, A Quote for a Quote

What's the best quote you've heard about writing and why do you like it?

by Paul D. Marks

Well, bringing up the rear here on a Friday, let’s see what I can come up with:
I think I’d have to say I have two favorite quotes about writing.

220px-AdventuresInTheScreenTradeThe first is by William Goldman, screenwriter extraordinaire, and is about screenwriting, but I think it can apply to novel and short story writing as well:

NOBODY KNOWS ANYTHING. Not one person in the entire motion picture field knows for a certainty what's going to work. Every time out it's a guess—and, if you're lucky, an educated one.
―William Goldman, Adventures in the Screen Trade

Many people have heard this quote, but of course they forget everything he said except for the first three words. They’ve been interpreted different ways, so I’ll put my own spin on them. And that is that everybody has a different idea about what works and what doesn’t. One hears often that agents or editors will say don’t have a prologue. Then you see books with prologues. Don’t use flashbacks. There was a producer who was famous for saying that if he saw ellipses in scripts he’d close it immediately. So F all of them. And do what works for your story. A prologue might turn some people off, but it might work for others. The other thing is, you send out a story/novel and are “lucky” enough to get notes back with your rejection, so you change the story to fit those notes. You send it out to someone else and they have notes that counteract the first person’s notes. So write it your way. You can’t please everybody and sometimes it seems you can’t please anybody.

My other favorite writing quote would be this from Jules Renard: “Literature is an occupation in which you have to keep proving your talent to people who have none.”

I mean be honest, haven’t you felt this many times? We are the artist, we have the artist’s vision and true, sometimes it’s messy, but sometimes it’s also more real, more authentic (to use a hackneyed phrase). A lot of times editors will want to clean up your manuscript to the point of taking your voice out of it. Maybe they’re right, maybe they’re not. But unless they’re paying you don’t pay attention because the next person might not like their suggestions. When I was doing script doctoring I’d often get a writer’s draft of a script. Then besides tightening, which is always a good thing, there would be notes or conversations with directors, producers, etc., about how they wanted to change it. And often, they would, of course, want more sex and violence, yes it’s a cliché but it’s true. But also often they would tear the heart out of it. Whatever good things were in the writer’s draft they’d want to trash. And often the writer’s draft, while needing some work was better than the final draft, whether it was my draft or another person who came on to rewrite after me. I was friends with a fairly well known writer-director. And I remember reading the first draft of one of his early scripts. And it was pretty good. And then the studio and a big name producer got involved and they made changes to his script and diluted it to the point where it was mediocre at best. Maybe it was more commercial, and it did get made. But I don’t think it was a better script. And I don’t think it did particularly well at the box office.

Some other quotes I like:

The next two are on the same page, so to speak:

“Writing is easy; all you do is sit staring at the blank sheet of paper until the drops of blood form on your forehead.”―Gene Fowler


“There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.”―Red Smith

Having been around the block a time or two, as a writer and a lecturer on writing, I constantly come across people who want to write, who have an idea and want someone to help finish it, gratis, of course, because “it will be the biggest money maker in the history of all time.” Lucas and Spielberg and Grisham and J.K. Rowling will be jealous. But more often than not they don’t put in the time and effort, blood, sweat and tears required because tSteinbeck Charley 2o do that is to do metaphorically what these two quotes suggest: stare at a blank piece of paper (computer screen) and open up a vein until the blood starts dripping off your forehead. People think it’s easy to write. Because they don’t know how hard it is and they don’t really want to know.

And lastly:

“The profession of book writing makes horse racing seem like a solid, stable business.”―John Steinbeck

I think this one speaks for itself. And with the book and publishing worlds in the turmoil they’re in today, this quote is more prescient than ever. So, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to the track to try to earn a steady living.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Through a haze of vicodin . . .

"It's no mystery why people beat elephants to the top spot."

That's one writing quote that means a lot to me today. It was was said by . . . me, actually, this morning, as I started the third day of writing with one (broken) arm splinted and attached to the opposite shoulder with a tight sling. Elephants' trunks might be pretty handy but elephants' typing is the pits.

Seriously though, I've always liked "a writer writes", as spoken by the Billy Crystal character in Throw Momma From The Train, a fabulous film about writing.

And it's a good message - especially now when a writer can blog, tweet, post, pin, and generally spend ten hours a day at a keyboard doing all sorts of lovely writery things without producing a single word of story.

Sticking with films about writing, another favourite quote of mine is the two parter:

"It's a metaphor"
"For what?!"

spoken by both Nicholas Cage characters in the divine Charlie Kauffman's Adaptation.

It helps me remember both a. that clever writing is stupid if it doesn't mean anything and also b. never defend your writing when someone gives you an edit.

The rule of three demands that to finish this blogpost I either think of a great quote from another film about writing or quickly make a film about the rise of two-trunked elephants.

Easy. Slightly tougher is the choice between Misery and The Shining. But for a great quote alone, Misery wins.

The thought of Annie Wilkes saying "I'm your number one fan" can always remind writers who're less famous and bestselling than Stephen/Paul King/Sheldon to be careful what we wish for.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Can I Quote You?

Clare O'Donohue

No fair, Robin, with your ten quotes... But luckily, writers love to talk about writing, so here are a couple of my favorites...

At the beginning of a novel, a writer needs confidence, but after that what's required is persistence. These traits sound similar. They aren't. Confidence is what politicians, seducers, and currency speculators have, but persistence is a quality found in termites. It's the blind drive to keep on working that persists after confidence breaks down. - Walter Kirn

I try to remember this on the days when anything, everything, is more interesting to me than what is on the page.

When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters. A character is a caricature. - Ernest Hemingway

People are complicated, messy, contradictory, and frustrating. They are also really fun to write and read. The "real" people of reality shows are characters. The characters in Breaking Bad were people.
And, finally, this from James Bond...

The worst situation you can have in a thriller is a lead who looks like he can handle himself. - Daniel Craig.

Let's get this out of the way first - Daniel Craig looks like he could handle himself in any situation. (Cue sexy music) but fair point. One of the reasons I love his Bond is that he feels pain, physical and emotional. I keep this as a reminder that even when writing a smooth-talking, take no prisoners character, there should be some cracks in the armor to keep things interesting.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Top 10 Quotes on Writing Fiction

Question of the Week: What's the best quote you've heard about writing and why do you like it?

My Answer: There are so many wise words from so many writers who have bravely gone before us. And since my favorite quotes on writing require no further interpretation, explanation, or extrapolation on my part, I'm going to list my top 10 and leave it at that.

1. “What really knocks me out is a book that, when you're all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn't happen much, though.”
J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye

2. “There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.”
W. Somerset Maugham

3. “Tomorrow may be hell, but today was a good writing day, and on the good writing days nothing else matters.”
Neil Gaiman

4. “I write to give myself strength. I write to be the characters that I am not. I write to explore all the things I'm afraid of. ”
Joss Whedon

5. “We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.”
—Ernest Hemingway

6. “Your intuition knows what to write, so get out of the way.”
Ray Bradbury

7. “I am irritated by my own writing. I am like a violinist whose ear is true, but whose fingers refuse to reproduce precisely the sound he hears within.”
Gustave Flaubert

8. “If you can tell stories, create characters, devise incidents, and have sincerity and passion, it doesn’t matter a damn how you write.”
―Somerset Maugham

9. Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.”
Pablo Picasso

If you expect to succeed as a writer, rudeness should be the second-to-least of your concerns. The least of all should be polite society and what it expects. If you intend to write as truthfully as you can, your days as a member of polite society are numbered, anyway.”
Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

Friday, April 3, 2015

There Are Many Ways To...Write Crime, Interview Crime Writers, Host a Cover Reveal

By Art Taylor

This week's question is a terrific one: "There's only so many ways to sing the blues and yet no one ever asks blues musicians why they're still doing it. Do you ever feel restricted by the constraints of the crime genre or overwhelmed by what's out there?" Any type of genre description or definition offers a framework or context in which the artist/author creates a work and in which the reader/listener/watcher experiences it—but while some of these might be restrictive, I'd hesitate to call them repressive. Many, many year ago, Margaret Maron offered an analogy about the idea of genre and constraints, one that has stayed with me. She compared the mystery genre to the sonnet; there are rules to the sonnet (14 lines, specific rhyme scheme, etc.), but there's a wonderful lot of different ways to do interesting things to make the form your own. And I do want to say I appreciate the question's emphasis here on the phrase "crime genre" as opposed to mystery; many of us interchange the two fairly loosely, I think, but "crime fiction" strikes me as more encompassing of the genre's full spectrum: tales of amateur sleuths, detective stories, police procedurals, thrillers, noir, spy novels, romantic suspense, etc. (or to carry out the metaphor just slightly: sonnet, villanelle, haiku, sestina, terza rima, whatever). And personally, rather than overwhelmed by the scope of all that, I'm thrilled by it.

In other news, today at the Maine Crime Writers blog, Kathy Lynn Emerson is hosting a conversation with this year's finalists for the Agatha Award for Best Short Story: Barb Goffman, Edith Maxwell, Emerson herself, and me. This is part of a continuing blog-hop for us—and still more to come! Check it out here—with Kathy providing links to previous appearances as well.

And finally, here's the first sneak peek (!!!) at the cover of my debut book, On the Road with Del and Louise: A Novel in Stories, due out September 15, 2015 from Henery Press. I was pleased with it, and hope others will be too.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Pass the Sriracha!

by Alan

There's only so many ways to sing the blues and yet no one ever asks blues musicians why they're still doing it. Do you ever feel restricted by the constraints of the crime genre or overwhelmed by what's out there?

Constraints? What constraints? That there has to be a crime, or promise of a crime, somewhere in the book?

I hardly find that constraining. In fact, there are so many genres and sub-genres, permutations and combinations of sub-sub-genres, that I think you could probably write whatever you wanted and it would fall under somebody’s definition of a crime novel, somewhere.

Despite the almost inexhaustible number of different storylines possible under the crime fiction umbrella, I don’t feel overwhelmed trying to meet a certain set of expectations or writing a specific type of story.

Well, certainly no more overwhelmed than trying to write a novel in the first place.

plinko Sometimes, I liken the process of writing a book to playing the world’s largest pachinko machine (just like Plinko on The Price is Right). A writer has to make an infinite number of choices when crafting a story, from big picture things like setting, character, and story arc, to smaller things like characters’ names and dialogue and other minutiae (should Tom’s suit be blue or gray?). I like to visualize each one of these decision nodes as a binary choice on the machine, where every choice moves the story in another direction. Once you “compile” the results of all the choices, you have a unique story that is the sum total of the myriad choices made along the way. (This is why two writers with the exact same premise will come up with wildly different novels.)Me and Sriracha

As long as you face each decision as it comes, and don’t worry about the other million choices, you won’t be overwhelmed. At least that’s what I tell myself.

How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. 

Just be sure to bring lots of sriracha.**


MWA_CB_final_300dpi**And speaking of sriracha, it’s an ingredient in my recipe, KILLER TOFU, which is in the recently-released Mystery Writers of America Cookbook








I’m giving away two copies of RUNNING FROM THE PAST (trade paperback) on Goodreads! Click thru to enter (US residents only—sorry!).