Thursday, November 23, 2017

I’m Thankful

From Jim

If you could choose between being incredibly popular, prolific and commercial like James Patterson or being a revered, admired writer who will go down in history as a classic which would you choose and why?

Short answer: Both. Who wouldn’t want to achieve financial and critical success?

Long answer: I’m thankful but motivated.

On the subject of financial success, I’m fond of quoting Mr. Bernstein, Charles Foster Kane’s business manager in Citizen Kane. “Well, it's no trick to make a lot of money, if all you want to do is make a lot of money.” That may be true. I can’t say for sure because I haven’t tried it. While I’d love to make a lot of money, I’ve always wanted more than just that. That’s why I wouldn’t steal to acquire wealth, for one thing. Or work for Donald Trump, for another. And that’s why I wouldn’t write and try to sell something I don’t believe in. 

When vampire books were all the rage, I didn’t jump on that bandwagon and try to write one because they didn’t really appeal to me. I’m not criticizing vampire novels. I’m only saying I’m not interested enough to write one myself. The same way I’m not interested (or qualified) enough to write a physics textbook or a legal brief.

I don’t begrudge writers who reap wild financial rewards. Nor do I invoke Mr. Bernstein’s aphorism to describe their success. You can’t fool readers, at least not for long. If writers are finding success with their books, it’s probably because they’re doing something right. Something they believe in. We all have different interests and passions. That’s what makes a horse race. (By the way, the sixth Ellie Stone mystery, A STONE’S THROW, comes out June 5, 2018, and it’s about horse racing. Very exciting and there are horses! You don’t want to miss this one.) 

Excuse the BSP, but we were discussing horse racing, after all. Oh, right. We were talking about success and/or literary legacy.

Close parentheses.

The problem with achieving immortality in a pantheon of writers is that you’re no longer around to enjoy it. Kind of a hollow victory, isn’t it? Whereas money buys so many things, not least of which is a sense of accomplishment. 

I admire J. K. Rowling (like bowling) for her books, courage, and all-around awesomeness. And she went from living as a single mother on the dole to rocking it as a billionaire, all thanks to her amazing imagination. No seed capital from Daddy or some angel investor.

So, for me, the ideal would be to achieve a balance between the two. A healthy dose of accolades and piles of cash. And both in this lifetime, please. But if that dream never comes true—if you put a gun to my head and forced me to choose—I would have to go with what I’ve already got. That is I’m happy to be a writer. I’m thankful to have an agent, a publisher, readers, and some much appreciated recognition. Because it’s really all gravy, considering I’d be writing just the same even if I had none of that. Creating is the best part of writing, and I’ll never forget that. And I’m sure Jo, for all her riches and millions of adoring fans, hasn’t forgotten that either.

Happy Thanksgiving! 

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Write what you know

by Dietrich Kalteis

If you could choose between being incredibly popular, prolific and commercial like James Patterson or being a revered, admired writer who will go down in history as a classic which would you choose and why?

Popular, prolific and commercial or revered and admired — rich or famous? We all want to be recognized and rewarded for what we do. Yes, it would be great to see a line snake down the block at my next book signing. And if there was a lot of money and a movie deal to go along with it, yoohoo, I wouldn’t rip up the checks. But let’s face it, writing fiction is the love of making stuff up and telling a good story.

It took time to find my voice and the right fit (genre) for it. Once I had that, it wasn’t about chasing a market down a rabbit hole or guessing at a best-seller; it was writing what I love to write about. There’s a passion to it, and that’s like writer’s rocket fuel. And it’s great when the words just flow on the page.

Storytelling is an art, and trying to force myself to write something I don’t have my heart in would never work. It would feel like work at best. And worse than that would be trying to sound like somebody else while I take a stab at the next best thing — a sure way to end up with a pile of crap. Being influenced and inspired is something different, and that’s why I read what I think are great books, to help elevate my own writing.  
Putting on blinders and tuning out the world, not thinking about whether I’ve got a hit or miss on my hands is how it’s going to get done. Just focusing on the work, not letting in distractions. I’m at my best when I turn off the phone, shut my door, turn up the music and refrain from social media and email, and go play with my imaginary friends.

Besides the voice and sticking to what I know, I think it’s important be able to edit my own work, to know when I’m taking a bad turn on a first draft, when to cut a scene from a second draft, and know when I should set down the third one and call it done.

Write what you know, they say. Well, I haven’t done most of the things my characters get into, but I suppose there’s a bit of me in there somewhere. Maybe I write what I do because I like seeing justice served, like when the antagonists get what’s coming to them. Or maybe I like the levity and irony that often creeps into the stories. Overall, I aim to write the kind of stories I would like to read myself. That’s the way it works for me, writing about something that sparks my interest, then finding that groove and letting the words flow. And in the end, if the book becomes a hit, then I say yoohoo, bring it on.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Short is good

By R.J. Harlick

If you could choose between being incredibly popular, prolific and commercial like James Patterson or being a revered, admired writer who will go down in history as a classic which would you choose and why?

I am in a quandary on how to answer this question. It’s not something I’ve really thought about. Sure, I would love to make pots of money as a writer or write a book that would stand the test of time. But you know what, when I started out on this journey, my only goal was to write a book good enough to be published. Eight books later, my goals are still modest: write well-written books that people enjoy reading. If I happen to make a bit of money, great. And if a hundred years from now, people are still reading my books, great too, but it’s totally immaterial to me, because I will never know.  

Sorry for making this one so short, but usually I tend to go on a little too long. So sometimes short is good.

I’d like to wish all my American readers a Happy Thanksgiving and hope you get to celebrate it with family and friends.

Take care.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Can I have it All?

Today the question is, would you rather be rich or famous for all time.
Short answer: Why can't I have it all?
I was talking with a publisher recently, and he said, “Oh, I know who you are. You’re really doing well.” Although I was flattered, I was also puzzled. What did that mean, exactly? Yes, I have a good base of readers, but if I had to depend on the sales of my six books for a living, you could visit me in my trailer in Podunk, Tennessee, where I assume living expenses would be a lot less than in the Bay Area. I know a lot of reasonably well-known authors—those with a few awards, a couple of appearances on best-seller lists—who write good books, but are never going to be able to pay the rent on their sales.
Like a lot of authors, I’m puzzled about what it takes, once you’ve written a good book, to become one of those authors whose books get snapped up by millions of people the minute they are published. Several of my loyal readers have told me they like my books better than (insert name of any number of wildly successful writers). So how come I’m not rich and famous? And back to the question: which would I rather be; rich, or famous?

Did William Shakespeare, arguably the most famous writer of all time,  make money commensurate with the admiration that endures for him? (Since nobody knows much about him, it’s hard to say). Did Charles Dickens make money in his time? He paid the bills. How about Jane Austen? Or Anthony Trollope? Or moving to the last century, how about Virginia Woolf? Earnest Hemingway? William Styron? E.L. Doctorow? Toni Morrison? All those authors are household names. Did they make the kind of money James Patterson does?
These days, books of literary genius are often successful monetarily as well. The opposite, not so much. Nobody thinks James Patterson’s books are going to be read in 100 years as masterpieces. I’ll bet he sobs about that every time he checks his bank account. Does the wildly popular Louise Penny make buckets of money? How about Sue Grafton? Michael Connelly? Craig Johnson? Don Winslow? The answer is probably yes, they do pretty well.
Will any of those be read 100 years from now with appreciation for their fine writing? Maybe. Craig Johnson puts together a damned fine sentence. Louise Penny writes beautifully. John LeCarre is likely. But do they write any better than any number of mid-list (meaning “the rest of us”) authors? That’s where the question comes in.
The answer is: who knows what will stand the test of time in the crime writing field? So given that answer, I want to make money on my books now. Let time be the arbiter of whether they last. I’ll be long-gone, and won’t know the answer anyway. So if anybody knows how to be one of those authors who is doing not just “well,” but making money hand over fist, I’m all ears.