Friday, March 19, 2010

"A noun martini, my good man. Shaken, not stirred ..."

By Shane

Birds chirping.

Faint light leaking around the window shades.


I'm rolling out of my satin sheets, ready to do battle with the forces of Evil that threaten our world as we know it ...

Or I would be if the woman next to me, bejeweled in gold and very little else, wasn't reaching for me, moaning, "Shane, master, darling, you can't leave, I need you so badly ..."

"Later, baby," I say, flipping my fedora end over end and watching it land on her heaving chest. "Gotta go save the world."

"At least it smells like you," she murmurs, clutching my hat to her face and waving goodbye. "Hurry home. We're due at the White House at 6 for cocktails."

"Does the president know to shake them?" I ask.

"I told him."

"Good girl," I say, patting her behind. She purred fetchingly.

Whereupon I slip a Walther PPK into my tuxedo holster, slide through the mansion, and waltz into the garage, where my Aston Martin purrs with horsepower.

"Where to, Sir Gericke?" my chauffeur asks, his flinty British voice echoing off metal so perfectly polished and waxed that each syllable breaks crisp as his starched cuffs.

"My publisher," I say.

"Which one, sir? You have so many . . ."

"Ah, right. Random House. The new owner's flying in from Hong Kong, and I said I'd try to make time to meet him."

"Very good, sir." He opened the door. "Your martini is chilling inside, next to your laptop and research notes. Shaken, not stirred . . ."


That's how I'd like my writing day to go.

The reality, as you might imagine, is wee different.

I roll out of bed at 8. Cotton sheets, not satin. The babe, who is my wife, and she is a babe, make no mistake, even suffering the likes of me for thirty years, has been at her workplace for hours. I pull on my writing attire--surfer pants, T-shirt, crew socks--and rumble down the stairs for coffee.

Which is cold. She brews it at 6 when she leaves, and these newfangled coffeemakers, unlike the percolators I grew up on, shut themselves off after two hours. Safety first. Me, I'd rather have the occasional kitchen fire than suffer cold coffee. But hey, insurance lawyers.

So, coffee, mug, no-fat cream, microwave, bleh.


Then it's back upstairs, to the spare bedroom that serves as my Bat Cave. I read e-mails, looking for stuff I gotta do NOW. There is none. Everything screams of now-cessity on the Internet these days, but I won't be fooled; most is bullshit, safely ignored.

So I head for a workout. Three days a week at the gym, lifting weights; two days hiking in whatever woods I feel like driving to. Only in movies do novelists live in rambling, charm-ridden homes pouting languidly into forest and lake. Rest of us gotta drive. Herb Alpert and Black Sabbath on the iPod, please ...

Exercise finished, I head to Grandma Sally's for breakfast. I've always longed to eat at a place regularly enough to have a usual. As in, "The usual, hon?" Grandma's is it. My usual: Denver omelette with EggBeaters; side of low-cal cottage cheese; side of pancakes with sugar-free syrup. Used to be full-fat everything. I used to be young. I devour a couple newspapers. They aren't what they used to be. Too much celebrity vomitus. But I used to be a newsman, and still read them religiously. Spill coffee on the funnies. Drip syrup on the editorials. Doesn't matter. It's newsprint, not a Kindle.

Head back home in my ten-year-old Civic. No Jeeves, drive myself. Reheat more coffee--fuckin' pot went cold again--wander back into the Bat Cave.

Where I write the day's words.

I don't have a set amount. Some authors insist on a thousand words a day, or five thousand, or three hundred. Others say, "Three hours in the saddle or I've failed." Me, as long as I write something most every day--emphasis on "most"; some days I just don't, needing to concentrate on ThrillerFest, blogging, marketing, or the hundred-and-one other things that Modern Authors are obliged to do besides write. Or, I cut the grass. Fix the sink. Go to the gun range and shoot paper zombies. Physical movement unrusts my brain, which spurs my writing, so it all comes full circle into the words.

But at this moment, I'm BISCW. (Butt In Swivel Chair Writing. My acronym. Pronounced "Bisquick," like the pancake batter, bringing the words full circle back to Grandma's; side of bacon, hon? No, thanks, I mus'n't ...) I'll type madly for an hour, which turns into four, which sometimes turns to all day. (Rarely, though. Too many hours at one time, my back aches like granny's bunions.) Mostly, the time is productive. Sometimes, it's like that famous writer--Oscar Wilde?--said about his writing day: "This morning, I put in a comma. This afternoon, I took it out."

I rewrite as I go, so the scene might be redone a dozen times before I think it's polished enough to leave alone for awhile. Then, it's on to the next scene. I write chronologically, Pages 1 to 415. (I tried 515 once, but my editor got fumey; those extra words needed pages to put them on, bucko, and that costs a truckload of money. So I cut back.) I think in scenes and keep a bunch fully formed in my head, like little movies on freeze-frame. But I don't write them until it's time chronologically. Don't know why; it just is. I don't worry about forgetting them. If they don't stay in my head like a neural Post-It, they're too weak for the book anyway, and good riddance.

When the manuscript is finished, I make a printout and stuff it in a drawer with the Kleenex box and spare mouse batteries. Why? Well, if I proofread it immediately after the first draft, I'd think, "Why, that's a darn fine job, chum, how could I change anything?" Let it sit a few weeks, and the potholes, warts and butt-uglies jump me like so many vampires loosed from their coffins.

Which is the opening bell for the rewrite(s) process.

I'll redraft a book three or four times before I'm satisfied. Then I e-mail it, and my editor points out the stuff that works, and doesn't. I beam at the what-works. I grimace at the doesn't. But she's got an excellent ear for this stuff, so I do the redrafting without complaining. My name's on the book, so I'll get the praise for the miracle that is partly my editor's sharp eyeballs. Thus, it'd be stupid to turn down her sage advice. And, I want the rest of my advance. Publishers hold them like bank hostages to ensure Darn Good Cooperation.

We're supposed to write better with each book. Fortunately, that seems to hold true for me. I'll never be perfect, because perfection doesn't exist, except maybe in a John Sandford book. But "better" is obtainable with hard work and sound advice. Case in point: My editor loved the first half of my debut, Blown Away, but thought the second half sucked dead mice. Lots o'rewriting on that puppy. My second book, Cut to the Bone, brought the comment that the premise was divine but the crime I chose to wrap the premise around was a four-letter word--dull--so could I pretty please find a better crime? She was right, and I did. Fair amount of rewriting on that one, but much less than the debut.

My upcoming book, Torn Apart, is the first that's entirely mine. I e-mailed the manuscript, immediately figured out eight major ways it could be better (why oh why can't I think of that stuff before hitting Send, right?), and suggested all the edits before she could find them. She agreed with my assessment, I got to work, she accepted it as final draft. So this book, for better or worse, is me without an editor's parachute.

I can't wait to see what you think on July 6, when it goes on sale at a favorite bookstore near you! (In the business, that's known as SSP, or Shameless Self-Promotion. Become familiar with that term, as you will probably see it again as July 6 draws near. I need the sales.)

Oh, and then I'm done writing for the day, and so I answer the e-mails and update Facebook and recruit literary agents for ThrillerFest and worry that I haven't talked to my sisters for much too long but God there's just no time and then The Babe comes home from work, and we eat dinner in front of Law & Order cause we love the show even though we've seen every rerun a thousand million damn times, then clean up, then hit the hay, then before you know it, I'm rolling out of bed at 8 o'clock. Time to make the doughnuts ...

Shaken, not stirred.

Shane Gericke would love you to join him in New York this summer for ThrillerFest V, as (a) it'd be fun to see you, and (b) he's this year's chairman and his peers will tease him unmercifully if he fails to break last year's attendance record. So take pity on his poor soul and check it out at He also invites you to visit He paid a lot of money to make his new site spiffy and bright, and it'd be a shame if you didn't come check out the drapes and furniture.


Kelli Stanley said...

Shane, honey, I see you saving the world over James Bond any day. :) You're a newspaper man, after all ... and a hell of a writer. :)

Great post, as always!! Like you, I write chronologically, in scenes. And normally I try to get by without a dedicated word count, but my deadline is staring me in the face and I'm flinching. Hence, I'm trying a twenty page a week fling, and we'll see if it lasts.

See you in New York for Thrillerfest, where I will be clutching my copy of TORN APART waiting for your inscription. :)


Sophie Littlefield said...

oh had to laugh - last sunday, when julie and i had been at the tucson book festival all day after 3 hours sleep, we retreated to our hotel room and turned on the tv and it was Goldfinger!! we tried hard to watch teh whole thing but fell asleep :)

Shane Gericke said...

You're sweet, Kelli. Can't wait to see you at Tfest, and then at Bouchercon in the fall, where the Anchor Steam is on me.

And bless ya for buying a copy! That's one down, 999,999 to go ...

Oh, all right. I'll buy one too. 999,998.

Graham said...

Great post Shane - how come yours seem so well thought out and mine resemble the ramblings of a mad man?

Something tells me if you had an Aston Martin in the garage you my friend would be driving it and making the cheufer sit in the back - just a hunch.

Shane Gericke said...

Hmmm ... Graham, methinks you are correct about that Aston Martin, I'd have to drive it. Problem is, that damn Jeeves thinks he owns the radio stations and would listen to smooth jazz, which would never, ever do. I shall be forced to send him sailing into the ditch ...

As for well-thought-out, thanks. Too many years in the newspaper biz to ramble, I'm afraid--whenever we tried to rambled, some managing editor or other would cuss and yell till it got fixed. It's a personal failing I keep meaning to correct cause rambling is so much more fun.

Shane Gericke said...

Sophie, that IS a funny coincidence. Did you drink lovely adult beverages whilst at the festival?

I think I read once that woman could only keep the gold paint on for a short time, or it would kill her. Apparently, if you cover your entire skin with something like that, you do some kinda suffocation.

Jen Forbus said...

Hi Shane! I always love to come and get lost in your posts. They are so much fun.

But "sucked dead mice"? Ewww, that must have been pretty bad because it just sounds horrible!

I don't drink coffee, but I'm pretty sure those new fangled coffee makers The Babe would put new coffee and water in, reset the maker for 8, I bet you would have hot coffee... ;-)

Thanks! Fun stuff as always!

Unknown said...

Looking forward to #3!

FYI, out here in Cali, nobody can remember what shame means, so we call it BSP, for blatant self-promotion. Because the only sin is getting caught :)

Shane Gericke said...

Thanks for getting lost with me, Jen. Hanging out with fun folks like you beats hell out of Bisquicking in the office!

The coffee pot probably does have a fancy-schmancy timer. But then The Babe would have to make coffee twice. Not that she wouldn't do it, but I'd never ask: 6 in the morning, it's tough being awake enough to do it even once. (Coffee it, I mean. Not the other early morning it. You have a dirty mind.) Besides, I'd have one less woe-is-me-poor-Shaney story to share. What fun would that be?

Yes, dead mice are awful. So was the last half of that manuscript. Fortunately, I was able to resuscitate it, and now the Miracle of the Mice is told in hushed tones to wide-eyed children everyone.

Or so I like to believe ...

Shane Gericke said...

Me too, Mysti. Hard to believe it'll ever get here. I hate waiting a year for a book to come out.

Blatant self-promotion. I like it. Could have been shameless author promotion, I suppose, but then we'd all be SAPs. Not that we aren't with publisher pay scales these days, but why rub our faces in it, right?

Joshua Corin said...

Really fantastic post, Shane! It's always great to get an insight into how another writer's process works.

And I *will* see you this summer at Thrillerfest!

Shane Gericke said...

Thanks, Joshua, I appreciate it. Looking so forward to meeting you in person at ThrillerFest.