Friday, March 23, 2018

You Never Give Me Your Money

Make a bullet list of your ideal writing-related expenses. Must jibe with the themes of your books. And must be funny.

by Paul D. Marks

Jeeze Louise, a list of ideal writing-related expenses that must jibe with the themes of your books and it has to be funny. Hmm. I went to my Morey Amsterdam book of jokes but none seemed quite appropriate for a list of writing-related expenses. I guess I’ll have to wing it.

And since one has to justify one’s expenses, I’ve added a little description of each and why it’s necessary, rather than make a straight bullet list.  So, that said, here goes:

Internet expense for researching online……..: I want the platinum package, of course. The one that never disconnects and people actually come out to fix it before a month is up. Y’know, the basics. $5,550.

Dinner at my favorite restaurant. This would be research because one must know how the other half eats in order to be able to write about them. Of course, a meal at my favorite restaurant would cost about a measly ten bucks. So my patron and benefactor gets off easy on this one. $10.00. Maybe $15.00, inflation.

New York: Airfare, hotel, food and all expenses trip to NYC. Well, I truly am working on a book set in New York so this one’s not totally a joke. Gotta go there for research. And since an author should be treated to the style to which he isn’t accustomed I think Amy and I should stay in the best hotel, eat in the best restaurants, have the best seats for the theatre, have bodyguards to get us through and lots of insurance in case we don’t make it through. So I’m thinking $300,000.00 for a week’s stay. Hey, it’s New York, it ain’t cheap.
The Jungle Boat Ride at Disneyland
(Probably the closest I'll ever get to a cruise down the Amazon.)

More research: And while I’m at it, I think I might set a future book in New Orleans and one in Paris, Rome and Istanbul (one of the top places I want to go). And let’s not forget that trip I’ve always wanted to take up the Amazon in a boat for that story I’m, uh, writing, so those travel expenses will be necessary too. (I actually do have things set in latter two places, but in scripts I worked on but maybe a novel one of these days so you see I’m planning for the future here.) $2,000,000.73.

My mortgage, I know you’re only allowed to expense your home office if it’s used exclusively for your business, but isn’t every minute of every day spent working/thinking about my writing? And really my entire house is my office…books, papers, computers, tablets…strewn all over the house. You should see it it’s a mess. So $???

I'd like to write off my mortgage.

Will work for food!

My dogs’ food and vet bills: They are after all my writing assistants. $900.00/day. Don’t want them to starve. And I did promise them three weeks paid vacation, a health plan and 401(k) with 10% matching employer contributions in their contracts. That’s gotta come from somewhere.

eBay purchases: I like to scan eBay when I’m trying to think. It relaxes me. So if I sometimes end up buying something shouldn’t I be able to write that off? People have comfort animals. I have comfort goods. Like that submarine that was for sale a while back. I’d really like one. $200,073,037,034,247.44.

Books: I need books and lots of them. Can never have too many. $3250.00/week.

Diet Pepsi: Well, it used to be Diet Cherry Pepsi until they changed it. Then it used to be Diet Cherry Coke until they changed it to Feisty Cherry Coke, which is awful and makes me very feisty. Now we’re just onto plain old Diet Pepsi. Gotta have something to sustain us in the wee hours when the going gets lonely. Definitely a legit writing expense. $283.33/day.

Häagen-Dazs: Kind of like the comfort goods. After a hard day’s writing, it’s a necessity. $936.00/day.

Massage expenses: Sitting at a computer typing away all day makes your muscles sore. Gotta do something about that carpal tunnel syndrome. And since I’m a pampered writer I’d fly in Lucrezia B. straight from Italia (it costs more and is, therefore, better if you spell it that way). I just hope the B doesn’t stand for Borgia. $836,323.00/year. (I actually knew a guy, a hair stylist, who a Saudi prince would fly to Saudi Arabia several times a year just to cut his hair. I don’t know what he was paid, but I’m sure it helped him afford gold-plated shears.

Porsche 911: Well, you gotta get to book signings, plus pizza and beer runs and also to get to SinC-LA and SoCal MWA meetings on time. Might as well go in style. Of course, it is a tad cramped in the Porsche with the chauffeur, who doubles as a bodyguard, and what fun is a Porsche if you don’t drive it yourself. So the chauffeur sits in the passenger seat.  I’d also like that ’67 Pontiac Firebird for my character Duke Rogers in White Heat and the upcoming sequel Broken Windows, since his got burned in the 1992 riots in LA. He would like a replacement and so would I. My two fave cars, the Porsche and that era Firebird: orange with a black vinyl top. $42,500 for the Firebird. Porsche: $191,750. Glad there’s no change on that one.

Time and Materiel: Hey, a writer’s time ought to be worth something. A lot of people don’t seem to think it is but I do, so I’m making up for all those others here. And I want materiel instead of material ’cause, well let’s leave the details for another time: $3,038,384,598,434,933,444,348,102,218,562,034.33

And most important of all, Anti-Depressant drugs: see time and materiel explanation above, add in a whopping dollop of rejection and you definitely need to lay in the Prozac. See the cost of Time and Materiel, triple it, and that’s the cost of the drugs…after the insurance pays its share.

And back to the beginning of this post, who the hell is this Louise anyway?

And now for the usual BSP:

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Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Essential costs for Cathy Ace

This weeks' challenge is: 
Make a bullet list of your ideal writing-related expenses. 

Well, you asked.... 

My around-the-world cruise 2019 
(research for new books featuring globe-trotting sleuth Cait Morgan):

Dog-friendly luxury suite on cruise ship (me, dog & husband)   $65,000
Additional suite on cruise ship (for mother and sister)       $55,000
Delivery of Welsh cakes to fifteen ports of call, globally $5,000
Shore excursions to libraries/bookstores  $20,000
Sunscreen $500
Digital camera with good lenses $2,000
Extra hard-drive for camera $200
Photoshop/photo editing software and training $2,500
Dr. Bernstein weight-loss program, post-cruise, for four $5,000
Doggy diet food post-cruise $500

You can find out more about Cathy, her work and her characters at her website, where you can also sign up for her newsletter with news, updates and special offers:


Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Wishlist by RM Greenaway

Apologies for the late posting.

My excuses are:
The new phone
  • new iPhone (yesterday)
  • minor issues with new iPhone
  • playing with new iPhone features (great slo-mo)
  • celebrating new iPhone last night with some martinis and a game of darts
  • forgetting
The question this week is:

Make a bullet list of your ideal writing-related expenses. Must jibe with the themes of your books. And must be funny.

I'll have to leave funny to everybody else, and be blunt:

If I had some rich patron cover my writing expenses I'd:
  • Hire a publicist (my publisher does a good job of it but I know I'm not pulling my weight)
  • Hire a social media expert (ditto to above)
  • Hire a fact-finder (ditto to above)
  • Hire a counsellor to help explain why I'm writing
I'd also like funds for the following:
  • Bribe money to get a tour of the RCMP detachment in the city of my setting - so far no luck with polite inquiries
  • Scuba lessons
  • A big dog as protection during my solitary walks in weird places, and also for someone to talk to
  • An all-expenses paid year in the city of my setting
  • An electric bicycle to explore above mentioned city, as the traffic there is horrible
That's all I can think of right now. Otherwise all I need is a keyboard and time, lots and lots of time!

Monday, March 19, 2018

Expense account musings

Q: Make a bullet list of your ideal writing-related expenses. Must jibe with the themes of your books. And must be funny.

- from Susan

A: My writing expenses are funny, mostly because I have yet to earn enough money to need the deductions. I just submitted my 2017 tax figurings to the accountant, whose laughter is doubtless filling his office. I can hear him now: “Listen to this, Murrry, $1,035 for a round trip ticket to France, hahaha… $22 for sausages at a meat market in some little town, hahaha…”

But, honestly, if you’re going to set a series in a small town in France, and you need to include food specialties, and you don’t happen to live there, what can you do? At every convention, on every panel on the topic, authors will tell you earnestly that you can’t make up stuff that can be easily challenged by people who have been to those places and eaten that good. No Coney Island dogs will substitute for the creamy taste and soft texture of a locally made, Burgundian veal sausage. California winters are nothing like French ones and my second book in the series is set in the depths of Burgundy in December. And speaking of December, Christmas? If I hadn’t seen it for myself, I would not have known how understated the public holiday is in the villages, how unused the many churches are, and how charming the marzipan fruits and vegetables that decorate candy shop windows are.

Readers sometimes chuckle, assuming that I decided to set my stories in France as a way to fund my travel jones. Aren’t I clever? I get to write off my almost annual trips and just do a wee bit of research to justify the time? So not true. My last trip was conducted in a rush, it rained or sleeted every day, all the soupe d’oignon in the world couldn’t warm me up, and my transit days in Paris were more of the same weather. Not that I don’t still love France, but if I were as smart as some people assume, I’d set all of my books in May and June, insist that my characters travel to Giverney and Provence, and have a strong sub-theme built around the great wines of the region. I can hear my accountant now: “Three bottles of Chablis, two bottles of Burgundy, and a half case of Cremant? Hahaha….”

Friday, March 16, 2018

Writing With Your World Rocked

Research is a little like an iceberg. A lot of it doesn’t show. How do you decide how much research to put into your work?

I love facts and figures. It's been a thing of mine since I would read a volume of our partial set of World Book Encyclopedias in the kitchen as I ate cereal. I was the kid who held up the field trip because I read everything—and I mean everything—posted at the exhibits. That, and I was probably explaining it to some girl I liked. This is pre-World Wide Web so I would make a note to look up unfamiliar elements whenever I was back in front of resource materials in the library. Even today, my recall of even the most innocuous details about a person, place, or thing is so fast and yet complete, I sometimes look up things I already know just to make certain I'm not making it up. I never am. I usually can't remember what day it is, but I can tell you all sorts of shit about the Carnegie Library System, or what sort of relationship Herbert Hoover had with Harry Truman. If I wasn't handsome and a good dancer, folks would figure me a dork.

Admittedly, my grades always sucked, as I never did the work that was assigned to me. I'd make an earnest start, but then something within the research would interest me more than what we were working on in class. Back in the day, teachers would write cute little love notes to my parents in progress reports such as, "Easily distracted," and my personal favorite, "Refuses to finish what he starts." At a parent/teacher conference, Mrs. Nicholas, my 4th-grade teacher, told Rosalita, "Danny is brilliant, so much sometimes it's frightening, but he only studies what he wants to."

I'd get incompletes on all my homework, drop comedic gems from the back of the classroom, fail all the quizzes, yet ace all the tests, offering additional notes and sources in the side margin of my papers. I thought math word problems were opportunities for discourse. I was a mess and, aside from the occasional beatdown which held my attention only as long as the welts stung, I really gave no f*cks about it. I didn't have any learning disorders. I wasn't bored. I wasn't self-destructive. Teacher assigns me this, I study it, and my research uncovers that. The that feels more important, so I go with it, winding up wherever it takes me. I look up and the rest of the class is on a completely new chapter of the textbook. I remark how nothing in that chapter is relevant because the current chapter is really about x.

Boom. Ruler strikes on the palm. Hallpass issued. Assistant principal calls the hospital where my old G works. I may have a chance if she answers. If not, they call the firehouse where, for the old man, everything is life or death. Either way, I'll be taking that slow, long walk from the bus stop. Hey, an ass-whippin' only lasts so long, but knowledge is forever.

I'm not the sort of writer who takes offense as those who eschew research in favor of making it up as they go along. I just wonder if folks get how solid research really fuels a story. I once heard a peer on a panel say something to the effect of "Just make it up. No one knows what's really at that address, or where some such street really takes you." Actually, homie. I know. Plenty of folks know.

Making it up is harder, not easier. I leverage highly detailed research to reserve my creativity for plotting, dialogue and moments of exposition that illuminate the subject matter for the reader. If I'm not spending time and energy recreating what already exists crystalized in history, I'm free to explore thoughts, feeling, motivation, relationship, throughlines. If I'm burning up all my coal on world-building because I couldn't be bothered to research the setting, people, language, and customs, what mojo do I have for the fat meat of the story that makes the work stand out? No one over at Publisher's Weekly or Kirkus is going to write, "The story was flat, and the characters were thin, but where this book really shines is in the fictitious world created atop the perfectly good world that already existed." Making it up is like leaving the pot meat out of the beans. All that work and still no flavor.

Often, my research tells me what I'm really writing. I'm currently finishing my follow-up to A Negro and an Ofay. In it, Elliot Caprice returns to Bronzeville in Chicago, a neighborhood that is vital to the way America understands itself in the present day, except Google any location where our shared history placed a pin, click on satellite view, and you'll find a parking lot, vacant lot, or a pile of rubble. That led me to a deeper understanding of redlining, restrictive covenants, and local municipal ordinances. I'm writing a mystery thriller and I'm stopping to read a report from the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago titled "The Effects of the 1930s HOLC “Redlining” Maps" authored by Daniel Aaronson, Daniel Hartley, and Bhashkar Mazumder. I'm just trying to get my facts straight before I start a new chapter. Then I read the abstract:

In the wake of the Great Depression, the Federal government created new institutions such as the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC) to stabilize housing markets. As part of that effort, the HOLC created residential security maps for over 200 cities to grade the riskiness of lending to neighborhoods. We trace out the effects of these maps over the course of the 20th and into the early 21st century by linking geocoded HOLC maps to both Census and modern credit bureau data.

You may find these words dry and boring, but the hair on my neck stood up. Perhaps it was the word 'geocoded.'

Our analysis looks at the difference in outcomes between residents living on a lower graded side versus a higher graded side of an HOLC boundary within highly close proximity to one another.

So, like, the thinnest of borders between black and white Chicago neighborhoods where death to a black person is a guarantee. The source of hostilities carried forward through generations although no one remembers why everyone is big mad. Aight. Aight.

We compare these differences to “counterfactual” boundaries…"

"Counterfactual boundaries." Oh, shit. Turf wars. Lenard Clark. "I ever catch you anywhere near Bridgeport and I'll kill you myself." Whooooah...

And just like that, my January writing retreat was a research retreat.

For the next few mornings, I became an expert on the reasons why Bronzeville is dead and gone. In a nutshell, once black folk entered the northern urban middle-class and did what was customary (get married, have plenty of children, educate them in preparation of entering the workforce,) the black population of Chicago grew, same as the Irish, Italian, Polish, Lithuanian, etc. Except when those populations grew, the Home Owners Loan Corporation, a Federal agency, didn't erase the red lines around their neighborhoods and redraw them farther and wider. "Does a black family live there? Oh, then that must be the ghetto. Give me that pencil." Yeah, it's as arbitrary and cavalier as it seems. That's why places vital to the growth, stability, and promise of America turn up as wastelands on Google Earth. Am I writing about redlining or ghetto creation? Am I attempting an allegory about the dangers of government overreach? Man, I'm just trying to get to the next car chase or shootout. Still, I just can't help it. Danny wants to learn only what he wants to learn, and I learned where I take Elliot in the future is far different than where I wanted him to go.

So how much or how little my research shows depends upon how much work it gets done for me. The more it accomplishes, the less I actually have to write. For example, all that research on discriminatory housing practices endorsed and supported by the Federal government amounted to a half-page of dialogue. Good dialogue, but that's it. So does the research shape the work? Maybe. I know it shapes me. That's likely the point. 


For those interested in the works to which I frequently refer, check out these titles at your local bookseller, your local library, or online where you enjoy purchasing your print and e-books. As always, thanks for your support and encouragement.