Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Techno - wampus (or is it Swampus)

I'm all for the technowampus world we live in. Could you even imagine living without this stuff, in some kind of bizarre Waltons like existence??? Seriously, without spell check I would never have graduated collage (or is that college). I literally can't spell my way out of a paper bag - not really sure how you would go about that anyhow - I guess you start with sharp letters like Z and K and avoid using the O at all costs.

Beyond spell check there are other benefits to technology. We can do research from the comfort of our own homes - of course, as Shane so perfectly pointed out earlier, that doesn't always work out as planned. We can also order Pizza from our cell phones while having writers block and acoiding doing research - we don't even have to get up and grab the land line anymore. Come to think of it why do I stil have a landline anyway??? And of couse we can e-mail, facebook, tweet, check the stock market, watch a game or a TV show we missed. We can even video conference and skype with fans - not sure they want to see us eating Cherios at nine in the morning but you get the general idea.

In fact given enough planning, we can Tweet that we're about to eat Cherioos, post a facebook update with the Cheeerio box front and nutritional information and probably even send virtual Cherios to our Mafia Wars friends or something, then skype the Chearyioo eating broadcast live to selected fans and friends and then post a clip on Youtube of our dining extraveganza, intercut with M C Hammer tunes in the background, while simultaniously answering messages on our I-phones as to the tastyness of the said cheryoos.

Bet you some semi-real money those backward country folk on the Walton's couldn't do that - all they could do was have John Boy tell them a bed time story about how good the cheerios were going to be for breakfast the next morning.
And who really wants...

Wait a minute - telling stories - oh yeah, that's actually our job.

Alright, I change my mind.

Technology SUCKS, at least, that is, when it clutters up our world and gets in the way of doing what we're supposed to do. What we love to do. All of which, would explain why I do most of my, initial writing on legal pads with a pen and paper, usually at some coffee house or resteurant where no one will be able to find me and the manager is getting antsy about the 15 free refills I've had since I came in. (Bet he didn't calcuat me into his P and L)

So I say chuck it all - except for that spell check thing, we going to have to make an exception somewhere. By the way - why can't it spell Cerrioos correctly :/ I'm going off to find a dictionary. If I still have one, it's probably over near the land line somewhere.

Goodnight John Boy.

Graham Brown is the Author of Black Rain - a story which involves technology and equipment that are slowly rendered useless by a mysterious energy force. Hmmm... very suspicious.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Barro Syde!

by Josh

Actually, I wrote my first novel on a typewriter.

I was in the fifth grade. My instructor was a Dickensian figure named Mr. Worrell. Mr. Worrell had nine-and-a-half fingers and loved to point the half finger – a middle finger, natch – directly at his students. The wound had closed up long ago into the approximation of an X and when this fleshy X was pointed directly at you, you damn well better have had the answer to the question he was asking. Answering these questions, by the way, involved standing up, locking your hands behind your back, maintaining a proper posture, and replying in a clear and confident voice.

He made us memorize Longfellow’s “The Village Blacksmith.” Cotton He made us memorize “The Walrus and the Carpenter.” He made us memorize the Preamble to the US Constitution. He drilled into our prepubescent brains every rule of grammar we might ever need to know. He was, as they say, old school. Very old school. Cotton Mather old school.

Don’t believe me? Think I’ve plucked him from a vine? Ask Michelle Gagnon. She had him for an instructor as well (although not in the same year as I).

It was in Mr. Worrel'l’s fifth grade class that I wrote my first novel. We were all required to write a novel (of approximately 10 pages or so) for the statewide Young Authors competition. The honors kids, those in ALAP (Advanced Learning Achievement Program), took to the assignment like flies to honey. I’d always wanted to be in ALAP, but because of my mild cerebral palsy, various teachers and administrators deemed me a poor fit for ALAP’s showcased opportunities. So, going into the contest, did I feel a little competitiveness with them? You bet I did.

I wrote a choose-your-own-adventure story about a space whale, a sort of interstellar Moby Dick. In 10 pages. With hand-drawn illustrations. And a cover made of blue-and-white wallpaper. Because my father sold typewriters for a living, I had easy access to the latest IBM machines and I remember folding sheets of pulpy manila paper in half, feeding these half sheets into an IBM Quietwriter, and typing out my imaginings for this novel. Since I’d been more or less typing since I was six years-old, I knew my way around a keyboard and could hunt-and-peck with speed and accuracy.

Writing that novel dropped me down a rabbit hole from which I’ve yet to emerge.

The novel (whose title, alas, eludes me but probably was something revolutionary like “The Space Whale”) did not win the contest, but I was far from discouraged. You see, although this wasn’t my first Conanstory (that would be a short I wrote in second grade about a vampire with a loose tooth), this was the first time I remember feeling the magic of storytelling. When, the following year, it came time again for the Young Authors contest, I typed up a fantasy novel (12 pages) about a Conan-like hero named Barro Syde.

And I won, beating out every other student , including all those perfect little ALAPers.

(On a side note, one of the judges of the contest the year I won was thriller writer and all-around mensch Jon Land. A few weeks after I learned of my victory, the state held a reception for all the winners and finalists and I actually got to meet Jon and…well, no, that’s a story for another time.)

All through junior high school, I used that Quietwriter to type up adventure stories and horror stories. This was reflective of what I was reading at the time. I’d type and I’d type – and not softly either. In part because of physical necessity and in part because my fingers were as passionate as my brain and heart, I pounded at those typewriter keys and oftentimes I’d get a knock on the door to keep it down, but that was like telling a fish to dance. I did do my best to accommodate my siblings and my parents, and when we finally got an IBM home computer, I made sure to isolate my writing time to the wee hours of the morning, so as not to disturb their sleep.

Do I miss typewriters? Well, there’s a difference between nostalgia and longing. I’m very happy with the technology we writers have today. Plus, stand up if you ever got a hand stuck in a typewriter carriage whilst trying to change the ribbon.

Oh, and now that you’re standing, please lock your hands behind your back and recite with me:

“Under a spreading chestnut tree

The village smithy stands;

The smith, a mighty man is he,

With large and sinewy hands…”

Monday, March 29, 2010

Trifecta of Crime--Wildcard Post!

from CJ:

I'm going to play a wildcard today since silly me, I never picked up this week's question!  Just goes to show you how scattered a writer's mind can be when they have a deadline breathing down their neck, sucking all of the oxygen from their brain!

I don't watch that much TV anymore, but this year three crime shows  have really caught my attention. They're well-written, star actors who are giving subtle, multi-layered performances, and their story lines are intriguing.

Only problem? All three of them are on Tuesdays at 10pm!

The Good Wife came on first last fall. I was immediately caught by the high concept premise: the wife of a politician accused of corruption must return to work and support her family while dealing with the repercussions of her husband's actions.

If that's not enough, it stars the wonderful Julianna Margulies as the wife and one of my favorite actors, Chris Noth, as the disgraced and not-always-repentent husband. I have no idea how the ratings are for CBS, but this show is a keeper--one that can be savored for multi-episode character development as well as intriguing single episode plotlines.

Southland actually hit the air before The Good Wife, originally on NBC last year, but it was pulled.   Thankfully, TNT has picked it up. Foolish, NBC!!! How could they almost let this gritty, edgy police procedural die? It's the best cop show since Hill Street Blues--it can be bleak and dark and angsty, but that's life on the streets of South Central LA.

So typical of Hollywood to want to yank the one show that actually portrays police officers realistically--warts and heroics and yes, even sentimental softspots. I love this show, it makes me nostalgic for my days of working evening shifts in the ER and then hanging out with cops and paramedics before going home.

And the newest temptation on Tuesday nights is Justified which just premiered on FX. Based on an Elmore Leonard short story, it also follows a character's reluctant return to his hometown, only this time it's a trigger-happy US Marshal returning home to Harlan County, Kentucky. Played by Timothy Olyphant (of Deadwood fame) Raylan Givens is a character whose actions speak volumes even though he doesn't do a whole lot of talking. When he does, listen closely because the dialogue, though sparse, is excellent, and does Leonard proud.

All I can say is thank goodness all these shows except Justified (what's up with that, FX???) are easily viewed online at my convenience...which explains why I don't get much work done on Wednesdays!

What crime show treasures have you found in the new Spring TV lineup? Tell me--as long as they're not on Tuesdays at 10pm, maybe I'll give them a try!

Thanks for reading,

About CJ:
As a pediatric ER doctor, CJ Lyons has lived the life she writes about in her cutting edge suspense novels. Her debut, LIFELINES (Berkley, March 2008), became a National Bestseller and Publishers Weekly proclaimed it a "breathtakingly fast-paced medical thriller."

The second in the series, WARNING SIGNS, was released January, 2009 and the third, URGENT CARE, October, 2009. Her newest project is as co-author of the first in a new suspense series with Erin Brockovich. To learn more about CJ and her work, go to

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Wizardry of Writing

Gabriella Herkert

Catnapped and Doggone

What is it that Jack Nicolson said as the Joker when he saw Batman’s rappelling gizmo? How does he get such wonderful toys? Mapquest, Google, GPS, online libraries, a password to the Oxford English Dictionary online – I love them all. What’s more is I need them. Like the cell phone that initially seemed like such a personal indulgence, expensive beyond its practicalities and possibly a fad, those tools have become my writing arms and legs and without them I’d only be creative if I were as driven as Christie Brown in My Left Foot.

I was born without a sense of direction. I blame my mother. It’s not, I hope, an indication of limited intellectual ability. I just didn’t get any of that in the same way that my eyes aren’t brown and I can’t dunk a basketball. If I were going to limit storytelling to the setting of North Freedom, Wisconsin, my home town, I might be able to fake it. There are only two streets and so what if I put the Methodist Church where the restaurant should be or vice versa? There are only five hundred ninety-six people likely to know I’d done it wrong. Without Hotmail, they could only call me on it via actual written letter, or yell at my Mom who nobody actually messes with. I’d be fine. Probably. But since I haven’t limited my novels to the three square miles I can pull a rough map for from memory, I need Google Earth. I need the weather channel or its going to be snowing in San Diego. I must have the digital camera or I’m not going to be able to describe the gang tag in the neighborhood I’ve selected for my first dead body. Do I really want to get that wrong? Yikes.

Without the technology, I’d have plenty of readers telling me I didn’t know I didn’t have a clue. They wouldn’t take that. Nor should they. The tools put the actual street names within ready access. I can describe neighborhoods I have never been to and get it right. Does James Bond pick up his new car from Q and not test drive the license plate rockets? Of course not. If he didn’t use the weapons at hand, Goldfinger would kill him and James would have it coming because he foolishly neglected to be the most he could be. Readers are like Bond villains. If I didn’t get the street names correct when I can, with relative ease, double check, they’ll come after me with the modern day blow dart –the penetrating email.

Google, the online Encyclopedia Britannica, even Wikipedia (although it pays to verify) all make it possible for me to write beyond my personal experiences. Let’s be honest here, I need to get out more. Knowing that, what would I entertain readers with if I couldn’t venture out using cyberspace? Michelle Gagnon was eloquent during her grand master week in stating that she wasn’t qualified to write her FBI series. She writes a great book anyway. Why? The world is at her fingertips and she’s tactile. Yes, a lot of her sources are actual living beings. Mine are, too. How did I know where to find someone to answer my questions about the LAPD? Their website. How did I “meet” the SEAL who explained to me about Hell Week? Through the United States Naval Academy’s alumni newsletter. All starting with on online query in google or yahoo or somewhere. Where did I take that road? To my publisher then to a book store near you.

Without all the wonderful ways that information is made easily accessible, most of us couldn’t afford to write books that were the least bit accurate. We’d have to take bomb-building class at the local University, get advanced degrees in abherrent psychology and accidentally run into a naturalist to ask about the local fauna that has lethal effects. Then, we’d have to spend a lot of time and money explaining ourselves to the cynical local police acting on fifteen tips from eleven different incidents of suspicious behavior on our part. With the anonymity of the computer, we can be up to no good, get it right and get away with it. How wonderful is that?

It’s not just about what ends up on the page, either. Without Mapquest I can’t find Seattle Mystery Bookshop for my next signing. And it’s my local independent that I’ve been to a zillion times. A book store I’ve never been to before, well, forget about it. If I didn’t have GPS in my rental car, I’d never make it to the next conference hotel. There would be no panels. And how do all of you reading this blog talk to me? Using the comment section below or my Facebook link. Even my technophobe, directionless mother can Tweet. Given the fact I blamed her for not being able to find the house from the driveway in this medium that never dies, I expect she will.

Thanks for reading, texting, emailing, tweeting, commenting and all the other high tech ways you reach me.


Saturday, March 27, 2010

Email ate my word count

I remember back before email, back before I had a computer, back… Well, I almost remember. But on the days when I check my email on my blackberry, and then have to delete it again on my computer, I wonder if this whole technology thing is this all a gigantic waste of time.

Before email, you had to mail things and wait patiently for them to arrive. I know, it's hard to imagine. Then Fedex came along and made everyone wait to the last minute to do everything or expect things to get done always by the next day. Now they expect things right now. And if you are doing something else (god forbid) you feel like you are behind the curve when you see you have a flurry of emails expecting you to do something. So you rush to do it and then you begin to notice that you have not written a word all day.

Don’t get me wrong, I love email. I pop off little notes to friends. I love finding out what everyone is up to on Facebook. I look on Google when I’m stuck and need a little information for my story. But then not everything is there that I need. I dig some more. I start to get distracted.

I was looking up information on Parisian artists in the 1950’s. I know, I said I wouldn’t do a historical, but this is background information that grounds my story. I could make something up, but I prefer to find something out that really happened. And then I started to read about a photographer and got curious. SO I found some of his work and started looking at it. And the next thing I knew, my writing time had expired. That was not a 2,000 word day. Oops.

I sometime worry that I’m only getting what people think is relevant these days, and not finding dusty nuggets. So perhaps I would be better off in a library. But who has time to crawl around in the shelves of one anymore? I have to answer all these emails that have already popped into my in-box. And I owe myself those 2,000 words…

Friday, March 26, 2010

A Bridge Too Far ... Digital Edition

Here's the Wisconsin fishing lake that I believed--from research using MapQuest, Google Maps and Google Earth--was a rushing river with a high, lonesome bridge. Sadly, it wasn't.

By Shane Gericke

Technology's great.

Reality's best.

Because while the former gives you all the infinite possibilities, the latter shows whether they're actually correct.

Case in point: In my upcoming book, a scene is set on opening day of the deer-hunting season in Wisconsin. To make the scene work, I needed to find a bridge from which the bad guys could toss a murder victim without being spotted by police. (I prefer using real locations in my fiction; it heightens the sense of "gosh, it really happened.") Specifically, I needed a isolated bridge in a rural setting, close enough to an interstate for the bad guys to get in and out fast, far enough from a population center that cops weren't likely to be around, and a rushing river to carry the body away.

No way in hell I'd find that combination driving around with a gas-station map. (Remember those?) So I turned to MapQuest and Google Earth and started panning for gold.

Two cups of coffee later, I found my (lonely!) two-lane bridge. Over a long, rushing river. That emptied into a sprawling forest in which deer hunting really occurs. A mile away from Interstate 94, near a tiny town named Millston. Which is twelve miles south of Black River Falls, the nearest population center. ("Population center" does not describe Millston, which is a hundred or so people and a church, several bars, a pretty town square with a cannon, some businesses to service the fishing and hunting trade, and a graveyard.) Perfect. Because technology isn't always reliable, I cross-checked MapQuest against Google Earth satellites. The photographs proved the perfecto-ness of the site.

So I wrote the scene, resting the entire sequence of that part of the book on the good graces of MapQuest and Google Earth.

But a few months later it nagged at me. The first thing you learn as Johnny Deadline, Reporter, is, "If your mother says she loves you, check it out." How did I know for a fact the images I saw were correct?

Long answer short, I couldn't. Time for a road trip. Fortunately, we'd already planned to hit the Wisconsin Dells that August weekend. Hot summer, cold water, good friends, drinks and dinner every night; what's not to like? Better, the Dells were an hour south of Millston and Black River Falls, so I could eyeball the place for real. Or, to paraphrase Edward G. Robinson in "Double Indemnity," put the quietus on the little man in my stomach.

So we made the drive from the Dells one fine Sunday morning. (Note to self: contrary to what I'd expected from living in an upscale city such as Naperville, rural towns do not have cute breakfast places that are open on Sunday for tourists. The cooks, waitresses and customers are in church. I couldn't find a gas-station donut, let alone a Wisconsin cheddar omelette with side of heart attack. Sigh.) But we did find the places I'd written up so eloquently.

They did not include a river.

What looked like a river on the maps and satellite imagery was actually a pair of bucolic fishing lakes. (Well, ponds. But big ones, honest!) The photo at the top shows one of them. Not exactly rushing, right? The "bridge" that crossed them was a road on the narrow dirt barrier that separated one lake from the other. The road was, oh, a foot or two higher than the lakes.

In other words, what you see is not what you get.

That was fine; fiction is the art of the possible, not of the documentary. So I kept things the way I wrote them, added some sight-and-scent details from our foray--Mmm, fried walleye! Eeew, pond scum!--and added an Author's Note at the end of the book, thanking the good people of Millston and Black River Falls for allowing me to alter their geography to create a rushing river and a high, lonely bridge. Yes, authors can and should alter reality to support the truth of their stories. (Again, it's an entertainment, not a geography lesson.) But it's best to acknowledge what you're doing to the reader, so if they're familiar with the real-reality of the place, they won't think you're just a lazy dope who never bothered to do the research.

Oh, and that bridge I made up? My hero sheriff happens upon the river quite by accident, surprising the bad guys into one of the most exiciting shoot-em-ups I've ever had the privilege to write.

Cause hey, if I can't shoot a bad guy now and then, then what's a fictional bridge for?

Shane Gericke invites you to visit him at, where the digital coffee is hot and the conversation is mellow. Naturally, the talk might drift toward his upcoming new thriller, Torn Apart, the cover of which he managed to drop in next to this block o'type. Sneaky bastard, our Shane.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Foil on the Rabbit's Ears

By Kelli Stanley

Has technology made my life as a writer easier?

Yes and no ...

Research-wise, the internet's a godsend. OK, hold up your hand if you've ever used a card catalog! I loved the things, but being able to access bibliographic information in a twinkle, plus resources like digitized photos from the San Francisco Public Library History Center and Google Maps and moonrise time for May 25, 1940 and ... well, everything--it's miraculous. I mean, I remember the days when my father used a slide rule, when UHF TV was a big deal (round antenna, anybody?) and one of my high school graduation presents was a nice new Sears electric typewriter.

(Our basement collects typewriters. Every time I venture downstairs, I find another one. I think we're breeding them.)

Social networks are a wonderful thing, too. You can meet fabulous people, stay in touch with old friends , chat, actually have more interaction virtually than you will in a whole day at the office. You can buy virtually anything or drool over a collection of something (flashlights?) belonging to someone else (a handy thing for research), learn about your family's history and find long-lost relatives. Even look for whomever you had a crush on in high school. It's all there, all the time.

And that's the downside ... as it is in any frontier, the internet is a dangerous place. You have to be very, very careful, and any figure who is even infinitesimally in the public eye (which would be most writers), that means treading a path between getting out and about to let people know about you and your book, but also building up barricades to protect yourself physically, emotionally and psychologically from those who would do you damage. And that kind of finesse takes time and energy, and we all know how short those two items are on anybody's list of supplies.

I think technology has made life both easier and harder for writers, thus achieving a kind of post-modern, 21st century equilibrium. 'Cause y'see, technology is always cool ... but no matter how cool it is, we're still dealing with the human beings who use it, for good or for not so good. The good generally outweighs the not-so-good, in this, as in everything else.

It all comes back to people, dahlinks. And like Doc on Star Trek, I'm comforted by the thought. :)

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

In Which I Strenuously Avoid The Subject

by Sophie

Technology: is it making your writing easier or standing in the way of your creative side?

Like my new author photo? Yeah, me too. It's from earlier this month at the Tucson Festival of Books and Life-Size Characters. Seriously, you couldn't walk through the festival without running into one costumed and copyrighted figure after another. There were Star Wars characters, including the requisite storm troopers and a very convincing and fetching Princess Leia, kids' book characters, and the entire McDonalds cast including the Hamburglar and Grimace.

McDonalds, it seems, was a major sponsor of the event. In fact, we parked right next to this van in the Author Parking Lot:

As far as I know, the McDonalds folks haven't authored a whole lot, other than hearty defenses of their products in the face of never-ending criticism from nutritionists, including the delightfully earnest "Tools for Health Professionals." Awww, Big MacD, I don't mean to hate on you; you know I've been a fan from way back. C'mon, I never abandoned you, not even when everyone else was going all Eric Schlosser on your ass.

Sorry, I'm a little's been a month and six days since I had a Diet Coke, and I miss them, despite my brave and continuing determination to resist the evil. So I've had to stay out of fast food joints.

Have you noticed yet that I'm avoiding the subject? Okay, okay, I'll come clean: talking about technology makes me feel dumb. I'm a late adopter. I never have any of the cool stuff. I wait until it's trickled down to eight-year-olds before I try anything. Don't get me wrong, I rely on my iPhone and netbook and kindle as much as the next person, but I'm definitely among the last to catch on. I figure it'll be another year or two before I can try Scrivener or MacFreedom even though I definitely see the benefits. I'm like a scared little kid at the top of the cliffs - i have to wait until everyone else has jumped before I can go.

The ironic thing is that I studied computers in college. Really! I have a degree and all. But I was really bad at it. And I even knew it at the time, but in my stubbornness I believed there was something admirable in the struggle. It was like voluntary Sisyphusism, wherein I imagined I was ennobled by choosing the most tortuous path.

Wow, was that ever a mistake. There followed many years of laboring in misery of the COBOL and Novell varieties. But that's ancient history. I managed to shake it off and now I get to do what I love every day, and I hire incredibly smart people to take care of the technical stuff. But I still carry the sense-memory of those bad days around with me - an involuntary shudder whenever I cross paths with technology.

Monday, March 22, 2010

I love my iphone far too much


is it making your writing easier or standing in the way of your creative side?

By Rebecca Cantrell

A few years ago I got an iphone. My friends without smart phones mock me for my addiction. I use the calendar, check my email, find out where I am when I’m on tour, find restaurants that deliver in strange cities, and take pictures. Heck, I even use it to make and receive phone calls!

I love my iphone so much, I wrote a novel on it. Well, I didn’t actually thumb it in but...OK, here’s where I fess up. I’m writing another series as Bekka Black. The first one is called iDrakula and it’s a cell phone novel. It’s a retelling of Bram Stoker’s Dracula using only text messages, emails, web searches, and a 3-5 cell phone movie. It’ll be delivered on multiple platforms, but I’m not allowed to say which ones yet. Without technology, it would be unthinkable.

For the Hannah Vogel books I use the Internet to find pictures. There are so many amazing black and white photos of Germany in the 1930s. And with my computer (and sometimes just my trusty iphone) I can tap into all of it. My next novel, A Night of Long Knives, opens with a zeppelin jacking. Someone posted pictures of them as a baby on the Graf Zeppelin. They had pictures of their cabin, the control room, the gondola, everything. It was a fantastic resource.

Of course it all takes up waaaay to much time. Or, maybe it doesn’t. Maybe that down time I spend screwing around on the internet is really a way for me to recharge my creative batteries…does anybody buy that?


I have a love/hate relationship with technology. Yes, I use a laptop. I love it to the point I can’t even type on a “normal” keyboard anymore, and while I do think the use of certain high-tech tools has made our job as writers easier in many respects, I also think there are dangers in having an overreliance on it.

One of my favorite methods of procrastination – uh, research is Google Maps. When I was working on my creative thesis in grad school, I needed to research an area of downtown Denver, Colorado. Although I’d lived in Denver for a few years, it had been nearly a decade since I’d left the metro area. A lot of changes can happen in a decade. Shops close. Buildings are torn down. New businesses move in. Streets change from residential to commercial. This was when I discovered the “street-level view” in Google Maps.

Street-Level View is exactly what its name implies – a 360-degree panorama of a street as seen from a pedestrian’s point of view. I loved it. It allowed me to see the streets, pick out a few details and focus on them, and gave my thesis the edge of realism that it needed. It also had the added advantage of being a huge time-suck. I played with Google Maps and the SLV for hours and nearly missed a class because I was having fun “walking” through familiar stomping grounds.

For me, distraction is one of the biggest dangers in relying on technology. Yes, it’s great and it makes research a lot easier, but the potential for distraction is huge. Especially for someone like me. I’m from Mississippi…a Southerner…and as Jeff Foxworthy has pointed out we’re easily distracted by shiny objects, hence our innate attraction to beer cans and UFOs.

Technology of any kind is the ultimate in...shiny…uh, objects. Therefore, it is the…ultimate…dis…tract…

Sunday, March 21, 2010

A Day in the Life

Gabriella Herkert

Catnapped and Doggone

How would I describe my typical writing day? Well, first, let’s be clear. Unlike many of my more prolific colleagues (Tim Maleeny, I am talking to you), I don’t “write” every day. I know I should but I never have. I don’t even work on my writing every day by researching or editing or blogging. If you want to see the never take a creative day off schedule, talk to Janet Evanovich. By contrast to her six days a week, nine hours a day commitment, I am the original slacker.

I write as part of my day job. You know the one that pays the bills and keeps my dog in treats? Letters, contracts, memos, endless emails are an all day, every day occurrence. Frequently that extends to what the Europeans call personal time. As Americans, lashed to our Blackberries and via the informational superhighway to our desks, we’ve become the 7-11 work force. As a result, I draft, edit, compose and send email like Slurpees twenty-four hours a day. There’s only so much energy to do that in my tank not to mention the spiking likelihood of carpal tunnel syndrome. So I do not “write” every day. It’s a choice and my personal priorities can be very messed up. Think of me as a bad parent telling you fellow writers to do what I say and not what I do.

There are numerous good reasons to “write” every day. My writing flows better the more often I do it. I’m less likely to have forgotten I’ve already used that clever phrase or revealed that subtle clue if it hasn’t been three weeks since I so much as sat down to my next project. Plus, the characters remain truer to themselves if you visit with them more often. This is true in life, as well. Have you ever noticed? The more real conversations you have with a person, the more you have to say to them? The more time you spend in a character’s voice, the more they have to say. And remarkably, the more ways they have to surprise you. If you’ve got an outline or an idea and you wander away for too long, you are forced to go back to that same starting place to reset yourself when you return to the story. If you are with your characters every day, you don’t rely on that crutch. That’s when they’ll do something interesting like wake up on the wrong side of the bed and let the sarcastic retort slip from their lips or look across the cube at a co-worker and see hot body under that frumpy suit. Imagination is brain sour dough. If you add daily yeast, it grows exponentially. And then you’ve got to clean the refrigerator.

Now that we’ve established that my typical writing day isn’t every day, I should break them down into two categories: a regular writing day and a writing weekend day.

If it’s a work day and a regular writing day, you can be sure that if I haven’t written by 5:00 p.m., it’s not going to happen. Once my butt hits the couch and my hand caresses the remote control, I’m done. You can also be pretty sure that I didn’t write before I left for work at 5:00 a.m. Creativity for me is like hot yoga, my brain and body just aren’t going to play nice at that time of day. Which usually means I’ve carved out some time mid-day to write. As a diet technique, this is highly effective. With my hands on the keyboard, I can’t be eating Oreos. I know this from personal experience plus crumbs embed between the keys and the whole thing is a mess. Ironically, writing in the middle of the day puts fuel in the tank. I’m much more likely to come home and workout for an hour, do a little research, clean up my typos from earlier in the day or even write something else before I assume the vegetative position if I’ve managed to choke out a few lines while others are eating bad cafeteria food.

If it’s a writing weekend day, things are very different. Today is one of those. I wasn’t writing enough and it showed in the final output, not just the deadlines but the actual finished product, so I imposed on one of my writing friends to keep me accountable. It is a thankless job for which I will probably end up killing him in a later book in some ghastly way. But it’s working. Once a month, we set a weekend aside for writing. One day at my house, one day at his. We write for two hours with an alarm set. Then we eat. Then we critique each other’s work. Then we write. We usually add in an hour of exercise in the middle. Sunday comes and we repeat. Today I am working on my blogs because I didn’t have any regular writing days this week. I want to work on my new book (not that I don’t adore chatting with the blog) but I’m holding it out as a present for being diligent today. So tomorrow, Sunday, I shall take the Lord’s Day and break about six commandments on paper. A perfect writing day.

I know lots of writers and everyone has a different approach. Some things that used to work for me don’t any more. Some people have jobs that allow them to expend most of their creative energies on their passionate writing without siphoning them off to take care of business. There are warm up exercises and daily word requirements and master classes. My typical day isn’t even typical for me. The only thing I’ve learned is that if I’m not writing, I need to figure out how to get writing. I need to keep an open mind and a non-judgmental inner voice. And a butt-kicking good friend or two are a must.

Thanks for reading and writing.


Saturday, March 20, 2010

Writer Interrupted

By Michael

Writing? Who writes anymore? I market, market, market. In the past eight days I’ve driven 2,600 miles and then boarded a pre-dawn flight to Phoenix only to return to Jacksonville on a red eye.

Call me the Fuller Brush Salesman. Call me Willy Loman. I’ll sell you a magazine subscription and swear that it will help put me through college. I’ll sell you a copy of THE BAD KITTY LOUNGE and tell you that the sale will send me to the moon.

But write? I don’t know about that.

This is the predicament of having a new book – which is to say, it’s a good predicament, but a predicament nonetheless. During the marketing road trip in the first weeks after the book comes out, writing takes a backseat (literally if I arrive before a bookstore appearance).

Not that the tour doesn’t have its own pleasures. It’s great to meet readers, great to reconnect with friends. And there are few other places I would rather be than in a bookstore.

But a successful tour leads to only one destination: the writing desk. So, after a few more bookstores, I’ll put fingers to keyboard and try to reconstruct what might look like a typical writing day.

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.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Written on the Wind

By Kelli

Writing is the sweet science of words on the page instead of dancing in the ring. It beckons always, sometimes just beyond your reach or your ability to capture the fleeting images that play out like an old 16mm film, mind's eye, dreaming, awake, early morning or late at night or with a cocktail in a favorite restaurant.

It's magic, it's murder, it's pain and it's ecstasy. And my dream is to be able to do more of it, to be able to wake up and go to my keyboard and let the images and demons and emotions cascade over me like a waterfall and somehow shape themselves into symbols ... pixels on a screen, letters on a page.

Until then ... well, I write in my head. Keep the story going, keep the subconscious open to stimulus, and there's always plenty of that in San Francisco. Riding the bus, walking to work, taking the dog out by the ocean, watching cars drive by, or downtown and the glitter of neon against dirty yellow masonry. I write when I sleep, I write when I dream, I write when I should be concentrating on other things.

When things go badly, a voice tells me to remember what it feels like, to use it someday, to translate the agony or the anger and share it.

When things go well, same voice, same direction.

And when things don't go at all ... well, there's an unopened bottle of Old Crow on my desk if writer's block sets in. In case of emergency, break glass. ;)

No day is typical for me, because no day is typical ... and I fight for every bit of writing time I get. Til the bitter end ...

Now, in case you need a good chuckle over the more comedic aspects of writer's block, let me offer Paris When It Sizzles, a charming 1963 farce with William Holden as a screenwriter and Audrey Hepburn as his secretary/muse. I've seen this film more than once--and let's face it, anything with these two, Tony Curtis, Noel Coward and a cameo by Marlene Dietrich simply has to be entertaining. ;) Enjoy!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A normal writing day - is there such a thing?

The crazy thing about writing - at least in my world - is that there is no normal day. There are days when the interruptions are endless and there are days when everything goes smoothly and there are days somewhat in-between.

The days when things are going smoothly are the best of course - you sit down at your desk, a cup of perfectly made coffee in your hand. The birds are chirping outside and the ideas are flowing in a constant stream. On days like this you marvel at how perfect the world is. But these are days of deception because most days are...

The phone rings - problem.
The dog eats something - hope I didn't need that?
Computer crashes - did I back everything up?
Phone rings again - problem number 2.
Coffee tastes like motor oil - but its all I got.
Dog throws up - good thing is: I didn't need what he ate after all, the bad news is: I gotta get a Haz-mat team in here to clean up.
Finally the Haz-mat team leaves - time to get writing. What? It's four pm already. Where did the day go?

But as Vince Lombardi once said - its not how many times you get knocked down - its how many times you get back up. So these are days that make us or break us - these are the days that you have to push through until you get to where you are going.

For me a good day always ends late. Starting is rough. I tend to procrastinate and do all manner of other things. And then, when I finally get going I don't want to stop. As I was finishing the rewrites on Black Sun - which comes out in August - every night of work got later and later. I stopped at midnight and then one am and then two and then three and finally the day I was supposed to send it in I finished at four o'clock in the morning. But for some reason I am just sharper late at night. In the day I'm kind of fuzzy.

So for me a typical day is this: Try to overcome procrastination - take lots of vitamins because I'm eating like crap and stock up on Jolt Cola - anyone remember that? All in all its a lot like cramming for final exams.

Till next time.


Tuesday, March 16, 2010

How to Write Like a Me

by Josh

So I’m working on this novel and I come to a point where I get stuck.

(Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.)

Here’s the gist of the scene that’s tripping me up: the protagonist’s wife, Helen, is meeting with a well-respected Muslim architect for a business lunch at an Algerian-American cafe. She needs to get him to agree to build a mock Auschwitz in the Pine Barrens of South Jersey. He doesn’t want to because he finds the idea of replicating an extent structure to be a waste of his artistic talent.

(Like I said, stop me if you’ve heard this one before.)

What was tripping me up about this scene last Saturday was…well…I wasn’t quite sure what was tripping me up, but whatever it waimgress sure did the trick because I couldn’t type one sentence without the words feeling forced and mechanical. Now usually when I get stuck, it means that I haven’t laid enough pipe in the previous scene and so I need to go back to the previous scene and examine what’s missing from it and only then I can move on. I guess it’s the house of cards theory of writing.

And so, I studiously examined the previous scene…and found nothing to be inherently wonky (aside of typical first draft mediocrity). This brought me back to square one, and I hate square one. I hate squares in general. Huey Lewis can suck it.

Regardless, my problem remained, and my writing would be at a standstill until I solved it. But how? I wasn’t even sure what the nature of the problem was (and unlike Gregory House, I don’t believe in reckless experimentation as a means of problem-solving – yeah, you heard me, I said it).

So I did what almost everyone does when confronted with a seemingly insurmountable obstacle: I quit.

Well, OK, not permanently. But I stepped away from my desk and went over to my sister’s apartment (she lives a few blocks frophotom me) and spent some quality time with my fourteen-month-old nephew (who referred to me as either “dork” or “duck” – both accurate). We all went for a nice walk and then I returned to my apartment and I took a brief nap and I woke up and I returned to my computer and I still hadn’t surmounted my barrier but I did remember a tried-and-true way that these mysterious barriers had been surmounted in the past.

I did research.

God, I love research. Don’t you? I think maybe half of the enjoyment I get out of writing is the research I do to prepare for it (even if the research is about Auschwitz and “enjoyment” is the wrong word). I grew up with my head buried in books and now I spend a great deal of time with my head buried in the internet. There’s so much to learn and I am, in anything, a very curious boy. For me, the process has always been Write What You Want to Know.

I delved into articles and recipes on Algerian cuisine (for the cafe scene). This led me to Algerian culture, which led me to the history byrek of the Ottoman Empire, which led me to Turkish immigration, which led me to…well, you get the picture. My point is, before long I was minimizing my internet browser and maximizing my Word document and the scene that had seemed impossible was now being formed.

I hadn’t been able to write it before because I lacked the verisimilitude of its setting. My internal bullshit detector had (thankfully) prevented me from lying on the page. Once I had the details I needed, the scene itself zipped out of my fingers at a brisk 75 WPM (via hunt-and-peck, yo) and before long I was even typing the first few sentences of the next scene (which is an old Hemingway trick – never end a day’s work without first leading into tomorrow’s).

Was this a typical day of writing for me? Well, pretty much. I try to do 1,000 words/24 hrs. and I do most of my writing at night. This has been my routine for years, and circumstances sometimes bounce it around a bit, but overall it has remained the same (with the addition, of course, the appropriate chocolate candy or beverage on hand to goose the imagination if need be).

As a bonus of sorts, I’ve uploaded the seven-page scene here from Saturday's Song that I wrote this past, well, Saturday, so you can see the end result. Bear in mind that it’s very much a first draft but sometimes when discussing matters such as these, it’s good to have illustrations handy...if only for verisimilitude.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Where does the time go?

Describe a typical writing day

BREAKING NEWS UPDATE!!!  Our own Rebecca Cantrell has won the Bruce Alexander Memorial Historical Mystery Award at Left Coast Crime for A TRACE OF SMOKE!!!

Congrats, Becky!!!!

Now we have TWO Bruce Alexander award winners among us--Kelli and Becky!  Guess you guys will have to both win next year!

Okay, back to our regularly scheduled blog....A typical writing day in my life:

Oh boy. Another one of those questions that you really don't want to hear my answer. See, the only rule I have about writing is: No Rules, Just Write!

In other words, there is no typical writing day for me.

Some days I don't write. Ah, the heresy! I can smell the smoke from the stake they'll be burning me at!

But, that's how my brain works—I do "think" about my writing every day, every night, and times in between. I need that fermenting time to figure things out. I've learned that if I force myself to "write through it" what comes out isn't terrible (I wish it was, it would make it sooo much easier to slice and dice) but it just isn't "right."

I also don't wear a watch, don't time my writing, don't monitor my page count or word count, and I don't write in order.

I write in scenes—and they could be scenes from anywhere in the book. Usually I can tell if they're from the first act, before or after the midpoint, or if they're from Act Three.

Yet, despite this lack of discipline, I've been told that I'm a fast writer. I guess I am—I've already finished one novel this year (begun in December) and am more than halfway done with the first draft of my next.

Also so far this year, I've edited an anthology with Lee Child (FIRST THRILLS—due out June 22nd and featuring some familiar names from here at 7CM, like myself, Rebecca, and Kelli!), written a new keynote speech, created two new month-long online classes, and three new live workshops.

But all that productivity is because of deadlines—I pride myself in never missing a deadline, so even though I don't keep track of my progress, there's a little ticking bomb inside my brain ensuring that I keep my butt in the chair, working.

Oh, and by the way, I don't have an office or a big desk. I write on my laptop, sitting wherever feels comfy (and wherever I don't have to move a snoring cat out of the way), usually in my rocking chair looking out over a pretty lagoon lined with centuries old magnolias and live oaks.

My one regret is that I have yet to figure out a way to make exercise a can't-miss-routine. I have gotten a small laptop desk that is high enough I can work while standing in the hopes of burning some extra calories while reading email and perusing the web. But to me exercise is just time away from writing.

When the dialogue starts churning through my brain or I figure out a devious plot twist, then even a walk on the beach gets cut short. I've tried taking a handheld recorder with me, but talking it out just isn't the same as writing it out (maybe because I despise the sound of my voice on recorders).

So you guys tell me—how do you make exercise a priority and incorporate it into your writing life? I'd love to hear any secrets you have!

Thanks for reading,

About CJ:
As a pediatric ER doctor, CJ Lyons has lived the life she writes about in her cutting edge suspense novels. Her debut, LIFELINES (Berkley, March 2008), became a National Bestseller and Publishers Weekly proclaimed it a "breathtakingly fast-paced medical thriller."

The second in the series, WARNING SIGNS, was released January, 2009 and the third, URGENT CARE, October, 2009. Her newest project is as co-author of the first in a new suspense series with Erin Brockovich. To learn more about CJ and her work, go to