Friday, September 28, 2012

Are two minds better than one?

I used to direct films, and I had to collaborate with other creative folks to get the film done. I know, I know. People love to believe there are "auteurs" who do everything on a film, but they're few and far between. And directors have a lot less power than you might think they do to shape a picture. For every Orson Welles, there are thousands of Alan Smithees toiling in the trenches.

In film you have to work well with others when you rely on so many other people to help you create your vision. There are cinematographers, costume designers, lighting designers, set designers, actors, writers, and producers... And you have to find a way to get their best work and create the best film that you can. All this and stay under budget.

When I was done wracking up huge amounts of debt on my credit card, I moved on to working in TV. I produced and wrote ads for cable shows for about 12 years. I worked on shows like Iron Chef, A Baby Story, Ice Road Truckers, and Next Food Network Star. I had to work with Creative Directors who were former producers and sometimes frustrated by the lack of creativity in their new job. I would occasionally work on a project for days only to be told to scrap it and start over. So I became a fast writer and developed a thick skin.

But with novel, a writer is everything: the costume designer, set designer and cinematographer. They don't have to collaborate with anyone. I was surprised when I got my first notes on my first book from my editor. They were so polite and tactful. "You may wish to..." or "I would suggest..." I was an auteur--or at least an author--at last! And being a smart one, I followed most of my very experienced and talented editor's suggestions. And my copy editor's. And my agents.

I tried once to write a screenplay with a friend. We got it done and made it into a film, but I always thought it lacked something. A unique voice, perhaps? Our voices became so mixed that they became slightly schizophrenic. In the end I felt like his best work was missing and so was mine. That experience has made me cautious about collaborating on a very personal writing project again.

So would I be willing to collaborate with a mega-selling author and share credit for a book? Who knows! James Patterson certainly hasn't asked yet, so I'm not so sure I couldn't be "bought." After all, I used to work in advertising...

But speaking of collaboration--I'm in a really cool book right now with twenty other very cool novelists called MAKING STORY: TWENTY-ONE WRITERS AND HOW THEY PLOT. And this is definitely a case where 21 heads is better than one!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Broth by more than one cook?

by Catriona.

Hello, everyone.  I'm delighted to be here and honoured to have been asked and since I'm oh so very much not one of the mehegamoths (how I wish that was actually a word) who can employ minions to "co-author" their books, I'm going take a bit of this first post to introduce myself.

But to stay on-topic for a wee while . . . I love some co-authored (with no scare quotes) books: PJ Tracey, the mother and daughter team behind the MONKEEWRENCH series; PJ Parrish, the sisters who gave us LOUIS KINCAID and JOE FRYE, and Nicci French, the husband and wife team (how will they manange to co-author after the inevitable divorce, is what I wonder) responsible for a slew of creepy stand-alones including the fabulous KILLING ME SOFTLY.

But as far as I know I've never read any "co-authored" by mehegamoth and minion books - although Joyce Carol Oates is pretty prolific and she's got that sinewy look of someone who could kill you with her pinkie - so you never know.

Would I do it?  An ever-expanding universe of no.  I write with my office door shut, locked and duct-taped round the edges.  Never been in a critique group, never shown my first draft to anyone, never told anyone, including my agent and editor, what it's about until it's finished. Control freak?  Until the first draft is chipped out of the ground, as his Kingness puts it, freakishly and controllingly so.

With one exception.  Years ago my father told me he had an idea for a children's picture book, but thought I'd make a better job of writing it up than him so he was going to hand it over to me.  I thought for a minute about employing the standard response I give my mother when she asks me for something:  "What have you ever done for me?"

But, A. who could say no to either of these two and (ii) I'd never written a picture book and how hard could it be?

Quite hard.  Mark Haddon, author of THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME once said, in one of those endless snarkfests about whether writing for children is easier than writing for adults (nearly as bad as the one about whether genre fiction is as good as literary fiction) that only an idiot would say there's no skill difference between Ulysses and Here Comes Spot.  But I found telling a story in thirty-two pages with no more than twenty words on each page a lot harder than knocking out a chapter of prose.

Maybe I shouldn't have had a societal breakdown arc, a heart-warming buddy arc and a climactic fire scene all in a seven-hundred-word story about talking buckets.  You tell me.

It's as yet unpublished, after going into development at Usborne and never coming out again.  It joins a radio sitcom that went into develpoment at the Comedy Store in the UK, and is still in there as far I know, and a monograph of my PhD that went into development at Routledge, painted itself the same colour as the wall behind it and stood very still for ten years until everyone had forgotten and stopped looking.

Development is a bad place for me.

But if mehegamothdom ever comes a-calling, and I turn into one of those lucky sods with publishers begging for their shopping lists to bring out as a Little Book of Groceries for the holiday season, I won't need minions to help me cash in.  I've got four picture books all hot to trot and three sitcoms with treatments for the first season and scripts for episode one, as well as that page-turning PhD.

But I was supposed to be introducing myself.  Recovering academic, born blonde (but a lot has happened since then), co-owner of the ugliest ranch-house ever built and twenty scruffy acres in northern California (people from home say: "Oooh, California!" with shining eyes, and I say: "Did you see Erin Brockovich?  That was California.") cat-lover, Project Runway enthusiast, dumpster-divin' fool,  novice cake-maker, master cake-eater.  What else?  Trek, Beatles, Spike (as opposed to Wars, Stones, Angel) and not even as high-brow as all that sounds, I'm sad to say.

Pleased to meet you.


Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Paging Mr. Schmatterson

by Chris F. Holm

Today, CMers, we're talking collaborations. But let's be clear: this week's question ain't about Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman teaming up to write GOOD OMENS. Nor King and Straub playing literary twinners as they toiled away at THE TALISMAN. And we sure as hell ain't talking Bruen and Starr's brutally hilarious cult-fave BUST trilogy. What we're talking about are the books you see in lines at grocery stores, or stacked fifty high on tables at Sam's Club, emblazoned with some blockbuster author's name in 48-point font, never mind the fact he or she (though almost always he) didn't write it. And then below, in font so small it looks like a line intended to highlight the bigshot author's name, there's the byline of the author who actually wrote it:

*And Mary McRealWriter

So. The question(s) of the day: Good practice, or not so good? And would I take second billing? Allow me to answer both in one fell swoop:


Look, I'm not going to pretend I'd find executing someone else's outline as fulfilling as writing my own fiction. But writing full-time is a dream of mine, and I'll be damned if I'm gonna look down my nose at folks with the discipline to churn out hit after sure-fire hit. I confess, the sorts of books we're talking about don't exactly clutter up my to-be-read pile, but that won't stop me from writing them if asked. A paying gig's a paying gig, and I'd doubtless learn more about my craft pushing Clancy's or Sanders' or Patterson's brand than I ever could waiting tables or working an office job. Seems to me, most writers have day jobs (me included), so why not take a day job as a writer? Long as the contract's fair (a huge caveat, to be sure) and the pay's half-decent, it seems to me there are worse ways to spend one's time. But you can be damn sure I wouldn't shelve my own writing to do it.

As for whether or not the practice is good for readers... honestly, I've no idea. But I find it hard to believe anybody's ever thinking, "Cormac McCarthy or the new McNally mystery? Ah, the heck with it -  McNally!" The fact is, there's a market for these books, and that's argument enough in favor of them for me.


How'd that post go? Okay, I hope. 'Cause truth be told, I was distracted when I wrote it. See, yesterday, the second novel in my Collector series, THE WRONG GOODBYE, was released in the US. Next week, it'll hit the shelves in the UK and Australia as well. It's about this undead guy named Sam who collects the souls of the damned and ensures they find their way to hell. Problem is, the soul he's tasked with collecting goes missing - stolen by someone he once considered his closest friend - and to get it back, Sam's forced to dive down the rabbit-hole of the demon drug-trade, where black-market human memories are mainlined like so much heroin. And oh yeah, there's also an ancient pissed-off bug monster, a blind transgendered fortune-telling showgirl, and the looming threat of all-out-war between heaven and hell.

The buzz so far's been pretty decent. Which is cool, because I'm pretty sure it's the best thing I've ever written. If you wanna check it out, there are links up on my website to purchase it (US and UK, big-box-store and indie.) Or pop in to your favorite bookstore and ask, NAY DEMAND, that they stock it. Oh, and you know that email address I posted up above? If you want some Collector series bookmarks, drop me a line with your mailing address and I'll send you some; I've got an open policy of sending 'em to whoever wants 'em.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Collaborators, Thugs, & Collectors

By Hilary Davidson 

This week's topic is the pro and con of author collaborations, but I don't look at the issue that way. I'm interested in results, and I don't really care if one author or ten worked on a book, as long as it's awesome. I loved TOWER (a collaboration by Ken Bruen and Reed Farrel Coleman), and BUST (written by Jason Starr... and Ken Bruen. That Bruen fellow gets around!). My friend Rebecca Cantrell is co-writing on a series with James Rollins, and I can't wait to read it. I haven't read James Patterson's collaborations with other authors, but I know that those books have led to some terrific authors — such as Andrew Gross — getting their own book deals. I know that not every collaboration works out so well — and last year I turned down the opportunity to co-write a series with a well-known legal expert — but I think the proof is in the final product.

Right now, I'm interested in another kind of collaboration: namely, magazines, ezines and anthologies. At the end of my last post, I mentioned the return of Thuglit. If you know anything about me, your know how important the Thuglit ezine was in launching my fiction. After a two-year hiatus, founding editor Todd Robinson has brought the publication back. The first issue has new fiction by Johnny Shaw, Jordan Harper, Jason Duke, Matthew Funk, Terrence McCauley, Court Merrigan, Mike Wilkerson, and me. (Don't have a Kindle? Neither do I. But you can read Thuglit on your computer or smartphone with these free apps.)

Also, have you heard about the Thuglit sockpuppet scandal? It is SHOCKING:

Words cannot do this justice. (Bravo, Big Daddy Thug! I mean, this is SO WRONG.)

I'm also involved in some anthologies that are coming out soon: Noir at the Bar 2, Feeding Kate, and Murder & Mayhem at Muskego. There's also a sure-to-be-great publication — the Malfeasance Occasional — coming soon from the excellent people behind Criminal Element. I love being involved with publications like this — you're not collaborating directly with other authors, but the breadth and depth of this collections makes them particularly strong.

On a non-collaborative note: today is book-release day for my friend — and fellow Criminal Mind — Chris F. Holm. His second novel, THE WRONG GOODBYE is out today from Angry Robot Books. If you read his brilliant debut, DEAD HARVEST, you've already met the undead Collector of Souls Sam Thornton. You can read an excerpt from his new novel, or read his guest post at Elizabeth A. White's blog about the series. A brief description of THE WRONG GOODBYE:
Meet Sam Thornton, Collector of Souls. Because of his efforts to avert the Apocalypse, Sam Thornton has been given a second chance – provided he can stick to the straight-and-narrow. Which sounds all well and good, but when the soul Sam’s sent to collect goes missing, Sam finds himself off the straight-and-narrow pretty quick.
I can't wait to read it. More details right here. Also, huge congrats to Chris!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Extending the Brand

By Reece Hirsch

I have no real objections to author collaborations, it’s just not something that I’m particularly interested in as a reader.  A glance at recent bestseller lists indicates that I may hold a minority opinion here (and not for the first time).

If the point of a collaboration is to “extend the brand” of a mega-selling author, that’s fine by me.  Nearly anything that succeeds in keeping readers reading in the current environment is probably a good thing.  (Notable exception to that rule – Fifty Shades of Grey.)  Newer authors who collaborate with more established writers collect a good paycheck and get exposed to a wider readership that will hopefully help them become bestsellers on their own someday.

If the collaboration is more of a marriage of equals between two established authors, that’s fine, too.  But I’ve never been a fan of the whole “supergroup” concept in writing or music.  I much prefer Neil Young to Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.

The reason that these collaborations don’t make it onto my personal reading list is because I read to hear an author’s voice.  And if I like an author, I prefer mine neat.  Straight, no chaser.  No fillers or additives.  Okay, I’ll stop now.

And a writer’s voice is so inherently personal that I don't really understand how anyone truly collaborates on a work of fiction.  In music, when two voices are singing in harmony, the whole can truly be greater than the sum of its parts (see the Beach Boys circa Pet Sounds).  (Note to self:  must update music references.)  But when it comes to writing, the pleasure comes from getting as close to an author’s unique perspective on the world as possible.  It seems to me that adding a co-author only creates distance and confuses that perspective, creating a sort of parallax effect.

Here are a few opening passages of a few books I admire that speak with a voice that is definitely not the product of a team approach:

Daniel Woodrell, Winter’s Bone:  “Ree Dolly stood at break of day on her cold front steps and smelled coming flurries and saw meat.  Meat hung from trees across the creek.  The carcasses hung pale of flesh with a fatty gleam from low limbs of saplings in the side yards.  Three halt haggard houses formed a kneeling rank on the fat creekside and each had two or more skinned torsos dangling by rope from sagged limbs, venison left to the weather for two nights and three days so that the early blossoming of decay might round the flavor, sweeten that meat to the bone.”

James Crumley, The Last Good Kiss:  “When I finally caught up with Abraham Trahearne, he was drinking beer with an alcoholic bulldog named Fireball Roberts in a ramshackle joint just outside of Sonoma, California, drinking the heart right out of a fine spring afternoon."

Saul Bellow, Henderson the Rain King:  “What made me take the trip to Africa?  There is no quick explanation.  Things got worse and worse and worse and pretty soon they were too complicated.

When I think of my condition at the age of fifty-five when I bought the ticket, all is grief.  The facts begin to crowd me and soon I get a pressure in my chest.  A disorderly rush begins – my parents, my wives, my girls, my children, my farm, my animals, my habits, my money, my music lessons, my drunkenness, my prejudices, my brutality, my teeth, my face, my soul!  I have to cry, “No, no, get back, curse you, let me alone!”  But how can they let me alone?   They belong to me.  They are mine.  And they pile into me from all sides.  It turns into chaos.”

Friday, September 21, 2012

The Land of Always - Read

by Gary
As some of my fellow bloggers here on Criminal Minds have opined, time travel or I suppose in this case, book arena projection, is tough stuff.  We all know the story of the time traveler who goes back in time to kill Hitler and how this invariably leads to unintended consequences.  The Butterfly Effect in effect – that as Wikipedia states:   In chaos theory, the butterfly effect is the sensitive dependence on initial conditions, where a small change at one place in a deterministic nonlinear system can result in large differences to a later state.
But having stated that, the allure of being able to step into one of the worlds in a book or a series is just too strong.  While other territories I hope I have the good sense to avoid.
For instance many crime fiction aficionados have read Donald Westlake’s, writing as Richard Stark, series Parker, about an amoral professional thief and the heisters and plotters he deals with, often fatally.  I really dig these lean, spare books.  When I first read The Hunter, the first book in the series from the early ‘60s, and the basis of the wonderfully realized gangster film Point Blank with Lee Marvin, I was hooked.  But I wouldn’t last half a day in the circles parker runs in so better to leave my attraction for his element on the page.
Conversely, what about the fantastic time in the 1930s as depicted in the pulps of that era embodied in the adventures of the likes of  Doc Savage and the Avenger.  Weird, strange villains with their death rays or devices that could rive men and woman mad from miles away.  Okay, sure, that’s plenty dangerous, but there was all these cool Art Deco designed gadgets, lost civilizations, larger-than-life heroes and heroines, hidden gold mines, exotic locales and so on.  What red-blooded guy wouldn’t be attracted to participating in all of that?
Speaking of the pulps reminds me too of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter of Mars.  How cool would it be to travel to a mythical mars, Barsoom to its inhabitants, where as an Earthman, due to the difference in gravity (I think) I’d have increased reflexes, speed and strength.  Yeah, there’s big green, four-armed dudes with tusks  and bad attitudes and even bigger giant four-armed gorillas, but I’d learn to fight with a sword and meet exotic women – if I managed to survive not being eaten or smashed.
But the great thing about our current question is that it presumes we can read subject matter far and wide, fiction and nonfiction, we can pick and choose, be motivated, moved or appalled and angered.  But we can read what we want.  This September 30 thru October 6 is Banned Books Week.  Not to jump on my soap box, but it sure is a good thing that we live in a country where people have the right to object to material they feel is objectionable, but where an examination of those materials can happen and we can make up our own minds about a book, play, movie or piece of music.
Here’s the American Library Association’s list of the 10 most challenged books in 2011 and why they were challenged:
1) ttyl; ttfn; l8r, g8r (series), by Lauren Myracle
Offensive language; religious viewpoint; sexually explicit; unsuited to age group

2) The Color of Earth (series), by Kim Dong Hwa
Nudity; sex education; sexually explicit; unsuited to age group

3) The Hunger Games trilogy, by Suzanne Collins
Anti-ethnic; anti-family; insensitivity; offensive language; occult/satanic; violence

4) My Mom’s Having A Baby! A Kid’s Month-by-Month Guide to Pregnancy, by Dori Hillestad Butler -- Nudity; sex education; sexually explicit; unsuited to age group
5) The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
Offensive language; racism; religious viewpoint; sexually explicit; unsuited to age group

6) Alice (series), by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
Nudity; offensive language; religious viewpoint

7) Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
Insensitivity; nudity; racism; religious viewpoint; sexually explicit

8) What My Mother Doesn’t Know, by Sonya Sones
Nudity; offensive language; sexually explicit

9) Gossip Girl (series), by Cecily Von Ziegesar
Drugs; offensive language; sexually explicit

10) To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
Offensive language; racism

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Blast Off Into The Future

by Alan

If you could pop into and live in the life and times of any book, which would it be?

The idea of living in the past doesn’t excite me. I’m too big a fan of modern life: indoor plumbing, Monday Night Football, candy corn Oreos, DVRs, calculators, Shark Tank, hi-tech running shoes, electricity, community trash collection, 10-gallon kegs of mayo at warehouse stores, Skype, Neil Armstrong, women in the workforce, microwave ovens, democracy, Teflon, refrigeration, Popeil’s pocket fisherman, laminating machines, graphite shafts, fluoridated water, blood pressure machines at the grocery store, and Velcro (although I could do without Internet memes).

Conversely, there are some things in the past I wouldn’t want to encounter: slavery, smallpox, medical leeches, and washing my clothes on the side of a riverbank using heavy rocks (of course, maybe that’s just me).

Besides, I’m looking for some excitement, and I’ve already lived much of my life in the past. Been there, done that. So, onward to the future!!

Some possible book “worlds” I might like to inhabit:

meandthecatPlanet of the Apes (Pierre Boulle) – Hey, who doesn’t like talking monkeys! But…slavery.

Jurassic Park (Michael Crichton) – Dinosaurs! But…angry, hungry dinosaurs.

The Cat in the Hat (Dr. Seuss) – Rhyming hijinks! But…who’s going to clean up that mess, if something happens to the Cat?

Harry Potter (J.K. Rowling) – Boy wizards! But…I don’t think I could hold my butterbeer very well.

All interesting places. However, I think I’d really like to live in the world created by Orson Scott Card in Ender’s Game.

It’s set in the future. There’s space travel and things exploding and life-or-death military battles. There are aliens called Buggers. And the fate of the world is up for grabs.

That sounds pretty exciting to me! Where do I enlist?

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Last Night I Dreamt...

By Tracy Kiely

I never thought about interacting with characters in a book until I read, The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde. In the brilliantly funny world he created for his Thursday Next series, certain people have the ability to “read” themselves into a book and mingle with the characters when they are “off-page.” It’s the kind of book that makes you feel your own intelligence and creativity is rivaled only by Honey Boo Boo’s pig.

Anyway, I happened to be rereading Daphne du Maurier’s, Rebecca, this week and found myself wishing that I, too, could read myself into the book and be transported to Manderley’s famed luscious grounds. I want to pass by the blood-red azaleas and rhododendrons that line the main drive. I want to slip into a mackintosh and stroll through the Happy Valley, following the loyal Jasper, and smell the fragrant salmon, white, and gold petals dewy with the spring rain. I want to wander to the little bay where Rebecca kept her aptly named boat, the Je Reviens, and visit her private cottage and feel the sea spray on my face. I want to be politely (but formally) greeted by Frith before tucking into a sumptuous afternoon tea in front of the library’s cheerful fire. I want to sit at Rebecca’s desk and see her curiously bold, slanting handwriting. I want to explore the dreaded empty west wing and listen to the surf breaking on the shore below. I want to visit Rebecca’s room and touch her things as the second Mrs. de Winter did.

And while all of these experiences would be heaven for an anglophile like myself, they are only secondary to my real purpose in traveling to Manderley.

I want to know what Rebecca looked like - I want to gaze upon the famous painting of her and behold her legendary beauty myself. I also want to know what the hell the second Mrs. de Winter’s first name was. But mainly, I want to look the dreaded Mrs. Danvers in her frightening hollow eyes and take away her goddamn matches so she can’t burn the place down.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Time Travel - No thanks, I'll stay home

Time travel is a fascinating concept that’s captured our imagination throughout… time?
Remember the Star Trek New Generation episode where they’re playing poker and then the ship explodes… and then they’re playing poker and the ship explodes… and then and then they’re playing poker and the ship explodes… and then…

It was one of the best episodes.

But the point at which almost all time-travel stories collapse, in my opinion, is that if you can keep doing something over again then what does it matter if you succeed or fail? Just try again.

Back to the question, which is what books would I like to time travel into?

Not many, is my answer.  If you want a travel experience that is just observation then you can read a historical book or watch a TV programme or a movie.  I suppose it would be interesting to hide behind a building and watch Jeri Westerson’s Crispen Guest charge past, but then I’d step out from around the building into a pile or horse dung, collapse and skin my knee (in said horse dung) and not have a tube of antiseptic at hand.   Or I could observe Kelli Stanley’s Roman doctor going about his trade – as long as he didn’t want to operate on me, with nothing but a jug of wine to keep me senseless.  I’d love to slip into the Savoy Saloon and Dance Hall, the star of my own Klondike Gold Rush series, when the stage show was getting underway, but I’d not care for not being able to give my clothes a good wash, and definitely not like the look of the menu at the restaurant next door – heavily featuring beans and bacon.  I also suspect I’d find the odour in the Savoy somewhat overwhelming, to say the least.

But there is one time in which I’d enjoy going back to, and I recently read an old favourite written back then:   Shibumi by Trevanian.  The book is set in the 1980s.  Our hero lives a quiet life in a lovely old house in Basque country in France.  What’s the appeal?  

The 1980s had everything we are familiar with today – heck it even had me!  But no Internet.  As I find my life more and more consumed by the Internet – checking e-mail, seeing who’s talking about me on Facebook or Twitter, any new reviews for More Than Sorrow – I find myself longing for those laptop-, iPhone-, Blackberry-less days of yore. 

Yes, yes, I could give those things up, but of course I can’t and that’s why the addiction is so all-consuming. 

If I didn’t have Internet, I wouldn’t be reading this blog, I wouldn’t be in contact with my friends every day, or with my daughters who live very far away (like they’re going to write letters! One of them lives in a county without postal service).  I’d be like my father bellowing “Long Distance, Long Distance!” at a phone call, with an egg timer in his hand checking off the three minutes allotted.  Which is the thing about the Internet – it’d be okay if no one had it, but we live in a connected world, and I can’t cut myself off.

So I’ll go back to the peaceful 1980s when the World Wide Web was but a gleam in Tim Berners-Lee’s eye, and I could get lost in a book for hours without thinking, “hum… I wonder if that TV option has come in yet. Better check.”

I completely forgot to post two weeks ago because I was caught up in the release date for MORE THAN SORROW. So, please let me take this opportunity to let you know that the book is now available at all the regular places.  According to librarian-extraordinaire Lesa Holstein: “as much as I love Vicki Delany's Constable Molly Smith books, she's outdone herself with her standalone, More Than Sorrow.

Monday, September 17, 2012

I'm Staying Right Where I Am

I love the idea of time travel. One of my favorite series is the mega-selling Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon about a woman named Claire Randall who is transported from the 1940's back 200 years to war torn Scotland. The books are thick and stuffed with historical information, and even though I enjoyed the earlier ones more, I still continue to read them with glee. In her time travel, Claire is often faced with the dilemma of how much should she use her knowledge to help and influence the people she meets in the mid-1700's. And when she does display her skills, especially her medical skills, she is often considered by the superstitious Scots to be a witch.

So this week's question let me take my already heightened time travel interest for a walk through some my favorite books to see if there might be one I'd like to pop into, even for a short while.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins - No way. With my luck, my name would be called and no one would volunteer to go in my place. I'd be killed the instant I stepped off my pedestal. Not to mention I can barely aim a camera, let alone a bow and arrow.

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen - I've always liked the idea of running off to join the circus, especially after watching Toby Tyler as a kid. But the dismal and dark circus of the depression era is not for me. I have no doubt I'd be thrown off the train to my death in no time flat.

Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell - I'm a Northerner who don't know nuthin' about birthing no babies. Nuf said.

The Yearling by Marjorie Rawlings - Um, Florida swamps filled with snakes, gators and other critters are not the place for me.

The Time Machine by H. G. Wells - I'm fat. The Morlocks would eat me first because they would catch me first.

As you can easily see, I am not adventurous except when my nose is between the pages of a book.  I could never be a Claire Randall or Scarlet O'Hara. And I'm sure the first time I opened my mouth and asked where I could recharge my iPhone or if they have a non-fat latte someone would swing a club and put me out of my misery.

Then again, there's The Sweetness At The Bottom Of The Pie by Alan Bradley. That's the book I'm currently reading.

Ding. Ding. Ding. Folks, we may have a winner.

I think I could handle being transported to the 1950's to Buckshaw to help Flavia delve into the mystery of the man in the garden. It seems a nice and reasonably safe option to those mentioned above, although I'm not so sure about spending too much time with a kid with a passion for poisons.

What's can I say? The Cowardly Lion has nothing on me. Speaking of which, there's no way I'm going to deal with flying monkeys and falling houses, so don't even suggest that book.

Sometimes it's a wonder I ever leave my home.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Writing rituals

by Meredith Cole

I used to be quite rigid about my writing time. It had to be in the morning (my head was clearer), it had to be quiet (unless it was a cafe). It had to be at least two hours without interruption. And, if everything lined up exactly right, I was super productive. Trouble is, it took me three years to write my first book.

And then what happened? I became a professional and acquired deadlines. There was never going to be enough perfect moments to get writing done, so I learned to be flexible. I fit writing in whenever and wherever I could. I scribbled on the subway. I wrote at night. I wrote even when my home was full of hub-bub. And I gave myself word count deadlines rather than time deadlines to make sure that my story was always moving forward and the pages were piling up.

I won't lie and say it was easy. But I figured out how to get myself ready long before I sat down to write, and that made all the difference.


I think about my book all the time. No, really. When you see me walking down the street muttering to myself, I know I probably look crazy. I'm not. I'm plotting. I think about my characters and different scenarios to put them in. So when I get a free thirty minutes or less, I can sit down and write a scene or two. Or get started. And then finish it later.

People ask me all the time when I find the time to write. And I have to say honestly that I make the time. I can't remember the last time I sat down to watch television (the Olympics?). But I carve out time to write everyday. Especially when I'm on a deadline.

And if you want to know how I (and 21 other talented writers--including former criminal minds Rebecca Cantrell and Kelli Stanley) plot--I've got an essay in a new book out called Making Story: Twenty-one Writers and How They Plot. It was edited and dreamt up by Tim Hallinan, a talented and generous mystery writer. In it you'll find 21 different ways of tackling a book and making it work. Every writer is different--but we're all finding a way to get it done. And in the end, it's really the book, and not how you got there, that matters.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

That's My Cue

by Chris F. Holm

In my late teens and early twenties, I used to hustle pool. I'm not talking high stakes or anything - just a twenty here and there on a game of straight pool or nine-ball, or maybe eight-ball at a buck a ball left on the table. I wasn't good enough to beat anyone who could really play, but I was plenty capable of lightening a few drunks' wallets over the course of an evening. (I was also one-hundred-twenty pounds soaking wet, so sometimes, when said drunks got pissed, I wound up leaving in a hurry.)

Anyways, one of the old-timers at the pool hall I hung out at gave me two bits of advice/armchair philosophy I've carried with me to this day. The first is that there's really no such thing as hustling pool, because the mark should always know better. If you ask someone if they want to play for money, it's because you have a reasonable expectation that you can beat them. It doesn't matter how drunk you seem, or if you've dropped a friendly game or two to them beforehand. If you're the one to broach the topic, they should realize you've got something up your sleeve. And if they're the one to broach the topic, there's a chance they're playing you. Either way, if you find yourself on the losing end of such a challenge, well, it's your own damn fault.

The second thing he told me was, if you plan to make some scratch challenging drunks at bars, you'd best learn to play with the house cues. You come walking in with a billiard glove and a custom cue, and only an idiot would ever play you. But if you learn to play with a cue plucked off the rack, those poor saps will never see you coming. And the only way to do that is to always play off the rack, because otherwise you wind up with some superstitious comfort zone you're afraid to venture out of when the time comes.

For someone as prone to superstitions as I am, that's good advice to live by. Habits and rituals can prove stifling, and they work against you more often than they work for you. You drop your lucky mug, and it shatters. The good chair at the coffee house is taken. That pen that lays down the perfect line might die on you mid-sentence, and those fancy-pants Italian note pads you like could fall victim to the lousy economy, and disappear from shelves as your deadline looms before you. Best to learn to live without them now, and save yourself some heartache.

Sometimes I write at home, on my couch. Sometimes in coffee houses, or at the day job over lunch. Sometimes I drink coffee while I write. Sometimes water. Sometimes wine. Sometimes I outline. Sometimes I don't. Sometimes I kinda sorta do until I forget, and the story carries me across the finish-line. The only thing I really need to have to get into the groove is access to a computer, and even then that's just because my handwriting sucks. Honestly, if I wind up stranded on a desert island and I've got nothing left to write with but rock-on-rock, I'll make it work. Because writing is my only ritual. Everything else is so much noise; one way or another, I'll find a way to play through it.
Hey, so listen: I've got this new book coming out September 25. It's called THE WRONG GOODBYE. It's got angels and demons and bug-monsters and soul collectors and a boatload of action and intrigue (not to mention a blind, transgender showgirl with a shotgun.) I really like it. So far, other folks do, too. If you want to learn more about it, or peruse a list of links through which it might be purchased, click on through. And many thanks to those who do.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Type, Damn You, TYPE

By Hilary Davidson 

I've heard about writers with exotic, fascinating rituals, but I'm not one of them. Instead, I have a drill sergeant who lives in my head. Shortly after I get up in the morning, she starts screaming things like this:

"Get your ass into the chair, you lazy maggot. Type, damn you, TYPE!!!"

She's not fiction-specific, truth be told. She first appeared in my head when I quit my full-time magazine editing job 14 years ago. I was single at the time, and I'd done plenty of planning before I left the security of the job. (Also, since I was living in Canada, I had the great blessing of having my health-care coverage virtually unchanged by the career switch; I lost dental and prescription coverage, but nothing else was affected.) Even so, when I woke up the day after my farewell party, I was seized by panic. I wondered how I ever thought I could quit a job and not end up homeless.

That was when I first heard the drill sergeant's voice. She's never really gone away, either, even when it became clear that I was making so much more money from freelancing than I had in my salaried position. I suspect she's here to stay, and I'm okay with that. If you asked certain members of my family — and by that, I mean my brothers — they'd tell you I'm a drill sergeant. They didn't nickname me Beast for nothing, you know.

*          *          *

Have you heard that Thuglit is back? The brass-knuckled zine where I got my start in fiction is now available for Kindle, after a two-year hiatus. The legendary Big Daddy Thug, Todd Robinson, is back as editor. The first issue has new fiction by Johnny Shaw, Jordan Harper, Jason Duke, Matthew Funk, Terrence McCauley, Court Merrigan, and Mike Wilkerson. I've got a story in the issue as well: mine is called "Magpie," and it's as twisted as anything I've ever written. How can you resist? (PS Don't have a Kindle? Neither do I. But you can read Thuglit on your computer or smartphone with these free apps.)

Monday, September 10, 2012

Every Day I Iron The Shirt

By Reece Hirsch

I don’t have many quirks, rituals or fussiness about my writing process.  In fact, much of my new book was written on a laptop on the BART train riding back and forth from my job in San Francisco, so I have perfected the ability to zone out a cornucopia of urban sights, sounds and smells.

But I do have one simple writing ritual.  I didn’t exactly realize that I was doing it until I read an interview with the screenwriter Richard LaGravenese (The Fisher King) and he put his finger on it with the perfect analogy.

LaGravenese compared the writing process to ironing a shirt.  You write a paragraph, and then you go over it.  Then you write another paragraph, then you go over both paragraphs.  Each time you go a bit further.

I am not the sort of writer who can tear right through a first draft and then tidy things up later.  Whenever I sit down to write, I always have to start by rereading and editing what I wrote the previous day.  I’m afraid that’s all I’ve got, but if you’re looking for idiosyncratic writing rituals, how about these:

     *          Ernest Hemingway wrote standing up at his typewriter.

     *          Truman Capote described himself as a “horizontal novelist.”  In 1957, he told the Paris Review, “I can’t think unless I’m lying down, either in bed or stretched on a couch and with a cigarette and coffee handy.  I’ve got to be puffing and sipping.  As the afternoon wears on, I shift from coffee to mint tea to sherry to martinis.”

     *          Balzac drank vast quantities of black coffee and sometimes wrote for 48 hours straight.

     *          To keep from procrastinating, Victor Hugo wrote in the nude because it prevented him from leaving the house.  As an extra precaution, he would instruct his valet to hide his clothes.

Most of these techniques would get me ejected from the BART train.

Friday, September 7, 2012

The Big Count

“I came from a place where two plus two equals four,” Bill Clinton remarked the other night at the Democratic National Convention.
Math is a mutha.
Remember the TV show of a couple of years ago where the set-up was an FBI agent and his mathematical whiz kid of a brother would team up to solve vexing cases using number formulas and such? Numb3rs it was called and co-creators Nick Falacci and Cheryl Heuton wanted to do a show that featured mathematicians and scientists. They were inspired by the late Richard Feynman, the famous physicist from Caltech out here in Pasadena, California.  Feynman was known for being quirky but accessible in how he broke down complex concepts for the lay person.
The pilot of the show was based on a Canadian cop with a mathematics who figured out the possible locations of a serial rapist by studying where his crimes took place and developing a pattern analysis.  In the show and in real life, the criminals were caught. 
Neither I nor my protagonists are good with numbers.  Or sure, they can count a stack of ill gotten cash or know how many rounds a semi-auto Remington shotgun holds, but higher mahr, forget it.  You always knew that even though algebra abd trigonometry didn’t figure into the Arthur Conan Doyle plots pitting Holmes against Moriarty, the two of them could easily while away time between their mental and physical bouts solving this or that math problem just to keep their minds engaged.

While my private eye Ivan Monk uses a few more syllables and brain cells than say than say Shell Scott, I’m pretty certain each of these cats would be stumbling and mumbling if they had to explain the difference between a linear versus a quadratic equation.

Night school it is for my PI after a hard day or questioning people, maybe fending off getting stabbed with a knife or bonked in the head with a hammer.  Hopefully he wouldn’t be too worn out and not fall asleep in class.  As for my more crooked characters, well, they might brush up on their math skills ot better figure out some sort of stock manipulation scamt or really do a public service and break down the voodoo math Wall Street uses and discover where they’re hording Main Street’s monies.

Okay, I’ve got to go now and count with the Count from Sesame Street…one, two, ah, ah, ah.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

At Least I Can Spel!

by Alan

It’s back to school time! What career or knowledge would you or
your protagonist like to go back to school to learn?

Considering that I call myself a writer these days, my answer might surprise you (maybe not, if you’ve read my books!), but I think I’d like to go back to school and learn, um, English (you know: grammar, creative writing, literature, crumpets).

You see, I never had to take any literature or creative writing classes in college or grad school (us engineers weren’t expected to actually know how to write), and back in high school, I wasn’t really paying attention.

Which has led to some severe gaps in my education. First, I don’t think I ever formally learned the mechanics of writing. Don’t always write in complete sentences. I couldn’t diagram a sentence if you gave me a map. I don’t know a dangling participle from a flying Wallenda. I try to never split an infinitive, but I’m not really sure what an infinitive is. When faced with the choice between “who” and “whom,” I’ll usually opt for “that guy.”flyingwallendas

All this would not have pleased my late father, an ex-English teacher.

And my knowledge of the so-called “classics” is even sketchier. Until recently, I didn’t know the difference between Jane Austen and Jane Eyre. In high school, I stopped reading A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, before he’d even reached puberty. I never did really understand what was so great about Gatsby. I didn’t even understand Cliffs notes. And To Kill a Mockingbird? Pretty good movie.

So sign me up for English class. If it’s full, though, that’s okay. I’ll just take Phys Ed instead. A little exercise does wonders for the creative mind.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Higher Learning

By Tracy Kiely

If I were given the opportunity to go back to school and take any class, I know I should choose wisely and learn Mandarin or basic economics, or barring that, how to incorporate vampires into my writings for fun and profit.
However, I would not choose wisely. I never do, so why start now?
Instead, I would take French. I would become fluent. I would OWN that damn language.
A few years ago, my husband and I went to Paris. I took French in college, and while I am by no means fluent, I can speak a little. Just apparently not to French cab drivers. This was made evident to me when I hopped into a taxi and stated the address of our hotel, “10, rue Cassette.” It’s not that hard to pronounce, and I thought I said it pretty well (“deece rue cassette”). However, from the puzzled expression on our taxi driver’s face, you would have thought I had mumbled something at him in Russian. Or Vulcan.   
So I repeated it. Slower. “Deeeeece ruuuuue cassette”
This went on for some time. Finally, in frustration I pulled out the hotel’s card and showed it to him. His face cleared. “Oh,” he said with a smug smile. “Deece rue cassette.” Except when he said it, he kind spit on the last word.
That, apparently, is the trick. 

 "Vous me parlez?"

For the rest of the trip, my husband and I managed to horrify numerous French citizens with our attempts to converse in their language. (Of course, my husband won a special honor during a rather wine soaked dinner with friends when he proudly informed the waiter “Je suis France!” (“I am France”). The waiter referred to him as “France” for the rest of the meal. So did we for that matter.
I think my love for the language began when I first started reading Agatha Christie’s Poirot mysteries. There would always be a few lines in French, and I would revert to my non-reading four-year-old self watching The Electric Company (“Tune in next time when Easy Rider says…”). Just like then, I’d yell, “Mom! Quick, come here! What’s that say?” 

   (And yes, that IS Morgan Freeman.) 
And then my love kept growing. Remember the scene in Groundhog Day when Bill Murray’s character memorizes and recites an obscure French poem to impress Andie MacDowell? She stares at him in amazement and asks, “You speak French?” To which he replies with that perfect smirk that only Bill Murray can do, “Oui.”
Really, how do you watch that scene and not want to learn the language if only so you too can recite the poem and ape the smirk?
As I type this, I can see the Rosetta Stone French language box my husband got me five Christmases ago. It is opened, but it has not been used. I have the best intentions of downloading the disk and getting started, but as my mother always said, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Apparently, my road is a super highway.
I love the language. It’s glamorous. It is like a fabulous pair of Jimmy Choo shoes or a standing monthly facial appointment; both lovely and unnecessary to my daily existence.
            And, yet it still calls to me, “Traceee! Comment allez-vous? Voulez-vous apprendre le fran├žais?
            And I say, “Oui!”        

(Oh, and MURDER MOST AUSTEN is now available!) 


Monday, September 3, 2012

Learning Outside the Classroom

Since Odelia Grey and I are of a similar age and both work as corporate paralegals in California, I have no doubt our educational backgrounds are similar, so I'm going to speak for both of us on the question of what career or knowledge would we like to go back to school to learn, if given the opportunity.

The answer is: None of the above.

I'm pretty sure Odelia, like myself, hated school. It's no fun being picked on for being fat, or poor, or from a broken home. We're both just old enough that divorce wasn't common in our youth. Drugs were beginning to make inroads into the high schools.  I remember a classmate jumping to her death from a building while on LSD.  If you read the third Odelia Grey mystery, Thugs and Kisses, you'll learn a lot about Odelia's high school years, which were not like my own, except for the poor, divorce, and fat parts. Although, neither of us did drugs or drank. We got good grades, worked after school jobs, and went on to college. I don't know about Odelia, but my guidance counselor told me to go to college to find a husband. (Huh, certainly didn't pass that class.) Outside of that, the only career advice I received was get into teaching, social work or nursing, so I had something to fall back on if I didn't find a husband. (Yeah, that's what they told the girls back in the dark ages.) 

The last thing you'll see either of us signing up for is a class that is longer than a couple of weeks. Our attention span and patience is just not that advanced, even now.  We are both required by California law to attend continuing legal education classes to keep our paralegal certifications, and as notaries, every few years are required to take an all day notary class and exam to maintain our commission. (BTW, that's what I'll be doing this coming Thursday.)

But all this doesn't mean we don't want to learn or don't support education. Both of us love to learn. I learn new things for my job all the time. I learn new things for my writing all the time.  I adore research. Since becoming a writer I have learned about autopsies, police investigations, vampire legends, lunch box collecting, adult web cams, corn mazes, drag queen bingo, storage auctions, Las Vegas history, the Molly Maguires, and the history of Catalina Island, just to name a few topics.

Ongoing education is part of being a writer. It's not uncommon for me to spend hours, days, even weeks doing research for a book only to use a smidgen of what I've learned. But the key is, I did learn it. As much as possible, I walk the path of my characters. I have to learn first, whether it be by personal experience or by reading, the stuff I'm going to have them learn and do in the books I write. I want my words to be as authenticate as possible.

With each book I write, I will continue to learn new and interesting things. I do not for a minute believe you can't teach an old dog new tricks. This old dog is learning all the time. But put me back in school, seated at a desk in a classroom, and I'll probably break into a sweat and develop hives. I believe Odelia feels the same.

With that kind of attitude, I shudder to think what kind of teacher I would have made. The educational system has enough problems without me.

September 1st was the release date for HIDE AND SNOOP, the 7th book in the Odelia Grey series. Odelia's job is on the line and she's been saddled with the care of a 3-year-old with a target on her little back. Check it out!

...enormously entertaining ... offers tight plotting, first-class humor,
and vivid descriptions  
Publishers Weekly