Monday, September 30, 2013

Savoring your own success

Seeing Green: In Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott spends a lot of air time on writer envy—that bile inside her that bubbles to the surface any time a friend (or frenemy) wins a big award or sells movie rights. Do you suffer from the same affliction? How do you combat it?

by Meredith Cole

A long time ago I was a hopeful unpublished writer attending a writer's conference in New York City. An agent was presenting, and was giving his take on the publishing business. After his talk he answered a few questions, and then right at the end he said that he wanted to just say one more thing. He had noticed with great sorrow that most writers appeared to be perpetually dissatisfied. They got a great review, but they complained that were not a New York Times bestseller. They won an award but they griped that they didn't win a different one. And he felt like all his clients were always green with jealousy about the success of other writers.  (Maybe he was Anne Lamott's agent... Who knows!)

The agent's advice to all the hopeful writers in the room was to be happy and relish each small victory. Enjoy when he you get published, or finish a story. Savor each victory. There will always be disappointments. There will always be obstacles. So make sure you take time to enjoy the good stuff.

Many wonderful writers I know have times when everything seems to be going their way. I admit to feeling a pang of jealousy when I hear someone has swept all the awards or sold their movie rights for a hefty sum. Or is having a great time at a conference I would have loved to attend.

But I'm also a reader. I enjoy reading the books of my peers, and I rejoice when a book I love is up for an award. I reach out to friends to congratulate them (hoping that they are savoring their own victories), and then I get back to work. No one can receive awards or publish a bestselling novel unless they write them first. And just because there can only be one New York Times #1 bestselling novel a week doesn't mean that there are fewer readers or fewer opportunities for the rest of us.

So... Savor. Write. Read. Repeat.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Same As Yours, Only Better

by Sue Ann Jaffarian

Over the years, when I've been introduced as a writer in a social setting, people mostly look at me with interest and want to know about the process: how I come up with my ideas, how do I keep all my facts straight, how do I handle research, etc. You know, legitimate and intelligent questions asked with sincerity.

But like many of my fellow criminal minders, I've also been asked to ghost write other people's ideas (aka do all the work but split profits). I've been cautioned about stealing ideas (usually really bad ideas that will probably never be put to paper). I've been looked at with scorn and told, "Yeah, so is everyone else these days." Which does to seem be true when you look at the glut of cheap and not very professional novels out there.

BUT the one comment that kills me the most (and I've heard it several times) is when a wannabe tells me they have an idea for a book/series "just like yours, only better." This person will then go on to tell me what is wrong with my books, why theirs is better, and how they will make a crap load more money ... once they write it, that is.

Okay, Jughead, then instead of standing here boring and insulting me, go freaking write it.

But they never will.

Wanna know why?

Because they are as lazy as they are rude and ignorant.

I can tell you from experience that writing is not a quick and easy endeavor. It sucks up your life and saps your physical and mental energy with little monetary reward. It's something you have to WANT to do - be COMMITTED to doing - no matter what the pay or the sacrifice. Many say they want to be writers, but few will accomplish it, and it will have nothing to do with not being able to find an agent or a publisher. It will have mostly to do with them not ever sitting down and putting their ideas to paper.  And of those thousands of new writers flooding the market right now, a very small percentage of them will ever write a second book, and an even smaller percentage will ever write a third. They will simply fade away, daunted by the task and the work ahead of them, or disillusioned by the outcome.

Writers write. We don't yammer about it in that some day dream mode. We don't brag about what we're going to do. We put our energy on the page, not into a black hole of bluster.

We sit and type. We ponder and plot.

We curse and gnash our teeth.

I'll say it again:  We write.

So to those of you who say your some day books are better than my numerous finished books, I say, with a wide grin:  Be my guest. 

In spite of the above, I want to end this post with one of my favorite and fun personal stories: Earlier this year I was at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles waiting for a play to begin.  I got there early and was reading a book when two ladies about my age and seated to my right asked about the book I was reading and what I did for a living. You know, social chit chat. I answered and mentioned I was a novelist.

First lady: "Would we have heard of you?"

Me: "Maybe."

Second lady, with a slight smirk: "Probably not."

First lady: "What is your name?"

Me: "Sue Ann Jaffarian."

First lady with a gasp: "We just read one of your ghost books in book club!"

Me with excitement: "Why, thank you!"

Second lady: "Will you take a photo with us?"

Me: "My pleasure."

Thursday, September 26, 2013

A born storyteller.

Following on from Clare's Bouchercon-inspired post yesterday, I'm going to share an "are you a writer" conversation I fell into at the bar.

So I was at the bar and, as anyone who attended Bouchercon will confirm, that left plenty of time for a long chat.  (2 barstaff, one on his first day (yes, really) and a whole lot of crimewriters and fans.)   A guy sitting on the nearest stool to where I was waving a 20 and pining for a club soda said the line.

Guy: "Are you a crimewriter?'
Me: "I am.  You?"
Guy: "Yup."  (Slight alarm bell in the distance, since he was wearing one of those 1930s Chicago- style caps, at a very jaunty angle, and was chewing a toothpick as if there was a teeny weeny little baton twirler practising in his mouth.  In other words, he looked a bit too cool to be one of us.  Like when Lou Diamond Phillips turned up at Left Coast Crime; even from the back you knew he wasn't a writer.)
Me: "What do you write?"
Guy: "Oh, I'm prolific.  What do you write?"
Me: "1920s amateur sleuth novels.  And a stand-alone."
Guy: "Novels?  Books?  Wow.  How many?"
Me: (thinks) "Eleven."
Guy: (whistles).  "Hot damn."
Me: "So . . . are you a short story writer. (Because why are novels so surprising?)
Guy: "Short, long, real long.  I do it all."
Me: "What's your name?"
Guy: "My real name or my pseudonym?"
Me: "Are you on a panel this weekend?  Because this witness protection programme stuff isn't going to fly."
Guy: "Okay, my name - and you better get ready for this - is Stephen King."
Me: "Oh. Yeah, well, good idea changing it.  Or even Steve King would do, so your mother could still be proud sort of idea."
Guy: "No, Stephen King is my nom de plume.  That white guy in Maine?  He's my assistant.  He does the travelling and I do the writing."
Me: "Uh-huh."
Guy: (turning to the man eating his burger and fries on the next stool along) "And this is my beautiful wife, Tabitha."
Me: (getting it finally) "Well, it's a great honour to meet you, Mr King.  I'm a  huge fan."
Guy: "I'm just messing with you.  I clean the windows in this place.  You really a Stephen King fan?"
Me: "A huge one.  All of them - the early stuff and the late stuff.  I loved Dumas Key."
Guy: "Oh, yeah!  LOVED Dumas Key.  Scared the bejesus out of me,  Dolls!"
Me: "Oh my God, yeah.  Dolls.  Dolls and creepy little dead kids scampering around."
Guy: "With the footprints?  Brrrr.  How about Lisey's Story?"

And then the time passed very pleasantly, looking forward to the Shining sequel and arguing about the Dark Tower and I learned that a. books are a universal language, b. my basic setting is "taking a basket of food through the woods to grandma's house" and c. window-cleaners are cooler looking than crimewriters.  At least in New York.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013


by Clare O'Donohue

One type of common writer conversation has been covered so well this week already (The “I’m a writer who doesn’t write but I have great ideas, and that's what matters” chat. Every writer has had this conversation. Seriously, where do these people come from?)

So I thought I’d write my favorite kind of writing conversation, several of which I had last weekend at Bouchercon, the annual mystery convention.

Writer: Are you an author?

Me: I am. I write two mystery series.

Writer: I’m a mystery writer too. (I’m a bestseller, my first book is coming out, I write cozies, thrillers, historical…. This part doesn’t really matter). It’s fun isn’t it?

Me: The writing part? So much fun.

Writer: I’m working on a new book and one of my characters refuses to die. He was supposed to be my victim, and he’s not having it.

Me: My characters have been ignoring everything I say. Especially this new guy. He was supposed to be in one scene, but he said the funniest things so I kept him around. 
Problem is, he’s changing everything and I…

Writer: … don’t know what will happen next? Been there. In fact, I’m there now.  Wouldn’t have it any other way? Would you?

Me: Nope. It sounds crazy to say it out loud doesn't it?
Writer: Not to me. Though my characters think you're a bit messed up.

(Conversation interrupted by another writer)

Writer 2: Do either of you know a good poison that would seem like a heart attack? Something I could put in a drink?

Writer & Me (together): We do.

 (Passing waiter looks slightly unnerved that three seemingly normal people are so delighted by discussing ways to kill others.)
By the way, I released a book yesterday. THE DOUBLE WEDDING RING , the 5th in my Someday Quilts series.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Dialogue With A Crime Writer

Host: This is my friend. She's a crime writer.

Guest #1: A crime writer? Like, for the newspaper?

Crime Writer: No, I write mystery novels.

Guest #1: Oh. Like Agatha Christie?

Crime Writer: Yeah.

Guest #1: I love Agatha Christie. I have this plot idea I've always thought would make a great novel. I'm not a writer, though. Hey, if you like, I'll give it to you, and you can write it, and we can share the profits.

Crime Writer: Thanks. I'm not looking for a plot right now. I'm in the middle of a project, no idea when I'll start another one. But I can recommend some great writing classes so you can write it yourself.

Guest #1: I don't want to write it myself. I'd rather give it to someone else and just reap the profits.

Crime Writer: You could always hire a ghost writer. That's what they do.

Guest #2: So is it true that all writers are weird? You hole up in your office with a bottle of cheap whiskey and don't come out for months, until your book is done?

Crime Writer: Yeah. Pretty much. Except I come out to get more whiskey.

Host: No, that's not true at all. We see our crime writer friend and her husband for dinner all the time. She doesn't drink much at all.

Crime Writer: Okay, I lied.

Guest #1: I can just give you the plot. I think it's so good. I want to see a book with this story in it. I don't even mind not taking half the profit.

Crime Writer: Oh, thanks, but writing isn't really like that. The story comes organically from my imagination.

Guest #3: Exactly. I've always said that. I'm going to write a book one day, but I haven't been hit by my muse yet. But I'm open to it. I started taking yoga. I figure it's not long before my channel will be open.

Crime Writer: Oh, that's great. When you start writing, let me know and I'll recommend some classes. It helps a lot to learn skills from the pros.

Guest #3: Oh, I don't believe in that. I think you either have talent or you don't.

Crime Writer: Maybe. I guess no one knows.

Guest #3: But you said the inspiration comes from inside you.

Crime Writer: It does for the first draft. But the edit stage is where skill comes in.

Guest #3: So I'll hire a good editor. I'm no good with grammar and stuff anyway.

Guest #2: I hear the suicide rate among writers and artists is really high. Is that because you guys are all super sensitive?

Crime Writer: Probably.

Guest #2: Have you ever tried to kill yourself?

Crime Writer: Not yet.

Monday, September 23, 2013

A Writer Meets A Reader

By Susan Shea
[Sounds of wine being poured into glasses, people laughing, one loud voice getting closer and closer. Sound of gurgling as author takes a swig from wine glass.]
“Hey there. We haven’t met. You’re the writer, right? A writer! I always wanted to do that.”
“Oh, have you written anything?”
“Well, no, but I have a great idea for a book.”
“A story, you know, like ‘CSI Miami.’”
“Aha. You’ve lived in Florida?”
“No, but I don’t think that’s important, do you?”
“Maybe not. After all, Ray Bradbury never lived in space.”
“Why CSI? Do you have some experience with forensics? It’s such a fascinating field, and changing so rapidly.”
“Only what I see on TV, but I’m sure that’s plenty. In my story, the female CSI gets captured by a serial killer when she gets home from a job and is just about to get in the shower. She doesn’t know he’s a serial killer right away, but he has tattoos on his arm that have the names of the women he’s killed and the dates, but it’s in code and she has to break the code before he locks her in the basement. I think it would make a great movie too. That’s where the money is, right? But enough about me. What do you write? Are you famous?”
“I write traditional mysteries and, no, sorry to say I’m not famous. My series is about a fundraiser for an art museum – ”
“ – maybe your books are too expensive. I only buy used print books and my rule is I never pay more than 99 cents for books online. There are thousands of books you can get for e-readers, a whole lot of them are even free. Now, I’m not saying they’re all good, you know, but, hey, for free, why not try them? Who’s your favorite author?”
“There are so many wonderful crime fiction writers working today.  Have you read anything by – ” 
“I can never remember names except for Dan Brown, of course. He is really famous, and rich. Have you thought about writing in his style? That would definitely make you lots of money. Well, listen, it was great to meet a real author. Just promise you won’t steal my story idea, okay? One of these days, when I have the time, I’m going to write it, or maybe hire someone to ghost write it, you know?”

Friday, September 20, 2013

E-Books, Promise and Curse

by Gary

Not so much now what with CDs, iPods and so forth, but back in the day, before radio, a tradition was born over a century ago in Cuban and other Latin American cigar factories.  Rows of workers would be smoking their product while they hand rolled choice Cohibas at tables. On a platform to be heard sitting in a chair there’d be a reader.  From the tribuna, the platform, El Lector read from the newspaper, a political tract, a novel, a non-fiction book, poetry, the script from the opera or maybe even the funnies.  These men, and sometimes women, were educated, they could read and speak Spanish and English and read to the illiterate but not ignorant cigar rollers who not only wanted to break up the monotony of their job, but be entertained and informed.  Tey wanted stories.
As Stephen King has observed, books as the delivery system might be endangered, but story and talent are why we read them.  The cigar roller, the Prius mechanic and the dental hygienist still want their stories.  Sure, video games that cost $200 million to produce such as the just released bang and bigger bang Grand Theft Auto V, slated to earn a cool billion, is impossible to go toe-to-toe with in the arena.  Hell a poor bastard was stabbed and hit with a brick by a group of teenagers for his copy of the game after waiting hours in line to buy it in London.  But even game players read – okay, maybe not prose but I do know they read comics and graphic novels and some of that crowd reads prose. 
El Lector at the cigar factory.
Ii's without a doubt damn harder now more than ever to get attention for our books and short stories.  There’s even computer software churning out news articles and composing music fer Christsakes.  But with respect to my fellow blogger Vicki Delany, I don’t think more writers means less readers.  It means stepping up our game as writers and seeking out new readers with the tools we’ve been provided.  I don’t we have to mean pander, we have to write the stories we want to tell from crime and mystery stories, chick lit to new pulp – stories the recreate the style of the pulps from the 1930s.  For as Alan Orloff, one of my other fellow suppliers of content if you will to our Criminal Minds site noted yesterday, this is the best and worst of times as Dickens penned.
Unless you have the good fortune to become a brand onto oneself or create that break our
character(s), like the aforementioned Messrs. King and Dickens, it’s hard out here for a novel writer.  But e-books mean you don’t have to go through the usual hurdles at traditional publishing houses, and you can experiment with length, style, content and approach. 
A writer has to write, has to get the story out of them or they’d go crazy.  We have to as Sue Ann from this site stated in her comment, keep our feet planted on both sides of the virtual and “real” dividing line to cover our bases.  But for certain you can’t simply write into a vacuum.  For practical reasons, like needing to eat and keep the lights on, we all want to build our readership be it via e-books (long form and novellas), webserials, phone serials (all the rage in Japan recently), print-on-demand, limited editors, collector’s editions, fan fiction (50 Shades of Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!), hybrid cyber books, swag such as a music tract derived from the book, podcast interviews, and on and on.   Sure, it’s work getting your work noticed among the great sea of low and high culture, of how to spend, in the words of science fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein, your beer money. 
I don’t tweet but the new era of book promotions means there are people who do the social media bit. But if getting others to hawk my wares play out, the day might well come where I’m sitting in El Lector’s seat, reading others’ work and my own to the rows of neural netted androids toiling in the cybernetic factory.  They are only mechanical torsos built into the desks where they put together everything from iPhones to e-cigars, but I’ll fulfill my roll of storyteller, puffing away on a actual maduro cigar – gladly.     

Thursday, September 19, 2013

It Was the Best/Worst of Times…

by Alan

Brave New World: Publishers and booksellers are perishing. But how are e-books, online bookstores, self-publishing and other new industry developments affecting authors? Is it a great time to be a new writer or are things too shaky for comfort?

I can say, without a doubt, it’s a great time to be a writer. With the (relative) ease of self-publishing, and the rise of the ebook, it’s never been easier for a writer to get his/her work to a vast number of readers, quickly and inexpensively. Social media lets writers attract and interact with readers on a one-to-one basis, whether they live in Denver, Dubai, Delhi, or Denmark. Word-of-mouth has become word-of-Twitter. You don’t have to actually know someone to hear their opinions, and if you’re lucky, word of your great book can go viral. And, if you do it all yourself, the lion’s share of the royalties go straight into your pocket.

I can say, without a doubt, it’s a terrible time to be a writer. Publishers have consolidated and, in turn, have put the squeeze on the midlist author. Advances are down. Royalties remain relatively low. Outlets (read: brick-and-mortar bookstores (ie, showrooms)) are dwindling in number and size. With fewer “gatekeepers” in place, self-publishing authors are flooding the market with books that aren’t quite ready (in many cases), creating confusion for the readers. Too many distractions—Fruit Ninjas, Netflix, YouTube, Instagram, ad infinitum (isn’t that the name of another social media site?)—compete for potential readers’ attentions.

I know what you’re thinking: Alan, you’re talking out of both sides of your mouth. Again.

So which is it? Great or terrible?

As it often comes down to in writing (and life, in general), it’s all about your viewpoint. If you’re a pessimist, then it’s a terrible time. If you’re an optimist, then it’s a great time.

Here’s what I do know. Optimist or pessimist, there’s one fundamental strategy to follow: There’s only so much you can control in this business, so write the best damn book you can. Then write another. And another.

Because it’s the writing that really matters.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

To E or Not to E

by Tracy Kiely

The first time I attended a mystery writer’s conference, I was talking to another, more experienced writer when I noticed a woman purposely walking around handing out cards to everyone. “That’s X,” my new friend said, her voice dropping to a whisper, “she’s self-published.” It was a bit like that scene from St. Elmo’s Fire when Wendy explains her mother: “There are certain words my mother finds too horrible to utter so she whispers them…”  Self-published used to be one of those horrible words, right up there with “cancer,” “divorce,” and “ointment.” The term conjured up sad, frustrated writers who, after years of rejection, gave up on traditional publishing and did it themselves.  It was assumed by most in the industry that these books were subpar, lacking, and amateur. In short, they were assumed to be crap, and publishing your own work was considered nothing short of career suicide.
Of course, that’s utter crap. Yes, some self-published books are awful, but then so aren’t some traditionally published books. We all know of one story in which a writer who has been turned down by every editor on the planet is finally published and then is hailed as genius (A Confederacy of Dunces, anyone?).  Being rejected by an editor is no more an indication of your worth than not getting asked to prom by the class hottie is.
Since that first conference, much has changed in the world of publishing. E-books – once regarded as the bane of civilization or a sign of the coming apocalypse – are now mainstream. Stephen King published one and proved all the critics wrong (of course, everything that man does goes against all the traditional publishing rules, so perhaps he’s not the best example).  Kindles and Nooks are commonplace. Even I now own a Kindle – something that I swore I’d never do. “I like to hold a book!” I’d protest adding, “I like the smell of a book” and “I don’t want to read off a computer screen.” Then my husband bought me one. I played with it a bit, but I didn’t really use it much, that is until this summer when we went on vacation.  We were only allowed so much weight in our luggage, so instead of trying to creatively pack guidebooks and beach reads, I downloaded them onto my Kindle. Slowly, I began to see the benefit of e-books. However, it wasn’t until I finished my beach read and was “bookless” that I really appreciated the Kindle. I merely bought another book and downloaded it, all in a matter of seconds. I was hooked.  The Kindle is perfect for today’s culture of “I want it NOW” consumerism.
Of course, the downside is the disappearing bookstore. There used to be wonderful ones all around the DC area where I grew up. There was one that just catered to mysteries, and on Friday’s they would serve afternoon tea complete with sherry and little cookies (they eventually had to stop serving the sherry because underage kids were coming in to help themselves). I miss having a neighborhood bookstore. I miss browsing amongst the rows and rows of books and talking to knowledgeable staff. But, I suspect there are those who yearn for the return of the milkman and a butler banging a gong for dinner. With technological advancement comes change. We just have to adapt as best we can.
While I do mourn the losses that the e-book has caused, there is some to celebrate. More writers are getting a chance to share their stories, which in turn allows readers more choices.
And if you attend a writer’s conferences today, you will meet authors who are not only self-published, but aren’t pointed out with a whisper. Unless, that whisper says something like, “That’s X.  She started out selling her books out of her trunk. Then she got on Amazon and made $5,000 in one day.”

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Here be dragons

Brave New World: Publishers and booksellers are perishing. But how are e-books, online bookstores, self-publishing and other new industry developments affecting authors? Is it a great time to be a new writer or are things too shaky for comfort?

By Vicki Delany

To be honest, I’m glad I’m not starting out today.

Everyone’s writing a book; publishers are cutting back the number of books published, and paying smaller advances; bookstores are closing taking opportunities for meeting the reading public with them. 
Plus, I have to wonder that with the rise of the Internet, Social Media, (look a cute cat!) instantly available TV and movies, if people are reading less.

More writers, less readers.

But, as things stand right now, as a traditionally published author, I have the best of both worlds. My publishers ensure that the books are placed in libraries and in bookstores.  I know that when I go on a book tour or to an Independent bookstore for a signing, the books will be ordered, delivered, and ready for me when I arrive.   ARCs are sent out and thus reviews get placed in the trade magazines, and in some newspapers.

My publishers also put the e-book formats up on places such as Amazon, B&N, Kobo etc. And then it’s up to me to get the word out to people who are interested in getting the book onto their e-devices directly, by using social media and doing guest blogs etc.  There’s nothing better than making a contact through social media, and then a couple of minutes later them telling you they’ve bought your book.

So yes, it’s a worry that newspapers are cutting drastically back on book review space and that bookstores are closing all over and that in some places even libraries are having their budgets slashed.  It’s increasingly becoming an effort to keep active on Facebook and Twitter etc. and be heard above all the roar of self-promotion going on.

But no one ever said having a successful career as a professional author was going to be easy.

Monday, September 16, 2013

You've got to be brave to be an author...

Brave New World: Publishers and booksellers are perishing. But how are ebooks, online bookstores, self-publishing and other new industry developments affecting authors? Is it a great time to be a new writer or are things too shaky for comfort?

 by Meredith Cole

There are more ways than ever before for a writer to find an audience. But their audience is also distracted by all the ways there are to find stuff to read... Is this good or bad? Depends of course on who you ask.

Traditionally published authors generally come down on the side of "bad news." They worked hard over the years to cultivate relationships with indie bookstores, newspaper reviewers, etc. Now many watch in horror as writers who never had an agent or publisher, self publish and suddenly become a success under the new system. There are algorithms to memorize, and social media to master--and who has time to actually write anymore?

Jeff Bezos thinks it's good, of course. And so do many authors who, after being dumped unceremoniously by their publishers, are now able to republish their backlist in ebook form and make money off of it. And authors who could never get traditional publishing to "buy into" their books think it's an exciting new opportunity. They're making money of their writing (some anyway) and getting feedback via Amazon comments, etc., on their work. They've found fans.

What do I think? I think it's the system we have right now, so we need to all find a comfortable place to be in this "brave new world." It's probably not the end of the world, and it's very likely not the best thing since the printing press was invented. It exists somewhere in the amorphous middle.

When the dust has cleared, we will have less independent bookstores (bad). We will have libraries that look different--probably less books and more computers (ugh). We may or may not have more readers--depending on who you ask. But we will still have writers writing. Some will make a lot of money, some nothing--and most of us will probably be somewhere in the middle. We'll write our stories which will hopefully find new and interested readers, whether on ebook, paper or transmitted into someone's glasses.

Friday, September 13, 2013

ISO the Beauty of Bologna

by Sue Ann Jaffarian

I'm a natural chatterbox. Always have been. Always will be. I love conversation. With others. With myself. With my cats. I can natter on about most anything and will ask almost any question of anyone.

So it's no surprise that what comes most easily to me in my writing is dialogue.  I can write pages and pages of dialogue with almost no effort. Juggling multiple characters in a single scene - no problem. And I'll even keep them straight and in character with their personalities as I do so.  It's like I hear their voices in my head and am merely acting as a stenographer.

Library Journal even pointed out my skill for chatter in a review of one of my Granny Apples books, so it's official:  One of the best cozy authors for light chatter and low-key humor... – Library Journal (starred review)

What I'm weak on, at least in my opinion, is description. If there is one thing I admire in other writers it's their ability to paint with words. When I'm reading and can actually smell cow dung, hear pain in a scream, taste a salty ocean breeze, and feel the softness of a child's tear stained cheek, I'm in heaven as a reader. And a bit envious as a writer. 

In one of Sue Grafton's Kinsey Millhone novels, Grafton has Kinsey sitting in a kitchen talking to a witness while the person is making a fried bologna sandwich. With beauty and skill, Grafton describes the meat being thrown into the skillet and cooked, complete with sizzling and the aroma of fried fat and salt, so that the reader is salivating and jonesing for the sandwich right along with the detective.  I defy even the most stringent vegetarian not to lick their lips during that scene. I've long forgotten which book it is from and the plot of the book, but I've never forgotten the cooking of that sandwich. It was a condensed but complete tutorial on how to write.

I'm working on it.  Not frying baloney. I haven't cared for baloney since I was a kid. But I'm working on getting that good with my description.

Another skill I'd like to develop is writing serious fiction. I'm known for my light humor, but I'd really like to write a dark, multi layered tale of heartache, suspense, and betrayal. 

Like I said, I'm working on it.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

And then all of a sudden something exciting happened.

"Sorry, what was the question?" asked the crimewriter.  She'd been cooking, editing and preparing interview questions all at the same time all day and was a bit scattered.
"Which bits of writing come easy and which are tough?" asked the blog.
"Oh, okay.  Well, let me see now . . . dialogue never seems that hard.  You know, naturalistic sort of dialogue like people actually do?"
"As opposed to constructions which are too syntactically complex and contain overly formal vocabulary choices?'
"You betcha."
"What about description?'
"We've all stopped description for a month in tribute to Elmore Leonard, haven't we?"
But Elmore Leonard seemed a world away from this kitchen, with its flagged floor, its Aga, its cheerful jumble of cats, cushions and courgettes from the garden.

Outside there was some weather too: rain plotching down, so that the sweetpeas and honeysuckle which had waved in greeting when she arrived the day before were sodden, hanging from their string supports like swooning maidens on the jacket of a bonkbuster.
"I think it's okay as long as there's similes," said the blog.  "You know - Marlowe style."
"Coolio," said the crimewriter.

"And action?' the blog went on.  "Do you find action sequences easy?"
Suddenly three things happened all at once.  Maybe four.  Lightning flashed, the house was plunged into darkness, behind her there was the sound of glass shattering and the cat on her lap dropped to the floor and streaked away through the catflap, crouched low with its ears flat back.
She leapt to her feet, knocking over her chair, and backed away from the door.  Even in the darkness, she could see a humped shape and an arm reaching through the broken pane to scrabble at the handle.
Through her panic, she had time to realise that a flash of lightning shorting the electrics, just when an intruder was about to burst in, was a massive coincidence, but the cat was a nice touch.

"Don't come any closer," she said, the relief of returning to dialogue lending a steady and commanding air to her voice, although her pulse thrummed.
"Who's going to stop me?" The snarl in the voice turned her legs to jelly.


All day she had been boiling pork bones and herbs to make stock.  She had been planning to use it as a jelly layer around the inside of a raised-crust pork pie.  None of that mattered now.  She tossed her head, trying to shake out the recipe nonsense.  With the movement, her hand brushed against the measuring jug sitting ready for when the stock had cooled.  She seized it, dipped it, and threw 500mls of scalding hot liquid, drained but unsalted (she shook her head again), right into his gleaming eyes.

Just then the lights came back on, for reasons which will have to be determined in the second draft and she looked down into the ugly and now blistering features of A Very Bad Man.
"How about characterisation?" the blog asked quietly. 
"Never mind that,' said the crimewriter.  "I still have enough stock left for my pie."

My 30th Novel

by Clare O'Donohue

What talents and skills have come naturally to me?

Being a smart ass. That came early and, though I am a self-taught smart ass, I am remarkably skilled. Though I guess the question applies to writing novels. And in that, I think two things came easy - characters and dialog.

The characters in the books I've written and the ones I've yet to write live with me, especially when I'm hard at work on a novel. I can see them, hear them, feel their pain or fear or joy. I hesitate even to call them characters. They are real people to me. I like things about them, dislike others. We sometimes disagree and there are times when I don't know what they're doing or why. They often surprise me. They also happen to be imaginary, but really, everyone has quirks.

Creating someone, living inside them and letting them live inside me for the duration of a book, or a series, is so easy for me, it's a little unsettling. I had an imaginary friend as a child, Mary Rita. I don't remember much about her, but according to my mother she was pretty much my constant companion when I was four and five. I like to think I didn't so much as grow out of it as learn to make a profit at it.

Also, dialog. I talk out loud when I write (which is why I no longer write at coffee shops) because when you hear the dialog you know if it sounds like something a real person would say. I don't know that I'm good at it, but I think I am. At least it comes easily to me.

 Which have I had to work on?

For me that's plotting. When I've passed the half way point, I have to really sit myself down and work through how it's all going to end. I don't write with a formal outline, just an idea of where I'm going. Writing without an outline is like deciding to drive from Chicago to Denver and just heading west, with the assumption that somewhere in western Nebraska you'll look at a map and figure out the details. Odds are by not planning you've wandered a little off the path. That's okay, I think. You go places you wouldn't have otherwise. But eventually you have to drive where you're headed. This is not as much fun for me, so I have to work at it.

What direction would I still like to grow?

When I wrote my first novel, I was momentarily sad for all the people who hit it out of the park on their first novel. To have written the best thing you will ever write first, seems - among other things - anti-climatic. I decided then that my thirtieth novel would be my defining one. I don't know in which direction I will grow (see above on my lack of planning) but I do know number thirty will be a doozy.

By the way, number seven is out on the 24th.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Writerly Growth Arc

Writing a series is an evolving relationship with readers. I see the first book as a trial balloon—like a first date. I'm getting to know Clare, and so are readers.

Writing is also a profession that allows for endless growth. I think even the great writers die before they figure it out completely. How to express things just how they see them. It's an impossible goal, and the pursuit is where we find pleasure.

I'm three books and four years into my writing career. Here's what I've seen so far.

What readers liked from the beginning...

They enjoy my short chapters and quick pace. They like that I use multiple points of view, four or five per book, and switch the POV at each chapter break.

They tell me they have fun reading, that they keep turning pages even after they'd like to be in bed.

They like the dialogue. A lot of readers say they laugh out loud at my sarcasm, which I like to hear.

What readers have asked for that I've given them...

More Clare. In Dead Politician Society, maybe because I didn't realize I was writing a series when I started, Clare got equal air time as the rest of the characters. Going forward to books 2 and 3, Clare has taken close to half the chapters and the other POV characters have shared the rest.

Less swearing. Maybe this is just because I'm getting older and the second word out of my mouth isn't “fuck” anymore. But I've listened to some readers who have said they don't mind how bad language gets but they felt in my case it was gratuitous. So I still use foul language all over the map (personal preference—I just like it) but I choose my moments more carefully than I used to.

More setting. I tend to skip setting when I'm reading, so I used to leave it out. Then I realized I only skip setting when it's overdrawn or takes up entire paragraphs of its own: I love to see a space when it's in the context of character development or plot furthering. So I've learned, with huge help from my editor, how to let a reader see more visuals without slowing down the story's pace.

More internal monologue. When I started writing I took the saying “Show, don't tell” a bit too literally. I thought I had to show the entire story in action, as if my novel was a movie. But a novel isn't a movie, and in Death's Last Run I added a fair amount of internal monologue that I think enriches each character without slowing the story down.

Direction I still hope to grow...

I want to get deeper, more honest and raw and real with each book I write. This is a largely internal process. It's about (a) getting in touch with my own emotions and (b) being comfortable sharing them. The books I love to read are the ones where I'm reading along, thinking Oh yeah. God, I feel that way too but I've never put words to it before.

I think that the best books of all are the ones that come from very, very deep inside the writer. So deep that they're tapping into the collective unconscious, and that's what truly resonates with readers.

Monday, September 9, 2013

The Longish Goodbye

By Reece Hirsch

When Kelli Stanley invited me to join Criminal Minds in late 2010, I was honored to join such a great bunch of writers.  Two and a half years later, many of the writers have changed, but I’m still just as honored to be part of such a talented, funny, insightful bunch.  However, I regret to say that I’ve come to the end of my run.  This is my last post at Criminal Minds (as a regular, anyway).

I’m writing a book under deadline for the first time while working full-time as an attorney and I just don’t think I can do justice to my blogging obligations here.   Thanks to Meredith, Robin, Vicki, Clare, Tracy, Catriona, Alan, Sue Ann and Gary for being such good company.  I’d also like thank the Criminal Minds Emeritus, including Kelli Stanley, Rebecca Cantrell, Michael Wiley, Joshua Corin, Shane Gericke, Hilary Davidson, Chris F. Holm and Stephen Blackmoore.  If we ever get the band back together at a Bouchercon or ThrillerFest, I’d like to buy you all a round of drinks.

Looking back on my tenure at Criminal Minds, I went back to the archives and selected these as my most silly, inane, least socially redeeming posts (and there were many to choose from):

  1. The Hulk grapples with the Proust Questionnaire (“You wouldn’t like me when I’m Ang Lee”): Proust vs. Hulk.
  1. When the weekly assignment was to write poetry, I penned my tribute in verse to Omar Little of “The Wire”.  Because, you know, man’s gotta have a code: Ballad of Omar Little.
  1. I read a New York Times Magazine article about the making of “There Will Be Blood” and learned that Paul Dano was called to Texas at the last minute to replace another actor and go head-to-head with the Method madness of Daniel Day Lewis.  I imagined what that might have been like in "There Will Be Milkshake".  (Note to other bloggers:  this is still one of my most-viewed posts, but only because it has an often-searched catch-phrase in the headline.  Try it, I think you'll be pleased with the results.)
  1. The 10 Things Heard in the Bar at Bouchercon, which was written during a year when I wasn’t actually able to make it to B’con, but was wishing I was there.
It’s been fun, and I will definitely be back to visit.