Monday, July 31, 2017

Writing to a Specific Length?

Terry Shames reporting on the topic: Do you write to a specific pre-determined manuscript length? Does your publisher require you to stay within a word-count range?

I recently got curious about how long my books were. It seemed to me that they had gotten longer as the series went on. I went through the six published books and found that in fact they had ballooned. I went from around 75,000 in the first book to almost 90,000 words in the most recent one. I don’t think I’ve gotten windier. I write spare prose without a lot of filler. I think two things have contributed to the growth. One, I write a series, so I like to check in with various ongoing characters to see what they are up to.

The second reason is a little harder to pinpoint. I think my secondary plots have gotten more complex. I like to write a theme, and exploring the theme properly can take the book on side trips. Book 7, just undergoing edits from my publisher, takes a look at the horrendous practice of dog fighting. It was a tough subject, and took some judicious writing to explore it. I had to bring in old characters to talk about it and to give their responses to it. That took space that I hope is worth the effort, both physical and psychological, that it took to write it,

My contracts stipulate that my books will be between 70,000 and 90,000 words, but I think more important to my editor is that the books tell the story they need to tell. If it takes longer than 90,000 words to get it right, I suspect they would be fine with him. He would probably look for a way to whittle it down, but I trust him not to pare it down just for the sake of space. He wants his authors’ books to be the best they can be, and if that takes extra words, so be it.

I sometimes read books that could have used a judicious editorial hand, and I wonder if the author was working toward a word goal, or if they simply didn’t have good editorial guidance. I read phrases that could be left off without the slightest change in meaning or in impact, and I wonder why the phrases weren’t cut. Ninety percent of the time the phrases, “He decided to,” “She saw that,” “It was clear that,” “It was obvious,” and a whole host of other “throwaway” phrases could be, well, thrown away.

In my writer’s group there is an editor, Robert Luhn, with twenty-five years’ experience in editing. He reads my manuscripts with a razor-sharp pencil. He’ll say, “Wow, these pages were terrific.” When I look at them, I see that he has slashed and burned—and he calls that terrific. I have found reason to challenge him maybe twice in four years. Every author should be so lucky. He has taught me a lot about sharpening my prose—and he still finds plenty to cut. Despite this, the books have gotten longer, and, I hope, better.

Friday, July 28, 2017

That Black Hole We Call Writing

Writing isn’t all that we do, is it? What’s your second favorite activity?

by Paul D. Marks

You mean there is one? Who has time for secondary activities? Writing is like a black hole, sucking in everything around it. Housecleaning, socializing, hobbies and fun, get skimped on. And even when we’re doing those things the mind is always thinking of that next plot twist. Even when I’m relaxing doing brain surgery hobby in my spare time I’m thinking about scalpel twists and plot twists.

But when I have time to do other things, you know like sleep, there are several things that I like doing, can’t just name one second fave. Like others have mentioned, reading is one of my fave activities, but lately I get so many requests to read for blurbs that I have virtually no time to read for myself. In fact, I’m so overextended in that area that I’ve had to put a moratorium on accepting new material to read. When I do read for pleasure of course I enjoy reading mystery/crime fiction of various sorts, though usually not in the cozy area (no offense cozy-ites). I like reading works from the classic era of crime fiction, Chandler, David Goodis, Jim Thompson and others, as well as current crime fiction. I also enjoy reading mainstream, the classics and non-fiction. My favorite book is Somerset Maugham’s The Razor’s Edge. But when people ask what I’m reading I’m always hesitant to mention current authors for fear of the hurt feelings of those not mentioned.

I like music, both listening and playing. My first dream was always to be a rock star, whose isn’t? But I knew I didn’t have the chops. Still, I enjoyed being in bands when I was younger. And I still have acoustic, electric and bass guitars that I noodle on, though not as often as I’d like. I like listening to (and playing) a variety of music genres. My faves are the Beatles, hands down. And I enjoy 60s music, New Wave and punk. And today’s alternative. Have been listening to Rodney (no longer on the Roq but now on Sirius) forever. I also like swing music (and got to see a bunch of swing bands and singers that were still around when I was younger when my friend Linda and I would seek them out, I feel very lucky about that), cowboy music (not to be confused with country music). I like a lot of classical, especially baroque. Peruvian and other things.

Movies, of course, both watching and working on them. I spent many years doing script doctoring, no screen credit, no glory. But it sure was fun…much of the time. Except that time that a producer threatened to send his friends in the Mossad after me… As for watching them, a lot of newer movies leave me cold. I used to have broader tastes in what I liked to watch. I’d see almost everything, big films, little films, art films, foreign films. Today I prefer thrillers, though lately again I’ve started watching a little broader range. And I love old movies from the 30s and 40s and some 50s and 60s. Though the 70s was also a true renaissance for American films—lots of good stuff there.

Speaking of Hollywood, I love researching the history of Hollywood, LA, and history in general. And when I’m working on a writing project if there’s research to do I can get lost for hours going from link to link. It’s a “legit” way to play hooky from the actual writing.

I also collect toys, you know that plastic “crap” you threw out when you grew up. Army men, cowboys and the accessories that went with them. Well, my parents threw out (actually gave to the Salvation Army I believe) my toys when I went overseas but eventually I started collecting them again. When I started going to toy shows, I felt a little funny, but when I met other guys my age, including vets, bouncers and other assorted tough guys, and there’s a whole subculture of us out there, still playing with our army men, I felt like it was okay :–) . And I like photographing the little guys, as well as other things. In fact, I love taking pix in general, so that would be another second favorite thing, along with all the other second favorite things.

In the olden days, I liked to SCUBA dive, but haven’t been able to do that in some time. Travel’s also in there. And I always wanted a boat—well maybe someday.

But my two favorite things, corny as it sounds, are walking the dogs and hanging with them and Amy—and when we had cats hanging with them too. We live in a semi-rural area and I enjoy walking the dogs almost as much as they enjoy it. Yeah, corny but true, what can I say?


And now for the usual BSP:

My story “Blood Moon” appears in “Day of the Dark, Stories of the Eclipse” from Wildside Press, edited by Kaye George. Stories about the eclipse – just in time for the real eclipse on August 21st. Twenty-four stories in all. Available on Amazon.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Nascar, Light Opera and Tai Kwon Do

Are just three hobbies I don't pursue, never have, and probably never will.

But what do I do when I'm not writing? Well, at three books a year, I mostly eat, sleep and brush my teeth when not writing. But also - anytime I can I get onto a beach:

And there I don't kayak, snorkel, jet-ski or surf. Nope, I sit, read, listen to the waves and - when it's warm enough - swim.

What else? I've never knowingly passed a sign for a yard sale (or estate sale, or charity shop, or antiques mall or dumpster) and I've got the maximilist decor to prove it:

On a daily basis, I love cooking and baking (sometimes one-handed because I'm also reading):

And gardening.

One-handed gardening (because I'm reading) can lead to patchy courgette management that results in a lot more cooking. I've got a couple of great courgette-glut recipes ( courgette = zucchini, by the way), if anyone else has been doing distracted gardening and now has courgettes you could hollow out and live in.

Sometimes instead of gardening while reading, the dumpster-diving and cooking get combined. When the truck drivers fill the hoppers too full and/or take the tight rising corner on the road to the Campbell's plant too fast . . . roadkill tomatoes!  I was brought up berry-picking in hedgerows (flies, thorns, maggots) and coming home with a car full of ripe, red Roma toms for free still tickles me.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Getting down and Cathy Ace

Writing isn’t all that we do, is it? What’s your second favorite activity?

EASY-PEASY! Gardening. The investment of thousands of hours of back-breaking work. The constant search for plants that I will tend, and love. The planning, visualizing and dreaming.


The digging, planting and pruning. The glory of the morning and evening light through leaves and petals. The delight of a tree looking just as you hoped it would fifteen years earlier. 

The starting point

Just planted


The scent of freshly cut grass, a dew-drop on a rose petal, a spider’s web arching from one blossom to another.  And this……all these lovely sights, smells...and even sounds. 

I LOVE my garden! 

Cathy Ace is the Bony Blithe Award-winning author of The Cait Morgan Mysteries and The WISE Enquiries Agency Mysteries (#4, The Case of the Unsuitable Suitor will be released in hardcover in the UK in September 2017 and in the USA & Canada on January 1st 2018).  You can find out more about Cathy, her work and her characters at her website, where you can also sign up for her newsletter with news, updates and special offers:

Monday, July 24, 2017

Writers are readers too, right?

Q: Writing isn’t all that we do, is it? What’s your second favorite activity?

- from Susan Shea

A: I’d love to bluff by saying running half marathons, or baking my own bread, but the truth is much more mundane. I love to work in my unruly, uncooperative garden, talking to the tomatoes (“ripen, for heaven’s sake”), reveling in the scents of herbs, roses, and pineapple sage, and dreaming about the perfect garden that my imagination and the gardening magazines tell me I should have.

I find that gardening is an activity that keeps me firmly in the present moment. No worrying about how well book sales are going or if my editor will love the new manuscript. Not having internal conversations with people I talked to last week, debating a point I forgot to mention. No Trump. It’s very zen.

Reading is a close second, although there’s a small voice in my head that persists in telling me I shouldn’t be wasting time sitting and reading when I could be, oh, I don’t know, folding laundry or washing the car. I admit I postpone reading a good book at times because I am going to get to the laundry. Funny thing is, I drift over to the computer instead and get hung up on the latest political insanity, kitten and puppy photos posted by my FB friends, a bit of research for the manuscript in progress. The towels are still in the dryer when I realize it’s dinnertime.

All that procrastination makes it clear I should just get on with it and write, take an hour off to deadhead roses, and make a list of chores that I can check off tomorrow for permission to read after I’ve washed the car. Yeah, right.

The reading that’s tempting me right now:

·      Danny Gardner’s A Negro and an Ofay (3/4 read and I’m loving it)
·      Tim Hallinan’s The Hot Countries, which I keep holding up as a reward for finishing other work
·      Anthony Horowitz’s Magpie Murders
·      Cara Black’s Murder in Saint-Germain (she and I are doing events together this summer since we both write crime fiction set in France)