Monday, May 31, 2021

Typical Gemini: I'm Both

 Q: Would you consider yourself an introvert or an extrovert? What strengths and/or weaknesses come with this personality type in regards to book publicity and marketing, and how do you mine your strengths?

-from Susan


I once fantasized about buying a Cape Cod saltbox set deep in the woods around Chatham, of living a solo life surrounded by nature in four seasons, sitting by myself in front of a cozy fire, reading and…what? Knitting? Hardly. Eating crusty home-baked bread? Maybe. But that was when I was enmeshed in a high-energy demanding job that had me on the road (or more often, the air), spending a great deal of time with people I had to listen to and get to know, attending evening and weekend functions. I was newly divorced, my kids were pretty well launched, and my work life demanded I be an extrovert almost 24/7.  It was also before I allowed the tiny voice in my head to utter its secret wish: to write, not just read, mystery novels.


Fast forward twenty years. I’m in the most loving relationship I have ever had, I’ve made the decision to quit my day (and evening and weekend) job and career, and I have a first completed manuscript and am about to pitch an agent. I have a closet full of evening clothes, a lot of airfare points on my credit card, and a lot of commuter miles on my first hybrid car. I want nothing more than to have more quiet time, more thinking time, more writing time. Alone until sweetie comes home every day from his studio. My sons are loving but not dependant on my attention. I don’t have to move to the deep woods for introspection. I just need to change my professional focus, to pivot.


Throughout my adult life, I have had to balance being an extrovert and desiring to be an introvert. When I’m out in the world, I really enjoy seeing people, hearing what they’re up to, and cheering them on. I like eating in restaurants (remember restaurants?), hugging (ditto) friends and family, going to performances (ditto again). Being almost exclusively stuck in my house for fifteen months has tested that part of my introverted self that dreamed of a hidey hole in the deep woods. But that time also gave me the impetus to write a whole new book, work on another book project, and rise to my agent’s positive challenge (more later – fingers crossed, please). So, I guess the introvert in me was supported during the pandemic.


Today, I’m beginning to see friends and family again and hope the local opera company will rev up for an in-person 2022 season. When I have a new book out, I can’t wait to launch it in person, to speak at bookstores and conventions, to share what I’ve learned at writers’ conferences, to visit book clubs and blogs and participate on panels – the extrovert part of me thrives on book promotion. I like people, I like connecting with people. The extrovert will win out, but I’ll have to remind myself to listen to the quiet voice of my introvert reminding me that writing doesn’t happen in those settings. 


A lot of writers I know can say the same thing – we’re both. We have to be, and I’m not complaining!

Extrovert on her rounds after first book published - happy much?

Friday, May 28, 2021


by Abir

Do you alter your personal reading based on what you are currently working on?



Friday again! I don’t know where you are, but where I am, it was raining for a month but finally stopped yesterday, so I’m feeling positive. The weather here has been abysmal. There was one point last week when I considered building a boat and collecting up all the animals, two by two.


Life seems to be returning to normal round here though. I went and sat inside a pub the other day for the first time in about a year. I had a few celebratory drinks and then promptly fell off my chair. It seems that during lockdown I may have forgotten how to drink beer. Rest assured, I shall practice all summer till I’m good at it again.


So, on to this week’s question: 


Do you alter your personal reading based on what you are currently working on?


The short answer is ‘no’, not least because ‘altering my habits’ suggests a degree of planning and general control over life which I sadly don’t possess. My reading habits are a bit like the ball baring inside a pinball machine, constantly bouncing from one thing to the next: I’ll start something and if I’m not hooked withing thirty pages, I’ll probably drop it; or I’ll be reading something, and then something else more shiny will come along and I’ll pick that up instead. This isn’t always the best way to go about things. Recently, I had to read a book for an event and the first thirty pages were turgid. If it wasn’t for the fact that I needed to be able to discuss it, I’d have chucked it in the bin, but as I kept going, the book got really good and drew me in. So my thirty page rule is a rubbish way of reading, but I’m a pretty rubbish person.


My tastes are eclectic. Like my friends on this thread earlier this week, my reading skews toward crime fiction, mainly because I get sent quite a few of these books to read and maybe provide a quote for, but other than that, I’ll read as widely as I can because I find I like trying new things.


I’ll generally read several things at once: some for pleasure; some to give quotes; some for research; and some in order to prepare for events that I’m taking part in. Right now, I’ve got the following on the go:


“Pushkin Hills” by Sergei Dovlatov – An unsuccessful writer and an inveterate alcoholic, Boris Alikhanov has recently divorced his wife and is running out of money. The prospect of a summer job as a tour guide at the Pushkin Hills Preserve offers him hope of regaining some balance in life as his wife makes plans to emigrate to the West with their daughter Masha, but during Alikhanov's stay in the rural estate of Mikhaylovskoye, his life continues to unravel.


I’d never heard of Dovlatov till last month when I came across a film about him on Netflix. He was a Russian author who found it impossible to be published during the Soviet era. He finally emigrated to the Sates where he died in the nineties. Posthumously, he’s now one of Russia’s most popular authors.


“In Cold Blood” by Truman Capote - a non-fiction novel detailing the 1959 murders of four members of the Herbert Clutter family in the small farming community of Holcomb, Kansas. I’m reading this as research for a true crime novella that I’m going to be writing.


“The Cut” by Christopher Brookmyre – Millicent, a special effects make-up artist whose talent is to create realistic scenes of bloody violence wakes to find her lover dead in her bed. Twenty-five years later, her sentence for murder served, she’s ready to give up on her broken life - until she meets troubled film student and reluctant petty thief Jerry. Together, they begin to discover that all was not what it seemed on that fateful night . . . and someone doesn't want them to find out why. This is my second reading of this fantastic novel as it’s preparation for the next episode of the Bloody Scotland Book Club which I’m hosting on 30th June. 


“The Order of Time” by Carlo Rovelli

Alongside fiction, I’ll always try and have one non-fiction book on the go, generally either history or science and normally on audiobook. I find it much easier to concentrate on non-fiction audiobooks than on fiction ones. One of the things that is currently fascinating me is the concept of time. I can’t profess to understand what’s going on, and after a couple of chapters, this book got pretty complicated for my small brain, but it was thought-provoking.



Returning to the question, I guessing it might have been posed with the thought that maybe writers don’t want to be influenced by other authors’ work when they’re writing their own novels. I’ll echo what my colleagues have said earlier this week, namely that I think by this point in our careers, we’ve all developed our own styles and authentic voices. I’m not scared I’m going to end up mimicking someone else’s style because I know it wouldn’t work for me. I can only write in my voice, and I’m too lazy to try and copy someone else’s,


That’s not to say I haven’t learned from other writers. The works of Philip Kerr definitely had an influence on what I write and how I write it; reading the work of Kingsley Amis had a profound effect on me in terms of opening my eyes to what a supremely gifted author could do with language; and the short stories of Frederick Forsyth and Jeffrey Archer helped me to see how to better structure my own short form work. Similarly, I’m reading Truman Capote’s ‘In Cold Blood’ to learn from a master. I won’t end up writing in his style (because I can’t), but if I can pick up a few gems of what might improve my own work, then it’s time well spent.


Re-reading the question, I guess my first answer was slightly wrong. I do alter my reading for what I’m writing, but it’s a positive alteration, in that I seek out books like Capote’s for research, rather than a negative alteration of avoiding certain work which might be similar to what I’m writing.


Yeah, probably best to just ignore everything I’ve just said.


Have a great weekend.




Thursday, May 27, 2021

Sprinting to the Finish Line from James W. Ziskin

 Do you alter your personal reading based on what you are currently working on?

No, other than reading research materials I need for the book I’m writing, I don’t really change my habits. I realize that research might not qualify as personal reading, but I’m going with it all the same. I try to keep reading to a minimum anyway when I’m in the “sprinting” stage of a project. That’s when I’m fully focused on getting the first draft done, and I have little time for anything else. Typically, my sprinting stage lasts about two or three months, with me writing an average of 1,300-1,500 words per day. Over the course of ninety days or so, that adds up to more than 100,000 words. A novel. My books tend to run about 105K words. That’s a length I enjoy. Enough to tell the tale fully, develop the characters, and describe the scenes I want to, but not so much that it’s hard to chew and swallow.

So what kind of things do I read when I’m sprinting? Historical references, period fiction, advertisements, telephone books, newspapers, memoirs, concordances, etc. When I’m not sprinting, I have more time to devote to reading for pleasure and business. When writers ask me to blurb a book, I call that business, even if it’s enjoyable. Mostly, I read within crime fiction. There’s such variety and so much that’s fresh and changing in our genre that I rarely find it a chore. Here’s a sampling of what I’ve read in the past couple of months. Three of them haven’t even been published yet! 

The Out-of-Town Lawyer, Robert Rotstein

Staged for Murder, Erica Miner

Murder at the Brand-New Jubilee Rally, Terry Shames

In League with Sherlock Holmes, anthology edited by Laurie R. King and Leslie S. Klinger

Murder in Old Bombay, Nev March

Blacktop Wasteland, S. A. Cosby

Implied Consent, Keenan Powell

Next, I’ve cleared the decks to dive into Susan Elia MacNeal’s latest, The Hollywood Spy, the latest in her super Maggie Hope historical series. The Hollywood Spy hits stores July 6. You won’t want to miss it. Maggie Hope is one of my most favorite protagonists in today’s fiction. And Susan’s historical research only serves to inspire me to do my own research deeper and better. Can’t wait.

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Feeling bookish

Do you alter your personal reading based on what you are currently working on?

by Dietrich

Mostly, I read for entertainment and I read for inspiration. A book can be any genre, fiction or non-fiction as long as it lights me up. If it doesn’t do that, what would be the point of reading it? It’s about story, and it’s about rhythm and style. And if it’s good, then I want to read it, and if it’s great, I’ll likely feel inspired by that author’s voice and words.

"You cannot hope to sweep someone else away by the force of your writing until it has been done to you.” — Stephen King

It doesn’t matter what I’m working on, I often read crime fiction novels while I’m working. Another author’s cadence doesn’t interfere with my writing. And in all fairness, I write mostly in the mornings, going until about noon, aside from whatever reading I do based on what I’m curre
ntly working on, the fact-finding and research.

For personal reading, there are so many great books to discover, many more than there is time to read them, proving that life’s too short. So, I’m picky about what I read, and anytime I pick wrong, I don’t keep reading. I put down the book and pick another one.

Right now, I’m working on a fictionalized account of true events, a crime story set in the 30s. I’m about halfway through the second draft, and in that time, I’ve read quite a few books on the subject, but I’ve also read quite a few for entertainment. Here are some favorites among them: 

Hollywood Moon and Hollywood Hills by Joseph Wambaugh were perfect books for when I needed to laugh, and Wambaugh does a great job with this series, a humorous, sometimes tense look at the LAPD. 

Another dark and funny book that had me laughing was Florida Roadkill, the first in the Serge Storms series by Tim Dorsey. I’m looking forward to more of these.

Black Cherry Blues and A Morning for Flamingos by James Lee Burke, the third and fourth in the Dave Robicheaux series — somehow I previously missed these — were both pure inspiration. 

A Man in Full and Back to Blood, written by a true master, Tom Wolfe, were a joy to read, as well as a master course on how it’s done.

And for some great genre twisting — part coming of age, part horror, part mystery and thriller — there was Stephen King’s Later. Another great one from an author who seems to get better every time out.

Go to My Grave is a standalone psychological thriller written by our own Catriona. I loved this one, a great story by an author with a great voice and style.

Lastly, there were a couple of well-written autobiographies that had me riveted: Miles, the Autobiography by Miles Davis and Quincy Troupe. And Anger is an Energy by John Lydon.

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Psst. Want to Buy a Story?


Terry Shames here: 

This week we have an intriguing question for authors: Do you alter your personal reading based on what you are currently working on? 

Right now I'm working on a thriller…or maybe it’s not a thriller….but it has thrills in it. Who knows? So if I altered my reading based on I’m working on, I couldn’t read thrillers. But I am reading them, along with just about any other type of crime fiction.

I just read One Mile Under, by Andrew Gross (a true thriller in the traditional style).

 In the past two weeks, I've read: Where I Can See You, Larry Sweazy (love his writing)—a solid, traditional mystery 

 Chinaman’s Chance, by Ross Thomas (published in the 70’s as you can tell by the title, which I don’t think would fly these days). It’s hilarious. A caper, sort of a cross between Elmore Leonard and Carl Hiaasen. 

 Sex and Vanity, by Kevin Kwan (who wrote Crazy Rich Asians)—not a mystery, but a hilarious send-up of rich people, Jane Austen novels, and romance novels. 

 And at the moment I’m reading one of Michael Connelly’s Mike Haller books, The Fifth Witness

 Every one of these books is astonishingly different from the others. Every writer has his own voice, his own intentions, his quirks of character and setting. And they are all profoundly different from my writing. 

 I read novels of women in jeopardy, private detective novels, the occasional “cozy,” humorous mysteries, historical, mysteries set in other countries, ecological thrillers, books set in different ethnic cultures—you name it. 

 I think I would stop reading a book if I ran across one that seemed too much like my “style” and subject—small-town Texas, chief of police, written in first person present tense, I might be worried that it would influence the book I was working on. I don’t read many such novels, so I don’t know if I would feel itchy reading something like that, but I suspect I would. 

 The question addresses whether reading something too close to what I am writing would in some affect my style or my plot or my characters. These days, I don’t think so. 

When I first started writing, I was a huge fan of Eudora Welty, and I wrote a story deliberately imitating her style. My writing professor said, gently. “Eudora Welty is a wonderful writer to emulate. But she’s Eudora Welty. She’s already established her voice and writing style, and subject and if you try to copy her, you aren’t your own writer—you’re copying someone.” You have to develop your own identity as a writer. It was a valuable lesson. 

 I occasionally run across a book that reminds me a lot of another book, and I always wonder if the authors have read each other and been influenced. I’ve even run across eerily similar plots. And I’ve once or twice come across instances of what looks like direct cross-pollination, if not plagiarism. For instance, I’ve read descriptions that seem to be lifted right out of another book. 

 Finding your own voice, your own style, your own tone and relationship with your characters is hard, but imperative for an author. If I thought reading someone else’s book would intrude on those elements of my writing, I’d shy away from it. I would hate to ever feel not only that I had been influenced to that extent by another writer, but that I had intruded on the ground they have established for themselves. Just as I would not want them to do to me.

Sunday, May 23, 2021

Reading and Writing (but not 'Rithmatic)

Do you alter your personal reading based on what you are currently working on?

Brenda Chapman here.

Like most writers, I'm an avid reader and usually have a book on the go. In fact, if I don't have a book on the go, I feel at loose ends.

My reading list normally defaults to crime fiction, but the selections by my bookclub are seriously broadening my horizons whether I like it or not (and I've grown to like it). I'm not precious about what I'm reading when I'm writing, finding someone else's work doesn't impact noticeably on my creative process, so this doesn't factor into my selection.

I suppose the worry for some authors is that they'll be influenced by another author's writing style or ideas as they write their own book if they're reading another crime novel simultaneously. I personally wouldn't know how to sustain someone else's style for an entire manuscript.  As for using another author's ideas, this would be tough too once I get rolling on a story. 

The writing process is a magical kind of endeavour. Every experience, conversation, relationship swirls around inside and comes out in some fashion on the page. If I inadvertently incorporated an idea or word from a book I'm reading, this would be filtered through the same hash of memories, senses and observations as everything else in my life. Kind of like making a smoothie in the blender. Chuck everything in there and see what comes out.

I recently read some of the domestic thrillers - Girl on the Train, Woman in the Window, Gone Girl ... I can write one of those girl/woman books, I thought to myself. So I spent the better part of a year trying my hand and having a great time, penning what I thought was a thriller. Turns out, it wasn't. Turns out I'm not meant to write a girl/woman book that will reap millions of dollars and become a movie on Netflix ... or at least not with this particular effort. I've set the manuscript aside and gone back to the more traditional mystery/police procedural that is my comfort zone. 

I suppose what I'm attempting to say is that if being influenced by reading somebody else's book were that easy, I'd be on the New York bestseller list along with all the other girl/women book-writers instead of continuing happily along my own path -- forging my own way, continuously adding ingredients to my blender, and sticking with my creative process. 


Twitter: brendaAchapman

Facebook & Instagram: BrendaChapmanAuthor

Friday, May 21, 2021

Ebb and flow or tidal wave and creek, by Josh Stallings

Q: Balancing work and home life, do you work set hours, or do you find the writing work flow demands different time from you depending on where in the process you are?

A: I have been writing around the clock for the last month. BALANCE, nope.

But if I widen the lens out to a year, it looks much more balanced. Every creative project has its ebbs and flows.

In the beginning of a new novel, I need gentle time to dream. I find gardening, walking the terrier beast, chopping wood for the winter, digging ditches, all work well during these times. I give my body work to do so it leaves the brain alone. These are also tasks that need to be done to keep the house running, so it combines thinking time with household chore time. 

Then there is the writing/researching part of the project. The early chapters start to take form. I’m searching for the bell tone of the book. 

My Agent: “How’s it going?”

Me: “I have a sentence or two that don’t suck.”

My Agent: “Good, keep going.” Luckily she gets how I work. 

A bell tone is the few sentences that don’t suck. That tone set against any new work will tell me instantly if what I’m doing fits with the book I’m writing.

Tone found, research mostly done, I enter a steady work time. 4 to 5 hours a day typing, a few more hours a day on the business side of my career, hopefully five days a week. With added driving and dog walking time for my dreamy brain to do its work. For a good part of the process this works well. Balance achieved.

Writing with velocity. A term Charlie Huston uses to describe that how you write effects what you write. Writing fast, typing with abandon, pushing myself to exhaustion, delivers prose that feels driven. 

The last third of my current MS needed to be driven beyond sanity. To achieve this I needed to type fast, pound keys until they break, swap in a new keyboard and keep going. I fell ill in the middle of this, sinus infection, fever, kept writing around the clock. During this last month, Erika has picked up the pieces that I dropped. If this was our year around life, you would have heard by now that Josh Stallings died in his sleep of pillow asphyxiation. 

We’re lucky to live very busy lives at present. We are part of the team that cares for our intellectually disabled son. Erika’s 92 year old father is needing more help with his life, she spends multiple days with him every week. The work at home largely falls to me. When coming into a heavy lifting/writing with velocity period, I am learning to let my partner know. “I’m going to become very protective of my writing time.” Translation, I’m about to ghost my family.

She’s also my first reader and editor, so it forewarns her of a storm heading her way. We batten down the hatches and get it done. It’s never easy, but it’s exciting. 

I know many writers whose books I love and admire write a set number of hours, at a set time every day. I respect them, and I have tried to emulate them. But my brain demands a more fluid way of working. To pull that off clear communication between me and Erika is absolutely essential.

When I was a young film editor I would call home and say, “Don’t worry, I’ll be home soon…” I’d make the same call every couple of hours until Erika said, “I’m going to bed, stop calling.” It took me longer than most to learn to be honest about what the work needed from me. I learned it was better to say, it’s going to be all night. Leave it at that, then if I made it home before sun up, she was pleasantly surprised.

At 2:45 AM last Monday I sent the draft to my agent… she sent an email: “Thanks! Wow. Will be in touch later this week. Now you can take a break! A”

With that in mind I worked in the garden, planted lupin and columbine. I cut down five small cedar trees that were crowding out a stand of young black oak. I sawed the cedar trunks into logs to season for next winter. I started vaguely dreaming about the next book, fighting to keep my head off the coming edits.

For this moment, balance is achieved. 


Thursday, May 20, 2021

Exit velocity looks a lot like a breakdown.

Q: Balancing work and home life, do you work set hours, or do you find the writing work flow demands different time from you depending on where in the process you are?

BSP upfront. Next Tuesday (UK). Buy and pre-order links here

Ha! This is a timely question, because I am at the dot-eyed and gibbering stage of getting a book finished. Which is to say, a first draft. By a week on Friday I want to have this story chipped out of the ground without breaking bits off (as Stephen King puts it). I want to have this baby born, as I put it, even if it's purple and squalling and covered in that waxy stuff and I then have to deal with the meconium and a good bit of stitching. 

So . . . there is no life/work balance at the moment. To wit, my day:

1.  open my eyes and wonder if that was real people I just dreamt about or if it was my characters. And if it was, can I use any of the dream? 

2.  will myself to stick to the morning exercise regime knowing that I'll feel better for doing it. The regime is called "field bounce Stacey" which means walk to the end of the field to sit in a chair and meditate with the cows, jump on my trampoline for the duration of a Radio 4 show (26mins), then work through one of the videos my yoga teacher sent out during the start of the lockdown.(By the way, I do know that having "walk to the end of your own field" as a possibility is why lockdown felt okay to me. So I'm jammy but, I hope, not actually sickening - like those people in an old rectory in Somerset with a swimming pool and a paddock full of donkeys wondering aloud why a single parent home-schooling three kids in a tower block is being so negative.) Sorry. Off-topic. My head is a bit fizzy because of the finishing a book thing.

3. sit at my desk and write like a dervish, making a thousand notes on scraps of paper about what I've messed up for now and can't fix just yet but shouldn't forget in draft two. These notes are illegible but that's okay because I'll never look at them.

4. Type and weep. 

5. Type and eat.

Typical end-of-book lunch scene

6. Type and weep.

7. Cook. Or interfere to no purpose if Neil's cooking.

8. Watch an episode of Cats Countdown or Pointless to try to stop thinking about the book.

9. Sit in front of an award-winning comedy or ground-breaking drama, stony-faced and miles away. Neil: Book? Me: Yep. Neil: It'll be ok- Sorry. Me: Good.

10. Lie in bed, staring up into the dark, wondering if there's any way to save this book.

But I'm not complaining. A week on Friday, I will print it out and dance around. Also, there's nothing else I'd rather do. Plus, my constant companion for this last fourteen months of being at home is every bit as focussed on his work as I am on my mine, so he's never scratching at the door whining for me to stop typing and play.

If I was going to complain, I'd complain about this: today is Doughnut Day aka 2+2 day. I'm two weeks past my second COVID jab and the world's my free Krispy Kreme if I show my vaccination card. But the next week is the one I mark in my diary as "say no to everything". Well, it's not as if I haven't been practising.

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

I confess.... by Cathy Ace

Q: Balancing work and home life, do you work set hours, or do you find the writing work flow demands different time from you depending on where in the process you are?

Looks like it’s confession time for me here again. Here goes: I’m not naturally good at the whole work/life balance thing. I’m one of those people who lives to work, as opposed to the (probably much more sensible) folks who work to live. But that’s me.

That said…Husband retired just over three years ago, and we had A Good Long Talk at that time. He used to be out of here at 5.30am, I was up at 7am with the dogs, then I’d work/sort the house & garden, he’d get home around 8.30pm, we’d eat, he’d go to bed, I’d go back to work at my desk. Repeat. We’d use his annual vacation and a few long weekends to the best of our ability. So, you know, a normal life. His long days meant I was able to get a lot done. Then…he was at home all day, and has been ever since (little lockdown joke there!). I LOVE IT!!!!! He’d put off his retirement by a couple of years so I could “see how this writing thing worked out”. He deserves my company now, and I deserve his.

So, back then, I promised: only one book per year (not the three I had been – somehow – writing); more team-time (we work in the garden, often a few acres apart, but we get done what needs doing); more exploring the world (you can guess how that’s going…but we managed the South Pacific, New Zealand, and Australia before the world closed for business).

Sydney, Australia, 2019

I’ve stuck to that so far.

So, overall, I think I have a better balance now.

When it comes to the more specific part of this week’s question – yes, the time I give to my writing varies significantly depending on the stage of the book I’m at. My most productive writing time is from about 9pm to 2am. Maybe that pattern is born from the time when Husband was in bed by then, as were all the dogs, but now there are no dogs, and we can stay up as late as we like because he doesn't have to get up at 4.30am any longer...but my creative juices pump best during those hours, so that's when I write. Plotting, researching, and even editing, I can do during daylight hours, so I tend to work at my desk during the day when I'm in those stages...except for plotting, which is all in my head, so the summer months in the garden allow me to indulge my green thumb and plot the next book. 

Me, plotting!!

Come the autumn, I’ll be able to snuggle by the fire and research, and that’s when we move plants around the garden. Pre-Christmas? House decorating, I reckon, final research and outlining. January first – bum at desk, and TYPE!!!! 

But now I have to go. Today’s our wedding anniversary and Husband just came back indoors having planted a tree…he rolled his eyes then laughed like a drain when I told him I was writing a blog telling people how much better I am these days at work/life balance!!!! We just have to wait for the chap servicing our generator to be finished, then we can go out to celebrate...we're off to our local nursery to pick out some special plants to commemorate our wedding day...altogether now...awww. 

May 17th, 2004, Honolulu

If you'd like to find out more about my work, check out my website: click here for website

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Tuesday, May 18, 2021

A Husband Leads But a Wife Commands

Balancing work and home life, do you work set hours, or do you find the writing work flow demands different time from you depending on where in the process you are?

From Frank

The title of this post is a line from the haunting Leonard Cohen song, "Nevermind." Cohen has a number of great songs that fit right into the gritty crime fiction arena (though he has some simply beautiful ones, too). This one was used as the theme for season two of True Detective (a great season of crime TV that was only maligned because it followed the stellar season one - fight me!).  As an aside, Cohen's "Everybody Knows" is another outstanding example of a noir song. 

What's Leonard Cohen got to do with this week's posed question?

Nothing, really. Except that this line, one of a slew of fascinating lines from this song, always struck me and made me think. As good songwriting does, it captures so much, so succinctly. Roles in society, relationshp dynamics, the nature of power... I mean, there's at least two rounds worth of bar conversation here that could easily go in several directions and spawn a whole evening of talk.

But I'll stick to the point (by now, you're probably asking, "Is there one?")

I used to be a very unscheduled writer. By that, I don't mean undisciplined. I've written over thirty books and four volumes worth of short stories. But most of my career, those words came when I had the time, not at any specific time. I wrote for large blocks of time when those blocks of time were open. I stole a snatch of time here and there. But there was rarely any set schedule. This was largely a result of my other career - policing, and then for four years after, teaching.

But that excuse reason excuse no longer exists. I'm in my fourth year of being a full-time writer. And yet, I found myself working at all different times of the day. Sometimes that was productive.  Other times, I went down one rabbit hole or another. 

I might start by watching an interesting YouTube video about a different take on character development, which might lead to sampling a recorded Stephen King event where he touches on that same topic, then decide to just watch the entire event beause SK is pretty entertaining and knows his stuff, and before you know it, it's Watch Mojo's top ten best Stephen King movie adaptations... which inevitably requires looking up the top ten worst Stephen King movie adaptations, too... and then we're gone, gone, gone over the rise.

I discussed this bad habit with my buddy Colin Conway during one of our virtual coffee chats. I was letting this tendency take up too much time. My productivity was diminished due to these rabbit holes and also some cat vacuuming (a term I believe coined by SFWA members in their long-standing discussion group, this is loosely defined a largely unnecessary task that you do instead of writing with the purpose of avoiding writing while convincing yourself the task isn't unnecessary at all but actually crucial to your success.... like creating sophisticated spreadsheets for all the writing projects you're going to work on instead of writing them).

Colin gave me some advice that I'll simplify here - he essentially joined the 5 A.M. Writer's Club. Not a revelation - a lot of writers go this route - but what he said that really motivated me was this:  that your creative energy is at its peak in those early hours (after that first cup of coffee, at least). It gets whittled down during the day. You may still have some in the later stages of the day or even at night, but he contended that the cream of that creative energy is what you get in those early hours.

So why not give the best of your creative energy to yourself? Your work-in-progress needs it the most and more to the point - you deserve it!

I thought it sounded like a great idea. And I already got up early. Ish. I mean, between six and seven is early, right? It's not Army early but still. (If you're wondering how early that is, if it starts with a zero-five or zero-four, it's Army early). I didn't really need to change my habits to implement this idea.

Did I?

Fortunately, it became a moot point very quickly. My amazing wife has, over the past six months, slowly instituted a number of healthy habits into her own lifestyle. Better eating and exercise, for example. Her actions have motivated me to do the same. It's made a big difference in my physical and mental health. 

One change she made right around the same time I had that Zoom coffee conversation with Colin was her sleep schedule. A little earlier to bed but more to the point of this post, an earlier rise. See, my wife is a sleeper. She needs her sleep, she likes her sleep. For years, her habit was to get up at the last possible moment, savoring all the sleep she could eke out of each morning. The downside to that route is obvious - hustling to get ready, a harried morning, harder to make a good breakfast choice, and so on. By setting the clock just a little earlier and denying her decades-long tendency to hit the snooze button repeatedly, she now enjoys a cup of coffee and some news for a half hour, has time to get ready without having to rush, and generally has a calmer morning that starts her day off right.

The problem was, she was getting up early. Like, Army early. 

Now, I don't need as much sleep as she does. Nor am I as enamored with it as she is. But early is still early, and somehow the difference between 6:30 and 5:00 seemed more like four hours than ninety minutes.

I started getting up with her anyway. Well, not with her. To avoid a potential murder at the Keurig machine (hers or mine - it could honestly go either way), I asked her if she'd be kind enough to let me know when she was done making her first cup of coffee. Because she's awesome, she said okay, and that's how it goes these days. She's up early without hitting snooze, gets her java, gives me a "hey, baby" and I'm up, too. I spend a little time sipping my own first cup of coffee and reading some news (okay, it's hockey news but I avoid rabbit holes entirely) and then I'm at it.

I give myself a target - word count or a time on the clock, depending on what else is going on that day - and put my head down and plow forward on my WIP, whatever it is.

And you know what? It works. My decades-old habit of writing whenever, in blocks and bursts, has been largely shed. Five or six days a week, my early morning is spent in whatever new world I'm in. Everything else comes later - editing, social media, podcast work, blogs, marketing, or all of those tasks outside of the writing world.

Now, I didn't even address the other element of this question - do I work set hours? The short answer is no. Once my morning session ends, whenever that is, I move on to other tasks. I work a lot. I work long. I work weekends. But I allow a lot of leeway. Need to take a walk? Run an errand? Just tired or need a day off? That's okay. Today might be six hours, tomorrow might be twelve. It's all good. 

But I'll get that morning cream, either way.

So back to Cohen's song. Now that I'm done with this admittedly long post, the fit isn't so perfect, is it? Kristi didn't command at all. In fact, she was really cool about all of her lifestyle choices, making it clear that they were her choices. She didn't pressure me or suggest any failure to join in on my part was a lack of support for her efforts. She's a strong person and entirely comfortable going her own way for her own reasons.

But lead? I think you could easily argue that she led by example. For my part, I looked and listened. And my works-in-progress are pretty happy about that.

People often say how grateful they are for the support of their spouse or partner. My thought on that? We probably don't say it often enough.

******************BSP ALERT**********BSP ALERT*************

With such a long post this week, I was tempted to skip any BSP. But I can't, because today is the release date for the Colin Conway-edited anthololgy, The Eviction of Hope. Will you look at that roster? 

It’s eviction day for The Hope Apartments. The residents have known about it for over a year. It’s too bad they ignored all the warning signs.

More than a century ago, developer Elijah Hope constructed a state-of-the-art hotel. As the generations passed and tastes changed, The Hope spent two decades as an underutilized office building before conversion into a low-income housing project.

Rundown by years of human occupation, The Hope has become a hollow shell of its once great self. It is home to drug addicts, petty criminals, and those hiding from others. The city has long turned a blind eye to The Hope as surrounding neighborhoods gentrified and pushed their disaffected in its direction.

But now The Hope is preparing a return to its original glory. The current owners plan to convert it into a boutique hotel. The only thing standing in their way is the eviction of over one hundred units.

Each resident knew this fateful day was coming, yet most chose to believe it would never arrive. They ignored the posted signs, the hand-delivered warnings, and even the actual notices.

Many stayed until the bitter end.

These are their stories.

My contribution to this Colin Conway-edited anthology is “The Rumor in 411,” a story of loyalty and the power of rumors.

Monday, May 17, 2021

The True, Actual Life of a Writer Illustrated

 Q: Balancing work and home life, do you work set hours, or do you find the writing work flow demands different time from you depending on where in the process you are?


-from a distracted Susan


Hahaha…Perfect example: I was working hard this weekend on a synopsis my agent wants yesterday. Not that I have a set writing schedule, but I got into the zone, had a great day of work and woke up thinking I had accomplished my writing goal only to realize  - whoops – my post! I didn’t write my post! 


Je suis vraiment désolé .






Friday, May 14, 2021

Bumbling through

 By Abir

What comes first, the book or the pitch? Put another way, do you develop the larger idea of a book to test out with your agent/publisher, before writing the book? Or do you write the book and then look for the pitch in it? Or?




Friday again! If you live in the UK and you’re wondering what happened to the weather in the last fortnight - how did it suddenly go from unbroken sunshine to clouds and rain and snow and general misery? -  well the short answer is that it’s my fault. A week last Wednesday, I finished the first draft of a new novel, and at 1pm I emailed it to my editors. Naturally at 1.01pm, the heavens opened and it’s been pissing it down ever since.


You’re welcome.


Good question this week, and as usual, I have the benefit of answering on a Friday, and can glean from the wisdom of my colleagues who’ve answered it already. It’s interesting to see the range of answers, from James’ short pitch for every book, through Brenda and Dietrich’s writing the novel first and then coming up with the pitch, to Terry’s quick chat with her agent.


My experience is different again.


I’ve been lucky. For the Sam Wyndham series, I’ve only ever written one pitch – a two page synopsis that accompanied the first five thousand words of a specimen draft which I submitted for a competition. I was fortunate enough to win that competition and it came with a publishing contract – hooray! 


That first book, A RISING MAN, was received favourably and to date, my wonderful publishers have offered me new contracts to write a few more whenever I’ve started annoying them by asking what I should write next:


Me: Please, please, please, please can I do more of the writing for money, pleeeeeeeease? I’ve had a great idea involving killer dolphins who invade Mexico! No one’s ever looked at it from the dolphin’s point of view before.


Editor: Okay, how about this? I give you a contract for another two Wyndhams and you stop e-mailing me for another two years.


Me: Hooray!


Editor: I meant starting now.



In general, they tend to give me contracts for another two books at a time, and I’m comfortable with that. One book is a bit short to give me certainty, and three is probably too many, should I wish to write something else. They never ask me for a synopsis or a pitch of a new idea, but like Terry, I always have a conversation with my editor and my agent before starting a new novel, just to let them know what I’m thinking and to get their input.


The pattern has changed though in the last eighteen months. As I’ve mentioned here before, after having written four Sam Wyndham books in four years, and with the fifth one underway, I was keen to try to write something a bit different. I’d discussed this with my UK publishers who basically extended me carte blanche, telling me they’d back me to write whatever I wanted to (I was thinking of  trying my hand at Up-Lit), but they’d prefer it if I stuck to crime fiction, given that inexplicably, some people seemed to like what I was writing, and that yes, they were as surprised by that as I was.


Then things flipped again. Through my agent, I was contacted by a US editor who told me he’d liked my work (and for a Brit, there’s nothing quite like an American telling you they like you – just ask Prince Harry). He said that if I was to ever think about writing something more modern, that he’d be keen to talk.


We spoke on the phone a few times and I told him how wonderful America and all Americans are, and how I show my love for all things American by eating too many Big-Macs, and while rambling something about rodeos and baseball, I must have come up with an idea cos he said he liked it. I wrote a two page pitch: the first paragraph was the elevator pitch, and the rest was a short outline of the idea. I sent it to my agent, who didn’t hate it, and then on to the US editor. On the back of that, he asked for a partial – the first fifteen thousand words and a detailed outline of the rest of the novel.


I set to work on both, essentially giving him Act I of the book, and then put together a ten page document, describing why I wanted to write this book; what I hoped to achieve; an outline of the major characters; and a scene by scene overview of Acts II and III. I was honest and said that the ending was still hazy in my mind, but that I’d work it out by the time I got there (which turned out to be a lie).


I sent it to him, and to my UK publishers, and they both inexplicably liked it. This made my agent so happy that he started taking my calls again. He then sorted things out so that the US editor got US sub-rights and my UK editor got to bring it out here. That book, provisionally titled HUNTED, will be out next year.


So far I’ve never had to write a book without having a contract in hand, and I’m conscious of how fortunate I have been in that regard. I’m not a rich person (unlike James ‘Bezos’ Ziskin, or Terry ‘Weekends in the Hamptons’ Shames) and writing to contract gives me a degree of financial certainty which has, over the space of five years, allowed me to give up my day job and concentrate on the writing. I also know that this is a state of affairs which could change pretty rapidly. You’re only as good as your last book, they say, and the publishing industry can be a cut-throat place.


Fortunately the Wyndham and Banerjee books have developed enough of a following whereby my publishers are always keen to have me write a few more, and as long as readers enjoy the series, that’s great for me. It gives me a degree of financial certainty while allowing me the freedom to develop my writing in new ways by experimenting with other books, like Hunted, in between.


So there we go. Five days this week and the full gamut of the writer experience. 


(Gamut is a strange word isn’t it? Gamut. Saying it makes it sound even weirder. Gamut, gamut, gamut. See? Wonder where it came from?)


Anyway. Till next time. Have a great weekend, look after yourselves, and keep writing.