Thursday, June 30, 2022

I’ve Grown Accustomed to My Pace from James W. Ziskin

 If you could easily change one writing habit, what would it be? Starting earlier (or later) in the day? Become a plotter or pantser? Rush through a first draft or edit as you go? 

I’m not sure I would want to change anything about my habits. But since the question has been posed, I’ll offer some thoughts on a couple of things. 

Speed of writing. It would be great to be more efficient. To write every day of the year. But in truth, I write when I’m ready to commit to the sprint. That intense period of two or three months when I churn out a first draft. Usually, I manage to average 1,500 words a day for sixty or seventy days. Ninety or 100,000 words. That’s a book. The rest of the year, I’m letting the ideas marinate or I’m revising what I’ve written. This process works for me.

I kick into my sprint gear when I have a deadline somewhere on the horizon, and I’m probably averaging 2,000 words during that period. The average is lowered by my less productive periods earlier in the writing process. I wrote the first draft of Bombay Monsoon—115,000 words—in eighty-seven days. Approximately 1,300 words or four pages per day. But by day thirty-four of my “sprint,” I had only written 7,000 words or 206 per day. That’s when I got on my horse. Over the next fifty-three days, I wrote 108,000 words or 2,000 per day. 

As I’ve written here before, I maintain a spreadsheet to track my progress. I find it’s a great motivator when I’m feeling tired and not in the mood to write. It’s one more little trick to get your butt in the seat. “Must maintain my streak,” “Must raise my average,” for example. That keeps me going.

Here’s a look at Bombay Monsoon’s progress over the last thirty-four days of my sprint, by far my most productive period of the entire project:

As you can see, in little more than a month, I wrote 81,000 words. Thirteen days of those thirty-four I clocked more than 3,000 words written. That’s how you get a book finished fast. (By the way, the abbreviations in the column headers are EOD=End of day, SOD=Start of day, and WPD=words per day.)

So, no, I don’t think I need to change my habits, at least as far as productivity is concerned. Yes, my progress is slow at the beginning of the first draft, but it naturally picks up as the direction of the plot becomes clearer. And that brings me to another habit to consider: I’ve become a pantser.

I used to plot. Now I pants. Not sure how I ended up in this situation. Both methods work. One is perhaps more efficient, but both work. Would I like to go back to plotting? Not really. In a sense, I now plot as I write. So I’m happy with that habit, too.

Last, I suppose there is one writing habit I’d like to change: the habit of not writing international bestsellers. Yes, that’s a change I could live with. And I’m happy to share that advice with you: Commit to breaking the habit of writing books that aren’t bestsellers! Do it today!

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Fighting the foibles

If you could easily change one writing habit, what would it be? Starting earlier (or later) in the day? Become a plotter or pantser? Rush through a first draft or edit as you go? 

by Dietrich

Since I started writing, I’ve been aware of some good writing habits and some bad ones too, and I’ve spent years adapting the former while weeding out the latter.

It’s always been my nature to get up early, and that’s the best time of day for me. It’s when my batteries are fully charged, and I always feel set to go. I did have to get past the temptation of googling the day’s headlines and peeking at my social media accounts before I got started. That distraction could suck up a good deal of writing time, and it had to go. These days, I sit at my desk like I’ve got blinders on— write first and google later. Nothing sadder than commenting on a post when I should be working on a chapter. 

When I first took writing in earnest, I brushed up on the grammar I had once learned back in school. Getting an armload of texts on the subject, I relearned where to stick the commas, and not to begin with conjunctions or to end with prepositions. When the time came to submit my first manuscript, I wanted it to be polished and shining. While I’ve retained enough of the grammar from those self-imposed lessons, it wouldn’t hurt to dig out my notes and bone up on the finer points once in a while.

Since I was a kid, I’ve enjoyed sticking my nose into a good book, and since I began writing, I’ve been reading more than ever. There’s just so much inspiration to be found in a good book. That’s maybe the best habit of all.

Another favorite habit, I listen to music while I’m writing. Something I started doing early on to shut out the white noise, but it really does more than that. It helps me find the groove. I’m not sure why, but it works.

I try to keep an open approach, willing to try something new. I’ve written in first person, second person, from the perspective of young and old, the opposite sex, side and from multiple POVs. I’ve set stories in various times and places — going for whatever I think will work best for the story at hand.

I’ve tried it, but generally, I don’t outline my stories. I like starting with a single idea and seeing where it will take me. One idea springs from the previous one, and I like going on an unmapped adventure. Working this way allows ideas to come to me that I could never have pre-planned.

“We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down.”Kurt Vonnegut

I’ve tried other things that didn’t work so well for me — like writing to a daily word-count. Being self-driven, I don’t need that kind of push or pressure. When the muse is gone I stop for the day. Writing fiction’s not like a grind job, so I accept that some days I write more, other days I write less. What matters is that I’m happy with the words that landed on the page. And that generally means it will be easier to come back to it the next morning. 

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Changing Habits

Terry here, answering our weekly question: If you could easily change one writing habit, what would it be? Starting earlier (or later) in the day? Become a plotter or pantser? Rush through a first draft or edit as you go? 

 I wrote my first Samuel Craddock book on our boat—a spacious catamaran. Every morning I woke up at 6AM, did a few stretches, brewed my cup of tea, then kicked my husband out of our cabin and started writing. (To be fair, he was always ready to go out and start working on some little “something” on the boat). I wrote for 2-3 hours straight. The book seemed to pour of me. Did that have something to do with the water?
Turns out I didn’t have to be on a boat to do this. What I needed was early morning time. Since then, when I’m working on a book I get up and head straight for my desk. At least I did. 

For a while I got into the bad habit of doing other things first: NY Times Crossword Puzzle, reading emails and writing letters to the editors of various newspapers, having breakfast, going for a walk…and suddenly it would be early afternoon and I’d feel claustrophobic about my writing time. I’d rush through and feel dissatisfied, only to do the same the next day.  I’m not sure why I dropped into those bad habits, but it was killing my joy in writing. 

Then, I attended a book launch where Gigi Pandian and Naomi Hirahara were interviewing each other. They both said they got to work first thing in the morning. I asked Gigi if that was even before morning stretches. Yep. She said she’d do a few stretches, but would work for a while and then do more. The next morning, I got back into my old routine. I copied Gigi. I did a few stretches to get out the kinks, brewed myself a cup of tea and I was off. And it was glorious.
All of this is to say that habits can be changed if you want to. Trickier (for me anyway) is changing from pantser to plotter. In my heart I know that it would be a great help to me if plotted my books out in advance. This very morning I realized that my current WIP is going to need a huge overhaul. I’m 50,000 words in, and there is a major change I think will work better. I can do it. But if I had plotted out the book first, I might have saved myself some time. So why don’t I?
I do to a certain to a certain extent. Usually about 20,000-30,000 words in, I loosely plot out the rest of the book. I think about the end and what needs to happen to get there. It’s often vague, but it gives me a line to hang my words on. 

But starting out with a complete plot has always eluded me. I have a feeling this is much more than a habit I need to change. It’s a deeply-personal way that plots come to me. I can sit and stare out the window all day, thinking about how a book should go. But for me, the plot unfolds most readily (note, I don’t see easily) when I put words on paper. In the words of Flannery O’Conner, I write to find out what I’m going to say. Or words to that effect. Please don’t think I’m comparing myself to that great writer. But I do understand what she meant. 

 So if I could change one habit, it’s that I would be able to plot out a book. Some pantsers say that plotting would take the excitement out of writing a book. But what I know is that what I often end up with in a first draft is akin to a giant outline. That is to say, I don’t do much description, sometimes have cardboard secondary characters, and the timeline can be wonky. Those things are fixed in the second draft, but I wonder how much easier they might be if I actually knew where I was going with a manuscript. 

 Oh, well, there’s always the next book.

Sunday, June 26, 2022

If I Could Change One Thing ...

If you could easily change one writing habit, what would it be? Starting earlier (or later) in the day? Become a plotter or pantser? Rush through a first draft or edit as you go? 

Brenda kicking off the week.

I'm kind of envious of writers who get up early in the morning - say 6 a.m. -  and write for five or six straight hours, have lunch, work out, then settle in for a few hours of editing and publicity work. Some say they can maintain this schedule seven days a week. 

So, I guess if I could change one thing about my own writing day, it would be to have more consistency in my schedule, something I'm getting worse at as I age.

A typical 24-day for me goes something like this. Go to bed at 11:00 p.m., wake up at 12:30 (a.m.) again at 1:30, then 3:00, lie awake until 4:30 and then sleep until 8:00 or 9:00 a.m. Just putting this down on paper is exhausting. Even newborn babies have a better sleep pattern than I do.

I like to rise at 7:00 a.m. and sometimes achieve this after one of my better nights. I then check emails, drink coffee, have a small breakfast, shower. Lately, I've been editing and rewriting for an hour along with my coffee. I usually do a half hour of exercise, which lately includes biking to the store to buy supper before the heat of the day. Upon my return, I water the plants and putter about in the garden for an hour ... you get the idea. Very little writing in the morning during the summer unless it's raining.

After eating lunch while watching the news, it's time for me to settle with the latest manuscript. I will edit off and on for the rest of the day, sometimes as late as 9:00 or 10:00. During this time, I also work on publicity or whatever event is upcoming if I have to prepare a presentation say. I'll write blog posts to deadline. My pattern is to write or edit, and break this up by reading for fifteen minutes or so. (This week, I'm into Devil's Peak by Deon Meyer.) I also take breaks with my husband, visit with the neighbours, go for a walk, make supper, read.

I write a new manuscript during the fall and winter months, but this writing-work schedule can be just as sporadic. I almost never forgo any socializing or get together, instead fitting in the writing around it. I can go a few days without writing and pick it right back up. I believe the break is part of my work process, the time when I work on the plot in my head.

I'm fortunate that I can focus when I have uninterrupted time, and can stop and start whatever I'm working on without much problem. I wrote my first books in our living room with the television on and my daughters in the same room. Even now, I can sit with my husband in the living room with the baseball game on in the evening and be oblivious to all except my laptop.

Still, I wonder what it would be like to have that more organized day. I like the idea of it, that's for sure, but for now, it will remain a dream. I comfort myself with the fact that I still manage to write, edit and publish a book in a year. The other benefit is that I'm leading a full and happy life, albeit a little sleep deprived. Maybe one day soon, my sleep schedule will also settle into a better routine and I'll achieve nirvana. 


Facebook & Instagram: BrendaChapmanAuthor

Twitter: brendaAchapman 

Friday, June 24, 2022

Read widely and other things my father taught me, by Josh Stallings


Q: Do you read only crime fiction? If so, why? If not, what else do you read? Does it affect your writing?

A: My taste in books is wide and wild, always has been. I do read more crime fiction than anything else, BUT, I have a wide view of what that means. I was told by a perspective agent that Young Americans was a coming of age novel mixed up with a crime novel and “you just can’t do that.” Thought about this for a while, and found it was bunk. What is To Kill A Mockingbird if not a coming of age story mixed with a crime novel? Shakespeare was an amazing crime writer, just look at how many crime stories are based on his plays. 

This past year I’ve read a lot of post-apocalypse novels. Partly because reading books that are outside my norm allow me to see how they work with structure. And partly because life is too damn short to only eat molé, regardless of how good it might be, sometimes you have to have a shepherd’s pie.

I’ve also read several amazing horror/crime novels lately. Children of Chicago starts out with a police detective trying to solve the case of murdered children. It gets weird when you discover creepy fairytales coming to life. But ultimately it was about children, and how disposable our culture has made them. 

So yes I read widely, kinda. What I read depends on where I’m at in my writing process. If I’m editing, I pretty much hate everything. A few exceptions are if James Lee Burke drops a new book, Joe R. Lansdale, Jamie Mason… Ok the list could go on, but when I’m editing what I’m reading has to sing to me, and yet not be too close to the style or subject matter I’m working in at the moment. So when I’m editing if you ask me to read your book and I say no, thank me. Reading the right book at the wrong time won’t do either of us any good.

Lately for reasons both personal and new book related, I am reading almost exclusively John Steinbeck. I read his greatest hits when I was younger, but now I’m digging deeper into the b-sides. The way Steinbeck sees characters lovingly, is helping me find a tone I need. When I was starting out I was afraid if I read other writers I might cop their style. Along the way my voice has become trustworthy enough that even writing with Steinbeck in my head I know it will ultimately be a Josh Stallings book. 

I also read a ton of nonfiction. Not going to college has left me afraid I might get my facts wrong. So I am always learning new weird shit. The LA Times archive is a good starting point for a quick skimming of facts. First person non-fiction when done right takes me on a deep dive into a subject. 

My father was an artist. Over the years he and I talked often about creative process. So many similarities in our work regardless of the medium. Seeing that we were talking about a land beyond language, we developed metaphors as an approximation of how creation feels. 

One comes from Werner Herzog’s film Fitzcarraldo. Or maybe from Les Blank’s documentary “Burden of Dreams” about the making of Fitzcarraldo. The pivotal moment in both films is when they try to manually haul the 320-ton steamship out of a river, up a hill and back into the river on the other side. This became my father and my shorthand for creating any work. It starts always with a dream big enough that you think dragging a ship over a mountain is worth it. The strain of this early work inevitably leads to a moment or moments where as Herzog put it, “I'm tired of it all and I couldn't care less if they move the stupid ship – or finish the fucking film.” But if the idea is sound, or if you have the needed stubborn streak you will get the beast over the hill and down to the wide beach. Then you drag it across the sand, push it into the water. With pole and sweat you move it until it is in the deep currents. That is when it gets exciting. As it rushes down stream your only job is keeping the ship from hitting the rocks and destroying itself. This is the point Charlie Huston calls you to “Write with velocity.”

What does a 1982 German adventure film have to do with crime fiction? Everything. Apocalypse Now, the Coppola film and its companion documentary Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse, and book Eleanor Coppola’s Notes: The Making of Apocalypse Now are all brilliant examples of how creativity works and feels.

A term that came from chatting creativity with my pops was “finding the bell-tone.” In a novel it is that one sentence or paragraph that finally doesn’t suck. I may be ten or fifty thousand words into a MS before I discover it. It becomes the tone I hold up against every other in the work, if they resonate together, then I know they fit in the larger work. For Pops this was a moment in a painting where a shape and several colors snapped into place, like a jigsaw puzzle it allowed him to feel what came next. This discovery of a unifying tone, also applies to the building blocks of a novel. That one line that tells me who a character is. The line I hold everything written about that character against.

Bell-tone explains why I have to be very careful what I’m reading in the beginning of a project. Part of my brain is scanning everything in its reach for this tone. What I read can muddy the search or send me off down the wrong path.  

All of this is an analytical way of discussing an entirely intuitive process. It may be real, or maybe these explanations are just my way of whistling past the graveyard that is creation. Either way, it’s the best I can do to describe the maze that is my psyche.

Reading this back, what I am stuck by is - creation is creation regardless of form. We all struggle with the same issues, we just give them different names. 

I read from every section of the library. “Crime fiction” is too small a box to put my interests in, unless we admit everything is crime fiction. I draw inspiration from films, music, paintings, sculptures, conceptual art works, and conversations overheard in coffee shops. It is all raw material to be chewed up and delivered as fuel for my work.

The other thing I see clearly is I miss the hell out of talking process with my father. Having an artist dad had many hard parts, and just as many brilliant parts. But having Tobias Jean for my father helped form who I am. A fact I’m grateful for.

Where ever you are, Happy belated Father’s Day Pops.

Thursday, June 23, 2022

Books make such good friends . . . in place of fear, by Catriona

  Q: Do you read only crime fiction? If so, why? If not, what else do you read? Does it affect your writing? 

What? The blog title? Yeah, I was trying something. I wrote a book called Quiet Neighbours, see, and "Books make such good friends and ..." was the perfect strapline for it. I thought I'd see if it would work again. It didn't. 

Disclaimer: I just got back to Scotland (about 20 hours ago) and am loopy with jet lag, as well as being slightly undercaffeinated. Bear with me.

Vew from hotel window

At the end of the year I tot up what I've been reading and it usually comes out at 50% crime fiction of various kinds - psychological suspense, traditional, procedural, cozy, historical, comic, PI, YA, in roughly that order (except that Tracy Clark and Cheryl Head are tipping the PI count upwards) - 35% other fiction - literary, fantasy, horror (well, Stephen King) 10% non-fiction - biography/memoir, poetry, essays and travel and a bit of poetry.

If I was at home I'd take a picture of my TBR shelves - the best way to show what I've been buying and am about to be reading - but since I'm at home home here's a picture I happened to have of what I read in June. It's at least 50% crime fiction, right enough, but the rest is non-fiction - memoir, autobiogtaphy, essays, and a fascinating history of the handshake. I was deliberately trying to read the Antnony shortlists, and deliberately interspersing them with completely different fare, so they didn't merge in my head and I could remember what was what come voting time at Bouchercon (because, let's face it, it's going to be difficult enough to pick one to vote for).

And that's the answer to the question, kind of. I never worry about what I read affecting my wiriting- Wait, except for things like I'd never read PG Wodehouse if I was working on a comedy because his style is too infectious. I do watch what I'm reading in case it affects my other reading though. I always want to give each book a fair shake and not cloud it with what came before.

For the plane journey here (11 hours in total) I picked Anne Tyler's latest, French Braid in print - a banker (guranteeed to be utterly delightful) and soothing enough to stop me fretting about the tight turn-around in Dulles (which worked out okay actually). On audio, it was Elly Griffiths' The Chalk Pit, familiar enough so it didn't matter if I dozed off and, again, soothing. That's the thing about being steeped in crime fiction, isn't it? The Chalk Pit, with multiple murders of vulnerable people and a a bit of light cannibalism to boot truly is a comfort read. (Isn't it weird when you come across someone who says 'Oh no, I don't read crime. It's so upsetting to think of people doing all those terrible things.')

So - incoming segue of no great subtlety - if you, like me, find sundry skullduggery just the ticket (Hmmm, I only mentioned PG Wodehouse's name and here he comes), then you might care to know that In Place of Fear is coming out in the US next Tuesday. 


Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Tiptoe along the shelves... by Cathy Ace

Do you read only crime fiction? If so, why? If not, what else do you read? Does it affect your writing?

Interesting question…because I used to read a great deal of fiction that wasn’t crime fiction, but – in sitting down to answer this question – I realize that was quite a while ago.

If you look at my bookshelves – the ones that don’t have crime fiction on them – you’ll find some “very well-loved” copies of a great number of what one might call “the classics”. Most of these I have owned for decades, indeed, many came from my school library (when it was having a sale to clear its shelves…calm down!). The spines bear testament to the fact that they’ve all been read many times, and not just prior to my owning them.

If I take Emile Zola’s “Nana” for example, or Thomas Mann’s “Magic Mountain” I must have read each of those at least twenty times over the past forty-five years…and I always find something new in them. I’m pretty sure that’s because their authors were blessed with an enviable ability to layer what they wrote so delicately that I’ve missed multiple meanings on previous readings.

But, in taking stock, I’d say (and, again, I’m excluding all the crime fiction here, folks) the ratio of fiction to non-fiction would be about 1:3 because I read a great deal of non-fiction; art, architecture, history (ancient, to relatively recent), and biographies. The art books? Oh, don’t get me started – I am a sucker for a book that contains lots of well-reproduced colour plates by favourite artists! 

I have even more shelves filled with what I think of as reference books – or “food and garden porn”, if you will. Lots of books about gardening and lots of books about food – all with photographs that make me stop and read just a few more pages, then a few more, when I’ve pulled a volume off the shelf to look up a plant’s habit or favourite location, or the ingredients in a recipe.

Does any of this impact my writing? You betcha! I try to weave in as much as is reasonable about art, architecture and cultural history into all my work – which gives me ample opportunity to pull out several volumes at a time, and linger.

BSP: Want to see what I manage to weave into my books? Check them out here:

Monday, June 20, 2022

My Mental Palate Cleansers - Stephen Mack Jones


        I love—absolutely love!—writing my “August Snow” thrillers. The writing itself is invigorating, frustrating, and always surprising. It’s an entertainment for me. A way of enlivening my rather modest life and informing me as to how I see and react to the world around me. And I think that’s also why I’ve always loved reading mysteries and thrillers; behind the bullets and explosions, beyond the poisoned body-counts and occasional sexual intrigue, there’s usually a story of human beings struggling to live a complete and honorable—or at least safely solitary--life in the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges. In so many words, these stories usually amount to ordinary men and woman facing off with extraordinary circumstances that will impact how they choose to live beyond the challenges and at what costs. Sometimes the heroes win and sometimes they lose—and the reader is left with a sense of where their own moral, ethical balance is, for better or worse, by the last paragraph.

        So, yes, I love mysteries and thrillers. Perhaps not all of them can be classified as “morality plays”, but the think a good deal of them can be. No different than books of any other genre.

        Recently, I delivered the manuscript for my fourth “August Snow” thriller to my publisher. Its tentatively titled DEUS X—but we’ll see what the fine folks in the marketing department say. (I tend to make the marketing folks nervous with my titles, like the time I titled a crime novel based on undocumented immigration and the fast-and-legally-loose OK Corral tactics of Immigration and Customs Enforcement: Bad Hombres. According to my esteemed editor, I should have been able to have heard the conference room “discussion” some 500-miles away without benefit of a phone.)

        Between the writing of my books, do I read a lot of crime fiction?


        And no.

        I mostly like to take a break from reading crime fiction between the completion of my own books. Of course, brilliant writers like Josh Stallings and Cheryl A. Head and S.A. Cosby and C. Matthew Smith and Abby Vandiver and Amina Ahktar and Tracy Clark and Chris Offhutt, etc., make this difficult considering their astounding output of highly entertaining crime fiction. But honestly, I do prefer a “palate cleanser” between the completion of my twisted criminal tales.

        Mostly, I revert back to poetry.

        Yeah, poetry.

        Folks like Pablo Neruda and Dylan Thomas and Nikki Giovanni, Sean Haney and Langston Hughes. I go back to poetry to rekindle my love for and curiosity about words. The color and economy of words. The shape and gravity of words. The simplicity and inner secrets of words. What poets achieve, in my modest estimation, is a miracle of emotional/intellectual storytelling in a minimum of space/time. You can hold a poem in the palm of your hand and see the universe.

        As of late, I’ve also been on a binge of recollecting and rereading a book series from my youth: the Mike Mars YA series by Donald A. Wollhiem, a sci-fi novelist contemporary of Ray Bradbury and Isaac Asimov. These were simple novels complete with the occasional illustration. They were U.S. Air Force-approved adventures revolving around the early days of the X-15 super-jet, the Mercury space capsule and the Dyna-Soar, a precursory to the Space Shuttle. Stories that ignited my youthful imagination and took my breath away.

        A month’s worth of home-chore allowance was enough for me to afford each new Mike Mars’ hardbound adventures.

        These days I have to check our savings account and 401(k) to make sure I can afford a “fine” or “near fine” collector’s edition.

        So, until the next August Snow thriller, DEUS X, appears on a bookshelf near you, I’ll be contemplating the poetry of Rainier Maria Rilke or Octavio Paz . . .

        . . . that is, until I get the urge to open my laptop and murder the living hell out of somebody.


Pick a Book, Any Book

 Q: Do you read only crime fiction? If so, why? If not, what else do you read? Does it affect your writing? 

- from Susan


Much as I enjoy it, a solid diet of crime fiction would become boring or worse. I’m three-dimensional: a mother, citizen, art lover, environment protector, vacationer, cook… Not sure how I could get along without the challenge, provocations, revelations, calls to action, and invitations to try my hand at recipes and new (to me) foods. I’m a voracious reader, have been all my life. 


Does what I read outside the genre I write in affect my writing? Good writers show me how to do it better, I hope. Writers on other topics expand not just my vocabulary, but my perspective on the world and my characters’ places in it. Not overtly – I haven’t succumbed to writing polemics into the middle of a murder mystery – but to understand and perhaps be a little sympathetic to their biases and unrealistic dreams and short-term failures. I recently found a character of mine saying something that made me laugh and roll my eyes, but was telling about her fairly self-focused view of her adopted country. Not planned by me, but definitely coming from some place in my brain that had absorbed an opinion, or a critique of an opinion, something I read. Who knows what…Reading is powerful, subversive, and invaluable.


Some books I read recently:


HAPPY-GO-LUCKY, David Sedaris

BEWILDERMENT, Richard Powers




HOUSE MADE OF DAWN, N. Scott Momaday


I ALONE CAN FIX IT, Carol Leonnig, Philip Rucker

INCOGNITO, David Eagleman


Quite a mix, isn’t it? Who knows what havoc it’s playing with my writing?!

Thursday, June 16, 2022

Rage, Rage against the Dying of the Light from James W. Ziskin

Would you ever consider retiring from writing? 


Under what circumstances?


How does it make you feel to consider retiring?

Like Dylan Thomas: Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

I love reading. And I love watching sports. Listening to music. Eating, too. And let’s not get started on drinking. I would never willingly abandon those joys, so why would I retire from writing? It’s more than a job, a hobby, or a pastime. For me, it’s a pleasure and a fundamental need.

I wrote my first novel at the age of twelve. It was a terrible book. About what you’d expect from a kid. But it sparked my desire to write stories and set me on a lifelong pursuit of that dream. I don’t look at the publication of my first book, Styx & Stone, as the end of my journey. I did not “make it” when that happened. In fact, it represents nothing more or less than the starter’s pistol and my first steps out the blocks. Everything I’d done before that—the five unpublished novels, the countless hours of revision and polishing, the unsuccessful query letters, and the dreams put on hold until I was finally prepared—was nothing more or less than my training for the race.

So why would I quit when I’ve only just begun?

Writing isn’t a job like others. At least not for me. Yes, I approach my work in a professional manner, but I don’t watch the clock and long for the weekend. I don’t complain about the difficulty of the task. And it hasn’t made me rich, either. That’s why I think of writing more as a calling than a job. And, short of a crisis of faith, one never leaves one’s calling. I’m always thinking about characters, places, and devilishly clever plot twists. And I spend entirely too much time sitting alone, searching for just the right word. How could I ever consider hanging up my cleats? (That’s “boots” for our British cousins.)

Retiring from a calling is like dying. Or at least living a life with a huge hole in it. I think I’d feel hungry. You know that hypoglycemic void in your belly? That’s what it would be like for me.

I suppose I’ll write until I’m no longer able to think coherent thoughts or type on a keyboard. Apologies in advance. You’ve been warned.

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Gas in the tank

Would you ever consider retiring from writing? Under what circumstances? How does it make you feel to consider retiring?

by Dietrich

Retirement was the reward that came after decades spent working at my career. Meaning, from that point on, I had time to turn my attention to what I really wanted to do. And I’ve got no idea what you’d call giving up on that.

While I ran a business, I dabbled at writing fiction now and then over the years, abandoning a couple of attempts at a novel, now and then trying my hand at short stories and screenplays. I wrote in snatches of time, often at the end of a long day. I didn’t know it then, but I never put in the kind of time needed to really develop a style. What I had was desire, and when I retired, I was finally able to put in all the time I wanted, and I didn’t hold back.

“You have to put off being young until you can retire.”  

I’m not sure who said that, but it’s true. After leaving the career, I’ve always felt fully charged, getting to do something that I love, something that has never felt like work. Since day one, I’ve been getting up every morning, sitting at my desk and getting back into whatever make-believe world I’ve created, seeing where it will take me on that day — and nothing beats that.

Back when I started, I often wrote morning till evening. These days, I tend to write for a few hours at a stretch, occasionally going longer. I spend less time writing, but I do a lot less rewriting, so in the end I actually get more accomplished in less time. After the first year of writing all day and into the evening, I became aware of the need for balance, allowing time for the batteries to recharge, meaning there was also more time for family, friends, commitments and other interests.

Writing is a mental exercise. Physically, we show up, plop in our chairs, and move our fingers. How hard is that really? While we’re not exactly pro athletes, it’s good to stay in shape in order to keep sharp. Unlike the middle-age pitcher whose fastball isn’t so fast anymore, many writers actually seem to get better with age, as long as we take care of ourselves. 

If the time comes and I feel that the mental well is drying up and I’m turning out rubbish, then I hope I’ll have the good sense to pack it in, or that someone will come along and pull the plug … I mean on my Mac. But, for right now, it’s all good fun, and as long as the ideas keep flowing, then I’ll keep on writing.

Released June 7th, 2022

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Who Me? Retire?


Terry here, answering this week's question: Would you ever consider retiring from writing? Under what circumstances? How does it make you feel to consider retiring? I’ll begin at the end. The idea of retiring stuns me. Makes me feel like a big hole is yawning just ahead of me. Makes me feel lost.
I’ve been a story-teller since I could string enough words together to make up a story. Long before I could write, I was thinking in stories. I remember as a little girl seeing myself as if from a distance and narrating in my head what was happening in real life. (It sounds a little sinister when I put it like that. Like a dissociative personality.) But think it was just my way of flexing my story muscles. So the idea of retiring is like the idea of deciding to regress to the point where I am a pre-school child, unable to write my alphabet. That doesn’t mean I haven’t had moments of thinking it might be time to retire. But that’s nothing new. It usually happens about 50,000 words into a book, when I suddenly have to admit I don’t know what happens next.
Then, I tell myself that I’ve run out of ideas, that I’ve drained the well. I moan that I knew this was coming, that one day my imagination would fail me. There’s no end to the stories I can tell myself about how I became unable to write. I stare into that gaping hole of nothingness. I mope around. This would probably be a great time to do something wonderful—go get a massage, go shopping, take a little trip, call friends and arrange outings. But my imagination fails me so completely at those times that I am blank of even how to entertain myself. I can’t even pick up those New Yorkers that have piled up, and read them. Clean out a closet? Match my plastic containers with tops? No. I mope.
And then, suddenly a little germ of an idea poke its head out, usually in the form of “what if???” “What if x happened?” I have to admit that this “germ” often entails beginning over and completely changing the book. So I mope some more. And consider that maybe I should abandon writing and take up something lucrative, like full-time reading, or staring at the wall. I recently got a new kitten. Maybe I could take up full-time kitten entertaining. Then comes the point where I realize that the book was stupid anyway, and that I should start a new, more wonderful book. One that will be a masterpiece. Or at least readable. I begin fantasizing how easy the book will be to write. It will flow effortlessly from my pen. I will be a writer again. It will be glorious.
Notice, that by now, the idea of retiring has receded into the background. And at some point, my adult side takes over and reminds me that this is not the first time I’ve been through the 50,000-word angst. Sooner or later (usually the later) I gird my loins (whatever that means) and start in earnest brainstorming how to proceed. I’m a writer again. Or still. I live with the uneasy dread that one day I really will walk away. It’s happened. I’ve found myself losing interest in some things I thought I’d never give up—singing, for one. It used to be central to my life. But I haven’t sung in years, and don’t miss it. Playing the piano is another. Every now and then I have the vague idea of getting a piano, but I’ve lost the drive. Will that happen with writing? If it does, it will be the same natural evolution of things I cared about and no longer care about. But for now, I think of 911 ambulance drivers loading me onto the stretcher, and me screaming, “Wait! I have to finish that last paragraph!”

Sunday, June 12, 2022

Raising the Age of Retirement

Would you ever consider retiring from writing? Under what circumstances? How does it make you feel to consider retiring?

Brenda here.

This is an interesting question and one that I consider now and then. First off, how does it make me feel to think about retiring from writing? 

Sad. Bereft even. 

Writing and imagining have been a part of my life since I was old enough to hold a pen. Even in grade school, I was scratching out stories and poems as I devoured every book I could get my hands on -- because reading and writing go hand in hand. To think about never working on a story again feels like telling myself to stop breathing - not that there won't come a day ... :-) 

And it's not just the writing that will be lost if I retire. It's also being part of the writing community. I enjoy interacting with other writers, many of whom have become good friends. There are also the booksellers, publishing teams, book clubs, and organizations that invite me to be a guest speaker. There'd be no more mystery conventions around the country or research trips. Somehow, writing and all its offshoots have become a major focus of my life, so giving all this up seems like a lot.

Now, under what circumstances would I consider retiring? I suppose if writing became more work than fun, or if I had other things I want to accomplish took precedence. As anyone in this business knows, writing, promoting and marketing take up a great deal of time, energy and sacrifice. It also takes a great deal of time away from family and friends. If these become too much at some point, I'd likely cut back.

For now though, the desire to write still burns and I'm deep into a new manuscript. The beauty of this career is that there's no firm retirement age. So, as long as the ideas keep coming and the heart is willing, on I go!

Friday, June 10, 2022

How I Stoped Throwing Things and Learned to Work with Editors, by Josh Stallings

Q: Do you work with a professional editor? Why/why not? What would you look for if you hired a professional editor?

A: When I was a film editor I hated getting changes. It was often a political game of trying to convince others to do what was best for the cut even if it meant making them think it was their idea. As a young lion I’d throw splicers and yell. Time ground that out of me. I realized film editors get the first cut, after that it’s in the hands of others. I was pro enough by then to know that the real trick was being able to turn in a good version thirty-six.

As a writer I decided if it ever started to feel like a job I’d quit. Bullshit. The truth for me is that writing is a calling, one no sane person would take on. And the only one who could make writing feel like a J O B, was me. I have ultimate authority over my work, and that buys me the freedom to look for and accept any editorial ideas that make the book better. 

My first novels were self published back in the days when that was a dirty word. I believe that when a reader buys a book, they deserve it to be professionally edited and formatted. For those early books I had three editors. First is my wife Erika, she has two essential assets; one, she’s smarter than I am (Phi Beta Kappa from Occidental college smart.) Two, she understands my voice and defends it even against me if I’m screwing with it. She understands that to me cadence is equally important as word choices and grammar. She also knows that when I’m writing at velocity I will sometimes put in place holder scenes, cardboard backdrops that need fleshing out. And most importantly, she respects me enough to tell me when I can do better. 

The second editor I need is someone who has eyes in the sky while I’m carving names in the tree trunks. By the time I’m at the end of a novel Erika and I have read every chapter a brain numbing number of times. On the first book I convinced Charley Huston, Tad Williams, and Deborah Beale to read and rip to shreds Beautiful Naked & Dead. I trusted them. I wanted to write the best book I could. I will forever be in their debt.

For the next three books I hired Elizabeth A. White ( to give me that overview, she also did a great job of fact checking. With Out There Bad she had her husband in the yard jumping to see if I’d made a roof to roof jump distance impossible. Now that’s commitment. In Young Americans I used “Solid as a Rock.” as a come back line. Elizabeth pointed out that the song didn't come out until 1984, the novel took place in 1976. These may feel like little things but they can throw you out of a book. 

William E. Wallace, the amazing and prolific crime writer, and investigative reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle in the 1970’s, would have noticed if I got anything wrong. In his review he wrote, Young Americans is definitely a two thumbs up for me. Stallings not only tells a story that will have the reader biting his or her nails, but he does it so smoothly that his audience stops looking for anachronisms after about three pages because they simply can’t be found.”

(Thank you dear editor for coving my ass.)

For Tricky besides Erika, I was blessed to have an agent who worked with me on the big picture edits before we shopped it, and an acquiring editor At Agora/Polis (the amazing Chantelle Aimée Osman, Esq.) who refined it even more.

Every one of these editors also had to work to remove my dyslexic errors. And still, I require a line editor. For all my self published books I used JW Manus ( to catch any remaining mis-types, as well as handling the book/ebook text design and formatting.

For the Moses trilogy I designed the covers. For Young Americans I hired ChungKong ( a Dutch artist to create the cover.

It cost some bucks to get my books out. I was fortunate to have a job that allowed me to front the cash to publish. And then damn lucky to sell well enough to pay our household budget back and pay for my conferences and research trips. 

These days, when I get my feelings hurt by editorial notes, I pause, remind myself it was just my ego that was stung. I take a walk, think about the note. I don’t work with stupid people so they must have a point I’m not seeing. I try not to call them up and say “What the hell were you thinking?” Editing is a conversation. Their part is when they send or call in notes. Then it’s my turn, the only thing for me to “say” is in the rewritten chapters, those are my part of the conversation. 

Writing a first draft is a solitary act. To get from there to the printed page it must becomes collaborative. Park your ego at the door and join the party.  

Final statement: In the words of Mark Stevens “Bottom line: don’t shine off the editing process. Don’t. Just don’t.” (