Thursday, March 26, 2015

Guest post - Tom Pitts - The Novella is Dead

image001Coughs, comes up to podium, remembers sage advice: Open with a joke. Open with a joke!

Um … The novel walks into a bar, followed by the novella.

Bartender says, "What's with the new guy?"

The novel says, "It's a long story."

(Stolen from @IsTheNovelDead on twitter)

A few years ago, when I tried to pen my first longer work—the piece that eventually became Knuckleball—a friend told me, "The novella is dead!"

image003I'm happy to say this friend (I'm looking at you, Joe Clifford!) was wrong.

Although, I'm not sure he was wrong at the time.

They're always proclaiming something is dead. God is dead! Rock'n'Roll is dead! Or my personal favorite: Disco is dead!! But there was something a bit more sinister at work here. The publishing industry really did their best to kill off the novella—the brunch of literature, the Opie-size opuses, bite-sized book, the orphan of the epic.

It wasn't really that reader's appetites for shorter works had died off. Far from it. The reality of printing skinny little hardcopy books that had to be shipped, invoiced, and stored (thus keeping the price close to what a full-length novel would be) made it tough to rationalize keeping them in the game. If a customer saw a big fat book for 12.99 and a thin volume for 10.99, they'd most likely pick up the bigger tome to get more bang for their buck. Who could blame 'em? The big houses saw their out and gave the novella the squeeze.

image006Enter the eBook—enter the era of the 99 cent book. Hate on 'em if you must, but the eBook continues to eclipse their older, heavier brothers with ease, convenience, and price. Now it's possible to crank out plenty of shorter works without the price-heavy network necessary to get novellas to the readers.

And the public responded. Turns out they dig novellas. In spades.

The publishers responded too. From Don Delillo's Point Omega to Eric Beetner's Dig Two Graves, the publishing world has been kicking out tiny tomes left and right.

johnsonI don't know about y'all, but when I'm trying out a new author I often want to dip my toe in the water. Get a taste. When I first tried out Denis Johnson, I bought Nobody Move, his noir novella. (Loved it, by the way, although a lot of his hardcore fans didn't. It did the trick. I'm now a fan. I went on to read Tree of Smoke and other longer works of his. Train Dreams, another tight little novella of his remains a personal favorite.)

I just finished, The Drop, Dennis Lehane's superb novella. It's perfectly balanced and great example of a shorter book packing a punch. Tough to argue with success via satisfaction.

In fact, when my own novella, Piggyback, was published by Snubnose in 2012, I felt like I was in the midst of a novella renaissance. A novella-lution. Okay, that phrase doesn't work too well, but you know what I mean.

One Eye Press answered the call in a big way and decided to put out a series of novellas—their Singles series. There're a few other publishers, both big and small, that have been doing the same thing.

You might say it's the shorter attention span of readers these days, or the ease of e-publishing, or the aligning of the planets. Whatever the reason, there's something nice and satisfying about a novella.

oeps-knuckleball-pitts-3dcover-bWhen I think about Steinbeck's the Red Pony or Of Mice and Men, or even the goddamn Great Gatsby—which by most folk's measurements would be classified as a novella—there's direct and concise quality about a thin tome that gets lost inside of a 500-page doorstopper.

So … here's to the novella.

Oh, by the way, my own novella, my first born, the piece that holds that special place in my heart, KNUCKLEBALL is out now and available from One Eye Press.

Bio: Tom Pitts received his education on the streets of San Francisco. He remains there, working, writing, and trying to survive. His novel, HUSTLE, and his novella, Piggyback, are available from Snubnose Press. His new novella, Knuckleball, will be released by One Eye Press is out now. Find links to more of his work at:

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Looking for Absolution

by Holly West

Bless me, oh Gods of Publishing, for I have sinned.

I have a confession to make. It's a long time coming and I hang my head with shame as I write it, but perhaps my admission will give me the peace I'm so desperately searching for. Either that or the commiseration of other writers who are in the same sinking boat I am.

It seems I have become a "non-finisher." In the past year, I've written no less than one hundred thousand words on two separate projects. Project One has been started and re-started three times. Project Two, which I spent the entire summer writing at the expense of Project One, was abandoned somewhere around forty thousand words. Oh, I plan to pick it up again. I just don't know when.

Neither project is anywhere close to THE END. Should I even mention Project Three, a historical mystery set in post-WII Philadelphia that I started writing before Mistress of Fortune was even published? I laid that one to the side because I just can't figure out the story I want to tell.

I turned in the manuscript for Mistress of Lies in November 2013, which means I haven't finished a book in over a year. After completing MOL, I had these grand visions of starting my next project--a stand alone novel set in contemporary Venice, California--and finishing it within six months. Such hubris! I am not that writer and never have been. The only thing that pushed me to write MOL in less than a year was a giant sword etched with the word DEADLINE hanging over my head.

But in spite of this, I come from the Chuck Wendig School of Finish Your Shit. I don't want to be a writer who hops from project to project, always writing but never completing. It mortifies me to admit that I can't seem to pick a project and stick with it to the end.

To me, not finishing projects is just another form of work avoidance. Oh, I can understand the occasional starting of something then realizing it just doesn't have legs. It happens to all of us. But at this point, I'm just f*cking around. Writing words because in order to call myself a writer I have to write but not doing the real work that FINISHING entails.

I've never been a writer who writes for the love of writing. Oh hell no. I write for the love of finishing. That's where the satisfaction is for me. I write because I love to read and I endeavor to give other readers some of the same pleasure I've received from books over the years. I can't do that if I'm not finishing.

(Is it just me or did this conversation somehow turn a little bit sexual?)

Here, then, is my solemn pledge. I've just re-started my current project--that stand alone set in Venice--for the fourth time. I WILL FINISH IT BY JUNE. If it's good enough, I might even send it to my agent. I don't expect you to hold me to this because I know you've got your own shit to worry about, but maybe saying it here will reinforce the deadline in my mind.

Thank you for listening. I'm ready for my flogging now.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Birthday boys and their reading habits

I'm going to tie together a couple of thoughts, badly I might add. But this is what's been on my mind over the last day or so.

One of the most basic bits of writing advice is "read, read, read", to read widely, and to learn to read deeply or critically. Yesterday was Louis L'amour's birthday and to celebrate it I thumbed through what may be his best work, and is one of my favorites by him, Education of a Wandering Man. This is a memoir he wrote about his life, about being an autodidact, and about his reading life. The take away is that L'amour was a voracious reader who always had a book in tow, and who didn't read just one type or mode of book.

Recently Jedidiah Ayres was interviewed by Gabino Iglesias and gave the following answer:

And at this point there is so little money involved that it’s not an incentive to work faster. I read much more than I write. Hell, I watch movies (I guess you’ve noticed) much more than I write, and I think that’s the way it should be (for me). If I had to give up reading or writing, I’d drop writing last week. And yeah, I could think of a dozen other things off the top of my head I’d prioritize above writing. That said, I’ve got a half dozen novels I am currently working on. THAT SAID, I’ve been working on most of them for years.

I have a long internet memory and remembered hearing another writer give a similar answer. Facebook tells me today is Declan Burke's birthday and years ago, over on his blog, he wrote the following:

There’s a question in the regular Q&A that I run on Crime Always Pays which is for me the one that gives the most insight into a writer, or as much insight as can be gleaned from a 10-question Q&A. It’s the one about God appearing, and saying you can only read or write, and which will it be. For me, it’s a no-brainer - I’d read, because the books I want to read are better than anything I’m capable of writing. And, given that I’m a failed writer, Beckett’s dictum on failing and failing again better notwithstanding, the last thing I want to be reading is a book not fit to lace my own books’ shoelaces, if you’ll forgive the mangled metaphor.

I wonder if the answer that they both give is the common one? I'm tempted to say that writers would say writing, but obviously have nothing to back that assertion up. So maybe instead we can ask, What does it say about these guys that they choose writing?

Another question that I've been pondering lately that I'll throw out there: If you are a writer and you are only reading the books that your friends and acquaintances are publishing  are you doing your own work a disservice?

That's as far as I've taken the train of thought for today. What do you think?

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Letter to Desperate Author Dude ...

by Kristi Belcamino

Hey, Author Dude, if you hop on my Facebook author page and comment with a random link to your author page or, even worse, your Amazon page, in the comments of one of my own posts, I might ignore it the first time.

The second time, you're banned.

Annoying, but in the scope of things, not that big a deal. And yet it still makes me wonder:

Hey, Author Dude, did you really think that was going to garner you some random book sales? I mean, really? Is that little snippet of description and that picture of you so incredibly compelling that all of the 2K plus people on my Facebook page are going to click on and then rush to buy your book?


Which brings me to my point, many of the methods that you, oh, desperate-for-sales-author, use can't possibly be effective. There is no way.

I get where this writing business can make you feel desperate. I get that. This is a tough business, full of ups and downs and heartbreaking moments of self-doubt and despair. Believe me, I get that.

But the only thing you can really do to increase your books sales is to continue improving as a writer every single day of your life and then maybe this: lay off the hard-hitting sales and stop acting like a dick. Unless you really are one, and then you're out of luck. Or maybe that schtick will work for you.

But my point is that in this writing world, your behavior on social media shouldn't involve selling your books, it should involve selling yourself.

Let people know what you are like and let that lead them to your books.

If you are sweet, be sweet. If you are snarky, be snarky.

Be yourself and that will lead your true readers to you and your books. And that's what you want, your true readers, who like you and hope that your books are like you. When the two match, then, bingo, you have a genuine reader you can thank your lucky stars for every day.

And that one reader who loves your books is worth more than 500 lukewarm-about-your-books "friends" on social media.

Because I see you there friending as many people as possible on Facebook and then following just as many on Twitter.

Here's a little hint for you:

This really doesn't work. Those numbers don't translate to book sales.

Yet, I see you do it again and again.

And when you are on social media, STFU about your book for 90 percent of the time. If people like you enough, they'll find your books on their own. If something cool is happening, then you can talk about it 10 percent of the time without coming off like a douche.

By the way, when you are making social media friends, please don't do this creepy, stalkerish thing where you methodically go down my friend's list and send friend requests to everyone I know, including my family and friends.

And, yes, it's going to be obvious you've done this when I go to your Facebook page and find that our mutual friends include my neighbor next door and my relative across the country.

Creepy. Stalkerish. Desperate. Futile.

And when you follow me on Twitter and I follow back, please don't end it before it begins by sending me a direct message telling me about your book or your author page. Because I'm going to immediately unfollow you. When you post your books and links to them on my page, I'm going to ban you.

And of course, you don't really care if I unfriend you or unfollow you, because I'm just one of the faceless masses to you. You see your biggest fault is seeing potential readers as masses instead of individuals. Because to you it's a numbers game -- throw your book at as many eyeballs as you can and see what sticks.

Hope that's working for you, Author Dude.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Quertermous, Laukkanen and Joy at Houston’s Murder by the Book

Scott D. Parker

Slowly but surely, I am meeting each one of my fellow DSDers in person. I’ve met Joelle and Russell and now Bryon. He arrived at Murder by the Book last night with two other authors: David Joy and Owen Laukkanen. The fourth author, Duane Swierczynski, couldn’t make the trip from Philadelphia on account of the weather.

It’s always a funny thing to see a person in the flesh with whom you have corresponded over the internet. But he looks just like his photo over at his website. In Arizona, he wore a Flash T-shirt. I was wondering what hero garb he’d wear in Texas. Turns out to be Deadpool. (Pondering a hidden meaning…)

The Murder by the Book folks, led by owner McKenna Jordon, run these author events like a well-oiled machine. As they prepared for the talk, I chatted with author Bill Crider. It’s been awhile since I’d seen him and it was good to catch up.

McKenna moderated the panel with five questions that each author answered. She started with each man’s writerly routine. Bryon likes to get away and write in a McDonald’s up in Michigan where he lives. It’s the only place in town without WiFi so he can work uninterrupted and work on his words. Speaking of words, Owen strives for 5,000 words per day. And I’m officially very impressed. David’s words come when they come. He wrote his debut book while holding down two jobs. So to all those folks who say they don’t have time to write, I’ll give you David as Exhibit A.

When asked about the genesis of their books, Bryon said that he struggled a lot but that these characters (in Murder Boy) kept talking to him. Then a thought occurred to him and it acted like a revelation: “The Great American Novel can’t be a murder mystery.” David got the group laughing when he mentioned that he literally burned early drafts of his book. Owen, while lobster fishing, had a lot of time to think and he started wondering about telling the story of sex slaves from the POV of the slaves themselves.

In regards to writing approaches and how they might be different for different kinds of books, David confessed that he’s not good at anything else but writing. Owen touted his YA novel where he allowed himself to be as over-the-top as possible and it resonated not only with his agent and editor but one of the folks last night. Bryon tried to tell the story of Murder Boy as a short story, short play, full-length play, and then finally novel. Through it all, he managed to wrangle the text into the novel that’s out soon. (Psst! If you were at the event, they already had the novel available so it pays to go to author events!)

Writing heroes was another topic discussed. Owen studied the Da Vinci Code to help his own dad write a thriller. He also name dropped Thomas King, of Cherokee descent, who helped Owen understand the important of looking at your own work with a critical eye. David named a lot of authors he enjoys including Larry Brown, William Gay, Ron Rash, and Jeneatte Winterson. Bryon centered on two books as the actual sparks he needed to get Murder Boy written: Duane Swierczynski’s The Wheelman and Victor Gischler’s The Pistol Poets. He also extolled a love of late 50s/early 60s pulp fiction and specifically mentioned Hard Case Crime, something with which I can wholeheartedly concur.

Lastly, McKenna asked the superpower question: which one would you like to have. Bryon started off with ‘wealth’ partially because he gravitates to the non-powered heroes in comics but also because he could then buy the gadgets to help people. David didn’t read comics too much, but he has a fascination with fish so he went went the breathing underwater power (to which Bryon commented on the New 52 version of Aquaman, another thing I can vouch for). Owen, dreading the 5am flight he took this morning, craved teleportation. He also wanted the drug from the movie Limitless so he could write more books.

It was a swell time and I look forward to meeting more of my fellow DSDers someday. But the best thing about an event like this with multiple authors is the very thing you can only get from a bookstore like Murder by the Book: you get exposed to books and authors outside your normal range.

So get to a bookstore and browse and discover something new.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Crime fiction panel

By Steve Weddle

Next week I'll again be teaching a short story class over at LitReactor. We read short stories, talk about how they're crafted and why they work, and work on putting our own together.  I have not gotten a notice that it has sold out, so you've still got time to register.

Speaking of me and short stories, Art Taylor was kind enough to include me in his brilliant discussion of novels-in-stories over at the Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine blog. If you have a few minutes, you should check out his take on the subject.

As you know from Holly's post yesterday, last weekend was Left Coast Crime, a crime fiction convention in Portland, Oregon.

This week is the Virginia Festival of the Book, which is held each year in Charlottesville. On Saturday, I'll be moderating a panel for crime fiction -- Crime Wave: Private Eyes & Ink-Stained Wretches. (Sat. March 21, 4:00 pm - 5:00 pm; Omni Hotel - Ballroom C; 212 Ridge McIntire Road, Charlottesville, VA)
Hear authors Reed Farrel Coleman (Robert B. Parker’s Blind Spot), Brad Parks (The Player), and Andy Straka (The K Street Hunting Society) share stories of their private eyes and journalists caught up in crime.

I met Reed at NoirCon 2010 in Philly and had the chance to hear him opine on noir finding itself coming back to early twentieth century Los Angeles, even by authors who are writing at the moment.

I met Andy when I moderated a panel a few years ago at the state library in Virginia.

I met Brad Parks in the parking lot of the Levittown Flea Market, where a vendor was selling Italian ices and Taylor Swift tickets.

All of these guys write series characters, which is what we'll mostly be chatting about.

Whether you've been to 20 crime fiction panels or none, you've probably got something you'd want to know from talented writers such as these. If you'd like to drop a question in the comments, I can see what we can find out from these guys on Saturday. Or, if there was a great panel question you heard recently, feel free to share.
Either way, I hope to see you in Charlottesville this week for the book festival.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Library Sales: The DIY Approach

by Holly West

I attended Crimelandia - Left Coast Crime 2015 this past week and on a scale from one to ten, the conference was an eleven. So. Much. Fun.

You might recall that my novel, MISTRESS OF FORTUNE, was nominated for the Rosebud Award for Best First Mystery Novel. Being a nominee was pretty much the greatest thing ever. Okay, actually winning the award might've been greater but they gave me this plaque so I still feel like a superstar.

Allen Eskins won for THE LIFE WE BURY. I'm looking forward to reading it, as it's also nominated for several other awards, including the Edgar.

As usual, I came home from the conference with loads of new ideas. Library sales, specifically, how to get them, is number one on the list. This isn't wholly the result of attending Left Coast Crime, but after attending a panel on how to market one's books, I'm newly energized to pursue the goal of getting my ebooks into as many public libraries as I can.

For this, I need your help.

Recently, I asked a couple of family members to contact their public libraries and request that they order MISTRESS OF FORTUNE and MISTRESS OF LIES. As a result, both books are now part of the Yolo County Public Library collection. Even better, MISTRESS OF FORTUNE is currently checked out. 

For my part, I'm contacting as many libraries as I can myself. I've written a pitch letter that includes a brief synopsis of each book, a couple of blurbs, and a mention of my recent award nomination. For example, there was a librarian at Left Coast Crime who participated in the "Buy My Book" marketing panel. I wrote to her directly, explained that I'd seen her speak and that I was a nominee. She replied today saying she planned on buying both of my books.

Some libraries, however, do not allow me to make a purchase request unless I'm a library card holder at one of their branches. And so I must impose on you to take a moment to contact your local public library and make the request for me. All you need to do is go to your local library's website, find the instructions for how to make a purchase request, and enter the pertinent information. To make this task easier for you, here is the relevant information:

Author: Holly West
ISBN: 9781426897979
Publisher: Carina Press
Publication Date: February 3, 2014
Format: ebook
Synopsis:Isabel, Lady Wilde, a mistress to King Charles II, has a secret: she makes her living disguised as Mistress Ruby, a fortune-teller who caters to London’s elite. When a prominent local magistrate seeks Mistress Ruby's counsel about his unwitting involvement in a plot to kill the king and is found brutally murdered shortly thereafter, she takes up the investigation and discovers a dangerous political conspiracy that leads all the way to the throne. As she delves deeper into the mystery, not even the king may be able to save her.

Publisher: Carina Press
Publication Date: September 29, 2014
Format: ebook
When a beggar girl shows up at Isabel's home claiming to be her niece, Isabel is skeptical because she always believed that her brother, Adam, had died, without wife or child, of the plague. But after the girl reveals that Adam was in fact murdered, Isabel is compelled to take up an impossible task: discover the truth about her brother's death, twelve years after it happened. As she learns about her brother's dark secrets, she begins to wonder whether the past is better left buried--especially when uncovering the truth could lead to her own funeral.

I'm sure I'm not the only author who can benefit from such a grass roots effort to get our books into libraries. I'm happy to make requests on your behalf to my own public library, so contact me in the comments if you'd like me to do so.

Thanks in advance for your help!