Sunday, August 2, 2015

Seven Habits of Bestselling Authors

by Kristi Belcamino

*


As a newish author, I've spent some time studying what other successful authors do with their time. Luckily, they talk about their habits in interviews and on social media, so I've been able to get a small glimpse of how they spend their days.

Now this won't apply to every bestselling crime fiction author out there, but many of the things below appear to be common factors in those who find the most success in this field. Here is my take from my limited study of bestselling authors. Would love your feedback.

Bestselling authors:

1. Are extremely disciplined. They are writing between four to ten hours a day, at least five days a week. They don't wait for the elusive muse to appear. They stick their backends in a chair and get down to it. Every day.

2. Produce. They publish a book a year, at the minimum. Almost every author making a living by writing and nabbing spots on the bestseller list is putting out a book a year.

3. Study crime fiction in other mediums. Most bestselling authors mention that studying film and TV shows inspires, motivates, and helps them improve in the craft of writing.

4. Exercise on a daily basis and use this time to work out sticky plot points in their heads or meditate on the motives of their characters or just to get their head in the right space to write.

5. Spend a moderate amount of time on social media. They aren't on Facebook or Twitter or Tumblr all day long, but they do check in and are a definite presence.

6. Don't give up. Setbacks are a bump in the road, not a stop sign, as a dear friend told me recently.

7. Continually work to improve their craft. Whether it is attending a writing conference when they are just starting out, welcoming feedback from other writers or editors, or just studying books on craft, bestselling authors know they can always become better writers.

Dear reader, would love to hear what other common factors you notice in the habits of bestselling authors!

*PS I have no idea what Joan Didion's work habits were, but think this is the coolest picture ever of one of my favorite writers.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Tangible Research

by
Scott D. Parker

I write westerns. Some of them feature a railroad detective named Calvin Carter. Naturally, with the fact Carter works for a railroad, one might assume that I, your trusty author, know a little about railroads. You would be correct in that assumption. I have done some research on what it was like to work on and ride railroads in the 1880s.

But, as I don’t have a time machine, it’s all been book research. [shrug] How else does one learn about railroad in 2015? Well, living in Houston, I have a mere hour’s drive down to Galveston. Sure, it’s got fresh seafood and a decent beach, but it’s also got the Galveston Railroad Museum. Located on the north end of the historic Strand district in an awesome Art Deco building built in the 1930s, the Galveston Railroad Museum recaptures all the magic (and heat) of the glory days of rail travel. The inner lobby is a wide and tall spacious area that is, thankfully, beautifully air conditioned. It’s designed to resemble an actual train station, complete with ticket booths and benches used back in the day. The exhibits are chock full of maps and tools from the days when riding in a rail car was the epitome of travel.

The coup de grace, however, is outside in the museum’s backyard. There, on multiple rails, are actual train engines, cars, and cabooses, most of which are open to walk inside. The sheer magnitude of these train engines, both the steam ones and the diesel ones, is breathtaking for a person who drives a Toyota Matrix, my Mickey Mouse car as my wife dubs it. Some of the cars have been converted to displays with even more artifacts. Most of the cars, however, are free to walk inside. Here is where you get a glimpse of just what it was like to travel and work in the rail industry.

Those bathrooms really were small but very efficient. The sleeper cars had benches for sitting and the beds were actually pull-down kind, right above you. The slender hallways really were only built for one person. It was best to just wait your turn. The postal workers literally had a post office on wheels.

The dining cars, while spacious for the travelers, consisted of a very small kitchen and little else.


And none of it was air conditioned. Boy, do we have it made.


I’ll be honest: I went there looking for research and inspiration for some western stories. I got that. I also got inspired for my 1940s-era stories featuring Benjamin Wade and Gordon Gardner. I can pretty much bet that those guys will be taking a train in a future book.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Book I Read

By Alex Segura



Or, What I Read While I Write vs. What I Read When I Edit.

This is the opposite of a how-to post. This is closer to a poll. Why? Because I’m extremely curious to hear what other writers have to say about it.

I was having dinner with a writer friend last night and, not surprisingly, we were talking about books we’d read recently. Many of these were written by people we knew. Something he said stuck out: 

“I can’t read Author X’s book yet because I know Book #Z of my series will also be in the same genre.” 

Now, I bring this up not because I think it’s weird (I don’t), but because it got me to thinking about my own reading “rules.” It also got me wondering about what writers read while they write, and when they don’t.

I don’t read mysteries while writing a mystery. Most of the time, I’m doing research or reading nonfiction that’s somehow influencing my current work - or the next one. True crime, historical pieces, whatever. Why do I avoid other mysteries? Simple: I don’t want to lose my voice because my reading has become immersed in another writer’s. It happens. You mainline an author’s work and next thing you know, your sentences have the same cadence. Your dialogue starts to read like you didn’t write it. It’s weird.

Now, a little influence here and there is fine - it’s organic. We’re all products of the books we read. But I don’t want to push it. If I’m rolling along on a piece of fiction, and I have the voice and style down, I don’t want to lose that because I just got hooked on a new author. It keeps the work somewhat pure, and, I think, consistent.

So, when do I read fiction? The rest of the time. While editing, while revising, between major projects and on trips and such. Even then, I’ll hop between genre fiction and true crime or nonfiction as my tastes guide me. I’ll read a music bio or some political stuff, too, to provide a change of pace.

I guess, now that I put it on paper, my only rule - and it’s not really an unbreakable, hard and fast one - is that I try to avoid books in my genre when writing a new book. What’re yours? Why do they exist?

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Diary of a Conflicted Reader

by Holly West

I think it's kind of funny that I had literally no thoughts or feelings when HarperCollins announced earlier this year that it would publish GO SET A WATCHMAN (GSAW) by Harper Lee. Because now that I've finished TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (TKAM) and I'm half-way through GSAW, I have all the thoughts and feelings on the subject.

I'm happy that the publication of GO SET A WATCHMAN finally got me to read TKAM. At the very least, it got me, and probably more than a few others, excited about TKAM. TKAM is a book that deserves to be read. So there's that.

Once I finished TKAM, I was left with a hole in my literary life--so immersed was I in the fictional world of 1930s Maycomb, Alabama that I wasn't ready to leave it. Judging by the initial excitement brought on by HarperCollins' announcement, I was far from alone, even after rumblings of controversy arose.

Though I hadn't intended on doing it so soon, I began reading GSAW immediately. While it's not as compelling as TKAM, I'm enjoying it. As I write this, I'm not quite sure how to express myself. TKAM and GSAW are at once the same book and yet different books. Although it wasn't exactly clear when HarperCollins announced it would be publishing GSAW, it's quite clear now: GSAW is an early draft of TKAM. But it's so completely different that it's not like reading the same novel. I would simply say that there are shared elements, told differently in each book.

In trying to explain the situation to my husband, I began by saying it was as if someone published the first draft of MISTRESS OF FORTUNE, with no developmental editing whatsoever. But that's not right--the published version of MISTRESS OF FORTUNE bears a distinct resemblance to the first draft. They are the same book. TKAM and GSAW are essentially two different books with similar characters, settings and themes. TKAM is recognizable in GSAW but I can't say they're the same book. Except for all intents and purposes, they are.

Many questions have arisen with its publication--most notably, did Harper Lee want it published? Was she somehow taken advantage of? As readers (and writers), is it unethical for us to support the publication of GSAW by purchasing it and reading it?

There have been several articles and op-eds written about the circumstances of GSAW's publication. I've not said much on the subject because frankly, I didn't know what I was talking about. But now that I've read TKAM and much of GSAW, I feel like I'm on a bit more solid ground to share my opinion.

I really hate to say it, because like I said above, the hubbub surrounding its publication got me to read TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD and I'm thankful for that. But I wish HarperCollins would never have published GO SET A WATCHMAN because now that I'm reading it, I can't, for the life of me, believe that Harper Lee, if she were of sound mind and body, wanted it published.

Keep in mind that there are no reports (that I know of) that indicate unequivocally that Harper Lee didn't want it published at this time. Much of my opinion is based on the facts surrounding its publication (as I know them), the speculation of others about the circumstances of its publication, and my own observations as I read GSAW.

GSAW, to my understanding, is an unedited manuscript (though I suspect it's at least been copyedited). And it reads that way. Even so, it's fairly well written, at least in the beginning. It's slow, but not boring. Unfortunately, I've reached a point, about thirty percent in, where the writing turns amateurish and its clearly in need of a polish. It's not completely cringe-worthy, but it's not far off from that.

For this reason I can't see why Harper Lee wanted it published. Why would she knowingly agree to put work out there that is sub par? Nothing in her history hints that now, at her advanced age, she'd suddenly say, "what the heck, go ahead and publish this first draft."

Some writers might want to cash in on that sort of thing--and I say that with no judgment--but I just don't see Harper Lee being one of them. Has the publication of GSAW sullied her personal reputation? No, I certainly don't think so. But I hate the idea that her legacy now includes the very real possibility that she's been taken advantage of.

And I feel terrible that in my small way, I've been a part of that by buying the book. Having read and loved TKAM, even if it was only recently, I feel suddenly protective of Harper Lee and her legacy. But I also didn't want to pass judgment on its publication based on speculation. It wasn't until I began reading GSAW that it became clear to me that it probably should never have been published. I just feel too strongly now that Harper Lee was far less complicit in its publication than we've been led to believe, though I can't speak to the actual extent of the deception.

So amidst the joy I feel for the reading experience TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD gave me, the circumstances surrounding my decision to read it sadden me. I'll finish reading GSAW and perhaps my feelings about it will change, but I can't see that happening so far.

I'd love to hear what others who've read both books think about this. Most of the opinions I've seen are from people who've said outright they've no intention of reading GSAW for the very reasons I've cited here. I absolutely understand their position but I'm also curious what others have to say on the subject. By all means, let me know your thoughts, whatever they may be.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Thoughts on the western novel - pt2

My computer is down at home and our internet connection there has been tenuous at best. I've been reading a lot of westerns this summer and a lot about westerns. So in the spirit of having something to post today I thought I'd pull some quotes about the western together and link to a couple of articles. I'll leave it up to you to decide their worth.

-Considering modern Westerns from a somewhat broader perspective, however, allows them to be grouped into four major categories: traditional Westerns, anti-Westerns, elegiac Westerns and experimental Westerns. Together, these four categories reveal not only common themes but also the extent of the diversity of Western movies, especially since 1960.

-But the western as a literary form left us with another legacy. No other region of the nation produced a comparable genre of formulaic, relentlessly aggrandizing whitewash--and it has stigmatized all subsequent writers from (and those writing about) this part of the country. To say one is a "western writer," or that this is a "western story," is to automatically raise a doubt as to its long-term merit as literature.

-...it would seem that Wister's personal values constantly interfered with his objective to describe the West and its people as they really were. Romance and marriage in his novels, as in some of his stories, serve only to emasculate his cowboys, to make them docile Easterners concerned more with personal ambition, accumulation of wealth, and achieving what by Eastern standards could only be considered social standing, rather than luxuriating in their freedom, the openness and emptiness of the land, and the West's utter disregard for family background. To make his cowboy's acceptable heroes to himself, as well as to his Eastern readers, Wister felt compelled to imbue them with his own distinctly patrician values. For this reason his stories cannot be said to depict truthfully the contrasts and real conflicts between the East and West of his time and Western readers of his stories have always tended to scoff at what he was presenting as the reality of Western life.

"Wister in his political philosophy was a progressive and what has come to be termed a social Darwinist....He believed in a natural aristocracy, a survival of the fittest -- the fittest being those who measured up best to the elective affinities of his own value system. ...Yet privately (and this is wht his journals are so illuminating), he lamented the sloth which he felt the West induced in people, and it was his ultimate rejection of the real West that brought about his disillusionment with it and his refusal, after 1911, ever to return there.
-I want only to underscore the point I made earlier about the absence of a present in western literature and in the whole tradition we call western. It remains rooted in the historic, the rural, the heroic that does not take into account time and change. This means that it has no future, either. Nostalgia, however tempting, is not enough; disgust for the shoddy present is not enough; and forgetting the past entirely is a dehumanizing error…Millions of Westerners, old and new, have no sense of a personal and possessed past; no sense of any continuity between the real Western past, which has been mythologized almost out of recognizability, and a real Western present that seems as cut off and pointless as a ride on a merrygo- round that can’t be stopped.… If you are any part of an artist, and a lot of people are some part of one…then I think you don’t choose between the past and the present, you try to find the connections, you try to make the one serve the other.
I want only to underscore the point I made earlier about the absence of a present in western literature and in the whole tradition we call western. It remains rooted in the historic, the rural, the heroic that does not take into account time and change. This means that it has no future, either. Nostalgia, however tempting, is not enough; disgust for the shoddy present is not enough; and forgetting the past entirely is a dehumanizing error…Millions of Westerners, old and new, have no sense of a personal and possessed past; no sense of any continuity between the real Western past, which has been mythologized almost out of recognizability, and a real Western present that seems as cut off and pointless as a ride on a merrygo- round that can’t be stopped.… If you are any part of an artist, and a lot of people are some part of one…then I think you don’t choose between the past and the present, you try to find the connections, you try to make the one serve the other. - See more at: http://www.perc.org/articles/celebrating-wallace-stegners-most-quotable-words#sthash.YRnVYJmI.dpuf
I want only to underscore the point I made earlier about the absence of a present in western literature and in the whole tradition we call western. It remains rooted in the historic, the rural, the heroic that does not take into account time and change. This means that it has no future, either. Nostalgia, however tempting, is not enough; disgust for the shoddy present is not enough; and forgetting the past entirely is a dehumanizing error…Millions of Westerners, old and new, have no sense of a personal and possessed past; no sense of any continuity between the real Western past, which has been mythologized almost out of recognizability, and a real Western present that seems as cut off and pointless as a ride on a merrygo- round that can’t be stopped.… If you are any part of an artist, and a lot of people are some part of one…then I think you don’t choose between the past and the present, you try to find the connections, you try to make the one serve the other. - See more at: http://www.perc.org/articles/celebrating-wallace-stegners-most-quotable-words#sthash.YRnVYJmI.dpuf
I want only to underscore the point I made earlier about the absence of a present in western literature and in the whole tradition we call western. It remains rooted in the historic, the rural, the heroic that does not take into account time and change. This means that it has no future, either. Nostalgia, however tempting, is not enough; disgust for the shoddy present is not enough; and forgetting the past entirely is a dehumanizing error…Millions of Westerners, old and new, have no sense of a personal and possessed past; no sense of any continuity between the real Western past, which has been mythologized almost out of recognizability, and a real Western present that seems as cut off and pointless as a ride on a merrygo- round that can’t be stopped.… If you are any part of an artist, and a lot of people are some part of one…then I think you don’t choose between the past and the present, you try to find the connections, you try to make the one serve the other. - See more at: http://www.perc.org/articles/celebrating-wallace-stegners-most-quotable-words#sthash.YRnVYJmI.dpuf

 -Long before Louis L'Amour, Max Brand, or Zane Grey thought about swinging up into a saddle, women were blazing a trail for the Western story. Even prior to 1902 with Owen Wister’s The Virginian which is widely respected as the novel that put the genre on the map, female authors were far ahead on the drive.

I also read this half-baked article on weird westerns. It's a pretty terrible article really because it starts out with the assumption that Stephen Kin's Gunslinger books are the first weird westerns. I post the article on Facebook and it prompted a response from Heath Lowrance in which he posted a link to a post he did awhile ago: Weird Westerns. I don't fully agree with some of Lowrance's conclusions about weird westerns but he has a far better grasp on the subject then the first writer does.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Noir at the Bar Twin Cities July 2015

by Kristi Belcamino

I love Noir at the Bar.

Last Thursday I got to participate in my third Noir at the Bar event.

One of the best parts of Noir is meeting other crime fiction writers from across the country.

This go round I was lucky enough to read with Anthony Neil Smith, Eric Beetner, Paul Garth, and Kent Gowran.

This event, like most Noirs in the Twin Cities, was organized by Dan and Kate Malmon and Paul von Stoetzel, who was MC, and showed an outstanding short film based on Dennis Tafoya's writing.

Subtext Books was there selling our wares and supporting us, as usual.

The one drawback: After asking him on Twitter, Anthony Bourdain did not come visit Neil Smith at Noir. Disappointed, Smith had the crowd sign his Bourdain book instead.

The biggest surprise: Hot Indian Foods, responded to mine and Smith's pleas on Twitter to bring us Indurritos at the event in exchange for signed copies of our books! Best food I've had in months and now one of my new favorite restaurants. They rock!


Here is evidence.

Despite how it appears, I was not reading to an empty bar.
Eric Beetner in the house from Los Angeles
Dan Malmon
The incomparable Anthony Neil Smith
Hawking our wares and doing our John Hancock's afterward
Kent Gowran up from Chicago for his second Twin Cities Noir
Paul Garth reading at his first Noir in from Nebraska
Italians like to speak with our hands

With the president of the Twin Cities Sisters in Crime, Rhonda Ghilliland
Jay from Hot Indian Foods. The spinach paneer indurrito he brought rocked my world!
John Rector had to cancel at the last minute 
so Paul von Stoetzel read his story with help from Dan Malmon
Our pre-Noir at the Bar lunch included a field trip to visit Pat at Once Upon a Crime


Saturday, July 25, 2015

The Ten Year Anniversary

by
Scott D. Parker

I’m a sucker for anniversaries and commemorations. It’s probably an offshoot of my love of history or, rather, perhaps my love of history makes me keenly aware of dates and things. Ten years ago this summer, my family and I took a vacation. It was on that vacation that I began writing what would become my first novel. It’s called Treason at Hanford and it features Harry Truman as the protagonist.

Not knowing how to write a book, I fell back on my experience writing my thesis. A key to that endeavor was a common file in which I kept the status for my professor. I figured if it worked for a thesis, it should also work as a novel. I did not want to take my laptop—vacation, remember—so I bought a good, old-fashioned composition book. I also brought some post-it notes, pens of many colors, and a pencil.



Ten years ago this coming Monday, 27 July, I started. It was a brainstorming session. I had the vision of a single scene. This scene was crucial and I made a decision that has led to a pattern ten years on: I would write all first drafts chronologically. This scene took place later in the book. With my copious notes and in this comp book and obsessive dating, I finally got to that scene on 21 May 2006. It was a long wait, but it was oh so earned.




I have read through this comp book/journal more than once in the past few years. I go back to it when I was feeling particularly discouraged in 2008-2013. You see, while I wrote this first book from 27 July 2005 to 1 June 2006, I didn’t start and finish another long project until May-June 2013. In these years, I used to joke that it’s taken me longer NOT to write my second book than it did to write my first. That was a bad stretch, I’ll admit, one in which I dreamed about writing and wrote about writing much more than actually writing.

That last thing was something I swore not to do once I started back up in May 2013. I us

And I’ve rarely done it since. In the past two years, I’ve started and completed seven longer projects and I’m not sure how many short stories. Maybe I needed the discouraging time to get me going. I don’t know. There are days, here in 2015, when I wonder what my professional author life might have been if I had actually completed books from 2006 to 2013, but I don’t dwell there. I see 1 May 2013 as my Writer’s New Year’s Day. That was the day I decided I would pick up the pen again, write, and complete things.

And I’ve not looked back since.

But it all started ten years ago on Monday. 27 July 2005. One of the most important days of my writing life.

So, do y’all have a specific date that you can point to and say your writing career started on that day?