Saturday, May 11, 2013

Writing Struggles: The Little Self Editor

Scott D. Parker

I sometimes laugh when people think that writing is such an easy job. If it's talking about pure physical act of writing––which, in 2013, usually lends itself to sitting or standing in front of a keyboard typing away on electronic screen––then yeah, it is certainly easier than digging ditches or working in a kitchen. But if you were to talk about the sheer amount of exertion necessary to craft a story, then writing can be, and often is, pretty darn hard.

I don't think there is an author alive or dead who thought that his or her job as a writer was easy. True, some are more gifted than others, but they still have the words to string together, creating paragraphs, chapters, and books. Even full time wordsmiths don't find this job often simple. In recent weeks, James Reasoner has taken to posting a daily writing update and the sheer amount of time he puts in every day and every week put the 8-to-5 construction worker to shame.

This is a hard business. And there are so many aspects of this business that we have to know beyond 'just writing,' any one of which can lead to discouragement. For me, sometimes the imagination is what is most difficult part of this business. I have ideas, but the mere act of taking those ideas from a germ to a full-blown story of any length can be challenging. Unlike the "pantser" writers who make it up as they go, I work best from some sort of blueprint. I want the map before I make the trip into my imagination.

It is for this reason that I decided to start the new experiment I discussed last week. Using Lester Dent's master fiction plot outline as a basis, I created a little template that I can use to put scenes in order to make a story.  I had a pretty good success rate this process. Then, there is the next step: actually doing the writing.

Yes, I know: this is what we do. But, at times, words flow not, or they flow very, very slowly. I can sometimes be plagued with self doubt. Even the big-time authors have a certain sense of self-doubt as they work through their material. This has always been my number one obstacle. There has always been part of me that is the "on-the-fly" self editor, the part of me that sees all those squiggly red lines under those misspelled words and I have to correct the words Right Now.

In writing the first of four sections of this short story, I had a minor achievement this week: I let that self editor part of me stay behind. I did what so many writing help folks say: just write it down, you can fix it later. Get it on paper, and then get it right. I just wrote it there a couple times when I realized that I was using the same words in the same paragraph two or three times but I didn't care. I was telling myself the story that I had already started telling myself through my outline into. Where my outline just said “PI knocks on door and bullets fly out of the doorway,” I managed to flesh it out to the point where I had it on paper. I'll edit...LATER.

Believe me, I know how elementary this sounds, but I often struggle with this. That I was able to complete this section with that little voice in my head turned off is an achievement. When I'm just trying to get my writing chops back up to speed, I'll take it.

Do you have small victories that help you take your writing journey one step forward?

Friday, May 10, 2013

Number One Fan

By Russel D McLean

umber whunnnn
yerrrnnn umber whunnnn

These sounds. Even in the haze.

- - Misery (Stephen King)

I’ll admit I haven’t read Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse series or even seen an episode of True Blood (not for any reason other than time; seriously, if I had time to read every book I ever wanted or see every television show), but this last week I’ve been extremely intrigued by the reaction to the new - and final - Sookie Stackhouse novel that finally got its Uk release on Thursday.

Why intrigued?

Because of the  unpleasant face of fandom that reared itself prior to the book’s publication. It started with a German fan revealing the ending and from these escalated as people howled and wailed and generally stramashed over the fact that Stookie didn’t end they wanted her to. Some have even sent death threats to the author. One woman proclaims herself “heartbroken” that the series is ending and “still can’t believe it.” This particular fan reads the series once a year and takes out a free trial to HBO for three months of the year simply to watch the TV show.

All of this over an ending that Harris has planned since the second book is this long running (16 books) series.

There is always a little sadness when a long running series ends, but you deal with it. You move on. You remember why the series affected you. You think about what the ending meant in context with everything else. You consider why it had to end that way. Maybe you’re a little dissapointed. Maybe you love it. But you engage with it.

And you don’t claim ownership over the work of another person in the way that certain obsessive fans seem to do now without thinking.

According to the Wall Street Journal:

The prickly dynamic between Ms. Harris and some of her followers highlights how hard it can be to kill a successful series. For the first time in years, Ms. Harris isn't touring to promote the book. She doesn't want to be berated by readers who hate the ending or want vampire spinoffs.

Is this normal? Is this how a creator should be? Frightened by their own fans?

Fans can be obsessive. I know that as well as anyone. I'm a self confessed Star Trek fan as well as a Whovian. I love comic books. I can quote whole scenes in movies without thinking twice. But I never feel that I own these things of which I am a fan. I do not have a sense that somehow they owe me something other than the enjoyment they have already given me.

Sookie Stackhouse is Harris’s creation. We may love that creation, but it is no more ours than the significant other that we love is ours. Like any relationship, there is a point at which the fannish entitlement crosses over from enthusiasm and devotion to a kind of deluded sense of ownership that was never there to begin with.

As fans our right is to be entertained. Not to have our every whim catered to and not to dictate the way in which the creator tells their story.

After all, where’s the fun in that?

What I love as a reader is being taken on an unexpected journey. I love being surprised and I love the feeling that I’m being taken to places I never would have gone myself. If I were to turn around tomorrow and demand that Steven Moffat*** do a whole series of pure historical adventures with no science fiction or monsters, and then he did that, then I would perhaps feel satisfied but the romance of my relationship with Moffat’s creations would be gone. The fact is that the more fans demmands are met, the less fun they have. Because what pulled them in at the start was the wild and genius unpredictability of not knowing what was in store or coming next.

Perhaps this is why I’m not a big fan of series fiction in general. There is a sense that, after a while, all that unpredictiabily gets bogged down in a sense of diminishing returns. There is nothing new to be seen or discovered. Returning again to that Wall Street Journal article:

For a while, it was easy to take the series in surprising new directions. She relished coming up with grisly new ways for characters to die. To choreograph elaborate fight scenes, Ms. Harris, who studied karate, would get the other students in her karate class to act out the fights.

The key words are “for a while”.

Harris always had an end in sight, and if I was a fan I’d rather she got out while the going was good rather than getting bored. And I’d be happy that she provided me with entertainment during all those years and all those books. And while I’d have a relationship and fond memories of them, I would never feel that I owned them or that their very existience was dependant on my own whims or dreams or ideals.

If you want that kind of control, then go create your own worlds, your own characters, your own plots.

Otherwise, hang on, enjoy the ride and appreciate that it might take you places you never expected.

“She can’t be dead!” Annie Wilkes shrieked at him. Her hands snapped open and hooked closed in a faster and faster rhythm. “Misery Chastain CANNOT BE DEAD!” - Misery, Stephen King

*probably not literally
**Yes, one fan threatened to kill themselves if the Stackhouse novel did not meet their expectations of a gran finale
***current show runner of Doctor Who

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Learn How To Fail

By Jay Stringer

Wow, Thursday creeps up quick. Here I was, watching the finale of VERONICA MARS season two, when I realised I was halfway through my DSD day. So here's another from the vault, and let's pretend I didn't forget, okay?

Not for the first time, my day has been changed by reading something that the mighty Chuck Wendig has written. His words will tip your head over onto your ass.  He posted on the subject of a meme that's doing the rounds on the facebook, and (whilst I'm in full agreement with him on the issue) It was inspiring a long reply from me. But hey, why post a reply on Terrible Minds when I had a post to write? Cheers, Chuck!
And sure, some of my thoughts will overlap with things he's already said. But when he says them he has a beard, and when I say them I have an English accent, I speak with the full authority of William Shakespeare and Alan Rickman. To be or not to be thrown off the Nakatomi building. I might be rambling, have you noticed? Anyway. Here's the meme that Chuck points to-
I'm not here to weigh in on the whole "indie author" thing -nor to try and grapple with what that phrase actually means- because I think it's a silly conversation. And that's not a dig at Wendig, he agrees on that too, I believe. And I'm not here to point out that the meme disproves it's own position. No, I'm here to weigh in on rejection. Did I miss a memo? When did this become a bad thing?
One of my worries with the ease of publication in the modern age is that we're beginning to think that rejection is a step to be avoided. An inconvenience that we can all sidestep at the touch of a button. On this very subject Paul Cornell once wrote; "a boxer doesn't learn to fight by avoiding getting punched in the face." Show me a comedian who has never faced rejection and I'll show you one who has never told a joke. We learn to succeed by failing. We learn to walk by falling over often enough that we learn to miss the ground. Looking at that list, the easiest thing in the world is to say, "pfffft, 22 people didn't know what the hell they were talking about when James Joyce showed them his work." But the honest professional writer looks at that list and thinks, "I wonder what state Dubliners was in for those first 22 submissions."
Here's the (open) dirty secret in writing; You don't sit down and write a good book. You sit down and fail at writing a good book. You show your work to people, you take criticism, and then you fail better. The first person to whom I showed a completed first draft of Old Gold told me exactly what was wrong with it. (I won't name names, but he was an agent and novelist, and has recently added publisher to that list, and also is Scottish. And may or may not be named Allan.) After seeing a sample of the book he lead off with a compliment, "the writing is, on the whole, excellent." That got my ego up and told me what I already knew- I had written the best book of all time. But after luring me in with the praise he gave me a list of all the ways the book failed. (The word "failed," wasn't used, but only because he was being polite.) After another edit, and after many of those problems were fixed, he gave me another list. This one contained one of the most important pieces of criticism I've ever received, "if you want people to read it, you need to learn formatting." He had to explain to me some very basic conventions of formatting a book. Until that moment I hadn't realised I was using my learning difficulty as an excuse- my brain doesn't do certain things and therefore I had decided I should get a free pass on them.

Nuh uh.
The first short story I placed online at a crime fiction webzine was one that had already been rejected twice. Not because the first two people were idiots, but because the story wasn't ready. On the third attempt, and with some additional editing input from Elaine Ash, the story got an award nomination and saw me wind up in a print anthology beside Rankin, Guthrie and Banks. Professor Weddle rejected a story of mine for Needle, and he was right- it wasn't a very good short story. It's now the first few chapters of my third Eoin Miller novel.
Hearing, "no," in any of it's forms is not pleasant. It's not a happy experience. But it's also vital. The meme above seeks to rob us all of this. It states that, "the readers opinion is all that matters," and suggests that each of the numbers in the list represents a failure of taste or decency. I look at each of those numbers in the list and see opinions that may well have helped the author, or strengthened to book. Even if it was an opinion that wasn't taken on board (because we each develop a sense of when to listen and when to hold firm) it's still a test, a moment that has helped the story stand on it's own to feet either through change or resilience*.
It would be lovely to sidestep all of this. It would be nice to sit and write thousands of words then simply walk away from them and call it finished. It would be lovely, but it wouldn't be writing. The above meme is really advocating not trying. I give out writing advice as rarely as I can get away with, but here's one that I think needs to be said; If you want to be a writer, you need rejection. You need to fail. Only then can you fail better.
*I'm pretty sure the list is wrong. As far as I know it's a total misrepresentation of the publication of The Diary Of Anne Frank. Though it would be odd to think -even after everything I've just said- of 16 editors saying that the book lacked drama and tension.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Anthony Award Nominees for 2013

Bouchercon, the World Mystery Convention, is pleased to announce the Anthony Award Nominees for 2013. The winners will be chosen by the full time members of Bouchercon XLIV, September 19-22, in Albany, New York.

Dare Me - Megan Abbott
The Trinity Game - Sean Chercover
Gone Girl - Gillian Flynn
The Beautiful Mystery - Louise Penny
The Other Woman - Hank Phillippi Ryan

Don't Ever Get Old - Daniel Friedman
The Professionals - Owen Laukkanen
The Expats - Chris Pavone
The 500 - Matthew Quirk
Black Fridays - Michael Sears

Whiplash River - Lou Berney
Murder for Choir - Joelle Charbonneau (a big DSD "woohoo")
And She Was - Alison Gaylin]
Blessed are the Dead - Malla Nunn
Big Maria - Johnny Shaw

"Mischief in Mesopotamia" - Dana Cameron, EQMM, Nov 2012
"Kept in the Dark" - Shelia Connolly, Best New England Crime Stories: Blood Moon
"The Lord is My Shamus" - Barb Goffman, Chesapeake Crimes: This Job is Murder
"Peaches" - Todd Robinson, Grift, Spring 2012
"The Unremarkable Heart" - Karin Slaughter, MWA Presents: Vengeance,

Books to Die For - John Connolly and Declan Burke, eds.
Blood Relations - Joseph Goodrich, ed.
More Forensics and Fiction - D.P. Lyle, M.D.
The Grand Tour - Mathew Prichard, ed.
In Pursuit of Spenser - Otto Penzler, ed.

Our congratulations to all the nominees!

A complete online listing is available at

Best regards,
B.G. Ritts
2013 Anthony Awards Chair

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

From Online to On-the-Shelf

by Anonymous-9

This week, I'm packing and shipping 100 ARCs of HARD BITE to independent book stores across the country. (Just to bring you up to speed, first it was published via Amazon e-book by Blasted Heath, and then picked up for a print deal by New Pulp Press.) The giveaway was my idea, and the print publisher agreed to give me a break by sharing expenses. It's expensive no matter how you look at it. Each ARC is about $4 (at cost). Shipping via media mail is another $2.50 give or take. There's no guarantee that I'll make my money back so why do it? Because I'm not just trying to sell my book, I'm establishing a writing career, and a series under the Anonymous-9 brand. The book isn't going randomly to 100 people. It's going to independent mystery bookstore owners/managers who have loyal customers and lots of avenues available to support authors they like. Likewise, New Pulp Press has been in business for ten years and going strong. The company wants to put itself in front of those people too. Neither of us are in this for a one-shot deal. We're in for the long haul.

So this week I stuffed envelopes and cut hundreds of pieces of tape and lugged totes full of books to the post office where each parcel was weighed and labeled by hand. It's arduous, tedious work but in my mind worth it. My ARC will likely get handed to someone at each store and put in their TBR pile.  Do I know this for sure? I don't. But feedback shows people who have the book and see the cover, open it and read the first page.  Read the first page and I gotcha! New Pulp Press has done a stupendous job of putting info especially for store buyers right on the cover—who to contact, where to order (Ingram the distributor), the ISBN etc. Nobody has to turn the book over or hunt for info to place an order.

Even if most storeowners don't order HARD BITE this time, it gets my name in front of them. Advertisers say that people usually have to see something at least three times before they make a buying decision. So it's just another "persuader" after the reviews come out in June from "big guys" like Publishers Weekly (God willing), ForeWord (for sure), Booklist and others.

I'm learning this stuff from the ground up by partnering with small publishers.  I get included in decisions large and small regarding design, marketing and publicity. My input is actively sought and you better believe I've got opinions and ideas!

I'm also not afraid to invest my own money to support them, backing ideas that may or may not work according to plan. Blasted Heath and I had a few small "busts" with advertising but we also had some big wins that put Hard Bite on the Amazon Top 10 list twice in Hardboiled Mysteries, Paid and hitting #90 in the more competitive Thrillers, Paid. If I were with a Big 6 publisher I'd rarely or never be included in marketing or publicity meetings.

When I do get picked up by a Big Six-er  for a print deal (you'll notice I say when and not if 'cause it's positive thinking) I'll come to the negotiation with ideas about how I want to be marketed and publicized, and it'll be written upfront into the deal. There's no way I'd know how to navigate these waters without spending time in the trenches with small publishers first. Or maybe Blasted Heath and New Pulp Press will grow bigger and stronger along with me and I'll never have to go anywhere else. In today's publishing it's all possible, there are lots of different ways a novel-writing career can prosper, and where there's a will there's a way.

Monday, May 6, 2013

God$ Fare No Better by J David Osborne - a serial novel

J David Osborne (By the Time We Leave Here, We'll Be Friends; Low Down Death Right Easy -- both recommended) is kicking off a new online serial novel, God$ Fare No Better. Given how much the Spinetingler crew loved Low Down Death Right Easy (Nerd, myself, and Nik Korpon have all signed off on it) it only seemed right to invite him to DSD today to talk about his new one. 

It's also worth pointing out that J David Osborne is starting a new publishing company, Broken River Books, with a focus on  literary crime and neo-noir fiction that will start publishing books in 2014.


Eating Adderall makes you grind your jaw a lot but it's a small price to pay for actually getting shit done. 

I'm not prolific. I've been writing seriously for about seven years and I don't have a whole lot to show for it: a few short stories here and there and a couple books that are together shorter than your average novel. Sitting down and putting words on a page is tough because I just want to get to the point, I want to tell you what's what and have us both chill inside that idea for awhile. And that's become my "style": minimalism in the extreme. Fill in all that blank space yourself.

My shortcomings have forced me to get better at picking the right words. The novel-writing process is a culling thing, where we start with a handful and begin to cut the fingers off at the knuckle. Oh, the stories stumps can tell.

Do any one thing for too long and you'll start to resent it. Life is so big and heavy and there's so much to do. Why am I sitting here? Adderall always tastes sweet to me. I don't know if it really is, though.

I've become obsessed with the serial form. This seems like a cake-and-eat-it too thing. You're telling me I can write a story a piece at a time? Three thousand words and then on to the next thing? Do that over forty weeks and you have something larger than you've ever done, something more detailed and loving, and you did it by tricking yourself into taking it one step at a time. I'm so, so in. 

Television stories are superior to film because they force you to let everything sink in over a week's time. So instead of this, this, this, and oh god who cares, it's this…pause. Walk your dog. Go to work. Mull it over. We are the ellipses generation, and we like to ponder things while we're doing something else.

I break up everything I do into little jokes. There's a set up and a punchline. And within that joke you can let the details slip, the things that make the characters real. Here's the joke I'm currently crafting: GOD$ FARE NO BETTER, a big, sprawling crime drama for which I actually, for the first time, wrote an outline. Within that, though, each week I get to play with the little moments that are just there to be fun and maybe illuminating.

I'm very excited. It's a noir story at its heart, full of all the typical moral dilemmas and violence. There's a supercop who has to deal with the grind that follows his big moment: think John McClane, if after the high-rise he had to return to a normal life. There's his son, who sells drugs that he purchases online. Then there's the rogues gallery of bad men who are learning to adapt to the constant state of rapid growth, to find new ways of being bad. The stories will bump against each other, sometimes roughly. At least that's the plan. 

Plans can be kind of stuffy though, and so GOD$ is also a weekly exercise in taking this big bitch wherever the fuck I want, outlines be damned. There's a hitman that can unhinge his jaw like a snake. Where did that come from? I don't know, but it's there now. It's only going to get weirder. Let's see what can be done.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Can networking help you as an author?

by: Joelle Charbonneau

As I write this, I am attending Malice Domestic in Bethesda, Maryland.  It is a traditional mystery conference and filled with authors and readers of all walks of mysteries.  More important--it's a lot of fun.  Not only do I get to spend time with amazing friends and speak on panels with authors who bring the house down with their stories of outrageous e-mails from fans (If you ever run into Denise Swanson make sure to ask her about her Devil Spawn e-mail), I also get the opportunity to network with editors, agents and other authors. And though spending the money for the hotel and the travel and the conference fee can be painful for the bank account, I never feel as if it is money poorly spent.


Do I sell so many books that I feel like my royalties will cover the expense?  Although, every year I sign more books for readers, which is lovely.  (One reader even had an ARC of The Testing today.  How cool is that?)  Though I enjoy being on panels and signing books, the true benefit of these conferences is the networking.  Yes, I have an agent.  Yes, I have editors that I am currently writing for.  Nope.  I'm not looking to replace any of the above in my life.   But talking to other editors and agents often provides invaluable information about the industry.  More than that, it makes me feel connected to the publishing community--which can be difficult to do when I'm writing on my laptop at home.

Writing is a solitary business.  I have talked about that before on this blog and I'm sure will talk about it again in the future.  It is often hard to feel motivated and it is easy to feel very alone.  Conferences are a great place to touch base with colleagues who understand both of those things.  These events are great opportunities to exchange ideas about writing habits, industry trends, thoughts on publishing and about life in general.

Do I always feel excited to come to these conferences?  Nope.  Often there are deadlines looming.  That makes it hard to get excited about plane rides and metro trips and hotel stays.  But no matter how busy I am, I am always glad I get to touch base with people in the industry who understand and share the job of being a writer.  As a published author, these conferences are invaluable for keeping oneself grounded and focused.  I would also say that these events are equally as valuable to unpublished authors.  Conferences like this one provide opportunities to meet editors and agents who work in the genre you are writing in.  Does that mean you should pitch them your book?  No.  Not necessarily.  Sometimes they'll ask you if you are a writer.  Other times they just want to chat about the conference or the drunk couple being wheeled back to their rooms by the bartenders.  Even if the conversation doesn't get around to your writing, that chat is valuable.  That connection will help you learn more about this business.  And hey --in the future you can query the editor or agent and remind them that you  watched the drunk couple get wheeled into the elevator together.

Your writing matters in this business, but so do personal connections.  Meeting people online is good, but trust me when I say, in person is always better.  This weekend wasn't about selling books.  It was about refilling the well by talking to my fellow authors and the readers who love our books.  And when I go home, I will be tired, but grateful to be a part of a business that fosters creativity and such a wonderful community.

If you are a writer and you haven't attended a conference, I urge you to find one close to you and go.  There is nothing quite like being surrounded by people who understand the fear and joy of sitting alone in front of a keyboard.  And if you have attended a conference that you enjoyed, feel free to recommend it in the comments to others.  Yes, you need to write and polish and submit.  But you also need to get out from behind the keyboard and network.  Trust me when I say, you won't regret it.