Saturday, July 20, 2013

Yet Another Mile Marker on the Writing Road

Scott D. Parker

Nothing too earth-shattering this week. Friday was Day 54 on my consecutive writing streak, and Day 15 on my more-than-1,000-words per day streak.

I made good progress, yet I found myself in uncharted territory. Unlike my first novel which I outlined in details, the current novel-in-progress is one I’ve had in my head for awhile now, but I never truly outlined it from beginning to end. That has always worried me, but I kept moving forward. Like Stephen King has said, it is fun being that first reader and discovering the story along with the characters.

As I reached a certain place in the book around Wednesday, however, I realized that I needed to map out the remainder of the book to make sure that I cover all the bases and wrap up any loose threads. This despite me pretty much knowing how the ending is going to go.

How ironic that at an author event at Houston’s Murder by the Book, another author mentioned the very same thing. Jeff Abbott and Marcia Clark had a joint event last night and, as always happens, someone asked about process. Abbott mentioned that he doesn’t always outline, but somewhere along the two-thirds mark, he outlines the remainder of the book. Clark agreed, noting that she always wants to ensure she addresses any loose threads that may not have been addressed.

I find it comforting to experience little guideposts along the way to completing this current book. This was another. It’s great to hear other successful, published authors do the same thing.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Cuckoo in the Nest

Updated 19/07/13 - It has  now been revealed that the tweeter was connected to a lawyer who was aware of the pseudonym. So even though it did look suspicious, the publishers are actually innocent in the unveiling. Which I do find rather heartening.

Unless you’ve been living with your head in a sound-proof box this week you’ll know that JK Rowling was revealed as the real author of a crime novel called The Cuckoo’s Calling. The book - depending on who you listen to - sold between 450 - 1500 copies. I’m inclined to believe the lower numbers given the distribution of the book in the UK. A number of well known authors including Mark Billingham and Val McDermid blurbed the novel* and it got a couple (but not that many) of good press reviews.

Then JK Rowling was revealed as the author. The publishers deny leaking this information, but I still have to wonder how anyone noticed the “similarity to Rowling” when the book sold so few copies. And yes, she did share a publisher and agent with her pseudonym, but again that isn’t an unusual situation for an agent to build up a good rapport with a publisher and sell more than a few of their clients to them. When this happened, of course, sales increased by a staggering amounts and bookstores that had ignored the book ordered in droves.

What does this tell us?

It tells us that debut authors have a tough time. It tells us that names and platforms shift books and while good writing may rise to the top, it takes time. A lot of time. Ian Rankin didn’t sell too well until the seventh or eighth book. James Lee Burke won critical acclaim and then got lost in the publishing deserts for years until he rose like a Pheonix from the ashes. Most debut authors don’t sell.

Because readers are often afraid to take the chance.

That’s the basic truth of it. Working in bookselling for years, I know how hard it is to move a debut author. James Oswald is one of the biggest exceptions I have ever seen, but even he had a great platform to lift off from (as well as having talent), and a marketing campaign that you would rarely see for a new author. Most of the time, you can tell everyone about a debut author until you’re blue in the face but readers are still wary. And its no surprise. With crime writers in particular, readers like to have long affairs with authors. They like to come to authors with big backlists that they can read from the beginning or authors that come with the seal of approval of multiple publications (must mean that they have staying power). They don’t like it when debut authors come along, steal their hearts and then vanish without a trace.

But all of this makes it tougher for debut authors. After all, all a debut author often has to go on is their words. The lucky few have a great platform, but most are just plying their trade. The book should speak for itself, but in the modern world. its the people who shout loudest get the most attention. There are several reasons I can think of that Galbraith didn’t get attention until he took off that Scooby Doo mask and revealed himself to be JK Rowling. the most important of which is that the book wasn’t really pushed that hard. Working in the trade, I was aware of its existence, but the buzz was quiet. Nothing pushed it above the crowd, least of all the frankly rather dull cover**. It was another police procedural in an already overcrowded market. And while Galbraith’s pseudonym may have had a background in this according to the blurb, that’s not unusual these days, Matt Hilton and Luke Delaney both spring to mind as former police officers, so its not that unusual a background for a crime writer to have, necessarily. Certainly its not guaranteed to get them instant attention. And as The Literary Critic herself (Lesley McDowell) pointed out, having an author who can’t do the publicity trail may also have an effect upon the book itself (was there even a fake Galbraith twitter feed or fb presence?)

The fact is that, even though it should be, good writing isn’t always the first thing people look for when buying a book. They want assurances about what they’re reading whether through testimonials they trust or an assurance of the author’s pedigree. To create a brand from a good writer takes time. Its no wonder that Galbraith’s sales were so apparently low (but as lots of people have said, not bad for an unknown debut in hb) even when the writing might have been brilliant. There wasn’t enough volume to convince reader’s to listen. And the same is true of so many debuts. The fact is that a debut shouldn’t be about selling millions in one go. It should be about entering the market and starting to build something. One book’s sales are not enough to judge an author’s worth. Even Rowling didn’t start shifting until book 3. And who can forget that Raymond Chandler didn’t really shift that well for three or four books (part of that being to do with the fact he was published in hardcover only for those books)?

I would love the publishers to have been able to leave Galbraith alone for a few books and see how he did, same as King did with his Bachman persona. It would have been an interesting experiment to see how difficult it really is for a debut author to make it, especially when everyone knows the sales potential of that author's talent already. But at the same time I’m happy for Rowling that people who have read the book have enjoyed it. And I hope she is still able to exploit this second persona. After all, there is little more fun in this world than writing gruesome violence and dark deeds, as we at Do Some Damage can attest.

In the meantime, can Mr Stephen King please step forward and announce that he’s really me? Oh, what do you mean that isn’t how this works?

*cynics claim they must have known the truth as all three share a publisher. Yeah, it looks odd, but frankly I can see why publishers would do interhouse blurbs/reviews and it doesn’t mean that a) McDermid/Billingham were just being nice or that b) they knew who they were blurbing. I’ve met both McDermid and Billingham on several occasions and my instincts tell me that they are essentially honest types, so let’s just leave that particular conspiracy to one side, shall we?

**And yes, perhaps I’m one to talk - - this is not about targetting Galbraith/Rowling, however

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Time Capsules

By Jay Stringer

I was at a music festival over the weekend. Being married to a superstar journalist has many perks, and one of them, I've now learned, is getting a media pass to Scotland's biggest open air music festival. Neither of us could ever claim that the perks of married life in Scotland involve brilliant sunshine, but we had that over the weekend too.

I discovered a personal time capsule. We were sat in the sun listening to a band, and I suddenly remembered loving that band. About three songs into Deacon Blue's set, I realised I'd gone from "hey, I remember them, I can sing along to a couple of their hits," to "shit, there was a time when I loved this band, and now I can remember not only lyrics to album tracks, but also tell you the track listings from each of those albums."

Looking back knowing myself much better as a 30-something, I could explain exactly where and why they fit into the development of my personal tastes. I could talk about the different voice they had to all the other music I heard at the time, and how they combined the kinds of social realities that I'm drawn to in my fiction into musical hooks. I could make grand claims that the working class anthems like Wages Day and Loaded had the same spirit I was finding in Sprinsgteen, folk and punk. I could make derogatory remarks about bands like Blur and Oasis, and how much I wanted to get away from their brands of fakery.

But that's not really what it's about. A moment like that, the moment when I was briefly hit with memories, is about travelling back to times and feelings, about who and where you were at a particular point, rather than how you can explain it away now.

Most of all, listening to that set in the sunshine was about the summer I drove my family insane with one band. I'd been dragged away on a family holiday that I didn't want to be on (being away from my social life on my birthday as a teenager? Hell.) Even worse, it was a holiday to a little cottage miles from anywhere that had no electricity. As a compromise, we took a stereo, one that ran on rechargeable batteries that could be juiced up in the car. I had my assortment of cassettes, but the only CD I had on the trip was a birthday present- Deacon Blue's greatest hits (Our Town, 1995) and in those teenage ways I was going to steal a victory; the one abiding memory my family have of those two weeks is that one CD, over, and over, and over again. I think the opening notes of Dingity still make my parents break out in a cold sweat. That holiday might have been hell-on-earth for me as a teenager, but it's a fun memory to have. They're the kinds of things that you need to have in your locker, to make you smile two decades later in the middle of a field.

Do I still feel the same way about the band? No. Not really. But there was one final trick. I listened to some of their songs today as I walked home from work. I got to one track that I remember loving as a kid; fellow hoodlums. The song is full of references to landmarks and places in Glasgow. The Clyde, Buchanan Street, Hampden, St. Enoch, Partick and Cowcaddens. As a teenager growing up in the midlands, none of these references would have meant anything to me other than as the lyrics to a fun song. But, listening to it again today, walking along the Clyde and passed both St. Enoch and Buchanan Street, I realised how much my life had changed.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

What I Learned from Kent Wascom

By Steve Weddle

Lately, I've been trying to think about what Joelle would do. I think, you know, Joelle would send a thank-you card or note to that person. Joelle would do this nice thing, because that's what a nice person and professional author does. So I've been trying to be more like Joelle. I even got myself a WWJD bracelet to remind myself.

So I'm at Fountain Bookstore Monday night for Kent Wascom's BLOOD OF HEAVEN tour. Here's a great review of the book. You can get signed copies from Fountain, by the way.

Kent did a few things really well, which I thought I'd share with you.

Keep in mind, I'm not a big fan of readings. I'd rather sit in a lecture hall while an author and an interviewer sit onstage in comfy chairs, discussing the book. I don't need the author to read a chapter of the book to me, as I'm rather adept at reading the book myself, especially if it is in English. Which is often is.

Kent gets up, talks about the book for a few minutes, then reads a quite small section, then talks a little more, then opens for questions.

I've seen some authors relish the reading, the performance. Which is great, if that's what you enjoy as an author and what you're good at. My take is that Kent Wascom is not an actor.

He did his undergrad at LSU, where I did my MFA work. He did his MFA in Florida, where I vomited eleven times during Spring Break '87.

During the Q&A, I asked about Louisiana, and he took the opportunity to connect with me, as a reader and human. The way good politicians do. The way decent human beings do.

Then after the reading, we chatted for a few minutes, and I told him about the rumor that I was an exotic dancer while at LSU came about. He took that information and used it when he signed my book. I mean, you're talking to the reader, you want to put something personal in there, right? Something real?Another connection.

Don't just sign "Best Wishes, Dick Author." Put a real thing there on the page in your own hand.

My guess is that Kent made these connections with all his readers that night and, more importantly, that they left thinking so.

We write our books, our stories pretty much in solitude. I mean, we might post a few #amwriting tweets or updates in an attempt to beg for attention or acknowledge our writerly-ness or whatever. And we may blog about this part of the process or share event news. But, for the most part, the actual creation of the book is done in solitude.

I've been sending COUNTRY HARDBALL back and forth with the folks at Tyrus/F+W Media, making sure the commas are in the right place, the names spelled consistently. I've sent stories to friends for their thoughts. I've sent stuff to editors, to my agent, to all kinds of folks. But this is all done while I'm tucked away in the downstairs toilet like most writers, typing away on my laptop.

The connecting with readers thing is key. That's what the reading is about, I think. The readers. Sure, you want to sell a book. But you want to see the people you're doing this for. You want to talk to the people who want to read your stories, see what they're about, what they're interested in.

When someone asks how you write or why such and such happened in your last book or where your ideas come from, this may be the ninth time in that week you've answered that question. But it's the first time that reader has asked you. Maybe it's the first time that reader has cared enough to ask any writer any damn thing.

So it's important that each reader is seen as a potential friend, isn't it? Someone who is going to share your book with you? Someone who cares about what you're writing? Isn't it essentially that you can connect with that reader? That one reader?

And then you can go across the street with a few people from the reading and drink and talk about Bill Cheng's book and murders in Baton Rouge and making charcoal from human bones.

Because if you make those connections, then that doofus at your reading run home and blog about your book. And he'll read your book. And he'll dig your book. And he'll pre-order the next one.

Also, it's why you're a writer, isn't it? To tell stories to people?

Kent Wascom showed how it's done, so connect with your readers when you can.

After all, it's what Joelle would do.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013


Guest Post from Thomas Pluck

Thanks to Steve Weddle for letting me grab the wheel today. I don't normally read blogs about writing, but I read this one. Because the writers at DSD don't serve up BS.

That is what my collection, Steel Heart: 10 Tales of Crime and Suspense, is about. That's what "steel heart" means. Having a heart of steel, to stand up and say it like it is. There is a lot of "unflinching" fiction out there. I write some of it myself. But when I describe mine, I say it also has heart. Some consider that a weakness, that the "true" stories must pay homage to the god of nihilism, that the one cold truth is that man is wolf to man. If that were true, we'd be all nibbling baby McNuggets like the cannibals in a Cormac McCarthy novel. And I love the books of Mr. 'mac Mac. But their brutality is strengthened by the glimmers of humanity he puts in there. Llewelyn Moss's troubles begin when he gives a dying man water. In The Road, the father cannot see the good left on earth, but his son can, and carries the fire for him.

That's heart. There is evil in the world; I prefer fiction that acknowledges it and explores the decisions that send people down that left hand path, telling themselves that what lies at the end of their road is worth the bloody shortcuts and the trodding upon of fallen comrades. Evil is not the mystery we wish to think it is; it is a collection of choices and the excuses we make for them.

Steel Heart collects ten of my most popular stories. Two starring Jay Desmarteaux, an ex-con who served 25 years for his own collection of bad choices, who still fights to decide what path he will take today. Another with Denny the Dent, the hulking manchild who lives in a Newark junkyard and metes out his own brand of street justice. A Vietnam Vet trying to connect with his son before it is too late. And a wise-cracking P.I. who takes on the biggest mystery of them all.

Each character finds themselves making a decision that will weigh heavy on their heart. In the afterlife of Egyptian mythology, your heart is weighed against a goddess's feather to decide if you are worthy of rebirth or deserving of annihilation. In these stories, the answer may seem clear, but it is never easy. For me, a story lingers like gunsmoke when it makes you consider such a choice yourself. Wondering whether it will leave you with a heart of steel, or just a heavy, steel heart.

Steel Heart: 10 Tales of Crime and Suspense is available from all the usual e-book retailers:
Amazon for Kindle
Barnes & Noble for Nook

Smashwords, in many formats, including to read online.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Book report: recent reads

Here's a quick look at some recent reads.

NOS4A2 by Joe Hill - In part this feels like Hill's direct engagement with his his father's body of work. But that's probably only partially fair. NOS4A2 directly, engages, uses, has fun with a large number of tropes and ideas that appear in modern horror novels. So by engaging directly with the genre he's also engaging pops, plus there are specific references to King the Elder's novels. But that's all hooey because NOS4A2 is a helluva book. It's got finely drawn characters, it's compulsively readable, it's got some scary moments and moments that will break your heart. If you're only going to read one giant horror novel make it this one. Highly Recommended.

Hombre by Elmore Leonard - I've seen more Westerns then I have read, so I'm trying to make an effort to read some more Westerns, particularly some of the ones that seem like classics of the genre. I've heard Hombre described as the best western ever written, I'd seen the movie tears ago, and I'm a fan of Leonard's so it was a no-brainer to read this one. Hombre is really a study of the titular character but ultimately an inaccurate one because it's everyone else's impressions of him.  One thing that struck me was that this could be adapted for the stage given all of the character interactions and the limited number of set pieces. Highly Recommended.

A Triumph for Sakura by Jason Ridler - The tag line for this one is something along the lines of Vampire Fight Club, and while that is mainly true (or as true as a three word summary can get) what was a welcome surprise was that this was more of a secondary world fantasy. Which is probably just a fancy way of saying that Ridler invests a lot of effort in creating the world in which the story is set. This book is a lot of fun for those who prefer their vampires non-sparkly. Recommended.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Moving on

by: Joelle Charbonneau

This week I turned in the second revision of GRADUATION DAY to my amazing editor.  She is giving it a read and if the manuscript is as strong as I hope it is the book will be off to copy edits!  With A Chorus Line-Up turned in a week before, I am officially finished writing all 7 of the books that went under contract in 2011 (most of which went under contract in the final month of that year).

Phew!  There are days I thought I would never see the light at the end of that tunnel.  It is a wonderful tunnel to travel, but a scary one because there were times I truly believed I wouldn't make it.  I was certain on each book that it was the novel that was going to stop me from getting to THE END.  The only reason I did make it each time was because I told myself I had never failed to get to THE END before.  And I have to admit that hitting THE END on the last of those books was the best feeling ever.

This week I have allowed myself a few non-writing days.   Not to say I've been completely on break.  Last week I was lucky to do two events, an NPR radio interview, signed books at all the Barbara Bookstores in O'Hare airport (so incredibly cool) and a follow-up interview with the Chicago Sun-Times.  But while I did those things and answered a few e-mails, I forced myself to take the majority of the week off from writing.

Wow...that was hard to do.  I'm a writer.  Writers write.  Rarely in 2 years have I taken more than a day off in between projects so this self-imposed writing vacation was a new experience.  And while I have enjoyed reading, teaching and playing marble works and dominoes with my son--the time has come for me to sit down at the computer and start the next project.  I have an idea.  The story is calling.  The terror that I won't reach THE END will begin, but so will the excitement that comes with building this new world and the challenge of telling a new tale.

I've heard some writers talk about getting stuck on editing a book over and over again or having trouble letting go.  A few have asked me if I have trouble giving up a book to the production part of the publication process (Copy edits, page proofs and finally the finished book!).

Strange, but the answer is no.  Perhaps it is my performer background that makes it easier to let go of one story in order to tell the next.  An actor is always looking for their next show.  Kind of like the writer is always looking for their next story.  I will admit it is a little odd to be finished with Cia's journey just as so many readers are starting it, but it is time to move on.  I'm a writer and there is a new story to be told.

Open document.


All artists need to find their next project and have to choose to Move On as perhaps best expressed by the incomparable Stephen Sondheim in his writing of Sunday in the Park With George.  If you haven't seen this show or know this song I encourage you to listen!