Saturday, January 11, 2014

The Year Ahead: Resolutions for Progress

Scott D. Parker

When compared to all the previous years of writing, the year 2013 was an outstanding year. I wrote about my progress much of last year so I won't rehash it here in 2014. But I will throw out one number: 269,792. That's the total number of words I wrote last year. And, when you consider that I didn't start until 1 May, that total encompasses only eight months worth of work. While I am proud of that number, I'm more proud of the habit.

The word for last year was Progress. The word for 2014 is also Progress, but different progress. Last year, I needed to pass over the hurdle of Not Writing. In 2014, I need to cross the next hurdle: edit what I've written, craft new tales, and get it out in front of y'all's eyes. But there's another milestone I need to achieve: improving my writing. It's one thing to churn out words, but if they're crap, what's the point?

When one thinks of Progress, the first impulse is to exceed what came before. That would mean writing three novels, three novellas, and three or four short stories. I know there are professional writers out there for whom this is what can be done in, say, the first quarter of 2014, but I don't necessarily want to write three books just to top myself. I want the quality to improve. And I know that the mere act of writing will help my writing improve, but if I'm making a common mistake, I'd want to know and correct it.

So what are my Resolutions for Progress in 2014? The first is to examine my writing with my editing pencil and find out what works and what I can improve upon. I wrote 'The End' on my first 2013 novel five months ago and I'm curious to see how it reads now that I've not given it a full read-through. Ditto for my second, even though it's only been three months for it. I knew when I was writing those books that certain traits were showing up in my writing. I'm eager to identify them and see if they need to be changed.

The second Resolution for Progress is my imagination. I want to improve it as well. I will be practicing on creating stories with a beginning, a middle, and an end. The latter half of last year I got bogged down in the sloppy middles of my stories. I want to be able to see the through line of a tale I write and make sure all the parts adhere to it.

My third Resolution for Progress is one I probably shouldn't have--since the first two need to take priority--but is one nonetheless: learn more about the industry. I've been happily ensconced in my office, writing away with little awareness of the greater world around me. Well, that's not entirely true. I know a whole lot more than I did in 2012, but knowing what to keep and what to ignore is a challenge. It's one I want to hone.

My last Resolution for Progress is to keep writing. I've grown to where I look forward to the writing times in my day and my family has even adjusted to it as well. That's a good thing. Gone are the days where I measured my streak with red Xs on a calendar. The habit is ingrained. Now, just keep it flourishing and make progress.

I have many different ways I'll be going on fulfilling my resolutions in 2014 and I'll let y'all know about my progress. But let's start a conversation, a dialogue. What are your writing resolutions/goals for 2014?

Extra of the Week:

I'm looking forward to seeing our own Joelle Charbonneau this Tuesday when she visits Houston's Murder by the Book. She's on tour for Independent Study, the second of her Testing trilogy. Head over to her website to see if she'll be at a bookstore near you.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Back to the Future...

By Russel D McLean

I've talked about rejection before, I'm sure. But its on my mind as I sit here in my brand new office, having finally completed the move that began in November. I'm in a new city, in a new flat (after living for a month in The Literary Critic's old place, we've now found ourselves a Gothic Monstrosity that really is quite marvelous). I've spent the last few days working on the 5th McNee novel (this is the one that ties up a number of ongoing threads - is it the actual last in the series? Goodness only knows, but it certainly takes some themes that have been dangling over the books and finally lays old ghosts to rest) but I've also been unpacking some final boxes.

One of those boxes contained a lot of old rejection slips.

Someone of them are disheartening. Phrases like, "just not exciting enough" and "show don't tell" pop up frequently, especially in the early part of this millennium. But I clearly learned from them. There are three that say, "Submissions have now closed" or "this imprint will be closing" which shows just what good timing I have when it comes to most things.

But then there are others, like a letter from a respected SF editor who says that he doesn't think I would fit on an SF list but should try to go more literary. He gives me a number of names and then those names, when I find the letters, give me names, too. None of them think I'm quite there yet for their list, but they're all massively enthusiastic. Its intriguing to read, and makes me wonder if I should re-do that old "sf" chestnut someday. In fact, I'm already churning over in my mind what I would do to it, now. And I think the result would be a stronger book, although I have to wonder if its the kind of book I am capable of writing. That's always a worry for me, of course. Can my ambition match my ability?

Certainly it wasn't the case with a manuscript that went out to an editor (oh who am I kidding, it was a script, he was a producer - - and he asked for it based on an outline) that came back ripped to shreds and doodled over with crayon. At the bottom of the script is a handwritten note that reads, "As you can, my kids didn't like it, either". It still makes me go ouch. But I can take comfort from the fact that apparently the guy's a bit of a pariah, now. So there's something.

But what I'm thinking looking through the box is how much I've changed as writer over the year. Every rejection taught me something, made me grow. Every piece of advice - the well meant ones, of course - has stayed with me and guided me on my journey. I was not ready to write at 18, 20, 23. At 24 I got a break but there are still a lot of rejections between then and the publication of The Good Son to remind me that you don't just leap from not published to published, from bad to good. You make mistakes. You refine your approach. You soak up the world around you. You find your voice.

And you don't let it stagnate.

I'd like to think that in another ten years, I'll look back at stuff I'm doing now and see the change from here to then. I'll be proud - I'm still proud of a lot of what I produced back on those days, even if I'd never actually allow it to be published in that state... yes, the people who rejected me were mostly right to do so - of my work, but I'll be able to see how I've evolved and changed.

Hopefully for the better.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

You want my attention? You got it

By Steve Weddle

Major League Baseball's Hall of Fame voting is more of a joke each year. Maybe things will get better, but something has to change.

I'm not interested right now in arguing whether Jack Morris should be in, alongside Maddux and Glavine.

But what's going on is a mockery, which is often something I'm in favor of. Not this time.

You have reporters with Hall of Fame votes handing their ballots over to sports blogs. You have other voters turning in blank ballots to protest something something Steroid Era. You have voters who won't vote for Biggio because he played at the same Canseco was taking needles to the buttocks.

People have lost their damn minds.

Voting is a joke and the reward itself, being named to the Hall of Fame, is being pooped all over.

Which brings us to the week in crime fiction.

The Bookernet (as @bookriot calls the book folks who blog/tweet book conflicts on the internet) was on fire earlier this week and last as authors began receiving solicitations for nominations which went something like this: "Hey, I wrote a book called INSPECTOR DOLT SAVES THE DAY. It's eligible for a Stout Award. Can you click HERE and nominate it? kthxbye."

As someone who has done thoughtless, dopey things myself, lemme just say: Dude. Bad form.

Over the past few years, the Bookernet has talked about how book awards seem to be less about the most talented works winning, more about the most marketed book winning.

Of course, these are the same people who were super-duper rioty after a year went by with no one worthy of the fiction Pulitzer.

Look. I get it. You want your book to be noticed. It's a tough market. Being able to put a sticker on the paperback re-issue of your book would be hella sweet. But what are you doing to the process? She with the most email addresses wins? That's what you want to win for?

So I'd like to propose that each of the big awards for crime fiction immediately add some new awards. In addition to Best Novel and Best Debut and Coolest Reader and those, perhaps the committees for these awards can institute awards Most Solicitous or Most Soliciting? Best Marketing Campaign. Most Egregious Etiquette Breach. Most Self-Deprecating Grovel for Attention. Greatest Twitter #Humblebrag. Most RTs of Positive Review. Most Clever Way To Rile Up One's Own Fans To Offset A Two-Star Review. And so on.

Once we can get this done, then we get the baseball writers to select one of their own for Biggest Jerk. They don't even have to be very good writers to win.

After all, many writers seem to care much more about winning a writing award than they care about the writing.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Bryon Quertermous in Conversation with Holly West (Part 1)

You might know Bryon Quertermous (AKA my arch-nemesis) from his shameless self-promotion and whining on social media. But he recently took over the editing reigns at Exhibit A Books, the crime fiction imprint of Angry Robot Books. So now, we have to be nice to him.

The two of us recently got together for a little pow-wow via Google docs (hence all of the typing references) and discussed Exhibit A, publishing, and, of course, Bryon's favorite subject: himself.

What follows is part one of the (mostly) unedited transcript of this monumental event.
HW: Ok, first question: Quertermous is a weird last name. Where’s it from?
BQ: My father.
HW: Elaborate, please.
BQ: I've heard a variety of different stories, but the most realistic of them seems to be that it's French from my Louisiana relatives. Though I'm not entirely sure someone didn't just make it up.
HW: I can already see I’m a better typist than you are.
BQ: Brilliance comes at a cost, and in my case the cost is proper typing skills. Do you use the proper setting for your hands and everything?
HW: Why, yes I do. Thanks for noticing.
BQ: My paralyzing wrist pain and elbow cramps are reminders of how awesome I am. You don't get to experience that.
HW: True. Ok, let’s get on with the “interview.”
BQ: No. My turn for a question. Tell me about your name. Holly West sounds fake. Elaborate.
HW: My birth name is Holly O’Neill. My husband’s name is Mick West. I married him so that I could have a cooler name (and he married me for the greencard). Win-win!
BQ: Sounds like true love. Holly O'Neill sounds like a 90s sitcom name.
HW: Actually, O’Neill is still my legal name. I’ve been married 15 years and I still haven’t gotten around to changing it. Which should give you an idea of how lazy I am.
BQ: Oh, I already had a pretty good idea of how lazy you were. So in the interest of conflict of interest and such we should probably mention that at one point I was employed as an editor by your publisher [Carina Press], though we never worked together. Thank god.
HW: Yes, I don’t even believe in God and I’m still thanking him for that.
BQ: You certainly weren't the reason I left, but it certainly hastened my interest in outside opportunities.
HW: Speaking of outside opportunities, you’re the new editor at Exhibit A Books. I have to say, after weeks of your shameless teasing on social media, the announcement wasn’t a total let down. Are you enjoying your new job?
BQ: The readers of this interview won't see it, but as the interview has gone on, my typing has gotten better and yours has gotten much worse. Is it drinking time already?
HW: I noticed that too, but no, just coffee (so far).
BQ: So yes, Exhibit A. I was hoping that all the build-up I got carried away with on social media wouldn't dampen the announcement, but everyone seemed to be duly surprised that a real publisher found it in their best interest to hire me. What was your first thought when you heard the news?
HW: I’m at a loss for a snarky response for once. I was surprised but also very happy for you. It seemed like a great opportunity and probably a good fit. Time will tell about that, eh?
BQ: Eh, indeed. To be honest I was a little worried I wasn't the right fit based on their initial wave of releases that seemed to be geared toward thrillers, which is not my strong suit, and less toward what I saw as the Angry Robot brand I was a big fan of. But after being assured I could mold the list in my image, just as the previous editor had done, I was sold. I also felt more comfortable when I went to the UK to meet everyone in person and realized they're just as twisted as I am.
I also have to say, that once I went back and read the early books from Exhibit A, they were less glossy and vapid than I thought thrillers generally are so my prejudice was cracked.
HW: You see BQ, your prejudice will be your undoing. And I like the line “I could mold the list in my image.” I always knew you had a God complex.
But about that list. We’ve talked about it and you don’t seem to be into historicals (which I find tremendously insulting, of course). Exhibit A has a few historicals out there. Has that come to an end with your editorship?
BQ: It's funny you mention that because when I was sitting with Marc Gascoine, the publisher of Angry Robot and Exhibit A, we were talking about this and I mentioned I wasn't a fan of historical fiction. Our larger publishing overlord, Osprey, has a long history of publishing just the sort of thing I wasn't interested in so Marc pushed me to find out if I really didn't like historical or if I was just mouthing off stupidly. It turns out, I kind of do like historicals if they're gritty and weird and not of the standard historical templates. I'm a huge fan of steam punk and diesel punk and stuff like that so there will certainly be more historicals in the pipeline as we go along.
What I would really like to see is some Civil War era crime fiction.
HW: That brings me to my next question. Your dream manuscript just flew into your inbox (by carrier pigeon). Tell me about it.
BQ: Wait, no, it's my turn for a question dammit. With your tattoos and cursing and drinking and whatnot, you seem like the least likely candidate to write historicals I'd imagine. Where did that come from and will you ever write a contemporary crime novel?
HW: 1) Yes. I will write a contemporary crime novel. 2) I’d been interested in 17th century London since I was a teenager. I’d always wanted to write about it, so I did. But I think one of the reasons I had so much trouble selling MISTRESS OF FORTUNE is that it just didn’t fit into what you call the standard historical template. My heroine is gritty and sometimes not very likeable. There’s a twist at the end that shows just how gritty she is. But the message I kept getting was that I needed to make her more likeable. I needed to make her more sympathetic. She’s not a bitch but she’s also not very nice in some respects. Girl does what she needs to to get by, you know? But agents were looking for a more charming protagonist. More Jane Austen-like, I guess.
BQ: That sounds like just the sort of book I'd like to read if you hadn't written it. Do you believe in all of the fortuneteller hocum that's in the book?
HW: Not at all, and neither does Isabel Wilde, my protagonist. She’s a charleton. I believe in science, BQ. I thought we covered that at Bouchercon.
BQ: So back to my dream acquisition. That's a hard one and people have been asking me about it A LOT lately and I'm always at a loss for an answer. I'm intrigued more by voice than anything else, but I like dark voices and quirky voices and goofy voices. I think I'm less a fan of gimmicky post-modern stuff than I was initially, but just a good story told well. Also, one of the nice things about being a smaller publisher is I don't have to wait for my dream submission. I have the luxury of taking manuscripts with potential and working with them and helping the author in a way they might not get with a bigger house and I think that's more rewarding than publishing a perfect manuscript that lands on my lap. (Though I wouldn't mind one or two of those a year to keep the budget in tact.)
HW: Ha, suddenly I’m at a loss for words.
BQ: I do that to people quite a bit. I come off all snarky and mean and it's easy to respond to that and then I hit in with some genuine emotion and it always throws people off.
I think I'll leave it on this touchy-feely note. Join us next week for part two of the chat, when we discuss digital publishing, Bryon's plans for Exhibit A, and decide once and for all who has better typing skills. - H

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Get Lost

By Jay Stringer

Hey I'm back.

My return would have nothing to do with the fact that my third Eoin Miller novel, Lost City, comes out next week, would it?

Absolutely not.

It does tie in to my reasons for coming back, but only in the same way it tied into my reasons for leaving. I had a very difficult year in 2013, from a writing point of view. I've written a number of times here at DSD about writers block. I've called it a myth, an excuse, a joke. 2013 did it's best to prove me wrong. The year kept laughing in my face and pointing to those blog posts and telling me (in Terrence Stamp's voice, for some reason) that I was going to kneel before the internet and eat my word.

So did I?


Here's what happened;

The Eoin Miller books are a trilogy. I take him on a specific journey, a three act story, and by the end of Lost City I'd done what I set out to do with him. And then I found the single most crippling question that I asked myself in all of last year- "What Next?"

The problem was't that I had no ideas. I had tonnes of ideas. Actual metric tonnes. I could have opened an idea factory, manned by Idea-Umpa-Lumpas, and mined my mind for all it was worth. But that was the very problem. I'd spent three books knowing what I was doing, and why, and when they had to be done by, and who had to see them and in what order. I had a roadmap for my ideas.

Once I typed Miller's final line of dialogue and sent it off to my agent, I didn't have the roadmap anymore. I had seven different books fighting to be the one and no real idea in which one was the right one. People gave me suggestions and prodded me toward this or that project, but nothing really earned my commitment, and I drifted. I'd write 5k of one book, then realise I wasn't feeling it, then right 3k of another, then go and stare at the clouds, then go to the pub.

And I was having problems elsewhere. I wasn't enjoying myself at the day job. I wasn't getting out an exercising. I wasn't watching much TV and I definitely wasn't reading many books.

Here's the thing; 80% of writing is the stuff you do when you're not writing. It's all the time you spend thinking, or arguing, or debating, or reading, or singing. It's everything else that you do, everything that keeps the wheels spinning in your brain. And my wheels weren't spinning. I even had a couple of job offers, writing jobs, that I couldn't in all honesty take simply because I couldn't get my brain to engage with them.

Did I have writers block? No. That was the easy way out. That was giving some mythical name to my ailments in the hope that it would excuse my lack of progress. No, what I had was distraction, and frustration, what I had was bad days at the day job, and not enough reading.

I forced myself to read, that was the first step. I found things that I could pull myself through. Then I had an amazing trip to Seattle to meet up with other authors and talk shop, and to get my butt kicked for the amount of writing I wasn't doing. Then I came home, to my wife and my cats, and to some great books, and I was on.

Between January and August, I didn't produce anything new of note (though I did turn in Lost City, which was written the previous year) and then, in a 14 week burst of energy after August, I wrote a book. A new book. In a new setting with new characters and new voices.

And I sit here now with two blank word documents in front of me, both of which are about to become novels, and I'm not scared one damn bit.

Everyone wants to tell you what writing is. "Writing is rewriting." "Writing is not writing." "Writing is writing." "Writing is a water-based ball game usually played on Mars."

In 2013, as I finished that book, I decided that writing is getting to the end. It's getting it done, and it's getting it done by any means necessary. There are zero problems in the world that you can solve by blaming writers block. There are many, many problems that you can solve by finishing the project that you're working on. Any project. Doesn't matter which, just start it and finish.

It's just writing. Don't overcomplicate things. And trust your brain. Listen to it. It'll tell you when it needs some fuel.

And don't forget to order my book.

"Comic books. The Bible. Road Maps. Pornography. Whatever you wanna read. Go out sit in a field sometime."
-Paul Westerberg. 

Monday, January 6, 2014

Favorite book covers of 2013

(this is cross-posted at Spinetingler)

I just wanted to take today to highlight my favorite book covers of 2013. These don't have to be considered the best and this isn't exhaustive. What covers did you love from 2013?

Sunday, January 5, 2014

A new year. A new adventure.

by: Joelle Charbonneau

Welcome to 2014!  I hope you had a great holiday season and that the new year has gotten off to a great start.

For me, the new year is kicking off with 2 books hitting shelves and me hitting the road on my first major publisher sponsored book tour.  EEK!

I mean - hooray.  12 days.  10 cities in various climates.  One carry-on suitcase in the middle of winter.  What could possibly go wrong?

To be honest, I'm a combination of thrilled and excited and terrified of going on tour to promote INDEPENDENT STUDY.  I love that in each city I get to meet readers and chat with students at various middle and high schools who have already read The Testing and are excited about the newest book in the trilogy.  That is awesome.  And for the performer in me, there is something really excited about getting up on a stage and putting on a show about writing and books.  But because I've never done this kind of tour before, I am a little nervous about how things will go.  There are so many things I have no control over - planes schedules, stuff.

The travel stuff is the reason that I've chosen to heed the advice of authors who have gone on many a tour before me - No Checked Luggage!  I mean, why tempt the travel Gods.  With that many flights checked luggage is bound to go astray.  Hence, for this trek I will be taking with me one small carry-on suitcase and the attache cache that used to belong to my father-in-law to hold my computer and Cold Eeze.  (Yes, I will be writing on least that is the plan.)

Because of the limited space, I find that I am incredibly grateful to my love of Tetris and my lack of love of shoes.  (Trust me...not loving shoes means less footwear and more room for clothes.)  Some people have said rolling clothes is a good way to go, but I have yet to master the skill and have found I can fit more clothes into the suitcase by folding.  I have also found the world's smallest curling iron and checked my itinerary and the hotels I'll be staying to make sure I have a day for laundry.  So if you see pictures of me wearing the same clothes in more than one location on tour - I promise that they're clean.
Sadly, I won't be wearing my favorite jeans pictured to the right since I know the nifty sparkly designs on the butt will set off all the bells and whistles at the airport.  I'm hoping to avoid pat downs by the TSA.  Do you want to take bets to see if I can do it?

Needless to say, 2014 is kicking off with a huge adventure.  And really, it is only because of you and your support that this adventure is happening.  I hope I get to see a bunch of you on the road.  If we haven't met before, please introduce yourself so I can put a face with the name.  And while I'm gone, please be nice to three amazing ladies who will be guest blogging in my stead.  I have a feeling you're going to love them.

Okay - time to finish packing so I can prepare to get this show on the road.  While I'm fretting over whether to pack another pair of pants, let me know what adventures you are planning this year.  I can't wait to hear all about them!