Saturday, February 15, 2014

The Writing Streak is Over (and Why That's a Good Thing)

Scott D. Parker

Longtime readers of my column (and by longtime, I'm going as far back as early 2013) know that the one simple thing I did to get myself off my non-writing snide was to start writing everyday. I fuddled around most of May 2013 and then, on Memorial Day 2013 (27 May for the literalists), I decided to ask myself a simple question: how many days in a row can I write fiction?

I now have my answer: 255 days. Now, a bit of context.

For much of that streak--May - November--I was producing, on average, 800-1000 words per day. I busted out two novels from mid June to mid October. That was after *not* writing anything for seven years. I gave myself permission to drop the word count down to 500 a day since I had been so productive so consistently for so long.

One thing led to another and I stopped striving for the 500…but I kept the streak going. Even on Christmas Day and New Year's Day, I kept writing. It was slower, it was often messy, but I kept it going.

Along the way, however, I started wondering if the streak itself had become too much of a Thing, if it, perhaps, was getting in the way of the writing. Think about this: I have not, yet, read through those two manuscripts I finished last year. Partly that's a result of my other reading but there's also the obvious thing: the time I had to spend reading the manuscript I was using to write new words. I had begun to consider breaking the streak just because, to reset myself, give me time to read those manuscripts, clean them up, and then look for beta readers.

But I hesitated still. I liked my steak very much. It filled me with lots of pride, even when I was slogging away for a couple hundreds words.

Then, last Friday, between me working my day job all day and then chaperoning a lock-in at church, the writing time slipped away. Poof. Just like that, the streak was over. At first, I was filled with shock and a little sorrow. Then, I took it as a blessing. Without the streak--and without the burden of actually choosing to break it on purpose--I now have time to read those manuscripts (including the other novella I'm nearly done with) with a clear conscience.

I'm still pondering how I will work my various streaks this year. Chances are, I'll start a project and a streak at the same time and continue said streak until said project is completed. That's more logical anyway.

So, a moment of silence for the streak. Thank you for what you did for me. I shall never forget The Streak of 2013.

Oh, and having said all of this and believing it, I then read Chuck Wendig's blog on Thursday.

Crap. I should have kept the steak alive.

Friday, February 14, 2014

The Author, in the Publishing House, with the Estate

Note - This article was originally written when Sophie Hannah was announced as the author of a new Poirot novel. The intended publication, for a variety of reasons, never actually published the piece. But now seems like a good time to resurrect it, with a new Marlowe novel written by John Banville due to appear in the next few weeks. Advance word is, of course, mixed. I do think that only a handful of authors – and maybe not even those – would be able to successfully replicate the unique atmosphere of Chandler and Marlowe, but at the same time I think that readers cannot get too upset when their favourite author’s creations are touched upon by others. As with film adaptations, the originals are still there to be devoured and re-read and discovered by new readers that may be brought to them by the fresh and new interpretation.

So let’s jump in the way-back machine and go back to 2013, just a few days after Hannah was announced as the author of the new Poirot novel…

Scroll down the internet comment pages and you’ll come across a number of opinions regarding the recent news that Sophie Hannah has been chosen to write a new Poirot novel, the first time that anyone except Christie has dared to touch the Belgian Detective – in print – aside from Agatha Christie. The majority of these opinions, being that this is the internet after all, are overwhelmingly negative. I can understand that people might be worried. Hannah is a safe pair of hands, but the idea of Poirot being written by someone other than his creator seems, at first glance, counter intuitive. It might seem to some like a mere money grabbing scheme (but then, I always wonder, what author wouldn’t really appreciate something that brings money to them or their estate? Anyone who claims they wouldn’t is merely posturing - - selling out is absolutely not the worst thing that can happen to an author; being ignored is). But the whole idea of a literary estate passing onto another writer is not new. It has been done before – and will be done again – with varying degrees of success. And in the field of crime and thriller fiction, it seems almost mandatory to have your series character continue after your death. Here are but a few examples:

Sherlock Holmes (created by Arthur Conan Doyle) – Holmes has of course entered into the public domain which means that anyone who’s everyone has written a “new adventure” for Holmes, ranging from the bloody terrible to the surprisingly good. He’s appeared in a Doctor Who novel, fighting the ancient creatures of HP Lovecraft’s imagination, and even on the Titanic. There was a raft of “New Sherlock Holmes” which have recently been re-released by Titan books and which are of varying quality depending on the author tackling the subject. But the only “official” new Holmes adventure was written by Anthony Horowitz a few years back. Consensus of House of Silk was that it wasn’t quite Conan Doyle, but was nevertheless a diverting and fun read. Which perhaps shows more than Holmes has outgrown his creator with the passing of time; it’s not Conan Doyle people care about so much as the character at the centre of the novels.

James Bond (created by Ian Fleming) – There were a fair few Bond novels written after Fleming’s death by the likes of John Gardner and even Martin Amis, but they never really achieved the success of the original novels. In recent years, Sebastian Faulks gave the series a shot in the arm but more for the media hoopla surrounding the release of Devil May Care than the actual quality of the book. Jeffery Deaver came along next, and now William Boyd will be tackling 007. But while the books often get a lot of coverage, there’s a sense that its more because of the names being attracted to the series than the quality of the novels. Besides, Bond has become a media creation now, the movies overshadowing the literary works in terms of public knowledge.

Jason Bourne (created by Robert Ludlum) – The amnesiac secret agent was originally created by doorstop thriller writer Ludlum and featured in three novels that were mercifully streamlined for a series of blockbuster movies. After Ludlum’s death, his estate authorised a number of authors to continue his various series, but the most successful has been Eric Van Lustbader’s continuation of Bourne’s adventures that continue to appear regularly to satiate fans eager for more espionage.

Sam Spade (created by Dashiell Hammett) – With a face made of V’s and a tough demeanour, Spade is the most natural equal to Chandler’s Marlowe. Hammett brought a tough style to his fiction gained from his own years as a detective, although he only ever wrote one novel with Sam Spade at the centre. That book was the Maltese Falcon. The man hired to write the prequel a few years ago was Joe Gorres, who had made his name with a book called Hammett that put the creator of Spade as the lead in a brilliantly executed period thriller. He seemed to have the chops, and certainly his effort, titled Spade and Archer was one of the most authentic attempt to recapture the feel of a novelist who had passed on decades earlier. A book that if you haven’t read, you really should seek out.

Mike Hammer (created by Mickey Spillane) – After Spillane’s death, his friend, Max Allan Collins, has continued to rework old books for re-release by a variety of publishers including unpublished Hammer novels. The tough guy private eye lives on, it seems, even after his equally tough creator is gone. Collins seems to have been well place to continue Spillane’s legacy, and the books have been very well received.

Philip Marlowe (created by Raymond Chandler) – Marlowe was the archetype for the wisecracking first person PI, and Chandler imbued him with a unique voice that has brought real pleasure to millions of readers. He died having only written a chapter of The Poodle Springs Novel (later titled just Poodle Springs), starting with the near impossible task of seeing Marlowe married off. The book was finished by acclaimed PI writer Robert B Parker, but it lacked the spark of an original Chandler or even an original Parker and is perhaps best regarded as a curiosity for completists. Parker also wrote an original Marlowe novel (which is perhaps even more obscure), and now Benjamin Black has been tasked with writing a new Marlowe adventure by the Chandler estate.

We can add to this list a number of other strange attempts from other genres, including Emma Tennant’s addition to the world of Jane Eyre (The French Dancer’s Bastard), and PD James’s slightly bizarre attempt to put a murder mystery into Austen with Death Comes to Pemberley. But it’s clear that despite the outrage from certain camps of Christie-ites, the tradition of the posthumous novel – particularly in crime fiction – is one that has been, ironically, alive and kicking for a long time.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Slow your roll, Author

If no one hates your book, you probably don't have enough people reading it. 

Following all the whackadoodle nonsense of authors fighting with readers about critical reviews, Goodreads has instituted this screen that authors see when they click on a less-than-stellar review of their own work. (Don't ask how I know this.) 

This is pretty hilarious, isn't it. The tone of the warning is wonderful. The calming, head-patting nature of the post itself cracks me up.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

You Can Quote Me

by Holly West

I'm not a big fan of quotes about writing or "writing rules." Sure, Elmore Leonard's rules are useful, and occasionally, an inspirational quote strikes a chord. But in general, these platitudes about writing I see so often on Twitter and elsewhere just bore me. I'd rather hear what you had for lunch, or better yet, see a picture of your puppy.

See, isn't that better than a tired old quote?

That said, there are there are three writing principles that resonated with me early on and have stayed with me.

1) Just do it. ~Nike

2) Finish your shit. ~Chuck Wendig

3) The best marketing tool for your book is your next book (or something like that). ~Don't remember where I heard this

The first two "rules" helped me cut through the romantic notion that writing is some mystical thing that requires muses, copious amounts of booze, and an MFA to accomplish successfully. Once I realized that the only way I was going to be a writer was to write, all of my previous excuses kind of fell away and I got to work.

The third reminds me that I'm in this for the long haul. It doesn't so much inspire me to sell books as as it does to continue creating and working hard. If I sell a few books along the way, well, I'm certainly not going to complain about that.

Distilling my writing philosophy down to these three principles keeps me focused. When I start to waver or doubt myself (which is pretty much every day) I go back to these basics. Simple as they are, it actually does help. And sometimes, I need all the help I can get.

What's your strategy for keeping focused on the work? If it includes inspirational quotes, don't worry, I won't judge (but the puppy might).

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Moments That Make Up A Dull Day


Recently I came across a piece of advice from one of my favourites, Rosalind Russell (even if just for His Girl Friday). She said that what makes a great movie are the “moments.”

So, not the big themes, not the intricate plots or the twists or that incredible originality – but the moments.

That seems about right to me, what we remember most, what we talk about most in a story (movie, TV show, book, play, whatever) are the moments.

The big Olympic coverage going on now was another reminder of how the small moments make up the big picture. In this huge, overblown, media circus what everyone seems to be looking for are the small moments.

I don’t really have anything to say about this other than to offer it up as a reminder that whatever story you’re working on is made up of the moments. One moment at a time till you’re done.

And it made me think of this:


So, I’m trying not to fritter and waste the hours in an offhand way because it’s been more than ten years since I realized that I missed the starting gun and no one told me to run (that’s not really true, lots of people told me to run and I ignored them) and now when I try to catch up to the sun it’s sinking and I’m shorter of breath and one day closer to dea…

Wow, I never realized how depressing Pink Floyd songs are. I should have gone with something about The Beatles 50th anniversary on Ed Sullivan.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Getaway Face

The Parker novels never really fade away in popularity, though the past couple years have seen a bit of what appears to be an uptick for them.

Check out Benoit Lelievre's excellent review of THE MAN WITH THE GETAWAY FACE.

When the bandages came off, Parker looked in the mirror at a strange. He nodded to the stranger and looked beyond at the reflection of Dr. Adler. 

Parker had been at the sanitarium a little over four weeks now. He had come with a face that the New York syndicate wanted to put a bullet in, and now he was going back out with a face that meant nothing to anyone.

The mysterious Parker paid a visit to a plastic surgeon at the end of THE HUNTER, because there was somewhat of an Outfit bounty on his head. THE MAN WITH THE GETAWAY FACE picks up a couple of weeks after the surgery as the bandages are coming off. Parker is low on cash, so he accepts a job from Skimm, an old acquaintance who found a way to contact him at the sanitarium. 

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Ask me...

By: Joelle Charbonneau

As I said last week, one of the greatest things about my foray into the young adult world of publishing has been getting to connect with the readers of that genre.  WOW!  They are passionate and enthusiastic and send lots of e-mails with thoughtful, fun and often unexpected questions.  I do my best to answer every question that I get via e-mail because I love talking to readers. More important…that reader took the time to look up my e-mail address and send me that question.  It only stands to reason that I should take the time to answer them.

I also get questions via twitter and facebook and I do my best to answers those as well.  Because I’ve gotten so many in the last few months, I thought it might be fun to list the top five most frequently asked questions and the answers to those questions here.   And for any of you who has questions you like for me to answer, ask them in the comments section and I will do my best to satisfy your curiosity.  (And if I don’t have a real answer I’ll make one up.  After all – I make stuff up for a living…right?)

 1)  Where did the idea for The Testing trilogy come from?

Well, if you’ve been to any of my events you’ve already heard this, but the idea for The Testing sprung from my teaching high school voice students.  The stress of college admittance as well as all the auditions they have to go through to get into theater and music programs has gotten more and more intense over the years.  During one voice lesson, that tension boiled over a bit and the distraught student began to worry for her younger sibling because if the process was this stressful now think about how stressful it would be when he had to apply for college.  I, of course, said not to worry.  The system couldn’t get any more stressful. 

Ha!  Well, I couldn’t help wondering what would be a more stressful college admittance process.  It was at that moment that The Testing trilogy was born.

2)  Can I get a free book?

Authors get this question all the time and I get questions about free copies of books as well as requests for advanced reader copies all the time.  Sadly, as an author, I don’t get an unlimited supply of books.  I only get a small number of author copies, which means I can’t give free books to everyone.  I use most of those copies as contest giveaways on blogs like this one (and I try to keep at least one or two copies for me and for my son’s collection that he has no interest in now—which considering the subject matter is good).  The same is true of advanced reader copies only most of those go to bookstore owners who haven’t gotten a copy from the publisher or reviewers who put in their request forever ago.  (Oh – and I tend to have one advanced copy that gets a bit tattered and torn from being passed from family member to family member…so that one is spoken for!) 

3)  Can you get me an audition for The Testing movie?

This question shows up a lot.  And I haven’t a clue if the movie will really happen let alone how they will go about casting.  BUT – if the movie does move forward, I will post whatever open casting information I get to my Facebook page and to my website.  And I plan on being at that casting call right alongside everyone else.  Because – well – being in the movie would be fun!

4)  Do you still teach voice lessons?

Yes…although not as much as I used to.  I have a small group of students that I am very invested in and am thrilled that I get to continue to watch them grow as singers and performers.  But I am not actively looking for new students because I  don’t want them to feel as if I’m abandoning them when I am on tour or have to take a week off of teaching to meet a production deadline.

5)  Do you still perform?

Does singing Frozen music with my 6 year old count?  Currently, the only performances I do are at schools when I talk writing and books with students.  More often than not, the first question in the Q&A section is if I’ll sing for them…so I doJ  Now that my writing schedule isn’t as crazy as it was for the past two years, I’m hopeful that I might get a chance to squeeze in some stage performing again.  But first, I have to finish this manuscript and get the kid into first grade.  Once that happens…well, we’ll see!

Do you have any other questions that you’d like answered?  Now is your chance.  Ask away!