Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Holly's Turn: My Writing Process

by Holly West

My esteemed colleague, Steve Weddle, asked me to participate in this meme about writing processes. He's the author of COUNTRY HARDBALL, the editor of Needle Magazine, and is, in general, someone I like a lot. So of course I said yes.

The thing is, I only recently realized I actually had writing process. It was borne of necessity, when I found myself under contract to write a novel with a deadline six months away. Given its origins were defined, at least somewhat, by sheer desperation, this process is subject to change, but for now, it seems to work.

1) What are you working on?

A standalone (with, as they say, "series potential"). The working title is NOSE DIVE and it's set in contemporary Venice Beach, featuring a female amateur sleuth who tends bar at the fictional Luca's Lounge. Luca's was inspired by the Townhouse, one of the longest "continually running" bars in Los Angeles. During prohibition, the top floor operated as a grocery store and the basement was a speakeasy; illegal shipments of beer and whiskey were smuggled into the bar through tunnels under the old Abbot Kinney Pier.

2) How does your work differ from others of its genre?

I'm not sure how to answer this question, other than to say that the themes I explore in my writing are unique to me, regardless of genre. Which isn't to say that some of the themes I'm interested in exploring aren't universal, but my take on a given subject is always going to be unique to me, and I'd say the same is true for other writers as well.

Does that make sense?

3) Why do you write what you do?

My chief goal as a writer is to entertain, and to me, crime fiction is entertaining. If I'm somehow able to engage a reader further by making them think more deeply about the human condition then so much the better, but it's never my main concern.

4) How does your writing process work?

It starts with a spark of inspiration. In the case of my current WIP, the Townhouse intrigued me because of its history as an illegal speakeasy. Something interesting could happen there, no?

From that spark, comes a whole lot of thinking. What is the story? Who is the best person to tell it? What is their backstory? Who and what do they care about? I write a short biography of my protagonist and briefer sketches of the supporting characters, along with basic timelines of their lives before my story took place.

I outline as much as I possibly can before I actually start writing. Act I--the set up and such--is easy. I usually know who the dead body is from the beginning, but figuring out exactly how he/she got that way is the hard part. My husband and I have at least one long brainstorming session to suss it out. I give him the bones of the story and then we bat ideas back and forth until something sticks for me.

Once the outline is finished, I write a synopsis, from which I try to smooth out any developmental issues in the plot. Then I write the first draft as fast as I can. If I've outlined everything in advance I can do this in 30 to 40 days. Then I do a revision, let my husband read it, then do a second revision or however many are needed to get the novel into shape.

Of course, I'm greatly oversimplifying my process. This doesn't take into consideration the many days and nights I spend fretting about not writing well enough or not writing at all. It doesn't take research into account (which includes drinking Buffalo Trace Old Fashioneds on Saturday afternoons at the Townhouse). But it gives you a glimpse of how I write a novel. It worked once, at least. I'm hoping it works again.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

My Writing Process

By Jay Stringer

I'm not usually the guy who does these posts. People tend not to ask me, because they know I'll either turn it into a joke or go on a rant about writing advice and turning craft into a fetish. When Weddle punched me in the ribs and said "do the writing process thing, fool,*" I reached for my standard defence mechanism. I though, sure, I'll put up a whole blog page, with the heading "My writing Process," and underneath all it will say is "I write."

But I thought about if for a couple of seconds longer and thought, I'm in. Why? Partly because It's the opposite of what I would expect myself to do. Partly because my writing process has genuinely changed lately, and mostly because it's Tuesday and I have no other ideas.

But first, one of my quick rants about writing advice and craft talk....

0) Advice, Craft, Carts and Horses.

There are many things that we talk about online. Plotting, character, research, world building, ice cream, cats. There are a great many people who will dish out writing advice and also a great many people who will spend a lot of time talking about their writing process.

All I say at this point is, always be honest with yourself. Which are you putting first, the horse or the cart? Talking about craft and advice and process if fine if you are doing the writing. If you're doing it as a way of putting off writing...well I'd suggest a rethink.

Take world-building. It's a thing we all do. Every writer, in every genre, with every style, does world-building in one form or another. But it's an organic, evolving, powerful thing that you do as you work. If you're ever in a conversation with someone who is telling you how they will write an epic seven book series once they've found the time to do the world-building, I suggest you back quietly away.

Here's the key to the best writing process - Whatever gets you to the end of the story.

Here's the only advice (in my opinion) that you need before you write- Start writing. 

The rest? It works itself out. Start a story, finish the story, rewrite the story.

1) What Are You Working On?

I'm writing a book that has the working title Criminals and it's about a bunch of criminals. It's set back in the West Midlands, in the same stomping ground as the Eoin Miller trilogy -I wrote a book between them that's set in Glasgow- and it gives us a mostly new cast of characters. Fuller is a recovering addict who goes home after eight years away. He finds his hometown has fallen apart, recession after recession, corruption after failure, there's nothing left. What is a criminal to do when all the good shit has already been taken?

Fuller meets up with his old best friend, a con man named Fry, and with Fry's old flame, a transsexual car thief named Rabbit. It's a book in which I hope to tell a story that is uniquely me, more so than the Miller books that were always filtered through Miller's own voice. I started to think about a modern Robin Hood story. I realised that we need a few Robin Hoods right now, and also that, in the modern day, Robin Hood and his merry men would be a bunch of criminals.

2) How Does Your Work Differ From Other Works Of It's Genre?

Mostly I think it's the jokes about colostomy bags.

3) Why Do You Write What You Do?

Mostly to tell jokes about colostomy bags.

But also, if you must know, because I think that writing is the single most powerful and enduring way of protesting about what is wrong in the world, and the best love letter to what is right. Plus I like to lie, fantasise and make shit up, and if you're not an author or a politician, that kind of behaviour gets you locked up.

4) How Does Your Writing Process Work?

I always have the ending in my head when I start. Actually, that's not true. There are times when I start without an ending in mind, but those stories never get finished. Such a large part of story-telling, for me, is sticking the landing. So I have a last scene, a last image, or a last line of dialogue, and I write towards that point, making shit up as I go. I also need to have a character that I want to write about, but I've learned enough from previous books that I can start off without one and find him or her in the first five thousand words. I like to have an issue that I'm pissed off about, something I can explore or digest for 80,000 words. In truth, I like to have arguments with myself through my writing.

There's a long-running debate online between "plotters" and "pantsers" when it comes to writing. Those who say they plot out their books, and those who say they make it all up as I go. To be honest, I don't think we're all as different as we like to say. Pantsers will have a part of their brain that's figuring things out in advance, and plotters will be finding ways to free themselves from the road map and inject some freshness into the story.

I was a late developer as a reader. I came to prose very late. But I was an avid reader of comic books and I loved movies. I loved the best movies. I was a kid with taste. So long before I got to grips with prose, I already had a firm handle on narrative and structure. As such, even though I've always said I'm a pantser, I've been doing it with a working plan in my head of where in the structure I am. I write with act breaks. I write with reveals and cliff hangers and turning points. The dirty dark secret of Old Gold was that the book closes with the end of the second act, because I got to that point and thought, forget act 3, this is where the story needs to stop.

So for Criminals -and to an extent with the book I wrote last autumn called Ways To Die In Glasgow-I've been admitting that I write with a hybrid system. I know the ending of the book, right down to the last line of dialogue in the final scene. I know the beginning. And, given the experience I've picked up from the books I've written so far, I wrote down a note that said roughly how many pages should be in each act, and whereabouts I would expect the turning points and the emotional beats to come.

So I'd say I still don't write with a roadmap guiding me, but I have a list of local landmarks along the route.

As for any of the other things that people discuss when it comes to process? Word counts? Times? Software? Notebooks? Cuddly Toys? Sod it, whatever gets me there is the process I'm going with. Right now I just try to move the curser to the right of the page every day. After a while, it's moved enough times to be a book. Then I start again from the beginning.

*Actual quote.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Is My Book Too Dirty? by Mike Monson

The Kindle edition of my new novella, The Scent of New Death, was released on April 21. That day, a review appeared on a website with this disclaimer:

Readers are again cautioned that storylines involving incest of a child under the age of 18, bondage, rough sex, as well as frequent brutal and bloody murders are present throughout the book. This is not a cozy style read in any way possible as everything is fully on the stage for the reader to see and experience. It simply can’t be stressed strongly enough that this is very much an adult read and only suitable for adult readers.”

Now, I’d known that my book was pretty hard-core, and I’d made the decision to not shy away from showing the details of my characters’ horrible acts. But, as the publication date got closer and closer, I wondered if anyone would notice. Or care. I mean, there is a lot of sex and violence and bad language all over the place in the culture—not only in books, but in movies and even on television. Certainly, the content of my book wouldn’t raise any eyebrows, right? It’s meant to be a pulpy crime book, after all, and that shit is usually pretty intense.

Deep down though, I knew the truth. The Scent of New Death does, in fact, depict some truly awful people being completely evil. The reviewer’s description is accurate. When I was writing, my imagination went to some dark and brutal places and I made a conscious decision to never censor myself. Thus, I was pretty sure that the bondage, rough sex, incest, etc., while not new, exactly, was presented with a graphic directness that might be unusual and new enough to be shocking, because I did make sure it was all “fully on the stage for the reader to see and experience.”

In the past two years I’ve had a couple dozen stories published (which I collected into the book Criminal Love and Other Stories and self-published last summer), and my noir novella What Happens in Reno came out earlier this year. All this fiction is graphic and dark. The Amazon reviews are rife with words such as “brutal,” “uncompromising,” “gritty,” “lurid,” “demented,” “bleak,” “harsh,” “twisted,” and “sick.”

Plus, with a couple of exceptions (like my wife and maybe my son) no one in my family appears to like my fiction, and very few people I knew before I started publishing ever say a word about any of the stories and novellas (again, with one or two notable exceptions). My friends and family don’t appear to be proud of me and my writing and publishing accomplishments. When we talk, my writing is like the bloody, raped, and dismembered elephant in the room everyone sees and no one dares talk about. Would this be different if I wrote slick cozy banal mysteries or quant literary stories, rather than tales of crime and violence with a wide variety of sexual acts depicted in great detail? I’m not sure, but it’s what I’m tempted to think.

All that said, The Scent of New Death is definitely the most extreme of all my stuff. In the context of “adult,” it is definitely my worst book. As I think I’ve established—it’s very dirty. It’s possible that it will remain my dirtiest book. My current project, while certainly a graphic dark crime book, doesn’t “go there” the way Scent does and there are many pages in a row with no sex or violence whatsoever.

While I wouldn’t change a thing, and I am very proud of the novella, here at the beginning of its publication, I have to admit that I wonder what people will think. Assuming that it is read widely at all, will readers/people be shocked? Will they be angry? Will I or the book be judged harshly? Will I be accused me of being as bad or wrong or demented or sick as the people and actions in the book? Will I piss people off because I didn’t turn the camera away at the last minute, because I didn’t fade to black just in time? Will it not be read it because I went too far?

Right now I’m waiting for the answers to these questions. So far, there has just been that blogger review (which was ultimately pretty positive) and a couple of five-star Amazon reviews basically praising the book because it is sick, demented, twisted and wrong. (What can I say? I do have at least a dozen true fans.)
Certainly, these questions are most likely a moot point. Mike Monson is not a big name in the publishing world. So far, I and my work have gotten very little attention, and my obscurity is quite possibly a permanent condition. But, still, I do wonder, and, I am braced and ready for any backlash and criticism that may actually come along. It’d be great of course if a lot of people read it and had strong reactions, good or bad. I’d love some engagement, some connection with readers because of this book. Definitely.

If, after reading this, you are wondering if The Scent of New Death is really that bad, maybe you should buy a copy right away (and a couple for your friends and family) and find out for yourself.

And then let me know what you think.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Who the hell is Matt again?

How to make your characters memorable by using tags & traits

By Kristi Belcamino

Have you ever read a book and then had to flip back a few pages to figure out just who the hell Matt is anyway? Why is he naked from the waist down? And why does Francesca faint when he walks into the room?
That writer may not have done a good job of giving Matt strong “tags & traits” to make him stand out in the reader’s mind. The goal in giving your characters tags and traits is not only to distinguish them as individuals, but also to make readers feel something about your characters.
The master of “tags & traits,” writer Jim Butcher, explains that the feeling could be love or could be hate, but that the reader will be anything but apathetic. “Tags & traits” make your character pop off the page for your reader. They bring that character to life. 
But what exactly are “tags & traits?"
Here is how to use them, based on reading Jim Butcher and Karen Woodward:*
Find two to three words to describe your character. Use these words the first time you introduce that character on the page. Jim Butcher recommends you only use these tags in reference to your character (not anywhere else in the manuscript) and hit these words every once in a while when your character makes a new appearance.
“By doing this, you’ll be creating a psychological link between those words and that strong entry image of your character." — Jim Butcher quote on Karen Woodward’s blog.*
For instance, I might describe my main character Gabriella Giovanni as: Italian-American, curvy, passionate, and a risk-taker who blazes her own trail. All of those words are tags.
Caveat: Some writers distinguish between tags and traits, but for the purposes of my post, I’m combining them and just labeling them “tags.” (My understanding is that a tag is one word, such as curvy, while a trait, is more of an attitude type description, such as “risk-taker who blazes her own trail.”)
I'm not sure if all of these methods would be sanctioned by Butcher and Woodward as true "tags & traits" but here is how I use "tags & traits" to distinguish characters on a page:
A tag can be a physical trait.
Black hair. Blond bob. Carefully, messy hair.
For instance, Gabriella Giovanni’s love interest, Detective Sean Donovan, has carefully messy hair, dark eyebrows and a frequent five o’clock shadow.
Her best friend, courts reporter Nicole, is poised, sports a blond bob, and has freckles.
A tag can be a prop.
In my book, Chris Lopez, the bad-ass photojournalist is always packing heat. He usually has a sidearm on both his ankle and in a shoulder holster. In addition, C-Lo always has an earbud in his ear that is connected to a police scanner clipped to his belt. This guy never misses breaking crime news!
A tag can be a speech pattern.
In addition, C-Lo frequently uses the word “man” in his speech patterns. He, also, uses police ten codes as part of his vocabulary. It’s pretty easy to tell who is talking when a character is having a conversation with Lopez. On the other hand, Nicole, the courts reporter doesn’t say “man.” Her favorite word—or phrase in this case—is “Holy shit!”
A tag can be mannerisms.
Chris Lopez never sits still. He’s either punching the steering wheel, tapping his fingers, pacing, or climbing nearby trees.
A tag can be clothing choices.
George Lucas purposefully dressed Luke Skywalker in white and Darth Vader in black throughout most of Star Wars. Then, at the end, Skywalker dons victory orange. In my second novel, Blessed are the Meek, my vixen, Annalisa, who is dangerous, alluring, and sexy, always wears red.
A tag can be action.
When you introduce your character onto the page for the first time, show him doing something that reveals what type of person he is. For instance, Jim Butcher points out that the first time we see Princess Leia on the big screen, she is blasting Stormtroopers to infinity and beyond.
A tag can be attitude.
In my second novel, Blessed are the Meek, we meet the mayor of San Francisco being his usual charmingly arrogant self, lighting up a cigarette indoors in front of a mass of reporters even though smoking indoors is against the law in his city.
A tag can be a motto or credo.
Gabriella Giovanni’s motto is Die before cry. That tells you something about her right away.

Do you use tags & traits in your writing? If not, do you have any ideas to share on how to distinguish characters from one another?
*This post was inspired by the amazing Karen Woodward’s blog, which is part of my daily reading no matter what. Karen first introduced me to Jim Butcher and the idea of tags and traits and I’m incredibly grateful for that. Here is her latest on it and here is Jim Butcher's blog.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Writing Process (to date)

Scott D. Parker

On Thursday, our humble leader, Steve, posted a little meme about writing processes. Like an old automobile, the process of writing is something about which I enjoy studying and improving. Let’s be honest: when you get right down to it, you sit and put words in a string on some sort of format. Beyond that, however, I want to learn how other writers get to that point.

I’m working on streamlining my own process and analyzing writing data and trends I’ve collected since last year and in the fallow period before that. I’m still tinkering, but it seems like I’m centering in on a best practice.

But, on to the meme.

What Am I Working On?

One never likes to talk too much about works in progress because they might change along the way. Additionally, in my case, some of the things I’m working on might come out under pen names and the point of pen names would prove pointless if we all knew the real authors.

Be that as it may, I’m cursed (blessed?) with varied interests in my reading material and that translates quite naturally into my writing. I love SF, but, to date, have only one idea floating in my head: a good old fashioned space opera yarn. My main character is like a big game hunter in space or, rather, who has traveled the galaxy. I have a PI character I’m working on. I’ve got one tale finished and another one soon to be done. He’s got a few co-stars and I think I’d be able to spin a few tales featuring them as well. There’s a modern PI/thriller/mystery series I’m working on (those would be the books I wrote last year). There’s always my Calvin Carter railroad detective stories, but the next project will likely be a western inspired by a visit to the Hill Country last year. It’s an idea my wife thought up and I like it.

How does My Work Differ From Others of Its Genre?

Funny thing, that question. To be honest, I’m not sure. They are still mysteries or space opera, but I’m hoping that my characters will be the differentiators. I hope readers will enjoy them as much as I do.

Why Do You Write What You Do?

For fun. I’m the first reader, I have to entertain myself. For the challenge. The act of writing is pretty easy. The art of writing is anything but. For the money. That’s a crucial factor, right? That’s why we do this stuff, to a large extent. I want to create characters and stories that readers will latch onto and want more of and buy.

How Does Your Writing Process Work?

I wish I knew the true answer at this stage. I have a really good idea, however: I must have the map (outline) in order to find my way (the story itself). The times I have a good map are the times I can produce good stories at a timely pace. The times I don’t, I struggle. It’s pretty clear to me that knowing where I’m going will allow me to get there faster.

What I’m working on now is codifying and streamlining my imagination process. That’s my overall 2014 goal.

I’d love to know y’all’s processes. Leave a comment or post them on your blog.

Friday, April 25, 2014


By Russel D McLean

Its easy for a writer to get stuck in a rut, to find themselves slinging the same kind of words over and over again. Its easy to feel like you're on repeat, that once you're known for something, that's all folk want from you. And its easy to feel that once you know how to sling words a certain way that's all you can do.

Writing non fiction used to scare the hell out of me. It was a strange proposition and one that seemed too close to the essays that I did in university; assignments with marks and the sense that you passed or failed depending on some rigid sense of style.

(That said, looking over some of my old essays, I'm amazed I got away with slipping lots of Philip K Dick and Bob Dylan quotes into essays on logic)

I always wanted to try it, but never knew how. And my fear kept telling me that I couldn't write non fiction, that I was destined to write fiction all the time. That I wasn't smart enough to do the whole non fic thing. I could review occasionally, but even then, I never felt I was that good at it; that I needed to get better, needed to find a more coherent and consistent approach (although I am still proud of the reviews that were done - and occasionally still are - at Crime Scene Scotland).

But things happen. And one of those things for me was meeting my partner, Lesley McDowell (aka, most of the time on here, the Literary Critic). We have different reading and writing styles and habits, But I think that one of the nice things about living with another writer is that you learn things from each other, and from Lesley I have learned about approaching non fictioin and criticism in ways they never taught you at university, about how voice is still important and that a sense of narrative is absolutely vital. When I did interviews previously, they were always direct scripts of conversations between myself and another writer. The kind of transcript that can be interesting, but is never quite as fascinating as a narrative interview can be (when done well).

I messed about with a few non fiction things here and there for other websites. I did a narrative non fic pie ce about my relationship with the character of Philip Marlowe for Five Leaves publications. And then I did something I would never have concieved of even six months earlier: I pitched an idea for an interview to a national newspaper.

The idea was to talk to Charles Ardai - head of Hard Case Crime - about one of his novelists being, in reality, Michael Crichton and how these new editions were the first time Crichton's name would appear on the cover. I was going to New York anyway and I approached Charles about the idea before even pitching it. I think getting him on board maybe helped sell the idea. I was given a date and a deadline. And a whole new set of worries.

In listening to the tape of my interview with Charles, I realised that I couldn't just do a straight report. I didn't have the space. I had to find something to hook the article around. I had over an hour of recording and 1800 words to use. But then I started to realise something. In fiction writing, I "leave out the parts the readers tend to skip" (following the advice of Elmore Leonard). So why couldn't I do the same here? And while I was at it, why couldn't I find a "theme" to our wide ranging conversation - something that would allow to start with one idea and develop it through the interview. And it came down to the idea of voices. Charles and I talked about the voices of people with "lost manuscripts" and how discovering something new by a favourite author can be like rediscovering an old friend or a reminder of a loved one. There was a beautiful quote from Charles that I used at the end of the article, even though it came somewhat earlier in our talk. I found the narrative of the interview. I treated it like a piece of fiction.

And it worked.

But in writing that - and writing subsequent non fiction pieces - I have found that my approach to fiction writing has changed, too. There are aspects of the narrative non fiction that I think are helping me better understand how to structure fiction. The discipline of a different style of writing is starting to affect the way I understand the kind of writing I have become used to.

I've always talked about how writer should be influenced by all media. As a corollary I should add that writers should always look to stretch themselves by trying different forms and disciplines. By trying new things. No only - in this new world - will you then have extra avenues of publication, but you will also perhaps make yourself even better at the very thing you already know how to do.

At least that's how its working for me right now.

Russel's new book, Mothers of the Disappeared, will be out in the UK on the 30 April and in the US in August.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

My Writing Process

By Steve Weddle

The lovely and talented Clifford Garstang  invited me to participate in this blog tour. He wrote a book called What the Zhang Boys Know, which is loved by many folks.  His work has appeared in Bellevue Literary Review, Blackbird, Virginia Quarterly Review, Shenandoah, and elsewhere, and has received Distinguished Mention in the Best American Series. He won the 2006 Confluence Fiction Prize and the 2007 GSU Review Fiction Prize. He has received fellowships from the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and the Sewanee Writer's Conference.

So, let’s go:

1) What are you working on?

Right now, I’m researching southwest Arkansas in the 1930s. You’ve got a great many things coming together at that time, when the country was taking quite a turn, particularly for the rural folks pummeled by the Great Depression. I’m interested in how this hit people. Tenant farming. Lynchings. Roosevelt’s First Hundred Days. Bonnie and Clyde in Waldo, Arkansas. The Bonus Army. Ax murders. Baseball. Radio. A thousand other things. What a time to read about.

2) How does your work differ from others of its genre?

What a weird question. “Its genre” means that my writing is part of a group, yeah? So how does my writing not fit in with the work it fits in with? Huh. I dunno. I try to deal honestly and sympathetically with the people in my writing, but who wouldn’t say that? If the genre is “rural noir,” then I guess what I do is more noiry? I write the stories only I can write, of course. My voice, whatever the hell that is, a thing peculiar to me. And, believe me, “peculiar” is the right word.

3) Why do you write what you do?

I tried writing other stuff. I wasn’t very good at it. I enjoy this stuff that I’m writing, and people seem to want to read it. I like to work within a world with these fragments I get to piece together.

4) How does your writing process work?

Slowly. Lemme tell ya. Slower than that sweatpantsed guy in front of you at the Golden Corral dessert bar.
I scrawl notes about a thing. I read non-fiction about a place. I kick around ideas about some people. I have faith that it comes together at some point. Always has. I spend a great deal of time working out the people in the writing, jotting down a couple of folks talking to each other, this nasty conflict right at the edge.


I’ve invited some folks to take a shot at these questions the last week of April.

Holly West’s MISTRESS OF FORTUNE was a surprise favorite of mine when I read it a while back. She’s the author of the Mistress of Fortune series, set in late 17th century London and featuring amateur sleuth Isabel Wilde, a mistress to King Charles II who secretly makes her living as a fortuneteller. Holly’s short stories also appear in Feeding Kate: A Crime Fiction Anthology, Needle: A Magazine of Noir and Shotgun Honey Presents: Both Barrels. I figure she’ll post at

Lein Shory and I went through LSU’s MFA program together. He’s working on two amazing novels, which I hope you’ll get to read soon.

Chad Rohrbacher was also in the MFA program with Shory and me. His novel, KARMA BACKLASH, is out from Snubnose Press. His stories have been published in magazines like Crime Factory, Needle Magazine, Big Pulp, Beat to a Pulp, and others. He’s  also contributed to anthologies such as CHIVALRY IS DEAD from May/December Publications, OFF THE RECORD from Guilty Conscience, HEROES & HERETICS from Pulp Empire, and LOST CHILDREN a charity anthology.

PS: I did a talking thing on the radio. It'll be here: WMRA

With a little help from my friends

I’m a firm believer in being thankful. Thankful for what I’ve got and positive about what’s to come. Some days, it’s easier to feel grateful than others - but you try to do your best.

Nothing is done in a vacuum - even something as solitary as writing a novel. That being said, I hate writing acknowledgements or thank-you posts. You always remember someone you’ve missed the second you post, print, whatever. But that’s what I’m doing here, so please humor me.

The idea to write about being grateful popped into my head as I wracked my brain about what to write this week. After a series of tutorials that while (hopefully) helpful, were about potential minefields in publishing, thanking some fellow writers seemed like a perfect palate cleanser.

In terms of writing, I have  a lot of people to thank. I could write a dozen entries thanking everyone that helped one smidge in terms of bringing SILENT CITY into existence, from my wonderful wife, our family and friends, my publisher, beta readers, coworkers, the amazingly welcoming mystery community (I’m looking at you Jon, Ruth, Dan, Kate, Oline, Connie, Ben, Erin and many more), etc. But that might lock in my blog posts for the next year. I mean, I only write at DSD every other week, ya know?

Anyway, I’d like to spotlight some of the great crime/mystery writers who’ve helped me - even if they don’t know they did - over the last few years as I tried to get SILENT CITY off the ground. As far as entertainment value to you, dear reader, I think this will serve dual purposes. I can thank some great writers/friends for being supportive, and you get a list of awesome books to read. Cool?

Steve Weddle: Steve is one of the kindest, most supportive people I’ve ever met. He’s a huge advocate for the writing community, and spends tons of energy making sure he gets the word out on fellow writers. Hell, even before we met in person, he was plugging SILENT CITY almost as much as I was. All that and a great writer. COUNTRY HARDBALL - a novel-in-stories published by Tyrus Books - was one of the best reads for me last year. Please do yourself a favor and read it. Can’t wait for the next one. And hey, he’s the reason I’m blogging here at all.

Chris F. Holm: The esteemed Jon Jordan introduced me to Chris a few years back and I’m really glad that happened. There’s a period with your first novel, even after it’s done, where you’re not really sure if it’s good or not. Chris was one of the first authors who read SILENT CITY and dug it, and that meant the world to me then and now. I’m so stoked for his success, and eager to read his upcoming work. You’re in good hands with his excellent Collector books from Angry Robot, an exhilarating, genre-bending adventure that I burned through in what felt like a few days.

Sara Gran: Sara’s one of those writers you’re supremely jealous of because of her mastery of not only plot and structure, but style and tone. I want to hang out with Claire DeWitt, the star of her last two novels. I want to live in the San Francisco she describes. I love the dreamy, ethereal quality she brings to the genre while still managing to craft a convincing and dangerous mystery. I can’t wait for the next Claire book. Sara’s also been hugely supportive of me and SILENT CITY - not just by blurbing the book, but by being a sounding board and great friend during the lean days before the book was a “real” book and just sat on my computer waiting for a home.

Brad Meltzer: I’ve known Brad for over a decade and we have a lot in common - we’re both Florida boys who love comics and mysteries, for starters. While Brad’s shown a knack for writing an edge-of-your-seat thriller and game-changing comic book, he’s also one of the sweetest people you’ll ever met. The second I mentioned to him, offhand, that I’d written a book he said: “Whatever you need, pal. Just let me know.” He wasn’t kidding. My personal favorite of Brad’s books is BOOK OF FATE, but you’re in good hands with any of them - and there are plenty. Enjoy!

Megan Abbott: She’s the best - I’m not really sure what else to say. I can’t put her books down, she’s exceedingly kind every time I chat with her and she’s been more helpful to me as a no-name author than she ever had to. She’s an amazing writer that elevates anything she touches, and you should read all her books. My personal favorite, though, is QUEENPIN. Cannot wait for THE FEVER this summer.

Kristi Belcamino: I’ve never met Kristi in person, but in this age of social media, she’s proven to be hugely supportive, and we seem to be on similar tracks as writers. So, it’s been great comparing notes and helping each other. We both write on this here website, too. Her first novel, BLESSED ARE THE DEAD hits soon, and it’s an amazing debut. I was honored to get to read it early and even more honored to provide a blurb for it. She’s one to watch.

Greg Rucka: Like Brad, I’ve known Greg a long time. Our paths have crossed at various points during our comic book careers. He’s always, always, always been a supreme professional and friend - kind, caring, honest and true to himself. It’s really something to aspire to, I think. I value every chance I get to see him in person and give him a hug. I love all his books, but really think he turned a corner with ALPHA, his latest novel from Mulholland. If comics are your bag, LAZARUS is one of Greg’s newest and one of my favorites in a long list of favorites.

I could go on all day, mind you, but this’ll do for now. Short version: the mystery/crime community is a warm one and full of great people. I’m lucky to know some of them.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Sign My Book, Please

By Holly West

Update 4/28: The winner of the copy of BLOOD ALWAYS TELLS is Ray Garraty. Thanks for playing, everyone!

Comment on this post by Sunday, April 27, to win a copy of Hilary Davidson's new novel, BLOOD ALWAYS TELLS.

I made this video four years ago, long before I got published:

I do blather on a bit so I'll save you the trouble of watching it. Basically, it's about attending book signing events and how much meeting my favorite authors in person inspired me to start writing myself.

Last night, I was reminded how much they still inspire me.

I went out to Mysterious Galaxy Redondo Beach, to see Hilary Davidson speak about and read from her latest novel, BLOOD ALWAYS TELLS. I'm a big fan of Hilary's Lily Moore series, and as soon as I heard about BLOOD, I knew it would go to the top of my reading list as soon as it came out (that is, if I ever finish THE GOLDFINCH. I'm on month three reading that one, folks).

Since I just got it last night, I can't provide a review, but here's the book description:

"Dominique Monaghan just wanted to get even with her two-timing, married boyfriend, a washed-up boxer stuck in a toxic marriage to a dangerously spoiled socialite. However, an elaborate blackmail scheme soon lands her in the middle of an unexpected kidnapping...and attempted murder. But who is actually out to kill whom?
Desmond Edgars, Dominique’s big brother, has looked out for his wayward sister ever since their mother was convicted of murder many years ago, so when he receives a frantic phone call from Dominique in the middle of the night, he drops everything to rush to the rescue. But to find out what has really happened to his sister, the stoic ex-military man must navigate a tangled web of murder and deception, involving a family fortune, a couple of shifty lawyers, and a missing child, while wrestling with his own bloody secrets..."

Sounds good, eh? To be honest, in Hilary's deft hands, it can't help but be good.

Hilary Davidson reads from BLOOD ALWAYS TELLS at Mysterious Galaxy Redondo Beach
Photo by Holly West

Sitting in the audience, listening to Hilary discuss the origins of the book, the themes she explores in it, and how she goes about writing a book, I felt energized. It re-ignited my passion for what I do. It made me want to go straight home and finish plotting my own work-in-progress.

I make no secret of the fact that 99% of the books I read are eBooks. It's not that I prefer eBooks over paper, it's that I mostly read at night, and my eReader allows me to read in bed with out disturbing my husband. If I was single, I might very well read more paper books, who knows?

As a result of my eBook reading, I naturally buy fewer paper books and I also go to fewer book signing events. I still meet many authors at conferences, but it's just not the same as seeing them individually, talking about and reading from their books. Since MISTRESS OF FORTUNE and its sequel are both eBooks, I realize that I've missed out on having this experience myself and to tell you the truth, it makes me a little bit sad.

Hilary Davidson and Holly West
Photo by Travis Richardson
The fact is, before I was published, attending book signing events was an important part of my development as a writer. They fueled my dreams and motivated me to keep on going. Meeting people who'd done it reminded me that it could be done, even if the goal of finishing my own novel seemed very far away at the time.

Now, as a published author, they function in much the same way. The authors I respect most continue to grow as writers and don't sit back and rest once they've achieved one level of success. They push themselves and remind me that I need to push myself. It's not about competition, it's about steady improvement, figuring out where I want to go with my writing and then working to get there. It's about supporting my favorite authors and the bookstores that host them.

And most of all, it's about reading great books. Ultimately, it's always about the books, which is how it should be.

Speaking of great books, let's have a giveaway! I'll send a signed copy of BLOOD ALWAYS TELLS to one commenter selected at random on Sunday, April 27.