Saturday, May 31, 2014

Juggling Projects

Scott D. Parker

I’m finishing  a longish novella (28,000 words or so--what is that exactly?) that has taken me way, way too long to complete. I’m looking ahead to a fun little summer experiment with my writing. I plan on trying my hand at writing multiple projects at the same time. It’s a goal to increase my productivity in order to get some momentum in my writing career.

This week I’ve been plotting. I am putting the guidelines I learned from Aaron Allston’s PLOTTING book to good use. I have about five ideas that I plan on developing into ...stories of varying length. My goal for this week is to map out and outline at least two and get started on them. It’s highly ambitious, I know, but I’d like to start getting some work out in front of the eyes of strangers, one way or another. And the only way to do that is to produce content. Thus, the summer drive.

I am basically going to practice working on multiple projects so that, if I’m fortunate enough and I have two books that are due at nearly the same time in some not-too-distant future, I’ll have worked out the kinks of juggling projects now when no one but me is watching versus when an editor is waiting. Looking at this experiment from this vantage point--before I start--I imagine I’ll write on one project in the morning and another in the evening. That’ll probably get morphed into something else quickly, but that’s at least how I’ll start.

For those of y’all who work on multiple project, how do y’all do it?

Friday, May 30, 2014

Do Give Up The Day Job (but only when you're absolutely, completely, totally ready)

So... *deep breath*

Last week I made something of a decision. A rather big decision. A rather terrifying decision. What I did was hand in my notice at the day job.


Not because of a million pound deal. But because I realised I was on the verge of making a choice. Lately, you might have noticed I've been doing a lot more work with newspaper interviews and chairing authors on a more professional basis. I've been doing work behind the scenes, too, working on readers reports for small presses as well as various other gigs. I've also been writing my own novels.

And working the day job.

Which takes its toll, and sooner or later a decision had to be made. So I took the foolish one. Its terrifying but exciting. And it was definitely not taken lightly. I see the ugly side of freelancing, too. Living with the Literary Critic has opened my eyes to the reality of a writer's life. But still, I have a plan and I need to give it a shot.

Fact is, most writers don't make enough from writing to live on. I've known this for  long time, but I've also worked out that if you have a sellable skill set maybe, just maybe, you can start to make regular income from activities related to writing. Which is why you'll be seeing a lot more of me in the near future in newspapers and other places Which is why I'm pimping my chairing skill out to libraries and festivals. Which is why I'm doing other work for other people, all of which are related to the written word,

In other words I'm not relying on the genius of my muse or on one particular thing happening to sustain me. I'm relying on the fact that I have a skill and a facility with words and that I am willing to do a helluva lot of things with that facility.

So it begins:the adventure. I could fall flat on my face, but I'm doing everything in my power to stop that happened.

And I'm looking forward to the future.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Blue Moves

I want to talk a bit about social media because that’s been front of mind for me for a few reasons. I’ve been thinking about privacy a lot - specifically in the wake of reading Glenn Greenwald’s excellent memoir on his role in the Edward Snowden NSA leaks. The book got me to thinking about how much info I put out there and to whom and whether it’s really something I want to do. At the same time, I’ve been thinking about my online “presence” and how I present myself via my various social media channels and whether that’s working for me.

For a long time, I felt like it was. I had my Facebook profile, Facebook author “page,” Twitter account and myriad other ways to shout out what I’m doing and where I’m doing it (Foursquare), what I’m reading (Goodreads), what I’m seeing (Instagram), what I would like to read/eat/watch/do (Pinterest) and what I found amusing or interesting at any given moment (Tumblr). All that and a website to boot. It all seemed to make sense.

I’m not so sure anymore. I realize this isn’t directly about writing, but it is about tools we use as writers, and whether they are helpful to us or just taking up time.

I’d been talking to a few good friends, some fellow authors others savvy marketing/social media people, about “presence” - what it means, what the most effective route to having a good “presence” online is and how to also make it interesting and entertaining for me, as a regular person, not an “author.”

The first thing that jumped out at me was redundancy. I was posting a lot of the same things in various places and they were feeding into each other and creating a kind of bottleneck, critical mass. I sat down and looked at my author page on Facebook and my personal page on the same site and didn’t see much difference. I was posting about my book on both pages, I “liked” a lot of the same things on each and my news feed on my personal page was flooded with posts from companies and brands that I wasn’t really sure I wanted to hear from.

That’s just one example. I could extrapolate about each social media “channel” and vent for a bit about why it was or wasn’t functioning for me as not only an author, but a person. But it all points to my main thesis: social media has to work for you. It has to give you as an author (and as a regular person) what you want.

Fans want access. Your friends want access. Read the Greenwald book and you’ll see the government wants access (to everything). It’s up to you to decide who gets what, if anything - and what you want in return.

Also, keep in mind: your information is yours. You don’t have to share everything or put yourself out there in detail. You don’t have to tweet about what you had for breakfast. I do sometimes, but that’s me. You don’t have to tell your fans what movie you just saw. But you can. In an age where everyone wants to know every thought we have, it’s OK to keep some things in reserve because you want to.

I see a lot of author friends who use their personal profiles as author hubs, open to fans. I see the other end of the spectrum, where authors have pages just for fans and keep their personal stuff private. Other authors tweet all the time. Some have locked accounts, and so on. Your mileage may vary. Marketing via social doesn't have to be either/or, too. Just because something is more personal doesn't mean it can't help promote your books. Something to consider.

My point is, decide what you want to get out of these very useful tools that authors before us never had. Use them wisely and to your benefit and don’t let them detract too much from the whole reason we’re here: to write.

There’s a great Ted Rall comic strip that starts off with a guy getting inspiration while showering and then proceeding to export that idea, or the idea of the idea, to his various social media channels: “Let me tweet that I had this idea!” “Oh, wait, let me take a picture of the idea. “Let me tease the idea on Facebook!” and so on. I’m not doing it justice. But reading the cartoon over the weekend, while visiting some family and having relaxed with some old friends, really put a lot of it into perspective for me. Social media is great and extremely useful - in service of the work we do, not instead of it. Something to think about.

I’m curious to hear from fellow authors on this subject, too - how do you use your social media tools? Are you happy with your setup? What do you like/dislike about certain things? Discuss!

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Staking Out Your Piece of Mental Real Estate

By Holly West

I've talked about my use of the three-act screenwriting structure to plot my novels a few times now. I'm one of those people who need a succinct way to organize the chaos in my mind--without some sort of road map, my thoughts are in free-fall and nothing gets done.

Kind of like this, but without the guy strapped to my back

Now, after a brief hiatus from writing, I'm back to plotting my latest WIP and hope to be finished this week. And this brings me to a subject I've been thinking about lately: Mental Real Estate.

Until recently, I'd never heard the term before. But while scouring Alex Sokoloff's handy book, Screenwriting Tricks for Authors, for well, tricks, I came upon a reference to mental real estate (sometimes integrated with "high concept"). Here is a rather wordy run-down of what mental real estate is: Mental Real Estate

"I name something, and you either recognize it, or you don't. Could be a person, place, or thing, like the classic twenty questions game. If you recognize the thing I tell you, that means it's taking up space in your head--tangling up a few billion neurons--residing on a chunk of mental real estate. That makes it valuable, because if something is taking up space in your head, chance are, it's taking up space in a good percentage of other heads across the country. And Hollywood can use that. It's the main commodity of the town. Hollywood buys, sells, and trades in mental real estate."

Basically, mental real estate is anything that takes up space in our collective and individual consciousness--those elements that the writer can be reasonably assured will be familiar to their potential audience. It can be pop culture references, iconic characters, history, human emotions, universal life themes, shared experiences... the list is infinite.

Mental real estate is different from a literary trope in that tropes are often used as building blocks in writing while mental real estate is a subject or theme (the foundation?) on which a story is built. I would argue that many literary tropes are so familiar to us that they qualify as mental real estate (for example: the hero's journey, in whole or in part) but most examples of mental real estate can't be considered literary tropes.

As writers, why are we interested in mental real estate? Because if we can use pre-established elements to help us strike a chord with a potential reader, it makes our job easier. It can make the difference between our books gathering dust on the bookshelf or being carried to the checkout register. It can be the thing that gets an agent to request your manuscript instead of sending out a canned rejection. It can be the spark that persuades an editor to take a chance on your book instead of the countless others being pummeled at them.

I just took a look at the latest NY Times Best Seller list, searching for examples of mental real estate. I realized that without exception, the authors themselves--James Patterson, Gillian Flynn, David Baldacci, Donna Tartt, Dan Brown--are the properties. Most of us don't have that sort of name recognition to trade in, so until we become household names, we've got to come up with some other form of mental real estate.

As the quote above points out, Hollywood shamelessly pedals mental real estate, to the point that cheapens the concept. However, whether we're aware of it or not, we're all trading in mental real estate to some degree or another. By writing about the subjects that are important to you, you're staking out a piece of mental real estate, however big or small. My challenge to you is to become more conscience about how you use it, and how you can use it to your advantage.

Some writers deal in huge mental real estate--think The DaVinci Code (conspiracy in the Catholic Church), Schindler's List (the Holocaust), or Wicked (The Wizard of Oz). Heck, with the publication of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, being a Scandinavian writer became big mental real estate. Go on then, I'm sure you can think of many more examples than I can.

But many of us choose smaller properties. Let's take Winter's Bone by Daniel Woodrell, for example. The mental real estate on which it's built--poverty in the Ozarks, meth-labs, a girl's struggle to protect her family--aren't all that big or, with the exception of protecting one's family, aren't all that universal (unless you happen to be a meth cook in the backwoods of Missouri). But Woodrell wanted to explore this world and did it with so deft a hand that he helped to make Rural Noir a piece of mental real estate in and of itself.

It's tempting to equate the concept of "mental real estate" to "chasing trends." In fact, it can be--writers do it all the time. Personally, writing is too hard for me to waste time trying to duplicate what another author has done, no matter how successful they might be. I'd rather carve out my own little piece of land (a topic or theme that I'm interested in) and shape it to the best of my ability. To use Mistress of Fortune as an example, its main piece of mental real estate is Restoration-era London, a period I've been interested in since I was a teenager. Sure, if I wanted to write a historical I could've used a more valuable piece of mental real estate, like Tudor England, but that's not my jam. I'm still hoping that Restoration Noir will become a thing.

King Charles II is my homeboy

But that doesn't mean I don't actively look for potentially valuable mental real estate. In my current project, a buried treasure (of sorts) is found and people die in their pursuit of it. Buried treasure is a huge piece of mental real estate in our collective consciousness, and while it's basically a MacGuffin in my story, that doesn't make it any less valuable. Another piece of mental real estate that features in the novel is a large, Google-esque, tech company.

When I first started plotting the novel, I'd never heard of mental real estate. I'd come up with a premise, a protagonist, and a setting, all of which I was interested in and really wanted to write about. But with the introduction mental real estate into my bag o' tricks, I looked for ways I could still tell my story while still incorporating those recognizable details that will make the story more saleable. Doing so took the story I was interested in writing and elevated it to the next level (well, hopefully. It's not done yet, so we'll have to see about that).

What do you think about the idea of mental real estate? Do you actively try to come up with valuable mental real estate/high concept ideas? Is staking out mental real estate really just "chasing trends?"

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Re-Imagine Your Expectations; Or Godzilla and back again

By Jay Stringer

I have a few different ideas I want to talk about today. I'm not sure that they weave together into a coherent post, but we'll find out together.

It all starts with Godzilla. And there be mild spoilers here.

I finally watched the film at the weekend. I had a lot of fun with it. It's not a perfect movie, there are things that can be nitpicked and really it takes too long to show us the big G -for a while it treats Godzilla like the shark in Jaws, whereas really G is the hero- and it gives us a little too much of a human story that we don't really care about past the first 40 minutes. There are a few times when it has an identity crisis about whether to go all-out as a Godzilla film, or to try and be something else. But it's well directed, tells it's story, and doesn't lose sight of the end.

I went in wanting a modern take on a proper old-school Godzilla movie, and I got it. You know the ones? A cheesy but cool film where some monsters turn up (from the past, or from outer space, or from monster island, or whatever) and start destroying things, and then Godzilla turns up like the grumpy hero that he/she/it is, and saves the day.

Reaction among my friends has been split 50/50. Half got a kick out of it the same way I did. The other half hated it. And here's where I get to the first point I want to talk about; expectation.

I've learned since getting published that audience expectation can be as decisive as the quality of the work itself. For Godzilla, the friends who hated the film are the ones who didn't really go in wanting an old-school Godzilla movie. Many of them have never seen one. What they wanted was what the trailers seemed to promise; a tense and scary epic film starring Bryan Cranston and a monster. I can completely understand why people would get that impression from the trailers, but in truth that film is not a Godzilla film. (You could make an argument that the U.S. edit of the very first film in 1954 could be remade that way, but that's not the film we're getting here) The Cranston portion of the film is really only there as exposition. It's set up. A way of easing a modern audience into the cheesier, looser, Godzilla film that follows.

I went into the film thinking, the trailers looked cool, but they didn't really look like a Godzilla film. Some friends went in thinking, those trailers look cool, I want to see that.  I walked out happy, they walked out angry. I'd argue that, to a large extent, the actual quality of the film was a smaller part in that outcome than our expectations.

I've learned that there are some readers who simply won't like my books. Maybe they're the readers who don't like swearing, or they like long action sequences, or they want clean resolutions and clear morals. Maybe they're the readers who go into books with a world-view that is different to mine, or they go in with an assumption of what my world view is.

And I also learned; that's fine. There are plenty of books out there for those readers, and I will write plenty of books that aren't for those readers, and there's more than enough room for both of those to be okay. But I try as much as I can to let those readers know up front. I'm vocal in some of my views online, I talk about things that are key to the books, and I embrace bad reviews, because they help to show some readers that I'm not for them. In a perfect world, every reader on the planet would buy and embrace what I write and I'd be able to earn a living doing it. In the real world, I feel bad at the thought that some readers who are really not looking for the kinds of books I write, may end up committing hours or weeks to reading my books and not enjoying themselves.

I recently tried watching Game Of Thrones. I stopped somewhere in the middle of season two. I can't recall exactly where. I have no real drive to go back and continue. Thing is, I don't blame the show for it. It's well made. There's a lot of hard work and passion gone into it, and I can see why so many of my friends love it. It's simply not for me, and that's not really the fault of the material.

Expectation is a buzz kill. Expectation can kill your enjoyment of something far sooner than the quality of the work. A story, a really good story, can take it's whole running time to get it's point across. It can take until the final act to really pull it's trick and show you the brilliant idea that it's been hiding away. But you know very early on whether it's the kind of story you wanted it to be. And that can make or break your experience.

Bringing this back to Godzilla, there's another idea I want to talk about. The idea of "re-imagining" something. One of my friends who didn't like the film said that he knew what an old-school Godzilla film was, but that he'd hoped this new film was a re-imagining of Godzilla. If you want a re-imagining of Godzilla, go watch Cloverfield or Pacific Rim. Both do that job in different ways.

I think we've let this concept run away with us. We rarely really want something to be re-imagined. We want something to be captured, to be distilled. If we're going to see an adaption, or a reboot, or a sequel, what we want is a story that gets what is good about the character. Re-imagining something has become a byword for "making needless changes." At this point, my friend pointed to the Chris Nolan Batman films as proof that re-imagining is whats needed, but here, I'm convinced, is actually proof of what I'm arguing.

If your only concept of Batman is what you've seen on the screen, then I can understand it's easy to get the idea that Chris Nolan came along and did something completely new. He re-imagined the hell out of it, if "it" is limited to Adam West, Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer and George Clooney all looking stupid. But if you've read the comics, you know that what Nolan did was to distill. He captured ideas, tones and images that already had a proven track record on the page, and he fashioned them into two very good films. He simply understood the concept in a way that the previous filmmakers hadn't. He understood what worked on the page, and found a way to express that on the screen.

When he did decide to re-imagine was with the third film. And that was an unholy mess that simply failed to understand the character of Bruce Wayne, that actually failed to understand the character they had set up so well in the previous two films.

The Marvel movies have been working (mostly) because they get the characters and they bring them to the screen. They're not making pointless changes. Whereas DC/Warner Bros are now trying to turn every character in their stable into a version of The Dark Knight, Marvel are saying, Captain America is a noble boy scout, Iron Man is a bit of a dick, and hey, here's a talking raccoon from space with a machine gun.

Contrast that with Man Of Steel, in which they decided to re-imagine the character. It's one of the worst films I've ever seen.

Love or hate Superman, there are certain things that the character is about. He's a hero because of Ma and Pa Kent, not because he has super powers. The powers should make him a tyrant. A dictator. A God. He's not a spoiled billionaire like Bruce Wayne, who can afford to be whatever he wants. He's not a bullied geek like Peter Parker, who suddenly becomes more powerful than the bullies.
He's a farm boy who wants a quiet life. What makes him Superman is that he had normal, decent, parents who instilled ethics and responsibility in him.

Kevin Costner in Man Of Steel should be the most important figure in the film. He should be the father figure who says to Clark, you can do great things. When that tornado hits in the movie, the real Jonathan Kent would be saying, now is your time, you can save EVERYONE. Instead Costner spends the whole film telling Clark to hide, to not be special, to not stand out. He's a scared coward of a father, and as a result there's no real reason for Clark to be a hero. And, if you've seen the film, you'll see that he isn't. He leaves Pa Kent to die. He levels an entire city. He wanders the globe listening to moody music and being broody, because the filmmakers decided to take a selfless and inspirational figure like Superman and re-imagine him as a self-centred coward.

Don't re-imagine. Capture. Distill.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Cry Father smells like Baltimore

've written before about how locally inherited sayings may not be as isolated as we think. That a saying about one area might get said about another area too. The example I used then was this one:

“In a matter of blocks the homes go from lower class to upper-middle. It’s never been so clear to me until now. Life in Philly is a matter of blocks. You go a few blocks west and your neighbor may be a dope dealer, you go east, toward Penn and your neighbor is a professor of math and science.” – The Science of Paul by Aaron Philip Clark

“Vic’s place was on lower Bourbon Street, near the edge of the Quarter, an old Spanish-style apartment complex from the early 1800′s. The block was quiet; the noise and crowds and vomit of upper Bourbon, a few blocks away, didn’t reach here. I’d forgotten that in New Orleans every block was its own world; block by block was how locals described their city, good and bad.” – Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead by Sara Gran

This is reminiscent of the "city of neighborhoods" idea that gets said about some areas, like Baltimore for example. 

I was reading Cry Father by Benjamin Whitmer and I came across this passage:

"When the stink of oil and animal waste being processed rolls in on a hot afternoon it's a little like being suffocated in sewage. They call it'll the big stink, and rumor has it that you can get used to it after a while. That third-generation residents have even been known to claim they can't smell it at all."

It reminded me of something I'd read in an old Baltimore book called The Amiable Baltimoreans:

"When a new arrival in town encounters this strange phenomenon for the first time he is certain to inquire of an old resident what this smell is. To this question the conventional reply is: "Smell, did you say? What smell?" In the course of time later arrivals will accost the former newcomer and put the same question. When the former newcomer finds himself replying automatically, Smell, did you say? What smell?" it's a sure sign he is well on the way to becoming a real Baltimorean."

I'm sure that Cry Father's link to Baltimore was an unintentional one but it pleased me any way.  

It does make me further wonder though about the reoccurrence of these sayings in different parts of the country and what their actual origins are. 

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Biting the Hand that Feeds You

For years, my dream has been to publish a book and have an author event at my amazing local mystery bookstore, Once Upon a Crime.
Now, that dream is coming true.
My goal is to hang with my family and friends and drink wine and eat good food as a way to stop and celebrate my publishing journey. Selling and signing books at the store is a bonus—it’s the gravy.
Because I’ve thought long and hard about this and book signings aren’t really held for authors to sell and sign books. That’s not the point. And any really smart book publicist will tell you that unless you are a household name like Stephen King, you don't do author events to make money.
What you do, however, is give readers a chance to connect with you on a personal level.
That's why I go to author events. I want to meet the author in person, maybe get a sense of their personality, get to feel like I know them a little.
And yet some authors don’t quite get that.
Or maybe they just forget. Or maybe, they are so uncomfortable around people they find it torture. Any of those reasons could be why I’ve had some bad experiences with authors at these events.
For instance, I’ve attended one signing where the famous mystery author berated and scolded the crowd, even going so far as to dismiss a question my friend asked, saying “Does anyone else have a REAL question?”
In another case, an author I interact with frequently on Twitter acted like signing his book was a big pain in the butt. He was either so stressed or harried, he hurriedly scribbled his signature, and turned to the next person in line like it was an assembly line he couldn't get through fast enough.
I don't get it. Readers have made time in their day and spent good money to buy the author's book and in return are treated like ... well, like they are a bother.
Compare that to another local author I interacted with on Facebook a few times. When I saw her at a table at a local book conference, I made a beeline to meet her in person.
Before I even got to her table, she had greeted me by name.
In all three cases, I bought the author’s books. But when it comes to buying their next book, I might hesitate based on the impression the first two made.
And don’t get me wrong, I don't expect every author to remember faces and names of everyone they interact with on social media. That's not realistic.
But I think the two authors above who gave the impression (whether they intended to or not) that they could care less about their readers, are losing track of just what an author appearance/event is about.
Would you stop buying a favorite author’s books if they were not as “personable” as you would have hoped?

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Google on Paper


Scott. D. Parker

I had a great first day at Houston’s Comicpalooza yesterday. It was the first of four days of fantastic vendors, awesome guests (Stan Lee! In person!), and great folks in costume.

One of the things high on my search list was an original copy of a Doc Savage pulp magazine. Here’s the cover. Ironic that I look for a Doc Savage mag and end up, because of cost, with a cover featuring Monk Mayfair. 

I went ahead and splurged for another one, Popular Western, February 1950, that featured a Louis L’amour story.

The surprising find was THE HERO PULP INDEX by Robert Weinberg and Lohr McKinstry, 1971. This is a short, 48-page book, all in typical courier font, listing all the heroes from the pulp era which, in 1971, was forty years ago. Here’s the TOC and first page to give you a taste.

In a world in which just about any answer is seconds away, minutes at most, to think that all the folks who made this book took months and years to compile and create. Granted, much of the content we find on the internet took time to compile, the delivery method--web browser--is so convenient. Imagine the pulp fans from 1971 and the difficulty in finding a book like the Index.

Sometimes it just boggles the mind how much pure information we have access to in  2014. That’s the main reason why I bought this little book: to remind myself how utterly good we have it.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Writing Drunk

"Original, brave, and very moving." -- The Guardian

By Steve Weddle

The Trip to Echo Spring from Olivia Laing is an amazing book.

I was impressed with one of the early stories in the book, about how John Cheever and Raymond Carver tried to drink themselves to death when they were in Iowa.

What's so wonderful about this book is how it looks rather dispassionately at times at the drinking of authors, the impending and debilitating alcoholism. And, yet, how the book works in its own, "passion" isn't the right word, but feeling or caring -- rather, a connection to these writers, to the booze that holds them together and tears them apart.

The anecdotes are lovely, the sort of hilarious, terrible stories you're likely to share at, well, at cocktail parties or whatever it is you people do. Laing works in her own story, to a certain degree, which helps explain her fascination with the topic.

The subject matter is heavy, of course, and this book feels expansive and personal, an odd mix that works.
What lingers is the complexity of the problems that dominated these authors’ life and work, and how hard it is precisely to place alcohol in that emotional matrix, even if its physical effects became devastatingly clear.  -- NYTimes

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Nine Book Experiences You Should Have Before You Die

by Holly West

I'm probably not the best person to write a post like this since I'm not nearly as well-read as I'd like to be. And given the crowd that frequents Do Some Damage, I'm definitely preaching to the choir. Still, I felt the need to reflect on some of the book-loving experiences I treasure most. Here they are in no particular order:

1) Develop a serious crush on a character.

My first literary crush was King Charles II as he was portrayed in FOREVER AMBER by Kathleen Winsor. It's no accident he's a featured character in MISTRESS OF FORTUNE. More recent characters that've enthralled me are Henry Winter in Donna Tartt's THE SECRET HISTORY, Benjamin Weaver in David Liss's series, and Frank Mackey in FAITHFUL PLACE by Tana French. 

2) Read every book in at least one series.

Out of all of the long-running series' out there, I've only read all of three: Sue Grafton's Alphabet series, David Liss's Benjamin Weaver series, and Lawrence Block's Matthew Scudder series.

3) Own a signed first edition of at least one of your favorite books.

I have a few, but one of the best is WHEN THE SACRED GINMILL CLOSES by Lawrence Block.

4) Troll used bookshops, eBay, or elsewhere for a copy of a favorite book from childhood.

Again, I've done this a few times but my best ever find was THREE WITHOUT FEAR by the late Robert C. DuSoe.

5) Pay way too much for that book.

I don't remember what I paid for it but it was in the $40 range. I know there are people out there who've paid a whole lot more for their favorites.

6) Stay up all night reading because you just can't put the book down.

My most recent book all-nighter was GONE GIRL.

7) Likewise, chuck your weekend plans and spend it reading for the same reason.

The first book I ever did this with (that I can remember) was KALKI by Gore Vidal. Most recently, it happened with JUNKIE LOVE by Joe Clifford.

8) Meet your favorite(s) author.

I've done this a few times now and it never gets old. One of the perks of being a writer myself.

9) Visit a city or country because you fell in love with it through reading.

I have two: London and New York City.

Help me out--I'm surely missing some great book experiences here. Tell me what else should be included on this list and I'll dedicate a follow-up post to the subject.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

National Post Afterword

Bit of a cop-out this week, I’m just going to link to a column I wrote for the National Post newspaper in Canada today:

The National Post has a very good arts section and publishes quite a few book reviews. The crime novels are reviewed by the terrific Sarah Weinman and they also have a feature they call “Guest Editor” which is what I’m doing this week.

Monday, May 19, 2014

CWA Daggers Shortlist

The shortlist for the Crime Writers' Association's Dagger Awards was recently unveiled.

Shortlist is here

Congrats to the nominees.

The CWA Debut Dagger:




THE FATHER, by Tom Keenan

MOTHERLAND, by Garry Abson


CONVICT, by Barb Ettridge

THE DOG OF ERBILL, by Peter Hayes

BURNT, by Kristina Stanley

DEVIANT ACTS, by John J.White

SEEDS OF A DEMON, by Anastasia Tyler

COLOURS, by Tim Emery

THE MOVEMENT, by Jody Sabral

Complete list of nominees is here.

h/t Crimespree Magazine

Sunday, May 18, 2014

How I Get in the Mood

I'd like to share a little bit about how I get in the mood. To write, of course.
Like most writers, I wear a few different hats throughout my week.
I’m a crime writer, a newspaper reporter covering crime, and an Italian-American mama.
That often means I shift gears several times in one day.
I have rituals to get in the mood for each role.
For instance, on my way into work at the newspaper, I listen to the police scanner. By the time I get into the newsroom, I know all the crime going on for the past half hour in the city I cover.
How do I get in the mood for being an Italian-American mama?
Haha. That was a trick question. There is no preparation for that. None. Whatsoever. The kids could get off the bus singing and shooting beams of rainbows out of their palms, or they could walk into the house with storm clouds hovering over their heads and lighting bolts shooting out of their fingertips. One never knows. There is no way to prepare.
The question I can answer, however, is how I get in the mood for writing crime fiction, and, let’s face it, that’s why you all are here anyway.
Here’s how I wake up in the morning and get in the mood:
Armed with a cup of coffee, I visit all of my inspirational online sites. I use to organize those websites. I learned about this super smart and efficient way to scan your favorite blogs after a stellar workshop put on by Michael Kelberer, a fellow member of my local Sisters in Crime chapter. Through feedly, I scan headlines on all my favorite blogs and click on those that seem most interesting.
Today, for instance, the sites I read included Jungle Red Writers, The Kill Zone, and Karen Woodward’s page. This not only gives me a chance to interact with my fellow writers, but also reading about writing gets me pumped up to WRITE!
By the time I’m done with feedly, I’ve read several posts on writing and the writing life and have injected myself with a concentrated dose of inspiration.
Even if it is a Write at Home Day, I always make sure to shower, put on makeup and get dressed for the day. Even though I could technically write in my pajamas and fuzzy slippers, there is something about getting ready that helps prepare me to work and gets me in the mood.
I don’t mix up my writing spot very much. I usually park my butt in the chair in one of two places, either on a stool pulled up to my kitchen counter or at my regular spot at the local coffee shop. Sitting down there means writing time. I really find that this ritual of putting my body in the same spot prepares my mind to do the same thing—write!
Every once in a while, my mind wanders and I find myself checking Facebook or Twitter or watching a dog attack a kid and then a cat attack the dog.
On those days, I turn to—and turn on—Freedom. This program blocks online access for a set amount of time. You decide how long. I usually block for about 90 minutes. It sounds like a weird psychological trick, but it works quite well.
And of course, using it at all means you—or rather, I—have zero self-control in staying offline, but that’s the way it is. I’ll take whatever help I can get to get my butt in the chair and words on the paper.
In addition, I always have a pair of headphones with me that I can plug into Spotify if the ambient cafe noise becomes too much. Usually it is conducive to writing, though. Occasionally, like on Friday this week, the screaming kids, the singing of Happy Birthday by 20 adults and the screaming kids ... oh, did I mention that, meant me and my writing buddies all took out our headphones simultaneously.
The last thing I do to get in the mood is have a realistic goal for that day. I’m a member of the Church of a Thousand Words that Brad Parks talks about. That means I don’t stop writing for the day until I have at least 1,000 words on paper. Then, if I’m still in the mood, I keep writing. If not, I call it a day.
For writing, at least.
And then prepare to shift into Italian-mama mode, which could involve tears or laughter, but will never be boring. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
What do you do to get in the mood for your writing day?