Too Bad I Don't Speak French
July 30, 2007
I see they kept the same cover for The Devil's Pitchfork French edition. Cool. Hope I get a copy soon. Too bad I don't speak French, but I gather I am "formidable," at least when Joe Konrath is translated into French. I kind of like that.
Évaluation immédiate, coordination, et enquête sur l’attaque contre l’U.S. Immunological Research à Baltimore, MD. Les rapports préliminaires indiquent le vol d’un agent infectieux biogénétique par des sujets inconnus. FBI sur place. « Captivant. Implacable. Terrifiant. Terry a créé un roman à suspens sur le bioterrorisme qui vous fera oublier de manger, de faire l’amour et de dormir pour pouvoir terminer votre lecture. » — J.A. Konrath, auteur de Whiskey Sour. « La fourche du diable est une lecture formidable, un cauchemar mettant en vedette des scientifiques malfaisants qui vous fera tourner les pages jusqu’aux petites heures du matin… Lisez-le dans le placard, juste à côté de votre tenue d’intervention contre les produits biologiques. » — Jay MacLarty, auteur de Live Wire « Cette histoire remplie d’action vous prendra à la gorge et ne vous lâchera pas jusqu’à la fin. Ce roman à suspens techno est un voyage rempli de frissons et d’attente anxieuse. » — Joe Moore, co-auteur de La Conspiration du Graal.
(or perhaps bon soire!)
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows--Questions
July 29, 2007
Okay. If you have not read this book and plan to, or if you are in the process of reading it, although I'm not exactly going to put spoilers in here, there may, in fact, be spoilers, so don't read it if you don't want anything spoiled. For anybody who has read the book, here are some questions I'm curious to know about.
1. Did Neville use the real sword of Godric Gryffindor or was it one of the fakes?
2. Did the sword Neville used come out of the sorting hat, like it did in The Chamber of Secrets, or did Neville bring it with him?
3. Does anybody really understand what the hell happened during the final, final confrontation between Voldemort and Harry? Can you explain it?
4. Were you surprised Harry returned the Elder Wand to the grave, rather than breaking it?
5. I think the baby in the train station (Harry's party, if you will) was Voldemort if he didn't show remorse after death, but Rowling never follows up with an explanation. Maybe that's for all those Masters' theses to come. Anyone have an opinion?
I'm sure more will come to mind, but those are the ones at the top of my head.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
July 28, 2008
Yep. I finished readingi it last night about 11:00 or so. I am a fan and this was a good book.
I'll post more about it next week, I think, but I'd be glad to e-mail chat with anybody who wants to discuss this book.
I must say, though, that although I had figured out--more or less--Snape's involvement and what would happen in the 7th book, his motives came as a surprise.
Dick Cheney Is A ________
July 27, 2007
To read a very funny story about this, go here.
Have a great weekend.
Miscellaneous Publishing & Writing Thoughts
July 27, 2007
--Jodi Picoult commented in a Writer's Digest column recently that the primary difference between the publishing industry and the movie industry is that the publishing industry says, "We hate you, we hate you, we hate you, we hate you," and then grudgingly lets you in. The movie industry says, "We love you, we love you, we love you," and does nothing. I think she's probably right.
--It's relatively easy to make a living as a writer, but damn near impossible to make a living as a novelist. (And if I may buttress this point by paraphrasing something Jonathan Kellerman said about his first Alex Delaware novel, "When The Bough Breaks": "The advance came to something like $1.09 an hour."
--To which I might respond, "By the standards of most novelists, you were rolling in it even then."
--John D. MacDonald famously said that being published is like dropping a feather down a well. Of course, JDM said that before the Internet and blogs, which allow us to hear the feather's echo (or perhaps that's just the sound of one hand clapping...).
--if getting an agent is hard, and getting a publisher to publish your novel is harder, it seems to me--and I base this on the number of authors being dropped by my own publisher as well as numerous others, as well as the increasing emphasis on promotion, promotion, promotion (Yes, you too can spend $5000 promoting a novel for which you received a $1500 advance), as well as the number of small presses over the years that have folded and publishing lines killed--that staying published might even be harder.
--I think there's real truth to the not-really-funny joke: How do you make a small fortune as a writer? Answer: Start with a large fortune.
--I think there's something magical and rather glorious about getting lost in a book you're writing (or reading).
--I asked this on the Inkspot blog the other day, which is, what makes anyone think writers are sane. Can you answer this question: Do you spend a significant portion of your day in the company of imaginary people?
I Welcome Your Comments
July 26, 2007
The, er, gentleman in the photograph is the President of France, Nicolas Sarkozy.
Feel free to comment.
Monsieur Mark Terry
Make Me A Bestseller!
July 25, 2007
The lovely and talented and wildly generous (yes, she gave me a great blurb for THE SERPENT'S KISS) Tess Gerritsen
blogged on July 18th about how many copies sold in one week are necessary to become a bestseller. The number? Apparently 5,000.
So in the interest in, well, my self-interest, I urge all of you to rush out to your local bookstore, chain store, or Internet seller and quickly and eagerly purchase as many copies of THE SERPENT'S KISS as you can possibly afford. Then, give them to your friends and relatives. If they don't read or don't know how to read, tell them they can use them as drink coasters. Everybody needs drink coasters. Use them to prop up that wobbly table leg. Use them as kindling for your next camping trip. Hell, I don't care, you could even READ them.
Here's part of what Tess has to say:My reaction to this number is sheer amazement that in a country this size, one can be a top-15 bestselling author by selling only 5,000 copies. My gosh, are we such disinterested readers? Is anyone in America reading books these days? When a mere 5,000 book buyers determine the TOP SELLERS in a country of 300 million people, the industry is in trouble. Hell, America is in trouble.
And Tess breaks down how many Toyota Camrys that sell in a week.
And here's some of my own data: TV ratings for three shows that run on cable:
The Suite Life of Zack and Cody (a kids' show on, I think, Disney or Nickelodeon): 5,714,000
Monk (USA, right?): 4,820,000
Army Wives (not sure, Lifetime?): 3,699,000
And granted, I'm not published in hardcover (yet), so you might need to buy more copies to propel me onto the bestsellers lists. So double your order! Make new friends! Send a copy to every soldier in Iraq. To your dentist. Your eye doctor. Your psychiatrist...
This Is A Writer's Life?
July 25, 2007
This week has been a bit odd. We're having a new floor put in our kitchen, dining room, entryway, half-bath and laundry room. So at the moment (third and final day!) the washer, drier and refrigerator and kitchen table and chairs are all in the living room and there's a guy pounding and thumping around and using a nail gun above my head.
I put the photo over there because I had something cool happen last night. I've been studying Sanchin-Ryu karate for about three years. I knew I was up for my first-degree brown belt (next level is black). How this is done in Sanchin-Ryu is your instructor (Master Vicky Clay, in my case) decides if you're ready for the next level and gives you an application form, which you fill out and send back to the main office. They go over your app, probably talk to your instructor and generally for the higher belt levels (there are three degrees of brown in Sanchin-Ryu; in fact, it's white (very beginner), orange, green, purple, 3rd brown, 2nd brown, 1st brown, then black with something like 10 degrees of black, although in fact, in Sanchin-Ryu, once you get up around 4th degree black the belts are no longer black...), that is to say, brown and up, you get invited to a black belt class.
At the black belt class the district manager or sometimes even higher levels, Chief Instructors, etc., will check you out and make a decision as to whether or not you're really ready for the next level. Tae Kwon Do and other styles have very specific testing criteria, which makes sense in those styles because they have a competitive sports component to them. Sanchin-Ryu doesn't so every individual's learning is scaled a bit different. (It's an interesting philosophy, different from many martial arts, although not all, and I've studied a few others).
Well, last night was our workout. In the summer we work out at Stoney Lake Park here in Oxford, typically on the beach (a great place to work out). The district manager, Master Mike Clay, who yes, is married to Vicky, showed up. He does that from time to time anyway. It didn't really occur to me that he might be looking me over, although when he asked the brown belts to do "form as kata" I should have had a clue. Our style of karate is built on 10 basics, 10 combined basics advanced (CBAs, which are just what they're called, taking two or three of the basics and putting them together, for instance the first one is a cross-body punch followed by a backfist). Then comes 10 forms, which are a series of somewhat complex strategies that typically have 20 or 25 steps. Then you get into katas, of which there are 10, and there are also weapons katas and other things, but at my level we're primarily working on the 10 basics, 10 cbas and 10 forms and their various (and varied) applications.
Anyway, "form as kata" basically means do all 10 forms, 1 through 10, fluidly without stopping, as if it were a kata. (Or, if you don't know all 10, do as many as you can).
Anyway again, at the end of the class Mike said, "Well, I didn't really come here planning on doing this," then they called me up and awarded me my first degree brown belt. That's really cool.
Oh, and sometimes brown belts are referred to as "pound belts." I'll let you figure out why that is.
So am I any good? Well, I know enough to get myself into trouble. And hopefully I know enough to get myself out of trouble. I think of Sanchin-Ryu, like many arts, from music to writing to painting, etc., as a constantly receding horizon. The more you learn the more you realize there is to learn and there's no THERE there. Which is part of what I like about it.
The Problem With Prologues
July 24, 2007
I've got problems with prologues. Not reading them. I know a lot of readers bitch about books with prologues. My oldest son routinely skips them if the book has a prologue.
THE SERPENT'S KISS doesn't have a prologue. THE DEVIL'S PITCHFORK does. Only one person complained to me about the prologue in PITCHFORK and luckily it wasn't my editor
My oldest son once asked me when you should use a prologue. My answer is one I believe is still reasonable. Use a prologue when you need to include a scene or information that does not occur in the same timeframe or location of the body of the novel.
Which is essentially what I did with PITCHFORK. The prologue takes place during the first Gulf War back in 1991 and it essentially introduces the two main characters and their relationship to each other. Could the book have done without it? Possibly. But otherwise Derek, the main character, wouldn't appear until about chapter 2 or 3 and I wanted to set up the relationship--I wanted readers to "see" the relationship and I also wanted to start off with something exciting.
One of my problems, I noticed today, with some of the manuscripts I've played around with over the years, is that I write a really exciting prologue and then skip to something else. I noticed that over the years on this blog I have posted what are essentially prologues to unpublished or incompleted novels, and in both cases, once the prologue is over the novel jumps to something and somewhere else. The prologues are a way to start off a novel with a bang when the story itself doesn't start quickly, and they're character building. Which may not necessarily be the best way to do things.
According to standard story structure, this isn't a good idea. I guess.
Here's an example. It's a novel I've been playing around with and I put the first few pages here on the blog a while back and this story won't quite leave me alone.
In the prologue, a CIA agent named Monaco Grace is in Kuala Lampur pursuing an Indonesian computer guy who had been working in the U.S. for a security firm affiliated with the NSA and he had stolen a prototype computer chip and given it to the Indonesian government. The US had asked for it back, the Indonesians had said, "What computer chip?" and the U.S. sent Monaco Grace to KL to basically kill the Indonesian guy as a reminder to the Indonesian government not to fuck around with the United States. In the course of that, she ends up protecting the man's daughter, whose father she has just killed.
End of prologue.
I like it. A lot, as a matter of fact. There's all this wonderful action and color and characterization.
Then the story skips basically to China, which is what the novel is about. Monaco is sent to Beijing to determine what happened to one of the CIA's NOCs (non-official covers) who has disappeared.
Hmmm. How are these two related? In fact, they aren't except for character building. And there's a part of me that thinks I should leave it as is because I like it and there's another part of me, perhaps the more experienced professional part of me, that thinks I need either a different prologue or a different story, one that takes place in Indonesia and involves Monaco on a mission there. (Hmmm, two novels for the price of one!)
The fact is, I don't really know. And I'm starting to get a glimmer that this may be a particular problem of my own. In fact, the prologue to THE DEVIL'S PITCHFORK was originally written for a different novel which didn't work out. But I liked the prologue and kept trying to write stories around it until I found the right one. And now that I think about it, I've done this a number of times (maybe in ten years I can published a collection of unpublished prologues, hmmm).
So, ultimately, I guess the problem with prologues is that they're sometimes disconnected from the actual story you're trying to tell. And that's (probably) a bad thing.
So I wonder if a prologue about the NOC who disappears might be a better idea. Hmmm...
Writers and The Leap of Faith
July 22, 2007
I finally made it to the end of the first draft of the fourth Derek Stillwater novel today, happily writing
at the bottom of the final page.
I ain't done. I still need to read it straight through. Oh, its tentative title is THE VALLEY OF SHADOWS. Then I need to rewrite it. And then I'm going to have my brother and maybe a couple other people more familiar with the novel's location--Los Angeles--read it.
Note to my editor, Barbara: If you don't want to get the heebie-jeebie's, please read no more.
I really struggled with this novel. I'm not sure why. And upon finishing it today I thought, "You know, it might be the best thing you've written."
I say that because the scope is broader and, I think, deeper than the previous Derek Stillwaters. It's a little bit different. Whereas THE DEVIL'S PITCHFORK takes place in slightly less than 24 hours, and THE SERPENT'S KISS takes place in about twelve or thirteen hours, and the third novel (due out in May 2008) ANGELS FALLING takes place in about eight or nine hours, THE VALLEY OF SHADOWS is spread out over two days.
Big deal, you say. Well, actually, it can be if the type of novels you write are jam-packed with action and ticking clocks and tons of incident. It's a different challenge to keep up the pace and the action when there's so much room to maneuver in.
There are other issues. THE DEVIL'S PITCHFORK primarily deals with a made-up terrorist organization, The Fallen Angels. I researched terrorist groups, but ultimately, Angels can do what they want because I invented them. The same thing in SERPENT and again in ANGELS FALLING. But in SHADOWS I was dealing--mostly--with al-Qaeda and Islamists and the political situation in Pakistan as it affects the United States. So I had to focus on something I'm not 100% on--Islamic extremists--although it gave me an opportunity to touch on Derek's background and childhood--raised by missionary physicians in a number of countries around the world and being educated by religious teachers who he sometimes felt weren't terribly different in their own way from Muslim extremists.
I have also noted in the past that how easy or how difficult it is to write a book seems to have very little to do with how successful it is or how good it is. They are, unfortunately, two separate things. This, though, is the first time I've ever written a novel-length manuscript and thought, "For years I've been hearing novelists whine about how difficult it is to write novels and thought they were full of shit and this time around I'm beginning to see why they're saying it."
Anyway, I'm through that and now I'll polish and smooth and tweak and make sure that the names (egad, those Pakistani and Muslim names!!!) are consistent and I know there's at least one scene that goes nowhere that needs to be changed, and I need to move some of the characterization things to earlier points in the book...
A lot of work yet to be done. But still, it feels pretty good.
July 20, 2007
I have a confession to make, one that is no particular secret to my family, but might be mildly surprising to people who have read my books which are, to say the least, chock full of action, suspense and violence. I'm fairly fond of what can be safely dubbed "chick flicks," particularly of the romantic comedy variety. Some of my favorites are "While You Were Sleeping," and "You've Got Mail" and "Michael" and "Sleepless in Seattle."
About a week ago, my next-door neighbors were having a graduation party and it was running on a bit late, complete with DJ and karaoke. It was clear there was no point in even trying to go to sleep until they called it a night. My wife was watching the Tigers but I channel surfed and came up with the film "Spanglish" with Adam Sandler, Tia Leoni, Cloris Leachman and Paz Vega (in the photograph; more about her later). Unfortunately, I missed the beginning and it was running late, so I missed the ending as well.
I was interested enough to queu it up on NetFlix and I watched it straight through this week.
First, this is written and directed by James L. Brooks, probably best known for "Broadcast News." I mention that one specifically because of certain similarities between the two movies.
Okay, plot synopsis: Paz Vega plays a Mexican immigrant (Fleur or perhaps Flor) with a daughter she is raising alone in the LA area and she speaks no English. She decideds she needs a better job, so she ends up working as a maid with Adam Sandler's family [At first I thought she was played by a younger, prettier (if that's possible) Salma Hayak. Vega is apparently a very successful actress in Spain, and man, talk about a face that could launch a thousand ships.] Sandler's a high-level chef (this is one of Sandler's amazingly fantastic roles. I'm not a fan of his comedies, but he's pitch-perfect in this role) and his wife, played by Tia Leoni is a manic-depressive, PC, narcissistic mess. They have two kids, a daughter and a son, and Sandler's mother-in-law (played eloquently by Cloris Leachman) lives with them, is an ex-jazz singer and functional alcoholic.
One of our neighbors, a divorced woman raising her son while living in her mother's house, told my wife, "Oh yes, I've seen it. I hated that movie."
Yeah, that doesn't surprise me. In Roger Ebert's review of "Spanglish" he commented that the Tia Leoni character, despite her numerous neuroses, was still lovable. (Debatable). He also said he doubted anyone was that messed up. (Ha! say I. Roger don't get out much. This character reminded me of three specific women, two of whom are related to me in some fashion. I can safely say, "Roger, I'd be glad to introduce you. It would be an education.") In some ways this movie is like a mirror you hold up to your own life. Who are you in it? Are you Sandler's daughter, who can't seem to please her mother no matter what she does? Are you Sandler, who loves his wife but doesn't know why and feels cut adrift from the things that are most important to him? Are you Flor, who is just trying to stay out of the fray and raise her daughter in the way you want to?
Although there are amusing moments, it's not a particularly funny movie and I wouldn't call it a romantic comedy. In fact, I don't know what the hell it is.
From a writing point of view I wanted to mention the ending. It reminded me of "Broadcast News" in that it doesn't resolve the way you think it's going to. And it's this lack of resolution that prevents it from being a romantic comedy. There's a kind of bitter, fascinating scene toward the end of "Spanglish" where Tia Leoni is having her meltdown (which she caused) and whines at Sandler, "Are you really that much nicer than me?" To which Sandler's character mutters, "Well, you didn't set the bar very high."
The movie builds you up in a certain way, then spins it at the end, and I think people going for a specific romantic comedy ending came away disappointed. In a way I was very disappointed--shouldn't Sandler get the girl, divorce his psycho bitch of a wife, open a restaurant with Flor and live happily ever after with his children? On the other hand, who's the focus of the film? It wasn't Sandler. It was Flor. And although she seemed to be in love with the man Sandler played, in many ways the film was about how she struggled to not become a full-fledged part of American culture, how, as her daughter who narrates the movie says at the beginning, "My mother would be my Mexico."
Anyway, it's a film that I imagine will stay with me for quite some time, for the characters, for what it doesn't do, and for what it does do. I guess that's as good a definition of art as any.
Interpreting Rejection Letters
July 18, 2007
My agent sent me a rejection we received for my children's fantasy novel yesterday. It read:
"Laura and I very much enjoyed the story, but in the end have decided that it's not quite right for our list at this time."
A few years ago I might have really obsessed over the meaning of this. They said, after all, they "very much enjoyed the story" so was there a problem, why didn't they accept it? Was it the character? The length? Were there too many typos? Can I change the plot, the setting... the font? How about my name? Maybe if I change my name to something like Joseph Kramer Railing, we can use the name JK Railing. Would that help?
Interestingly (or not), the BookEnds Literary Agency
has a blog post today about whether they as agents are obligated to write comments on a rejected manuscript.
Truthfully, though, if there were only one or two things that were the problem, then I’d probably offer representation or ask you to make revisions and resubmit. Usually it’s bigger and broader than that. Usually it’s the characterization. Something that can’t be fixed easily. Or a plot issue. Again, usually something that can’t easily be fixed. And often it’s a little of both. Sometimes I just took on something similar or I don’t see a big enough market for it.
So what I’m trying to say here is that the trouble with giving feedback is that it always makes the problem look simple.
Or, in the case of my little rejection note, it's not quite right for their list. (The publisher is Holt, by the way). My son asked me what that meant. My first answer (you'd have to know my son or perhaps have a 13-year-old of your own to completely understand why there's more than one answer) was, "Nothing. It doesn't mean anything."
I think that's probably true enough.
"We enjoyed it very much" I take to mean that yes, as a matter of fact, they did enjoy reading it. They actually probably did read it to the end and enjoyed it. So they said so. Or, perhaps, they hated it and didn't want to insult me (a published author) or my agent (who represents or has represented some of their authors) by saying it sucked dead bears and she should never have sent it to them.
As for fitting into their list, there can be a 101 reasons for that to be true (or not) ranging from "we've published 8 books just like it in the last year" to "we don't publish those kinds of books" to "we're booked up (no pun intended) for the next two years and the book we try to squeeze in is going to be better than just enjoyable."
Frankly, you'll drive yourself crazy trying to parse this sort of thing. I now pretty much take rejections to mean this (and if you're a regular reader of this blog you already know what I'm going to say):
On this given day this given editor declined to acquire this given manuscript. Period.
For any of a million and one or more reasons, it didn't grab them as much as they wanted to be grabbed by a manuscript by me. If I had a track record in children's books, if my last 5 YA fantasy novels (which I haven't written, let alone published) sold 150,000 copies each, then they may very well have been pushed over the edge (by greed and market forces, often the same thing) into "loving it."
Rejection's part of the game, an unpleasant one, although once you start getting published regularly enough the rejections become significantly easier to deal with.
Oh, and that Hebrew writing up there in the top corner? It supposedly means: This too shall pass. (If you speak Hebrew and it says something different, please let me know. It would be quite embarrassing if it actually said something like, "The writer of this blog is a talentless schmuck.")
Thoughts On Writing For A Living
July 17, 2007
For all the years I wrote in the evenings and weekends and worked a "dayjob" I wished I could be a fulltime writer. It's the standard wish for all aspiring writers and even the legion of published writers who still work dayjobs. One of my fellow Inkspotters
recently lamented along the same lines, saying, "Oh, if only I could do this fulltime so I could write all day."
I thought, from my perspective, I would throw out a few thoughts on the subject and I think they apply to freelancers, fulltime novelists (there aren't that many) and those of us who do both.
1. You don't write all day. Sorry. I doubt if very many fulltime novelists do either. I suspect they work several hours, then spend the rest of the time catching up on correspondence, reading, researching, marketing, and in general, wasting time. From my perspective, I can put in a good hour or less and get 5 decent pages of novel written. Even when I get odd breaks in my writing where I can say, "Okay, this week I'm just going to work on fiction," it's amazing if I get more than 2 to 4 hours of actual novel-writing word-on-screen writing done. I think that's typical. And as a freelancer I often go days without writing, although I'm often researching, setting up interviews, conducting interviews, transcribing interviews, editing, etc.
2. Give up your ideas of fame and fortune. Yep, there are some rich and famous writers out there. How many compared to rich and famous actors and rock musicians? Less. Much less. And in a world where your local TV weather bunny can be famous over a 6-county area for reading a TelePrompter (yeah, I know, some of them are even meteorologists), let me share my conclusion that more people in the Detroit area know who Shay Ryan or Jerry Hodak is than knows who Elmore Leonard is. And most of them wouldn't recognize Loren Estleman if they ran over him with their car. That isn't to say you might NOT get rich and famous, just that, like in most areas of endeavor, it's not likely to happen. But you might be able to make a living.
3. It's a job. Yeah. It is. And unlike many jobs where you essentially get paid for showing up, with writing you get paid for actually producing. You can spend 8 hours getting that page written or 1 hour, but you get paid the same no matter how much time you spend on it (unless you're doing a particular type of writing where you get paid hourly, but you still make your bids prior to the actual work). Treat it like one.
4. It's not always fun. I love writing for a living. I love the lifestyle even more. That said, not even the novel-writing is fun all the time. Here's a great example of why I say this. I'm working on a piece about a Demonstration Project that Medicare has to make happen as part of Medicare Reform (of 2003), to try and set up a competitive bidding situation among the clinical laboratory industry. This thing has been dragging on for four years and the only thing it's really succeeding at is organizing the clinical laboratory industry into agreeing on something, which is that this demonstration project is a nightmare waiting to happen. Yesterday, after finally putting together a draft of the bidding package, Medicare put on a 2-hour open forum that I listened to via teleconference. The first hour--I kid you not--was two wonks from a consulting firm droning word-for-word through a PowerPoint presentation that took me 10 minutes to read. The last half was Q&A (actually, it ran over by 35 minutes and could have gone on forever, because the 400 people listening weren't happy and wanted to make that clear to the CMS). But hey, it's a living, right?
5. It's a business. When you're at your desk it can be art. Once you send it out, you're a business. Once you send it out to be published, it ceases to be completely your own and other people have legitimate interest and investment in the product, both financial and emotional, and you need to be aware and prepared for that.
6. This is a job without tangible benefits. I think writing for a living has a significant number of "intangible" benefits like more or less flexible hours, no commute and the deep satisfaction of doing something you love. But, and this applies to freelancers and novelists alike. By the standards of so-called "real" jobs, this is a job that sucks when it comes to what real jobs would call benefits. Here are the things you DON'T have making a living as a freelancer or novelist: job security, a regular paycheck, paid time-off, paid vacations, year-end bonuses, health insurance, retirement plans/pension. The money can actually be pretty decent (well, maybe not for novelists, but that's a different topic), but from time to time even on my happiest moments I might think, "I've really got to put more money into my retirement fund."
And I want to make an example here about this "regular paycheck" thing. I'm making pretty decent money, 50% to 90% more than I was making when I worked at the hospital. This year I'm primarily working for 3 clients, one of which accounts for about 80% of my income. I'm paid in pretty large chunks. $20,000 or so all at once, with another $10,000 coming later, another $7500 coming later, etc. This requires a level of money management--because you have to pay taxes quarterly, even when your income is jumping around--that can be tough to get used to. We were thinking of going up north for a couple days this weekend and we're having our kitchen floor replaced next week. But when we needed to make the decisions about this, I was owed around $11,000 and it hadn't come yet. So we flat-out canceled the vacation days and warned the floor people we might have to postpone. The money came (half of it yesterday) in time to keep the floor deal in place, but we had to be flexible about the time off.
That, my friends, is the reality of writing for a living.
But I do love it.
Peter LeClair Plays Guitar
Squeezing The Midlist Authors
July 13, 2007
There's been a little more talk than usual recently about how publishers are squeezing out the midlist author, focusing on bestsellers, blah, blah, blah.
It ain't new. From what I've been able to tell, there's been talk about midlist authors being cut, squeezed or marginalized pretty much since the word "midlist" was coined.
I just read a blog the other day where the writer seemed to be referring to midlist authors as anyone who is not a bestseller. That's a whole lot of books, folks.
One of the definitions I came across was "all books that aren't frontlist." Of course, bestsellers are frontlist, but there are sometimes "frontlist" books that aren't bestsellers.
Another definition is "books that are not bestsellers, but which make enough profit to justify publication."
I was checking out another blog and it had many postings on this subject, but here's part of one:
MARJORIE BRAMAN VP & Executive Editor, HarperCollins
There are, as I see it, two different definitions of midlist. There are books that, by their very nature, represent the dreaded kind of midlist--and quite honestly, as an editor, it's this variety that I try to avoid. These are the books--and we all know them--that are often very readable, but in the end, just don't seem necessary. And I don't know any editor who wants to spend the kind of energy and time a novel demands on a book that's not necessary. Doesn't mean we don't like it--just that we can live without it.
So I guess a midlist book is one I can live without. Which is sort of interesting and just about as ephemeral as a rainbow. I mean, I read maybe 50 books a year, yet there are apparently 200,000 published in the U.S. alone, give or take, so it's clear that if I were the arbiter of all things "midlist" then approximately 199,950 writers are going to be looking for work elsewhere. (Look out McDonalds, here they come. Hope you have lots of applications handy.) And with all due respect to Ms. Braman, by that definition her company would pretty much cease to exist given that more readers DON'T read her books than do, ergo, they can live without them.
I like the definition only if I were God and not a terribly benevolent one at that. Can I apply this definition to all arts and entertainment? And while we're at it, I can think of some politicians and, well, countries, that I could live without.
Madonna? Bye-bye. Anne Coulter. Don't let the door hit you in the ass on the way out. Rush Limbaugh, sayonara, buddy. The entire Bush Administration (and take your ugly little dog, Dick Cheney, with you, too), so long. 99.9% of the films that come out of the Sundance Film Festival--ciao. 87.2% of the films that come out of Hollywood--hasta la vista, baby! Books? I'm making a list, checking it twice, but the publishing industry as we know it soon going to cease to exist.
Well, you get the idea. That's probably not a good definition either.
And I find it hard to figure how people can claim to even begin to predict the demise of something they can't even clearly define.
One of the more useful (sort of) definitions of midlist that has come over the years was:
Genre novels sold between, say, 5000 and 15,000 copies.
Anything below 5000 could safely be dubbed "literary" or "mainstream." I find this wildly amusing because, by this definition, all literary novels sell below 5000 copies. I'm sorry, but Phillip Roth, John Updike and Maya Angelou don't qualify as literary. Sorry, folks, but I think you're just bestsellers. Screw your pretensions to "literary" greatness. Sell fewer books or give up the title.
Bestsellers, as anyone who's studied the actual sales numbers knows, vary wildly, but a book that sells about 150,000 in hardcover or 1,000,000 in mass market paperback can be safely called a bestseller.
So midlist, by this definition, is a hardcover novel that sells between 15,000 and 150,000 copies, or if it's mass market paperback, perhaps midlist is between 15,000 and oh, a million is too high, let's make it 300,000 just to be totally arbitrary. Since no one else has come up with a useful definition, I'll make that mine and you're free to either argue with me or make your own definition. Hell, we're right back to that God thing again, aren't we?
What's your definition?
Labels: genre, literary, midlist authors, publishing
Book Tour, Day 1
July 12, 2007
Well, today began my first leg of actual on-the-road work to promote THE SERPENT'S KISS. This means, basically, that I will visit bookstores and if they have copies in stock, offer to sign them. If they don't have copies in stock, I will beg them to order them. If they have ordered copies and they haven't shown up yet, I will thank them and threaten, er, promise to come back again and sign them.
This is the glamorous life of novelists.
First stop, well, okay, second stop. First stop was at OfficeMax to pick up office supplies.
First bookstore: Borders Books & Music, Auburn Hills, MI. They had no copies in stock. This was particularly dismaying because I stopped by there a week or so ago, they said they had been ordered and expected them in Monday or Tuesday of this week. They assure me they've been ordered but apparently haven't arrived yet, or nobody's seen them, or they're sitting out on the loading dock in the hot sun. Nobody seems to really know. I thank them and leave, threatening, "I'll be back."
Borders Books & Music, Oakland Mall, 14 Mile Road, Troy, MI. They had two copies on the shelf. The young lady at the information desk was such a delight and so enthusiastic that if I haven't been happily married, I would have agreed to marry her right on the spot. I signed them, we stuck AUTOGRAPHED stickers on them and found them a very nice corner spot on the NEW PAPERBACK table.
Barnes & Noble, John R Road, Troy, MI. You could easily walk from the Troy Borders to the Troy Barnes & Noble--it's merely across the street from the mall. But go to the Borders, where they actually have my books. B&N has 3 signed copies of my far earlier novel DIRTY DEEDS, but none of my later books. They didn't last time I swung by promoting THE DEVIL'S PITCHFORK either. The guy at the information desk said they "hadn't gotten their copy yet." (One copy?) I said thanks and moved on.
Barnes & Noble, Rochester Road, Rochester, MI. No copies there and again, the guy at the information desk said, "We've ordered one (one?) but it hasn't shown up yet." At first I think I'm having a flashback to the B&N in Troy, but no, it's a different store, different desk, different guy. (They were both tall, though). I thank him and move on down the road.
Borders Books & Music, Rochester Road, Rochester, MI. They had three copies out on their Paperbacks Of Interest table. I take them to the information guy, who gladly supplies me AUTOGRAPHED stickers then takes me over to their MYSTERY section where there are two more copies, which I sign. We chat for a moment, then I thank him and head back home.
Total: 59 miles, 7 signed books.
I'll keep you posted.
The Serpent's Kiss--review
July 12, 2007
Book reviewer Douglas Quinn has this to say about THE SERPENT'S KISS:
The Serpent’s Kiss by Mark Terry
Trade Paperback, Midnight Ink, 2007
***** Highly Recommended
Review by Douglas Quinn, Author of Blue Heron Marsh, et al.
From the very first page I said to myself, "This author can really write," and throughout the novel I wasn’t let down. I was immediately drawn in by Mark Terry’s pacing and his wry sense of humor, which he weaves into his snappy dialogue and descriptive tapestry.
At first, when the main character was introduced, I was a little put off by how quickly he caved in about getting involved with the case, a sarin gas attack–he had other, more important plans–but, hey, Terry is offering a fast-paced thriller here and there is no time for our unconventional hero, Derek Stillwater, to agonize.
As for Derek Stillwater, you’ve gotta love the guy. He’s cranky and impatient and acts on impulses about which the rest of us only fantasize. His foisted-upon-him sidekick, FBI agent Jill Church, is cool, pragmatic and likeable. Jill’s teen-aged son Michael is woven nicely into the story, including the exciting climax. Her politically connected boss, Matt Gray, is the perfect foil for both Church and Stillwater. Their antagonist, The Serpent, is diabolical and pure evil. There are many twists and turns and the ending has a nice little surprise that cleverly sets up the next Derek Stillwater novel.
Mark Terry baits his hook, casts it out into the world of the unsuspecting reader and, if you are one of the lucky ones who takes the bait and reads The Serpent’s Kiss, you will be glad he reeled you in. Set in Detroit, the pace of The Serpent’s Kiss is fast and furious. It’s a Derek Thrillwater of a read.
The Secret Handshake
July 11, 2007
I'm over at the Inkspot blog today, writing about The Secret Handshake you need to know to get published and become a bestselling author.
July 10, 2007
As some of you do or do not know (or perhaps, even care), I committed an act of book promotion yesterday and selected five names at random from my e-mailing list. To-date, only three people have responded..
The following three good folks will receive a signed copy of THE SERPENT'S KISS:
Bachi & Glenner--you know who you are!--e-mail me with your real names and addresses and I'll get your copies out to you ASAP!
THE SERPENT'S KISS --review
July 9, 2007Wanda Keesey
has a good review of THE SERPENT'S KISS over on her website. Check it out.
"The action never stops..."
On Your Reading Radar: The Cleaner by Brett Battles
July 8, 2007
Ah yes. I forgot to post about Brett Battles' first novel, THE CLEANER.
I read this book a few weeks ago and enjoyed it. If you're into espionage-y type books, this is highly recommended.
I'm sure I could go on and on about what I think are the strengths and weaknesses of this book, but I'll just say this:
I read it.
I enjoyed it.
I'm jealous. (And wish I weren't).
Check it out.
On Your Reading Radar: James Rollins & JA Konrath
July 7, 2007
I took my kids out to Borders yesterday and we all picked up books. (My oldest son picked up something called "Vampirates" a YA novel that takes place in 2505. If you think pirates are bad and vampires are worse, then vampirates must be...)
Anyway, despite the fact there were about a thousand books I wanted to buy and I've got about 50 sitting on my shelf to read, I bought two books. They are:
THE JUDAS STRAIN by James Rollins
DIRTY MARTINI by JA Konrath
I'm looking forward to reading both of them. I have, over the years, enjoyed the hell out of both of their books. I've also met Joe and interviewed him twice and interviewed Jim once. They're both good guys. Rollins also apparently writes fantasy novels under the names of James Clemens (I think it's James; I know it's not Samuel).
If you want to know more about their books or the authors, check out their respective websites:
The Name Of The Newspaper Says It All, Doesn't It?
July 5, 2007
Follow the link to a write-up about me and THE SERPENT'S KISS that appeared in one of the local newspaper, The Observer & Eccentric
Presidential Wisdom To Chew On
July 4, 2007
Here are some presidential quotations to think about on Independence Day.
"I cannot live without books." --Thomas Jefferson
"Government is not reason; it is not eloquence; it is force! Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master." --George Washington
"Nothing brings out the lower traits of human nature like office seeking." --Rutherford Bichard Hayes
"We Americans have no commission from God to police the world." --Benjamin Harrison
"Happiness lies in the joy of achievement and the thrill of creative effort." --Franklin D. Roosevelt
"A government big enough to give you everything you want is a government big enough to take from you everything you have." --Gerald R. Ford
"Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?" --Abraham Lincoln
"The truth is that all men having power ought to be mistrusted." --James Madison
Happy 4th of July!
THE SERPENT'S KISS ESCAPES!!!!!
July 2, 2007
My friend Andy Rosenbaum told me a while back that if my books were Klingons they wouldn't wait to be released, they would escape.
I think Andy has a point. And certainly, in my humble opinion, THE SERPENT'S KISS, is a Klingon type of book.
Bestselling author Tess Gerritsen said: "I can't remember the last time a thriller made my heart pound and my hands sweat, but The Serpent's Kiss did all that and more. This is a tense, high-octane read!"
The Midwest Review of Books said: "The story is a nail biting thriller that I couldn't stop reading. I loved the character of Derek Stillwater and how he cuts to the chase. I've put Mr. Terry on my list of favorite authors and look forward to reading his next novel in the series, Angels Falling. Other books by the author include The Devil's Pitchfork, Dirty Deeds and Catfish Guru."
Mark Terry says: "I agree. Thanks."
So, a little bookkeeping. First, although I have a link to Amazon above, I encourage you to visit your local independent bookseller and pick up a copy (Now! What are you waiting for! Go!) If, like me, you have no local independent bookseller, don't hesitate to visit your local chain store or order online! I have no quibbles with anybody who sells books (my drug of choice).
Second, if you haven't signed up for my e-newsletter, signing up will automatically enroll you in a contest to win a signed copy of The Serpent's Kiss. Sign up before July 8th to be eligible. Just click on my smirking face above (or anywhere on the site header above) and then click on the Contact page.
First Vacation of the Summer
July 1, 2007
Yes, today is the official publication of The Serpent's Kiss, and I should be regailing you with tidbits of self-promotion, but I've been on vacation and I thought I'd talk about that instead. Tomorrow, BSP, I promise.
We went to Ludington, Michigan. Where is that? you ask. Well, hold up your left hand, fingers together, palm out. Now, start at your pinkie finger and work your way down the left side of your hand until you're about an inch from where your hand becomes your wrist. That's Ludington. And if you're totally confused, it's because you're not from Michigan. Every kindergartner in Michigan understands this is how you tell someone where you are in Michigan. (I live about half an inch below the crease between the thumb and index finger, maybe half an inch in from the right).
If you look at the photographs above, the one on the right is an aerial photograph of the harbor and downtown Ludington. This is on Lake Michigan, in case you didn't know. The harbor has two protective breakwalls. If you walk out on the bottom one, you see the lighthouse that is on the photo on the left. If you time it right (we didn't) you can even pay $2 a head to tour it. It's a great walk even though my 9-year-old gives me stress attacks in the process.
We also spent a chunk of Friday and Saturday out on the state park beach about 7 or 8 miles north of town. Fantastic beach, sand dunes, etc. Unfortunately, the weather, though very sunny, was probably about 67 degrees and the water was intolerably cold, so even wading was unbearable. Still, we had a great time.
So we ate at some great restaurants (James Street Brewery and the House of Flavors were the two best) and wandered around the marina and swam in the hotel pool and got sunburns even thought it wasn't warm enough to swim. And now I'm back and ready (more or less) to get back to work--until the next vacation.