Mark Terry

Friday, September 28, 2007

Still Experimenting


With A Little Help From My Friends

September 28, 2007

Anybody ever read Ursula Le Guin's "The Lathe of Heaven"? In this novel, the main character discovers that whatever he dreams becomes reality. When he goes to a psychiatrist about this, the shrink finds that it's true and starts restructuring the universe to his own wishes by using hypnosis and manipulating the main character's dreams.
It's a "monkey's paw" kind of story, though. The shrink tells him to dream things like the end of war on earth. Sure enough, there's an end of war on earth--because aliens attack earth, so now the war is in outer space. He tells him to dream about eliminate racial hatred and sure enough, all races are eliminated--there's now just one shade of gray among everybody.
Anyway, at one point in the novel, the main character enters a used record store (if it was something else, excuse me, it's been a long time), which is run by one of the aliens, who have now integrated into earth society. The alien knows who he is--you created us, after all--and offers him a Beatles album, which in this case would be "The Yellow Submarine" or at least a single of "With A Little Help From My Friends."
[just as a bit of trivia, I had a Yellow Submarine lunch box when I was in elementary school. Can you imagine how much that would be worth now in mint condition?]
This "friends" thing is somewhat on my mind because I've started a MySpace page and been fussing around with my Crimespace page.
If you're a member of either, drop by and become my friend. What the hell, can't hurt.
There is, actually, a point to this post. If you stop by here regularly, I would like to ask a favor of you, my friends here.
If you've read any of my books, I would like you to send an e-mail to five of your friends who you think might like my books. Just say, hey, have you heard of this guy? I really loved his book. (Or whatever you felt). You should check out his website:
Or something like that.
That's my favor. If you have a blog and want to do the same thing there, please do. If you have a blog and would like me to be a guest blogger, e-mail me and we'll work something out.
By the same token, if you have a book out and would like me to mention it here on my blog, contact me.
If you would like me to let 5 of my friends know about your book, just ask. If I haven't read your book, I'll try to work something out.
Y'see? The book business is pretty tough. I could use a little help from my friends.
Mark Terry

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Writer's Ultra-Marathon

September 26, 2007

I am reminded all too vividly these days that writing fiction is like running a marathon--or an ultra-marathon, for the really masochistic among us. And during that trip we're bound to have good moments and bad, uphill and down, and hit "the wall" quite possibly more than once.

[A bit of an afterthought here, but the metaphor only stretches so far. At least with a marathon there's a finish line, you can drink your beer, have some pizza and go sit in a hot tub for a while. That doesn't really apply to writing fiction, although, now that I think of it...]

A writer friend and I have been commiserating a lot about this via e-mail, both agreeing, I think, that we're a little nuts and our thinking on the subject of writing and publishing can be a bit tortured, confused and complex. Certainly my feelings about writing itself remain relatively straightforward, but when you mix it with the world of publishing and book promotion, my thoughts get churned significantly. Hell, rejection is almost a piece of cake to deal with compared to some of the other aspects of publishing.

Yesterday I tripped across this blog post and I recommend you visit and give it some attention.

"I frame it that way instead of talking about following the dream because following the dream is the easy part. Dreaming of writing a book is easy. Setting out to write is easy too. Not quitting when the writing becomes difficult or the world dumps on you is hard....

"In the acknowledgments of Carrie Vaughn’s Kitty and the Midnight Hour there’s a note that says “to Dan Hooker for calling the day after I almost decided to quit.” Every writer who’s followed the dream to fruition knows about that day, or those days, as the case may be.
It might be the day you got the rejection letter for that first novel, the letter that finished off the set of major publishers and killed the book for the foreseeable future, the one that meant that if you wanted to be published it would have to be the next book or the one after that. It might be the day your agent called to tell you the 3 book deal that tied all of your work up for the last 2 1/2 years had been killed at the last minute by marketing. Or it might have come earlier, when you realized that after taking three years to write the first book, it was now going to take another one to revise it....

"The reason is almost immaterial. The decision not to quit is what really matters."

Well, I can say this blog post didn't come a minute too soon.


Mark Terry

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Cult Pop Interview

September 25, 2007

As I mentioned earlier, I did a lengthy TV interview with Jim Hall and his show Cult Pop. Jim and Jerry recently created a web presence for their show, so visit the website and check out the show. I'm show #8, but there are plenty of other cool interviews to check out as well, including Tobias Buckell, Marcus Sakey, John Scalzi, and Brad Meltzer.

Check it out!


Mark Terry

Monday, September 24, 2007

Rebel Island by Rick Riordan

September 24, 2007

I recently read REBEL ISLAND, Rick Riordan's latest private eye novel featuring Tres Navarre.

Here's the opening:

We got married in a thunderstorm. That should've been my first warning.

Before I talk a bit more about the book, I wanted to share a little bit more of the opening, because it amused me.

The sky opened up, and our outdoor wedding became a footrace to the chapel with the retired Baptist minister and the Buddhist monk leading the pack.

Larry Cho, the monk, had a commanding early lead, but Reverend Buckner Fanning held steady around the tamale table while Larry the Buddhist had to swerve to avoid a beer keg and got blocked out by a couple of bail bondsmen. Buckner was long retired, but he sure stayed fit. He won the race to the chapel and held the door for the others as we came pouring in.

Anyway, what's the book about? Well, Tres' now-wife, Maia, is 8-1/2 months pregnant at their wedding, so they really hadn't planned a honeymoon. Tres' brother, Garrett, suggests they honeymoon on Rebel Island. He's heading down there to this Texas Gulf Coast island where his friends runs a hotel, and his friend needs a favor anyway.

Tres has plenty of reasons to say no--Rebel Island was the site of some very unpleasant family vacations when he was a kid, but he doesn't. And pretty soon he and his wife Maia are stuck on a small island in an old mansion-turned-hotel with a bunch of misfits while what was a small tropical storm turns into a hurricane and isolates the island from the rest of the world. And then people start dying...

In a fairly ingenious way Riordan turns a PI novel into both a locked-room mystery and an odd version of the British country house mystery (although there are no Brits here, but plenty of Mexicans and screwed up south Texans). You might have to work a little harder to suspend your disbelief here--this group of residents certainly have a lot of hidden agendas--but Riordan handles things so well, deftly mixing his first-person narrative with third-person POVs, that a complex storyline and characterizations are able to overcome any of the plot's liabilities. At least I thought so. I was very entertained and enjoyed the hell out of the book.


Mark Terry

Saturday, September 22, 2007

The Publishing Bizness

September 22, 2007

I met my old friend Chris Brown yesterday at a local Mexican place for nachos and beer. Here's the thing. Chris and I haven't seen each other in about 21 years.

You wouldn't know it from watching us. We were elementary school friends, then he moved away and we kept loosely in touch, then lost touch, then in the week after graduating from college and before getting married, Chris drove up to my parents' house in his convertible and we chatted and went for a drive and then we hadn't heard from each other since.

There's a lot more to this story and maybe I'll write about it. Chris is a good guy and I'm delighted to have linked up again.

The point was, as some of you know, I've been angsting about writing fiction lately. I did a little whining about this to Chris (sorry, dude), although hopefully not too much, and he said, "Don't you still have stories just bursting to get out?"

Ah fuck, man. In "Bag of Bones" Stephen King tells a story about being a kid walking through the woods and some jet jockey going to Mach overhead and how the woods were totally silent afterwards, and how after a bit you could hear the first bird in the woods singing. (It's a metaphor, okay? Bear with me.)

Chris was sort of the first bird to sing in the woods.

My brother has commented to me before it's always better to concentrate on the work itself.

No kidding, Kemosabe.

I may have shrugged to Chris and smiled, but I thought of the two novels I'm playing with. I thought of the book proposal for a fifth Derek Stillwater novel that I put together. I thought of the follow-up to my children's novel that, as a matter of fact, I AM going to write some day.

Does it every occur to you that if you don't write about these people they won't exist????

I think all of us--published more than unpublished perhaps--focus too damn much on book promotion and the business of publishing. Yes, you need to be aware of it. Yes, it's an issue and an obstacle to overcome.

But ultimately we write novels for reasons that maybe don't have much to do with promotion and money (God, I can't believe I said that) or publishing or lining a publisher's pockets.

I have a lengthy quote on my office wall by Stephen King about stories and imagination, but the first line is: "...I still see stories as a great thing..."

And that's why I'm still in the game.

So thanks, Chris, for being the first bird in the silence.

Mark Terry

p.s. That photograph, by the way, is Derek Stillwater's boat. A Criss-Craft Constellation of, if my memory serves me right, 1963 vintage. He lives on it. Beauty, isn't it?

Friday, September 21, 2007

Some men...

September 21, 2007
I just watched, er, listened, to a trailer for the next Batman movie: The Dark Knight.

There doesn't actually seem to be any footage here, but there's a wonderful monologue by Alfred, played by Michael Caine, where he says: "Some men just want to watch the world burn."

Damn, that's a great line. And such a key to my own novels. Motives? Don't need no stinkin' motives. Some men just want to watch the world burn.

And don't they? Really?

Mark Terry

The Romantic Life of A Writer

September 21, 2007
Yep, it's been a hell of a week. Yesterday I spent the majority of the day on the couch getting over some sort of flu bug, when I wasn't trying to wrap up an article that was due today.

Today, feeling about 90%, I went off to the car dealer to get my oil changed, a new key ground and my key fobs re-whatever. The appointment was for 10:00. They finally finished all this excruciatingly complicated mechanical shit at 12:40.

I'm home briefly now. I got a call from a potential client. We're playing phone tag.

My big client informed me yesterday that the big report I wrote for them, based on data they captured and collated, had data errors, and may need to be re-edited and re-published. "Oy," he said. "Oy indeed," said I.

My friend Andy Rosenbaum e-mailed me with this link. Check it out:

Mark Terry

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Still Adjusting

September 18, 2007

I'm still adjusting, but I like this picture. I ripped it off from PJ Parrish's blog. It makes me smile.


Mark Terry

Still Adjusting

Monday, September 17, 2007

Juggling an Attitude Adjustment

September 17, 2007

I'm fried. I feel like I've been juggling flaming chainsaws. I calculated that in three days (last Saturday, Sunday and yesterday) I spent over 26 hours on book promotion.

In the last week I've conducted almost a dozen interviews. Attended "curriculum night" twice in the last two weeks, one for each kid, and started in on The Great Homework Nag, 2007-2008.

I've also organized two--yes, count them, two!--book proposals in the last week alone.

My attitude sucks. I'm annoyed and pissed off about the publishing industry and book promotion and so, lest I inflict all this negativity on you, I'm going to take a blog hiatus of at least a week, possibly longer, and concentrate on things that, uh, well, other things.

Swing by in a week, maybe I'll be back.

In the meantime, check out Eric Clapton and friends from the Crossroads Music Festival playing "Got To Get Better Tomorrow" here. Way cool.



Friday, September 14, 2007

Definitive Writing Advice

September 14, 2007
Check it out:

Mark Terry

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Book Marketing--The Big Hit

September 13, 2007
I've been involved in a thread on the listserv MurderMustAdvertise about AuthorBuzz and book marketing and I thought what I said today bears repeating, so here's the majority of what I said:

One of the mindsets that I struggle with and suppose I will continue to struggle with is what I think of as Big Hit Syndrome. Big Hit Syndrome is when you think, hey, I’ll do AuthorBuzz and because it reaches 285,000 people if even 10% of those people buy my book, I’ll sell 28,500 books, which would be fantastic.

Or, recently I did a cable TV interview and the show, Cult Pop, shows repeatedly in the downriver (south of Detroit) area several times a week for a month. And Big Hit Syndrome says, Hey, this is going to result in thousands of book sales!

Um, no. In most cases, it just doesn’t work that way. Just because you’re exposed to thousands of people (which for a writer is still a very good thing) doesn’t mean that will result in direct sales. It’s the most frustrating part about marketing. There’s little (if any) direct cause and effect.

Rule of thumb is people won’t remember and take action until they’ve heard the name at least 6 times. You also have to remember that in terms of books, there’s no shortage of them, people ALREADY have their favorites (or don’t read) and unless you’re stocked at Wal-Marts or at the cash register at Kmart, isn’t usually an impulse buy. Getting the reading public to buy your book is more like Chinese Water Torture: you gotta drop the book on their heads repeatedly, one way or another. And the more books you actually get published, the more likely it is to be effective.

So on that cheerful note (keep on marketing),

I would also like to point out that I have BIG HIT SYNDROME with my writing in general, as well. Although I'm pretty happy doing piecework and getting paid for it (as long as there's a lot of it), I have found I often need a BIG HIT, I need something to pay very well, or for a big project to come along. This applies to my fiction as well, although my BIG HIT SYNDROME sometimes takes, um, a big hit (reality check, folks) in the fiction world, from time to time. But I do seem to get enough BIG HITS to keep me looking for them.

Mark Terry

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

What I Don't Know

September 12, 2007
With a title like that, this blog entry could fill a library, but let's focus on writing.

1. I don't know how to intelligently evaluate return on investment re. book promotion versus sales.

2. I don't know how to convince the public to actually buy a book.

3. I don't know how to continue publishing novels. [Getting published was hard; staying published is harder. Sorry, it's the truth. I wish it wasn't.]

4. I don't know how people like Joe Konrath find the energy they put into book promotion. I include my friend Tobias Buckell in this category, too. [Toby does a ton, but Joe makes him look like a lazy slob].

5. I don't know why we think it's worthwhile to keep trying, just that apparently I think it is.

6. I don't have a clue what's going on in the head of my editor.

7. I'm not convinced I know what's going on in the head of my agent, either.

8. Some days, I'm not sure what's going on in my own head. Don't you hate that?

9. I don't know how to make a living writing fiction.

10. I don't actually know what my publisher's publicist has done. I'll keep assuming he's done stuff, but I don't actually know what it is he's done.

11. I don't know why some books get $100,000 advances and some get $1,000 advances. There seems to be no rhyme or reason for it.

12. At the book fair I spoke at Sunday, two separate people wanted to know why we had so much death and violence in our books (the panel was "Original Voices in Mysteries.") I don't know what panel these people thought they were listening to.

13. I don't know why so many people like and admire Oprah.

14. I don't know why so many readers apparently couldn't tell the difference between fiction and nonfiction when they bought Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code." [hint: it's FICTION!]

Well, I could go on, but I don't know what to write next.

Mark Terry

Monday, September 10, 2007

A Book Promotion Weekend

September 10, 2007

This was a big weekend of book promotion for me. I got up Saturday and at 10:30 headed over to the Lake Orion Public Library and did a panel discussion with authors Marcus Sakey and William Wallace Green. (Sorry, Wallace doesn't have a website). It lasted until about 12:40 (that's when I sprinted out the door, anyway) and resulted in a number of sales. Overall I thought this was a particularly excellent panel, partly because of the smaller group of writers and partly because it was a very active, lively audience.

Out the door, as I said, at 12:40. Drove to the Romeo Public Library about 22 miles away (all back roads). Got there about 1:20. This was a larger panel of authors. I was in the excellent company of author Jan Brogan, Sean Chercover, Steven Sidor, Mitchell Bartoy and Karen Tintori.

They handled bookselling, so all I had to do was sign books, and we sold a fair number, which was cool, and met a lot of very cool book readers, which was great. I split, headed back home (got there around 4:00) to say hello to my family and change clothes. At 4:30 I jumped back into the car and headed down to Ann Arbor for a dinner party being thrown by Robin and Jamie Agnew, owners of Aunt Agatha's, a mystery bookstory in A2. They were lovely, the food and drink was excellent and the company was terrific. I had the pleasure of meeting very, very many people, but of unusual note was graphic artist and cartoonist (if cartoonist is the appropriate description, and I suspect it isn't) Kay Fedewa.

The drive between home and Ann Arbor varies a lot depending on traffic, but it took me over an hour and a half to get there. I was running out of steam, so I left the party early, around 7:30, promptly got stuck in downtown Ann Arbor as football traffic hit the roads, so it took me 45 minutes just to get the two miles through town. I got home around 9:40. Said hello to the family, touched base, then fell into bed.

On Sunday, I got up late, feeling wiped out, did some prep work for the Sunday event, got ready, had lunch out with the family, gassed up the car and left Oxford around 12:40 and drove back to Ann Arbor for the Kerrytown Book Fest. I got there some time around 2:15 or so, parked on 4th, and checked in. I ran into Midnight Ink author Susan Goodwin who had a booth and was hawking copies of her latest novel. We chatted a few minutes, then I kept wandering, checked in with Robin Agnew, then bumped into Jim Hall, the host of Cult Pop. He was there interviewing authors. We went over and hung out in the shade, chatting with Jerry (sorry, no last name again, duh!) until it was my time to be the ringmaster for a panel discussion called "Original Voices in Mystery."

The writers there were Judy Clemens, Jan Brogan, Karen Tintori, Jill Gregory, and Tom Grace. Jill and Karen not only co-write novels together under their combined names, but under a single pseudonym and separate books under their own names. Tom's website is usually but for some reason it's not active today, so I linked to his page with his publisher.

After the panel, which I thought went fairly well, we went to a tent to sell a few books and sign them, then said our goodbyes. It was 4:30 or so. I jumped back in my car and drove back home, where I did some paperwork, practiced my guitar, hung out with my wife and kids, read, watched TV and collapsed into bed and slept in something resembling a coma.


Mark Terry

Friday, September 07, 2007

Writing Fiction and Selling Shoes

September 7, 2007

The topic of this blog has been very much on my mind lately. Perhaps even more so today because it is my father's birthday. If he were still alive, I believe he would be 81. When he died, the family had no end of hassles involving taking care of my mother who has Alzheimer's, and the last five years might have been very different. Very, very different.

Anyway, I was thinking about this so much that I dug up an old column by Lawrence Block from an old Writer's Digest called "Why Fiction?"

"In an early cartoon of Jules Feiffer's, a man explains that from early childhood on he always knew he was destined to be a shoe salesman, that he felt this powerful longing to be a shoe salesman, but that he'd felt he had no choice but to bow to the wishes of his parents and the realities of the job market and make a living as an abstract expressionist painter. He hated it, it ate away at his soul, but he had a family to support so that was what he did. 'The world,' he says in the last frame, 'should make a place for shoe salesmen.'"
Larry talks a great deal in this piece about a friend of his who wanted to be a novelist and wrote manuscript after manuscript of unpublished novels. Finally, somewhere in his 50s, his friend was so desparate he just wanted to see something in print with his name on it and get paid for it. So he started writing travel pieces.
"He found a magazine that would take brief travel articles from him, and he began writing regularly for it. He got very little money for his work, fifteen or twenty dollars for each brief article, but it was money he'd earned at his typewriter and he got a kick out of it. Furthermore, he was amassing credits as a travel writer..."
And pretty soon he was making a lot of money and he was being sent on trips for free. He was, by the standards of most writers, pretty damned successful. Larry says:
"I'll tell you, I envied him. I travel all the time, but I generally wind up staying at some equivalent of the Bates Motel and damn well pay for it myself, too....
"Last time I ran into Jack, I asked him where he was going next. He told me about a trip he had lined up for the following month, an excursion to South America that sounded sensational. 'But I'm cutting way back on travel,' he said. 'I've been turning down press trips left and right. They're fun, but, well, I never set out with the goal of making my mark as a travel writer. This was a means to an end. I wanted to get published so that I could validate myself as a published writer. Because what I really want to do, what I've always wanted to do, is write fiction. And the damn press trips are taking so much time I can't get a novel written.'"
Well, I'm pretty sure any aspiring writers and maybe even published-but-not-satisfactorily- published readers of this blog don't need me to hammer the moral of this story home.
And not to get too heavy about things, I was thinking today as I was listening to NPR and they were talking about Pakistan and Darfur, that in my circle of friends and acquaintances, there are a hell of a lot of people with nice homes, multiple cars, TVs, vacation homes, RVs, etc., who are unhappy because they're not getting their novels published or they're not making enough money writing their novels. And I had that very strong ironic, chastising voice in my head that said, "Gee, I wonder what people in Darfur bitch about?"
Anyway, Larry finishes with:
"Why do so many of us want so desperately to write fiction? I don't know, and it may not be important to know. If it's important to you, God bless you, and go for it....
"But if it's not important to you, if you think it's important only because it ought to be important, if you're locked into an ill-formed decision you made back in the 11th grade, you might want to take a moment to rethink things. Perhaps the world ought to make a place for shoe salesmen. Perhaps you owe it to yourself to find out what you really and truly want to do."
Mark Terry

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Thursday, September 06, 2007

What Movie Producers Think

September 6, 2007

Yesterday was a good news-bad news kind of day. I won't go into the bad news except it came from my publisher and the good news is that a film scout recommended THE DEVIL'S PITCHFORK to her producer and the VP of the MAJOR PRODUCTION COMPANY asked to read it yesterday. As for whether that will go anywhere, I remain optimistically skeptical, which, as far as I'm concerned, is the only way to remain sane with this sort of thing.

So today (while walking Frodo) I was wondering how a producer reads a novel. Certainly a scout is reading it with the eye to how good a story it is and whether it's visual. I would think a producer might read things quite differently. So, thinking of THE DEVIL'S PITCHFORK (you HAVE read it, right? If not, rush right out and buy it. Buy multiple copies. Give one to all your friends and relatives. Use them as drink coasters. Everybody needs drink coasters), I imagined the producer reading this way:

Hmmm, Prologue in Iraq. Can shoot this scene in Nevada. It's a night scene, though, that means union overtime. Wonder if we can jettison the prologue.

Strong male lead. Wonder if Clooney's available. He'd go, what, $20 million? Damon's hot and this would be Bourne-like only with more dialogue. Could change the sex, get Megan Fox for about two.
First sequence, interior shots, not a complicated set. Not very expensive. Intercut with Baltimore freeway shot. That's a second unit bit, might even be able to fake it by shooting it in San Bernardino. Can we move entire shoot to LA or Vancouver? What's the exchange rate like now with Canada? Remember to call Fred in accounting.
First sequence with Stillwater, Chesapeake Bay on the kayak, picked up by Coast Guard helicopter. Oh good lord, that's $300 an hour for the copter. I wonder if Clooney's ever been in a kayak? He changes clothes in the helicopter, though, so women will come back and see the movie again and again. (So will some of the guys, probably). We could shoot that scene locally, then send the second unit to Baltimore and DC for chopper shots. External shots at US Immuno can be done anywhere.
Liz Vargas character. Gwyneth? An important role. Need to juice up the sex part. Can we make that naked back scene a full frontal? Check Megan Fox again. Can we get Fred Thompson to play the President? No, he'll be too pricey now. Hey, maybe Pullman for Derek, he'd work cheap... Will Smith? Nick Cage? Is it too much like his character in "The Rock?" Could reprise it, though, get Connery in as James Johnston. How about Coffee? Is Alan Rickman available or is he shooting Half-Blood Prince over in England? How about Affleck as Coffee and Damon as Stillwater and we can give them production credits so they'll work cheap...
Mark Terry

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

A Creative Break

September 5, 2007
I'm over at the Inkspot Blog today. Check it out.

Mark Terry

Creative Tinkering

September 4, 2007
I'm currently hard at work on two separate and very different novels. I'll post more about this tomorrow, but here's a taste of each:

I stepped up to the security checkpoint in the Russell Senate Office Building and presented my ID and turned over my laptop.

The Capitol Police cop studied my creds and checked my name against her computer. “Dr. Davis,” she said. “You’re expected. You know the way?”

"I do.”

She waved me through the metal detector and I picked up my computer and proceeded through the rotunda of the building with its white marble statue of Senator Richard Russell, and took the stairs to the fourth floor. The statue stood in what the sculptor probably thought of as a leadership posture, but I’ve always noted that the right hand is low and palm up—like he was waiting for some lobbyist to lay some green in his palm. That’s the way my mind works.

And the other:

The tunnel abruptly ended. In the glow of her flashlight she saw a curtain of water dropping past the tunnel. She thought it was some sort of water runoff from the sewer systems. All the rain hitting the city had to go somewhere. Beijing was dotted with lakes—Kunming, Yuyan, Lianhua, to name a few—as well as the Jinhe River and irrigation canals. She didn’t know if this waterfall was intentional or part of a broken sewer or water line.

It didn’t matter. They were trapped.

A guttural voice behind them shouted, “Hands on your heads” in Cantonese.

Over the roar of the water Monaco heard the unexpected sound of Richter’s laughter. She stared at him. He shook his head. “Fuckin’ China. I hate this country.” He looked at her and smiled. “’The Fugitive’ or “Butch Cassidy’?”


He gripped her arm with sudden strength and launched them both out into the waterfall.

Mark Terry