Friday, September 28, 2007
With A Little Help From My Friends
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.
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
The Writer's Ultra-Marathon
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.
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
Cult Pop Interview
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!
Monday, September 24, 2007
Rebel Island by Rick Riordan
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.
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.
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
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?
The Romantic Life of A Writer
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:
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
Monday, September 17, 2007
Juggling an Attitude Adjustment
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
Check it out:
Thursday, September 13, 2007
Book Marketing--The Big Hit
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.
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
What I Don't Know
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.
Monday, September 10, 2007
A Book Promotion Weekend
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 www.tomgrace.net 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.
Friday, September 07, 2007
Writing Fiction and Selling Shoes
Thursday, September 06, 2007
What Movie Producers Think
Tuesday, September 04, 2007
A Creative Break
I'm over at the Inkspot Blog today. Check it out.
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?”
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.