Mark Terry

Monday, March 31, 2008

The life o' a writa

March 31, 2008
Okay, having sorta finished a big project (more on that in a mo'), I more or less only worked part-time on Friday.

(Actually, I'd put "Good Luck, Chuck" on our Netflix queu because I thought it looked amusing, but my wife was wildly uninterested, so when I started watching it Thursday night, since I had gotten the uncut/unrated version, I quickly decided I didn't want my kids walking in on this movie, so Friday afternoon I watched it--it sucked, don't bother; it's not a romantic comedy, it's a raunchy sex comedy, heavy on the raunch, so-so on the sex, and unfortunately light on the comedy, although Jessica Alba is very cute in it and appears to be the only female in the entire movie who keeps most of her clothes on). [And we watched "The Valley of Elah" this weekend, which is brilliant, though be prepared to be devastated if you watch it].

Then over the weekend my agent alerted me to a number of rejection letters. I got one that said, "loved the character, didn't like the plot," and another one that said, "didn't like the character, but liked the plot." 

Have I mentioned before that sometimes I really hate publishing?

So, today, I thought, since my wife was home, I may or may not work (I haven't had time off since Christmas), depending on if above project people send me comments or the survey data they claimed they were going to get me so I could REALLY finish the project.

So I got up, dithered around, walked the dog, checked my e-mail, dropped off my wife's truck at the shop, went to the credit union, went to the gym and got a new torturous routine from my occasional personal trainer, took my wife out to lunch, then settled down to do some miscellaneous things like organize my quarterly estimated taxes.

I also spent a lot of time going over technical articles for the journal I edit. Then I decided I should really dig in on this white paper I want to finish by next Tuesday, so I started contacting personal health record companies and pretty soon, the e-mails were flying back and forth, and then I did an interview, then scheduled a couple more, and told some people what I needed for their technical articles, then I got an e-mail or two... or three... or four... from the project manager, and one of them was, "How long do you think this report will be? When I printed it out it was 60 pages."

"Um," I said, blood pressure skyrocketing. "It's 126 pages long. How did you get only 60 pages?"

"Don't know, but that's what I got."

So I re-send it, then more e-mails, (also, the project, which I hoped to finish this week, is now on hiatus for at least 2 weeks while they do the surveys that should have been done weeks ago, so it won't be done until the end of April, which means if I'm lucky I'll get paid in May, instead of in April, when I was hoping to get paid for it because I THOUGHT I MIGHT ACTUALLY BE DONE WITH THIS PROJECT BY NOW) then I settle down to work on the Fortress of Diamonds, really kickin' along, my two heros, Jeri and Ash, had run away from a bad guy into an old abandoned mine shaft, but he blew it up, and they escaped again into a narrow tunnel, but it kept getting narrower, then their flashlights are dying, and they fall into a bat cave, and there are dozens of tunnels out, and there are rattlesnakes and...

Oh. Yeah, this is the life of a writer. Not bad, really, if you can get the people to pay you. Did I mention I had to nag a client about a check that should have shown up a week or so ago?

Mark Terry

Sunday, March 30, 2008

We Have A Preemptive Winner!

March 30, 2008
Okay, I'm wildly impressed. Stephen Parrish nailed it (with one minor exception).

The clues were:

1. He wrote nine symphonies.


2. Rudyard Kipling’s child.

Elephant (From Kipling's story, "Elephant's Child." Apparently, as Stephen points out, Kipling's daughter's name was Elyse. Coincidence, but it works.

3. A big red fruit that most think is a vegetable.

Tomato. (I believe the fruit classification is a U.S. Agriculture quirk, but it is an odd bit of trivia).

4. Orycteropus afer.

The scientific name for the Aardvark.

5. Odysseus’ heir.

Telemachus was Odysseus' son.

6. Not a street, drive or boulevard. 


7. A thief without thought.


8. Not a fool, imbecile, dunce, dummy, ignoramus or moron.


9. The home of Lincoln, not Abe.


10. North to the black raven.

As I said in my comments, this is actually a direction. The main character's father left clues for his daughter to track where he might have gone in case something happened to him (which it does). She's a 16-year-old, and she's traveling with one of her father's grad students (Ashley). It's been made clear that her father is eccentric, and he also traveled a lot when she was young, so he was always leaving her clues and codes and puzzles to solve while he was gone. 

SO, if you take the first letter of each answer, you get:

BETATAKIN. With the final, #10 being: Go north to the black raven.

Betatakin is a major Anasazi ruin on the Navajo National Park. Above are two photographs. The ruins are inside that huge natural arch. Dramatic, isn't it?

Everybody, thank you for participating. I hope it was fun. Apparently these were harder than I thought. I don't know why I say that, because so much of what makes it do-able is context and knowing the target and the source. Probably if I didn't know, I would have struggled. So great.

Stephen, e-mail me and send me  your address. Great job!


Mark Terry

Friday, March 28, 2008

Your Puzzle Contest

March 28, 2008
Okay, this is a little strange for me. I'm working on a YA novel and there are a lot of puzzles and clues and codes in it. I wrote this set a couple weeks ago, and it took me time to get to the chapter where the two main characters actually solve the puzzle. I, of course, know what the final solution is, but I went through the clues the way the characters did and I confess, one or two of them made me sit and think for a minute.

So, here's my puzzle challenge for you folks who are into these kinds of things.

I will post these ten questions. Anyone interested, try to solve the clues. Anyone who solves all ten clues accurately by 5PM EST on Monday, March 31st and posts them here on the blog, will get a signed copy of one of my books--The Serpent's Kiss, The Devil's Pitchfork, or Dirty Deeds. (If you already have them, I've got a ton of books, some of which haven't been released yet because publishers and publicists still send me advanced reading copies--we can work something out).

Now, having said that, the 10 answers to these questions form a larger clue in the context of the book. Sometimes they are letter/number substitutions, sometimes the first letter of each answer, sometimes other things. (Hey, you thought this was going to be easy?"

I will provide one hint. It's an Anasazi ruin in Arizona.

For anyone who gets the FINAL answer correct by 5PM EST on Monday, March 31st, I will send you signed copies of all 3 of my books and/or a reasonable substitution.

Ready? Here are the clues.

1. He wrote nine symphonies.

2. Rudyard Kipling’s child.

3. A big red fruit that most think is a vegetable.

4. Orycteropus afer.

5. Odysseus’ heir.

6. Not a street, drive or boulevard.

7. A thief without thought.

8. Not a fool, imbecile, dunce, dummy, ignoramus or moron.

9. The home of Lincoln, not Abe.

10. North to the black raven.


Mark Terry

Thursday, March 27, 2008

When Successful, Talented Writers Fail

March 27, 2008
Bear with me, because the links on this thing get a little complicated for l'l ol' me. You could bypass me entirely and just go read the entire thing on Tobias Buckell's blog. The other day he posted a chunk of a blogpost from somebody called Nojojojo or something like that. Part of what he posted is:

From Nojojojo:

The JotB knows she’s good enough to be published. Unlike most up-and-coming authors, who have to believe that they’re good enough, she’s got some kind of tangible proof: juried awards, multiple SFWA-qualifying sales, whatever. This shouldn’t make a difference, if she already believes in herself… but let’s be honest, here. External validation does make a difference to all but the most utterly self-confident. But in a JotB’s case, this knowledge adds more pressure. She’s good enough — got the SFWA card or Tiptree or Years’ Best credit to prove it — so why hasn’t she “made it”?


Let me tell you, folks, it's not an unreasonable question. If you've never published anything (yet, okay, I'll go along with your optimism), there are a lot of reasons why you might not be getting published. Maybe (yes, it's true) you're just not good enough (yet). Okay? Truth hurts, but it's possible.

What others of us wonder, those of us who make a living writing, those of us who have published novels but are either in between contracts or are trying to break out with a pseudonym or a bigger publisher or a different type of writing (and just off-hand, this seems to apply to almost every single fiction writer I know except for maybe the biggest ones; PJ Parrish commented on this blog not long ago that she had been working on a comic novel; Eric Mayer and Mary Reed, in addition to their excellent historical mysteries have written an historical supernatural novel that is being marketed; Joe Konrath has written screenplays and will be having a horror novel come out under a pseudonym; the list goes on and on), well...

Yeah, that thought got lost. What us published writers wonder is, how do you stay in the biz? How do you improve in the biz? If we've hit a roadblock, how do we get back on track?

Here's what I wrote on Toby's blog:

Because nothing is guaranteed and being a good, competent, very good or even very, very good writer doesn’t guarantee anything. The publishing industry is subjective, unpredictable, capricious and based more on a “good hook” and the publisher’s ability to place you and your book within a marketing context as it has to do with being a “good writer.” Even then, building a readership is difficult. Probably the only guarantee is that if you have the chops, develop your skills and persist (probably beyond anything any normal person would call reasonable) that you will have some level of success in the business.


For some reason I was thinking I sounded more snarky and bitter than it appears. I don't think I was having a smiley-face day when I wrote that by any means, but I don't think I was on the downside of a rant. Nope. Today, I stand with what I said.

Then, fantasy author Michael Canfield responded. I thought what he said was very insightful (and today, anyway, gave me hope). Here's part of what he said: 

Michael Canfield: (MichaelCanfield.Net)

A little success moves the aspirant from the realm of dreaming about the day when she feels the sword tap of legitimacy on the shoulder and is invited to sit at the round table. But the first thing one realizes upon arrival in paradise is that paradise has changed location leaving — in lieu of forwarding address — only vague clues about how to catch up someday again, maybe. Now however, the disappointed dreamer looks back at how much work she’s done and the dream seems more unattainable than ever, or furthermore probably a con and not even worth it. So she decides to stop writing (assuring herself the ‘nobody reads anymore anyway’) and takes up game design. Or golf.

The key, I think, is to think of every single step as the first step. The beginning is usually a terrifically exciting place to be anyway.

*  *  *

Michael, Michael, Michael. How the hell did you get inside my head? How did you know what I was thinking? How did you know what I was feeling?

Ultimately, I guess, it comes down to this:

Have faith. Persist. Pray for a little bit of luck. Work hard. Persist.

Of course, for a bit more nuance, I would also beg you to ask yourself this question:

Is it worth it?

Only you can decide. We pretty much cling to the notion that if we persist hard and long enough, we'll be successful at some level. How old are we? Six? Seven? Because we know better. We know that not everything works out for the best. We don't always get what we want. There aren't always happy endings. But in pursuing our dreams, we're often willing (and even encouraged) to cling to wild optimism despite what all our life experiences tell us. Perhaps that's a definition of insanity or perhaps just optimism.

Still, without hope, there's nothing.


Mark Terry

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Chelsea Clinton Tells Questioner To F*** Off

March 26, 2008
Okay, not really. If you've watched the videotape of this, she appears flustered all to hell, gives herself some time to think, then tells him it's not any of his business, answers one more question, shuts down the Q&A and goes to the local bar and knocks back...

Okay, maybe not.

Posted: Tuesday, March 25, 2008 7:19 PM by Domenico Montanaro
Filed Under: 2008, Clinton
From NBC's Lauren Appelbaum
Campaigning in Indianapolis for her mother, Chelsea Clinton had a quick retort when asked a question she had never had before. When a male student asked her if her mother's credibility had been hurt during the Monica Lewinsky scandal, Clinton quickly responded.

"Wow, you're the first person actually that's ever asked me that question, in the, maybe 70 college campuses that I've been to," Clinton bitterly said at Butler University. "And I don't think that's any of your business."

My thinking on this is complicated. The fact is, her mother is running for president. As I think we've determined by now, when you're running for president, EVERYTHING IS FAIR GAME. Really.

Somebody wants to know why Barack Obama's black minister was ripping white American and why he was a buddy, they asked it.

Somebody wants to know how old Cindy McCain is (55, I believe) and how many face lifts she's had (dunno), they can ask it. Or, as his first wife, when asked why they got divorced, said, "Because he was 45 and wanted to act like he was 25." We can ask and somebody somewhere is gonna answer.

So, really, Hillary, I did go slip-sliding around on an icy pavement back in January to vote for you in the Michigan Primary (could have stayed home and had the same results; glad I didn't fall and break my leg on the church parking lot), but I have a question that's kind of similar.

Why didn't you give Wild Bill the boot? Why didn't you divorce him? Was it because you knew that if you did, you'd never be able to run for President? Is it because you've essentially had an open marriage and you've had affairs that haven't been uncovered? Is it because you're 60-years-old now and aren't interested in sex now and weren't when you were 52 and as far as you were concerned, Wild Bill could go f*** Pervez Musharaff as long as he stayed out of your bedroom?

Now, having said that, is it my business?

Beats me. I remember back when Wild Bill was being impeached, I was listening to WCSX here in Detroit and they asked callers what they thought, and somebody called in and said, "As long as the economy's going great, he can have sex with goats in the White House Rose Garden. I don't give a damn."

Which is sort of my reaction, too. Of course, the economy sucks, we're in a losing war in Iraq and an apparent stalemate in Afghanistan, so although Wild Bill got my vote because, ultimately all I want from my government is "peace and prosperity" (Hey, George Bush, you're 0 and 2!), but when we want problems fixed, it's nice to have some idea that the person we're hiring for the job just might be able to do it.

By the way, Hillary. That "running away from snipers thing?"--stupid. Why make up shit? Why exaggerate shit? You've been a hard-working, successful senator for how long? You were involved in healthcare reform? (A sort of spousal abuse, if there ever was any). You could honestly say, "Look, I was First Lady for 8 years. I was involved in policy. I traveled to 80 countries and met world leaders, acting, like most First Ladies do, as a sort of all-purpose ambassador-at-large. I had issues I was interested and invested in and I was involved in them. I have the most experienced presidential advisor at my beck-and-call so that the VERY FIRST DAY WE ENTER THE WHITE HOUSE WE CAN GET A RUNNING START ON SOLVING THIS COUNTRY'S PROBLEMS, without spending six weeks figuring out how to work the phone system or who to call to get a senator to drop by. I learned a lot from Bill's mistakes, not the least being not to have sex with interns. There's more to experience than solving crises in Kosovo, okay? I'm smart, I'm tough, I'm educated, I have a wide variety of experiences, I can do this job."

Oh, and Hillary? You can't win this. It's time to drop out. Just my two cents. It was a good run, but, uh, it's over, okay?

Mark Terry

Jack Johnson Response To Yesterday's Post

March 26, 2008
So yesterday I whined about life and my jealousy of other writers. So here's a Jack Johnson video in response: Times Like These.

Relax & enjoy.

Mark Terry

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

One Of The Seven Deadly Sins?

March 25, 2008
I have a confession to make. I'm jealous--envious--of a lot of other writers. Many, many, many, when I got right down to thinking about it.

I'm jealous of Mary Reed and Eric Mayer's seven books with an eighth contracted for.

Erica Orloff--sheesh, she's got a great career writing all sorts of books.

Joe Konrath? Oh man, money enough to live off his novels, another one coming out under a pseudonym, and dammit, the guy seems to actually LIKE all the promotion he does.

I did a signing with Marcus Sakey this summer. Highly praised, making a living with his novels, and good looking and charming. Makes ya want to hate the guy.

What motivated all this green-eyed loathing?

Hmmm. Same old shit, probably. My friend Tobias S. Buckell's latest novel, Ragamuffin, was nominated for a Nebula Award (and a couple others). It's a great book and Toby's a great guy. Don't get me wrong. But day-amn! He's young. It's only his second book! (Congrats anyway, Toby).

The announcement of the Thriller Award Nominees didn't help either. For one, I wasn't on the list, although my book, The Serpent's Kiss, was submitted for the award. What sort of got me about the nominees was the inclusion of Jesse Kellerman and Joe Hill. Yeah, Jesse Kellerman's parents are Faye and Jonathan Kellerman and Joe Hill's Dad is Stephen King.

I don't doubt the books are great. In fact, I almost picked up Hill's book, "A Heart-Shaped Box" not just because he's King's son, but because it sounded good. Then I talked myself into waiting for the paperback. ("Ha!" I say. "Take that!")

One thing that got me stewing (okay, maybe just simmering) was the announcement that Lee Child's brother just got a big book contract. Hey, I hear rumors it's a great book. And I don't doubt for a second that it helped that he was Lee Child's brother. But would anybody out there give a damn if he wasn't Lee Child's brother? (Well, at least his middle name isn't Higgins and his last name isn't Clark. Enough of that nonsense, already!)

Now, is it money I'm jealous of? Well, maybe. Success? Well, we all have to define success our own way and not let other people define it for us. I have very little to complain about in my life (knock wood) or in my nonfiction writing career. I'm currently between contracts with fiction, but I expect that'll change in the relatively near future ("relatively" is chosen on purpose). Still, it doesn't make me particularly happy to hear of someone cranking out their first novel (or second, or third, or fifth) and getting scooped up for 6 figures and promoted all over the place by their publisher; all too often I've read those books and thought, "What was all the fuss about? What could possibly make the publishers think this was any better than 98% of the other books out there?" 

I know that public perception and word of mouth is tough to influence by publishers. If it did, they'd do it all the time. As one of my former agents said, "If publishers knew what made a book a bestseller, it's all they'd publish." So when a manuscript gets a lot of buzz by the editors and agents (for whatever subjective and often illogical reasons) and the publisher pays to get the book on front tables and end caps and frontlists the book, and the publisher's publicity department starts sending out hundreds of advanced reading copies and sends the author on a tour and books them on "Fresh Air," I can 100% guarantee you there will be a different outcome than a book where the publisher puts a paragraph somewhere in the middle of their quarterly catalog, puts the book on their website, and sends out 4 advanced reading copies--to Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, Kirkus, and the Midwest Review of Books, then turns their attention to the Flavor of the Month.

All of which is a certain amount of sour grapes, admittedly. I'm blessed. But some days I look at the publishing world out there and think, "Some people sure have the luck."

Of course, luck is part of their success. But honestly, I've been poking around in the publishing, authoring biz for a while now and I only recently started to realize that a lot of author's so-called success is a facade, a hazy mirage. I was totally shocked a year or so ago to see a breakdown of bestselling authors' hardcover sales. There were some brand names there that I would have expected to sell a million copies in hardcover, but that were selling about 175,000. (Granted, they probably sell about 4 million in paperback; and 175,000 copies of anything is nothing to sneeze at and go about $2 in royalties per copy, they can still take it to the bank, no doubt...). There are some relatively newbie writers who give the impression they're full-time novelists well on their way to bestsellerdom, but when you get them to talk candidly over a beer or peel back the numbers a little bit, you find they got a $5000 advance and their next novel is very much in question--but they're determined to convince everybody they're "living the life" because there's a "mystique" about being a full-time novelist.

It is, after all, one thing to read that the majority of novels published sell fewer than 2000 copies and quite another to find it's true about all the novelists YOU thought were big sellers (or, for that matter, to find out it's true about your own books). Did you know that tie-ins, like Lee Goldberg's "Monk" books, or the Star Wars books, or CSI books or any others along those lines, have significantly larger sales than most books published in similar genres? And those sales are often along the lines of 30,000 to 50,000 copies?

Okay. This isn't healthy. But it is human.

I'm reading "Black Widow" by Randy Wayne White and I just read this morning a page where the main character, Doc Ford, is talking to his goddaughter's friend, and the friend is being really, really snarky and bitchy to him, and she asks him if he's bitter because as a marine biologist he obviously doesn't make much money. He replies, "No. It saved me on psychiatrists and expensive women."

Ah well. So, am I alone in this? Anybody want to rant on their pet peeves today?

Mark Terry

Friday, March 21, 2008

10,000 Hours

March 21, 2008
A couple weeks ago I was listening to the Diane Riehms Show on NPR and a guy was talking about his new book about modern craftsmanship. In an earlier time craftsmanship was all about carpenters and masons and bricklayers, and it still is today, but he went on to suggest it applied to many things today including science and cooking, etc.

Since I worked as a cytogenetics technologist for years, I can attest to this. It takes time and practice and repetition to get good at a number of things, including pipetting, analyzing chromosomes or harvesting cells. It's also something that physicians, who often spend a couple weeks in a lab, think, "This is easy, anybody can do it," and move on, taking their attitudes with them. When, in fact, the technologists doing that work have a skill that's been honed by hours of practice and most of the time the physicians were so slow and awkward you'd fire their ass within a week if they didn't get it together. Yes, on the surface it's easy; down in the day-to-day trenches, not so much. The distance between "familiarity" and "mastery" is very far indeed.

Anyway, he made a comment that the number bandied about required to master most crafts--say, playing the cello, for instance--was 10,000 hours.

I immediately thought of the oft-repeated suggestion that in order to become a competent novelist you needed to write 1,000,000 words, which probably does come into that 10,000 hour figure somewhere, maybe.

And the truth is, I know this. I was a music teacher. I know that sometimes, in order to learn a complicated piece of music (and even non-complicated piece of music), you need to repeat it dozens of times. Yes, it's boring. Yes, it's repetitious. Get over it. There aren't any short cuts unless you're a freakin' genius.

I had this hammered home recently. I'm a 1st degree brown belt in Sanchin-Ryu karate. The next belt level is black. I "know" all the basics (10), combined basics advanced--CBAs (10), and pretty much know all ten forms. I know the moves. I know what they're about. But...

Last weekend I went to a 3-hour workshop conducted by Chief Grand Master Dearman, who developed the style, and one of the things we as brown belts were working on was what you might call Kumite 101. Kumite essentially means fighting, but he was introducing us to what he feels are the best way to enter into this very complicated thing. So we teamed up with 2 or 3 other people. One person was in the middle and the 2 or 3 people stood around you, holding one hand about head level and the other hand down around waist level--those were our targets. Then they began to slowly revolve around the person in the middle. The middle person's job was to do our 10 CBAs fluidly and hit our targets. This is, frankly, amazingly difficult. Not only to actually do it, but to stay calm during it, and to REMEMBER THE 10 CBAs!

And the CBAs aren't really, generally, that complicated. 3 or 4 moves for each. For instance, the first one is a cross-body punch followed by a backfist. In other words, what we were asked to do was about 40 moves in a row, fluidly without falling apart, in order, while people moved around us, and by this time, we probably have known these moves for 3 or 4 or 5 years.

What this drove home for me was it was time to start drilling myself on everything I know--to increase the repetitions. To take time during the week to do each basic or CBA or form 10 times or 20 times or 50 times each. That it was time to get away from "familiarity" and move toward "mastery."

So where am I going with this?

If you want to be a professional writer--fiction or nonfiction or poetry or whatever--you're going to have to put in the time. You're going to have to write a lot--a million words, maybe. A lot of it will be crap. A lot of it will never see the light of day. You'll need to move through "familiarity" to "mastery" and in between those two there's a fair amount of boredom and frustration.

I once heard somebody suggest that no writing was ultimately wasted, that it was all part of those million words (or 10,000 hours) and I think that--and "ultimately" may be the key word here--this is true.

So, how many hours do you have in?

And have a good holiday, if this is one you celebrate.

Mark Terry

Thursday, March 20, 2008

What Do You See?

March 21, 2008

I've gotten interested in optical illusions. I'm sure this interest will pass in time.
Mark Terry

Writing It All

March 20, 2008
Over on Erica Orloff's blog yesterday, which was about writers getting paid what they're worth (at least in their fantasies), I got into a discussion with Jude about writing-for-hire, and he mentioned that Joe Konrath had apparently recently responded to someone's complaint that they couldn't write short stories by saying that a writer can write anything.

Is that true?

I'll tell you this. Years ago, when all I wanted to be was a novelist, I used to say, "I can't write magazine articles" although some of that rationale might have been "I'm a novelist, why would I write nonfiction," and it was mixed in there with "I don't like reading nonfiction, so..." There was most certainly an attitude of, "I don't need to write magazine articles, I'm going to be a big, fat success as a novelist."

Obviously, since I now make my living writing nonfiction and have published hundreds of magazine articles as well as business reports and other things, that this is not true. But can I write anything?

Years ago I wrote a rough draft of a really horrible screenplay. I'm sure I could do a better job now. I've never tried my hand at a TV script although I've considered it.

Here are some things I never thought I could write, but which I finally did write and sold:

Magazine articles
Technical articles
White papers
Business reports.

And at least one of those paid me $20,000.

But is it true, if you're a writer you can write anything?

Well, no, I don't think so. I take the attitude now that I might surprise myself by what I CAN write, but there are a lot of things that get written that require the writer to be more than a writer--a lot of technical materials, for instance. There's a ton of money in the pharmaceutical technical writing area, with people charging $100 an hour and up, but although I have a degree in microbiology and experience writing about biotech and pharma, this type of writing is pretty much beyond me. It's not the writing per se, but the subject matter.

Although I could probably write ad copy, I'm notoriously advertising-resistant and more than a little bit stupid about it. My friend Karl Schmidt used to work for ad agency Leo Burnett in Chicago and he brought Leanne (my wife) and I into his office years ago and showed us a mock-up of an ad campaign they were working on for Kellogg's Frosted Flakes. Then he asked us questions about the ad he'd just shown us as if we were a focus group. When we were done he gave me one of his "looks" and said, "Good, Mark, you're right in line with the 8-year-olds in terms of understanding and remembering what you saw." The fact is, writing ad copy would probably not be a good fit for me. But could I do it?

If motivated, sure. I'd educate myself. I'd pay much closer attention to ad copy. I'm sure I could do it. But it might take a while to get up to speed.

One of the problems with me writing scripts of any sort is that I haven't really read many (or any, all the way through, I don't think), let alone studied them. That's my problem with short stories. I've published two, but I don't like reading short stories. I don't know why, but I rarely finish them and I rarely enjoy them. I got Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine for two years with the intention of reading them cover-to-cover in order to improve my short story writing. By the end of my 2-year subscription I had 14 months of unread EQs.

So from a technical point of view, yes, I can probably sling words together and make them work--particularly if I did my homework.

From the point of view of mindset, psychology, education and temperament, there are probably some types of writing I'm not well-suited for and although I might attempt them and complete them, whether or not they would be successful might have more variables than just my abilities as a word mechanic. (I would note, being crass and money-fixated, that if the paycheck were guaranteed and high enough, I'd attempt pretty much anything, with a few exceptions).

Which reminds me of a story I heard from a linguist. He was in grad school and a world famous linguist was visiting to give a lecture. The world famous linguist came into the lecture hall, was introduced, said hello, then began his lecture in Italian. Several people in the hall raised their hands and told him in English, since he spoke about a dozen languages, that they didn't speak Italian. The world famous linguist gazed out over the crowd of graduate student linguists and said in English, "Is everybody here a linguist?" Nods all around. The world famous linguist then shrugged and continued in Italian.

So, what do you think?

Mark Terry

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Mind Doodling

March 19, 2008

The first of Tatooine's two suns--Tattoo I--rose above the horizon. Obi Wan Kenobi, shaking off sleep, climbed the steps out of his desert house, stood on the hard, dry sand and faced the golden orb. Closing his eyes, he reached out for the Force, searching, as he had for the last two years, for signs--any signs--of other Jedi in the galaxy.

He was careful how he did this. Palpatine had not ended his search for Master Yoda and Kenobi and any other stragglers of the Jedi Knights who might have survived his purge. Palpatine's apprentice...

Obi Wan's concentration faltered, his emotions welling up at the thought of Anakin Skywalker's turn to the dark side.

Almost a whisper in his head, he thought he heard Master Yoda say, "Time, it is, in all things, time and patience. Wider and greater things are there, Master Kenobi."

With a sigh, Obi Wan returned his thoughts to the Living Force, reaching out, as Master Yoda had instructed him to do. In two years, all he had gathered were hints and a great sense of shame and failure. Sometimes he thought he sensed things, but mostly not. Now, he sensed a great blackness--Palpatine and Darth Vader--far off. He always did. They dominated the Force. But...

He opened his eyes. Danger. Great danger. Here. On Tatooine. 

There was great danger to the two-year-old Luke Skywalker, now living with the people he would think of as an aunt an uncle. 

Obi Wan collected his kit and enough water to travel to Mos Eisley. Trouble was coming.

Mark Terry

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Dear God, What Have I Done?

March 18, 2008
My oldest son will be in the high school marching band next year. In April 2009 the band goes to Disney World for five days.

I've agreed--and signed up, and already put money down--to go along as a chaperone.

Five days chaperoning teenagers at Disney World.

Shoot me now.

I think I'm the one with the green hat.

Mark Terry

Monday, March 17, 2008

Well, I'm relieved...

March 17, 2008
From MSNBC today:

WASHINGTON - President Bush, trying to calm turmoil in financial markets after a dramatic weekend, declared Monday that his administration is “on top of the situation” and dealing decisively with the slumping economy.

“One thing is for certain, we’re in challenging times,” Bush said after meeting with Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and other senior economic advisers. “But another thing is for certain: We’ve taken strong, decisive action.”

Yeah, just when I was losing confidence in this administration's ability to take "strong, decisive action."

Y'know, someone needs to point out to Bush et al.,

"Just because you think you're right doesn't mean you are."

"Jumping headfirst off a cliff is also strong and decisive action."

Oh God, I am so glad baseball starts in two weeks. Spring must be up ahead somewhere.

Mark Terry

Friday, March 14, 2008

Start Off The Weekend With Some Class

March 14, 2008
Her name is Ana Vidovic, I believe.

Mark Terry

Thursday, March 13, 2008

No Helpless Males

March 13, 2008
Please note that I have two sons. Ian is 14 and Sean will be 10 on Sunday. Just so you get this straight, I'm providing a few facts ahead of time. Is this more backstory than you needed?

My wife has something of a mantra--which we haven't heard in a while, come to think of it: I'm will not raise a helpless male.

By that she means, her sons will learn to cook and clean and do laundry and pay bills and take care of children and there will not be, under any circumstances, anything referred to as "woman's work."

I agree wholeheartedly.

So last night Leanne decided that Ian would help cook dinner. It's not the first time for sure, but it was a new recipe for him. We were doing home-made chicken nuggets.

Anyway, once dinner was ready, the nuggets seemed an odd color--a little lighter than usual.

Leanne took one bite, frowned and said, "How much salt did you use?"

Ian: "What you told me to. Half a cup."

"Half a cup! I said half a tablespoon!" (or maybe it was teaspoon, I forget which).

Leanne, willing to try to rescue things, suggested we scrape the batter/crust off it. She tried then shook her head. "Out it goes."

We settled for what we could scrounge--meatball subs and chicken pocket quesadillas. Neither of us were upset, because, well, shit happens, and we learn more from our mistakes than our successes. I just commented that any time he's cooking if he thinks it requires a half a cup of salt, he'd better be making enough for 80 people, that half a cup of salt in any recipe would be pretty odd.

Of course, Ian has a younger brother. My feeling is, Ian's going to be hearing about this chicken nugget experiment for the rest of his life. (Which is why I felt obliged to blog about it so the whole world would know. :))

Mark Terry

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

$4300 For Sex

March 12, 2008
Spitzer apparently paid $4300 per hour? Or was it per two hours, to have sex with a call girl. (Or whatever it was he was paying for).

I just want to go public here and say Midnight Ink paid me a $1500 advance for The Devil's Pitchfork.

Now there's a blurb: "The Devil's Pitchfork isn't worth an hour's time with a New York prostitute."

Mark Terry

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

A Curious Exercise

March 11, 2008
I started putting together a bibliography of all my published works. Since I was first published in about 1990 (and got my first paid piece in 1993), you might wonder why I waited 18 years to do this.

I'm not really sure. I've kept everything I've had published in 3-ring binders in those acetate files, but I thought it might be worthwhile for a variety of reasons, to put together a bibliography. Curiosity mostly, but also, as time goes by I can't always remember what I wrote, and there are things I've done that aren't attributed or that are parts of larger works where I'm a contributing editor. It may also be useful for certain future projects to be able to hand a publisher or editor or client a list of publications.

It's an interesting thing, though, going back through your work like this. I see trends sometimes. Here's an example:

“What Is Esoteric Testing?”—Molecular Milestones/ADVANCE for Medical Laboratory Professionals, November 20, 2006

 “HIV Testing For Everyone?”—Molecular Milestones/ADVANCE for Medical Laboratory Professionals, October 23, 2006

 “Writing Columns For Local Newspapers.”—Podiatry Online, October 9, 2006

 “What Exactly Is Molecular Diagnostics?”—Molecular Milestones/ADVANCE for Medical Laboratory Professionals, September 25, 2006

What I noticed here was just how often my headline was a question. That makes senses, doesn't it? Everyone then knows what the article is about and you can presumably answer the question in the context of the piece. It's a neat trick, and I don't think I was doing it intentionally. It just sort of happens. Plus, titles don't really come all that naturally to me. A lot of times they're changed by my editors. I think I wrote all those, although I know the Podiatry Online article was assigned by my editor.

The other thing that comes to mind, since I'm currently working my way through 2006 published articles, was how my writing career has changed and evolved.

2006 was the last year I wrote a lot of articles. Probably over 100. In 2007 I wrote probably 25 or 30, but spent most of my time writing business reports. 2008 seems to be much more of that as well. Also, instead of writing a ton of articles for amounts from $150 to $1000, I seem more likely to mostly be writing reports for $7,000 to $20,000. There are both positive and negative aspects of that, but I can honestly tell you one of the pluses is not having three deadlines every week. On the other hand, big projects typically pay once or twice, sometimes three times depending on how the money breaks down, and it takes some getting used to and some money management skills. It's also one thing if a check for $250 runs 6 weeks late and another thing entirely if a check for $10,000 runs 6 weeks (or 12 weeks) late.

Another thing I'm seeing is how few of my earlier clients I still write for. Just taking those four articles above, three were columns (Molecular Milestones) that I used to write for ADVANCE for Medical Laboratory Professionals. The column used to be called Genetics Jargon. Anyway, although I had an article in them this January that I wrote back in the fall, I no longer regularly write for ADVANCE. The reasons are numerous, but mostly it comes down to money and a shift in expertise. First, I've sort of grown out of their relatively low pay range, and second, I was writing a column about molecular diagnostics and/or clinical genetics for med techs and lab professionals. But after being out of the field for a couple years, I began to feel very, very remote from the topics I was writing about. Probably if they'd paid three or four times better I would have gotten over that, but they didn't, so I didn't.

Thirdly, as I allude to, I see many of the things I write about have shifted. Not all of them. I've got this odd little sideline where I write about practice management issues for podiatrists, and although Podiatry Online no longer works with freelancers, Podiatry Management does and I write about half a dozen articles a year for them. I also write some personal finance pieces for, although this year I seem to be writing more about insurance issues for them.

But a bigger thing is that I used to write about biotechnical issues a lot. The actual science of medicine and genetics and molecular diagnostics. Now I'm much more likely to write about the business side of all of those.

I didn't set out to move in that direction. I followed the work and I followed the money. In that respect, there's a kind of Darwinian natural selection going. I have a hard time competing head-to-head for tech articles with writers with Masters, PhDs, and MD degrees. (Sometimes I do simply by being competent). You could argue that business writers would have an easier time writing about the business matters than I would, but what seems to be the case is that my understanding of the technical aspects of medicine and labs and technology give me an edge in terms of reporting and analyzing the business aspects of things. It may be as simple as the fact I'm skeptical of a lot of what companies indicate are trends in the area because I can see potential technical pitfalls, which informs my business thinking. Either that, or, as I've commented before, I like to learn new things, and learning about business is, for me, a new thing.

There's also the little fact of the 80/20 rule. If you haven't heard of this, it's been around for a couple hundred years. It's an economic observation that over time, businesses typically make 80% of their income form 20% of their clients. And it's probably true.


Mark TErry

Monday, March 10, 2008

The Writer 'Tude

March 10, 2008
John Scalzi has a wonderful blog post today here. 

In it, he talks about how 10 years ago today he was laid-off from his writing job--just as he and his wife Krissy were planning on making a bid on a new house. He talks about what a blow this was to him and how he responded--poorly--and how he bounced back and how things worked out.

I spent another couple of days being blackly, blackly depressed, and then something interesting happened, which was that I had one of those epiphany moments you hear about people having. And the epiphany was this — that how I and Krissy reacted to what was happening to us right now was going to echo through how we faced the rest of our lives, individually and together.

In this case, there were two ways this could play out. We could play it safe, take that depressing-but-affordable apartment, live within our reduced means and grind it out. Or we could sayscrew this, go back to house hunting, buy a house, keep moving our lives forward, and have faith in ourselves that we would find a way to make it work.

As soon as I read his post I knew I had to respond about the writing attitude. I think it's possible that if you have a real job in a real career you may go through 40 years without any major crises. Yeah, you'll have some bad moments, there will be some ups and some downs, but if you're an accountant or a business person or whatever, it's entirely possible you will go through your entire career without being laid off, without missing a check, without any major setbacks. (It's entirely possible you will, too; think Enron or any of the thousands of people working for companies like General Motors or IBM that have lost their jobs unexpectedly--shit happens). That's partly why the entire 9-5 paycheck with benefits evolved. To keep society on an even keel, so people could focus on other things without having to worry about where their money was coming from.

But if you're a writer--a freelance writer--I got news for you. There's going to be some setbacks. There's going to be some crises... if you let them become crises.

It's one of the reasons why I don't think the freelance writing life is for everybody. There's an attitude you need to develop (or have) if you're going to survive this. Because the checks don't always come on time, and editors change jobs, and the new editors may not like you or want you or need you, publishers fold, publishers stop working with freelance writers, publishers changes directions.

So the attitude you need to have is: no problem, I'll go find another client. I'll go find another gig. 

Really, not in a necessarily dramatic fashion. John Scalzi's story is inspiring, but I bet that 5 years or 6 year or whatever later, John lost a client or there was an editorial change or something happened, and his reaction was simply, "Damn, I guess I'd better go find somebody else to work for." And then went and did it.

Not everybody's prepared for that aspect of the writing life.

And here's another thing. Unless you're a bestselling author, you're going to have crises in your fiction life. I would argue that my fiction writing career has been nothing but crises, but I'm still hanging in there (why, perhaps, is up for debate on any given day; because I can, I guess).

I've had my share of crises. Checks that were VERY late. At least one no-pay client. One or two that went out of business. Editors that have changed and the new ones who didn't want to work with me. (And new editors that did, so it can go both ways). Regular clients that stopped working with freelancers. The first few times it can throw you, but it happens regularly enough (unfortunately) that if you plan to stay sane, you just have to treat it as part of the business landscape and know that, "Yes, I'm a writer, I have a marketable skill, and there's work--probably even better work--out there for me and all I have to do is find it."



Mark Terry

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Freelance Writing For A Living, Part 10

March 6, 2008
Yes, we're back. And I'm going to continue this series as things occur to me, which may or may not be often. If you don't know what I'm talking about, the first nine parts started sometime in February 2008. Check them out.

Anyway, today I want to talk about an unpleasant little aspect of writing for a living called "pay-on-publication."

Essentially it means what it says. You write something and you don't receive a check for it until after the publisher publishes it.

I don't do as much magazine writing as I used to do. It's a brutal way to make a living as a writer because you have to be such an idea generator and unless you're working for top national mags, the pay is so-so and the publishers constantly act as if they're going to go belly-up without a moment's notice--they don't usually, but they act like they will. Whether they just behave that way to justify their crappy pay rates and policies is up for debate.

Anyway, in terms of most writing there are about three ways to get paid for your work (aside from say, ransom or stick-up notes). They are:

1. Pay-on-publication. You write it. The publisher holds on to it until it's convenient for them to publish it (or convenient for them to pay you for it), then you get paid sometime after that.

2. Pay on acceptance. You write it. It gets turned in. They say, "It's good" or "we need some tweaking" and you do whatever is needed, they cut you a check and they publish it whenever they please, but you don't really care any more because the money's in the bank.

3. Advances and installment. This applies to books, both fiction and nonfiction, but also often to higher paying writing gigs for corporations and businesses. I've done it both ways and it's not a bad way to go, although the first time you get money upfront for something you haven't written yet can be a bit disconcerting, now you owe them. I've been doing business reports for the last 2 years or so, often long ones, and I generally get 50% upfront upon signing and the rest upon completion. I've got one new client that broke it into three parts--about 1/3 upfront, about 1/3 upon turning in a detailed project outline, and the remainder when I finish. Also, not a bad way to go.

I don't think it takes a real genius to figure out which way you want to go, especially if you're trying to do things like buy groceries, make car and mortgage payments and keep shoes on your children's feet, not to mention download tunes to your iPod, buy books and take warm tropical vacations complete with alcoholic beverages that come with little umbrellas in them.

Early on in my career I did a lot of pay-on-publication. Memorably, one of my first paid writing pieces was for the late, lamented The Armchair Detective. I wrote a nice little article on Paul Levine and the murders in his books. It was titled "A Miami Way Of Death" and it paid a whopping $35. The problem was, they weren't paying until publication and they held the article in manuscript form for over a year before they published it and paid for it.

It's not always that way, of course. I've worked for some magazines that say, "We need the article by March 15th so we can get it in the April issue." You're reasonably assured to get paid sometime in April or early May. (Actually getting your money as a freelancer is not quite as reliable as the rising and setting of the sun, however. Part of your job description from time to time is "collection agency.")

Generally speaking, these pay-on-publication mags tend to be lower-paying, lower-to-middle publications. Undoubtedly, if you start writing, you'll end up doing some work this way. My advice? Work to get away from pay-on-publication toward anything else. It'll take time, but hopefully you'll get to a point where these types of publications are the exception, not the rule.

I've got two magazine-type publishers I still regularly do work for, mostly to keep my hand in on an area of writing I might return more aggressively to some day (or not). The irregular income is, of course, nice as well. One pays on publication, the other pays more or less on acceptance.

The one that pays on publication has been annoying me lately (hence the idea for today's post) because it's no longer clear when work I do for them will actually get published. I just turned in an article yesterday, but they already have two of mine "in the hopper" that I wrote last year. Obviously, it's not a great way to run a business, doing work in one year and not getting paid until... well, whenever. Also, when he came back with editorial requests, I found my first response was, "I'll see what I can do," and my second response was a pointed, "When will you be publishing the other two articles?" I know he expects me to write a couple more this year, but frankly, why would I? I've got to do some work from which I can rely on the income.

Of course, early on, you don't have much choice. You go where the work is and a lot of it will be pay-on-publication. That sucks. The solution is to do a lot of it so there's always money coming in--from somewhere. The obvious problem is that you don't know how much or when. That can be something of a stressful situation.

I could go on about the others, but this is long enough for now. One thing I would like to point out. On your invoice, you might have a line like, "Please submit payment within X number of days of receipt of this invoice."

I thought I had something like this on my invoice, but just double-checked and note that I don't. When I pull together contracts, I make sure I get paid within 30 days of signing or completion of portions of the work or whatever. Some writers and/or business people do 21 days or 15 days or even 10 days. If you try to get your money in 10 or 15 days, in my experience, you're delusional. Good luck with that.

Here's a way to think about pay-on-publication. Suppose you go to a store and buy a bed. You tell them, I'm not going to pay you until I actually use this bed. I'm not going to use this bed for a couple months. Okay?

Not likely to work, is it? Yet that's exactly what pay-on-publication publishers are asking you to do.

Mark Terry

Wednesday, March 05, 2008


March 5, 2008
As I mentioned earlier, I "won" a contest on the BookEnds blog based on the first 100 words of a novel. What I won was for them to read the first chapter and synopsis and comment on it. No more, no less. I took the opportunity to bring up a couple other issues in my cover letter, but that's not for the general public, and anyways is a moot point. Here is an edited version of their responses:

Thanks so much for participating in the contest and congratulations again.  Your excerpt was a clear stand out.  

We really enjoyed your lean prose.  It’s clear that you give a lot of thought to every sentence that goes on the page.  

That said, we thought the synopsis could’ve been fleshed out quite a bit more.  Introducing the characters in those short profiles just didn’t feel effective, and it isn’t until we get near the end of the synopsis that we begin to see that Parker Marks is probably the book’s protagonist.  We’d prefer to see a more narrative synopsis that helps us to understand who these characters are and what roles they play throughout the book.  We’d love it if you were also able to convey the tone and mood of the book a bit better.  We don’t get any sense of your voice from the synopsis.  

This all leads us to the chapter, itself.  Perhaps partly due to the brevity of the synopsis (or maybe not), it reads as if it’s describing a very different book from the one that’s opening with this first chapter.  While Samantha certainly catches our attention from the very first lines, her portrayal has an almost paranormal-like quality.  Maybe our judgment was somewhat  affected by the book’s title, too, but there’s definitely something about her that seems surreal.  While it’s not necessarily a bad thing to give a not-quite-human feel to a serial killer, something of her “unreal-ness” felt a bit over-the-top and ultimately not quite so menacing.  The atmosphere of the club also adds to this otherworldly feel.  In a way, it distances the reader.

None of this would concern us as much if the book were meant to be a paranormal thriller.  But since we gather from the synopsis that it’s more of a police procedural, we think it may be problematic.  Police procedurals are very much about “keeping it real.”  The readers of these books like authenticity.  We’re not sure they’d respond favorably to this opening chapter. 

Well, I thanked them for their time. Now it's probably time for me to 'fess up just a little bit about this story, which was called The Zombie Zoo. I wasn't working on it. The Zombie Zoo, or Dancing At The Zombie Zoo, is a novel I have been poking and prodding for about five years. I really like the first two chapters. Those have remained largely unchanged. I have tried to write it with a female lead character. I have changed the main character's name. I have changed the city from Detroit to a fictional Detroit and back again. I have started in on writing this damned thing about 5 different times. On the one hand, the story won't let me go; on the other hand, it just won't GO. I keep trying different approaches, but...

When BookEnds announced the contest and it was on mysteries, I thought back, curious to see what someone might think of the first 100 words of this police procedural that constantly gets stuck around page 70 or so. This time I wondered--because although the novel was dormant, it never seemed to be quite dead--if I could rewrite it as a forensic procedural ala "Bones" or "CSI" or "NCSI." So that's what my synopsis characterized.

And so in the couple weeks since that contest, I reworked those first chapters... yet again ... adding in characters, adding sections with new members of The Laser Squad, which is the nickname for the forensic squad in the novel.

And then BookEnds wrote their comments above and my first reaction, which often seems to be the truest reaction, was, "Oh thank God, now I don't feel obligated to work on this damned thing again."

Ahem. I wonder if there's a name for what's wrong with me.

I've got two ongoing projects. One is a flat-out espionage thriller that takes place almost entirely in Beijing. It's called China Fire and I've got maybe 190 pages done on it. It's a little stalled, but that's primarily because I'm working to finish some big nonfiction work. I'm also working on a YA novel called The Fortress of Diamonds. It's something of a fantasy adventure in an Indiana Jones sort of way, if Indiana Jones had a 16-year-old daughter named Jericho Miles. In other words, her archaeologist father's small plane disappeared and she's hunting for him. He was searching for the fabled "Fortress of Diamonds" and is being pursued by a bad guy who thinks he's a descendant of Vlad the Impaler. Yeah, well, anyway, that's the story and it's progressing.

And, as yesterday's post indicated, I've got a novel manuscript making the rounds. And a couple other things I'm considering to market further.

So for all that, I appreciate the BookEnds comments, which were worthwhile, should I dig in and attempt to finish The Zombie Zoo. They were worthwhile even if I didn't.

I'm inclined to think that no writing is wasted, at least in terms of how it improves you as a writer. On the other hand, I do think time is wasted, and often, so I'm sort of cautious about that.

Now, if I can just figure out where Jericho Miles and her friend Ashley McGreggor go from the Anasazi ruin by Montezuma's Well in Arizona. I think their next stop is Betatakin and then...

How about you? Any projects "that just won't let you go"?

Mark Terry

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Baffled, Bewildered & Bemused

March 4, 2008
I have stolen this quote from Jodi Picoult and used it as my own, primarily because in my experience it's true. That is to say, something along the lines of, "New York publishing says, 'I hate you, I hate you, I hate you,' for a long time and then grudgingly lets you in. Hollywood says, 'I love you, I love you, I love you' then does nothing."

So here's some things that happened to me on Monday. First, my latest novel to make the rounds received its first rejection out of New York. It said:

It's a tantalizing premise and the author's hand with it is assured.  But I never found myself as surprised by the outcome of events as I would need to be, if we were to launch this aggressively into a woefully glutted suspense marketplace.

Then, later in the day, I received an e-mail from my agent with a hotshot Hollywood agent's take on the same novel:

"(The novel) is very good, but, again, we need to wait to see what the market wants these days. We don’t want to just rush Mark’s stuff out into a market place flooded with submissions. He’s a wonderful writer, and will have a career in Hollywood."

To the first I responded to my agent with the following message: "Huh."

To the second I responded to my agent with the following message: "As Cuba Gooding said, 'Show me the money...'"

To further make yesterday a little strange, around 1:15 or so I received a sort of breathless phone call from the personal assistant of a major technical publisher. This publisher had co-created a business publication that I'm doing work for, although all my dealings had been with the publisher's co-creator. She wanted to talk to me, could she call me at 3:00.

"Sure," says I.

At 3:00 nothing happened except my oldest son came home from school. At 3:30 still nothing had happened except it had begun to rain, so I left to pick up my youngest son so he wouldn't have to walk home in the freezing rain. When I got back there was a message from the PA apologizing, the publisher's meeting was taking longer than planned.

Whatever, so I went back to what I was doing. Around 4:00 the PA called me again asking if I would be available this evening to speak with the publisher. I said, "Sure," and she told me the publisher would call me at 8:00.

Now, you have to understand, this is roughly like getting a phone call from the head of Putnam. This is a major publisher. And right on the dot she calls me at 8:00. There have been some changes in the new publication, she'll be the point person for it now, tell me about yourself. So I did. She rather quickly (she has a reputation for not mulling things over) asked me if I was interested in doing more work and making more money and increasing my income by working with her overall publishing group. I said (yes, there's a theme here), "Sure." She told me to send her my resume as well as to re-send the invoice I'd sent her partner, she would send it on to her VP and to at least one of her specific publication's editor. She thanked me for my time, we said we looked forward to working with each other, and then we said goodnight.

Now, all things being equal, these are all pretty good examples of how fiction publishing works, Hollywood works, and nonfiction specialty publishers work, at least in a general broad way, and, I suppose I should add, for me. I remind myself that hanging on for the wild ride is at least part of the fun.

As for the freezing rain...

Yesterday, with temperatures around 40, my neighborhood streets were covered with about 4 inches of slush and water (I'm not kidding). This morning, it's about 20 degrees, so the streets look like the surface of a glacier. I walked my youngest to school and he fell three times (that's partly because he was treating the road like a skating rink, while I was treating it more like a sprained ankle and bruised hip; ah, youth!). The weather report for tomorrow? Five to eight inches of snow.

I am so looking forward to spring.

Mark Terry

Sunday, March 02, 2008

What I've Been Reading

March 2, 2008
Here's my first 10 books read in 2008, with a few comments.

The Death Trust by David Rollins
Nominally a mystery, Rollins is an Australian writing about the U.S. military. The main character is sent to Germany to investigate the apparent murder of a general. Much mayhem and conspiracies ensue. Very entertaining, very well written. Great book? No, probably not, but fun.

The Overlook by Michael Connelly
A Harry Bosch novel, but almost disappointing. It was originally a serialized mystery, and as such, seems a little thin. I had the entire mystery figured out about a third of the way through, but like all Connelly novels, it's pretty good.

Bones To Ashes by Kathy Reichs
Yet another solid, albeit a little questionable, mystery by forensic anthropologist Kathy Reichs. It's a bit muddied and the number of coincidences in this book is mind-boggling. Still, I enjoyed it. A fair amount of interesting info on the history of leprosy in North America.

Blasphemy by Douglas Preston
Here's an oddity. I was slightly disappointed with this tech thriller about the world's largest supercollider and how apparently they are hearing the voice of God from it when it's operating at 100%--at least when I was reading it. However, once I finished, I found it sort of relentlessly thought-provoking, the type of book that stays with you long after you're done reading it.

The Betrayal Game by David L. Robbins
A historical thriller taking place in Cuba shortly after Castro takes power. I loved this book. It's a somewhat alternate view of history, although not remotely improbable and Robbins writes like a dream. Highly recommended.

Scorpia by Anthony Horowitz
One of the more interesting entries in Horowitz's Alex Rider series. This is for YA, and Alex Rider is sort of a 14-year-old James Bond. In this one he's pursuing the truth about his father; in the previous book Alex was told that his father was an assassin for the underworld group, Scorpia.

The Last Colony by John Scalzi
SF and good stuff at that. The third book after Old Man's War and The Ghost Brigades. It's much more political than the first two, which tend to be military SF with heavy doses of space opera, but John Perry, the narrator is funny and sarcastic and I enjoyed this one a lot.

Stranger In Paradise by Robert B. Parker
I'm beginning to wonder why I bother reading his books any more. Part of the reason is a long line of excellent reading, but the guy probably needs to retire. This book just makes no sense and had a lot of glaring copyediting errors that suggests to me the manuscript goes straight from Parker to the printer with no editing whatsoever. I also wish he'd get off his ass and do a little research for his novels, particularly if he's going to continue to write nominal police procedurals.

Jumper by Stephen Gould
More YA, sort of. This is, loosely, the book the movie Jumper was based on, although the changes to the book are significant. I liked the movie reasonably well, probably better than the book. I would describe the book as being like J.D. Salinger's "Catcher In The Rye" if the main character could teleport. Sort of slow, given the potential storylines.

Memo To The President Elect by Madeleine Albright
An attempt by me to read more nonfiction books. This is a profoundly great book if you're interested in politics, foreign policy and American history. It's also remarkably well-written, witty and insightful. One of my favorite quotes (of many) is:

She's speaking of how to isolate Al Qaeda. "The bottom line is that we are idiots if we fail to win the public relations war--and ultimately the real war (or struggle, battle, or fight)--against a bunch of murderers whose only tangible promise to supporters is posthumous recognition on a website"

Mark Terry