Mark Terry

Monday, August 31, 2009

The Wheel Of Fortune

August 31, 2009
Gotta read this. It's an absolutely perfect description of how to become a novelist and how to be successful at it.


Build It and They Will ... What?

August 31, 2009
As a number of you know, I opened a publishing company, Terry Communications, LLC, this summer. Its first publication is an e-newsletter aimed at physicians that run laboratories out of their offices. (POL Bulletin).

I got a nifty website up ( and started posting short articles on it 5 days a week. I'm now getting over 2,500 unique hits a month.

I pulled together the first issue of POL Bulletin and offered it free on the website.

I then sent out 1,000 postcards and about 160 brochures and handed out dozens of business cards at a conference.

But it wasn't until yesterday that somebody shelled out the money for a subscription.

And I'm absolutely delighted.

But what these numbers tell me is something I knew anyway. It's not enough to just write it and publish it. You've got to let people know about it.

Ah yes, the demon marketing. At all levels of publishing, fiction and nonfiction, apparently.

Are you prepared for the reality of it? Because tomorrow's September and I've got to do all that marketing stuff all over again. And in October. And in November. And I need to apply these lessons to my novels, too.

Oh boy. What did I get myself into?

Mark Terry

Friday, August 28, 2009

Because, You Know, It's Friday

August 28, 2009
It's big, big news! Megan Fox, seen here, uh ... because it's my blog and it's Friday ... recently said she's more comfortable kissing girls than guys. And all I have to say is: Me too!

Because I couldn't get the photo go embed.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

A Writer And His Marketing

August 27, 2009
Justine Larbastier has an excellent post about unpublished novelists trying to figure out how to develop and audience or focusing on marketing their novel once they get it published. It's great. Read it.

Okay, my thoughts.

Too many people do this. They're less interested in learning how to write well than they are how to market. If I were to blame anybody, I'd blame JA Konrath, but he's merely the most visible practitioner of something the publishing industry sort of encourages anyway. That is to say, these days it's all about marketing, marketing, marketing.

And when a write such as myself or Erica Orloff or PJ Parrish or any of many others of us who have raised a finger and said, "Yeah, but..." we're shot down and told that if we don't market, market, market, no matter how good our novel is, nobody will hear about it.

True enough.

But an unpublished (and perhaps unpublishable) novelist that spends all their thinking about how WHEN they get published they will market their book, etc., is putting their emphasis in the wrong place.

Yes, I think it's worthwhile knowing how the publishing industry works. But learning to write well is more important. Even after you get a publishing contract.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Shiny New Idea Versus The Real Thing

August 26, 2009
Yesterday, among my numerous ongoing writing projects, I pulled up the file on The Valley of Shadows, the 4th Derek Stillwater novel, and continued to read. I recently signed a contract for it and got my editorial comments, but I'm re-reading the manuscript to get it fully in my head.

A while back I wrote that I was going to finish China Fire, whether it was good or not, just to make sure I finished something. So yesterday I pulled up the file, stared at the screen . . . and then my wife came home and I closed it again and we went kayaking because it was a beautiful day and like it or not, the summer (which seemed to last about 2 weeks) is starting to come to an end.

Later in the evening I sat on the couch with the laptop and instead of opening China Fire like I was supposed to, I opened the file for the sci-fi novel I'm working on and without hesitation wrote 2-1/2 pages, then shut it down.

Erica Orloff, She-Who-Must-Be-Read, talks about Shiny New Idea Syndrome, where you're in the middle of a project and you keep getting ideas for other stories. I tend to call this the Eureka Moment, although SNIS works quite well.

So do I have SNIS? Sort of. There's no doubt that China Fire is a struggle for some reason, although I think there's a lot of meat to it. I think it's a good to great idea, I think I'm executing it reasonably well, but I seem to be struggling to actually get from point A to point B to point C, etc.

The SF novel, A Plague of Stars, however, it just plain good. Am I struggling with it? Sometimes, but not so much. It's just outside my usual area of writing and when I recently got stalled I told myself I had to finish SOMETHING and China Fire was further along.

I'm going to try to do all 3, I guess, as much as time allows. I think I know where to go next in China Fire. I definitely know where to go with Plague. And I'm under contract for Shadows, so that's a given.

But sometimes it's really hard to tell if you're jumping projects just to get away from the tough one. Do you have this problem? How do you deal with it?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Writing Myth

August 25, 2009
I'm not sure it's a myth, exactly, but for today, let's call it a myth.

And that myth is: let's write one novel a year and make a living doing it.

Sure. It happens.

But I don't know many of them. Even some of the big names that publish one novel a year seem to write several a year. And probably more to the point, I'm seeing a lot of bestselling authors that typically publish one novel a year spend about 8 or 9 months out of the year promoting their novel.

I just wrote a very long article about the reliability of at-home glucose meters that spent a lot of time figuring out how the standards for these types of consumer electronic health devices are developed. And at one point I noted that the last time the ISO (International Organization for Standardization) and the FDA, et al, took on this task, it took 7 years to come up with a standard. Partly that's because it's a consensus organization and the standards require a consensus.

It's also because almost all of the doctors, engineers, lawyers, CEOs, professor, etc., involved in this, are doing other things. There aren't many people involved in this whose full-time job is to determine what the standards for at-home glucose meters are. A lot of times they're physicians who are seeing patients, conducting research, teaching, running corporations and serving on dozens of committees of all sorts.

And when I think about that, I wonder why so many writers think they can write 5 pages a day then spend the rest of their time watching TV or contemplating their belly button lint while the dollars and euros and yuan pour in.

I know in my writing life I write all sorts of crap and I do it all the time. Novels, book proposals, market research reports, editing journals, newsletters, magazine articles, online articles, etc.

And I know some pretty successful novelists and many of them write short stories and screenplays and magazine articles and a variety of other things to bring in cash. Maybe some of it's because they can. And some of it is because they need to. And some of them write 2 or 3 or 4 or 5 books a year (or in the case of James Reasoner, about 10 a day, but he's an outlier). I know one bestselling author who continues to practice law despite all the money his one novel a year brings in.

So... what are you writing today?

Mark Terry

Monday, August 24, 2009

Yes Man

August 24, 2009
I don't much like Jim Carrey or his movies, but I wanted to see this movie, "Yes Man" because I was intrigued by the premise. That is, someone who was depressed and having a nowhere life gets convinced to say "yes" to EVERYTHING. It's played to comic effect and I actually liked Carrey in this, and although I don't think it's a great movie, I thought it was a great message.

Because, in fact, I often find this to be true in my own life. Even the movie points out (eventually) that you can't say "yes" to everything, that people will manipulate you and you'll do stupid things. Nonetheless, the idea that the world will open up to you because you've opened yourself up to other things (doing things, meeting people, etc) I think is a powerful one.

And besides, I laughed right out loud at the final scene in the movie.

So, you tell me? Do you try to say "yes" to the world?

Mark Terry

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Second Thoughts

August 20, 2009
My oldest son is a writer. I've noted that before. The other day he handed me the first chapter of a novel (or something) he's working on and asked me to read it. I did. I liked it a lot. He's got great ideas. A very distinctive voice (if only he could bottle that for when he's older and in the market). His writing technique is improving (he's still 15, but it's improving), as are his mechanics.

The story in question is about a family of people that are grafted with a device that allows them to turn into dragons, each one a different color. Some prescient uncle gave each of them a tattoo when they were born and they were told the symbols would guide them. The main character's, for instance, is Love. Another's is Loyalty. Another is Leadership. Etc.

Ian told me that one of the characters will betray the family and go work with the bad guy. He was thinking Carl. I said, "Is he the one with the Loyalty tattoo?"

"No. He's loyal."

"You might want to re-think that," I told him. I suggested that a character whose tattoo was loyalty might mean that he has problems with loyalty. Or that loyalty--or lack thereof--may very well be the guiding principle or thing he has to struggle with the most, the thing that most defines him--or screws him up. And I went through some of the other tattoos, spinning the concepts different ways, suggesting that it would make the story more unpredictable and complex, that what you see is not necessarily what you get. I think he was intrigued.

And I thought it was sort of an important lesson. When I'm writing, I'm often hit with a "really cool idea." And a lot of times, thank God, the first idea IS the best one. But not always.

Because sometimes the first idea is the most obvious idea. And sometimes I have to think about "what's next?" If one idea is this, what if...

I think it's very easy to get into a trap of thinking the first idea or approach is the best one. We're inundated by stories. 30-second ads with characters and plotlines. TV shows, movies, videos, online games, videogames with storylines, book, short stories, magazines, etc. And it's really easy to go from A to B to C, when in fact, A to B to C is what we got on the TV show we watched last night.


Mark Terry

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Do You Wanna Date My Avatar?

August 19, 2009
This video manages to be sexy and amusing as hell (to me, anyway). So, if you could date a fictional character, who would it be? I'm hard-pressed to say I'd want to date Kinsey Millhone or VI Warshawski, although Sunny Randall's a possibility (complete with baggage). One of the lawyers from Lisa Scottoline's books? Hmmm....

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Fastest Funny Car

August 18, 2009
You learn something every day, I guess. I was digging up some info on another of my well-remembered tween/teen books, The Fastest Funny Car by Patrick J. Williams, only to discover that Patrick J. Williams is one of many pseudonyms for WEB Griffin. Which is somewhat ironic, because it reminded me of another of my favorite tween/teen books (which I hadn't been planning to write about), called, I think, "The Amazing Steam Machine" although I'm going to have to dig around and see if that's the actual title now.

Anyway, The Fastest Funny Car, isn't about a funny (ha-ha) car, but about what I suppose would be called a stock car these days. Anyway, the main character is a guy who grew up being a very, very talented pianist, primarily interested in classical piano, but with a side interest in jazz piano. His mother always assumed he'd go on to be a music major. Somewhere along the way he got very interested in engineering and made plans to get a degree in engineering.

In the summer after his high school graduation, he gets a job playing piano at a very stuffy, wealthy resort (in my memory it seemed to more closely resemble a nursing home, but I think it was a sort of cross between both). He plays a "tea dance" which is to say, he played during meals and gave a concert every day or so.

While getting his car fixed one day (a job he was doing himself, he just needed garage space), he meets up with a guy who's an engineer who's quit that to work on building and racing his funny car. So they start hanging out and working in the garage and there's a whole bunch of sort of class and social tension between the wrench-monkey and the pianist, plus the main character is poor so he's pretty much on the hook for the job just so he can go to school in the fall.

The book was written in 1967, and I undoubtedly inherited it from my brother, who is 7 years older than I am. I must have read it in the mid to late-70s, when I was 12, 13, 14, 15, somewhere in there. It appealed to me a lot. I mentioned it to my brother once when I was reading it and he commented that it was one of those books that seemed to reflect him as well--the musician who was nonetheless interested in science, etc.

I can see now how this book dealt with a conflict I've spent most of my life dealing with (successfully or unsuccessfully, who know?), how do you reconcile an interest in arts/music with one in science? It also deals with the conflict between "classical" music and so-called "popular music" which is something we continue to deal with in all the arts, books included.

How about you? Any more important books from your younger years?


Monday, August 17, 2009

The Young Unicorns

August 17, 2009
For reasons unknown to me, I've been thinking of books that meant a lot to me as a kid. Not way back, like Dr. Seuss, but junior high and high school. So I thought I'd spend a couple days telling y'all about a few of them.

by Madeleine L'Engle

I was a huge fan of L'Engle (whose name I had no idea how to pronounce). I loved A Wrinkle in Time and what was then a trilogy, although I think it's 4 or 5 books now. I enjoyed the books with the Austin family, of which apparently The Young Unicorns is the third, although I do have to say, each book is weirdly different. L'Engle always flirted with science fiction and fantasy, and the first Austin book, Meet The Austins, wasn't even vaguely SF or fantasy, but The Arm of the Starfish definitely had some SF leanings, given as it did to discussions of research using starfish's regenerative powers (or the regenerative powers of starfish, if you want to make that sentence lose some of its awkwardness).

Anyway, The Young Unicorns takes us to New York City where the Austins are living while their father works on a research project. They're sharing a house with a young blind piano prodigy. Into their lives comes a variety of folks, including her teacher, Mr. Theotocopolous (a name that's meant so much to me I've been stealing it for years in my own fiction), David, a former gang member, etc.

Okay, plot synopsis, as much as possible. Something weird is going on with the Archbishop. Canon Tallis, a quasi investigator for the Catholic Church, shows up to quasi-investigate. Members of a NYC gang, the Alphabats, are acting weird. The Archbishop is using an experimental laser that can stimulate the pleasure centers of the brain without cutting through skin or bone to get the Alphabats to do his bidding, everything spins out of control...

It's an almost impossible book to summarize, and reading the Amazon summary was practically worthless and the Wikipedia summary makes it sounds bizarre, which I suppose it is.

I can see where this book was a foundation for a lot of my interests in books, a sort of thriller-ish book overlaid on a family story with elements of crime fiction mixed with religion, science, and music. It resonated with me then and it still does. Maybe I should re-read it.

How about you? Any books from your early years that won't leave you alone?

Mark Terry

Sunday, August 16, 2009

What Are Your Keepers?

August 16, 2009
Lynn Viehl has a blog post asking what your "keepers" are. In other words, what 3 books do you carry around with you in your head and heart, that mean something important to you and you expect always will.

Mine are:

1. Bag of Bones by Stephen King. A novel about a novelist who has severe writer's block after his wife dies. It's been accurately described as a "haunted love story." In the end, oddly enough, when he is able to write, he gives it up, noting that there apparently are more important things in life.

2. To The Hilt by Dick Francis. About a painter who lives out in the Scottish countryside in a hut, but is called back to the world by the near-death of his stepfather. Things go rather awry after that, but I've always found this book about an artist who prefers his own company and art being drawn back by family to resonate within me.

3. The Well-Fed Writer by Peter Bowerman. I don't write the kinds of things he does, nor do I use the techniques he suggests to get writing gigs, but I picked up his attitude, and it allowed me to make a living as a writer. 'nuff said.

Bonus #4. "The Making Of A Brand Name" by Stephen King. This is an essay, rather than a book, but it inspired me to try my hand at writing, which changed my life.

What are yours? And if you don't want to explain why, that's cool.


Thursday, August 13, 2009


August 13, 2009
I'm back from vacation. We had terrific weather. A great time. Thanks to the wonders of technology, I was able to keep up with e-mail, etc., via my iPhone and my laptop. Thanks to those same wonders, the same e-mail goes to all three devices.

So I get on my office computer and realize I have 330 e-mails to sort through and delete.



Friday, August 07, 2009

The Art of the Insult

August 7, 2009
My sister passed these on to me. Think she was trying to tell me something?

These glorious insults are from an era before the English 
language got boiled down to 4-letter words...

"He had delusions of adequacy." 
- Walter Kerr

"He has all the virtues I dislike and none of the vices I admire."  
- Winston Churchill

"I have never killed a man, but I have read many obituaries with great pleasure."  
- Clarence Darrow

"He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary."  
- William Faulkner (about Ernest Hemingway).

"Thank you for sending me a copy of your book; I'll waste no time reading it."  
- Moses Hadas

"I didn't attend the funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I approved of it."  
- Mark Twain

"He has no enemies, but is intensely disliked by his friends."  
- Oscar Wilde

"I am enclosing two tickets to the first night of my new play; bring a friend.... if you have one."  
- George Bernard Shaw to Winston Churchill
"Cannot possibly attend first night, will attend second... if there is one." - - Winston Churchill, in response.

"I feel so miserable without you; it's almost like having you here."  
- Stephen Bishop 

"He is a self-made man and worships his creator."  
- John Bright

"I've just learned about his illness.  Let's hope it's nothing trivial."  
- Irvin S. Cobb

"He is not only dull himself; he is the cause of dullness in others."  
- Samuel Johnson

"He is simply a shiver looking for a spine to run up."  
- Paul Keating

"In order to avoid being called a flirt, she always yielded easily."  
- Charles, Count Talleyrand

"He loves nature in spite of what it did to him.."  
- Forrest Tucker 

"Why do you sit there looking like an envelope without any address on it?"  
- Mark Twain

"His mother should have thrown him away and kept the stork."  
- Mae West

"Some cause happiness wherever they go; others, whenever they go."  
- Oscar Wilde

"He uses statistics as a drunken man uses lamp-posts... for support rather than illumination."  
- Andrew Lang (1844-1912)

"I've had a perfectly wonderful evening. But this wasn't it."  
- Groucho Marx 

'There's nothing wrong with you that reincarnation won't cure.'  
- Jack E. Leonard 

'He has the attention span of a lightning bolt.'  
- Robert Redford 

'They never open their mouths without subtracting from the sum of human knowledge.'  
- Thomas Brackett Reed 

'He has Van Gogh's ear for music.'  
- Billy Wilder 

'He can compress the most words into the smallest idea of any man I know.'  
- Abraham Lincoln 

'Poor Faulkner.  Does he really think big emotions come from big words?'  
- Ernest Hemingway (about William Faulkner) 

'A modest little person, with much to be modest about. '  
- Winston Churchill 

The exchange between Churchill &Lady Astor: 
She said, "If you were my husband I'd give you poison."
He said, "If you were my wife, I'd drink it."

A member of Parliament to Disraeli: "Sir, you will either die on the gallows or of some unspeakable disease."
"That depends, Sir," said Disraeli, "whether I embrace your policies or your mistress." 

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Dear Mr. Tolkein...

August 6, 2009
Peter Cooper has an absolutely perfect rejection letter from an imaginary literary agent to JRR Tolkein's query regarding "The Hobbit" on Nathan Bransford's blog today.


Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Random iPod Thing

August 5, 2009
Okay, this is on my Facebook page, too, but what the hell. It was fun. When you shuffle, what are the first 15 songs on your iPod. No cheating now.

1. Smoking Gun--Robert Cray
2. Traffic In The Sky--Jack Johnson
3. Enough For Me--Robert Cray
4. Walk On--U2

5. Do You Like The Way--Santana
6. Positively 4th Street--Bob Dylan
7. Gypsy Biker--Bruce Springsteen
8. Go Walking Down There--Chris Isaak
9. Exodus--Bob Marley & The Wailers
10. Thing Called Love--Bonnie Raitt
11. Louise--Bonnie Raitt
12. North Dakota--Lyle Lovett
13. Arms of Mary--Leo Kottke
14. In A Little While--U2
15. Graduation Day--Chris Isaak
Bonus 16. Cowboy In The Jungle--Jimmy Buffett

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Just Finish The Motherf***er!

August 4, 2009
Lynne Viehl wrote the right blog at the right time for me today. She's writing about acronyms for a certain type of writing project where even though it might be crap, you should just finish it anyway. Because to regularly NOT FINISH novels is habit forming.

Now, there are times when it's totally worthwhile to abandon a project. Over the years I've had a complete finish-it complex where I maybe should have given them up (or perhaps not), but in fact, one of my big strengths was when I started something I finished it, by God, even if it was pointless. It's something that's served me well in other areas of my life.

Now, the last year or so hasn't really been all that bad. I did get some contracts for books that had been dropped. I did write two manuscripts for middle grade fantasy novels. I may go back and rework one of those in the future, but for now, probably not, and I don't feel as driven to write in that genre as I did.

In fact, sometimes I intentionally write 20 or 30 or 40 pages of a novel just to see if it'll take off. If I don't go past 20 pages, it's a good bet I'm just not that interested. Once I hit 50 or 75, there's usually something there. If I go 100 pages, the only reason I'm not finishing it is because I'm a moron.

Except I've been a moron a bit more lately. I've got an SF novel that's about 130 pages long, A Plague of Stars. More importantly, I think, I've got a thriller novel that's 200 pages long called China Fire, and on one level or so I think it's the best thing I've ever written. But for a variety of reasons it's also the most difficult thing I've ever written and it got stalled and I sort of abandoned it.

But I didn't, because it's always been at the back of my head.

I've also been dabbling with a crime novel. It's an idea that I've attacked a half a dozen ways, and I think I got a good character for it, but... I'm not sure it's really out of the 20+ page area and it keeps getting stalled. It's possible that the original story idea I keep playing with just isn't as strong as I think it is, no matter how clever I happen to think it is.

Which brings me back to Lynn's column, where she suggests sometimes you just have to tell yourself to finish the motherf**cker. (Actually, the profanity is my own).

I could easily write another Derek Stillwater, and expect I will (I don't know if "easily" is the right word, but I have a title and the first 20 pages and a brief synopsis, so it's a matter of actually doing it). I am, in fact, reading The Valley of Shadows in preparation for dealing with my editor's suggestions. But I've got a year before those edits are due and probably close to another year after that until another Stillwater would be due, assuming the others do well enough to warrant it.

So what novel should I work on?

Not for the first time I've told myself that China Fire could be completed in about two months if I just sat my ass down and wrote 5 pages a day for a couple months. And perhaps I need to give myself the freedom to just write it, not worry about all the plot threads, the complicated setting, all the machinations of plot, and just write it, page after page, and then once it's done, I can THEN start making it hold together. That's not how I usually work, but sometimes you can overthink things.

So that's what I've decided to do. So y'all, feel free to periodically say, "Hey, Mark, have you done your five pages of China Fire yet today?" Because really, sometimes I just need someone to nag me.


Monday, August 03, 2009

These will probably offend you

August 3, 2009
I'm going to put up a couple jokes here. They're extremely likely to offend you. I'm one of those peculiar people that may find a joke offensive without being offended by it. Perhaps the context is everything.

I heard these jokes while chaperoning a cabin of high school sophomore boys, age approximately 14 to 16. These were, by and large, jokes that I thought were:

1. Clever
2. Funny
3. Offensive

You've been warned and I put these up here because of #1 and #2, not #3. I do completely understand how these jokes are offensive.

Q. What's black and white and black and white and black and white?
A. A naked blonde doing cartwheels.

That was sort of the culminating joke of a string of pretty bad blonde jokes and/or sexually-oriented jokes made by kids with little or no sexual experience.

Q. What's worse than ten babies in a mailbox?
A. One baby in ten mailboxes.

Actually, I confess that every single one of the dead baby jokes were offensive (pretty much by definition) and one or two of them were disgusting as well as funny (pretty much despite myself), but that one I liked because of the way it engaged my brain. (It's still awful, but clever, too).

What got me more was that the guy who did most of the dead baby jokes came back a moment later trying to decide to tell a racist joke because he was afraid it might offend someone in this cabin of white suburban 15-year-olds. Weird the way their brains do and don't work.

Of the racist jokes, this one amused me (again, despite myself. I agree it's stereotypical and offensive, but, uh, clever).

Q. What's the difference between a park bench and a black guy?
A. The park bench can support a family of four.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, there you have it, the future of America. Basically bright, hard-working high school students in a middle-class suburban school in middle America. I liked these kids, generally speaking. They're bright and none of them seem malicious, although a few have clearly had challenges in their lives already. I spent some time pondering a comment Stephen King made in "Bag of Bones" about how humor often seems like anger with clown makeup on, and how sometimes the makeup seems a little thin. I think the kids heard a lot of these jokes from their parents (I'm pleased my own son had few if any jokes to tell at all and I'm pretty sure he fell asleep in the middle of them) or found them on YouTube or Comedy Central, but a lot of these jokes had the feeling of anger beneath them.

I'm also reminded that this age group can be amused by a lot of sick stuff and am pretty sure I had my fair share of dead baby jokes in my repertoire when I was 15, too. Hopefully we grow out of it, mostly.