Mark Terry

Friday, October 30, 2009

Sorta Pollyanna

October 30, 2009
Well, my earlier posting of Miley Cyrus's lyrics seemed kind of atypical and pollyanna-ish, so here, read this, it's more Mark-ish. I wouldn't want The Divine Ms. O accusing me of being replaced by a pod from outer space.

Besides, my editor and her husband, who owns my publishing company, were in town today and we had lunch. She mentioned (she's an author herself), "Sometimes I wonder why anybody wants to be an author." I said something along the lines of, "Yeah, I wonder sometimes, too." What I thought, particularly since the focus of their conversation was heavily on how many book signings could I do (the number 65 was bandied about, only about 10% in jest, I suspect), was somewhat along the lines of: fuck if I know.

Happy Halloween!

The Climb

October 30, 2009
I never, ever, EVER thought I'd post the lyrics from a Miley Cyrus tune here, but yeah, here it is. And she actually pulls off the song pretty well. The song and lyrics were written by Jessi Alexander and Jon Mabe.

I can almost see it
That dream I'm dreaming but
There's a voice inside my head sayin,
You'll never reach it,
Every step I'm taking,
Every move I make feels
Lost with no direction
My faith is shaking but I
Got to keep trying
Got to keep my head held high

There's always going to be another mountain
I'm always going to want to make it move
Always going to be an uphill battle,
Sometimes you going to have to lose,
Ain't about how fast I get there,
Ain't about what?s waiting on the other side
It's the climb

The struggles I'm facing,
The chances I'm taking
Sometimes they knock me down but
No I'm not breaking
I may not know it
But these are the moments that
I'm going to remember most yeah
Just got to keep going
And I,
I got to be strong
Just keep pushing on, cause

There's always going to be another mountain
I'm always going to want to make it move
Always going to be an uphill battle,
Sometimes I'm going to have to lose,
Ain't about how fast I get there,
Ain't about what's waiting on the other side
It's the climb

There's always going to be another mountain
I'm always going to want to make it move
Always going to be an uphill battle,
Sometimes you going to have to lose,
Ain't about how fast I get there,
Ain't about what's waiting on the other side
It's the climb

Keep on moving
Keep climbing
Keep the faith baby
It's all about
It's all about
The climb
Keep the faith
Keep your faith

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Would I Lie To You, Honey?

October 29, 2009

I'm going to go to Career Day at my son's middle school in a couple weeks and give a 20-25 minute presentation on my career, on being a freelance writer. So the age group is basically 11 and 12-year-olds. I'm going to talk mostly about my novel writing, but because this is about careers, I'm going to talk a little bit about the magazine writing, etc., that I do. I imagine I'll talk about interviewing experts, etc. The teacher also wants us parents to talk about how we got into this field and how math and science might enter into our career choice. (He notes that one parent last year showed up at school in a Coast Guard helicopter. How the hell could you follow that? Luckily, I'm following a car dealer--in the Detroit area. I just hope he doesn't give away cars).

In other words, I'm going to lie. A little bit, anyway.

This is on my mind a bit because I just sent my website maven a ton of stuff to revamp the content on my site, and one of the things I did was completely redo the Bio. I kept it simpler and basically said I was a novelist. I said I've written literally hundreds of magazine articles, but I'm staying away from talking about that.


There's been some discussion among writers fairly recently about the so-called "mystique" of the novelist. That being thought of as a full-time novelist is part of the sales job, that it's what readers and book buyers want to hear, what they want to believe. And that by saying that you have a "day job" ruins the mystique and gives readers one more reason not to buy your book.

I buy it and I don't. I'm a fan of honesty, actually. I'm also proud of being a full-time freelance writer. I'm not hiding what I do. But it may be a good time to focus the fiction stuff on selling fiction and keeping it somewhat separate from the nonfiction. After all, I rarely talk about my novel writing when I'm discussing nonfiction, especially with clients. It's on my writing resume, and I recently had a nonfiction publisher say that was the part of the resume that intrigued her the most (she's a bit of a dipshit, actually, even for a publisher). But I believe that in most cases even mentioning the fiction with the nonfiction clients is completely counterproductive, so vice versa is probably also true.

I guess.

For 11-year-olds, the novelist stuff will be more interesting, even if the magazine stuff makes more sense. I hate to prepare too much in advance for talks. I like to carefully gauge my audience's interest and reaction and on-the-spot tailor what I'm saying to keep them interested (hopefully). This might be tricky with 11-year-olds. (Hell, I was doing mini-chats with the guitar classes in the high school a couple weeks ago and one-on-one they were great, but when you start running your mouth in front of them you sure get a lot of glazed eyes and blank expression. A lot of those glazed eyes and blank expressions come from people who are actually paying attention, but it can be disconcerting).

So tell me, fellow scribblers. Would you lie to me?

Mark Terry

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Exhibit A

October 28, 2009
On Facebook today, Joe Konrath commented that he'd finished his 18th novel. I realized that my numbers are probably up there, but I didn't know. So I sat down to write the names of all the manuscripts I've actually completed. My number is 22, assuming I haven't forgotten anything. And I suppose I could also mention one really miserable rough draft of a screenplay and God knows how many unfinished novel fragments and short stories, etc. Crazy. (And weirdly crazier when you can't even remember the f-ing names of all of them). It's potentially helpful to remember that I started writing novels when I was 21 or 22 and didn't have a f-ing clue what I was doing (not that I necessarily do now). I find it interesting looking at the list to recognize when my novels started getting good enough to have a reasonable shot at publication--probably #7, Blood Secrets, which did, in fact, get a contract with Write Way Publishing, which went out of business (and then picked up by another company, that went out of business...).

In terms of the gratuitously humiliating, here's a list of titles. I can't guarantee they're all there or they're in the right order. And I think there's some debate as to whether Monster Seeker was actually ever completed.

Ace in the Hole (seems to me I renamed this, but I can't for the life of me remember what I retitled it)

Out On A Limb (a PI novel)

High Roller (in which a person who knows less than nothing about gambling writes a novel about a professional gambler)

Washington Shuffle (same character as High Roller)

Triple Bogie (great missed opportunity; a comic crime novel featuring a private eye)

Chippewa Paybacks (this is a quasi sequel to Out On A Limb, but... hmmm, did I ever complete Went Missing, a sequel to Out On A Limb? Seems to me I did. Okay, that makes 23?)

Blood Secrets (Theo MacGreggor)

Lethal Doses (Theo MacGreggor)

Victim #3 (Theo MacGreggor)

Dark Mistress (Theo MacGreggor; let this be a lesson to you--if you can't get the first novel published successfully featuring a series character, don't write three more featuring him. Dark Mistress was never shown to anyone, although LD and V#3 garnered some interest. They seem like immature work to me now, although there were good things in all of them).

Dirty Deeds--got published by the first publisher to read it

Bad Intentions (a sequel to DD, but through one bit of folly or another, never got published)

The Devil's Pitchfork (Derek Stillwater. And honestly, to my mind, I went to a completely different level with this book)

The Serpent's Kiss (Derek Stillwater)

The Fallen (Derek Stillwater, pub date April 2010)

The Valley of Shadows (Derek Stillwater, pub date September 2011)

Dancing In The Dark (Joanna Dancing; fair amount of interest, but ultimately no bites; I eventually self-published this as a Kindle e-book)

Hot Money (Austin Davis. It's still out there at at least one publisher, and if they turn it down I may very well show it to my current publisher. I love this character and would be absolutely delighted to write more books about him, but I may have learned my lesson from the Theo MacGreggor novels)

Peter Namaka and The Battle for Atlantis (my attempt at middle grade fantasy; my son loved it, my agent loved it, Random almost published it, but we eventually ran out of markets. Maybe someday, who knows?)

Fortress of Diamonds (another middle grade-ish fantasy/adventure, although I feel like it suffered from not being quite appropriate for the age I wrote it for. Some of my beta readers said so and that's sort of my inclination. "Almost, but no cigar," I guess. It might still be out in the marketplace, but I don't think so).

Monster Seeker (yet another middle grade fantasy/adventure. I think I got the age right this time, but my agent didn't like it and I apparently didn't feel so strongly about it to rewrite it).

This may very well be Exhibit A in the diagnosis of my obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Mark Terry

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A Strange Form of Prostitution

October 27, 2009
A number of years ago I heard Terry Gross, host of NPR's "Fresh Air" interview Frank Zappa. It's always stuck with me and I was thinking about it today (because, you know, once you get past what you're having for lunch, how you're going to get your work done today, what's on TV tonight, the weather, and sex--not necessarily in that order--you've got to think about SOMETHING). And so I hunted down a transcript from it (The bold is mine):

Terry Gross: The songs that you've done are almost all parody. You're mocking conventions, and never kind of pouring your heart out, you know? And I wonder why.

Frank Zappa: Well first of all. There's no need for anyone to understand what lives in my heart, if in fact such an organ exists. Secondly, in contemporary terms, I think that it is a despicable thing to do, to earn your living by sharing your personal inner turmoil with somebody else for money. I don't like those kinds of singer-songwriter types who are always weeping about the tragedy in their life. I mean, why? Who needs it? Everybody else has got theirs.

Terry Gross: Well, I mean you don't have to be whining to sing a good ballad.

Frank Zappa: Well... Yeah but usually they are. And that's the problem.

* * *

It is an interesting form of prostitution, isn't it? I was just talking to a friend of mine and she has a friend who is a very successful painter who sells paintings for $10,000 each and often does shows of 20 themed paintings, and my friend said her friend (gets confusing, doesn't it?) the painter was totally neurotic, but didn't want to take meds or go into therapy because she was afraid her art would suffer as a result.


Monday, October 26, 2009

E-Publishing's Business Model???

October 26, 2009
This today from Shelf Awareness:

In the can't win department, a Credit Suisse analyst downgraded Barnes & Noble, saying that "the shift to digital from physical books will ultimately hurt traditional brick-and-mortar book sellers," the Associated Press said. (Many had earlier criticized the retailer for not offering an e-reader.) Referring to company's new e-reader, introduced this past week, Gary Balter wrote: "As the math currently works, each sale through a Nook is not just unprofitable but potentially replaces a higher-margin sale at stores."

And Goldman Sachs analyst Matthew Fassler wrote that the move to digital formats "clearly challenges Barnes & Noble's store-based model."

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Metaphysical Question Du Jour

October 24, 2009
I started off my day putzing around on the Internet & checking e-mail. I read an article on the online version of Men's Health about getting your life and health together in your 40s (yes, I'm 45). And they told a story based on some book about drawing a square. Each side of the square represents one of the following things: work, family/social, physical, spiritual.

So the question becomes, if you were to draw each side of that "square" to a length that represented your perceived quality of each side would it actually be a square? As the guy being quoted in the article said, his looked like a flatline on an EKG. (Note that he was a brain surgeon whose father had just died, gotten divorced within a week of that, and had to leave neurosurgery to help his mother run the family farm. He was having a REALLY bad week).

I find this thought-provoking. Anyway, there's the thought du jour.

Be square!


Friday, October 23, 2009

Cover Evolution

October 23, 2009
I showed you the cover art for my upcoming novel, The Fallen, a few weeks ago. A couple of you have seen the original cover art version because I asked your opinions of it. What I didn't show anybody was the version in between.

For those of you who don't know, the novel is called The Fallen, and it features my returning hero, Derek Stillwater, a troubleshooter for the Department of Homeland Security. He is an expert in biological and chemical terrorism and warfare. In the first Stillwater novel, The Devil's Pitchfork, Derek encounters a homegrown, yet international terrorist organization calling itself The Fallen Angels, and its leader calls himself The Fallen. Although that novel, to my mind, ends satisfactorily, The Fallen escapes. In The Fallen, obviously, I brought them back. Unfinished business, and all that. This novel takes place in Colorado Springs during the G8 Summit.

So when my publishing team and I had a conference call with the cover artist, the image of a bull's-eye was suggested, the image of an angel, mountains... we talked about a lot of things. MP5 submachine guns, mountains, ventilation shafts with bullet holes, all sorts of stuff.

The cover with the full-blown angel looking over his shoulder was the first cover we looked at. I admit, I liked this cover a lot. But something bothered me about it and I couldn't quite place my finger on it. So I showed it to a couple of friends and family members. It was Erica Orloff, She Who Must Be Read, who said something along the lines of, "it looks like a paranormal novel."

Uh-oh. I think she was right. And that worried me. A lot. Partially because, one of the things I noticed with my two previous Derek Stillwater novels, The Devil's Pitchfork and The Serpent's Kiss, was that readers, merely on the basis of the titles, often made the assumption they were horror novels of some supernatural sort. Furthermore, the covers, which I loved (different publisher, different artist), went for large symbols. The Devil's Pitchfork had, in red, a biohazard symbol that looked like it was carved out of stone over an image of the U.S. capitol building. It's a fantastic image (and to-date my favorite cover art, although the one for Catfish Guru was inspired; I pretty much still hate the cover art for Dirty Deeds), but I'm not sure it was completely clear that this was a vaguely military-esque thriller rather than a supernatural horror novel. (And Midnight Ink marketed it as a mystery, just to further confuse the issue).

The Serpent's Kiss, with its numerous deadlines and racing against time to prevent sarin gas attacks, had a green cover and a large image of a clock with a skull-and-crossed bones on it, superimposed over the skyline of Detroit. There were some gaseous-like things among the green. A terrific cover and I was reasonably certain it would be perceived as what it was, but the title could have gone several ways.

So as soon as She Who Must Be Read mentioned paranormal, I got jittery and told my publishers so. My agent's comment also was, "It's fine but get rid of the angel." I don't know all of their behind-the-scenes discussions, but they apparently agreed with me.

The cover artist's second attempt had a smaller angel on it. I just plain hated this cover. Very short discussion, but I basically told them I didn't like it and would rather have the first version than this one. I gather nobody particularly liked this cover.

The final version I'm quite pleased with. If I were to be in the bookstore and be picking up books entirely based on the cover, I think the first one would attract my attention. But I don't think it actually represents the book very well. The final cover, with its image of the Rocky Mountains, a sniper, and the bull's-eye superimposed over a U.S. flag is dramatic enough, clearly is representative of the book, and is eye-catching. I think it's a pretty good cover, ought to sell some books, and won't confuse the readers.



Eight For Eternity

October 23, 2009
Hmmm. Got an ARC of "Eight For Eternity" in the mail today, written by these folks. If you haven't read any of their books, I highly recommend them. This goes into my TBR pile and I"ll plan on reviewing it closer to their pub date, which is April 2010, around the same time my next book comes out.


Thursday, October 22, 2009

Ye Olde Author Photo

October 22, 2009
For the record, I hate dealing with author photos. I'm sure I'm not the only person out there, male or female, that finds some dissonance between how I think I look, how I wished I looked, and how I actually look in a photograph.

Anyway, the publisher wanted a new author photo. A friend of mine's daughter just started college as a photography major, so I hired her to take some photographs. She narrowed them down to 11, then my wife and I narrowed them down to 4, then I sent them off to my publisher to decide on the 4. Which they sort of did. Anyway, here are the 4. Let me know which one you'd recommend. We'll call them #1, #2, #3, and #4, moving left to right on the top row with the bottom picture being. And then I'll tell you which one the publishers wanted later today and what they asked me and I'll let you know, with as much certainty as I currently have, which one we're actually going to use. Oh, and by the way, the photographer's name is Hadley Ashton.


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

5 Years

October 21, 2009
Today is the 5th anniversary of me writing full-time. I'd actually gone part-time on my job at Henry Ford Hospital a few months earlier, in June of 2004, but I was done for good on October 21, 2004.

Although I know some of my readers have been freelancing longer, some of you haven't, or at all. So, what are some of the things I have I learned in 5 years?

1. I still like it. I still like going into my office to work. I don't drag my heels about it, I have a routine, and every morning I look forward to going to work. That's a blessing.

2. A freelance writing career is rather like a shark. If it doesn't keep moving it dies. It might otherwise be referred to as "hustle," but either way, you can't get complacent about things. You have to constantly look for work, tend to clients, stay alert.

3. Shit happens. Publishers close. Editors leave their jobs and their replacements may not like you or be interested in working with you. Checks get lost. Clients stiff you. You forget to pay taxes. Your computer crashes. An important interview subject blows you off. The economy sours and you can't pick up a new client with a fork lift. You might go a month or two without checks. Work can dry up at exactly the wrong time.

4. Great things happen. Interview subjects want you to help them write a book. An editor or fellow writer mentions you to someone who turns into a new client. Someone reads your work and thanks you or compliments you. Something you write actually helps someone or improves their life. Movie studios nibble. Checks come in and clear. New clients come out of nowhere.

5. Things change. Sometimes for the better, sometimes not. I started out writing about biotech, genetics, and clinical diagnostics. Over the course of 5 years I've written about authors, architecture, plumbing, electrical contractors, computer security, business, and numerous other things. Now I'm back mostly writing about the business end of healthcare, in particular clinical diagnostics. I've been writing market research reports for a couple years, something I would never have thought possible.

6. I'm a better businessman than I have any right to be. I've never had a business class. Never took economics, marketing, accounting, etc. Yet, in the context of my writing business, I'm really pretty good at this. I can be terribly hard-nosed about the bottom line. (Marketing is not my strong suit, but I know how to get work).

7. Flexible schedules are great, but I don't take advantage of it as much as most people think. And I certainly don't take advantage of it the way I thought I would before I went full-time. In five years I've gone to see a movie by myself in the afternoon exactly once. And it was this summer. I had a Friday when both kids were gone, work was moderately slow and I said, "What the hell," and went to see "Star Trek" again. And a former client called me on the phone while I was there. I told her I'd call her back later. That said, I do go to the gym, out to lunch, and pick up my kids at school in the afternoon.

8. In general, the widely employed don't have a clue where the money comes from. When I worked for Henry Ford Hospital, I never much cared, either. Just as long as my paychecks came every two weeks and I had paid time-off and health insurance benefits. But now I know exactly where the money comes from and where it goes. It's an education.

9. I have even less tolerance for office politics now than I did when I worked in an office. Really, you're getting in a pissing match over that?

10. I can be more persistent than I thought I could be. This really has to do with my fiction.

11. I think there's a breaking point on the persistence thing where fiction is concerned. I didn't used to think so. But now I do. I really do think that one more big snafu with a fiction publisher, one more big screw-up, and I would probably throw my hands in the air and say, "Fuck it. I'm done." Really, sometimes the rewards just aren't enough for the costs.

12. I've been lucky.

13. Ownership of your career and your life (even if illusory) is a major factor in job satisfaction and part of what makes being a freelance writer such a great gig.

14. One of the worst things about freelance writing (and probably self-employment in general) isn't the shifting income or the lack of security, it's how difficult it is to get away from work. Most of the time that doesn't bother me. The trade-offs are usually worth it. But I'll tell you what, when I went to Disney World in April with the marching band, I didn't take a computer with me. I just had my iPhone and when business folk contacted me, I e-mailed them quickly to say, "I'm out of town, I'll get back with you on Tuesday." End of contact. And that was bliss. I don't always get (or am forced) to do that, but I should more often, because being constantly attached to work can burn you out.

Mark Terry

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Reader's Requirements

October 19, 2009
The writer, we're often told, needs to keep in mind the needs of the reader. I've been thinking a lot about that lately. Ultimately, I know, when I sit down to write a novel, I'm trying to entertain myself. I hope that by doing so, I will also entertain readers. I know not all readers will like my books. I don't like all books. And, in fact, as I get older, more experienced, and/or jaded, some authors whose works I greatly admired no longer interest me. They grew out of me or I grew out of them. Sometimes because they changed; sometimes because I changed.

Here are a few things I think about my readers:

--they're very busy. It's a busy world, I'm very busy, so I understand that when they're not working, cleaning house, cooking dinner, watching TV, surfing the 'net, nagging their kids about homework, or any of a million other things, they might like to read a book. As a result, I should not waste their time.

--As the above point ought to make clear, my readers have a lot of distractions from reading. There are numerous other things they can choose as their form of entertainment, whether it's TV, movies, listening to music, reading magazines, reading other books, cooking marshmallows over an open fire, playing with their dog/cat/guinea pig/pet rock, theater, sex, or watching paint dry. I'd better deliver something those activities don't. Somehow.

--There's an enormous amount of competition with other books. I went to Borders on Sunday. I headed first to the music reference section and immediately saw two books I wanted to buy there--one was the Guitar Tabs White Pages and the other was a very thorough book of guitar chords. Then I swung through the new releases. Michael Connelly's new book is out, 9 Dragons, and Jonathan Kellerman's new book, Evidence, is out. Then I wandered some more and thought about picking up Suzanne Collins "The Hunger Games" and there were some biographies I was interested in... I settled on Kellerman's new book. That said, I've recently bought 5 or 6 books in the last 5 or 6 weeks, plus had a couple given to me, so I'm sort of swamped with books. But my time and money are limited... and so are readers'. Somehow I've got to give my readers something that other writers don't.

Now, I pulled this off the late Ed McBain's website, because I think it's worth keeping in mind. It's his contract with his readers:

I like to believe I've made a contract with the reader.

The contract is a simple one.

I know all the rules of mystery writing, and I promise
that I will observe them so long as they provide a novel
that will keep you fascinated, intrigued, and entertained.
If they get in the way of that basic need, I'll either bend
the rules or break them, but I will never cheat the
reader. Never.

There will be a murder, I promise you, and there will be
men and women trying hard to solve that murder. Most
often -- but not always -- they will succeed. Sometimes
a cop will be wounded. Sometimes a cop will even be
killed. These are realistic novels, so if you are looking
for Agatha Christie, you're not only in the wrong pew,
you're in the wrong church.

One of my first editors said that there was a "clinical
verity" to the 87th Precinct novels, but I have never
glorified violence, and never gloated over it, and I
promise you I never will. I am not writing for children.
but I promise you that the sex in these novels will never
be gratuitous or prurient. I sometimes feel like a fly on
the wall, listening, observing. I like the idea of walking
into a room with these cops, feeling what these men or
women are feeling, and then helping you to feel the
same way. I like to place you there. I promise that I'll do
my best to make you feel you're actually living these

I promise I will never bore you silly with long
descriptions of winding roads through remote forests. I
promise I will never write tiresome interior monologues
that serve no purpose but to examine my own navel. I
promise you dialogue that ain't real, but that sounds
real. I promise you men and women who love (and
sometimes lose), men and women who break the law
(and sometimes win), men and women who are
confronted on a daily basis with urgent problems they
must solve. Just like you and me, come to think of it.

I promise to keep you awake all night.

I promise to keep writing till the day I die.

I will sign this contract in blood if you like.

Saturday, October 17, 2009


October 17, 1009
Full disclosure: I received a free copy of Cherie Priest's BONESHAKER. So there, FTC! Haven't read it, but it looks chock full of sci-fi/fantasy steampunk goodness, and frankly, it's hard to ignore a title like that. When I read it, I'll review it. In the meantime, here's a description of the book:

In the early days of the Civil War, rumors of gold in the frozen Klondike brought hordes of newcomers to the Pacific Northwest. Anxious to compete, Russian prospectors commissioned inventor Leviticus Blue to create a great machine that could mine through Alaska's ice. Thus was Dr. Blue's Incredible Bone-Shaking Drill Engine born.

But on its first test run the Boneshaker went terribly awry, destroying several blocks of downtown Seattle and unearthing a subterranean vein of blight gas that turned anyone who breathed it into the living dead.

Now it is sixteen years later, and a wall has been built to enclose the devastated and toxic city. Just beyond it lives Blue's widow, Briar Wilkes. Life is hard with a ruined reputation and a teenage boy to support, but she and Ezekiel are managing. Until Ezekiel undertakes a secret crusade to rewrite history.

His quest will take him under the wall and into a city teeming with ravenous undead, air pirates, criminal overlords, and heavily armed refugees. And only Briar can bring him out alive.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Because it's Friday, and because I can...

October 16, 2009

Have a great weekend staring at goats.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Crap Happens

October 15, 2009
If you're from the not-to-be-named-here publisher or one of the not-to-be-named clients, go somewhere else, this will just piss you off.


Last year I was hired by a couple doctors to help them write a proposal for a book about medical practice management, a subject I (and them) write about quite a bit. We hammered out a contract and I did so, got paid, etc. Then I helped us find an agent. She then marketed it to the best of her abilities, about 12 publishers, with nothing coming of it. Then, I did some research and found another possible 8 & sent out queries. One said "no thanks," six fell into the black hole of the publishing industry never to be heard from again, and one said, "Hmm, we're interested." We all had a conference call, they offered a contract, then our agent got a look at the contract (which sucked, or as our agent said, "It's more unfriendly to authors than I was afraid of.") There were numerous issues with the contract, but the first sticking point, which our agent wanted us to all agree was a "deal breaker" involved the fact that instead of having the copyright in the name of the authors (in this case, most likely, the two docs, not me, I'm just the hired help), it was in the name of the publisher. We all agreed.

So our agent told the publisher the copyright had to be in the two docs' names. She said no, all of their books were in the publisher's name.

So we walked.

Now, I was on Facebook yesterday and I mentioned this and SpyScribbler asked why this was a big deal. I wrote:

It gets a bit complicated, but the gist of it is who actually owns the intellectual property versus who's licensing the intellectual property. Work-for-hire often is handled that way, but it's not really all that common in terms of royalty-based projects.

That didn't quite satisfy her, so I then wrote:

The difference is what they can do with it without your permission because they own the content. So the concern has to do with repurposing.

My brother, who is a music professor and composer who has published a great deal of music and won many awards, wrote this, which was news to me, but I would have been about 18 at the time in question:

"(I) Created a soundtrack for an "educational video" back in about 1982. I didn't see a market for it so when they kept the copyright I didn't mind. They then sold it to PBS where it ran nationally for about 8 years...not a nickel did I get, and the fun part was getting cards from people congratulating me on my and learn."
That well and truly sucks. Then, because it's all about me, me, me, I wrote:

The bulk of my writing is work-for-hire, rather than contracted so I can repurpose. 99% of the time that's fine, there really is no other market. But two of the pubs I've worked with re-used and reprinted a lot of material without me getting anything from it. The one time that really bugged me was a piece I did for that got reprinted on and I didn't get a cent.

(And by the way, if I did the math on the ones I've actually heard about, it's possible that over the years these repurposing, etc., would have amounted to a couple thousand dollars in my pocket. It really depends on the resale value and the type of article, as well as what rights you can hold on to, but I mostly write for trade journals where it's typically work-for-hire. Often work-for-hire makes up for it--not always--by paying you more upfront).

Anyway, my agent and the docs had a flurry of e-mails, as well as some cc'ed communications with the publisher. In ways that don't entirely surprise me, the docs started to say, "Welllllll, maybe it would be okay if..." which had me rolling my eyes, because when you say "deal breaker" I generally think that means if they won't change it, you walk away. Which, for the writers, is always the toughest part of contract negotiations, because most aspiring novelists I know would pretty much sell their soul to get published (don't lie to me, you would and probably already have!). If there's anything to give an author the shakes and the cold sweats, it's when their agent says to a publisher, "that's a deal breaker."

So where are we? Nowhere, as far as I know. There have been a number of problems with this deal, as far as I'm concerned. One was, no advance. Okay, we've had that discussion before. I told the docs I could go with a 3-way split on royalties or they could just pay me to help them write it and then I'd be on my way. Now that they've started hemming and hawing on this, and included in the contract is the news that this publisher only pays royalties once a year in January (you do some figuring: I spend the next 3 or 4 months writing the book, which then gets published at the end of 2010, but because of the January royalty schedule, no payment will arrive in anybody's hands until January 2012), I came back to say if they go with this publisher, I don't want to be part of the royalty structure, they can pay me to help with the writing and they can split the royalties between themselves. Who knows how that news will go over. I gave them other options like self-publishing and a few other things, but, ya know, at least one of them really, really wants to be an author, y'know?

So really, folks. When I suggest that publishing is a business and it helps to have some clue as to what that business is all about, this is a big part of what I'm talkin' about.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

An Interesting Excerpt

October 13, 2009
Here's an excerpt from John Sandford's latest novel, ROUGH COUNTRY. In this scene a club owner who routinely books huge country acts as well as new acts that then get seen by business contacts, is meeting with an all female country band leader (Wendy), her drummer and lover (Berni), and Wendy's father (Slibe) to discuss signing her band.

"He'd see all this before. You had artists who'd spent thousands of hours learning how to play a musical instrument, who could tell you anything you might want to know about writing a song, about bridges and transitions and about single specific words that you couldn't use in a song. Cadaver? Had anyone ever used cadaver in a song?

"They knew all that, worked it, groomed it, smoothed it out, sat up all night, night after night, doing it--and they didn't know a single fucking thing about business. They were in a business, but they didn't know it. They thought they were in an art form."

Well, you get the message, right?

Mark Terry

Monday, October 12, 2009

I want...

October 12, 2009
I want this...

Fortune Cookies For Writers

October 12, 2009
I have time to post this link because the person I was scheduled to interview wasn't in her office, so I'm going to call her every few minutes before I give up and go bug someone else. Don't you just hate that?


Don't Forget To Breathe

October 12, 2009

I liked the song so much I had to track it down, "Breathe" by Alexi Murdoch. Here's the last 4 minutes of Part 2 of the Pilot Episode of Stargate Universe (SGU). Basically, they're stuck on this ship, the environmental controls are totally screwed up and they need to find a chemical compound to clean them. The ship is automated and it stops at a planet where they might be able to find the chemicals, but the ship will automatically jump back into hyperspace in 12 hours. And the reason she's so screwed up at the end is because the ship was leaking atmosphere through a hatch and the only way to shut it was manually from inside the room, and her father did it, dying in the process, but giving them an additional day or so of atmosphere, which allowed them to find the planet.

Anyway, enjoy the song. And I recommend the show.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Hurdles & Obstacles

October 9, 2009
Once upon a time, way back in junior high, I was thinking about running track and the coach made a comment to me about running hurdles. Which I told him I thought wasn't for me. He said the thing about hurdles was you weren't jumping, you were merely stepping over an obstacle in your way.

(Uh-huh. Still, my proportions have never been quite so forgiving. I don't have long legs, even for my height, which ain't all that high).

Yesterday's post made me think a lot about the ups and downs of writing. How we as writers pretty much brag about the number of rejections we got on our way to publication. I've written before that in the freelance world rejection is pretty much a way of life. Typical stats I've read and seem to be more or less true for me is that for every 12 queries I'll get 1 acceptance. I know that on my way to getting my fiction agent (yes, I have 2 agents, one for fiction, one for nonfiction), I racked up dozens--pretty close to 100--rejections. [I'm pleased to say that in some ways this gets a bit easier. Irene doesn't handle nonfiction. So when I was hired to write a proposal for a nonfiction book, I went out looking for an agent who handled nonfiction. The second agent to look at it took us on as clients. That said, it's primarily because the proposal is good, not because the writer is good. I wrote a nonfiction book proposal last year that got shopped unsuccessfully to a couple dozen agents, but in this case, their analysis of the problems with the idea I happened to agree with, so I gave up on it. In nonfiction, the idea and the author platform is key. And just this week we had a contract offer for the nonfiction book].

Sometimes we fly over the hurdles (my money's on the kangaroo). Sometimes, well, not so much (ouch).

Yet, I think hurdles and obstacles are going to happen constantly to us as writers. And the key is not to get destroyed or so defeated that we quit. I've had three publishers either go under or drop me. But I kept plugging away and I'm back with 2 more novels coming out. In the case of this nonfiction book proposal, the agent wasn't able to sell it, but after giving it some thought, doing some research, having my two collaborators nag a friend, I found a couple more places to market to and voila, book contract.

2009 hasn't been a great year for writing, although it's been okay. But I kept sending out queries--increased them, as a matter of fact--and things picked up (finally).

I know we're always hearing about how persistence is one of the key elements of being a successful writer. Hell, I'd go so far as to say damn near having an obsessive-compulsive disorder is one of the key elements to having a successful writing career. You. Can. Not. Quit.

As I mentioned in Rusch's column yesterday, if you try to perceive your writing career and goals as a continuum, then the obstacles and hurdles and setbacks (rather than use the word "failure") become part of the process. Not necessarily a pleasant part of the process, but just part of the process.

I have a friend who was forced out of his job earlier this year over a scandal. It was the absolute worse time for that to happen in a field that's unforgiving of this sort of thing. I'm sure he's feeling pretty low. I'm trying to help. What I haven't said to him, because I don't think it's quite the right time, is that you need to imagine where you'll be in 5 years and try to imagine what this period will seem like. Does he really think that things will be this bleak indefinitely? Well, although I suppose it's possible, I don't think so. He'll get a job somewhere doing something. He'll get back on his feet and continue on with his life. It may not be what he expected or wanted, but given his overall good nature and skills, he'll rebuild. Easy for me to say, I guess, but whenever I have a setback I try to imagine what I'll think about it in 5 years. Will I even remember?

Anyway, thoughts?

The Keble Lane Project--10/9/09

Thursday, October 08, 2009

What's Your Definition of Writing Success?

October 8, 2009
Kristine Kathryn Rusch continues her post on The Freelance Survivor's Guide today, discussing success, primarily focusing on definitions.

Which definitely begs the question, what's your definition of success? Is it getting published? Making a living as a novelist? As a writer? Getting a good review? Making a fortune? Having a movie made from your book? Winning the Pulitzer? The Nobel? The Edgar? The Thriller?

I fall back on my "Success is a journey, not a destination" slogan that everbody's probably sick of hearing about, but I know I'm happier if I view every success (and failure) as part of a process and continuum than as a distinct destination (or lack thereof).


The Keble Lane Project--10/8/09

October 8, 2009
Interesting. (Yes, that's Frodo). This might turn out to be a study of the effects of light.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Book Advances

October 7, 1009
Mr. Stephen-Gonna-Be-(Rich-and/0r)-Famous-Parrish and I were having an e-mail conversation the other day and we drifted into the topic of book advances (or lack thereof). And Stephen said something along the lines of, he believed that authors should make their money off royalties and not advances. (He also suggested he should run and take cover after making that statement, which is also true).

To which I replied:

Well, there's a lot of thought depending on how you deal with royalties. Since I make my living as a writer, with my nonfiction market research reports, I'm often paid half up front and half when I'm done, which is a work-for-hire arrangement. And why not? It takes me anywhere from 3 to 9 months to do it and I need to live on something while I'm working (and I don't get royalties for them). There's also a school of thought that if you're not going to pay an advance, you should get a better royalty, which I would be all for, since my novel advances have sucked. Would I bitch less if the royalty was 25%? Maybe, although we're writers, so we bitch about contracts and publishers.

The thing I dislike most with publishers are their arguments that:

1. we're taking all the risk. (Um, I suppose that depends on how you evaluate risk as the spending of money versus the spending of time, etc, time is money, etc.).

2. We're going to spend it on promotion. (Show me).

3. We want you to do as much as you can to promote your book. But we're not giving you any money in advance, so it's going to come out of your pocket.

4. Very few businesses work in a way where you do the work, then get paid for it a year afterwards. You'll see that by reading your contract, you'll get royalty checks that come after the last COMPLETE royalty period, so depending on your schedule, money won't show up for months after the book comes out. Then there's something called "reserve against returns" which is to say, they hold on to some of the money from your royalties just in case some bookstores return your books.

* * *

Then Stephen made a comment about, "Hey, you just wrote a blog post." And so I did. Your further comments, gripes, and elucidations (and hallucinations) may commence.

The Keble Lane Project

October 7, 2009
I've been thinking about doing this for a while. Why? Don't know. Guess it's art. I'm going to take a photograph every day from more or less the same location. Times may very a little bit. The location is basically in front of my house, more or less on the corner of Keble Lane and Worcester facing north. I'm using the iPhone camera. It's possible I'll occasionally use some other camera, but for now, I almost always have my iPhone on me. I'm putting it in a Flickr account, but for now, I'll just post the picture here. And if I forget, remind me. :)


Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Random Musings On Publishing

October 6, 2009
Thinking about the future of publishing, such as it is. Conde Nast is killing off four publications, one Gourmet, two bridal magazines, and a parent mag. I'm surprised that a bridal magazine could possibly go under given the ad base and saddened by the loss of Gourmet, which I would lay money will make a comeback under some other media or publisher, or perhaps as an online pub.

Publishing starting to implode. There has been talk about it since the Internet got going in the 1990s, but now it's starting to look like it's really happening. Some of it is just the amount of so-called "free" content out there. Some of it is ad rates are down.

[this is a big digression. I don't entirely understand this. I'd be glad to know if someone involved in marketing/advertising has thoughts on this, but, I don't understand why a paper publication with 100,000 subscribers can charge X amount of dollars for advertising, but an online publication with 100,000 daily hits can't charge the same amount of money. Does this go back to metrics? When a newspaper with a 100,000 subscription base charge $50,000 for a full-page ad, did the advertisers really think all 100,000 people looked at or even noticed their ad? Did this change when the advertisers could get actual metrics off a website, that might have 100,000 daily hits, but proved that only 10,000 of those people actually clicked on the ad?

And is it just me, or is it possible that as the print publications die out, advertisers are going to become increasingly desperate for exposure and the online sites with the best hit rates, etc., are going to really have leverage over those advertisers?]

As someone who tried unsuccessfully to run an online publication, I realized that although online and e-mail publication makes distribution simple, it turns the entire project into a question of marketing. And marketing requires time, money, and creativity. Content, in theory, is king, but today's web-users want their content for free. Had I more money and more time, I think I would have slowly, slowly built up an audience, although I don't know if subscribers would have bought in. The website traffic increased every month, but that was all free content, and in order to make money off it, I had to then start getting advertising, etc., which is time-consuming and, frankly, a headache I really didn't want to deal with.

I can go on and on, but I'm not going to. Any thoughts on where publishing's going?

Monday, October 05, 2009

The Fallen--Cover Art

October 5, 2009
Here's the cover art for The Fallen, the next Derek Stillwater novel, scheduled for April 2010.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

What I've Been Reading

October 4, 2009

Here's my latest 10.

The Doomsday Key by James Rollin
Another rip-roarin' Sigma Force novel. Terrific as usual, involving, oh, genetically engineered food and a plot to kill off huge numbers of people.

The Inside Ring by Mike Lawson
The first in the series featuring a troubleshooter employed by the Speaker of the House. I started with the 3rd or 4th and am working my inside-out. Excellent.

Cemetery Dance by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child
At least this one made sense. Another Pendergast novel. This series may have worn out its welcome, but maybe that's just me.

Fearless Fourteen by Janet Evanovich
Enjoyable, light and fun. And like most Stephanie Plum novels, I'm not sure I could tell you what it's about.

Step By Step: A Pedestrian Memoir by Lawrence Bloc
A very strange but entertaining memoir about race-walking mostly.

Whispers of the Dead by Simon Beckett
A terrific forensic procedural by this British author. I highly recommend his books.

Moscow Rules by Daniel Silva
A spy novelist that makes me feel quite inadequate as a writer. Wow.

The Chaco Meridian: Centers of Political Power in the Ancient Southwest by Stephen H. Lekson
Anthropology, a bit over my head, about a theory he has about several Anasazi sites, Chaco, Aztec and Paquime. I thought it was fascinating, but it was like reading a textbook.

Even Money by Dick Francis & Felix Francis
Dick's about 82-years-old, and once senses that although all the elements of a Dick Francis novel are there, it's his son, Felix, who is writing the books and probably not all that well. It really sagged in the middle.

Shockball by SL Viehl
SF, the 4th in Viehl's Stardoc novels. Really pretty good, if a little bit frustrating because the characters spend so much time underground on earth being held hostage by a cult of former Navajo.

What've you been reading?

Friday, October 02, 2009

Your characterization

October 2, 2009
I'll get back to the description workshop with a wrap-up either this weekend or next week. I'm trying to finish up proofing my galley of The Fallen, which will come out next year. I was just reading a section that I'm particularly pleased with because of what it does, and I thought I'd share it with you. You tell me what it does and if it works.

Around his neck was a St. Sebastian’s medal, a steel four-leaf

clover, and ju-ju beads, the latter given to him by a friend who survived

Somalia. “They saved my ass, dude. And you need luck more than I do.”

St. Sebastian had been an officer in the Imperial Roman army, a

captain of the guard in the third or fourth century. He was reported to

have healed the wife of a fellow soldier, and then began to convert sol-

diers to Christianity. He was arrested and tried as a Christian, tied to a

tree, and shot with arrows. Sebastian miraculously survived and contin-

ued to preach, though his ministry was short lived. The emperor had him

rearrested and beaten to death.

Derek thought there was probably a lesson there. You could view

Sebastian surviving the arrows as a miracle and a sign of God’s favor, but

what were you to make of the second and final execution? That God

decided to bring him home, he had proven his faith the first time? Or

that God was sending you a message the first time and you were too stu-

pid to pay attention to it?

During the fourteenth century plague victims prayed to Sebastian,

which is how he became associated with plague. Which is why Derek

wore his medal around his neck, figuring he could use all the benevolent

oversight he could get.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Writing Workshop, Part 1B: Description

October 1, 2009
Okay. I've got a couple new descriptions and two follow-ups. Let's discuss:

This was my original description:

His toothless mouth opened in delight, although it reminded Nick of a snapping turtle. Blue-green eyes still looked out at the world with intensity from beneath a snap-brim hat, belying his years. Seventy? Eighty? Ninety!? His skin seemed oddly smooth, though there was no doubt about the age. No wrinkles, but nobody was going to compare his skin to a baby's bottom.

My challenge, then, was to go from a largely positive description to a negative one. I wanted to do it by making only small changes (to make a point).

Okay, negative version.

His toothless mouth reminded Nick of a snapping turtle. He could almost imagine the wiggling tail of a recently masticated rodent dangling from his gaping jaws. Lifeless blue-green eyes looked out at the world, one wider than the other, from beneath a snap-brim hat that only old men and fat guys smoking cigars at the racetrack wear. Seventy? Eighty? Ninety!? His skin seemed oddly smooth, although there was a yellowish cast to it as if he were heading toward liver failure.

I changed interpretations, but no real details. He's still toothless, still reminiscent of a snapping turtle, but I took that snapping turtle image one step further by imaging what it ate. I changed "intense blue-green eyes" to "lifeless", then mentioned the one wider than the other. I left the snap-brim hat there, but interpreted it again, creating another image, "fat guys smoking cigars at the racetrack." I kept the oddly smooth skin (weird, isn't it?), but noted another detail, a yellowish quality.

The point of this is that we can steer our audience based on the details we use and/or our narrator's/pov character's interpretation of those details. A crying baby can be an adorable example of innocence that brings out the mothering instinct or a squalling bundle of neediness. Do you emphasize the big blue eyes and the helplessness or the high-pitched persistence of the screaming, the red face and the clenched fists? What's the POV character's reaction?

Now, Stephen did something interesting. His first one was a little negative.

Stephen Parrish (original):

The other witnesses all described his toothless smile, as though a man were defined by how often he flossed. When they got to me I told them straight away about the eyes. One opening wider than the other. Neither intent upon the concerns of the other. And behind them, no one at the wheel.


I admit I was embarrassed whenever grandpa picked me up after school. The other kids made fun of him, called him "the snapping turtle" because his toothless smile made him look like one. Sometimes they even threw stones. He waited for me outside the gate, fiddling with his snap-brim cap, neither his flimsy clothes nor his paper-thin skin protecting him from the chill. When he spotted me crossing the playground his face lit up with love the other kids would have envied, had they understood it.

At home he'd tell me stories. The details always varied, giving me the impression he was searching for truth. The stories never had endings. Instead he would suddenly grow quiet, and a pair of eyes that always seemed to work independently of each other, as though two different personalities were lurking behind them, would grow moist in timely unison.

I think if you go back to my previous post about the 5 points, you'll notice that this is really about the narrator's POV, and he uses a lot of active description: "fiddling with his snap-brim cap" and then wonderful interpretation: "neither his flimsy clothes nor his paper-thin skin protecting him from the chill." After reading this a couple times, I mostly want to stand up, toss my own snap-brim cap in the air and shout, "Bravo!" Folks, read this and learn, okay? There is SO MUCH in this paragraph. Bravo, Stephen, bravo! (That said, it depends on what you're trying to accomplish. But this is excellent).

A couple new writers stepped into the arena.


Richmond Writer (with her comments)

Harvey was a clean shaven toothless old man. The wool cap kept his bald head warm and shaded the alert teal eyes. It was the eyes that caught Shannon's attention. Could he have seen the killer exit the convenient store?
Richmond commented:

Passive voice was used twice and "teal" reveals a female writer/protagonist. I took liberties to shade the eyes and make him bald so I don't know if that disqualifies me.

No disqualification. I would note, just for the record, that I was going to describe the eyes as turquois, but my spellcheck kept coming on, so rather than look up the damned word, I used blue-green. Yeah, lazy. I've used modifiers in my descriptions, which isn't necessarily a great idea: lifeless, intense, etc. Does "teal" suggest something different than "blue-green" or "aqua" or "azure" or "turquois?" Yes, although I'm not always sure our interpretations of them are the same. Aqua might suggest tranquil, azure might suggest intense, turquois might suggest exotic, teal might suggest, well, I don't know, I suppose a female POV. Being attuned to the differences, though, can make your writing more valuable. And I certainly think using teal or azure or aqua or "eyes the color of faded denim" bring more to your writing and description than, say, "blue." But, just like sometimes a cigar is a cigar, sometimes the eyes are just blue. Depends on what you're trying to convey.

Scott J. Kreppein

Herbert stared into the glass with shock and wonder. His joints felt weaker. The world seemed to move slower. He was overwhelmed by disbelief. 

That was his newsboy cap, his favorite red shirt, and his eyes, but he had aged seventy years. As he looked deeper, however, somewhere in there staring back at him was the twelve year old boy he knew he was. How had this happened?
Welcome, Scott. The old looking-in-the-mirror trick eh? Well, I like it. He stared into a "glass" rather than a mirror. Interesting choice of words. Gives a different feel. "Joints felt weaker." From shock? Or because he's old? You give a sense of feeling, you're showing how he feels, which is a little different than how he responds. Could you have said, "Herbert stared into the glass, his reflected eyes widening in shock." Would "His joints felt weaker" have worked better as, "His joints felt like jelly" or "his joints felt filled with ground glass." A lot of it depends on what you're trying to accomplish, but I'd try to lean more toward showing than telling. I really liked the lines: "As he looked deeper, however, somewhere in there staring back at him was the twelve year old boy he knew he was. How had this happened?" This could be a fantasy story, ala "Big" or "13 Going on 30" or it could be that most of us, in our heads, seem to feel like we're in our 20s instead of, er, whatever we are. Nice.


Thanks everyone for your involvement.