Mark Terry

Friday, June 25, 2010


June 25, 2010
Because, among other things, I'm getting tired of the sound of my own voice and the sight of my own thoughts up here on the blog, I am taking a hiatus for a couple weeks, or at least until after the 4th of July. I'll visit your blogs, no doubt, because, I'm just a social-media junkie, and God forbid that I don't compulsively check my Facebook status every hour or so, but I'm taking a break from This Writing Life to, like, you know, write, and, er, have a life.

So see you on the flipside. Have a great 4th of July or Canada Day or whatever you feel inclined to celebrate this time of year.



June 25, 2010
Nathan Bransford, literary agent with Curtis Brown in San Francisco, has an interesting post where he analyzed a bunch of his query letters to see how they were addressed. A disturbing number, 23%, either did not use any kind of name, got his name wrong, misspelled, sent to the wrong agent, called him an editor, or just, you know, screwed up.

23% is a lot. (It actually makes me feel better because then there's less competition).

Granted, I've been the editor of a technical journal for 10 years or so and I still have long-term column editors that can't seem to keep it straight that my first name is Mark and my last name is Terry, but still...

One wonders if the people in that 23% also wrote their manuscripts in crayon, they were lazy, or what?

I'm not sure this is worth repeating, but I'll repeat it anyway. When you're querying an agent, you are trying to begin a professional business relationship in which the person you're querying will most likely handle all your money, take their 15%, and send you the rest in a timely fashion. They will keep professional records for tax purposes, including delivering your 1099 tax forms accurately and in a timely fashion. They will represent your interests to editors, negotiate contracts on your behalf, be your advocate. Furthermore, in most cases they will represent your interests to foreign agents, editors, and publishers, to film agents, film and TV producers, as well as potentially to other business entities such as audiobook producers, etc.

So really... it's a pretty good idea if you at least know how to spell their name.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Some E-Book Disclosure

June 24, 2010
As some of you know, I have published some books on the Kindle bookstore. One of those, DANCING IN THE DARK, was a thriller many publishers liked, but apparently not enough to actually publish. So I commissioned cover art and self-published it on the Kindle bookstore as an e-book, inspired by Joe Konrath's successes in this area. It never really took off, although after guest-blogging on Joe's site it took off for a couple days and sold enough copies to hit #42 or so on two of the Kindle E-Book bestseller lists. The price on DANCING IN THE DARK is $1.99.

I let it lie. Then, when Midnight Ink released the e-rights to the first two Derek Stillwater novels, The Devil's Pitchfork and The Serpent's Kiss, I commissioned new cover art (they didn't release the old) and got my friend Natasha Fondren to format the manuscripts and I put those up as e-books. I gave the pricing some thought and put them at $2.99.

I had a couple kids' books that I liked that we weren't able to place. Random came within inches of picking up THE BATTLE FOR ATLANTIS.

I wasn't sure I was going to mess around with these, actually. First, it's not my goal in my writing life to become a self-published e-author. Hey, if they went crazy and made a ton of money I'd probably change my mind about that, but it hadn't been my experience and time is money, etc., etc. I was also concerned about my impressions that users of e-books in general are not kids. Parents might have one around the house and they might be available for the kids to read on, but... well, no data to support that, but it's just not my impression that kids are buying books for themselves on the Kindle and parents probably are going for the books (if they're going for them at all) that they know their kids like, rather than trying something new.

But I decided, what the hell. So I tweaked 2 of the 3 manuscripts for kids books I had, THE BATTLE FOR ATLANTIS and MONSTER SEEKER, got Natasha to do her thing, and self-published them. I priced them at $1.99.

Royalties are still about a third of the price, although it's going up to 70% in July. Here's my royalty statement as of today for the month of June:

Title Sold Royalty
The Serpent's Kiss 9 $9.45
The Battle for Atlantis 1 $0.70
Dancing In The Dark 2 $1.40
The Devil's Pitchfork 14 $14.70
Monster Seeker 4 $2.80

Well, there are some interesting things here. By far my best sellers are The Serpent's Kiss and The Devil's Pitchfork. In some ways that's good. I hope the hope the people who bought those will go out and buy THE FALLEN, the third Derek Stillwater novel, which is available on Kindle, and which I was told yesterday will soon be available on the iBookstore. The Battle for Atlantis, well, that's just depressing. That one sale is me! I downloaded it to the iPad so I could make sure the formatting came out right and also make it available to my kids to read if they wanted to. Dancing In The Dark still hasn't picked up any traction.

Granted, $29.05 is better than nothing, and I made a little less than that last month. But the fact is, although it's not expensive to get a good cover and to have it formatted by someone who knows what they're doing, it adds up, and I'm still very much in the red on this, which is why I'm dragging my heels over putting up the remaining kids' book, THE FORTRESS OF DIAMONDS.

Much has been made about Joe Konrath's successes in this. Lee Goldberg has written about how he's been surprised by how much it's taken off. Robert W. Walker is completely sold on the idea, especially with his out-of-print books. Many others are having success with it.

I think it's rather early for me to say I'm not being successful with it. In fact, it appears that my sales are increasing each month, and I'm pleased overall that the two Derek Stillwater novels are the leaders here. I might be picking up some momentum. Also, the 2 Stillwater novels were out-of-print and Midnight Ink was dithering around with e-publishing and I wanted them out there and available for anybody who read THE FALLEN and was interested in reading more about Derek and his adventures. And I suspect when the 4th book, THE VALLEY OF SHADOWS, comes out next June, sales will pop a bit for those two books as well.

Honestly, I don't know what to make of Joe's success. Joe says he doesn't know why some of his e-books sell great and others don't. I don't know why DANCING IN THE DARK sales seem so sluggish even though it's been out for months.

"I Don't Know" covers a tremendous amount of ground when it comes to e-books and I started the whole thing as an experiment. To-date the results are rather hard to interpret. I'm pretty unsold on the idea of people who can't get traditionally published just e-publishing, but a number of people have done it successfully. Maybe it all depends on what you want out of it.

Let's put it this way. On the basis of what I've seen so far, I'm still leaning strongly toward traditional publishing venues.

And I'm still leaning strongly toward keeping my "day job" which is writing nonfiction.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Book 'Em, Marko!

June 23, 2010
For several years I reviewed books for various publications: The Armchair Detective, ForeWord Magazine, Mystery Scene Magazine, The Oakland Press. Then I stopped.

Many of the publishers and/or their PR people have kept me on their lists and send me books in hopes I will review them. Sometimes I read them, sometimes I don't. But I have no real review outlet and don't wish to go back to paid reviewing for a variety of reasons.


In that this blog receives a hundred to two hundred or three hundred or more hits per day, if some publishers want me to mention their books and maybe review them at some point in time, sure, feel free to send them to me. Like today, I received:

RUNNING FROM THE DEVIL by Jamie Freveletti. I saw this book at the Phoenix airport a couple weeks ago and debated buying it, but instead opted for Lee Child's GONE YESTERDAY. And I made a mental note to look up this novel. And now I got it. Lucky dog, woof!

RUNNING DARK by Jamie Freveletti. Apparently the newest one.

And one that, due to my nonfiction reading quirks, I'm really interested in,

When I read them--and I will--I'll review them. & I might set up an interview with the author if I'm inspired to.


Brainstorm or Light Drizzle?

June 23, 2010
I'm working on the next Derek Stillwater novel, The Sins of the Father, and it is kicking my ass. So yesterday, in hopes of finding some clue as to what to do, I started a conversation myself and saved it in a file called Brainstorm. Here's a slightly edited version, in that there are things in the original I don't want the general reading public to know about the wip or other ideas.

Hi Mark. Sins of the Father bugging you again?


Besides that it takes place in Russia?

Yes. That’s a headache, but I don’t think it’s an unsurmountable one. Insurmountable? But I constantly feel bogged down.

Some of that’s the Russia details, isn’t it?

Yes, but a lot of it that I just don’t know where the fuck this book’s going.

Talk it out. Tell me what it’s about.


What is it they want her to do?

I don’t know.

Brainstorm, then. This might be the key to the book. What can she do that their own members can’t do?

She has access to the FSB.

Is that high enough?

I’m not sure.

What if The Red Hand wanted her to smuggle a bomb into FSB headquarters. Blow up Lubyanka?


The Kremlin?

Another thought kicked in. What other ideas could you do with Derek that wouldn’t fuck you over so bad?

Well, there’s the one in Jacksonville, Florida, which I know starts with an investigation into a theft of radioactive materials from a hospital.

You just had another idea, didn’t you?

I did. I’ve been thinking about Randy Wayne White and the way many of Doc Ford’s stories get real personal, and I thought it would be fun to have Derek do something for a friend. He’s got friends from the military, the CIA, etc., and one of them could ask him for a favor. And the idea that just popped into my mind involved having a friend almost get killed by an assassin—Mikhail Grechko?—and him asking Derek to cover his—or her—back while they try to figure out what happened.

Another thing would be for a friend to be killed by an assassin and have Derek dig into it.

I can tell you’re more interested in those ideas.

[Insert thought: Shiny New Idea Syndrome?]

I know. I need to maybe do some boring drills.

Any ideas that might work for titles?




Righteous Anger.

Kind of like that one if someone important to Derek is killed. In fact, you could still kill off [EDITED], just have it done in the US for some reason and that’s how he finds out about Lev. Why would [she] be in the US?

Accompanying a Russian delegation of one sort or another. In fact, it could be an assassination attempt on the delegation that she gets killed or injured.

Vengeance Is Mine

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Lost City of Z: A Tale Of Deadly Obsession In The Amazon

June 22, 2010
by David Grann

At the end of the 1800s and beginning of the 1900s there were a number of very famous explorers--Shackleton, Stanley & Livingston, Sir Richard Burton, Speke, Perry and Amundsen, etc. Many of them were famous for finding something--the North Pole, for example.

One of the most famous was Percy Harrison Fawcett, although by and large he's unknown now. His particular area of expertise was the Amazon and he made many very successful trips into the jungle, into areas that are now Bolivia and Peru.

He started to become obsessed with finding a lost empire, perhaps El Dorado itself, that he referred to as Z. Part of his thinking had to do with discovering significant caches of pottery sherds in various parts of the Amazon that suggested there might once have been significantly larger populations and organized cultures than the scattered small tribes he encountered. This was not a popular theory in the early 1900s and only now is starting to be accepted (which is covered in the book in a fascinating fashion).

In 1925 Fawcett set out with his oldest son Jack and Jack's best friend Raleigh Rimell into the Amazon in search of Z. For several months letters and dispatches were sent back to the world, which was following the adventure closely. And then the letters and dispatches stopped. And nothing was heard of the three men ever again.

Grann intensely researches Fawcett's life--this is partly a biography--and the many people he encountered during his life, such as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Winston Churchill, Theodore Roosevelt, etc., and his adventures, including serving on the front in World War I. Grann himself, pretty much a NYC couch potato, decides to try and follow Fawcett's last trail into the Amazon (the description of deforestation along Fawcett's route is fairly stunning). Grann also covers modern-day explorers who've tried to track Fawcett.

The writing is vivid, the story--loosely two parallel tracks--is absorbing. Highly, highly recommended.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Guest Blogger: Simon Wood

June 21, 2010
I'd like to welcome thriller, mystery and horror novelist Simon Wood to the blog today. His latest novel, TERMINATED, has just hit bookstores. Here's a little bio of Simon:

Simon Wood is an ex-racecar driver, a licensed pilot and an occasional private investigator. He shares his world with his American wife, Julie. A longhaired dachshund and five cats dominate their lives. He's had over 150 stories and articles published. His short fiction has appeared in a variety of magazines anthologies, such as Seattle Noir, Thriller 2 and Woman’s World. He's a frequent contributor to Writer's Digest. He's the Anthony Award winning author of Working Stiffs, Accidents Waiting to Happen, Paying the Piper and We All Fall Down. As Simon Janus, he's the author of The Scrubs and Road Rash. He's one of this year's CWA Dagger nominees. His latest thriller, Terminated, just came out in mass paperback. Curious people can learn more at
I'm kind of curious about what story he had in Woman's World, aren't you?

Anyway, welcome Simon. Take it away:


By Simon Wood

American Idol kept its millions of viewers on the edge of their chairs for two hours to tell them that Lee Dewyze had won this year’s competition. Two hours! Considering the decision was an either/or situation for the two finalists, taking two hours to say, “Yeah, that guy won,” was a master class in the art of suspense. Bravo!

Well, not really.

American Idol was a master class in how not to keep your audience in suspense. The show committed a cardinal sin by cheating the audience. They stretched the show into two hours when it didn’t have to be two hours long. Worse still, a viewer, like me, could circumvent the whole spectacle and switch on two minutes from the end to see the unveiling of the winner. Can you say lost advertising revenue?

So how did American Idol break the rules of suspense?

I’m glad you asked. I’ll tell you.

A ticking clock makes for good suspense (see the TV show, 24) and the faster it ticks the better, but American Idol slowed that ticking clock down. They recapped information the audience already knew. They replayed what everyone had already seen. When you’re trying to create a climax, you don’t go for flashbacks that add nothing to the drama.

Suspense relies on a fast, slick narrative, so don’t bring back unnecessary characters to clog up that narrative. Americans spent three months voting off a bunch people they didn’t think where good enough, so why bring them back to remind us why they were voted off in the first place? The show was down to a head-to-head between the last two participants. It was fight to the death time—a duel between the best of the best. Not, jeez, that kid was really geeky looking. How did he make it to the final twelve?

Good suspense is fueled by complication, not distraction. When Jack Bauer is having a bad day at the office in 24, he has to juggle half a dozen crises at once, each one getting in the way of his ultimate objectives. So what does American Idol do? It brings on guest stars to sing songs and do duets. They aren’t racking up the tension—they’re stealing the finalist’s thunder.

Suspense is supposed to put the reader or viewer on edge. American Idol is a bad example of suspense because it dangled a carrot in front of the audience’s nose and kept pulling it away. Instead of filling of the show with content that built to a climax, it recycled and padded out its time slot. A suspense writer can never cheat their audience with these techniques and survive. You might get away with it once, but not twice.

American Idol does get a couple of things right. They do have high stakes. Only one person can win the jackpot recording contract and all the cash and prizes that go with it. And they have a bloody good villain in the shape of Simon Cowell. So it’s not all bad.

If I were judging American Idol, I’d have to say, “Nah, nah, nah, dog, you know I’m a big fan, but that didn’t work for me. I’ve seen more suspense at a wrestling bout. You’re gonna have to try a lot of harder next time. But you looked nice, A.I.”

If you really want to know how to create suspense, maybe you should check out my latest book, Terminated.

Yours on the edge my seat,

Simon Wood

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Owning The Room

June 19, 2010
Last night Leanne and I joined some friends and went to a fundraiser for the American Heart Association at a bar in Pontiac, JD's Key Club, which features dueling pianos. Last night three guys rotated out on 2 mini-grand pianos and a drum set playing rock and pop songs, filling requests, joking with the audience (a friend and I got "chosen" to come up on the stage and "sing" to one of the young women whose birthday it was, or, not so much to sing, but to be on bended knee while she sat on the piano and everyone in the bar sang along), leading the entire crowd in dancing and other things. Part of their schtick early on is when someone new comes in the bar one of them says, "Oh, look who's here!" And the entire audience shouts, "Ooooh shit!"

A couple things occurred to me. First, I thought they guys really work for their money. Because most of the time it's just 2 of them, they rotate in and out, so there's no "set" but a constant show that started at 9:00 and was still going on after midnight when I left. Each of the three guys plays piano and drums and sings (and one of them also plays harmonica), so occasionally all three would be on stage, but mostly they just rotate in and out, sometimes one of them jumping on the drums if the song needed it, but mostly it was 2 guys on pianos. (I suspect 2 of them actually own the bar, but I don't know for sure). About every hour all the waiters come out and one plays guitar and they all lead the audience in a song and dance, with some of staff dancing on the piano tops and the bar tops. One of them was this song.

The other thing I thought was, These guys really own the room. By that I mean, once the show started, this place was theirs. It was their show and you didn't come to talk, you came to party and be entertained by them. They interacted with people, but it was their show, they totally owned the room.

Here's the thing I think writers need to remember. From the moment a reader starts reading your book, YOU need to own the room. That room is your book and its yours. You're the boss, it's your show. The universe of the book is your own personal theater and its your show. Some of that is confidence. Actually, a lot of it is confidence, which shows up in your "voice."

Anyway, think about it. Within your book, do you own the room?

Friday, June 18, 2010

Blog Hopping: Reviewing "A Forgotten Book"

June 18, 2010
I blogged over at Patricia Highsmith's blog today, reviewing a "forgotten book." In this case, the book is OUT ON THE RIM by Ross Thomas. Check it out.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Publishing 101: The Big 6

June 17, 2010
In the last year or so big New York City-based publishing has become cemented (albeit probably temporarily) into 6 major publishing conglomerates. They're often referred to as The Big 6.

I'd been hearing enough about this lately that it occurred to me that I wasn't 100% who The Big 6 actually were. And that's not for lack of trying, really. I've been loosely tracking the publishing industry for 20 years or so, but the fact is that with all the merger & acquisition activity (known as M&A, by the way) in the publishing industry, along with some supposedly strategic name changes, I'd pretty much lost track of who the major players were.

Also, I've been pretty exclusively had novels published by smaller publishers outside the sphere of the Big Apple (except for my foreign translation rights, at least one of which is published by a subsidiary of one of The Big 6--go figure).

They are:

1. Hachette Book Group (no, I'm not sure if that's pronounced like a small ax or if it's got some sort of fancy french emphasis). I confess they've never really been on my radar, although many of their imprints, like Grand Central Publishing, Little, Brown and Company are, as well as some of their distribution deals with Microsoft Learning, Time Inc. Home Entertainment, and Kensington, etc.

2. HarperCollins. Well, yeah. Old as dirt, right. Their imprints include Avon, Harper, HarperCollins, etc.

3. Macmillan. Of course, I was aware of Macmillan, but I didn't realize just how many imprints they'd scooped up over the years (see what happens when you turn your back on a publisher?). They include Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Henry Holt, Scientific American, St. Martin's Press, Tor/Forge, etc.

4. Penguin Group. Of course. A giant whose imprints include Ace Books, Berkley Books, Putnam, Dial, Dutton, Penguin, Prentice Hall, Puffin, Viking.

5. Random House, which is the world's largest trade-book publisher, is owned by a German corporation called Bertelsmann AG. I remember fairly vividly when Bertelsmann bought Random in 1998, which slammed together Random with Bantam Doubleday Dell, which also included groups like Crown and Knopf.

6. Simon & Schuster. An oldie, but a goodie, I guess. Includes Pocket, Scribner, Simon & Schuster and others.

For more detailed history, if you're interested, I suggest you read this blog post.

So is this something you really need to know? Maybe not. I think it's helpful to understand that the big NYC (if calling them New York City publishers is remotely accurate, in that they're pretty much international conglomerates now) publishers are, as I just mentioned, big international conglomerates, which perhaps explains why they're being so slow to respond intelligently to the threat of e-books right now--large corporations are rarely known for being nimble (or creative and cutting-edge, for that matter).

So perhaps this is merely trivia, but I wrote it here because I decided to clarify in my mind who exactly people were talking about when they talked about The Big 6. And I confess, for some reason I thought Dutton was part of HarperCollins instead of Random House, and I'm not sure how, if at all, Hyperion and Disney fit into this picture. (Well, OK, distributed by HarperCollins).

p.s. And Grand Central Publishing was previous Warner Books (owned by Time Warner, which apparently also owned Mysterious Press, which I'm not even sure exists anymore...)

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Watcha Readin' Wednesday

June 16, 2010
Because I'm always curious about what people are reading, I'm going to call Wednesdays Watcha Readin' Wednesday. Tell me what you're reading. And because I'm nosy and/or curious, let me know if it's on paper or an e-book.

I'm reading The Silent Man by Alex Berenson and The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon by David Grann. And although I will have more to say about Grann's book when I finish it, let me just say, "It rocks. Totally rocks."

Both on dead tree stuff.

Whatcha readin'?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

If it can go wrong...

June 15, 2010
I'm reading The Silent Man by Alex Berenson. It's an espionage novel, basically about his recurring character John Wells, trying to stop some al-Qaeda people from building and blowing up an atomic bomb somewhere on US soil.

Berenson is a particular good writer, a meticulous researcher (he was a foreign correspondent for The New York Times) and his sense of pace is generally spot-on.


Now, if you're going to read the novel and are afraid I'm going to screw it up for you, don't read this any further, okay?

#1. Okay. Wells is planning on avenging an attack on him and his fiance by some Russian thugs. He knows it's related to an arms dealer he pissed off in a previous novel. So he changes his appearance, hooks up with a French intelligence agent in Russia who owes Wells's boss a favor, and plans to approach a Russian security company that's tied in to the arms dealer. The French guy thinks he's full of shit, but he owes the guy, so he sets up the meeting. And about 10 seconds after Wells meets with these guys they hold up a photograph of him and tell him they know who he is. And things go downhill from there, big-time. This ploy not only gets him nowhere, but he probably complicates everything else he attempts.

#2. Some Russians, having smuggled two nuclear weapons out of a Russian facility, are killed. Then, the guy masterminding the heist, is transporting the weapons to the U.S.--he can't detonate them, but he plans to use the uranium in them to build his own weapon--and he's on a small boat close to the coast of Canada when they get caught in a storm and one of the weapons isn't tied down properly and, oops!, it goes overboard and is lost.

I've written about the Power of the Thwart numerous times on this blog, but I'm reminded of it again as I read this novel. And I'll put it this way: fiction's always more interesting if things don't go according to plan.

John Lennon rather famously said that "life is what happens while you're making plans" and I agree wholeheartedly. And in fiction, in this much at least, you're better off emulating real life--shit happens, things go wrong, people get sick, people die, people get divorced, bad weather makes things more difficult...

Want to improve your fiction? Screw things up for your characters.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Interview With Moi

June 14, 2010
Debra L. Martin interviewed me on her blog, Two Ends of the Pen. Check it out.


Friday, June 11, 2010

The Paradox of Choice

June 11, 2010
JT Ellison has an interesting blog post over on Murderati. I couldn't help but think about the coming deluge of e-book titles. Of course, it applies to books in general, so maybe it's not that big a deal.

“There’s a marketing concept called the Paradox of Choice.”

Then he went on, using small words so I could follow. Sometimes, his marketing stuff, especially the complications of statistical sampling, are well beyond my tender abilities. But this, this I understood immediately.

At it’s most basic, here’s the definition of the paradox if choice: if consumers have too many choices, they’ll either get confused and pass on making a decision, or will revert to brands that they recognize. Say you’re going to the bookstore, and you’re assailed (as I often am) with a plethora of choices. Too many choices. You see a James Patterson novel, and seize on it. You recognize the name—you’ve read his books before, you were satisfied, so you buy that. No searching, no discovery. Just a mindless choice. An easy choice. Because who has the time to put into making a decision anymore?

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Monster Seeker & The Battle For Atlantis

June 9, 2010
My two books aimed at Middle Grade readers on the Kindle, MONSTER SEEKER, and THE BATTLE FOR ATLANTIS, are now available on Amazon for all you Kindle owners who have kids. Check them out.

When 12-year-old Peter Namaka nearly drowns while riding his boogie-board off Maui, he is rescued by a girl who can breathe underwater. She takes Peter to her undersea city of Kam’Loa, where Peter is tested to see if he is a Summoner—a child of one of the Polynesian gods, able to summon at least one species of sea animal. To everyone’s amazement, Peter isn’t just a Summoner, he is The Summoner, the Heir of Ar’Tur. A famous prophecy suggests that the Heir of Ar’tur might be able to restore Atlantis, which is now divided into 49 separate and warring states. Teaming up with Gwen, merman Lance, and his buddy Bobby, Peter will take his magical sword and encounter gods, demigods and monsters as he discover his own powers and faces Prince Mordred in a battle for Kam’Loa.

Welcome to the Monster Seeker Academy!

Your principal is a sorceress.

Your guidance counselor is an expert on ancient weapons.

Your roommate... well, never mind, you'll find out.

Your mission: learn how to hunt monsters and recruit them to your side.

The grading policy is Pass/Fail.

You'll have to work hard to pass ... or die trying!

Twelve-year-old Dan O'Malley has rattled around from one foster home to the next and spends his nights roaming the city of Detroit. When he is attacked by a monster and a mysterious stranger intervenes to save his life, Dan discovers that he is a Monster Seeker, a person whose destiny is to hunt down monsters and destroy or recruit them. And to rise to his true potential, Dan must come to the Monster Seeker Academy and hone his battle skills and learn magic, because there's a war brewing between Monsters and Man, and everyone's taking sides!

Sleepless in Moscow

June 9, 2010
I couldn't get to sleep last night. There were probably a number of reasons for that, but one was because my brain wouldn't stop picking away at the problems I'm having with my latest wip, the 5th Derek Stillwater novel.

It takes place in Russia, among other things. And it's wrestling me to a standstill. Not only is the Russian part driving me crazy, but the overall structure of the book is pissing me off. To me, it seems to meander. I want it to be intense, like the other books, but there feels like there's too much down time and not enough propulsive narrative.

Some of those issues have to do with the fact that, if I have a "brand" or a "Mark Terry" book, it has a ticking clock and escalating stakes and...

And in this book there's no ticking clock yet and although the stakes are going to escalate soon, they're not doing it fast enough, and...

So my brain was churning along and I was debating whether to try to fix it, to just continue slogging through it, to put it aside and try one or two other ideas I have...

I think I'm going to try and fix it, but it's possible I'll take a stab at one or two of the other ideas and see if they work out better.

Am I the only one this happens to? Is it really that there are problems with the wip, or am I just hoping there's an easier solution somewhere else? Is this just another version of the Bright and Shiny New Idea Syndrome?

What say you?

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Sometimes You Go Backwards

June 8, 2010
I'm about 130 pages into the next Derek Stillwater novel (the 5th. The 4th is already written and edited). It's a little bit of a departure from the previous four, more ambitious in many ways, and a significantly bigger headache. I have a lot of decisions to make about the novel's direction. Partly because I don't want it to be so dramatically different from the first 4 that my publisher and readers go, "WTF?" Partly because, well, I've reached the chess game part of plotting. Sometimes this is fairly straightforward. I know exactly what I want the novel to do and I understand that if I pick plot point A, then B, C, D etc will follow, versus picking plot point F and having it go to G, H, A, X, and M before ending up... somewhere.

The Devil's Pitchfork was a bit like this. I kept deleting chapters and re-inserting them, moving forward, then deleting them again before re-inserting them.

The Serpent's Kiss practically wrote itself. The Fallen was pretty straightforward, as was The Valley of Shadows (although less so than the previous two).

The new wip is more like The Devil's Pitchfork, only more so. Some of it's just doubt. At some point you have to take a deep breath and say, "Trust your instincts" and just write.

But right now I went back to the beginning and started reading and looking at the numerous seeds I planted along the way to see which ones took root, and which ones are growing strong and which ones are weeds, and the possibility that some of them might need to be uprooted or nurtured.

I don't know if it'll work. I know where I want to go, but I recognize that I have about twenty routes to get there and in fiction the straightest route isn't necessarily the best route. And I have a big decision to make about one of the characters--a live or die decision--that will not only dramatically affect the wip, but potentially affect any future Derek Stillwater novels.

How about you? Do you have problems like this? Or am I thinking too much?

Monday, June 07, 2010

Oh. Hi.

June 7, 2010
Oh. Hi. I'm back from Phoenix. I had, well... okay, I had a great time on Thursday, the day I roadtripped with my blog bud Natasha Fondren to see Montezuma's Castle and other stuff. In fact, if the entire trip had been like that day, I would have considered it an awesome trip overall. But, in fact, the rest of the trip primarily involved being in cold meeting rooms listening to other people talk--often incomprehensibly--about either technical subjects or about depressing financial topics (and I thought the board meeting got rather ugly about it on the first full day there, which colored my mood about my presence there the rest of the week. Oh well).

Aside from that day, it wasn't a particularly good trip for me, but I'm often my own worst enemy and I was on this trip, too. I'll write more about that when I get my life organized after being out of town for most of a week.

Oh, and Natasha, if you read this. That's a photo of Camelback Mountain. We kept pointing at all the other mountains around Phoenix and saying, "Well, if I had to guess, I'd call that one Camelback Mountain." We--okay, I--was wrong. Dramatically. But then again, I'm not sure I see that as a camel's back either. But what do I know?

Thursday, June 03, 2010

I agree with her

June 3, 2010
I highly recommend reading Kristine Kathryn Rusch's post on Giving Up On Yourself.

Years ago, a ballsy writer friend of mine called the writer Harlan Ellison (also a friend of mine) who is known for his brilliant work and his outspokenness. My ballsy writer friend asked Harlan if he would read my friend’s work and tell my friend why the stories weren’t selling.

Harlan said he could tell my friend why the stories weren’t selling without reading them.

My friend expressed surprise, thinking that maybe (through some blind chance) Harlan had seen the stories. “Why?” my friend asked.

“Your stories aren’t selling,” Harlan said, “because they’re crap. And until you learn how to write good stories, you won’t sell anything. Period.”

I’ve heard that story from my ballsy writer friend and from Harlan. The only difference in the telling is the coda to both versions. Harlan says he’s gotten that call from different wannabe writers over the years, and our mutual friend is the only one out of all of them who actually has a writing career.

My ballsy writer friend says Harlan’s response was a wake-up call. It was also accurate, or so my friend says (and I’m inclined to believe him, having seen more than my share of wannabe writers’ work). My friend buckled down, learned his craft, and now has a name you’d recognize.

I wouldn't have put it as brutally as Harlan, and I do think good work gets ignored by the publishing industry for one reason or another, but mostly I think a lot of unpublished work deserves to be unpublished.