Mark Terry

Thursday, September 30, 2010


September 30, 2010
I don't remember how old I was, but my brother was still in the house, so I was probably 8 or 9. (My brother is 7 years older). The Olympics were on and he made a comment: "I'd give my eyeteeth to be in the Olympics." (That particular expression is an oldie, but part of the Terry Family lexicon).

I'm fairly sure if my brother were to read this, he'd say something along the lines of, "Guess not."

Because I'm sure we both agree, if you want to accomplish something major, whether it's to be in the Olympics, or to write novels, or compose symphonies, to paint pictures, to finish marathons, etc.... you have to give up something. Maybe a lot. Unless you're a genius (and perhaps even then), what reaching the "best of" whatever endeavor you're in generally requires a tremendous amount of hard work (unless you become a TV "reality star," in which case dumb luck and society's stupidity plays a major role).

I saw a video somewhere in which Olympic swimmer Dara Torres walked people through her day--up before 6:00 AM to hit the college pool to train by 6:00 and do 10,000 meters, then involved in weights and pilates-type exercises, etc. Aside from a nice and comfy warm bed, what did she give up? How about junk food? And given that she's been married something like 3 times, what would you think she also gave up?

Perhaps that's the price of obsession/passion, a fine line I won't discuss today.

In my run-up to being a novelist and full-time writer, I gave up tons of hours of doing nothing--watching TV, reading, working out... etc. It's hard to quantify and for the most part didn't seem like a sacrifice, although perhaps my wife might feel differently. It can't be easy being married to someone with an obsession. But when I compare my life now to all those years of cramming in writing at night and on weekends and during lunch hours, etc., well, wow!

Thoughts? What have you given up?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010


September 29, 2010
A friend of mine has a problem. She's probably a genius, and she's pleasant enough, but one might say she doesn't take direction well. I've seen her have problems with this in ways that are really blowing up in her face. She just doesn't--or can't--seem to deal with the fact that within any organization there are ways of doing things, and if she doesn't like it or thinks she's too smart or whatever, that going over the person's head above her and complaining and generally making a nuisance of herself isn't really helping her cause much. And she does this with EVERYTHING. Last night it came to my attention that she had managed to self-destruct (again) within an organization we're both in and this time I definitely saw the pattern: I want to do things my way, even in an apprentice/assistant situation, and it doesn't matter if you broach this to me diplomatically, it's all YOUR fault, and if you don't let me do what I want I'm leaving, so THERE!

And I'm just on the periphery here.

And I do realize that there are often good reasons to move outside the chain of command, etc., or go off on your own. (I don't believe this was one of those situations, for what that's worth). And in this particular case, I don't see this being a good thing for her unless she learns something from it (unlikely, based on the way she started rationalizing things). It's her loss, really, things will go on fine without her.

And I was thinking how this relates to the current trends with e-publishing and the Kindle DTP and all that. Hey, I've done my fair share of self-publishing and imagine I will continue to do so for a variety of reasons throughout my career, when it seems appropriate. Still...

Erica Orloff commented recently about the level of hostility she's seeing leveled at mainstream publishers in the context of e-publishing and it reminds me precisely of my friend's reaction. And perhaps that comes down to: I don't want to play by the rules.

I think there are plenty of stupid and pointless things in the publishing industry, but I've now been knocking around in it long enough to realize that much of these things exist for a reason. For instance, the query letter. Many aspiring writers get all pissed off because an agent, most of the time, rejects their query letter. And they say, "The agent didn't even give me a chance."

There's a fairly fundamental ignorance about the laws of supply and demand as it applies to people trying to get an agent to read their crap. First, the reason you need to craft an enticing query letter is because agents can't read 3,000 manuscripts a year, especially if they're already reading their own clients' materials. Ever thought about that? If an agent has 50 active clients they may already be reading 50 or more manuscripts annually, just for their clients who already make them money. Then they're dealing with emails associated with those clients. Then they're looking to pick up maybe a couple new clients that year. How to do it?

Start the weeding process. 1. Insist they contact me with a short, to-the-point query letter describing their work and introducing themselves. If it's boring, if there are typos, or it just isn't my cup of java, well, that eliminates maybe half of those potential new clients. Will I miss a diamond in the rough? Maybe, it happens. But back to supply and demand--there's always more manuscripts.

2. Send a sample of the manuscript, say 10 pages or 3 chapters, whatever. I can honestly say from my experience that I can tell what's wrong 99.9% of the time with a manuscript within the first 5 pages. If I'm interested beyond that, hey, you'd have to screw up to lose me, and I'm not even an agent or editor. But also, you start to see if the aspiring client understands the mechanics of writing and manuscript format--are there typos? grammar problems? cliches? is it boring? is it slow? do the characters do stupid things? is the writing smooth or awkward? Is it fixable if the story and characters are interesting enough? This easily strips out another 98% of manuscripts.

3. Ask for a full manuscript. By now you've got an idea if the writer can write, if the story is good, and you're getting a sense of what it might be like to work with this writer. Are they an egomaniac? Do they follow directions? Will their personality mesh with yours? Are they easy or difficult to work with? Go back to supply and demand. Think of the fact that an "average" advance on a first novel is probably about $5,000, maybe $10,000 if you're lucky, or a lot less. The agent's cut is 15%. If the person doesn't "get" the "culture" of publishing and your agency, is it going to be worth the $750 or $1,500 you MIGHT make to deal with them or educate them on how the real world works?

Anyway, this has gone on rather long--I'm promising myself to write shorter blog posts--but one of the things I keeping seeing and hearing with the self-publishing e-publishing trend at the moment is a "if I can't do it my way, I'm going to do it myself." I don't like the corporate culture, the way it's set up is stupid, but now I can do it myself.

Which is fine, really. It's an attitude like that that's probably behind wealthy entrepreneurs. Do you think IBM wishes they'd bought DOS from Bill Gates? Do you think Bill said, "Screw it, they're idiots, I'm going to form my own company?" Yeah, he probably did.

But it does tend to put all the blame for your lack of success or progress on someone else.


Tuesday, September 28, 2010

30 Minutes

September 28, 2010
I'm a victim of the Internet. I finally realized that my productivity had gotten flushed right down the toilet by all my Facebook checks, blog reading, RSS feeds, YouTube videos and random surfing. I had Internet-induced ADD. And if that sounds like a joke, I have to say, it probably really isn't. I was still getting things done, but I was interrupting myself about every 5 minutes or less. It was ridiculous. I'm glad I despise Twitter, because it would only have been worse.

So now I set a timer for 30 minutes. In that 30 minutes I work and I'll respond to email, but aside from that, that's it. After 30 minutes, I can spend a few minutes (sometimes I time it) puttering around, but more often than not I'm deeply into whatever I'm doing and I just reset for another 30 minutes.

I don't think I'm alone.

And it reminds me that when I was in college--pre-Web days--and I started writing fiction, I was so busy with work and classes that I gave myself 30 minutes to write and I learned to really crank out things in that period of time, then off to study. I got the 30 minute figure from my early days as a piano and saxophone student.

I plan to extend my 30 minute zones to 45, then 60 minutes.

It bothers me that I have to, but I do.

How about you? What are your concentration and time management strategies?

Monday, September 27, 2010


September 27, 2010
A couple things have made think about this lately. In the last year or so Leanne and I have developed a social life (yeah, I know, who'd believe that?) and we've been hanging out with a lot of these friends. At one point we were over at our friends' house and they were talking about their horses--they own two and the mom, Karen, and her daughter, Alex, are seriously, seriously into horses. Jeff and Boomer, not so much (or at all, actually). I commented that I'd never ridden a horse. Jeff said, "Well, if you ever want to scratch that one off your life list, just let us know."

Another of our friends, Mark, we can safely call an uber-jock. He and I are biking buddies from time to time now, although his mellow riding days are my intense days, pretty much. Mark has run marathons, done triathlons, hiked and camped through Glacier National Park, and if there's a physical activity of some sort in existence, there's a pretty good chance Mark's done it. At one point we were discussing some of his business trips and he commented that on one trip years back he'd been sent to Europe on a chartered private jet. Nice.

I'm not really a believer in making a "bucket list", ie., a list of things you want to do before you kick the bucket. But I have been thinking somewhat about the things you do in life and the things you get to experience and how short the time to do them can actually be. Perhaps I'm thinking of it because my mother died about a month ago and that sort of things can make you think about your mortality and what you hope to do with your life.

For years I wrote like crazy. I commuted a long ways to a job I didn't like, spent a couple hours with my family, then spent the evenings and often chunks of my weekends writing. In the long run it seems to have worked out fine. Now that I write for a living, I've looked to the rest of the time with at least a partial idea of filling it with things that I hope to do, have always wanted to try, or that I just plain enjoy doing. That includes working out at the gym, karate, running, biking, kayaking, playing guitar, having a social life, and volunteering for things, namely Band Boosters, but also being involved in my kids' activities.

I wonder if any of my friends look at my life and occasionally think, "Gee, I wish I had time to work out." Or, "I've always wanted to play guitar." Or, "I've always wanted to write a novel." Or...

Am I saying that I should have been out living life instead of inside writing and reading? No, I don't think so. We can't do everything in life and it's worked out well in the long run for me, although there were definitely some periods where I wondered what the hell I was doing spending all my free time writing when I could be out doing other things. (And I would probably add, that if I were still working at the hospital and writing bits and pieces on the side and had been doing this since 1987 without getting a novel published or at least generating some income, I might want to re-evaluate my decision-making paradigm).

If there's a point to make here, rather than an observation, it may be that 1) There's more to life than writing, and 2) you should fill up your life with things you enjoy and have always wanted to do, just because you can, and also because it will fill your writing with life as well.

And, well, you know ... life's short.


Thursday, September 23, 2010

A Kindle Revelation

September 23, 2010
I'd just finished reading a couple books on the Kindle and picked up a paperback to read next and flicked to the first page and started to read. Then I thought, "Dammit, why is the font so small?"

Yes, these eyes are almost 47 years old.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Something Remarkable

September 17, 2010
Yesterday I went to my youngest son's first cross-country meet. For middle school it's 2 miles. He did quite well, especially considering they'd only been training for about 3 weeks. (During time trials earlier this week he made it on the varsity team, hitting 12th of 12. His time yesterday was 18:18, which is quite respectable. I think he finished about 128 out of about 250. And I think he's just getting started).

Anyway, it was an invitational, so there were a dozen schools or so there, and it being middle school, the ages probably ranged from about 10 or 11 to maybe 13 or 14. They ran several different races--the first was 6th grade boys, then 6th grade girls. Then varsity boys, then varsity girls. Then the second groupings, then everybody else ran as a group.

What was remarkable to me was the final group, which in general are not very strong runners, and there are a lot of stragglers. But the final, final, final girl, who was lagging way behind, who was going to be the last place of the slowest of all the runners, was joined in the last couple hundred yards by her entire team, who ran with her as a group, encouraging her and accompanying her across the finish line.

I find that remarkable. And it gives me hope.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Letter to Jessica's Cretin

September 16, 2010
I wrote an overlong response to something on the BookEnds blog today, which for whatever reason Blogger wasn't accepting, so here it is:

Dear Author that Jessica Is Talking About:
Ever hear of the 4 stages of grief? Or is it 5? Anyway, I'm convinced that writers, specifically unpublished and unrepresented writers, go through stages ind dealing with rejection. They go something like this:

1. Shock. How dare you reject my beautiful baby, you bitch/bastard. But, because you are a newbie, you decide it's a fluke.

2. Shock and Anger. This tends to occur rather quickly after your first several rejections. The first couple were a fluke, but the next dozen or hundred or two hundred are trying to tell you something. However, since you are undoubtedly a creative genius and your work is far better than that Dan Brown guy and it is clear to everyone that to you Denial is a river in Africa, you get really really angry. You lash out. For your career, hopefully you lash out at, say, a pillow you keep in your living room. But since email makes this so easy, you may lash out at the person who rejected you and you dump all of your anger, denial, doubts and insecurities on somebody who just rejected 349 similar queries the day before because if everybody's piece of crap got published we'd be wallowing in more written material than we already are.

3. Slam the Industry. After getting past Shock and Anger, we decide that the publishing industry sucks, it's illogical, they wouldn't know good material if it bit them on the ass, screw them.

3A. Slam the Industry often does not go away, but continues throughout the career of the writer (often with good reason). However, there are often 4 responses to Slam the Industry. First, learn about the industry and figure out what you're doing wrong. Second, quit writing entirely and take up some other activity like nude volleyball or macrame. Third, self-publish in some fashion, patting yourself on the back for having found a better way to get your voice heard. (And before you respond to me on this, yes, there are sometimes very good reason to self-publish). Four, continue doing what you're doing because there's really no better definition of insanity than expecting a different result from doing the same thing over and over again.

4. Learn what's expected and persist. This usually leads to more personal responses and even acceptances, or at least, someone will read your crap, even if they won't necessary represent you or publish you. But maybe they will.

5. Acceptance. This is the way it is. Keep slogging through it.

6. Thick Skin. The Pro. Although even professionals don't like rejections, for the most part they realize that a rejection is not necessarily personal and that, like a baseball player who had a .300 average, which by the way, is outstanding, they miss 2/3 of the time. But we're not playing baseball, we're writing, and we miss more like 11 out of 12 unless we're bestsellers. We have confidence in our ability and our talents and most importantly our track record, and we understand that we need to find the right person and/or market for our work in order for it to be best served. Those who rejected you may or may not have missed out on a good thing, but we don't take it personally.

And, of course, being a professional writer and nude volleyball are not mutually exclusive. You can do both. Maybe even at the same time.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Hiatus Interruptus

September 15, 2010
I interrupt this hiatus to share a life lesson:

There's more to life than writing.

Now, I shall return to my blog hiatus.

Monday, September 13, 2010

I Luv Y'all

September 13, 2010
I luv y'all, but I'm tired of blogging so I'm going on a hiatus until probably the end of September. I'm sure I'll be visiting your blogs and of course I need a 12-step program for my Facebook addiction (and talk about a useless little addiction at that), but as John Scalzi pointed out on his own blog today, I don't get paid to write here and when I get tired of it AND I don't get paid for it, there's a problem, so I'm taking a break. Just remember, I still luv yu.


Saturday, September 11, 2010

Get To

September 11, 2010
My wife accidentally picked up the UK of Runners World and it had a piece in it where a woman with an extremely crowded schedule (I can relate, now that the kids' school schedule kicked in) realized she was thinking "I HAVE to run up this hill" and how many people would be thrilled they could or would have the chance to do that. So she consciously tried to change her thinking from "I have to pick up the kids" and "I have to go to this meeting" and "I have to cook dinner" to "I get to pick up the kids" and "I get to go to this meeting" and "I get to cook dinner." And how it made a big difference in her attitude.

And I guess I needed that. There's this wonderful line in the movie "The Rookie" where Dennis Quaid's character is totally down about not being with his wife and kids and he's playing in the minor leagues and he's asking himself what the hell he's doing, he should just go get another teaching job, and his wife gives him a pep talk and goes back in to talk to his friends on the team and says, "You know what we get to do today, boys and girls? We get to play baseball!"

I love going to my desk to work, but at the moment I'm in the middle of some PITA projects that are wearing me down psychologically. But I need to remind myself that "I get to write today and do it for a living."

So how about you? Did you get to write today?

Friday, September 10, 2010

Mark Terry, God-Emperor of Mankind

September 10, 2010
With much thanks to my nephew, Dylan Terry, for the photo and the job title. So let me just say, now that I am God-Emperor of Mankind, there's gonna be some changes around here. You've been warned.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Bookis Interruptus

September 9, 2010
I seem to have a problem. I've accumulated a number of unfinished novel manuscripts. In fact, for a guy who routinely finished one or two novels a year, it occurred to me today to check my files and sure enough, I realized I haven't finished a novel manuscript since late 2008. Of course, in 2008 I believe I finished 2 or 3.

Yes, although I had a novel come out this year, it was written several years ago. Same thing goes with next year's Derek Stillwater novel. And the things I've put up on Kindle were generally written in 2007 or 2008.

And yes, I did finish a nonfiction book this year, which will be published sometime next month.

I also wrote dozens, if not hundreds, of magazine articles, market research and survey reports, blog posts, etc.

And it's not like I haven't been writing. I've got about 45,000 words of China Fire completed; 49,000 words of a SF novel, Plague of Stars finished; 25,000 or more of a mystery-thriller (that my agent didn't like, so I quit working on it); bits and pieces of other novels, plus 45,000 or so of the next Derek Stillwater novel. In fact, when I look at all those numbers my stomach does a bit of a flip-flop, because if I'd just stick with one of them, it would have been done by now.

Which makes me think that working on more than one novel at a time is a bad idea. Granted, a lot of this occurred after I was dropped mid-contract by Midnight Ink/Llewellyn. I had a 4-book contract with them and I completed the last one, The Valley of Shadows, and they dropped me. It took some time to find a new publisher for the last two books. (And I just got the 4th blurb for Shadows yesterday and it's a thing of beauty, let me tell you).

Being dropped inspired me to try the YA and MG books, which although they came close, ultimately didn't get picked up by a mainstream publisher. It also inspired Hot Money, a book I like a lot, but which we also haven't been able to place (and will probably be Kindle-ized soon).

I've noted before that the closest thing I get to writer's block has to do with what I view as the commercial potential of a work. If I start these days to lose confidence that it will sell (like, for instance, my agent saying, "I hate it."), then I seem to lose steam. Or something. But for a writer, this seems a little bit troubling. This not-finishing thing strikes me as being what nonwriters do when they discover in the middle of the book that it's actually hard work.

I WILL finish the next Derek Stillwater. But man, this feels a bit like a tightrope walk.


Wednesday, September 08, 2010

A Couple Observations Re. Kindle E-Book Self-Publishing

September 8, 2010
As I think everyone knows, I and about a million other writers, published and not, have taken advantage of Amazon's Kindle program to self-publish some e-books. Joe Konrath is something of the poster child for this and claims to be making over $100,000 a year and without necessarily criticizing Joe about this, I'm tired of hearing about it and would sort of like to avoid another self-congratulatory blog post about how much money he's making. (I love ya, Joe, I really do. But I swear, you brag to me about how much money you're making doing this again I'm gonna choke ya.)

Technically I've been messing around with this crap for over a year. Here's my Amazon page, you can check the books out yourself. Here are a couple observations/thoughts about the whole deal.

1. In most cases, one book won't do you much good. I suppose there are exceptions, but generally speaking the more e-books you have selling at a couple bucks a piece, the more sales you seem to get overall. For most of a year I had one book up, Dancing In The Dark, and it sold not much. Now that I've got 5 (technically 6), it adds up more. I have plans for at least 2 more to go up before the end of the year, one fiction, one nonfiction (I have to finish it first). I'm proofing the novel now.

2. If it's not selling, there are things you can do about it, like: change the title, change the cover, change the price, change the flap copy, market. Dancing In The Dark had a decent cover, but it looked sort of romantic-suspense-ish. I changed the title to Edge, got another cover, and played with the price. Still not a great seller, but better than it used to be. The flap copy is different (better) as well.

3. Kindles are black and white. People shop on the Kindle in most cases, so your postage stamp cover art needs to look decent in black and white and small. Keep that in mind.

4. It seems to build. Each month now my sales are better and increasing. I don't know if it's word of mouth, if buyers of one come back and buy others, the low prices, or increasing numbers of Kindle owners looking for cheap books. Whatever it is, each month I'm selling more copies and making a little more money. And last month--haven't seen the royalty statement yet, sometime next week--I made enough money to raise an eyebrow and say, "Hmmm...."

5. My best selling books are The Devil's Pitchfork and The Serpent's Kiss. I don't know why, except that it's possible that since both of those books are out of print, that readers of The Fallen, which is available on Kindle through my publisher, are going back and buying them. And hopefully vice versa, people buying Pitchfork and Serpent for $2.99 think Derek's adventures are good enough to pick up The Fallen at the slightly higher price. (And just FYI, I don't know how The Fallen's e-book sales are going, although rumor is, fairly well).

6. I have two books for kids up on the Kindle: The Battle for Atlantis and Monster Seeker. Each sells for 99 cents. I tried a higher price, $2.99 and sales were nonexistent. Now they're merely dismal. Monster Seeker sells a bit better than Atlantis, which is a puzzle to me, although I think the flap copy for Monster Seeker rocks and the flap copy for Atlantis really needs to be redone. I suspect that middle grade and YA Kindle sales in general just plain aren't very strong, although I haven't heard any numbers to support that claim.

Well, that's enough for now.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

The Missing Puzzle Piece

September 7, 2010
I have two novels I'm consistently working on at the moment. One is the next Derek Stillwater novel and although it's a fairly tough nut to crack, I think I've got a handle on it.

The other one is an espionage novel titled CHINA FIRE that I've been working on for a year or two off and on. I sort of got stuck around 48,000 words. I wasn't really sure why, but I was, and I found other things to work on and occasionally would go back and nudge it along or rewrite what I had or toy with different approaches.

Recently I printed out what I had on it and started going over it with a colored marker. Somewhere around page 100 or so I thought, "What really happened to..." and an idea popped into my head that spun the whole novel and filled in all sorts of missing pieces and gave me a sense of direction for the whole novel.

Because I plot as I go, these Eureka! moments are most welcome. It's possible, of course, that it still won't work, but I don't think so. I think this missing puzzle piece was what desperately was needed to make sense of the whole novel.

Sometimes that happens, and thank God.

How about you? Is it inspiration? Have you ever had to wait a long time for the right idea to come along before you can finish your wip?

Friday, September 03, 2010

Book Brahmin

September 3, 2010
An e-newsletter I get, Shelf Awareness, usually has an interview with an author called Book Brahmins, where they ask the same questions. Because I haven't been asked them yet, I'm going to ask myself them. Hell, I can crash a party.

On your nightstand now:
Crashers by Dana Haynes and Beneath the Sands of Egypt: Adventures of an Unconventional Archaeologist by Donald P. Ryan, PhD. Both are wonderful in their very different ways. Crashers is a thriller about a plane crash investigation and well, Beneath the Sands of Egypt is what it says it is. I usually read a novel and a nonfiction book simultaneously.

Favorite book when you were a child:
"Child" covers a lot of ground, but I'm inclined to cite The Young Unicorns by Madeleine L'Engle, although that was probably middle school and senior high. Go back a little further and I was big on the Hardy Boys and other mysteries.

Your top five authors:
A cruelly unfair question, but I would probably say Robert B. Parker, Dick Francis, JK Rowling, John Sandford and, hmmm, I've got to stop here? I've noticed these have changed a bit over the years. Stephen King, Rick Riordan, Lincoln Child and Douglas Preston, Sue Grafton... stop, stop, stop!

Books you've faked reading:
Howard's End by EM Forster. It was the final book in my high school lit class, Literature of the Western World and we didn't finish reading it, but I never made it through the first chapter. Shame on me.

Book you're an evangelist for:
Ah, so many. I push my friends' books a lot, so I can honestly push The Tavernier Stones by Stephen Parrish and the upcoming thriller, Pocket 47 by Jude Hardin, but also the Magickeeper series by Erica Kirov for kids. I'm pushing Crashers by Dana Haynes for people with a strong stomach and I usually recommend Stephen King's Bag Of Bones. I also strongly recommend anything and everything by Mike Lawson.

Book you've bought for the cover:
Almost all of them. The cover and the title gets me to pick up the book and read the blurbs and the jacket copy and then I'll read the first couple sentences to see if the author's voice grabs me. Yeah, guys, that's how much time you have to catch my attention.

Book that changed your life:
Fear Itself: The Horror Fiction of Stephen King, edited by Tim Underwood and Chuck Miller. There's a Foreword by Stephen King titled "On Becoming A Brand Name" that inspired me to try writing, which is where I found my true north. Changed my life for better or worse. For better, I think.

Favorite line from a book:
For the longest time I would offer the first line from Elmore Leonard's Glitz, which is still the best first line of a novel I've ever read: The night Vincent was shot he saw it coming. Still, today I was thinking of a line from Dick Francis's To The Hilt (one of my favorite novels): Some are born weird, some achieve it, others have weirdness thrust upon them.

Book you most want to read again for the first time:

Okay, your turn.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Cover Art: Something A Little Different

September 2, 2010
This is the official cover art for the upcoming nonfiction book I collaborated on coming out sometime in October.


Anatomy Of A Book Event

September 2, 2010
Last night I did a Meet The Authors thing at the Romeo Public Library here in Michigan. It's about a half-hour drive from the house. I left around 4:35 or so. The event started at 6:00. I thought I'd share my thoughts on this because it was a fairly typical event of the type. Setup was at 5:00. They let people come in at 5:30 (hence, why I got there so early).

5:10 PM. Got to the library with no problems. It was 92 degrees outside, so I was delighted the library was air conditioned. As I pulled up, I saw one of the authors placing a somewhat larger-than-life cardboard cutout of himself outside the front doors of the library. Gotta admit, that was a new one to me.

Ran into fellow author Karen Dionne outside. She's the author of a previous tech thriller, FREEZING POINT, and her upcoming tech thriller, BOILING POINT, comes out in January. I also know Karen through ITW because she's the editor of ITW's online newsletter. We also have discussed organizing some workshops together in hopes of both making money and promoting our books, but our schedules haven't coincided yet. I asked her if she brought her cardboard cutout.

Inside the library we were met by Kathy, who was organizing the event, a really terrific lady. There were I believe 8 authors (I think there were only 7, but 9 chairs). Three of us were "traditionally" published and the 4 or 5 others were self-published. The topics ranged all over the board, from a local history to a business book to religious thrillers to other stuff I didn't quite get (The problem with 8 authors introducing themselves and being the second-to-last is I tend to space out a bit. Also, as we all know, some people are better public speakers than others and haven't quite honed their get-to-the-pointness yet).

We each had a table with our books (we brought them), and we sat in a row of chairs and each got about 10 minutes to run our mouths, some better than others. I was aware that all of us were sort of the opening act for Susan Sey. She grew up in Romeo and her first novel, Money, Honey, just came out, and this was a sort of hometown launch party. She'd come in from St. Paul, Minnesota with her husband and two daughters and had stacked the room with a lot of family and friends. (Hey, that's what I did at my launch party). She was the last speaker, just after me, and I kept mine short and led my talk into hers. And I will say that Susan totally rocked out, and I told her so. She gave a fairly impassioned and amusing talk in favor of romance novels in general.

That went on for maybe 50 minutes or so. I felt like I was off my game a bit during my spiel, although I don't think it was obvious. I don't like to script these and my concentration was a bit off, so I didn't set THE FALLEN up the way I usually do. Whatever. It came off okay.

Then we climbed back behind our tables. I sold one book (which pretty much paid for my dinner at McDonald's on the way home). I learned long ago when I was at Magna cum Murder to take that as a success. I had done my signing at my second Magna and I was sitting next to a guy from Chicago who'd published something like 19 novels and he sold one copy and he leaned back, crossed his arms over his stomach and said, "Aaaaahhhh, I'm done. I sold my one book." In group signings, sometimes that's the best you can hope for.

I chatted with a number of people. As I explained to Kathy, there were 40+ people in the audience, most of whom had never heard of me before and now they had. That was worth the trip over.

I also decided with this book that if you're going to do these kinds of events, you either do them or you don't, but if you do them, enjoy them. So I do. Karen and I had a terrific chat. I enjoyed meeting Susan Sey (and for you romance and romantic suspense readers, her book sounds like a lot of fun), and hey, I paid for my Quarter Pounder.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Just The Facts, Ma'am

September 1, 2010
I'm reading the novel CRASHERS by Dana Haynes. It involves the NTSB investigators (crashers) that are looking into what is likely to be the first of a series of plane crashes caused by a terrorist(s).

To-date, about 160 pages or so in, it's one of the most harrowing novels I've ever read. And to me, Haynes really did his homework. But...

Not all readers think so. Looking at the reviews on the book's Amazon page, there are a number of reviews by pilots or aeronautical engineers taking Haynes to task for inaccuracies.

I gotta tell you--I don't see them.

On the other hand, I've read books by Jeffery Deaver, one of the kings of forensic thrillers, and felt he played fast and loose with some of the science. Having worked for 18 years in labs, I'm familiar with most of the techniques he describes. Still, I think Deaver's great and wouldn't hesitate to recommend his books. And at least so far, that's how I feel about CRASHERS. It's not for somebody with a weak stomach or who already has a deep fear of flying (and for God sakes, don't read it on a plane!), but it's a terrific thriller so far.

Several readers and reviewers have complimented me on my research and technical detail in my Derek Stillwater novels. Uh-huh. Thank you. I recently received an e-mail from a gentleman with a military background who read THE FALLEN and had some issues with military details. A newspaper reviewer a month or so ago liked the book fairly well, but took me to task for a technical detail involving a missile on a certain military airplane.

In many ways I plead guilty to this. If there's an area that I'm particularly weak on, it's military stuff. Science--got it pretty well, although I've had some science people comment somewhat wryly on a bit of science I had in The Devil's Pitchfork, in which Derek performs a particular laboratory test on his own blood. Not that it matters, it was a last minute addition because my editor at the time caught a little plot hole he wanted filled. So I filled it. My wife, who's something of an expert on the technology I used raised an eyebrow, then said, "Well, I guess it's theoretically possible." A fellow writer who is a physician seemed amused by it, saying she liked it. (In general, I find novelists to be fairly forgiving of these sorts of slips, understanding the difficulty of being an expert on all things. Some readers just have a "gotcha" attitude, which is fine, it keeps the writers honest).

That said, I try very hard to get all the facts right. I read books and magazines. I spend a ton of time online. I ask professionals. If possible, I go to the site and take a look.

I am not--alas--one of those writers like Barry Eisler or Daniel Silva who is able to wander around Europe or Asia researching my novels, at least not yet (someday, wouldn't that be great?). Mostly that's fine, because Derek's adventures usually take place in cities I have visited.

I'm reminded: it's fiction. It's always interesting to me that someone can get a little offended that the jet fires the wrong missile (I did look that up, but at least one reader thinks I got it wrong), but they have no problem with the unlikelihood of the entire premise, or the fact that I might just make up a restaurant or resort or locale. Well, that's a writer's life, after all. Enough details to be convincing, otherwise you might as well write nonfiction.