Mark Terry

Tuesday, November 30, 2010


November 30, 2010
Just found out that one of our neighbors, Lisa S., passed away Sunday of breast cancer. Her daughter is the same age as Ian, but she was going to the International Academy rather than the public school. She was probably in her mid 40s. Way too young. I didn't know her terribly well, but she was a lovely, lovely woman. I remember talking to her a couple years ago and she found out I was a writer and was impressed, then made the comment, "That's so cool you're doing that. I'm just working to retire, I guess." If ever there was a reason to pursue your dreams, man, that conjunction of events would seem to underline it. I'm sure she will be missed terribly by her family. Rest in peace, Lisa.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Your Biggest Competition

November 29, 2010
Last week I had lunch with a friend of mine, Mike, who is a sometimes writer, but is otherwise a retired engineer who daytrades and invented a product and turned it into a company a few years ago. He's the president of the inventor's club in the state and in general is very, very knowledgeable about business and other things. (Unfortunately, his invention and company, makes jigs used by carpenters, and in case you hadn't noticed, there's not a tremendous amount of home building going on these days).

We were talking business, including the client that wants me to do work in exchange for a piece of their company, and we were discussing in a general sort of way, competition. And Mike said to me, "You know what I tell the inventor's club people is their biggest competition?"

I said, "No."

Mike said, "Doing nothing."

What Mike means is that if a person or company has been doing business a certain way--buying a certain product, putting up shelves a certain way, buying the services (or not) of a type of consulting firm, or even picking up a novel by an unknown author, your biggest competition is simply that they will continue doing what they're doing.

And this applies to novelists, too. Most definitely. There are readers for sure who seek out new writers ... particularly if it's by the hot new author on the block that everybody's talking about (Da Vinci Code, Tuesday with Morrie, Midnight in Garden of Good and Evil, The Librarian... get the idea?). There are some people that never buy books by people they've never heard of. Or that never buy books. Or that never buy books except the ones on the cheap tables at Borders or B&N (sit in one of those stores sometime and watch what people do--if you get a chance to do a booksigning in one and your table is by the front door, you'll get to experience it first-hand).

Any thoughts?

Friday, November 26, 2010

My Totally Random 101 Must-Read Books

November 26, 2010
My brother sent me this BBC 100 Must-Read Books that had all the ones he'd read in bold, so I returned the favor. But I thought, Hmmmm, what about MY list of 101 Must-Read books. So here goes:

1. Hardy Boys by Franklin W. Dixon (in whatever generation you belonged to)
2. A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L'Engle
3. The Young Unicorns by Madeleine L'Engle
4. Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey
5. The Deal by Peter Lefcourt
6. Bag of Bones by Stephen King
7. The Stand by Stephen King
8. I is for Innocent by Sue Grafton
9. Dr. Death by Jonathan Kellerman
10. The Percy Jackson and the Olympians Series by Rick Riordan
11. The Harry Potter series by JK Rowling
12. Utopia by Lincoln Child
13. Tyrannosaur Canyon by Douglas Preston
14. The Hot Zone by Richard Preston
15. To The Hilt by Dick Francis
16. L.A. Requiem by Robert Crais
17. Finding Rachel Wallace by Robert B. Parker
18. Walking Shadow by Robert B. Parker
19. Shark Island by Randy Wayne White
20. Winter Prey by John Sandford
21. The Brotherhood of the Rose by David Morrell
22. Old Man's War by John Scalzi
23. Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein
24. The Forever War by Joe Haldeman
25. Hamlet by Shakespeare
26. Richard III by Shakespeare
27. Romeo and Juliet by Shakespeare
28. A Midsummer Night's Dream by Shakespeare
29. Death Comes For The Archbishop by Willa Cather
30. The Old Man And The Sea by Ernest Hemingway
31. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
32. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
33. 8 Million Ways To Die by Lawrence Block
34. When The Sacred Ginmill Closes by Lawrence Block
35. Out On The Rim by Ross Thomas
36. A Thief of Time by Tony Hillerman
37. In The Electric Mist With Confederate Dead by James Lee Burke
38. John Adams by David McCullough
39. Bad Luck & Trouble by Lee Child
40. Skullduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy
41. Blasphemy by Douglas Preston
42. Thunderhead by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child
43. Riptide by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child
44. Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill
45. Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer
46. In A Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson
47. Decider by Dick Francis
48. Nightmare Academy by Dean Lourey
49. Angel's Flight by Michael Connelly
50. The Second Perimeter by Mike Lawson
51. The Disappeared by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
52. His Excellency: George Washington by Joseph J. Ellis
53. The Ghost by Robert Harris
54. The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon by David Grann
55. The Odyssey by Homer
56. Lysistrata by Aristophanes
57. Oedipus Rex by Sophocles
58. The Bible
59. A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift
60. On Liberty by John Stuart Mill
61. The Green Ripper by John D. McDonald
62. The Deep Blue Goodbye by John D. McDonald
63. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
64. Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury
65. The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
66. The Diamond As Big As The Ritz by F. Scott Fitzgerald
67. The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaneal Hawthorne
68. The Cider House Rules by John Irving
69. A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
70. Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry
71. The Lottery by Shirley Jackson
72. Collected Short Stories by Jack London
73. The Telltale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe
74. The Jungle by Upton Sinclaire
75. War of the Worlds by HG Wells
76. 20,000 Leagues Beneath the Sea by Jules Verne
77. The Invisible Man by HG Wells
78. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
79. The Adventures of Huckleberry FInn by Mark Twain
80. The Adventures of Tom Sayer by Mark Twain
81. Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
82. Native Son by Richard Wright
83. The Big Bad City by Ed McBain
84. Make Your Words Work by Gary Provost
85. Dr. No by Ian Fleming
86. The Lives of a Cell by Lewis Thomas
87. The RIght Stuff by Tom Wolfe
88. Sophie's Choice by William Styron
89. Telling Lies For Fun & Profit by Lawrence Block
90. Spider, Spin Me A Web by Lawrence Block
91. The Elements of Style by William Strunk and EB White
92. The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkein
93. Glitz by Elmore Leonard
94. The Medusa and the Snail by Lewis Thomas
95. The Fastest Funny Car by Patrick J. Williams
96. The R-Master by Gordon R. Dickson
97. The Weapon Shops of Isher by AE van Voght
98. Deathworld Trilogy by Harry Harrison
99. The Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
100. Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective by Donald Sobol
101. The Danny Dunn books by Raymond Abrashkin and Jay Williams

Now that I've created this list of 101, I think I'm going to have to print it out and tweak it from time to time. Certainly I can write some blog posts talking about some of these different books. And there are certainly some holes in my reading of major "literary" works.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

E-books and IP and contracts

November 23, 2010
As noted yesterday, I've been thinking a lot about Intellectual Property and e-books and contracts. I'm fairly certain everybody in the writing and publishing community is well aware of the growth of e-books and what seems to be happening to the publishing industry in general as things shift. Some folks, like Joe Konrath, feel that paper publishing is a dinosaur soon to be hit by the doomsday comet of e-publishing. Maybe. Others--primarily those within the publishing industry, I've noted--say publishing will remain and e-books will only be about 50% of the market. Maybe.

(And I will note with some irony that in USA Today a few months back the CEO of Harcourt--or maybe it was HarperCollins--wrote an editorial on why traditional publishing was going to remain strong and although I thought in general it was well-reasoned, at one point he said that all books at his firm are reviewed by at least 10 editors and that writers like that. Although in my experience a relationship with a good strong editor who's on the same wavelength as you is a very, very good thing, I have yet to talk to a writer anywhere who thinks getting notes from 10 people is a positive aspect of their life. And if you really wonder about that, talk to a scriptwriter whose life is made up of getting editorial notes from everybody and their second-cousin. I thought his comment was probably a stronger reason for why writers might embrace e-self-publishing).


If you self-publish your own work on the Kindle DTP platform, and you price it over, I believe, $1.99, the writer gets a 70% royalty. I don't know off the top of my head what it is for Smashwords or Nook's self-publishing program, etc.

I do know that traditionally, with paper books, your royalty ranges from about 6% to about 15% depending on which particular format you're discussing--mass market, trade paperback, hardcover. It also depends on how many books you sell--there are often elevator clauses, where if you sell a specific number of books the royalty rate goes up--and I imagine that if you're a bestselling author, you can lean on your publisher for a better royalty rate.

Nonetheless, it's not hard to see that there is a big difference between a 6% royalty rate and a 70% royalty rate (in fact, for the mathematically challenged, the difference is 64%). Let's just give a for-instance: on a $10 book, with an e-book the writer gets $7. If it's a paper book, the writer gets 60 cents.

E-book royalty rates have often been a bouncing ball. Some publishers fold it into the regular royalty rate, so let's say, as my wife says, for "shit-and-giggles," call the royalty rate for both as being 10%.

[And for you non-authors out there who are astonished that of the $25.95 you paid for a hardcover novel, only $2.595 of it goes to the author, well, keep in mind the author's agent gets 15% and Uncle Obama and his many minions get maybe 24% and depending on what state you live in, your governor probably gets another 4% or so. I have long thought that if you want to make money in publishing, you should go work for UPS, but e-books are even screwing with that thought. If it sometimes feels as if you're being groped, you're either taking a plane somewhere or you're a writer and a lot of people have their hands in your pockets.]

So what is a good royalty rate for e-books?

The Authors Guild feels it should be 50%. Of course, that is partly because they are referring to e-book royalty rates as a subsidiary right and once upon a time (like most fairy tales), e-books were considered subsidiary rights (along with film rights and dramatic rights and, once upon a time, even mass market paperback rights. Think of this, boys and girls: In about 1972 Stephen King received $2,500 for the hardcover rights to "Carrie." Then they sold the paperback rights to New American Library for $400,000. But there was a 50/50 split, so King got $200,000 and Doubleday got $200,000--and all Doubleday did, really, was act as an agent. Imagine if your agent asked for a 50% fee!).

Many publishers these days are pushing for a 25% royalty or lower on e-book sales. It also used to be that if your publisher let your book go out of print, they would release the rights to you, as well as the e-book rights, because, from your publisher's perspective, there wasn't any money to be made. I was lucky enough to get the e-book rights back from Midnight Ink for THE DEVIL'S PITCHFORK and THE SERPENT'S KISS when they let them go out of print, and thank God for it, because they're generating income every month. I seriously doubt publishers are going to relinquish e-book rights to anyone any more.

Also, e-book rights were sort of a moot negotiating point for a long time. Nobody was buying them, so if your agent wanted to push for a little better royalty on your hardcovers or a better split on your film rights, your agent might say, "Okay, tell you what, you get 50% or 60% of the e-rights. It's going to be the next big thing." Well, now it is. And as Joe Konrath wrote a while back, it's possible that e-rights are no longer a subsidiary right. In fact, it's possible that paper publishing might become the subsidiary right.

Thoughts? This is a big, complex, changing subject, so it's hard to even discuss it without it wanting to turn into a book.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Intellectual Property, e-Books, Contracts & a Lot of Rambling Thoughts

November 22, 2010
One of my clients wants me to join their company. I can't talk about the company specifically, due to a non-disclosure agreement (NDA), but I've done some work for pay for them that I'm just wrapping up. They want me to do more and rather than pay me, they're offering me equity in the company. I'm thinking about it. Sort of.

See, they offered me this at the beginning and I said no and they hired me to do the work pretty much at my going-rate and I did. Now they want more, plus they want me to come in as the executive editor. The company has a lot of potential. If anything, I think they're underestimating the market size (and overestimating their growth schedule). So it's possible if I went along with this that I could make a big chunk of money somewhere in the future.

But I'd have to do about 13 months of work without pay before any equity is likely. And I spent most of the weekend stewing over their contract. I finally highlighted all the issues I have problems with, their timetable, rewrote some clauses, add in a couple clauses, and sent it back to them telling them to look at it and get back with me. I'm not sure what'll happen, but I'm fairly certain they won't go for it. And by the same token, I won't go for the contract they offered.

One of the lines I have problems with is this: As an independent contractor, CONSULTANT agrees to provide maximum and satisfactory services and without limit of time and technology and determined by XXX.

There are other issues, primarily around their non-compete clause and their Intellectual Property clauses. The "and without limit of time" bothered me a lot because they put an estimate on the workload, then throw in "and without limit of time" which suggests that if their estimate is low (it is, very, in my opinion), I'm pretty much stuck doing the work on their timetable even if I don't make any money on it until the end of the year (if then).

These sorts of deals come up from time to time and for the most part I say "no thanks" and this time I tried to be open-minded. I also asked myself--if I turn this down and the company goes on to be enormously successful and you could have found yourself making $200,000/year or more but didn't, will you be kicking yourself for the rest of your life?

The answer is: maybe not.

It's not all about money. I ran into this problem a couple years ago when I took a gig that paid really well, but which made me feel like a wage slave, so I quit. It took me a long time to get to the point where I am now and I'm quite happy with it, for the most part. There are issues of control and ownership and flexibility. Any self-employed person, especially if they're running a company, is probably going to face the "sole contractor" versus "growth" issue, in which you realize you might have to hire somebody. Some people want to do that. I do not. And I'm old enough to know it. And I value my flexibility and the possibility that I can turn down jobs I don't like--which may be another issue I have with this. I also value that I can take a job I'm so-so about but pays well with the knowledge that I do it for a few weeks or few months, then I cash the check and go my separate ways. Putting a price tag on that option is tough, boys and girls, really, really tough. There's a termination clause that's very reasonable, but nonetheless, the concept behind this is that you buy in and stay in doing this job.

Another real pitfall is that the Intellectual Property aspects of the contract, which are quite typical and reasonable from the POV of the company, are, from my perspective, a potential straightjacket that could prevent me from making a living doing what I do (which is why they hired me in the first place, my expertise) until the company makes money. This freaks out my wife even more than it bothers me, and it bothers me a lot. Their IP clauses are very broad. I imagine they'll say, "But that won't happen," but I try to interpret contracts by how they MIGHT be interpreted by unreasonable people, not by how they MIGHT be interpreted by reasonable people.

Which is where I originally was going to start writing today, discussing IP and e-books and contracts, but I think I'll end this today and continue my discussion of IP and e-books and contracts tomorrow.


Wednesday, November 17, 2010


November 16, 2010
I've been drawing a blank on coming up with something to write on this blog lately, so I'm going to maybe shift focus away from "this writing life" and imitate John Scalzi and write about "whatever" comes to mind.

I love this photograph. We were dropping Sean off at Blue Lake Music Camp this summer. He was at camp for 12 days and it was the first time he'd been away at camp or for that length of time. You have to wear the Blue Lake shirts and this is a fairly classic pic of Leanne fussing with his shirt and Sean look more than a little bit mortified. In truth, Sean was very nervous, but not about being at camp. What he was nervous about was he had to do an audition to be placed into one of the jazz bands and he was all worked up about it (next year I imagine he'll be much less stressed about it). Anyway, if ever there was an expression that provides a story, it's this one.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Black Belt

November 15, 2010
Those of you who are on Facebook may have noticed that my oldest son, Ian, and I both got our black belts in Sanchin-Ryu karate on Saturday. This will be one of the only places I discuss my black belt in public simply because, as I mentioned to Ian, if you advertise that you're a black belt enough, eventually somebody's going to want to test you on it.

That said, there are some real correlations between writing and publishing and getting your black belt in a martial art. First, it took me around 6 years, give or take, to accomplish this. For Ian, it was about 7. It's not that I'm more talented or skilled, just that Ian started when he was about 10 and I started when I was about 40, and I had already spent a year studying a different style of karate in college, so many of the concepts were familiar to me. I already knew how to approach some things and how to learn certain things (oddly enough, you might call that maturity). I would guess the time we took was about average, although you run into some people who accomplish it in our style in a shorter period of time and some much longer (or never).

The keys to it seems to be persistence, practice, developing strong fundamentals, finding the correct attitude, and getting known. I think everything else makes sense here, but by "getting known" I mean that in Sanchin-Ryu, once you get past the purple belt stage, your instructor can't promote you, only your district master can promote you. Your instructor will make recommendations, but you need to go to the every-other-month black belt class run by your district master and be seen; it's also a good idea to visit other classes and to attend the workshops and retreats and special classes that are taught by the chief instructors in the style. They can't promote you if they don't know who you are or ever actually see you work out. Sanchin-Ryu is not like, say, Tae Kwon Do where there's a specific national guidelines and organized testing; in that respect Sanchin-Ryu is more like most other martial arts, in which when your instructors feel you're ready for the next belt advancement, you get it.

Anyway, enough about that. What about writing?

A lot of people think getting the black belt is the culmination of martial arts training. I view it more like getting your high school diploma. There's a basic level of competence involved, a grasp of a certain limited amount of the curriculum, competence over fundamentals. When I said that during my little ceremony/test thing I did on Saturday, Chief Instructor Master Ben Dearman jumped on it and made reference to the period prior to black belt being a gestation period with the black belt being something of a birth. A lot of growth gets to follow. (Another version of the "journey's just beginning" talk most new black belts get).

Without hammering this home, there's some thought that once you get a novel published, you've made it. But I think most writers discover that the same old challenges of writing a better book are still there, and there are other newer challenges that go along with, marketing being only one of them.

One of the topics of discussion this weekend in our household was that Ian and I are now first-degree black belts (shodan). "Master" rank comes around fifth-degree (although fourth-degree is sometimes referred to as "master apprentice.") In Sanchin-Ryu, at the moment, there are 10 degrees of "black belt" (although in truth, only some of them are black; some of them are red and white and the 10th is actually a gold sash). The 10th degree is the founder of the style, Chief Grand Master Robert Dearman. There are currently no 9th degrees and I think there are 4 8th degrees.

In that it probably takes, if you work hard and persevere, about 3 to 5 years to attain each degree (that's a general estimate based on observation, so don't hold me to it), I might be able to attain master rank by the time I'm 60. Maybe. I view it as a long-term goal. Ian stands a far better chance of becoming a chief instructor, etc., if that's what he wants to do, and at the moment that's what he says he wants to do. (At the same time, he expressed some relief at not having to worry about any kind of a promotion for a few years).

I think there are some definite parallels between getting published at one level and achieving "master" (whatever that means in writing) at some future period. You don't stop growing and working and trying to improve once you get published.


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Writer versus Writing

November 10, 2010
Since today has been rather unproductive, I think I'll continue that trend and blog.

In yesterday's blog both Eric and Erica (not twins separated at birth as far as I know) both commented about being able to envision writing for the pleasure of it without worrying about publication.

Which I think brings up a fairly interesting topic.

As a nonfiction writer, I find that I love the writing as much as I love being a writer.

With fiction, I love the writing, but am far more ambivalent about being the writer.

A lot of that has to do with my writing lifestyle--I make a living at it, I spend my days in my basement office interacting with Internet ghosts, my keyboard, writing, controlling my own schedule mostly, and getting paid for the privilege. The rewards are many and the headaches are, well, few and manageable.

The fiction writing lifestyle, on the other hand, has few financial rewards (for me), and the marketing and "being an author" thing are time consuming and slightly outside my comfort zone (and have been for a while). The rewards tend to be intrinsic, the financial rewards to-date unimpressive, and the social rewards, to my mind, wildly overrated.

My first real publisher, High Country Publishing... I remember talking to my lovely editor there and discussing the whole book signing, bookstore visit, bookfair thing and I was making it clear that I was not wholeheartedly delighted with the process (to say the least). She commented that one of their other authors just loved it and she finished with, "Some people just like to play author."


I like to BE an author. I love to BE a writer. I LOVE writing.

But this out schlepping the public thing, Christ, I feel a tiny bit like a door-to-door salesman. I know that's just a quirk of my personality. I've never had a job (amazing, when you think about it) except when I worked as a paperboy, where I dealt with the general public. I worked as a piano and saxophone teacher, but that wasn't the general public. Otherwise I worked as a cook at Burger King, in food service washing pots and pans or dishes, worked in laboratories, mail rooms, etc.

On none of those jobs was I out front interacting with the general public. Maybe I would have benefitted from a good round of being a waiter or bartender, playing the smiley-face schmoozing bit, let's-talk-about-sports-and-the-weather. I think it's a skill that would have benefited me in book signings and things (and probably life in general, actually).

But that's just me. I think there are people who don't particularly like writing, but love the being an author thing--they love that end of things. I've run across a few writers who seemed to hate writing (which baffles me, because if you don't like it, for God sakes, there are easier and better ways to make a living). I've certainly met a lot of people who like the idea of HAVING WRITTEN a novel, but can't wrap their minds around the idea of WRITING A NOVEL.

How about you? Do you love writing? Do you love playing author?

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

On Quitting

November 9, 2010
It was with some amusement that I read Erica Orloff's blog post today about not letting go and standing up, persisting, etc. Because my thoughts were focused on quitting (Erica and I often do this mind meld thing, go figure).

Oh, not quitting writing. Or, even, necessarily, quitting writing fiction, which I've discussed many times before. But because I've been writing fiction practically nonstop since 1985 or so, I think any time I say I'm going to quit writing fiction, people around me have (quite sensibly) decided I'm full of shit.

In recent years I've filled my life with a lot of activities--band boosters, running, biking, sanchin-ryu karate, weight lifting, guitar--plus all the various attentiveness I need to pay to being a good husband and father, etc. Hell, I even have a social life.

But there's only so much time and energy to go around. I also find, not surprisingly, that my interest and enthusiasm for some of these activities waxes and wanes a bit. Right now, guitar is the one where I think, "Gee, I'm struggling to practice, maybe I should just quit and save Gary some time and myself some money."

After pulling a muscle and/or straining a tendon (yet again) running, I took a month or so off from it and filled the time instead with more sanchin-ryu karate, which seemed a very satisfying situation. I more or less was willing to just say to hell with running, I was never very good at it anyway. Then my youngest son ran in a 5K Saturday (a turkey trot) and I noted the variety of people of all types and physical abilities out running on a pretty cold Saturday morning and thought, "That looks like it would be fun to do. Maybe you should start up running again." So I did, on Sunday. And enjoyed it. And in terms of running, I feel like, at the age of 46 going on 47, there may be a "use it or lose it" aspect to this thing.

There are some activities I can't really envision giving up. Lifting weights; biking; sanchin-ryu karate (most of the time).

At the same time, writing fits in there. I can't imagine not writing. I can imagine not writing fiction. And I was thinking about the current dichotomy of a publishing industry under siege and the development of e-book self-publishing that seems to be far more effective and far-reaching than POD publishing was a decade ago. I mean, my e-books are selling. I'm not getting rich by any means, but there's some pocket money there and I've used it to pay a bill or two and it gets better each month. And frankly, it's not as if I'm getting rich with my traditionally published novels either.

So I wonder, having been dropped by a couple publishers in my lifetime, what I would do if I were dropped by my current publisher or some other crisis occurred. Would I throw in the towel, say, "I surrender."


Or maybe not.

One question I often ask myself when I'm trying to make a decision like this (or coming to grips with the low-end of my enthusiasm curve) is: Is this a decision you'll regret in 10 years, 20 years, 30 years?

Some decisions, of course, are just not yours to make. Others are. But I often think it's helpful to look long-term and think, "Gee, in 20 years are you going to be glad you kept taking guitar lessons because it forced you to stick with it? Or are you going to say, what a waste, I should have just hung it up?"

Some things are worth quitting, though. Some things aren't. But it seems to me that a long-term view often cuts through the BS.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Scribble, scribble, scribble...

November 8, 2010
Yes, that's me, scribbling away on the next Derek Stillwater, deciding what to put in the freakin' middle, and changing all the chapter lengths, and...

A Fickle Fan

November 8, 2011
Stephen King
Ridley Pearson
James Lee Burke

Those are just three writers whose works I don't actually read any more. It's not particular reflective of their work. In fact, it's no reflection on their work at all. I just grew out of them.

That's sort of strange, given that I became a writer, inspired by an essay Stephen King wrote. But it's true. The last new book by King I read was "Lisey's Story" which I got as a birthday gift (and hated it). Prior to that "From a Buick 8" that I listened to on audiobook (and hated). It's possible I just got caught in a period where his books didn't work for me and I hung it up. Certainly part of my problem with Pearson is that when he more or less abandoned Lou Boldt I more or less abandoned Ridley Pearson. That happens.

There are writers out there that when their books came out in hardcover, I rushed to the bookstore and bought the very day they were released and devoured them as soon as I could. All of these guys. And I'm sure, if I spend some time, I can come up with others. There are certainly others I can think up that fall into that category.

And there are some others that I still buy ASAP and devour immediately--John Sandford comes immediately to mind. The late Robert B. Parker.

I think James Lee Burke is an interesting case. I became an addict when I discovered him, somewhere around his 4th book Dave Roubicheaux novel. I picked up his backlist, I started buying his books in hardcover. Then I started reviewing novels for The Armchair Detective and for ForeWord Magazine and eventually The Oakland Press. I don't remember which mag I reviewed Burke's newest hero, a Texas Ranger (it wasn't ForeWord, of that I'm sure). And although I thought it was a fine book, something in my subconscious clicked and I haven't read another James Lee Burke novel since. Some emotional response to the book, some possibility that I had gotten too close a glimpse of the inner workings of how Burke approached novel-writing, something... for me the magic was gone.

Mostly it tends to be a slow fade. I read some books by an author, realize I've read 20+ of their books, and they may have peaked 4 books ago. Then I'm not very excited about their next one and I wait till paperback (the e-book phenomenon hasn't quite factored in yet), then somewhere along the way I just shrug. So many books, so little time...

That isn't to suggest I won't, perhaps, on some day, pick up an older book by any of these authors, or that I might decide, "Hmm, this latest one by King sounds interesting..." That happens.

I still have my favorites, but I also find myself reading more by new writers or by writers who I realize have written 20 books and I haven't read any of them, so I pick one up (Daniel Silva, David Ignatius... and I really should read some Graham Greene and John Le Carre...)

I assume this isn't just me. Are there former favorites of yours that you no longer read? Any idea why?

Sunday, November 07, 2010

President Obama's Accomplishments

November 7, 2010
This is from a reader's response on The New York Times' website. It's a list of things President Obama has done in his first 2 years in office. Interesting reading.

1. Ordered all federal agencies to undertake a study and make recommendations for ways to cut spending
2. Ordered a review of all federal operations to identify and cut wasteful spending and practices
3. Instituted enforcement for equal pay for women
4. Beginning the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq
5. Families of fallen soldiers have expenses covered to be on hand when the body arrives at Dover AFB
6. Ended media blackout on war casualties; reporting full information
7. Ended media blackout on covering the return of fallen soldiers to Dover AFB; the media is now permitted to do so pending adherence to respectful rules and approval of fallen soldier's family
8. The White House and federal government are respecting the Freedom of Information Act
9. Instructed all federal agencies to promote openness and transparency as much as possible
10. Limits on lobbyist's access to the White House
11. Limits on White House aides working for lobbyists after their tenure in the administration
12. Ended the previous stop-loss policy that kept soldiers in Iraq/Afghanistan longer than their enlistment date
13. Phasing out the expensive F-22 war plane and other outdated weapons systems, which weren't even used or needed in Iraq/Afghanistan
14. Removed restrictions on embryonic stem-cell research
15. Federal support for stem-cell and new biomedical research
16. New federal funding for science and research labs
17. States are permitted to enact federal fuel efficiency standards above federal standards
18. Increased infrastructure spending (roads, bridges, power plants) after years of neglect
19. Funds for high-speed, broadband Internet access to K-12 schools
20. New funds for school construction
21. The prison at Guantanamo Bay is being phased out
22. US Auto industry rescue plan
23. Housing rescue plan
24. $789 billion economic stimulus plan
25. The public can meet with federal housing insurers to refinance (the new plan can be completed in one day) a mortgage if they are having trouble paying
26. US financial and banking rescue plan
27. The secret detention facilities in Eastern Europe and elsewhere are being closed
28. Ended the previous policy; the US now has a no torture policy and is in compliance with the Geneva Convention standards
29. Better body armor is now being provided to our troops
30. The missile defense program is being cut by $1.4 billion in 2010
31. Restarted the nuclear nonproliferation talks and building back up the nuclear inspection infrastructure/protocols
32. Reengaged in the treaties/agreements to protect the Antarctic
33. Reengaged in the agreements/talks on global warming and greenhouse gas emissions
34. Visited more countries and met with more world leaders than any president in his first six months in office
35. Successful release of US captain held by Somali pirates; authorized the SEALS to do their job
36. US Navy increasing patrols off Somali coast
37. Attractive tax write-offs for those who buy hybrid automobiles
38. Cash for clunkers program offers vouchers to trade in fuel inefficient, polluting old cars for new cars; stimulated auto sales
39. Announced plans to purchase fuel efficient American-made fleet for the federal government
40. Expanded the SCHIP program to cover health care for 4 million more children
41. Signed national service legislation; expanded national youth service program
42. Instituted a new policy on Cuba, allowing Cuban families to return home to visit loved ones
43. Ended the previous policy of not regulating and labeling carbon dioxide emissions
44. Expanding vaccination programs
45. Immediate and efficient response to the floods in North Dakota and other natural disasters
46. Closed offshore tax safe havens
47. Negotiated deal with Swiss banks to permit US government to gain access to records of tax evaders and criminals
48. Ended the previous policy of offering tax benefits to corporations who outsource American jobs; the new policy is to promote in-sourcing to bring jobs back
49.. Ended the previous practice of protecting credit card companies; in place of it are new consumer protections from credit card industry's predatory practices
50. Energy producing plants must begin preparing to produce 15% of their energy from renewable sources
51. Lower drug costs for seniors
52. Ended the previous practice of forbidding Medicare from negotiating with drug manufacturers for cheaper drugs; the federal government is now realizing hundreds of millions in savings
53. Increasing pay and benefits for military personnel
54. Improved housing for military personnel
55. Initiating a new policy to promote federal hiring of military spouses
56. Improved conditions at Walter Reed Military Hospital and other military hospitals
57. Increasing student loans
58. Increasing opportunities in AmeriCorps program
59. Sent envoys to Middle East and other parts of the world that had been neglected for years; reengaging in multilateral and bilateral talks and diplomacy
60. Established a new cyber security office
61. Beginning the process of reforming and restructuring the military 20 years after the Cold War to a more modern fighting force; this includes new procurement policies, increasing size of military, new technology and cyber units and operations, etc.
62. Ended previous policy of awarding no-bid defense contracts
63. Ordered a review of hurricane and natural disaster preparedness
64. Established a National Performance Officer charged with saving the federal government money and making federal operations more efficient
65. Students struggling to make college loan payments can have their loans refinanced
66. Improving benefits for veterans
67. Many more press conferences and town halls and much more media access than previous administration
68. Instituted a new focus on mortgage fraud
69. The FDA is now regulating tobacco
70. Ended previous policy of cutting the FDA and circumventing FDA rules
71. Ended previous practice of having White House aides rewrite scientific and environmental rules, regulations, and reports
72. Authorized discussions with North Korea and private mission by Pres. Bill Clinton to secure the release of two Americans held in prisons
73. Authorized discussions with Myanmar and mission by Sen. Jim Web to secure the release of an American held captive
74. Making more loans available to small businesses
75. Established independent commission to make recommendations on slowing the costs of Medicare
76. Appointment of first Latina to the Supreme Court
77. Authorized construction/opening of additional health centers to care for veterans
78. Limited salaries of senior White House aides; cut to $100,000
79. Renewed loan guarantees for Israel
80. Changed the failing/status quo military command in Afghanistan
81. Deployed additional troops to Afghanistan
82. New Afghan War policy that limits aerial bombing and prioritizes aid, development of infrastructure, diplomacy, and good government practices by Afghans
83. Announced the long-term development of a national energy grid with renewable sources and cleaner, efficient energy production
84. Returned money authorized for refurbishment of White House offices and private living quarters
85. Paid for redecoration of White House living quarters out of his own pocket
86. Held first Seder in White House
87. Attempting to reform the nation's healthcare system which is the most expensive in the world yet leaves almost 50 million without health insurance and millions more under insured
88. Has put the ball in play for comprehensive immigration reform
89. Has announced his intention to push for energy reform
90. Has announced his intention to push for education reform

Friday, November 05, 2010

What I've Been Reading

November 5, 2010
Here's the last 10 books I've read (OK, actually 11). I was going to put a little (p) and a little (e) for paper or e-book beside each figures until I realized that all 11 have been paper books. I'm currently read 2 books simultaneously, both on the Kindle. Go figure.

Crashers by Dana Haynes
I've mentioned this book before. It's a fantastic thriller about NTSB airplane crash investigators that investigate a terrorist plane crash in the Northwest. Not for those with weak stomachs and I really, REALLY don't recommend you read it on an airplane or just before you're planning to fly somewhere, but very well done.

Beneath the Sands of Egypt: Adventures of an Unconventional Archaeologist by Donald P. Ryan, PhD
A very enjoyable memoir. I learned tons about Egyptology, something I knew precious little about, about how archaeological digs are performed, the Valley of the Kings, what it's like to be an archaeologist (scrabbling for money and jobs, for the most part), and all sorts of stuff. I don't think you have to be into archaeology to like this book. A real pleasure.

Star Island by Carl Hiaasen
Hiaasen writes quirky satirical thrillers. The problem with this novel is it's all about a Lyndsey Lohan/Britney Spears-like pop star and the paparazzi. It's a very funny, very fun book, but the reality of it is so bizarre anyway that it's hard to make it seem satirical. Very enjoyable.

Body of Lies by David Ignatius
I saw the movie with Russell Crow and Leonardo DiCaprio, even though I barely remember it. I read the book and struggled through it. David Ignatius is a good writer, but the way he chose to write this novel was a little strange. I have very, very mixed feelings about it. A nice twist at the end, but the first third is barely comprehensible.

Strong Enough To Die by Jon Land
A pretty engaging thriller about a female Texas Ranger, part of a series. Deals with some seriously dark stuff involving terrorism, torture and what used to be called the military-industrial complex. Land's a pro and this is a well-crafted, intense novel.

People of Chaco: A Canyon and Its Culture by Kendrick Frazier
A book about the Anasazi, focusing on Chaco Canyon, which was probably the Washington DC of the Anasazi World. A particularly good overview and after having read 4 books about the Anasazi and a half a dozen articles or so, I may be momentarily sated on the subject. I feel after reading this one that I got reasonable answers to most of the questions I had about the Anasazi. Although "Why did they abandon this place?" is only partially answered (because nobody really knows), but "Where did they go?" is reasonably well answered, as well as quite a bit of other interesting info.

Bad Blood by John Sandford
Another fine outting featuring Virgil Flowers. Sandford is unusually reliable, and although I generally prefer the Lucas Davenport novels to the Virgil Flowers novels, Virgil's a great character and Sandford's a great writer. I don't know that this is Virgil's best book, but it was very good.

Painted Ladies by Robert B. Parker
Oh dear. Parker died recently and this was published posthumously. The claim is that the book was probably written just prior to his death. My gut feeling is that it might have been started before his death, but was finished by someone else. The book just feels very, very different. Even when Parker was off his game (which, alas, he often was over the last 10 years), his writing itself had a kind of sparkle (although repetitive usage of the same tropes). This one seemed like the sparkle was missing, although most of the tropes were shifted a bit. A strange book, overall.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by JK Rowling
This little gem of a novel was published with little fanfare and remains largely unknown by the reading public, which is unfortunate, because I'm sure if the publisher and the media had just gotten behind this book and given it a little bit of exposure it could have gained a much larger readership.

Hard Rain by David Rollins
Rollins is a wonderful writer. An Aussie writing about Special Agent Vin Cooper, who is an investigator with the U.S. Air Force, the voice is great, the plots intricate and fast-paced, and they're wildly great fun rides. This is the third book to feature Vin Cooper. Overall Rollins reminds me of Nelson DeMille, which is saying a lot. In this one Cooper and his partner Masters are sent to Turkey to investigate the bizarre murder of a military attache. Highly recommended.

Crossfire by Dick Francis & Felix Francis
Somehow I didn't write this down on my list anywhere. This was the final novel written while Dick Francis was still alive, with his son Felix. I've thought the books they wrote together have been a bit mixed, although generally pretty good. There were a few of Dick's books written toward the end of his wife's life that I didn't think were all that great (Stormy Weather comes to mind, and Shattered is very uneven), but I thought this novel was pretty much vintage Francis and if Felix can continue writing novels as good as this one, I'll be a happy camper.

Hey, what've you been reading?

Thursday, November 04, 2010

What it's all about

November 4, 2010
Most of our writing goals seem to be: get published.

Then, once that happens, get published, make enough money to make a living as a writer.

Then, (and yes, these are often simultaneous), get on a bestseller list, make more money, get a movie deal, etc.

A constantly receding horizon, this writing business, isn't it?

Which is all fine, I think, but I think what it's all about--what all arts are about for the artist--is to get better at it. "Better" is just about as difficult to define as "success" but I think there's a lot to be said about not settling. That the key, each time out, is to try to make the writing more efficient and effective, deeper, to dig for the heart of it all, to provide the reader a better, richer, more "whatever" experience.

But then again, it's possible the hokey-pokey is what it's all about.


Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Inside Out, Upside Down

November 2, 2010
In my current WIP, tentatively titled The Sins of the Father, I've been struggling with the plot, which is fairly unusual for me. Typically my books, especially the Derek Stillwater novels, are quite linear. There's some sort of terror attack, Derek responds and has to prevent the next attack or series of attacks while solving who the identity and location of the terrorist is. At times I think of it as a mystery-solved-on-the-run (a good enough definition of a thriller as any and better than some).

Somewhere around the 50,000 word range I felt sort of stuck, so I printed it out and started back at the beginning, taking notes, making changes, trying to see at what point I might have gone off the rails.

Although I'm not 100% sure, I'm fairly sure I've figured it out. There are a lot of things, but one is that I appeared to have written the first act, then the third act. (I don't necessarily consciously structure my novels that way, but really, the 3-act structure is a valuable skeleton for most stories, which at its most basic is beginning, middle, end--well, duh!). Anyway, I had this sort of personal story arc going for Derek, then a sort of overarching story arc, and the two do overlap, of course, but what happened, I think, was the first 30,000 or so words introduce both story arcs, then, I got into the personal story arc, which, as it turns out, really needs to be toward the end of the novel, not in the middle. So I need more development of the overarching story arc, so I'm going to have to sort of start back in the middle and grow the rest of the book into the final act. Yikes!

Now, I've heard of some writers who do this sort of thing all the time. They write scenes that come to them, then piece the whole thing back together (which sounds like a lot of work, personally, even though it might explain why some novels feel disjointed). I don't do things that way, although apparently I'm going to have to this time.

So you tell me? Is your writing linear? Non-linear? FUBAR?

(Oh, that reminds me. I got a new acronym. FISHMO: Fuck it, Shit happens, Move on!)


Monday, November 01, 2010

Random Thought Monday

November 1, 2010
If so many frustrated writers are going to self-publish on Kindle and Smashwords, does that mean there will be less competition for traditional publishers' attention for the rest of us?

Just a random thought today.