Mark Terry

Monday, October 21, 2013

Some Writing Advice

Today marks 9 years as a full-time freelance writer.

So I suppose I should give some writing advice.

My nephew, Dylan, recently graduated with a degree in creative writing. My son, Ian, is midway through his sophomore year at MSU in the Professional Writing program. As far as I can tell, both of them want to have careers writing books and TV and film. But they're willing to write whatever will pay the bills, I think.

So with them in mind, and anyone else who wants to make a living as a writer, freelance or otherwise, I considered all the advice I could give. There's tons of it. Typically, when asked the best advice I've ever gotten as a writer, I cite: Think more, write less.

This nugget was provided to me by one of my former agents. I still find it very good advice.

Then, walking Frodo, I hit upon what I think is excellent advice for writers. It goes way, way back to a friend's father, who was in international sales for a humungous pharmaceutical company. He told me once, "I can sell shit wrapped in tinfoil."

After laughing, I thought, Why would you want to?

And the question has stuck with me for 26 or 27 years.

So perhaps the best writing advice I can give you is: Don't sell shit wrapped in tinfoil.

I'll let you decide whether that's good advice or not. While mulling this over on my walk, though, it did occur to me that in our culture, a lot of people seem to get really wealthy doing exactly that: selling shit wrapped in tinfoil. And for whatever reason, people keep coming back. A few examples came to mind, and keep in mind it's just my opinion, but: Keeping Up With the Kardashians and Jersey Shore struck me as two.

But hell, what do I know? Still, I try very hard not to sell shit wrapped in something shiny. I want my clients and readers and publishers to come back for more. So far it seems to be working.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

What I've Been Reading

Here are the last 10 books/stories I've read.

Son of Sobek by Rick Riordan
A short story featuring Percy Jackson and Carter Kane. Percy is a Greek demigod and Carter is more or less (it's complicated) an Egyptian demigod. And they meet a giant crocodile in Brooklyn. 'nuff said.

Marina and Lee by Priscilla Johnson McMillan
A biography of Marina and Lee Harvey Oswald (Marina was his wife). They put the fun in dysfunctional. McMillan was fairly uniquely placed for this book. She actually knew JFK from working in his senate office, she was a Russian correspondent during the period when Lee Harvey Oswald lived in Russia and actually met him and interviewed him, and then she basically moved in with Marina for months to pick her brain. It was published in 1977 and as a result (I think) focuses on some Freudian and sexual issues that were big at the time and that I'm not so wild about now, but it's a pretty remarkable book that tells us a lot (probably more than most people want to know) about Lee Harvey Oswald.

A Storm of Swords by George RR Martin
The third in the series. Very long. The more I read of his stuff the more blown away I am, though. His ambition, if nothing else, is amazing. Somewhere along the line you realize he's writing a history of an alternate world.

Downfall by Jeff Abbott
I liked this one. There's a fairly strong disconnect (for me anyway) in this one on what gets the main character involved in the plot. Sam Capra is a former CIA agent who now is involved with some secret society that rights wrongs (or something like that). His front is a chain of bars around the world. He's working the bar in San Francisco when a woman comes in pleading for help, gets chased down by a man and woman. Sam gets involved, everything goes to hell, and we find out that the bad guys in this case are a strange network of assassins who rearrange people's lives, a sort of spin of "social networking" I guess you'd say. The plot is so ridiculous you just have to sort of ride with it and action-wise, for which I'm quite tolerant, he sort of lost me with a crazy escape from a luxury hotel in Vegas, but it was fun and the pace was fast.

High Treason by John Gilstrap
I really, really like the John "Digger" Graves books by Gilstrap and this one is a lot of fun, too. But, similarly to Downfall above, I think the overall plot involving the first lady and her kidnapping and her backstory and the kidnapping of her son and grandson is, um, well ... don't think too much about it, okay? But I enjoyed it, despite going, "Okay, I've got to just go along with this, don't I?"

Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex by Mary Roach
I'd been meaning to read something by Mary Roach, who puts a very humorous spin on science topics. I also saw a TED talk she gave on this book and it was hilarious. And yes, the book is hilarious. It is also deeply uncomfortable at times, although not because it's about sex, necessarily, but because it goes fairly in depth into urological and gynecological subjects. In that respect, not for the squeamish, unless you're interested in detailed stories about clitoral and penis surgery. But, overall, a terrific book about something we're all interested in.

W is for Wasted by Sue Grafton
Here's a confession. The first part of this book frustrated me so much I almost stopped reading. It's like the first quarter or third of the book is a story in search of a plot. PI Kinsey Millhone's name and phone number is found in the pocket of a dead homeless guy. She doesn't know why and, Kinsey being Kinsey, pokes around into it. Then she spent about a 100 pages or so talking about her landlord, her landlord's brother, a cat, etc. Then the plot gets complicated. An old boyfriend appears (which I liked, although she frustrated me again at the end of the book). I liked it overall, although with reservations. The plot was interesting, but I felt that the villain, at the end, was probably overly dramatic.

Codex Born by Jim Hines
Jim's a friend of mine. We've worked out together with Sanchin-Ryu and he's a terrific writer. This is the second book in a series that's built on an astonishingly great idea—that there's a type of magic, libriomancy, that is based on books. The libriomancer can physical reach into a book and pull out any object within the story. So, if you're reading a Star Wars book, you could reach in and pull out a light saber or blaster. This results in some problems. For instance, some people have mistakenly reached into, say, the Twilight books and gotten their hand bit by a vampire, making them vampires. And in what elevates Jim's book significantly is the character of Lena, who is a dryad, i.e., somebody reached into a fantasy novel, pulled out an acorn, said, "Huh," and tossed it by the roadside. It took root and a tree grew and out came a dryad. But in the book she came from she's depicted as a sort of sexual slave who takes on whatever characteristics her lover(s) find desirable. And in this case, that's the main character, libriomancer Isaac Vainio, who is a nice guy. And his former psychiatrist, who is also Lena's lover. Anyway, the plot revolves around the deaths of some windigos in Michigan's Northern Peninsula and Isaac is sent to investigate and everything goes to hell. Highly, highly recommended. I felt the ending wasn't quite as satisfying as I hoped it would be, primarily I suspect because he was setting up the plot for the third book, also, I suspect, because he wanted us to care as much about the town of Tamarak as the character does (we don't). Still, really a terrific fantasy novel.

Winner Take All by Barry Eisler
Barry has re-released all his John Rain novels under new titles. I think this one was formerly Rain Storm. Anyway, it revolves around Japanese-American assassin John Rain, who is hired by the CIA to kill an arms trafficker in Macau and make it look like natural causes, Rain's specialty. Only there's another assassin there as well, and the mysterious Delilah, who if you've read any of the books that come after this one, you realize is a MOSSAD agent. For me, personally, the Rain books got significantly better when they brought in the characters of Delilah and Dox. Since they're both in this book, I found it to be a really terrific, enjoyable read, with plenty of action, nice plot twists and some fairly thought-provoking things to say about the government, intelligence, and, uh, martial arts.

The House of Hades by Rick Riordan
The 4th book in Rick's latest series, The Heroes of Olympus. There are 7 main characters and the POV shifts between them (deftly). Percy and Annabeth, in the last book's cliffhanger (sort of literally), plunged into a pit and fell into Tartarus. So there we have them, trying to cross Tartarus and stay both alive and sane. The rest of the gang, on their magical flying ship, The Argo II, are trying to get to the House of Hades to hold open The Doors of Death and rescue Percy and Annabeth, while also hoping to close the Doors of Death, because the Titan Gaea is reawakening with the intention of unleashing all the monsters and destroying Olympus and, well, life as we know it. The book ranges from very funny to deeply moving (in unexpected ways). I was very much caught by one of Percy and Annabeth's battles in Tartarus, where they were attacked by monster/vampires. If they killed one of them, the vampires would rebound any curse that had ever been sworn against them. And since Percy and Annabeth have killed lots and lots of monsters over the years who cursed them with their last breath, things don't go well. And spoiler alert: it's almost heartbreaking, because the curse that rebounds on Annabeth not only causes her to go blind, but to become convinced that Percy has abandoned her alone in Tartarus. A remarkable book and Rick hits all the right notes.