Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Elements of a great ending

By Joe Moore

We’ve had plenty of posts here at TKZ about story beginnings. As a matter of fact, we invite submissions and devote the month of March to critiquing the first page of your stories. Beginnings are so important because they set the hook and grab the reader.

But what about endings? Are they as important as beginnings? After all, they occur after the big finale, the gripping climax, the roaring finish. In a way, we can think of endings as anticlimactic. And yet, they have an important function to perform in any story.

First, the ending should resolve anything that was not addressed during the climax. Once the conflict between the protagonist and antagonist is put to bed, what’s left must be brought together as a resolution in the ending. There must be closure to anything still hanging in the reader’s mind.

The ending also answers the story question. Since the story question usually deals with character growth or change, the ending must make sure the story question is answered.

Let’s say that the main character had to stand by and watch his family perish in a terrible accident that he inadvertently caused. The story question might be: will he ever forgive himself and have the courage to find love again and perhaps start a new family? The actual plot might deal with something totally different, but along the way he finds a new love interest. Once the climax occurs and the plot is resolved, the reader must discover the answer to the story question. It has to be made clear in the ending. In most stories, the main character takes a journey, whether it’s physical, mental or spiritual. How he completes the journey is the answer to the story question and must be resolved in the ending.

Another function of the ending is to bring some sense of normalcy back to the characters’ lives. It can be the restoring of how things were before the journey began or it can be the establishment of a new normal. Either way, it must be resolved in the ending. Our hero has found a new love and plans to start a new family. It’s his new normal and the reader must understand the changes that he went through to establish the new normal.

If the story contains a theme, message or moral, the ending is where it should be reinforced. Not every story has an underlying theme, but if it does, it must be clarified in the ending. This way the reader can close the book with the feeling that the theme or message was accomplished or confirmed. The main character(s) got it, and so did the reader. Even if the reader doesn’t agree with the message, it has to be confirmed in his or her mind what it was, and if it was completed.

The end resolution of the theme or message must be in sync with the story. For instance, if the theme is to accept a spiritual belief in the existence of a greater power in the universe, the plot and characters must touch upon or address the idea somewhere along the way so the end resolution confirms that they have changed their beliefs to support or at least admit to the theme.

The ending should also cause readers to feel the way the writer intended them to feel. Whatever the emotional response the reader should experience, the ending is where it’s confirmed. After all, the writer is the captain of the ship. He steers the story in a specific direction—a direction he wants the reader to go. The reader is a passenger along for the journey. It’s important that in the end, the ship dock at the right port. Worse case is that it doesn’t dock at all. That’s the result of a weak ending.

The ending is how you leave your reader. It’s the last impression. And it just might be the reason the reader wants to buy your next book. Or not.

Have you been disappointed with an ending to a book or a movie? Did you invest the time only to come away feeling betrayed? And what book or movie do you feel contained all the elements of a great ending and left you wanting more?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The ultimate holiday wish list for writers

The holiday shopping season has barely begun, and already I sense desperation in the air. Last week the anchors at CNBC fretted over whether Black Friday and Cyber Monday would lift the fortunes of a sagging stock market (they did, briefly).

Then there's the quiet desperation of trying to find a perfect gift. If you're shopping for a writer, it helps to know what type of writer she is. Organized or overwhelmed? Disciplined or a Lazy Mary? The following list of gift ideas is tailored to some universal writer types:

For the writer starting a book tour:  A special signing pen. This should be something fairly showy and substantial, like a Montblanc.  Get both black and blue inks.

For the writer who hates her bug-ridden, balky PC: An Apple MacBook Pro, pre-loaded with the Scrivener writing program. She'll think she died and went to writer heaven. (This is top of my list this year, just in case Santa is reading this blog).

For the writer who is researching a setting for his book: An all-expenses paid trip to the most exotic locale in his WIP. This gift has the added bonus of being tax deductible for Santa.

For the writer who is desperately in need of inspiration: A weekend event with motivational guru Tony Robbins. Last year we were at the Marriott in Palm Springs during a Tony Robbins event. We rode the trams with gaggles of freshly-inspired seminar attendees. I can't imagine a more gung-ho group, except for possibly Seal Team 6.

For the writer facing a photo shoot: If your writer is stressing over posing for her author's photo, a little makeover is in order. This gift can include anything from hair and makeup to a wardrobe re-do. At the extreme end, consider springing for some plastic surgery (but only if she's been yearning for something specific along those lines. Don't suggest it first, or you'll be sitting at the bottom of the stocking with a lump of coal).

For the disorganized, overwhelmed writer: A year's underwriting for   housekeeping service. Your writer may still be disorganized at the end of the year, but she'll have fewer excuses.

So, Dear Reader, what would you add to my wish list of gifts for writers? And what is on your own list this year?

Monday, November 28, 2011

Book Group Etiquette

My mother-in-law's book group has kindly asked me to come visit next year which has prompted me to think about authors and book group etiquette. Thus far, I have been incredibly lucky that the book groups I have visited have loved my books (or at least pretended to!) so I have never faced that awkward moment of realization that someone found my'lacking'.

As a member of a book group myself I have, however, been known to initiate some pretty 'lively' (and negative) debates over the merits of a particular book. So what is the etiquette for author visits to book groups? How do participants and authors handle the fact that not everyone is going to like a book?

When I visit a book group I usually focus on the inspiration for my books and the writing process or writing life itself. Very rarely do I enter into a debate over the merits (or otherwise) of my writing. I wonder, however, have I just been lucky? Is the day of reckoning going to come when I have to face the hard questions? And how, assuming that day does come, should I react?

So here are some questions for authors and readers alike:
  • Have you ever had an author visit to a book group that ended badly?
  • How should book groups handle an author visit when not everyone likes the books (which, lets face it, is 99.9% of the time)?
Now obviously we all expect a modicum of decency and respect...but apart from that what should the etiquette be (for book groups and authors alike)?

Sunday, November 27, 2011

My Lunch With Larry

Every writer needs a mentor. Or at least someone to offer encouraging words during those dark, dismal days of doubt (like when you use too much alliteration and wonder if you'll ever get this writing thing right).

Many writers had an English teacher or creative writing instructor in school who gave them encouragement. I had the good fortune of taking creative writing from Mrs. Marjorie Bruce at good old Taft High. She saw something in me when all I saw was a jock who wanted to play college hoops. She really got me going and believing in myself as a writer, and I kept in touch with her for the rest of her life, until she passed into that great classroom in the sky at the age of 90.

I went to college where they undid some of Mrs. Bruce's good work. There I was told: Writers are born, not made. You can't really learn this stuff. You either have it or you don't. And I certainly didn't have it. I thought writers just sat down and plots and great characters burst out of their fingertips without any effort whatsoever. And I couldn't do that.

So life went on, I did other things, got married, went to law school. But one day I woke up and realized I still wanted to write, that the desire had never gone away. So I set out to try to learn what they said couldn't be learned.

And one of the first people I found who helped me along was Lawrence Block. I read his book, Writing the Novel, and knew at last I had found the encouraging mentor I was looking for. I subscribed to Writer's Digest and read Larry's fiction column every month. I still have big binders on my shelf full of old copies of the magazine, with his columns copiously underlined.

He seemed so able to communicate what it feels like to be a writer, and how a writer thinks. I never read any column of his where I didn't nod my head at least a couple of times, thinking here is a guy who really gets it. And he's generous enough to give it to others.

But it wasn't just his instruction, it was his fiction. The first novel of his I read was Eight Million Ways to Die. It blew me away. I consider it one of the classics of the crime genre. It motivated me. I wanted to be able to write a book someday that packed that kind of punch.  

Years later, when I was offered the fiction column at Writer's Digest, I felt like some junior prophet who was taking over the sacred page from Moses. It was a privilege, and I tried my best every month to give readers what Larry had given me.

So it was great to catch up with Moses a week ago at the annual Men of Mystery gathering. Authors and fans of mystery and suspense fiction were there to have table talks and lunch, with Larry as the keynote speaker. His riffs on how he writes, how he stumbled into series, how he picked up one series after a quarter-of-a-century gap––these once again took us into the mind of a consummate pro.

Lawrence Block has won all the mystery awards, some several times, and has a publishing record that is among the top in the field. And he still takes time to go out and encourage writers and talk to fans.


So who has been your mentor, or encourager? What did that person give to you that you needed to hear?

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Now We're Cooking

I cook the Thanksgiving Dinner at casa de Hartlaub each year. It involves some basic planning, such as buying a frozen turkey on Sunday. It sits in the refrigerator and thaws and by Thursday it’s ready for the oven. The real planning comes Thursday. I start at 7:00 AM with the pies. The lasagna goes in the over at 9:00 AM and at 9:35 I begin preparing the turkey and its stuffing. The whole kit and caboodle goes in the oven at 10:00 and then I stuff the potatoes, sit back and mfive hours later and it’s time to bake the rolls and prepare the mixed vegetable dish. By 4:00 PM dinner is served.

It occurred to me this year --- probably because I had a blog entry to write --- that preparing Thanksgiving dinner is a lot like the act of writing. The first and foremost step is that I have to get up and start. Getting up whenever I happen to wake up and having a cup of coffee and taking 20 to 30 minutes to transition between into it is not going to do it done. Before I know it I’ve lost half of the day. I have to get up and start.

The second element is making a schedule and doing everything I can to stick to it. Sometimes things, like life, get away from me, like that fire in the kitchen. We still had dinner that Thanksgiving, however, even though the dog got part of one of the pies. Since there were all males in the house, however, we ate the rest of it without worrying about germs. So too, when I’m writing: sometimes the idea will get away from me and I’ll find myself far afield, being just as clever as can be but not with anything that helps the story. I drag myself back and get on target and on schedule. And the sooner that I do that the better off I am.

The third element is the possession of the proper tools to get the job done. I discovered at the last minute that I didn’t purchase one of those turkey broiling pans that I use every year (one dollar at uh, The Dollar Store) and had to go out and get it. I had everything else all lined up and ready to go. Writing, I use Word and Google docs, but when my computer crapped a sandcastle while I was in New Orleans in September I used Evernote on my T-Mobile MyTouch to take notes and write whole chapters. My fingers will never be the same, but I got it done.

The fourth step is sticking with an outline. My outline for dinner is laid out above in my first paragraph. I have a more difficult time outlining a novel, but I’m finding that things work out a lot better when I do; otherwise I dislocate my arm patting myself on the back for a great beginning and a strong ending. It’s hard to fill that vast expanse of white space in between the beginning and end when your arm is dislocated. I’ve started using Scrivener, and that helps. It’s almost as good as…well, as a reliable oven.

That aside: I hope that you had a great Thanksgiving. I’m thankful to have lived much longer than I really should have and to have the love I don’t really deserve from so many wonderful people. That would include, first and foremost, the family I prepare dinner for every Thanksgiving, and who are my most loyal readers. And it would include you for stopping by here regularly. Thank you, and God Bless.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving Supper Rules for Social Networking

by Michelle Gagnon

Clare's excellent post on Monday discussed what not to blog about. I thought I'd add an addendum to that, based on something I read recently about employers Googling prospective employees and checking their Twitter and Facebook feeds. It got me thinking about crafting an online persona, and how the list of "do's" and "don'ts" is basically the same as our family's Thanksgiving dinner table commandments.

I don't know about you, but we have a wide and varied mix of relatives huddled around the turkey every year. There are aunts and uncles who define themselves as Tea Partiers, liberal cousins who spent a significant chunk of the past few months hunkering down at various Occupy demonstrations, and everything in between. To maintain the peace and insure that stuffing doesn't start flying across the table, we established these groundrules:
  1. No discussion of politics. This includes snide and offhand references, thinly veiled metaphors, and oblique asides. I realize that at times, this can be a tough rule to follow. After all, we are in the middle of a run up to a major election, and the national discourse has become increasingly polarized. But based on past experience, finding a middle ground for a free exchange of ideas is challenging when everyone has had a couple tumblers full of Aunt Millicent's Magic Punch. Not everyone might agree with me on this, but I feel the same way about posting on social networks--staking out a soapbox can lose readers, which as an author is not a good thing. Even if you aren't a writer, do you really want a future boss to reconsider hiring you based on the fact that your political views diverge? If you just can't resist reposting that link to the latest outrageous act by Congress/police/protestors, do what I do and set up a separate, private Facebook account that is limited to people you actually know and trust (of course, those constantly changing privacy settings still make this a potential minefield, so proceed with caution).
  2. Ditto for religion. I respect the right of everyone sharing my cranberry sauce to worship whom or whatever they want. But things tend to get sticky (no pun intended) when you try to explain to Grandpa that he's been wrong all these years, and the true savior is Lord Zod. Again, this is the sort of thing you can put on a private page, if you feel so inclined. But this is another hot button issue that could alienate more followers than you end up gaining.
  3. Swearing. Don't do it. I have a friend (in real life, and on Facebook and Twitter) who has been known to put sailors and truckers to shame under the right circumstances. This same friend will instant unfollow anyone who uses offensive language in a post. There's an impact to words in print that shouldn't be underrated. And really, it's generally unnecessary. You can always resort to $%#^&.
  4. Embarrassing Stories. The worst part of social networking is that these can be accompanied by actual photographic evidence of said embarrassing moments, which is always the kiss of death. So if you wouldn't tell your five year old nephew about spending the weekend passed out on the floor of a train station, why would you broadcast it to the world?
  5. Cats. Okay, this one isn't necessarily on our Thanksgiving tablets, but I've learned the hard way that any negative comment about felines will result in an instant loss of roughly 5% of your followers. It's true--try it if you don't believe me. So I call this the "Rita Mae Brown" rule. Be nice to the kitties online. You don't need to go so far as posting adorable photos/videos of them, but it's also a bad idea to share one of a cat falling out a window.

In a world where we live increasing portions of our private lives online, the line between what gets shared and what doesn't has become blurred. It's remarkable that some people tell utter strangers tidbits about their inner thoughts and prejudices that they probably wouldn't share with close friends. Many people mistakenly believe in the illusion of anonymity, assuming that a post about the awful mistake you made last night will soon be forgotten. The truth is, years from now that same nugget could be unearthed, with embarrassing consequences.

Just for fun, here's Stephen Colbert's take on it. Happy Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Post-Book Blues

Everyone knows about post-partum depression, but how about the post-book blues? A writer works for months on a project. Momentum builds to the grand finale. And then poof, it’s all over. You’re done. Finished. Past the creative hurdle. What happens next?

What’s next is that you face reality, just like new parents who come home from the hospital with a squalling baby. Now it’s time to exert your parenting skills. For a writer, a manuscript is her baby. You polish your masterpiece, submit it, and then risk rejection, but you learn a lot along the way. Meanwhile, you begin to gather the research materials for the next story. It’s sort of like learning how to change a diaper and warm formula while already thinking about baby number two.

During this gap between writing projects, you can pay attention to bills, family members, and household issues that you’ve skirted while absorbed in your story. Dental cleaning? Check. Doctor visits? Check. Sort through files in home office? Check. Call for repair estimates? Check. If you have a day job, you can throw yourself into your work with renewed frenzy.

Is any of this fun? Nope. But you also have time to meet friends for lunch, to stroll in the park, to go shopping, or to do sports. Your mind is free to follow other pursuits. And yet as you go about your business, a yawning emptiness erupts. Where are those voices in your head? The characters who keep you company? The plot threads that invade your dreams?

When you can’t stand the silence any longer, the time has come to plant the seed for the next story or the next child, if you will. The joy of creation becomes impossible to deny.

So when you finish a book, how does it make you feel? Are you elated, relieved, or depressed?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

SHARING GOOD NEWS: A Twit speaks on Tweets

By Kathleen Pickering

I’m calling myself a Twit because it took me so long to understand the REAL value of Tweeting. If there is a glimmer of a chance that I’m not alone in this, I’d like to share the value I’ve discovered, as well as offer tips I have found to enhance the Twitter experience.

Two very cool events have happened that I want to share. When I “tweeted” the first one, the proverbial light bulb finally illuminated in my marketing head on the enormous benefits of Twitter.

I tweeted this:

Just learned my 1st Super Romance WHERE IT BEGAN earned 4.5 Stars from RT:

Of course, Twitter shortened the link automatically for me. For my mystery writing/reading friends, RT = Romantic Times Magazine.

Well guess what happened? Within an hour, incredible author notables (and I dare say friends or acquaintances) such as, F. Paul Wilson, Christina Dodd, Beth Ciotta, Allison Chase, Cynthia Thomason, and Mary Stella re-tweeted my announcement to their friends.

Let me say this: HOLY QUACAMOLE! Paul has almost 3000 followers, Christina Dodd enjoys the company of over 7000 friends. Talk about spreading the good news!

That means my message was received by an exponentially larger audience than my own. (Which sits at under 1000 friends and will hopefully grow as I become more active.)

So, for those of us who could use a suggestion . . . or seven . . . on how to enhance the Twitter experience, here’s what I’ve learned:

1. Short but Important: the first words you choose to post are critical to catching friends’ attention. I humbly submit, however, that as authors trained to “hook” a reader, that should be a comfortable task.

2. Less is More: If you saturate your channel with uninteresting material, folks will start passing over your Tweets rather than clicking to read more. Be INTERESTING with fewer tweets with links than over-posting babble. The more clicks per tweet you receive, the longer your Tweets stay alive.

3. Timing Counts: That being said, visibility goes a long way to receive attention for your messages. “Packaged” Tweets (bundled together at one time) are not as attractive as well-spaced notices. Folks are saying posting every 30 minutes to every hour, or once every 2-3 hours is optimal for business activity.

4. Keep Your Post Alive: An interesting Tweet with a clickable link to more information that is news worthy can stay alive for over three weeks if done correctly. What is correct you ask? First, it helps if you have a good friend base established (or begin one with an amazing first Tweet); Second, Tweets with links to websites, blogs, freebies and contests do very well.

Now, here are some FREE tools I discovered to enhance your Twitter experience:

A. Tweet Scheduling: There is a free application that helps you set up your Tweeting schedule of--don’t forget-- compelling Tweets. Click here: It’s called, TIMELY.

B. Sharing Photos: Check out POSTEROUS as a free and easy means of uploading photos to your Tweets while keeping within the 140 character requirement.

C. Get More Followers: I find this link incredibly clever for earning more followers. Offer something for free (an e-book, a contest on your website, gift certificate, and interview, etc.) by getting Tweeters to repost your Tweet to their friends or on Facebook, etc. It’s a great way to amass an e-mail list as well as gaining Twitter friends. Check out CLOUD:FLOOD for more information.

So, this Twit has finally caught on the the Twitter experience. I’m hooked, now. Better late than never and really looking forward to more Twitter fun. I hope these tips help anyone out there who may have felt as awkward as I over not understanding Twitter.

Does anyone have any other Twitter tips they can share?

Oh, and, as for the second event I’d like to announce? You’ll have to wait for my next blog!

Hope your Tweeting week is grand!


Monday, November 21, 2011

What not to Blog About

by Clare Langley-Hawthorne

I came across a blog post by literary agent Rachelle Gardner on 'what not to blog about' and it prompted me thinking about social media in the new age of publishing and what is and is not 'off limits'.

Rachelle's list of what authors should not blog about includes:
  • contract provisions (including advances, royalty rates etc.);
  • status of your manuscript being shopped;
  • unhappiness with your publisher, agent or publicist;
  • extreme social or political opinions; or
  • basically venting or ranting ad infinitum on pretty much anything:)
I think what should or should not be included in your blog depends on your aim and focus for blogging in the first place. At TKZ we pretty much focus on the craft of writing, the writing life, and the publishing industry. As such we tend to steer clear of political/religious or social discussions outside that (admittedly pretty wide) remit. I think one thing we all strive for is to appear professional about our writing and this is where I think Rachelle's blog post provides a timely reminder to be careful about crossing the line when it comes to social media.

What do I mean by crossing the line? - Saying anything that might negatively impact your writing career. In this era of digital publishing the rules may be changing but the need to appear professional remains the same.

In addition to Rachelle's list, I would also hesitate to disclose too much about your current WIP (apart from generalities), status of your discussions/contracts with an agent, or anything that your publisher may regard as confidential. In addition, I think authors need to be cautious about what material they self-publish when under contract (witness the controversy when Kiana Davenport lost her traditional deal after refusing to pull a self-published work). While it is fine to blog about the challenges of writing, it is also important not to appear negative or unprofessional or to disclose too much about particular people or publishers involved (after all, you never know who may be reading what you post...)

Now perhaps some of you think I am too cautious, but I worry that there are so many mechanisms for authors and readers to reach a 'personal connection' - from blogging to Facebook and Twitter - that sometimes the line between personal and professional gets blurred. Rachelle's blog post was a great reminder of this for me.

So what do you think? What things do you think authors should not blog about? Have you ever blogged, tweeted or posted on Facebook anything you later regretted?

Sunday, November 20, 2011

How to Eat the Publishing Elephant

James Scott Bell

The elephant is our most versatile bestial metaphor. 

We sometimes refer to the big issue everyone knows is there (but no one is talking about) as "the elephant in the room." Back in November of 2008, in conference rooms at publishing houses throughout New York, the elephant in the room was the Amazon Kindle. Was this device going to change publishing as we know it? Maybe no one wanted to talk about it back then, until the elephant broke out of the room and started stampeding all over midtown Manhattan.

Then there's the story of the three blind men coming up to an elephant. One touches the tail, another the leg, the other the trunk. Each man assumes the elephant is something other than it is, because he has only one bit of data. This we can liken to those who think they know everything there is about publishing (or anything else, for that matter) when they only have experience with one part of it.

But the metaphor I want to work with today is the question, How do you eat an elephant? The answer, of course, is "one bite at a time."

This applies to the world of successful self-publishing. Note the key word successful. It's easy to self-publish (too easy, some would say). But to be successful at it is an entirely different matter.

A lot of people are expecting to eat the whole elephant in one bite. That's because some of the early adopters did that. Joe Konrath, Amanda Hocking, John Locke, Blake Crouch – these are some of the names that jumped in early and did some heavy munching. Barry Eisler famously walked away from a traditional print deal and went E to feast on elephant. Bob Mayer, king of the backlist, consumed several elephants earlier this year when releasing all those titles close to one another. 

But these are the notable exceptions to what is now the undeniable rule: the vast majority of writers will not get anywhere near rapid success. And if they expect to, they will be sorely disappointed and may even chuck the whole publishing thing.

Which is fine. We need less content, not more, because most of the two million self-published offerings out there are, well. . . let's just say the bulk of it pretty much affirms Sturgeon's Law.

But if you want to be successful as an indie author, you can be – if you eat the elephant one bite at a time and chew thoroughly.

By "success" I mean making a profit. You can make a profit from your self-publishing if you do certain things and do them right (like knowing how to write. That really helps). How large a profit it is impossible to say up front. It may just be Starbuck's money. Everyone's mileage is going to vary. But here's the rub: If you keep taking more and more bites, and do so carefully and with purpose, you have a chance to make more profit. That's called "business." If you want to be a professional writer, you are essentially running a small enterprise. Your job: provide value.

My business includes a traditional arm where I partner with publishers like Kensington and Writer's Digest Books. It also now includes an indie division. I have taken a few bites at the indie elephant, wanting to learn as I go and see what works. I've studied the field, too. And while there are many things one needs to do well, the unalterable foundation is quality + volume. Thus, the elephant wisdom that has become evident over this last crazy year of indie publishing is: if you want to be successful at it you need to be in it for the long haul, and by that I mean the rest of your life.

Let me repeat: the rest of your life.

If you are truly a writer, that won't be difficult for you. But if you are just in this to try to make some easy lettuce, it will be. And should be.

A real writer writes, wants to write, would do it even if the prospect of making killer money was nil. Storytellers tell stories, which is why I plan to be found dead at my computer, my stone cold fingers over the keyboard. I only hope I have just typed "The End." Or better yet, clicked "Upload."

I will keep on biting the elephant. And when I'm old and toothless, I'll gum the elephant. Because a real writer never stops.

Happy eating, friends. 

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Tis That Season Again

John Ramsey Miller

Tomorrow (that would be 2 days ago in Blog time) around three AM I am going to drive 11 hours into the much deeper South for a weekend with my old hunting buddies. Opening Day in Mississippi. I've worked my enjoyment of hunting into several of my books because it is a part of my life that is just plain getting back to my basic nature. I now the Bambi lovers (I actually am one) are cringing, but only those who have never done it before. I'm not going to say deer are happier dead, but I am happier when I have a freezer full of venison. It's the other red meat.

A few days before I go, I start getting things together. Yesterday I rewired my trailer with new wires and lights. During the year I use the trailer around the place and beat off the lights. On the trailer I have my four-wheeler for tough terrain, and to keep from walking. Also I put the deer I harvest (kinder image than knock down) on the back. On the trailer I also have a five-foot tall galvanized, three-dimensional steel rooster which I will drop off in Nashville. Long boring yard-art story.

The best part of the annual hunt is that I get to spend quality time with my old friends. There is wine and scotch involved. We tell stories around the fire, and then go inside.

I don't many authors who hunt, but the time I spend sitting alone in the deep woods is something I can't imagine living without. It charges my batteries. I have talked with both my editor and agent while I was watching deer graze. I do write in my head as I sit in my stand.

Shooting is no challenge. I'm a good shot and I go for a clean shot or I don't shoot. I eat what I shoot and that is why I only hunt deer.

Anti-hunters have all sorts of reasons why I should let the slaughterhouses handle this end of the food chain. I won't get into why that is worse than taking an animal that is in its environment when it goes and not in a line of panicked beef that... Remind me to tell you the story about visiting a commercial slaughterhouse when I was a cub scout.

So, what I'm saying here is I find my trips invigorating, stimulating, and when you read this I'll be in one of my stands watching and listening and living my life. No apologies offered.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Averting Disaster

by John Gilstrap

Okay, Damage Control (July, 2012) is finished and submitted and the publisher is happy.  Now I can come clean:

By way of background, my Jonathan Grave books are slated as the lead titles for July in their respective years of publication.  The first week of July, to be specific, chosen to coincide with ThrillerFest.  Being lead title is a big deal because of the horsepower that get focused behind the book.  Recognizing that there's only one (maybe a couple) lead title per genre per publisher per month, and given that there are only 12 months in a year, it's a position worth earning, and once earned, it's definitely worth defending.

In order to make that July 1 slot, I have to submit my manuscripts by September 15.  That might seem like a lot of lead time, but it's really not, given all that goes into the production and marketing of a book.  If you miss the deadline, you imperil your spot on the list.

Okay, now for the living nightmare.

In mid-July (the week after I returned from ThrillerFest), I realized that I had painted myself into a corner with Damage Control.  I had too many characters, the story was rambling.  I'd lost control of the damn thing.  I'd written a little over 300 pages that just weren't going to work, and I faced the reality that is no less daunting for a writer than it must be for a surgeon: If the patient (book) was going to live, it would need serious surgery.  Thus, on or about July 20, with less than two months to go before my deadline, I amputated over 200 pages.  I essentially took myself back to the end of the opening sequence, and rebuilt.  Understand that my manuscripts run 400-430 pages.

I told my editor that I was going to blow my deadline, but "not by that much."  I didn't have any idea how I could make even an extended deadline, but there was no way I was going to lose my spot in the catalog.  Too many people work too hard on my behalf to let them down that way.  I'm a professional, and professionals plow through to the end.

When failure is not an option, success is guaranteed.

Meanwhile, my Big Boy job had me on the road nonstop, and Joy's dad's health started declining rapidly.  When it rains, it pours, right?  Work days grew to be eighteen hours long and weekends disappeared entirely.  If I wasn't busting my ass for my day job, I was busting my ass for the night job.  Sleep was a five- to six-hour per night luxury.

I've never written so hard in my life--or under such pressure.  But you know what?  I got it done.  And, if you ask me, it's really, really good.  From mid-late July till October 17 when I submitted the manuscript, I wrote, rewrote and polished 315 manuscript pages.  I don't know how I did it, and I pray that I'll never have to do it again.

If there's a lesson here beyond the old standby of don't-let-this-happen-to-you, it's that any obstacle can be overcome if you want it badly enough.  When you're caught in a crack, the last thing to let go of is your professionalism.  Friends will wait for you, family will understand.  Employers are paying for an honest day's labor, and you owe them that and more.  With what's left, you turn to the next obligation in line.

On a personal level, I learned an invaluable lesson that is reflected in one other accomplishment: Here it is mid-November, facing another September 15 deadline in 2012, and I've already started the second chapter of the next book.  My goal (and it's a soft goal, not a sword worth falling onto), is to have this one finished by June 15.  I think I'd like to try to enjoy a season of book conferences without staring down the maw of a deadline.

We'll see . . .

Thursday, November 17, 2011


I wanted to share with TKZ that Michelle Gagnon and I will be launching a new group blog geared for thriller authors writing dark YA. Our blog will be called ADR3NALIN3. I hope you’ll check it out at this LINK.

ADR3NALIN3 is the brainchild of a group of authors who write the dark side of middle grade and teen fiction. We are far from cozy and we don't do warm and fuzzy. We want to make your skin crawl and your heart beat faster as you venture deeper into the dark recesses of our imaginations. Reality can be overrated or just plain scary. We offer you a savory feast of chilling contemporary thrillers, eerie mysteries, fantasies from your worst nightmares, and our bent and twisted take on the paranormal.

Michelle’s new series sounds absolutely fantastic—dark & delicious. Here’s a sneak peek.

Don’t Turn Around (Series-Book #1)
HarperTeen, TBA 2012

Sixteen-year-old Noa has been victimized by the system ever since her parents died. Now living off the grid and trusting no one, she uses computer hacking skills to stay safely anonymous and alone. But when she wakes up on a table in an empty warehouse with an IV in her arm and no memory of how she got there, Noa starts to wish she had someone on her side.

Enter Peter Gregory, A rich kid and the leader of a hacker alliance. Peter needs people with Noa¹s talents on his team. Especially after a shady corporation called AMRF threatens his life in no uncertain terms.

But what Noa and Peter don¹t know is that she holds the key to a terrible secret, and there are those who¹d stop at nothing to silence her for good.

Fans of THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO will devour the story of Noa, a teen soulmate to Lisbeth Sander.

 And another of our members launches a book tour this week, Carol Tanzman. Here’s a sneak peek of her book:


by Carol Tanzman

Harlequin Teen, Nov 2011

Part mystery and part romance in this digital age where teens put their lives online, dancergirl (Harlequin Teen) will grab you from the first page and won’t let you go until the thrilling conclusion. When someone secretly films 16 year old Ali Ruffino dancing at a concert and posts the video online, things start to get out of control as the dancergirl craze takes on a life of its own. Her admirers want more, the haters hate, her best friend Jacy—even he’s acting weird. And if someone watching has their way, Ali could lose way more than just her love of dancing. She could lose her life.

We are officially starting active posts during the first week of January 2012 but since we have two virtual book tours starting in Nov & Dec, we are getting the word out earlier. I’ve featured two of our authors, but visit our site to see who else has joined us. We also hope to promote the genre with featured guests. I hope you’ll follow our new blog and on twitter at @ADR3NALIN3BOOKS.

Once we get going, what kinds of posts would you like to see on ADR3NALIN3? What have you liked most about following TKZ?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The trashing of a guerrilla library

I woke up this morning to the news that police in New York have trashed a library. Literally.

According a firestorm of tweets and reports that are starting to emerge, early this morning, NYPD swooped down on the Occupy Wall Street camp in Zuccotti Park, routed the protesters, and tossed everything in dumpsters--including 5,500 books that had been donated to a pop-up guerrilla library.

I know that many people dismiss the OWS protesters, or reject their tactics, or simply think they're silly. But the wanton  trashing of thousands of books by police is a scene I never thought I'd see in America.  In his book FAHRENHEIT 451, Ray Bradbury's vision of the future was right on the money.

The destruction of the little "People's Library" is bound to become a symbol of the squelching of dissent in our society, and a rallying cry for new Occupy protests.

I just wonder if a copy of FAHRENHEIT 451 is sitting in that trash dumpster in New York City.

We can't say ol' Ray didn't try to warn us.

Update (5:40 p.m. ET): A recent Tweet from the NY mayor's office indicates that the OWS library books are actually being detained in a Sanitation Dept. garage. They even posted a "proof of life" photo, so people would know that at least some of the books are alive and unharmed.

Good to know.

Monday, November 14, 2011

NaNoWriMo Writing Tips

by Clare Langley-Hawthorne

So it's that time of year again - National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) - and I've been looking over some of the tips and advice metered out to those willing to give it a go. I thought today I would highlight five of the more useful ones I've seen and get feedback on what advice other people have found helpful - because most of this is just as applicable to writers surging ahead with NaNoWriMo as to those of us plodding along at our own pace:)

1. Remove all distractions that clutter both your mind and your desk.

I think one of the hardest things for most aspiring writers to do is to make time to write - and once you have committed to doing this you really have to remove all the things that provide the temptation to procrastinate, get distracted or avoid writing. During NaNoWriMo I notice lots of tips that focus on preparation and inspiration but I think it's also important not to get caught up in mind maps, name generators, role playing or brainstorming to the point where you aren't actually writing!

2. Learn from your mistakes (and you'll make them)

Everyone writes crappy first drafts, includes a few cliches and loses the plot at some time or other. Give yourself permission to make mistakes and turn off that 'inner editor' until the first draft is done. I like one of last year's tips by author Elif Batuman who said 'everyone has a certain amount of bad writing to get out of their system' - so get it out!

3. Raise questions early, resolve later on

One of the dullest things you can do is inundate your readers with too much information/answers too early on. You need to entice and intrigue and the best way to do this is by raising questions early on in the book so readers have to keep reading to find out the answers. Of course, this has to be balanced with a well grounded narrative structure, voice, characters and sense of place otherwise readers will merely wonder what the hell is going on:)

3. Constantly raise the stakes

I've heard Donald Maas talk about this at writing conferences in terms of making a 'bigger' book in which the stakes are the highest they can possibly be for the characters you have developed. A good writer constantly raises the stakes -in each scene and each chapter - to really create a scenario that truly grips the reader. It also helps provide great opportunities for character development - there's nothing like seeing a character react to a life and death situation to reveal what really makes them tick!

4. Keep the momentum going

Everyone gets stuck at some point in the writing process - whether it be finding inspiration, nutting out a tricky plot question or just trying to find words that don't totally suck! NaNoWriMo strikes me as the perfect laboratory for exploring all the techniques you need to overcome writer's inertia. For me inspiration usually comes from rereading the last few chapters so I can get back into the flow or, failing that, take the dog for a walk and free up my imagination. The key is not to spend so much time reinvigorating yourself that you don't actually sit back down again and write!

5. Don't Finish

I saw this on GalleyCat's list from last year and thought this was great advice - "Don't finish, make it the start of something."

NaNoWriMo is a great jumping off point for people to make great headway on their novel but then the real hard work of editing and polishing begins. I like to think that for many aspiring writers NaNoWriMo is the start of a beautiful long term relationship with writing rather than just a mere fling:)

So are you doing NaNoWriMo this month? If so, how is it going? What piece of advice has worked best for you?

Sunday, November 13, 2011


It started on the playground when I made fun of a kid named Eddie.

We were in fifth grade and playing my favorite recess game, Socko, a more manly form of Dodgeball. It involved throwing a soccer-sized rubber ball at the opposing team across the line. If you hit a guy with the ball he was out. But if he managed to catch and hold onto the ball, you were out. Speed and power were of the essence.

This day Eddie was on the opposing team. He was the tallest kid in class and a little slow afoot. To get in his head I started loping around my side of the line pretending to be Eddie. My teammates started to laugh. Never one to give up the stage when the going is good, I continued my pantomime.

Finally, Eddie had had enough. "You wanna fight?" he said.

This challenge was issued in the full hearing of everyone on the Socko court. Things suddenly got very quiet, like that old E. F. Hutton commercial. Activity ceased as the crowd awaited my answer. The code of the schoolyard dictated that I not back down. To refuse would have marked me a coward, especially since I'd started the whole thing.

So I said, "Yeah."

News of the fight spread like a Southern California wildfire. It was whispered in the bathrooms, shouted in the hallways, discussed over peanut butter sandwiches in the lunch area. By the end of the day it seemed like the entire student body of Serrania Avenue Elementary School had turned out to the regular fight venue, across the street on a grassy lot.

I was nervous. While I had a quickness advantage, Eddie had height and reach on me. Also, his fists also looked like canned hams.

And so the circle formed and the two ten-year-old adversaries put up their dukes.

I got in the first lick, a right to Eddie's mouth. He shook his head a couple of times and the next thing I knew my world went red. One of those canned hams smacked me square in the snout and I started bleeding like the Red Sea.

This ended the fight as everybody recoiled in horror. Including Eddie. He did not follow up or come in for the kill. Everything just fizzled.

I walked home with my hands over my nose. My mom just about had a heart attack when she saw me caked with blood. But ten-year-old boys are supposed to do that to their mothers every now and then. It's a story as old as mankind itself.

Later that evening Eddie's mom called my mom. My mom called me to the phone. Eddie came on.

"You okay?" Eddie said.

"You gave me a bloody nose," I said.

"Sorry," Eddie said. "You gave me a fat lip."

"Sorry," I said.

There was a slight pause, then Eddie said, "Wanna be friends?"

"Okay," I said.

"Okay," Eddie said. "Bye."


I'm sure what happened was this. Eddie's mom saw her son's ballooned lip and had the same reaction my mom did. And then she said to him something like, "You are going to call and apologize."

And Eddie did.

I never forgot that, because you don't forget acts of decency. They seem rarer and rarer these days. The idea that there is a certain code of behavior for a civilized society is now more of a quaint notion than a moral imperative. And that's just a shame.

Eddie moved away the next year so we weren't in the same school anymore. Life went on. I retired from schoolyard fighting. I didn't see the point. I preferred my nose just the way it was.

Then, in high school, my basketball team went to play a non-conference game in another county. We came out on the court for our warm ups and there on the other team's bench sat Eddie. He looked exactly the same, only now he was about 6'8" and his hands were the size of dining room tables.

I ran over and stood in front of him.

He looked up and took about two seconds to recognize me. Then he broke out into a big smile and said, "Jim!"

He stood up and put out his hand and I took it. No longer were we throwing fists with them.

Because we were friends.

I thought about Eddie this week. It was a bad one in our country, with news of horrific acts performed at a respected university on the watch of a beloved football coach. There was death and violence in tent cities, and continuing breakdown of civil discourse in our political realm. Sometimes it seems like the whole society has a collective nosebleed after a getting punched in the face. And there doesn't seem to be much we can do about it.

But we can. Be kind to somebody this week. It'll probably shock them. And don't be afraid to say you're sorry if you've messed up. We flat out need more decency around here. Let it start with us.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

A New Slippery Slope

Advertising in e- books. Are you ready for it? Do you want it? Granted, advertising in a book is not a new idea. There are paperback imprints that in the front or back of one book will place ads for other books which they publish which may be of similar interest to the reader. There was a somewhat short-lived experiment in the early 1970s to place four-color ads for cigarettes in the middle of paperbacks as well. But…advertising in an e-book?

That is the idea currently being floated by Harper UK. As it is currently conceived, such commercial interruptions would be limited to works of non-fiction (apparently because we readers of fiction have such easily derailed attention spans). The example which was presented was that an e-book concerning bird-watching could contain an advertisement for binoculars. You can see where this could go. Imagine the irregularly scheduled commercial in the e-book version of a sex manual. Or an ad for ginsu knives in a true crime book. Given the ever-growing popularity of the iPad (not to mention the Kindle Fire) such a commercial or advertisement could manifest itself in multiple media forms. Would it be a page that you could skip by, or perhaps one of those annoying popups for a movie or commercial product? And make no mistake: such a plan may be limited to non-fiction books at the moment, but if the trial with non-fiction e-books is at all successful, works of fiction will be next.

With that in mind, here is a bit of free advice: if you are fortunate enough to have a major entity, be it a publisher or Amazon or whoever, interested in publishing your work, make it your business to determine how and if your agreement addresses this issue. The argument from the other side may be that such an addition to your work in e-form is part of the content, or form, or your work, and thus falls under the purview and authority of the publisher. If you are in a position to negotiate this point (in other words, you haven’t signed anything yet) there are a number of points to consider. Two of the bigger ones would substance and form. You might object to ads for certain products (alcohol, condoms, and firearms, to name but three examples) or products manufactured or sold by a certain companies (The GAP, Wal-Mart, Progressive Insurance, and McDonalds, to name but a few). You might also have some concerns with regard to how the commercial is presented, or the product portrayed, in Your Book. An even bigger issue, however, concerns who will get the cheddar from the sale of such ad placement. When an ad is placed in your e-book, will your cash register go Ka-ching? Or will the proceeds of such go into the publisher’s coffers to offset the costs of publishing your e-book?
Is this an issue yet? No; but I believe it will be soon. Authors, published and prospective: what do you think about advertising in an e-book? Do you like the idea, or not? Why? And readers. Would you mind an occasional advertisement? Or are you happy to have a place to go that is ad-free?

Friday, November 11, 2011

Eleventh Day of the Eleventh Month

By John Gilstrap

A debt we cannot repay.

It's Veteran's Day here in America.  To all who have served, thank you.  For everything.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The sincerest form of flattery?

by Michelle Gagnon

So news broke this week that Q.R. Markham's debut novel, ASSASSIN OF SECRETS, was being pulled from shelves after the publisher (Mulholland Books) discovered that numerous passage had allegedly been taken from other sources.

To get a sense of what they mean by "numerous," follow this handy link. Apparently the only part of the book that Q. R. Markham didn't plagiarize was the overly generic title and his bio.

My question is, why would a new author do such a thing? And more importantly, after all the plagiarizing scandals of the past decade (see: Stephen Ambrose, Kaavya Viswanathan, et al), how could he blithely expect not to get caught? In the digital era, all you have to do is type in a key phrase, and Google can usually instantly match it to a source. So why take the risk?

I have to wonder what the months leading up to his novel's release have been like for Q. R. Markham. Was he basking in the thrill of having gotten away with something? Was he w
aking up nightly in a cold sweat, shaken by nightmares of being discovered? (Something about his pose in the photo to the left leads me to suspect probably not.) Or had he actually managed to convince himself that the work was his own?

And how did Mulholland Books (an imprint of Little, Brown) get so far along in the process without discovering the malfeasance? The book was released a week ago, which means that ARCs of it made the rounds months earlier. In fact, Publisher's Weekly gave ASSASSIN OF SECRETS a glowing review, praising it as "quirky" and "entertaining." My favorite part: "the obvious Ian Fleming influence just adds to the appeal." Yes, of course, the Ian Fleming "influence." As in, passages were extracted directly from his James Bond series and dumped into Markham's narrative.

But he didn't limit himself to stealing from merely one giant of the spy genre: Robert Ludlum's books were also liberally borrowed from. Other excerpts have been attributed to John Gardner, Charles McCarry, Geoffrey O'Brien, and James Bamford. I have to admit to being a bit tickled by the inclusion of my pal Raymond Benson's HIGH TIME TO KILL. If you want a great espionage read, go to the source on that one.

Here's the thing. I've been forced to jump through numerous legal hurdles with each book, ranging from acquiring permissions for song excerpts and poems, altering university and town names, and changing one benign reference to Star Wars for fear of igniting a legal response from mighty Lucasfilm. So who feel asleep on the job here?

I have a friend who recently discovered that his novel ULTIMATE RUSH was being made into a film by Sony Pictures- yay, right? Except here's the rub: they never optioned it. They changed the title to PREMIUM RUSH, altered a few character names, but adhered to the overall plot about a bike messenger on the run. Joe has been fighting them in court, so far to no avail. Theft, pure and simple. Apparently in Hollywood, it's easier to get away with that sort of thing.

This has to be hugely embarrassing for Mulholland, especially since it's a newer imprint that just started releasing books this past April. The question now is what happens to Markham? His second book has been canceled (obviously, although I'd love to see who he robbed to write that one), and I'm guessing he'll be asked to return the advance. But will he also be sued by Mulholland? How about the people whose work he co-opted? (Here's your shot at the big bucks, Ray).

Anyway, here's the takeaway. You never rip off another writer's clever turn of phrase--ever. It's cheap and wrong and basically illustrates that you're incapable of an original thought. Shame on Q. R. Markham for thinking he could get away with it.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011


Have you ever written yourself into a corner? Have you progressed at least midway through your story and then realized your hero is going down a black hole and you don’t know how to get him out?Recently, I found myself in this situation. In my synopsis, which acts as my writing guideline, I was up to the part where the hero, Lord Magnor, goes to the underworld to obtain a sacred book stolen by Hel, Queen of the Shades. To get there, he has to die. Circumstances with the heroine make him despair of their future together, and so he takes a poison pill that another character has given him.

Here is what my synopsis said:

He awakens underground in front of an iron gate. This leads to a gold-paved bridge that crosses the river Gjoll. Beyond is Helheim, where Hel resides. A giantess guards the gate and asks him for the password. If he fails to give the right answer, she’ll toss him in the river and it will carry him to the land of fire and eternal torment.

Magnor figures out a way past and meets Hel. She isn’t willing to give up the Book of Odin, not even for the mead he’s brought. So he creates a diversion and steals the sacred book.

Now this presented several problems. How does he get past the giantess when he fails to give the right password? How does he get into Hel’s palace? What kind of diversion does he create, and how does he steal the ancient relic?

I printed out these questions and sat on my “thinking couch” until the answers came to me. First of all, if he fails to give the right password, the giantess won’t throw him in the river. Instead, she’ll doom him to spend eternity in the company of other lost souls.
At that point, he has to find another way past the gate. He doesn’t have any cutting tools or acid to break in at some point farther down the line. And even if he could do so, how would he cross the raging river? What he does have are his wits, so he eases into the shadows and cheats by climbing up the rocky wall lining the chamber and gaining access to the opposite bank that way. In other words, he goes up and over instead of across. It’s the Kobayashi Maru solution from Star Trek. If you’re in a no win situation, change the rules.

So what about confronting Hel? He decides upon a frontal approach, stating his business to the palace guards in such a confident manner that he convinces them to allow him an audience with the queen. I’m glossing over the details but suffice it to say he states his case to her and she refuses to comply. Now we need a distraction so he can steal the book that rests in a glass case.

In the story, I’ve already planted the seeds for this solution. He’s been given a magic horn that is supposed to sound a warning when the demon, Loki, is near. But what will happen if Magnor blows the horn within Hel’s palace? He does so, and glass shatters throughout the hall, including the case protecting the sacred book. He snatches the artifact as Hel’s minions surround him.

Now what? The heroine has been told she must obtain a golden apple from the Fae to revive him. But fairies aren’t part of Norse mythology, which my story is based on. Here is what my synopsis says:
Erika must return him to the land of the living. She realizes how much he means to her and won’t risk losing him. However, reviving him isn’t easy. Aware that she only has a certain window in which to resuscitate the warrior, she saves him just in time.

Okay, how does she save him? Anytime you leave things vague like this in your synopsis or writing outline, eventually you have to come up with the details. Again, I’d already sowed the seeds within the story. Erika, a descendant of Odin, has inherited some of his shapeshifter powers. She cannot change her own form, but she possesses the power to manipulate the earth.

Odin also had the “breath of inspiration”, and this reminded me of the breath of life possessed by the Mord Sith in Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth series. What if, instead of going to the Fae, Erika is inspired by the figurines of fairies she’s designed in her pottery studio? Fairies might not be real, but what about fairy dust? And so she uses her innate power to revitalize the hero with the magical dust she breathes into his mouth.

As you can see, whatever corner you back your hero into, if you’ve laid the proper groundwork for your story, the solution will arise from material you’ve already planted. So go ahead and gloss over these details in your selling synopsis, but be assured when you come to them in the story, the muse will help you fill in those plot holes. You can rewrite your synopsis accordingly.

So who else has backed a character into a corner, and how did you get him out?