Ripped from the headlines

Nurse Kills Patient Over Grudge
That headline grabbed my attention a couple of years ago when it appeared in newspapers. Here’s the story behind it: a nurse in a plastic surgery office was accused of killing a patient following a plastic surgery procedure. It turned out that the victim had stolen the nurse’s boyfriend 30 years earlier, when both women were in high school. So this was the nurse’s way of getting some long-overdue payback.

Talk about revenge being a dish that is best served cold.

That passing headline spawned an idea that stayed with me and eventually emerged as a subplot in one of my Fat City Mysteries (I won’t tell you which one, although you probably won’t recognize it in its fictionalized version). Here’s a link to the original article.

I was particularly struck because the story underscored how powerful our emotions can be, especially when we’re young. Who would have thought that a jilted girlfriend would actually murder the “other woman” who happened to turn up in her medical care, thirty years later? In addition to fueling a subplot for my story, the article also made me start reflecting on what was to become one of the themes in my book: jealousy and revenge. To write the story, I had to cast back on my own life experience to flesh out the character of the young person who would turn into a murderer.

I’m one of those people who was utterly miserable during middle school and early high school years. I was withdrawn, and had trouble making friends. There was a group of “mean girls” who made my life a living hell, especially in gym class. I think I can remember every joke they made at my expense, and every slight that was directed my way. Sometimes I wonder what would happen if I met any of those girls today. Probably nothing. But during the writing of this particular story, I made a conscious effort to dredge up those old feelings of rage and humiliation. The process helped me be able to see my fictional murder from the killer’s point of view. That was important, because I feel that in most murderers’ minds, their acts of homicide are justified. The victim has wronged him or her, and deserves to die.

I always try to get into my killer’s head, sometimes to the extent that I wind up empathizing with him. The killer may have used the wrong solution, but the homicide must seem justified, at least from that character’s point of view.

So I’m wondering to what extent other writers identify with the killers in their story? Do you have to tap into certain strong and scary feelings to portray the role authentically, the way an actor does? Do you want the reader to identify with the killer in any way, or at least find him sympathetic in some strange way?

Do tell.

Just Released – The Serpent and The Scorpion!

By Clare Langley-Hawthorne

Well it’s blatant self promotion and birth announcement time! I’m so excited the second Ursula Marlow mystery, The Serpent and The Scorpion, comes out tomorrow and I can’t help myself! It’s hard sometimes to remember that it takes such a long time, 18 months typically, from manuscript to print, so for an author it’s like a very, very long pregnancy (and trust me I know what that feels like having had twins!) So now it’s time to celebrate – and I confess a few glasses of champagne have already been drunk (and the book isn’t officially in stores until Tuesday!)

When describing The Serpent and The Scorpion, Kirkus Reviews wrote “Pre-World War I England is a seething cauldron of conflicting ideologies as Bolsheviks, suffragettes, socialists and merchants of death battle for control.” I couldn’t have summed it up better – and reading this it’s obvious why I was drawn to this period in history!

All this month however I’m going to explore the themes in the book rather than the historical period in question – because I’m fascinated how, as an author, I find certain elements in a book suddenly coming to the fore. In my first book, Consequences of Sin, there were past betrayals and lost innocence. In The Serpent and the Scorpion, Ursula Marlow is still recovering from the events in Consequences and trying to make her way in the world as an independent businesswoman (a rarity in Edwardian English Society). The themes in this book are therefore a little different – the betrayals are more personal, the stakes are higher and Ursula is now older and wiser – yet still all too vulnerable. So I get to explore lust and greed, the pursuit of power and the cold calculation of those who relish the prospect of war with Germany. Whoever said history was dull and stuffy!

Next week I will be focusing on the theme of lust in my books: not just lust for another person but also lust for power, independence and revolution. The Serpent and The Scorpion is set in 1912 against a backdrop of socialist activism, militancy amongst the suffragettes and an escalating arms race. Oh and there are a couple of murders thrown in for good measure. My mother-in-law advised me when I started the manuscript for The Serpent and The Scorpion that I also needed “more sex…tastefully done of course!” and I’m pleased to say this aspect of lust is also taken care of. Ursula Marlow is named after a DH Lawrence character after all…

October is a big month for my fellow Killzone authors with Joe Moore and Kathryn Lilley having new books released as well, so it will be ‘champers’ all round for us here! Over the next few weeks I’ll be traveling on tour so I hope to meet some of you in person as well as in the blogsphere. For all the details about events, locations and times please visit my website at:


By guest blogger, Allison Brennan

Do I have your attention? Good.

allison-brennan When my publisher launched my first trilogy, they billed me as “Julie Garwood meets Thomas Harris.” I had to think about that a minute, but then realized that it’s pretty accurate. I write about romance (and with it, sex) between the hero and heroine, plus dark, disturbing serial murderers. Sometimes there’s sex on that end just like in some videos from websites similar to teentuber, too—but not the romance variety. I go deep into my villain’s head because if I don’t know or understand why he (or she) is so evil, then my readers aren’t going to know. I’ve been very proud and honored by the tag and try to live up to it each and every book. Not sure that I’ve made it yet, but I’m still working hard.

A friend of mine wrote an article at Romancing the Blog about why she doesn’t like to read dark and scary. Too many bad things going on in the world, she doesn’t need the realism in her fiction. There are many readers like her out there. Fortunately for me, not everyone shuns violence in their entertainment. But her comments got me thinking.

In Shakespeare’s time there were tragedies and comedies. Today is no exception. Some argue that the proliferation of sex in movies, TV, books and online adult sites like sex free hd xxx and more is leading to a warped sense of romance and marriage. Some argue that the steady diet of violence in entertainment is causing more violence today. I disagree.

AE There’s a bunch of crap out there, but it doesn’t have to do with the quantity of sex or violence in the projects. Sex and violence goes back thousands and thousands of years. Whether you consider the Bible literature or truth, we all agree it was written long ago. Sex and violence was part of the culture as it is now. Wasn’t the serpent simply a seductive con artist convincing Eve to take something she’d been forbidden to have? Didn’t Cain slay his brother out of jealousy and cold rage?

I’d argue that romance in fiction validates our universal need to make a life-long connection with someone who loves us unconditionally. When love goes right, it truly makes the world go round. When it goes wrong . . . well, there’s a different story in there.

In addition, violence has been part of our society since the beginning. Societies watched as people were torn apart by lions and gladiators fought to the death, a far more gruesome visual than anything I could come up with in my mind. Public hangings were well-attended and celebrated by men, women and children. And beheadings? They give me the shivers.

serial-killer In Harold Schechter’s THE SERIAL KILLER FILES, he writes about the history of serial murder:

“The harsh fact is that we belong to a violent species, the kinds of outrages committed by serial killers have been an aspect of human society at all times in all places. As the Bible says, ‘There is no new thing under the sun’ – and that applies to sadistic murder as much as to anything else.

“Indeed, recent scientific evidence suggests that a taste for savage cruelty is encoded in our DNA, an evolutionary inheritance from our earliest primate ancestors.”

One story that has intrigued me since I read it in Schechter’s book is one of the first known and documented serial killers in America—the Harp cousins. They fought for the British—though apparently “their motives had less to do with politics than with the opportunities for rape, pillage, and murder that the conflict afforded them.” They ended up deserting, kidnapping a couple women, and moving to Tennessee—where they raided farms, robbed travelers, and tortured and killed for pleasure and profit.

In today’s books, violence is a way to exorcize our fears as much as to be scared. I explore violent themes, but in the end justice is always served—unlike in real life when bad people sometimes get away with atrocities. Okay, not true to life . . . but when I read I want to be scared. I want to turn pages rapidly, fearing for the survival of the protagonists, hoping for the demise of the villain. But in the end I want justice. It may not be pretty and wrapped in a pink bow, but it’s has to be present.

killing-fearIn the midst of all the violence, why not show the opposite? Love? Romance? Sex? The women at The internets greatest XXX tube fuckedtube xxx do and have a great time because of it. A well-placed love scene adds emotional depth and hope to an otherwise dark story. Without the human connection that we all share, and that most of us have experienced, we only see the bad and not the good, not the potential, not the reason for fighting evil. When you’re fighting evil to protect those you love, the stakes are higher and the happily-ever-after sweeter.

I read broadly, light and dark, funny and serious. There’s a place for all tones and themes in fiction. But I’ll admit, I’m drawn first to the dark and dangerous, exploring the question of who and why? Who kills and why do they do it? Who wants to stop them and why are they dedicated? What demons do they struggle with? And, is there a place in their hearts and lives to share with someone else?

tempting-evil What do you like? Light, dark, anything in between? Are there places you refuse to go in fiction, as a writer or a reader? Do you like a little romance with your thriller, or do you prefer to keep all sex off page? Does it even matter? Inquiring minds want to know . . .

And because I have a new book out this week, I thought y’all might be interested in my new book trailer.

Comment (on anything!) by midnight tonight for a chance to win the first two books in my Prison Break Trilogy, Killing Fear and Tempting Evil.

Note: Future Sunday guest bloggers will be:

Oct 10, Camille Minichino
Oct 26, Chris Roerden
Nov 2, Carla Neggers


John Ramsey Miller

Writers are thieves, always on the lookout for something to steal and store away until we can use it later. That which we take from others we will use to our own ends. The theft can be as small as a word or it may be the way a phrase is spun and may well pass the ears of others nearby without notice. Or we may hear a story somewhere, or a piece of a story that goes to some larger picture of less interest to but fits into something we have been working on like a single screw that completes a motor we’ve been tinkering with over time, but can’t get to run because of that missing piece. The talent of the thief is in using the pilfered article to make a story work like a well-tuned engine.

Once I was looking for something a character could say to another character that would completely negate their recent history, and allow one character to trust the other with his and the lives of others after she had seemingly betrayed him and he thought she would get them killed due to an alliance with the bad guys the he character was well aware of. I wracked my brain for hours looking for that one thing, and came up blank. When I told my wife what the problem was she gave me (without any effort at all) a single line that made it all fall into place, and broke through to him. It was all I could do not to cry as I typed the line, and it worked and made the scene make perfect sense immediately.

We steal descriptions of people for our characters. We steal the words from living people’s mouths. We steal feelings that others have. We steal the names of pets, the pets themselves. We steal experiences others have, we steal their lives piecemeal, picking through their histories to give to others we are creating from scratch. We build puzzles using pieces that we alter to fit people and situations, to make imagined lives real to our readers.

We steal for the greater good. We are constantly weaving the experiences and lives of the innocent into fictional stories, and we alter things so the authors of the true experiences they’ve lived or words they have spoken may not be recognizable to them as their own. If they do, they are almost always flattered to see their words or lives on a printed page, even after you’ve twisted them into shape to suit your purpose.

We write what we know, and we know what we experience and that which we don’t experience is ours as soon as we hear it or see it. I learned more that became useful in my writing from traveling around the country meeting people from all walks of life than I ever did in school, and every day I’m looking around and talking to people and absorbing small parts that I will steal and slip into the engines I am building that hopefully will purr to life.

Another Travel Story

By John Gilstrap

I’d prepared a writing-oriented entry for this week, but as I was about to post it, I had second thoughts. I don’t know, it just didn’t feel fully formed. Maybe next week.

In the meantime, There’s space to be filled, and I thought I’d share one of the funniest airplane incidents that’s ever happened to me (and I travel a lot). This one happened this past Monday as I was settling into my seat for a flight from Washington Dulles to San Francisco.

I was in Row 9F of a 767 on this United Airlines flight–an exit row seat, which means that you have to assure the flight attendant that yes, I’d be delighted to hang around the burning airplane and help other passengers jump to safety. (I’m assuming that yelling words of encouragement from 300 yards away is essentially the same thing. “Remember! Stop, drop and roll!”)

Anyway, I convinced the flight attendant that I was appropriately selfless, and she wandered up to the first class section to do whatever she needed to do. Fast forward a couple of minutes and a different flight attendant wandered into the emergency exit space with a United Airlines mechanic in tow. “Look at that window!” she scolded, pointing angrily at the little porthole in the emergency exit door. “It’s completely fogged over. We can’t possibly take off with visibility blocked like that.”

Note for the record: No one seemed remotely concerned that the window next to my seat was equally fogged over, even though I bet there’d be a way better view of the blazing crash site through my window than hers. Of course, if it came to that, she’d be able to glance through the big open door to see me scampering away.

Anyway, the maintenance guy rolled his eyes and said, “Fine,” and he excuse-me’d his way to the eixt door, lifted the handle and opened it. Then he leaned out and wiped away the condensation with a napkin. “Happy?” he asked.

That was the moment when the first flight attendant came tearing down the aisle from first class hollering, “No! No! No!” Her face was lit with a comical mix of anger and panic. When we made eye contact, though, she started to laugh.

She’d thought I was practicing my exit row duties.

My Ghost Story

by Michelle Gagnon

I know, I know…it’s a little early for Halloween material, but what the hey, it is my favorite holiday so I’m starting the celebration early. I kicked things off this past weekend when our local Sisters in Crime chapter took the “Official San Francisco Chinatown Ghost Tour.” I’ll describe that experience in more detail next week, suffice it to say it was well worth the money if for no other reason than I learned the true origins of the terms “hooker” and “Shanghaied.”

We opened the evening sitting around the lounge of a deserted Chinese restaurant sharing ghost stories, something I haven’t done since Girl Scout campfire time. So today I’m going to offer my best contribution to the genre. It’s been a long time since I thought of this incident, years, in fact. But it still makes a chill go down my spine…

People often ask why my books are set in New England when I’ve spent the past decade in the more temperate climes of the Bay Area. Initially it wasn’t a conscious decision, but when forced to reflect back on it I can safely say that for me, New England is just plain spooky. You get a sense of a past there that doesn’t exist in land of split-level ranch-houses and shopping malls. Add to that the fact that I grew up in a two hundred year-old renovated farm house with a ramshackle barn on the property that could easily have passed for the set of a horror film, and you’ll get some insight into my psyche.

In that barn, from the day we moved in until my parents finally left twenty-some odd years later, there was an aged, yellowing calendar on the wall. Since July 1952, no one had torn off a month. We bought the house from an elderly woman who had literally spent her entire life there, and had finally decided to move to a smaller, more manageable house.

Eleanor Cockrell told us that her father, a furniture maker by trade, had died suddenly of a heart attack in that barn mid-July, 1952. Apparently it never occurred to anyone to remove the calendar, or any of the spooky pieces of broken furniture scattered throughout. You would think that as a kid, having a barn like that to play in would have been a treat. Truth is, we barely went in the place. There was just something about it, an undeniable dark energy there.

Not that the rest of the house was any less spooky. I started suffering from insomnia when I was twelve years-old, and was therefore treated to years’ worth of odd late night bumps, creaks, and groans. Footsteps, where there shouldn’t have been any. If I closed the closet door in my bedroom all the way, at some point, maybe a minute later, maybe an hour, it crashed open again with a resounding “thump.”

“It’s an old house,” my parents would say, rolling their eyes. “Just wood settling.”

Strange things happened periodically, lights left on in rooms no one had been in, strange buzzing sounds bouncing around the house in such a way that even my parents were at a loss for an explanation.

But this one event I believe is indisputable. It was right before my parents were due to move out, and I was back home with a boyfriend clearing out years worth of old report cards and movie stubs (yes, I am a pack rat). Most of these treasured items were stored under the eaves in our attic. The Cockrells apparently hadn’t used the attic much in the winter, and Henry had built a large panel that could close off the staircase so only the bottom two floors would have to be heated. For the twenty odd years that we lived in that house, that panel had never been closed, not once. It wasn’t locked, but was almost too heavy to move, so we never worried about it.

It was one of those roasting hot, humid July afternoons that New England specializes in. My boyfriend and I were filthy from crawling around in the accumulated dust and dirt, dripping sweat thanks to the 100+ degree temperatures. As we headed downstairs to take a break, he muttered under his breath that this was the crappiest house he’d ever been in, and he couldn’t wait to leave.

That’s when it happened. Out of nowhere, the panel that hadn’t moved for decades slammed down on his head, sending him tumbling down the stairs and nearly knocking him unconscious. Hard to say if it was Henry taking offense, or another resident—I always suspected we had more than one of them rattling around, it was after all a very large, very old house. My boyfriend survived, but refused to return to the attic. And needless to say, that relationship didn’t work out in the end. Maybe Henry knew best, after all.

I love a good ghost story, so if you’ve got one to share, let’s hear it…

Geek genes vs. Levi jeans

By Joe Moore

I consider myself to be tech savvy—maybe more so than the average PC user. I believe I have geek genes. My wife has Levi jeans. She is always calling me into her office to say that there’s something wrong with her PC and could I fix it. It’s usually the result of pilot error.

I wasn’t born with a geek gene. I believe I got it while in close proximity to someone who was born with it: my son. I remember TRS-80 when he passed it on to me. Many years ago, he came home from school one day with a Radio Shack TRS-80. He had traded a friend an old CB radio for it. The TRS used a TV for a monitor and had a paltry 16k of RAM. No hard drive. Storage was on an external 5.25” floppy disk or an audio cassette tape. Within a week, I got my hands on a basic word processing module and was using the computer more than my son. I wrote lots of stories with it as I dreamed of becoming a novelist.

commodor64 Being an official geek at that point, I soon grew tired of the TRS-80 and moved up to the highly advanced Commodore 64. Same external storage but a whopping 64k of RAM. Now we were getting somewhere. I found a better word processor program and kept writing more stuff. My first novel was years away, but I was on a roll.

Somewhere along the line, I learned how to use an Apple Macintosh. Built-in floppy storage and a massive 128k of RAM. I could feel the power.

applemacintoshThen I purchased a dedicated word processing device made by Magnavox called a VideoWriter. It was a computer, printer and monitor built into one unit. I wrote my first book using it–an action adventure novel set in Cuba and South Florida.

My first real, bigboy computer was a 286 made by Emerson. It had 4MB of RAM and a 40MB hard drive. Today, you can find toys in a McDonalds Happy Meal with more memory than my Emerson.

Next came a Micron which I used for many years followed by my trusty Dell 8100 which lasted 7 years. Along the way, I replaced its RAM, hard drives, fans, optical drives–just about everything but the motherboard.

xps-630Which brings us to my latest: a new Dell XPS 630. It’s considered an extreme gaming machine. I don’t play PC video games but I do a lot of graphics design and my old Dell just couldn’t keep up with the heavy lifting needed for the newest CS3 versions of PhotoShop and InDesign. My new machine has an Intel Quad-core processor, 4 Gig of RAM, 6 fans, and a terabyte of storage. When I turn it on, it’s like the scene from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation where the city power grid dims.

Does having geek genes help me write better novels? Probably not. But when you’re a geek, it doesn’t really matter. All that does matter is staying on the “bleeding edge” of technology.

So whatever happed to my son who gave me the geek gene? He went on to become a federal agent for the Department of Defense. His specialty: computer forensics.

Which do you have: geek genes or Levi jeans? What was your journey like along the techno highway to get to your current computer? And the most important question of all: Are you a MAC or a PC?

Writers who do way too much

Note: Sorry for missing my posting day last week. For the explanation, see Phase Three, below.

Everywhere I go, I hear it: Authors are cutting back on book promotion.

At conferences and on blogs, I hear published writers announcing that they are “scaling down” the time and dollars they spend flogging their books. They’re chopping their advertising budgets, attending fewer conferences, and abandoning blogs. In extreme cases, they’re even turning down contracts for new books—which guarantees that you won’t have to do any promotion.

In a world where most authors get little promotion budget from their publishers, some writers who previously spent tons of time “getting the word out” about their books are becoming more like Greta Garbo. They vant to be alone. Alone, in the company of their word processor.

I call this process the Quitclaim Syndrome. The syndrome usually progress in the following phases:

Phase One: Writer gets published, then spends first year in a giddy travel/networking/book signing spree.

Phase Two: Writer spends so much time promoting Book One that s/he risks falling behind schedule on producing Book Two, but manages to make the deadline by dint of superhuman effort. By now, Writer has spent more money on promotion than the combined advances for all the books, which haven’t even been paid out yet. Royalties are hiding somewhere in a La-La land called FutureWorld.

Phase Three: Writer begins to experience the physical tics of over-multitasking: chronic fatigue, self-medication therapies gone wrong, and desk rage, if she has a day job. Medical intervention may be required. Writer is so exhausted that she plans the promotion of Book Two with a more realistic—even jaundiced—eye. Kind of the way a guy regards the prospect of paying for a fourth or fifth failed date in a row. What’s this worth to me? he asks himself. For way less money, I could have more fun sitting at home on the couch with a beer and a copy of Debbie Does Dallas.

Phase Four: Writer reaches a fork in the road. To continue breathless promotion efforts, or not? Whereupon Writer either A) keeps promoting herself, but not nearly so breathlessly, or B) stops most promotion efforts except for the bare necessities.

Phase Five: Writer returns to more isolated, less frenzied writing schedule, and greater productivity.

Is anyone else seeing this as a trend? Is frenzied book promotion just not worth the effort as much anymore, because the costs are too high and there’s not enough payoff in terms of book sales? Does the whole thing interfere too much with the time it takes to write?

Why I Never Read Nancy Drew or The Power of Enid

By Clare Langley-Hawthorne

Perhaps Michelle’s blog post last week has put me in a confessional mood but I feel I ought to admit that I have never read a Nancy Drew book or a Hardy Boys’ mystery. Not one. Not ever. And you know what – I’m not going to either. Sure when I’m on a panel discussion I sometimes I feel a wee bit embarrassed by this perceived lack of education but to be honest, I don’t really care. I’m Australian. My parents are British. We read Enid Blyton. Deal with it.

But then of course I get the blank stares – who the hell is Enid Blyton? So I think it’s about time to celebrate the power of Enid.

Even when I started reading her books in the late 1970’s she was old fashioned – full of bizarre references to Tongue sandwiches, anchovy paste, macaroons and orangeade. I had little idea what these were and I certainly never had midnight feasts at boarding school or discovered German spies on an offshore island – but still I was hooked.

The Famous five were early favorites: Julian, Dick, George (the tomboy), Anne and Timothy the Dog – constantly finding themselves in trouble with gypsies, circus folk, mad scientists and smugglers. I was never very keen on the Secret Seven – they were ‘dags’ (Australian for nerds). My other favorites, however, included the ‘Secret Series’ (such as The Secret of Spiggy Holes and The Secret of Killmooin) and The ‘Mystery series’ (such as The Ring O’Bells Mystery, The Rubadub Mystery). But my all time favorite was the ‘Adventure’ series – The Island of Adventure, the Castle of Adventure, The River of Adventure – you get the picture. Enid was never what you’d call innovative with her titles.

What was the enduring power of these books? I think the Harry Potter phenomenon captures something very similar – the ‘derring-do’ of the British child. I’d even go as far to call it an archetype – and I fell for it hard. How I wanted to go for holidays in a horse drawn caravan and encounter circus folk, or have famous aviator parents who flew you to mythical lands. Why couldn’t I get mumps and recuperate in an English village full of mysteries? Why wasn’t I allowed to sail to my own secret island?!

Believe it or not I think kids are still reading Enid Blyton – despite the fact that they are a product of a bygone era in which racial stereotypes and British imperialism is rampant. Despite all this, however, I’m happy to stand proud by Enid – and I bet that George (really gender confused Georgina) and Timmy the dog would whip Nancy Drew’s butt any day of the week.

The Blank Page––Make That The Blank Screen

By John Ramsey Miller

I have never had writer’s block. I have had my share of fits of laziness, but I can always sit down at my computer and knock out a chapter or three. I credit my time, in the late eighties, that I spent as an advertising copywriter with Hoffman/ Miller Advertising. Each day I would sit at a typewriter––an IBM Selectric first, and later an Apple Lisa–– and I would knock words out in short or long lines. I knew I wasn’t writing The Catcher In The Rye, but I took what I was doing seriously because I knew that companies and their employees depended on what I did to communicate what they offered, and that they depended on my judgment and creativity to grow their sales.

In those days, in a booming New Orleans, I would work on several accounts every day, so my mind was constantly changing gears between real estate, to jewelry, Italian clothing, oil & gas, tank storage farms, banking, foods, hot tubs, parking decks, mayonnaise, coffee & tea, chemicals, hospitals, restaurants, and other private, retail and wholesale clients whose needs varied. I wrote or directed to be written, brochures, catch lines, jingles, TV and radio spots, body copy and point of sale ads. There were always deadlines that couldn’t be missed no matter what else was going on, and we never missed one, although our suppliers did on occasion.

Most importantly, I learned to take rejection, and never to take it personally, and to get on to the next thing with enthusiasm and a clear head. We were a young agency and we often went up against other larger agencies and often we lost out, not based on our creative solutions, but because other larger agencies were seen as “safer”. We rarely had the advantage, but we often won with our creative approaches.

We’d begin campaigns by asking ourselves questions about what the client’s target customer was going to stop and look at, and what they might act on or would likely pass over. I was fortunate that I had a partner, Nathan Hoffman, who was and had a remarkable work ethic, and we didn’t care who came up with or got the credit for an idea that made sense.

I learned to take criticism of my ideas and copy and to make changes based on what other people who knew thought without feeling offended or slighted. If you don’t have a thick skin you can’t be successful in advertising or writing commercial fiction. Once we sold a new logo and accompanying campaign to a CEO of a large company, but before we left, he asked the cleaning lady who was emptying his trash can which one she liked, and she picked the old one and said she hated the one we’d agreed on because she “didn’t get it.” Even though she was accustomed to the old one because she knew it, she planted a bad seed in his mind and shook his confidence in the new logo. He had a point since a logo had to make sense to everyone and might be too radical a change too fast and leave some old customers baffled. We ended up doing an updated variation of the old logo, and nobody was lost in the shuffle. Once we had to throw out a campaign that was unfolding over several months because the client’s wife had a friend she trusted who was “bored” with the campaign and thought it ought to be more exciting. Explaining numbers of impressions needed over time to establish the client’s products was a waste of time. The client ate the expense of starting a new more exciting campaign because, and I quote, “I have to sleep with my wife.” All we could was what the client asked for.

I had one client, David Rubenstein, whose Rubenstein Bros. clothing stores told me. “John, you can agree with my ideas and do what I think is best against your better judgment, which is what I am paying you for, but if it fails, I’ll blame you. If you disagree, just say so, and if I go against your suggestions, I’ll take the blame.” Clients as perfect as David Rubenstein were indeed rare, but treasured by our agency.

So I think back on those days and what I learned, and realize that it helped me become the writer I am. I am easy to work with because I understand that it’s the end product that counts. Although I have a lot of control of my stories, I always listen to my agent and my editor because they know more than I do, and I am always ready to make whatever changes they feel will improve my work. And, you know, so far they have always been right.

When I am called upon to give advice to new authors, I can only go back to what worked for me, and most of it all goes back to those days when I was filling blank pages without knowing there was such a thing as writer’s block.