The best (worst) rejection letters

All writers experience rejection. Most published authors get turned down by numerous agents and editors on the road to publication. Learning to deal with “No” is part of the writing process—I’d even say it’s an important part. You have to be able to handle rejection to stick with writing long enough to get anywhere.

But no matter how you rationalize it, being rejected feels like crap. So whenever we get the dreaded “Not for us” email or letter in the mailbox, it can be comforting to recall the rejection-war stories of other writers:

In his book On Writing, Stephen King describes the wad of rejection notes he had stuck on a spike in his bedroom, and the encouragement he felt when he finally got one that said something along the lines of, “Not for us, kid, but try again—you’ve got talent.”

NPR’s Liane Hansen did a story that told the story of how soon-to-be famous writers, including Jack Kerouac and George Orwell, were rejected by the publisher Alfred A. Knopf. Possibly the best of the lot was the one that rejected Kerouac’s On the Road, in which an editor reportedly stated, “I don’t dig this one at all.”

My most memorable rejection came from an agent who had requested to read my manuscript on an exclusive basis. (My advice? Never give an agent an exclusive. It’s a better deal for the agent than the writer.) After keeping me in suspense for a long while, she eventually sent me an email along the lines of, “Dear Kathryn: I really wanted to like this story. But I just didn’t like the character; I didn’t like the story; I didn’t like the voice. In fact, I just didn’t like anything at all about it.” Ouch. Fortunately, the next agent who read the manuscript loved the story, agreed to represent me, and quickly got me a series contract.

What about you? What’s been your best/worst rejection letter thus far?

How many books can you write in one year?

By Clare Langley-Hawthorne

I just read an article about Nora Roberts in The New Yorker (a couple of weeks back I fear – I can never keep up!) and my jaw dropped when I read that she publishes five novels in a typical year: two installments of a PBO trilogy; two J.D. Robb books; and, each summer, a hardcover stand-alone romance novel (otherwise known as a “Big Nora”). She estimates that it takes, on average, 45 days to write a novel. When I read that I thought – what they hell have I been doing with my time?! I’ve just finished my draft of Unlikely Traitors (which we can only hope in this publishing climate will get to see the light of day!) which brings my tally, after Lady Coppers was finished a few weeks ago, to two books. Yep, just two in on year. So I thought hey, it’s only June so how many more books can I write before December??

I haven’t got a cat in hell’s chance of meeting Nora Roberts’ book tally but I am hoping to write another book this year as well as a few proposals. Why? Because I feel in this economic climate I have to write, write and write – just because things are so uncertain. I think it’s very necessary (for me at least) to spread my genre-wings and fly. My plan at this stage is to write a young adult book and start a historical novel set in the mid 19th century – I also want to write a proposal (or two) for a romance novel. Panic is a wonderful motivator…

I think that Nora Roberts is phenomenal – she treats her job as a profession – one in which she respects her readers and fulfils her obligations. I am also in awe of her productivity. Not every writer can meet her level of output – nor should they. Writing is a solitary art and producing a novel is something that can take months to years to accomplish. When I finished the article, however, it made me think about expectations – my own as well as the expectations of readers and publishers. I think a fine balance has to be struck between quality and quantity but I also think that in the current publishing climate publishers aren’t often willing to invest or maintain their authors (just look at how many great mystery writers have had their series dropped) so many writers have to churn out a considerable chunk of work just to keep in the game (even if it means that many manuscripts go unpublished). For me I am seriously evaluating both my productivity as well as the breadth of my work – it’s a survival mechanism necessary if I’m going to succeed in maintaining a writing career.

But I wonder- do popular writers necessarily sacrifice quality for quantity? Is there really ever ‘over exposure’ for a bestselling writer? And for those of us who aren’t quite at Nora Roberts’ level yet, what’s the best strategy for dealing with the current climate (apart, of course from writing the best damn books we can?!)

For me it’s all about one word – perseverance.

If Nora Roberts can do it, so can I.

The Soundtrack of Suspense: How Music Influences My Words

Our guest today is best-selling author Robert Liparulo, a former journalist with over a thousand articles and multiple writing awards to his name. His novels include COMES A HORSEMAN, GERM, DEADFALL, and this year’s DEADLOCK, as well as the young adult series, DREAMHOUSE KINGS (the latest of which is TIMESCAPE, releases July 7). He is currently writing, simultaneously, an original screenplay and novel, with the director Andrew Davis (THE FUGITIVE, THE GUARDIAN).

By Robert Liparulo

Liparulo Pace. Rhythm. Tension. It’s no coincidence these terms describe both stories and music. In fact, for me, music has always helped me create stories. When someone mentions a favorite scene from one of my novels, more often than not, I immediately remember the music that was playing in my headphones when I wrote it: Olaf’s attack on Brady and his son in Comes a Horseman (“Elk Hunt” from Last of the Mohicans); Stephen’s confrontation with the killer Atropos in Germ (“The Battle” from Gladiator); Hutch’s apprehensive readiness to rise from charred ground and fight at the end of Deadfall (“Death is the Road to Awe” from The Fountain). Music gets me in the mind-set to write specific scenes—its rhythm reminds me of the pace I’m looking for as I work to find just the right words; its mood holds me in a sort of suspended animation within the scene, regardless of outside distractions or the time it takes to write it.

Years ago, as movie critic, I’d sometimes see films before they were finished, without a musical score. At one screening, the director stood in the aisle humming the music that would accompany each scene. That was more distracting than the film’s symphonic nakedness, but I understood the poor man’s panic over having his film seen that way: music can make or break a movie. It not only adds a rich layer of enjoyment to the viewing experience, it cues the audience to the filmmaker’s intentions—“OK, time to get scared” or “In case this guy’s mask made out of human skin isn’t enough to let you know, he’s the bad guy!” That’s why the tracks of musical score are called “cues.”

Timescape (I’ve dreamed of including a playlist—even the actual music in digital form—with my novels. Readers could then start a soundtrack with each chapter, heightening their experience of the story. Of course, individual reading speeds make that impractical; few things are worse than out-of-synch audio tracks. And, yes, I realize it’s part of the author’s job to create the same emotional response in readers that music does, using only words. Still, I sometimes imagine myself acting like that director: leaning over a reader’s shoulder, and at the right moment going, “Da-da-da!”)

It’s hard for me to experience a story, in any medium, without musical accompaniment—whether in my ears or my head.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve listened to music as I wrote—through years of writing magazine articles and intermittent screenplays. It started as a way of deadening the sounds of screaming kids, vacuum cleaners, and when I rented an outside office, the shouts coming from the divorce attorney’s office next door. Then I started writing novels, and the type of music I played suddenly mattered.

Faster tempos do help keep the pace up—if not within the story, then at least with how fast my fingers move over a keyboard; but then, volume helps with that as well. The louder, the better. More important than tempo is how a piece of music makes me feel. A cue that starts off slow and builds to a triumphant crescendo can carry me through a fast-paced action sequence as well as any nonstop, staccato rhythm. “Chevaliers de Sangreal” from The Da Vinci Code, for example: a hero’s theme if ever there was one.

Over time, I’ve built a library of music categorized by the mood it puts me in when I write. Take, for instance, Clint Mansell’s haunting music for Requiem for a Dream. Its cues seem to be teetering on the edge of something, without relief or execution. No wonder several of the titles have the word “Tense” in them. When I launch into a suspenseful scene, I’ll often queue up my Requiem playlist.

Here’s a specific example of a partial scene and the music I was listening to when I wrote it:

“With the speed and fluidity he had practiced a thousand times, Hutch drew back on the bowstring and released it, all in one, smooth two-second motion. He held still for another beat to make sure the arrow cleared the bow. Then he dropped his right arm to a second arrow rising from the ground beside him. His bow arm never moved. His head never moved. His eyes never came off of Bad. As the arrow sliced a groove through Bad’s skin at the temple, Hutch was already nocking the next arrow.”

Most likely, Quentin Tarantino would go with something fast and exotic, like NEU!’s “Super 16” from Kill Bill. Because the scene is a mix of suspense and action, I powered up “Betrayal” from Enemy at the Gates—from the scene in which they discover a young boy murdered and hanging from a crane. It’s emotive and heart-wrenching, and prior to the “discovery” almost painful in its anticipation.

My writing-music of choice is almost always film scores. It seems to me that movie moguls are the benefactors of today’s great composers, Hollywood the new Vienna. I also like that the structure of a good story—with its cycle of tension and relief, despair and triumph—forces a wide variation in music within one recording. I used to think the strong bond between a movie’s images and its music would cause me to think only of those images while listening to the score—Russell Crowe plucking his violin in Master and Commander. However, I’ve found that the spirit of the music takes over and I can claim it for my own. That’s why filmmakers often listen to other movies’ scores while on set. They’re not trying to imitate another movie’s scene; they’re letting the music help them get in the mood for their own scene. The director Ridley Scott is known for doing this.

Thankfully, most movie scores don’t have lyrics. I’m too much of a word geek to write with lyrics pounding into my eardrums: I’m always trying to listen to them. Every now and then, however, a song with lyrics is perfect for getting me into the groove of a scene (though usually it’s something in its rhythm, tempo or melody, rarely its words that attracts me to it). When that happens, I play it over and over until my mind stops Deadlock trying to catch every word and hears the vocals as it does any other instrument. Felix da Housecat’s remix of Nina Simone’s “Sinnerman” comes to mind; I listened to it while writing the scene that introduced Brendan Page, my latest novel Deadlock’s villain, a true sinnerman with a penchant for “cool,” which the song captures.

It’s all about what works for the individual writer. When writing action scenes, Meg Gardiner (The Memory Collector) says Gladiator, The Day After Tomorrow, Jarhead and 300 “get me in a fightin’ mood.” David Dun says he listened to “the womb-like sounds of a whirlpool hot tub with all the jets running” while writing The Black Silent. Whatever works.

When I write to music, it does more than nudged me into a specific pace or help me with atmosphere. It reminds me of quality, that musical notes, played on varied instruments in a specific order and speed can touch people in ways that are mysterious and wonderful. It can lift heavy spirits and wring tears from long-dry eyes. It can unsettle sad memories and tickle a laugh out of you when you need it most. It stirs the listener and paints unimaginably vivid pictures—exactly the things I want my words to do, as well.

Do you listen to music while you write? What are your favorite tunes?


Watch for Sunday guest blogs from Julie Kramer, Anne Hawkins, and Grant Blackwood. And coming July 26. James Scott Bell joins the Kill Zone as our new fulltime Sunday blogger.

54% of the People Who Read This Have Nothing Better To Do. 42% Percent Will Be Sorry They Took Time To Read It. 4% Percent Can’t Read.

By John Ramsey Miller

Statisticians are working overtime to furnish us with statistics. The world runs on numbers and those numbers types are never going to slow down. As long as things happen, they will continue to crunch and spout. Long after we tire of listening to the results of their crunchings, they will be sitting in cubicles around the world comforted by their calculations. Even if they have to re-crunch old numbers and regurgitate them. And the numbers are always changing even as society changes.

In my world, Yahoo is the largest publisher of insipid crunchings. The top ten anything you want to know about will appear there on the home page along with the most frightening news available, the cutest animals, or just plain boring celebrity news they can accumulate. Want to know the top ten worst-smelling cities on earth? The top ten friendliest hell holes, The cutest kitten’s top ten favorite planets? How many dogs just like Obama’s people will be sell to people who want to be just like the President, but without the ears. The top ten best smelling decaying objects? It’s all there because somebody thinks we want to read the lists in order to improve our lives. They’ll never give you the names of the stat-crunchers until they want to list the top-ten-most-beaten-up statisticians in the United States. I’ve had way too much of this endless top tenning. It’s time for about 90% of statisticians to be in the unemployment lines.

Here’s another one that has stuck in my mind for eight point three percent of my adult life. A few years ago some scientists somewhere announced that fully ten percent of the matter in the Universe was unaccounted for. I still can’t wrap my mind around that one. How many scientists did it take to go out and weigh the mass of the Universe, to count the atoms and decide that a full ten percent was simply gone? Maybe it’s in the pants pockets of God, like so much dryer lint. Or maybe he made Paris Hilton’s ego with it. I don’t know a lot about science, but I have a God-given bullshit meter that goes off several times a day. I guess the scientists who made that statement will eventually sober up, or they will discover which Black Holes have sucked up the missing matter. I didn’t take it and I don’t really care who did.

I guess everybody has a calling in life, but list compilers are called from the ranks of accountants and actuaries who want more excitement, some way to introduce creativity, into their dull, number-generating careers.

Okay, I’m being unfair to statisticians. Some people need the comfort of numbers to make decisions. Me, I just run blindly from one situation to another, flying by the seat of my pants. I’m an emotional creature and I don’t generally make sound decisions based in reality, or on numbers. My wife will attest to this seventy percent of the time.

My business partner and I once hired a full-time statistician for our ad agency. I can’t remember why. It was doomed from the start. Perhaps it is like the time we got loaded and bought a quarter dozen pythons for our reception area. Seemed like a good idea at the time. We often did things like that. I guess we hired him because we were trying to kill the party reputation created by the festive snakes our clients were greeted by. That boy flat bubbled over and lit up like white phosphorous when he had new numbers to present to us or to a client. Clients love numbers that show growth. They hate numbers that point to stagnation or a reversal in sales. A good statistician can make the numbers sing his tune. Instead of ninety-nine-point nine percent of the readers of the newspaper didn’t act on our ad. Our guy explained that one-point-one percent of the people who read the newspaper acted on our ad, so it was amazingly effective. Stats were made to be spun like a drunk square-dance girl. Okay spinning stats could explain why one day coffee drinking is good for you, and the next it will shorten your life.

The truth is that I have no pressing use for that missing matter, so I vote we stop funding scientists to look for it and ask them to do something more constructive with the 90% of matter we have. One thing’s for certain, if it was my matter, I’d never be able to find anything close to ninety percent of it at any given time. Right now, the top ten things I can’t find [to save my life] would include my cell phone, phone book, car keys, and my electric razor.

The Waiting Is Over

By John Gilstrap

All right, this is it. Next week, anticipation becomes reality as No Mercy hits bookstores everywhere. I submitted the manuscript last August and finished the final revision in November. Since then, there have been copy edits and galley proofs, but I haven’t touched a word of the story since February.

Next week, everybody gets to decide for themselves if the characters are interesting and the story exciting. I certainly think they are, as do my editor and agent, but we’ve had our vote. Now it’s all in readers’ hands; which is why, for me, this is the scariest time in a book’s life cycle—the point where potential and reality finally intersect. On any given day, a writer has precious little control over his own career; but at this stage, the powerlessness feels to be in higher relief.
I thought I’d dedicate my blog this week to a behind-the-scenes peek at our marketing/publicity preparations.
Here’s what No Mercy’s publisher (Pinnacle) has done for me: they designed a kick-ass cover; they printed and distributed a couple hundred gorgeous advance reader’s copies (ARCs); they negotiated really strong sell-ins at the major big-box stores, as well as with distributors for the likes of Wal-Mart and your local grocery store. The book should have a big presence in airports, too. At ThrillerFest next month in New York City, No Mercy will be featured as a bag stuffer for a couple hundred attendees.
Here’s what I’ve done on my own nickel to market the book: I’ve bought advertising on well-visited blog sites that will bring 4 million views over two weeks; I’ve updated my website to be something worth visiting (; I’ve hired a publicist who will get me on lots of local radio and television shows, plus she’s snagged me a few bookstore signings. (For details, please check the “Events” page on the aforementioned website.)
In July, I’ll be on the faculty of the Midwest Writers Conference at Ball State University. As the writers conference schedule heats up again in the fall, I’ll be making appearances everywhere—all of it to sell a book that I haven’t touched in months. All of it as I put the (not-so) finishing touches on my next book, which I’m supposed to deliver to my publisher in August so I can begin the cycle all over again.
On the one hand, it’s all very exciting; but as one who’s walked this walk a few times already, I know that none of it matters unless all of the promotion and marketing combine with the X-Factor that creates “buzz” about a book.
Buzz is what happens when book lovers start talking about a title among themselves. I’ve published to Big Buzz in the past, and I’ve published to silence. I could guess at what makes the difference, but I’d probably be wrong. Buzz hides in the cracks between the cushions of all the things over which I have no control.
Another factor of nervousness to throw into the mix is the fact that No Mercy is my first paperback original (PBO). The rules are all different for PBOs, or so I’m told. At $6.99 a pop, they’re considered to be an impulse buy, as opposed to a hardcover, which is a more targeted buy. The theory in my case is that people will be far more apt to try out a new series character for 7 bucks than they would be for $25. We’ll see.
Lord yes, we’ll see.
Now, just this once, in light of the Big Event, please forgive me for . . .
No Mercy is the first book in a new series starring freelance hostage rescue specialist Jonathan Grave.
When a loved one is taken, you just want them back safely. You don’t care about gathering evidence for a future trial, or about Miranda warnings or search warrants. You just want them brought home. That’s why you call Jonathan Grave.
In No Mercy, when Jonathan’s meticulous plan to rescue an Indiana college student explodes into a deadly shooting spree, the local authorities are out for blood—and they’re not alone. Someone wants to control a devastating secret . . . someone willing to capture, torture and kill anyone to keep it. Even the people Jonathan loves most.
Wish me luck! We now return you to your regularly scheduled Kill Zone.

IKEA: A Veritable Treasure Trove of Titles

by Michelle Gagnon

So I’m moving this week, which means that this post will be brief- as I type, I’m also packing boxes one-handed (I’m considering adding that newly acquired talent to my official resume).images

It also means that I’ve been spending an inordinate amount of time at stores that I have a love/hate relationship with, like Home Depot, Bed Bath and Beyond, and…yes…IKEA.

While wandering the aisles the other day, lost once again in “Home Organizing” and unable to find the exit, I was struck as always by the product names. Where other than IKEA can you purchase a Godmorgan, and at such a reasonable price?

So I propose that today’s post be more of a writing exercise. I’ll provide the names of IKEA items, you provide a brief summary of what a book entitled that might be about. Here are some examples to get you started:

  • FLORT: A hilarious coming of age story about a high school girl with an odd affliction, and how it impacts the boys she develops crushes on.

  • MANSTAD: Based on the true story of a Crimean War prison break, and the men that history forgot.

  • KORT: An eye-opening and heartrending look at the American judicial system, as viewed by today’s hottest slam poets.

I’ve listed some options below to get you started, but feel free to choose any item from the IKEA product line for inspiration.




I can’t wait to see what everyone comes up with. In fact, I’ll send the best entry their very own Flort- how’s that for incentive?

A boy and a dog

By Joe Moore

boy-dog I got an email the other day from a beginning writer who was working on her first book. She had read some of my novels and enjoyed them, and she asked if I had any advice on helping her strengthen her writing. I could have given her many answers to that question including creating an outline, researching carefully, developing strong characters, accuracy, compelling plot, etc. But what I decided to tell her was that the best way to strengthen her writing was to choose the right words.

I know that may sound almost too basic. After all, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the right words in the right order can make for good writing. But I suggested that once she completed her first draft and started the rewriting process, she spend time considering if she needed an alternative to her action and descriptive words. I’m not advocating a thesaurus-intensive approach to writing, just a conscious effort to consider if there’s a better, stronger, more visual alternative to power and descriptive words.

If you strip away all the words that you can’t change such as proper nouns, character’s names, conjunctions, prepositions, and other necessary parts of speech, what’s left are words that the writer can consider changing to strengthen the story.

And here lies the true craft of storytelling: choosing the right word.

Mark Twain once said, “The difference between the almost right word and the right word is like the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”

Choosing the right word helps create a stronger visual image in the reader’s mind that should closely resemble the image in the writer’s mind. And the closer those two visions synchronize, the more intimate, meaningful and thrilling the experience can be for the reader. The first words to fall target for change are descriptive words.

Here’s a short exercise in choosing the right descriptive words. It’s a one-sentence story I call A Boy and A Dog. As the writer, I see the action clearly in my mind, but do you see the same scene?

The dog ran toward the boy.

Pretty simple, right? Do you have a clear image of the dog? The boy? Do you see what’s happening with the action? Maybe, but there’s a great deal of room for interpretation. Our collective visions are not synchronized because the descriptive words—dog, ran, boy–are vague and general. Let’s try again.

The big dog ran toward the small boy.

Any better? Do you see the same dog and boy in your mind that I do? Are we talking about a poodle or a collie? Boxer or Doberman? Does small mean that the boy is short or young? Let’s revise.

The big black dog ran toward the small frightened child.

OK, now we’re using some better descriptive words. Are you starting to get the same picture in your mind that I am? Can you see the big black dog? Is it the same dog and child I envision as I write the story?

OK, let’s get serious about using descriptive words.

The pit bull charged the screaming toddler.


Watch for Sunday guest blogs from Robert Liparulo, Julie Kramer, Anne Hawkins, and Grant Blackwood. And coming July 26. James Scott Bell joins the Kill Zone as our new fulltime Sunday blogger.

Food – More Frightening Than Any Thriller

by Clare Langley-Hawthorne

I literally just got home from seeing this incredible documentary Food Inc, and am still shuddering over much of what I saw. I tell you some of the behind-the-food-you-eat politics, processes and industrial intrigue is enough to put any thriller to shame.

Although I was already a proponent of organic and local foods, this movie opened my eyes to the food production industry in a way that I never expected – It scared me. From contamination of our food sources to horrific conditions (for workers as well as animals) and the unconscionable practices of companies that perpetuate the dangers in our current food production system – this movie affected me as viscerally as any horror film would.

I wept for the mother of 2 1/2 -year-old Kevin who died after eating a hamburger contaminated with the E. coli strain O157:H7 and I was sickened by images of chickens who are artificially bred so that their limbs cannot sustain their own weight anymore. I honestly thought I would vomit after seeing images of how meat is processed in this country – not because I am squeamish, but because I was so outraged at the chemical treatments that are now needed to prevent contamination – contamination due to the fact that we now feed corn rather than grass to our cattle. Don’t even get me started on immigrant worker issues or the practices of companies such as Monsanto…because my outrage would just be stirred anew.

The greatest thing about this movie, however, was not just that it lifted the veil on the food production industry in America but that it also made me feel empowered to make the changes that will hopefully, one day, alter the system forever. As a writer I want to delve deeper into some of the stories behind the reports in this film – because truth seems stranger and more terrifying than any plot I could have concocted. As a mother, I can make a difference to my family each day and with every meal – and have vowed to become a ‘mindful eater’. I have no excuse now not to eat organic, local produce that is in season and which comes from companies who respect their workers, their animals as well as the environment. Pretty easy in California but the film recognizes that for many struggling families it is cheaper to buy a cheeseburger than a head of broccoli (what kind of crazy system lets that occur?!)

I tell you, after seeing this film, if I do write a dark noirish thriller, it won’t be called “The Firm” or “The Chamber” it will be called “The Farm”.

Collaborating with Cussler

Our guest today is New York Times bestselling author, Paul Kemprecos. Paul is the co-author with Clive Cussler of eight NUMA Files books. Before collaborating with Cussler, he had written six underwater private detective books set on Cape Cod. His first book won a Shamus Award for best original paperback. He and his wife live on Cape Cod

Kemprecos, Paul People often ask me about the nuts and bolts of my collaboration with Clive Cussler. I must admit I’m as mystified about the process as when we started writing the NUMA Files series around ten years ago at a time only a few fiction writers were working together. Clive still kids me about making the jump from a regional Cape Cod private eye to world-wide thriller-adventure novels but at the time it was a daunting proposition. And still is.

I decided from the first not try to be another Cussler. The Grandmaster of Adventure is several inches taller than I am, so there was no way I could fill his shoes. And we had differing backgrounds and styles of writing. I would simply write the best adventure story I could, keeping the tone–whatever that is–similar to that of the Pitt novels.

Clive sent me the bios of the NUMA Special Assignments Team and it was up to me to flesh them out as believable characters. Then we were off and running on the book that would become Serpent.

serpentWith a cast of characters in place, next there had to be a story line. Clive suggested having the lost continent of Atlantis found under Antarctic ice. I gathered some material and was digging through the pile when he called and said he was going to use his suggested story line in the Dirk Pitt novel that would become Atlantis Found. He had another idea: a conspiracy to keep secret contact with America that pre-dated Columbus. It was pretty sketchy, but I said I would see what I could do. I said I had been thinking of using the Andrea Doria sinking in one of my PI novels and thought that the collision with the Stockholm that led to the sinking of the Italian luxury liner might be a good way to start a NUMA File. The collision could have been a deliberate act I suggested. He thought that was a good idea and suggested that the ship was sunk to hide an object on board that would unravel the conspiracy. Start writing, he said.

I sat down with some books and a diagram of the Doria and the prologue turned out surprisingly well. Clive said it was great and told me to keep going. I knocked off another hundred pages. This time Clive called to say the second batch of pages I had sent kinda stunk. I agreed with him, and said I was badly in need of some guidance. A few weeks later I flew out to Scottsdale, Arizon where Cussler lives. I was convinced that I had gotten in over my head with the NUMA Files, but we spent a couple of days going back and forth and carved out the plot and characters that would put Serpent on the best-seller lists.

medusa This is pretty much the template we have followed in our collaboration, right down to our latest book, Medusa. I run some concepts by him. He says yes, no or maybe and offers suggestions. I start writing, get into trouble about half way through the manuscript, then I fly out to have a story conference that sets things straight and head home to write the rest of the book. He hasn’t called recently to say something stinks, usually saying it indirectly by hinting I might want to come at something a different way. We’ve worked together long enough for me to pick up on his suggestions, however subtle they may be. I’ve learned to trust his instincts even if they run counter to my own. When he keeps returning to a subject it usually means this is a good thing to keep in the story.

Every writing duo comes at the task in its own way. Some write alternating chapters. Or one person works on story while the other does the actual writing and they meet somewhere in the middle. James Patterson said at a Thrillerfest talk that he writes long outlines for others who do the actual writing.

I think that whatever way works is the right way. Clive and I have a loose arrangement, but we are on the same creative wavelength. I will never be the story-teller Clive is. And he says I’m a better writer than he is. Even so, when we get into our Good-Guy, Bad-Guy discussions, we are talking the same language.

I guess it works. Medusa was scheduled to come in at number two today, June 2, on The New York Times bestseller list.

Have you ever collaborated with another author, and if so, how do you approach the task? If you haven’t, do you think you could? And as a reader, how do you feel about books written by two writers as opposed to single authors?

Watch for future Sunday guest blogs from Robert Liparulo,  Linda Fairstein, Julie Kramer, Grant Blackwood, and more.

Serial Killers ….Not In My Books, and New Babies

John Ramsey Miller

I almost didn’t make it here this week because my middle son’s wife had a baby yesterday and we have been keeping their two-year old. I haven’t had a moment to do anything but gather the rope and throw the lasso as he roars by. I hate it when people show pictures of newborns because most are either ugly or featurless, and really …who cares. I just put this picture here because this isn’t true in my family. For some odd reason, all of my grandchildren are born looking like movie stars.

My blog this week was going to be about serial killers and this is what I got done on that…

Someone asked me the other day if I had written any novels with serial killers in them and I said not yet, and probably not ever. All of my books have killers in them, but the motivation for my killers is usually based on self-interest. A person who kills over and over again for sexual gratification holds no interest for me and I’m not comfortable writing about them. My killers are usually murdering for revenge, profit, in self-defense, or due to a twisted sense of justice. My killers [those who are main characters] are complex individuals. They are usually intelligent, but almost all have a warped perspective on the world.

I like writing villains. A protagonist usually has to win more or less fairly against an opponent who isn’t into the rules so much. Not adhering to any rules of engagement usually gives my killers an edge against their opposition. Yeah, it really wasn’t going anywhere near new ground.

So, tomorrow is Father’s Day, and as it turns out between the new baby (see above), my older son’s family doing something because he is a father of four, it will be a smaller than normal turnout. It will also be 99˚ (after weeks of rain–think sauna) so I’ll be staying close to the air conditioner.

So I ramble back and try to tie something together…

Now I have six grandchildren, three-and-three, and instead of merely messing up the house, they can wreck several acres when they visit together for Sunday dinner.

I’ve always heard that the worst killer imaginable would be a three hundred pound three-year old, and I believe it. My oldest son doesn’t allow his children to use the word “kill”, but his children (6 & 4) have “accidented” two baby chickens, legions of frogs, lizards, bugs, etc… Now children will do these things when they are together, never on their own. Thrill killing on the farm. They are good kids, but kids are like adults. As long as they are not accompanied by other adults they don’t usually get into mischief. Two or more people and there is a chance for escalation. The clear exception is writers who do all of their mischief when they are alone.

By the way the new baby (born yesterday) is Shay Aurora Miller and she weighed 6 lbs 13 Oz, and I only mention this because I’ll call her Sam, because I should caption the picture.