I Ain’t Got Time To Bleed

By Joe Moore

From the movie PREDATOR:

Poncho: You’re bleeding, man. You’re hit.
Blain: I ain’t got time to bleed.

image You love to write. You think about it all the time and believe there’s a book in you. Everyone thinks your story ideas are great. You’ve written a few chapters. Your spouse likes them. Your dog likes them. But you never seem to have enough time to get serious about your writing. You keep saying that if you had the chance, you could be a great writer. You just need the time.

Does that sound familiar? Don’t think you’re alone. Most of us felt the same when we first started. We had an overwhelming desire to tell a story. We couldn’t wait to sit down at the keyboard and let the ideas flow. But we couldn’t sustain the routine. Every time we tried to write, life got in the way. The day job that pays the bills. The chores. The errands. The family issues. Shopping. TV. A million distractions. So how does a wannabe writer find time to produce that first manuscript? How can he or she manage to get it done?

Usually the first big roadblock to staring a writing routine is to take on too much. If you have a day job and a family and a thousand other responsibilities, writing is probably not your first priority or second or third. It’s not smart for you to sacrifice those responsibilities by trying to write. Doing so just might cause a negative reaction with your family and friends who suddenly feel that you’re ignoring or slighting them. The goal is to schedule your writing time so it has the least amount of impact on the rest of your life.

First, carefully review your daily routine and find where you can find some time for writing. And here’s the secret. Keep it small to start with. Like I said, don’t try to take on too much. Make it reasonable. For instance, if you determine that there’s only 30 minutes each day just before you go to bed to write, then that’s your writing schedule. It’s not how much time you have available, but how you maintain and manage your schedule. This brings us to the second point.

Let everyone know your writing schedule. All those affected by the schedule must be aware that it exists. Family, business associates, neighbors, friends, whoever. Let them know that the designated time is your time to write. Lay down some rules that you are not to be disturbed during your official writing time. Eventually, they will accept it and the schedule will become part of their daily schedule, too.

Third, you need to stand by the rules and your schedule. Aside from emergencies, don’t break the rule. If it becomes obvious that the rule is not really a rule, you’re doomed. You might as well not have a schedule in the first place.

And fourth, make sure YOU stick to the schedule. The first time you give in to temptation and do something else besides writing, it will be easier to give in the next time. Pretty soon, you’ll be back to wishing you had time to write but don’t know how to work it into your busy schedule.

Always remember that at some point in his or her life, every published author had to find time to write. No one I know was born with endless amounts of hours to write books. We all had to make the time. When I first started writing, I would get up at 4:30 each workday and write for two hours before showering, breakfast and off to the day job. That’s how bad I wanted to be a writer.

Four years ago, I quite my day job to write full time. You can do it, too.

Now that you’re “hit” with the writing bug, find the time to bleed. It’s worth it.

How did you find time to write your first book?? What was your schedule? If you’re just getting started, what are you doing to find the “cracks” in the day to write?

Time shifts, Genre Transcension and Author Betrayals

by Clare Langley-Hawthorne

So I just finished my first e-book – The Passage by Justin Cronin – and what an experience it was. God only knows how many pages (Amazon’s kindle app fails to tell me) but I must have wracked up 780+pages in 48 hours. I literally couldn’t put the book down – but now, a mere 5 hours or so after finishing it, I started reading some of the reviews and a couple of the more unfavorable ones started to tweak a nerve and that’s when it hit me – this author did stuff that is usually totally taboo, stuff that usually sends a book down the big toilet – and yet it worked. The book still had me up all night turning the pages…This author broke the rules and managed to transcend the ‘genre’ by writing a literary thriller/horror/post-apocalyptic novel that did many of the things we tell young writers not to do – and he pulled it off! That alone (in my humble opinion) is worth blogging about. So what did he do?…Let’s take a look at the short list…(NOTE: SEMI SPOILER ALERT – NO REAL PLOT DETAILS ARE DISCLOSED BUT STILL, YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!)

  • He did an introduction that contained so much backstory that most of as TKZ would have nixed those first few pages. He then continued to meander and tell the tale with very little in the way of relevant action that even had me wondering – where the hell are we headed with this?
  • Then- after nearly 100 pages he promptly kills off almost all the characters and makes the reader time shift 100 years or so into the future. All the characters I felt really invested in promptly disappeared in an instant, only to be replaced by new characters whose backstory had yet to be explained.
  • He continued to ‘tell’ whole chunks of backstory for each of his characters – No doubt he has literary chops but still, there was a lot of the old ‘telling’ and not a lot of the old ‘showing’.
  • He told much of the critical ‘action’ scenes as email/diary entries which diluted their immediacy. Hell, he even ended the story on one…speaking of which…
  • He ended the book on such an ambiguous note that even I was asking myself why I had just spent 48 hours reading the book -until I realized it was book 1 in a proposed trilogy and then it all (kinda) made sense. (But boy, what I rule breaker to leave a gripped reader confused like that!)
  • He had a critical character who pretty much did nothing proactive in the entire book except via telepathy and dream sequences.
  • Almost all the plot (and many specific scenes) were derivative of stories that had come before (The Stand, The Road, 28 Days)

Yet, despite all these ‘broken rules’ I was still totally gripped – for two days the book lingered in my mind and wouldn’t let go. It had that undefinable something – an epic quality – that transcended all its faults.

So have you ever read a book that has done the same thing – which flies in the face of convention (and falls into many of its cliches) and yet still flares with its own ineffable brilliance? A book that transcends both genre and all the (so called) ‘writing’ rules?

For me, it may not be The Passage – there were many things about that frustrated the Hell out of me (including many of the ‘broken rules’ listed above) but I have to say, it’s been a long time since I was so engrossed in a book that its ‘inner world’ seemed like a constant presence – one that I was both dying to get back to and yet whose story I was desperate to end. What book can you say last did that to you?

Setting the Stage

James Scott Bell

We all know the importance of details in fiction. Whether it’s the description of a place or person, the details should always do “double duty.” They ought to go beyond the mere painting of a picture and contribute to the mood you’re trying to create.

When you set up your story world, this is especially important, for the following reasons:

* Setting helps establish the fictive dream

Details make or break verisimilitude. Lisa Scottoline sets her books in her native Philadelphia for just that reason. “You can really help support a character if you understand the setting,” she said in a Time interview. “So for that reason I generally write about Philadelphia. My experience is that people extrapolate it. If you write specifically enough, they extrapolate it to their hometown, wherever that is, even if it’s Amsterdam. By the same token, if you don’t write specifically enough and you have generic Anywhere U.S.A., then nobody feels anything. The whole bottom drops out of the story.”

• Setting establishes motifs

You are wasting an opportunity if you do not find motifs in your settings. A motif is a distinctive visual that repeats. Like the green light in The Great Gatsby. It carries symbolic weight and deepens the reading experience.

For L.A. writers such as myself, the city provides a wealth of these icons. One of my favorites is Angels Flight. Allow me to riff on it just a bit.

Angels Flight is a funicular railroad (two cars going up and down in balance) that was built in 1901. It was to bring the folks living in the fashionable burb of Bunker Hill down a steep grade to the shopping area of Los Angeles. That saved them a long walk down and up steps, or getting the horse and buggy all rigged. For a penny, you could ride the cars.

Bunker Hill began to fade as the years went on. Post WWII, especially, it became a place of run down tenements and flophouses for cons and criminals to gather. But Angels Flight remained right there on 3rd Street, doing its thing.

It was going to be torn down in the late 50s, a victim of redevelopment. But a grass roots movement sprang up to save the old girl. My dad, an L.A. lawyer, was part of this. He even brought his young son downtown to ride on it in front of news cameras and the L.A. Times.

So, in a small way, I helped save Angels Flight. The city preserved it, moved it half a block south, and reopened it. An unfortunate accident took it offline for several years, but earlier this year it started running again.

I have used Angels Flight in a novel of the same name. This novel was mentioned in a great pictorial history of Angels Flight by Jim Dawson. Several film noirs have featured it over the years.

If you’re ever in downtown L.A., take a ride. You catch it on Hill Street, between 3rd and 4th, directly across from the Grand Central Market. Up at the top you can get a great view of the city of angels.

Talk about your settings. Do you have a favorite? Do you visit your locations and purposely work in the details?

Here’s a short trip on Angels Flight for your viewing pleasure.

I Like to Listen

John Ramsey Miller

I went a’ traveling last week and (since our local library is on weird hours due to budget cuts) I rented books on DVD from a Cracker Barrel. Which brings me to my biggest peeve on audio books on DVD. How much trouble can it be to add a tag at the end of an audiobook disk saying, “This is the end of disk one, please insert disk two to continue?” Why do listeners have to realize that the damned disk has started over again to begin digging on the floorboards for the box to get the next disk? It’s damned unthoughtful, and some producers actually add this amazing feature that adds two seconds to a disk to some books on DVD.

I don’t know how many authors are invited to listen to the audios of their books before they are released, but I’ve never been one of them. I first heard SMOKE & MIRRORS several weeks after it was released and there was a glitch in the audio track that a short discussion between myself and the producer or narrator could have prevented. The book was unabridged and wonderfully performed by, Scott Brick, one of the absolute top talents in the business. It was the arbitrary addition of an East German accent for my antagonist in the scenes where he was being himself that were off for me. My Paulus Styer was a psychopathic master chameleon and was always in character, none of which was being an East German. Maybe it was best for the listener since it helped them know who was speaking, but I never had him speaking with that accent in my mind as I wrote. I mean his syntax was Germanish but I never heard that voice as interpreted. I am sure nobody else noticed.

My first book, THE LAST FAMILY, was read by Gerald McRainey, and everything about it was flawless, even though it was done on cassettes. I think I can convert those to disks for however long that technology lasts. Even the parts of the book (one entire subplot) that were edited out to cut run time made the book stronger.

I’m excited about the fact that the market is opening up to e-books and audio downloads that aren’t put together by publishers, and that artists might better control their careers and be paid a larger percentage of the money for their labors. The advantage in distribution and advertising, which justified the houses taking the lion’s share is evaporating, and while they risked their money up front, and lost a lot on some projects, they did all right while the model was working. I like the idea of having more control over my own product. I have friends who are actors, and for a sum would be happy to read one of my books. I’d love being truly involved in the process and directing the reading.

We all know that publishers generally don’t want the author’s input on the book once he or she has turned it in. They design the cover and show it to the author after it is designed and accepted by the house. I was lucky in that my editor enjoyed my input and ideas and solicited them at points when things could still be changed. Sometimes I felt like I was on the outside of the process and as a consequence I think I felt some disconnect from the books once they appeared on shelves. Maybe feeling that is natural. It’s sort of like seeing an old girlfriend on the street who changed her hairstyle and lost some weight…

Unlimited Free Book Giveaway

By John Gilstrap

Once a year, in late June, I embark on a post of shameless self-promotion. This would be that post for 2010.

Hostage Zero, the latest entry in the Jonathan Grave thriller series launches next Thursday, and I am pumped about it. Fueled by a starred review in Publisher’s Weekly, which amazon.com was kind enough to put on Hostage Zero’s product page, and excellent advance reviews from other publications, this feels to me like it could do some real business. Let’s all take a moment to cross our fingers on that one.

Good reviews help, but it takes more than that to really get people to take notice of a book. It takes promotion, advertising, and word-of-mouth sales. I don’t mean to presume, but I hope I can count on y’all to help with that last one. C’mon, it’s an investment of $6.99. How can you go wrong?

My publisher, Pinnacle/Kensington, is really stepping up to the plate with this one. From June 29 through July 5, in an effort to build the buzz for Hostage Zero, they are giving away free e-books of No Mercy through Kindle, Sony E-Reader, B&N’s Nook and Kobo. That’s free, folks; as in, you know, FREE! Gratis. No charge. That’s a free copy of the book that is one of five nominees for ITW’s Thriller Award. How cool is that?

The real marketing push for Hostage Zero begins July 6, when the co-op money kicks in to get great placement in Borders, Walden and Books-A-Million. There’s talk of other placements, but they’re not yet firm. You should see a fairly significant online ad presence, as well.

So, the boat’s in the water, and everyone is pulling on an oar. Will Hostage Zero become a bestseller? Lord, I hope so; but then every author hopes so. That’s the really scary part of this business. Think of the hubris. Each of us believes that out of the thousands and thousands of titles that are published every year—out of the hundreds that are published in our own genre alone—this one product of our imagination will somehow break through all the noise and find a breakout audience. Who do we think we are?

On the other hand, it always happens to someone; why not us? Why not me?

Jonathan “Digger” Grave is an old-fashioned kind of hero, whose sense of right and wrong does not necessarily factor in the prevailing laws of the land. If your loved ones are kidnapped, Digger will move heaven and earth to bring them back, and he won’t mind sending people to heaven or hell if they get in his way. A former Unit operator, he is a gentle philanthropist who is intensely loyal to his friends and lethal to his enemies. He is, if I may say so myself in the spirit of shameless self-promotion, a lot of fun.

And starting next Tuesday, for only one week, you can download No Mercy for free. I like to think this is an easy decision. What do you say?


by Michelle Gagnon

So I just got back from vacation. I finally had some free reading time, and decided to see what all the fuss was about Steig Larsson’s Millenium series. I’ll try to write this post without any spoilers.

I must confess, I remain perplexed.

This series has been the biggest crime fiction crossover, arguably, since THE DA VINCI CODE.

There, I could understand the hype. The writing wasn’t the best I’ve ever read, but Dan Brown is a heck of a storyteller, and the underlying religious conspiracy themes were compelling.

To be frank, I spent most of my time reading TGWTDT scratching my head. I honestly don’t get it. The dialogue was clunky throughout, the bulk of the story revolved around a financial scheme that was underwhelming, and the characters were fairly two-dimensional. And above all that, the resolution of one of the two primary plots was largely unsatisfying. Now, some of the fault here might lie with the translator. But then most of the copies sold have been translations into one language or another. So why did this, of all books, become a runaway bestseller?

I read the next two books, and they were decidedly better. There was actually action- hallelujah- and the themes outlined in the first installment came to fruition. The characters developed some depth (although based on Larsson’s portrayal, the men in Sweden either love women to death, or are misogynistic to the point of credulity, which I found annoying).

Still- all in all, I’d rank the books in the mid-range of works I’ve read in the past year. They weren’t bad, as a whole, but they weren’t fantastic either.

So what’s the big deal? Was it the tragic backstory of Larsson’s untimely demise that kicked the marketing machine into overdrive? I haven’t read many of his fellow countrymen, but from what I understand some of their works are superior. So why did these become the books that people who never read thrillers suddenly embraced with their book clubs? Especially since none of the books was particularly literary. And the characters weren’t what one would usually expect the mainstream to embrace. We had a couple that was involved in a extramarital affair that was accepted by all parties involved (including the cuckolded husband), and a main character who was a Goth/punk Aspergers hacker. Interesting, but not the type of main character I’d expect the world as a whole to cheer for.

If someone would care to enlighten me, I’d be much obliged.

You’re gonna need a bigger boat

By Joe Moore

jaws Arguably, that may be one of the best lines ever written. Six words that encapsulate and summarize a situation so dire and frightening, there was no doubt in the mind of the moviegoer that the problems the characters faced had been grossly underestimated.

The movie JAWS came out in 1975 and is celebrating its 35th anniversary this summer. Few contemporary films had the same level of impact on life and the basic fears we all harbor inside. It came close to shutting down the beaches and everything people normally do at them during the summer. “Don’t go in the water” became a household phrase. Seaside resorts and businesses along the beaches were slammed while the theaters were packed and long lines lead up to the showing of JAWS. It was a phenomenon that undeniably equaled the mass hysteria of the 1938 radio broadcast of Orson Welles’ WAR OF THE WORLDS.

benchley1 The movie was based on Peter Benchley’s 1974 novel by the same name. It was and still is the only book I ever read in one sitting. I remember picking it up off a table at my mother’s house and reading: “The great fish moved silently through the night water, propelled by short sweeps of its crescent tail.” I read the second sentence, walked over to a nearby couch and read the rest of the book without a break. It was beyond captivating. It was petrifying and easily the scariest story I’ve ever read. (Number 2 on my list is RED DRAGON by Thomas Harris followed closely by THE EXORCIST by William Peter Blatty).

It’s rare that a book and a movie can have such a drastic effect on the public. Benchley and Spielberg took the basic “haunted house” scenario and gave it a fresh spin, one that hadn’t been thought of before. They presented us a new type of antagonist, one that can’t be reasoned with, one that has no motive other than hunger—an eating machine. JAWS gave birth to a whole string of similar antagonist in movies like ALIEN, HALLOWEEN, FRIDAY THE 13th, NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, and others. But JAWS was the first to bring it to the page and the big screen and scare the you-know-what out of us. For those who are too young or just simply want to relive the moment, here’s the original movie trailer for JAWS. Enjoy.

Have you ever found a book so engrossing that you read it in one sitting? Has a book and/or movie had as great an effect on you as JAWS had on the public at the time?

Open Tuesdays

imageIt’s time for another Open Tuesday while our blogmate, Kathryn Lilley, is on medical hiatus. Bring us your questions, comments and discussions. If you have a question about writing, publishing or any other related topic, ask away in our comments section. We’ll do our best to get you an answer.

And don’t forget you can download a copy of FRESH KILLS, Tales from the Kill Zone to your Kindle or PC today.

My New Toy!

by Clare Langley-Hawthorne

I’ve been giddy with excitement since Friday when I took possession of my new iPad and, although I haven’t bought all the apps or go totally crazy in the iBooks store, I have to admit I’m hooked. I bought it mainly because I wanted an e-reader and since the iPad offers both iBooks as well as the Kindle, it was a no-brainer for me. I also get to feed my NYT crossword addiction! Since my family and I are about to embark on a two month camping/national park odyssey the iPad is also going to be a much lighter (and let’s face it much cooler) option than lugging round a bag full of books, DVDs, DVD player, laptop etc.. The only tricky thing will be working out how to blog with it on the road.

Now I’m an old-fashioned Luddite when it comes to most technology but I have to say, having spent just over two days with my iPad, I really do think that it marks the start of some great changes to come. We’ve blogged long and hard about the whole e-book phenomenon but I know once my parents are like ‘this is cool’ the world must be changing! (for the record my parents are antiquarian book collectors so the mere fact that they are even remotely impressed says something). So here’s my initial verdict on the e-book capabilities of the iPad:

  • As my husband had already bought and loaded my own books on the iBookshelf it was very cool to see my books in e-book format 🙂
  • I like the fact that you just turn the page in an intuitive way that mimics the feel of reading a paper book. The colors and picture resolution are great (Winne the Pooh was already loaded) and I can see me reading an e-book to my children without feeling disconnected from the physical experience – so far it feels just as cozy reading to them from the iPad (despite the fact they fight over who gets to touch the screen and turn the page).
  • I liked the iBooks store but I confess I wasn’t overwhelmed by it. Searching is a bit laborious and there were a lot of titles I couldn’t find (including some of my fellow TMZers) so I think this will take some time to become optimal.
  • It was, however, way, way,way too easy to buy a book. I think I downloaded 10 free classic books and 5 paid books it about 10 minutes (seriously they may need to have an ‘e-books anonymous’ society for me!) But this is great news for authors. I can well imagine publishers vying for advertising/space on the ‘featured titles page’ once the iBook store becomes a bigger player in the market.
  • Which leads me to what I think will be a great ‘game changer’ – once Amazon and iBooks start eroding the power of big chains like Barnes & Noble I can imagine publishers will be able to diversify and niche market some of their lists better than they can presently (at the moment my understanding is they have very much a ‘will B&N buy this title’ mentality when it comes to acquisitions).
  • I was extremely excited to be able to download many of the historical books I use for research so I can read them in a portable format. I used to have to troll through them on my laptop which was very cumbersome.
  • Many publishers already have their own apps so readers can go directly to them (My publisher, Penguin USA, for instance, already has one) which is great (though not much different to what’s already out there on the web) but I can see scope for these apps to be expanded which can only help authors.
  • Already there are some amazingly cool apps that have created terrific visual/interactive content for books (Alice for iPad for example) and I look forward to many more that attract new readers (never a bad thing!)

So all in all, I give the iPad a big thumbs up. It serves my purposes well and has me finally entering the e-book age (which is a miracle in and of itself).

For any of you who have iPads what’s your verdict? Are there any new apps/developments that you think could really improve the e-reading experience? I can’t wait for historical books to have links embedded in them so I can really get the most out of my research (video links, costume designs etc. would be way cool). I was also thinking that our own JRM could produce a great ‘chicken army’ app…So what about you all, any great book app ideas???