How to Write a Short Story

James Scott Bell
@jamesscottbell

A novelist friend recently asked, What is it that defines a short story? What’s the key to writing one? How is it different from a novel or novella?
My “boys in the basement” have been working on it, and the other day sent up a message. It said, “A short story is about one shattering moment.”
I pondered that for awhile. Could it really be so? What about the different genres? There are literary short stories (e.g., Raymond Carver), but also horror (Stephen King), science fiction (Harlan Ellison), crime (Jeffery Deaver) and the like. They couldn’t all be about one shattering moment, could they?

I decided to have a cheeseburger and forget the whole thing.
But the boys would not let me drop it. And now I think they’re right (as usual). So let’s take it apart.
When I took a writing workshop with one of the recognized masters of the modern short story, Raymond Carver, I found his genius lay in the “telling detail,” a way to illuminate, with a minimalist image or line of dialogue, a shattering emotional moment in the life of a character.
The story we studied in his workshop was “Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?” A married couple, middle class with two young kids, have a conversation one night. The wife brings up an incident at a party a couple of years before. Slowly, we realize she needs to confess something, needs to be forgiven. She’d slept with another man that night. That is the shattering moment in the story, the husband’s realization of what his wife did.
This happens in the middle. The rest of the story is about the emotional aftermath of that moment. Thus, the structure of the story looks like this:
This is the same structure as Hemingway’s classic, “Hills Like White Elephants.” In this story about a couple conversing at a train station, the shattering emotional moment occurs inside the woman. It’s when she accedes to her boyfriend’s desire that she have an abortion (amazingly, the word abortion is never used in the story). We see what’s happened to her almost entirely via dialogue. In fact, she has a line much like the husband’s in the Carver story. She says, “Would you please please please please please please please stop talking?”
We know at the end of both these stories that the characters will never be the same, that life for them has been ineluctably altered. That’s what a shattering moment does.
Structurally, this moment can come at the end of the story. When it works, it’s like an emotional bomb going off. Two literary stories that do this are “The Swimmer” by John Cheever, and “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” by Joyce Carol Oates. That structure looks like this:
Now let’s move to the genre short story. Here, the same idea applies. The shattering moment is usually one that is outside (i.e., a plot moment) as opposed to inside (i.e., a character moment). Often, that moment is a “twist” at the end of the story. The most famous example is, no doubt, O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi.”
Jeffery Deaver is a master of this type (see his collections Twistedand More Twisted.) Get your hands on his story “Chapter and Verse” (from More Twisted) to see what I mean.  It’s one of my all-time favorites.
My recent crime short story, “Autumnal,” follows this pattern as well. We think the story is going one way, but at the end it is quite another.
This is also the structure most often used in The Twilight Zone. Think about some of the classic episodes:
“To Serve Man.” Remember the shattering shout at the end? “It’s a cook book!”
“Time Enough at Last.” Always voted the most memorable episode, because of its heartbreaking twist at the end. This is the one where the loner with the thick glasses emerges after nuclear war has killed everyone, but now has time enough at last to read all the books he wants. And then…
“The Eye of the Beholder.” This one blew me away as a kid. It’s the one where the surgeons, in shadows all the way through, are working to save the disfigured face of a patient. One of the all time great twists.
This pattern is just like the one described above for literary short stories, only now it’s a shattering plot twist at the end:

And, you guessed it, you can also do a story with the shattering moment somewhere in the opening pages, and work out the aftermath in the rest of the tale. Lawrence Block’s “A Candle for the Bag Lady” is like that (You can find this story in Block’s collection, Enough Rope). The structure looks like this:

So there you have it. If you want to write a short story, find that moment that is emotionally life-changing, or craftily plot-twisting. Then write everything around that moment. Structurally, it’s simple to understand. But the short story is, in my view, the most difficult form of fiction to master. So why try? Two reasons: First, when it works, it can be one of the most powerful reading experiences there is. And second, with digital self-publishing, there’s an actual market for these works again. The short story form was pretty much dead outside of a few journals. Now, in digital, you can make some Starbucks money with them. That’s what the Force of Habit and Irish Jimmy Gallagher stories have done for me. And when I put together a collection, I expect to make even more.
And nothing will give your writing chops a workout like a short story. Why not make them part of your career plan?

1+

My Coolest New Internet Toy

By John Gilstrap


A few weeks ago, I posted about my adventure with Jeffery Deaver in which we got private instruction on tactical shooting while at the SHOT Show in Las Vegas.  Well, now there’s videos evidence: http://tinyurl.com/clxzbry.  You can also find a link on the News Feed on my website.


If it looks like slow motion, that’s because it was.  We were using live ammo in a car, assuming shooting positions that could easily have made our own legs the primary target while drawing.  The “quick draw” contest at the end–also rather slow–was a one-shot, three round accuracy contest.  The first to hit the gong won the round.  While the video shows Jeff winning the first shot, the next two, which I won, somehow ended up on the cutting room floor.  I’m just sayin’ . . . 


This brings me to the stated purpose of this week’s post: my coolest new Internet discovery: Dropbox.  Like everything else that dwells in cyberspace, I’m confident that I’m one of the last ones to the table here, but my goodness, is that cool!


You go to www.dropbox.com and download the program free of charge, and Bingo! you have cloud storage for your files that is accessible from any computer anywhere.  You can even share files, which is how I was able to give my web mistress access to the 100MB video of our shooting adventure.


I still depend heavily on my thumb drive as primary storage, backed up to whatever machine I’m working on at any given time, but it’s great to have Dropbox, accessible from anywhere.


What are the other cool Internet toys that I’m behind the times on?  Which ones are indispensable toyou?

0

NEWS FLASH: There Are No Shortcuts to Success

By John Gilstrap

Everyone who does anything for a living owes it to himself to take advantage of learning opportunities.  Even after one has attained journeyman’s status, to rest on one’s laurels is to invite disaster.

Last week, I had the honor and pleasure of attending SleuthFest in Orlando, Florida.  I taught a class on pacing, and sat on three panels.  And I hung out at the bar, of course, because that’s where all business is conducted, irrespective of chosen discipline.  I met a lot of talented writers I’d never met—Heather Graham and Charlaine Harris among them—and hung out with old friends.  And, of course, there are our own Kathleen Pickering and Nancy Cohen, whom I finally met in person—Nancy in a meeting room, and Kathleen in the bar.  A lot in the bar.  I’m just sayin’ . . .

For me, the big learning moment—the a-ha moment—came during Charlaine’s luncheon keynote, and it reinforced something I’ve known and admired about Jeff Deaver for years (Jeff and Charlaine were guests of honor, along with Chris Grabenstein).  If I did my math correctly, the first book of Charlaine’s True Blood series—the one that launched her into the authorial stratosphere—was her twentieth book.  Give or take a couple of books, that was the same number of novels that Deaver had published before he became a household name with the Lincoln Rhyme series.  As Charlaine put it, she’d spent many years with $4,000 advances, pursuing what her husband had come to think of as a “well-subsidized hobby.”

I am currently pounding away at my tenth novel (fourteenth, if you count the ones that no one wanted).  I’m proud of them all, but the recent ones are so way better than the older ones.  And the ones that were never published?  Well, thank God they weren’t.

At SleuthFest, I learned (again) what I’ve long known to be the truth: writing is a business, and the only way to succeed—and success to me means hundreds of thousands of copies sold—is to keep writing and playing by the rules. Agents are more important than they’ve ever been, and brutal, professional editing is what makes the difference between passable and entertaining.

Even in these days of new media and instant gratification, the bottom line is the bottom line: There are no shortcuts to success.

All comments welcome . . .
0

Lesson From Gun Camp


Last week, I wrote a teaser blog about some firearms training I was to receive while pulling duty as a VIP guest of 5.11 Tactical at the SHOT Show in Las Vegas.  First a few words about the SHOT Show: Holy Cow!  You have to see this thing to understand the size.  It takes up the ENTIRE Sands Convention Center, occupying all three floors.  Every conceivable manufacturer of any firearm is there, and while they cannot sell to individuals from the floor, you are perfectly welcome to handle any weapon you want, up to and including dry firing it.  (The Las Vegas Police Department checked every single one of the thousands of firearms there to verify that the firing pins had been removed.)  Never held an M4 or a Glock or a 1911?  You can play with them.  Ditto the Barrett .50 caliber sniper rifle, the M2 “Ma Deuce” .50 cal machine gun and a Dillon Gun.  It’s the mother of all gun research opportunities, and EVERYONE I spoke to was more than willing to chat about their products.  What I found most stunning was the number of firearms makers that I’d never heard of.
Last Thursday, I met Jeffery Deaver in the lobby of our hotel at 6:45 a.m.  We were driven a half hour out into the desert to a shooting range that looked like it covered twenty or thirty acres.  We were driven way to the back of the facility, where I realized for the first time that Jeff and I would be the only students for the entire day.
Our instructor was Steve Tarani.  Look him up.  Yeah, he’s qualified.  And he’s very, very funny, in that zero-bullshit kind of way.  After an extensive safety briefing, we were issued our .40 caliber Glocks, holsters and three mags of ammunition.  (A million thanks to Barry, who made sure that we always had a 12-round mag ready to go so that our pouches were never dry.)  Jeff drew a thigh rig holster, while my holster rode on my belt.  As an aside, the 5.11 Tactical pants we wore were specifically designed with an extra belt loop that keeps a belt holster from moving around.  I like that kind of attention to details.
For the next three hours, we shot hundreds of rounds of ammunition, first while standing still, but then while moving and turning.  Finally, we were shooting from the driver’s and passenger’s seats of an SUV (a late model Acura that did not belong to either student).  The day ended with a quick-draw contest and an NSR (non-standard response) drill that involves  shooting everything in the mag at short range, as quickly as possible while still hitting center of mass on the target.  As Steve made clear from the very beginning, this was a tactical shooting class, not a marksmanship class (although I did pretty well in that department, too.)
Lesson One: Tactical shooting is only a distant cousin of target shooting.  Until this lesson, my range training had consisted of picking a weapon up from a table, taking my time and concentrating on placing shots in the center ring.  I’d never drawn a pistol from a holster and just that much movement changes the game.  Throw in multiple points of impact on the target (we’d be instructed, for example, to put two in the chest, one in the pelvis and one in the forehead–not the jaw, though) and now you’ve got more to think about and more to do.  By the time you’re pivoting and turning and throwing open the car door while drawing your weapon without ever pointing it at your own leg or anywhere near your partner, it’s tough to get your rounds downrange to the target.  And very, very fun.
Lesson Two: My grip was AFU.  This one’s hard to describe without specific pictures, but my hands didn’t have enough contact with the gun.  I was also using an out-of-date and out-of-favor shooting stance called the Weaver Stance, in which my support side leg (my left, since I’m right-handed) was slightly forward.  I’ve never been entirely comfortable with that stance.  In my new Isosceles Stance (or “Tony Chin” stance), I square off at the bad guy with my toes, knees and chin touching the same vertical plane–Toe-Knee-Chin.  Tony Chin.  Get it?
Lesson Three: It’s disconcerting how much of one’s own body can become a target when drawing a weapon.  Think about your free hand, for example.  Given that one of Steve’s Four Golden Rules is that the muzzle never cover anything that you don’t want to completely destroy, that free support hand needs to be anchored somewhere when the pistol is coming out of the holster.  I learned to place it on my chest, where not only is it out of harm’s way, but it’s also ready to do its job in supporting the shooting hand.
Lesson Four: I was a “booger flipper,” Steve’s term for one who lets one’s finger off the trigger after every shot.  If you watch what that looks like, booger flipping really does come to mind.  I learned in the early part of the class to hold the trigger all the way to the back of the trigger guard after the first shot, and then let it up only to the reset click to prepare for the next shot.  It takes far less pull, and increases accuracy by a lot.  After a few hundred rounds, it was second nature.
Lesson Five: It’s stressful as hell to run out of ammo in the middle of a drill.  Running out when the target is shooting back must be really unnerving.  Steve taught us to drop the spent mag and slap in the new one while never taking our eyes off the target.  Truth be told, this was my hardest lesson to learn.  My thumbs are too short to reach the mag release without shifting my grip.  I sorta got the hang of it in the end, but it’s really hard not to look.  After a couple dozen tactical reloads in which we let the spent mags just drop to the ground, we even changed it up to replace a partially-spent mag with a full one, in which case we needed to put the old mag back into the pouch after reloading while still staying on the target.
Lesson Six:  If you own a gun, you really need to practice this stuff.  In just three hours–and about 200 bucks in ammo (Thank you again, 5.11 Tactical!)–so many of the tiny details became second nature.  Even the simple act of reholstering has its complex parts.  In Steve’s class, after the threat is cleared, you sweep left, sweep right, then return to low-ready before you put that support hand back on your chest to get it out of the way, and then slide the weapon back into the holster.  We did that every single time we reholstered, even if we hadn’t fired a shot, and by the end of the training, doing things otherwise would have just felt wrong.
As I write this, I realize how long the post is, and how few of the lessons learned I can actually document here.  My big take away was this: As a guy who’s always liked guns and has played with them a lot over the years, I in fact knew nothing.  Now, after this experience, I’m fully aware of the fact that I still know way too little, and that much of what I did learn will disappear from my muscle memory in just a day or two.  I need to find a range that will let me move and shoot.
The world is full of five-day classes on this stuff, and I’m seriously thinking about taking one.  How about a Killzone field trip for a week at Sleep-Away Gun Camp?  That could be fun.
0

Lesson From Gun Camp


Last week, I wrote a teaser blog about some firearms training I was to receive while pulling duty as a VIP guest of 5.11 Tactical at the SHOT Show in Las Vegas.  First a few words about the SHOT Show: Holy Cow!  You have to see this thing to understand the size.  It takes up the ENTIRE Sands Convention Center, occupying all three floors.  Every conceivable manufacturer of any firearm is there, and while they cannot sell to individuals from the floor, you are perfectly welcome to handle any weapon you want, up to and including dry firing it.  (The Las Vegas Police Department checked every single one of the thousands of firearms there to verify that the firing pins had been removed.)  Never held an M4 or a Glock or a 1911?  You can play with them.  Ditto the Barrett .50 caliber sniper rifle, the M2 “Ma Deuce” .50 cal machine gun and a Dillon Gun.  It’s the mother of all gun research opportunities, and EVERYONE I spoke to was more than willing to chat about their products.  What I found most stunning was the number of firearms makers that I’d never heard of.
Last Thursday, I met Jeffery Deaver in the lobby of our hotel at 6:45 a.m.  We were driven a half hour out into the desert to a shooting range that looked like it covered twenty or thirty acres.  We were driven way to the back of the facility, where I realized for the first time that Jeff and I would be the only students for the entire day.
Our instructor was Steve Tarani.  Look him up.  Yeah, he’s qualified.  And he’s very, very funny, in that zero-bullshit kind of way.  After an extensive safety briefing, we were issued our .40 caliber Glocks, holsters and three mags of ammunition.  (A million thanks to Barry, who made sure that we always had a 12-round mag ready to go so that our pouches were never dry.)  Jeff drew a thigh rig holster, while my holster rode on my belt.  As an aside, the 5.11 Tactical pants we wore were specifically designed with an extra belt loop that keeps a belt holster from moving around.  I like that kind of attention to details.
For the next three hours, we shot hundreds of rounds of ammunition, first while standing still, but then while moving and turning.  Finally, we were shooting from the driver’s and passenger’s seats of an SUV (a late model Acura that did not belong to either student).  The day ended with a quick-draw contest and an NSR (non-standard response) drill that involves  shooting everything in the mag at short range, as quickly as possible while still hitting center of mass on the target.  As Steve made clear from the very beginning, this was a tactical shooting class, not a marksmanship class (although I did pretty well in that department, too.)
Lesson One: Tactical shooting is only a distant cousin of target shooting.  Until this lesson, my range training had consisted of picking a weapon up from a table, taking my time and concentrating on placing shots in the center ring.  I’d never drawn a pistol from a holster and just that much movement changes the game.  Throw in multiple points of impact on the target (we’d be instructed, for example, to put two in the chest, one in the pelvis and one in the forehead–not the jaw, though) and now you’ve got more to think about and more to do.  By the time you’re pivoting and turning and throwing open the car door while drawing your weapon without ever pointing it at your own leg or anywhere near your partner, it’s tough to get your rounds downrange to the target.  And very, very fun.
Lesson Two: My grip was AFU.  This one’s hard to describe without specific pictures, but my hands didn’t have enough contact with the gun.  I was also using an out-of-date and out-of-favor shooting stance called the Weaver Stance, in which my support side leg (my left, since I’m right-handed) was slightly forward.  I’ve never been entirely comfortable with that stance.  In my new Isosceles Stance (or “Tony Chin” stance), I square off at the bad guy with my toes, knees and chin touching the same vertical plane–Toe-Knee-Chin.  Tony Chin.  Get it?
Lesson Three: It’s disconcerting how much of one’s own body can become a target when drawing a weapon.  Think about your free hand, for example.  Given that one of Steve’s Four Golden Rules is that the muzzle never cover anything that you don’t want to completely destroy, that free support hand needs to be anchored somewhere when the pistol is coming out of the holster.  I learned to place it on my chest, where not only is it out of harm’s way, but it’s also ready to do its job in supporting the shooting hand.
Lesson Four: I was a “booger flipper,” Steve’s term for one who lets one’s finger off the trigger after every shot.  If you watch what that looks like, booger flipping really does come to mind.  I learned in the early part of the class to hold the trigger all the way to the back of the trigger guard after the first shot, and then let it up only to the reset click to prepare for the next shot.  It takes far less pull, and increases accuracy by a lot.  After a few hundred rounds, it was second nature.
Lesson Five: It’s stressful as hell to run out of ammo in the middle of a drill.  Running out when the target is shooting back must be really unnerving.  Steve taught us to drop the spent mag and slap in the new one while never taking our eyes off the target.  Truth be told, this was my hardest lesson to learn.  My thumbs are too short to reach the mag release without shifting my grip.  I sorta got the hang of it in the end, but it’s really hard not to look.  After a couple dozen tactical reloads in which we let the spent mags just drop to the ground, we even changed it up to replace a partially-spent mag with a full one, in which case we needed to put the old mag back into the pouch after reloading while still staying on the target.
Lesson Six:  If you own a gun, you really need to practice this stuff.  In just three hours–and about 200 bucks in ammo (Thank you again, 5.11 Tactical!)–so many of the tiny details became second nature.  Even the simple act of reholstering has its complex parts.  In Steve’s class, after the threat is cleared, you sweep left, sweep right, then return to low-ready before you put that support hand back on your chest to get it out of the way, and then slide the weapon back into the holster.  We did that every single time we reholstered, even if we hadn’t fired a shot, and by the end of the training, doing things otherwise would have just felt wrong.
As I write this, I realize how long the post is, and how few of the lessons learned I can actually document here.  My big take away was this: As a guy who’s always liked guns and has played with them a lot over the years, I in fact knew nothing.  Now, after this experience, I’m fully aware of the fact that I still know way too little, and that much of what I did learn will disappear from my muscle memory in just a day or two.  I need to find a range that will let me move and shoot.
The world is full of five-day classes on this stuff, and I’m seriously thinking about taking one.  How about a Killzone field trip for a week at Sleep-Away Gun Camp?  That could be fun.
0

Can A Bestseller Be Engineered?

By John Gilstrap

In 1997, a literary author named Bradford Morrow made big headlines in the book industry when he allegedly told a reporter from New York Magazine that his publisher, Viking, was trying to engineer a bestselling thriller out of his next novel Giovanni’s Gift. To support the book, and to give it a leg up on sales, the publisher spent a lot of dough promoting it. That’s a good thing, right?

Well, not necessarily. When the New York Magazine story was published, New York Times Book Review writer Walter Kirn tore apart not only the book, but also the author and publisher. Here’s a link to a piece that Salon did on the brouhaha: http://www.salon.com/march97/media/media970331.html.

While some reviews leave room for interpretation, I think intelligent minds can agree that this is gratuitously awful: “an unintentionally campy blend of artistic ambition and commercial cynicism … a case study in the novel as gilded kitsch — a book that proposes to elevate its readers even as it takes calculated aim at their presumed stupidity … a thin romantic melodrama insulated in operatic twaddle.”


Morrow’s offense, such as it was(n’t) was his decision to share with the world his desire for commercial success. (In future interviews, he maintained that he never writes for money.)


How the world has changed, huh? In a mere fourteen years, we have come to a place in history where it’s okay for an author to publicly state his desire for commercial success. (I’ve long believed that even literary writers secretly want to make money off what they write.)


Carrying on with this week’s theme of finding the right strings to pull to engineer a bestseller, I continue to question whether any individual writer can do anything to significantly influence sales. Sure, there are outliers and exceptions (paging Joe Konrath), but in Joe’s case you have to give credit to the power of being first.


Yesterday ended a 10-day run for my book At All Costs on the Kindle Top 100. (As I write this, it sits at #105, having gotten as low as the 20s.) This is great news for a book that was written in the same year when Giovanni’s Gift was released. Could it possibly be that my fan base has finally reached that self-sustaining critical mass?


Maybe. I hope so. But I have serious doubts about that. If that were the case, my Nook sales rank would be substantially lower than 10,223, which is where it sits as I write this. So, what’s going on?


The answer in two words: Paid Promotion.


My publisher is spending real coin at Amazon on my behalf for banner ads and email blasts that alert anyone who has ever bought my work or the work of anyone who writes similar thrillers that there’s a new Gilstrap eBook out there at the readily affordable price of $1.99 (down from the original $4.50-ish). I assure you that it’s no coincidence that everyone who buys the At All Costs eBook will get to read the first chapter of Threat Warning, the front list book coming out on June 28 as an eBook and July 1 as a pBook.


Words cannot express how grateful I am to Kensington for getting behind me and my work this way. It’s all part of a strategy that was engineered and is continually tweaked by several departments of professionals who promote books for a living. If they’re doing this for li’l ole me, can you imagine the horsepower that’s behind the likes of Baldacci, Coben and Deaver? Sure, at the end of the day, the quality of the work is paramount—an author has to entertain his audience—but a lot of the frenzy that surrounds the release of a book is bought and paid for, including much of the stuff that seems spontaneous.


I have no idea what the price tag of all of this is, but I’m going to guess that it’s significant enough to be out of range for most people I know. It’s not just the absolute value of the time and the cash that’s involved; it’s the risk factor, too. There’s no guarantee that they’ll ever see a return on their investment.


My writing career is eight books deep now—eight books published, anyway. I’ve hired two independent publicists in that time, I’ve arranged book tours, I’ve typed my fingers bloody on blog tours, yet I can tell you without hesitation that nothing I’ve done in self-promotion comes close to providing the results of what Kensington is doing for me. And it’s not just the money; it’s the know-how.


I’m the first to say that I’m perhaps overly blessed at the moment, but some really dark times preceded the last couple of years. This is a tough, tough, business, and with few exceptions the road to success—whatever that means to whoever it means it to—is paved with divots and bloodstains.


Jeffery Deaver and I used to meet for drinks and dinner every Thursday evening for five or six years, and during the darkest of the dark times he endured my pity party for a while. Then, when I asked him what he’s doing right that I’m doing wrong, he put it in perfect perspective for me: “I’m twenty books ahead of you,” he said.


And there it is: the secret to publishing success. And after the twentieth book comes the twenty-first. I’ve come a long way since that chat with Jeff, but I have a long way to go.


Finally, at long last, I’m part of a team that supports me; but part of the reason they support me is because they feel I’ve earned it, a book at a time and a fan at a time.


Can you engineer a bestseller? I believe it’s done all the time. But key elements of the blue print include an established, enthusiastic fan base, and a proven ability to turn out good work.


Can a first time author engineer a bestseller on his own? The occasional exception notwithstanding, I believe the answer is no.

0

Greetings From San Francisco

By John Gilstrap

Generally, I love my Friday slot at the Killzone. Friday is a happy day overall, and, perhaps more importantly, Thursday night is typically a convenient night to jot these missives. There are exceptions to every generality, of course, and for me the exceptions all deal with the big conferences. Bouchercon, ThrillerFest, Magna Cum Murder—you name the conference—always span Friday to Sunday, so I either get to write about a conference that hasn’t happened yet, or about one that is old news by the time my slot comes up again.


So, here I sit at noon (California time), having arrived yesterday afternoon, and having awakened at 5:30 this morning (8:30 bio-clock time), biding my time till the festivities kick off for real this evening. The intervening hours have mostly been taken up with work for my Big Boy Job. (I am forever amazed by how much more productive I am on the road or at home than I am in the office.)


Last night, I met Jeff Deaver at the lobby bar, and then we went out to dinner at the Fog Diner (that’s not really the name, but it’s close). It’s a kitschy place at Battery and Embarcadero that serves an eclectic menu, and has a great wine list. I ended up having a wedge salad and half of a Reuben sandwich. Given the bio-hour of 10 pm (7 pm local time), it was a perfect meal. We went back to the bar, but I could only manage one drink before I had to call it a night. I was in bed and asleep by ten. Really, ten. It’s embarrassing.


Tonight, I’m meeting my friend Ruth Dudley Edwards for dinner, after which the smart money says I’ll be in the bar till later than ten.


Tomorrow, I’m on a panel at 11 called “Deadline: Where do you get your ideas?” moderated by Don Bruns, with Gayle Lynds, Bill Moody, Mary Stanton and Debbie Atkinson. As I understand the premise, someone in the audience is going to choose a headline from the newspaper, and then we’re going to construct a story on the spot. It sounds simultaneously terrifying and fun. Can you say improv?


After the panel, I’ll be off to lunch with my editor and agent, and then I’ll be attending the Kensington Kocktail reception (their spelling, not mine), followed, presumably, by dinner and the evening in the bar. Are you catching a theme here?


To any Killzoners who are here at the conference, please make your presence known. Say hi. Chances are reasonably good that after, say, 9:00 pm, you’ll find me in the . . . well, you know.

0

Nobody Pinch Me

By John Gilstrap
http://www.johngilstrap.com

I’ll start with an apology for shirking my blogging duties last week. I was at ThrillerFest and had neglected to plan ahead. I suppose I could have just ignored the parties and . . . Nah, people who know me understand that I am incapable of ignoring the parties.

Those who’ve been to T-Fest know that the parties there are different. Those other people in the bar or at the receptions aren’t just regular folks that you see at work every day. To a person, the people I met there in New York—from fans to fellow authors and everyone in between—were friendly, intelligent and fascinating. It’s what makes the conference a not-to-be-missed event for me every year.

I arrived on Wednesday afternoon on the heels of some media events in Boston the previous day, and I went to dinner with Jeffery Deaver. We had drinks at a little hotel bar on 44th Street, and then we ate at a largely forgettable restaurant whose name I’ve in fact forgotten. We were done by 9:00 and not yet ready to go our separate ways, so we wandered into the bar at the Algonquin Hotel. THE Algonquin Hotel, of Algonquin Roundtable fame.

That’s when it hit me: I’m living my own dream. Sitting there in such a famous room, I realized that had I been around in 1925, I might have had a place at the table. I might have participated in the conversations of those literary and critical giants, laughing at their jokes and maybe even offering up a few of my own. (Conversely, I might have been rejected as a commercial hack and banned from their presence, but this is my fantasy, so let me run with it.)

Now, of course, all of those giants are dead. Instead, I spent my time engaged in conversations with Joe Moore, Jeff Deaver, David Baldacci, Harlan Coben, Andrew Grant, Gayle Lynds, Joe Finder, Brett Battles, Kathryn Lilly and dozens more brilliant, witty writers. Forgive a moment of aggrandizement, but it occurred to me that collectively we might all be remembered as the next famed group. Given the level of talent in the room, I’m certain that at least a few will be tagged with greatness.

And I was there. God willing, I’ll be there again.

When I was a kid, I was in awe of writers and writing. I had little opportunity ever to meet an author in person, but on the occasions when I did, I stood there star struck. To think that I might ever join that elite club—if not as an equal, then at least as a colleague—was beyond my ken.

Yet there I was in New York, surrounded by talent. During the course of the next few days, I would have lunch with Anne Hawkins, my agent, and dinners with Michaela Hamilton, my editor, and Sam Franco, the producer who optioned Six Minutes to Freedom.

I’ll say it again: Agent, editor and producer. Never in a million years would I have dreamed that the guy at those meetings would be me.

Last Wednesday, as we sat in the Algonquin sipping scotch and chatting about whatever we were chatting about, I asked Jeff if he ever stopped to think about how cool this whole experience is, about how lucky we are.

“Every day,” he said.

Exactly. Every day. I am an author. I am what I’ve always wanted to be, and every day I wake up wondering what I did to deserve the good fortune.

And I pray that I don’t do something to screw it up.

Does anyone else find themselves amazed at where they are, and fearful that it might all go away?

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The Results are in…

by Michelle Gagnon

The ITW recently posted the nominees for their Thriller Awards. Some of you might remember a post I wrote last August, when it was first announced that the paperback original category had been eliminated. Henceforth all of those books would be battling it out with the hardcovers for the moniker “Best Thriller.” There was a range of responses to my post, everything from “Hear, hear!” to “It’s silly to have different categories for different formats.” A few people chastised me, saying that any bias against paperbacks was only perceived, that I didn’t have enough faith in my fellow authors to judge a book based on its merits alone.

Well.

The results are in, and I am shocked, shocked! to report that not a single paperback original made the cut. thriller-award

Here are the finalists:

BEST THRILLER OF THE YEAR
Hold Tight by Harlan Coben
The Bodies Left Behind by Jeffery Deaver
The Broken Window by Jeffery Deaver
The Dark Tide by Andrew Gross
The Last Patriot by Brad Thor

Now, I’m not claiming these aren’t the best thrillers of the year- of the five I’ve read three, and they were great. But I also read a slew of PBO thrillers last year, and I’d rank them as high (or higher) than those three. The ITW is always battling charges that it’s morphing into a club for NY Times bestselling authors, and judging by this list, that might be the case. Granted, books are subjective little beasties, and what I love others might loathe. Perhaps these were the best thrillers of the year. I plan on reading the other two to satisfy my curiosity (and because they’re probably good books).

But I still don’t see where having a separate category for Paperback Originals does any harm. If paperbacks are consistently passed over in favor of their hardcover brethren for another few years, I believe there will be an exodus of PBO authors from the ITW. Which would be a shame, considering the fact that this award was initially conceived to address the fact that few thrillers were acknowledged by the established mystery awards. And making PBOs the red headed stepchildren of the organization doesn’t help anyone.

That’s my two cents.

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