Wednesday, May 30, 2012

It’s Done – But Not Yet

Two Important Characters in 12th Man 4 Death

Monday was a milestone date. I finished the draft for my new Sharon O’Mara Chronicle, 12th Man 4 Death. According to my schedule, which I slavishly ignored, I was to complete the first draft by August 1, 2012. I beat the date by more than 60 days. I poured myself another cup of coffee, scratched some personal part of my anatomy, stared at the Apple screen and said, “Well that was fun, now what?”

When writers reach various benchmarks and markers in their book’s progress, there has to be celebrations (if nothing more than to reinforce the writer’s dedication). According to Stephen King some of these celebrations led to alcohol and drug dependence (see On Writing), for others it was an excuse to finally get a tan, and for some, to be reacquainted with loved ones and children. Me, I took a deep breath and opened the file to my next novel; the one that I hope will be my break-through.

I have set aside 12th Man for a while, letting it gestate as well as giving me some separation before I look at the second editing (King said to let it sit for six weeks, I assure you I am not that patient). I don’t see this as a rewrite or second draft of the book, more of a cleanup. I really liked the story, the characters and the further development of Sharon and her close group of friends. The basic story is about her investigating a murder at the start of the America’s Cup races in San Francisco, the murder leads to Europe and all the fun that billionaires and their toys have when it comes to things that are totally unnecessary to modern life. More later on the story as we closer to its publication date.

I have a system when I re-attack a manuscript. In later blogs I’ll go through this as I break down each phase of the rework. It involves everything from spell-checks to usage to contractions and punctuations (very mechanical and cut and dried). I try hard to make my editor’s work easier (that’s Dennis DeRose – see header above). Goal: To have the manuscript edited and ready for publication by mid-August. Then onto ebook and paperback (still can’t call them pbooks, yet). This is the longest of the four Chronicles, almost 90K words, which is 25K more than the first book, Land Swap 4 Death. It took five months to write for those curious readers out there.

One of the reasons that pushed me to complete the draft was the next book I’m working on. This new story is very exciting. My goal is to finish the draft by the end of the year, ambitious to be sure; somewhere around the 140K to 160K word count. If there is an agent who loves Chicago and Italy and World War II out there, send me an email. Love to hear from you. Synopsis and first chapter is available.

Next Monday night, June 4th, I will find out if my hard work on Elk River pays off. It was selected by the IBPA (Independent Book Publishers Association) as a Benjamin Franklin award finalist in the LGBT category, one of three books. Wish me luck; you never know where something like this will lead.

I will also be in Traverse City, Michigan on June 15th for a book signing. It is at Horizon Books on Front Street from 3 to 5. If you are in the area, stop by, I look forward to meeting you.

More Later . . . .

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Agony of the Long Distance Couch Potato

Tom Selleck and Robert B. Parker
Sometimes a writer gets a chance to watch a professional at work supported by a wonderful body of creativity. On Sunday last, Tom Selleck reprised the role of the late Robert B. Parker’s Jesse Stone. Stone is just one of Parker’s incredible cast of characters including Spencer (no first name), Hawk, Chollo, Rose, Jesse, Suitcase, Sunny Randall (great name), and a host of bad guys, mobsters (even a gay mob boss). What I love about Parker’s work is the dialog, page after page of short, almost guttural, conversations; it’s like you are watching a tennis match with hand grenades. I got shivers watching Selleck serve and return the lines of a master or at least under the ghostly hand of the master. Selleck was the co-writer and producer.

Often the idea of story structure tied to language is lost, often due to the massive use today of technology and computer graphics – it’s cool but like a rock concert where it’s so loud you only get the visceral – not the cerebral. Radio dramas made you use your imagination; TV is worse for the loss. Yet Selleck’s “Benefit of the Doubt,” is that quiet storm that approaches in the early morning that darkens the sky, not lightening it. And when it hits, time almost reverses. The hard gruff and broken character of Jesse Stone survives, the dialog flows, the rain hits the windows, the dog finally puts his head on Stones lap, the viewer gets choked-up.

This is not a review of the show. It was enjoyable, had a good beat, easy to dance to. What’s on next? No, it is more of an example of great writing and character development that started with Parker’s pen and made real by Tom Selleck. While I bounced around Parker’s books over the years I never really dug into them until Jesse Stone put on a Paradise Police Department cap and stood looking over the rocky Atlantic coastline holding a scotch. Then I dove in. The elegance of his text is more like a script – maybe why Parker’s books went into TV long before other successful authors.

A writer is always concerned with story and plot, they are very important. But the most important part of a story is its characters, are they people you want to spend hours and days with? Do you want to let them into your head and allow them to walk around? Could they be your friend? Could they be living next door and do you think about having your kids stay inside? Would you want to have a drink with them?

Parker and Selleck achieve greatness by melding story, dialog and character. There is the melancholy foreboding in Parker’s books and in Selleck’s production. This is art, not programming. Every writer should LISTEN to this movie, they will learn, learn a lot

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Getting Closer and Closer

The Road Ahead
One important aspect of writing is to discuss the plot line and action with a neutral party – interested but neutral. It helps on a number of fronts:
  • Makes you think through the storyline,
  • Makes you justify the actions of the players,
  • Forces you cleanup neglected details (and ones you forgot),
  • Helps to tie up loose ends,
  • And gives you an opportunity for the Ah-ha moment when you really discover what’s making the story tick.
I am learning and I learn more with each book. Most thriller writers (novices and nimrods) start with a bold and exciting notion, write the first 10,000 or 20,000 words of brilliant prose as well as a spectacular ending and then are suddenly stuck with the realization that:
  1. They don’t have a clue how to connect the start with the finale,
  2. Their characters are in drastic need of redevelopment,
  3. They have a huge chunk in the middle that feels like crossing Death Valley in a wheelchair,
  4. And they really, really don’t have an ending.
Sometimes a group-think session, oiled with scotch or other libations, is the answer. I just finished one of these sittings over the weekend.

My father was in town, he’s a frustrated journalism major from our same alma mater Michigan State University – Truman was president when he graduated, I got Nixon. I was wrestling with the story line and had Sharon (see left and right columns, she’s the one with the size six figure), stuck on top of the Peggy Guggenheim Museum in Venice with a drink in her hand and the arch enemy climbing the steps – and I was stuck. We talked about the story, what one character would do and what she wouldn’t. Ideas and liquored flowed (I wish I had Dragon software for voice – I have to get it for the next time one of these sessions strike), and we found a cool solution. It’s good to turn to friends and fathers.

The heart of the novel is often called the muddle in the middle – how to keep the reader and the writer interested until the last quarter of the book. If the reader starts looking at chapter counts, you're dead. And to be honest there are no easy answers, but a good outline or even a chapter by chapter synopsis is critical at this point – like our man in the wheelchair you don’t want to find yourself crossing your own tire tracks.

I have about 10,000 words left to finish, I'm over the muddle and on to the denouement. As I’ve noted before, the 4 Death books are written around a formalized structure – fifteen chapters each broken into three or four sub-chapters, 75-85,000 words total, it works for these stories. For a thriller/mystery this structure helps to push the story to a quick and satisfactory finale. And it also helps to collapse and resolve the middle-muddle blues.

More later . . . .

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

It’s the Market, Stupid

Evil Empires

How to begin? I have been bombarded with emails from the Northern California Independent Book Association (NCIBA), the American Booksellers Association (ABA) HERE , Publishers Weekly (HERE) and others regarding the agency model for e-book pricing and its preservation. The Department of Justice has reached some form of a settlement with three publishers regarding the pricing of e-books. I am always very leery and in fact downright adamantly against the government making any effort at controlling prices through pressure, agreements (what is the difference between that and price-fixing), and intimidation. Whether for the good or bad it all depends on a point of view, and they are all wrong points of view.

Amazon is blamed and it is the witch in this witch hunt. They are blamed for the demise of Borders and the precarious existence of Barnes and Noble, (yet these same retailers were the evil empires not too long ago, and remember Microsoft’s heavy hand in tech). Now these organizations defend these national chains and yearn for the days of yesteryear. Let’s get one thing straight from my high pedestal, the big houses do not care a fig about the consumer, they only care about their businesses and their profits – and I say bully for them. Like it or not they provide an important service to writers, agents and eventually the consumer. Yet at any stage the consumer can opt out, as they have been for years; I have been told that only about 1% of the reading public buys hardcover books. Book sales are down, YouTube videos are up, and Hulu is challenging CBS, the world is tilting. And now that more and more people are reading using various electronic devices, the marketplace is becoming more and more like the old west, and I for one don’t think a sheriff is needed. So quit complaining to ears in Washington.

The independent bookstore is scared to death by Amazon and they should be. I’m sure that the illuminating monks of 1450 wanted to have Gutenberg drawn and quartered – he was directly affecting their livelihoods. Now the same can be said of Amazon. Is their pricing a problem? Probably. Can they undercut the price of a book sold at a bookstore (though the margin is a lot less with shipping)? Yes. Should taxes be paid on the sale? Yes. And what about Costco, Target, Wal-Mart and other buyers in bulk – shouldn’t their prices be the same as the local independent bookstore? Yes – but they’re not. As I said, the marketplace is cowboy town.

Ebooks are the new chimera. Six or seven types, dozens of readers, at least five formats and counting, black and white, color, and priced from free to whatever. It’s the whatever that’s being challenged. I’m sure if some had their way, free ebooks would be banned. They are so unfair. What is really scaring agents and publishers is the lack or loss of control. For over one hundred years they held in thrall writers. Now writers are free to publish, market, make money, lose money, succeed and fail without Scribners, Wiley, Penguin, and Random House dictating how they shall live and breathe. It’s tough losing control. I can sell my books (see left and right columns) for whatever I want: free, $0.99, $2.99, $29.99, my costs are minimal, my margins are also minimal –Dan Brown gets more from the market than I do, but since I’m Gregory C. Randall, the market pays me what I can get (for now - I will get even). BTW – all my books are on sale until June 21.

All these shenanigans are just this – fear of change. The writing/bytes are on the wall. Ereaders, tablets, pads and phones ARE the future, paper books will still be bought, fine hardcovers will be made, and in fact I’m sure there are monks slaving under candles even today.

As my hero, the Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises said in Human Action (1949) GO HERE, “The market is supreme.” It is what it is, and does what is does, and pay what it pays – until it won’t. It is not emotional or caring, it is not fair or political (sorry DOJ), it is brutal and unforgiving, just ask Borders, the auto industry, Bill Clinton's last book, and Mervyns.

Mises stressed the importance of entrepreneurship because it is entrepreneurs who actually do monetary calculation. Today more than any time in history there are more independent publishers (entrepreneurs) printing and distributing books – thank you print-on-demand, Mark Coker and Smashwords, Amazon, and computers (no particular allegiance – I go both ways, Mac and PC). We Indies are testing the waters with our own money and as such changing the course of rivers, and contrary to what Mr. Oren Teicher, CEO of the ABA, says “Fewer ebooks eventually being produced by publishers? Almost a guarantee.” All I can say is phooey Mr. Teicher and get out of our way. You are not doing us any favors.

A closing remark: While Mr. Teicher’s letter was to booksellers and, in passing, to writers, I firmly believe that he doesn’t care a comma about us independent publishers and writers who use Amazon and Smashwords as our only doorway to the electronic marketplace, and whether they are fair or not, thank you. And to the poor independent bookstores in my neighborhood, “When are you going to return my emails?”

More later . . . . .

Thursday, May 3, 2012

A Bit Puffed Up Right Now

Just wanted to let you be one of the first to hear that my novel ELK RIVER was selected by the IBPA (Independent Book Publishers Association) and its Benjamin Franklin Awards as one of the three best books in its category, LGBT,  for 2012 (there is an important part of the book that focused on one of the character's gay relationship). The Benjamin Franklin Awards will be in New York City on June 4th and my publishing team and I will be there with fingers crossed.

I will also be in Traverse City, Michigan for a book event at Horizon Books on June 15th in the afternoon.

It is these little and very big things that keep us writing.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Work, Work, Work

A strange thing has happened this week, my other job got frantic. It’s the one that helps pay for the fun and opportunity to write, see video below. If there is one part of this writing gig that I won’t tolerate it is the “starving artist” scenario, so a job on the side is necessary. 

So with so many things to discuss:
  • Microsoft and Barnes and Noble Nook deal,
  • The Justice Department and Apple,
  • The cost of ebooks,
  • Scheduling a book tour in Michigan,
  • and whether the riches of Venice will turn Sharon O’Mara to the dark side,
they will just have to wait until next week.

But I offer this little video that dwkazzie scripted that tells what it’s all about:

More later . . . ..