Wednesday, October 30, 2013


The start of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is only two days away and according to its web site over 178,892 writers have already signed up – very cool. November is also what might also be euphemistically called Writer's Procrastination Month, lots of social things on our plate so we tend to set the current manuscript on the side until the holidays are done. So someone invented NaNoWriMo  as a self-medicating challenge to see if one can start and complete a real novel in one month - thirty days. That’s it. The rules (at least those not challenged by the whole NoNoNaNoWriMo subgroup) are that it must be a completely new piece, started from scratch on November 1 and pencils/keyboard down on November 30 at midnight. It must be a minimum word count of 50,000. I am not sure whether editing is allowed after completion – your call.

Well, this year as in the past, I am not participating. Not on strike mind you, not “I’m better than that” either, it’s simply that after two novels written this year and another one half done, I don’t need the challenge and besides the tips of my fingers are still blistered. For many the exercise is a thrill ride, a contest like learning to play golf in thirty days (which is of course impossible). Shank, hook, slice and all you need is a hole in one on the last day to call yourself a professional. Writing is hard. Any writing is hard. Poems, psalms, instructions for your iPad, novels, thrillers, directions to Safeway, romances, erotica, books on dogs, books on cats, books on lemmings – it’s damn hard. I know after seven books, how hard it is.

One month, 30 days - shoot for 1,700 words each day. That’s it. The idea is to keep it going until done: think, write, write, think – do again. If you outline you won’t get it done, too time consuming and distracting. This isn’t some stream of conscience existential exercise, it writing a story – a complete story. Beginning, middle, end, and done. If you’re into it (and that happens), write more but not after midnight November 2013. But at some point you have to start thinking of the end, the denouement, the final gotcha. Is the bad guy caught and punished, did he/she get the boy or the girl, did the train really run over our heroine as she was tied to the tracks, or not? And whatever happened to that character in chapter two?

It’s about pacing and structure, there isn’t time to finagle with the unnecessary bits, the parts no one wants to read anyway. Push forward, strive for a cliff hanger every chapter, leave them wanting, demanding more, show them the curtain but don’t open it until the drum roll at the end. It is a fun exercise and if any of you dear readers have published your NaNoWriMo drop me a comment, I would like to know how you did.

I won’t be participating, I already wrote one book this year in less than six weeks at 60,000 words. It was my version of NaNoWriMo, it just was in August not November. I hope to have it out this winter, cool detective story set in Chicago. And yes this speed exercise forced me to write crisp and sharp, not a lot you don’t want to read. I’ll let you know when it’s available.

A book in a month is a trick play but it will teach you discipline, editing on the fly, and how to keep your spouse happy when you disappear for hours into the Bat Cave. There will be payback she assures me. With Thanksgiving being late this year, I see a lot of dangerous editing going on for those five hours the bird is in the oven and the deadline looms only four short days away. Just saying.

More later . . . . . . . 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Passing Thoughts

I am the last person one should ask about punctuation. Quotation marks, commas, apostrophes, dashes, semi-colons, all send shivers. I have written about the rules (thank goodness there are such) and the many very good books on the use of these various scratches that control the verbs, nouns, pronouns, and conjunctions that fill our work. Without such policemen our works would devolve into a frat party on the first/last day of school. So I diligently follow these rules and rationally applied them. Then I was gobsmacked.
Doing some research on the 1930s for a detective story I’m finishing off I thought it wise to return to the master of the genre back then Dashiell Hammett. So back to the shelf and The Thin Man. And there is was in the second paragraph.

I said: “Yes.”

Can you believe a colon being used for an attribution? I was shocked and still am. Is this correct? Was it correct back then? Was Mr. Hammett being overly influenced by alcohol or some other, at the time, illegal substance? I really don’t know, but I kind of like it. By the way he uses it throughout the book when the attribution precedes the quotation, all neat and professional like. I’m sure there is forgotten rule lying about, lost. 

Cover Art:
Outside of some very obvious ugly book covers (I’ve my share) and the desire to save money, indie writers who do their own book covers are a na├»ve and foolish lot. We have a single purpose goal to express our work through a single image – get it all out there. Yet we fail miserably most of the time. Here are some very basic rules (the better ones come from Joel Friedlander – GO HERE

1. Remember that today for Indie writers especially, their market begins when the buyer looks at a postage stamp sized image on their computer. Can the title be read (without 2.00 glasses), can the author’s name be read, and is the image itself clean and discernible. Check out Amazon’s thriller listing and you will see what I mean, then pin your work on the wall and look at it from across the room.

2. White covers are great on bookstores tables but awful in the white space of the world of digital book lists. Give the cover some color to separate it from the normally white background.

3. Typefaces have started wars in the indie world (and most probably in the publishing world as well). I advise sticking to the best cover fonts out there. Each genre has its favorites (some proprietary) but look at them and study them. Romance uses different fonts than thrillers and non-fiction. And while Stephen King’s latest Doctor Sleep uses a type face made in photoshop (and quite successfully I might add) don’t try it yourself; this is the realm of the professional.

4. And please try and stay away from black and red (I’ll slap myself later), it’s becoming trite and hard to read. Be creative and interesting and the cover does not have to tell the reader what’s in the book, in fact let surprise be your mantra.

It has been a trying summer (three versions of the same book, one brilliant new detective story, and the return to the O’Mara Chronicles). I thought I had a final product for the first version of the 160K word

novel but after some comments from agents I blew it up, shortened it, decided on a trilogy, met with a great story editor, stuck in some C-4, blew it up again and now have a shortened WWII thriller. From epic novel, to serialized story, to trilogy, to shorten epic novel, to Nazi thriller – ah the life of a book. The detective story (and sequels) grew out of the pieces left lying about from Samurai attack on the “epic,” the pieces are good for at least three detective thrillers – very cool. And Sharon O’Mara is now back on the front burner and I am definitely turning up the heat, I promise a New Year’s surprise or very soon thereafter.

More Later . . . . . . . . .

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Editing – The Devil’s Bane

I’ve updated a post I made about two years ago regarding editing. I am currently into the final edits of two books that I hope to get to a publisher (for us writers hope is a very real state of mind). Editing is as much a part of the writing process as is the creation of the story, welcome it, enjoy the process, immerse yourself and get your fingers all pruney.

A published book must be edited, period. Well edited, period. No buts or excuses. Remarks such as: “No one will notice,” “It’s just a comma for Pete’s sake,” “It’s my book, I can do what I want, it’s my way of being independent, showing my difference,” are not acceptable (and I’m sure the punctuation is wrong, somewhere, for the previous phrasing). Baloney, you worked hard on your story, you must present it as perfectly as possible. There are very good examples of going off the trail such as Amanda Coplin’s The Orchardist (with not one attributed quote) but I warn you, that trail can be extremely difficult to take.

I am saying this after having six novels professionally edited. But still, while going through the galley/final proof, the errors I continue to find (post edit) just make me shake my head. Not to blame the editor, but I, as the author, must review the book at every stage, checking for spelling, spell-check is great but it is dumber than a box of rocks, i.e. canvas and canvass are both correct, except when they are reversed in the story. And we are all aware of to, too, and two. (BTW, what does to plus too equal?) Punctuation has rules, but it’s the typos that get lost, little things like the comma after a quote that is followed by an attribution, i.e. “She melted,” Dorothy said. If you place a period after melted the punctuation review in you MS Word won’t pick it up. Do a search and replace. And on and on and on. The axiom, “The devil’s in the details,” is truth.

An editor is critical; they have the experience and single-minded purpose to eliminate errors and confusions. With Track Changes in Word, the author can follow the editors proposed changes, approve or reject them and then produce the final manuscript. But at the same time the author must not blithely okay them, look at the suggestions and understand the corrections before approving the final.

This has nothing to do with style or content. In this particular area of editing or more specifically copy-editing, it is form over substance. For some books both a content editor and a copy-editor are needed, and in fact demanded. And, even beyond that for non-fiction, a fact-checking and even data checking editor might be employed. The wrong address in a travel book can be messy, the wrong phone number survives until the next edition (and if for an B&B you will never be comped a room). The responsibility is yours as the author.

I have started a list of phrases and misspellings that I commonly make, I do a search for each in a methodical way to find and change as needed (here and her are one of my faves). I do the same for punctuation, things like the above mentioned period instead of a comma. Keep a list; in fact start a manual to use for each edit. Do your reviews before you send the manuscript on to your underpaid editor. If they work hourly, you will save some time and money.

I offered blogs on SmartEdit during the past year, this is a good program. Learn it and use it. Find a good book or guide on writing that focuses on grammar, spelling (difficult words), style and punctuation (I have at least five on a shelf). The rules (and they are rules) are simple and direct. One of the best guides is Lynne Truss’s book Eats, Shoots & Leaves. It’s humorous and stays with you. Also Grammar Girl is very good, but you can get lost or lose hours reading thru her subjects – but it’s worth it. (CLICK HERE)

We work very, very hard at presenting the best story. We fold time, kill off evil doers, invent fantastic machines, discover unknown countries, and tell simple stories of boy meets girl or boy meets prom queen who turns out to be an alien mind-sucking zombie who drives a BMW. Don’t mess it up with a poor presentation.

More later. . . .

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Tom Clancy Dead at 66

Tom Clancy died today in Baltimore. I will miss him and so will the publishing and entertainment world. Through his creativity and storytelling we have incredible characters and stories that ring true today even in the so called ‘real’ world. His stories were plausible and even prophetic. Everyone knows who Jack Ryan is. Every writer wants Sean Connery, Harrison Ford, and Ben Affleck to play their main characters. We thriller writers want to be the next Tom Clancy.

But he also famously told new writers:
“I don’t recommend writing as a form of employment, because it’s such miserable work,” he said in an interview. “That’s how you tell a rookie: if they actually think the writing’s fun. I guess it is for the first one or two, but after that it just becomes miserable work, like digging in the dirt with a shovel. But it’s something you have to do. You can’t not do it.” (From Time)

Every writer brings first their imagination to the story and then the archaic crafting and wordsmithing begins. And if this is what Clancy was talking about I can sympathize. The story is often easy, a few paragraphs and there you are, roughed out, voila! But it is the grind of 1,500 to 3,000 words a day, on days when they’re not there, that’s what he’s talking about. It’s the publishing contracts, the need for the manuscript to the publisher in 60 days, the endless editing and revising, and it’s the ‘next’ one that needs to be started.

He was the consummate story teller, timely, crisp, relevant, and even heroic. In a time in the genre where the heros are broken men with issues, it’s always good to know that Jack has our back. I have a shelf with his books chronologically set in a row, all hardcover, it is imposing. I have other authors stacked that way as well but his are always thicker, and like his stories, richer and heavier. Sometime when I’m stuck on some phrasing and pacing, I’ll pull one of his books and read. The prose is clean, sharp, driving. There no cheap stuff, no unnecessary frills, no tawdry nonsense.

The legend goes that Ronald Regan was asked what he was reading and he said “Red October,” and Tom Clancy’s career was started, but one book does not make a successful writer, he wrote and co-wrote dozens of books after that. Each, with few exceptions, exciting, thrilling and satisfying.

This is my genre, the thriller. My characters aren’t out to save the world, but I still try to bang out a story that captivates and entertains. What more can we do?

Elmore Leonard, Vince Flynn, Tom Clancy all gone too soon. Their stories and their pens will be missed.

More later . . . . . .