Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Out On a Limb

We had a bad series of violent storms yesterday afternoon in upstate New York. The trees, especially the old ones, took major hits from some pretty dramatic lightening strikes. Now there's a crew of tree workers right outside the window of my fourth floor writing studio taking down a huge maple tree that's got to be seventy or eighty years old.

It's kind of a sad site.

But I keep focusing on this one man who is tied on to the branch above him. He's hovering like a spider about twenty-five feet above the ground and working in the pouring rain, with the occasional flash of lightening and thunder cracking all around him. He's wearing a hardhat and a pair of heavy duty gloves and he's operating a hefty chainsaw. He seems to be enjoying his work, at least from the vantage point of my open top floor window.

It dawns on me that this man could choose a safer line of work. Something more sedate and office-like. But he prefers the danger of the high in the sky tree work. He likes working in the rain and the violent weather. He likes the insecurity of it all, the way it makes his blood flow faster through his veins than that of the blood of a man who prefers to play it safe.

When I travel to a distant place like West, Africa to report on what's happening there or when I start writing a new novel with no definite plan in mind, I experience pretty much the same adrenalin fueled rush that tree worker is feeling right now. It's a dangerous job being a writer. You never know what will happen, and always, there's the chance of crashing and burning.

What about you? Are you willing to go out on a limb as a writer?

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Got What It Takes To Be A Writer?

Last evening I watched a new movie presented by HBO called Hemingway and Gellhorn. It offered a fascinating but sadly cliched view into the life of two of the 20th century's greatest writers. Both were portrayed as hard drinking, whiskey bottle by the side of their typewriter, bombs blasting in their bedroom, always traveling to exotic locales, wild sex with every sentence individuals. Like their novels, much of this is made up. But then, in some ways Hemingway and Gellhorn lived up to this over romanticized image.

Giving credit where credit is due, the literary couple were more than what was presented on the silver screen (or LCD TV in this case).

In reality they both struggled over their writing, and painstakingly wrote their articles, stories and novels, often wrestling with every word. Hemingway would produce on average no more than 250 new words a day and in the prime of his life, took three straight years off from writing altogether. That's how hard it was for him.

Martha would write alone, sometimes for three or four solid hours a day. Then she would toss it all out and start over the next morning. Like her lover, she possessed a very fine built-in shit detector and in this, she was her own worst critic.

Truth is, they never drank booze while they wrote. They didn't get hammered the night before and wake up fresh and write like the words were simply bleeding out them. This is the stuff of Hollywood. This is romance. This is pure bullshit.

The truth about Hemingway and Gellhorn:

Their writing came first.
It came before love.
It came before war.
It came before partnership.
It came before car payments and mortgages.
It came before children.
It came before health and sickness.
It came before leaky roofs and broken refrigerators.
It came before school PTA meetings and dinner with the neighbors.
It came before birthdays, anniversaries, funerals and graduations.
It came before Christmas.
It came before fun.
It came before happiness and sadness.
It came before God.

This is why fifty years after Hemingway's death and fourteen years after Gellhorn's (both of them by suicide), Hollywood is making movies about the couple. Because they were the best at what they did. And to be the best, you must make tremendous sacrifices.

Being a writer is not about being available to the world. It's about locking yourself away, at a great distance if need be, in order to work. Work alone, with yourself, without interruption. It's selfish and it is painstakingly hard work. In Hemingway's words, it is like "biting the nail."

Do you have what it takes to be a great writer?


Sunday, May 27, 2012

Life is Short...

On my way to the gym this morning I almost rear-ended a Jeep that had one those black, vinyl tire protectors wrapped around the spare tire which was attached to its back gate. Painted on the tire protector were the words,
Life is Short. Live it.

Simple. Declarative. No decoration or funky colorful illustrations to further stress and/or dilute the point. Like the cups that are cracked and hooked above the sink, it made me think (thanks for the metaphor Wilco!). We all have choices to make in life. If we're lucky and have the means to do more than just subsist on what we make for a living, we find ourselves having more choices to deal with than we do decisions. So often life is a matter of no choice and it becomes an endless, almost hopeless pattern of work, TV, bed. You wake up one day and you're old, or worse, terminally sick. 

But those who wish to avoid the old, shoulda, coulda, woulda, would do well to pay attention to the words on the Jeep. You must make some very hard life decisions that might not always be so popular with those who love you. Those people who consider you family, friends, and even lovers and partners. Your decisions might even be considered selfish. But then, you must live with yourself day in and day out. If you are a writer or an artist, then you more than anyone know full well what it is to live alone, even when you live with someone else.

As my 47th year winds down, and my new books BLUE MOONLIGHT and MURDER BY MOONLIGHT get ready for publication in December, I look at my writing desk and see two more novels in the draft stages. I see my passport. I see some spare Euros and a whole lot of world I haven't yet experienced. I have my health, my career, my hopes and dreams. Over the past six months, I've spent more time at funerals and wakes than I have over the past six years combined. I know that one day, when I least expect it, my life will come to its final conclusion. Dust to dust. Worms to the flesh.

But for now, I fully realize that I'm left alone to sort out some serious decisions. Life decisions. In doing so, I will keep this clearly in mind:

Life is Short. Live it.

Friday, May 18, 2012

My Guest: Amazon Kindle Bestseller Allan Leverone

The Bestselling Novel

I first came upon the name Allan Leverone about a year and a half ago. He had a new airport style thriller coming out called Final Vector which was being published by Medallion and he asked if I might read it and give him a blurb. I get quite a few requests to blurb books and I can't do them all, sadly. But Vector intrigued me because I travel and fly a lot, and when those massive highly combustible fuel-filled tin cans with engines attached start bottle-necking up on the runway in Philly or maybe Frankfurt, I often find myself gazing out the porthole window and asking the question, how is it these plane don't all collide and blow up even before getting into the air? The answer is Allan Leverone. He's not only an international bestseller with new books like The Lonely Mile and Paskaganekee, he's an air traffic controller. While we all want more books to be written by Allan, let's just hope he's not writing or editing on the job. Speaking of editing, here's Al's post. It's about editing sober or sober editing. This is more than just a simple play on words. Oh and here's Al's website if you'd like to check out more about his life and times and more importantly, his books:

Editing sober
By Allan Leverone

“Write drunk; edit sober.”

Those words are often attributed to Ernest Hemingway, and while there is some debate as to whether the man ever actually uttered them, it’s easy to believe the quote is something he might have said.

And if you’ve ever been drunk, you know you would have to be Ernest Hemingway to have a chance in hell of writing anything worth reading after downing more than a drink or two. Most people have enough trouble carrying on a conversation when drunk, never mind writing interesting prose.

Far be it from me to put words in Papa’s mouth (or the mouth of whoever actually said it), because his point may have been one hundred eighty degrees opposite mine, but in my opinion the quote makes a lot of sense, not because of the first half of the statement but because of the last.

“Edit sober.” Those two words conjure up an image of a solitary individual, maybe sitting at a desk in the middle of the night, ruthlessly marking up a manuscript in red pen, slashing unnecessary descriptors, tightening dialogue, cutting scenes, working tirelessly to make the manuscript as high-quality and readable as possible.

A good editor is like a good umpire in baseball or a good referee in football: the game depends upon them, but when the job is done well, they’re mostly invisible. They are critical, in other words. You don’t notice them until they’re not there, or until they do a lousy job.

The dawn of the ebook era, and more specifically the self-publishing era, has clarified that point in a way that nothing else could. It has become so easy for anyone with something to say to get his or her work in front of the eyes of the public, that what was taken for granted in the past as the only acceptable way to do business, has become an optional step for many authors.

And that’s a shame, because although I’ve only been writing fiction seriously for five-and-a-half years, I’ve been reading it for nearly half a century, and I’m here to tell you nothing turns me off quicker than a poorly-written or poorly-edited book.

I learned the value of professional editing when my first thriller, FINAL VECTOR, went through the process at Medallion Press. I believed I had submitted a tight, exciting, well-paced thriller, but after going through the editing process, the book came out the other side vastly improved, far superior to the work I had submitted. And as an added benefit, I learned a lot about the craft of writing and about how to improve as a writer.

Lots of self-published authors feel they don’t need professional editing, or that the costs of it outweigh the benefits. As a reader I’m disappointed in that attitude, but as an author I’m thankful for it.

You see, I’m considering dipping my toe into the waters of self-publishing now, after working with Medallion Press and StoneHouse Ink on my first three thrillers, and I intend to be around for the long haul. While I understand and accept the fact that my work won’t appeal to everyone, at the very least I know the average reader will not be turned off to one of my books because of a poorly presented product. I’m grateful to have the opportunity to get a leg up on all those authors who might have an interesting concept, but whose execution suffers.

Readers are like gold to an author. They’re hard to come by and critical to long-term success. Losing one single reader thanks to poor editing is a loss I can ill-afford. Editing matters.

I may not write drunk, but I’m thankful someone edits 


Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Michael: The New Novel by Aaron Patterson and Chris White

My buds Aaron Patterson and Chris White have asked me to spread the word about their new one, Michael ...It's on sale starting tomorrow...So hopefully you will check it out!!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Ass to the Chair, Fingers to the Keys

The Prolific Master

The New York Times published a story this weekend about how authors, in this the digital age, now find themselves writing not one book every couple of years (or in the case of our namby pamby literary MFA professor cousins, one book every five to ten years), but because of increased consumer demand, two to four or more. I've been writing about this exact topic for close to two years now and I've spouted off in numerous interviews about how this is indeed a new golden age for writers and readers.

Here's the article URL:

Wow, it's really insightful. 

I've said before also that writers should maintain a variety of publishing options. Major deals, indie deals and self-publishing ventures. I currently am engaged in all three. I've hit a few home runs over the past year with The Innocent and The Remains most notably, but so long as writers produce good books, there's no reason they can't begin to make a very good living eventually.

How can you too take advantage of this the new Golden Age of writing?

By placing your ass in the chair and fingers to the keys.

All it takes to write a book of sixty thousand words in six weeks time is five pages per day. And that's with the weekends off. I can write five pages in about two to three hours which leaves me with plenty of time to work on a second or even a third book. James Patterson has been doing this for years and so has Stephen King.

We're professional writers.

Writing novels is what we do for a living, and there's no reason we shouldn't be putting in as much time as a lawyer does at his or her firm.

Remember, it's all a matter of ass to the chair, and fingers to the keys.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

So I Finally Went and Published It Myself!

A lot of people...readers especially...associate me directly with Indie Publishing. There's good reason for this since for the past two years I have been publishing with arguably the hottest indie-based publisher in the country, StoneHouse/StoneGate Ink (Get the full story on my indie journey here at SUSPENSE MAGAZINE). And I've done very well with them. So well, I've landed a major deal with Amazon's Thomas & Mercer imprint. But that doesn't mean I won't continue to work with the StoneGates.

Not by a long shot. 

But it also means something else too. For ages now I've been preaching that for an author to be successful he or she needs to engage in a variety of publishing methods. Those methods are, and I repeat: Traditional major, indie-based small press, and self-publishing. I've engaged in the two former methods sometimes successfully and other times dreadfully. But the latter of the three, self-publishing, has eluded me for some time now, even if a whole lot of people out there assume that's what I've been doing for a while now.

But now, I have gone and done it with the re-publication of my literary psychological suspense novel, Permanence, first published in 1995. For my first venture into the world of DIY, I wanted to make sure I did it right, so I hired the best editorial and conversion pros I could find. I also hired a great cover artist, and just one look at the stunning woman-in-the-water book cover might make you realize this is not going to be your everyday thriller.

I also rewrote some of the book, having added a brand new plot point towards the end. I know some fans might consider this cheating, but to be perfectly honest, I'm a better writer now and I wanted to give the reader his or her money's worth. That includes well written sentences and a well developed plot.

This is not your everyday Vincent Zandri thriller. It's a bit of an experiment and the narrative relies heavily on image. Something I was very into at the time. Through the years, some of my fans who read the original version have called this my best, most powerful book. I'm not sure about that, but who knows. Like I said, it was a departure when I wrote it and now, in this second edition published by my own Bear Media label, it remains a departure. But a good read nonetheless and an important stepping stone in the evolution of my noir career.

I hope you think so too