Saturday, June 30, 2012

Russo's War

The new one from Russo, in paper edition only...

Pulitzer Prize winning author Richard Russo is trying to stop progress or, said another way, reverse recent history. He's decided to boycott the ebook edition of his newest collection of stories (You can get the exciting story here) in favor of only paper versions (Go to hell all you trees!). Russo feels that in doing so he will become the savior of the ever failing independent bookstore. Hey Russo, where were you when the behemoth Barnes and Nobles and Border's bookstore giants were crushing the itsy bitsy independents? Oh, you were doing book signing tours for them, right? Course you were.

In any case, Russo claims that lots of authors will eventually give up their ebook editions in order to follow his crusade. Wow, Richard, we're all holding our breath. I wonder how many paper copies Russo will sell regardless of giving up ebook sales? I can bet it will be a lot. Certainly more than the average mid-list author who usually won't earn enough back on paper sales to make up his or her advance. But now with ebooks being all the rage, and having great books available at affordable prices to young people who are devouring them on their e-readers, many authors can make a good solid living again. I know, I'm one of them.

Sure, all my books are published in paper, audio, and e-book, and yes I publish with a major publisher (Thomas & Mercer) and with at least two, small, independent publishers (including StoneHouse and StoneGate Ink). Like a writing professor of mine once said, "I lust publishing." Me too! Heck, if there were a way for a book to be published over a smart phone, I would lust that too. Oh, wait, you can get all twelve of my in-print books on a smart phone. You can read plenty of Russo's books that way too.

I wonder if the entire literary intelligentsia is going to jump on the Russo, "Let's go back to the olden days when authors had to struggle to be published and hardcover books cost $30 a piece?" I wonder if the MFA programs and the literary wanna-be NYT newspaper reporters will join in? Not likely. Then they'd have to stop the electronic versions of their papers appearing on their Nooks and Kindles. I wonder if the bookstores Russo is trying to save will give up the antiquated old fashioned system of book returns or stop pulling new books from the shelves after only six weeks? I wonder if they will give up their Internet connections, their Google searches, their smartphones, their Pandora and their Sirius radio in order to support musicians who want to see a return to vinyl records and cash for each single played on the air?

Ok, my point is made.

Mr. Russo, I have the utmost respect for your talents, but please don't encourage other authors who have not won a Pulitzer to follow in your footsteps. Instead encourage them to sign the paper editions of their books at their local independent bookseller. Not since the 1920s have authors enjoyed so much freedom to publish however and wherever they want without having to suffer horrible humiliation at the hands of the corporate media giants. And make no mistake about it, the untalented ones will fail and the talented ones will persevere and sell, just like always. It's not how the words are published, Mr. Russo, it's the fact that they are being published and that people are reading them again at an affordable price.


Monday, June 25, 2012

The Worst Writing/Publishing Advice I Ever Did Get

It seems like every author I know is blogging about the best and worst writing advice they ever got. My colleague Stant Litore just published his in a very cool blog at ZOMBIE BIBLE, and I thought I would do the same here. Only difference with my little piece is that I am including publishing advice as well as some other gossipy juicy tidbits.

1. If you write five good stories in your life, that's a lot.

Source: Creative writing prof at MFA school. What a douche.

2. It's image that propels a novel, not plot.

Source: Creative writing prof at MFA school. I actually did my thesis on this huge pile of steaming MFA-writing-style dog shit. Ok, there's some veracity to it, but if you don't have a plot in your novel, than you might as well, ummmmm, teach at an MFA program for a living.

3. If it isn't literary it's sub-par.

Source: MFA school in general. For the most part I write in the hard-boiled genre and my sentences are at least as good as some stuck up literary stiff who wouldn't know a plot if it got undressed in front of him.

4. "When I begin to read violence in a novel, I toss the book across the room."

Source: That's a direct quote by an MFA prof of mine who spoke with a faux French accent and had written one novel about working as a used car salesman like thirty-five years ago, and nothing ever since. That's because he considers himself such a great writer that putting words on a page, not to mention words that convey violence, is beneath him. Again, total fucking douche.

5. "You can write on the side while you work for your family business."

Source: I can't tell you but it's a direct quote. Enough said about that topic...But sill, if I were to translate it would be, "You can be miserable and trapped like the rest of us or you can write and have a great life."

6.  "You will never get another major deal again."

Source: A local independent bookstore owner who is supposed to be a pillar of society. Two months later I proceeded to sell a couple hundred thousand copies of The Innocent, The Remains, and Godchild, which lead to my signing a "very nice deal" in an 8 book acquisition with Thomas & Mercer at Amazon Publishing (and yes my agent had other offers from some of the traditional Big Six houses which we turned down. Gladly!). I was definitely thinking of that bookstore owner while hanging out at the T&M publishing party in NYC during the BEA two weeks ago, along side some reporters from The New York Times,  the Wall Street Journal, etc.

7. "Write one true sentence."

Source: Ernest Hemingway. Papa I love you man, and if it weren't for you I probably would have done the family business thing the unmentionable source wanted me to do. But you lost me on this one...

8. Once you strike the major deal, you got it made.

Source: other writers, most of them from MFA school. Most times, after you sign the major deal and secure the first portion of the advance, you find yourself in trouble. You have no idea how to market yourself so you leave it up the marketing team. Usually, you end up selling nothing. Getting the major deal doesn't mean you've got it made. It means  they are giving you a chance to sell some books. Writing isn't only an art. It's a business. Don't blow your chance to be a success.

9. E-Books are a fad.

 Source: That bookstore owner....Ha, ha, hahahahaha....

10. Social media doesn't sell books. Traditional book signings sell books.

Source: Some author who still listens to cassette tapes in his car and who still misses Borders Books.

11. You need an MFA in Writing.

Source: MFA teachers who depend upon you for their paycheck.

All this said, what's the best advice I ever received?

1. Write what you like to read.

Source: Vincent Zandri, bestselling noir author.


Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Brazill Connection: Noir Author Paul Brazill Speaks Out

 "Hey barkeep, give me another and make it a double. I just read another Zandri novel."

It's amazing how small the world is becoming, and how with the advent of social media and digital publishing, like-minded people (oh shit, I mean "Peeps" in the vernacular of the historical present) are now able to gravitate together to form a kind of family. Noir author and hard-boiled writer Paul Brazil is a member of my family or tribe, even though I have never met him in the flesh and he is an Englishman who lives in Poland. He is a brother/sibling, along with the likes of Heath Lowrance from Detroit (actually, I think it's possible that Heath and Paul are the same man, but I have no way of verifying this), Les Edgerton from Indiana, Ben Sobieck from Wisconsin, Enzo Body Cold and Alessandra Bucheri from Rome (Ok, I've had the pleasure of meeting the latter two this past Spring), and so many more. 

Paul has been responsible for putting together some great collections of short hard-boiled fiction, not the least of which is the popular Drunk on the Moon series and Brit Grit. He is an award winning novelist and short story writer and just an all around great noir afficianado and dude knows way more about the dark world I try to inhabit everyday through my little books and stories than I ever will know. Today he speaks to us about TV. Gritty crime dramas coming at you from both sides of the big drink (Atlantic Ocean, that is). Admittely, I haven't seen any of them since I rarely do TV, but now that I've read the blog that follows I am going to make a point of taking a peak. Who knows, I might actually find something here that's as good as the old Rockford Files series. It's got to be good of Paul Brazill recommends it.

Guest Blog: U S Grit – In Praise Of Southland
by Paul D. Brazill
There’s been a lot of talk about Brit Grit recently- usually from me - and, more specifically, Brit Grit television - edgy, realistic crime drama such as  Cracker, Gangsters and Luther.

The US has also been deservedly praised for producing great crime shows like The Wire and Breaking Bad, of course.
But one show that I think is due more praise and attention is surely TNT’s Southland – a cinema verite look at the rough and tumble lives of a group of LAPD police officers that was created by Emmy Award winning Anne Biderman.

I’ll admit that I only discovered Southland quite recently. I’m a fan of the film director Allison Anders, so I sought out a couple of the shows that she directed.

And it was great, raw, fast paced – and yes, gritty -stuff. Despite a slightly cheesy voice over at the start, as in other sharp American crime shows – like Justified - there was more of human life packed in one breathless 40 minute episode than most series.

But like most great television, you need to see more than the occasional episode. You need to get into it. To let it ferment.
And of late I was lucky enough to see all of Southland Season Four. And beaut stuff it was too.

Heart in the mouth tension. Realistic characters and situations. Sharp dialogue. Great performances – particularly from Michael Cudlitz, Regina King and C. Thomas Howell. Lucy Liu even guested and showed herself to be a cracking character actor.

So, if you want a short, sharp shock of US Grit, check out Southland. You won’t be disappointed.

Bio: I was born in England and now live in Poland. I started writing flash fiction and short stories at the end of 2008.  

I've since had bits and bobs published in various magazines and anthologies, including CrimeFactory, Burning Bridges, Action, Beat To A Pulp, Needle, A Twist Of Noir, Radgepacket and The Mammoth Book Of Best British Crime 8. 

I've also had two short but perfectly formed collections published -13 Shots Of Noir (Untreed Reads) and Snapshots (Pulp Metal Fiction).  

Oh, and I've edited two anthologies - True Brit Grit – with Luca Veste -(Guilty Conscience) and Drunk On The Moon (Dark Valentine Press). Times.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Does Size Really Matter?

I was recently asked by the ITW Thriller "Roundtable" if, as a an author, I thought a thriller had to be played out only on a large canvass or if an intimate setting might suffice. Here's my neither right or wrong answer:

I believe an intimate story can thrill as much as a story played out over a large canvas. As always it's what the author brings to the story...the tone, the pace, the setting (even if it's a cafe table occupied by a man and a woman in conflict), the dialogue, the ability to use flashbacks as a devise to shift the setting from the intimate to the large.

I'm reminded of that famous writing exercise in which the student is asked to write a story that has a beginning, a middle, and an ending and the only character will be a piece of fruit. But the trick is, the true identity of the fruit can never be revealed (You can't start the story out by writing, "I'm an orange"). It can only be described. I'm also reminded of a movie I watched recently on Netflix about a contractor working in war-torn Iraq who has the misfortune of waking up inside a coffin buried in the earth. All he has on him is a cell phone and a lighter, and it's either call for help or die. The story in particular was far too claustrophobic for me to endure the entire ninety or so minutes, but it was certainly thrilling.

There are no real rules for writing thrillers (Okay, who disagrees with this statement?). Traditionally speaking, as both a writer and a reader, I prefer a pile-driving plot with an eclectic and rich cast of characters, and a story that takes my protagonist on the trill ride of his or her life. I have some novels, like the forthcoming Blue Moonlight, that has my main character, detective Dick Moonlight, chasing after a zip-drive that contains sensitive nuclear secrets in New York, Florence, Italy (Yup, there's a Hitchcock-style chase scene between Moonlight and a leather-clad Russian thug on top of the Duomo), and back again. But I also have a new offering called Permanence, that although taking place also in the US and Italy, involves only a man and a woman in serious, if not dangerous conflict. I consider both thrillers, but while the former might please a large variety of readers, the latter is more suited to an audience that might enjoy a more ummmm, gasp, literary style psychological suspense read.

In the end, if an author really wants to break out of his shell and come to realize his true story-telling potential, he needs to experiment with different types of stories, different forms of writing, different POVs and certainly, different canvas sizes.

As an author, what kinds of risks are you willing to take?

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Finger on the Trigger

"I'm writing full-time now...and no one can stop me..."

If you're going to try, go all the way.

Maybe you're a novelist working exclusively with the Amazon KDP self-publishing program and what started out as just a kind of curious, let's-see-what-happens thing turned into, I'm-making-enough-in-royalties-now-to-pay-the-mortgage-and-all-my-bills kind of thing.

Or maybe you're like me, a novelist and journalist who stresses the importance of utilizing not just one method of publication, but all three: Major, traditionally-based indie, and self-publishing.

Whatever the case, you've gone from obscure nobody to enjoying a profitable fan base in a relatively short amount of time. Now you find yourself getting up in the morning, getting dressed and hustling off to work, and all the time there's this voice inside your head saying, "Quit the day job. You don't need it anymore."

But will the royalties keep on coming?
Will your desire and ability to write good novels last?
Will changes in an ever volatile e-book market affect your sales?
Or have you simply gotten really lucky over the past couple of years and now the luck is about to run out?

The answer is yes and no.

The only guarantee for a the full-time writer is that there are no guarantees.

So what are you going to do? Are you going to play it safe and keep the day job? Or is that letter of resignation already locked and loaded in your email, your index finger tickling the Enter key. Your finger on the trigger...


Friday, June 8, 2012

Writing Advice for Newbies (Education)

Some of you might want to punch me in the face for what you're about to read. If only it were possible to put a fist through your screen without trashing it. But this is one of those reality check blogs that needs to be addressed. And I feel like I should be the one to do it.

Here's my 21st century take on investing in advanced educational opportunities if you see yourself becoming a professional fiction writer.

--finish high school.

--Now the sticky part. College is expensive. Super expensive. Unless your folks are very very well off, you will be stuck with repaying huge loans. Something freelance writers and fiction writers just starting off will find impossible to pay. At the very least, consider attending a junior college first and if you wish to go on for your undergraduate, try and attend a less expensive state school. And by all means, don't major in English. Major in something that will land you a real job, like journalism, accounting, or nursing.

--Instead of attending college right away, consider gathering some precious life experience instead. Travel, write newspaper articles, blog, take photographs, work in a coal mine, steal away on a tramp steamer, join the Army, wait tables in Europe, become a prison guard, work construction, work on a fishing boat in Alaska and don't forget your dogeared copies of Jack London's, White Fang and Call Of The Wild.

--NOw here's the even sticker part. M.F.A. or what's commonly referred to as "Writing School." DO NOT GO THERE! The MFA is a useless degree. Trust me, I have one. MFA programs are rackets designed to keep old fashioned, often washed up writers who can't sell employed and to attract would-be writers who won't write another word once they've graduated and exhausted another fifty to sixty grand from their savings account. Try and make that up in terms of today's average publisher advance. Like Jim Harrison once said, MFA programs are like Pampers and Budweiser. They exist because there's a market for them.

Now what are you going to do about educating yourself to become a fiction writer?  

Thursday, June 7, 2012

How My Books Are Born

"Awww, I've got so many stories to tell..."

A prominent lit blogger has asked me to pen a guest blog that details the-story-behind-the-story so to speak of all my books. Talk about an intimidating task, and considering this is a blog and not paid journalism, I'm more inclined to lean towards brevity and my humble wits than get into something that could arguably take a few days and cover an expanse of at least twenty thousand words.

So the question looms large. How are my books born?

My first novel, Permanence, a literary romantic/suspense/thriller (did you get all that?) is a fictional recounting of my my honeymoon to Italy and something I overheard about a psychiatrist who entered into what would be a fatal love affair with a disturbed client. "Wow, I gotta write that one," I remember telling myself as I wiped the peach fuzz from my chin. It was the spark that lit the fire. I was a young literary neophyte and convinced I would set the world on fire with my words.

Course, it took a while for the fire to start. But it's still burning and I'm still stoking it with my follow-up novels like The Innocent, Godchild, The Remains, The Concrete Pearl, Moonlight Falls, Moonlight Rises and the whole kit and kaboodle Moonlight Collection. More traditional gumshoe novels with quirky and sometimes brooding protagonists...anti-heroes...who on occasion find themselves doing some pretty bad things in order to do what's right and to uncover the truth behind a series of lies and injustices. Characters inspired by the authors who came before, like Robert B. Parker, Jim Crumley, James Patterson, Michael Connelly, Harlan Coben and others.

The Innocent is derived from the real-life story of a prison escape that occurred at Green Haven Prison and also the Attica uprisings of the early 1970s. The Moonlight stories, however, are mostly made up. The product of my vivid imagination and love of over-the-top plot lines. They are inspired by Charlie Huston, one of the contemporary noir greats. Also, Boston Terrain, another contemporary great.

I'm currently working on two more novels. Moonlight Sonata...again, entirely made up...and Aziz, a fiction based upon a truth I overheard about an American officer who becomes a casualty in Afghanistan after ordering an airstrike on a Tajik village. Now in Venice with his fiancee nursing his wounds, which also include unexplained bouts of temporary or hysterical blindness, he finds himself in the desperate position of having to find and rescue his future bride when she goes suddenly missing.

I guess Aziz means I'm back to combining the literary with the thriller and romantic suspense genres. Which means I've come full circle. But then, that's what writers do. Invent and reinvent and steal from what's happening in the world around us. Capturing a portrait of the truth and reinventing it for the page like Monet reinvented a garden scene for the canvass, and in doing so making it more real than than God intended.


Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Change is Good


It's sometimes difficult to accept. Just ask Pulitzer Prize winner Richard Russo who claims, "The Amazon threat is real." In an interview with Publishers Weekly, he blames Amazon for putting the independent bookstores out of business. But the fact is Rich, indies have put themselves out of business, in part by adhering to a an antiquated system of returns. I've had books published by majors and small presses. While my "big" books were carried by the independent bookstores for as long as they sold, the independent books stores were always uncomfortable with the small press productions. They feared that my the titles might be "POD" and therefore "unreturnable." In fact, they would often sell my small press efforts "On consignment only."

I assume Richard Russo doesn't have to worry about returns.

Now that the digital age of E-Books is here and I am selling hundreds of thousands of them per year, I also no longer have to worry about returns. Sure my stuff comes out in paper and audio, but readers are embracing change. They are reading more than ever and they are devouring E-Books.

I'm sorry for independent booksellers. I used to love to browse the shelves to see what was new by my favorite authors. But later on, when I became an author myself, I could see the writing on the table: I wasn't going to survive for very long in a system of returns that allowed for booksellers to remove my product from their shelves after only a few weeks. It also meant that being published by a small press was useless. If I were to survive, I needed to be published by a major legacy publisher. Only then could I guarantee that my books would be carried by all the stores.

Now I am published by Thomas & Mercer. I couldn't be happier. They not only know how to produce a great book, they know how to sell directly to the reader. Amazon embraced change because readers were begging for that change. Amazon hasn't put booksellers out of business so much as they have liberated authors from the chains and bonds of a system that crushed us.

Yes, Richard Russo, the Amazon threat is real.

Thanks God almighty....

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Fictional Lives

Admit it, you've always wanted to create a fictional life for yourself. It's why we become writers. Or, one of the reasons anyway. So we can make shit up and live in a world outside of the two slices of white bread we've been handed.

So here's your chance to really get creative.

Don't just invent one and two dimensional characters to conveniently fit your story. Create real, three dimensional people who have real lives. Before you write the first word or sentence of your new book, take one full day and create character bios. When was your character born? How much did he or she weigh? Where did he go to grammar school? High School? Who did he take to the senior prom? How many times was he beaten to a bloody pulp up in Juvy? That sort of thing.

You might not use a one-tenth of the information your create in the lives of your characters for your novel, but just knowing who they are, inside and out, will create a richer, more complex, more entertaining novel.

So tell me, who are you going to invent today?  

Monday, June 4, 2012

Wake Up!

There are days when you wake up and go through the motions.
You brush your teeth, splash some water on your face, put on your clothes, stand in line to grab a lottery ticket and a coffee, and head out to a job you hate. It could be a rainy Monday like today. You think neither of the past nor of the future. You exist to exist, and if for no other reason than your heart beats and your lungs breathe. And oh yeah, you're in debt.

But on occasion, perhaps once every few years, if you are very lucky and if you still have hopes and dreams no matter your age, you wake up and something quite extraordinary happens. You realize that you are beginning a brand new phase of life. That this morning, this very minute, is the beginning of something entirely new that will bring with it, new adventures, new places to see, new people to meet, new experiences and challenges that will both test your body and soul, and cleanse it.

You begin to live unconditionally, no longer burdened by other people who hurt you, drag you down, spread bad toxic vibes, shower you with guilt, sink their greedy teeth into you, laugh behind your back, plot, steal, lie, and cheat. These are the gluttons. The blind people who go nowhere and live only within the scope and range of their envy. They are poison and you are not obligated to tolerate them no matter their connection. They live sad and will die bitter.

This wake up moment will be one of complete clarity and peace. You will leave the past's successes and failures behind like a book you've finally finished reading and now placed on the shelf beside so many other books. You take a deep breath and you begin the day knowing you are reborn and that today is your first day of a brand new cycle. Your birthday so to speak. A clean slate

Make plans.
Have hopes.
Buy plane tickets.
Get in the car and drive.
Take a train.
See the world.
Write a new book
Quit your job.
Leave the bills unpaid.
Get out of a bad relationship.
Be alone.
Realize that you have only one chance.
Help people.

Wake up!

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Immortality or Worm Food?

Love him or hate him, Ernest Hemingway is hot these days. More than fifty years after his death by self-inflicted gunshot wound, the ever prodigal Papa is once more showing up in films and new books. Most notably in Woody Allen's Midnight In Paris and presently in HBO's Hemingway and Gellhorn.

It all makes me wonder: what makes one writer immortal and another forgotten almost as soon as his or her body becomes food for the worms?

Hemingway was a romantic individual. Handsome, big, outspoken, he was an adventurer, traveler, and a fan of the ladies. He also had a real cool name. One wonders if the author would have become a phenom had his name been Irwin Lipschtiz. But no matter what's in a name, his work was groundbreaking, especially the early stories that came together collectively in the 1924 volume, In Our Time.

I think it's possible that good writing might not be enough to make one immortal. Like Norman Mailer (who followed the Hemingway macho, bad boy line pretty closely), or even Elizabeth Gilbert (who has become a dynamic and charismatic speaker aside from a mega-bestseller), it's important that a writer also develop a cult of personality in order to achieve the kind of fame that will last and last.

Are seeking immortality in your writing?  Or as a writer, are you seeking the immortal?

Friday, June 1, 2012

Quality or Quantity?

As authors in this, the new golden age of writing, we find ourselves writing more novels than ever. It's all about the content, as they say. Who are they? The ones in the know. The ones who get the fact that the more books you have for sale as E-Book, especially Kindle, the better you will do in the marketplace.

And so we write...

We write without pause.
We write with abandon.
We write when we are inspired and when we are not.
We write like someone or something is chasing our tail, not the least of which is death.
We write because people find reading sexy again when you can do it bed with a digital device.
We write because we can make a good living from it.
We write because we have no choice but to write.

But just remember, we should not write if the writing is going so fast that it is not good writing.
You with me here?
Ask yourself this: Am I sacrificing quality for speed?