Tuesday, August 19, 2014
Monday, August 18, 2014
by Meredith Cole
After spending 10 years in the competitive world of television and independent film, I was surprised and pleased to discover that the mystery community was so supportive. Everyone (despite their dark and rather violent books) was so nice! Authors I had only just met introduced me around and made sure I felt welcomed at my first Malice and my first Bouchercon. I felt like I had found "my tribe." And I remember one writer telling me, that there were only a few authors who were jerks and everyone knew who they were. But I certainly didn't meet them at my first few cons.
I've heard that the romance community isn't like that, and that the literary community is almost the exact opposite. I'm not exactly sure why, but here are a few theories I've heard:
- We kill people on the page and get all our aggression out that way, so we have no need (and no desire) to be mean to the people around us. (Perhaps this works inversely for romance writers...)
- Mystery writers are all readers, so we love a great new book (and a great writer) just as much as all the fans. In fact, it's very hard to tell writers and fans apart at some conferences.
- We feel marginalized by the intelligentsia (you write... mysteries?!! [gasp]), so we huddle together for support against a common enemy.
- With mysteries regularly hitting a healthy number of spots on bestseller lists, there is plenty of largesse to go around--so we are not really in competition with one another.
- We have only a limited number of conferences, and so we all seem to run into each other at one of them at some point and meet each other. I think I'm actually the most shocked when I realize that there is a mystery writer that I haven't met yet...
Friday, August 15, 2014
by Paul D. Marks
Every minute of every effing day!
Well, the end of the first part.
The Other Part:
Like Red Smith said, “There's nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.”
That’s all there is to it.
My writing life has been all over the map. From op-ed pieces to radio scripts and script doctoring to short stories and novels. And though it’s always been a roller coaster, I was always glad to have the opportunity to express myself and be creative. Despite the idiots one sometimes has to deal with.
I like the writing—not so much the biz side of it.
So let’s talk about the...
...Doubts and Reasons to Quit:
1) No one really understands what you do. I made my living rewriting other people’s scripts and optioning my own spec scripts to various people. One of the hardest parts of my film work was that, as a rewriter, there was no screen credit, so my dad could never figure out what I did for a living—and certainly didn’t understand how it all worked. Couldn’t take his friends to Westwood and show them my name on the silver screen. That was frustrating, but not as frustrating as dealing with some of the personalities. But did that (no screen credit) make me doubt my decision to be a writer? Hell, no. I just started writing short stories and novels. You get credit there...most of the time.
2) No one respects what you do: I once had a producer threaten to send his friends in the Mossad to get me when we argued about a script I was working on for him. I was warned about him before I started, but I thought I’m a brave soul, I’ll give it a shot. He’d hired me to write a script based on his idea—then hated everything I came up with, even though it was exactly what we’d talked about, but it wasn’t him, his writing, in every nuance. Hell, he should have written the damn thing himself... But he couldn’t and wouldn’t. No he’d rather just threaten me. So, of course, I sat up every night with night vision goggles, a CAR-15 (it was a while ago), flame thrower, a couple-a cruise missiles (Tom Cruise Missiles ‘cause he could protect the hell out of me) and an AWACs circling overhead, and lay in wait for them to swarm the hill behind my house. A .50 cal would have been better than the CAR-15, but since they never came I guess it didn’t matter. Maybe they’re still on their way and I seem to have misplaced the CAR-15. But did the Mossad threat make me doubt my decision to be a writer, hell no. I just bought myself a new Kevlar vest. : )
3) Everyone thinks they can do it better: And then there was the Golden Turkey Leg. I had a spec script that dealt peripherally with Voodoo, but it wasn’t “supernatural”. Another producer wanted to make it more mystical, scary, more Voodoo-ey, sci-fi, sleazy, seedy, make-Ed-Wood-look-like-a-genius-bad, and to that end he wanted me to add something about some golden object that was magical and mystical and for want of a better word I called it “the golden turkey leg”—well, not to his face. He also wanted me to bring a character back from the dead—now that’s Voodoo...ey—turning a pretty good thriller into a grade Z schlockfest horror story that would even make Roger Corman at his cheapest cringe. Then, as if it couldn’t get any weirder, he knew the “perfect” guy to do the theme song: Michael Bolton. And when I say he “knew” Michael Bolton I mean he really did; they were buds or something. And no offense to anyone who likes him, but he’s just not my taste. Give me Ian Gillan and Joey Ramone. So maybe I’m glad that that one never got out of development hell. And he wanted Armand Assante (whose name he kept mispronouncing as “Assant,” leaving off the “ay” at the end) to play the lead. He would have been great for the part when he was younger, but I had nightmares about the producer approaching him, mispronouncing his name, and the actor being so offended he would refuse the part. Then to top it all off, my wife and I were at a toy show in Pasadena (one of my hobbies is collecting old toys) and we ran into said producer, who’s there with his wife and kid, maybe around six or seven years old, selling old dolls. So, he asks me to look after said kid, who at least was a sweet said kid, so he and his wife can walk around the toy show, unfettered. The worst part is he wasn’t even selling the kind of toys I was looking for. So in addition to working on screenplays, I’m also a great babysitter, I just don’t cook or do windows, except Microsoft Windows. And another one bites the dust, another one that never made it to the silver screen, but at least I got paid. But I plan to turn them all into novels someday. They’re already “outlined,” as the screenplays are sort of like outlines. Were this producer’s ideas better? Well, if you like Golden Turkey Legs, I suppose so. But did that make me doubt my decision to be a writer? Hell no, I’m a glutton for punishment.
Reasons to Stay:
Because you can’t do anything else, literally, despite the BS. So you just open that vein and let it bleed.
Or as the Clash said, “Should I Stay or Should I Go”—“If I go there will be trouble, And if I stay it will be double.”
Thursday, August 14, 2014
And that's from someone who makes Hamlet look impulsive, someone who could second-guess for her planet; someone who could squarely be called the Anti-Piaf (theme song goes like this: "Ouiiiii, le tout de le touuuuut! Ouiiiii, je regret-uh le touuuuut . . .)
I have trouble making decisions.
But since I resigned from my job, sharpened my pencil, and wrote "book 1, chapter 1, page 1" in January 2001, I've never wanted to do anything else.
In all my wildest daydreams, I'm still a writer - in a tropical paradise, or with a castle that a long-lost relative bequeathed to me, or of an Oscar-winning movie script that I got to co-adapt, along with Emma Thompson, from my own novel - but always a writer.
Every other decision is hard to make and harder to stick with. I find it impossible to decide where to eat out, which film to see or what holiday cottage or hotel room to book.
The household of which I'm a member has put in place some rules for deciding.
1. How two people decide where to eat.
Person A* suggests five places.
Person B narrows it down to three.
Person A says the name of one out of the three.
Persons A and B eat there.
*A and B are alternating roles.
(Or they live in a Scottish town where "five places to eat" is just crazy talk)
2. How two people decide what film to see.
Persons A and B meet for coffee in walking distance of all three cinemas in town.
When the coffee is drunk, Person A or B looks to see which film at least one of them wants to see starts next.
Persons A and B go to see that film. And if they've just missed one, they meet a wee bit earlier the next day.
(Or they live in a Scottish town where "three cinemas in walking distance" . . .)
3. How two people choose a holiday cottage/hotel.
Person A picks three desirable features. e.g. quiet, walk to beach, warm sea.
Person B picks three desirable features. e.g. pretty, good seafood, within budget.
Person A looks on internet until a cottage/hotel with all six features is located.
Person A books that cottage/hotel.
Person A* stops looking on internet.
*Person A is me.
Wednesday, August 13, 2014
Questioning Everythingby Clare O'Donohue
Q: Do you ever have any doubts about your decision to be a writer?
That's actually - at least for me - a bigger question than it seems.
I never doubted my decision to be a writer any more than I doubted my decision to be left handed, to have blue eyes, or to be overly sarcastic. None of it was a choice, especially that last one. Writing is something I love doing, and I know that's true because I was doing it long before anyone paid me for my work.
Luckily, though, they've been paying me for a while now. I wrote as a newspaper reporter before becoming a TV producer and writer. I've written magazine articles and corporate press releases. Nearly every job I've held since college has had "writer" in the title. So I've been calling myself a writer for more than twenty years, but always throwing in the qualifier of "I write TV true crime shows" or something - because I assume no one ever thinks those shows are actually written by anyone.*
Now, have I ever doubted I could write novels? Absolutely. I'm working on number nine now and I have no idea if I can finish it. A few years back I had the good fortune of being in the room when Mary Higgins Clark gave a speech about how, as she writes, she wonders if this book will be the one that gets the better of her. That gave me a lot of comfort.
Have I ever doubted that I could get them published? Yes. I wrote the first one only because I was absolutely convinced it would never be published. If I thought for a minute I was writing for a larger audience that myself I never would have done it. That book, The Lover's Knot, was published. And that led me to the last question.
Have I ever doubted I could make this my full time career? Yes, and every day. It is the dream to try and figure out how to write full time while still being able to eat. I know it's possible for some and I hope some day it will be possible for me.
* My apologies for being late on this. I am knee deep in yet another true crime show script.
Tuesday, August 12, 2014
- You deconstruct movies when you watch them, analyzing plot, character, dialogue, and you KNOW how you would do it better.
- You view “real jobs” as time fillers before your true calling emerges.
- You eavesdrop on strangers' conversations, and you consider it character study.
- You daydream, possibly in dialogue.
- You automatically proofread menus, ticket stubs, cereal boxes. Usually you find at least one error.
- You like alcohol or other forms of escapism a little too much.
- You prefer Scrabble to Monopoly.
- You love, love, love to read.
- You enjoyed writing when you were young.
- You officially don't like people but you find them secretly fascinating
Monday, August 11, 2014
Friday, August 8, 2014
By Art Taylor
This week's question—"What’s the worst thing you ever wrote?"—is an easy one: EVERYTHING I've ever written has struck me, at some point along the way, as the worst thing I've ever done. So right now, the simple answer would be my draft-in-progress of "Provenance," a third outing for Del and Louise, the characters from my 2010 story "Rearview Mirror." Despite some moderately adequate scenes, those characters have suddenly turned into paper masks of themselves, the story is uneventful and unengaging, the plot is equal parts outlandishly unrealistic and sloggishly boring, and most mornings I dread even looking at it.
But even saying all that, I have some small faith that it will eventually get better.... especially since I had some of those exact same concerns about "Rearview Mirror" itself when I was first writing it, and then those concerns doubled, even tripled in the middle of writing the second Del and Louise story, "Commission."
"Rearview Miror" ultimately earned me a Derringer, and Ellery Queen recently accepted "Commission" for publication sometime next spring. That doesn't mean I was wrong about how bad those stories were in various drafts along the way. But maybe faith and work sometimes have their rewards.
I should add that it's not just "along the way" that this feeling sneaks in; even after something is published, I'm always hesitant to reread it, since it's certain that all I'll see are the slips and stumbles. To some degree, that's just the life of the writer, I know—as Debbie Ohi so deftly outlined it here:
...and that in mind, maybe my response here doesn't entirely answer the question as it was intended—so just for the heck of it, I'm also going to go with a second, more specific, but not unrelated answer: The worst thing I ever wrote was the first draft of my story "Mrs. Marple and the Hit-and-Run."
How did I know it was one of the worst things I've ever written? Well, I finished it—finished it, done! triumphant!—just in time for a reading I'd been invited to deliver and figured I should test it out on a couple of people ahead of time... and oh, those poor people. I still cringe picturing how their attention wandered, their eyes grew heavy, one of them briefly drifted off... and reading it aloud, even I felt like drifting off. I could hear how awkward and unnecessary so much of it was, and I could see how many pages were still left to suffer through, a story that clocked in two words shy of 10,000, a story that I thought was rich and meaningful and.... And finally I just threw in the towel on reading the whole thing aloud—and threw the manuscript aside as well.
Wanna see for yourself how bloated it is? Here's the original draft, available for the first time ever, and if you click through, all I can say is "Happy napping"!
But—returning to that theme here—several years later (um, 8 to be exact), I went back and did a pretty savage revision of that abominable first draft, cutting away 75% of the original story. The published version, which appeared here in Prick of the Spindle, was less than 2,500 words in its final form, and I'll dare say it not only remains one of my own personal favorites but also stands out for me as a real turning point in my understanding of how to write at all.
So I guess maybe my first answer was really the right answer after all.
IN OTHER NEWS: As Meredith and Alan have pointed out in their posts earlier this week, we all had a great time at the inaugural Washington, DC Noir at the Bar—but unlike them, I'm not posting the YouTube video. As with re-reading my work, one of the last things I want to do is revisit myself standing up at the microphone—especially reading a story so thoroughly abridged that it may have made no sense to anyone in the audience. (I was counting on them all having had a couple of drinks by my spot in the line-up.) The story itself, "The Odds Are Against Us," will be out soon in the November issue of Ellery Queen, so just stay tuned for that instead.
Thursday, August 7, 2014
What’s the worst thing I ever wrote?
Hmm. The worst thing? Hard to settle on just one; there are so many contenders.
I mean, seriously? Bad writing? I’m an engineer. They practically taught us to write in desiccated techno-speak. It seemed the worse I wrote, the better my grade.
Of course, writing is so subjective—one person’s dreck might be another person’s cup o’ tea. And when evaluating, do first drafts count? What about poetry? (The best/worst of my poetry couldn’t hold a candle to Tracy’s example yesterday.) What about stuff I wrote in grade school? Or college? (Did I mention I’m an engineer?)
You see, not such an easy question to answer.
Here’s what I can say:
My first attempt at a novel currently resides in an asbestos-lined vault, buried deep in my backyard, where it poses no threat to society. (I guess that answers the question, huh?) The prose is terrible and there are more plot holes than plot. (It wasn’t all bad. I liked the font I used.) Let’s stipulate that it’s best if we let that one continue to rest in peace.
A few years ago, I went back and took a look at my second attempt at a novel. The prose was horrid in this one, too, but I liked the story and the characters and the structure. So I decided to resurrect it from the depths of my hard drive.
I opened two windows on my laptop, a blank Word document in one and the manuscript in the other. I then proceeded to re-write every single sentence in the book, revising as I went along. After more revision, I can honestly say that it doesn’t stink!
I could go on with more examples of less-than-stellar work, but then I might run the risk of making this blog post the worst thing I’ve ever written.
And there’s only so much room in my subterranean vault.
I had a lot of fun hanging with fellow Criminal Minds Art and Meredith (and the other writers, too) at the recent DC Noir at the Bar. Here’s a video of me reading:
Wednesday, August 6, 2014
|Seriously, look how high that man could jump.|
|You gotta admit it. Cute.|
Tuesday, August 5, 2014
Monday, August 4, 2014
Bad writing? Moi? Well, I firmly believe that no writer should ever be afraid or ashamed of terrible writing. Writing terribly is how we all learn and grow. No one ever sat down and wrote something brilliant on their first try. Really. And I’ve never heard of any true writing protégés (kids who sat down and wrote some classic) like I have heard of music protégés (Mozart, for instance). I think that’s because writing takes both skill and maturity. Not only do you need to learn all the grammar rules, but you also have to develop a wide vocabulary and come up with great ideas. Altogether it’s a lot to imagine that one kid can do at age five without some help.
Anyway, here’s a video of me reading last week at “Noir at the Bar” in DC. I’m reading from a new story called “The End of the Trail.” It was delightful to hang out with other Criminal Minds, Alan Orloff and Art Taylor!
Friday, August 1, 2014
By Paul D. Marks
As Art can attest, it’s hard to come on Fridays since people have sometimes stolen your thunder earlier in the week. My post was called The Name Game, but now it’s redux – great minds and all of that.
I do give careful thought to my characters' names. Neither the first nor last name is chosen at random. Sometimes characters are named after friends or enemies or in homage to someone or something. Sometimes I want a “plain Jane” type of name and sometimes I want something more symbolic or allegorical. Sometimes the name just comes to me. Other times I’ll look in baby naming books or other research sources to help me figure out an appropriate name.
Even when the characters have simple names like “Johnny Jones” from one of my current works-in-progress, the name was still given a fair amount of thought. On the one hand, it’s a common, clichéd name. But that’s how it’s meant, as we don’t know the character’s real name and this is simply how the narrator refers to him. It could just as easily have been John Doe, Joe Smith, Bill Johnson or any of a hundred other common names.
Naming characters is sort of like naming children or pets. You visualize the kid’s first day of school and how the teacher will call role and mispronounce the name or what cruel nicknames the other kids will twist it into. And then pick a name you hope the kid will live up to and won’t get teased about too much. Actually this is how I ended up naming my character Duke in White Heat. Duke’s relationship with his dad is not the greatest father-son relationship. His father cruelly named him “Marion,” after John Wayne’s real first name. Not a nice thing to do to a boy and maybe that’s one of the reasons they don’t get along and certainly why Duke chose that as a nickname.
Also, when naming pets, I like to pick names that are unique and mean something to me and my wife. Something that captures their personality, but that also won’t be too hard or too embarrassing to yell out when calling them to come. You don’t want to be yelling “Here Mr. Snuggles” when your neighbor walks by. So our Rottweiler was called Bogie. And our black cats Curley and Moe. Our mostly Rottweiler, but who looked nothing like one, was Audie, after Audie Murphy. and our German Shepherd is Pepper, full name Sgt. Pepper, after the Beatles album.
There are several “rules” I try to follow when naming characters:
They shouldn’t be too hard to pronounce – you don’t want readers stumbling over them.
Don’t try too hard to be unique – like soap opera characters that always have names like Raven Snow or Chastity Chamberfield, unless going for humor or irony.
Names can be symbolic, foreshadow or can be ironic. In my story 51-50, the cop character, Cleaver, is purposely named after Ward Cleaver, the all-American father on Leave it to Beaver. I wanted to play against the all-American image of Ward Cleaver with a tough cop about to lose his sanity.
Names can be revenge for someone you don’t like – but be careful when doing this and disguise it well.
Names can be an homage. In my short story Free Fall, the femme fatale is named Gloria, after film noir icon and femme fatale Gloria Grahame. In Broken Windows, the sequel to White Heat and not yet published, there is a character named Chandler – a woman cop – but we all know who that name pays homage to. And in my story L.A. Late @ Night and my noir story Born Under a Bad Sign, there is a cop named Larry Darrell – which pays homage to Somerset Maugham’s character in The Razor’s Edge. Not that he’s much like Maugham’s Larry Darrell, but still.
Names can give insight into the character – who they are and where they’re from – sometimes the story behind the name can give you a little extra info about the character – for example Michael Connelly’s Harry “Hieronymus” Bosch – a unique name and an interesting story behind it.
Sometimes names should break stereo types: In White Heat there is an African-American character named Warren. Someone who read the book said Warren wasn’t a black name. But I named the character after a black Marine friend I’d had. Just because a character is black or Hispanic, or any other ethnicity, doesn’t mean they have to have an ethnic-sounding name.
And character names often change in later drafts. Sometimes I just use “placeholder” names until after I get to know the characters better. Then, if I think of the perfect name later on, I can use search and replace to change it later.
Names are important and can be fun. Like the old song, The Name Game (written by Shirley Ellis – and ): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2jfVpizj1Uk
The name game!
Shirley, Shirley bo Birley Bonana fanna fo Firley
Fee fy mo Mirley, Shirley!
Lincoln, Lincoln bo Bincoln Bonana fanna fo Fincoln
Fee fy mo Mincoln, Lincoln!
Come on everybody!
I say now let's play a game
I betcha I can make a rhyme out of anybody's name
The first letter of the name, I treat it like it wasn't there
But a B or an F or an M will appear
And then I say bo add a B then I say the name and Bonana fanna and a fo
And then I say the name again with an F very plain and a fee fy and a mo
And then I say the name again with an M this time
And there isn't any name that I can't rhyme.