Old to the new

I haven't talked about my first novel much.  It took three months to write, almost two years ago, and in hindsight I think I used it as a way to cope with the stress of moving to the States.   I hadn't planned on writing it.  It wasn't like I woke up one morning with an idea I was itching to explore (like with Creep).

I was working as a receptionist at my uncle's chiropody clinic, sometime in November of 2005, and one stormy day half the patients canceled.  Since at the time there was no internet at the clinic, I passed the time playing Solitaire on the computer and writing a story.  I wrote off and on over the course of the day, in between answering the phone and attending to the few patients who managed to make it in, and by the end of the day I had four single-spaced pages in MS Word.

I printed it out, deleted the file off the computer's hard drive (God forbid my uncle or aunt might see my pathetic attempt at writing fiction, which was something I hardly did anymore), and brought it home.  Forgot all about it.  A month later, I quit my uncle's clinic, moved to Cambridge and into our first house, and got a new job.

Fast forward to July 2007.   I was in my office in our house in Cambridge, which we'd sold.  We'd been there less than two years and now here I was, at midnight on a Tuesday, packing stuff up again.  Steve was already in Seattle working, and I was home alone going through my things, some of which I hadn't even looked at since we'd moved in.  Came across those four printed pages.  Sat down, amused, to read them.  And thought, Wonder how it'll end. One day I should finish this.

Worried the pages might get lost during the move, I sat down and retyped them into my laptop.  And then kept going.   Next thing I knew, it was four in the morning and I'd added another ten pages.  Single-spaced.  Which is about 4,000 words.

That was the night I became a writer again.

Three months later, I finished the manuscript.   It was October 27, 2007, and I celebrated with chocolate (what else? Steve was out of town working and I was by myself), then went to bed thrilled that I'd just completed my first novel.

Then woke up the morning of October 28 with two thoughts:

Where the fuck am I?


My novel sucks.

It was like I hadn't even realized we'd moved to Seattle.  Obviously we had, because I'd called and arranged the moving company, I'd set up all our utilities, and I'd shopped for new bedroom furniture at Pottery Barn.  My friend Dawn had even come to visit over Canadian Thanksgiving and I had the pictures of us at Pike's Place market giggling over the hot fishermen to prove it.

But it was like I'd done all of that sleepwalking.  I'd been totally consumed with writing my novel and, with it behind me, it was like someone had woken me up.   I was disoriented, completely freaked out, and suddenly homesick.

And utterly convinced the novel was shit.

So in the "trunk" it stayed.  Until this week.

I think I mentioned in a past post that I was up against a wall with my third book.  And have been, for months.  So in desperation I decided to pull out my first novel.  After all, that's where the characters were born.  The novel I'm writing now features all the same players as in my first book but with a new plot, because I couldn't bear to see Sam, Matt, Jason, Shank, Rita, Anthony, and Doug wasted.  If it's one thing my first novel has, it's characters with tediously detailed backstories.  Makes for a shit novel but it's terrific groundwork.

But the third novel wasn't working and I needed to read the first to see what I'd done differently.  For a shit novel, it at least had a middle and an end.   It had been easy to write. Which is more than I can say for my current book.

And then I realized – that first novel isn't so bad.  It's not great (let's not be ridiculous), but it's fixable. Revisable.  Structural problems aside, the writing doesn't stink more than any other first draft I've written.  The premise is consistent and the theme is evident, which are two things lacking in my third novel.

And that's when it hit me. I've been trying to turn this new story into a thriller.  Because I consider to myself to be a thriller writer (I attended ThrillerFest, after all).  But it's not a thriller.  It was never meant to be a thriller.  Creep is a thriller.

But Magnolia is a horror story.  And for it to work, it has to stay that way.

Talk about a light bulb moment!  Two, actually.

First, I can write whatever the hell I want, regardless of the label I happen to attach to myself.  And I can't imagine writing one type of the book for the rest of my life.

And second, sometimes there's no point in reinventing the wheel.  Sometimes it makes more sense to work with what you already have and make it better.  So my new story is being weaved into my old story, and rewrites will progress from there.

A blend of old and new.

I wish it hadn't taken me almost two years to figure this out.

Short shorts

I just finished the first draft of Obituary.  It's the first short story I've written in years.

I forgot how much fun it is to write shorts.   In and out, bada bing bada boom.   None of that six months crap to get a first draft down, then six months more of revisions.  I started last Tuesday, finished today, and I must say it's supremely satisfying to write something with a beginning, middle and end in less than a week.

Make no mistake, it's still awful. Remember what Hemingway said?  "The first draft of anything is shit."  So, short or no, it needs a complete rewrite.   Or nine or ten.  As quick as the process may be in comparison to writing novels, I think you have to be exceptionally talented to write a good short because every word matters.  If you put too much in and the reader starts skimming, the story won't make sense.   If you take too much out in an effort to be vague and literary, the story won't make sense.  There's a craft to this I don't really have a feel for yet, and I might never have it.

For instance, the pacing is different.  With novels I like to keep things at a low simmer until it's time to boil. I can take my time developing characters and situations.  But I don't even know if character development is possible in a short. Obituary is 2,500 words long – how much can a character grow in ten pages?  I'd say this story is more like a snapshot of something larger.

Everything I've studied about writing up till this point has revolved around novel-writing.  So why would I spend time writing a short?  Can't say, really.  I was getting ready for bed last week and a little seed blossomed as I was moisturizing.  I stayed up late writing after that happened, because a lot of my ideas don't go anywhere.

I'm not an ideas girl.  It's just not my strength.  I can take someone else's idea and twist it and make it better, but my brain just doesn't sprout amazing ideas from nowhere like some writers I know.   I have one writing friend whose imagination is so fertile it's like his brain is a Chia Pet. He has a fabulous new story idea practically every month.  Mind you, they often don't get past the conceptualization stage.  And therein lies my strength.  When I get an idea, I run with it as far as I can.  Because I don't get very many.  Maybe one good idea a year, if I'm lucky.

Gee.  I hope this short story isn't it for 2009.

I go to work

Before I begin, let me post a disclaimer right up front:  I'm going to bitch and moan and get pissy in this post, so be forewarned.  And please accept my apologies if this rant somehow shines a beam of negativity into your otherwise happy day.

So. I'm not published.  I don't have an income.  Nothing I do at the moment is generating any immediate funds I can use to pay the mortgage, utilities, or buy food.  I don't wake up at six a.m. with a long commute in rush hour traffic ahead of me.  I don't sit in an office building or stand on my feet serving customers for eight hours a day.  I have no need to buy "work clothes".  Every single dollar I spend is earned by my husband.



And I'm getting really, really tired of people assuming I don't.

I get up each day – between five and seven days a week – and I work.  And like everybody else who has a job (be it inside or outside the home), I have a schedule.  I get up, I shower, I eat breakfast, and then I sit at my desk and write. I have a quota which must be met before my ass leaves the chair, no exceptions (not even to pee).  When I'm working, I don't check my emails, I don't Facebook, I don't answer the phone, and I don't text... and hey, how many of you can say that?

I write an average of six hours a day – which is awesome and I'm not complaining – but it is work.  Fun work (hell yeah, and I'm my own boss!) but make no mistake, it is work.  My shortest days are four hours long, and my longest day so far has been eighteen hours.   (Six hours is my max for the most part, though.  Anything longer and I can feel my brain melting.)

Sound familiar?  It should, because it's no different than what you do.

Just like you, I work really hard.  I set daily goals, weekly goals, and monthly goals.  So far in 2009, I've achieved every goal I've set, and I pat myself on the back for that.  It hasn't been easy to stay motivated working without a paycheck, and that alone is probably my greatest accomplishment.  And let's face it, I may never get published – I might not have the talent, skill, or creativity to see my name in print – but if I don't succeed, it won't be for lack of effort.  It won't be due to laziness or apathy.  It won't be for any reason I can conceivably control.

And so it insults me when people assume my choice to write doesn't equal a "real job".  And while I try not to take myself too seriously – I'm a joker and a geek and the first person to make fun of me – I take my writing very, very seriously.  I have to, if I want to have any chance at making it in this business.

So please, respect what I do.  Every day is not a holiday where I may write.  Most days are working days where I do write.   And I can't just drop everything when it's convenient for you.  I would never expect you to do that for me.

I'm a writer.  It's my job.  And all I want is the same amount of respect you get for your chosen profession, whatever that may be.  So when I say I'm working, or I'm busy, or those days aren't good for me, I'm not bullshitting.  And if I make time for you – whether it's a face-to-face date or just a phone call – know that I really did make time and it's not cool when you blow me off.  I wasn't sitting around picking my ass.  My time is valuable.  As is yours.

Because I work.  Same as you.

Rant over.  As you were.

If you're reading this...

... then you have time to read a book.  Don't roll your eyes at me, girlfriend.  Five minutes to check my blog on the internet is five minutes you could be spending reading a page or two in an actual book.

So why don't you?

It appears the average person doesn't read.   I'm going to assume you're not the average person (if you like my blog, then it's probably fair to say you enjoy books), and that this post doesn't apply to you.  But I'm told that, statistically, the average person reads ONE book a year.

That is shocking to me.

At the writer's conference in New York, the author Lee Child was talking about why his series character, Jack Reacher, never "grows".   Character development is a hot button topic amongst series writers and Lee's personal belief is that readers don't really want growth.  They want more of the same.  They want to pick up a Jack Reacher novel and know that if they liked the last book, they'll like this book.  He said, and I quote, "They don't want to buy the book and discover that Jack developed."

I don't necessarily agree with him (I like it when series characters grow), but I get the point he's trying to make.  If you want to make millions as an author, you have to target the reader who reads one book a year and have your book be the one he snags at the airport on his way to a tropical vacation.  Because, apparently, most people only read a book or two a year, and most of them do it while on some type of holiday.  Only 1% of the population reads as much as I do, which is about one book a week. (These are Lee's stats, and I don't know how accurate they are.)  A few percent more might read one book a month.  The rest?  Well, the rest aren't that interested.

No wonder people look at me funny when I tell them I write novels!  What a dumb thing to do when the majority of people will never read them!  But a life without books is incomprehensible to me.   I grew up in a home where my mother read a new book every week, and where trips to the book store (W.H. Smith and Coles, back in those days) were as frequent as trips to the grocery store.  I used to think it was weird when someone didn't have a favorite book, let alone a favorite author.   I used to think it was strange when someone couldn't remember the last book he'd read, let alone purchased.

But I see now that I'm the weird one.  I'm the minority.  I'm the one who thinks books are as good as sex (and sometimes better, let's be honest) and that reading is time well spent. Everyone else seems to have better things to do.  Books, you say?  What for, when the movie's coming out next year?

And, for the record, I don't think it's a matter of having enough free time.  I've heard that one before – Oh, I love to read, but I'm just so darn busy!  Excuse me, but BULLSHIT.   People make time for the things that are important to them. I make a point to get into bed a full hour before I'm really tired so that I can read before going to sleep.  And yes, I even did this when I worked a regular day job where I had to be up at 6 a.m. five days a week.

I know this is sounding like a bitchy post, and I don’t mean to be bitchy.  And this post certainly isn't directed at you, my wonderful blog reader.   It's just a plea to those who might not be making time for books to please, make time for books!   Cut out one TV show a week and read a book instead.

If you don't know what to read, ask someone to recommend something, then carve out time to delve in.  Even if it's only fifteen minutes a day.  If you don't want to spend money, borrow books from friends, or go to the library.

Books are brain food, people. Reading improves your ability to speak and write, to process information, to organize thoughts and form coherent arguments.   Books are educational, provocative, and one of the best forms of entertainment around.  They're portals to new worlds. T hey encourage you to imagine limitless possibilities.  They make you use your brain in a way that movies, TV, and the internet simply cannot.

Pledge to read one book – any book – every month, for the rest of this year.  See if you don't get addicted.  You'll enrich your life, I promise.

That being said, what are you reading right now?   If you're not reading anything at the moment, lie.  If only to make me feel better.

Rainy days and Mondays

I don't like writing when it's sunny.  And it's pretty much been sunny for the entire month of July.

There's something about the sun that makes me feel antsy.  When the sun is shining in full force, like it is today, I feel obligated to go out and do something.  I feel guilty sitting in my office trying to write when there are kids playing in the street and the smell of the neighbor's barbecue is wafting in through the windows.  It doesn't feel right to be holed up inside, pecking away at a computer, when I've waited all fall, winter, and spring for beautiful weather like this.

The rain gives me permission to stay inside my house and be introverted, to stay inside my head because oh look, it's raining and gray and misty and who'd want to be outside anyway in such crappy weather?  But I'm starting to wonder if the rain in Seattle is why I've been so productive for the past year.  By nature, I'm not an outdoorsy girl.   I don't like bugs.   I don't like getting dirty.  I don't like getting wet.  And I really don't like the feeling of Seattle "mizzle" (mist and drizzle) on my face.

However, I do love the sound of the rain when it pelts the windows.  I love the look of the fog over the Cascades.  I love how green everything looks against the backdrop of titanium sky.  I love feeling cocooned inside my house when it's wet and gray and chilly outside.

But it's sunny today.  It will be all week.  As it was all last week.  And I really, really need rain right now.

The third novel's not coming along like I'd hoped.   The writing needs massive rewriting (obviously, since it's a first draft), but the main problem with the piece is very easy to identify.

The story is going absolutely nowhere.

The characters are strong.   They should be by now, since this is the second novel they're starring in.   They have fleshed out backstories and I know what their goals are, and I have a strong idea for how the book should end.  Problem is, I can't see a way to get to the end. I'm completely and utterly out of ideas as how to get from page 85 to page 400.

Beginnings and ends are easy to write.  I can write beginnings and ends till the cows come home.   But they only compromise about 20% of the book in total.  The 80% of the story that's in the middle – that's what separates novelists from short story writers.  How do you keep people reading?

Middles are the worst.  Middles are where good beginnings go to die.

I guess I'm going to have to kill someone.  Damn.   And I really like them all.

Do me a favor and pray for rain.


I'm wading through brain fog, and the trouble with fog is, you can't see where you're going.

With New York already a distant memory, and my novel marinating nicely on the backburner, I'm having a hard time figuring out what to do with myself.  I'm reading a lot, which is great – though I scared myself shitless with Salem's Lot last night and couldn't fall asleep – but the creative juices I need for my third novel are nowhere to be found.

I'm dried out.

I'm printing out what I have of that manuscript so far, which is just over 24,000 words (84 pages), and I know it's a good start because I workshopped a good chunk of it last winter and my class told me so (and they wouldn't lie to me, would they?).  I should be excited to be writing another first draft, because first drafts are fun.  First drafts don't have rules, nothing has to be perfect.  But my brain won't cooperate.  My brain wants to download music and watch HBO and do stupid quizzes on Facebook.  My brain does not want to get back into the novel I put on pause back in February.

I've spent all day lamenting the new length of my hair (five inches shorter as of yesterday and I'm not sure I like it), contemplating the color of my nail polish (too pink? not pink enough?), and pondering the weeds that are sprouting in my backyard (but clearly I'm not that concerned otherwise I'd have gone out and pulled them).  I think about meaningless things like this when I'm making excuses for not writing.  Other than this blog, I haven't written a damn thing in ten days.  TEN DAYS.

I got no juice.  And you can't buy that shit, either – you're either juicy or you're not.  Sometimes you can force it, but I don't have the energy to squeeze myself right now.

A bath sounds good.  And chocolate cake.

Tomorrow's another day.

ThrillerFest 2009 - Day 2

I felt much more bright-eyed and bushy-tailed on Thursday, having snagged a good nine hours of sleep the night before.   Thursday was also a short day which left a lot of time for sightseeing in the afternoon.

My day started with Donald Maass, founder of the of Donald Maass Literary Agency, and let me tell you, this dude is one cool cat.  Lives and works in Manhattan, walks from downtown to midtown every day, has a hundred agents working under him and still loves to talk about what makes a good book a great book.  His workshop was called Sorry, Your Villain Isn't Scary, and he focused on having us do exercises to ensure that our villain (and all thrillers have one) wasn't mundane, cookie-cutter, or cardboard.

I was relieved to learn that my villain, Ethan, isn't too cardboard.  However, the guy in front of me looked like he was having an anxiety attack.

In the next session, James Scott Bell talked about creating suspenseful dialogue, and while I didn't learn a whole lot of new stuff in this session, I liked that he used movies as examples, which are lot easier to visualize than if he was quoting from books.   Plus it helps that he can do wicked accents and could probably teach drama classes.

James Rollins ended my morning, and his session was by far my most favorite.  He writes adventure thrillers, and not only is he a super nice guy with a self-deprecating sense of humor, he was also very honest about what writers need to do to make it in the publishing world.  He talked a lot about the importance of retaining your power as a writer.

For example, he advised us to send partial manuscripts along with every query, regardless of the agent's guidelines.  There was an audible gasp in the room when he said this, because as new writers we're told we MUST always follow the agent's submission rules and only send EXACTLY what they ask for, no more, no less.  But James thinks that's bullshit.  He said he's talked to a number of agents privately and they don't mind getting partials at all.  They simply don't encourage it because their mailboxes (and inboxes) would be flooded.

So of course one writer put up her hand and asked, "But won't the agent reject us outright if we send a partial they didn't ask for?  Because it shows we didn't follow his or her rules?"

And James said something like this (I can't remember his exact words, so I'm paraphrasing), "An agent isn't going to pass on a great piece of writing because you didn't follow the rules.  At most, they're annoyed, but if you're good, the last thing they'll want is for someone else to make money off you. If you're good, they'll snap you up."  He went on to explain that the purpose of the query is to get the agent excited.  If they are, and the excerpt is right there, fabulous.  If the query doesn't interest them, they'll go ahead and reject you without reading the partial, and no harm done.

He then said he'd tested this theory himself. Out of the 50 queries he sent for Subterranean, his first novel, the first 25 were just queries, no excerpts, as per "the rules".  He got exactly one request for a partial.  Frustrated, he sent out the next 25 queries and attached 50-page partials to all of them, regardless of what the agents asked for. Of those 25, he got 11 requests to see the entire manuscript.   The rest is history.

So.  Something to stew on there.

I met a few more writers on the second day but the one who stands out is Rick from L.A., a very tanned Don Johnson from Miami Vice lookalike (right down to the wicker shoes with no socks) who'd just finished his first novel.   He was also planning – like Bill with the three warts from the previous day – to pitch it to agents in the afternoon.  Rick is an ex-Air Force pilot who'd taken a couple of writing classes at UCLA and his teacher thought he was ready.  I wish I'd asked for his card – I wonder how his pitch went.

The day ended with more book signings.  I got to shake hands with Steve Martini (he writes legal thrillers) and James Rollins, and get my books signed.

Steve Martini signing my copy of The Guardian of Lies.

James Rollins signing my copy of The Doomsday Key. I wanted to ask to take a picture with him, but I got tongue-tied, dammit.

And this is what James Rollins wrote (and drew).

It's funny, these book signings.  The authors are all sitting at these long tables, in alpha order, with their names printed on cards in front of them.  Some writers, like Steve Martini, James Rollins, and Lee Child, have huge line-ups of fans wanting to meet them.  The others, even though they're published and successful, don't have hardly anyone coming up to chat with them.  In a way I kind of felt bad for them.  One author's face lit up when a lady approached with a book to be signed – which then fell when she passed right by him to line up in front of someone else.

I had David Morrell's book in my hand – a paperback copy of First Blood (Morrell is the guy who created Rambo) – and realized a man was staring at me.  Well, not just at me, but also at the book in my hand, and I got kind of creeped out and so I put the book back on the table and selected another.  I realized five minutes later that it was David Morrell himself.  Yeah, not one of my more brilliant moments.  He probably would have signed it for me right there if I'd had the brains to recognize him, but no, I had to let him see me putting the damned thing back.

I got to meet Jeffery Deaver, my All-Time Favorite Writer After Stephen King (yes, folks, this is true), on Saturday.  I didn't sign up for the panel discussions due to budget constraints, but more authors were around over the weekend and I made a point to go the Bookstore Room to shake Mr. Deaver's hand.  What a nice guy!  So gracious... and shaking his hand puts me two degrees away from Denzel Washington and Angelina Jolie.  Which then puts me three degrees away from Brad Pitt!  Which is not the reason I read Deaver, but still. Definitely the highlight of the whole trip.

I look washed out in this picture and if you're on my Facebook, you know my rule about never posting fugly shots but getting a photo taken with Jeffery Deaver is simply too awesome not to post. He offered, too, because I was too nervous to ask!

I'm going to start planning early for next year's ThrillerFest.  With some better budgeting I hope I can participate for the entire four days.  While I can't say I learned a ton of new things – I'd say 85% of what I heard, I'd before – the energy was incredible.  It was very inspiring to hear my favorite authors talk about why they love writing.  It was cool to talk to other writers about their work, and if you think I'm enthusiastic about writing, these people put me to shame.

It's hard to describe what it's like to be in a room full of people who get you.  People who don't think it's weird to climb out of bed at 2 a.m. to write.  People who don't think it's weird you think of your characters as real people.  People who share the dream.

By this time next year, I hope to have my third novel finished and a fourth book started.  Ten years or ten books, guys.

Although, if it continues to be as much fun as this, I might just up that number to twenty.

ThrillerFest 2009 - Day 1

Heading down the hallway at the Grand Hyatt to the conference. Lots of advertising for the newest, most exciting thrillers.

I'm back from New York and exhausted.  Really freaking tired.  Mainly in my head.  New York City is an incredible place, but to try to pack in a hundred touristy things plus a conference all in five days is not something I recommend.

ThrillerFest was by far the coolest experience I've ever had as a fledgling writer.  I think the average person would think it's pretty weird to fly all the way across the country to sit in conference rooms and listen to writers and agents talk about the craft of writing, but it was exciting!  It was, for lack of a better word, thrilling.

And it is a craft, I've learned.  It's a creative process, obviously, but the focus of this conference was on plot, structure, characterization, and other big picture stuff, and these types of writers – commercial fiction authors who write for mass market appeal – look at it very, very differently than the published authors I've taken workshops with who tend to be more literary.  This conference really focused on story.

Steve, ever the sales guy, asked me when the conference was over what my take-away message was.  I've been stewing it over, and I'd have to say that the bottom line message for me was: Story Trumps All.  As James Rollins, Lee Child, and Steve Berry all said, "Readers can forgive bad writing if the story is terrific.  But they can't forgive a bad story no matter how great the writing is."

I'm sure literary writers would disagree, but this resonates with me.  As a reader, I can overlook just about every writing mistake if I'm sucked into the world the author has created.  But if I'm reading a book full of beautiful prose where nothing interesting happens, I'm done by page 25.  If that makes me a mass market reader, so be it.  Good thing I'm striving to be a mass market writer then!  I don't read fiction for anything but entertainment. If I want to be educated, I'll read non-fiction.  If I want to be political or up on current affairs, I'll read the newspaper.  But fiction is about storytelling.  And if you can tell a good story – and tell it well  – then you've struck gold.

The speakers, with the exception of one, were all phenomenal.  All were personable and funny, and all were happy to share their stories on how they became so successful.   Steve Berry, who writes historical thrillers, wrote eight novels before the first got published, and that took him eight years.  But he doesn't consider the first seven books to be a waste.  Two got published eventually, and from the rest, he "cannibalized" the best parts and was able to use about 70% of those manuscripts in future novels.

Lee Child is simply awesome.  He writes the Jack Reacher novels, which I've never read, but since I laughed so much during his session I bought one of them afterward.  He talked about creating series characters, but mainly he talked about life as a writer and opened up the session to questions.  Lee has this disdainful British-turned-Manhattanite sense of humor that makes him a character all by himself.

Lisa Gardner writes romantic suspense and she got $25,000 for her first novel, which took her two years to write (and now, of course, she's making millions).  She's contractually obligated to write a book a year and she has a specific process for writing – three months of research, six months to write the first draft, followed by three months of revisions.  Yeah, she's fast.

William Bernhardt focused on story structure.  Thriller writers are passionate about structure – they have to be, or else their plots would fall apart.   He actually drew diagrams to show where in a story certain elements should take place.  I won't bore you with it, but I think it hit me in this session – even though people had been talking about it all day – that there really is a formula to storytelling.  Obviously as writers we can be as creative and as exciting as we can, but there is a formula.  It's like building a chair.  Most chairs, no matter what period they're from or what material they're made of, share a similar structure.  What sets your chair apart from the others is all in the details.  Master the structure and you've got the perfect foundation to build on.

I met a couple of people over the course of the day.  Most writers came by themselves and so people were smiley with each other, eager to network and find out what everyone else was working on.  The only person whose name I can remember from the first day is a guy named Bill, who had exactly three warts on his nose and who writes techno-thrillers (something about computers taking over the world).  He was getting nervous because he was planning to pitch to agents on the second day.  He said he'd published a book in 2003 – I didn't ask why he didn't already have an agent.  I'm guessing he might have been self-published.

Milling around in the Barnes & Noble Bookstore Room at the Grand Hyatt. Authors at the back, waiting to sign copies of their books.

Day 1 ended with book signings.  I snagged Steve Berry's signature, and also Lee Child's. Since I was coasting on about four hours of broken sleep after a massive flight delay getting into NYC the night before, Steve and I stuffed ourselves on shrimp in Times Square and I shamefully passed out around 9:30 p.m.

More details to come in the next post.

Time of the season

You know how you have this opportunity to do something cool, but for whatever reason you chicken out, or you choke, or you second guess yourself and end up deciding it's stupid?  That's how I feel right now.

I'm sitting in the Philadelphia airport, blogging because I'm irritated with myself and because our connecting flight to New York City has been delayed by an hour and fifteen minutes.  I'm stuffed on a fat slice of Sbarro mushroom pizza and fountain Pepsi from the food court, listening to a very agitated New Yorker yell at the U.S. Airways rep over the flight delay, wondering why I didn't just ask the kindly, 60-something-year-old man who sat beside me on the plane for five hours for a picture.   After all, he would have said yes.

We talked for over two hours on the flight from Seattle to Philadelphia.  I got schooled in classic rock and what it was like to have a hit album in the 1960's.  He confided he hadn't done any vocal exercises in two days and has five straight days' worth of shows coming up in Philly, the last leg of a spring/summer tour, before returning to his home country of England in two weeks.  We chatted about the book he was reading that he complained was too intellectual for him (Jon McGregor's If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things) and he regaled me with stories of life as a rock star and what it was like to record Odessey and Oracle at Abbey Road Studios in room 3, while The Beatles were next door in room 2 doing their thing.

He wasn't quite Mick Jagger, but he said Mick's a nice guy.  His bandmate toured with Ringo Starr two years ago (who, incidentally, was sitting beside Steve).  He asked me if I'd heard of Tom Jones and said he was a helluva funny guy.  Plane rides are usually hideously boring for me, but not today's.  Because today I got to meet Colin Blunstone, lead singer of The Zombies.

Vaguely familiar, right? To this chick who's just getting into classic rock, I had heard of The Zombies, but couldn't quite place any of their songs.  I surreptiously checked through my iPod to see if I had any downloaded.  No such luck.  And then he named off a couple of their hits, and I said, "SERIOUSLY?   Like, way cool, dude!"

He laughed. Politely.  And then offered to write down the names of their songs so I could download them from iTunes.  I did not tell him I steal 99% of my music from LimeWire.

Time of the Season

She's Not There

Colin didn't seem to mind that he was a star before I was born, and he was happy to answer all my questions which I fired at him in scary succession.  Maybe it's the aging rock star thing, maybe he misses having women hanging all over him thinking he's cool (and I wasn't the only one – the lady beside me with the baby was making eyes at him, as was the pretty flight attendant who was overly attentive).  But he was the epitome of graciousness, and I really wish I had asked for a damn picture.  The camera was in my bag, the battery charged, the memory card empty.

Because it's not every day you meet an artist who's talented enough and lucky enough (and yes, both are required) to make his mark in the world.

Thanks, Colin, for the unexpected inspiration.  And also for the lesson that you're never too old to be a rock star.

New York, New York

Start spreading the news... I'm New York bound tomorrow!  Wish I had more energy. I'm feeling like a slug today, and I tend to get this way between projects.  When I finally let myself breathe, I realize just how tired I am.  It's been raining all day and what I'd love to do is crawl back into bed with Salem's Lot (which I'm reading for the third time), and instead I have to pack.  And I hate packing.

So this is my agenda for the week.

Tuesday – Travel day
Wednesday – Day 1 of ThrillerFest's CraftFest
Thursday – Day 2 of ThrillerFest's Craft Fest
Friday – 8 hour bus tour of New York City
Saturday – Museum of Natural History, and then somewhere at night to watch UFC 100
Sunday – Travel day

These are the workshops I'm planning on taking on Wednesday and Thursday.  There are three choices in each timeslot and some timeslots seem to have more than one "good" one, so I'll probably end up deciding at the last minute.


10 am:
Catching an Agent's Attention: Writing a Knockout Query and Synopsis
by Robert Dugoni
The Business of Writing
by David Morell
(I need to learn to write a good query, but I'd love to hear the guy who created Rambo speak!)

11 am:
Living on the Ritz: How to Hit the Times List in Five Years or Less
by Lisa Gardner
Make 'Em Laugh, Make 'Em Cry: How to Put Emotional Muscle Into Your Fiction
by Peter Rubie
(Leaning towards the first one, though that's awfully presumptuous of me!)

12:30 pm:
Thriller Hold 'Em: The First Hundred Pages
by Eric Van Lustbader
The 6 C's of Story
by Steve Berry
Plotting Evil: Creating the Baddest Bad Guys
by D.P. Lyle, MD and Michael Weiner, MD
(Damn, these all sound good. I love Steve Berry as an author but the other two sound even more interesting.)

2 pm:
Creating a Series Character
by Lee Child
Ten Basic Ingredients of a Successful Thriller
by Gary Braver
(Will probably sneak into both of these.)

3 pm:
Successful Rewriting: Paring Down and Fleshing Out
by Lisa Gardner
(Ha, where was this three months ago?)

4 pm:
Story Structure: Organizing Your Story for Maximum Impact
by William Bernhardt
It's All a Matter of Viewpoint
by David Morell


9 am:
Sorry, Your Villain Isn't Scary
by Donald Maass
(This guy is the founder of one of the most successful literary agencies in the world.)

10 am:
Essential Tools for Suspenseful Dialogue
by James Scott Bell
Story is Character
by Allison Brennan

11 am:
Character Development: Good Heroes and Greater Villains
by Steve Martini
Motivation and Pacing: How to Write Three Novels a Year and Still Have a Life
by James Rollins
(Ha, as if I could write three novels a year! Well, maybe I could, but they'd suck.)

Then there's lunch with a keynote speaker, book signings, and a reception to follow.

My main goal for the week is to learn as much as I can.  And maybe snag an autograph or two.

Haven't decided if I'm bringing my computer with me.  You'll know if I blog this week.   If I don't, send me good vibes and I'll be back next week with all the details!


No, I haven't forgotten I have a blog.  nd yes, it rankles me that I haven't been posting regularly.   I'm a very methodical person and I hate to think of all the days that passed with no posts.  But the blog doesn't work without the book, and I'm pleased to announce that the third draft of CREEP is DONE!

(Insert happy dance here, followed by a thud – that's me falling over from exhaustion.)

I'm finally staring at a polished draft of a novel I wrote.  It has a beginning, middle, and an end.  It's organized and the sentences actually make sense.  The characters grow and are in a different place at the end than they were at the beginning.  It's full of conflict and tension.  Basically, I don't think it sucks (and that's about the best compliment I can give myself).  I'm proud and freaked out at the same time.  This may not be the novel that gets me published, but it's a damned good effort!


Statistics?  You know you want to know.  This draft clocks in at 112,000 words and 384 pages (23,000 words less than the first draft).  Took me 11 months to get here, almost to the day.  And there will be a fourth draft.  I'd like to trim a little bit more and it needs one more proofread.

But none of this will happen till the end of August.  I need a good long break.  My eyes, as far as this story's concerned, are shot to hell.  I think I've practically memorized the entire manuscript by now.

Ahhh. It finally feels like summer.  Yes, I just noticed.   And I got stuff goin' on.

I'm looking forward to ThrillerFest in NYC (which is this week – wow, where'd the time go?), reading, working on my other novel, and researching agents. But mainly I just want to read.  It's a luxury I've sorely missed.  I haven't done much of it in the past few months and there are about twenty novels on my shelf just waiting for me.  I'm anticipating many afternoons in the backyard with my feet up, a good book, and a cold glass of something bubbly.

And other than sex, I can't think of anything better than that.