23 April 2017

International Good Books • Great Writers Series

by Leigh Lundin

Last month, I talked about Alice and how buying from International GoodBooks (GoGoodBooks.com) donates to a humanitarian cause. From the land of Stephen Ross, the New Zealand Oxfam charity has created two other ads, one I’d seen before and another recommended by a reader (thanks ABA), I wasn’t aware of.

Whereas Alice was surreal, one of the others defines racy and the other esoteric noir. Let’s start with the dark esoteric and save the sexy one to wrap up.

Metamorphosis

This way lies madness…


An advanced education gone horribly wrong.

Havana Heat

This way lays… well…


Once your panting subsides, you know where to order your books.

Go ask Alice.

22 April 2017

The Little Engine That Couldn't: Writers and Self-Doubt


by John M. Floyd



Confidence is a wonderful, magical thing, when applied to creative endeavors. It can sustain us in good times and bad, and when confidence in one's ability is justified it can spur him or her on to great accomplishments.

As for me, I'm no genius, but I try to stay positive and optimistic. I was fortunate in my career with IBM, and I think I do a passable job in my so-called career as a writer. But that doesn't mean I don't suffer lapses in confidence--especially in this crazy world of publishing.

Hills and valleys

I don't personally know a lot of New York Times bestsellers, but I know a few, and one of them told me years ago that she experiences self-doubt on a regular basis. Only half-joking, she said she usually wakes up in the morning thinking Oh God I don't know what the hell I'm doing, then wakes up the next morning thinking You know, I believe I've finally got a handle on this, then the next morning it's This book's going to suck, and everybody's going to find out I'm a fake, and then Okay, I guess I really do know what I'm doing after all, and back and forth and back and forth, day after day. She also told me she doesn't think such feelings are uncommon.

The thing about self-doubt is that it can lead to failure, and failure leads to more doubt, which leads to more failure, and pretty soon the downward spiral is going full speed. And being told not to doubt yourself is like being told not to worry. Everyone worries.

On the other hand, a little doubt can be a good thing, and far better than blind overconfidence. The only time I remember being completely free of self-doubt was a two- or three-week period about twenty years ago, shortly after I'd first started submitting stories to magazines. Having never published anything before, I had submitted five different short stories to five different markets just to see what would happen, and--although I still have trouble believing this--four of those first five stories were accepted, and for the next few weeks I was convinced that I was sitting on a rainbow with the world on a string, like in the old song. I figured Good grief, it it's this easy to get published, I'll just sell a gazillion stories and make a gazillion dollars. That, of course, was not the case. The next thirteen stories I submitted were rejected. Thirteen in a row. That brought me back fast to terra firma, and in retrospect it was one of the best things that could've happened to me. Live and learn.

A necessary evil?

Not necessary, I suppose. But self-doubt is certainly often-present.

Here are a couple of quotes, on the subject. Charles Bukowski once said, "You are better off doing nothing than doing something badly. But the problem is that bad writers tend to have the self-confidence, while the good ones tend to have self-doubt. So the bad writers tend to go on and on writing crap and giving as many readings as possible to sparse audiences. These sparse audiences consist mostly of other bad writers waiting their turn to go on . . . When failures gather together in an attempt at self-congratulation, it only leas to a deeper and more abiding failure. The crowd is the gathering place of the weakest; true creation is a solitary act."

And this, from Stephen King: "Writing fiction, especially a long work of fiction, can be a difficult, lonely job; it's like crossing the Atlantic Ocean in a bathtub. There's plenty of opportunity for self-doubt."

I think that goes for a short work of fiction as well. And here's another point: some feel that self-doubt is cured when one's writing happens to win an award or some other form of public recognition. I don't agree. The times that I've been fortunate enough for that to happen, I've often found myself wondering, afterward, if it was just a fluke, sort of a cosmic burp, never to be repeated. And I've heard others say they feel the same way. Self-doubt, deserved or not, seems to follow most writers around like Pigpen's dust cloud.

So what can we do about it?

Hey, if I knew the answer to that, I would've already done it. But here's some wise advice I saw at Chuck Wendig's blog terribleminds: "The key is to let doubt be clarifying rather than muddying. It's important to know that the doubt isn't yours to carry. It's not about you. You needn't doubt your own abilities but rather some aspect of your current work that feels like it's not coming together. Here your self-doubt serves as the standard-bearer for those instincts rising up from your gutty-works. Follow your heart. Thus, self-doubt helps you improve, which in turn helps you defeat self-doubt."

Well said. But it's a hard feeling to overcome. On the lighter side of all this, I remember something else I once heard: "I tried all that 'positive thinking' stuff. I knew it wouldn't work, and sure enough, it didn't." And the sign on the library door that said, "Low Self-Esteem meeting at 6 p.m.--attendees please enter through the back."


Questions

What are your views? Do you ever find yourself doubting your ability or your effectiveness as a writer? If so, how much does it bother you? How do you deal with it? Did any accolades you've received put it to rest? Do you have any advice to offer us Pigpens?

Oh my. Something else just occurred to me.

What if nobody even bothers to read this post . . . ?






21 April 2017

Wonderfulnesses

by
O'Neil De Noux

Ever notice the wonderfulnesses on the covers of books, indicating a book is as radiant as the sun and chock full of unforgettableness? The book is unputdownable? There are 500 5-star reviews of the book on Amazon or it is a best seller? Some covers come dotted with starbursts and little fish with more wonderfullnesses on the back cover.




The sun (really)



I realize these are selling points to get people to peek at the book, maybe

even buy the book. I guess my law enforecment background is showing. Like COP OF THE WEEK - the cop with the most arrests or tickets gets a little star on his pocket lapel. I've seen it. Not recently, thank God.

And then there are the proclamations, the review quotes expounding more wonderfulnesses.

I looked at my 23 published novels and researched reviews for snippets of my wonderfulness to slap all over my next cover. I mean I must be wonderful somewhere. Hell. It's a big world. Some dolt must think I'm a good writer. After a long search I managed to find some quotes and thought I'd run them by you to see which one(s) I should put on the back of my next book. Not sure if they're all complimentary.

Here they are:

“Denoux could be the greatest crime writer in the history of the world.” – The Bayou Goula Gazette

“A good great crime writer.” The Bogalusa Bat

“The most novelist working today.” The Worker’s Review

“Hey, this guy ain’t that bad.” – The North Jersey Petroleum Book Review Club

“The best mystery writer on the planet, or any other planet for that matter.” – The Rotterdam Rag

“Who the hell is this guy?” – Newsweek

“Never heard of him.” – Time

“We wish we could right this good.” – Cajun State University Press-Telegram

“The best thing about Slick Time are the legs on the cover.” – The Persimmon Times

New Orleans Nocturnal is a real sleeper.” – The National Sleep Foundation Newsletter

New Orleans Confidential. There is nothing confidential about New Orleans but if there were confidentialities, then this book would be one.” – New Orleans Tattle-Tale Review

“If he isn’t the best novelist, then it has to be Elmore Leonard or that James Burke guy. I mean, like, come on.” – The Angola Penitentiary Doing Hard Times

“Mr. Denous is the purrrrfect best writer, forever and ever.” – Stella Roux, book reviewer of The Turkish Angora Blue Review

No one spelled my name correctly. Which should tell me something.

OK. None of them really work. So I'll just sit back and chuckle at the hissy fits over the Oxford comma, the Cambridge semi-colon and the Dartmouth diphthong. I mean like, "it's not long enough to be a diphthong!" Do people stay up at night over this?

Just saw a blurb on the back of a new book. The book is 'menacingly erotic' and a 'rollicking romp through fields of sugar cane'



This is what a Louisiana sugar cane field looks like. Have a rollicking romp through it. Go ahead.

www.oneildenoux.com

20 April 2017

The Wellspring & The Touchstone

by Brian Thornton

I was on spring break last week. Always billed as a "time to recharge."

Usually it's a staycation at Casa Thornton, with plenty of spring-specific chores in need of doing. This year, my wife–God love her!–had other ideas.

She dispatched me on an epic quest in search of my touchstone so I could re-tap my wellspring.

In other words, she gave me the gift of time and headspace in order to help me find my groove with my writing. And she did it by sending me to Cannon Beach for a couple of days, so I could write without distractions.

I don't do anything by half-measures, so my particular touchstone really is a stone. Solid rock. Solid, massive rock.

In fact, at 327 feet above the sea, it's the fourth largest sea stack (off-shore monolithic rock) in the world. My touchstone is Haystack Rock.

My touchstone

I just turned 52, and I have been visiting Cannon Beach since I was three months old. I have come on vacations, stayed for long weekends, even once memorably took an overnight road-trip on a whim (Oh, college...) with two friends from Spokane to Cannon Beach. We got there in the middle of the night, stoked the coals of a dying beach fire, enjoyed the rock and the night and the stars for a couple of hours, then turned around and drove home. We were back in Spokane by noon.

And I have come to pay homage to my touchstone after break-ups, before changing jobs, in between moves. So many of the transitional times in my life have involved a pilgrimage to commune with Haystack.

And so it was last weekend. You see, I sold my first book to a publisher in 2004, and saw it in print in 2005. Over the next five years I brought my total of written, sold and published books up to an even ten.

And then I met my wife. In fact, the back-end payment of the advance on my ninth book helped pay for our honeymoon. After that I collected and edited a West Coast-themed crime fiction anthology, wrote and sold a couple of short stories, and my wife and I welcomed our son into the world and into our family.

With these new demands on my time and headspace, something had to give, and it couldn't be my day gig (I teach ancient history to 8th graders. And like I tell them, by "ancient history," I'm not talking about the 1990s!). So it was my writing.

I had to hit pause at the end of the first draft of an historical mystery I'd been researching and working on since before I met my wife. My marriage, my kid and the house all needed to come first.

But like an itch you can't quite scratch, the story had not left me. If anything it tormented me as I attempted to squeeze in time and energy and headspace to try to wrap it up. I wrote thousands of new words, tweaked old scenes, and generally stalled, because I no longer had the option of dropping everything and blocking the world out until I'd hit my daily word count.

This is not to say that it can't be done, that writers can't juggle very small children, a demanding day job, a good marriage and a fulfilling writing career. People manage to do it all the time.

And folks like me are rightly in awe of them. (The immortal Jess Lourey comes to mind: did all that and did it as a single mother, to boot! She's truly a wonder.).

I'm just saying it couldn't be done by me.

Add in the demands of my wonderful wife's corporate gig (she's management now, and I don't tell her nearly enough how incredibly proud I am of her. And I am!), and we needed for me to pull the slack at various times over the last four-plus years.

And I hated stalling out on my writing.

HATE.

HATE.

HATED it.

But what I kept coming back to was that I loved being married to my wife, adored my son, and could not escape the notion that my child did not ask to be born. We wanted children. Specifically, we wanted him.

So I wrote when and where I could, and never quite gave up on it.

And then a funny thing happened.

My son started preschool.

Not "funny," so much as "wondrous."

I also wrapped up a couple of unrelated long-term time-suck commitments that have helped free up my writing time/attention even more in the time since my son started school last September.

And the result is that the first three months of 2017 have been more productive for me that the last two years put together. I am about to release my first novella, and the novel (yes, that novel!) is on-pace to go to my agent in June.

June!

This is not to say that it's all been smooth sailing. I still get bogged down in the day-to-day every now and again. Like a couple of weeks ago.

And my wonderful wife, the smartest manager I know (on so many levels!), sent me on my quest.

Let me show you the view from my writing desk over the course of those two glorious, word-count-packing days:

Magic!
And just like that, the spigot on my internal wellspring got turned back to blast. My writing pump was primed.

And two days later, I got to celebrate the return of my long-lost writer's voice with two people whose opinion matters most to me.

Easter Morning, 2017
Thanks again, Haystack.





19 April 2017

I don't Think That Word Means What You Think It Means



by Robert Lopresti

Not long ago I had an embarrassing moment.  I discovered that the word erstwhile means former.  You may think: well, he's easily embarrassed if that bothers him.  The problem is that I had managed to get to the age of mumbly-mumble thinking it meant alleged.

In one of my stories about Leopold Longshanks, a mystery writer, I said:
Discovering he was using a word he couldn’t define annoyed him, like a carpenter opening his tool box and finding a gadget he didn’t recognize.

Exactly.  I agree with myself completely. I wondered if anyone else had the same experience so I asked my Facebook friends, and got an earful.  Here are some of their examples of words that fooled them.
Toothsome means delicious not toothy.


Nauseous does not mean nauseated.

I used to use venal to mean generally nasty or snide, when it really means to commit crime for money.

For years I thought svelte meant the opposite of what it really means.

 Livid? I always thought it meant flushed red, but it means pale.


Querulous means whiny. I always thought it was about being picky, or a fuddy-duddy.

Enervate. Thought it was kin to energize.

I used to think hoi polloi meant the snooty upper crust. Then I learned some Greek...

How the heck can flammable and inflammable mean the same thing?


Noisome means stinky, not loud.

I used to have a boss that referred to a very crowded space as fulsome.  It means over-the-top flattery.  When she  referred to a fulsome audience I winced.

 Georgette Heyer, in Black Sheep, uses sallow and swarthy interchangeably several times to describe the leading man's complexion (which was swarthy, not sallow).

I tend to mix up chartreuse and puce.

Rather than saying self-deprecating, I'd been using self-depreciating for years. 

dearth

secular

sanguine

obviate 

Although I knew what it meant I always read hyperbole as hyper bowl and couldn't figure out what that meant.


I was an adult before I realized pinochle was pee-nuckle - a card game I used to play with my father - and not some unknown card game pronounced. pin-o-ch-lee.

I was in college before an English teacher told me that AP-ruh-PO and apropos were the same word.

Rob again now: While I was writing this I got an email from someone who said he was "vehemently in favor of" something or other.  I didn't know that was possible.  I knew vehement meant forceful, emphatic, but I thought it was inherently negative.  I regret my erstwhile (ha!) misunderstanding.

So, confession is good for the soul.  What words have you misunderstood all your life?



18 April 2017

Help(,) Police!


Imagine feeling like every kiss goodbye to your loved ones each day might be your last kiss. Police officers and their families feel this way every single day. Karen Salmansohn

Let me be clear - no one is above the law. Not a politician, not a priest, not a criminal, not a police officer. We are all accountable for our actions. Antonio Villaraigosa


The police feel besieged. Like they can’t get anything right. Everyone wants them to save us from the bad guys, yet never persecute or killing any innocent people. That’s the ideal. They’ll never live up to it.
I feel for police. I relate to them. As an emergency doctor, I also have to deal with the most violent, most ignorant, most manipulative people, and I'm not allowed to make mistakes.
And yet we’re all human. We’re all going to make mistakes. Mistakes that sometimes kill people.
It's so easy for those outside the system to point their fingers and talk about how awful we are, yet those same critics never step in the arena.

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. Theodore Roosevelt

That said, I am a Black Lives Matter supporter. I never want to detain or kill innocent people. It is never acceptable.

But I feel for individual police officers who are doing their best, who are trying to save the public, who are literally putting their lives on the line every day and every night, for very little thanks and little pay, and a ton of screaming abuse.
So how do we support the police and make sure that the people are protected?
And how do we write about them?
“Where are the police?” Dean Wesley Smith asked me, about my first draft of Code Blues.
Look, they match!
Please admire my new cover.
The truth was, I didn’t know much about the police, so I wrote around them at first and had to add them to subsequent ones. 

Dead bodies? Check. A daring doctor who solves the crime and saves the day? Check. But the police who’d be investigating the murder? Hmm. They came in and dragged away the bad guys at the end of the book, but what about the beginning and middle?

I tried to correct some of my ignorance by attending Writers Police Academy in August.
I’ve written about some of the seminars I attended, but it really made my day when they critiqued my police interrogation scene in Human Remains. Writing about officers is a balancing act. I want to be realistic and portray the police as neither saints nor Satan, but somewhere in between. I want to create tension and drop clues to the murder, yet stay in Dr. Hope Sze's PTSD point of view.

Paul M. Smith wrote, “In a nutshell, the interview sounds very realistic and I don't really have any suggestions for change. You did a good job.  The only thing I could think of is that prior to any interview/interrogation the officers would have read her her rights, even if she wasn't a suspect. Otherwise, if at sometime she would become a suspect none of the interview would be admissible in court.”

Colleen wrote, “The questions you asked are very relevant and realistic. Cops love timelines and nail down timelines  - for suspects. When the timeline doesn’t match, then we begin to peel back the layers of deception for the truth. Nice job.”

Officer Matt wrote, “It looks good and sounds real. The use of the word Billy club is good. Cops call it a baton, but to the normal citizen, it is appropriate.”

Mike Knetzger wrote, “Yes, these are realistic questions. You might also want to explore the cognitive interview technique for some additional insight into questioning people about what they did before a significant event, such as finding a body.”
When Hope asks for a lawyer, Mike suggested that the officer reply, “I can’t give you legal advice.”
At the end, when Hope points out that they’ll be able to track her and her boyfriend’s footprints in the snow, Mike wrote, “When people mention footprints to me, I often reply, “‘Footprints? Are we looking for Big Foot or are we looking, instead, for shoe prints?’”
It made me realize that language has to be precise, especially when you’re dealing with legal matters. So yes, it would be shoe prints (or boot prints, because we’re in Canada), not foot prints.
Mike Knetzger probably had more to say because he’s an author himself. His stepdaughter was killed by an impaired driver one night when he was on duty, and he was unable to save her life. In response, he wrote the book Ashley’s Story, and he speaks out against impaired driving across the Midwest. You can support his cause by buying his book, as I did.

My profound thanks to these officers, and the ones who keep us safe in our beds every night.

Support our police. Support our people. Surely we can do both.

17 April 2017

God Bless the Beta Reader

by Steve Liskow

You have to revise your work, probably several times. That means you're looking at structure, pace, and character development along with accuracy, voice, and grammar. Is your dialogue effective? Does your plot build? Do your characters deepen and grow? Does the whole thing even make sense?

One of the problems with revising is that the more you do it, the more you invest in what you see in front of you. The more you revise and polish, the harder it is to recognize what might be a big problem with pacing or logic because you've been looking at it so long that you begin to take it for granted without even realizing it.

That's why a good beta reader is so important. Someone who hasn't watched you grow and nurture your first several drafts isn't as connected to it and can question your ideas more easily. Distance is a great thing.



Not everyone can be a good beta reader. I know several former English teachers who are so used to correcting grammar and spelling that they can't focus on larger issues like plot or character arc. Dialogue using slang can distract them from the characterization. If they see "literature" as something removed from "genre" or popular" fiction (which many of them do), their bias can get in the way, too.

I've been in two writing groups, and neither of them did the job I would have liked for a number of reasons. The first was composed of people who wrote in all genres: poetry, "literary," memoir, nonfiction...and me. I was dismayed to learn that the rules of good writing don't carry over from form to form. Two people in the group wrote well and offered intelligent feedback, but the rest made me wonder why we'd outlawed flogging. I finally left the group when one woman announced, "This is in the style of Gabriel Garcia Marques," and I, with my usual tact, replied, "So why isn't it in Spanish?" Nobody laughed.

The second group was all genre writers. At one time, we had 23 members, but six or seven showed up at most meetings, four of us regularly and the others at random. One always came to complain that she hadn't had time to write and wanted us to commiserate. I was the only crime/mystery writer, and people complained that my characters kept getting into trouble. Fortunately, the organizer ran into family turmoil and the group dissolved before I had to resort to violence...which I would have called "research."

Both groups had problems with anyone pointing out weaknesses, such as illogical plot twists, 40 pages of description in a 50-page excerpt, or characters who changed speech patterns from meeting to meeting.

Ideally, a beta reader is familiar with the form you write, whether it's mystery, romance, science fiction, free verse or financial theory. They have to understand your work and appreciate it, but still not be impressed by it. Yes, it's a paradox, but it's vital. If people love your work, they'll be reluctant to point out problems, which is the whole reason to be your beta reader.

A good beta reader can spot inconsistencies and inaccuracies but still focus on the big stuff. I remember one reader who wondered if my scene might have more impact in a different point of view, and I realized as soon as he said it that he was right. I changed it.

Another good reader stage-managed several plays that I directed, and she understood my rhythms and my visual/aural sense. She grasped that I "heard" things better than I "saw" them on-stage and blocked scenes and beat changes as a form of punctuation.

When I drifted away from theater, I asked her to read one of my novels. We met a month later, and she pulled out the well-thumbed MA (she'd read the whole thing three times, bless her) and flipped to a page with a paper clip on it.

"Do you know there's a huge energy drop in this scene?" She'd even turned down the page where it started, and it showed me that the scene needed drastic cutting. A ten-page scene became five because I had included so much detail that added nothing to the story.

Both those readers have moved away and I don't have emails for either of them. Alas. I have two or three readers now, and they all have strengths, but they all have weaknesses, too. Fortunately, they complement each other. One is great for details and fact checking (you spelled this name with an "ie" here and with a "y" later) but doesn't get structure or pacing. We constantly argue about a turning point coming too soon (I think 90% of the book is fine, but she wants it in the last ten pages, even though I don't write whodunits). Another, who does physical training, has a sense of my pacing and comprehends my rhythms. Her standard comment is along the lines of "I thought this dragged until incident Z in Scene AA." That helps me enormously.

A good beta reader can tell you what bothers him or her without necessarily telling you how to fix it. Sometimes, a casual comment like "this seems to start more slowly than I expected" is all you need. Or, "was that supposed to be funny?"

A good beta reader is worth his or her weight in chocolate, so if you find one, cherish him or her. And DON'T give him stuff that isn't ready for another pair of eyes. I don't like to show anything until the fourth or fifth draft because by then I've fixed most of the typos and can mention specific concerns, such as shifting POV or a strained plot point.

Whatever your beta reader tells you, listen to it. You don't have to change everything but remember that this is a preview of how other people will respond to your book. Think of it as a first date that you want to go well. Otherwise, what's the point?

16 April 2017

Model Employees

by Leigh Lundin

The French noun librairie looks obvious, right? Library? Mais non, it is one of those words related yet different… it means bookstore. Library en français is bibliothèque. Biblio– the root is obvious once you know the word.

La Librairie Mollat is a sizable bookstore in Bordeaux that has gained a reputation not only for books, but for its photography of books as modeled by store employees. By reputation, I refer to its 50 000 Instagram fans. What makes Librairie Mollat special? Take for example:



The employees photograph book covers… modeled with fellow employees.


Most are amusing, but the precision of the photos astonishes me.




Employees lend body parts or portions of their faces.






The eyes in this lady amaze me.


This case looks almost transparent.


Mustaches are a thing.




Charming, isn't it!


I love this one.


Our paranormal pal Charlaine Harris is very much a thing, too.












Charlaine Harris' covers are by far the most popular.


Enjoy the rest of the show.








Clever!














Backstory…


 Finally for you Star Wars fans…


Thanks to the reader who brought the bookstore to my attention. For other examples, visit here. For the full collection, check the store's Instagram page.