Showing posts with label Steve Hockensmith. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Steve Hockensmith. Show all posts

16 July 2018

No More Mr. Nice Guy

by Steve Hockensmith

Being a slim-ish (off and on) white dude (always) with a mild disposition (usually) and a closet full of cardigans, I've been compared to Mr. Rogers more than once over the years. Even in my early twenties, when I picked up the cardigan habit thanks to a frayed maroon sweater inherited from my grandfather, I didn't take this as an insult. My mom likes to tell the story of my older brother's reaction to the first episode of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood as a 3-year-old -- he turned to her at the end and said, "He's a nice man" -- and I always felt the same way about the guy after I came along. He was a nice man, and Princess Leia and I are simpatico on them.


As an American dude, though, I didn't always get the feeling I was supposed to like nice men. Nice guys finish last, remember, and the guys who came in first, the culture sometimes seemed to say, where macho hard-asses. Your football players, your professional wrestlers, your no-nonsense businessmen, your posturing politicians, your tough-talking pundits, your action heroes, your Mike Hammers, your Batmans.

All the same, I tried to Han Solo it.


And like Han, I can't always pull it off. For him, being "nice men" is tough because he's actually a lovable scoundrel (and, let us not forget, a scruffy-looking nerf herder). For me it can be tricky because even though I have Fred Rogers in my heart I have Larry David in my head. As much as I try to do the right thing, like the anti-hero of Curb Your Enthusiasm I often put myself on that road good intentions are known for because I'm paranoid I've done something very, very wrong. At least once a month I find myself giving some exchange on Facebook or Twitter the patented Larry David Look because I can't quite tell if I was rude, someone was rude to me or everything's hunky dory.


And sometimes it's not paranoia. As a writer, I agonize over every word. But that's not an option when you're dealing with people who aren't figments of your imagination. In the real world, everything that pops out of your mouth is a first draft you had to write on the fly. Many, many, many times I've wished I could go back and edit something I said -- give it a polish so it's not so, you know, stupid -- but c'est la vie. Or c'est my la vie anyway. Hopefully yours doesn't feel so fraught.

What would Mr. Rogers have to say about all these neuroses? "It's alright," probably. "I like you just the way you are." Or maybe "Meow meow chill out, man, meow meow" (if he had his Daniel Tiger puppet with him). He'd keep it positive, in other words. No matter what.

I think that's why Mr. Rogers is having a bit of a cultural moment. There's a new documentary about him, for one thing, but even before that came along I was seeing him pop up in my Facebook feed at least once a day. If it wasn't the clip of him testifying before Congress it was a meme about him suing the KKK or meeting Koko the gorilla (a big fan -- literally). Forget Joe DiMaggio. Where have you gone, Fred Rogers? Our nation is turning its lonely eyes to you. Woo woo woo.

Like painter/zen master/squirrel enthusiast Bob Ross, who had his own moment a couple years ago, Mr. Rogers represents a gentleness, kindness and all-around goodness that seems so rare these days -- so diametrically opposed to the current zeitgeist -- it's practically revolutionary. And "Viva la revolucion!" I say. I know the moment will pass, but in my own small, flawed way, I hope I can help it last just a little bit longer.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go finish my latest book about theft, blackmail and murder.

18 June 2018

Hello, Cruel World

by Steve Hockensmith

Hi. My name is Steve, and I'm a blogaholic.

I've been blogging on my website, SteveHockensmith.com, since 2006. I got started because my first novel was about to come out, and blogging was just what one did. I'm not sure what one does as a first-time novelist these days. Post pictures of your breakfast on Snapchat? Start a podcast? Vlog about your breakfast-themed podcast on Instagram? All of the above? None of the above? Thank god I don't have to know. You can only be a "first-time novelist" once. After you get that out of the way, you're just a plain old "novelist," and no cares what you do.

When I started blogging, I had no great message to spread, except an implied "Please be so kind as to consider buying my book." I had no great wisdom to share either. (Those who know me well will quickly confirm this.) I could've blogged about how to become a first-time novelist, I suppose, but I'm not a big believer in writing advice, subscribing instead to the Capt. Kirk Method: "We learn by doing."

Irony alert #1: The actor who originally played Capt. Kirk, William Shatner, is the "author" of many "co-written" novels. So when it comes to writing, he didn't, in fact, learn by doing. He did it by hiring people who already knew how to do it and having them do it for him. But we can't all be William Shatner, can we? Civilization wouldn't survive it.

Irony alert #2: Although I'm not big on writing advice, the most-viewed blog post I ever did is called "50 Dos and Don'ts for Wannabe Writers." It still draws a few eyeballs to my site every day because it inspired a long, bitter, bile-filled thread on Reddit. (Is there any other kind?) The second most-viewed blog post I ever did, by the way, is written in the voice of one of my characters, "Big Red" Amlingmeyer, and is about him stumbling across a video called "Top 10 Spanking Scenes in Cowboy TV Shows." Which means that the Google search "spanking cowboys" now brings a few extremely disappointed web surfers to my site each day. And will now bring them here, as well. Howdy, partners! Better luck next click!

Although I figured out a long time ago that blogging wouldn't actually help me sell more books, I kept at it. Why, if there was nothing I was burning to say and no particular reason to say it anyway?

Damn. Good question. Blogging...

Perhaps for me blogging's been a sort of reverse suicide note.
Hello, Cruel World.

I still have silly little projects to work on and silly little thoughts to think.
So I'm sticking around.


Nyah nyah nyah-nyah nyah! You haven't completely crushed me yet!

Your pal,

Steve
Fortunately, there are bloggers with more to say than that. Case in point: the fine writers here at SleuthSayers. Somewhat to my surprise, they've been foolish kind enough to ask me to blog here on a regular basis. Even more to my surprise, I've said yes. I'll be popping in once a month. Which means I need to up my game, blogging-wise.

Can I do it? We'll see. I know how to get started. It's what all the hip kids are doing on social media these days, I think.

07 May 2018

My Mojo

Guest starring Steve Hockensmith
Steve Hockensmith is the author of more than a dozen mystery novels. Trust me, them hard-case crime writers ain’t so tough. Today, Steve will touch your heart. Grab a hanky. You’ve been warned.
— Velma

Monkey Shines

I wish this were my job description: Make stuff up, write it down. That’s what I enjoy about being a writer. But if you’re trying to get somewhere with your writing — having people actually read it, for instance — there’s a bit more to it than that.

gato de botas
That’s why I’m (sporadically) on social media and (even more sporadically) blog. Every post is a wee little flag fluttering in the breeze. It’s got writing on it, “Don’t tread on me”-style:

Look at me,” it says. “I’m alive.

And instead of a drawing of a coiled, bad-ass snake, it’s got this cat wearing a T-shirt that says ➜

Ask me about my mystery fiction.

I’m never really sure what I should be posting about, but in general I try to follow these rules:
  1. Keep it fun,
  2. keep it positive (which I think I’ve already broken)
  3. and keep it real… but not too real (see A and B).
I guess the secret (D) — or maybe it’s another sub-clause to (C) — is “Keep it impersonal.” I don’t like to write about my private life because (switching to numbers to avoid confusion)
  1. It’s private, duh, and
  2. who cares?
But I set that rule aside recently because… well, I couldn’t help myself. I was feeling something and I had to share it. So I started writing a tweet which grew into a message on Facebook which grew into a blog post. And now it’s grown into a guest blog post, because here it is again.



Guyzos — Three Amigos
Guyzos — The Three Amigos
Someone broke the passenger-side window out of my car and stole the shoulder bag I take to work every day. I guess they thought it would have a laptop in it. No such luck for the thieves. And no luck for my family. Because you know what was in that bag? Two monkeys and an owl. Bobo, Lou from the Zoo and Barney the Barn Owl, to be specific.

Every day for the last year or so, my son Mojo picked out three of his “guyzos” (his huge posse of stuffed animals) for me to take to work. During the day, I’d send him pictures of the guys helping me do my job. The makeup of the group changed every day except for one constant: Bobo. Bobo always came with me. Because Bobo was special.

Mojo is autistic. There were times a few years ago when it was almost impossible to get him to communicate or cooperate or control himself. And you know who he almost always listened to? Bobo. Bobo could calm him down. Bobo could get him to listen. Bobo could get him to talk about himself and what he was feeling.

Bobo probably would have offended my Italian friends. He-a sounded like-a theese-a. You know: He had a “Whatsa matta for you?” old school faux-Italian accent. Why? Because it’s a silly accent I can do, and a long time ago it became my job to give the guyzos distinct voices and personalities. (It’s not easy. In fact, there are several guyzos with the same voice. Baby and His Brother Baby, for instance, and they sound a lot like Ted the Christmas Bear who sounds almost exactly like Big Ears the Rabbit.)

Bobo was an upbeat, can-do dude. “Let's-a try it, my friend!” he’d say. Or “You can-a do it, my friend!” (He called everyone “my friend.”) And “I love-a you, my friend.” And Mojo would say, “I love you, Bobo.”

Bobo shared Mojo’s distaste for shows of affection, though. “No lovey-doveys!” they liked to shout when things got too icky-sentimental. So I’ll honor Bobo’s preferences and wrap this up.

My wife and I were in a restaurant celebrating our 21st wedding anniversary when Bobo was stolen. When we came out and realized what had happened, we drove around the neighborhood looking for the bag and the guyzos, hoping the thieves would dump everything when they realized they hadn’t snatched anything of value. To them.

We were in tears. Not over an old, stained, to be honest slightly stinky stuffed monkey. The tears were for what Bobo represented. What he gave us. A narrow window into our son’s mind and heart.

That window is wider now. Mojo’s doing fine. He listens and communicates and (usually, in his unique way) cooperates. This morning, when my wife and I told him what had happened to the guyzos, he said, “Oh, no… oh, no.” His lips trembled, and tears came to his eyes. And then, after we talked about it a little longer — about how special Bobo was and how much we would miss him — he said, “Oh, well.” And he was ready to watch his Saturday morning cartoons.

Bobo
He’s still hurt, I can tell. But at this very moment he’s watching Bugs Bunny and eating a doughnut. He acknowledged his pain, and then he moved on. What we all have to do all the time. Mojo can do it, too. I couldn’t always say that.

A stuffed monkey helped that happen. He’s gone now, but the window he opened remains.

Thanks, Bobo. And goodbye.

Yeah, you smelled. But I love you, my friend…



I got more likes, shares, hits and supportive comments from that post than from anything I’ve done on social media in a long, long time. (It also caught the attention of Leigh Lundin, who asked me if SleuthSayers could showcase it.) But the takeaway isn’t “Ruthlessly exploit your child’s pain.” (At least I hope it’s not.)

I broke my own rules. I didn’t worry about being fun. I didn’t worry about keeping it positive. I didn’t worry about getting too personal. Bobo deserved a tribute, so I wrote one.

Look at him. He was alive (to us, anyway).

That touched people. And many of them responded in a way that touched me. Will that help me sell more mystery fiction? No, and I don’t care.

For me, it’s a reminder that writing (and, yes, that includes blogging and tweeting) can be its own reward. Which is something we writers — particularly we genre writers worried about finding an audience — might occasionally forget.

Steve blogs (sporadically) at SteveHockensmith.com

07 February 2018

No Fun Aloud

When my first novel was published I went to a regional booksellers conference to explain to those fine people why they needed to stock thousands of copies of my masterpiece.  Among the other naïfs in attendance was Steve Hockensmith, promoting his first comic-western-mystery.  We hit it off.  Steve has gone on to write fifteen more novels, receive two Edgar nominations, and has been spotted in Alfred Hitchcock and Ellery Queen Mystery Magazines, as well as the New York Times Bestseller List.  Recently I asked Steve to write something for SleuthSayers about the importance of riboflavin in the human diet.  He countered by offering to discuss the writing process.  Since neither of us was sure what riboflavin is (is it better than regular flavin?), that seemed the better approach.  You can read more of his wisdom at stevehockensmith.com.
— Robert Lopresti



No Fun Aloud
by Steve Hockensmith

I think I might be a good writer partly because I'm bad at it. Not "bad" in the sense that my writing's turgid or confusing or cliched or wrong-headed. I'm not [AUTHOR NAME REDACTED IN THE INTEREST OF KEEPING THE PEACE...HEY, SOME PEOPLE LIKE TURGID, CONFUSING, CLICHED AND WRONG-HEADED]. It's just that writing's so damn hard.

Words don't come pouring out of me. They drip. Slowly. Like...like...aw, hell. I don't feel like spending 20 minutes trying to work out the right simile, so just take my word for it. They drip. Even the smallest project -- writing a tweet, say, or adding a message to a birthday card -- requires brainstorming, outlining, two pots of coffee and long, long stretches of absolute silence. And even then I'm going to lose my confidence half-way through and come close to quitting. ("'Enjoy your special day'? I can't believe I actually wrote that. I'd tear this card up and get another if it didn't cost me four bucks. Stupid Hallmark…")

The only thing that's more painful than writing is rewriting. Fortunately, I usually don't have to do much of it: Most of the needed rewriting already took place in my head while the writing was going on. Spend 10 minutes on one sentence, and there's a good chance it'll come out right. (Warning: There's also a good chance you'll lose your mind.) Rewriting can feel like taking a perfectly good cake and trying to turn it into a plate of cookies. Sometimes, of course, the cake actually sucks, and sometimes you have a contract calling for a plate of cookies. So you do what you gotta do. But I agonize in the hope that I don't gotta.

I think I know where a lot of that agony comes from, too. Fellow writers: Do you write out loud? Do you actually speak every sentence you're trying to construct? Do you test words by listening to them together?

Those are rhetorical questions, by the way. If every writer answered "Yes, yes, yes," none of us would ever be allowed in Starbucks again. Too many customers would be complaining about the weirdos muttering into their laptops.

And lots of writers do write in coffee shops. Which I've never understood. You know where I want to write? A closet. An isolation tank. The Batcave (when Batman and Robin are off POW-ing and ZOK-ing the Riddler's henchmen in a jigsaw puzzle factory and Alfred's upstairs baking bat-pizza).

I need to be somewhere I can hear the words and not get glared at by latte-slurpers for doing it.
Because writing isn't just stringing words together on a screen. It's speaking to readers. It's standing up and telling them a story the way we used to do it around the fire at night. Out loud. When we talk about a writer's "voice," it shouldn't just be a fancy way to say "style." For truly good writing, IMHO, it should be literal.

Not MHO at all, because it's a damn fact: That can make writing a lot harder. I think it's worth the extra effort and aggravation, though. In the end, it's the voice of your story people will hear, not all the mumbling, grumbling and cursing it took to find it.

Unless you’re one of those nuts who writes in Starbucks…