Friday, December 31, 2010

Last Post of 2010

You don't know how good it feels to have typed the title of this article.

2010 has been a horrible year with, maybe, only four highlights. I'm trying to stay positive by thinking of those highlights often. What would I say to 2010 if it were a living being? Get out. Don't let the door hit you on the ass.

One of the low points of the year was the death this week of my mother's cat, of whom I wrote earlier this month. That article, Babysitting an Old Cat: The Diary, was very popular, with a lot of hits (I'm amazed at how many hits!) so I thought it appropriate to let you know what happened. As I reported, she was getting along in years; after I posted the article and my mother returned from her cruise, Midnight started going downhill in a big way and my mother had to make the gut-wrenching decision to put her to sleep.

All of my childhood pets are now dead. The first to go was Aussie, our Austrian Shepherd, who was a good watch dog. I still feel guilty over not spending as much time with him as I could have, but when I was young my home life was fairly messed up, and I'm afraid just surviving was my primary concern. Aussie loved having his belly scratched and my father treated him to many belly scratches; when my parents split up, Dad wasn't around anymore, so it became my responsibility to do that. I did it as often as I could, I know I did, but memories of those moments do not exist.

Then there was our first cat, Boots, who got hit by a car; then Patches, who died of cancer; now Midnight.

Happy effing new year. Is there anything left in the bottle? Pass it over...

I am much more optimistic about 2011. I'm moving to a new area, have a new job (finally, after nearly three years of unemployment), and have a writing schedule which includes four ebooks this year. Coming sometime in January will be the first of that batch, Show No Mercy, which I hope you all like. It's a spy novel, with a ton of action, but it's focus is also on the characters and their relationships and I can't say I've ever seen a spy novel that focuses on characters as much as this one. Granted, I have never read very widely in the espionage genre, but what I have read has always been a pot-boiler of some kind. I'm sure I'm no pioneer here. But I do hope that Show No Mercy is refreshing.

I certainly wish the best for you and your family this year; good reading (and writing!) to you. If you remember, I'd appreciate it if you could raise a glass tonight to furry friends long gone.

Now, if you will excuse me, I am off to San Francisco to welcome in a new and better year...

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Steve McQueen as Philip Marlowe?

Was Santa nice to you and yours? I hope so, and as we gear up to kiss 2010 good-bye, and none too soon (what a rough year!), I also hope you plan to make the new year ten times better than the old one. Heaven knows it can't be any worse.

So waiting for me under the tree this morning was a new Steve McQueen biography by Marshall Terrill, which is, in fact, a rewrite of another McQueen bio he wrote back in 1993. This one is better, he says. What the heck, I'll read it, as I'm a sucker for McQueen, who not only inspired me to be an actor myself, but led such a life that, in most cases, is a good example for others (minus the drug use and philandering, of course--but, hey, nobody's perfect).

In one of the indexes Terill lists the movies McQueen didn't make, and one of those was Robert Altman's The Long Good-Bye.

McQueen as Marlowe? Wow.

Just... wow.

McQueen played the world-weary, vulnerable, never-give-up type time and time again, and did it better than anybody before or since.

Bullitt. McQueen against authority. He solved the mystery his way while avoiding interference from the suits who stood in his way.

Papillon. McQueen, trying to escape a French prison over and over again, without success, beaten time and again, buried in a solitary holding cell clinging to whatever sliver of light allowed him to see outside. Best line from the movie: "I'm still here, you bastards."

Junior Bonner. He refused to give up his dreams of rodeo glory despite his age and pressure from his parents and others. He forged his own way.

The Great Escape. Need I say more?

Philip Marlowe never gave up, no matter how many times he was sapped (by crooks and cops alike) and when nobody else would stand up for what was right, or his client, Marlowe stood up. He stood up for Terry Lennox, when he probably shouldn't have. He paid for his choices. But he took the licking and kept going. If he didn't, nobody would.

Marlowe and McQueen are a match made in literary and celluloid heaven.

With his qualities, McQueen would have given us the definitive portrayal of Philip Marlowe no matter how the screenwriters and Altman updated the novel.

Can you imagine the final scene between Marlowe and Terry Lennox with McQueen behind the desk? Oh... My... Gosh...

But it didn't work out, and The Long Good-Bye starred Elliot Gould. Not that there is anything, you know, wrong with that...

Friday, December 24, 2010

Kill Your Darlings, or: Hurry Up and Rescue Me, Muse!

One of the obstacles facing us indie writers, or any writer, really, is finding people who have the editorial sense to give our manuscripts the review they deserve—not just a read where somebody says something nice about it. I’m talking about a “this works, this doesn’t, this makes no sense” kind of read. In other words, we need somebody who isn’t afraid to tell the emperor that he has no clothes.

I have auditioned several folks in this area with varying degrees of success; the most recent was my friend Beth, who was good at spotting the typos and pesky grammar problems that plague all writers, but she didn’t like my subject matter of heroes and villains and shoot-em-up-bang-bang with a few sexy babes thrown in for color. She preferred mysteries of the cozy variety, where the Old Ladies Knitting Circle solves crimes without ever leaving their knitting circle, and the murderer confesses because one of the old ladies has a cat who stares at him funny. She read my newest manuscript, Show No Mercy, which I want to release in January, but this spy thriller in the James Bond mode wasn’t her thing. She could not get into the story, did not care about the characters, and had no comment as to whether or not the plot and situations made any sense. And that’s fine. She was up front about her prejudices, and I didn’t hold it against her. She found a few mistakes, and those mistakes were corrected. But I needed another reader.

Enter my friend Michael, who once edited his college newspaper, and told me that gave him all the experience necessary for what I needed. Plus, he reads a ton of thrillers and we discuss new books quite often. It wouldn’t hurt, thought I, to let him try. But…

Michael and I had a conversation recently about the book; he’d only just started reading, hadn’t progressed very far. He did say, however, that he thought some of the minor characters the hero meets within the first 30 pages should get their own book.

“Eh?” said I. “You mean the cardboard people who are there only to provide a clue or information for the hero to advance his investigation? Those are the characters you like?”

Calling them cardboard is a mistake as I try to infuse even the minor folks with some bits of characterization, but I wonder if maybe I went too far, and didn’t give the hero enough to catch Michael’s attention. What does he think of the hero?

“Oh, yeah, he’s cool. I like his name.” (They’re both named Michael.)

I guess that’s a decent comment but it didn’t have the enthusiasm he showed for the minor folks.

Further questioning revealed that Michael hasn’t read far enough to form an opinion on the hero or the supporting players (whom he hasn’t met yet). But it made me think: Did I do the job right? Had I properly set up the hero, Michael Dodge, as somebody to root for?

Immediately I went through my notes and the story itself. I think I did all right. The mystery begins as soon as we meet Dodge, a C.I.A. operative, and he’s confronted with the idea that his mentor may have turned against the Agency. Right away he’s eager to learn the truth. We get a little about his background and his habits (he’s a good poker player, drinks rum-and-Coke, and has the usual heroic skill with a pistol and gadgets). What we don’t have as we meet Dodge, but we see in the minor characters, are traits. One fellow eats with his mouth open; the other has a hair cut which leaves some strands dangling over his ears. Are those enough to really make a reader want to see more of them?

I asked myself, “What first grabbed me about James Bond, when we meet him in Casino Royale (the book, not the movie—I’m an Ian Fleming purist and think the movies suck). Why did I find Mack Bolan sympathetic when I read War Against the Mafia? What is it about Matt Helm that made me want to read more about him? Why do I like Mike Hammer? Why is Dirty Harry so exciting? Why do I still read the Dan Track books that I collected ages ago?

Then I thought to myself, It’s too soon to analyze this. He hasn’t even finished the book yet.

I may be over thinking this, of course, but it’s the kind of critical thinking that a writer must do. If something isn’t working, it needs to be fixed, and if Dodge needs something more, I will give him more (perhaps a physical flaw that makes him less than perfect), but I won’t do any altering of the manuscript until Michael finishes the entire book.

This reminds me of a funny story regarding my last book, Justified Sins, which has been my best-seller so far. I wasn’t sure anybody would like the hero, a vigilante named Pierce, but most readers have said that they liked him very much, and took the news that I didn’t think I would do a second Pierce novel very hard (I have since changed my mind because a great idea came to mind). They want to see more of him, learn more of his story. Why? I didn’t give Pierce any more characterization than I have given Dodge. But readers find Pierce compelling. For some reason.

But I need to wait until Michael finishes the book before I do anything rash.

Meanwhile, I think the conversation made me focus a little more. It’s the thought process a writer must go through, time and time again, because to think we “know it all” is, literally, poison. We have to be ready to alter what we think is perfect. The good news is, my muse, if you will, always provides a solution.

Hopefully, when Michael finishes marking up my manuscript, he will be as excited to see more of Michael Dodge as I am to write about him, and will be able to answer more questions. I have four more Dodge books planned, so if this one takes off, more will quickly follow. It will be a few more weeks until my new reader finished the story, but in the end I think he’ll give it the kudos I think it deserves.

If he doesn't, it's back under the hood for some fine tuning.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Free Book!

My friend Rebecca Forster, who shares this space now and again, has a terrific offer going on right now where you can get a free copy of one of her books. But why should I talk about it? Watch the video! One thing I will say is that the book is "Hostile Witness" and if you think there's nothing new and exciting in legal fiction, you need to give this one a try. It's a hot read that kept me up nights when it was originally published several years ago; you won't be able to put it down.

video

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Babysitting an Old Cat--The Diary

My mother is off on a weeklong cruise to wherever the hell, and has asked me to not only stay at her house but also take care of her cat, a 21-year-old black Siamese named Midnight. She was a kitten when I was 14, so small that she could lay flat in the palm of my hand. No longer. She is old, cranky, arthritic, and waiting to get into cat heaven now.

I have been keeping a diary of our adventures together in order to keep my sanity, and it has become quite the writing exercise.

Day 1: I spent so much time taking care of the cat, aka The Rodent, this AM that I rushed to get myself ready for work. Result? I was ten minutes late to the office because of traffic (it's only rain people!) and forgot my lunch. I am going to change the cat's name to George Bush so I can blame it for everything and take responsibility for nothing.

Day 2: I thought lighting a fire in the fire place, in front of which the cat likes to lay and is thus quiet, would keep her quiet after a loud meowing spree--she howls like a banshee. But she is ignoring the fire. She is still howling. I think the only way to shut her up would be to throw her into the fire, but that would upset my mother, so we will not do this. We will endure.

Day 3: The rodent is in front of the fire and quiet. There is peace in this house. Once I put the fire out, though, there will be no peace. Woe is me.

Day 4: This morning the cat was outside my door and promptly began meowing for breakfast as soon as my alarm went off. I almost tripped on the rodent because she insists on walking between my feet as I head for her food dish. One of these days, I'll indeed trip over her, bang my head, fall into a coma, and she will starve to death.

Day 5: All the rodent does is follow me around the house and howl until I light the fireplace, and then she lies in front of it and is silent. It's a gas fireplace, so my mother's gas bill will be high. That's what she gets for making me stay with the rodent.

Day 6: Today, like I did back in the day, I placed the rodent on the back of the couch. When she was young she would walk along the edge and jump off. Now she can barely balance. Wow, she is old. I picked her up so she wouldn't fall and she howled at me. I would have howled too.

Day 7: I’m fighting the sniffles so I wasn't in the mood to deal with the rodent’s pissing and moaning about her breakfast. So I dropped a bunch of her food on the plastic plate she used yesterday. She continued to moan and wail and would not eat. I grabbed a clean plate, transferred the food, and then she started eating. She is a spoiled little rodent. I guess I can’t blame her, though. I wouldn't want to eat off a dirty plate, either.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Rebecca Forster Vs. The Hunky Dudes

Editor's Note: My writer pal Rebecca Forster once again brings a touch of class to this blog with a piece about all the wild and crazy hunky men she meets while doing her--what? Oh, she's only talking about men who read her books. I see. In that case, they probably aren't hunky at all. Except for me, though "hunk of what?" is probably your next question. Learn more about Rebecca at www.rebeccaforster.com.

I have been meeting a lot of men lately online. These men have dangerous and intriguing handles like ‘rebel’ and ‘emystery’ and ‘moses’. These men all want one thing--to talk about books.

Disappointed? Not the pay-off you were expecting? Well, I gotta tell you, this is a new experience for me, too. Actually, I should clarify. Meeting men is not a new experience. I’ve known a couple in my life, I just can’t really remember them very well since I’ve been married for like forever (think Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion and if you haven’t seen it, stop reading this and get thee right now to Netflix).

Since becoming a married woman, I have also met a lot of guys. They repair my car, come over in the middle of the afternoon for a little tryst – usually with my plumbing – or tend to taking my clothes in when I’m on a diet and letting them out again when I fail. Tailors are unsung heroes.

What makes the men I’m meeting lately so intriguing is that they are (get ready) readers of fiction. Before the internet, I didn’t believe they existed. There were always the aberrations, of course. Those were the men who read Tom Clancy or David Morrell but I have been long been suspect of the devotion men have to that fiction. In fact, I have it on good authority that during the printing process the publisher lays down a thin layer of testosterone on the pages which is tantamount to carrying a ham hock in your pocket to make a dog love you.

The men I’m talking about read MY fiction. I think my books are pretty thrilling considering I write about the legal system. What’s not to love there? There’s always a good murder (and I’m talking really good). There are fight-or-flight scenes. There are sex scenes (okay, maybe just the idea of sex. Okay, maybe just the insinuation of sex. My mom, after all, reads my books. She doesn’t mind creative murder but sex? Not so much). There is always the bare-knuckled-intellectual smack d owns men will love in my fictional courtrooms. I too have a dose of testosterone but you have to actually read my books closely to find it and sometimes I sprinkle a little too much on the female characters.

I had always imagined most men to be like my husband: readers of nonfiction, political treatise, history. Lots and lots of history. Magazines. Tons and tons of news magazines. In short, I believed male readers did not want to be drawn into a fictional world and introduced to people who faded away with the turn of the last page.

I was so wrong. I painted fiction readers with a broad brush that did not include men. I profiled, I admit it. Now I’ve seen the light. I am here to tell you that I embrace the fabulous men I have met through the internet because of my books. I am grateful for their counsel because, unlike the more polite woman reader, men say what’s on their mind. Sometimes it’s praise for my work (go ahead, take a look at some of the ‘guy’ reviews of my books) but they also have helped me so much as I focused on the ever-expanding e-publishing marketplace. They read my work on their computers, IPads, Nooks and Kindles and have made suggestions. Sometime, they just ask questions like, “Did you just fall off the turnip truck because your formatting is way off.” Or the ever favorite, “I think you should check your file, either you can’t spell or you have scanning problems.”

The cool thing about all this is that my guys not only point out a problem, they happily help me fix it. I’m assuming they are happy to help since the dialogue between us continues over weeks and months and, in some cases, years. I know about their children and grandchildren, we swap travel stories and suggestions for good reads. I get a little jealous when they don’t add ‘but your work is so much better’ to their recommendations.

I am eternally grateful that these men have picked up my work and picked up on me. They have become friends I cherish even though we will more than likely never meet – which actually is probably a good thing. I never could have imagined that offering up a book for their consideration would, in turn introduce me to a group of men so considerate.

Here’s to all you chivalrous, kind and generous guys who read fiction . Now, when I write I promise to remember you’re out there. In fact, I may swipe a little more testosterone on those pages just to say thanks.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Show No Mercy: The Teaser

Hi, gang. I'm in the process of working up the story description for my new book, a spy thriller called Show No Mercy, and I wanted to post it for review and comments. Don't be shy! Without any further comment from me, I present to you the teaser for Show No Mercy.

"Could you kill your father?

That is the question C.I.A. agent Michael Dodge faces when he learns that his mentor and surrogate father, Harry Ames, is accused of murdering a fellow agent and helping an unknown enemy acquire a biological weapon.

Dodge teams up with Harry’s daughter, Tracy, but their attempt to learn the truth transforms into a task neither can contemplate: assassinating the man they care about most.

SHOW NO MERCY. A heart-stopping international thrill-ride sure to please even the most jaded connoisseur of high adventure. January 2011."

Cover Me!

How is your holiday weekend going? I'm staying at my mother's since my sister is in town and I swear I'm getting a hotel next year. I'm sleeping on the living room floor on an air mattress that makes my back hurt and since mom doesn't believe in curtains the sun blasts into said living room and wakes one up at an ungodly hour when one has just gotten to sleep after watching the Spongebob Squarepants marathon.

My new year's resolution is to redo the covers of the ebooks I published this year and prepare some really hot covers for the books coming in January and March. I'm able to do this thanks to awesome web sites like Dreamstime, fotolia, and iStockphoto, which offer professional photographs, at a price, that when assembled properly will make great book covers. I'm talking about men and women with guns in various "action oriented" photos that will go great with books entitled Justified Sins and Show No Mercy. (Thanks for my writer pal Jon Guenther for the tip on these sites!) But what I am coming across, and maybe this is where you can help me, is whether or not to go with the James Bond-style dudes or masked hoodlums with their pistols or only use shots of sexy babes posing with guns. It's tempting to do the kind of GGA pulp covers so prevalent in the glory days but the photos I am finding are a little too racy, but you can't deny that a woman in a bloody slip holding a gun in one hand and a knife in the other wouldn't catch somebody's eye and that's what an author wants but even I have certain standards. Very few standards, but standards nonetheless.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Writer's Mind

Happy Thanksgiving, y’all, and I certainly hope you have plans that will provide you with needed R&R, because who doesn’t need a break after this particularly trying time? I plan on spending a lot of the holiday weekend with my face down in notebook pages as I write the new novel, The Rogue Gentleman. I feel very strongly that this is going to be a hot book, and I feel it as strongly as a TSA agent feeling up a three-year-old.

Writing a story is probably one of the most rewarding activities I engage in, because of moments like the other day when I was scribbling a scene between the hero—the aforementioned rogue gentleman—and the police detective he interacts with. My outline doesn’t go into characterizations or anything like that, it just gives the facts of a scene, so it’s up to my imagination and other pre-writing activity to fill in the gaps. The hero of the book is a cigar smoker; when it came time to introduce the detective, he became a cigar smoker, too, but because if his daughter’s college tuition, he can only afford the cheap smokes. This shared habit was the turning point in their conversation, which was supposed to end with them forging an alliance against the bad guys. Before that, the dialogue had to carry the day and it didn’t have the impact I wanted; I didn't think mere words would forge the bond these two needed to make the plans they later make. They needed something else.

At one point the detective leans back in his chair, his jacket falls open, and the hero sees the el cheapo cigar sticking out of his shirt pocket. The hero then produces a much more expensive cigar from his own shirt pocket, the kind the detective wishes he could afford. If the detective likes it, the hero promises to buy him a case. The detective doesn’t take it right away; he’s not sure he should, but then he does and BOOM the dynamic between the characters transformed and suddenly their alliance wasn't so hard to swallow.

The other funny thing about this new book is how much material from an old book I’m incorporating. Every writer has “trunk novels”, stuff they and for a variety of reasons put in a drawer. One of my trunk novels has not only provided material for my previous book Justified Sins, but it’s providing a lot of material for The Rogue Gentleman as well. And there will be enough left over for a third book. It’s the manuscript that keeps on giving. You might be asking, If the trunk novel has so much good stuff, why didn't you publish it by itself? I don't know. I think somebody told me they didn't like it. Maybe I worked on it for too long and lost interest. I can't remember the reason anymore.

I hope you enjoyed this peek into a writer’s mind. I assure you all writers have them; now, when you read a book, maybe you can imagine how the author created what seems like an effortless the story, but you'll know better.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Rebecca Forster: A Rocky Road to Inspiration

Editor's Note: Here's Rebecca again with a post about finding creativity in an unlikely place. One of these days I have to go visit her neighborhood; every time she talks about it, I get jealous. I don't live in a place as cool as hers. Learn more about Rebecca's books at www.rebeccaforster.com. Her latest is a romantic thriller called Wilde's Gamble and it's a winner all the way.

Sometimes I find myself uninspired. Creatively shot. Not a word of dialogue for mute characters or description of a fictional landscape presents themselves. The next turn of phrase, the next analogy, adverb or adjective is on the tip of my tongue but that tongue is tied. The fuel pump’s blocked, the door is closed. I am, so to speak, between a creative rock and a hard place. Giving up is out of the question so I talk a walk to jar my thoughts loose. My destination is the bustling village a mile down the hill from my house.

If I head to the beach, I will walk on white sand that rings the sapphire blue ocean which fills a horseshoe of a bay. I can see Malibu across the water and dolphin in the curl of the waves as they frolic with the surfers. There are skaters, volleyball players, cyclists and a plethora of beautiful California bodies which I would probably appreciate more if I were younger. As it is, all those beautiful people only serve to remind me that I’m not.

If I go the other way, I walk on asphalt, past rows of well-kept, modestly-sized ranch style houses. This is the route I usually take because there is one house that never fails to pique my curiosity. Actually, it isn’t the house but the rock that sits on the lawn in front of the house that I find so curious.

This rock is unimpressively grey, round on top and flat on the bottom. Rather than move it, the owner of the house planted grass around it. The lawn is beautiful; the rock is not. The rock is arm-span wide and a little more than knee-high. There is a stone on top of it that looks like a dinosaur egg. The rock and the stone could be one of those Boy Scout signs my brothers ringed around the backyard pointing the way to our own backdoor. For me, the rock points the way to inspiration. Whoever lives in the house makes the rock and stone his canvas and three times a year it becomes something else entirely.

In October the rock is wrapped in orange paper, the stone in green and it is transformed into a pumpkin.

Come December, the rock becomes a granite snowman with a red and green stripped scarf wrapped around its nonexistent neck.

Ah, spring! Rock as Easter Bunny….

You get the idea.

With a little help, the rock and stone become heralds of good cheer and harbingers of happy times to come. The rock speaks of faithfulness, passing each year with the owner of the house, marking time, submitting to the ‘artists’ vision. The rock, all dressed up, is funny and pleasing to the eye and unexpected. It is a public service and I, as a member of the public, never cease to be delighted by the ever morphing rock and his friend the stone. Here is a story told completely, without need of explanation or overt flourish.

I believe in getting lost in a narrative, in creating fantasy, in telling a good story. I believe that around every corner is a mystery or mayhem or madness or magic if we just keep our eyes open. I believe that someday I will walk by the rock and it will lament that it is too hot to wear a scarf during the California Christmas season. When that happens, I’ll pause and loosen the scarf. Maybe I’ll rest on the lawn and we’ll have a chat. Ah, if only that would happen.

And when my mind is mired, when I feel that I am stone deaf to inspiration and that my creativity is weighed down by real life, I don’t despair. I know I will have to go no further to find either than to walk through a modest neighborhood where I will give a wink and nod to a rock, a stone and whoever is in that house who can teach me a thing or two about creativity.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Finding These Words is Like Digging for Coal

Who among you is participating in NaNoWriMo? The reports coming from writer pals in the flesh and on-line are impressive; some of you are really pounding out the words and you should be proud about the output.

I'm not participating in NaNoWriMo this year, but I am writing (a new novel called The Rogue Gentleman) and trying for my usual five pages a day. This time, I am making a few changes to my usual routine.

Normally I write first in long-hand in a notebook, then type, either into the computer or on my grandfather's Royal typewriter. In order to get Rogue finished by March, I thought I would type straight into the computer this time. I don't think my brain is used to this because getting any more than two pages done each day has been hard. It's not that the words are not there. I have a detailed outline to follow and plug away accordingly. But, wow, I've never had this much trouble pumping out pages before.

It's okay, though, because at least there are pages being typed, and the story is moving along. I guess I expect more of myself, though.

Anyway, it could be worse. There could be no words at all. Where would I be then?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Can't We All Just Get Along?, or: Why Are They Always Picking On Indies?

We read today that a bunch of C grade midlist authors have formed a group called Top Suspense and are putting their backlists, and some current offerings, on Kindle and other electronic formats. The spokesman, Dave Zeltserman, said it's part of their effort, as "established" and "proven" authors, to offer "good" ebooks since so much of the ebook market is slush.

But, wait, don't take my word for it! From their press release:

"Electronic books are soon to be a billion dollar business, yet it's more difficult than ever to find a good read, especially via digital download. With more than 700,000 ebooks already on line, with a good number of them self-published, ebook stores are becoming the equivalent of publisher's past 'slush piles'. A newly-formed collaborative site called The Top Suspense Group plans to slash through all the clutter. www.topsuspensegroup.com will be offering readers one central site filled with exciting e-books, covering several genres and all at reasonable prices.

'Readers can count on us,' creator and acclaimed author Dave Zeltserman explains, 'Every member of our group has already made his or her mark on genre fiction, whether it's noir, crime, mystery, thriller, horror or Westerns, and in some cases, several of these genres.'

Authors aboard include Zeltserman, Max Allan Collins, Bill Crider, Ed Gorman, Vicki Hendricks, and Harry Shannon.

Zeltserman has spoken before about the difficulty readers have in searching for sites that offer seasoned professionals..."

Of course, this begs the question, Who the heck is Dave Zeltserman and what has he written that has been so widely acclaimed as we cannot think of a single title?, and reminds us that "widely acclaimed" also means "out-of-print due to lack of sales" but never mind. The fact that none of these folks, other than, say, Max Allan Collins, has sold enough books to even be somewhat known in the world (and only then because of Road to Perdition), shall not be mentioned or questioned, either, as it would be in bad taste to do so.

(A quick shout down the hall to Miss Zelda informs us that Mr. Zeltserman published his first book In His Shadow with a company called iUniverse, which Miss Zelda further informs us is a self-publishing company. Pot, meet kettle.)

We are inclined to let Top Suspense have their part of the sand box knowing they probably won't sell any more ebooks than they have paper books, which is why a lot of them are either out-of-print or have been working for Z list publishers for the last two decades, with two or three--notable, of course--exceptions, but we won't mention that as, again, it's in bad taste and we need not further muddy the already dirty water.

But seriously, folks, can't we all just get along? The ebook market may indeed have a lot of crap (and it does; Dave is not wrong, just an elitist snob) but to offer blanket statements that it's all garbage when a lot of "independent authors" (oh how we hate that PC feel-good term) are doing our best to release quality work--because we respect our audience--is wrong. It would be better for the Top Suspense team to say they are making their work available to take advantage of this new and exciting market. But, of course, that would be too easy, and these "established" and "proven" authors must, for some reason, attack those of us who are trying to slug it out in a tough market when in reality it is a waste of time and energy that these "established" and "proven" authors could better use, maybe, writing books, but, again, that would be too easy.

But we know how to waste time and energy in response. In fact, we wasted about a half hour writing this.

Good luck, guys.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Guest Post: Rebecca Forster--HEROES ALL

Editor's Note: Here's my fellow writer and pal Rebecca Forster with another post; and a good one, too. For more go to www.rebeccaforster.com. Enjoy....

Planning a new book begins with conjuring up a victim and a hero. The first must be protected, avenged or rescued; the second must be the protector, the avenger and the one who rides to the rescue.

Today, though, I attended a fundraiser for Ability First, an organization that provides services to help children and adults with physical and developmental disabilities realize their full potential. That's when the old story rule went out the window.

There I was, out of my jeans, dressed in my very lady-like shirtwaist and Jackie-O pearls, ready to lunch and watch a fashion show in support of a worthy cause. But I was early and the behind-the-scenes activity was even more interesting than the afternoon ahead.

The women of the Long Beach Center Guild of Ability First were working feverishly, setting up silent auction baskets and tables for the luncheon, making sure the sound system worked. Young people in brick-red t-shirts identifying them as Ability First staff helped vendors, manned the check-in table and took pictures. They also rehearsed the Ability First clients for the presentation they would make to the audience.

During those early hours, I met Geri. Wheelchair bound and unable to communicate verbally, she nonetheless was able to make it clear she was happy to be at the event and happier still to participate. When the luncheon began, Geri and her friends 'signed' a song for a group of 230 women who had come to celebrate their accomplishments and donate time and money to make sure that the swimming, arts, housing programs and more continue to service these amazingly courageous people.

I realize events like this aren't unusual. Everywhere you look there are ribbons to be worn, walks and runs to participate in and concerts that benefit good causes. But often I find it difficult to connect with these causes and their big events. Ability First, Long Beach is right in my own backyard and I was there, in that ballroom, with people who believed in the work that Ability First is doing. I was caught up in the the personal joy everyone felt and that made me feel great!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Pick a Title, Already; Mr. Pierce Will Return

Many of you have written to tell me how much you enjoyed my ebook Justified Sins and the hero of that book, Mr. Pierce. Pierce, for those of you just joining us, is a vigilante waging a one-man war on crime because, when he was young, his family was killed by home invaders. In the book, he has to protect his foster sister from the gang that murders her husband. Some pre-readers told me the story didn't work, the concept was tired, Charles Bronson was dead, etc., etc., but I thought the emphasis on character and a general theme would carry the story in ways previous entires in the vigilante genre didn't. From your letters, it appears I was right. You like the book.

You may also recall that I have stated Justified Sins was the end of the mother lode and I didn't anticipate further Pierce adventures; however, yesterday in a very long, and very boring, meeting at work, I thought back to an old manuscript that I never finished that would be a great Pierce story properly rewritten. So expect what I am currently calling Dirty Little Secrets--aka The Return of Mr. Pierce--to appear toward the end of 2011.

And thank you for the wonderful letters.

PICK A TITLE, ALREADY!

I'm busy putting the new spy novel in final form, and it's a ton of fun, and I really think this is going to be a good story. This book was my NaNoWriMo project last year, and I almost didn't finish it because I didn't want to get looped into a spy series, but I have seen the light. I think you'll like it very much.

There will be some confusing when I release the book on Kindle as it's previously been promoted as The Eagle Intercept and Heroes Wear Black. Neither of those titles worked for me; I have now settled on Show No Mercy, which is the title of a book I wrote and rewrote throughout my high school years, which were more years ago than I care to remember.

So in January get ready to meet Michael Dodge and Tracy Ames, a pair of CIA agents who will go anywhere and do anything to get the job done as they face the possibility that Tracy's father, and Michael's mentor, has betrayed the Agency.

I'll release it on Kindle first, with a hot cover (and I'll be redoing the covers for my previous books, too) and while it's racking up ebook sales I'll be submitting it to traditional publishing offices. I like it that much. This could be the start of something nice. And I have three more Dodge books in the pipeline, so if he proves as popular as Mr. Pierce, you will all be very happy.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Hard-Boiled Bogie, or: You Know How to Whistle, Don't You, Steve?



To Have and Have Not is on the television right now and I think it's one of the best movies, with one of the worst belly-flop endings ever put on film, that Humphrey Bogart starred in. He made a lot of good movies, but there are three that stand out because of their hard-boiled elements, especially with Bogie's character, and I'd like to go over them with you.

To Have and Have Not gives us shades of Casablanca without Bogie crying into his scotch. We get intrigue in occupied territory and Bogie's Captain Morgan (love that name--was Hemingway drinking that wonderful elixir when he wrote the novel?) is the cautious outsider trying to live his life as peacefully as he can without getting into the fight. He does things his own way, looks out for himself, but once he's drawn into the fight for personal reasons he ends up making a sacrifice that changes his destiny for the better. It's a great little war story dampened only by the ending.

Then we have Key Largo, a masterpiece of tension; again, Bogie shines as the tough independent outsider who won't let the bad guys fool him and saves the day. If To Have's ending fell flat, Key Largo ends with one of the best fights ever, where Bogie finally gets even with Edward G. Robinson. If you haven't had the pleasure, check it out right away.

So what's my third favorite hard-boiled Bogie film? The Maltese Falcon, of course, and there's nothing more I can say about that terrific movie that hasn't been said already.

I wish I could put Casablanca on this list. I love the movie. If I could pick a movie world to spend the rest of my days in, that would be the one. It's just right, despite one of the worst plot holes in film history that could have been corrected with a simple line change. But it doesn't even earn Honorable Mention, because in Casablanca, Bogie cries. Over a woman, no less. He even pounds on the bar with his fists! Gak! Sorry. Casablanca is out for that reason. Hard-Boiled Bogie does not cry.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Guest Blogger Rebecca Forster, or: How Can She Not Like Dark Chocolate?


EDITOR'S NOTE: I'm letting my friend and fellow writer Rebecca Forster do some guest blogs now and then, and here she is with her first. You can look her up, and learn about her amazing books, at www.rebeccaforster.com.

Halloween--How Inspiring!
by Rebecca Forster
Guest Blogger

“I saw Halloween candy at Costco,” I said.

“It’s September,” my husband responded.

“Doesn’t matter. I bought a bag. I ate it. I’ll get more before Halloween,” I say.

Halloween is still a couple of weeks away and yes more bags of candy have disappeared on my watch. Still, there is evidence that those bags existed. Sad little mini bars of dark chocolate are stuffed into a bag in the recesses of my candy closet. They are there because I hate waste almost as much as I hate dark chocolate. I am as ashamed of my overindulgence of Crackle Bars, Three Musketeers and the ever so delicious Mini-Peanut Butter Cups as I am of my rejection of the bitter dark chocolate. Actually, I am probably more ashamed of the latter because I know that I will shamelessly pawn the dark chocolate off on some unsuspecting trick-or-treater.

The poor kid will dump the bag, sift through the booty and come upon my rejects. I imagine the child crying at worst. At best, those little bitty dark chocolates will be ignored or passed over pawned off on a younger kid. Yet, as I torture myself with the idea of ruining a tyke’s Halloween, I have another thought. Hershey wouldn’t make the darn things if there weren’t a whole lot of people out there who love ‘em, would they?

Which brings me to the files on my computer mark New Ideas, Synopsis and Inspiration. In these files are a plethora of Word documents in various stages of crafting: a sentence to remind me of some fleeting idea, full-blown treatments, chapter openings. These folders scare me the same way I fear a group of raging, candy-starved, monstrous teenagers appearing at my door on Halloween. I fear the folders because they represent thinking that went nowhere, ideas that weren’t worth nurturing much less publishing. Here, hidden away, is the dark chocolate of my imagination. The good stuff isn’t there.

Or is it?

Could be I need to take a second look at the ‘dark chocolate ideas’ I have squirreled away on my computer. There might be a character worthy of tweaking, a plot that could be deepened, a story that should be softened. Dress it up, a little lipstick on the pig, change the lighting, rummage around, grab something and come up for air.

Yep, there it is. A little linty, perhaps. The wrapper fallen off. A bit crumbly and stale.

Still, in my bag of rejects, I find that time and taste has turned at least one of my personal rejects into the glimmery, glinty beginnings of a good idea. If I try again, nibble around the edges of it, I come to the conclusion that it might be pretty good after all. In fact, it might even be worth savoring. And, if I keep my eyes open, if I analyze the market, read about the business and listen hard I just might discover that there’s an editor or reader out there who has a passion for the dark chocolate of my imagination.

It’s a sweet thought, isn’t it?

Friday, October 22, 2010

Black Mask Audio--Get This Now!


Have you seen this? I hope I'm late to the party but I couldn't resist this when I saw it and had to write it up. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that Blackstone Audio, the folks behind the most recent Mike Hammer audio plays, produced a audio version of Black Mask Magazine--of sorts. Not all of the stories included were featured in Black Mask, but most of them were, and this is a treat. Here's their own description, which tells the tale better than I:

In the1930s and '40s, Black Mask was the single most important magazine for the modern mystery field. Here, writers such as Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and Earl Stanley Gardner reshaped the established view of mystery fiction, creating the "hard-boiled" private eye.

Now this series resurrects from those pages the toughest of tough detectives in sonic dramatizations from the award-winning Hollywood Theater of the Ear.

Stories included in this volume are "Lost and Found" by Hugh B. Cave, "Pigeon Blood" by Paul Cain, "Rough Justice" by Frederick Nebel, "Black" by Paul Cain, "The Missing Mr. Lee" by Hugh B. Cave, "Trouble Chaser" by Paul Cain, "Too Many Have Lived" by Dashiell Hammett, "Taking His Time" by Reuben J. Shay, and "Waiting for Rusty" by William Cole.

These programs are great, and it's really nice to see Paul Cain (with three stories!!!) included. These stories come alive like never before and it makes for a wonderful afternoon of entertainment. Purists may note that Hammett's tale came from American Magazine and not Black Mask, but who cares (though a tale of the Continental Op would have been great).

Of course, nowadays we produce noir features with elements we think they contained back in the day instead of what they truly contained, and these recordings are no exception. Whoever wrote the music really liked saxophones, and the instrument somehow feels out of place, like they're trying to force a certain mood--a noir mood, if you will, and it doesn't work. Hard-boiled tales work best when you don't try to dress them up.

It's great to see this because (a) it may bring our favorite material back into vogue and (b) it says this is Volume 1, which leads one to believe that there may be more to follow.... pardon me while I wipe up my drool.

Friday, October 1, 2010

New Projects Gathering Steam....

As I'm sure if the case with you, I've had quite a busy week... not just with the usual work chores but writing projects as well. I've decided to stop promoting Justified Sins while I work on the next two projects: the revisions of my spy novel, Heroes Wear Black; and the outlining of the book to follow, The Rogue Gentleman. These two books represent a departure for me. Neither are particularly hard-boiled, but they are instead "swashbuckling" adventure stories with a mix of comedy. Heroes features the usual spy story hokum, but with a twist, and I think you'll like it. I'm really excited about The Rogue Gentleman, as it features an international adventurer who never has a problem finding trouble. If there is a little Simon Templar and James Bond in there, I won't complain; the hybrid is exciting. The rogue himself may be the hero I write about for the rest of my life as the outline for his first adventure isn't done yet and already I have ideas for five more books. There doesn't seem to be any story that doesn't fit him.

Like Sean Connery I will never say never, but, for now, I'm done with hard-boiled stories. I think, honestly, I've done everything I can in that department; however, I am cooking up a new take on the private eye hero which I hope to do sometime in 2011, but don't expect him to be Mr. Pierce.

Speaking of Pierce, the vigilante hero of Justified Sins, I don't think I'm going to so a sequel. That's subject to change, of course, but while there seems to be a demand for Justified Sins II, that story isn't begging to be written. I'm not sure it will be written. Like I said, I think I've done everything I can with that particular subject matter, and I don't want to write the same book over and over again.

That doesn't mean I'll stop reading hard-boiled; far from it! If there is a more "American" way of storytelling, I haven't found it, and the amount of literature available is still worth talking about.

Anyway, there's a quick update for you. I hope you will enjoy the upcoming books as much as I am, so far!

Thursday, September 30, 2010

A Policeman's Lot by Gary M. Dobbs


I wasn't sure what to think when fellow writer and blogger Gary Dobbs sent me his ebook,
A Policeman's Lot, for review, but he did me a favor in allowing me to post an article on his site about my new ebook Justified Sins, so I figured I would give it a look.

One word: Wow. This is a good book.

The story begins slowly, a man's morning routine as he gets ready for duty and faces the possibility of a busy day, but he has no idea how "busy" it's going to get! Throw in Buffalo Bill, a Wild West show, murders that may or may not be connected to Jack The Ripper, and you have a really hot read. I don't want to say too much for fear of giving something away, but it's a well-written yarn and you will get hooked right away. It's also, for me, a nice change of pace from the modern urban hard-boiled junk I've been digesting lately.

Nice job, Gary.

Check it out!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The (Reluctant) Birth of a Series


Editor’s Note: Rebecca Forster has been a friend of mine for nearly 20 years, in which time she has published almost as many books. She graduated from paperback romances to the exciting world of legal thrillers and, like Grisham, knows the territory. But, typical of midlist writers in the last decade, has had her share of ups and downs. Now that Amazon is letting authors make their work available on the Kindle, she is taking advantage and having a great time with great sales to match. The Witness series, featuring attorney Josie Baylor-Bates, the subject of this article, is a consistent seller, more so than it ever was when originally published in paperback. I recall reading Hostile Witness, the first episode, while working the graveyard shift at KCBS-AM in San Francisco, and it was such a hot read that I’d get really cranky whenever I had to put the book down and open my microphone to actually get some work done. Now Rebecca is continuing the Josie series specifically for the Kindle market, and I cannot wait to see the results. So here is Rebecca, in her own words, sharing a little about how the Witness series came to be, and the challenges of writing about the same characters over and over again.

Hostile Witness was supposed to be a stand-alone book and then the editor fell in love with the characters and a series was born. Silent Witness and Privileged Witness followed.

A few things stand out about this turn of events in my career.

First, I was thrilled that the first book was exciting enough for an editor to ask for more. Then the excitement wore off, and real concerns presented themselves.

Hostile Witness had a solid story and plot. It was inspired by my husband, a superior court judge, who had just sentenced a sixteen-year-old boy to life in prison as an adult. The boy had murdered three people and the question of when a child becomes an adult in the eyes of the law intrigued me. In writing Hostile Witness, I found a drama that proved compelling for readers. Would I be able to follow up with equally dramatic stories?

I also had to ask myself if I liked these characters well enough to continue to write about them. Were their voices unique enough? Did they deserve a long life or would readers tire of them? Had they been created with finite motivations? Those questions created a pressure I had never experienced before. In all honesty, most of that pressure was self-inflicted as I worked to make the second book as good as the first.

Finally, I wondered about the technique of series writing. After writing 20 books I realized I didn’t know anything about writing continuing characters.

Here’s what I discovered as I worked through these concerns.

Stories are compelling because they are inherently good. The next book in my series simply had to be a story I could embrace with as much passion as I had Hostile Witness. If I could do that within the parameters set by my characters, all would be well.

As for the characters, I loved them in the first book so there was no reason I wouldn’t like them even better in the tenth. I had heard that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle came to hate Sherlock Holmes. I would never want to feel that way about Josie and Hannah and Archer. Knowing that, I have a final book plotted and put away so that I will end their literary lives gracefully. For now, though, I can’t imagine using that story. I love these people. I want them to live and thrive.

Finally, I tackled the question of technique. Do series characters age? If not, how can they grow? Was it mandatory to have each of the pivotal characters in every book? How often--and with what intensity--do I reiterate descriptions and back story? Not every reader will pick up the first book nor will every reader will want to read the whole series. Where do I draw the line with background information?

I discovered there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to creating a series. I have taken each book as it comes. I let the characters speak to me and the story dictate how those characters will grow and change.

Now, working on book number four--Expert Witness--I continue to feel a bit reluctant about writing a series. With each book it is a challenge to include the subtleties that have come before, the shading of character, of time and place, the tone, and to build upon them. Each book must tie to the ones before it while also being a viable stand-alone read. I have to live with decisions made without thought--the color of a car, the style of a haircut, the indication of a food preference.

Yet, there is also the excitement of stepping back into the lives of these people I have created and come to know so well. Like my readers, I am always curious where they will end up and if they will live to tell another story.

The funny thing is, Josie, Hannah and Archer don’t seem to sense my reluctance at all.