Friday, December 31, 2010
Sunday, December 26, 2010
Friday, December 24, 2010
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
Thursday, December 9, 2010
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
Saturday, November 27, 2010
"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."
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
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
Friday, November 19, 2010
Wednesday, November 17, 2010
Monday, November 15, 2010
Friday, November 12, 2010
Monday, November 8, 2010
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.
Monday, October 25, 2010
Friday, October 22, 2010
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:
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
Thursday, September 30, 2010
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.
Tuesday, September 28, 2010
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.