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.