Monday, December 31, 2007

Three drafts, four drafts, five ...

In a few days, subscribers to my free newsletter WELL READ get an exclusive sneak peek at my brand-new short story -- which also happens to be the WORLD PREMIERE of a brand-new series. I had hoped to have it ready to send before Christmas, but find myself still fine-tuning it. I would not be surprised if I have reached something like seven drafts. And I'm still trying to get it right.

(You think I have it bad, Dean Koontz will go through 20, 30, even 40 drafts for each page -- "whatever it takes" -- before he moves on to the next page.)

The whole process goes back several months, in fact, when this piece was originally intended to be a 20,000 word novella. But in revisions we trimmed the unnecessary words and it dropped to about 15,000. In May, I had what I thought was a "final" draft. (But even then, I had this nagging feeling it still was not quite right.)

I did not look at it for several months. (Don't worry, I had plenty to do, including a new draft of one novel, and several drafts of a pitch for another.)

Then a couple weeks ago, I finally had a chance to sit down with the novella again. Reading it with fresh eyes, I cut another 2,000 words or so, edited some sections for clarification, improved some word choices, added some bits here and there, changed some transitions ... and felt a lot better about what was now a long short story.

But Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine and Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine won't even look at a story longer than 12,000 words. So I made some more cuts, and got it down to under the magic number. (As one of my college instructors would say, "When you cut the good stuff, it leaves you with the great stuff.")

And I thought I would be done.

But this is a mystery story with a certain literary device, and also the start of a new series. I want to get the details just right. I imagine that it's not unlike working on a watch -- each piece needs to fit in its place and do its part, or the watch won't work.

Each printout I think, "At last, this is my final draft." And then I find something: This sentence is missing a word. This bit of dialogue doesn't communicate what I need. The spell checker didn't catch that this was the wrong word. This information in this paragraph is incomplete, the information in that paragraph would work better on another page. This line needs to be set up earlier.

So ... I am going through the story yet again this week. And hope to have it ready for my friends in a few days.

If you want to see the results for yourself (when they become available), sign up for WELL READ now. (It's free!)

P.S. -- This blog entry has been revised six times.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Charlie Chan and the Internet

Check this out: Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, every week Charlie Chan fans are able to synchronize their DVD players and VCRs, watch a designated Charlie Chan film "together," and then chat about the film online. To get in on the fun, find details at fan site The Charlie Chan Family Home. (This Monday's selection is Charlie Chan at the Opera. Future entries still this month are Charlie Chan in the Secret Service on Dec. 17, and a special Sunday night edition with The Red Dragon on Dec. 23.)

Also of note, the site has a run of the Charlie Chan comic strip from the 1940s. (New entry posted every Sunday.) On top of that, the site also features comprehensive info about the core film series (which ran from 1931-1949), ancillary films, the "lost" films, actor bios, and more.

Related link: Movie Detectives of the '30s and '40s

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The Nero Wolfe Award(s)

This past weekend was the annual Black Orchid Weekend, a fan event celebrating author Rex Stout's celebrated mystery solvers, Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin. Three awards were handed out: The 2007 Nero Wolfe Award (for the "best American Mystery written in the tradition of Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe stories"), to Julia Spencer Fleming, for the novel All Mortal Flesh; The 2007 Archie Goodwin Award (for lifetime achievement), to Dorothy L. Sayers, creator of Lord Peter Whimsey; and The 2007 Black Orchid Novella Award, to John Gregory Betancourt for his novella "Horse Pit."

The Black Orchid Novella Award is especially worth noting, because it is a brand-new award presented jointly by The Wolfe Pack and Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine to "celebrate the Novella format popularized by Rex Stout." This year's winning entry will be published in the July/August Issue.

Deadline for entries for The 2008 Back Orchid Novella Award is May 31, 2008. Details available from The Wolfe Pack here.

If I were a songwriter ...

I keep thinking about this problem: Promoting a novelist is harder than promoting most (if not all) other kinds of artists. And as publishers and book retailers more and more are run by the bean counters who think of a book as simply a product (no different than, say, toothpaste), it becomes more and more of an uphill climb to launch a career as a new novelist. You almost have to be pre-famous to even get anyone to know you exist.

If I were any other kind of artist, I would not have this same problem. Think about it:

Gretschguitars.comIf I were a songwriter. I would write my song. I would have several options available to me: I could record a demo. I could record a finished studio track. I could go down to the street corner with my acoustic guitar and play it for you in person.

My song might get played onstage. My song might get played on TV. My song might get played on the radio.

And as you listen to the song, you can generally get a feel for whether you like me as a songwriter. Whether you want to hear more of my songs. Whether you would pay money for one of my albums.

I can't do any of that as a novelist. A novel is 80,000 or more words. I can't go on the road 300 dates a year, "performing" my book onstage. (When would I have time to write the next book?) They aren't going to play my book on the radio. I have only once seen someone read aloud from their book on a TV show.

Novelists don't have "singles" ... except for an excerpt (which is not the whole story, so it's not the same) or if I had a short story (which is a different art form, so it's not the same).

So this is the world I am trying to figure out. One where the novelist has fewer options for presenting their work than nearly any other artist. Let me think on that a bit.

(To be continued ...)

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Brouhaha over at the Mystery Writers of America

It's very normal (and necessary) for a professional writing organization to make certain rules about eligibility. However, when Mystery Writers of America told Charles Ardai that his novel Song Of Innocence (Hard Case Crime) was ineligible for an Edgar Award, it set off something of a firestorm.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Tribulation House -- LIVIN' LARGE!

My third comedy-thriller, Tribulation House, is now available in two formats for your convenience: The original trade paperback, and now large print hardcover. I just got my copy of the latter in the mail today. (And, no, I'm not sure what that new cover design is supposed to represent. It doesn't really say "crime fiction" or "comedy-thriller." It just kind of says "Hmm.")

About the book (as if you didn't know):

IT'S NOT THE END OF THE WORLD -- WHICH COULD BE A PROBLEM ...

Mark Hogan has it all. The job. The family. A position on the board at church. All he's missing is a boat. Not just any boat - a 2008 Bayliner 192. When Reverend Daniel Glory announces that the Rapture is taking place on October 17 at 5:51 a.m., Hogan realizes his boat-buying days are numbered. So he does what any man in his situation would do - he borrows a lot of money from the mob. But then Jesus fails to come back on schedule ...

"A timely story about hype and hysteria in the end times ... Elements of politics, organized crime and overzealous Christianity all play a part in this well-constructed story." -- Chad Bonham, New Man

"Tribulation House not only entertains it provokes reflection and pokes the reader right in the soul. A must read.."
-- Alton Gansky, Crime Scene Jerusalem

"Will leave readers in stitches." -- Publishers Weekly

"Hilarious ... I highly recommend it!" -- Colleen Coble, Midnight Sea

"Filled with humor, the plot provides a great deal of food for thought while keeping the reader captivated."
-- Melissa Parcel, RT Book Reviews

"Will make you think even while you’re laughing." -- Lorena McCourtney, Ivy Malone Mysteries

"Edgy and entertaining." -- Armchair Interviews

"Discover a new and offbeat voice." -- Mindy Starns Clark, Smart Chick Mysteries

"Pokes fun at some of the farther-flung fringes of Christianity while remaining, like the best classic mysteries and comic books, a morality tale in which crime doesn't pay and justice -- as well as grace -- prevails." -- The Harrow

"A book you don't want to put down." -- Wanda Dyson, Shefford Files series

"A plot that's pure comedic genius." -- Infuze Magazine

"Plenty of spunk and satire." -- Susan Meissner, Widows and Orphans

"Don't get left behind on this one." -- Jason Boyett, Pocket Guide to the Apocalypse

"Filled to the brim with humor, mystery, unconventional and entertaining characters, and a foundation of spiritual truths that makes you sit up and take notice, Chris Well has stamped himself as a incisive and profound writer."
-- Narelle Mollet, TitleTrakk.com

"Like Chris’s other books, this one is a fun read." -- Brandilyn Collins, author of Coral Moon

"Great book." -- Jerome Teel, author of The Election

"Thanks for breaking new ground." -- Leo Partible, filmmaker

Sunday, November 25, 2007

KILLER Q&A: DEREK NIKITAS

PyresWe turn the spotlight on thriller novelist Derek Nikitas, member of the KILLER YEAR: Class of 2007. His debut novel is Pyres (St. Martin's Minotaur): When a folklore professor is shot dead in his car, the crime smashes together the lives of three disparate women: his anguished teenage daughter, a detective facing her own family’s collapse, and the pregnant former-junkie girlfriend of the killer ...

Raised in Manchester, NH, then Rochester, NY, Nikitas has published stories in The Ontario Review, Chelsea, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, and The Pedestal Magazine. Joyce Carol Oates nominated him for a Pushcart Award in 2005, proclaiming his fiction "subtly written, and quite touching and powerful." He blogs at Myspace.com/DerekNikitas and is a founding member of KillerYear.

* * *

AS A NEWBIE NOVELIST, WHAT IS SCARIEST FOR YOU?
I’m terrified I won’t keep improving and experimenting with each new writing project, that I already reached the limits of my talent a long time ago, and that I’ll soon begin to repeat myself or fall into a stylistic rut. I want to challenge myself with my writing, though I’m constantly terrified that I’ll lose the inspiration or drive to do so. I’m well into my second novel now, but for a while I was terrified to start it because I wanted to be sure I chose the best idea out of many, the most unique and challenging for me—but also one that St. Martin’s and potential readers would enjoy.

WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO COMBAT YOUR FEARS?
I try to remember that I felt this way when I was writing Pyres, my first novel. I didn’t have any publishers to please at first, but I had to please myself and the creative writing mentors I’ve had over the years. I wanted to do them proud. At the same time, I’m a bit of an iconoclast, so I’m never fully satisfied until I’ve gotten away with something I’m not really “supposed” to do in writing. Creative writing programs like the one I attended are not big advocates of genre fiction, but I wanted to prove to them that I could write a genre novel that still employed conventions of literary fiction. Of course, I didn’t want to write a straightforward crime-genre novel, either. So, for instance, I inserted some magical realism elements in Pyres, and then waited to hear people tell me I couldn’t get away with it. We’ll see how it turns out.

HOW HAVE YOUR "KILLER YEAR" CLASSMATES HELPED YOU THROUGH THIS CAMPAIGN?
My particular fear is a lonely one, and I have to combat it alone. Killer Year has helped me immeasurably in other ways—mainly by providing me with a community of writers who, although they’re debut novelists like me, have seemed to know what they’re doing much more than I have. I’ve gone from a zero knowledge of the business side of publishing to, well, passable knowledge. I’ve gotten moral and actual support from several members and the great mentor that Killer Year and International Thriller Writers gave me, Doug Clegg. Not until Thrillerfest, when I met them for the first time in person, did I realize what a great band of friends I have. I’m ecstatic that we’ll be memorialized in an anthology that will persist long after 2007 is over.

WHAT ARE YOUR WRITING HABITS?
They are sporadic and painstaking. A few paragraphs a day—a couple pages, if I’m lucky—endlessly revised before I move on. Some days I can only manage to revise what I’ve already written. Other days, no writing at all. I’m worst when I’m beginning a project because the pain of discovering a fictional world is frequently stronger than my will to open the word processor. Once that’s out of the way, I usually begin to glide: writing several pages every day and saving revisions until later. The last third of Pyres was written in a few weeks in Costa Rica, while the first two-thirds took about a year and a half.

AS A READER, WHAT DOES A BOOK NEED FOR YOU TO PICK IT UP?
I like books that willfully screw with me. At a recent writing conference I heard a legendary novelist say that we should write to the reader as if the reader were our best friends. I respect that point of view (and her charming books bear it out), but I couldn’t disagree more. I like a voice that’s a danger to me, that out to connive, to manipulate me, mislead me, insult me, hurt me, shock me. One of the first lessons beginning writers learn is that novels have to have conflict. That’s true, but the contention should also exist between the reader and the book. Unreliable narrators are key, and those old storytelling tricks of withholding, reversing, and revealing are also what I mean. Think of Hitchcock; he was a master. We go to Hitchcock to be messed with, not to be befriended. It’s a wonderful sadomasochistic relationship, and one of the main reason I like the crime/thriller genre so much.

WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR ASPIRING WRITERS?
Read novels that humble you, that make you sick with envy, then re-read them closely until you understand why you’ve been humbled. Novels that make you say, “I could’ve written that” are not particularly useful, except as motivation. I’m an advocate of the close, calculated study of books—the autopsy of a sentence, a paragraph, a chapter, a novel. Make structural graphs of novel plots. I’m serious. Copy brilliant paragraphs word for word (as practice, no plagiarism) so you can see what it’s like to literally write these sentences that you love. Aim high; fail well. If I strive for Nabokov or Kafka or Dickens or Oates or Cormac McCarthy or Toni Morrison or James Ellroy, and I only get one-tenth of the way there, I’ve still got a pretty good book, right?

Read the best how-to books. Not the ones about how to write blockbuster bestsellers, because those books tend to insult our intelligence and our art. My top picks (so far): John Gardner, The Art of Writing and On Becoming a Novelist; Stephen King, On Writing; Charles Baxter, Burning Down the House, Robert McKee, Story. The last one is about screenwriting, but its lessons (some certainly debatable) are universal to all storytellers.

Cut your teeth in short stories so you learn how to write in five to twenty pages before you tackle three hundred pages. I’m not suggesting that short stories are a “practice” genre. They’re just as vital and important as novels, but when you’re an apprentice writer, they’re simply a smaller investment. This is important because your first several dozen attempts will fail, probably, which is as it should be. The trick, as is often said, is to “fail better” each time.

This, by the way, is an ongoing process for me. It’s advice for myself as much as anyone else, and it might be wrong advice for some people, according to their particular needs.

WHAT DO YOU WISH NON-WRITERS UNDERSTOOD?
I’m far more disgusted by my own lack of understanding. I wish I understood so many things that “non-writers” do understand, like the legal system, surgery, how to fly airplanes, cognitive philosophy, quantum physics. Seriously, I don’t wish that non-writers understood any part of my writing process except the end result, the story itself. I like the idea that there’s a certain amount of mystery and romance surrounding the art of writing.

WHAT DO YOU WISH OTHER WRITERS UNDERSTOOD?
I’m humbled by what the great ones do understand. I wish I understood language like Nabokov does, metaphysics like Kafka does, human psychology like Joyce Carol Oates does. I don’t think I have any particular understanding I’d wish upon another writer—unless of course that writer is a student writer. Well, then, I’ve got whole semesters worth of stuff to say.

WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED ABOUT PUBLISHING THROUGH THIS "KILLER YEAR" CAMPAIGN?
Almost everything I have learned about publishing I have learned through Killer Year and International Thriller Writers—or, at least, whenever I faced the disappointments and small triumphs of the publishing process, they were there to help and encourage. It’s a long road, and I’ve been fortunate to watch others take that road before me, since mine is one of the last Killer Year books to be published. We continuously remind each other of the number one issue in debut novel publishing: someone has actually agreed to publish your novel, and be thrilled by this fact, always—and now shut up and write your second book.

WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED ABOUT YOURSELF?
Out of all the Killer Year folks, my only distinction is that I’ve spent the most time formally studying and teaching writing and literature; it’s been my “day job” for the past ten years, even now as I try to make my way through a PhD program in creative writing at Georgia State. What I’ve learned is that this distinction, at least as far as Killer Year and publishing are concerned, is rather useless. Marcus was in advertising, JT was a speechwriter, Bill is a web designer, Jason is an editor, Sean was a P.I, and so on. This is an All-Star team, man. I’ve not been able to contribute nearly as much as I’d like because of PhD-study time constraints and lack of expertise in anything but actual writing (a skill that we all already have, obviously). I’ve written a few blogs about crime fiction that I’ve been told are insightful. That’s about it. So I’ve learned I’m a freeloader.

And another thing: I thought all writers, especially crime writers, by nature, were morose introverts like me. These Killer Year folks have proven me wrong about that, too. I’m the only one of that sad species among them. Time to go fetal in the corner of a cold, dark room.

* * *

Thanks to thriller novelist Derek Nikitas. Find him online at dereknikitas.com and at MySpace.com/DerekNikitas. Find more at the Killer Year website, the Killer Year blog and the Killer Year MySpace page.

* * *

Related links:
KILLER Q&A: J.T. ELLISON (All The Pretty Girls)
KILLER Q&A: DAVE WHITE (When One Man Dies)
KILLER Q&A: BRETT BATTLES (The Cleaner)
KILLER Q&A: BILL CAMERON (Lost Dog)
KILLER Q&A: MARC LECARD (Vinnie's Head)
KILLER Q&A: GREGG OLSEN (A Wicked Snow)
KILLER Q&A: PATRY FRANCIS (The Liar's Diary)
KILLER Q&A: ROBERT GREGORY BROWNE (Kiss Her Goodbye)
KILLER Q&A: MARCUS SAKEY (The Blade Itself)
KILLER Q&A: SEAN CHERCOVER (Big City, Bad Blood)
KILLER Q&A: SANDRA RUTTAN (Suspicious Circumstances)
KILLER YEAR: Class of 2007
Adopting Killer Year

Saturday, November 24, 2007

MANNIX to the max

MannixEven as TV shows come to DVD faster and faster, the Los Angeles Times felt the need to announce that classic '70s private eye series "Mannix" is still not headed to DVD. Now, I don't have a lot of firsthand memories of the series -- while there are many classic TV shows I have been able to watch via the twin miracles of reruns and DVD, "Mannix" is one I only know by reputation. (And, of course, the uber-cool opening credits.)

Meanwhile, author and TV writer/producer Lee Goldberg shares a story about the time he and his partner engineered a Mannix appearance on the '90s sleuth series "Diagnosis Murder."
This unique episode of "Diagnosis Murder" cleverly teams Mannix with his old friend Dr. Mark Sloan (Dick Van Dyke) to solve a murder case that the detective was unable to crack on his own series 24 years ago.

Scenes from the 1973 "Mannix" episode "Little Girl Lost" are used in flashback sequences. Pernell Roberts, Beverly Garland and Julie Adams, who were guest stars on the original episode, also appear.

"It's such a good idea," the jovial Van Dyke says between takes on the "Diagnosis Murder" hospital set in Van Nuys. "We weave the old show in so well with the flashbacks."
Read the whole story here.

Related links:
Q&A: LEE GOLDBERG
Mystery TV Themes: MANNIX
Diagnosis -- Murder!
Fiction and DVD Links (27 Feb 08)

Monday, August 13, 2007

KILLER Q&A: J.T. ELLISON

We turn the spotlight on thriller novelist J.T. Ellison, member of the KILLER YEAR: Class of 2007.

Her debut novel is All The Pretty Girls (Mira): A vicious, highly mobile killer is terrorizing the Southeast. Showing no mercy to his victims, he leaves a trail of mutilated bodies faster than investigators can process the crime scenes. Nashville Homicide Detective Taylor Jackson, working with FBI profiler John Baldwin, must follow the killer along his devious path. How many will die if they don't succeed?

Based in Nashville, Tenn., Ellison had a career in politics before turning to crime fiction full time. Her short stories have appeared in Demolition Magazine, Flashing in the Gutters, Mouth Full of Bullets, and Spinetingler Magazine. She blogs at Murderati.com and is a founding member of KillerYear.

* * *

AS A NEWBIE NOVELIST, WHAT IS SCARIEST FOR YOU?
Speaking in public, absolutely. I’ve always had a real issue with an audience. I’m learning to conquer that, but it’s been something that really scared me for a long time. What I’ve learned is quite heartening, actually. When people come to a signing, it’s because they want to meet you, want to hear your story, want you to be humanized in a way. I relate to that, and it helps get me through. I’ve decided that when I go on tour I’m going to do a series of cocktail parties instead of the traditional signings, because I’m much more at ease working a room that standing at the head of one.

WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO COMBAT YOUR FEARS?
Drugs. Lots and lots of drugs. Seriously, I try to find out every detail of what an event is going to be like so I know what to expect. I find that the real fear is based solely in ignorance. As I attend more conferences, do more personal appearances, this will fade away.

HOW HAVE YOUR "KILLER YEAR" CLASSMATES HELPED YOU THROUGH THIS CAMPAIGN?
There is something so tantalizing about knowing that there are 13 other writers going through the exact same thing at the exact same time. We’re all working on new novels, trying hard to learn the ropes, meet the right people, do what our publishers and agents advise, attend conferences, etc., and it’s lovely to have that safety net of people who you can count on to help in a pinch.

And each member brings a different layer of expertise, be it graphic design, marketing, market knowledge, public relations – and having all that knowledge at our fingertips is phenomenal.

WHAT ARE YOUR WRITING HABITS?
photo by cabedge.comI wish I could say that I have a set writing schedule and I’m terrifically disciplined, but that’s just not the case. I write when the spirit moves me, which is usually every day. I’ve found that simply being on the computer means I’ll get some work done, so I’ve stopped beating myself up and trying to force my mind to conform to a set of rules. I shoot for 1,000 words a day. But if I do 4,000 on Tuesday, I might not get my 1,000 in Wednesday. I’m happy with that system for now.

I don’t outline. I’ve tried in the past, but the work takes on its own personality and the story veers off in whichever direction it chooses to go. I had this conversation with another writer and she thought it was cool that I was so into the story that I didn’t have to plan. It’s not that I don’t plan, I do. I have a white board on the wall and tons of yellow legal pads scattered through the house, because for some reason if it’s not on the yellow legal pad, it doesn’t get into the story. I make notes and go back to them when I hit that section of the book.

I’m sure as I get some experience under my belt I won’t be quite so fly by night, but for the meantime, I find it easier not to constrain myself too much. I don’t get blocked nearly as often now as I did in the beginning, when I was trying to force it.

AS A READER, WHAT MAKES A BOOK INTRIGUING TO YOU?
If I’m buying by sight, a great title, an intriguing cover, a blurb or two by a name I recognize. I’ll buy a book based on those criteria alone. I’ve stopped reading jacket copy, which used to be my mainstay, because so much of it is misleading, in a sense. Plus, I want to be surprised. I don’t like to know what a book is about before I crack the cover. I’ll read a review of the book after I’ve finished, to see if I agree with the reviewer. I do tend to read books that have been recommended, or buy a name I recognize from a blog or a list serve.

So if I’ve bought (or borrowed) a book, what makes it intriguing? Characters who I both identify with and revile, and a complex story that captivates me throughout. When I take the time to read, I demand to be entertained, to be inspired, to be moved, and when I’m not, I’m disappointed. There are so many incredible novelists out there in crime fiction that I set my standards pretty high. I find that a good book motivates good writing from me, while a poorly written tome can sidetrack me, so I am pretty careful in my choices these days. I look for lyrical use of language. I love it when I’m reading something and I don’t know a word, need to grab the dictionary and learn it. That makes my day. I want to be challenged by the form, for the words to be used in ways I wouldn’t have thought of, for characters to be unique yet recognizable. If you talk down to me as a reader, you’ll lose me immediately. And if you have a morally ambiguous character you can make me root for, you’ll have me as a reader for life. Look at Barry Eisler’s protagonist, John Rain. He’s an assassin, yet I want him to succeed, am invested in his actions. That’s true brilliance.

WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR ASPIRING WRITERS?
Write. Write. Write. Write. Read. Write some more. That’s not meant to be flip. The more I read, the better I write. Especially when I was first learning the craft, I depended on the books in the genre to guide me. That book that stayed with you? Analyze the style, voice and characters. Do a chapter-by-chapter breakdown, chart how the story ebbs and flows. You can certainly teach yourself the tricks if you’re willing to spend some time.

Then, do your research. Know the marketplace. Get a site on Publisher’s Marketplace, subscribe to Writer’s Digest. Start small and plan to spend some time working on your craft. Get on some of the webthreads, like Dorothy L, and absorb what the readers have to say. Write short stories and use them to bolster your name ID. And proofread everything that leaves your computer. Everyone makes mistakes, but remember that your spell check doesn’t cover your subject line.

Follow the rules of submission. Once you’ve finished a book and start submitting, start the next book. You don’t know how long it will take, and it’s just good practice to keep your forward momentum.

And don’t ever forget that this is a business. If you can handle the creative side colliding with the practical side, you’ll go far.

WHAT DO YOU WISH NON-WRITERS UNDERSTOOD?
That I actually am an “expert” in my field. Getting published traditionally isn’t a cakewalk, and most New York publishers like to take on writers with a modicum of talent. I’m amazed by the number of laypeople who a) assume they can tell you what to write, and b) assume you’re going to give them the book for free. I don’t ask my doctor to provide free service, nor do I tell him what to diagnose. Almost all conversations with strangers follow a pattern – “Oh, you’re a writer? I’ve always wanted to do that. I tell you what, I’ve got the greatest story, and you can use it if you want, just make sure I’m going to get paid for it. It’s about my great aunt Gertrude, she once threw a set of keys into a room and the door locked behind her.” Yeah, I’m going to get right on that. Seriously, it’s amazing how many people think they can write. It’s always refreshing to meet someone who says, “Wow, you wrote a book? What’s it about?”

The other scenario just kills me. For some reason, every person I know thinks I should GIVE them my book. Umm, guess what? When you GIVE me a year of your life, then we’ll talk.

WHAT DO YOU WISH OTHER WRITERS UNDERSTOOD?
I think we've lost the edge in our blogs. We're writing for each other rather than for a reader audience. We've all pulled back the curtain; we reveal our innermost thoughts, neurosis and worries. But do our readers care about our moments of writer's block, our colds, our contractors? No. Other writers care because they go through the same thing in their corner of the world. I'm guilty of it as well, and I'm trying to stop. (This sounds like I need a 12 step program to reform my blog entries - not to be flip, but it is cathartic to journal your writing life.)

Let's start focusing on the craft again, see what we can do to attract readers to the blogs instead of other writers. Because really, aren't we all just commiserating on the fact that we're procrastinating every time we write a blog entry lamenting our day?

WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED ABOUT PUBLISHING THROUGH THIS "KILLER YEAR" CAMPAIGN?
Publishers, editors and agents aren’t the big bad voodoo daddy that I expected. Those New Yorkers are normal, everyday people with a healthy love for good writing, which in essence makes them just like you and me. I’ve learned that it’s okay to ask questions, that no one will fault you for not knowing something, and that groups get a lot of attention.

WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED ABOUT YOURSELF?
I have a few leadership skills tucked away from the old days of politics and marketing that I’ve had to take out of the closet and stretch. And I underestimate myself. A lot. Which, in truth, isn’t all that bad, right? I’d rather be humble than cocky.

WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED ABOUT YOUR CRAFT?
That I don’t know nearly enough about it. I learn something new each and every day, a new trick, a new way of thinking about the story. I’m astonished by the depth of my Killer Year mates, and read their blogs religiously to get more insight. I think the minute you stop learning, you’re dead, and that ain’t a place I’m ready to go to just yet.

* * *

Thanks to thriller novelist J.T. Ellison. Find her online at jtellison.com/ and at the multi-author blog Murderati.com.

Find more at the Killer Year website, the Killer Year blog and the Killer Year MySpace page.

* * *

Related links:
KILLER Q&A: DAVE WHITE (When One Man Dies)
KILLER Q&A: BRETT BATTLES (The Cleaner)
KILLER Q&A: BILL CAMERON (Lost Dog)
KILLER Q&A: MARC LECARD (Vinnie's Head)
KILLER Q&A: GREGG OLSEN (A Wicked Snow)
KILLER Q&A: PATRY FRANCIS (The Liar's Diary)
KILLER Q&A: ROBERT GREGORY BROWNE (Kiss Her Goodbye)
KILLER Q&A: MARCUS SAKEY (The Blade Itself)
KILLER Q&A: SEAN CHERCOVER (Big City, Bad Blood)
KILLER Q&A: SANDRA RUTTAN (Suspicious Circumstances)
KILLER YEAR: Class of 2007
Adopting Killer Year

INTERVIEW ARCHIVE

Saturday, August 11, 2007

MATT BRONLEEWE "Illuminated" at TitleTrakk

TitleTrakk interviews my pal Matt Bronleewe about his debut literary thriller, Illuminated (Thomas Nelson). A lot of interesting stuff. Interview found here.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

KILLER Q&A: DAVE WHITE

We turn the spotlight on suspense novelist Dave White, member of the KILLER YEAR: Class of 2007. His debut novel is When One Man Dies (Three Rivers Press):

When Jersey P.I. Jackson Donne investigates the hit-and-run death of his pal, Donne soon discovers the victim may not have been quite the innocent he seemed. A second case leads Donne to a dead body on the steps of Drew University. When Donne uncovers a drugs connection, it quickly becomes clear certain people would rather he dropped his investigation. Then his ex-cop partner shows up bent on shattering everything, and Donne finds his past hurtling towards him with a vengeance ...

* * *

AS A NEWBIE NOVELIST, WHAT IS THE SCARIEST THING FOR YOU?
Probably reviews. I'm terribly afraid everyone will hate it. Massacre it. That it'll be received awfully and I'll be dragged out into the street and stoned.

At the same time, I'm afraid that WHEN ONE MAN DIES will get great reviews and then the second book won't live up to expectations.

WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO COMBAT YOUR FEARS?
Try to write a good second book and try not to think about reviews.

HOW HAVE YOUR "KILLER YEAR" CLASSMATES HELPED YOU THROUGH THIS CAMPAIGN?
Honestly, I've tried to keep this fear to myself as much as possible.

WHAT ARE YOUR WRITING HABITS?
I just write. Usually I write on hot streaks. It's hard for me to write when it's not coming well and I usually have to write through one of those to get hot. Then I can rattle off fifteen pages in a night. I once wrote forty pages in a weekend.

AS A READER, WHAT DOES A BOOK NEED FOR YOU TO PICK IT UP?
Voice and character. Usually I'm drawn in by a smooth voice and then the characters have to take over. If I'm interested in them I'll keep reading.

WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR ASPIRING WRITERS?
Read and write. Keep reading and keep writing.

WHAT DO YOU WISH NON-WRITERS UNDERSTOOD?
That writing can be stressful. That it's work and that sometimes it bothers me when it's not going well.

WHAT DO YOU WISH OTHER WRITERS UNDERSTOOD?
Oh, they understand. They understand all too well.

WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED ABOUT PUBLISHING THROUGH THIS "KILLER YEAR" CAMPAIGN?
Too much to name. But mostly that there's a lot more work involved than just writing and submitting the book.

WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED ABOUT YOURSELF?
Heh. That I can write and complete a good book.

WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED ABOUT YOUR CRAFT?
That writing is not easy and you never get it right the first time.

* * *

Thanks to suspense novelist Dave White. Find him online at Dave White's Writing Block.

You can also find more at the Killer Year website, the Killer Year blog and the Killer Year MySpace page.

* * *

Related links:
KILLER Q&A: BRETT BATTLES (The Cleaner)
KILLER Q&A: BILL CAMERON (Lost Dog)
KILLER Q&A: MARC LECARD (Vinnie's Head)
KILLER Q&A: GREGG OLSEN (A Wicked Snow)
KILLER Q&A: PATRY FRANCIS (The Liar's Diary)
KILLER Q&A: ROBERT GREGORY BROWNE (Kiss Her Goodbye)
KILLER Q&A: MARCUS SAKEY (The Blade Itself)
KILLER Q&A: SEAN CHERCOVER (Big City, Bad Blood)
KILLER Q&A: SANDRA RUTTAN (Suspicious Circumstances)
KILLER YEAR: Class of 2007
Adopting Killer Year

INTERVIEW ARCHIVE

Monday, July 30, 2007

KILLER Q&A: BRETT BATTLES

We turn the spotlight on suspense novelist Brett Battles, member of the KILLER YEAR: Class of 2007. His debut novel is The Cleaner (Delacorte Press):

When a freelance professional "cleaner" Jonathan Quinn takes on his latest job, it seems simple enough: investigate a suspicious case of arson in Colorado. But the case takes a turn for the worse and soon Quinn is leapfrogging continents, trying to find out why someone wants him dead -- and if it's linked to a larger attempt to wipe out his employer. His only hope may be a woman from his past who's reluctant to help -- but who may hold the key to solving the case. ...

* * *

HOW HAVE YOUR "KILLER YEAR" CLASSMATES HELPED YOU THROUGH THIS CAMPAIGN?
The coolest thing is that here we are a group of people going through the exact same thing together. We've all written novels, we've sold them, and now we're all debuting in 2007. We're all going through the same stages, the same ups and downs. There's always someone a little ahead of you to talk to, or a little behind who you can help.

I think in the past, authors often traveled the road to being published alone. We've taken a decidedly different route.

WHAT ARE YOUR WRITING HABITS?
Ugh -- because of the day job, I have to find time outside of Monday through Friday 8:30 to 6:00. I've done something to make it easier for me, though. I purposely moved into a place that is only a 10 minute walk to my work. (I should point out I live in L.A., the land where no one walks anywhere, let alone work.) This buys me back a lot of wasted commute time. Plus I'm not as worn out in the evenings.

So here's what I do: Monday through Friday: up by 5:30. Writing from 6:15 a.m. to 8:15 a.m. Monday through Wednesday: after work go to Starbucks or the old Fairfax Farmers' Market and write from 6:30 until 8 or 8:30. Weekends: I try to get 6 hours in each day when possible. I usually do it in two shifts of 3 hours ­, one first thing in the morning, and one in the late afternoon.

Any time that's left I read or sleep. I guess eating is in there some time, too. Though occasionally I write and eat at the same time. I'm talented that way.

AS A READER, WHAT DOES A BOOK NEED FOR YOU TO PICK IT UP?
Sadly, to pick it up it needs to either have a good cover or I have to have heard of it or the author before. The "good cover" part probably sounds shallow, but it's what makes a book stand out on the shelf. I know there are tons of good books with lousy covers that I've missed. Those with bad covers that I haven't missed were mainly do to recommendations or foreknowledge of the book/author.

That's only the first step, though. What keeps me in a book? Three things: writing, characters and story. If it's well written and has interesting characters with a story that intrigues me, I'm in until the end. Have two out of the three, I'll probably read the whole thing, also. Less chance if there is only one of the three. None? I'm putting the book down by the end of the first chapter, and often by the end of the first page.

WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR ASPIRING WRITERS?
If you're going to be an author, and that's what your really want, be in it for the long haul. Commit yourself to not worrying everyday about when are you going to get published. Just keep pounding away. Keep writing and improving your craft. Keep sending out queries. Keep learning more and more about the business. But never, ever give up.

I heard recently that the average published author was at it for 10 years and had written four books before getting their first one published. Don't know if that's true, and, yes, everyone is different. But, oddly, that is almost exactly what happened to me. Eleven years focusing on writing, and while THE CLEANER was actually the third book I'd written, I was just finishing my fourth when I got the call that THE CLEANER had sold.

WHAT DO YOU WISH NON-WRITERS UNDERSTOOD?
Writing's hard. And, no, not everyone can write a book.

WHAT DO YOU WISH OTHER WRITERS UNDERSTOOD?
I guess ­ and this is more for certain writers than others ­ I wish they realized that the community of writers is a great thing. There are so many people out there who have traveled in the footsteps we are now traveling in. We shouldn't be afraid to use that resource, to talk to other writers. The good thing is, I think this is happening more and more.

WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED ABOUT PUBLISHING THROUGH THIS "KILLER YEAR" CAMPAIGN?
That even though publishing has been around for centuries, no one really knows what makes a book sell. So with that in mind, we've taken it on ourselves to find new and interesting ways to promote our books by working as a team. It's amazing how many people I hear from who say, "Wow, that's a great idea. I'm surprised no one ever thought of it before." The truth is, so am I.

WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED ABOUT YOURSELF?
The process of both writing and getting your book published is easier when there are others who have either gone through or are going through the same thing who you can talk to.

WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED ABOUT YOUR CRAFT?
I'm constantly learning things about my craft: from the other Killer Year members, from the books I read, from my editor, and just from writing. I hope to always be learning about my craft. I don't ever want to get to that point where I think I know it all. That's just stupid. Nobody knows it all. And learning is what keeps us mentally alive.

* * *

Thanks to suspense novelist Brett Battles. Find him online at BrettBattles.com, and at his blog, The Sphere.

You can also find more at the Killer Year website, the Killer Year blog and the Killer Year MySpace page.

* * *

Related links:
KILLER Q&A: BILL CAMERON (Lost Dog)
KILLER Q&A: MARC LECARD (Vinnie's Head)
KILLER Q&A: GREGG OLSEN (A Wicked Snow)
KILLER Q&A: PATRY FRANCIS (The Liar's Diary)
KILLER Q&A: ROBERT GREGORY BROWNE (Kiss Her Goodbye)
KILLER Q&A: MARCUS SAKEY (The Blade Itself)
KILLER Q&A: SEAN CHERCOVER (Big City, Bad Blood)
KILLER Q&A: SANDRA RUTTAN (Suspicious Circumstances)
KILLER YEAR: Class of 2007
Adopting Killer Year

INTERVIEW ARCHIVE

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Christian Fiction is EXPLODING

Dead Whisper OnWith the release of the final Harry Potter book, the Washington Post reports on the explosive growth of Christian fantasy:

Christian fantasy, which had been a slow seller, has caught fire recently, industry analysts say, ignited by the success of the Potter series, which has sent some Christian readers looking for alternatives. Secular and Christian publishers are churning out titles aimed at the lucrative and growing audience of readers, who are snapping up an estimated $2.4 billion in Christian books a year -- about a 30 percent increase in the past four years.

NobodyOf course, the paper continues, the growth in Christian fantasy is actually part of the overall growth in Christian fiction:

The growth in Christian fantasy books is part of the recent escalation in sales of Christian fiction. Stirred by the success of the apocalypse-themed Left Behind series, publishers are producing works of Christian suspense, thrillers, sci-fi, romance, horror (the devil is a prominent figure), mystery and -- the latest trend -- "chick lit."

"Fiction has probably been the strongest category within the Christian book explosion," said Jana Riess, religion reviews editor for Publishers Weekly. "It's definitely leading the way."

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

KILLER Q&A: BILL CAMERON

We turn the spotlight on suspense novelist Bill Cameron, member of the KILLER YEAR: Class of 2007.

His debut novel is Lost Dog (Midnight Ink):

Disaffected klepto Peter McKrall finds a dead hooker in the park while looking for his niece's lost toy dog. At the crime scene, he has a chance encounter with the killer, who sets out to implicate Peter in the crime. Soon, the victim's frantic ex-con daughter is calling in the middle of the night, and the police have cast suspicious eyes his way ...


* * *

AS A NEWBIE NOVELIST, WHAT IS THE SCARIEST THING FOR YOU?
Facing the reality that my long avocation suddenly has money riding on it.

I don't yet have a clear idea of what financial success for a first novel needs to look like, but for the first time in my life I'm worried about it. In one sense, I've already achieved a degree of success I'd long thought might be out of my reach, a book in print. And I'll never lose that.

But now I realize my novel needs to do more than satisfy my personal existential needs. It needs to earn out its advance, it needs have good sell-through (a term I just learned this year). It needs to meet (and hopefully exceed) the financial expectations of my publisher. And it needs to make money for my agent, who took a chance on me and has done a lot of work already for very little recompense.

And, sure, I don't want to forget myself. I'd love to make some money too. But in many ways, the writing itself has been its own reward for me. Right now, it's everyone else I'm worried about.

WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO COMBAT YOUR FEARS?
The main thing I feel I can do is stay busy. There's so much waiting in the publishing process, and yet so much that needs to be done—and thank goodness for that. While I'm anxiously awaiting word from my editor, or waiting to hear if one of my favorite authors will be willing to read an ARC, I try to make sure I have something to do. Of course my next novel has been my main concern, and I'm making good progress on it. But I also try to do other things. Work on a short story, make a contact or two among local booksellers, and more. Killer Year has help in this regard, because it's created opportunities to be proactive in the promotion of our books. I've greatly appreciated the chance to keep myself occupied and feeling productive.

HOW HAVE YOUR "KILLER YEAR" CLASSMATES HELPED YOU THROUGH THIS CAMPAIGN?
I think the single biggest benefit of being part of the Killer Year is that I don't feel alone. Without the support of the group, it would be very easy to feel isolated and lost as I plunge toward the release of my book. yet here is this group of folks all in just about the same place as me. We can share our successes and anxieties, kick around ideas and learn from each other. Some of us have even had a chance to meet in person, which has been delightful. It's been a real gift and a joy. I feel like I'm making friend I hope will be with me for the rest of my life.

WHAT ARE YOUR WRITING HABITS?
When I'm behaving myself, I end my work day around three o'clock, then write for two to four hours. I'm self-employed by day, which gives me some flexibility, though when I'm busy I don't always hit that three o'clock target. Much as I'd like to, I have a hard time starting my day with writing. I find I have to deal with the pressures of my day job first in order to earn permission to write.

I usually have to write away from the house. When I'm home, there are too many distractions--chores, emails, phone calls. By getting away, usually to a coffee shop, I find I'm better able to focus on writing. Someday I'd love to turn it around--write first, in the comfort of my own office at home. But this process is working for me right now, so I'll stick with it until I'm ready, and able, to make a change.

AS A READER, WHAT DOES A BOOK NEED FOR YOU TO PICK IT UP?
I read for different things, sometimes for a light diversion, other times to be challenged—and sometimes a little of both. I don't limit my reading to crime fiction, of course. My favorite books work on many levels, and I love layered, complex tales with rich characters.

A big factor in me picking up a book is a compelling pitch from a real person. If a friend or bookseller says, "You should read this book because..." and then makes a good case for it, I'll probably buy. I love talking to people about books, and will strike up a conversation with a stranger in a bookstore in a heartbeat.

Reviews can sell me as well, though less often. I'm less influenced by cover art, though I love great covers. Too many times I've seen covers that seemed to have little relationship to the book inside that I tend to treat them as separate works of art. It's always fun, though, when I think a designer really captured the essence of the story, but I usually don't find that out until I've actually read the book!

WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR ASPIRING WRITERS?
Stick with it. That's probably the most common advice I heard over the years, yet the one thing I needed most to hear. I finished my first novel when I was eighteen years old. I had to write three more, plus a mess of short stories, to get to the point I'm at now with a debut novel coming out—at age 43. Obviously not everyone has to wait as long as I have, but some wait longer. If you want to write for publication, don't give up.

The other thing I'd say is don't compare yourself to other writers. There will always be writers you think are better than you, and there will always be writers (including a few big best sellers) who you can look at and think, "I'm better than that. Why aren't I at the top of the best seller list?" I find such comparisons counter-productive. At the same, don't ever stop trying to learn from other writers. Read with open eyes and learn from everyone you can. Never stop trying to improve your craft. But keep your focus on your own voice and your own vision. Whoever you read and learn from, never lose sight of who you are as a writer.

WHAT DO YOU WISH NON-WRITERS UNDERSTOOD?
I think one of the hardest things for me to hear from non-writers are the phrases, "I wish I had time to write," or, "I've always wanted to write a book, but I'm just so busy." When I hear that, my first thought is, "I'm busy too." I have a job and a family, chores and responsibilities, same as the next person.

It seems to me that most novels and stories get written because their authors carved out spare moments from very busy lives to make it happen. At some point, a few are able to make the jump from people who write when they can to people who write full time, but for most of us, even those of us with contracts and books on in the stores, day jobs still consume the greater portion of our waking lives.

Don't get me wrong. I wouldn't trade it. The fact that I can write and even have a chance of being read is a wonderful gift. But it's not the result of a life of leisure.

WHAT DO YOU WISH OTHER WRITERS UNDERSTOOD?
What a tyrant my cat can be. She runs me ragged. Goodness.

Other writers understand the writing process and how it fits into daily life. They understand the sense of isolation that comes when you're in the thick of a project and have little time or thought for anything else. Beyond that, they're just like anyone else. We all have our personal challenges and joys, and I certainly hope I can share those with my writer friends same as my non-writer friends. But in a larger sense, I feel like my writer friends already understand what it means to follow the path we've chosen.

WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED ABOUT PUBLISHING THROUGH THIS "KILLER YEAR" CAMPAIGN?
Mostly how precarious it all seems. On the one hand, publishing can be wildly successful, and yet there is so much that no one seems able to predict. Work hard, write well, generate positive buzz and good will, and you can still flop. Write poorly, get bad reviews, and you may still have a bestseller on your hands. Who knows? There are days when I think publishers are mostly like the fellows who live at the racetrack and spread as many bets around as possible, figuring a long shot has to come in sooner or later.

In some ways, it feels like writing is of secondary importance to other aspects of publishing. That may be a function of where I'm at in the process, but with all the things you must do to promote the book, to make it enough of a commercial success that you get the chance to write a second, the act of writing almost feels incidental. Down inside, I know that's not really true, or at least not completely true, but it can be hard to shake when you see so much talk about how hard it is to get noticed, let alone to sell books. In some ways, it seems almost a wonder anyone can make a living writing fiction.

WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED ABOUT YOURSELF?
That I can adapt to changing circumstances. My writing process has changed by necessity, yet I feel I've improved as a result. What's most exciting to me about that is the recognition I still have a chance to grow as a person and a writer. I don't feel static. I know I have to be open to learning and developing myself, but I feel confident I can. So long as I maintain my desire to learn and to work hard, my best writing should be ahead of me.

WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED ABOUT YOUR CRAFT?
The most important thing I've learned is the value of discipline. I spent a lot of years writing as a sideline, and only when I could find the time. It made for slow progress and often an inconsistent voice or foundering tales. I have a lot of false starts on my computer, and I don't wonder if a lot of them fizzled out not because of any fatal flaw in the story premise but because I didn't write on a regular schedule. One of the things selling a first novel did for me was provide pressure to write the next one. While I don't have a contractual deadline, I do have goals developed with the help of my agent for building my career. And that doesn't include sitting on my hands. I find I'm now writing more than any time since college.

As a result, I feel like I'm writing with a stronger command of voice, and with more consciousness of the elements of fiction. I hope it also means I've strengthened as a writer.


* * *

Thanks to suspense novelist Bill Cameron. Find him online at BillCameronMysteries.com, and at his blog, Thinking With My Skin.

You can also find more at the Killer Year website, the Killer Year blog and the Killer Year MySpace page.

* * *

Related links:
KILLER Q&A: MARC LECARD (Vinnie's Head)
KILLER Q&A: GREGG OLSEN (A Wicked Snow)
KILLER Q&A: PATRY FRANCIS (The Liar's Diary)
KILLER Q&A: ROBERT GREGORY BROWNE (Kiss Her Goodbye)
KILLER Q&A: MARCUS SAKEY (The Blade Itself)
KILLER Q&A: SEAN CHERCOVER (Big City, Bad Blood)
KILLER Q&A: SANDRA RUTTAN (Suspicious Circumstances)
KILLER YEAR: Class of 2007
Adopting Killer Year

INTERVIEW ARCHIVE

Monday, May 14, 2007

CRIMINAL INTENT to USA net

According to Media Week's Programming Insider, spin-off Law & Order: Criminal Intent has been renewed for another full season -- which will play on cable network USA, owned by NBC Universal. Law & Order and Law & Order: SVU are also renewed at NBC for another season each.

Friday, May 11, 2007

BAD POETRY

Three items:

1) Today is agent Chip MacGregor's birthday! His annual "Bad Poetry Contest" is in progress right now.

2) It turns out that legendary short story writer Ed Hoch has published a stunning 938 short stories -- and is shooting for 1000. (Mentioned as part of a report on the "crime short story boom.")

3) Today, bloggers all over the Internet are posting the first chapter from Tribulation House. (You can also read it online or download a pdf.)

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

FIRST CHAPTER: TRIBULATION HOUSE

Blog tour update: Last week's event got enough buzz that blog authority Technorati ranked my comedy-thriller Tribulation House the #1 most-discussed book on the World Wide Web. (Even today, we're still at #5.) And we shared the Top 10 with some very popular company, including the blockbuster The Secret and two Harry Potter books.

On Friday, our friends in the FIRST blog alliance are publishing the first chapter of Tribulation House all over the Internet. If you want to join the fun, just follow this link, copy the chapter (links and all), and paste it into your own blog.

(Or if you just want to read the chapter for yourself, that is also available at the above link. You can also read it online here or download it as a pdf.)

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Hey! Win a Copy of Tribulation House

The blog tour for my brand-new comedy-thriller, Tribulation House (Harvest House), is wrapping up -- but you can still try to win a copy of the novel by posting a comment here. (The rules are there, too.)

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

"Christian Novelists On The Rise"

This month's Aspiring Retail magazine features a report on "Christian Novelists on the Rise," which you can read online here. (I appear on page 34.)

There is also a dandy review of Tribulation House on page 42.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Killer Q&A update

Those of you with long memories will note that I had this brilliant plan to post weekly interviews with all 14 members of KILLER YEAR: Class of 2007. But in the past few months I just got so buried at my dayjob and with my own career as a novelist that the series stalled about halfway through.

So, God willing, we will resume the series on a monthly schedule. In May.

In the meantime, keep up with the latest info regarding the Killer Year crime novelists at KillerYear.com.

(By the way, if you are publishing your debut crime novel in 2008, you could be eligible for Killer Year 2008. Details here.)

Related links:
KILLER Q&A: MARC LECARD (Vinnie's Head)
KILLER Q&A: GREGG OLSEN (A Wicked Snow)
KILLER Q&A: PATRY FRANCIS (The Liar's Diary)
KILLER Q&A: ROBERT GREGORY BROWNE (Kiss Her Goodbye)
KILLER Q&A: MARCUS SAKEY (The Blade Itself)
KILLER Q&A: SEAN CHERCOVER (Big City, Bad Blood)
KILLER Q&A: SANDRA RUTTAN (Suspicious Circumstances)

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Infuze interview update

The Infuze Magazine site is now inaccessible -- apparently, they are getting ready to relaunch -- so I'll share their interview with me here:

With two solid novels already in tow with Forgiving Solomon Long and Deliver Us From Evelyn, Chris Well is now ready to release his third "laugh-out-loud crime thriller." Tribulation House releases next month and in this interview, he speaks to us about the realities of being a writer, having several projects spinning at the same time and his cynical look at end times theology.

Matt: How did you get into writing this cross genre of the "laugh-out-loud crime thriller" as it says on your website?

Chris: Mainly as a fan of it. I read a lot of Elmore Leonard and others, but mainly just Leonard. I don't wear my influences too much on my sleeve, I guess. (Laughs). And then it was later that I started reading some of Janet Evanovich, who is a kindred spirit also. But really, Elmore Leonard. I guess it goes back to before reading any of his books, I saw Get Shorty and there's just something about something that's that authentic as a crime film, yet it was hilarious. I love that juxtaposition of the quirky characters, but there is a real threat and a real danger going on at the same time.

Are those hard literary waters to navigate in?

Good question. In a way, I'm still rethinking your first question, because I think it's my personality coming out. Because, yes, I was influenced by Leonard and others of that kind. Also in a non-funny way, I was inspired by James Elroy. That's why these three books so far have been very ensemble oriented, so it's a funny version of L.A. Confidential, in a way. There's a juxtaposition for you.

But when I think about Forgiving Solomon Long, when I first started this book that I was intending to write, my personality took i that direction. Early in writing the first book... I was just showing some early pages to my publisher, but there's a scene with these two thugs that become a couple of Shakespeare characters to some extent, where they are the comedic relief. When they first came on the scene in the book, when you look at my early pages, they just come in, tell the boss the information and then they went out. My publisher said there was something very normal about them entering. He said, "Don't show me somebody else's mobsters. Show me Chris Well's mobsters."

So then suddenly these guys come back into the scene again and their conversation was about Broadway musicals. And then to even amp it up, it turned out that they were returning back from killing somebody and talking about Broadway musicals. One thing I'm proud of is that they made a reference to a musical that had actually played in Kansas City recently, which is where they were in the book. So they were able to reference a real production of a real musical that happened right around the time it was happening in the book.

How did that change your writing or the book?

It completely changed the book and who they were and they ended up playing a larger role in the book as it got toward the end. One guy is always quoting Czechov and another guy references old sitcoms. And that's what people respond to in my books, all the pop cultural references. You don't see those in a lot of Christian fiction, but when you hear things you know about, it resonates with you. It completely changes the way you engage with the book, instead of watching these people at arm's length.

Where did you get the idea for Tribulation House? Was there an "a-ha" moment?

It sort of developed I guess. There was a confluence of different little ideas that came together. This being my third quirky, crime fiction book, I started to get a feel for how to look for the friction between what's funny and what's scary. That combined with the actual spark for the idea came from... well, I don't want to say it came from real stuff. I don't actually know a guy who borrowed money from the mob because he thought the rapture was coming.

But the guy who wrote the pamphlet who was sitting in the church and the pastor called him on it... that actually happened at my church in Nashville. It was before I went there, but the guy who wrote "88 Reasons Why The Rapture Will Happen in 1988"... Apparently the pastor from the pulpit was claiming it was heresy that someone would claim this. And the guy afterward came up to him and said, "I wrote that." So the pastor said, "Well, one of us is a liar and in 1988, we'll find out which one it is."

So that is a true thing that I kinda built this crime story around. So some of it naturally came together, but it was a lot of little things in the back of my head. I like putting things together that don't naturally go together.

How has your voice developed since Solomon Long?

It's a continuing journey. With the first book, a lot of the different things were going on because I had a lot of little ideas that I had to put a bunch in just to make the book long enough. But by this time, I'm getting a better sense of "this is how you allow a scene to play out." So yes, it's still a lot of stuff and still very fast paced, but we stay with moments more. The characters, I feel, are a little deeper. I feel that's something I'm getting better at, allowing the characters to be a little more fleshed out. I'm allowing scenes to play out more naturally, rather than being focused on "I've got to get to this moment."

So hopefully it's a more authentic experience, even as crazy as it is. For me, I've already artistically and emotionally moved on to the next book. I feel like I'm even pushing myself even further that way, so each book I hope is just that much better. I hope I'm getting better at telling a story, learning the pacing, etc.

How many ideas do you allow in at a time? Which ones do you allow to boil and others to simmer?

You know, I've got notebooks full of ideas. At this exact moment, I'm wrapping up one thing because I'm already wanting to move on to the thing after that. So I'm trying to wrap up this one first because I don't want to mentally move on until I'm finished.

Can that be difficult?

Sure, because the next thing is a series idea that my wife and I are developing together. As I get ideas for character quirks or great lines or great scenes or great moments, I try to get those down. The challenge is to write enough that I'm just doing notes and not writing the chapter. So that's the balance that I'm juggling. Another thing is that I've come to the conclusion that, as long as you're with a CBA publisher, you can't make a blip on the radar with anything less than one or possibly two books per year. But I have a full-time job, so that's crazy. But I've got to figure out how to do that.

So I've got three or four different things I'm fleshing out. The fourth book I'm trying to finish so that I can work on the fifth book and then we have a great idea for a title and title treatment that would be the sixth thing and seventh thing, which my wife is working on a mock-up to pitch that idea. These are all things that are in some kind of development.

As far as order, the first one is something we've already pitched, so we're working on that. For the fifth project, there's actually a contest and we think this mystery writer's contest would be a great place to break this idea for a series. That has a deadline, so that moves it up in the order. So the deadline thing lets you know what goes in which order. But I'm always afraid of forgetting something unless I write it down. I love coming up with the new idea and what would really surprise people.

This post-Tribulation House project is my attempt at, for lack of a better word since we're stuck with having to label things, full-on chick-lit murder mystery but if it was written by Janet Evanovich or Elmore Leonard. So it's me trying to do write in a different way, do a character in a different way, but at the same time making it funny and very left-of-center.

Has this book been your biggest challenge yet?

Yes, but that's because each book is a stretch from the one before. But it was also the next thing. The next thing is probably not as chick-lit, but it will be another way of making yourself better. Look at someone like Stephen King, who's on top of the world, but he's always looking for ways to stretch himself and make himself better. If he feels he needs to keep working on his game, who am I, Mr. Threebook, to not try to get better?

We focused so much on your future works, but anything else you want readers to know about Tribulation House?

I don't want people to think I'm not excited about Tribulation House, because I am. It's as Jason Boyett said, who did the Pocket Guide to the Apocalypse, it's the first book about the rapture where Jesus doesn't come back. I don't know if you've seen it, but it's not that it's anti-Left Behind or even anti-rapture. But the thing that drove it for me is the people who become obsessed with a fringe approach to the gospel at the expense of not serving the Lord and not doing what the gospel requires. So far, people have laughed and enjoyed it but they're also connecting with the point of the book, the human part of it. It's probably the most overtly Christian book I will ever write. But I am excited about it.

Die Laughing: Funny Crime and Mystery Fiction

SHE'S THE SHERIFF!

A woman with a complicated past returns home to become the small town's new sheriff. Best Mann For The Job is by the writer/artist team of Chris and Erica Well. Read it from the beginning at StudioWell.com. Watch the trailer on YouTube.