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.

Die Laughing: Funny Crime and Mystery Fiction


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 Watch the trailer on YouTube.