Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Maybe this means it's actually original.

Wrote the fourth chapter new.

So funny thing about how it came out: it's sort of a Gothic romance chapter. The two main characters "meet cute." I get a little sappy--at least, as sappy as I get.

Now this was built into the story. I knew that it was one half hard-boiled detective and one half Gothic romance, or at least my version of it.

But it occurred to me that anyone who likes Gothic romance won't probably get through the first 3 chapters and anyone who likes hard-boiled detective probably won't like the fourth chapter.

Oh, well. This is the book. And maybe this means it's actually original.

One thing about starting over is that it has become readily apparent the whole book flows in a much more consistent way. Not as many shifts in tone as would have happened if I'd tried to cobble it together from existing pieces.

Every chapter it becomes a little harder not to say to myself, "Well, this chapter was pretty much OK, why not just use it?"

But I am determined to see this through. All fresh, no reference to the previous version. So the chapters are coming out as both fresh and also similar to the first draft.

As I said yesterday, it does seem to add a lot more telling details. I'll be writing a passage and think, "I'm pretty sure my previous version of this passage was better..." but the cool thing about that is that I will be able to compare them side by side and pick the best.

It's all extra work, but I've decided that no one is waiting for my next book, so I may as well embroil myself in my current work. Spending more time with the story and the characters can only help.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Where's the narrative?

I'm not reviewing every book I'm reading this year. I've decided if I can't do a positive review, I won't review at all.

But even books I don't love I'm learning something from.

What I've noticed from the last two books I read (SF space opera) is how narrative heavy they are. It makes me realize how little narrative I do nowadays. My books are constructed by scenes, with maybe a little narrative at the beginnings and ends of the chapters.

My first book, written long ago, was almost all narrative. Partly because I hadn't yet learned what the difference was, and partly because I was somewhat uncomfortable with dialogue.

I still am not completely comfortable with dialogue, but if a scene isn't action, then it is probably conversation. If there is information to impart, I try hard to do it out loud.

Makes me wonder if I could write a narrative book anymore. Actually, I'm not sure why I would get away from what I'm doing, but it's an interesting thought.

I wrote the third new chapter today, which started off with a narrative transition. What narrative I have these days is either as a transitional beginning or an ending wrapup. Anyway, with the thought in mind that I don't write narrative anymore, I looked at the transitional beginning and realized I could keep going with it.

So the whole chapter is narrative.

I think it works. It's a bit of an info dump, in that it describes the protagonists past and how he got in such a pickle, at the same time it details the transition from the first two chapters, which are in a sense prologue, to the rest of the book.

It was kind of fun, actually. I think I'm going to try more of that. It might be a bit of a heavy-handed way to add depth, especially to the characterization, but it can be effective for all that.

There is no one way.

Anything goes.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Not only am I writing a book once, I'm writing it twice!

Wrote the second chapter from zero yesterday.

Interesting in that the action wasn't significantly different from the first version. I probably could have gotten away with just splicing the previous version in; but that would defeat the purpose.

So even though it is the same events, they did come out a little differently; mostly in the "Telling Details."

"The Telling Detail is a word, phrase, or image that helps the reader “see” what you're describing. It must be precise and illuminating, and to some extent, unique. Its uniqueness is often what makes it so telling. It can be any specific detail. It can be a sight, sound, touch, taste or smell." Rachelle Gardner.

To me, the telling details are what make a book substantial, that make it read from sentence to sentence, that add verisimilitude to the story.

So I've had this theory for some time that the more telling detail you have, the better the book. (I suppose that there could come a time when it becomes clutter, but I tend to write sparsely in my first drafts, the better to get down the pacing and story.)

When I started, my process was that I'd have a vague idea of what I wanted in a chapter and I'd go ahead and write it. In the writing, telling details would emerge. I'm going to arbitrarily make up numbers to illustrate a point.

So say, in the course of writing a chapter, I come up with 5 to 10 prime telling details, which really hit the mark.

What I found as I refined my process is that if I thought long enough about a chapter before I started, I'd have 5 to 10 telling details already in advance, and then in writing, I still get those other 5 to 10 details.

Then I discovered that in a substantial rewrite, I'd come up with another 5 to 10 details, and by then the book has more heft.

What I'm realizing with these completely fresh rewrites is that I can add yet more telling details, and that I can combine the two versions.

So in keeping a consistent tone, in accumulating telling details, in having the plot and motivation worked out a little more, I think it gives the book more weight.

All I have to do is twice the work.

As I've mentioned, I'm trying to read a book a week this year. I'm also trying to read them with a writer's eye. I've read four books so far, though it is starting to feel a little like homework.

But one thing I've noticed--I can sort of tell when an author is winging it. That is, they aren't really putting in the effort, or just enough effort. There are lots of established authors who do this, big name authors, and I can tell. But as a reader, I trust them to give me a satisfying read, even as I know they aren't really working at it.

I don't think unestablished authors have this luxury. We have to prove ourselves every time and I believe readers have an intuitive sense if the author has cut corners or has just dashed something off without fully thinking it through.

So this double writing is in a way my effort to really put in the extra work.

I can't be smarter and deeper than I am--except by taking longer to write a book--different me's at different times, so to speak--by extending the process, by doubling up whatever smarts and depths I have.

I don't know if I have the discipline to do this. I've got another eight days of writing to catch up to where I was, so I think I'm going to accomplish it this time, but Wow. Not only am I writing a book once, I'm writing it twice!

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Wrote a new first chapter. Basically, I can take the middle of the first version of the second chapter and fit it into the middle of this chapter.

It's not action, though. It's planning, it's meeting two characters including the protagonist, it's set up, it's atmosphere.

Oh, well. I'm going with it.

Went for my walk and added some more. 1800 brand new words for the day. So I think I can do this. I have the story in my head, which is a huge advantage. I'm going to continue with this for now, as long as the words keep flowing.

I'm also allowing myself a fair amount of rewriting as I go along, which is another thing I've tried to avoid in the past. The rough outlines of a good story is here--I think it will really depend on whether I can find a good style and then stick to it.

So the rewrite will be even more important in this book than most.

Strange after having written so many words that I still find every book completely different. This is a real departure from the way I've been doing things, and it's risky because it entails all the pitfalls I've tried to avoid.

But there was a reason I fell into those pitfalls in the past, because it makes sense to restructure a book so that it is more immediate and to rewrite sentences and paragraphs so they are tighter. I think I've got enough experience under my belt not to tumble all the way into the pit.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Starting over.

I'm trying to figure out if I have the guts to completely ditch what I've written on Gangster Gothic and start over. It seems so radical.

And yet, I have faith in my ability to write. It will allow me to put down the plot in the order in which I think it should occur, allow me to start with the proper tone, allow me to flesh out the characters I've already lived with.

Then, I can go back and pick bits of previous writing that I think will fit into the new framework, either as replacement or addition.

Two chances to get it right.

Or one chance to really screw it up.

I have to remember in the scheme of things I'm in no big hurry to produce another book, and if I'm going to do so I should make it as good as I can.

Sure, I can sit down and produce a book every few months but why? I've got a bunch of novels waiting to be rewritten. I've even got several novels that are ready to be put out. (With my new publishers, I don't want to step on their toes for the relaunches, so I'm holding back.)

This lack of urgency is both relaxing and worryingly relaxing. That is, I've always had to impose some artificial pressure on myself. My writing schedule was never imposed from the outside, it was always an illusion that I needed to get it done.

There was the saved up creative energy from not writing for 25 years--sure. There was the fear that something would happen that would keep me from finishing books.

But I've now got 14 books out published by publishers, another one coming out (a ghostwritten book that I'll never be able to talk about unfortunately); 5 books and 3 short stories I've put out myself, with at least 3 more ready to go, and another half dozen as I said that just require a little clean up.

So that self-imposed discipline from an illusionary pressure has pretty much eased.

So I'm thinking--live with this story for awhile. Put it in the crock pot and let it simmer.

Just try to remember to actually finish it.

Friday, January 26, 2018

The movie running in my head.

I've been seeing this book very cinematically.

I see "Gangster Gothic" as a kind of 1940, 50's, 60''s Noir, mixed with a little Henry James supernatural.

For the first draft, I had the vague notion of if being an action-packed, hard-boiled Noir.

Then I thought of a little supernatural twist, which requires quite a bit of rewriting. The farther into the book I can delay the twist, the more effective it will be. Rather than rewrite, I kept going with the intention of fixing it later.

Then I thought of another way of getting the protagonist in trouble. (Crocodiles!) This required another new beginning. The old beginning is still there, but can now happen later in the book. Again, I didn't try to fix it.

Then I thought of another complication (Crocodiles!), which I thought really completed the book. But I wasn't done with the...oh, hell, I'll just call them Crocodiles. I thought of another Crocodile antagonist. And then, a couple of days ago, I actually thought of another Crocodile antagonist.

That's enough I think to embroil the hero in all kinds of heck.

It would be cool to set this in the 1950's/60's but I think that would doom any chance of it being accepted by a major publisher (not that there is much chance once I added the supernatural elements, no matter how subtle.) Plus, it would be hard to get the lingo and settings right without a lot of research.

But I can still approach the writing with the 60's Noir in mind.

So all the restarts and additions have made a mess of the first 25,000 words. (So much so that I'm thinking next time I write a book I'll reimpose my rule: "No Changes until the First Draft is Done!")

On the other hand, as I always say, I discover plot through writing. So this plot now has plenty of elements that if I can piece them together in the right way will make it a decent book.

So how do I do that?

Keep writing without trying to fix anything? Go back and try to patch it together at least enough to have a framework? Or just start the whole thing over again?

Long ago, I read a How-To book that advised writing a first draft and then throwing it away. Then starting over again from scratch. I always thought this was crazy and extreme and the few times I tried to do that, I quit very quickly.

But it becomes insanely complicated when you have five or six different storylines set down that are contradictory and out of place. It isn't simple knitting all these elements together.

On the other hand, there is now a fully fleshed out movie in my head and I think if I follow that outline it will turn out well. It's only 25,000 words. Now that I know where the story is heading I could probably get that down on paper in two weeks.

I wouldn't even think to do this if I hadn't felt that the last two thrillers I wrote got off to meandering starts that I was never able to completely fix. So rather than finish the book and try to fix it, I'm seriously considering just starting over. 

Then I can take the original story and see if there are lines of dialogue or description or whatever and filter them back into the story.

It's a crazy idea, but I may try it, because that movie is pretty vivid and I feel like I need to do the book that way.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Haven't written for two days. (Family visiting.)

I did figure out a further complication to the plot. Getting the longshoremen involved in the heist.

So that will be six outside sources impacting on "loner" protagonist. The original local gangsters, Katie, the new local gangsters, the FBI, the Teamsters, and the Russian mob. More Crocodiles!

Too much?

Maybe not, if I make that the basic point of the book. Have Granger constantly assert that he works alone, and then have all these outside forces constantly coming at him. Not supposed to be funny, exactly, but ironic.

I like to write books with constant complications. I don't know why. Gives me lots of material to work with. Usually it's multiple viewpoint characters and plotlines and locations.

Instead of having multiple locations and POV characters this time, I have one viewpoint character, 1st person, but with multiple outside influences. I think that works. I hope that works.

Somehow he has to work out a scheme where the different bad guys cancel each other out. Just letting the story unfold and making mid-course corrections. Not worrying about the ending or the length. We'll see what happens.

When I rewrite this, I'm going to try to downplay the supernatural element as much as possible until the twist is revealed. I'll have to be very clever. I'll need others to read my book without any preconceptions so I can ask them later when they caught on.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Ghoulish ghouls
hunt for souls
stalk the living
feed on the dead

Russian mobsters,
tall and elegant,
rough and gleaming
pitiless meat.

Looming and sniffing
the ghost of love
snatched from me

A life unlived,
a love that is lost,
an empty house
of illusion.


One of my little rebellions against the modern world is to not complicate my life with technology.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not proud of my ignorance. It bothers me, but I knew that if I tried to let just one more little subculture into my brain my head would splatter all over the walls and I'd fall to the ground with the top half of my skull gone and steam pouring out. 

I decided early on at the store that I had enough to keep up with in comics, books, boardgames, toys, and pop culture in general. So electronic games were left out. I have no idea what people are talking about with those types of games. It's a world of jargon. (Probably the same kind of jargon that I utilize without thinking about the above nerd subjects that the average citizen is a at a loss.) When I go on Reddit, a high percentage of posts are about electronic games, sometimes I'm not sure what's going on and then suddenly, ding, ding, ding! I think, "Oh."

(Other subjects, that seem particularly common among my confederates in the horror community, are martial arts, heavy metal, and the finer points of horror movies. Totally at a loss. I feel fortunate that my efforts were somewhat accepted there, even if I am a little behind. )

I got a point of sale system for the store but when I found out there wasn't a universal code and half my store would have to be entered by hand, I thought, fuck it, and I'm still using the same old cash register I bought 30 years ago. I'm comfortable with it, like an old shoe.

Whenever I've tried to use a program to keep track of sales trajectories and such, I've found them too specific and misleading. I still buy on instinct and gut.

When I used to go to my accountant to leave off the employee taxes records, I'd haul out a beat up notebook I've had for 20 years and Cheryl would laugh. She thought that was weirdly charming.

I've been dragged kicking and screaming every step of the way. I held off getting even a computer for  long time.

I just want my life simple.

Of course, the computer has been HUGELY helpful to my business and to my writing and really, in the form of social media, to my life. Enough to know that there are probably tons of apps and programs that would be helpful, (and just learning more about the programs I do use such as Word would be even more helpful.)

Still, I resist. My instincts are Luddite, while my brain says, "You're a damn fool."

But, well, my computer game is Solitaire. I have cable, all the bells and whistles of cable, but I only have Netflex and cable and none of the others.

My phone is a phone.

I blog almost every day. Just words, nothing else. About as basic a site as I can get.

I read physical books, I stay away from most things that distract me from what I like to do--which is reading and writing and watching media. And walking in the woods.

Linda is always grabbing an apple from the Garden of Eden and presenting it to me.

A few years ago I casually allowed as to how having a cell phone might be useful, and a day latter she plopped an iPhone in front of me. And so it goes.

But mostly, I avoid any complication. When I hear other older type people say that, I can barely keep from rolling my own eyes. I know it's stupid. I can't tell you the number of hopeful writers I've told to just go on Amazon and publish their own books and they stare at me with that look in their eyes like the whole concept is just too overwhelming to endure.

"But it's easy!" I explain.

I hate being that guy who objects to something that's easy.

But...I still just avoid everything I can for my simple little things.

I've avoided all apps.

Until a couple of days ago...

Linda got me a Fitbit.

Really, all it's doing for me is showing me how many steps I'm walking. I can buy a cheap little clicker to keep track of that. It also shows me my sleep patterns, which is interesting, but I've already figured out my best sleep cycle.

I've worn the same Seiko watch for 30 years. I feel like a traitor putting it in a drawer; yes, I've anthropomorphized my watch.

Here's the thing. Just now, the Fitbit buzzed on my wrist. "Get up and walk!" it admonishes me.


I for one, do not welcome my robot overlords.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

I'm a third of the way through "Gangster Gothic." It's the kind of book that will have to be honed. I will need to clarify the style, make it snappier. But meanwhile, I'm focused on the story.

Yesterday, for the first time, I wrote a chapter that I'm not completely satisfied with. There is nothing particularly wrong with it, but there isn't anything particularly outstanding about it either. It is also a chapter that could almost be paraphrased in a single paragraph; almost but not quite. It has some procedural elements that are needed, but even procedural elements can be presented in an action manner, and this isn't, except for a vague threat.

I'm trying to layer in levels of threat here. What occurs to me is that I can bring in the bigger threat, and that they could be suspicious of the hero, and that might add a little spice. Linda mentioned that the hero's alarms could go off as well, which I hadn't thought of. (The options available to a writer are endless...)

Anyway, I'm going to go back and see if I can't beef up the writing. I've resorted to a couple fights early in the book, and they're appropriate, but I can't keep going to the same well, so the threat will need to be something else, probably more subtle.

I'm listening to the little signals from inside me that there is more to be had there. I think I'd lost touch with those signals a little over the last few books. Maybe because I don't feel like there are any deadlines, I'm letting this evolve a little more instead of pushing it. 

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Thrillers are another form of fantasy, dressed in different clothing.

I've had a bit of an epiphany lately.

Thrillers are just another form of fantasy, just dressed in different clothing. I used the word "fantasy" advisedly, but it's a better description than "fiction" because there is almost always an element of the fantastical.

I've written four thrillers so far. The first two had broad storylines, lots of characters and events. More like disaster movies than anything else, but with no supernatural elements. (The last draft of "Snaked" had a bit of it, due to editor demands, but it reads well without it.) They were fantastical in scope.

The next thriller was "Deadfall Ridge" and I purposely brought it down to a human street-level. It never altogether satisfied me and I wondered if I was just missing thriller chops.

"Takeover "was meant to be even more realistic, though I sort of threw in the towel in the second half of the book and layered in a plot. Weirdly, I felt it was the best characterization I'd done and yet the characterization fell short of the requirements of the story.

The new thriller, which has the working title of "Gangster Gothic" was meant to be hard-boiled Noir, action packed, straight ahead banger.

Of course, it's already gone off the rails. I've added a supernatural element but it is pretty subtle.

But the main point is that the protagonist is a tough guy, a loner, a heist artist. And in the course of inhabiting his skin I've realized that he is a power fantasy, a wish fulfillment. I've always been intrigued by the idea of the perfect crime--could I do a bank robbery, a heist, a murder and not get caught? How would I go about disappearing?

(I asked Linda if she ever had those fantasies and she said "no." So maybe I'm just a psycho.) 

The epiphany was that all of these thrillers I read are that. It seems, the more popular, the more fantasy they are. Lee Child, John Sandford, Tom Clancy, and so on. These are superheroes in thriller clothing.

I think this might be true of all genres. (Which is what I read.) Escapist literature.

One of the things that has always bugged me about writer's group are those members who beg off critiquing by saying, "I don't read that kind of thing."

But a story is a story is a story.

There may be different tropes, different levels of characterization, different approaches to plot, different styles but...

A Story is a Story is a Story.

This realization about thrillers has just freed me up to write what I want to write. I think what is going to happen is that in the rewrites I will bring in the description and detail to ground it in reality, but as far as the story telling is concerned, it's anything goes.

I'm enjoying this book so far and it FEELS right, which is the most important indicator that it will turn out all right.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

When the hero is an a-hole.

Or more precisely, the moment I turn against a character and therefore an author.

I'm not talking anti-heroes here. Or even outright villains. I've read any number of books were characters are less than admirable, even despicable, or at the very least unreliable narrators.

That's fine. I get it. I don't normally apply ethics to whether I enjoy a story.

In fact, the examples below of when I did turn on a hero are in some cases pretty minor offenses in the scheme of things.

But they were the moment when something turned off inside me and made me not like either the book or the writer.

First example is a pretty well known mystery writer with a female antagonist. The hero solves the crime and does her thing and that's all good, but toward the end of the book, she goes in and messes with the finances and credit ratings of her boyfriend's ex-wife.

Now this ex-wife is never portrayed as anything more than just shallow and annoying.

The 'hero" and boyfriend chortle at how they've screw up her life. In my eyes, at that moment the hero turned from a savvy, diligent detective to a malignant narcissist. What's more, I get the distinct impression from the specificity of the story that it is what the author wishes she could do, or worse, may have done.

The 'crime' in the second example is even less substantial, and yet I may never read the author again. Because the crime completely offended me.

So this character is a secondary character, but almost as important as the main character--in fact, a case could be made he is the main character. So we know he's a thief and liar and murderer, and all that I accept without questioning.

Near the end of the book, the two main characters are talking and at the end of the conversation, the guy throws his beer bottle over his shoulder and it shatters into some rocks.

I turn against the bastard right then and there.

Who does that on your own property? But more, who does that at all?

I walk in the woods every day for an hour. No matter where I go, someone has dumped trash, vandalized, littered, graffitied and...broken grass. It pisses me off every time I see it.

So I immediately question whether the author thinks this is ok? Don't laugh, but at least murder and robbery have reasonable motivations, but vandalism and littering and tail-gating? Fuck those guys!

The third example I'm pretty sure everyone will disagree with, because it's a well-loved book; A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Now this is a great book in almost every way, and yet---I came away not liking it or the author.

This is my memory from reading it as a teenager, which means it might be slightly unreliable, but also remarkable that it has stuck with me all this time.

Actually, there are two examples here.

The first is that female narrator has a ner'-do-well uncle who at one point in the book is so defeated by life he takes to his bed and won't leave.

The scorn and ridicule that is rained down on this character's head was distasteful to me at the time. When, less than five years later, I have a bout of severe clinical depression myself, where I can't seem to get out of bed, well, I hated the anecdote even more.

The second example is when the protagonist goes to work in a mill and is ostracized and picked on. Another character at the mill, who is a real sad sack, befriends her.

But the hero isn't accepted by the others until she not only rejects the sad sack, but does it in a way that seems cruel to me.

That stuck will me, all these years. To be fair, one of the themes of the book is how hard the life of an immigrant is and how you can't afford to be a whiner or malinger or a loser. But still...

I guess you never know what thing is going to turn an author into someone I never want to read again, but there it is.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Over the twelve years I've been doing this blog, I've rarely done reviews, though that would have been a natural thing to do.

For one thing, to do it well requires more work than I'm willing to do. It doesn't help anyone for me to just say, "I like this" or "I don't like this."

Anyway, my only New Year's resolution was to pick up the pace on reading. I'm trying for one book a week. In doing so, I've also decided to look at each book from a "writerly" point of view. So reviews, of a sort.

I just finished "Jaguar," by T. Jefferson Parker. I already mentioned the "Crocodiles." I finished the book and there were a few other weird things. One of the major characters looks like he's in big trouble, and then the next scene whatever the trouble was seems to have disappeared. That's a good trick. I do think the reader makes the leap usually, fills in the blanks.

I really like how in a regular thriller, the author has managed to stick in a purely supernatural element that is totally intriguing, leaving a backdoor so that the supernatural can be denied, if you wish.

The other thing I noticed is the style is very Hemingway-esqe, though without the deep resonance. Still, it's an attractive style. Very few commas, I also noticed, which is a reminder to me to try to restrain myself.

This "writerly" viewpoint is carrying over to some of the stuff I'm watching, too.

I watched an 6 part French murder mystery called the "Frozen Dead." (I already mentioned that absolutely no one smiles in the entire series...)


It was very effective in atmospherics. Set in the mountains, the cold and wet is conveyed very nicely.
But it was unsatisfying in the end. Could see it coming and sure enough...

The main problem I had with it was the lead character. I think he was supposed to be a tortured fellow, and they added in a subplot about his failing health and his getting his partner's wife pregnant, and that had absolutely nothing to do with anything. Just there to make him interesting, I suppose.

But he was the stupidest detective I've ever seen. Clues go flying over his head, he goes after red-herrings, in fact he spends most of the show running around in a red Fiat. The main bad guy is supposed to be a mastermind, manipulating behind the scenes, and the detective goes and interviews him, asks one question, or makes one statement, and then walks away--multiple times.


Toward the end, he goes to visit the mastermind, who's been established as having contacts inside the prison/hospital, and tells him that the cops are on the way to arrest the final suspect. Of course, the final suspect gets away.

I mean, who does that?

So atmospherics and gloomy characterization and a stupid and meandering plot.

Linda and I watched "Girl on the Train" last night. Besides the fact that there suddenly seem to be hundreds of books that are copying "Gone Girl" this wasn't a world I recognize. Actually, however, I thought the motivations made more sense in this movie, and it was saved by Emily Blunt's all-out performance.

Nothing, however, is more boring to me than middle-class suburban existential crisis. None of these characters were likeable.

Time to pick my third book of the year.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

So far, I've enjoyed this new story. It's all over the place, because I'm allowing lots of changes early in the book. This is dangerous, it could be a problem--so much so, that over the last five years I've had a rule against it.

Finish the first draft,  has always been my rule. No major changes until that is done.

Most of the time, this has worked out, but in trying to write thrillers I've run into problems. See, I discover plot by writing. Over the last couple of books, I felt like I meandered perhaps a little too much in the first first half of the books before the stories truly kicked in. When I came back two months later, I was able to correct some of this, but by that time I'd already sent off the books.

New rule--two months minimum of waiting before a final rewrite.

Anyway, I think what is happening in this new book is that I am totally into the first person narrator. He's me, only...

He's not the me that is a mundane, risk-averse, rule following Loner.

He's the me that is a bold, risk-taking, law-breaking Loner.

It is basically a form of power fantasy.

I've always wondered if I could pull off a heist, if I could get away with murder, if I could disappear as a fugitive.

Doesn't everyone? I asked Linda and she said "No" to the heist and getting away with murder, but yes to the disappearing, so maybe I'm just weird.

Anyway, I'm just indulging fully in this fantasy of being a tough guy. I've often said I don't like doing first-person because it is almost invariably me, and that always seems amorphous, but in this case, I've got a pretty good sense of who this guy is. Plus, I need it to be first-person for my twist to have any chance of working.

It's me in a fantasy world, a Noir, Hard-boiled, Gothic thriller.

Yes, it's set in the real world, and yes I want it to feel real, but that isn't the main reason for doing it. The main reason is to inhabit this bad-ass persona and enjoy the power fantasy.

My main task in the first half of the book, which I've mostly thought through, is to get enough action and intrigue to keep the reader interested until the twist happens. Hopefully the twist will keep them engaged for the second half of the book, which will be mostly action.

So I'm adding Crocodiles, as many Crocodiles as I can dream up. Complications that ramp up the pressure on the protagonist, then..BAMM!...the twist, which will hopefully blow their minds.

So my main entrance to the story everyday is to lay down, try to inhabit the main character, and then just let him talk.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

After 35 years, my two early 80's fantasy novels reprinted in one volume, with their awesome Romas covers. Very nostalgic for me. It's so cool to be able to get these back in print!

Friday, January 12, 2018

Don't Forget to Add the Crocodiles!

I'm reading books with a writer's eye this year.

One: I'm reading books. I'm going to read every night, at least for a little bit. I'm hoping to read a book every week or so. I read so few books last year I'm ashamed.

The second book of the year is by T. Jefferson Parker: "The Jaguar."


So he has this character who is delivering a ransom to a cartel leader in Mexico. He's carrying around a million dollars in a suitcase. The competing cartel is trying to kill him, (gun fight!) as well as random crooks (gun fight!) and corrupt cops (gun fight!). Along comes a hurricane, and the warning that 200 crocodiles from upriver have escaped.

So the hurricane arrives, and the building he's in crumbles, and he rides the suitcase, (meanwhile saving an 8 year old boy) and the danger just keeps ramping up, but finally he lands in swamp.

He's in a clearing with a line of logs and then one of the logs moves: CROCODILES!

Adding the crocodiles was a little funny to me. Like turning the dial up to 11.

OK. So the rule is--anytime you have a chance, you add action.

So that's going to be my code phrase from now on.


Didn't write yesterday and had no good reason.

Didn't walk yesterday; it was raining.

Today, no excuses. What's really happening here is that I've decided that writing only on my walks means that I'm going to miss too many days, because of cold, snow or moisture. But working at home is a little problematic too. Linda is home most of the time nowadays, and that's thrown me off. I didn't realize that her working 5 days a week had given me a lot of psychic room.

But she is fully retired, so I have to work around it.

I have an office, but I spend most of my time with my computer at the dining room table. I really need to change that.

So I'm going to concentrate on writing in my office. I don't know how long it will take to get a new routine installed, but it needs to be done. The writing while walking will be extra, instead of the main impetus. If I can get my office to be the creative trigger, than I'll be set.

I figure it will be 3 steps forward and 2 steps back for awhile. Yesterday I closed the office door and then played solitaire for hours. I lay back on the couch trying to think of ideas and fell asleep.

But I think it needs to be done. I have a whole office that isn't being used. I have books I want to write. I need to merge the two. 

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Oh, yeah. The supernatural twist in the WIP makes the story much more interesting and fun. I told Linda about the twist and her eyes lit up and she started spinning off scenarios. (I'm not above taking suggestions.)

It's going to require a lot of rewriting of the first 8000 words, but it also becomes a much more straightforward progression. Instead of jumping back and forth, I'm going to make the story sequential, except for the first chapter which is a flash-forward. That makes the book better.

I'm going to have to think up some action sequences, but that usually isn't too difficult.

I'm reading "Takeover" all the way through at writer's group. It's amazing how dialogue heavy it is.

Over the last few days, I've been editing the scans of Star Axe and Snowcastles. It's clear to me that I was avoiding dialogue as much as was possible when I started. It's mostly narrative. Chapters are 20 pages long. I'm not sure I was thinking in terms of "scenes." The whole writing thing was still pretty amorphous to me, despite having taken classes in writing from Dwight Newton and reading a bunch of "how-to" books.

Somehow the process became much clearer to me this time around. Now my books are made up of scenes with a few transitions, and there is almost always dialogue unless it's an action scene. Still don't know if my dialogue is any good, but I'm no longer afraid of using it to fill out the characters and advance the plot. 

Once again, now that I'm into a book, I realize that I don't tend to second-guess myself when I'm writing. When I'm writing, I'm confident. It's when I'm not writing that I tend to start to have doubts. I just immerse myself in the story at hand.

It also reminds me that when I'm writing a book, I'm doing the best I can and that I don't release books until I think they are good. That is, when I'm finished, I really like what I've done.

But after I finish book, I tend to move on, and over time, little doubts start to set in. I think this is just because I'm removed from the book. It's much like when I'm not writing--doubts begin to assail me.

What I have to remember is that at the time I put the book out, I really liked it, I really thought it was good, and I think I need to hold to that notion and not let time and distance create doubts.

Really, when you're writing you realize that this is what you're capable of--this is what you do. Every book is a bit of a crapshoot. Sometimes the plots and characters just come together, sometimes you have to struggle, sometimes there are intrinsic problems that can't be solved but aren't so bad that they completely negate the book.

Rarely does it all come together: the great premise, the writing, the plot.

Each time I start a book, is a chance to get it right. 

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Star Axe back in print.

In my early 20's, I had a sleepless night dreaming up a fantasy story. It took me five years to actually finish it, and it was published in 1980.

Star Axe.

It was a mass distribution paperback, selling all over the country. Pretty exciting.

Many years later, I tracked down the original cover artist and bought the art, intending to put it out myself. I scanned the book, but it was such a mess that I only got about 2/3rds of the way cleaning it up.

Crossroad Press, who bought my Tuskers series and Snaked, specialize in reprints, so they took it on and scanned it and this version was easy to correct, took me a few hours.

And now it is up for sale.

The cover blurb is "Classic Sword and Sorcery Novel Back in Print at Last!" which is admittedly a little cheeky. I feel like I'm a much better writer now, but people seemed to like it at the time, so I decided it wasn't fair to change something that people have already read. It is what it is.

I would really dig having a physical version of the book, but I've sort of decided to let the publishers do whatever the publishers want.

I'm going to be over here writing.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

So I thought about my little supernatural twist in my thriller on my walk, figured out what I could change to make it possible, and then did it.

So I guess I'm committed.

In a way, this is a declaration of freedom. I know that I have very little chance with the editor I was going to send this book to if I added anything supernatural.

But it makes it a better book, both for the reader and for the writer.

I'm not sure how long I can keep the twist under wraps. I'm guessing maybe halfway through the book. Damned if I know what happens after that. I just know that it intrigues me so much more than what I was already writing. It's that little bit extra that every book needs.

Twists are tricky. For one thing, if the reader doesn't encounter the twist until near the end of the book, the story has to keep the readers interest until they get there. Which means, in effect, that the twist is extra, it's the cherry on top, it's a little added bonus for the reader.

Anyway, like I said, while it makes it a better book and a book that will maintain my interest and hopefully the interest of the readers--this makes it less commercial.

So what I'm doing, in effect, is saying a better book is more important than it's commercial prospects.

Monday, January 8, 2018

I just realized how I could make this a better book, if a less commercial one.

The whole point of me writing thrillers is to try to catch on with a mainstream publisher. I have, or I used to have, a big editor who was interested in my writing and encouraging me to submit non-supernatural material.  "Deadfall Ridge" and "Takeover" were my first two attempts.

Never heard back from him.

The WIP is my third and last attempt, this time a sort of Noir-hardboiled storyline.

I'm about 6K words in and the big worries I have are: it is pretty much a pastiche of all the hardboiled books I've read in my life. And I'm not sure there is enough plot.

Ultimately, this is how I felt about "Deadfall Ridge." There just didn't seem to be enough zing.

In the past, I simply would have added a supernatural element to the story. It wouldn't have to be overbearing. "The Last Fedora: the Gangster Golem Chronicles" is like that. Mostly a thriller with a Golem involved.

Or "Led to the Slaughter" which is three quarters a straight story about the Donner Party, and maybe a quarter about werewolves. "The Darkness You Fear" which is about abuse and murder, with ghosts only moderately involved. (Ghosts who Hauntings are to elicit real-life emotions.)

"Blood of the Succubus" started off as a story about a female serial killer, then morphed.

And so on.

That seems to be my natural inclination, where I'm most comfortable. The real world with a touch of the uncanny.

I'm seriously considering, if I can ever find the time, of going back and adding Bigfoot to "Deadfall Ridge." I sort of teased at the idea but never went there. But I can see a way to include it. Change the name to the setting: "Bigfoot Ranch."

With "Takeover" I'd bring in some sort of Indian curse, because the occupiers dig up a graveyard.

As it happens, a major part of the plot for the WIP is an old Victorian house that is being renovated. It occurs to me that there is a bit of gothicness to the idea. The twist would be that what the main character sees isn't real. The house is broken down and dilapidated, the neighborhood kids stay away from it, but the main character sees something else, interacts with the woman who is renovating, but only he can see it or her.

Sort of "Hardboiled Haunting." (Possible title?)

If I do this, it probably makes the book unsaleable to the big time editor.

But damn it, the book is way more interesting that way.
With "Takeover" I attempted 'real life,' so to speak. I tried to get into the head of 'real' people, speak in their voice, have the events be completely believable. Of course, in the second half of the book, I went full plot, which was much less believable.

In hindsight, the second half was better than the first.

With this new book, I'm not even going there. This is a Noir-ish, hard boiled story, in its own little world. I'm trying to maintain the same tone all the way through, a story alone, consistent. But I realized yesterday that it is sort of in the eternal gray territory, that it could be set in the 50's or 60's or 70's or today.

It's a bit of world building, just without the supernatural elements.

Is this really so different from what Lee Child, or John Sandford, or Robert Crais do in their stories? Are these any more than a fantasy? I'm reading a T. Jefferson Parker novel right now, and it barely skims the surface of believably. It doesn't spend a lot of time with depth, just a quick easy story.

And isn't that why I read them?

Hard boiled land is a pleasant place to be. You can work out all your aggression with no real cost. You can pretend to be a bad ass. To meet the femme fatale. To stand up to the Bad Guys. None of it real. Just create it a world, spin a story, that the reader can comfortably sink into. 

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Woke up in the middle of the night thinking about the book I just finished reading. It's by an author I respect and who is a Facebook friend, so I'll keep the title to myself.

Anyway, it was a very strangely plotted book. I could tell it was his first book, or close to his first book, because his later books are much better. It had lots of red herrings, dead ends, and superfluous material, it was told almost completely in flashback and more often than not in a simple narrative form instead of vivid scenes.

And yet the author's voice was enough to carry me through. It goes to show, I think, that there is no one way to tell a story.

After that, my mind turned to my own current WIP. In some ways, the story has already gone off the rails. Roughly speaking, I'm writing chapters set in the present alternating with chapters in the past, or as I may end up labeling them; "Spring" and "Fall."

I don't know if this is confusing or not. I think it is probably a matter of making sure the first paragraph of each chapter orients the reader.

But this is the way the story is being told to me. Not to get all mystical, but I'm letting my subconscious have its way.

I figured out a wrinkle to the story which may or may not be a good thing. I mean, it will complicate matters but I think it's a welcome complication. This is a straightforward Noir story. I'm trying not to be cliched about it, but it is definitely a pastiche of all the hard boiled fiction I've read.

The biggest thing is that it's engaging my attention. As long as that happens, I have a book. Complications help me keep engaged. As long as they don't stymie the book.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

The first sentence of my new book is "I work alone," so the Word program used that as the de facto title to the book. It'll do for now.

The story is already going in some weird directions. Basically, I've got a current chapter, followed by a flashback, followed by a current chapter, followed by a flashback. Don't know if that is going to continue. Don't know if it really works, mostly because some of the events are similar just at different times. The big crime boss calls him to his presence, once because the hero has a confrontation with the crime boss's obnoxious son (flashback) and once because the boss is demanding that he do a job for them (present.) So don't know if that works.

But I figured out yesterday that I just need to "follow the story." Not so much to "create" the story but to "follow" the story that is already there. The main requirement is that I be "plugged" into the story, that I'm feeling it and sensing it and seeing it. There is a sense that the story already exists and all I'm doing is following it as it is revealed.

I've put too much pressure on myself, I think. It was the lack of expectation that let me be so prolific for those first few years, and I need to get back to that feeling. Just let the story spin out, follow the leads, let myself be constantly surprised. Do some jiggering when it is all done, but trust the process, trust my subconscious to uncover the story.

I have tried and tried and tried to plan ahead, to outline, and I just can't seem to do it. Even being too locked into the "premise" or "theme" can get me off course, because then I don't let the story dictate where it wants to go.

On the other hand, it helps to feel like there is enough meat to the story to make it worthwhile doing, to carry me through to the end. That is just an instinct, a feeling for the character and for the tone of the story.

I'm writing this in first person, which I swore I wouldn't do again, but that's how the story revealed itself and so far I'm comfortable in the skin of the hero/anti-hero. I can feel him. Frankly, I never could quite feel Hart Davis in "Deadfall Ridge." Hart was more of a stand-in for me and when I do that it always feel really amorphous in the same way I can't really figure my own self out, too complicated, too contradictory, too close.

When I have a separate person as narrator, someone not me, I'm much more comfortable.

I'd hoped to have this book be nothing but action, let the plot and characters fall where they may. But of course, I'm already developing plot and characters and that doesn't always mean action, but the overriding principle is to "follow the story." 

Friday, January 5, 2018

Right or wrong, I've started my "Shoot 'em up." (I don't have a title yet.)

This is my third attempt at a thriller. I've decided to go all out.

My goal is to have at least one action scene every chapter. It needs to start with a bang and just keep banging. It is admittedly a plot that's been done many times before, but hopefully I can bring something new to it.

I want to have fun, maintain a consistent tone all the way through. If nothing else, it's good exercise. I don't want another one of these books were the first 50 pages meander, even if done well and for reasons.

I'll have to see where it leads. I sometimes don't know if a story is going to peter out until it does. I don't have a sense of where this story is going, which isn't proof of anything. Some of my best stories started off this way and just took off.

I'm hoping the stricture of having at least one action scene each chapter will keep the invention going.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

On my walk today I decided that the mistake I've been making is being too influenced by the idea of being published, instead of just doing what I want to do.

I started off with the concept that I would write what I wanted to write when I wanted to write it.

So for instance, "Deadfall Ridge" plays around with the idea of Bigfoot but never really brings him into the story. What would happen if I bring him in? Call the book "Bigfoot Ranch." Have Granger be the main character. (Just substitute him for Hart Davis, make up another character to be the Granger character. Maybe a guy named Hart Davis?, heh.)

The main thing, I think, is to quit trying to be mainstream. I'm not any good at it and I'm not that interested. I like the supernatural/fantasy slant to things.

It would probably make even more sense to just go on and write something new, though.

I still want to attempt a shoot 'em up. Start with an action scene, follow it with an action scene, then write an action scene and then another action scene. You get the picture. Make Richard Stark's Parker my model.

So he needs to be a anti-hero, but with a code of honor. Proficient with guns. A thief. Works alone. Is pulled into a job against his wishes; job goes south, they come after him. He turns the tables and goes after them.

Pretty simple. Just enjoy the process of it.

Apparently, I've turned mortal.

I can't seem to get started. It's the whole idea that it needs to be a hit instead of just the idea of writing another story. But it's really not a bad question to ask. What's the point if it isn't going to get anywhere?

Whatever I choose I need to commit to. I can't be stalled a third time. That would be deadly.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

One of the things I told myself coming back to writing was to be patient. To make sure the manuscripts were ready before sending them off or publishing them.

When I ran into trouble with my first two attempts, "Faerielander" and "The Reluctant Wizard," for instance, I set them aside. I didn't publish until my third book, "Freedy Filkins." It was hit or miss after that, but mostly hit.

But there were some clunkers along the way.

As of now, I have written 13 books that I haven't felt were ready for primetime. Someday, maybe, I'll go back and work on them some more, see which ones can be saved. But in the meantime, I've forged ahead.

When I had an opening with a major publisher for some thrillers, I wrote first "Deadfall Ridge" and then "Takeover." In both cases, I thought the books were ready. In the same way I thought my "Tuskers" books and "Snaked: and my "Virginia Reed Aventures"  and my "Vampire Evolution Trilogy" and all the books I've self-published were ready.

But for some reason, after three or four months, it became clear to me that I'd made some missteps with both thrillers. I don't think it was because I was impatient. Maybe it's because they are thrillers, very plot oriented, without any ability to liven up the story with supernatural elements, but time gave me a new perspective.

I mean, I thought the books were good when I sent them off. It wasn't impatience that got me but for some reason, these particular books turned out to have some ready fixes that I simply hadn't thought of...that I hadn't even known were necessary.

I will no longer send off any book without sitting on it for at least 3 months, even though in most cases, I'm not sure it will be necessary. But what this has taught me is that I won't always know if it is necessary until it happens.

Maybe I'm just second-guessing myself on these books because they weren't immediately accepted. Maybe if I applied the same analysis to my earlier books, I'd have come to the same conclusions. But I don't think so. There were a couple of books that had some weaknesses that I regretted, but I didn't have any choice because of the publishing schedule. But that was done with full awareness, and the weaknesses to me also had some interesting elements.

I suppose the same thing could be said to the weaknesses of "Takeover." I like what I did, but I need to admit that perhaps they don't serve the story.  Time has given me the ruthlessness to remove those elements and see if the story works better.

The interesting part to me is that what doesn't work on "Takeover" was the same reason I wrote the book in the first place. That is, if I hadn't done those character chapters early in the book, I wouldn't have written it at all. If I hadn't included the politics, the book would have seemed shallow to me.

But, I just didn't have the particular chops to make it work.

I suppose the lesson might be that one shouldn't try to write beyond one's means.  I certainly tried with this book, but I fell short. But I think I can fix it by sticking to what I do well.

The second half of the book is fine. It's the first and second acts that need to be refined. I'll just have to see if it is even possible.

Monday, January 1, 2018

I'm still not feeling compelled to start a new book. I think part of the problem is that I have two stories I've left hanging 2/3rds of the way through: my novella "The Wyvern Riders" and the little fantasy I started in November called "Castle La Magie."

So I've decided to finish these before I do anything else.

I also want to attempt a rewrite of "Takeover."

The first  step will be to simply take out those scenes that I don't think work or which are only there for character development. I can take about four out of the first five chapters and take snippets of the character development and add them to later chapters that are part of the plot. I have one character who is a poet and I've inserted 3 poems in the book which I will take out. Things like that.

The parts that aren't working are mostly the interface between the politics of the book and how it is presented in the book to the public. Things like news conferences and declarations. They just didn't seem altogether convincing to me. Either I cut these completely or refer to them obliquely or paraphrase them somehow.

Thing is, the action parts of the book work really well, actually, and I went in and added enough of this action to the first half of the book to maybe not need all the other setup.

So what I'm going to do is simply remove every scene that strikes me as lacking and see how it reads. I'm hoping there is still a story there that can be saved by new transitions.

I think about 2/3rds of this book works very well. But the 1/3rd that doesn't work is dragging it down. If I can just simply cut the 1/3rd and still have a story, well, there you go.

I doubt it will be that easy.

I will keep a file of the current version just in case.