Sunday, December 24, 2006

Stealing Books

Tis the holiday season which means, if you're anything like me, the bank account as taken a serious hit. Buying presents, taking trips, and of course, going to bars has caused you to take a double take when you look at your checking account balance. This year, I was trying to be thrifty by making gifts and utilizing the sales, but there is one thing that I couldn't bear to do: buy books used.

Now, almost every DVD that you watch opens with that anti-piracy ad. You know the one. You wouldn't steal a car or rob a store. Buying pirated DVDs is theft, blah blah blah. But when you buy a book from a used book store, the author doesn't receive any compensation for that sale. Isn't that in the same ball park?

In our neighborhood there is a great thrift store, Brown Elephant, where used books are only a buck. Nicole and I have spent many an afternoon searching the shelves for rare first editions that people donated unaware of their value. But occasionally, I have felt torn when I find the new Michael Connelly or Harlan Coben paperback priced at only fifty cents. I mean, I've given them (and Barnes and Noble) a lot of my money already, what's the harm in saving myself some green? And since they are already bestsellers, how much will I, one person, hurt them by buying their book used?

I'm not perfect, there have been a few times that I gave into temptation. But 99 times out of 100, I follow this rule: only buy used books by dead authors. After all, the market is bad enough without more people buying their books on Some people look at a book and only see paper with words on it. I see the authors who wrote those words and who are trying to make a living by selling them.

Of course, my opinion doesn't count for much since I am a novelist that has yet to be published, so feel free to leave comments. But I know that when my book comes out, I better not catch any of you buying the ARC on Ebay.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Their Daughter the Writer

Chanukah is finally here, and you know what that means: family dinners. And because my parents are divorced, the family dinners are doubled. So this past weekend I spent the second night of Chanukah with my mother and the third with my father, and I couldn't help but laugh at how different the two evenings were. Besides the fact that my father is an accountant who reads biographies of dead presidents and listens to country music and my mother is a therapist who attends yoga and Buddhist meditation groups, the way they speak of me and show their support is very different.

My mother thinks everything I do is wonderful. She subscribes to Time Out, Crimespree and buys whichever issue of Curve I have written for. She speaks of my work as if it deserves a National Book Award, as if getting a 200-word book review published in Crimespree is a feat only to be accomplished by the most talented of writers. To tell you the truth, I could vomit on a piece of paper, hand it to her, and she'd say how she loves my experimental writing style and my willingness to take risks in my work. After dinner and presents, she proceeded to take out her box filled with my publications and pass them around so the family could read. Nicole, of course, gives me the look that I've seen a million times, the one that says, "No wonder you have such a swelled head!" But we all need this person in our lives, the blind cheerleader who will always tell us how wonderful we are, even if we suck.

My father, on the other hand, is more practical. He wants to know how much I get paid for each publication and gauges his support from there. He is more impressed that I am able to support myself financially than he was when I got an agent. I hear him on the phone, telling his friends proudly, "Yup, she's finally off my tab." A whole different type of support. And at this dinner, as I am grilled about the status of my novel and my father makes suggestions about grad school, Nicole gives me a completely different look. It is the look that I've seen a million times, one that says, "Don't worry, I think you're wonderful." But we all need this person in our lives, the skeptic that you want to prove wrong by actually being successful. Sometimes this is what drives me, more than making my mother proud because that is easy. Sometimes I am driven by my stubborn determination to prove my father wrong, and this can be just as effective.

Whenever I talk to writers, especially ones that are still working toward publication, I love hearing about their parents and what they think of their children's writing. My friend Marcus, always raves about how supportive his parents are, how they are always his first readers, whereas Dennis Lehane says that his father still asks when he is going back to teaching to earn a steady living. Some parents think their writer offspring are ruining their lives while others think they are G-d's gift to the literary world. My mother would buy fifty copies of my book when it gets published, while I'm pretty sure my father would just get it at the public library. I could never publish anything and my mother would still think I'm talented. My novel could hit the NY times bestseller list and my father would still ask if I wanted to pick up some extra cash by helping him at his office.

Some may prefer one support method over the other, but I think having a mix works best, when you have one parent swelling your head and eliminating your insecurities before the other takes a pin and bursts your bubble, bringing you back down to earth.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Freelance Prostitution

I took a freelance applications class at Columbia not knowing what to expect. I had always considered myself a fiction writer, not a journalist, but I thought it would be productive to expand my horizons. As the semester progressed, we had many guest speakers, who pretty much all said the same thing.

The career freelancer is always working on numerous deadlines, pitching constantly, and even then, it's still hard to make a living.

Fortunately, I have a day job and wasn't looking to make a living; I just wanted some publication credits. But when I began pitching to magazines and websites, I soon learned what they meant. The turnaround time from pitch to publish takes forever. Right now I'm working on an article, which I got assigned in November. It's due in January and won't hit the shelves until February, which is when I'll receive my pay check. If I was counting on assignments in order to pay my rent, I would always have to be on a deadline. I would have to pitch every day, probably write an article a week, conduct interviews, juggle deadlines, researching possible markets, etc. Even then, would it be enough?

Another lesson I learned in that class was about loyalty. I have always stuck to the mantra, "write what you know" not only because it's true but because I loathe research. It makes no sense for me to pitch to House and Gardens about decorating ideas for the Christmas season when I'm Jewish and decorating-retarded. In the class we did numerous exercises brainstorming about what we know. I came up with a few things: lesbian, Judaism, swimming, writing, books, and Chicago. Not much, but it was a start. So I began pitching to publications such as Curve, Bitch and Time Out, I even pitched to Child Magazine because they pay a buck a word and I thought I could do an article about children's swim lessons. But as I pitched, I thought about how a lot of my article ideas were similar and if one got accepted, would I have to turn down others for purposes of loyalty?

Another woman in my class had been writing for boxing magazines about the Golden Gloves and other tournaments. She pitched to two publications, both of which got accepted. One article was about going to the Golden Gloves and how it was a fun event to attend. The other was about the history of the Golden Gloves, more of a profile piece. When the first "fun thing to do" article came out, the second publication contacted her, saying how they were appalled that she had written a similar article for a competing publication. While both articles were completely different in content and slant, because they were about the same event and both were written for Chicago publications, the latter article was killed.

If we are constantly pitching and writing, trying to make a living freelancing, is it unrealistic to expect completely different ideas and subject matter to be churned out at such a high frequency? If I write regularly for one publication, is it disloyal to pitch to one of their competitors? I'm not on staff, I'm freelance, doesn't that mean I'm free to write for any magazine I want?

Anyone who has worked with me knows that I have an exceptional work ethic. Because of that, I'm very wary of where and what I pitch. However, it seems that freelancers are the prostitutes of the writing world: we'll take clients wherever we can get them, even if a few of them are "competitors" and we have no loyalty to the publication we are writing for. We do the job, the check's in the mail, and it's on to the next assignment. If we write an article for the Chicago Tribune one week, we wouldn't turn down an assignment from the Chicago Sun-Times the next. This is where my work ethic comes into play. Because I write so regularly for Curve and Crimespree, I don't think I could, in good conscience, write for Girlfriends or The Strand. I love my editors and wouldn't want to do anything to jeopardize my relationship with them. But just because I've written one article for Gapers Block doesn't mean I can't write for another Chicago lifestyle publication again.

While a conclusion has yet to be drawn, I think it is an important question that freelancers should ask themselves. When pitching to magazines and newspapers, desperately trying to get enough assignments to pay the phone bill, you should always keep in mind your previous publications. Have you written a similar article for a similar publication? How would that affect your relationships with current contacts? Just because your prostituting yourself for a publication credit, doesn't mean you shouldn't do it with a little bit of class.

Friday, December 08, 2006

First Lines

Any writer, reader, or editor will tell you how important first lines are. It is the first taste of the book, the first chance to pull the reader in. And for me, the first line is usually the first thing I think of when I begin a writing project. Because I was curious, and I had an hour to kill before work, I thought I'd go through my book shelf and pick out some books with great first lines. See if you can guess who wrote it and click on the quote to see if you're right!

"I understand now that innocence is relative." Immediately, I want to know why the character thinks that and why they didn't until now.

"When I was seven, I was plucked from my uneventful life deep in darkest Massachusetts and dropped into a Tang Instant Breakfast Drink commercial." The thing I love about this line, is it gives a sense of the author's voice. Immediately, I know it's going to be humorous and sarcastic. The line also evokes quite an intriguing image.

"The old lady had changed her mind about dying but by then it was too late." Clearly, this line draws the reader into the novel, knowing that this old lady is going to die. But the writer chose, instead of opening with her death, to get inside the lady's head and give her final thoughts.

"If you're going to read this, don't bother." I don't think anyone would listen to the narrator's request and put the book down. The second person point of view addresses the reader and creates an urgent need to read on.

And last, by far my favorite first line ever:

"When the first bullet hit my chest, I thought of my daughter." In just 12 words, we know that the protagonist has been shot, that there will be another bullet coming, that he has a daughter. Fantastic.

Feel free to comment with your favorite first lines as I'm sure there are plenty out there that I failed to mention.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The Reality of Publishing

I'm a realistic person. Despite my dream of being a career novelist, which seems to be the opposite of realism, I have a fairly practical mindset. So when I graduated from Columbia, my completely useless degree in hand, I told myself that I would give it a year. I would give myself a year to become a published novelist and if I didn't get anywhere with it, I would go out and get a real job.

So within the year, I got an agent, and besides the jumping up and down for joy because someone wanted my book, it was also a huge relief that I wouldn't have to buy a business suit, type up my resume and go out into the real world. I could continue to work in my pajamas, sit in smokey coffee houses, and while I would still have to eat Ramen Noodles and dodge my student loan officer, I could call myself a writer.

It's been six months, which from what I hear is no time at all, but my book is still on the desks of publishers and I am still in my pajamas, waiting. My insecurities force me to think about the next year deadline, what will happen if it doesn't sell, if I don't have what it takes to become the career novelist that I always dreamed of being. The realist in me is already preparing my resume and looking for journalism jobs.

But today, I read a post on Tess Gerritsen's blog. She says:

If you really want to be a published novelist, you’ll stick with it. You won’t say “I’ll give it a year, maybe two.” You’ll say “I’ll keep at it, I’ll keep improving my craft, year after year. Even if it never happens.”

I thought about this for a while, reminded of my self-imposed career deadline. Even if I got a real job, did the nine-to-five, would that stop me from writing? Would it stop me from attempting to get published? Of course not. All it would do is give me less time, which would mean less sleep, not less writing. Her comment made me think of all the musicians, artists, and actors who are in the same boat as I am. They all dream of hitting it big, of preforming on Broadway or having an exhibition at the Art Institute, just as I dream of seeing my name on the New York Times Bestseller list? They all do what they have to do to pay the rent, but it doesn't stop them from auditioning, from playing, from making art. They don't say, "I'll give it a year."

I'm a realistic person, and it's unrealistic for me to think that I could ever stop writing, no matter where I work, no matter where my income comes from. Even if this novel doesn't sell, even if the next five I write don't sell. I'll keep at it, and churn out novel number six, because publishing ain't easy. It's not going on interviews or responding to classified ads. It's an occupation that you have to make happen for yourself. And sometimes, that takes a little time. Okay, a lot of time. That is the reality.

Friday, December 01, 2006

The Reading Habits of Writers

Because of NaNoWriMo, I hadn't been reading as much as usual, so the first thing I did after completing word count, was devour a couple of books: Dry by Augusten Burroughs and Panic by Jeff Abbott. Although very different genres, both are fantastic and highly recommended, and it made me realize how much I missed reading!

It amazes me that I still meet writers who, almost proudly, claim that they seldom read. For me, it was my love of reading that made me want to become a writer in the first place. Seeing how authors construct their sentences, weave in the plot layers, develop characters that are relatable yet flawed, was how I cultivated by writing skills. Sure, I sat in workshops, went to critique groups, wrote everyday like breathing, but that would have only taken me so far.

Most writers I meet at Mystery and Thriller conferences, say how they were reading genre fiction since they were kids. Myself, I hadn't heard of Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, or even James Patterson until I reached college. When I enrolled in classes at Columbia, it was to expand my writing, to try new things and take risks. So, I signed up for Patricia Rosemoor's Suspense Thriller writing class. When I got there, my first semester or freshman year, I listened as all these writers went around the room talking about their favorite authors. What did I do? I took notes, jotting down Michael Connelly, Harlan Coben, Tess Gerritsen, all the authors I had to read if I wanted to write thrillers. I remember when it was my turn to say which authors I read, I honestly answered that I took the class because I didn't know a damn thing about thriller writing. And I vividly remember Patricia giving me this look that told me, "I hope you know what you're getting yourself into."

More than the class, more than the critique, it was the reading that taught me how to write mysteries. When I read the work of the masters, I learned how to plot, how to develop meaningful characters, and cultivate ideas. I looked at published novels, saw what these authors were doing well and brought it to my own writing. To this day, when I'm struggling with voice or pacing, I pick up a novel and see how others handle it.

In my second year at Columbia, one of my short stories was chosen to be adapted into a movie for the film department, and I was asked if I wanted to write the screenplay. Of course I said, "Hell yeah!" but realized I didn't have the first clue about writing a screenplay. So what did I do? I went online and downloaded scripts to some of my favorite book adaptations, see how the writers handled dialogue, exposition, etc. When I began to get freelance gigs, I didn't have any journalism training, I just read the publications and used the articles as models. And I know that if something else comes up, a writing challenge for which I have minimal experience, I will learn from reading.

To me, any writer that boldly states, "I don't read" is selling themselves short. I understand with the pressures of writing deadlines and other obligations that it is difficult to squeeze in reading time. But the books on the NYT bestseller list are there for a reason. Those authors must be doing something right. Filmmakers watch movies, painters go to art museums, and writers read...or at least they should.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Madness Is Over

Well, I did it. The first draft, a very VERY rough draft of Street Walk is officially completed. There are scenes missing, scenes that need to be cut, subplots that need to be elaborated, but nevertheless, I have typed "The End". For the next few weeks, the novel will be marinating in my laptop and I will be catching up on much needed sleep, reading and movie watching.

The whole process was wonderful. It really showed me what I am capable of as a writer. Writing 3,000 words a day, sometimes in one sitting, seemed impossible, but now I know I can do it. And hey, if I can do it, anyone can.

So many times, I have heard writers, or any artist for that matter, say that they have to wait for inspiration, that the mood has to strike them or else the words seem forced. Well, when you have a deadline, you don't have that kind of time. You have to turn in a product, a good product, whether you were inspired to or not. In my stage of the game, I don't have an editor or publisher telling me when my next manuscript is due. I have to create my own deadlines, or in this case, NaNoWriMo did it for me.

I once asked my uncle about writer's block, asking if he ever got stuck in the middle of a manuscript. He gave me the answer that I later heard him give at an interview. He said that writing is a job. Does a truck driver get stuck? No, he just keeps going. I've always considered that a good motto to live by. If you are serious about your writing, you do it every day, treating it like every other job. And if you keep writing, whether it's a page a day or 5,000 words, eventually you will finish. You will able to sit back at your computer, pop open a beer and type "The End".

Today was my day to pop the beer and type the two words. And even though I know that there is much work that needs to be done to get it to that final draft, the act of completion, of telling a full movement in over three-hundred pages, feels damn good.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Latest Article

The December issue of Curve Magazine should be hitting the stands very shortly. Pick it up and turn to the back page for my article, "Top Ten Reasons We Love Lisa Myers". Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Destined for Spinsterhood

Okay, so NaNoWriMo has officially kicked my ass and things such as laundry, grocery shopping and maintaining my blog have been seriously neglected. Fortunately, I have skipped passed the 50,000 word mark and can relax a bit, although not too much. I still want to get at least 20,000 more words done before the end of the month.

But today, as I have sat in front of my computer for about four hours, I was thinking about the life of a writer. Aside from the writing, there is a lot of brainstorming, reading, researching, all of which is done solo. Writing is a solitary life and most of the writers I know are perfectly content to be by themselves for hours, sometimes days at a time. What surprises me the most though, is that most of the writers I know have significant others.

I am not an easy person to deal with: I am neurotic, anal, cranky, scatterbrained and stubborn. Throw writer on top of that and you get a person who is destined for spinsterhood. It amazes me that I have been in a relationship for over two years and Nicole hasn't either left me for good or had me committed to a mental institution. We are not easy people to deal with, so how is it so many of us have people who stay by our side as we spend hours in front of our computers, project these massive egos when really they are just blankets covering the insecurities, and need alone time like runners need water?

At Thrillerfest, Gayle Lynds said that there should be a book called, "How to Live With a Writer". I completely agree. We are, by far, the most difficult people to live and have relationships with. A manual of some sort, wouldn't hurt. So here is my contribution, both for writers and their spouses.

Things you should know about dating a writer:

1) Know that writer's write all the time. Even when they are not putting pen to paper or plowing away at the keyboard, they are still writing. When they are watching TV or doing the crossword puzzle or staring blankly at a white wall, they are writing. They are brainstorming, mentally outlining, plotting, and there's pretty much nothing you can do to stop them. When they say, "I'm working," even though all they appear to be doing is playing spider solitaire, just trust them. They're working.

2) Know that your writer is insecure. They may act like they are G-d's gift to the literary world, but deep inside, they think they are a hack. When a rejection letter comes or the editor is unhappy with their latest draft, give them a pat on the head and tell them they're brilliant. There is a time for constructive criticism and there is a time for ego stroking.

3) Know that writing is their job, a job that they love. Whether your significant other has published ten novels or is still finishing the first, if they consider themselves a writer, then that is their job. Writers don't keep normal hours, the computer doesn't shut off at five o'clock. There are early mornings, late nights, and often weekend writing sessions. Just because it's not always paying, doesn't make the job less legit.

4) Know that your writer needs you. They want you there for support, because they enjoy your company and because they care for you. Writing is such a solitary life, that if they have let you into their realm, it means they must really love you. So don't get offended when they want to go to a cabin for a week by themselves or spend Sunday mornings at a cafe. It doesn't mean they love their laptop more than you. If they did, you wouldn't be in their life.

5) Know that you have to keep them in check. They may think that a deadline means they have the right to abandon all other household and relationship duties, but this is not true. If they are slacking around the house or not spending enough time with you, you need to call them on it. When writers are wrapped up in a project, everything around them seems to fade and it's your job to bring the clarity back.

For Writers, How to Keep Your Significant Other:

1) Be understanding. Know that you are a pain in the ass to deal with. You are needy, stubborn, insecure and often times inconsiderate. Know that your significant other must really love you if they are putting up with all your idiosyncrasies, so you better love them back.

2) If you are dating a non-writer (which I think is highly recommended since two egotistical basket cases would have a difficult time cohabitating), know that they may not always understand what it's like to be a writer. Let them into your world. Tell them about the publishing industry, talk to them about your writing process, it will help them better understand what is going through that crazy head of yours. Don't blow them off with a you-just-don't-understand line, and know that it is hard to sympathize when they aren't sure what exactly you are going through.

3) Show that you care. If you've been slaving away at a novel for six months, celebrate it's completion by taking your significant other out to dinner. Clean the house, pick up some flowers, buy a present for no other reason than you love them. When you spend so much time writing, it's easy to think you love your characters more than your partner. Show them that this isn't true.

4) Balance your time. You spend so much effort creating a writing schedule and juggling deadlines, make sure to factor in your significant other. Create one day a week, or an hour a day, when you put the writing aside and dedicate yourself to the relationship. This is difficult in any dating situation no matter the occupation, but it is extra difficult for writers because, (as stated in the previous section) we are writing constantly. Turning off your author brain for a little bit each day goes a long way.

5) Quit being so damn anal. If you're like me, you want your work station to be just so and the writing conditions have to be perfect to have an effective work day. I need my morning coffee, I need to not speak to anyone for an hour after waking up, I need to have just the right amount of background noise, and I need to not be interrupted. Do not get angry if your partner didn't pick up coffee at the grocery store or calls you when she knows you are writing, or was trying to be helpful by organizing your desk but instead, according to you, ruined your system and now you can't find anything. Know that none of this is her fault or the end of the world. It will save you a lot of stress and quite a few fights to turn down the anal retentiveness level just a notch.

Again, I'm not the expert. Feel free to leave comments if you have any other suggestions. But hopefully everyone will find these suggestions helpful.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

It's a funny sort of way

Last night, Nicole and I went to see Running With Scissors, a fantastic adaptation of Augusten Burroughs's memoir. After I let the film digest on the walk home, I went to the computer and, like the nerd that I am, searched for interviews with Burroughs to see what he thought of the film. This is what I found on the Book Standard website:

"I never was going to option Running With Scissors for film because I felt it would be too easy to make a really bad, cheesy movie out of it. But this person, Ryan Murphy, kept pestering me and my agent over and over again, so I finally decided to have lunch with him, just to explain to him why I was not going to option it. But he had an understanding of Running With Scissors that I felt only the author of the book could have. It was really remarkable how deeply he related to the book. And by the end of lunch, I had made a 180-degree turn in my feelings...When I saw it [the film], I was just absolutely blown away. On the one hand, it was like watching a home movie, where everyone is, like, gorgeous. But of the other hand, I was able to step back and disconnect emotionally from it and look at it just as a movie. And I was able to realize, this is so fucking cool. This is a great movie. In one minute, it's absolutely hysterical, in the next it's heartbreaking, in the next it's shocking and in the next, it's just weird. All through it, it maintains a real huge heart and it's not pretentious and it's not arty for the sake of being arty. Running With Scissors is amazing when I consider that it's Ryan Murphy's first movie. It's a triumph. I feel lucky to be associated with it."

First of all, I was shocked at the fact that he didn't want to option the book. Isn't that every author's dream? But he didn't see the money they were throwing at him, he saw the possibilities of what could go wrong. I think that most authors are really quick to jump on the Hollywood bandwagon and get their movie check without thinking about the what could possibly happen if they movie was actually made.

The comment about the movie being hysterical, heartbreaking, shocking, and weird all at the same time was right on point. Newbie authors hear time and time again, make sure yoconsistentonsistant tone throughout your work; don't have this violent gritty narrative throwthen thow a dash of humor in. It's jarring. But Burroughs mastered this in his novel, being able to maintain a sense of humor throughout, while conveying the underlying darkness and depression that was plaguing the characters. There were moments, in the theater, when half the audience was gasping and the other half was cracking up, and I thought it was the coolest thing in the world. When I'm reading a book or watching a movie and I'm not sure whether to laugh or cry, it speaks to the talent of the artist. Really, the events in the story were dark and depressing, but were told in such a humourous way, that I actually caught myself, "Wait, this 35 year old man is having a relationship with a fourteen year oThat's...that's not funny!" But would I go to see a film about pedophilia and mental illness? Probably not. It's too depressing. The humor allowed him to tell this heartbreaking tale in a way that would get people to pay attention, laugh, be entertained, while still receiving Burroughs's message.

If you haven't already, read the book and see the movie, you disappointed.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

I Write Obituaries

Anyone who has had the nerve to call themselves a writer, has heard this question:

"What do you write?"

Being who I am, I often come back with, "I write obituaries" or "erotic novels for children". It depends on the audience, but it's a great way to get rid of people that you don't want to talk to.

But it's an interesting question, and something that most writers deal with. Because of how the industry it, it seems that genre crossing is never recommended. If your debut novel is a romance, then you sure as hell better write at least three more romance novels in order to build up your audience. If you want to cross genres, you better get a pen name or else the readers will most likely crucify you.

The problem I have had is that I am a genre crosser. I've written literary and genre fiction, short stories and novels, magazine articles and book reviews. It's not because I have ADD and it's not entirely that magazine articles pay and short stories often don't. I truly believe that each form of writing improves the other, and sticking to one median is limiting your writing potential.

For instance, in a novel, you have 90,000 words to play with. That's a lot. And I have read too many books that meander through the plot because they have so much to work with. When I have to write a 500 word magazine article about a person that has accomplished enough to fill a book, I am forced to be more selective. I'm sure I'm preaching to the choir here, but it would do a lot of novelists a lot of good to be more selective with their words, only putting in the passages which are essential to the story. The same goes for genre and literary. As Michael Cunningham so beautifully stated, "I get tired of reading books about people sitting in rooms talking about people sitting in rooms talking." If more literary writers tried their hand at a mystery or horror novel, they could learn a lot about plot and tension. Conversely, a genre writer could learn a lot more about character development and emotional drive by writing literary fiction.

The other question that is often asked is, "What do you write about?"

And I look at the asker like a deer in the headlights. "I'm sorry, I don't understand."

I can tell them what my novel is about, I could give them a one line synopsis of my short stories, but would those be accurate answers? Is what I write about judged by what I have already written? Like I said, I'm a genre crosser. Different things interest me and there's no telling what I'm going to be drawn to tomorrow or a year from now. Thou Shall Not is about the ultra-orthodox community in Israel while the project I'm working on for NaNoWriMo is about a reformed prostitute living on the north shore. Yes, I know there was a prostitution sub-plot in the first book, but that doesn't mean there is a connection. My short stories range from coming of age tales, to a girl getting the wrong zodiac sign tattooed on her hip, coming out to my Jewish grandmother or beating up a kid on the playground because he said thought I was a boy. If I only wrote about one thing, I would go nuts. To me, it's the equivalent of going to the office Monday through Friday from nine to five. It get's real dull, real quick.

To please the publishing industry, I have my answers about what I write and what I write about, the two line pitch and my platform. But the truth is, I write. That's it. And I wish it was a sufficient answer to the frequently asked questions.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Chill Mag article and Nanowrimo update

Due to the intensity of NaNoWriMo, the blogging hasn't been as frequent. So far, it has been a very interesting experience. Although it makes total sense, I was amazed at how easy it is to write 3,000 words a day if you just say, "I'm not leaving this chair until I make my word count!" You want to go to the bathroom. You want another cup of coffee. You want to watch bad day-time television. You will write those 3,000 words! Yes, chores are being ignored, laundry and dishes are piling up, I haven't seen much of my friends, and I'm becoming slightly sleep deprived...But it'll be worth it in the end (and if anyone wants to volunteer to clean my house, that would be great. Just think of it as a donation to the arts). As of right now, I'm at 14,500, almost right on schedule. But hopefully, I'll crank out another thousand by the end of the day.

The other aspect that has been amazing to me is how much your own writing can surprise you. When your streamlining the story, the thoughts coming faster than your fingers can type, it seems that the characters take on a life of their own. I heavily outlined the major plot points, but let the connecting scenes write themselves, and I found myself saying, "Shit, I didn't know that was going to happen." I think this is the good part of the writing, when your own story can surprise you, when, just like the reader, you're unsure of what could happen next. Whether or not I'll end up writing myself into a hole, it's too soon to tell. Right now I'm enjoying the experience, especially when I run into other sleep deprived writers at some cafe and I ask, "NaNoWriMo?" and they just give a zombie like nod and reply, "NaNoWriMo."

On another interesting note, I was featured in an article for Chill magazine, written by the very talented Alicia Eler. After years of writing about other people, it was a cool experience to be on the other side of the interview. Check it out, e-mail it to your friends, get this girl a little press to feed her ever growing ego!

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Television vs. Prose: how much is fiction?

My mother often tells me how she dreamed of being a forensic scientist and I wonder how much of it has to do with the Law and Order and CSI that she watches religiously. One day, I finally decide to burst her bubble and say, “You know those shows are extremely inaccurate, right?”

Although she knows that forensic scientists don’t wear Armani suits or interrogate suspects, she was rather disappointed about the flaws in the science of the shows, like when they find a blue fiber that automatically ties a suspect to a crime scene or when the DNA results come back in a matter of minutes, just in time to prosecute the killer. But she shrugs it off and says, “Well, it’s just a TV show. It’s doesn’t have to be 100% accurate.”

But this makes me think about all the research I do for my writing, knowing that if I make a mistake when it comes to police procedural or forensics that I will be reamed by my critique group and told that I need to be accurate or readers will have a conniption fit. When I began writing, I thought that since it’s fiction, I could take liberties, that the only resource I needed was my imagination. Of course, I quickly learned that I was deeply mistaken. Why is television not held to the same standards as fiction? Why can people like my mother shrug off the inaccuracies of her beloved shows, but get upset when something is unrealistic in novels?

Many other questions arose out of these conversations with my mother. While she watches crime drama, she seldom reads it, sticking to literary fiction when it comes to her reading. My girlfriend would never pick up a dark fantasy or horror novel, but races home to watch Charmed and Supernatural. She says it is because she reads and watches television for different reasons, one to gain insight and knowledge and the other for pure entertainment. Aside from the fact that I believe much insight and knowledge can be gained from fiction no matter which genre, it poses an interesting theory behind the different standards. If a 60-minute television show is viewed “pure entertainment” it is held to a lower expectation when it comes to being correct, whereas readers expect a lot more when they devote days to reading a novel.

I’m not sure this question could ever be completely answered, but I’m sure everyone has their opinion so leave comments. For now I’ll keep on researching, and my mother will keep on watching, living her dream vicariously through CSI despite its flaws.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Before you write...

Since my NaNoWriMo announcement, everyone has been asking me how I'm preparing. When I was asked how I prepared my first novel, I bluntly answered, "I didn't." The story marinated in my mind for a few months, but I didn't outline or write a synopsis. I am not recommending this method, especially for new writers. You'll save yourself a lot of time and effort by planning ahead. It just never worked for me.

But considering the circumstances of 3,000 words a day, I know I couldn't do this without planning. So for the first time I am outlining (in my own way), figuring out the turning points, secondary characters and subplots beforehand. That way, I know exactly where I'm going each day and can just push the story forward without having to brainstorm. So I am currently writing plot points on index cards and using my dining room wall as my novel's time line. The index cards work better for me because then I can rearrange them as needed. I'm more visual, writing out an outline on paper feels too constricting. So far, it's been working really well, new ideas are flowing in every day. I'm getting real antsy waiting for November 1st to roll around so I can get to the actual writing.

Aside from the plotting and brainstorming, I also like to use some motivational tools. Other than the sign on my laptop that says "Writers Write" I also have four books by my side. All of them save time and motivate.

If you don't' have these, you should really pick them up. Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass is necessary for the beginning stages of creating the novel. Maass knows story and he knows what sells, and it motivates me to hit the keyboard. Roget's Super Thesaurus is more comprehensive than any others I've owned. The Character Naming book is a great tool, especially when needing names from different origins. When I was writing Thou Shall Not, I needed tons of Hebrew names (and didn't think it was a good idea to name everyone after my cousins). Plus, it has lists of the most popular names by year. Overall, it saves a lot of brainstorming time. And finally Hallie Ephron's book is fantastic. It includes in depth worksheets to thoroughly develop your characters and weave the story's plot. Other chapters include writing your query, marketing, and other helpful tips. There are tons of books about writing, but these are the ones that really work for me.

Planning ahead is definitely a new experience. It's hard to say whether or not it is more effective until the novel is completed. Writers, leave your comments about preparing for a novel or other book recommendations for the newbie writers!

Sunday, October 22, 2006


Two years in a row, I have passed on National Novel Writing Month, but this year, I'm giving it a whirl. For those of you who don't know, this program challenges you to write 50,000 words in 30 days, cranking out the first draft of a novel in just one month. The emphasis here is on quantity, not quality, pushing the story forward without editing or revising. Avoiding the perpetual rewrite has never been a problem for me, but writing about 1,700 words a day, every day, is no easy feat. Although this seems challenging enough, I am going to take it a step further and attempt to complete a full novel, closer to 85,000 words, in the same time frame. So friends, family, may not be coming out of my apartment very often. Get your drinks in before November 1st.

I think what made me finally commit to doing it this year is a new novel idea. I know, I know, I'm supposed to be working on the sequel to Thou Shall Not, but this story has been lurking within me for a while and needs to get out. I cannot justify putting my current project aside and dedicating my days to my whim of an idea, but it's easy to tell myself, "You're just taking a month off. And after that, you'll have another novel under your belt." When you're not on contract with a publisher, it's easier to ignore your self-inflicted deadlines. It's easier to play with ideas, spent weeks researching and brainstorming, going out for drinks with friends, and all the other distractions that prevent us from finishing projects. Not only is NaNoWriMo giving me a deadline, it's giving me an insane deadline, and that competitor in me is excited to rise to the challenge.

I encourage anyone, not just writers, to give this a try. How many times have you told people, "I have an idea for a novel" or "I want to write a book someday"? Well someday is November 1st, and by Thanksgiving, you can tell your family that you are currently finishing up your first novel.

Monday, October 16, 2006

For the Love of the Game

A few weeks ago, I had lunch with an old high school friend. We met because she wanted to break into the world of freelance writing and needed some advice for getting started. Not that I’m the expert on such things, but I’m always up for helping out a fellow struggling writer.

I asked her if she had any clips and she said she had been writing for a certain Chicago newspaper, landing three front page stories.

“That’s fantastic,” I remarked, thinking that I have yet to have one of my stories on the front page of anything.

“Yeah, I guess. But I didn’t get paid for any of them.”

I was shocked when I heard this, knowing that it was sometimes necessary to write for free in the interest of gaining clips, but never 2,000 word feature stories. She then continued to tell me how she reviewed a few books for them as well, but they wouldn’t let her keep the books. Isn’t that the deal when you write book reviews? That you get a contributor’s copy and a free book?

It amazes me how many writers are writing for free and how many editors not only refuse to pay their writers, but act like they’re doing them a favor by publishing them. Not that we’re doing this for the money (and if you are, you are in the wrong profession), but we should be compensated in some form for our time and effort.

I told her all of this and she agreed that she was fed up with working for free, so she asked her editor if it was possible to be compensated for future articles.

He looked at her as if she was nuts, saying that she was hired as an intern and that after a year they could discuss some form of compensation.

Say she was assigned an article a week, putting about eight hours of work into each article. That is approximately 416 hours of free labor.

Editors and writers, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Is it unreasonable to expect compensation for work when we’re just starting out or should magazines and newspapers pay their employees, no matter what level they are at? Should we be writing simply for the love of the game or are we suckers for working without pay?

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Michael Cunningham at Northeastern University

As a writer myself, I usually don’t get all giddy and “fanny” around authors. But last night, as I approached Michael Cunningham to sign my books, I actually found my hands shaking and my heart racing. Of course I was with Nicole who was one shriek away from a heart attack, so I had to play it cool.

All idolizing aside, what surprised me was the lecture’s focus on genre fiction. (I could see the literature professors cringing as Cunningham declared “I love genre fiction!”) He said he found it interesting how commercial fiction is considered disreputable in some way when, historically, novels themselves were considered disreputable. About two hundred years ago, literary folks read poetry. Novels were considered entertainment, not art. More impressive, was that he said what many so many readers are afraid to say.

“I get tired of reading about people sitting in rooms talking about people sitting in rooms talking. Take a children’s book. At five, you want to read about ghosts and monsters. You don’t want to read a book about how difficult it is to be five.”

I completely agree. If I look at my favorite books, the ones I can recite full passages word for word, there is always a conflict, a plot, a journey of some sort, whether it be internal and external. It was really exciting to see a Pulitzer Prize winner publicly state it.

He then went on to talk about how much genre fiction influenced his writing. He read passages from Raymond Chandler and Ray Bradbury, and then turned to The Hours and read the sections that were directly influenced.

“I learned about depicting seduction from Raymond Chandler,” he stated, before reading the scene from The Hours where Laura Brown and Kitty kiss. He had taken Chandler’s snappy writing style and paid homage to it in his own writing. It was amazed to hear both back to back at he had taken an aspect of one author’s writing style and turned it into his own. He continues to be influenced by great works, in fact, the scene when Anna Karenina throws herself under the train to show the world how unhappy she was, is the inspiration for his next book. Unfortunately, he is so wrapped up in his screenwriting projects, that it may be a while before that next book is completed.

My favorite story of the evening was about a reader that Cunningham worked with. He tended bar and she was a hostess with four kids and no formal education. She worked three jobs, but no matter how tired she was, she always read for an hour before going to bed. Because she didn’t go to college, she read everything, both fiction and nonfiction. Cunningham gave her Crime and Punishment to read and after she was finished he asked how she enjoyed it. She said, “I really liked it. It was better than Ken Follett. But not as good as Stephen King.”

I think people like that are wonderful, that they take books as books without dividing them up into high literature and commercial fluff. A good story is a good story, no matter which section of the bookstore it is located in.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Recently Read

I recently finished two wonderful books: Don't Be Afraid by Rebecca Drake and Please Kill Me by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain. Two great reads, two totally different genres.

Don't Be Afraid is a fantastic serial killer thriller. A fast and gripping read with interesting, multi faceted characters. I won't go too much into detail as I'm reviewing it for Crimespree, but trust me, pick it up.

Please Kill Me is the uncensored oral history of punk. The entire novel is told through documentary-style interviews with the most notorious icons such as Iggy Pop, Danny Fields, and Dee Dee and Joey Ramone. I had never read a book told in this style before, and I was amazed at how effective it was. Many nonfiction books can be dense and hard to absorb, but the interview method really made the information stick. Plus, it was interesting to see the different points of view, reliving the same story but reading very different versions, leaving it up to readers to interpret what actually happened. Whether you're a die-hard punk fan or just interested in the era, Please Kill Me is a must-read.

If you've read these books, feel free to comment on what you thought. I'd be interested in your thoughts.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

The Struggling Writer as a Series Character?

Anyone who knows me, knows how much I read, devouring novel after novel like it was chocolate cake. Since I’ve started reviewing books for Crimespree, my frequency has doubled, and I’m beginning to see that for every book that blows my hair back, there is another one that makes me wonder how it ever got published.

As both a mystery writer and reader, I look for patterns in the novels that come across my desk: the pacing, character development, plot twists, anything that could help me in my writing. And the most recent pattern I’m noticing is the occupation of the protagonists. It’s not the typical P.I. or crime reporter or even Japanese assassins and ex-military police. The main character is just an ordinary writer, trying desperately to finish their first novel.

Who sees something wrong with that?

What drives me to genre fiction is that the characters are living far more exciting lives than my own. They’re chasing down criminals, falling madly in love and saving the world from nuclear holocaust. But I have recently read over three novels where the hero has the same occupation as I do: a crime writer desperately trying to land the fairy-tale book deal.

What attracts these authors to write these characters? I don’t think the life of a writer is particularly exciting. In all honesty, the highlight of my day is when I reach my word count or find a new and exciting way to kill people. I’ve never found a body in my backyard, been accused of murder, had to prove my innocence while falling in love with the gorgeous lead investigator. I do enjoy the novels about ordinary people thrown into extraordinary circumstances, but they are all stand alones. It is difficult, if not impossible, to base a series on a novelist who keeps stumbling upon bodies and getting involved with the crimes. To me I see this as amateurish, the writer obviously taking the easy road and basing a character off themselves.

Look at the great protagonists of genre fiction: Sam Spade, Jack Reacher, Harry Bosch, the list goes on. All of them are relatable without having jobs that the average person is familiar with. The protagonist’s occupation is just as important as the character itself, and maybe it’s just me, but the struggling writer just doesn’t cut it.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Revising: Productive or Procrastination

After catching up on chores and errands, I’m finally getting back into my 1,000 words a day routine: wake up, put on the coffee, and get my ass in the chair. But today I found myself doing something I seldom do, especially so early on in the novel: rewriting.

I have always been a draft person. Step one: write the piece all the way through. Step two: go back and make revisions. Step three: repeat step two until satisfied. I’ve been told many times that creating a formal outline would help eliminate the numerous drafts I insist on writing, but I never really took to it. I have my system. It works for me.

But this morning I found myself printing off the first fifty pages and reading it in a coffee shop all morning, jotting down notes, crossing out paragraphs and replacing them with new ones, littering the pages with arrows and grammar codes. It took about two hours and afterwards, I had used up all my energy and hadn’t increased my word count.

I have talked with plenty of authors who revise along the way, and claim how well it works for them, but I am still skeptical. The question is, when do we find ourselves wanting to revise? If it’s part of your routine, write a new chapter and revise the one from the day before, I can see how it can be effective. But today, I knew that the next scene I need to write is a difficult, not yet fully developed police procedural scene that I find really boring to write and therefore will surely turn out boring to read. The revisions this morning served as procrastination, knowing that I have to work on the book but not wanting to tackle the difficult chapter ahead.

While the revisions needed to be made, and it has given me motivation to push the story forward tomorrow, how much of today was wasted? Will I eliminate drafts because of the editing I did today? We’ll see.

Authors, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Is revising along the way productive or just procrastination?

Tuesday, October 03, 2006


After a long Bouchercon weekend, I'm finally settling back into the routine: much more writing, much less drinking. To all of you who were there, I had a wonderful time. And if you weren't, here are the highlights you missed:
  • The "Pacing my ass!" panel with Gail Lynds and Rebecca Drake, moderated by Jeff Abbott. It was really informative, interesting, and of course, entertaining, proving once again that it's not the title of the panel, but who is on it.
  • The St. Martin's party which took place at a converted church. A weird place to open a bar, but fun to drink under the stained glass Virgin Mary depictions.
  • The limo bus which drove us back to the hotel from the St. Martin's party. Picture a limo, then double the size and stick about 30 authors in it. A new way send authors on book tours?
  • The Anthony Awards where Crimespree won for best fan publication. Jon and Ruth truly deserved it.

And, the #1 moment you wish you were there for:

  • Author Marcus Sakey and marketing guy Matt Baldacci jumping into the freezing lake in nothing but their boxer briefs. Stay tuned for photos; we took a lot!

Unfortunately, I didn't have my own camera this weekend, but Tasha was kind enough to send one of me and future bestselling author Darwyn Jones

Monday, October 02, 2006

Finally on Blogspot

Hello everyone!

I've finally gotten a blog, but it may take a while to get all my links in order. Be patient and stay tuned, much more to come!