Thursday, October 30, 2008

Accept the ADD

I'm a multi-tasker. Ok, I'm borderline ADD. As I write this I'm also doing laundry, working on a book proposal, and ordering a new swim suit from To sit still and focus on a single project is too much pressure. If I get stuck while working on the novel, I can wash the dishes while I think, but if I simply sit and try to get myself unstuck, I'll keep drawing a blank.

The ADD translates into my writing as well. Currently, I'm reworking one novel, researching and plotting another, writing a nonfiction book proposal, and writing two short stories. This is on top of whatever book review or magazine article I have due that week. The good part of this is I always feel like I'm accomplishing something. Seldom does a day go by when I don't work on some form of writing. But the question is, am I spreading myself too thin? Does the work suffer or does it just take longer to complete?

I know authors who write 2-3 books a year on top of whatever short stories they submit to anthologies. Others, write just one book a year. Literary authors (and Dennis Lehane) can take up to five years working on a single project. Is there a difference in the quality of the work? Sometimes. I don't think Nora Roberts is known for her brilliant prose and innovative ideas. But who sells more? Her or a Pulitzer Prize winner?

I read a lot of mid-list genre fiction writers who, in my mind, could stand to take a little more time with their work. A lot of writers are talented, but rush the process which leads to a mediocre novel. But there's a pressure - from publishers, agents, and fans - to produce. The majority of writers who earn a living solely from writing books are genre writers producing a book a year. Like any other job, the more you work the more you make.

If you're one of those people who can write two, brilliant books a year without breaking a sweat, well I hate you, but I still tip my hat. Most of us need time to produce quality work. Looking back on the first book I wrote, I see how most of it's problems could have been avoided if I had simply slowed down and let it marinate. The question is, if I had let it marinate and used that time to write a short story, would I have ended up with both a quality novel and a quality short story?

Most of this boils down to process. Some people write fast, others don't. Some need to busy themselves in order to overcome writer's block while others need to sit in the chair and stare at the computer. Some can take on numerous projects while others need to be fully absorbed in the piece they're working on.

Often, I need to remind myself that if I start too much, I won't finish anything. But sometimes, the multi-tasking is more effective. I'm the type of person who can easily shift their focus without letting the work suffer. In fact, I'd argue that the work would suffer more if I sat in the chair and trudged through the novel because it would come out sounding forced.

But if it's a question between quality and quantity, which is more important? Is it better to produce lots of mediocrity or a few high-quality pieces?

Monday, October 20, 2008

Out with the old?

Yesterday, Nicole and I went to see our friend in a production of Pirates of Penzance. The singing was great, the acting was great, but I felt like the play itself was so slow paced. I laughed a few times, I know the play isn't as much about the story as it is about the comedy, but so often I felt like screaming, "Get on with it already!"

At intermission, I looked through the program and saw that the play was first performed in 1879, long before "talking pictures" and television. The expected pace for telling a story was different. Now we want movement, more forward momentum at a quicker speed. We have a low tolerance for meandering.

The question is, does this translate into books? I love Edgar Allen Poe and Arthur Conan Doyle, but they certainly told a story at a different pace. I can't say that any of their books could be described as, "gut-wrenching suspense" or "edge of your seat reads". Poe is one of my favorite authors and although is work is creepy and brilliant, I wouldn't call it fast paced.

I talked about this in a post last month, but I find it interesting that the issue of pace continues to come up. Is it an issue of a generation? Have we become too accustomed to instant gratification that the books and plays of the 19th century are too dated to enjoy? I remember taking 19th century literature and hating it, partially because there was too much Jane Austen, but mostly because the books couldn't keep my attention. Was it simply a style of the times? Is our style much better?

I have yet to draw a conclusion on any of this, but I do think it's sad that it has become difficult to appreciate the classics because of their long-winded prose and meandering storylines. Nowadays, more emphasis is placed on pacing and plot than it is on style and prose. But is this a good thing? Or could we stand to learn something from our 19th century ancestors?

Monday, October 13, 2008

Back from Baltimore

I'm back and almost fully recovered from the fun-filled weekend. This was easily one of the best-run Bouchercons ever, thanks to Judy Bobalik and Ruth Jordon. Everything was organized, easy to find, and the panels were interesting and well-attended. Some of the highlights:

Hope everyone who attended is recovering and those who missed it will consider attending Bouchercon 2009.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

This just in...

Pick up Time Out Chicago tomorrow to read my review of Sean Chercover's TRIGGER CITY. The book officially launches at Bouchercon, so the timing is perfect!

Bouchercon Baltimore

Tomorrow I'll be heading off to Baltimore for Bouchercon, the biggest (and arguably the best) mystery/thriller conference. As always, I look forward to seeing old friends, meeting new ones, and of course, having the opportunity to talk about books all weekend. In a way, these conferences are business. You go to network, make contacts, reconnect. But I've found that the more you can just relax and enjoy yourself, the more contacts you'll inevitably make.

I think of it like this. Most Americans (or at least the ones I know) don't like to get sold to. If they see a canvasser on the street asking for donations, they cross to the other side. They breeze right by the Gap greeter and say, "Just looking!" They avoid Avon ladies, Mary Kay representatives and the dreaded Amway salesman. We don't want to hear the pitch.

Too often, I hear newbie writers attempting to network with agents or editors by "selling" their book. Never works. The editor or agent will tune out or give looks to a buddy to come bail them out of the situation. Like most Americans, they're not interested in being "sold" on the "next big novel".

But there are two lines that never get tuned out: "I'm a big fan of your work. Can I buy you a drink?" Taught to me by a master networker (and drinker), these lines provide the agent/editor/big name author with two things: The opportunity to talk about themselves and to get free booze. Who would say no to that? In turn, you have the opportunity to learn about them, about the industry, and since one drink usually leads to another, you'll have time to solidify that contact.

Eventually, agent/editor/big name author will tire of talking about themselves and ask you a question, such as, "What are you working on?" or "Do you currently have any books out?"

You can then talk to them in casual conversation without it feeling like a business transaction: "Actually, I'm in the process of querying agents now. My book is about (insert elevator pitch here)."

If your pitch is good enough, agent/editor/big name author will ask for more. They may ask who you've queried so far. If they're really interested they may offer to read it or big name author may offer you a reference for his/her agent. But give it time. Remain at ease, enjoy the conversation, and if it leads you to nothing other than a, "Nice meeting you," you still made a contact that may come in handy later.

Another word of advice is not to seem like a leech. There's nothing less appealing than someone only talking to people that could maybe help their career. I was at one conference and a small-time author asked me if I was someone important. Joke was on him because a month later, his book came across my desk and I didn't review it solely because of how he acted. (I know it seems spiteful and childish but ask any reviewer and they'll tell you they'd do the same thing). Everyone, whether it's a fan, a fellow newbie, a big name author, or a reviewer, could be helpful in some way. Seldom do I have a conversation where I don't learn something. Acting like a social climber is a turn off so don't be so quick to dismiss people.

On that note, I offer everyone safe travels to Charm City. I'll be heading straight from Synagogue to the airport ao I'll be arriving a little later on Thursday evening. Be sure to check out my panel, MONEY BACK GUARENTEE on Friday at 3:00pm in International A. I'll be talking to Lee Child, Patti Abbot, Ali Karim, Bill Crider and Rae Helmsworth about the books they love.

Happy networking and I'll see you all there!

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Embrace the Kindle?

After reading Tess Gerritsen's blog post and having a discussion about it at Rosh Hashanah dinner and after having a long debate with my girlfriend about whether or not I need to get rid of some books, I feel inspired to blog about e-books and the Amazon Kindle. I was skeptical of e-books and whether or not they would have a place in the market. Now, I think most of us agree they won't only have a place in the market, but that they will change the publishing world forever. Personally, I have yet to convert to e-books and I do not own a Kindle. I like having actual books. I like holding them, seeing them on my shelf, having them stacked in my office. We use so much technology every day, it's nice to put it to rest a few hours. But for all the cons, most of which are silly and stem from people's fear of chage, there are plenty of pros to E-Books:

They take up less room. When I go on vacation, I have at least four books in my suitcase. We have over five bookshelves in our apartment, double stacked, with an extra row of books on top of each. We have books under the bed and stacked on the desk. A Kindle can hold 200 books. That's one whole, double-stacked bookshelf you can fit into your carry-on. Forget about planning which books to take when you go away for the week; you can take them all.

They're more Eco-friendly. I hadn't really thought about this pro until we visited the Smart Home at the Museum of Science and Industry and they had a Kindle displayed. Think of all the resources that go into producing a book, all of which could be eliminated by switching to digital. Plus, they yield a lot less waste than a library full of books.

They can be more user friendly. Eyes not as strong as they used to be? The Kindle can enlarge the print so you don't need reading glasses. Like to underline passages and scribble things in the margins? The Kindle allows you to do that, plus you can edit your notes later. It even has a built in dictionary and access to Wikipedia. Everything you need is in the palm of your hands.

Books are cheaper. Sure you're shelling out a few hundred dollars for the device itself, but the books you buy for it are no more than $9.99. Tess proclaims in delight that the King James Bible can be downloaded for under two bucks. If you normally buy a lot of books you end up saving money, but if you're an infrequent book buyer, you'd probably just break even.

It's not just for books. You can also have magazine and newspaper subscriptions via kindle. Nowadays, most people read those online, but the Kindle is a lot easier on the eyes.

So with all the pros, what are the cons? Other than being old fashioned, or skeptical of technology or having no other reason other than simply liking real books, the biggest danger of E-books is piracy. Now there are regulations in place that you can't download NYT bestselling books for free, but if the trend catches on, I guarantee someone will develop the technology to pirate e-books. It changed the music industry a great deal, but I fear that since there isn't as much money in publishing, that piracy and free downloading could put many publishers in jeopardy. It's far harder to steal a book out of a store than it is to steal a file online.

I'd love to hear people's opinions on this. Whether or not your a fan of e-books, I think we can all agree that they're growing in popularity and that they are going to change the future of publishing. Are there more pros than cons? Will actual books always have a place in our society? I used to say that newspapers would always be around, even if the majority of people read them online, but recently, I'm not so sure.