Friday, August 28, 2009

Cloudy Weekend Reading

As the rain continues here in Chicago and the sun isn't predicted to make an appearance until Monday, it is the perfect weather to cozy up with a book. Pun intended. Though I'm not usually a fan of cozy mysteries, here are a few I really enjoyed:

If you're not familiar with cozies (mysteries where the violence and sex takes place off stage and the action centers around solving a puzzle) start with Agatha Christie's MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS. She is the woman who started it all with her character, Miss Marple.

Once you have the background, you can move on to contemporary authors such as Julie Hyzy, author of the White House Chef mystery series. The latest installment isn't out until January, so take this weekend to catch up with HAIL TO THE CHEF and STATE OF THE ONION.

For a historical cozy, try Victoria Thompson's MURDER IN CHINATOWN. It is part of the gaslight mystery series set in turn-of-the-century New York and features midwife Sarah Brandt.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Writer's Block: Time Management

Time is something that is never on our sides. We have too little of it and we run out of it far too fast. Unfortunately, writer's need time to plan, edit, promote, and...oh yeah, write! Many of my clients are parents or have day jobs. When I tell them they should be twittering, updating their website/Facebook, and visiting certain bookstores, they look at me like I'm nuts. "Who has time for that?" In a perfect world, writers would write and someone else could take care of the marketing. But we don't live in a perfect world, so here are a few tips and tricks to more effectively manage your time.

Organize. I recently obtained a Blackberry and immediately fell in love. Not because of the internet or the twitter app (although I do love those) but because of the task reminders. I sometimes forget to open Outlook until I'm well into my morning or I'll forget to enter an item into my calender. Now, I can record tasks even when I'm away from the computer and if I forget, a little buzz and a couple beeps remind me. You don't want to waste time figuring out what you're supposed to accomplish that day. Write To-Do lists, utilize your smart phone, stick post-it notes to the computer, whatever works. But when you wake up and pour that first cup of coffee, you should already know what's on the agenda for that day.

Have a plan. My brain begins slowing around 6pm and dissolves into mush by nine. I work best and I'm the most creative in the morning. Therefore, e-mails, phone calls and errands are pushed to the afternoon. If I have a lot on my plate that day, I wake up a couple hours earlier. Some writers work better at night, which is fine. But if your muse visits you after dinner, make sure you complete all administrative tasks prior to sunset.

Set limits. If you wanted to, you could waste your entire day on Twitter and Facebook alone. It's a good idea to only dedicate 1-2 hours a day to social networking. Anything more than that takes away from writing and isn't the best use of your time. Also, it's easy to respond to every e-mail right when it comes in or to pick up every phone call. If you need to write a certain amount of words, don't let yourself answer the phone or check e-mail until you've reached your word count. You'd be amazed how much quicker you complete tasks when you focus on one thing at a time.

Use all the tricks. Why update both Facebook and Twitter when you can link the two? Why Twitter about every blog post when you can set up an automatic tweet? Why blog everyday when you can write five blog posts in one day (after you've reached your word count of course) and schedule them to post throughout the week. Using these tricks can save you precious writing time and overall, simplify your marketing efforts.

Delegate. There are many marketing and administrative tasks that you don't necessarily have to do yourself. Many of my clients hire me not only for my contact list, but so I can give the marketing effort they don't want to do themselves. Sending out books, visiting bookstores, setting up Twitter and Facebook; all of these take time and many authors would rather use that time to write. If you're not in a financial position to hire an assistant, publicist or manager, reach out to your network. Is your husband a computer whiz? Let him manage your website and Facebook pages. Don't have time to visit every bookstore in the US? Tell your aunt in Omaha, your college buddy in Ann Arbor, your in-laws in LA and your Bubbe in Boca to head down to their local bookstores and libraries and ask for your book. If you delegate the tasks you don't need to complete yourself, you will have less stress and more time to write.

Feel free to comment with your own time-saving tips and tricks. We can never have too many!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Must-See Monday

The Book Cellar (4736 N. Lincoln) hosts "The Brother's Delacorte" on Wednesday, August 26th at 7:00pm. This is group of YA authors - Daniel Kraus, James Kennedy, and Adam Selzer - are all published under the Delecorte imprint. Stick around until 8pm for Never Too Old, the YA book group for adults.

If you prefer a reading that's 21+, head over to Red Kiva for 2ND STORY, also on Wednesday at 7:00pm. A combination of storytelling, music, and wine; what better way to spend you evening?

Head over to Bloomingdale's (900 N. Michigan) on Thursday, August 27 5-7pm to meet Laura Caldwell, author of the Izzy McNeil Trilogy. Receive a free book with any Bloomingdale's purchase and Laura will be happy to sign your copy.

Friday, August 28th at 5:30pm, Th!nk Art (1530 N. Paulina) hosts the William Burroughs 50th Anniversary Celebration. $60 in advance and $75 at the door earns you food and open bar and the proceeds will fund a documentary film on the famous author. Music by Maya Jenson, food by David Leigh and readings by Anne Waldman, Kurt Henner, and Davis Schneiderman.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Weekend Reading

After reading Sarah Weinman's review of Thomas Pynchon's INHERENT VICE, I'm going to have to pick up a copy and see for myself. He lightens up with this one, Weinman speculates that could have read Hard Case Crime novels as research, and the book trailer definitely intrigued me.

Also new to the shelves is VANISHED by Joe Finder. This is the first in the Nick Heller series, a high powered investigator with Special Forces training. All of Finder's novels are gripping page-turners, so VANISHED is a perfect weekend read.

If you want something light and fun, I recently read Sherrill Bodine's TALK OF THE TOWN. The novel features gossip columnist Rebecca Covington, a fabulous fashionista who knows everyone worth knowing in Chicago. The tone is light, fun, over the top, and Chicagoans should get an extra kick out of it.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Wednesday Writer's Block: Channelling the Muse

Writers are artists. The work we produce is subjective and comes from inspiration. But when you're on a deadline, you don't have time to wait for your muse to show up. There's a reason most career novelists can write a good book every year: they know how to channel their inspiration.

A Few Tips for Channelling The Muse:

Location. Write in a place that's free of major distractions. Background noise at a coffee shop or park can be beneficial, but you don't want the phone ringing off the hook or the dog begging for a walk.

Timing.Writing at the same time every day will train your brain to be creative on a regular schedule. Most writers don't have all day to reach their word count; they squeeze in a few hours of writing before work or after the kids have gone to bed. Writing on a regular schedule will cut down on the brainstorming or "warm up" time and will prevent hours spent staring blankly at a computer screen.

Think. This one seems pretty obvious, but it's easy to forget your story throughout the day. Most of the writing process is brainstorming, and what's great about brainstorming is you don't have to be in front of a computer to do it. While you're doing the laundry, commuting, sitting in a waiting room, think about your story and it's characters. Try to solve some of the plot problems or develop the characters in your head (it also helps to carry a small notebook). The more your story is in your head and the more problems you work out prior to sitting down at the computer, the easier the writing will come.

Read. I know a lot of writers who cannot read during the writing process, but for most of them, that only applies to fiction. Reading regularly will keep you accustomed to storytelling. If you are a crime writer, you may not be able to read crime fiction mid-manuscript, but you can read newspapers, magazines, and non-fiction books. For me, it helps to read in the genre I'm writing. It often acts as inspiration, but mostly I read to see how other writers handled similar situations. We'll often hit obstacles such as point of view shifts or backstory; it helps to see how other writers conquered the hurdles.

Some writers have their favorite chair or a lucky pen, but for me, these practical tips are enough to keep the creative juices flowing. What about you? How do you channel your muse?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Chicago Contingent On Vacation

I'm heading out to San Francisco first thing in the morning and leaving my computer at home. If you need a fix of book reviews and literary musings, check out some of my colleagues:

Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind
The Rap Sheet
Jason Pinter
The Outfit Collective

For must-sees, try:
Time Out
Flavor Pill

We'll be back to our regularly scheduled programming with Writer's Block Wednesday.

Writer's Block: Q&A with Linwood Barclay

I had so much fun with Marcus last week, I decided to invite an author again this week. Joining today's writer's block is Linwood Barclay whose latest novel, FEAR THE WORST, launched this week. Linwood is a master at suspense and, before heading out on tour, he was kind enough to offer a few pearls of wisdom:

Dana Kaye: Speak a little about your writing process. After writing eight novels, how has your writing process changed over the years?

Linwood Barclay:Well, for one thing, I don't print them out anymore. I used to print out each chapter as I went, but now I just write the whole thing as one file without ever hitting the "print" button. But I suspect that's not what you meant by the question. I don't think my process has changed all that much, but I hope I'm getting better at it with each book. I'm aware of the things I don't do as well as I'd like, and try to improve each time. I'm also learning to listen to that voice in the back of my head that warns me when something is not going well. I've regretted it in the past when I've not listened.

DK: What draws you to writing ordinary people thrust into extraordinary circumstances?

LB:I'm an ordinary person, so I write about the kind of person I know best. I find it easier to get inside the head of a regular guy than some brilliant detective or spy or ex-military loner. Not that I don't love books about those kinds of heroes, but I don't typically identify with the situations a Jason Bourne might find himself in. But a father whose daughter is missing, I think that's a character, and a situation, a great many readers can imagine themselves in.

DK: All of your novels are packed with suspense. What tips and tricks can you offer about maintaining tension on every page?

LB: I like chapters to end with a revelation, or a turning point. That bit of white space between chapters creates a "dramatic pause" effect for me. And I love performing the thriller equivalent of a magic act. I've got you looking over here, but what really matters is happening over here, up my sleeve. But mainly, I try to write something that keeps me interested. If I'm getting bored, then the reader will get bored.

DK: The world of publishing has drastically changed since the publication of your first book. Kindle sales are rising, newspapers are shutting down, etc. How are your promotion strategies adapting to the changing market?

LB: I'm glad I'm not the one who has to devise the promotional and marketing strategies. But FEAR THE WORST is the first book where I have gone on not only real tours -- Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand, the U.S. and Canada -- but a blog tour. I like the part about not having to pack. The situation with newspapers concerns me deeply, having worked for them right up until last year when I decided to work exclusively on books. And among the many things newspapers have cut back in the space devoted to book reviews. It's more difficult to get books reviewed in the pages of a newspaper, but the blogs and other sites are trying to fill the gap.

DK: What piece of advice can you offer aspiring novelists?

LB: Two of three things. The first, of course, is to write. Even if you are the only one who ever reads the material. And persevere. I had written a couple of novels by the time I was 21, and thankfully, they were not published. (Not that there was even the slightest risk of that happening.) My first book -- not a novel -- wasn't published until I was 41. And my first novel came out when I was 49. So, you have to stick with it. The other advice: Read. You can learn so much by reading. All sorts of things. Stephen King's book On Writing is as good as anything I've ever read when it comes to advice in this area.

Check out Linwood Barclay and FEAR THE WORST, coming to a bookstore near you:
Borders in Baileys Crossroads, VA August 13 at 7:30pm
M is for Mystery in San Mateo, CA August 14 at 7:00pm
Mysteries to Die For in Thousand Oaks, CA August 15 at 1:00pm
The Mystery Bookstore in Los Angeles, CA August 15 at 4:00pm
Mysterious Galaxy in San Diego, CA August 16 at 2:00pm
Murder By The Book in Houston, TX August 17 at 6:30pm
Joseph-Beth Booksellers in Cincinnati, OH August 18 at 7:00pm
Books and Co in Dayton, OH August 19 at 7:00pm

Monday, August 10, 2009

Must-See Monday

PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS author Chris Garnder visits the downtown Borders (150 N. State St.) on Wednesday, August 12th at 12:30pm.

Stop by Quimby's (1854 W. North Ave.) on Thursday, August 13th at 7:00pm to celebrate the launch of THE 2ND HAND's 32nd issue. Includes readings by Patrick Somerville and CT Ballentine.

Also on Thursday, check out "Prose, Poetry and Pints" at the Wild Pug (4810 N. Broadway). Readings by novelist Stephanie Kuehnert and poet Robert McDonald as well as an open mike.

For you out of towners, Marcus Sakey is doing a Midwest regional tour this week and maybe coming to a bookstore near you:

Joseph Beth Booksellers in Cincinnati, OH on Wednesday, August 12th at 7:00pm
Mystery One Bookshop in Milwaukee, WI on Thursday, August 13th at 7:00pm
Aunt Agatha's Bookstore in Ann Arbor, MI on Saturday, August 15th at 1:30pm

Friday, August 07, 2009

Weekend Reading

Received my package of Pinter books this week, so I'm planning on diving in to THE FURY and THE DARKNESS over the weekend. THE FURY is the first in the two-part Henry Parker epic and THE DARKNESS releases in December. Love that Pinter is flooding the market and I love that he sent me advance copies because I know I won't want to wait til December for book #2.

The Crimespree Awards were announced Monday. Award the winners by picking up their books:
Favorite Book of 2008: TRIGGER CITY by Sean Chercover
Best in an ongoing series: CHASING DARKNESS by Robert Crais
Favorite comic books writer: Brian Azzarello (Author of THE JOKER and the 1000 Bullets series)
Favorite original paperback: MONEY SHOT by Christa Faust

Another winner is Once Upon A Crime in Minneapolis, voted favorite mystery bookstore. If you're in the area, be sure to stop by.

And finally, in case my last two posts weren't clear, pick up a copy of THE AMATEURS by Marcus Sakey. Last time I'm going to say it, I promise.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Writer's Block: Q&A with Marcus Sakey

Though I love doling out writing tips and discussing marketing trends, sometimes I like to let someone else grab the mic. So today, I've invited Marcus Sakey, a talented Chicago author, to discuss writing and his latest novel, THE AMATEURS.

Me: Talk a little about your writing process. How has it changed from book #1 to #4?

Marcus: More than I thought it would. That old axiom about every book being different? It's spot-on true. I've become a more organized writer with each book, which helps when the fear sets in. I outline the overall shape, and where it makes sense, I apply a three-act structure. There's less wing-it-and-pray and more take-this-hang-glider-off-the-cliff-and-still-pray.
This is a strange and scary way to make a living. You need to strike a balance between planning and inspiration. Lean too far either direction and you're likely to end up with something that's either stale or scattered. I guess the biggest change is that having done this a couple of times, I know to expect certain traps. I know that around page 200 I'm going to hate the whole damn project. I know that nearing the end, I'm going to hit problems that seem unresolvable. But I also know that (fingers crossed) if I just keep banging my head against them, eventually I'll break through.

Me: What research do you do for your novels?

Marcus: I tend to research all the fun stuff. I've ridden with gang cops, gone shooting with Special Forces, toured the morgue, learned how to make chemical weapons, practiced picking a deadbolt. Generally, if research involves a fair chance of hurting myself, I'm in.

Me: THE AMATEURS is about 4 friends; are these characters based on people you know?

Marcus: The characters aren't, but part of the setup is. When I lived in Atlanta I had a group of die-hard friends that got together every Wednesday night for drinks and conversation and laughter. It was a very intense, very intimate friendship, and that provided part of the idea of the novel. That said, there was less sex and murder in the Wednesday Night Crew than in the Thursday Night Crew. Praise be to Allah.

Me: How did the idea for THE AMATEURS come about?

Marcus: My books don't get traction in my head until an issue seizes me. In this case, there were two: first, I wanted to write a novel about how best friends could become the most effective enemies. And second, I wanted to explore the question of whether it's better to save the lives of a lot of people you don't know, or a handful you do. Those kinds of questions are what really fuel my books, or at least fuel me in writing them. I think that's why I write crime fiction: I like both playing with ideas and writing about pistol whipping.

Me: What advice would you give to an aspiring novelist or debut author?

Marcus: It's always the same. Ass in chair, fingers on keyboard. That's how it works.

Want to hear more? Stop by Marcus's launch party tomorrow, 7:00-10:00pm at Sheffields (3258 N. Sheffield). Free beer and books available for sale.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Must-See Monday

Start the week off right and head over to the Twilight Tales open mic, tonight at 7:30pm at the Bourgeois Pig Cafe (738 W. Fullerton). This long running reading series has an emphasis on speculative fiction, so bring in your work-in-progress and take it for a test drive!

The Bookslut Reading Series returns to Hopleaf (5148 N. Clark) on Tuesday, August 4th at 7:30pm. This weeks guests are journalist Katherine Joyce and Chicago Tribune columnist Mark Caro.

Head over to Sheffield's (3258 N. Sheffield) on Wednesday, August 5th at 7:00pm for RUI: Reading Under the Influence. This month's featured reader is Chicago author Marcus Sakey. He's both a talented writer and talented drinker, so it's sure to be a good time. He joins Dennis Frymire, Tim Weaver, and RUI's Amy Guth.

If you like what you hear on Wendesday, return to Sheffield's Thursday 7:00-10:00pm for the release of THE AMATEURS, Marcus Sakey's fourth novel. The drinks are free and the books are for sale.