Wednesday, September 30, 2009
Dana Kaye: Tell us a little about your writing process. How has it changed from book one to book four?
Jason Pinter:Writing the first book, the hardest thing for me to learn was pacing. I think most every first novel is a little overwritten, and when writing a thriller the first think you need to do, as Elmore Leonard so wisely said, is cut out the boring stuff. So I trimmed probably about 70-80 pages from THE MARK. Now as the series progresses, I feel like I have the pacing down pat, but I want to make sure that every book keeps the characters growing and changing. If the book doesn't have some sort of emotional impact on the character, it's not worth writing. I want readers to have a stake in what happens to the characters, so that's something I've worked hard on, especially in the new books coming out.
DK: THE FURY is out now and the THE DARKNESS is out in December. Multiple books a year seems to be the growing trend. What led you to publish two books back to back? Is this something you'll be doing every year?
JP: When it came time to write the fourth book in the Henry Parker series, I wanted to do something different and bigger. Probably my biggest inspiration for these books was James Ellroy's masterful L.A. CONFIDENTIAL. And what I loved about that book was how he took a seemingly isolated incident, the Nite Owl murders, and as you looked closer you saw it was the tip of a massive and sinister iceberg. I'm no Ellroy, but I wanted to write a story that was much larger in scope, intimate in character, but possibly a snapshot of the time (as Ellroy's book was of 1950's Los Angeles). I'm not sure if this will happen every year, but I think that because these two books should be read back to back it works well.
DK: You came from a publishing background as an editor. How has this shaped the way you write?
JP: I think I'm a good self-editor, and I also listen to my editor (who is very, very wise). I've fought battles before with authors who refused to believe that I had their best interests in mind. And anyone who thinks their prose doesn't need a fresh set of eyes probably isn't a very good writer. So I'm a pretty ruthless self-editor, but I also almost always defer to my own editor, as she's really made every one of my books better.
DK: Newspapers are shutting down, indie bookstores going under and kindle sales on the rise. How has the rapidly changing world of publishing changed your marketing strategies?
JP: Much more attention has shifted online, and that's both a blessing and a curse. Rather than add to newspaper coverage of books, online coverage seems to be replacing it. Newspapers in a lot of ways signed their own death warrants, but I'll never understand how they can ignore some of the biggest problems with their book sections. Many papers, including some of the biggest in the country, seem to almost willfully ignore the books that people are actually reading. And when you lose touch with your readers and the community, you're living on borrowed time. Thankfully the online community is full of passionate hardworking reviewers, critics and bloggers who don't care about what other people think they 'should' be covering--they just write about what they love. Which is why there's such a great mix of online sites devoted to mysteries, thrillers, romance, literary fiction, non-fiction, and everything else. I only wish newspapers would embrace such diversity.
DK: You mentioned earlier that James Ellroy inspired THR FURY. Has Ellroy read THE FURY? Any joint signings in your future?
JP: I wish and I wish. Though Ellroy is on Facebook, so perhaps I can cyberstalk him. Can one be 'The Demon Dog of Facebook'?
DK: What's one piece of advice you can offer aspiring writers?
JP: Use rejection as fuel. We've all been there, we've all faced rejection, but the successful writers internalize that frustration and anger and use it to hone their craft. It's easy to blame external forces--editors, agents, the industry--it's harder to sit back, look in the mirror and work your butt off. Success is often as much about discipline as talent.
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
Tonight's featured must-see is James Ellroy who will speak at the Harold Washington Library (400 S. State) at 6pm. Don't miss the "Demon Dog of American Crime Fiction".
Also tomorrow at 6pm, Audrey Niffenger will be signing copies of her long awaited second novel, HER FEARFUL SYMMETRY, at the Newberry Library (60 W. Walton). Don't want to miss Ellroy? Niffenger is also signing tomorrow at 7:30pm at the Swedish American Museum (5211 N. Clark).
The Chicago literary magazine, MAKE, is having their release party on Thursday, October 1st. Stop by the Roots and Culture Contemporary Art Center (1034 N. Milwaukee) at 7pm for readings by Rob Schlegel, Rob Duffer, Brian Anderson and Emily Ferris.
On Friday, October 2nd, head up to the Book Stall in Winnetka (811 Elm) for the Ragdale Foundation opening cocktail reception and supper at 6pm. Ragdale is a wonderful organization and reservations are required, so visit the website for more information.
Friday, September 25, 2009
Ray Bradbury fans should pick up THE BRADBURY CHRONICLES by Sam Weller. Sam is a Chicago author and spent months with Bradbury in preparation for this biography. It's a fascinating read and you learn everything you could possibly want to know about the world famous author.
More than biographies, I love reading writer's journals to gain insight into their life and their writing process. Some are comical, some are profound, others can be very dark. A few of my favorites include THE DIARIES OF FRANZ KAFKA, Albert Camus's notebooks 1951-1959, THE UNABRIDGED JOURNALS OF SYLVIA PLATH, and WINDBLOWN WORLD: The Journals of Jack Kerouac.
I believe that all writers should read ON WRITING by Stephen King (which I mentioned in a previous post) but I'm also adding LESSONS FROM A LIFETIME OF WRITING by David Morrell to that list. The book includes much of the same information given in his talks or panels, but those of you who haven't seen the accomplished writer speak should definitely pick up the book.
Lastly, for you Chack Palahniuk fans out there, check out STRANGER THAN FICTION. The true accounts are often more absurd and more unsettling than his novels and short stories.
Thursday, September 24, 2009
When Kaye Publicity has 50 fans, everyone will be entered to win one of these fabulous books:
TALK OF THE TOWN by Sherrill Bodine
THE END OF BASEBALL by Peter Schilling
LOSERS LIVE LONGER by Russell Atwood
One of the "Moon" books by Rebecca York
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
My rule of thumb is don't blog unless you have something to say. JA Konrath blogs about the world of publishing on a regular basis. Sarah Weinman reviews books and blogs about industry news. The Outfit Collective is a team of Chicago authors (since a daily blog was too much of a commitment for any one writer). All of these blogs are clear, focused, and updated regularly. Therefore, they are effective marketing tools.
When I started this blog three years ago, I did it because I had something to say. I had just started reviewing books, recently graduated from college, and had lots of thoughts and musings about writing. Now, I have become more focused, using this blog as a way to promote talented writers, especially those in Chicago, and to help aspiring authors write better books and get published. Full disclosure, this blog is also a great place to promote my clients and my business. But promotion isn't the only reason I blog, which is why, I think, The Chicago Contingent works.
For the authors still unsure whether or not they should start a blog, ask yourself the following:
- Do I have something to say?
- What would my focus or angle be?
- Do I have time to blog? (Depending on length and speed, posts can take up to an hour)
- Would people be interested in reading it?
- Gives readers a preview into your writing style
- Expands your name recognition and Google-ability
- Helps you hone your craft. The more you write, the better writer you become.
- Is an outlet to market your books and interact with your readers.
Monday, September 21, 2009
Local author Jeff Phillips reads from his new book WHISKEY PIKE at Quimby's (1854 W. North Ave.) on Wednesday, September 23rd at 7:00pm. His book is described as a "bed-time story for adults", complete with illustrations. I'd go just to see what an adult bed-time story would look like.
If you want something that won't put you to bed, head over to Washington Square Park (901 N. Clark) on Saturday, September 26th for the Banned Books Week Read Out. Between 12:00pm and 3:00pm, authors will read from their banned or challenged books with a signing to follow.
Friday, September 18, 2009
Of course, I'd begin with Phillip Roth, one of my favorites. I first read PORTNOY'S COMPLAINT in college and it blew me away. I thought, "You mean, all Jewish mothers are overbearing and don't have boundaries?" I then read the trilogy of AMERICAN PASTORAL, I MARRIED A COMMUNIST, and THE HUMAN STAIN. All great books, but the next Roth book that really left me breathless was PLOT AGAINST AMERICA. I loved the alternate history and his clever story line.
For a glimpse into the lives of Orthodox Jews in Chicago, pick up CROSSING CALIFORNIA by Adam Langer. It is a great exploration of the northwest side neighborhood, and since I came from a family of Orthodox Jews, it was exceptionally poignant.
Myla Goldberg's BEE SEASON is one of my favorite books of all time. It is an authentic, well crafted story, not to mention beautifully written. This coming of age novel explored Jewish mysticism, parental pressures, and sibling relationships. I picked up BEE SEASON when it first came out, didn't put it down until I finished, and have re-read the book several times since.
There are hundreds of great Jewish authors - E.L. Doctorow, Paul Auster, Studs Terkel - but these are a few of my favorites. Feel free to comment with yours and have a happy new year!
Thursday, September 17, 2009
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
Dana Kaye: What is the first thing you look for in a query letter? Is there something that can make or break that submission?
Sara Wolski: A good query letter is clear, concise, and follows a specific format. I get almost all of my queries via email, and there can be a few pitfalls to that medium. Informality is one pitfall, along with casual errors, typos, improper grammar, and my favorite, accidentally addressing the query letter to another agent or something standard like “Dear Gentlemen.” A great query letter is one that tells me (succinctly) what the book is about, a brief introduction to the author and his writing credentials, and hopefully, it piques my curiosity. Nathan Bransford, an agent with Curtis Brown, has an excellent blog on the anatomy of a good query letter (http://blog.nathanbransford.com/2008/03/query-letter-mad-lib.html).
DK: After you've asked for pages, what do you look for? What's your decision making process?
SW: If the query letter has done its job and hooked my interest, I’ll usually ask for the first three chapters or the first fifty pages. Less frequently, I might request the full manuscript. At that point, I’m looking for a story in which I become completely absorbed – I know what I’m looking for in writing quality so the winning combination is if the craft is there structurally and I can get lost in the story. Assessing the market is also a consideration (i.e. is there a book already published that’s exactly like this, has this story been told before, etc), but overall, if a book has a great story, compelling storytelling, and strong writing, chances are there will be a publisher for it. Sometimes books that don’t quite fall into a clear genre (genre-benders or “hybrids” and whatever else they’re calling them these days) are a bit harder to sell on principle, but “General Fiction” has become a genre of its own these days, so sometimes that’s not a huge factor in my decision-making process.
DK: Agents are always inundated with manuscripts and pages often get lost in the piles. Is there anything writers can do to stand out? Is there anything that will make you dig someone's manuscript out of the slush pile?
SW: The slush pile can be very daunting, but again, a well-written query letter automatically stands out from the rest. Queries printed on scented, pink paper do not stand out in a positive way, nor do query letters with fancy fonts or photos. Authors often forget that this is first and foremost a business, and agents love it when authors are on the same page – kitsch and cute is not the way to an agent’s heart. A professional query is always best. Once a manuscript is requested, if the author is sending it by post, the best way for it to not get lost in the jungle of paper is to label the envelope with “Requested Material” in large, clear writing. Sending it certified mail is another way to assure its arrival without bugging the agent. Sometimes assistants and interns handle the mail and requested manuscripts (and at times will even read it first), so certified mail can be a less obtrusive way of confirming this. However, I don’t mind at all when authors follow up with a short, professional email 3-4 weeks after sending their requested manuscripts. With agents dealing with a million different irons in the fire, a polite reminder can be helpful.
DK: Many agents are saying now, "If you don't hear from me, I'm not interested." What is the follow-up protocol?
SW: This is a product of the emailed query letter, unfortunately. I know how frustrating it can be to send missives out into the ether and wonder if anyone is ever even reading them, so I try to follow up with every query letter with either a “No, thank you” or a “Yes, please.” Some agencies put on their websites that replies are not guaranteed with emailed queries, which is somewhat better, but the best practice is to research each agency to learn their submission guidelines. The way email is, sometimes queries get snagged in spam filters. This is unavoidable, but again, I think it’s acceptable to send a short, professional, and polite follow up to ensure that the query was received and read. If there is still no response, I’d move on. The fact of the matter is that publishing can be a long process and with the amount of agencies out there, there’s no sense in dwelling on whether one of them received a query letter. Authors should be submitting to as many agencies as possible – hundreds if possible! It’s such a subjective process too, so the more agents queried, the better chance an author has of attaining representation.
DK: What is the most common mistake made by writers?
SW: I find that the biggest mistakes made by writers all stem from not understanding the publishing industry. Authors have to realize that this is a business, and even though it’s virtually impossible to be completely objective about one’s book, authors have to separate the rejection factor and the business methods from their intellectual property. Directly related to this is the mistake of letting emotions get in the way. I can’t tell you how many nasty responses I’ve received over the years from authors I have rejected. As a writer myself, I do understand the frustration and desolation of rejection. What writers might not realize is that agents have to deal with rejection with almost every book they sell. Georges Borchardt, one of the most famous agents (with clients like the Tennessee Williams estate, Ian McEwan, Kate Millett, the Samuel Beckett estate, the list goes on!) talks about how Elie Wiesel and William Faulkner were rejected from several big publishing houses before finding their editorial homes in a recent interview he did with Jofie Ferrari-Adler in P&W (http://www.pw.org/content/agents_editors_qampa_agent_georges_borchardt). With email it’s so easy to just click “reply” and send an ugly tirade of insults to the agent that did the rejecting: regardless of how polite and sincerely regretful the rejection may be, some authors insist on having the last – bitter – word. I guess it gets it out of their systems. Needless to say, this does nothing to help them. I have had some severe replies to very nice rejections and have not hesitated to tell my agent colleagues about it. The bottom line is that graciousness and professionalism speak volumes in every situation.
DK: What is the biggest piece of advice you can offer writers seeking an agent?
SW: My advice is to do the homework and stay active. Even when an author is published, there is no time to sit back. To get an agent, read agents’ blogs, research how to write a strong query letter, look up the agencies you’d like to submit to and follow the submission guidelines. Don’t agonize over whether everything is perfect – make the materials as strong as you can and run with it. Send it out to as many agents as possible that represent books similar to yours. Once the submissions are out, don’t sit back and wait. Submit short stories to literary magazines whenever possible, submit articles and make contacts within local publications – learn how to pitch articles to magazine and newspaper editors. The more you develop your pitching skills the better you will be at pitching your book to agents and editors. Create a website and blog frequently and on topic. The more active an aspiring author is about furthering his writing career through every avenue and means possible, the more likely an agent will find him and offer representation – not to mention that the stronger an author’s platform is, the easier it will be to publish the book and most importantly, sell copies.
Sara Wolski is the founder and president of Calliope Content, a full-service literary agency. She is newly based in Chicago after spending four years in the publishing industry in New York and London. She enjoys general fiction, educational books, children's literature, historical fiction, thrillers, mysteries, literary fiction, memoir, narrative non-fiction, and business books for the trade. Visit her online at www.calliopecontent.com.
Feel free to comment with follow-up questions for Sara and she'll do her best to answer them.
Monday, September 14, 2009
Stop by Book Cellar (4736 N. Lincoln) for Local Authors Night on Wednesday, September 16th at 7:00pm. This month's guests are Tasha Alexander (Tears of Pearl), Claire Zulkey (An Off Year), Scott Blackwood (We Agreed to Meet Just Here) and Joan Napre (Beautiful Dreamer).
Also on Wednesday, David Ellis signs copies of his new book, THE HIDDEN MAN at the Webster Place Barnes and Noble (1414 W. Webster). The show doesn't start until 7:30pm so you could try to make both, but if not, catch David Ellis at the Oak Brook borders (1500 16th St.) on Friday, September 18th at 7:00pm.
If you'd rather not fight the traffic on a Friday night, head over to Women and Children First (5233 N. Clark) at 7:00pm for the Granta 108 Release Party. Have a drink with editor John Freeman and meet some of the Chicago Contributors.
Friday, September 11, 2009
Another new release is TOWER by Ken Bruen and Reed Farrell Coleman. When you combine two noir masters with cult followings, the product is nothing short of brilliant.
After watching the first season of True Blood all week, I'm feeling compelled to go back and re-read some Charlaine Harris. If you like the show but haven't read the books, pick up DEAD UNTIL DARK and LIVING DEAD IN DALLAS to see where the hit HBO series got its start.
Wednesday, September 09, 2009
Practice. You should always read your work aloud for editing purposes, but for a reading, it's important to practice the finished piece a few times and learn your story better. If you're familiar with the words, your piece will sound like storytelling rather than reading.
Gestures and Eye Contact. These will also help you tell your story rather than read it. When the stage lights hit you, it's easy to keep your head down and get sucked into the page. Don't forget to connect with your audience and meet their eye. It's hard to ignore someone who's looking right at you. Gestures help get your story off the page and animate the material. As your character absentmindedly scratches the back of his neck, go ahead and demonstrate.
Slow Down! I'd say 90% of readers go too fast and I guarantee 100% of them think they read at a fine pace. Most of us talk too fast to begin with, but when we're anxious, we only speed up. Always slow yourself down and give every word full value. Often, a slower speed helps build the tension and suspense.
Speak up! Most readings you'll have a mic, but if you don't, make sure you get your voice up so even the folks in the back can hear you.
Mind your body. When you read, you don't want your feet glued to the floor, but you don't want to be running the marathon either. Command your presence on stage by turning to either side every few pages and addressing your full audience. Again, it doesn't hurt to practice this at home.
The best practice is doing this in front of an audience, so attend a few open mikes to get more comfortable. Once you're published, you're going to have to read aloud and speak in front of audiences, and by then, the stakes are a lot higher. As with anything, practice makes perfect, so start attending the smaller readings before you hit the big time.
Monday, September 07, 2009
Need some book recommendations? Stop by Book Cellar (4736 N. Lincoln) on Wednesday, September 9th at 7:00pm for Book Reps Rep Book Club Books. The area's publishing experts share their picks for great book club books.
Prose, Poetry and Pints returns Thursday, September 10th at 7:30 at Wild Pug (4810 N. Broadway). This month's readers include Aldo Alvarez (Interesting Monsters), Kathie Bergquist (A Field Guide to Gay and Lesbian Chicago), and Mark Kendrick (Desert Sons). And don't forget to bring a couple pages to read during the open mike portion!
If you're in the western suburbs, stop by the Oak Brook Barnes and Noble (297 Oak Brook Center) on Saturday, September 12th at 2:00pm to meet Tasha Alexander and pick up your signed copy of TEARS OF PEARL.
Or, if you're further north, stop by the Schaumburg Public Library for "Coffee, Tea, and a Smoking Gun" from 10:00am-4:30pm on Saturday. The event is free, open to the public, and includes workshops some of Chicago's finest authors: Jamie Freveletti, Sherrill Bodine, Laura Caldwell, Patricia Rosemoor, and others.
Friday, September 04, 2009
One of the most famous fictional detectives is Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch. There are a lot of great books featuring the LA detective, but my two favorites are THE LAST COYOTE and THE NARROWS.
Kate Gillespie is Robin Burcell's hard working San Francisco Police Officer. With this series, start at the beginning with COLD CASE. Three more follow.
Another favorite series detective is Brian Freeman's Jonathan Stride. Often teamed up with female counterpart Serena Dial, Stride is a compelling character who throws himself head-first into every investigation. IMMORAL is the first in the series, followed by STRIPPED, STALKED, and IN THE DARK.
For a non-series detective, and one of my top ten favorite books, check out CLOCKERS by Richard Price. Rocco Klein is the definition of overworked and underpaid, and is one bad shift away from burnout. At times you hate him, others you feel sorry for him, changes scene by scene. But his character has depth and is extremely well written, which is compelling no matter how you feel about the guy.
Wednesday, September 02, 2009
Last week, instead of bringing my laptop to the local cafe, I went to a Barnes and Noble to work. Their cafe was positioned across from the customer service desk, close enough that I could hear each inquiry. In the three hours I was there, I heard seven people ask for some sort of book recommendation:
"I liked GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO. Do you have another book like that?"
"My dad really likes Law and Order. Do you have any books like that?"
"My daughter read all the Stephanie Meyer books. Now what?"
As an author, you want your book to be the answer to these questions, and unless you have a rapport with the book seller or are on the NYT bestseller lists, it probably won't.
Obviously, you cannot visit every bookstore in the country, take the seller out for a drink and schmooze, but there are plenty of ways to make a connection without breaking the bank or using up your frequent flier miles:
Identify Key Bookstores. Since you can't contact every bookstore in the country, pick out ones that are priority. These are the bookstores in your area and the ones outside your area that sell a lot of books. If you write crime fiction, stores like Seattle Mystery Bookshop, Murder by the Book in Houston, and Mystery One in Milwaukee do a lot to promote authors and sell a ton of books to collectors (which means signed first edition hardcovers). Literary authors should check out Book Passage in San Francisco and Book Cellar in Chicago. They have great programming, extensive mailing lists, and a very loyal customer base. You can also consult with your publicist on these matters.
Book Signings. Once you've identified the key bookstores, you'll need to schedule signings. Most authors get discouraged at out of town book signings as there is usually a low turnout. Even Michael Connelly and George Pelecanos only had 20 people at their signing and they're well known, bestselling authors. Remind yourself that you're not only there to sell books. The main purpose is to meet the seller, start a rapport and sign their stock.
Drop Ins. Many of the high profile bookstores book up fast. If they don't have any signing time available, ask if it would be okay for you to drop in and sign their stock. Always let the book seller know you're coming so you can ensure they'll be available. It also doesn't hurt to bring bagels, doughnuts, or some other treat for their break room. People are a lot more likely to sit and chat if they have food in front of them. You should also sign stock at all the bookstores in your area, but don't worry about schmoozing every seller. You don't have the time and if they're not the type of store that hand sells books, it's not worth it to you anyway.
Galleys and handwritten notes. If you are unable to make it to a few of the priority bookstores, make sure to send a galley along with a handwritten note. The galley will encourage bookstore employees to read the book and hopefully recommend it. The handwritten note shows that you care enough to take the time out of your schedule, even if your schedule didn't allow for a special trip.
Give 'em some buzz. If there is a bookstore that has been particularly supportive of your career and always recommends your books, it doesn't hurt to send some business their way. Thank the bookseller in your acknowledgements, mention them on your blog or twitter account, recommend the store next time your on the radio. They'll never forget it.
Tuesday, September 01, 2009
Tonight, check out the bi-monthly performance series, Homolatte, at Big Chicks (5024 N. Sheridan). Enjoy a reading by the talented Darwyn Jones and musical stylings by Phil Putnam.
If you'd rather drink and buy books, Tasha Alexander is celebrating the release of her new novel, TEARS OF PERIL. Stop by the Lincoln Park Borders (2817 N. Clark) tonight at 7:00pm, buy a book and meet Tasha, then head out to drinks with the gang afterwards.
For more drinks and a lot more debauchery, check out RUI: Reading Under The Influence on Wednesday, September 2nd at 7:00pm. This months readers include J. Adams Oaks (Why I Fight), Nadine Warner, Kyle Chaney, and Gapers Block editor Ramsin Canon. As always, the kind folks at Sheffield's (3258 N. Sheffield) host.
I cannot believe I've lived in Chicago all my life and never knew about the Book Cellar Adult Spelling Bee (4736 N. Lincoln). I have every intention to check it out on Thursday, September 3rd at 7:00pm. Guest judges include Random House sales rep Bridget Piekarz and authors Claire Zulkey, Billy Lombardo and Stacey Ballis.
Not much going on over the holiday weekend, plenty of time to relax and read!