Saturday, January 31, 2009

Triumph of the Vernacular

As I was reading Charles' entry on good old advertising practice, I could not help thinking of one of my very favorite pieces of writing and what Wright Morris called a 'triumph of the vernacular'.
This was authored by one of my writing gods, Mark Twain, not as any sort of literary enterprise, but as a letter of complaint to the Hartford Gas Company in about 1901.

Sirs,
Someday you will move me almost to the verge of irritation by your chuckle-headed Goddamned fashion of shutting your Goddamned gas off with giving any notice to your Goddamned parishioners.  Several time you have come within an ace of smothering half this household in their beds and blowing up the other half by this idiotic, not to say criminal, custom of yours.  And it has happened again today.  Haven't you a telephone?
Yrs
S.L. Clemens

I consider this a prime example of how a great writer composes with language like a great musician composes with music.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Good Old Advertising Advice

Charles here.

Every day at work I post a photocopy of an old ad on the company fridge in the break room. Not an old one we did, I mean an old ad. My favorites date from the late 1800s but I post stuff that was done up to around the mid 1960s. I do this for several cliché reasons, (you can learn from past trends, you have to know where you’ve been to see where you’re going, classic ideas never go out of style) and a few not so cliché reasons (they’re unintentionally hilarious, it give the copywriter intern some photocopying to do). In my hunt for more ads, I hit the local library where I found a half-dozen books on advertising that were all published before 1940. I checked them out and settled in for a fun night of outrageously dated advice. Only thing was, it wasn’t so dated. Here’s a random sampling:

“It would be obviously unwise to pitch the key of the copy so low as to miss the preferred prospects, but dignity is never inconsistent with simplicity.” G.B. Hotchkiss, Advertising Copy, 1936, Harper & Brothers, p.266

“Someone has said that genius is simply capacity for hard work. There is no sort of work in which a combination of genius and hard work is so necessary as in advertising. A good idea happens to almost anyone at almost any time. A trained advertising man recognizes a good idea when it comes and sees a way to work it out. The hard work comes in working it out, for even a good idea requires a lot of patience and careful work before it is ready to use. I am inclined to believe that hard work on a bad idea is better than no work on a good idea. I am inclined to believe that painstakingly carefulness counts as much in advertising as brilliancy.” Earnest Elmo Calkins, The Business of Advertising, 1915, D. Appelton & Company, p. 335

“…it has not been established that copy that is nothing but a bare statement will not sell goods. It will. It always has. But the office of advertising is to produce maximum results, in excess of any results that can be got by simply offering, and exposing, the goods. To accomplish this there has got to be an appeal in the advertising that transcends the mere talk about goods – the personal equation.” George French, 20th Century Advertising, 1926, D. Van Nostrand Company, p. 274

Sure, it’s common sense stuff, but what is now common sense was once keen insight and unique perspective. And it’s fun to see how writing styles and word choices have changed over the years, with all those double-negative clauses and run on and on sentences. This experiment was fun, so now I’m hunting down old books on writing to see what gems they have to offer. I’ll keep you posted.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The First Official Type M for Murder E-book Survey

The surveys are coming in hot and heavy, and I'd just like to say thanks to all of you. Please, if you haven't done it yet, please do so. You'll find it in the blog entry below.

I'd really like to get feedback from reviewers and, especially, publishers to find out how you view e-books, so if you're either of those, please help us!

One thing I should have stated from the outset: any information I receive will be kept strictly confidential! You have my word on that.

Look for survey results on February 10th!

Cheers,

Rick

Selling Virginity??

Debby here, and I was going to sticky to writerly issues until I got sidetracked on The Daily Beast this morning and saw this article. Imagine writing a novel about a young woman making this choice--how would it end? What would happen to the young woman after the deflowering event? But I'm getting ahead of myself. Here's the situation, and the link if you want to read it yourself. http://www.thedailybeast.com/blogs-and-stories/2009-01-23/why-im-selling-my-virginity/

Natalie Dylan (a pseudonym) is a 22-year-old woman who recently earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Women’s Studies, and soon will be entering a Masters Degree program in Marriage and Family Therapy. She's already got a thesis idea, which is the value of virginity, and to test this she's selling her own virginity on the Moonlight Bunny Ranch website. The highest bid so far is $3.8 million. Yep, that is 3.8 mil--not a typo. I forgot to tell you, she's raising money for her tuition.

But back to the novel. There are so many threads here it would take me a year to figure out in which direction to take the plot. First, I'd want to handle exactly why there's a monetary value placed on virginity, but there obviously is. Then there's the fact that the intact hymen can be faked. There are surgical repairs done in this area. Nor is everyone built the same. But what's the big deal, anyway? Is it just because I'm a woman that I wonder about this?

Let's say, though, that it's a one-time event , it transpires, and Natalie gets her millions. What happens after that? It's over, right? (or not?)

How does Natalie feel about selling this experience after she's on the other side of it? That's where the novel would get interesting. And since she's in Marriage and Family Therapy and plans to do counseling in this field, how will this event color the way she interacts with her patients? And dating? I assume that's an option, but will Natalie feel like telling her partners or future husband about how she bought her penthouse at twenty-two?

This young woman could be heading for more trouble than Anna Karenina--or at least that's how I'd write the book. Oh, one last note: I had the good fortune to go skiing with some friends and the lovely house we're staying in, right on the main drag in Park City, is for sale. Two point eight million. A bargain! Or, if you had to make a choice, which would you pick?

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The time has come

Blechta here, back on the e-book beat.

In order to continue with this topic, I need all those nice folks reading Type M to give me a bit of research material on e-books, readers and your preferences. Ideally, I’d like feedback to come from authors, readers, publishers, reviewers, anybody who reads or is involved in the production of books.

Here’s how it will work. Copy the following information. Click below on my name to automatically create an email, then paste in the survey information, write in your answers and send the email off to me. Over the next few weeks, I’m also going to be contacting all sorts of people for more feedback and then I’ll post it here on Type M. Please help! A survey (even if a rather unscientific one like this) is only as good as the amount of people who are sampled. To sweeten the kitty (this is called the “premium”), one name drawn at random will receive a copy of my most recent novel, A Case of You.

-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-

1. I have/have not tried an electronic readers. (Cut out one. If you answer “have”, please share your impressions of the device.)
2. I own an electronic reader. (Yes or no, and please give the make if you answer yes.)
3. I would like to own an electronic reader. (see previous question)
4. Electronic readers are an abomination! I will never own one!! (Yes or no)
5. For authors: I would prefer my work to published in electronic form only. (Y/N)
6. For authors: I would prefer my backlist to be available in electronic form only. (Y/N)
7. For authors: If I’m going to be published, it’s books only for me! (Y/N)
8. For publishers: We already publish e-books. (Y/N)
9. For publishers: We are planning on publishing e-books. (Y/N)
10. For publishers: Our backlist will only be available as e-books. (Y/N)
11. For reviewers: I already review books in e-book form. (Y/N)
12. For reviewers: I plan on reviewing books in e-book form. (Y/N)
13. For reviewers: I wouldn't review any book published in e-book form. (Y/N)

If you care to elaborate on any of your answers, please feel free!

Send your survey to rick@rickblechta.com

-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-

That’s it. I’ll give everyone two or three weeks (depending on the flood of answers).

Thanks for your help!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Exhaustion

Vicki here, to tell you that I’ve had quite the week.

I am going on a big book tour in March/April for Valley of the Lost and am acting as my own publicist this time, so I’ve been putting together press releases, making phone calls etc. I got the final edits from Rendezvous Crime for May’s Gold Digger: A Klondike Mystery. Poisoned Pen are rushing the third Smith and Winters, Winter of Secrets, into December, and the editor didn’t like the ending so it has gone back and forth like a ping pong ball.

Oh, and I ordered two cord of wood, not quite knowing what that actually meant, and had two cord of wood dumped in the middle of the driveway. Being winter and having a very long country driveway, I have a snowplow service so I had to get all that wood moved before the next snowfall.

So today’s posting is all about links.

Debby and I are touring together. If you live anywhere “West”, please have a look at our schedules and drop in if you can.

www.booktour.com/author/vicki_delany and www.booktour.com/author/deborah_turrell_atkinson

I was a guest at Friday’s forgotten books (http://pattinase.blogspot.com) a few weeks ago and wrote about Modesty Blaise. I got a letter from a woman who runs a Modesty fan page asking if I’d write about Modesty and me. Which I did and you can read it (as well as the original piece) at: http://modestyblaisebooks.com/interviews.html

Next week, I’ll let you know if I’ve survived.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Sunday's Guest Blogger: Lyn Hamilton

Lyn Hamilton is the author of eleven novels of “archeological mysteries”, featuring antique dealer (and sleuth) Lara McClintoch. The are clever, engrossing and, well, if you haven’t read any of them, you should! A link to her website is provided at the bottom. Thanks, Lyn!

-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-

I have been musing lately on the ability of fiction to illuminate social issues, to get to the heart of human experience through the telling of stories that are not, well, real. I am not sure why I’ve been thinking about this, other than that it has already been a long, hard winter here in Toronto even if it’s only January, and the gloom perhaps lends itself to thoughts of some of the ills of our society and how they are best documented and explored.

It is also because of my interest in the case of Herman Rosenblat. Rosenblat wrote a Holocaust memoir called Angel at the Fence, and it was to be published by Penguin’s Berkley Publishing, which just happens to be the publisher of my archaeological mystery series. Rosenblat wrote that he met his wife Roma at a sub-camp of Buchenwald where she is supposed to have sneaked him food. Trouble is, that isn’t true: apparently, they met on a blind date in New York. With that revelation, and Berkley’s decision not to publish the memoir, Rosenblat joins the likes of James Frey who also made up a memoir. Unlike Rosenblat, Frey’s book got published before the subterfuge was revealed, and he is perhaps best known for annoying Oprah no end.

Rosenblat’s excuse, I suppose you could call it, for making this all up, was that he wanted to better spread his message. (Comments on the other side of this argument are to the effect that a heart-warming false memoir like this just demonstrates our culture’s unwillingness to confront terrible events like the Holocaust.)

So why pretend it’s true? If the story is as compelling as those who read it, unaware of the subterfuge, have said, would this same book labelled a novel not have spread the message just as well? Do we ignore the messages of fiction, because they’re not populated by real people? True, biographies and memoirs sell better than fiction, by and large. Is that the reason for doing this? They sell better?

I am a judge in the Arthur Ellis awards for the best crime writing in Canada this year. That means I am working my way through a lot of crime fiction these days. In the last few weeks alone, I’ve learned a great deal about human trafficking, about abuse of children, about war, about the human toll of great natural disasters – all through the medium of mystery fiction. Does that make what I have learned any less relevant? I don’t think so. I’ve always been proud to be a part of the mystery community, because I believe that popular fiction can illuminate social evils – in fact has led in the exposure of ills in some cases – through the compelling telling of stories that may not be absolutely real, but which represent the world in which we live vividly and accurately. In fact, one of the reasons I began my archaeological series was to talk about issues of patrimony and heritage, and the loss of same by people all over the world, by the action of greedy smugglers and art dealers, to say nothing of museum curators. I wanted to do that in a way that people would find engaging, but at the end of the day, if someone thought twice about buying a pre-Columbian object on their trip to Peru and sneaking past customs in Canada, I’d be pretty happy. Of course, I wanted readers to stay up way too late to find out who dunnit, but I had other reasons for writing as well, and fiction, based on my knowledge of some of the less than acceptable goings-on in the heritage community, seemed as good a way as any of getting at those issues. By and large, mystery writers work hard to make sure that their fictional depictions mirror real life issues. Readers of mystery fiction want to be entertained, but they also want to be informed, and mystery fiction is a valid way of doing that.

Regards, Lyn Hamilton

PS – There’s a free mystery up on my website (www.lynhamilton.com) for a limited time. It’s in manuscript form, but you’re welcome to download it. I only ask that if you do so, you consider making a donation, however small, to a women’s shelter in your community. Speaking of social issues!!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Trying to Focus

Whenever I can get to the computer, I've been following this discussion of focus groups vis-a-vis critique groups with interest. I write more or less in a void, and thus am always surprised by the reaction of anyone who reads the final product.  I seem not to have the slightest idea how other people perceive things.  I more or less write to please myself. Not to say that I don't care about reader reaction, because I do.  I really want people to like my books.  However, I find that if other people read my work while it's in progress, I am more influenced by their opinions than I like. How to find that perfect balance between salability and artistic satisfaction?  

Speaking of satisfaction, I did get to go to my own book launch at Poisoned Pen Bookstore on the 17th, and it was a lovely event.  We had a big crowd and sold a lot of books, and I was on my game.  What with all the excitement around my house over the past month, I was so happy to be there, talking about writing and not worrying about life and death issues, that I was practically giddy.  

The Sky Took Him has been getting some nice reviews, and I have managed to do a couple of guest blog spots and a radio interview or two, even if I did have to cancel most of my personal appearances for the next couple of months.  I'm not able to work on the next book right now.  Even when I'm at home, I find myself unable to concentrate properly at the moment.  Yet I think about the story all the time.  Many years ago, a psychic told me that I would write books by talking into a tape recorder.  Never have done it.  Perhaps I should consider trying it now.

(Would that mean the psychic could see the future, or did she just put the idea into my head, where it has been stewing for 30 years?)

Friday, January 23, 2009

Focus people, focus!

Now here’s Charles with the lesson of the day.

Debbie asks, “How is a focus group different than a crit group? Except perhaps that the product is already bound for commercial perusal or viewing? How different is a focus group from the MFA writers' programs, I wonder? Maybe some of you can help me understand this process.”

Indeed I can!

Crit groups, writing groups and other support networks for writers provide a place to safely share works in progress and hear helpful, constructive criticism from friends or professors who want to assist the writer in making the most of their talents. Sometimes those observations can be blunt and there’s always a few people who join just for the privilege to rip apart someone else’s efforts, but in general these groups help nurture and develop a writer’s talents.

Focus groups are a lot less friendly. And that’s their job.

A good focus group has a good cross section of the target demographic. Sometimes it’s specific—homeowners who make 100K+ a year, women with advanced degrees who work at home, college students who went to private high schools—sometimes it’s general—males 18-35, married home owners, people who don’t own cell phones. You get a group of them in the room (usually by paying them $50 an hour), and show them the ad campaign without explaining the ideas/strategy behind it. Usually you show 2 or 3 campaigns since you’ve got them there already and that will give you a broader range of feedback to work with. These folks should not be in advertising, should not be connected to the company's whose ads they are reviewing (no telecom people in telecom focus groups), and they should not be related in any way to the ad agency or its people. The person running the focus group needs to present the information as if they were just brought in to run this show and don’t know a thing about what’s going on. The folks who made the ads, by the way, are gathered in the other conference room, watching the focus group on closed circuit TVs. And yes, the participants know they are being filmed. But these people don’t know who wrote the ad and have nothing invested in it. And are brutally honest.

The presenter runs through the campaigns and asks lots of questions, starting with the obvious—did you like it?—down to the unusual—if this ad was an animal, what would it be? Ok, that’s a bit extreme, but when if you’re in a focus group and somebody’s asking you about the creative, it can all seem crazy. Typically the comments start off all positive, then they swing wildly so it’s all negative, eventually settling somewhere in the middle. And more times than not, focus groups confirm what you already know, which is why clients aren’t crazy about paying for them. However, it’s the small things that you learn from them that enable you to fine-tune the campaign to make it more effective.

One reason why a focus group can’t/won’t/probably wouldn’t work with a book is that it’s too long. How many average readers would willingly read a whole book that was just handed to them—a commitment of a lot of time for very little/no reward?

So will I do it with my book? Maybe, but I gotta finish the damn thing first.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Focus groups and crit groups

Debby here, on the right day. Whew. Rick certainly knows more about focus groups and screen writing than I do--I was fascinated by his comments. Especially how one person's name on the screen credits shows the rest of the writers had their names removed because they didn't want to be associated with it. Did I understand that correctly?

I've got some questions. How is a focus group different than a crit group? Except perhaps that the product is already bound for commercial perusal or viewing? How different is a focus group from the MFA writers' programs, I wonder? Maybe some of you can help me understand this process.

I work with a critique group, an ensemble of four or five writers who meet once a month (approximately) to help each other with our plot credibility, character development, story structure, and the occasional grammatical error, though we don't dwell on those. We all make 'em, especially in early drafts. And these folks, believe me, are looking at very early drafts. Their tact is admirable.

We have little or no ego involved in this process, so maybe that's one big difference from a focus group. We also have a tacit agreement that if two or more people give the same advice, the writer should pay attention. When we have disagreements, the final decision is up to the writer. We all want our work to be published and get good reviews.

To answer Charles's question, if my crit group is similar to a focus group (is it??), then it helps me immeasurably. It is an eye-opening experience to hear others digest my story, and I can see where the writing is weak, the plot is thin, the characters' actions and thoughts need to be better explained, and where truth and believability are at odds.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Sidetracked!

Blechta here (and on the correct day, too!)

Charles’s and Vicki’s most recent blog entries are forcing me away from my current topic of electronic books. I just have to wade into their discussion.

I’m generally an empathetic person (that’s EMpathetic, as opposed to just plain pathetic), and I think it’s a strength that makes me a better writer. It also makes me prone to conundrums and often finding myself conflicted. I see both sides of the coin too easily.

I think I’ve sorted out how I feel about submitting work to a “focus group”, though. I am against it.

Vicki is correct about fiction writing being a primarily solitary avocation. In Hollywood, however, it’s customary for several people to work on a script. Having a script writer as a family member, I have a bit more knowledge as to how it works, as well as how well it works.

Yes, you will often see several people getting credit for a screen play. The usual reason is that one person is hired, writes the screenplay, then another writer is hired to fix it because the producer or director (probably both) don’t like it. This can go on several times. The reason you often see the director’s name among the writers is because he or she gets in there to tweak it (most directors consider themselves screen writers as well). Some people make a very good living in Hollywood as “script doctors”, those whose sole job is to come in late in the game to punch up the script and make it more marketable. The screen writing process often becomes very acrimonious. As a matter of fact if you see a certain name in the screenwriting credits (and I’m sorry, I don’t remember it and can’t get hold of my brother-in-law to ask him), it means that someone who should be getting credit wanted their name removed because they think the finished product stinks and don’t want to be associated with it.

So how does this fit into the idea of using focus groups for novels? Just this: you have an idea for the end of your story that your focus group doesn’t like, do you change it? The movie industry often does (L.A. Confidential is a prime example of this.). If your sole focus in writing is to sell as many books as you can, regardless of what you have to do to accomplish this, then by all means, go with a focus group. (How you go about finding the right focus group is beyond me.)

Vicki, I have to disagree with you when you say that movies are different from books. They’re not. However, the Hollywood movie business has chosen to try to create successful movies based on a popularity contest. The sole focus of most productions is to make lots and lots of money. Period. Witness the host of sequels and movies based on popular television shows. If focus groups at screenings don't like something, it's changed, even if it means calling all the actors back and re-shooting.

It seems to me that the difference between books and movies is that most of us (writers) choose to write to please ourselves first, and then, hopefully, bring the publishers, and eventually, the readers on board.

With my most recent novel, A Case of You, I made the decision to be true to what my story-line dictated all along: a tragic ending. I’m an optimistic person by nature. Believe me, I fought the ending that my story created, going so far as to write two alternate endings. They just did not work. I didn’t set out to write a tragedy, but there it is: I wrote a tragedy.

If I’d been working in a Hollywood model, the publisher would have brought in someone else to write a happier, more upbeat ending, something that would make readers cheer instead of weep.

But sometimes, weeping is good.

-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-

Next week, I'll get back to electronic books. Please feel free to comment on my previous two entries. I'm surprised more people haven't commented. Let me know your thoughts so the discussion will be more rounded because of other people's input. After all, we are discussing the future of publishing!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Focus? Not so hasty.

Vicki here, ready to wade in on Charles' provocative idea: focus groups for books?

He notices that movies are created with the help of focus groups, as are advertising campaigns. Why not books?

My opinion: Yes and No.

No: Books are not movies or music and they are not ad campaigns. Books differ in one enormous way from those other art forms in that books are at their very essence solitary activities. Solitary on the part of the writer (in most cases – there are writing pairs; I know of no writing teams other than TV and movie tie-ins) slaving away in her lonely garret, fingers worn to the bone, blinking at the sunlight when he ventures out of doors once the magnum opus is complete. Compare that to a movie where the credits roll for about ten minutes and the writer (there might be many) is listed far down the line. The consumer of books is also engaged in a solitary activity. With the exception of storytime at the library or the rare instance of a J.K. Rowling reading to ten thousand people in a football stadium, the reader reads alone. The experience of reading is not enhanced by the participation of someone else (Whatcha doin? Wanna go for a walk?) in the way that listening to music or watching a movie can be. A novel cannot be ‘spoiled’ by interpretation in the way that a good screenplay can be turned into a bad movie with the help of a lousy director and no-talent actors. Music, no matter how well written, can be ruined, by bad acoustics, a poor arrangement, out of tune instruments.

For these reasons, I think a lot of attempts to consider the future of books in terms of music or movies, or even ads, is not taking into account the unique aspects of books.

Yes: I doubt if the book has been written that doesn’t need help. Thus we have editors, proofreaders, copyeditors. (I will relent a bit on my previous point and admit that a book littered with grammar and spelling errors might well spoil the reading experience). Coincidently, my own editor just this morning sent me her thoughts on my new MS, Winter of Secrets. It’s a sad story, she said, make it sadder. Reading her comments, I agreed, and I will change the ending.

No: I once joined an online critique group. It was awful, and if I'd taken their comments to heart it might have scuppered my writing career. It’s been said that a poor critique group is worse than none (or is that an agent?). One member insulted, literally, me personally as well as my character. Someone took a section of dialogue, re-wrote it and said “there, this is much better.” If I’d taken their advice it would have ended up as a book written by committee. Knowing what makes a book work, or not, is a skill. There isn’t much point in someone saying to you, “I really didn’t like John.” Not if they can’t tell you why they didn’t like John, and certainly not if they didn’t know whether they were supposed to like John or not.

Yes: I now have a good critique group. We meet in person, once a month. The members are all good writers, and I value their opinion. Does a critiquer have to be a writer? Probably not, but they have to know what the heck they’re talking about. One of the benefits, I’ve discovered, about belonging to a good group is that it causes me to rethink my own impressions of my own work.

Bottom Line:
I’d be very, very cautious about submitting my work to a random focus group.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Guest Blogger: Steven Huff

Today’s guest blogger is poet and fiction writer, Steven Huff, the Director of Adult Education and Programming at Writers & Books. W&B is one of those things that make Rochester such a cool place and many area authors, including me, honed our craft in its classrooms. Steve also teaches creative writing at RIT and the Eastman School of Music, and is the voice of “Fiction in Shorts” on WXXI-FM, the local PBS affiliate. Steve’s latest book of poems, More Daring Escapes, is available at all the usual sources (and I suggest your local bookstore first but include the Amazon link so you can read the great review). His latest book of stories, A Pig in Paris is available from Lake Affect Publishers. His previous books include The Water We Came From, published in 2003 by FootHills, and Proof, which was named Editor’s Choice in the 2004 Two Rivers Review Chapbook Competition.

The Online Culture, the Demise of Newspapers, and Bye-bye Book Reviews


Recently a writing tutor at RIT, where I teach, told me something that surprised me—at least a little. He said that, statistically, today’s college undergraduates read and write more than any definable age group in human history. How can that be true? Because they’re online all the time, emailing, text-messaging, reading other people’s missives. They may not be reading books. I may have a hell of a time trying to get them to read “Shooting an Elephant,” a short and simple essay by Orwell. But it isn’t because they won’t read.

What concerns me also—and this is not unrelated—is the demise of the newspaper. We heard this week that employees all across the Gannett newspaper system are being asked to take a week off without pay. Meanwhile, the papers are getter thinner, and people are not turning to the online versions. I do not know anyone personally other than myself who regularly reads an online edition of a newspaper. My students who spend all day online do not, because I have asked them. But they’re reading (and writing) all the time.

I used to head a well-known literary book publishing company, BOA Editions, Ltd. When I came into that position in 1996, a good share of the reviews of our books appeared in newspapers that accepted reviews from freelancers in their own communities. Our local Gannett paper stopped doing that a long time ago, but a few papers still do. But as papers shrink, book reviews are going on the chopping block, along with longer in-depth articles and investigative reporting. Online reviews appear, but I rarely hear anyone talk about a review he or she has read in an online publication.

So, as a culture, we’re reading more, while we know less and less of what the hell is going on in the world around us. By the way—and this is not unrelated—where the hell is Iraq?

Steve Huff

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Real Life

I missed my post last Saturday because Don has been in the hospital again.  On January 5th, after being achy and lethargic for several days, he began to act confused and disoriented, so I took him into the ER here in Tempe, where they discovered that his kidneys had failed.  They did a bunch of tests and found that both his kidneys were obstructed by great big stones, so they put him on dialysis, and transfered him to a hospital in Mesa, where they have a urologist on staff.  The urologist tried to put a stint up his ureters, but the stones are too big and stuck, so they stuck tubes in his sides and his kidneys have now been draining into bags for the past several days.  Fortunately, that seems to have cured his head, and he's back to his obdurate self.  The plan was to let his kidneys "cool down" for a couple of weeks and then take out the stones surgically.  


HOWEVER, in the process, they discovered that he has a heart problem, and did an angiogram and echocardiogram and x-rays and EKGs and lung tests and everything else there is to do.  The plan now is that they have to take care of the heart problem before the kidney deal.  Long, long story short, he came home Friday morning, tubes and all. That’s ten days and twelve nights in the hospital! He’ll go back in next Wednesday morning for another heart test and if necessary a defibrillator implant.  They assure us that this is just an overnight deal. Then, a couple of weeks after that, he’ll have the stones removed.  I guess his warranty expired on his 65th birthday and everything fell apart at once!  At this point, we're just taking everything one step at a time.

 

I still plan to do the book launch for The Sky Took Him at Poisoned Pen Bookstore today (Saturday) at 2 p.m.  A friend has volunteered to stay with Don, so I won't have to worry about him.

 

He's getting around very well, so I don't feel bad about leaving him alone for short periods, i.e. I went to Walgreen's to fill his prescriptions after we got home, and he lay on the couch and napped while I was gone.  Friday, I managed to plan some sort of outfit so that I wouldn’t look like the dog's dinner at the book launch, and I spent some time trying to think of one or two witty things to say.  After the launch, my calender is clear until mid-Feb., and I expect to get more house and yard work done than I've been able to do for ages.


As for writing ... hmmm.  I fear that my one book per year plan may be knocked into a cocked hat.  Same for trying to publicize Sky.  I’ve cancelled most of the appearances I had planned.  Too bad, because I really like this book.  It’s getting wonderful reviews - in fact I was told that a review showed up in USA Today.  I haven’t seen it, of course, but it’s quoted on the Poisoned Pen Bookstore website and looks very nice.  


I won’t belabor the illness saga on Type M, but next week I’ll try to post the highlights of the story over on my own web site, for those of you who are masochists.


As for what this means for my writing career ... I think I’m about to discover what happens to a book when it launches with no help from its author.  I’ll let you know how it stands or falls.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Market Research

Charles here.

Those of you playing along at home know that I eke out a humble living as a copywriter at Dixon Schwabl. Naturally we come up with brilliant ideas every day, just like you see in the movies. One of the things we do to ensure that we’re delivering nothing but the best to our clients is field-test our creative endeavors. That means we assemble a focus group of non-industry types and other average folks and present our ideas. We listen carefully to what they say and tweak the creative to address any gaps in messaging or trash the whole concept and start with something new. I tell you this because I’d love to try this with the book I’m writing.

Imagine a dozen readers giving the feedback about a book in progress (which would actually be done at that point, but they don’t know it). What they liked, the sections they didn’t, what they thought about the character development and the writing style – tons of details that would let me know what worked and what didn’t. Who wouldn’t want that kind of information?

They do this all the time with movies, sometimes re-shooting the end to make it more marketable. And bands often pre-release a song and then refine it based on the reaction it gets. I’m sure that avid readers would have much to say about my new book and I’m curious what it would be.

Then there’s that whole “Book as Art” concept – that it has to be my vision and that no good art is ever produced by a committee. These are strong arguments. But then there’s James Surowiecki’s book The Wisdom of Crowds which explains why mass decisions are almost always far better than those made by individuals.

So this is the concept. What do you think? Do I work out a way to field test my manuscript with a bunch of strangers or do I trust my gut and wait to see what the New York Times says in its review?

Monday, January 12, 2009

Oops! I almost forgot!

I’m now working on other people’s corrections to the ms of my new novel. The end is in sight! However, I just resurfaced for yet another cup of coffee and realized that it’s Tuesday. Time for Type M.

I’ve been moving ahead on the e-book project. Up until now, most of this has been research. Now I’m about to move past the kicking the tires stage, but you should know some of the things I’ve discovered.

Last week I said that ipod = e-book reader. Sadly, that’s not really true. We have a little bit of the old VHS vs Beta format thing going on(if you can remember that long ago). The two big wheels in the electronic reader category are Sony with their PRS-700 and Amazon with their Kindle. Both, who are beginning to look rather like Microsoft in their use of proprietary software, have manufactured their readers to primarily rely on their own special formatting for e-books. Sony seems to support more file types, but some of them are handled very clumsily by their readers. The only standard formats they both share are PDF and XHTML. For formatting and reading books, both of these are problematic.

So it seems that until one format becomes dominant, e-books are going to have to be published in several formats -- unless publishers want to drive their customers crazy with hard to read and manipulate publications -- or risk cutting themselves off from potential sales.

Since I’m running a bit late this week, and my novel beckons, I’m going to leave you all with several articles from Wikipedia which you should peruse -- assuming this topic interests you:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E-book
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sony_Reader
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amazon_Kindle

These articles lay it all out for you. Which one of these giants will win? Are you going to be stuck with the book equivalent of a Beta machine and beta-formatted videos? Only time will tell.

And yes, there will be a test on this next week, so you’d better study!

;)

Newspaper Book Section

Vicki reporting that in the depths of the January gloom bright sparks do occasionally illuminate the darkness.

I wrote a while ago about how disappointed I was that the Globe and Mail was discontinuing their separate book section and folding Books into the Focus section. The paper unveiled their new format this week, and I must say, I’m impressed.

The section seems to be about as big as it used to be. I was afraid it would be one page at the back of Focus. In the past the crime fiction reviews alternated weeks with children’s books, and this week the children’s article was there, reviewing as many books as in the past. So I’m hopeful that Margaret Cannon’s Crime column will continue. I’ll let you know next week.

They’ve beefed up the online Books section considerably, and it looks pretty good. There will be a new review online every day. Here’s something new and interesting – a bestselling list of mysteries only. This week the Number One slot is occupied by Angels and Demons by Dan Brown. (What the heck, isn’t that pretty old, and didn’t he have his fifteen minutes some time ago?). The number two position is more like it – Louise Penny’s The Cruellest Month. (Louise was kind enough to be a guest blogger here at Type M a few months ago. If you didn’t read what she had to say then, you can now: http://typem4murder.blogspot.com/2008/06/louise-penny-report.html)

For Rick’s interest, there’s an article today about the rise of e-books. Important, it is argued, for taking control of the publishing industry out of the hands of Dan Brown and the like, and reintroducing the concept of the backlist. Which, come to think of it, is exactly the use Rick wants to make of e-publishing.

Want more good news: According to the Globe, book sales in Canada have grown 4.9%. (It doesn’t say, but I’ll assume that means last year). If our U.S. author friends are saying “that’s okay for Canada, but what does it have to do with us?” – 7 of the 10 mystery bestsellers are by American writers. (Peter Robinson has two of the slots, along with Louise Penny).

So colour me happy with the Globe’s changes. I get the paper book section I’ve always enjoyed so much and nice extras online.

You can find the Globe and Mail online book section at http://www.theglobeandmail.com/books/

Oh, and one thing to add to last week’s list of things worth knowing – if you rely on propane for heat, don’t run out.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Mystery in Everything




It's my pleasure to introduce Susan McBride, prolific author and a writer with vast experience and wisdom! Susan McBride's YA series debut with Random House, THE DEBS, features four prep school seniors in Houston clawing their way through their debutante season. A Fall 2008 Kid’s Indie Next Pick, THE DEBS has been called "GOSSIP GIRL on mint juleps." The second DEBS book, LOVE, LIES, AND TEXAS DIPS, will be out in June of 2009, and the third, GLOVES OFF, in March of 2010. Susan has penned five Debutante Dropout Mysteries for Avon, including TOO PRETTY TO DIE and BLUE BLOOD. She’s also signed with HarperCollins to write a trade paperback women’s beach book called THE COUGAR CLUB, about three forty-something women who date younger men. Visit her web site at http://SusanMcBride.com for more scoop.

Last year was kind of a turning point for me in so many ways. In February of 2008, I married a really wonderful guy I’d met when I was a St. Louis Magazine “top single” in 2005. So I’m traveling far less than I did in the past as all I want to do is stay home, write, and nest! I turned the corner in my recovery from breast cancer as well, reaching “Year Two” of clear diagnostic tests and exams. With every year I move beyond my diagnosis and treatment, I breathe a little easier. I also saw my writing career segue from the mystery world into mainstream young adult fiction. In some ways, that might’ve been the biggest change of all.

Ten years ago when AND THEN SHE WAS GONE was published by a small traditional press, I couldn’t see very far ahead of me. I only knew that I loved being part of the mystery scene, appearing at conferences and conventions, meeting other authors, booksellers, librarians, and readers who appreciated the genre as much as I did. After OVERKILL came out in 2001, I’d made plenty of friends in the business, had found myself top-notch representation, and got busy creating my Debutante Dropout Mysteries for Avon. I put everything I’d learned as a small press author to use plugging my series, and I kept pressing “onward and upward,” as my agent likes to say. BLUE BLOOD came out of the gate running in 2004 and four more Debutante Dropout Mysteries followed, including TOO PRETTY TO DIE, the fifth and final installment released in February of 2008.

I’m not good at lingering goodbyes—I tend to get teary-eyed—so I experienced something like emotional withdrawal when I realized TOO PRETTY would be “the end” for awhile. Luckily, I couldn’t mourn for long. My gears had to shift to the young adult world by the time THE DEBS debuted in late August of 2008. It was definitely a new beginning, moving from HarperCollins to Random House, and delving into a genre I’d known little about when I’d signed the deal in 2006 to write about debutantes in my old hometown of Houston, Texas.

I tried not to dwell on all the mystery cons I was missing while I toiled away on LOVE, LIES, AND TEXAS DIPS, the second DEBS book. I kept busy hanging out with Ed and my family, doing local signings, attending SIBA in Mobile, AL, and speaking with YA authors at the Southern Festival of Books. But it still felt weird, like I was the new kid on the block all over again.

By now, I’ve written the third DEBS book, GLOVES OFF, which I turned in just before Christmas, and I need to start ASAP on a mainstream women’s novel called THE COUGAR CLUB to be published in trade paperback by HarperCollins in 2010. It’s exhilarating to dip my toes in new literary waters, and I don’t feel all that far removed from the mystery scene anymore because everything I write has some element of mystery in it. My DEBS series is full of secrets and lies, characters who want things they cannot have unless someone else’s needs or reputation is sacrificed. There are good guys and bad guys (okay, good debs and bad debs), and wrong is constantly battling right. Those are all things that make for a good, juicy mystery; all things I write about in my young adult novels. There truly is mystery in everything, which is one of the big reasons I’m so thankful for my mystery roots and the amazing foundation they’ve given me.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Back in the Groove

I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling overwhelmed by the holidays. There was some really good stuff (lots of family) and some not-so-good stuff (some of them never lift a finger, but anticipate food and drink worthy of royalty). I wouldn’t trade the good stuff to avoid the bad, though. Still, because I wasn’t getting enough sleep, writing, blogging, email, and even phone calls got postponed. Hell, let me be honest—they flew by me like space dust. But I have a hunch I’m not alone. As Donis said, it was mighty quiet out there in cyber space.

Which brings me to something I’ve been pondering for a while. All this connectedness is great; I love the fact I can contact my readers, my friends, my colleagues, and my publisher in minutes. But doesn’t it amp up the stress level in our busy lives? Email requires a couple of hours of work time each day. I see people in my neighborhood walking their dogs while talking on their cell phones. Joggers are plugged into iPod shuffles, oblivious to birdsong, the soughing of wind in the trees, and approaching traffic. These electronic wonders bring mixed blessings.

Monday, my older son went back to college, my younger one went back to high school, and emotion flooded me. I miss the lively activity of having my children nearby. Like the simultaneous buzzing of the house phone and my mobile (which one to get first?), they keep me engaged—and distracted.

Tuesday morning, my thoughts were still too fragmented to find the thread in my ongoing novel, so I went for a long bike ride. There’s a path around Kapiolani Park that leads through an arboreal tunnel, and the stately old monkeypod and shower trees were filled with birds. One or two of them were pouring their joy to the leafy canopies that filtered jewels of sunlight to the dappled earth. It brought me peace and grounding. The characters in my novel reemerged, along with their crises. I needed to escape from the jangling technology of my work to return to the heart of it.

On another topic, be sure to come back Sunday to read guest blogger Susan McBride's post. Susan is the award-winning author of the Debutante Dropout Mystery series. Too Pretty to Die, the fifth and last novel in this series, has been nominated for a Reviewers' Choice Award for Best Amateur Sleuth novel of 2008. I could go on and on here, but it would be better for you to read Susan's own story.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

How I see it

Blechta back again.

On the long car trip back and forth to the New York area over the holidays, I had a significant amount of time to think. As my work situation is now changing considerably, most of it was of the “what now?” variety. Since I announced that I was seriously contemplating releasing some of my earlier novels in e-book form, I wanted to think through the ramifications of what I might be getting into.

As is my custom, I first looked at the problem from outside the framework of “how is this going this going to effect me?” “How is this going to effect us writers?” is the more important question that first needs answering. Some of what I’m now going to say is similar to things I’ve said earlier on TypeM but I’ve refined the focus as I’ve studied more about what’s happening in the publishing world currently.

First off, obviously our lives as writers are going to change and I now believe it’s going to change for the better. But with all major paradigm shifts, life is going to be far too “interesting” for many writers’ tastes. We must ride the crest or be sucked under. To resist will be futile.

Get used to it: e-books are here and they’re going to take over. The parallels to the music business are consistently the same, so I think I can prognosticate with confidence. Here’s a breakdown in point form.

→ ipod = e-book reader: one is huge, the other is going to become huge
→ LPs = books: Books will become a niche market over time, maybe not as small as LPs, but definitely smaller than they are now
→ Download a song, download a book, what’s the difference? If you want portability in your reading, buy a Kindle.
→ Your backlist need never go out of print – ever.
→ It’s now stupidly simple to publish a book, but you’d be simply stupid to not consider your options first.

The final point is the crux of the issue, and next week, I’ll delve into this further.

-=-=-=-=-=-=-

Case in point: A good friend and experienced editor is looking over my latest opus and she has one of the Sony readers. She asked if I’d send her the ms in that format. Since I write using InDesign software, I only had to do a very small amount of work, push a button and in less than 30 seconds I had a fully-formatted e-book. Can you imagine how much money publishers are going to save by using this technology? Do you think that given the current economic climate, they’re going to be able to resist?

Monday, January 05, 2009

Two Things I've Learned

Vicki here. Holidays are over – back to work, everyone.

To start the new year off, here are two things I’ve recently learned:

1) A working sump pump is very important.

2) There is a reason people who live in cold climates don’t have cornrows in their hair.

In case further explanation is required:

1) I returned from a fabulous week in the Dominican Republic with all my family to find, literally, three feet of water in the basement. I took off my clothes, waded into the water and attempted to release the pump. The water was colder than it had been in the DR. I was later informed by one of my children that I had been lucky there wasn’t a loose electrical connection floating around. Duh! I had no luck with the pump and a plumber had to be called (Sunday rates, natch). The sump pump had broken while I was away, just in time for a thaw that melted several feet of snow and then a heavy rainstorm. Fortunately, my basement is just a cellar, so I don’t keep anything down there. Except the furnace – which is no longer working having being immersed in water. On the bright side, I have two fireplaces so the house is warm and toasty without the furnace.

2) I have long blond hair, so while in the Dominican, I decided to get cornrows (really tight braids with beads at the end) put into my hair. It was fun, and I thought I looked pretty snazzy. However, now that I’m back in Ontario I find that the beads get cold and snap against my neck and shoulders, my scalp is exposed to the icy air, and the whole mess keeps getting tangled in my scarf.



Wishing everyone a healthy, happy, prosperous New Year, with piles of books to read and time to write to your heart’s content.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

It's Quiet Out There

...too quiet.  I suppose it's the function of the holidays, and everyone being involved with travel, family, and friends, but there simply hasn't been much activity on any of my regular blog and chat room reads.  I assume that Monday the New Year will begin in earnest and everyone will get back to their online reading and writing.  At least I hope that's what it is, and not just that everyone is too depressed by the state of the economy to move.  If that's the case, I don't expect things to pick up until after January 20.

Not everyone is on vacation, though.  Thanks to good old Google Alerts, I discovered that my first book, The Old Buzzard Had It Coming, was named in the First Annual Lowhead Dam Awards for Crime Fiction by Corey Wilde over on his Drowning Machine blog (http://drowningmachine.blogspot.com )  He gave Buzzard  the "Dam with Faint Praise" award, which doesn't sound all that edifying at first, but what he says is,  "I'm still surprised that a noir/hardboiled fan like me could go for a book like this, but good is good."  

I like that.

He gives several awards, such as the Dam Skippy Award, the Hot Dam Award, the Dam Your Eyes Award, and the Not Worth A Tinker's Dam Award (to a book by a very famous and notorious author whose initials are J.P.).  It's fun to see the books he chose, and see if you agree.  I got a couple of good ideas for my TBR pile, as well.

p.s. Thanks to Rick Blechta for helping me get the above link to work.  If you tuned in earlier, you know that I complained bitterly about my inability to do so.  Good thing I have technologically competent blogmates.

Friday, January 02, 2009

My hero and idol has died.

I have just learned that Donald Westlake has died.

He was the reason I became an author and his handshake and congratulations at the Edgar's banquet was the greatest award I have ever, or will ever receive.

The world is suddenly a lot less interesting place.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

New Year's Eve in DC

Charles here - Happy New Year.

Just got back from a week in D.C. with Rose, celebrating New Year's, sure, but more importantly celebrating the 26th anniversary of our first date. Buy me a drink and I'll recount that fateful weekend that set it all in motion.

While we were in D.C. we hit the bookstore at the Spy Museum where I picked up too many cool books to read. We also fought the crowds and got in to see the new American History Museum at the Smithsonian. Very impressive. Given the book I'm writing it should come as no surprise that I spent much time in the WWII area. That's not what it's called, but that's where I was. Quite an extensive display. I'll tell you this, though, if I was a Korean War vet I'd be pissed. The entire Korean War area could fit easily in my office at work. The BEST museum this trip was easily the Luce Foundation Center for American Art, part of the Smithsonian's portrait gallery.

New Year's Eve was cold and windy so after a delicious meal at The Wharf, we kept warm and reminisced about the last 26 years. Our joint resolution? To return to D.C. for the 50th anniversary as well.