Monday, September 30, 2013

My Writing

I've stepped away from the mystery genre for the past 18 months or so. Not entirely. I've started some short stories and two novels that I'll finish next year. Still, most of my energy has been put into more science-fictiony stuff.

TO THE LAST MAN is nearing completion. A couple of thousand more words to go and then a round of edits that will likely take a month or two. The couple of thousand words will not happen overnight. Probably not even this week. Maybe this weekend.

In the edits, I have a decision to make that can either require a giant overhaul (think 6 months) or not.

In the story, I have aliens invading Earth. They're not the happy kind. So, much of the story is about fighting the aliens once it becomes clear they haven't come in peace. Resources are wdindling, people are dying, the world's going to hell.

So anyway, I made a decision early on in the story writing - the aliens aren't particularly scary or gory. In fact, they're mainly machines. And like machines, they're relentless. That's the tension factor. They don't quit and there are millions of them to swarm you. But wouldn't it be better if each individual in the swarm was scary just by the looks of him/her/it?

That is, right now, if I told you we were going to be attacked by groundhogs, even millions of them, that would be terrible, but not particularly scary. But if it were millions of flying barricudas with patches of fur and little human faces growing out of their spines, you'd be freaked out, no? I mean, curious, too, but scared.

As my grandma used to say, "if a groundhog gets in your house, you chase it with a broom; but if a mangy flying barricuda with a human face growing out of its spine gets into your house..."

So should I rewrite for scariness?

Thursday, September 26, 2013

What I'm Writing Now...

Really, there are too many projects calling my attention at the moment. At last count it was somewhere around a dozen open files sitting on the desktop of my laptop waiting to be finished. One project is written but needs editing. I'll talk off that later. For right now, the Alien Invasion novel...

I'm calling it TO THE LAST MAN. Very close to 90,000 words. Very close to done. In it, aliens invade as they will, and, of course, they're not the jolly type of alien we would all hope for. Instead, they're angry and all murder-y. So my main character feels the need to fight back. Luckily for him, like every other alien invader in book or movie since H.G. Wells, these aliens are capable of being Outplayed, Outwitted, and Outlasted. (Yes, that's the SURVIVOR motto, but it's apt). The question is whether the main character, Joe, can persevere. And how?

The book has taken a fair amount of research. For instance, I'm no weapons expert, so every gun the humans pick up means a trip to Google for me. And to the local Cabela's. Also, bomb-making, and military formations and the like. Survivalist tactics. And what the world would be like if a large percentage of the population were to be killed off (lots of flies, I suspect).  Frankly, I think it is only my charm and roguish good looks that has kept the NSA from carting me off in the middle of the night. That or they're busy.

Hope to be done with writing in a week, with edits in a couple of months (December 1st?). Then I'm not sure whether I should shop it to publishers or Kindle-ize it? At this point, I'd be happy for advice from any quarter so comment away.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013


Of course there's always reading for classes - student papers or Thoreau, Tolstoy and the like. It is amazing how many new insights you can get into a story you've read several times before. Still, for fun recently, I've been reading Georges Simenon, author of a few hundred short novels and hundreds more short stories.

Simenon is best known as the author of the "Maigret" novels. Maigret is a Parisian police detective and one of the subtler creations I've read in the mystery field. The novels are short and spare (generally less than 200 pages), but they contain all they need to be effective on a variety of fronts. They present a real mystery and clues, but they also bring interesting character portraits.

For instance, there is teh waitress in Maigret and the Yellow Dog. With a look, Maigret can tell she is an object to be pitied. And in Maigret and the Saturday Caller, I damn near cried to read of the tribulations the title character's problems. And how it all ends! Well, I won't say anything.

Of course, as a writer, I want to know Simenon's tricks for making these addictive novels, so I'll be heading to the library this Saturday with the hopes of getting another book or two.

And if I could learn how Simenon was able to apparently write up to 20,000 words a day, that would be even better.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013


I got a chance to think about my writing while I was in Albany this past weekend for Bouchercon. In the past year or two, I've put some energy into preparing some works for Kindle. That's hard for me. I'm not tech savvy, have had to learn how to code the files properly and then edit, make covers as best I could, etc. Then what? No one buys the books unless they stumble upon them by accident.

So I've given a lot of thought the past year or so to leaving the writing business. It's not that hard to do. I have no contracts that need fulfilling, no legion of fans clamoring for my next novel. Of course, I'd continue writing. It would be the business side of things I'd leave behind. But without the prospect of a possible payday, I'd restrict myself to short stories, maybe the occasional novella. Maybe I'd send them out to magazines, maybe I'd put them up as Kindle files, maybe I wouldn't. I'd be the guy who used to write.

But that's not what I want for myself. Not usually anyway. I have to admit, sometimes it's tempting. But I don't actually have the Quitter gene in me. Any halfway decent lasagna platter I've come across can testify to that.

So I took inventory of the things I've been working on the past year or so. A novella, 18,000 words. Completed in May. just trying to find a lull for minor editing and Kindle-izing.

Two novels: one at about 89,000 words out of a projected 90,000. Obviously too close to completion to scrap, and I actually like it so far. Rereading might ruin that good will. The other is at 63,000 out of a projected 80,000. Also quite close.  I'll certainly see those through to the end.

A half dozen short stories left at the halfway mark including a comedy called "Morty Birnbaum Joins the KKK." A couple of novels (including a Lucy Cruz and a Precinct Puerto Rico) at about 6,000 out of 60,000. I started those only a few weeks ago.

Another novel is started (five chapters in) where most of the action takes place in an English manor during a (currently illegal) fox hunt.

And plenty of other projects in various stages of completion.

Over the next few days and weeks I'll bring more details about these along with things I'm reading.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Annnnd, I'm back...

Bouchercon Albany edition was  a great experience - got to catch up with many people I hadn't seen in years since I missed that last two B'cons (I think). I forget some, but here's a short list: Simon Wood, Jon Jordan, Russel McLean, Gerald So, and Bryon Quertermous. Great conversations with Con Lehane and Sean Chercover as well. Who am I forgetting? I guess if I knew, I wouldn't be forgetting them.

There were great panels (including the one I was on, many thanks to Sam Reaves, moderator). BTW, best moderators? James Lincoln Warren and Catriona McPherson need mentioning. Went to more panels than I've ever attended before. A few awkward moments when authors focused too much on repeating their titles. , but that's par for the course, no? Excellent moment when moderator Russel McLean opened a panel to audience questions by reminding the audience that a question "is a sentence with an interogative at the end". This, to forstall speechifying. The audience clapped.

Was The Egg a great place to hold a conference in? No. It's just about the most awkward building I've ever been in. I swear I left rooms and heard gears churning, moving those rooms and reconfiguring the floorplan. Never knew if I was supposed to head left or right or keep going straight ahead. Felt like leaving breadcrumbs. Of course, there was also no place to actually get bread inside the Egg. Or anywhere near it from what I could tell. Perhaps someone will tell of how they found the secret passage leading to a magic elevator that brought you to a mystical food court...

On the other hand, Albany has a nice museum with a great collection of Hudson River School paintings. They also had a "Mystery of the Albany Mummies" exhibit. Couldn't figure out what the mystery was though I suspect the spirits of those two mummies are confused as Hell to be caught wandering in Upstate New York.

Glad to be back home.