Sunday, September 28, 2008

The joy of speaking to students

A high point in this writer's life was spending a morning at the Charles Carroll Middle School in New Carrollton, MD. I got to be a celebrity of sorts for a couple of hours, and maybe inspire the next Hemingway.

I was invited to help kick off the America's Choice program, which asks each student to read 25 books or one million words by the end of the school year. The program has been implemented in 17 middle schools and 22 elementary schools in Carroll County.

I have to say that I wish I had teachers when I was in school like the people I met at Charles Carroll. They were so positive and upbeat, I wanted to join in on the school's 25 book campaign. Charles Carroll Principal Eric Wood told me he wants to expand his students' vocabulary and English language proficiency. He also wants the community to become a part of the progress.

As part of the campaign kickoff, I gave a short talk to a gym full of seventh graders, and then a cafeteria full of 8th graders. There must have been nearly a thousand kids there, enthusiastic and questioning, yet remarkably well behaved.

After the two assemblies I joined another author for lunch with the students who had read the principal's first selected book. They asked plenty of good questions and we did our best to answer them.

In my talk I told the students that it was impossible to read too much - there is no overdose. And every book expands our view of the universe. You can see more of what I told them in the article that appeared in the Gazette about the program.

I think every writer should set aside from time to visit schools. As an author, taking some time to speak to school children is not about selling books. It's about giving back, and building a future generation that can share my love of reading.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Blurb Me!

Blurb Me!

By attending writers’ conventions and being personable I've been able to get some pretty nice folks to write blurbs for some of my books. Warren Murphy and Ken Bruen have blurbs on my published works, and people like Libby Fisher Hellman and David Hagberg have given me blurbs on manuscripts that are still making the rounds. In the same vein, I've written blurbs for other authors whose work impressed me. I always thought this was simply one good way to give a book s little more credibility, but now I'm no longer so sure.

I recently learned about a company called Blurbings LLC that offers writers the chance to buy and sell book endorsements. In other words, they traffic in blurbs.

Blurbs for cash? From who? After all, getting one unknown writer to endorse another unknown writer probably doesn’t do much for either one. On the other hand, some might say that this company has simply put a price on what mainstream publishers and agents ask authors to do all the time.

Yes, most of my blurbs have come from writers with whom I have made friends, and that may make them seem less impartial. I got David Hagburg’s kind words only because we share the same agent, although he assured me face to face that he would never give a blurb for a book he didn’t think was very good. But it’s fair to wonder to what extent all these blurbs represent friends being nice or favors being traded. In any case it sure can’t hurt to have a published author praise your work - although before you plunk down your $19.95 you should clearly understand that there’s no real evidence that blurbs actually help sell books.

I must admit that when I pick up a piece of fiction I may be swayed by whose blurb is present. If a writer whose work I love praises a book I am more likely to buy it. But I wish there was a way to know if the author landed the blurb himself or if his publisher requested it. One seems somehow more valuable than the other to me.

The bottom line is that I feel as if blurbs are worth less now that you can buy them, much like reviews which can also be purchased. I will still offer this favor for authors who really impress me, and still ask it of my heroes, but that’s more for my ego than with the thought that it will help my book sales.

But I’m curious. What do you think of blurbs on books? Do you ignore them, or do they help you make the purchase decision?

Friday, September 12, 2008


So, here’s the thing about working with another writer: you don’t want to overshadow their work, because your self image is that you’re a good team player and equal partner. At the same time you want to run over the other person’s stuff because, deep down, we all believe that we are the best writer anywhere and if someone else doesn’t think so that just speaks to their bad taste in literature.

So, my writing partner and I were having it too easy working on our first urban fantasy. We consistently loved each other’s ideas for this next book. I had an instinctive feel for the protagonist and an idea for a new spin on lycanthropy. She came with a super umbrella concept that would contain this little universe we’re creating, and a female protagonist who is guaranteed to pull both the male and female readers. She also had the best idea for a location and several specific scenes that will give this book heart.

Then we hammered out a basic outline in no time flat. We pretty much know what’s going to happen and in what order, and even have a pretty good view of how the series is going to run. We are ready to rock!

The thing is, once I get to this stage I want to get into the analogous studio and start laying down tracks. Meloney, bless her heart, has a very full life and needs to leave it in the crock pot a bit longer before she’s sure it’s soup. The musician and chef mixed metaphors pretty well sum up the differences between us as creative talents.

So, what is a stalled writer to do? Well... he races ahead because he can’t help it. I was well prepared to deal with my male lead but not prepared to write the girl. She was born from Meloney’s mind; much like Aphrodite was born of the blood of the Heavens and the foam of the sea. I won’t be able to feel her until Meloney has written her, and she is the focus of chapter three.

So in a fiery burst of inspiration I have pounded out chapters one and two. And four. And five, and in fact chapter 8 as well. With a couple of exceptions those are sort of interstitial chapters that reveal much of the background of our location, Portland, and create a certain amount of suspense. And I’ve written some stuff that gets into the meat of the male protagonist and I am very eager to meet and get to know his partner, but the anticipation is killing me.

Still, if I thought I could write this thing alone I wouldn’t have formed the partnership with Meloney. She is a gifted talent who knows the horror space the way I know the private eye turf. Better, actually. This will be a MUCH better book with her than I could have cooked up on my own. I absolutely know that to be true. And I knew going in that writing with a collaborator would require compromise, patience and humility. What I didn’t realize, was that it would call for an economy-sized helping of patience

I’m being good, but like the comic vulture, if something doesn’t drop soon I’m afraid I may well decide to kill something.


Here's a little clue about my part of the upcoming book - (substitute “Portland” for “London.”

And a little clue about Meloney’s piece of the coming book.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

The Winner!! And, Literary Cubism for the Twenty-first Century

We have a thought provoking guest blog for you today, but first I want to announce the grand prize winner of my contest to promote "Successfully Marketing Your Novel in the 21st Century."

Congratulations to Yvonne Eve Walus! The contest called for entrants to send me their best tips on how to market full length fiction. Yvonne encourages us to network with fellow writers to built new opportunities, cross-market our books and distribute each other's promo materials. She also says to market e-books chiefly on the Internet, and she reminds us to market to readers not fellow writers. But the winning bit of advice I think was to appeal to the impulsive buyers with short-time-only discounts and give-aways - a sly nod to my own contest which she just won.

Yvonne wins a copy of my book, free business cards from and a $50 gift certificate toward bookmarks, a book cover or any other service offered by – the company that designed the cover of Successfully Marketing Your Novel in the 21st Century.

Yvonne is the author of nearly a dozen books, including "Murder @ Work." The fact that she is a fellow Echelon Press author was NOT a factor in her winning, although the fact that she is from New Zealand may have swayed me, as I have a soft spot in my heart for kiwis. :-)

And now, for those who want to sharpen their literary skills (as opposed to their marketing skills) here is an insightful essay from Mohamed Mughal, whose novel, "Resolution 786." Jessica Roberts of calls "Deep, funny, poignant and ultimately satisfying." Let's find out what he means my literary cubism. Take it away, Mohamed.

The world moves faster these days. From political campaign snippets to the latest teen idol (who is it this week?) to the rolling scenes of music videos, things come, things go, other things take their place and then they, too, go.

But literature, good literature, is meant for savoring. It lingers. Touches. Whispers. Long after the written words are gone from view, those abstract black symbols that pull our eyes from left to right continue to play music in our minds.

And herein lies the conundrum. How can twenty-first century literature be fitted to a world that moves faster, to a public who wants and expects an avalanche of enticement?

Literary cubism.

The Eleventh Edition of Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines cubism as:

“a style of art that stresses abstract structure at the expense of other pictorial elements esp. by displaying several aspects of the same object simultaneously and by fragmenting the form of depicted objects.”



The “same object” in that working definition is my story. The “several aspects” and fragmented forms which I display include poems, e-mail messages, personal notes and legal documents, to name a few. And, yes, there’s room and necessity for blocks of traditional prose in literary cubism.

Cubist writing is liberating. It adds to a writer’s toolbox for telling his or her story. We’ve always had description and dialogue to set scenes, build moods, and create consistent, compelling characters. It feels good to now have the text of an e-mail message to do any or all of those things. We also have poems, personal notes, grocery lists, and any other form of written media. They can all be used to great effect to show a lifestyle, define a character’s motives and psyche, or to paint a relationship.

As I said before – liberating.

But as much license as literary cubism bestows, there are still some “Do Not Drive” lanes on this literary highway. Do not use incorrect grammar, spelling or punctuation (unless you’re Cummings “sketching” a poem onto the page). Do not use flat, un-interesting prose. And, whatever you do, do not let your focus stray from telling a good story. The grandest literary artistry is for naught if you fail to tell a good story.

I find literary cubism to be a sharp, fresh and consistently interesting method for constructing novels. Considering how fast our world moves today, how flashed and multi-variant our entertainment media and tastes are, I’m surprised that more writers don’t use cubism. It is an ideal structure for story telling in the twenty-first century.