Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Thrill of the Panel!

One of the best things about attending a big-time writers conference is being able to participate in panels.  When you sit on a writer panel you get a chance to reveal yourself to readers who may never have heard of you.  If they find you interesting, they may well find your books interesting, so being a panelist almost always leads to book sales and new fans.  Plus, you get to know other writers with whom you have something in common.

In July I’ll attend Thrillerfest in NYC and the panel I landed on sounds like great fun.  It’s called “ARE YOU COMBAT READY? PREPARING FOR A MISSION.”  That’s the subject I’ll discuss with five other authors on Friday, July 12 at 4:00 PM.

The way these things usually work (like the panels at the Creatures, Crimes and Creativity conference) is that someone is dubbed moderator, and that title is all the description we get.  It is up to the panelists to decide what direction the conversation will go.  It gives us all a lot of flexibility.

And I will be speaking with a pretty interesting group.  Bob Gussin, our moderator, was a medical researcher before he founded Oceanview Publishing.  His wife, Pat is the accomplished thriller author. Simon Toyne is a Brit TV producer and director who has written an international best seller and has been called the “English Dan Brown.” John Dixon’s first book isn’t even out yet, but it’s already the basis for an upcoming CBS TV show called Intelligence. Leo Maloney is a former Black Ops contractor who worked for a clandestine government agency for many years. And Guy Burgstahler has no military experience nor is he an author.  He IS the Chief Marketing Officer for 5.11 Tactical and has studied how marketing has been used as a tool to fuel military initiatives.

So what will our panel be about?  Maybe we’ll discuss how we would prepare to attack a well- guarded safe house in Kosovo and extract someone.  Or, how we would capture a target from a heavily guarded compound in the middle of the desert.  We may consider night attacks versus day, etc.  We could compare and contrast the mission prep we see in movies and TV with the more realistic view we try to give in our novels. Or how about comparing the preparation our protagonists have to go through with the ones the writer has to go through to be able to render them accurately on the page? We might explore the moral and emotional preparation for combat. Or discuss our writing methods.

There are so many possibilities, and it’s such a diverse panel, that I can’t wait to sit in front of that audience and throw myself into the mix.  Of course there will be a book signing right afterward and if we have enough fun, I know the audience will too!  And that will mean a chance to sign some books and make new fans. 

And then I’ll get to watch some other guys’ interesting panels.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Coming to your senses

            When I sit down to write sometimes I’m focused entirely on the blank screen in front of me.  On those days not much happens on that screen.  To be really effective I need to be less focused.  I need to be in contact with the world around me, the sights, smells, sounds, tastes and even the feelings.  Because to write well I need to use all five of my senses.
            Great fiction comes from creating great characters.  For your characters to be really solid, the reader needs to feel how they experience their world.  Just showing us what that world looks like won’t do.  The reader needs to be immersed in your fictional universe.  For you to pull the reader in and make him feel it all, you the writer need to be there, and you need all your senses to do that.  For me, that only happens when I’m fully aware of what all my senses are telling me while I write. Using all the senses helps you to create atmosphere and your writing will have the desired mood.
            When you are writing a scene, run through your five senses to see which ones are significant to the atmosphere.  Don’t stop after describing what you see or telling us about what your characters are eating and drinking.  Smells are important triggers, and most writers consider sounds.  But the sense of touch is often overlooked.  Don’t fail to consider temperature, humidity, and other things we feel.  Then cut those that don’t matter, leaving only those that would be affecting your point of view character right then.
             How do you gain that level of awareness? You must train yourself to be an observer in real life.  When you walk into a room and feel excited or frightened or nervous or cheerful, consider exactly what caused you to feel that way.  In my writing classes I use the example of dealing with a flat tire.
             If you're changing a tire in the rain, are you frightened or just angry? And what made the difference? Maybe the isolation of the road or the small number of cars makes the determination for you. The headlights passing might remind you of the eyes of hungry animals coming out of the darkness at you. Or perhaps the whine of the tires on the road as cars scream past sounds forlorn to you. The rain itself could be cold or steamy and sticky. The smell of your wet wool coat might be depressing. The lug nuts could be stubbornly resisting you, adding a note of frustration, as they appear to exert a cruel will of their own. You can FEEL them fighting against you. 
            See what I mean?

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

When Reading Is Work

I write mysteries and thrillers specifically for that group of people who enjoy a good book.  My books aren’t for the self-help crowd or folks researching their term papers.  People read my books for fun.

I’m also one of those people who loves to read just for fun.  But now an officer of Intrigue Publishing, it is now often work when I read books in my genres.  I have to get serious about deciding if a particular manuscript will be fun for others to read – fun enough to be worth parting with fifteen or so of their hard earned dollars.

But what about you? As a writer, sometimes your pleasure reading needs to be work.  When you’re just a reader you can sit back and enjoy.  But sometimes when you’re holding a good novel you need to read like a writer.  When you’re enjoying a top-notch novelist – Dennis Lehane, Michael Connelly, Jeffrey Deaver – you have an opportunity to study the masters. Painters examine the brush strokes and techniques of other artists.  Writers should do the same. 

When you find yourself in love with a character and feel you know him as well as your real life friends, look back and figure out what the author did to make you feel that way.  When the pace or the suspense makes your heart race, examine the techniques the writer used to get you there.  If you slap your forehead when the killer is revealed, trace the clues back to see how the writer fooled you.

Look at the mechanics too.  How long are those chapters?  How much of the text is dialog, as opposed to prose? How much description does he use? What is it about that dialog that makes it ring true?

If you get to the end of a book and think, “Man, I wish I had written that,” it’s probably because the plot unfolded just the way you think a plot should.  If that’s true, why not go through the whole book again and outline it?  Break the story down to its skeleton, and note the order of the significant events and how information is played out.

If you work on your writing while you’re reading, your work will improve, and you may find you enjoy your reading even more.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

All Hands On Deck

Once in a while, you get something you really wanted and it turns out to be all you had hoped it would be. So it was with my new deck. I'm just a "sit out back" kind of guy, and this new addition makes me smile every time I walk past the sliding glass doors that separate it from the "indoor" part of the house.

And yes, this really does have to do with my writing life. These days, I'm not just a novelist. I'm also one of the principals of a publishing company so I find myself spending more time on other peoples' manuscripts than my own, rooting through the slush (with respect) hunting that rare jewel that we will want to bring to readers. And there is the money part of the business. And the networking. planning. Marketing. And working with other talented authors who, by definition, are just as tempermental as I am.

All that to say that time is my most precious resource. But this past weekend I found myself with a couple free hours. It was sunny and warm and, while I had the usual list of tasks I got to take it outside. I was able to settle onto my wrought iron chair with a glass of wine and cheese and crackers and settle into the impressive Young Adult submission I've been wading through. It was the rare joy of relaxing in the perfect place with a good book - the experience I hope that Intrigue Publishing provides for other readers.

Each of us has a perfect place to read or, if you're like me, to write. For me that place is my humble wooden deck, where I can look up at the trees between chapters, catch a random deer wandering by, taste the fresh earthy air, enjoy my own eclectic music mix, feel the breeze trying to push through my shirt and the sun trying to tan my hide. Just being there is a reminder that good ficiton incites all of the senses.

If you haven't found your perfect reading/wrting location, you should do so without delay. And if you HAVE found YOUR special place... well, tell me about it.