Thursday, February 26, 2015

Learning on the Road

by Rob Brunet

Long before I had an agent or a publishing contract for Stinking Rich, I pasted a map of the U.S. on the wall behind my desk. It listed cities where I knew someone well enough to have dinner. I played connect-the-dots and wound up with a ring around the country with a few long stretches of know-no-one-land in-between. I tallied up the miles, divided by the speed limit, and announced to my wife that when my book was published, I’d be on the road for nine or ten weeks promoting it. I imagine the main reason she didn’t whack me on the spot was I didn’t even have a completed manuscript at the time. As midlife crises go, dreaming of a road trip from behind a desk while writing a novel was pretty tame stuff.

Jump forward to two weeks before I left last September and she took to asking me a couple times a day, “How long are you going for?”

A better question may have been, “When’s your next trip?”

Setting aside all the friendships made and renewed, the best part of being on the road was non-stop opportunities to learn. Publishing is packed, end-to-end, with people inspired by their work. From authors to booksellers, librarians to editors, reviewers to agents and publisher’s reps. No one’s in the business to get rich—far too many easier ways to pull that off. And people who are passionate about what they do generally love to share the reasons why. Wear big ears and you’re bound to learn a ton.
As a debut author, I’ve been repeatedly overwhelmed by the willingness of industry veterans to share what’s what. If I simply listed the names of seriously helpful people I’ve met at conferences, Noir at the Bars, Sisters in Crime meetings, bookstore readings, library events, workshops, and launches, this post would run well past its word limit.

There’s never been an easier time to connect with people. Social media has smashed physical boundaries to the point even the most reclusive among us can reach out and meet strangers. Many of the people I spent time with on the road were Tweeps or Facebook friends first. And yet there’s nothing like meeting someone in person—over coffee or beer or a plate of ribs—to cement the connection and acknowledge what it means.

Did I lose time at my keyboard? Absolutely. And I learned how much more discipline I’ll need to make it in this game. Jon Jordan of Crimespree told me of one headlining author who only agrees to appear at conferences provided he can be kept off the morning schedule, because mornings he writes. Even on the road.

I didn’t have to spend a couple months in my fourteen-year-old car to meet people in the industry. I live in Toronto, a city where there are multiple literary events every night of the week, year-round. And anywhere there’s a bookstore, a library, or a local writers’ workshop, there are ways to find people who share a passion for reading, writing, publishing, and everything that goes with working with words and stories. I know my life’s been made richer since I started get out there.

A couple weeks ago, I took my road trip map from the wall. There’s a blank spot there beckoning. Wonder where I’ll go next.

Rob Brunet’s debut Stinking Rich was listed as a Best of 2014 by both Crimespree Magazine and The Ottawa Citizen. His award-winning short crime fiction appears in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine (February 2015), Thuglit, Noir Nation, Shotgun Honey, and numerous anthologies. Brunet is co-host of the Toronto edition of Noir at the Bar and before writing crime, he ran a Web boutique producing sites for titles like Frank Miller’s Sin City and cult television series Alias. He loves the bush, beaches, and bonfires, and lives in Toronto with his wife, daughter, and son.

Called “deviously funny” by Canadian Mystery Reviews, Stinking Rich asks, What could possibly go wrong when the backwoods Libidos Motorcycle Club hires a high school dropout to tend a barn full of high-grade marijuana? Plenty, it turns out. In a world where indoor plumbing’s optional and each local wacko is more twisted than the last, drug money draws reprobates like moths to a lantern. From loveable losers to gnarly thugs and law-and-order wannabes, every last one of them has an angle—their best shot at being stinking rich. And with their own warped ideas about right, wrong, and retribution, the Libidos aren’t far behind.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

When The First Book Started Answering My Questions

By Rich Zahradnik

Writing—the writing process itself—changed in a big way for me from my first novel to my second, and in a way I didn’t expect. This is fresh in my mind because the first book came out Oct. 1 and I turned in the manuscript for the second on Jan. 4.

Like many, my fiction career started while I was working full-time. The first book took a long, long time to finish, because, depending on the job, I might have an hour or a half hour to work on the manuscript. I’m actually embarrassed to say when I started that manuscript, but let’s just say the word “decade” is a fair count of the years. Then, after it was finished, there were the three years or so it took to get an agent and for my agent to secure a publishing deal. A long time.

Last spring, I sat down to write the second book in the series (the publisher contracted for four books). For the first time in my life, someone wanted the manuscript I was about to start. They’d set an actual deadline. And I was working close to full-time on writing (less time spent as stay-at-home dad). For all these reasons, I expected I’d go faster. Let’s face it, I kind of had to, given the deadline. But what surprised me was how much faster I was able to write.

I was a 500-words-a-day writer when I worked on the first book (and had the time). I know some people like goals, some don’t. I do. So I pushed myself and found to my great surprise I was turning out a 2,300-word chapter in a day. It was all messy first draft material, of course.

The why of this is what I really want to talk about. What changed between the first book and the second, aside from time constraints? I realized it was the questions, the thousands and thousands of questions I had to ask myself as I wrote the first book. Is this the right way to handle attribution tags? Too many chapters? Too few? Too many adjectives? Too few? Is the plot working? Is the mystery a mystery? And on and on. Pretty much every other word I typed brought up a question that needed considering and answering as I tried to turn myself into an author.

Some bit of magic happened after the first book was published. You see, now I knew the answers, either because I’d done the right thing in the first place or learned what the solution was during the editing process. You’d be amazed how much faster you can write when a question doesn’t pop up every other word, nagging at you, pulling you back. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t know all the answers, just the first 10,000 or so basic ones. It’s like I now understand the code. Book one gave me the gift of confidence—but not too much of it—and made writing my second manuscript a faster process, though I’d never say easier. Writing never gets easier. The confidence let me get down more words a day and take on bigger challenges in plot structure and character development.

And so came more questions.

Rich Zahradnik is the author of the Coleridge Taylor Mystery series published by Camel Press. LAST WORDS is the first novel in the series and was published Oct. 1, 2014. He was a journalist for 30-plus years, working as a reporter and editor in all major news media, including online, newspaper, broadcast, magazine and wire services. He held editorial positions at CNN, Bloomberg News, Fox Business Network, AOL and The Hollywood Reporter. In January 2012, he was one of 20 writers selected for the inaugural class of the Crime Fiction Academy, a first-of-its-kind program run by New York's Center for Fiction. Zahradnik was born in Poughkeepsie, New York, in 1960 and received his B.A. in journalism and political science from George Washington University. He lives with his wife Sheri and son Patrick in Pelham, New York, where writes fiction and teaches elementary school kids how to publish newspapers. You may visit him at:

In March of 1975, as New York City hurtles toward bankruptcy and the Bronx burns, newsman Coleridge Taylor roams police precincts and ERs. He is looking for the story that will deliver him from obits, his place of exile at the Messenger-Telegram. Ever since he was demoted from the police beat for inventing sources, the 34-year-old has been a lost soul. A break comes at Bellevue, where Taylor views the body of a homeless teen picked up in the Meatpacking District. Taylor smells a rat: the dead boy looks too clean, and he's wearing a distinctive Army field jacket. A little digging reveals that the jacket belonged to a hobo named Mark Voichek and that the teen was a spoiled society kid up to no good, the son of a city official. Taylor's efforts to protect Voichek put him on the hit list of three goons who are willing to kill any number of street people to cover tracks that just might lead to City Hall. Taylor has only one ally in the newsroom, young and lovely reporter Laura Wheeler. Time is not on his side. If he doesn't wrap this story up soon, he'll be back on the obits page—as a headline, not a byline. Last Words is the first book in the Coleridge Taylor mystery series.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

The Short Story Solution

By L. A. Starks

What do you do when your characters talk too much, dwell too long on their histories, make a break for a random subplot, or merely interrupt the narrative flow?

Set aside the rogue paragraphs or pages. There’s a solution (besides the delete button) to corral straying characters and rogue plot twists: turn these pages into short stories or novellas. They can be published as stand-alones, as marketing giveaways, or in anthologies.

Taylor Stevens says about her novella, The VESSEL, “As a genre writer, I’m required to keep each story within a certain length. I ran into that situation with THE DOLL and so we ended up with a 5-month gap in the final pages in which we knew Vanessa Michael Munroe tied up a loose end but weren’t there to experience how it happened. A lot of readers wished they could have known the details—and I wanted to know them too!—which is how THE VESSEL came to be written.”

While certain story threads ultimately didn’t fit the books for which they were written, each focused on the interaction of my two Dayton series characters and an event that shapes them.

Subplot. “Robert and Thérèse Guillard: Choices,” in Amazon Shorts (Lynn Dayton #0.5) reveals more about 13 DAYS antagonist Robert Guillard. Robert’s exhilaration after high-tech wingsuit flying gives way to rage when he discovers his wife’s secret.

Prologue. “A Time For Eating Wild Onions,” in Amazon Shorts (Lynn Dayton #1.5) began as a prologue for two characters in STRIKE PRICE. Along with fry bread and grape dumplings, wild onions are a traditional Native American dish. The Cherokee language gives additional texture to the crucible that was San Francisco during the Vietnam War. The character named Mitch in this story I renamed Jesse Drum in STRIKE PRICE.

Back-story . “Josh Rosen and Bubbe,” in Kindle Direct (Lynn Dayton #2.5) about Josh and his grandmother was inspired by a former neighbor who was a Holocaust survivor.
Allison Brennan, who has written 24 novels and has two more in production, says, “The first time I wrote a short story was after being asked to contribute to the ITW anthology KILLER YEAR. I (now) write a short story or novella between nearly every full-length novel I write. The reasons: (a) It’s a challenge. I like to push myself to try something new and different within a set format. (b) It's fun. I won't say that short stories are easier, but they are less complex than novels and because there isn't an expectation for sale, they're freeing. (c) I've become a cleaner, tighter writer because I've learned to say more with fewer words. (d) Short stories are a good way to get into anthologies put out by established organizations to grow my readership.”

So the next time your beta readers or your editors suggest removing a character or a subplot, save those pages. You’ve earned the genesis of a new short story or a novella.

L. A. Starks is the winner of the Texas Association of Authors' 2014 award for best mystery/thriller for her second Lynn Dayton thriller, Strike Price. Working more than a decade for well-known energy companies in engineering, marketing, and finance from refineries to corporate offices prepared Starks to write global energy thrillers. Three of Starks' short stories have been published in Amazon Shorts/Kindle Direct. She is multi-published on dozens of energy topics at investor websites, energy trade publications, and major newspapers. She is the co-inventor of a US patent. Starks has run eleven half-marathons. She serves as board investment committee chair for the Friends of the Dallas Public Library, a fund-raising and advocacy group that supports Dallas' 28-branch library system.

When several people involved in bidding for an oil refinery are murdered, the situation becomes far more than a billion-dollar business deal. A self-made woman, Lynn Dayton fights to save lives after escalating attacks eventually reveal a hired assassin’s plan to draw another global power into dangerous confrontation with the United States over trillion-dollar oil stakes. Are the killers rogue civil servants challenging the Cherokees’ financial independence, Sansei operatives again wreaking violence, or sinister investors swapping the bidding war for a real one? Lynn Dayton and Cherokee tribal executive Jesse Drum must learn to trust each other so they can find and stop the killers. Can sobering up really be fatal? How have so many of the deaths been made to appear accidental? Who’s creating weapons with modern poisons and ancient Cherokee arts?

Thursday, February 5, 2015

February Debut Releases

It's the first Thursday in February and that means new releases. 

Please take a look and let’s celebrate these debut authors' success!

Susan Adrian - Tunnel Vision (St Martin's Griffin) January 20, 2015

Jake Lukin just turned 18. He's decent at tennis and Halo, and waiting to hear on his app to Stanford. But he's also being followed by a creep with a gun, and there's a DARPA agent waiting in his bedroom. His secret is blown.

When Jake holds a personal object, like a pet rock or a ring, he has the ability to "tunnel" into the owner. He can sense where they are, like a human GPS, and can see, hear, and feel what they do. It's an ability the government would do anything to possess: a perfect surveillance unit who could locate fugitives, spies, or terrorists with a single touch.

Jake promised his dad he’d never tell anyone about his ability. But his dad died two years ago, and Jake slipped. If he doesn't agree to help the government, his mother and sister may be in danger. Suddenly he's juggling high school, tennis tryouts, flirting with Rachel Watkins, and work as a government asset, complete with 24-hour bodyguards.

Forced to lie to his friends and family, and then to choose whether to give up everything for their safety, Jake hopes the good he's doing—finding kidnap victims and hostages, and tracking down terrorists—is worth it. But he starts to suspect the good guys may not be so good after all. With Rachel's help, Jake has to try to escape both good guys and bad guys and find a way to live his own life instead of tunneling through others.

Sandra Block - Little Black Lies (Grand Central Publishing) February 17, 2015

She helps people conquer their demons. But she has a few of her own...

In the halls of the psychiatric ward, Dr. Zoe Goldman is a resident in training, dedicated to helping troubled patients. However, she has plenty of baggage of her own. When her newest patient arrives - a beautiful sociopath who murdered her mother - Zoe becomes obsessed with questions about her own mother's death. But the truth remains tauntingly out of reach, locked away within her nightmares of an uncontrollable fire. And as her adoptive mother loses her memory to dementia, the time to find the answers is running out.

As Zoe digs deeper, she realizes that the danger is not just in her dreams but is now close at hand. And she has no choice but to face what terrifies her the most. Because what she can't remember just might kill her.

Little Black Lies is about madness and memory - and the dangerous, little lies we tell ourselves just to survive.