Friday, January 29, 2016

You Can't Go Home Again BUT You Can Still Answer This Poll

Last night the SO and I watched the first two episodes of Season Ten of The X-Files.

Now...I was an early fan of The X-Files--and I was also an early defector. The Great Conspiracy thing bored me to tears--it was so obviously made up on the fly and it was SO preposterous, but I loved, loved, loved the Monster of the Week shows and I loved the characters and their chemistry. So eventually I did come back and stream all the episodes. And the streaming reconfirmed for me how absolutely idiotic the conspiracy thread was, but how really engaging was the core of the show.

Oh, and I saw all The X-Files movies.

This is just background to let you know I am a fan and I do understand fandom. I understand how you can love and hate something at the same time. I understand how you can feel so invested in someone else's imagination that you feel you get a vote. That your opinion should count for something. I understand that stories really DO matter and that it physically hurts when a writer gets it so wrong and dashes all your hopes and expectations.

So anyway, we watched those first two episodes and my foremost thought was...gulp...Mulder and Scully are old. Now I already knew that -- and I have also grown older -- but although I've seen Duchovny and Anderson in other dramatic vehicles, I haven't seen Mulder and Scully in different dramatic vehicles and yes, it was a little startling. And it put into my mind the thought that if you're going to bring something back, you don't want to wait too long.

 Now that I sound ruthlessly ageist, let me clarify that I actually enjoyed seeing Mulder and Scully together again and I didn't mind at all mind that they were older. I did mind things like...they weren't together as a couple anymore because I hate it when storytellers renege on a promise and when characters can't learn from the past. And the fact that the first episode was nearly incoherent with political agenda and HEY, A NEW EQUALLY FARFETCHED CONSPIRACY EVEN LESS BELIEVABLE THAN THE LAST ONE...but you know, that is so Chris Carter, I almost felt a kind of exasperated affection.

The second episode was marginally better, but if the third one doesn't bring home the goods, I will be erasing Season 10 from my memory banks.

But as I said, what watching Season 10 did was remind me that if you're going to bring something back from the a long promised need to make that a priority. And since for once in my writing life I have no plans and no contracts beyond this year, it seems like 2017 would be a good year to tie up a few loose ends.

Accordingly I'm running a poll at Goodreads.

I'm asking two questions: which series book would you most like to see next AND (two--yes, you get TWO votes) which non-series book with a promised sequel would you like to see next?

The poll is here. (I think)

But not everyone belongs to Goodreads and so if you'd like to answer here, that's okay too.

 So onto the choices.

Of my CURRENTLY ONGOING series (which means NOT Adrien and Jake) which book would you most like to see next:

Holmes and Moriarity
Haunted Heart: Spring
Dangerous Ground

AND of the NON-series books where I have, however, promised a sequel:

The Ghost Wore Yellow Socks
Snowball in Hell
This Rough Magic

Now all these series will ultimately be completed (barring misfortune and death) and all these books will ultimately have their sequels (same rules) but in a perfect world where you are in control, what would you most like to see NEXT?

Answer below or at Goodreads.

Friday, January 22, 2016

The Meat on the Bones

My Christmas tree is still up.

I confess to this only to reassure you that if you are waiting for a book from me, it's coming. I mean a printed book, not the one I'm writing, but that one is coming too. And because that one is coming too, I'm a bit behind on things like answering emails, mailing parcels, packing up the tattered remains of Christmas. I'm in what I consider to be the "manic" stage of writing.

I thought that writing at a more moderate (it feels luxurious, to be honest) pace might eliminate this phase, but no. Once a project reaches a certain stage, the project takes over and there just isn't room for anything else. In fact, it's maybe even worse this time than usual because I've had so much space to sink into the story--and not just this story but the other two books in the trilogy.

There has also been a lot of time to think about my own writing process, which is something I haven't considered for years. Once you achieve a certain mastery of your craft, it becomes instinctive. And frankly, thinking about it too much is potentially detrimental, in the same way that thinking about how to ride a bicycle results in you falling over. Or maybe that's just me lying there in a tangle of barbed wire a few feet from my slightly crumpled bike. (That's a true story -- and I've only just realized how potentially disastrous that crash nearly was...I COULDN'T FIGURE OUT THE BRAKES!)

Anyway. Writing, writing, writing and I wake up every morning with my brain buzzing and the tendency to shriek all Edgar Allan Poe-like at every disruption.  NEVERMORE!

Actually, even if you never achieve a certain mastery of your craft, the work becomes instinctive. In the same way that pulling the lever on a chute does.

I joke a lot, but I do take craft very seriously. Partly because it took me so long to get published (or so it felt to my sixteen-year-old self) at a time when getting published was no easy matter. I have a library of books on craft--and I've actually read them all. Numerous times. They were enormously helpful. But the biggest help was working with editors. Even the editors who rejected me. Partly because back then editors occasionally took the time to spell out what was wrong with the work (possibly they recognized how really young I was). If you don't know what you're doing wrong, it's hard to fix it.

It's not hard to get criticism these days, but it is very hard to get informed and knowledgeable criticism. It just is. It's the new paradigm. You've got a lot of people at the same stage of development advising each other. That's the blind leading the blind. Which can be helpful, I hasten to say, because we're all readers as well as writers. But it's not the same thing as having the opportunity to work with someone who has a lot more experience. Someone who is a lot more successful.

Ah. Yes. THAT. If I'm going to take advice that goes against my own instinct, it's going to be from someone who is more experienced or more successful than me.

Which is how I came to take the James Patterson writing course.

Yes, I know. Now you're giggling.

Maybe you're thinking That's funny, I never knew Josh was such a fan of James Patterson. And...the truth is I've never read a James Patterson book (although I probably will now) but I was looking for an online writing course and this one kept popping up. So I signed up.

And I am LOVING it. Patterson always struck me as a smart and affable guy, and it turns out he's also full of good advice. Or maybe I think he's so brilliant because he confirms so much of what I already think and do (though not with the staggering success as Mr. Patterson). But that doesn't matter because what's happening is there's a lot of commonsense reassurance there--and a lot of reminding me of things I'd forgotten. It's just incredibly relaxing listening to him talk in those little podcasts.

And of course, he knows what the hell he's talking about -- which makes ALL the difference.

I was so pleased with the Patterson experience, that I popped over to Audible to see what else I could find that I could listen to while falling asleep, but aside from the wonderful Anne Lamott, there really wasn't anything -- particularly anything for mystery and suspense. Meaning, there was nothing by anyone I'd ever heard of, and part of the problem with taking writing advice from people who are not successful writers in their own write--er, right--is that it's all theory with them. And theory is great as far as it goes, but...

Anyway, one of the things Patterson talks about is using a writing outline. His rough draft is essentially a detailed outline--and that's what I do as well. But for some reason I had started feeling guilty about writing this way. I'm not sure why--like I was being lazy writing that first draft? I don't know. I know intellectually that there is no "wrong" way to write--so long as you get the work onto paper, it's all good. And yet... it felt like cheating to jump ahead and write all the bits I already knew. But holy moly it's a relaxing way to produce words.

And then when the time comes to do the second draft, yes, it's pretty much as hard as ever, but it's like riding your bike up a hill. Pump, pump, pump. Ah! Then you hit one of those prewritten bits and you skim for several pages. It's like flying.

Plus it's fascinating how much does not change. The bones almost never change. Some of the connective tissue gets altered, but the bones remain.

Friday, January 15, 2016

2016 in Preview

Regular subscribers will note that I'm late with this morning's post. I did totally forget today was Friday, which is what happens when the writing is going very well--which it is.

I've changed up my creative process this year -- well, actually I started last year with A Case of Christmas. The first big change is I'm giving myself loads of time to write everything. "Loads of time" translating to charting out a writing schedule that requires no more than 1500 - 2000 words a day. This is a very comfortable pace which leaves time for research, rewriting, chortling over Donald Trump's latest bon mot and staring blankly into space.

 Secondly I'm writing the way I used to -- this is a bit trickier -- and doing a lot of skipping around and writing out of order. You can't do this if you're pressured for time because you lose emotional continuity. But because I have plenty of time, I feel comfortable sketching out scenes and conversations out of order, as inspiration occurs.  What I like about this, especially when writing mystery, is it allows me opportunity to go back and plant clues -- both physical and psychological. Plus it's just a way more enjoyable way to work. Like popping pieces into a giant puzzle.

I'm not saying that everyone should work this way -- actually, that reminds me. What is it with all these defensive posts about NOT TAKING WRITING ADVICE FROM ANYONE ELSE!!! Good heavens. There are actual memes on the topic of not taking writing advice. :-D Speaking for myself, I love books on writing, books on craft. Heck, I'm planning on taking a screenwriting course this year. Not because I think I'm going to sell a screenplay. But because I am wholeheartedly in favor of anything that stretches and tests my writing brain. My writing muscles. I've been writing professionally a long time. As in selling my writing to publishers since I was sixteen. I've forgotten more about writing than some of my contemporaries have yet learned. :-D  But that forgetting, is why I'm all in favor of refresher courses and writing books and so forth. Why do people get angry at the idea they may have more to learn. OF COURSE YOU HAVE MORE TO LEARN. Unless you are Yoda, you have more to learn. About everything. We ALL do. Until the day we die.

Anyway, I think that defensive, huffy attitude is at odds at becoming the writer we all eventually hope to be.

But I digress.

I don't have a lot set in stone for this year. Partly that is because I have a ginormous mainstream project that I'm doing with the SO. MR AND MRS MURDER: HUSBAND AND WIFE SLEUTHS IN DECTECTIVE FICTION is due to McFarland Press at the end of the year. We have a zillion books to read and one hell of a lot of essays to write. So that is pretty much my year.

Ground-breaking stuff, I assure you. (Actually, I sound like I'm kidding, but I'm not -- this is a big deal.)

In addition to that, I've got The Mermaid Murders (Book I of the Art of Murder trilogy) due out March 1st.  What do you get when you combine a special agent from the FBI Art Crime Team with the top profiler/manhunter from the BAU units? A lot of art-loving serial killers. No, I'm kidding. Partly. Partly not. I think I will write this series pretty fast, with a book out each year.

Then there is a little bitty surprise project which I am superstitiously not going to talk about yet.

Officially next up, Murder Takes the High Road. This is an amateur sleuth standalone for Carina Press. A lonely librarian finds murder and love on a tour bus wending its cumbersome way through the Scottish Highlands. Also the secret cache of whisky in the back of the bus. NOT BASED ON TRUE INCIDENTS. Except the whisky part.

Then there is a lot of room--about three months?-- to do some other projects and I am leaving that stretch of boundless possibility blank for now. Because that's part of the fun, part of the excitement of  being a self-employed artist. (The flip side is never knowing if you will be able to pay the bills.) What should I write? Since I'm reading all these historical mysteries, maybe it makes sense to write historical. The sequel to Snowball? The sequel to This Rough Magic? I need to finish Slay Ride... What? What should I do?

Not knowing is kind of luxurious.

Then, final contracted project (again to Carina Press) for the year, Fair Chance. This is the third and final book in the All's Fair trilogy. We'll be talking about that one quite a bit more I have no doubt. This is the farewell to Elliot Mills and Tucker Lance. Elliot must confront jailed serial killer Andrew Corian -- who may have picked up an apprentice or a copycat killer in the interim.

So that's what we know for sure. The rest of the year is wide open to opportunity and possibility. And that is just the way I like it.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Gomez Pugh on WINTER KILL

Back again with another narrator interview. This month we've got Gomez Pugh talking about narrating WINTER KILL.

WINTER KILL was an interesting production. I was in hurry when I booked the first narrator--we were in the midst of moving--and because I'd been so fortunate in the past with other narrators, I ignored my doubts when I heard the first fifteen minutes (if you're new to self-producing audio, those first fifteen minutes are your last chance to pull out of the deal with no harm no fault). This turned out to be a huge mistake. When I listened to the final production, I knew it was a disaster. But just to be sure, I had a couple of friends listen as well and...yeah. Bad news.

But it was my own fault, so I contacted the narrator, told him I'd pay for the full production but needed to scrap it. He agreed and I began the hunt for my narrator all over again. This time I went with a narrator who I knew would be a sure thing. I'd heard Gomez's previous work on the Psycop series, I checked out all his sound clips, all his previous productions, and then I approached him without putting the book up for any further auditions.

Anyway, the story has a happy ending because I love how WINTER KILL ultimately turned out, even if I did take the long way around. I hope you do too! So without further adieu...

Interview Questions for Gomez Pugh



Tell us a little bit about your background. How did you get started in narrating/producing audio books? How many audio books have you narrated?


GP - My training is in theatre. I have been acting professionally for over a decade. When I moved to LA, a friend referred me for a title he thought would be a good fit and the rest is history! I have narrated over 25 titles.



How much acting is involved in narrating a story?


GP - A great deal. For the narration, it is about being clear and moving the story forward. Figuring out how to navigate long or complicated sentences. Funny enough, I find that my training in Shakespeare helps this a great deal, no matter what type of story I am reading. For the dialogue: it is figuring out who these characters are and how to portray them without the physicality. Pitch, tone, dialects. I often do a lot of research online and collaborate with the author. It is kind of the same process of working with a director at the beginning of rehearsals, figuring out who these people are. Then once I get into the booth, it is like being on stage!


What was the most difficult or challenging aspect of narrating WINTER KILL?


GP - Differentiating between the two lead characters. They are similar in a lot of ways. I wanted them to sound distinct, but without going too far with character voices.



What character was the most fun to narrate? Why?


GP - There were a lot of fun characters on this. Even though Aggie has very few lines, I really like her. She always seemed slightly off her game, either stressed out or overwhelmed. I like her a lot. The others that were a lot of fun were Sandy and Bert. I am a character actor at heart and these guys were a great opportunity to dig in.



 What character was the most difficult to narrate? Why?


GP - Probably Bert. I knew what I wanted him to sound like, but it was challenging to produce that voice. Especially when he spoke more towards the end.



Was there a particular scene you think you read especially well? Or that you particularly enjoyed reading?


GP - I enjoyed reading all of the scenes with Sandy. He was a lot of fun.





How awkward is it to read erotic scenes aloud?


GP - When I record these books I am alone in the booth. So for the erotic scenes, I am in the moment and connected with what is going on. So it isnt a big deal. But after the engineer edits and masters the book, if we have to go back and clean up or correct any of those passages together, it gets a little awkward. They have kind of become private moments.



Whats the most satisfying or rewarding part of narrating/producing an audio book?


GP - For me, its if the author is happy. They spend so much time creating these characters and this world. Its like working with a playwright. As an actor you want to do justice to their work. I always enjoy hearing back from the author after they have listened to the audiobook. Especially when they are excited about a particular character or losing themselves in their own story.



You appear to be much in demand as a narrator. Have you ever found yourself in the position of refusing to narrate a book or a scene?


GP - Sure. A couple of times. If I feel a piece is offensive, or just poorly written. But I like connecting with authors I dont know and forming new relationships, so I am usually pretty open.



Where can readers/listeners find out more about you and your work?


GP - On Audible and on ACX


Friday, January 1, 2016

Happy New Year!

Here's to a happy and healthy 2016! May this be your best year yet. :-)