Tuesday, February 26, 2013

How do you write?

How do you write a scene?  A chapter?  A novel?  Specifically, how important is imagination when you're writing?  How important is the art of description when you write?

I broach this subject because a friend of mine (Paul D. Brazil) posted on Facebook a recommendation for a Turner Hahn/Frank Morales book currently out called A Taste of Old Revenge (find it down in the column on the right).  He said that the book is full of visual images that, if properly captured, would make for an exciting movie.


In one brief sweep of keystrokes Paul perfectly described the way I write.  Using words to paint an image.  Literately.

I don't know about you but I'm not a happy troglodyte when it comes to today's genre fiction.  It's too . . . fracken . . . bland.  There's no color.  No visceral involvement pulling the reader into the action.  In essence, today's writing makes for sensory deprivation for the reader.  The reader is standing off in the distance with a huge telescope watching the action from a safe distance.  Removed from the bleeding, the sweat stinging one's eyes, the feel of cold steel in a gun man's hand, the smell of fresh blood oozing out of a bullet hole.

I don't want to write like that.  I don't want a reader to be an observer.  I want the reader down in the dirt.  I want him rolling in the muck and feeling the pain.  I want him to taste . . . literately taste . . . fear.  I want him to know how it feels to really lose someone you love.  Or the narcotic burst of raw emotion when you defeat a foe superior to you in every measure possible.

Writing like this requires the application of imagination and descriptive qualities measured in just the right proportions.  Too little and you're just writing like the other cookie-cutter clones that have flooded the market.  Too much imagination and description and you turn off the reader's imagination.

Not good, Tonto; not good at all.  The reader's imagination is very important.

On the other hand . . .

I wonder . . . often . . . if perhaps the reader's imagination is overrated.  I wonder if we overestimate the reader himself.  Publishers and literary agents will tell you that too much description will kill a good read and turn off the reader.  Essentially I agree with that.  But on the other hand, a reader picks up a book to be entertained.  He doesn't necessarily want to fill in the gaps mentally.  He wants to see the action unfolding before him.  He wants to hear the bombs exploding.  A story aptly described puts the reader right in the middle of the fight.  Little imagination is required.

You don't go to a James Bond movie and just see the figure of James Bond, alone, fighting an imaginary villain with the expectation that the movie goer must mentally fill in the empty screen with the necessary details to complete the picture.  Each scene of a movie is painstakingly designed visually to create an effect.

What I am saying is a book should be composed the same way.

Each chapter of a novel I write is set up visually first; plot second.  Quite possibly my writing could be described as me stringing a series of visual vignettes together that, taken as a whole, makes the novel complete.

To be honest one of the two reasons I became a writer is because I am not that happy troglodyte I mentioned earlier.  I'm not happy with today's writing.  So I decided to write stories I want to read.  (the other reason I became a writer is simple;  I like to tell stories)

But here's the rub.  Am I a successful writer?  Are my works as plentiful and well received as hundreds of writers are today.

No.  By any standard of measurement I'm just another small fish in a very big body of briny water.
But this is the way I roll, baby.  And I'm thinking the market is so large, so diverse, so complex, that my way of writing would find a sufficiently large enough audience to enjoy some measure of success.

Or not . . . Who the hell knows for certain.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

. . . Coming out Soon

In anticipation of its arrival in the Amazon Kindle Store, I'm presenting to you volume three of the Call Me Smitty series.

Call Me Smitty: There are No Heroes.

Seven short stories featuring you know who . . . Smitty.   A dark character with a rather severe strain of biblical justice embedded into his psyche.  To say the man has a damaged sense of right and wrong might be going a bit too far.

But then again, maybe not.

In this particular genre there are a lot of tough guys out there.  You can name them better than I can so I'm not even going to try.  So me trying to parse together someone to insert into this overcrowded venue and expect him to hold his own has been, shall we say,  a sizable chore to accomplish.  In the end, that's for you to decide.

But I will say this.  I've tried to make Smitty both colder yet, somehow, more trustworthy.  You don't really want to upset Smitty.  On the other hand, having a guy like this around when the real shit hits the fan would be a damn fine idea.

And I'm trying to expand the man's clientele.  He's not just an assassin.  Now, for the right price, he cleans up other peoples' messes.  Or contracts out to super secret spy agencies no one knows about and hides their dirty laundry.

Seventy seven pages of bloody revenge, vicious double crosses, along with an assorted venue of blood and mayhem. 

I like every story in here.  But I admit I do have favorites.  Yet I'm wondering if my choices are going to be yours as the two 'best.'  I particularly like the very first story, called There Are No Heroes, and the very last story, called I'm Sure.

It should be popping up in the Kindle store shortly.  And (confession time here) you'll note the original art work is not quite the same as the one here.  A small correction had to be made and I'm trying to get the new cover up to replace the original.

And while we're at it, you might as well check out volumes one and two of the series.  Especially volume one.  You'll find out how Smitty became Smitty. (you can find those at the top of the right hand column)

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Writing a Novel

You know and I know Vincent Zandri.  If you like reading noir/hard boiled steeped in the dark side of possibility, then you've read this guy.

He's that kind of writer who goes out and does a lot of research before he sits down to sling words around on a computer screen.  Maybe its because of his  gigs as a news reporter he worked, and still works occasionally , which ingrained this first step into him.  Who knows . . .

All I know is if you want to read one hell of a gripping novel, read one of his.

So it occurred to me . . . . . hmmm.  How does this guy go about writing a book?  And wouldn't it be kinda of freaky tapping into this resource and extracting the messy details out of him for all of us to see.  So . . . what the hell.  I asked if he'd be willing to step into the confessional and rip his guts out for us. 

Surprise!  He agreed!  (and I owe him big time for that.)

So without further ado, let's get into the interview.  You're gonna love it!

1. Okay, I'm ready to pick your brains, my friend. I want to know what makes you tick when it comes to writing a novel. So first question; how do you choose a story? Does a feeling come over you that makes you want to write? Or does a story/plot idea grab you by the collar of your shirt with both hands and slaps you around like some B-movie mobster first before you take notice?


It’s a strange process and one I’m not always in charge of. I’ve had situations where I’ve thought a book through for more than a year before I started writing it, like The Concrete Pearl for instance. I knew the ending to this book and the beginning, but I had no real way of knowing what was going to happen in between until I finally started on it. Even after thinking about for all that time, it was a tough one to write. Maybe because I was so close to the subject, which is corruption in the commercial construction industry, and having grown up in the family construction business, it might have been over researched.

The Concrete Pearl
But then there are stories that flash into my brain and grab me instantly, like when I’m getting coffee at the local bodega for instance, and I set to work on them immediately without thinking about what’s going to happen. That’s a magical thing. If all goes well, before you know it, five or six weeks will have passed and I’ll have a full first draft of a novel. It’s entirely spontaneous and wonderful, like meeting a beautiful woman while taking a coffee as a small bar in Florence.

Moonlight Rises was that way. My wife and I had split up at the time and I was a little out of sorts because she was dating, as was I. In order to deal with this, I wondered what would happen if my character Dick Moonlight died suddenly, and she came to his side while he lie on his deathbed. I pictured the scene in my mind a hundred times over the course of one single cup of coffee: Moonlight lying on his back and his ex, Lola coming to say her final goodbyes. Only, while doing so, her new boyfriend comes into the picture. Moonlight, having just passed is watching all this from up above his body while he has his out-of-body experience. What happens? He gets so mad, he forces himself back into his body so he can kick said boyfriend’s ass…Moonlight Rises!!!

In the end, the stories choose us, not the other way around. I do however subscribe to the farmer policy, in that I switch crops now and again. If I’m just getting of a hard-boiled thriller like The Guilty, which I just completed or Murder by Moonlight, then I’m apt to try something in a different vein, like my new action adventure series CHASE. 


2. Specifically, what are the key components in a story that must come together first before your convinced this story will work as a novel? Are your novels always based off stories from the outside world? Or does an idea slowly begin to build from within, piece by piece, until it reveals itself as a full fledged masterpiece?


I go both ways. Murder by Moonlight is very much based on the true story of Bethlehem, NY axe murderer, Chris Porco, and I knew I had no choice but to structure an intricate fiction around the existing non-fiction. This is a case where you research enough material to make you plenty hard, and then you stop and go about the business of literary copulation. It also keeps you guessing as a novelist and not bound by any fences or Stop signs. In my case, I was able to explore many scenarios and possibilities the cops could never explore in the real case. In the end, I’m not convinced the kid did it alone. I guess you could say that in some ways, “Murder” is my Norman Mailer, “New Journalism” novel.

Then there are novels that begin with a character I want to create. I don’t write notes. Like Capote, I allow the character to take up space in my brain for a while. If he or she sticks around long enough, I know I’m going to write a book for them, bring them to life if you will. My new CHASE series was created like that. For months I was walking around Italy thinking about a character names Chase Baker, who is both a novelist and an adventurer. He lives in New York and Florence, but he also travels the world, on occasion doing some tomb raiding as a sandhog, which was his original profession. The sandhogging makes him some good money but also provides the basis for some of the novels he writes. That in mind, I travelled to Egypt this past October and got plenty good material for the book. I wrote the first draft in five weeks.



3. Fitting characters to a story; how does that take shape? Do you pull characters out and expand upon them from a real crime story? Or do you build a character to fit a story?


Sometimes neither. Sometimes both. Obviously, Dick Moonlight is a carefully designed character who has a small piece of 22 cal. bullet in his brain which could kill him at any moment. Therefore all the Moonlight novels are written around this circumstance which can make for some fun plotting. Especially when he dies and must be resurrected yet again!! That’s why those novels are so fun to write and to read. You never know what’s going to happen and in a sense, anything can and will happen.


The Remains
In other instances, like my very popular stand-alone, The Remains, I wanted to write about identical twins who were abducted when they were pre-teens, which required some research into how twins function. That research helped develop the plot and in some ways determined the plot and overall story. It also features an autistic savant oil painter, so I had to be careful how I treated that character. Unlike the Moonlight books, anything can’t happen that wouldn’t happen in real life. You following me here? 


4. Continuing on with the character development angle; writers who write a continuing character . . . a series featuring one or more characters . . . does this limit a writer's imagination or enhances it? Why do you think many publishers prefer a writer developing a continuing character?


I don’t think it limits anything. If anything, you get to explore more of your character as he grows and changes and ages. Unlike the Spenser novels or even the Mike Hammers, I try and age my serial characters as the years fly by. I think if you make them real like that, have them experience what it’s like to turn 45 or 50, for instance, it makes for an more interesting novel. You can’t do what you did at 25 at 50 even if you’re in top shape, so that makes for interesting writing.

Publishers like serials because, if they’re good, you build more and more of an audience with each book published, which is happening with my Moonlight series, and also my Jack Marconi books. As a writer, however, I feel you can become almost too comfortable by concentrating too much on serial writing. Which is why I try and write a stand-alone every two or three books. Keeps you sharp as an artist and keeps life interesting.


5. Writing habits; when you're knee deep in writing on a project, do you carve out a block of time each day to write? Do you set deadlines on the amount of words that must be produced? Or do you use a when-the-mood-hits-me approach? Are there advantages/disadvantages to either approach? And most important of all, do you do a lot of research before you write? Or while you're writing?


I’m a disciplined writer. I write every day, two hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon. I keep the schedule no matter what, even when I’m overseas. The most time I’ve ever taken off over the past twenty years is a week. As for the research, depending upon the project, I study what I have to in order to get started. Then I might do a little more as I go, strictly on a as needed basis. In general, I might outline the first few chapters, but I rely on the story to form organically as it goes. However, I also make sure to end in a place where I can be sure to carry on the next day. Papa Hemingway did the same thing way back when and it’s some of the best advice you can pass on to a young writer. Never shoot your entire load in a single sitting. By the way, one of my hugest fans is Ernest Hemingway’s great granddaughter, Mia Hemingway. I think there’s something very humbling about that.



6. Traditional publishing versus ebook publishing? How has this conflict changed, if any, the writing process? Should books, page number wise, be longer or shorter if writing for ebook publishers only? Should there be a different style in the writing between the two? Are there any differences between those who prefer reading traditionally compared to those who have gone electronic?


In the words of Jim Harrison who was recently asked more or less the same question, “Who gives a shit?” So long as I am writing the stories I want to write and people are reading them either on paper or on a screen or listening to them on audio, it really doesn’t matter because my job is always the same. I get up, make the coffee, sit down to a blank page. 


7. Last question. How much success have you seen since you've gone the ebook route? What are you writing on now? Any news about possible movie options? Television series options? Don't be shy . . . tell us everything that is on your plate currently.


My success with ebooks is widely known, and for some reason I’m being written up by the likes Publishers Weekly and being interviewed by the New York Times as this huge indy and self-publishing success. But the fact of the matter is this: I’ve never self-published a novel in my life, and there are far great success stories out there than me. LJ Sellers, for example. I guess I’m lumped into the “hybrid author” category since ebook publishing is almost entirely based on the self-publishing model. That’s fine with me. I refer back to the previous question. Who gives a shit how it’s published or the business model under which you are contracted? The point is to write great books and to earn a readership who will follow you forever or longer.

There is indeed some movie play, yet again. Craven Films has been showing interest. Also Mel Gibson’s company, Icon. But I never hold my breath in these circumstances. I leave it all up to my agent Chip MacGregor. Right now I’m finishing my first CHASE novel. I’ve also just finished book three in the Marconi series, The Guilty. Thomas & Mercer is bringing out the fifth (or is it sixth?) Moonlight novel, Moonlight Sonata in the late Fall of ’13 or early Winter ’14. And did I just say I’ve never self-published. Well, I’m in the process of staring my own label, Bear Media, so that I can finally put out a couple of my own novels. I’m not sure how it’s going to go, and I suppose that in the end, if it doesn’t work out, I can go to a traditional publisher with the work. But for now I want to experiment a little with being both author and publisher of at least a small selection of my own work. It should prove to be an adventure at the very least. And I think that’s what life should be all about. The adventure.

Thanks for having me, BR.  

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Interviewing John Lehman

There's an ezine out there called Lit Noir. A hard hitting mag that takes on the old ramshackle house for a genre called Noir and tries to give it a fresh coat a paint, a different kind of look; revitalizing the old place by looking for fresh talent.  Talent as in writers who have a clear vision what a good noir tale should be.
Which I am happy to admit I will be one of writers showcased in volume #9 coming out shortly.  'Smitty' makes his debue in Lit Noir with a nasty little ditty called I'm Sure.  I'm sure those who know my dark eyed hit man will be pleased with it.  More importantly I have high hopes that a number of new fans will come knocking on Smitty's door once they discover him.
The mag is an audacious attempt from an audacious writer with tons of experience to redefine what noir is.  I've always thought genre literature . . . and it certainly is literature to me . . . fundamentally is more compelling because, unlike traditional literature, genre goes to the deepest recesses of the soul to find its stories.  Passion, hatred, lust, loyalty;  all painted with a more interesting brush.  Yet because these stories come out in 'pulp' magazines, and there are far more writers working in this field than there are in the traditionalist venues, somehow genre writing is tagged as an inferior product.
Hmmmm . . . don't think so, Ernest.
Anyway . . . the man behind Lit Noir is a guy by the name of John Lehman.  A poet, a writer, an editor, John has been around for a long, long time.   He has a wide selection on the market of his works, of which quite a bit revoles (and here I am only guessing) his first love; poetry.  But what makes him unique in my eyes is that he has a very similar respect and definition for genre as I have.
Always good, muchachos, to find a writer who shares your same viewpoint.
I was invited to share one of my stories to Lit Noir.  Now I've asked John to share some ideas with me about creating the mag, about writing in general, etc.  I think you'll find the interview interesting.
So enjoy.
1. Everyone, if they are a writer, knows how hard it is to write. But they can only imagine how difficult it would be to become a writer/editor/publisher of an magazine. So tell us, what in Hades got into your head to start Lit Noir? Where did the seed of starting this creation first pop unto existence?
It started with publishing Rosebud Magazine (a literary magazine going on twenty years). I had been doing writing workshops and had lists of people who I thought might make good readers. Also I had a friend who was willing to help (Rod has since taken over as publisher). Print publishing can be expensive (I had moved into books after a few years) and that’s what led me to look at the digital angle for both publishing and launching Lit Noir. I think this has become an exciting time for writers thanks to the old system breaking down and digital being so accessible. But the time to act is now. Five years from today big corporations will have figured out how to monopolize it.
No matter, I have learned that you have to do what you love because the monetary reward may not follow. I have always liked film noir and writers like Shirley Jackson and Patricia Highsmith who indulge our shadowy side. My friend came up with the term “Lit Noir” and I was in business.  
2.  How successful has Lit Noir become so far?  Is it growing?  Is the reading population world wide?  Have you been overwhelmed with writers knocking on your door asking to come in?
Kindle Publishing lets you offer your book or magazine free for five days. So I sell it for a buck a copy on Amazon, but also give it away in order to build audiences. The total amount may be around 400 or 500 per issue out. Whatever money there results, goes to the cover artist and funding t-shirts. But my main objective is to get readers for writers. I also host a LitNoir.com web site that showcases samples from the magazine and announces the give-away dates. There’s a lot of good stuff on the Internet, but I want to provide a vehicle with particular focus, so that connections will be made and start to build. I was surprised (and very pleaded) to find that there are strong communities of noir writers and readers throughout the world.  
3.  The dark, the macabre, the noir-infested story of mayhem and revenge.  Which one is your particular fancy?  Are you more into horror and the macabre than, say, hard boiled/noir?
I went into this a bit in Lit Noir #7. The stereotypes of film noir get tiresome, but boundaries between genres are always fuzzy. Conceptually, noir has much in common with certain kinds of fantasy.
Recently I watched a documentary on the movie producer Val Lewton. Remember Cat People? Being trapped in an indoor pool at night? Shadows flickering on the walls? Suddenly there’s the growl of a leopard. And then nothing. Except in that moment our deepest fears fly out. But there is something more going on. One of the characteristics of noir is that it allows our unconscious to surface. And with that there is the promise of catharsis.   
4.  As editor, what do you look for in a story.  What 'clicks' for you?  Is it character development?  The plot?  Word choice/writing style?  Two different writers create basically the same story.  One works.  One doesn't.  Why?
I’m looking for something that hooks my attention, develops its underlying theme, brings it to a climax (with metaphoric implications) and leaves me with something to think about, apply to my own life.
Editors are glorified readers, as anxious to find something that takes them further in and further out as anyone picking up the piece. That’s why we go to so many plays despite being disappointed in the past, read so many novels even though we have been left unsatisfied by most of them.  
5.  Give us your prognosis on the health of genre fiction today.  Is it healthy and growing?  Is it slowly dying off?  Or is it somehow changing into something else?
I think this is a very exciting time for writers and readers. E-books, blogs, special apps, digital magazines...are giving us access to each other in a way science-fiction writers fifty years ago could only imagine. I have 25 books on Kindle, mostly under “Jack Lehman.” All are five bucks or less and you don’t even need a Kindle, they will provide a free app at the site for computers, iPads, etc. I say this, not to brag, but to encourage what anyone can do instead of waiting 25 years to interest a traditional publisher (reducing his or her work to their tired formulas).  
6.  Who do you see coming up through the ranks that might soon burst open and become the next mega star. Care to make any predictions?
As I’ve implied in my answer to the question above, we don’t need megastars anymore. There are fresh new voices, with fresh new ways of saying things, to readers who want “now.” 
7.  In relation to the above question, in your opinion, what does it take for a writer to succeed?  Talent or determination?  Or just plain Luck?
Talent, luck, determination are all important, but you need to aggressively reach out to readers in a way that speaks to them. And if you don’t know how, the answer is: learn. Marketing. It means more than selling books, it involves understanding and appreciating your readers in a way that is beneficial to them.  
8.  What's next for Lit Noir?  Is it branching out into a more extensive publishing format? Get serious, perhaps, in e-publishing novels?  What does the future hold?
We are doing single issues and bundling each four into Kindle anthologies. Reaching out to people we think might benefit from being under our umbrella. I am in rural Wisconsin and getting pieces and ideas from Poland, Russia, Switzerland and elsewhere in the U.S. This is exciting. And so unexpected, I can’t even imagine where it will lead. But where ever it does, I am ready to follow.
I strongly urge you to go out and find John's works.  There's a wide variety to choose from.  And I urge you to check out Lit Noir (uh . . . especially # 9).  Writers from all over the world are creating a mag of astonishing qualities. 
You won't be disappointed.