Now available at Amazon.
Monday, September 7, 2015
This week’s update is a little late. I would like to say it’s because I’ve been working so hard, but the truth is I’ve produced little in the last three days. What I have done is find out that my eyes work better than I thought, my teeth are good and my dentist has proclaimed himself a fan of our books, and, along with 70,000 other fans, I sat outside in the sun on a day with a hundred degree heat index to watch a football game. Add all that up and what I learned is that while my health is good, I’m not twenty anymore and four hours in scorching heat is harder on me than I would like.
That got me to thinking about something I’ve had to explain to more than a few people lately. I spend a lot of time in the mines working. The question I keep getting is, “Why?”
The answer is pretty simple, life is short and I’m a lot closer to the end than I am the beginning. In a perfect world (which this one seldom is), I’ve got twenty more years to get out as many stories as I can. Between my partner Max Allan Collins and I we have more than enough ideas, so now it’s just a race to get those ideas turned into stories while we have time.
Just this morning, in fact, thanks to my wife the former English teacher, there is another iron in the fire that wasn’t there just twenty-four hours ago.
I’ve got an obsessive personality, no doubt about it, and that makes sitting in my office writing on a gorgeous sunny day a lot easier. If you want to learn more about my obsessive personality, check out this week’s blog, too. Anyway, my goal for whatever time I have left is another thirty books. Whether that’s a lot or a little is for someone else to decide, but that’s the number that feels right.
I came to full-time writing in my thirties, early for some, late for some, about right for me. Still, I feel like I got to the party late and there’s some making up to be done. Fate of the Union, the newest novel by Collins and me, launches on November 10th. It will be our twenty-third novel collaboration in what is beginning to feel like a real career. I hope we’re not halfway through the number of books we’ll write together. That would be pretty fucking sweet. I’m working on my draft for number twenty-four now, and am over the burn-out or whatever it was I was feeling. We’ve had a long haul, done okay, but we’re having more fun than we ever have and I’m looking forward to what I hope is another thirty books.
So, what happens if we make that and we’re still kicking? Thirty more, right?
Wednesday, August 26, 2015
So, the coffee IV is important to me. Every morning I go to a local place and have coffee while I read and chat online with my friends. Some mornings, though, you get lucky and a character or two walks in and adds something to either the current or a future book.
The Sunday morning I spent an hour talking to two drunk transvestites was actually very helpful in what was then the first draft of what would become Fate Of The Union. On November 10, when the book is released (yay, got the plug in for the new book without a lot of pain) you’ll meet Karma and Virginia.
Today’s contribution has yet to find a home. Since Max Allan Collins and I write political thrillers, serial killers, and other crime fiction, it might be more difficult to work in what I saw today. The restaurant where I have my coffee shares a parking lot with a Target, Pet Smart, and Staples. Most mornings I see a flock of gulls who troll the lot looking for cast off fries and buns. This morning I witnessed a most tense stand-off when a murder of crows invaded the lot, too. There was much cawing and cursing as the two groups squared off over the remnants of a large order of fries.
My first impression was that I was seeing an avian version of the Jets and Sharks, but there was no dancing. Instead, one crow, the leader (let’s call him Luther), jangled three small bottles together as he crowed (come on, you knew it was coming), “Warriors, come out to pllllaaayyy.”
The gulls, unimpressed, stood around cawing back as they waited for reinforcements from above. Air support, something the original Warriors was missing, showed up quickly. Just as I thought they were finally going to engage in some serious combat, a car drove through the lot and disrupted the entire Walter Hill via Alfred Hitchcock scenario and I was left to wonder what might have been.
…Just when I was getting ready to give them my Cyrus speech about not fighting with each other, banding together and taking over the entire city for ourselves.
Might be a while before that book actually gets written, but adding it to the compost heap in my brain of ideas that mixes, matches, and eventually turns into something even more twisted than crows and gulls acting out Warriors in a parking lot.
Man, just once I really wanted to be able to say, “Can you dig it?”
Wednesday, August 19, 2015
Not a lot to update this week. Sometimes, like now, it’s pretty quiet here. I have two different books of my own going, some projects by others that I’m contributing to, and I’m trying to get back to reading for fun, too. Turns out several of my friends are excellent storytellers, who knew?
The cool thing about this job, unlike most readers, I can talk to the author and go, “What were you thinking here? How did you come up with that twist? Did you know like five characters have first names that start with M?”
Like any good writer, I blame the editor for that one. As writers we get fixated on certain things without realizing it, and, sometimes, Mark, Martin, Mary, and a killer whose nickname is Masher all end up in the same story without us realizing we’re doing this. It’s not even always just the first letter all the time. Watch me when all the women are named Tess, Bess, Jess, and Lucretia. Okay, I haven’t done that, but close. Naming characters is hard. I can’t just name them George Foreman I, George Foreman II, and so on. So, how do we do it? I ask authors all the time. Some use phone books and pick a first name from this column and a last name from the other column on a different page. Some look for resonance of some sort…Nate Heller, Mike Hammer, Jackson Seaker (had to get one of mine in). Some people are good at it, and some of us look like we’ve plucked names from Jane Austen or Billy Shakespeare.
Which brings me to the point of this perfectly pointless update…I like cemeteries. Names, dates, stories already written, if you know how to look for them. Oh man, Jed and Harriet Reasoner had a child that only lived to be three. Shit. I saw a father and son buried next to each other at Arlington National Cemetery. They both served. I noticed mostly because they were from Iowa, but I also saw that Dad passed in his eighties, and the son in his twenties. The story is partially written already.
My favorite? Thanks for asking.
My maternal grandfather is buried quite a walk from the service road of the cemetery where he and his wife lie. Along the walk to his grave I always read the headstones. Not far from my grandfather is a headstone that, when I read it, a complete sentence formed in my head. The man’s name is Ralph Noyes. The sentence? Ralph Noyes couldn’t make up his mind. Kind of reminds me of this update.
See you next week, Mystery Kids.
Wednesday, August 12, 2015
Last week I talked about one of the big passions in my life, storytelling. That was more from the point of view of an audience member. This week, I want to talk about storytelling, especially writing novels, from the other side – creation, in particular, collaboration. My partner Max Allan Collins and I just spent three hours fleshing out the plot of the novel of which I’ve already started writing the first draft.
Yeah, I know, sounds weird. The thing is, the book was sold on the strength of a vague synopsis, and now is the time to start thinking how we’re going to make something sort of ethereal into something really concrete with you know, subplots, characters, pages, and stuff. We knew the beginning twelve pages and what we hoped to accomplish by the end. There were just those three or four hundred pesky pages in the middle to deal with. Which, by the time we were done plotting, also changed the end of the book, but that’s one of those things that happens along the way, too. At some point I may well find out the first twelve pages were wrong, too. At least we have a plan.
Like former heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson once said, “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face.”
At some point this book will punch us in the face. They always do. I would, in fact, be worried if it didn’t. The characters need to do what they need to do, not what we want them to do. If the characters don’t come alive for us, they will never come alive for the reader. As a writer, you really want the characters to come alive for the reader, it’s the oxygen of fictional lives. Here’s the rub, though. When the characters come alive for us, they’re just as likely to screw up our plan as they are to follow it. When they finally do something that totally punches us in the face, that’s when we know we’re on the right track. That moment is when whatever book we’re working on actually starts to feel like a book.
So, we knew the beginning, the ending, and we needed to fill in the middle. How do we do that? We play “WHAT IF.” What if so and so does this…what if they do that? Back and forth, feeding off each other as we spitball ideas back and forth.
Al says, “We need to do this.”
“Yeah,” I say, “but we can’t do it there, this other thing will set that in motion, so what you’re proposing needs to go here instead of there.”
“But, what if we…”
And back and forth we go, killing people, organizing shootouts at national monuments, plotting to wreak some pretty serious havoc on some pretty important shit. All the time this is happening, we’re sitting in a booth in the back of his hometown Applebee’s, one eye cocked toward the door in case the SWAT team comes blowing in because a customer overheard us talking about assassinating Supreme Court Justices (we already did that book) and called 911.
You know what will happen when the SWAT team swarms in? I’ll be taking notes, and even as one of them cuffs me, I’ll be asking him, “Yeah, but what if…”
Wednesday, August 5, 2015
I don’t think of myself as an artist much. I realize I work in the arts, but as long as I’ve been a professional writer, I considered it a job. A great job, the best job there is, I think, but I tend to bring a lunch pail mentality to what I do. So, the idea of art, and how important it is in the lives of my wife and mine hasn’t been something I’ve devoted a lot of thought to, until recently.
Maybe because I’m a little older, maybe because I’m simply paying more attention, I have noticed how much art, and in particular storytelling, are to us. Just spinning around in my chair in my office, I realize there are several hundred books in this room alone, not to mention cds and dvds, all of them telling some kind of story. The whole house looks like this, like it’s insulated with art instead of that pink stuff. I say this not to brag, because, honestly, I’m two King-Size Avengers issues away from having a two-part episode on Hoarders.
I bring this up because over the last couple weeks, storytelling has been on my mind a lot. There are so many ways to tell a story in this world (we’re not just painting mammoths on walls anymore, Mystery Kids) that I’m always impressed when someone finds a way to bowl me over with their ability to tell a story.
We have seen two very different types of stories that have impressed me lately. The first was a film, Mr. Holmes. Directed by Bill Condon, written for the screen by Jeffrey Hatcher, adapted from a novel by Mitch Cullin, and featuring Sherlock Holmes created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, this film has a writer’s family tree that goes back to the nineteenth century, but it feels as fresh as today. Of the bajillionty eleven Holmes stories I’ve encountered since childhood, I don’t remember one that dealt with Holmes after Dr. Watson made him famous. In this film, a ninety-three year old Holmes tries to solve his last case from years ago, the one that forced him into self-imposed exile. With the help of a boy, Holmes puts together the pieces, even as he battles memory-loss and his own frailty. We loved it and I hope Sir Ian McKellan receives the Academy Award for what I thought was an absolutely brilliant performance. Nothing explodes, there’s no nudity, gunfire, dumb jokes, superheroes or Stan Lee cameos. It is, instead, a quiet story told quietly and with patience. While I dug Ant-Man and can’t seem to take Guardians Of The Galaxy off its permanent loop in my dvd player, this small movie moved me like few stories have lately.
Which brings me to something decidedly non-quiet. Quite fucking loud, in fact – Sonic Highways. Dave Grohl’s eight part HBO series that is part documentary about the recording of the new Foo Fighters album of the same name, and part musical history doc about the eight different cities and studios in which the album was recorded. Having already seen Grohl’s previous documentary, Sound City, I already knew he was a gifted filmmaker. I’ve always liked the band, too. The thing is, Grohl is a storyteller. He does it in song, he does it on film. Yeah, it wanders off track now and then. Yeah, it gets a little sentimental at the end, I don’t care. It works as a way to tell multiple stories that are really all part of a bigger story.
I have used this space before to quote my friend, the noted children’s author David R. Collins. Going to do it again. David said, “My job is to educate and entertain.”
As a writer, I took that to heart, but since I write for adults, I reverse the order. With Sonic Highways, Grohl has found a very admirable balance between the two.
I’m reminded of another of my favorite quotes, this one from 60 Minutes creator and producer Don Hewitt. When asked to explain the success of the, at the time, twenty year old show, Hewitt said, “Everything we’ve done is based on four simple words: Tell me a story.”
I’ve worked both sides of that fence, and those four words mean the world to me – TELL ME A STORY.
Wednesday, July 29, 2015
Writers sometimes ask me if I think there is any benefit from attending a writers conference. Having just returned from the Midwest Writers Workshop, my favorite conference, I can say, unequivocally, yes. If you’re just beginning your journey, already on the path, or even like me, nearly thirty years removed from my first conference, there’s something there for all of us. It’s kind of like going to church, really. Sometimes, your faith just needs to be renewed.
My first one, back in 1987, a week-long event known as the Mississippi Valley Writers Conference left me drained after five days of classes that ran from 8:00 A.M. until 5:00 P.M. Although I was lucky enough to win a couple of awards, I went home wondering if I had really learned anything. My brain cramped from all the information I’d received. Fast forward a couple of weeks and I wrote a sentence that I instantly realized I wouldn’t have been able to construct before the conference. Slowly, it became clear that I had learned tons of stuff and it all became part of my writer’s toolbox. From then on, I was hooked.
In 1990, R. Karl Largent, a mentor of mine, my second father, and my partner in Robin Vincent Publishing, said, “If you’re serious about writing, you need to go to more conferences, different conferences.” The next year I joined him at Midwest Writers Workshop and that has been my writing home for the last quarter century. I grew up there, learned my craft, met some of the most important people in my life, and eventually became the sponsor of the Manny Awards, MWW’s annual writing contest.
I can’t tell you what all I’ve learned at conferences, hell, I don’t even know the complete list. A lot of writing, but a lot of how to live the writer’s life, too. So, this year, when I attended classes taught by this year’s faculty, I went in as someone who isn’t an amateur, a twenty-three year pro, in fact, and yet, these amazing authors still managed to show me new ways to look at our craft, our jobs, our careers, and Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No, to boot.
If you’re a fledgling or a pro, a poet, a novelist, or non-fiction writer, whatever the hell it is you do in this huge universe of writing, can you get better by attending a conference? Yeah, you can.
There are plenty of choices, and I’m not naming names beyond MWW, but you can find them easy enough. There are plenty of eager, talented teachers willing to help you, so…go for it. Join us!
My next conference is Bouchercon, the world’s biggest traveling mystery conference that will be held in Raleigh, NC, this year. That’s not only about education, but about seeing my friends. Always a good time. I’ll also be at Murder & Mayhem In Milwaukee on November 7th, where I’ll be moderating a panel, and damn sure to be asking the panelists about how they do that voodoo they do so well. I won’t be asking just for the audience either. I can learn from my fellow pros and I intend to.
Next July, though, I’ll be back at the Midwest Writers Workshop in Muncie, IN. By then, I’ll need some churchin’ up. Because, let’s face it, we can all use a little more knowledge and a little more faith, right?
New Release: Family Values (short story)
Friday, March 14, 2014
It's All About Collaboration
One of the questions I’m most frequently asked is why do I collaborate with another writer? My stock answer is because I like working with other writers, and when it comes to my main partner, Max Allan Collins, we work well together.
The real answer is that any book read by more than its own author is a collaboration. The author tries to paint a word picture that will allow a reader with a completely different set of life experiences to “see” the same movie that is playing in the author’s head. How much control the author cedes to the reader to fill in the picture determines the depth of the collaboration.
While I normally think too much about this stuff anyway, it really hit home with me when the former English teacher and I went to see Crosby, Stills, and Nash a couple of nights ago. Here are three singers who have been successful alone, and in other bands, but keep coming back to each other. When these three men harmonize, something takes place that doesn’t happen just because talented singers are working together. This is a case of the whole being greater than the sum of the parts. I like to think that’s what happens when Collins and I approach a new project -- we harmonize and the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
Before you start thinking that my ego is writing checks my talent can’t cash, I’m not trying to say that our talent is on the level of CSN, all I’m saying is that we harmonize well, and more importantly, as I discovered with Crosby, Stills, and Nash, it’s not JUST about the old days. New ideas are being pursued, and the experience of having worked together for so long allows them to bring a matured version of their magic to new things. While the creative process never gets easier, Collins and I have worked together long enough that I believe certain steps in the process are smoother because of experience. After twenty-some books and another dozen and a half short stories, as well as projects across almost every media platform, we have learned each other’s strengths. This allows me to step out of the spotlight and let Collins solo where I know he is particularly strong, and vice versa.
The thing that happens when we write together is that a voice that is neither Al nor me steps forward. Readers, especially our friends, will tell us they can recognize passages that one or the other of us has written. Almost every single time, they are wrong. The truth is, most of the time, neither one of us knows whose stuff is whose. I might have had the thought in some sentence, but after Al’s pass, the words are different. The grain of the thought might be mine, but it has been filtered through him and it becomes ours. The process works in reverse, too. Consequently, by the end of a book, we have both written every sentence and rarely is there one that is entirely his or mine. We harmonize. With any luck, we’ll get to keep harmonizing on two dozen more novels.
Monday, February 10, 2014
Been quiet for a while. The holidays and this winter combined to put me in a serious funk, but I'm back in the world now and back to work.
On a sunnier front, SUPREME JUSTICE, the latest collaboration by Max Allan Collins and myself will be published June 17, this year, and is already available for pre-order at Amazon.com.
It won't be long and "Family Matters," the first short story I ever sold, will be available as an e-story. Though I sold it in 1992, it wasn't published until 1998 when it appeared in the Signet paperback PRIVATE EYES, edited by Mickey Spillane and my usual cohort in crime, Max Allan Collins. I was lucky enough to share space with the late Stuart Kaminsky, Jeremiah Healy, Bill Pronzini, Barb D'Amato, Robert Randisi, and others. The book, and hence my story, have been out of print for some time.
For those of you who have wondered about the "Chuck," this story marks the only appearance, so far, of part-time private eye Chuck Twain. I have resisted the urge to do a director's cut, and the story will appear as it did originally. I'm a better writer than I was twenty-two years ago, but that story represents the best I could do at the time, I wanted it to stand on its own spindly legs, even now.
There will be more news on the horizon. It's going to be a busy year. Already, my friends are having books come out this year.
If you get a chance, check out:
DEATH OF AN IRISH DIVA by Mollie Cox Bryan
HOME OF THE BRAISED by Julie Hyzy
JANUARY THAW by Jess Lourey
Plus, more friends will be having books come out, and you can keep up with my incredibly busy partner at MaxAllanCollins.com.
For now, I'm off to a nap. Tomorrow (Friday, Feb. 7), I'm joining other cool mystery writers to talk about craft at Love Is Murder in Rosemont, IL. Until the next time ...
Wednesday, December 4, 2013
Every now and then, it’s nice to actually have an update for the update page.
First, Amazon put WHAT DOESN’T KILL HER, the thriller I collaborated on with Max Allan Collins, on sale as one of its Daily Deals. That was Saturday, and nearly four months after its release. As I write this on the following Wednesday, we’re #1675 overall in the Kindle Store, #47 in Women Sleuths after topping out, this weekend, in the top twenty, and we are STILL number two in Serial Killers. I’m happy this book is maintaining traction because Al and I have already been discussing how cool it would be to do a sequel and get to hang out with Jordan Rivera a while longer. The woman is damaged goods, but I love her.
Next up, THE WORLDS OF EDGAR RICE BURROUGHS sort of sneaked out without us being aware of it. Al and I have a short story based on Mr. Burroughs’ Mucker stories. Billy Byrne, the Mucker, isn’t as well known as ERB’s other heroes, Tarzan and John Carter of Mars, but he was the perfect fit in the historical crime world where we spend so much of our time. As is usual with us in these historically set short stories, real people occasionally turn up. In this story, “The Two Billys,” the guest star is New York underworld character Legs Diamond., and while Jake Orgen doesn’t appear on stage, his real-life gang, “The Little Augies,” also turns up.
Given the changes in the language that have occurred since ERB was writing, we stayed as close to his style as we could, and certainly did our best to maintain the integrity of his characters. We had a great time writing this, and, having never read Burroughs before, I found a new author whose work is top-notch and entertaining. We’re proud of this story, so, please, if you’re a fan of Burroughs or Al and I, give this book a look. There are some other great authors included and the collection is getting great reviews on Amazon.
On the mining side, working both at once now. Working on a non-fiction book about an Iowa man who stumbled into becoming a spy during the Cuban Revolution that vaulted Fidel Castro to power. In the fiction mines, I’
m still trying to find time to complete my first YA novel. 2014 is already shaping up to be a busy year. Should be fun. Until next week...
Monday, November 18, 2013
Writing isn't about graduating.
One of my favorite days is Senior Day at the University of Iowa. This Saturday, every senior football player will be introduced individually and run out to hug their parents at midfield. If tradition holds (and I'm sure it will), I will cry. Regardless of the level of their contribution, these kids have accomplished something and that always makes me sentimental.
That class structure holds true from elementary school throughout life, at least for me. I've been a professional writer for 21 years, yet I still feel like the geeky sophomore admiring the cool kids from afar. It is what it is, and I know I'm not the only author who feels this way.
Maybe next year will be different. At the very least, my schedule seems to be busier. Every year I return to the Midwest Writers Workshop because that has become my home, those people my family. But in addition, I've been invited to speak at Love Is Murder, Murder And Mayhem In Muskego, and will attend Magna Cum Murder where my brother-in-writing John Gilstrap will be the guest of honor.
I know I'll never feel like a senior, and probably never more than the geeky sophomore, but that's cool. Writing isn't about graduating, it's about the journey. Next year, it just looks like there will be more field trips. If I'm lucky, I'll see you at one of these events. Maybe our journeys will intersect and that would be cool, too.
For a bunch of people who think about murder (and mayhem) so much, we're a close-knit bunch, we geeky sophomores. We love each other, we support each other, and we are our own tribe. And yeah, that makes me cry, too.
History Shows Us
Let’s talk about the economic downturn, affordable health care, gun control, school and mall shootings, and every other thing that makes this particular time in history seem like we’re swirling toward the drain. WAIT!! Don’t stop reading because you think I’m going to go off on some political screed. Truth is, we’re going to avoid all those topics because when society is faced with these trying times that’s what we do. We CRAVE escapism.
History shows us that.
There was more than one reason movie theaters were so crowded during the Great Depression. One was practical, few people had air conditioners and in the summer, they flocked to the air conditioned theaters simply to cool off. But a big reason was escapism.
It wasn’t dramas that crowds flocked to see, it was...wait for it...musicals. Okay, monster movies and comedies did really well then, too, point taken. Even a casual perusal of top ten grossing movies during those years show titles like Frankenstein, King Kong, Top Hat, 42nd Street, City Lights, and It Happened One Night. Longing for a way to not think about their own troubles, theater goers looked to fantasy, of whatever stripe, to carry them away like Calgon.
Why am I bringing this up now?
Because as someone in the entertainment business (I know, it sounds pretentious, but it’s true), I try to pay attention to trends. It seems, at least to me, that escapism is reigning. Fantasy/science fiction seems to be everywhere...movies, TV, games, books. That’s all well and good, by the way. I’m lining up for this stuff with everyone else. Firefly, the Marvel universe, Star Trek, Sleepy Hollow, you name it and you’ll probably find me squarely on the bandwagon.
The closest I have come to this particular animal is when Max Allan Collins and I were doing the three novels based on Dark Angel, the Jessica Alba vehicle set in futuristic Seattle. They were fun to write and have generated, over the years, more fan mail than anything else we’ve done, including the ton of stuff we did for CSI.
Escapism is as cool now as it was in the thirties. We survived the Great Depression, and I’m betting we’re going to survive all the crap going on in the world now. It’s nice to know we can be entertained along the way. Hell, maybe it’s time I wrote that science fiction novel I’ve never dreamed of writing -- yet.
Let’s talk about art.
I am pretty non-judgmental when it comes to art. I hear people say this movie sucks or that album blows, and I can’t help but think that it’s just art you don’t like, why does it have to “suck”?
Likewise, critics have become snarkier, hateful even. Which brings me to what I really want to talk about, “The Ghost Brothers Of Darkland County,” the musical by Stephen King and John Mellencamp. We got to see it recently. Reviews I read beforehand were...unenthused, one of them going on about how much he didn’t like it to the point of belittling the cast, the creators, and even the stagehands. I mean, really, the lighting techs? It was against this backdrop that I prepared to see a play I had been looking forward to. Conceivably, my expectations were lowered, but for the most part, I try to ignore reviews.
Having put myself out there, I understand how reviews sometimes say more about the reviewer than they do the subject being reviewed. That said, this play will probably not be winning a Tony anytime soon. But does that matter? I enjoyed the music, Bruce Greenwood (Star Trek reboot) led a fine cast, and the lighting, for the most part, seemed to light, well, the stage.
There was some Internet scuttlebutt that a lot of changes had been made to the original creation. That’s the part that fascinates me, actually. What WAS this thing before it morphed into Prairie Home Companion’s darker cousin? I am as curious about the creative process as I am the product that is created.
Though I never refer to myself as an artist, I am. I live in a space where creation of “something” out of “nothing” is a way of life. So, I’m always curious how others who practice this particular brand of voodoo do their voodoo. There are things I really enjoy about the work of each of the artists involved in the creation of “Ghost Brothers.” That said, their marriage doesn’t seem, on the face of it, a natural one. As a collaborator myself, I find myself wondering about the give and take of this creative process.
I have convinced myself that they were trying to come up with something atypical of your usual stage musical. In that regard, I believe they have succeeded. This was unlike any other musical play I have ever seen. Whether I left with the message King and Mellencamp wanted to send, I’m not so sure. But I did come out of it having had a positive experience, and now, days later, their art is still rattling around in my head, making me think...reconsider. And after all, isn’t that part of what art is supposed to do?
On the update side, I’ll be stopping by Mystery Cat Books, 112 32ND ST. DR. S.E., CEDAR RAPIDS, IOWA 52403, tomorrow night for the conversation between mystery authors Ed Gorman, Barbara Collins, and my writing partner, Max Allan Collins. I think the show starts about seven...or eight...math is not my strong suit, but if you’re free, stop by...should be fun.
When I first set up this site, I promised something different. While it’s easy to peddle my stuff, give progress updates on new projects, and pimp the books of my friends, but that seems a bit too easy. So, let’s try something different...complete honesty.
The genesis for this particular update comes from several friends of mine recently expressing their own feelings about doubt and its crippling effects. Also, I’ve committed to writing fifty thousand words in the next month. I’ve probably written that many words in a month before. I have no idea, but I know when Max Allan Collins and I were doing the CSI books, and ancillary materials, we were turning product out every ninety days. So, maybe I’ve written that much in a month before, but right now, that seems a daunting task.
First, because I’m a slacker. Not a happy admission, granted, but the truth. Given the choice between pushing myself to be the best I can be or merely being good enough, I have, until now, chosen the latter. If the choice is between the hard road and the easy one, I have always chosen the easier path. Even that is a secondary confession, though.
The major reason for allowing my slacker self to prosper is that I’m a coward. In a business that rewards perseverance and bravery, I have been at least a little successful, yet, still...doubt lingers.
Collaboration, though it comes with its own inherent set of pitfalls, has always been an easier path. Sitting safely in the home of collaboration, I have been able to be published but without the risk of failure being entirely on me.
Though I cherish my collaborators and the collaborations we’ve created, it’s time for me to say, "Fuck that," and stand on my own two feet.
Which is where doubt comes in. Do I suck on my own? Am I the talentless hack that doubt tells me I am? For a long time, I thought I was the only one who had these thoughts, but talking to other writers, some wildly more successful than me, I have come to understand that doubt is the boogeyman for a lot of us. The true monster under the bed? Doubt.
And it’s not just fear of failure. It’s also fear of success. With success comes expectations, and sooner or later, we will all fail to meet expectations, either those of others or, in my case, my own. That particular sting comes more often than I would care to admit, even when I’m trying to be completely honest.
So, all of that being said, fuck the easy road. It’s time to try to carve out a space for myself in this world. Success matters less than effort on this go-round. Because, truly, I have no idea what I would consider success at this point. My partner Max Allan Collins and I just put the finishing touches on our twenty-second novel together. That means merely getting something of my own published won’t cut it. Sales figures have never meant a lot to me, either. They are a testament that people are reading our stories, and they will, hopefully, allow me to continue to write full-time, but beyond that, I don’t care. I don’t read reviews anymore because those are a whole separate mine field. So, what is success?
No idea. But I’m inviting you to accompany me on this journey as we try and find out. Ought to be a hell of a trip.
And doubt? Yeah, he’ll be making the trip too...right by my side. I can’t kill it, it’s ten foot tall and bulletproof. Maybe though, it can be herded. After all, keep your friends close and your enemies closer, right?
Eric Hix wrote:
Robert stared directly at the man with the camera. It was June of 1940 and the air in Paris was thick with the smell of engine exhaust, sweat and fear.
Parisians all around him were weeping at the site of the German army marching down the street. They thought they were safe. They were seeing the impossible. They had been constantly assured that the Maginot line would hold the Nazis at bay. Yet, there were tanks and trucks full of soldiers in sharp, grey uniforms moving unopposed down the Champs-Elysées. The French people were the only ones that believed the propaganda war the French government had been waging to keep their neighbor to the east on their side of the border. The Germans knew better.
“Impénétrable”, was the word Robert heard bandied about on the streets and cafés during the day. The unspoken fear of, “But, what if…” never entered the conversation.
These people were scared and angry. He tried not to smile as the camera swung toward him. Had the cameraman capturing the varied emotions of the crowd known he was also capturing an image of the very man responsible for Paris’ fall, the scene would have been very different.
Robert Morgan was about to make a great deal of money and he would thank Hermann Göring for the opportunity later that night, over dinner.
Sandy Lance wrote:
It was a somber day and while most people stoically maintained their demeanor, Martin cried. For seemingly no reason, Martin would sometimes begin to cry with abandon, and when he did, childhood echoes of 'cry baby, cry baby' seared through him, filling him with shame and anger. He could still feel the sting of his fathers belt and even now, he could taste his own blood as his father unleashed one angry blow after another for 'crying like a girl'. "Real men don't cry", he had said. Martin cried now, not just for the sadness of the day, but for himself. To make the tears go away, he knew he would have to kill again...