Showing posts with label John Gilstrap. Show all posts
Showing posts with label John Gilstrap. Show all posts

Thursday, September 19, 2013

A Kill Zone Exclusive – The Show & Tell Book – Guest Photographer William Greiner

Jordan Dane
@JordanDane

I am so happy to have photographer William Greiner as my guest today. I am one of the lucky authors who had an opportunity to contribute to his book – Show & Tell – a beautiful hardbound book that combines his photographs with short stories from authors with names you will recognize. The book comes from UL Press (University of Louisiana at Lafayette Press) and is available now at this LINK

Below is the page image of the photo I wrote about in my story – On Her Special Day. I wanted you to see the fine quality of this book. I've ordered some for Christmas gifts and can't wait to read what the other authors wrote. Welcome, William!

Show & Tell-show and tell, show & tell, william greiner
Cover - Show & Tell
photo (2)
On Her Special Day by Jordan Dane


So why is a book titled SHOW & TELL being blogged about on The Kill Zone?

First, the premise was to give a group of fiction writers (In this case 28 in total, including 6 TKZ writers), a photograph without any information about the image and ask each to make up a story about that image. The resulting stories are fascinating, entertaining and thrilling.

John Ramsey Miller, John Gilstrap, Joe Moore, Jordan Dane, Joe Hartlaub and James Scott Bell, amongst others, apply their writing skills to bring a story to every image.

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“A Blur of Motion” by John Ramsey Miller



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“The Touch” by John Gilstrap



The idea for this book came to me many years ago after doing a print trade with another photographer. In conversation, it somehow became apparent that this other photographer had a complete different take and understanding of my photograph than what it meant to me. It made me realize we all bring our own notions, expectations and experiences to what we view.

To see what your favorite TKZ author sees & tells, order SHOW & TELL from UL Press, hardbound, 28 photographs accompanied by 28 stories, 183 pages, $35. To order: click this LINK.


William Greiner is a photographer and artist, living in Baton Rouge , LA. For more on our guest, click HERE.

For Discussion: Have you ever seen a photograph that inspired you to write about it? Tell us about it.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Success at Last


I bring you news of success, of dream achievement, of goal fulfillment. It’s not about me this time, but that’s okay. I will continue to plug away, old and feeble as I may be, until I either succeed (see below) or go face down on a keyboard, with my final words being psfdfkdadlfbldfbk. No, this week the fortune that comes from persistence and hard work was achieved by two people of my acquaintance: my friend John Gilstrap, and my younger daughter Annalisa.
Let me tell you about my friend first. John is a Kill Zone blogger emeritus, gone but hardly forgotten. John’s literary career over the course of ten extremely well written novels has waxed and waned, and is now very much waxing again, indeed. He had an itch to do just a bit more, however; and do it, he did. Yesterday John announced that for the first time a short story of his is being published in The Strand, the venerable mystery magazine which you should be reading issue to issue if you are not already. The name of the story is “In the After” and will be published in the Feb-May issue. Please join me in a tip of the hat and a toast of the beverage of your choice to John. It is John who on this very blog stated that “If failure is not an option, success is guaranteed.” Congratulations, John. We’re looking forward to reading that story.

Now we come to my daughter, who, by the way, quickly became sick of me quoting John’s truism to her when the going got rough. I think she feels differently now. Earlier this week, with less than an hour’s notice (lesson to be learned: check your e-mail hourly), Annalisa auditioned for a feature role in a production to be presented in a month or so by Shadowbox Live, the largest community theater in the United States. I asked her how she thought she did when she was finished.

 “I think it went fine,” she said. “I had to sing a song that I’d never heard before, but I thought I did okay.”

“Do you remember what the song was?” I asked.

“Oh yeah,” she said. Annalisa then proceeded to favor me with a flawless rendition of the first verse of “Reach Out (I’ll Be There)” by the Four Tops. I rendered it less flawless by attempting to harmonize with her. It was never one of my favorite songs --- I preferred the Stax/Volt sound to Motown --- anyone who listened to mid-1960s radio has that tune firmly ensconced in their memory. And now Annalisa does, as well.  A day later, she got the good news: she won the part. She’s been walking on air since. It was her dream to at some point be in a professional theater production and now she is on her way. Not bad for a fifteen year old high school sophomore whose prior acting experience consists of two high school plays, a high school performance review, work as an extra in a stage production and pretending that she doesn’t know me when I do the helicopter thing around a potential suitor. She sure doesn’t get it from me. I can perform for film, but I can’t do live theater acting. I’m okay in front of a digital camera, where I can forget lines or direction, but in front of a live audience?! Nope. So congratulations to Annalisa. May this be the first professional performance of many.

So my question to you is: what would success be to you, right now? For me…it would be to have a novel published and then adapted for film, where, in turn, I would have at least a supporting role. You? Yes, you. Step right up and tell us. Please.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Don't Read Your Reviews

by Michelle Gagnon

As part of Thrillerfest one year, they gave a special award (if a piece of fossilized poop can be considered an award) to our very own John Gilstrap (even though he's no longer officially part of this blog, he'll always be the Friday guy to me). The award was for the Worst Amazon Review, and he won for this little nugget (no pun intended): "The glue boogers in the binding were more captivating than Gilstrap's torpid prose."

I know this is going to sound counter-intuitive, and for many authors, nearly impossible, but here's my advice: don't read your reviews, ever. Turn off that Google alert. Skip the Amazon reviews section. Ignore your GoodReads ratings. And if you must know what a blogger or traditional media reviewer is saying about your book, enlist someone you trust to skim the contents and give you the highlights.

This applies not only to negative reviews, but positive ones. Because here's the thing. As we all know, a reader's opinion of a book is enormously subjective. The way they approach a story can vary at different points in their lives, or even their day. They read things into it that you might never have intended--and they're all going to have vastly different opinions about what worked and what didn't. I'm always startled when I get feedback from beta readers--everyone always manages to come up with different favorite sections, and least favorites. So when taking their advice, I usually try to find the commonalities, the issues everyone zeroed in on. In the end, much of what they say is taken with a serious grain of salt.

The same applies to reviewers, naturally. Maybe Marilyn Stasio ate a bad oyster before reading your book, and the nausea she felt skewed her experience. Maybe the Kirkus reviewer was going through a divorce, so the way that you depicted a couple falling apart resonated too strongly with him (or not strongly enough). I know that for my last book, several reviewers felt the plot was tremendous, but the character development was weak. Others loved the characters, but the story left them cold. When writing a review, even when you loved the book, there's an irresistible inclination to find something to pick at. That's what many of us were taught to do in school; otherwise it doesn't feel like we've done the review justice.

As writers, we already have enough voices in our heads. Resist the temptation to let new ones in. This is particularly critical if you're writing a series; if one reader hated your protagonist, do you really want that small seed of doubt planted in your head? Do you want to be swayed by Merlin57 if he declares that you should be the next winner of the fossilized poop award? 

Even when a review is entirely positive, there are drawbacks. Say a particular reader took a shine to a relatively minor character, and hopes to see more of her in the next installment. Should that be factored into your writing process? I say no, not if that wasn't part of your initial vision for the narrative.

It's a challenge not to dive into the fray--especially since, with all the blogs out there, there are potentially dozens of opinions on your prose just waiting to be perused. But avoid the temptation; don't dive into the rabbit hole. If your book is amassing lots of great reviews and accolades, you'll hear about it from your editor, agent, and friends. But knowing precisely what's being said can be detrimental.

*side note: I'd also advise against doing a Google Search for fossilized poop. Trust me on this one.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Ugly Babies

By PJ Parrish
If you could go back and change things, would you?
Not your life. Your first book. That thing that burst from your heart and took flight and lifted you up there with it, making you feel on top of the world.
Until, maybe, you went back and read it again.
Did you still love it? Or did you see its little warts and uneven gait? Did it seem to maybe need a little grooming or a good flea-dip? If you had the chance, would you try to clean it up so it would be more...adoptable?
Our first book was DARK OF THE MOON. It’s a good story that we’re proud of. It got some great blurbs and reviews. But it got one bad review from Kirkus, which is the Life cereal of the publishing world. (“Give it to Mikey, he hates everything!”). Here is part of what Kirkus said:
“Clumsy prose, stereotyped people and a first novelist who has to learn that in plotting the twist is better than the wrench.”
I’ve submitted this review every year to Thrillerfest’s worst review contest but I keep losing to folks like John Gilstrap. The prize is fossilized poop. I really want that damn award.
Here’s the thing: We own the eBook rights to DARK OF THE MOON so my sister Kelly and I started formatting it for Kindle et al. As we were going along, we realized we could tweak things here and there if we wanted. So we started tweaking.
Then we realized it needed more than a tweak. It needed a full-bore heavy-muscle pipe refitting with one of those giant wrenches you see hairy men with butt cracks carrying out of Home Depot.
Here’s the second thing: As good as our freshman book is, it contains transgressions that now, twelve books later, we teach would-be writers in our workshops not to do.
It has heart but no head. That means we wrote with great passion, especially for our hero Louis, but we didn’t have complete control over our craft. What were our sins exactly?
STRUCTURE: We switched point of view in mid scenes. Our transitions between chapters had continuity lapses. We had too many unnecessary scenes “on camera” often showing things we had already covered. And our timeline was confusing. We now keep detailed chronologies and use big story boards to keep track of each “day” in our plot. See picture above of Kelly employing our two vital writing tools –- Post-Its and wine. 
CHARACTER: We veered into stereotypes, an easy thing to do when writing about the Deep South, and we used clunky dialect. Our fictitious Blackpool was also a one-dimensional character. Even the rattiest place on earth has something redeeming about it. We chose not to see it.
THEME: This might have been our biggest sin. We now believe that every good book has a theme, an underground railroad on which your plot progresses. Without a theme, you have nothing to say. Although we were writing about the effect of a 30-year-old lynching on a small southern town, we didn’t really connect this plot to the larger question of what this meant for our hero.
We didn’t ask ourselves the most important question we now ask of every character we create: What does Louis want? It wasn’t that he wanted to identify the lynching victim. It wasn’t even that he wanted to bring the murderers to justice. We didn’t realize that what Louis really wanted was to find his sense of home (and “home” meant his identity as a biracial man). Now this theme colors everything Louis does and every book we write.
So if this book is so awful, why are we putting it out in eBook?
It’s still a good book and readers like it. They forgive us our sins. But for now, we have put it aside and are readying our second book DEAD OF WINTER for eBook. See, we learned a lot by the time we started that one, just as parents learn a lot about babies by the time their second one comes along. DEAD OF WINTER must have been okay. It was an Edgar finalist.
But our first born? I remain undecided, reluctant to send this homely thing out into the world a second time. But my sister, who holds the book much closer to her heart than her writing brain, is not so sure about permanently closing the DOM yellow folder. It is, after all, the story that started a series and career, but also changed our relationship as sisters.
And when something is that special, as writers it’s had to let it just lay unloved and unread by our loyal readers. So, I am sure, one day when we are between books and novellas and conferences, Kelly will convince me to reopen DARK OF THE MOON and together, we will begin the necessary surgery. Maybe with a scalpel instead of a wrench.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Cleveland, City of Lights


When we last met  two weeks ago I was in New Orleans. In the interim I returned home for a couple of days, put out some fires, and then travelled up I-71 North for two hours to attend  Bouchercon 2012 in Cleveland. Bouchercon is an assembly of mystery writers and fans of same, so, like, how could I not go, with it being so close and all?

I was glad I did. If I had stayed home for three days, I would have done nothing but work. I worked at Bouchercon, too, but also 1) reconnected with friends I had not seen for a few years; 2) made some new friends; 3) became better friends with some folks; 4) reconnected with a guy that I worked with some forty years ago; 5) took award-winning author Kelli Stanley and British crime journalists Ali Karim and Mike Stotter --- three of the finest folks you will find on this earth ---to Mike the Hatter in Broadview Heights, where they each and all found lids that looked wonderful on them; 5) visited the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame; 6) had breakfast with my editor and BFF Carol Fitzgerald, and three members of the original Bookachino internet chat room from way back when the internet was in its cradle; and 7) was the target of  an attack by a drunken troll in the men’s room of a theme restaurant near the host hotel. And how was your weekend?

I have to tell you though that one of the best parts of Bouchercon was beginning it and ending it with fellow Killzoner Jordan Dane. If Jordan ever raffles off a dinner with herself, buy up the tickets. She is wonderful company. We had dinner with author Bev Irwin Wednesday night, before the conference really got rolling, and Jordan is unbelievably funny. She was even funnier after dinner, when I was back in my hotel room, and she began texting observations about this, that and the other to me. Hilarious. And yes, Jordan, you can borrow my gun any time you want; just leave me a bullet so that I can take a shot as well.

Saturday night I was blessed by joining Jordan for dinner once again. I found myself seated with about ten million dollars’ worth of talent in the form of Jordan, Rick Mofina, Linda Castillo, and Julie Kramer. It was a celebration of wonderful news for Rick and Linda: they announced their engagement that evening. Just kidding. What was their news, really? Rick that morning had just received the news that his wonderful new novel, THEY DISAPPEARED, entered the Canadian book lists at Number Two. He learned of this from Linwood Barclay, whose own book, TRUST YOUR EYES, remains at Number One on Canada’s list. There is excellent taste up north, all the way around. As for Linda, her Kate Buckholder series, set in the Ohio Amish country about an hour’s drive from me, is on track to be a television series. Linda, if you hear that the producers are looking about for someone to play a rotund English, please tell them that Sweet Joseph is available.

Seeing Wonderful Jordan, however, was not my only encounter with Kill Zone participants. San Francisco’s Michelle Gagnon was in the house for the William Morrow party. Michelle, besides being an incredible wordsmith, has a fashion sense that any and all would envy. I don’t know anything about such matters, but she somehow always seems dressed to the nines without even trying. Everyone gravitates toward her, and rightfully so. It was wonderful to see her again and to get to spend a little time with her. And what conference would be a conference without Kill Zone alumnus John Gilstrap? John, who is always worth being seeing with and listening to, was in the “Cool Kids Corner,” outside of the hotel with the smokers, even though he doesn’t smoke. I was privileged to spend some quality time with him and Matthew Clemens and get several updates and down dates on the state of the industry. I also hear that Kill Zoner Boyd Morrison was in the House, but somehow failed to meet up with him. Boyd, you evaded me this time, but your luck will not last forever.

There’s more, of course, but that should be more than enough to persuade you to attend Bouchercon the next time it’s in your area. It will be in Albany, NY in 2013; Long Beach, CA in 2014; and Raleigh, NC in 2015. You gotta go. And if you do, say hey.





Thursday, September 27, 2012

Crime Fiction Rocks at 2012 Bouchercon Mystery Conference!

by Jordan Dane
@JordanDane




I’ll be attending one of my favorite conferences is coming up on Oct 4-7, 2012 in Cleveland, Ohio. Bouchercon is a world mystery convention that has been taking place annually since 1970. It’s open to anyone and is a place for fans, authors and publishing industry professionals to gather and celebrate their love of the mystery genre. It is named for a famed mystery critic Anthony Boucher. During the convention there are panels, discussions and interviews with authors and people from the mystery community covering all parts of the genre. There are signing events for people to meet their favorite authors face-to-face and get books signed. Bouchercon also has the Anthony Awards which are also named after Anthony Boucher. These are voted on by the attendees and given out during the convention. For more, click HERE. Guests of honor for 2012 include: Elizabeth George, Robin Cook, Mary Higgins Clark, Les Roberts, Librarian Doris Ann Norris, and toastmaster John Connolly.

Fellow TKZer Michelle Gagnon and I will be on a YA panel for the first time. I’m really looking forward to that. If you are attending, I’d love to meet you. Please confirm any of these times with the final program.

 
12:15 - 1:05 PM Thurs, Oct 4, 2012
Grand Ballroom B
The Popularity of YA Books panel - How do authors appeal to young readers and keep them interested in reading? Book signing will be held in the dealer room following the panel. Joining Jordan will be Michelle Gagnon, Joelle Charboneau, Bev Irwin, and moderated by Keir Graff.


I’ll be on another fun panel featuring romantic suspense with Heather Graham, Lori Armstrong, C. J. Lyons, with Monette Michaels as moderator. We may have a mystery guest to round out our group. We’re still waiting to hear. Stay tuned.
 

3:50-4:40 PM, Friday, Oct 5, 2012
Location: TBA
"I used to love her, but I had to kill her” Guns & Roses Panel - Moderated by author Monette Michaels, stellar panelists Heather Graham, Lori Armstrong, C. J. Lyons, and Jordan Dane will discuss romance in thrillers. Hallmark doesn't make a card for "I'd take a bullet for you, honey" but our panel of bestselling authors share their titillating secrets on how they spice up their thrillers with Guns & Roses. (Door prizes and giveaways for those in attendance. Grand prize is a NOOK color e-reader for one lucky winner.)

Prior to this panel, Mike Bursaw will host a “Booze & Broads” signing event at the Mystery Mike’s booth in the dealer Book Room for the authors. Alcoholic libations will be served, a shot at a time.

HERE is the attendees list for 2012, but I understand TKZ’s Joe Hartlaub and Michelle Gagnon will be in attendance (as well as another TKZ veteran, John Gilstrap) so I hope to finally meet them all over a cool beverage.
 
Anyone else going to Bouchercon this year? TKZers—have you ever been? I’d love to hear from you.

Saturday, August 4, 2012


Which Book to Read --- or Write --- Next?

I’m like a cat when it comes to books or music: whatever I have immediately at hand is never quite what I want. It’s a ridiculous predicament to be in, particularly when you have a collection/accumulation of either/or which exceeds five hundred or so, but it is what it is. There is Pandora for music so that if, for but one example, you like Guided by Voices but aren’t necessarily in the mood for it you can find something close to it. For books, there is now a website that will get you close to what you want to read next. It’s called Whichbook ---  http://www.whichbook.net/ --- and it’s not perfect, at least not yet, but it’s pretty cool.

Okay, most of you have stopped reading this and clicked on the link, and that’s fine, I understand. For both of you who are still with me, however, let me give you a brief one and back on how the site works. You will find a menu running down the left side of the home page consisting of a series of fields, each of which contains two antonyms (those would be opposite words, for those of you who started school after 1978), such as “Happy/ Sad,”  “Safe/Disturbing,” “Expected/Unpredictable,” and “Optimistic/Bleak.” Click on one and John Gilstrap will come out to your house and mow your lawn for a month. Oops. Wrong website. Let’s try again. Ahem. Click on a field and a red cursor pops up which you can set closer to one word or another. You can do that for up to four word pairs; then click on “Go” field and you get a list of books that match the qualities you input. Using the fields I mentioned above, I chose “Sad,” “Disturbing,” “Unpredictable,” and “Bleak,” pressed “Go,” looked up, and Courtney Love was in my office, pointing a shotgun at me. Just kidding. I got a list of about fifteen books which were recommended to me, with reviews, summaries, excerpts, and links to Amazon to buy them. I had never heard of many of them, which is fine. That might be just what you want with a site like this. I found it passing strange, however, that something like The Road by Cormac McCarthy wasn’t listed. But Whichbook has that covered too. There is a suggestion page --- more on that in a minute --- and a page which lists the authors featured on Whichbook .  You can also go to another page where you can make selections based on character, plot and setting, which is nicely done (though not perfect) as well.

This looks to be a great tool for readers. However, it has the potential to be a great tool for writers and already-published authors as well. For authors…I see no problem with suggesting your own books for inclusion, or having your spouse, significant other, or even both of them doing that for you. For writers, Whichbook is a quick tool for framing the underpinnings of your basic plot. Go to the character, plot and setting page. After due deliberation, you have decided that your  next potential bestseller is about a mixed race, bi-sexual female between the ages of 26 and 50 who succeeds against the odds in a tale set in Ohio, who becomes involved in a violent, disturbing, and unpredictable series of situations with lots of sex. Okay. Maybe using Whichbook’s search engine to begin your next project is  a little like using a hammer for a screwdriver.  At the very least, however, Whichbook will get you thinking about what you want to read next. And for authors? Whichbook has the potential to be yet another tool to get your book in front of that ever-elusive reading public. 

Sunday, July 22, 2012

It's No Longer an Either/Or Publishing World and Other Notes from ThrillerFest



Last week I had the honor of being the first author to final for an International Thriller Writers Award for a self-published work, One More Lie. ITW has been forward thinking in this new era, recognizing that the future is now and a thrilling story works no matter what the delivery system.

Although I didn't take home the top prize, it was cool to be there (along with former blogmate John Gilstrap and others) and to be confirmed in this: it's no longer an either/or publishing world, but a both/and and why-the-heck not?


Mrs. B and I had our usual wonderful time in New York, where I used to pound the boards as an actor. We had dinner with my agent, Donald Maass, at a nice bistro in the Meatpacking District (really hopping these days). We talked about the craft, natch, and something Don said in passing I had to write down (this happens a lot when you listen to The Man): “Backstory is not just for plot motivation, but deep character need.”

Chew on that one for awhile.

Dear wife and I saw a hysterical Broadway show, One Man, Two Guvnors. It's hard to describe, but suffice to say the Tony Award winning lead, James Corden, is a comedic genius.

Also saw about two hours of the amazing 24-hour film on time called The Clock.

And I got to teach at CraftFest. The room was packed! Then I realized Lee Child was teaching right after me....still, a good time was had by all.

The most interesting talk at the Fest, for me at least, came from Jamie Raab, senior vice president and publisher at Grand Central Publishing. Some notes:

Ms. Raab stated that, of course, the industry is in flux. Mass market paperbacks, for instance, are in steep decline as a category. Ms. Raab did not see any way for that format to come back to what it once was. Just what this means to the industry is not known at this time (like so many other things!)

Hardcovers, too, are heading south, simply because they have to be priced too high to cover costs of production. But, as we all know, prices are trending downward as more and more ebooks become available at consumer-friendly price points. Consumers are getting used to certain levels, and there's no way to fight that. Consumers are co-regents with content in the marketplace.

Ms. Raab spoke about the thrillers she's read over the years that were "game changers." Not merely good books or great reads, but books that did something so amazingly original or compelling they actually changed the way the books after them were done.

The titles she mentioned:

Marathon Man by William Goldman
Presumed Innocent by Scott Turow
The Firm by John Grisham
Rosemary's Baby by Ira Levin
Absolute Power by David Baldacci
The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris

Each of these titles did something "more." Marathon Man, for example, had one utterly unforgettable scene. You all know what it is. If you've ever been to the dentist, that is.

Absolute Power begins with another unforgettable moment, a burglar hiding himself in a swanky house, witnesses the murder of a young woman by the President of the United States. That scene, and book, changed the course of political thrillers.

So here is what you ought to consider as you write: what are you doing that is "more" than what you've read before? What is it about the idea, the scenes, the characters, the plot itself that comes from the deepest part of you?

Here's the nice thing, as Leonard Bishop once put it. "If you boldly risk writing a novel that might be acclaimed as great, and fail, you could succeed in writing a book that is splendid."

Splendid isn't a bad place to be.

Are you reaching for “more” in your writing? 

Friday, July 13, 2012

Reader Friday: Where do YOU write?

Last Friday we shared some pix of where the TKZ bloggers write. This week, it's your turn. A number of readers responded to our request with some great photos of their writing spaces. Here we go!


Basil Sands:










Basil is a self-described "on the go, write-where-you-can" kind of guy.

"I have three primary butt parking spots where my literary juices tend to spike highest," he says. 

I vote for #2, the comfy, cozy chair.

John Gilstrap:
Blogger Emeritus John Gilstrap sent in a view of his office as you come in from the front door. I have to say, John's writing space comes closest to my ideal vision of a bestselling author's writing space!





















Mike Dennis:
OK, forget the office--just look at Mike Dennis's place (I think it's hidden behind the palm trees). It must be great to work in paradise! 


And here's his office...
Mike Jecks
Mike from the UK accused us of cleaning up our desks for our photos last week. Guilty as charged, Mike! He included a photo of his office and canine muses.
"As you can see, British writers don't tidy up the desk before wandering off to pointlessly take photos, even leaving both dogs in the shot to prove we're not idly ambling around the lanes instead of working," he said, with lovable British sarcasm. "No. We're sitting indoors pretending to concentrate on the next book, while actually taking photos of the 'workspace' instead. Work displacement activities are a wonderful thing! Hope you like the way I took one photo, didn't like it, so took a second while leaving the first on the screen ... yeah, I forgot." 

Oh, and the second dog? If you look under the desk, you'll spot a nose.




Zoe Sharp:
Zoe gets her creative juices flowing in an unlikely spot--her car. 

"I get a lot of productive work done in the car on motorway journeys," she says.

Seriously, Zoe? Be careful doing that in Southern California--they hand out tickets here for texting and using a cell phone, much less tapping out the Next Great American Novel! 

Michael Harling:
Michael is shown working in his office.  


"This is me, our dining table and, yes, that is my permanent 'office.'  It is where I work when I am not writing on the bus or a train," he says.


I'm a dining room table writer too, Michael. Thanks for sharing!


Richard Mabry:
Richard Mabry sent us a photo of his office from his iPhone. Very cool! 




Mark Terry:
"My office used to be in the basement... and my youngest son wanted to move down there so I switched with him," Mark says. "I rather liked the solar system hanging from the ceiling, so I left it up." 

The acoustic guitar provides an additional outlet for creative expression.
 

Terri Coop:
Terri describes her office as "very much my cocoon."

"This is my little corner of the world where I write and run my business," she says. "It is in a free-standing apartment built inside my warehouse. I rescued the desks and wall mount cabinets from the alley behind an insurance agency (there is another on just like it to the left holding all my graphic design printers). Then I decorated the office around the desks."

I love the HOPE sign on top of the cabinet. Every writer needs one of these!

Thank you! 
Sending out a big thanks to everyone who shared their pictures and stories about their writing spots this week. Hope we didn't overlook anyone. Please share your story today in the Comments!

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Like Sugar on a Sidewalk




I’m still in the process of digesting Jordan Dane’s excellent tutorial on using Twitter as a publicity tool and raising one’s profile. I recently witnessed the end result of how all of this --- Twitter and Tumblr and Facebook, oh my --- works, and it was a sight to behold, believe me.
My daughter is a huge fan of the British boy band One Direction. If you are older than fifteen, you may not have heard of them, but the band is huge: they sold out their 2012 tour in around an hour, and they weren’t playing coffeehouses venues, nor were the ticket prices of the “one dollar and a can of food” variety, either. 1D, as they are affectionately known to their fans, skipped Columbus, Ohio this year (they’ll visit during their 2013 tour, which, btw, is also sold out) so we obtained tickets to the Charlotte, NC performance and tacked it on to the back end of a family vacation. The Family Hartlaub stayed at a Hyatt next to the venue, so that daughter and mom could easily walk to the concert without the assistance of their slovenly father and husband. I also thought that there was a chance that the band might obtain lodging at the same hotel; alas, such was not to be. But, but.

On the afternoon before the evening’s performance someone posted a photo at Tumblr and Twitter purporting to show one of the 1D lads in the lobby of a Charlotte hotel with yellow walls. I started googling and was able to narrow the locale down to four hotels in the immediate area, including the Charlotte Omni, just up the street. We headed out about 3:00 PM and started walking up the street when two jet black buses pulled up in front of the Omni. My daughter yelled, “IT’S THEIR TOUR BUS!” and went running up the street, tweeting madly as she ran. In seconds, and I mean seconds, what had been a quiet and relatively deserted intersection in uptown Charlotte became a mob scene of screaming teenage girls. It was as if someone had dropped sugar on a sidewalk in the summer: every ant in the vicinity immediately gets the message. I know, I know, John Gilstrap gets that reaction everywhere he goes, but still. It was unreal, and all because my daughter, and no doubt, a few others, sent the word out to all of their sister fans that 1D was in the Omni and would be exiting shortly. They eventually did, and it was tumultuous.
But wait, there’s more. My daughter posted one of the two thousand or so pictures which she took during the 1D concert and posted it to her Tumblr account. Someone blogged about it, and someone else tweeted about it, and by day’s end her picture had five thousand hits. The count has been increasing exponentially since then.
Your results may vary. I would love to see an author (in addition to the aforementioned John Gilstrap) get such a result from their fan base (“Jordan D. just wlked out 2 get hr mail! LOL!”). We don’t live in a world where authors are subjected to that sort of mob adulation for the most part, and more is the pity; but in these days where more and more authors are going it alone, it is certainly an effective way to get the word out about anything.  I’m going to spend the rest of this weekend working my way through Jordan’s directions; if you’re at all interested in using this tweeting tool as a means of self-promotion, you will want to do the same.

A postscript to the trip: in the middle of all of the chaos outside of the Omni my wife found an sD data card on the sidewalk. I loaded it up, hoping for…well, never mind what I was hoping for. What it contained were what appear to be vacation photos of a trip to Mexico and involving two families. The pictures were taken in December 2011; the families look like they might be linked by two sisters; and I would love to get this card back to the rightful owner. I have already posted this on several sites designed for reuniting lost cameras and such with their owners, and thought I would try this as well. If you’re reading this, and you know of someone who has been on vacation six months ago or so and lost their photos of the trip, send them my way @josephhartlaub or josephhartlaubatgmaildotcom.  I might be able to make them happy.

Friday, June 29, 2012

So Long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, Adieu

By John Gilstrap

I tell my students in writing classes that you know it’s time to stop writing when you’ve run out of things to say. It seems reasonable that what applies to fiction should likewise apply to blogging, and thus, this is my final post as an active duty Killzoner. It’s been close to three years, which means something along the lines of 150 Friday posts, and, frankly, I worry that I have begun to repeat myself. Y’all deserve better than that.

As one of the founding members of this corner of cyberspace, I’m very proud of what we’ve accomplished, and I value each of the friendships I’ve developed over that time, both real and virtual. I feel as though I’ve come to know our regular posters, and I hope that we continue to communicate. To reach out directly, please feel free to email me at john@johngilstrap.com. I really do answer every email I get, though sometimes I’m admittedly a little slow.

If you’ve got some spare time, I hope you’ll make a chance to visit www.johngilstrap.com and join my mailing list. I don’t send out a lot of newsletters, but when I do, I work hard to make them short, relevant and interesting. Also, I encourage everyone to “like” my Facebook page, www.facebook.com/johngilstrapauthor. When I get the urge to write a blog-like essay, that’s where I’ll be posting it. And, of course, there’s my Twitter account, @johngilstrap; but I must confess that the usefulness of Twitter continues to elude me. (That semicolon was for you, Mr. Bell.)

I should point out that I’m really not going anywhere. I’ll continue to be a regular visitor to TKZ, and I’m sure I’ll be adding a few cents-worths from time to time.

It’s been a privilege, folks. For those of you who write, keep writing.  Never lose sight of the dream and remember my mantra that failure can never be inflicted upon another person. It has to be declared by oneself.

And for heaven’s sake, keep reading.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Persistence



It so happens that my contribution to The Kill Zone ties in a bit with an element of John Gilstrap’s excellent piece yesterday. John at one point mentioned persistence; persistence doesn’t mean working at a job for two weeks and then wondering why you’re not the manager or supervisor. Persistence means learning and working and butting your head against the wall to go through it if you can’t go over it or under it or around it. And I’ve got a story about persistence for you. It’s not about an author, either, though there are plenty of those. There are freaking lists of those on Facebook, listing authors whose names you know and the number of rejections they received before selling their first story or novel. No, this one is about a musician. His name is Scott Hartlaub and yes, he is related to me. He is my nephew.

Scott plays drums. He has played drums for almost fifteen years. Scott is a quiet and unassuming and gentle guy who disappears into a room even when he is the only one in it. But he wanted to play drums for a living. He formed bands that disbanded and joined bands that broke up and lived in crappy apartments and drove hundreds of miles to gigs that barely paid and worked jobs that most of us would regard as beneath us to support himself in the meantime. All along the way he honed his craft and kept his eye on the goal. I am sure that he got discouraged at some point(s) but he just. kept. going.

A couple of years ago Scott auditioned for a position in a band that backed up an extremely talented singer-songwriter named Jessica Lea Mayfield who at that time hardly registered on anyone’s radar. She started playing small clubs where the dressing room and rest room were on and the same.  Scott was in the back of the stage pounding away, behind Jessica and a set of keyboards and a guitarist and bass player, not to mention loading and assembling and unloading his kit, and doing all of the things that drummers do and a few that they don’t normally do, either. Jessica (she has a huge story about persistence as well) got some notice, and then some more notice, and then she got signed to a major label (the equivalent of an imprint of a major publisher). She recorded a CD with Scott and the band and then one night, we turned on the television, and there was Scott, on Late Night with David Letterman, the camera in a tight shot on him as he counted off the beginning of a song before Jessica started singing. If it had been me, I would have screwed it up, but Scott didn’t. But you know what? When I called him the next day he was back on his other job, making pizzas and taking phone orders for a large pep with double cheese in the Merriman Valley area of Akron, and he never even blinked. Talk about compartmentalizing. And he stayed Scott, even though he had become SCOTT. He even gave the pizza shop two weeks’ notice before the band left on a world tour of music festivals.

Scott is living in Nashville now, in between tours and doing pretty well. He’s doing what he wants to do, after fifteen years of no’s and sorry’s and really, really tough breaks and pounding his head through the wall. But he broke through. So can you. But if you want to break through you can’t stop pounding. And don’t complain because the plaster is hard. That’s a given.

Friday, June 22, 2012

My Unsettling View on Self-Publishing

By John Gilstrap

On Monday, my Killzone mate Clare Langley-Hawthorne asked how prolific a writer should be, to which a commenter responded, unprovoked, “. . . you can always just go indie/self pub yourself . . . Of course, then you wouldn’t be able to post about how self-pub writers are ruining it for the ‘real’ writers.”

Oh, please.

On this, my penultimate post as a Killzone blogger, I want to dedicate my precious slice of cyberspace to a toxic trend that has really begun to bug me: the tyranny of self-righteous do-it-yourselfers. More specifically, I want to say my piece on why I continue to believe that self-publishing is an expensive road to frustration and failure, particularly for writers who do not have an established base of readers.

First, let’s define success. For me, that means thousands of books sold. If a few dozen to a few hundred is your ultimate goal, then self-publishing is your only option. No traditional publisher is going to invest their cash in such a tiny career.

Second, let’s establish the parameters of my argument: For my purposes here, my argument does not apply to anyone who has previously published books through traditional publishing. The sagas of Joe Konrath, Barry Eisler and others with established readerships have no relevance.

Charlatans Prey On Dreams

With the birth of the cheap-n-easy eBook, charlatans with dreams to sell are rising like weeds to capitalize on the desires of under-cooked writers to see their words in print(ish).

They’re all over the Internet, and they remind me of carnival barkers: “It’ll only cost you a few hundred dollars here, and a thousand there, but ladies and gentlemen, if you’ll follow my blog and buy my book and hire the editors I recommend, I guarantee that your book will be on a cyber shelf where millions of people can see it if they know to look for it. Don’t be fooled by those predatory publishers who take the lion’s share of your money! Come with me, and I’ll only take 30% for doing nothing and taking no risk.”

Deals don’t come sweeter than that. For the self-pub conduit.

Here it is for the record: 1. Not all self published books are crap. In fact, some of them are very good. Of those that are very good, the vast, vast majority are written by journeyman writers who have had experience in the traditionally-published world. 2. Not all proponents of self-publishing are hucksters, and neither are all freelance editors. Though some kind of warning label would be helpful.

I get all of that. I really do. But none of these factors make self-published freelancers any more courageous, noble or dedicated to their craft than those who do things the old fashioned way.

Desire Does Not Equal Talent and Persistence

I respect anyone who can squeeze some coin out of any corner of the entertainment business. There’s a guy outside the parking garage at the Vienna Metro Station in Northern Virginia who seems to enjoy the daylights out of playing hymns on his saxophone to greet customers on their way home after a long day. More times than not, there are a few bucks in his open case, so I concede that he is a professional musician. He may well be the best musician his family has seen in generations.

But he will never get a recording contract, no matter how much he really wanted one. It’s a talent thing. Or maybe it’s a training thing. Either way, I wager that traditionally-compensated musicians lose no sleep worrying that this guy and his subway-playing buddies might “ruin” the business for them.

As has been demonstrated in this very blog many times over the years we’ve done our First Page Critiques, a solid proportion of works whose authors felt confident enough to submit them are nowhere near ready for prime time. Like it or not, folks, writers like these represent most of what sits on self-published shelves. I say this with confidence because they represent the bulk of work proudly submitted to every amateur writing contest I have ever judged.

Yes, there are exceptions, and it you’re one of them, you deserve better company. But every time a reader takes a chance on a free download or views a free sample and learns how awful most of the choices are, the odds are stacked even more heavily against every other independently published author.

Self-published authors don’t threaten to ruin anything for the traditionally-published authors. They threaten to ruin each other by association. It has been that way since the very early days of vanity presses, only now the barriers to entry are lower. That means there’s more awfulness in play than ever before.

Freelance Editors Can Only Help A Little

Big Publishing editors reject authors who just don’t have the chops. Freelance editors adopt them as cash cows. Big Publishing editors stake their reputations and their mortgages on quality. Freelance editors live on process and improvement. I’m not suggesting malfeasance—ethics are tied to individuals, not to professions—but the difference in motivations is significant. There’s a world of difference between making a work better and making it publishable.

And how many freelance editors will reject a project outright?

Commonly Accepted Falsehoods

All too often, the debate about the merits of self-publishing are driven specious assumptions. Among them:

Standard eBook royalties dwell in the neighborhood of 17%. Not so, if you have an agent who is worth her salt. The true number is (or at least can be) much, much higher.

Agents are a thing of the past. Also false. (See above.)

Traditional publishers are irrelevant at best, dying at worst. This is simply not true. Their business model may be shaken, but every single one of them is adapting. When the dust settles, the public will be hungry for anti-dreck gatekeepers, and the keys will be in the hands of publishers. There might be different names on the doors, but the route to success will still be guided by professionals who know what they’re doing.

A 70% self-pubbed royalty is the route to riches. This is the most specious argument of all. Sure, at that rate, a book priced at $2.99 earns the author $2.09 for every sale. That’s a significant sum until you throw in the recent data that the average self-published eBook earns its author less than $500. That translates to fewer than 240 books sold, despite all the blogging and the book trailers and the social media stuff the author put into selling them. Seventy percent of very little is even less.

Think Value, Not Cash

Time has value, too. One of the reasons why publishers give smaller royalties is because they’ve already paid the author cash up front in the form of an advance that is going to be far north of $500. And that’s money the author never has to give back. Meanwhile, the publisher also pays for the cover art, layout, marketing, advance readers copies, catalogue copy, and the million other moving parts that give a book a chance at life.

Yes, publicity departments are shrinking and the pressure is increasing for authors to do more of their own publicity, but by working through a publisher, that work by the author is launched from a platform that is orders of magnitude more expansive than anything a first-timer could launch on his own.

I’m Not Trying to Run Any Author’s Life

Let me be clear: My point is not to rain on people’s parades. Everybody has a right to spend their money however they want, and everyone gets to define “writer” and “published” by their personal favorite lexicon. My opinions are no more valid than anyone else’s.

But if you’re a writer who has faith in your talent, I urge you in the strongest possible terms to exhaust all the traditional routes before you even consider the self-publishing dream that for so many has become a self-publishing nightmare.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Pixar Story Rules

By John Gilstrap

My son, Chris, sent me an interesting set of writing rules that he found in a blog called The Pixar Touch.  It presents one storyteller’s view on how to create compelling stories.  Here it is in its entirety:

Pixar story artist Emma Coats has tweeted a series of “story basics” over the past month and a half — guidelines that she learned from her more senior colleagues on how to create appealing stories:

#1: You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.

#2: You gotta keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer. They can be v. different.

#3: Trying for theme is important, but you won’t see what the story is actually about til you’re at the end of it. Now rewrite.

#4: Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.

#5: Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.

#6: What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?

#7: Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.

#8: Finish your story, let go even if it’s not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time.

#9: When you’re stuck, make a list of what WOULDN’T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.

#10: Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you’ve got to recognize it before you can use it.

#11: Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you’ll never share it with anyone.

#12: Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.

#13: Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience.

#14: Why must you tell THIS story? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That’s the heart of it.

#15: If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.

#16: What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against.

#17: No work is ever wasted. If it’s not working, let go and move on - it’ll come back around to be useful later.

#18: You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, not refining.

#19: Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.

#20: Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How d’you rearrange them into what you DO like?

#21: You gotta identify with your situation/characters, can’t just write ‘cool’. What would make YOU act that way?

#22: What’s the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.

I think this is about as complete a list of “rules” (even though there are no rules in a creative endeavor) as I’ve ever seen.  What do you think?

==

P.S., I learned yesterday that Damage Control made the USA Today Bestseller List.  Yay!