Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Faking It

When it comes to the novel Faking It, Elisa Lorello has really spun a classic romantic comedy. I happily purchased the PDF as well as the paperback. Please welcome Elisa Lorello to my blog.

Elisa Lorello currently lives in the Raleigh, NC area and teaches academic writing at NC State University. She is currently wrapping up a blog tour for her first novel, FAKING IT, released in November 2008. In addition to reading, writing, and teaching, her passions include hanging out in coffeeshops, cats, and chocolate chip cookie dough pop tarts.

What is your earliest memory of writing?

Before I begin, I want to thank you for hosting me today, Rob. You clearly are passionate about writing and other writers, and I so appreciate that.

My earliest memory of writing (in terms of more than the physical act of putting letters together) was in first grade, when my teacher gave me a picture card of a boy standing on a chair to reach a cookie jar, and asked me to make up a story about it. I wrote that the boy wanted a cookie, but his mother was busy working while his father was giving a guitar lesson (I even remember spelling it “gitar”), and his brothers and sisters were all out playing, so the boy had to figure out a way to get it himself. I suppose you can read into all sorts of psychological interpretations (needing to cope with fending for myself, for example). But what I find so fascinating was that even back then I used what I knew. At that time, it was rare to have a mom that worked, and my dad had been out of work and supplemented by teaching guitar. But it was just sort of normal to me.

How did it feel to see your book in print?

It was so exciting to see FAKING IT in print! I held it, opened and closed it, flipped to any random page and started reading, turned it over a few times, even smelled it. It was even more exciting the first time I saw it on the shelf at Quail Ridge Books, an independent bookstore in Raleigh, NC. FAKING IT was just two books down from To Kill a Mockingbird. Wow.

When did you decide to be a writer?

I don’t think that I ever decided to be a writer—I always knew I was a writer. I’ve been writing since that cookie jar story, be it in a diary or bad poetry or secret stories that I’ve never shown anyone to this day or personal essays. It was the one constant in my life, the one friend I could count on during the most turbulent times in my life. I’d taken creative writing classes and had gotten published in high school literary magazines, but many things got in the way of making writing a career; namely, fears of not being able to make a living or not knowing how to get professionally published, among other life circumstances/events. I don’t regret the path I took, however.

I got my bachelor’s degree at UMass-Dartmouth in my late 20s, and it was during my senior year that I started to do a lot of creative nonfiction and autobiographical writing (the autobiographical stuff was for my psychology courses—I love how a few composition teachers insist that students will never do personal or autobiographical writing in college; they should’ve met my psych professors!). One professor recommended I check out the Masters in Professional Writing program at UMD, and the rest is history. For the first time, I really learned revision as a craft, and I learned rhetorical theory. I know very little about literary theory, though. I tend to approach fiction writing in terms of audience and purpose and style more than plot and conflict and theme, etc.

The idea for FAKING IT had come to me in 1999, but I didn’t sit down to write it until 2004 because I didn’t believe I was a fiction writer. Any fiction I’d ever written was horrible! But this idea wouldn’t go away, so when I finally sat down to write it, I did so with permission for it to be horrid, figuring no one would ever know. Lo and behold… it wasn’t horrid, and now I have fully embraced myself as a fiction writer!

Do you get writer's block? How do you combat it?

All the time! I hate it, too. My writer’s block is based on the fear that anything I write will be crap. I can be perfectionistic in certain aspects, and that’s one of ‘em.

Sometimes I just avoid the physical act of writing and mentally compose for awhile, until it feels familiar enough to write down. But if too much time passes, then I have to do something. So I play psychological games. I tell myself that it’s just a draft, no one has to read it at this stage, revision always makes it better, it’s ok to write a crappy first draft, etc. I actually write or type it at the top of the page. It’s the same thing I tell my students, actually, because they have the same fears—they have it worse, actually, because they do have to show their work to others during that crappy first draft stage! Some have told me that writing such statements really helped them get past their fears. The funniest is when they forget to delete it from their final draft, and the introductory sentence says, This doesn’t have to be any good…

What's your writing routine? Do you write longhand, typewriter or computer?

As much as I tell myself that I should be disciplined and have a routine, I really don’t, although sometimes I do get into a pattern depending on what I’m working on and what time of year it is. Teaching takes up so much mental and physical energy, and when I’ve got 60 students and drafts are due… let’s just say it’s difficult to find the motivation, time, or energy. And yet, I’m always writing something, even if it’s just an entry in my diary at the end of the day.

In the past, during the summer I settled into a very specific routine, but this summer has been completely different because I’m promoting FAKING IT every day. I didn’t anticipate how time-consuming that would be. Mind you, I’m not complaining, but it’s a lot of work. I haven’t established a writing routine this summer yet. By the time I do, it’ll be time to go back to school, most likely.

Typically I type on the computer mainly because I’ve gotten to be a fast (albeit sloppy) typist, and when the writing’s going well, I need to be fast. But there are times when I prefer to slow down, and that’s where longhand comes in. I usually go to a coffeeshop, sit near a window, and work on a scene in a notebook. I’ll also write longhand when an idea comes to me and I just want to sketch it out, or if it’s right before bed or first thing in the morning or someplace where my laptop isn’t.

Tell us about FAKING IT and how you decided to self publish at first.

Faking It is a romantic comedy. Andi, a 30-something writing professor, meets Devin, a handsome, charming escort who catches her attention. She proposes an unusual arrangement: lessons in writing in exchange for lessons in how to be a better lover. When the two break the rules of their contract that forbids each other from seeing each other socially and become friends, problems ensue. I always pitch the novel as When Harry Met Sally meets Sex and the City. It’s witty and fun, but also poignant at times. The perfect summer read!

I had queried about sixty agents, and even though I received and responded to several requests for manuscripts, I wound up with all rejections, albeit encouraging ones. Looking back, I made a lot of mistakes with the querying process. For one thing, I didn’t do enough research to find agents that were the best match for me. For another, I used a form letter rather than write to specific agents with a specific purpose. Writing query letters is just like writing a cover letter for a job. It’s not about what that agent can do for you; it’s about what you can bring to that agent.

I listened to the feedback that these agents had, however, and made the necessary revisions. I always believed that the novel was worthy of publication, and I knew I had access to an audience in terms of networking, so after doing some research and weighing the pros and cons, I decided to self-publish. I was also very fortunate to catch the wave of social networking (such as Facebook and Twitter), which has been instrumental in FAKING IT’s success.

What was your inspiration for writing it?

During my senior year as an undergrad, I took an elective called Writing about Popular Culture—I loved this course, and it really got my creative juices going. At that time, Sex and the City had just come out and was this sensation. I had a lot of issues with it, though. I was struck by its boldness, yet uncomfortable with its content—I was this Roman Catholic girl with five overprotective brothers and a mother who never let me watch soap operas when I was a kid, and they’re talking about WHAT??? Suddenly this “what-if” whispered in my ear: what if a woman is so inhibited that she needs someone to teach her to be more like those women on Sex and the City? And what if that person is a man, someone who is an expert on such things? What if he’s an escort? And what if they become friends? And so on.

That was the conception of FAKING IT. I knew Andi was going to teach Devin something in return as part of the premise, but I didn’t know what until I was immersed in my graduate studies. I kind of had that same epiphany that Andi had: Hey, I’m good at this. Why not make her a writing teacher as well? Andi was even further along in her career than I was at the time, so that was kind of fun. It turned out to be this really magical, happy accident, though, because the novel in and of itself is wonderfully rhetorical, especially in the way the characters dialogue. I don’t think I could have deliberately conceived that.

What are you working on now?

I’m putting the finishing touches on Ordinary World, the sequel to FAKING IT. I was originally planning to release it at the end of the summer, but I’m going have to postpone that. I’m also co-writing a third novel with a good friend of mine. That’s been a blast. I don’t think I could ever collaborate with anyone other than her. Our collaborative writing process has been very different from my individual process, and that’s been fascinating both as an observer and a participant, especially since it works for us. We’re hoping to finish that novel by the end of this year and start querying agents in January 2010.

Andi and Devin are both very unique and funny characters. If your book was made into a movie, who would you choose for the staring roles and why?

Funny you should mention that. Back when I was insisting that I wasn’t a fiction writer, I had considered writing FAKING IT as a screenplay because the more I thought about it, the more I saw it like a movie in my mind’s eye. But I knew even less about writing a screenplay than I did writing a novel. Incidentally, I co-wrote a first draft screenplay of FAKING IT with my aforementioned writing partner shortly after I finished the first version of the manuscript because she had taken a screenwriting course. Also, she knew the novel better than anyone because she had given me the most feedback. I think back then we intuitively knew we’d collaborate again in the future.

I had originally envisioned Devin to look a little bit like a young Chris Noth (who played Mr. Big in Sex and the City). In 2000 I had met Noth in New York City following his performance in the play The Best Man (he was terrific). His smile was the inspiration for Devin’s smile. Chris Noth has this incredible smile, and when he looks straight at you and flashes it, you’re just completely consumed. At least I was! The only other actor I know of who can pull off that same electric smile is Hugh Jackman. I think he’d make a fabulous Devin in that regard. Don’t know if he could pull off a Long Island accent, though. There’s also my friend Marc, who made me promise that if Hugh isn’t available, then the role goes to him! I have no idea who I’d want to see cast as Andi, though. Maybe a newcomer. Someone who isn’t rail thin, either. (If Hugh Jackman gets cast, then I'll certainly audition...)

My older brother thought that FAKING IT felt a lot like a stage play to him, which I found really interesting. I was watching so much Aaron Sorkin and The West Wing when I wrote the first draft, so I’m sure that has something to do with it.

In the book, you describe New York very well. How much research did you do?

I grew up on Long Island, so anytime I wanted to go into Manhattan all I had to do was hop on the Long Island Rail Road. It wasn’t until I moved away that I realized how much I took that for granted, especially after the twin towers came down. I know how to get around the city in terms of it being a grid, and I had a feel for it in terms of character, but I didn’t really know it that well in terms of actual places to go. My good friend Elisa (yes, same name!) helped me out with that. I’d always wanted to go to Junior’s in Brooklyn, too, and decided it had to be a special place for Andi. I finally went in 2007. Let’s just say I was right on the money with Andi’s orgasmic reactions to one bite of Junior’s cheesecake.

For the scene when Andi and Devin go to the movies at the Shore on Long Island, I’d actually spent a lot of time hanging out in Huntington village when I was growing up, and always went to the Shore, so it was fun to write that. I googled it to get some of its history, though. And Francesco’s pizzeria in South Huntington is owned by the nicest guy in the world—I haven’t had a chance to get back there and tell him that Francesco’s has a cameo in the book.

Favorite writers?

Aaron Sorkin, Nora Ephron, Richard Russo, David Sedaris, and Bill Bryson are the ones I keep going back to, each one for different reasons. I just met David Sedaris this past week, so that was a thrill. Marion Keyes and Jennifer Weiner are great chick lit writers. And I loved the writing on the show Gilmore Girls, with the exception of the final season. I’m also really into David E. Kelley’s Boston Legal right now, too. There’s a good chance I may get into screenplay or teleplay writing at some point since so many of my influences write in that medium, and because I love writing dialogue. As for my favorite rhetoric and composition writers, Peter Elbow, Lad Tobin, and the late Donald Murray top the list. And my friend Susan Miller-Cochran, too!

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

Several things:

- Get aggressive with your career. Basically that means to not wait for anyone to knock on your door and do it for you. Even if you get the agent and the publishing deal, it’s still up to you to promote yourself and your work. But you also have to be respectful of the business. Don’t make a pest of yourself. Follow the submission guidelines when it comes to agents, and don’t email them every five seconds asking why it’s taking so long for them to read your query or, if you’re lucky, your manuscript.

- Persevere. A manuscript doesn’t get done overnight. Neither does publishing, whether you go the independent route or the traditional one. You have to do a lot of research, follow up on leads, and move on when rejections happen, learning something from each one. Just because one agent or publisher says it’s not right for them doesn’t mean there’s not another one who thinks otherwise. It also takes time to acquire a following of readers. Be patient.

- Take yourself seriously and treat yourself like a professional. Like you’re getting paid the six-figure advance, even. Edit your manuscript within an inch of its life, or hire one to do it. If you self-publish, hire a graphic designer to design your book cover. Have integrity about your work. There’s a lot of poor quality work out there. You don’t want yours to be one of ‘em.

- READ. Read read read read read.

- Take advantage of social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. They’re playing the biggest role in my success right now.

- Write the book you would want to read. If you try too hard to write something formulaic or write what you think others want to read, your audience will see right through that. And yet, at some point, you do need to get reader feedback and criticism and take what they say into consideration.

FAKING IT is now available at Lulu.com; Amazon Kindle Store; Quail Ridge Books and Music in Raleigh, NC; Baker Books in N. Dartmouth, MA; and the Claire T. Carney Library at UMass-Dartmouth. For more information, please go to www.elisalorello.com, Elisa’s blog “I’ll Have What She’s Having”, Faking It Fans on Facebook, or follow Elisa on Twitter @elisalorello. You can also catch Elisa on Stacey Cochran’s The Artist’s Craft.

"The secret of life is honesty and fair dealing. If you can fake that, you've got it made." ~ Groucho Marx

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Clawing your way to the top

One of the main things a writer should always do is keep writing. With Stacey Cochran, he's done just that, not wasting any time and is no slacker when it comes to writing.

He has written a book called Amber Page and the legend of the Coral Stone(2005) where sixteen year old named Rio Katyena discovers a stone that is said to posses a power just for her. He's Written a book of Sci-Fi short stories, The Kiribati Test(2004).

The Band(2004),a coming of age story.

The Colorado Sequence, a Da Vinciesque thriller(2007).

Amber Page, Colorado sequence and The Kiribati test are all currently on Podiobooks as well as in print.

He also maintains his own Tv show called The Writer's Craft, in which he talks about some of the top dogs of the writing world. In Raleigh, North Carolina, he's done numerous book events to introduce new authors, talk about the joys of publishing and self-publishing and holds discussion panels about the change that is happening within the publishing world thanks to the internet. You can check out the 200+ videos on Stacey Cochran's Channel on Youtube.

They are really insightful, a good chunk of his videos average an hour long.

He's also a family man. What a busy guy, right? Oh, but it doesn't stop there. He's recently released a new book called Claws. Right now he's coming to the tail end (no pun intended) to a 45 day blog tour, which I think is genius and saves on gas money. I conacted Stacey and asked if he would be interested in doing an interview. He was more than happy to.

Q:What is your earliest memory of writing?

A:I should first start by saying thanks, Roberto, for having me at your blog today, and thanks so much for doing this interview. I’m honored that you asked, and I’ll try to keep my answers short and helpful.

My earliest memory associated with writing was from Kindergarten at Westover United Methodist Church in Raleigh, North Carolina. I remember learning to write out letters and the alphabet on lined paper with a dotted midline that aided in making upper- and lower-case letters.

By age six, I was trying to write my first “make believe” stories, and I was first recognized as being different at age seven, when I wrote a story about the Pillsbury doughboy having pieces of his body pinched off of him by people who wanted to make cookies. That story actually prompted my 2nd-grade teacher to speak with the school principal who then called my mom (who had separated from my dad for a short time) to come to school and discuss the piece.

I just felt really sorry for the Pillsbury doughboy, I guess. It was an early suspense story.

Q:How did it feel to have your first book in print?

A:The very first time I saw a short story of mine published in my university’s literary magazine, it was a definite milestone. It felt like I had finally achieved publication after many years of writing. Then, several years later to see my first novel in print…. well that was an amazing day, too. I still remember opening the package in the mail and seeing the novel, holding it in my hands, knowing how many years had gone into my writing to arrive at that point. And then immediately doubting that the cover art was not right, that nobody would buy it, that I could have maybe done better. Moments of elation followed by moments of doubt; that’s the life of a writer.

Q:When did you decide to be a writer?

A:I didn’t make a conscious choice to pursue it as my life’s work until I was about 20 years old. I had been sending out little short stories and poems prior to that for a few years, writing a couple of terrible screenplays, etc., that never went anywhere. But it wasn’t until I met published authors in college that I realized that I could be a writer. That it was something that people do.

Q:Do you get writer's block? How do you combat it?

A:I don’t really know what writer’s block is, so I guess I’d have to say I don’t get it. I have times when I have had tremendous doubt - doubt that might last several months or even a year or more - but I never stop working on a novel once I start it. My fastest novels I’ve written in several months. My slowest sometimes take several years. There are times in writing the slowest ones that might constitute what we mean by “writer’s block,” but I usually wait for the doubt to pass (a few weeks sometimes) and eventually I’ll see the way a scene is supposed to go.

Q:Favorite writer junk food.

A:On days that I write, I often won’t eat until late in the afternoon and will instead slowly make my way through a pot of coffee. I might occasionally eat a light snack if I’m just flat-out starving and can’t think straight. But usually I’m fine on coffee until about 3 or 4 o’clock in the afternoon.

Q:Tell us about Claws. Is it part of a trilogy?

A:Claws is a thriller novel. It concerns a wildlife biologist named Dr. Angie Rippard who gets drawn into a police investigation in Tucson, Arizona, when two of her brightest students at the University of Arizona are found killed at a resort near National Forest Land. She suspects they were mauled by a large mountain lion, but her assessment draws her into conflict with the resort’s owner and local politicians.

Claws 2 has not been published yet, but is completed in manuscript format. Dr. Rippard is drawn into an investigation regarding grizzly bears in southwest Colorado. Grizzly bears are presumed extinct in that area (the last was shot by a bow hunter named Ed Wiseman in 1979).

I have a rough outline for Claws 3, but the novel hasn’t been written. With this novel, I wanted to explore spotted leopards in northern Mexico that occasionally cross the border into Arizona. The idea I have is to bring the border fence issue into the story and say something about immigration issues. Spotted leopards do occasionally cross into Arizona, and these cats are huge. They can weigh upwards of 200+ pounds and would attack a human much like a tiger. Most folks don’t know that spotted leopards even exist in the United States in extreme southern parts of Arizona.

I don’t know if I’ll write this third novel… If there’s interest from readers to do so, I might get around to doing it. And I would want to treat the parallel issues of immigration and border patrol in a mature way. I’m not sure I know exactly what my stance is on illegal immigration and to try and draw connections between that issue and jaguars could quickly turn ugly unless I knew exactly what I wanted to say.

Q:What was your inspiration for writing it?

A:I wrote Claws because I lived in Arizona for a while earlier this decade, and the part of Arizona where I lived was remote. It was mountain lion habitat, and so I wanted to learn more about the animals. Around the same time, a major wildfire burned 250,000 acres of a ponderosa pine forest near Tucson, and it ended up driving mountain lions into suburban areas to forage for food. Several elementary schools had to be closed because cougars were stalking kids, and I thought “What if a really big mountain lion set up shop in one of these areas in northern Tucson that borders protected National Forest Lands?” The novel came from that idea.

Q:What are you working on now?

A:I am currently working on a Southern gothic novel titled “The Eternalist.” It’s a cross between Stephen King and Agatha Christie, and my goal was to try and re-invent what we think of as “the Southern gothic novel.” Totally modernize it, and bring Southern literature into the 21st century with a bang. I’ve been chipping away at it for about two years. Hope to have the first draft done inside of three years.

Q:Favorite writers?

A:Man, I read everything. From bestsellers like Dean Koontz and Stephen King, to unknown self-published authors who no one has heard of. I like classic sci-fi authors like Ray Bradbury and Richard Matheson. I like contemporaries and friends like J.D. Rhoades and J.A. Konrath. I read a great literary novel last year by a North Carolina author named Ron Rash (novel was titled “Serena”). And I read Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road” several times. Everything from the best literary fiction to shlocky pulp fiction with titles like “Planet of the Damned.” I’m a big fan of Philip K. Dick.

I tend to believe that no writing is “good” writing; it’s all subjective and if I have any taste at all I should realize that a person hammering out their first so-called “bad” novel is just as important (and interesting to me) as the guy who gets an eight-figure advance and has millions of readers.

Q:What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

A:Do not wait for someone to discover you. Make your career happen on your own. And be willing to help out other writers above all else.

Thanks so much, Roberto, for having me today. These were great questions, and I’m honored that you thought to ask me to answer them. This was fun!

"If my doctor told me I had only six minutes to live, I wouldn't brood. I'd type a little faster." ~ Isaac Asimov

Monday, June 22, 2009

To Scratch and Scribble Part 3

Now we're starting to touch on something unexpected, readers. It's that little thing that tells all of us that we are leading up to something big: serendipity.

I was eleven. I had briefly written a chapter for a project that our teacher made us do. It was for a book called The Phantom Tollbooth, which I still love to this day. We, the students, were given the project of writing a lost chapter of the book. I can't remember what I wrote or where those papers are . . . so I guess it's safe to say that project is complete in that now it really is a lost chapter. Go figure.

But there was something else that happened during that time; my family got our own tape recorder. I don't remember where from. All I know is, one day I came home from school and it was just there. It was one chunky looking thing, ancient by today's standards. (Phones can record, laptops, they even have recorder pens that can hold, can't even make this up, 16GB= 280 hours of recording time.)

Completely smitten with the damn thing, I decided to give it a whirl. Of course I did all the primitive stuff that the kid in us always does. I blew into the mic, experimented with different voices, all that nonsense.(Even tried recording an audio drama and later did a fake radio show with my brother where we would do impressions of famous celebrity guests. But that's another story.)

Then I picked up a book. One of my favorites.

It was entitled Top Secret written by John Reynolds Gardiner. The story was about a regular kid named Allen who tries a science experiment where he turns himself into a walking Human-plant hybrid.

With the Tape Recorder ready, I read the whole 128 page novel aloud, creating my very first audio book. I tripped up a bit, here and there. I was nervous even though I knew that this tape was just for me. I remember pronouncing words like "linoleum" and "sergeant" wrong, rewinding the tape to rerecord over my mistakes. But it was a fun little tape, despite the trip up's. It was my own little top secret project.

Flash forward over a decade later and now I'm recording my own book, Mr. Dead Eyes, in podcast form. Sometime during recording, I looked back on this memory and snickered to myself, "How the hell could I mispronounce Linoleum?"

Anyone else care to share their story of tape recording?

Leave a comment below.

Be happy to read them.

"Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined." ~ Henry David Thoreau

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Hazy Days and Cloudy Nights

In order to give more insight to this blog and to the writer's world, I took it upon myself to interview some of the writers I know.

Today we have Matthew Wayne Selznick. He's the author of the novel Brave Men Run, which you can find on podiobooks as a free audiobook and you can also purchase the print novel which is out now. This was one of the first podcast novels I've listened to and introduced me to a whole new door in promoting your work. So, please welcome Matt Selznick as we put him in the hotseat of what it is like being a writer.

Q: What inspired you to write “Brave Men Run?”

A: "Brave Men Run -- A Novel of the Sovereign Era" has its roots in an on-line serial webzine I created and edited in the late 1990's,"Sovereign Serials."

"Sovereign Serials" was my attempt to create a prose-based "comic book" universe. I developed the setting and invited amateur writers to create characters and tell their stories in episodic fiction. The webzine ran for three years before I finally suspended it due to some attention and energy-grabbing personal matters and general lack of growth.

After "Sovereign Serials" was shuttered, I received fairly regular emails from fans. Nearly every one expressed their desire to see one particular serial completed... one featuring a boy misfit named Nate Charters. I decided to make Nate's story my first book, and "Brave Men Run -- A Novel of the Sovereign Era" was born. The Sovereign Era setting of "Brave Men Run -- A Novel of the Sovereign Era" and subsequent books, short stories and projects like "Hazy Days and Cloudy Nights" is much more developed and less derivative from what had appeared in "Sovereign Serials."

Q: The characters seem very real in “Brave Men Run.” Are there any characters who are a reflection of yourself or your friends? Were there some parts taken from true life events?

A: Thanks for saying the characters seem real! I think the key to realistic characters is to approach writing as a form of acting. You really have to know the characters, get in their heads, understand their motivations and their backgrounds. I think my writing flows best when, mentally, I'm able to bounce from one character to another, "being" each one in turn.

Nearly everyone in "Brave Men Run -- A Novel of the Sovereign Era" is based in part on one or more people I've known in my life. No one character is entirely based on one individual, however. Rather, each one holds bits and pieces. See the acknowledgments page at the back of the book for some of those bits and pieces.

As for some parts of the book being taken from real life... I reckon the statute of limitations has run its course, so I can reveal that the doorbell ditch scene played out almost exactly the same in real life... except none of us delinquent kids had preternaturally sensitive reflexes or senses.

Q: How long did it take you to write “Brave Men Run?”

A: A couple of years, give or take, in fits and starts and in small bites, a few hundred words (or less) at a time. I did a lot of writing during lunch breaks at work...

Q: How do you break through Writer's Block? Or do you ever have it?

A: I'm not sure I know what writer's block is. When I'm not writing it's because I've distracted myself with things that eat time without giving back: video games, television, endless and pointless world-building... in other words, if I'm not writing it's a form of procrastination, which is a form of insecurity.

So... while time will pass when I'm not writing, I know why it's happening. The solution is to put my ass in the chair and my fingers on the keyboard.

If writer's block is being in the middle of a project and you stop because you don't know what's supposed to happen next, or why... fall back on conflict. If you don't know what's supposed to happen next in your story, take something valuable away from your characters, or think of something horrible and do that thing to them. Wham! No more writer's block.

Finally, I guess writer's block can stem from simply being bored with what you're writing. You know what they say: if you're bored, then you're boring, or in this case, your story is boring. Figure out why, or write something else. You don't have to be faithful to one idea at a time.

Q: Who were the other writers who gave you advice and helped promote “Brave Men Run?”

A: That's really two different questions. In terms of advice, I shared the manuscript with a handful of "first readers." They offered some editorial and grammatical advice, which was great. By the time I'd handed it over to them, I'd put the manuscript through three editing passes of my own. I also edited as I wrote, making small changes and corrections to the previous day's work before I started a new writing session.

When "Brave Men Run -- A Novel of the Sovereign Era" was first released in November of 2005, it was the first novel ever to have an initial simultaneous release in print, five e-book formats, and a free podcast edition. I believe it was among the first twenty or so podcast novels. The number one source for podcast novels, Podiobooks.com, was either just beginning or didn't exist yet. Podcasting itself was a little over a year old.

I pushed the paperback and e-book versions of "Brave Men Run --- A Novel of the Sovereign Era" by pushing the podcast edition, hard. I did scores of interviews on any podcast that would have me as a guest... and at the time, I still had to explain the logic behind giving away my content for free. It was that early!

I did press releases. I went to podcast conventions. Gradually, the "podiobook" scene began to spring up and all the authors who were also podcasters started to find one another. We all championed each others' works we enjoyed, and continue to do so.

Early heroes for "Brave Men Run -- A Novel of the Sovereign Era" included Tee Morris, Paul Story, Scott Sigler, Mark Jeffrey, Chris Miller, Mur Lafferty and Evo Terra, who called it "the finest podcast novel I have listened to."

Since then, newer podcast novelists like James Durham, P.G. Holyfield, James Melzer and especially J.C. Hutchins have been very generous with their support and evangelism.

I know I'm forgetting people. I can safely say that without the dozens of podcasters who were willing to interview me, play my promos and promote my work, "Brave Men Run -- A Novel of the Sovereign Era" would not have gained the world-wide audience it enjoys today.

Q:Where do you write? Do you write longhand, typewriter or computer?

A:I write either at a utility table that looks out over our back yard,
where I can watch the avian dinosaurs and see some trees and the sky,
or at the dining room table. Now and then, for a change of scenery
and the stimulus of being around people, I'll write in one of the
study rooms of the local library or go to the obligatory coffee house.

I usually write on my laptop -- I've developed a habit of using my
laptop for writing and my desktop machine for everything else. The
laptop runs Ubuntu Linux; I usually write drafts in TextRoom, which is
a full-screen, zero-distraction text editor. Edits and whatnot are
done in OpenOffice.org.

I sometimes write longhand -- it's good for notes (I have a small
Moleskine notebook perpetually in my back pocket) and for certain
types of writing, like poetry or song lyrics. Since you mentioned a
typewriter, that's what I learned to type on -- a manual typewriter
from the 1940's that belonged to my grandfather. I still have that
machine, too!

Q: After the success of the podcast and Swarm Press picking you up, you recently released an e-zine web serial that takes place during the Sovereign Era. How many episodes are you planning?

A: Let me tell you readers a little bit about what we're talking about, since many might not be aware of this new project.

"Hazy Days and Cloudy Nights" is an ongoing episodic serial fiction webzine set in the Sovereign Era and featuring a group of ordinary friends, lovers, rivals and band-mates living in coastal Southern California. The serials begin in the summer of 1984, about nine months before the beginning of the Sovereign Era. I plan on documenting these characters' lives to at least the edge of the 21st century.

The serial is divided into story arcs that each cover a particular time period in the characters' lives. Individual installments within each story arc are at least 2,000 words long, often longer. A new installment appears twenty five times per year, or roughly every two weeks.

"Hazy Days and Cloudy Nights" is a subscription-driven membership site. You must be a member to have access to installments of the serial and participate in the community of readers. Other membership benefits include access to bonus content, personalized RSS access, discounts on future "Hazy Days and Cloudy Nights" books and other perks.

"Hazy Days and Cloudy Nights" is an experiment in fiction distribution and neo-patronage. I believe that people will pay to read online fiction, especially when they know their dollars directly support the author with no intermediaries taking a cut. When folks subscribe to "Hazy Days and Cloudy Nights," they're endorsing my work and quite literally supporting me both creatively and financially.

It's a heck of a deal, too. If you subscribe at the annual rate of $14.99, that's less than $0.60 per installment. If you prefer, you can subscribe at the six month rate for $9.99 or by the month for $1.99. There's also a one day / one time free trial available, so everyone should at least check it out and read a few installments. Anyone who enjoys character-driven fiction and engaging, moving storytelling will like "Hazy Days and Cloudy Nights."

To answer your question, "Hazy Days and Cloudy Nights" is ongoing. There is no limit to the number of installments planned. Since I've got at least twenty years of character history to write about, that's a lot of story to tell.

Q: Do you plan to podcast "Hazy Days and Cloudy Nights"?

A: Due to the time-intensive nature of podcasting, I originally had no plans to podcast the individual installments of "Hazy Days and Cloudy Nights." Some of the members have asked about it, though, so I've put it to them to express their opinion in a survey. I'll be announcing the results, my decision and my thoughts toward the end of June, 2009. Watch the "Hazy Days and Cloudy Nights" news blog for more!

Q: Who is your favorite writer?

A: I don't really think in terms of favorites. My favorite anything changes over time, as I change and as context changes.

That said, I can list some of the authors who have inspired and influenced me over the years: Ray Bradbury, Larry Niven, Charles Bukowski, Stephen King, Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez, Len Wein, Gerry Conway, Philip Roth, James Ellroy, Tim Powers... that's off the top of my head.

Q: What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

A: Don't just write; write what you love. Don't worry about genre or markets or what's hot right now, yesterday or next week. Don't try to predict the market -- make a market.

Everything else I could say, like writing all the time, doing many drafts, blah blah blah... you can get that stuff from any writer or any how-to book. Some of it will work for you, some of it work, none of it is set in stone. Experiment with your work and how you do your work. Find what works for you. You're the only boss. Just keep working.

Thanks for the opportunity to talk, Roberto! I hope you and your readers check out "Hazy Days and Cloudy Nights!"

"It's like the explosion of a kernel of popcorn. You've got this little thing with so much potential ... and it expands in front of you." ~ Stephenie Meyer

Thursday, June 18, 2009

A Kitchen Caper

Today I was fifteen minutes late to the author event. But that's not to say that I didn't have fun.

It was taking place at the Harold Washington Library.

80 degrees today. Hot as hell.

Good thing the place was cool.

I got in, went to the lower floor, and entered a dark auditorium where everyone was seated (I'd say 40 people or so) and took a seat all the way in the back. I like sitting in the back. It gives me a wide perspective.

Monica Ali talked about how she felt that a kitchen was the perfect setting for her latest novel. "It's just a high tense environment but it also has potential for comedic occurrences."

From the flap:

Gabriel Lightfoot is an enterprising man from a northern England mill town, making good in London. As executive chef at the once-splendid Imperial Hotel, he is trying to run a tight kitchen. But his integrity, to say nothing of his sanity, is under constant challenge from the competing demands of an exuberant multinational staff, a gimlet-eyed hotel management, and business partners with whom he is secretly planning a move to a restaurant of his own. Despite the pressures, all his hard work looks set to pay off.

Until a worker is found dead in the kitchen's basement. It is a small death, a lonely death - but it is enough to disturb the tenuous balance of Gabe's life.

Elsewhere, Gabriel faces other complications. His father is dying of cancer, his girlfriend wants more from their relationship, and the restaurant manager appears to be running an illegal business under Gabe's nose. Enter Lena, an eerily attractive young woman with mysterious ties to the dead man. Under her spell, Gabe makes a decision, the consequences of which strip him naked and change the course of the life he knows - and the future he thought he wanted.

Readers and reviewers have been stunned by the breadth of humanity in Monica Ali's fiction. She is compared to Dickens and called one of three British novelists who are "the voice of a generation" by Time magazine. In the Kitchen is utterly contemporary yet has all the drama and heartbreak of a great nineteenth-century novel. Ali is sheer pleasure to read, a truly magnificent writer.

Monica Ali is the daughter of English and Bangladeshi parents. She attended oxford university. In the Kitchen is her third book. It's hard not to be amazed at her writing endeavors as she has said herself, "It was all a spot of luck. I was rather lucky."

One day, while raising two kids, she decided to write a novel which was only five chapters at the time. She showed it to her friend who happened to be doing an internship in a publishing house. Her friend passed it to someone and Voila! Instant book deal and contract before the novel was even finished! That book is called Brick Lane, a cultural diverse tapestry involving a character named Nazneen, who knows little English and whose wedding is prearranged. It asks the question, can we control our lives?

For an auditorium filled with people hanging on monica's every word, they were, as the interviewer said, an extremely shy bunch. Only two people got up to the microphone to ask questions.

I was the second.

"Do you get writer's block?" I asked.

"Sometimes, if what you're talking about is characters getting stuck. But I always feel I have something to say. There are nights, however, where I've stared at the screen for 9 hours and have only written ten words but it doesn't happen much. For a writer, you can't force preparation. It is either the time to write or it isn't."

She says that she loves writing dialogue and that, when her family is asleep, that is when she gets the most work done. She attributes her characters to actors and says she knows exactly how they are pictured and how they talk inside her head.

She is also well into writing her next book, all while she's doing this book tour.

Afterwards, I stepped up to have my book signed. I have to admit, I was a bit intimidated. I think it was her accent.

"Are you a writer?" She asks as I come up to the table.

I can't help smiling a little. "Yeah. How'd you know?"

"Your question. You can always tell when there's a fellow writer in the room."

Well, I'll be damned.

I told her that I was at work on my third book but that it is also tough, that I get Writer's block more than I would like to.

She simply said, "Keep at it. Just keep at it."

Glad to say that I will.

"Tomorrow may be hell, but today was a good writing day, and on the good writing days nothing else matters." ~ Neil Gaiman

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Locke and Key

Yesterday was one great day.

This Author event was at Barbara's bookstore on Halsted in Chicago. My Girlfriend and I took the train there where we were able to show up 20 minutes before Attica Locke would arrive.

Here's some info on the book:

In the tradition of Dennis Lehane and Greg Iles comes a powerful new voice in American fiction: Attica Locke delivers a brilliant debut thriller readers will not soon forget…

Jay Porter is hardly the lawyer he set out to be. His most promising client is a low-rent call girl, and he runs his fledgling law practice out a dingy strip mall. But he’s long since made peace with his path to the American Dream, carefully tucking away his darkest sins: the guns, the FBI file, the trial that nearly destroyed him.

Houston, Texas, 1981. It’s here that Jay believes he can make a fresh start. That is, until the night he impulsively saves a drowning woman’s life – and opens a Pandora’s Box. Her secrets put Jay in danger, ensnaring him in a murder investigation that could cost him his practice, his family, and even his life. But before he can get to the bottom of a tangled mystery that reaches into the upper echelons of Houston’s corporate powerbrokers, Jay must confront the demons of his past.

With intelligent writing that captures the reader from the first scene through an exhilarating climax, Black Water Rising marks the arrival of an electrifying new talent.

We browsed for a few minutes to give the author some time to settle in, then we sat down at 6:55pm. By 7:15 there were over twenty people filling the seats in the back of the bookstore, all shaking hands and making conversation. Many people knew each other. Attica sat at the front, between two tables and a podium. She had a joyful smile, was beaming with delight. Then she began.

As a screenwriter living in Los Angeles, Attica became disenchanted by the lethargic process of Hollywood. She labored and worked hard, churning out ten screenplays. But there were so many delays that she just said enough. One day, she decided to pen a story that she had, debated with herself whether it should be a novel or a screenplay. Having seen the strings attached to screenplays, she decided to go with writing it as a novel instead. "I just wanted to tell the story, to get it out there."

She discussed this with her husband and she formulated a plan. "I want to write for a year," she said. He obliged and they took out a second mortgage on their home. Meanwhile, she wrote everywhere conceivable in the house. "I'd write in a chair, I'd write on the floor, in the office; I was everywhere."

Finally, with everything set her novel was published. She read from chapter one which was very descriptive. I felt as if I was inside the boat that all the characters were on.

After, she opened it up for questions.

It turns out that the original manuscript was 600 pages long. She was able to trim 200 to 250 pages out of it. Her parents were involved in the civil rights movement and a lot of the story takes place in that era. Later she revealed that the first chapter was actually inspired by a true story, which was surprising. She delights in knowing that her husband is there for her and that she is now living the life of a writer. She's already 100 pages into her next book and is currently at work on an HBO miniseries based on the civil rights movement.

So many people asked questions.
I only asked two.

"Is this the first time writing a novel, or did you have any earlier writing?"

"Yes, this is the first time I've written a novel. I wrote a couple short stories here and there, but I didn't know that this is where I would eventually be. But I also think this is where I was meant to be. I'd have fun with short story ideas and say, 'oh, I'll write this on Saturday.' Who does that?"

She also said that her grandmother was able to publish a children's book herself and got it into stores. She even asked Attica and her other siblings to draw the illustrations at the time. Attica is very proud of her.

"Why Black Water Rising? Was that the first title you picked or did it just pop into your head?"

"No," she said, shaking her head with a smile. "It didn't just pop. I'm horrible at making titles. The original title was Bayou City which didn't have much to go with it. My editor picked the title and I just love it. It fits it perfectly."

She thanked everyone for coming and then I went to the back of the line to get my book signed. I usually like to be the last one. Call it tradition, if you will.

I have to say she was very excited for this event. She was also very nice and polite, a people person. It was now my turn and I stepped up. Before I could even open my mouth she asked:

"Are you a writer?"

I was dumbstruck.
I did a double take.
I hesitated for a few seconds.

"I-uh-yes? Yes! How did you know?"

"Those questions you asked, they seemed like writer questions to me. Plus, I just had a feeling. I guess You can sense those things."

"Wow. For a minute there I was thinking, 'can she read minds as well?' Yeah, I guess all writer's have this aura around them."

I introduced her to my girlfriend and we made small talk. She asked if I was writing to which I said, "I'm working on my third one right now."

"That's great! Y'know, a lot of people think us authors are freak shows. They can't understand all this stuff we go through inside our heads when we write."

"I know. We have issues." I laughed.

"But it's good that you found someone that you love and who supports your passion."

See what I said about how incredibly nice she was?

I got my book signed, we took pictures. It was a blast. She was even nice enough to invite everyone for drinks in a place across the street, but we had a train to catch. I thanked her anyway, shook her hand and we left. I admit, I was having a geek moment. But it thrilled me to know that when someone has a passion, they jump for it. And that's what you have to do if you want to be a writer, just jump. That's the key to it, really. I'm sure that with this book, I'll most likely finish it in two sittings. After that, I'll lend it to my girlfriend to read. But, as soon as I get it back, that book is going on the top of my shelf, protected by a plastic slip if needs be. It's something I want to treasure, meeting such an incredibly nice author, from Los Angeles no less, who hasn't lost her passion for being herself and living a writer's life. That book of mine will be filed under Locke and Key.

"It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer." ~E.B. White (Charlotte's Web)

Friday, June 12, 2009

To Scratch and Scribble Part 2

Before I start, let me just say that I appreciate the comments and the stories you, the readers, share with me. As I always say, us writers have to stick together.

Couldn't find my little red book, but I will continue to look.

After dabbing my hand in the scribble bucket of paint, just beginning to find out what my imagination was capable of, I discovered that I had a love for reading. And it was picking up fast. My brother was also, at the time, an avid reader and just discovered a series that I couldn't get enough of. He started off reading two or three of the books. Me being his little brother, not only did I emulate him and shadow his every step, but I was also a little bastard of a competitor. With videogames, my brother would royally hand me my ass several times over. And that was just with Atari and Sega Genesis, people. But I would not be defeated when it came to outreading him (if such a thing could actually be done).

Like a junkie with a fix, every few weeks I would visit my local Target store and stock up on two or three books. I remember strolling in, seeing the stand with six shelves full of new titles and scooping up the copies. These books were great. They were my life.

I'm sure some of you have heard of them.

They were the Goosebumps books.

That's right, I stocked up on all of them. I always had one of them in my back pack. When in the middle of the series, I wrote R. L. Stine a letter, telling him that I loved his books thus far and had an idea for another one. Inside, I included a picture of me holding my two dogs called Bunny and Buster. I never mailed the letter. I was afraid to. I was writing an author who I not only admired but whose sanity I questioned.

By the time I was eleven, I had built up my courage and asked my teacher of a unique favor. Every day, we would do journal entries. We could share funny stories, read them aloud if we wanted. I had the bright idea of writing a Goosebumps book of my own. I thought it would be a snap. I'd release a chapter a day.

My teacher, being one who I could tell didn't care one way or the other, gave me the permission and I was off to the races.

To this day, I don't remember the title of my own story. Also, to this day, I cringe knowing that I stood up, in class, to read aloud my own piece of fan fiction. Plus, I had to write each day, otherwise I was sunk. That put my head in a spin, constantly writing longhand chapters the night before, averaging two to three pages. In the end, the story was finished in twenty chapters. I briefly remember someone else in the class doing something similar, writing a book for his journal entries, but the teacher told him not to because she didn't want everyone to do it instead of their journals. The poor kid grumpily sat down.

The whole story revolved around a boy having nightmares of this monster who is constantly trying to kill him (for whatever reason) and he constantly keeps getting beat up as the creature exits his dream and comes into the real world, fighting him. I even wrote it in the traditional R. L. Stine fashion which, I'm sure, we've all grown to either love or hate. I'd end one chapter with a battle with them on the roof of his house saying, "The monster was fiercely fighting me. He wound up his huge warted arm and tore off my head."

The next day, the chapter would begin with, "Okay, so he didn't tear off my head. I'm in the hospital now with a torn shoulder." What a rip-off, right?

But my classmates were loving it. It was a horror story as well as a satire and they were ready for every second of it. Towards the end I got lazy, like all kids do, and I haphazardly made the excuse that the main character, whilst in the hospital, entered a room where all manner of medical experiments were taking place. The shelves were stocked with vaccines and poisons. Leave it to me to make him find a bottle of stuff called . . . no joke . . . Monster Die . . . which he feeds to the monster to kill him. It was lazy, I know, but I just wanted to finish the story. I was writing every day for 20 days straight and I think I burnt out my brain.

But it was fun. I even like the show that followed, though it was cheesy.

Looking back, I see now that my story was a combination of How to Kill a Monster and Monster Blood.

So what Fan Fiction have you written? Were you a fan of the Goosebumps books?

"Read. Read. Read. Just don't read one type of book. Read different books by various authors so that you develop different styles." ~ R.L. Stine

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

To Scratch and Scribble Part 1

Every writer has to start somewhere. That's the best thing about writers; they have unlimited beginnings.

Did you know that the draft of Carrie was in the trash until Stephen King's wife saved it? Or that J.K. Rowling came up with the boy wizard while she was on a train. Charles Dickens was poor, imprisoned for his father's debts, until he started releasing his stories as serials in monthly magazines. Ayn Rand wrote The Fountainhead, while being a struggling actress in Hollywood, over a period of 7 years. It was rejected by 12 publishers before it was picked up. Chuck Palahniuk's fifth grade teacher told him to take up writing.

From every one, first comes the mundane life before, then they begin to get the itch. That familiar itch they must scratch . . . just to scribble something down.

So, I figured I'd lay my earliest memories on you, the readers, just so you know how it all came about; how I got the itch to be a scribbler before I became a serious writer.

It began with one book, my earliest memory of ever putting pen to paper to make a story. Sheesh, it was such a long time ago. Had to dig some stuff up from my 'memory palace' as Thomas Harris would put it, where the memories are more fragmented than the others.

I was at my desk, 3rd or 4th grade, completely wrapped up in my teacher who was reading The Year of The Boar and Jackie Robinson. It was a really great story from what I remember and she read it well. After she was finished, there was a project to be done. Each of us, she declared, would write our very own books. They would be put together with thin yellow pages and stapled together with a cover made from construction paper, yes, but they would be ours. The products of our imaginations were endless. But I was the one who couldn't get that Jackie Robinson book out of my head.

It was the story of Shirley Temple Wong, a Chinese girl who sails with her family to America. Arriving to New york, she is amazed at the wonders but doesn't know any english. It's 1947, and Jackie Robinson, a rising Brooklyn Dodgers player, inspires Shirley to see America as the land of opportunity. Written by Bette Bao Lord.

The story was charming and unique, being an outsider trying to adapt to a different culture. I was sad that it ended. Eureka! thought my little pudding of a mind, The story isn't over yet!

Furiously I worked on my book, drawing little illustrations for each chapter. The Year of The Boar and Jackie Robinson 2 would be great, I thought. I drew on the memories of the characters and imagined them continuing their lives in New York, finding it harder to keep their friendships intact, but in the end, Jackie Robinson wins a baseball game and the whole family finds hope again. After a late night, (I was the only kid to come in with bags under his eyes) my first manuscript was done. The cover was red, the binding was composed of three staples, the writing was sloppy cursive. It couldn't have been more than 15 pages. She collected them all, soon the time was 2:35pm and we all left.

Then, at home, the shocking realization in my little sensitive pudding mind, OH NO! I can imagine myself slapping both palms to my forehead. What if she reads it?!

Yes, every writer must battle with the inevitability of critique. I was going to be analyzed by my very first book critic and I was terrified. Chalk up another late night full of worries.

Sheepishly, the next day, I came to the desk as my teacher called me. My teacher was always a very kind woman and full of useful lessons, but I thought she would see my first attempt as nothing but useless scribbles.

To my immense surprise, she gave me back my book with a dazzling smile. "You should keep this," she said. "I think you'll want to save it."

I remember giving her a puzzled look. The book had her handwriting on the back of it, but I didn't read it until I got to my desk.

To the best of my memory it said something to the tune of, "This is outstanding!! You will be a really great writer someday! A+++"

I was floored.

Like any young crazy kid I tore through the door, screaming of my first scribbling success. I'll have to find that book now. If I do, I'll be sure to update this with a picture. I hope it isn't dust by now.

Has anyone else out there had a project similar to this?

"I believe that ordinary people change the world." ~ Brad Meltzer

Sunday, June 7, 2009

A Double Dose of Roberts

I was driving to my second job today.

Location: 610 S. Dearborn Street, Chicago.

Hours of work: 10am to 3pm.

I turn the corner and the whole street is occupied with tents. The Printers Row Lit Fest was going on. Someone told me it was going on all weekend. I wasn't aware, but I took some time, 15 minutes before I needed to be at The Standing Room Only (don't worry, they have chairs) Restaurant. It was great. They had every book known to man. C-SPAN was there with their trailers and cameras. Authors of various novels were at the stands, signing books. Some reading poetry.

Upon doing some research, I learned that many top dog authors would be there. But the tickets were sold out. And they were most likely there the day before. Just my luck. Among the names, like Elmore Leonard and Bill Ayers, was Neil Gaimen (choir of angels), and man am I burnt up that I just missed him. He was receiving an young adult award, most likely for his work The Graveyard Book (already on chapter 3) and he deserves it!

Just to give you a bit of back story to this, on 11/03/2007, the day after my birthday, I was at my friend's Barnes and Noble and right there, signing books was a man with gray hair and glasses. We had a bit of a discussion on mystery books then I purchased a copy of his book Three Strikes You're Dead : A Snap Malek Mystery. The man's name was Robert Goldsborough.

Robert Goldsbourough began his writing career right around the time he was well in to reading Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe mysteries, well over 70 books in the series. Then, one cold hard day, while he was working at the Chicago Tribune, he found that his hero Rex Stout was dead and that they were printing an obituary for him. Robert and his mother both became saddened by the fact that there would be no more Nero Wolfe Mysteries. Robert knew that there was at least one more good Nero Wolfe novel to be had. So, as a gift to his mother, he typed an original Nero Wolfe book entitled Murder In E Minor.

(Pictured alongside him is Luisa Scala Buehler, another mystery writer with six books to her credit. They refer to themselves as The Deadly Duo and have a blog here on blogger. thedeadlyduo.blogspot.com)

In the 1980's Robert received permission from the Stout Estate to publish his book. He wrote six more novels included in the series.

Robert, a lifelong Chicagoan, dreamed of a character of his own: Snap Malek, a Tribune reporter with stories set as early as 1938. These books include Three strikes You're dead, Shadow of the Bomb and A Death in Pilsen.

Now, here I am, just walking around, hands in pockets, looking this way and that when I see . . . Robert Goldsborough . . . Again! A year and a half later, no less!

I walk up to his tent, his back to me as he's setting up his books. I knew he probably wouldn't remember me.

"Excuse me? Are you Robert Goldsborough?"

He turns. "That's me. What can I do for you?"

"Well, you must've forgotten by now but I've met you before."

"Oh?" he asks, searching his memory.

"Yeah. In Oakbrook. You were in Barnes and Noble."

"Oh. Yeah! I remember being up that way."

"I tell you, I got about four chapters into Three Strikes, you're Dead. I really like the character of Snap Malek."

"You do, eh?" He says energetically. "He's got a new story."


He grabs a book from a rack and, low and behold, it is another Snap Malek mystery. A President in Peril, set in 1948. It is in the midst of the tense final days of the election between Harry S. Truman and Thomas E. Dewey. Meanwhile, good ole Snap is receiving warning messages from an organization called The New Reich, who threaten to kill Truman. Now Snap must find a way not only to stop the organization but to save the president as well.

With five minutes to spare, I buy a copy, he signs and he thanks me for getting one and remembering him. Copy firmly in hand, I point to him as I'm making a dash to the restaurant, "Keep writin' em, I'll keep readin' em!"

"Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift. That's why we call it 'The Present'." ~Eleanor Roosevelt

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Some Light Reading

In these dire economic times, there are many truths that 8 years ago seemed impossible: People are buying less stuff, Walmart seems to be getting bigger and everything, including books, even by today's standards, are grossly overpriced. But there are loopholes to readers like you and me who have felt the pinch as well.

Just today, I was dropping off a whole box full of my books (stuff I've read as a kid mixed with some current stuff) to my nearest Goodwill Store. It felt good donating them.

While I was in there I figured on combing through the lost treasures to see what I could find. They had seven large bookshelves filled with donated books. I started tilting my head to the side, the way I usually do, reading the titles in my head. There were a lot of old books. Books I never knew existed. The lost pages.

Among them I found The Brethren (Hardcover) by John Grisham, which I was planning to read. It's about three judges who run a mail scam for money from prison. I also found The Poet (Paperback) by Michael Connelly. Another book I planned to read (and whose author I have met. Oh yeah. Feel jealous!) when time permitted. This book also stars Jack McEvoy, from The Scarecrow, who tracks a serial killer who leaves little quotes from the works of Edgar Allen Poe.

I check inside the book. Let's see. An Intro from Stephen King, he likes the book. Let's see the first few lines.

"Death is my beat. I make my living from it. I forge my professional relationship on it. I treat it with the passion and precision of an undertaker — somber and sympathetic about it when I'm with the bereaved, a skilled craftsman with it when I'm alone."

Oh yeah, I'm picking this one up.

There was one more lost treasure; a Hardcover book from an author named Paul Gallico. The book was called Too Many Ghosts.

I looked at the two books in my hand, then eyed the book on the shelf, appreciatively.

Well, you can never have too many ghosts, I thought to myself. Smiling, I brought the three books up to the cashier.

Now, here's where the light reading bit comes in. If I were to go to a bookstore and pay for these exact books the receipt would look a bit like this:

The Brethren (HC) $30.00
The Poet (PB) $14.95
Too Many Ghosts (HC) $ 2.99

You won't find Too Many Ghosts in stores. It's out of print but I was able to find it listed on amazon for that price above.

All totaled, I would've spent $46.99

And that's without the tax.

Even with amazon, you may find that the books have their price knocked off by 4 or 5 bucks if you want them new. But with the shipping, oh, big surprise, it's 4 or 5 bucks.

With the same books I purchased today, in pretty good condition, mind you, I got a fair deal I would say.

All totaled, I spent $1.58

Now that is what I call 'Light Reading'.