Sunday, February 27, 2011

Best Protagonists--Are they all in the past?

by Jamie Freveletti

I'm participating in a "Best Protagonists" debate over at the International Thriller Writer's blog, "The Big Thrill" and started wondering about past versus present protagonists. So far we've been fairly consistent in picking the obvious classic and unbeatable characters: Sherlock Holmes, Adam Daglieish, and Elizabeth Bennett. But note, these are all classic characters. In reading the responses I thought, what about the classics made them that way? Characterization? Voice? Or is it just that familiarity and retelling over the decades have made them become like friends to us?

But familiarity is not always the ticket. A teen in my household that I'll call the "resident guitar player" so as to preserve some of his anonymity said to me: "How come when Dad was fifteen he got the Rolling Stones and Cream, and I got the pop drivel I hear now?"

I countered with some of the bands from my formative dance years: New Order, The Cure, Talking Heads and REM. He thought about that a moment and said, "But I'm talking about rock classics. Bryne became a composer and the other guys weren't hard rock. Stones and Zeppelin are still discussed more on the radio."

And funny thing is, I agree to some extent (and I'll bet David Bryne, formerly of the Talking Heads would agree as well) that the bands that he's mentioning managed to stay together long enough to create a huge body of work that keep hitting the airwaves year after year. The other bands broke up, and their musicians went their own ways. But, like a great protagonist, a great band must have not only longevity but something so unique, so unusual, that it catches the imagination of generation after generation. I think the Rolling Stones's music will definitely bridge the years, and Sherlock Holmes already has.

But will the current batch- and by this I think I'll limit the thought to those writers that have ten or more books under their belts so that we can see a pattern, do as well?

Or in music terms, the bands that stayed together to create music year after year: the Pearl Jams, Madonnas and Red Hot Chili Peppers of the music scene post 1980?

It's exciting to think that the literature and music of this very moment could become a "classic" in the eyes of generations to come.

I certainly hope so. There is some great stuff out there. And on that note, I'm turning on my ipod to play "Burning Down the House" and "In Between Days."

Friday, February 25, 2011

Amazon vs. The World

by Libby Hellmann

Remember the battle between Betamax and VHS a few decades ago? Remember how VHS won? Well, as many of you know, there's a new battle today in the ebook world: Amazon vs. ePub. For those of you who have been in a cave, ebook formats roughly break down into the Mobifile format, which Amazon uses, vs the epub format, which everyone else (Barnes and Noble, Sony, Google, Kobo, etc) uses.

For a while now, I've been saying that, unlike the Betamax-VHS struggle, Amazon is going to win this one. Why? Because their inventory is unparalleled, and their interface is the smoothest around. I really wanted to like Google, since they made it possible for independent booksellers sell ebooks, but their interface is lousy. Then we began hearing that Apple was going to restrict the Kindle app on the iPhone and iPad -- previously it was free -- and people started to say, "You see? Amazon is on the decline."

Well, think again. SHELF AWARENESS today reports news from blogger Chuck Toporek:

Will bookstores eventually be able to sell Kindle books? Cnet reported that Amazon might be working on a way to circumvent Apple's new rules on subscriptions by utilizing the Kindle app for iOS...Bookstores, authors, retailers, bloggers and other website owners will be able to offer Kindle books from their own sites, let their readers start enjoying the full text of these books instantly, and earn affiliate fees for doing so....Toporek suggested "the reason we haven't heard Jeff Bezos screaming about this recent change to the IAP rules is because Amazon isn't worried. They have a solution already in beta testing.

Read the complete post here.

Interesting times we live in...

Friday, February 18, 2011

Went to the Idea Store....

by Michael Dymmoch

...the other day— Er... the CVS pharmacy. I was getting instant prints made at the Kodak kiosk when I noticed U.S. Passport wallets for sale at the camera counter.

Then, along with my prints, I received some prints left by a previous customer—passport photos, judging by the size. Which gave me an idea for a story about a devious or desperate person who finds someone else’s passport photos in a film kiosk and notices the passport wallets conveniently for sale and a security camera recording the activities in the store, and...

My reprints cost me $3.82. There was no charge for the story idea.

On another note, my Cannon G10 is way too convenient—fits in a pocket so it goes almost everywhere with me. I use it to record really cool stuff:

and odd signs,

and what I call visual puns:

(pigeon & scare pigeon)

Great fun.

But then, I'm easily amused.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Selling an Expensive Item: Does it Translate to The Book Industry?

by Jamie Freveletti

I spent the weekend in Florida, speaking with publishing professionals, editors of the books section of the local newspaper, and other writers. We, of course, all discussed the rise of the e-book and the change it will bring in the industry. But it was a discussion with a man not in the book industry that made me think.

I visited one afternoon with a writer friend whose husband sells high end merchandise. In particular, grand pianos. These beautiful musical instruments are costly, easily selling in the high five figures and above, and are geared to a wealthy clientele. We talked about how one ships the instruments, tunes them, and runs the stores that display them. He commented that not all the franchisees were profiting, especially in this current economic climate. When I asked him what advice he would have for a struggling franchisee he said:

"They should think about what the ideal piano store would look like, how it would function, who would be drawn to the store, and how one would provide stellar service. Then he should look at the stores in his control and strive to make them this way. Not in two years, not in six months, but in two weeks or shorter if humanly possible."

It wasn't until much later, on the flight home, that I got to thinking about what he said. What he seemed to be saying was: "visualize your ideal situation, then make it happen."

Except he was really saying something a bit more concrete. If one took his advice, one would have to not only analyze the store under their control, but then take the steps to make it happen.

It's the last part that writers often stumble upon. Dreaming of the ideal situation is easy and fun. Creating the manuscript that will make it happen requires dedication and time. In short, keep writing. The writer, whether faced with a hardcover, paperback, ipad, nook or kindle, needs to remember that she must make the story happen. Without that story, the career doesn't exist. Without it, all the marketing in the world will not provide long term sales.

And isn't that the best part anyway? The creation? It's a magical thing that all writers love to do.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Book Machine

by Libby Hellmann

We're all talking about ebooks, the future of publishing, and everything else. (Btw, this is a not-to-be-missed blogpost. So is this by Kris Rusch.)

But what about this? Would you buy a book from this machine?

What do you think?

Sunday, February 13, 2011

BREACH OF TRUST is now on sale

I am recounting this story in case I am not around when the dust settles. If some accident should befall me, as they say, and I am unable to testify, I want to have some account of what I did and why. I will not try to justify my actions. I could tell you that they made me do it, but that's hardly the point, and it may not be entirely accurate.

I won't lie to you, which is to say I will not deliberately mislead you. I will give you the most accurate account of events I can muster, but I can't promise it will be the truth. Truth is a matter of perspective, and if you don't believe me, then just watch how this whole thing plays out. Everyone who is a part of this story will tell a different version, when their time comes. In most of those versions, the hero will be whoever is telling the story.

In many of those versions, no doubt, the villain will be me.

Thus begins my new novel, BREACH OF TRUST, the one that is kinda-sorta based on the prosecution of Rod Blagojevich. Here is the Chicago Tribune's review of BREACH OF TRUST.

You can buy the book here. And while I'm at it, I have a new website, where you can read another excerpt from the book or anything else related to the novel or me, for that matter.

Thanks for letting me plug! Just leaving Scottsdale and Poisoned Pen, now off to Houston and San Francisco....

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Bad Advice. Some breathtakingly bad, and some just....weird.

by Jamie Freveletti

I spent the weekend at the Love is Murder conference and gave a presentation about writing query letters. We discussed bad advice that we'd received and I mentioned the concept of "selective hearing."

It's important to cultivate selective hearing in this industry, because there are those that insist on giving the worst advice possible--all under the umbrella of being helpful, of course. This is where a writer needs to learn how to hear the good and throw out the bad.

The Bad:

1. Bad: Telling a Thriller writer with an International thriller manuscript to give up on it and "Write a cozy from the perspective of a mom in a Chicago suburb."

I got this from a well known editor in town for a writing conference. For a reading fee, she had accepted the first chapters of manuscripts to read and edit. When my turn came, she began with one good suggestion to keep the tone dark (it was fluctuating), but kept claiming that the story (a plane plummeting to the ground) didn't include people screaming. When I pointed out the lines where the people are screaming so hard that they lose their breath, she closed her eyes for a moment and put the paper down. It was then that I saw the notes from her assistant. She hadn't read the manuscript, was reciting someone else's suggestions, and that person clearly hadn't read the chapter very closely. I think she was embarrassed. I had a certain sympathy, as a partner in a law firm I'd had underlings mess up projects that I'd delegated as well, but she kept soldiering bravely on, reading the assistant's notes that included the bad advice above. Were I her I would have asked me to give her a few moments to "reread" the chapter and then address it again, but I think she didn't want to appear negligent. I took the suggestion to fix the tone in the piece and ignored the rest. I don't live in the suburbs, don't have a mind for cozys, and knew I was onto something with this novel. (Running From the Devil sold on preempt, has won several awards, and became an international bestseller).

2. Bad: Go ahead and send the entire manuscript unsolicited to agents. They'll be curious enough to read it.

This reportedly came from a creative writing coach who runs paid classes in how to sell your manuscript. A smart writer in a conference who had taken his class came up to ask me what I thought of the advice. She seemed wary of it. I told her it was dead wrong, never send an agent a full without first being asked to do so. Will an agent read an unsolicited full? Not likely. Will they read the first page? Not if it's an attachment because they may unwittingly download a virus. Will they delete it completely? Yes. Will they toss a printed manuscript that is unsolicited? Yes, but a few might read the first page before they do. However, I don't think they'll be disposed to represent you, and you could have gotten the same result by sending a one page letter and the first page. Moral of the story: follow the guidelines.

3. Bad: Give an agent an exclusive right to read your manuscript when at query stage.

I had one agent tell me at a conference that she wanted to read my manuscript, but demanded an exclusive six weeks to do so. I told her the truth: that it was already out on queries to six other agents, and that I couldn't, but I understood if she declined. Within a second she said what I would have under the same circumstances: "Oh, okay, well can you send it anyway?"
And why not? She's a businesswoman, as am I. No one has six weeks to give you the inside track on a hot manuscript--either grab it and beat out the competition, or be left behind. I liked her better after she asked for it despite the multiple submission, and while she doesn't currently represent me, I still think she did the right thing by throwing aside the exclusivity request. I'm not a fan of agents that demand exclusive reads before they've even gotten the query. After the query is accepted and they ask for a full, I see nothing wrong with giving them two weeks to read it, but not much more. It's likely they will not finish in that time, but you have been fair and after two weeks can continue your agent search with a free mind.

The Neutral

4. Neutral: Write what you know.

I wanted to put this under "bad" advice, because none of us really write what we know. Thriller novelists have not been pursued by international consortium of spies, cozy writers don't find dead bodies in the tea room, and mystery writers don't solve serial murders on a daily basis. However, there is a kernel of truth in this one in that you should either know about the field in which you write or at least research it enough to learn about it, so I consider it neutral, as opposed to bad, advice.

5. Neutral: Hire a book doctor.

A book doctor, if they're good, can probably do a lot to improve your novel. I'm neutral on this advice, because a. they're expensive, and b. eventually you'll need to do this on your own anyway, so what better time to learn? However, I have some friends who used book doctors with success and, when done right, they can be a help.

I'd be interested to hear the bad and neutral advice given to other writers. I'll be writing about good advice in my next post. There's a lot more of that, thank goodness, than the bad.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Two Sixties Stories

by Libby Hellmann

Following are two stories from the Sixties. Both are true. An abbreviated version of one is in SET THE NIGHT ON FIRE, but the other has an ending I just discovered, so it’s not in the book.

I lived in Georgetown near here during what I now call “The Summer of My Discontent.” I shared an apartment with four other people above a movie theater at 28th and M. (Both are gone now). I was working at an underground newspaper, selling them on the streets, and generally trying to make sense of the world. Next door to the movie theater was a head shop run by a weird – but sweet -- guy named Bobby. He wore black all the time, before there were Goths. The scent of Patchouli oil hung in the air.

I used to drop in every once in a while. Often two of his friends, Donna and Linda, would be there. They were a couple: Linda had long brown hair and appeared to be kind of spacey. Donna had short blond hair and wore a leather jacket, even during July. They were cool, though, in the way that everyone was cool back then, and we’d smoke a joint, laugh a lot, and discuss what a shitty place the world was becoming. Then, around August, they disappeared. After not seeing them for a week or so, I asked Bobby where they went. He hemmed and hawed and wouldn’t tell me. Finally, he did.

Donna used to be Don, he said. And was going through the process of becoming a woman, but hadn’t completed it when she met Linda. They fell in love, and because of that, they jointly (no pun intended) agreed that Donna should turn back into Don. So they hustled some money from someone and were off to California to reverse Donna’s transformation.

I never saw them again. But I still think about them.

The other story is more political. As I said, I worked at an underground newspaper in DC for a summer. I was just a flunkie, not even considered staff. But there was a photographer, Sal, who was in and out all the time. He took photos at every demonstration, interview, and event that could be considered “alternative.” I actually had a crush on him at one point. (Yes, I know. Very bourgeois).

At any rate, the editor of the newspaper was very cautious about trusting people, almost to the point of paranoia. He always thought the paper was being infiltrated by CIA or FBI types (these were the days before COINTELPRO proved the FBI was indeed infiltrating radical groups) At the time, I thought his paranoia was exaggerated. Triggered perhaps by an inflated sense of self-importance.

I left at the end of the summer to hitchhike across country (That’s a different story), but I heard a few months later that Sal had left too, and was off to Paris. He stayed there for a while, then disappeared. I never knew what happened to him. Then, about a month ago, well after I finished SET THE NIGHT ON FIRE, I Googled some of the people from the newspaper. Suddenly a photo of Sal popped up. It turns out he had been featured in Secrets: The CIA's War at Home by Angus MacKenzie.

Yup. You guessed it. Sal had been a CIA agent, recruited when he was in college in Chicago. The entire time he was taking photos for the paper, he was reporting to his CIA handler. Eventually, I think the editor suspected him. Maybe he even confronted him, which precipitated his abrupt departure.

It doesn’t end there. According to MacKenzie’s book, Sal went to Paris, befriended Philip Agee, himself a former CIA agent turned whistleblower, and fiddled around with the typewriter on which Agee was writing his story. Agee discovered it, and Sal fled. From what I understand he changed his name and now lives in Southern California.

True stories. Really. I mean, who could make this stuff up?