Friday, October 31, 2008

"You know what they have now? Devil's Night greeting cards..."

I used to love Halloween. I mean I loved it like there was no other holiday. Every year I looked forward to what I would be. It was ridiculous the fervor with which I anticipated this holiday. And my reasoning was not a good one. See, most kids like All Hallows Eve because of the candy, or the trick-or-treating, or to see what cool costume they can wear.

Not me. I looked forward to Halloween because finally, for one day out of the year, I didn't have to be me.

Kinda pathetic, huh?

Even as a kid, I was such a useless, sappy little loser that I literally hated being me. A white, middle-class kid with a loving home, two sets of parents who loved me, and a pretty solid upbringing, and I thought I was such a waste because no one outside my family saw me as special. As better than everyone else in SOME way, like the jocks were at sports, and the super smart kids were in class, and the good-looking, smooth-talkers were with the girls (yep, even in middle school we had smooth-talkers).

I was ordinary. And I hated being ordinary.

I was so upset one Halloween in High School because I couldn't find the costume I wanted (that wasn't the only thing wrong, by a long shot), that I wound up spending about a month in a psychiatric ward for teens. All because I missed my chance to be special for a day.

Don't worry, I can now look back and see what a moron I was. Promise. But I bring this up for two reasons.
1) The's Halloween and people everywhere are talking about what a fun day it is. But I'm a cynic, so I don't do shiny and happy. Shiny and Happy are not exactly noir, now are they?

2) I see, every day, the same white upper-middle-class kids bemoaning their lives because the world won't function according to what they see as right, or appropriate. Won't think THEIR way is special. And more and more, I see people in the world taking these kids' side because those kids could be damaged.

Get a grip.

There are too many things all around this globe that are so much worse than what these kids deal with every day, and yet they can't get past their own perceptions and walk in someone else's shoes for a bit. If they could, there might be less whining and drama, and more hard work and production and appreciation for life going on.

So this is my PSA for the day, soapbox and all. If your son or daughter is in the same weepy, narcissistic-but-self-loathing state I was, then sit them down and help them find a little perspective.

And if you are one of these kids who sees yourself at the center of all that the world is sending crashing down on your head?
Take a deep breath, a look in the mirror, and make YOURSELF special. Stop waiting for the world to find you. Put yourself out and there and say, "Dammit, I'm special." Then, when the world ignores, laughs at, or degrades you for doing so...keep working to make yourself special. Keep doing it until that one day when someone you're not related to says, "Hey! You're right!"

And that'll just be the start. Sorta like writing and publication, huh?
Happy Halloween, everybody.

Monday, October 27, 2008

"Where have you gone...?"

The mystery community has lost a great man. Tony Hillerman died yesterday at the age of 83. If you've never read a Hillerman novel, they are unlike any other in the wonderful depiction of modern New Mexico, Utah, and the colorful characters so easy to get to know and cherish.

I haven't read a lot of Hillerman, because like a fool I always figured, "Ah, I'll get around to it", just knowing there was always at least the chance there might be more. Now that can never be, and we are all the worse for it. A terrific mystery writer, gone.

God bless and God speed, Mr. Hillerman.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

"Where the Hell did that come from?"

All writers (yep, even the unpublished ones) get asked--when it's discovered they are a writer--the same question: "So, like, where do you get your ideas from?" The answer is always a variation (sometimes nice, sometimes smartassed) of the same word:

Still, as a reader I think people are maybe looking for something more specific. Stephen King once wrote about the "What If?" questions he comes up with, and the books are his answers. I think he talked about it in ON WRITING, but I'm not positive. Anyway, I'm betting that that's closer to what readers are actually asking about--and any readers out there can feel free to correct me in the comments if they disagree.

So I figured this might be a good chance to get people talking specifically about individual stories and books, and from whence the ideas for them came. A good example would be Michael Connelly's THE OVERLOOK. When he was in Greensboro on tour for it, he said that a story he'd been told about radioactive material in North Carolina being stolen had led him to Bosch's next case, and if you've read THE OVERLOOK you see where that wound up.

If you haven't, do it. Now. No seriously, like walk out of your job and go buy the book.

Okay, not really. Wait til after work.

Anyway...I guess I'll start, it being my blog and all that good stuff. My book started with an idea for a villain, a guy who wanted to deflect suspicion from what he was really doing by taking advantage of the recent fears about religious extremism. I thought, "what better way to cover your tracks than to play on what EVERYONE seems afraid of these days. And after the worldwide lunacy over Salman Rushdie, and later Dan Brown, I figured why not create a writer who ALSO likes to play on those emotions (unlike these two, who I've never met, my writer is an unsympathetic jerk about it). This creates conflict for the reader, because he or she is unsure if:
A) the writer is the villain
B) they're okay with him being the villain
C) the writer is the next victim, and
D) they want him saved if he is

I love it when authors twist me up in moral knots like that, so I figured there had to be some readers who loved things like that which made them think beyond the work itself. If I'm wrong, well I guess it'll have to be the next book that starts my career rolling.
Or the one after that, or the one after that, or....

So tell me, if you're a reader, what do you REALLY mean when you ask where ideas come from? And if you're an author, can you pinpoint anything more specific regarding the idea or the original impetus for writing any particular novel or story?

Friday, October 17, 2008

"But where should I put you?"

Well, I still haven't come down from the high of finding out I would have a short story published for the first time. That said, my novel is still a WIP, and I have no idea if it will be the one to break through, or if that'll be my next (or the one after, or the one after, or...). So I am really asking this next question moreso than answering it:

Where does a mystery writer want his or her books shelved?

I know the smartass answer, but I'm being serious. Last week I went into B&N and picked up a DVD. I was hoping to get one for my wife to use in her class, but it hadn't come in yet. Anyway, while I was there I had a few minutes to kill so I thought I'd check the shelves for some of the writers I'd like to eventually mimic. I looked primarily for members of the Murderati, along with some other up-and-comers, and I found something interesting...

They were in a couple of different locations. Some were exclusively in the NEW FICTION section, some were with mystery, and some were with general fiction.

This got me to thinking, "where is it better to be shelved?"

My first thought would be mystery, because a mystery-lover would expect to find a mystery- (and even a thriller-) writer there. But Now I'm not so sure. Because names like JT Ellison and Brett Battles were in general fiction, along with the likes of Jeffery Deaver and Michael Connelly. Now I'm well aware that Mr. Battles's books could be considered thrillers, but Ms. Ellison's seem like mysteries to me, as do most of Mr. Deaver's and Mr. Connelly's.

So does being housed in General Fiction mean you've "really made it"???

I can't imagine that's true, because Sue Grafton definitely has, and she and Janet Evanovich both have sweeping sections on the MYSTERY shelf.

So published authors, I'm honestly asking here:

Where would you rather be placed (other than front and center with a placard that says, "BUY ME!" like J.A. Konrath's latest book trailer)?

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The dangers of a technologically deficient teacher with an email account

Okay, so I don't like to bash a colleague if I can help it, but this is getting ridiculous.

On Monday, I opened an email from someone advertising something for elementary students. I teach High School. I checked, and the original sender had clearly made a mistake. She had emailed EVERY school in the county, not just the elementary schools. Not the brightest thing, but a simple mistake, no big deal. I deleted it and moved on.

Shortly thereafter I got several emails in succession. They were all replies, but I got them because the first person had hit "REPLY TO ALL", left the subject line the same, and wrote "please remove me from this list." They thought it was some random junk email. No big deal, but they clicked Reply to All. Again, it's a mistake, but a costly one. I have since gotten CLOSE TO A HUNDRED EMAILS asking me (and everyone else on this list) to also please remove them from the list, it's three days later, and we're still getting them!!!

People, are you serious? We have to work so hard to combat the ridiculous stereotype that those who can't do, teach. Do you really not get why this is wrong? I'd wager every one of your students, failing or passing, repeating or otherwise, would have handled the situation better than those of you who are STILL doing this.


Originally posted October 13, 2008: Mystery, Thriller, Suspense, some variation of all three???

I've recently seen a lot of different people blogging about genre. For me, this focuses on mystery/suspense/thriller. The other day, Nathan Bransford blogged about his definition of each, and it got me thinking...what would my current WIP be?

See, based on Mr. Bransford's definitions, my work would kind of cover two of the three. It's got action (has to, or it would put me to sleep, and I'm writing it!).

It also has more than one mystery. So is it a mystery, or a thriller?

Well, what would you call some of Patterson's early Alex Cross works?

What about Jeffery Deaver's stuff, like Garden of Beasts or The Sleeping Doll?

How about Crais's The Watchmen, or Zoe Sharp's Charlie Fox novels, or Brett Battles's Quinn novels, or fellow North Carolinian J.D. Rhoades's Jack Keller series?

Yes, I realize it's incredibly egotistical to bring up these names in conjunction with my own unpublished stuff, but these are the people I idolize. I think you have to look at your work and try to see it next to the top caliber authors out there. So you know what? I would call most all of these mystery/thrillers. And that's my WIP as well (unless/until an agent tells me otherwise, that is).

What about you? Does your work cross more than one genre or subgenre? Have a romantic suspense, or a mystery/sci-fi?

Originally posted Oct. 7, 2008: CELEBRATION TIME, BABY!!!

Today the sun is shining just a little bit brighter. The air smells a little bit sweeter. And I feel a little taller...5'9" here I come!!

Why?Because I got an email last night from Spinetingler Magazine. Apparently the guest editor (Jack Getze, and a HUGE thank you to you, sir!) -- who is now a permanent editor, I've been informed -- read my submission and liked it. He wants it for the Winter 2009 edition of the magazine. For those of you unfamiliar with Spinetingler, it's a suspense fiction magazine where some pretty darn good writers have logged early tales. Names like Bill Cameron, J.D. Rhoades, and J.T. Ellison. And they're giving me a shot.


Okay, okay, sorry. I just had to get a little excitement out there. It's just such a relief when someone who's never met you essentially says, "yep, you can do this." My wish for every single person who reads this is to find that same sense of encouragement and support in their chosen profession.

Have a great day, and may the sun shine a little brighter for you!!Oh, for a look at the other side of the coin, they're discussing bad reviews over at Murderati. Check it out!

Originally posted Oct. 2, 2008: Ahh, Thursdays....

Interestingly enough, I've had a decent day. I got caught up on a good bit of grading because my student teacher had the majority of the classes today. It's a really great feeling to get all of that work off of your back.

Unfortunately, I still can't take the time to write tonight, because I have just a little bit of grading left and then I'm going to watch some playoff baseball. Nothing like October, even when my favorite team is halfway across the country. Considering they're based completely on the other coast, I guess I should feel lucky.

Anyway, I just thought I'd talk a little bit about life as a teacher and a writer. Depending on what you teach, it can be interesting/difficult. I'd love to give all kinds of advice to unpublished writers out there, but I am one myself. As such, my advice probably isn't worth much.

But as a teacher, I can tell you that it can be really tough to maintain a marriage (even when your spouse also teaches), be a writer, and be a successful teacher all at the same time. And here in my home county it's even worse. Here's why:

These days, we're so brazenly politically correct that we can't let a student feel bad. Even if they didn't do their work because they were just plain lazy, we can't hold them accountable. We (and by we I mean teachers and administrators at the school level, NOT the county level) just have to work harder at motivating our students. And we also need to work to be better teachers, because the whole state isn't doing as well as our county, and therefore we are the problem. It's complicated, I know.

Then there's the whole writing thing. If I didn't have more homework each night than my students, it wouldn't be a problem for me to write til my heart's content. But that's not how it works. And when I get to school at 6:50am and don't leave until somewhere between 4pm and 6pm, then have to go home and be a good husband lest we both go insane and grow apart from all the grading, well writing 500-2000 words a day is daunting.

So I write when I can, and it's never as much or for as long as I'd like. J. A. Konrath has talked several times about the myth of "you must be disciplined and write every day!" and I appreciate a published author letting the rest of us unwashed masses of mystery know that it's okay if life just muscles in once in a blue moon. If not, we'd all spend our every waking moments engrossed in weird tales of serial killers and decapitation and bullets whizzing and....

hey, wait a minute....

Okay, so I guess I'll just stick with this one

So yeah, from now on this will be my only blogging home.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Not here...never here....

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