Sunday, May 26, 2013

You Can't Make a Writer Happy

Just got a fine review from The Indiscriminate Critic, a pretty influential blogger, although clearly favoring books of the literary persuasion. No complaints, I've always fallen somewhere in between literary and genre - one of my "favorite" reviews was a standalone short in the NY Times saying I was such a good writer it was rather sad that I chose to spend my time in the genre gutter. Uh... thanks. Anyway, it always good to get pixels. Here's an excerpt from today review:

 One of my biggest problems with thrillers of any variety is when they demand too much suspension of disbelief from the reader without giving the requisite wink and a nod. The Girl Who Cried Wolf ends up taking itself pretty seriously despite its witty, almost Chandleresque humour. There aren’t any self-referential winks to the audience to say it’s all just in good fun. In the same hand, it doesn’t try to create a hyperreality where the events would be absolutely ludicrous outside of a novel. In all, the book actually balances everything rather nicely. 

Plenty of good stuff in the whole review, but of course the rest of that paragraph was followed by:

With the exception of one scene where a cagey veteran cop is inexplicably struck with a terminal case of the dumbs, nothing in the book really stretched my credulity.

Yes, this is one of my favorite scenes in the book. Two weeks effort, at least. I've decided to take the advice of a publicist at a former publisher, who told me when I groused about a less than rave review, "We can just pull out the praise for the ad. Be grateful that you got noticed."

Thank you, Obi Wan. I am well rebuked.

Saturday, May 18, 2013


I recently did Hugh Hewitt's live national radio show to promote The Girl Who Cried Wolf and listening to it afterwards – the host archives his shows – I realized, after thirteen book tours and a lot of radio interviews, I had learned some things. I hope the following tips helps other authors facing the microphone and praying that they don’t projectile vomit.

Live radio interviews are either conducted in a studio or linked to your location by telephone. Either way they are terrifying the first few times. Acknowledge that to yourself and move forward.

A studio interview will seem strange the first time you do it. You’re in a glass booth, usually sitting across from the host. The two of you will be wearing headphones and speaking into a large microphone, while the engineer is watching things from another room through a pane of thick glass. Yes, it’s artificial, but the more you can hone in on the host when you talk, the better. You want to make things feel like a friendly conversation between the two of you. Depending on the host, it may actually be a confrontational conversation, but that’s okay too, as long as you keep things lively and don’t freeze up. (I once went on a “Morning Zoo” type early morning show where the merry band of pranksters made fart noises while they read excerpts from my book that they considered “hot.” I played the part of the good sport, although I wanted to strangle them… slowly.)

Location interviews are more relaxed. You’re in a comfortable place at your home, just talking on the phone to hopefully millions of people. Make sure you’re on a land line for the best reception and turn off any “inaudible” air-conditioning or forced-air heating, which will be picked up and make for a “hissy” broadcast. Your host will appreciate this, or, at least the engineer will. (I learned this from an ex-CIA agent I interviewed once, who complained about poor surveillance recordings)

Whether at home or in-studio, make notes to yourself. Short, succinct notes on separate cards. You can’t believe the things you will blank out on under pressure.  I usually go with the name of the host, my own name (really), the name of my book, and the plot of the book in fifteen or twenty words. In big letters I write SLOW DOWN.  Most of us talk faster when we’re nervous, so a reminder to ease off will make things easier for listeners to understand and keep you from running out of air. (My first interview I think the host was worried he was going to have to perform CPR on me)

I also write a note that says HAVE FUN. This is the most important note of all.

Try not, and I know it’s hard, try not to not feel compelled to insert the name of your book in every sentence. A good host will mention the title at the beginning and end of the segment and in my case at least, spell your name for the audience. (“Just like Lou Ferrigno!”) Let the host do the work. Otherwise you come off as sweaty and desperate.

Radio is a medium of superlatives because it makes the guest more interesting to the listeners. If the host introduces you as “perhaps the best crime fiction writer in the known and unknown universe,” don’t correct them. You may think it makes you look humble, but it also makes the host look bad. Don’t EVER make the host look bad. Chuckle and say thank you. Besides, who’s better than you?

The host is always aware of the clock and so should you be. When you hear background music getting louder FINISH YOUR POINT because the host will be cutting to a break and if he has to interrupt you to do so, it will feel awkward. You want to make the host’s job easy, just like the host wants to make your job easy. See, you’re pals!

You have been given a gift, act accordingly. Airtime, whether on a national radio show or a podcast beamed out of a garage, is a way to connect with people who don’t know you, a party where for five or ten minutes you’re the guest of honor. The host has many, MANY more people who want to sit where you are sitting than you can imagine. So greet the host warmly, thank him or her when your time is over and send an email to that effect afterwards. They will have earned it.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Great review in the Sunday Seattle Times

Ebooks are great because their existence can be spread virally, the ultimate word-of-mouth, but they are near-impossible to get reviewed in traditional news outlets. There are just too many printed books coming out, all eager for attention, and many of them worthy of that attention. So it's a big deal personally for THE GIRL WHO CRIED WOLF to get reviewed in the Seattle Times, let alone a great review.

A brief confession of a non-felony: in time of depression I have sometimes reread good reviews of my books. It always help. Next time I have one of those dark moods where I would like to punch myself in the face on general principles, I'll reread this one.

Friday, April 12, 2013

We are not the people we used to be

Popular culture, which is all about eyeballs and asses in seats, is more reliable than any survey to determine who we are at this moment. A glimpse at a shard of popular culture from the past is a snapshot of who we were at that moment. Sometimes, the disparity isn't pretty.

I was flipping through the channels at 4 a.m. yesterday, putting off getting to work, when I saw a very young Humphrey Bogart on Turner Classics. Had to stop.

The movie was KING OF THE UNDERWORLD, 1939. Bogart was a bank robber, natch, smooth and deadly, his grin like a poisonous flower beaming across the decades. He and his crew drive into a small town in Anyplace, USA, stroll into the Sheriff's office, where the man with the badge is blathering with his sidekick about maybe they should put up a speed trap of something, bring a little revenue into God's country. Next thing you know, Bogart's gang show their pistols, take the sheriff's keys and free their gang buddies from the jail. As Bogart and his men stroll out the door, the sheriff pushes a secret button on the floor, starting a siren blaring in this sleepy town.

What happens next knocked me out.

As the townspeople hear the siren, they rush TOWARDS the sheriff's office. They don't flee. They don't duck and cover. They don't wait for some alphabet agency to come and handle the problem, string out the yellow crime scene tape, maybe distribute bundt cakes and counseling afterwards. No, the call goes out that there's trouble. One of the townspeople, who is Mr. Average Joe, calls out, "Get yer guns!" and the crowd scatters to homes and storefront where they get their guns and start blasting away at Bogart and his men as they flee. Bogart gets nicked in the arm, which sets off a chain of events which, by the end of the movie, leaves the bad guys dead or on their way to prison.

It made me realize how different we are now. King of the Underworld was a B-movie when it was made, a quickie ground out in two months. No one thought it was art or social commentary or anything but 90 minutes of excitement and diversion, but there was something in that man shouting "Get yer guns!" that must have seemed natural at the time it was made. An instinctive response to evil. Collective action by free people. If it wasn't a commonplace reaction at the time, it at least seemed like something the best of us should do.

Today a screwhead goes nuts, murders innocents and the response is let's make it harder for people to defend themselves. Homeland Security comes out with the recommendation that when faced with an armed gunman, we should run, hide or throw something at him. Evidently that something not including .357 hollow points. The message is, "stay calm, you poor, dumb bastards, the authorities will be on their way shortly to carry away the dead and parade the victim's families to the cameras until there's no more political gain or TV ratings to be squeezed out of their grief.

We are not the people we used to be.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013


The Girl Who Cried Wolf is now $2.99 wherever fine books are downloaded. Tell your friends.
To read the prologue