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

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

National Review Online podcast

The podcast of my discussion with John J. Miller at National Review Online was posted today. I hate my voice.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Fiction rules!

A pal of mine is an investigative reporter at the local daily newspaper; guy won a Pulitzer and is the real deal - sent me a note about The Girl Who Cried Wolf. He liked it a lot, particularly the portrayal of the radical Green movement in the Pacific NW, but his point was that he and a colleague had talked about writing a non-fiction account of the Greens, but game it up because they couldn't find any Greens who were that interesting as people. He thought I had an advantage as a fiction writer because I could create characters that were more interesting than the real people. He was right, of course, but I would make the point that the best characters are grounded in reality. Good novelists need to have the ears and eyes of good reporters, otherwise we're just making stuff up. When I know I've done my job as a novelist is when the characters come to life and start coming up with their own dialogue, which is almost always better than the lines I come up for them. The better the work, the more of my own work I get to toss away. The character of Eli in the book, a young surf bum with blonde dreads and a dangerous, sweet innocence, is based on a composite of all the Milk-is-Murder guys I talked to on the beach when I lived in Southern California, same mix of ignorance and insight and not a clue how to separate the two. I love Eli and his fantasies of living in Mexico, surfing all day and living off the land. I love the way he's renamed the constellations to be more meaningful to himself, changing Cancer the Crab to Mecha-Godzilla and laughing the whole time. I love him because he's got Hepatitis 3 and at some deep level he knows the clock is ticking. And if you want to find a piece of Eli, he's right there in real life in this news clip of a free wheeling young hitchhiker who got involved, saved a woman he didn't know who was being attacked. Stopped the attacker cold with a hatchet he happened to be carrying. Yeah, I wondered about that too... guy carries a hatchet and goofy grin. Hey, why not? So check out this link, which is very NSFW, by the way, and listen to his speed rap, the pure poetry. No writer can write this good, but a good writer can absorb it, recast it, use it to create some new character who will take things to a whole other level. Which is why... fiction rules.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Lawrence Tierney and the art of self-delusion

My favorite character in my favorite Tarantino movie is Joe Cabot, the old, bald-headed tough guy who sets up the robbery that goes so very, very bad and runs the criminal crew. It's Tierney hunched over the table at the diner, his voice sounding like he gargles with razor blades, who insists that Steve Buscemi will keep the nickname "Mr. Pink" and like it. Case closed. Lawrence Tierney is the actor who plays this glowering badass and let's just say the role wasn't much of a stretch. Tierney was a classic, the-world-is-a-dangerous-cesspool film noir actor. He began is career playing the lead in Dillinger, 1945, and quickly becoming the go-to guy when the studio needed a menacing thug or an amoral mobster who killed without raising his pulse.

In the first fifteen minutes of The Devil Thumbs a Ride, 1947, Tierney's character shoots an old man in the back and takes his money, commandeers a couple of honeymooners for a drive up the California coast, insults a gas station attendant - when the man proudly shows Tierney a photo of his baby girl, Tierney sneers "From the looks of those ears, she's gonna fly before she can walk." - and then runs over a motorcycle cop.

In In real life, Tierney, the son of an Irish cop, was a nasty drunk with a rap sheet as long as Tolstoy. In 1948 he spent three months in jail for busting a guy's jaw in a bar fight. That same golden year he was arrested for kicking a cop while being arrested for drunk and disorderly. He beat up another cop in 1956 and dished out another broken jaw in 1958. The day his mother killed herself in 1960, Tierney drowned his grief by kicking down a woman's door and assaulting her boyfriend. None of this hurt his movie career, and we can only assume that film geek, Quentin Tarantino, knew just who to go to for the character of Joe Cabot, a brutal guy tough enough to keep his crew of crooks in line.

What I really like when I researched Tierney is his lack of self-awareness of his own nature. Or maybe he was just lying.

"I resented those pictures they put me in," Tierney was quoted in a British newspaper, the Guardian. "I never thought of myself as that kind of guy. I thought of myself as a nice guy who wouldn't do rotten things. I hated that character so much, but I had to do it for the picture."

Yeah, Larry, you're Tom Hanks.

I am indebted to Eddie Muller and his book Dark City, the Lost World of Film Noir, for filling in the blanks of my knowledge. I thought I knew noir until I read this book..

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Talking with the Catskill Review of Books

I was interviewed for a half-hour at dawn this morning by Ian Williams for the Catskill Review of Books. Ian broadcasts from one of those small states in the North East, and I could practically hear the snow piling up outside the recording studio and the cold wind rattling the birches.
Okay, enough of the Robert Frost routine. Ian and I talked about The Girl Who Cried Wolf and some of my earlier works The radio show is carried on the Pacifica network, but to save you the trouble, you can listen here:
Ian's a fine host, witty and urbane, an author himself; he pronounced my name properly, asked questions that convinced me he had read the book and made me laugh. A good way to start the day.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Why Somebody Named Steve Dies in All My Books

The Girl Who Cried Wolf is dedicated to my close friend, Steve Plesa, who checked out of the Hotel Flesh way too soon. We  worked together at The Register, a daily newspaper in Southern California, where I got to write about anything I wanted, usually beach culture, fast cars, gun nuts, and petty crooks, and Steve stayed in the office and edited them. Everybody liked Steve and nobody liked me. I thought it was a fair deal.

One day I was standing with Steve in the Register stairwell while he smoked a cigarette and he told me that he hated his job, but having a pal like me there to laugh at the same crazy stuff made it tolerable. I then had to tell him I was giving my two-weeks notice so that I could finish my first novel, The Horse Latitudes. We stayed friends, but he made me promise that I would put him in the book so that in the unlikely event it got published, he would have a bit of immortality.

Quote of the day

"I made it, Ma, top 'a the world!"

-James Cagney, WHITE HEAT

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

National Review podcast coming soon

Good news. John Miller will be interviewing me for a Between the Covers podcast on National Review Online. I'll post when it's available and and give the link. I'll try to be vaguely coherent. If I'm not, John will cover for me.

And you might check out Pundit from Another Planet for additional fun and games. This site is hosted by a son of East Texas, a ferocious cartoonist, and my pal, Michael Dougan.


Got notice at 12:01 that The Girl Who Cried Wolf was released. Released. It sounds like the book was batting its snout against the bars of a cage, slavering fangs bared. Actually, I like that image.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Day of the Dogs or My Writing Method

One of the regular questions I get asked is what is your usual writing day like? So here we go...

I usually get up at 4 a.m., no alarm clock, just wake up and go downstairs, slam down a cup of microwaved coffee from the day before while I make a fresh pot. Then I hang out with the dogs. This one pictured is Olive, our weimeraner. She's seventy pounds of determination, very fast, very much in touch with her inner wolf. Every morning when I let her out she races outside and barks at the raccoons who live in the giant fir tree out back. She hates those guys. Squirrels she chases, but raccoons elicit this deep, guttural growl that is pure killer instinct. She actually caught one once, a big one she cornered against the fence, sunk her teeth into its right leg and gave it a shake. The raccoon did not like this. Not at all. Neither did I. I grabbed Olive by the collar and dragged her away while the raccoon hissed, claws bared and limped away.

Anyway, where was I? Okay, once Olive and the new guy, Archie, a border terrier, come back in, we lie around on the floor in a pile for about twenty minutes, just listening to each other breathe. I respect dogs. They're ravening beasts that have adopted the guise of manners for practicality and a meal... just like us.  Then, coffee made, my dog bonding accomplished, I have a fresh cup of coffee while I read what I wrote the day before, making changes and getting into the mental space that I left the day before. Then I write for a few hours while the dogs chase each other around the yard.

If there's reincarnation I want to come back as a dog. I want to write a novel one day from the standpoint of a dog, but not one of those wimpy, wisdom-of-the-pooch books. I did a short story for Vice magazine a few years ago called "Bad Dog," which was a start. Take a read. Woof!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Tick Tock to Launch

Launch date, five days and counting. Tuesday, February 19, my new novel, The Girl Who Cried Wolf will launch as an ebook-only. Color me happy. I've been working on the book for several years while also working as a narrative designer in the video game business. (means I write the game story arc and the characters and can actually tell my wife while I'm screaming at the giant scorpions attacking me in Fallout New Vegas, 'I can't take out the garbage, I'm working!")

TGWCWolf is a contemporary comic thriller - at least I think it's funny. You can decide for yourself after reading the synopsis at the homepage link. The plot involves three environmental terrorists who kidnap an heiress, expecting her rich father to turn over his old growth timber holdings in exchange for her safe return. Good luck. It's inspired by an O'Henry short story called "The Ransom of Red Chief," about three kidnappers who snatch a little boy from a wealthy family, but the kid turns out to be such a toxic brat that they pay his family to take him back.

It's been three years since my last novel and I deeply appreciate all of you who have emailed me over that time essentially telling me to get off my ass and write another book. Well, here it (almost) is. Now email your friends and tell them to get off their asses and buy the book.