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I’m Nervous

My next book, Working Stiffs, is at a tricky stage of its lifecycle.  It’s out for reviews.  This is where I get nervous.  Publication isn’t far away and reviews are due.  I want to read all the good things and pretend that the negatives don’t exist.  At the end of the day, I want people to like what I’ve done and I’m disappointed if they don’t.  It has a lot to do with pride.  Hand on heart, I think I did a good job with the book.  My editor did a great job of getting the best out of me.  When he saw a weakness in the manuscript, he gave me great observations that spurred me on to do better.  So together, we created a book that people will enjoy and hopefully, a few will love. 

But books aren’t like math or quantum physics.  There isn’t a right answer.  Stories are valued subjectively.  One man’s blockbuster is another man’s turkey.  So I can say that I’m genuinely scared as I await judgment from reviewers.  I know a review is only one person’s opinion, but I want that opinion to be good.  I want to be liked for what I do.  It is important to me.  I liked writing the book and I hope the reviewers will enjoy reading it.  It’s a fair trade for everyone.

You’d think I’d be over this.  Working Stiffs represents my third book.  Generally, reviewer and reader feedback to my work has been good.  My first book, Accidents Waiting To Happen, got some great reviews, much better than I could have hoped for.  My short stories have been singled out for special praise when they’ve appeared in various anthologies.  So I should be calmer about these things—right?  Not really.  It gets tougher with every story and book.  I have to outdo myself.  What was good enough last time is the bare minimum the next time out.  I raise the bar for myself and subsequently put pressure on myself.

Reviews have made me a more considerate reviewer.  It’s easy to trash someone’s work and think nothing of it.  Writing isn’t an easy business.  Regardless of what people think about the crappiest of books, I don’t believe any writer goes out of their way to write a bad book.  It is bloody hard to come up with a story.  Some might get labeled a hack, but hack sums up writing pretty well.  Crafting a story sometimes feels like fighting a way through a jungle with a blunt spoon.  It requires determination and effort.  So reviewers, be kind.  We’ve worked hard for that thumbs down review.

All that gibberish said, I’m fairly confident people will like the new book—but don’t quote me on that.  I don’t want to come over as cocky or anything. 

Simon

MISSED-CONCEPTIONS

A gaggle of wild geese flew over my house this morning, honking their goosey songs; I swear one was singing "Oh, I’m just an ugly gosling…"

Mesmerized, I watched the honky geese until the sky was once again gray and misty, a gooseless panorama.

Then, suddenly, one last goose–flapping its wings like Jerry Rice in Dancing With The Stars–appeared in the distance.  As it [the goose, not Jerry Rice] flew over my roof, it gave one long, rusty honk, as if to say, "Yo, gaggle, wait for me!"

And for some reason I can’t fathom, it reminded me of the misconceptions I’d had about the pub biz.

Example: When I finished writing my first-ever book, THROW DARTS AT A CHEESECAKE [the title is from a quote on dieting by the late, great Gilda Radner; there were 4 lines in the quote, which, to me, meant 4 books in the series; I don’t "do" alphabets], I thought: Hoo-boy, a publisher will buy my book, I’ll quit waiting tables, and before you can say Jackie Robinson [Ellie Bernstein’s cat] I’ll be rich and famous.

Yeah, right.

There’s this little thing called "promotion," but I’ll save that for another blog.  All I’ll say, for now, is that my manager at The Olive Garden [where I waited tables] gave me an enormous cheesecake for my very first [mall] booksigning.  It attracted kids like a magnet.  "Is that free, lady?"  "Is that really free, lady?"  "Can I have a piece, lady?"  "Can I have another piece, lady?"  "Hey, y’all, this lady says the cake is free."

Where are your parents? I thought, as I watched a gaggle of pre-teens dribble cheesecake crumbs on the small stack of brand-spanking-new hardcovers waiting to be bought and signed.

Finally, a mom pushed a stroller up against my table.  "Is that a cookbook?" she asked, pointing to THROW DARTS AT A CHEESECAKE with her double wedge of free cheesecake.

"You could call it that," I replied, not quite lying through my fake smile, wondering what my royalty payment would be on one book.

Here’s another missed-conception: I honestly thought if I signed any left-over books [in the case of my first mall signing, that meant all but the one bought by the cookbook lady], the books couldn’t be returned to the publisher.

Yeah, right!

After a signing in Denver–where I quickly learned that you don’t schedule a booksigning opposite a Broncos game–I scribbled my signature on the dozen or so left-over CHEESECAKE hardcovers with a red pen.  I can’t remember why I used a red pen . . . maybe I thought red looked spiffy, maybe I thought it looked like, you know, blood.  It was the one and only time I signed with red ink.  Eighteen months later, at a signing in L.A. for BEAT UP A COOKIE [the second book in my "diet club" series], someone handed me a copy of CHEESECAKE to personalize.

It was already signed. . .

In red ink.

Next week I’ll cover fan misconceptions, subtitled: "Hey, I seen your books in the bookstore so you must be filthy rich."

Beatrice is poking my ribs with her elbow, hinting that it’s time to stop blogging, reminding me that when we were Girl Scouts [or maybe Brownies] we’d sing, "There were 7 in the bed and the littlest said ‘roll over, roll over,’ so we all rolled over and one fell out…"

Over and out,
Deni

Of Scotch and Smarties

Pari Noskin Taichert

Lately, I’ve been wondering why I write novels. Why do I put up with the struggle — the months of striving to get the story right, the realization that it’s not, the months spent to improve it, the worry that publishers will reject it — or that readers won’t ever hear of it?

Is it ego that propels me? Dreams of a solvent bank account? Mental illness?

You see, I’ve spent the last week drinking scotch, eating Smarties candy rolls, neglecting my family and pulling all-nighters . . . all to finish the first edit of the second draft of the first draft of my new manuscript.

This activity has consumed me. Days have passed. I’ve forgone exercise, declined the offer to test for my red belt in Tae Kwon Do, and stopped reading for pleasure.

Usually, I extol the joys of writing, the wonders of editing.

Hogwash.

I love being DONE.

Never before have I grappled so much with a story — and I’ve written four other manuscripts. Still, I remain galaxies from satisfied with this one. However, after one of the most grueling pushes in my life, I’m a little less horrified.

1. It all began a year ago when I wanted to start my new series. I had at least five great ideas for protagonists. Which one did I want to get to know better, to spend weekends with?

2. Procrastination pointed me to another Sasha Solomon book. First, it was going to be set in Placitas, New Mexico. Then, I decided to go to the town of Socorro. Then, I decided to give Sasha a project that took her throughout Socorro County.

3. But wait! I wanted to start my new series. Repeat # 1.

4. Repeat # 2.

After too much wasted time, I started THE SOCORRO BLAST. When it inched like a glacier, I had doubts. Had THE BELEN HITCH used me up? Why didn’t editors at the big houses want Sasha? What the heck l was I doing trying to be an author, anyway?

Repeat # 1.

Then, Iris Martin, the winner in that contest, insisted on telling her story in first person, present-tense. Nope. I wasn’t going to get trapped writing an entire book that way.

Go to # 2.

You get the idea.

In November, I asked a group of cyberfriends to be my cheerleaders. With their encouragement, I sat down and wrote the first SOCORRO manuscript in a single month. 300 + pages. Good, right?

The only problem was it was so incoherent – that I couldn’t edit it. Believe me, I tried.

Go to # 1.

If all this back-and-forthing is getting tiresome, imagine what it was like to live it.

In March, I wrote a completely new draft of SOCORRO. The only elements that survived from the first attempt were a couple of names and the locale.

Also in March, I learned about the Agatha Award nomination for THE BELEN HITCH and, rather than soar with the praise, I plummeted with insecurity.

My tactful agent gently asked how the new manuscript was coming. I told him I’d have it to him by April 1. April 5. April 6. Today, April 10.

Last Friday, I called my agent, hoping to whine. Lucky for both of us, he wasn’t in the office.

So, I decided to suck it up and be an adult, to be a professional. I stopped playing head games with myself. Sure, the plotting hadn’t come together. The words stuck to the page and oozed a weird yellowish muck. Sasha’s voice couldn’t be heard through my bludgeoning.

It didn’t matter; it was time to take responsibility for my job. That meant working from 5:30 am to 3 am that day. It meant the same schedule on Saturday, and working until 5 am this morning.

I did it.

I finished.

For this round.

Now, I can let the manuscript sit, or show it to my agent to get his sane and experienced advice. It’s headed in the right direction.

My new manuscript isn’t good yet, but it’s getting closer.

Most of the novelists I know write because they have to. It’s in their blood.

For me, it’s a question of scotch and Smarties – caustic and sweet. I’ve learned an important lesson with this newest manuscript: no matter how difficult the process, I can’t stop.

—– I’ll see you next week when I’ve had a little sleep.

… But Not Least

It’s not an easy assignment, following this crowd on their first posts, but hey, last aboard, last, um, aboard.  I guess.

For the countless millions of you who don’t know, I’m the author of a mystery series centering on Aaron Tucker, a New Jersey-based freelance writer who works at home, has a wife who works outside the home as a lawyer, has a son and a daughter and a beagle/basset mix from an animal shelter (the dog, not the children), is a bit below average in the height department and doesn’t take a lot of things seriously, at least outwardly. 

I am, on the other hand, a New Jersey-based freelance writer who works at home, has a wife who works outside the home as a lawyer, has a son and a daughter and a beagle/basset mix from an animal shelter (the dog, not the children), is a bit below average in the height department and doesn’t take a lot of things seriously, at least outwardly. Oh, and did I mention that both Aaron’s son and mine have a neurological condition called Asperger’s Syndrome?

Here’s why I’m not Aaron Tucker.

It’s a danger any writer assumes when giving a character any attributes or circumstances that are similar to his or her own.  It’s especially true when the books are written, as mine are, in the first person.  People assume they’re reading your diary entries, that you’ve changed the names and nothing else for the sake of propriety and that everything that goes on in the book (with the exception of the murder mystery, or the entire plot, in other words) is exactly what goes on in your home.

It’s why my wife is urging me to write another series, preferably about a gay French Canadian lumberjack who solves crimes when not felling the mighty Larch.

Writers use their own circumstances because writing a work of fiction is HARD. Coming up with a coherent plot, dialogue that sounds like a conversation and characters who aren’t made out of oak tag is difficult enough (as is evidenced by the heavy hand I sometimes think I wield). Inventing it all from scratch ups the level of impossibility and besides, the first book in the series was my first novel ever, and how the hell did I know people were going to, you know, READ it?

So you borrow stuff.  They say "write what you know."  I know about being what they call a "stay-at-home dad." (Do most dads live at the YMCA?) I understand the freelance writer’s daily routine.  I know a little something about Asperger’s Syndrome, and wouldn’t it be nice if people found out a little more about that, so they could stop treating my son like the Creature From the Black Lagoon?

But you only START with that.  Then, you add what we in the business call (and forgive me if this is too technical a term) "fiction."  You take what exists in your life and you exaggerate it.  Aaron’s wife Abby has, by his estimation, the most magnificent legs in the universe.  Men have been known to go into cardiac arrest upon catching a passing glimpse of them.  Does my wife have nice legs?  I think so.  Have I ever had to call EMS because she wore too short a skirt on a warm June day?  Not really, no.  And by the way, she practices an entirely different area of law than Abby Stein.  But I digress.

See, I traffic in humor, and exaggeration is a tool of humor. Without it, Inspector Clouseau would be a little clumsy, Jack Benny would have been a trifle reluctant to overspend and Woody Allen would have a couple of minor neuroses that he could work out on his own.  I’m guessing Mae West would have still had large breasts, but you never know.

The problem is, when I run into one of the seventeen people on the planet who have read my books (and I appreciate every last one of them, believe me!), they expect to find a man so short you need a microscope to locate him, and who has a clever remark ready in the blink of an eye for any occasion. (I write Aaron’s quips for him,and I can tell you honestly that some of them take hours. By the time he came back with his devastating wit, the person he was talking to could have hopped on a plane and made it to Venezuela.) Strangely, none of them ever thinks that I’d be good at solving crimes.

In my second Aaron book, A FAREWELL TO LEGS, Aaron is getting dressed to attend his high school reunion. He tells the reader, "(Abby) leaned into the closet (we have a lean-in closet in our bedroom, meaning that it’s roughly the size of a small refrigerator, so all you can do is lean in) and came out with the blue T-shirt, a pair of black jeans I actually fit into, and my black sport jacket, which is made of something that approximates suede without actually harming any animals to produce it."  Don’t worry, I actually have a point here.

Not long after the book was published, I was doing a signing at one of the chain bookstores near my home.  I’m used to such things, and expect that no one at all will attend a one of them, so I was pleasantly surprised to see three women, each carrying a copy of the book, approach the podium that the store’s employees had set up. They stopped dead in their tracks, and one of them pointed at me.

"He’s wearing it!" she shouted. "He’s wearing the outfit!"

That’s just what I mean about people taking the similarities between Aaron and me too far.  They were lovely people, all of them, and I enjoyed chatting with them about the books, as I always do with anyone who’s been kind enough to shell out hard-earned cash for a story I made up in my head.  But they were just dead wrong.

The T-shirt I was wearing that night wasn’t blue. It was aqua.

HERE’S BEATRICE [AND DENI]

As Pari mentioned yesterday, I’ll be posting as Denise Dietz and Beatrice Brooks. Soon Bea will be writing a weekly serial called GOLDIE TRESS AND THE THREE BEERS (no, that’s not a typo).

Today I’ll introduce Deni, that’s me, via the following interview. The other participant is my husband, novelist Gordon Aalborg.

Q:  Hi Gordon and Deni. You two met on-line, or so the story goes?

Gordon: We were both members of an on-line writers’ group, and our paths did cross, occasionally, and fiery words did fly through the ether between Australia and Colorado, yes.

Deni: We both belonged to an on-line writers group. Gordon – published with 20 Harlequin romances as Victoria Gordon – would sign his posts Gordon/Victoria. One day he sent me a personalmessage and signed it "El Gordo." I didn’t know who the heck he was, but his words were…fiery…so I had to respond.

Q:  Fiery words, but no romantic sparks?

Gordon: Not for a few years. Then that woman had the temerity to suggest we ought to try and write a book together. I, of course, scoffed at such nonsense. But she got her way—girls usually do.

Deni: Since I was writing mysteries and Gordon was writing romances, I suggested we write a romantic suspense together. Of course, I had to change all his "girls" to "women."

Q:  And you did write a book together, or is that just a myth, too?

Gordon: Oh, we did indeed. It’s called FINDING BESS – her idea of a title [or maybe mine…I forget]. Indeed we wrote the entire book "on-line," half a world apart and still without having actually met. It was an…interesting exercise.

Deni: We wrote a wonderful book. Gordon came up with the title: FINDING BESS. My job was to "Americanize" the American heroine. Soon I found myself using expressions like "Bloody oath!" in ordinary conversation. My friends thought I was bonkers.

Q:  More than that, surely. Didn’t you become "involved" while writing it?

Gordon: Well, that’s Deni’s story. You must ask her. She’ll give you a lot of nonsense answers, of course, but the truth of it is that I simply seduced her. Via the internet. With words – I am a romance writer, after all. But it was a lot of work, let me tell you. The poor girl could only spell in
American, while I am fluent in Canadian, British, Australian and American. And she’d never been out of the continental U.S. in her life and the book was set in Australia. There were…problems.

Deni: It was a wee bit difficult. Gordon is fluent in Canadian, British and Australian, but he couldn’t speak American. Nor could he understand it. I kept telling him I didn’t want to get romantically involved, but the man wooed me. With words. Naturally, there were…problems.

Q:  Such as…?

Gordon: Well, she’s a mystery author, for starters. And they’re a weird mob at the best of times and worse when in the throes of being seduced. I kept trying to spice up the romantic elements of our book and she kept trying to insert clues and red herrings. And we’d never – physically – met, which
rather complicated everything.

Deni: Gordon wanted to meet, in person. I had a deadline for a novella. I couldn’t just hop a plane for Australia.

Q:  So where and when did you actually meet?

Gordon: On a cold, sunny day in June, at the airport in Launceston, Tasmania.

Deni: I hopped a plane for Australia.

Q:  And did you fly into each other’s arms in true romantic fashion?

Gordon: Yes, once I’d figured out who she was – she’d only ever sent me baby photos during our courtship. Typical feminine cunning.

Deni: Yes, we flew into each other’s arms. I had sent him my latest dustjacket portrait, along with some pictures from my childhood. Plus, a candid photo of me in shorts. He framed that picture because (in Gordon-speak) I was "wearing legs."

Q:  And now you’re married and living in Canada? Why Canada?

Gordon: Australia was too remote, from many points of view. And I have family here…I started out Canadian, after all. It seemed like a good compromise.  So after Deni’s Australian visit, we both sold up, moved here to Vancouver Island. Then we ferried over to Vancouver for the Novelists Inc. writers conference – that’s the organization through which we met – and got married during the conference, which seemed appropriate.

Deni: I loved Australia, but my career is North American based. We couldn’t settle in Colorado when Gordon can’t speak or even spell American words. He bribed me with gorgeous water views as well as mountain views, and we mutually agreed to buy a house in British Columbia.

Q:  So what’s it like, having two published authors living in the same house?

Gordon: It’s hell, pure unadulterated hell. There is this phenomenon called "cabin fever"—very common in remote areas. People live too close, get on each other’s nerves, very dangerous. Not a problem for us, of course, because I hardly ever see Deni. In fact, I’m sure I actually
"talked" to her more when I was in Australia.  Nowadays, she rises early, removes her illustrious presence to her office and I’m lucky if I see her for the rest of the day.

Deni: It’s heaven, glorious heaven. Gordon and I don’t always have the same tastes when it comes to food, movies or art, but he understands that an author can become obsessed with a work in progress. Gordon knows better than to interrupt me at play…I mean, work.

Q:  You have separate offices, then?

Gordon: Oh yes. We hadn’t been in the house a week and I was busy building her this Taj Mahal of an office. She gets the fax machine and photo-copier, and the one heating vent [I get to fetch the firewood] and she’s closer to the kitchen and the loo.

Q:  But you both get work done?

Gordon: Writing, you mean? Well, "she" certainly does. The woman’s extremely professional, works very hard. Misses lunch regularly [in the throes of creativity, you understand] sometimes misses dinner.

Deni: We’ve gotten a ton of work done. Gordon has even written three screenplays and a stage play.

Q:  Do I detect a note of bitterness from you, Gordon?

Gordon: Bitter? Me? Would you call a man bitter just because he whines at having to send his wife emails from upstairs to downstairs if he wants any sort of conversation during office hours?

Q:  You actually send each other emails…within the same house?

Gordon: Better than shouting. No woman enjoys being shouted at, eh? And neither of use enjoys being disturbed while working, so it’s a sort of compromise.  Deni’s done a power of work since she came to Canada; we both have. And it couldn’t have gotten done if we didn’t take a reasonably
professional attitude about our writing.

Deni: Gordon sends me lovely emails. He’s so romantic. I have to say, you’ve
never been romanced until you’ve been romanced by a romance author.

Q:  What, exactly, have you accomplished since you got together? Writing-wise, that is?

Gordon: Well, in between fetching firewood, mowing lawns, carpentering, painting, fencing, building offices, minding the dog, etc., I wrote three screenplays, reworked the novel on which I based the first screenplay, finished off a variety of projects including my feral cat novel Cat Tracks, wrote a crime fiction novel called The Specialist, carved an eight-foot cedar stump on my front boulevard, and, well, heaps of stuff.

Deni: Since Gordon and I were wed, I’ve written heaps of stuff. Most recently, CHAIN A L
AMB CHOP TO THE BED, the third book in my Ellie Bernstein/Lt. Peter Miller "diet club" series.

Q: Do you think you would have "connected" had you not met on line?

Gordon: No. The distance was too great.

Deni: Of course we would have met. Gordon is my soul mate.

Q (laughing): Who’s the "romantic" now?

Welcome to Murderati

Pari Noskin Taichert a.k.a. Bad Girl O’ PR

Murderati.

Cool name, hunh?

Think of it as a combo of something smart, glamorous* and appropriate:  Literati + glitterati + murder.

(* Um, well, maybe “glamorous” is a bit of a stretch for mystery authors.)

Today, I’m playing it straight. It’s my job to give a small intro to the blog. You can find our bios and other info on this site. But I thought it might be useful for you to know what each of us hopes to achieve on our individual days o’ the week. That — and the names of our newest books –- just in case you don’t click anywhere else.

Sunday

This will be the Wild Card – an anything-can-happen kind of day with guest bloggers and The Mystery Bookseller dropping in from time to time.

Monday

For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Pari Noskin Taichert.

I’ll use my day to shake up limited perspectives on public relations and marketing. My tools will be interviews with experts and analyses of marketing campaigns and websites —- often ones that don’t have to do with selling books or authors.

Also, as a proud New Mexican published with an academic press, I plan to write about what it’s like to be labeled as “regional” and to have to work so hard to get national attention. No whining here – just the facts and how I’ve dealt with them. BTW: my newest book is THE BELEN HITCH.

Tuesday

Denise Dietz is going to introduce you to Beatrice Brooks. I can’t wait to read this serialized, modern Perils of Pauline adventure – even if it is G-rated. For those of you who haven’t read Deni’s works, you’re in for a treat. Deni’s newest books are CHAIN A LAMBCHOP TO THE BED and EYE OF NEWT.

Wednesday

Naomi Hirahara has garnered national acclaim for her Mas Arai series. On Murderati, she’ll write about her experiences working in different genres. She’ll also dish the inside scoop about L.A. booksellers, media, readers and more. In a brilliant move, Naomi’s newest book, SNAKESKIN SHAMISEN is due out April 25, 2006 – it’ll debut at the L.A. Times Festival of Books.

Thursday

Simon Wood’s caustic humor will permeate the posts about his experiences with the publication of his newest book WORKING STIFFS. With merciless clarity and a skewering wit, he’ll write about everything from cover design to editing and from road trips to book signings. Be prepared to learn about this wacky business from a very unique perspective.

Friday

J.T. Ellison’s pieces will explore the mystery world through a newbie’s POV. We’ll follow her on the bumpy road to publication — and all the detours in between. In addition to her thrillers, J.T. writes flash fiction and critiques for Reviewing the Evidence.

Saturday

Elaine Flinn’s interviews of famous and fine authors will keep you laughing for hours; I guarantee they’re not the regular fare. Elaine has been nominated for so many awards — and won a Barry for TAGGED FOR MURDER — she’s probably got a wall of honor in her office. Her newest book in the Molly Doyle series is DEADLY COLLECTION.

That’s it for now.

Again, welcome to Murderati.

Don’t be shy. Stop by often and let us know what you think.

Cheers,

Pari

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