Adventures in Newbie Land


By Stephen Jay Schwartz

I’m feeling much better now, after surviving the chaos of my previous blog. I discovered that, yes, if you ignore the strange sound that squeaks from inside your car it will in fact go away.

I took two weeks off from the day job and put fourteen 12-hour work days into my second novel, which is due to my editor mid-August, but will be delivered on September 15, which is, coincidentally, the launch date for BOULEVARD. I’ve come a long way, but I ain’t out of the woods yet.

I managed to write 200 pages in two weeks. This, after having reached page 150 a month ago, then throwing out 85 pages, then spending two weeks hammering out a beat-by-beat treatment from chapter one to the end (with the help of my wonderfully talented story-editor wife Ryen).

I crossed the 300 page mark last night (about 75,000 words) and I’ve got two weeks to write the next hundred pages to finish the book. Then one month for rewrites and a polish before handing it in.

So, what wasn’t doable two weeks ago is doable now. And I’ve got a good lead on turning the home foreclosure mess into a short-sell, so there’s hope there, too.

Meaning, I’m feeling much better, thank you.

And….the BOULEVARD train has left the station…

Reviews are starting to come in. Publisher’s Weekly and Book List so far, and I couldn’t be happier.

In my first blog as Murderati’s Newbie Author, I promised I would share the adventure. Report on the things I’m learning and the experiences I’m having. So here goes.

First and foremost – I recently joined the International Thriller Writers’ Debut Author Program and received their Debut Author’s Survival Guide. This is something I should have read a year ago. Incredible insights and practical advice about what goes on the moment your book sells. If I had read this earlier I would have saved my agent and editor tremendous heartache. Kudos to JT and others at ITW for having made this awesome resource available.  It is something that I will continue to reference for months to come.

I’ve also been getting my tour schedule in order. I’ll be covering all of California as well as my hometown of Albuquerque, Phoenix, Denver, Portland and Las Vegas. The Vegas trip will be fun, since it’s being sponsored by a friend who has guaranteed at least twenty Vegas strippers in attendance. That might not mean much to you…but that’s what I call a friend. Needless to say, my wife will be attending this event.

I’m also excited about the invitation to speak on a panel at the West Hollywood Book Fair. I don’t know if I should feel honored or insulted, actually, considering that the panel is called, “Dark and Twisted: Testing the Limits of Taste and Depravity.” I’m afraid to meet my fellow panelists, unless, of course, I’m the most depraved of the lot.

I’ve also had the opportunity to meet some fantastic authors. Brilliant writers, all of them.

I figured the best way to illustrate what’s going on is to post my current “To-Do List.” It tells more about where my head is than anything I might write in linear form. So here goes:

To Do List

Summer of ‘09

1. Research tattoos

2. Join Mystery Writers of America, per JT Ellison’s e:mail

3. Join Sisters in Crime

4. Schedule time with David (The Novel) for black & white photography

5. Ask Eric or Scott if I should do a book trailer – Blair. L/W 6/24.

6. Schedule lunch with Mike DePasquale, re: Robbery-Homicide Division

7. Be a guest blogger on Naked Authors site per Patty Smiley.

8. Figure out Google Alerts – look at Brett’s e:mail message. What am I doing wrong?

9. Put tour schedule on website.

10. Figure out how to access website and make changes regularly

11. Let everyone know tour dates – drum up a crowd for each signing.

12. Figure out how to do an e:mail blast/save the date thing like Brett did for “Shadow.”

13. Website fix-its: a) Take out quote or attribute it to proper person – Salman Akhtar, not Carl Jung, b) Add new blogs, c) Add proper titles to author blurbs, d) fix links – from one category to the next, e) enlarge navigation buttons so people can read it, f) add book-signing schedule and appearances, g) add reviews when they become available, h) add new covers for hardcover and audio book.

14. Check in w/ Ray Porter re: audio book narration

15. Suzuki – send letter to yet another marketing manager

16. Set up newspaper interviews with Albuquerque Journal

17. Book air flights and pay for tour.

18. Check on train trip and hotels for San Francisco, San Mateo, San Deigo.

19. Get a listing or account or whatever.

20. Pay back the $300 to Uncle Jerry & Aunt Annette

21. Practice autograph

22. Review Bouchercon list of events – sign up for things.

23. Check to see if I paid my business license for 2009!!!

24. Days to take off work – Sept. 10, 16, 21-25, Oct. 5-9, Oct. 15, 16, 28, 29, 30.

25. Finish Blog #6

The list, of course, is ever-changing and never-ending. “Get an iPhone quickly before all is lost!” has been accomplished. As well as “Figure out how to make a website.”

Some of the things on my list might sound a little strange. “Research tattoos” being number one. I want something specific to represent this moment in my life. I want a “rite of passage”, marking my transition from unpublished to published. I’m a tattoo virgin, too, so it’s a big deal for me. My wife insists I choose the artist based on the quality of biohazard suit he wears while applying the tattoo, as well as the tidiness of the satellite construction “clean room” from which he works. (I should have added one other item to the list – #26: Daily yoga and meditation to prepare for mother’s reaction when she discovers I’m getting a tattoo). Really, I’m a big boy, it’s not the first nor will it be the last mistake I make in my life. Yes, but this one is permanent, and the Rebbe won’t let you be buried in a Jewish cemetery… 

What’s the Suzuki thing about? Good question. Good story, actually. I’ve been keeping my eyes open for a cool motorcycle for a couple years now. Oiy, he wants a motorcycle now? I’ve never ridden before. About a year ago I pulled up to one of my writing cafes and I saw the perfect bike. A little roadster, all black with shiny, bright chrome. Leather saddlebags. It was the best bike I’d ever seen. I drew closer and read the name on the gas tank, which was also written on the saddlebags. It was a Suzuki Boulevard.

Come on, now. What are the odds? This had to be the universe calling my name. The coincidence propelled me into action. This wasn’t just about finding the perfect motorcycle anymore. It was about finding the perfect cross-promotion marketing opportunity. I quickly found the names of two senior-level marketing execs at Suzuki and wrote to them, giving them the story, suggesting we cross-promote the launch of my novel with their motorcycle. I suggested I could have a banner on my website with a link to their website. I suggested they could sponsor my book tour, that I would ride the new motorcycle they gave me to book signings all across Los Angeles. I suggested they pay for my publicist.

I’ve sent that letter about four times now, to four different marketing executives.

The sound of crickets. Not even a return call to say, “Mr. Schwartz, your request is preposterous.” I should’ve taken the Suzuki item off my list months ago.

And, what, you’re giving me grief about practicing my autograph? You can’t tell me that wasn’t on your Debut Year To-Do List. So far I’ve signed three ARCs, and one was to Brett. The way my handwriting looks, I might as well take a chicken foot and an inkpad to my signings.

Anyway, the journey has begun. I’m getting the biggest kick out of watching my kids explore the world of publication. We’ll be road-tripping California, hitting Sea World and other exciting kid-friendly places along the way. It’s truly an amazing experience. The opportunity of a lifetime.

Let’s do something fun – give us a look at your current “To-Do” List. Just whip it off your computer or type it up and post it. Don’t you dare self-censor!



25 thoughts on “Adventures in Newbie Land

  1. Chuck

    Hey SJ:

    What a freaking awesome post! Glad you are in a better place than last time. Your head has to be spinning.

    Okay, here goes:

    1. Get through three hours of work

    2. Call the agent who has finished my manuscript at 11 AM. I think…think…an offer is coming.

    3. Immediately call JT and get her thoughts. She is way into this thing.

    4. Slip out of work and gun a few beers. No, I’m not kidding.

    5. Go back to work and ignore the craving for a Marlboro. (Since January 25th, 1992, I have had three cigarettes, all in April of 2009. Yikes! Those little devils call me by the hour.)

    6. Get through three more hours of work.

    7. Leave, pick up a pizza.

    8. Walk into the garage, stick two Ayingers and a mug in the freezer.

    9. Step into the house, kiss my sweet daughter who will scream my name.

    10. Kiss my wife and, <note to self> don’t forget the chewing gum.

    11. Thank God, no matter what happens.

  2. JD Rhoades

    I’m impressed by the output, Stephen, and very glad to hear things are looking up for you on the home front.

    My to do list:

    1. Finish the damn first draft of LAWYERS GUNS AND MONEY.

    2. Take on what’s looking to be the biggest rewrite of–how do I put this– that thing that l can no longer refer to as my "career" without laughing a little hysterically.

    3. Submit submit submit.

    4. Keep food on the table and a roof over our heads n the meantime.

  3. Alli

    Stephen, fabulous post! Congrats on your book – I’m looking forward to reading it. As a pre-pubbed (I stole that term from one of the posters yesterday – love that reference!) I will live vicariously through you as a debut author. It all sounds so exciting and even though your mother may slap me on the side of the head, I do think getting a tattoo to commemorate this momentous occasion is way cool. 🙂

    My to-do list today is:
    * Go to passport office to get daughter’s passport renews
    * Take kids to the park and run them ragged
    * Feed them
    * Put littllest to bed for three hour nap and oldest settled down with drawing materials
    * Write like crazy for three hours to finish second draft by target date of 31 August
    * Make dinner
    * Feed, bath, put kids to bed – greet hubby
    * Back to work on MS for another 3 hours until I can’t see or think straight

    That’s about it. 🙂

  4. Brett Battles


    You forgot:

    26. Breath
    27. Eat
    28. Kiss the family goodnight

    Good luck on the…eh…Suzuki thing. I’m sure that’ll come through for you 😉

    And I never practiced my signature, which, of course, explains a lot.

  5. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    This List thing is totally fun. I’m going to enjoy reading them all day.

    By the way — I’m waiting for someone to click on the Suzuki link I provided. First one who does gets a free ARC of Brett’s next book.

    Chuck – I want your work schedule. Maybe not your diet or nicotine addiction, but I’ll take the three-hours, the flexibility and the beers. I hope you get the offer.

    JD – You’re too good to be in limbo for too long. One of the first things Scott did when he took me on as a client was to send me a copy of your book.

    Alli – I love all the time you have with your kids. You got your priorities straight. My kids are always at the top of my list — I could have included my parallel universe list which would only address the things I do with them. Although I sure wish I had more time for them. Maybe when the day job disappears…

    Brett, ya old fart. And that’s all I have to say about that.

  6. Scott Parker

    RE: Ray Porter – One of the best narrators working today. He read Don Winslow’s The Dawn Patrol last year and his reading was a large factor into why I consider that book my favorite of last year. As I embark upon a serious push for publication, your blog post today was a godsend. Thanks.

  7. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Scott – thanks for the note about Ray. Yeah, I feel very lucky to have him. He’s got a lot of fans out there. I can’t wait to hear what he does. Good luck on your push!

  8. JT Ellison

    Hahahahahaha To Do List hahahahahahah

    I have been so horribly remiss in keeping my to do list for the past couple of months. It does have blog on it about 100 times, and some pre-pre-pre press publicity for The Cold Room, but the big things I need to do are revise THE IMMORTALS to match the new end of THE COLD ROOM, write that screenplay I’ve been tossing over, write that standalone I’ve been tossing over, write book 6, write the Debut Author Survey… yeah, the usual.

    Stephen, on a serious note, I am so proud of you! I know I’m not the only one who wishes I was back in your shoes, at the beginning, really to conquer the world. You’ve gotten a great start. Keep it up.

    Now, that tattoo… I have a couple myself. The one I adore the most is the one that means the most, the one I got when I too was embarking on a new time in my life. It’s the Chinese symbols for strength and rebirth, which equate to the phoenix rising. I love the idea of the phoenix rising from the ashes of a previous life. Whatever you do, pick something you will be proud to have on your for the rest of your life.

  9. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    JT – damn, girl, you got too much to do on your un-to-do list. I think you need to add Brett’s lines – breathe, eat. Thanks for all the awesome encouragement. You’ve been so helpful and fun along the way. I love the fact that you’ve got tattoos, too. I feel like I’m behind the curve on the tattoo thing. LIke, as soon as I get mine everyone will be getting theirs removed.
    I love the idea of the Phoenix rising from the ashes. Great image. I need to think about "meaning" for a bit. Currently I’m just thinking design. I’m looking at Celtic and tribal armbands. Celtic on one arm and a larger tribal on the other, from the shoulder to the forearm. Black only. That’s the plan so far. I like that Phoenix, though…

  10. billie

    Love this post and reading all the to do lists! What a great idea.


    -grid set for fecals (in explanation – a microscope slide set so I can do fecal counts for equine parasites)

    -sample for pasture analysis

    -nonfiction project – sequence of chapters

    -printer cartridge and paper

    -ms to L.

    -birthday gifts for nephews; card for brother

  11. Rob Gregory Browne

    I can see you’re about where I was a few years ago. In fact, I used to blog about it, too, at Anatomy of a Book Deal, for which I no longer have a link (handy, at least). It’s a wild ride, so hang on…

    My to do list has only two items:

    1. Write like a f***ing maniac.

    2. Enjoy myself.

    Anything other than that is, for me, irrelevant at this point.

  12. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Wow, Billie, the fecal counts of parasites…more than I can handle this close to breakfast. What I love about this list thing is that I can really get a good picture of what people do for a living or what their thinking day-to-day. I didn’t know you were a scientist. What exactly is your profession, Billie? I hated sciences through high school, and then I took a chemistry class in college and loved it. Absolutley fascinating.

    Rob – I’ll write the "R" rated version for you…write like a fucking maniac. That tops every list. I wish I could take another 14 days off work – I need it.

  13. gregory huffstutter


    While it appears you’re two healthy lungs from qualifying for the "Make A Wish" foundation, I may be able to help with one long-shot "To Do" item.

    No promises… but my day job happens to be at Suzuki’s advertising agency (automotive, not motorcycle). The client has had a lot of personnel shake-ups lately, and sales are down thanks to the credit crunch (motorcycles often being a discretionary purchase), so it doesn’t surprise me you haven’t received response from Suzuki’s marketing managers.

    But I can personally forward your letter to the correct motorcycle account director — whom I do know personally — and thow in my two-cents. Just forward it to me as a pdf:

    See what happens when you ask the Universe for a favor? Now excuse me while I re-read my Oprah-approved copy of "The Secret"…

  14. billie

    This will really get you – I’m a psychotherapist! 🙂

    The fecals are for my horses and miniature donkeys – I am learning to do them myself so I can deworm horse by horse only as needed, and then test to see if the dewormer was effective – many parasites are resistant these days. Doing it myself saves a fair amount of money.

    I also meant to say huge congrats on that amazing output for your next book!

  15. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Gregory – thanks so much for that – I will definitely send it your way this weekend, along with a list of the marketing managers who I’ve already sent it to. The last guy it went to was Steve Bortolamedi. I thank the universe for your response!

    Billie – well you got me on that one! Never would’ve guessed. Sounds like you’ve done some great "character research" for your next protagonist. I miss horses – my first job when I was 13 years old was working with Arabian horses. I’ve got a very, very funny story about breeding, which I’ll have to share with you sometime.

  16. Louise Ure

    Stephen, the last time I practiced my autograph was when I was ten and was sure I was going to marry Kevin Palmer so I wanted to get used to my new name. Time not well spent.

    Congratulations on all that progress and good news. I can’t wait for you to get to San Francisco!

  17. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Louise – I’ll be signing at the Beat Museum in North Beach on September 23 at 7:00 pm. Can’t wait to meet you in person!

  18. pari noskin taichert

    Sorry . . . I’m running around today and can’t read all the comments — BUT where in ABQ? If I can make the signing, I’ll come for sure.

    Email me privately with the age of your kids if they’ll be coming too.

  19. Allison Brennan

    amazing, Stephen. Really.

    I’ve never made a to do list, I hate them almost as much as I hate New Year’s Resolutions.

    My advice (such as it is):

    Write and keep loving the writing, even when you want to pull your hair out and toss the computer out the window because you are writing crap and what made any of us think we can write a damn book anyway?

    Don’t sweat the small stuff.

    Enjoy every minute. You only get one debut novel. Savor holding the book in your hand, indulge in a bit of narcissism (wow, is that really MY NAME on THIS BOOK????) read the first page and think, "I didn’t write this. It doesn’t sound half bad, it couldn’t possibly be mine . . . " then don’t read the rest because you’ll cringe at the first sentence you wished you had rewritten, or cut because it repeated something said 20 pages before . . . .

  20. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Great advice, Allison. The voice of wisdom and experience. And you know I’ve already done some of that, with the ARC. Thank God I managed to correct the quote at the beginning of the book, which I had originally attributed to Carl Jung. It came from a book about Jung, but was not from Jung himself.
    It’s funny how I almost cannot read the book anymore–it’s become a jumble of words on a page. I can’t objectively comprehend what the hell it’s about. Maybe ten years from now I can rediscover it and say, "Hmm, here’s an interest book, I wonder who the writer is?"


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