Category Archives: Brett Battles

The Killer Inside Us*

By Brett Battles

As writers of crime and thriller fiction, part of our job is to kill a lot of people. I know in my first novel the death toll probably reached two dozen. Thrillers tend to rack up the body count, but even in the most tame of crime novels it’s likely that at least one person has died.

Our job is not to only kill any number of people, but to often come up with new and exciting (perhaps a poor word choice) ways of doing it. Or if we recycle a method used before, do so by adding our own twists. Guns, poisons, knives, ropes, explosions…these are just some of the tools we work with.

And then there are the killers themselves, the characters who pull the triggers or set off the remotes. These people (who they are, and what motivates them) come from our minds, too. Perhaps they are inspired by someone in real life, but believe me, if an author can’t get into their minds, then all he or she will create is a cardboard cutout no one will find believable.

Call me crazy, but I doubt most writers of these kinds of books just came to the ability of being able to figure these things out only when they started writing crime and thrillers. Refined their skills, yes. But not having a predisposition already? I doubt it.

I’ve been a killer since at least junior high. Okay…that might not be completely accurate…I probably started off more a maimer than a killer, but the foundation was there.

Now before you go thinking this is some sort of confession of a heinous crime spree, just sit back, drink that coffee and chill. What I’m talking about is my imagination.

It undoubtedly started off with a lot of “what ifs.” What if the school bus lost its breaks and smashed into a light pole? What if JP, the junior high bully, got so mad he actually beat someone to death? What if that fake bomb threat someone called into school when I was in 8th grade had been real?

From there I would move on to the whys and the hows. What happened to the bus’ breaks? How could someone secretly motivate JP to attack someone else?  Why would someone want to blow up a classroom? Multiple answers, especially to that last one.

These became stories in my mind…little mental plays that I would sometimes write down. Of course in the worlds I created the good guys would always come out on top. (I did, after all, win Citizen of the Year for my 3rd grade class, and have been know to trap spiders and crickets and carry them outside instead of killing them.)

There were other killing triggers, too, one of the best being an overheard conversation. “I think tonight’s the night. Tommy wants me to meet him at that abandoned house outside of town at nine.” Or…”Mark told me he is so allergic to peanuts that just a little bit of peanut butter would kill him.” Or…”Mr. Harris gave me a D for no reason. I could just kill him.”

These days I could get whole novels out of any of those lines.

The point I’m trying to make is that unlike a lot of my friends and fellow students, when I’d hear something like any of those things above, I would start to work them into a plot. I would figure out how to make that rendezvous at the abandoned house turn into the scene of a crime. I’d imagine “Mark’s” girlfriend being so sick of him that she secretly works some peanut butter into a cupcake she’s baked for him. Or I would figure out the best way a student could take revenge on the teacher who’s failed him.

Actually acting on any of these thoughts never crossed my mind in any way other than to use them in a story. But seeing these situations, overhearing these bits of conversations…my mind often goes to the dark place, wondering “what if.”

My God, if a psychologist had dug a little bit into my psyche as a teenager, they might have thought there was something evil at my core. But then if they dug a little deeper, they would have realized that it wasn’t an asocial desire to act out, but a curiosity of humanity…both the good and the bad.

“Hi. I’m Brett Battles, and I kill with my keyboard.”

So who’s with me? Are we a bunch of imaginary killers or am I certifiable? And while you’re at it, share one of those random events that spurred an idea.

* Apologies to the late Jim Thompson whose magnificent novel THE KILLER INSIDE ME I finally read for the first time last month.

Today a little bit of visual creativity. This is an amazing work, if a little odd at times. Well worth taking a look at.

MUTO a wall-painted animation by BLU from blu on Vimeo.

What Do I Do Now?

By Brett Battles

I don’t believe in writer’s block.

What I do believe in is getting stuck in a story. See, writer’s block implies the inability to write…anything. My feeling is I can always write something. Maybe it’ll have nothing to do with the story I’m working on, but it will be writing. Maybe I start a short story, or write a scene that has nothing to do with anything, or maybe I just write some emails. Whatever works.

Recently I got stuck on the book I’m currently working on. Now my deadline isn’t until May 1st, so just before I got stuck I was thinking that there was a good chance I would finish a month early. I mean, I already had over 300 pages written, and I usually top out at just over 400. So even writing another 100+ pages and doing a rewrite of the whole book at that point was very doable.

I knew how I wanted the book to end, but I also knew I had a lot of loose ends and things that needed to be changed. I kept writing, though, until I suddenly came to a point where I said to myself, “I’m not really sure what I should write next.”

I’ve got to say, I was annoyed. But to be fair, I knew I’d get to that point eventually. I always do.

So I did what I’ve done in the past, I went back to the beginning and start my rewrite even though I hadn’t finished the draft. But something different happened this time. I got about two-thirds of the way through the rewrite when I hit another snag.

Okay, not a snag completely. But I knew I needed to do something different. I realized I just needed to take a step back and look at the story as a whole. I knew I had a good plot, and the characters were all solid, but I was afraid that I was missing something. So I decided to take two days and not touch the manuscript at all. That’s not to say I didn’t write anything. In fact I wrote a ton. Only none of it was on my laptop.

I got a couple of things from Office Depot to help me out. One was a 2’ x 4’ dry erase board. The other was one of the coolest things in the world. Did you know they make Post-it notes that are actually 2’ wide by 2 1/2 ‘ long and come in pads of 30? They are so AWESOME! I mean like award winning awesome! Check them out next time you’re in a office supply store, you’ll see what I mean.

Anyway…here’s what I did.

I summarized all the chapters I had written so far on the dry erase board. Then, using a different giant Post-it note for each of my main characters, I wrote a point-by-point rundown of the story from that particular character’s point of view. Once done, the Post-it went up on the wall of my living room. Eventually most of the empty space on my walls was covered. (Thank God I live alone…the notes are still up and not attractive to anyone but me.)

I then took a step back to see what I had. Suddenly several things became clear to me: chapters that needed to be moved around, some that needed to be removed entirely, and two characters that needed to be combined into one, among other things. And most importantly, I realized that I wasn’t as far off as I had first thought.

I grabbed another post it and wrote out a chapter-by-chapter list of things I needed to do, then threw it up on the wall. My final act was to photograph each post it and import them into my computer so that I’d have them with me wherever I ended up working. Old school meet new school.

Yeah, I know. It sounds like a lot of work. And it was. But, man, did it open me up. That sense of being stuck…gone. That feeling of not knowing what to write next…also gone.

I know I won’t be done by the end of March like I wanted to be, but I still think I’m going to beat that May 1st deadline.

So I guess what I’m trying to point out if you’re a writer who sometimes gets stuck, maybe you just need to take a step back and look at the big picture. Or maybe you just need to put the story to the side for a day or two and try writing something else entirely. But what you should never do is think that you are blocked. That’s just a state of mind. 

Find your method. Find what works. And move on.

Song for today: FALLING SLOWLY…I LOVE this song. It’s the kind of song I wish I had someone to sing it to. Someday, perhaps.

I Think I Need to Take a Day Off

by Brett Battles

It happens to me every couple of weeks or so, especially when things are really flowing. And things have been REALLY flowing for the last month. In big part that’s due to this new place (new to me) that I’ve found to work it. Instead of feeling done after writing for four hours, I how can stretch it out to six or seven or sometimes even eight, getting so much more done per sitting than I ever considered before.

Which is great, but…

…then comes that day when things…jusst…slooooow….dowwwwwwwwwn.

All of a sudden I’m just not feeling it. The plot points I need to keep straight in my mind get all jumbled together. Characters voices become muffled sounds in my ears. And the keyboard of my laptop feels like a torture device as the tips of my fingers struggle to find the right keys.

That’s when I think I need a day off. And today is one of those days.

Actually I’ve felt it coming on for about a week, but I’ve been ignoring it. Unfortunately, it has refused to go away.

But, see, I’m loathed to give in and take that day off.

Here’s the deal: I make this schedule in my mind…so many pages per day means I should hit page A by date B, and page C by date D, which then means I should have a finished draft by date E. I can get hung up on that. I can end up seeing that as the path I MUST travel, with no deviation being tolerated. Even as I think this I know it’s stupid. I’ve never been able to stay completely to schedule, and yet I always finish. Still I when I begin to feel that need-for-a-day-off feeling, the organized part of my mind shouts, “ NO! You can’t do that! The schedule. Just look at the schedule. If you take a day off, that means you’ll push the end date back. REMEMBER??? You made a promise to yourself not to push that back. I don’t mean to be a pain here or anything, but nose to the grindstone, buddy!”

This voice makes sense to me. I mean I really want to get this book done by the end of March. It’s actually ahead of my deadline, but I have other things I need/want to work on and the year is only so long. And then there’s the next Quinn book, Quinn #5…its plot is starting to boil in my mind. I feel the need to at least get that started soon so I can channel that energy. And if I’m completely honest with you, I’d actually like to get it as close to finished as possible before the end of the year, too!

So, yes, maybe I shouldn’t take a day off. Maybe I should just push through. Surely this feeling will pass. All my instincts will kick in. I’ll remember the plot points, I’ll hear my characters again, I’ll feel excited, I’ll…I’ll…

….eh…I’ll be kidding myself.

 “If you don’t take a day off now, you’ll end up taking multiple days off in a week or two. You’ll actually lose more time.”

That’s the other voice in my head. The voice of reason.

At least I want to think of it as the voice of reason, because what it’s saying is true. (More true, that is, than what that other voice was saying.) I’ve seen it happen to me before. A day off now hurts a lot less than three days off later.

My point is sometimes we just need to recharge our brains. When that happens we can’t worry about schedules or desires or deadlines, because without that recharge we’re doing our stories a disservice.

Now don’t go around saying I gave you permission to not write. That’s not what I’m saying. In fact, I don’t have the power to give you permission about anything. My God, if I had that power, I’d raise and army and take over some small country. Preferably an island nation. In the Pacific….near the equator. With lots of beautiful, single––

Wait, I digress. What I am saying is you have to know yourself. Don’t let…eh…“you” get away with anything, but know yourself enough to realize when you might need to recharge. Honor that. Sometimes that’s as important as writing and creating. What you must not do is stretch this little recharge into an unplanned writing vacation. That is not acceptable.

Take that day off, then it’s back to AIS (ass in chair).

So that’s what I’m going to do. Take a day off. But maybe I’ll wait until next week…no, no, today! Wait, maybe tomorrow…crap. I’ll figure it out.

So, do you give yourself time to recharge?
If so, what are your favorite ways to achieve this?

And, come on folks. I’m getting a little embarrassed here being the guy who gets the fewest comments. At least Rob’s post yesterday was crappy (though humorous), so we should at least be able to beat his comment total, right? Help a fellow writer out.

And be sure to wish our own Pari a HAPPY BIRTHDAY today!

Music (for no apparent reason) ARE YOU GOING TO GO MY WAY by LENNY KRAVITZ

All the World’s a Stage

By Brett Battles

I search for inspiration in almost everything I come across in life. It could be in the emotional tension of a well made, and some times not well made, movie, the turn of phrase in a favorite book, the colors or lack thereof in a thought provoking painting. But I also find it in the more common things. The kindness between two strangers at the counter of a coffee shop, the way the leaves blow across the sidewalk in the fall, the sound of music being played by someone just learning a new instrument.

As writers were are artists, and by definition creative. But that doesn’t mean the creativity is flowing off us from the moment we wake up until the moment we go back to sleep. For most of us it ebbs and flows depending on our mood, how much sleep we’ve had, or maybe what we’ve had to drink. But for me, more than anything else, creativity is often stimulated by outside influences.

As a creative type you can’t always know when or where inspiration will hit you, but you can sometimes put yourself in a position it can find you if it wants.

That’s what I did on Tuesday night.

A very good friend of mine who I’ve known for over twenty-five years has become a successful theater director here in Los Angeles. So much so that he has been able to do something many of his colleagues only dream of doing, and that is directing full time. Doesn’t mean he’s make tons at it yet, but he is doing what he loves. He’s also starting to make a very good name for himself. And I couldn’t be happier for him. He is a great guy, and a loyal friend. If you ever get a chance to look at the acknowledgments of any of my books you see the name Jon Rivera or Jon Lawrence Rivera…same guy, and they are both him. Jon will always be in my acknowledgments because he has proven to be a better friend to me than anyone ever has the right to have. For that, I’ll never be able to thank him enough.

Jon directs several plays a year at theaters all over town. He’ll occasionally be asked to also direct a play at one of the local colleges. In addition, for the past year, the faculty at USC asked him to teach theater directing at their school, something he’s been doing for over a year now.

Anyway, the play he is currently working on is a world premiere called LAWS OF SYMPATHY. He’s doing it though the theater group he formed called Playwrights’ Arena, whose mission is to produce plays written by people who live in the Los Angeles area. A pretty cool idea.

Tuesday night I went downtown to the space they were rehearsing and watch for awhile as Jon and his actors worked on two of the scenes from the play. Since this piece has never been produced before, they were working out a lot of the issues that established shows would have had worked out years ago. Things like “Why is this scene set in this location?” or “Why are you having this conversation now when you could have had it on the phone earlier?” or “What is the emotion behind what you are saying?”

It was absolutely fascinating to watch. Plays, as you may are may not know, are a writer’s medium. Whatever is on the page is what the actors have to say. It’s not like the movies where often the script is more like a guideline. Here, if a director or an actor want to make a change bad enough, they must consult with the playwright, who may very well just say no.

What I really enjoyed as I watched was the first scene they worked on. In the script, the scene starts in the middle of a conversation…a pretty intense conversation, by the way. But even as they began rehearsing it there was some question as to how the characters would have gotten to this point, and why the conversation was occuring in the location indicated in the script. I watched fascinated as Jon and his actors, Ahmad and Celeste, talked it through, Jon often asking the actors why their characters where doing what they were doing or saying what they were saying. Then Jon had them act out the whole seen, not just from the middle as it was written in the script, but from the beginning, improvising so that they could explore the backstory, if you will, and reach the point where the playwright had begun. This was not stuff the audience will ever see on stage, not directly anyway. They WILL see it in the way the actors will be totally comfortable with characters they are playing, making the audience forget they are watching actors at all.

It was great to see how the Ahmad and Celeste handled this. Both were excellent and really seemed to know who they were even while they were still figuring out things about their characters. What was also great was seeing them working together to explore the relationship between the characters, because that is just as important as knowing the characters themselves.

In many ways I found it to be just like what I go through as an author, and what I assume most authors go through. We are the playwrights, directors and actors of our own stories. I often act out parts, looking for motivations, and emotions. But sometimes it’s actually harder when it’s just one brain playing all these parts. I envied the fact that Jon and Ahmad and Celeste could play off each other, and not just themselves, and even daydreamed about having actors come to my house and play out scenes from my whatever I was working.

When I left the theater, I felt like I’d been mainlining creativity. I couldn’t wait to get back to my keyboard. I’m sure this jolt will be with me for several days. But the great thing is once it’s gone Jon has said I can come back any time I want to observe again. I will definitely be taking him up on that.

So what are some interesting things that have inspired you recently? Did you stumble upon them, or did you put yourself in their path?

No song this week, but something even better given our topic. A little piece of incredibly inspired creativity I came across on another blog. Enjoy!

Sometimes a Debut Becomes More Than Just a Debut

by Brett Battles

What published author can forget their debut year? I certainly can’t. It wasn’t that long ago after all. 2007. Same year as JT, Toni & Rob, and only the year after Allison, Alex, & Cornelia. I remember the excitement I felt as the year switched from 2006 to 2007. Even though it would still be nearly six months before my book hit the stores, I felt amazing. And those six months? They went by so fast I’m still wondering what happened to them.

It’s true. There is no year like your debut year. You’re full of hopes and possibilities and dreams. That said the second year wasn’t so bad either. And this year, the year my third novel will be coming out, will be just as good. But that anticipation of…well…the unknown that you feel in your debut year can not be repeated.

So like any year, this year they’ll be a whole new crop of debut authors. And also like any year, some will do better than other, but as the year begins they are all gripped with the knowledge that they will soon achieve a dream that so many of us have had, and many still have. That of being a debut novelist. You’ll start hearing about these new books in all the usual places: on blogs, at conferences, in bookstores, from friends. And hopefully many will grab your attention.

My problem is my schedule has been pretty tight these days. I’m deep into writing my fourth book. Have been putting the finishing touches to SHADOW OF BETRAYAL (which is book 3 and – side note – will be titled THE UNWANTED in the UK and Australia.) Have been working on a project with ITW. And have been working on, when I can, my “secret” project that I have alluded to elsewhere, but am still not ready to share (sorry.) So my reading time has been severely hampered. I’ve sadly had to decline requests from a couple of people I had been hoping I could read and give them a blurb (sorry to them if their reading this.) Debut authors, mainly. But recently I found I had an unanticipated block of time open up. It wasn’t much, but it was enough to squeeze in an advanced copy of a book I had just received. One that I knew I had to read for reasons I'll explained in a moment.

The book is entitle BOULEVARD by Stephen Jay Schwartz, and won’t be out until September. Other than the fact I knew I really needed to read it, I had no idea if I would enjoy it. But let me just say this, BOULEVARD is a book you’re going to want to be looking for when it comes out. If you like well written stories, with deeply troubled anti-heroes, then you will love this book. It's dark, and very character driven. And it’s also a very unique take on the police drama. I can honestly say, it's a book that will haunt me for weeks to come…wait…that almost sounds like a blurb. I might have to copy that down and send it to him. But I don’t mean it as a blurb. I mean it as a sincere endorsement.

Okay, now of the part that’s going to answer the ‘why this book’ question, and probably will cause a few of you to take my endorsement with a grain of salt. I hope that last part isn’t true. I give my opinion freely without any bias.

See there could be bias….

Talk about a small world. The first I heard from Stephen that he had a book come out was about three weeks ago via an email he sent to me. The last time I heard from him before that was nearly 25 years ago. That’s right, we know each other. The funny thing is neither of us knew we both had dreams of one day being novelists. In fact, Stephen hadn’t even known that I’d been published until he was cruising around JT’s website and saw my name.

Stephen and I went to college together. We lived in the same dorm. We had the same major. We graduated the same year. We took classes together, went to the same parties, had the same circle of friends. And we were friends. Good friends. And then after college, like a lot of people do, we lost track of each other. I did try to find him once or twice…but you try to google Stephen Schwartz and see how many different people you come up with!

But the world of fiction, specifically the world of crime and thriller fiction has brought us back together. So not only is BOULEVARD his debut, it is also the vehicle that reconnect us. What a weird and incredible world this is. And I’m happy to say – because you’re always worried when you read a friend's book that it might suck and you’ll have to lie to them – that I don’t have to lie about Stephen’s work. It is first rate, and truly a surprise for a debut novel. Hopefully we’ll have him as a guest blogger here when we get closer to his release date, so you can all meet him then. In any case, keep an eye out for him. You won't be disappointed.

That’s my bizzaro story for this week. No music video today, due to issues beyond my control.

So what kind of weird reconnections have you experienced? Has the internet blown you mind that way? (I mean, I actually found the guy who was my best friend in kindergarden!)

New Year’s Revolution

By Brett Battles

In the car the other day, my youngest daughter said that she’s going to take better care of the earth. She said it was her New Year’s Revolution.

I corrected her, of course. “Honey, it’s resolution.”

“Right. Resolution.” Then she turned her attention back to her iPod. Kids.

But as we drove on, I got to thinking about that phrase: New Year’s Revolution.

See I’m not a big person on starting the year with resolutions, but with a revolution? I’m not sure I, or any of you, have a choice. Because, like it or not, the publishing industry is going through a revolution.

I’m not even close to being the first person to make this pronouncement. Others have done it here at Murderati and elsewhere in the blogoshere. But I do raise my voice to join theirs. Things are changing, and if we don’t help steer the change we run the chance of being left behind.

There’s a perfect example out there of what can happen. That is the music industry. For years record companies made millions and millions because they controlled all the aspects of producing music for the public: recording, pr, pressing the records/dubbing the tapes/burning the discs. Then suddenly home recording equipment became better, cheaper and easy to use. Making a record in your basement or garage or even living room became a reality. You could even make your own video. At the same time, the ability to self mass produce CDs also became an economic reality. Suddenly you could be a band that could make enough dough touring small clubs and selling your CDs at the end of the show to at least keep your head close to the waterline.

And then even that changed…

Consumers could download music directly from the internet to their computer and transfer them to new little devices that could play these mp3 (and similar) files. For a while, Napster and a few other sites allowed users to share music for a time without any money passing hands. Then when those went away, places like iTunes took their place. And the beauty of iTunes? You didn’t have to have a big record label to make your music available to potential fans all over the world. And those guerilla videos your cousin shot of you and your band? Posted on youtube and facebook and myspace for all to see.

And where was the record industry through all this? Left so far in the dust, they’ve been scrambling ever since to catch up. And that’s not even to mention the retail music business. Music stores are gone for the most part. Sure you can still get CDs at Wallmart or Best Buy, but the sections are growing smaller and smaller every year…perhaps every month.

On the surface you might say, hey, what’s wrong with that? Musicians now can have more control of their careers. And that’s right. For musicians.

But unlike music, where often a raw sound will capture the appreciation of millions, crappy writing will seldom engender a positive response.

Yet big publishing just sits around, the same thing that happened to the record industry will happen to it, and all books could be self-published. I worry about that future.

I think there’s a good chance that in the not too distant future, a majority of books will be purchased or download through places like Amazon or download in audio book form through sites like The question is whether big publishing will be part of it or not. My concern is that if they are not, or if there is no suitable replacement, there will be no way for consumers to gauge the quality of the work they might purchase.

To a large extent the publishing industry protects consumers from that. Maybe not all the time, but in large part. They provide experienced editorial help. They put together professional, quality packaging. They able to pull together more pr than an average author can do on his or her own – some author’s might argue this point, but think just about advanced copies alone, and the reviewers and booksellers publishers send copies to…that ain’t cheap. And publishing houses also provide something else: a brand that readers come to trust. I know not every reader looks at who the publisher is, but many do. And if the quality of books goes down, even more will take notice.

The good thing is, the publishing industry for the most part seems to not be sitting around like the music industry did. Are they moving fast enough? Or in the right directions? Perhaps they could do more, and perhaps be more proactive, but that is something that time will tell.

One thing that’s clear is that new technologies are going to be the way of the future. Downloadable audiobooks and eBooks that people can load onto their iPods and Kindles and Sony Readers and whatever device comes around next. Most publishers are heavily involved in audiobooks and have at least dipped their toes into electronic versions. I know the eBooks of my novels are selling well, a trend that caught the attention of my agent and one she says is happening with several of her clients. And my audio sales have been good, too. Some people still buy the CD version, but most are going for the downloads.

I think these are two areas publishing is going to move more and more aggressively into. It has to. It’s future. It’s the mp3 downloads of the music industry.

But beyond that, to survive publishing will probably get leaner and more streamlined. If it doesn’t, it’ll disappear, and we will all be self-publishing. Of course this leads to a bigger question that might be better discussed later: will publishing be releasing less books? I don’t know. My gut says yes, but I don’t want to be the one to volunteer to stop, do you?

What we can do as authors is continue to move in the direction we have been over the last several years. PR by author is a reality now, it’s a way we can help not only ourselves, but our publishers. We need to continue to take an active role in our careers, but by finding ways to work with our publishers and not against them.

But beside that, we need to be aware of what’s going on. We need to be ready to move in whatever direction the industry goes (industry in general, not industry as in publishing houses.) We need to be willing to adapt to new ways whether they come from publishing houses or a some new, yet to be determined structure.

There are many visions of what the future could bring us. All of which will be a revolution in one way or another. No matter which way it goes, though, it is up to us not to be left out.

This isn’t something to be afraid of, more aware of. And no matter what, a big part of what needs to be done on our side is going to be helping each other, and working together. The strength of our community is our power.

So what do you think is going to happen? What’s your scenario for the future?

TODAY'S VIDEO…what else? Revolution by The Beatles

Hello 2009

By Brett Battles

So the easy thing today would be to do a list of resolutions. Yeah, well, I can’t think of any so maybe it’s not that easy.

Since today is New Years Day, I seriously doubting there’s more than a couple people even reading this today. Honestly, I might even forget to go and check. I don’t blame anyone. A lot of us will have hangovers and/or will be spending the day watching football and/or will be doing things with our friends and family. Who wants to spend New Years reading blogs? (That’s no diss on blogs, just, you know, it’s a holiday.) So if you’re not reading this, I forgive you. Of course, you have no way of knowing that.

So I’ll start with a question for those of you who are reading along. A question written in the form of a request:

If you are reading this today, New Years Day 2009, in the comments below please mark yourself present. As a bonus, feel free to add a resolution you have for this year. Seriously, if all you want to do is leave a comment that says only “Present”, that is a-ok with me. Think of it as taking attendance.

And since this is bound to be a bit of a light day, I thought we’d go for some entertainment instead of a lengthy post. Sound good to everyone?

Great. Bring on the music!

First up:
And the Snow Falls by James Wetzel

An old favorite of mine that I first heard while working in Berlin in 2001:
On More Time by Daft Punk

Love this next band, but they’re independent enough to probably hate the fact I love them:
Teddy Picker by Arctic Monkeys

Enjoyed this video and song, some of you probably have to:
I Will Follow You into the Dark by Death Cab for Cutie

Just ran across this and loved the singer’s voice:
Pressure by Paramore

And one of my all time favorite bands and songs:
Beautiful Day by U2


Dear Santa,

I know it’s been a long time since my last letter. If memory serves, President Nixon was in office. (Oh…I recently saw that FROST/NIXON movie. Highly recommended, you know, when you have some time.) Anyway, I know it’s been a while, and I know you probably thought you’d never hear directly from me again, but here I am. And I need your help.

This isn’t about my kids, well, not directly. I’ve got them covered. Thought still not sure they’ll get the iPods they keep asking for despite the fact that “everyone ELSE in my class has one!” And this isn’t about me, or maybe it is…I mean I am kind of a part of this.

What I am writing to ask for is a present. Actually presents.

Here’s the deal, it’s Christmas time…d’uh…and a lot of people will be looking for presents for their families, friends, co-workers, and whoever else they feel like giving something to. And then there’s you.

That first group is pretty big, and even if I had started in January I wouldn't have had time to talk to all of them.  But in you, Santa, is someone I can talk to in a single letter who I think can make an impact larger than if I HAD been able to talk to all those others.

I'm asking you to give everyone a book for Christmas. I know, I know, how self-serving can I be? I am an author after all. Out of the million books you give out, some surely would to be mine, right?

(Well, eh, right. I admit it. I would hope some would be mine. But only for the adults, of course. We can negotiate this point later.)

But since you give out a lot of presents, and often you’re giving more than one present to a person, can you possibly make one of the gifts you do give to each of us a book?

I think this is particularly a great idea for children! And again, if memory serves, children are your specialty. Right?

See, for most the love of reading starts when they are young. We need to take advantage of that, and instill the love of the written word while these tiny humans can still be bent to our will…I mean, while it’s still easy for these lovely children to fall in love with reading.

I know, kids have a ton of things to distract them. (Did I mention the iPods my daughters want?) I’m not asking that we take those distractions away. I’m just asking that you add a book to the pile. That’s all you have to do. We, the parents and friends of the children, will take it from there. We'll encourage the kids to read the books, and maybe even read them together.

Is that too much to ask? I hope not. But you let me know.

Oh…and for adults? Books, too, please! They’re the perfect present, really. Not too expense (a bonus in these economic times), and easy to wrap! (Plus I’ve been hearing that many of my book selling friends aren’t doing as well this year, so any help we could send their way would be great.)

I hope I haven’t been out of line writing to you about this. I also hope I’m not too late! You’ll notice that I haven’t asked for anything for me. And that’s fine. If you can make this happen, you don’t have to give me a thing.

One last thing: I’m going to ask my friends who might read this to go ahead and add their wish lists for you in the comments section. That way you have everything in one nice, neat place. I'm all about helping, Santa. All about helping.

Well, that’s about it for me. Hope you have a great Christmas! Stay warm on the sleigh right.

p.s. here’s one of my favorite Christmas videos to get you in the mood.


By Brett Battles


The dedication in my next book SHADOW OF BETRAYAL coming out
in July will read thusly:


To William Relling Jr.

Mentor. Friend.



Some of you may have read one of Bill’s books. His first was
a novel called BRUJO…a horror novel that involved the spirit of a Native
American medicine man on the island of Catalina. His next was also in the
horror genre. SILENT MOON. After that he mainly switched to crime fiction. He
had a short lived series featuring former Treasury agent Jack Donne who takes
up life as an owner of a vineyard and winery. There were only two books in the
series: A DEADLY VINTAGE and SWEET POISON. And then about a year before he
died, his last book, THE CRIMINALIST, came out.


I met Bill in the fall of 1992. I figured it was about time
for me to get serious about my career as a writer, and to admit I needed help,
or at least a kick in the butt. So I signed up for a beginning novel writing
class through UCLA Extension. Bill turned out to be my teacher. I remember that
it was 1992 because we had classes on Tuesday, and one of our classes happened
to be on election night  when Bill
Clinton defeated Bush senior. (Not a political statement, just something I
remember.) It was a great class, and Bill gave me a lot of encouragement. In
fact, after the course was over, he called me up and invited me to join a
writing group he was forming. I jumped at the chance.


Now the group was not exactly typical. It was set up where
Bill was in charge. Each week we would all ready whatever anyone submitted the
previous week, then we’d give our thoughts. The last to give thoughts would be
Bill. He was the authority. But not only would he tell us what he thought, he
would also do a heavy line edit on everything that was submitted. It was pretty
shocking at first. Sentences cut. Words X’d out, paragraphs moved around. But
after you got past that first couple of times, you realized that most of his
suggestions were actually spot on. He was just damn good at making our mediocre
stories great. I also have to say that I have never had anyone do an edit on my
manuscript like he used to do, which I’ve decided to take to mean I’m doing a
much better job on things on my end.


In that time, Bill became first my teacher, then my mentor.
I trusted him, I turned to him with questions about my work that previously I
would have been afraid to ask anyone because I would not want to get hurt by
their response, and I learned in the end to trust myself, too.


His straightforward, no bullshit style help to also toughen
my skin, and allow me not to be phased by the dozens of rejections I would
later be receiving. He believed in my work and knew one day I’d break through.


The others in the group I’m sure felt the same way. Several
have also gone on to get published. Besides Bill and myself, our weekly meeting
included Nathan Walpow, Richard Jordan, and Marc Paoletti, along with several
other talent writers. It was a great group. One I was very proud to be a part


After a couple of years, staying in the group and juggling
the rest of my life had become too much. I had to bow out. My writing output
also ebbed during this time. But when I finally was ready to jump back in about
7 years ago, Bill told me he’d started another group and I was more than
welcome to join. I readily accepted the offer. It was in that group that I
wrote the original version of the book which would become THE CLEANER.


I’ve talked about Bill before, so several of you already
know he didn’t live to see me get my first contract. Close, so very close. In
fact, and I’ve never told this part before, in many ways it was because he had
passed away that I got my contract. At his memorial service I reconnected with
someone who, later, put me in touch with the folks who eventually bought my
book. I still get a little bit of a chill thinking about that. And I wouldn’t
be surprised if Bill’s spirit had been hovering beside us as the offer for an
introduction was made.


Bill was my mentor, and I know without any question that if
it wasn’t for his help in improving my craft, and preparing me for the world of
publishing (he proofed my query letters, and even wrote a recommendation letter
for me himself) I wouldn’t be where I am today. I still remember his smile and
his too loud laugh and his pointed remarks when I tried to get away with
something in a story.


The quote he used to love to repeat to us…Never let the
truth get in the way of your story. I still repeat it to myself today, along
with about another two dozen Billisms.


Mentors are a powerful, powerful thing. You don’t always
know when you are going to get one, and they aren’t always easy to find, but
when you do find one, a good one, learn all you can from them, then go out make
them proud.


Do you have a mentor? How have they helped you?


Everything’s a Blur

By Brett Battles

Those of you who had been following along with my Facebook status will already know this, but Monday I went in for laser eye surgery. There are two main types. The one most people are familiar with is Lasek. Not to gross you out or anything, but this procedure involves cutting a flap on your eye, then doing the laser work underneath. The second method is called PRK (Photorefractive keratectomy), in which the flap is not created but the “pithelium removed is discarded and allowed to regenerate” (Wikipedia).

The reason Lasek is most popular is that within 24hours you’re usually ready to go. See, by cutting the flap you’re tricking the eye into thinking nothing is wrong, and nothing major has been done. So as long as you don’t rub your eye that first night while you’re sleeping (they give you goggles to wear to prevent this), then everything should be fine.

With PRK it’s different. Because the assault (because what else can you call it) happens in full “view” of the eye, it suddenly goes into defense mode. That means recovery time is longer. Approximately four days, so they tell me…(my forth day won’t be until Friday.)

That’s right, I got the PRK version. Why? Well, apparently my corneas were just a little thinner than normal. When that happens, the success rate of the regular Lasek procedure decreases…not by a terribly large amount, but by enough that the doctors recommended using PRK. Strongly.

Fine, I thought. At least I work at home so taking the extra time off won’t be the end of the world. I was told I wouldn’t be able to drive for a few days, and that the full effects of my correction wouldn’t settle in for a month (apparently that’s what they tell Lasek folks too, but I hear it never takes that long.)

So Monday morning my girlfriend drives me to the clinic and I go under the laser. Really, it’s a quick procedure. I was in and out of the office in 60 minutes, and really, each eye took under a minute beneath the laser. As soon as they were done, they put protective contacts over my eyes to act like bandages, and told me I should have an increased sensitivity to light for a little while.

So off I went, and BOY was the world bright. I don’t mean just a little bright, I mean surface of the sun bright. (Here it is two days later and I’m typing this in a darkened room wearing my sunglasses. Which actually aren’t needed much as most of the time I’m typing with my eyes closed, and when their open, the screen is blurry.)

An interesting thing I noticed, though, as we drove back to my place. Things that were close to me were now in sharp focus. In other words my reading vision was fantastic. It was just distant things which were still blobs. (I’m told my vision will remain blurry until the end of the week.) Still, having this small victory was enough to excite me!

That first day progressed fine…lounged around, took a long nap, even read some of THE FOURTH WATCHER by Tim Hallinan. Then at around 7:30 that evening, minutes before my girlfriend was to pick me up because we were going to go look at a few potential places she was thinking of buying, the contact in my left eye popped out. Crap.

If I remembered the instructions I’d been given, I was to not worry too much about it and throw it away. So I did, then got in the car to go. The next two hours were two of the most uncomfortable of my life. My left eye felt like it had twenty eyelashes under the lid scratching and cutting my iris. I put as much lubricant as possible in there, but it still went on. I was a bit of an idiot because I’d been given some numbing drops that would have helped a hell of a lot (and did later), but had left them at home. Still I soldiered on, opening my eyes up long enough to get a quick view of the properties, then retreating into a fetal position as we drove to the next place. My poor girlfriend, all she wanted to do was drive me home. She even thought I should probably call the clinic. But NO…me macho man…me say it’s no problem. Me say, since we are in the area already, let’s continue to look. Me a big, stupid idiot.

That night dosed my eye with the numbing drops and took one of the sleeping pills the clinic had provided, knowing I had a follow up visit the next day so could get the situation solved then.

But first, boys and girls, before my appointment at the eye clinic on Tuesday, I had an appointment to get my teeth cleaned at my dentist in the morning. So imagine me sitting back in the dentist chair, my left eye liberally coated with numbing drops and both eyes covered by sunglasses, AND the dental hygienist leaning over me and digging around my gums. My girlfriend says I have a high tolerance for pain, but come on, this was ridiculous!

Any way, 1 p.m. finally rolls around and I’m back in the eye clinic. “So how are you doing?” the clinical tech asks. “Well, my left contact fell out last night.” “Last night? Did you call our office?” Ugh…no, I was too manly, man to call. “Ah, no. I didn’t.” “Come on back, we’ll get you fixed up.”

Ten minutes later, a new contact in place, it was like I was a new man again. Today is even better. Though, as I’ve mentioned the light sensitivity is still there, but if I gradually brighten things, I can usually go outside after a while.

What’s any of this got to do with writing? Like the laser that reshapes an eye that works but could be better, a great editor does the same for a manuscript. Because no matter who we are, there are just some changes we can’t see without help.

HA! See, tied that one in nicely.

So let’s hear your medical stories…but nothing too gross, I prefer the funny ones that have a happier ending. So if you die in your story, please save it for someplace else.

OH…and because I can barely read the screen because of the brightness…there are probably even more typos than my usual post. I ask your forgiveness.

HEY…If you’re interested in taken a look at the cover to my new book (out next July)…click here


Today’s song: I CAN SEE CLEARLY NOW by Johnny Nash