Category Archives: Brett Battles

It’s a Beautiful Day

By Brett Battles

Last year at about this time, it took everything I had not to stand up and continually pace around the room. It wasn’t so much a smile I was wearing on my face, than the beginnings of a giddy grin. It was less than 7 days until my debut novel would hit the bookstores.

Last year, I didn’t know what to expect. I mean, I’d been planning this day since sixth grade. For God’s sake, part of me expected to I’d wake up on my pub date to the sound of trumpets proclaiming my arrival to reading world! At the very least there would be rose pedals scattered at the foot of my bed. Okay. None of that happened, but it didn’t keep me from floating through the day. What I did find was that just because it was my pub date, didn’t mean all the bookstore had unpacked my novel and put them on the shelves. In fact, I went to one to do a drop in signing that was arranged by my publisher on the Saturday after the release, and the books were still packed in back. I also learned that a book release is not a day, but a process that goes for weeks and hopefully months. While the day itself is special, it’s just the beginning. But I do have to say, all in all, it was a marvelous first week.

And now it’s that time again. This being Thursday, and if we count it, there are 5 days until my next novel, THE DECEIVED, is released. Not only that, Tuesday the 24th is a double day for me: hardcover of THE DECEIVED and the mass paperback of THE CLEANER coming out together. It’s enough to make me dizzy…no, wait, that’s the vertigo that set in a few weeks ago from too much time in the sun. (Seriously, it’s annoying.) But no matter. You get the picture. I’m giddy again.

This time, I think I know what to expect. I know the ramp up. I know it’s not just a day. I’ve been doing what I can on the PR front (some of you probably have already received my newsletter…if not and you don’t want to miss the next one sign up here). I’ve been emailing fans and friends to help spread the word. Hell, I even finished book 3 a few weeks ago so that I could concentrate on the release. (Okay…I finished it because it was due, but still…) Not only that, but I think I’ve figured out the plot for the fourth book in the Quinn series just the other night.

Getting a lot of great reviews already, PW and several blogs. Received news that Japan has picked up the rights for both THE CLEANER and THE DECEIVED. That Russia has picked up THE DECEIVED to go with THE CLEANER they purchased last year. Got my box of books from my publisher, and a box of the UK hard covers that also look amazing.

And here I am again, with that little smile on my face. But is it the same as last year? No, of course not. Nothing is the same as your debut release. But it is damn good. And damn scary. All the hopes and the fears are there again. This is what we live with as writers. Right now I’m approaching one of the great times, but it will be immediately followed by that time when I wonder if I’m doing enough. Tess had often talked about the worries writers have on her personal blog. And she was right. They are all there, all the time.

But right now? This is the good moment. And to tell you the truth, when Tuesday morning comes, I know I won’t be able to help turning my head a little when I wake up, straining to catch a hint of trumpets on the air. And, damn it, I may even go out and buy my own rose pedals this year.

________________________

If you’re in the L.A. area this Saturday at 5:00 p.m., come by the Mystery Bookstore in Westwood (1036 Broxton Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90024). We’re having my launch party and everyone is welcome. Champagne and snacks! (And Naomi…you’d better be there! Rob’s coming down and he lives a lot farther away than you do. I’m just saying…)

Life is a Highway

Though I do write a lot at home, much of the time I prefer to be out in public. Give me a crowded coffee shop and a table and I’m happy. Put that table near an outlet and you might have to get a court order to get me out.

I grab my cup of non-fat hot chocolate (yeah, I know…I’m deluding myself), fire up the iPod and laptop, and get writing. Somehow I get lost in the crowd. Everything around me disappears for a while.

There are times, though, when I hit a point where I need to reflect for a second, or even take a quick break. This is when my perch at the coffee shop becomes even more interesting…time for a little people watching.

There’s a table at this coffee shop I frequent (okay, it’s a Starbucks) where I’ve seen all sorts of things happen: people on a first date, people breaking up, odd sounding business proposals, an art student working on his portfolio, a couple going over the terms of their divorce, old friends talking about nothing. All this at the very same table.

But my favorite place for people watching is in Hollywood only about a 10 minute drive away. Yeah, it’s another Starbucks, but it is well positioned for the weird and wacky. It’s located at the corner of La Brea Avenue. and Sunset Boulevard. For those not from around L.A., that’s about two blocks south of Hollywood Boulevard. and maybe a ¼ mile from the Kodak theater where they hold the Academy Awards these days.

A window seat will get you ringside to Sunset Boulevard. It’s crazy. You’ll see street kids, families, working girls, police officers, regular L.A. types, wide-eyed tourists, women who didn’t start life as women, and backpacking Europeans. There are women and men dressed up for a night of clubbing, there are people who look like they’ve just rolled out of bed, and then there are the ones who dress weird.

A bus once pulled up and dropped off a load of sailors. Several ended up in Starbucks watching the weirdness outside. I overheard that they had just come in on a ship and this was their hour in Hollywood. The Chinese theater was only two blocks away on Hollywood Boulevard, but by then it was too late for them to walk up and check it out.

I once saw Death crossing La Brea. He was wearing a black robe and carrying a scythe. He didn’t seem to be too interested in anyone, so I guess that was good.

Sometimes they even come inside the coffee shop, too…well, Death didn’t. Guess he wasn’t thirsty.

I always get back to writing, though. But I love those visual interludes, love the spying on life. For me, it’s my ideal writing environment.

So what about you? What’s your ideal situation?

I Don’t Sleep, I Dream

Deadline: June 2nd.
Today: May 22nd
Days left: 11
Useable days left: 7
Chances I’ll make it: 50-50

I’m typing as fast as I can. Not done….

…but close.

So you’ll excuse me if I post something some of you may have read before.

Before THE CLEANER came out, I sat down one night and wrote a short piece. It’s sort of about how my main character – Jonathan Quinn – was conceived.

So, here it is…a conversation with Jonathan Quinn.

__________

“I make things disappear,” Jonathan Quinn said.

I think we’d known each other about six months at that point. We’d met in Germany when I was working there on a project for a visitor center presentation that would live at a new Volkswagen plant in Dresden. The job itself wasn’t in Dresden, though. It was in Berlin, a town Quinn knows well.

I thought at the time he was just another American businessman working overseas. I think I first met him on the U-bahn train heading across town from the Mitte toward Ku’damm. I’m not 100% on that, though. The genesis of a character is often a drawn out process, and my memory of Quinn’s birth is murky.

By the time this particular conversation happened, we were both back in Los Angeles, where, it turns out, we both live. Quinn much more comfortably than I do.

“What does that mean?” I asked.

As he took a sip of his beer, I thought maybe he was just going to leave it at that. After all, this was the most I’d ever got out of him about what he did for a living. But then he said, “Sometimes things don’t go as planned. When that happens I’m the one who makes it all look pretty again.”

“Tell me about Berlin,” I said. I had sensed from the beginning that something had happened there, something I wanted to know about.

“Nothing to tell.” He didn’t even try to hide the fact that he was lying.

That’s about as far as I got that night. What exactly the ‘things’ were that didn’t go as planned, I wasn’t completely sure, but I did have my ideas.

I could have just let him die right then. He was forcing me to work pretty hard to get to know him. I’d dismissed more talkative characters sooner than this. But there was something about him, something that made me want to know more. He was interesting and mysterious. And I’d be damned if there wasn’t something that had happened in Berlin I wanted to hear about.

A week later as we rode in my car, I said, “You’re not killing people, but you do deal with the dead, right?”

“You’re talking in black and whites. You, as much as anyone, know the world is made up of grays.”

This answer stung me a little bit. He was right. One of my biggest pet peeves is people who only think in black and white, yet here I was trying to put him in a neat little black and white box.

“Let’s just say I don’t kill if I don’t have to,” he went on. “But you’re right about dealing with the dead. It’s a big part of what I do.”

“You dispose of them?”

“Exactly.” He smiled as if I was a student and he was a proud teacher. “Disposal is one of the services I provide.”

“How does that work?”

“That I’m not going to tell you.”

“But you will eventually.”

“Eventually.”

“These other things you do, what are they?”

He looked out the window into the L.A. night. “I think that was your exit,” he said.

He was right.

I moved over to the right lane, so I could get off at the next ramp and double back.

“Just getting rid of a body isn’t enough. You’ve got to make it look like whatever went wrong never happened. Blood, fingerprints, spent shells, things out of place. These are all problems I have to deal with.”

“I can’t imagine you went to school for this. How did you get in and learn about the business?”

“I was recruited.”

“Out of college?”

He shook his head. “I was a cop.”

For some reason, that surprised me. “Who recruited you?”

“Doesn’t matter. He’s dead now.”

“Did he teach you a lot?”

“Everything.”

As I eased my car off the freeway, I decided to press my luck. “And Berlin?”

I was greeted with only silence. When I looked over at the passenger seat, Quinn was gone.

As time passed, bits of his story started coming to me. Not from anything Quinn said, but somehow I was sensing it, I guess. Even when he wasn’t around, I’d pick up on things. I would be at work or getting into bed or even watching TV and a name or a place or a situation would pop into my mind. Immediately I’d know it was part of Quinn’s story. Still, the problem was I had a lot of parts, but I didn’t have the whole.

The only way I was going to get that was to have Quinn tell it to me himself.

“Tell me about Orlando,” I said one morning.

“Leave her out of it.”

“Then let’s talk about Berlin.”

“Let’s not.”

The next day: “Is she a friend?”

“You don’t listen very well, do you?”

“No.”

“She’s a friend.” I could tell he was holding something back.

“Was she with you in Berlin?”

If she was, he didn’t hang around to tell me.

Each day I kept pressing, harder and harder, using the bit of information that had seeped into my mind.

“What did you learn about the fire in Colorado?” I would ask. “How long did you work for Peter?” “Why do you hate the cold?”

And finally, “Tell me what happened in Berlin.”

Finally one afternoon, he looked at me for a good long time before answering. “Okay,” he said. “If you think you’re ready.”

“I’m ready.”

“You’d better write this down.”

So I did.

Interested in winning an ARC of THE DECEIVED? I’m running a sweepstakes on my blog.

Click Here for more details

Information Overload

The greatest tool we as writers have in the early 21st Century for researching is the internet. By no means can it give us everything, but it certainly can get us going in the right direction. Before I go on a research trip, I spend several hours or even days looking up information on my destination so that when I arrive, I’m already ahead of the game and can concentrate on things that are more sense base (smell, touch, sound, taste).

I don’t know about you, but I have a ton of reliable bookmarks I use to help me in this research. So today I thought we’d do a little swap meet of sorts. Below are links to some of my favorite mainstream and offbeat web sources. Feel free to bookmark them for yourself if you don’t have them already. Then when you’re done add your own links in the comments that you think others would find useful.

So here we go!

BUSINESS/FINANCE
Yahoo Currency Converter

DICTIONARIES/WORD REFERNCE SITES
Webster’s Dicitonary and Thesaurus

Dictionary.com

Thesaurus.com

etymonline.com Online Etymology Dictionary.

Glossary of Architectural Terms

GENERAL
Wikipedia Always a great place to start any search. But make sure you get back up information, some of the entries are iffy at best.

BabelFish For your quick translation needs. Again, use a real native speaker for any actual translations you’ll put into your story!

AcronymFinder.com Unsure what that odd acronym means? No problem…just enter the letters and hit Find.

IMDB.com Need to know about the career of a particular movie star? Interesting in the credits to that movie you loved? This is the site used by the pros.

WebMD.com Look up that disease you want to give to your bad guy.

GEOGRAPHICAL/INTERNATIONAL
Airport Routing International Find out what airports are located where, their IATA codes, elevation, runway lengths, latitude and longitude.

International Telephone Country Codes

Weather.com

WHO – World Health Organization

The Lonely Planet Guides

GOVERNMENT RELATED
IntelligenceSearch.com Links to tons of international intelligence agencies.

FBI Guide for Writers

MEASUREMENTS

TimeAndDate.com – great source for everything time and…well…date related. World clocks, calendars for any year, moon calendars, daylight savings time dates, etc.

EH…MORBID?
FindAGrave.com Just like it says…looking for a grave? Find it here.

Obituary Central

MUSIC
KissThisGuy.com A catelog of misheard song lyrics. Fun stuff.

All Time Greatest Hits From 1944 up to the present day – just the facts, the top 20 lists.

NAMES
Fantasy Name Generator

Fake Name Generator

Company Name Generator

Your turn now. Share some of your favorites!

Celebrate!

For all those of you in the Los Angeles area this weekend, you don’t want to miss THE event for book lovers. It’s time again for the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books on the UCLA campus.

This is a huge event, drawing around 140,000 visitors over two days. All the panels are free (but seating is limited so you need a ticket or take your chances in the standby lines), and there are tons of booths specializing in all sorts of book related things.

And signings…did I mention that yet? Signings all day, all over the place. To plug a little, Rob Browne and I will be signing at the Mystery Bookstore booth on Sunday at 2 p.m. with good guy, and great writer Steven Hockensmith. Murderati alum Naomi Hirahara signs there on Saturday at 10 a.m. (go here for a full listing of authors signing at the Mystery Bookstore booth on Saturday and here for Sunday)

And that’s just one of hundreds of booths, many of which have their own signing schedules.

You can find more about the festival here.

But my favorite part of the festival actually takes place Friday night before even one booth opens. And that’s the Mystery Bookstores’ “Pre-festival of Books Party” right in their store only a few blocks from UCLA. It was packed last year with fans and dozens of authors. Looks to be even better this year. If you’re in the area, I highly suggest you try to make it.Info here.

A couple of years ago Naomi Hirahara wrote three post about the festival that are just as relevant today, so instead of rehashing the same stuff myself (and because I’m barreling toward a June 1st deadline on a book that’s not done), I’ll link them here:

An Angeleno’s Ultimate Literary Workout: LAT Festival of Books Part I

An Angeleno’s Ultimate Literary Workout: LAT Festival of Books Part II

Get Off The Bus

Hope to see some of you there!

Faraway, So Close

As inevitably happens every time, I’m in the final push to finish my next novel and I’m questioning the ending I had in mind.

DAMN IT! Why does this always happen?

Granted, it’s actually a good thing. It makes me really take a hard look at my story and focuses me on creating the best ending possible. But for God’s sakes, it’s annoying.

I know the cause. It’s very obvious. Planning, plan and simple. See, I’m not one of those outliners. I’m a – mostly – fly-by-my-pants writer. I have a beginning in mind, and a pretty good idea of where I want to end up. But everything in between is a mystery. I like it that way. I like the journey of finding out what’s next. Does it mean I sometimes have to backtrack? Sure. But that’s fun to me.

The only time it gets to be a problem is when I approach the end, and realizes the story I’ve written doesn’t match up quite right with the climax I had in mind. And, as I wrote above, I’m at that point right now on book 3.

I really like the story I have to this point. I’ve done a few things differently than I have in the first two Quinn books without sacrificing the Quinn type elements. But now I have to find a way to cap it, to finish it off. I’m on page 375 (times roman, 12 pt), and I usually net out at around 425. But if I continue on, I already know it’s not going to be the best it can be.

I do have a solution to this problem. Something I’ve employed in the past, and will undoubtedly employ again in the future. This week I’ve started my rewriting process. I’ve gone back to the beginning, and I’m tweaking and changing and adding, so that when I reach page 375 again I’ll have a head of steam and a solid idea of how to wrap things up.

It’s just…well…annoying.

Not that I don’t enjoy rewriting. I actually thrive on it. I was just hoping to hit page 425 or thereabouts before I began the process. But I should have known. It’s the same thing that happened to me on THE DECEIVED. It’s the same thing that happened to me on THE CLEANER. And, most likely, the same thing that will happen to me on my next book.

It’s my MO. My character flaw (well, one of many).

I should just embrace it and look forward to the moment I hit that point.

But until I do, I’ll stick with being annoyed.

To outline or not to outline has been talked to death all over the Internet(s). So this is what I want to know: what annoys you about your own writing process?

BONUS INFO: THE CLEANER has been in the top 10 on the Booksellers’ Heatseekers list in the UK for the last three weeks! This, as I understand it, shows the sales ranking of authors who have not appeared in the Top 50 chart since January 1998 (i.e. before the Bookscan figures started.) Thanks to all in the UK who’ve picked up a copy!

One Of These Things First

It’s spring break…or at least it still is in some places. When I was a kid, spring break meant more time to play with my friends, and just as importantly more time to read. So in that spirit, let’s talk reading. (Quick note…be sure to check at the bottom for a message about my March sweepstakes.)

My current reading status?

Just finished: DUMA KEY by Stephen King (loved it!)

Reading: FLESHMARKET ALLEY by Ian Rankin (great so far)

Up next:

LISEY’S STORY – Stephen King
or
GOOD LIAR – Laura Caldwell
or
THE BOOK OF LOST THINGS – John Connolly
or
A THOUSAND SPLENDED SUNS – Khaled Hosseini
or
AT THE CITY’S EDGE – Marcus Sakey
or
THE HARMONY SILK FACTORY – Tash Aw
or
THE VAMPIRE OF VENICE BEACH – Jennifer Colt
or
OUT – Natsuo Kirino
or
HEART SHAPED BOX – Joe Hill
or
….you get the picture

How did my to be read pile get so big? I mean I must have over sixty books in the case next to my bed, or piled in front of it, waiting for me to pick up and read! It’s crazy.

Part of the problem is that I don’t have as much time to read as I used to. Being on deadline, and that little thing called a day job, kind of sucks all the spare time out of me. I do try to sneak in a few pages now and then. And there are actually times I can even devote an hour or two every couple of weeks. But I used to read at least a book a week. Now I’m lucky to get one done in a month – six weeks is more my norm.

There’s another problem, too. While I do have all these great books waiting for me, new books are coming out all the time. So I’m constantly buying new books and adding them to the stack. And I should note, I can’t remember the last time I left a bookstore having bought just one book.

In a way, having so many unread books waiting is a good thing. There’s always something I’ll want to read when I’m ready for the next one. But how do I choose it? It’s a mood thing, I think. When I finish a book and am ready to start a new one, I’ll search through all those waiting for attention knowing that one will jump out at me. There are books I’ve ignored for months or maybe even a year that will suddenly be exactly the one I need to read right now.

And yet the pile persists. I’m hoping that someday I’ll be able to knock it down to size, maybe blitz through a couple dozen books when I’m between writing my own. But there is a part of me who knows that stack will always be there. Perhaps not occupied by the current group of novels, but a new crop that will take their place and probably even grow.

I know we all have TBR piles. So today, for fun, tell me what you’ve most recently finished, what you’re reading now, and what you think is up next (or you can do a list of potentials like I did.)

—–

Interested in winning an advanced copy of my next novel THE DECEIVED? Well, if it’s still Thursday March 27th, and it’s before 6 p.m. Pacific Time, you have a still have a chance! Details HERE.

If it’s past the deadline, don’t worry. They’ll be another chance to win in April.

It Only Happens Once

Brett Battles

The stench of rotting food and diesel fuel hung over the dock like it had been there forever. Even inside the small warehouse, the foulness overpowered everything. That was until the man in the light gray coveralls opened the door of the shipping container.

Suddenly death was all Jonathan Quinn could smell.

Unflinching, he scanned the interior of the container. With the exception of a bloated body crumpled against the wall to the right, it was empty.

“Shut the door,” Quinn said.

“But Mr. Albina wanted you to see what was–”

“I’ve seen it. Shut the door.”

That’s the first 100 words – actually 96 – of my next novel THE DECEIVED. I’ve posted it here because Rob Browne and I have been involved with a fun project over at Backspace concerning the first 100 words of a manuscript.

Many of you are probably familiar with Backspace, but for those who aren’t it’s a great resource for both the aspiring author and the published. Headed up by the wonderful Karen Dionne, it has articles and columns and workshops and a fantastic discussion board where members can share their experiences and their writing. From the website:

Backspace is predicated on the idea of writers helping writers, which we accomplish by means of discussion forums, an online guest speaker program in which agents, acquisitions editors, and best-selling authors regularly conduct question and answer sessions with the group, advice and how-to articles from publishing experts on this website, as well as our real-world conferences and events.

Wish I’d known about the site earlier, though I’m not sure it was around when I was still hunting for that first sale. Still, what a great resource.

Anyway, I was talking about the project Rob and I are doing over there. We’ve had a section in the discussion area where we answer questions the other members have about writing and publishing. Recently we’ve added a sub discussion group called the FIRST 100. There, like I did above, members post the first 100 words of their novels for feedback. Rob or I will chime in on each one, as do some others members, which is great.

I love seeing the diversity of talent out there.

Some of the entries are great the way they are, some just need a little tweak to reach that goal of grabbing the reader right away.

Because that’s what the first 100 words of a novel are all about. Grabbing the reader. I think this is true no matter which genre you write. Readers pick up books off the shelves (after, no doubt, being wow’d by a cover the author has no control over), then they most often flip to the first page and begin reading. If the author doesn’t grab them in that first paragraph, 99% of the time the book goes back on the shelf. The other 1% of the time the reader is related to the author.

One of the biggest issues Rob and I are seeing is people trying to cram too much information into those first 100 words. Explaining who’s who, what’s what. But the reader doesn’t need to know all that right up front. There’s a certain amount of time they will grant the author to just carry them along without giving away the farm. Again, I think that’s a genre neutral rule. The cool thing is, once we point this out, almost universally the response is positive.

Another interesting issue that’s created a bit of a debate is the use of present tense. Out of the 50+ submissions we’ve reviewed so far, somewhere between 5 to 10 of them were writing in present tense. I’m not a big fan of using present tense, though am not completely opposed to it. Some of the best books I’ve read in the past couple of years have been present tense (the Bangkok books by John Burdett, and The Archivist Story by Travis Holland). Rob can chime in with his opinion, but to suffice it to say his is a little stronger than mine.

I think what surprised me the most about the use of the present tense is that so many were using it. I think if a story needs to be told that way then fine, but I find it curious that people who are still unpublished would still choose to use it, and here’s why…Unless I’m missing something, so few books are published this way. And because publishers aren’t as interested in these kind of books, my sense is agents won’t be either. So the question I’ve posed to many of theses writers is why hinder your chances of making your first sale by writing in a method many publishing professionals will dismiss after the first sentence? Again, if they felt strongly that this is the only way their story could be written, so be it. But they need to know going in that that uphill climb just turned into Mt. Everest with limited supplies.

So I’m curious…what do you think about using present tense by someone trying to sell their first novel? Maybe I’m wrong. Also feel free to pass along any other hints on the first 100 words you might have. I’ll post them over at our discussion group and credit you. Trust me, it will be appreciated!

Walking in L.A.

There’s a lost art out here in the west. It’s still alive in many other areas of the country (and world for that matter) but here in California, more specifically Los Angeles, it’s a rare thing. What am I talking about?

Walking.

I love to walk. I’ve been a walker since I was a little kid. My parents tell me that my paternal grandfather used to love when we would come for a visit because he knew he could go on long walks with me around the neighborhood near their snowbird home in Yuma, Arizona. My grandfather was a farmer from northern Minnesota, so I’m sure walking wasn’t just a hobby with him, but something he did every day when he was actively working the fields.

Me, I have no excuse. Like I said, I started young, so no profession could account for my preference to walk than to drive. I just always loved to do it. And unlike most other kids that didn’t mind walking, I’ve never grown out of the phase.

How does this related to writing? In two ways, actually.

The first speaks directly to the desire to succeed at my craft. And by succeed, I mean become published. I’ve written before about my dedication to specific hours to write. Part of what made that possible was the fact that I purposely chose places to live that were close enough for me to walk to my day job. Now, for someone who loves to walk, that could have meant somewhere within a half hour to forty-five minute walking radius, but to achieve maximum writing time, minimum stress transit time, and not arriving at work in need of a shower, my first place was about fifteen minutes from my office. Later I moved even closer…now it’s ten minutes from living room to office desk.

What’s so big about that? You’re probably thinking. You can understand the living close to work to give you more time to write, and eliminating the mind-numbing chaos that is L.A. traffic. Why wouldn’t someone do that walk?

See, you have to know something about the L.A. culture. I had friends at work that lived even closer to the office than I did, and they DROVE EVERY DAY. Crazy, I know…irresponsible even…don’t think I didn’t bring that up to them, multiple times.

But that sad statement on L.A. society aside, walking gave me the time to write the book that finally got published.

The second way walking helps my writing is that it’s a great way to think about things. I’ll often go on a long walk as I try to work out some problem. I’m strolling the streets of the city, often the only one on the sidewalk, and working out the best way to throw Quinn deeper into whatever his latest mess is. I love doing that. Thought, admittedly, I often get distracted by the things I see around me. Billboards or items in store windows or people in cars will send me thinking about something else entirely. Suddenly ten minutes will pass and I’ll realize I hadn’t been thinking about my manuscript at all. That’s the price you pay, I guess. I still love it.

Often on these walks, whether it be to the day job, to work out a story point, or to the store, I’ll see something or think of something that triggers an idea for a new story. Some times so many ideas that I can’t remember them when I get home. (I know, I know. I should carry a notebook with me. Never can seem to remember to do that.)

I have a daydream of walking up the coast of California. Just lacing up the boots, throwing some water and snacks in a small backpack, and just going. Sure, it would be crazy. I’d need a little more planning than that. But who knows? Maybe someday I’ll wake up and say to myself, “Why not?” Then I’ll head out the door and see how far I can get. I’ll bet I could write a whole novel on a trip like that.

Again, the trick will be remembering it.

What do you do to kick start your ideas? (And Rob, I don’t want to hear any more stories about long showers or car drives…) And more importantly…walker, driver or passenger?

A COUPLE OF NOTES:

1. If you are still reading this on the last Thursday in February, and it’s not passed 6 p.m. Pacific Time, you still have a chance to enter my sweepstakes for an advance copy of my next novel THE DECEIVED. Info Here.
2. THE CLEANER gets its UK & Ireland release next Thursday March 6th. It’s a mass paperback so perfect for carrying around and reading when you have a moment or two of downtime!

Brett

Up The Hill Backwards

I want to talk about a dirty little word a lot of writers don’t discuss in public too often. That word? Work.

I don’t mean the writing. I mean the day job. Like it or not, there are a lot of us published novelist out there that still have a day job. We yearn for the day we can ditch it, and just concentrate on the words that float through our minds and come on as stories on the screens in front of us. For a lot of writer, I dare say a majority, that day probably will never come. That’s just the reality. But even knowing that reality, we all still have the dream, the hope. You’ll notice I didn’t write “For a lot of us.” I’m holding onto the hope, and refuse to believe it won’t happen.

But I’m also very aware that without the day job, I ain’t got a roof over my head, or food on my table, or clothes on my back. So I go in every day and try to do my best.

My guess is, other writers do the same. But in public we don’t talk about the day job a lot. We prefer the illusion that we are writers, and writers only. Sure a few of us discuss it. Dusty’s a lawyer, and until tomorrow Duane Swiercynski’s still the editor at the City Paper in Philly. (A HUGE congrats to Duane for making the leap to full time writer!) But most of us keep that part of our lives is better kept to ourselves.

It’s Duane’s decision to devote himself full time to writing that got me thinking about this. I think I read somewhere that he said he wanted to focus on writing. And that’s exactly the point. With the fulltime job – which, don’t get me wrong, I’m very thankful for and we all need at some point – it is so difficult to focus.

There it is again. Focus.

I work in Hollywood. Or, to be more specific, not really Hollywood but a couple miles to the south. The company I work for is located in the middle of the Miracle Mile very near the La Brea Tar Pits. You know, the place where they dig up the mammoth and saber tooth tiger bones? If I press my face against my office window and look to the right, I can actually see the tar pits.

My job? I’m an executive producer at E! Entertainment Television specializing in on air graphics. I know…what does that have to do with writing? I mean, I’m in Hollywood after all, shouldn’t I have a job that takes advantage of my writing skills? My answer to that is no. I purposely got involved in a part of the industry that didn’t require me to write to much. I was afraid of burning out during the day and being unable to write at night. I achieved that, but there are other draw backs as you’ll see in a moment.

But my job does sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? There are many people in my line of work who would love to have my position. I know that. I know I’m lucky.

But a couple things you need to know about a job like mine. Mainly it’s effect on my focus as a writer. During the day I’m pulled in a million different directions, I have projects that come in and need to be done in an hour, and projects that will take several weeks all happening at the same time. It’s not untypical for me to be supervising 15 to 20 projects at one time. If I call in sick, or take a day off, I get phone calls. If I go to a writing conference I get phone calls. That’s a lot of work and a lot of stress and many times very brain tiring. In other words, a great destroyer of focus.

I’ve written else where – maybe even here – that my routine is to get up at 5 am and start writing by 6. What I didn’t say is that I have to stop by 8 and go to work for 10 hours. And even if I have the energy to write in the evenings, my focus is often lacking. My brain is numb. I’ll force myself sometimes, sure, but my productivity is about half that of what it is in the mornings. So basically I have to squeeze a novel out of two-hour sessions during the week, and a few extra on the weekends.

It’s hard to keep the narrative flow when the task is cut up in this way. It’s hard to pick up 22 hours later in the middle of a chase scene or an argument or even a flashback. But I prefer doing any one of those to starting a new chapter. If I’m at a chapter break I’ll try to write a few paragraphs to get things going. That way when I sit down at my laptop the next morning, I’ll at least have some sense of where I am.

In the end it all comes together. That’s what the rewrite is all about. I’m able to smooth things out and make everything work, thank God.

My friend likens me to one of those Chinese acrobats that keep the plates spinning. And it’s probably an apt description about all aspects of my life. The trick is to keep them from falling. They’ve gotten close sometimes, but so far I’ve been able to keep them going.

I’m not complaining. Not at all. The job thing is just the reality of being an author that many people don’t talk about, and I probably won’t talk much about again, either. But it was on my mind, because of my happiness for Duane, and yes a tinge of friendly jealousy.

And a hope…that someday, hopefully sooner than later, I’ll be able to do what he did. The day I’ll be able to focus only on my writing. Until then, I’ll chant the author mantra, “I will get there. I will get there. I will get there.”

I will.

I don’t want anyone to fess up their jobs, but how about a count of hands of people who know what I mean…

BONUS: I’m running a sweepstakes on my personal blog for an advance copy of THE DECEIVED. Details here.

Happy Valentine’s Day to everyone. Be safe out there!