Category Archives: Robert Gregory Browne

Random Chatter

by Rob Gregory Browne

Okay.  I got so caught up in getting the taxes ready, then my wife and I went through the lost-box-of-checks disaster Monday night, and Murderati completely slipped my mind.

The good news — for me at least — is that I had to pay enough taxes to make me feel like a real writer.  The bad news is that the Random Chatter banner above means I have nothing prepared for this week’s entry, so I’ll just throw a bunch of stuff out there and hope something sticks.

And my apologies to my fellow Murderati bloggers if I duplicate anything you’ve posted about lately.


Marshal Zeringue is always doing interesting experiments with blogs and websites.  Over the last couple of years he has been doing The Page 69 Test, which I participated in last year.  The idea is for authors to post page 69 of their book and give a little back story on it.

Now Marshal has My Book, The Movie, which invites authors to come up with a dream cast for the movie version of their books.  It’s actually a pretty great idea, especially for promotion, and I whole-heartedly agreed to participate.

The problem is, I have no idea who should play the lead in my book.  I love movies and can think of a lot of great actors out there who would do the part justice, but somehow NONE of them really seem to work for me.  Or maybe ALL of them do.

So while I struggle to come up with my own cast, I invite you to cast your book in the comments section —  although I don’t want to step on Marshal’s toes, so if you have any plans of posting on his blog, don’t spoil it here.


Yesterday, I was looking into radio ads and discovered that I could hit 20 cities on a fairly popular radio talk show for about $600 for a week.  I’d get one 30 second spot per show, with a few extras thrown in.

Coming up with an audio spot would be no problem, since I have a background in production.  And since the paperback of KISS HER GOODBYE is coming out this month (shameless plug: April 29), I thought it might be a good idea to run one the first week of May.

The question however is this:  do radio spots work?  I’ve spoken to some who think they don’t unless you’re James Patterson or Michael Connelly.  What do you guys think?


Not the flesh and blood kind.  The new baby is WHISPER IN THE DARK, which is being released next month by Macmillan in the UK (the US version comes out in January 2009).
Anyway, a nice hardcover and trade version arrived in the mail yesterday and I have to say it’s a wonderful thing.  A beautiful baby. 

So I thought I’d show it off here. 

I’ve been doing this for over two years now, but when I open the package and see that wonderful thing with my name on it, I have to say the thrill is as big as it ever was.  I’ve achieved the dream.  And I’m living proof that it’s never too late to try.

But as I said, this is the UK version.  The U.S. cover will be completely different in color and style, but just as beautiful (I’ve seen it and love it, too!) — and I’ll, of course, be anxious to show it off when the time comes…

I’m rambling.  I will leave you now with promises for something much better next time.

A Cold Dark Place – Gregg Olsen

by Robert Gregory Browne

Ahhh.  Second novels.  What lovely thing.  This week we’re doing something a little different here in Murderati land.  My friend and fellow Killer Year crew member, Gregg Olsen, celebrates the release of his second novel, A COLD DARK PLACE.  Taking place in the Pacific Northwest, A COLD DARK PLACE focuses
on cop Emily Kenyon, a single mother whose teenage daughter, Jenna,
becomes entangled in her current investigation. A family is murdered
and the teenage son disappears. Jenna knows the boy and wants to help
him. Emily finds herself investigating a murder and struggling to keep
her daughter safe from a killer.Colddarkplace

To help Gregg celebrate, I’m taking part in what he’s calling a "progressive" interview.  Many of you have linked here from Karen Olson’s post over at First Offenders and once Gregg is done answering my question, I’ll be sending you over to another site for another question. Make sense? 

Here’s my question to Gregg:

I love the title, A COLD DARK PLACE, which strikes me as a state of mind more than anything else.  I think everyone has a cold, dark place.  What’s yours?

"I’ve never been diagnosed, but I’m sure my family would say there’s a touch of the oh-so-chic bi-polar lurking somewhere inside my psyche. I think that’s true of so many writers, artists, and Wal-Mart greeters, don’t you? I wonder how many other writers out there share my feeling of hope, then despair, over and over on a loop that drives everyone around you just a little crazy, too?

Most of the things that see-saw my state of mind deal with elements beyond my control and most of them, oddly, deal with the business of publishing. How many books were printed? Shipped? Was there any promotion? How much? Being a success in terms of sales has more to do with those furthest from the creative endeavor. That drives me UP AND DOWN. What about you?"

Thanks, Gregg.  My own cold, dark place is actually reflected in the recurring theme throughout my work, which is the fear of losing a loved one, particularly my children.  I think every parent has that fear, but I feel it pretty deeply sometimes, so deep, apparently, that I feel the need to write about it a lot.

Now, before you shoot over to  Laura James’s blog, why don’t you in the peanut gallery tell me what YOUR cold, dark place is?


Up the Down Elevator

by Robert Gregory Browne

Whenever somebody asks me what one of my books is about, I find myself having a pretty tough time coming up with a concise answer to the question.  Usually, I mumble and stammer as I try to plow my way through a short synopsis of the story and the reaction is often glazed eyes.

There’s something that just seems WRONG about having to boil your story down to a few sentences. 

A couple years back, when I was gearing up to do a panel at Bouchercon, I knew I’d have to come up with a quick pitch for my book, KISS HER GOODBYE, so I struggled for awhile and finally went with this:

"It’s about an ATF agent whose daughter is kidnapped and buried alive, and the very unusual lengths he has to go to in order to save her."

Like I said.  Glazed eyes.   

I had an even tougher time with my next book, WHISPER IN THE DARK (coming out on May 2 in the UK!):  "A young psychiatrist agrees to examine a patient believed to be a witness to a savage killing, only to discover that she’s a dead ringer for his recently murdered wife."


The thing is, both of these stories are too complex to be summed up in a couple lines.  Especially WHISPER.  But I try.

When I was at Left Coast Crime a couple weeks ago — yes, Pari, I was there, but unofficially, so I mostly hung out in the bar — I took along my video camera to get a few elevator pitches from my fellow authors.

Here are a few.  And my apologies to those of you who are missing from this video.  I had some technical difficulties (screwed up sound) that forced me to exclude you. 

The Art of the Elevator Pitch from Robert Gregory Browne on Vimeo.

Now it’s everyone else’s turn.  Published or unpublished, give me your best elevator pitch for your latest book.

The Great Beyond

by Robert Gregory Browne

When I was fifteen years old, my uncle had a heart attack and died.

A few minutes later, a stubborn doctor brought him back to life.

When he was asked about those few minutes, my uncle refused to talk
about them. I sensed that whatever happened to him “out there” must
have scared the hell out of him.

This was the beginning of my fascination with the near-death experience.

NDE is not uncommon. Millions of people around the world claim to
have experienced it, most of them reporting the usual trappings we’ve
all heard about:

Out of body travel. Tunnel. Bright light. The presence of long-departed loved ones.

Many tie this to a religious experience, but these elements cross
all cultural and spiritual boundaries. Scientists have suggested that
what NDE survivors go through is merely a kind of death dream caused by
chemicals in the brain, but it seems odd to me that most survivors
dream pretty much the same thing.

It also seems odd that many of the survivors are able to report what
doctors and loved ones have said in the room – after they were
clinically dead.

Based on my uncle’s refusal to talk about his trip to the great
beyond, however, I’ve long had the feeling that the experience as
described is not universal. For some of us, there is a darker version
of the journey. A scarier version.

And that idea, of course, attracted me as a writer.

When I think of my book, KISS HER GOODBYE, which comes out in paperback next month, I look at it as
essentially a crime thriller. It’s the story of an ATF agent whose
daughter is kidnapped and buried alive, and the unusual lengths a
desperate father has to go to in order to save her.

All the elements of a crime thriller are there, but I also wanted to
give the reader a slightly different experience, one that allowed me to
explore some of the questions about near-death and the afterlife.

These are questions we all think about from time to time. What’s out
there? How will it affect me? Will it be painful? Exhilarating? Scary?

Most people are frightened by it. Call me weird, but I think of
Death as simply another step in the adventure, wherever it may lead.
And while I don’t look forward to any pain associated with dying, I do
think Death itself will be an amazing journey.

But that’s me.

I’m curious to know what you think. What’s waiting out there for you?

How Far is Too Far?

by Robert Gregory Browne

I read a lot of books. I read whole books and parts of books. I read
two and three books at a time. Walk around my house and you’re likely
to see a number of them cracked open and waiting for me to pick them up.

Recently I started a reading a new book, but suddenly had to quit.   I couldn’t go forward.  And I want to tell you why.

What follows is not meant to be a criticism of this particular book.
I haven’t read the whole thing, so how can I possibly criticize? I will
say this, however: the person who wrote it can write. I mean, REALLY

And while what he’s writing would likely be characterized as
melodrama, there is nothing melodramatic about his writing. There is a
certain minimalist grace to his prose that I wish I could manage.

I was immediately swept up by his style, his tone and his story.
And, judging by the critical attention the book has gotten, I’d say
that I’m one of the few who actually stopped reading.

But now to the why.

I don’t want to risk giving anything away, so I’ll be fairly vague
about the storyline. But let me boil it down to its essence — at least
what I know of the story.

It’s about a man who has an affair and how that affair causes his
life to take a sudden and devastating wrong turn. It all hums along at
a good clip, keeping the reader intrigued. They meet, they flirt, they
fall in lust… Then there is an incident about forty or so pages into
the book that is so awful, so invasive, so repellent that I simply had
to put it down.

I can’t describe that incident to you.  But let’s just say you wouldn’t wish it on your worst enemy.

And as I set the book down, telling myself that I didn’t think I’d
continue reading, I had to ask why? (Yes, I’m getting to it.)

Was it because the incident in question was too intense? Too
graphic? No, I don’t think so. I’m not particularly bothered by graphic
scenes and, frankly, as far as graphic goes, my own mind did most of
the work — a sign that I’m dealing with a very good writer.

But here’s the thing: no matter what happens in the rest of the
book, no matter how happy the ending might be, no matter who lives or
dies, who kisses and makes up, who is rescued from evil —

– it’s all too late.

Because once the incident in question happens, nothing any of the
characters might do from that moment forward can change that fact. No
matter how wonderful everything turns out in the end — and I’m assuming
it will — there is nothing the author can do to erase that awful, awful
moment and somehow make it better.

Well, there is ONE thing the author could do. Probably what I would
do, if I were writing the book. A major twist could change everything —

— But I can’t count on that happening.
And because I was so devastated by that one act, that one scene, that
one irrevocable moment, I lost all desire to go forward, even if a major twist will change it all.  The damage has been done.

So I have to ask, how far is too far? 

While I’d never say we’re obligated as writers to make everything
smiley and happy — quite the opposite if you want to write readable
books — I do think that we take a huge risk when we treat a character
so brutally that the smiley happy moments can’t erase what we’ve done.

As I said, I think the author is a wonderful writer.  In fact, I just picked up another of his books.

But that one scene just killed it for me. Maybe I cared too much.
Maybe it’s because the writer has done his job. But it got to me and I
felt sick to my stomach and just didn’t want to go forward.

I won’t name the book here, because I don’t think it would be fair to the author.

But I’m curious to know if any of you have ever had a similar experience, where you felt the author had somehow crossed the line and you just couldn’t read any further?

Totally Random Bullcrap

by Rob Gregory Browne

I’m still trying to finish my third book (yeah, yeah, I know).  Hope to finish it tonight.  I’m in the last few pages and things are looking good, but you never know.  So I’m once again taking the lazy route and throwing down some random b.s. for folks to chew on:


William Goldman claims to hate his own work. Says he never thinks it’s any good.

Anyone who has read Goldman knows he’s delusional in that regard. And it’s no secret that I think he’s a brilliant writer.

A few years back, I was working as a staff writer on an animated television show called DIABOLIK (Hey, it was a hit in France!), and was partnered up with a very talented writer/producer who quickly became a good friend.

One day, as he and I were riding in his F150 along the bumpy road leading to his ranch, he told me that of all the writers he knows, the ones who think they’re good, the ones who love their own work, usually stink. And the ones who believe — like Goldman — that they’re mediocre or worse, are usually great.

I didn’t respond. Was he trying to tell me something?

I don’t generally brag about the quality of my work, but I have always taken great pride in my writing. Like anyone else, I bounce back and forth between loving it and loathing it — at least when I’m working on a project — but I generally think I’m a damn good writer.

I’ve told the story before about the friend who thought he’d written a masterpiece that turned out to be one of the worst things I’ve ever read.

But I think most of us have to have a certain confidence in our work. Otherwise, why on earth would we keep writing?

And I tend to think that Goldman secretly knows he’s a heckuva writer.

So was my producer friend wrong? Or are those of us who believe we may have something special a victim of our own egos?


Suspense, Romantic Suspense, Thrillers, Mysteries…

I see all these labels and wonder what they really mean. Take Romantic Suspense, for example. It seems to indicate that you’re about to read a romance novel with an underlying thriller plot. Yet I’ve read a number of Romantic Suspense novels that put the romance on the back burner.

I’ve also written a thriller that has a romance in it. True, the romance is a minor part of the story, but it’s there and I think it works and LIKE the fact that it’s there. It gives the book an extra little kick. So have I written Romantic Suspense? If I went under the name Roberta Browne, do you think the publishers would use that label?

Then there are the mysteries that have a touch of thriller in them and the thrillers that have a touch of mystery. What do we label them?

I understand the need for some kind of label. Readers want to be able to head straight to their favorite section of the book store and find what they’re looking for. But since there often doesn’t seem to be any particular rhyme or reason for these “sub” labels, I’m not quite sure why publishers bother.

Isn’t it a mistake to market a book as, again, Romantic Suspense, filling readers with certain expectations, only to let them down when the book strays from the conventions of the genre?

How many times have you seen a movie advertised as a flat-out comedy, only to discover that it’s a drama with comedy overtones? How many times have you seen trailers feature a specific plotline that turns out to be a minor part of the story, and the movie is not even close to what you expected when you bought your ticket.

But maybe that’s what it boils down to: you’ve already bought your ticket. You’ve already paid for the book.

I think, however, that this kind of deception is not only misleading to the reader, but a disservice to the writer. Imagine the number of fans who might be turned off to a writer simply because he or she didn’t deliver what the label on the spine of the book promised?

Or maybe I’m making a big deal out of nothing. I’m no marketing expert.

What do you more seasoned writers in the crowd think?


I have a helluva time naming names. I sit for hours trying to come up with names that suit my characters and, I’ll tell you, it never fails that I wind up changing them.

And I’m never fully satisfied with the ones I settle on.

I always worry that they’re too generic. But at the same time, straying too far in the other direction gets a little silly.

John Sandford, who happens to be one of my favorite crime writers, goes a little overboard with his character names. Lucas Davenport is wonderful, but he’s had a number that momentarily threw me out of the story. Doesn’t ever hurt the story for me, but it does give me pause.

And I don’t hear anyone else complaining.

Like anyone else, I keep a baby names book at my desk. I also check the phone book a lot, looking for interesting surnames. But, like I said, I usually wind up with something that sounds a bit generic. They grow on me after awhile, but, still, I worry.

When I was wading through my email this morning, I came across an interesting source for names:


Yes, that’s right. Maybe spam is good for something after all. Have you ever looked at some of the names they use on email spam? Here’s a sampling of this morning’s:

Bringing L. Strengthen
Harems H. Hewett
Lazy McWriterpants
Kidney Crane
Waller Pendanglis

Now those are NAMES. Not a generic one in the bunch. Most of them accompanied by promises of penis enlargement and endless erections.

So I no longer have to worry. If I’m stuck for that perfect character moniker, all I have to do is open up my spam folder. Easy as Tommy McPie.

What about you? How do you name names?


It has come to my attention that I held a caption writing contest awhile back and never picked a winner.  I blame it on age.  Or drugs.  Take your choice.

Anyway, the winner of the caption contest with WHITE MEN CAN JUMP, is Naomi Hirahara.  Congratulations Naomi.  I don’t remember what you won, but as long as it doesn’t cost me an arm and a leg, you’ll get it soon.


by Robert Gregory Browne

I grew up playing with tape recorders.
My father was something of a gadget geek and he made sure he had one
of the first reel to reel tape decks when they became available to
consumers.  I can’t remember the make or model, but it was one of the
most glorious things I can remember owning.   I spent hours recording
my voice then speeding it up to sound like Alvin and the Chipmunks.

When I got older, I fell in love with
old radio shows, so a lot of my time was spent locked in my room,
trying to emulate the western shows I heard on nostalgia radio.  I
created characters and voiced all the voices — yes, I was a complete
and utter nerd — and added sound effects and music.

Around the same time, I started using
the family Super 8 movie camera to make super hero movies.  We didn’t
have the luxury of sync sound in those days, so in high school, when
I shot and edited a blatant rip-off of the movie Deliverance (minus
the squeal like a pig scene), I was forced to use non-sync sound when
we played the movie for executives from Fuji films, who went on to
sponsor the short in a national filmmaking contest.

All throughout these years I played
guitar and a bit of keyboard.  I had been writing songs since the
age of thirteen and a few years later won a couple of local
songwriting contests.

During that same time, I also loved to
draw.  For many years I was convinced I was going to be a commercial
artist, and even took a job at my local television station as an
assistant to the art director.

When home computers became available, I
took to them immediately, learning to do some minor programming and
jumping onto the Internet long before it became a household word.

And, of course, there was writing.  I
wrote my first "short story" in intermediate school,
penning a cops and robbers tale that may or may not have had an
ending.  As I got older, I started writing episodes of my favorite TV
shows — Rockford Files, Harry O, Hawaii Five-0 — in hopes that I’d
somehow be able to break in.

As you can see, I had a number of
different interests as I was growing up.

And that was my problem.  During all
those years, I was so torn between being a writer, a rock star, an
artist, a computer geek and a filmmaker that I had absolutely no idea which to choose.
It wasn’t until I was in my thirties that I finally decided to
concentrate on one thing — writing — and when I turned 35, I won a
Nicholl Fellowship and sold my first screenplay.

Now, many years later, I find myself
beginning my sophomore year as a novelist — the thing I believe I
was meant to do all along.  It took me a helluva long time to figure
that out, but here I am, for better or worse.

But what I find truly amazing is that
it seems that all those years I spent pursuing those different interests were
simply preparation for this phase of my life.  Why?

Because now — amazingly enough — in
addition to writing, I find myself utilizing all of the other skills
I acquired along the way to help me promote this career I’ve finally

My love of audio recording has helped
me learn the art of podcasting.  Fellow Killer Year and Murderati
blogger Brett Battles and I do weekly monthly occasional podcasts
about the craft of writing.

My love of art has helped me develop an
eye for design, and my experience with computers and the Internet has
helped make developing my websites a breeze.

My love of songwriting has helped me compose
music for audio and video promotional materials, and my love of
filmmaking has led me to creating book trailers and short video clips
for Murderati.

And it’s all truly coming together for me this Saturday.  I was asked and accepted a gig to teach an MWA workshop on podcasting and book trailers in Little Tokyo.

It seems as if some cosmic force had something in
mind for me when it divided my brain into so many segments.  All those
years I spent pursuing these separate passions, wondering what the
hell I was finally going to do with my life, seem to have come
together (just as my kids have left the house) to
turn me into a kind of one-man band, allowing me to do all of the
things I love doing —

— and, I might add, saving me
thousands of dollars in the process, because I’ll be damned if I’ll
hire anyone else to do this stuff for me.

I don’t consider myself a big believer in fate, but what else do you call it?  Someone, somewhere must have had a plan, and it sure as hell wasn’t me.

But what I really want to know is this: 

How did fate know I’d be such a cheapskate?

Unsung Heroes

tby Rob Gregory Browne

There are a number of writers who I think
are wonderful, but never get the accolades they deserve. These people
consistently write great books, have enough of a following to keep
doing it, but are unknown or forgotten to most of us — including those
of us who read quite a bit.

One such writer is, unfortunately, no longer with us.  More about that later.

His name is Eugene Izzi. He is, quite possibly, one of the best
crime writers ever to put words to paper. His stories are set in a
gritty Chicago, inhabited by bad boys, mob bosses, thiefs, burglars and
hard-assed cops:

The Take
Bad Guys
The Eight Victim
The Booster
King ot the Hustlers
The Prime Roll
Tribal Secrets
Tony’s Justice
Bulletin from the Streets
Safe Harbor
A Matter of Honor
The Criminalist

He wrote three books under the name Nick Gaitano:  Special Victims, Mr. X, and Jaded.

I have most of these books on my shelf. Eventually I’ll have them
all. I have read many of them, but hesitate to read them all because
Mr. Izzi is no longer with us and I want to make them last. I know when
I open an Izzi book that I will not be disappointed. He’s that good.

Now a word about his death. It was officially ruled a suicide, but
there is some controversy about that. He was reportedly found hanging
from a noose outside his office window, with a disk containing several
pages of a new book — one of the scenes describing a man being hung
outside his office window.

I don’t know if this is true. But there were some who said that Izzi
was murdered by a militia group he was researching. Others said he was
merely doing hands-on research that got out of control.

Whatever the case — while this is an interesting side note, it has
little to do with Izzi’s books. If you are a lover of crime fiction, I
urge you to grab as many of them as you can. My first was Bad Guys. A
work of perfection.

Now, I know that many of you reading this have probably heard of Izzi, or your own favorite unsung hero has sprung to mind.

So please share.  Tell us who you think deserves more of the limelight than he or she is getting.


It Ain’t the Meat

by Robert Gregory Browne

To use an old cliche:  ideas are a dime a dozen.

Truth is, there aren’t all that many ideas to spare. How many times
have we seen the same story over and over again, dressed up in new

A man is accused of murdering his wife, escapes custody and hunts
down the real killer.

A daughter commits suicide but her mother thinks
it was murder.

Two young teenagers go on a killing spree.

A house/car/insane asylum/ship/airplane/cave is haunted by ghosts. A man/woman/boy/girl/dog/cat is possessed by evil spirits.

A husband/wife/daughter/son is kidnapped and the spouse/mother/father risks his or
her life to save them.

A man and a woman meet, hate each other, fall in love, break apart
after a huge misunderstanding and finally get back together again.

That last is the plot of many romance books and countless romantic comedy movies.

And you know what?  It doesn’t matter that these ideas are constantly recycled.  Because, as numerous writers have pointed out in my lifetime, it’s not the idea that counts, but the execution.

Or as The Swallows once sang:

It ain’t the meat it’s the motion
That makes your daddy wanna rock
It ain’t the meat it’s the motion
It’s the movement, it isn’t the stock

For example, let’s take a look at movies. I choose movies over books
for the simple reason that a) I love them as much as books (but in a
different way); and b) it’s much easier to find people who have all
seen the same movie.

If we go back to the romantic comedy example — the meet, fall in
love, break up, get back together plot line — we could, as I said,
point to just about every romantic comedy ever made.

But which ones do we remember?

WHEN HARRY MET SALLY comes to mind. Not because it’s my daughter’s
favorite movie of all time (she can quote entire passages of dialog),
but because it was a huge, huge hit for everyone involved and most of
us have seen it.

But it also comes to mind for another, all important reason:  it is a beautifully written, beautifully executed movie. 

Harry and Sally meet while they’re on the road to New York. Harry’s
very opinionated about women and relationships, Sally’s a picky,
high-maintenance girl who thinks he’s a jerk and they part ways not
liking each other much.

A few years and a couple of relationships later, they meet again in
an airport, wind up sitting together on a plane and Harry once again
demonstrates what an opinionated jerk he is — only he’s a little more
endearing than he was before.

They part ways, only to meet again a couple years later in a
bookstore. Next thing you know they’re hanging out together, become
great friends and — unknown to both of them, of course, but obvious as
all hell to the audience — they begin falling in love.

In the middle of a personal crisis, they finally succumb to their
attraction and sleep together. Only Harry, being afraid of commitment,
freaks out a little and Sally, sensing his hesitation gets pissed and
they stop seeing each other.

The story continues along the usual romantic comedy path, and the
two eventually wind up together after Harry races to a New Year’s Eve
party to find Sally. And here is an example of where the execution is
so important:

Sally at first rejects him. She’s not his consolation prize. But as
people are counting down to the new year around them, Harry,
desperately in love and wanting to win her over, goes into a speech
naming every quirk that Sally has and how much he loves those quirks
and wants to be with her for the rest of his life.

Sally, pissed off, tears in her eyes, just looks at him and says,
“Now, you see? It’s just like you, Harry, to make it impossible for me
to hate you. And I hate you, Harry. I really hate you.”

And then they kiss.

That, my friends, is genius execution.  And with a movie filled with this kind of execution it’s no wonder that people love it.

It ain’t the meat, it’s the motion that makes your daddy wanna rock.

So what are your favorite examples of same old plot but GREAT execution?

The Domain of Mental Disturbance

by Robert Gregory Browne

Rituals have been around for about as
long as man has walked the earth.  Every culture, every religion,
every government, every sport, every one us us, have our share of rituals, many of
which are functional and some that, let’s face it, are just plain

Writers aren’t immune to such things.
Do a quick Google on "writer’s rituals" and you’ll get over
a million and a half hits.  In fact, one website I found — an
education site — suggested that teachers should encourage their
students to cultivate productive writing rituals.  Which only makes

They can even save your life.

In Misery (or at least in the movie
version — I confess I haven’t read the book.  So sue me.), Stephen
King (or William Goldman, who wrote the screenplay) uses a
ritual in the climax of his story.  Early on, the protagonist, writer
Paul Sheldon, celebrates finishing a book with a glass of champagne
and a cigarette that have been carefully laid out for that moment.
Later, Sheldon uses that very same ritual to help him overcome his
captor, the psychopathic Annie Wilkes.

I, naturally, have rituals of my own.
Whenever I sit down to write, I make sure that I have some sort of
white noise going, most often the recorded sounds of Niagara Falls.
I call it my Back to the Womb method of writing and have found that
it’s extremely difficult for me to start without it.

I even keep the audio file on my laptop
so that I can listen to it while I’m on the road.

Once I’m set with the white noise, I
spend ten to fifteen minutes checking mail, reading favorite websites
and blogs, before I finally shut the browser down and get to work.

Work means going back to the beginning
of the chapter I’m on and reading it aloud, making small changes as I
go.  Then, hopefully, by the time I’ve reached my stopping point,
I’ve come up with something worthwhile to say.

If I’m stuck, it’s back to the browser
to cruise more websites or to look for the answer to some bit of
research that might help get the brain working.

While the ritual itself remains the
same, I find that the starting time changes, depending on how close I
am to deadline.  At the beginning of a book, when I have months of
freedom ahead of me, I usually write whenever the mood strikes me.
Then, as I start feeling just a little crowded, I tend to go to bed
early and wake up about three a.m., when the house is quiet (except
for my waterfall) and there are no distractions.

During crunch time, like now, I find
that I can get more work done if I take a nice long nap around five p.m., get up at about eight, have dinner, then start to work and
keep working into the wee hours.  This doesn’t do much for my social
or family life, but fortunately the kids are out of the house now and
I have one of the most understanding wives in the world.

My ritual is pretty tame.  I know there
are obsessive-compulsives out there who have some pretty odd rituals
like checking the locks three times before they go to bed, or
smoothing the left corner of the hallway throw rug every time they
pass — and I’m sure that many writers have little quirky things they
feel they have to do before they get started.

As John Schumaker said, "Without cultural sanction, most or all of our religious beliefs and rituals would fall into the domain of mental disturbance."

So that’s my question to you today.
What are your writing rituals?  The stranger the better.

Don’t be afraid, we won’t laugh.  At
least not too much.