Sunday, November 23, 2008

Beating Up Somebody Else...

I made it to the end of Stieg Larsson's The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. There was no real risk I wouldn't, although there were moments where the violence started to rise up around my ears a bit more than I liked. The writing worked well, although making that judgment when it's a translation is always tricky. My generalized critique is wondering at times whether humans actually behave as some of these humans do. But there are a lot of humans out there and some are very poorly behaved, indeed. And I've never been to Sweden. Sorry, Sweden, that's an undeserved dig.

The interesting study here is one of structure. This book has the set-up of an erotic thriller. Erotic thrillers have two main story lines: one is conventional, usually a business deal of some kind, set up to contrast with the other storyline, which is the erotic part. The protagonist is trying to navigate the business storyline when along comes the (usually) femme fatale or erotic interest he should avoid but doesn't. I'll use the terms "business story" and "erotic story" for clarity.

There is a business story here, about a corrupt financier. And there is an erotic story (trust me), about a missing girl and her wealthy family. Structurally, this is an erotic thriller. With one small problem.

The two storylines end in the wrong order. The classic erotic thriller ends the business story first. The apparent driving force of the story, whatever the business issue is, ends. For a moment the story may seem to be over, but the erotic story line steps in with a new twist, we realize the story is something else indeed, and we're off again.

Not here. Here the erotic story ends, and then the business story comes back to life and we have to go through the conclusion of that. It feels as though the book is over, but it isn't. Worse, the business story and erotic story are unrelated.

Imagine that Chinatown got to "forget it, Jake, it's Chinatown," and then went on for another half hour, investigating the water supply issues in Los Angeles a bit more.

Yeah, like that.

Friday, November 21, 2008

I Turned Off a Book...

I listen to a lot of books on tape. Very rarely, I turn one off. I turned off Amitav Ghosh’s Sea of Poppies yesterday.

My preferred reading (listening) material is literary fiction, and this book certainly has an alluring literary title. I was enthusiastic, and then less so, and then halfway through I shut it off. Here’s what went wrong for me:

First, there’s a difference between drama and melodrama. And for all that was going on (six POV characters), it never really rose out of melodrama territory. Things were difficult for a few of the characters, but nothing ever got serious. At least, not in the first half. There was also a critical lack of conflict between the characters. Anybody have a problem? Turn the page and it’s either gone or they’ve accepted it. Do any characters change at all? Not in the first half. Character is choice under pressure. Without enough pressure, enough choice, I don’t learn enough about the characters.

Second, there’s the issue of mechanics. There are three ways to tell a story. I get these from Sol Stein’s Stein on Writing:

1. Immediate Scene. This is obvious. The stuff that’s going on right now. Dramatized scenes. Dialogue lives here. Lights, camera, action!

2. Flashback. Also obvious. Stuff that has happened in the past. But a modern flashback is written in Immediate Scene. Make the transition to the past, then write the scene “live.” Again, keep the camera rolling.

3. Narrative Summary. This is the problem child. This is where the writer summarizes something that he or she did not elect to dramatize—to turn into a scene. The writer did not elect to turn on the camera. It is a good and necessary technique. Without it, most novels would be a thousand pages long.

An aside—want to read a writer who doesn’t use narrative summary? Pick up Saramago’s Blindness. Everything that happens, happens on stage. It can be exhausting, but it’s a distinctive style.

So when is Narrative Summary good? Let’s quote from M*A*S*H*: “Meanwhile Aunt Mary, having gone for a tramp in the woods, is lying in a ditch on the edge of town.” Quoting M*A*S*H* again: “Be brief, and be gone.”

Narrative summary fails when it gets too long. The writer settles in to telling the story rather than showing the scenes. The camera is off, and the reader tends to skim along, waiting for the next scene.

This is a problem I had with Sea of Poppies. Plenty of un-dramatized Flashback and loads of Narrative Summary. Both these things were common in novels from the late nineteenth century. Well, that ship has sailed. I don’t want to be told what’s going on, or what went on. I want to see it. Turn the camera on and leave it on.

My last problem was pace. Obviously, Narrative Summary reads more slowly than Immediate Scene. But the pace problem went farther than that. Remember the six POV characters I mentioned? Well, multiple POV is not a problem, usually. If you’re covering the events of a week with many characters, you can do Monday with Character A, Tuesday with Character B, etc.. But if you do Monday with A, then Monday with B, then Monday with C, the story can start to drag. Trying to move through time with chunks of Narrative Summary merely piles one problem on the next.

Lastly, be aware that six POV characters (there may have been more) means that you won’t spend very much time with any one of them. Characterizing and making that many people and their stories fascinating is a huge challenge. I didn’t think it was met here.

Maybe the book was about to become wonderful. I gave it nine hours. I could give it no more.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Question: What is Voice?

Answer: Go read Saul Bellow's The Adventues of Augie March. That is voice.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Annoying Writer Tricks.

I've been reading a book that is doubtless going to win some big awards this year. Not a perfect book, but it has that prizewinning shine to it. But it does have an element that has been driving me mad, in good books and bad, for ever and ever and ever.

There's a ghost in the book. Actually, there are a couple of key ghosts thus far; ghosts with whom the main character can communicate. The one ghost who is incidental to the story could talk and talk about anything that came to mind. The other ghost, who is crucial to the story, can't always.


This ghost's description is exceedingly clever. He can speak to the main character. He can even use a rather extraordinary method to convey his memories to the main character. But when the ghost comes down to the most important information— which of course he left for last— he can only give mysterious hints before vanishing. ARGH!!!

There is also an eerie psychic-type character, a live human, who seems perfectly capable of clear speech until she has something important to say to the main character. Then she suddenly speaks in Mystery Talk. Does the main character ask her what she means? Nope.

Authors, control the delivery of information. If you haven't established a reason for the communication to be unclear, don't just make it unclear for stylistic purposes. It will make your readers CR_Z_.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


Get Out.

There's a funny thing going on in some manuscripts I've read recently. It's the Stand-In. This is usually the main POV character, often in a first-person book, but the Stand-In isn't doing much for all their importance.

Here's what I mean. I heard a screenplay being read a few years ago. There was a big scene with many characters. The main character had only two lines of dialogue. The first was "I don't know why you called me to be here." Their last line was "I don't know why you needed me here."

That's a Stand-In. They are placeholders for the writer, who wants to be in the story but can't. So the Stand-In watches the action. Another symptom is that there is some other character who is much more interesting and active in the story.

The takeaways here are two: one, get out of your story. Two, listen to your characters. If they can't figure out why they should be there, they probably shouldn't be.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Book Tour.

I had a splendid time in San Francisco. Do stop by Alexander Book Company when you're in the city, and M is for Mystery and More when you're in San Mateo. Also, when you make it Jaunty at Jack's in San Francisco, order the bone marrow. It was epic. And for a cabernet sauvignon recommendation, check out Hice Vineyards in Paso Robles. It doesn't get better than that. And if you're a mushroom soup fan, Harvest and Rowe has the best in the whole wide world.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Midwest Book Review.

Thanks to reviewer Shirley!

"I sat amazed as I read this book wondering if there truly were people in this world who would stoop to the lengths as told in this story to make their children perfect. We meet Jai Varent, a plastic surgeon who works on infant patients before their bones harden and change their faces aiming for perfection. Creepy! However, this surgeon's life and many others is about to change when a body is dumped on his patio and by viewing security tapes it appears the 'dumper' is one of his earliest patients. The plot thickens as this patient is not just anyone, but a famous top Hollywood actor who has thousands of adoring fans. Is he really the killer or was he framed? That answer will be the job of two Los Angeles Police Department detectives to figure out. Of course, one of them maybe caught in the middle, a position that can only add flames to the already burning fire.

"This is one 'in your face' read. It is a story that will grab your attention and keep you turning the pages. The entire concept of 'shaping,' as it is called to make a perfect person is mind-boggling. Top that off with a half crazed Hollywood star, not one, but several unsolved murders, and a detective who has perhaps dabbled in the wrong cookie jar from time to time bringing him in the mix, and your hooked. I'm telling you the truth. I did not know who committed the crime until the ending. The twists and turns in this read will leave you totally off balance in your quest to find the answer, and that is a good thing. This is not your normal murder mystery read, but it is one that has a fresh new twist that you will simply devour. I was impressed and am proud to give it my highest recommendation. Well done."

Monday, October 6, 2008

I Love This Review So Much.

From the excellent blog Reading is My Superpower — I Read All the Books (

In the Face by Lorelei Armstrong
October 1st, 2008 · No Comments

When a famous movie star appears to have dumped a body on his plastic surgeon’s balcony, a simulation-obsessed detective delves into a seamy world where there are no limits to what people will do for fame.

Babies getting plastic surgery–that’s all I needed to hear to get interested in Lorelei Armstrong’s debut, In the Face. Melding a hard-boiled style in the tradition of James M. Cain and Andrew Vachss with a cyberpunk sensibility, Armstrong delivers a fast-moving, intellectually stimulating thriller with a strong story at its center.

In the Face is set in a vaguely futuristic world, where “shapers” work on young babies in the hopes of achieving physical perfection. Evo Selig is the biggest shaping success, and has become a huge movie star. There are countless bootleg “simulations” that show Evo doing just about everything a person could want him to do, and so when a sim appears that shows Evo dumping a body, it’s fairly easy to prove that it wasn’t Evo. Except Evo keeps pretending like it was him, and Detective MacEvoy finds he has a PR nightmare to contend with in addition to a messy murder investigation.

I loved the ideas that Armstrong created for In the Face, and she does an outstanding job of not letting them overwhelm the narrative. The book is a perfect blend of LA Confidential and Neuromancer, a quick and dirty read that has me hoping Armstrong is hard at work on her next book.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Don't Open the Champagne...

My release date has come and gone. The book hasn't appeared. It's starting to look like the distributor hasn't shipped it. Note that this is just my guess, with no official word from anyone. Basically, nobody has the book, whether on-line or in bookstores. Worse, some places are listing the book as out of print. I get the terrible feeling that they're all sitting in boxes in a warehouse in Chicago. Assuming they were printed...

I apologize to anyone being asked by Amazon to go through a procedure to keep their pre-orders in effect. To folks looking for an excuse to not complete the order, well, I guess this is it.

Thursday, October 2, 2008


Enjoyed the weekend at the Southern California Writers Conference, Irvine. This is the kind of conference I love-- one that is truly craft-centered. There's no coincidence in the fact that a conference that focuses on improving your writing attracts good writers. I heard some great things at SCWC. I'm always learning, and what a pleasure to spend time with others who are doing the same.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

eBook Land.

Spent the morning formatting the book for Sony's eReader and the Palm Pilot. Putting a normal-length novel onto those tiny screens turns it into War and Peace. The poor thing is 1,300 pages long! At least their converter program is fairly straightforward. Kindle requires you to upload the book as an HTML file for best results. Ouch. I had to order the newest version of Word and hope it will take me part of the way to Kindle-izing the book. HTML. I could barely manage iWeb.

I hope I at least sell enough copies to pay for all this software...

Monday, July 21, 2008

When Not in Rome, and Sick.

I may be the only person to have caught the flu in July. I caught it on the airplane flying home to Kauai. There was a woman on the plane across the aisle who spent most of the flight face-down on her service tray. I hate to leap to conclusions, but I'm thinking she might have been unwell. Two days later, so was I.

The major remaining issue is a cough, which unfortunately enjoys waking me up in the middle of the night. Three times I have ended up on the bathroom floor next to the toilet, just in case the coughing evolved into barfing.

The cough has also torn something in my rib cage, which makes the coughing pretty @*#$&( painful. Moral of our story? Get your flu shot. Every year. Especially if you're made of gristle.

Nothing writery has been going on, but great times for the readery stuff. I'm slowly trying to clean the house while ill, which works about as well as you might imagine. It does allow for much listening to audiobooks. Hope the neighbors enjoy my taste in fiction. And the fatigue of manual labor while ill means I get to knock off early and spend the remains of the day reading.

You see what I did there. In any event, here is my completed reads for the past month, including flu days:

Sebastian Barry - The Secret Scripture
Eli Gottlieb - Now You See Him
E.L. Doctorow - City of God
Thornton Wilder - Bridge of San Luis Rey
Jack Kerouac - On the Road (Original Scroll)
Barbara Kingsolver - The Poisonwood Bible
Carson McCullers - The Member of the Wedding

Currently Reading:

Katherine Anne Porter - Ship of Fools
Robert Penn Warren - All the King's Men


Thursday, July 3, 2008

Another Review...

Oh, happy day...

Jul 02
Published in Uncategorized by apexrev
In The Face
Lorelei Armstrong
ISBN: 9780979372056
Iota Publishing
Reviewed By Jennifer Walker

Official Apex Reviews Rating: (4 1/2 stars out of 5)

If you had the option to surgically enhance your child so he would grow up with beautiful, perfect features, would you do it? What if there were a risk the procedure could go wrong and your child could be hideously disfigured for life – would it be worth the risk? In the world that Lorelei Armstrong has created in In The Face, "shaping" has become a common practice conducted by legitimate surgeons and fly-by-night hacks alike. Hopeful, well-to-do parents take their children to "shapers" in the hopes of having a beautiful, perfect child who will one day make it big in the movies.

One of these children is superstar movie actor Evo Selig, the crowning glory of shaper Jai Varent. Evo is perfect from his hair to his toenails and irresistible to almost everyone who sees him – male and female alike. The only problem is, some of his fans become so obsessed that they create simulated movies to play out all of their fantasies with Evo, then sell them on the black market. This practice is a minor annoyance until a dead body shows up on Dr. Varent's patio – and the security footage shows it was Evo Selig who left it there.

Closer examination of the footage shows that it was yet another simulation, which must mean that someone is out to get Evo – or Dr. Varent…which is it, and why? Detectives Terry Cleinrath and Daniel MacEvoy are put on the case with the strictest orders to keep it quiet. The two must prove that Evo is innocent and find out who the real culprit is, which plunges them into the world of studio politics, illegal simulations, and obsessed fans.

Ms. Armstrong's vision is close enough to modern day that the reader can imagine it happening within the next hundred years, yet far enough off to be a fascinating look into another time. Although people still drive cars as we currently know them, computer technology has vastly evolved – in a very believable way. Films are altered by computer to change the time of day or weather, and computers operate on voice commands. Chat rooms have evolved to virtual reality experiences in which you can talk to other people avatar to avatar, and you might even meet the fabulous Evo Selig himself.

Ms. Armstrong spins an intriguing mystery with surprising detail of her future world. The descriptions of the shaping process are fascinating, and her attention to detail regarding the murder investigation and movie filming sequences are excellent. All in all, In the Face is a fascinating read for fans of mysteries with a futuristic twist.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Writers Go to Conference.

I lived ten miles away from the Santa Barbara Writers Conference for ten years, and for ten years I did not go. I knew it was there. I knew it was one of the-- if not the-- best writers conferences in the world. And I knew I could not find the courage to go.

I was completely intimidated.

Surely writers conferences were for real writers, not for me. The SBWC had to be for those who were already published or who were marching relentlessly toward that august state.

I was a total idiot. I was also afraid.

Criticism sucks. Let me refine: receiving criticism sucks. Here's what I did: I did not expose myself to criticism until I knew I (and my writing) could survive it. Nothing terribly wrong with that, until you think of the time lost. Ten years. With a bit of good criticism, it might have taken me five years to cover the same ground.

What happened when I finally dragged my cowardly carcass to the SBWC? Well, I entered their 1,000 word contest with a vignette that began "Candy Sakaida was a good kid." That sentence, and those thousand words, now begin my novel.


These days, I'm better known for giving than for getting criticism at the SBWC, and I've discovered that that is difficult, too. It's tough to leave yourself out of it. It doesn't matter if I like what I'm hearing, in terms of genre or whatever. It's not about what I want; it's about what the writer wants. And that's difficult to remember. I'm as opinionated as the next writer.

Before every session, I write W.O.E. at the top of the page. That stands for without ego. A reminder that does not always work, but I try. Every year I try.

Cheers to those writers smart and brave enough to get to a good conference earlier in their careers.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Perhaps I Am Insane.

Because I argue with agents on their blogs. And yet, I do so cheerfully. The topic in this case? Well, an agent suggested that writers should learn from Dan Brown, because he has so many readers. Ten million readers, I am told, cannot be wrong.

Yes, I say, they can.

And here I fall into a philosophical ditch. Because Dan Brown knows what Danielle Steele and the rest know. Simple entertainment. And is that not valuable? Of course it is.

Good show! Valuable! People work hard. They drive a zillion billion miles on four-dollar gas. Their kids are texting what-have-you on iPhones that their mother/father bought them when they promised not to, their cars are eight seconds from breaking down, their neighbors have fallen into foreclosure and whatever, and they just want an easy read. Ten points for settling for a book and not a beer or twelve and a hundred points for choosing a book over whatever crap NBC is now offering in prime time.

But just because many people like it does not mean it is good. I'm sorry, but what Dan Brown is doing is appallingly obvious, and I don't want to do it.

What I told the agent was that ten million readers can certainly be wrong, in terms of what is good writing and what is not. Because they do not read enough to separate the good from the bad.

I drive a 1989 Porsche 928 S4. The 928 raced at Le Mans. There are not many of them in North America. Maybe a thousand in the model year. They are crazy expensive to run. Fifteen miles to the gallon? On high test? On a 23-gallon tank? A splitter that raises the cost of an oil change to over a hundred bucks? Ignition wires that run $75 each and there are eight of them? A car with tires that run $850 minimum and cannot be rotated?

This is a magnificent car. The sound it makes coming off the fire is brobdignag! A deep rumble only elephants can hear. A sound that will make Boxster drivers weep.

If anyone said that the engineers who built the 928 should have learned from the designers of the Toyota Camry because it sold more units, I would punch them in the face.

The Camry exists for people who care nothing about cars; they just want them to start every time. And that's fine. They have places to go and other priorities. Groovy. I can dig it. But I am out of my mind. I want a fantastic car. I want a car that makes me feel I could turn down and drive at speed through the center of the Earth. A car that could grow giant demon wings and fly. A car made of male that could not possibly bear a female name. A weapon. I am willing to take the chance that it will break down once in a while and leave me on the side of Wilshire Boulevard on a Friday night.

I want a car that can go 170. I want a car that can make other drivers cry. That's me. I seek the epic.

Same with writing. I want to write like Doris Lessing or Cormac McCarthy or Louise Erdrich or Steven Hall. Want to tell them to learn from Dan Brown? No. I believe William Burroughs when he said "If I really knew how to write, I would write something, and someone would read it, and it would kill them."

Yeah, like that.

Random Post Upcoming...

Just back from the Santa Barbara Writers Conference. Comments to follow in days to come...

Monday, June 9, 2008

More Reviews!

“Lorelei Armstrong writes with a flinty edge that sends sparks flying on every page. This is a bullet-train of a thriller filled with compelling characters and crackling dialogue. Hang on, because there are a lot of twists and curves.”

- NewYork Times and Los Angeles Time best-selling author, Raymond Obstfeld, Anatomy Lesson, On The Shoulders of Giants: My Journey Through the Harlem Renaissance

“In the Face offers a creepy look at star-struck fascination in this innovative murder masterpiece. Gritty, psychological, timeless—Armstrong gives Hollywood a new look in her debut novel.”

-Pamela Guerrieri, editor and literary judge

Monday, June 2, 2008

Book Expo America.

Aloha, Amazon! Thank you to my friend Muroku, who told me I could syndicate this blog over there. Look! I did it!

I spent Saturday at the Book Expo America. I was invited by my publisher, his wife (and business partner), and the company's publicist. What a seminar in publishing that show was. First, it was huge. Both halls of the Los Angeles Convention Center. I've been there before for the L.A. Auto Show and a screenwriting conference. Neither was so large as the BEA, neither in the number of companies present nor the size of the crowd. And the BEA is not open to the public (unless they don't mind the $40 price of admission). This is a trade show. This is the business.

There were thousands of people there. Not many writers; mostly people working for publishers, printers, distributors, etc.. I found it absolutely invaluable. And being there with my publisher meant that I got to listen in on the business they were doing and learn a bit more about what a huge task it is to publish a book. Iota Publishing is taking a big, big chance on me and my book.

I now know my book will be printed in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and warehoused in Chicago, Illinois. I found the book on page twelve of the distributor's Fall Small Press catalog. And I met my book! A galley copy sitting on the shelf in the IPBA display. My book.

And then Iota's publicist handed me a galley copy. My book in my hands. I cannot tell you how strange it is to open a new book and know all the words. I hadn't thought about it before. It's like an extreme form of déjà vu. I carried that book all day, and drove home with it on my lap. It's sitting here on the back of the sofa.

I'm not crazy about Los Angeles. It's a hard place. It's big, it's violent, it's unpredictable, it's immobile, it's waiting to be wrecked again. But there in the heart of L.A., in the giant convention center, I've had two of the happiest moments of my life. I won a large screenwriting contest there in 2004, and I met my book for the first time on Saturday.

Thanks to Iota for taking this chance. I know how much you have at risk. And thanks to that big crowded building. During the week you stand in for airports for film crews. Next weekend you will host an erotica convention. But twice you have been my own personal Happiest Place on Earth.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

First Ever Review!

How nice was it to find this? Looks like Iota Publishing is moving fast getting those review copies out there.


"In The Face" by Lorelei Armstrong
by Mary on Tue May 27, 2008 10:47 pm

"In The Face" has a futuristic flavor while being rooted firmly in modern society's obsession with fame and beauty. When video footage of a crime shows the perpetrator as being Evo Selig, one of the most beautiful and successful men in society, the town is shocked. But was it really him? With advances in technology and SIMS programs can anyone really believe anything they see on the screen? Lorelei Armstrong's character analysis is thorough allowing you to see all the contributing factors that shape their behavior. The complex twists in the plot leave you trying to figure out the solution right up to the very end. "In The Face" is a impressive debut from an author with a bright future in crime fiction.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Memorial Day.

A thank you to the men and women serving their country in uniform. Trying to make the world a better, safer place. You are asked too much and paid too little. You mean everything to us. May you all come home safe.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008


I've been out and about of late. First to Hawaii, part business, part just visiting home for a while. Then to San Diego to see my splendid little niece.

Honolulu was the usual experience of the sublime and the ridiculous. The sublime was seeing hundreds of young men and women from the Marines, Navy, and Army at the Hilton Hawaiian Village for some formal celebration. Such splendid young people. Anyone who despairs of this country needs to see what I saw. Anyone who says they are not proud of this country needs a dope slap. May all these fine people come home safe.

The ridiculous was a sleepwalking episode at the Hilton Hawaiian Village that night. Turns out that when it says 3:00 a.m. on a hotel alarm clock, it really means 3:00 a.m., no matter what my idiot brain says. I should not get up, get dressed, and get ready for the day. Honestly, the Olympic-quality insomnia is enough.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008


I have a SLurl! This is a url for a location in Second Life. Have a Second Life account? Visit! Don't? Join! It's free and it's fun. This SLurl is for my new shop for my book in Second Life.

Friday, April 25, 2008


I lived in Goleta, near Santa Barbara, for ten years, writing, and never attending the Santa Barbara Writers Conference. I was completely intimidated. I figured that those people were real writers. I was a bad writer, writing bad novels. I couldn't go to the SBWC! That was a famous conference! So I stayed home, ten miles away, year after year.

Then my mother wrote a book (yes, it runs in the family). She and my father lived in Santa Barbara and she thought perhaps she'd try the SBWC. She was writing non-fiction, and none of us really understood the mechanisms of non-fiction publishing. So she signed up. My father suggested I go along.

Terror. I went, but I didn't say a word. Not only was I too terrified to read my work, I was too scared to comment on other folks' work. There were some flat-out geniuses there. I heard some fantastic things read. And I heard every other rung on the writing ladder. One thing I learned immediately was that all the writers who read their work for critique were braver than I.

The next year I was brave enough to comment on others' work, and the year after that I was brave enough to read my own. And people liked it. It didn't suck. Interesting.

You have to be among other writers. You have have your work critiqued. Whatever your opinion of your work, good or bad, you might well be wrong. Find a conference. A working conference, like the SBWC. Not a "sit at the pool and drink" conference.

In two months I will be attending my tenth SBWC. I wouldn't miss it. I wish I had had the courage to go sooner. I'd be so much farther down the road than I am now.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Second Life Book Festival.

Turns out that this week is the Second Life Book Fair on Publisher Island. I spend a couple of bucks and rented a booth. The object with the book cover on it will give an excerpt of the first scene of the book when touched. The object on the left will open the Amazon page, and the object on the right will open my website. I'll be adding to it today-- an "about the author" and "about the avatar" part. And perhaps a link to the Iota website as well.

Here is a link to an article about the book fair:

My booth:

Wednesday, April 23, 2008


The website has landed. And the blog design has changed. Hopefully it is more mystery-writer-y now. I shall add the website to the list of links, but for now:

Sunday, April 13, 2008

This Morning's Surprise.

Was this morning's Los Angeles Times. This was the front page, but the same stock image was the entire front cover of the Calendar (entertainment) Section:

Yog's Law.

Years ago the talented and generous writer James D. McDonald had the screen name Yog Sysop, and happened in this guise to develop the most important law of publishing:

Yog's Law - Money Flows Toward the Writer.

That's it, that's all. My version is a bit more awkward: If at any time you have sent your publisher more money than your publisher has sent you, you are with a vanity publisher.

We can unpack that one a bit. When a writer pays the publisher more than the publisher pays the writer, the writer is said to be subsidizing the publisher's bottom line. That publisher is a subsidy publisher. By legal term of art, a subsidy publisher is a vanity publisher. Using subsidy publisher means you are self-published.

A subsidy publisher (let's use the kinder term) can be a terrific way to publish a book that has a limited audience. It would be foolish to expect Random House to publish a book of your grandmother's lutefisk recipes. But it might be just what every Lutheran chef in Minnesota wants. The comparison in Hollywood would be to expect Warner Brothers to produce a tiny art film. One of their divisions might, but WB can't market a film at that small scale. So know what would be a good fit for a subsidy publisher.

But if you have a book that you wish to see reach a wide audience, don't pay to get that published.

But what if you try to get an agent, and then try to find a commercial publisher, and are turned away? What if you query one hundred people (considered fairly definitive) and none of them wants your book? Should you self-publish (subsidy publish) then?

No. You put that book away and write another. You probably won't like that second book so well as the first. You're still in love with the first. It's called the sophomore slump. Try to land an agent with that one anyway. If that fails, try to land a commercial publisher. And if that doesn't work? Write another book.

If you are a writer, you will do this as many times as it takes. It took me a dozen novels to get here with number twelve. Do I want anyone reading my first novel? Oh no, no, no. And if your first novel cannot attract the attention of anyone in the world of commercial publishing, you shouldn't either.

Saturday, April 12, 2008


AKA Taking the Plunge.

There are two choices to having an author's website: having and not having. I am not Salinger. I will be having.

The next choice is doing it yourself vs. paying someone Vast Sums to do it for you. I had been trending in the Vast Sums direction.

No more. Because (1) Vast Sums, and (2) some reptilian part of my brain recently reminded me that I went to both art school and design school. Which makes the Vast Sums angle worthy of ridicule.

So in a week, when I have returned from various and sundry peregrinations, I shall sit down at the G5-- which is working on shared scientific computing projects and really does not appreciate being bothered by its owner-- and begin work on my new website. I shall shuffle my screenwriting website over to and take over for my new author's site.

Sounds so confident, doesn't it? As though I remember how I created the screenwriting website in the first place. I seem to recall that it took every last brain cell in my head, and there are far fewer of them now.

The first thing I shall do is upgrade the G5 to Leopard. With complete confidence.

I think.

P.S. I shall also redesign this blog, because yeah...

Friday, April 11, 2008

Thursday, April 10, 2008


It is a heady thing indeed to see your cover art and find your pre-order page on Amazon in the same hour.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008


Ah, how did this whole week end up being involved in thoughts of dreams? Is it the strange, metaphoric dream I had last month? I won't describe it; the dreams of others are dull. Is it coming across the epic disaster tale of PublishAmerica and its authors/victims? Maybe it's me; I drive around Los Angeles and wonder what dreams keep alive the folks working in the manicure shops and the check cashing places and the small restaurants. Something keeps them going. Is it the lottery? Their dreams for their children? The next American Idol audition? Those screenplays they've almost finished?

In the piling-on-the-dream-theme category, I've had an unusual exchange this week via email. As background, I have a website about screenwriting. I've written a lot of screenplays, gotten an MFA in screenwriting from UCLA, won a bunch of contests, had agents and managers, and had my share of near-misses. And if there is one thing that outrages me in the land of screenwriting, it's the dream shills. These are the folks who charge for classes, books, consultations, what-have-you, selling on the strength of writers' dreams. The last thing these folks want to tell new screenwriters is that the chance of selling a screenplay to a legitimate MBA signatory company is one in the tens of thousands.

So they sell a dream. They sell hope, and hope is pretty damn expensive. So I put together a website to tell the truth. I pay a few bucks every month to keep it online. And for the last few years that I've had this site, I've received nothing but positive comments.

Until yesterday, when I was accused of "trashing others' efforts." I'm not sure how a website can destroy anyone's efforts. Although the California Lottery website does continually interfere with my goal of winning the lottery by posting winning numbers that do not match those on my tickets.

Same thing applies. I'm afraid I was finally a bit harsh. I said that everything posted on my website is true, and that a dream that cannot stand up to the truth is not a dream; it is a delusion.

Screenwriting is hard. Getting into the screenwriting business is orders of magnitude harder. It makes publishing look like a cakewalk. Yes, even real publishing, not to mention what PublishAmerica is doing.

But who knows. I may see my disgruntled correspondent out on the sidewalk in front of a studio next time we go out on strike. I hope they say hi.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

How to Win a Nobel Prize.

For literature, that is. I've figured it out. World peace and all the rest will take me a bit longer. Here's the trick with books:

No quotation marks.

I've been reading a few Nobel Prize laureates recently. Cramming your poor dialogue into giant undifferentiated paragraphs seems to do the trick.

In all seriousness, it is an interesting technique. I'm not suggesting that anyone take it as far as Saramago, but give it a try. There is a curious immediacy to it. You forget you're reading a novel. It feels like a close record of events as they happen(ed).

The book I'm writing now might be fantasy, or might fit in mainstream literature. I'll experiment with yanking out the quotation marks and see what happens.

Oslo, here I come.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

The Memoir Problem.

I've been reading on in the debacle that is PublishAmerica. Something in my nature likes reading disaster stories. I have books about plane crashes. I have a bookmarks file of medical blogs, and when the doctors' stories do not fulfill, I browse for patients' blogs. And now this, PublishAmerica, and the stories of innocent writers' dreams destroyed. Google your publisher, o writers. Googling can prevent neither plane disasters nor cancer (under ordinary circumstances). But walking uninformed into the embrace of PublishAmerica is an avoidable tragedy.

Is that part of the pleasure? Because the victim can be blamed? Does this make me a better American, despite my appalling lack of debt? We do like blaming the victim, don't we? "If only he'd taken the earlier flight (lazy)." "If only she'd eaten more fiber (reckless)."

The writer whose tale of woe I just read had written a memoir. The poor writer discovered that PA was incapable of placing her memoir in the bookstores in her hometown. And then it occurred to me: if you want your memoir, with your name on it, to be available to everyone you know, how interesting can that memoir be? Seriously, unless you're a lunatic or care not one bit for what anyone thinks of you, your memoir is either (a) a lie, or (b) boring.

I'm sure there are many of us who have thought of that posthumous memoir, that last blog entry that will post just as we walk off the end of the pier. That's the book I want to read.

Sunday, March 30, 2008


I've been reading quite a bit about the controversial PublishAmerica. Since I do not wish to receive a cease and desist letter, I will advise all writers to Google this one for yourself. I shall move on to the subject of POD in general. I can see that, for writers with a book that probably has a limited audience, POD makes lots of sense. What about the writer of more mass-market works?

Back when I started writing, there was no Internet. There was, however, vanity press. Which I didn't quite understand. I read. A lot. I read the good, the bad, and the ugly. I wanted my work to be good. When I started writing, it was bad. Really bad. Epic stink-o. I wrote bad science fiction novels for a long, long time. The first one I thought had some promise was number seven. That was the first one that landed me an agent.

Long story short, the novel that will be published this fall is number twelve. Do I want anyone seeing numbers one through eleven? Well, I think I could rewrite number eleven and get a good book out of it. The others will never see the light of day.

I was not a good writer. I did not deserve to be published. I had not earned the right to ask a fellow human being to give up hours out of their one life on earth to read those books. Nobody should have paid any money for those books. And they didn't.

I was learning. It took me a long time to qualify for publication. I am still learning. But I knew on day one that I was not going to buy my way to the goal. When my work was good, people whose job it was to find good writing would tell me.

Your mileage may vary.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Slouching Toward Bethlehem...

I heard from my editor. She's very happy with the manuscript, post-post-copyediting. I think the decision to accept the rather unorthodox copyedit was the right one. Lots o' work, but heck, it's my book. It did give me a chance to polish it all a bit more, and add one surprisingly important bit of character logic that had escaped me. Always surprising what a couple of lines can do.

The new book is going nowhere. I haven't written more than two pages since last October. Suffice it to say that the last few months have not been right up there on the list of Good Times I Have Known. This does not lead to much writing. Oh, well.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

On to the New Fun...

Got the copyeditor's version of the book. My editor emailed it to me. Her email began with a plea that I not freak out. Why should I freak out? Because the copyeditor rewrote the book. Starting with the third sentence. I freaked out. Called my editor. Freaked out all over her. They were willing to let me reject the copyedit entirely, and I desperately wanted to. But the copyeditor had found a few valuable things. For one, I apparently use the word "just" more than any living human. And if asked for a number, I will always select "ten." So good for the copyeditor for those finds. I spent a couple of weeks digging through the copyedited manuscript finding the good notes. Quite a task, at the end of the process, considering that there was exactly one misspelled word in the whole thing. "Cryotome," for the record. Which Blogger is showing as misspelled now!

Two edits I rejected: I refused to spell Ecuador with a "q," and I refused to change the spelling of my first name. Criticizing me is one thing, but that's going after my mother.