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.