Thursday, December 28, 2006

Read the Inteview!

Bethany Warner at Word Nerd has an interview up with me. Actually went up on the 20th, but I didn't realize it. (And, yes, I've emailed her to let her know she's got my name misspelled in the title. Hahaha...keeps me humble. )

Read the interview Here.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Crimespot Rules

1st RULE: You always talk about CRIMESPOT.

2nd RULE: You ALWAYS talk about CRIMESPOT.

3rd RULE: If someone says "what's CRIMESPOT" or goes limp, push them out of the chair, their computer time is over.

4th RULE: At least 3 blogs to a category (so the list looks full).

5th RULE: One blog update at a time.

6th RULE: No shirts, no shoes.

7th RULE: CRIMESPOT will go on as long as it has to.

8th RULE: If this is your first time at CRIMESPOT, you HAVE to click through to every blog.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006


Okay, so it's still a bit over six months before THE CLEANER actually hits the books story, but it's up on Amazon now, so you can pre-order your heart out!


Me? I've already order 423 copies...or at least I've thought about doing that!

Monday, December 04, 2006

All right...I mean...alright...I mean...

Okay, I know language changes. Spoken faster than written, but written also changes. What was once unacceptable becomes common place, the norm. (Kind of like using a phrase like "the norm.") I get that. Hell, I'm guilty of pushing that envelope myself. Often.

But there's one thing I haven't been able to do. I think the blame goes to my high school English teacher, Mr. Byrd. (Mr. Larry Byrd, by the way...ironically the coach of the varsity basketball team.) Maybe it wasn't him, but that's what my foggy memory is telling me this morning. It's the phrase all right vs. the word alright.

I get it. Alright even looks good to me. But I just can't right it. (I've made an exception for this post. It's painful, but I'm doing it for the good of all.) Any time I come to the point where I need to write the phrase/word, I opt for the phrase. This goes true for both description and dialogue. In THE CLEANER you will never see an "alright." It will always be "all right." Unless I made a mistake somewhere that is.

I don't know why I continue to have this hang up. I just do. I've tried to shake it, but it won't go away.

So my questions to you are: 1) where do you come down on the Alright vs. All Right issue? 2) What grammatical pet peeves do you have that have become accepted by most everyone else?

Wednesday, November 29, 2006


Just got the go from my editor to post the cover for THE CLEANER. So here it is!!! Let me know what you think!

The cover was designed by Ray Lundgren. And I'm told the gun will be in silver foil with the details of the gun embossed. (click on the cover to see a larger version)

Thursday, November 16, 2006

More Good News...

This time for my good friend Phil Hawley. From Publisher's Marketplace:

German rights to Philip Hawley, Jr.'s STIGMA, to Andrea Diedrichs at S. Fischer, by Joachim Jessen at the Thomas Schlueck Agency, on behalf of Maja Nikolic and Simon Lipskar at Writers House, in a good deal, for two books.

Rights previously sold to Plaza y Janes in Spain and AST in Russia.


Big Killer Year News

We're going to have a short story anthology out in Winter 2008! St. Martin's just picked it up. Read more here, and here.

I also should be having some of my own news to announce soon! Very exciting stuff!!!

Thursday, October 19, 2006

The Ache

Book 2 is flowing really well these days. Before most people have even gotten into their cars to head to work, I've already written several pages. I've come to the point where I'm not just seeing 4 or 5 pages ahead, I'm seeing 20 to 30. (Yeah, I'm one of the non-outliner crowd.) This is an exciting point for me in any story, when I'm really starting to feel it. This morning I hit page 170, and by some point next week I'll pass 200 - my unofficial halfway point.

But this is also when I start experiencing a good but at time annoying side effect. I call it the Ache. It grabs me deep down, at my very root.

I'll be sitting at my computer at work or on my couch watching TV or lying in bed getting ready to sleep and it hits me. My characters begin talking to me. Before I even realize it a whole scene is played out in my mind, but almost seems as if it's playing out in front of me. I start speaking in dialogue, rapidly, nearly unable to keep up. Then I repeat it over and over, three, four times. Sometimes making subtle changes, sometimes repeating word for word. I then reach for a pad of paper or open a new document on my computer and I write it down.

That's not the annoying part. The annoyance comes in when I'm not somewhere I can write it down. Perhaps driving down the freeway, maybe sitting in a movie theater, or, like yesterday, while I was walking down the street to pick up lunch. I had nothing to write it down, but that didn't stop me from going over the dialogue over and over. And, yes, every once in a while I found myself talking out loud.

Today was only a minor annoyance. The scene kept playing through my mind as I picked up my food, grabbing on and not letting go. It stayed with me all the way back to the office, so the first thing I did was write it down.

I love the Ache. I just hate it when I don't have an opportunity to write it down. I've lost tons of stuff that way. NEWS FLASH: My memory ain't the best. But when I do keep it, when the Ache translates to words on the page, there is nothing better.

We all get the Ache...but I'm curious where the strangest place was that you got it...

Friday, October 13, 2006

A father's love for his son

There's little I can add to this story, except that it actually made me cry. Not just a little bit, but so much I had to shut the door to my office for a moment.

It's not a sad story. It's story of love.

You can read it here.

And you can see it here:

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

One for Now and One for Your To Be Purchased List

Today marks the paper back release of Tasha Alexander's AND ONLY TO DECEIVE. A turn of the century (well...late 1800s) mystery that sounds just like the type of book I like to sink my teeth into.

From Tasha's site:

"Emily's desire to learn more about her late husband takes her to the quiet corridors of the British Museum, where, amid priceless ancient statues, she uncovers a dark, dangerous secret involving stolen artifacts from the Greco-Roman galleries. To complicate matters, she's juggling two very prominent and wealthy suitors, one of whose intentions may go beyond the marrying kind. Her search to solve the crime leads to surprising discoveries about the man she married and causes her to question the role in Victorian society to which she, as a woman, is relegated."

If it's not in your bookstore, ask them why. If they don't give you a good answser, start yelling and screaming like a madperson...they love that.

I was lucky enough to score an advanced copy of Robert Gregory Browne's KISS HER GOODBYE at Bouchercon. I finished it over the weekend and I have to say this book rocks! It comes out early February, but you can pre-order it now (follow the link on Rob's site.) It is a non-stop, action packed thrill ride that kept me awake longer than I wanted to be up a couple nights!

From Amazon:

"ATF Agent Jack Donovan wants only two things in life: to take down violent cult leader Alexander Gunderson and to reconnect with his estranged daughter Jessie. But none of Donovan’s experience as a top cop or an absent father has prepared him for the unthinkable way in which these two parts of his life are about to collide.
In a desperate act of revenge, Gunderson kidnaps Jessie and buries her alive. And just as Donovan’s team is closing in, fate intervenes in the form of a bullet, and the secret to Jessie’s location is lost forever. Or is it?

With only a few precious hours of oxygen to sustain her, and not a single clue pointing in her direction, Jessie is sure to die — unless Donovan can somehow find her. And he's willing to trade anything to save his little girl. Anything.

Even his own life."

How could you not want to buy a copy?

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Bouchercon Pictures!!

Madison is a beautiful city. Though I wasn't able to see much, what I did see was worth a trip back someday. The conference hotel was right across the street from the capitol building. On Saturday morning, there was a great farmers market that circled the entire building...vegetables, cheese, bakery goods, you name it. People walked around it counter-clockwise...which, of course, was why I walked in a clockwise direction. Easier to people watch that way.

Proof that I was actually there.

Robert Gregory Browne, Phil Hawley, and Marc Lecard all ready for action

Crimespree Party

Joe Konrath and David Morrell

James Born

Me with fellow Bantam Dell author Sean Doolittle...who is too tall for his own good

Phil Hawley getting in a little "Phil" time

Marcus Sakey explaining the ins and outs of novel writing to Rob F. and Bill Cameron

Rob and I working protection for the lovely and talented Tasha Alexander

Here I am with the nicest person in the wolrd, Shane Gericke

And finally, this one's for Tasha's and my agent Anne. Wish you could have been here!

After looking at these pictures...apparently I have only one expression. Oh, least it's not a frown.

I'll have a few more photos up at the Killer Year Blog on Thursday, if all goes well!

Monday, September 25, 2006

Killer Year

You’ve heard several of us talking about it. Maybe you were even around at the beginning when Sarah Weinman mentioned the high profile of a group of novelist debuting in 2007. That spurred Jason Pinter, JT Ellison, Sandra Ruttan and myself to form the group Killer Year.

For most of the summer, we’ve been brainstorming ideas, planning what approaches to take and growing our ranks. We’re now 14 strong, and what’s more, we’ve even convinced ITW (International Thriller Writers) to take us under their wing. But that’s only the beginning. There is so much more in store. To start, we’ve launched our new, information packed website Today also marks the return in force of our Killer Year Blog, with an initial guest post by author M.J. Rose.

We’ve even got a Killer Year Myspace page! For that matter, so do I - click here.

So much new, and this is only the beginning! Expect more, exciting announcements over the coming months. And get ready because 2007 is only 3 months away…there are 14 books you need to put on your reading list!

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

A Memory, Five Years Removed...

I was sitting in the second floor office of an old waterworks building. The building was serving as the temporary headquarters for a group of us working on a specialized graphics presentation that would operate inside a visitor center near a VW planet in Germany. Did I mention the waterworks building was in Berlin?

It was in the afternoon. Most of the crew had gone out for a late lunch, but I’d stayed behind to do a little work. Suddenly one of the guys ran back into the office, his face white. “A plane just hit the World Trade Center,” he said.

His sister worked in a building right next to the towers, so he was more than just normally upset. He and the other two had been having lunch at a nearby Italian restaurant. The owner, who didn’t speak English but was very friendly and was used to seeing us around, had turned on a TV and shown the others what was happening.

I was confused. I couldn’t quiet get my head around what was happening. There was no TV at the plant, and I had not been with them at the restaurant.

Needless to say we decided to quit for the day. We rushed back to our hotel, and gathered in one of the rooms to watch. Sometime during our trip the second plane hit. But we were there in time to see the towers come down.

The immediate impact was that even if we wanted to fly home to the states, we couldn’t. I seem to remember there was at least a week with no international flights into the U.S. That was an eerie feeling. We were totally disconnected from our home, and no one knew when that connection would be fixed. It’s one of those things you don’t think about until it’s gone.

Over the next several days, anyone who found out we were American treated us with extreme sympathy. I remember one taxi driver, also someone who could not speak English, making it known to us how badly he felt. I could have sworn I saw tears forming in his eyes.

At the U.S. Embassy, rather at the fence that was place several blocks from the embassy, makeshift memorials sprung up. Flowers overflowed the sidewalks and edged into the streets.

There was so much compassion. So much “we are with you.” So much good will.

I wish it was still there now.

Friday, August 18, 2006

I think in Story

I think in Story. All the time. Day, night. Waking, sleeping.

I think in Story.

Doesn't matter where I am or what's going on, it's the way my brain works. I can't turn it off.

Truthfully, I don't want to.

Scenes, characters, plotlines, motivation, story. They run through my mind unhindered. They bring order to the chaos of my thoughts. They inform the decisions and choices I make.

Whether I'm in a grocery story, walking down the street or sitting at my desk at work, I think in Story.

When I see a waitress at a restaurant, tired, but smiling, I wonder what she is thinking. I could ask her, I guess. But I won't. I don't need to. My mind fills in the gaps.

When I'm at a concert, the music intensifies the process, becoming a soundtrack to my thoughts. The scenes are sometimes so intense it's as if I am really there. If there is snow in the scene, I can feel the cold. If tension fills the air, I can feel the electricity prickling at my skin. But often it is stories of sadness or contentment or melancholy that the music evokes, and these emotions wash over me, submerging me and carrying me away if only for a few moments.

When I'm at work and a problem arises, I see the back story, I see the motivations of all the players, and I see the through line to the climax. From this I often know which path we should take. In this I am the office problem solvers. But if they only knew. It's not problem solving. It's story.

It's the way I've always been. It's the way I will always be.

I think in Story.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Deus Ex Machine Gun

One thing I can't stand is when author take the easy way out. Don't get me wrong. I've done this, too, and I hate myself for it.

You know what I mean. When motivation is glossed over, or a character is faced with an impossible situation, but wait, suddenly he's the master of a little known Asian fighting art that is the only thing that will save.

For me, even an unbelievable story needs to seem believable. And that means not taking the easy road. Not copping out. It's something I learned from my late teacher/mentor/friend Bill Relling. He would never let any of his students get away with easy outs. He would question us and question us until we gave in.

"Why does he find the knife under the car?"

"Because it was there."

"Not a good answer. Why?"

A pause. "Because...he needs it?"

He nods. "Yeah. But?"

Another pause. "But just because...he needs it doesn't mean it should be there."

A smile now. "So...?"

"So I'll change it."

Admittedly, that's a pretty lame example, but essentially it illustrates what I mean. (I would have been a horrible critic back in the old Greek days...Deus Ex Machina? Pah-lease!)

If a character needs a ray-gun to solve the plot, make obtaining one believable within the world of the story. If a detective needs info about a suspect, don't have an ex-lover conveniently sitting at a bar ready to spill the beans. Make the detective work. Make the ex-lover lie. Make the lies tell the true.


Make it believable. Make it real for the world you are writing about. Make it gripping. Put up obstacles that are really obstacles. Make your characters work. Make 'em think. Make 'em make mistakes. And even the good guys get hurt now and then.

Just don't cop out.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006


Ladies and gentlemen, we have title. That's right for all three of you who have been following the ins and outs of the title to my debut novel, who have drawn charts trying to figure out the conspiracy behind the lack of title, and who have not slept at night trying to think up the perfect title for me, you can now relax.

Next spring, I hope you all run out and purchase my debut thriller, THE CLEANER.

It's the title I really wanted, and I couldn't be happier.

Now a little housekeeping word of warning. I'm going on vacation starting tomorrow. So I might post something in the next week and a half, then again I might not. So don't hate me...(David Terrenoire, I'm talking to you!)

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

ThrillerFest Photos

A couple photos from ThrillerFest courtesy of author Jeff Buick.

Myself, Jeff Buick, Phil Hawley and John Gilstrap

Elizabeth Krecker and me

...she would be the one on the right...

Monday, July 03, 2006


ThrillerFest 2006 is now in the past. I returned home last night from what turned out to be the best conference I've ever been to. From meeting several of my Killer Year classmates, to being taken under the wings of two fantastic, established writers, to meeting big names and newbies and everyone inbetween. I'll try to post my thoughts later. I'm still a bit mush minded at the moment.

One thing I have realized is that time is becoming an issue. WIth that in mind, no more posting everyday for me. I'm going with the two to three times a week strategy. I hope that doesn't keep you from checking in. I'll still be here, just working on book two a little harder.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

I'm Off

Tomorrow (or today if you're reading this on Wednesday), I'm off to ThrillerFest. Getting in a little early so I'm rested and ready for the fun. No posts until probably next week. Have a great weekend, and I'll let you know how it all went when I get back!

Hey, if you haven't checked out Tuesday's post with the links to the KT Tunstall performances, then do yourself a favor and go there right now.

And don't miss J.B. Thompson's interview with Jason Pinter, fellow Class of 2007 member!

See you next week!

Monday, June 19, 2006

Accelerating Toward a Killer Year

It seems the last couple of months someone’s been pushing the gas pedal closer and closer to the floor. It’s one of those things you don’t notice at first, then just by chance, you glance at the speedometer. “Whoa!” you say. “How the hell did that get up to 120 miles per hour?”

And if I thought things were going fast before, today markers the beginning of a whole new phase. Today is the official launch of theKiller Year website, and the Killer Class of 2007’s blog. Jason Pinter’s up first at the blog, so check out what he has to say. Tomorrow it’s my turn. On the following days you’ll hear from other members of the Killer Class of 2007, so bookmark our blog and website so you can check back often.

And the launch is just in time, too. ThrillerFest begins a week from Thursday, so if you’re going, you’ll be able to meet several of us there. And if not, we’ll keep you posted on the happenings through our new kids on the block point of view.

Hang on, everybody. And enjoy!

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Something Every Writer Should Read

Jason Pinter has written a fantastic post today about agents and their value. All writers starting out or even already done the road need to read it. Click here.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Cold Case

J.T. Ellison has a post on Murderati today about a cold case that is personally important to her. If you have the chance, please go over and read about it. And on the off chance you can help, please do so.

If you're a debut novelist with a crime/suspense/thriller coming out next year don't forget to send your info to

And everyone should bookmark Killer Year, we'll be getting it going soon, then will have constant updates!

Thursday, June 08, 2006

A Killer Year

Did you feel that earthquake yesterday? Maybe not, but trust me, you will. It's not the kind of earthquake that shakes for a while and goes away. It started Wednesday morning...actually started on Tuesday (see JT's comment)...hell, it's been building for the past several months now.

Every year sees another group of debut authors make their appearances. But I don't know, 2007 just seems different. Okay, I know. It seems different because I'm one of those debut authors. But that's not what I mean. See, several of us have been slowly developing friendshps that we've used to support each other, share information and learn together. Now we've decided to make it official. Watch out the Killer Class of 2007 is coming.

Yeap. We have our own website. More to come soon. Jason Pinter, JT Ellison, Sandra Ruttan and I have official declared 2007 A Killer Year.

If you're a debut thriller/crime/mystery novelist whose first book is coming out next year, you're in. Just email Jason your information at

Our goal is to work together to get our names out there. We have a helluva lot better chance of getting recognition together than we do on our own.

Join us. It's going to be a blast. And it's going to be a killer year.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006


Your first book coming out in 2007? Get yourself over to Jason Pinter's Blog and sign up as an official member of the class of 2007.

Together, we'll make this a Killer Year. HA! I love that! It makes me laugh.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

YK Syndrome then an Interesting Link

So I was thinking about writing this post, and, you know, I couldn't exactly figure out, you know, how to, you know, start it. I mean, you know, starting a post is hard. You have to, you know, grab your audience, and, you know, talk about something, you know, relevant.

Man, I hope you made it through that paragraph. It was as painful to write as I'm sure it was to read.

As you might have guessed, I've been thinking a lot about public speaking lately. Next year after the book comes out, I hope to get some opportunities to go out and do a few signings. Even before that, there are at least three conferences I'm planning on attending, and at the first, ThrillerFest at the end of the month, I'm appearing on a panel. So I've started to pay more attention when I see others speaking in public.

Within the past week, I've had the opportunity to attend a couple of signings. First the Thriller Anthology signing with five great writers - Denise Hamilton, Gregg Hurwitz, Gayle Lynds, Christopher Reich and Christopher Rice, and then the next night Barry Eisler at the Mystery Bookstore. To a woman/man, they were all great speakers. Clear. Funny. Entertaining. Informative.

Great role models.

After I left Barry's signing on Friday night, I turned on the radio and caught part of a sports radio talk show. (I have my sports moments. GO ANGELS!...though we suck at the moment.) They had a caller on the line. Callers are seldom good public speakers, so it didn't surprise me that he was inflicted with YK Syndrome, that is, inserting "you know" after about every fifth or sixth word. What did surprise me was when the host came back on to speak. He seemed to have been infected by the disease. During his first response, he said "you know" seven times. Second response, nine times. Third response, eight. I stopped counting after that. This from a man paid to speak publicly nearly every day.

I'm sure you all have heard speakers with similar issues. It's a crutch, a way to fill the air because you think you need to fill the air. After all you are the speaker. You are the one everyone is looking at. What we fail to remember is that sometimes it's okay to not say anything. A pause without a "you know" filling the void, is thoughtful. It shows the speaker is confident and in control of what they are saying. Whereas dropping the old YK into the mix makes a speaker sound unsure of themselves.

Now I'm not about to start throwing stones here. I've been known to employ the you-know pause on several occasions. But I really try to watch it. And with more talking in front of groups ahead of me, I would love to completely excise this tendency.

So if you're ever talking with me, and, you know, you hear me, you know, fall into the YK Syndrome, you know, knock me up side the head.

Or just tell me to shut up.

Interesting Article on publishing paperback vs. hardback. Click here.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Tar Pits and Ideas

Most of you probably don't live in a place where you experience this, at least not on a daily basis, but tar bubbles up out of the ground here. Weird. I know. But I see it every day.

Now before you go thinking I'm talking about the whole Los Angeles, area. I'm not. Well, at least I assume I'm not. I'm just talking about my little corner of weirdo paradise. A little strip know as the Miracle Mile. You've heard of it in the movies, you've read about it in books - specifically those of Raymond Chandler. It's like those other iconic L.A. locations: the Sunset Strip, Hollywood and Vine, Rodeo Drive.

Another famous L.A. landmark is the La Brea Tar Pits. The tar pits, see, they're right on the Miracle Mile. That's a two for one for all you tourists out there. I see both of them every day. My day job is on the Mile. All right, smart a building on the mile. In fact, if I stand up from my desk in the cube farm and look out the window, I can actually see the main pit across the street. It's not easy to miss. They've got a family of staged mammoths to demonstrate the dangers of the pits.

The tar pits are a part of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) complex. Surrounding the pits is a beautiful grass park. I walk through that park almost every day. What I've noticed over time is that occasionally tar starts bubbling up in unexpected places. There are two new miniture eruptions right on my path in the middle of a large grass expanse.

The tar got me to thinking about ideas. And how ideas pop up at any time from unexpected places. It could be someone we see walking down the street. It could be a news story we read. It could something we've heard from a friend. Or it could be something that pops into our heads for no apparent reason at all. (For a more detailed post about the genesis of an idea, read Jeffrey Cohen's excellent and hilarious entry at Murderati from June 4.)

I marvel at that process. I love that moment an idea hits me. There's nothing like it. These idea moments happen to everyone. I mean EVERYONE. Someone might swinging their cart around a corner at a super market when they have an idea that shows them the exact ratio of acceloration to turning angle they need to win the Indy 500. Someone might be searching blindly for the snooze button when they come up with the idea that planting a bougainvillea in a certain spot would be the perfect touch to their front yard. Or someone might be having breakfast with someone they're not particularly fond of and realize that writing a story about a serial killer that targets cereal tycoons would be great.

Perhaps the first person could become a world class race driver, the second a successful landscape architect, and the third a published author.


But it's just as likely that these three would become none of these things.

Getting the ideas is just the first step. It's what we do with these ideas that determine our paths. Let me repeat: It's what WE (you and I) do with these ideas that determine our paths. If we don't, it'll just be a lot of woulda, shoulda, coulda. If you want to be a writer, then you take the ideas and you write. Doesn't matter where they came from. They're going to bubble up in unexpected places. You're job is to do something about them, not just say, "Hey, look at that. That would make a good story," and then move on.

Ideas are great. But they remain only ideas, until you act.

What are you going to do with your ideas?

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Cornelia Read

Stopped back in at the Mystery Bookstore last evening to say hi to Cornelia Read and get my copy of A Field of Darkness signed. Unfortunately I wasn't going to be able to stay for her discussion, but I was hopeful that I could grab a moment or two of her time prior to her talk.

And I was in luck. We spotted each other as soon as I walked in and had a great, albeit quick, conversation. Got the book signed and made my exit. I sure that the event went off great. There were already several folks crowding into the store.

Thanks, Cornelia!

Thursday, June 01, 2006

You're Beautiful

You’ve probably all heard the song. If you haven’t, you just haven’t been listening to the radio or watching MTV or VH1. You’re Beautiful by James Blunt has been in heavy rotation everywhere. I know there are those of you out there who are completely burned out on it. I even read where one radio station in England has banned the playing of anything by Blunt. Not because he isn’t any good, but because he is played too much everywhere, in other words, a severe case of over exposure.

Usually, I’m one of the first to jump on the You’re-Playing-It-Too-Much bandwagon. Really, I am. I don’t listen to top 40 radio because of that. In fact, I seldom listen to pop radio at all. KCRW is my station here in L.A. It’s the local public radio station, and they have some kickass radio programs. Check ‘em out. They podcast almost everything over the web. In this age of the Internet, I think KCRW would probably be my station wherever I lived. When not listening to the radio, I’ve got the iPod going with what it tells me is 4.7 days worth of continuous music.

But here’s the thing. I love this song. There are several elements that play right down my alley. The simplicity of the guitars. The emotion of the voice. But most of all, the story the lyrics tell.

It’s a simple one. You catch the eye of someone across the room, and for a split second you feel the attraction between the two of you. You can see a whole shared life right in front of you. But, for whatever reason, you know you will never be together. And then she (he) is gone. But that memory is there for you for the rest of your life.

The song makes me think back to the fall of my senior year in high school. I was working at McDonalds (yes, it’s true.) I was very much a single guy at this point with no idea what to do about it. But that’s probably beside the point.

I remember this one night, it was a Saturday. Late, maybe 9:30. Not a busy time for us. This family comes in: a husband and wife and their teenage daughter. I’m sure we were about the same age. I remember her face to this day. Open and friendly and cute as hell. I lived in a small town with only a single high school, so I was pretty sure they weren’t local.

The girl and I exchanged glances while they ordered their food. Then again while they were out in the dinning room eating. I wanted so much just to say hi. But it was like I’d forgotten how to talk.

And when they left, she looked back at me.

And she smiled.

And I smiled back.

And then she was gone.

I never saw her again. But I’ve never forgotten that evening, that perfect meeting.

That’s what this song does for me.

You're Beautiful
by James Blunt

My life is brilliant.

My life is brilliant
My love is pure.
I saw an angel.
Of that I'm sure.
She smiled at me on the subway.
She was with another man.
But I won't lose no sleep on that,
'Cause I've got a plan.

You're beautiful.
You're beautiful.
You're beautiful, it's true.
I saw your face in a crowded place,
And I don't know what to do,
'Cause I'll never be with you.

Yes, she caught my eye,
As I walked on by.
She could see from my face that I was,
Flying high,
And I don't think that I'll see her again,
But we shared a moment that will last 'till the end.

You're beautiful. You're beautiful.
You're beautiful, it's true.
I saw your face in a crowded place,
And I don't know what to do,
'Cause I'll never be with you.

You're beautiful.
You're beautiful.
You're beautiful, it's true.
There must be an angel with a smile on her face,
When she thought up that I should be with you.
But it's time to face the truth,
I will never be with you.

Monday, May 29, 2006

The Signing Express

Looks like the L.A. area is the place to be for book signings for the next week! Personally, I’m planning on dropping in at three of them. Here’s what’s on tape:

Thursday June 1st
7:30 p.m. THILLER: Things get started off with a bang as several of the contributors to the new Thriller Anthology from ITW and MIRA Books gather across the country doings several signings. (See schedule here for location of event nearest you.)

At Barnes & Noble on the 3rd Street Promenade in Santa Monica, my local event, Denise Hamilton, Gregg Hurwitz, Gayle Lynds, Christopher Reich, and Christopher Rice will all be there signing copies of the book. I’m definitely going, and I’m dragging Phil Hawley with me…okay, not dragging. He wants to go. In fact, I’m making him drive.

Friday June 2nd
7:00 p.m. Barry Eisler will be signing copies of The Last Assassin at the Mystery Bookstore in Westwood. I’m going to this one, too!

7:30 p.m. More THILLER but this time at the Borders in West L.A. Almost identical cast to the one on Thursday.

Saturday June 3rd
5:00 p.m. Cornelia Read signs copies of Field Of Darkness at the Mystery Bookstore in Westwood. I’m hoping to at least stop in for a few minutes to pick up my copy and say hello in person to Ms. Read!

Sunday June 4th
4:30 p.m. Still More THILLER It’s a final stop for the thriller gang on this crazy weekend. This time at the very busy Mystery Bookstore. Bobby and gang are going to have to sleep for a week after all of this excitement!

Monday June 5th
1:00 p.m. Lee Child and Cornelia Read in a joint appearance at Mysteries to Die For in Thousand Oaks.

Lee Child is also going to make a drop in appearance at Mystery Bookstore. No time specified.

Wow…I’m just exhausted writing about all of it.

Don’t you wish you lived here? At least for a week?

Friday, May 26, 2006

Copy Edits In Progress

First off, the notes and corrections aren’t bad at all. In fact the majority of the marks are instructions for the printing/typesetting process. There are actually many pages where there are no marks at all.

Most of the work I have to do is in answering and address several questions and issues both the copy editor and my editor have come up with. These are mainly written on yellow post-it notes stuck throughout the manuscript. I’ve taken the route of going through the entire manuscript and taking care of the easy ones first. Then I go through again and again dealing progressively with the more involved issues. This way, the real big things (nothing is really THAT big) can stew in my mind while I deal with everything else.

So I’d guess I’d say, so far, so good.

One thing, though…I’ve learned that I don’t know the difference between past and passed. Well, that’s not exactly right. I mean I DO know the difference, just don’t ask me what it is right now…I’m tired. But apparently my fingers don’t know the difference. Because when they’re typing away on my keyboard they confused these two word more often than anything else. I’d reprimand them if I thought it would do any good, but they’d probably say, “I was only following orders from the brain.” Then the brain would have some lame excuse like there “must be some faulty wiring in the spinal cord region.” And the spinal cord would blame the nerve cells, who wouldn’t blame anyone but would threaten to all get “pinched” at the same moment if I came down on them.

So I’ve resigned myself to the fact that this is a problem I’ll have to live with. I’m sure someday I’ll get passed…past…passed…past…around it.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Copy Edits Cometh

I knew this day was approaching. It had been hinted at for weeks, though the original timeline had The Day happening in early June. I’m talking about receiving my copy edits on Hung Out to Die.

For those of you not familiar, copyediting is what happens after you’ve done all your story editing with your editor. The manuscript then is giving to a person whose job it is to go over the entire book word-by-word, line-by-line. They look for typos, inconsistencies, misuses of language, and God knows what else.

I’ve been both looking forward to, and a bit nervous about this stage. But in a few short hours the package with my marked up pages will be in my hands, and I’ll need to put my nerves and excitement to the side. It’ll be get down to work time.

They’ve given me about three weeks to go over everything, approving or STETing suggestions, answering questions they have, and generally tightening the manuscript. Then it’ll be on to printing bound galleys and ARCs.

I can feel things starting to pick up speed. I just hope I don’t forget to strap myself in!

Monday, May 22, 2006

Another Fun Read

Just finished Jeff Shelby's Killer Swell yesterday. I really enjoyed it. Jeff has created a great cast of characters. They'll be fun to watch as their relationships evolve over the coming books in the series. It's also a pretty quick read. And seeing as it has a beach/surfer backdrop, you could say it's the perfect summer book.

Check it out.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

In Reference to Reference

I don’t know about you, but I used to be a compulsive reference book collector. The kind of books I’m talking about are the ones specifically aimed at writers. This has come to mind because as I set up my work area in my new place, I find myself unpacking boxes and boxes of reference books.

A sampling of titles:

Smart English
Crime Reference
The Dictionary of Clich├ęs
A Writer’s Companion
20 Master Plots
Dictionary of Modern Slang
Barlett’s Familiar Quotations

The list goes on and on. The thing that I find funny is that once I purchased each book, I would typically put it on a shelf and never open it. It was a comfort just to know that they were there. In a way, I think I purchased them to prove to myself that I was serious about being a writer. Weird, I know, but it worked.

Nowadays I seldom even open my dictionary as my computer has a perfectly adequate one. Even when I’m looking to name a character, the baby name books I own sit on the shelf, there are now better resources on the Internet.

I contemplated getting rid of some of my growing reference library, but just couldn’t do it. And chances are in the future, if I’m browsing through a bookstore and see a reference book I think might be interesting, I’ll probably buy it. It’ll join the others, but I’ll be glad it’s there.

And by the way, if anyone wants to know “How to Create A New Identity,” I have a book on that, too.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

What's a Picture Worth?

One of the interest tools I use to help get my creativity going is looking at pictures. I’m not talking about pulling out the family photo album and getting at laugh at that shot of Uncle Dan wearing the hula skirt…though, that actually could work. What I’m talking about are stock photo books.

In advertising, production, and the graphics industry there is a big need for photography. But shooting something new every time you need it is expensive. So what’s spring up is a whole industry of stock photos that you can purchase for a particular use. To aid their potential buyers, these stock companies create books of photos. They divide the pictures into sections – active people, panoramas, nature, highways, etc. You get the idea. Sometimes whole books are dedicated to one subject.

Over the years, I’ve collected several of these books. When I’m stuck or feeling uninspired, I’ll pick one up and start thumbing through the pages. If a picture catches my eye, I’ll mark it with a post-it. Occasionally, a photo will do more than just catch my eye. It’ll jump off the page at me. I’ll stop and stare at it for several minutes. Maybe it’s a picture of a person, and I can see their whole character right before me. Maybe it’s a place and as I watch as a scene from a story I have yet to write unfolds.

Often the pictures I’ve looked at don’t make it to the written page. But what they have done is get my juices flowing again. And in the back of my mind I know one day I’m going to find that picture that will translate not only to the page but will give me an entire story. It’ll be like my own mini-moment of nirvana.

What do you use to jump start your creativity?

Monday, May 15, 2006


Big congrats to my friend J.T. Ellison, a frequent contributor here at The Sphere. Seems she gone and got herself a 3 book deal with MIRA. The announcement in Publisher’s Marketplace says it’s a “very nice deal.” Hell, isn’t anytime you get your first book contract a very nice deal? (Unless, J.T., they are throwing a ton of money at you…then it IS a very nice deal…and if you need a new best friend, I’m available.)

J.T. I couldn’t be more excited for you. Way to go.

You can catch J.T. Ellison blogging every Friday at Murderati.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Work Space

I find myself contemplating workspace. With the move this weekend, it’s my opportunity to set up an area (were it a room to itself…ah…that’ll be the day!) that I can use for my primary writing location.

As some of you know by now, my favorite office is a table at whatever coffee shop I happen to be near. That probably won’t change. I love being surrounded by people when I work. But what I would like to change is the percentage of work (and by work, I mean actual pages written on my manuscript) I am able to accomplish at home.

I’ve got some sort of block when it comes to writing prose at home. It’s not that I haven’t done it, nor continue to do it, it’s just that it doesn’t happen very often. So I’m looking at this move as an opportunity to change that mode of thinking. Fresh place, fresh start.

Let’s start with the desk. A lot of people love a large working space. Someplace you can either spread out a lot of things on, or keep clean and empty to help unclutter your mind. (Clutter might be a good future post…me = not so go at keeping the clutter away.) I used to be a big desk person, too. My previous desk now serves as my dinning table. The key word there is now. When it was my desk a few years ago, it was my desk.

These days, I like my desk small. My current desk, and the one I will keep using after the move is 2 ¾ feet across by 2 feet deep. Tiny. And I love it. It has a nice, light pine finish on top, with a dark stained edge. It’s a nice wooden table that looks like it came straight from a nice furniture shop. But the secret is, it didn’t. Or at least it didn’t get to me that way.

I found it abandoned outside an apartment building. And don’t worry, I waited several hours before I laid claim the table, checking every so often to see if it was still there, sitting only a few feet away from a dumpster. In my mind, I saved the poor thing from certain disaster at the city dump.

…now I feel compelled to say I NEVER have done anything like that before or since. That was my one and only refuse “purchase”…stop judging me… oh, wait…that’s me judging myself…sorry….

Anyway, the desk will be the centerpiece of my new work space. I’ve staked out a place for it under a window overlooking a large green space.

So besides the desk?

Sound system will be important. But since my music will actually be generated from my computer, I just need to plug in a good set of speakers.

My chair is a nice, old-fashion wooden office chair on wheels. It tilts backwards and rocks a little if I want. Think I purchased it from some fancy furniture store about ten years ago. It’s a little scratched up, now though. Once, when I was transporting it in the back of a truck, I hadn’t secured it properly and it flew out onto the highway. It’s a wonder it didn’t shatter into splinters. It still works great.

There are a few things I’m going to need for this new space. A couple of filing cabinets so I don’t have to leave everything in boxes. And some book cases…Yes, I do have book cases already, but all the real estate on their shelves has already been claimed twice over.

I’m sure there will be a few other additions once I get settled in.

But the truth is, the best office furniture in the world won't make a difference. The most important thing will be that I believe it's a place where I can work and be creative.'s all psychology.

How about you? What’s your workspace like? Is it they way you want it? What would you change?

(in no particular order)

1. K.T. Tunstall – Eye to the Telescope
2. U2 – All That You Can’t Leave Behind
3. John Coltrane – Blue Train
4. Green Day – American Idiot
5. Tan Dun & Yo Yo Ma – Soundtrack to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
6. The Who – Quadrophenia
7. Tei Towa – Future Listening!
8. Sergio Mendes – Timeless
9. My Morning Jacket – Z
10. Billie Holiday – The Complete Decca Recordings

Monday, May 08, 2006

A Thoroughly Pleasant Evening

As some of you know, I will be part of a panel discussion at ThirllerFest this summer - What Do You Mean I Can’t Quit My Day Job: New Writer’s Tell It Like It Is. If I’m not mistaken, most of us on the panel have our debut novels coming out next year. As it turns out, a couple of the other panel members live here in the L.A. area. Last night I met up with one of them, Philip Hawley, Jr., at where else than Starbucks.

It was Phil’s suggestion, and I quickly agreed. We met up at 7 p.m. and spent two hours talking about our lives, our books, the publishing process and the industry in general. Phil’s book, Stigma, is due for release in March 2007. It sounds great!

I guess the best part was that, as soon to be published authors, we seldom get a chance to sit down with anyone and talk shop. We all basically work in our own little spheres of solitude, with the only interaction book-wise being the occasional call or email from our editors or agents. (Thank God for the blogs and my critique group. Without them, it would be like rowing a boat alone in the middle of the ocean.)

I’m sure you’ll be hearing more about Phil in the future. He is definitely one of the nice guys. Maybe we can even coax him to leave a post now and then.

Sunday, May 07, 2006


I’ve spent most of the weekend running. Running from this store to that store. Buying things I’ll need in my new place. Running around my current abode, packing, discarding and generally making a mess.

I’ve also been running from working on book two.

I’ve talked about this before. How I’m stuck in the loop, second-guessing everything I come up with. Knowing the last thing I want to do is write a variation on book one, but worrying that every plot I think up is just that. They aren’t. I’m over thinking. Case in point, one plot I have is definitely different. But the amount of research I’ll have to do is daunting. (J.T., maybe I could hire you? And by hire, I mean ask you to do it for free.) Plus I like to have traveled to the main locations my stories are set in. In this plot, that might not be the case, and that concerns me.

So I continued to run into the night – first Best Buy, then the shoe store, and finally back home to watch part of Soylent Green (gotta love TIVO.)

This morning when I got up, I decided to go on a real run, after all, I did finally buy new running shoes the night before. Okay, okay, most would probably refer to what I do as a jog. Some might even look at me and say they could walk faster than I move, but I digress.

Run, I did. With my iPod. Music on loud – this time the soundtrack to Moulin Rouge, a nice mix of slow and fast. I though about many things on my run. Potential jacket copy for Hung Out To Die. How I was going to arrange my furniture in the new pad. Why has a billboard up next to The Grove shopping center that says “See Where The Sun Goes When It’s Cloudy Here,” and thinking that sign belongs more in Seattle than Los Angeles…then looking up and realizing it’s cloudy this morning.

As I finished my run, coming to the last few steps before I’d start my two-block cool down walk, a new plot hit me. Bam. Out of the blue. I tell you, I wasn’t even looking for it. But it’s a good one. Easy for me to see beginning and end. Lots of interesting characters. A great location where I’ve actually been.

I stopped mid-step. I’m sure I looked odd. (Hold on, this is L.A. Everything is odd here.) Still, had there been others on the street, I’m sure they would have given me the “Are you okay?” raised eyebrow look.

Hell, yes. I was okay. Better than okay. Rockin’.

So while I was spending all weekend running away from the plot of book two, I ended up running right into it.

The moral here: If you're haveing a hard time with a plot, with a scene, with your lover or whatever, take a breather and forget about it for a while. The answer will come. It always comes.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Another Recommendation

Just finished M.J. Rose's The Delilah Complex. It'll suck you in and keep you wondering until you're done. M.J. is one of those writers whose prose flow so smoothly, she makes you forget at times you are actually reading.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

What Goes and What Stays?

So my house is a mess. I mean, A MESS. Boxes everywhere. Piles of God knows what all over the place. I’ve been throwing things out by the ton.

See, I’m a pack rat. Still am. There are a lot of things I refuse to part with, but since I’m moving, I’m trying to be a little more realistic about what I need and don’t need. That means those jeans I’ve been holding onto for years…gone, Christmas decorations I don’t use…gone, old sinus meds, old t-shirts, unused furniture…gone.

One thing I realize I’ve gained a lot of is hard copies of the different novels I’ve written. (I’ve finished four novels…Hung Out to Die – my first sale – was actually book number three.) My process is this: first draft is done entirely on the computer, then comes the re-writes. I do rewrites in rounds, with each round basically being an edit and a fine tune. For the rewrite, I print out a full copy of the novel and then read it, marking it up as I’m going along. Often this involves complete rewrites of scenes, my revisions wrapping around to the backside of the printed page. I like the feel of reading the text on a printed page. I enjoy crossing out what’s wrong and noting the change I want to make. It’s freeing for me, somehow. That’s the first part. The fine tune comes in as I input the changes into my computer. I don’t just insert exactly what I’ve written. I give it a second look and make sure it’s what I want, rewriting again if I think something better will work.

That’s one rewrite round. I can do three, four, six, ten rounds. To me, getting the work right is extremely important. But don’t get me wrong. I’m not one of those people who constantly rewrites and reworks. Between each rewrite, someone other than me usually reads the draft – maybe the members of my critique group, maybe a trusted friend, and now usually my editor. Their notes and questions and suggestions are what drive the next draft.

What does this have to do with my move? Simply this: I now realizes that I have a ton of printouts of all my manuscripts, each a different draft with different notes. And I’ve got to tell you, I can’t throw any of them out. So those five or six boxes are coming with me and probably will stay with me until one of us has turned to dust. My personal writing history. I’ll probably never look them over again. No one will. But these babies ain’t going anywhere.

And you know what? It’s actually a comforting thought.

Sunday, April 30, 2006

L.A. Times Festival of Books

There will definitely be better and more comprehensive reports on this past weekend’s L.A. Times Festival of Books at UCLA. I know Naomi Hirahara over on Murderati will probably have a great wrap up later in the week. So I’ll just give a few impressions.

Any writer, either publisher or with the dream of being published (or even if you don’t have that dream), should go to this festival at least once in their life. To see so many readers in the same place at the same time…amazing.

I arrived early on Saturday, around 10:30. As I was by Royce Hall toward the exhibition booths, there was a long line wrapped around the building. This, I found out soon after, was the line for people with tickets to see Frank McCourt speak. As I neared the booths, I came upon a second line, and overheard people saying that it was the stand-by line for the same event. This stand-by line was already over two hundred people long and growing. Royce Hall holds, I believe around 1500 or so. Everyone was so excited to hear an author speak. That was my first impression.

Hundred of booths: booksellers, publishers both large and small, media outlets, author associations, ancillary items (like the portable bed desk). Everything book you could think of. That was impression number two.

As noon approached, the crowds grew larger. It felt almost like going to Disneyland on a busy day – not quite the size of Disneyland but the bodies per square foot were similar. Number three.

And finally – authors, authors everywhere. In panels, at booths and just walking around. Many of the book stores such as L.A.’s own Mystery Bookstore, had multiple authors signing in shifts throughout the day. Number four.

The Mystery Bookstore had anywhere from six to eight authors at all times. I ran into my friend Nathan Walpow there. I met Alexandra Sokoloff there, she and I will be on the same panel at ThrillerFest this summer. I had a great conversation with Jeff Shelby author of Killer Swell and one of the bloggers at First Offenders. Recognized him from his picture and talked to him before he started signing. At other booths I talked to two of the seven members of Murderati: Pari Noskin Taichert at the Sisters in Crime booth and Naomi Hirahara at the Kinokunya Books booth. And I saw so many others.

The one person I was hoping to run into but did not was Sean Doolittle. Sean and I are both former Ugly Town authors now at Bantam Dell. We’ve met before, but I was not able to make it to his signing time at Mystery Bookstore.

The sun was out, the crowd was buoyant and setting was wonderful. It was a celebration of books. What could be better than that?

Friday, April 28, 2006

It's Here

Today's the day. The L.A. Times Festival of Books begins at 10 a.m. My backpack has the water and the snacks and a bit of room for...I don't know...BOOKS! I'll be arriving around noon and spending most of the afternoon there. Can not wait!

Full report in the near future.


Okay, riffing a little off of yesterday’s post, let’s focus in on the R of ROWE (or I guess I could have called it WORE or even OREW…but OREW doesn’t make sense. Focus, Brett, focus.)

I wrote yesterday about how important reading is to the education of a writer, and how it begins with the first time we picked up a book.

So what I wanted to discuss today is early writing influences. I’ll list a few of mine, but I’d love to hear yours, too.

Here are mine in no particular order:

1. The Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigator books. I did a whole post about this a month or two ago, so I won’t go into any further here. Except to say I loved these books when I was a kid.

2. Anything by Alistar MacLean. I must have read a dozen books he wrote when I was still young…Ice Station Zebra, Where Eagles Dare, The Guns of Navarone, and The Golden Rendevous just to name some. These were truly the foundation of my love for thrillers.

3. The Eagle Has Landed by Jack Higgins. Wow.

4. Black Sunday by Thomas Harris – so much better than the film.

A break here for a moment. Obviously, my parents instilled in me a love of reading. But it was my Dad’s choice of genre that influenced me the most back then. He was and still is a huge science fiction fan. Being a physicist (now retired), I guess this stands to reason. So the following influences have a decidedly Sci-Fi base:

5. Robert Heinlein. He is first and foremost. I read everything I could of his. Stranger in a Strange Land, Farhams Freehold, Citizen of the Galaxy…the list is long.

6. Arthur C. Clarke. Of course.

7. Isaac Asimov. The Foundation books I read many times.

8. James White. A lot of people probably haven’t heard of him. He wrote a series of space medical dramas call, I think, Sector General. But those weren’t the books of his I read. It was his stand alones like All Judgment Fled (which I’ve read at least fifteen times), The Watch Below and The Dream Millennium that I love.

There are definitely more authors I could name. As I got older, Robert Ludlum, Michael Crichton, Dean Koontz, Stephen King… And of course the list continues to grow.

If you’d like to share, tell me some of your early influences. I promise not to use the information against you…unless I really, really have to.

Thursday, April 27, 2006


No, this is not some sort of politic rant. I’m simply talking about ROWE. It’s something every writer must adhere to if they expect to create good work. What is ROWE, you ask?

R –> Read
O –> Observe
W –> Write
E –> Experience

If you think about it, it’s pretty obvious. I’m sure most authors do all of the above without even realizing it.

The first teachers we have as writers, the first who really begin to shape our skills, are the authors we read when we are young. We didn’t even know we were in training then. But the way sentences were crafted, the way dialogue was presented, even the subconscious realization of point of view, all were seeded in us beginning with that first book we read.

But the learning process doesn’t stop there. The best writers continue to read everything they can. Learning, soaking it in, and just enjoying. Each book is like a classroom. Even the bad ones (perhaps even more so than the good.) We learn what to do and what not to do. What sounds right and what sounds forced. We learn that sure, sometime you can get away with short cuts, but we also learn that when short cuts aren’t taken how much better a story can be.

It has happened often, but it always surprises me when I hear of a writer who doesn’t read much. Mostly, this has been people I’ve met in old writing groups. And when I read their submissions, more times than not, what’s on the page is not very good.

We stand on the foundation of those who have gone before us. To ignore that is just stupid.

Reading is probably our most important tool, but it is not the only one. Good writers are able to see what others do not see. We observe life. We watch the interactions of strangers. We sit in a coffee shop and try to guess at the lives of those around us. When we walk into a room, we not only see the person waiting there for us, but we also see the couch that’s slightly askew, the stack of comedy DVDs next to the television, the dying flowers in the vase across the room. We may smell the chicken baking in the kitchen, or the scent of rain that has followed us in from outside.

We see place. We see character. We see life in levels others don’t even care about. This is what we do. This helps to make us better story tellers.

Hand in hand with observation comes experience. You can’t always do everything your characters need to do. But you can do things that will help you understand them better. If your main character is a risk taker, then jump out of a plane or take hang gliding lessons or just drive on the freeway for an hour. If she or he loves to travel, then travel. If your character shoots a gun, go to a range and take a handgun lesson. Know what these things feels like.

Drink the wine that they drink. Watch the movies that they would watch. Go to the places they would go. Experience your own life then use that in what you write.

And that’s the final thing for every writer. We must write. Every damn day. Even if it is just a paragraph that you toss in the trash as soon as you are done. WRITE. WRITE. WRITE. There is no excuse not to.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Talk About a Fun Read

I just finished Steven Hockensmith's debut novel Holmes on the Range. Westerns are not something I usually pick up. Nor are Sherlock Holmes related stories. But I have to say, this book is fantastic. So much fun! I laughed a lot. And each evening I couldn't wait until it was time to pick up where I left off.

I'm not going to give you a summary. I suck at summaries, besides I'm constantly afraid of giving away too much. But picture this: It's the 1890s and two brothers (Old Red and Big Red) move from ranch to ranch looking for work. Old Red just happens to be a huge Sherlock Holmes fan, and when a crime is committed he just can't help trying a little detectifying himself.

Usually I'm emmersed in fast paced thrillers and super serious crime stories, so this was a great change of pace. But don't get me wrong, it's not just a "palette cleanser." It's good. Really good. Steven Hockensmith really knows what he's doing. I can't wait for Old Red and Big Red's next adventure.

You'd do yourself a big favor by picking this one up.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Getting to Know You (Actually not You, but...well...just read on)

One of the most valuable writing classes I took in college wasn’t a writing class at all. It was Acting 101. The fact that I took an acting class isn’t as big of a stretch as you might think. I’d actually done a bit of acting in high school. But just to be clear, I was under no delusion that I would be pursuing acting as a career…I was a little too realistic (not to mention introverted) for that. I was merely filing out my electives with something I thought would be fun.

Okay, back to the class. I had this great teacher. For the life of me, I can’t remember her name. Don’t give me a hard time! It was…eh…a few…okay…several years ago. (Let’s just call her Ms. Brando.) She was really good at pulling out the best performances possible from everyone in the class. I enjoyed that a lot. But that’s not what made this the best writing class I had.

Each week, Ms. Brando would assign us a scene to do. Sometimes it was with someone else, sometimes it was a monologue. But part of what she had us do to get into the character was write an essay about the part we were playing.

I think most people did your basic character sketches. You know what I mean. Age. Physical characteristics. A few highlights of their life…but probably only those facts that were revealed in the play itself.

I guess because I considered myself more a writer than an actor, I really dug into the essays. I would write stories, usually in first person as the character, telling about “my” life or concentrating on a specific episode.

I do remember one specific paper I wrote. I’d been assigned to play the part of George Gibbs from Thorton Wilder’s Our Town.If any of you know the play, you’ll remember that George was the main character who goes from being a teenager in love in the first act to being a late twenty something widower when his high-school sweetheart dies in childbirth.

Instead of writing my essay in first person, I decided to treat this one as a newspaper interview. I (Brett) was a reporter and I met up with George in a local coffee shop several years after the timeline of the play was over. I asked him questions, and he answered as best he could, dodging some answers and struggling with others. I didn’t put words into his mouth. I wrote them down exactly as he said them to me in my mind.

Ms. Brando loved the paper. I think she was probably just happy not to get another “George had a hard life…” type submission. In the end it doesn’t really matter what she thought. (But if you’re wondering, I did get an A.) What does matter is all the papers I wrote for that class (and specifically the one about George Gibbs) were a revelation to me. They did exactly what Ms. Brando had intended. They helped me to get to know a character. Of course she was thinking in the acting sense. To me it was all about how it related to writing.

I knew the method would help me get to know characters I created in my stories. And what that interview showed me was that I could actually talk directly to my characters. I could ask them questions I didn’t know the answers to, and you know what? They’d answer me.

Some of you might have read my post from Friday night – it follows this one, so just keep scrolling down if you haven’t. It’s kind of an example of what I’m talking about. Not 100%, but you’ll get the idea. In this case, that particular post was not something I wrote long ago to help me with my novel. I wrote it Friday night because I wanted to find some way to introduce people to the protagonist of my novel, and it felt like a good way to do it.

I guess all I’m saying is that if you’re a writer, don’t be afraid to talk to your characters. They like to talk, though you might have to work a bit to get them to fully open up.

But you’re a writer. This kind of work’s okay.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Conversations 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 one of the wanderers I tend to collect, this one a fellow American working overseas. I think I first met him on the U-bahn (the Berlin train system) 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 lived – Quinn much more comfortably than I. We were having dinner at a Thai restaurant on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood. At the time it was my favorite place to eat. In the past year and a half, they've changed the decor to some sort of 90s disco theme and I haven't gone back.

“What does that mean?” I asked.

As he took a sip of his Singha 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.”


“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?”


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?”


“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.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Something a Little Different

One of my favorite authors has started blogging. But unlike the rest of us, Barry Eisler’s The Heart of the Matter deals with “politics and language, particularly language as it influences politics, with the occasional post on some miscellaneous subject that catches my attention.”

A lawyer and former CIA operative among other things, Barry has the background to back it up. His blog should provide an interesting counterpoint to the other author blogs out there.

Love the title reference to one of my favorite books of all time, too. THE HEART OF THE MATTER by Graham Greene.

Friday, April 07, 2006


A great new blog started this week. Murderati is a collaborative effort between a group of writers including Naomi Hirahara, Simon Wood, JT Ellison, Elaine Flinn, Jeffrey Cohen, Pari Noskin Taichert, and Beatrice Brooks (aka Denise Dietz.) Definitely worth checking out. From the sound of things, it looks like they'll be having a lot of very helpful information.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

No Writer is an Island

That big shout of satisfaction you heard coming from the west coast last night was me. Sorry about that. Hope I didn't wake you. See, I got the latest draft of Hung Out to Die off to Bantam last night. It wasn't a particularly difficult rewrite, just took a few weeks.

There are few things as satisfying as seeing the notes my editor sent me get ticked off one-by-one until there was none left. As before, the notes were good ones. Really good. The story is that much better now...(when I say "that much," imagine me holding my hands far apart.)

It's a whole new world for me working with an editor. I’m fascinated by their profession. It’s not one I think I could ever do, at least not full time. But how cool is it that day in and day out these people help writers craft better stories. Sounds like a dream. At first, anyway. People come to you with interesting and exciting stories, and you help them make the tales better.

Well, there is a dark side. I'm sure there are those...hmmm...difficult writer's out there. You know what I’m talking about. The authors who don’t want to make any changes. Who think editors every suggestion is not worth his or her time.

Personally, I take the path of: "Thank you for offering to publish my book. What would you like me to do now?"

Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait. Quit yelling at me! I don't mean you just blindly do whatever your editor says. (Kindly extinguish the torches and let's save that hangman's knot for later...good craftsmanship on that, though.) But your editor is a story expert. Not to listen to them is stupid. You should talk to them. Ask them questions. Understand where they are coming from with their suggestions. 9.795 times out of 10, you’ll end up agreeing with them in the end.

Hung Out to Die is a good book. (I can say that now. None of you have read it yet.) Hell, it was a good book when Bantam bought it or they would have never given me the time of day based on my situation (read the early posts here about might have to scroll down a bit.) Because of the suggestions my editor(s) have made, the story is better.

So much better (again with the hands held wide apart.)

“Sure, Brett. That’s all fine. But what if you aren’t published? What if you don’t have an editor?”

Simple. Find one. I did. I had a teacher who became my sounding board. He’d look at my work, give me ideas, help to fix problems. He even went so far as to often do a line edit. (Boy was that painful at first, but it sure helped prepare me for later.) So if you're unpublished and don't have an editor, I say find one. Not necessarily a professional, but someone. There are plenty of people out there, smart people, story people, people who can help you. Maybe it's a teacher, or a fellow writer. As long as it is someone you trust and whose opinions you respect, then you’re fine. Use them. Let them help you. Listen to them, and don't take criticism personally.

While writing might be an "individual" art, no book is ever written alone.

At least none that will ever be published.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Editors and Agents

As you’ve probably gathered from past postings, the road I’ve traveled to have my first novel published is an unusual one. It’s not that I set out for it to happen that way, but since the path has gotten me where I have wanted to be, I have zero complaints.

It’s been over a year since Ugly Town bought my novel, and about four months since they had to suspend operations and transferred my contract to Bantam Dell. All of this happened without me having any representation.

Two things happened last week that were interesting twists to my journey. Maybe they’re only interesting to me. Who knows. Shannon, the editor who brought me over to Bantam Dell, called me to let me know she was leaving to take a job at another publishing house.

Of course my first reaction was “Uh oh.” We’ve all heard the horror stories of writers switching editors midstream only to find their new editor has different priorities. And for me there was also sadness that Shannon was going. She’d been so supportive and had already helped me improve my manuscript considerably. She will always be an important part of getting my career started.

The good news is my worry of changing editors has proved to be completely groundless. Danielle, my new editor, called me within hours of Shannon’s call. She was very reassuring and seemed to share in Shannon’s enthusiasm for my novel. This was reinforced yesterday when she called with her notes on my latest draft. If anything, her excitement with my book had only grown since the last time we talked. Her notes were great, and very manageable. I’m extremely excited about working with her, and feel that everything is very much still on track. (Who? Me? Paranoid? Never.)

The other bit of news is about agents. I have been thinking for a couple months that I should really get one. In fact, I had contacted a couple other writers and inquired about their agents. The problem was, I already had a three book deal with Bantam Dell, so when I did have any conversations with agents, their basic response was that there was nothing they could do until it was time for a new contract. Eh...that doesn't really help me.

There was one agent who gave me a different response. Oddly, I had actually met her during a van ride from the hotel in Chicago to the airport after Bouchercon last fall. She had given me her card back then, and it is taped to the wall in front of my desk. (Lesson here: Never miss an opportunity to meet new people. I actually introduced myself to her during the ride. Something I might not have done, because I was exhausted, except for having attended a self-marketing panel with Barry Eisler, Jason Starr and Sean Doolittle. Barry introduced himself to everyone in the room before the panel. So I took his cue.)

I sent her an email explaining my situation, and within about an hour she called me. She asked to see my contract and read my book. So I emailed them off thinking it would be a week or more before I heard back.

The next morning she called me again. As she had been printing out my novel the evening before, she started to read it. By the time she called me that next morning, she’d finished the whole thing. She had some very nice things to say about it, but even more importantly, she offered to take me on as a client basically gratis until my next contract comes up.

So now I do have an agent, and a new editor, and I couldn’t be happier.

(Though, Shannon, if you are reading this, your input and help will never be forgotten.)

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Personal Soundtrack

I'm curious...when you write, do you listen to music?

I do. I've got my iPod with me wherever I go. I've customized several different play lists depending on what I need to write. I have the Emotion play list with songs that can make me feel sad or passionate or hopeful (Nick Drake, Five for Fighting, U2, Macy Gray to name a few). I have one entitled Action which has a lot more fast paced stuff (Green Day, Lenny Kravitz, Evanescence and even some Boston, Cheap Trick, David Bowie and Stones) that's great when I'm writing any action scene.

When I'm writing a first draft, or creating a new scene, songs with lyrics don't bother me at all. But when I'm doing rewrites, I'm more likely to listen to instrumental pieces. Soundtracks mainly. Ennio Morricone's soundtrack to The Mission is a favorite. As is James Horner's music for Glory, Patrick Doyle's for Henry V, and Tan Dun's for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

I love the mood music can put me in. I love the way it can drown out the noises of a busy Starbucks. I love how sometimes it makes me feel like I'm watching a movie instead of writing a book. Music intensifies everything for me. It's an essential implement in my writing toolbox.

What about you? Do you listen? Do you need quiet? Do you change your music depending on what you are writing?

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Prayers for the Assassin

A heads up to any of you in the Los Angeles area on Saturday afternoon. The Mystery Bookstore in Westwood plays host to Robert Ferrigno, author of Prayers for the Assassin. David J. Montgomery says it's the best book he's read in over a year. Here's his review.

I'm halfway through it now, and enjoying every page.

Robert Ferrigno will be signing and discussing Prayers for the Assassin at 5pm. The Mystery Bookstore is located at 1036-C Broxton Ave. Phone 310.209.0415. I'll definitely be there.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Living in L.A. #1

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.

Friday, January 27, 2006

William Relling, Jr.

It’s hard to believe its been two years since my friend Bill Relling passed away. So much has happened since then. Things that without his help and influence would never have happened.

Bill was actually more than a friend. He was my teacher, my mentor. Under his guidance I was able to finally achieve the dream of writing a novel. And not just one, but several.

I wasn’t the only one he helped. There have been dozens of other, either through the classes he taught or the writing group he established (one which several of us still belong to) who have learned their craft from him. Many who came to him have not only written novels, but have also gone on to be published.

Bill, under his full name William Relling, Jr., had at least a half dozen books published. But his legacy is not just his body of work. It is all of us that carry on working hard to make it in the world of fiction. Each of us carries a little bit of Bill in our minds. I can feel him frowning at times when I begin to write something that isn’t fully thought out. I can sense him when I’m editing, saying “Kill your darlings.” And I can almost see him smiling when I craft a chapter that really works. He is always with me.

Sadly, he did not live long enough to see me get my own publishing contract. In a strange way, it was because he passed away that I am finally on the path to publication. If you’ve read the previous entry on the history of my publishing journey, you’ll recall I had a friend introduce me to Ugly Town Publishing. That friend was author Nathan Walpow. At the time, it had been several months since Nathan and I had seen each other…in face, it may have even been over a year. Then when Bill died, I saw Nathan and several other former members of the writing group at the memorial service. Of course we talked about Bill, laughing a lot and remembering what he’d done for each of us. Somehow Nathan and I got onto the topic of what we were working on at the time. That’s when Nathan offered to give me the introduction to his publisher Ugly Town. Part of the reason I think he did it was that’s what he thought Bill would want. That offer led directly to where I find myself today, with a book coming out next year from Bantam Dell.

While Bill was alive, he helped me develop my skills and becoming the writer I am, then even after he was gone, he helped to put me on my way.

I could not be more thankful. And I could not miss him more.

I think…no…I know Bill would be happy to hear that things happened the way they did. He’d think it was an interesting story. But he’d warn me not to make it too sentimental.

I guess there are still some lessons I need to learn.