Writing Advice Sucks #6: Read everything, read constantly

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A long, long time ago (looking on Amazon I see it came out in 2003 and holy shit that was fifteen years ago) I read a book called The Contortionist’s Handbook. It was a noir-as-fuck debut novel by a dude named Craig Clevenger, about an uber-talented forger who constantly reinvented himself to avoid the authorities.

It was one of those formative books for me—I read it and I was like yes, this, this is what I want to do, I want to do things like this. So I tracked down Clevenger’s e-mail and I sent him a message, asking him if he had any advice.

He came back with a bullet list of ten points, and it’s some of the best advice I’ve ever gotten. I was very, very lucky to get it at the beginning of this journey, and reading it now reinforces how much of it informed my writing DNA.

That list is still, to this day, taped to the wall over my computer.

I’ve been thinking about the first point lately, a lot. Enough I think it’s worth breaking into its own post.

Continue reading

It’s almost time for Bouchercon! And here’s where I’ll be…

N@BBCSP_B.jpgYesterday I wrote about the quantum state of conferences—how they’re worth it and not worth it at the same time, and really it comes down to your definition of “worth.”

Which is a pretty good segue into some news about Bouchercon, which is taking place in Florida this year. I will be there! I will be doing stuff!

First up: Noir at the Bar on Thursday night. Will you just look at this line-up? It’s madness. Sheer madness, and I feel extremely lucky to have made the cut. I’ll try to come up with something good to read…

I’ll also be appearing on two panels. They are:

Friday, September 7th, 1 p.m. — Remington Steele Goes Digital? — Writing the Modern PI Novel. I’ll be joining Rebecca Swope (moderator), J.D. Allen, Kristen Lepionka, and Paul D. Marks

Saturday, September 8th, 1 p.m. — Yin and Yang — Cozy and Noir. I’ll be moderating this one, which features Donna Andrews, Ed Lin, Melinda Mullet, Robert Randisi, and Jim Doherty.

Otherwise, I will be wandering the conference hotel. If you want to find me, the hotel bar is a good bet, followed by the pool.

Writing Advice Sucks #5: The importance of community, the quantum state of cons, and recharging your creative batteries

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Two weekends ago me and some pals rented a cabin in upstate New York for what we like to call Broke Hack Mountain: a few days of eating, fighting, drinking, and writing.

I was working on a final pass of The Warehouse before submitting it back to Crown. It was great, to see all 472 pages over the course of two and a half days—I caught so much stuff I wouldn’t have caught if the read were stretched over a longer period.

Like, hey, I used a somewhat similar metaphor 70 pages ago and why do so many characters have ponytails? kind of stuff. I know it’s not easy to find a whole, obligation-free weekend, but if you can, it’s worth it.

That’s not what I’m here to talk about, though! I’m here to talk about community. Because one of the many, many publishing-related questions that came up over the weekend was: are conferences worth it?

It’s actually a pretty common question, and one I’ve been asked a lot: do I need to go to this con or that con?

Which is a good jumping off point, I think, that’ll bring us back to why we went to the cabin in the first place (and why we hope to make it a more regular occurrence). Continue reading

Writing Advice Sucks #4: Editing ‘The Warehouse’, why Elmore Leonard was right, and one secret editing trick that will BLOW YOUR MIND

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I run an online workshop program at LitReactor, where we bring in writers and editors to lead classes on craft. I listen to a lot of pitches. And one of the pitches I get most frequently is on editing. Not how to write the first draft of a novel or story, but how to refine a written story.

And I cannot sell them.

I’ve had authors whose other classes sold very well try to teach an editing class and I’m lucky if we sell enough seats to keep it open. I cannot for the life of me understand why this is. Continue reading

‘Potter’s Field,’ the fifth and final Ash McKenna novel, is available now

New YorkedToday is the day: Potter’s Field is available in hardcover and eBook. It’s weird and bittersweet to be at the end of a road that started with the publication of New Yorked in 2015. Though really it started in 2010, when I first began to write it. Fun fact: the first title of New Yorked was Apophenia, which is the condition of finding patterns in random data, which I thought was so clever and I now realize is probably the dumbest fucking title ever. Glad I didn’t roll forward with that one.

I wrote the series for a lot of reasons, but a big one was that I wanted to write the origin story of a private detective—about what would push someone into that kind of profession. Because I felt like a lot of PI stories are about characters who are jaded and worn and who’ve been at it for a very long time. So I thought it was be cool to start at the start. The fun thing about Potter’s Field is that I get another chance to tell a New York story, but without all the accumulated bullshit of a first-time novelist.

I’ll likely be insufferable the next few days as stuff starts to land. I was on the Writer Types podcast with pals Eric Beetner and SW Lauden (they’re all over but here’s a Stitcher link), Dan Malmon continues his very thoughtful and kind reviews over at Crimespree, and I’ve got a LitReactor column to finish, uh, right now…

Click here to find it. It’s okay if you haven’t read the whole series. You can start with this and work your way backward. Or go start at the beginning and know you won’t have to wait for the story to finish. Or buy it to use as a doorstop. Whatever works!

Oh, also, release party July 17 at The Mysterious Bookshop and I’m reading at Noir at the Bar at Shade on Sunday night. Links!

But to all of you who stuck with me through this: Thank you. From the bottom of my heart, it has meant the world to me.

Writing Advice Sucks #3: ‘Analysis paralysis’, Shiny Thing Syndrome, and the Nicholas Cage Rule.

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Do you ever go on Netflix looking for something to watch, and despite hundreds of choices right in front you, you can’t decide on something?

So you click through the menus until you end up re-watching an episode of The Office you’ve already seen a dozen times?

This is “analysis paralysis.”

It’s something I struggle with constantly as a Netflix customer and as a writer.

When it comes to Netflix, my wife and I have a rule: If we spend more than 15 minutes without making a choice, we have to watch the first Nic Cage movie we see. That usually helps to settle things.

Which is a difficult rule to apply to the writing end… Continue reading

On powerlessness

I keep trying to write something about this, and I keep stalling out, because I figure, what is there to even say?

Or, what could I say that might make any difference, several thousand miles away from where this is happening, in the privileged bubble of my happy family life?

That picture of the little girl sobbing, after being separated from her family, after her goddamn shoelaces were taken away—I saw it while sitting in a locker room. I was about to test for the next level in Krav Maga, a martial art founded by Imi Lichtenfeld in the 1930s to defend Jewish neighborhoods in Bratislava from anti-Semitic gangs. All I could think was: the only thing that’s changed is the uniforms.

I looked at that picture and I shook because this little girl was so tiny and so afraid and I think of how I feel when my daughter is upset or afraid like that, and how it rips my heart clean in fucking two, and this child’s parents aren’t even there to comfort her. They’ve been taken away by a bunch of fuckers who are gleeful in their hatred. What that kid must be going through, what those parents must be going through, it’s a pain I can’t even fathom.

My daughter was born with a heart defect, and twice in the first year of her life we handed her over for six-hour open-heart surgeries. So I know that feeling of your child being taken away and the stakes being very high. But we were handing her over to a team of doctors who demonstrated the utmost care and compassion. And by the end of the day we had her back.

There is no care or compassion here. None. Instead there’s a complete and utter breakdown of empathy and kindness.

We are in the midst of a full-blown humanitarian crisis and I keep coming back to this feeling of: we are the bad guy. If this were a movie, then America would be the regime the freedom fighters would be trying to topple. And we would cheer those fighters, because a government that splits up families and then lies about why they’re doing it—there’s no law here, this is a negotiating tactic for Trump to get his dumb fucking wall—is just full-blown evil.

I don’t know what to do.

I gave money to ActBlue, which is funneling donations to a number of organizations trying to help these families. I found them on a longer list that Mashable put together. But my heart still hurts because all I did was press a button. It feels like nothing.

I can beg and plead for people to vote in the midterms. Cut Trump off at the knees, at least, so his power will be limited. But I begged and pleaded for people to vote for Clinton, for all the good that seemed to do.

I don’t know what to do as an artist. Though, at times like this I tend to fall back to what Kurt Cobain wrote in the liner notes of Nirvana’s 1992 album Incesticide:

At this point I have a request for our fans. If any of you in any way hate homosexuals, people of different color, or women, please do this one favor for us—leave us the fuck alone! Don’t come to our shows and don’t buy our records.

There’s this debate that pops up a lot in artistic communities—especially lately—over how political an artist should or should not be, because you don’t want to risk sales. But I’m pretty comfortable saying that if you can look at what’s happening on the border and you can shrug it off, or worse, justify it—leave me the fuck alone! Don’t come to my signings and don’t buy my books.

Other than that, all I feel is powerlessness.

I don’t speak Spanish. I live thousands of miles away from the border. I’m not a lawyer. I poke around on the internet looking for articles like this in Slate, roundups of how to help, and I hold my daughter extra tight. I hide what I’m feeling from her, because I want to protect her from the horrible fucking place this country has become.

I don’t know that this changes anything or helps anything. I don’t know what it means to the broader fight. I just wanted to say something before I climbed into bed and stared at the ceiling for a little while.

I do believe in the best of us, still. I believe we will get past this. I will watch and wait and help where I can and be the best father and husband and citizen I can be and maybe right now that can be enough.

Maybe it’s enough for us to stoke the fire in our hearts, to make sure that flame doesn’t go out, even in high wind and heavy rain, because those fires will keep us warm and light the way in the dark, so we can see ourselves through this.

And yet it’s so easy to say because I’m too far away to say it to the little girl whose shoelaces were taken away.

If you can help, please help. If you can’t—please keep that fire alive. Just do that. I feel like we’re going to need every source of flame we can muster.