Pitch Wars 2020 Mentor Wish List

It’s Pitch Wars season! And for the second year in a row, I’m mentoring! Don’t know what Pitch Wars is? Click this link.

Last year was pretty rad. I got over a hundred requests and it was really hard to narrow them down, but I ended up picking Victor Manibo, whose novel Sleepless was about a world where a percentage of the population suddenly lost the ability to sleep, with no (apparent) side effects. It was a great speculative mystery with elements of classism, biohacking, corporate greed… basically it hit all of my sweet spots. We did a couple of passes on it and I’m happy to say that Victor landed with a fantastic agent.

It was a fun process, and I’m excited to do it again! So, here’s what you need to know:

About me

I’m the former publisher of MysteriousPress.com, at which I published and edited more than a dozen books in the crime/mystery genre (A Swollen Red Sun by Matthew McBride, several Nero Wolfe books by Robert Goldsborough). I wrote a five-book amateur PI series and a collection of food-noir short stories, all for a small press, Polis Books. I co-wrote Scott Free with James Patterson, and my latest novel, The Warehouse, is out from Crown—it’s been sold in more than 20 countries and been optioned for film by Ron Howard. My next book will be Paradox Hotel, with Ballantine, and will come out at some point in the future! My non-fiction articles have been published widely—Daily Beast, Salon, LitHub, Electric Literature. This is all to say… I’ve seen the industry from a couple of unique angles and I think I can offer some useful advice.

My style

I want you to write the best book you can. I want you to do it. I want to give you the insight to recognize where your story can be stronger, and the tools to make it happen—then get the hell out of your way. I want you to come out of this process with a shiny new toolkit. I’m going to push you because the story has to win in the end. I love big picture stuff—I’m okay with copyediting but a few misspelled words are not going to hurt you as much as a plot that doesn’t hold up to scrutiny, so I’ll be focusing slightly less on the former.

What I want:

  • Mixed genres: I like books that straddle genres. A murder mystery with time travel? A heist story set on a Mars base? Please and thank you. I won’t say no to a classic PI novel if it really lights my fire, but this is where my head is at: big, sprawling, challenging ideas.
  • Strong social themes: I’m a big fan of books that get to the root of crime. I care less about the street crime created by the heroin crisis and more about the pharmaceutical companies that started it. Blue-collar crime? Yawn. White-collar crime? All day long. I like politics in my fiction. The Warehouse is an indictment of capitalism and consumerism wrapped in the language of a thriller. Paradox Hotel is a time travel story about how billionaires will let the world burn as long as they get paid. That’s my sweet spot.
  • Diverse stories: I’m a straight white guy. I have read a lot about straight white guys in my lifetime. I’m not saying I won’t accept something with a straight white male protagonist—making a visceral connection to the narrative is the ultimate goal here. But as of late, I’m more interested in stories different from my own upbringing and experience. Think American Spy by Lauren Wilkinson (black Cold War-era FBI agent), the Roxane Weary mysteries by Kristen Lepionka (LGBT private investigator), Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia (Mexican fantasy), and Three-Fifths by John Vercher (noir featuring a bi-racial protagonist).
  • Deeply, deeply human stories: Let’s use American Spy as an example because that book legit made me cry. It’s a spy novel, about a black woman in the FBI during the Cold War, so there are themes of racism and sexism. And the book could have just been that and it would have been really good. But it’s also a romance, and it’s a story about a mom and her kids. And those are the things that make it great. So… plot is great. Ideas are fun. Character is the most important thing. And I want deep emotional honesty more than anything else.

What I don’t want

  • Game of Thrones– or Wheel of Time-style fantasy: Not my wheelhouse. A book with elements of fantasy (see genre-straddling above), I’m cool with. Got a PI who also uses magic? Great. But full-on fantasy, I don’t think I can offer effective guidance.
  • A first draft: I want something you’ve worked over a few times and you think you’re done, or close to it. Spoiler alert: you’re not even close! But one of the best pieces of advice I ever got is: your book is ready for the next step when you don’t know what else to do with it. That’s the point when you need to bring in another perspective (like me!).
  • Transgressive fiction: It is really, very rare for transgressive fiction to be done well. I cut my teeth on Chuck Palahniuk but I want emotional honesty a lot more than I want subversive, explosive violence for the sake of itself.
  • A violent act against a woman as the inciting incident: Most any trope can be reinvented and done well but this one really needs to just… go away. If your story opens with a naked dead woman wrapped in plastic, I don’t think think it’ll be for me.

Contact style

I like e-mail, and occasional Skype session is cool. If you’re local to NYC or you’re visiting, I’d be open to getting a socially-distanced drink/coffee/cupcake. I know a really good cupcake place.

Find more wishlists below!

Pitch Wars 2020 Adult Mentors’ Wish Lists

  1. Mia P. Manansala and Kellye Garrett (Accepts NA)
  2. Rochelle Karina (Accepts NA)
  3. Ren Hutchings (Accepts NA)
  4. Mary Ann Marlowe
  5. Rachel Lynn Solomon
  6. Anna Kaling
  7. Gwynne Jackson (Accepts NA)
  8. Kristen Lepionka and Ernie Chiara
  9. Rachel Howzell Hall
  10. Lyn Liao Butler
  11. Michael Mammay and AR Lucas
  12. Paris Wynters (Accepts NA)
  13. K A Black (Accepts NA)
  14. Heather Van Fleet and Jessica Calla (Accepts NA)
  15. Hudson Lin (Accepts NA)
  16. Sonia Hartl and Annette Christie (Accepts NA)
  17. Taj McCoy (Accepts NA)
  18. Ian Barnes (Accepts NA)
  19. Keena Roberts (Accepts NA)
  20. N.E. Davenport (Accepts NA)
  21. Elizabeth Little
  22. Anne Raven and Janet Walden-West (Accepts NA)
  23. Charish Reid and Denise Williams
  24. Kalyn Josephson and Kat Enright (Accepts NA)
  25. Gladys Qin (Accepts NA)
  26. Tanen Jones (Accepts NA)
  27. Clay Harmon (Accepts NA)
  28. Jake Nicholls (Accepts NA)
  29. Layne Fargo and Halley Sutton
  30. Denny S. Bryce and L. Penelope
  31. Roselle Lim and Farah Heron (Accepts NA)
  32. Morgan Rogers (Accepts NA)
  33. Samantha Rajaram
  34. Rob Hart
  35. Damyanti Biswas (Accepts NA)
  36. Maria Heater
  37. Cynthia Pelayo (Accepts NA)
  38. Gia de Cadenet
  39. Nicole Glover (Accepts NA)
  40. Rosie Danan and Ruby Barrett (Accepts NA)
  41. Cole Nagamatsu and Sequoia Nagamatsu
  42. Carly Bloom and Sam Tschida
  43. P.J. Vernon and Kelly J. Ford (Accepts NA)
  44. Matthew Quinn Martin (Accepts NA)
  45. Stephen Morgan (Accepts NA)
  46. Alex Segura and M. J. Soni
  47. Roma Panganiban (Accepts NA)
  48. Tricia Lynne (Accepts NA)


Click here to view all Pitch Wars 2020 Mentors’ Wish Lists

THE WAREHOUSE is out in paperback! Plus other things…

Oh hey The Warehouse is out in paperback! With a snazzy new red cover!

So if you were looking for something a little less hefty to lug around, you’re in luck. It’s available in most places books are sold, wherever books are being sold these days.

And I swear this is not viral marketing, but the FAA just cleared Amazon’s drone fleet for delivering packages. So… I’m not going to say I was right, but I was pretty damn close.

Otherwise, it’s been a busy few months. Paradox Hotel is finished, and off to my agent and a couple of readers. The reactions so far have been a bit mixed, ranging from “you literally just sent it to me calm down” to “who are you again?”

Seriously, I’m excited to be at this point, where it’s out in the world and I can put it out of my head for a bit. I’m already laying track on what might be my next book, which is in the same “billionaires are monsters who will let the world burn as long as they get paid” genre.

There are some other exciting things to report! I’ve signed a deal with… oh wait can’t tell you about that. I’ve also signed for… geez, can’t tell you that either. Okay, so I do have an exciting project that… damn it can’t announce that for at least another month.

Okay so maybe this update is a little light on hard news, BUT there’ll be some very exciting stuff to share soon, in the meantime, go get that paperback!

Online writing class ‘The Big Idea’ starts next week…

So, yeah, this is starting next week! And I am very excited! I’ve been wanting to get into teaching for a while, and I was doing an in-person workshop right before the world caught fire, and it was quite a bit of fun, so until that resumes, I’m giving this a shot.

Now, yes, I have been the class director at LitReactor for years now so I guess it’s a little self-serving to design my own class there but oh well! Honestly I’ve been wanting to do a class craft forever and I always held off because I thought I wasn’t qualified. Right now I feel like I’m ready.

The gist of the class is how to take a big idea, hang it on a character, and then put together the kind of high concept book that’s going to make editors and agents sit up and take notice. I’m digging into my experience writing and selling The Warehouse, as well as working with James Patterson on Scott Free, and selling my next book, Paradox Hotel, on spec.

It’s going to be a fun class! Lectures, Q&A, homework assignments, and I’ll be critiquing students. Students will also be critiquing each other because I think that’s an important part of the process… it sharpens your knives in a different way.

Want to learn more about the class? Click here. Got any questions? Go hit that contact form, and I’ll answer ‘em. There are only a few seats left! Which is pretty cool. So if you want in, don’t wait…

Join #QuarantineMysteryBookClub and #SupportLocalBookstores!

a03538c0-915a-4509-bcf6-ebcb207647e2-15152-00001b242450a369This is one of those fun instances where I’ve been invited to a party where I feel like I am crashing the gates and will probably get thrown out when I’m discovered? I mean, jeez-louise, look at the talent here!

Seriously, three cheers to Ben Winters for putting this together. This book sounds AWESOME and it’ll be fun to jaw about it with such an incredible lineup of writers. It’s for a good cause and I’m thrilled to be doing it.

Join the #QuarantineMysteryBookClub to #SupportLocalBookstores

Hang out with your favorite mystery writers and support local bookstores through a tough time.

It’s easy…

1. Buy the “book club selection”  — Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Gailey — at your favorite independent bookshop, or at Bookshop.org.

2. Join us HERE on Monday May 4 at 8 PM EST / 5 PM PST for the discussion!

FEATURING:

See?! How much fun will this be. Get to ordering. Mail is moving slow so you want to make sure you’ve got time to read it…

BOTH SIDES, an anthology of border stories, is out today

51Dr7RxM-NLLa frontera is full of stories…

Today marks the release of Both Sides: Stories From the Border, edited by my bud, Zero Saints and Coyote Songs author Gabino Iglesias. It’s an anthology I’m proud to be in, because of the relevancy of the subject matter, but also because I’m sharing space with some incredibly talented writers.

And I’ll be honest—a part of me feels like a bit of a charlatan to be in here! Because I’m a white guy, and a born and bred New Yorker, and I know voices most suited to tell stories about true hardship and suffering often don’t get that chance in this industry.

Not to say writers can’t push themselves and tell stories that don’t align with their experience and privilege. Those stories just need to be handled with thought and care. They need to reach for those feelings that are universal—in the story I wrote, about being a dad, and the feeling that I’d do anything to protect my daughter, and the fear and frustration I feel at the kind of people who call themselves patriots but, in reality, act against everything America is supposed to stand for. Continue reading

Now accepting reservations at the Paradox Hotel

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Time travel hotel.

That’s it. That’s all I had. It struck me while wandering the McKittrick Hotel during a performance of Sleep No More. What if there was a hotel where you could walk in a room and find yourself five minutes ahead, or ten minutes behind?

I wrote it down and it sat there while I did other things—but I’m a sucker for a good time travel story. It kept calling to me. I thought it might be a good vehicle to write about the assumed power of money. Time travel and financial markets both being largely theoretical.

It kept calling to me even as I spent nearly a year working on a book that, ultimately, never came together.

So…

Welcome to the Paradox Hotel. My next book. Coming out at some point next year probably.
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Writing through fear

I’ve said this in a bunch of interviews but: I originally got the idea to write The Warehouse back in 2012. Then, it was a little seed of an idea that needed time to grow, and part of the process was letting it take root, letting it suck up water and nutrients, and letting it blossom. I didn’t start writing it in earnest until something like 2015. And I had three or four false starts before I really cracked it.

But part of the reason it took so long was that I was afraid to write it. I didn’t think I was a good enough writer. I didn’t think I was smart enough. It was economic policy and criticisms of capitalism wrapped in the blanket of a thriller.

I thought to myself: I’ll get there eventually. One of the things I do when I feel challenged by something is, I go bigger. Maybe so the thing that’s actually scaring me seems less scary. So I came up with this idea for a novel, that I don’t want to completely give away because it might be salvageable at some point, but it was a horror novel, wrapped in a memoir of the author who is writing it, and the way fiction and reality influence each other. It was a very meta, very risky narrative, and I wrote 70,000 words before I realized I’d hit a wall. Continue reading

My favorite reads of 2019

It’s that time of year again, when I have to list my five favorite reads for LitReactor and I feel like an asshole because I read so many good books and how in the wide world of fuck can I possibly narrow it down?

I tried my best. My top five is:

American Spy by Lauren Wilkinson, Recursion by Blake Crouch, Wanderers by Chuck Wendig, Three-Fifths by John Vercher, and Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid. You can see my reasoning here.

BUT there were a whole lot of books I read that I really liked and I am going to list some more of them here because this is my site and I can do what I want. This is for books released in 2019 (some of which I really struggled about including in the top five).

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Italy/Germany/Holland

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I’m back from Europe, having spent a week shuttling from Milan to Munich to Hamburg to Amsterdam. And it was a trip. Not just because I covered so much ground, or ate so much food, or wandered through not one but two famous red light districts. It’s because I got the chance to see the kind of impact The Warehouse is having in other parts of the world and the entire process was humbling and surreal.

I also learned some fun stuff about the weird cultural differences of book publishing and promotion in other countries. Which I thought it might be fun to talk about here.

(Oh, and before I left, I went to all the Hudson News stands in Terminal 4 at JFK and signed their copies of The Warehouse… so if you’re flying through there soon and want to get one, there you go.)

Continue reading