My First Book Deal Is Two Years Old Today

mbhighresAccording to the Facebook memories feature (thanks to Dave White for pointing it out), today is the two-year anniversary of my book deal for Murder Boy.

I got the email from Jason Pinter in the morning and I was sitting at my desk in my bathrobe. I literally spun around in the chair and jumped up in the air when I read the email and I’ve been on Cloud Nine since.

Along the way a digital book deal turned into a print book deal and a book tour to some of the finest indie bookstores in the country. And in June the sequel, Riot Load, hits the shelves. That’s two books on the shelf and a royalty check in my pocket before most authors even see their first book on shelves. I am truly blessed in the most un-ironic way possible.

So thanks again to Jason for taking a chance on me and to all the booksellers who sold copies and to all of the readers who bought a copy. Also, of course, to Becky who was there to cheer me on and support me as the rest of that year turned quite to shit for both of us.

An Update On My Stolen Phone

The Westland Police Department did something no one, including myself thought they could do. They found my stolen phone AND got the galute who stole it to admit to it. Here’s how it went down:

It was the sketchy bus boy from the restaurant. The detectives chased him all around because he quit his job and got kicked out of his house, but they eventually found him and got him to admit that he sold it to a guy at the liquor store down the road for $40. The detectives went to that store and miraculously the phone was still there (likely do to the message on the screen that said “I know where you are please return this phone to the restaurant it was stolen from.”) and in good shape.

What sucks is I already paid $243 to close out my payment contract on that phone and I paid another good chunk of money to get into another contract on another phone that I’m two weeks past the return date for so I’m stuck with it. But I was able to sell the phone back to AT&T for a decent amount in billing credit and because the bus boy was cited for larceny, we have proof to go back to the restaurant’s insurance company with so hopefully they will reimburse us the $500 or so we’re still out. But all-in-all this is the best possible outcome we could have hoped for short of it never having happened.

Just Say No To A Bouchercon Anthology That Doesn’t Pay Contributors

I’m incredibly disappointed that once again the Bouchercon anthology is a non-paying publication.

The proliferation of non-paying publications is reaching epidemic proportions and HAS to stop. To see it from an organization that advocates for the mystery fiction community is particularly harmful.

Last year there were 21 stories in the anthology, let’s assume there will be that many this year as well. To pay each contributor a fee of $150, the minimum I consider a worthwhile fee,  would take a total of $3,150. At $15.95 for print copies and $9.99 for e-book copies (the current going price on Amazon for last year’s anthology it would take between 200-315 copies sold. All proceeds after that could then be donated to charity (the expressed intent of the anthology). If an anthology of mystery stories attached to a conference of roughly 1500 die-hard mystery fiction fans can’t sell at least 315 copies than maybe there shouldn’t be an anthology.

Instead of just relying on book room and Amazon sales for the anthology, why not add a box at registration for folks to order a copy? Or better yet, why not raise the registration fee $10 and include a copy for everyone? In fact, you could raise the fee just $5 and with the average of 1500 attendees you’d have $7,500 to pay the writers. Or what if you don’t raise the fee and take some of the money left over from the previous Bouchercon to fund a pool to pay the next year’s anthology contributors?

According to the St. Louis meeting minutes (which are the only ones I could easily find online – a whole different set of issues that need to be raised) there was $20,000 left over after the conference. Why couldn’t $3,000 of that be used to fund the next anthology? Can anyone think of a better use for $3,000 that came from mystery fiction fans and authors than to pay mystery authors for their hard work? I can’t.

Narcissism, Not Help, Is What’s On The Menu Here

When I start thinking about why I like this site and what I should do with it in the future and, yes, even crassly how this site can help me sell books, I begin to wonder if I should post more writing advice pieces and post more pieces about Big Issues. I’ve done these in the past and they always perform well and I have no reason to believe they wouldn’t perform well in the future as well.

The problem is I don’t like writing about that stuff more than once in a while. I like writing about my own writing process here and there, but it’s usually a mess and I don’t imagine is that much help to anyone other than a map of what not to do. And I REALLY don’t like writing about Big Issues very often either. They give me panic and anxiety and I just hate it.

I started this blog because I always wanted to be a newspaper columnist. A humorous lifestyle newspaper columnist like Dave Barry or Erma Bombeck. I never had any interest in toppling government or righting wrongs (this is also why I was a sucky newspaper reporter). I wanted to take the mundane aspects of my life and elevate them to star status and compensate for my lack of heavy hitting topics with honesty and vulnerability. And so far, after 12 years, I think it’s mostly worked.

That’s why today, instead of writing about the election, or whatever Big Thing is going on in publishing, or writing a post about how you too can save your book by following my synopsis plan, I’m going to write about the magazines in my bathroom and why I don’t really read magazines anymore.

I used to read magazines all the time. I read high brow, low brow, and everything in between. I had subscriptions to The Writer and Writers Digest and bought any number of other magazines in single issues. These magazines formed the basis of a lot of my early ideas and personality as a writer and were the main sources of my earliest string of successful short story publications and novel attempts. But gradually I stopped buying magazines. I didn’t really stop reading them, I still read a lot of them online, but I stopped buying them in print and I stopped reading them all the way through. I found I was doing most of my reading piecemeal, usually from links I found somewhere from someone else.

Recently though I had a desire to change that. Part of my reading goals for 2016 are to read more non-fiction. Obviously a big chunk of that will be books, but I want to read more complex long-form short non-fiction as well. So I started looking for magazines to subscribe to. I had a bunch of Delta miles I’ll never use, so I decided to use their odd plan to cash them in for magazine subscriptions. I ordered People, Entertainment Weekly, Time, The Atlantic, Money, Fortune, and Sports Illustrated.  I love them all except People, which seems to have turned into a paid version of Parade. Nothing but celebrities and ads for drugs. Blech. It used to have a lot of great stories about real people that I loved. Not anymore and that’s a shame.

But even in print in a nice little basket Becky bought for the bathroom, I still have trouble reading them. My reading time is so limited, it seems like waste to burn through a magazine instead of a book or an episode of a TV show. And if I didn’t get these magazines for free, I likely would never purchase them again. So when these trial subscriptions are up, I suspect I’ll go back to reading my magazine pieces online and maybe I’ll try reading comic books in the bathroom instead.

Adventures In Synopsis Writing

I love tech as much as the next guy but I always need pen and paper to work through story problems.

As much as I love technology and can’t imagine writing a full novel on anything but a computer, when it comes to working out story problems and doing advance story planning I need pen and paper. The cheaper the better. That photo up there is a piece of clearance typing paper and a Bic stick pen I used to sketch out the pieces of the synopsis I’m working on.

That’s right, I’m writing a synopsis. This is the most advance planning I’ve ever done on a book and so far I’ve been really happy with the results. All of my prior novel experiences went with some version of this process: Get an idea, noodle over the idea until I have an opening scene and a first plot point to work toward and then jump in and start writing. This led to much frustration, several abandoned efforts, and months and months and months of lost writing time due to working out story problems on the fly because it’s the only way I knew how to work.

I’ve tried outlining a few times in the past but never put much effort into it. All of this was mostly academic as I trunk novel after trunk novel. But once I had a book contract and a deadline that I blew past several times, I knew something needed to change if I was going to ever get anyone to pay me to write books on a regular basis. After a conversation with my publisher I wrote up a one page synopsis for a third Dominick book I had an idea for but there was another book I wanted to write as well that I knew had the potential to cause me massive amounts of trouble if I didn’t outline it ahead of time.

I’ve called this book Project Level Up because I want it to be bigger and deeper and more emotional and more commercial. I also wanted it to have more of a plot than a stupid guy doing stupid stuff and writing what kind of trouble he gets himself into. So I started with a one page synopsis of that idea that I liked, but it glossed over a lot of what I thought could be problem areas.

My publisher suggested I write a 4-5 synopsis instead to see how it held up. I thought that was a great idea and started noodling through ideas and taking notes and piece by piece the skeleton of a story began to form. I still didn’t have enough of the story though to start a synopsis so I started writing some of the book instead. That helped open the characters for me and after a few pages, off I went again to work through the back end of the synopsis.

A couple of days ago I finally had all of the elements of the story I thought I needed, a beginning, a middle, and an end scratched out on paper and started putting it on the page in narrative format. This is when I realized the true brilliance of a long synopsis. I was able to see the entire story all at once, good and bad. I could see I had an awesome opening and lots of great story for the first half of the book, but I could also see I was still skimping on the backend of the story, specifically the second half of the second act. So I shifted stuff around and now I’m left with a really strong first act, a really strong third act, and a gaping hole in the middle I need to think about quite a bit more.

Part of the problem was the middle of the book was turning into a type of book I didn’t want to write. This is supposed to be a family tragedy, smaller scale personal struggle kind of crime novel but I had scenes that were turning it into a drug dealer thriller. And let me tell you, finding those holes was frustrating, because I thought I was done with the synopsis, but I’m so much happier about finding those problems at this stage rather than being 200 pages into the book and a month away from my deadline.

I’m still kind of panicked that I won’t be able to fix this gaping hole in the middle of my story and this story is too big or to complicated for me and that I’ll fall back into my old habits and lazy storytelling, but at least I haven’t invested a ton of time in this monster yet and fingers crossed that with enough thinking and a few long drives in the car with the radio off that something will come to me.

(Insert Star Wars/Force Joke Here


I saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens the day it came out, though not in one of the first showing. I went to see it after work (and after the department holiday party) at 9:30pm. At that point I had to take whatever showing were open and that meant 2D regular screens. But after that first showing I’ve been dying to see it 1) with Spenser and 2) in IMAX 3D. We finally were able to do that Saturday and it was everything I could have hoped for. The movie itself was just as good and, in many ways, better than the first time. And seeing it with my seven year old son made it even more spectacular. Several times during the movie Spenser reached his hands out to try and touch the screen. He loved it.

Not that either of us are particularly big Star Wars fans; we’re just big fans of the movies and the movie experience. Our first movie together was Iron Man 3 and we’ve seen lots of stuff in between since then such as The Hobbit, The Lego Movie, and the abysmal Penguins of Madagascar. But this one was bigger in every way and it was fun to be able to share a great cultural and filmatic moment with my kid.

My history with Star Wars is a mix of the original trilogy on network TV and few of the expanded universe novels, namely the awesome Thrawn Trilogy. But I was a much bigger Star Trek fan. I read a ton of those books and my early attempts at fiction were hardcore Trek knockoffs. It was a great time to be a fan because the original series was still on the air in reruns and Next Generation was giving my generation their own great series to claim as their own. Even the movies of that time were pretty good.

So while I liked parts of Star Wars and I could appreciate it’s cultural significance, it was never my thing.  But when the original trilogy came to big screens again in the late 90s leading up to the prequel trilogy, I was there on opening day with my day and loved it. I even loved seeing The Phantom Menace in theaters because it was such a big deal movie and I LOVE movies.

Related to this, over Christmas break I went to see another big deal movie: The Hateful Eight. This was big because it was Tarantino and he doesn’t make many movies so they’re all big deals, but this one was even bigger because the opening few weeks featured the film in giant 70mm with the full old school cinematic experience including an overture, an intermission, and a playbill. I was originally going to see it at the theater close to me, but a comment from Duane Swierczynski on Facebook about some theaters showing the 70mm film on regular size screens got me looking for a theater showing it on IMAX. Even though I had to drive an hour in an ice storm, it was totally worth it. The experience was at least. The film was pretty solid meh. I feel like Tarantino knew he didn’t have a story or a film big enough to justify it so he tried to compensate for it with a big-scale to-do. I think the reviews and the box office results support this theory.

But I loved being at the movies and I will continue to enjoy going to the movies in a theater for the immediate future even though last year I only saw 17 movies in the theater last year which was my lowest total since right after Spenser was born. Sadly, I seem to be in a declining minority of folks who prefer movies in theaters to movies at home and movies to television. And the product on the screen lately isn;t exactly going out of its way to bring back any of the audience it lost. But I’m already looking forward to Deadpool, Batman vs. Superman, Captain America: Civil War and any number of small films including whatever the hell that thing is the Coen Brother are promoting.

The 2016 “Why Am I Doing This” Reflection Post

This blog will never go away, but every year I wonder about how often and to what extent to use it. Part of me would love to update here every day with every little thing and never have to deal with social media again. Well, at least never have to deal with Facebook again. But that’s not practical. I just don’t have the audience for that yet. I sometimes wonder if I should operate this blog as if I were as popular as I hope to be one day, but that seems like more trouble than it’s worth right now and not a particularly good use of my time.

A different part of me would like to only write here when I have something significant to say (and, related, that part of me would also like to write more pieces of substance and significance as well) and leave the rest of my Internet communication for Twitter and Facebook. But I don’t trust social media for the long term and this site is as much for me to look back on and serve as an archive of my life as it is a mouthpiece for me to talk about myself and my work in the moment.

What we’re likely looking at though is a mix of the two. I hope to post her more regularly than I did last year, but not quite daily. I also hope to write more pieces of substance that will hopefully be shared beyond my small readership and work toward making this site as popular as I hope for it to be. I have a lot of work staring at me from the front end of 2016 and I need to be far more protective of my time than I have been in the past (I’m looking at you Fallout 4) but I think writing here is good for me. It helps me keep my writing muscles loose and warm and helps me keep my style in tune, to mix metaphors. I find my writing productivity tends to be better the more I write here and when this site goes fallow for a month or more there is usually a corresponding drop in my writing output as well as my reading.

Laura Lippman did her one word resolution challenge this year and my word was balance. I mostly meant it to apply to my writing and editing work, but it can also apply here. Fewer spurts and empty months and more regular appearances. We’ll see how that all pans out in 2017, but for now I should at least try, right? Right?

2015 Awards Consideration Post

I want to act like I’m above petty competition and that I don’t care about awards or being nominated or even being considered for being nominated but that would be a lie. It does mean a lot to me and it would be awesome to be nominated for an award in 2016. I worked really hard on Murder Boy and I’m incredibly proud of it. Other people worked really hard on it as well and I would love for their support and contributions to be rewarded and validated.

Best First Novel

Murder Boy was released by Polis Books (an MWA-approved publisher) in March 2015 and is eligible for all Best First Novel awards.

This will be a tough year for Best First Novel competitions because there was a lot of great work published by debut novelists. Hell, on my publisher alone there are two stellar debut novels in Rob Hart’s New Yorked and Patti Abbott’s Concrete Angel that I loved so much I originally bought them for Exhibit A when I was the editor. Plus, you throw in the double rural duo of Bull Mountain by Brian Panowich and David Joy’s Where All The Light Tends To Go and it gets even tougher.  But I think Murder Boy is scrappy and deserves a shot too.

Best Humorous Novel 

Some conferences or award programs (such as Left Coast Crime) don’t have a first novel category but they do have a Best Humorous Novel category. Murder Boy would be eligible for these awards as well. It’s certainly dark humor, but the book’s funny parts were referenced in almost all of the reviews so SOMEONE thought it was funny (that someone was NOT my mother, btw).

Best Paperback Original Novel

If the awards ballot does not contain a Best First Novel category, Murder Boy, released as a trade paperback original, would be eligible for this category.

Thank you for your consideration.

View From The Hotel Room 2016 Advanced Planning Edition


Every year we end up at a water park at the end of Christmas break and every year we don’t plan for it until the last minute so we end up paying way to much for sketchy accommodations at weird places. But this year I actually planned ahead and got us a nice suite at our favorite waterpark with a separate bedroom for the kids with bunk beds and their own TV. The extra space and separate quarters make for a much more relaxing trip for everyone.

We arrived to late and it was too dark outside to get a good photo from the hotel window so I’ll update with that tomorrow. Until then I have ann editing project to finish, my first 1k of 2016 to write, and some quality water time to spend with the kids.

Hope 2016 finds you all happy and secure as well.