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More Thoughts on Completing Trigger Switch

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After fiddling with it a bit this morning and cleaning some things up, I sent Trigger Switch off to Jason and I can officially say it’s done. The final word count was 60,102, which is about 22 words shorter than Riot Load and more than 8,000 words longer than Murder Boy. My trunk novels, oddly enough, all fall in the 72-75k range, but these books work better shorter, I think. According to my records, I started this book April 11, 2016, which gives us a writing timeline of a little over 16 months. That’s shorter than the 19 months it took to write Riot Load and far shorter than the three years it took to write Murder Boy.

I mentioned in a previous post that back in March I considered this book dead in the water and had moved on to other projects. On the four hour long drive to Murder and Mayhem in Chicago, I thought a lot about this book and finally had to admit to myself I couldn’t find a way forward with it and when I arrived at the conference, I sent an email to my publisher telling him as such and floating to other options for what we could do next. The problem was, I had originally conceived of this book as my take on Death Wish where a man who is not violent by nature becomes violent and turns into a vigilante.

It made for a nice pitch, but as I got deeper into the writing of the book, I realized it wasn’t going to work because after the events of Riot Load, Dominick was not a naive goofball anymore, he was a violent man with a raging temper. All my fixes for that flaw turned the book into varying versions of a pulpy revenge novel. All well and good, but there were two problems: 1) pulp revenge novels are even shorter than what I’d been writing and no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get the word count higher than 45k, which would never fly for a publisher, even one as inventive and forgiving as Polis and 2) it was not the book I wanted to write. I wanted to write something that worked as a standalone novel but also brought the three-book arc of Dominick’s life to a satisfying conclusion and this book was not doing that.

So I put the book away, started working on something else, and a week later I had the perfect idea for how to fix it. I talked with Jason and told him it was working again and asked if he’d be interested. He was and we set a July 31 deadline for me to turn in the manuscript. I wrote and wrote and wrote, and threw away about as much as I wrote trying to get it right and it was moving forward.  And then suddenly it was approaching the end of July and I wasn’t quite done yet. I knew how it all ended, I just needed to get the typing done and to do that I needed a couple of incredibly large blocks of time and quiet to be alone and to work. That wasn’t going to happen at home with three kids, a paralyzed dog, and the general miscellany of the chaotic life I love. I meekly approached Becky with the idea of using some hotel reward point to get a room for the night to give me the space and quiet I needed and, God bless her, she was on board with it.

I’d always wanted to do a writer’s retreat where I checked into a cabin in the woods and spent the day writing and talking walks and reading by the fire at night and this was almost as good. I’d also wanted to push my word count endurance and see if I could do a binge session of 5k or more in a single day. To that point, 3k was the most I was ever able to do in a single day. So I checked into a moderately priced Hilton hotel, and spent the day writing and dipping in the on-site hot tub to ease the strain on my back and arms, and I spent the night drinking absurd amounts of caffeine and writing to the sounds of screaming teenagers staying on the other end of the hotel. And it worked. The first day I was there I wrote 8,000 words and the second I wrote 7,000. I went home with a huge chunk of the book written and the momentum I needed to finish. After it was done, I took a shot of my Johnny Walker Blue, went on Facebook to gloat about it, and then feel asleep.

I was impressed with how much I was able to write and with the quality of what I wrote under those conditions, but I can’t say this is something I want to make a habit of. The first few hours, I was averaging 1,000 every hour, but by the end, it was 1,000 words every two and half to three hours. And my brain was mush. I much prefer the steady clip of 1k – 2k a day, but I do think story ideas and plot developments came to me in that sort of hyper-awareness of the book that wouldn’t have occurred to me otherwise.

I have some editing projects I need to finish up this week, so I won’t be doing any writing, but next week I want to start work on a short story to submit for the Mystery Writers of America anthology and then next month I want to start work on my next book. Something I’ve been noodling and outlining for more than a year and something I hope will be my breakout book.

Love Song for a Pen and a Notebook

For the last several months (truthfully, for the last year or so), my schedule has really started to spin away from me. Deadlines and projects and tasks have been feeling oppressive and overwhelming and my productivity has been a shell of what I know it can be. So after reflecting on what was going on, I realized I needed to simplify and get back to basics on some things. I love tech A LOT, and in many, many ways it has made my life easier. Without all of the technical wizardry at my disposal, there is no way I could run a thriving editing and writing career from suburban middle America. But with that technology comes a lot of distraction and frustration and noise. So. Much. Noise. I needed to quiet down my life.

I started with tuning my radio to classical music when driving and then switching it off completely on a regular basis. I started reading a little bit at night before falling asleep instead of going right from the TV or computer to bed. And I’ve been walking more. I also switched back to carrying around my leather briefcase instead of my back pack because it smells great, I feel cooler carrying it around, and – because it doesn’t fit as many things as the backpack – I had to make some decisions about what I really need to be carrying around, which helped with the simplifying effect. But I also realized I needed a new notebook system. Much of my planning and task keeping and such had been moved online and that just wasn’t working for me. After reading a ridiculous amount of info online about the various options, I went with the Midori Traveler’s Notebook.  Of all the systems I looked at, this is the one that looked the coolest and seemed to have the right combination of places to sketch out writing notes and plans, do a bit of journaling, and also keep track of my professional life.

The first notebook is a lined notebook that I use for story ideas and brain storming. So far I’ve written two short story ideas out on it that made me very happy. The second notebook is a blank sketch notebook that I plan on using for outlining the next book (and likely outlining the end of the current book I’m writing) because my outlines tend to turn into thought clouds and line diagrams at some point every single time (too much Syd Field influence I suspect).  The third notebook is a weekly diary with a page on the left for daily notes and calendar items and a blank grid page on the right for to do lists. I LOVE me some to do lists. I’ve already written  up one for this week and logged what I’ve been reading, writing, editing, and watching. Since I’m supposed to be on a social media hiatus, these little notes have replaced some of the status updates I would have normally posted. There’s something thrilling about writing that’s only meant for me. I’d gone back and forth with buying a cheaper, fake leather version on Amazon that was about half the price, but after hemming and hawing I realized this was as much about my quality of life and my mental state as it was about getting a new notebook and I need to buy better quality things for myself.

In addition to a new notebook, I also bought a new pen. My first fountain pen. I’ve always liked pens, but never really felt connected or obsessed with a pen until a few years ago when I was given that silver pen in the photo above by mistake at one of my old day jobs and fell in love with it. I have really poor posture when using a pen and suffer from wrist pain when I write too hard, so I’d tried all of the various rubber grip pens on the market. While I liked the feel of many of them, their performance as pens was almost always a failure. But that Uni-Ball Premier was comfortable and wrote like a beauty. So that was the first pen I actually kept and bought refills for. Now I own three of them I think. And that brass pen up in that photo is made from a rifle shell and was given to me by my mom before I went out on tour for Murder Boy. I also love that pen and it writes very nicely.

But none of these pens made me seek out paper to write something down. None of them made me slow my life down and purposely choose to do something that I could do digitally and do it in pen and paper instead just for the pure joy of it. Not until I bought a fountain pen. Specifically, this fountain pen. I love writing with this pen so much and it has done everything I needed it to do for my life and my stress level. I always assumed fountain pens had to be fancy with enamel and gold and messy ink. But I got this pen for $11 and it came with an ink cartridge. It writes so smoothly with just enough of a scritching sound to make me smile. This is the first pen I’ve ever carried around in my pocket and the first pen I’ve been sad for when I don’t have it with me. This is the first pen I’ve actually thought about sitting down and writing a novel draft with.

It’s only been two days now, but I can already see the soothing effect these items have had on my life. I’m already looking into other fountain pen friendly notebooks I can get (though so far I’ve been able to write on every notebook I have around the house with the pen and no bleeding) and I set up an email alert with the pen store so I know when the 2018 Hobonichi planners are available, but the one item I still haven’t sprung for is the lauded Palomino Blackwing 602. Everyone I know who loves notebooks and fountain pens also loves these pencils, but I’ve never been a huge pencil fan and $22 seems like a lot of money to spend on a dozen pencils, plus another $8 for the special sharpener everyone seems to use with them. I still may spring for a box at some point to try them out because a pencil seems like an even better way to get back to the simple essence of writing and planning.

So, in short: I adore the Midori Traveler’s Notebook; I am full on in love with my Pilot Metropolitan fountain pen; and I may or may not need to sell plasma to afford a box of pencils that I may or may not love but everyone else I know seems to idolize.

Once More Into The Cone of Silence

Between deadlines, technology fatigue, and just a general dissatisfaction where the world is going lately, I figured it’s time once again for a social media hiatus. I’ll still post here a couple of times – likely after I get the new Traveler’s Notebook and fountain pen I ordered – but I’ll be off of social media and severely curtailing my time online in general. I’ve got books to read, books to edit, a book to finish writing, and a bottle of bourbon I need to figure out how best to enjoy in the heat. So my plate will certainly be full. I hope to spend my time staring at that relaxing view from my back yard more than I stare at my computer and emerge victorious at the end of July with the completed manuscript of Trigger Switch and a renewed interest in joining civilization again.

Of course any big announcements will go first to subscribers of my newsletter, so make sure you’re on that list as well. Viva la Freedom. Or something.

An Appreciation of Riot Load

I get that it’s bad form for authors to claim any one book of their’s as their favorite, and it’s even worse form to talk about how awesome any of their books are (we’re supposed to be humble and self-effacing and all of that crap), but my form’s always been a bit bad. It started the other day when I went to see the movie Baby Driver and walked out into the glorious summer heat that always feels nice after the ludicrously cold temperatures of modern movie theaters and wished I could write something like that. And then I realized I had with Riot Load. It has quirky characters, a heist plot, great chases, weird violence, an awkward young love story, and tons of heart. Of the six novels I’ve written so far (only two have been published and you will never see the other four – well, at least three of the other four) Riot Load is the one that did exactly what I wanted it to do. Murder Boy has a certain raw charm that I love, but I think Riot Load is more refined and more polished and I have to admit I’m incredibly disappointed it didn’t get the attention Murder Boy did.

Riot Load is an odd book in that I never had any intention of writing it. Had Murder Boy not been published, I would have continued hacking away at my second best book and eventually worked that into shape enough to get a book deal out of it and all would have been good. But I can’t guarantee it. After writing Murder Boy, I was very frustrated with my writing career and writing process. I was frustrated with the small audience and small potential of the cult type books I was writing, but I didn’t have the confidence or the chops to tackle anything bigger or more complex. But because Riot Load was written under contract and barring turning in a really horrible manuscript, would be published no matter what i did in it, I felt immense freedom to try new things and really push myself to grow as a writer and as a storyteller. And I think Riot Load reflects that.

As I wind down work on Trigger Switch and bring Dominick’s story to a close, I think that book pushes me even further toward leveling up as a writer, but Riot Load will always sit as a shining example of really maxing out the potential I had at that moment in my life and even wringing out a bit of talent and skill that was beyond my potential. So as we head into peak beach reading season, I’d love for you all to give Riot Load a chance. The e-book version is cheap for all of the various platforms and even the paperback can be found from your favorite store or website for $15 or so.  I am so proud of this book and can’t wait to see what other creative feats I can pull off with the confidence and skill I gained from writing it.

Here’s where you can buy the print version:

Amazon.com I Barnes & Noble I IndieBound I Books-A-Million

Here’s where you can buy the e-book version

Amazon.com I Barnes & Noble I Kobo iBooks I Google

Here’s where you can order the e-book version from some of my favorite indie bookstores:

Schuler Books Murder by the Book I Seattle Mystery Bookstore Centuries & Sleuths

If your favorite indie isn’t listed, check out the IndieBound ebook list to find a store in your area that sells ebooks.

Thanks!

OMG, I Killed Malmon

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After not writing a single short story for almost nine years, I’ve written two this year and it feels great. This one felt particularly good because I hit the deadline on it. I’ve felt very out of sorts professionally and feel like I’ve been behind on everything, but this deadline I hit and I love the story.

The other story I wrote this year was a dark and creepy Gothic story that took a lot out of me, this one though was for a fun anthology and I really laid into all of the fun aspects of the story. I won’t get into specifics on the story, but it involves two Dan Malmon’s, a reformed porn movie king, and a faulty minivan. Here’s more about the anthology from the editors themselves:

Fade in to an old English library. Dan is sitting in an overstuffed club chair and has a pipe stuck in his mouth. Kate is standing behind the chair, giving Dan the side-eye. As always, she looks like a redheaded Jane Mansfield.

Dan speaks, “Hi, folks. Welcome to the KILLING MALMON anthology. We are glad that you’re here. You may be asking “What’s this all about, and how did it come to be?” Well, here it is. The KILLING MALMON Secret Origin.

“In 2014, Crimespree Magazine held an internet-based flash fiction contest. The rules were simple: somewhere in the story you had to ‘Kill Dan Malmon’. That was it. The story had to brief, inventive, and somewhere, Malmon (that’s me) had to die. Why was the crux of the contest to kill a character with my name? I don’t know. It’s just the effect I have on people, I guess.

“Now, thanks to Down and Out Books, those original stories, as well as a slew of new works, are being collected into one volume with all proceeds going to the MS Society. If I have to meet my end in a multitude of grisly ways, it may as well benefit a cause we both feel strongly about.

“We hope you all enjoy these stories! Some are funny, some are heartwarming. Some are suspenseful, some are scary. But they all have one thing in common: they are all KILLING MALMON.”

Kate smiles and walks over to a complicated rope-and-pully system that is holding a giant anvil suspended over Dan’s chair. She slides a dagger from the garter belt on her shapely thigh and begins to saw through the rope. With a smile, she turns to you, the reader, and speaks, “This book is called KILLING MALMON.

“I’ll start.”

The rest of the details about the anthology and a full list of contributors can be found at Crimespree Magazine.

And don’t fret about this renewed interest in short stories killing my novel writing. I’m still hacking away at Trigger Switch and hope to have more news about that book later this summer.

Stew’s Legs: A Weekend Rollercoaster of Emotions

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Over the last three days there have been several different version of this post I’ve written in my head, but things with Stewie kept changing so much that I didn’t feel comfortable posting a really sad post if things looked up or a really happy post and then have things go south. But after four days now, I think we’ve settled in to a new normal and I’m ready to work through what’s going on.

It started Thursday morning when I was in the bathroom and heard a huge crash and scrambling sound from the room where Stewie and the cat sleep. Just as I was headed into the hallway to see what was going on, Stewie came wobbling into the bathroom unable to move his right leg. Regular readers will remember that the last time this happened, I freaked out and let my mind go to some pretty dark places. So this time I probably under-worried and figured we’d ride it out and have another story to tell.

Well, it got worse. By the time I got home he had lost movement in both of his back legs and was no longer wagging his tail. He wasn’t eating, he wasn’t drinking, and things looked grim. Becky and I talked with the vet and talked with each other about how to handle what we figured were final preparations because we didn’t have $5 – $8k for surgery and we certainly didn’t want his quality of life to be crappy.

Friday morning I had an appointment with our regular vet to look at him, but they sent me to the emergency vet. At that point, and with how the vet tech I talked to framed things, I thought I was waiting for the vet to explain steps for putting him to sleep and I bawled and bawled and bawled. I took him out of his crate, lobby rules be damned, and held him close.  After a half hour or so, they took us into a room and the emergency vet came to see us. And she was in a good mood.

She talked to Stew and felt around his back and his legs and talked about how smelly his farts were and how that was to be expected. She casually tossed off the question of whether surgery was something we’d be interested in and when I said no she just moved right ahead with other options. She said this was common with older dogs of this breed (Stew is 10 1/2  but the kids have aged him even more I think) and many paralyzed dogs go on to live long happy lives. She talked about slings and wheelchairs and ways to protect his belly and feet from getting raw as he drags himself around the house. I was suddenly smiling. And Stew even wagged his tail when she picked him up.

We left with three bottles of drugs, a very reasonable bill, and even a sliver of hope he might be able to walk again some day. I’d gone, in the space of two hours, from wondering if I would have to take the kids out of school to be there for his final moments, to laughing at Stew being like one of the dogs in the kids’ new favorite movie The Secret Life of Pets.

It was exhilarating; it was also exhausting.

But he did fine that night and took all of his meds well and ate and drank his water and did all of his dirty dog business.  The next morning though seemed grim again. He was sad looking and wasn’t eating and wasn’t drinking and kept looking longingly outside and I could tell he wanted to be outside running around. I tried to go back to sleep but couldn’t get his sad face out of my mind and wondered if I was being selfish and if I was doing the right thing. But as the morning wore on and the kids came out to play with him and he started scooting around to follow us all around and he felt part of the family again, I was happy.  We were even able to take him out into the back yard and play fetch with his favorite ball for a bit. His eyes absolutely lit up when we did that.

We’re now looking at ways to make his new life easier for him and keep as much of it the same as before. We’ll be getting him a little wheelie cart for longer walks and fetch games as well as building him a little ramp from our kitchen down into our family room. We also need to get something for him to wear around the house to prevent the raw spots on his belly and legs from dragging them around. But all of this pales in comparison to not having him around and he seems happy with his life as it is so I’m not going to take that from him.

Digital Fire Sale! Everything Must Go!!!!

If you been waiting to experience the world of Dominick Prince, you’re in luck. Just in time for beach reading/office hooky reading season, the ebook version of Murder Boy is just $0.99 and Riot Load is just $2.99. That’s two Dominick Prince adventures for less than the price of a Happy Meal. Links to your favorite crass commercial or ethically independent bookseller are below:

Murder Boy

Amazon.com I Barnes & Noble I Kobo I iBooks I Google

Schuler Books I Murder by the Book I Seattle Mystery Bookstore I Centuries & Sleuths

Riot Load

Amazon.com I Barnes & Noble I Kobo iBooks I Google

Schuler Books I Murder by the Book I Seattle Mystery Bookstore Centuries & Sleuths

How can you see this face, knowing a percentage of every book you buy goes to feed and entertain her, and not buy a bunch of copies for your friends and co-workers?

*If you’ve already read either book, I’d really appreciate an honest review at the site (or sites) of your choice. Thanks!

I Was an Edgar Awards Judge, Now I’m an MWA Commercial

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Now that it’s been printed in the official Mystery Writers of America Annual, I can share the fact that I spent 2016 as an Edgar Awards judge. Due to an iron-clad NDA and personal threat of violence from Margery Flax, I can’t go into detail about the process we went through, but I did want to take a minute to talk about how reading almost every single hardcover book from 2016 that wasn’t a debut changed me as a reader and as a writer.

I read a lot, and I like to think I read widely, but there’s nothing like a tsunami of books to challenge one with the rather staggering amount of prejudices once has in one’s reading. I’d always known there were blind spots in my reading preferences – namely historical fiction and foreign fiction – but I quickly realized there were a LOT of books that triggered various prejudices in me and that I would have put down under ordinary circumstances. But when I signed up for the judging gig, I signed up to read at least part of every book I was assigned and it was a revelation. I found historical books I loved and foreign books I loved (still think Scandinavian stuff is overwrought for the most part though) and books by authors of color and books across every other corner of humanity and experience. I hope to carry this new-found love of broad reading into the years I’m not forced to read outside my limited exposure.

Exposure is another thing I was always aware of last year. Anyone who thinks there is a large-scale conspiracy to keep good novels unpublished has never been fully confronted with the reality of just how many books are published by major publishers every year. It’s. Staggering. And that was just the stuff up for the best novel award. Getting a good book published is not hard; getting a good book noticed, though, that’s where the trouble is.

This is why it’s important for readers and writers alike to use every tool at their disposal to help spread the word about books we love: reviews, blog posts, stars on websites, giving books as gifts, reading for awards, giving awards, etc. I used to be a snob about the amount of awards there were in the crime fiction field, but every award is a chance for books that may have been looked over to get their chance to shine. This is where organizations like MWA shine for their authors.

In addition to making sure they get published under good conditions, MWA and it’s volunteer army have dedicated themselves to spreading the word about the genre and its authors. Through regional MWA university panels, library meetings, and sponsorships with various festivals, among other activities, they give their authors – from bestseller on down to debut small press authors – a shot at desperately-needed exposure. And I’m happy to be a part of it.

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I crave a traditional publishing career, one many say may be dead or dying. That’s a discussion that’s been beaten to death and not one I want to indulge today, but regardless of career goals or ambitions, we’re all better served with a robust readership with a robust voice and I’d recommend all authors look into what MWA can offer them and their career.

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