If there’s anything cooler than watching little kids get excited about the first snow, I haven’t seen it. I took a few minutes out of my day of editing and cleaning to watch them and snap this picture. It was all beautiful until ten minutes later when they were cold and came in and got everything in the house wet.
Today was Spenser’s first full day at school so he got to ride the bus and take a lunch, both of which he loved. We had another good night last night with a regular bedtime and stories and baths. So once we punted him off to school, I got to work at my desk and settled into a nice routine. Today, so far, is the first day I haven’t felt disoriented and bamboozled by the whole work-from-home thing. I had a set of goals, a schedule for how I planned to meet those goals, and so far I’m sort of on track. I took time out to go to lunch with Becky and Holly who are both home today.Next week Holly will be out of the house three day a week in the afternoon so that will be nice.
I was a bit unprepared today for how much I missed having Spenser around. He’s exhausting and destructive and stubborn, but he’s mine and there have been a few things I would have liked to see his reaction to. I can’t wait until it’s time to go pick him up from the bus stop.
In professional news, I’ve updated my editing site to reflect my renewed interest in booking more developmental/line edit combos. Right now I’m offering a 20% discount if you book them together. Go check it out and tell a friend. Or a wordy and unfocused enemy.
Today is my last day at the day job and it doesn’t feel as monumental as I expected. I think part of that is I’ve been transitioning out of this job for over a month now so I’m ready to go. But I also think the fact that I’m so busy with editing and writing work makes it less of an abrupt transition. I’ve been essentially working two full-time jobs for the last few months so I’m just dropping one full time job. I’m sure next week when I don’t have to go to an office at all it will hit me more. I had a dry run of that on Monday when I was at home all day editing, but we’ll see how it works every day now.
Today is also the last day for the kids at their day care. We’ve been very happy with this place and I think the kids are a little sad to say goodbye to their friends. But after a week home with me, Spenser starts kindergarten on September 3 and that really has hit me. I can’t believe that time is here already. I feel so very, very old.
To make myself feel younger, and to celebrate the new freedom of my stay-at-home work life, I bought myself some Batman Chuck Taylors. I love them so very much and they seem to be more comfortable than the low-top ones I had previously. I bought Spenser a matching pair for his birthday and Holly got a purple pair.
Neil Smith rejected the very first story I ever submitted to an online journal. Luckily (for me at least, I’m sure he might beg to differ) that wasn’t enough to turn me off completely and he’s gone on to publish two of my pieces over at Plots With Guns. In the years since that first rejection, I’ve become a fan of not only his writing, but also a number of his lifestyle choices like cheap wine and grilling. He’s onto biking now and I think that’s probably where my attempts to mimic his life will end. We also share a distaste for musical snobbery and are highly suspicious of the unchecked love for independent book stores. He has a new book out called THE BADESST ASS featuring my favorite of his characters, Billy Lafitte, and I offered to let him answer some really stupid questions in exchange for promoting the books to my tens of readers.
You’ve written some hardcore novels and some weird ass stories and some kind of Nero Wolfe book with an angry fat chick. Wait, that can’t be right?
I hope all the hardcore ones are weird, too. And I’ve been a Nero Wolfe fan for a long time. The whole idea of a genius who only does detective work to pay for his indulgent lifestyle was really amusing. It was taking Holmes to the next logical step. You see some of that dynamic in HOUSE, of course…but also in BIG BANG THEORY with Sheldon and Leonard.
So I saw a Doctor Phil episode with a very angry larger woman on it, and it stuck with me. I really like larger women, actually, so the anger coming off this one in waves was something I had to write about in a character, and the idea of a Nero Wolfe-type genius woman wouldn’t leave me alone. Along the way, the anger turned into something more, and now most people who read Octavia just fall in love with her, just like I did.
So we can agree you’re kind of savant with the degenerates. Is there a field you’re still itching to try? Anything you have no desire to write? Will we ever see you write a cozy?
If something gets my attention, I’ll give it a shot, although I have no desire to write the “important” literary novels that the snooty lit superstars write. It goes back to the old idea of how lit was taught in high school–as if the author was preaching from on high, telling a story with one big “theme” and no one could see it any other way. I’m glad college didn’t teach it like that. But these days, I cringe whenever I hear about some new wunderkind tackling “important issues” and putting society under a microscope, or writing about the Seventies because, hey, we were all born in the Seventies and must reexamine it repeatedly. Sigh
I can actually imagine writing a “cozy”, but it wouldn’t be a cozy that cozy readers would like. Because of the graphic sex.
Tell me more about your social media habits. Why is it important in these days of tweets and privacy-whoring billionaires to have a presence out there?
I dunno. It’s what we’ve got to connect to readers. Authors don’t get on TV anymore, and who listens to radio? Newspapers? I think people browse Amazon a lot like they used to browse Barnes and Noble, and they find writers who interest them. Before buying the book, they look around and find out about the author some first. It’s a different world than it used to be. And I kind of like my “persona” out there like a carnie (carny?), shouting about how big of a bear you can win if you toss the rings on the bottle…or buy my book. BUT, while I know I should tell people about my books and ask them to buy the damned things, it’s more important to be a real person doing it rather than becoming a robot who tweets the same fucking links and reviews and inspirational quotes and all that shit but never really interacts with the readers, ya know? What works better: repetitive ads, or smart ad placement?
I mentioned before your stuff has a distinct anti-hero bent, which has not been a real trendy genre these days. Talk about that because I NEVER get tired about hearing how dead the novel is.
The novel is not dead. The idiots who say the novel is dead are the drunk writers who think the shit they say in bars is important to help impress graduate students. The type of novel they think is good (i.e., the ones they read and liked years ago…like many years ago) might be dead, but it had children. Those children grew up to be different novels who thoughts Dad’s novels were boring. And so on.
I just write characters who interest me. I don’t set out to write anti-heroes anymore. I did with Lafitte, which was me challenging myself to create a vile character that readers would still root for (like Vic Mackey in THE SHIELD), but in ALL THE YOUNG WARRIORS and the upcoming second book in that series, I just tried to imagine these guys caught in situations that most of us would never be a part of, and try to imagine how we would react. What would we think? What would we say or do? Since I write about stuff that scares me, I have to step back from the typical “thriller” protagonist who reacts to stuff like a highly-trained thriller protagonist, no matter who he/she was in the beginning.
And I’m sick of “former Navy SEAL, the best there was” and “former Marine sniper, the best there was” and “former FBI agent, the best there was.” Fuck you people and give me the fourteenth best agent, or a run-of-the-mill sniper. Just admit that “the best” = “boring”.
According to most published reports you have a wife and a dog you treat like a child. How? What’s being married meant to you as a writer?
How? The fuck sort of question is that?
Being married and being a writer…I guess it gives me perspective. Why am I doing this? Why am I spending all these hours in my office pecking away at these books that don’t make all the much money? Why am I subjecting myself to the heartbreak of rejection that sends my mood down the shitter, meaning my wife has to deal with unhappy Neil and it’s not fair to her at all? Why did I try to combine book touring with vacations? What is the point of all this?
The point is she knows it’s a part of me, and she knows I need to do it, and she loves me in spite of it. And I could (yes, I really could) give up writing if it came down to it. That’s the sort of perspective I’ve learned. I’ve written eight books. They’re either published or going to be published, and if I didn’t write another one, that would be fine. The others would still be out there, being read. But I’m still writing. So as long as it’s okay to keep doing so, I will.
Finally, tell me one thing you’ve never told any other interviewer.
I would kick your ass in a fight. But oh, man, I’m too tired to fight.
Thanks, Neil. It’s always a pleasure. Now go buy his new book.
I love getting mail and in this day and age the opportunities for that are more limited. But today I got TWO things in the mail just for me. First are some business cards I ordered from Moo. Now that I need to hunt down freelance business I figured it was time to invest in some real business cards. At first I thought about going the cheapie route with VistaPrint, but I’m glad I spent the extra money to get higher quality cards. The picture can give you an idea of how cool they look, but it doesn’t show how cool they feel. These things are thick and substantial. I love them so much. I wavered on whether or not to add the photo, but I figured if I drop some off around the tables at a conference, then people can use my photo to seek me out. We’ll see if it works or if it turns out to be creepy.
The other item was a Scriptnotes t-shirt from the John August webstore. I love this podcast 1) because they do transcripts and I hate listening to podcasts and 2) there is so much great information for writers of all stripes, not just screenwriters. This is the siftest t-shirt I’ve ever owned and it’s the first one I didn’t feel like I had to wash before wearing.
So that’s what today’s mail brought. Next week I hope to get a few actual checks in the mail which is still fun even though I infinitely prefer PayPal.
I took Spenser to the dentist this morning for a sedation dentistry procedure and this is the final result. He survived his tooth extraction, but the dental office left quite a bad taste in my mouth. I’ve hated this dentist since we first visited them, but Spenser keeps having pain in this one tooth so we wanted to get that taken care of before he starts school next month so we got him in and have had nothing but trouble.
It culminated yesterday when I tried to get a hold of them to talk about a problem with the prescription and all I got was silence. I called 7-8 times, left a message, sent and email, and then finally sent a strongly worded fax. Well, apparently that fax pissed them off and when I talked to the dentist today instead of apologizing, she lectured me like a school boy and turned it on me. When I called her out on it and put me foot down on her doing more work on Spenser than I wanted she threatened to call social services.
Needless to say we won’t be having any more contact with this dental office. I’ve thought about mentioning them here so others don’t make the same mistake we did, but that seems a bit petty and, also, these seem like the people who have deep enough pockets to sue based on a poor understanding of libel and slander laws and I don’t want any part of that. So we’ll just go back to looking for a new dentist.
We’ve had pretty bad luck trying to find a new dentist since our last one stopped taking insurance. I think we’ve realized it’s probably better to stay with the dentist we like and trust and just pay the extra money. I have good teeth and Holly seems to have inherited that from me, but Spenser and Mommy will keep the dentist busy for the coming years.
So now Spenser is resting and I’m editing while watching Phineas and Pherb and that’s a pretty cool recipe for an afternoon.
P.S. Today is my mom’s birthday so here’s a shout out to her with thanks for making sure I didn’t turn out to be a completely awful person. Thanks mom. I love you.
I’ve discussed here on a number of occasions my concern with the increasingly isolated short crime fiction community and the false claims of a short story renaissance. A few Facebook posts recently reminded me of one particularly depressing moment from last year that I think needs further discussion.
When I was in Milwaukee for Murder and Mayhem in Muskego, I popped into the local Barnes and Noble and found a copy of the most recent Best American Mystery Stories collection. I have bought the anthology every year since 2003 and it is likely the single most influential publication on my current writing and reading interests. It opened me up to so much more than the mainstream crime fiction I’d been reading since junior high and introduced me to a community from which I’ve made a number of close friends. It was also a major factor in legitimizing online crime fiction. So every year I buy a copy and gleefully flip to the table of contents and to the listing of notable stories to see how many online stories made the cut. And last year, for the first time since I’ve been buying the anthology, there wasn’t a single online crime fiction story in the anthology or in the notable story listings.
My first thought was that there weren’t any stories selected from online crime zines because there weren’t any stories submitted by online crime zines. I’d noticed two trends that I thought played into that. First, the online zines had been moving almost exclusively toward flash fiction and second, these new crime fiction editors seemed content to publish only for a small group of readers that was mostly made up of other writers. contributors to one zine were editors at another and so on. I saw the same 10-15 names pop up in almost every crime zine as either a contributor or editor.
My thoughts about the first point were validated when Otto Penzler announced the line up for his flash fiction anthology and I saw a number of the more popular crime zines represented. But from what I’ve read and heard, most of those stories were found by Otto and his readers not from submissions from the editors or writers from those zines. I don’t know if it’s just that these editors don’t know things like BAMS or the StorySouth Million Writers Award exist, or if they genuinely have no interest in expanding their reach and content beyond a very narrowly drawn crime fiction niche.
Chad Eagleton pointed out in the comments on one of my previous posts that we have yet to see an online publication that offers the full variety of crime fiction styles like the big two print publication do. There are a number of valid concerns regarding Alfred Hitchcock and Ellery Queen Mystery Magazines, but the lack of variety is not one of them. Both magazines have published more noir and dark crime fiction stories than these other magazines have published traditional or light crime stories.
But maybe I’m just an old man pining for the old days and readers and writers don’t care about stretching themselves or expanding their audience. I love being part of the mystery community and for the most part I have no qualms about how it operates, but I think short crime fiction is an area of high potential that has been woefully neglected and is need of new energy, new readers, and new ideas. And when the next edition of BAMS comes out, I hope to see the fruit of that new energy legitimized on it’s storied pages.
For stories published in 2013, send a hard copy to:
Best American Mystery Stories
58 Warren Street
New York NY 10007
Yesterday was my first day back to work from vacation since I announced that I will be shucking the day job coil for life as a full-time freelancer. We were supposed to go on a family trip with my aunts and uncles and cousins to Branson, MO, but the timing sucked as I had a ton of editing work to finish up and the cost was prohibitive. The only two ways to get to Branson are flights, which would have run us $400 per person, or driving 16 hours. If the kids were a little older I don’t think the drive would have been a problem. But at 4 and 3, I think it would have been miserable for all of us.
Anyway, the week was a nice glimpse into what my life will be like in a few weeks when I take the plunge and I liked what I saw. I was more productive in that one week than the previous month or so. I felt more engaged with the work I was doing and was more refreshed. It was also nice to spend some quality time with the kids and Becky. I realize every week as a freelancer won’t be a dream, but it still has to be better than trying to balance two full-time jobs along with family life.
This post should also serve as a reminder that I’m looking for work. I’ve mostly been relying on referrals to bring me business, but I need to shake on my hustle clothes and hit the street. So if you know anyone who needs editing work, send them to my dedicated editing services site.
Thanks so much. You’re all so sweet. Except you there in the middle.
UPDATE (8/7/13): I think we’re going to see if we can make some changes to our lifestyle and habits to keep the dog around. Even Becky, who has never really cared much for animals, thinks the transition to a new home might be hard for Stewie because he’s so attached to me. I think with me being home during the day I can play with him more and we’ll just have to budget better for his upkeep and know that if he ever has any serious medical issues we probably can’t pay for them. We’re still getting rid of the cat though. The cat is obnoxious.
As much as I hate to do it, I think the first sacrifice of my new freelance life is going to have to be finding new homes for our animals. With money being tight and unpredictable, we’ve been looking to cut as many of our variable expenses as we can and the dog particularly is an expensive variable expense. In addition to the food and the grooming and the vet bills, there’s also the unexpected expenses like if he gets sick or injured. We’re going to have high enough deductibles on ourselves and the kids, let alone whatever it would cost to fix a dog.
There’s also the issue that I never feel like we’ve been as active enough with him as he needs to be happy. I would love to see him go to a home with people who have time and energy to play with him. I’m awful at upkeep and maintenance and I’ve neglected the dog long enough. I don’t want to skimp on his care and upkeep.
So if you know anyone in the MI/OH area looking for a 6 year old pure-bred neutered dachschund up-to-date on his shots who loves walks and kids and people let me know. I’ll feel a whole lot better about this if I can get him to a good home. If I can’t find a home for him I’ll try to set him up with one of the local rescue organizations but I don’t like the thought of him having to spend any time in a cage if he doesn’t have to. Thanks in advance for your help.