Category Archives: News

The Great Longhand Experiment is Over

A year and a half ago, experiencing a tech overload and dealing with so much static in my brain that I couldn’t get anything done, I cut back my tech consumption and went into the woods camping with my family for a long weekend and started writing by hand. For more than a year that worked well for me. I made progress on the new book (even if some of that progress was writing then cutting 45k words) and made some important changes to my overall writing process. But for a couple of months now, I’ve been feeling like it wasn’t working anymore and that I needed to go back to the computer.

A quick check of my records shows that the last time I wrote a full batch of new words was August 5, so that’s almost two months without new words on this book. Now, part of that was that September is a notoriously busy month in our house, and part of it was that there were problems with the story structure that needed to be worked out before I could move forward. On September 18, I cut about 5k words and restructured almost all of the book, which did include writing quite a few new words.

All of this was done on the computer and that’s what really got me thinking I needed to get back to it. All of the best lines and best chunks in this book have been written on the computer. After writing pages out longhand, I would spend a few days typing it into the computer cutting useless stuff along the way and polishing up some of the bland prose. My brain just seems to work better when I’m typing. All of that was more than two weeks ago, and after all of the cutting and restructuring, I knew exactly where the story needed to go, but I was never able to get the words down until last night when I sucked it up and pulled out my laptop instead of my fountain pen. The words didn’t exactly flow, but after a break of almost two months, that’s to be expected.

There are a couple of reasons I think longhand stopped working for me. The big one is that one of the hallmarks of my writing process is that I can write anywhere anytime. This is how I managed to write three novels (two published) several short stories, essays, and other work while juggling a day job, a family, and a freelance career. But, odd as it seems, writing by hand doesn’t work that way for me.

It worked great when I could wake up an hour early and write uninterrupted for an hour, but I can’t whip my pen out and knock out a few hundred words here and there when I need to keep up the momentum the way I can with my laptop. It seemed more precious to me, and preciousness is the quickest way to kill any kind of process. With our new family schedule requiring us all to get up an hour earlier than we were already, I don’t have that luxury anymore, so I have to go back to being able to write anywhere and any time I have a free moment, so goodbye longhand.

I’ve been wondering now what to do with all of the great pens and notebooks I have. I thought about journaling more, and did that for a few days before I decided I’d rather put almost all of the stuff I was writing in a journal up here on my website instead. None of that is important though, what’s important is that I found a way back to what works for me so I can keep moving forward on this book and hit my goal of a completed first draft by the end of the year.

This Concludes the Bryon Quertermous Writer Identity Reclamation Tour

I have a longer, more complicated essay about my life as an accidental editor that I’m working on, but for our purposes here you just need to know that for the last seven years I’ve been known more as an editor than a writer. This hasn’t been all bad–it gave me a nice platform to work with while promoting my first two novels and the money was nice to have as we tried to rebuild from some financial messes brought on by job losses, but it got so successful that my writing got lost in all of it. One of the reasons Trigger Switch was delayed for so long and still hasn’t been published was because I was so busy with editing work that I couldn’t get to a draft that both myself and my publisher were happy with.

But I determined to change that this year. I had the fortune of getting three of my best book ideas ever within the last couple of years and all three are ready to go, so there was never going to be a better time to pivot back to my identity as a writer. In many ways it feels like I’m starting all over again, and that’s a bit demoralizing, but it also feels like a fresh start to do things differently and do things bigger than I did with Murder Boy and Riot Load. 

Since I didn’t have a book out, the first part of this identity reclamation was to get new fiction out into the world. So thanks to J.T. Ellison, Dan and Kate Malmon, and Holly West for inviting me to contribute to anthologies they were editing. It was exciting to get back into short fiction after almost a decade away and allowed me to remind people I still wrote fiction. Then this past month, three other folks gave me space at their sites to talk about who I am as a writer these days and what I’m working on. Art Taylor invited me to write a First Two Pages essay about my short story “Mercenary,” Clea Simon invited me to participate in her Five Questions series, and finally, Kristopher Zgorski worked me into his famous (infamous) Composite Sketch series.

Hopefully the book I’m working on right now turns into something grand and publishable and in a couple of years I’m back to writing obnoxious posts reminding you to buy my books, but for now, this should keep me in your minds and your bookshelves.

One Word Resolution, 2019

Every year Laura Lippman does a one word resolution challenge and I really like the idea. Instead of coming up with a task list of dubious usefulness, it takes all of the swirling ideas and thought and inspirations in my head and solidifies them around one solid theme. So this year my word is QUALITY. Garbage in-garbage out is very real and for too long I’ve been on the wrong end of it. I’ve been making small-scale changes in what I eat and wear and consume, finding that I enjoy wearing and eating things I wouldn’t have expected of myself if they’re of higher quality. And this goes for my entertainment as well.

Quality doesn’t mean a diet of nothing but independent foreign films and BBC television series, it means no more hate reads and no more reading things because I feel I have to. It means using reading to expand my mind and understanding of the world around me as much as entertaining myself (ie, more non-fiction). Sometimes quality entertainment will be a great film like Roma and sometimes it will be something stupid like Hurricane Heist. As for reading, this means finding more authors of color to enjoy. Not because I have to, but because I want to. Luckily there are plenty of offerings on deck for 2019.

As for the family, this means more quality time. No more zombie social media browsing when we’re together. It means really pushing to have all of us at the dinner table at the same time. And it means reading to them at bedtime more, which is something I have horribly slacked off on for too long.

Writing quality stuff is always a challenge and that’s the way it should be. I don’t ever want to take the easy way out on a story and I want to find new ways to do the things I love with my work.

2018 Reading Update

I just hit 49 books read for the year, which is the most I’ve read as an adult and I’m on track to finally hit the 52 books in a year goal I’ve long craved. I still have three more books to read and I suspect my current read, THE BEST BAD THINGS by Katrina Carrasco will be on this list, but for now, here are my favorite reads of 2018.

TAKE MY HAND by Megan Abbott
IN HER BONES by Katie Moretti
DEAD GIRLS by Alice Bolin
IF I DIE TONIGHT by Alison Gaylin
SUNBURN by Laura Lippman
UNDER MY SKIN by Lisa Unger
TRULY DEVIOUS by Maureen Johnson
HOW IT HAPPENED by Micheal Koryta
JAR OF HEARTS by Jennifer Hillier
THE THREE BETHS by Jeff Abbott

Update (12/29/18): I’m at 51 books for the year and currently reading what will likely be 52. One of these books was JAR OF HEARTS by Jennifer Hillier and I regret every moment this year I spent before I read this one. It was amazing. My current read is Jeff Abbott’s THE THREE BETHS and it’s definitely an honorable mention. It could all go to crap by the end, but I doubt it.

Update (12/30/18): I finished THE THREE BETHS and it was amazing. So I met my goal! I’ve also updated the list above to reflect this new information as well as adding a book (the Koryta one) that I loved but thought was published in 2017.

While I would definitely like to read a lot in 2019, I don’t know that I want to push for 52 again. I stuck with too many books I didn’t like just because I was too invested in them to quit, and I passed on reading a couple of books with longer page counts because I didn’t want to ruin my streak. I think 40-45 is my sweet spot and that’s what I’d like to aim for.

The Only Time I Do Math is When I Should Be Writing

I just did a bit of on-the-fly calculation (the procrastination skills of a writer are varied, indeed) and when I type my handwritten pages into the computer, I’m cutting about 10%. This matches up with what I usually end up cutting between first and second draft because I do like to ramble, especially in dialogue. The difference here is that I’m cutting this dead weight before I get to the end of the book not after. Had I waited until the end of this draft to cut all of this, my 90k words would drop to 81k, but by writing the first draft by hand, when I hit 90k in the computer, they will be free of most of this stuff. That’s huge for me from a time saving standpoint and a quality standpoint. Previously I’ve had to cut less than I wanted or padded more than I wanted to get to an ideal word count and that’s always frustrated me so hopefully this new process alleviates that for me.

RIP Aunt Agatha’s

My first visit to Aunt Agatha’s Mystery Bookshop corresponded to my first visit to Ann Arbor when friends from my Flint-area high school theater and choir program trekked out to our closest cultural mecca. They went to find music stores and other quaint shops, I navigated my way (poorly) toward Fourth Avenue where I knew there was a bookstore that specialized in mystery books. After having spent most of my formative early reading years steeped in science fiction and fantasy, I had come to the mystery field only a few years previously and was still looking for the works that would shape me as a reader and as a writer. I found almost all of those books over the years at Aunt Agatha’s.

I remember very explicitly that first visit getting paperback copies of The Godwulf Manuscript, The Continental Op, and The Big Sleep. I didn’t have a lot of money then, so my early purchases were all used paperbacks. I would scour the shelves at my local library and find new authors for free, then when I found someone I loved—Sue Grafton, Robert Crais, Michael Connelly, Laura Lippman, Harlan Coben, and Loren Estleman were early favorites—I would head to Aunt Agatha’s with my friends and pick up the paperback of the author’s first book in the series and then the most recent paperback available on the used shelves.

My obsession with PI fiction was fed almost entirely by this store as I loved from being able to afford new paperbacks (this was the go-go 90s when there was so much great PI fiction appearing for the first time in paperback). Occasionally I would make it out there for a signing and splurge for a hardcover. Steve Hamilton and Harlan Coben were two I made annual visits to the store for. As I started reading more and more cozy novels in addition to the PI stuff, Aunt Agatha’s was the first place I visited and started buying books off the shelf based on the funny titles. This is where I found Lawrence Block for the first time. Believe it or not, I never ended up coming across him in my early PI readings, it wasn’t until I found a paperback copy of The Burglar Who Thought He was Bogart that I discovered what I had been missing. I read three or four more Bernie books and only discovered Scutter when I got a copy of A Long Line of Dead Men thinking it was a Bernie Book because of the bright yellow and red paperback cover.

When PI fiction grew stale for me and I wanted to catch up on all of the noir I missed, I picked up a pile of Vintage Black Lizard paperbacks from Aunt Agatha’s including Jim Thompson, James M. Cain, and Patricia Highsmith.

As I’ve grown older and been able to afford hardcovers, I’ve gotten most of them from Aunt Agatha’s and most of them are signed. I got married and had kids and moved away from Ann Arbor, but still visited, bringing Spenser and Holly to see the store and play in the back with toys Jamie and Robin provided for their family-minded fans. Jamie and Robin were the first mystery people Spenser and Holly ever met.

The two books I read in a single weekend that snapped me out of a near fatal (creatively at least) slump and indirectly led to my first truly BQ novel and my first book deal, were Duane Swieczynki’s The Wheelman and Victor Gischler’s The Pistol Poets, both purchased at Aunt Agatha’s. And when that first novel of mine was published, Aunt Agatha’s was there with a cake and a book launch party and the beaming pride of seeing one of their own make it.

Our relationship hasn’t always been perfect. I got stupid after that first book launch party and instead of sticking with the ones who raised me, I went to another book store that had better parking and better freeway access and spent too much of my own money on cupcakes and felt awful about it. But Jamie and Robin were gracious and forgiving and we all made up at, of course, a Steve Hamilton signing. I always hoped I’d be able to do another book signing there, and now I feel terrible for authors who have yet to publish their first novels who won’t get to experience the joy of signing at Aunt Agatha’s.

Robin and Jamie literally made me who I am as a reader and a writer and I will never forget that and I will always be thankful for that and now I’m going to go have a good cry.

Age Not Talent

As I’ve been making great progress on this new book I’ve been wondering where the hell all of this great stuff was hiding for the ten other books I’ve written. There’s certainly been flashes, but nothing like this. And it’s not for lack of practice. I don’t stick with much, but I’ve stuck with writing for a long time and only saw small amounts of change.

Then, looking at my hands this morning I realized I didn’t need to get better as a writer, I needed to get better as a human. I needed to get older, I needed to get less selfish, I needed to learn empathy and sympathy, I needed to understand diversity and feminism and I needed to be humbled, so so many times I needed to be humbled.

So to all of the writers out there, don’t worry about voice or plot or structure or dialogue or punctuation or grammar or, god-forbid, the publishing industry. Spend time learning to be a better person and listen to people when they’re brave enough to tell you you’re being a shitty human.

Thoughts on Bill Clinton and James Patterson’s New Novel

I see a lot of people crapping all over the new novel from Bill Clinton and James Patterson. In general, I find it pretty awful when anyone looks down on what anyone else reads, but the good these two men in particular have done for our field can’t be overstated (and that doesn’t even take into account the Edgar Award-winning pedigree of the guy who actually wrote the book, David Ellis).

Bill Clinton is directly responsible for several authors in the 90s hitting it big when he was spotted carrying their books, particularly Dennis Lehane. He raised the profile of crime fiction so much in the 90s that MWA gave him the Raven Award for his contribution to our genre.

James Patterson won an Edgar Award. He also brings in new readers by the truck load. If only a tiny fraction of his readers go on to discover another lesser known writer, then that’s amazing. And let’s talk about his publisher. In addition to the many fine authors published by Little Brown like Megan Abbott, Michael Koryta, and Michael Connelly off the top of my head, Hachette publishes Mullholland Books, my favorite publishing imprint ever.

One of the reasons they’re able to do something like Mulholland and why great writers like Megan and the Michaels can take creative chances, is because of the nearly half a billion dollars Patterson’s books bring Hachette. That doesn’t even take into account the millions he’s donated to schools for literacy efforts and to indie bookstores for outreach, all in an effort to nurture the next generation of readers that will allow us all to keep doing this thing we love.

So, sure, the book may not be your cup of tea (though I think every single writer could learn something from reading Patterson) but that doesn’t mean you have to crap on the book and assume it represents the end off all humanity. We’ve got enough pressure on us from other corners of the entertainment industry, we don’t need to be turning on each other.

Thirteen Years Ago in Toronto…

Later today I will be leaving for Bouchercon and this one is special for me. Thirteen years ago I attended my first Bouchercon – in Toronto – as a wide-eyed noob with no publishing credits and some very naive ideas about how long it would take me to get my first novel published. But I made some amazing friends, (including at least one of the people in this photos).

Now this year, I attend with two novels for sale in the book room, published short stories in anthologies available in the book room, a third novel contracted for publication next year, and several books I edited also for sale in the book room. So thanks to everyone who has given me a hand along the way, and even the jerks who made a difference.