Friday, February 25, 2005

The End of Another Writing Week

It was only 4 days.  And I'd made a vow not to distract myself with email, reading blogs or anything else.

Tuesday and Wednesday I failed.  I wrote, but switching to email and other things made it unsatisfactory.  On Thursday and Friday I prevailed.  No distractions.  I got a lot done and more links became clear.  No, not those kind of links.  Clue links.  Family links. Killer links.

Do I feel good about two days of complete concentration?  You bet.  There's nothing like it when it goes well.  I'm excited that the words and situations are making sense and it's beginning to read like a novel.

It may not be as startling as the first version, but what good was that when I couldn't make it add up?

Although I'm still rewriting there are some pages that are new.  By the end of next week I should be finished with rewriting and it'll all be fresh from there. 

Yes, that's scary.  My setup is done and I'll be continuing to interview suspects and unraveling histories with perhaps a surprise or two to the reader. Maybe even to me.  On the other hand, scary or not, I'll be glad to be writing new stuff.

It's not clear sailing by any means.  I anticipate hard days, mistakes, irritation.  Still, I don't think I'll discover again that I've got the damn thing all wrong.

So I count this week as a success. Even though there were only 2 days out of 4 that were what I wanted them to be, I feel I've broken a bad habit and that I'll now be able to write with discipline as I always have.  Three to four hours a day or at least 5 pages, whichever comes first.

I know some people write all day or all night.  I've never done that.  But when I was younger I'd get 10 pages done in those three or four hours.  Ed McBain would laugh at me. I think I read somewhere that he still writes from 9-6 and he's been doing this a little longer than I have.

Being successful this week makes me feel I deserve the weekend.  But I wish I didn't feel I deserve desserts.  More than I have in a long time, I'll really enjoy reading, viewing and whatever else I do.

Thanks to all who've been rooting for me.

Oh, one more thing.  If the Oscars on Sunday night don't end on time I'll be too tired to write on Monday.  I wonder if I'll ever work a 5 day week again.

Sunday, February 20, 2005


The revised cover art came to me this week. They shortened the hem and untwisted her body. Hooray!!! I think it's a very good jacket.

This Last Writing Week

I've now rewritten 6 and a half chapters.  The last 3 were almost a complete rewrite.  I keep telling myself that when the novel is actually completed I'll have less rewriting to do.  But that's the part I enjoy so it doesn't comfort me.

It's been a struggle not to go on the Inernet to ostensibly look up things.  We all know where that leads.  One thing to another.  Each day I promise myself that I won't do that.  I might have to check something out through Gurunet but I don't have to go any farther once I get my answer.  Still, I continue to do it.

I don't launch my email program but if I launch my browser, Mozilla, I can see my email from my home page.  Ok, so I don't answer it.  That's the only thing I resist.

I have to stop all that.  I have to get down to work.  I can't get distracted.  If I want to do these things I'll do them after I finish writing.  This is my vow for the coming week.

Even with all my diversions I think I know more than I did.  I might even know by now (page 80) who did it.  And why.  I have a lot of rewriting and changing of things ahead of me.  There are 5 more chapters to go before I get to write a new chapter.  Actually, there may not be that many because I took things from 10 and put them in 7.  And I may have to lose two characters all together.  But then I'll be adding a character who will get at least half a chapter.  She was dead in my first version.  How heady it is to bring someone back to life!

I know the prose I'm writing now is fairly lifeless.  I also know I can change that later so I'm not letting it worry me too much.  All in all it's been a battle.  I don't recall going through this before. Oh, I've been in despair at times, but I never had this kind of trouble. 

I just realized that I killed the wrong person again having done that once before in a YA book, Playing Murder, but I caught that one at around 100 pages.  This time I didn't know I'd done it until I started rewriting.

It's caused me a lot of trouble.  And other things have too...all those corners I got myself into.  As it stands now there aren't any. 

I keep wondering if ,without those corners am I writing a dull book?  And then I remember they were corners I couldn't do anything about.  I might get into some new ones as I go along and can only hope that they'll be ones I can write my way out of.

Those of you who've read my blog before know that I take any holiday I can.  I mean, how could I possibly write on Presidents' Day?

Is this book dull?  Is this book dull?  Is this book dull?


Friday, February 18, 2005

Sunday, February 13, 2005


A post to his blog by Olen Steinhauer about titles being changed in other countries got me thinking about my own experience with this subject.

My new book (the first in series of the current one I'm struggling with) was originally QUICK. My protagonist is Faye Quick and I liked using her last name as the title of the first book. I imagined that quick would appear in subseqent titles like QUICK ON THE TRIGGER, etc.

Once Ballantine bought it various people didn't like that title. I was very disappointed and irritated that I'd have to change it. I told my editor what I'd planned (he liked the title) and he made the case to the people he needed to convince. No go. Because of my contract I could've insisted but I haven't come this far to shoot myself in the foot. I managed to do that years ago one way or another. I knew if I was stubborn about this it would hurt me, hurt the book. So I agreed to try to come up with something over a weekend.

I started out that weekend very grumpy. But I knew I had to come up with something. So I began looking through books on noir films as this novel takes place in 1943 and has an unorthodox sense of noir.

I tried out different titles, changing a word in them, but nothing clicked. And then I heard that click. There was THIS GUN FOR HIRE with Veronica Lake and Alan Ladd. I honestly got a chill when I replaced gun with dame. THIS DAME FOR HIRE is the title of the new book. It's so much better than QUICK. I'm grateful to the faceless group at Ballantine who forced me to make the change. This was a positive experience.

A negative experience I had was with a book I wrote many years ago. It was a novel about a boy who kills his whole family. I called it A NICE QUIET BOY. You know how the neighbors always say this sort of thing on television about the kid who slaughters everyone.

But, oh no. Since I'd written YA novels in the past, the faceless group at Putnam decided this title made it sound like a YA novel. Once again I was asked to come up with something else. I went through tons of titles but nothing clicked. I finally agreed to SUCH NICE PEOPLE, which I hated. This was one time I should have been stubborn. My original title was better and made more sense.

In Olen's case he was talking about title changes in different countries. He writes, " It's been verified in the UK that my third book, which was acquired by Harper Collins will be called The Vienna Assignment-while in the US it's called 36 Yalta Boulevard ."

I don't see the point of this change, nor does he. Still he had no say in the matter.

I've had some of my books translated into other languages. My last series had titles that were a play on song titles or lines from songs. The French publisher changed all of them (5) to titles that had nothing to do with anything, in my opinion. The last one, which was called GONNA TAKE A HOMICIDAL JOURNEY was changed to LONG ISLAND BLUES. Yes, it does take place on Long Island...but really.

I had no say in the title choice for the foreign sales. I didn't like it, but I don't think it stopped any sales because those books did very well in France.

I guess my point here is that if you have the right to choose your own title and a publisher doesn't like it, think it over very carefully before you refuse. See if you can come up with something better and if you can't and are wedded to the original title, then stick to it. But if you do, know that you won't get the same support from the sales people, who in case you didn't know, actually run the book business!

Saturday, February 12, 2005


 "Fiction's essential activity is to imagine how others feel, what a Saturday afternoon in an Italian town in the 2nd Century looked like. My ambition is solely to get some effect, as of light on stone in a forest on a September day".

Guy Davenport

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Listen for the Click

I think I've broken through this murk I've been whining about.  If you've been reading this blog for any length of time you may remember The Surprise Character that came at the end of Chapter 2.  I wrote about how much fun that was, and it usually is.  But now I believe, that in this case, she (the surprise character) was the very thing that tripped me up.

In rewriting Chapter 2 for the third time, when I came to the surprise character I heard the click and I changed the gender of the character.  That was it.  I think.  I hope.

I know I didn't wake up depressed this morning.  And even though I hadn't slept well I was able to fix Chapter 3.

I still don't know who did it, but that feels okay now.

Someone named Bullfighter left me an interesting comment on my Feb. 8th post.  I thought what he had to say was worth thinking about.  I keep saying he because Bullfighter referred to his girlfriend but that doesn't mean B. is a man. Still, I think he is.  Who knows how much his comments had to do with me listening for the click.  Although I don't think I'm afraid to get to the end, the idea intrigued me.

So for the moment I feel pretty good.  I still have quite a bit to solve, other than who did it, but I have more confidence about moving forward.

We'll see.  Won't we?

Listen for the Click is the title of a novel by Jon L. Breen.

BTW, I wish people who comment would leave an email address or some way to write back, because I often want to reply and can't find a way.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005


It took me a year€'™s groping to discover what I call my tunneling process, by which I tell the past by installments, as I have need of it.

Virginia Woolf

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

One More Time

Did the weekend refresh me?  Not a bit.  I did another chapter yesterday.  It was okay.

But when I didn't want to get out of bed today, I knew it wasn't okay.

I talked to a writing friend who said maybe I should chuck this and start over with a new plot.  I almost sank to the floor thinking about this.  My friend made some suggestions for going about this new plot attack.  They were good.  And I decided that's what I'd do.

While I got dressed I thought about it.  I have five and a half months to my deadline.  Doing some research now and starting over in about a week or so seemed impossible.

So when I came to my desk I decided to give this plot one more shot from a different angle.  I just finished writing chapter 1 for the third time.

I think I've gotten myself out of even more corners.  But is it interesting this way?  I don't know.  Is it fun writing it?  No.  But, hey, where is it written that I should have fun doing this?

My trusty reader will take a pass at this new chapter this afternoon.  And if it's okay I'll start rewriting chapter 2 tomorrow for the third time.

I'm aware that I might rewrite five or six more chapters and come to the same conclusion I came to this morining.  Dump it.  And if that happens I'll start a new book with four months until deadline.  Yes, I know they give you leeway, but not that much.  And I like to make deadlines.  I always have.

I've never wanted to know who did it more than I do now.

Friday, February 04, 2005

A Little Help From A Friend

Below are the words a friend sent me after reading my last few entries. She is a writer and has been publishing novels for over 50 years.
Your latest blog entry makes me see you really are stressed. Of course I often think two things are at work when we write our best.

One, it's such familiar territory, so ready to jump off the page that it does and it's good. The second one is the sneak punch. It's horrible in the creating. A struggle with many false stops and starts. In my case there is often a great deal of false euphoria attached to the struggle, times when I'm so elated with "how it's coming" that I can't see it's really going.

In between are the old, faithful professional jobs neither outstanding nor below par: just what they should be.

I hope you solve things. I have a feeling you will, only because I've been there. Instead of a blog I have The Inside Enemy. He's always around and sneering and suggesting I'm staying too long at the dance, suggesting who the hell will read this? suggesting I ought to sell my house and retire to Florida etc. etc.
I found this comforting and helpful.

I've now rewritten four chapters and I feel good about them. It's going better than I thought it would. Still, I'm not at the really tough places yet. But my setup is getting neater and making more sense.

I'll be thinking about it over the weekend as I read other people's books, and maybe go to a movie. Whatever I do I know my book will be constantly in a part of my mind. This time my mind might cooperate.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Trying Something Different

I gave my manuscript to another writer I trust. I never have anyone read my work while I'm in the process of writing. I only let another person read my novel when I feel finished. So this was not only unusual for me, it was also a little scary. But I thought, what have I got to lose?

She read it and we talked. I realize now that I have to change a lot of things. As she said, "Nobody could get out of the holes you wrote yourself into."

So flying by the seat of my pants didn't work this time. By now the magic should have happened. By magic I mean that things should have fallen into place.

Lee Goldberg asks if I write with an outline. The answer is no. I think I've addressed this before, but since he asked I'll explain again.

I couldn't stand to have an outline. The idea of knowing where I'm going is hideous to me. Anyway, I couldn't write an outline when I never know who did it until I'm at about page 100. I don't want to know who did it when I start. It would spoil everything for me just as if I was reading a book and knew who did it from the beginning. Before I start I know who my protagonist is (in this case I know a lot about her because it's the second in a series) and who has been killed. That has always worked for me before. And now it's failed me. I still won't do an outline.

I did learn from my reader that I had to drop some characters and move some to other locations. I had to give different occupations to a few. My reader said, "I definitely wouldn't scrap it because there is a lot of good stuff in here." This was nice to hear. But the fact that I have to rewrite before I'm ready to rewrite doesn't thrill me. I'm still not sure where I'm going. It's possible with the changes that I make I'll find out.

This morning I went grocery shopping. Soon I'm going to take a shower. Tomorrow I'll start to make the changes.

I feel like I'm in hell.