Thursday, September 1, 2011

The changes of Star Wars

While I wasn't surprised that there would be changes to the new Blu-ray version of the Star Wars movies, I didn't think they'd be so egregious. Some of the early changes were things like a prop Wampa arm from The Empire Strikes Back and some overlapping with the lightsabers in Return of the Jedi. Nothing egregious in the grand scheme of things. No movie, after all, is made with 100% accuracy.

Then came the word about some added dialogue to a key scene in Return of the Jedi at the climax involving Vader. Fans absolutely hit the roof. And if you see the scene online here it's easy to see why. For one thing, it's completely unnecessary and it sounds so wrong and so fake it ruins the scene. For fans who thought Greedo shooting first was bad, this is infinitely worse. It ruins one of the best scenes in the film and isn't needed. The old saying of actions speaking louder than words is generally true and this would be Exhibit A.

Of course, there was some general hubbub back in 1997 when changes were made. Some were quite noticeable, even to casual fans. The original movie got quite a cleaning and some additional scenes were added, but they're unnecessary. Then there was the Greedo incident where some shitty CGI made it look like he shot first instead of Han. To say it didn't go very well was an understatement, and this was back when the internet was still in its infancy (remember AOL?). Empire, by far the best of the trilogy, got off the easiest, but there are some nice backshots here and there and an additional scene or two that don't hurt or help the movie. Return of the Jedi got a better ending musically (still too many goddamn Ewoks) but the added musical number at Jabba's palace is a joke and a waste.

The DVD trilogy in 2004 had even more changes. The most notable is in Return of the Jedi with Hayden Christensen at the end. For the sake of continuity, I suppose, but it irked some fans. There was also some new dialogue between the Emperor and Darth Vader in Empire. Not really necessary. They also added Temuera Morrison's (Jango Fett in the prequel) voice over the original voice. Another unnecessary choice, especially when the new dialogue doesn't sync with the action very well and the original voice was so good. I know, I know. Continuity, but off-key is still off-key.

And now this latest round of changes.

George Lucas may well have the right to do whatever he damn well pleases since they are his movies, but come on, man... let the work stand as a representation of what you could do at the time. Continuity glitches are one thing, but seriously, when you start ruining individual scenes then we have a problem. Authors rarely, if ever, do this. Many wish they could change material fifteen, twenty years, but they understand that doing so would be redundant. The work that they did is a representation of who they were at the time and what they thought, what they felt, and what their abilities. To change that work would be a travesty as an artist.

But any ranting I do pales to the dead-on assault Trey Parker and Matt Stone did in their "Free Hat" episode, which makes the same points ten years ago. It's also a hell of a lot funnier. Go to SouthParkStudios for some comedic gold and then, when it's all said and done, don't buy the fucking Blu-ray, please. Save your money for someone with a dose of artistic integrity left.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

More craziness and insanity in August

Well, after moving from one house to another in nine days, a lack of internet for two weeks and dealing with bitchy, unappreciative people... things have finally settled in after a fashion. Can't say I'm thrilled with the end result, but there's not a lot I can do right now.

On the writing front, Avarice has ground to a halt. The book is not dead, but it does appear to be in stasis right now. I feel like I'm repeating myself and the time has come to take a deep breath and push myself away from the project for a little while. There are some good elements in the book, but it feels like everything is about to crash in a very nasty collision. Might not be a bad thing for some books, but it doesn't feel right. I'm still going over the text every now and again, looking for clues that might help. Will it be done? Yes. Will it have a 2011 release date still? I'm hoping, though early 2012 might be more realistic. Avarice will be released, though. I still like the book, but the dense cast number and the overlapping storylines has made it a more challenging book than Coercion.

While all of that is going on, I am working on a shorter novel. More of a straight-up mystery set in Oak Villa. I suppose there is some inspiration to be found from Ed McBain's 87th Precinct series, but it isn't a pastiche or anything. This book is going in its own direction and pieces of the story have been floating in my mind for a while now. The book is about eighty pages right now and is moving at a solid clip (knock on wood). I suppose it helps that the story will be told entirely from the perspectives of two of my minor characters from Coercion, Jason Redman and Amy Hollins. I imagine the book will be around 250 pages or so and in terms of setting it will be set between Coercion and Avarice, with events of the former playing a role on some level (more emotionally than plot-wise) on the characters to give the universe some connectivity and the impression that actions from prior stories will turn up again and again. The book's working title is Contract.

As for artwork on Coercion, I should have word on that soon. If it goes well, I imagine I will use the same artist for Contract and Avarice for the sake of continuity. Make them like those mass-market paperbacks where there is a unifying theme.

All of this, as always, is in a state of constant flux. I do hope to get a review from the two bloggers I sent Coercion to. That would be nice. With any luck I'll have a new cover by then.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Insanity in August...

Well, it wouldn't be an August if things weren't going batshit crazy, now would they? Moving for the third time in two years, trying to finish a book, working a full-time job, starting up my second job again around August 22, working with a new artist... yeah, that's a full plate. Hard to believe there'll be any time for fun and games, but at least I've got that going for me. Going to a Steely Dan concert in a week and a White Sox game the following week. So there is that amidst the craziness.

Craziness and insanity, I would say, can be a good thing, albeit in controlled doses, and as long as it doesn't overwhelm you. Coercion was born in a time of great insanity and calamity and though I had to start over twice because various approaches weren't working, it did end up working and I suppose having something to focus on during a very difficult period of my life helped me enormously. Among other things, I got fired from one job for bullshit reasons, was basically homeless for ten days, and also had other minor problems that seemed to come up.

There is a purpose for everything, I suppose, and by the end of the production I came out of the situation scarred and hardened by the experience, but I also wound up going on the current direction that I am in my life right now.

I like to think this next month will be another transitory period for me. A chance to build off a stronger foundation for the future. With any luck, I will have a new cover for Coercion by the end of next week, which is when I am supposed to move. I should *knock on wood* have Avarice completed by the end of the month and in the final editing process. I'm not sure what the cover will look like yet, but I imagine it will be similar to the final design for Coercion, but with key stylistic changes that make it work well within the context of the story and its themes.

So, we'll see what happens. Sales have been on and off, more than anything. Like mood, some days just happen to be better than others. A new cover and a new book in the pipeline, I hope, will be the necessary ingredients to really get things moving.

But, like anything else, it just depends. I'm not religious in any strict sense, but I do believe that everything has a purpose. Hard to imagine a world where things happen purely by accident. Some things do, and some have a specific purpose.

The trick, if there is one, is to recognize when both happen and to take advantage of them.

Coercion's Amazon Page:

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Setback with Book #2

For obvious reasons, I won't get into serious details about the problems with Avarice, which will be my second novel and the second book in the Oak Villa Series. Long story short, a great deal of the story after the halfway point of the novel wasn't working and felt like I was repeating a lot from my first book, Coercion. I tried fixing the problem for a week and realized that the only way to fix the book altogether was to return to the cipher--the point of origin where things started to slowly fall off the rails--and begin again. So, in other words, I lost over a hundred pages--about a month's worth of work.

While the book needs some major adjustments, I will be able to keep a fair amount of scenes in some form or another. It wasn't the scenes themselves that were the problem--there were actually a few very good ones, if I may be so bold--but the overall arc stopped working. Didn't help that I thought the book would be three parts of 13 chapters, then two parts of 20, and finally two parts of 17 chapters each (don't ask for any symbolic meaning because there isn't any. Take that shit you learned in English class and shove it down your throat). Structure and balance are vital, in my mind, to a story, and this book was losing both along with the story's coherence. This was the only way out even though it kills me inside to excise so much material because of my foolishness and arrogance.

So, with that, Avarice will likely be released in late September/early October, provided my artist (TBD) finishes on time. I'm hoping to have the book done by September 1 so I can handle the final story and formatting edits and maybe work on a novella or something. Been kicking a few ideas around. Though if my personal life gets extremely hectic (which it almost certainly will) , September 1 might be optimistic.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Lessons I've Learned From My First Book Publishing (So Far)

For many, it's just the idea of making that first step and actually getting published. That was part of the goal for me, I suppose, but it is more of a way to help realize my eventual dream of being able to write for a living, which is only really possible for a select few. Stacked odds, I suppose, but it beats the shit out of working retail for living (which I have done in the past, and it is the pits). Publishing my first book, Coercion, has been a real trial by fire and I've learned plenty of lessons that I will certainly apply when it comes to my second novel Avarice and future projects.

1. Have artwork ready in advance. This is what kept my book from being published sooner than it was. I'd hoped for an April 30 release, but delays and excuses from my original artist kept me shackled so I had to look elsewhere. Then again, part of this is also due to the fact that I wrote the book in summer and fall of 2010 and had been hoping a literary agent would take me in. 20 rejections later and after reading about the advent of e-publishing as a viable (though challenging) tool, I decided to give it a shot. I hope to have an artist ready to roll soon and have the project done around the same time I'm done with my book, which should be around September 1. That's the hope. It will also be a different artist this time, mainly because my artist for Coercion lacks experience with color and I want some color this time because it goes well with the preliminary image I have in mind.

2. Cast the net wide from the start. I initially published through just Smashwords, figuring it would be out to all the major ebook publishers within a few weeks. How naive. This time I'm likely going to use a few different  publishers all at the same time and go for a more simultaneous release. That means not just smashwords but others, too. Try and hit the ground with a little momentum on my side (I hope).

3. Be ready for more disappointment. This seems a bit cruel, but it's the only way to function. The idea that I'm going to hit the jackpot overnight is ludicrous. Just gotta keep doing what I've been doing. Networking, promoting, and doing whatever it is I can to get the word out there. Means more disappointment, but maybe it'll eventually turn into something great.

All I can do is hope.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Harry Potter Coda

Let's get one thing out of the way: I have never read a single Harry Potter novel. Not because I dislike them or have a passionate anti-Christian fervor or whatever it is that gets people to dislike them (all my vitriol is saved for Twilight), but because I don't care much for fantasy novels. They're not my thing. Sci-fi isn't, either. That's not to say I've never read a fantasy book and wound up being entertained. For example, I did enjoy Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card. I recognize good writing and good prose and good storytelling when I see it and that is universal, regardless of the genre.

I read fifty or so pages of the first book, Sorcerer's Stone, a while back. It didn't wow me or impress me and I more or less let it go. That said, it is easy to see why readers gravitated to the novels. J.K. Rowling does a very good job of playing to the universal themes of someone discovering their destiny, learning who they are as a person, and everything that was more or less present in Star Wars. Like the aforementioned, Rowling brings an element of the supernatural and has a vivid fervor in her to write the stories, which is something you can't deny.

The books and movies have been enormously successful because of the continuing quality of both products. Will they last the test of time? Maybe. Certainly our lifetimes. After that? Hard to say. Like anything else in history, only the rare few survive to be remembered.

After more than a decade, it is all over. It seems strange, but there it is. There's been talk of Rowling writing an eighth book. I say that is a colossal mistake. As I understand it, she said everything she needed to say. Only reason she would write an eighth is for money. Fans might want it now, but then you have to listen to them bitch. Remember the prequel trilogy for Star Wars and the fourth Indiana Jones movie?

Thought so.

Let Harry rest. For the millions and millions of fans out there, it was one hell of a ride.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

July Update/Details on Second Book

First and foremost, Coercion is slowly reaching the mass market. Smashwords, after more than two weeks, finally gave it premium status and just this week the book is now starting to enter the market. It will be available for Apple products and apps next week sometime and for Nook users not long after. Not sure about the Kindle or Sony. For the next book I might publish it separately on Amazon for logistical reasons.

As for the rest, well, the current book is going well enough, but is definitely slower. Coercion took a total of 65 days to reach the end. The current book is well past the book and will be at three months on July 21. The main reason for this, I suppose, is because it has a much larger cast than Coercion and it's a little harder to maintain all that information sometimes, leading to continuity errors, re-writes, and do-overs. I'm working on editing the second chunk of the book right now, but I'm already considering doing some major changes to the general structure of the story. Hopefully for the better.

The book, I hope, is going to be done by September 1 and maybe published by mid-October. I'd say it with more certainty but I've never been good at predicting these things in the first place. When I saw two weeks it usually means one. Maybe I'll be done by August 15 and I can have more time to work in the particulars. I wouldn't bet on it, though.

The current title for my second book is Avarice and it is a continuation of sorts of my little Oak Villa universe. It is not a sequel (for obvious reasons if you bothered to read Coercion), but several characters who appeared in Coercion turn up again in Avarice, but mainly in peripheral roles.

The general story of Avarice involves an Irish mobster just out of prison looking to get back into the game and finds his whole world has been turned inside out. His "family" has been decimated by arrests and the new street boss is impotent. A friend he made in prison, a former gang-banger and thief, is also struggling. There's also a young kid informing on the Irish mob who has a shit-ton of problems himself and there's a cop in the Gang Unit who wants to work major cases and is unhappy with his political, venal boss.

More intricately layered, but it has been satisfying. I'm trying hard not to repeat myself in Avarice, but that's not always easy. Most books by authors tend to follow the same themes. The trick is to make it seem different or go from another angle.

I also intend to work on the blog more and try to be more consistent. I say that all the time, but I really want to now, if for no other reason than to keep my name out there. So expect blogs once or twice a week from here on out (hope I don't break it like every other New Year's resolution I've tried).

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Authors That Don't Actually Write

You've seen it, I'm sure. You see a famous author on the bookshelf and you think that maybe they just released their latest novel only to have your bubble burst when you see the author's name have a hyphen or the words "with so and so." I saw it earlier this week with the new Tom Clancy and I felt my blood boil to a fever pitch, knowing that the man had just given up on writing altogether.

And to think I once had admiration for the asshole. Granted, I was 14 then and didn't know any better. Hell, I was reading, right? As I got older, my tastes changed and I became more and more appreciative of writing as an art and less as a commodity (though both are important for separate reasons). I still maintain The Hunt for Red October is a good book and a solid American spy thriller (a cosmic rarity in of itself). His later books, however, became less about story and more about the latest technology or Clancy getting on his political soapbox and the books, as a result, took a nosedive. From The Bear and the Dragon on, the books went into total freefall. After 2003, there was a lot of speculation about what his next book would be. We got our answer in 2010 with Dead or Alive. We also learned he 'co-authored' the book with Grant Blackwood. That was all I needed to see. He didn't write the book. At best, maybe he polished the first draft and worked on the outline.

I knew he'd been doing this kind of thing with different series like Op-Center and Net Force, but doing it to your flagship series... this is where any last drops of respect I'd had for the man disappeared.

James Patterson is arguably the most famous culprit, "writing" series all over the place. I never had much use for the man to begin with, but it is depressing that he is duping readers with third-rate garbage written by people trying to emulate him.

And then we have our celebrities trying to write. Those fuckers couldn't put two intelligent sentences together if I put a loaded automatic to their head. Steve Martin and a few others aside, the others don't do the work themselves. Tori Spelling? Bristol Palin? Lauren Conrad? Yeah, right. They come up with whatever "idea" (usually thinly based on their own lives or their "memoirs") and they get someone else to write them.

Politicos are no different. Hell, it's been widely accepted that Jack Kennedy didn't write the Pulitizer winner Profiles in Courage. What makes you think that stupid hick Sarah Palin wrote her books?

I take great comfort in Elmore Leonard, who's 85 and probably slipping a little, but the man still writes his books by hand, one word at a time. If you have any regard for yourself, you'll take this advice to heart:

Write your fucking book yourself.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Coercion Officially for Sale

Well, it took a long time and a lot of delay, but I'm very pleased to announce that Coercion is finally up for sale for the low, low price of $2.99 USD. Figure this'll be enough to keep everyone happy. It is currently only on sale at Smashwords because it needs to be vetted by the Smashwords people so it can be published everywhere else. Once that happens I'll need to do a little more work so it can be accepted for the Apple people and what-have-you. All of that should be happening in the next week or so. For right now, though, you can buy it on Smashwords here.

Here is the official artwork:

A little noirish and gritty, which is what I was hoping for.

This is very exciting and hopefully I can reach my initial goal of selling 100 copies.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

What I Do Apart From Writing

Gasp... you mean writers do stuff beyond read, write, and stare at that monitor all day hoping to put together two cogent sentences?

Surprisingly, yes.

This will be brief, but I do have other interests and passions apart from the world of writing, though none of them even come close to my passion for the game.

I do enjoy watching sports. Baseball and basketball, in particular. I am a lifelong White Sox and Bulls fan and was around to see Jordan's six titles and the White Sox win in 2005. I hate the Cubs (sorry, Cubby fans), mainly out of some inferiority complex and because of the storied rivalry that especially heats up when the two teams play six games a year. I like the Bears, even though the ownership drives me nuts. The Hawks have become fun again since the old man died and their Stanley Cup title last year was a real treat. I like Northwestern in college sports for reasons that continue to confound me. Wonder how many more disappointments I have to swallow before I give up. The rest of the sports are hit-or-miss. I'll watch the four golf majors and the Ryder Cup, the Kentucky Derby, and if there's a good boxing or UFC match I'll watch that, too.

I also enjoy playing sports. Basketball and golf are my favorite to play. Baseball and football is more for recreational fun more than anything else. I wish I could play pool and I have no particular skill for bags, but then not many people do, I've noticed.

I'm an avid video game player and have enjoyed playing them for the last twenty years. Many of my favorites are Nintendo classics like Tetris, Mario 3, A Link to the Past, and Ocarina of Time. Modern games I've really enjoyed are the Metal Gear Solid series, Half-Life 2 (ditto Portal 2), Grand Theft Auto (from GTAIII onwards), and the Modern Warfare games. I admit the storytelling isn't quite on par with what we've seen thus far in books and movies, but they're getting better, and I do enjoy it when someone tries to swing for the fences.

I like movies, but all the crap spilling into theaters makes me yearn for better times. I like movies that have good, fundamentally sound stories that will challenge me. Sadly, not too many these days since the average intelligence of the moviegoer is about on par with a retarded monkey.

I enjoy a good cup of coffee and I like writing in coffee houses (cliched, I know), but, hey, if it gets the job done I couldn't care less. Better than sitting on your ass and waiting for inspiration, which has become the trend for so many "aspiring" writers that I know.

Well, hopefully this gives you a slightly fuller picture.

As for my book, Coercion, I hope my new artist will have the drawings ready for me this week so I can publish by June 15 on Amazon and B&N. I hope, but we shall see.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Writing Habits...

Reading and writing a lot are the keys to becoming a successful writer. You have to do both in order to succeed. No if's, and's, or but's about it. If you don't have the desire to do both, then you don't belong in the game. My reading habits are scattershot, but I go through about 40-50 novels a year, mostly in the crime/mystery genre. Some literary fiction slips through with the occasional spy novel, but my books tend to congregate in the world made famous by Hammett, Chandler, Cain, and the other "boys in the back room."

As for writing, well... this does tend to vary from writer to writer. My own habits have gone through a few changes over the years. I used to be much faster, knocking out three to four thousand words a day. Problem was the work wasn't very good and full of mistakes. So I started changing my habits a few years ago and now I tend to write 1,000 to 1,500 words a day. Sometimes I'll catch fire and nudge my way to 3,000, but those are few and far between.

I do all of my daily writing in one sitting and at the very least I try to complete a scene or two. I focus all of my energy like a guided missile on that scene or scenes and everything else after is a mystery. Before I start writing the new work, though, I go back and rework the material I wrote the day before. Most of the editing is minor house-cleaning. Getting rid of extra words and dialogue that don't fit with the story. Some extra work is sometimes needed and maybe other scenes or bits related to character motivation will also need to be excised, but that doesn't happen often.

I type really fast so my work tends to be done in an hour or two. Some might think this is lazy, but mentally I am spent after writing those couple of scenes. I throw everything I have in the tank and then some. I suppose I could learn some endurance, but when you work other jobs you have to take the time that you're given and make the most of it. If I were a full-time writer, sure, I might stretch it out a little, but I think I would go crazy if I spent six or seven hours writing. There comes a point when you just need to shut the brain off and work on something else. Let the brain recharge and come back to the work later or the next day with a renewed perspective and a fresh eye. You'd be amazed at how well this works.

Any revisions I make after I've completed the book tend to be minor and, again, related to character motivation, character relationships, and any other phrases that tend to stick out like a sore thumb. Since I've been revising and fact-checking my own work along the way, the revisions as a whole tend to be minor. Is it a perfect system? I doubt it, but no one has ever gotten it exactly right. That's not an excuse for a laziness, but a simple reality. I'll throw everything I have to get it right, knowing I won't be 100% accurate in my goals and desires.

All the more reason to try again and do better the next time, using the lessons I've learned from the last story and the stories that preceded it to try again.

It's always about the next one.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Writers That Influence Me

Yes, we've come to that post. Which writers have helped mold me into the writer that I am today? I'll try and keep this as short and sweet as possible. No point in turning this into some Academy Awards speech that becomes gratuitous and overwrought. I'll keep it limited to the author and the work that continues to inspire me.

Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. This is the book that got me going, in a sense. Many of the authors I would discover and come to admire came from this book. I got the book as a present from my 8th grade English teacher. She knew I wanted to be a writer. The book has been a tremendous asset. While I admire several of the books King has written before and since this book, On Writing has a special place in my heart. I learned the basics of writing, the importance of craft, found other great writers through this book, and continue to learn new things through the book.

Elmore Leonard, Rum Punch. The master of dialogue, bar none. Leonard's masterful, minimalist style that puts an emphasis on dialogue continues to drive me through my own work. Rum Punch (which became the Tarantino movie Jackie Brown) is not his best novel (that's Freaky Deaky with LaBrava and Swag close behind). In terms of how easy and effortless he make his prose seem and feel and how well the elements work together, there is none better and I learned the most about writing through this book. And oh yeah, the story's pretty good, too.

George V. Higgins, The Friends of Eddie Coyle. Leonard's inspiration and the modern template for the crime novel, which is almost all dialogue, is a delight to read just because of how well the characters interact with each other. The book would have been perfect if there was almost no description because that is Higgins's weak point. For character interaction and how well different voices interact, it doesn't get much better than this.

The Wire, David Simon and Ed Burns. Yeah, okay, it's not a book, but it sure is structured like one. Hell, they got three modern crime novelists (Richard Price, George Pelecanos, and Dennis Lehane) to write for the show. The Wire is about as realistic and gritty as you can get. The dialogue, through its realism, is unmatched, and the eye for detail in Baltimore and the characters that inhabit the world that Simon and Burns created is nothing short of remarkable. A must-watch for any aspiring writer, regardless of genre.

Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian. A bit of a departure here. Blood Meridian might be the greatest book I ever read. It ain't easy to get through, though, because of the unflinching brutality McCarthy shows. His eye and ear for dialogue and description and his ability to show the world as it is with an unflinching eye is remarkable. The prose is close to shattering, which is probably why I've only read it all the way through twice. I've tried on a number of other occasions, but the powerful language has that knack to throw me back on my heels. If I could write something even half that amazing, I could die happy. Meridian is the bench-mark I have set for myself. I suppose all writers have one.

Well, that's enough for now. There are undoubtedly others, but these five are what I take with me in my mind when I sit down to do my daily work. Speaking of which, I should be doing more of that right now.

Monday, May 2, 2011

New Book Update/Coercion...

Been a while, but I've had a few changes with the current book/Coercion.

To begin with, Coercion is going to be released. I just don't know when. I've got an artist close to me who needs to finish school first. I'm not happy about it, but I'm willing to wait because I know the quality will be good and the price I'm paying for the work is comparable to what I would pay otherwise. School ends in a couple weeks so I'm hoping--hoping--that everything will be ready by June 1. No guarantees, but that seems like a viable timetable, given everything going on. The extra time might be a good thing in the long run just because it allows me more time to fine-tune a couple of things. Will I get everything right in the final analysis? I doubt it, but I'm going to give it my best shot.

The basic idea for the book, which was posted on my Twitter feed, goes like this: A corrupt homicide detective and a low-rent Russian mobster using everyone--and each other--to get their hands on a major score to escape the situations they're in. It runs a little more complicated, but that's the basic crux of the whole idea.

As for my next book, which remains untitled, it has gone through a bit of a torturous journey. The book is a crime novel and is set in the same Oak Villa universe. The first attempt got to about 150 pages and it wasn't bad writing, I don't think, but it was too stretched out. Too many characters and not enough story. I liked the basic idea, but it needed to be simplified for the sake of my story and the good characters trying to make their voices heard. So I started over with a simplified concept and on some level it is similar to my first book, Coercion, but it has undertones of the great George V. Higgins novel, The Friends of Eddie Coyle, where cops and criminals are just trying to scrape by and make a living since that's generally true for people in the world, legit or not. The basic elements involve Irish mobsters looking to make money in a gun trade with a gang that has a major drug connect, even though drugs are taboo with the Irish, especially since a number of gangsters have been busted for RICO, and then there's an organized crime cop, under pressure from his political boss to make arrests and not cases, who has an informant who stumbles onto the connect and he sees a chance to appease his boss and maybe get him promoted so he doesn't work in organized crime anymore.

That's the basic crux and I've got, maybe, a third or so of it done. It should be about the same length, I'm guessing, as Coercion, which is about 330 pages. I don't like to predict that kind of thing because I tend to be wrong, but that's a decent guess.

Until next time...

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Where Ideas Come From/Coercion Update

I get asked this a lot (as I'm sure a great many writers do): Where do you get those crazy ideas? And for the most part they just come to me.

Many of the ideas that come to me that I end up formulating into books or the occasional short story tend to come out of the ether. The idea will start with something I've seen, heard, read, or just come straight out of that spot where the subconscious works. I'll let the idea fester and grow and I'll start to see possibilities of what is to come and who might be involved and why. Much of this is vague and sort of like a bunch of figures coming out of the fog during a battle.

Ideas come along all the time. Many of them are bad, but they still come all the same. Some are good, but not good enough for me to throw down everything that I'm working on to start work on that. I try to resist the temptation for a couple of days and wait to see if the idea in my head formulates into something cogent and tangible before moving forward. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn't.

Coercion, which started in July of 2010 as a different kind of story altogether, was originally a first-person narrative. I started with a nameless, faceless cop investigating a murder that he himself committed and sort of working damage control. The idea was there, but it felt incomplete and awkward and then I found the answer, which was in the dead body itself. For some reason, the victim seemed interesting on his own even though I only had a few sketchy details about him. So I took the basic genesis of my idea, which by mid-August was around 120 pages, threw out the old pages, and started over with a structure and a formula in mind. The basic building blocks of the story: The chapters, the themes, the narrative arc, and the characters were all in place and fused together faster than normal. It took nine weeks of writing and another two or so of editing (final post-production edits are in the process right now, but it's mostly minor detail work at this point) to complete the manuscript, which is what I plan to release.

As for Coercion, I planned to release the book on April 25 via smashwords, but my determination to get a decent cover has me thinking the first week of May might be more reasonable. So I'm going to wait and get the basic details correct before moving forward.

Coming up with ideas happens for a lot of people, I think. Most of them don't know what to do with them or they just dismiss them as ridiculous flights of fancy. Maybe they are, but for writers they tend to fascinate and compel us to move forward. It's hard, grueling work, but the real writers already know that when they decided to play the game in the first place.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

To Outline or Not to Outline...

...That is one of the constant questions writers (including yours truly) am constantly peppered with. I have done both in my time and have found, without question, the results to be more satisfying when I don't plan ahead and write copious amounts of notes about what might happen.

My reasons for this stem from the idea that since I write stories that are fueled by some kind of mystery or a MacGuffin somewhere in the novel it's much more fun if even I don't know what's going to happen. If I'm not sure what'll happen 20, 30 pages down the road, then it is a safe bet that the reader will have an equally hard time. The situation isn't perfect and it can lead the writer down unnecessary and irrelevant tangents, particularly early in the book, but at least the act is spontaneous and fun.

I also don't like outlines because I end up doing something different in the end anyways. Writing is more of a subconscious thing and when I tell the story I download the images and words I hear and see in that part of my head and put them on the page. In my experience, I get the feeling that I'm "trying too hard" to stick to some arbitrary idea instead of letting the story take me for a ride. I love that feeling when I'm reading a great book and I want to replicate the experience whenever possible.

Can you be a good writer and outline? Sure. James Ellroy, one of my favorite crime novelists, writes outlines that are hundreds of pages long for some of his books. He's made it work. In general, though, the authors I read and admire are ones who work from instinct and from the gut rather than some outline that's "supposed" to give them a great story. If you have faith in your skills as a writer and communicator, then the story you really want to tell will come out naturally without the need for something like an outline.

Friday, April 8, 2011

First Post


I am C.R. Jakes. I am a crime novelist and I will be publishing my first book before May 1. My book is called Coercion and it is, in short, about a corrupt homicide detective and a low-rent Russian gangster trying to keep their heads above water when a double homicide and an upcoming heist threaten to blow both of them out of the water. The story takes place in a fictional Illinois suburb called Oak Villa. Figured creating my own little world was easier than dealing with the so-called "real" world, though many of the surrounding neighborhoods and communities around Oak Villa are very real.

I might publish the first chapter for everyone to read here, but I'm sure that won't be necessary as most of the big-time e-publishers allow you to read a small sample to try and entice you to buy. I will likely be using Smashwords as my publisher since they have connections to the Nook, Kindle, Sony E-reader, and most everything else that people will likely be using for their reading pleasure.

Coercion itself is 99.5% finished. It does need a final polish in a few spots and it also needs a cover. The latter is harder than the former since I am incapable of drawing a straight line. Sad, I know. Nonetheless, it will be ready before May Day and further details will follow.

My blog will not just focus on updates, but on general things in the literary world and sometimes out of it.