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...