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Well, folks, it’s January, which means it must be time for the release of another Russell Blake thriller. Sorry to disappoint you, as I have my parents and every woman in my life, but due to editing and binge drinking, I won’t be able to get it out by month’s end. Looking more like early Feb.

The name of the book is The Voynich Cypher, and it represents a broadening of my work from suspense/intrigue thrillers with a conspiracy basis, into more of a pure action/adventure vein. Voynich follows the saga of Dr. Steven Cross, from my Zero Sum trilogy of Wall Street thrillers, as he races to decipher the most enigmatic document in history, while being hunted by a who’s who of bad guys intent on taking possession of the Church’s most valuable secret. It’s a fun read, fast-paced, with all the usual twists and turns I include in my work. As I’m rewriting, I’m chipping it down from the 105K words I wound up with, and I’m hoping to chop 10%, ruthlessly, over the next two weeks or so.

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NEW INTERVIEW: I was interviewed about online book marketing. You can click here to see just how little I actually know about it.

BOOK SALES UPDATE: An Angel With Fur hit #2 paid books on Amazon in Animal Essays, and #3 Dogs this morning. That’s pretty cool, as well as being somewhat unexpected.

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In February, I’ll start on a sequel to King of Swords, tentatively titled Revenge of the Assassin, which makes sense given that the prequel is called Night of the Assassin – and is free on Amazon for a limited time. If the river don’t rise, I hope to have Revenge out by mid-March, if not earlier.

I’m very excited over the cover for The Voynich Cypher, so I thought I’d share it with everyone. It represents a departure for me in the sense that it’s more monochromatic, but I think the result is striking. For a synopsis of the story, click here.

For those who have expressed interest in chatting with my cover artist, e-mail me through the site and I can get you his information. I’ve found him to be good, fast and cheap – which is also how I like my…oh…never mind.

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15 Jan 2012, by

Free Lunch

I have been asked how my recent three day jaunt on Amazon went.

The one where I made my thriller The Geronimo Breach free for three days.

I think I’d accurately compare it to being sixteen, and handed the keys to dad’s Porsche while discovering that I have the house to myself for three days…and the liquor cabinet’s open. It’s that kind of “Wow” moment.

First, to the numbers. Over the three days. roughly 10,400 people downloaded the book. That’s a lot of people. How many will actually read it is probably a fraction of that – maybe 20%, maybe 30%. I’m using highly scientific proprietary algorithms to come up with those number, by the way, incorporating numerology and magnetism (available in my upcoming releases Attraction, Repulsion, Alignment and Of Course He Tricked You, Douchebrain).

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MORE ACCOLADES: Fatal Exchange was the favorite book of 2011 for Kate Farrel at The Kindle Book Review.

INTERVIEW: I was interviewed about writing and craft by @WritingTips101. Worth a look, & please Stumbleupon it at the bottom using the little green button.

NEW INTERVIEW: I was interviewed by South African blogger Nadine Maritz, and the result can be seen here.

IMPORTANT! Night of the Assassin just went FREE on Barnes and Noble. Please help me out here. Go to the Amazon page for Night here, and scroll down below the rating, where it says “Tell Us About A Cheaper Price.” Then click that, and enter the link to B&N, which I post below, and enter 0.00 as their price. I would appreciate the help in having them price match it. Thanks so much. Here’s the B&N link.

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/night-of-the-assassin-russell-blake/1108178602?ean=2940032947783&itm=6&usri=russell+blake

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Those are big numbers. And oddly, downloads increased roughly 20% per day over each prior day. Extended out over time, that’s an exponential curve that will have more people on earth with a copy of The Geronimo Breach within a few months than have spent days with Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest reading about shopping trips to Ikea and frozen pizza. Which is why I put a stop to it. Shut it down. Promo nomo. I didn’t want to tip the poles or cause a cosmic imbalance due to all the kindles filled with my work. Not for free, anyway.

Why would I give my book away for free – a book that’s garnered rave reviews, and has been described as unique in most of the 23 four and five star reviews? Obviously, because I hope to get something.

Readers.

My bet is that if, say, 2000 of those fine, discriminating folks actually read the book, most will become repeat customers of my other titles. That would translate into a nice sales bump. Additionally, it would increase my visibility as an author, which should translate into a long term net positive both in brand recognition, as well as sales. So it’s really a loss leader. Like a dope dealer. First time’s for free.

I fully expect some of the one star drive-by reviews to happen, as I’ve seen that as a regrettable by-product of free book distribution. Some might say miserable pr#cks with no lives who delight in trashing things for no good reason are drawn to free books, and that these lowlife f#ckwads, who are easily recognizable due to their never having reviewed a book before, are basically vandals who delight in tearing down the work of others, good or bad, for the thrill of any attention it might bring, and should be dragged behind a garbage truck through rusty nails and broken glass while splattered with battery acid and bleach in any kind of just world. I take a more charitable stance, and view them as mentally ill – the not too bright angry cousins who would be torturing animals if they weren’t busy prowling the net expressing their disturbances in a more benign way. I’m all about tolerance here, and when I say my critics can bite me, I mean it respectfully, of course. Let’s be clear about that.

I believe the vast majority of readers will vote with their wallets. If they think the work is redeeming, they’ll buy more of it. If not, they’ll shut the kindle off after a few minutes and move to the next one. That’s what I do. Life’s too short to read crappy books.

If my belief is correct, and if Geronimo is actually as good as everyone has said (and as of this writing, it has 21 five star and 2 four star reviews on Amazon), people will read it, hopefully like it, and then buy another of my titles.

I shall keep everyone informed of how that works out. I’d hope to see a 20%-30% increase in sales in January, and a sustained increase thereafter. We shall see.

To everyone who downloaded it, thank you, and enjoy. Let me know what you think. It’s one of my favorites – Al was a fun character to write, and it was a delight to do so. I hope you enjoy reading about his exploits as much as I enjoyed creating him.

If you like this blog, hit the green “Stumbleupon” button at the bottom and recommend it to others. Spread the word. Oh, and vote for me for a shorty award so you can watch me annoy legitimate talents with my inappropriate antics at the presentation ceremony. I understand drinking may be involved. Wink.

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I’ve had numerous folks ask me who my cover artist is. E-mail me through this site and I’ll give you the skinny. Good, fast and cheap.

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URGENT: Need some help from my readers. Book 1 of The Delphi Chronicle trilogy, The Manuscript, is now FREE at B&N. I could use some help from readers by having them go to Amazon and right under the rankings, select the button that says “Tell us about a lower price” and then enter the B&N link and 0.00. The B&N link is: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-delphi-chronicle-book-1-the-manuscript-russell-blake/1108076528?ean=2940032924692&itm=1&usri=the+delphi+chronicle%2c+book+1+the+manuscript

The Amazon link is: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B006NAY30O

Thank you everyone for doing this. It helps Amazon maintain price matching, and is good for everyone.

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Normally, I write books. On the whole, they’re serious thriller pieces, third person, past tense, and don’t veer into the realm of the speculative or the absurd. Over the holiday I decided to try my hand at first person, present tense, in a decidedly silly and surrealistic mood – the truth is I wanted to do something new, push the envelope, climb a new mountain. The result is, well, different than anything else I’ve written.

I used a few paragraphs from my parody of writing, Gazillions, as the starting point. I deliberately wrote something unlike my stock in trade, while struggling to keep the whole mess to about 3000 words. I’ve toned down the obscenity to what you’d hear on talk radio. Mostly.

I hope you find it diverting. All rights reserved, as always.

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NEWS: Great interview with Write Into Print essential reading for those interested in more info about my process and plans.

BREAKING NEWS: Fatal Exchange receives honors as one of the top books of the year at The Kindle Book Review.

ANOTHER COOL INTERVIEW: Just went live with @jambalian about writing, King of Swords, & my WIP, The Voynich Cipher.

JOHN LESCROART INTERVIEW GOES VIRAL: My interview with NYT Bestseller John Lescroart got featured in prominent lifestyle periodical InClassicStyle. It’s a good one, so if you haven’t read it yet, check it out. Thoughts on process and craft.

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The words of a long dead bard grate on my skin as I speed along the ribbon of asphalt that bisects the high desert between Vegas and the Pacific coast—the obvious unfairness of scale that a million monkeys can bring to the party glares evident in the simplicity of those six succinct words: To be or not to be. I’m not so much bitter that some scribe had synthesized the entire human experience into so few syllables. The rough rub is that I haven’t approached the same level of rhetorical perfection, my delusions of grandeur and superiority complex notwithstanding. My ‘calling’, as I laughingly refer to it, is twisting words to do my bidding—to bend them to my will—to make them dance and tremble, mambo and bop, performing as and how I command them; to amuse or torture or reveal all, each tap of a key chipping shards from the marble to wrest the fettered figure from the block—to the delighted acclaim of the marginally interested, their porcine noses pressed hard against the stained Plexiglas, unappreciative of the miracle of creation cast before them.

Another swig from the plastic jug of Ballerina vodka stills the furies as the tumbleweeds and cactus blur by, the heat of the morning sun distorting the horizon into a shimmering mirage as the miles fly past, leaving echoes of a silent but obvious judgment on my unworthiness as a master of this realm. F#cking Shakespeare always pisses me off once my blood alcohol reaches a certain point and the cocaine edge dulls, and I know my sleep tonight, such as it’s likely to be, will be haunted by the bald, mustachioed head of the smug prick, the stiff collar and antiquated clothing a fitting foundation for the smirk on his face, which mocks the very universe that hosts my sorry existence.

I take a series of deep breaths and reach over to stroke the cold, comforting steel of the Smith and Wesson .357 magnum I like to fire out my of window at the imagined silhouettes of clowns when I’ve slugged back enough meanstreak to fuel my mischief. It’s just a thing I do to soothe my soul, a cordite balm for the open sore my festering lack of talent keeps raw. I should have gotten more sleep before trying the drive, but the moment my eyes opened, it was time to hit the road. I must have freaked out the cocktail waitress—who’d supplied such amenable company after her shift, with her gymnastic prowess that had almost placed her in Cirque du Soleil’s third tier of anonymous contortionists instead of toting watered shots of Jack to losing writers playing blackjack tables on the ghost-shift of a low-level casino, whose façade featured a steer’s snorting countenance as its come-on to frisky cow folk and Vietnamese grocers on holiday.

She’d been dozing after regaling me with tales of her boyfriend, Vinnie—who’d soon be getting out of lockup to take her away from the sordid trailer park reality that imprisoned her as surely as any bars, when I’d bolted awake to the bard’s words mocking me in a gritty tremolo. She’d reached for me, for anything, to fill the void left when her soul vacated the premises after a lackluster run, but it was time for me to get back to the vicious reality that was my daily existence. It was Monday, six in the morning, and I had a life-changing meeting in Lost Angeles at noon I couldn’t miss. If I made serious time I could shower and just make it—some things you didn’t want to blow off. All it would take to get there was willpower, some liquid bravado, a little help from my friends and a full tank of gas. I could do it. Veronica, or whatever, had slitted open an eye as I pulled on my jeans, then upgraded to a blinking accusation: another in a long line of men who’d abandoned her after getting what they needed, leaving her soiled and brimming with ire for her trouble.

“It was fun. Be good,” I’d told her as I negotiated the hotel doorknob with numb fingers that seemed to belong to a leprous stranger. A sigh of unspoken recrimination had dripped off my back as I kicked shut the door behind me.

Like the song, or at least like I think some song must go, I’d known when to hit the road—‘cause I’m a ramblin’ man.

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The sky-blue Oxford button-up shirt collar chafes my neck uncomfortably as I sit waiting for the light to turn green. The faint stink of fuel-rich exhaust mingles with the musty smell of the ancient Pontiac’s perfectly preserved leather interior; an odor redolent of pimp slappings and drug deals sealed in bygone days. I contemplate lowering the convertible top to celebrate the sun’s burning through the brown haze of smog that hangs over the city like a toxic mantle, but discard the idea. I don’t need a wind-buffeting to make me any more disheveled. Red eyes and three days of stubble stare back at me from my rear-view mirror, a silent testament to an extended weekend of excess and debauchery in Sin City; another long stint in a seemingly endless orgy of indulgence.

Working as a B-list screenwriter is a double-edged sword. The pay’s good, when it comes, and the hours can’t be beaten. With a few rewrite jobs under my belt and an action-adventure flick languishing in lesser theaters throughout the country during the holiday season, I now have enough game to drag most of the dim-witted hotties doing the bar circuit home whenever I want. That never gets old, until morning, when they inevitably want to start talking.

The talking is the worst.

Same story every time: In tinsel town from some small berg where they’d won a talent show or had been crowned Miss Cornhuskers, and after watching too many reality shows, they’d mistakenly computed they had what it took to make it. L.A. is awash in misguided hubris and attitude substituting for talent—an entire industry caters to the delusions of the newly-arrived or the perennially-hopeful. Praise the flickering neon Hollywood Jesus for the lean, hard bodies of the aspiring. Their single-minded focus on getting ahead is my entre, and all I have to do is circle the herd, probing for the telltale signs of the weak and slow and stupid before I streak in for the kill. I’m just one of many predators in an uneasy truce at the watering holes, but my line is a little more convincing than most because, now, I have a movie out. The mention of my name in the credits has an aphrodisiac effect on a certain type of entertainment industry social climber, and once I hint that I have sway in casting, the quarry is down, exposed, supine—another easy conquest.

A strident horn sounds from a bombastic Benz behind me, interrupting my reverie. I goose the worn metal pedal and the gas-guzzling V-8′s reassuring burble propels me down the road. Nervous over the imminent meeting and edgy from the half tab of Dexedrine I choked down as an eye-opener with my coffee, I reach for the dashboard and stab the power button on the stereo like it owes me money. AC/DC blares from the speakers with a thrashing of guitars, the singer’s giddy vocal leer lamenting jailbreaks gone wrong. Keeping time with an anxious hand on the cracked plastic steering wheel, I fumble beside me for a can of warm beer. Coors Light, of course. Breakfast of near, or soon-to-be, champions.

I’ve subdued the flitter of butterflies by the time I pull onto the studio lot, waved through by security who spot the access sticker decorating my windshield—a remnant from a spit-and-polish job I did on a pilot two weeks earlier in Building B. What a cringe-worthy pile of shit that had been. Zero chance of ever being made, but someone’s cousin was blowing the right exec, so at least an hour of unwatchable script had been churned out of the sausage machine, in desperate need of a fix—which is where I came in.

I run my hands through my still-damp hair and pat it into straggly place, in an effort to appear at least marginally professional for my pitch session.

After killing the engine, I swing my feet out onto the pavement and stand, stretching to my full six-foot height with a groan. I should have cooled it with the partying yesterday. And the day before. Oh well, what was done…

I make a guttural clicking sound with my tongue, reminiscent of African tribesmen in television documentaries. In response, a brown furry form scurries from the back seat over the center console—which I f#cking hate with a passion. I shake my head in disgust. We’d covered the proper way to exit a car hundreds of times, but some of us were just too stubborn to learn.

The entry to the administration offices looms ominously across the lot, and I move unsteadily toward it, my companion scampering blithely by my side. It’s time to remind everyone who is boss. I clear my throat and stop on the front steps, turning to lock eyes and ensure I have the reprobate’s full attention.

“This is an important meeting. Don’t be an ass-hat. Don’t crap on the carpet, don’t disrupt things, and let me do all the talking. And please, whatever you do…no masturbating.”

My voice sounds disembodied, as though it’s drifting from afar, from down a long tunnel lined with cotton. Maybe the speed hadn’t been such a wise move. I twist the door lever and push it open, fixing what I hope is an amenable smile on my face.

Jarred by the sound of our entry, a breathtaking brunette glides from behind a backlit orange onyx-faced reception desk. She approaches across the Italian marble floor with an indifferent expression, all tanned, sculpted legs and muscled buttocks sheathed in a black executive skirt cut high enough to hint at heaven. I note with approval that she favors five-inch stiletto heels, foregoing practical business flats in favor of a little spice. Things are suddenly looking up.

“Russell, right? Thrilled to finally meet you. Come on in. Sol’s expecting you,” she says in a dusky voice, assessing me in the way spiders eye flies.

“Super. Lead the way,” I reply, the words sounding flat to my tuned ear.

“You want some Pellegrino or Fiji?” she calls over her shoulder as we make our way down the long hall.

“No thanks, I’m good,” I assure her, admiring the view.

We walk through the cavernous building, my furry associate holding my hand, his leathery palm a reminder of what has gone badly wrong with my life. I should have trimmed his nails, but he could be a regal pain about some hygiene niceties. Whenever I brandished the clippers he went berserk—you’d have thought I was trying to do a root canal on him. At least he’d occasionally acquiesce to file them himself, though doing a slipshod job of it. Amateurish. Another source of irritation for me in an already difficult situation.

The stunning assistant holds the door open for us and we edge past her into a large, wood-paneled office with film posters and celebrity photos plastered on every wall. Row aside row of awards are proudly displayed in a custom-made burled walnut armoire, replete with down-lighting—the better to make them twinkle. The heavyset man in his sixties, wearing the inevitable suit vest and loosened neck-tie, rises from behind the largest desk in the world, and pushes an ashtray bearing a smoldering cigar out of the way. Sol extends his arms wide in friendly greeting.

“Russell. Sweetheart. You look great! You get a little work done around the eyes? Nice. Not all Mickey Rourke. Tasteful. But please, sit, sit. Mi casa, and all that.” He pauses. “So whadda ya got for me today? Zombie cats? Space dinosaurs? Just tell me—I always have time for you, but man, today I’m jammed, you know? Tom and Kate are throwing a hissy fit, and Johnny’s…well, he’s Johnny, you know?” Sol hesitates, noticing my silent companion for the first time. “What’s with the f#cking monkey?”

I regard my simian friend, who is toying with the straps of his well-weathered Lederhosen, fingering the ornately embroidered leather suspenders. I lightly smack him and he drops his arms sullenly. I contemplate correcting Sol—chimps aren’t monkeys, they’re apes—but decide not to lecture.

“Sol, this is Emeliano, the chimp. But he likes to be called Ricky—it’s his name de plume, so to speak. He’s my writing partner. Does great work. Fast, and a wizard with dialog,” I explain.

Ricky glares at Sol with malevolent sunken eyes, and then cocks his head and bares yellowed teeth. Sol pulls back his extended hand, reconsidering his choice of greeting.

“All right. So you got a monkey partner. What the f#ck. You shouldda met my third wife…well, maybe not. No problem. Hey, but, Russ, I gotta tell you, your latest, in the theaters now? Magic. Like poetry. The reluctant vampire ex-CIA assassin who takes on his wife’s murderers in the Russian mob? Unexpected shit, that. Not everyone can write on that level. And I love the gender-confused sidekick, from the hood. Total brilliance. We’ll put a push on it after Christmas. It’s got the legs.”

“It was Ricky’s idea to make it personal this time. He’s good at back-story,” I disclose. It was important in the business to be humble and give credit where it was due.

“So whadda ya got for me today? Your girl said you were excited. When you’re excited, I’m excited. Lay it on me,” Sol invites, reclining back in his sumptuous burgundy leather executive chair while motioning for us to take seats in front of his desk. Ricky hops up and squats easily on one, but I prefer to stand for my pitch; to lend it additional gravitas. I close my eyes, draw in a deep breath, and then launch.

“Sol, look, here’s the setup: you have these beavers, and they’re just lovable little furry f#ckers out in a field with blue skies, and butterflies, and nature shit, doing whatever the f#ck beavers do. I don’t know…eating acorns or chewing grass, and then suddenly, they go Mission Impossible on your ass because an oil refinery project threatens their river! Think Dogs and Cats, think Ice Age, think a Bruce Willis smartass fast-talking beaver with a crusty-but-lovable Chris Rock sidekick! And here’s the best part: their sworn enemies are wolves! So they gear up in ninja suits, and it’s two hours of brain suck! Can’t you hear the dialog already? Do I even need to tell you? Every other line’s a wise-crack, and it’s written so kids will love it, but idiot parents will laugh their asses off too! By the end, we’ll all have learned something about ourselves, as will the beavers.” I stop, assessing Sol’s facial expression. You never want to talk past the pitch. Rookie mistake. Let it settle, steep like tea, and don’t talk. Ricky raises his eyebrows expectantly and picks his ear.

Sol slowly stands and removes his reading glasses. He slams his hand down on the desktop and rolls his eyes heavenward.

“Jesus. You’re a genius, Blake! The merchandising will be worth a hundred mil domestic alone! Ka-Ching! Come over here. Gimme a hug. Where do you come up with this shit? Whadda ya want? Three mil? Four? Okay, ya got me. I’ll go five against the usual back-end, a producer credit, full creative control, and you get to pick the director. You. Look at you! F#cking ninja beaver motherf#ckers. You’re killing me with this shit!”

I hesitate to embrace him. “Sol. Do I look stupid? You want me to mouth-f#ck you or something? Don’t insult me or treat me like your bitch. We’re friends here. Five, the usual back-end plus points, executive producer, fifteen of the merchandise including international, and who gives a shit who directs? It’s a f#cking CARTOON! Now where do I sign? Come over here, honey, and sit on papa’s lap!”

Sol grins at me, and we both throw our heads back and laugh in awful unison.

“A cartoon! Beavers! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.”

Ricky joins in with the hysteria and executes a perfectly timed back-flip off the chair, landing on Sol’s desk, scattering paperwork everywhere. Sol finds this the height of amusement and cackles with glee, as does Ricky.

The receptionist shimmies into the office and smiles at Ricky after glancing neutrally in my direction. The chimp always has that effect on the ladies. It’s eerie. Ricky decides to push it and show off, and begins lewdly thrusting his pelvis in an elaborately choreographed dance of his own invention. Everyone is amused, even when he leaps off the desk with a somersault and grabs the receptionist’s bottom, fondling her leg in what can only be described as an inappropriate manner. I’ve seen it all before, so know what’s coming. Sol and I watch as the impish primate gropes the young woman’s thigh, and then turns and affords us with a salacious wink.

 

The next thing I know, the sun is streaming bright through my bedroom window, another dawn having encroached its way into my existence. My head feels like I’ve gone ten rounds with Tyson, and my mouth tastes like I’ve gargled cement.

A noise from the front room rouses me into stark wakefulness. I trudge out, bleary eyed, to be greeted by the spectacle of Ricky and the receptionist lying on the couch, sans attire, though their nakedness is partly covered by his cherished neon-pink felt Hello Kitty blanket. His trademark leather shorts are perched jauntily, if a little precariously, on the receptionist’s head. They’re sharing a cigarette, the stereo crooning Barry White even as Ricky smirks at me in triumph.

I pad back to my room in humiliated defeat and close the door.

F#cking chimps have all the luck.

 

 

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It’s not often that you get to chat with a living legend. I was recently fortunate enough to interview NY  Times bestselling author John Lescroart, whose career spans decades of consistently turning out over twenty enormously popular, erudite, riveting fiction novels. He was kind enough to subject himself to my inane questions, all for your amusement, and at considerable personal expense – all right, perhaps an exaggeration, but what of it? The point is, this literary icon took the time away from a life of jetting to and fro in the company of celebrities and super-models to offer his thoughts and counsel so you could be enriched. So pull up a chair and read one of the most meaty and interesting interviews I’ve had the pleasure of doing in my Author Spotlight series. Pay attention. Maybe you can learn something…

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NEW NEW INTERVIEW: If you only read one interview with me, ever. this is the one you should read.

NEW INTERVIEW: With yours truly on writing King of Swords, with Cheryl Bradshaw Books. Essential reading.

BIG NEWS: Absolutely must read book review by bestselling author Steven Konkoly for King of Swords.

ANOTHER NEW INTERVIEW: Guest blog/interview with Sibel Hoge.

AND YET ANOTHER NEW INTERVIEW: Busy week for interviews. This one on An Angel With Fur.

AND AN AWESOME NEW REVIEW: By JLandonCocks for Fatal Exchange, just released!

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Russell Blake: Your legacy of work is one of the most impressive out there. Where do you get your ideas from, and what’s your process for moving them from idea stage to where you’re actually writing?

JL:  Right now I’m in the throes of “getting an idea” for my next (2013) book, and I must say that the challenge never stops.  Because really, what’s needed is not just an idea, but a great idea, a concept that can carry your characters through 400 pages of compelling action and development.  If there were a secret to getting that idea, I’d tell you what it was, but I’m afraid that for me, at least, ideas “come” as I’m writing scenes and pages.  And the one, big idea that I’m waiting for – at least for the very next book – is proving elusive at the moment.  I’m sure it’s out there, and I’m sure it will arrive before I reach utter despair, but it is a difficult time.  As to the process moving from the idea to the actual writing, that’s much easier.  Once I’ve got a general idea of what the book is about, I just sit down and start writing scenes and having fun.

RB: How many hours per week do you try to write? Do you have a disciplined schedule, or do you mostly write when the mood strikes?

JL:  I most definitely do not write when the mood strikes.  I go into work, after a physical workout, every weekday, and spend at least two and often as many as six hours putting down pages.  Inspiration often comes to visit during these spells of work, but I think if I waiting for any one given inspiration, I wouldn’t get much done.

RB: Do you do character outlines and structure the book in advance? What’s the mechanism you use? Any?

JL:  As is probably obvious from what I’ve already written here, it’s all very much by the seat of my pants.  I try to see interesting scenes that involve the reader and move the plot and characterization forward, hopefully with a surprise or a little gem of prose included in every scene.

RB: Have you ever had writer’s block? How did you get past it? Any tricks or suggestions?

JL:  My favorite definition of writer’s block is that it is a failure of nerve.  By any objective standard, I’m in a (very rare but very real) state of writer’s block right at this moment; it takes a consistent act of will not to give in to it, but to keep searching in the darkness for a little spark that will eventually light up the internal landscape and let the idea shine forth.  To fight this failure of nerve, I try to gear myself up into what I call “genius mode,” where I tell myself that everything I’m writing is brilliant, let my inner demons be damned!

RB: What’s your story. How did you get into writing, and what was your path to becoming a bestselling legend?

JL:  My story is an extremely long and complicated one, but here is the short version.  I did not know anything about publishing when I started out.  I did not even know how to submit a book.  I actually wrote my first published hardcover when I was 24, but didn’t even send it out to publishers until I was 36!  When I signed the contract for that book, I essentially hired myself out as an indentured servant to my publisher at the time.  The option clause in that contract specified that I would have the same contract, except for the advance, for my next book, and the one after that, and the one after that.  So my first five or six books got published with very low print runs, no advertising, no publisher’s push at all, and – no surprise – none of them did very well commercially.  Finally, though I had no money, I hired a lawyer to help me get out of that option clause.  It cost me $28,000 in attorney’s fees in a year when I made a total of $22,000.  But I got out of the clause.  The very next book sold for six figures, and since then they’ve all been bestsellers.  So the best advice I can give is to tell hopeful writers to be careful when they sign contracts.  Don’t sell out for less than you think you’re worth.  If you’re good enough, somebody will pay you what you’re worth, and treat you right in the bargain.

RB: I follow you on Facebook and Twitter, and you frequently write about structural issues, grammar and style. If you only had 60 seconds to impart to aspiring writers the most vital advice you’ve acquired as a writer, what would it be?

JL:  I would have three things I would say:  master the use and misuse of the passive voice, and avoid it at all costs.  Beyond that, learn what writers mean when they say “Show, don’t tell,” and do that.  Finally, finish something . . . anything . . . short story, novel, scene . . . get done with it and move on.  Only in the doing does learning happen.

RB: If there was only one book that readers could peruse of your work, which one would it be? What’s the landmark, defining example of John Lescroart? And why?

JL:  This is a tough question because they are all my babies.  And some of the early books – The 13th Juror, A Certain Justice, Guilt – really did mark personal breakthroughs in terms of what I was writing and how I went about it.  And even now, my latest two books, Damage and next year’s The Hunter, have marked real departures from my earlier “courtroom” books.  All that said, however, I’d have to say that the quintessential Lescroart book is The Hearing.  It’s got Hardy and Glitsky in all their agony and glory, and a truly great, complex plot.  If you like that one, you’ll know what I’m all about, and can go backward or forward in the series without losing a step.

RB: Whose work influenced your writing? What authors did you grow up on?

JL:  Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Lawrence Durrell, and Patrick O’Brien on the literary side, and Conan Doyle, Rex Stout, John D. MacDonald, and Agatha Christie on the mystery side.  Mark Twain was a giant early influence, but then again, so were the Hardy Boys and the Landmark Books of biographies.  I’ve been an avid reader, some would say an addicted reader, for my whole life, and most of what I read I tried to learn something from.

RB: Why did you become a writer? What made you burn to do so?

JL:  I somehow always knew that I wanted to be an author.  From an early age, I used to make up stories and put on plays that I wrote, so I guess I’ve always had that bug.  Beyond that, there wasn’t really anything else that I felt so passionately about – I worked every “day job” in the world until I started making  a living as a writer when I was 45, and none of them were very fulfilling or interesting.  Also, I generally hated working for bosses, and wanted to be my own boss very badly.  So I just kept at it until it worked.

RB: What gets you up in the morning and keeps you writing?

JL:  I do love the process, the challenge, the fact that I never get bored.  I keep trying to write the best novel that I can envision, to capture all the world that I possibly can on the page.  Having done so many different other kinds of work, I never lose sight of how lucky I am do be able to do what I do now.  Also, much more prosaically, it’s great to be paid to be a writer, to be on contract with a great company like Dutton, to be in this milieu with its talented, interesting people.  To be a part of it is a kind of magic, and I just consider myself supremely blessed that I’ve somehow, after a somewhat tortuous journey, arrived here.

RB: What’s your latest release, and what are you working on now?

JL:  My next release, The Hunter, comes out on January 3.  It is a book featuring Wyatt Hunt and, if I might pass along some really wonderful news, it’s just gotten a starred review in Publishers Weekly.  As to what I’m working on now, it’s that pesky outline referred to above.  Ask me next week, and I’ll probably sound a lot happier about it.

RB: There’s probably a universe of good questions I failed to ask. What parting words would you offer aspiring novelists, other than save your money from your day gig?

JL:  Finish.  Finish.  Finish.  Then rewrite until it sings.

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5 Dec 2011, by

King of Swords

BREAKING NEWS. Character interview with my creation, Al, from The Geronimo Breach is now live. As of Monday, Dec. 5. Funny stuff. Really.

Don’t miss the great new interviews with authors Lawrence Block and Steven Konkoly, the first two in my Author Spotlight series. Great words from great guys. Completely clown free.

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Every now and then you do something that’s special. It’s different, and feels, I don’t know, just right, somehow.

That’s the only way I can describe my experience writing my new thriller, King of Swords. I believe it’s my best work to date, and represents a kind of turning point on my journey as an author. If every writer has “The” book, then I believe King of Swords is mine. It’s the synthesis of everything I’ve learned in terms of writing thriller fiction – gritty, breakneck pacing, non-stop action, unexpected character development of mulch-dimensional individuals who are complex and possess contradictory qualities and impulses, twists, turns, conspiracies within conspiracies, all set against a backdrop that’s non-traditional and richly evocative. It’s no holds-barred writing, and doesn’t pander. It presumes you’re smart, or you wouldn’t be reading it. Remember when books used to be written like that? Hmmm. But I digress.

It’s the story of a super assassin whose clients are the drug cartels of Mexico, and the discovery of a plot by a captain of the Federal Police – the Federales – to assassinate the Mexican and U.S. presidents at the G-20 financial summit. The elevator pitch of the idea I had when I sat down to write it as a lark, for NanoWriMo, was a single sentence that had been bouncing around in my noodle for a few days, as I finished up writing The Delphi Chronicle trilogy: “Day of the Jackal in Mexico.” From that smallest of seeds developed an incredibly complex and racing thriller that is unlike anything you’ve ever read. Or at least, unlike anything I’ve ever read, or written.

There are moments in the book where my editor sent back comments like “Crimmey” (he’s a Brit) or “Holy shit!” It’s that kind of work. It’s relentless, and shocking, and disturbing at a host of levels for a host of reasons, all of them deliberate. It captures the essence of the casual brutality of the drug cartels who are waging a guerrilla war against the Mexican government, and who are winning – not that hard considering that their budget is on the order of fifty times greater than the entire budget of Mexico’s armed forces.

I’m very excited by this book. So much so that I am three quarters through writing a prequel to it, titled Night of the Assassin, which explores the making of the monster who is the central villain in King of Swords. I had one author whose judgment I respect read the opening pages I posted on the Nano website tell me that he’s never seen anything like King. Neither have I. I have no idea where it came from, or where Assassin is coming from, but it’s an incredibly chilling, suspenseful and dark place.

If you’re a fan, from the first sentences you’re going to know why I’m so excited by this book. If you’ve never read anything I’ve written, this is the book that you should start with. If you only read one of my thrillers, this is the one you should read.

Night of the Assassin will be released in a week and a half, with any luck at all – my editing team is pulling Herculean stints to get both Night and Delphi done on schedule, which is no small feat. The covers for both books are at the bottom of this blog. They are a departure from my current approach for Zero Sum, The Geronimo Breach and Fatal Exchange, but that’s deliberate. These two books, as well as the Dec. 24 release of The Delphi Chronicle trilogy, represent a new direction for my thriller fiction. I suspect we will see a lot more of Captain Cruz and the Assassin known only as, “El Rey” – the King of Swords, the oldest of the tarot card kings. It feels like there are a lot more books these two will carry, and I’ve only scratched the surface of them in the first two. Hope you like the covers, and if you get a chance, pick up a copy of King of Swords. First 10 reviewers will get a complimentary set of The Delphi Chronicle trilogy when it releases. Just e-mail me your review via the contacts page.

A sample of the first few chapters can be found here, for those that want to see what the fuss is about.

And if after reading it, you’re as excited as I am, please, tell a friend. Or two. That’s how it works. That, and reviews, which I’ll also ask you in a small and pleading voice to leave.

There. That about covers my installment of shameless self-promotion, I think. Let me know what you think of the book.

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I’ve been getting a lot of inquiries about who does my book covers. Let me just say that he’s fast, cheap and good. If you’d like more info, e-mail me at [email protected] and I’ll put you in touch.

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Join Russell Blake and 9 of his author friends at WoMen’s Literary Cafe’s Mystery Book Launch, December 13-15. Ten authors will discount their ebooks to just 99 cents. Buy 3 get 1 FREE!”

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Well, here’s the next in my author spotlight series. This time, it’s with one of my favorite indie author, Steven Konkoly. It’s a great interview. Check it out. Also, David Lender will be up next Friday or Sat, and then a week after that, NY Times bestseller and literary luminary John Lescroart. Quite a lineup of interviews for my first few weeks out of the gate. Lawrence Block, now Steven, then David, then John… Pinch me so I know I’m not dreaming. Oh, on the writing front, I’ll be getting King of Swords out next week, and I’m writing the prequel, Night of the Assassin, as we speak. Turning out frigging brilliantly, if I do say so myself. But you’ll be the judges, ultimately. The interviews in this series will be archived under the Author Spotlight tab at the upper left. And now, to Steve:

Russell Blake: Your two books, Black Flagged and The Jakarta Pandemic, are selling like lifeboats on the Titanic these days. Congrats. What’s your secret, and how does it feel?

Steven Konkoly: Thank you, Russell. I wish there was a secret formula for this, but I’m afraid that this recent run on lifeboats has everything to do with the wonderfully generous folks behind the magic curtain at Amazon. Kindle Direct Publishing informed me last week that my first book, The Jakarta Pandemic had been identified by their team as a book they’d like to include in their “Big Deal” post-Black Friday promotion. One week at a 50% discount, and they give the book enhanced promotional placement. Of course, I agreed. I had NO idea how powerful this placement could be for a book, and I’m not the only one. Five other Indie authors were chosen for this promotion, and one of them, Robert Bidinotto, is enjoying a ride like no other. His novel shot into the top ten of all Kindle books! It’s still there. My book took a jump from roughly #3000 to #250. Unbelievable, really, and it couldn’t have been timed better. My recently launched second novel, Black Flagged, is also benefiting from the additional attention paid to my other title. No secret, just some inexplicable luck.

RB: I’m currently reading your new one, Black Flagged, and enjoying it a great deal. Where did you get the idea for the book?

SK: The idea sprang from a character concept. Daniel Petrovich…he’s the protagonist in Black Flagged. I wanted to deeply explore the idea behind a highly trained, field experienced covert operative, and the effects that this type of work would have on them. Dangerous, unpredictable work must take an incredibly debilitating toll on a person, both physically and psychologically. Our recent experience with veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan demonstrate the impact of a short term deployment under these condition…imagine a deep immersion of two to three years undercover as an operative. I wanted to demonstrate this with a character. Then, I took it one step further, and decided to create the concept of a covert training program that would seek out candidates with personality profiles that might mitigate these effects in the long run. In essence, identify apparently normal individuals with what might be considered sociopathic traits. Bringing these traits out in training, would theoretically soften the blow of the horrifying experience that would certainly lie ahead for them. They might even embrace it. Out of this, the Black Flagged program was born, and a story followed.

RB: Black Flagged is a departure from what you did in The Jakarta Pandemic. Which book better reflects your style moving forward from here?

SK: Black Flagged definitely defines my style. This is the book I always wanted to write, and I’m extremely excited about the series, however, The Jakarta Pandemic jumped ahead in line. I couldn’t shake this apocalyptic story, and knew that I would never be able to start a different story. It was a great start to my writing career, and introduced me to the most dedicated group of genre fans I have encountered. Post-Apocalyptic readers. Holy shit! This group is intense and dedicated. They are nearly demanding that I write another book in this genre, and when I finish with the Black Flagged series, or take a little break from the thriller genre, I’ll write another PA novel. You could say that I was “genre confused” in the beginning. I listed Jakarta as a straight thriller, then started hearing from survivalists, horror fans and apocalyptic readers…and the readership grew.

RB: Tell me about your process. How do you create your characters? Do you have a system for outlining them, of do you let them evolve as you write?

SK: Characters evolve as I write. I don’t outline them beyond keeping a sheet of paper with names, a brief description, title, and maybe something key to remember about them. I don’t like to be constrained in the beginning. Once the story is in full swing, I know pretty much everything I need to know about each character…though I still encounter some surprises. Sometimes, they start out one way, and go completely 180 degrees. In The Jakarta Pandemic, one of the protagonist’s key neighborhood allies started out very differently in my mind, and you can see it in their first interaction…he turns out to be something even I never expected.

RB: Let’s talk plot. What’s your approach to plotting and pacing? Put simply, how do you know when you get it right?

SK: Plot is a tough one. Pacing even worse. I have never taken a course on writing, or attended a workshop. I decided one day that I wanted to write a book (several actually), and spent the next year or two talking myself out of it. I read, and re-read Stephen King’s On Writing, picking up a pen to jot ideas here and there. I even started writing a screenplay, which I abandoned, because I thought the book would be better (I never wrote the book). When The Jakarta Pandemic idea hit me, I knew it was time to start writing. I’m not completely irresponsible, so I did a little research. I read blog posts and articles on all of the above mentioned topics, most of which left the bitter taste of bile in my throat. I’ve seen those roller coaster looking sine waves, with peaks and flows for stories. One of them was a worksheet, where you could fill in the lines at the top of each peak with your climax points…I’m sorry, but I have enough trouble keeping my plot straight, let alone try to synch it up with some complicated theory behind building excitement in stages, climaxes, resolutions…all of it. I guess I’m not a formula writer. As for getting it right, I know relatively early if it has gone “pear shaped.”

That being said, I have developed a strategy and a “system.” I start out with a general concept of the story line, and expand it slowly. If I have three or four subplots/arcs in the story, I will write an opening scene for each, and tie them together. I’ll write a few more scenes for each arc, always trying to tie them into the overall plot…once this becomes confusing for me, which is usually pretty early, I create a large posterboard with a flow chart. It shows all of the arcs, written scenes, proposed scenes, relationships between arcs, timing. If you get a moment, take a look at the chart I created for Black Flagged at my blog.

http://stevenkonkoly.com/2011/08/13/measurable-progress/

RB: Tell me about book length. Do you have a set size in mind when you start, or do you wing it and just write however many words it takes to tell the story?

SK: You should really ask my good friend Joe about book length. He almost fell out of his chair at Starbucks when I told him The Jakarta Pandemic was over 200K words. He told me to cut it to 100K, and over the next six months, we haggled like Persians over the word count. Of course, for him, it was easy…after I spent a month cutting, reshaping, and merging scenes, he’d tell me it wasn’t enough. I wanted to strangle him, but I knew there was too much fluff in the story, and I eventually got it down to 150K words. It wasn’t until I decided to self-publish, that I quit caring about the word count. Joe was right about the length, in terms of traditional publishing. Anything over 110K was considered a no-go for a new author. That number changes with the wind, but it seems to stay around 100K. I set out to wrap up Black Flagged in 100K words, and I just missed that goal. To be honest though, if the story needed more words…I would have suffered Joe’s wrath. He was very proud of my 100K accomplishment.

RB: What’s your background? Who are your favorite authors? And what are you reading these days?

SK: I come from a Navy background. I’m not a Navy SEAL or Delta Force operator, though I did enter and promptly exit the SEAL training program after graduating from our nation’s blessed Naval Academy back in 1993. Leg fractures. Once the naval commando option was eliminated, I reported to a small combat ship based out of Japan, where I forged some experiences that I would never trade away. The need to roll around in the dirt never really left me, so I took an unconventional detour for a naval officer. I wrangled orders to a Marine Corps unit that specialized in combat Forward Observation and Air Control, and served as a liaison officer. Two glorious years guiding every conceivable munition to its deserved destination, AND they sent me to Fort Benning to learn to jump out of airplanes (or anything that flies). It was the “jumping out of helicopters and blowing shit up club,” as my wife liked to put it. I guess what I’m saying, is that my military background weighs heavy in my novels…no doubt about that.

As for authors, I have a few favorites, to include Russell Blake. Am I allowed to suck up that obviously? Oh well, I just wanted to make sure he publishes this interview. Seriously, I have split my time between Indies and my favorite standbys. Traditional authors I have turned to over the years? Stephen King…I don’t care how trite it may sound, I still love his books. There were a few that didn’t do it for me, but overall, he is one of my favorites. His influence can be felt in The Jakarta Pandemic. For thrillers, I like Forsyth, Robert Harris, Nelson Demille (older stuff) and Crichton (who is now apparently the Tupac of authors…just published another one under his name). Indies? It’s hit or miss, but I’ve developed a list of favorites. Here are a few that anyone should check out. Well worth the money and time to read. Blake Crouch (for horror…not for faint of heart. Check out RUN first…holy crap, that novel about did me in.), Sebastian Breit (modern military with a sci-fi twist), Paul A. Jones (horror/sci-fi), Robert Bidinotto (spy thriller), and Russell Blake (I’ve read and reviewed all of his books…they’re good, very good.)

RB: How many hours a day, or week, do you write? How many would you like to in a perfect world?

SK: I’m back to my old military ways…I wake up before the rising sun (around 4:30ish) and write for roughly two hours. Some days less. I do this seven days a week, pretty much non-stop while I’m in the throes of writing. I just started this routine, after realizing that I would never finish Black Flagged at 500-2000 words per week, which is the rate at which I was writing back in June. I had 20K words done in the middle of June, and once I started my new torture regime, I had finished the remaining 80K by the first week of September (and I took a few weeks of vacation to go sailing). In a perfect world, I’d like to do this full time, and write all day…taking breaks to answer all of my fan mail (this would start to arrive I’m sure) and teleconference into several book clubs at once to answer questions about my work.

RB: I note you credit your editor on Amazon. That’s unusual. Tell me about that.

SK: Felicia is more than just an editor. She is a champion of my books, especially for The Jakarta Pandemic. I got in touch with her based on a review she posted on Goodreads. A very nice review, with some critical elements that spoke to me. She suggested something that I had been considering, and I didn’t know she was a freelance editor. When I asked her how she would go about cutting some scenes from my novel, she revealed to me how small of a world the writing market truly is. She had recommended my book to an independent press (she edited for them) for a possible book deal, and they contacted me based on her recommendation. I eventually turned them down, but hired her as editor to fix the manuscript. She worked extensively with me on Jakarta, and then proceeded to “pimp” it out big time on Goodreads and among her numerous Indie contacts (reviewers, bloggers, neighbors…all over). She still promotes my books, and she’s not shy at all about it…she treats her edited books like a proud parent. She earned the recognition and credit given.

RB: What’s next for you? What’s your work in progress, and when will you give birth?

SK: I’m working on the sequel to Black Flagged. Part two in the series. I haven’t made much progress…with all the fame and fortune heaped upon me by Amazon. Actually, this Amazon promotion fit right into my procrastination campaign, which has been in full swing for several weeks. I will have the new novel mapped out by next week, when I shall start seriously writing until it’s done. I think my water will break by mid-April…but May is not out of the question.

RB: If you had any advice for fellow indie authors, what would it be?

SK: Oh, this might be worthy of a separate blog post. I think the best thing for an indie to focus on, is to cultivate a loyal reader base. Encourage readers to contact you, and enjoy the banter. Always ask for their support in the form of a review. I haven’t confirmed why my book was recently chosen for Amazon’s promotion, but I have to believe that having 106 reviews factored into the decision process. Readers know what they are getting with my book. They’re not all 5 and 4 star reviews (majority are), but any reader that picks up my book at this point, and is surprised to find out that it is “told solely from the protagonist’s view…it should have multiple POV’s”, didn’t do the basic research right at their fingertips. Get those reviews! Business always picks up on the heels of reviews…good or bad. There’s so much more to tell.

Well, that’s it for Steve’s thoughts on life, at least for this interview. Oh, and Steve? Sucking up is absolutely acceptable on this blog. I like to think that the entire universe exists to pander to my every whim, and that it will start doing so momentarily. I just have to be a little more patient. Although getting up at 4:30? Maybe 4:30 p.m. from my nap, but I’m usually just going to bed at 4:30 a.m….

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I’ve been getting a lot of inquiries about who does my book covers. Let me just say that he’s fast, cheap and good. If you’d like more info, e-mail me at [email protected] and I’ll put you in touch.

++++++++++++++++++++++++

Join Russell Blake and 9 of his author friends at WoMen’s Literary Cafe’s Mystery Book Launch, December 13-15. Ten authors will discount their ebooks to just 99 cents. Buy 3 get 1 FREE!”

Share

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NEWSFLASH: Zero Sum, Book 1, Kotov Syndrome, my Wall Street thriller serial trilogy, has been reviewed by acclaimed author Steven Konkoly, whose The Jakarta Pandemic and Black Flagged are climbing the charts. The review is a wonderful deconstruction of the trilogy, and is recommended reading for one and all.

MAJOR BREAKING NEWS: Justin Bogdanovitch published a poignant and touching review of An Angel With Fur for prominent online lifestyle magazine InClassicStyle.com .

INTERVIEWS: Couple of newish interviews with yours truly you might have missed. You can see them here, and here.

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The following is numero uno in a series of significant author interviews. It’s fitting that the first  is with literary legend and icon, Lawrence Block. The man literally wrote the book(s) on writing, and Senor Block was gracious enough to take time out from his busy day to offer a few utterances for our titillation and enlightenment. 100% Lawrence Block, in his own words.

RB: Let’s start off with what you’re working on now. What’s your latest release? What excites you about it?

LB: Latest releases, actually.  Hard Case Crime published Getting Off in late September, and I self-published The Night and the Music a week or two later. I have to say I’m excited about both of them. Getting Off is very intense, very erotic, and the POV is that of a sociopathic female serial killer, with whom I (and, it would appear, many readers) fell utterly in love. The book was a delight to write. The Night and the Music collects all the Matthew Scudder short fiction, eleven pieces written over 35 years, including two new stories; I couldn’t see it as a hot item in stores, so I decided to publish it myself, as an eBook and a POD trade paperback.  The process was great fun, and the response has been remarkable. The thing’s flying off the virtual shelves.

But that’s not what I’m working on now, is it?  Actually, I’m not working on anything now, because two weeks ago I wrapped HIT ME, the fifth book about Keller. Mulholland has it scheduled for February of 2013, which seems awfully far away, doesn’t it?  But I suppose the time will fly. It so often does.

RB: What’s your process for creating characters? Do you do character outlines, or just start writing with a mental image? Any opinions on what process has the most merit?

LB: I wish I knew how to answer that. I start with whatever I start with, and sometimes it’s just an opening sentence. I find out who the characters are as I write. I’ve learned to trust the process, if one can even call it a process. I’ll tell you, I sometimes feel like the moron who found the lost horse when nobody else could.  How did he do it?  “I just said to myself, if I was a horse, where would I go?” That’s how I write.

RB: How many hours a week do you try to write?

LB: It’s always been too variable to quantify. Nowadays, when I’m most of the time NOT working on a book, I’m most of the time not writing. I thought I’d retired from novels a couple of years ago, but, like Bogart in Casablanca, I was misinformed.

RB: What’s your process like? Is it 10 hour days, 5 hour days, smaller chunks, or random? How has it changed over time?

LB: When I’m working on something, and can devote myself entirely to it, I’ll put in a long stretch of hours.  But much of that time I don’t really seem to be doing anything.  I check email, I surf some websites, I check my Kindle sales several times an hour, I play computer solitaire, I play non-computer solitaire, and somewhere in there a couple thousand words get written.  God knows how.  I think elves do it. You don’t like the new book, blame the fucking elves.

RB: You’ve been doing this a long time. What still excites you about writing? More succinctly, why do you do what it is you do?

LB: Well, money makes the mare go. Or at least I tell myself that’s it. But I write a monthly column for a stamp magazine—Linn’s—and I have a column in Mystery Scene, and while I get paid, the money’s hardly enough to serve as a motivator. So I guess I must like doing this, and it must fill an inner need.

RB: Do you work on multiple WIPs at the same time – as in several in different stages, or do you focus on one until it’s done?

LB: Like the Unitarians, who believe in one God at the most, I generally limit myself to one WIP at a time.  At the most.

RB: Do you write your chapters sequentially, or no? I generally start at the beginning and keep plodding till the end, but I’m always curious about how others work.

LB: I write from the beginning and stop when I get to the end.  Can’t imagine doing it differently.

RB: Is there a quintessential Lawrence Block book, that if readers could only read one, that’s the one that synthesizes your style and is the ultimate expression of your Blockness, or Blockticity, or whatnot?

LB: I’m all over the map, y’know? And I don’t know that a Scudder or Keller is any more moi than a Burglar or Tanner—or a Jill Emerson opus, or, well, anything. Write ‘em all and let God sort ‘em out, that’s my theory.

RB: What advice could you offer new writers, if you only had 60 seconds with them, and wanted to impart the most critical knowledge you could – other than don’t quit your day job?

LB: I would never tell anybody not to quit his/her day job. One piece of advice?  Write to please yourself.  Period.

RB: What do you dislike most about the writing/publishing process?

LB: The wait between completion of the work and seeing it on sale. HIT ME’s not out until Feb 2013? R@s!

RB: What book do you wish you’d written?

LB: Silly question.  The DaVinci Code, obviously. No joy to read, but the perfect book to have written.

RB: Whose shirts do you wear?

LB: My own.  My wife’s are too small for me.

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I’ve been getting a lot of inquiries about who does my book covers. Let me just say that he’s fast, cheap and good. If you’d like more info, e-mail me at [email protected] and I’ll put you in touch.

++++++++++++++++++++++++

Join Russell Blake and 9 of his author friends at WoMen’s Literary Cafe’s Mystery Book Launch, December 13-15. Ten authors will discount their ebooks to just 99 cents. Buy 3 get 1 FREE!”

Share

Continue reading

NEWSFLASH: Zero Sum, Book 1, Kotov Syndrome, my Wall Street thriller serial trilogy, has been reviewed by acclaimed author Steven Konkoly, whose The Jakarta Pandemic and Black Flagged are climbing the charts. The review is a wonderful deconstruction of the trilogy, and is recommended reading for one and all.

MAJOR BREAKING NEWS: Justin Bogdanovitch published a poignant and touching review of An Angel With Fur for prominent online lifestyle magazine InClassicStyle.com .

INTERVIEWS: Couple of newish interviews with yours truly you might have missed. You can see them here, and here.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++

I’ve been doing a fair number of interviews lately, and it occurred to me that it might be interesting for my readers if I spotlighted some of the authors I’ve run across who are standouts – climbing the charts, or noteworthy due to the quality of their work, or both.

I figured that would be more interesting than reading my scribbling about me, me, me, and so a few times a month I’ll be featuring what I think of as authors of note. Authors who have bucked the trend, beaten the odds, and are doing better than their peers.

The questions will be about their work, their process, and their views. Sometimes I’ll ask a marketing question or two, but that’s not the point of these fireside chats. It’s more to get inside their heads and find out what makes them tick.

My first two will be with bestselling author David Lender, whose latest opus, Vaccine Nation, is racing up the charts, and Steven Konkoly, whose The Jakarta Pandemic and Black Flagged are top selling thrillers on Amazon. I’ve read both their work, and enjoy it, so I’ll ask them questions that interest me, and hopefully you’ll be interested as well. As a thriller writer myself, I like hearing from fellow authors who are enjoying some success, and am always curious as to how they do whatever it is they’re doing.

After these two, I’ll probably slow the pace to one interview a month, with literary luminaries like Lawrence Block – guys who have been in the trenches, written a lot of books, and sold a bunch. In the end how often I do them will depend on the response to these. I’ll also ask the authors to check in on the comments a few times a week to answer questions from readers as they occur.

Hopefully this will become a series that affords us all a glimpse into the minds and processes of noteworthy authors who are making names for themselves. Everyone’s journey is different, but this will allow us to press our noses up to the glass and peer in at them, if only for a few brief moments. Stay tuned! First one coming within a few days.

On my writing front, I just finished polishing The Delphi Chronicle books, and my editor is scrambling to get King of Swords whipped into shape. Goal is to release King within a week or so, and Delphi by Xmas. I’ll be sitting down and writing a prequel to King over the next few weeks, while the character of the assassin is still fresh in my mind, and you can expect that out by year’s end. And I’ll be participating in a promotion for Andy Holloman, the art and details of which can be found below. So a busy December, by any measure. No rest for the wicked.

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Join Russell Blake and 9 of his author friends at WoMen’s Literary Cafe’s Mystery Book Launch, December 13-15. Ten authors will discount their ebooks to just 99 cents. Buy 3 get 1 FREE!”

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18 Nov 2011, by

Nano Update

NEWSFLASH: Zero Sum, Book 1, Kotov Syndrome, my Wall Street thriller serial trilogy, has been reviewed by acclaimed author Steven Konkoly, whose The Jakarta Pandemic just got its 100th Amazon review, and who just released Black Flagged. The review is a wonderful deconstruction of the trilogy, and is recommended reading for one and all.

MAJOR BREAKING NEWS: Justin Bogdanovitch just published a poignant and touching review of An Angel With Fur for prominent online lifestyle magazine InClassicStyle.com . It’s really a must-read review. 

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My author went to Nano and all I got was this dumb book.”

An update on my new magnum opus, King of Swords.

For those just tuning in, last Friday, Nov. 11, at around 2 p.m. I got it into my noggin that it would be a swell idea to come off of having just finished writing about 150K words of The Delphi Chronicle and launch into a book for the National Novel Writing Month challenge – to write at least a 50K novel during the month of November.

Being as in Mexico it’s not unheard of to start happy hour around noon on Fridays (or most days, for that matter) it seemed like a perfect idea. Hell, after grinding out 150K of intricate international conspiracy, 50K would seem like a massage with a happy ending, not that I know what that means (wink wink). My point is that cocktails were involved, and so, without taking into consideration what it would do to my posture or my Iron Man triathlon training regime, I launched into it.

Today is one week later, and I’m at 45K words of what is shaping up nicely – it’s a hell of a story so far, as you can tell from the first few chapters (link below). One problem is that it is going to take more than 50K words to tell it, no matter how concisely I write it. There’s just way too much going on, with a lot of story getting packed into a slim wrapper. The characters are at that point where they’ve come alive, and taken on a life of their own. Who knew that the protag had a dark sense of humor? Who knew that the assassin would be that interesting and complex? Who knew that there would be conspiracies within the conspiracies, and that nothing would be as it seemed?

For those following along at home, I could finish this today at 50K, clock it in, and have won my “personal best” bet with myself for the fastest I’ve ever written a fiction novel. But the story wants to keep rolling, so I’m going to let it run and see what happens. My hunch is this is a 75K-85K effort, if I’m going to include all the nuance, which seems worthwhile. So I’ll let it have its way, and hopefully by next Thursday or so I’ll be done, and can polish it for three or four days, and clock it.

You can track my daily progress online here & read the opening few chapters I wrote Friday. And again, please, no wagering. This should serve as a cautionary tale for those considering doing anything after tequila blinds you to reality. Don’t do it, kids.

It’s also pushed editing and polishing my latest work in progress, The Delphi Chronicle, for two weeks, so this will delay that release to around third week of December, with King of Swords releasing around second week of December, assuming it isn’t drivel. I also think I’m going to end the promotion of Zero Sum where the first book’s for free around the end of the year, or end of Jan. at the latest.

That’s the news from my end. I’m keeping my head down and pulling on the oars as hard as I can, so hopefully by end of next week I’ll have birthed me a book…

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Join Russell Blake and 9 of his author friends at WoMen’s Literary Cafe’s Mystery Book Launch, December 13-15. Ten authors will discount their ebooks to just 99 cents. Buy 3 get 1 FREE!”

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29 Sep 2011, by

On Editing

BREAKING NEWS: My first interview with Patricia de Hemricourt at ePublishABook.com, just came out and can be viewed here. It’s a good one, and goes into some detail on my process and general thinking, including some insightful questions on Gazillions. John Locke, and my writing and editing times.

NEW BOOK REVIEW: An extremely positive review for The Geronimo Breach at the blog of J. Landon Cocks can be seen here.

FEATURED BOOK: Fatal Exchange is the featured book at The Kindle Book Review. Check it out.

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Many of my Twitter followers are authors, and of those most are self-published. As we’ve all seen and heard, self-publishing can be a thankless and barren road, and money can be tight, or even non-existent.

The ease with which the self-publishing platforms now enable aspiring writers to upload their work is mind-boggling. The only thing standing between you and being on Amazon are a few mouse clicks. Gone is virtually the entire delivery system that defined the traditional publishing business for generations. Trees don’t need to be sawed down, trucks don’t need to go to and from warehouses filled with freshly printed books, stores don’t need to occupy valuable space that could house another Starbucks or fast food joint. It’s a brave new world we’re writing in; the old rules are dead and the sky’s the limit.

But is it really different this time?

Look, I’m no fan of inefficiency. I don’t particularly like a system that is the most usurious model I can imagine, aside from the record business. Authors see pennies on the dollar under that old model, with the retailer and the publisher pocketing the lion’s share of the product’s revenues. The actual creator of the work sees a sliver in that scheme, just as musicians see nominal bucks while the record companies pocket gazillions.

But is it all bad? Is the entire model worth throwing out?

As with most things in life, the answer is maybe.

It really depends upon the discipline of the writer.

What do I mean by that?

In the old model, there was a presumption that the literary agent had culled through thousands of manuscripts to find the most deserving to represent. Deserving generally equated to well-written and interesting, although in many cases deserving actually meant generated by someone whose name would ensure sales, even if they couldn’t spell their book title. Be that as it may (and don’t start me down the Snooki path), presumably the literary agents were gatekeepers of quality, who then passed their clients’ wares to publishers, who further thinned the herd, resulting in a clumsy industry algorithm that spat out books at the opposite end of the sausage machine – and the presumption was those books were competently written, would be of interest to someone, and were executed in a superior fashion; professional cover designers drew up art, professional editors checked grammar and punctuation and spelling, etc.

Now none of that applies. You can have your dim nephew kluge together some sort of botched abortion for a cover, and can generate books as quickly as monkeys can type.

That’s both good and bad. Because it demands that the writer be disciplined, even to the point where he/she must invest in quality control, in addition to investing the time into writing and then marketing.

From my standpoint, two essential elements I won’t sacrifice on are cover art and editing. I recently wrote a guest blog on my thinking about cover art, which can be viewed here, so this exercise is devoted to singing the praises of editing. Professional editing by a qualified, experienced editor, not a friend who substitute-teaches English as a second language and who has no real expertise or germane education.

A good editor can play an accretive part in the writing process, helping to not only catch errors and correct grammar, but also to take a larger role in ensuring the author’s voice is compelling, and that the story being told is done so in as masterful a manner possible given the writer’s skill level. A good editor adds to the quality of the work, and demands more out of the author, perhaps by asking leading questions or introducing commentary, or in some cases more overtly influencing the process: suggesting areas that need to be rewritten; pointing out gaps in story or plot; checking to ensure continuity and coherence; offering counsel on overall flow and pacing.

A good editor has the luxury of picking work he/she can improve, and will drive to create a superior product. A bad one will spell check and ensure punctuation is at least marginally competent. Or worse, will actually hurt the work, introducing more problems than they fix.

I believe that it’s almost as important to find a conscientious editor who shares a similar vision, as it is to sit down and write. I believe this because I’ve been on both sides of the editing table, and it’s a thankless job in the end, and it pays modestly, at best, and demands excruciating attention to detail and a love of the game of writing, as well as use of language. A good editor suggests alternative word choices, and catches echoes, and calls a spade a spade, and shares the writer’s enthusiasm over turning a phrase in a satisfying manner.

As writers, you owe it to yourselves to spend time interviewing editors, learning about their qualifications and the roster of authors they’ve worked with, and in the end, investing in a quality job. You need to pay for a pro to do the work correctly.

I’ve blogged a lot about why I write. I’m not a marketing wiz, nor do I claim some literary high ground. But I do know a bit about starting businesses. I’ve done more than my share of start-ups, and one thing I know is that you have to invest in your business before you can expect to see income, much less profits. So when you’re done writing your masterpiece, sit down and jot out a rough business plan – a budget, if you will, that captures product development (cover, pagination), quality control (editing), and marketing. Note that few if any business plans have zero committed to quality control, and zero for marketing, and zero for product development. None I’ve ever seen that were successful, at any rate. So what are you committing to your business, in terms of time, and money? How much are you planning to invest, and what do you hope to earn, net of those expenses? In what time frame? And what if things don’t go as planned? How long and how much are you willing to commit to seeing your business through until it is successful?

Being a writer requires intellectual discipline and honesty, if your writing is going to be compelling. I’d liken it to being on a never-ending quest. But once you’re done writing, you’re now a publisher. And being a publisher also requires discipline and honesty – at least with yourself. You need to commit resources to your self-publishing business, or it will fail. That seems elemental, and obvious.

Editing isn’t an optional part of this game. It’s a requisite. You need to expect to pay for a quality job, just as you would expect to pay for any other quality job in any other discipline. I’m very fortunate, as I have a gem of an editor who shares similar tastes and literary aesthetic. If you’d like his info, I’ll be happy to give it to you – just e-mail me via the “Contact” button. He’s the right man for my jobs, but may not be ideal for yours. You’ll need to determine that. But I can tell you that my work is the better for his involvement, and that he’s the best I’ve found. And I looked. I’ve been through four now. This is the fourth and final one.

The takeaway on this is that you need to look at your publishing gig as a business, into which you need to put sufficient resources to have a decent shot at success. Most start-ups fail due to flawed research, failed execution, or insufficient funding. All three of these are avoidable if you do the work and go in with your eyes wide open. So do yourself a favor. Get a good book cover to represent your product to the public. Get a good editor to keep you on track and help you polish your work to as exacting a standard as is possible. Plan a marketing approach, commit time and money and energy to it, and modify your approach if it isn’t working. Develop a habit of discipline – commit X hours per week to social media, Y to blogging and interviews, Z to finding reviewers to sample your wares, and A to writing your next work. Invest time in your product descriptions. Listen to what your readers think of your work. Seek out the counsel of those whose opinions you respect, even if their opinions might seem harsh to you on first blush.

And be disciplined in developing your product, which is the sum of the writing, the editing, and the representation (cover, your blog, your persona).

Is this easy? Nope. Will it work if you do all the above? No guarantee, just as there’s no guarantee of any other start-up business succeeding. But your odds increase the more disciplined you are. I’ve seen plenty of undisciplined talent with oodles of money and energy go nowhere due to lack of discipline. And I’ve seen marginal talents with a good work ethic and persistence, and reasonable commitments of resources, do well.

I’ll leave you with this. The harder I work, the luckier I seem to get, in every business I’ve ever started or operated. I bet this one is much the same. So my advice is hire a good editor to work with you, ensuring your product is as good as it can be, and you’ll be far ahead of many of your peers. Again, it’s not an elective or an option. It’s a requirement for success.

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