Thursday, April 28, 2011

Back Again.

OK, Thriller Guy is back in the blog harness after several weeks away while writing a real article for money. (Note to all those writers who TG interviewed for the article and who did not make it into print. They edited the hell out of the piece because of space constraints, so many of you got cut, for no particular reason. Sorry, your wonderful answers to TG's questions will eventually appear on this site or in another article if TG can talk them into it.)

For all of you writers and readers out there who are successful, unsuccessful, unpublished, happily published, tortured, cursed with longing, blissful, eaten up with envy, or whatever, TG suggests that you go to and read Laura Miller's terrific interview with publishing great Robert Gottlieb. There's a lot of excellent material in this article about the process of writing and editing that Gottlieb says far better than what TG has been trying to say over the past few years. And TG knows that some of you, on reading the words 'publishing great Robert Gottlieb,' are going to roll your eyes and figure you don't really have the time, and it will probably be boring, etc., etc. TG would like to say, just read the article because it's really good. Has TG ever steered you wrong?

TG had a recent email conversation with an excellent, extremely popular, bestselling author who TG admires, who said he had looked at TG's website and felt, generally, that it was “... about Fitzgerald and Hemingway and topics like that and didn't have anything to do with me.” And that some day he might read the archives, but that right now he was just an everyday kind of a salt-of-the-earth writer who didn't have time for that sort of erudition. But he did like it when TG told writers to stop whining and get off their asses and write. First of all, TG was flattered that a guy of this caliber would read this humble blog, and, secondly, mortified to think that the advice TG was slinging week after week could in any way be construed as, well, highfalutin? Intellectual? TG sees this stuff as Practical. Necessary. Basic. No bullshit. A kick in the ass. A tonic for what ails the poor, misunderstood, hard-working everyday writer. The men and women who labor without much in the way of recompense or honor, who live in pain while trying to come up with the right word, the right collection of words, to create something, if not of beauty, but at least something that at least makes sense. That tells a story. TG thinks of writing like he thinks of digging ditches: When it's done right, at great physical (and mental) labor, the cool water eventually flows in the correct direction.

Ah, stop it, TG, you're killing me here.

Anyway, here's a little sample, (below) from the Gottlieb piece. TG has always sensed that what Gottlieb says, in this instance, might be the case, but was afraid that it was true. How many times has TG read a book and thought, What a piece of shit. How could any editor, self respecting or not, let this crap through? How many times has TG thought, and even written, “What this book needs is a good editor.” Well, from Gottlieb, here's at least one answer:

Whenever a review says "What this book needed was more editing," it's usually the book you spent the most time editing. That's because its problems were so severe that you've worked the text (and the writer) as far as possible. There comes a moment when either you the editor or you the writer cannot look at it again: It's over, and you have to let it go”

Who knew? TG has been waiting for years to read this explanation. And he apologizes for ever thinking that editors (or at least many editors) were stupid. It turns out that in many cases they have done all that they can do. That they probably feel, professionally, spiritually, and personally that they can do no more. That the contracts and promises of those in the publishing company, made by those who are far above them, have decreed that this book, as crappy as it might be, is going to be published and will make the company money because its readers may not really care about editing niceties or even the basics of good sense, so just shut your damn mouth, fix what can be fixed, don't piss off the writer because he might abandon ship and head to another house. Just get the book onto the shelves.

Or you're fired.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Bears and Men

Yes, Thriller Guy is aware that he has neglected his blogging duties recently. In his defense, he can only say that he has been working on a large project where he has been talking to many thriller writers, some of the biggest out there, and this diligence will pay off in material for future blogs.

TG has received several e-mails saying he's being too tough on the cheapskates who own Kindles and who have not immediately bought a Kindle copy of Abraham Lincoln: Detective, from Amazon. TG is grateful for those of you who have done so and assures you that every cent TG makes off the book will be squirreled away to pay for him to write another in the series, someday, maybe in the next hundred years the way sales are going right now. TG is, he must say, a little disappointed in some of you out there. No need to name names, you know who you are. It's the same feeling one has when one has a book signing where sales are disappointing. Regular readers of this blog might remember the rule taught to TG by his early mentor, Kent Carroll of Carroll and Graf Publishers, who told TG the following when asked how many books one should order for a signing: Write down a list of names of those friends and family who you are absolutely certain are going to buy a book, and then cut that number in half, then cut that number in half again. That's how many books you're going to sell, and let TG tell you from personal experience, and the experience of most of his writer pals, it's usually a pretty sad number, but almost always correct. There's nothing like seeing some of your best friends not only leaving the bookstore with nothing under their arms but looking pissed off because you didn't give them a free, personalized copy of the book.

Normal people have no idea that the number of free books the publisher gives to writers is usually very limited and usually written into the original contract between writer and publisher. That number starts out at five and if you can get your agent to argue about it they'll easily go to ten, but anything more and they get really grumpy. TG learned years ago to not worry about it in the contract because you can always get freebies out of the marketing department who will gladly give you as many as you want.

OK, you want to know what's really got TG ticked off this week? He was reading a thriller by a pretty famous guy for review and right up near the front the writer describes a character as “a shambling bear of a man.” TG is aware that most thrillers are, sadly, riddled with cliches, but he was stunned to find that particular old war horse still in circulation. Good God, does the writer have no shame? Does the editor have no shame? Or is he afraid to tell the writer that the phrase makes him look like a tyro? (Now there's an excellent word you don't see around much these days.) Have all the excellent proof readers who used to point out mistakes like this all been fired? TG was reminded of his early days in the business when he read a manuscript as a favor for his busy publisher and was shocked to find two separate characters described as shambling bears of men, and then stunned when another character was described as “a shambling leviathan of a man.” TG gently pointed out that the word leviathan almost always refers to whales or sea monsters, creatures who could hardly be expected to shamble anywhere. The publisher, looking very unhappy, took that reference out but still left the two earlier instances in.

Never forget TG's rule when it comes to cliches: when one comes to mind while in the process of your daily writing, pause and try to come up with something better. If you can't, don't waste time on it but mark the offending phrase in boldface and then go back the next day when doing your rewrites and change it to something original. This is usually pretty easy the next day when your brain is fresh.

Which leads to TG's next rule, which is when starting out your writing day, always read over what you wrote the day before and do quick rewrites. It gets you into your own voice and will put you well into your new day's work.