Monday, February 24, 2014

          Lately, as a reader, when I go through modern novels, I find many parts to skip; long descriptive passages or background data-dump kicks away my interest.
Maybe that’s why I tend to stick with noir crime stuff.
When I’ve been seduced by a hot cover and I like the blurb on the back enough to buy the book, I demand one thing from the writer: Tell me a story and start on page one. Meaning, get your guy/gal up that tree, throw enough rocks to make him/her stumble and fall through the branches, give him/her a come-to-realize, life-changing car-crash event then get him/her down out of the tree. Don’t dawdle with philosophical meanderings or moralizing or messages—even though John D. MacDonald was taken to task for his observations about the world around him. Critics noted, because of those his work was not pure genre, never mind how endearing his writing was to the reader. I’m also guilty of committing acts of observation in my novels, endearing or not.
We shouldn’t squeeze in a lot of detail, especially about characters—characters reveal themselves through action, quirks, dialog and gestures—and have been doing so from Shakespeare to Dickens to Mark Twain to Ernest Hemingway to Elmore Leonard, who advised us to leave out character descriptions, maybe a short sentence or two. Another lesson I should work on. I still do too much, though I’m working the problem—not the challenge—the problem. It’s a popular disease among today’s writers.
As a tarnished old sea dog with decades pounding keys through this writing racket, I’ve learned when you write as a reader, the #1 reader had better be you. Don’t cater or prostitute yourself for any group, trend or what’s popular. Write for the personal you.
Fact One: No matter who you are or where you are or what you write, somebody, someplace for some reason is going to be offended. It is human nature and cannot be helped. 
Fact Two: Those closest to you will be the most critical of your work. Knowing you makes them feel they have the right.
I’ve been doing some reading lately. I’ve read or reread several Elmore Leonard novels (‘Pronto,’ ‘Riding the Rap,’ ‘Killshot,’ ‘Pagan Babies,’) plus Lawrence Block’s ‘Hit Man’ a collection of short stories about hired killer, Keller; ‘Black Cherry Blues’ and ‘Jolie Blon’s Bounce’ by James Lee Burke, about Dave Robicheaux (brilliantly portrayed by Tommy Lee Jones on the screen). And back to my favorite, Richard Stark and his Parker series—all these were bought at the dollar used book store for a buck each. I donated them back when I was done. I have the latest Jack Reacher and I’ll be getting to it eventually. Currently I’m reading ‘Dirty Money,’ a Parker novel on my Kindle.
          In writing, I’m working on my first Mac Tuff novel, ‘Pillow Shot,’ about kick-ass gal private eye, Makayla Tuff—beautiful, built, brainy, and tough as her last name. That’s my morning stuff. Afternoon’s I rework my pre-digital (before anyone heard the word, eBook) novels to prepare them for new release, rewritten with new covers under my Seaweed Library logo. I’m going independent through KDP Select these days. My rewritten books with new covers aren’t available yet. The originals are out-of-print and book sellers gouging readers with ridiculous high prices. Do not buy them. The new books with reasonable prices will be coming during the next few months. Keep checking Amazon if you’re interested. Not included in the “do not buy,” my three latest: ‘Satin Shorts,’ ‘Crossfire Diamonds,’ ‘The Farewell Heist.’ Good stuff for those who like crime novels.


          What I like as a reader and strive for in my writing is the story, the story, the story, and an interesting main character. I have two characters besides Mac Tuff: Logan Sand, a raw, hard PI, ex-boxer, who left Navy Intelligence when political infighting and government corruption got to him, and who while working his cases leans more on the criminal side of the fence. Two Logan Sand novels are done: ‘The Calcutta Dragon’ and ‘Plundered Angels,’ due out shortly. Finally there’s Bay Rumble, a sailor who just wants to see the world aboard his small sailing vessel and keeps running into killings, treachery and very bad women as he sails from port to port. Three pre-digital books are being reworked in that series: ‘Bad Girl Dead,’ ‘Bleeding Sisters’ and ‘Catalina Killers.’ The fourth, ‘Baja Bullets’ is available through Amazon, and the publisher (til July) Solstice Publishing.


          In reading I like clear simple words, not sentences cluttered with so many syllables they send the reader to the dictionary. When the reader has to visit a dictionary, he/she stops reading the book. Other demands might keep the book from being revisited for awhile—or forever. You might lose the reader for good. I write simple words.
          A page reads best with four or more paragraphs, the more the happier quicker reading. Dialog is great because almost every line is a new paragraph. No long-winded cliché-ridden speeches though or you’re back to one or two skip-over paragraphs.
          For readers, some novels and short-stories approach the repetition of television commercials. They are as irritating as the jerky camera in today’s movies (like a junior high kid with an 8mm). Their premise—what they’re about—has already been done to strangulation. They enter the realm of what I label: “Hey, the mule is dead, quit beating on it.” A small sample are books and stories about: OUTLAW MOTORCYCLE GANGS, with or without drug dealing—VAMPIRES and all the blood-sucking crap that goes with them—LITTLE CHILDREN IN JEAPORDY, come on, writers, quit with the abuse, kidnapping, missing, city chasing, close-call shots, heart wrenching, done again and again lazy writing and think original. And I carry personal prejudice against stories about: SERIAL KILLERS, GRIZZLED OLD AGENT-COP-PI WITH YOUNG GUY/WOMAN AGENT-COP-PI, science fiction that THREATEN-DESTROY-DISEASE-END THE GLOBE, COUNTRY, CITY OR NEIGHBORHOOD, weathered old dude PULLED FROM RETIREMENT FOR ONE LAST CASE, RESCUE, SPY JOB, MISSION, the many BADLY-WRITTEN IMITATIONS OF CURRENT POPULAR BOOKS (Fifty Shades of Grey, Harry Potter, etc.). There are many others but you get the drift.
Over the fence, some subjects become favorites with crime readers and can be written often: HEIST—ROBBERY—KNOCK OFF THE SPOUSE/PARTNER—CHEATING THAT LEADS TO KILLING—CROSS COUNTRY CHASE—BLACKMAIL—REVENGE—PERSONAL KILLING JUSTICE—THE HUSTLE (and now, Gert and Clyde we present all those badly written ‘American Hustle’ wannabees)—THE DOUBLE-CROSS— THE CON—THE GRIFT. Love them all.
          I don’t know why sex and violence are always stirred together in the same soup pot. My early novels had too much sex and foul language. My elderly Christian aunts stopped reading them because they thought the writing approached pornography, though they did and do enjoy my non-fiction and memoirs. It isn’t like they disowned me, not like Jack London whose mom considered him a “constant disappointment.” Or Hemingway’s bible-thumping mother who thought his novels were, “violent filth,” My aunts still love me but they won’t read my fiction. Mom is long gone but she never approved of my stuff either.
           My writing these days, instead of lengthy female curve description and blow-by-blow gyration and hot breath coupling, the sex act is summed up in a few sentences that basically read: “They had sex.” Much torrid build-up can preface the act through dialog with heavy breathing created by what is left out. Violence doesn’t need gutter talk or to describe how the slug tore skin open and how the wound filled with blood and how the eyeball twisted and fell out to hang by a few threads of flesh. “I shot him through the eye and the chest,” explains well enough. The reader knows the guy got shot and it had to hurt like hell and there must have been a lot of messy blood.
          Sometimes I write about real places, other times made-up fake. Since I’m a word-god I can put any structure I want on any street corner I choose.
In ‘Plundered Angels,’ I needed a cult-religion hangout in Seattle. Though I used to live in Seattle, I couldn’t come up with one so I borrowed a building I’d seen in San Diego and put it on the curb there in Seattle, complete with lighted lavender sign.
In the Logan Sand series there’s a tavern called Tim’s Bar and Grill in downtown Bellingham. It’s not far from the waterfront and marina. It doesn’t exist. Furnishings for the interior came from a saloon in Oakland where Jack London drank while writing notes for ‘Call of the Wild’ when he got back from Alaska. Years later, I sat in the same chair, took mental notes of the place, and lifted a few beers in memory of the former local oyster bed pirate.
In my award winning novel, ‘The Farewell Heist’ the town of River Beach in Northern California is made up. I drew a map with the cannery, river; railroad tracks over the bridge, the dumpy area known as Splinterville, the beach where high school kids made out—it’s all as fake as political integrity.
I put made-up places in real towns and invent fake towns. My gal PI, Mac Tuff operates out of Branch Lake, Arizona, population 9,000, located along Highway 95 about eight miles north of Lake Havasu. Branch Lake doesn’t exist. I made it up.
In the Logan Sand novel, ‘The Calcutta Dragon,’ I needed a ski resort by the Nooksack River east of Bellingham so I built Rock Point in my head stealing motels and bars from other places, and placed them along the main drag leading to the lodge (similar to the one at Mt. Baldy, California), along with scattered cabins and deep canyons where bodies could be tossed.
          When I moved away from regular publishers and went independent, I gave some thought about what to charge for books. A lot of 99¢ books are offered. When I think 99¢ I think a cheap price for a cheap product. I don’t let myself get wrapped up in the competition thing. Competition is and always will be around. I draw readers of hardboiled crime noir novels, the type of books I read and write. Others wouldn’t be interested in my books at any price. People who read my novels like them (excluding my aunts).  New, they are worth more than 99¢. Used, they can go for whatever can be yanked away. I’m already out of the loop at that point.

My book, ‘Three for the Gun’ contains three short stories introducing my three characters, the blurb something like “three characters, three stories, Three for the Gun.” It’ll probably run from 25 to 35 pages. The going price will be $2.99 digital, under $10 print. At times it will be offered free. My thinking is forget 99¢, either offer it free when Amazon allows (and only for a few days) or get full freight for it. The reworked novels will also be $2.99 digital and under $15 print. My new novels will be $3.99 digital, under $15 print. None of my books will be under $2.99 digital or over $3.99 digital. All my books will one-at-a time be offered free for a few days. Sorry, I’m just not a believer in 99¢. My previous publisher tried and sales were pathetic. I don’t believe any digital book is worth more than $3.99, no matter who wrote it or how long it is. To see them at $15 and more defeats the purpose of digital reading, books available at reasonable prices. I won’t pay those prices, not even for Parker.
          Writers are readers, or they should be. Many writers bounce in and out of social sites thinking to find readers. But what you have are writers trying to sell books visiting writers trying to sell books. You end up with a lot of self-promotion. And I include myself in self. I do learn and earn from the sites and will continue to visit them. But they are not the main source of marketing for my books. Since almost nobody in my family uses computers or electronic readers, and only five percent of my writers critique group has eBook readers, I must mostly rely on the kindness of strangers for digital sales. For print, I send flyers to retirement homes, to book clubs and newspapers and magazines and bookstores; I do book signings at small bookstores; did appear on radio, have a table at the Sunday Farmer’s Market with the same poster I use on the deck of my small sloop wherever I anchor: Buy my books—Make me famous—Here—Now. I’ve even sold books from my car like John Grissom did before they made a movie of ‘The Firm’ (he never had to do that again). Plus, I’ve written an unproduced spec-script for each one of my novels (I specialize in unproduced screenplays). Then there are the books I sell in taverns while shooting eight-ball pool tournaments. It all helps.
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