Tuesday, February 28, 2006

The Third Draft Begins

By the time I get to my tenth novel, the beginning of the third draft will probably be just another day at work. Until then, it feels like something momentous, an occasion worthy of marking.

The manuscript was hidden in the corner of my room for the better part of a month. I contented myself with trudging through a short story I've been working on for a while, as well as playing around with possible back cover blurbs.

Over the last week, I thought a lot about the next steps to take.

I strongly felt the need for external input and it was important that the input be from a voice of experience. I really wasn't sure where that voice would come from, but I was lucky enough to have the talented and multi-published author, Steven Torres of Precinct Puerto Rico fame, look over a few chapters of my work.

He tore it to shreds.

Okay, that's being dramatic. But I definitely had a sense of the need to bring my work up to the next level, and this was just the push I needed. It felt good to be looking at the earlier chapters again, reading them out loud to get the flow right, removing as many uses of the word 'I' as ... I can, tweaking, trimming, and killing.

Debut Dagger, here I come.

Friday, February 24, 2006

When The Writer Is Seen At Work, The Writing Doesn't Work

Gary Provost wrote this in a chapter on subtlety. It's excellent advise. Here's something else he wrote:

Consider first the spell cast by reading. You're alone as you read, yet you hear my voice. You don't know me. I don't know you. But we're both acting as if the other were a real individual composed of flesh and bones. The words that I'm addressing to you aren't being uttered now. They were recorded months ago, perhaps years ago. I might be thousands of miles away. I might be dead.

Gary succumbed to a heart attack on May 10th, 1995.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Who Wants To Buy A PI Novel?

Don't get the impression I'm asking you to buy mine, at least not till it's done. I'm just linking to a great post on the topic, over at the Weinman tropical bar, where spanking is as regular as excess consumption of muesli.

She writes:

Which is the bottom line. No hook, no money, and most people --especially women -- who are making their debuts as crime writers seem to want to find their hooks elsewhere, not within the PI subgenre.

Still, I'd say the PI novel isn't dead, just resting -- and there are up-and-comers interested in writing stories and even novels featuring that patented PI. But the subgenre is a hell of a lot deader than procedurals or "ordinary/extraordinary" thrillers or paranormal tales or chick lit mysteries or cozies.

What will this mean for Danny Hawaii, PI-in-training?

It means that as his author, I've been hired to find his hook. The hook.

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

On The Killing Floor

Having just finished Lee Child's Killing Floor, I thought I'd throw up a few reactions to it. Not a review, just some things I noticed.

Jack Reacher is a smart guy. He's so smart that everyone around him--even those who have twenty years experience in police work--defer to his opinion. He's great at problem solving, but as the novel wears on, the logic he uses is increasingly suspect.

Jack Reacher is an amazing driver. In the one novel, he skirted, accelerated, nosed, lurched, swung, blasted, slowed, spun the wheel, turned, pulled up, threaded, wafted, parked, reversed, rolled, jinked, wallowed and drove whatever car he could lay his hands on.

The first hundred pages had me smiling at the quality of the writing, the depth of the character, and the excitement of the action.

The last hundred pages had me smiling at the abundance of coincidence, the sheer proportion of the events, and the John Woo-like slo-mo sequences.

Even though I suddenly have a hankering for some Barry Eisler, will I read more Jack Reacher novels?


Monday, February 20, 2006

Proofreading & Perspective

Catching errors is part of my job as a programmer, and even more so of late, so it's not a surprise that I think of editing and proofreading in a similar way.

Reading on computers is still something that people have trouble with, even though most writers use a word processor. People still print documents out on paper, especially if it's a manual, or if they're trying to fix problems in the documents themselves.

I'm lucky enough to be a child of the computer age, not quite as Playstationed and Xboxed as those a decade after me, but still capable of reading on a computer screen. I've even been able to read entire novels that way, courtesy of my Pocket PC.

When it comes to proofreading though, I still trust real paper.

For one, it's easy to make quick notes in the margins, it gives me a feeling for how long my novel is, and most importantly, I catch errors I miss on the computer.

I've been trying to figure out why that is the case. Why can't I see mistakes on the screen while typing?

When I'm writing, there are certain parts of my brain doing the work, some of which are taken up by the simple mechanical process of typing. When I'm proofreading on paper, other parts take over. I'm not thinking about what to type and I can devote all of my attention to simply seeing what is there, right in front of me, as it is.

It's a change of perspective.

So I tried an experiment based on this idea. I exported one of my short stories to PDF so I could read it on screen, but couldn't modify it. I found myself catching errors that I had completely missed, just like I would on paper. I printed out one of the later drafts as a final check, but I'm of the opinion that there was no reason for me to move the document outside the computer at all.

I might try it on the novel next.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Taurus The Bull

My star sign, and even though I don't believe in horoscopes one eensy-weensy bit, the sign I most identify with.

Stubbornness, patience, practicality, creativity. The Bull, full of ... bull.

I got this tattoo done about five months ago, so it's nice and settled now, part of the landscape of the forest on my arms.

Instead of showing a plain old picture of my tattoo as it is, here's a picture of the image left behind on the bandage I wore while the tatt healed.

Geez, us crime writer types, always making unnecessary references to blood.

Thursday, February 16, 2006


Work is doing its best to suck all of the creative juices out of me, but I've still scrabbled together some energy for Provost's wacky and zany exercises. Actually, they're not wacky. They're very sensible.

Here are my attempts at using all of the senses to describe a scene:

A coffee shop.

Johnny’s Coffee Stop was brown. Mud brown, chocolate brown, coffee brown. The signage on the window, even the text. Brown. When I stepped inside, the grinding of beans hit my ears and the sharp aroma of it knifed into my flaring nostrils. I ordered a caramel latte, sat in the splintering stool and waited. When the coffee came, I caressed the cup, letting the warmth seep into my shaking hands.

A fruit stand.

I ran my fingers over the darkening pineapples, the spikes almost scraping off my fingerprints. My blood dripped into the cart. I dragged my hand past the apples, the kiwifruit, the mangoes. The heady perfume of the fruits combined with my loss of blood and I swayed from side to side, staring at the fruit stand owner’s huge moustache. He yelled at me to keep my hands off. I licked my fingers. It was like licking chains.

A truck stop.

Compression breaks squealed and eighteen huge wheels ground to a halt, sending dust and dirt into Derek’s face. He coughed and sputtered, blew the dust out his nose. The driver oozed out of the truck, knelt down and touched the earth. His face was caked with dirt and sweat, but his eyes pierced into Derek. Derek thought, these donuts better be good. The doors opened. Derek could smell the icing, taste the dough, even though all he could see were rows and rows of white cardboard boxes.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006


I'm reading Gary Provost's "Make Your Words Work" as a way of distancing myself from the manuscript, with the hopeful bonus of learning more about writing. The book is a pleasure to read and the exercises can be damned entertaining.

One exercise was to think of cliche replacements. Like these:

He could sell a fridge to an Eskimo.
He could sell leather boots to a vegan.
He could sell a flamethrower to a fireman.
He could sell a pentagram to a nun.

Sly as a fox.
Sly as a kid with brussel sprouts in his pockets.
Sly as a student with porn in a classroom.
Sly as Stallone.

Behind the eight ball.
Naked at a spelling bee.
Feet behind the head.
Linda Blair in the Exorcist.

Out from the frying pan into the fire.
After the queue come the forms.
In prison: out of the showers and into the toilets.
Out from under the bulldozer, into the morgue.

He left no stone unturned.
He left no email unread.
He checked inside every box of cereal.
He lifted every veil in the harem.

I'm sure y'all can do better.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Friday, February 10, 2006

100th Post: A Weekday In The Life

I threw this one together on the Mystery Circus, but seeing as it's my 100th post and all, it seems fitting to duplicate it here.

This one goes out to the three other people that didn't read it at the Circus.

8am: My alarm goes off. Wake up, go downstairs, feed cats, assemble cup of tea and bowl of muesli.
8:15am: Eat breakfast, wait for tea to brew, check email/Bloglines/MWF/Circus
8:20am: Drink tea, controlled dosage of caffeine enters system, fart around on the net some more. Almost awake now.
8:40am: Shit, shower, shave. Wakefulness achieved.
9:00am: Get on bicycle, ride to work.
9:20am: Arrive at work, net-ercise some more, figure out what work I have to do.
9:40am-12pm: Program them damn poker machines. This does not involve the use of a Poker Utility Belt.
12pm-1pm: Grab some lunch from downstairs, open laptop, write for an hour or so. Failing that, stare at outline of novel or short story until I give up. Yes, I outline my shorts.
1pm-5:30pm: Do more poker machine programming. Fit in some net fun along the way whenever I have to wait a few minutes for something to finish.
5:30pm: Ride home. Try not to get run over.
5:55pm: Tell the microwave to cook dinner, or call up a Thai restaurant to do the same, then eat.
6:30pm: Neighbours is on--I find absolutely anything else to do.
7pm-9pm: Muck around. Seriously.
9pm-10:30pm: Try that whole writing thing again, or read cool, hard-ass noirish shit, like Jim Thompson or one of the Peters (Corris, Temple, Doyle).
11pm-1am: Try to sleep.

Weekends that don't involve social obligations are similar, but work is replaced by shopping, there's no writing done at lunch, and time is usually found for a movie.

Far too much of this is done under the influence of sleep deprivation.

Reason? I don't sleep so good. :(

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Roll Up, Roll Up!

The circus has come to town! It's a forum, it's an ezine, it's yet another hub in the dark world of mystery.

It cleans, it strengthens, it lengthens. It removes vomit and other household stains.

It's a shoe polish, a floor wax, an anal loosener; it's a monkey's best meal, and it comes FREE, this month only, with every vacuum cleaner bag purchased at the store.

Roll up for the Mystery Circus now!

The Circus is a gripping tale that takes you into the dark and violent heart of obsession.
- Michael Connelly

Rickards contacted me about writing a blurb for him, but I decided to go the whole hog and make my own circus. Look for it, this Fall.
- Stephen King

The Mystery Circus is a tour de force! It's a chase story, an allegory, and a brilliant riff on language. It's the future of dark entertainment.
- James Ellroy

Jaysus fuck, that ringleader has the best coke in town.
- Ken Bruen

In today’s modern world, it stands as a testament to the human ego’s triumph over commercialism that being a clown still holds the ultimate cachet. And, as John Rickards pains himself to point out, the effects of social capital can be all the more staggering for his generation, one deep in self-contemplation.
- Zadie Smith

Fuck that coke was good.
- James Frey

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Don't Adverb

In all the books on writing that I've studied, one tip crops up time and time again.

Don't use adverbs. (1)

Because I only have a year or so of real writing experience under my belt, I've taken this as gospel. But I didn't really understand why until I read a post over at Flogging The Quill.

The post is all about showing and telling, and this is the line that turned the light bulb on in my head:

I believe that the use of adverbs is merely a form of telling.

That did it for me. It's something that's related to compression as well. Make the dialogue, the action, even the description show the reader what is happening. That way you don't need to repeat what you've already said. And repetition tends to dilute the writing. The idea gets spread out and ends up thinner for it.

It's totally possible to write an entire novel without a single adverb, and I think that the writing ends up stronger, because the writer is forced to think of a different way to show, and showing leads to more immediate prose.

I searched for some quotes to back me up on this, but Chip Scanlan's already done it for me. And he's taken the time to look at the issue from both sides.

In fact, if I'd stumbled across the article before I wrote this, I might have just posted a link to it.

But then I wouldn't have said it my way.

  1. What's an adverb I hear you say? What, you already know? Sorry, I can't hear you.
    An adverb is an adjective that modifies a verb.
    Or ...
    An adverb is, most of the time, a word that ends in -ly.
    Slowly, quietly, righteously, glowingly, disgustingly.(2)
  2. My first footnote!

Sunday, February 05, 2006

To Be Read

On Saturday I went to a day long seminar called Demystifying Book Publishing which was a helluva lot of fun, and as far as I can tell, the best introduction to the publishing industry in Australia.

I plan to write about this in the next couple of days, but it will take a team of highly trained linguists to decipher the words in my notebook.

Until then, I give you my current TBR pile, in no particular order:

  • Lee Child: Killing Floor
  • Peter Corris: The Dying Trade
  • Mark Billingham: Lazybones
  • Peter Doyle: The Devil's Jump
  • Robert Gott: A Thing Of Blood
  • Jake Arnott: The Long Firm
  • Steve Martin: Picasso at the Lapin Agile and Other Plays
  • Jim Thompson: The Killer Inside Me
  • Michael Robotham: The Suspect
  • Arnaldur Indridason: Jar City
  • Marele Day: The Life And Crimes Of Harry Lavender
  • Stuart Kaminsky: Behind The Mystery
  • Pulp: Toni Johnson-Woods
  • The Classic Era Of Crime Fiction: Peter Haining
  • Richard Aleas: Little Girl Lost
  • Gary Provost: Making Your Words Work
  • Dwight Swain: Techniques of the Selling Writer
  • Sybil Steinberg: Writers And Their Craft--Volume II
  • Michael Michalko: Cracking Creativity
  • Shunryu Suzuki: Branching Streams Flow In The Darkness
All this doesn't count the thirty or so titles I keep on my Amazon Wishlist, or the twenty more I have hidden away in a spreadsheet under the same title as this post.

Should I just give up and kill myself now? Or will Mary do it for me the next time she sees me buy another book?

Friday, February 03, 2006

Thicker Skin

After reading the commentary over at Sarah's blog in regards to Tess Gerritsen and her Edgar award nomination, I was chuffed to read Tess's own take on the subject of criticism. It was a great affirmation for me, because I have noticed a strange personal development over the last year or so.

My skin's got thinner.

I honestly used to not give too much of a shit about what people thought of me. Which is not to say I've been a horrible person, it's just that my particular take on life is not one that falls into general acceptance by the masses. Even the weirdos worry about me.

First I got all thoughtful and introspective about my place in the mystery universe, then an unknown person commented on one of my stories. My initial reaction was that the story was better than that, but then I shifted into thinking about how to improve it.

Do I get rid of this character and spend more time on this one? How can I change the dialogue so that it rings a little less cliched?

What it comes down to is this: as writers, we have to be our own first line of criticism. To write well, we must constantly analyse and tear apart our work, with the goal of putting it back together in a better shape. This becomes a habit, and it's very easy for that habit to spill over into who we are as a person. We tend to become more critical in general, and this is easily extended to self criticism.

On top of that, since I started writing seriously, I've noticed my speech patterns change. Because of this constant revision, I find myself thinking about three possible sentences every time I speak. The result of this confusion is: "Sen ... tence a doesn't any that sense make." Happens to me all the time.

So since I decided to become a writer I have turned into an uncertain, self-conscious, gibbering mess of a man.

And I love it.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Murder Around The Corner

I'm still completely absorbed in a recent bookish acquisition, City Of Shadows.

The photo is of a previously law-abiding man, George Whitehall. On a Thursday afternoon in 1922, he went to Newtown Police Station and announced, "I've done something I should not have done," and handed in a key to his place in Pleasant Street, Erskineville.

Around the corner from where I am right now.

He'd lived there for 15 years, but that afternoon, he murdered his daughter with an axe, after having an argument with her and her mother. Whitehall had no recollection of what happened until he found himself with the axe in his hand and his daughter on the ground.

The photo was taken behind Newtown Police Station days before George Whitehall was hanged.

I feel all skin-crawly and goose-pimply after reading this. To think that it happened 84 years ago, just around the corner, and this man is staring back at me through history.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Repetition, Repetition, Variation

Maybe it's because I make my living as a programmer, or maybe it's just the obsessive-compulsive in all of us, but repetition in writing fascinates me.

It crops up in so many ways. The first word of a paragraph, the first word of a sentence, repeating words throughout the same sentence. Most of the time, you want these repetitions to be absent--they tend to take the reader out of the story. As the Taoists say, "[an] author leaves no trace of himself in his work."

Repetition can have the same unwanted effect on a larger scale. I noticed this while working on my second draft. The word 'threatened' popped up only a total of three times, but I still remembered it.

It's not all bad: repetition can be used for good. It can give rhythm to a sentence, or add a poetic spin to your prose. It's easy to overdo, so be careful he says, as he touches his nose.


I just threw that word in because I was sick of 'repetition'.