Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Know Your Ending

When it comes to reading, most consider it bad form to find out the ending before you’ve actually read the book. Not so when it comes to writing. At least, that’s the advice I learned last month from two of the thriller genre’s best-selling writers.

Every month in Richmond, James River Writers holds “The Writing Show” at the Science Museum of Virginia. This odd mix of talk show and “Inside the Actors Studio” brings in talent from all corners of the literary world. We’ve seen many agents, editors and writers pay our city a visit. Last month, thriller writers Brian Haig and Steve Berry came to “The Writing Show” to discuss how they build their thriller novels.

Brian specializes in military thrillers where as Berry tends to write history-based thrillers. As their style of thrillers differ, so did much of their advice. They provided a friendly counterpoint, and while I could easily focus on all the ways in which they disagreed, I think it far more interesting to look at one thing on which they did agree. Both Brian and Steve said that to write a tight thriller novel, the writer needs to know how it’s all going to end. They both pointed out that knowing how it all ends makes it that much easier to realize what isn’t important to the story. As a writer, you’re less likely to waste time on a “cute” scene that doesn’t really add anything.

While my specialty is writing fantasy, I found their discussion on thriller novel construction very useful. Perhaps the most interesting thing for me was that they confirmed something I’d suspected about one of the novels I’m writing. For some time, I’ve considered my solo work The Cold Shoulder a thriller novel disguised as a fantasy novel. The things Brian and Steve said about writing thrillers confirmed that for me.

I don’t really know how The Cold Shoulder will end, though. Heck, I’m still trying to figure out all of the villains. Brian and Steve made me appreciate how important the ending really is to building a good thriller, and I will be able to use that advice to make The Cold Shoulder a well-written story. I probably won’t know my ending until I get there, but when it comes time to edit, you can bet I’ll be approaching that task with a firm idea of how everything ties into the end.

I have to say that this particular “Writing Show” was one of the best we’ve had. Hopefully, I can draw on that particular show for a few more blog entries. Both Brian and Steve offered so much useful advice.

Monday, December 25, 2006

"I'm not dead yet!"

Yes, Wildcat still lives. Frank’s still kicking around somewhere, too.

Let’s get to the first order of business. Thanks to all who sent e-mails and posted well-wishes and questions as to this blog’s future (and my own). I seem to go through phases with my blog, and reality has just demanded too much attention. Something had to give, and this blog suffered for it. I seriously considered closing the Lair down for good. That I couldn’t make up my mind is the main reason I’ve hesitated to reply to many of your queries. I was scared to commit myself to either path. That said… the Wildcat’s Lair is going to stick around.

I’m happy to say the time away from the Lair has been worth it. Much as I wanted to announce The Last VanDaryn (the book my wife and I are writing together) was finished or would be done by the end of the year, that just hasn’t happened. We have made a lot of headway on it, though. Last month, I took off more than two-and-a-half weeks in order to make a serious dent in the book. It paid off. We’re in the home stretch with our heroes close to their big fight with the main villain (what fantasy adventure is complete without the big battle at the end?). Our word count: about 95,000. The holidays have made additional time off from work all but impossible. The disadvantage to writing together is that we sometimes do need to be in the same room to write a scene. So much of this book’s last third has been that way, and it’s frustrating when we can’t find the time to be in a room together to get it done.

Of course, other things are also keeping us busy. I’m happy to announce I’m moving up in the literary world (at least here in Richmond). As something of a reward for all the prep work to the 2006 James River Writers Conference, I was voted in as a board member to James River Writers earlier this month. I consider it more of a reward for me and my wife. I might officially be on the board, but we’re pretty much a package deal. We both had a hand in preparing this past October’s conference. Sheri and I have already started planning next year’s conference. The first meeting for the planning committee was held earlier this month at our house. The meeting went well. We’ve already put together some great topic ideas, but we have to panel these sessions. As things come together, you can expect updates here in the Wildcat’s Lair.

Speaking of the Lair, I’m considering taking the blog in some new directions. Nothing drastic, mind you… just the occasional need for change. One change you’ll already notice is my picture. The old one had gotten just a bit too dated. My hair has gotten thinner and a few wrinkles clearer. The time has come to owe up to it.

Seems odd even to me that I’ve chosen Christmas to make this decision, but that’s just how it worked out. With that in mind, happy holidays to you all. I’ll post again soon.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

"I am Sam"

Time for some long overdue self-promotion. Last month, a short story of mine was published in “Spinetingler Magazine.” The story in question is perhaps one of the strangest stories I’ve ever written (and that’s saying a lot!) entitled “I am Sam.”

I can’t afford to say too much about this story, as it involves a really great twist. In short, “I am Sam” follows a police investigator who finds himself investigating a murder he saw happen in his dreams. No, he’s not psychic, and the explanation for why he has the dream is the real twist to the story.

“Spinetingler” has really proven itself an outstanding online magazine. I had only just discovered it shortly before I submitted “I am Sam,” and the longer I’ve been following the magazine, the more impressed I’ve become with it. The quality of the writing in this magazine is just great. I consider “I am Sam” one of my best works, easily my best short story to date, and it’s definitely in good company with this magazine. Until finding “Spinetingler,” I don’t think I’ve ever really found an online magazine I took seriously, but the folks behind this magazine deserve a lot of credit. I think they’ve proven an online magazine can turn out some serious literature and create some real exposure for writers. Even better, the magazine is now available in print, which is really cool, so check it out… and buy a copy!

As you’ve probably noticed, my blogging has gotten horribly sparse of late. The James River Writers Conferencetook its toll last month, and this month it’s a determination to finish The Last VanDaryn, the book my wife and I are writing together, that’s forcing me to neglect my blog. We’re close to 68,000 words right now, and we can clearly feel the story’s momentum starting to infect us. I’ve written my share of books over the years, and I’ve learned the last third or quarter of the book usually becomes an obsessive thing for me. After all, this is where you always pull the threads together and the best twists to the story happen. If you (the writer) just let the story do it’s thing and have done your work right up to this point, it just comes together without a lot of work. The story starts to write itself.

Hopefully, come the end of next month, I’ll be able to tell the story of many late night writing sessions and a successfully finished book. From there, it’ll be time to market that book and start writing the next. This actually brings me full circle to the initial reason for my entry. See “I am Sam” finally in print is bittersweet, because I’ve been able to look forward to it being published. Now, I haven’t anything pending to go into print. I’ve no time for short stories, though. It’s time to finish this book.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

The Quill Awards: Wildcat's Rant, Part II

This past August, I indulged myself in a rant about the Quill Awards. Guess what? I’m doing it again… and for about the same reason I had the first rant.

For those who’ve slept since then, I will recap my previous rant. The Quill Awards offer a venue in which more commercially successful books receive the praise they deserve. Unfortunately, some of the categories are ridiculously broad. Case in point: my beloved fantasy/sci-fi has gotten saddled with horror for the same category. To add insult to injury, one of the “fantasy” nominees is more romance than fantasy: A Breath of Snow and Ashes by Diana Gabaldon. The lone horror nominee is the so-called retired writer Stephen King with his novel Cell.

Now that we’re all caught up, the reason for this sequel to my previous rant. Bad enough that I’d feared the “retired” King would win, but the winner has actually turned out to be the one book that never had any business in the category in the first place. That’s right. Gabaldon’s romance beat out the real fantasy writers. Am I the only one baffled by this? Do the people voting for this category realize her book doesn’t even belong as a nominee?

Bad enough this category got goofed, but let’s take a look at another genre-driven category that’s been botched: Mystery/Suspense/Thriller. Our winner here is Janet Evanovich’s Twelve Sharp. Okay, I’ll grant you that Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum books get put in the mystery section at the bookstores, but to call these books mysteries is a real stretch. Evanovich delivers a plot, at least, but these books are more comedies than anything else. The mystery is a very secondary thing. I love Evanovich’s writing. You’ll be hard pressed to find anyone out there with a funnier writing voice. I’m glad to see her receiving due praise, but it’s a shame that it has to come at the expense of books that more truly embody this category (insanely broad as it is).

The Quill Awards are all about popularity, and that is what won out this year, as it’s supposed to. Both of these books earned their victories. As far as I’m concerned, they just got put in the wrong categories.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Two Agents, Tap Dancing Vampirates and a Wildcat

Yes, the Wildcat is finally back.

Despite my best efforts, September turned into a month of bloglessness. So what happened to your dear Wildcat and his sidekick Frank? Well, Frank just slept—the lucky bastard. I on the other hand, kept plenty busy.

As the diehard fans know, my wife and I have spent all year planning the James River Writers Conference. This past weekend, the big event finally went off without a hitch. With plenty left to do for the conference and a book to work on, something had to give and “The Wildcat’s Lair” suffered for it. I just couldn’t rationalize placing my blog above the conference and my writing, and with so much of my time devoted to the pre-conference work, I find myself oddly idle now that my world is technically post-conference.

I’m embarrassed to admit that I haven’t a single picture from the entire weekend. Both days, I forgot the digital camera. Fortunately, one of JRW’s board member’s went running around collecting pictures. I hope to get my hands on those and post quite a few for all of you to see.

My wife and I had the pleasure of playing host to three rather interesting folks. One of them is a writer I’ve mentioned in here before,C.S. Friedman. Inviting Celia to the conference was one of my ideas, and she offered some amazing information for our session on creating a fantasy world. My wife moderated the session, and as detailed as I thought my wife and I were about creating our fictional world of Iridia, I have to say that Celia shames us both. She brought a list of things she figures out for her different worlds and cultures, and the immensity of it stunned me. Hopefully, I can share some of that in a future blog entry. She took part in several sessions and offered some great insights in all of them.

Celia had the misfortunte of relying on my maps to find her way around Richmond, and I kept screwing up with the directions because of downtown’s one-way streets! Despite my poorly improvised maps, she joined me and my wife along with several others for a Friday dinner at Café Gutenberg. While there, I found out something she and my wife have in common, in addition to writing fantasy. Turns out they both love to make jewelry with beads.

The other two my wife and I enjoyed showing around Richmond were agents Kate Garrick and Cameron McClure. Both young ladies turned out to be a delight. On their second night here, all four of us were lured by JRW boardmember Jason Tesauro to a place called “Gallery 5.” This rather avant-garde art house is built into an old firehouse, but this night, the place was one big party, complete with a great jazz band, a burlesque show and tap dancing “vampirates.” My wife and I don’t get out much, so we had a blast staying out late as my mother-in-law looked after the kids. The place was so packed, Iwas scared I might grope somebody by accident. I think our visiting New York agents were surprised by all this southern, capital city had to offer and enjoyed themselves. The next morning, I made a point of finding Jason at the conference and telling him, “I had a lot of fun. I felt violated, but I had fun.”

The entire weekend lived up to and beyond my best wishes. The speakers from out-of-town that I met all turned out to be great and generous people. One of the best surprises was editorial consultant Marcela Landres, who specializes in Lantino literature. In addition to being one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever met (her website’s picture doesn’t do her justice), she turned out to be a fabulous speaker with great information for writers trying to break into the business. I was fortunate enough to have her as part of my session on self-publishing. She joined my friend Tony Jones and Dave Kuzminski (the owner of "Preditors & Editors") on the panel. I had feared this session I moderated would be poorly attended and boring. The room was packed and my panel kept it both informative and fun. As a moderator, you just can’t ask for more than that.

Then there was one of the funniest men I’ve ever met: Brian Haig. Oh my God! Earlier this year, I reviewed his book Secret Sanction. I remember how struck I was by the humor in the writing, and as funny as his writing is... the man himself is even funnier. Even before the conference, I spent more than an hour talking to him on the phone and having the best time. I had placed him on a panel about the differences in writing male and female characters. Poor soul, he was the only man (C.S. Friedman, Susann Cokal and Cathy Maxwell were his fellow panelists). Even the moderator, Irene Ziegler, was a woman. The session definitely lived up to my expectations, providing some useful details on how to write from the point-of-view of the opposite sex.

The conference has made my past year a frenzied one. All too often, I would think I was caught up with all I needed to do, and then I’d get a call from someone with JRW who made me realize we still had much more to get done. As frustrating as things could get, I was always grateful for those calls, because they kept us on track. My wife and I are also going to help plan next year’s conference, and it will be interesting to do it now that we’ve got one under our belts. We’ve already discussed many ways in which we might plan things better. I look forward to seeing how that turns out.

As for my blog... Yes, the Wildcat’s Lair is back in business. Things will move a little slowly between now and December 1. That’s the deadline Sheri and I are currently working with for our book The Last VanDaryn. We’re about 62,000 words into the book right now. That probably leaves us about a third of the book to go. With that in mind, we probably won’t be participating in NaNoWriMo this year, which is a pity. In the meantime, you can expect some good news about my writing, perhaps an annoucment involving myself & JRW, a preview of C.S. Friedman’s new book Feast of Souls and, of course, lots of Frank.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Operation Smokeout

Even though Operation Smokeout was published more than a year ago, it’s suddenly turned into a much more timely book. For me personally, it’s timely because the writer, who is a friend of mine, will be part of a panel I’m moderating at this year’s James River Writers Conference. What makes it so much more relevant for everyone is that the focus of Tony Jones’ story is Cuba and its infamous leader Fidel Castro.

Castro (the real one) has made it into the headlines with his recent health problems, in which he temporarily handed over control of his country to his brother. In Tony’s book, Castro’s brother attempts a coup. Another interesting parallel has to do with a large oil deposit off the coast of Cuba. Tony says he knew that would give the U.S. plenty of motive to depose Castro and replace him with a more capitalist-friendly government. Ironically enough, a similar deposit of oil was recently found off the coast of Cuba.

I’ve known Tony for years, but I still didn’t really know what to expect once I started reading Operation Smokeout. I was surprised to find his book is more of a straight action thriller, much in the vein of Clive Cussler’s books. This comes complete with the requisite too-good-to-be-true hero Schaffer O’Grady. Now an award-winning reporter for the Washington Post, Schaffer’s in good with the president. That happens when you’re a former member of his Secret Service who’s managed to take a bullet for the president, not just once… but twice.

Operation Smokeout starts off when a member of the president’s Cabinet is assassinated in front of the Lincoln Memorial. Schaffer witnesses the murder and starts a hunt for the killer, with plenty of facts pointing to his friend Alex (that would be the president).

I will admit that it’s a little awkward reading about Castro as a fictional character within a book. I’ve gone back and forth on that one. Certain scenes with Castro in them kind of break the reality. You can’t help but ponder how close Tony’s interpretation of the Cuban leader is to reality, but to make up a fictional replacement for Cuba and Castro with different names would be much worse.

As I mentioned, Tony will be part of a panel I’m moderating at this October’s James River Writers Conference. The topic is "Publish or Parasite: Whether and When to Self-Publish." He’s going to be joined on this panel by science fiction writer Dave Kuzminski (also well-known for his website "Preditors & Editors") and editorial consultant Marcela Landres. I’ve got plenty of homework to do for this during next month, so I’ll probably post some of my findings as the conference nears.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The Quill Awards

I’ve allowed the Lair to get a little goofy this month with Frank’s “Beach Blast,” but I’m going to get serious with this entry. AOL’s Book Maven put out the word today about the nominations for the 2006 Quill Awards. The concept for these awards definitely holds some merit. The awards are designed to highlight and award more of the popular reads out there. That’s not to say these nominees aren’t worthy literary reads, too, but the nominees and winners are drawn more from what’s really selling in bookstores.

My interest in the Quill Awards is a bit tepid, I guess, even though I’m a fan of the concept. If I was invited to attend the big awards gala in October or nominated in a future Quill Awards, I’d probably feel differently. Still, I’m not without a certain passionate gripe. The Quill Awards offer some specific categories such as Children’s Illustrated Book, Poetry and Romance… but then we’re given ridiculously broad categories such as Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror and Mystery/Suspense/Thriller. For those of us who love genre fiction, we once again feel like we’re getting the shaft.

Let’s take a look at this year’s nominees for the Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror category:

A Breath of Snow and Ashes by Diana Gabaldon
Cell by Stephen King
A Feast for Crows by George R.R. Martin
Labyrinth by Kate Mosse
The Stolen Child by Keith Donohue

I suspect some of the die hard fantasy fans, like myself, might find it insulting to see Diana Gabaldon’s book in this group, and I honestly don’t mean this as a slight against her or her “Outlander” series. Is her book fantasy? Well, yeah… but then why do we almost always see it shoved into the romance sections of bookstores? The answer: because it’s more romance than fantasy. That’s one slot in this category wasted.

Then there’s our lone horror nominee Cell. I’m still a bit baffled at horror getting lumped in with Science Fiction and Fantasy. I’m not a big horror fan, but I’ll also grant you that it’s a very separate beast. I think the publishing industry has long ago established that horror is a well-defined genre. I don’t even really care for horror books, but I think horror fans are getting short-changed here, too. And since I’m mentioning Cell, would someone please explain to Stephen King how the concept of “retirement” works?

So what’s the deal? Why does genre fiction have to take it on the chin… yet again? The frustrating truth is that the Quill Awards are probably staying true to their concept. They’re focusing on what’s truly popular with readers… with what sells. When I worked at a Barnes & Noble five years ago, I was stunned to discover what a pitiful amount of the store’s revenue came from science fiction and fantasy. Just how little are we talking? Somewhere in the neighborhood of five percent, give or take.

I love my fantasy books, it’s why I’m writing one, but I also realize that we aren’t really the backbone of the industry either. We fantasy fans just tend to be a bit, shall we say, louder than the average book lover. So on an intellectual level, I understand why the Quill Awards are grouping things as they are, but as a passionate fan of fantasy, it just irritates me.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Put Frank's Butt on Your Computer

Yes, now is your chance to put Frank’s hindquarters (and mine, for that matter) on your computer. Since Frank’s “beach blast” seems to have overtaken the Wildcat’s Lair this month, I thought it fitting to give this event its own wallpaper. Besides, I needed something new for my computer.

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This particular image of me and Frank also marks a special, graphic achievement. Until now, the only view I’ve had of Frank has been in profile. With a little work, I’ve finally managed a back view of everyone’s favorite blue-striped, talking cat. Feel free to download and decorate your computer screen (I’ve got it in the three standard sizes), so you too can say, “Yes, I have a talking, blue-striped cat’s ass on my computer.” Let’s face it… when will you ever get a better chance to say something like that?

Frank's Beach Blast, Episode V

Friday, August 18, 2006