Dec 232013
 
It's Winter break here at the Kill Zone. During oAWREATH3_thumb[1]ur 2-week hiatus, we'll be spending time with our families and friends, and celebrating all the traditions that make this time of year so wonderful. We sincerely thank you for visiting our blog and commenting on our rants and raves. We wish you a truly blessed Holiday Season and a prosperous 2014. From Clare, Jodie, Kathryn, Kris, Joe M., Nancy, Jordan, Elaine, Joe H., Mark, and James to all our friends and visitors, Seasons Greeting from the Kill Zone. See you back here on Monday, January 6. Until then, check out our TKZ Resource Library partway down the sidebar, for listings of posts on The Kill Zone, categorized by topics.
Sep 192013
 
Jordan Dane
@JordanDane

I am so happy to have photographer William Greiner as my guest today. I am one of the lucky authors who had an opportunity to contribute to his book – Show & Tell – a beautiful hardbound book that combines his photographs with short stories from authors with names you will recognize. The book comes from UL Press (University of Louisiana at Lafayette Press) and is available now at this LINK

Below is the page image of the photo I wrote about in my story – On Her Special Day. I wanted you to see the fine quality of this book. I've ordered some for Christmas gifts and can't wait to read what the other authors wrote. Welcome, William!

Show & Tell-show and tell, show & tell, william greiner
Cover - Show & Tell
photo (2)
On Her Special Day by Jordan Dane


So why is a book titled SHOW & TELL being blogged about on The Kill Zone?

First, the premise was to give a group of fiction writers (In this case 28 in total, including 6 TKZ writers), a photograph without any information about the image and ask each to make up a story about that image. The resulting stories are fascinating, entertaining and thrilling.

John Ramsey Miller, John Gilstrap, Joe Moore, Jordan Dane, Joe Hartlaub and James Scott Bell, amongst others, apply their writing skills to bring a story to every image.

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“A Blur of Motion” by John Ramsey Miller



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“The Touch” by John Gilstrap



The idea for this book came to me many years ago after doing a print trade with another photographer. In conversation, it somehow became apparent that this other photographer had a complete different take and understanding of my photograph than what it meant to me. It made me realize we all bring our own notions, expectations and experiences to what we view.

To see what your favorite TKZ author sees & tells, order SHOW & TELL from UL Press, hardbound, 28 photographs accompanied by 28 stories, 183 pages, $35. To order: click this LINK.


William Greiner is a photographer and artist, living in Baton Rouge , LA. For more on our guest, click HERE.

For Discussion: Have you ever seen a photograph that inspired you to write about it? Tell us about it.
May 202012
 

@jamesscottbell
        
So now you are either self-publishing or thinking about self-publishing.
         Yes, welcome to the world of everybody.
         I have a question for you. Do you actually want to make some money at it?
         Here’s the good news: your ficus can make money self-publishing. Your cat, Jingles, can make money self-publishing.
         Of course, by money we are talking about enough scratch to buy some Bazooka at your local 7-Eleven. Or maybe a Venti White Chocolate Mocha at Starbucks. That’s not bad. It’s something.
         But if you want to make some real dime, and keep it coming, there are a few things you need to understand.

1. You are going into business

         The authors who are making significant money self-publishing operate with sound business principles. Which makes many other authors as nervous as Don Knotts.


         “I’m just not wired that way!” they’ll say. “I want to concentrate on my writing! I haven’t got the time or inclination to think about business decisions.”
         But guess what? Even if you have a traditional publishing contract, you’re going to have to give time and attention to business, namely marketing.
         What if you spent a little of that same time and effort learning the principles of successful self-publishing?
         Of course, a lot of authors now want to go right into digital. Well, don’t do it until you fully understand that it’s a business you’re going to be running. That business is you.
         Learn how. The basics are not that hard. In fact, I’ll have a book out soon that’ll help.


2. Your mileage will vary

No one can replicate another author’s record. Each author and body of work are unique. Innumerable factors play into the results, many of which are totally out of the control of the writer.
If you go into self-publishing expecting to do as well as author X, you’ll be setting yourself up for disappointment.
Instead, concentrate on being the best provider of content you can be. See # 5, below.   


3. This isn’t get rich quick

         In the “early days” of the ebook era, those who jumped in with both feet (Amanda Hocking, Joe Konrath, John Locke) and those who had loads of backlist (Bob Mayer) or caffeinated series ideas (Lee Goldberg) got some nice returns.
         Now, the future for the overwhelming majority of writers is about quality production, consistently and over time. A long time. Which is fine if you love to write. 


4. You can’t just repeat “buy my stuff” and expect to sell any of it
        
         We have left the age of sales and are now in the age of social. The way you market today is not by hard sell but by relationship. Even if you’re putting together sales copy, you have to think about how it offers value to the potential reader.
         What isn’t valuable is a string of tweets that are little more than “buy my stuff” or “please RT this” messages. Some authors think it’s a numbers game and repeating these messages will work over time.
         They won’t. They’ll annoy more people than they’ll attract.


5. It is first, and always, about the book

         I don’t care if you can out promote and out market anyone on the internet.
         I don’t care if you can afford to spend $100,000 to place ads for your books.
         If your book fails to catch on with readers or, worse, turns them off, you’re not going to do well over the long haul.
         Which is how it should be, after all. The quality of the writing itself should be the main thing in this whole crazy process.
         So you should concentrate a good chunk of your time, even more than you do on marketing, on a writing self-improvement program alongside your actual writing output.
         One of the reasons I’m conducting intense, two-day writing workshops this year is to take each and every writer who attends to that next level, where green is earned year after year.

          Now is the best time in history to be a writer. No question about it. The barriers to entry have been destroyed and opportunities to generate income have taken their place. But you have to think strategically. Mark Coker, CEO of Smashwords, puts it this way: "The biggest challenge faced by self-published authors, it’s not marketing, it’s not discoverability, it’s adopting the best practices of the very best publishers. It’s about becoming a professional publisher."
       Of course, if you have trouble with that, you can always partner with your cat Jingles. 

Updates

We’re fast closing in on the Austin, TX 2 day fiction workshop, June 16-17. To get the special room rate, sign up with the hotel before June 1. Details here.

I’ve posted a new writing video on Agents. If you want to know what a pitch session feels like, tune in
May 132012
 


Got an email some time ago from a guy I played high school basketball with. Nice to hear from him. Those were glory days. We had one of the best teams in the city. I wrote back and finished off my email with this: "We had a great team, didn't we? A bunch of hard working, normal guys . . . and Jim Caruso."

Caruso. He was a year ahead of me and clearly not wired the same as I was. I was dedicated to being an athlete. I didn't smoke, drink, party or stay up late. Caruso was the exact opposite. 

To give you a picture, we were once playing in a winter league at another high school. We drove over to Pacific Palisades on Wednesday nights, played, drove home. To get there and back we had to take twisty Sunset Boulevard. 


So I was driving back once after a game. It was a cold night in the canyon, and I carefully guided my Ford Maverick along Sunset. Suddenly, a convertible comes tearing by me. I don't remember who was driving, but I do remember who was in the passenger seat: Caruso, a cigarette in one hand and a beer in the other, his sweaty blond hair blowing in the wind. I remember he was laughing. 

The thing was, Caruso had all this natural athletic talent. He was about six feet tall and built like a bull. And that's how he played basketball. He had one speed, full, and I don't think he ever took a shot that looked the same as any other. He was at his best when driving the lane and jumping in the air...then figuring out what to do once he was up there. Which was usually something very cool that either ended up with the ball going through the hoop or off the wall.

This drove our coach, John Furlong, absolutely crazy. Furlong was a strict disciplinarian and team-oriented coach. He yelled a lot. He got red faced mad at you if you messed up too badly. None of us wanted to be on the wrong side of Coach Furlong.

Except Caruso. He just didn't seem to care. No matter how mad Furlong got at him, Caruso would take it silently, then go out on the floor and pretty soon do the same thing again. Which was why Furlong wouldn't start him. But he couldn't keep him on the bench for long because, despite everything, Caruso was too good not to be in the game, scoring points and grabbing rebounds. 

It was impossible not to like him. He had this infectious smile and he seemed to go through life with a certain damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead kind of joy. In pickup games he'd always be laughing, joking, talking smack and slapping you on the butt when you did something good.  

Jim Caruso graduated in my junior year. The next year we had another great team at Taft High, this one disciplined and predictable, much to the relief of Coach Furlong. Still, I couldn't help feeling our team lacked a certain, what's the word, exuberance? I missed seeing Caruso cutting through the key, doing his thing, a thing uniquely his own.

Then one Saturday I was in the gym shooting around and a fellow teammate came in.

"Hey," he said, "did you hear about Caruso?"

I stopped shooting. "No, what?" I figured maybe he'd been picked up on a DUI or something.

"He's dead," my friend said.

I just stared at him, stunned. 

"Killed in a car accident," he said. 

And I immediately remembered that night I saw Caruso in the convertible, and thought maybe this wasn't such a shock after all. In fact, looking back, it was both sad and oddly predictable. That year, in our high school yearbook, there was one of those "In Memory Of" pages for students who'd died. It was the last any of us would ever see of Caruso, and that was hard to believe.

I don't know what was going on in Jim Caruso's life. The only thing we had in common was basketball. It was enough. I didn't want to emulate his off the court antics. What I did want to do, when the situation was right, was go for the wild shot, the totally improvised move, just to see what happened. I knew you couldn't play a whole game that way, but you at least needed to have that kind of fearlessness in your arsenal. 

I draw an analogy to writing here. Discipline, fundamentals and hard work are still the keys, but you have to be willing to "go for it" sometimes. You have to jump in the air and figure out what to do when you're up there. Fearless.

I still have this indelible picture of Jim Caruso. It was in a pickup game, the first time I'd ever played with him, just before I started at Taft. His name had been whispered to me. Everybody knew about Caruso. I was a little bit intimidated at the prospect of playing with him. But then we started the game and I remember just watching him, marveling at his raw ability. Crunch time came and the game was tied. Caruso did his thing, driving toward the hoop and jumping up with a taller guy all over him. He seemed to hang in the air for a full minute. His legs were splayed and his left elbow (he was a lefty) stuck out like divining rod. And then somehow, some way, he got off a hook shot (it was the only shot available to him) and it banked off the backboard and through the net.

And he came down laughing and turned around and looked at me as if to say, "See? That's how it's done, son."

And sometimes, it is.


Apr 292012
 


It’s being said all over the place that the new “gatekeepers” in publishing are the readers. Because of self-publishing, and new initiatives by traditional publishers to go direct to readers via revamped websites, that certainly seems to be the case.

So I have decided to put it to the test by letting readers decide if a new idea of mine will become a series.

About a year ago my son laughingly offered me an idea. He loves to make up titles and concepts, just for fun. "Hey Pop,” he said, “how about a thriller about a nun who is secretly a vigilante? She knows martial arts, and can kick butt when necessary?"

I looked at him quizzically, and then he gave me the (you'll pardon the expression) kicker: "You can call it FORCE OF HABIT."

I cracked up. So did he. But he stopped when I said, "I think I'll do it."

"I was only kidding," he said.

"It’s a great concept," I said. "Original, great title, and I think I can do something with it."

What I did was start to write it. On the side, as I had traditional contracts to fulfill. But as I played with this story, I got pulled more and more into it.

My martial arts nun I named Sister Justicia Marie (or Sister J, as she's known by those close to her). I thought up her backstory. She is a former child star who grew up into a drug-using actress who then hit bottom. That's when she turned her life over to God and entered into the sacred life.

But during her time before the cameras, she studied martial arts (particularly for a Steven Seagal film she was in) and those skills have not left her.

And as I like to dig into themes in my books, I thought this raised a most intriguing question: could a devout nun actually justify violence if it was in the course of doing good, like stopping violent criminals?

When a cop asks her the same question, I heard her say this about the criminal element: “They are the knuckles. I am the ruler.”

I started adding a cast of characters. And then I thought of plotlines, and the idea of a series started to unfold. These would be in novelette form, around 15k words each. I think that’s a good pulp fiction value for the reading dollar.

I even went so far as to commission a talented young artist to do a series logo for me, a nun issuing a flying kick. And then the pitch:

When a nun is viciously attacked, Sister Justicia Marie takes it upon herself to find out what happened. The cops don't like that. Neither does her Mother Superior at St. Cecelia's school. But when a couple of hoods try to stick up a liquor store and Sister J brings them down, something is unleashed inside her, something that will either confirm her calling . . . or destroy it.

So now here it is. For KINDLE and NOOK, the first of the Rogue Nuns series featuring Sister Justicia Marie:



Here is my request: I’m asking you, the, readers to decide if the series will go on. By reading FORCE OF HABIT, and offering reviews, you will help me make the decision whether to continue.  

In this case, you are indeed the gatekeepers and the decision makers. So let me hear from you. Thanks!

Apr 082012
 
James Scott Bell

This past week TKZ blogmate John Gilstrap and I received the lovely news that we are finalists for a 2012 International Thriller Writers Award. Even lovelier, we are not in the same category, so we can root for each other without tight smiles. John’s novel, Threat Warning, is up for the Best Paperback Original. I’m up in the short story category for One More Lie.

Which prompted a few thoughts on awards, kudos and the writing journey.

Of course, every writer––indeed, anybody who does anything––likes awards and recognition. That’s our nature, and there’s nothing wrong with it. Used rightly, it can be a motivation to good work and striving to get better.

But it should never be a dominating drive, in my view, or it might become a snare and a distraction.

One of my heroes is the late UCLA basketball coach, John Wooden. When I was in high school I got to attend his basketball camp, and talk to him a bit. Coach Wooden gave all of us a copy of his Pyramid of Successand taught us more than just the fundamentals of the game.



“Individual recognition, praise, can be a dangerous commodity,” Coach Wooden once wrote. “It’s best not to drink too deeply from a cup full of fame. It can be very intoxicating, and intoxicated people often do foolish things.”

He was just as clear about losses. Never measure yourself by what you lost, but by how you prepared. That’s the only thing within your control and the only thing you can change.

“I never mentioned winning or victory to my players,” Wooden said. “Instead I constantly urged them to strive for the self-satisfaction that always comes from knowing you did the best you could do to become the best of which you are capable.”

That’s his famous definition of success, and it’s rock solid. When we work hard and know we’ve taken whatever talents we have and pushed them further along, that’s achievement. It’s one of the reasons I teach writing classes and workshops. I love helping writers get to their own next level, whatever it may be for them.

So regardless of what happens at this year’s ITW Awards, I will be happy for the trip to New York with my wife, for hanging out with John and other writers I admire, and appreciating the privilege of being included in such august company.

But then it will be time to come back to L.A. and hit the keyboard again, working hard to be the best I can be. It makes each day its own challenge and, in striving, its own reward. Don’t miss that by letting an inordinate desire for recognition mess with your head.

“I derived my greatest satisfaction out of the preparation, the journey,” Wooden wrote. “Day after day, week after week, year after year. It was the journey I prized above all else.”

*Quotations are from Wooden: A Lifetime of Observations and Reflections On and Off the Courtby John Wooden and Steve Jamison (Contemporary Books, 1997)



Mar 182012
 
James Scott Bell
Twitter.com/jamesscottbell


TCM, may favorite channel, showed a clip the other day of the great actor Eli Wallach talking about Method acting. This was the movement that took off in the 1940s, inspiring a new generation of actors like Brando, Newman and Dean.

Wallach reflected that as a young actor it was exhilarating to work things out with the Method. It was a like a big gymnasium and the actors were all playing off each other, trying things, letting scenes happen naturally.

But as he grew older, he said, he got more cautious. He would sometimes forget those lessons of youth, that sense of play. To break out of his torpor he would reflect back on his early days.

"The Method tends to put you back on the track to enjoy what you're doing, to listen," he said. "The big secret to acting is listening. A thought on the screen is amazing. And if you really listen, it comes to life."

This hit me as something that applies to writing as well. We don't put our best words on paper unless, in some form or fashion, we listen to the story as it unfolds. Madeleine L'Engle put it this way: "A writer grimly controls his work to his peril.  Slowly, slowly, I am learning to listen to the book, in the same way I listen to prayer.  If the book tells me to do something completely unexpected, I heed it; the book is usually right."

So how do we listen to the book? Here are a few suggestions.

1. Listen in the morning

A valuable literary practice is to write quickly, first thing after you wake up (I will allow you a minute to start the coffee brewing, of course, but sit down ASAP and write, with pen and paper even, in stream of consciousness mode.)

Dorothea Brande recommends this practice in her wonderful little book, Becoming a Writer. It's a way to capture that netherworld we inhabit between sleeping and waking, and therein lies treasure. Also, a lot you'll throw away. But that's the nature of creativity. The idea is to record as much of the mind stuff as possible, and then use whatever you find that's valuable. Like panning for gold, you get a whole bunch of the riverbed in your pan then coax out the gold a bit at a time.

2. Use a novel journal

Sue Grafton does this, and that's good enough for me. She begins each writing stint with her journal (she creates one for each novel). She starts with a diary entry, something about her life at the moment. Then she starts asking herself questions about her WIP. She may want to work on a scene, or a character, or some plot twist, or whatever else is popping up in her mind. Writing freestyle, is a way to open up her mind to hear what the story might be saying. It's a conversation with the book.

3. Go to the place you fear

Going to places we fear is often where the deepest and most vital material is waiting. I never thought I'd write paranormal (abnormal, maybe). But when I came up with an idea that just wouldn't go away, a zombie legal thriller, I went with it. It sold. Then, during the writing, I had to listen to what this new genre was telling me. I had choices, to go horrific or dark humorous or serious, throughout the writing of the first book in the series, Pay Me in Flesh. I listened intently, feeling my way along so the book had its own rhythms.

My agent, colleague and friend, Donald Maass, is a master at helping writers press beyond safe pastures. A question Don likes to ask in his workshops is, "What is something your character would never ever do or say?" Then, find a place for the character do or say that thing. Or at least think it, showing a ferocious inner conflict. Wow. Try that some time and then pick up the pieces of your head.

If you ever get stuck on a project, or the inspiration for it has given way to drudgery, remember what Eli Wallach said. Maybe it's time to listen. Give the book your attention. Allow it to play. It wants to help!

Are you attentive to what your story is trying to tell you?
Feb 192012
 



Today's post is brought to you by my new boxing story, "King Crush," now available for 99¢ exclusively for Kindle. And, as a special inducement, for a limited time the first story, "Iron Hands," is available FREE. 

Today I have a question: What do you like to see in a series character? The same "feel" over and over, or deepening and changing?

There are two schools of thought on this.

Lee Child once remarked that he loves Dom Perignon champagne and wants each bottle to be the same. He's not looking for a different taste each time out. So it is with his Jack Reacher novels. And millions of fans are tracking right along with him.

There are other enduring series where the character remains roughly static. Phillip Marlowe didn't change all that much until The Long Goodbye. James Bond? Not a whole lot of change going on inside 007.

At the other end of the spectrum are those characters who undergo significant transformation as the series moves along. The best contemporary example of this is, IMO, the Harry Bosch series by Michael Connelly. What he's done with Bosch from book to book is nothing short of astonishing.

Lawrence Block's Matthew Scudder was traipsing along as a pretty standard PI until Block made a conscious decision to kick it up a notch. He did that with Eight Million Ways to Die, a book that knocked me out. Here we have Scudder not just on a new case, but also battling his alcoholism and the existential angst of life in New York City in the early 1980s. By going deeper Block created one of the classics of the genre.

In my Mallory Caine, Zombie-at-Law series (written as K. Bennett) I have a lead character who is a zombie hungering (you'll pardon the phrase) for change. She doesn't want to be what she is. The just released Book 2, The Year of Eating Dangerously, begins with Mallory in the hills looking down at a motorcycle gang and thinking, Lunch. And then reflecting on her damaged soul.

Book 3, due out later this year, begins with Mallory at a ZA meeting—Zombies Anonymous. She is trying to stay off human flesh (substituting calves' brains) but it's not easy. And I say without hesitation that I was inspired by the above mentioned Eight Million Ways to Die.

So here's my series about boxer Irish Jimmy Gallagher. These are short stories, and I'm going for "revealing" more of Jimmy in each one. "Iron Hands" was the intro, giving us Jimmy's world and basic personality. Now comes "King Crush."

The new story takes place in 1955 and revolves around an old carnival attraction they used to have in America, the carny fighter who would take on locals. If the locals stayed with him long enough, they might earn back their five bucks and some more besides. But these carny pugs knew all the dirty tricks, and it was usually the hayseeds who ended up on the canvas.

Jimmy just wants to have a good time at the carnival with his girl, Ruby, and his bulldog, Steve. He's not looking for trouble. But sometimes trouble finds Jimmy Gallagher.

I started writing these stories because there's something in me that wants to know Jimmy Gallagher, what makes him tick. And that's my preference as a writer and a reader of series. I want to go a little deeper each time.

So who is your favorite series character? Is this character basically the same from book to book? Or is there significant change going on?

If you're writing a series, do you have a plan for the development of your character over time? Or is it more a book-to-book thing?

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