Thursday, February 26, 2015

Book Promotion and its Pitfalls

James O. Born

Over the coming months there are several areas of writing and publishing I hope to touch upon in these blogs.  We'll talk about realism (at least in terms of crime fiction), what it was like to find out you had sold your first novel and then delve into the different mainstream genres including romance, science fiction, historical fiction and, of course, crime fiction.  The timeline on all of this is somewhat dependent on the other authors I recruit to write about their experiences, as well as the release of my next novel.

A novel release in itself is a curious topic.  Everyone approaches it differently and the X factor includes your publisher and their relative power in the market, their interest in the book, as well as your standing in the community of readers.  This will be my first book release (that I didn't cowrite) since the explosion of Facebook and the collapse of Borders and other booksellers.

First and most importantly, you must work with your publicist at the publisher.  I have found my publicist to be very engaging and interested.  She has done an excellent job of dispersing arcs (advanced reader copies) across the country and is currently working with me to arrange dates to appear at bookstores.  A number of stores specifically requested me through the publisher, but several contacted me directly.  That's the advantage of having other books on the market and getting to know booksellers.

Once I realized the book was coming out this year I let it be known that I would be available for speaking engagements and as a result have several opportunities at library events as well as book festivals.  This all sounds easy, but it actually takes a lot of time.  Time I would normally be writing.  I hate to be mercenary about it, but as a professional writer I want to get paid for my time.  Time is the writer's greatest asset and worst liability.  It's difficult to say no to some events but it's necessary to be discerning.

Now onto Facebook.  I am still somewhat clueless.  I have started an author page but most people keep track of me through my personal page.  That's fine, but it has been difficult to separate the two professionally and personally.  All I really want to do on my author page is get out simple information like what the book is about and when it is coming out.  I also intend to list  my appearances so that if someone chooses to, they can attend.  It seems that the sharing function on Facebook is also a great boon.  Several people sharing information leads to that many more eyes looking at it.  This is a work in progress which I will update you on later.

Now, after worrying about appearances and supporting a new book, you can't lose sight of your backlist.  In my case that backlist is on Amazon.  In fact, today and tomorrow, my fourth novel, Field of Fire is available for free on Amazon.  It is my hope that someone checking out Field of Fire might also be interested in Scent of Murder.

I'll have more to say on this as I learn more about this book tour.  It's just one more thing I'd like you to keep in mind when you consider writing your own novel.

See you next Thursday.

Friday, February 20, 2015

When the Winds Change

from Jacqueline (and written very much on the fly, a stream of consciousness composition ...)

Maybe its my sense of irony, but of all the things I’ve seen here today during my whistle-stop trip to Munich – including the beer hall where Hitler gave one of his first rousing speeches, the headquarters of the Nazi party, and Dachau concentration camp – the thing that will stick in my mind is walking through Marienplatz later in the day, and stopping to watch a Jewish klezmer trio busking in the square under the famous Glockenspiel.  Children were skipping around to the music, tourists snapped photos with their iPhones, while others hurried to and fro carrying bags revealing their shopping habits – teens who’d been spending money in H&M, forty-somethings in Zara, and the wealthier of any age in Prada, Burberry or Chanel.  Along the way a woman of middle-eastern origin held out a Starbucks cup to beg for money, and a couple of very blonde German twenty-something lads with shoulder-length dreadlocks seemed to bounce along to shared listening through earpieces attached to the same device, whatever it was.  I stood there feeling as if I was having an out-of-body experience, and not for the first time in my life, a completely different memory converged with the scene - I'm strange that way.

I remembered the Point Reyes fire, not far from my home in northern California; it must have been nigh on twenty years ago now.  It was a massive forest fire that consumed over 10,000 acres in the blink of an eye. I remember riding my friend’s horse to a higher elevation so I could see the fire in the distance, and being quite stunned by the power of the conflagration, even though it was some miles away.  I moved off quickly in case the winds changed.  Then just a couple of months later, I’d heard that my beloved cousin, Stephanie, was dying following a brave fight against the cancer that eventually consumed her body – my mother had called to tell me she was in a coma and not expected to live another day. I had no family close by to gather with, so I called my friend, Jamie, who said, “Jack, I’m coming over right now – we’ll hike out to Point Reyes.”  And as we walked along trails flanked by the blackened remains of a grand forest, and as we talked and I grieved, I looked down at the burned branches of once-magnificent trees and saw the bright green shoots of life bursting up through charcoal stumps. 

I don't know when the green shoots of life began to rise up through the terror that became Munich in the 1930’s, but I know I have wondered, on many an occasion, why we have to go through this fiery experience we call war. As a child I meandered across a field where King Harold was supposedly felled in 1066 - our teachers let us know how bloody a battle that was - and many years later I stood in exactly the place where Great War poet Siegfried Sassoon lingered to watch the opening salvos of the Battle of the Somme in 1916.  I have peered into the achingly clear waters of Pearl Harbor and seen the ghost of tragedy that lingers just beneath the surface, and I have had a drink or two in the pub where Battle of Britain pilots raised a glass to those who hadn’t made it home.  I have listened to the stories of veterans, and in my time I have hoped someone I loved would come home from war, and somewhere along the line I have come to believe that peace is the most precious jewel we humans can possibly have in our grasp.

Peace, the gift and all it encompasses – freedom from fear, freedom of expression, freedom to love and commit to whoever we want to be with in this life, and freedom to worship any deity – or not to worship at all.  Seems to me that peace and freedom go hand in hand, and surely peace is a freedom in and of itself.

When I think about all the places in the world that have seen a terrible tyranny – and have come through it as if it were a sickness, a feverish epidemic of killing and inhumanity – I start to wonder why it happened in the first place, and I have come to the conclusion that it all starts when someone thinks they’re better than someone else, when some sort of elitism plays a part in the conversation, and that a sense of being right and being better gives an out of control belief in an outrageous level of singular or collective power – and that power can be rooted in money, in education, cultural background, skin color, a mode of speech or any number of elements. It happens when one person thinks they’re a notch or two above their neighor, or there is cause to put another person down.  It is the result of intolerance and a hunger to be really important – and many men and woman have put that into words far more eloquent than I could ever compose.

So, I wonder where the next killing fields will be – and in the fullness of time, the next regeneration.  Will there be tentative green shoots of peace in Libya, in Syria, or in places closer to home where we're afraid to acknowledge discord as something akin to war?  I wonder where the fire will consume everything in its path, and when the winds will change.  And I wonder where the music will be played loud at the site of terror, in time, and where the children will dance instead of running for cover. 

I walked back across Marienplatz, stopped to place some coins in the woman’s Starbucks cup, and made my way to my hotel.  I had so much to accomplish when I set out this morning, I'd not had a bite to eat all day – but been given plenty of food for thought.


Pile the bodies high at Austerlitz and Waterloo. 
Shovel them under and let me work— 
                                          I am the grass; I cover all. 

And pile them high at Gettysburg 
And pile them high at Ypres and Verdun. 
Shovel them under and let me work. 
Two years, ten years, and passengers ask the conductor: 
                                          What place is this? 
                                          Where are we now? 

                                          I am the grass. 
                                          Let me work.

And sorry about the different fonts - I don't know why this happens when I post, really I don't!

Have a great weekend ....

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Research Help: The Canine Factor

James O. Born

Writing a novel is not always the solitary, lonely existence we make it out to be.  After the manuscript is finished it takes a dedicated team to make the book a success.  I'm not talking about just the publisher either.  For my next novel, Scent of Murder, I had to do some serious research about police dog handlers and their canine partners.  As with all my novels, realism was paramount.  What I learned was not only are police K-9s the closest thing to superheroes we have in real life, but the people who really care about dogs are some of the most pleasant and helpful people in the world.

I read article after article about police K-9s and found several organizations that not only helped that research but are vitally important to the K-9 world.  Let's take a few minutes to get to know three of these agencies a little better.

Through Facebook I discovered the German Shepherd Rescue of Orange County .  Their president, Maria Dales, leads a cadre of dedicated volunteers who have a very simple goal: help German Shepherds in distress.  There is no mixed message or hidden plan to make a profit.

In their website's own words:

German Shepherd Rescue of Orange County (GSROC) is a non-profit 501(c)3 charity organization dedicated to rescuing, rehabilitating and re-homing purebred German Shepherd Dogs that have no where else to turn.

GSROC is a volunteer-driven organization. We are funded entirely by private donations and receive no government support. Dogs for adoption are housed in foster home situations and in private boarding facilities. Currently, we do not own our own kennel facility, but our dream is to have one some day so that we can eliminate the tremendous expense associated with boarding the dogs while they wait for their forever families.

The GSROC also lays claim to the cutest photo on the internet posted to the right.

I also ran across, a Houston-based organization that helps with the tremendous cost of police K-9s.  The Chief Operating Officer, Melanie Boyd, has been very helpful to me.  The organization recognizes that not all towns are as big as Los Angeles or Miami, but they still have a need for the best possible law enforcement tools available. recognized this issue and has stepped forward to help.  Again they have a direct goal and no hidden agenda.

Their website says:

Our foundation was formed to address the need for funding the purchase of K9s for Law Enforcement Agencies.

K9s cost between 10,000-15,000 dollars and most agencies are not budgeted for that kind of expenditure. However most departments can budget for the required care, training and transportation of a K9.

Most recently I spoke with Russ Hess, the director of the United States Police Canine AssociationThis is a professional organization who ultimately provide the standard by which all police K-9s should be trained and provides information on how to reach those standards.  It is a lofty and difficult goal that the organization handles well.

Their website says:

The United States Police Canine Association became the largest and oldest active organization of its kind-"Ever Striving for the Betterment of all Police K-9" - in August, 1971 when two existing Associations, the Police K-9 Association and the United States K-9 Association, merged.
  • To unite in a common cause all law enforcement agencies utilizing the services of the canine as an aid in the prevention and detection of crime.
  • To promote friendship and brotherhood between all those interested in the training and utilization of the canine in police work.
  • To endeavor to establish a minimum working standard, and improve the abilities of the canine in police work, thereby rendering better service to the community.
  • To establish and maintain a legal assistance fund for acts resulting in civil suits from the use of police trained canines.
  • To coordinate the exchange of any advanced techniques of training of the utilization of police dogs.
  • To improve the image of the working police dog to the populace in general through improved public service in the prevention and detection of crime.
  • To aid and assist those law enforcement agencies making application for information concerning the establishment of canine sections within their respective departments.
The United States Police Canine Association has a foundation which anyone can contribute to dedicated to helping police K-9s. 

The official description is:
To expand and support the goals of The United States Police Canine Association, Inc and to serve public safety by securing and providing necessary financial and programmatic resources needed to conduct educational and training programs and perform research and;  To assist, where additive to existing programs, and otherwise support public safety agencies to effectively and efficiently carry out their missions.
On a side note, one of the board members of USPCA is Marilyn Walton.  She has already written two non fiction books about police K-9s called Badge on My Collar and and the sequel, Badge on my Collar II Check them out.  
The focus of my posts for the past year have been on writing.  It's easy to lose sight of the world outside publishing.  It is my personal belief that these three organizations epitomize the ideal of helping others in getting involved.  I'm proud to be associated with them in any way an intend to promote them during my book tour.  If you get a chance, check out the websites and see if you don't agree with me.

Feel free to leave a comment or contact me through my e-mail at

Have the best possible Thursday imaginable.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Literary World Shakes

James O. Born

Just a quick post to point out that a major dictionary has finally come to it's senses (If a dictionary has any senses) and quoted one of my books on the proper use of a particular noun.  Please contain your excitement.  I have.

The entry is here :Merriam-Webster although you might need a subscription.

Will still post on Thursday about the K-9 groups that helped me with Scent of Murder.

Monday, February 16, 2015

50 Shades of Grey: violent sex or kinky fairy tale love story

Patty here

Consider me Switzerland. I haven’t read the E.L. James 50 Shades of Grey trilogy and until this weekend, I had only the sketchiest idea of what the books were about. Somehow the words “mommy porn” and atrocious writing that have been used to describe the books were a deal breaker for me. But the studio’s marketing campaign for the film—Curious?—worked. I was curious. So, when the opportunity arose to see the movie at a screening, I went. I did not expect to like the film, but I did like it, mainly because of Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan, and I found myself routing for them.


Everyone has varied opinions about this film. Mostly negative. Here’s Dave Barry's funny essay about the book. Some of the other criticisms:

It was the worst movie ever made: These people have obviously never seen Anaconda. It may not have been the best movie I've ever seen, but it was far from the worst.

Jon Voight inside the belly of a snake. Need I say more?

Bad acting: I found Dakota Johnson to be charming, funny and authentic as the college student who, because of a twist of fate, meets her kinky Prince Charming. The first part of the film rolled out as a romantic comedy. The audience laughed in all the right places. 

Some fans of the books objected to Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey. One person said Dornan didn’t display the depth of emotions that Grey had in the books. As introduced in the film, Grey is a man who is wounded by his past, which keeps him from having “normal” relationships with women. He is guarded and emotionally unavailable. Dornan’s performance was subtle, but I felt his inner pain and conflict.

There was no chemistry between the characters: Switzerland disagrees. There was chemistry. Casting characters from books that have a 100-million fan base must be a challenge. Some fans will be happy. Some—not so much. I’d never seen Johnson act before, but she was perfect for the part of Ana. I’d recently watched and loved Dornan’s sexy performance in the wonderful BBC series The Fall, with Gillian Anderson. I also enjoyed his performance in 50, but let’s face it, I could be happy watching Dornan watching wheat grow.

Misrepresents BDSM (bondage, discipline, sado-masochism): I can’t evaluate this criticism, because I’m not part of the community and don’t know anybody who is, but the movie has raised my awareness. From what I’ve read, this practice involves erotic sex between two consenting adults. It should be pleasurable and fun. If you’re not laughing, you’re doing it wrong. Ana isn’t exactly yucking it up when Christian sweeps the tip of a whip over her body but she seems to be enjoying it. Good thing she’s not ticklish.

The film promotes violence against women: This is the criticism I find the most difficult to understand, especially since there are so many serial killer books and films that show or describe in nauseating detail the torture, rape, murder and dismemberment of women. Occasionally, I’ll read that a violent video game or a book inspired murder, but I haven’t noticed an uptick in crimes against women by readers of the 50 Shades trilogy. The books have been out for a while. One hundred million copies have been sold. If these books inspired that sort of violence, wouldn’t we have heard about it? I suppose one could argue that films reach a wider audience, but I still don’t buy the argument.

The bottom line: The film features erotic sex between consulting adults. Maybe it’s not my cup of tea, but the agreement between Ana and Christian was clear and it was written. Either could say stop at any time and that request would be honored. And it was. Some people argue that young women might engage in S&M with people they don’t know well enough to trust. Come on. Give women some credit. We’re not a bunch mindless nincompoops. Ana may have been inexperienced sexually but she was a college graduate who knew how to set boundaries. She wasn’t a pushover. She negotiated with Grey to alter the terms of his contract. And she was free to walk away at any time.

Women and the emotionally wounded men they love and try to save: Christian Grey is a typical character found in story telling. We’ve seen him a million times before, i.e., the strong silent type, so intent on protecting his dark secrets and the wounds from his past that he comes off as wary and sometimes cruel. Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights wasn’t exactly Mr. Nice Guy.

One summer when I was maybe 13-14, I powered through about twenty formulaic romance novels, many set in gloomy manor houses in the English countryside. They were romantic fairy tales and always unfolded with an ingĂ©nue who encounters a handsome but brooding man who sends mixed signals about who he is (bad guy or just misunderstood?). In the end, our heroine discovers he’s the love of her life and they end up together.

50 Shades of Grey (the film) is a variation of this fairy tale love story. It taps into a woman’s desire to mend wounded hearts through the shear force of her love. This is what Ana attempts to do. It works to some degree. Grey lets down a few of his guards, giving us hope that she will succeed: he invites her to dinner with his parents, something he’s never done before; he introduces her as his girlfriend, even though he's told her he doesn’t do the “boyfriend thing;” he travels to Savannah and meets her mother. At its core, the film is about a woman who falls in love with a man and tries to make him love her back.

The film pulled in over $80 million over the weekend. An estimated 68% of audience members were women, and 58% were older than 25.


Thursday, February 12, 2015

A Different Kind of Dating

James O. Born

Last week we talked about using dates in your story that might lock you into a certain timeframe in the future.  It's an easy detail to keep in mind when you're writing.  You can avoid mentioning dates or who the president is or who won the Super Bowl that year.  One thing that is much more difficult and along the same lines is keeping your story and dialogue from being, "dated."

This actually hit home for me with TV shows and movies most recently.  I grew up in the 70s and loved the Rod Serling show The Night Gallery.  The music would give me the creeps.  The idea of ghosts or whatever else the master of the surreal could come up with kept me chatting about the show all week long.

Over the holidays I discovered some little-known channel far up the number guide which seems to do nothing but replay old, obscure TV shows.  Among them I found The Night Gallery and recorded several episodes.  The only one I ended up watching featured Stuart Whitman as a writer who moves into a house which has an ancient chest and he is told not to bother it.  I can't believe Stuart Whitman was nominated for an Oscar.  The segment of The Night Gallery bordered on the amateur.  It would not fly on network TV today.  A six-year-old could look at it and understand it was made forty years ago.

The other series which captured my younger self's attention was The Outer Limits.  Although I caught it in reruns in the early 70s, it still made a huge impact on me.  Now you can watch episodes of it on YouTube.  Maybe things have just gotten too sophisticated and special effects mean more than I thought they did.  But some of the storylines are just plain dull.  I can tolerate stupid, I can put up with silly, but I cannot stand dull. 

There are few novels that hit me the same way as TV shows or movies like I just mentioned.  Perhaps it is the visual element.  Maybe it's because I prefer to read.  Regardless, I occasionally reread a book I loved when I was younger and don't understand what I loved about it.  Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas seemed funnier when I didn't contemplate the consequences of putting people in danger or harassing the wait staff at different restaurants.  Maybe it's just that I've seen too many drunks ruin an evening that I no longer have a tolerance for it or laugh at their antics.  Just a personal quirk.  Please don't send me e-mails telling me how great Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is.  I understand it is a classic and I’m blaming my career in law enforcement and raising children for ruining the book for me.  I'm not blaming Hunter S. Thompson.

The point I'm making is that our tastes evolve.  I believe an entire generation evolves and looks at earlier works, which seemed brilliant at the time, as a little less exciting.

Think about books you loved as a teenager.  I can remember reading the movie novelization of The Omen.  This was before I had any idea what a movie novelization really was.  I just saw a paperback book with a cool cover and I started to read it.  I thought it was genius.  Now I would think about punching the author in the head.

When I got a little older, sometime in my early 30s, the movie The Fallen came out and I picked up the movie novelization paperback.  I still didn't recognize exactly what it was when I bought it.  Then, reading the book, I understood clearly the lack of depth and detail and the fact that it was just the movie redirected into a novel format.  Even at that early stage of my interest in writing I saw the missing character development and emotional impact a good novel can have.

So when you're writing your novel take a moment to consider how someone might view it in a decade.  How important are the character’s needs?  How high are the stakes?  You don't want to end up like Doctor Evil and only ask for “One million dollars”.

Monday, February 09, 2015

Things to do when you should be writing or important research?

Patty here...

I just reread my 4th novel Cool Cache in preparation for reissuing the eBook with a new cover. It brought back memories of how I created Tucker Sinclair’s world.

Cool Cache

On my first driving trip to Southern California, I remember cresting a hill on Pacific Coast Highway and seeing Malibu beach in all its breathtaking glory. I’ve been in love with the place ever since. In the early years living in Los Angeles, I made many trips there, wandering through the small shops or lunching in the restaurants. Sometimes I just sat on the beach and listened to the waves slamming the shore. It was magical. I wanted to live there. For a time, I worked in an office that overlooked the coastline. Even the occasional mudslide that blocked PCH for hours or days didn’t tarnish my love for the place.

The Bu

So, when I began writing my Tucker Sinclair books I knew she had to live in the “Bu.” The actual house in which she lives is modeled on a home I saw in Oxnard. It was, as I describe in the novels, “a little brown shoebox on the sand.” And it was for sale. It was dwarfed on both sides by mini mansions, so I suspected the buyer would tear it down and build something bigger and grander. It saddened me, thinking about all the memories that would be hauled away in rusty Dumpsters.

I decided the house and all those family memories would live on in Tucker’s house. No photos were taken of the Oxnard house, so I took a field trip to Malibu to scout out a replacement. The pic of the two Adirondack chairs on the beach in the upper left corner of my website was taken on that field trip. The place below was not the same as the Oxnard house but it was similar. The chain-link fencing around the perimeter suggested it was also not long for this world.

Bu-hoo :(

Once the exterior of Tucker's house was set, I moved on to the interior. Thumbing through American’s Best-Selling Home Plans, I found the perfect layout. It even had Tucker's home office just as I'd imagined it and the deck and side entrance featured in all the books.

The architect was reading my mind

Now the house was ready to fill with family memories. I cut out magazine photos of objects that triggered memories and made up stories about them: a bowl of seashells collected by family members over the years,

shee shells by the shee shore

a braided kitchen-rooster rug that belonged to a grandmother Tucker had never known

and a steamer trunk passed down through the generations, filled with camera equipment once owned by Tucker's father who died before she was born.

I have one just like this that belonged to my grandmother

The fake wicker deck furniture, a Tucker purchase, because even plastic degrades in sun and salt air

Those white patches are the result of me prying the pic off the poster board

I also cut out photos of people who reminded me of characters in the book, all of which I glued to a poster board I kept near my computer.

Perhaps some of you are wondering if all this preparation was just an excuse not to write, but, in fact, it helped me create an authentic world for characters with whom I’d be intimately involved for years to come. Tucker's house is more than just a place to live. It represents love, loss and the fragility of family relationships, all themes woven throughout the series.


Friday, February 06, 2015

The Sundance Kids

from Jacqueline

I love Park City, Utah.  I first went to the town about eight years ago. I was moaning to my husband that I really missed skiing, a sport I love.  I complained (I may even have whined), that every time I planned to go skiing with a friend, they dipped out (you would not believe the number of people who are afraid of a bit of cold), and I was left high and dry.  I should add, my husband does not ski – he has a knee issue, and truth be told probably would not ski if he had perfect knees.  Finally he said, “Well, why don't you just pick and place, go there, and ski!!!”  So, I said, “You know what? I WILL.”    

I decided upon Park City. I did not want to stay in a swanky hotel ($$$ eeek!)  and I did not want to rent an apartment. I wanted something friendly.  That’s when I discovered The Old Town Guest House in Park City, and its amazing owner/innkeeper, Deb Lovci.

 I wrote to Deb - that's her, above - and told her I was traveling alone to ski (for the first time in about 10 years), and she said, “No problem – leave it to me.”  I had a great time, skiing with an instructor picked out by Deb. And the inn is the perfect home from home.  I have come to absolutely love Deb – a great outdoorswoman and all-around good person.  I came back again, year after year.

 You’re getting the picture. I have fallen in love with Park City – and I haven't even told you about the bookstore yet. Sue, the manager of Dolly’s Bookstore in Park City, had become so used to me charging through the door (dressed up like the Michelin man in my winter togs), that a few years ago she said it might be an idea to do an event when I came to town to ski. Yes, I have done a bookstore event in my skiwear!  Did I mention that I love Park City?  I have made some lovely friends along the way, and - not naming names, because I probably shouldn’t - one of my best skiing pals is a leading lawyer with the US Justice Department, and spends most of her time jetting around the world interviewing dissidents, defecting spies and the like, while liaising with international law enforcement. I’ve come across some interesting people among the thriller-writing community, but ladies and gentlemen, what my friend has to do every single day of the week would give you enough material for a lifetime of blockbusters. 

 Which brings me to the Sundance Film Festival.

I decided that it was time my husband – who had encouraged me to take that first trip to Park City – had a glimpse of the wonderful experiences I’d had over the years.  I booked The Old Town Guest House for the second week of the Sundance Film Festival (by which time most of the real movie stars have departed the city), which coincided with my husband’s birthday.  I organized everything except getting into the actual films.  To give you a bit of background, my husband LOVES movies – indies, foreign, mainstream – and is a real film buff, which you would expect from a graduate of the film program at Boston University. 

But then the angst began.  Advisory #1 for anyone going to the Sundance Film Festival who is not an actual movie star or other VIP – the website is a bloody mess.  John finally procured our Sundance passes after much cursing, and then had to linger over the computer on a given day and at a specific time to reserve seats for the certain number of movies we were allowed with the pass we’d selected.  Here's how bad the website was - we overheard a kid talking about it, saying, “Dude, they need a new

And here’s how we got to grips with the really poor system of getting into films at Sundance. Breakfast at Deb’s Old Town Guesthouse is “family style.”  Eight people sitting around the table, chatting over good coffee and a bang-up breakfast.  Judy and Art from Boston, by way of New York, told us about the Sundance e-list, so we got onto that straightaway.  John did battle with the website again, and we started to make real progress.

We decided that some movies getting a lot of attention would probably come to our local “indie” theater (I ached to see Dark Horse, and White God, but will have to wait), so instead we concentrated on productions that we might never have the opportunity to see again.  The short programs were particularly interesting. A documentary about the artworks salvaged from a former asylum in England was fascinating – an innovative doctor there in the 1920’s-50’s had set up an arts studio for patients, and their creations were amazing.  Over 5000 works are now housed at the Wellcome Museum in London. I lived not far from that hospital when I was in my twenties, so it was almost surreal watching the movie.  Another short film, this one from Greece, told the story of a single mother giving up her daughter – a girl of about five years of age – and followed them on their last morning together before the woman walked away from her child. I'm still aching after that one.  A documentary about D. H. Lawrence in Sardinia was just gorgeous.

You’ll be hearing about a movie called James White.  OK, so it needs a bit of editing - yes, we get it, the twenty-something young man is in a downward spiral, in and out of bars, getting into a fights, and into bed with anyone. His estranged father has just died.  His mother is battling stage 4 cancer.  Then she is admitted into the hospital, and the movie just takes off.  Cynthia Nixon – formerly of Sex In The City – turns in an Oscar-worthy performance as the dying woman.  Christopher Abbot carries the movie as James White, and you can almost smell the grief and confusion in the man as it vaporized off the screen.  

Next morning at the breakfast table, as Deb topped up everyone’s coffee, we continued to exchange our retelling of the films we’d seen, then planning our day’s viewing.  John said, “You know, it really gets the creative juices going – being here.”  

 I could go on and on, but I won’t because you could read the reviews anywhere by Googling “Sundance 2015” I would imagine.  But here’s a funny observation:

I’m used to skiing in Park City. When you ski, you work up an appetite, so when you go out to dinner people are really eating.  But Sundance brings a different crowd to Park City. For his celebratory birthday meal, I took John to Zoom, Robert Redford’s restaurant. 

 I noticed the inappropriately dressed out-of-towners at the table next to us. Sorry, but they might as well have had visas with “Hollywood” stamped on their bare shoulders.  They ordered lunch, proceeded to take a bite out of each dish, and then left the lot. I almost leaned across and said, “Can I have your fries?”  When the waiter asked if they had enjoyed their meal, they were effusive in their compliments.  Then they walked out, and the food was left to be thrown away.  I wanted to yell after them, “You cannot leave the table until you've finished everything on your plate!”

I sort of wish I had.

Until next time ...

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Is Your Novel Dated?

James O. Born

I was going to title this "Dating your story," but I was worried Paul Levine would take it in a different context.  I've had several incidences of this in my own writing career and recently was reminded of how you view something when you're younger and then change your opinion when you're older.

While writing my very first novel, which is still unpublished, I made reference to a TV filming site and pointed out that they were filming the TV show BJ Striker, with Burt Reynolds.  The only person I really showed it to, my friend, Greg Sutter, pointed out that I didn't want to date the story by pointing out a TV show that probably wouldn't last very long.  He was right on the point with the advice, including how long the series lasted.

( I never thought I'd ever use a BJ Stryker image in a post.  Twenty five years ago I liked the show set in my home town.  Now I'm one of only eight people who remember it.)

I tend to learn from my mistakes and generally avoid them a second time.  Now anytime I mention something like that, it is always a vague, "TV show."  I would like my novels to be like a Donald Westlake novel that is funny decades later and not that easy to place in time.  I never use timestamps with the dates on any of my chapters, like some thriller writers.  I avoid specific dates in the narrative, although sometimes it's unavoidable.  And in the case of my first series featuring state cop Bill Tasker, I was always careful to have one case flow into the next case without a specific period of time being mentioned.
The king of this sort of vague, rift in time is Ed McBain and his eighty-seventh precinct novels.  They start just after the Korean War and somehow the detectives are still reasonably young well into the Reagan administration.  But he makes it all work.

You can also see this in TV shows and movies.  Not just in the costumes or the cars being driven, but in the details mentioned by the characters.  If you wrote a book in 1989 and mentioned President Bush and instead of just "the president," it would not only date novel, it might confuse some of the younger readers who didn't realize there was a period of time when George W. Bush's father ran the country.

Just keep it in mind when your character is driving a "brand-new 2003 Cadillac," instead of a, "brand-new Cadillac."  You have to be optimistic and look ahead and truly believe someone might be reading your novel ten or fifteen years in the future.  I recently experienced this when I got the rights back to my early novels and they have found a new audience on Kindle as e-books.  I had to take a run through some of the earlier ones, which were written more than a dozen years ago.  References to Miami needed to be updated.

One way I'm trying to avoid this on the project I'm currently working on is to set a quick prologue in which I mention the date is 1988.  This would explain why the federal agents in my story don't have easy access to cell phones and have almost no idea what GPS is.

In TV shows some times it's the writing and sometimes it's the producer or director which keep a show from being dated.  I've noticed a common thread among shows like Justified, Elementary and the cancelled show, A Gifted Man.  The producer in all of them was Carl Beverly.  Maybe his thing is keeping material fresh.  Just a thought.

I experienced the reverse of this issue when I wrote my two science fiction novels under the pen name of James O'Neal.  In both of those I simply said, "About twenty years from now," on the very first page.  That way it won't matter when you pick up the book, you can always picture a bleak future which you will probably take part in a mere two decades away.

There is a second aspect to dating your novel which I will bring up in our next blog.  Until then, think about the details that could bog your story down and link it to a year that will seem ridiculous in a decade.

Far out, man.