Saturday, March 28, 2015

About Dogs ...

from Jacqueline

can't wait for the new book by my friend and fellow Naked Author, Jim Born - The Scent Of Murder.  OK, so I confess – the dog did it.  I’m a sucker for a book (or movie) featuring a dog among the cast of characters, so I won’t miss this one, because I particularly like reading about working dogs, and brave dogs.

 My family has always been big on dogs. The first time I ever heard my father weep, was when our dog, Lassie, was put to sleep.  Dad told many tales about Lass and her mother, Bess.  Bess was at my father’s side from the moment she laid eyes on him – but at that time she belonged to a gypsy, who didn't treat her well.  Then one day the man saw Bess following my father along the farm road towards home, and said, “You might as well have that dog.”  And that was that.  Bess had found the love of her life, and he cherished her until the day she died.  Later, when I was a child, I felt so cherished by the stories of how the dogs would guard me when my mother wheeled my pram into the garden – mothers did that in ye olden times; pushed the baby carriage to the far end of the garden so they couldn't hear the baby, then later, when you grew up, they told you it was good for you, all that fresh air when you were young.

 My brother is equally silly about dogs – as a boy he would be in tears before the opening credits of Lassie Come Home had ended.  I’m earmarking Jim’s book for him, because he has a thing for German Shepherds, Belgian Mallinois, those sorts of dogs.  Anyone remember a TV show called The Littlest Hobo?  I think it all started then.  What a great story that was – not sappy, but a series of tales about a German Shepherd riding the rails.

If you look back at our family photos, dogs play a fairly large part in the story.  There’s one of me, about six months old, being laid down to sleep on a coat in the hop gardens, flanked by Bess and Lass, who were “on guard” from the moment I was born. Then another – I must have been about two years old – sitting on a bench with one hand on my Aunt Rose’s Alsatian – that’s what German Shepherds were called in Britain then, because when the breed first came into the country, it wasn’t done to be a German anything, but a dog from Alsace was OK.  And we have photos of my brother with Rex The Wanderer – our collie cross whatever, a gorgeous dog who just liked doing a bunk whenever he was left alone in the house. 

While my dogs have been either Great Danes or Labradors – Labradors are a better bet, because, frankly, those giants go too soon – John, my brother, has remained faithful to German Shepherds and associated breeds. And what adventures he’s had with his dogs.  His first GSD (who might have been a Mallinois cross) was an ex-Police Active League dog named Pal.  Pal was to John what Bess was to my dad – at heel, never leaving his side.  Then Juneau came into the picture, a massive, really huge pure white GSD, who – if truth be told – probably had a bit of draft malamute in her. Her paws were like dinner plates, and that dog had attitude. If she didn't know you, you were ignored completely. If she didn't trust you, you'd better keep well back. But she was a wimp about her feet. Touch her paw and she would go running to my brother, howling.  Quincy was the third GSD in the pack, the runt rescue that no one else wanted, but he was the one who saved my brother’s life.  

My brother is a bit like me – he never learned to swim properly, and sort of taught himself.  I can’t tread water to save my life, and neither can my brother – we were raised in a rural area without access to townie things like swimming pools.  During a picnic some years ago, my brother went for a dip in the river, lost his footing and began to go under, the water pulling him down and along. Quincy, who had not taken his eyes off John, leaped into the water and began to pull him up. Juneau followed, all 140lbs of white fur flying through the air to help Quincy keep my brother above the water. Pal took off to find my brother’s then girlfriend, who had gone for a walk – she ran back in time to splash into the water and together with the dogs, dragged John to safety.  When their time came, each one of those dogs died in my brother’s arms.

Many of you have read about my dog Sally, who went to the big kennel in the sky some six years ago, and of course now we have Maya, our “challenging” rescue Labrador who became the most terrific dog in the world.  This is Maya in her Christmas finery, and not terribly amused either!

And my brother has Hank and Shiloh.  Hank is a Newfoundland and Shiloh is the only GSD with a temperament like a Newfoundland.  Poor Hank was a rescue from a military family in Texas.  His former owners took on a very large puppy knowing they would be posted to Europe within a year, and would have to rehome him– and for the life of me, I cannot understand why anyone would commit to an animal they could not keep.  I have heard that communities that neighbor military bases are always having to take wandering dogs to shelters, where the owner has shipped out and just left a dog behind, with no home and no beloved person.  But at least Hank’s owners didn’t put him in a shelter in their home state – Texas is not known for no-kill shelters.  Instead Hank was crated, shunted onto a military transport plane and sent to Port Hueneme in Ventura County, CA, where someone took him to the Humane Society in Ojai, because it’s a no kill shelter.  That’s where my brother’s wife saw him – and Hank came home.  Their vet’s reaction when Hank went for his first check up was, “Wow, where are his pointy ears, John?”

 But my brother wanted a GSD, so Shiloh, another rescue, came into their lives and took to being a “sibling” to a massive Newfie with a heart of gold. Shiloh goes to work with my brother each day, and Hank guards the house, sort of – he may be a big softie, but the “big” is very big, and a huge deterrent.

With this love of all things dog, I buy my brother a lot of dog books, and last year for Christmas I found the DVD set of The Littlest Hobo.  He and Angella, his wife, loved Suspect by Robert Crais, featuring the inimitable Maggie (let me tell you, one of the very best character studies I have come across).

…. and now, of course, I’ll be sending them Jim’s book, The Scent of Murder, which I think is due out on April 7th.  Oh, and I didn't write this post just to go on about the book of a fellow Naked Author (he will probably be surprised), but, as I said, I like books about working animals. I guess it’s that thing about love, loyalty and commitment – if a dog gives you the best of him/herself, you are cherished forever. 

 That’s me with my dear old Sally – as featured in the book “Cherished: 21 Writers on Animals They Have Loved And Lost” edited by Barbara Abercrombie.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Shape of Things to Come

James O. Born

I have big plans for writing blogs in the coming weeks.  We are going to start looking at genres individually with blogs written by writers in each area.  But as many of you know I have a new book about to be released.  It has taken a lot of my focus in the next few blogs are going to be specifically about Scent of Murder.

It may look like I took a shortcut today by just having old photographs, but in point of fact, it takes as much time to upload photographs as it does to write a blog.  It just struck me that I see people using throwback Thursdays to post old photographs and I decided to do the same.  The one I really wanted the post was of Patty, Paul and me in Los Angeles about eight years ago.  It was actually in Publishers Weekly the following week.  If either Paul or Patty has the photo I hope they post it.

I will start my book tour April 7 in New York with an appearance on the Lou Dobbs show.  After that I had the usual stops across Florida as well as a couple of book festivals.  In fact, I am teaching a class on how to write a novel at both the University of Central Florida book Festival and the South Carolina book Festival.

This was an absolute random sample of photographs.  Some are from book festivals, summer from writing conferences and some are just photos of me with my friends in the writing world.

Please don't forget that the book below goes on sale April 7 and is available on Amazon for pre-order now.  I'll even make it easy for you.  Just Click Here

In no particular order some of my favorite photographs:

 Barry Eisler , Me and Joe Konrath

 Me, Karen Olson, Some English guy, Lori Armstrong and Jeff Shelby

Me and James Lee Burke

 Me between Pamala and Alifair Burke

 Eldon Thompson, Mario Acevedo, Me and Joe Finder

 Mario thinking about the blog he wrote for us

 Me, Reed Coleman, Ken Bruen and CJ Box

 Me, my daughter Emily and James Patterson

 Me and Tess Gerritsen at NASA

 Me and the uncomfortablke in water Reed Coleman

The incomparable Joseph Wambaugh

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Agony and the Ecstasy: Selling my first novel

Patricia Smiley

Ah, I remember it well. It was July 19, 2002. I was on my sailboat in Isthmus Cove, Santa Catalina Island when I got a call from my agent, telling me that he had hammered out contract details with Mysterious Press to buy my first novel, and I was soon to be a published author. I celebrated with a bottle of 2000 Beaulieu Vineyard Chardonnay, which nonetheless tasted like Dom Perignon. I pasted the label in a scrapbook that I was sure would make it into the archives of the Smithsonian one day.

If that story seems too warm and fuzzy, let’s flash back a couple of years to when my twisty publishing journey began. When I started searching for an agent, a friend graciously referred me to her agent at William Morris. He flat out refused to even look at my manuscript, but told her he had an assistant who was just building her list of authors and might agree to read it. She did agree and loved it. Easy, right? Hardly. There had been rejections before that, some of them rather hilarious. I know because I saved all the letters (We wrote letters back in the day; no agent accepted email queries.).

My newly minted agent had just started sending the manuscript of FALSE PROFITS to editors when September 11, 2001 happened. Everything in New York shut down and nobody knew when or if the publishing industry would recover. Two weeks later, my agent called to tell me she was leaving New York and agenting. While I understood her decision, it left me to restart the agent search. Eventually, I signed with another agent who sold the book to Mysterious Press/Warner Books. Before the deal was done, I spoke on the phone with my new editor. She was a bit snarky with me, which was not only surprising but mildly disconcerting. It wasn’t until later that I would surmise why she had reacted that way.

The actual contract didn’t arrive until mid-December 2002, five months after we agreed on the contract terms. Meanwhile, I waited for the editorial letter, outlining what changes I’d have to make. September arrived and still I’d heard nothing from my editor. I began to worry. Soon after, my agent discovered quite by happenstance, that my editor was no longer there. She had left without telling me, which suggested she was already on her way out the door when she bought my book. I was assigned editor #2. It was now 2003. I finally received an editorial letter and was working on revisions, when in June 2003 I learned that editor #2 had died. I was assigned editor #3.

FALSE PROFITS was released just before Thanksgiving 2004. I was indeed thankful, but by that time it had been almost two and a half years since Mysterious Press had bought the manuscript and five years since I’d signed with my first agent.

Hello, Smithsonian? It’s Patty. I’m still writing. Can we talk?

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Finding a literary agent the second time around

Patty here

A few months back, I parted ways with my long-time agent. I hadn’t written anything in a while and the new novel I’d just finished—a police procedural based on my 15-years of volunteer service for the LAPD—was a departure from the four books in my Tucker series. There was no drama. My agent and I just realized it was time for each of us to move on. Still, breaking up is hard to do, especially when I didn’t know if I could find somebody else. A friend tried to reassure me. She’d recently had a conversation with an editor who said agents were desperate to find new clients because so many of their old clients were self-publishing. I took that information with a grain of salt.

Initially, I targeted four agents who were my dream team. One of them I considered out of my reach, but since my dad had always taught me it was just as easy to dream big as it was to dream small, I queried her anyway.

Five months and counting and none of those four has responded. 

That surprised me. On my first foray into the agent search in 2001, every agent I queried (by snail-mail back then) wrote back. I saved all the letters because some of them were hilarious. Many were dictated-but-not-read form letters. However, some of the biggest agents sent personal, typewritten notes with real signatures, saying no in various polite ways:

“I can’t take on any new projects at the moment.” 

“As you know, this is a subjective business and I could be wrong.” 

Some merely jotted a personal not-for-me note on my query letter and returned it in the self addressed stamped envelope.

This time around, all submissions were transmitted by email. Two of the agents sent automated responses, acknowledging receipt of my submission. Of the agents who used that method, both said it would take them from six to eight weeks to respond. One agent stated if I didn’t hear from her after six weeks, I could assume she wasn’t interested. That was not encouraging but I appreciated her honesty. The other submissions simply disappeared into the ether.

Of course, I didn’t sit around waiting for those agents to call. I kept sending queries, ten in total, three of them because of author friends who had volunteered to contact their agents on my behalf. All three had read my book and loved it. Based on my friends' recommendations, each of their agents agreed to read my manuscript. Each took about two months to respond. Two said no thanks. One loved my book and offered representation.

I realize this is a somewhat small sample from which to draw conclusions, but here they are nonetheless:
  1. Finding an agent is still difficult
  2. Agents don’t seem desperate for clients
  3. Having a friend recommend you to his/her agent is no guarantee of success
  4. The search is still long and frustrating
  5. Having a track record in publishing doesn’t necessarily mean anything
  6. Not responding to queries is a crappy business model, especially when busy agents could set up an automated email response that advises writers about the process
  7. It only takes one agent who loves your book
I feel extremely lucky to have found that one agent. Let the fun begin.


Thursday, March 12, 2015

Other Authors on Learning of Their First Book Sale

James O. Born

I persuaded some of my friends to provide their accounts of what it was like when they learned of their first sale.

Micheal Haskins, the author of the Mick Murphy series set in Key West.

With the help of Jerry Healy, I had just sold my first story to EQMM in 2007. Local Keys writer Tom Corcoran had been a friend and read my manuscript for "Chaisin' the Wind," around the same time, and had me over to his house to go through it. I changed the opening of the first chapter, on Tom's suggestion, and did a little rewrite, also his suggestion and sent it out to a small press, Five Star.

I received a letter from Five Star saying they'd received the manuscript and would get back to me within six months. A month later, when checking my PO box, I received a letter and contract from Five Star saying they wanted the book. There aren't words to describe that feeling as I read the letter and then the contract. I walked out of the post office feeling like a million dollars, a feeling that has eluded me since, even when receiving contracts for other books. 
I had all these feelings of excitement and  happiness penned up inside so I called my daughter Seánan and shared the good news. I had considered sharing the news with strangers, kissing pretty girls, and singing, but I think I made the right choice in calling my daughter. I still call her with good news. I have never been able to carry a tune and my wife discourages me from kissing pretty girls, strangers or not.

The next best feeling to receiving the contract was receiving my ARCs and seeing my name on a cover of a book I wrote! My thoughts as I put the ARC away where to say to myself, "So, I showed Mr. Carlin what's what!" Mr. Carlin was my high school English teacher that grade me with Ds all through high school.

Patrick Kendrick
author of Extended Family
and Papa's Problem, a Florida Book award Winner

My first book, Papa's Problem, an historical mystery, was published by a small publisher, BlueWater Press. It was a trade paperback-not even an e-book- and it would not get the fanfare or marketing that
a novel from a big publisher would get. But, that didn't matter. I was, finally, getting published and they agreed to let me have a shot at the cover art. The process of editing seemed  to take forever to an anxious author who had written several manuscripts but never managed to get any of them published. Now, I had a shot and I felt like I was holding my breath for the months we went through revisions.
    When I received the ARC's and saw and held MY BOOK, in my hands, I was overcome with emotion. My mother always believed in me as a writer and had read the manuscript for Papa before she died, but it was years before it was actually in print and I remember wishing she'd seen it. When the book won the Florida Book Award in 2008 and I was invited to the awards ceremony with my family, the pride my mother would've shared with me was there in the presence of my wife and two sons. In my speech to the Florida Book Awards committee and other award winners, I promised my sons I would write something they could read-my novels are too adult for them-and I am finally making good on that promise with my first young adult book, The Savants, coming out this summer from Suspense Publishing. They, too, are a smaller press. I have been published with big publishers, Thomas & Mercer for my second book, and my next  thriller, Acoustic Shadows, will be published by Harper Collins in June, but nothing will ever match that first book, the promise it suggested and the promise it delivered.

Zoë Sharp, author of the Charlie Fox crime thriller series and THE BLOOD WHISPERER

I’d just finished a photoshoot over in the northeast of England when my then-agent rang. We were driving back across country and had stopped for fuel. I had to grab my mobile and keep well away from the pumps in order to take the call, for fear of causing a stray spark that would have blown us all to pieces. The advance wasn’t worth the risk. Still, at least I would have gone out with a bang.

Alafair Burke is the bestselling author of ten novels

Ever have one of those dreams where you replace your boss, win a Porsche, or find an undiscovered suite in your house?  Hearing that your book will be published feels sort of like that. And then you realize you're supposed to write another one, and you go right back to work. 

Bob Morris, bestseller author of the Zach Chasteen series.

I was walking down the most beautiful beach in the Bahamas when I first got the idea for a series of mysteries set in Florida in the Caribbean. I went back to my hotel, wrote what became the first chapter of the first book, and then flew back to Florida and quit my job as a magazine editor. It was a good job. I had money in the bank.

I did not seek wise counsel from my lovely wife. When I returned home, I told her I had just quit my job.

“What are you going to do?” she asked.

“I’m going to write mystery novels,” she said.

She gave me a look that only a wife can give a husband who has gone bat-shit crazy.

“Do you realize we have two kids in college?”

There were a lot of things I didn’t realize, actually. And soon I didn’t have money in the bank. But my lovely wife didn’t leave me.

It took me six months to write the first novel, and then another six months — after 28 rejections — to find an agent who would represent me.

When I got the call from my agent that he had signed me to a three-book deal, I was back in the Bahamas, staying at that same hotel, along that same beautiful beach, this time with my wife. I hung up and told her the news. She hugged me and she cried. Yeah, I mighta cried a little, too. She’s a helluva wife. Then we ordered room service champagne. Much happiness ensued.

I still don’t have any money in the bank.

Friday, March 06, 2015

How, Then, Shall We Grow Old?

from Jacqueline

I’ve written before about my friend and the situation she and her family have been plunged into since her father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease about four or five years ago.  The way problems escalate is now, sadly, a common scenario facing hundreds of thousands of families around the USA and across the world.  I have seen the situation take its toll on her, particularly in recent months as she struggles to find an “affordable” place for her father to spend his days, especially as he now requires the support offered in a special “memory care” unit.  No, don’t switch off, thinking “Well, we’ll be fine, we’ve saved for every eventuality” – because it has become apparent to me that, unless you are in receipt of Megamillions lottery winnings or a sizeable trust fund, you may well not be fine.

Let me refresh your memory:  My friend’s parents are like many of their generation. They worked hard, they bought a house, they raised two girls, both of whom worked their way through college and have built careers.  And along the way my friend and her sister took on board their parents’ ethos of saving for the future, not spending beyond one’s means and just getting on with having a good life – not a life marked by great wealth or outrageous adventure.  Just a good life – and who could ask for more?

In the past several months my friend and her sister have come close to breakdown.  Because her parents live a few hundred miles away, and her sister – who lives closer – is a schoolteacher, they divvied up the tasks to try to gain support for their parents.  Every day my friend made the calls to various homes and elder care services, and after school had ended, her sister visited the places where an appointment to view had been made by my friend.  She made hundreds of calls each week (and I am not exaggerating) – multiple calls to many places; getting information, often being given incorrect information.  Many times when she thought she'd found a good, affordable place, so her sister went along to see it, only to find it filthy, with ill-kempt patients, some screaming or sitting in their own waste.  Oh, and these places are charging thousands of dollars per month.  You see, getting old is like cancer – it’s big business - and there are whole corporations making big profits from our distress.  The really nice facilities were over $7,000 per month.  A couple of weeks ago my friend thought she had landed the perfect home for her father – full “memory care” and there was a room available, plus they could just about afford it if my friend and her sister both delved into their savings to augment their parents’ savings.  They were told they had one room and it was being reserved for them.  My friend’s sister rushed over during her lunch break – but someone else had turned up first with a check – and there was no more room at that particular inn.

Everything well-meaning people have suggested (“Try this … try that … call this person, speak to this organization) has either already been explored or there was nothing they could do for the family.  My friend has gone back to the VA numerous times to see if they can offer more assistance – her father is a veteran of the Korean War – to no avail. I mentioned the situation on my Facebook page, and so many people graciously posted their ideas and sources of information.  I passed it on to my friend - she had already exhausted pretty much every option.

The truth of the matter is that her parents thought they were saving enough money for their future and had the right financial contingency plans in place, but the future just became more and more expensive as time went on.  And it’s not going to get any cheaper.  Remember that, when you think you have enough to see you through to your old age.  I read an op-ed column last year, where the writer said (I’m paraphrasing here), “The trouble with the Boomers is that they assume old age is a constant 75, and they think it will be the new 50.  And 75 can be pretty good – people are doing more things than ever before at that age.  But 75 is not 80 and it’s not 85 – and most of us are not prepared for what happens in our 80’s.”

My dear friend is exhausted beyond measure.  She eventually pretty much gave up her job – because doing all the work necessary to find a future home for her parents (her mother now has severe health issues) and making trips to care for them was just too darn hard and took up all of her time.  Today I learned that she and her sister have had to break the news to their mother that the only way forward is to sell their parents’ very modest house.   She has found a room for them to share in a residential home that has a memory care facility as well as assisted living – so her mother will be able to sleep in the same room as her dad, and they will go their separate ways during the day.  She and her sister will continue to augment their parents’ care with their own retirement savings.  And of course, by selling the house they have to get advice on how to avoid capital gains tax – yet that money, all of it, will be needed to care for her parents.  When her father dies  - and, in truth, it probably it won’t be too long – they will decide whether they can afford to keep her mother in assisted living over the longer term – which she needs – or bring her home to one of their houses.  Needless to say, they don’t have mansions, plus her sister has three strapping boys who take up a lot of space.

This is the truth of what is facing so many ordinary people. Not spendthrifts, not people who have lived high on the hog their entire lives. Just ordinary people who grew old and needed a bit more help than their money or their insurances could buy. 

I told my friend this morning that it was all making me wonder what one had to do to prepare for the future.  Despite all the “Work Out Your Retirement Needs” tables available at banks and online, how much would be enough to see you through?  And how do you balance being fiscally responsible, and having a little fun with your money in the here and now?  “I know what I’m going to do,” she said.  “I’m going to check myself out when I’ve had enough – it might be 70, 75  or 80 – but I am not going through this terror myself.  I would rather be dead.”

As we Boomers draw closer to our late 70’s and into our 80’s, there are going to be more of us needing care, and probably more of us making that decision – that it is all too darn hard to go on, and we never knew things would cost that much (today’s $7000 a month will be over $10,000 for a room in a modest long term care facility very soon – and I fear that someone will tell me we’re there already).

I have always believed that a country that could not or would not take care of its people is a very poor country indeed.  You cannot have a big old rich crust on top of such a weak pie.  I don’t have the answer, and I wish I could come up with something – in fact, every time I talk to my friend (pretty much every day), I wish I had a brilliant idea for her.   Knowing the many avenues she has explored, I cannot insult her any more with my "Try this or that" suggestions.  We should not let our senior population, and those who care for them continue to suffer in this way.  It is beyond cruel, and it is no way to live in this world.

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Your First Agent and Sale

James O. Born

Let's spend a couple of posts talking about what it felt like to land your first agent or book sale. I sent out a request to a few friends, and of course the beautiful Patty Smiley trumped us all by not only having a great story, but a photograph from the exact moment she found out she had sold her first book. Since her detail and visual aid would make the rest of us look bad, I'm saving her story for later.

Like most unpublished authors, I waded through a pile of literary agent rejections before I finally landed one. My very first agent, not the one who sold Walking Money, but one who is interested in an earlier novel, was Clyde Taylor at the Curtis Brown literary agency. He was a great guy who I only met in person once. But it was still quite a thrill to have someone interested after so many had shot me down. He was very patient and worked with me for almost a year to get the novel where he wanted it.

I was with some friends in New York City attending one of the many New York Yankees World Series games in the 90s. I hadn't told anyone that I was writing and had no excuse for seeing a literary agent while we were all in Manhattan. After a typical late-night of heavy drinking and a restless night of sleep, I got up hours before any of my friends and traveled to the Curtis Brown offices at the obscenely early hour of nine o'clock. Clyde explained to me the process and the risk of failure over the course of the next hour. It was not deflating in the least. In my mind, at least I had finally made it to a literary agent's office.

Unfortunately, Clyde passed away in 2001.  He was a great guy and a good way to get introduced to the publishing business.

A few years after that an agent called me and was interested in representing Walking Money. From the time of his call to the news that he had sold the novel as part of a two book deal to Neil Nyren at Putnam only about a week had passed. The agent called me at my office, which at the time was in Fort Lauderdale. I can still remember the tremor of excitement in his voice and the wave of relief and joy that I had not wasted the past decade. I couldn't believe it. It took several days to really sink in.

Being ever practical and cautious, I waited to make sure it was a done deal before I told anyone. Even my wife. Her reaction was even better than mine. In a blink of an eye I felt validated and satisfied I had achieved one of my most elusive goals.

Now, twelve years after I got the initial news that my first book had been sold, I will confess that I still get excited with every new contract and opportunity. I'm not saying it's that way for every writer. Some people approach it as purely a business and don't appreciate the opportunity to express themselves creatively. I recognize how much luck played into my circumstances and how it continues to keep me employed. Yes, I work hard, study writing, and try to do right by my publishers, but I'd be an idiot to ignore the role chance played in my opportunity to make a living as a novelist.

This is just my little story to show you the value of not giving up. If I have one regret it's that Clyde Taylor didn't live long enough to see Walking Money placed at Putnam, a company he had worked at early in his career.

Keep writing and understand how lucky you are to have something that interests you so much. I write something every day. Not because I have to, but because I want to.