Among the many invocations piled upon the aspiring writer, “write what you know” is usually close to the top. Like most of them, this one can be overly interpreted to the absurd (in either direction); but in the main, I think it’s pretty good advice for Big Issues.

I know a lot about the law and courtrooms, politicians, elections and the legislative process. It excites me (I know, that’s sick) to use these as plot devices, because with my knowledge, I can have fun crafting a compelling plotline, without either doing months of research or losing sleep over the fear of a Big Dig-size plot hole.

I suppose I could do the research necessary to write a convincing bio-terrorism thriller, but why would I? I don’t know anything about either biological weapons or international terrorist tactics. And there are apparently hundreds of other authors who do (or think so), so it’s simply not a value proposition for me to go there.

On the other hand, very few of the authors who use international terrorism or intelligence in their plots have any actual experience in that field. They have general experience in the “profession,” perhaps, but I sincerely doubt that Barry Eisler was actually an international assassin.

Another great example is sex. Who doesn’t know about sex? It seems some people get very rich these days writing about all sort of deviant and sordid sex. I take it on faith that most of them are just gifted with wild imaginations. I mean, seriously, edible body paint?Small Fish - ACX

But those are Big Picture things. You can research a lot of technical detail bits with internet research these days. It’s ridiculous how quickly you can learn anything on a browser. Or at least get a reliable answer to a question. Guns, incendiary devices, blood spatter science, even the heritage of Jesus Christ, apparently.

But do you really need to know the actual fact to successfully fake it? Even if the reader expects you to be authoritative on it, your research can carry you. People trust Tom Clancy on military spy stuff, but he was an insurance salesman who couldn’t even get into the service because of nearsightedness.

Of course, there are many instances in which the reader couldn’t care less about technical accuracy. These are just opportunities to let your whimsical self loose.

Here’s an example from a recently published indie novel.

As we near the climax of the story, the hero has been beaten about the face, head and body by thugs. He lies in a hospital room with an IV drip of hydrocodone when his wife rushes to his side. How does a badly beaten man under the influence of hydrocodone behave? What does he see? How does he speak? Does the author need to interview an ER physician before putting finger to key? Of course not. Anyone with a bit of life experience has been zonked on painkillers in a hospital at least once or twice. (Or if he’s over 50, has had a colonoscopy!)

Through a gauzy hydrocodone haze, Paul imagined an angel, disguised as his wife, swiftly descending on him. As the angel got closer, the features of her face clarified, and for a terrifying moment, he saw Shannon as a marionette.

“Your cheek looks like an eggplant,” Shannon the puppet said, gliding to Paul’s side, patting him gently with its tiny hands.

“You look like Pinocchio with tits,” Paul said, totally serious.

The floor nurse poked her head in. “Mrs. Forté, your husband has just had a fresh dose of pain killer, so I would give him a wide berth on whatever he says.”

“What do you mean? He talks to me like that all the time.” She patted Paul’s hand. “Don’t you, sweetie?”

Now the cat’s out of the bag. I’m shilling for PAUL & SHANNON.Full Irish Cover MEDIUM WEB

Susanne and I had a lot of fun with FULL IRISH, and we’re very excited about the plot that’s coming together for the next in the series. A lot of it is what I know, but in the past two days I have spoken with experts in (a) “double indemnity” insurance and (b) mortuary procedure.

So it’s not all about what you know, but what you need to know.


I almost bit

12Dec14

(eh, no – but this one is so obtuse, you really have to wonder.)

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Several mornings a week, I spend 30 to 45 minutes on an Elliptical jogging machine, getting the old ticker working, burning off a bit of the dinner wine, firing the synapses in my aging muscles. As with most folks, I have established a routine, which includes reading the current novel in the Kindle queue (last two were part of the Tubby Dubonnet series by Tony Dunbar. A delightful, endearingly simply style!) and listening to music on my phone.

I always set my iTunes player to “shuffle,” because I know there’s nothing bad on my list, and I like to be surprised. Still, it’s kind of spooky the way some come up more than others. A lot more.

Lately, I’ve been treated to replays of one of the greatest CDs ever recorded in the history of music. I speak, of course, of Bob Dylan’s BLOOD ON THE TRACKS. While listening once again to the eloquent belligerence of Idiot Wind, I was restruck by the extraordinary cadence of Dylan’s lyrics, and how he weaves his poetry into the music syllable-by-syllable. Especially in this particular song, which I would describe as the nasty rant of a bitter man.

Whether you know the song or not, I hope you will treat yourself to it here, and read the lyrics as you listen. I’m pasting the entire song (which is quite lengthy), but as you can see, I’ve formatted and punctuated it as though it were a poison pen letter – to make my final point:

Someone’s got it in for me, they’re planting stories in the press.
 Whoever it is, I wish they’d cut it out quick; but when they will, I can only guess.

They say I shot a man named Gray and took his wife to Italy. She inherited a million bucks and when she died, it came to me.

I can’t help it if I’m lucky.

People see me all the time, and they just can’t remember how to act.
 Their minds are filled with big ideas, images and distorted facts.

Even you, yesterday, you had to ask me where it was at.
 I couldn’t believe after all these years, you didn’t know me better than that. Sweet lady.

Idiot wind, blowing every time you move your mouth! 
Blowing down the backroads headin’ south. 
Idiot wind, blowing every time you move your teeth! You’re an idiot, babe
It’s a wonder that you still know how to breathe.

I ran into the fortune-teller, who said beware of lightning that might strike. 
I haven’t known peace and quiet for so long, I can’t remember what it’s like. 
There’s a lone soldier on the cross, smoke pourin’ out of a boxcar door.
 You didn’t know it, you didn’t think it could be done, in the final end he won the wars, after losin’ every battle.

I woke up on the roadside, daydreamin’ ’bout the way things sometimes are.
Visions of your chestnut mare shoot through my head and are makin’ me see stars.
You hurt the ones that I love best, and cover up the truth with lies. 
One day you’ll be in the ditch, flies buzzin’ around your eyes, blood on your saddle.

Idiot wind, blowing through the flowers on your tomb.
 Blowing through the curtains in your room. 
Idiot wind, blowing every time you move your teeth.
 You’re an idiot, babe
. It’s a wonder that you still know how to breathe.

It was gravity which pulled us down, and destiny which broke us apart.
You tamed the lion in my cage, but it just wasn’t enough to change my heart.
 Now everything’s a little upside down, as a matter of fact the wheels have stopped.
 What’s good is bad, what’s bad is good, you’ll find out when you reach the top, 
you’re on the bottom.

I noticed at the ceremony, your corrupt ways had finally made you blind! 
I can’t remember your face anymore, your mouth has changed, your eyes
 don’t look into mine.
The priest wore black on the seventh day and sat stone-faced while the
building burned. 
I waited for you on the running boards, near the cypress trees, while the 
springtime turned 
slowly into Autumn.

Idiot wind, blowing like a circle around my skull.
 From the Grand Coulee Dam to the Capitol. 
Idiot wind, blowing every time you move your teeth.
 You’re an idiot, babe. 
It’s a wonder that you still know how to breathe.

I can’t feel you anymore, I can’t even touch the books you’ve read.
 Every time I crawl past your door, I been wishin’ I was somebody else instead.
 Down the highway, down the tracks, down the road to ecstasy, 
I followed you beneath the stars, hounded by your memory,
 and all your ragin’ glory.

I’ve  been double-crossed now for the very last time, and now I’m finally free! 
I kissed goodbye the howling beast, on the borderline which separated you from me.

You’ll never know the hurt I suffered, nor the pain I rise above
. And I’ll never know the same about you, your holiness or your kind of love, and it makes me feel so sorry.

Idiot wind, blowing through the buttons of our coats.
 Blowing through the letters that we wrote.

Idiot wind, blowing through the dust upon our shelves.

We’re idiots, babe.
It’s a wonder we can even feed ourselves

I do this as a superb example about the importance of cadence, word choice, sentence length, pacing and rhythm. One doesn’t write line-by-line, but syllable-by-syllable.

I can’t listen to music while I write – not even instrumental music. I am too distracted by it. Yet I know that in the silence, there is a melody running through my mind that I really can’t turn off. Sometimes, when I am writing, I imagine that the words that come out are following some cadence or melody I cannot hear. I am conscious of its presence, but I do not hear the notes. Once, I saw the words in a line as though they were notes on a staff. Kind of like this: Notes

Weird, I know. In any event, perhaps one day I will hear the melody one day, and a story will become a song.

The next time you’re reading something you like, see if you can hear the melody, feel the beat. Tell me I’m a kook, go ahead.

Have you checked out FULL IRISH yet? It’s a hearty meal!Full Irish Cover MEDIUM WEB


If I may be permitted the occasional opportunity to crow, I woke up this morning to this link, supplied to me by my co-author, Susanne O’Leary:

Screen Shot 2014-12-02 at 9.14.15 AM

It might be only a fleeting instance, no one can predict these things. But I do know that, for this brief moment in time, everything you do to work toward a goal is worth it.

If you haven’t had a chance to add to this great fortune of ours, to perpetuate that novel’s appearance on the Hottest New Releases list, why not take this moment to do that?

You read from a kindle (or have the kindle app on your iPad), or prefer paperback, go here.

You read from a Nook, go here.

And thank you for your patronage!

 

 


Full Irish Cover MEDIUM WEBFor those Kindle owners not inured to waiting in line, you have an opportunity for cutsies:

You can now pre-order the ebook from Amazon, for the “friends” not-for-sale price of a mere 99 cents.

When you pre-order, you don’t get dinged for the buck until the book is delivered automatically to your kindle on December 1, 2014.

And more importantly, when you pre-order, you help drive the book’s ranking up, so by the time it goes live, it’ll already be in neon lights.

See?B1x__TDIQAEi9L2


It looks like this Thanksgiving-Christmas holiday season is going to be Full Irish.Full Irish Cover MEDIUM WEB

This political suspense novel marks the return of Paul and Shannon Forté, several years after they had moved to Carmel following Paul’s acquittal on corruption charges. It also introduces Finola McGee, the brassy political editor of the Irish Telegraph, Dublin’s second biggest paper.

McGee is on a mission to find the murderer of an honest politician and close friend. Forté is hired in Boston to dig up dirt on a conniving Irish competitor.

When the two collide at a famous County Kerry castle and discover their mutual interests, the ensuing game plan is more Pink Panther than Hercule Poirot. In a sometimes madcap, sometimes dark adventure, Shannon lands a blow against lecherous politicians, McGee shows off her pole dancing prowess, an Anglo-Irish butler turns double-agent, and the zygomatic bone take disproportionate abuse.

But can the trio unravel the web of conspiracy stretching from the back corridors of Leinster House to the polished inner sanctum of the Massachusetts Senate?

Against the backdrop of the windswept west coast of Ireland and the watering holes of Dublin and Boston, Full Irish exposes a rivalry that goes to the very heart of politics.

_____

Susanne O’Leary and I started the project on May 1st. As my principal objective in seeking a collaborator was to find a more efficient way to produce a finished novel, this has been a smashing success. We did it smoothly, and we had a lot of fun (and very few arguments) doing it. I look forward to seeing how readers react to it.

While we finish up the details with formatting and the Createspace process, Susanne and I will begin to work on a sketch for the next one. Might be something to do with banking, or maybe the art market (to get Shannon more directly involved). If you have any wacky ideas, feel free to share them (for attribution or not).

 

 


So much vitriol is going on about “author vs. reviewer.” It’s come down to acts of physical violence now. And it’s casting a pall over the entire indie community. Every time some reviewer gets hassled (or worse), hundreds of us are cringing, thinking, “that’s not me! No, no, don’t put me in the same boat as that one!”The enduring advice is, “ignore bad reviews!”It’s great advice, and I am going to break it, by celebrating my favorite bad reviews.

This is not a whiny post that mocks the reviewer. I’m talking about, “Check this guy out! He really got me good!” Appreciating and respecting a point of view other than yours. Because if we’re lucky, we have some good ones, and celebrating them – accepting that they are opinions well-stated – makes us stronger, and makes us better writers. Taking criticism makes you a better writer. Yes, it does.

Soon after I published Diary of a Small Fish, I solicited and received a review from a critic at the Chicago Center for Literature & Photography (CCLAP). It was beautiful, and you might enjoy reading the entire review. Here is the part that makes me smile the most.

“But still, maybe Small Fish would turn out to be a redemptive story when all is said and done, and our protagonist would by the end understand what kind of sneaky, petty, subsumed-guilt Bush-loving Michael-Scott frat-boy douchebag he actually is…”
I love that.Here’s one more, a one-star from a Goodreader:
It’s kind of like the author couldn’t decide whether he wanted to write a political thriller or just a really long story about rich people enjoying expensive food and wine (which he goes to staggering extremes to explain in every detail during almost every scene). I read books for interesting character and plot development, not to hear how often they eat fancy food and drink expensive alcohol.
Are these guys right? (Hey, what’s wrong with fancy food and expensive alcohol?)
It doesn’t matter what I think. It comes with the territory. Everyone’s a critic.
This business requires thick skin, humility, and an indelible sense of humor. Some writers are born with them, some have to grow them. Some of the rest will be next week’s fare in The Guardian.



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