Just back from Duluth, MN, both for relaxation and for novel research. Learned quite a bit. Duluth and the North Shore of Lake Superior is my favorite place to be in the world. For one, it's "healing" for me, mentally, even more so after my heart attack. Kinda like this gorgeous song from The Lowest Pair, "Minnesota, Mend Me." I'm in love with the northern part of this state, and with the Twin Cities, and I've made the Southwest corner my home for ten years now. I don't see myself leaving.
I'm looking forward to reading at Noir at the Bar on July 23 at the Bent Brewstillery. Check it out. I'm not the biggest fan of readings, but N@B brings out the best in us, or the worst, or shut up. I'm giving away a signed paperback copy of WORM to the first person to bring me a chicken Indurrito (that's "Indian Burrito") from the Hot Indian food truck. In fact, I'll even drip curry sauce on it.
Sometimes, bullet points don't point to anything.
Another point about Noir at the Bar: I know one of my faves, Anthony Bourdain, is going to be in Minneapolis the following night to do a show at the State Theater, but my wife and I aren't going to shell out seventy-five bucks apiece to see him. Let's face it, he's a lot larger on my TV than he would be from the balcony of the State. But I am trying to call him out on Twitter to attend our humble N@B if he's in town the night before. I doubt he will, but I'll keep trying. And I'm going to bring my hardcover copy of THE BOBBY GOLD STORIES for him to sign just in case. And if he's not there, well, fuck, I'll just have everyone in the audience sign it instead.
I would also like Ellen Hart to come because she's pretty awesome (as far as I know) and I would like to say "Hi" in person. She also recently won another Lambda Award. I mean, damn, ya know?
I think later this month, I'm going to help my father-in-law build an end table to go with our new furniture.
In 2005, this all happened (in chronological order):
My first novel, Psychosomatic, was accepted for publication by PointBlank Press.
I interviewed for a job at Southwest Minnesota State University.
I got that job.
I moved to Minnesota.
I started looking for a publisher to take The Drummer, after my adventures with agents went down the tubes.
I turned 32.
Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, driving my parents from their home, which was flooded badly, and from my grandma's home, which was flooded a bit, too. What my mom said right before the connection broke was, "I've got to go! Water's coming into the kitchen!" It took days to hear from them again.
That same week, Two Dollar Radio accepted The Drummer for publication.
A week later, I went to Bouchercon in Chicago. I was able to talk to my grandma for the first time in over a week, who had made it to Baton Rouge after a very long drive around the damage in Mississippi.
At Bouchercon, I met Allan Guthrie. Great guy.
I also met Allan Guthrie's agent, who was a giant dick.
And, too, Ray Banks, who was not a dick at all.
Sean Doolittle and I got to hang out with James Crumley at the bar for over an hour, talking about everything except writing.
Back home, my family told me there was no need for me to come visit yet. The Coast was a disaster. They wouldn't be back home for months. And they told me, "We're miserable and hungry. There's no need for you to be miserable and hungry, too."
I traded some emails with Allan Guthrie, complaining about my shitty experiences in trying to get published. He told me, "It sounds like you need a new agent." Meaning him, and that was a good thing.
I went back to Mississippi and Louisiana for Christmas, and the place still looked as if a hurricane had hit it the day before. I saw horrible shit, but that was nothing comapred to what my parents had faced in coming back to save their home. It took a while, but they did it. I felt most at home that Christmas in my folks' half-destroyed, half-rebuilt house. I wrote about it here.
That same week, I was feeling lonely and decided to try my luck at eHarmony. On my very first night, I blazed through a series of introductory questions with one particular young lady who was spending Christmas at her parents' home in Fargo, recovering from getting her tonsils out. We kept emailing back and forth the entire holiday, getting to know each other. I was hooked. So was she. So much so that I ended up marrying her two years later.
Just finished HOLY DEATH, my fourth Billy Lafitte novel. By "finish" I mean "second draft," since I need other eyes on it at that point. I never go a third time on my own. I wait for feedback. After these four people get hold of it and rip it to shreds, then I consider changes, make a few, and send it to my editor. He is the best editor I've ever had, and we "get" each other on the page very well. Usually we do two rounds of editing, although we've had some big fights before when it seemed to just keep going. But less of that lately. If he says we've got a problem, then I take it seriously.
But it'll be a while before I have to worry about more edits. In the meantime, what to do? I'll start a new novel.
Since then, we've decided that maybe the Warriors don't need a third book. While I'm happy with how the second one turned out, hardly anyone else seemed to be. So, meh, cut bait and move on.
I *said* "Meh!"
Yes, there will be a fifth Lafitte. I am already watching it unfold in my head. But just not right now.
There's this one book that's been poking around in my brain for over a year now in one form or another, and I think I'm ready to write it. I think it's going to be a lot of work, and I think I'm going to end up writing more pages than I'll actually use. And while I at first thought of it as the possible start of a brand new series...I'm starting to think it's better suited as a standalone.
But who the fuck knows, right? It's a case where I'm not the best judge of that yet.
When it looked like ALL THE YOUNG WARRIORS might find a home at an NYC publisher (instead of its excellent, just-right perch in the Heathen cage), the editor asked if I would consider not killing a character in order to make it a series. I was all like "Sure! Please! Just buy the damn thing!" Then he didn't buy it, so I killed that guy anyway and *still* tried to make a series of it. I probably shouldn't have. See what I mean?
So yes, one day after finishing HOLY DEATH's second draft and sending it off to my motley crue of well-chosen assholes (I hope), I'm already jumping into a different car, speeding off in a totally different direction.
I gave one of the best readings I've ever given last week at Boneshaker Books in Minneapolis for AWP. It was also the filthiest readings I've ever given. Afterwards, I didn't sell one fucking book (one reason was because the publisher of XXX SHAMUS forgot to bring any copies. The other reason is because no one wanted the copies of WORM my publisher sent along). I was a little embarrassed because I had put my ass on the line with the inexcusably filthy reading to, let's face it, try to get the "cool" kids to like me.
All of the other readers from that night sold books. All of them.
And when I'm not reading, just attending a reading can be iffy. Like, you know, getting crowded into a side room barely two tall-people wide with hardly any seats and no air-conditioning and stupidly crowded and, then, maybe the readers are good, maybe they're not...also, I'm saying this as a forty-one year old, so my street cred is shot, yes, but I felt the same way as a twenty-three year old, except I kept my mouth shut.
Or, you know, a classroom.
I've been doing readings for about, oh...seventeen years? Ever since grad school in the 90's. I've given precisely three that I liked: one the day after a horrid stomach condition laid me up in my hotel bed in Prague all night, one on stage for the "Three Minutes of Terror" where I got to growl at the announcer for trying to "buzz" me off when my time ran out, and this one at Boneshaker. The rest? Oh my god. Oh man. Oh wow. Just, no.
Poets with "poet voice" are awful at readings. Spoken word artists with "spoken word voice" are awful at readings.
If I wanted to be read at, I would have stayed in Kindergarten for forty years.
Perform, goddamn it! Stop being all navel-gazy and timid and mumbly as a defense mechanism and expect me to like your reading.
At the release party for The Drummer, which was at the Galapagos Art Space in Williamsburg, they played me on to Judas Priest and then I did the "My oh my, look at all the people here tonight!" line from Diamond David Lee Roth...and I swear not one person gave a shit.
I read to two people at Quimby's in Chicago, a reading which had been highlighted by the local arts paper as a starred event. The staff seemed both mad and impatient with the whole thing. More people browsed than listened. Then those people who did listen talked to me about a lot of things for twenty minutes, then said good-bye, and left without buying a book.
Why do we do it? Why do we read our work aloud? How many people actually want us to do that? Really? I'd rather just listen to an author talk about his work, his influences, her muses, her pet peeves, than listen to that person read to me. In my head as I read on a page, the thing comes alive like a movie. When someone else is reading, I get hung up on the voice. The characters sound like the voice. The actions feel like the voice. The thoughts feel like that voice. And if that voice sucks at reading, well, fuck.
I don't want to do readings anymore.
If you beg me, I might, especially if it's only one or two people reading with me (instead of seven or eight), and it's in a good space, and I think I won't come away hating the experience. But then again, why would you beg me? You'll probably just say "Fuck that guy" and go invite one of the hundred or thousands of writers who are begging you to let them read. Okay. I get it. Let em have the limelight.
Maybe it's this: it's your job to impress me, not my job to be polite if you're not doing a good job. I'll treat it like a movie--I can turn it off or walk out if I don't like it. Why should your reading be any different?
In conclusion, read my books on the page. See them as movies in your head. Don't worry about hearing me read it to you. I don't have pictures to show you, and there's no nap time afterwards.
Some writers don't like talking about works-in-progress or their future writing plans, usually because you just never know what's going to happen sometimes. The book you wanted to write becomes a different animal. Or the plan gets screwed over because you get interesting in something else. Or you just freeze the fuck up on something you thought was in the bag.
But I don't mind telling you what I'm thinking about writing, or have partially written, or plan not to write, because I think I've gotten pretty good at figuring out which pots on the backburner need to be moved up front, and which ones should be dumped. Sometimes, it takes several years for the pieces to come together. Sometimes it's right out of the gate.
Anyway, if you're interested, here's a list.
I have no plans to ever write a sequel to Psychosomatic.
I refuse to write a sequel to The Drummer.
At this point, Red Hammond has no plans to write a sequel to XXX Shamus. He said he would if we sold 500 copies on Fanbacked, but we missed the goal by only 482 sales. So, that's right out. Shamus is probably a "one and done"...unless some publisher wants to pay me a decent advance for it and a good cut of royalties.
I do plan to write a third Warriors book, which will be epic, I hope. I'm not sure if I'll close the series out as a trilogy, or if I'll leave it open to more entries. After what seemed to be an icy reception for Once a Warrior (which I really like better and better the more I think about it), I'm not sure that there's enough demand for more Adem and Mustafa, but I do think I need to write this third book.
While I don't want to write a direct sequel to Worm, I really would like to write a standalone (or possibly a series) about Slow Bear, post-shootout.
I've got a thriller "percolating" on the backburner that I really want to write, and if the characters gel the way I hope they will, it could be a new series.
As for Billy Lafitte, I want to write as many of those as I possibly can. I want to beat Lafitte into the ground. I want that series to be as long as John Sandford's Prey series, or better yet, as long as The Executioner. I will keep writing about Billy Lafitte until there is no money left to squeeze out of his tired, broken ass.
I love my day job. I'm a Professor and Chair of the English Department at SMSU. We've got a strong undergrad Creative Writing program, and also a strong undergrad Professional Writing program. Any time I can, I urge the students to merge the two. If I had to do it all over again, I think I would turn my studies that way too. But I'm happy to be the lucky-duck in my current job, woo hoo!
Still, while many writers see a tenured prof job as a way to let them do their writing as art, thus taking their time to perfectly craft literary fiction, I think I'm heading in a different direction, always trying to find a way to craft faster, tighter, and more often. I'm good right now for about a book a year, but I want to make it two. I want to write novels in four to five months. I want to write as part of crime series growing their audiences with each installment. I'd love to write a tie-in series, like for HAWAII FIVE-O (seriously, someone help me get a job with those guys!). I want it to be like I have two jobs--professor and writer, not one job with a glorified hobby.
I read what Tod Goldberg had to say about writing BURN NOTICE tie-in novels, that it made him learn to write faster because he had very tight deadlines. You can't afford writer's block on a deadline. My buddy Victor Gischler has a lot of deadlines writing comic book scripts, and while the pressure can get to him, he's still pretty happy writing for a living. Another friend of mine, Sean Doolittle, is a professional, technical writer by day, and a critically-acclaimed novelist the rest of the time. Ace Atkins, one of my fave novelists, has his Quinn Colton series up to book five already, and he also picked up Robert Parker's Spenser series. So that's two a year, and they're both great.
One reason I decided to write a novella for the DEAD MAN series, from Lee Goldberg and Bill Rabkin, was because I wanted to learn what it was like to write under deadline, to write using someone else's vision, and to still put my own stamp on it. Well, it was tough and great altogether. Lee really pushed me. My first draft was a disaster, and he wouldn't let up on me. He helped shape some better ideas, and I enjoyed putting flesh on that skeleton. And I still found a way in the end to make it feel like my own sort of thing, and they particularly liked one of my final scenes that came to me seemingly in a flash when I was getting stuck again. I had fun. I learned something. And I still get some checks from that every now and then.
How many EXECUTIONER novels were there? How many Matt Helm books from Donald Hamilton? I joke about this, but I also kinda mean it: I would love to see Lafitte become a series like that, long-running, with loyal fans, allowing me to indulge myself every year for a few months writing as if my ass was on fire (and it usually is. I love me some spicy food).
While some literary writers throw away as much as they keep, forever writing and rewriting in order to make the perfect sentence or the perfect page, and while my creative writing training pushes me to do the same thing, I find myself instead wanting the writing to service the story more than for the sake of the words themselves. I still want great sentences, but I'll settle for good ones in service of a great story.
I don't know if the writing I write will ever sell in the numbers like the stuff on the grocery store shelves--John Sandford, Sandra Brown, Daniel Silva, Walter Mosley--but I'd certainly like to write my cult novels as if a mass market is waiting for each and every one. It's about the work. It's about having enough people enjoy one book so that I can feel good about moving on the next one. And on and on.
Yeah, I'm fascinated with "mass art." With FAST & FURIOUS movies, with Daniel Silva novels, with HAWAII FIVE-O, with Nickelback and Maroon 5. Some people dismiss it all as terrible and formulaic, but I'll always remember something my prof Frederick Barthelme said to us in class when we were putting down John Grisham novels. He said that it took a special kind of talent to land on the sort of art that appealed to millions of people. If it was easy, then there would be many more rich bestselling authors and TV writers and musicians than there are now. It takes a lot of well-crafted work to make something click with the masses. We might not like the writing, line by line, or the lyrics, or the production values, or the shitty dialogue in FAST FIVE or CRIMINAL MINDS, but goddamn, don't ever say that those people aren't WORKING. THey sure the fuck are, and it is sure the fuck paying off for them.
Not everyone can satisfy the niches. The people giving entertainment to the millions have a tough job to do. I often wonder if I can work hard enough to write the sort of book that will break through like that. Or if I'll keep working just as hard to stay kinda obscure and culty. I dunno. But the job is the job. I'm a novelist.
They get a bad rap as "old people" TV, don't they? Shows like CSI, CSI: City, CSI: Computer, NCIS, NCIS: City, NCIS: Scott Bakula, Criminal Minds, Hawaii Five-O, and a few more.
But they're not that bad. I enjoy some of these more than I do the shows I'm "supposed" to like as a crime writer. I never got into Justified, Terriers, Sons of Anarchy, and at least five more that all the cool noir writers talk about endlessly on Facebook. All while making fun of poor ol' CBS.
I don't know, but the way I see it, this is well-crafted, decently-smart-enough, glossy eye-candy that makes me want to come back every now and then. Even though they didn't do the retro Hawaii Five-O that I wanted, I've seen enough of the new ones to say it's pretty good. It attracts good guest stars (because it films in Hawaii, I get it), and it's decently exciting. Also, Scott Caan.
I wish I could write for Hawaii Five-O. Or at least write tie-in novels for Hawaii Five-O.
And, really, I've seen some episodes of Criminal Minds that kicked total ass. I loved them.
In spite of the completely unrealistic uses of forensics or computers, I'll suspend disbelief in order to enjoy myself for an hour.
I really liked CSI at the beginning, and I thought CSI: Miami was a smart move for all involved. Sometimes being a ham and saying terrible lines that are filmed very well can be a good thing.
I mean, CSI was smart. It was the "new cozy." Once they started in with Laurence Fishburne and Ted Danson, I checked out, but until then...
I mean, Rob Zombie and Quentin Tarantino directed eps of CSI! And Jerry Stahl, author some dark, dark shit, was on staff with them! This might not have been their finest writing or directing, but it sure as hell wasn't "lowest common denominator", either.
I haven't seen much NCIS, but the goth girl lab expert is pretty cool.
I watched a little of Battle Creek's pilot ep. Not bad. I love Dean Winters. I would've watched more, but the problem with pilot eps is that they're all piloty. I'll watch again after it's been on the air for three years and people are ignoring it. At that point, it'll be great.
Seriously, does anyone know how to get me a job on Hawaii Five-O?
I get bored with movies pretty easily. I'm really happy with the fact I can pause them and watch them over a couple of days or three because I just get bored, especially by Act 2. It's also why I tend to like really stylistic, auteur-type directors. And I used to prefer TV series, but even now I find myself bored with series and willing to stop early on them. Starting to think a "one and done" series is my favorite type. Ever since THE SHIELD went off the air--which was the strongest seven season series I had ever seen, and the absolute best finale--I've struggled to find something I've liked as much.
And whenever I see a lot of people in this little noir niche of ours start to all praise a TV show at the same time, I cringe a little. I try it out and usually don't care enough to continue.
Even more so with movies. Even more so.
So, me and movie options for my own stuff...
There was a guy that optioned PSYCHOSOMATIC for a year and took the script to an awesome invite-only workshop in Europe (forgot which one), but the option ran out, reverted. Had some interest in a script that Victor Gischler and I wrote together ("Crescent City Smackdown"), and we had some discussion with a producer. We rewrote the ending for him. Then he wanted us to change more stuff. We said only if he optioned it. Aaaaaand I never heard form him again. Then another script VG and I wrote for "Pulp Boy" got the attention of a guy in Utah who really wanted to make it. He optioned it for several years. He did casting, did screen tests, but it never worked out. So the option ran out, and it reverted. Okay. Another production company asked to option YELLOW MEDICINE for free for a year to possibly make it a TV show, but they ultimately were not successful. Rights reverted. Okay. Then I made another free deal with my friend William Rabkin to work on a feature YELLOW MEDICINE script. Then Paul von Stoetzel and Bridget Cronin came along to ask for HOGDOGGIN' rights. That was about, oh, just over a year-and-a-half ago. Still waiting to hear more about that. And that's that.
When I talked to movie people early on (producers, mostly), they were always super-positive about getting it done and making some money and how awesome it was gonna be, and then once things started to flag a bit, you couldn't even get them to respond to you anymore. So that really soured me even more on movies and the movie biz. Also, I wanted to be paid for the rights more than I really wanted for a movie to be made. I'm not dazzled by the movie biz. Sometimes I got the impression the producer was sitting back thinking, "Yeah, doesn't everyone want to be in the movies? Isn't that enough for you, writer person? Why are you ruining it by talking about money?"
Oh, yeah, I forgot that there was this one guy in St. Louis who wanted to work with us, I think. Maybe. Maybe not. Anyway, it didn't work out.
I've seen some friends burned by the movie biz, too. Heart-wrenching stuff. Showed me how fickle actors and directors and producers can be. What appeared to be a sure thing ended up, weeks later, as a nowhere deal. Lots and lots of promises, just smashed like lightbulbs, and no consequences for the ones breaking them, just a writer left alone, mouth agape, thinking What the hell just happened?
There came a point when I realized my career as a writer wasn't (and probably would not ever be) big enough to grab a major publisher or producer's attention, and I am a-okay with that. Not saying it would never happen, but not anticipating that it would happen one day like I used to.
That said, how the hell is All the Young Warriors still not optioned?
I really like the producers and director of the possible Hogdoggin' movie. They're very cool people and I like them. But I'm still always wary of the way movie people talk to writers, so I've done my best to insulate my feelings about it. My expectations are kinda low. I mean, don't get me wrong, I wish them the absolute best, but, like Kenny Rogers, I don't count my money while I'm sittin' at the table.
The most terrifying satire I've ever seen about Hollywood's treatment of writers is the show Action! with Jay Mohr. And just to show you how bad it is, I cannot even remember the name of the actor who played the poor, beaten down screenwriter.
I teach screenwriting, and I've written several screenplays, but I finally realized that I don't want to spend time writing spec scripts when I could be writing novels, which I enjoy more. If someone from Hollywood or some indie producer ever said, "We'll pay you upfront to write this or re-write this," then I would do it. Otherwise, I don't care.
I'm a money-grubbing writer who doesn't dream about movies. One reason I actually decided to do the deal for HOGDOGGIN' was because 1) it stayed local, and 2) the money seemed as if it was an actual, reasonable, payable reality.