For those of you who, like me, are filling out your Bouchercon Anthony Award ballots and are trying to remember which books came out in 2005… here are two resources that will help: Cluelass lists all the 2005 Mystery releases and book critic David J. Montgomery shares some of his favorites for the top Anthony categories.
Month: May 2006
Blow Job Empowerment
Author Meg Cabot doesn’t understand why some girls think that giving blowjobs is empowering.
In “The Notebook Girls,” the allegedly
“real” notebook kept by four teens who attended Stuyvesant High School
in New York City, we are repeatedly told how “empowering” blow jobs
are…which left me wondering, as always, what’s so empowering about
giving sexual pleasure without receiving any in return?
It’s a question she tackles in her new book QUEEN OF BABBLE.
(That’s to Sarah for the heads-up…no pun intended).
Novelist John Connolly has an interesting post on researching his novels. But what intrigued me was this little nugget about how he writes:
I brought with me to the US the initial draft of The Unquiet.
I imagine it would be almost unintelligible to anyone who tried to read
it as a coherent narrative. My first draft tends to be a little rough.
There will be inconsistencies of dialogue and character. Some
characters will appear in the early stages only to disappear later,
their failure to manifest themselves once again left entirely
unexplained. Some things seem like good ideas at the start, but quickly
prove to be distractions from the main thrust of the book, and as soon
as that realisation hits me I tend to let those elements slide.
I don’t fret too much about how untidy the text may be (although,
in my darker moments, I wonder what might happen if I didn’t live to
finish the book and someone else, for whatever reason, decided to piece
together whatever was left behind. I wish them luck. I mean, I’ve
written it, and sometimes even I’m not entirely sure that I always look
forward to trying to put all of the pieces together). After all,
there’s nobody looking over my shoulder, and my main aim is to get the
plot and characters from A-Z, even if that means bypassing Q and R
entirely, and occasionally having to loop back to P just to reassure
myself that I have a vague notion of what I’m doing.
I’m guessing that John doesn’t write with an outline. I know a number of authors who write the same way he seems to…just going where ever the inspiration takes him. I’m not going to knock it because clearly it’s worked great for him. But I don’t think I could ever write that way. That doesn’t mean that I stick religiously to my outline, or that characters don’t come and go (I’ve had characters who were meant to die in Chapter One that I kept alive through the whole book), but I need it to keep me more or less pointed in the right direction. I would find writing a book, particularly a mystery, very difficult to do on-the-fly.
Has “Grey’s Anatomy” Jumped The Shark?
I can usually ride along with the sillier aspects of GREY’S ANATOMY, much the same way I willingly suspend my disbelief and accept CSI techs getting DNA results back in 20 minutes, questioning witnesses, carrying guns, and driving chrome-plated Hummers. But the season finale of GREY was just too much.
An article in today’s LA Times analyzes the more outrageous aspects of the story. Izzie, one of the regular characters, falls in love with Denny, a potential heart-transplant patient, and goes to outrageous lengths to make sure he receives a donor heart:
Izzie then deliberately cuts the pump lines of Denny’s heart’s left
ventricular-assisting device. Emergency cases get priority, and his
deteriorating condition will move him up the transplant list. But Izzie’s disconnection of Denny’s assistance device (which initially
caused the heart to stop) ultimately leads to his kidney failure. The other surgical interns learn what is happening, but they don’t report Izzie’s behavior to the supervising resident.
the truth comes out, the chief of surgery acknowledges that the
hospital’s accreditation may be in jeopardy, but he takes no action and
Izzie quits on her own. Because of his worsening heart failure, Denny receives the heart that was intended for the other recipient, but dies afterward.
All of this strained believability to the breaking point. Nobody was behaving in a realistic way in a realistic world…yet we aren’t being asked to believe it’s a fantasy world…we’re supposed to accept that it’s real. In other words, this isn’t James Bond, Harry Potter, or the X-Men, where you know going in the rules of the real world simply don’t apply. The doctors in GREY are supposed to be real interns in a real hospital in the real world. But you’d never know watching the finale:
A prospective heart transplant patient would never sign a Do Not
Resuscitate order — surgeons would not operate on such a patient
because resuscitation may be necessary at any point. Second, if a heart assistance pump were disconnected, a loud alarm would sound. Third,
interns could never monitor a sick heart patient for such a prolonged
period of time without intervention by at least a nurse, if not a more
senior physician. In the show, the interns watch Denny’s heart stop,
resuscitate him, give him emergency medication — all without
observation or intervention. In real life, such a stunt would be cause
for Izzie’s immediate arrest for attempted murder; the other interns
would likely be kicked out of the residency program.
The upshot, according to common sense and the LA Times:
In fact, the only truly believable scene is the correct use of
phenobarbital to put Dr. Meredith Grey’s dog to sleep because of
incurable bone cancer.
Back to the Future Vampire Fanfic
Tales to Astonish has stumbled on some truly bizarro fanfic:
Does anyone else find Back to the Future fan fiction strange?
Would you find it stranger if all of the characters were vampires?
I would, but then again I write Matlock/Star Trek fanfic in my spare
time, where they’re all towering robots from a dark cybertronic
dimension. Who am I to judge someone for having strange passions?
I couldn’t resist something as unbelievably inane as "BACK TO THE FUTURE vampire fanfic"…so I had to take a look:
I’m Flaming Trails, the web-mistress.
You’ve probably guessed from the title of this web page that this isn’t your standard BTTF fan fiction fare. It isn’t.
I don’t generally write the more "normal" fan fiction. My areas of
expertise are vampire versions of Doc Brown; worlds that don’t contain
Clara, Jules, or Verne; intense angst; and humor stories that would
make poor Doc wake up screaming.
Me, I’m Flaming Entrails, and my area of expertise is writing "Desperate Housewives Time Travel Lesbian Porn" that would make poor Eva Langoria wake up screaming.
(Thanks to Andy for the heads-up!)
Tod Finds Self-Published POD Gem
My brother Tod Goldberg has reviewed DANCING ON THE FLY ASH, a self-published P.O.D. book, in his Las Vegas City Life column:
It’s a sad state of affairs, however, that the one book spawned from a
blog that actually succeeds has gone virtually unnoticed: Dancing On Fly Ash by Matt Bell and Josh Maday.
differences between Bell and Maday and their blog brethren is they are
actually fiction writers, unlike Cutler, who slept with a lot of
people, and Cox, who is a fine journalist but not a fine fiction writer
(it’s not a trait that is easily shared), and their blog (found at
dancingonflyash.com) is a daily splash of flash creativity: Each day,
in 100 words or less, either Bell or Maday writes a complete short
story. Dancing On Fly Ash collects the best 62 of these entries
and the result is both exciting and frustrating — exciting in that the
best of these short-short-short stories packs the emotional wallop of a
novel and frustrating because several stories beg for more than the
The stories veer from the dramatic to the poignant to the absurd, the best of which contain all three styles.
Naturally, the authors were thrilled by the review:
This is the first review for our book, so I can’t help but be excited,
especially since it’s mostly positive. It’s so hard to get a
self-published book reviewed in the first place, much less by an author
of Goldberg’s stature. We’re very thankful to him for his
encouragement and support.
Another Great Idea for a TV Series
I got this email today:
I am just beginning my venture into the world of television. More specifically, I am trying to find out how
to go about presenting my idea for a television series. I think it’s a
terrific idea and have mentioned it to several friends, co-workers, and
family members for feedback. They all agree it sounds like something
they would really be interested in watching. My question is HOW do I
get started in something like this?I’ve had this idea for a few years, and there is nothing on TV
similar to it. I just have no idea how, where, and to whom to present
my ideas. I am a good writer as well, but I have never written
anything "dialogue-related", such as a play or TV series.
I politely replied by directing her to two of my previous posts here on the same topic. But I could have answered her question by rewriting her note:
I am just beginning my venture into the world of automotive design. More specifically, I am trying to find out how
to go about presenting my idea for a new car. I think it’s a
terrific design and have shown it to several friends, co-workers, and
family members for feedback. They all agree it looks like a car they’d be really interested in owning. My question is HOW do I
get started in something like this?I’ve had this idea for a few years, and there is nothing on the road that’s similar to it. I just have no idea how, where, and to whom to present
my ideas. I am a good artist as well, but I have never designed
anything "automotive-related", such as a motorcycle or truck.
No one in their right mind would ever write a note like that to a car designer. It would be insane. So why would you send it to a TV writer? Because TV isn’t car design. It doesn’t involve complex engineering and manufacturing.
One season of an hour-long TV series costs $50 million to produce. It takes a crew of several hundred to make it happen…and the resources of a studio (aka a factory for producing TV shows and movies). No one is going to gamble that much money, or entrust that much responsibility, to someone who has never done anything "dialogue-related."
There’s no short-cut to creating a TV series, designing a car, becoming a doctor, or becoming a great chef. It takes knowledge. It takes skill. It takes work. It takes experience. Simple as that. You start at the bottom, learn the basics, and work your way up.
Making a Living
I had lunch with a TV writer-friend not long ago, and he was lamenting how the business was letting him down lately. He hadn’t worked much in TV during the last year and was despairing about his future. He told me that he wished he wrote books, too. So write one, I said. But I could see from the expression on his face that he wouldn’t. He liked the idea of writing a book…actually doing it was something else. He was a TV writer, and that was it.
I decided long ago that I was going to be a writer first and a TV writer second. There’s no question that I make most of my living in television…but I believe it’s important to me professionally, financially, psychologically and creatively not to concentrate on just one field of writing (It probablyhelps that I started my career as a freelance journalist, then became a novelist, then a non-fiction author, and finally, a TV writer/producer). So I write books, both fiction and non-fiction, I teach TV writing, and occasionally I write articles and short stories… most of the time while I’m simultaneously writing & producing TV shows (though the TV work always takes priority over everything else).
While the income from books, teaching, and articles doesn’t come close to matching what I make in TV, those gigs keep some cash coming in when TV (inevitably) lets me down, keep me "alive" in other fields, and, more importantly, keep my spirits up.
As a result, who I am as a writer isn’t entirely wrapped up in whether or not I have a TV job or a book on the shelves. I often have both, or one or the other — but if I have neither, I have a class to teach or an article to write.
I’m not producing a series right now. But last week, I partnered with a major production company and pitched a movie with them to a cable network. I met with representatives of a European TV network that’s interested in having me teach TV writing to their writer/producers and consult on their series. I rewrote a TV movie treatment to incorporate studio notes. I turned in a freelance script to the producers of a new drama series. I taught an online screenwriting class. I submitted a short story to Amazon shorts. I wrote 60 pages of my next novel. Next week, I have a meeting with a studio exec who has shows to staff up, a notes meeting on the freelance script, galleys to proof on one of my novels, more pages of my book to write, and probably a whole lot more that I don’t even know about yet.
The bottom line is, I am always writing something for pay, even if that check is miniscule and hustling for my next gig, whether it’s in TV, publishing, or something else. Why? Because that is who I am… a professional writer. And I have a mortgage to pay, just like everybody else.
Are Tie-Ins Hack Work?
Author J. Steven York talks on his blog today about the widely held notion that anybody who writes a tie-in is a hack. Among his observations:
We’re used to being dissed, even sometimes by our fellow writers. It
was exactly that situation that lead to the recent formation of the International Association of Media Tie-in Writers,
an organization created to promote and honor the writers engaged in
this challenging and under-appreciated area of publishing.
Though I’m a member, I’ll be honest that I don’t know why it’s
necessary. Those of us in the business know the score, and I really
don’t care what the world-at-large thinks. My goal is to entertain my
readers with the best book I can produce, and enjoy myself in the
[…] most tie-in fiction is produced under battlefield conditions. No
waiting for the muse. No excuses (or none that your editor is likely to
care about). No delivering a book radically different from the one you
promised. It needs to be done. It needs to be done on deadline. It
needs to be done to specification. It needs to fit the package we’re
prepared to market. Does that hurt the quality of tie-in works? Sometimes, but less so than you’d think.
Sure, there are some lousy tie-ins and novelizations out there. But I’d say the ratio of good to lousy writing is about the same as you’ll find in popular fiction in general.
I look at tie-in writers as the literary equivalent of freelance writers on TV series. Every series uses freelancers but nobody inside or outside of the entertainment industry considers those writers hacks. That’s because freelancers are well-regarded showrunners between gigs or up-and-coming new writers contributing to a successful, on-going franchise. The same is true of tie-in writers.
If you look at some of the folks writing tie-ins, they include some of the most honored mystery writers in the field today (Max Allan Collins, Thomas Cook, and MWA Grandmaster Stuart Kaminsky come to mind). But, as J. Steven York point out, everybody has to pay the bills and, for some reason, that’s looked at as disgraceful in some writing circles.
I never fail to be amazed at the surreal and romantic notions that
people have about writers, publishing and "literature" (however you
want to define that last term). Publishing is a business, and it’s been "industrial" since the invention of movable type and/or the printing press.
I don’t really know where the notion came from of the lonely, alcoholic
writer starving for their art, chiseling their masterpieces word by
painful word, stuffing the pages in a drawer for posterity.
Fact is, its very difficult to find a writer who doesn’t at least aspire to
"pay the bills" through their works, even if that means publishing in
obscure literary magazines to support a academic career, or taking to
the lecture circuit to speak to the legions of people who would like to
pretend to have read your work.
more, sell better, write more, spend less time flipping burgers. It’s a
pretty simple formula that’s worked for a very long time. If you love
to write, you hope to sell.
The IAMTW was formed to celebrate the work of tie-in writers and educate people about who we are and what we do. We hope the 2006 Scribe Awards, honoring excellence in the tie-in field, will bring some positive attention to the writers of these bestselling — but underappreciated — works.
UPDATE 5-28-06: Author Keith R.A. DeCandido jumps into the fray:
The truth is that artists have always worked for money, just like
everyone else. The successful artists are the ones who had wealthy
patrons. The reason why art flourished in the middle ages is because
lots of wealthy people wanted art in their homes and it was considered
a noble profession — but it’s not like they were all independently
Yes, we’re hacks. And we’ve always been hacks. Get over it.
Mr. Monk and the Blue Flu
Here’s the cover for my third MONK novel, MR. MONK AND THE BLUE FLU, slated for publication in January. I think it’s the best MONK cover yet. Speaking of Monk, Tony Shalhoub talked briefly in the new issue of TV Guide about "Mr. Monk Can’t See a Thing," the episode that Bill Rabkin & I wrote, which is loosely based on my book MR. MONK GOES TO THE FIREHOUSE:
Monk will contend with temporary blindness. "He has solvent thrown in his eyes," Shalhoub says. "It becomes a really dark show" as Monk must rely on his other senses to solve the crime.