Wednesday, June 24, 2015

My Guest: Judith Lucci

Paying us a return visit this week is a gracious lady who brings medical mayhem and bloody violence to her superb New Orlean's based novels. But she's here to tell you about the world as an Indie writer. Ladies and Gentlemen...

Judith Lucci

Thru the Eyes of an Indie

The Good, the Bad and the Awful!

Good Morning Everyone and many thanks to Eric for inviting me to his blog. I want to tell you about the release of my newest book, 'Toxic New Year: The Day that Wouldn’t End'. Toxic is the fourth book in the Alex Destephano medical thriller series but first, I want to tell you a little about my evolution as an Indie author.  I must preface this by saying I was an academic writer first and the scribe of textbooks, research studies, federal grants,
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theoretical articles and anything and everything in between needed to become a tenured professor in a major University. Nevertheless, I can assure you that any prestige you receive in your discipline (mine is nursing, medicine and healthcare) and no matter how coveted your work is, that prestige in academia disappears in the popular press.

First of all, I’m Indie by choice. I started off in the summer of 2012, as a trad-based writer with a contract from a small press and an actual dollar advance. I was thrilled, and dutiful as I am, I changed my story even though I didn’t want to, killed off a character I wanted to live, and altered plot lines as I was told. The final clincher came in the restrictive language in my final contract. Since I’m an out-of-the-box, free-spirited kind of girl, this didn’t sit well with me so I bailed, returned the advance, and joined the Indie Revolution, kinda of like when I joined the hippy movement in the 1970s – with the same energy, commitment and gusto.

The Best of Indie

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There are great things about being Indie and I’m lovin’ it. I have an amazing support group and some pretty decent success as a writer. I figure I’m earning about a dime an hour now, so it’s not all bad.

Best of all I’ve met fantastic indie authors, made great friends and have a new bunch of favorite authors. I love the autonomy being Indie allows and I answer only to myself and my readers.  I make my own decisions, set my own timeline and chart my own path. My work schedule is mine and mine alone and I like having the creative control of everything I do. In a summary, being Indie Rocks!

The Bad…or Hard

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The hard part of Indie authorship being a one man show. Indies must write, blog, edit, publicize, tweet, post, market, respond to fans, present talks, turn cart wheels, smile nicely and watch their language. In essence, do everything it takes to sell write and sell a book, often without knowing how. Technology is hard for me but I’ve learned a lot, and while I did graduate work in marketing, I can assure you social network marketing wasn’t what I studied. Keeping up with social networks is a full time job so I’ve managed to select three I think give me the greatest exposure. I have most of my marketing advertisement developed through Fiverr and have a couple of folks I work with over and over. Fiverr is a pretty good deal all in all and it saves me time and money. Another albatross in Indie writing is editing (both concept and copy) and I have learned the hard way that I cannot edit what I write. I think it was Poe who said, “Write Drunk, Edit Sober” but that doesn’t work for me at all. Now, I have a small street team and a paid editor to assist me with this arduous but important task. My books go past the eyes of at least three other folks before they’re released. My street team also beta-reads my books and tells me where the problems are. And…believe me they’ll tell me. So, part of being Indie is keeping up and learning all you can to keep your books fresh, professional and out front and center. It’s hard, but it’s fun and there’re lots of great indie authors out there to help.
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The Awful!

There’s not a lot that’s awful about being Indie but there are a couple of things that are the bane of my existence and those of my Indie colleagues. They are trolls, or people who are just plain mean and set out to hurt, destroy or demean the work of Indie and self-pubbed writers. I don’t really understand the mean spirits of these people but I do know for a fact they exist.  My final curse is reviewers who drop a book one or two stars for a couple of misspelled words. I just want to rip out their carotid arteries and say, “OK, Jackass, let me see you write a 100,000 document without an error” but of course I don’t.  I just grab a glass of wine and calm my raging spirit and try harder.

OK, there you have it!  Being Indie is awesome. Now about my new release.

Many of you probably know a bit about Alex Destephano medical thriller series but here’s a quick overview from my website.

Alex Destephano is hospital lawyer living in New Orleans who struggles, like all of us, to find her way.  Life is tough. She’s been hurt in love, deserted in life and left bruised and vulnerable. All Alex wants is the simple life and a man that truly loves her. It won’t happen. Violence in her life, terror in her home and near-death experiences have panicked her. Will she make it?  And, if so, at what cost?

'ToxicNew Year' is the fourth in the series and opens on New Year’s Day at the Annual Bloody Mary Brunch hosted by Alex’s grandparents’ Congressman & Mrs. Adam Patrick Lee of Virginia. Terror prowls in every corner of the country estate and danger lurks behind each corner. The setting continues to New Orleans and later in France where fear, and panic are the order of the day.

Enjoy and let me hear from you!

Judith is a registered nurse and native Virginian who grew up in Richmond.  She holds graduate and doctoral degrees from Virginia Commonwealth University and the University of Virginia.  She has been a practicing clinical nurse for over 25 years and is currently a professor of Nursing at James Madison University and the author of numerous academic and health-related articles and documents. In addition to her academic writing she is the author of the Alexandra Destephano novels, a group of medical thrillers set in New Orleans and Virginia.  When not teaching or writing, Judith is an avid silk painter and multi-media artist.  She owns  Artisan Galleries, an art gallery with locations in Harrisonburg and Massanutten.  She lives in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia with her family and six dogs.

Judith’s Links
Contact email:

Once again thank you, Judith, for sharing your experience of being an Indie author with us. My very best wishes for the new book whcih I'm sure will be as gripping as the rest of the series.

Eric @

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Taking it to the Next Level!

Want to kick your novels up a notch? Elevate them to greater heights?

Who doesn’t, right?

Is there some elusive action or element you are overlooking?

Have you considered the THEME of your novel(s)?

No I’m not referring to that tune that sounds in your head every time you put pen to paper or click a key.

It’s curious but if you compare the ‘classic’ novels we all know with many of the latest being written by people trying to break into the business of writing, one of the factors that is often missing in the newer novels is Theme.

So just what is this elusive ingredient, and how can I get some?

If you think of your book(s) as something you have built from scratch, you may recognise the following schematic, which is especially true of book series:

A common book series structure

Now there are several different types of ‘cement’ required to hold this structure together. Obviously, a good tale is important, as is a set of interesting characters. Unfortunately, and again, this is essential for a series of books, you need more. The ‘glue’ that is required comes in two complementary flavours: an overall story arc (or arcs – no reason why there can’t be more than one in a series) and a theme which runs through all the books in the series.

It’s all about connectivity, you see, and the relationship between all that happens at the micro and macro levels with the overall story arc. Our individual tales, be they plots or sub-plots; the character’s actions and reactions, nay their growth and evolution during the series is marked by the theme you chose.

This is getting heavy, so let’s take a break and have a cuppa:

Some themes used frequently in novels
These are but a few of the possibilities. Now, be honest, did you consciously choose a theme for your last book? Is whatever happens in its pages consistent with that theme? Will your readers be aware of the theme you chose as they follow the events you describe?

Let’s try to make this a little simpler with an example. I don’t wish to annoy any fellow writers by dissecting their work, so I’ll annoy myself and analyse my ‘the CULL’ series to show you how I applied a theme to the wee beastie.

Now, you may know this series didn’t start off as such (if you are interested in the story I recommend reading this wonderful interview by Merry Citarella for Jaquo Magazine Did I sit down prior to penning my prose and produce an outline based around a particular theme? No, I did not! Hypocrite, you cry! I shall explain. The original, stand-alone novel, now book 1, did have a theme, that of Acceptance and Overcoming Adversity (yes, you can use more than one, just don’t get too complicated.) Yet when the first book evolved into a second, I realised I needed something ‘stronger’ to carry the tale where I wanted it to go. I went over the original, now entitled ‘the CULL – Bloodline’, and saw the solution had been waiting in the wings for me to recognise its existence. The theme was Change.

My next step, long before starting the writing of book 2, was to explore this theme a little more. So I started to jot down how Change could manifest, and how these manifestations could be related to or influenced by one another. I came up with this (not the very rough, pencilled scribble I actually drew in my notebook, but a nice pretty version for this article):

the CHANGE theme diagram
So I had an exploded spaghetti of a diagram with more arrows than Custer’s Last Stand, yet what use was it? How could all these intriguing words and suspected connections be applied to my project?

Well to arrive at the answer, I went back to basics.

I write THRILLERS – you know, those books that make your heart beat faster as you flick the pages, stay up way past your intended bedtime to read ‘just one more chapter’, and are the cause of your food and drink going cold or forgetting to pick up the kids after school – yes, Thrillers! Any writer of thrillers worth his salt will tell you about the three magic ingredients that (not just) thriller novels need: Conflict, Action and Suspense.

Going back to my spaghetti scribble I immediately saw that each arrow offered at least two of the three as plot-points. For example, Amy Bree’s change – her evolution during the four books of the series published thus far, whilst arguably it has not been the most dramatic change in the novels (Katie Lindon, the other protagonist must take first prize for that), it has been the most complex and challenging. Just follow the diagram as I talk you through a little of what I used.

Amy started as a young FBI agent with a brilliant IQ and a unique mind ideally suited to problem solving. She wanted to be a field agent, however, so she could apply her incisive puzzle resolution skills to capturing serial killers. But no; somewhere along the line someone gave her the FBI equivalent of a SAT (aptitude) test and she was assigned to a backroom geek role as a support agent. Cubicled! (not a word in the OED but, these days, maybe it should be!). Of course frustration set in, which lay the groundwork for her jumping at the chance to team up with another geek and go half-cocked at catching a serial killer without any support or official backing! And, of course, everything imaginable that could go wrong, did! Murphy’s Law had a field day! She got booted from the Feds and told never to return. Enter a mysterious priest, whom we learn works for the Vatican Intelligence Service and has some hold over the Vice President. Faster than you can say ‘Eidetic Memory’, she’s teamed up with sixty-two-year old, ex-NSA super-spook Katie Lindon back in the FBI’s own HQ building. But now, she’s not in the FBI, but in a covert unit of Homeland Security, and her new partner will take no naysaying from the FBI Deputy Director about what they do and who’s in their team. Experiencing this empowers Amy whilst at the same time makes her start to doubt if it is what she really wants.

And that’s just the first ten or so chapters of book 1, in a nutshell.

Amy (look at the CHANGE diagram please) has gone from being a defined Individual, member of a Group, where her own Sense of Self is at odds with what she does; is given new Friends and Allies (a slippery one in the form of Cancelli, the Vatican priest, and a solid one, who will fail her in a BIG way at the end of book one, Katie) and a new job apparently doing what she wanted all along. She Rationalises the odd way this all came about, suppressing her inevitable questions (remember she’s OCD analytical), and allows Katie’s actions to Legitimise her own, even when she knows these will cross the big red lines she respects as a Federal Agent.

All in all, pretty complex for one character in the first novel of a series, and a superb basis for what’s to come. Bucket-loads of opportunity for Conflict, Action and Suspense. Now, apply the diagram to all the other characters (Katie, of course, Cancelli, Enrique, Tadhg Griffin and, from book 2 onward, Miach, Jennifer Craven, Cardinal Moretti and even Bombeni). Imagine how the ‘diagrams’ for each of these characters would forcibly interact to provoke even more Conflict, Action and Suspense. I was amazed at the possibilities; so much so, I wrote book 2 (Bloodstone) and 3 (Blood Feud) back-to-back!

But… there was more to be distilled from applying my theme…

Theme doesn’t just manifest in the characters and their actions but in the tale itself.

Let’s do another example, this time skipping ahead to the fourth book which has just appeared (Blood Demon). I had planned to load this book with so many ‘I didn’t see that coming’ moments that applying CHANGE was guaranteed. Yet my diagram served up another interesting application.

In all ‘the CULL’ novels there are stand-alone stories which enable a reader to pick up the books in any order and quickly enjoy the trials and tribulations challenging my protagonists and antagonists (and some who you are never quite sure which side they are on). Obviously, the BEST way to read the series is to follow the advice of the King of Hearts from ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ – “Begin at the beginning, and go on till you come to the end: then stop” (That last bit’s important!)

In book 4 (Blood Demon) while Katie is still in Rome tracking down the mysterious murderer of one of her colleagues, Young Amy is stateside and finds herself dumped in the middle of a deadly investigation: someone is killing off people in the Witness Protection Program! She’s on her own, even SANTA, Katie’s unique (and evolving – more change, and yes, I applied the diagram here too) artificial intelligence computer software who’s the third member of the core team, is ignoring her (!) and she’s back to where she started – using just her wits to solve a problem that’s stumped the Department of Justice and Marshals Service investigators for months.

Note what we have: the Individual, Amy again, who’s no longer in the Group, and deprived of her Technology, using her abstract knowledge of Technology and Social Interaction to resolve the murders. (I won’t say more so as to avoid spoilers). Yes, the diagram gave me a plot! …as well as provided plenty of opportunity for Amy to evolve on her own, something she’s only had the opportunity to do at the end of book 1, although we don’t really find out about what she did until later in the series.

Yes, and yet you say you’re stuck for ideas, or blocked from developing a storyline!

Grab yourself a THEME, fellow scribe; play with it a little, and be AMAZED!

Now a wee word of warning.

Themes are not a soapbox. Of course, you have you own pet hates and personal beliefs but using a theme to thrust these down the throats of your readers is insulting their intelligence.

A summary, methinks!

To find the cement you need to build a solid structure in either a stand-alone one-off, or a series, there are two steps:

IDENTIFY (What is your story about, on all levels? Why should the reader care? Why do you, the writer, want to tell this? The answers should give you a shortlist of possible themes and help avoid soapboxing.)

CHOOSE (Pick a theme that offers the greatest potential for your objectives, one you, personally, are comfortable with, and apply it at all levels – overall arc, plot and sub-plot, character development etc. Remember, you are writing for your readers, writing to entertain and challenge them, not provide material exclusively for a book club meeting, though if you treat the theme’s application correctly, they’ll love you for it!).         

Amazon Link for book 1 - only 99 cents/pence

From the author of the critically acclaimed 'Outsourced

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

My Guest: Ken Grace

My Guest this week tackles a thorny subject all writers face: analysis of your own work! Welcome to the Dark Side! Ladies and Gentlemen...

Ken Grace

The Word According
to Jekyll and Hyde

When you’re faced with the daunting task of considering the quality of your own work, how can you possibly rise above the terrors of the subjective judgement? I mean, whose opinion really matters the most in this dank and murky world of writing? Once I might have said that my own opinion was truly the only one that really mattered, but come on, self-confidence doesn’t guarantee quality and is so regularly associated with self-deception that it’s hardly a reliable source of judgement. In fact, some of the grandest statements of self-promotion are often uttered by the more impoverished examples of the archetypical starving author.

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Then there’s the high level of unqualified opinion found in the vast majority of the general public to consider; people who don’t always seem that sympathetic when it comes to the sweat of your labours or the brilliance of your work. You can add to this, the positive views and obvious genius of your fan base, and even the potentially career crushing opinions delivered by your agent. That’s a lot of subjective judgement already, yet there’s still the views of the learned intellectuals, critics and literary assassins that seem to have the right to tear you to pieces that we also need to include in the mix. 

These views are often the educated, self-interested kind, or the type that are determined out of personal perceptions without the need to ever qualify these in any way. Haven’t we all been at that party or gathering, discussing the latest hit movie, when a particularly unlearned person states that the lead in the show ‘just can’t act’, even though that actor may have won many awards and carried many a multi-million dollar production through years of wonderful performances. 

I find it strange that outside of the literary world, there are so many people in the above group, both educated or otherwise that often believe they would have no trouble writing a novel, usually an autobiography. These same folk nearly always regard the business of literature, including the writing of said novel, to be easy. This seems to be a general consensus. Just put pen to paper and the incredible story of a life in the suburbs becomes a hit, without any need for further education. Maybe I can give up writing and develop manned spacecraft that can be sent to another galaxy; all out of the spare parts in my shed.

The act of writing must be easy; all an intended author needs to consider at any one moment throughout the writing process is little things, like, whether or not they’ve developed a unique protagonist and a likewise list of spectacular characters, who act and perform precisely out of the writer’s development of their core beliefs and colourful attitudes. Also there’s character growth born out of the conflicts you must create and the rising tensions that lead the reader on, enthralled to that knock’em-down climax. Then of course, there’s the sentence construction that just happens to determine the sound and style, and of course there’s the clever comparisons, as well as the correct word usage, the poignancy and subtlety that tweaks the emotions, the creation of perfectly balanced pacing and progression, the maintaining of focus, the experience of showing consequence and deeply felt ramifications through the actions of the characters, the adherence to genre, the perfect viewpoint and type of narrator, the tone, the development of breath taking settings, the creation of believability through the suspension of un-believability, the unique voice for your unique characters, the thrilling chapter hooks, the relevance in every word and sentence and paragraph of your story, the handling of backfill, the brilliant dialogue, the balance, the overall structure, the informative and colourful prose … all the while avoiding the ordinary, the commonplace and the cliché, whilst judging and determining the complexity of your story to fit with the needs of your intended readership … and so much more.
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Seriously easy hey? Yet such uniformed assumptions and even your own learnedness, may not be enough of a valuable guide to determine the quality of your hard work.

What then, if you have none of the wanted opinions we’ve covered and still achieve record book sales, or win major literary awards? Surely one of these achievements is enough to stamp ‘good’ on your work? Yet, these inquiries almost always manifests another all-encompassing question. Do sales figures and awards, or any of the above opinions, definitively qualify your creations?

Just about every writer in the universe has suffered the dualistic confusion found in the Jekyll and Hyde of opinion. After all, massive books sales don’t always guarantee positive critiques. Likewise, winning major literary awards provides no assurances of book sales.

If we’re honest with ourselves, we’ve all suffered some anger, or jealousy over the sub-standard publications that seem to magically ‘hit the target’ or ‘find that niche’ and sell a ridiculous amount of books right across the globe, despite their lack of technical accomplishment. Everybody tells you its absolute rubbish and not worth a read, yet even your grandmother bought a copy.

Perhaps the answer to each of the questions we’ve asked is the same one. Art and storytelling are as old as man and even back then sitting by the fire in our caves, each artist and story teller pursued their gifts for their own reasons, expectations and aspirations. And, maybe that’s just how it is, quite apart from the rules of technical application and evaluation, the quality of your work may always have to live within the Jekyll and Hyde of the subjective, because we are all different and lucky enough in most cases to be able to voice our opinion, no matter its validity.

A Warning from the Author:

(written by Ken)

As an author, Ken Grace can only be described as a God-like figure, born with the physical attributes gifted to such a deity. His amazing characteristics could be accredited thusly:

He is sensationally short, brilliantly bald … lucky in that his hair has migrated from his head to other areas of his person such as his back and massive buttocks. He is also fabulously flabby, ridiculously rude, verbally incontinent and weird in that he stares at you in a creepy and superior way for no earthly apparent reason.

There is also his disdain of cleanliness, his ability to produce wind in the most inappropriate of circumstances and his knack of seeing the negative in every situation, to take into account.

Also, his vision is impaired, his hearing is almost non-existent, the air around him smells like sewerage and he can only taste sausage that has been left in the sun for several weeks. Yet, it’s his sense of touch that is possibly the most interesting, in that he has to hug everything he comes in contact with, from lamp posts to people, with the experience of his touch feeling something akin to sharp ice, only sticky, wet and greasy.

All in all, he has often been described as the perfect form with an intellect that is so special that it has so far never been detected. 

When Ken's not writing amusing Biographical material or sizzling SciFi novels, he can be found here:


Thanks, Ken, for revealing what to many readers is probably something they have never considered before: the writer's need to have feedback on their work. With this in mind, I entreat ALL READERS always to write reviews of the novels they finish - for those of us who sweat blood and tears during hundreds of long hours to bring you this timeless form of entertainment, it's our lifeblood!

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

My Guest: Barb Taub

When I first read the post by this week's Guest, I had tears in my eyes... initially from laughing so hard, then through the realisation she had hit the nail on the head. Intrigued? Ladies and Gentlemen...

Barb Taub

The Write Biz

When Eric invited me to contribute a guest post, he had only two requests. It should be about writing, and it should be "awesome". Well, damn. I could think of a lot of awesome stuff, but if I tried to diagram the overlap with writing stuff, it would look like this:

Unfortunately, (although she is awesome), I don't think my dog is what Eric had in mind for this post. So with the other 99% of my topic ideas eliminated, I was saved at the last minute when a friend sent me (yet another) Very Serious Discussion about embracing the business side of our craft. One of the things that never ceases to amaze me is the way we writers undertake the business of writing. I wondered what it might look like if other professions marketed their product the way writers do.
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    ·     Gynecologist: The first ten people who 'like' me on Facebook get a free pelvic exam.
    ·         Lawyer: I'm not actually charging my clients because I'm building my reputation. Someday I'll be famous and they'll line up to pay.
    ·         CEO: It's okay if we don't show a profit. I've got some savings and my retirement—we can use that to keep going for a while.
    ·    Accountant: I could get better medical insurance if I worked for Starbucks, but I'm sticking with this because all my life I've dreamed of auditing tax returns.    

    ·      Surgeon: I'm giving away free
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appendectomies so more people can experience my art. I'm working two extra jobs to pay the bills, but it will be worth it when the reviews start rolling in.
     ·         Psychiatrist: I've spent over twelve years honing my skills, working a day job at Chez Mac's while exchanging free psychotherapy consults with my psychiatry group at night.
    ·       Dentist: I'm doing a blog tour, and you can enter my rafflecopter giveaway if you send a tweet, leave a comment, and add your email to my mailing list. Winner gets a free root canal.
    ·    Broker: I'm sending out free shares in hopes that people give them good reviews on Goodreads.
     ·        Chef: If I charge more than the food truck at Amazon, nobody will buy my next dish. Instead, I'll get a day job at Chez Mac's so I can keep giving my gourmet dishes away.
    ·       Banker: I think I'll just work from my dining table at home, alone, second-guessing all my decisions while I whine about getting lenders-block.
     ·      Human Resources: Instead of a salary, we'll pay people a small advance against future profits. Then they'll get paid in
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royalties. If they actually sell enough to pay back that advance, that is. And there will be at least a year's delay before the payments start, of course.
    ·        CIA: Even though you work for an evil empire, we want to keep your leaders on our side so we're going to give you everything you want. Besides, if we don't like what you do with it, we can always come back and kill you off in the sequel. [Oh...wait. The writer's business model is already the same as the CIA? Who knew?]
I know what you're going to say. It's not fair, especially when some of the best writers in the world are still asking, "And would you like fries with that?" at their day jobs. A writer I know was adding up all she spent on editing, proofing, formatting, and marketing her book. Her conclusion? "I could probably have done better if I spent it all on lottery tickets."
But here's the thing. If you buy every single ticket in a particular lottery, you are guaranteed to lose—because the prize is NEVER more than a fraction of the ticket sales. The trick is to be lucky enough and smart enough to buy just enough tickets. Every word we write is a lottery ticket that we pay for with our time, our imagination, our talent, and our luck. Most of those tickets won't bring home the big prize. But they can't bring anything at all if we don't buy them to start with. So here's the business model I'm going to work with:
“I write to give myself strength.
I write to be the characters that I am not.
I write to explore all the things I'm afraid of.”

That seems to be working for Joss Whedon. I'm guessing it will do for me.

But just in case — I've got this pile of free bookmarks if anyone's interested...


In halcyon days BC (before children), Barb Taub wrote a humor column for several Midwest newspapers. With the arrival of Child #4, she veered toward the dark side and an HR career. Following a daring daytime escape to England, she's lived in a medieval castle and a hobbit house with her prince-of-a-guy and the World’s Most Spoiled Aussie Dog. Now all her days are Saturdays, and she spends them consulting with her occasional co-author/daughter on Marvel heroes, Null City, and translating from British to American. 

Just a word about her 'Null City' Series: Superpowers suck. If you just want to live a normal life, Null City is only a Metro ride away. After one day there, imps become baristas, and hellhounds become poodles. Demons settle down, become parents, join the PTA, and worry about their taxes. But outside of Null City, now that the century-long secret Nonwars between Gifts and Haven are over and the Accords Treaty is signed, an uneasy peace is policed by Wardens under the command of the Accords Agency. 

When Barb is not entertaining us with her keen wit or writing superb novels, she can be found here:

Amazon Author page:

Thank you, Barb, for such an incisive and humourous disection of one of the aspects of an Indie writer's life that often goes unnoticed by our readers.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

My Guest: Dan Pollock

You've heard that old cliché 'Write what you know'? Well my Guest this week is here to reveal a few secrets regarding writing about stuff outside your comfort zone. Ladies and Gentlemen...

Dan Pollock

Writing What You Don't Know

Have you noticed? There’s a new breed of techno-thriller writer. More and more explosive page-turners are being churned out by ex-Delta operators, SEAL Team Sixers, Recon Marines, you name it. These guys have actually been there, done that and lived to tell about it—in gritty and convincing techno-detail.

I’m not one of them, alas. I’m a bookish, sedentary guy who conjures up macho heroes for fun and profit. Which means I have to research almost everything I write about.

That’s okay. I like to research. And I relish the challenge of making cumbersome research vanish in sheer narrative excitement. The way Mario Puzo did:

“I wrote The Godfather entirely from research. I never met a real honest-to-god gangster. I knew the gambling world pretty good, but that’s all. After the book became famous, I was introduced to a few gentlemen related to the material. They were flattering. They refused to believe that I had never been in the rackets. They refused to believe that I had never had the confidence of a Don. But all of them loved the book.”—Mario Puzo, The Godfather Papers, p. 36

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My first published thriller was set in exotic locales I’d never laid eyes on (and still haven’t)—Istanbul and the Eastern Mediterranean. 'Lair of theFox' was published in 1989, before the era of online, on-the-fly research, so my desk was piled high with National Geographics, maps ordered from around the world, travel books and magazines.

I sent an advanced reading copy to Eric Ambler (d. 1998), whose 1939 masterpiece, A Coffin for Demetrios (also set in Istanbul) was my inspiration for Lair. Ambler promised to read my fledgling novel, then added that he, too, had not had a chance to visit Istanbul before writing about it. Eventually, he said, he came to know the city quite well and applied this knowledge in several works, especially The Light of Day (filmed as Topkapi).

Interestingly, Ambler confessed, some “old Stamboul hands” later told him that the “atmospherics” of the magical city were far more convincing in Demetrios than his subsequent works.

Those convincing atmospherics were compounded of equal parts free-flowing imagination and painstaking research.

“I try to research whatever I write about. I think writers who don’t are lazy. I just stop reading when, especially if it’s a book about cops or crime, it’s written by someone who does no research and just wings it. Especially Hollywoodish writers. I close the book. It shuts me down, and I can’t suspend my disbelief any longer. It’s just all cartoons.”— Joe Wambaugh, interview, San Diego Reader, 11/4/93

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If you read a swashbuckler by C.S. Forester or Patrick O’Brian (as I hope you will), you’ll find yourself awash in authentic, briny detail. Both were masters of nautical and historical research. As was that master craftsman Rudyard Kipling:

“I embarked on a little book which was called Captains Courageous… I reveled in profligate abundance of detail—not necessarily for publication but for the joy of it.”— Rudyard Kipling, Something of Myself, p. 139)

Kipling’s zeal for authenticity contrasts starkly with the following example of lazy non-research. The perpetrator is John Grisham. In his breakout blockbuster, the otherwise gifted storyteller simply copies a list of sailing terms to explain how his characters learned to sail:

“They listened to and memorized words like spinnaker, mast, bow, stern, aft, tiller, halyard winches, masthead fittings, shrouds, lifelines, stanchions, sheet winch, bow pulpit, coamings, transom, clew outhaul, genoa sheets, mainsail, jib, jibstays, jib sheets, cam cleats and boom vangs. [They were] lectured on heeling, luffing, running, blanketing, backwinding, heading up, trimming and pointing.” —John Grisham, The Firm

Another brand-name bard, Stephen King, admits to a similar sin in one of his pseudonymous Richard Bachman novels:

“There are some places where they’re talking in Romany, the gypsy language. What I did was I yanked some old Czechoslovakian editions of my works off the shelves and just took stuff out at random. And I got caught. I got nailed for it [by the readers], and I deserved to be, because it was lazy.” (Writer’s Digest, 3/92, p. 26)
Today, thanks to the instant omniscience of Google, an opposite temptation confronts the fiction writer—larding up the narrative with too much impressive-sounding research. The trick is to select the telling detail and to discard the dross tonnage.

“With each new draft, I throw out my research, taking out anything that hinders the story.” —Sidney Sheldon, Los Angeles Magazine, 10/79

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In the techno-thriller, a genre more or less created by Tom Clancy’s The Hunt for Red October (with a nod to Ian Fleming), the temptation to indulge in information overload is almost irresistible. High-tech is king, after all, and readers fully expect to be bombarded with military acronyms, barracks jargon and the latest in operational paraphernalia.

But in the wrong hands “high-tech” is a virtue that can quickly turn vicious. Here’s a sample from the blood-and-guts oeuvre of ex-Navy SEAL Richard Marcinko:

“My black, knee-length Pakistani ‘pasha’ tunic covering the carbon-colored, custom-suppressed Heckler & Koch USP 9mm in its ballistic nylon thigh holster, a titanium-framed Emerson CQC6 combat folder clipped to my waistband next to the Motorola beeper…”—Richard Marcinko (Rogue Warrior: Green Team, co-authored by John Weisman, p. 3)

The passage rambles on in this indigestible vein, inviting comparison to Grisham’s nautical cataloguing.

“The novelist is ill-advised to be too technical. The practice of using a multitude of cant terms is tiresome. It should be possible to give verisimilitude without that, and atmosphere is dearly bought at the price of tediousness.”—W. Somerset Maugham, The Summing Up, p. 69

“There’s such a thing as too authentic,” writes David Poyer, an ex-Navy officer who has penned dozens of nautical thrillers. “The problem with doing a Navy book is that the average reader can’t understand what you’re talking about.” Poyer’s solution is to introduce technical language gradually and in context. “By the last third of the book,” he says, “the non-naval reader is in tune with what’s going on.” (Publishers Weekly interview, 7/5/93)

As a final note, Clancy, the master of technical verisimilitude, enjoyed occasionally taking liberties with facts and indulging his fancy. An example occurred in his 1989 thriller, Clear and Present Danger. Clancy wanted a bomb that exploded silently. When the latest in weaponry wasn’t up to his standards, he simply invented his own hardware. He called it the “Hushaboom.”

“I got the idea from The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show,” Clancy told an interviewer.
(Philip Morris Magazine, summer, 1991)

Dan Pollock was born in New York City to a family of writers and grew up in Laguna Beach, California. A former syndicate editor with the Los Angeles Times, Pollock is the author of six thriller novels— Countdown to CasablancaLair of the Fox, Duel of Assassins, Orinoco (originally published as Pursuit Into Darkness), The Running Boy and Ringland —and a specially commissioned “logistics” thriller, Precipice. With his wife, Constance, Pollock edited and published three literary, inspirational volumes: The Book of Uncommon Prayer; Gospel: The Life of Jesus as Told by the World's Great Writers; and Visions of the Afterlife: Heaven, Hell and Revelation as Viewed by the World's Great Writers. The Pollocks live in Southern California with their two children.

When not writing nail-biting thrillers, Dan can be located here:


Thank you, Dan, for the superb advice and a fascinating analysis that breaks with one of writing's most often-repeated adages... a superb breath of fresh air!

Eric @