Monthly Archives: May 2012

The Things We Do For Research

Katy agreed to pretend to vamp for the camera, so I could shoot research photos of the security outside the Duomo in Milan. Best … Girl Friend … EVER!


Re-Write Right

Working on-location in Milan, Italy.

This winter, I wrote the first draft of a scene for the next book. The scene takes place in the Piazza del Duomo in Milan, pictured here. Earlier this month, Katy King and I got to travel to Milan to “block” the scene.

That meant I walked the scenes as the characters do. I entered where they did, followed the choreography of a two-pronged firefight. I took in the sights from the point of view of both my protagonist and the antagonists.

Katy took photos, while I jotted notes. We observed the Milanese residents, the tourists, the local and state police, the rhythm of the passers-by.

Now back home, I’m feeding these new facts into the next draft of the novel.

This stuff is invaluable. There is absolutely no book you can read, no website you can visit, that matches the feel of walking the site.

Many novelists hate the re-write process. I’ve rarely had so much fun.

‘Thick As Thieves’ Steals The scene

Just finished Peter Spiegelman’s THICK AS THIEVES, a 2011 caper novel. Really well done.

Spiegelman (author of BLACK MAPS and DEATHS LITTLE HELPERS, among others) uses an interesting schtick that I wouldn’t recommend to first-time novelists: He shifts from present-tense writing for most of the narrative, to past-tense for flashback sequences. And he often switches in the midst of chapters.

I sometimes get that question in the classes I teach. I often tell people they’re better off sticking to the common past-tense style throughout. It can be jarring for readers, which can jolt them out of the narrative. In short, it’s a good way for the readers to stop paying attention to your story, and start paying attention to your writing style.

It’s a high-wire act. But for the most part, Spiegelman makes it work in THICK AS THIEVES.

Editing Day!

Big Day for me: I got my edits back for the next novel!

The first-pass edits are, in my case, incredibly exciting. That’s because my editor at Minotaur Books, Keith Kahla, is so damn good. His edits are thorough and clever. He edited CRASHERS and BREAKING POINT, and he made both books better.

I’ve taken 24 hours to absorb Keith’s thoughts on the book. Today, I roll up my sleeves and begin the process of re-writing.

Man, I love my job!

‘Journalism’ As a Totally Alien Concept for Writers

So Steve Lundgren, a long-time friend from the world of journalism, sends me the following query:

“Perhaps you can shed some light on this: Why do so many adventure and detective novelists adhere to the cheap stereotypes of reporters as bottom feeders bereft of ethics, conscience and good manners?”

Cliche, much? The modern misunderstandings of everyday journalism are baffling.

I spent 20 years in newspaper newsrooms, as a reporter, editor and columnist. And I honestly have no good answer to this question.

I know, for instance, that people would walk into the newsrooms from time to time and say (in one variation or another), “I think it’s time for a new career, and I don’t want to go to college for a degree or anything. I thought I’d try my hand at being a reporter.”

I’m relatively certain lawyers and accountants don’t have people walk in the door and say the same thing.

Here’s another variation on why journalism is so incredibly misunderstood: I recently started a best-selling thriller by one of the best-known, best-read authors in the business (no names). I was relatively OK in the scenes in which one of the protagonists, a New York Times reporter, acted like a crass, lying snot in front of sources. But when the author tried to actually create a front-page story, the thing he wrote was so weird, so ham-handed, so completely unbelievable, that I’m forced to believe the novelist has never read a newspaper in his life. (For instance, about 30 paragraphs in, the story jumps off the front page. Yeah. That’s generally where we put the jump. ’Graf 30….)

Why? I don’t know. I’d think writers, any writers, would be newspaper readers.

If he’d have put it in iambic pentameter, it wouldn’t have been less-newspaper-like.

Could a guy live in New York, write thrillers in New York, and never, ever read a newspaper article? Did no one at his publisher read the passage and say, “My. This is … a light opera, maybe? It ain’t a newspaper article. Wanna take another stab at this scene?”

I don’t  know.

Readers: What careers have you worked in, in which people seem have a strange and completely alien concept of the work? Surely journalism can’t be the only one.

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