Happy Thanksgiving! Here’s our normally Thursday posting, today. Click above for the latest installment of The Accidental Author. In this episode: How to start and get through a first draft. A great quote from one of the biggest author’s around and how to see your writing as an art form. Did you miss an episode? Click here for episode 2 and here for episode 1.
In the window above is the next installment of The Accidental Author, some real heartfelt confessions in this one plus an homage to one of the finest authors living today. If you missed episode one, click here.
Sometimes characters do the darndest things… Like suddenly they show a side of themselves that I, their Lord and Creator, never imagined, intended or wrote. Such is the case with my dear sweet, Brooke Burrell. Now don’t get me wrong, she’s a tough warrior as well as a good investigator. Over the course of the four novels that I have known her, she was never vengeful or carried ill will. She of course did do some things that got her a raised eyebrow from her superiors. Mostly for on the spot improvising of procedures and methods that they never taught at the FBI academy at Quantico, but this time she shocked even me!
Normally, I write bad guys who eventually get their just deserts. And “we” never go after them with anything other than purely professional, prosecutorial ends in mind. However, if these evildoer’s choose to turn and fight it out, well so much the better, good-riddens to the no-good. Up until now, with Brooke, it was never personal, just part of the job. But somewhere along the way, in my next book, Give Us This Day, this poor schmuck, Paul, must have gotten on Brooke’s S-list, because she left the story, walked away from her character profile and violated several laws in settling the score with this “walking cancer on humankind.”
The image of me sitting at the keyboard, mouth open in shock at what she just did is maybe not the most flattering picture of me as a confident, able, top of my game author, but it is nonetheless where I found myself… My immediate thought as I reached for the delete key was, did I just lose the Brooke Burrell fan club? My finger hovered over the top right most ‘destruct’ key as I pondered. Did the words and actions on the screen before me amount to a literary death warrant or divine inspiration. In the end, I did what any courageous, confidant and in full command of my craft author would do, I let it stay in the manuscript, so the editor can make the call. Sometimes… I am such a wimp.
Blog note: The next episode of the Accidental Author goes live on Thursday.
With this posting we start a new series of audio blogs, The Accidental Author. Recently I did a radio show on WESU-FM from Wesleyan College with Jeff Sherman, who’s normal beat is business. However, he offered me the rare opportunity to do a full hour, just the two of us, and we talked all about my writing. During the broadcast many callers and tweeters expressed the same sentiment; they’d like to write a book, but the process seems either daunting or beyond their skill set.
The epiphany from which the idea of this mini-series, Accidental Author emerged occurred during that show. The following is the first of six, 7-minute multi-media excerpts from the show. Much of the nuts and bolts and the heart and soul of writing is contained in these segments… whether you are an aspiring writer waiting for the lightning bolt of inspiration to strike or an accomplished author, I believe you find some great nuggets here and a way of couching what the writing experience is all about from someone like me; the last person on earth that should have been an author… Hence, The Accidental Author.
Okay, so I am going to try to make this not some old guy rant about, ‘In My Day…” but since The Eighth Day has achieved #1 bestseller status, many more people have been reading it and resonating with the Bronx, New York side of the story. Which elicits E-mails from fans of both the book and the Bronx. “Belly Flopping” a street game being central to the character development of FBI Special Agent, Joey Palumbo, has started a stream of E-mail consciousness that lead to HOT BEANS!
For those of you NOT blessed to have grown up on the gritty streets of the Bronx, I will endeavor to explain this particularly unique “childhood” game.
Start with a Garrison Belt, which is a serious looking strap of leather that’s around two inches wide with a mean-ass metal buckle on the end. Just like in Hide and Go Seek, one person is designated as “It.” The rest of the kids hide at “home base” around the corner. Now the guy that’s “it” hides the belt anywhere on the street. When he’s got the belt where is sure no one will find, he yell’s, “REEEEEAAADDYYY!”
Everyone comes around the corner to find the belt. The one who finds it, gets to yell, “HOT BEANS” and then gets to whip the crap out of everyone who is caught between the home base (around the corner) and him. At this point it would help to remember we are talking a heavy thick belt with a heavy buckle that can draw blood.
Believe me you don’t know what terror, fear, trepidation, caution, strategy and courage is until you play this game. Why? Because unlike other games, where the only skin in the game is playing for a win, bragging rights or the most points, in Hot Beans, your skin is actually at risk in this game.
Today, kids hardly go out into the street anymore. Their games are on a computer. The optimists and sociologists say it’s a good thing, that they are developing skills for our techno-future.
However, I wonder about those men and women who operate the drones and other High Tech, Stand Off, Remote controlled weaponry that we are embracing as national policy. I am referring to those who joystick their way through a war, one that’s been made impersonal and game-like on LCD screens. A process that transforms the deadliest endeavor of mankind to be remarkably like, Call Of Duty or Battlefield 3.
What happens if somebody pulls the plug on their console, will they, who have been raised in this kind of Sanitized War, be able to become warriors? The bigger question is, are Americans, who never played HOT BEANS and have no skin in the game but a vote once a year, citizens who in general have become war weary, will they have the grit to turn to our war fighting soldiers who have tested their mettle? Combat ready troops who are the ultimate weapon, and last resort, in defending a nation’s way of life and thus all we hold dear? Or will our techno-war complacent population cower at “home base” when some big, ugly brute from a foreign land wields an actual big belt with malicious intent?
P.S. Millions of people play war-based video games. All of these games are sold with graphics depicting “Shit Wired Tight” soldiers who are shown as stoic, deadly and dressed to kill. These are homage’s to the true warrior. Yet, millions of players, who assume these roles, never show up to a Veteran’s Day parade or write their congressperson to take better care of the actual “prototypes” of these fake computer icon warriors, when they return from the real life battle.
Those images and the exploiting of heroism has amassed many billions of dollars in box office for games and almost equal amount for movies. Unlike these computer generated figures, our soldiers have actually faced danger, unspeakable horror and have risked everything. Yet, far too many are homeless.
Here’s a thought for all you gamers out there, donate 1% to 10% of your highest war game score to Veterans Matter or text VETS to 41444.
Along with the corner bookstore, many of the benchmarks of the book business have bitten the digital dust. Hundreds of thousands of books now flood the virtual shelves of the big and small on-line retailers. Marketing experts call this “fragmentation” while most authors call it “frustration.” It seems nowadays this evolution in book selling has made the REVIEW, the gold standard in determining how much buzz, support, exposure and sales potential a book receives.
“If you like your thrillers realistic enough to make your spine tingle, and well-written enough to keep you turning pages, you must pick up THE DEVIL’S QUOTA. Tom Avitabile is at the top of his game. Read this book.” – Linda Fairstein, New York Times bestselling author of TERMINAL CITY and DEATH ANGEL
But how does an author garner reviews, and good ones at that? The simple answer is write a great book. The nuanced answer: start the snowball effect, the more reviews, the more people read the book, the more they post reviews and it goes on like that until you have an avalanche of reviews.
“The go-to guy for pure thriller reading pleasure, Tom Avitabile delivers with every word.” – John Lescroart, New York Times bestselling author of THE KEEPER and THE OPHELIA CUT
It’s also great when your big –time multi million selling, NY Times bestselling authors who huge fan bases, take the time to read your book and then serve up glowing quotes. That’s just gotta help. But in the new democracy of the Internet, average readers hold an awesome power also. Their reviews on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, iBook, Good Reads and other sites are critical in informing the large retailers where to put marketing “soft dollars” to push a book over the top.
“This gritty and interesting novel swooped me up early in it’s pages and hung on tight to me until the very last words.” – Five Stars – Good Reads by Booklover Catlady
Me personally, I would never push my reviews in your face, but it is a dire necessity today to garner as many 5-Star reviews as you can. Why? The algorithm (No, not the Al Gore Rhythm, which if you’ve watched him dance is decidedly not in evidence) but those little robotic calculators that today make decisions large and small in everything from your refrigerator, to automated factories to how Amazon decides a book is worthy of “Push”
“This is the kind of book you want to snuggle up with for a quick and quiet thrill.” – The View From the Phlipside
So the new reality is this: an author could get tens of thousands of dollars worth of boost marketing from on-line book sellers if the Al Gore Rhythm machine inside their servers counts a certain number of glowing reviews. Now this isn’t money in the author’s pocket, it’s in soft dollars or what you would have to pay them to push a book like this to their customers. Let’s just say for that kind of advertising they’d charge you four arms and six legs. But old Al Gore the Rhythm King, he’s going to bestow that windfall on a purely digital, cold, unemotional basis – namely reviews!
“Tom Avitabile’s plots are page-turning and gripping. Good read for all fans of crime/thriller fiction!” – Crystal Book Reviews
Therefore in conclusion, you may not be able to judge a book by it’s cover but, Al-A-Gore-ically, they can, and do, judge a book by it’s reviews…
“Reading a novel is like being in a car and taking a journey. The narrator is driving. And whether he drives fast and cruises the curves or whether he’s pedestrian and pokes through the plot – he’s in control.
Tom Avitabile is a cocky chauffeur and The Eighth Day is one hell of a ride.”
-Anonymous via Amazon
Here’s some links in case if by now you haven’t gotten the clue, that I would love a good review from you.
Last month, Tori Eldridge rounded up ten Thrillfest 2014 authors in a powerful hour on Empowered Living Radio. I was fortunate to be asked to take part in the discussion with a group of strong authors. Listen to the whole show or skip ahead (time stamp 1:00:16) to hear me offer concise and effective strategies on staying positive.
Have you spotted the last stop of my Virtual Tour? I wrapped up the summer by sitting down with Omnimystery and discussing the conclusion to the “Wild” Bill Hiccock Thrillogy.
We are delighted to welcome back novelist Tom Avitabile to Omnimystery News, courtesy of The Story Plant, which is coordinating his current book tour. We encourage you to visit all of the participating host sites; you can find his schedule here.Last month we featured an excerpt from Tom’s third thriller to feature presidential science advisor William “Wild Bill” Hiccock,The God Particle (The Story Plant; June 2014 trade paperback and ebook formats). Today we’re sitting down with him to talk a little more about the book and the series.
Click here for the full Q&A
And different role! Those that follow the blog, know I have developed an eccentric pattern in my writing routine. It’s a rather odd thing, but I like to edit my manuscripts on the beach in Puerto Rico. You’ve heard of “beach reads”, I call this a “beach-edit.” Each of my four novels have gone through this sun, sand and red pen ritual. It kinda’ goes like this:
Read, turn page, read, ooops, red pen, read, Bikini,
read, turn page, read, Bikini, ooops, red pen, Bikini,
read, read, turn page, Bikini
You get the rhythm and the two-piece picture.
Last week however, I sat on the beach in beautiful Isla Verde and edited a manuscript “not of my own making!” I did a beach-edit on my cousin George Cannastraro’s brilliant new book, Constantine’s Dagger. This was my first experience in “story editing” or “content editing” a book. My cousin allowed me to make him the guinea pig in my editorial experiment.
Followers know I am not a master of grammar and sentence structure. I couldn’t last 2 seconds in a Spelling F not to mention a Spelling B! But I, and anybody else who has done this for a while, can spot story opportunities, contradictions and potential character and plot enhancements when doing a fresh, critical read of work – not of your own brain.
No two writers write the same, even when they are cousins, but if you really put on the Editor’s cap and go with the flow of the author, it’s a pretty happy outcome. In our case, and I guess in all cases when you get down to it, story editing is about choices, conscious or otherwise, made in the telling of the tale. Sometimes when we write we have a single trajectory, one way in and one way out of a scene or subplot. But when it ain’t yours, you are free to see the “story-scape” from a different perspective and make recommendations to give more involvement, drama, comedy, risk and reward to the reader.
We had some wonderful moments opening up the story with added beats, which increased the tension, drama, and comedy or emphasize a character’s trait. This was easy because the action and dialogue were written so well and with a flair for word-craft. We took the opportunity to increase the texture, widen the scope and to more clearly focus the reader into the story through experiencing emotions, rather than reading about them. We had fun “cutting in” to use film terms, “close ups,” and reaction shots or just playing with rhythms like leaving the next shoe to fall, not now… but, …wait for it, …wait for it, … Now!
That part became more like conducting an orchestra than editing. But only because George wrote great characters, and musically wove them together.
I am about to mangle an old Native American saying, but it went something like, “You can’t paddle your friend’s canoe across the river, without you, yourself, getting across.”
My first shot at editing, has gotten me across a divide I have experienced in my own writing. Now, I see more globally at the same time I am writing locally within my story. I am quicker to recognize patterns and old stand by’s in my own work. In fact, right now, I am in the first pass of my 5th novel, Give Us This Day, I am more attuned to pacing and making conscious choices. Like whether to play the note a little longer, or make it a quick flourish in order to make an impact.
I recommend story editing to anyone who wants to get across the river that we sometimes encounter when we are traveling along the path to our own novel.
Welcome to the next stop on The Writing Process Blog Hop. I’m Tom Avitabile and thanks for ‘hopping’ in.
First off, I’d like to thank the author who handed this off to me, Joe Badal. An extremely gifted writer and someone of whom I once wrote,
[His] writing is as crisp and as tight as a line drive home run. Author Joe Badal hits all the bases from the military, to the political, the tactical, to safe at home – Homeland that is.
Read Joe’s books, but not on a train, bus or other form of public transportation – You WILL miss your stop!
As followers of the blog know, we are asked to answer four questions, well, I have been cramming for weeks to get the answers right, so here goes…
1) What am I working on?
That seems simple enough… I am working on two things, er… three things. My fifth book “Give Us This Day” (got four on the shelves and one in the laptop). This book marks the emergence of a new sub series – A Brooke Burrell Novel. My FBI agent turned special operative for the president turned Navy wife turned reluctant operator again, is getting some nice notices and it just seems right to give her a platform of her own.
The second thing I am doing is totally new for me, editing content on my brilliant cousin George Cannistraro’s brilliant second novel, “Constantine’s Dagger.” It’s an epic story of war, family, courage, royalty and a mother’s unselfish sacrifice to protect her sons – spanning decades. It is an epic book, and the stuff of miniseries.
The third thing is, I am always working on being a better writer. Blasphemous statement alert: I hate writing!
I am the last person on earth to write a composition for school, much less a 120,000-word manuscript. Geez all those words… it gives me the willies just thinking about ‘em.
HOWEVER, I love, love, love AUTHORING!
I see “author” as a more comprehensive role: the job manager, the architect, the engineer, the artist, the psychiatrist, the logistics coordinator, the personnel department, the scenarist and the problem solver. The author does all that before the story goes over to the ‘writing department.’ You know, the monkeys who sit in the room (on the other side of my brain) and bang out words in an order and manner detailed and outlined by the author.)
I guess if I didn’t discover authoring, I would have never had the drive, commitment, and stamina to finish even one chapter.
2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?
The MONKEYS! They are what make me different. In fact, I would venture to say that no serious writer of any period, genre, or level of notoriety has ever admitted, much less, handed his work over to a bunch of damn monkeys…
You see, these little banana-eating, key pounding creatures, only know what the Author has outlined for them to write. But those little troublemakers start writing stuff that wasn’t in the big picture. Yes, I have to edit out many scene’s where an agent, or the President, asks someone if they’d like to get a banana… but on balance these little guys are so divorced from the story that they bring an “on the ground” perspective to the characters. It’s like my character’s still have to take out the garbage or change their pantyhose that have a run in them, WHILE they are saving the world. Ugh, monkeys… they complicate the lives of my characters and in doing so bring them closer to the reader’s experiential match points. So, in the end, is my work different from other author’s? I wouldn’t begin to say that, but I know this, every person leaves their creative DNA on anything they write. Plagiarism aside, it is almost impossible for any two writers to write the same scene the same way.
3) Why do I write what I do?
The old adage states: write what you know. Most people take that to mean, a lawyer should write courtroom dramas and a cop should write crime novels and an old, snoopy biddy should write cozy mysteries.
Well, my stock and trade is as a Stage/Film director. BUT! I started out as an electronic engineer; I have worked for the House Committee on Science Space and Technology; I have built computers and designed new systems in movie making. I am also currently a Senior Vice President and Creative Director of a smaller New York advertising firm.
The core through line tying all this stuff together is human perception, reaction, and condition. As a director of humans, a student of humans, and a human myself, my core competency is in Human characters. I know the human character. Therefore in “writing what I know”, I write humans. Humans who are: plagued by their choices, intelligence, stupidity, compassion, pathology, genetics, up bringing, and whatever moral code serves them for good or evil. Then I place them in settings that I know, (see above list) and, even more fun, places I don’t know.
If all that is too wordy then skip to this: “I author the books I desperately want to read.”
Okay kids, we’re coming to the last question. In case you all run out of here, I just want to say that’s it’s been a pleasure hosting this next stop on the blog hop. As you are leaving, you might want to check out some of the books on the table in the back.
And thank you for supporting living authors…
Now the last question…
4) How does my writing process work?
Pretty well, thank you…Goodnight! Oh, you want more? Ah, Yes. Well…
I try to write five out of seven days a week mostly. You know, get up an hour early, write through lunch and go to bed an hour later. Don’t watch Homeland or Home Shopping Network. Write instead.
Writing to me is a subset of what I really am. Let me go back and explain, once again, my dirty little secret, I hate writing. To me writing is a tool, one of many to be used to get to a final product. That product has been designed by the author – me, if you are able to follow this warped way of thinking.
When I am deep in a book, the world and it’s characters that I have created become a dream. A very good dream! When I have to stop writing, it becomes a dream interrupted. And just like on those nights when you are having one heck of a good dream and you awaken and then try hard to get back to sleep – to re-enter that wonderful dream… Well that’s my process. Only, I always have the last sentence I wrote as a marker of where to pick up that dream already in progress. I then see life as the distraction that takes me away from this beautiful dream, incredible characters, and a story that keeps me in awe and wonder.
My line is “Writing is a dream interrupted by life.” The International Thriller Writers, ITW, of which I am a member, said it so much better when they simply said, “Writing is dreaming in ink.” But you’d expect that conciseness, them being writers and all.
Well, I think I’m done. Thank you for getting this far in my blog.
And now a word about the next stop on the Writing Process Blog Tour, on August 25th. We have two great authors who are all ready to share their thoughts, practices, fears and joys about the process with you (and I can assure you, no more about monkeys).
When a fireman or a policeman would visit his school, most of his classmates’ heads would swim with aspirations of growing up and catching bad guys or saving someone from a blazing inferno. When these moments came for Ethan Cross, however, his dreams weren’t to someday be a cop or put out fires; he just wanted to write about it.
And his dream of telling stories on a grand scale came to fruition with the release of his first book, The Shepherd, which went on to become an International Bestseller published in several countries and languages. Ethan followed this up with more great titles like The Prophet, The Cage, Callsign: Knight, and Blind Justice. His latest book is the third installment of the Shepherd series, Father of Fear, coming from the Story Plant in Summer 2014.
In addition to writing and working in the publishing industry, Ethan has also served as the Chief Technology Officer for a national franchise, recorded albums and opened for national recording artists as lead singer and guitar player in a musical group, and been an active and highly involved member of the International Thriller Writers organization.
Ethan Cross is the pen name of an author who lives and writes in Illinois with his wife, three kids, and two Shih Tzus.
An avid reader since the age of three, Jeremy Burns was devouring novels by the time other children his age were still learning their ABCs. Blessed (and, at times, cursed) with a decidedly active imagination and an insatiable curiosity for nearly everything, Jeremy made learning and storytelling two of his chief passions. After earning his degree in History from Florida State University, Jeremy accepted a position teaching literature, creative writing, political science, and philosophy at an international school in Dubai. Like the characters in his books, Jeremy is an intrepid explorer whose own adventures have taken him from Mayan ruins in the Yucatan to the pyramids of Egypt, from medieval castles across Europe to the jungles of Bangladesh, and beyond. To date, Jeremy has traveled to more than twenty countries across four continents, seeking adventure, discovery, and ideas for future novels. When not exploring a new corner of the globe, Jeremy lives in Florida, where he is working on his next thrilling novel.