New Year’s Resolution – then conflict, then plot, character, and setting.

If you recognize the above as the five essential elements of a novel, then you’ll appreciate the writer’s resolution. For many, it’s “I resolve to finish that book!” For a thousand times that many, it’s, “Start that book!” And for a much smaller group, it’s “Write a better book!”

If any of that sounds familiar, here’s mine, “I resolve to help writers become authors.

Not just a “gonna get to that someday” affirmation, but the train is already leaving the station, which is an appropriate analogy since I devised the following on the subway. I’ve created a series of online lectures to help writers of any level elevate their craft and get to the next plateau in their careers.

Followers of this blog for the last ten years know my story well, but to encapsulate it: I stumbled into my first manuscript, which became my first published novel and my first number 1 bestseller…by accident. Hence my handle as The Accidental Author. I am, quite literally, the last guy on the planet to have 4 number 1 bestsellers. The route I took was practical, empirical, and devoid of traditional literary frameworks.

Admittedly, what I will be sharing with those who take the 15 classes that I am offering at The Academy of Creative Skills is my journey to the satisfaction of being a published author many times over. This unique perspective on the craft of writing will have many touchpoints and resonant notes for writers who are heading towards authoring commercial fiction, screenplays, and even non-fiction. After all, it’s always about a great tale well crafted. 

As a premier to the course or as a standalone compendium of tidbits, nuggets, and cues, based on my experiences and lessons in developing my craft, I’m offering an ebook on Amazon entitled, Intentional Thoughts from the Accidental Author. Chock full of lots of handy dandy insights and goodies about the art we love so much.

A date which will live in infamy…

“All art is life but from an unexpected perspective.”  – Tom Avitabile 

Okay, so what did I mean by that? The need for art in our lives gives us perspective on our lives. Some call this an artist’s eye. It’s also the writer’s eye, ear, and sensibility. While book coaching, I am often compelled to suggest or force a perspective on my clients to elevate their craft to a level of art. And it is in that new perspective, I have seen them make magic happen, with more colors, more texture, tones, and motifs. So, look for a unique point of view. How does it look from over here? From above or across the street?

The best part for writers is finding the perfect word to fit their unique perspective. I learned this from President Franklin Roosevelt. On the worst day of his presidency, in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor, he had to speak before Congress. In preparation and right before his declaration of war to Congress, he suddenly saw the whole thing from a different perspective, so he edited the line, “December seventh, 1941, a date that will live in world history, the United States of America….” He grabbed his pen, crossed out world history, and scribbled in the word ‘infamy.’ That changed the perspective forever! Below is his actual speech from the Archives.

President Franklin Roosevelt's Message to Congress Pearl Harbor

A funny thing happened in the bathroom…

I recorded a book on tape that is now up for a big award, along with Barack Obama, Tina Fey, Jamie Foxx, Julie Louis-Dryfus, Sandra Oh, Maya Rudolph…and Scott Brick.
That’s okay; I didn’t know who he was either. But, as nice as it is to be amongst all those A-listers, my particular pride is couched in the fact that in my award category, Audiobook Narration – Thrillers- Best Voiceover, I am a finalist with Mr. Brick, who, as I now know, is a Godlike, Mega-star of book narration.

North of 600 books read to tape over his stunning career… Me? I’ve read only one, my first one. The one I refitted my 2nd bathroom to serve as a recording studio to narrate in. The book was Joseph Badal’s “Ultimate Betrayal.” A gripping thriller with a reluctant to the max hero, the mob, the CIA, and a love story. All in all, a great underlying work to have as your first-ever book narration.

Self-praise sucks. But I am astonished and delighted that my work has garnered enough recognition to be among such an impressive field of finalists. So, if you have any discretional luck to spare, please send it my way, I could use it. It would be almost historic if I should prevail, but honestly, just being recognized as an achievement of note for my first ever endeavor into this field is awesome!

By the way, in the credits for the audiobook, the recording studio is listed as “In the Can Productions.”

Thrillers that Deliver

I have been accused of authoring “Thrillers that Deliver!” Guilty, I guess, but with an explanation. So, in my own defense here goes.

To the question of how I delivered a thrilling manuscript: I have no idea!  In that, no one idea was the final idea. Therefore, like my protagonist who doesn’t know she’s unraveling a huge international conspiracy, I wrote it like that.

After I had those twist and turns in order, I went back and wrote the connective tissue with voltage that energized the “stumbling through the plot,” my main character was unknowingly doing. At any given point she had NO IDEA what was laying out before her. While she was looking over here, the real bad guys, and their horrendous deadly plan, was over there. This connective tissue informs the reader of the true peril she is in. It elevates her simplest innocent action into a hair-trigger moment of which she is unaware. 

If a mystery is a “Who done it?” Then my definition of a thriller is, “Stop who’s going to do it!” I believe the trills are more heightened it’s even better when the heroine doesn’t know she is in danger, and millimeters away from stopping them.

The other secret to delivering thrills is to see my plot as a shark in the ocean. The plot, like the shark, must keep moving or die. And just when you think it’s safe, that she can finally take a breath, NOPE!

See if I delivered again, this February when Forgive Us Our Trespasses hits the shelves.

When it’s time to let them go…

There are moments in the life of an author that are milestones, the tent poles of achievement. Those instances when imagination, creativity, and dedication all come to a finely honed point. After a year and a half of gestation, my next novel, Forgive Us Our Trespasses, left me to go out into the world and find its place in the literary firmament. Will it settle on top and be another number one like the novel it is the sequel to, Give Us This Day? No one knows. I do know that I love it, I am proud of it, and I feel it’s my best work ever.  

It’s the meshing of the characters as they advance through the plot, tightness of the story, and some of the serendipitous sparkles that came from the rewrites and the final after I got the PAGES from my publisher, for me. 

Pages is what they call the formatted pages or galleys that look just like the printed book will.  

Today I finished the last touch. Or, more specifically, the last time I’ll touch it before it comes back to me as a bound book. But I am so glad for that final touch to layer one more color, feather one more brushstroke, and bring a drop more detail to the literary picture the book will form in the mind of my readers. 

And now, the syndrome is not unlike postpartum depression when the birthing process is over. A very fit analogy, but I’ll leave that for the book to confirm. It goes on sale February of 2022. When I get the drop date, I’ll pass it on. Meanwhile, here’s the temp cover. We’ll have the actual cover reveal in a few weeks. 

Forgive Us Our Trespasses – Temp cover

The still-beating heart of darkness…

Photo by Tyler Malone

Being an author from the Bronx, the only thing I thought I had in common with Edgar Allan Poe was that he had a place up on the Grand Concourse a few blocks away from George Barbera’s house. But Halloween reminds me that he was also a poet, editor, as well as an author of some of the darkest literature ever created. On Halloween, we dress up and look forward to safe terror. We can get the thrill and giggle, without the danger. We can assume other identities, some random others secretly desired, by merely dressing the part. By the way, this is what authors do every day. But for Poe, he was deemed guilty of darkness by association – to his characters.  

Here’s something that he could have written…

Imagine if you dressed up as Jack the Ripper for October 31st. But on November 1st, you woke up in a dank and stinking, horse manure redolent alleyway in Victorian England. A knife – bloody to the hilt in your left hand, a woman of night lay sprawled out beside you on the cobblestones as the blood from her cold, lifeless body congealed at the precipice of the sewer grate. And try as you might, you could not remove the costume. You had become your Halloween avatar.

That’s a pretty good premise for a Poe nightmare, if I say so myself. But it’s not too far from the reality of writing crime, mystery, or thrillers. I get many readers who look at me with a sly smirk, coaxing me to admit that I have lured women to their deaths by seducing them on tropical atolls. Or bludgeoned a fake priest to death on a staircase or one of a hundred other dastardly devices and plot points of my novels. Me! Scared of my own shadow, faint at the sight of blood, a wimp that catches and releases house flies, me! I used to object (and sales went down). Now, I smile like the cat next to the empty canary cage, leaving them to their fantasies, which I created within them. (Sales went back up.) 

“Supreme rationalism” is a term associated with Poe. Yet, if you think about it, Poe was saying that there was darkness in every human heart and that it was rational. That darkness was as much a part of our existence as the flowery literary stuff coming out of mid-1800s England and France. As one critic, Herbert Marshall McLuhan, put it, “creating a parochial fog for the English mind to relax in.” In my humble opinion, not many readers relaxed while reading Poe’s detective fiction and horror. 

Poe was at once reviled and revered by his literary contemporaries. There are actually psychoanalytical studies made of his work. So supreme was his rationalistic exploration of the darkness that beats within the breasts of man, that (as I occasionally am), he was painted as having been as vile and evil as the characters he created and capable of the horrors he detailed, just like the way I have been imagined by some readers. I see that as a testimonial to his ability to affect the heart of the reader, dark or otherwise. And in that, I take some comfort for being accused of the same thing. 

Unlike me at this point in my career, his work was bigger than he was, and it eclipsed his life and forever shadowed him with the darkness he so brilliantly related to readers for generations. 

It wasn’t until the 1940’s that a biography by A.H. Quinn finally emerged that balanced this lazy and sloppy “pop” analysis of Poe. For anyone who cared to look, he did not identify, nor was he the reprobate that his madmen and murderers, those that populated and advanced the plots of his most famous pieces, as he so skillfully drew them. 

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind people having Halloween-type fantasies of how I dress up at night and wonder if the darkness I write about exists within me. It’s all part of the process of reaching into a person’s psyche and messing with their suspension of belief.  

My ‘moll’ tells me that I am dressing as a gangster for Halloween, spats and all. She’s going as a flapper. I hope the next day I don’t wake up in Al Capone’s gang, Tommy gun in my mitts, in prohibition-era Chicaga!