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.
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.
I’m very pleased to re-blog Lou Aronica’s “Soapbox” piece for Publishers Weekly. Lou Aronica was my mentor and is the person who is solely responsible for me becoming an author. But it wasn’t until I read this piece that I discovered how I was the “beneficiary” of a long line of paying it forward. -Tom Avitabile
How to be an Effective Mentor in Times of Change
I’d only been in publishing a few years when the great Ian Ballantine engaged me in conversation and suggested, in his signature circuitous fashion, that he was willing to mentor me. Ballantine, the guy who brought paperbacks to America, wanted to mentor me—the guy who brought tea to my boss. I took him up on this instantly, beginning one of the most fulfilling and formative relationships of my life.
Mentoring has always had a disproportionately important place in the book business. Because feel and instinct have consistently been more important to book publishing than hard analysis—past numbers and consumer tendencies have rarely been a useful indicator of future performance—it’s been important for each generation to pass down a nuanced understanding of our industry to the next. If Ian hadn’t taught me everything he could about paperback publishing, working with writers, and developing a distinct vision in the marketplace, I’d probably be selling carpet now.
To this day, I still marvel at being blessed with such a generous mentor. In truth, I’ve had more than one. Irwyn Applebaum taught me how to put a list together. Linda Grey showed me how to dig deep into a manuscript. Ray Bradbury taught me more about writing than he ever knew, because I never revealed to him that I envisioned a writing career for myself—a career that has led to 18 books and counting. Given these remarkable gifts from people with huge talent, I’ve always been committed to paying it forward. Often, this has simply been a matter of being willing to dedicate my time to nurturing others. I find people who show a genuine interest in the business and share with them my observations, my methods, and the lessons of my experience. In recent years, though, I’ve faced a question that wasn’t been particularly relevant before: how do you mentor when your industry is undergoing enormous change?
It seems to me that if you’re serious about mentoring, you can try to answer this question in two ways. Obviously, one approach is to attempt to stay on top of the change as much as possible. Those you’re mentoring can help with this. In a recent book, I wrote about reverse mentoring. This is where the relationship maintains the traditional elder-younger dynamic but switches at certain junctures. As publisher of The Story Plant, I’ve found it essential to stay current with everything affecting our business—social media, e-commerce, new forms of distribution, new clients, new consumer habits, etc. Often, someone I’m mentoring will have facility with a tool that I’m less adept at, but will lack an understanding of how it might apply to publishing. In these cases, the mentor-mentee relationship balances. I learn about something that I need to understand, and the person whom I’m mentoring learns how that thing is applicable to the industry.
A second approach is to convey to young publishers that consumers—who need to be at the center of the business model of any industry, especially ours—haven’t changed nearly as much as the world around them has changed. Readers might buy books from different venues and might buy them in different formats than they did five years ago, but there’s very little data to suggest that the reasons they buy books have changed. If this is the case, then the lessons learned years ago are not only still valid, but are potentially more valid now than before, because they counsel a degree of steadiness in the face of continuous change. One of the things I regularly talk about with young people in our business is the importance of not confusing the tools, devices, and delivery media with either the books themselves or the reader. If what we make in our industry is reading experiences, then those experiences are what we’re selling, and the reasons consumers want them should not be confused with the ways that they’re getting them.
It seems to me that, at this inflection point in our industry, we need to look forward and backward at the same time: forward to the tools and opportunities emerging with increasing rapidity, and backward to the universal factors that have always sustained the book world. It dawns on me that this approach has direct relevance to mentoring in an era of change. I believe that any mentor who takes the role seriously needs to help those he or she teaches to understand the enormous value of looking in both directions at once.
Lou Aronica is an author, editor, and publisher whose novels include Flash and Dazzle and the USA Today bestseller The Forever Year. He is coauthor with Ken Robinson of the New York Times bestseller The Element.
When I wrote PWNED in 2011, I imagined something pretty outlandish for a premise: That the National Security Agency (or NSA) could spy on a private American citizen and in so doing uncover something that would bury that citizen in bureaucratic red tape until Kingdom come.
Why is that outlandish? Because that’s illegal. Well, it should be, anyway. Put succinctly, the idea of the NSA spying on an American citizen who then ends up in trouble should have been elaborate, well-imagined poppycock.
Enter Edward Snowden, and the whole PRISM debacle, and suddenly my self-published novel about a professional Starcraft 2 gamer doesn’t seem quite so crazy. It almost sounds eerily prescient, though I do wish it weren’t so.
The premise of my book is that Sean, a pro gamer who’s poised to dominate the biggest Starcraft 2 tournament in the world, is a serious threat to Norman, who needs to win the tournament to keep his team, his house, and his dream of quitting his job and gaming full time. Norman writes search string logarithms for the NSA, and uses his position to point the nation’s most powerful snoops right at poor Sean. Sean is a murder mystery author and, as such, has a browser history full of precisely the kind of gory, homicidal research material that makes federal agents twitchy and nervous.
Just when Sean looks to spend the next few years either in jail or in court, he flees the country with the help of a hot gamer girl and gives Norman a heart attack when he shows up in South Korea anyway despite Norman’s best efforts.
As tickled as I am to be on this site, where authors who saw the shape of things to come can brag about how they saw it coming, I really do wish my version of an NSA that abuses its power and oversteps its bounds could have remained fiction. Especially since I’m a thriller writer and have done plenty of searches that would certainly raise eyebrows if the NSA decided to start paying close attention to me. Here’s hoping for a future where all this is an unpleasant memory and the NSA leaves curious thriller writers well enough alone.
Remember this if you want to sound impressive at your next dinner party: The NSA was founded in 1952 for the express purpose of collecting and monitoring foreign counterintelligence. All those satellites and baffles and extra-large microphones are supposed to be pointed away from American citizens, ostensibly because it’s the FBI’s job to spy on us. Executive Order 12333 states that the NSA is to collect, “foreign intelligence or counterintelligence” while not “acquiring information concerning the domestic activities of United States persons.” The agency’s activities are supposed to be restricted by the Fourth Amendment (you know that one, it’s the unreasonable searches and seizures one).
Guest Blogger Erika Mitchell
Erika Mitchell showed early promise as a writer, winning the Beverly Cleary writing contest in 1995. The winning stories were printed into a book. Erika’s mother is the only person alive with a copy of that book.
She wrote her first novel (a really horrible chick-lit thing) that she promptly relegated to the back of her hard drive. A couple years later she tried again, this time writing a thriller novel. She had way too much fun writing it, and a couple months later wrote another one.
Erika lives in Seattle with her wonderfully geeky husband and their two children. When she isn’t reading and writing she’s been known to indulge in an eclectic range of interests.
Authors take note. Paula Deen has become a very controversial figure. In the popular media she is toast, very well buttered toast. Sponsors, networks and I am sure, even many of her hanger-on friends, have dropped her like radioactive slag.
But! She shot up to NUMBER ONE on Amazon!! You know, Amazon- with 130-million-billion active titles of which I was once #95,651 (#343 now and trending upwards according to my psychic. Although, I don’t think my psychic has my publisher’s phone number?).
But no matter, the fact is that while a transgression from over 25 years ago has plummeted her standing in our popular culture, AMAZINGLY at the same time, it has rocketed her to NUMBER 1, NUMERO UNO, on Amazon! Now that’s a deal with the devil any author would pay double for.
So all you folks in the media take notice, here’s my big confession…
comin 1962 I called lunch room monitor, Joey Mantone, and I am quoting here: “A big, fat, stupid, Doody Head!”
And just to add insult to the verbal injury, I know that I stuck my tongue out at him when I said it.
How’s that? Pretty horrible and despicable right? I mean it’s got to be good for at least a spot in Amazon Top Ten! I mean, “Doody Head”! C’mon, these days, in some quarters, that’s referred to as the “D” word. Or is it the “DH” word…?
I write books that I want to read. I like when there are no holes in a plot, when there are setups and payoffs, and when someone doesn’t feel like they’ve been ripped off by an author seeking convenience or their characters not playing by the rules of the world that the author has set up.
As authors, we have to play by the rules we’ve put into place, and we can’t just dump the rules or put them aside to get to the end. I think that the human factor, and the thought process behind what a character does is appealing in my books because I come out of a screenplay discipline, where it’s all about the action that is then supported by text, but rarely do you go into subtext, context, pretext. Continue reading