Thursday, August 1, 2019

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

If You're A Parent Read This ... Or Don't Read This

TL;DR … Go buy The Chain by Adrian McKinty. It's the best thriller I've read in years.

… About ten years ago, my wife looked up from the used hardback she was reading and smiled. "You'd like this. You should read it."

"What is it?"

"It's a crime novel by this guy from Northern Ireland. It's really good. You should read it."

My perpetually failing eyesight was in the grips of that ceaseless entropy. Meaning, I squinted my eyes and took in the cover. There was a gun, an ashtray, a cigarette, an arm of presumably a man. The title was small but the font looked serious.

"Dead I …"

"Dead I Well May Be," my wife said. "It's great. You'll love it."

Most husbands don't listen to their wives. Most wives don't listen to their husbands. But this was one of those rare instances where I bucked the trend. After all, my wife and I have similar tastes, I love noir fiction and film, and I'm always looking for somebody new to read.

As it turns out, I loved the book because Dead I Well May Be is a f***ing masterpiece. Darkly humorous, brooding, thoughtful, intense, it's one of those rare books that was both plot- and character-driven. I had a new favorite, and contemporary, author: Adrian McKinty. I absorbed it in a couple days, then moved on to the two sequels. Inside of two weeks (I'm a glacially slow reader, so that's fast for me), I'd inhaled this troika of crime novels starring Michael Forsyte, the Renaissance man's anti-hero/protagonist.

They say the ultimate compliment one can pay to an author is to actually read their book. That's not true at all. I've finished many books I should have quit early on. The ultimate compliment you can ever pay an author is to REread them and tell others about them.

And that's what I did. Over the years, I've probably read DIWMB five or six times cover-to-cover. It's also one I'll "just open" when I can't decide what new book I want to try, stopping at a random passage and reading for a few minutes before bed. It's like comfort prose.

I'm not one for recommending books, either. Reading a novel is quite a time commitment, especially if you're slow like me. Tastes in movies are broader, I feel, while tastes in books are much more nuanced. I don't mind suggesting somebody check out the latest Marvel flick, because hey, it's only two hours and most people will find something to like about it, but no effing way will I recommend novels or authors lightly.

These I do. McKinty's fictional world is one of violence, metaphor, existential philosophy, and a morbid wit. His prose is terse, crisp, lyrical, and intense. It's like being punched by poetry.

TL;DR … Go read The Chain by Adrian McKinty.

I came across DIWMB and McKinty not long after I had started taking this writing thing seriously. I hadn't yet found my voice (and many would argue I still haven't found it, or my niche, but that's a topic for another blog). To my incredulous joy, I found out that McKinty had a blog where he actually responded thoughtfully to every single comment left. I was soon a regular, and not surprisingly, his books and blog attracted a diverse, interesting crowd of people. Having that kind of down-to-earth access to a quality writer was a dream come true. (McKinty's blog was hacked more than once throughout the years, and so these days the blog is on lock-down. Gone are the early Blogger days where he was safely able to engage with his rabidly loyal audience.)

McKinty moved on from the Michael Forsyte series, published a few standalones, and then began a new series featuring Sean Duffy, a Catholic cop living in 80s Northern Ireland, serving on a police force that is 99% Protestant. Talk about conflict. The Duffy books are wonderful, full of personal touches that you can tell come straight from McKinty's personal history.

McKinty's career, at least from my starry-eyed and admittedly naïve viewpoint, seemed wonderful. He accumulated awards more quickly than I amassed rejections from publishers. Every time I checked his blog, it seemed his latest release or the prior release or the book before that one was short- or long-listed for this, that and the other thing. He was in stores. He knew other big-time writers. There was often talk, or suggestion, of a film possibly getting made. His books were translated into 20 different languages. I thought he had made it.

Turns out, he hadn't. He was REALLY struggling. Though garnering an obscene amount of critical acclaim, McKinty was stuck in mid-list hell, the purgatory that many excellent authors find themselves in, where critics recognize the merit of their work, but where they don't earn a living wage. This same man who had won award after award for his crime fiction, was eventually evicted from his home and had resorted to tending bar and driving for Uber to make ends meet.

What happened next is absolutely amazing and is proof that truth is stranger than fiction. All you have to do right now is Google Adrian McKinty The Chain, and a ton of articles will pop up in the search about what went down. It makes for a Hollywood Ending, almost too good to be true.

(SPOILER ALERT - IN CASE YOU DIDN'T JUST GOOGLE)

Don Winslow, a critically acclaimed and commercially successful author in his right, knew McKinty and sympathized with his situation, having been in the very same place years before. Winslow connected his agent Shane Salerno, who is in the running for Best Literary Agent Ever, with McKinty. By then, though, McKinty had already given up the idea of writing for a living and had planned on going back to work. Salerno, however, pressed him and pressed him and McKinty pitched his idea for a thriller set in America. The rest now is history. The Chain was born.

Fast forward. The Chain is out in stores now. After years of writing excellent books and almost quitting several times, McKinty finally has a bona fide hit on his hands. There is a 7-figure movie deal in the works. I can't tell you how happy I am about this. I consider myself one of the lucky (and far too few) people who was reading him before this, back when he was writing great books that weren't selling like they should have. I occasionally emailed him to see what was up and ask for advice, and he was always quick to respond and very helpful.

So finally, let's talk about The Chain. What's all the hub-bub, bub, you're probably saying. Well, there's a good goddamned reason Jimmy Fallon is talking about it.

The Chain is a high concept, unrelenting thriller that will scare parents and would-be-parents absolutely shitless. The story opens with the kidnapping of a young girl. Her mother is contacted minutes later. She must pay a ransom and then kidnap someone else's child. Only when she does this, and the parents of the child she kidnaps have done the same thing, will she see her daughter again. And thus The Chain grows, more and more people sucked into a nightmare world where they must do the unthinkable to save the life of their own.

The Chain is 350 pages and you don't get to take a breath till around page 200. But it isn't much of a breather, because the second half of the book picks up speed just as quickly as the opening. This is the first novel in years (and one of only a handful) that I've finished in less than a day, and like I've noted several times above, I'm a sllllloooooowwwww reader.

If you've never heard of Adrian McKinty before, consider yourself lucky. He's a gifted writer I'm sure you'll like, The Chain is one of those breakout beach reads everybody will be talking about, and the best part is he's got two fantastic series and a bunch of standalones already out there.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Sunday, December 10, 2017

New Indie Authors: Beware of The Guru

An important change of pace for this blog. Consider this a public service announcement to new and newish writers, or anybody for that matter even thinking about writing a book.

There are a lot of how-to books out there about writing. Some are better than others. I haven't read one in ages - I've discovered over the years that you can find all the advice you need for free online. Even better, read a lot of fiction and pay attention as you read. Take out your favorite book, outline it, diagram the character arcs, see how it works. Go through it several times, each time with an eye toward something different: how does the author introduce a new character, how does the author describe setting, how does the author make this person sympathetic ... etc. This makes for the world's best homework ever. You'll love it. And you'll learn a lot by rolling your sleeves up like that.

But, if you really want to shell out a few bucks on how-to books, pick the ones written by authors who have sold a metric shit ton of books recently. If you've never heard of the author in question but are still eyeing their how-to book, go to Amazon and check out their fiction. Make sure they write in genres you write or intend to write in. This is important. There are a lot of universal "rules" to telling a story, but the best advice tends to be genre-specific. You can do certain things in romance that you cannot do in thrillers; there are certain things you should do with mysteries but not in sci-fi; etc. And, last but not least, double-check their fiction to see how well it is selling. Amazon lists sales ranks for every book on its site. Again, you want to find an author that is selling well right now. I cannot stress this enough. The indie publishing landscape changes significantly every 6 months or so. Strategies that worked for indie authors 5 years ago no longer work well, if at all.

That's how to pick a good how-to book on writing.

Moving on to gurus ...

Don't give them a dime of your money.

Just.

Don't.

Okay, tell you what. You can give them your money if they guarantee you a specific ROI and offer your money back if you don't realize that ROI within a defined timeframe. And that's only if they can demonstrate a proven recent sales track record to you, with hard data. If there's someone out there offering those terms, then shit, tell me who they are and I'll sign up too.

But I'm pretty sure there's nobody out there doing that.

DO NOT pay anybody to "help" you write a book. Especially if they're going to charge you thousands of dollars to do so.

Don't do it.

You can pay someone for cover art. There is a steep, steep learning curve to book cover design. You can learn that as you go, but in the interim it's okay to shell out a few hundred dollars on a cover - because a good one will help sell your book and a bad one will turn readers away before they even get to the book description.

You can also pay someone to edit. The learning curve here isn't as steep compared to cover design, but still this helps. A good editor will save you a lot of grief.

But whatever you do, don't pay someone to be your mentor, your Obi-Wan, your guru, your whatever the fuck the shark wants to call himself or herself.

Why?

Let me put it this way. If someone claims they can help you write a bestseller, then why the hell aren't they just writing a bestseller themselves? They can pocket all the cash and not have to worry about dealing with clients whining to them about their book not selling as well as advertised.

Why else?

Whatever they're going to tell you, you can find online for free. You can find for yourself reading your favorite, bestselling authors. You can find for yourself in good how-to books. I'm overstating this, but essentially: nobody can make someone else a bestseller. Back in the day, NY publishing houses paid their staffs a lot of money to help authors along, to grow writers, to make them into bestsellers, and even these experts got it wrong more often than they got it right.

Historically, authors have been preyed upon by gurus and treated miserably by publishing houses with ridiculously lopsided contracts. Amazon came along and shook things up, making the playing field a bit more level.

But the gurus are still out there. It pisses me off to no end because most of these gurus are, or used to be, authors.

They should know better. They should remember what it was like for them. To be new and eager and bursting with energy, looking for someone--anyone--to give them the One Big Secret to Publishing.

They should remember how difficult they had it. They should remember how newbs are soft targets. How easily someone with starry eyes can be duped. It's predatory, it's dirty business, it's a fecking disgrace if you ask me if you are purposely targeting newb authors and promising them things you know you likely can't deliver upon and charging a small fortune.

Beware the gurus.

Especially if they're asking for thousands of dollars to help you along. Just don't do it.

In fairness, I am painting in pretty broad strokes here but my wider point stands: beware of the guru. If you're at all tempted to give someone money to be your writing coach or mentor, demand to see their recent sales records before you fork any of your hard-earned cash over. Seriously, you need to see hard data. Demand to see the last 6 months of their fiction royalties. If they won't share that with you, run--don't walk--to the nearest exit.

That is all.



Thursday, November 30, 2017

NANO UPDATE

Wyetgerd's Ax is up to 72K. I wanted to finish the first draft before month's end, but that ain't happening. I started NANO a week late, Thanksgiving week was basically a wash, and administrative issues have eaten up more of my time recently than planned.

Still, I've gotten 72K. With a big day today, I might stretch that to 80K for the month of November which is nothing to scoff at. I'm at the 75% mark and can see the rest of the book, so it's just a matter of sitting down and getting it all out as quickly as possible. Wyetgerd's Ax will end up around the 100K mark which is a good length for this kind of book. As always, I'm thinking about a sequel.

I'm going to switch gears in December. There is a thriller I'd like to write and I'd like to begin The Bastard's Gambit as well. We'll see. Right now I have to focus on closing out this project so it doesn't bleed too much into December.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Quick NANO update and COMING SOON ...

Wyetgerd's Ax is up to 55,392 words. I'm not as far as I'd like to be but I have circumstances to blame for that. Not only did I forget my girls have early dismissal from school this week, but the little one was home sick yesterday too. Ah well. Life happens. No point in getting upset. As Galeran would have said: expect only what happens.

I think I can finish the first draft of Wyetgerd's Ax in a week's time. I'll need a couple big days to do that, and I'll need to stay up late too, but it's doable. These are first world problems, after all.

I've talked a lot about Wyetgerd's Ax on this blog without sharing any details. So I thought I'd drop the blurb here. But before I do that, allow me to talk about blurbing.

I used to write the blurb at the end of the process, after I'd written the book. I found it (and still do) incredibly difficult to distill a 100k word manuscript into an exciting 250 word book description that is supposed to entice readers. Inevitably, the inner dialog while trying to create a blurb went like this:

I need to introduce the hero and all the major characters, and oh yeah, I need a reader to understand the world too ... oh, and what about the royal hierarchy and nobility and their religions ... oh wait, magic is important too ... and oh shit, this guy shows up halfway through but he's really instrumental in ... and oh yeah! There's going to be a sequel so I better set this up too--

As you can surmise, my blurbs tended to be bloated and unintriguing precisely because I knew too much about the story and what happened before the story and what happened after the story. A blurb is supposed to only reveal the key details, it's supposed to hook fans of the genre, it's supposed to be a little mysterious, and it's supposed to give readers only a general sense of what to expect from the story.

Fortunately, I learned a trick from more experienced authors. Now I write my blurb first, before I even start the book. It's ridiculously easier this way. I even take it to the extreme and write the blurb before the outline.

When I do it this way, I still only have a general sense of the story, which is perfect because I can only think in terms of the bigger plot and character arcs. Good guy, something big happens, bad guys, good guys and bad guys will face off. Easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy.

Once I do finish the story, I usually have to tweak the blurb but I'm always surprised by how little it has to change. I might have to emphasize THIS instead of THAT, or perhaps MAJOR DEVELOPMENT fell by the wayside and SOMETHING ELSE HAPPENED INSTEAD. That's okay. It's always easier to tweak an existing blurb that's 80% on point than summarize this monstrous book in a few words.

Anyway, here's the blurb I wrote for Wyetgerd's Ax before I outlined the story ...

After his father dies, Wisag loses his way. Running up gambling debts he cannot repay, killing men in drunken tavern fights, Wisag, once a young man so full of promise, now wanders the country under an assumed name, desperate to stay one step ahead of those he’s wronged.

One night, while sharing a drink with a childhood friend in a tavern, an old, battle-scarred soldier mocks Wisag. Brooking no insults, Wisag challenges the other to a fight. But the man he challenges isn’t just some old soldier. He’s a legend. And, when challenged, this old warrior only fights to the death.

When Wisag wakes the next morning, his whole life has changed. For now he carries Wyetgerd’s Ax.

Soon everyone looks to Wisag, either with a challenge, or a request for help. Wisag never wanted to be a hero. He was happy to live a life of no consequence, drinking, gambling, and whoring his way to an early death, but now a new path has opened to him.

The path of Wyetgerd.

And Wisag will be tested sooner than he thinks. When he sets out on a simple rescue mission to pay off a debt, Wisag finds himself immersed in a much larger conflict, one that reaches from the Thultac Mountains in the west to the warm climes of the far south, where the King sits his throne uneasily.

As he walks his new path, the legendary warrior Skodan will go with him, showing him the ways of Wyetgard. And Wisag will learn the hardest lesson of all: evil will triumph if the good do nothing.

Wisag gained fame by killing a legend. He will become a legend by defying a king.


Wyetgerd’s Ax is epic heroic fantasy at its best. From Brian O’Rourke, author of The Bastard’s Refuge


Friday, November 17, 2017

The Prodigal Girl is done

Greg Owen #3, The Prodigal Girl, is done. It's available for pre-order right now and releases one week from today, November 24th.

If you haven't, ahem, had an opportunity to meet my latest character, Greg Owen, here's your chance. These books are fast and fun, just as character-driven as they are plot-driven. People have told me they're actually funny too. I do try. Below are some passages that readers have written me about.

SOME BAD LANGUAGE BELOW (you've been warned)


Let’s get this out of the way.
My name’s Greg Owen.
At least two of these three things are true—I’m:
Tall.
Dark.

And handsome.


It takes forty-five minutes to reach Johnsonville and then another five to find the state penitentiary. It’s a little after noon now, so I call the pool hall just to make sure Wally and Roy haven’t burnt the place down.
“Greg Owen’s Den of Inequity,” somebody answers.
“Who the hell’s this?”
“Oh, hey, Greg. It’s Bernie.”
Of course Bernie, the freeloader with about eighteen tabs all across town, manages to show up the one day of the year I go with the honor system. 


I head back in, my head swimming. Becca and I share a nice dinner with good conversation, but I can’t stop thinking about Denise and Nick and the past and how Denise and I are falling right back into our old patterns of behavior. I’m the guy she comes to when she has a problem. She’s the girl for whom I inhabit that weird intra-space between friend and more than friend.
But hey—
That doesn’t stop me from inviting Becca back to my place.


Let’s get this out of the way—
My name’s Greg Owen, and there are three kinds of people in this world:
Those who are good at math.
And those who aren’t.


“You know, Greg,” Bernie begins, taking a break from his book, “boys and girls mature much more quickly these days than—”
“Shut the fuck up,” I say.
Bernie shuts the fuck up.


“Hey, guys,” I call out. “This is Lucy Hale, soon to be an Olympic athlete.”
Roy and Wally put down their cues and meet us at the register. Bernie’s jaw is still slack, his mouth wide open. He is in awe of this woman.
“Hi,” Lucy says, a touch shy.
“This is Roy and this is Wally.” I gesture at the two. “They fight like they’re married. But don’t let that fool you. They actually love each other.”
They smile and shake Lucy’s hand.
Roy says, “Greg has a lot of faults.”
“Gee, thanks, Roy.”
Roy continues, “But being oblivious isn’t one of them. You’re in good hands here.”
Wally nods. “He doesn’t eat well, or dress well, and his businesses leave a lot to be desired, but Greg is a good guy.”
“Stop selling me, guys,” I say, laughing.
Roy and Wally keep up with the jabber, so much so that Lucy is in stitches. Bernie’s mouth is still open, like a Venus fly trap.
“And this is Bernie,” I say. “He’s hard at work on a novel.”
Lucy smiles and offers her hand. “Nice to meet you.”
Her physique and pretty smile have robbed Bernie of the power of speech. Miracles do happen. Completely flustered, he shakes her hand.
Before his gaping mouth and wide eyes get even weirder, I say, “Hey, Bernie, could you get Lucy a bottled water?”
“Red or white?” he asks, and we laugh at this. Bernie hasn’t even realized what he’s said.