Archive for the ‘writing’ Category

I’m a writer. I am

Pretentious and preposterous. That’s how this line reads: I’m meeting my agent. It’s not so much name dropping, as noun dropping.  Like, did I mention my sports-car repairman stopped by? Hold on, the art dealer is calling. Oh, and I’m meeting my literary agent this afternoon. But I am. I’m going to spend this whole weekend playing at writer. I don’t mean the solitary, banging-your-head-into-the-keyboard part of being the writer. That’s the real part. I’m going to enjoy the public part, where you get to act like a writer.

Journalism taught me long ago you don’t say you have a story until it is for real, in print, ink on newsprint. I found it hard not to take the same stance when defining what I now do. I swallowed the word “writer” when people asked how it is I spend my days. After all, no book. Proof and the pudding and all that. I finally settled on saying, “wannabe writer and stay-at-home dad.” There’s no oversell in that.

But today I am meeting with my agent, Dawn Dowdle of Blue Ridge Literary Agency. Getting to this point has been a long time coming—a lot of words under the bridge, tens of thousand in fact. I’m still a wannabe, but I’m a wannabe with an agent who also wants me to be. Tomorrow, we head to the Festival of the Book in Charlottesville. We’ll meet some of her other writers, some with actual books out. I’ll check out conferences on publishing and ebooks and marketing and meet authors (the real kind) and walk around the place in my writer pose.

I’ve even brought a special T-shirt. This year is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Dickens. In celebration, Philosophy Football created the Dickens XI shirt, with Dickens characters shown in each of the 11 positions on a soccer team. Too esoteric to put soccer and writing together? Maybe, but the writer pose is all about the eccentric. Anyway,  imagine Pickwick anchoring the midfield and Chuzzlewit storming forward at center forward. It’s a mash up and we love those.

In between meeting my agent—said it again—and swanning around the fest, I’m sneaking into a late matinee of “Hunger Games.” I’d planned on the midnight show last night, but the travel logistics didn’t work. My next book is for young adults. I do not have visions of “Hunger Games” or Potterworld dancing in my head. I wish the movie well because I wish writers well. I hope Suzanne Collins becomes a squagillionaire. (Based on the movie theater parking lot outside, I think she’s got a shot.) When stories fascinate, writers have a chance, even the guy playing one for the weekend.

Timers, the blurb

Below is the pitch for my work-in-progress, a YA science fiction adventure that Dawn Dowdle of Blue Ridge Literary Agency has just agreed to represent. In January, she signed to handle my historical mystery LAST WORDS.

TIMERS: Samuel Tripp’s Adventures Across Time with Rip Van Winkle, the Connecticut Yankee and Ebenezer Scrooge (oh, and he saves all of history)

SAMUEL TRIPP is lost in space and will soon be lost in time. His con-man father moves the family every four months to chase a new get-rich scheme. This leaves Sam without friends and tired of trying to make them in every new school. His life is upended when RIP VAN WINKLE appears in the Tripp’s garage and tells Sam that they both are members of a legion of time travelers known as the Timers.

Moments later, a monstrous Clocker attacks Sam and Rip. Clockers kill Timers to get their power. But the Clockers now want Sam more than any other because of the Timers watch his dead mother passed on to him. They will use it to punch a whole into another universe so they can hunt down more Timers. The downside: They will also destroy Sam’s reality. Sam races across time to save his kidnapped little brother JAMIE, lost girlfriend EMMA CORRS and all of history. He is joined in the fight by two more first Timers: HANK MORGAN, known to most as the Connecticut Yankee, and EBENEZER SCROOGE. Also helping, and confusing Sam about his feelings for Emma, is MACKENZIE MAGUIRE, a girl he’s just met at his new high school. Sam must travel a long way, deep into the past and forward to the far future, to find the home he’s never had.


Real books sold, book business burned

Every writer probably spends some time wondering what form the “book” she is writing will take and how it will get out into the world of readers. Like many, I’m resigned to a future filled with e-books, though really really want a real book to hold if I’m ever published. At least my first one, for the immortality bits and bytes can never confer. There’s a reason “the cloud” is now the preferred name for the place where all our digital stuff goes to live. Clouds are emphemeral.

Publisher’s Lunch reported heartening news after the holidays for those of us who want to hold a book, any book. The publishing newsletter covered Barnes & Noble’s pretty decent holiday sales, noting the retail chain said, “book sales were strong overall, fueled by strength across multiple categories,” and “physical book sales on a comparable basis increased by 4 percent, exhibiting growth for the first time in five years.”

For the radical take, look to Bloomberg Businessweek’s excellent cover story this week, “Amazon Wants to Burn the Book Business.” Brad Stone’s piece details Amazon’s push into book publishing. This is not an e-books-only story, as Amazon is arranging to have physical versions printed. This is not an authors-get-screwed story, as writers get  a much better split when they do business directly with Amazon. But it is a big-six-publishers-are-in-deep-doo-doo story.

“The reaction to Amazon’s move is analogous to the screech of a small woodland creature being pursued by a jungle predator,” writes Stone in the article. Publishers are “trying to protect a century-old business model—and their role as nurturers of literary culture—from encroachment by a company that consistently reimagines how industries can be run more efficiently. Book publishing, an inefficient industry if there ever was one, seems ripe for reimagining.”

Whether you agree with the article’s take, or Amazon’s strategy, it is must reading for all of us who like to read, and to hold books, whether our own or anyone else’s.

The Academy of Crime (Fiction)

I’ve been accepted into the Crime Fiction Academy, a new program offered by The Center for Fiction in New York. The Center, founded as the Mercantile Library in 1820, is one of those great little institutions in New York unknown to many, and has a history worth an entire post of its own.

Elmore Leonard, Harlan Coben, Lee Child, Laura Lippman and Dennis Lehane will teach master classes at the CFA, and Jonathan Santlofer, SJ Rozan and Thomas H. Cook will run 12-student writing workshops. There’s also a monthly seminar on published crime fiction.

During the course, I plan to workshop LAST WORDS, the historical mystery I’ll be readying for editor submissions with my new agent Dawn Dowdle over the next few months. The timing was pretty amazing. I heard I’d gotten into the CFA just two days after Dawn agreed to represent LAST WORDS.

Yeah, I’m pretty excited.

A calendar that tracks time travel

Designer Alex Griendling’s peculiar calendar project gave me a chance to tryout crowd sourcing and indulge my love of time travel. Almost no strand in science fiction—I hate the term sub-genre, since it sounds so “sub”—has enthralled me more than time travel. It started with “Danny Dunn, Time Traveller” and the bad Irwin Allen TV series, “Time Tunnel,” and has continued through every chronology-bending, Grandfather-paradox-killing book, show or movie I could get my eyes on.

The only stories that ever trumped time travel, at least in my pre-teen mind, were dystopian tales of post-apocalyptic futures, since running from mutants and hunting your own irradiated food across a disaster-blasted planet Earth sounded like pure adventure to a 12 year old. What’s wrong with a life expectancy of 22?

I have proof that obsessive attention to a topic can have its benefits. My second novel is a YA time-travel story called “TIMERS: Samuel Tripp’s adventures across time with Rip Van Winkle, the Connecticut Yankee and Ebenezer Scrooge (oh, and he saves all of history).” I started it in late September and I’m flying—18,000 words written so far—and I’m having a blast. There’s nothing that says you can’t have fun writing. But I digress.

Griendling proposed on Kickstarter to create the 2012 Time Travel Calendar and I plunked down my $10. He got it funded and I got this great calendar. Each month, instead of a picture, the calendar lists important, and not-so-imporant, moments in history visited by time travelers in TV shows, films, videogames and comics. January begins with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles back two and half billion years battling Slash in a 1992 video game, and ends in December with Superman trapped in the year 1,001,963 under a red sun with no super powers.

In between is a bounty of time travel trivia. The Titanic hosted both the dwarves and Kevin in the great film “Time Bandits” as well as Dr. Anthony Newman of craptastic “Time Tunnel.” Eighteen years later in history, Kirk and Spock travel to the Great Depression to stop McCoy from altering the past. This Star Trek episode, “City on the Edge of Forever” written by Harlan Ellison, was where I first encountered the change history, timeloop condnundrum that has fascinated me ever since.

The calendar also marks key dates in the history of time travel stories. You’ll find Skynet became self-aware on April 21, the day after Passover this year, the novel “The Time Machine” was published on May 7, as well as the birthdays of Robert Zemeckis and Stan Lee. I could go on and would if I weren’t already well beyond reasonable post length. It’s hard not to with a calendar that on one page alone cites “The Time Machine,” “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure,” “Somewhere in Time,” “Midnight in Paris” and “Timecop.”

Who doesn’t have time for that?


That is the only headline I will ever type in all caps. Dawn Dowdle of the Blue Ridge Literary Agency has agreed to represent my crime novel LAST WORDS. We talked yesterday and really hit it off. She’s also interested in the project I’m working on now, a YA science fiction tale called “TIMERS: Samuel Tripp’s Adventures Across Dimensions with Rip Van Winkle, the Connecticut Yankee and Ebenezer Scrooge (Oh, And He Saves All of History).” More news on that when I have it.

I leave behind the wearying place I call QueryWorld. Wannabe writers are not supposed to moan about the process of querying to get an agent, but let me just say several months of nagging friends and total strangers alike was hard work. Querying has more rules than the Japanese tea ceremony, and agents will often say no based on a one-page pitch letter. I can now concentrate all my time and energy on writing TIMERS. Phew!

The odd thing is it feels like I’m running even though I’ve crossed a finish line. I’m very happy, but my mental to-do list hasn’t adjusted to the new circumstances. A big part of most days was dedicated to the process of finding an agent. I will be working with Dawn on edits to the manuscript and then comes the next round of submissions—this to publishers. But for today, I’m going to type again, I GOT AN AGENT!

The theater of the mind

In a hotel near Newark airport, set between railroad tracks and spaghetti-piles of New Jersey highway, the Friends of Old-Time Radio will sit in meeting rooms for the last time this weekend, asking and answering the question, “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?” The friends will no longer meet after their 36th convention, reports David Hinckley in the Daily News. They will go as silent as the medium they love.

Old radio fans celebrate the days when radio was television, and fllled the airwaves with crime shows, dramas, comedies, variety and news of a great war and the massive changes that followed. If you’ve ever heard of “The Shadow” or “Dragnet” or Jack Benny or Edward R. Murrow or a dummy named Charlie McCarthy, you’ve heard of the programs and the stars of the Golden Age of Radio. The radio you listen to now, the tunes and talk, is what we were left with once television took over the world.

read the rest of my column at Ink By The Barrel: Who Knows What Evil Lurks in the Hearts of Men? – Pelham, NY Patch.

A writer writes

The thoroughly modern me finds it a surprise that the old description, “the three R’s,” is so valid in education today. I am no basics-only advocate. But reading, writing and math are the core of Planet Education and influence, like gravity, everything else. Math is required to move into sciences like physics and chemistry, and writing to answer questions in those subjects as well as all the social sciences and humanities. Reading is required to prosper in any of them. It’s of greatest importance we get it right when we teach the big three.

Last week, I outlined the problems with Pelham’s elementary math curriculum, Pearson’s Investigations in Number, Space and Data. This week, I want to describe the outstanding writing program we have in kindergarten through fifth grades.

read the rest of my column at Ink By The Barrel: A Writer Writes – Pelham, NY Patch.