Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Writing Process – Incorporating Reader Comments and Changing the Title

I just finished a very minor rewrite of Secret Witness – my first true crime book.  The acquisitions editor sent it out to another author to gather comments about the book to improve it.  The reader (I don’t know who it was but they have my thanks) had one comment/suggestion.  The editor and I discussed it and I have gone through and made the change. 

I also had to go through and tell the editors where I wanted the photographs placed in the book.  The publisher of this book (The University of Michigan Press) does a great job of production and puts the photos throughout the book rather than in a section in the middle of the book.  Personally I’m a big fan of putting the photos where they relate to the text rather than being lumped together in the middle. 

This is all part of the writing process.  If you have an ego, this isn’t the business for you to consider.  Sometimes you have to be objective and in this case, I think the author that provided the comments may have been right.  The net result is a better book. 

The next step is that a copy-edit will be done on the book.  This is to clean up grammar and spelling.  The book then moves into production.  Somewhere along the line I will get a “blueline” copy of the book to review.  Back in the old days a blueline copy was a printout of how the book was laid out and is my final chance to make changes.  Nowdays this is a PDF file of the book as it appears in final form.  Generally you get a ridiculously short amount of time to review this copy – some publishers have hit me with 48 hours turnaround time.   

Then the book is gone.  Months will pass. As an author you move onto other projects.  Then suddenly the book is available.  I have sometimes seen my books in a bookstore before I get my author’s copies or before anyone informs me it’s out.  No problem – as long as the book is out and people are reading it. 

This book, re-re-renamed Secret Witness, went through several title changes.   When it pitched the idea to the acquisitions editor I used this title.  When we finished the book the suggestion came up to change the book title.  I’m game.  The running joke I use is, “you can call this book Free Beer if it will sell copies.” 

We bounced around two other titles – In the Shadow of Fear and Grip of Terror.  I used Facebook to float the titles out there and everyone favored In the Shadow of Fear.  I liked Grip of Terror because I think books that have short titles are better for readers to wrap their hands around.  Based on my informal market survey (Facebook comments) I went with In the Shadow of Fear, but I found out two days ago that the marketing people wanted to go back to Secret Witness.  It worked for me – that was the original title to begin with. 

The marketing folks also told me some general ideas they are bouncing around for the cover.  I can barely draw stick people so I’m excited to see what they eventually come up with. 

The reason I go over this is to explain a little bit about some of the background work as a writer that I go through.  Some of this has nothing to do with writing or research, but it has everything to do with the business of writing. 

So there you have it – another weekend as a writer.  Secret Witness, the story of the Nola Puyear bombing murder in Marshall Michigan in 1967, will be out next spring.  Until then, I’ve got two other proposals I’m working on, and another book I am writing. 

Life is good…

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Getting my game on - preparing for Gen Con 2011

I’m mentally getting ready to go to Gen Con.  Now for those of you out there that don’t know what Gen Con is, let me lay it out for you.  It is a science fiction/gaming convention in Indianapolis.  That sentence doesn’t really do it justice.  Picture, if you will, 30,000 nerds and geeks converging on a Midwest city for four days to play every kind of game conceivable.  Many of them (not me!) are dressed in everything from Goth to Steampunk to superhero to anime character. 

They are a fun-loving group, but geeky beyond all definition.  Obviously I fit in perfectly. 

Why do I go?  Well, I am a writer in the game industry.  My 12 novels have been tied to the BattleTech (MechWarrior) games.  Many of my early books were tied to other games.  I even do a little game design on the side.  Truth be told I was playing D&D back in the era when it first came out (in the little white boxed set which I still have).   I got into gaming by playing wargames, so when role-playing-games (RPGs) came out it was a logical leap for me.  Hell, back in high school, Tim Hopkins and I went to game conventions at Oakland University back in 1978. 

Yes, I am an uber-geek and Gen Con is like some sort of weird mental pilgrimage for me every time I go.  

This year I am looking forward to a game I did some work on, Leviathans!, to be released at the convention.  If you haven’t checked it out you should – since it is a game that will really be the big steampunk release at the convention.  Catalyst Game Labs has been working on this miniatures board game for some time and (if all goes well) we’ll get a chance to see it at Gen Con for the first time.  My son Alex is going with me and I think he’ll get a kick out of seeing the final product being released (with his name in the list of playtesters).  I really want to get a chance to play Leviathans! and see how people react to it. 

I don’t do a lot of pre-planning for the convention.  Alex and I both enjoy the showroom floor the most.  I sometimes join in game demos, sometimes I sign up for events and play them.  I hope this year to get in some Flames of War (WWII miniatures) gaming as well as a chance to actually play BattleTech.   While I have written over a million words for BattleTech, I really don’t play it too often.  It’s always a challenge at the cons because:  1.  People assume I know the rules inside and out and that’s not always the case.  2.  There’s always someone who wants to say, “I killed the author!” which paints me as a marked man. 

While I’m here I will be doing a book signing over at the Catalyst booth at some point – so you’ll see me there.  I have some friends I am hoping to meet and chat with about the industry and stuff.  But mostly, I am looking forward to doing some gaming. 

There are a few things I don’t like about Gen Con.  Sometimes there are people that need a bath in all honesty.  I also don’t like convention food (Alex and I sneak off to the nearby mall for a meal – well worth the walk).  

The things I enjoy the most are the people, the industry insiders I know, and the occasional fan that I bump into.  I love watching the miniatures battles unfold.  Some people prepare a full year in advance to put on a hell of a show for the attendees.  I love doing some shopping in the game hall, and sitting through the auction (which is always a treat).  The Mech Pods are a blast – especially for me as an author that writes material related to them (last year my son handed me my butt in a basket, wasting his old man in two sessions).  The final thing I like is the people of Indianapolis who always seem warm and inviting to all of us nerds and geeks. 

So, who’s going to be there this year?

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Movies I Watch When Writing – Part II: Stuff I Watch When Writing True Crime

True Crime requires mood, and concentration.  At the same time there are movies I play in the background when I’m doing work on this kind of book to help me focus.  Here’s Part II of my movies list…

Fargo.  I cannot say enough good things about this movie.  Let’s face it, once you see it you never look at a woodchipper in the same way. Great characters and atmosphere make this a classic to write-by. 

Sherlock Homes.  This is the new edition of this character portrayed by Robert Downey Jr.  Alright, it’s not a true story, but that wasn’t a criteria to make this list.  These are simply the movies I play when I write.  This one is neat on a many levels.  To hell with the critics, check it out.

Tucker – The Man and His Dream.   It’s almost impossible for me to write true crime without having this on at some point (or many points).  I worked in the auto industry early in my career and this movie is wonderful.  It’s a pure American story and even though the ending is not happy, it’s great. 

Zodiac.   I’ve read the books on the Zodiac killings.  This movie was incredibly intense.  When I’m writing about a killer, this is one that has to be on the office.  Zodiac makes me type faster and is scary, and I’ve seen it about 10 times so far. 

Capote.  How did I miss this movie when it was in the theaters?  Truman Capote, according to some pundits, create the true crime genre.  I won’t argue the validity of that.  This movie is neat if you’ve ever read In Cold Blood because it gets at how that book was written. 

In Cold Blood.  Yeah, after mentioning Capote you knew I was going to go there.  While dated by today’s standards, this is a good movie when you are wading through police reports doing research. 

All of the President’s Men.  Watergate was a massive crime and this movie is fun to watch or have on in the background. 

October Sky.  I’m sure you’re scratching your head at this point.  What does this have to do with true crime?  This genre is about telling stories about people (some of which happen to be dead).  Character generation is critical and October Sky helps you get an idea of how to set a scene very well for a reader. 

The Informant.  I saw this originally on a business trip on the plane.  This is a neat way to get your creative juices flowing.  How this story begins and unravels is fascinating. 

Catch Me If You Can.  This is one of those movies that goes in a direction you’d never expect – just like some of the books I write.

Cinderella Man.  I don’t give a damn about boxing.  I do care about people.  This movie swells up tears at the end every time I play it.  It’s well worth having on when you want to drive home an emotional point in the story. 

V for Vendetta.  I’m one of those geeks that read the graphic novel first…so shoot me.  This movie has a rich background story that unfolds in the movie slowly and carefully.  There’s something there for any aspiring writer. 

Munich.  This movie is not one I play a lot, but it is neat to have on.  Vengeance is important with many true crime books. 

Frost Nixon.  Nixon is a neat guy.  There, I said it.  I don’t like him, I’m just stating fact.  This movie has a lot of depth to it and it’s important for my books to have that kind of depth. 

Spirit of St. Louis.  Jimmy Stewart – come on, you gotta love this true story.  It’s wholesome, deep and cool.  I live having it on because you don’t have to watch it – it can be experienced with a few quick glances when I need a break. 

True Grit.  Actually either version of this movie gets played in my house when I write – that includes when I’m working on science fiction.   This is story-telling at its best.  I love the new version even more than the John Wayne version.  “I call that bold talk for a one-eyed fat man!”  Wow!

Any recommendations from you folks?

Saturday, July 2, 2011

True Crime Book Review: Bind, Torture, Kill - The Inside Story of BTK

The beauty of true crime books is that they are timeless; so I hope this relatively late review of Bind, Torture, Kill is well received.  I got the e-book for my Kindle because, like many people, I remembered the news snippets about this serial killer.  The BTK killer struck in the 1970’s then disappeared, only to resurface a few years ago.  The apprehension of Dennis Rader and his icy confessions to the crimes were incredible – but like most people I didn’t know the whole story. 

This book did not disappoint.  There are a few BTK books out there but this one was penned by Roy Wenzl, Tim Potter, L. Kelly, and Hurst Laviana, journalists that covered the story (some from the beginning).  These folks are writers, which makes this book complelling to read.  So many folks jumping into true crime in the last few years lack the ability to paint a compelling story.  These authors do a very good job.  With so many authors I was worried that it would be choppy, as if each section or chapter were penned by someone else.  That is NOT the case.  This book is a smooth and eerily addicting read. 

The authors really told the story from both sides of the investigation.  You got to know the authorities that were going after this killer – faults and all. The many years that these crimes covered were consuming for many of them and they come across as sympathetic real people – not cardboard characters from central casting.

They provided a good picture of the murderer, Dennis Rader – though there still seemed to be a gap here – why?  Like most serial killers, we are left with that open question.  I think, out of the other BTK books out there, this book does the best job of giving us insights into the killer’s mind.   

HarperCollins did a great job with this as an e-book.  There were a lot of photographs included and they did it right, putting the images throughout the book rather than a section in the middle or the end. 

Is it worth reading?  Hell yes!  Download this book now!  It is captivating summer reading for true crime fans.