Friday, April 18, 2014

Challenge Accepted!

It's all Jack Badelaire's fault.

Back in December, my fellow indie scribe posted this challenge on his blog, where he expressed his idea that, if a writer puts his rear end in a chair and types steadily, said writer could produce a significant body of work in 2014.

Being a masochist, as I've communicated elsewhere on my humble page, immediately began to develop the necessary strategery so I could take this on and see if I could meet Jack's goal of four stories by January 2015.

That lead me to:

1) outline two more Wolf stories to go along with the five already out.

2) create a new spy series and outline four episodes projected at 50,000 words each.

The outlines are all done; in fact, the first of the spy series is finished, and it only took two months. Fifty thousand words in two months. Wow. Butt in chair = produced pages. Soon it goes to my editor.

One down, five projects to go. Eight months. Two months per book and I'm done before Christmas and the spy books alone will ring it at 200,000 words total. That's a heck of a lot of words. The two Wolf stories will add, probably, another 30,000, respectively.

I'm insane.

Challenge accepted, Jack! And well underway. . . .

Saturday, April 5, 2014

How I Met Your Mother--Thoughts on the Finale

I know I'm almost a week late on this, but I have to admit it has taken me this long to process the end of How I Met Your Mother, and not just for my own thoughts on the conclusion. There have been a variety of reactions, a lot of them negative. Some of the opposing comments have merit, but what we are seeing here is a rejection of old Hollywood stereotypes while the audience very much wanted to hold to those stereotypes.

The adventures of Ted Mosby and his friends were always entertaining, very funny, and poignant. It was hard for me not to identify with Ted, who had the worse luck when it came to ladies, and only wanted to settle down and make something of his life. As his friends settled and moved on, he was left in the cold, and, boy, I've been there. A lot of us have been there. That's what made the show so good. We could see ourselves in those characters.


The object of the show appeared to be Ted's romantic quest. The writers spent nine years showing us, through Ted's narration, how he met his children's mother, and we all expected "the meeting" to mark the end of the show. It did, and it didn't. In the end we find that the mother has passed away, and the point of the story is, basically, Ted asking his kids if it's OK for him to start dating again.

This is not the ending we expected.

But it's the ending the show deserved.

All throughout the show we've had hints that Ted would end up with Robin, whom he actively chased through the years, but ultimately (wait for it!) lost to his friend Barney, when Robin and Barney finally married. There have also been clues that the mother was dead and Ted was, for some reason, relating the story to his kids long after the fact. The internet was full of conspiracy theories describing that scenario. Not everybody believed them.

But then Robin and Barney divorced. That's not the ending we were expecting. But it's the ending their story deserved.

So, as time went on, Ted was alone and raising his kids, and Robin was alone and working her fancy TV job, and, eventually, they reconnected and, we assume, lived happily ever after.

Ultimately it's a sad story. Ted spends a long time looking for his wife, only to lose her. That's not a Hollywood fairytale ending. I think most of the audience was expecting the fairytale. Hollywood has trained us to expect that.

But Bays and Thomas, the show's creators, put a twist on that fairytale and upended decades of Hollywood trite.

The mother wasn't supposed to die, and Ted wasn't supposed to end up with Robin. That's how many think the show should have ended.

Reality throws a monkey wrench into that, however. In real life, people change; couples divorce; spouses die; and people carry on. Widows and widowers debate over whether or not it's OK to date again, and sometimes they're encouraged to "get back out there" by their children.

That's not the ending we wanted, but it's the ending the show deserved. If there has been a reason I've needed a week to process that ending, it was because it really made me think, as all great art should make one think. Life doesn't turn out the way we want or plan; nobody has a fairytale life. Generally we all have a "good enough" life, because we're always chasing a carrot. We think that when we get that carrot, we'll be happy; what ends up happening is that we find another carrot to chase, because nothing really makes us happy.

We can talk all day about how Bays and Thomas cheated the audience (many have written about that), but they'd planned the ending a long time ago, and planted clues along the way. This should not be a surprise to anybody who has paid attention.

It's the upending of the Hollywood fairytale that most people object to, I think, and it's about time we got away from that. I'm not saying break away from it entirely, because without hope people give up, and maybe fairytales provide a sense of hope not found elsewhere. Such ideas, though, create expectations that reality cannot live up to. A more balanced view is required.

While I hate to see the show end, and I would have rather it ended a different way, it was the right ending and the right message. There is no "one love of your life." There may be many. There may be none. But life goes on and you never stop looking. That, essentially, is the message of How I Met Your Mother.

Friday, April 4, 2014

INDIE SCENE: Jochem Vandersteen

Jochem Vandersteen writes very good private eye and noir fiction and is doing everything he can to get those books to a wider audience; to help a brother out, I thought we'd have a chat about what makes him tick.
You can check out his latest, The Death Business, on Amazon.
1) What is it about the private eye genre that you like? Is there something specific about that subject matter that fires your imagination more than others?
I like the fact you can often follow one man/woman during his investigation and life making you one with the story. I also like the fact the story doesn't get bogged down by too much procedural stuff. I like the idea of one man standing alone against crime. And I like the wisecracks so popular within the genre!
2) Have readers been enthusiastic about your work? How have they shared that?
I used to get some emails from time to time in the past from people digging my work. Now, a lot of positive comments can be found on Facebook and Goodreads which is awesome. They are the reason I write way more than the money.
3) What do you do to promote Noah Milano stories as well as your other work?
I use Facebook, some free promotions via Amazon, some interviews... But mainly I just hope people spread the word.
4) Tell us about one or two favorite authors who make you write better. 
Robert B Parker taught me how to write a fast-moving story with as little words as possible. Dennis Lehane taught me how to bring a special emotional edge to them.
5) What story-telling gaffes and cliches that you see other writers make do you try to avoid? 
I really hate over-describing stuff that will not interest the readers. I also dislike people who try to make their book 500 pages while the story could have been told in a 100. That's why I mostly write novellas.
6) If there is one question you'd like to be asked about your work that nobody has ever brought up, what would it be? 
Why do you love writing novellas instead of novels? And the answer can be found by looking at question number 5 ;-)

7) What's next for you?

Next up is a novella featuring Vance Custer, my new series character. He's a true crime writer who will investigate your case as long as he gets the book- and movie rights. It is a little less hardboiled than my Noah Milano series but still has some action and mystery as people expect from me.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Post-writing Panic

Now that I have finished the newest book, the first in a spy series under (probably) the Dean Breckenridge moniker, it is time to panic over the content of the next one, as I have no ideas right now.

Here's the part where I thrash around and decide that I can't plot my way out of a paper bag...

...think about plots I can steal from other sources and change....

....and wish I had become a dentist.

Yet in a week or so I'll have more ideas than I know what to do with.

I hope.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Interview with Mark Allen

Author Mark Allen and I have gotten to know each other through Facebook and we both have an interest in old men's adventure books. Since he is coming on strong with books of his own, not just in action/adventure but other genres, too, I thought you'd like to get a glimpse into what makes him tick and what he has in store for the future.

Brian Drake: What is it about the action genre that you like? Is there something specific about that subject matter that fires your imagination more than others?

Mark Allen: There is something visceral and primal in the action-adventure genre; violence channeled toward the causes of justice and vengeance and payback and the punishment of evil. Some people call these books “fairy tales for men,” and while that’s typically said in a derogatory fashion, there is some truth to it … though honestly, based on feedback for The Assassin’s Prayer, there are plenty of women who enjoy the genre as well, despite it often being labeled as a male-centric category.

BD: Of course, you have branched out with books like “Suck A Bus” and action/fantasy like “Resurrection Bullets” … have readers been as enthusiastic about those stories as they have The Assassin’s Prayer?

MA: While action remains my primary genre, I do dabble in horror, as evidenced by short stories like “Suck A Bus” and “Mudslingers.” I even took a stab at straight-up romance (“The Sweetheart Buck”) that was surprisingly well received. I published all my short fiction prior to releasing The Assassin’s Prayer and while reader response to the shorties was good, it pales in comparison to how well The Assassin’s Prayer has been received.

BD: What did you do to promote The Assassin’s Prayer to the point you’re selling, as you’ve mentioned elsewhere, 50 copies in one day?

MA: Honestly, I have no idea! I mean, sure, I know what I did, but it’s nothing that thousands of other indie authors aren’t doing as well, and traditional self-publishing wisdom would tell you that what I’m doing is not enough to generate these kinds of sales figures. My marketing routine is simple: I post at least once a day on my Facebook Page, send out at least one Tweet per day, interact on a few action-adventure Facebook Groups, network with other action authors, and post a blog entry at least 2-4 times a month. That’s it. No blog tours. No paid promotions. No website reviews. My wife and I joke that when it comes time to publish the next book, I won’t know how to replicate this success because I really don’t know what I did. I just wrote the best action-thriller I could, marketed it as best I knew how, and somehow it seems to have found an audience.

BD: Tell us about one or two favorite authors who make you write better.

MA: My favorite author is Stephen Hunter. That man can spin a guy-with-a-gun yarn better than anyone, but truthfully, I make no attempt to emulate his style. Early in my writing career—and by early I mean the formative, pre-publication years—it was Eric Van Lustbader who most directly impacted my writing. I remember reading The Ninja and being struck by how seamlessly Lustbader merged violent combat with rich, descriptive, poetic prose. Nobody had blended beauty and brutality so expertly and I began trying … well, not to mimic, but to juxtapose a similar lushness of language with the violence of the action genre. More recently, the rapid pacing and muscular prose of Lee Child and Vince Flynn have influenced me to write a bit leaner and strike a balance between poetry and rawness.

BD: What storytelling gaffes and clich├ęs that you see other writers make do you try to avoid?

MA: Subpar characterization and rigid adherence to formula. I read a lot of action novels and far too often writers fail to create characters that readers give a crap about. An emotionless cipher gunning down cardboard terrorists just doesn't cut it. Granted, this is the action genre and the pace needs to be brisk, but too many writers spend six paragraphs describing a weapon in explicit, porn-like detail, but barely give you a sentence or two about the hero. One of my goals with The Assassin’s Prayer was to write a novel that featured all the hard-hitting action one expects—nay, demands—from the genre, but with a greater depth of emotion. I wanted you to get all the bullets and blood you could handle, but I wanted the bullets and blood to matter.

BD: If there is one question you’d like to be asked about your work that nobody has ever brought up, what would it be?

MA: The question I would most like to be asked is, “Would you accept this $1 million check in exchange for the rights to your book?” Hasn’t happened yet, but hey, dream big or go home, right?

BD: Tell us what’s next for you.

MA: I am currently working on my next novel. While not a direct sequel to The Assassin’s Prayer, it does take place in the same shadowy world of crime lords and assassins and a character or two from The Assassin’s Prayer may have cameos. While I don’t want to give too much of the plot away at this early stage, it features a virginal hit-man, a disgraced hooker, a defrocked priest turned CIA handler, an assassin named Jesus, a corrupt US Senator, and an absolutely ruthless villain. It’s everything you love about The Assassin’s Prayer—raw emotion and bloody action—ramped  up to the next level. No firm release date yet, but Summer/Fall is the target.

Brian Says: Give Mark's books a try. I've featured The Assassin's Prayer, The Killing Question, and Resurrection Bullets--they're all winners, but I have to admit a fondness for Resurrection Bullets, which is "inspired" by James O'Barr's THE CROW. I have a personal connection to the film made from O'Barr's comic, so it caught my attention right away, and it's a home run.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Writing Habits of a Sado-Masochist

I'm working on a new book for the Dean Breckenridge series, and I've gone back to an old habit I picked up ages ago: writing the manuscript by hand.

Armed with a pen and a 180-page spiral notebook, I have been diligently scribbling and following my outline for the last month, and I'm about halfway through the notebook. I'll need another to finish the story. My calculations say that, when typed, that 180 page notebook will equal 50 pages. This book, like my other Breckenridge titles, won't be very long.

But why would I make myself do twice the work? Right, I'm going to finish the ms. in the notebook and then take another month to retype it. While I'll be making some changes along the way, I've added a step to the process that seems to take up more time rather than saving time.

Who cares. The nice thing about writing in a notebook is that I don't have to lug the lap top all over the house, or anywhere else. I can write on the bus, in the park, on a plane, in jail, wherever I have a place to sit.

Does that make me a glutton for punishment? I suppose.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Interview with Dean Breckenridge

Dean Breckenridge has written, if I may say so myself, some very swift-moving action stories that feature a character called Wolf. He's an outlaw that is sort of a halfway house between the cops and the crooks; if you can find him, and need a square deal, he'll assist, and make the bad guys go away--usually with a .45 bullet to the skull. I caught up with Dean recently for a few questions.

Brian Drake: It's nice to sit and finally talk to you. We've been passing in the hallway for months now but this is the first chance we've had to talk.

Dean Breckenridge: I don't speak to the help.

BD: Well...I'm not exactly "the help", per se. Where do you get your story ideas?

DB: You're asking me that? Who asks that anymore? I'm calling my agent.

BD: You seem to know a lot about criminals.

DB: I read Mack Bolan books growing up. What did you read, Nancy Drew?

BD: I preferred the Hardy Boys, actually.

DB: You would, pansy.

BD: Now wait a minute...I don't understand the hostility here. This is supposed to be a friendly chat.

DB: I don't need this. Have you seen my sales lately?

BD: I see them every day, actually. Congratulations. You're doing very well.

DB: Would you say I'm doing better than you? THE ROGUE GENTLEMAN--what a joke. Nobody wants him. You suck.

BD: Actually, no I don't. I'm you. You're me. If people are buying your books, they're actually buying my books, so truthfully I don't suck at all.

DB: My head hurts.

BD: So where do you get your ideas, dummy?

DB: Newspapers.

BD: What's a newspaper?

DB: You know, the stuff birds poo on. 

BD: I don't have a bird.

DB: Yes you do.

BD: I'm pretty sure I don't. 

DB: You have a bird. Why else would I have newspapers here?

BD: There are no birds in my house. 

DB: Are you sure you're in the right house?

BD: Let's get back on track. Where did Wolf, your current series character, come from?

DB: He's Batman without the tights. Do you like Batman?

BD: I was always more of a Superman guy.

DB: Pansy.

BD: Are you always going to write about Wolf?

DB: I guess. But I'm also going to write about other guys, too. I got a spy series I'm working on that has lots of sex and violence. Or is that violence and sex? Or is the violence happening during the sex? 

BD: I don't know.

DB: Well, crap, I thought you knew this stuff.

BD: And I thought you told me you were going to concentrate more on urban action stories and let me do the spy stories.

DB: That was before I started outselling you.

BD: You don't outsell me.

DB: Shall we look at the numbers again, smarty pants?

BD: You sell more because you have more books out. I only have a few and none of them are part of a series yet. Once I get more Rogue Gentleman books out I'll sell better, too.

DB: If that helps you sleep at night. Look, are we done here? I got drinking to do.

BD: We haven't had a drink since July 12th of 1996.

DB: Maybe you haven't. I need a drink to tolerate your lousy questions.

BD: You know what, you're such a punk that I'm not going to link your books to this interview.

DB: Whatever.

BD: Hey, if it weren't for me, you wouldn't exist.

DB: If it weren't for me, you would't be driving a Corvette.

BD: My day job pays for the Corvette.

DB: And my money pays for the repair bills. $2000 in repairs for January alone. Are you nuts? If you want to piss away your money, give it to AIDS babies in Africa. Do you feel good that babies in Africa are dying so you can have a Corvette? And by the way, it's an old Corvette. Why don't get you a new one?

BD: You're just a sour puss, aren't you?

DB: I'm not sour at all.

BD: I've had enough of you. From now on, you stay on your side of the room and I'll stay on mind.

DB: Fine with me. My side is bigger than yours.