What is it about showers?

A lot of important writing takes place in the shower. Take screenwriter Paul Guyot for instance.

So, my deadline is today. For the heist script. And I awake happy
and energized – knowing I have but two more scenes to right and I’m
done, on time.

Then in the shower, it hits me. A cavernous hole in my plot. In the
actual heist itself. A hole big enough that to repair it means a major
rewrite of about 30% of what I already have.

This happens to me all the time…and in the shower, too. What the hell is it about showers anyway?

On our first series staff job, the showrunner had a shower in his office and I
figured it was in case he ever had to pull an all-nighter on a script and had to freshen up in the morning.
It wasn’t until later I knew what it was really for… every day writing… finding plot
holes, crafting dialogue, and coming up with new stories.

I’ve got to get a shower in my office one of these days. I’d be a lot more productive.

C’mon, Get Happy

I was trading emails with my agent yesterday when it occurred to me that I have a lot of books coming out in the next 12 months. Here’s what’s coming…


The only one of those four books that’s hasn’t been delivered to the publisher yet is the MONK, but it will be in two weeks (it has to be or an enforcer from Penguin Putnam will show up at my door and break my kneecaps).  In February, I’m hoping to go on a book tour along with my brother Tod, and my sisters Linda Woods  and Karen Dinino, who will also have new books out.  Maybe we can get a bus like the Partridge Family had…

Coffee Shop Novelist II

Apparently, Harlan Coben isn’t the only one who uses a coffee shop as his office. Novelist William Kent Krueger calls the St. Clair Boiler his office and wrote a loving tribute to it in the Washington Examiner (which I discovered on David J. Montgomery’s blog).

It’s 6:30 in the morning. I’m sitting in my car, eyeing the dark
windows of the St. Clair Broiler across the street. There’s almost no
traffic. The sidewalks are empty. A peach glow in the east suggests
that the sun will rise within the hour.

Deep in the Broiler, a
light comes on. It’s located in the kitchen where Juan is firing up the
griddle. A minute later, the red neon flame over the front door
flickers to life. Inside the cafe, there’s movement. Karen – or Lis,
or Sydney, or Carol, depending on the day – flips the main light switch
and unlocks the door. I grab my notebook and pen and head to my office
– booth No. 4.

It’s been this way for twenty years. I write
mysteries for a living, and I write them at the St. Clair Broiler in
St. Paul, Minn.

If he’s on the road, he still finds a coffee shop booth to write in.

I don’t make it to booth No. 4 every day anymore. I’m frequently on
tour or attending conferences. But I don’t desert the process. Wherever
I am – Los Angeles, New York City or Omaha – every morning, I find
myself a little coffee shop, take out my wire-bound notebook and pen,
and bend to the magic.

What he doesn’t say is what kind of deal he’s worked out with the coffee shop owner (or, I should say, what kind of deal he worked out before he was a published novelist). Don’t these coffee shop owners ever get ticked off that authors are occupying a booth all day… a booth that could be turned over perhaps a dozen times for pay customers?

One of these days, I’ll have to share the story of what happened when I was brought in by a movie studio to adapt his terrific novel IRON LAKE as M.O.W/back-door pilot. It’s a true Hollywood story…or, I guess he might consider it more of a Hollywood nightmare. At least this was one nightmare that, so far anyway, hasn’t come true.


Wasserman is Out

LA Observed is reporting that Steve Wasserman has resigned as editor of the Book Review.

There since 1996, he informed his staff on Friday, after having a
discussion with editor John Carroll about his waning independence.
Wasserman has been known to be unhappy about the level of scrutiny he
receives from Deputy Managing Editor John Montorio and Associate Editor
of Features Tim Rutten. Some sources say the meeting with Carroll was
essentially an ultimatum, with Wasserman needing to hear that he would
be free to run the Book Review as he saw fit. He didn’t hear that, so
he resigned and reportedly has "irons in the fire," but no other job
yet.  His last day
officially is said to be May 13.

This will come as sad news to all those insomniacs who have been using the Book Review as a sure-fire sleeping pill for the last few years. Speaking of which, The Elegant Variation conducted another brilliant autopsy today of Sunday’s D.O.A. edition of the LATBR.

Read more

The Suspense was Killing Otto Penzler

The winners of this year’s Agatha Awards were announced today:

Best Novel – Jacqueline Winspear, BIRDS OF A FEATHER
Best First Novel – 
Harley Jane Kozak, DATING DEAD MEN
Best Short Story – Elaine Viets, "The
Wedding Knife" (from CHESAPEAKE  CRIMES)
Best Nonfiction – Jack French,
Best  Children’s/Young Adult – Blue Balliette, CHASING

Congratulations to all the winners, but most of all my friends Harley, Elaine and Jacqueline!

Ah, the Eighties…

Patrick Hynes reviews the first season boxed set of DYNASTY for the American Spectator.

Dynasty is commonly classified as a "primetime soap opera," but it is
indeed more like a cartoon. Most of the characters in this serial drama are
avowed Republicans. As such they are greedy, lustful, and hateful of minorities.
(Not much has changed there, eh?) The angry Middle Easterners look more like
bronzed beatniks. Most of them are played by extras with Italian last names.
And, of course, the rich lead shiftless lives of exaggerated extravagance while
the poorer characters are wholly sympathetic saints…

…In another 25 years or so there will be another television show in which all the
villains are greedy, lecherous Republicans and the heroes are simple folk with
progressive values. That much is certain, the entertainment business being what
it is. We can only hope that the story surrounding these stock characters is as
juicy as Dynasty was. And still is.

Patrick doesn’t have cable, and doesn’t watch TV at all, so he missed the docudrama DYNASTY: BEHIND THE SCENES this season.  Is it any coincidence the show came back in the midst of another oil crisis…and one trial after another of greedy CEOs? This time, though, the Middle Easterners were played by deeply tanned Canadians…

Coffee Shop Novelist

CBS has posted an interesting interview with my friend Harlan Coben, culled from his appearance on The Early Show. Here’s an excerpt on how he writes:

"I usually go to, like, a local coffee shop or the library. I like a
little white noise when I write, but not as much white noise as my
kids. So I usually go someplace. It makes me concentrate harder. You
look like you’re being a jerk writing in a coffee shop, but that’s
where I work best."

Coben candidly admits he’s not as big on research as many other
fiction writers. "I’m more from the, ‘Hum a few bars and fake it’
genre," he says to Smith. "Tell you the truth, I do research, but I’m
really more concerned with making sure that I am holding you hostage
and gripping you. The research has to come secondary. Sometimes a
writer uses research as an excuse not to write, not to grip, to tell
you cute factoids. I don’t want to do that. I want it do it with the

I have no problem making things up — it’s ficton, after all, so I agree with Harlan on that score. But I couldn’t write in a coffee shop or a Starbucks, I’d feel horribly self-conscious (especially in L.A.).  You walk into any Starbucks in L.A., and people are sitting there writing scripts, almost as if they are striking a pose: "Hey, look at me, I’m a screenwriter. Are you impressed? Would you like to fuck me? Or, better yet, hire me?" It feel so fake to me.  I’m sure some of them really are screenwriters, and they just like a good cup of coffee while they write, but I still hate it.  So I try to avoid doing any writing at all in restaurants or hotel lobbies,  especially in L.A., Vancouver or Toronto.

That said,  I write a lot on airplanes, usually because I am on some kind of pressing deadline and can’t afford not to use the five or six hours. Writing on a plane isn’t so bad if I’m with my family or traveling Bill Rabkin, my TV writing/producing partner. But when i’m traveling alone, with a stranger sitting beside me, it’s extremely awkward. It’s not easy writing when my wife is looking over my shoulder, much less a complete stranger…especially if you’re describing a homicide or somebody having sex.  I don’t blame the stranger for intruding on my privacy– we’re crammed so close together it would be damn hard not to look at the screen.   So what I do is put on a pair of headphones, crank up the music, and pretend I am all alone.  In a sense, I have to forget I am on an airplane at all — I have to lose myself completely in my fictional world.  It usually works.

How do you feel about writing in public?


Otto is At It Again

Otto Penzler trashes writers of so-called "cozies" in an interview with Book Standard.  This time, he says cozies aren’t worthy of Edgar consideration.

Are female mystery-writers—most often the authors of
the more non-threatening, proper cozies—even worthy of the award? Otto
Penzler, dean of mystery-writing in America, says no.


“The women who write [cozies] stop the action to go shopping, create a
recipe, or take care of cats,” he says. “Cozies are not serious
literature. They don’t deserve to win. Men take [writing] more
seriously as art. Men labor over a book to make it literature. There
are wonderful exceptions, of course—P.D. James, Ruth Rendell.”


Margaret Maron, president of Mystery Writers of America, which doles out the Edgars, and winner of one herself (for Bootlegger’s Daughter
in 1993), sniffs at this bias, as she considers it, saying that good
writers have been overlooked by the MWA as a result of unfair favoring
of male authors and their bloodier plots. “Wit, humor, and domesticity
haven’t been considered as significant as blood and violence.

He says this stuff, casually dismissing some of the genre’s best-loved writers and their books,  and yet whenever he shows up at mystery conventions, people bow at his feet like he’s some kind of royalty.  I don’t get it.