How We Wrote THE HEIST

Janet and leeI was going to write a blog post about how Janet Evanovich and I came up with THE HEIST…and how we write together…but reporter Rich Heldenfels at the Akron Beacon Journal did such a great job doing it for me in a great interview with us, I may not bother. Here’s an excerpt:

“But with two halves miles apart. Evanovich lives and works in Florida, while Goldberg is based in Los Angeles. So there were phone calls, and some visits to Florida by Goldberg, and help from Evanovich’s daughter Alex and son Peter, both of whom work for her company Evanovich Inc.

“We spent a lot of time talking at first, and coming up with the characters, and making sure they were the characters we had been dreaming about, and who they were, what were their aspirations. We made long lists of character analysis,” Evanovich said.

But — surprising in a crime-novel writer — Evanovich said, “I suck at plotting out a book. It’s just not my thing. And Lee is brilliant at it. So, after we set up our characters and our mission statement, Lee went off and set up the plot.” A world traveler, he also knew most of the locations firsthand. (“The only place in this book I haven’t been, and Janet hasn’t been, is Indonesia,” Goldberg said. “So I called people I know who have been there, and did a lot of research.”) But there’s an Evanovich touch in the romantic-sexual tension between Fox and O’Hare.

Since Evanovich was busy with a new Plum novel, Goldberg wrote the first draft of The Heist. Along the way, he sent pages to Evanovich, who made comments before Goldberg continued.

When the first draft was done, “by that time I was done with my Plum, and I took it over,” Evanovich said. “I did a very extensive editing of it  because we wanted a product that would satisfy my readers as well as his audience. My job was to take all of the good stuff he did and put it into my voice” — while retaining a sense of Goldberg’s style.

“I learned so much from her about writing, and about telling stories, and about humor,” Goldberg said of their work together. “She has raised my game enormously. I’m learning all sorts of new things.  There’s a humor that only Janet does. She can take something that I’ve written, for instance, and just by deleting a line or two, or twisting the phrasing, suddenly raises it 1,000 percent. Or she will put in a female point of view that I never would have thought of in a million years.”

To find out more, check out the article.

Colt’s Wild Ride To Print

Colt54 (Small)My friend Jude Hardin’s highly acclaimed Nicholas Colt mystery novels have followed an unusual publishing path. In this informative guest post, Jude talks candidly about that journey and the hard lessons he’s learned, culminating with the self-publication this month of his latest novel in the series, COLT (and be sure to check out his fantastic DEAD MAN tale, FIRE & ICE). 

In the spring of 2011, when my debut thriller POCKET-47 received a starred review in Publisher’s Weekly, I figured I was on my way. Suddenly, I was getting inquiries from a variety of big-name industry professionals who were interested in my book and my future.

I was a published author, and I was getting noticed. After years of trying to break into the business, these were two of the best things a writer could ask for!

But, with a hardcover print run of 3000 copies, and a $9.99 price tag on the ebook version, it quickly became apparent that the book wasn’t going to take off as well as it should have. The distribution just wasn’t adequate; there was no co-op placement in bookstores, and there weren’t a lot of readers willing to shell out ten bucks for an ebook by an unknown author.

That PW review did help me land a top New York agent, though, so I had high hopes for the second book in the Nicholas Colt series. My agent and I discussed strategies to move forward, and we decided Amazon’s Thomas and Mercer imprint might be the best way to go. Ebooks were quickly gaining traction in the marketplace, and Amazon’s promotion of them was second to none.

So we submitted the manuscript.

It sparked the editors’ interest, and I ended up signing a four-book deal with an option on a fifth. CROSSCUT was scheduled to be released June 2012, and SNUFF TAG 9 the following November. With Amazon’s backing, I thought these and subsequent titles would sell well enough to allow me to write full time. Once again, I was on my way.

Once again, good things!

Unfortunately, even with solid promotional efforts from Amazon, the sales of my Nicholas Colt titles have been lackluster so far. The books have earned out their advances, but they haven’t sold well enough for T&M or other publishers to offer the kinds of publishing deals I’m interested in. KEY DEATH comes out later this month, and I’m hoping things will pick up when it does.

But of course I’ve learned that there are no guarantees…

So, in an effort to give the series an extra shot in the arm (and with all of my contract obligations to Thomas and Mercer fulfilled) I have decided, for the first time, to self-publish a novel.

COLT went on sale May 30. It’s a prequel to the series, the events taking place three years before those in POCKET-47. Here’s the story:

October 21: just an ordinary day, unless you’re a former rock star…

The sole survivor of a plane crash…

A private investigator working out of a camper..

For Nicholas Colt, October 21 is an unlucky day. A day for nightmares. It always has been, and this year is no exception.

Someone is brutally murdering the offspring of an anonymous sperm donor, and Colt’s missing client is next on the list. With less than four days to find the young man—and, with a pair of drug-addicted study partners, a violent motorcycle gang, a stalker ex-girlfriend, and a host of other obstacles standing in his way—Colt faces the most challenging and deadly case of his life.

By self-publishing, I have control of the price, and I can participate in free giveaways and other promotional tools like BookBub. I have another completed novel that falls on the other side of the Nicholas Colt timeline, and I’m planning to self-publish that one early 2014.

Does this mean that I’m finished with publishers altogether? Not at all. It just means that writers have more viable choices now than ever before.

And that, my friends, is a very good thing indeed.

 

 

 

 

The New, Unimproved Monk

MMHH Cover

It wasn’t easy for me to walk away from writing the Monk books. After 15 novels over seven years, I’d become very attached to the characters. Monk, Natalie and the rest of the gang were always on my mind because I was always writing the books. But I decided it was time for a change (little did I know I’d soon be writing THE HEIST with Janet Evanovich!) And when I let my publisher know I was leaving, they told me they’d like to continue the series without me. They asked if I could recommend someone to pick up where I left off. I strongly recommended my friend Hy Conrad, a writer-producer on MONK and a terrific mystery plotter. He already knew the characters inside-and-out and had written some of the most beloved episodes of the TV series.  I knew the characters would be in very good hands with him, no matter what direction he decided to take the books. And that, of course, was the first, fundamental issue he had to deal with, as he explains in this guest post…

When it was announced I was taking over these novels, Monk fans started contacting me in droves, all asking the same question. Was I going to reboot the series, like a Batman or Spider-Man franchise, or just pick up where Lee Goldberg left off?

 To be honest, I never thought of rebooting. To me, the Monk characters are real. On the show, the other writers and I took Monk and Natalie to a certain place in their lives. Meanwhile, in a parallel universe, Lee continued to expand them, smoothing out little bumps and creating new ones.  I didn’t want to mess with that reality.

 In the new books, some things will naturally be different, because Lee and I are naturally different. For example, his Natalie knows a lot about architecture. Mine, not so much. His Monk is more obsessed with numbers and symmetry. Mine is a little more phobic.  I tried to insert some pop references into Natalie’s voice.  But the show never did many pop references and it doesn’t come naturally to me.

 In many ways, Lee strengthened the Monk franchise. For one thing, he knows San Francisco and the wonderful character of the town. We wrote the show in Summit, New Jersey, and, while we did have a San Francisco map, it was pinned on the far wall and no one wandered over there very often. I’ll try to do improve on our atmospheric quality, I promise.

 The same goes for forensics accuracy. Lee had called on a cadre of experts to make sure his details were right. Despite our own police consultant, the Monk writers tried not to burden ourselves with too many facts. At one point, the production team called to tell us our formula for bomb making was ridiculous. We replied, “Do you really want us broadcasting how to make a bomb?” That shut them up.

The good news is that we were sticklers for logic. We may not have known bomb making, but we insisted that the logic of every story always worked.  For example, when Monk was in a life-threatening predicament in Act Four, which he usually was, we knew we had to send Stottlemeyer in there to save the day.   In a lot of TV shows, the writers never ask, “Well, how did Stottlemeyer know Monk was in trouble?”  We did.  And sometimes it would take us a full day to answer the question.

 The other good news is that I was with the show from beginning to end, for all eight years. I was the mystery guy, while everyone else had come from the world of comedy. Along the way, I think I had some influence on the way Monk talked and interacted. In other words, he wound up a little bit like me, which makes writing for him a pleasure.

When I first told Monk creator/executive producer Andy Breckman that I was doing this, his response was, “Great. You can use some of the Monk stories we never got to do.”

Mr. Monk Helps Himself is one of those stories. I brought it into the writers’ room during season six. We played around with the idea until it morphed into something totally different—Mr. Monk Joins a Cult, guest-starring Howie Mandel. That’s how it happens in a roomful of writers. There are dozens of great plots, half thought through, buzzing around in our collective memory.

 I have to admit it’s nice to finally have the last word in what mysteries Monk solves and how he reacts.  I’ll try not to abuse the power.

It’s Not Just a Summer Fling

boot points finalMy friend Ann Charles writes the Deadwood Mystery series of novels…and has “Boot Points,” a new Deadwood short story, coming out June 25th. In this guest post, she talks about how her “summer fling” with the legendary South Dakota town unexpectedly turned into an enduring relationship… 

Once upon a time, I thought my crush on Deadwood, South Dakota was going to be just a summer fling. Boy, was I wrong. I had fallen head-over-heels.

My fondness for this western town full of rowdy old tales spurred me to write the first book in my Deadwood Mystery series, Nearly Departed in Deadwood. As I filled the pages, I realized the ideas for the colorful characters and their stories had been rattling around in my mind for decades, possibly starting when I was a teenager waiting outside the Prospector Gift Shop in Deadwood for my mom to finish work. Over the years, I soaked up the local history while hiking all over town, strolling around Wild Bill Hickok’s and Calamity Jane’s gravestones at Mount Moriah Cemetery, sitting on the steps outside the Deadwood Public Library, and perusing the tourist shops lining Main Street.

As times changed, so did Deadwood, with casinos replacing many of the stores on Main Street. At first I was sad to see them go, but then I realized that Deadwood had to transform in order to survive.

The same is true of a mystery series. In the second book of my series, I introduced Deadwood’s neighboring town—Lead (pronounced Leed), a five-minute drive “up the hill.” The two towns are like sisters, each enchanting with separate yet intertwined histories. While Deadwood was busy leaving its mark on the history books with tales of Wild Bill Hickok and Seth Bullock, Lead was busy staking its claim on the land. The home of the Homestake Gold Mine for over a century, Lead was the industrial center of the Black Hills. It still has the huge Open Cut mine smack dab in the middle of town.

The Open Cut has always fascinated me. I studied “before” and “after” pictures, read all about its creation (at the Black Hills Mining Museum), and stared at the geological timeline in its terraced walls through the chain-link fence at the Homestake Visitor Center. Why was I so fascinated with a big hole in the ground? Because it revealed a history of hard work, spent lives, and change. It intrigued me how people had adapted to these changes. The stories of their lives could fill books … or a series. If I tossed in a few dead bodies, there would be plenty of material to draw from to fill a mystery series. Nearly Departed in Deadwood 500x1200

These days, Homestake is no longer an operating gold mine; most of the drifts and shafts below the town are filled with water rather than men. But Lead’s industrious spirit is still alive. Coupled with Deadwood’s rough and rowdy past, the towns provide enough fodder, with the right mix of genres, to make a long, twisting tale full of “who-dunnits,” history, humor, paranormal (after all, Deadwood is famous for its ghosts), and a hint of romance.

I’ve now written four novels in the Deadwood Mystery series, as well as two short stories that give backstory on the main character, Violet Parker (a real estate agent and amateur sleuth who also happens to be the single mom of nine-year-old twins). I’m often asked how many more books there will be in the series. When I consider all of the rich, gold-laden history Deadwood and Lead have to offer, I smile like the love-sick fool that I am and say, “A lot more.”

After all, this isn’t just a summer fling I’m having.

 

 

Purple Prose

Royal-palm-tree1A friend recommended a crime novel to me that came out a few years ago from a major publisher and that was also praised by some big-name authors (including some who have praised my work). I brought the book along with me on a short day trip for something to read while my wife & daughter were shopping. The book was awful, but some of the terrible writing was worth sharing. Here are some of my favorite examples:

“A sustained orgasm of flowers filled the strip between the driveway and right side of the house.”

This made me laugh out loud. So did some of the comments my Facebook friends made about it:

And on the other side of the driveway, a foreplay of hedges.

Haven’t you ever had a sustained orgasm of flowers?

Better than a multiple orgasm of concrete.

Not just an orgasm of flowers, but a sustained orgasm of flowers. I want to live in that neighborhood.

Here’s another excerpt:

“Staring at the picture, I had a clear sense of the living person whose image was cradled in chemicals on the bed of thick paper.”

Or as a less pretentious writer might say it: “I got a clear sense of the person from her photograph.”

“The girl in the picture had a glimmer of erotic fear in her dark eyes, waving like a thin, white arm of a drowning person.”

So fear that is sexually arousing… or perhaps fear of something to do with sex…is visible in someone’s eyes as a white glimmer that looks like the arm of someone who is drowning. Yeah, that makes sense.”

Her short black skirt clung like a high priest’s desire to the curves of her ass.”

I suppose this might make sense if anybody had any idea what a “high priest’s desire” is.   A high priest of what? Tortured metaphors? Speaking of which…

“The night was filled with the exotic feeling California still evoked for me, surf shushing beyond the campfires, palm trees thrusting their composers’ haircuts up into the starry sky, swaying with the symphony of the wind.”

Surf shushing? Palms thrusting? A composer’s haircut? WTF? And am I the only one who thinks “a symphony of wind” sounds like another way of saying “a herd of cows farting”?

Booze Bullets and Broads


Gunshots-600-X-900-457x685BOOZE BULLETS & BROADS by Bruce Scivally is an ebook examination of Dean Martin's Matt Helm movies and the subsequent TV series. I was thrilled when I heard about the ebook but it turned out to be a major disappointment. It's very short, more like an expanded article than a book. It's very light on details, and the author appears to rely almost entirely on facts and quotes culled from newspaper and magazine articles. I don't get the sense that he did many, if any, actual interviews of his own. Also, his declaration that the Bond producers were creatively influenced by the Helm films isn't based on any facts, but rather a wild assumption the author jumps to based on some plot and scene similarities between the two series. On that basis, you could just as easily argue the Bond films were influenced by THE WILD WILD WEST, THE AVENGERS, and MAN FROM UNCLE, too. But that's a minor quibble. Overall, the book is an interesting read, and you do learn some things about the development of the scripts and production of the films, but it's not nearly as well-researched and informative as I'd hoped it would be. The chapter on the MATT HELM TV series is particularly thin and, given how little information there is about it, was hardly worth including. In fact, if you take the plot synopses out, which are pure fat, there isn't much real meat left. That said, it's well worth the $2.99 investment for Matt Helm fans or fans of 60s spy films. (As an aside, the Kindle formatting of the book is terrible at the outset, but it gets better. Don't let that put you off).

Much more satisfying is Charles Kelly's fantastic GUNSHOTS IN ANOTHER ROOM, his long-awaited biography of Dan J. Marlowe, one of my favorite authors. This biography is almost as wild, compelling, dark and surprising as one of Marlowe's books, which includes the classic The Name of the Game is Death. Kelly has done an enormous amount of research and thoroughly knows his subject. What really sets this book apart from most literary biographies is the tight, novelistic approach he's taken to telling not only Marlowe's strange story, but also the tale of bank robber Al Nussbaum, who became Marlowe's collaborator. Marlowe fans will appreciate the fascinating, detailed look at the author as a person, as well as his complex relationships with his literary agent and two collaborators (William C. O'Dell and Nussbaum), but also the telling details behind the plotting and writing of his books, even those that never saw print. Highly recommended!

Imprints for Success

0383 Lee Goldberg ecover King City_14 (1)For a while now, the editors at New York publishing companies have been warning authors who are thinking of jumping ship to one of Amazon Publishing's imprints that not only won't their books be in brick-and-mortar stores, but they also won't make nearly as much money. 

"You'll disappear," they say. "Your career will be over. Nobody will be able to find your books anymore."

While it's true that you won't see many Amazon-imprint books at your local Barnes & Noble or at airport bookstores….so what? Ebooks are outselling prints books today. And while your ego may take a hit not seeing your book on a store shelf, your wallet won't. Unless you're an A-lister like Lee Child, Janet Evanovich, James Patterson, or Michael Connelly, etc., you will sell a lot more books and make a lot more money with Amazon than with a "legacy" publisher.

I know many authors, formerly with NY publishers, who are now with one of Amazon's imprints…and earning more than they ever did before. I'm one of them. KING CITY has already made me more money in the last 90 days than my last two MONK novels combined.

But I am not alone. Today Amazon Publishing exec Jeff Belle sent a letter to agents telling them what we Amazon authors already knew…that the imprints are a huge success. He also punctured the big lie, which I have heard repeated many times, that Barry Eisler made a costly mistake walking away from a $500,000, two-book St. Martin's contract in favor of working with Amazon. Belle said, in part:

We are especially focused on increasing the audience for our authors. The Detachment, by Barry Eisler, published last September by Thomas & Mercer, has sold over three times the copies of any of Barry’s previous New York Times bestselling books. New York Times bestselling author Connie Brockway joined Montlake Romance as our launch author, and The Other Guy’s Bride has also gone on to sell more than three times the copies of her other recent titles. These authors, along with Amazon Publishing, are helping to redefine what it means to be a bestseller. We’re extremely proud of the results so far.

We are as determined as ever to make sure that Amazon Publishing authors reach a huge audience. In particular, we will continue to heavily market and promote them to our 180 million customers around the world, through online and offline advertising, our websites, through email, and on millions of Kindle and non-Kindle devices. Based in large part on our long experience as a bookseller, we are confident that this expansive marketing and promotional support will continue to yield strong sales results for our authors.

It's not just the sales that are attractive to authors… it's the talented, friendly and enthusiastic editors, who give authors an enormous say in how their books are packaged and marketed…it's the astonishing effectiveness of their promotional campaigns…and its the far more generous royalties, paid swiftly, and accompanied by clear, easy to understand royalty reports. Amazon Publishing treats authors like partners. And they publish great books.

Is it any wonder Amazon Publishing and their authors are doing so well?

It’s the Story, Stupid

TOP SUSPENSE BLOG HEADER 3Seems to me that authors are losing track of what really matters… not the formatting, covers, tweeting, pinning and promotion…it's the story, stupid. I blog about it today at Top Suspense. Here's an excerpt:

I’ve listened to new writers at conferences or while lurking on writers’ boards and the newbie writers seem obsessed with everything except what matters most: the writing.

I believe it’s that misguided obsession that s leading to the ethical scandals we’ve been seeing lately… like John Locke who hired people to buy his books and write fake reviews (to artificially boost his rankings and acclaim) to establish himself… and Stephen Leather and RJ Ellory who both used “sock-puppets” on Amazon and social media to generate false buzz and fake reviews to boost their popularity and attack their "rivals."

What authors need to remind themselves is that all of that formatting, pricing, tweeting, social networking, etc. is meaningless if you don’t know how to tell a good story, create compelling characters, develop a strong voice, set a scene, establish a sense of place, or manage point-of-view.

I rarely hear writers anymore talking about the pluses and minuses of out-lining, the importance of an active protagonist, the different kinds of conflict, or the elements of structure. The craft of writing has taken a backseat to the business of publishing.