A Terrific Book

While Victor Gischler and my brother Tod squabble over who
came up with The World’s Worst Interview feature
, and who, indeed, does it the worst, I’m going to buck the trend by offering a serious Q&A.

Chris AbbottTf_pitch is a veteran TV writer/producer ("Magnum PI," "BL Stryker," etc.) and followed Bill & I as executive producer of DIAGNOSIS MURDER. She’s written a wonderful and entertaining new book called TEN MINUTES TO THE PITCH that’s full of great advice and memorable
anecdotes.  If that wasn’t reason enough to buy it, all the proceeds benefit the Writers Guild Foundation for its literacy library programs.

I’ll be posting a Q&A with her here in a few days. In the mean time, she will be signing her book at the Barnes & Noble at the Grove on April 13th at 7:30pm.  Joining her will be fellow writers Charlie Hauck (Frasier) and Eric Tuchman (Early Edition). During the signing, several lucky attendees will have the opportunity to pitch and re-pitch their  own ideas to the trio of writers/producers.

A Writer’s Process

Prolific author Lynn Viehl talks, in a series of interesting entries on her blog, about her novel writing process.

While I’m writing the book I do not back-track to read and mess
with what I’ve written, edit or rewrite the new material as it lands on
the page, change my mind about the story, hate myself, hate the work,
avoid the work, wait for the planets to align correctly before I write,
let my inner rabid bitch off her leash, wonder how what I write will
affect the reader, worry about the state of my soul, chakrahs or ego,
or otherwise railroad myself.

My apologies in advance to the
writers who do any/all of the above. My methods are a professional
necessity, because honestly I could not handle what you do in order to
write a novel.

She also mentions that she gets an advance of about $21,000 a book which, because she mentions it so often on her blog, comes across more like boasting than informative candor.

In  another post, she discusses how she pitches her book projects to editors. Once she has a deal, it’s time to…

… move into the construction phase of the novel
process. I’ve already done the imagining, researching, and outlining for the novel, and I probably have at least a hundred pages of it written as part of the pitch, so everything is ready to go.

A hundred pages? No wonder she can just write without angst… she’s already gone through all her angst, and made all the tough decisions, in her massive (way too massive, in my opinion) sales and outlining process.

I "sell" my DIAGNOSIS MURDER novels (and now my MONK books) on the basis of a punchy page that reads more like book-jacket copy… and then I write a beat sheet for myself that oulines the rest of the plot. By beat sheet, I mean a crude version of the outlines we write in the episodic television business (you can see samples on my website or in my book SUCCESSFUL TELEVISION WRITING).  All together, it might amount to ten pages, mostly in bullet-point form. A hundred pages? Good God.

Unlike Lynn, I also rewrite my books as I go, usually starting my work each day by editing whatever I’ve written the night before. Then again, I also go through almost all of the whining and self-doubt that Lynn manages to avoid…but in the end, I think it helps my work. It forces me to concentrate on plot and character… and to go back and rewrite/refine/hone my writing.

But everyone has their own method. Mystery novelist  Sandra Scoppettone, for instance, doesn’t outline at all, discovering her plot,  her characters, and her murderer, as she goes. Now that is unimagineable to me…

The Name is Carsone, Johnny Carsone

Update: 4/18/2005

I received a very polite and good-natured email from John Carsone asking me to please remove the correspondence from him that I posted here, since he sent it to me privately.  Just so there’s no confusion in the future, you should all know that any emails I get are fair game for my blog!

Nervy Sex

Nerve Magazine is asking readers to vote on the best literary sex scene of the month, culled from novelists like Sam Lipsyte, Meg Wolitzer, AL Kennedy, and Darcy Steinke, among others. Here’s a sampling from AL Kennedy’s PARADISE:

I hold his head as he bows it and then
kisses, suckles the way a son would, then teases, bites, because he is
a man and, either way, draws out my heart from me like a thorn. I’m
hauled out beyond myself, beneath myself, outside myself, inside his

   I love his tongue. No other word will do it. I love his tongue.

   And the sweet scalp underneath his hair and the drive of his breath,
the fierce push of his cheek and the howl, our howl, the one we make
out of our skin.

   Which is very well, but it isn’t filth.

   What I was after was filth.

The Proper, and Only, Acceptable Use of the term “Pre-Published”

Cornelia Reed, who is subbing on Sarah Weinman’s blog, has a new novel coming out soon from Mysterious Press and talks about it in a post:

So mostly I’m in that pre-published bliss state, where everything about
the book itself is still all potential I haven’t screwed up, and I
think of my editor Kristen Weber as this shining distant goddess, like
how Winston Churchill thought of his mother when he was little.

This is the first time in ages that I’ve seen the term "pre-published" used in a way that doesn’t make me cringe all over.  In my mind, this is an example of the proper, and only, acceptable use of  "pre-published" — i.e. your book has been bought by a publisher and is about to be imminently published. It is not a term that describes an aspiring novelist who dreams of selling his or her book some day.

Sex Ed

Tonight,  my daughter’s elementary school screened for parents the sex education films that they are planning to show fourth graders later this month.  The films were so dated,  so circumspect, and so careful not to say (or illustrate) anything that might possibly offend anybody, that my child is probably better off not seeing them at all. 

She’ll see them…but the information they convey (and I’m being generous here) is so muddled and watered-down by the terrified educators who made them twenty years ago that all the movies will succeed in doing is confusing my daughter instead of informing her.

Did you know that babies "come out of the same special opening that the father used to deliver his semen to the mother?" Where is this special opening? Is it in her arm pit? Perhaps it’s between one of her toes. The movie doesn’t dare say. But they do tell you how important it is to successful reproduction that you have a healthy diet, get plenty of sleep, take frequent showers, and behave responsibly. You also shouldn’t smoke or take drugs.  I’m surprised they forgot to mention the importance of pledging allegiance to the flag.

There were three other movies and, to be fair, the second one mentions the vagina and the penis, but never says the man inserts his penis into the woman’s vagina. Exactly how the sperm gets from the man’s penis to the woman’s uterus is a mystery the films dare not not explore for fear some neanderthal parent might scream "pornography!"

We had one such parent in the audience today. She didn’t scream pornography, but she couldn’t understand why her fourth grader had to "be subjected to all of  this."  To what? I’ve seen anti-persperant commercials that were more explicit about human mating than these so-called educational flms. (That said, it was made clear to the parent, many times, that her child didn’t have to see the movies or take part in the sex education classes).

To be honest, I think these dated,  boring, vague, uninformative films do more harm than good. We want to engage our children, not numb them. If we are going educate our kids, let’s actually educate them instead of intentionally confusing them… let’s give them the facts they need to understand sex and ask their parents the questions that will help them make important decisions in later years.

I know it’s possible for an educational film to do those things… because we saw one tonight. It was a short, animated film about the immune system (we saw it, I suppose, because it touches on AIDS).  Not only was it clear and concise, it  treated the subject with cleverness and humor. It  didn’t pull punches and treated its audience…the kids… with intelligence and respect.  It did all those things because whoever made it wasn’t worried about offending anyone.  How the immune system works isn’t something that gets parents riled up. The subject of AID was dealt with simply and clearly — it’s what happens to the body when the immune system fails. It didn’t discuss unsafe sex or sharing needles or any of that…

Why can’t they make a sex education film that tells children that a baby is concieved through sexual intercourse… when a man puts his penis into a woman and delivers his semen, which is full of sperm and fertilizes the egg?

I know what you’re thinking… "the same reason you had such trouble telling your daughter about sex the first time, dunderhead." Ah yes, but a film can illustrate it so much better than I can explain it… and if my daughter saw a film like that,  it would remove much of her confusion and make it much easier for the two of us to discuss what intercourse means biologically, emotionally, and morally.

In his case, I think  the schools aren’t doing us any favors with their antiquated, and vague, "educational" films.

It’s the Script, Stupid

The single, most important aspect of a movie is the script. You can have all the best actors and technology available and it means nothing if the story and the dialogue are crap.  That is the undeniable lesson of movies like SKY CAPTAIN and, more recently SIN CITY.

I saw SIN CITY today, and while I marveled at the technological achievement and the look of the film, after a few minutes that excitement and fascination evaporated and crushing boredom took over. The movie is, in a word, awful.  Why? Because the story, the dialogue, and the characters  are terrible.  The narrative is a mess, the characters are non-existant, and there isn’t a single real emotion to hold on to.  The writing itself is wince-inducingly bad.

Anyone who doubts the importance of the writer to a film, of a strong script, a well-constructed story and credible characters you can believe  (notice I don’t say "like" or "identify with")  should be tied to a chair and forced to watch SIN CITY (that’s what it would take to make me see it again). 

You can hire the biggest names on the SAG membership rolls, fill every inch of the screen with amazing effects and gore, and pummel the audience with blaring sound and thunderous music, but none of that will hide the absense of a good script.

That’s one reason why I loved THE INCREDIBLES so much… it was a great movie with big effects, a strong story,  wonderful dialogue and characters so credible it didn’t matter that they weren’t even portrayed by flesh-and-blood actors.  Not only did it look good, and sound good,
but most important of all, it was well written.

It’s all about the script.

It’s why old shows like  STAR TREK, I LOVE LUCY, and GUNSMOKE hold up so well today… it doesn’t matter if the show is in black-and-white,  or that Dodge City is  clearly on a soundstage,  or that the consoles on the bridge of the Enterprise look less sophisticated than an 8-track tape deck. It’s the writing and the acting that carries the shows…and that, ultimately, is what endures long after the "wow"-factor of the film-making technology has worn off and become dated. Which, in the case of SKY CAPTAIN and SIN CITY, is about five minutes into the films.

SIN CITY is a technological achievement, and a poor excuse for a movie.

Fluff You

Carly at the Daily Grind blog takes the writers of a recent NIP/TUCK  episode to task for perpetuating the “fluffer” fantasy and portraying it as an entry-level porn job.
First off, she says, fluffers simply don’t exist… guys tend to, uh, fluff themselves between scenes.

Furthermore, the notion of “having to work your way up” in the industry is absolutely hysterical. If a girl walks into an agency and says, “I’m ready to do a 900-guy anal gangbang with overweight Germans while juggling flaming chainsaws and playing ‘Bark At The Moon’ on the kazoo,” the agent isn’t going to tell her, “I’m sorry, but you have to start out as a fluffer first.” He’s going to get on the phone to JM Productions right away and negotiate a piece of the pie for him or herself….

…So no big deal, scriptwriters, but I had to get that off my chest. We must stop the fluffer madness for the good of the people, for accuracy, and for the sake of entertainment everywhere.

(Thanks to  "Markus1917  in Berlin" for pointing me to this blog)


Mystery News Roundup

Screenwriter Ben Ramsey has been hired to adapt James Patterson’s ROSES ARE RED for the big-screen. If the film is made, it would be the third movie starring Morgan Freeman as homicide detective Alex Cross.

After ten years of foreplay,  David James Elliott’s Harmon Rabb finally beds down Catherine Bell’s  Mac in the series finale of JAG, which CBS has decided to cancel…opting not  to continue with a re-formated version of the series with a new cast shot on the cheap in San Diego. Zap2It reports that the finale, scheduled for 9 p.m. ET April 29, will find Harm
and Mac "forced to face [their] feelings once and for all" following a
"bombshell" revelation by Gen. Cresswell.

The premiere of ABC’s private eye drama EYES tanked, coming in third for the hour, dropping 29% from its ALIAS lead-in and, more troubling, losing viewers at the half-hour mark.

An Award for the Gullible

It’s award time again in the literary world… and I’m not talking about the Hugo, The Edgar, The National Book Award, or the Pulitizer. I am talking, of course, about  the 13th Annual Writers Digest International Self-Published Book Awards

  ONE GRAND PRIZE WINNER will be awarded $3,000
  cash and promotion in Writer’s Digest and
  Publishers Weekly,
and marketing advice from self-publishing guru Dan Poynter with six
hours of book shepherding from Poynter Book Shepherd Ellen Reid. Plus,
the editors of Writer’s
will endorse and submit 10 copies of the
  Grand Prize-Winning book to major review houses
  such as The New York Times and The Washington Post, and an excerpt will be published in Writer’s Digest. In addition, Book Marketing Works, LLC will provide a one-year membership in Publishers Marketing Association, a customized Book Market Map Directory, guaranteed distribution to bookstores and libraries through Baker & Taylor, and a guaranteed review in Midwest Book Review.

  will receive $500 cash and promotion in Writer’s
. In addition, Book Marketing Works, LLC will provide a guaranteed review in Midwest Book Review.  Plus,
all Grand Prize and First Place winners will receive book-jacket seals
to promote the award-winning status of their book, promotion on the Writer’s Digest Web site at writersdigest.com, a copy of The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing, 4th Edition by Tom and Marilyn Ross, and a Notable Award Certificate.

  will receive promotion in Writer’s Digest, $50 worth of Writer’s Digest Books and a Notable Award Certificate.

The awards  honor the best self-published books in a number of categories…not for the year, oh no, that would be too limiting,  but of  "the last few years" (2003-2005, to be exact), which is one of the things that makes this such a prestigious, sought-after kudo.  I mean, who wouldn’t want the honor of being dubbed "The Writer’s Digest International Best Self-Published Inspirational Novel of the Last Couple of Years Or So?" And what other award gives you stickers you can put on your book yourself? Wow!

And, to honor the fact that self-published authors have paid through the nose already just to be published, Writers Digest is charging a mere $100 entry fee for the chance to win this great, great honor. I mean, the writers paid to be published, it’s only right they should pay for the opportunity to be honored, too.

It’s astonishing that some people think aspiring writers are so gullible and desperate for publication and acclaim that they’ll ring up more and more debt on their credit cards to get even the illusion of it.

Of course, they’re right.