Breaking Rocks

When writing is going well, the words spill out of me faster than I can type. I feel like I am in a losing race to keep up with the scenes playing out in my head.

When writing is going badly, as it has been the last couple of days, I feel like I am trying to chisel granite.

I have an outline, so it’s not like I don’t know where I’m going… I just don’t know how to get there. Every word, every sentence is a struggle, and even when I get them down on paper, it hardly seems worth it, since every single word sucks.  The writing is flat, the dialogue rings false, and the humor is non-existent. But I keep pounding away, waiting for that moment when I will write the line that sings, that unlocks everything, and then suddenly I will be on a roll again. Writing will be easy, the characters alive, and the world they live in filled with color and details. Not only will I go back and fix all the crap I wrote before, but I will steamroll ahead  without a moment’s doubt or uncertainty…

Until I hit that granite again.

The Desperate and the Gullible

Sometimes it seems like there’s nobody more gullible than an unpublished author. Blinded by their desperate desire for publication, they will ignore even the most obvious signs of a scam. Peter Winkler clued me into this article from the Times Union about yet another publishing con…one so obvious and blatant, it’s astonishing that any sensible person could fall for it.

On June 3, Martha Ivery — also known as Kelly O’Donnell — was charged with mail fraud, bankruptcy fraud and fraud in connection with an access device, all felonies. The 56-year-old woman faces up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine if convicted.

According to the indictment filed in U.S. District Court in Albany, Ivery defrauded prospective authors from May 1997 to September 2002. The indictment claims she presented two different personas: herself, as publisher of Press-TIGE Publishing Co. Inc., and Kelly O’Donnell Literary Agency Inc.

After hooking authors by advertising in Writer’s Digest magazine and on the Internet, O’Donnell would pretend to act as the author’s agent, according to the indictment. She then would tell an author how Ivery’s company would publish the book. And the requests for fees would keep coming: for publishing, editing, illustrations and extra copies, the indictment claims.

Ivery/O’Donnell promised book signings, international book fairs, complementary cruise vacations and appearances on television shows, according to the indictment. But books were rarely published and money was never returned.

When complaints grew, Ivery’s company filed for liquidation in 2002 under Chapter 7 of the bankruptcy code. She later started a new company, New Millennium Publishing House Inc.

Organizers of the Web site,, estimate more than 300 authors have lost a total of $500,000 through Ivery.

…"These people are cruel," said A.C. Crispin, a science fiction writer who has worked with the Web site Writer Beware. "They don’t just steal money. They steal people’s dreams."

That’s true. But it seems like the authors are equally culpable. They let their desperation over-ride their common sense. And some just never learn:

For Geniesse, the retired journalist, dealing with Ivery tied up his book for years. "Cuc: Flower of the Delta," about a young Vietnamese family’s experiences in Asia and America, was finally printed in 2004 by a print-on-demand publisher, a vanity-type press to which the author pays only for the number of books he wants published.

"I was so gullible I couldn’t believe it," he said. Now, "I’m OK. The book’s out."

Unbelievable, isn’t it?  Here are two simple rules for aspiring authors that will help you avoid getting ripped off:

1) NEVER pay a publisher for editorial services, publicity, publishing, warehousing or distribution. The publisher is supposed to PAY YOU. They make their money from the sales of your book and give you a percentage of their income.

2) NEVER pay an agent a "reading  fee" or any other kind of fee. They make money when YOU DO by commissioning a percentage of your advances and royalties. 

UPDATE (7-8-05):  The Chicago Tribune also covered the story. One of the lawyers representing the ripped-off authors described the shocking gullibility of his clients like this:

"This is a vulnerable population that is vulnerable to hearing what they want to hear," Petit said. "And what they want to hear is `Yes, I’ll publish your book.’"

It turns out the Ivery is an author, too. What was the title of her self-published book?  "Make Millions From Your Kitchen Table."

MWA’s Listed of Accepted Publishers

I got his email today:

My mystery novel XYZ is being published by Publish America. Can I become an active member of the Mystery Writers of America?

I’m afraid not. Publish America is not recognized as a legitimate publisher by the MWA.  You can visit the MWA site for more info. In the meantime, here is the current list of publishers accepted, and not accepted, by the MWA for Active Membership.

(You’ll find the list on the jump)

Read more

That New Book Smell

Dm5_1 My ten author copies of DIAGNOSIS MURDER: THE PAST TENSE  arrived today (coincidentally, my brother Tod got his author copies of SIMPLIFY today, too). This is my fifth book in the DM series, and maybe the 20th book I’ve written, but the thrill of opening that box of author copies hasn’t worn off. I still get excited holding the book for the first time, flipping through the pages, picking out paragraphs at random to read. I even like the smell. It’s like I need to confirm to myself that it’s real…because  I’m still insecure enough to be surprised that I’m getting published at all.

On the other hand, I don’t get a charge out of seeing my name on screen any more.  It took me four of five episodes before I noticed my "Creative Consultant" credit was missing from MISSING (it had been dropped due to Canadian content requirements). The studio pulled it and didn’t tell us. They assumed we wouldn’t notice. Shockingly, they were right.   I wish that wasn’t true…I miss the thrill I used to get from seeing my screen credit.Mwiob_lg

I also got my cover for THE MAN WITH THE IRON-ON BADGE over the holiday weekend. Seeing a bookcover for the first time is almost as exciting for me as getting that box of books, but in an entirely different way. Here’s why: by the time the books come, I’ve already seen the cover and the typeset manuscript, but not all of it together as a genuine book. I know what’s going to be in the box when I open it. But when the bookcover arrives, it’s a complete unknown… I have no idea what it will look like (or if I will hate it). I usually can’t wait to get my hands on the book-jacket and that hasn’t changed, even with the DM books (which look more-or-less the same every time but change elements within the established template).

I’m glad the thrill hasn’t waned for me yet…and I hope it never does.

(Click on the pictures for larger images. Thanks to Keith Snyder for transfering the PDF for me!)

UPDATE  (7-8-05): Author Alison Kent discovered that sometimes there’s a darkside to getting your authors copies…

You know, I love author copies. It is so much fun to actually get your hands on a book in print. And then you turn it over. And you read the back cover copy. And they mention your heroine Erin Thatcher by calling her ERIN FLETCHER!!! What the heck are these people smoking???

Down and Dirty Beach Reading

The other day, someone asked me for a list of some of my favorite quick beach reads for a hot afternoon. This is by no means complete, but here’s what I passed along:

A MOMENT TO PREY by Harry Whittington
ONE ENDLESS HOUR by Dan J, Marlowe (sequel to book mentioned above)
MIAMI BLUES by Charles Willeford
TIDEWATER BLOOD by William Hoffman
MIAMI PURITY by Vicki Hendricks
MR. PARADISE by Elmore Leonard
IRON LAKE by William Kent Krueger
FLETCH by Gregory McDonald
WOLF MOON by Ed Gorman
THE ONES YOU DO by Daniel Woodrell
WOMAN POSSESSED by Harry Whittington
DARK RIDE by Kent Harrington
GUN MONKEYS by Victor Gischler
PAYDIRT by Garry Disher (or DEATH DEAL, CROSSKILL, PAY-OFF, any of his "Wyatt" books)

The General Picked Me!

I got this email today:

Hello Friend,
I am General Oliver Okwara (retired). I Live in Victoria Islands, Nigeria, Africa Continent.
After a careful study of your economy, I have chosen to make substantial investments for my children in your country, if you are willing to guide or represent my interest in your country. I look forward to communicate further with you.

Thank you

Gen.Oliver Okwara Rtd

I’m flattered that after all that careful study the General picked me, a lowly tv writer and novelist, out of everybody else in America to advise him on his investments. This is obviously a very intelligent man. I’ve emailed him back asking him what I can do to help and if he has any TV series ideas I can pitch for him. 

Comment Spam

I’ve started using Typepad’s new option requiring people to register with Typekey before leaving comments… I’m hoping this will cut down on some of the "trolling" done by anonymous users who post simply to keep the flames burning. I apologize in advance for the inconvenience this will cause, at first, to my friends and regular participants on this blog.

War of the Credits

I saw WAR OF THE WORLDS and enjoyed it (just don’t give it much thought or it disintegates even faster than the people do…only without leaving pairs of pants behind). The biggest surprise of the movie isn’t big effects. Or the spider-like aliens. Or the fact that Tom Cruise can actually act…

It’s the screenwriting credit.

In all the interviews and publicity surrounding the movie, screenwriter David Koepp is treated as the only writer involved. No mention is ever made of another screenwriter. The posters don’t show any name but Koepp’s either. And in the two interviews I’ve read with Koepp, he certainly didn’t say he was the second writer on-board. But, lo and behold, in the actual movie, the credit reads:

Written By Josh Friedman and David Koepp

So why hasn’t Friedman’s involvement been noted, even in passing, in all these months of incessant WAR OF THE WORLDS hype? Obviously, his contribution to the story and characters was significant enough in the eyes of the Writers Guild of America to merit fifty percent of the credit…so why has he been denied even 1% of the publicity? Why don’t Spielberg, Cruise, or Koepp do him the courtesy of even acknowleding his existence?

Friedman may be denied the credit he deserves in the media, and from his colleagues on the film, but at least he he’ll be getting a nice, fat check…

A Woman Possessed

Woman At the beach today, I brought along Harry Whittington’s (as "Whit Harrison") A WOMAN POSSESSED… and it’s another winner. I have yet to read a book of his that wasn’t a home run. It’s a nasty, dark, violent, sexy noir tale as good, or better, than anything being published today.  He writes so tight, so lean, and yet so evocatively… I wish I knew how he did it. I keep trying to pay attention to the craft, the mechanics, of Whittington’s writing to see how he pulls it off, but I get too caught up in the characters and plot. He’s simply a genius, if you ask me.

(I’ve only read four Whittington’s, but I strongly recommend the others, too: A MOMENT TO PREY, WEB OF MURDER and BRUTE IN BRASS)

Sarah vs Janet

Several years ago, author Sarah Strohmeyer wrote a novel and got into trouble with Janet Evanovich, who found it necessary to bring in lawyers to resolve the situation.  Now, inexplicably, Sarah has blogged about her version of what happened, painting herself as this innocent, adoring, respectful author and Janet as an egotistical, irrational bitch…

Sarah’s comments about Janet were picked up by blogs everywhere and she’s continued to flog her story on DorothyL, a discussion list for mystery readers, writers, and booksellers.

To her credit, Janet has taken the high road and remained out of the fray. But it bothers me to see people trashing Janet as if the story Sarah is telling is undisputed fact. It isn’t.

I don’t know Sarah, and I have nothing against her. But I have to ask myself what the point is of flogging this highly self-serving version of events now (repeatedly) and what she hopes to gain from it.

I should say right now that I’m biased…Janet is a friend of mine, I like her a lot, and I don’t like seeing her unfairly trashed. Remember, there are two sides to every story. Sarah is flogging one  version… don’t assume it’s gospel simply because Janet hasn’t countered with her side of things (and if she did, you might not like Sarah very much). 

UPDATE: Janet asked me to post the following message on DorothyL in response to Sarah’s latest post:

I met Sarah Strohmeyer ten years ago when she came to my house to interview me for a local paper.  It’s my understanding that during that visit I inspired Sarah to write about Bubbles.  I’m flattered to have made this small contribution to Sarah’s success and wish her the very best.

Janet Evanovich

As you can see, she’s a classy lady.