Thursday, August 06, 2009

We Lost Another Reader.

Not a reader of this blog. If we lost one of those, we'd be in negative numbers. I mean a devoted reader of fiction, those invaluable souls who keep us writers in business. Okay, by "us," I mean "people who get paid to write fiction." Maybe one day "us" will include "me."

His name was Carl and there was no one else quite like him, nor will there ever be again. He was born in Germany, immigrated to Charleston, SC at age 10 with a strong German accent he never lost. He fought in WWII against Germany and even provided translation after the fall of Berlin. His love of all languages inspired him to become fluent in at least a half dozen of them: Italian, French, Spanish, Latin (I know, not a spoken language), Ancient Greek and of course English and German (I'm sure there are more, but this is off the top of my head). This came in quite handy as the head of the Comparative Languages Department at SUNY-Albany, a position he eventually attained and held until retirement. In his spare time, he played chamber music and was a walking encylopedia of classical music

He had strong opinions and he wasn't shy in broadcasting them--he didn't suffer fools at all, much less gladly. Woe be unto the individual who attempted to change his mind on a particular subject. Academically, I have never known a smarter person. Nor have I ever met anyone who owned more books, in more languages. He frequently read foreign fiction in its original language: Cervantes, Plato, Rabeleis, Goethe, Dante, you name it. In later years, he committed his time almost exclusively to large-print mysteries and would roar through one or more in a single day. Though I knew it wouldn't be to his liking, I printed out a heavily edited copy of my first book, a humorous suspense called "Ring of Fire," in 16-point type, although he never got around to reading it. I have a feeling since it wasn't officially published, he didn't think it would be worth the effort. He was probably right.

Though I'm sure he deemed my profession (advertising) hopelessly frivolous, his Latin and Italian proficiencies found their way into a couple of projects of mine through the years. He helped me write a tagline for a pseudo-educational institution and an entire radio spot in Italian for a local menswear store specializing in Italian suits. For this, and for countless other reasons, he will be missed.

His love of family was unrivaled, and he never failed to let us know how happy he was to see us on our frequent visits. I trust my sons are old enough to appreciate and remember his unabashed love for them.

Because of his amazing resilience and determination (and probably sturdy German genes), we had him longer than we expected, for which we're grateful. In the end, though, his suffering outweighed his desire to be among us and he left us with an indelible image of a full life lived on his own terms. If I lived twice as long, I could only hope to learn half of what he knew. His legacy will live on through his daughter (my wife) and his grandsons (our sons). He lived to see them become competent piano players and excel academically--music and education being the two things he valued nearly as much as family.

He was an extensive traveler in his day and we plan on perpetuating that family tradition as well, time and money permitting. Knowledge comes in all forms, and travel is one of the most mind-broadening experiences available.

A toast to you, Dad. On behalf of writers everywhere, we thank you for your lifelong patronage and for showing us all that you're never too old for a good story.

Friday, March 27, 2009

He did it, but can I?

Genre-hopping. Let's check in with Neil Young on the subject:

"I used to be pissed off at Bobby Darin because he changed styles so much. Now I look at him and think he was a f---ing genius."

I'll go on the record right now as being one of the planet's biggest Bobby Darin fans. In my book, he's second only to Sinatra. No one had the swing or swagger down better. Not Bennett, not Torme, not...well, hell, who else was there? Sammy? Nat? They had their moments. Harry Connick, Jr. and Michael Buble give it their best, and Harry comes close on occasion, but there's an over-earnestness to both of them.
At least Harry can write and play. Buble is professional karaoke.

Back to Bobby: what else makes this guy so freaking cool? He wrote a ton of his own material. Take that, Sinatra. Problem with Bobby is that he was born a decade or so too late. By the time he cut "Mack the Knife," Sinatra's brand of swing was on the way out. So over the next ten years, he bounced around from swing to country to folk, writing his own stuff all the way. His last record contract was on the Motown label, for Pete's sake. How versatile can you get?

Now, I don't love-love his folk or country stuff, but I'll give him points for authenticity--that is, he doesn't sound like a poseur. He really pulls it off, no matter what he does.

Thing is, can I? I know the "comic suspense" genre pretty well, having written two novels in it so far. As I try to break through with both
Ring of Fire and Battle Axe, I'm finding myself drawn to another, totally foreign territory: young adult adventure. I didn't read a lot of it as a kid (I don't think there was a lot of it when I was a kid), but it's a beyond-huge genre right now, thankyouveddymuch Ms. Rowling.

My son read The Lightning Thief last year and got hooked on the whole series. Intrigued, I picked it up to see what all the hype-la was about. I appreciated it, but didn't quite see anything going on there that I hadn't encountered over the years as a reader. Solid, but nothing groundbreaking.

Kinda like my writing, if I say so myself.

So instead of writing yet another comic suspense novel that agents "don't know what to do with," I thought I'd take a crack at something that's actually selling these days. And I've got a couple of built-in test readers just down the hall from my bedroom.

Wish me luck.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Prince Charles, you have my sympathy.

So I met Carl Hiaasen last night. Yeah, that Carl Hiaasen. My favorite living author. The undisputed king of that tiniest of sub-genres: comic suspense. Turns out he's not ready to pack it in yet. And here I was, ready to step in with my two comic suspense manuscripts and assume the throne.

The guy's friends with Jimmy Buffett--isn't that enough of an achievement for one lifetime? Does he really need to keep writing these...books? The tireless and exceedingly nice guy has just brought out a third YA (young adult) book ("Scat," which my son and I started last night and is very promising) and is working on another adult one as we speak. Which of course means less shelf space for me.

I had a nice, if brief, conversation with him. I do regret not pushing a business card on him with a link to this blog, or at least cramming my query letter in his jacket pocket. Still, I thanked him for all the years of entertainment and the inspiration.

Back to work.

Monday, February 02, 2009

The Query, as it stands.

So I'm getting some traffic with this.

After forty years, Dorsey Duquesne believes he’s finally found his mother. Too bad she keeps trying to kill him. BATTLE AXE, my 100K-word suspense novel, will appeal to fans of Carl Hiaasen, Janet Evanovich and Bill Fitzhugh.

When his father dies, the last thing Dorsey needs is a mid-life crisis. But when the funeral lures long-buried family skeletons out of the closet, his childhood is reduced to a carefully constructed set piece. His sense of identity dented, Dorsey hires a strip-mall P.I. to track down his birth mother—and finds a feisty German woman who not only blames him for the death of her lover, but whose only interest in a mother/son relationship involves picking out his headstone.

Under the spell of her rehearsed charm, he’s soon guzzling sedative-spiked beer and being pulled from her burning cottage by an oddly paternal village night watchman. Before his new “mom” can pen the final chapter of his revised life story, Dorsey must break her manipulative grip on his heart and realize that a family isn’t defined by birth certificates and blood types. Sometimes it's simply a matter of who's willing to take a harpoon for you.

Given your success with the genre, I thought you would be an ideal agent for BATTLE AXE. I’m an advertising copywriter and a writing professor at UNC-Chapel Hill, where I earned my journalism degree. I am also a well-adjusted adoptee and have recently met my birth mother. She does not, to my knowledge, own a harpoon.

Just heard back from an agent today that she liked the book, describing it as possessing "a great grittiness, humor and humanity, along with a nice tense plot." She also said she didn't have the right editorial connections to place it.

Going to a Carl Hiaasen book signing tonight. I plan to thank him for the inspiration and demand an apology for creating such a difficult genre to break into.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Take that, Elmore Leonard.

In his "book" (if can call a hardback with one sentence per page a book) "10 Rules of Writing," Elmore Leonard states emphatically:

Never use any word other than "said" to attribute dialogue.

Although I'm sure he would quibble with my use of the word "emphatically." Because it's an adverb.

Anyway, my son brings home this flyer from school recently that flies in the face of the great Mr. Leonard's advice. So who's right? The multi-million selling book author with 50 years of writing under his belt, or my son's fourth grade teacher?

Personally, I like a good dialogue attributer now and then. But then, maybe that's why I'm not published.

Round one to you, Mr. Leonard.