Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The R.I.P. Challenge for October




Dark Fantasy.




Here’s something fun for October: the third annual R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril Challenge, the brainchild of Carl V. from Stainless Steel Droppings.

A whole community of readers is reading one to four books in the above scary genres and sharing their reviews and recommendations. Here’s what you need to know:

1. R.I.P. III runs from September 1st through October 31st, 2008. (Okay, I’m a little late!)

2. Choose one of more of the perils listed below (skull image by Mike Mignola):

Read four books of any length, from any subgenre of scary stories that you choose.

Read two books of any length, from any subgenre of scary stories that you choose.

Read one book of any length from one of the subgenres listed above.

This peril is for those who want to participate but don’t want to get bogged down in a long list of books. It is also for those who feel this type of reading is not their proverbial cup of tea but are willing to challenge themselves by giving just one book a try.

3. Leave a comment here announcing your intention to join and a link to the post on your site, if you have one and choose to post about R.I.P. III.

Check out the contests on Carl’s site for a chance to win a signed copy of THE HARROWING or THE PRICE.

I’ll be reading four from this list:


THE KEEPSAKE – Tess Gerritsen


THE OTHER – Thomas Tryon (a reread, but haven’t read it in years)

One or more of these from Mo Hayder (who really crosses thriller and horror as far as I’m concerned) -




I'm sure I have time for more than four books, though. Any recommendations for me? Any you plan to read?

(R.I.P. image staged and photoshopped by Carl V.)

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Why do I need an agent, anyway?

I realized that in my how to get an agent post I didn't address the question of why you need an agent at all.

Well, if you want to be a full-time professional novelist, you do. I know, people do it without. Fine - if you're one of those people, I'm not talking to you.

But for those of us who DON'T have that kind of business savvy, this is what an agent does.

A good literary agent lives in New York (that's CITY). An agent's job is pretty much to go out to breakfast, lunch, dinner, coffee, and drinks with every good editor in the city, and know what those editors are looking for, so that when you hand your agent your new book or proposal, your agent will know exactly which editor is looking for what kind of a book - know each editor's taste intimately, so that your agent can submit to exactly the right editor at each publishing company and put you and your book in the position of making the best possible deal available on the planet at that moment.

Really. That's what your agent does.

When your agent submits your book, s/he will most likely submit it to 8-10 of the top publishers in New York simultaneously, and you need to have that book submitted to the editor MOST LIKELY TO BUY IT at each house, in the hopes of -

1 - creating an auction and/or pre-empt situation

2. - getting the best possible editor for you and your particular book and the best possible deal out there.

You cannot do these things yourself. An agent can. This is the difference between writing for a living and writing in those spaces between the demands of the day job.

So that's the WHY of an agent. The HOW is here.

And here's some video of a panel discussion that I did with Dusty Rhoades and Stacey Cochran that goes further into what an agent will do for you and why it's so important to have one. The question I was asked in the beginning of this tape was "Can I sell a book without an agent?"

And continued here:


All the information on this blog and more, including full story structure breakdowns of various movies, is available in my Screenwriting Tricks for Authors workbooks.  Any format, just $3.99 and $2.99.

Amazon US

Amazon UK

Amaxon DE

Amazon FR

Amazon ES

Amazon IT

If you're a romance writer, or have a strong love plot or subplot in your novel or script, then Writing Love: Screenwriting Tricks II is an expanded version of the first workbook with a special emphasis on love stories.

Smashwords (includes online viewing and pdf file)

Amazon US

Barnes & Noble/Nook

Amazon UK

Amazon DE


If you're in the LA area, I hope you're coming to the West Hollywood Book Fair this Sunday!

Sept. 28 - West Hollywood, CA
West Hollywood Book Fair
Sunday, 9am – 5 pm, West Hollywood Park

- I'm doing a supernatural fiction panel at 11:45 with Heather Graham, Les Klinger and Adrienne Barbeau

- And signings all the rest of the day, including at Dark Delicacies booth (1-2 pm) Mystery Writers of America booth (2-3 pm) and Sisters in Crime booth (3-4 pm)

Monday, September 22, 2008


Best thriller I've seen in ages, excellent on every level - suspense, twists, characters, visuals, acting... smart and sexy as hell and is one of the best movie depictions I've ever seen of how women really are with each other.

I'm a die-hard Brad Anderson fan - he’s the writer/director of SESSION 9, THE MACHINIST, HAPPY ACCIDENTS, NEXT STOP WONDERLAND, director of multiple episodes of THE WIRE, one of the top suspense filmmakers out there, but it’s not just me - the theater was packed and the whole audience was spellbound.

I won’t say anything about the plot because I don’t want to spoiler a second of it, but you can check it out here if you must. I don't think the trailer does it justice, btw - makes the movie look like it's all about the men.

Please support this independent film on the big screen – it really makes a difference to vote with your wallet.

And YAY!!! for MAD MEN - Best TV Drama, and that's the truth. Outstanding Writing in a TV Drama goes to MAD MEN'S Matt Weiner, too, much deserved.

Happy Equinox to all, today.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

How DO I get a literary agent?

This question is coming at me from all directions this week and I figured I’d better put the answer all in one place so I can just refer people here.

First read this postL Why Do I Need an Agent, Anyway?

I know a lot of authors recommend starting with the lists in Writers’ Market, but the very thought makes me cringe. How are you supposed to know who’s a good agent from reading randomly through that enormous book? Instead, I highly recommend making your own targeted list of agents who represent books in your genre, who have made recent sales, and who other authors you admire are enthusiastic about. We are SO LUCKY to have Google to allow us to do this kind of research instantly, right from our own desks.

I also know that getting an agent is so hard these days that a lot of aspiring authors jump at the first offer of representation. That is a TERRIBLE thing to do. You only have one shot to get your book read and bought by the major publishers and you need the best representation you can find. An agent with “clout” can get you thousands more in advance money, just because of their relationships and who they are. It can easily be the difference between you writing as a hobby - and writing for a living. It’s worth taking the time to do extensive research, and approach the agents you most want to work with first, before you settle for the first thing that comes along.

Here are some great resources to consult when you start your agent investigation:

1. The Backspace forums

Backspace is an invaluable resource for all aspiring authors (and published authors, too!) There are public pages, but the real gold is the private forum – it’s a $25 or $30 one time fee to join but invaluable. You can get your questions answered directly by great agents and editors, and get public or private feedback on particular agents or your query letters by other Backspace members.

2. Here's a great site with over 1500 agent listings and software to research agents and keep track of your queries: Querytracker

3. And another - LitMatch - contains hundreds of agent names--and can single out agents in specific genres such as "mystery" and "thriller". It also lists each agent's requirements for submission.

And another: AgentQuery.com

4. Subscribe to Publishers' Lunch, a free newsletter that you can sign up for on the Publishers' Weekly site, and start a notebook in which you list agents who have sold books in your genre that week and the editors and publishing houses they have sold to.

5. Continue to build your targeted list of agents by going to the library or a bookstore or your own bookshelves and selecting at least 20 popular books in your genre and turning to the ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS page. Unless s/he’s a complete and total ungrateful idiot, the author will have thanked her/his agent in the first few lines.

You can also often find your favorite authors’ agents’ names on the authors’ websites, complete with contact info.

6. If you need help finding current, successful books in your genre, ask your local librarians and independent booksellers, who are your best friends.

7. Always check with Writer Beware to make sure that other agents you're approaching are legit.

Here's another agent verification site: Agentresearch.com

And GalleyCat is a must-read blog for your agent hunt.

8. Go to writing conventions in your genre that agents will be attending, especially if you can sign up for pitch sessions. Meeting agents face to face in these situations is the best way to establish the connection that can lead to signing with an agency. The Shaw Guides provide a comprehensive list of conferences and conventions, nationwide, as does Jacqueline Deval's excellent book PUBLICIZE YOUR BOOK - a comprehensive list of conventions in the back. If there’s a particular agent you have targeted, check to see if that agent is participating in pitch sessions at particular conferences It is absolutely worth it to go make the initial contact in person, in a structured setting like this. The personal contact will not only most likely get your submission read, it will give YOU a chance to see if you really want to work with that agent, which is equally important.

9. Go to conventions and hang out in the bar. I particularly recommend Bouchercon, Thrillerfest, the Backspace conference, Romance Writers of America National Conference, and Romantic Times Booklovers Convention. Be pleasant and charming, buy an agent a drink. Again, the personal contact will not only likely get your submission read, it will give you that chance to see if you really want to work with that agent.


Folio Literary Management has an EXCELLENT blog on all aspects of agenting, publishing, and writing careers.

Check out this post on the perfect query letter:

And then go ahead and delve into the other posts!

More on query letters and Who To Query - from Murderati's Louise Ure.

Lisa Gardner on writing queries and synopses.

San Francisco agent Nathan Bransford, with Curtis Brown, also has an excellent blog on these and other topics - check out his essential links on the right side of the blog.

Here's a free downloadable e book on writing query letters.

I’d love to hear of other good sources people have found so I can keep adding to my lists, so please let me know what I’m missing!


All the information on this blog and more, including full story structure breakdowns of various movies, is available in my Screenwriting Tricks for Authors workbooks.  Any format, just $3.99 and $2.99.

Amazon US

Amazon UK

Amaxon DE

Amazon FR

Amazon ES

Amazon IT

If you're a romance writer, or have a strong love plot or subplot in your novel or script, then Writing Love: Screenwriting Tricks II is an expanded version of the first workbook with a special emphasis on love stories.

Smashwords (includes online viewing and pdf file)

Amazon US

Barnes & Noble/Nook

Amazon UK

Amazon DE

Monday, September 15, 2008

Fall appearances

I've been making a list of my upcoming events - for some reason always one of my least favorite things in the world to do - I will put it off for ANY reason. I even procrastinated by doing my taxes, if you can believe that. Upside is now I have both my taxes AND my events list done.

Until I can get them more permanently up on my website, I'm stashing them here.

Fall 2008 events


Sept. 12-15 NPR Interview
All Things Considered : Book Trailers
(various times)
Online now at NPR.org

Sept. 20, Louisburg, NC
Coffee Hound Bookshop
Saturday, 2-4 pm
Reading and signing with Jenna Black and Deb Marlowe

Sept. 28 - West Hollywood, CA
West Hollywood Book Fair
Sunday, 9am – 5 pm, West Hollywood Park
- Supernatural fiction panel at 11:45 with Heather Graham, Les Klinger and Adrienne Barbeau
- Signings all day, including at Dark Delicacies booth, Mystery Writers of America booth, Sisters in Crime booth


THE PRICE and THE HARROWING trailers playing on Transit TV
throughout the month of October

Oct 4, Raleigh, NC
Cameron Village Library
Saturday, 2-4 pm
Speculative fiction panel with John Kessel, David Drake and Richard Dansky

Oct 9-12, Baltimore, MD
Bouchercon World Mystery Convention
Thursday 1:30-2:30
Panel: Why is the supernatural so damn fun?
Cathy Pickens(M) Heather Graham, Wendy Roberts, Elena Santangelo, Alex Sokoloff

Oct. 9, Baltimore, MD
Thursday, 7 pm
Red Emma’s Bookstore CoffeeHouse
Alex signs with other THE DARKER MASK contributors at Red Emma's during Bouchercon, the world mystery convention.

Oct. 11, Baltimore MD
Southeast Anchor Library
3601 Eastern Avenue
Baltimore, MD 21224
11:00 a.m Saturday Oct. 11th
Join authors Heather Graham and Alexandra Sokoloff
in a discussion on life, books and mystery

Oct. 18, Blacksburg, VA
Books-a-Million Grand Opening
Signing with paranormal author Jenna Black
Friday, 7 – 9 pm

Nov. 3, Cary, NC
Cary Library
Aspiring Writers Workshop
Monday, 7-9 pm

Nov. 13, Apex, NC
Eva Perry Library
Teen Screenwriting Workshop
Saturday, 2-4 pm


THE PRICE book trailer playing on Transit TV throughout the month of December

Author! Author! Essay in Mystery Readers’ Journal
“Holidays in the Dark”

Dec. 2: THE PRICE released in paperback

Dec. 5, Chesapeake, VA
Signing with Jenna Black
Friday, 6-8 pm
1401 Greenbriar Parkway

Dec. 6, Norfolk, VA
Signing with Jenna Black
Saturday, 1-3 pm
880 N. Military Highway

Dec. 6, Chesapeake, VA
Signing with Jenna Black
Saturday 4-6 pm
4200 Portsmouth Blvd.

Dec. 7, Raleigh, NC
Boylan Heights ArtWalk
Signing Sunday, 1-5 pm
Booth at 410 S. Boylan Ave.

December Bookstore drop-ins for THE PRICE paperback release:

Virginia/North Carolina:

Virginia Beach area – 12 stores
Raleigh-Durham area – 15 stores
Charlotte area – 14 stores
Blacksburg, VA area – 12 stores

Southern California:

Los Angeles/San Fernando Valley – 22 stores
Orange County – 20 stores
San Diego County – 15 stores

This is my idea of a reduced schedule for the fall. I know, scary. But most of the events are scheduled in clumps, so I can do blitz tours in a few days and then be done, and most are with other people.

Still, hoping to cut down a little more next year.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Gustav and Me

So last weekend I found myself in the middle of the mandatory evacuation of New Orleans as Hurricane Gustav barreled toward the Gulf Coast.

What in the world was I doing in New Orleans on the eve of a hurricane, you ask?

Well, I was a featured speaker - and performer - at one of my favorite writing workshops, Heather Graham’s Writers for New Orleans Workshop.

I guess it must have seemed rash of me not to just cancel the trip, but I went down on Wednesday, before anyone really knew where the storm was going to hit and at what strength, and I was committed to showing up at the workshop as long as it was still on – it would have left Heather in too much of a lurch to have all her speakers canceling on her.

As it turned out, we spent a lot of the time we did have down there watching the weather forecasts and listening to half the locals say that everyone was overreacting – at the same time that businesses all over the French Quarter were closing down and boarding up. Faux News was screaming gloom and doom, while the Weather Channel kept saying that no one would know anything until Monday. No one could really talk about anything else.

I have to say - earthquakes are less time-consuming. Really. Because there’s no build up. They hit, period, end of story, and then you deal with whatever the damage is. No one talks about them before, because you never know at all when or if they’re going to hit. Well, except for that anxiety that takes over native Californians when the winds are hot and dry off the desert – the infamous Santa Anas) and the ground seems to just bake under you. We call that “earthquake weather” and it makes anyone who grew up in the state jittery, even though there’s apparently no proven correlation between Santa Anas and earthquakes.

But with hurricanes, you know they’re coming, but you don’t know exactly where. It stops time and momentum. All you can do is talk about it, but no one really knows how bad it’s going to be. Having been through it now, I’m not a big fan of that tension, myself. It’s the damn back-and-forth that will kill you.

Anyway, those of us who decided to tough it out – including authors Harley Jane Kozak, F. Paul Wilson, Nathan Walpow, Dave Simms, Kathy Love, Erin McCarthy, Cathy Maxwell and Kathy Pickering; editors Kate Duffy, Leslie Wainger and Adam Wilson; Barbara Vey from Publishers Weekly, Medallion Press publisher Helen Rosburg - just went on with the show – rehearsal for Heather’s traditional Saturday musical (this year, “Pirates! A Fractured History of the Lafitte Brothers in New Orleans”, with songs like "Louie, Louie", "Smoke on the Water", "Come Sail Away", and "You’re No Good"), then an opening party featuring vampire band The Impalers at the Monteleone Hotel, then on to Helen Rosburg’s lavish Victorian party, upstairs at Muriel’s on Jackson Square – an old (and of course, haunted) New Orleans mansion preserved in period splendor – from formal rooms to red wallpapered bordello and séance rooms crammed with Victoriana, from red velvet love seats to erotic paintings to sarcophagi. Psychics were on hand to tell fortunes, a photographer was taking portraits of us in our Victorian garb (designed and built by the fabulous Connie Perry) in the bordello room, and people played charades in the parlor, while others ate at the multiple carving stations in the ballroom

After midnight (and changing out of poufy Victorian dresses) the party reconvened on Bourbon Street… with more Impalers… so to speak…

Even so, I got a decent six hours of sleep that night… er, morning… for which I was grateful, considering how the next day turned out.

Saturday the opening breakfast was served at the top of the hotel, a fabulous view of the Mississippi and a fabulous spread of food, and I was very grateful to have the chance to talk with legendary Kensington editor Kate Duffy at breakfast and confide my third book what-do-I-call-the-damn-thing title woes; she offered to help brainstorm, but when I told her the front-running choice was THE UNSEEN, she told me in Duffyesque pull-no-punches style – “But that IS the title. It’s eerie, it’s two words and nine letters” (she said without even blinking; she must have one of those calculator minds)… “It fits perfectly on a cover – why are you still looking?”

Then the program started, with bestselling authors F. Paul Wilson and Cathy Maxwell providing the featured chat over breakfast… and about half an hour into it the hotel manager interrupted to announce that Mayor Nagin had declared a mandatory evacuation and that the hotel was closing down. All tourists were asked to go to the airport (there were shuttles provided at another hotel) and our flights would be rescheduled to get us out early.

Okay, fine. We all knew this could happen. We knew we were headed for a freeway that looked like a parking lot and an airport that would look like a refugee camp, but it was so sunny and still… not like a hurricane at all.

The thing is, there were about 18 in our immediate party, half of that being Heather’s family, with two vans to accommodate all of us - and you know how it is getting a group that size to do anything, even when there isn’t a hurricane and a mandatory evacuation…

It was kind of fascinating what happened. We all were trying to pack at the same time that we were on our cell phones trying to get hold of our airlines to rebook flights and track down everyone else at the hotel, but the connections kept dropping, and there was an adrenaline charge to the whole thing… spaciness, fast compulsive talking, sudden outbreaks of tears. It wasn’t as if we were in any immediate danger; the major stressor was trying to decide if we should take our chances trying to get flights out of town at the New Orleans airport, which was apparently going to shut down completely on Sunday at 6, or drive out of town to some other airport to fly out from there. I didn’t like that idea myself, having seen endless news footage of what highways look like during an evacuation, but this was all new to me, so I busied myself collecting every available foodstuff and especially bottled water I could find in the hotel, since we’d heard that all the airport vendors had already closed down their shops and left.

It was an interesting four-hour ride to the airport (which is usually about a half hour trip from the Quarter). One hour was stopping at the ER of Tulane Hospital, as one of our party had developed a staph infection that had to be treated right away and we didn’t want to split up. That was a bit surreal, as all of downtown was completely deserted except for a few construction crews boarding up windows and a lot of emergency vehicles and National Guard. The upside is that there was no waiting in the ER, as no other patients were there. It was also hot as hell, with sun blazing down and no wind whatsoever.

On the freeway at last, it was, of course, a parking lot; the agonizing crawl only broken up once in a while by the scream of police escorts taking buses of prisoners out of town.

We had another hour detour on that ride when someone spotted a lone Burger King that was actually open and we spent an hour in that drive-through line (they wouldn’t let anyone inside the store) to get what might be the only hot meal we could get in the next 24 hours. All they had left were chicken nuggets, French fries and diet Cokes, but in evacuation panic mode we managed to get $150 worth of them. I didn’t know it was possible to spend $150 in a fast-food drive-through, but when we finally got to the airport the TSA guys joked that we should be able to get a dollar a fry inside (we didn’t actually try.)

I had already missed the last flight out that day on my airline (which I could have booked several hours before, but I’d had a feeling I wouldn’t get to the airport in time). Half of us were able to get out on standby; the others of us, leaving about eight who’d have to fly out the next day, so we staked out some floor in the main terminal and set up camp for the night. All the vendors were indeed closed up except for the news shop, and we already really had all the junk food we could eat, but there were a few travel blankets and pillows to purchase. I built a little camp of suitcases for privacy (really mostly so that we wouldn’t get stepped on – people were uniformly dazed and spacy and weren’t very conscious of where they were going).

Toni Causey very sweetly called and, so typically of her, offered to come pick all of us up and put us up at her house in Baton Rouge, but there really wasn’t any danger, and it made no sense to have her or Carl try to drive hours down and hours back; we were all resigned to getting what sleep we could on the floor.

It was a long, noisy, crowded and COLD night – I must have piled every piece of clothing I had on top of me and I was still freezing from the AC, even with all of those people crowded nearby. Barbara Vey was fun to have around, the intrepid reporter – she blogged live, with photos, and way early in the morning when the National Guard showed up with MREs and water for the masses, she had Heather film her opening various MREs and showing off the contents. I reflected in between dozing (awakened periodically by National Guard patrols) that all in all it was less stress than I would have felt actually rehearsing and performing the “Pirates!” show, although I really regretted not being able to do the panels and my screenwriting tips for novelists workshop. I do know that we’ll just be that much more ready to do “Pirates!” next year, so that’s a plus.

I had more anxiety in the morning when I woke up to find that my flight had been delayed five hours – and as I waited I saw more and more flights on the board being canceled, not something you want to contemplate on 2 hours of sleep… and the airport was shutting down at six… which made me feel rather like Dorothy staring at that damned hourglass… But finally I did get on the plane, and it was an uneventful flight back. Or maybe there was a foiled terrorist takeover, I was too fast asleep to notice.

The real anxiety started when I was home obsessively watching CNN, wondering if New Orleans was done for this time. But as we all know by now… lots of damage, but nothing catastrophic, thank God.

We’re still waiting to hear how much damage our favorite Louisiana bookstore, Bent Pages in Houma, sustained – we heard Molly and Kay lost the roof and are worried. We’re all ready to fly down and do a benefit, though. Um, “Pirates!”, anyone?

Otherwise, as they say, all’s well that ends well.

And you know… it makes a good story.


Starting today, Sept. 8, THE PRICE is the featured horror title at DearReader.com, the online book club that e mails you about a chapter a day of a different book every week. You can sign up to get excerpts of books in all genres, here , and if you want to get your excerpts of THE PRICE, and a chance to win a free autographed copy, you can sign up here.