One Bite at a Time




Wednesday, April 19, 2017

What Do Readers Want to Know?

A while back the always thought-provoking Patti Abbott launched a Facebook discussion about what kinds of questions readers liked answers to when going to an author event. She received lots of good suggestions, none better than those from Katie Caprero. I liked Katie’s questions so much, I decided to answer them all here as if she had grilled me at an appearance of my own, which I hope she’ll have an opportunity to do some day.

Katie Caprero: Why do you write (mysteries, police procedure, thriller, etc.)?
Dana King: The two answers that spring to mind will disappoint those looking for profundity from a writer: I like to write, and I enjoy the positive feedback. I was a musician before I was a writer, and I’ve always enjoyed entertaining people, whether it was with through music or just telling jokes or amusing stories. The enjoyment I receive from entertaining others didn’t go away when I gave up my musical ambitions. Once I got into writing I realized there were challenges for me to try to work a little more than just entertainment into the stories, and folks seem to like that, too. Now I enjoy finding a story I like and looking for the best way for me to tell it.

KC: When did you know you wanted to become a writer?
DK: I don’t know there was a day when I knew I wanted to “become” a writer. I wrote a few things and got positive feedback, so I wrote a few more. After a while I decided to try my hand at a novel, but even then it was more of a question of whether I could do it. By the time I thought of any ambitions, I’d already written one that got me an agent, found I enjoyed the process of writing, so I kept at it. I guess I could say I didn’t know I wanted to become a writer until I already was one.

KC: What is your worst book signing story?
DK: I’ve been lucky in that the few signings I’ve had all went pretty well, though I do have one that was less than optimal.

I hooked up with a local bookstore/stationery/gift/clothing/candy/other-stuff-on-the-first-floor-I-never-saw-store for one of the classic “events” all writers dread. They put you at a table with a stack of your books and leave you there for a couple of hours. Do your best.

Like most writers I’m an introvert, so I pretty much sat there waiting for other people to start conversations which I would, with luck, work back around to the book. A casual acquaintance stopped by and chatted for half an hour or so, which was nice. (And she bought a book.) Another woman and her husband or boyfriend or whatever circled the table for a while until she came over and chatted me up. Asked a bunch of questions that bordered on non sequiturs and half listened to the answers. After fifteen minutes or so she saw her significant other and split. He came over a few minutes and apologized. Said they’d met friends for lunch and she had more to drink than expected and was really drunk enough that he was trying to take her home but they’d had an errand to run in the store and she wandered off. I said it was fine, I appreciated having someone to talk to, but he felt bad and bought a copy of the book to make it up to me, figuring she must have cost me sales.

KC: In a series -- is there something that happened early in the series that you regret and/or had to fix later? (Tattoo, annoying neighbor, pet that had to be fed, significant other that limited plot, etc.)
DK: If I had it to do over again I wouldn’t base Nick Forte, my private eye character, in Chicago. My other series takes place in Western Pennsylvania and it was great to bring Nick in as a guest star for Grind Joint, but it would be nice to be able to have him make random appearances without having to come up with reasons for him to have traveled four hundred-plus miles to see his parents precisely when his cousin the cop needs him. I tied Nick’s daughter and all the supporting cast to Chicago, so if I moved him, I’d lose them all.

KC: What is the role or influence of family in your story?
DK: Substantial. The main character in the Penns River books, Ben “Doc” Dougherty, spends at least a couple of chapters per book visiting with his parents. The work in progress introduced his brother. As I mentioned earlier, Doc’s cousin Nick Forte is a Chicago-based PI who comes to town to visit his sick mother and ends up staying through several life-threatening experiences. Forte is a divorced father who spends at least a couple of chapters of each book with his daughter, Caroline. The family associations serve to help to humanize characters who may at some point take dramatic or violent action, and also serve as touchpoints to ground the characters and give the reader insights into them as people without spending too much time on backstory.

KC: What is the difference between you as a writer and you as a speaker about books?
DK: Speaking is more informal to me. My writing style is pretty informal, too, but I’m always aware that’s much more of a one-way street. When speaking about a book in front of an audience—or even as part of an interview—I don’t worry about closing the loop so much, as the next question can always ask for more, or take the conversation in a direction I didn’t anticipate. I’m also less worried about going off on a tangent when speaking because I can always tell an anecdote then go right back to the topic at hand. In a book there needs to be better flow or you risk losing the reader.

KC: Which of your characters would you hate to have buy the house next to you?
DK: Deputy Chief of Police Jack Harriger. He’s the kind of stick-necked prick who’d call the homeowners’ association on you because your grass was half an inch too high.

KC: What book would you read again and again?
DK: Would I? There are several I do already. Chandler’s big three: The Big Sleep; Farewell, My Lovely; and The Long Goodbye. Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon. George V. Higgins’s The Friends of Eddie Coyle. Elmore Leonard’s Get Shorty. There are also several that haven’t yet qualified for “again and again” but will get there if I have time.

KC: How do you choose the names of characters in your books?
DK: Character names are enormously important in the Penns River books, as they help to set the sense of place. The area of near Pittsburgh where the books are set is heavily ethnic: German, Italian, Polish, Eastern European, Irish. I work hard to use names that keep that in the reader’s mind, so much so I provide a pronunciation key in the front of each book. I use local newspaper articles and my old high school yearbooks as references. I’m working on a short story for an anthology now and need a couple of names for Dixie Mafia guys, so I asked a good friend who’s from Mississippi and has lived for years in Tennessee for suggestions.

KC: How do you decide how characters will die?
DK: I work hard so my readers don’t have to expend too much energy suspending disbelief, so you’re not going to see anyone killed by a rare, untraceable poison that was dropped in their tea by a bird the killer had trained to fly by that exact spot at 7:57 every morning because he knew the victim always sat in that chair turned at that angle for the morning beverage. That said, the details of how they meet their demise still must conform to the needs of the story. Not just how, but which characters will die are always subject to what The Beloved Spouse and I call Stringer Bell Disease—after the Idris Elba character in The Wire—or Lemanski Syndrome, after a key character in The Shield. If the story needs for them to go, they go, in whatever manner is necessary.

Many thanks for Katie for inadvertently providing fodder for this interview. I hope she likes my answers. As a tribute to her, I’m going to add a bonus question she didn’t ask but may have thought of, as it was bandied about at length in Patti’s discussion and authors often speak of it—in sometimes less than flattering terms—as the question they most often hear at events:

Q: Where do you get your ideas?
DK: Ideas are everywhere. The sad truth is we’re tripping over them every day. I probably stumble onto two or three a week that would be worth writing on, and that’s a conservative estimate. The hard part is finding the ideas that dovetail with your abilities and interests and that you’ll want to spend a year or more working on. An idea may occur to me, and I’ll even noodle out some possibilities before realizing, “Ah, this is a Laura LIppman novel. Or a Dennis Lehane novel. Or a John McFetridge / Les Edgerton / Declan Burke novel because it lies in their wheelhouse, not mine.

I think this is such a popular question because readers see a writer at an event and we’re not that impressive to look at. There’s nothing about any of us that would lead a person who didn’t already know who we are to point and exclaim, “Writer!” Since we’re such an ordinary-looking bunch, there’s a natural inclination to figure there must be some spark that sets us apart from everyone else, and that spark must be our ability to come up with ideas no one else can. I hate to disappoint them, but Edison was right: Success is 10 percent inspiration and 90 percent perspiration. The idea is fine, but I’m sure any group of fifty random people can generate twenty ideas as good as anything I can come up with. The difference—the secret—is locking oneself in a room alone, often hours at a time over an extended period to get an end result that fulfills the author’s vision. Some are better at this part than others, but no matter how much perceived talent someone has, this last part, the locking oneself away, is non-negotiable.

I’ve grown to like the “ideas” question, as it opens up new avenues for discussion one rarely has a chance to get into.


Speaking of new avenues of discussion, many thanks to Katie Caprero for setting me up so well for this blog post.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Mindless Entertainment

Today's entry in this week’s entirely Benoit Lelieve-inspired series focuses on “mindless entertainment.” It’s in quotes because the thesis of Ben’s post is there is no such thing as mindless entertainment unless we will it to be so. I might have disagreed with that, but not after reading his essay.

To his primary point, it makes sense to say no one is going to spend months or years of their lives and possibly millions of dollars creating something without thought, and any thought the creator put into the project is there for the taking. Whether the audience chooses to do anything with it is entirely up to them.

Saying creators put thought into their projects says dick about the depth of said thought. Most mainstream entertainment seems to make a point not to make the audience think too hard, often by making it relatively easy for the average viewer/reader/listener to pretend deeper ideas aren’t there. Benoit’s choice of the Rambo movies was spot on, as they have much more going on, especially in the original, than most viewers care to pick up on.

The “mindless entertainment” argument often turns on whether people should demand more. This is a common topic of arguments, usually one-sided, because people who are at least relatively happy with the status quo aren’t the ones bitching about it. Those who are most unhappy are the more artistically minded themselves: writers and film students and musicians and whoever else looks at the creative process from the production side. Seems those on our side are always upset about the quality of what’s out there. How mind-numbing it is—different from mindless—and how our entertainment should be better. I used to do it myself on a regular basis.

Guess what? The people who control what gets into the mainstream don’t give a shit. Nor should they. We’re outliers. We occupy a niche market that serves is pretty well, all things considered. One has to know where to look, but modern technology makes it possible for us to find our favorites and never have to leave the house. (True, we should do what we can to support independent booksellers, but that’s a different discussion.)

There are some things we oddballs need to make peace with. One is that there’s lots of room in entertainment between “mindless” and “challenging” and that’s the way the world wants it. People work hard. They have a lot going on. They’re tired physically, mentally, and emotionally. They want to laugh along with the Barones and the Connors and those Seinfeld assholes because they have relatable problems and it’s nice to see those problems have humor in them if looked at the right way. (Full disclosure: I liked all three of those shows a lot.) They’re happy with Law and Order and CSI because they’d like to go to bed feeling like they saw a serious problem solved that will make everyone a little safer, how realistic the shows are be damned. Just because you or I won’t watch them doesn’t make the others wrong.  

We outliers have to take some responsibility for the appeal of simplistic entertainment. I didn’t read fiction for years after getting out of school because people who knew what was best for me decided much of the fiction I should read in junior high and high school was deadly dreary stuff for a kid growing up in a working class Western Pennsylvania town. Much of it was great literature, too, but I wasn’t ready for it. I wonder how many kids grew into adults who wanted nothing to do with books, fine movies, and classical music because well-meaning people wanted to “expose” them to such things crammed them down the kids’ throats until they gagged on it. Making them look for the symbols and themes of a book and never once mentioning how much they should just let the story sweep them up, to take away from it as much as they wanted.

Maybe sitting in the back yard on a warm day with a cold drink letting the breeze play over you qualifies as mindless entertainment. But anything you feel like discussing later engaged the mind on some level. Some engagement is deeper and more detailed. There’s room—and need—for both.

Life is hard and it’s short. Be happy, at whatever level of intellectual engagement you choose.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Understanding Art

Benoit Lelieve is one of the people who keeps me from getting old. While he’s young enough to be my son—okay, my nephew, maybe—his blog Dead End Follies routinely provides fodder that keeps me looking at things in a fresh light and exposes me to others I might otherwise have missed. While his tastes and interest are not always my own (see the age difference comment above), his writing on more universal issues, filtered through our dissimilar backgrounds, is always thought-provoking. This isn’t the first time he’s stimulated a response that required more thought and space than could fit into a comment, and it will not be the last.

A few weeks ago he wrote about the difficulty of understanding art. (Pause inserted while you read his piece, which would be worth reading even if it weren’t helpful for understanding what I wrote below.) As with all such discussions, the crux of the matter is defining what art is, as it’s impossible to understand anything if one can’t define it. Therein lies the rub. Art is like beauty (and, not coincidentally, often has “beauty” somewhere in many of its definitions) in that it is in the eye of the beholder. What is art to me may not be art to you, and the guy down street agrees with neither of us, though he’s a cretin, so fuck him.

Does intent matter? Maybe. Probably not. J.S. Bach didn’t intend for his cantatas to become timeless works of art. He just needed music for Sunday’s service. On the flip side are countless writers, singers, songwriters, actors, sculptors, painters, on and on with pretentions of creating art. Their definition of art is sometimes whatever they create and, oh my god, is this a “my shit doesn’t stink” crew to have to deal with. So, no, intent doesn’t matter a whole lot.

Another question that comes up—often raised by snobs—is whether art is more “noble” than entertainment. Even if that’s true—a point on which I am not sure—there’s also no bright line there. Doesn’t art need to entertain its audience on some level? Since its medium (listening, viewing, reading) is not required for life—and by “required” I mean like food and water and air—can’t we say there must be some reason for people other than the creator to partake, and that reason is to be entertained? Devotees of Gabriel Garcia Marquez are likely not entertained by his writing in the same way as Bruce Springsteen’s fans are by the Boss’s work, but each has qualities in their creations that engage others, and we can think of that engagement as entertainment as easily as anything else.

Now, there is entertainment and there is entertainment. “Mere” entertainment doesn’t challenge the audience. (See Benoit’s comments about the TV show Numb3rs. See? I told you to read his piece.) If one engages with a book or movie or piece of music but is not compelled to think about it afterward as more than a good time, it succeeds as entertainment, but it is not art. Art is when the experience gets one to thinking about more than what was on the surface. I enjoy Ray Donovan, but when each episode is over any discussion focuses on what happened, what went well, and what they might have done better. Compare that to The Wire or Deadwood or NYPD Blue, where The Beloved Spouse and I talk about all of the above and how it affected us. What it made us think about we hadn’t thought of before, and what it made us re-evaluate.

I argue that no one can fully “understand” art. It’s too dependent on one’s previous experience and background. I have friends whose opinions I trust and respect, whose work I enjoy and value, who get moist about the virtues of X-Men or Batman, or any of a number of members of the DC or Marvel universes; I think they’re fucking comic books. That doesn’t make me wrong, nor them. It doesn’t even mean either of us is mistaken. It just shows there’s more each of us may still have to learn, and having more to learn—and a desire to continue to learn it—is always a good thing.


Maybe that’s all we need to understand about art. It’s what makes us want to keep growing.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

March's Best Reads

Spring training brought some baseball-themed reads. None of them disappointed. The non-baseball-related book kicked ass, too.

Nasty Cutter, Tim O’Mara. Raymond Donne is back in school for the fourth book in the series. He’s the kind of teacher I like to think I would have been had I stuck with it: no-nonsense but with a soft interior. Having taught in a city school myself, I know O’Mara has the feel and atmosphere just right. He also handles the “amateur sleuth” problem as well as anyone currently writing them. Donne has the background to come by the skills he shows honestly and the position to have opportunities thrust upon him. The supporting cast provides both input and resources without reaching for anything. This is a well-written solid series that deserves a lot more attention than it gets.

The Kid From Tomkinsville, John R. Tunis. I first read Tunis’s Brooklyn Dodgers books when I was a kid. Now I fully appreciate them. Young adult sports fiction in the 1940s was typically Frank Merriwell stuff. Tunis was the first to put an edge to them. Yes, Roy Tucker comes out on top in the end, but not before a freak injury endangers his career, the team’s manager dies in a car wreck, and the star pitcher gets his drunk on and almost throws Roy out a window. Much darker stuff than was typical of the time, and now I’m old enough to appreciate the writing as well.

Tomato Red, Daniel Woodrell. Starts out more like a Charles Portis novel than Winter’s Bone, which is fine. I love Charles Portis. Then an unexpected but not unreasonable plot twist comes out of left field and everything changes. Woodrell has a gift for creating less than sympathetic characters and still elicit the reader’s empathy. Maybe it’s his ability to show they’re not bad people, but they can’t catch a break and have a tendency to act out at inopportune times to become their own worst enemies. Whatever it is, he lays it out in beautiful prose that never draws attention to itself and places you in the Ozarks and the story. A wonderful writer.


Moneyball, Michael Lewis. I assumed he had a gift for explaining unnecessarily arcane subjects like Wall Street from The Big Short and Flash Boys, though I could only guess at how well I understood because I knew so little about the topics going in. Baseball is something I know quite a bit about, and he crushed this one, too. Lewis knows exactly how much context to supply and where to put it, and a writing style that is conversational but never sloppy. People who know me well will wonder how it took so long to get to Moneyball. It’s because I do know some baseball and Lewis had to convince me he wasn’t just some dilettante slumming in the sports world. I’m well and truly hooked now. There are lessons well beyond baseball here.  

Monday, March 27, 2017

Psycho Sidekicks

Benoit Lelieve, writing in Dead End Follies on March 14, took aim at “Ten Non-Racial Bullshit Stereotypes [He’s] Tired of Seeing.” (Editor’s Note: If you aren’t reading Dead End Follies, well, I don’t know what to tell you. Putz.) I agree in general with the list, the differences not so motivating I feel the need to write up one of my own.

I am inclined to comment at length on one of them. Number Six, to be precise: Friendly Psychopaths, or, as they are so often depicted, the psycho sidekick.

We all know who they are. Mouse. Hawk. Bubba Rogowski. Joe Pike, though Robert Crais has taken some of the edge off Pike in more recent novels. These are the guys who’ll do the stuff the author (or publisher, or, more likely, the marketing department) is afraid to have the protagonist do, lest the readers think less of him. They also serve a valuable role in providing information the protagonist can’t get on his own, sauntering into scenes with a key piece of evidence at just the right time.

The concept is a cheat when done badly, which is too often the case. Hence Benoit’s fatigue with the archetype. When done well these characters can serve a purpose beyond authorial convenience by giving the protagonist a peer to play off of. Yes, Spenser has Susan and Patrick Kenzie has Angie, but there are things they can say and do with Hawk and Bubba they’d rather not discuss elsewhere. Topics such as, “How are we gonna kill this guy?” Angie’s okay for discussing “Should we kill this guy?” and Susan…well, Susan’s mostly a pain in the ass. I never was able to figure out why Spenser discussed anything with her.

Another type of psycho sidekick has sprung up relatively recently, those that are not inherently violent. My favorite example is Sean Chercover’s Gravedigger Peace, sounding board for private eye Ray Dudgeon. (Another Editor’s Note: I know Sean is doing well with his thrillers and I couldn’t be happier for him, but I hope he hasn’t given up on Ray and Gravedigger. That’s a kick-ass combination.) I’m also a big fan of Tommy Owens from Declan Hughes’s Ed Loy series, but Tommy is more of a fuck-up than a psycho. He serves the role of providing information more than does Gravedigger, but both play valuable roles as off-kilter sounding boards for their protagonists.
 
It’s been a while since I first started writing Nick Forte stories, and the only one of these sidekicks I knew at the time was Hawk, which is fine. He’s the gold standard. I wanted Forte to have a sidekick but wanted the sidekick to be more of an homage to Hawk than a rip-off. Timothy Alston Satterwhite is a man who makes his living by hurting people, yet has a unique affection for Forte and those close to him. The nickname of “Goose” wraps up the homage aspects of his character.

I was always careful not to have Goose do Forte’s dirty work. In the first book, A Small Sacrifice, Goose offers to kill a man who has to die if Forte is to live. They’re not planning a showdown; an execution is in the works. Goose talks to Forte, tells him how it will change him, and how there might not be any going back. Forte can’t bring himself to ask his friend, and then finds he lacks what he needs himself to seal the deal.

Forte’s life and moods become darker as the series progresses. Goose remains the constant, always trying to reel his friend in. It’s been a conscious decision, hoping to do something different with a character who could easily be a stereotype.

I’ve even tried to move the classic relationship in the opposite direction. In Grind Joint, Forte appears as a “guest star,” who happens to be visiting his parents when things break bad in his old home town, assuming the role of psycho sidekick to his cousin, Penns River detective Ben “Doc” Dougherty. My favorite scene between them, in which Nick escalates a confrontation his cousin had under control, ends like this:

“I’m sorry, cuz,” Nick said. Doc knew from his tone he meant it more for him than for himself. “You called the meeting. I should’ve let you run it.”
“It’s okay, Nick. You’re right about shaking their tree. I just didn’t want to put you on the line. There are things about Volkov you don’t know.”
Nick still looked to where Yuri’s car had gone. Some of the light that shone from his eyes, made him a friend to children and dogs everywhere, had disappeared. Doc couldn’t identify what replaced it, and didn’t want to.
“It’s okay, Benny,” Nick said. “There are things about me you don’t know.”


I understand Benoit’s distaste. It’s too easy to use the Friendly Psycho as a crutch. It’s also a valuable archetype in crime fiction. We just have to continue to find ways to keep it vital. I hope I’m succeeding.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Movies Since Last Time

Took some time to watch more movies than usual recently. It was time well spent.

Hell or High Water (2016) It’s rare for me to have such high expectations for a movie and have them exceeded. It’s been three days between viewing and writing this post and my
appreciation is greater now than when I watched it, and I loved it then. Understated to mesh with the story and characters, director David Mackenzie uses the desolation of west Texas (actually eastern New Mexico) to buttress the economic conditions of the small towns in the area. Jeff Bridges adds another chapter to his legend; his scene at the end with Chris Pine does them both credit. It’s the perfect end to a damn near perfect movie, one I’m going to want to watch over and over and learn from.

Aliens (1986) One of my three favorite action movies, along with the original Die Hard and Terminator 2. (T2 also directed by James Cameron.) Well cast, well paced, few of the special effects remind you they’re special effects—even those which have to be FX—and a handful of lines that have become part of the culture, all of which are organic to the story and character. The Beloved Spouse and I chose this as the vehicle to christen our new 65-inch curved screen SUHD TV, and we chose wisely.

The Infiltrator (2016) Bryan Cranston and John Leguizamo are perfect as undercover feds—
all the actors do yeoman’s work—and it’s based on a fascinating true story, but I didn’t like it as much as I’d hoped. The actual fed Cranston plays was one of the producers, and a few scenes made me wonder if some stuff got papered over. The time frame is also problematic. The events that seem to have played out over a few weeks had to have taken months or years, since the crux of the story is how Cranston’s character gains the trust of key players in the Medellin cartel, which had to have taken time. Advice: Don’t watch the special features that come with the rental disk. They don’t add much and will make you wonder about a few things you just saw.

The Imitation Game (2016). Benedict Cumberbatch shines as Alan Turing, the British mathematician who was instrumental in breaking the Nazi Enigma codes during World War II, which may have won the war for the Allies; his work certainly shortened it considerably. That’s a fascinating enough story, overlaid with Turing’s support for a female math genius (Keira Knightley) and the treatment of homosexuals in post-war England, no matter how great their contributions. Well worth anyone’s time.


Unforgiven (1992) Maybe the greatest Western ever. Definitely Clint Eastwood’s best,
though I will entertain arguments for The Outlaw Josie Wales. I’ve seen Unforgiven many times. Three things stuck out this time. One was how much the ending reminds me of High Plains Drifter. The second is Little Bill’s (Gene Hackman) speech to W.W. Beauchamp (Saul Rubinek) about how English Bob (Richard Harris) actually did kill Corky Corcoran, exposing the myth of the Western gunfight. Last, but definitely not least, is the quantity of great lines. Eastwood’s Dirty Harry films got all the attention for their tag lines, but Unforgiven has more outstanding lines than all the Harrys put together. Even better, none of them sound as if written for print ads. They’re all organic and character driven. Too many to list, but Eastwood never spoke a more chilling line than, “I’ve killed just about everything that walks or crawls. Now I’ve come to kill you, Little Bill.” This summer is going to be devoted largely to Western research as I make up my mind about writing one. I wouldn’t be surprised if I watched this again.

Friday, March 17, 2017

The Process

All writers have a process. It may seem chaotic—it may be chaotic—but there must be something that holds the work together or the work never gets done. Readers and fledgling writers are often interested in process as if there’s some alchemy that takes place at some point in the process. I know enough good writers to be able to safely say there’s not. Ultimately it’s just ass in seat until you’re done.

“But what happens while your ass is in the seat?” All I can speak to is what happens when my ass is in my seat, and it’s not pretty. It also changes from book to book. It’s not perfect, but when I get to the end I know I’ve given my best effort. If it’s a failure, it’s a noble failure.

This is how I’m writing the fifth Penns River book, Small Town Crime.

The Outline
I gotta have one. I know a lot of better writers than I who don’t use them, hate them, can’t figure out how the reader can be surprised if the writer isn’t. I get it. Tried to write a novel by the seat of my pants once and ended up with almost 40,000 words that didn’t go anywhere. Now I use an ever-changing combination of index cards, dry erase boards, magnets, and Excel spreadsheets to at least have a map of everything that has to happen in each chapter. Not how it has to happen; just what I have to accomplish to keep the story moving. I may make a lot of detours along the way, but I need the route to have any chance of getting there.

Draft 1
One single spaced page after work every work day; two pages on days off. I can skip a day but I have to make it up. Read and make light edits on what I wrote yesterday before moving forward. Read chapters to The Beloved Spouse™ as they’re finished.

Draft 1.5
After letting the book sit for a couple of weeks or more, I read it straight down. No changes allowed. Make notes in my journal, then transfer them to the computer in context.

Draft 2
Fix what I didn’t like in the read-through and make what is a collection of scenes into a book. (Note: All edits involve some level of reading aloud. It may be sotto voce, it may be full voice, it may involve acting out. Depends on the scene, my mood, and how much trouble I’m having with it.)

Draft 3
A series of passes through the appearances, in sequence, of every character who appears more than once. One day I edit nothing but Rick Neuschwander’s actions, descriptions, and dialog. Another day it’s Stush Napierkowski. More than one character a day for some lesser lights, but they all get solo attention.

Draft 4
Same as Draft 3, but for the locations. This goes considerably faster, as locations rarely have dialog.

Draft 5
Polish. Incorporate ideas that have come to me over the past weeks and months. Pay special attention to the beginnings and endings of chapters.

Let it sit for several weeks.

Draft 6
This is where my OCD truly kicks in.
Day 1: Read Chapter 1. (Or 1 and 2. Whatever.) That’s it. Read it and go on about my life.
Day 2. Edit Chapter 1 on the computer screen. Read Chapter 2.
Day 3: Edit Chapter 1 from a hard copy. Edit Chapter 2 on the computer screen. Read Chapter 3.
Day 4: Proofread Chapter 1 aloud to The Beloved Spouse™. Edit Chapter 2 from a hard copy. Edit Chapter 3 on the computer screen. Read Chapter 4.
Repeat until the final chapter is proofread.

Type “THE END.”

When people ask if I ever use an editor before submitting to my publisher, I refer them to the single greatest bit of dialog ever written:

“You asking me,” Catlett said, “do I know how to write down words on a piece of paper? That’s what you do, man, you write down one word after the other as it comes in your head. It isn’t like having to learn how to play the piano, like you have to learn notes. You already learned in school how to write, didn’t you? I hope so. You have the idea and you put down what you want to say. Then you get somebody to add in the commas and shit where they belong, if you aren’t positive yourself. Maybe fix up the spelling where you have some tricky words. There people do that for you. Some, I’ve even seen scripts where I know words weren’t spelled right and there was hardly any commas in it. So I don’t think it’s too important. You come to the last page you write in ‘[The End]’ and that’s the end, you’re done.”
Chili said, “That’s all there is to it?”
“That’s all.”
Chili said, “Then what do I need you for?”


(Get Shorty, by Elmore Leonard. Page 143.)