Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Getting High from Writing

Last weekend, I posted a question at The Writers' Cafe, one of the discussion boards under The Kindle Boards umbrella. This is a place where indie writers gather to ask questions, post news, do a little bragging, complain about this, that or the other. I asked: Do you ever get "high" from writing? I explained that I didn't mean do you ever get high in order to write? That's something else entirely.

The responses were gratifying to me, as I definitely get high from writing. Here are a few comments from other writers.

"I LOVE it when I get lost in that "zone" of the world I am creating. Sometimes I have a hard time coming back."

'Yes, definitely! … It can be quite a rush and sometimes I can feel my heart thumping along with my characters'.

"I always seem to buzz after a writing session."

"Yes, yes, yes! It's so awesome when that happens."

"Definitely, it can be quite a rush when the story is flowing."

So much for the idea of the writer toiling away in solitude, often blocked, the work torturous. Okay, it might be that way for "serious" writers who produce "literary" fiction. But if you're looking for that stuff you've come to the wrong place.

I think of what I do as writing smart entertainment, equal emphasis on each half of the equation. Most popular fiction writers, I think, are also entertainers. They want to give their readers a good time, have them laugh and cry in all the right places. Given the state of the world, now and pretty much always, that's a worthwhile thing to do.

If we can make a living from our writing and get the occasional word of encouragement, we're happy.

So my advice to readers is: Remember that emotions are contagious. If you're looking for a good book, see if it seems like the author had a high old time writing it.

(If you'd like to read the whole thread on The Writers' Cafe, here's the link:,93140.0.html)

Thursday, November 24, 2011


Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I look at it as a communal birthday party, a celebration that all the people I love who started out the year together are still with me and for the most part doing fine. There have been years, of course, where not everybody made it to Thanksgiving, but the spirit of the day still made me grateful for having known them, having been the beneficiary of their love and generosity, having the opportunity to raise a glass to their memories and toast them for making my life richer in every sense.

I hope that the work I do, my writing, contributes moments of enjoyment to the people who read my books. I know that hope is at least partially validated by the fan letters I get and the reviews my books receive. I'm thankful for that, too.

I'm thankful to my family and friends for their support in helping me to work at a profession that is pretty much a crapshoot when it comes to making a living. But with the emergence of e-books, Kindles and other e-readers we're making a go of it.

I'm thankful that my muse continues to be generous and I'll have stories to write for years to come. I'm thankful that, with all the people who haven't read my work yet, I'll have all sorts of opportunities to build my audience.

I'm thankful that right now I can get back to work on a new novel.

I thank God, my family, my friends and my readers for all of the above.

Monday, November 14, 2011

The perils of cliff-hanging

Al Capp, the famous cartoonist who created Li'l Abner, said that more people bought newspapers if they were worried by a comic strip than if they were merely amused by one. Capp pointed out that if you read Dick Tracy, you didn't laugh when you got to the last panel. You gasped or moaned when a gun was fired at the famed detective. There was no peace for the reader until he or she found out what happened.

The above bit of folk wisdom comes from the book The Art of the Funnies by Robert C. Harvey.

It applies perfectly, however, to the novelist who employs cliff-hanger endings, as I do in my Jim McGill series: The President's Henchman, The Hangman's Companion and now The K Street Killer. In all three books in the series, I end the story with a character placed in sudden jeopardy.

In the new McGill novel, which I abbreviate TKSK, there is a crucial difference. I raise the stakes big time. In The President's Henchman and The Hangman's Companion, the characters who find themselves in danger are important but supporting figures. In TKSK, there are two characters placed at risk: one a principal character, the other someone guaranteed to tug at heartstrings.

The early reactions to the book have been: Loved the story, hated being left in suspense. "I'll have to wait months to find out what happened."

At this point, I need to say that nothing in my professional life makes me happier than making my readers happy. That reaction tells me I have not labored in vain. It also says I'll be able to support myself long enough to write again.

Nonetheless, I have to follow where my muse leads me. If I don't, my source of inspiration might take a powder. Then all I'd be is a guy with a good vocabulary and nowhere to put it.

So I ask you, dear reader, please indulge me my creative choices. They're what give me satisfaction and bring you the stories you, more often than not, find so winning. And bear in mind I'm not only honoring my muse, I'm also following the dictum of one of the greats of modern popular culture.

"Always leave 'em wanting more." Walt Disney

(Please let me know what you think about cliffhangers, characters in jeopardy, and writers listening to their muse.)