Southern belle with a story to tell. Refreshing iced tea served after literary punches thrown.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

An Interview with Robert K. Lewis

It's a dark and rainy day in Georgia. Despite being the middle of August, the temperature's a chilly 63 degrees.  Gone is my usual sweet tea, and I'm enjoying a cup of coffee on my virtual front porch fangirling with my friend Robert K. Lewis, (and my thriller writing hero). Rob's the author of UNTOLD DAMAGE, and created the character of Mark Mallen, one of my all-time favorite crime noir characters!
Get it NOW! By Midnight Ink Press
From the Kirkus review: “Equally rooted in the struggle for justice and the struggle for sobriety, Lewis’ debut makes it clear that there may be no clear right or wrong.”
Robert also writes for the mystery & thriller supersite, Criminal Element!  (Love it!) 
JF: Thanks for stopping by Rob and pardon my giggles, but it's just that you are now officially one of my thriller writing heroes. I promise to try to keep my composure, but it's not everyday that one of my friends actually becomes a rockstar! 

*Rob looks away. I think I freaked him out a little.*

JF:  Now if you will, tell us a little about yourself, and reveal one deep dark secret to only my Soul & Sweet Tea readers. 

RL: Well, I grew up loving reading and movies. My folks split up when I was ten and my dad, on visitation days would let me see any movie I wanted, so I got to see films like The Enforcer, The Seven Ups, and The Warriors WAY earlier than any of my friends. Those movies helped shape the books I write. My dad was also part owner in a chain of bookstores and so I was never lacking for reading material. In grade school, I was reading at high school levels so I was always called on to read out loud in class. I wrote screenplays for a long time. I also am a devout lover of blues guitar. A dark secret? I always wanted to be Father Merrin in The Exorcist. 

*Cue the creepy piano music.

JF:  Your series is about a former undercover cop (Mark Mallen) struggling with drug addiction who has to dig himself out of a precarious situation when his best friend is found murdered.  What I love about your book is everything seems very, very real.  To me, this is a something that all writers should strive for, especially in our genre (thrillers/suspense).  Did you have any real life inspiration for this tale? How did you create such a great character like Mark Mallen?

RL: Well, in answer to your first question, about having real life inspiration, I DID live for a long time in San Francisco, in the Tenderloin. I’ve also seen, first hand, the ravages of drug addiction and the struggles an addict goes through. Once you’ve lived in that neighborhood for any length of time, you don’t forget it. Regarding your other question, about Mallen’s origins, he started as a character in a literary short story I had published in an online literary journal called Cherrybleeds. The story opens with Mallen shooting up in a church confessional on a cold, snowy night and a woman comes into the church looking for a priest to come home with her to give the last rights to her dying mother. I felt it was one of my strongest pieces. It was up on my corkboard above my desk, along with this other piece of writing that I felt was also strong. It was about a child killer coming into a room to feed “his little visitor”. I was literally looking from one piece to the other thinking, “junkie… child killer… junkie… child killer… junkie goes after a child killer. Why would he do that? Because he’d once been a cop!” And Mallen was born.

JF: I love the evolution of your character.  Now Rob, you and I became friends over at (the awesome site) AgentQuery Connect, and it wasn't so long ago you were like me, a writer deep in the query trenches.  So tell us how you got through this angst-y process?  Many a seemingly normal writer has gone mad querying. 

RL: Very simple: every time I got a “no” back in my inbox, I immediately sent out another query. Also, I was always  working on my next book. You just got to keep moving forward during this period. And trust me, I received a LOT of rejections in my time. My earlier urban fantasy novel? Sent out over 200 queries to agents and publishers. You grow a thick skin going through something like that. Also, as I mentioned, I’d been a screenwriter, sending out queries on my movie scripts. Got TONS of rejection there, too. You just learn to let it go and keep onward. If you believe in yourself and keep learning about your writing and the publishing business, you’ll get there.

JF:  You are represented by the wonderful Barbara Poelle, of the Irene Goodman Agency, and I've got to know-what happened when you got THE CALL? How did it  all go down? 

RL:  Hahaha… I never got the call. My wife did. I was at work, and it was my wife that called me, saying, “Hey, you have an agent.” I literally stopped in my tracks and my eyes teared up, because I’d been trying for almost TEN YEARS to get to that one spot: represented. And Barbara is as awesome as her reputation. She’s been wonderful to me, and for my career.

JF: I can't believe it.  You NEVER got the call! Now we all know good writers read good books.  Who are some of your favorite authors?

RL: A LOT of the old noir guys. Frank Kane. Henry Kane. Raymond Chandler. Hammett. Don Westlake, and his alter ego, Richard Stark. Ed McBain. However, I also love Kurt Vonnegut, David Mitchell, and Alfred Bester and Michael Moorcock.
JF:  Can you give us a sneak peek of what's in store for Mark Mallen in your sequel, CRITICAL DAMAGE?

RL:  No. Hahahaa…my editor would kill me. However, I CAN tell you that it’s like “The Empire Strikes Back” was to “Star Wars.”

JF:  I always tie music to books, and when I started reading UNTOLD DAMAGE, the song "You Belong To the City" by Glenn Frey (of the Eagles) came to mind. Do you have a song you associate with your book?

RL: Well, yeah… I guess I do. Mr. Brownstone by Guns n Roses.

JF: Thanks for stopping by Rob.  And for our younger friends who haven't discovered the total awesomesauce that is/was GnR, here's a hard rockin' tune in honor of Det. Mark Mallen.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Put a Name On It!

"If you liked it, then you shoulda put a ring TITLE on it."~Beyonce.
I <3 both Beyonce & JT! And if that song were about book titles, it would probably
make this blog post totally awesome, but this is serious stuff we've got to get out of the way.

It's time to talk titles.

I've seen the good, the bad, and the really, really stupid.  But before we chat on my virtual front porch, let me pour you a glass of sweet tea because it's getting hot out here.

As you may (or may not) know,  I'm seeking a traditional publishing contract and not going to self-publish, but hey---that could change in the future.  The world of publishing is going through a transformation and it's a wild ride. I'd say half of my writing friends are going the traditional route, and the other half are wading into the self-publishing waters.  But it doesn't matter which road you take, you gotta put a name on your manuscript.

That being said, I have a huge confession to make. It's hard to admit, but here goes. *Taking big sip of iced tea.*

In the past I've bought a few books because of a kick-ass title and good back cover blurb.

But for the most part, before I hand over my dinero to the cashier or toss the e-book into the teeny shopping cart on my computer screen, I look at the reviews, or read a sample chapter, but I have done the unthinkable in the past.

*Ducks under virtual porch swing.*

Call me shallow, but I'm like tons of readers who do this every day. We're lured in by slick cover art and cool titles.  And I think it's great! That means somebody's doing something right! The author/publisher got us to buy the book.

On AQC, (Agentqueryconnect) my favorite writing website, I frequently lurk about the area where writers ask opinions about book titles, because I think it's just.that.important.

You see, I want the title of a manuscript to actually be intriguing, yet somehow manage to convey genre and tone.

That's a helluva lot to ask from just a few words, but  it can be done.

And when I walk the aisles at my neighborhood bookstore, if I have no freaking idea what your book is about, I WILL NOT pick it up and buy it.  In fact, I'd be more apt to pick up a paperback called The Story of Poop, than pick up a paperback with nonsensical words on the cover.

You got a space opera called The Flagenroot of Zanderia self-pubbed on Amazon?

Get ready for NOTHING! Readers will think you've been listening to Pink Floyd and partaking in magic mushrooms, because they'll have no idea what your book is about. Your manuscript will have a lot of waiting to do, unless your mom or Aunt Sally or your best friend feels sorry for you and buys it.

So be really, really careful if your book title has a made-up word on the cover.  Now I understand in the high fantasy/science fiction genres this is common because of the extravagant world-building, but please, please at least have the other words in short title be relevant so the title will make sense to the reader/buyer.

A great example of this is J.K. Rowling's runaway hit:  Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban!

For SC-who loves Harry Potter.
And aw heck...I do too!
Nine years ago nobody knew what the hell an Azkaban was, but when a few key words were added, it was easy to infer Azkaban was a prison.  And since it was part of a series, her readers knew Harry Potter was a boy wizard, thus the book must be an adventure about someone in a magical prison! Voila! Ms. Rowling pulled it off in style!

Here's a few more great books and titles that get this point across.  You can infer the genre and plot from a few choice words.

Enough said. The title is JUST ONE WORD and it's all that and a bag of chips!!!
Even if you took away the killer art on the cover, you know what it's about, and you'll be
afraid to dip your big toe in the water after the last page.

I'm a thriller/romantic suspense writer & a huge fan of John Grisham.  I especially loved this one.
Many of his book titles easily convey to the reader the big action coming their way.

My favorite Dan Brown book. You know there will be good guys
and very very bad ones just from the title.  Plus the chosen words convey CONFLICT.
Yes conflict! Good work Mr. Brown!

So here are my suggestions for creating a killer title:
  1. Who's the protagonist & what is the conflict? Sometimes a title can be as easy as that. It's the good  guy or gal and their struggle against X. You fill in what X is. Sometimes there's more than one answer to these questions, so write it all down!
  2. Who's the antagonist? What do they want?
  3. Is there something unique that stands out about your plot?  What is it? Unique setting? Place? Time?
  4. Now write down ALL the answers (There will be many!) to these first three questions. If the answer to any of the questions are in the form of a sentence or phrase, break the sentence apart into single words.
  5. Explore different combinations of these words and there's probably a great title hidden in your word soup.  It's your puzzle and only you can figure this out.  
  6. Don't worry if you're halfway done with your manuscript and it doesn't have a name.  Sometimes after you write the ending, the name will come to you.  All in good time my Padawan. Within, your creative force lives. 
That's how I roll, and I even accidentally helped one of my fabulous writing buddies name her manuscript that's coming out! *Squee!* And the publisher is keeping the title, and I hope her agent liked it. But there's one thing for sure about her manuscript~the words on the pages WILL BE as good as the title.

You see, that's the even bigger challenge after choosing the right name for your bookbaby.

Make the words inside even better than your title.

No matter how great your title is, or how awesomely creative the cover art, it's the words that will keep the momentum going, so make the tale shine.  Make the character's struggle and emotions jump off the pages.  Let your reader feel like they're bff with your protagonist so they'll root for them. 

So how do you come up with your manuscript titles? Have you ever bought a book just because the title sounded cool or the cover art looked great? If you did, did the pages inside deliver and keep you turning pages, or were you completely let down? 

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Welcome to Jurassic Beach!

Dino-bird of death on Johnson Beach.
An hour before sunset, this beautiful Blue Heron flew down right in front of us on the beach at Johnson Beach (Perdido Key, FL).  The four foot tall fowl didn't seem too frightened of humans, and walked in and out of the surf looking for dinner. And me, being the total science/biology geek, followed it around with my camera.

Eventually, our predator found a fish in ankle-deep water and skewered it with his beak, then tried to swallow it whole, but he wasn't able to get it to go down his long, skinny neck.

So what did he do next?

He carried the fish to a sandy spot near a dune, leaned his long neck back, and stabbed the flopping fish to death, using his sharp beak as a dagger.

Next,  he carried the dead fish to the water, rinsed it off, and gulped it down.  As he walked away, the tail of his victim could be seen sticking out of the side of his mouth.

I wish I'd gotten video of the event, but we were all too busy watching him attack the fish with our mouths wide open.

Seriously, this guy was like a modern day Velociraptor, and we totally understood the whole bird-dino link after that.
This was his footprint. Bigger than my hand! Jurassic indeed!
Substitute his feathers with scales, and you get this:

Now we didn't take this video below, but it's quite similar to what we witnessed, except our Blue Heron stabbed the prey more than one time and was a bit more brutal.
Be patient.  You gotta wait for it! This dude's a serious hunter, and he's quick when he strikes!  Got any fun vacation stories to share? Witness any of the thrilling natural world on your travels? Send them my way! Happy summer everyone.