Category Archives: Writing

My Bouchercon Schedule

Since everyone is doing it (and iconoclast is boring after 27), here are all the places you can find me at Bouchercon. Stop on by! (Stalker. Fan. I don’t give a shit.)

  • Thursday. There’s a meet and greet with my new publisher, Down & Out, at some bar. I could look up where that bar is exactly. But I’m not sure it’s open to the public or if I am supposed to be inviting people. But that’s where I’ll be at around 6 or something. (Pretty sure it’s near the convention. I hope so. My back and hip have been acting up and I need to save what little energy I have for my little old man swing on the golf course, not walking.)
  • Friday. I’m taping a segment for the TV show Daytime in Tampa (to air the following Tuesday). This has less to do with where to find me and is more a chance to #humblebrag Im’ma be on TV, Ma!
  • Saturday. Panels. Like all morning/day

1. (The coveted time slot of) 8 a.m. – 8:45 a.m. I’ll be moderating Drawing Inspiration from Our Kids, with the lovely Tom Pitts, Shannon Kirk, LynDee Walker, Mason Cross, and Emily Carpenter (Majestic Room)

2. 10 a.m. – 10:45 a.m. (M) Women Who Trill. With Lara Dearman, Meg Gardiner, Chris Goff, Shannon Kirk, and Lori Roy. (This is especially exciting for me, since 95% of the books I read these days are by women thriller writers, many of whom are on this panel) (Majestic)

3. 2 p.m. – 2:45 p.m. (Panelist) Meet Oceanvier–2018 Thriller Legend Aware from ITW. This is where I get to hang with all my fellow Oceanview authors Matt Coyle, R.G., Belsky, Andrea Carter, Helaine Mario, plus our wonderful publisher Patricia Gussin (Royal 3AB)

  • Saturday Night: The Anthony Awards! I am up for a couple awards (Bill Crider Continuing Series for Give Up the Dead; the Anthology Just to Watch Him Die). I am thrilled to be nominated alongside such literary luminaries as Sue Grafton, Micheal Connelly, Alex Segura, to name a few. And JTWHD only succeeds because of all the amazing contributors. (Plus every other anthology up for the award is equally chockfull off ridiculous talent.)

Then I leave Sunday.

But in-between, if you can’t make the panels, if you really want to find me, I will be one of three places. 1.) The bar. This is why people go to Bouchercon. To drink and stare at their shoes, mumbling only slightly less awkwardly 2.) The golf course. The convention is at a golf resort. So providing my back holds up (and lately it ain’t been looking good) I figure Danny Gardner and I are good for at least a few rounds, and 3.) My room. Which is where, honestly, I’ll spend most of my time. Being around people, even folks I love dearly, is draining/exhausting for an introverted weirdo such as I. (I’m also a firm believer in going to bed early. Because in the words of my (dead) friend Troy’s father: anyone up after midnight is up to no good!)

Hope to see you in St. Pete!

Book Deals and Agents

You might have seen I just signed a three-book deal with Down & Out Books to publish my three standalone novels. While writing Jay Porter, I would write an additional novel each year. These books, The One That Got Away, Skunk Train, and Occam’s Razor, are among the best things I’ve done. I love the Porter books but it’s been especially frustrating to not have these three books out in the world. Now, thanks to Eric Campbell and Down & Out, these works have a home. For this, I am forever grateful. I’ve long been a fan of what Eric and D&O are doing, and I’ll be back at the same house as my buddy Tom Pitts. What’s not to love?

Getting here, though, has been a bumpy road. I talked about what a shit show 2017 was personally. Professionally it wasn’t much better. I am carefully not to criticize the gatekeeper system of publishing because, despite its shortcomings, I don’t see a better way. Like knocking capitalism: it’s the worst system besides all the others.

I got the Down & Out deal without an agent. I left my agency over the summer, not for anything they weren’t doing–my agent got me five book deals in five years–who can ask for more? I reached a point where I needed to make a change. It’s like a baseball team that is underperforming. It’s not the manager’s fault, but you can’t fire the entire team. Which is why the manager gets the ax. It’s not fair. But it’s the system we have.

Being without an agent is strange. The two happiest days of my publishing life were not when I got book deals or when books came out; it was when I got both my agents. Getting an agent validates you in a different way; it’s an invitation to the party. Landing an agent says you are good enough to be here; you are worthy.

When I left my agency over the summer, I didn’t exactly inundate the market with submissions. I had hoped my name might carry some weight. It didn’t. I was back to square: send a sample chapter and we’ll get back to you. After a handful of rejections, I stopped trying.

Several other factors factored into my giving up. Like my brother dying. We knew my brother was sick for a while, even if consciously I tried to believe he wasn’t. Alcoholism is an awful disease, and looking back at the pictures of Josh, so yellow and grey, I don’t know how I managed to convince myself he’d be okay. The alternative hurt too much I guess.

Suddenly pushing on with my career didn’t seem so important. I didn’t feel like I could sell myself. And that is a huge part of what this industry is. This isn’t, in any way, to disparage agents out there. Agents have a largely thankless job. Very few authors hit big, and fifteen percent of nothing is a whole lot of time spent reading, revising, editing, and submitting your work. If an agent takes you on, they are making a serious personal investment. They don’t want to sign authors who might hit; they want as much as a sure thing as sure things get in this business. They want to believe in you.

I didn’t find any who felt that way about me last year. And it was my fault because I didn’t put myself out there more, send enough submissions, let the process unfold the way it does. I got a few no thank yous and said fuck it; I’ll do it myself.

And I did. And Down & Out is a great fit for these books. But my inability to land an agent, and furthermore my unwillingness to re-enter the marketplace made me realize something. Beyond my stubborness. Agents are looking to (rightfully) be wowed and dazzled by a manuscript, and there is nothing so otherworldly and unique about my work that an agent is going to drop everything and say, “This! I need to have this!” I’m not knocking my work, and I’m not knocking agents. I mean it more as an understanding of what I am and what I do, how work resonates. I have my own style, and it’s not for everyone. But I can write.

I have a nice fanbase and following, readers who like what I do. I am happy with my career. But like anyone I want more. Or maybe not “like anyone.” Like Josh Brolin in that Wallstreet sequel and/or addicts, active or past. A little is never enough, and neither is a little more. More always means … more.

My next book is almost certainly going to be non-fiction, a follow-up to Junkie Love. It will cover my drug years, but focus more on the relationship of brothers, a central theme to just about everything I’ve done. I want to write about my brother Josh and his life and what we did together, the violence we grew up with and that helped shaped us, how one of us escaped the affliction and the other did not; and I want to have that experience transcend, like Junkie Love did. At least to a few people.

As for agents, I’m not submitting my work. This isn’t ego or angst. I get how the gatekeeper system works. I am not suggesting replacing it. But I’m also not sending in a chapter of my work, with my name, to a stranger I find in a database or on a referral, which is tantamount to a blind date. I’d rather control my own fate. Write the most kick-ass book I can, get it out in the world, take my message to the streets. If any agent wants to see what I do, my books are out there, all dozen or so. I write the way I write. That is not changing.

I’m still aiming for the Great American Novel. Until then, I’ll recommit to doing what I do best, which I started in earnest back in 2010 with Junkie Love. My only skill, in fact. I can bang my head against a wall longer than you. Plus, I don’t have a lot of time. My family rarely lives past their fifties.

Where I Am Right Now / Jay Porter

It’s been a weird year. And by “weird,” I mean … just fucking awful. I don’t want to rehash all the personal losses and professional setbacks, and this isn’t to bitch and moan about lousy hands–life deals from the bottom of the deck, same way to everyone–but those who know me know what I am talking about, and those of you who don’t, let’s just leave it at: I’ll be glad to see 2017 end. Hyperbole aside, this year has ranked among the worst of my life, every bit as the worst of the junkie years, and keep in mind that particular period saw me eating food off the ground and shooting up mouse shit.

So what does 2018 hold? I won’t say it can’t get worse because if there is one thing we all know about this place: it can always get worse. And herein lies the rub of writing Jay Porter.

I’m sure most of you know who Jay Porter is. Those who don’t: Jay Porter is the protagonist of the … Jay Porter Thriller Series that I write for Oceanview Publishing. The books have done well for me, selling enough to land a 5-book deal. I owe that to my former agent Liz Kracht, who did a tremendous job getting my work out there. But last summer I decided it was time for a change, and I parted ways with the Cameron Agency. This wasn’t for any other reason than I felt I needed to shake things up, and I couldn’t fire myself, even if that would’ve been my first choice. I’d come to the end of Jay’s story. I mean, I came to the end of the arc, in my head, which was still two and a half years out. I am currently writing Book 5, RAG AND BONE, a draft of which is almost complete. (It will be released in June 2019). I feel the need to do something … bigger … next. Though I’ll be the first to admit I don’t know what the fuck that means. I have something inside of me to say, like all writers, and I’ll have to pick the best vessel. And this is why Tobias Wolf’s “Bullet in the Brain” hurts so much, that never-ending hall of self-reflecting mirrors when you vivisect the living word for a living.

Right now, though, I am in full Jay Porter mode. And if you haven’t read the Porter books, I’ll leave it as Jay’s skin is not the most comfortable to wear. The rub, of course, is that I am Jay. Even if Jay is not me. Or maybe it’s the other way around. I hope you’ll forgive any roundabout syntax. I’ve written almost 40K words in 7 days. Which may not seem that crazy. But I promise you, when you are writing a mystery, plotting this and that, the process sorta turns your brain to mush. Spending time in my head right now feels like traipsing through a sea of Velvetta.

Jay is also a miserable bastard. Maybe that’s not true. Maybe that is just because so many people have told me how miserable he is that I’ve come to accept it. Except that I am Jay, and I don’t think of myself as miserable. More … unsatisfied. If I had to pick one word to describe how I feel, how Jay feels that would be it. Unsatisfied. Probably why I love Paul Westerberg so fucking much.

It’s a tough line to walk, this feeling of being unsatisfied, because conversely, at the same time, I can feel tremendously lucky and a shit-ton on joy and, on occasion, even hope. I have my boys, my wife, my house, my 8-lbs. poodle Lucky. And yet …

I’m not quite sure where Jay ends and I begin, or if it’s the other way around. I’ve spent the last 7 days writing the story of man who serves as a harbinger, a portent, a worse-case scenario, the potential for how bad my life could get. Jay Porter predicts my future. Jay hurts his leg, I hurt my leg. Jay’s brother dies, my brother dies. Jay loses everything he loves, and I … realize it’s just a book. Right?

I resurrected this blog. Though I am not sure what function it is supposed to serve. The first time I had a blog, there was a purpose: to eliminate the disconnect between my person and my (writing) voice. To that end, it was wildly successful. But now? Not sure if I want to use it to get another agent, sell books, get a book deal, communicate with strangers, or just … write. Just write for the pure, unadulterated love of language, as corny as that sounds. I fucking love writing and I fucking love words.

That last one is disconcerting because you can end up with this, what is tantamount to a journal/diary entry. Then again On the Road was essentially one long rambling diary entry. Of course I am not Jack Kerouac, even if I named my second son after him. Maybe I just write and someone will read something they need to read. Yeah, we’ll go with that.

The Last Jedi

I understand there are a bunch of you out there, all six of you, who don’t like Star Wars. And I know this because every time a new movie comes out, you feel the need to tell everyone on social media how you “Don’t like Star Wars!” And then some of you still go to see the new movie anyway and feel the need to harsh everyone else’s mellow by telling us how you “Didn’t like the new Star Wars!” And while I appreciate counterpoints and discourse, am always open to a good conversation, I’ve sorta grown weary of engaging. So before I start, I just wanted to say, You don’t like Star Wars? Didn’t like The Last Jedi? Good for you. Now fuck off. This post isn’t for you.

For the rest of you still here, the ones with taste and faith: HOW FUCKING COOL WAS THAT? Holy. Shit!

I just came back from seeing The Last Jedi for the third time (this time with my littlest, Jack Jack). I went Opening Night with my oldest (Holden), and then twelve hours later returned to see it again. But it wasn’t until this third viewing that I was finally able to appreciate how brilliant a film this is.

Oh, and before I go on? **SPOILERS!!** I would assume that you’d know that, but I don’t want to ruin the the twists and turns, the reveals and strokes of genius. So I’ll wait till you show yourselves out.

Everyone gone? Okay. Cool.

Star Wars is a religion. It really fucking is. When people ask my faith (happens on the East Coast more than you’d think), I usually describe myself as a Springsteen Catholic (I believe in the love that you gave me, I believe in that faith that can save me). But really I believe in The Force. That’s pretty much all there is anyway, and why these films have meant so much to so many for so long. The Light Side. The Dark Side. In the words of Maz Kanata: “[It is] [t]he only fight. Against the Dark Side. Through the ages I’ve seen evil take many forms. The Sith. The Empire. Today, it is the First Order [Trump]. Their shadow is spreading across the galaxy. We must face them. Fight them. All of us.”

Damn. Life distilled to its essence. Anyway, that was from Force Awakens. Which was also awesome, and, honestly, probably a more “enjoyable” film. By that I mean, I can watch FA pretty much non-stop. It’s popcorn fodder, the Goodfellas of the canon. When it’s on, I can’t turn it off. But The Last Jedi is probably the “better” film.

This is my first blog post in a while, so rather than dissect (spoilers) the first two acts (spoilers), I want to instead focus on the 3rd, specifically … (spoilers) Luke Skywalker.

I waited 30 years for this moment. I’m not kidding. When the Internet was invented and its use became part of my routine, I would routinely put two phrases into the search engine: Pink Floyd reunion with Roger Waters, and … New Star Wars trilogy. It was almost a nervous tic. For years and years, nothing. Then one day? New Star Wars trilogy. But more than just seeing a new film, I was desperate to see Luke in the Obi Wan role. I waited a long fucking time for this.

When I saw The Last Jedi on opening night, I was really bummed that Luke dies (or becomes one with the Force). The projection is cool as fuck, and the shoulder dust-off gold. The “See ya around, kid” equally priceless. But when Luke disappears, leaving on Jedi cloth, it bummed me out. I got a little too much of the feels, because Luke was my childhood. There isn’t a boy (minus the 6) who grew up in the 1970s who didn’t feel an affinity for Luke. Especially those of us in small farm towns who dreamt of the stars.

I’ve read online where some disgruntled nerds didn’t like how Luke went out. To that I’ll only say there is a reason Rian Johnson gets paid millions and you don’t. Dude nailed it. That ending is goddamn epic. All of it. The walking out to “to take on the whole First Order with a laser sword,” the Christ-like sacrifice he makes. Luke can’t return. He’s not the same Luke of the original trilogy. He’s an old man, and, furthermore he’s too powerfulLike his presence in Return of the Jedi jeopardizing the entire mission, Luke’s mere being disrupts the balance. He needs to leave, bow out, pass along what he knows. THAT is our legacy. Passing on what we know, leaving behind the good we’ve acquired, the love we’ve learned. In the words of Yoda: We are what they grow beyond.

It’s hard to rank the films. Nothing will probably ever beat Empire or A New Hope because it launched this religion; it’s hard to put anything ahead of either one. But these last two movies (along with Rogue One) are right up there with Jedi, and probably better than that one and closer to Empire than not. I can’t say I “liked” Last Jedi more than Force Awakens. But l do believe it is the heavier, more important film. And when this franchise is reexamined on down the road, after I, too, am long gone, I’m guessing this will be at the top of many lists.