Tag Archives: #mysteries

What’s to Worry? You’ve Already Got a Pulbisher, Right? lol!


This writing business. Pencils and what-not. Over rated, if you ask me. Silly stuff. Nothing in it.  Eeyore

Almost anyone can be an author; the business is to collect money and fame from this state of being. A.A. Milne

In today’s world of digital DIY books and artless self promotion, the idea of a visor-ed editor nursing beginning writers through their early works is pretty quaint stuff. These days, everybody is looking for a Best Seller — the celebrity among books — which often is known just for its celebrity and not necessarily for its content. So unless you have a recognizable name, an agent or an online book that has already sold 10,000 copies, your chances of being taken into the fold at Penguin Press are pretty slim.

But suppose you do find a publisher. One that will support you. Promote you. A publisher who will sign you up for a mass market paperback. Is that enough to ensure your literary success? Are you set? What are your chances, really? Can you kick back and watch the balloons go up or is there anything you can do to narrow the odds?

The following article by John Lippman appeared in the Wall Street Journal several years ago and it had a profound impact on me and how I viewed the business of writing. It is an amazing tale about a first time author who decides his publisher’s promotional efforts need a little help and then proceeds to do anything, and everything, to raise his book above the masses. Does it work? Is it worth the tireless effort? The money? You be the judge.

Allow me to pause for a moment of shameless commerce: my detective novels can be downloaded from amazon.com/author/dcwall. Tks.

John Lippman, staff writer for the Wall Street Journal

For Peter Lance, the marketing of “First Degree Burn,” a novel about a firefighting sleuth, has been a five-alarm job. He has spent months promoting the book and begging stores to hold signings. Indeed, he thinks so much of the book, he paid $4,032 out of his own pocket for 1,200 promotional copies of the $5.99 mystery paperback published July 1.

Of course he cares. He isn’t the publicist, he’s the author. And he isn’t about to see his book disappear in the haze of 52,000 titles (including nonfiction) published this year. A few of those books, like Frank McCourt’s “Angela’s Ashes” which won a Pulitzer Prize this year, really catch fire. Most just go up in smoke.

Mr. Lance, 49 years old, is a successful independent television scriptwriter with credits including “Miami Vice” and “Wiseguy.” He is also a former ABC news producer. “First Degree Burn,” his first novel, is about a New York City fire marshal who investigates a string of murders involving an arsonist and a vanished painting. Mr. Lance was paid a fairly typical $8,000 advance. And, so far, he has shelled out an atypical $34,762 of his own money to try to crack the book market.

In other ways, his is a common writer’s tale of woe. Publishers lavish promotion money on books likely to sell written by bestseller writers. One of those lucky guys, Robert Crais, author of the Elvis Cole mystery series, says, “Everyone else pretty much has to fend for himself.”

Few could possibly fend more fiercely than Mr. Lance. During the past six months, from his home in Los Angeles, he has nudged “First Degree Burn” into every conceivable book nook, from chain stores to mystery-reader clubs to local libraries. He had to, he says. He was unable to light a fire under his New York publisher, Berkley Publishing Group. “My publicist hasn’t called me back in five weeks,” he said.

To hear Berkley tell it, that’s nonsense. The company publishes 700 titles a year, some of them reissues and about 60 of them mysteries. Berkley says it promoted “First Degree Burn” just as heavily as it does any other mystery novel by an unknown. The company dispatched more than 200 galley proofs to book reviewers and mystery critics. Publishers Weekly, in its pre-publication review, called the book “a smashing debut.” If others review the book, Mr. Lance will hear about it from Burrell’s, the clipping service he hired.

Berkley says its first printing of Mr. Lance’s novel was 55,000 copies, again fairly typical for a paperback first novel. Berkley is a division of Penguin Putnam Inc., which in turn is a unit of Britain’s Pearson PLC.

Berkley’s spokeswoman says it may be several months before actual retail sales are known, but all but 5,000 copies have been shipped. Will there be a second printing? It’s too soon to say.

In March, four months before the publication date, Mr. Lance spent $1,000 at Kinko’s to print and bind 50 copies of the galleys to ship to friends and former colleagues, such as ABC News Anchor Peter Jennings. He hoped Mr. Jennings might write a selling blurb for the book, but he never heard from him. He did get a plug from Miami true-crime writer Edna Buchanan. “Explodes off the page,” she raved. “Hot, hot, hot!”

Then Mr. Lance assembled a list of 250 mystery bookstores nationwide, compiled from searches on the Internet and a reference book called “The Deadly Directory.” He mailed the first eight chapters to independent bookstores, enclosing pitch letters. “I didn’t want you to make the commitment,” he wrote them, “without sampling the book.” The printing cost him $2,600, the shipping $562.50.

In April, Mr. Lance bought 1,200 copies of “First Degree Burn” from Berkley at 40% off the cover price. He took 350 signed copies with him to the National Fire Protection Association convention in Los Angeles, spending $1,200 for a booth, plus $350 for furniture and $250 for a phone. He sold 200 copies.

In May, he ran big ads in Firehouse magazine and Fire & Arson Investigator, trade journals with a combined circulation of 510,000. The ads, including design work, ran him $5,900. Setting up two toll-free mail-order phone lines cost another $850.

And now, in the best network television style, we’re going to step away for a commercial before revealing the exciting conclusion of Mr. Lance’s assault on the world of mass market paperbacks. Be sure to tune in next week. Same Bat Time. Same Bat Channel. Until then, please visit amazon.com/author/dcwall and download a copy of “One Cried Murder” or “Exit Marks the Spot.” “Dead Last” will be joining them shortly. It may turn out to be the most entertaining three dollars you’ve ever spent.


Entertainments for Your Mind 3


A photograph of the author Graham Greene topped the first blog in this series and I included a pic of Orson Welles as Harry Lime from The Third Man, a film based on Greene’s screenplay. In Hollywood Summer Smash Hit fashion, I followed with William Faulkner and a poster of The Big Sleep from his studio days when he worked with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall.

Today, Ernest Hemingway headlines the third, last, and shortest, of these blogs on fiction and creative writing. He, too, spent time in Hollywood and also penned a screenplay for Bogart and Bacall: To Have and Have Not. I can’t seem to help myself. I just love movies and the best ones are almost always based an a great screen play that is adapted from an exceptional book.

Then, if the producers get the casting right, it’s zip, zam, zowie-am-swoosh to the top of the box office receipts. The whimsy of success is what makes movies so magical. It’s also what makes them such an incredible gamble and why so many go straight to DVD/Streaming or are only released in China. The window for success is incredibly small. Just as it is with writing fiction.


Speaking of windows, what no wife, or partner, can understand is that a writer is working when they’re staring out of one. It is referred to as ‘the muse’ and Agatha Christie knew what it was. She once told a friend:

The best time for planning a book is while you’re doing the dishes.

I mentioned earlier this would be the shortest of the three blogs and that’s because this is where we follow the Nike directive and just do it. You’ve had this idea in your head. You think it’s good. You think there’s a market for it, but you don’t really care. It’s so compelling you’re ready to turn off the phone, shut the kids in the bathroom, and abandon the outside world entirely until you can get this thing done. It will be as Gordon Lightfoot sang, a magnificent outpouring. Or, as the famous editor at Scribner’s, Maxwell Perkins, often suggested to his writers (among them Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Thomas Wolfe):

Just get it down on paper, then we’ll see what to do with it.

By the time your manuscript is complete, edited and ready for publication, you will have every one of the 80,000 or so words committed to memory. You will know it by heart. You will be able to visualize each and every paragraph. But because there are so many words, so many characters, so many connecting threads, you may find it useful to have some guideposts to keep you from getting lost along the way.

For example, once I get the idea for a story, I sketch out a very loose outline that sets down a general plot direction. These are basic mechanics you’re dealing with here: who’s going where, when and why. It also helps to know who’s related to whom, who’s having whose baby and where you want the bodies to end up.

Because what happens is, once you construct your characters, and they start talking to each other on the page, suddenly they develop a sense of independence and they will say things that surprise you. Seriously, you have created a monster, and not just one, but many. You’ll actually say to yourself, ‘well, that’s an interesting turn of events,’ and if you’re not careful, or, if you’ve misplaced your outline, you can wander off in any number of directions that may take many, many pages before you loop back into the story line.

It’s not a bad thing if you’re writing War and Peace, but for most of us who just want a mass market best seller, it’s a digression you want to try and avoid. Though, Hemingway kind of disagreed with that approach.

Don’t hold anything back. Let it all hang out and write from the heart. And write truly. That’s the continuing struggle. You will change, the world will change, but one thing will never change, and that is you must find out what is true: true to the moment, true to the character, true to the situation, and once you have found that truth you must project it in such a way that it becomes a part of the experience of the person who is reading it.

During this first write-thru, your story will have an incredible freshness and you’ll get a sense of elation that will lift you above the keyboard. You’ve brought together all these people—your characters—and they’re new and interesting and you’re meeting them for the first time and you’ve just never had so much fun with your clothes on. But you only get that feeling once.

As you begin the process of rewriting and editing, your characters can become leaden and burdensome and virtually unbearable. They’re like dinner guests who refuse to leave. You revisit them again and again, moving this conversation, changing that action, revising that motivation: nudge, nudge, clip, clip, rewrite, rewrite, rewrite.

To me, rewriting is like a lovely red head with enormously thick hair who’s just gotten out of the shower. She towels her hair dry and then starts to comb out the snarls. First time through, she can barely get the comb to move. It’s just a little tug, pick-pick, tug. The next time through it’s easier and the next and so on until she’s got an easy pull the whole way down. That’s rewriting. You start with this enormous mass of words you’ve spewed onto the paper and, the first time you go back over the manuscript, you cut this paragraph and rework that chapter and smooth out that snarl and crop that passage and you keep going until you can read the entire passage with a natural flow that pulls the reader into the story line.

This is what I find encouraging about the writing trades—Kirk Vonnegut told a friend—They allow mediocre people who are patient and industrious to revise their stupidity, to edit themselves into something like intelligence.

Now, when you’re rewriting, you have to be careful not to lose the emotion of your story while you’re adjusting it. You have to keep the tension between the characters and they have to remain believable and interesting. Stay true, Hemingway reminds us. If you’re not caught up in the situations and lives of the cast you’ve put on the page, then they are not going to come across as very compelling to the reader. This is what Robert Frost said:

 No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise for the reader.

Now, I should say a word or two about research. It’s fun. You get to hang out in the library with a lot of really smart people who know much more about the subject you’re writing on than you do. You need research to give your story authenticity and a sense of place, but you can do too much. Just because you’ve collected a thousand facts doesn’t mean you have to use them or that it’s important to the movement of your story. Be prudent, use a pinch of salt in your cookie dough, not a whole tablespoon. And remember:

If you copy from one author it plagiarism. If you copy from two, it’s research.

Once you complete your manuscript, you’ll have a marked sense of relief and you’ll be deserving of a pat on the back. You should give yourself one, because what you have to do next is going to be harder to  accomplish that what you’ve just finished. You’ll need to find a publisher. Even in today’s world of internet blogs, Amazon author pages and inexpensive websites, a publisher is a good thing, as Martha used to say. They have a lot more resources and a much bigger advertising budget than the rest of us.

But that’s an entirely different lecture series. So, let me leave you with a quote from Steve Martin, the comedian, on the occasion of finishing his first book.

I think I did pretty well, considering I started out with nothing but a bunch of blank paper.

Best of luck, good writing and please remember you can download a digital copy of my books at amazon.com/author/dcwall for only $2.99. Forgive the shameless commerce, I’m just trying to make a living, too.


Entertainments for Your Mind 2


So how is it you go about putting together 80,000 words on a subject like greed, hate, corruption, sudden death and police investigative procedures? You work from what you know, what you’ve observed and what you’ve read that you’ve liked or has stuck with you. William Faulkner, pictured above looking a lot like a college professor, is arguably this country’s greatest writer of fiction and he told us to:

Read, read, read, read, read — I think Faulkner was following Gertrude Stein’s lead with her write, write, write, write, write . . . advise —Read everything, trash, classics, good and bad and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read. You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it’s good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out the window.

You have evolved to this point in time, to the place where, as a person, you have something to say that you want other people to hear. It’s time to charge your computer, sharpen your pencils or refill your ink well. Then look at yourself in the mirror and say out loud, “I’m a writer.” It might make you a little uncomfortable, but there it is. Personally, I’ve got a day job, kids, a mortgage, two car payments and a love of murder mysteries, but I think of myself as a writer. Roy Blunt Jr. put it this way:

If you were a member of Jesse James’ gang and someone asked you what you were, you wouldn’t say, ‘Well, I’m a desperado.’ You’d say something like, ‘I work in banks,’ or ‘I’ve done some railroad work.’ It took me a long time just to say, ‘I’m a writer.’ It’s really embarrassing.

I should point out at this juncture that while you may be ready to begin writing, the rest of your life might not exactly fall in line with your new sense of direction. In order to get this job done, and it is a job—Sean O’Casey, the Irish playwright said:

When I stepped from manual labor to writing, I just went from one kind of hard work to another.

—you’re going to need some space as well as peace and quiet. If you’re single, live alone and don’t own pets you’re halfway there already. However, by the time you get out of school you’ve already started picking up commitments here and there. Not many at first, but more and more as you get older. The process is incremental, like life itself, so you don’t notice the changes much on a day to day basis, but all of a sudden there you are with all these responsibilities, and worse, your parents have stopped paying your car insurance. In fact, you don’t hear from your parents very much any more.

Let me give you two quotes that illustrate my point. The first is from the novelist Lawrence Clark Powell and the second from the former prime minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru:

Writing is a solitary occupation. Family, friends and society are the natural enemies of a writer. He must be alone, uninterrupted and slightly savage if he is to sustain and complete an undertaking.

All my major works have been written in prison. I would recommend prison not only to aspiring writers but to politicians, too.

Another appropriate question to ask yourself is why would any sensible person subject themselves to the kind of exile that it obviously takes to write a book. Why would someone create strife in the home and tremendous personal anxiety to secure the time and solitude to write a book. After all, nobody called you up and asked, ‘ Could you get us 80,000 words by Friday?’ There are more than 50,000 books a month published and yet, there you are, tap, tap, tapping away in a garage closet at three in the morning so you won’t wake up the kids.


I mentioned in the last blog that Graham Greene had written the screenplay for “The Third Man” starring Orson Welles.  William Faulkner spent some time in Hollywoodland, too. He was the lead writer on this Bogart-Bacall vehicle that was a box office hit.

Without question, the relationship between a writer and his book is, at best, a love-hate affair. On one hand we have Graham Greene telling us that writing is a form of therapy, but then he turns around and says:

Writing is for the most part a lonely and unsatisfying occupation. One is tied to a table, a chair, and a stack of paper.

The reason you do it is because you have to. You write because you must. Regardless of the situation or the circumstances and, at times, regardless of the cost. Maybe it’s ego that refuses to let you get on with the rest of your life, or perhaps it’s an insane desire for worldwide fame and fortune. Who knows, maybe you were neglected as an eleven-year-old. Whatever the motivation, it is overwhelming. George Orwell said writers write because:

You’re driven by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand. For all one knows that demon is simply the same instinct that makes a baby squall for attention. Writers are vain, selfish and lazy and at the very bottom of their motive there lies a mystery.

So, the final question before you sit down to start is, does it matter? To anybody? Is what you have to say so interesting, so important, that you will rearrange your life to get it written? And if you do complete the manuscript, will it have been worth the time, the aggravation and the hard work? Geoffery Cotterell reminds us that:

In America only the successful writer is important, in France all writers are important, in England no writer is important, and in Australia you have to explain what a writer is.

The answer is, of course it matters. Yes, it is important. It’s vital. And though your story may not be well received, or received at all — it could go completely unnoticed — it will be more than worth the effort. And the things you will learn about yourself in the process will be wondrous.

Next time in Entertainments for Your Mind 3 (I think I’ve got this Hollywood sequel thing down) we’ll tackle the nuts and bolts of the process and getting it all down on paper, virtually speaking. And, if I may, a few more words of shameless commerce. My three books are available at amazon.com/author/dcwall for $2.99 per download. Actually Dead Last isn’t up there, yet. Soon. But One Cried Murder and Exit Marks the Spot both are. I thank you in advance for supporting my work. Best, David.

Entertainments for Your Mind



That is the word writer Graham Greene used to refer to his books. And essentially that’s what a book is, an entertainment for the mind. At least we’re hopeful it will be when we first start in. Because your mind is a marvelous creation. When properly stimulated, it can produce the most intense, personally satisfying entertainments of all. Ellen Glasgow, a writer from Richmond, Virginia said:

I suppose I am a born novelist, for the things I imagine are more vital and vivid to me than the things I remember.

Entering the 21st Century, the written word is at a slight disadvantage to other forms of mass media. Books don’t flicker as we walk through a room and catch our eye with constantly changing images ilke television. Books don’t blare out of car windows and overwhelm us with sound like music often does.

Books actually require something of us — the use of our imagination. Books require us to be proactive, to actually sit down in a quiet, separate, space or even on a crowded bus, and do something — read. The reward for making this extra effort can be wondrous, because once those words and characters are loose in your head, they combine with and stimulate your inner thoughts and feelings to produce an unparalleled, and highly personal, entertainment experience.

Now don’t get me wrong. There are good books and there are bad books, just like there are movies you love and movies you hate. The challenge for the writer is to put something on paper that will captivate the reader and keep them turning the pages. Elmore Leonard said it best:

I try to leave out the parts that people skip.

I have written three books. All of them murder mysteries. My first two stories were based in New York City and involved a young detective, employed by an older attorney, who mingled in the theater world. Several reviewers observed that both “One Cried Murder” and “Exit Marks the Spot” reminded them of Nero Wolfe’s Archie Goodwin running around the city back in the 1930s. I would hope so because I lived there for almost 10 years before coming back south and my psychiatrist has observed that those first two books were my effort to work through my separation from a city that I loved. Graham Greene (the guy pictured above) would have agreed.

Writing is a form of therapy; sometimes I wonder how all those who do not write, compose or paint can manage to escape the madness, the melancholia, the panic fear which is inherent in the human condition.

This is kind of cheating, but it's such a great picture of Orson Welles. I couldn't resist. And actually he was an excellent writer producing many excellent film scripts. It just so happens that it was Graham Greene who wrote the script for "The Third Man" in which Welles played Harry Lime.

This is kind of cheating, but it’s such a great picture of Orson Welles. I couldn’t resist. And actually he was an excellent writer producing many outstanding film scripts. It just so happens that it was Graham Greene who wrote the script for “The Third Man” in which Welles played Harry Lime.

My third book, “Dead Last” is set in the world of NASCAR and revolves around the efforts of a gin drinking, ex-racer trying to make his way outside the track as a private dick—that’s not a porn term just how Raymond Chandler would have said it. I’ve made a few bucks from my work but hardly enough to afford a new Aston Martin. Money is not why I write. It’s a consideration. No more than that. Though I have given John Steinbeck’s words some thought:

The profession of book writing makes horse racing seem like a solid, stable business.

And just to show how little things change over time, I’ll quote the 19th Century French writer, Jules Renard, who, evidently, never had any friends who were actors or dancers.

Writing is the only profession where no one considers you ridiculous if you earn no money.

 Mixing sports, racing even, with murder is not new. Nothing is new. It’s all mutation. I took my lead for “Deard Last” from an early influence of mine, the English writer Dick Francis. For those who don’t know his work, Francis was a former steeplechase jockey, who combined horse racing with murder to produce about 30 novels over a period of forty-some-old-years. It was a subject he knew well and he was able to relate those experiences with a true sense of participation, of being there. Erskine Caldwell said:

I think you must remember that a writer is a simple minded person to begin with and go from there. He’s not a great mind, he’s not a great thinker, he’s not a good philosopher, he’s a storyteller.

My personal belief is the best way to improve your storytelling ability is to write every day. And until recently, the best place to hone those skills was at a newspaper. Unfortunately, journalism has taken it on the chin from the internet and social media so that today it is a mere shadow of its former self. But what working at a paper taught me was to write about topics I wasn’t really interested in and to do that on a daily basis. The catch is to make those stories, all stories, interesting to the reader. An expatriate in Paris from 1903 until her death in 1946, Gertrude Stein put it simply when she said:

To write is to write is to write is to write is to write is to write is to write is to write.

The American science fiction writer, Ray Bradbury, was a little more expansive, saying:

You have to write and put away or burn a lot of material before you are comfortable in this medium. You might as well start now and get the necessary work done. For I believe that eventually quantity will make for quality.

So, now that you’ve put in your time with the local rag, and you’ve gotten pretty good at telling stories about heroes, villains and even making the obituary column readable, how exactly do you get your head around pouring out 80,000 words to create a great American novel? Well, I’ll tell you how I went about it in the next blog: Entertainments for Your Mind 2. Now, how’s that for a Hollywood take on literature? Creative, huh?

Before I go, a few words of shameless commerce. Digital downloads of One Cried Murder and Exit Marks the Spot are available at amazon.com/author/dcwall for $2.99 each. I thank you in advance for supporting my work. I appreciate it more than you can know. Best, dcwall.