Saturday, November 27, 2010

You Might Think I'm Crazy

It never ceases to amaze me just how closely related music is to writing. A memorable song tells a story just as much as any book does, and in a fraction of the time. A memorable song can melt years away, decades even, placing the listener in a weird sort of time warp that might last no more than three or four or five minutes.

They say the sense of smell is more memorable than any of the others, and that may be true - anyone who has ever gotten a whiff of that distinctive new-car smell will instantly recognize it even if they go years between actually sitting in new cars.

But for my money, music is equally transformative, at least if you are a music-lover. I heard a song on my way to work tonight that I had literally not listened to or even thought about in probably close to thirty-five years (Yes, I know, I'm getting freaking old, but that's not what this post is about, is it, wise-ass?), and the minute it came out of the speakers in my truck I was transported to my late teens.

The song? "It's All I Can Do," from The Cars second album, Candy-O, and if you're under forty you probably don't much remember The Cars, and if you're under twenty-five or thirty, you might not have ever heard of them. But for me, The Cars are one of those bands/artists that are memorable more because of what they represented than for the music they played.

They were huge when I was in my late teens and early twenties, partly because they originated in Boston, near where I grew up, but mostly because for a period of five to seven years you couldn't tune a radio to a rock station and go more than a few minutes without hearing a Cars song. I loved everything about The Cars, from their distinctive song beats to Ric Ocasek's distinctive voice to the fact that my dad just couldn't understand how the hell that crap was supposed to be considered music.

When I was a kid worked a lot outside, earning money by mowing lawns in my early teens and working as a groundskeeper at an estate when I got a little older. I had a small black hard-plastic transistor radio that I liked to listen to when I was working and the minute "It's All I Can Do" started playing in my truck I thought of that little radio and the smell of fresh-cut grass and the feel of the cool, damp earth on my fingers as I weeded flowerbeds. It was awesome.

Yeah, I know. Weird. I can admit that. But that didn't make it any less real, or any less enjoyable. For three minutes and forty-four seconds it was kind of cool being nineteen again.

Monday, November 22, 2010

This Guy's Pen is Deadlier Than a Sword

I had never heard of Irish author Darren Shan until a couple of days ago, but one of the beauties of blogs is that you can be exposed to people and ideas you may not have a chance to otherwise.

Over on the Mulholland Books blog this past Friday, Mr.Shan proposed an idea - whimsically I presume, but who can really say for sure? - that was so cool I wish I had thought of it. As a New York Times bestselling author, he spends some of his time doing book tours in support of his work and in the middle of his current tour he had an intriguing epiphany: "How deliciously, dementedly easy it would be to combine my day job with that of a serial killer!"

Think about it, he says. On a book tour the author rarely stays in the same location more than a day or two, spends his time alone following any signings or other promotional obligations he may have, and has plenty of time on his hands when those obligations have been met. "Weapons would never be a problem, not in the land of the Free. Hell, if the worst came to the worst, every writer travels with one or two sharp pens..."

Then he moves on to the next location to repeat the cycle, all in accommodations paid for by his publisher, leaving the scene of the hypothetical crime behind, moving on to new hunting grounds. "A new town. A new hotel. More fans. More signings. More opportunities in the dark."

Is that a dark fantasy? Sure. Twisted? Yeah, probably. But you have to admit it makes a macabre kind of sense, if your tendency is to probe the dark places that most people prefer to ignore whule they whistle past the graveyard, pretending those rustling noises approaching from behind are nothing more than leaves blowing in the breeze.

Oh, and the best part of the whole thing? Darren Shan writes children's books. I'm not quite sure why I find that so perfect, so freaking funny, but there it is. Undoubtedly Mr. Shan is engaging and interesting and the most well-adjusted guy around, but a serial-killing author who gives in to his homicidal urges on his book tours? That's beautiful...

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

My, How Time Flies

It's hard for me to imagine that only two-and-a-half months remain before the release of FINAL VECTOR. It feels like just a few days ago I was staring in wide-eyed wonder, like a kid on Christmas morning or a dog watching TV, at the contract for publication of my very first novel, which I signed so fast I almost forgot how to spell my name.

That was almost a year ago now, and the closer it gets to the release date the more it seems there is to do. Life is becoming incredibly busy, but it's a good kind of busy, the kind I have dreamed about my whole life and would not trade for almost anything, the only possible exceptions being my family's health and an anonymous donation of, say, ten million dollars to the Leverone bank account from, oh, anyone.

One thing I have tried my best to maintain is time to work on my latest manuscript, and for the most part, I have been fairly successful. It is challenging, though, to balance new work with everything I am trying to do to give FINAL VECTOR its best possible chance to establish an audience.

The ball has really gotten rolling as the first two author blurbs have come in, one from Sophie Littlefield and one from Vincent Zandri. Both of these accomplished thriller writers volunteered their valuable time to read and blurb advance copies of my book, and both were extremely complimentary, a fact for which I am unbelievably grateful. I don't mean to brag, but I just can't help myself - here they are:

"Allan Leverone raises the stakes with every turn of the page in this can't-put-down tale of ruthless terrorists and cold-blooded betrayal." - Sophie Littlefield

"Written with edge-of-your-seat suspense and precise detail that can only come from a writer who did his research on the job, FINAL VECTOR kept me, a white-knuckle flier, in awe from the very first sentence. The successor to Michael Crichton has landed. And his name is Allan Leverone." - Vincent Zandri

I really didn't intend to gloat, but these two aren't your garden-variety thriller authors. Sophie Littlefield's debut, A BAD DAY FOR SORRY, was nominated for just about every "Best First Novel" award going, and ended up winning the Anthony Award. And Vincent Zandri is hot as a pistol right now, having achieved Amazon Bestseller status on each of his last two offerings, THE REMAINS and THE INNOCENT.

Anyway, the point of this post wasn't to brag on myself, as much fun as that is. The point was to illustrate how busy things are getting, and the book doesn't even come out until February!

In addition to working on getting author blurbs, I have been researching review sites and sending my book out to those as well. Medallion's marketing folks have an impressive list of review sites they use, but I figure every bit of exposure I can garner is worthwhile, so any extra review sites I stumble upon are well worth the effort, at least to me.

Also in the works is a book trailer from COS Productions and a blog tour coordinated by Pump Up Your Book Promotions in February and March in support of the release. Add to that my duties as Membership Coordinator for the International Thriller Writers Debut Authors Committee, and my continuing efforts to place one or more of my other manuscripts as well as working on short stories and new novels, and you can see that free time is minimal. In fact, I think it's fair to say there isn't any.

Oh yeah, and I almost forgot my "second" job, as an air traffic controller working traffic into and out of Boston's Logan International Airport. That one actually pays all of the bills, at least for now, so it seems only fair to give it some props as well.

So basically, free time is a thing of the past, as is any second of the day when I am not either thinking of ways to promote FINAL VECTOR or plotting out and executing new material.

But don't feel sorry for me. After years of working and writing and hoping to get someone's - anyone's - attention for my work, I am loving life. More to follow, but for now, it's time to get back to murder and mayhem and betrayal...

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

My Ship Has Finally Come In

I've always known I was headed for something special, that at some point in my life, money was going to flow my way; great gobs of money, more money than I would ever know how to spend. Naturally, I figured I would have to work for it. You know, build a better mousetrap and all that.

Turns out I had it all wrong. You see, I received an email this morning that's going to change my life. Basically, I've been getting played for a sap by those conniving bastards at the World Bank in Washington, DC.

I've only been to Washington a few times in my life, the last time being at least six or seven years ago, and certainly didn't do any banking while I was there. To the best of my knowledge I've never even had a single dealing with the World Bank, unless of course they have a branch office here in Londonderry, New Hampshire with a completely different name.

I know, it's complicated. Maybe the best way to describe the great fortune I'm about to come into is to let the email I received speak for itself. Here are the relevent snippets, with my commentary [in brackets]:

Hello [My name was cleverly omitted, undoubtedly to keep me from being implicated in the event the email fell into the wrong hands],

I write to confess what you are presently going through with my Boss [I already have a boss; one is enough. Unless she is referring to The Boss, Bruce Springsteen, I am mystified as to who this might be]. I was a member of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). I resigned my official duty when I discovered the activities of my colleagues...I suspected some kind of fowl play [I hate fowl play, don't you?].

I discovered that my Boss [presumably not Springsteen; as far as I know he has never been employed by the FBI] was conniving with some top officials in the World Bank [in Washington, not Londonderry, NH] to divert funds approved to settle international contractors and inheritance [Now we're getting somewhere. International contractors and inheritance. That sounds like something that might apply to an air traffic controller and author in New Hampshire]. The World Bank are...deliberately delaying your payment [Sounds feasible; they are a bank, after all].

Well I just hope you believe me, because if you don't, your fund is gone [Dammit! Just when I was so close!]. They have decided to divert your attention [That's not too hard to do; just ask my wife].

The reason why I am giving you this information is because of the fact that I was aware of it and my doctrine does not permit me to withhold such information [It's too bad more people don't have that doctrine]. Please do not give this information to my boss [Not freaking likely, I don't even know Bruce Springsteen, although I have been to one of his concerts] as it may lead to them influencing a total blockage to your payment [Did you hear that? A total blockage to my payment! This is outrageous!].

Upon your response to this message, I shall give you all you need to contact the affiliate Payment Office in UK or US [I'm going to take a wild stab here and say my protector will require...oh, I don't know...maybe my bank account number?].

Yours truly,
Ms. Tracy Sanson,

Well, there you have it. All I have to do is contact this former FBI agent and presumably supply her with my bank account number so she can wire my payment to me before those bastards at the World Bank influence a total blockage on it. I'll be on Easy Street!

Anyway, I think it's pretty clear what needs to be done here. I'm off to email Ms Sanson and get the ball rolling on my payment.

I sure hope it arrives in time for Christmas.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Fine Fifteen Authors - Stephen King

Is there a writer of fiction anywhere over the last quarter-century who can honestly say he has not been influenced by this modern master? And I'm not talking about horror writers; Stephen King has long since passed the point where only horror aficionadoes paid attention to his work.

The first Stephen King book I ever read was CARRIE. I didn't like it that much. It was kind of short and I expected it to be scarier than it was; maybe I expected more because of all the hype and there was no way the book could ever have measured up.

But one thing that impressed me, even back then, was how this brand-new author, this overnight sensation, was able to place the reader in the shoes of the young girl at the heart of the story; to make you feel the crushing loneliness of the teen with no friends, the victim who gets pushed and pushed until she snaps and, with the aid of supernatural powers she does not even understand, performs a monstrous act of revenge on her torturers.

After CARRIE I read, in short order, 'SALEM'S LOT, THE SHINING, and THE STAND, enjoying each book more than the last, eagerly awaiting each of King's releases. At times, especially with 'SALEM'S LOT, I was literally afraid to turn out the lights in my room when I put the book down for the night, but that's not what I liked best about Stephen King's work.

The best thing about his work, and I believe the reason a horror writer was able to rise above a genre typically sneered at by "serious" writers and sell gazillions of books in a career spanning nearly forty years and still going strong, is his ability to craft worlds we could all see ourselves living in.

Whether it is a world dominated by vampires (and not the cuddly, sparkly kind), as in 'SALEM'S LOT, or, more than three decades later, a world where an invisible dome mysteriously slams down from the sky and cuts a Maine town off from the rest of the world, the settings are exquisitely crafted and conflicts are realistic and the dialogue rings true. The reader has absolutely no problem suspending disbelief and setting him-or-herself smack-dab into the middle of the action.

And as an inspiration for fledgling authors, you could do a lot worse than emulating Stephen King. His non-fiction book, ON WRITING, is an indispensible addition to the library of anyone who wants to write stories for other people's consumption. The book's title makes it sound dry and boring, but it's not. It's a fascinating look inside the life and mind of a guy who has achieved iconic status among modern authors as well as a nuts-and-bolts guide to crafting fiction.

I find it interesting to see how many authors list Stephen King as an influence. Romance writers, thriller writers, you name it; his name comes up as often as any writer's and more than most in terms of influence, and that's just as it should be.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Fine Fifteen Authors - Edgar Allan Poe

This one is no surprise, I suppose, and a natural for someone who loves dark fiction as much as I do. Poe is one of only two authors on my Fine Fifteen list of those who most influenced me to have been born in the 1800's, and the only one to do all of his writing more than 150 years ago.

None of that matters, though, if you appreciate the darker side of human nature as well as the ability to tell a compelling tale. Most of Poe's published work consists of poems and short stories or novellas; he published only one complete novel, THE NARRATIVE OF ARTHUR GORDON PYM OF NANTUCKET in 1838.

Poetry is not really my thing, but some of Poe's shorter works are classics. "The Cask of Amontillado," "The Fall of the House of Usher," "The Masque of the Red Death," "The Pit and the Pendulum," and "The Tell-Tale Heart," among many others, thrilled and chilled me as a kid as much as anything I've ever read.

Plus, his relatively short life and the strange, still-not-completely-understood circumstances of his death at the age of 40 are the sorts of things to intrigue anyone. It has become fairly universally accepted that Poe died of the effects of alcoholism, but it's likely no one will ever know for sure, since his death certificate, as well as all his medical records, have been lost.

In his time, Edgar Allan Poe was known as a literary critic and edited a number of different literary magazines. He was fired from one for being drunk at work, but later reinstated. He married his thirteen year old cousin when he was 26, then later watched her die at an early age.

The guy definitely had some issues. But he was a master at writing the sort of fiction I love, and so he takes a place among my Fine Fifteen Authors.