Saturday, January 30, 2010

Close Encounters of the Wild Kind - Or, I Wonder if This is How Steve Irwin Got His Start

I don't exactly live in the middle of nowhere. The New Hampshire town I live in is populated by roughly twenty-five thousand people and if you feel the need for glitz and sophistication you can be in Boston in about forty-five minutes, give or take. Okay, maybe "glitz and sophistication" is overstating it a little, Boston's not exactly New York or L.A., but you get the idea.

But there is plenty of wildlife in our little corner of the universe. I have come very close to having up-close and personal encounters with deer more times than I can count in my vehicle and even came relatively close to a moose on one memorable occasion.

This past week, though, on my way to work, also known as the Evil Day Job, or How I Keep My Creditors Happy While Waiting For That Big Bestseller, I had something happen that was completely new to me - I almost ran over a wild turkey. Not a bottle of Wild Turkey, although that certainly would be tragic, but a real, honest-to-goodness, big-ass wild turkey! With feathers and everything!

This crazy bastard came stumbling and bumbling out of the woods - One thing about turkeys, they're really not very graceful creatures, especially when you consider their avian heritage - right in front of my truck as I rounded a corner about two miles from my house. I slammed on the brakes and this bird with ice-water running through his veins just kept right on going like I wasn't even there.

I figure he must have been like Riggs in Lethal Weapon. He's suffered some kind of horrible tragedy in his life, maybe his woman got beheaded at Thanksgiving or something, and he's pissed at the world and figures he's got nothing left to live for.

Anyway, I slammed on my brakes - Thank God there was nobody right behind me - and my truck screeched along the road, the suicidal bird disappeared from view, that's how close he came to my front bumper, and then he came out the other side, sort of half-flying and half-running, looking back over his shoulder at me in annoyance as he went.

I'm pretty sure he was studying my face in case we ever meet again.

Then, believe it or not, another turkey did the same thing when I was almost at work. Of course this turkey was driving an old rusty Buick with Massachusetts plates, but he pulled right out in front of me just like the other one. I almost hit him, too, although I wouldn't have felt half as bad about it.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Is It April Fools Day Already?

So I was checking my email back in December when I opened up the magical one; the one every aspiring novelist dreams about, sometimes even when they're asleep - the acceptance. This was the letter stating a publisher was interested in producing my novel. So interested, in fact, that they were offering a contract to seal the deal, with a projected publication date of February, 2011 for the mass-market paperback version of FINAL VECTOR.

What did I do, you ask? Well, I did what anyone would do in that circumstance - I began hyperventilating. That reaction doesn't last long, though, and within hours I was back to breathing normally.

Just kidding. I'm sure it didn't take hours. My memory of that precise moment is etched vividly in my mind, as I hope it will be forever, and I can virtually guarantee it was only minutes. And I didn't hyperventilate, exactly, it was more like I forgot to breathe for a little while. Like twenty minutes, max.

Anyway, once I got that little glitch under control, you can probably guess what my next move was; of course you can, you would have done it, too: I checked the calendar to make sure it wasn't April 1. It wasn't.

Then, of course, I had to triple-check the email address of the sender to ensure it wasn't a practical joke being played on me by one of the many comedians I work with. It wasn't that, either.

By this time I had pretty much decided, yes, this is the real thing. I am actually going to be a professional novelist. My book will be competing for readership with people like Barry Eisler, Lee Child, Tom Piccirilli, Lawrence Block, and so many other authors whose work I have admired for so long. It won't be much of a competition, maybe, but you get the point.

In addition to being scared to death, I realized pretty much right off the bat that I needed two things: 1) Validation, and 2) Guidance.

Happily, I knew just where to get both - the International Thriller Writers, an organization which is, well, exactly what it says it is in the name. Most, if not all, of the writers I have loved for so long are members, and as a pending professional novelist I realized I was now eligible for membership as well.

I applied and my membership was approved within a matter of days, so I guess Medallion Press really wasn't kidding about publishing my novel. In the ITW I have found a group of writers with a combined total - literally - of centuries of publishing experience, from long-time pros like David Morrell, who has been churning out books for nearly forty years, to other publishing newbies like myself.

In fact, one of the things I like best about the ITW is what they call their Debut Authors Program, where people like me, whose first publication is scheduled, can learn from the experience of the others, who have all gone through exactly the same experiences and are in a position to pass along some of the wisdom they have gained.

Hopefully I won't be too dense to absorb it; after all, February, 2011 is right around the corner.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Sometimes, You CAN Judge a Book By Its Cover

One of the many items the publisher of my novel, FINAL VECTOR, wanted input from me on was the cover design.

You would think that after dreaming for so long about getting a novel published and working so hard to make it happen, I would have some very definite opinions about what its' cover would look like.

You would be wrong. I had been so focused on the actual writing and rewriting and editing and submitting of the book that I had literally never once thought about something as simple as what my cover should look like if I were ever fortunate enough to find a publisher willing to take a chance on an unknown novelist.

So when I saw that question on the Pre-Publication Title Sheet, I had to step back and think long and hard. I've read plenty of thrillers in my life; I have been a fan of the genre for as long as I can remember. So it's not like I hadn't seen my share of covers. I needed something which would convey the proper tone - dark and foreboding. I needed something that would evoke a mood of suspense, and I thought it would be good to emphasize the aviation aspect of the novel.

Beyond that, though, I was pretty clueless. I finally decided a radar scope might make a good cover. Everyone knows what a radar scope looks like and yet nobody but air traffic controllers really understands exactly what we do with them. Familiar but mysterious; seemed okay to me.

I finally decided on suggesting a couple of alternatives: A scope with blood splattered on it or perhaps a radar scope as seen through the crosshairs of a weapon.

The contract I signed with my publisher was very specific - they would retain the right to design the cover they deemed most effective in terms of setting the mood, which of course will hopefully translate into more sales. I was fine with that since, after all, they have been doing this publishing thing a lot longer than I have.

But I was still more than a little curious. Would they take any of my suggestions into account? Or would they decide to go in a completely different direction?
I got my answer this past week, when Medallion sent me their cover design for my book:

I have to say I think this is awesome; even better than I had hoped for. The colors are perfect, setting a tone of mystery and menace, and the lettering is fantastic.
I have no clue what comes next in this mysterious and kind of magical publishing process, but I will let you know when I find out. Thanks for coming along for the ride. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

One Attaboy Trumps a Hundred Oh Shits

There used to be a saying in air traffic control - I haven't heard it recently, there is a changing of the guard taking place in the FAA as all of us who were hired after the disastrous PATCO strike in 1981 are rapidly approaching the mandated end of our careers and being replaced by a new generation - that went something like this: "One 'Oh shit' trumps a hundred 'Attaboys'."

The implication, and it's an accurate one, especially in a field of endeavor where a single error in judgment could cost hundreds of lives, is that you can do things properly a hundred times in a row, but as soon as you screw the pooch once, that's all anyone is going to remember.

Last week I discovered, just in case I had forgotten, that sometimes the opposite is true. After you've experienced a hundred "Oh shits," that single "Attaboy" that comes along is pretty goddamned sweet. On Wednesday, December 30, 2009, I signed a contract with Medallion Press for publication of my debut novel as a mass-market paperback, an air traffic control thriller titled FINAL VECTOR.

I'm not a huge fan of Woody Allen, but there is a quote attributed to him that says, "Eighty percent of success is just showing up." I'm not sure how true that is, but the implication - that if you go to work every day and keep slogging along, good things will eventually happen - is occasionally true, at least in the competitive field of professional writing.

I went back and looked at my records, and I received exactly fifty rejections from agents and publishers for the FINAL VECTOR manuscript before Medallion's enthusiastic offer of a one-book contract. If you add to that the combined seventy-seven rejections I have picked up over the last two years for my other two completed novels, that's a lot of "Oh shits."

But I'm here to tell ya, the cumulative effect of all those rejections, the combined lows of having people tell you that you're not good enough (They do it very nicely most of the time, but, as we learned in the last presidential election, you can put lipstick on a pig but it's still a pig), is nothing compared to the elation, the pure unadulterated thrill, of having a legitimate, mainstream publisher tell you they want to sell your book.

It's been nearly five days since I became a professional novelist and I still haven't come down off the high. If we could somehow manage to bottle this feeling, we could put every single drug cartel out of business overnight.

I am hard at work completing what Medallion calls their "Pre-Publication Title Sheet," a whole bunch of information they need about my book, where I believe it fits in the marketplace, any suggestions I have regarding the cover art, and a whole bunch of other things I was so busy trying to get my book noticed that I never really thought about. So, needless to say, I'm busy, but it's a great kind of busy.

I can't wait to find out what comes next. February, 2011 seems like a long time from now, but I think it's going to take me at least that long to get used to the idea that my book, my creation, will soon be competing for sales and shelf space with offerings from Barry Eisler, Harlan Coben,Lawrence Block, Lee Child, and so many other fantastic authors working in the genre I love.

I just can't stop shaking my head at my incredible good fortune.