Tuesday, August 5, 2014

From a Writer's Perspective...Top 5 TV Dramas, EVER.

Once in a while, I've been to a book signing at a location that has videos, music, and games in addition to books, and I've been treated to the response of "I don't read" from a few patrons when I ask if they like crime fiction.

"I don't read."


What's even more surprising is when you hear a writer say, "I don't have time to read. I'm too busy writing." To me, that's like a professional athlete saying, "I don't have time to practice. I'm too busy playing games." Reading is like push ups for the writer brain. Reading exposes you to what works and what doesn't in other people's work.

"Reading" isn't exclusive to books, though. You can get some reading in by watching a good movie or TV show. Or any movie or TV show, if you're paying attention to negative examples. Good writing for the screen may differ slightly from writing for the page, but not as much as people might think. Sure, some of the techniques are different for sharing information with the viewer/reader, but much of the time, a segment of good writing on screen has an on page equivalent. And certainly, as a writer, you can learn a lot from it.

So, as I 've continued on my writer's journey, I pay attention to writing in every medium. And I thought I'd salute the five best TV dramas I've come across. These are the ones that I've enjoyed on two levels -- as a viewer, and as a writer.

Here we go:


A couple of dramas that I'm still in the process of watching, so I won't pass final judgment yet, other than to say they've been well worth watching so far...

Mad Men (2007) PosterMad Men. I'm not exactly sure why I'm drawn to the show (good writing aside), and for the sake of perspective, neither is my wife.

But we are drawn to it, maybe for a few different reasons, such as the exploration of how different (and how not different) that era of our history was from today. Or for the mystery of Don Draper's background (or that of many of the characters!). Or because of how virtually every character has moments when you want to cheer for them but then human failing comes along and changes that desire.

Either way, we're currently in Season 3 and will see it through. Will it make Honorable Mention status or break the top 5? Guess we'll see.

Parenthood (2010) PosterParenthood. Probably the most formulaic, mainstream entry of all the shows I talk about here, this family drama hits all the right buttons. Sure it's a little bit on the TV-esque side of things, but the actors are comfortable in the skin of their characters and while the writing is sometimes cliche or even maudlin, the set up is done well enough that the sappy sentiment is not only forgivable, but flat out...okay.

I don't know about you, but I think most of us wish we had a family like the Braverman clan, despite all of the trials and tribulations they endure. Maybe because of those trials and tribulations, because most of them are problems that we might face in our own lives, and triumphs we can imagine having. This show can be funny, heart-warming, and heart-breaking, all in the space of one episode.

Entering what is probably its final season, it is my hope that the writers finish strong. The actors deserve it, and so do the characters.

Now, on to the...

Honorable Mentions:

The Shield (2002) PosterThe Shield. Daring and dark, this series plunges you into the concept of doing wrong for noble purposes, and how quickly that can devolve into just doing wrong. With starkly drawn characters and a willingness to explore dark story lines, this series was one I burned through on DVD at the speed of light. One of the better series finales, as well.

Police corruption gets some sexy press in this country but the reality of my experience was that the only real corruption is incompetence and laziness...and while I saw evidence of it, the majority of the men and women I worked with over twenty years were dedicated, talented, and hard-working. But the frustrations of that career are very real, and I think the reason so many cops like this program is that we can sympathize with the feelings that drive the wrong actions of the characters on the show, even if we can't condone the actions themselves.

And despite all of the glorifying of the kind of renegade tactics employed by Vic and his strike team, the final season plays out in a way that is more morally satisfying than not -- a repudiation of the corruption of the noble cause. In other words, the ends do not justify the means...

Top moments?
  • In the opening episode, when Vic shoots a fellow team member while at a crime scene, thus signaling that this was not your father's police drama.
  • "I'm a different kind of cop."
  • The final scene, in which Vic is alone at the ICE office. Sure, he beat prison (and at what a cost!) but he's lost everything and is consigned to the closest thing to hell on earth for him -- a desk full of paperwork.

Battlestar Galactica (2004) PosterBattlestar Galactica. I was pretty young when the first incarnation of this came along and unaware of how cheesy it really was. Still, it was a favorite of mine, and when the reboot came along, I decided to give it a try. What I discovered was an incredibly deep world full of very real characters who were struggling with universal issues. Sometimes it was about a relationship (and really, aren't those stakes the highest ones we tend to deal with?), sometimes it was much larger in scope, such as, oh, I don't know...the continued existence of humanity! Concepts such as honor, forgiveness, loyalty, and sacrifice were on display in every episode, and usually it was a high stakes situation in play.

The show had no cardboard characters, either. Strong dialogue and realistically drawn characters kept the big story lines grounded and more realistic. The heroes on this show had flaws, the villains some virtue, and everyone seemed like a real person. You might like them, love them, or hate them, but you believed them.

Top moments?
  • The re-imagined Kara "Starbuck" Thrace punches out her superior officer during a poker game...yeah, this isn't going to be a re-hash of the 1970s show!
  • Scenes of personal sacrifice too numerous to list here
  • Every dogfight in space -- they spared no expense on special effects
  • The moments that President Roslin spends struggling with the human costs of the decisions she must make, and how she sometimes takes the hard road...because it is right. Some good leadership lessons there.

12:00 a.m.-1:00 a.m. (2001) Poster24. Not much to say here, except that if you want to see a show that does a great job of maintaining and building tension over an entire season, this is it. Sure, there are plot contrivances along the way -- not saying it's perfect -- but the way the tension gets ratcheted up from episode to episode is stellar, and the writers' use of raising the stakes both on a global and personal scale is superb. A little more "fluffy" on character and dialogue (and plot, I suppose) than the other entries on this list, 24 is the strange cousin with quirks that don't overshadow his qualities...and whom you still love.

Top moments?
  • Jack Bauer and his daughter holding a dying Teri Bauer at the end of Season 1. Heartbreaking.
  • Pretty much any scene with President Palmer...
  • Jack asking Chloe to open a socket...
  • Jack's streamlined interrogation tactics.

Top 5 TV Dramas...EVER.

5. Breaking Bad. Okay, so this one may be benefiting from the law of recency, but it squeaks past the honorable mentions to take the #5 spot. In some ways, it is similar to The Shield, in that the premise involves someone doing something the law labels as "wrong" but doing it for what many might say is a good or right reason. Mr. While is only trying to pay for his cancer treatment and provide for his family, right? Watching the transformation he makes from a timid high school chemistry teacher to the cold, calculating, and brutal Heisenberg is one of the most startling and complete character shifts you'll see...ever. It's also done with such great writing that it is entirely believable.

My sympathies were with Walt for a long while, but at some point, I started to hate him. I watched because I hoped he would fail and get his just desserts. The writers of Breaking Bad succeeded in turning their protagonist into the villain by the end of the series, and the sidekick (Jesse Pinkman) into the hero...or at least the one I found myself feeling the most sympathetic toward.

Maybe as time passes, this one will slip out of the top 5 for me, but it is hard to imagine that happening.

Top moments?
  • Walter White telling Skyler that he is not in danger, he is the danger.
  • The moment White decides to let Jesse's girlfriend die.
  • "Bitch!"
  • Walter finally admitting to Skyler that he did it all for himself, because he liked it, not for his family, as he professed ad nauseum.
  • The joy on Jesse's face in the finale when he seems to have broken free of the life he led throughout the five years of the show.

NYPD Blue (1993) Poster4. NYPD Blue. In a way, it was the groundbreaking show that made most of the rest on this list possible. Pushing the envelope with profanity and sex on network TV got this show noticed initially, but it was the characters and the writing (and the actors' abilities to bring both to life) that kept it on the air so long.

Originally a vehicle for David Caruso, and focusing on his character, John Kelly, the core of the series eventually belonged to Dennis Franz's Andy Sipowicz. Flawed in ways you don't often see in characters with starring roles on network TV, Sipowicz had soul. Sure, he was overweight, irascible, an alcoholic who was sometimes violent and always sarcastic...but I came to love him pretty early in the series. And when Caruso left and Jimmy Smits came in to play Bobby Simone as a leading man, Sipowicz remained. Same when the tantalizing character of Danny Sorenson took Simone's place, and right on down the line.

Yes, there were some character arcs that were a little disastrous. Rick Schroder's Sorenson was a compelling mess. To a lesser extent, so was Kim Delaney's Diane Russell. And don't get me started on Detective Lesniak's arc...but even with these warts, this show excelled. And when you look back at it in its entirety, there is a very clear arc, and even though no one seemed to know it at first, that arc was always Andy Sipowicz. Flawed, making mistakes, but finding love, and finding redemption...and living on.

Top moments?
  • John Kelly using classic Reid Interview techniques to get a rapist to confess, on video no less.
  • Bobby Simone responding to a guy wanting his badge number by slamming it onto his forehead and letting him know he could get it by looking in the mirror later.
  • Danny Sorenson and those paper clips
  • Andy breaking down when his oldest son, who followed him onto the job, is killed. This is especially heart-wrending because they spent a long time being estranged but were re-connecting and young Sipowicz was learning the job from his pop.
  • "Yeah, huh?"
  • Andy and the phone book...'nuff said.

The Sopranos (1999) Poster3. The Sopranos. This is a no-brainer, and I know I'm not breaking any new ground here, but how do you not include this show on a list like this?

Tony Soprano is at once a hero and an anti-hero. As the series waxes and wanes, you find yourself rooting for him and despising him at the same time. He's criminal, a man who kills people or orders it done, yet somehow we find ways to identify with him. His mother issues, his family problems, his work trials and tribulations....these are things that we all have, or something similar.

I think there's a suppressed rule-breaker in most of us, and maybe that's why we like to live vicariously through a character like Tony. And the fact that he is seriously flawed and yet has some admirable traits as well makes it even easier to sympathize with him. And just when you're getting comfortable with that, the writers throw something at you that rocks your socks. Something so despicable that we see him in real terms again, as a thug and self-centered, whiny creep. And yet, they bring him back from that brink again and again to bask in our sympathy again. That's tough writing. That's good writing.

It doesn't hurt that the actors really lived and breathed the characters, or that the supporting characters are all written so well. If you were at a point in which you couldn't sympathize with Tony, there was usually another character that you could sympathize with long enough to get you by until Tony was back in your good graces.

If I watch this series again (been through it three times now, so I'm not sure if I will or not), it will be with an added sense of bittersweet, given the untimely death of James Gandolfini. He thoroughly inhabited this role.

And I can't complete any discussion on this show without a nod toward the courageous, perfect series finale. Yes, that includes the final moments. Especially the final moments.

Top moments?
  • Tony being so jealous of his sister's seeming happiness and inner peace that he picks at her until she explodes (not that Janice probably didn't deserve it), then leaves, walking away satisfied.
  • "Psychiatry and cunnilingus brought us to this point."
  • The murder of Pussy. And Adriana.
  • The frequent outbursts of "Whoa!" when someone said something out of line.
  • Tony:  "You're late." Christopher: "Sorry, the highway was jammed with broken heroes on a last-chance power drive."

Game of Thrones (2011) Poster2. Game of Thrones. If there was ever an argument for a federal law requiring all season series to be at least thirteen episodes, Game of Thrones would surely be trotted out as Exhibit A.

One of the things George R. R. Martin, the author of the books this show is based upon, does so well is present the viewpoint of the various characters in a way that shows their point of view as being valid and perhaps even noble. As a result, you can see both sides of a conflict and both sides of a character. While the Starks are undeniably cast as the heroes early on, this image is tarnished as the series wears on and everyone is brought down to earth, sullied by the vagaries of real life.

We're not quite there yet in the series but after four seasons, we've seen drama at its best, surprises (for those who haven't read the books) galore, and again, well-written characters portrayed in stellar fashion by the actors.

While I don't know if I'll ever find Cersei Lannister sympathetic, I find her brother Jaime drifting that way...hard to believe, given his actions in Season 1.

That ambiguity of character, and the ability to give us a balanced picture in the midst of it, is the genius of this series. Yes, some villains are simply villains. But even the little shit Joffrey, who I don't think anyone wasted a moment's sympathy upon, is such a great villain because he's a real character. We can believe him, and that makes him more terrifying.

The political maneuvering that takes place on this show is all based upon human motivations and tendencies, and the writers seem to have a firm grasp of both. Game of Thrones may take place in Westeros but it is a fair commentary on "Theresteros" (read: The Rest of Us).

And any show in which every episode seems to end thirty seconds after it starts has to be well written, no? Waiting for Sunday evening to come around for the past four years has been a big deal around my house. How about yours?

Top moments?
  • The first time you see one of the The Others.
  • Jamie Lannister pushing Bran out the window.
  • Ned losing his head. If you hadn't read the books, this one had to be one of the most surprising moments in television history.
  • Cersei to Littlefinger: "Power is power."
  • Varys to Tyrion: "Power resides where men believe it does."
  • Any number of Tyrion's quips -- choose your favorite. Mine is when Cersei tells him he's not half as clever as he thinks he is. "Still makes me more clever than you," he tells her.
  • The Red Wedding
  • The Purple Wedding
  • Ah, hell...pretty much every scene in every episode.

The Wire (2002) Poster1. The Wire. Hands down winner. Yes, it is violent. Yes, it has significant profanity, including the frequent use of the 'n' word and 'f' bombs galore. And yes, there is some graphic sexuality, because HBO.

And it is the best television drama...ever.


Because it is damn near perfect.

The plotting in terms of each episode, the season-long arcs, and the series itself, is just stellar.

The characters are believable, lovable, hate-able, and completely real. They have all the flaws of you and I, including selfish, short-sighted viewpoints that usually bring about tragedy. But they also have all of the nobility that you and I would like to think we have (and maybe we do) -- loyalty, courage, humanity, and higher purpose.

The dialogue is unsurpassed, both in terms of the writing and the incredible delivery by the actors, all of whom are so perfectly cast. They say that dialogue should sound like real people talking but without the meandering or the fillers, and that's what you get on The Wire. I don't know how accurately it portrays the speech patterns of the real Baltimore, but it creates a very believable dialect of a fictional one, complete with jargon, colloquialisms, slang and unique inflection.

The story of this series ranges from cops to gangs, from politics to drug dealing, from the bowels of the police department to the street to the docks to the halls of power in city and state government. All the while, it is telling the story of all of us. How we strive. How we sometimes fail. How we see casualties along the way. How we live on.

Maybe this series was perfect because it ended after five seasons. It not only never jumped the shark, it never even approached the ocean. Perhaps there's another storytelling lesson there -- that each story has its own natural length, and we as writers should listen to that piece as well.

Top moments?
  • The fate of Dookie shown in the ending montage of the final episode.
  • Bunk. Just Bunk.
  • McNulty and Bunk investigating a crime scene and communicating a dozen different thoughts using just one word...which, of course, was an 'f' bomb.
  • All the interrogation tactics the detectives used, including hooking up criminals to the "lie detector" that doubled as a copy machine.
  • Jimmy McNulty's funeral
  • Omar being such a bad-ass, and then we find out he's gay. Brave stereotype busting by the writers there. Same with Kima, though less daring.
  • Speaking of Omar, him calling out the lawyer in court as being the same as him. "I got the shotgun. You got the briefcase. It's all in the game though, right?"
  • Yeah, much like Game of Thrones, pretty much every episode had several top moments.
  • And last but not least, the series-ending montage, which is by far the best ending to any series, ever...tragic, heartwarming, and real life, all at the same time.
So there you go. From a writer's perspective, as I take this journey of mine and pay attention to the art around me...these are the top 5 TV dramas of all time, as I see it. Feel free to agree...or disagree in the comments section.

Friday, August 1, 2014

An Interview....

In addition to being featured today for my 99 cent sale titles, Books Direct interviewed me. Here is an excerpt of that interview:

What sparked the idea for this book?
As a retired police officer, I often wondered what would happen if a cop became a crook. Since he knows the system, could he be more successful than your average criminal?
Plus, all of my previous novels were from the perspective of the “good guys” and I wanted to explore a character on the wrong side of the law who actually wasn't such a “bad” guy.
So, which comes first? The character's story or the idea for the novel?
In this case, it was the character’s story. The idea of a former cop turned criminal intrigued me. Other novels, though, have started with the idea or the “what if?” proposition.
What was the hardest part to write in this book?
The parts where Jake shows some contempt for his former law enforcement colleagues. As a retired cop, I have tremendous respect for the men and women of my former profession, so I have to remind people … this is fiction.
How do you hope this book affects its readers?
First off, I hope they enjoy the ride, both in terms of the emotional ride and the turns that the plot takes. On a deeper level, I hope it makes people think about human nature, and how honest we really are (or aren't) with ourselves.

For the rest of the interview, head over to Books Direct and scroll down...

Monday, June 23, 2014

One Year Burning Down the Road...

Do anniversaries matter?

Opinions vary. Depends on what you're celebrating, right?

It was a year ago that I turned in my badge for good, and became a full time writer author. Since then, I've done some writing (and some teaching, too). My life has changed in a lot of ways, most of them wonderful. Actually...I can't think one bad change, unless it is not being around some great people that I used to work with (you know who you are!).

Going all in on your dream is something worthy of recognizing in the form of an anniversary, don't you think? I do, and so I think I'll celebrate with something that is completely I.U. (Internet Ubiquitous):  a top ten list.

This list, in no particular order except for #1, takes a look at: 

The Top Ten Great Things 

(About being retired from law enforcement and living the life of a writer)


10. I get to write. Full time.

I could stop the list right there, and call it a win, right? I mean, isn't that every writer's dream?

9.  I get to grow my hair.  Long.

Like this. Only longer.

8.  Short commute. In pajamas.

Yeah, it is a killer commute. From the kitchen to the stairs to the loft office area, it's like twenty, twenty-one steps. Sometimes takes me eight seconds, unless the puppies are inside and giving me the "look how cute I am lying on the floor and wagging my tails so it goes thump, thump on the floor...don't you want to stop and pet me?"

Then it might take me fifteen seconds to make it to work.

7.  Coffee isn't free, but it's delicious and there's lots of it.

And since we renewed our Costco card...well, there's lots and LOTS of it.

San Francisco Bay Organic Rain Forest Blend Whole Bean Coffee     3 lb. Bag 2-pack

6.  No boring meetings.

When I was in a leadership position with the police department, my life was meetings. Some were productive. Some were stressful. Many were...a waste of time. But I'm no longer plagued by such meetings. Now, if I want to waste time, I have a STEAM account. I meet with my vassals and plot nefarious deeds. So, pretty much the same but not boring.

5.  I get to teach.

Back when I was faced with a career decision, it was either teacher or cop. I chose cop for a variety of reasons (one being that I already had the college credits to immediately apply) but teaching was always my other career choice. Luckily, during my law enforcement career, I got to teach at the police academy.

Since retiring, I've taught a course for Whitworth University and will be teaching report writing at SCC for the next two years. 

I've also started a series of three workshops:  Write Your Novel! (October), Revise Your Novel! (January), and Publish Your Novel! (March). They're six week courses that meet once a week for several hours. I've been charging $99, which is a steal, but to be honest...I don't do it for the money, anyway. I do it to be around writers, to share what I've learned, and to hopefully have some positive impact on other people.

If you're interested in these workshops, stay tuned here or on my Facebook page. Next session will be in October.

4.  Collaborations.

Speaking of being around writers...!

It all started with Colin Conway and Some Degree of Murder

That was such a positive experience that when the opportunity to work with Jim Wilsky came along, I jumped at it. We wrote Blood on Blood, which quickly led to Queen of Diamonds and Closing the Circle (the Ania Trilogy).

Thanks to those two guys, I've been eager to work with other authors any chance I get. When Ty Hutchinson invited me to be part of the novel anthology Thrilling Thirteen, I didn't hesitate. This ebook only collection has thirteen selections (ten books, two novellas, one two-story novella) from eleven authors...all for 99 cents.

I've learned a lot by being part of this collaboration, especially about marketing opportunities.

I've also just finished two more crime fiction collaborations that will be announced very soon. One is with Eric Beetner, another with Bonnie Paulson. Both excellent, talented authors with their own unique style. 

I'm working on another book, a romance, with my long-time critique partner, Jill Maser. This one is something of a slow burn, but it'll get there.

Then there's non-fiction collaboration, as well. I wrote A Street Officer's Guide to Report Writing with Doug Strosahl. We'll be looking at the 2nd Edition of that soon. And there's another "secret" project that I'm working on with Ned Hayes  -- should be out by January.

All I can say is that working with writers is...awesome. Every project feels like such a partnership.

3.  I get to write what I want.

Since I publish most of my work myself, I don't have an agent or publisher dictating my next project. I have a list of about thirty project ideas, and I get to cherry pick based completely upon the muse's whim.

Earlier in the year, it was the collaborations that had me the most excited, so the only solo project I really worked on was At Their Own Game.  Now that a couple of the collaborations are finished and my teaching schedule is in hiatus, I get to select my next solo project.

What's that consist of? Looking down the project list and deciding what gets me pumped up the most. Then getting to work on it.

There are a lot of candidates. More Sam the Hockey Player. River City #5. Kopriva #3. Or a few options that are completely different. As I write this, I really don't know what I'll pick, though it'll likely happen later this week.

2.  No boss (well, except the Boss)

Yeah. That's right. No one to tell me what to do, when to do it, how to dress, or what time work starts. In fact, to celebrate that fact, I'm going to spend an hour playing Crusader Kings II as soon as I finish posting this.

The only Boss I have now is one who asks, "Is there anyone A-LIIIIVE out there? Ah, one, two, three, four....!"

1.  I get to write. Full time.

Did I mention this already?

Well, it bears repeating. I'm extraordinarily lucky in a lot of ways (supportive wife, family, friends, health) and being able to live out this dream is definitely one of them. Yeah, I paid some dues. Sometimes I feel like I lived forty years worth of stress in a twenty year career (especially the last five), but no matter how you stack it, I'm lucky to be where I am. 

What's it like?

I get up in the morning, get coffee, and read the news. To me, news is checking email, checking Facebook, checking hockey news (Let's go, Flyers!), checking Springsteen news, and every once in a while, checking out some local news and entertainment news.

Then I turn to whatever project I'm working on. I tackle it until I'm ready to be done for the day. How long that is varies widely depending on the project and the day.

And every once in a while, I catch myself smiling...because I'm doing what that little kid dreamed of all those years ago. 

I am a writer.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Honoring Veterans

Some days, in the middle of our busy life, it's not a bad idea to stop and take a look at the bigger picture...even if you're in hot pursuit of your dream.

For the past several years, I've donated proceeds from one of my books to support veterans. Up until this year, the book has been The Last Horseman. Today, I made the donation from the November 2013 sales of this book in all formats to Remind.Org. It wasn't as much as I'd like (sales are down some), so I rounded up to $100.

I realize it's not a lot of money, but I figure every little bit helps. And hopefully, it raises a little bit of awareness, too.

For 2014 and beyond, I'm designating the book Chisolm's Debt as the title for this charity drive. All sales in all formats (print, ebook, audio) in November 2014 will be donated to veteran's support. Remind.Org remains my charity of choice, unless I discover another veteran's charity that is more fitting (and more local).

So in the middle of writing, in the middle of promoting March Craziness sales, planning my next writing workshop, working with the narrator for the next audio book production, and any number of other writing and writing business tasks, I'm glad I took the time to stop. To send that token amount. Leave a message on that wall. Help a little. And realize how fortunate I am, in so many ways.

Whether you support or oppose the politics, let's take care of our troops and veterans.

Because a dream is worth much without freedom.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Scorecard So Far?

Last June, I put in my papers after twenty years as a cop. Why? To be a full time writer.

Since then, what have I done?

Well, I went to Italy for a month on a research trip. Things I learned and saw on that trip will go into at least three books I have lined out.

I'm teaching my second writing seminar to some cool writers with some great stories of their own.

I released Chisolm's Debt, a story about Vietnam, guilt, redemption, and honor. I also designated it as my donation book for veteran support. Each November, all sales of this title for the entire month will be donated to support veterans. So far, the charity recipient has been Remind.org.

I've started (and am continuing it) on several collaborations...more to come on that in the future.

I just released two books in two weeks. At Their Own Game, a noir-ish story complete with crime, violence, money, and a femme fatale, came first on Feb 1. 

It was followed fourteen days later by my third collaboration with Jim Wilsky, Closing the Circle (the third in a loosely associated trilogy that started with Blood on Blood and continued with Queen of Diamonds).
So...seven months or so of retirement. One month in Italy. Three books released. Moving full speed ahead. Scorecard so far?

Solid B.

Except, you know what? I don't really need a scorecard, do I? I'm doing what I love. The words keep coming. The stories are still exciting. The characters live. That's what matters most, and all the rest is really just wonderful bonus material.

That doesn't mean I don't want you to buy the books, however. Fill your Kindle with Zafiro goodness, please. And let me know what you think, because that's part of what's great about the writing experience. When you connect with a reader through your work, it's exhilarating. I think that it is really only second to that moment of creation when the story first hits the page, and that's a pretty glorious moment.

I'm experiencing more of those these days, across the boards.

You don't have to quit your job or retire and pursue your dream like I did, but I would encourage you to find what brings you those glorious moments. Then find a way to make sure you're around when they happen. As I approach 50 (still more than four years away but less and less of a theoretical concept than it once was), I recognize more and more that we have no idea how many days we have left on this planet, but we do know that they are finite. Don't be at the end of those days wishing you had tried something or done something. I think the last emotion I want to feel is love, not regret.

It's a balancing act, though, isn't it? Responsibilities and security on one side, the top of Maslow's hierarchy on the other.

Nobody said it would be easy, did they? Like I tell my youth hockey team when I preach to them about how hard you have to be willing to work to win, and how difficult it may be to execute on the ice...it ain't easy. I tell them that if it were easy, everyone would be doing it. If it were easy, it would be soccer.

All right, I know every soccer player and fan just deleted all my books from his/her Kindle, but you get my point. It isn't easy to find that balance.

But it is worth it.

And so are you.


Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Like Frankie Said. Oh, and Monkeys (not the flying kind -- sorry)

Like old blue eyes said, "It was a very good year."

...and 2013 was.

I know it seems like everyone does a 2013 in review post and/or a resolutions for 2014 post. While I try to be original and unique, in a world of six billion people, I actually have better odds of winning the lottery than being unique. So I'll spare you the resolutions but I'm still going to do the review.

What's that?


The  monkey just told me there's more like seven billion people in the world, not six. I'm not sure if that's supposed to prove my point or make me feel stupid.

Who's the monkey?

It's sort of an inside-ish joke. At the 2012 GET LIT! festival, I was on a writer's panel when someone asked a question about confidence or fear of failure or something along those lines. My reply was that I believed every writer has a monkey in his/her writing life. The monkey perches on some shelf or piece of furniture behind the writer while the keys are tapping and magic is happening and what the monkey does is what all monkeys do. He throws poo.

And yells.

"You suck!"

Throw poo.

"The story you're working on sucks, too!"

Throw poo.

"Don't show it to anyone. You know why? Because it sucks!"

And...throw poo.

I don't know, I told the audience. Maybe I'm the only one with a monkey. (Mine likes to hum the tune of Springsteen's I'm Goin' Down while I work). But if you have a monkey, too, then here's my advice:  don't listen to him. Don't throttle the little bastard, either, as much as you might want to. He serves a purpose. Actually, he does more than that. He provides a service. In small doses, the doubts he plants help ensure our best efforts. Those doubts  are why we give it "just one more read" before letting a book go, polishing and preening it on the way out the door. But taken too much to heart, the monkey is like cancer. Confidence cancer. So don't listen to him. You can't help but hear him, but don't listen.

People in the audience laughed in the appropriate places, and I think they got what I was saying. After the panel was over, I was talking to another writer named Brian Triplett. He gave me a serious look and told me, "Dude. The monkey pays half my rent."

I still laugh at that. Hey, Brian, at least your monkey contributes, right? Most of them don't even clean up after themselves.

Despite my resident monkey, 2013 was...well, a very good year. Here are the top ten great events that happened in my life in 2013. I'm limiting entries to my writing journey, since this is what this blog is about. Suffice it to say that if this were life as a whole, eight or nine of these entries would have to do my wife, family, and close friends. All right, caveat aside, here's the list:

Honorable Mentions:

At This Point in My Life Released

Okay, I'm cheating a little bit. This actually came out on December 9, 2012. But it really didn't get legs until 2013, so I'm including it.

Writing about a new and different character (Jack McCrae) was fun. Mac is different than most of the main characters I've written about in the past. He's almost sixty, for one. He's not as intense as some, either. At least, not at first...

I Finished Drafts of At Their Own Game 

By December 31, I had drafts out to readers and several have come back. I'm anticipating a Q1 release for this novel.

This is much different from most of the crime fiction I've written in that Jake Stankovic isn't a cop or a detective or retired law enforcement. He's a criminal, plain and simple. Writing from that angle was a fun departure, and I'm sure I'll be doing it again.

10. Books in Motion Picked Up the River City Series for Audio

Locally based audio publisher Books in Motion became the River City publisher in 2012. But they produced all four River City crime novels in 2013. Narrator Michael Bowen did a stellar job, really capturing several of the characters with his performance.

9. More Audio Books Released Through Amazon

The remainder of my novels were produced as audio books through ACX, an Amazon subsidiary. This was a different process than with Books in Motion because I was essentially the executive producer for each title. I chose the narrator and directed the performance (in a strategic sense). This made for a great deal of work but it was also a lot of fun. The results were outstanding. Check out the audio samples on Some Degree of Murder, or Blood on Blood, or...well, really, on any of them. I was fortunate to work with very talented and professional narrators.

Hearing your book performed by a narrator is cool experience, too. Especially when the narrator nails the passage or the piece of dialogue exactly the way you heard it in your head when you wrote it.

I enjoy audio books and am looking forward to those future productions.

8. Queen of Diamonds Released

This second book in the Ania saga follows Blood on Blood, and takes us to Las Vegas. It was a fun book to write. You've got poker players (a cowboy circuit champ and an ex-baseball player), Swedish gangsters, crooked casino bosses, and sexy siren Ania, all set in Sin City, USA. What's not to like? In fact, why are you not reading this book right now (or listening to Johnny Peppers' great narration)?

Working with Jim Wilsky has been a blast. Not only is he a great writer but he's a great partner and friend. Which leads me to...

7. Closing the Circle Finished and Almost Ready

The third book in the Ania saga, again written with Jim Wilsky. This one was a little more work at times but remained an enjoyable a writing experience. Working out story and plot with Jim is much easier than one would expect, and we have a process that works. Here's hoping every calendar year has a Wilsky/Zafiro title release.

As an aside, the fact that Jim is working on a solo project (also a crime novel) doesn't necessarily belong on my list, because it's his accomplishment to trumpet, but I don't think I'm overstepping to say YES! and I CAN'T WAIT!

6. Write Your Novel! Workshop

In October, I was joined by five brave souls as I taught a workshop about getting through that first draft of your novel. I really enjoyed the experience and was thoroughly impressed with the writers who attended. As is often the case, teaching is learning, and I know I got at least as much out of the workshop as the writers who attended. In less than week, we start the REVISE YOUR NOVEL! workshop*, so there's another journey to look forward to.

* You can still sign up for this one. It starts January 7.

5.  Chisolm's Debt Released

Thomas Chisolm is one of my favorite River City characters. He was based on a real person, at least initially. He carries the weight of the world on his shoulders and somehow comes through most of the time.

For years, I've been very interested in why he does that. Where did his guilt come from? And is that a weight he could ever shed? Out of that wondering came this story, which encompasses Chisolm's experience in Vietnam as a nineteen year old soldier which set him on a path that he only comes to the end of as a retired cop in his sixties. It's a story about redemption, the toll of war, and about personal peace.

Chisolm's Debt has now replaced The Last Horseman as the book I have designated for supporting veterans. Every November, all royalties from this title go to a veteran's support charity (currently Remind.org)...which brings me to....

4.  I Donated $1202.30 to REMIND.org

This felt great. Thanks to you readers, sales in 2012 were strong, and The Last Horseman was no exception. I was (really, we were) able to donate almost two and half times my $500 target to the veteran support organization Remind.org. I wrote extensively about why I chose this cause to support, but the short version is because it is the right thing to do. Our military members provide a tremendous service at great risk, and I staunchly believe we need to care for them when they return.

3. I Traveled to Italy for Research

In June and July, I traveled to Italia for a month with my wife and parents. It was certainly the trip of a lifetime from a vacation standpoint. Great locations, great company, great food, and great vino (lots of great vino). But my purpose was also to research for future novels. At the end of the month, I had three solid ideas mapped out. The first of them has bubbled up pretty high on the TO DO list, and is hovering in second place right now. So you can expect an action/thriller set in Venice sometime in the first half of 2014. A murder mystery set in Praiano (on the Amalfi coast) is also in the offing, as well as a generational saga that is a little bit of a departure from my crime fiction ways. You may need to read that one under my given name, even.

2. I Retired to Write Full Time

After a twenty year career with the Spokane Police Department, I decided it was time to take a leap. With the full support (even urging) of my wife, I retired to write full time. In fact, that's when I started this blog, and why it even exists -- to talk about that writing journey.

If you're thinking that retiring isn't such a ballsy move (my monkey threw poo at me and said it wasn't, that people do it all the time), let me add one element. I'm forty-five right now. The earliest I can draw my retirement pension is at age fifty. That leaves a five year gap.

Five years.

Yeah, there's where it gets a little risky, huh?

Take that, monkey.

But I'm lucky. Like I said, I have the full support of my wife (emotionally and financially) and we're making it work. And believe me, I'm tippy-tapping at the keyboard, too. Being a full time writer has been an adjustment but an exciting one. Thank you, Kristi, for making it happen. Thank you, friends and family, for being supportive. Thank you, readers, for buying, borrowing, and reading my work.

There's more on the way.

1. I Kept the Monkey at Bay

I hear ya, pal. I hear ya.

I'm just not listening.