A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

Three days since I finished this excellent book, it’s still stuck in my head. You can read a more complete description at Amazon. Here’s mine:

Count Alexander Rostov is placed under house arrest in the Metropol Hotel in Moscow in 1922. For life. Because art loves constraints, telling a story within the confines of a single building helps make this both deep and broad. There’s an understanding of Soviet thinking I’ve rarely seen. In the sweep of more than three decades, the joys and pains of life take on a stoic Russian feel, especially in the author’s footnotes which tell us “don’t pay attention to this character, he’s not as important as the scene might suggest” or “sadly, this character, much as we’d love to see them again, leaves our story here and never returns.”

… more … “A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles”

Left Coast Crime: Why it’s not for me

I try to keep this blog on the topic of my books, and not the business of selling them. This post is a long commentary on why I’m glad I went to Left Coast Crime in Phoenix, and why I won’t be going again. If that’s not exciting to you, I’ll see you Friday when I get back to some kind of blogging schedule.

As I noted earlier, the short version: glad I did it, wouldn’t do it again.

My first writing conference, so perhaps my expectations weren’t realistic. I was looking for either opportunities to make fans, or information about writing craft. Neither happened.

This conference is designed for fans to meet and listen to their favorite authors. They did give me a 20-minute session in a side room, attended by 3 people. Fun, but not productive.

conferenceLike every convention there were opportunities for people to drink and mingle. I spent the d&m time with my wife instead. (More on that below.)

I heard some interesting panels. But if I’d formulated specific questions and gone looking for the answers I would have found them on the Internet. There is always a certain undefinable emotional benefit to being surrounded by 300 authors and 400 mystery fans, but it’s not worth the $300 conference price to me. (I stayed with friends in Phoenix so I spent $70 in gas and parking rather than $555 for the “convention special” hotel rate.

… more … “Left Coast Crime: Why it’s not for me”

And the Winner Is . . . (What I’m Writing Next)

ocean-fenceIn my latest newsletter I asked for input about which of these works in progress should get my attention after I finish A Still, Small Voice and Jake Calcutta and the Temporal Lisle. (If you want in on stuff like this, sign up for my newsletter.)

  1. The 3rd Irish adventure — From the Fog (follows Through the Fog and Into the Fog)
  2. A 3rd Phil Brennan mystery — A Short, Sharp Shock (follows A Long, Hard Look and A Still, Small Voice [not yet published])
  3. More scifi/adventure — another Jake Calcutta (follows Jake Calcutta and the Temporal Lisle [not yet published])
  4. More Jesse Donovan (follows That She Is Made of Truth)
  5. The Village Id — a witty cozy mystery set in a small English village filled with quirky characters; very P. G. Wodehouse. Check out the 1st chapter.
  6. Coming of age story — a young teen’s life is disrupted when his family has to move in with relatives; he turns to music for comfort
  7. Anacrusis (a mystery with a female lead) — A woman dumps her unfaithful fiancee and moves to a small town where two men amorously pursue her, while one of them awaits the life insurance payoff from the first wife he murdered.

… more … “And the Winner Is . . . (What I’m Writing Next)”

What Music Videos Teach Us About Author Readings

author-readingThe early days of music videos taught us a number of things, but one of the biggest lessons I took was that musicians cannot necessarily act. The first corollary is that bad acting spoils an otherwise good video. The second is that a bad video takes some of the joy out of a good song.

Stretching a bit more: find video of Irving Berlin, playing piano and singing. Perhaps the worst singer capable of carrying a tune in all history.

… more … “What Music Videos Teach Us About Author Readings”

Contrast and Brightness

One month ago at this moment our yard was silent and white. A foot of snow covered everything, including the lake. The pines had a light frosting of white and the darker bark of the elms and walnuts stood out from it all.

Nothing moved. No sound but a tractor in the distance.

contrasting seasons

… more … “Contrast and Brightness”

What I Think About the Rules of Writing

this rule, we followMost of them are nonsense. Unlike this sign we saw in Ireland —>

Big discussions recently about toward and towards; see also forward(s) and backward(s) and whatnot.

People want rules. I get that.

… more … “What I Think About the Rules of Writing”

Weights and Tangles: Stumbling & Dragging in a Tangle

tangled weightWe are Sisyphus.

We are Ahab.

We are Kanye. Sorry, but we are.

We don’t let go. We claim we’re cursed by the gods to keep pushing the stupid boulder up the stupid hill, but that’s not what’s really happening. We think it’s about the white whale, but it’s us. We pretend it’s about art.

… more … “Weights and Tangles: Stumbling & Dragging in a Tangle”

Authors Starving in China

sproutsIf you’re old enough, you remember a scene, whether in real life or on TV, of a parent telling their food-fussy child “Eat your sprouts; there are children starving in China!”

(If only the kids could send their Brussel sprouts to China. But I digress.)

Do hungry children in another land make it more important for your kids to eat well? Perhaps there’s a thin, very thin, connection with showing appreciation that we don’t go wanting. Try telling that to a kid facing a pile of Brussel sprouts.

How often have you heard an author decry the lack of quality in self-published books, saying that lack of quality hurts us all?

Let’s mull this over, shall we?

… more … “Authors Starving in China”

Finishing

Chapter 1 went live on January 31st (because that’s when I wrote it.)

I’d had the first sentence rattling around in my head for decades. I typed it, for something to do, and the rest of the first chapter came out as if I’d already written it.

The way it ended, I knew I had to keep going.

“Going” is right. In 58 days I wrote 56 chapters. During that time we also moved everything we owned into storage in order to move out of the house we rented before we left for a month-long business trip, which we also had to pack and prepare for, while maintaining some semblance of our normal life.

When people tell me they don’t have time to write, I marvel. … more … “Finishing”

Why is Silence the New “No” ?

I get a lot of spam. Not the autobot machine stuff; Gmail filters all that out. I get lots of emails from real human beings who want to help me optimize the SEO for my websites or to provide coding services for my web company.

I used to reply this isn’t a match for me, but that seemed to invite dialog, which also isn’t a match for me thank you very much.

Now I just delete them.

Most of the time they’re canned emails these folks are sending out to anyone who has “website” in their portfolio.

There are other people I’ll move heaven and earth to respond to. Real people, who approach me about something real. A question about publishing or the web or music. Real people who know something about me, and took the risk of putting their hand out to a stranger.

Sometimes, though, I can’t help them. … more … “Why is Silence the New “No” ?”

Right and Wrong and Tolerance and Best

photo http://www.sxc.hu/photo/857772 by Jose Bernalte http://www.mrkstudios.com/Unprecedented tolerance. Personal freedoms. No idea left behind. DIY.

Everybody’s opinion is equal, and opinions are more important than facts.

I have seen people who can’t spell or punctuate properly, in the comments on Amazon, dismiss the writings of brilliant minds like Daniel Kahneman simply because they haven’t bothered to find out who he is and they happen to disagree with him.

It is popular to pretend that all ideas are equal. All roads lead to Rome. Every method has merits, and everyone should find their own path.

Tolerance is great. But there is still, often enough, a “best way” to accomplish something.
… more … “Right and Wrong and Tolerance and Best”

Leveling Up: Thinking Less Like Poor Folk

Poverty changes how you act, in non-obvious ways.

It’s clear that the good quality screwdriver which will last a lifetime, for $6, is better than the junky screwdriver you’ll have to replace in a year for $3.

What slips past folks who’ve never lived in poverty is that if your choice includes “and the other $3 will buy flour so you can bake bread all week, otherwise, you get no bread” then you buy the cheap junk screwdriver.

And then again next year.

Multiply that by every single small purchase decision you make and you’ll quickly see that when there isn’t enough money, it can be almost impossible to escape.

image http://www.sxc.hu/photo/1426350 by gvdvarst http://www.sxc.hu/profile/gvdvarst
… more … “Leveling Up: Thinking Less Like Poor Folk”

What Do Archery, Forgiveness, and Fear Have in Common?

The fingers of your dominant hand wrap around the bowstring. After aiming, you slowly open your hand. That’s it, just straighten your fingers. You don’t push or snap or yank. Just, let go of the string.
… more … “What Do Archery, Forgiveness, and Fear Have in Common?”

Expectations Are Reality So Know What You’re Delivering

Just spent a frustrating hour on the phone with AT&T. Normally, they’re just fine. We’ve had our cell service through them for years, and everything has been simple and obvious and working.

Sunday, I called to order a new line and a new iPhone. They let me choose a new number I liked.

It was easy; too easy . . .

… more … “Expectations Are Reality So Know What You’re Delivering”

A Date is Just a Date, As Time Goes By

I get all excited and focus on how cool it is to finish things. I get excited about releasing 6 books at the same time, and having it fall on 11/11/11 because, hey, isn’t that nifty? I plan great big audacious things because I know I can do them.

What I don’t do is focus on the process which will get me there.

I think I’m gonna kill me some goals.
… more … “A Date is Just a Date, As Time Goes By”

A Profound Truth About Coming Unglued and Getting Unstuck

In the past couple months more than one person has, out of the blue, asked me what was wrong. I’ve noticed it myself: more tough mornings, more cancelled work days, more struggle to create, then flopping into TV-watching or eating instead.

During the past year I’ve been aware that there’s a seismic shift making its way from my inside out.

During the past six months I’ve realized it’s the rest of what I started 10 years ago.

The rest. As in, perhaps it’s the end of an era and, by definition, the beginning of one.

the bridge over the River Laune in Killorglin, Co. Kerry, Ireland
… more … “A Profound Truth About Coming Unglued and Getting Unstuck”

Shipwreck and Salvation

Consider this scenario:

Barton and 51 acquaintances share ownership and use of a gorgeous sailboat. One week a year, they each get to take this beautiful home with sails wherever they want to go. Sometimes a few of them join together and spend two weeks, three weeks, even a month out at sea.

One dark night when Barton is sailing, the boat starts to sink. He doesn’t know why. He does everything in his power to prevent it, but it’s beyond what he can do to keep it afloat. Reluctantly, he abandons ship and watches it go down. He survives unscathed, other than the deep-seated emotional trauma of his loss.

But that’s not the end of it.

shipwreck and salvation
… more … “Shipwreck and Salvation”