Southern Scotch

Southern Scotch
After the Fall 2016

Friday, December 30, 2011

Drop Your Drawers and Let's See What You've Got

It sometimes seems we're asked just that when an agent asks to see the first 2, 5 or 10 pages of a book we know they'll love if they'll look at a few hundred pages.  In the same way, we know an employer would love us if s/he'd skip the silly interview and take our word:  we're dynamite and we can prove it.   Likewise, when we try to hook up with some smokingly hot possible partner, if they'd skip the ridiculous games and just climb into bed with us...well, they'd certainly never regret it!

But:

Most seductions are decided within a few seconds, or minutes, at most. 

Most job interviews are decided at a glance or within a few answers.

And an agent doesn't need to read a few hundred pages to know if s/he cares to read more.  Nor do the few pages requested have to have someone's head on a block or a triple homicide or the world's cutest cliffhanger.  The sample requested may not even hit any operatic high notes.  But it will have to hit the ground running in terms of  authoritative tone, narrative force and stylistic mastery. 

The best strategy we have, I think, is to knock the crap out of ourselves.  To stop thinking we need a hundred more interview questions or a ceasefire on seduction games or compassion from agents who'll sit there and smile while we clear our throats and take our time in getting into gear.

No.  Let's be cool, whip ourselves into shape, then send off whatever's requested, no more.  It shouldn't take a lot of time for us to show our stuff.  And we shouldn't feel a thing but thanks for anyone who'll read a word.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Do the hard thing as if it were easy

...and the easy thing as if it were hard.  I belive Musashi said that first, in his classic Book of Five Rings.  The advice came to mind as I put my helmet on and set to work on my query.

At some point in my years in the desert, querying became the part of writing that I dreaded most.  For a midlist writer, I believed, the hurdles were simply too high.  What name was I to use?  How did I explain my 'down time'?  How did I handle the career change to mystery?

By luck, I thought to take the time to flip through some of my past queries.  Oh, I had my share of rejections.  But I'd forgotten how often I'd gotten requests for the opening pages of past books.  And some of these requests had come from established agencies.  I still had a letter from Amtrak, awarding me an all-expenses paid cross-country train trip to research my third novel.  But the industry has changed as much as I have as a person and a writer.  What I needed to do was adapt my query style to the new work I bring to the table and the new publishing scene.  So...

Do the hard thing as if it were easy.  I didn't spend months or a year on the query, though I had thought about it for months.  I wrote the query in a morning without a thought in my head about seducing or psyching out agents.  I began with a hook far different from any other I've used:  positioning my novel by referencing the juggernaut/rival that arrives in January--and telling why, imo, that project is miles off course.  A brief summary of my plotline and thumbnail skectch of my lead character.   Why the book is my great passion and how I came to write it.   How I learned of the agent and why I am approaching him/her.  All this in well under a page.  Plus: the opening 5-plus pages imbedded in the e-mail, as requested.

Plan:  to approach agents open to e-mail queries first.  And to send these in limited batches instead of a massive blitz, since I need to stay open to feedback.

Will keep you all posted.  Happy holidays!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Back pack or baggage train?

Another way of asking that:  principles or applications? 

The childish part within us would always like to know:  what exactly do I need to do, say or write in order to succeed?  How exactly  do I ace the competition for this job?  How exactly should I start my query to make it stand out from the hundreds that cross this agent's desk this day?  How exactly do I start my book when more and more agents are asking for only the first five or ten pages?  Etc.

The wiser part of us knows that what works for another may not work for us...or what works today may not work tomorrow...or what should have worked tomorrow will be called because of rain. 

So it can be helpful to know assorted specific applications, though they may well already be completely out of date:  pick-up lines, interview strategies, others' great queries or opening lines...These are useful to know, but we'd all be damned fools to set out on our own unique journeys with baggage trains filled with specifics that have worked for others.

I say let's set out with our back packs instead, lightly packed with principles that will endure and serve us well if we have the pluck and luck to forge our own specifics:  E.g. :  Grab the reader by the throat and never loosen your grip...In a query or an interview, think about You(the other) and not your own miserable Me-Me...Seduce, don't rape, the reader...Be brief, be blunt, be gone...Etc.

End note:  I've never forgotten Robert S., a San Francisco businessman years before computers, or his massive, hand-carved desk.  The desk's surface remained, almost always, completely empty--except for one thing:  a 3x5 index card.  On the card, carried in his shirt when not set upon the desk, were the figures he needed to tell him how exactly his business was going.  Years later, I think of these figures as his principles.  The enduring things that he needed to know.  As for the applications--the daily decisions that he had to make--he remained perfectly fluid, guided by instinct and his own experience, not rules from books or others' words. 

The lesson for today endeth with one more abiding principle:  Always risk getting your face slapped for taking a chance on yourself.

Reb MacRath
The Electrifying New Internet Sensation

Monday, December 5, 2011

Monster in the Desert: World Premiere Photo Event!

You've been here too, I'm convinced of that, friends:  had an idea that would not leave your skull, but which you kept failing to follow.  Oh, logic had its reasons for you as well as me:  the idea was too wild, too this or too that.  Maybe your brains even told you:  You're not that kind of person.  Well, get a load of this one and know you're in good company.

Seven or eight years ago, an idea came to me for a photo event that I thought could make some waves, move a few viewers and get a few laughs.  Maybe even lots more than a few.  I imagined a pair of photos, Then and Now:  the first showing what I'd call The (Midlist) Monster in the Desert...the second showing his rebirth as he was 'goosed by luck'.  Now, the second shot wasn't the problem, though it packed some   challenges:  I needed to look svelte and charged, radiating energy--with a certain something extra I couldn't quite define.  Either a prop or...I didn't know.

The first shot presented the problem:  I wanted to look grossly fat, whacked-out and downtrodden.  I thought up ways to pull that off, including XXL clothes and stuffing.  But....how far was I willing and able to go to convey the spot-on essence of The Monster in the Desert?  For years I thought about this, brainstorming and backing off from increasingly wild ideas.  But bolts of boldness struck this year and I began to give in to my wild side.  I bought the most outlandish props, showing them casually to people who raised their hands in horror.  I practiced poses and expressions for a month.  Hell, what did pride or dignity matter compared to conveying the truth:  of how it felt to be a monster in the desert for so long.

Result:  the photo shoot this weekend went off without a hitch.  And, whatever reception it gets, I feel a delicious unburdening, now that my long-orphaned idea has a home.

Check it out on my Facebook page.  The official event date is December 10.  But, you never know, it may appear days sooner...:)

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Bigger the Trouble, the Better I Fly

 The competing juggernaut I described at the start arrives in January.  Though our story lines differ completely, the pressure's now on me to put on real speed since I am proceeding solo.  I'd first hoped to be querying agents by now.  But I've set that back till the end of the month for a couple of good reasons.

1)  The beta feedback received was terrific.  And one recurring comment about chapter 4 confirmed my own suspiciton that it suffered from Back Story Blues.  Since then I've found a way to get much of this upfront without sacrificing the consistent first person p.o.v.  This tough trick in progress will take a little time.
2)  Since I am flying solo, I need to go back through the first 80 pages that Brad, my ex-partner, had worked on.   However good his input was, I can't and won't use his words.  I'll consider myself blessed though for the lessons I received in clarity and speed from Brad.
3)  I'll need to do what I hate most:  come up with an outline and query that work.

Meanwhile--orchestration!--I whip the rest of the novel's tenth-drafted 300 pages into reading shape, honoring my betas.  And I take notes for the novel's last section which I have already drafted:  a 100-plus page hunt and siege.

Summary:  right now is the critical time zone.  This month.  Before that juggernaut arrives, I want the book's first fifty pages to rock...I want the next 250 polished to high glory...I want the outline and query completed...and I want to be already nailing the final 100 pages. 

No problemo.  I say, with my hero Boss:  The bigger the trouble, the better I fly.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Reb MacRath is Now a Solo Act

Because of a pressing family issue and teaching obligations, Brad Strickland has been forced to withdraw from Team MacRath.  The heading of this blog has been changed to reflect this.  But earlier posts will remain as part of the historical record.  Before retiring from the project, Brad did wonderful line editing on the first eighty pages and he will be missed dearly.  But 300 pages of the novel have been 'completed', the remaining 100 pages have been roughed out--and I've reworked the pages that Brad had revised, removing his wordage completely.  The novel remains on track for completion by Spring, 2012.  And it will be all the richer for lessons learned from Brad about clarity and smoothness of style. 

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Better Betas Make For Better Bets

Four of the five have responded so far, with useful and hardhitting feedback.  And since three of those four objected to the same opening narrative tack, the first order of rewriting business came home:  get it going more quickly and clearly by finding some way to portray a character who's already been killed off-stage.  His death off stage isn't the problem--the resulting backstory is.  Somewhere there's a lightning way to plant this character in readers' minds...without compromising the first person p.o.v...a way that leaves readers thinking 'Bummer, I'm really sorry he's dead."

One of the four objected to the killer clever opening, pointing out a line further on down the page that he felt was the right spot to start.  He was right.  The killer lead was cute and controversial, designed to get attention fast.  But it required too much explaining:  I didn't really mean that in the sense I know you thought, etc.  A man brooding on his client's murder  would certainly be in a much grimmer mood, best expressed in the suggested line.

Two big lessons sprang from the feedback.  First, be grateful for hardhitting feedback, expressed and in between the lines.  Betas in this instance had only a handful of pages and no outline to sketch out the story.  But enough expressions of 'This may be cleared up later' are a strong indication that things need to be clarified more quickly now.  Second, if the betas echo a little voice inside you you've been trying to ignore, then admit that you've known what to do all along:  I too had wondered, several times, about starting the tale at the line recommended by that one beta.

Oh, and make that three lessons, for here is the third:  We owe our beta readers.  Let their markers be well placed.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

I just murdered my darling--and liked it!

Kill your darlings, said Bill Faulkner--who, we should note, left quite a few of his own darlings unkilled.  This rule is grossly misunderstood and generally insisted on by those who don't have many darlings to kill.  But, like most rules that will not go away, it contains more than a kernel of truth.  Which brings me to my darling...

I'd been wanting to use a particular quip that had remained in my Pink Book of A-Lines.  And I' d decided, do or die, I really had to fit it in the book I'm writing with Brad Strickland.  With a shoehorn, if I had to.  But luckily, so I thought, I chanced on the just-perfect place:  a short scene between hero Boss and his young lover Mai  Lin.  Boss is more often away than he's not, so he's not completely up to speed on certain changes in her life.  The scene begins with him soaking in the tub while he helps Mai Lin with her American slang.

The sweet spot, or so I thought:  Mai Lin suddenly asks what it means when a boy tells a girl 'Put your mouth where my mind is and let's have some fun.'  Boss is furious and demands to know who said that to her.  She tells him, "No one.  Some boy on the street."  Boss calms down,  explains the phrase...then spies what appears to be a bruise on her arm, one she tries to hide from him.

Mai Lin has been sexually assaulted--the heart of the scene, instinct told me.  But instincts also told me--repeatedly, though I resisted--that in a short scene, such as this, the two incidents weakened each other.  Plus, Mai Lin may be depritved of sympathetic light if she's seen as attracting lewd remarks as well as sexual hardball.  Grumble, grumble, grumble:  surely I could keep the remark by having it turn out to be something the guy who assaulted her said?  Grumble, grumble, grumble:  No, if he'd said it, he'd have done it--and she'd know what it meant.

Solution:  Boss is still in the tub soaking, helping Mai Lin with her slang.  But she seems distracted...and then he spies the bruising on her arm.  This works.  It's simpler, faster and even dramatically purer.

Say hello to my dead darling, if you decide to repeat her.  And think kindly of poor Reb MacRath, who had to put her to pasture.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Excuse Me While I Thunder

What instruments we have agree:  It's best not to get toooo precious in the search for ways around monotonous repetitions of  'he said' in dialogue.  Some are shamelessly direct--another form of preciousness--in repeating it even where it doesn't need repeating:
  'It's raining out today,' I said.
  'It'll rain tomorrow too,' she said.
  'But what've you got under your knickers?' I said.
  'You didn't have to ask last night,'  she said.

Others wallow in the preciousness of complete nonattribution:
  Scene:  Bill, Bob and Marylou are out having a beer before...whatever.
  "You want another, Marylou?"
  "Who was that, Bill or Bob?"
  "I don't know, I'm already confused.  Bob?"
  "Better be.  I don't feel like Marylou."
  "But what about me?"
  "Which me are you?"

These and related thoughts are on my mind as we finetune the first pages for our beta readers.  Some decent working rules of thumb:  1)  in general, stick to 'said' but set the scenes up carefully--with the odd telling gesture--so that we always know who's speaking without having to repeat 's/he said'...2) Occasionally, a forbidden adverb can bring a 'said' sentence to life:  Lawrence Sanders was a master at this and at never overdoing it:  e.g., 'he said shortly'...'he said jovially'...3)  The right verb can also do the trick:  Now and then a profane phrase in Sanders will be followed by 'he thundered'--not 'said' or 'shouted' or 'bellowed'....4)  Break the rules now and then:  Brad Strickland likes to keep it simple.  But in one sentence he has a medical examiner 'opine' instead of 'say '--and we get a flash of character that would have been lost if the line had been toed.

Back to work, I say...and Get it right, I thunder.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Are Your Book's Terrific Tatas Undone by Gross Patooties?

For  tatas, you may substitue six-pack abs or long schlazong.  In any case, the point remains:  of the thousands of books that are pitched every year, so many of them look so-o-o-o-o fine--High Concept, compelling characters, terrific action sequences--you'd swear that every one of them could be a Times bestseller, till...

Yep.   Darned right.  You know it's true:  99% of them have perfect teeth and awesome tans, but once you get past all of that, you get the backside view.  Oh, boy.  You now see a humungous BUT:
the book's too long, too short, too ineptly written, too burdended with back story, too slow, too choppy, too this or too that or too anything else that simply can't be gotten around.  You shake your head and say, Oh dear, that But is not for me.

So let's put on our helmets, gird ourselves for war...and resolve to work our Buts off!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

To Beta or Not to Beta?

In the game of American WrIdol, we have a lot in common with contestants on the 'other' show.   Our first audition--really an audition to get an audition--is the speed query letter.  Safe to say that, like the singers, we get fifteen seconds--one or two paragraphs, tops--to stand out from the sweaty herd and make the second cut:  a look at the opening pages.  Then, with luck, we're off to Vegas for a Live Audition--a look at the completed ms.

One aspect of AI and, better still, The X-Factor, that should be studied more closely is the importance of feedback and coaching to those who go the distance.  When a hair's breadth--a hare's breath?--may separate the simply irresistible from the almost good enough,  the right Beta readers may provide the needed edge.

Brad Strickland and I have decided, before we go to market, to send the first fifty pages to a carefully chosen group of five we know we can count on feedback that's clear, concise and tough.  But we'll only get one chance with them.  And we've got to be certain we're sending our best.  What if we were to send the pages first to two pre-Beta readers with a list of simple questions:  Is this clear, is it quick and compelling?  Etc.

The trick hinges, I believe, in finding Betas who can groove on our goal to be one of the five in a hundred* who do not read just just like everyone else.  If they've got that groove on, great.  Better yet, if they can groove while helping us to raise the bar and remain true to our goal.

* David Morrell wrote that 95 books in a hundred read as if they have been cloned.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

"Would you please squeeze my succulent peaches?" she asked.

A woman asked me that the other day in the Produce section of Harris Teeter, Charlotte's world-class grocery store.  This was a grown woman in a business suit of a decent cut...a little on the mousey side but not unattractive...and there she stood with a peach in each hand, each peach the size of a small--well, you know...and she wanted, winky-wink, my opinion about the firmness and the ripeness of the pair at hand.

No, thanks.  Freud said something or other about cuteness and sex.  And whatever he said, I agree.  You go, Sig.  There's room for humor and wit in sex, room for both raunch and romance.  But, as I now work on the sex scene in our novel, I'll pass on succulent peaches, juvenile James Bond-type puns, winky-winks and smirky-smirks...and show two adults at play, as adults.

Here's hoping readers get off on the diff.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Slide Over and Hear Writing's Feelthiest Word!

The feelthy word is:

Strategy.

There's no shortage of good advice on plotting, characterization, pacing, punctuation...But strategy, if it's considered at all, has a vaguely feelthy, manipulative ring.  As if great writing comes about through a magical combination of the right chemicals or drinks ingested, the right number of notches on one's bedpost, the right stands taken and the right enemies fought, the right things liked, the right things loathed--and if all of these things come together, making one a Writer...why, the books pop out and there we are:  on the right talk show or loving the right Bunny at Hugh's mansion.

We talk about drafts and revisions, for sure.  But not in terms of strategy but rather as some boring price we must pay.  But my own eyes were opened when I read Coach Joe Gibbs' Game Plan for Life.  The book includes samples of Gibbs' own game plans, breaking down the plays by feet to be accomplished.  Or, as Al Pacino roared in Any Given Sunday:  It's a battle of the inches!

Tonight, I sat down once again with the new book's first fifty pages before I pass them on to five beta readers. For the first time in my writing life, I composed a chart:  what's accomplished in each chapter...appearance of back story...number of pages of dialog...appearance of clues...etc.  Another chart will tackle only the first first five pages--all that some agents will read.  A third will deal exclusively with the only chapter afflicted with Back Story Blues.

I feel feelthy doing this--and I'm here to say that I love it.   Bring the battle of the inches on!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

On Getting Out of the New Ghetto: Age

It's the only ghetto that everyone grows into.  And the voices behind us grow ruder and more relentless:  'Step aside, old fool!  Make way!'

Writers have pretty much always had to battle their way into print.  The thing of it was, in the old days, writers had time to build a loyal audience while they went on to master their craft.  Today Elmore Leonard and Dean Koontz never would have got the chance to write the breakthrough novels it took them so long to accomplish. 

Ten years to mastery is a yardstick often used in any art, from martial to literary.  For some writers, however, the time needed may be fifteen years...or twenty...or even more.  And most of the writers I've met would say, 'Fine, I'm in this for the long haul.   I'm after greatness, whatever it takes.'   But here's the new catch that awaits them:  however well they handle they obstacles they face--family, financial, health, time--they'll be seen as from the new ghetto of age by publishers looking for something young and fresh.   And what a drag this is for readers, who--God love them--groove on the mastery and confidence that come from the long haul.

So, should we panic?  I think not.  Sensei Ueshiba, the founder of Aikido and the patron saint of SOGs (Slightly Older Guys and Gals) still rocked on the mat in his nineties.  We can't be kids and mustn't try.   But we can be rockin' SOGs with the hardwon discipline and craftsmanship we've managed to snag through the years...and whatever spectacular lit tricks we've managed to stow up our sleeves.

Let's hit the mats and not go down on our ghetto's bloody streets.  SOGs of the trade--unite!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Sunday Offering #5

"The four greatest words a man can learn are those he shouldn't have to speak.  Everything about a man should say these words instead:  from his tone to his eyes to his posture.  If he's really, really good, he can do it on the page.  And what are those four little, beautiful words?  'I'm lookin' at you. '   No woman or reader or target for an ad can resist anyone who has mastered those words."
--Casey W., West Coast guru who made his fortune and retired when most men are barely beginning

Prowl through any bookstore and heed your own responses to books you pick up and put down.  You're bound to see that those you buy are those that leave you wet from feeling the author is lookin' at you:  s/he knows what you want and delivers the goods in the most caring and confident way.  It's all about you and fulfilling your needs. 

Those you don't buy are the Me-Me's:  vanity productions or mental masturbations.  Pass. 

Practice intensely:  I'm lookin' at you.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

How to Get Goosed by Good Luck

Luck loves hip, happening peeps, I believe.  And we all begin by thinking that we're hip, happening peeps.  At some point, we can count on this, misfortune is sure to arrive.  Here's the catch:  bad luck seems to feed on spiritual 'joints' that have already been stressed...just as toxins in our body tend to attach to pre-traumatized joints.  My right shoulder, dislocated twenty years ago, flares up every now and then when I'm not eating right.  Ditto a knee cap I broke.  So far, so bad.  Now what about those spiritual 'joints'?  Lose your job, you start to fear you'll never find another one--and this tends to cripple the job-getting mojo, manifesting what we fear.  Or:  go a while without sex and you begin to fear never again getting lucky in bed...the very fear tending to worsen your luck. 

And so on and so on till we are not cool.  Till we're no longer hip, happening peeps who can climb mountains and figure stuff out.  Toward the end of my time in the desert, I could barely decide anything for myself or work out the simplest things.

I began with a mantra from Robert Greene's work:  Act like a king to become one.  And act like a hip dude to catch Good Luck's eye.  Learn, somehow, to figure out the ins and outs of this computer without asking everyone.  Make bold decisions.  Take chances and fail, but learn from every failure.  Make every move count and live fully each day with the sense of oneself as a happening peep that Good Luck would be dumb not to goose. 

Step by step, move by move, the stressed joints get their grooves back and Bad Luck's toxins disappear.

This is my report.

Reb MacRath
The Electrifying New Internet Sensation

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Your Life Depends on Answering: Portfolio or Paper Bag?

Portfolio Peeps dress to kill, attend the better writing schools, plug into the right networks, turn out uninspired but competent books they pitch like pros with rules absorbed from manuals for PPs.

They get most of the jobs, they land most of the book sales, they live in nice homes in the hills.

Paper Baggers, though, are their nemeses.  PBs are fierce, high-flying hawks that have sharp eyes for the main chance and can plunge from the sky at astonishing speed...and soar back up with rich rewards snatched from the maws of PPs.

Example:  The scene is a waiting room in a prestigious advertising agency.  Six PPs with hairdos no fingers are allowed in sit there in their killer suits, tapping their palms on their plus portfolios, all loaded with ads that are all by the book.  Who's that fellow in the corner, though, the one in the jeans and Doc Martens?  When's the last time he had his hair cut?  What are those, love beads, round his neck?  And, my gawd--really, nooooooo! Instead of a portfolio...could he possibly be holding a small brown paper bag?  What's going on here?  Could that crumpled paper bag contain one sample of his work...the only sample needed? 

Example:  Query letters.  The bigger agencies receive hundreds of queries a week--and agents have started complaining that many of these sound the same.   But of course!  Most of the PPs who've sent them have read the same guide books or been to the same web sites.  Grab your socks, though, and hear this:  one of the nation's top agents recounts that once she received a three sentence query on cheap stationery that knocked her right out of her chair.   She did not reveal the sentences that led her to say yes.  But we can be certain that a Bagger had sent her the query.

Today I think with pleasure on the great Baggers I have known.  The great Baggers I have read.  And I draw both comfort and inspiration from there.

Down with the PPs--up with the PBs!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Beat the Clock: Continued

The submission method preferred by most agents:  complete the novel first, however long that takes, then start sending queries.  The query process will take months at least.  Possibly much longer.

Meanwhile, Brad Strickland and I are up against a juggernaut, scheduled to arrive next year, with a storyline sharing at least one huge ingredient.  We started first, which doesn't count.  Besides, we don't compete with it but hope to synergize.  To that end, writing well--even writing brilliantly--can only be part of our game plan.  Our timing and our marketing will have to be world class.

Our progress report to date:
1)  Amy Strickland, Brad's daughter, completed a bold and breathtaking business card that captures the tone and the style of the book.   Meanwhile, Brad and I have decised a bold plan for the use of the card.
2)  Brad and I have decided to first approach his agent in mid to late November with the novel's first fifty pages.  Fingers crossed.  But better to know than to wait till next spring.
3)  We've begun to assemble a carefully chosen group of five beta readers to sneak preview the same fifty pages.
4)  Meanwhile, Brad works on the last pages I sent him while I go through the last section I'll write and wait for his revisions.  While he writes the ending, I'll go through all of his corrections and proposed changes so far.
5)  Today I began to consider a plan for New Year's--to keep us on track while allowing a rest from the intensive writing and editing.  The plan for his approval:  each of us will go through the 'completed' manuscript with his own list of things to watch out for:  time line, effectiveness and fairness in the layout out of clues, character development, consistency of imagery, etc.  After this dual cakewalk, the draft that counts:  the final one!

Friday, September 30, 2011

Prison Break!

Collaboration involves some new skill sets.  And some are harder than others to learn:  orchestration  being the toughest of the bunch for me.   I work on something according to my schedule, then send it off to Brad Strickland who edits or rewrites on a schedule of his own.  Meanwhile, I need to keep working if we're to stay on schedule...I've been helped by a vision that's grown stronger by the day:

A creative prison break with one man working on the roof--say, trying to break through an air vent--the other working in his cell, stitching their life vests or making an oar.  There's always something to do. 

Within the week, Brad will send back his rewrite of a major chunk and I'll send him the last pages I write, leaving him to write the long, action-packed closing section.  While he writes that, I'll go through his last rewrite, etc.

Tonight I've spent a couple of hours trying to find or make a place where a doomed character could pass on a critical clue.  And when I sign off this blog, I'll try to draft a one-paragraph speech in Scottish accent...using Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting for guidance.

Soon, when it's all down on paper, the real fun in our game, Beat the Clock, will begin.

Alternating chapters--the usual approach, I'd guess--is a good way to fly the collaborative sky.  Then again, certain books require their own strategies.  And when the Muse calls out 'Hey, baby!' I always lend an ear.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Sunday Offering #4

Master the instrument, master the music, then forget all that shit and play.
--Charlie Parker

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Reb MacRath tries a bold new tactic to get Rob MacRath to move over!

Summary:  Googling Reb MacRath today, I am referred unendingly to ROB MacRath.  No disrespect to Rob, but there's room for both of us online and he's simply gonna have to budge.   Now, Google does feature--in small letters--the question "Do you mean Reb MacRath?"

From the start this has been an adventure in play.  And I'll keep playing every day with Googling Reb MacRath, then hitting the Do You Mean option till the god in the machine gets the message and pulls up the links to Reb, not Rob, MacRath.

Certified as gospel truth by:

Reb MacRath
The Electrifying New Internet Sensation

Helllllllllppppppp! Has Anyone Seen Kelley Wilde?

You'll be hard-pressed to find former horror author Kelley Wilde on Google.  I know because I've looked...and I looked because I was Kelley Wilde.  You'll find a Kelley Cunningham Wilde and a Kelley Cotter Wilde (listed in Contemporary authors, but with no information preovided).  And if you look under The Suiting or Makoto or Angel Kiss or Mastery, you'll eventually stumble onto the forgotten name.

And in one way this is for the best.  Kelley Wilde has done far more than simply take on a new name--he has been reborn as two writers pooling their brains and their talents to defeat the dreadful Midlist curse.  Oh, vanity may still object to see one's name go up in smoke.   But there's liberation here as well--and an almighty lesson:  Protect your name and preserve it through artful online maneuvers. 

I shall do this now as follows:  Kelley Wilde is alive and well, forty-five pounds lighter,  working on a big new book with his partner Brad Strickland.  The opening pages will be shown to a carefully chosen group of five Beta readers in mid-November.

And for those who've missed the announcement:  the last, horrifying photo of Kelley Wilde will appear on Facebook November 10, alongside a jawdropping photo of the monster reborn as a boytoy.  The gospel truth from:

Reb MacRath
The Electrifying New Internet Sensation

Friday, September 23, 2011

Reb MacRath Plays High-Stakes Cards with 50 Cent and Robert Greene

It's true.  I play Five Card Draw with both:  a life or death version invented by me and based on their great book, The 50th Law.  The book is both a study of fearlessness, each of its ten chapters covering a separate front...and it's also a thrilling chronicle of 50's rise to fame and wealth through mastery of all ten, including the new Wild West we know as the Web.

Now, self help books, like diets and books about how to quit smoking, are mostly doomed to fail.  Then readers move on to the next...and the next...The great trick is to find a way to keep the wind behind our sails once we've set course and reality hits and we feel ourselves drifting from our hot resolve.

How could I keep this incredible book from falling by the wayside with others that changed into yesterday's trash?  I needed a way to keep the ten principles fresh in my mind--and, at the same time, to keep the fire burning in my belly.  Also, I needed to jack up the ante, recording my progress and playing for keeps, compelling myself to take more and more risks.

Result:  the daily game of Five Card Draw I play with 50 Cent and Robert Greene.  Real cards.  Real risks.


Gotta go.  I've just drawn today's cards and once again I'm up against two supreme hustlers who know how to play.  In the audience, inside my head, the seats are filled with stars I love:  Rod Stewart, Lady Gaga, Roarin' Al Pacino, Lord Byron, Richard Boone...Their smiles tell me 'Go, boy.'  And I begin to play my hand.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Hello, Hello, You Google Dings!

This morning I checked yet again, expecting still more of nothing...but a search of Reb MacRath resulted in five dings, resulting mostly from the linked blog and Facebook page. 

Hopefully, the god in the machine will pick up the major event I've listed on FB:

The world premiere photo event scheduled for November 7, springing upon the world a horrifying photo called Monster in the Desert:  the first photo of former horror star Kelley Wilde in over twenty years. (Reb, you may say, you've already announced that!  I agree while adding:  it never hurts to repeat feed the god in the machine.)

Reb MacRath
The Electrifying New Internet Sensation

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Arrival of the Mighty Roar

Of all the midlist monsters, I was the quietest, raised to behave and always speak in a soft, genteel voice.  Even when a well-known agent screamed 'Are you friggin' insane!' after I'd personally pitched a new series emulating one by a favorite dead author.  (A year later, I found a new novel listed with the same title she'd blasted--and today, on bookstore shelves, a series paying homage to the same dead author has been begun by a pop mystery writer.  Apparently, ten years ago, my idea was not insane.  But I whimpered off with my tail between my legs, where it remained for a decade.)

In the desert, though, without much else to do I set out to work on my soft, well-mannered voice.  If I ever got another chance, I knew I'd need an instrument that could roar as well as murmur..set the house on fire as well as give the crowds a hug.  Oh, this didn't come easily.  But I had time, oh yeah, I had nothing but time all those years.  With only the snakes and coyotes to hear, I began to try to raise my voice just a little bit higher each evening.  Until they stopped yawning and lent me their ears.

Back from the desert, I had a new dream:  to speak one day, even if only that once, to a crowd of monsters like myself.  And, with the fire blazing in my gut, I'd give a great speech that began:

"There's a crackling in the air, a hot new nervous energy, as midlist monsters round the world storm the castle, lanterns swinging, like villagers in an old fright film..."

I'd go on to talk about the stupid tragedy of putting to pasture published pros who'd spent years--even decades--perfecting their craft...seasoned vets discarded at the very moment when they were ready to reach higher ground...

Then, in a voice twice as rich as Pacino's I'd roar:

"We've got the stuff, we've proven that, and our gifts are in full bloom now.  So, turn us loose just one more time--and WE WILL MAKE YOU MONNNNNNNNNNNEYYYYYYYYYY!""

Sunday Offering #3: Belated

If you write or want to write, put this on your Events calendar:  November 7.
On that date, a world premiere will appear on Reb MacRath's Facebook page, in the Photos section.

There, you'll find two pictures: 
1)  A horrifying portrait of the midlist monster in the desert.
2)  A new photo of the recharged Reb with the fire back in his belly.

Warning:  Nick Nolte's notorious mug shot pales beside the first.

Friday, September 16, 2011

How Facebooking Freed Me

I've carried a weight that crushed me for nearly fifteen years:  what should have been a source of pride and consolation.  I mean the four novels I published.  But I'd come to hear the death knoll sound, in my own mind, when these books were mentioned:  What?  Those four old books that only sold about 10K copies each?  That old guy?  Etc.

But I made a bold decision after a decade and a half of pussyfooting.  I'd be upfront on Facebook about the previous pen name, my publishers and the dates of publication.  I also decided to reach out to friends and colleagues I'd drifted from as the sense of my failure crushed me. 

Result:  in just a week I've built up a small but solid base of friends.

Resolution:  continue to explore FB as not only a tool but an art.  Today I learned how to pull up lists of upcoming birthdays and I'll be paying closer and closer attention to how the masters use FB:  David Morrell and Ray Garton are two of the savviest teachers around.

I've known from the start that new footwork will be required for this game.  So let's get to it daily with a more fearless spirit.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Facebook Freaking Floors Me!

I had no idea how user friendly Facebook is:  notes re friends in common, suggested friends, regular e-mails regarding responses related to anything I've posted on, alerts re responses to friendship requests. 

I'm moving slowly, in an organic fashion.  I began with friends from the CommanderBond forum, which I frequented for years.  Then I tried approaching writers whom I used to know years ago, but fell out of touch with.  With a couple of exceptions, all friendship requests have been accepted...resulting in more suggested friends.

Today I checked out an agent, Don Maass, whom I've known for a long time.  Don confirms in his Profile that he uses Facebook to check out writers' Facebook pages.  So I'll continue to fine-tune my own Profile page.  And I sent a friendship request to Don.

Progress report: 21 confirmed friends, 5 requests still out there.

Next step:  get a good picture to post there.  Don Maass has raised the bar with his own photos.  Try to match and raise the bar.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Sunday Offering #2

Hot tip for any aspiring writer who may have chanced on this blog:

Get sick of books you can't put down.  Almost anyone can write one with a bagful of shockeroo plot twists and sharp, gleaming hooks.  Write a book we can and must and do put down repeatedly:  to gather a tan in the sun of its style or savor a tryst with a foxy young phrase--and to catch our breath, of course, from the shockeroo plot twists and sharp, gleaming hooks!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Outright Thieves and Space Vampires...Or: Wait a Second, That's My Book!

Fact:  When I lived in Toronto, I came across a great story, one so hot I knew that it would be my first pro sale.  I phoned the city desk at the Toronto Star, where the editor agreed.  "But why should we give it to you?" he then asked.  "We have our own reporters."  Wahhhhhhhh!  Luckily, I rallied and called the Star's rival, the Sun.  They were outraged by what had happened and agreed to publish my version of the tale.  The Star's scoop beat me by a day but I broke into print at last.

Fact:  Around the same time, I sent a short-short story to a well-known, extremely prolific fiction writer who also lived in Canada.  I never heard back from her.  But about 18 months later, she published a short-short in Playboy.  Different title.  Her own words.  But the story was the same, with an identical final plot twist.  Wahhhhhhhhh!

Fact:  About seven years ago,  I received a form rejection for a nonfiction proposal.  But at the top of the form was a handwritten note in large letters:  "CALL ME!"  I did and asked him timidly, "Was the form rejection a mistake?"  He said, "No, you write wonderfully but no one can publish your nonfiction book because you don't have a platform--you know, an online reader base and big bucks to sink into touring."  But why had he asked me to call him?  "Well, in your query," he said, "you mentioned a secret plan to help writers go on tour at a fraction of the cost.  Tell me about it and maybe it can help some of my writers."  I slammed the phone down and cried, "Wahhhhhhhhh!"

Oh, I have other stories.  But, call me a slow learner, I've learned how to deal with thieves.  Effectively and legally. 

Space Vampires are the more serious threat.  To hope to succeed in the market today, our books must be great--and our queries must rock.  Because speed is of the essence.   Ineffective queries that make the rounds for months, then years, reinforce the presence in the air of hot ideas.  Ideas are far less often stolen than thought about and talked about in casual conversations:  decent people trading quips or scoring points for insight.  In time, no one even remembers the poor aspiring writer who came up with the idea.  Or that his proposal contained the phrase "The Monster Tour" long years before Lady Gaga.  The idea was in the air.

Moral:  Write brilliantly.  Then bleed nearly to death in writing a query that brings down the house.  Get an agent who can help you beat the Space Vampires to the draw.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Stieg Larsson Never Said 'But Mommmmmmmmmm, Everybody's Doing It!'

In fact, his terrific trilogy could never have been published in the U.S. first.  Not with the original title, Men Who Hate Women.  And not with Lisbeth Salander as Larsson had portrayed her--a borderline psycho who bucks The Great Law:  Readers must have a likable lead...,who must be shown as likable within the first five pages.  Furthermore, Larsson seems not to have heard certain pressing Lesser Laws:  Avoid long passages of dialog...Avoid summary mode...Show, don't tell...Avoid back story...Or maybe Stieg had heard these Laws but decided to do it his own way instead.

The irony has grown acute:  agents and publishers who wouldn't have given the great Swede a dime are now looking for the next Larsson. 

The three books Big Daddy Stieg left us are flawed.  But I'll take each one of them as is over pretty much anything else on the shelves.  I salute his independence, his non-herd mentality and his stubborn refusal to cave to the Laws cowards and clones rush to follow.

Come on, Big Daddy, smile on us and on our own Law-breaking mystery.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Reb Makes a Major Internet Discovery!!!

You read it here first:  It's called Facebook...and my prediction is that it'll rock the world!  Now, this'll have to go through the strictest testing in the world-famous Reb MacRath Lab.  But it appears to be a form of--if I might coin a phrase--social networking online.  After completing your profile and mounting your photo if you have one, you can import Friends from your various e-mail accounts, etc.  Heck, you can even ask folks if they want to be your friends--including, quite by accident, a high-powered agent you really don't want to tick off!  Do you begin to see why Reb feels a little excited?  But let's keep this to ourselves, okay?  Last thing we need is 15-20 million people doin' the same thing we are!  Check out Reb on Facebook, where you can also find Brad Strickland--who beat me to the draw.


Reb MacRath
The Electrifying New Internet Sensation!

Did Amy Winehouse Shag Clark Gable's Ghost?

Absolutely not.  But now that we've cleared that up, we'll let the title stand as is because Hook-ing is the theme today:  the difficult, perilous art of commanding the attention of readers already bombarded with pitches and hooks from klutzes who haven't a clue.

After an outrageous hook--one that may even be somewhat amusing--the average klutz will say, "Okay, now that I've got your attention..."  The superior klutz will transform him or herself into a verbal pretzel, trying, trying--oh, so hard!--to relate the fab hook to their query or book.  The end result though is the same:  we can't help feeling betrayed, even slimed.  Our time is too precious for kidstuff like that.

The need for caution with our hooks has nearly reached the sky as more aspiring writers learn the speed approach online:   Begin with a great killer hook and wrap up the query in 200 words...Not a word about your theme or any suggestion of style...Don't waste time talking about your character or theme...Keep your query style bland--this is a business letter...Etc.  But thousands of queries that all sound the same may result in yours getting the boot at a glance.

Rightly so.  For it's trickier to write a query than a business letter.   A query is actually part biz and part ad.  We need to sound professional while sending off sparks of what sets us apart. 

These thoughts are much on our minds as we begin to prep our query and fine-tune the opening pages.  Let our hooks be strong and honest ones, each sentence driving us on to the next.
Observations based on Reb 1's ten years in advertising, the successful pitching of a syndicated newspaper series, four published books...and about 10,000 lifetime queries.

Reb MacRath
The Electrifying New Internet Sensation!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

On Partnership and the Pleasure of Not Being Perfect

From one of my favorite books, The 50th Law, recommended in Sunday Offering #1:

"The public is never wrong.  When people don't respond to what you do, they're telling you something loud and clear.  You're just not listening." 
--50 Cent


I note a sea change in my thinking, an almost total absence now of fearfulness of error.  And I've come quickly to relish the joys of e-mailed light from my partner:  what's not clear, what's too slow, where I've slipped into lonnnnngggg summary mode, etc.  I look forward to these e-mails and the chance to perk my ears.

Reb MacRath
The Electrifying New Internet Sensation!

Computer Skills Report Card: First Week

The bad news first:  straight F's in resolving problems with Comments.  So far, we remain limited to Anonymous comments only.  Am unable to even send PMs to new Friends.  I receive, unendingly, one message telling me that I'm already registered to Google Friend Connect...then another message telling me I'm not!  An e-mail to their help section results repeatedly in links I'm unable to use:  nothing happens when I click on them...and I can't enter them as new URL's (can't cut and paste for some reason and they're too long to type in URL bar).e
    Update at 4 p.m.:  the situation grew so bad, with me being locked out of the site temporarily after trying a different tack with Comments that I've had to abandon my efforts for now. 

The better news:  B or even B-plus for relating the diary format to readers' own interests and concerns.  Also for acquiring quickly a decent working knowledge of how to get the word about and score some Google dings.

The good news:  A+  for persistence and ingenuity in overcoming a dreadful case of Can't-itis:  I can't learn that/I can't do that/etc.  Baby steps so far, it's true, but baby steps advancing to a sensational Can-Can!

Reb MacRath
The Electrifying New Internet Sensation!

Time and the Art of Midlist Monstering

Sometimes we need to remind ourselves that time--and timing--can be as important as talent in major undertakings. 
--Though our own book has been in development for well over a decade, 'the juggernaut' arrives next year.  The storylines could hardly be more different, but the projects do share one key ingredient.  Best case scenario:  synergy between the two.  And yet the pressure's on us to complete our book before the juggernaut arrives.
--The usual collaborative method--alternating chapters--didn't work for us.  'Nuff said.  Instead, our own MO evolved, one that fits well with the theme of the book.  One of us is always doing one thing or another and, without getting on each other's nerves, we need to keep communication lines open 24/7.
--We also needed to decide on when to start querying agents.  Though they prefer completed manuscripts, and some insist on exclusive reads, the juggernaut's arrival factors into our approach.  Works in progress can be sold--and examples do abound.  Or we may find an agent who loves what s/he sees and is willing to wait a few months for The End.  Strategy:  pre-queries to five dream agents.  One positive response so far. 

Whoops, my watch is beeping--time to get back to my part in the book!

Reb MacRath
The Electrifying New Internet Sensation!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Sunday Offering #1

Hot tip for any aspiring writer who may have chanced on this blog:


The two books you simply have to read are The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman and Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose.  The first book's as scary as anything by Stephen King and shows how agents do, and must, judge manuscripts on the strength or weakness of the first five pages.  (One long nonfiction book was rejected after speed-reading a single page picked at random from the middle!)  Impossible to read this book and keep any hope of having fifty or a hundred pages to get a tale in gear!

The second book covers everything from dialogue to pacing, description to characterization, with superlative examples of the way to fly.  Writers could do worse than reread this great text once a year.

Reb MacRath
The Electrifying New Internet Sensation!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Reb MacRath laughs as he stumbles and learns

The list of things that I don't know could reduce a filled stadium to tears of helpless laughter:  Here are just a few E.g.'s:

--I don't know what Twittering is, though it does seem to be all the rage.
--For my life, I can't figure out how visitors to this blog are supposed to leave their comments.
--I still don't know how to get the god in the machine to grant me Google dings.

Enough, enough!  If it's electronic, I don't know it.  And if it's computer-related, I know it even less. 

But if becoming a star were easy, everyone would do it.  Do I stumble?  Yeah, you bet.  But I'll tell you something:  there's a crackle in my eyes and fire in my belly as I set out to feed the god in this machine...mastering the Online Speed Hustle. 

Gotta go.  For I've advanced to a better class of problems, superior to my old woes in every way.  These are problems worthy of a rogue like Reb MacRath!

Reb MacRath
The Electrifying New Internet Sensation!

The all-important starting question: Who is the enemy?

It's important to remember this:  when I first began to publish, the market was nothing like it is now.  My publishers, Tor/St. Martin's and Dell were putting out anywhere from two to four horror novels a month.  And it seemed those days would last forever.  The general wisdom being tooted then by some established pros was that the writer's worst enemies were either the agents or the editors.  I was advised by one now forgotten Wise Old Hack to tell my editor to be a good little girl and publish what I'd written as written...or get lost.  And what about my agent?  His language can't be printed here.  Essentially he advised to find 'em and forget 'em once we got our checks.  Where is he now, I wonder.

No, the agents aren't the enemy and neither are the editors.  However brutal the industry's gotten, it is still peopled mostly by men and women who love books and authors, men and women much like us:  fearful of the changed terrain and fighting to survive. 

Until about a week ago, I might have answered my question like this:  the situation is the enemy.  But that too would have been wrong.  Dead wrong.  The situation is our friend, though its claws and teeth are frightening.  The situation is our friend if we allow it to push us as we've never been pushed...if we're willing to think till our heads hurt about new strategies, new possibilities, new ways to connect.

So, let us say this morning:  Hellllllloooo, there, you scary friend, you toothy situation!  Meet your match in Reb MacRath, the Electrifying New Internet Sensatsion!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Lady Gaga is the Love Child of Stephen King and Cleopatra

Strictly creatively speaking, of course.  And there's a lesson for us all.  The King part is clear enough:  she's an insanely imaginative creature of the night, as cozy with her demons as suburban wives are with chihuahuas.  The Cleopatra half, though, is where we need to focus:  she's a thrillingly shameless media seductress and a steely empress in charge of her career...she's utterly lacking in fear genes and willing to follow her instincts, tramelling any who stand in her way...she rules her subjects by seeming to surrender.

Memo to past fears and petty inhibitions:  clear the deck, we're moving on and learning to boogie like monsters online!

Reb MacRath
The Electrifying New Internet Sensation!

The rules of engagement

Challenges in learning how to sizzle on the web:  I have no idea how to engineer hits or dings or whatchamacallems on Google.  How are folks to find this blog?  How do we use, persuade or teach the god in the machine to signal readers/agents/editors Googling our subject to check us out?

I don't know the answer.  But I've come to love making mudpies:  I don't mind wearing mud all over while I learn what I need to know by whatever means are required.

First step, decided today:  begin to sign all postings on any sites I visit "Reb MacRath, the Astonishing New Internet Sensation" and see if this generates interest.  If it doesn't, learn what does.  Cook those mudpies, Rebster!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Midlist Monster Arrives

Reb MacRath is the pen name of two published, award-winning authors pooling their talents together to defeat The Midlist Curse.  Things are tough all over, yes.  But the changes in the publishing industry have led numerous high-powered agents to claim that it's easier to sell a new writer than one who's published and spent years perfecting his or her craft.

The half of Team MacRath who began this blog published four novels with two major houses...won an international award...had his first novel optioned for film...and has spent the past fifteen years battling The Midlist Curse.  (One of the nation's top agents claimed the author had written "possibly the greatest Christmas story ever written--but one that can never be published".)  The other half of Team MacRath has published sixty novels ranging from horror to sci/fi to mystery to YA--yet his new proposals are getting thumbs down.

Our project:  an epic mystery concerning a revenge plan that spans fifty years.  The book itself was first conceived about fifteen years ago and has taken this long to gel.  The hero, a Southern Scot, is more than a little bit different from other mysery/action heroes. 

The plotline?  Well, it's strong enough that we find ourselves battling a juggernaut--a sort of distant relation--scheduled to arrive next year.

We'll need to learn some new footwork if our baby's to survive.  And I thought it might fun to chronicle our progress here as two SOGs (Slightly Older Guys) learn how to boogie and blog, fighting for their lives to master the electronic hustle.

Tune in for more reports!