AshEdit—News About Books & Writers

August 7, 2017

Steve Hodel – Homicide Detective, Black Dahlia Murder

Filed under: Uncategorized — ashedit @ 10:36 am
Elizabeth Little

Elizabeth Little, new prez, Mystery Writers of America, holding her first thriller DEAR DAUGHTER, which has gobbled up first-novel awards.

Thanks to the generous hospitality of Elizabeth Little, current President of the Mystery Writers of America, SoCal chapter, I got to spend wondrous hours at a backyard picnic table with  STEVE HODEL, author of five books based on the Black Dahlia murder. Along for the convo was Maxine Nunes (Dazzled). (Maxine is a mistress of sentence-craft and an author I love to read.)

Maxine & Steve (1)

Maxine Nunes and the great Steve Hodel. Holding down the background are Richard Brewer (left) and Steph Cha (right).

The murder occurred in Los Angeles, 1947, and has been the basis of countless novels, hodel-home-rightscreenplays and movies. The most incredible thing about all this is that the murderer was Steve’s father, Dr. George Hodel–a brilliant and charismatic doctor, who threw parties for Hollywood glitterati, while leading a double life as a secret serial killer.

We dined on fine southern BBQ as Steve revealed that his latest research points to the same Dr. George Hotel as the Zodiac killer of San Francisco.

Every hard-crime writer should know of Steve Hodel and  his work. That he had the guts and fortitude to do the right thing and out his own father as a brutal maniac strains the bounds of my mental capacity (and I don’t say that lightly!)

Thank you, Steve, for your incredible example as a writer, a seeker of truth, and as an honorable former member of law enforcement. Steve’s website. Steve’s books.

E&SHodel2

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July 7, 2017

Book Distribution News

Baker and taylorI was thrilled to hear that a librarian in the the great state of New Jersey had already ordered Bestseller Metrics: How to Win the Novel Writing Game. But when I hopped over to Amazon, the sale was not showing. Neither was it showing on Create Space, where this workbook-sized paperback is published. I admit, dark thoughts of piracy and theft bubbled in my mind, but caution prevailed.

I called the helpful-and-instantly-available support staff at Create Space and ran my story past them. It was explained that when the book was published, I had chosen “Expanded Distribution,” qualifying Bestseller Metrics to be listed with distribution giants Baker and Taylor, Ingram, and Barnes and Noble. How about that, huh?Print

There is one caveat to this fantastic perk, however; royalties are tabulated 30 days after Barnesthe production of the book, unlike a sale on Amazon or Create Space, which shows within hours.

Mystery solved with a happy ending.

June 27, 2017

Elaine’s Big Shoot – Part 2

Filed under: Uncategorized — ashedit @ 5:21 am

Even though the Author Learning Center is taping my interview in a rather glamorous setting, they want it relaxed and not too formal. Believe it or not, the picture below is the valet parking area of the hotel (which they pay for on my behalf). Too bad I don’t have a valet parking kind of car. The attendants are going to think, whoo this lady made a wrong turn. After staring at the picture for five minutes I figured out that that grey cylinder thing above the yellow striped curb is where you sit and wait for your car if you don’t want to sit inside on that orange modern-arty chair.

Valet parking

An Author Learning Center interviewer made contact, and I was impressed with the amount of research she put into my career and background. These people really check you out! Look at this….

Here are the suggested questions for your interview. Responses to each should be limited to around 4 mins. or less to keep the content convenient for viewing by our members.  Please let me know if you have any concerns or have any other talking points that you would like to cover:

·         Your latest book release, Bestseller Metrics: How to Win the Novel Writing Game, has been called “Moneyball” for novelists. Explain how this patent-pending system works and how writers can benefit from using this approach. How did you go about creating this system? How do you see this impacting the publishing industry?
·         You’ve helped hundreds of writers – both emerging and established – prepare their manuscripts for submission to agents or publishers. What are the key elements that make a manuscript stand out to an agent or publisher? What are the most common mistakes that you see new writers make in their first manuscripts?
·         How important is it for new writers, especially, to consult/hire a professional editor? How should they go about finding the best fit for their genre and writing style, and what can they expect when working with a professional editor?
·         You’ve had great success writing award-winning, crime fiction stories under the pen name, Anonymous-9. What was your reason and strategy for establishing this pen name? Two common questions from our community are A) when to use a pen name and B) how to be successful when using one. What has been your secret for effectively marketing work under your pen name, while also promoting your editing services and other work under your business name, Elaine Ash?
·         What is noir or hard-boiled fiction? Where/how can writers in this genre best reach their target audience?
·         Reviewers have said of your award-winning Hard Bite series, “Hard Bite singlehandedly stretches the boundaries of modern noir fiction”, and of your short story collection, “A9 has the most unusual, vivid, colorful, complicated, and freaking fun imagination you are ever likely to come across in your lifetime.” How did you get started writing in this genre and how do you keep the intensity and edginess to your writing interesting and fresh?

Isn’t that something? It all happens on Thursday. Wish me luck! Elaine Head '17

 

 

June 26, 2017

Elaine’s Big Shoot

Filed under: Uncategorized — ashedit @ 6:04 am

Elaine Head '17On Thursday I’ll be shooting a lengthy interview with the Author Learning Center. They discovered Bestseller Metrics all on their own and contacted me about being a “featured expert” on their site (if all goes well, of course). I can even use their professionally produced clips from the shoot once they get edited, at no cost.

Believe me there’s more to this than meets the eye. The helpful on-camera tips they sent (below) mean my new outfit is out the window. No white jacket, which “glows” on video. Back to the closet for outfit two!

Tips For On Camera Appearances.  (Copyright Author Learning Center 2017)

You’ll be wearing a microphone – Be aware that a lavaliere or lapel microphone is attached to your clothing. Keep that in mind when choosing your outfit.

Focus: While on camera, focus on the person interviewing you or the camera person. Do not look straight into the camera. Pictured below: The set for the shoot.

TidesAdditional Tips:

  •  Bring water, as you might find your mouth gets dry when nervous.
  •  Bring your book or other promotional items in the event that you get a chance to showcase it on camera.

1. Tone: Casual. No need for suits. The idea is that the audience is getting to connect with you personally.

  1. Clothing Patterns: Wear a solid colored outfit, nothing with wild patterns (especially tight patterns like pin stripes or hounds-tooth, which can cause optical illusions on screen, or busy patterns and shapes – they draw the audience’s attention to the outfit instead of you).

    Clothing Color:

    1. Pick a color for your clothing that isn’t the same color as the background you’ll be sitting in front of (no pink tops in front of a pink wall).
    2. Avoid wearing black, white, bright orange or bright reds (white glows, black can wash you out, red is too saturated and can bleed into other parts of the picture, giving the same effect as they can bleed in your wash). These colors can cause problems on video.
    3. The best solid-color shirts are: blue, beige, off-white, etc. If you wear a bright white shirt or blouse, make sure to wear a darker jacket over it.
    4. Avoid too much bright to dark contrast – either the bright or dark color loses detail. For instance, pure black and navy blue clothing will lose all detail and appear like a solid dark blob.
    5. For men: If you’ll be wearing a tie, simple is best – Bring several options. Avoid complex patterns, thin lines, or bright reds and oranges.

      Tip: Presidential Candidates always stand in front of a royal blue curtain background because that color happens to be the most flattering to most skin tones – It literally makes you “pop” out of the background. It’s also a good color to wear close to your skin. A royal blue blouse or shirt will make you look terrific.

       

      Interesting huh? Tomorrow I’ll post the interview questions they’ve prepared for me.

June 24, 2017

Bestseller Metrics Released

Filed under: Uncategorized — ashedit @ 5:21 pm

Watch me on video.

“Look inside this book” on Amazon.

I hate flogging, so I’ll leave it at that. The book is selling well with the little publicity it’s had so far, and a mystery film crew (which I’m waiting to get permission to talk about), has summoned me to Santa Monica for an hour-long interview about the Bestseller Metrics system this Thursday, June 29th. I’ll let you know as soon as I can say more.

BM Front cover

 

June 3, 2017

Novel Structure from a New Angle

Filed under: Uncategorized — ashedit @ 7:33 am

I’ve coached hundreds of writers on their novel manuscripts. The same writers who nail dynamic characters and lustrous prose sometimes need a little more time at the workbench when it comes to structure. To my way of thinking, if so many writers need help with structure, there should be a ton of books on the topic, just like the tons of books on writing characters and good grammar. But, there aren’t.

So, I decided to write one.  BM Front cover

My approach to novel structure is different than the standard ‘how-to’ book. Long ago, I started seeing mathematical patterns in bestselling novels, even though I flunked out of grade ten mathematics and thought I had no interest. However, the numbers kept leaping out of novels as I read them, and clocking me in the head, so I started writing them down. When I showed my work to fellow-writers like Dana King and Dan Kelly, they saw a similarity to the early work of Bill James, who invented Sabermetrics for baseball. I hadn’t even heard of him until then!

Excerpts on structure will be posted here over the coming weeks. There’s a new website, too: bestsellermetrics.com in case you want a sneak peek.

Bestseller Metrics: How to Win the Novel Writing Game will be out in a week or two. I’m interested in getting a few reviews, so if you do that sort of thing, please send a message.

 

September 21, 2016

BESTSELLER METRICS—How to Win the Novel Writing Game

Filed under: Uncategorized — ashedit @ 1:17 pm

“It’s Moneyball for novelists.”  —Dan Kelly

moneyball

Promotional poster for the movie of how Sabermetrics revolutionized baseball. The system was invented by Bill James when he worked as a night security guard in a pork and beans factory.

After a decade of novel editing, it was time to write down some of the information compiled  inside my head. The result? A book called Bestseller Metrics, also a patent pending system by the same name that can catch and diagnose many writing mistakes that development editors get paid to find. The manuscript is not yet finished, and I’m actively soliciting feedback, not just from senior authors (who might say nice things if they like it), but also unpublished writers who could benefit from using the system.  (Note: Response was huge and the trial is closed for now.)

I need to say here that I’m not pushing a formulaic style of writing. In fact, my system frees writers from formula to reveal principles that underlie successful novels. It works  for writers of most genres who have a full-length fiction manuscript from 50,000 to 150,000 words that they’d like to sell.

I start with an intensive examination of handpicked bestsellers in popular genres. Here is the first test a writer can easily apply to their own work:

         Character Counting—Believe it or not, most bestselling novels feature a similar number of characters in the first quarter, whether it’s recent hits like Harry Potter or The Hunger Games, or an all-time classic like The Big Sleep. What’s a very common problem with beginning manuscripts? Too many characters appearing too frequently to keep track! Bestseller Metrics catches the problem early and offers proven solutions—even for unfinished manuscripts.

Here’s an excerpt about the rationale behind Character Counting:

No matter how many minor characters swirl in and out through the mid-story, it’s a core cast that shows up at the beginning (or almost the beginning) and marches through to the end of any novel. Incredibly, the average amount of characters that carry through is 12— whether book length is 70k or 146k.

           Once you test a novel, any novel, on the character count of its first and last quarter, you gain a new perspective on continuity. The numbers are not subjective—character continuity is either there or not there. The results are like an x-ray into the skeleton of the story. It’s not the whole picture, but it’s an important part of story foundation.

            If the number of surviving characters in the last quarter is too low, this may signal a lack of interconnected relationships that flesh out the “world” of the novel. (Please note emphasis on the word “may.” Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice is a notable exception. Why? Because vampires live forever, outlasting all the human characters.) A low number may also indicate an absence of subplots that serve to keep interest high on a number of levels. Subplots develop on the strength of characters, and if they’re not there in the last quarter, it’s doubtful they’re there at all.

   If the number of surviving characters in the last quarter is too high, there’s risk of not enough page time for the core cast—readers don’t get acquainted with them enough to develop a bond. Characters start whipping by on the page, or drop in and drop out before readers have the chance to form an attachment. The more bonded readers are to your characters, the more invested and enthused they are likely to be about the story.

How to Test Your Manuscript

A series of simple tests, done on paper, asks questions about your story. Results are easy to calculate—anybody who can count from one to ten can do it. Scores are then compared to those of famous bestselling novels in a variety of genres, and suggestions are provided for improvements.

The system has pinpointed and solved problems that stubbornly elude writers’ groups, workshops, how-to books, and even critique in MFA programs. (In fact, I’m hoping educators will adopt the system as a tool in their writing classes.) It works for writers with a finished manuscript or one-in-progress; prepares beginners before they begin writing, and acts as a powerful tool in the hands of any seasoned professional who wants to deconstruct their literary competition.

 

What People Are Saying

Elaine Ash is surfacing the boundary between art and science. She is a pioneer. —Dr. Timothy Allison-Aipa, Statistics PhD

[BESTSELLER METRICS] codifies insights that I have been groping toward in the dark for years.   —Albert Tucher, author

This is one of the most enlightening books on writing I’ve read, and I’ve read a lot of them. —Rochelle Staab, President, Sisters in Crime SoCal

“I’m a big believer in the value of empirical evidence over anecdotal. Yours will be the first book I’ve ever seen that applies those principles to writing without coming across as pressing for a formula.” —Dana King, Nick Forte series, speaker, P.I. novel expert

“Why settle for subjective feedback about the inhabitants of your manuscript when industry book doctor Elaine Ash has discovered the great novels all share serious math. Compare your character list to those of the literary champs and learn why numbers tell their own story.”—Jack Getze, Author, Austin Carr Mysteries, Fiction Editor, Spinetingler

It shows you how others have written successful bestsellers, not how to fit your work into a formula. It makes you aware of the rules, so that when you DO break them, you know WHY and WHEN to do so.—Sam Wiebe, Last of the Independents, Invisible Dead

Elaine Ash doesn’t teach you how to write in this book, she teaches you what works using a method that revolutionized the entire industry of baseball already. Learn how to play moneyball with your creative writing! Benoit Leliévre, Deadend Follies

 

 

June 28, 2016

Dana King – Writing the Private Eye

Filed under: Uncategorized — ashedit @ 7:21 pm

If you’re seeking expertise on the PI novel, it makes sense to ask a Shamus Award nominee. (For the uninitiated, PI stands for Private Investigator, or Private Eye.) You’ll want someone well versed in the oeuvre with a library of titles stored in the grey matter, ready for instant recall. Mastery of the craft goes without saying, and in the looks department your expert must seem at home behind a battered manual, or  nursing a Wild Turkey at some local gin joint.

The first name that comes to mind is DANA KING.Dana.King dark headshot

I first heard Dana speak in Albany at Bouchercon 2013. He wasn’t the headliner, the room was restless as he walked to the podium, and my eye was roving to the exit for a quick getaway. But as Dana started to speak, the room quieted. A respectful attention took hold, and Dana let us know he had the goods. He knew Chandler’s writing, knew the genre, and knew how to blow long and soulful riffs of information that had us wide-eyed.

I never forgot that presentation. Spinetingler magazine published a glossy version of it in 2013, but here are the original notes, written in Dana’s noir voice which delivers clear and clean. May I suggest a little Chet Baker horn in the background as you read on?

Dana writes his own PI novels, of course, and A SMALL SACRIFICE, starring Chicago PI Nick Forte, was nommed for the Shamus Award’s Best Indie PI Novel for 2013. His earlier novels were praised by Charlie Stella, Timothy Hallinan, Adrian McKinty, Leighton Gage and more. His first traditionally published novel, GRIND JOINT (Stark House) was named by Woody Haut in the LA Review of Books as one of the fifteen best noir reads of 2013.

And now to the talk I never forgot…

Dana King Header

I assume you’ve all read Chandler?

Have you read the essay, The Simple Art of Murder?

If you’ll indulge me a few minutes, I’d like to read the key feature, which is what this session is all about:

The realist in murder writes of a world in which gangsters can rule nations and almost rule cities, in which hotels and apartment houses and celebrated restaurants are owned by men who made their money out of brothels, in which a screen star can be the finger man for a mob, and the nice man down the hall is a boss of the numbers racket; a world where a judge with a cellar full of bootleg liquor can send a man to jail for having a pint in his pocket, where the mayor of your town may have condoned murder as an instrument of moneymaking, where no man can walk down a dark street in safety because law and order are things we talk about but refrain from practicing; a world where you may witness a hold-up in broad daylight and see who did it, but you will fade quickly back into the crowd rather than tell anyone, because the hold-up men may have friends with long guns, or the police may not like your testimony, and in any case the shyster for the defense will be allowed to abuse and vilify you in open court, before a jury of selected morons, without any but the most perfunctory interference from a political judge.

The Big Sleep

The Big Sleep (1946)

It is not a very fragrant world, but it is the world you live in, and certain writers with tough minds and a cool spirit of detachment can make very interesting and even amusing patterns out of it. It is not funny that a man should be killed, but it is sometimes funny that he should be killed for so little, and that his death should be the coin of what we call civilization. All this still is not quite enough.

 

In everything that can be called art there is a quality of redemption. It may be pure tragedy, if it is high tragedy, and it may be pity and irony, and it may be the raucous laughter of the strong man. But down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. The detective in this kind of story must be such a man. He is the hero, he is everything. He must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man. He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor, by instinct, by inevitability, without thought of it, and certainly without saying it. He must be the best man in his world and a good enough man for any world. I do not care much about his private life; he is neither a eunuch nor a satyr; I think he might seduce a duchess and I am quite sure he would not spoil a virgin; if he is a man of honor in one thing, he is that in all things. He is a relatively poor man, or he would not be a detective at all. He is a common man or he could not go among common people. He has a sense of character, or he would not know his job. He will take no man’s money dishonestly and no man’s insolence without a due and dispassionate revenge. He is a lonely man and his pride is that you will treat him as a proud man or be very sorry you ever saw him. He talks as the man of his age talks, that is, with rude wit, a lively sense of the grotesque, a disgust for sham, and a contempt for pettiness. The story is his adventure in search of a hidden truth, and it would be no adventure if it did not happen to a man fit for adventure. He has a range of awareness that startles you, but it belongs to him by right, because it belongs to the world he lives in.

 

If there were enough like him, I think the world would be a very safe place to live in, and yet not too dull to be worth living in.

* * * *

Forty years ago, Robert Altman deconstructed Marlowe as a character in his film version of

The Long Goodbye

The Long Goodbye

The Long Goodbye.

  • “Rip van Marlowe” on the set and when discussing the screenplay. (Written by Leigh Brackett, who also wrote the screenplay for the best Marlowe movie, The Big Sleep, with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. Of course, she had help from William Faulkner on that one.)
  • Altman set out to show the idea Chandler ideal had become an anachronism, no longer relevant to the hipper 70s.
    • The irony is, Chandler knew Marlowe was a man out of his time when he wrote him. There are two overt references to knights in The Big Sleep; in both Marlowe acknowledges he’s out of place, going so far as to say of a chess problem, “This was not a game for knights.”

 

Here’s the real question: if even Chandler knew his hero was an anachronism when he wrote him, when would Marlowe not have been?

  • Think back to the description of Marlowe’s time. Substituting the vice of the day for Prohibition, when have those conditions not applied? They’re certainly true today.
    • Are witnesses still afraid to testify?
    • Are witnesses—and victims—abused in court?
    • Who makes things right for these people, if the systems—both legal and de facto—do not?

 

The PI is, by definition, an outsider.

  • Otherwise he’d be a cop, working on the inside. (You understand we’re talking about fictional detectives, right? The lives of actual private detectives resemble what we’ve come to expect not at all, with rare exceptions.)
  • This has plusses and minuses, both in real-life and fiction.
    • He cannot compel anyone to talk to him,
    • he can be beaten up with impunity,
    • arrested for doing things a cop can do almost without thinking.
  • On the other hand, the PI gets to choose his battles. (At least fictionally.)
Ross

Ross MacDonald

The fictional PI can look into things the average cop never touches.

  • Could Ross Macdonald have explored the rotting foundations of crumbling families with a cop, or did Lew Archer have to be a PI?
  • A cop concerns himself with who and what; why is nice, but is primarily important as a way to get to what, or to help to convince a jury as to who. His caseload is too great to do otherwise.
  • Private eyes are paid to find out why, which often compels some worthy introspection. Cops are about closing cases; PIs are about closure.

 

PI stories are also better suited for ambivalent endings.

  • A cop’s job is to catch the bad guy.
  • The PI can appreciate the bittersweet nature of all cases, balancing the satisfaction of solving the mystery with the knowledge of his pre-ordained failure: no matter what he discovers, things can never be put right. The dead are still gone.
  • The cop can catch the killer and exact a measure of justice; the PI may be brought in to clean up the mess that doesn’t quite meet the necessary standard of illegality.

 

The situations where a writer with some imagination can place a PI are almost limitless.

  • Find a reason for the PI to be involved, and, if you want to be realistic, to get him paid.
    • Ross Macdonald and Declan Hughes explore dirty family secrets.
    • Travis McGee—not really a PI, but close enough—is, in most respects, an insurance investigator who earns a living collecting recovery fees, just not from insurance companies.
    • The Maltese Falcon gives Spade an interest in the murder because it’s his
      MalteseFalcon1930

      Original cover 1930

      partner who has been killed, yet he never overtly investigates it. Spade solves the murder almost as an afterthought.

 

I’ll admit PI stories are currently in a decline.

  • A sign of the times.
    • People’s fear or terrorism has led them to seek out apocalyptic thrillers, here omnipotent government agencies send agents who’d whip James Bond’s ass and not break a sweat out to thwart baddies who want to destroy not just whole cities, but “our way of life.” (Jack Bauer, anybody?)
    • This is not a time for outsiders; it’s outsiders who caused all this trouble in the first place. No one wants to deal with the troublemaker who turns our protectors on their back to show how much clay in their feet.
  • Public perception to recent events may signal a change.
    • Government interference into people’s lives—real and perceived.
    • People may become more sympathetic to the outside who holds abuses up to the light when even a person of good conscience may not be able to do so from the inside.
    • I don’t mean to make this political; I’m taking no sides here.

 

Who steps into the breach when people have had their fill of super-governmental agencies?

  • Jack Bauer is not going to go private

    Jack

    Jack Bauer – 24

  • Jack Reacher walks his own path.
  • It must be an outsider—almost by definition—but an outsider with an inviolable code.
    • He won’t get everything he wants
    • he understands he’ll never put everything right again; the ripples of what he’s investigating spread too far.
    • He understands his victory is in the struggle itself. In the beginning of The Little Sister, Chandler wrote in Marlowe’s voice:
    • It was one of those clear, bright summer mornings we get in the early spring in California before the high fog sets in. The rains are over. The hills are still green and in the valley across the Hollywood hills you can see snow on the high mountains. The fur stores are advertising their annual sales. The call houses that specialize in sixteen-year-old virgins are doing a land office business. And in Beverly Hills the jacaranda trees are beginning to bloom.
    • The man we’re discussing can see both and not let one detract from his appreciation of the other.
    • He’s a man who may need to appear to be not as straight as he is, but whose compass can be relied on to point him in the right direction.

When this man becomes irrelevant—well, we’ll have bigger problems than deciding which book to read.

Visit DANA KING online.

June 4, 2016

Dana King Coming Soon

Filed under: Uncategorized — ashedit @ 2:20 pm
The lecture that rocked Bouchercon Albany
is now in print by popular demand.
"Follow" this blog to get an email alert the minute it's up.

Dana King Header

 Dana.King dark headshot

March 21, 2016

Les Edgerton Drops BOMB

Filed under: Uncategorized — ashedit @ 6:07 am

Bomb Coveer

BOMB Page 1

BOMB ARC Page 2

Believe me, the Background/Introduction to BOMB is a primer for adventures in publishing, and rivals the story itself. Release date: March 22, 2016

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