Category Archives: Romances; also, novels with Fabio covers

Give me something, something I can read

I’ve got a long road trip and 10 days of no exercise allowed after a spot of surgery (it’s not a tumor!).

So I need things to read. You know, book-like substances, printed bits of dead trees.

And I want a honking pile of them.

Therefore, good people, my plea is simple. Sock it to me:

  • Nominate a popular book that’s actually horrible and I’ll bleed red all over the first page
  • Tell me your Favorite Book of All Time so I have something delicious to chew for hours
  • Hit me up on Twitter, gmail or the comment sections if you want to collaborate on an insanely creative and secret project
  • Give me a movie or music video you want dissected and taken apart, to see how it works like magic or smashes into the hard, heartless rock named Fail
  • If you’re not a nancypants who’ll wind up in therapy, ship me the first page of your WIP and I may ink it up and whip it back, because EDITING IS CRAZY FUN

Also: You’re right, that headline riffs on a Don Henley song. Here it is, live.

The Red Pen of Doom’s Greatest Hits Collection: 10 Epic Posts

  1. Epic Black Car deserves good owner; are you worthy?
  2. The Mother of All Query Letters
  3. Why every man MUST read a romance – and every woman a thriller
  4. The Red Pen of Doom impales FIFTY SHADES OF GREY
  5. The Twitter, it is NOT for selling books
  6. A BOWL OF WARM MILK AND MURDER
  7. 30 achy breaky Twitter mistakeys
  8. Writing secret: Light as air, strong as whiskey, cheap as dirt
  9. The Red Pen of Doom murders THE FOUNTAINHEAD by Ayn Rand
  10. Quirks and legs matter more than talent and perfection

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Guy - Photo by Suhyoon Cho

Photo by Suhyoon Cho

 

Reformed journalist. Scribbler of speeches and whatnot. Wrote a thriller that won some award and is represented by Jill Marr of the Dijkstra Literary Agency.

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Filed under 4 Writing Secrets Wednesday, Fiction, Red Pen of Doom, Romances; also, novels with Fabio covers, Thrillers and mysteries

Why creativity gets squashed like a bug

Oh, everybody says they want something new and creative. But as this article from Slate shows, even places that are supposed by be hotbeds of artistic and creative genius, like magazines and ad agencies, are often machines built to squash the life out anybody who dares think outside the box.

Now, that's creative. I salute you, random dad.

Now, that’s creative. I salute you, random dad.

You see this in so many places.

Newspapers, which I adore, all did the same thing in reaction to the Series of Tubes: “Hey, let’s not let this train pass us by. How about we innovate by doing what every other newspaper is doing. We’ll put all our stories on this Interwebs for free, then money will pour through the windows from all the banner ads.”

They didn’t question the fact that other papers doing this were bleeding more money than Kim Kardashian on a 12-hour shopping spree.

All these newspapers and magazines did the same thing everybody else was doing. But expected different results.

People who thought outside the box, who said (a) make people subscribe to the paper to read it online or (b) don’t put it online at all, because then people won’t subscribe and advertisers won’t advertise and America will lay off 15,000 journalists, well those people got ridiculed as crazy. They weren’t hailed as creative prophets, avoiding doom. They were seen as nuts and the people in charge ignored them.

PETA and the creator of Dilbert, Scott Adams take a different approach. Instead of doing the safe thing, and what everybody else is doing, the guerrillas at PETA and this random nerdy looking man who worked at banks figured out you can’t plan on hitting a grand slam on your only at bat. You can’t even count on hitting a single, or getting the baseball over the plate.

On paper, getting the gall over the plate looks easy.

On paper, getting the gall over the plate looks easy.

Successful creative types are idea hamsters who try dozens, or hundreds, of different things. Because you can’t predict what will be a world-smashing success, and you certainly won’t somehow break through while doing the same thing that 185,892 other people and businesses are doing.

Scott Adams didn’t have a master plan to become a syndicated cartoonist. In his books, he writes about having dozens of long-shot ideas, and that for somebody who couldn’t draw when he started out, being a cartoonist wasn’t exactly a sure thing. He kept swinging for grand slams and kept missing until Dilbert took off.

PETA doesn’t have the bazillion-dollar advertising and marketing budget of corporations like Coke and Ford, or even non-profits trying to cure cancer and such. PETA gets all their publicity from free ink and airtime. Do they guilt magazines, newspapers and blogs into covering their cause? No. They try dozens and dozens of wild, creative long-shot ideas, most of which fail spectacularly. Why? Because the one idea that takes off can get them free press around the world.

I wrote a series of posts about PETA and publicity stunts for about.com, back when The New York Times owned that blog. (Related: I can say that, as a journalist, I cashed checks every month from the NYT, then got fired, though technically all of the contributing writers got axed, so it’s not as romantic as going on strike and getting replaced by the staff of the Lower Kentucky Valley Register, then walking into the editors office and handing in your resignation via a punch to the nose, which every journalist does dream about at one time. I had fun, and they were kind to me, and I learned many things by writing them down.)

Here’s one of those posts showing how PETA makes it happen.

Social media is the other big area where you FEEL like you’re being creative and different, when actually, you’re doing the same thing, oh, about 1 billion other people hooked up to the Series of Tubes are trying to do. Except you’re expecting a radically different result. While that may be magical thinking, it is conventional, safe and boring–not creative.

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Guy - Photo by Suhyoon Cho

Guy – Photo by Suhyoon Cho

Reformed journalist. Scribbler of speeches and whatnot. Wrote a thriller (FREEDOM, ALASKA) that won some award (PNWA 2013). Represented by Jill Marr of the Dijkstra Literary Agency.

 

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Filed under Fiction, Romances; also, novels with Fabio covers, Speechwriting, Thrillers and mysteries

Mixed Writing Arts is to writing as MMA is to fighting

Since the dawn of time, writers have spent their lives toiling in their own secret tribes and guilds, each clan claiming to have mastered the One True Art.

  • Copywriters swore their kung fu was far more powerful than that sissy screenwriting nonsense, because if you can’t sell tickets to a movie, the movie doesn’t get made.
  • Working journalists cranking out two stories a day scoffed at poets spending all week on five hippie lines about trees and clouds, while poets saw the mass-production lines of the Priests of the Inverted Pyramid as lacking any sort of soul or art.
  • Romance authors gathered in huge, organized conferences while mystery novelists gathered in small secret groups to put a dent in the global bourbon supply while trading secrets and lies.
  • Speechwriters clutched their tomes with 2,000-plus years of wisdom from Plato, Aristotle, Burke and countless other giants, who were inventing rhetoric and drama and comedy long before Syd Field arrived in Hollywood and Blake Snyder started saving cats.

To me, with a foot in all of these worlds, it felt false.

I got started in journalism and speech, my sister is a screenwriter and I have a great literary agent (Jill Marr!) after writing a novel that won some award.

It hit me, again and again, that I got better as a writer not when focusing like crazy on one thing, but by being exposed to other aspects that often would never have entered my mind as an option. Like hanging out with romance authors and editors, who have made me 100-times stronger as a writer. NOBODY COULD HAVE PREDICTED THAT.

Hear me now and believe me later in the week: There is no one supreme writing art.
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Filed under 4 Writing Secrets Wednesday, 6 Friendly Friday, Fiction, Romances; also, novels with Fabio covers, Speechwriting, Thrillers and mysteries

Why this man is joining the RWA

It wouldn’t be a shock for me to join the International Thriller Writers, since I just wrote a thriller that won some award and have done 5.83 zillion profiles of authors for The Big Thrill

And wouldn’t be surprising if I signed up with the Mystery Writers of America.

So why would a 6’3 Swede who writes thrillers pay $95 to join the Romance Authors of America?

Five possibilities:

  1. I secretly write romance novels involving dashing one-eyed pirates and the kidnapped baronesses who love them under the pseudonym Scarletta Bounty.
  2. My wife reads 4.6 romance novels a day and believes she’ll get a volume discount.
  3. Fabio talked me into it.
  4. I have an illness that manifests itself in the random scribbling of checks.
  5. My love of joining things, and going to meetings, is so strong that resistance was futile.

Except none of those are right.

This blog accidentally started because of romance authors and editors. One of them found my silly ad to sell a beater Hyundai, told her friends about it and the thing went viral.

I went on to write a number of things about romance novels, and every one of those posts got more hits and comments than normal posts. Here’s a sample:

So am I joining RWA out of gratitude, or because I’ve made so many friends with amazing writers and editors who happen to be in the romance genre?

No. I’m doing it because it’s smart.

There are plenty of male authors who I’m friends with, and they’re good people. Fun, charming, interesting and happy to help with expert advice when I have a dumb question.

But I’ve thought about this, and it’s no coincidence almost every writer and editor I truly collaborate with is a woman. My editor-of-all-editors, Theresa the Stevens, my beta readers and editors, my literary agent Jill Marr—there’s a long list. (Related post: Some of my favorite editors OF ALL TIME)

The trick is, writing may be a solitary act—but only WHILE YOU’RE DOING IT.

Writing in a world-class way takes more than one man, or one woman, endlessly banging on a keyboard. It takes a team and a plan. Editors for story and structure, line editing, proofreaders, agents, publicists, cover designers, printers, marketers. Doing a book, and doing it right, takes a huge team of talented people.

Female authors and editors, especially in the romance genre, get this team idea better than anybody I’ve met.

The whole thing boils down to this: a dozen of average people, working together, will beat a bunch of geniuses doing their own thing on the football field. Put a team of organized geniuses out there on the artificial turf and hand them a pigskin and they will absolutely crush the lone-wolfs into powder.

The RWA is organized. They put on great workshops and their website is full of useful research and posts about readers and the craft of writing.

So I’m joining the RWA and hoping to hit next year’s national conference, not as a novelty, but because it’s a good play. They get the concept that nobody can or should do this alone. If you only write by yourself, and never get pushed or challenged, your prose will stagnate and die.

The best writing gets stronger—not weaker—when challenged.

We all need that shove, that breakthrough, the new trick that helps you snap old habits. Or the person you just met who’s figured out how to tame the same demon that plagues you.

And writers need to talk to other humans and to give back. I love teaching writing and speaking to college students. Also, editing folks I’ve met from Twitter and this blog is so fun it should be illegal. My red pen of doom sings songs while it kills words. NOTHING IS BETTER.

I learned all those things from an inspiring group of talented women.

Next year, I hope to learn more.

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Guy - Photo by Suhyoon Cho
Guy – Photo by Suhyoon Cho

Reformed journalist. Scribbler of speeches and whatnot. Wrote a thriller (FREEDOM, ALASKA) that won some award. Represented by the amazing Jill Marr of the Dijkstra Literary Agency.

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Filed under 4 Writing Secrets Wednesday, Fiction, Romances; also, novels with Fabio covers, Thrillers and mysteries

I won some literary award, and it was awesomesauce

Every fiction writer should do three things:

1) Go to writing conferences – to learn all they can, make friends and put a serious dent in the hotel bar’s supply of Guinness (mission accomplished!)

2) Hire an editor before unleashing their 650-page epic fantasy novel about elves with lightsabers riding dragons

3) Enter what they write into literary contests

So I’ll talk about those things a little, but first: a little dance. Because I am not so jaded that winning some award makes me shrug, or throw it on the ground. No. I am a happy, happy camper.

The PNWA lit contest isn’t something run out of some dude’s garage. It’s a big shebang, and I’m happy to have been a finalist in 2011 and taken 2nd in 2013 in Best Mystery/Thriller for FREEDOM, ALASKA.

i request the highest of fives

Also, they write you a check, and checks are always good.

Why are literary awards different?

Here’s the deal: journalism awards and such are great, and yes, it was fun to win those as a reporter and editor.

HOWEVER: even if you win the Pulitzer Prize, which is like having the Gods of Journalism descend from heaven and place a solid gold crown upon your head, it doesn’t really change things that much. You don’t suddenly get showered with cushy jobs, minions and fill your swimming pool with Benjamins when you’re not on the lecture tour, giving speeches for money and wearing disguises to avoid all your journalism groupies, which don’t exist, but should.

Unless they moonlight as a TV pundit on the Sunday shows, even the best journalists don’t become (a) rich, (b) famous or (c) rich and famous. There are all kinds of world-class reporters and editors who work at the best newspapers and magazines in the world, and you wouldn’t recognize them if you ran them over with your car. Which is too bad. These folks are rock stars.

So: journalism awards look good on your resume.

Literary awards are different. They can truly change the arc of your writerly career.

Anyone who’s written a novel knows that literary agents and the publishing world in Manhattan swims in sea of slush — of pitches, queries and actual 400-page books, with 99 percent of it being unpublishable, but somebody’s got to search through all that stuff to discover the next J.K. Rowling or Stephen King.

Mostly, though, they chew through the slush pile like it’s Snuffy the Seal.

So being able to say hey, this novel already got judged in a literary contest and was found very worthy — that’s a foot in the door. If you win and show up at the writing conference, agents may talk to you. That’s a good thing.

My sister got her start in Hollywood by winning the biggest screenplay competition, put on by those Oscar folks at the Academy, and that sucker comes with a $30,000 fellowship and a lot of prestige. Does it open doors? You bet.

Why go to writing conferences?

Fiction is tough. Writing a novel, to me, is the Mt. Everest of writing, the toughest thing we pen monkeys can tackle. Millions talk about it, and maybe even try, but few make it. And that’s fine. Nothing worth doing is easy.

If you’re going to do it, don’t use your own pet theories or simply read books about it. Get real advice and mentoring from people who’ve been up to the summit and back. Get some climbing partners. That’s why you go to writing conferences.

The great thing is writers like helping other writers. In some professions, there’s all kinds of rivalries and secrecy. Writers aren’t built that way. They’re happy to help fellow writers. You’ll see best-selling romance authors hanging out with newbie thriller authors. Nobody cares. There are no real cliques.

I’ve met all kinds of authors at writing conferences — folks like Chris Humphreys, Bob Dugoni, Barry Eisler, Lee Child and Joe Finder — and you learn a lot from listening to them speak, getting a book signed or talking to them in the hotel bar. There isn’t an author I’ve seen who didn’t take time, even if they were the keynote speaker and a bazillionaire bigshot, to talk with everybody.

Also, writing is a funny business. Some of my best writing buddies are romance novelists. That’s who I tend to work with when throwing ideas and drafts around. They rock: they’re organized, smart and know how to collaborate.

In fact, I’m gonna join the RWA and hit their ginormous conference next year to drain THAT hotel bar of its supply of Guinness.

Why enter contests?

First, because it makes you focus. There’s a real deadline, and people writing novels know how endless the slog can be. A contest kicks you in the behind and makes you start sending things out the door.

Second, because you need to test yourself, and push yourself, and get real feedback. Contests will do that. Even if you don’t place, or win, the judges will send you feedback. 

Third, because it can open doors. At some point, you’ll want to get the thing published. Being a finalist or contest winner can make you stand out a little, to show you’re more serious than the average bear, or at least more serious than these bears.

So: circle a lit contest deadline on your calendar, hit a writing conference and hire an editor. You’ll learn a lot, and thank me later. It’s a much better plan than banging on your keyboard, all by your lonesome, for the next two years.

Related posts:

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Guy - Photo by Suhyoon Cho

Guy – Photo by Suhyoon Cho

Reformed journalist. Scribbler of speeches and whatnot. Wrote a thriller that won some award.

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Filed under 5 Random Thursday, Fiction, Housekeeping, Red Pen of Doom, Romances; also, novels with Fabio covers

Vini sinks DEEP BLUE by Kat Martin

Guest post by the Vini 

There is no surprising plot in a romance novel.  That is both their sin and secret. 

A romance novel offers the comfort of fantasy where love and life ends well.

So the success of a romance novel lies in its twists in plot, in the dialogue, in character development, in its writing. 

What it cannot be is boring and simplistic in its handling of the plot.

I have read 50 pages of Kat Martin‘s re-released book DEEP BLUE (2005) and I cannot read another page. 

It is agony. 

I am going to get my $7.99 back. Plus tax.

Kat Martin has written good books. This is not one of them.

Kat Martin has written good books. This is not one of them.

As an avid reader of romance novels, nothing tolls the death of a book faster than heated glances, a random emergency which sends the heroine to the Caribbean to hook up with an ex-seal treasure seeker who is attached to an archeologist?! 

If you dabble in implausibility, the characters better sing off the page.  But Martin’s Hope Sinclair is a heroine who is poorly developed and is a loser.  She is paperboard thin.

Hope is a reporter.  Her home is ransacked and it is her editor that thinks of the reason why:  a story that she is working on.  Ta-da! 

Her reaction to her home in shambles — or being pulled from a hot story — creates an equally vapid response.  This investigative reporter on the brink of a major corruption story has no instincts, no nose for the story and blissfully goes off to a happy piece in the Caribbean.

The journalist I know would sell their Granny to stay on the scent of a truly hot scoop.  I remember going on errands with my husband — a former reporter — who would follow the lights and sirens of any fire or police who crossed our path. Reporters have a calling, which makes them like crazy rabid dogs (but in a good way).

That is why Hope Sinclair is a wash-out.  And if you can’t love the heroine, there is nothing else to attach to and the story is lost. 

Kat Martin knows how to write a good book, and I own about five of her novels which are good, but she did not do so with the DEEP BLUE. 

Verdict: The book deserves to be returned.

Translation by Guy: I devour romance novels, and know all about them, and this one sucks like Electrolux. Give to me my monies back. Kthxbai! 

Related posts:

The Red Pen of Doom impales FIFTY SHADES OF GREY

Why every man MUST read a romance – and every woman a thriller

Romance novelists are secret, epic army of man boosters

The Red Pen of Doom whips SWITCH by Camryn Rhys

One man. One romance novel. One bottle of bourbon.

The best Fabio romance cover OF ALL TIME

The Red Pen of Doom guts THE NOTEBOOK

 

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Filed under 4 Writing Secrets Wednesday, Fiction, Romances; also, novels with Fabio covers

The Red Pen of Doom impales FIFTY SHADES OF GREY

As is my custom, and habit, and my Bobby Brown prerogative, I’m going to go with the first page — as printed.

You know, printed with ink at these places we used to call “stores of books,” where you handed the nice folks who live there paper decorated with dead presidents and they let you walk out with ALL KINDS OF YUMMY WORDS.

So if you read the first page of this thing on a Kindle or iPad or Atari 2600, your page 1 will doubtless look different and such. Please give my regards to the Complaint Department.

After a line edit of Page 1, we’ll talk about our general literary impressions — about how metaphors are like similes, only different; about how my hatred of semi-colons runs deeper than my loathing of A-Rod; and how somebody wrote a mainstream and incredibly successful novel about sexy nonsense without putting any sort of sexy nonsense whatsoever on page 1.

FIFTY SHADES OF GREY

Does the title and cover matter? Nah. Only if you want to sell 40 bazillion books.

FIFTY SHADES OF GREY

I scowl with frustration at myself in the mirror.  (This may be a world record. Bam, in the first sentence, she breaks a cardinal rule of fiction writing: don’t tell readers what the hero or heroine looks like by having them stare into a mirror, gaze upon their reflection in a pond or, I don’t know, whip out their driver’s license and say, “Huh, five-foot-ten, a hundred and twenty pounds, red hair, green eyes and a few freckles. Howbout that?” Ugh. This is not exactly “Call me Ishmael.”) Damn my hair – it just won’t behave, and damn Katherine Kavanagh for being ill and subjecting me to this ordeal. (Unless the heroine’s hair is crucial to the plot — unless she starts out with unruly hair in Act 1, switches to a bob in Act 2 and shows how much she’s grown and changed by rocking a purple Mohawk in Act 3, the hair, it is Boring, and a Distraction. Also, nobody refers to friends and such by their full name. If she’s your bestie, you say “Katherine.”) I should be studying for my final exams, which are next week, yet here I am trying to brush my hair into submission. I must not sleep with it wet. I must not sleep with it wet. (Enough already with the hair. Seriously. The only two words with any kind of real conflict and potential are “final exams,” and unless she flunks those, and therefore gets kicked out of university and has to live under a bridge in a cardboard box, it does not matter for the story.) Reciting this mantra several times, I attempt, once more, to bring it under control with the brush. (More about the hair? MORE? Not necessary, not interesting and not entertaining, unless her hair is secretly a sentient being, organizing a plot to take over the world, one follicle at a time. I’m guessing Bruce Willis, being immune from such attacks, will get recruited to foil this plot in DIE HARD 17: THE HAIR DYES HARDEST.) I roll my eyes in exasperation and gaze at the pale, brown-haired girl with blue eyes too big for her face staring back at me, and give up. (Back to the staring-at-the-mirror trick, which has to go. Find another way to describe the heroine and make the reader care about what the heroine looks like in the first place. I don’t know, a conflict, a situation, a hook.) My only option is to restrain my wayward hair in a ponytail and hope that I look semi-presentable. (Now we’re beating the Dead  Hair Horse on its way to the glue factory.)

Kate is my roommate, and she has chosen today of all days to succumb to the flu. Therefore, she cannot attend the interview she’d arranged to do, with some mega-industrialist tycoon I’ve never heard of, for the student newspaper. (Awkward. First reference is Katherine Kavanaugh and now she’s Kate — just call her Kate both times. Also, how many student newspapers score interviews with “mega-industrial tycoons” … who you’ve never heard of? If they’re really mega, then you have heard of them. Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and so forth. If you haven’t heard of them, they aren’t mega at all. Edited text follows in red.) Kate is my roommate and she’s chosen today, of all days, to succumb to the flu. That means I’m stuck interviewing some industrial tycoon for the student newspaper. So I have been volunteered. (Redundant.) I have final exams to cram for, (already said that) one essay to finish, and I’m supposed to be working this afternoon, but no – today I have to drive a hundred and sixty-five miles to downtown Seattle in order to meet the enigmatic CEO of Grey Enterprises Holdings Inc. As an exceptional entrepreneur and major benefactor of our university, his time is extraordinarily precious – much more precious than mine – but he has granted Kate an interview. A real coup, she tells me.

Damn her extracurricular activities. (The last sentences were brought to you by the letter E: enigmatic, exceptional entrepreneur, extraordinarily, extracurricular. There are other modifiers that start with the letter E: extraneous, excruciating and ejector seat. I am looking for the handle, because it’s time to pull it.)

Kate is huddled on the couch in the living room.

“Ana, I’m sorry. It took me nine months to get this interview. It will take another six to reschedule, and we’ll both have graduated by then. As the editor, I can’t blow this off. Please,” Kate begs me in her rasping, sore-throat (compound modifier) voice. How does she do it? Even ill

(end of page 1)

Notes from the Red Pen of Doom

Are you kidding me? ARE YOU KIDDING ME?

I thought THE FOUNTAINHEAD was a bad Page 1 (here’s my post about that debacle), but Ayn Rand is flipping Shakespeare compared to FIFTY SHADES OF AWFUL.

Page 1 of this turkey consumed barrels and barrels of red ink, even though all my red ink is digital and such. Had to change my way of editing to handle this thing, because usually, anything edited gets turned red, but if I did that to this first page, 90 percent of this thing would be red, and it would be all Confusing and such.

So this is a mess, and not a hot mess.

God bless anybody who sells a ton of books or movie tickets. I adore books and movies, and the more people read books, and see good movies, the better. HOWEVER: the first page of a book is a lot like the trailer for a movie. You start out with your best stuff, and it’s a rock-solid guarantee that the writing doesn’t get magically better ten pages or 100 pages later.

The first page, and the first chapter, get polished and polished until they are a shiny diamond made of words.

Maybe you could argue this book is the one exception to that rule.

From the reviews of this book, though, that’s not the case. Here’s a review of the novel in the London Review of Books.

So why did something like this sell like hotcakes?

I believe, deep in my soul, that packaging matters more than the product. Not because that’s how things should be. It’s just reality.

The title of a book — or a movie, or a TV show — can save your bacon or kill you dead.

What else can sell or sink you? Images. That’s why the cover of a book or punk rock album is so important. It’s why we remember the movie poster for JAWS. When we’re thinking about what to spend our monies on in Barnes and Noble, and  what to see on Friday night at those giant buildings where popcorn costs $9 a bucket, covers and posters and titles are where we start. Images are more visceral and powerful than words. I am not making that up. THERE IS SCIENCE AND SUCH.

Also, quality itself doesn’t sell. You need something else, a different hook. (Related posts: You can pitch ANYTHING except quality and Quirks and legs matter more than talent and perfection)

If you gave this a more typical title for the genre, and a more typical book cover, you’d probably end up with a title like A BUSINESS AFFAIR and some kind of Ryan Gosling clone wearing a suit on the cover with the heroine nearby, messing with her pony tail while she wears the highest of high heels and a business suit with a skirt that is just this side of immodest. Or the cover would feature a blindfold and a pair of handcuffs.

If you really want to go traditional, it’d be Fabio wearing a suit while he holds a blindfold and a pair of handcuffs.

(Related posts: Romance novelists are a secret, epic army of man boosters and Why every man should read a romance — and every woman a thriller and The best Fabio romance cover OF ALL TIME)

And if you put that different title and cover on this very same book, it wouldn’t sell 40 bazillion copies and get turned into a movie. It’d be just another book in a genre that isn’t exactly new and wanting for titles.

I bet you anything the unusual title and cover is why FIFTY SHADES OF GREY went viral and became a smashing success.

True story: guess what the author of THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO wanted as a title for his novel? Go ahead. Guess.

THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO

Originally, Stieg the Larsson wanted to title his novel MEN WHO HATE WOMEN. Think would sell more than five copies to his mom?

I am not making this up: Larsson wanted to go with MEN WHO HATE WOMEN.

Raise your hand if you think that title would have set the world on fire and led to hit movies starring James Bond.

The title and cover — the packaging — are 90 percent of the battle. The packaging matters more than the product.

FIFTY SHADES OF GREY is an interesting, literary title. The cover photo of a grey tie is also atypical of the genre and really stands out. The combined effect gives the book a literary veneer.

Some people might feel embarrassed getting on Flight 435 to Frankfurt and pulling out a paperback titled A BUSINESS AFFAIR with Fabio holding a blindfold and handcuffs on the cover. And you can bet the male audience for such books is hard to find with a microscope.

Give the same novel a different title and cover — and the gloss of lit-rah-sure — and that makes it OK for people to read what they might otherwise never get caught dead: romance and erotica.

This reminds me of the early Eric van Lustbader novels, like THE NINJA, which were hot sellers because they slipped in page after page of shockingly naughty scenes to readers — mostly men — who simply expected ninjas fighting with swords and such. It was like a James Bond movie where they didn’t fade out when 007 kissed the girl, but switched from a nice safe PG movie to something unsafe and dangerous and wild. I can tell you 14-year-old boys around the globe had their minds blown. You can print this kind of stuff without getting arrested? I can buy it at the store and they don’t ask for my driver’s license, because I don’t have one yet? NO WAY.

Verdict

Back to  FIFTY SHADES OF GREY and why the first page, aside from the awkward messiness of it all, is just not interesting. You could hire a team of authors to rewrite the same plot points and they would throw up their hands and say forget it, we can’t do magical things with wet unruly hair and cramming for finals week, because there’s nothing truly at stake here.

It is beyond boring to read about some college student kvetch about her hair and her schedule. Try having a job and a kid and a commute, then talk to me.

There’s no conflict, no reason to care about the heroine. Is she fighting for any cause greater than herself? Are there public stakes at all? No. Private stakes that we can divine? No. Maybe if her boyfriend just dumped her, hey, now we have somewhere to go. A catalyst, a hook. But we’ve got nothing to work with here.

The heroine seems shallow and self-centered. I have no feelings about her, Kate or this Mr. Grey, because there’s nothing on the page to make me care, and no foreshadowing that anything more exciting or interesting might happen on page 2, page 22 or page 222.

I don’t mind entertaining trash, no matter the genre. In fact, better that a book or movie embraces its entertaining trashiness than beats me on the head with the Cudgel of Prententious Nonsense, which is never any fun at all.

HOWEVER: Entertaining trash better be GOOD trash, and not forget the entertaining part. This page 1 is an epic fail on both counts.

Related:

The Red Pen of Doom whips SWITCH by Camryn Rhys

The Red Pen of Doom guts THE NOTEBOOK

The Red Pen of Doom destroys FREEDOM by Jonathan Franzen

The evil secret to ALL WRITING – editing is everything

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Guy - Photo by Suhyoon Cho

Guy – Photo by Suhyoon Cho

Reformed journalist. Scribbler of speeches and whatnot. Wrote a thriller that was a finalist for some award.

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Filed under 4 Writing Secrets Wednesday, Fiction, Red Pen of Doom, Romances; also, novels with Fabio covers

The secret truth about writing

When was the last time you went to a movie and wanted to stay behind and watch it again?

What was the last political stump speech that made you laugh and cry and want to go knock on the doors of your neighbors to make sure they voted? When was the last time you read a newspaper story that built up to an amazing climax instead of petering off into boring little details?

More people are writing more things than ever before. Movies and TV shows, blogs and newspapers, hardcover novels and digital e-books. Yet most of it is forgettable. Trite. Boring.

It used to be, blockbuster movies were the ones that had amazing special effects.

STAR WARS showed us things we’d never seen before, like lightsabers. Who doesn’t want a lightsaber?

JURASSIC PARK gave us dinosaurs that weren’t claymation or puppets. Today, though, any old TV show can afford to have great special effects.

And with the written word — novels, speeches, non-fiction and poetry — every author has the same unlimited special effects budget. You can do whatever you want for free. So what’s the problem?

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Filed under 4 Writing Secrets Wednesday, Fiction, Red Pen of Doom, Romances; also, novels with Fabio covers, Speechwriting, Thrillers and mysteries

Why every man MUST read a romance – and every woman a thriller

In college, wise men with Einstein hair stood in front of lecture halls to tell you literature isn’t really about verbs, adverbs and dangling modifiers. No. Beneath the surface, lit-rah-sure asks a fundamental question that some believe is just as important as religion or science.

That question is this: “What’s worth living for, and what’s worth dying for?”

Nine words.

But I’m not banging in the keyboard late at night, powered by industrial amounts of coffee, to channel those old men wearing corduroy jackets with patches on the elbows. My closet contains no corduroy whatsoever.

I’m here to talk about those nine words, and why it leads me to one inescapable conclusion: that I do, in fact, know how to spell “inescapable.” Bit surprising. Thought I’d muff that one.
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Filed under 4 Writing Secrets Wednesday, Fiction, Romances; also, novels with Fabio covers, Thrillers and mysteries

One man. One romance novel. One bottle of bourbon.

A classic from my old blog. Back by popular demand. Enjoy.

I vowed to read a romance novel, you made suggestions and debated the worthiness of various novels in the comments. And then you voted.

So I journeyed in the Epic Black Car to a local store of books, where you hand them pieces of paper decorated with dead presidents and walk out the door with 3.6 metric tons of books.

Sometimes, I rent a U-Haul.

Jonathan Franzen (literary smugness) and The Spork vs. Janet Evanovich and the Swedish king of mysteries.

My favorite bookstore of all time is Powell’s in Portland, as it is giant and independent and impressively badass. However: Portland is far, far away from my secret lair. I went to Borders, which has apparently decided to lump all books into four categories: Mystery/Thriller, Romance, Sci-Fi/Fantasy and Literature, which means “everything else.”

I couldn’t find the winning book in Romance, but this book did not exactly come out last month, so maybe they didn’t have it in stock. No. They did.

It wasn’t in Mystery/Thriller or in Sci-Fi/Fantasy, though apparently people are writing a helluva lot of novels about Star Wars and video games that really should not have a bunch of novels written about them. Halo novels – seriously? No.

The winning novel was in Literature, near stuff by Hemingway and Heller.

Hemingway still sells books.

The cover was surprisingly normal and boring and literary. You wouldn’t know it was a romance novel. It could be anything.

I expected something typical of the genre, and I wanted it to be crazy and outrageous. I wanted Fabio with a sword and a beautiful woman.

The back cover copy puffed up the author for a bit, then set up the story: combat nurse from WWII is on a second honeymoon with her husband when she touches a mysterious boulder and GOES BACK IN TIME.

What I expected to find.

Then she has to choose: try to get back to hubby in 1940-whatever or stick around 1740-whatever with Captain Kilt in the middle of a war and spies and treachery.

This isn’t a bad setup. I raise my glass of bourbon to war and spies and treachery. Go go go.

Chapter One starts off foreshadowing things in the first sentence, saying this little village is the last place you’d expect for a disappearance.

The housekeeper at the inn is nosy and tends to sweep the floor outside the room where the heroine (Claire) and her husband, Frank, are staying.

Frank is an archeologist who’s traveled all around the world who’s now starting a job at Oxford. He is Indiana Jones: smart, but adventerous. OK. Cool.

The cover of the winning book.

The heroine is a combat nurse who saw a lot of action. OK. Also cool. She does tend to talk about her curly hair a bit much. I could do without that.

The rest of this chapter, they’re hiking around the countryside and meeting villagers, who do speak in dialect. “Kenna have a whiskey, lass?” Think of a village full of Scotties but no Captain Kirk or Mr. Spock and you’ll get the picture.

If I didn’t know from the back cover that the disappearing involved the heroine touching a rock and doing Back to the Future without the use of a DeLorean, then this could easily be the first chapter of a cozy, and it could be that the vicar is the one who does the disappearing — only the heroine finds him later behind the pub, strangled by his own bagpipes, and then Miss Marples shows up.

But this is not a cozy.

The heroine's hubby is Indiana Jones with a British accent.

There’s a lot of foreshadowing about Frank’s ancestors being important back in the day, and of the circle of stones that are sort of like stone henge, but not, being important. She visits them once, then goes back and witnesses a mysterious dance by villagers there.

Verdict so far: It’s fine. A bit talky and slow — this novel clocks in at 830 pages — but the writing does the job and there’s plenty of setups for the payoffs to come.

I have not thrown the novel across the room. This is always a good sign.

The author raises questions that haven’t been answered yet, and there’s enough layering and interweaving already to lay the foundation for a lot of stuff. Let’s see if she can pull it off.

The third time she hikes to the stones, she touches one. Bam. Back to the Future.

The heroine, Claire, is a combat nurse like Juliette Binoche in THE ENGLISH PATIENT, which is a beautifully shot movie with great actors telling a horribly depressing story.

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Guy - Photo by Suhyoon Cho

Guy – Photo by Suhyoon Cho

Reformed journalist. Scribbler of speeches and whatnot. Wrote a thriller that was a finalist for some award.

Google+

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Filed under 4 Writing Secrets Wednesday, Red Pen of Doom, Romances; also, novels with Fabio covers