The Mercer Street Murders Progress Update

Now that finals for Spanish are over and School’s out for the summer, I’m able to get back to what I really want to do: dive back into the seedy underbelly of 80’s New York City.

Harry DeMarko and Toni Bennett are fresh off their last case and already in over their heads. A woman hires the pair to solve the murder of her father. Eight men are gunned down in broad daylight at a known gangland hangout. Someone wanted them dead. A Mob hit, textbook open and shut. Except that someone believes differently. Seven of the men killed are Mob soldiers- and one of them is a highly-respected priest. The priest’s daughter is positive her father wasn’t a criminal, but neither did he have any earthly reason for being at the cafe that morning.

Someone’s muscling in on a Times Square porn studio, and Harry and Toni are tapped by an acquaintance to get to the bottom of it before any more girls are hurt.

Dahli’s corner grocery store is being used as a front for crack distribution. In Harry’s neighborhood, this is a blatant slap in the face. Everyone knows NO ONE deals in Harry’s turf. The owner comes to Harry as a favor. His nephew is somehow involved- and is in America illegally.

First the lights and heat and then the phone and water. Someone’s playing pranks on the pair of detectives from Elizabeth Street. What starts as a minor annoyance blossoms into a full assault on their lives as a midnight search warrant for heroin interrupts the pair’s sleep.

And that’s just the beginning.

So far I’m 50% complete on the Writing phase.

The Mercer Street Murders
Phase:Writing
50%

A novel

My novel, What You Wish For, is available now for free. If you haven’t read it (or left a review) now would be an opportune time!

If you could have anything in the world, what would you wish for?

Frank Wilmott is a musician, classically trained and eager to earn his way in the world with his knowledge, skills, and talent. When he is unable to find work as a composer, he begins playing guitar in a bar band on weekends to make ends meet. It isn’t ideal, but he has a family to support.

Jan Walker plays bass. When she and Frank play together it seems like a match made in rock and roll heaven to her.

Torn between his loyalty to his family and the undeniable call of the music he loves, Frank is faced with a choice:

keep what he has and count himself lucky, or risk everything for a once-in-a-lifetime chance at everything he never knew he really wanted.

Ten years, but the wait is over!

It’s been over a decade since I began the urban fantasy trilogy The Veiled Earth.

The final book is here!

The world has been irrevocably changed by the rogue enclave of Magicians who tore away the Veil that hid the real world from view.

Valentien Dunne is gone, and his friends Mike and Vanessa McKellen are left in a strange new world to cope with the aftermath of the greatest spell ever cast.

Magic is thriving, and Magicians are as well… but Eden isn’t for everyone. Those humans left who have no magical ability are little more than targets now.

The Enclave is back, and this time they want more than power.

This time, they want Mike and Vanessa.

The final chapter in the Veiled Earth. Available now, but free from May 3rd to May 7th!

Get the sweat of my brow- free!

Like detectives? And guns? And murders?

My crime novel The Bleecker Street Bodies is available on Instafreebie right now for nothing. Nada. Zip. Zero. Zilch. Negative monies.

Go grab a copy today! (Feel free to leave feedback on Amazon. Assuming you don’t already have it/ have left feedback/ don’t care.)

New York City, 1979. Harry DeMarko is an ex-cop scraping a living as a private investigator. When working girls in his neighborhood start turning up dead, his former partner gets the case- and asks Harry for help.

As he digs deeper and more bodies drop, Harry starts looking like a suspect himself. In order to keep the nieghborhood girls safe and clear his own name, Harry has to find the killer. The only help he has is Toni, a working girl herself, and possible target.

Give it a look, see if you like it! Click the cover to go to the offer!

ProAm Tip #20

A quick little tidbit about non-dialogue. Or “show, don’t tell.”

Do this exercise with me. Head out to your favorite used bookstore and find a copy of your favorite book. I don’t care what it is, but it would be helpful if it’s by an author known to be exceptional at what they do. Buy a copy of the book (hopefully supporting a local business when you do so) and head back home.

And here’s why I don’t advocate using a copy you already have on hand. Next thing you’ll need is a black magic marker. I want you to uncap that bad boy and cross out ALL the dialogue. Anything in quotes.

I know,  I know. It’s gonna take a while. But do it for a lot of pages. Maybe a whole chapter.

Done? Good.

Now start reading.
The idea, of course, is to make it like a silent movie. Ever watch a silent movie? Or a movie with the sound turned off? You want to see real artistry, try watching something whose whole point is to give you the narrative without words. It isn’t easy.

This is the essence of “show, don’t tell.”

Learn to do this part well, and your non-dialogue will start to pop.

ProAm Tip #19

Everyone’s got a gimmick to sell you about how to write. What to do. Where to put your apostrophe. When to run ads. How to frame your keywords. All the things you need to know to get your writing out there. But not everyone is going to explain to you WHY to write. I’m gonna do it right now, and believe me, if this isn’t why you’re doing it, you’re gonna have to take a good long look at yourself and your work and assess your whole life.

There’s only one reason WHY to write.

Here’s the deal, kids. There’s only one real reason to write: because you love it.

If you’re writing for money, that’s fine.

If you’re writing for fame, that’s fine.

If you’re writing for art, that’s fine.

But as the man said, that’s not writing: that’s typing.

Here’s the plain fact of writing: if you’re not doing it for love, it’s dead on arrival. You might as well be lifting boxes, or checking advertising accounts, or teaching school, or a million other jobs that aren’t writing. If you’re punching out a wordcount and that’s why you’re writing, you’re just marking time. If your goal is to sell so many copies, and make so much money, and get so many names on your newsletter, that’s fine. But that’s love of something else. The work has to be your first, last, and only love.

You’ve got to love every single word. You’ve got to love every single character. You’ve got to love every single story. If you don’t love it, it’s a fucking job, and what’s the point?

You’re not gonna get rich, although some do.

You’re not gonna get famous, although some do.

You’re not gonna be adored by millions, although some are.

The odds are against you. Deal with it. Like sucks, get a fucking helmet. But success isn’t about the numbers or the money or the copies you push.

You’ve got to write because you love the process. you’ve got to write because you love the creation. You’ve got to write because you love everything about it. If you write for these reasons, you’re fine. You may never make any money, you may never sell a million copies, you may never sustain yourself with your words. But you’ll feel a sense of satisfaction because you love what you do. You’ll have brought into the world something unique. Something that didn’t exist before. Something all your own. You better love it.

If you don’t love the idea of creation, if you don’t love the idea of building something, if you don’t love the idea of creating something fantastic that only you can create, I have to ask you again to take a good, long look at your whole body of work and ask yourself:

why am I doing this?

There’s a lot of talk about what makes an artist an artist. It isn’t the long hours, it isn’t the amount of practice, or effort, or even the innate talent within the creator. You’re doing what you do out of love for the thing itself. If you do what you do because you love doing it, it truly doesn’t matter if it’s published or not. it truly doesn’t matter if it’s read by anyone or not. It truly doesn’t matter if it’s ever seen by another soul or not. If you’re creating it because you love it, then you’re an artist.

If you write because you want to make a story live, you’re doing it out of love, and you’re an artist. You may not be a good artist, or a great artist, or even a mediocre artist, but you ARE an artist. Crafting a thing for love, because you CAN, is the single most pure thing you can do in this world. It’s why kids exist. It’s why art exists. When you do it for love, it doesn’t matter if you win, lose, or draw. You’re inherently a winner just because you dare to love something.

And here’s a hint for the cheap seats: if you suck at it, keep doing it. Learn from it. Move ahead. You’ll suck less the next time. And over time, if you keep sucking less, and learning more, you’ll discover that what you love becomes great. And great is what will get you noticed. But you do it for yourself. Because you love it. Do it for love. All else will follow. And if it doesn’t, you still succeeded.

 

Thus endeth the lesson.

ProAm Tip #18

Not sweating the small stuff.

This is harder than it sounds. As writers, we are also readers. That means we’re primarily consumers of literature. I use the term as a blanket for any and all writing, from comic to Shakespeare. Literature is what we love. So much that we’re compelled to create it ourselves.

So when creating it ourselves it’s easy, far too easy, to get hung up on the minutiae.

Clips? Magazines? Who cares- right NOW. You’re writing a draft. Get on with it.

Response time for police and firefighters? Who cares- right NOW. Get on with it.

What, exactly, IS the floor plan of St. Ced’s College? Are the bathrooms even close enough tot he Forensics department to warrant a foot chase? Does St. Ced’s HAVE a Forensics department? Who cares? Get on with it.

Your job is to write only two words: The End. It’s not to make your first draft pretty. It’s not to make it make sense. Hell, you don’t need to describe your characters their cars, their clothes, their pets, or even get their names right. Fuck, people, don’t even NAME them. Use an esoteric character like ~ as their name for all I care. That’s what search-and-replace is for.

You’re in a race, writers. A race to get to the end of a draft. You’re not gonna get points for consistently remembering that your secondary character’s third cousin on his father’s side is blue-eyed. You’re not gonna get points for spelling polydactyly properly. (Extra digits on the hands or feet.)

You’re never gonna get ANYWHERE unless you finish the fucking thing. Get it done. THEN worry about it. Here’s a helpful bit of writing trivia:

No writer ever published their first draft. Not cold. Bradbury came close with Fahrenheit 451. He wrote it in a week (using a coin-operated public typewriter. Think about that the next time you snuggle down into Starfucks with your vente-mocha-cocoa-latte-crunch-espresso-double-skinny-soy-cruelty-free-go-fuck-yourself and your free WiFi). It’s brilliant.

And then he retyped the fucking thing, after correcting all the typos and mistakes and slips and forgets and bullshit.

No one gets it right. Even Shakespeare fucked up. Joyce fucked up. King fucked up. Hemingway fucked up.

Your first draft has permanent, inherent permission to fuck up.

And so do you.

Just FINISH the damned thing. Worry about the details later.

Get to work.

ProAm Tip #17

Stages of drafts as I understand them:

Draft one: adrenaline.

You want to get your first draft on paper as soon as humanly possible. Never once in the history of writing has what a writer wrote first (there’s a tongue twister for you) been what appears in print. (Online, yes… but we’ll let that go. The age of insta-print is… well… it has it’s positive and negative side.) Never. not once.

You can’t and should NOT try for perfection the first time through. The first time is for getting all your thoughts on paper. Get ’em out of you and into the real world. You’re never going to get anywhere if you don’t make them manifest. Once you get them down, then you can move on.

A metric shit-tonne (it’s an industry term. Look it up. It’s scientific and shit) of books and writers have offered their advice on this subject, and I’m gonna add my words to the pile in hopes that you’ll pick something to believe in. It might even be ME. Right. Sure. Anyhow, here’s the deal:

The first draft is like carving an elephant. First, you need a rock or piece of wood that sorta, kinda, vaguely resembles the outline of an elephant. That’s your first draft. It’s gonna kinda sorta vaguely resemble an elephant. Er… novel. YOUR novel. Or short story, or novella, or vignette, or whatever. Elephant.

Draft two: embarrassment.

Your elephant sucks. It’s the worst elephant ever made. It should be embarrassed to exist. It’s godawful, and terrible, and…. wait. This part sorta, kinda looks like a trunk, right? If you shave this part down, and chip away a little…

hey. That could be an elephant. The trunk, anyhow. THAT part didn’t suck totally. And maybe, just maybe, this is a tusk? Shave that bad boy down a little, make it pointy, work on it a little…

wow.

Now you keep doing that until you don’t have a vague possible shape of an elephant- you have a rough approximation of an ACTUAL elephant. And not just a generic elephant. Yours is standing on its hind legs, or curling its truck back to trumpet (or call, or ballooo, or whatever it is elephants do, I don’t know. I’m a writer. I make shit up. Sue me.). Sand that shit down, man. Work it over. Keep going. Refine. Fine-tune. This is an elephant! It’s not an embarrassment. It’s not ready to, like, headline at the circus, or storm the Alps or anything, but it’s definitely starting to resemble an actual, hand-carved, real elephant!

Draft three: knuckle-down time.

Now you’ve got an elephant, but it’s all rough. Its detail is vague. It’s… well, it’s unrefined. So now, instead of trying to get an elephant shape out of the rock or wood or paper -mache, or whatever, you’re gonna concentrate on getting the legs right. The bend of that awesome trunk. The twinkle in those teeny little eyes. NOW is when you start making it look like YOUR elephant. Not just AN elephant.

Draft four and beyond: fiddling.

This is when you spend all your time on the little folds of skin behind the knee. The crinkle of lines around the eyes. You’ve GOT your elephant. You have it standing on your work bench, and you’re considering it from all angles. Does the skin fold naturally? No? Fix it. Does the trunk look graceful and free, or is it awkward? Fix it. Fiddle with it. PLAY with it. But you’re not doing gross refining now. Drop that 60-grit sandpaper. You’re on the 220 shit now.

You’re smoothing, and polishing, and getting it ready. You’ve got a pretty damned good looking elephant, and now’s the stage where you start to get it ready to stain and varnish, or polish (if it’s a rock) or whatever. Paint it. Or bring it to life, if you’re a wizard.

Sorry, my mind is wandering.

Hopefully, you get the point.

Draft one ain’t for making a pretty elephant. Draft one is for making a piece of shit elephant that you can reshape into a gorgeous sculpture. Into a centerpiece for your living room. Into something that you’re proud of.

Being proud of a first draft is cool. You finished something! Yay! Good on you! But you want to GET IT DONE first.

The moral is, it doesn’t have to be perfect. Don’t go back and try to tweak it. Don’t consider the ramifications of this or that character, or whether this escape is too corny or that love interest is too generic. Get that fucking elephant on paper, man. Don’t worry about anything until you get the whole damned thing out of your head and into the real world.

THEN you’ve got a whole new challenge.

UNTIL THEN, don’t sweat anything.

Keeping in theme with the elephant parable, here’s another: how do you eat an elephant?

With catsup, of course.

No. Bad writer.

The answer is, one bite at a time. You eat a whole elephant one bite at time.

You see the point? Don’t worry about marketing your elephant until it’s refined and polished.

Don’t worry about marketing your elephant until it’s refined and polished.

Don’t worry about refining and polishing your elephant until it’s roughly shaped.

Don’t worry about roughly shaping your elephant until you have a vaguely elephant-shaped rock.

 

One bite at a time, kids.

ProAm Tip #16

Believable villains.

Look… it’s easy to make a moustache-twirling Snidely Whiplash villain. Look at basically any movie or tv show. Look at 99% of them. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

*ahem*

Here’s the skinny on villains: they’re a foil for your protagonist(s). Literally. Think of a book as a sword fight. Well, fencing match, if we’re going to follow the ‘foil’ metaphor through.
Evert time your protagonist swings, the villain parries. Clang! That clang is the actual conflict. Maybe it’s a battle. (“We MUST get through the gate to win! Oh no! They stopped us!”) Maybe it’s a boardroom surprise. (“We want That Guy to run our company!”) Maybe it’s just straight-up cock-blocking. (“Girl, you know I love poetry, too. I wrote a poem-” *sudden Kool-Aid-Man-like burst into scene*  ‘Hey! I’m published, unlike loser over there! Come talk to me because I’m all sensitive and shit, plus successful, and look at this wavy hair!’)

That’s a foil. And it’s pretty much standard. You have character A with goal A. Character B stops them, or tries to. Character B is underhanded, dirty-dealing, and generally Snidely Whiplash.

Except that’s boring.

You want to write a believable villain. Someone people relate to. Someone plausible. Someone people may not like, but at least respect, or understand. They may not root for them, but they get where they’re coming from.

Many writers fall under the ‘I need a reason to move Character A in Direction A but something has to stop them- oh, look. A villain. And… done!’ school. This is a mistake.

Believable villains are heroes in an anti-story. They’re the main character in a bleak mirror of your work. They’re not just against your main character, they’re actually against the story you want to tell. They don’t WANT your ending to happen. They don’t WANT your book to be the book you want to write.

Your villain isn’t fighting the main character. Your villain should be fighting YOU. The writer.

You want a believable villain? Make them have a real goal. Not just Evil for the sake of EvilTM.

Bond Villains want to rule the world. No idea WHY. They’re already in charge of multi-billion-dollar corporations, or conglomerate industries, or full-sized countries with armies and GNPs and budgets and stuff. WHY Bond villains want to rule the world is beyond me. They already DO.

The most believable movie villain in the last 10 years was Heath Ledger’s Joker. That dude didn’t want ANYTHING. He just wanted to stir shit up, have some fun, and cause a ruckus. He didn’t care about money (Set a pile on fire) and he didn’t care about being in charge (his gang was five people. With room for ONE more. And he made guys fight to the death to get in it.) and he didn’t even want to escape. (NO escape plan. in fact, I think he wanted to die WITH Batman.)

But you bought him because he was into it. Bane, on the other hand (Third movie spoilers) had a convoluted plan to steal a bunch of money and take over a city…. and there was a nuke, and it wasn’t Bane, but Talia Al Ghul… who ran a huge, shadowy criminal empire, but wanted to make an enemy of America by stealing a city, or punishing Bruce Wayne… or, I dunno.

Honestly, what the HELL was their goal?

That’s the difference between believable and Snidely Whiplash-like Evil for the sake of EvilTM.

You want to write a good villain? Write a good anti-hero. Make them plausible. Give them a goal. Give them a PLAN. Make them shoot for something they DON’T already have. Something they can’t buy. Something they can’t earn. Something that they have to TAKE.

Something they have to TAKE from your main character. Don’t EVER make a bad guy who’s just a bad guy. You need a bad guy who NEEDS something. Give them goals. Setbacks. Relationships. Struggles.

Hey… it kinda sounds like, if you want a good villain, you need to make one kind of like you make a good hero… doesn’t it? That’s weird. I mean, it’s not that simple, right?

Except it totally is.

You want good conflict, good story, and a good book? Make your villain at LEAST as interesting as your main character. Put in as much time on your villain as you do your main character. Research. Family. Goals. Learn them. Understand them. Make sure you know them every bit as well as your hero. THEN you’ve got something interesting on y0our hands.

There’s no such thing as good or bad books, I think. There’s interesting and boring. A poorly-written book about a fascinating character (Christian Grey is a great character study of an abused person coping. That books ain’t about S&M, doms and subs, and kinky sex. It’s a sex-crime survival story. I promise.) is as good as a masterpiece with a boring one (Catcher In The Rye is a brilliant study of conforming and society wrapped around the dumbest, most bland character ever written. Holden Caulfield’s most interesting trait is his fucking NAME for God’s sake.)

THAT is the secret to believable villains, good stories, and good books. Remember, no one is a villain in their own eyes. They’re the hero of their own story, and your main character is their villain. You write the villain like a hero, make them both fascinating, and they work it all out themselves.

Promise.

ProAm Tip #15

Always be writing.

I’ve said it before. But unless you have product, the editing, marketing, and sales just won’t happen. I don’t care how flawed it is: finish it. I don’t care how rough it is: finish it. I don’t care how you deus ex’ed the ending: FINISH IT.

You wanna push words? You gotta push words. Simple as that. Some people write 200 words a day. Some people write 500. Some, 2000. Stephen King shoots for five pages a day, according to On Writing, his memoir. But… is that single spaced? Double spaced?

I have to write a pair of essays for my entrance into the University of Texas in the next two weeks, so I can get my 4-year in English (I just got my Associates three weeks ago!). They have to be about 500-1500 words each. This isn’t new. I just finished a class in communications in which I had to write a 500-word essay each week on the new chapter in the book. And my reaction tot he UT essay was the same as my reaction when I found out about the weekly essay length:

“500 words? A week?? That’s adorable!”

Folks, I personally churn anywhere from 200 to 8000 words a DAY when I’m firing on all cylinders. But that’s me. Even if I only wrote 200 a day, that’s still 1400 words a week, assuming (As I do) that you write each day.

I am NOT bragging (although I can; because I can back it up) and I’m not look-at-meing either. (Yeah, I said it. I’m a writer. Othef ther perks is making up words and stuff. If it worked for Shakespeare, it works for us. This is an all-inclusive club, and if you write, you’re a member. And membership has (few, but tangible) priveledges. What i’m saying is, even if you only take one step a day, at the end of the year you’ll have walked 365 steps.

Okay, that doesn’t sound like a lot. I guess the point is, shit adds up. (I’m not awesome at inspirational metaphors.)

Whatever your goal, write something every day. It adds up, no matter how big or small. Ray Bradbury touched on this in a speech once. He said (I’m paraphrasing here) if you commit to writing one little short story a week, why, at the end of the year, you’ll have 52 short stories. And it’s impossible to write 52 bad ones. it can’t be done.

I doubt that it’s impossible to write 52 BAD stories. But 52 stories (depending on length) is like, three, maybe four books’ worth of stories. And you’ll have started a great habit.

But you gotta finish them. That’s the key. Don’t flit from project to project like some demented butterfly. Pick one, hammer it out, and get it done. And when you’re done, let it sit for a while. A couple weeks. A month. Let it fester, and grow, and change. When you go back, first READ IT. Don’t edit. READ.

Out loud, if you can. Do voices. Make character inflections. But read it out loud. I bet you’ll find stuff you never realized you wrote. After you read it out loud, put it away for a minimum of one week. THEN begin editing. Let it grow in your mind.

Move on to the next project while you’re letting your fields lie fallow. Because that’s what you’re doing.

For those who aren’t farmers, or gardeners, or have never heard the term, lying fallow is what you do when you have several crops. You rotate your growing spaces. You move crops from field to field. Never grow the same thing twice int he same space. That way, you don’t deplete the soil, you don’t burn out the nutrients. You let the soil enrich naturally.
Those fields are your stories. You let them lie fallow so they can enrich and replenish, and grow stronger when you DO go back to plant.

But here’s the key for me: always finish ONE thing before starting a new one. I know, I know. Your brain itches. Your fingers want to run off and do the new shiny.

This is where the discipline comes in. You NEED to finish. And running off and starting a new project while you’re int he middle of one already is like planting corn in a field half-sown with peas. It’s gonna be harder to do both, keep them separate, and do them WELL.

To sum up: write every day. FINISH YOUR CURRENT PROJECT. Let them sleep for a while.

Your writing will be better for it. Your brain will construct new pathways, allowing each project to have its own little niche. And you’ll soon have product to push.

And remember: as if writing wasn’t hard enough,  as if FINISHING wasn’t hard enough, as if this whole thing wasn’t hard enough… this is the EASY part, folks. =)

The editing, marketing, and selling is WAY more demanding and finicky than telling the stories. You’re not gonna enjoy all of it. Especially not as much as telloing a great story. But you WILL get through it.

WE will get through it.

Stay tuned, stay hopeful, stay writing.

Pax.