Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Warning: Blatant Name Dropping Ahead

by Tom Schreck

For the last couple of years Ruth and John Jordan, who put out Crimespree, the best mystery magazine there is and Penny Halle, the world's coolest librarian, invite me to Murder and Mayhem in Muskego. It's a day long conference with about 20 mystery writers. Inexplicably, the Jordan's and Penny like me and my books.
(I drank Schlitz with this guy)

A couple of years ago at the Jordan's house party, I drank Schlitz beer and talked boxing with Dennis Lehane. He's a real regular guy (which you should've deduced from the Schlitz and boxing.) He just happens to be a genius and a brilliant writer. Word is his advances are nearly double mine.

Anyway, I'm currently listening to an unabridged version of The Given Day. It's captivating and enthralling like his stuff always is.

It got me thinking though.

Every morning I get up, walk and feed the hounds, write and then while I'm washing up and getting dressed for the day gig, I listen to cd's, dvds, podcasts, books on tape, etc on writing craft. I've committed the advice of Stephen King, Robert McKee, Syd Fields and William Zissner to memory. I've listened to every episode of Writing Excuses, the MWANY presentations and have read books on writing by Lawrence Block, Todd Stone and Evan Marshall and compilations from Writer's Digest.

I've learned to eliminate unnecessary words, go easy on symbolism, make sure each scene changes a value and make sure the plot twists every quarter. I do research but go lightly on it in my prose, I make sure my minor characters don't outshine my major ones, I keep to 80k words and I try not to bore people with exposition.

Dennis Lehane's "The Given Day", is well over 80k words, he goes deep into symbolism, expounds on Babe Ruth's history and I'm not sure what it has to do with the plot. He uses tons of extra words, seems to go on an on with exposition and I'm not sure if values change every scene like they're supposed to or when the plot twists come.

I know I love the book--a lot.

I'm sure someone will comment and tell me I'm too dumb to recognize where Dennis does all this.

I'm also confident that if I turned in a book to an agent or publisher of that length, with that much exposition, symbolism and without predictable plot turns every quarter I'd likely get one of those patronizing notes rejecting me.

Of course, my writing isn't as good as Dennis's.

What's the moral of this blog?

1. Rules can be broken

2. If you sell books like Dennis Lehane you can write however the hell you want.

ps-- I've been dying to point something out and find anyone who gives a shit. In the opening chapter Lehane describes a pro boxing card taking place around 1917. He says that the card featured lightweights, welterweights, featherweights and cruiserweights. The cruiserweight division, however, wasn't created until 1980.

 I believe I am entitled to a portion of the profits of his future earnings.


  1. Beware the fan who knows the trivia! See, in ebooks or 2nd editions, that problem (cruiserweight) is easy to control.

    Here's the thing (as opposed to the hulk): Those aren't really rules. They're guidelines. Or rather, they're rules for beginners, guideposts for journeyfolk and muscle memory for masters. Every field has a set of procedures, which distill the craft of the masters and provide a format through which others may at least be competent. It's true in writing, in music, in chess (my sport) and I'm sure it's true in boxing and football as well.

    Interesting post. Thanks.

  2. In a rather disconnected and indirect way, this reminded me of the current hoopla surrounding THE CUCKOO'S CALLING by Robert Galbraith. It had sold 1500 copies after its publication the end of April. Now that the world knows the author is actually JK Rowling, sales have skyrocketed and it's hovering all around the number one position. When you have The Name, little else matters.

  3. Well done Tom. Nice food for our discussion today on the radio.
    Pam Stack
    Radio Talk Show Host


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