Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Happy news down at the farm.

Something cool happened today. Two somethings, actually, both related to my upcoming novel. Well, it's already a novel, I guess it's the release that's upcoming but you know what I mean.

My fiction editor emailed me with two minor edits to the manuscript of The Bookseller, and once those were done he announced the book would be sent off "for layout, copyedit, typesetting, the whole gambit. Very exciting!"

Very exciting indeed, even though I have no idea what those things even are!

Okay, I have some idea, but for sure they mean this thing is actually real and progressing!

And the second sprig of happy? Well,
what's the one thing a new author wants to know about his soon-to-be-published book? Hmm? No, not when it'll be released, I know that and the answer is October. . . No, I'm not talking about how many free copies I'll get. . . And no! Sheesh, Oprah's not even on TV any more! I'm talking about. . . What does the cover look like???

Because, let's face it, people do judge a book by its cover. And, as he and I have discussed, when you're writing a mystery series, really any series, the first cover will set the tone and style for the following ones. Start off badly then... eeek. Many powerful reasons, then, for me to be anxious about the cover art.

It'll be done soon, he said. Then he emails back and says, "Oh what the heck, here are the two versions we're deciding between, have a look."

Love. Them. Love one slightly more than the other, which happens to be the one he prefers. But, Love. Them.

(Just can't share them yet, I promised him!)

So, all in all a very exciting day indeed. Which reminds me, I never discussed how I landed this publisher, that should be part 4 of my little series, right?

Fine, I'll write it this weekend. Promise.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Inside the jury's mind

Okay, so technically a jury doesn't have a mind, but I wanted to share with you an article I read on titled:

Inside the Jury That Convicted UVA Student George Huguely of Murder

If you're not familiar with the case, the bare facts are: student George Huguely was dating Yeardly Love and ended their conflict-filled relationship by killing her in a drunken rage.

The article includes an interview with one of the jurors who talked about how they arrived at their guilty verdict, which guilty verdict they chose, and how they got to the prison sentence of 26 years. Interesting to me as a prosecutor to see what carries weight in deliberations, and some tips in there for defense lawyers, too.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The mystery agent (pt. 3)

This is part three in my series about the steps to publication and here's the overview of what one needs to do to get published, which I'll put at the top of each post as a reminder.
  1. Write a book
  2. Find an agent
  3. Get a publisher
So, step two: Find an Agent. And I think this will qualify as the hardest and most frustrating of all the steps, for almost every writer.

But it's necessary. If you want your book published by a paying publisher (e.g., Penguin, Simon & Schuster, etc.) then the only way that happens is if a literary agent gets you a book deal. Now, smaller presses will accept submissions from writers directly but one usually goes that route after shooting for the big guys. And I suppose there are cases somewhere, somehow, sometime, when a writer gets a deal with a major publisher on his or her own, but as a business model it's a failure. You need an agent.

So how? Well, since we're doing lists, here's the route:

1. Identify agents that represent the kind of book you have written. There are several web sites that help writers do this, a quick Google search will bring them all up but the ones I used were: AbsoluteWrite, AgentQuery, and Preditors and Editors. It's important to research each and every agent because many have specific requirements for when you initiate contact.

2. Write a bang-up query letter.
This is how you initiate contact, it's a one-page letter (usually sent by email nowadays) that explains to a potential agent the length of your book, the genre (mystery, sci-fi etc), the basic plot, and a little about the writer. Trust me when I say this can be the most difficult project a writer takes on, and again there are web sites that will help show how it's done.

3. Email your query to said agents.
For mystery writers there are over a hundred legitimate agents who will represent you, which sounds like a lot. It's not, because the next thing you need to do is. . .

4. Get used to rejection
. Everyone has been told they have a story in them. Usually it should remain there, but people don't recognize this and all agents are bombarded with queries. Statistics bandied about the Internet suggest that most agents get literally hundreds of queries per week and reject 99 percent of all writers at the query stage. Which tells you how important it is that your query is not just good, but stellar. Now, assuming yours is, the agent might ask for the first three chapters, which you mail off eagerly.

5. And wait.
This is another stage where you can be rejected, obviously, but should you make it through the agent will request the complete novel.

6. Which you send off, and then wait some more.
This final stage is agony, of course, because it can be the first time your precious work has been viewed by a professional. Sure, your mum likes it and your husband thinks you're an awesome writer, but this is a literary agent, a professional in the business. And the truth is, unless they love the book they won't take it on. They might like it or love parts of it, but chances are that loving all of it is the only thing that will get you that offer of representation. Which is why your finished novel needs to be as good as your query.
Tough business, no?

7. But The Call is priceless when it comes, and it comes to many new writers.
I received mine while driving to Houston with my wife. I remember sitting in a booth at a crappy Italian restaurant beside I-10. It was a moment of pure bliss.

I am not a good record keeper but I can tell you that for The Bookseller, I queried about 25 agents. Three others were reading the full manuscript when Ann Collette offered to represent me. All three of the others were very happy for me and told me to accept because they weren't going to have time to read the manuscript in the time I'd told Ann I'd accept/decline.

Decline, yeah right.

Timeline. . . from finishing the novel to signing with Ann was about six months, almost a year after I'd started writing the book. Six months of querying which is pretty quick, I'd say, but it didn't feel like it at the time, I can assure you!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Guns + social media = bad parenting

If you haven't seen this by now, check it out:

That link will take you to a father plugging holes with his .45 in his daughter's laptop. A brief summary of events:
  • Daughter complains on Facebook about all the chores she has to do.
  • Dad tells her not to.
  • Daughter complains on Facebook about all the chores she has to do. Again.
  • Dad videos an angry rant (his) which culminates in him shooting her laptop. He posts it all on the Internet.
Now, I've read differing opinions on this and it's clear to me only one opinion really matters: mine.

Why? Because:
  • i'm a father
  • i own guns
  • i own a computer
  • i know Facebook
  • i have common sense
  • i work with juvenile delinquents every day
Here's what I'm learning about being a good dad and about keeping your kids out of trouble forever and ever: don't be a jackass.

A simple enough truth and one that's hard to live by sometimes. But I can promise you that about .01% of the kids I see coming through the juvenile courts have good, supportive parents.

Oh, I know the arguments about why this guy's daughter had it coming, about good old-fashioned discipline, the tough, no-nonsense approach. But it's old-fashioned for a reason: it doesn't work.

Being a good parent mostly involves setting a good example. Not just when there's an old lady who needs help crossing the street but in those tough moments where you want to blow your stack and pummel the sumbitch who cut in front of you on the highway. Any moron can set a good example when the sun's shining and song birds are tweeting. Well, most morons can.

But this guy? He is mad about being publicly humiliated on Facebook, so he publicly humiliates his daughter. Genius. To him, it seems, being a parent isn't about helping his child grow and become a better person, it's about him winning. And he's bigger and carries a gun, so big shocker when he wins. Congratulations, sir, you shot an inanimate object, figured out how to use the Internet, and then humiliated your daughter in front of millions of people. How proud you must be.

Of course, a guy who videos himself on a self-righteous (and worringly aggressive) rant while smoking a cigarette probably isn't big on the 'lead by example' thing. Or communication. Or rational and proportional response.

And the problem is, the only thing he could ever say to justify acting this way is that it worked. That it was effective. And, in his book, that would mean his daughter not complaining about him on Facebook.

But I have some bad news for you, friend. She's still a teenager, and now she's angrier than ever. Angrier for longer, too, and with good reason. And you may think this 'worked' but it didn't because she still doesn't understand why she has to do her chores, she'll just do them with (maybe) less complaining because now she's scared of you.

And I don't blame her at all.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The writing of mysteries (pt 2)

This is part two in my series about the steps to publication and here's the overview of what one needs to do to get published, which I'll put at the top of each post as a reminder.
  1. Write a book
  2. Find an agent
  3. Get a publisher

So, step one is to write the book. Well, duh, you might think. But what I mean by that is not just write it, but edit the heck out of it, polish it into the shiny and perfect gem you know it can be. Banging out a first draft and wrapping it up with a nicely typed 'THE END' isn't going to cut it.

I started to write The Bookseller, a mystery novel set in Paris, in November of 2008. Actually, I got the idea for the book while my wife and I were on a trip to Paris. Inspiration, you know. I suspect I ignored my good lady for a good part of the vacation, scribbling away in a tiny notebook as we floated from cafe to cafe. Luckily, she is (a) patient, and (b) likes people-watching, so I think my sin was a forgivable one.

What's your writing process, I hear you ask? Great question. Well, some people write detailed outlines and follow them. Those are organized people, and I'm not one. No, the way I write a story is to bang away at a computer (or scribble in a notebook) and then think, "Oooh, that's a good idea" and stick it in. The few times I've outlined, as I tried to do with the second novel, the story ended up being completely different. For example, I was intending to write about a lorry-driving serial killer who nabs prostitutes and the occasional nun. Neither lorries nor nuns appear in the final story.

Which is cool, because now I don't have to bother outlining any other books because I know that system doesn't work for me. Positive reinforcement for my inherent laziness. Love it.

Back to The Bookseller -- it took me about six months to write, start to finish, and right now stands at 95,000 words. (The minimum length for a publishable novel is about 65,000 words.)

You know, maybe now's a good time to share my promotional blurb, so going forward you can know what The Bookseller is all about:

Hugo Marston, head of security at the U.S. Embassy in Paris, buys an ancient book from his friend Max, at the old bookseller's stall beside the River Seine. As they make the exchange a man appears with a gun in his hand and kidnaps Max, dragging him onto a boat that speeds off towards the Cathedral of Notre Dame.

Powerless to save his friend, Hugo launches his own search and enlists the help of his friend and former colleague Tom Green, a semi-retired spook for the CIA. Together they hunt for Max, a search which takes them all over Paris and as far away as the Pyrenees mountains. They discover that Max was a Holocaust survivor and later became a Nazi hunter, but they struggle to tie his disappearance to his grim history, or even to the mysterious old books he sold.

Then other booksellers start to disappear, and their bodies are found floating in the Seine. The police try to shut Hugo out of the investigation but by then Paris is facing a war between rival drug gangs and Hugo is convinced the hostilities have something to do with the murders of these bouquinistes. Then assassins train their sights on Hugo directly. It becomes clear that the only way his body doesn't end up floating in the Seine is if he finds the killer who took Max, before the killer finds him.

With Tom by his side Hugo finally puts the pieces of the puzzle together, connecting the past with the present and leading the police, quite literally, to the enemy's lair.

Just as the killer intended.

I know, you can't wait until it hits the shelves, eh? Not long now . . .

Monday, February 13, 2012

The mystery of mysteries (pt 1)

Since the writing thing is becoming such a large part of my life, and about to become even more important, I thought I'd give you the run down on the agonizing, torturous path one must walk to become a published author. We all read books, well most of us do, but it's interesting to me that so few people know what it takes to get one on the shelves.

I'm going to break it down into several posts for ease of reading (and writing!) and use my first novel, The Booskseller, as my working example.

Here's the overview of what one needs to do to get published, which I'll put at the top of each post as a reminder.
  1. Write a book
  2. Find an agent
  3. Get a publisher
Oh, it sounds so simple, doesn't it? Well, just you wait and see . . .

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Do what, now?

It occurs to me that since I've moved to juvenile I haven't given any kind of accounting of what I do here.

Here's the lowdown. Down low. Upshot. Whatever.

All kids in the juvenile (and that means youths aged 10-17) are assigned a personal identification number (PID. Wait, that should be PIN, no? Huh, never thought about it before, but it's definitely PID). And as you'd expect they already have a last name. So I handle those kids in the alphabet between A and L, whose PID ends in an odd number.

Quick math test: how many prosecutors do we have handling juvenile cases?

Trick question, because it's five, not four, as we have a special ADA just for sexual offenses. Which is kind of disturbing, if you think about it.

Anyway, I have court two days a week, Wednesday and Thursday. The rest of the week I sit beside the juvenile division's swimming pool and am fed bon-bons by the division's pet monkey. It's a good gig, actually. Occasionally, though, I will wander to my office to prepare for the upcoming cases.

As a matter of fact, the pace here is lickity-split. Where in adult court cases last a year or more, the turnaround time here is a matter of months, sometimes weeks.

Subject matter? Mostly misdemeanors. Assaults, thefts, criminal mischief. The felonies tend to be burglaries, or unlawful use of motor vehicles. Again, this being juvenile you'd think the latter would be few and far between. Another good reason to wear a seat-belt, eh?

The focus down here is very different from adult court - a very strong emphasis on rehabilitation here, on providing services to ensure the kid gets back on the straight and narrow. Here are the main resolutions:

Deferred prosecution - this is what it sounds like. If a kid commits a crime his lawyer can file a motion for deferred prosecution (aka DPU). This means that he gets services from the probation office (drug counseling etc) and if he does as he's told for six months all charges are dismissed.

Probation - much like in adult court, but again the emphasis is on providing services for the kid's needs. But they do have a record now, though there are some rules about having it sealed at a later date. Unlike in adult court, where if you screw up you go to prison, if a kids messes up while on probation he gets more intensive services, sometimes to the point where he/she gets locked up while they are administered.

That's pretty much the deal. It definitely suits my own philosophy of mercy and redemption, so in that sense it's a good fit. The downside for me, personally, is that there are never any jury trials. Never. Ever. We, the State, don't have a right to them like we do in adult court and the kids' lawyers always opt for a bench trial because the judges, who deal with these kids every day, are more forgiving than a group of strangers who might be shocked what some kids get up to.

And I like jury trials, you know that.

Friday, February 3, 2012

It may not say what you think it says

I was driving home today and saw this license plate on an SUV:


I'm assuming it means "day tripper" but as a prosecutor, and one who's just finished three sex assault trials, I see something rather different. . .

Thursday, February 2, 2012

How times change

When I was a kid, at a posh boarding school in England, the worst possible insult someone could hurl at you was that you were gay. And other yucky words intended to depict the same negativity. Those days, thankfully, are passing and get this:

Recently in court we had a juvenile who has transgender issues and, in fact, the child came in looking like a member of the opposite sex (if that makes sense!). The thing is, no one batted an eye lid. In fact, not only was the judge utterly unfazed when he was told about this, his immediate reaction was, "Do we have services in place to make sure this kid is getting all the help needed?" As the judge recognized, this is an issue that affects a lot of kids, and far too often it's so hard for them to deal with, they commit suicide (the internet tells me it's somewhere between 30-45%, compared to 3% of the population as a whole).

So good for him and good for the probation officer for being so proactive.

Maybe it's not a big deal anywhere any more but for a system as creaky (sometimes) and behind the times (sometimes) as the criminal justice system to kick into high gear for something that until recently would either have been ignored or ridiculed (or attempts made to cure it, I guess) was mightily impressive.

Rereading this I'm wondering whether the probation people here are magical enough to fix that last sentence. . .