Saturday, March 28, 2009

Back To Square One

In my earlier blog posted, February 27, 2009 blog, Suffering Economy Hurts Book Sales, I talked about the overall decline in book sales, and more specifically how a publisher considering my vampire novel was putting new acquisitions on hold until summer. Unfortunately, I -- and other authors currently with this particular publisher have received word that, basically, new books will not be placed under contract at this time.

What does this mean? I need to either begin a search for a new literary agent, or attempt to place the manuscript with another publisher on my own.

This is not news I take personally. The manuscript, I was told, is what they were looking for. They liked it. Publishing it at this time, however, is too risky for them -- financially.

It's a set-back. No doubt.

I have been knocked back down to square-one, but not down and out.

When I think about my writing career, I know I have nothing to complain about. It's never been about money. Never have I expected to hit bestseller lists, or to make it rich writing.

Since 1995, I have sold more than 100 short stories and articles. I have had six novels published, and two books for middle grade readers.

I have been interviewed on TV a few times, numerous radio interviews, and endless print and online interviews. My books have received glowing reviews, and I have had countless best selling authors endorse my work.

With all of that success, how could I ever complain?



Rejection, for whatever reason, comes with the territory.

What I would like to do is bring all of you along on the journey ... from query letter, proposal, and submission ... as I hunt for a home for my vampire novel, Pulse of Evil.

Sound like fun?

Uh-huh. We'll see.

So. Stop back regularly to check in on the progress as I compile a list of agents and publishers and work toward receiving a contract for publication ...

Have a great day!

Thomas Phillips

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

James Patterson v. James Patterson

A long time ago I was roaming through a store while my wife shopped. Like always, I made my way over to the book section. I saw a paperback called, Along Came A Spider. I'd never heard of James Patterson at that point, but having an unnatural fear of spiders, decided to give the author a try.

The book had absolutely nothing to do with spiders. It didn't matter. I was hooked. I was introduced to the now legendary fictional character, Alex Cross. I then read Kiss The Girls, which had just been released in hardcover. Anxiously, I awaited for more Alex Cross novels.

Over the years, I have read just about every Patterson novel out there, with a special interest in the Cross books.

What I soon realized was, Patterson could put out two, sometimes three books a year. Especially lately.

Many of his older, less popular titles, were re-worked and re-released, oftentimes under new titled names.

For quite a while, only his name appeared on the book covers.

What began to bother me was the number of co-authors soon appearing on Patterson's books.

I believe the first time I noticed this happening was when I bought The Jester. It was written by Patterson, and co-written by Andrew Gross -- who has since launched a very successful solo career. The Jester was different than any book I'd ever read by Patterson. It took place in medieval times. I assumed Gross was a historian expert, which was why Patterson enlisted help in writing the book.

Slowly, I noted that Patterson worked with more and more frequency with co-authors: Peter de Jonge, Howard Roughan, Michael Ledwidge, Gabrielle Charbonnet, Hal Friedman, and Maxine Paetro.

Reading the books with co-authors left a bitter taste in my mouth. Were the books good? Absolutely. Did they seem similar to books written just by Patterson? For the most part, yes. The characteristics were the same: short two page chapters, switching POV, page-turning suspense from start to finish.

So why the bitter taste?

I couldn't help but wonder if Patterson was writing all of these new novels with the co-authors, or whether the publisher was using Patterson's name and unique style to launch the careers of lesser known, but still talented writers.

This past Christmas, I was given Cross Country, the latest Alex Cross novel. It sat on my To Be Read pile for some time. I was not as excited to read the book. I was worried my interest in Patterson's stories had been weakened by my personal suspicion that he was no longer the actual author of the books written.

Two days ago, I set that feeling aside and started Cross Country.

Like every Cross novel, I've devoured the book, reading the 406 pages in just under a few hours -- was almost mad at myself for waiting months to read it, and mad that it was over and I'd now have to wait for the next Alex Cross installment,

On I saw that Patterson's next Cross novel, Alex Cross' Trial, is due to hit stores in August 2009.

But there was something else I noticed on Amazon. Something that made my heart miss a beat, and my stomach drop.

This latest Cross novel bears the names of two authors.

James Patterson and Richard Dilallo.

To say I merely tolerated the "other" Patterson novels, or the non-Alex Cross novels, might be extreme ... but it is close to true. While they were all excellent reads -- the nagging feeling that Patterson wasn't the actual author continues to bother me . The saving grace had always been that -- At Least The Alex Cross Novels Only Have One Author Listed.

But not now. Not anymore.

So rather than just worry about what Patterson may or may not be up to, I decided to do some digging. What I found, however, has shocked me to the point of disappointment.

What I discovered is that, while most successful authors have personal assistants, James Patterson has started his own firm. It is called, James Patterson Entertainment. In 2007, Patterson had six novels released. Six.

When asked by USA Today (2007), why he uses so many co-authors, Patterson stated: "They can't keep up with me." In fact, he says, "I'm not a fast writer. I struggle through the writing. I'm not a craftsman. I'm OK. I can get it done. But I know it's not my strength."
What is, he says, is his "amazing imagination."

Reading more into this article I learned that, Patterson has a huge folder of ideas. He then pumps out a detailed outline. And the co-author's get to work fleshing out the ideas and writing chapters. They then submit the chapters to Patterson, who sends back marked up revisions.

At least, this was the revealed formula for Step On A Crack, written with co-author Michael Ledwidge. The co-author is even quoted, saying that Patterson served less as an editor and more as a writing coach, or teacher.

As suspected, some publisher's admit to attempting to produce, or reproduce Patterson-like authors.

Andrew Gross is a prime example. His first solo novel, The Blue Zone, had an impressive 200,000 first printing. (And was a fantastic book, so you know).

Apparently on a talk show, the interviewer read excerpts from two of Patterson's novels and asked Patterson if he could name the books he'd read the excerpts from, and Patterson couldn't. The interviewer said, "You wrote this stuff." And Patterson simply replied, "Yeah, so what."

Although sales for Patterson's novels have not been negatively impacted since all the co-authoring business, this reader is largely disappointed, and as a suspense author, perhaps a bit jealous as well.

Part of me wished I never asked questions, never looked for answers. I will not be able to look at Patterson novels the same.

Will I still read them?

Good question. At this point, I'm just not sure.

Have a great day.


Source: 2-5-07
Publishing juggernaut Patterson keeps rolling along, Co-authors help shoulder the load
By Bob Minzesheimer, USA TODAY

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

People Watching

I've held off on writing this particular blog for one main reason. I co-lead a creative writing group that meets once a month. This month, I'll be giving a "presentation" on creating memorable characters in fiction. A lot of that presentation is pulled from, or is derived from the information contained in this blog. (I know for a fact that one particular member of that group follows my blog. More may. But he, I know, reads it for sure, and I'd hate to kill any surprise ... so Steve ... spoiler below :-)

Writing a novel takes more that drive, discipline and dedication. Creating memorable characters is essential. Readers need to care about what happens to those characters. They need to care about what happens next, too.

Developing characters for me is somewhat simple.

I people watch.

I do it all the time. But doing it at the mall is sometimes my favorite place for such ... research.

Many of you may have seen me in the mall, seated on a bench, a notebook and pen and hand and apparently just thoughtfully jotting down stuff on the paper.

Truth is, I'm watching you.

Kinda creepy. I know. What can I say? It's what I do. And if I do say so myself, I do it well.

Real people inspire me.

I like to watch the way you walk. Do you have a bounce in your step, a limp, a shuffle?

I like to listen to you talk. Am I eavesdropping? Yepper! How do you say things, what are you saying? Do you repeat words, or have slang that I haven't heard?

I like to see what clothing you're wearing. How you're wearing them.

I like to look at your hair, makeup, jewelery. Got spiked hair? Too much eye shadow? A grill?

My job is to capture these characteristics so, when I'm home, writing, I can call on my notes to help draft characters that are three dimensional and real, as opposed to flat cardboard "people" no one will care about.

The work doesn't stop there.

I use the Internet and surf for photos of people that resemble the characters I'm creating. I Copy/Paste those photos onto a Word document. I then set to work creating a list of information about each and every character. I call these, Profiles.

1. I need to name them. (An unwritten rule is one unusual name per story. Unless you write fantasy, and then the odder the better, apparently).

I used to use the first names of family and friends when writing. I realized, being Italian and having a huge family, that there was just no way to write books fast enough to make everyone happy.

One great uncle kept asking when I'd use his name in a book. I explained to him that I had, but that the book wouldn't be out for a few years. (Unfortunately, the book never made it to print). Excited, he asked what the name of the book was. I told him, Pigeon Drop. He said, What's that? That's crap. (You can please some people some of the time, but not all people all of the time, and all of that, eh?)

2. I need to give them history. (How old are they? Married? Single? Divorced? Do they work? Where? Doing what? Where did they go to school? Any family? Favorite color, food, music, movie? What do they love, hate?)

3. For main characters I need to list strengths ... and at least one fear/flaw.

Number 3 is especially important for the protagonist, or main character. The fear/flaw needs to be introduced at the beginning of the story, and by the end ... that character needs to face, overcome and somehow change as a person based on the accomplishment.

Referring back to my "Profiles" regularly, I hope to build consistent and realistic characters.

Hopefully, I am successful.

Thanks for stopping by. Hope this blog was informational to aspiring writers, and people generally curious about how writers put stories together.

Have a great day!

Thomas Phillips

Friday, March 6, 2009

Nightmares About the Ex (Part II)

After writing, and re-reading my post (Can Nightmares About the "Ex" Inspire Writing, 3/5/09), I realized I talked a bit about the importance of keeping a journal for both aspiring and established writers, but left out something equally as important.

Writing exercises.

Like the body, the brain needs a work out. I belong to two creative writing groups. One meets on the second Thursday of each month at the Barnes & Noble in Greece, while the other -- one I co-lead with the talented and award winning humor columnist, Joanne Brokaw -- meets on the third Tuesday of each month at the Barnes & Noble in Pittsford.

At these writing groups, we do a variety of warm-up writing exercises. They get the thoughts flowing, and work to help writers get ... in the mood for writing.

My previous blog was about a detailed nightmare I'd had the night before. I explained how I jotted down emotions and information from the dream to use in later writing pieces.

However, I think -- or the more I thought about it -- that writing out the scene with as much detail as possible would serve as a wonderful, independent writing exercise. Being sure to include dialogue, description, and setting.

It is quite possible a nice short story could appear. If anything, it would provide an opportunity to sit and do some writing, especially for the not-so-disciplined writer.

Anyway, I felt like the previous blog was only half written, and wanted to stop by and complete the thought with today's posting.


1. Keep a journal
2. When you have lucid dreams, write them out as a writing exercise

And again, maybe tomorrow I will blog about People Watching. A pastime I enjoy :-)

Thomas Phillips

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Can Nightmares About the "Ex" Inspire Writing?

Can nightmares about the "ex" inspire storylines, and plots and tension, fear and anger?

Hmmmm. Absolutely!

Although my ex-wife and I have been apart for years, I often dream about her. They are always odd dreams, like ... we're together in the dream, but I know that just can't be right. Or, sometimes, we're together again and it's weird like -- were the last two years really the dream, and us still being together is real? Very peculiar, let me tell you.

But once in a while, like last night, I had a nightmare where my "ex" was involved. (It's not unusual for me to have nightmares. It's rare if I don't. The unusual-ness is when my "ex" is part of the nightmare).

Let me run down the nightmare. (I'll keep it short. I know when people tell me what they dreamt the night before, it bores me to death, lol).

It was Christmas Eve. My "ex" and I were at my parents' house. My whole family was there. My kids. The "ex" and I were talking in the kitchen. I have no idea what the conversation was about. I was at the sink. When I turned around, she was gone. Vanished.

The phone rang. I answered it. It was one of her closest friends, wanting to know if she should come over and help round up a search party.

"No," I said. "It's Christmas Eve. I don't want to spoil this for the kids."

"Have you called the police?" the friend asked.

"Not yet. She's been gone minutes. Police aren't going to race out here to look for her. Not this soon."

The "ex" had been gone minutes, but like her friend, I knew something was wrong.

People at the party began noticing she wasn't there. I kept coming up with excuses. "She must be in the garage getting more chairs," or, "she's downstairs getting soda from the fridge."

Inside, I was beginning to panic. Where was she? What happened?

One thought kept coming to mind. What do I tell the kids?

I realized, in the dream, that I needed to call my "ex's" boyfriend to either tell him what was going on, or to see if he knew what might have happened.

The thought of calling this man made my stomach sick.

Part of me thought it was the right thing to do.

Another part -- well, we'll leave that alone now, won't we ...

Even now, while awake and blogging, I am aware of the emotions that ran through me last night.

Although I will not use this specific scenario in an actual story, the thoughts, and feelings I felt while dreaming can be stored for later use. Will be stored and called upon in the future.

Like most writers, I keep a journal. In this journal, I record information to refer to when writing. In the journal I jot down:

1. Possible book titles
2. Great names for characters
3. Memories, or events that invoked emotion
4. Story outlines, and plot ideas

The journal comes in handy when faced with writer's block. (If you are a writer and don't keep some kind of journal ... I'd strongly suggest you reconsider!)

Even though my dream provided no resolution, no climax, I woke this morning itching to get everything down in my journal (and to blog about this as a writing tip, as well).

The point? Ideas come from all over. Inspiration, for me, is derived from daily interactions with people, dreams, nightmares and plain old imagination. Without my journal, good ideas would be lost, or forgotten, or compromised.

I think for my next blog, I'll talk about heading to the mall with the journal and doing some serious people watching. A little creepy, I know. But fun. Good times. Good times.

So, until next time!

Thomas Phillips