Monday, June 22, 2015

California Crime Writers Conference - Day 2 (afternoon)

The final wrap-up...

Keynote speaker Anne Perry spoke (very softly) about writers and writing.

"Social Media Tips From Professionals"
Terry Ambrose (moderator), Diane Vallere, Holly West, Lee Nelson

First off, Holly West turned out to be the winning bidder for the Maltese Falcon. She paid $200 and brought it to the panel with her. I was jealous.

Lots of great advice from this panel:
  • Tweet and Facebook posts can be scheduled, but be sure to unschedule them if there's a major tragedy in the news, or you'll look like a jerk.
  • Consistency of message: Vallere describes her books as being about shoes, clues and clothes, and that's what she talks about on social media. Ambrose pointed out that her latest post (the day before) showed the clothes she brought for the conference laid out.
  • While Twitter, Facebook and blogs are the most common social media platforms, there was a lot of talk about Goodreads, which has become a major author platform. Nelson warned about authors getting into battles with readers/reviewers on Goodreads, mentioning that it had just happened the day before and resulted in the author's account being deleted. (Apparently she was referring to this).
  • Query Shark got props.
  • "Buying" fans for your social media accounts got a big thumbs down.
  • Vallere's website got props from the panel as a great example of what an author's official site should look like. Vallere mentioned the importance of constantly updating your site in order to keep pushing it to the top of search engines.
  • Another way to increase your web presence is to guest blog. 

Left to right: West, Nelson, Vallere and Ambrose

"Putting Your Blog to Work"
  • Smiley is an LAPD Reserve Detective who writes cozies. She is also part of an MAB (multiple author blog) called Naked Authors, which was started in 2006. She also had a friend who was one of Ted Bundy's victims.
  • The panel was asked how much personal info they include on their blogs. Smiley: Funny stuff, but otherwise no family, although she did blog about her father's death. Johnson will poke fun at herself, but doesn't generally talk about her family. Lauden is a pen name, to separate his writing career from his real life, which included a wife, kids and a corporate day job.
  • Trolls: Lauden is fortunate enough not to have been trolled. Smiley was trashed in comments by an author who didn't get a harmless joke she'd made. She also had a guy who started commenting as famous authors, then complained when she deleted his comments.
  • Blog tips: The importance of keywords in titles (SEO) and tags in Blogger. It was recommended that you end a blog post with a question to help draw out comments. Lauden also uses lots of visuals/graphics. People move so fast that a wall of text can be a turnoff.
That was the end of the day and my first California Crime Writers Conference. It was a great conference and I look forward to the next one in 2017.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

California Crime Writers Conference - Day 2 (morning)

"Hidden Talents: Using Skills From Other Media"
Stephen Buehler (moderator), Lee Goldberg, Phoef Sutton, Ellen Byron, Catherine Pelonero

This panel featured authors who have also excelled in other areas of writing besides books.

Left to right: Byron, Pelonero, Sutton, Goldberg, Buehler

Goldberg's extensive television credits include Diagnosis Murder, Spenser: For Hire, Baywatch, Monk, 1-800-Missing, Psych, and The Glades. Sutton is an Emmy/Writer's Guild/Peabody winner whose credits include Newhart, Cheers, Boston Legal, Terriers, and the feature The Fan. Byron is a journalist and playwright who has written for Wings and Just Shoot Me; her upcoming novel is described as a "Cajun cozy". Pelonero is a playwright whose new book examines the life and infamous death of Kitty Genovese.

I've seen Goldberg on a number of panels, and he never fails to entertain. He talked about ghost-writing his mother's San Francisco society columns as a teen and an early job writing fake letters to the editor for Playgirl (his girlfriend was an editor for the magazine). Discussed the main difference between writing scripts and novels: You can get inside the character's heads. With scripts, you just write dialogue and action.

Sutton started out as an actor and recommended acting classes for writers.

Byron pointed out that when you're writing for television, you have to write in someone else's voice. When writing novels, you can write in your own voice.

Pelonero: "Character is everything."  Wrote her Kitty Genovese book because although a number of books about the murder exist, she felt that they only focused on Kitty's death, neglecting her life. She interviewed Winston Moseley, Kitty's killer, for the book after corresponding with him for several years.

During the Q&A, the writers were asked how they felt about the level of intelligence of their audience and if this affected their writing. This resulted in two very different answers. Suttons said he nevers writes down to readers/audience. Byron said that when she worked on Wings, a frequent question among the writers and producers was, "Do you think the Timmys will get this?" "Timmys" referred to what Byron described as the "itinerant masses". Got quite a reaction from the crowd.

After the session, I headed into the book room to browse and the authors were all there for book signing. I was intrigued by the Kitty Genovese case, so I bought a copy of Pelonero's book and she kindly signed it for me.

"Going Hollywood: Novels to Television"
Diana Gould (moderator), Charlaine Harris, Joshua Bilmes (Harris' agent)

I have to say, right off the bat, that my favorite part of this highly entertaining and informative session was Harris comparing working with HBO (True Blood, based on her Sookie Stackhouse series) unfavorably compared to working with the Hallmark Channel (the upcoming Aurora Teagarden series starring Candace Cameron Bure). She described Hallmark as "professionally happy" and HBO as "scary" and "cutthroat" (and they once kept her waiting 45 minutes for a meeting). She accentuated the difference by describing their parties: HBO's featured men clad in only loincloths and red glitter, while Hallmark's party theme was Christmas in July, complete with Dickens carolers.

Harris has sold over 30 million books and Bilmes has been her agent for all of them. He read her first manuscript during a rain delay at Shea Stadium.

Bilmes on breaking into and working in Hollywood:
  • The entertainment business is rife with conflict of interest, lies and self-interest. You need to be careful.
  • Write good books that Hollywood will find. Alan Ball stumbled across the Sookie Stackhouse books in an Encino Barnes & Noble while killing time before a dentist appointment. He wasn't the only one interested, but the other party was unable to secure funding. Said all major studios have books to TV/film people always looking for the next big thing. Waiting for the phone to ring is not the worst way of dealing with Hollywood.
  • Need to have a good agent and be very careful how reserved rights are defined and negotiated. One mistake they made was not reserving Sookie/True Blood comic book rights. Fans don't realize this and Charlaine said that she autographs them "reluctantly".
Harris on True Blood and producer Alan Ball: 
  • After finding her books, Ball called her at her office in Arkansas. He told her he liked the mix of comedy and horror and that he saw it as an HBO series.
  • Was dismayed at what she described as the show's "political turn", but overall felt that everyone involved did great work.
  • She was given a line in one episode and still receives $2.16 residuals from SAG.
  • Said Ball likes working with HBO because, "It's an easy drive."

Left to right: Bilmes, Harris, Gould

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Death Wish 2015

Some things you look at and they're so cool, and some things you look at and you think, "That guy is seriously batshit crazy, and he's lucky to be alive."

This is one of those batshit crazy things:

Here's the insane story: Crazy-ass diver with a death wish leaves cage to give enormous great white shark a high five.

That dude has bragging rights forever. Good thing someone got the shot. Can you imagine pulling that off and no one got a picture for proof?

Oh, and also...THE. SIZE. OF. THAT. THING.

H/T to @LAKingsDru on Twitter for the only non-choking shark in my Hockey feed.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

California Crime Writers Conference: Day 1 (afternoon)

Today's keynote speaker was Charlaine Harris, who was utterly charming and gave a wonderful, Southern-accented speech about, "Everything I know about writing." In this speech, she became the third person today to advise, "If not now, when?" Message received.

Charlaine Harris addresses the troops.

"Miss Marple's Rules: Traditional Mysteries Today"
Susan Goldstein (moderator), Jill Amadio, Susan Shea, Carole Sojka, Gay Degani

Goldstein on the definition of traditional mystery: 1) A criminal problem solved by a professional or amateur; 2) It's not about crime, but about relationships - what fractured the relationships?

On the changes modern times have changed the definition of traditional mystery:

Shea: Basic rules don't change - there's still a puzzle to be solved. Difference now is that the characters can move beyond a small town or their existing social circle.

Sojka: Social issues have changed and are now included more than in the Agatha Christie/Dorothy Sayers era. Her protagonist is an alcoholic and that plays into the story. Plus the modern technology.

On the subject of amateur sleuth:

Shea: Amateurs have skills from their day jobs that they can bring to sleuthing.

Goldstein: Amateurs can be teamed up with pros/law enforcement to give them access to information they wouldn't normally have.

Degani: Her protagonist was originally a suspect, which propels her to start researching and investigating her case.

"Forensic Investigation From Beginning to End"
Professional Donald Johnson, California State University, Los Angeles

Dr. Johnson seems like he would be a great instructor to have. His affability made the chasm between his personality and the horrific subject matter all that much more jarring. But if I was murdered, I'd want him on my case.

We were warned in advance that some of the photos would be graphic. It took a while to get to those, so I think we were kind of lulled into a false sense of security as to what we were going to see. They were from a real crime scene and one of the victims was a young girl. I won't even describe them, but as tough as it was to see the pictures, it also increased my admiration for people who work these cases and bring the killers to justice (which they did).

Some points about forensics:

  • Rigor is variable and therefore not necessarily a reliable indicator of time of death. Unlike on television, in real life they do not make a TOD determination at the scene of a crime. Same thing with digestion - too many variables.
  • Autopsies are usually done in order of receipt (yes, he used that expression).
  • It's assumed that first responders may unintentionally alter the scene.
  • Luminol is used to search for blood that is not visible to the human eye. It can detect blood diluted 1 million times, but can also react to paint and rust.
  • Stabbing: A lot of bleeding occurs internally and can actually leave very little blood at the scene.
During the Q&A (and after the graphic photos), Dr. Johnson was asked how he and others in the field cope with the horrible stuff they see. He responded that he does view it as a mission, but also as a scientific issue. He also said it helps to have a cast-iron stomach.

Oh, and by the way, have I mentioned that this is part of the silent auction:

It's a replica, but WANT.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

An L.A. Live by any other name

Nokia Plaza? Nokia Theatre, yes. Club Nokia, certainly. But up until now I had no idea Nokia's world domination extended to a plaza as well.
The comprehensive partnership between AEG, owners and operators of L.A. LIVE and Microsoft will also include rebranding L.A. LIVE’s 40,000 sf. outdoor plaza into Microsoft Square among other assets.
And then I dug out this pic I took at a Kings game a couple years ago:

Huh. There it is. In lights and everything.

I hate to break it to Microsoft, but I'm not sure I've ever heard of the general public referring to or thinking of the place as Nokia Plaza. Angelenos will continue to refer to it as L.A. Live.

Lucky for Microsoft, they've got money to burn. Money Nokia apparently doesn't have anymore.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Decades later, it's still the boob tube

David Frost: "Television is an invention that allows you to be entertained in your living room by people you would not have in your home."

Still one of my all-time favorite quotes.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

California Crime Writers Conference: Day 1 (morning)

This weekend I attended my first California Crime Writers Conference in Culver City. The conference takes place every other year in the Los Angeles area.

Among the many things I learned today is that compared to other conferences I've attended, CCWC is a pretty small, almost intimate event. The entire thing was very contained and uncrowded. The conference was sold out, so it wasn't a lack of interest. In fact, I really appreciated that the place wasn't a mob scene.

Panels were divided up into four categories: craft, industry, forensics and marketing. Today I had three craft and one forensics.

"The F Word: Addressing Fear and Other Plagues of the Writing Life"
Dennis Palumbo (moderator), Tyler Dilts, D.J. Adamson, Terry Shames, Terri Nolan

Palumbo is a licensed psychotherapist whose clients primarily see him for creative issues. He has previously worked as a screenwriter in TV and features. Adamson (Glendale College) and Dilts (CSU Long Beach) both teach writing.

All authors were surprisingly open about their issues with anxiety, procrastination and other issues that interfere with the writing process. Dilts told us that the day he got the email confirming his appearance on this particular panel, he'd had a really bad writing morning combined with a wave of paranoia and wondered, "How did they know?"

More Dilts: At this point he's been writing for twenty years, feels like he should have it down by now. This was a sentiment I would hear from a number of successful and prolific authors in other panels. He also felt that for years he wrote due to a "need for rejection" to validate his already low self-esteem. After a couple of successful novels he had to readjust his mindset.

Adamson: Spent years wanting to write, blamed everyone else for her failure to do so, when she had the ability all along. Finally asked herself, "If not now, when?" (I would hear that two more times from successful authors before the day was over). She was plagued by a negative inner voice and still has to tell herself to "shut up and get up". Eventually she realized that she was treating writing like a hobby. It's a job. You have to show up and do the work, just as you would at your place of employment. She believes that fear of failure drives procrastination, so she had to learn to write without expectations. Seeing her in person, you would never think she had any of these issues.

Shames on the subject of "new project anxiety":  Her first two novels wrote themselves once she dug down to what she described as "the core", which for her was Texas. However, now that she's done with her Texas series, she has to inhabit her characters. She also said that not writing makes her grumpy - for her it's play time as well as work time.

Nolan stated that, "Anxiety frames my life." She also indicated that she creates detailed bios of her characters before beginning her books.

On the subject of deadlines:

Dilts: Love/hate relationship. Loves having them because it exerts a pressure that is useful and beneficial.  Hates having to ask for extensions.

Adamson: Needs them. Feels she's successful through the "anxiety of deadline". Her previous real life day job was extremely competitive and not meeting deadlines could mean losing high-profile clients, so her mindset is that missing deadlines is not acceptable.

Palumbo shared that when he embarked for Hollywood, his grandmother had sent him off with, "Try not to do anything that will bring disgrace to the family," then asked the panel how their families had reacted to them deciding to become writers.

Dilts: He'd spent ten years as an actor, so his family was actually pretty happy when he told them he was going to pursue an MFA in English.

Adamson: It was always a goal and eventually her husband and kids embraced it.

Shames: Was always a writer, even when she worked full-time. Eventually her husband suggested she quit her job and write full-time.

Palumbo's advice: develop a benign relationship with the writing process. Don't beat yourself up if you're not living up to your ideal. And in response to the ever-popular "pantser or plotter" question: embrace your writing process, whether it's tightly plotted or seat of your pants.

"The F Word Panel" L to R: Terri Nolan, Tyler Dilts,
D.J. Adamson, Terry Shames, Dennis Palumbo

"Thrills and Chills"
Diana Gould (moderator), Laurie Stevens, D.P. Lyle, Craig Faustus Buck, Paul D. Marks

It was standing room only for this panel. I ended up sitting on a ledge on the side of the room.

Gould asked the panel what elements a suspense thriller must have and how you achieve them.

Stevens: Has to be a page turner.

Marks: Cliffhanger at the end of all (or at least most) chapters. And they can be subtle, not necessarily a life hanging in the balance. They can be obstacles that get tougher as the story goes along.

Buck: Pace is important, and it should increase as the book goes on. Ramp it up. Surprise is a key element.

Lyle: Each scene needs to prompt the question, "What happens next?" And these questions need to be answered eventually. Dr. Lyle drew a big laugh with orders not to end a chapter with, "And she had no idea what would happen next!"

The panel on their protagonists:

Stevens: Her protagonist is psychologically damaged due to childhood trauma. He uses his own issues as impetus to keep going. She feels this helps make him relatable to readers because everyone has problems.

Buck: His protagonist has fallen from grace, from cop to trashy tabloid crime reporter. He's trying to write himself back to being a hero. But he also pointed out that in noir, the protagonist is doomed, he just doesn't know it yet.

Gould: "How much of yourself do you put into your characters?"

Marks: Depends. Feels there's a little of us in everything we write.

Buck: Tries to disguise it because he doesn't want to be too revelatory. (During the Q&A someone asked about the difference between revelatory vs. confessional and Gould responded, "Fiction vs. memoir.")

Lyle: All writing is autobiographical, even if the author doesn't know it. He also has a theory that there are two kinds of guys in the world: Those who have played football and those that haven't (at any level). Because you learn so much about so many aspects of battle on that field. That goes into all his characters.

Gould: "What is it about L.A. and noir?"

Buck: Believes film noir was born here because of the rise of the Nazi party in Germany. Hollywood brought in refugee filmmakers from Europe and once here, they made grim films influenced by what they'd left behind.

Stevens: L.A. makes a good character.

Buck: Broken dreams.

From the Q&A: When using true life stories/events, how much do you need to disguise?

Buck (his novel, White Heat, features a murder based on Rebecca Schaeffer and takes place during the Rodney King riots): Have to change enough to make it even more dynamic and flow better.

Lyle: Can use the story as a springboard. Don't be tied to the factual story.

The inevitable question of process came up, of course.

Lyle: His "outline" consists of a list of plot points, one sentence each. Each plot point becomes a scene. When he has about fifty points, he knows it works. He's not married to it and will make changes as he goes along. He also made the comment that if you don't use Scrivener, "You're out of your mind." Might need to check that out.

Buck: He's a "pantser". Described it as "inefficient, but fun". Said he is constantly rewriting. After he completes his draft he will makes passes for anything he's concerned about.

Marks: Followed Buck's comments by saying he was taught not to rewrite as you go along. Also, he writes his first draft in screenwriting format because it's fast. I found this extremely interesting and think I'm going to give it a try. This might actually work for me.

During the introductions, Gould mentioned Dr. Lyle's "generosity of expertise". Dr. Lyle has served as technical advisor to a number of TV shows including House, Law & Order, CSI: Miami, and Cold Case, plus he is the award-winning author of a number of fiction and non-fiction books. And when he's not doing all that, he manages to fit in his other career as a long-time cardiologist. I was the beneficiary of Dr. Lyle's generosity of expertise a few years ago when I was writing a CSI:NY spec script and wasn't sure if my method of dispatching a victim would work in real life. That story is here: In gory praise of Dr. Lyle.

Saturday, June 6, 2015


...down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. He is the hero; he is everything. He must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man. He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor - by instinct, by inevitability, without thought of it, and certainly without saying it. He must be the best man in his world and a good enough man for any world.

He will take no man's money dishonestly and no man's insolence without a due and dispassionate revenge. He is a lonely man and his pride is that you will treat him as a proud man or be very sorry your ever saw him.

The story is this man's adventure in search of a hidden truth, and it would be no adventure if it did not happen to a man fit for the adventure. If there were enough like him, the world would be a very safe place to live in, without becoming too dull to be worth living in."

- Raymond Chandler, The Simple Art of Murder