This week I introduce you to some of the friends who helped with Blade of Dishonor. Ben LeRoy, the force being Tyrus Books, didn’t help with the book directly, but he has been an inspiration in the publishing community since we met at Bouchercon in 2011. He is constantly driven to do whatever he can to improve the world, whether that is publishing new and striking voices, giving books and music away every week, or donating to whoever needs help most. And when a new writer is often told that publishing is a monolithic cabal granting entry only to a select few, he cuts through the BS with a weekly Q&A at Hey, There’s a Dead Guy in the Room. Check out the Tyrus website for a varied selection of excellent reads, from poet laureate of noir Reed Farrel Coleman’s Moe Prager novels, to Angela Choi’s Hello Kitty Must Die, Peter Brown Hoffmeyer’s Graphic the Valley, and Steve Weddle’s “dazzling” (NY Times Book Review) novel-in-stories, Country Hardball. Follow @tyrusbooks on Twitter if a positive force publishing great new fiction is up your alley.
A friend on Twitter suggested that I write a book on writing. I think that’s a bit premature, as there is a plethora of writers giving advice out there. But I try to make a habit of distilling the essence of an idea and filtering out the bullshit. So here goes.
Writing is a muscle. You must flex it. You must use it. Does this mean “write every day?” For me, it does. For you, maybe not. Whatever works. But to find out what works, you need to try a lot of things, which involves writing.
In weightlifting everyone wants answers. The articles are a lot like articles on writing- the same stuff, then some new radical idea that everyone tries a while because this one person saw amazing results, and everyone talks about it a while, then it fades away, and then maybe a few years later it gets rediscovered when someone has a deadline. What works is lifting heavy things. You want a better bench press? Do a lot of bench presses with proper form, adding a little more weight each cycle, no more than you can do with proper form.
Part of this came to mind from Steve Weddle saying that some story writers should build a set of stairs before they try to build an escalator, or a Wonkavator for that matter. I think those are two totally different fields of construction, but I see the point. Before you can write a complex story, you should write a straightforward one. And write some more.
This is where the yabbits come in.
Yeah, but Tarantino’s first movie was non-linear and stuff. Yeah, but David Foster Wallace. Yeah, but this bro at the gym with thunder guns said… Yeah, but. Yabbit, yabbit, yabbit.
Write. Don’t agonize over it. Just write it. I still agonize, way too often. I don’t trust my voice all the time. I worry about building the roof when I’m putting in the basement. I want to take the elevator when I haven’t built the stairs. We all do it. It takes discipline not to do it, and discipline falters now and then, but we don’t tear the house down or abandon it, we go back and build the damn stairs.
Six metaphors later, I get to the point. My writing advice is simple. If you want to be a writer, you have to write. Does every story have to be great? Certainly not. I have a few turds in my pocket I’ll never share. (Unless you approach me nicely and say, “Tommy, can I hold the the dessicated turd you keep in your pocket?” Then I’ll gladly let you fondle it.) This also doesn’t mean you need to construct the perfect, master carpenter spiral staircase before you let your imagination run free. Just be aware that the tough, complex stories will take a lot of work. Sometimes you need to build them later, after you’ve tackled stuff that’s a little easier and more fun.
Because no matter what people say, writing should be fun. It can be tedious, brain-racking work. But so is working out, or building a set of stairs. You can learn to enjoy it, but it’s always work. It’s the results that are the fun part, when you’re proud of what you’ve done, when you read it yourself and don’t cringe, or when everyone wants to squeeze your biceps like Brad Pitt’s booty, those are great moments. Like riding the Wonkavator. But before you get there, build the damn stairs. And climb them a few times. Writing is sedentary. You don’t want to die of heart disease before you finish your bullet train escalator novel, do you?
To distill this…
How I Write.
1. Daydream often. You need ideas. Daydream in the shower. On the train. In the car. Try not to daydream while other people are talking.
2. Read everything. News, books by authors you love, books by authors you’ve heard are great but aren’t “your thing,” old books, new books.
3. Sit down to write regularly. To quote Jack London, “you can’t wait for inspiration. You have to chase it down with a club.” Talk yourself into writing for five minutes.
For real advice, I recommend these books. Telling Lies for Fun and Profit, by Lawrence Block. The one book that I read first. LB is funny, tolerates no bullshit, and is one of the greatest short story writers working today. Let him be your Writer’s Block. Haw haw.
On Writing, by Stephen King. Half memoir- which made me like the man even more- and half no-BS writing talk. He eschews notes, which I disagree with. I use Evernote to take notes on my phone. But solid advice.
Break Writer’s Block Now! by Jerrold Mundis. This is the advice you’ll say YABBIT about. But it works. Whether you want to begin writing, write regularly, or break a dry spell this book is a must. Some sounds like bullshit- relaxing before you write? WTF? but it makes sense once you actually think about it, and try it. Anxiety is the root of most blocks.
And when you quit being a yabbit and start writing the big ponderous novel, I recommend Scrivener. It helps keep me organized, lets me write the scene I want to write, no matter where in the book it is, and keep things sensible. You can compile in Standard Manuscript format, Screenplay, as an e-book, paperback templates… truly a powerful tool, and great for taming that wild imagination:
I got tagged by Ed Kurtz, author of Bleed, Control and others, to join in The Next Big Thing blog tour. Normally I don’t jump in for these things but he’s a good guy and it’s an easy way to talk about works in progress, and let readers know about other writers they might enjoy.
1) What is the working title of your next book?
Blade of Dishonor, a novella for Beat to a Pulp. (I’ve mentioned Bury the Hatchet a lot on the blog, and it is still in progress, but this will be done first.)
2) Where did the idea come from?
David Cranmer asked if I’d be interested in writing about an MMA fighter tussling with ninjas over a stolen sword. How could I say no to that? David published my mixed martial arts fighter tale “A Glutton for Punishment,” and I grew up on ’80s ninja movies and the Shogun Assassin “baby cart” samurai films. It is set in the present day, but the action begins in World War 2. I enjoy writing this so much that there may be a prequel written in the era of feudal Japan.
3) What genre does your book fall under?
Adventure. Pulp is not a genre and “men’s adventure” paperback originals aren’t either, really. Adventure covers it, with a little War thrown in.
4) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Mixed martial arts fighter Reeves comes home from Iraq to help his wheelchair-bound grandfather run his Army-Navy store, and becomes embroiled in a centuries-old battle between ninja and samurai over a priceless and powerful Japanese sword.
5) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters?
Reeves, the MMA fighter, would be played by Joel Edgerton. He was in Warrior, he played a fighter and made it look real. Plus he’s got those sad eyes that women like, and looks like someone went over him with coarse grit sandpaper. My kind of hero.
His grandfather Butch, the wheelchair-bound war vet would be played by Ed Asner. He’s big, old, and angry as hell. Better known for comedy, but the man is a firestorm. The villain is a Japanese businessman, who could be played by Tadanobu Asano, best known for his role in Thor.
And his brutal henchman Mikio would be a good role for Hiroyuki Sanada, who is in “Revenge” and the new Wolverine film. He has the scruffy, beat down look. Tara, the gal with the suped-up muscle car, could be Gina Carano, but Tara is an art major, not a fighter. She’d break a fired chunk of pottery over your head, not try the flying armbar. She’s more of a Christina Hendricks, tough on the inside.
6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
It is a work for hire for Beat to a Pulp press.
7) How long did it take you to write the first draft?
8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Action-oriented thrillers like the Jack Reacher novels by Lee Child and the Pike novels by Robert Crais, but grittier. War novels like The Short-Timers, James Brady’s The Marines of Autumn. I won’t say there’s nothing like it out there, but I haven’t read anything close. Maybe my readers can enlighten me.
9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?
My great-uncles all fought in World War 2, in Europe and the Pacific. The book is dedicated to them. They never talked in detail about the War, but their feelings were made clear. And I’ve been fascinated with Japanese culture since I was a kid. I loved Clavell’s Shogun, the Lone Wolf and Cub manga–I read all 28 volumes–Musashi, the yakuza gangster movies of Suzuki, Takashi Miike, Takeshi Kitano, and of course, the samurai films of Kurosawa and Hiroshi Inagaki, any movie with Toshiro Mifune in it.
10) What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?
The story follows Reeves in Part 1, then his grandfather Butch Sloane, in Part 2. Butch was a commando in the Devil’s Brigade. It is meticulously researched, and while we are in the trenches for all of the story, if you look up the battles date by date, what weapons, who fought in it, and how they won, it will satisfy all but the most unforgiving. It’s fiction, after all. I took license here and there, but I put the characters into real situations. The Devil’s Brigade existed, they fought the battles in the book, and if I change history, it is to insert the lost history of a grand plan that failed. The Devils were the inspiration for Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, only they were even badder.
And if you enjoy mixed martial arts, I trained in them for seven years. I write them realistically. I know a pro and amateur fighters and trainers, and I write them with respect. But also show just how brutal this training translates into combat outside of the ring.
This story is as tight and intense as anything I’ve written, fast-moving and thrilling while giving you plenty to think about. With enough action for three movies, much less one.
I’m tagging five writer friends you may know about already. If you don’t, I recommend you get acquainted with them, they are fantastic. I will admit, they have all talked to me about their projects or mentioned them on social media, so I dub them not only to spark your interest, but because of my own. They haven’t let me down yet, and I want to know what irons they got in the fire.
Josh Stallings is a film editor by day, and the author of the Moses McGuire crime thrillers by night. And I mean long into the night. We shared a hotel once, and when our sleep apnea machines were not dueling into the night like two Darth Vaders arguing over a dinner check, he was tip tapping away into the small hours. And the work shows. The McGuire books, Beautiful Naked, and Dead and Out There Bad, are two excellent tales about a bad-ass Marine who survived Beirut but never really came home. He’s a strip club bouncer, muscle for hire, and when he’s not trading slugs and elbow strikes with the bad guys, he’s at war with the demons within himself. The poetry of James Crumley’s sad, elegiac prose and the rip roaring action of Robert Crais.
Lynn Beighley delivers pills of sharp and subtle humor hidden in the steak of her fiction… like she’s sneaking medicine to one of her two Bernese Mountain dogs. She cut her teeth as a tech writer, but her short stories have appeared in journals and all over the web. She brilliantly depicts our fractured modern lives, interweaving social media personae with cold splashes of reality.
Steve Weddle is the editor for Needle: A Magazine of Noir and the creator of hitman Oscar Martello. Steve often combines hardboiled grit with absurd and fatalistic humor, but is also capable of fascinating introspection, as in the story he wrote for the Protectors anthology.
Jen Conley is an editor for Shotgun Honey, and no one captures the attitude and dialogue of New Jersey like she does. Her stories have appeared in ThugLit, Protectors, Beat to a Pulp, Out of the Gutter and elsewhere. Her characters are so full of life they claw their way off the page.
Chad Eagleton is a two-time Watery Grave International finalist and Spinetingler award nominee. His socially conscious crime fiction packs a wallop. Chad has also been researching novelist Shane Stevens, who wrote the first serial killer novel and was the basis for Alex Machine in Stephen King’s The Dark Half, and also happens to be one of the most underappreciated writers of his time.
I’m eager to hear what their fierce imaginations are up to… aren’t you?
And if you want a taste of how I write Edo Period Japan, with samurai and yakuza… read “Shogun Honey,” which I wrote for Sabrina Ogden when she was at Shotgun Honey.
The anthology I’ve been working on since January, to benefit PROTECT and the National Association to Protect Children, is now available.
PROTECTORS includes a foreword by rock critic Dave Marsh, and fiction by Patti Abbott, Ian Ayris, Ray Banks, Nigel Bird, Michael A. Black, Tony Black, R. Thomas Brown, Ken Bruen, Bill Cameron, Jen Conley, Charles de Lint, Wayne D. Dundee, Chad Eagleton, Les Edgerton, Andrew Fader, Matthew C. Funk, Roxane Gay, Edward A. Grainger, Glenn G. Gray, Jane Hammons, Amber Keller, Joe R. Lansdale, Frank Larnerd, Gary Lovisi, Mike Miner, Zak Mucha, Dan O’Shea, George Pelecanos, Thomas Pluck, Richard Prosch, Keith Rawson, James Reasoner, Todd Robinson, Johnny Shaw, Gerald So, Josh Stallings, Charlie Stella, Andrew Vachss, Steve Weddle, Dave White, and Chet Williamson.
The book is now available for Kindle, and the pages at Barnes & Noble and Kobo will be live soon.
For updated order information, including how to order it directly through Paypal (generating the largest donation; you can upload the Kindle or ePub file to your reader, or read it on your PC) go to the PROTECTORS Official Web Page.
The book will also be available for the Apple iPad and on Smashwords. Our designer is working on the print edition, which will be available at Amazon and in bookstores.