Jude Hardin

Author, Drummer, Turtle Whisperer

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Location: United States

Thursday, October 30, 2008


Earlier this evening I had the pleasure of meeting NYT bestselling author Tess Gerritsen. She signed my copy of her newest title, and we got to chat a bit before and after her talk to the crowd (which included instructions on how to make one of these). I've known Tess for a while online, and she was everything I expected her to be in person: intelligent, witty, gracious, and just an all-around nice person. If you haven't read her books, you should.

I asked her if she had any advice for writers trying to break in (i.e. moi). The first word from her mouth? You got it. Persistence.

She mentioned having the right idea at the right time, creating characters who speak to you on a variety of levels, landing a good agent, the all-important factor of luck...

But I think there's a reason persistence came first. Persistence is, without a doubt, the most important word a pre-published writer needs to keep in mind. Rejection is the norm in this business. Get used to it. Get over it. Move on. Write a better book. If your better book gets rejected, write an even better one.

And an even better one after that.

Is there ever a time a writer should give up? Is it ever just not in the cards? Are there people out there who just don't have what it takes to succeed in publishing?

Only you can answer that.

If it's truly your dream to become a published author, though, you won't quit. You'll keep giving it one more try, for as long as it takes.

And someday, when you're on your own national book tour, and some goober in the audience asks if you have any advice for aspiring authors, the first word from your mouth might just be persistence.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

"We don't need no stinking dialogue tags," he aggressively grunted.

Fred must have had the day off. Jake was manning the register himself. He looked at me, squinted, and cocked his head to one side.

“Nicholas? Is that really you?”

“It’s me.”

“Holy guacamole. What happened to your hair, son?”

"I got bored and shaved it off.”

“Shit. I thought maybe you was getting radiation treatments or something.”

“Nothing like that. Anyway, it’s chemotherapy that makes your hair fall out, not radiation.”

He pressed a knuckle against his lips and nodded thoughtfully. “I see you found yourself a guitar. Nice one.”

“We both know it’s a piece of shit, Jake. I’ll give you thirty for it.”

“Shit. That’s a fucking antique, man. I been thinking about keeping it myself. But since you’re a friend and all, I’ll knock off ten percent. Thirty-six even and it’s yours.”

“I’ll give you thirty for it.”

“Thirty-four-fifty and I’ll throw in some picks and a strap.”

“I’ll give you thirty for it.”

“Damn it, Nicholas, you never was any fun to dicker with. All right, thirty fucking dollars. I ought to have my head examined.”

He pulled a silver flask from his back pocket, twisted the cap off, took a slug. He politely tilted the bottle in my direction.

I shook my head. “I need a favor.”

“Sure. You waltz in here and practically steal one of my fine musical instruments, and now you want a favor to boot?” He rolled his eyes in a faux expression of disgust.

It’s always tricky with alcoholics, but I could tell I’d caught him in a good mood.

“I need a fake ID. Just a driver’s license and Social Security card, but it has to be something that’ll pass a background inspection.”

He took another belt of bourbon. “Ah. That’s why you shaved your head. You’re going incognito.”

“Nah, I did it because chicks dig bald guys. Can you help me or not?”

“That’s illegal.” But he was already flipping through his old Rolodex. He penciled a telephone number onto a greasy Chinese takeout menu that happened to be lying on the counter. I paid him the full forty bucks for the axe, and then left the store...

Any Questions?

What's Your Gimmick?

Yesterday my son and I were browsing in the bookstore. He asked me why all Dick Francis novels have a picture of a horse on the cover.

“Because his stories are set around horseracing,” I said. “It’s his gimmick.”

“What’s your gimmick?” my son asked.

“I guess I don’t really have one.”

“You should make poker your gimmick.”

“Hmm. I guess I could have a character who’s a professional gambler, a guy who goes to all the big poker tournaments. Of course, it would take a lot of research. I would have to live that life for a while.”

He laughed. “Yeah, sure. Research. That’s what you could call it.”

See, my son thinks life on the road as a gambler sounds exciting and glamorous. I’m not so sure about that, but a poker theme for mysteries does sound like a decent gimmick.

So what’s your gimmick? Do you have one? Does a series sell better with a gimmick?

Friday, October 24, 2008

It's Been a Long Time Since I Rock and Rolled...

Now that I’m embarking on yet another rewrite of my novel on submission, I thought it might be a good time to share parts of the process. Parts of my process, that is. Everyone’s is different, of course.

But maybe we can find some common ground on certain issues.

Let’s talk about rejection letters for a minute. Anyone who’s been writing and pursuing publication for a while has gotten some. This guy claims to have over 400. We all hate rejection. It’s depressing when The Publishing Powers That Be dismiss something we worked months or even years on with a hastily-folded form letter or a few electronic keystrokes.

It’s a smidgeon less depressing, though, when an agent or editor actually takes the time to offer some pertinent feedback. Are agents and editors always right? Of course not. But if several industry pros are telling you the same thing, then it’s wise to perk up and listen. It’s a gift, really, because the editors who take a little time to give you some useful feedback could just as easily have said, “Not for us,” and left it at that. So let’s be thankful for those little snippets of wisdom, even though they come in the form of rejection.

I recently received rejections (through my agent) from four editors at four major publishing houses, and they all said or implied pretty much the same thing: the ending is rushed. I need to flesh out the plot and characters, add more detail, slow down and let the story unfold...

I hadn’t read the manuscript for several months, since I sent it to my agent, but a quick review told me those editors are absolutely right. Maybe I needed that distance, those few months, to look at the book more objectively (there’s a lesson for those of you who type THE END one day and start submitting the next. Let that baby ferment in a drawer for a while and then give it at least one more polish...). At any rate, like the Scooby Doo theme song says, we got some work to do now.

First, I found the part of the manuscript where everything starts moving just a bit too fast. You know, like a fire truck moves just a bit too fast. “Fast-paced” is a good thing, right? Well, yeah, but it’s also true that speed kills.

My book’s final sixty pages HAULS ASS. We’re talking Warp-3. I was in such a hurry to get to the end and mail that puppy off to my agent, I unintentionally cheated the readers out of a good portion of Story. Never, ever, ever a good idea.

So now I need to fix it, and that involves adding pages. My agent says twenty, but I’m thinking more like fifty. Piece of cake, eh? Any writer worth his salt should be able to crank out fifty pages in a week or two, right?

Yeah, but I’m adding to something that’s already there, so everything needs to flow organically and seamlessly and nothing can feel tacked on, so it’s a little more involved than just writing fifty new pages. I’m shooting to have the new draft finished by Jan 1. We’ll see how it goes.

Which brings me to the real point of this post: details. While I don’t advocate getting bogged down in minutiae, or writing long adverbly (I just invented that word. Nice, huh?) paragraphs about the weather and the trees and whatnot, I do think readers appreciate strong images, and images can be strengthened and lengthened with details.

So here’s the first draft of brand new paragraph, part of my attempt to slow my novel’s pacing a bit in the last few chapters:

I came out of my self-imposed isolation one day to do some shopping. It was a Wednesday, half-price day at The Salvation Army Thrift Store. The place was packed with little old ladies wearing tremendous applications of little old lady perfume, kids running around and playing with toys that probably harbored more germs than an isolation ward, fat guys with glasses loading up on yesterday’s bestselling sci-fi, women with one in diapers and one on the way trying to stretch their meager budgets to the max...and me, a skinny middle-aged private eye searching for the perfect Lost Soul costume, as if the one I already wore wasn’t quite good enough.

As first-draft paragraphs go, that one’s not too bad I think, but now let’s beef it up with a few details:

I came out of my self-imposed isolation one day to do some shopping. It was a Wednesday, half-price day at The Salvation Army Thrift Store. The place was packed. Little old ladies wearing tremendous applications of little old lady perfume, cruising the bric-a-brac aisles and filling their buggies with sad-faced clowns and silver-plated crucifixes; kids running around coughing and sneezing and playing with plastic dinosaurs that probably harbored more germs than an isolation ward; fat guys with glasses loading up on novels with cigarettes and guns and scantily-dressed femme fatales on the covers; women with one in diapers and one on the way, trying to stretch their meager budgets till payday...

Now we have some images, some pictures to put in our readers’ minds: Sad-faced clowns and silver-plated crucifixes...plastic dinosaurs...novels with cigarettes and guns...

You get the idea.

Every reader will bring his or her own personal experiences to the table, of course, but I think peppering a paragraph with details enriches the reading experience for most.


Oh, and thanks to Stephen Parrish for coaxing me out of blog retirement. Heckle away, my friend.