Monthly Archives: March 2013

Back from My Visit to The Poisoned Pen

gray ghost cover Just returned from Scottsdale, Ariz., where I had a great time with the wonderful folks at The Poisoned Pen. They put up a great webcast audio stream here: Listen to the webcast!

And here their review of the book:

The delightful sequel to The Royal Wulff Murders, continues the sort of River-Runs-Through-It/Spenser blend—plus fishing and collectible lures. When the graves of two men are discovered on Sphinx Mountain, Sheriff Martha Ettinger suspects murder. But with the only evidence a hole in a skull that might or might not have been caused by a bullet, she once more finds herself turning to private investigator Sean Stranahan for help. Stranahan already has a case, having been hired by a group of eccentric fly fishermen called The Madison River Liars and Fly Tiers Club to find a valuable fly that they suspect has been stolen. Could the disappearance of a vintage Gray Ghost from a riverside cabin in the Madison Valley be connected to the gray ghosts who haunt Sphinx Mountain?  Montana may be the main character here but Field & Stream columnist McCafferty—already working on books three and four—has the journalist/sport background of a Randy Wayne White and is a whiz with characters and dialogue, and he’s sure enough a Spenser fan. Think also CJ Box, Craig Johnson, William G. Tapply, and Peter Bowen.

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The Second One’s The Hard One (or is it the third?)

hard at work on gray ghost-2

Hard at work on The Gray Ghost Murders, feeding a wild blackbird raised from a hatchling and later released. It returned a year later to visit and get a free meal.

When I got contracts to write the first two books of the Sean Stranahan/Martha Ettinger series, I’d already finished “The Royal Wulff Murders.”  My literary agent, Dominick Abel, said he didn’t envy me my position. “The first one’s easy,” he said.  “Nobody expects anything of you, there’s no deadline pressure.  You sit down at the typewriter — tap tap tap tap tap — ‘I’ve written a book.’  And guess what, It’s pretty good and it’s going to be published by a major publisher.”
The only problem is that the publisher wants a series.  Stand alone mystery novels, stand alone novels of any kind, have about as much chance of making money as I do of beating out Peyton Manning for the QB-one spot on the Broncos next year. But sell that first novel and you find yourself in the big leagues of a totally different sport, one that nothing in your life has prepared you for. The publisher takes you to lunch in the Village; she broaches the subject of the second book.  When might she see it?  And a week later you’re back home staring at a blank piece of paper or the electronic equivalent.  You only had your entire life to write the first one; now you’re looking at a year for second.  They like to keep these things coming.  It’s the way to build a readership and after all, this is a business.
“No, I don’t envy you the second one,” Dominick reiterates.  “But if you can get through it, the good news is the third one is relatively easy.  You tell yourself, “I’ve done it twice, I can do it again.”
That’s the conventional thinking, anyway. My own experience was that the second book, the Gray Ghost Murders,” which will be published less than a month from now, was the easiest.  I was 20,000 words into the story when I got the two-book contract and never let myself feel the pressure and never looked back.  I give myself credit for being smart about the head start, but luck was involved as well. I had a good premise, a hook, the bare bones of the story already in mind when I started it.  And, and I think this is important, the first book had yet to be published.  I was still in that period when it’s all a bit of a miracle.  There was pressure, but it took the form of worrying whether the Royal Wulff Murders would sell or die a thousand deaths, taking me down with it.  I didn’t worry so much about writing the  second book.
For me, the third book, Dead Man’s Fancy, was the tough one.  Tough like “The Royal Wulff Murders” was but with this difference — I had a deadline.   Dominick says one of the pitfalls of the second novel is the writer overthinks it, tries to outline, which is a joke (more on that in a future blog), and as a result becomes paralyzed.  I made this mistake with the third book, which I began last spring. I didn’t become paralyzed, but I lost time and came to realize that I was in for a very hard slog.  Such is the nature of professional writing, which differs from hobby writing in that your livelihood, not just your image of yourself, depend on it.  As I write this, I’m about halfway through the rewrite. The deadline looms.  Wish me luck.

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