Monday, May 15, 2017

How I Find Inspiration for My Books by Guest Blogger Kat Henry Doran

11:10 AM 0 Comments

I like to write about subjects every reader understands to a certain degree: loneliness, fear, sorrow, grief, ambition, greed, lust, fun. I want my characters to come from all walks of life, though I admit I am drawn to nurses and doctors, cops and attorneys, offenders and users. It has always been said, 'write what you know best'. That's what I do, what I know best.

I firmly believe the setting is equally as important as the human characters--and become a character on their own. I want to create towns and settings that readers remember, understand and appreciate: some place in the back of nowhere [ as in Captain Marvelous] or the working side of town in well-known tourist areas [as in Try Just Once More].

In 1997 I was lucky enough to land a job with a PI firm based in New York City which allowed me to travel all over Upstate New York, from Buffalo to Albany; Ogdensburg [near the Canadian border] to the Catskills, and places in between. One day I drove through a small Central New York town named New Woodstock which probably took less than five minutes from one end to the other. At the far end, just inside the village line, I passed a State Trooper substation. One lone car was parked in the lot. I immediately thought, What would it be like for some hot shot big city cop to be yanked out of the lights, camera, action of urban crime scenes and dropped [read demotion] into the south side of No Man's Land? How would he handle traffic delays due to an escaped herd of cows? How would he cope with a town grocery store that sells everything from motor oil to baby buntings to back issues of Guns and Ammo? "Captain Marvelous" was born. On a previous business trip, I'd passed a group of migrant workers heading into their camp after a long day in the fields. Bingo, I had the perfect victims. And later, while driving to the northwest border of the Catskill Mountains, along Interstate 88, I found the scene of the crime for the Captain to investigate. Man, the words could not come out of my fingers fast enough.

Several years ago I read an article in the local newspaper which concerned a well-known entrepreneur who was found in a local establishment well known to local law enforcement for its frequent flyer guests, dead from an overdose of heroin. The two people he'd been partying with were subsequently arrested and charged with manslaughter. They claimed the businessman "begged" them to give him the speedball. The jury did not buy their story. The community was shocked; this man--active in a number of local charities, known for his many good works and philanthropy, hid deep dark secrets from everyone. My heart went out to his family who had no idea their husband and father led a double life. The family's recovery from this tragedy became the basis for "Try Just Once More".

One of my favorite authors is Robert K. Tannenbaum; he is an attorney who writes legal suspense, carrying the same characters, Butch Karp and Marlene Chiampi, through each story. The characters are fun, funny and interesting. The setting, New York City, is an equal partner to Butch and Marlene for their quirks and foibles. In one book, Mr. Tannenbaum likened the odor which abounds in an Upstate maximum security correctional facility to the monkey house at the zoo on a hot July afternoon. At the time I read this line, I thought little of it. Then I was assigned to investigate a vehicular fatality which occurred in a city in Western New York State. My job was to take photographs from the point where the subject vehicle landed nose-down on a second vehicle, moving outward backward for a total of 1500 feet, and determine if the driver of the car would have been able to see the parked vehicle and stopped in time to avoid the collision. Likewise, I was to determine through interviews with survivors if they had any advance warning this vehicle was approaching.

Long story short, I found myself in the middle of a housing project whose grounds appeared well maintained. The sidewalks were clean and free of debris; the lawns showed no litter. The few pedestrians on the sidewalks nodded greetings to me. Access to buildings was made via double locked doors, communication with the residents was done through cell phones in order to have someone unlock the doors to admit me. I then had to climb four flights in an airless stairwell that smelled of fresh cigarette smoke and was illuminated only by sunshine coming through filthy dingy windows to reach the designated apartment. It smelled just like the monkey house at the zoo.

There were no bulbs in the ceiling lights; I was told they were stolen each time the city replaced them. Then I asked what residents did at night when they were coming home, or going to work and was told, "they pray, ma'am". The people I interviewed were polite and helpful, grateful for any assistance I could give them, and insisted on remaining with me while I took photos of the crash site.

It was only later that I learned this particular housing project claims the highest homicide rate in the city.

My adventures that day will certainly be the inspiration in an upcoming book.

I hope you find this bit of reminiscing helpful to your readers. If I can assist you in any other way, please don't hesitate to contact me.

Kat Henry Doran admits a life-long fascination with off the wall characters and unique locations have influenced her writing. She'd also agree her varied careers as a nurse and an advocate for victims of sexual violence often dominate the flavor of her novels--even when she'd prefer they stay tucked away in the back of a dark closet.

Working for a full-service private investigation firm allows her to travel the length of Upstate New York while investigating allegations of medical malpractice and incidents of personal injury--and to discover the perfect setting for her first novel "Captain Marvelous" right down to the scene of the crime. The heroine's home in Kat's second novel "Try Just Once More" was discovered while traveling to the very northern border of New York

Kat and her college professor husband live in Western New York where they enjoy their children, both the two and four-footed variety, and their new grandchild. When she's not investigating or writing, Kat presents professional workshops to writers, under her real name, on a variety of topics revolving around sexual violence.

To learn more about her books, and her workshops, visit her website at

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Lisa33 and Me - The Harrowing True Story of a Six-Figure Advance by Dan Blum

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This is the story of getting my novel published by a major New York publisher. 
It is a story of triumph over adversity.  Followed by defeat at the hands of adversity.   Followed by…let’s just say adversity and I are battling it out in overtime.   
I will skip quickly through the early rejection letters.  Suffice it to say that, in no time at all, I had accumulated a stack that covered the entire spectrum of conceivable reasons for turning down a manuscript – up to and including that my writing was, somehow, “too sophisticated.”
What does one say to that?  “How dare you!  My writing is not even slightly sophisticated!” Interestingly, another agent referred to the very same work as “too slapstick”.  It   would have been interesting to get these agents together for a panel discussion on what was wrong with my manuscript.
For years I worked and reworked a serious novel under the guidance of an agent who expressed an interest in representing it. The novel metamorphosed into a variety of forms: One narrator.  Two narrators.  Six narrators and a chronicler.  Yet with each draft, so my agent told me, there was something undefinable that was not quite right.  Perhaps the issue was not the narration after all.  Perhaps it was the story itself.  Or the protagonist.  Or the font.
I eventually dropped this particular magnum opus and dashed off Lisa33, a little post-modern sex comedy set entirely on the internet.  In a matter of a few months, I had completed it and sent it off.  I soon got a call back from Bill Clegg, who was then already a big name in literary representation. 
Bill was unlike anyone I had dealt with before:  suave, brimming with confidence, assured in his opinions.  When he declared that a book was, “brilliant”, it seemed he was making a statement not just about the work, but about his own expertise, his authority in conferring the label of brilliance.
“I want to represent this,” he told me.  “I will definitely get you a good deal for it.   I’ll call you in a few weeks.”  At first I was unsure whether to really believe him.   Was this just hubris?  A sleazy sales story?   Three weeks later he called again.  “I’m handing your book out today.  I’m telling everyone they have to read it over the weekend.  I’ll be back to you by next Monday to review the offers.”
The anticipation in the following days was almost unbearable.  And the next Monday he called again as promised.   His voice was full of excitement.  What was more incredible was what he had to say, which was something out of dream or a movie:  He’d generated a bidding war for my novel.  In the end, Viking had come up with the best offer, which was in six figures, and easily one of the largest advances paid to an unpublished novelist that year.   I literally jumped for joy. “Get ready for it!” Bill said.  “ You’re going to be famous.”
The next morning I awoke in a sort of euphoric haze.  I made coffee, asked my wife what we should do to celebrate.
“Well,” she said, “the trash definitely needs to get to the dump.”
What the heck?!  Didn’t celebrated writers such as myself have stunt-husbands to do that sort of thing? It would be the first but definitely not the last come-down I would experience in the coming months.
My editor at Viking, Molly Stern, was a hugely enthusiastic advocate for the book, and wanted only a few, small editorial changes.  I remember two in particular.  One was, “Make it even funnier!”  – as though one can just do this.  I stared despairingly at my pages, wondering how I could squeeze one more droplet of humor out of this or that section.   The other comment I remember was a note across some sex scene that read, “Could a toe really be that dexterous?”  This precipitated a painfully awkward conversation where I explained to Molly that I believed that a toe could be that dexterous, and she expressed the view that it could not, and we bravely  discussed angles, positions, physiology.  I remember thinking how I had theoretically reached the pinnacle of the literary world, and this is our erudite discussion!
Alas, it all started to unravel rather quickly.  My book was immediately caught up in politics at Viking.  While Molly loved it, her boss evidently disliked it to an almost equal degree, and wondered why Molly had spent so much to acquire it.  The publication date got pushed out.  The printing, the publicity, weren’t going to be that large after all.
Meanwhile my super-agent, Bill Clegg, gradually grew more and more remote.  Just when he should have been working to promote the book, or shaking things up at Viking, or withdrawing it from the Viking deal altogether and taking it to another publisher, he flat out disappeared.  Nobody seemed to know what had happened to him.   And then Viking pushed the publication date back again.  And then a third time.
The book came out in 2003, almost two years after it was first accepted.  As near as I can tell, it was deep-sixed – dumped onto the market by this most prestigious of publishers, that has a bevy of Nobel laureates among its authors – with zero publicity, zero marketing and zero sales effort.  It was scarcely mentioned to bookstores in Viking’s list of releases.   My publisher might as well have put a gold star on the cover inscribed with the words, “Don’t Buy This Book.”
Why would they do this?  I cannot really be sure.  Perhaps once Molly’s boss had expressed her opposition to the book, she basically wanted it to fail.  Failure validated her opinion. Success would have proven her mistaken.  But who knows?  
In any case, the book quickly vanished into obscurity.  As did I.  The beacon of fame swept right over me, illuminated me for a few delirious seconds, and then moved on – to settle, eventually, on who knows who.  EL James.  Justin Bieber.  Bristol Palin.  Having spent through my advance, I went back into software, making less money than I had before I’d left.  
But my story does end there, nor does my former agent’s.  A couple of years later, I was sharing my tale of woe with yet another agent, Simon.  “I’ve heard a lot of horror stories about the publishing industry,” he told me, “but I think yours is the very worst.”
There was something oddly comforting in hearing this.  At least I was noteworthy in some way.
Then he asked me, “Did you not hear what happened to Bill Clegg?”
“No,” I said.  “What happened?”
“You know he disappeared from the publishing world completely, right?”
“I didn’t know that,” I said.
“Everyone was talking about it.  Nobody knew what had happened to him.  Even if he was still alive.  It turned out, he was off on some huge cocaine bender.”
“That’s horrible!” I said.
“Not as bad as you’d think,” Simon said.  “He just resurfaced.  With a memoir about his experience.  Which he just sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars!”
Sure enough, the New York Times was soon writing front page stories about Bill Clegg and his  memoir!  I did not read Bill’s book, but I was fascinated – if that is the word – to read in the Times that it included passages where he described how he had screwed over his writers, had left them dangling, unrepresented, in limbo.
So this was the exclamation point to my experience.   I was writing software in some anonymous cubicle, while my former agent, who’d once told me I was going to be famous, was on the front page of the New York Times.  And why was he on the front page of The Times?  For screwing over people like me and writing about it!
The theme of Bill’s memoir, so I gathered, was that he’d found redemption.  Oddly, the proof of his redemption was his big advance for his memoir of redemption.
It is an irony that any self-respecting postmodernist has to love.  If he gets a big advance, and lots of media attention, he has returned triumphantly, and there is a story.  If he doesn’t get a big advance, or media coverage, there is no real triumph.  No heartwarming redemption.  The story lies entirely in the fact that the media is covering the story.
For several years after this experience, I ceased writing fiction and even reading it.  I wanted to get as far away from the memory as possible.  Oddly, authoring an unsuccessful novel is possibly worse than never having been published at all.  Nobody cares about why your book failed.  You are an embarrassment to the industry, an awkward reminder, a source of guilt that they would rather not think about. 
And yet here I am, many years later, rewriting the ending to this story. 
One day, without ever consciously intending to begin a new project, I founding myself writing a scene about a group of castaways on a deserted island.  It was narrated by an eighty-five year-old man.  Then.  I wrote a scene of his childhood in Germany in the 1930s.   Before I knew it, I was in too deep, immersed.  There was no way out but forward.  This became my new novel, The Feet Say Run.  
I found a small press for, The Feet Say Run.  Somewhat remarkably, I found myself in Publisher’s Weekly and Psychology Today.  I have someone pitching the film rights. 
Have I “made it”?  I’m not sure what that means anymore.  Or what exactly I’d once expected.  I do know this:  I have a novel out there that I am incredibly proud of.  I have a small, but enthusiastic audience.   I have some reason to be satisfied and hopeful.  I suppose that is making it.  
About the Author

Daniel A. Blum grew up in New York, attended Brandeis University and currently lives outside of Boston with his family. His first novel Lisa33 was published by Viking in 2003. He has been featured in Poets and Writers magazine, Publisher’s Weekly and most recently, interviewed in Psychology Today.
Daniel writes a humor blog, The Rotting Post, that has developed a loyal following.
His latest release is the literary novel, The Feet Say Run.



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