I Don’t Know What To Write About
(But I Want To Be A Writer)

“Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.”

— William Wordsworth

“I want to be a writer,” someone will say. “But I don’t know what to write about.”

Which is ridiculous. 

If you’ve lived on this planet for at least fifteen years and haven’t been dwelling in a dark cave that entire time, you have something to write about. You can choose anything: any subject, any angle, from any focus. There are no strict rules about what you must write, as long as it’s interesting, filled with conflict, and the story moves forward to a climax (both figuratively, and in the case of many erotic novels, literally too). Look into your heart at your darkest fears and try to expose them. That’s what Ray Bradbury did.

He considered what scared him the most, then he confronted those fears on the page. If you’re scared of spiders, write a story about a man trapped in a room with hundreds of them. Not only do you get to confront your fear from a place of safety, but your words will be infused with genuine terror. If you put yourself into the mind of your character, you can create his horror by picturing how you’d feel in such a situation.

If you’re scared your child will die, or be kidnapped by a serial killer, or waste her childhood sniffing glue, then write a story in which your protagonist’s daughter is held hostage, or thrown out of a plane by a madman, or captured by an out of control half-human half-lawnmower with a “heart of gold” but a soul of metal and murder — or whatever-the-fuck — and just build your story from there until it’s finished. 

* * * * * * * * * *

Open your eyes to the world. If one day you’re walking home alone and a group of menacing youths are heading toward you, record how you feel. Were you intimidated? Excited for a possible roadside gang-bang? Didn’t care? Whatever you felt, you can transfer that to a character in a similar scenario. What will he or she do in that situation? How will they react? You know what you did — crossed the road possibly, or deliberately looked them in the eye to show you didn’t fear them. Or chucked a banana peel in their path and ran. Whatever.

But maybe your character is different: she’s tired of crossing the road. This is where your fantasy gets to run wild and you can have some fun. Maybe this chick, she has a gun, and she’s not going to be intimidated by thugs anymore. She’s going to blow their heads off. Maybe that’s it, you end it there: she kills them and it finishes with their blood running down the gutters. Or maybe, if you want to run further with it, there are consequences to that action. Again, you can draw on reality for this. Think about what would happen if you were to murder a gang in cold blood. Ask yourself questions and the creative gods will answer.

“The police will investigate so she needs to get rid of the weapon,” you may say. Or “The rest of their crew will seek revenge.” Okay, so how will they do that? By killing someone the main character loves perhaps. And there you have it, you now have a plot evolving. She’s trying to duck the police while at the same time protecting her family who she unwittingly put in danger through her act of insanity. And from there you can plan it out or just write it as you go along, depending on which approach suits you best.

Maybe, also, you want to fill in some backstory for why your character was so intimidated by the youths in the first place — again, you can draw from your well of experience for that. Think of a time when you’ve been intimidated and how that made you feel: small, defenceless. And if you’ve never felt that way, if you’re the intimidator in real life, why don’t you ask friends and family what it feels like? Learn from your own experience but pick and choose from others’ feelings and emotions, too. That will give your story greater depth and truth. You want your audience to believe in your hero, and you do that by grounding him or her in reality.

And the more you do this, asking questions of yourself, the more your brain will train itself to make these connections and link everything together. The fact is authors aren’t aliens; they don’t have story ideas beamed into their heads. Everyone has something to write about: everyone has likes and dislikes and idiosyncrasies. Everyone feels impotent at some point in their life (not in that way, although many suffer from that too), and that’s all writing really is: a character with a desire and a million obstacles in his way. In real life many of us slink away, but your character isn’t you — he’s gonna smash through those barriers, goddammit.

Because writing isn’t about documenting something that’s real.

It’s about showcasing something that’s true.

And that’s not the same thing at all.

* * * * * * * * * *

Have you ever had a moment that you’ve later replayed in your head, wishing you’d said or done something different? That’s what writing is. You get into an argument with a customer in a shop, go home and think: I should have told that prick to go to hell — but you didn’t. Maybe you were raised to hide your emotions, so you keep your anger submerged below the surface. Your characters, however, can say what you didn’t. Or what you were too scared to say. Write that same scenario out but with someone else in your place. Channel your anger and energy into your protagonist. Now, when the character is insulted by the customer in the shop, he doesn’t just take it and leave. He responds how you want him to. You feel the satisfaction, vicariously, of cutting that person down — it’s just on the page instead. You feel a victory in their actions.

If your protagonist wants a raise, or a promotion, he’s going to bang on that door and ask for one. In your own day job, you may be too timid or scared to do that, but you’re writing characters that are larger than life. When they want something, they damn well go for it.

And they don’t let anything, or anyone, stand in their way. No sir. 

Which is what makes writing so powerful: you can create a whole new world for yourself — one in which you’re stronger, smarter; you can outfox those around you.

And it’s risk-free. You can have fun without the possibility of death.

You get to play God and rule the lives of those you create.

* * * * * * * * * *

If you still don’t know what to write, even after questioning yourself and the scenarios around you — even after plumbing the depths of your bookshelves and reading through the countless novels already in existence — if you still can’t summon up a single idea, then writing probably isn’t for you. It’s a pipe dream and you’re merely a PRETENDER (these people are common and I’ll explain more about them in a future article).

On the other hand, if you’re able to start seeing connections now; seeing how everything links, how even the mundane moments from your everyday life can be needled for inspiration, you’re on your way to becoming a writer. That’s all you need to do: train your brain to look at the world through the twisted romantic lens of a disturbed author.

After that, it’s a simple process of blood, sweat, tears and heartache.


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Being Rubbish Is Okay
(In The Long Run) 

“It is perfectly okay to write garbage—as long as you edit brilliantly.”

— C. J. Cherryh

Too many aspiring authors act overly precious with their work. In one sense that’s good: perfectionism and professionalism are closely linked. In another way, though, they’re hindering their growth by using perfectionism as an excuse not to push themselves. They don’t take chances, they don’t let themselves write something terrible or experiment with different styles. They’re so concerned with perfectionism, they’re handicapping their writing before it’s even begun.

For these types of individuals, it takes them an inordinate time to produce a first draft of anything. A short story takes a month or longer to complete; a novel takes years. And that’s only in the beginning stages. When they finally do put something down on the page, they’ll waste even more time writing and rewriting the same thing to death, and won’t ever send it off until it seems perfect. The problem is it never seems perfect — there’s always something they can change: a word, a phrase, the structure of a sentence. If you keep looking for issues with something, you’ll find them. Sometimes you need to accept your manuscript’s possible limitations (especially if you’re being overly pedantic) and let it go.

* * * * * * * * * * 

You need to stop sitting down at your laptop with the expectation that your next novel will become a smash hit and make you millions. By approaching a project with an end goal that’s too big and/or unrealistic, you may just inhibit your creativity. You’ll begin to question whether it really is good enough, or funny enough, or smart enough. You’ll overthink things and lose the passion and creativity that you need in order to write something amazing in the first place. It’s essentially a form of self-sabotage: you tell yourself your novel won’t ever be as exciting as the ideas in your head, which means you spend hours worrying over each sentence or paragraph. In the end you barely write anything — a page here, a chapter there — and it remains unfinished. 

It’s important to set yourself goals, but they should be realistic and attainable. Telling yourself the book you’re writing will be a multimillion pound bestseller is great for your ego, but does little to release your stress. All it does is pile more pressure on your shoulders and gives the no-writing-devil a reason to prod you with his pitchfork. What might make things easier is if you break these goals down into smaller segments. Start big: I’m going to finish a novel by the end of the year. Then break it down into sections: I’m going to finish a chapter by the end of the month. And even smaller: I’m going to write thirty pages by the end of the week. And again: I’m going to write four pages a day. And keep going like that. Think small but write big. Don’t worry about the quality of your work for now, just try to reach your end goal. Once you’ve done that, you’ve succeeded. If it’s a terrible book, that’s okay. You can then edit it and restructure it after; you can turn that pile of shit into a triple-decker chocolate cake. At least you’ve done the hard part.

Because actually finishing a novel is the main thing you need to ensure.

Everything else is just decoration and word choices.


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Joshua_coyne_violinThe Violin Prodigy 
(A Lesson In Rejection)

Originally appearing in Lawrence Block’s writing guide Telling Lies for Fun and Profit, the fable below of a violin prodigy who throws away his dreams based on the harsh words of a famous music teacher is both inspirational and reassuring. Every aspiring writer (or musician, or actor, or whatever) should pin this above their bed and read it every night, just to remind them that rejection is necessary and shouldn’t deter them on their journey to success. 

The Fire Within

A young violin prodigy was walking down the street one day trying to decide whether or not to pursue a life in music when he came upon the most famous violin teacher in the world. Scarcely believing his luck, he stopped the great teacher and asked if he could play for him, thinking he would abandon his dream of a career in music if the great teacher told him he was wasting his time.

The great teacher nodded silently for him to begin. So he played, beads of sweat soon appearing on his forehead, and when he finished, he was certain he’d given his finest performance.

But the great maestro only shook his head sadly and said, “You lack the fire.”

The young musician was devastated. He returned home and announced his intention to abandon the violin. Instead, he entered the world of business and turned out to have such a talent for it that in a few short years he found himself richer than he’d ever imagined possible.

Almost a decade later he found himself walking down another street in another city when he happened to spot the great teacher again. He rushed over to him.

“I’m so sorry to bother you,” he said, “and I’m sure you don’t remember me, but I stopped you on the street years ago to play my violin for you, and I just want to thank you. Because of your advice I abandoned my greatest love, the violin, painful as it was, and became a businessman, and today enjoy great success, which I owe all to you. But one thing you must tell me: how did you know I didn’t have what it takes? How did you know all those years ago I lacked the fire?”

The great teacher shook his head sadly and said only, “You don’t understand. I tell everyone who plays for me they lack the fire. If you had the fire, you wouldn’t have listened.”


There you have it. Short and sweet. Just remember: your opinion is the only one that matters. Believe in yourself regardless of whoever else tries to tear you down. A thousand people can call you talentless or a hack, but only you can turn off that fire from within. So pursue your dreams, claw your way to the top of that slippery icy mountain, and slam your flag into the summit.

Then use all of that fire in your belly to set the world ablaze.


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Rob Boffard: Part II

imgresIn PART I, Rob Boffard spoke about his debut novel, Tracer, which is due for release on July 2nd 2015. He also gave advice on how to approach an agent and some insight into the publishing world. Check it out here

In PART II, I delve a little deeper into his writing habits. 

GK: You have a strong journalistic background. Was the plan always to transition into a novelist?  

RB: I never planned transitioning into being a novelist. It just sort of happened! I’ve always enjoyed writing, and I was a journalist because to my mind that seemed like a career where I’d be able to do it regularly (plus, I love journalism anyway). I discovered over the years that while I was perfectly capable of being a journalist, the part I enjoyed most was actually putting pen to paper and writing the stories. It felt like a natural progression.

GK: How have your years of journalism informed and/or improved the way you approached the writing business?

RB: The advantage of being a journalist was that it gave me the opportunity and impetus to write regularly. I excised a lot of bad writing, because if I didn’t then my editors wouldn’t accept it. Being freelance has also taught me a great deal about managing money and selling my stories. It also helps me deal with rejection, because even now I still get my story ideas rejected on an almost weekly basis — sometimes daily. I’ve learned to move on very quickly.

GK: What would you say is the main difference between being a journalist and a novelist? In a sense you were creating stories and shaping narratives before, and now you’re doing the same but they’re all fictional.

RB: Absolutely. In many cases, it is actually quite rare for an editor to let me see their changes to a particular article before it is published, simply because of the nature of journalism and daily deadlines. Obviously I love it when that happens because it gives me a chance to make the story a lot better, but I don’t get too fussed when it doesn’t. When we first began editing Tracer, I told my editor that I would happily make any change she suggested as long as there was a good and logical reason behind it. So far it’s an approach that has paid off, because every change she has suggested has made the story better. I can only think of one change that I actually vetoed, although I’m going to keep that one under wraps.

GK: Many first time authors can be precious about their work — not wanting to change or rewrite certain things. You said earlier (in PART I) that “endlessly tinkering” with your book was a difficult process but essential. How important do you think it is to rewrite? And what advice would you give to the stubborn writers who refuse to change their work?

RB: You can’t publish a story without rewriting it, even if the rewrite isn’t extensive. No one’s first draft is ever quite good enough. If you think yours is, then you’re wrong. It’s that simple. The only time that isn’t the case is if you’re some kind of insane genius, and since those come along about once every hundred years, I’m going to assume that’s not the case.

GK: What’s your writing process? Do you try to hit a certain word count a day? Only have banana and eggs for breakfast? Wear your lucky pants and socks combo every morning before you start typing? Or do you just make it up as you go along?

RB: Pretty boring answer I’m afraid! I aim for around 1500 words a day, and often end up getting closer to 2000. I write in the morning after my fiancée leaves for work. I do a bit of a work out, listen to some loud and aggressive hip-hop, have a shower, blend up a smoothie so I can get my fruit fix, then all I have to do is tear myself away from the Internet and actually sit down and write. But it’s a rare day that I don’t hit my word count.

GK: I won’t ask where you get your ideas — I hate being asked that question myself — but how do you cultivate your ideas? If you get a flash of something, do you write it down that day and get to work on it? Do you let it simmer? What’s your process for nurturing an idea into something deeper and more satisfying?

RB: Interesting question. My ideas tend to come in bright flashes at the most unexpected times. I don’t usually write them down as they are pretty clear in my head, but sometimes I might make a few notes if the idea is particularly complex or is an intricate solution to a problem I’ve been having. After that, it’s just a case of interrogating the idea for weak spots. Once I start writing it down, I usually know pretty fast if it’s a keeper or not. 

GK: Are you the type to plan out your book in advance, or write as you go along? And if you’ve done both, which have you found to be more useful?

RB: Tracer was the first novel I’d ever written and I had no idea how to do it, so I did an outline more or less on reflex. It worked well, so I did it for the second one too. I also found that in both cases I went quite a bit off the original plan, and was more than happy to do so. After the second book was done, I launched straight into a completely different novel which I didn’t plan at all, and I found that to be quite a stressful experience. With an outline, even a very rough one, I feel like I’ve got something to help me find my way.

GK: Seeing as you began writing the sequels to Tracer whilst in the middle of going back and forth on the first one with your editor, did anything from that experience shape or change how you approached the writing of your sequels? Did you learn about a particular writing flaw of yours — maybe a propensity to overuse certain words/phrases, perhaps? Or did you just steam ahead with it knowing you’d deal with it in the rewrite stage?

RB: Yes, absolutely. I learned that there are certain things that I forget to do (like include physical descriptions of the characters, which is pretty important!). But I also don’t believe in waiting for things to be perfect before I start a project. I decided that I was capable of editing and writing at the same time, and changing things on the fly if I needed to.

GK: Any advice you could pass on to the aspiring authors out there reading this?

RB: None whatsoever. Almost all writing advice is snake-oil. The only thing that’s ever worked in all circumstances is: read lots, write lots.

GK: Great, I think that’s everything. Thanks for your time. Is there anything else you wanted to add?

RB: Thanks for the interview, and check out Tracer this July. It’s bad-ass. 

If you enjoyed the interview, please share/tweet/Facebook/ignore everything I just said, and also check out Rob’s website. He updates it regularly and there’s plenty more information on Tracer along with some cool artwork of his characters. And if you end up buying Tracer (which you can pre-order here), make sure to email me/comment below and let me know what you think. I’ve read it and it’s a fantastic novel. 

I’ve got a feeling the name Rob Boffard will be making some waves over the next few years.


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Rob Boffard: Part I

imgresI first heard of Rob Boffard when he wrote a long piece for Huck about the world of battle rap (read it here). As a freelance journalist, fresh from his hometown in Johannesburg, South Africa, Rob had been writing and selling his articles to publications for years: from Music Tech to Wired to The Guardian. On this occasion he’d covered a Don’t Flop tryout event that I’d participated in, and had nothing but complimentary things to say about me. After reading it online, my fiancée hunted down a physical copy of the magazine for my birthday, and then I searched for Rob on Facebook to applaud him on his writing. Not only because he’d written such nice (and obviously true) things about me, but also because I genuinely enjoyed his work. I could tell this guy had a real spark with words. I suggested we meet up for drinks. 

Over time we built up a friendship based on our mutual passion: writing fiction. We began to correspond regularly, sending short stories and novels back and forth, offering advice and criticism, and sometimes meeting up for more drinks so we could drunkenly rant at each other about the torment of novel writing. Eventually Rob snagged an agent, and a short while later a three-book deal for his Outer Earth trilogy with the Science Fiction publishing house Orbit

Since then he’s moved to Canada with his fiancée, and been chasing deadlines.

He kindly took time from his busy schedule to talk with me.

We not only discussed his new book, but Rob also gave an insight into his writing process and offered some valuable tips for any aspiring authors out there.

Check out PART I below:

GK: Firstly, let’s talk about your debut novel Tracer. It’s set for release on July 2nd 2015. Can you tell us what it’s about?

RB: Sure. It’s set on a space station, Outer Earth, which holds the last of humanity. Outer Earth is old: broken down, rusted, falling to pieces. There are couriers, called tracers, who take packages and messages across the station. One of the couriers, Riley, discovers she’s been transporting something pretty gruesome, and uncovers a conspiracy that could destroy Outer Earth . . .

GK: It’s the first in a trilogy. When you originally wrote Tracer, did you envision it as more than one book? Or was that the publisher’s decision?

RB: I didn’t know what Tracer was going to be! I just wrote it. Only when I got to the end did I realise that I wasn’t done telling the story. Orbit liked that, and bought the books as a trilogy before I’d even finished writing them.

GK: And are they all finished now? 

RB: I’m editing book two at the moment, and the first draft of book three is about two weeks away from completion. Crunch time!

GK: And then how long do we have to wait before we can read them?

RB: Book 2 is out in February 2016, and Book 3 in July 2016.

GK: Moving on to the book itself: as someone who’s been privileged to have read Tracer before it hits shops, one of the refreshing things I noticed when reading your novel is that you have a diverse cast of characters (a compelling mix of races, creeds, and sexes) without it seeming forced or done for the sake of filling a quota. Was it a conscious decision to have so many different — and many would say “marginalised” — voices in your novel? And do you think it’s important to provide a platform of characters that represents the true diversity of real life?

RB: I need to be very careful with this answer, because I know that it’s a tricky topic, particularly in the sci-fi community. We absolutely do need more diversity in fiction, including more protagonists who come from marginalised groups. That’s a no-brainer. That being said, the diversity in Tracer wasn’t a conscious choice, mostly because I was doing my very best to not write a crap story, and that was taking up most of my conscious brainpower! But I knew very early on that Outer Earth was likely to be a melange of different cultures, races, genders, religions. That’s just how, logically, a place like that would turn out. I let that guide me. I didn’t consciously try and make my characters diverse, but subconsciously that’s obviously what happened, and I’m delighted that it did.

GK: Your main hero Riley is a great character: a smart, witty, determined woman who manages to be both vulnerable and made of steel. What was it like writing from a female perspective? Did you find it any more challenging than writing the male characters? And did you get any input or feedback about Riley from the women in your life?

RB: I didn’t think too hard about the female perspective. I knew it was important, but I figured that if I concentrated on writing a believable character, that would come through. From the reactions I’ve got so far I think it came out okay. That’s not to say I have it perfect, or don’t have more work to do in future books. For someone like me — male — it’s an ongoing education.

GK: One thing that struck me about the world you created (Outer Earth) is how legitimate and realistic it seems. Did you do any research into how a space station would work before you started writing? Or did you just make it up as you went along?

RB: I did a huge amount of research on orbital physics, and what the station would be like. This was not something I was willing to make up on-the-fly. I went down and spoke to a genuine rocket scientist at Kingston University, and he helped me put together a station that worked. I also spoke to an expert on fusion energy, an entomologist, and a few other scientists as well. I was quite content to make up the actual story, but I wanted my physics to be straight.

GK: I can definitely see Tracer hitting the big screen one day. If that happens, do you have any ideas about who you’d like to play Riley (and any other cast members) in a film version?

RB: So many ideas. I would love this to be made into a movie, although of course that is a very long way off. There’s a New Zealand actress called Shavaughn Ruakere who I think would make a killer Riley. Either her, or Olivia Thirlby from Dredd. Michael B. Jordan would make an amazing Carver; or a young Ryan Reynolds, circa Blade 3 (not possible now, obviously). Man, so many other names . . . A young Zhang Ziyi as Yao, Sam Worthington as Kevin, Dev Patel as Prakesh. Jada Pinkett Smith would be the PERFECT Okwembu. Darnell, I don’t know . . . someone fucking huge. Basically what I’m saying is, if this ever gets made into a movie I am writing it into the contract that I have casting power. 

GK: Many aspiring authors don’t understand just how long the process is from the sale of a book up until publication. Could you give us a little insight into what goes on behind the scenes once a book’s been accepted? And how have you found that process? 

RB: After the hangover from celebratory drinks has faded away, it’s all about getting the book ready for publication. You work pretty closely with your editor on every stage of the book, making sure it’s as good as it can be. For me, this felt like lying under a car with my arms deep in the guts of the engine, endlessly tinkering. It’s a very difficult process, but absolutely essential. In the background, the publisher is busy with cover design, blurb copy, working on a marketing campaign . . . at this stage, that’s all still going on, as we’re a few months from publication. 

GK: Any positive/negatives you’ve noticed since being part of that world that you were previously unaware of? Any pitfalls that you could advise others to watch out for?

RB: Good question. I think you have to be prepared for the amount of work needed to actually get a manuscript to a point where it can be published. To my mind, it actually felt like more work than writing the book in the first place. But I have to stress that it’s an enormously positive process. You come out of it feeling like you really accomplished something.

GK: There’s a common belief amongst many unpublished authors that finding an agent to represent their work is more about luck than talent: you either hit the lottery or you don’t. Could you tell us how you found your agent? What did you do — hockey mask and gun to the face? Fireworks through the letterbox? Or something more traditional?

RB: I’m a big believer in tradition, which for me meant duct tape and bolt cutters. No, I think you need a bit of both — luck and talent, that is, not assorted weapons. You not only have to have the drive and talent to get your manuscript to a semi-readable state, but you do need a tiny bit of luck in finding the right agent for it. Simply because an agent rejects you doesn’t mean that your manuscript is bad; it just means that they may not be the right agent for it. I got about eighteen rejections before I found my guy, and that came simply through the process of cold submitting. No shortcuts, no magic button. I just kept at it.

GK: Any advice you could give authors on how they should approach an agent?

RB: Be polite, accept a no and move on, and don’t think that submitting anything other than a standard cover letter and the first bit of your manuscript will work. Agents have seen every “clever” submission under the sun, and they’re far more likely to respond to you if you work within their parameters.

GK: When you signed with your agent, what was your initial reaction? And then, later, how did you feel when you found out you were finally going to be published?

RB: Both of them are among the best feelings in the world. It’s not just that someone has expressed interest in your work, it’s that they’re prepared to then work hard on your behalf (initially without compensation, in the case of the agent) to make sure that it gets out into the world. When I found out that Orbit had made an offer, I was sitting in bed in Vancouver on a Saturday morning. It was a bit early for whiskey, but we had the mother of all fry-ups . . .

That’s it for PART I. In the meantime, check out Rob’s website here for more information. 

In PART II, we discuss Rob’s background in journalism, his writing routines, and the importance of rewriting your work before sending it off. Make sure you check it out here.


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Suspect By Robert Crais

imgres“She snapped at the raining debris, and barked at the metal birds now circling the distant buildings like terrible wasps. There were more explosions, then a sudden silence filled the desert, and the clatter of running Marines approached . . .”

Best known for his series of Elvis Cole and Joe Pike novels, Robert Crais, on this occasion, chose to depart from the much-loved, much-debated characters of Cole and Pike, and instead penned a standalone book. His previous non-series release, discounting the Joe Pike spin-offs, was The Two Minute Rule.

Suspect is the story of police officer Scott James, who happens across a dangerous diamond heist in the early hours of the morning — and soon everything turns bloody: bullets flying and people dying (including his partner, Stephanie). Luckily, Scott makes it out alive . . . barely . . . with multiple gunshot wounds. Zap forward a number of months and Scott is mostly rehabilitated, although the psychological scars still remain. He sees a psychiatrist to help overcome the guilt of his partner’s death, and also, with the aid of hypnotherapy, he tries to remember any pertinent details that could push the police towards capturing the killers. 

Aside from this, Scott has just joined the K9 team — a special dogs unit — and is quickly enamoured by Maggie, a dog who has suffered her own pain (and bullet wounds) and whom he instantly relates to and bonds with. And from there, it’s a story filled with mystery, intrigue, guns, death, and canine-human bonding, all wrapped in a generically plotted bow.

The story isn’t the strongest (or most original, especially considering some of Crais’s past work); the detective angle, for the most part, is meagre and reactive; the twists are rare and obvious, although sufficiently executed; and the main meat of the story relies heavily on a chance encounter and a dog with a sharp nose. Yet, minor flaws notwithstanding, there’s enough here to sustain the reader’s attention, and although the plot ultimately follows a much-treaded ground by Crais, the dog angle at least gives it a fresh spin. And the crux relationship between dog and human is expertly handled, bringing a warmth and depth to the story that it might otherwise have lacked.

Its main downfall, however, is the ending. It seems rushed and a little too easy, as if Crais wanted to finish the book, or had to finish the book, in time for his deadline, and didn’t put much thought into how to end it. It’s not a terrible ending as such; it merely feels glossed over and raced through. The lovely, slow, simmering build-up of friendship and loyalty between dog and hero is smashed apart in twenty pages by a speedy dénouement and a tacked on ending.

In conclusion: Suspect is not one of Crais’s best . . . but even an average Crais novel is better than a great novel by many others in his field. 

Read it and enjoy it if you already know his work.

Start with LA Requiem if you don’t.


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The First Five Pages By Noah Lukeman

imgres“This, simply, is the focus of this book: to learn how to identify and avoid bad writing.”

The First Five Pages is a little different than the usual writing guides: it’s written by a successful literary agent and is more about what you shouldn’t do, not what you should do. Noah Lukeman points out the potholes to avoid, the common mistakes that authors make, and the principles of BAD WRITING. He covers everything from dialogue, to characters, to pacing and plotting, to the actual presentation of the manuscript once it’s completed. He also explains the reasons your work may be overlooked by jaded, cynical literary agents such as himself.

It’s a comprehensive, fresh twist on the usual, and the writing is strong enough to hold the reader’s interest. However, it’s not without flaws. The hyperbolic examples of bad writing, for instance, detract from some of the points the author was making. It would have been more beneficial if he deconstructed true-life examples of bad writing, rather than concoct his own ostentatious version of something terribly written. The examples might help amateurs to notice poor writing, but were useless for the more competent writers. If Noah Lukeman picked apart a piece of work that was less obviously badly written — something that, on the surface, seems fine — it would have added more value to his advice. 

Aside from that, there’s still enough insight offered for even the mediocre (or great) writer to gain something from.

And it’s especially helpful to see things from a literary agent’s point of view; to see what common problems an agent looks out for as soon as he or she picks up a manuscript. So if you’re a writer trying to break in the door, or smash through the window of the literary world, check this one out.

On top of that, check out Noah Lukeman’s free downloads:

How To Land (And Keep) A Literary Agent 

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How To Write A Great Query Letter 

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Will Grayson Will Grayson By John Green/David Levithan

imgres“Tiny Cooper is not the world’s gayest person, and he is not the world’s largest person, but I believe he may be the world’s largest person who is really, really gay, and also the world’s gayest person who is really, really large . . .”

When I first started reading this I wasn’t aware of the central concept: there are two different characters, both called Will Grayson, both similar in age and personality, and both are written in first person by different authors (John Green and David Levithan) in alternating chapters.

Once I realised the book was split into two separate worlds (which eventually collide), the distinction between the Will Graysons became clear; it’s hard to see how I didn’t notice earlier. One chapter is written normally and grammatically, the other chapter is written with a lack of punctuation and proper grammar. I read the book on my Kindle and for some reason just assumed the bad grammar/punctuation was a glitch with my file, not a stylistic decision.

My stupidity aside, Will Grayson Will Grayson is a delight: a comedic novel filled with funny scenes, witty dialogue, engaging prose, a fast-moving plot, and an array of bright interesting characters, especially Tiny and the two Will Graysons. And although it’s tagged in various places as a Young Adult novel, it doesn’t read like a typical teen novel; a lot of the content, themes, and language are of an adult nature.

In short: if you like quick and quirky books, check it out. It’s overflowing with charm and wonder. 


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Live By Night By Dennis Lehane

imgres“The word was out — choose a side or choose a headstone . . .”

Dennis Lehane is one of the greatest authors ever — past or present — and no one else’s opinion on the matter is valid. It’s the truth. The man is a beast with a pen. He wields his words like weapons of mass destruction.

Live by Night carries on from The Given Day (as the second in a now-completed trilogy), albeit with a different cast of characters and set many years later. It’s the story of Joe Coughlin — a small-time outlaw — and the novel follows his life as he falls in love, commits crimes, messes up, and struggles to come to terms with the type of person he is and the type of life he’s leading. The events take place over a number of years, primarily during The Prohibition Era, and chronicle Coughlin’s rise to the top as he moves deeper into the gangster lifestyle. Predictably, he soon runs into trouble — and those troubles gradually swell and grow and eventually converge in a satisfying and bloody climax.

Overall it’s a strong novel, as was The Given Day, with likeable and authentic characters, an engaging plot, page upon page of witty and realistic dialogue, and a powerful conclusion. You can read this without having read The Given Day, but I’d suggest starting from the beginning and reading the trilogy in order. It’s worth the effort. 


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Death By Hollywood by Steven Bocho

th-1“The story I want to tell you involves, among other things, a screenwriter whose career is fading out more than it’s fading in, a billionaire’s wife, and a murder . . .”

Death by Hollywood is a shallow attempt to expose and lampoon all the shady, unscrupulous, ego-driven sociopaths who run the American film industry. 

In PopcornBen Elton approached a similar subject (albeit from a different angle), but whereas he ripped into his subject with cutting insights and still maintained a moral epicentre to the book — a depth of character and plot — this book fails to reach the intelligence or enjoyment of that satire. In contrast, Death by Hollywood is all style with zero substance, no different from the bimbo dilettantes it tries to send up: alluring on the surface, but not much going on upstairs. 

The plot concerns a borderline alcoholic writer who chances upon seeing a murder, and then manipulates the proceeding events so he can write the truth from the inside out, even going so far as to hang out with the lead detective in the homicide. It’s a straightforward story with a few obvious twists, and reads like a guy at a bar telling a humorous and extended story to his friends about a couple murders; something they won’t remember the next morning, but which is nonetheless hilarious and engrossing on the night. Also, at times, the story is a little too clever for its own good: with all the inside jokes and secondhand industry stories, etc.

However, in spite of the flaws, it’s still a fairly entertaining read with a humorous, engaging voice. It won’t be one you recommend to all your friends, but it’s worth reading over the space of a Sunday afternoon when you’re bored and have nothing better to do. 


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