Yesterday's Echo by Matt CoyleMay 2013 marked the long awaited (by me) launch of my debut crime novel, Yesterday’s Echo. It has been a dream come true and a lifetime goal achieved and never would have happened without the help of many people, most of whom I mentioned in the book’s acknowledgments. But I never would have had the chance to thank anyone if I hadn’t been willing to break out of the comfy confines of the Cocoon.

I knew I wanted to be a writer ever since I was fourteen when my dad gave me The Simple Art of Murder by Raymond Chandler. The hard part was actually doing the writing and that didn’t really start in earnest for about thirty years. I’m a slow starter. However, even when I buckled down and consistently put my ass in the chair and my fingers on the keyboard, I still had a lot to learn.

Being a fledgling author is a fun and exciting time. You’re finally doing something you were put on earth to do, and dammit, you’re pretty good at it. You start each day reading over the literary gold you spun the day before and realize that you’re home. You’ve found your niche. If you stay with it, you’ll have a draft in around a year, give or take. Then it will only be a matter of time, a short matter at that, before your brand new novel is on the bookshelves between Connelly and Crais.

Or so I thought. But why wouldn’t I? I read what I’d written every day and it was genius. The couple members of my family whom I’d let read the book even agreed with me. Now they might have just been happy that I’d finally started writing instead of just talking about it, but they wouldn’t lie. Would they?

Still, I’m Irish and with that comes self-doubt. So, I decided that before I quit my day job and found an agent to get me the big contract, I’d better vet the work with a professional. Let someone outside the warm, snuggly, cocoon of my family and myself read what I’d written. That is sort of the point of being an author, isn’t it? Hopefully, at some point strangers will read your work and they’ll have opinions.

So, I took some night classes at UC San Diego from a mystery author turned writing teacher. Well, apparently she wasn’t that good of a teacher because she failed to recognize my genius. I was shocked and disappointed. I’d paid good money and I got some flunky as a teacher. It was a beginner’s novel class and most students never really began writing so my stuff was on the chalkboard each session. It was ugly. The teacher asked me questions that I’d never thought of, like what does your character want in a scene and what is he thinking?Matt Coyle, August 24, 2012

It took a while, but I started to realize that the teacher wasn’t that stupid and I wasn’t such a genius. It hurt. I’d jumped out of my cocoon and let strangers see my work and been slapped in the face. Hard. I lost some of that confidence earned writing in anonymity. Maybe I couldn’t do this. Maybe I wasn’t good enough and never would be. But after I stopped feeling sorry for myself (in just a few days…okay, a few weeks) and started revising through the teacher’s prism, the book got better.

Then I joined a writers group and exposed my work to other writers. Like the teacher, they tore it apart and helped me put it back together. Stronger. It took years of tearing and mending before I knew, that, finally, it was ready for an agent and then a publisher. Ten months later was just last month and the publication of Yesterday’s Echo.

Writing in a cocoon will make you feel good. Breaking out of it might get you published.

Matt Coyle grew up in Southern California, battling his brother and sisters for respect and the best spot on the couch in front of the TV. Yesterday’s Echo is Matt’s first novel. He drew from his days in the restaurant business and his extended family’s law enforcement background in creating this book. Matt lives in San Diego with his wife, Deborah, and their Yellow Lab, Angus.

 

California Crime Writers Conference Logo
Well then, have I got the conference for you.

Every two years, the Southern California chapters of Sisters in Crime (SincLA) and the Mystery Writers of America (SoCalMWA) get together and put on the California Crime Writers Conference in Pasadena, California. It was the first writers conference I ever went to and it remains one of my favorites. For the 2013 conference, I’m coordinating registration and the manuscript critiques.

(Speaking of manuscript critiques, I coordinated them for the 2010 conference, and one of the attendees who asked for a critique not only landed the agent who critiqued it, but recently got a book deal. You know who you are, Matt Coyle.)

The 2013 conference features two of the biggest names in crime fiction writing today: Sue Grafton and Elizabeth George. If that isn’t enough, here’s a sneak peek at how the schedule is shaping up:

Elizabeth George: Sunday’s keynote speaker but she will also lead a workshop on “Finding Your Process” on Saturday from 10:30 a.m. To 11:45 a.m.

Michael Levin: “Take Your Manuscript From Good To Great: 12 Things You Must Do To Make Your Novel “Unrejectable”! Everybody knows that rewriting is the key to success in fiction writing, but exactly what does rewriting mean? Join New York Times best selling author, Shark Tank contestant and Huffington Post blogger Michael Levin for a fascinating, clear, and concise checklist to get your book to the best seller list!

Adrienne Lombardo, literary agent: a rising star at Trident Media Group in New York and ACTIVELY looking for clients who write crime fiction.

T. Jefferson Parker: multiple Edgar award-winning and bestselling author.

Kristen Weber: former Senior Editor at Mysterious Press/Warner Books and NAL/Penguin. Now freelance editor and partner in the upcoming online booklovers sitewww.shelfpleasure.com.

Hank Phillippi Ryan: award-winning author, multiple Emmy-award winning news reporter, MWA national board member and incoming President of national Sisters in Crime.

Marcia Clark: former Los Angeles County Deputy D.A. Lead prosecutor in the OJ Simpson trial and crime fiction author.

Anthony Manzella, former Los Angeles County Deputy D.A., Major Crimes division who specialized in prosecuting Mexican Mafia murder cases. He and his partner were profiled in MEXICAN MAFIA by Tony Rafael. He spoke at the 2009 conference and people are still talking about his presentation.

This is just a small portion of what will be on offer. You can register here and I look forward to seeing you at the conference!

Lenny Kravitz’s Mama Said album is one of my favorites of all time. I played the hell out of that sucker when it came out and for years afterward. It’s been awhile since I broke it out so maybe today it’s time. Let’s start with this:

When I first thought of this post it wasn’t supposed to be about Lenny Kravitz, but before I get to the meat and potatoes of it, I’d like to tell you a story from my archives.

Circa 1995 I lived in West Hollywood and worked in Mar Vista. My commute consisted of three streets: Right on Santa Monica Boulevard, left on La Brea Avenue, right on Venice Boulevard, reversed on the trip home. Easy, but traffic laden, so I generally spent about 30-45 minutes in the car each way.

Back then I had a fantasy that one day I would meet Lenny Kravitz, we’d hit it off, and fall in love. Okay, so I didn’t believe it would ever really happen (though at 25 I was nothing if not idealistic) but since I lived in LA and often had random celebrity sightings, it wasn’t such a far-fetched idea that I might actually see him one day. It was, as the title of the post indicates, “thinking positivity.”

So one day on the way home I was sitting in traffic on La Brea Avenue when I noticed a guy with long dreadlocks entering a furniture store on the right. It’s called Little Paris Antiques now but I’m fairly certain it was called something different back in the day.

There was no doubt in my mind it was Lenny Kravitz and it was an opportunity I just couldn’t pass up. Fortunately I was in the far right lane so I quickly pulled over and parked in front of the store.

It’s worth noting at this point that I’d skipped lunch that day and had stopped by the 7-11 on Venice and Sepulveda to buy a snack for the ride home. I don’t remember exactly what it was but it was crunchy and oniony, and left a powdery residue everywhere. I’d placed the open bag on the passenger seat and had been digging into it the whole ride home, so I’ll let you do the math on how I must’ve smelled. Still, I wasn’t about to let a little onion breath stand between me and my destiny. I ran into the store and it wasn’t long before I spied the man I’d seen enter.

Now, if this was a work of fiction, this is where I’d add the twist: the man turned around and it wasn’t Lenny Kravitz at all–it was just some poser. Cue the womp womp music.

But this was real life y’all! I found myself face to face with the man who was numero uno in my book. My Lenny radar had not failed me. It was the man himself.

I remember two things vividly about that meeting. 1) He was about as tall as I am, 5 ft. 4. 2) He had the most beautiful flaring nostrils I’d ever seen. Seriously, I could not stop looking at his nose.

He looked a bit panicked when I approached him. I quickly allayed his fears by telling him what a big fan I was and how much I respected him for being vocal about his commitment to Christianity. I loved me some Jesus big time back then. He just nodded politely while I spoke and then thanked me graciously, told me how sweet I was.

Did you hear that? He told me I was sweet. Unsurprisingly, that was the extent of our romance.

Okay, so this post wasn’t supposed to be about Lenny Kravitz. It was supposed to be about positivity.

Recently I started writing at a coffee shop on Sunday mornings with a couple of fellow writers. I noticed that we seem to spend a good deal of our time (when not writing of course) berating ourselves for not writing more. For not being more dedicated. For being slackers.

And yes, by some writers’ example, perhaps we are. But spending so much time talking about how we fail keeps us from being proud of how much we’ve achieved. With that in mind, I started reflecting on what I’ve accomplished since 2012 began:

1) Finished a major revision of DIARY OF BEDLAM, thereby greatly improving the manuscript
2) Started querying agents again
3) Had a flash fiction story published online
4) Contributed one short story to an upcoming anthology (a story, by the way, that I’m very proud of)
5) Been asked to contribute a second short story to a charity anthology
6) Hired a professional editor to edit DIARY OF BEDLAM
7) Begun implementing the suggestions of said editor
8) Started a new WIP
9) Started working with a critique group

Not too shabby!

This isn’t to say I can’t improve my work ethic, but sometimes it’s good for me to step back and look at what I have accomplished instead of dwelling on all the ways I don’t live up to my own expectations.

Lenny Kravitz would be proud.

It really comes down to making an effort and repeating the same thing every day.

Last night Mick and I watched a great documentary called Jiro Dreams of SushiIt’s gotten fantastic reviews, we both love sushi, and since visiting Japan in 2007 I’m kind of enamored of the place in general, so we figured it would be interesting. It turned out to be more than that–it was inspiring.

Considered by many to be the best sushi chef in the world, Jiro Ono is a national treasure in Japan. So, what does it take to become the best sushi chef in the world? Well, for one thing, Jiro has been practicing and perfecting the craft of creating sushi for seventy-five years.

He tastes every piece of fish, trains his employees meticulously (even after ten years, his senior apprentice is still sometimes regarded as a novice), and thinks about sushi and how to improve his craft in nearly every waking moment. As the title says, he dreams of sushi.

Says Jiro:

Once you decide on your occupation, you must immerse yourself in your work. You have to fall in love with your work. Never complain about your job. You must dedicate your life to mastering your skill. That’s the secret of success and is it’s the key to being regarded honorably.

 

While I’d say that Jiro is not a man who has achieved balance in his life (he doesn’t seem to need it as he’s content to put all of his  energy into his occupation), I couldn’t help but be inspired by his work ethic. After only four years of studying and practicing the craft of writing, I am still a mere beginner. I must practice my chosen occupation every day.

Will I some day become a true master? If it takes 75 years, then perhaps not, but it’s certainly something to strive for. With every word comes improvement, albeit in small increments, but still there is progress. With every sentence comes increased mastery.

It’s not the first time I’ve compared a Japanese craft to the craft of writing. In 2009 I wrote a post called Secrets of the Samarai Sword:

The level of expertise required to make a sword can be applied to any field, whether it be sword making, jewelry making, or in my case now, writing. Young people apprentice in this work at an early age and through the years become experts themselves, thus preserving a tradition that is hundreds of years old. It is a reminder that to be good at anything, even if one possesses natural talent, takes years of practice. It is affirming and daunting at the same time–I am a novice at writing, at least as it pertains to novels, and I have a lot of work in front of me to become an “expert.”

There is still much work to be done, but in the end, it is worth it.

I am honored to announce I will be contributing a story to a charity anthology called FEEDING KATE. It benefits someone whose very dear to me and many others in the crime fiction community, Sabrina Ogden. She suffers from lupus and needs a jaw surgery that her insurance company won’t pay for (those bastards). Laura Benedict, Laura Curtis, Clare Toohey, and Neliza Drew organized an Indiegogo campaign to fund it, and for just $5 you can get an e-copy of the anthology. An $18 contribution will get you the print version, and higher donations will get you a signed copy. All the details are here.

Even though I call this a “charity anthology,” it really doesn’t feel like charity. You know why? Because your contribution will get you a kick ass crime fiction anthology featuring stories from some of the best crime fiction authors writing today:

I know, huh? It’s great to be included in such an awesome list of writers–I am humbled.

If you’re unable to contribute, you can still help by posting about this anthology on your blog, interviewing one of the authors, tweeting about it, posting it on Facebook, etc. We all appreciate any promotional help you can give for this cause.


Naming one all-time  favorite book is like choosing your favorite song–nearly impossible. Even as I was thinking about this post I thought well, really, it’s a toss up between two. Then I stopped myself and said NO. You get one and only one.

Sometimes I can be really hard on myself.

So I thought about it a little more. It became pretty clear what the favorite was, and so I shall name it:

MARJORIE MORNINGSTAR by Herman Wouk

It’s about as far from crime fiction as you can get, but I so dearly love this novel that I kinda-sorta get choked up just thinking about it. The ending is so bittersweet that I’ve never read it and not cried. And I’ve read it many, many times.

It’s not a sad book, not at all. It’s the story of Marjorie Morgenstern, a 17-year old, beautiful Jewish girl growing up in Manhattan in the 1930s. Her Russian immigrant parents have worked hard to make certain she has the perfect future: marriage to a prosperous Jewish boy and a family. But Marjorie has no interest in living the dull life her parents lead and has a different idea; she wants to be an actress on the Broadway stage. The book is a chronicle of her road to the stardom she dreams of, her struggle between what she thinks she wants and what society expects of her, and what, ultimately, she really wants out of life and love.

I so wish there was something brilliant I could say to make you understand how great this book is, but alas, I feel I’ve failed.

I first read MARJORIE MORNINGSTAR when I was around 15 years old. One could argue that I still view it with the idealistic eyes of a teenager and thus it might not be worthy of the title MY FAVORITE BOOK OF ALL TIME. I’d concede that might be true but it doesn’t change the fact that Wouk’s characterizations, his portrayal of pre-war New York City, and the world in which Marjorie lives are so vivid and charming I can only say “idealization be damned, this is a kick-ass book.”

What is it Liz Lemon says? I want to go to there. In Wouk’s deft hands, I can.

I’m turning 44 tomorrow so perhaps I’m feeling nostalgic, but MARJORIE MORNINGSTAR sums up much of what life is all about–endeavoring to achieve our dreams because we think that’s what will bring us happiness but realizing when it’s time to leave them behind.

See what I wrote there? Realizing when it’s time to leave your dreams behind.

I get misty just thinking about it.

But enough about me–I want to hear what your FAVORITE BOOK OF ALL TIME is. And none of this toss-up crap. You get one and only one.

Hello fellow slackers!

Procrastination is a problem for me, so I asked some of my author friends how they shake off the lazies and get to work:

Eric Beetner
“When I finally commit to a novel or even something short I like to get it done and not lose momentum. I find inertia plays a big part in getting through a novel and keeping an even tone to the writing.”

Kris Neri
“Shortly before I fall sleep, I remind myself where I left off and what I’ll want to tackle the next day.”

Thomas Pluck
“It’s important to set aside time to daydream, as much as it is to have writing time. After all, you need something to write about.”

"It's important to set aside time to daydream, as much as it is to have writing time. After all, you need something to write about." –Thomas Pluck

Hello there, fellow slackers! Today we have another installment of "GET TO WORK," this week featuring Thomas Pluck. An outstanding crime fiction writer and all-around good guy, Thomas is the co-editor of Lost Children: A Charity Anthology. It's a collection of 30 incredible stories, the proceeds of which go to PROTECT and Children 1st.

Lost_children

If you recall, the question I asked was:

Do you have trouble buckling down and getting to your writing? If so, what is your no fail (or mostly no fail way) of getting yourself concentrate and get the work done? Or is it such a habit now it's really not a problem?

Thomas Pluck: I wish I had one, because lately I've been succumbing to sloth. Guilt always works. If I say I'm "off to the word mines" on Twitter, I know I can't keep jabbering with my friends without knowing they'll be looking at that tweet and thinking, "This guy's no pro. He's here goofing off, when he said he was on the clock. I bet he's still in his boxers, and that his feet smell like Frito's corn chips because he hasn't showered and it's 4pm." That usually works. It's also good for keeping you on your diet, and not buying Frito's corn chips. 

But seriously, folks… the old adage of "set aside time to write" is what I do. When I get in my pink dining room chair in front of my laptop, I'm all business. I plug in the headphones and choose the proper playlist. (If I'm writing the novel in progress, it's AC/DC, all Bon Scott and Flick of the Switch, their most underrated album; If it's Denny, I put on Run DMC and Grandmaster Flash). By then, I'm usually thirsty and get a beer, and the cat steals my chair. I can tell how focused I am on writing by how much effort the cats put into getting my attention. Shadow, a twenty pounder we call Cat Loaf, will jump on the table and sit on my hand. Charlie, the Siamese rescue we call the Gimp, will paw at my elbow. Word count low? Blame the cats.

Christa Faust said that what separates the amateurs from the pros is that the pros write even when it's tough. Like the famous Jack London adage- you can't wait for inspiration, you have to after it with a club. The other great piece of advice is from Hemingway, who said to stop writing while you still know what happens next. It works like a charm. By the time you write again, you've (hopefully) been daydreaming and taking notes about your work in progress, so you go a bit further, and further the next day. It's important to set aside time to daydream, as much as it is to have writing time. After all, you need something to write about. I've always been a daydreamer, so I steal moments where I can. So if you're a lazy, guilt-ridden daydreamer, writing should come easy. 

Just lay off the corn chips.

Note from Holly: Well, it's 12:26pm and I'm still in my PJs. Make of that what you will.

Thanks for stopping by, Thomas! Some great advice here (I especially like the playlist idea).

I'm sitting here listening to Levon Helm sing The Mountain. It's a song about coal mining that's touches me so deeply that it makes me want to weep. It also makes me want to write beautifully tragic stories.

It got me thinking about things and places I'm drawn to, that I've always been drawn to. I don't know, maybe my viewing of COAL MINER'S DAUGHTER at the tender age of twelve influenced me (and coincidentally, Levon Helm played Loretta Lynn's father in the film), but I do have an attraction to the culture of coal mining, West Virginia, and Appalachia. Mind you, it's a romanticized version (like if Disneyland had a "Coal Mining Land"), but an attraction just the same. And I don't mean to make light of coal mining–I know it's a tough, dangerous life.

Someday I'd like to write a story set in this world, but my greatest fear is not doing it justice. It deserves to have justice done.

But that said, I felt the same way about London, specifically 17th century London. I honestly don't know why I thought I could write a novel set during this time (especially my first novel), but somehow I managed to do it. I'm still working on doing it justice, but I have no doubt I will.

So there's hope for my Appalachian mystery yet.

Other things I'm drawn to:

— Voodoo and other African religions and how they adapted themselves to Christianity
— Storyville in New Orleans
— California Gold Rush country (I grew up there)

Will I ever write stories or novels about these places/things? I probably will. But one thing just struck me–everything I'm compelled to write about starts with a place or a time in history, or a theme. The characters come second. I don't mean to say they come second in the actual writing, but the thing that forms first for me is the setting, and then I mold the characters to fit into it. I wonder if that will change as I continue writing?

What about you? What are you drawn to?