Community

If you go out there on the interweb (as a niece calls it), you can find dozens of articles on the pros and cons of joining a writers Writing Groupsgroup. Some of them you can easily think up yourself. The biggest—especially to someone who’s a bit cynical as I am—is the simple fact that when any group of people gets together, there’s going to be frictions and factions. Some members will gravitate to one another, and personalities will clash, causing others to drift away from each other. We writers aren’t immune to that.

As much as I like the group I’m a member of, I can see some of this going on. It’s not real strong yet, but it’s there, and it could get worse. I won’t go into details about it because that’s not the point of this post, nor is it my business to air dirty laundry.

What I want to talk about is one of the benefits.

I call it community.

I’ve never been big on groups. Way back when I first learned of this one, I didn’t take much interest in it. I have to admit that a big part of that was that I wasn’t very serious about my writing—not as much as I should have been, anyway—and maybe I had a feeling my stuff just didn’t measure up. Of course, that’s the purpose of a group: to get your stuff to measure up. But I didn’t think of that then. All I knew was I didn’t want to participate. Just didn’t seem to be my scene.

A few years later, I heard about the group again. I’d forgotten about it by then, so didn’t realize it was the same group. And it was from a different person. I was still a bit reluctant, but was working on my huge space opera and decided to give it a try.

I didn’t take anything the first night. Just wanted to see what things were like. After all, I might not like what I saw. Why commit myself to it right off the bat?

But I liked the way that, even though they were critiquing one another, they did it with respect. What was happening didn’t resemble personal attacks at all. In fact, they laughed and had fun while they were doing it.
Long story short, I started going on a regular basis, and I credit them with improving my writing to a point where I could get published. And now I’m planning my release party.

There’s a lot of support in this group, and I’m finding even more with Oghma Creative Media, my promotional company. Casey and Greg have grouped several authors together, pooling our resources, and it helps. Gives a sense of community.

If you’re a writer you know that it often feels like a really lonely job. Especially when you’re just starting out, trying to get your ipad-typewriterbearings, learn your voice, maybe even find what genre you want to write in. It’s not always obvious, and not everybody sticks with a genre (I hope to stretch outside of crime fiction, though it doesn’t look like happening anytime soon).

But like Dusty Richards says, we’re all doing the same thing. Sure, our characters wear different costumes, but we’re still wordsmiths. Our basic craft still works the same. Yes, there are various conventions in the genres, and what works in one won’t necessarily work in another, but on the whole, there are some universal principles we all should follow. And if we break those rules, we should do it deliberately and with good reason.

But that sense of community, that mutual support, is important. At Oghma, we have a closed group of authors who read one another’s books and write reviews on them to help bolster our standings. We share one another’s promos on Facebook and other social media, pushing each other’s work, even if it’s in a genre we wouldn’t read.

So if you’re still on the fence about joining a group, take that sense of community and shared support into consideration. Not every group will do it, and of those who do, they won’t all do it well. And, people being people, some groups will break up. Members will drift in and out. Some will get offended by the way the group does things. That’s all right. That just means the group wasn’t for them.

But if you can find the right group, the feedback is invaluable, and the support is priceless. Best thing to do is just find one and give it a try for a while. And if it doesn’t work, maybe you can start one of your own that will.

Later,
Gilwriterc003

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Keeping Your Ideas

This past Saturday I had to make a short run in my car and was listening to one of those weekend countdown shows. I was only half paying attention at first, since I was keeping an eye on traffic. They were interviewingnotebook a musician—Jake Owen, I think, but don’t quote me on that—and he was talking about how he keeps his song ideas. He has a notebook beside his bed, but he said he also uses voice memo on his phone a lot. He went on to relate how he was in Home Depot recently and got a song idea and was walking around in the store singing into his phone, trying to be quiet about it so they wouldn’t think he was crazy.

I guess I just never thought of songwriters storing their ideas the same way we did. I’m sure every writer out there is aware of the notebook-by-the-bed idea, even if they don’t use it. I know I do. I have an old battered spiral-bound notebook that has all kinds of scribblings in it. I tend to get a lot of ideas when I’m lying there trying to go to sleep and letting random thoughts drift by. One thing leads to another and bam, there’s an idea.

It’s usually at this point that I groan, because I run into the same thing Jake Owen talked about: if you get an idea, get up and write it down. He said he’s had lots of ideas and told himself he’d remember them, only to have no clue what it was the next morning. The flipside of that is he’s written stuff down only to look at it in the morning and wonder what he was thinking. I’ve had both of those experiences, though more of the former than the latter. I think the nonsensical ones are the ones that come to you in the middle of the night, and I’ve never had the motivation to write any of those down. I’ve probably missed some good ideas because of that, but my problem with insomnia means I try my best to get back to sleep when I wake in the middle of the night.

I also carry a small notebook in the cargo pocket of my pants. It’s used for lots of things: lists of books I want to read, website addresses, things I need to look up online, you name it. But there are also some story ideas in there.

voice memoEvery book I write also has an accompanying idea file, and that’s what I name it. For instance, I’m working currently on a book I’m calling A Temporary Thing, so I also have a file called A Temporary Thing Notes. Anything and everything relating to the book goes into this file, and I often have both documents open on my desktop when I’m writing. I’ll transfer ideas from my notebooks into this file so I have them all handy, and even if I’m not getting anything out of the document, I occasionally scan it anyway to see if I’ve forgotten something I really wanted to do. Sometimes it works out better than I originally planned. A lot of those ideas never get used, though. They’re like the ideas that get jotted down during a brainstorming session, except my sessions tend to last a lot longer.

So how do you store your ideas? Do you have the notebook by the bedside? Do you carry one with you? Or do you do like Jake Owen and use the voice memo on your phone (an idea I’d never thought of but might start using)?
I’d be interested to hear what you have to say.

Later,
Gil

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The Rat Pack Mysteries

Meet Eddie Gianelli—or, as he’s known to all, Eddie G.Randisi1

Eddie G is a pit boss at the Sands Casino in Las Vegas, where he’s worked since the place was a year old. He’s originally from Brooklyn, but he’s left all that behind him. As well as he can, anyway. Eddie G isn’t mobbed up, but it’s an open secret that Vegas is.

Eddie is also the go-to guy in Vegas. He has the town wired up. If you want to know something about Sin City—and especially about The Strip—Eddie G is the guy to ask. If he don’t know it, he’ll find out.

Eddie is the main character in Robert J. Randisi’s Rat Pack Mysteries. He lives in Las Vegas in the early sixties. The first book, Everybody Kills Somebody Sometime, takes place in 1960. The Rat Pack—Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr, and Joey Bishop—are in town, ready to begin filming Ocean’s 11. The Rat Pack boys are the kings of cool, at the top of their game—and they need Eddie G’s help.

You can imagine Eddie’s surprise when Joey Bishop approaches him while he’s working and asks for his help. He knows Joey in a casual way—it’s hard not to when you work in one of the most popular casinos on The Strip—but it’s not what you’d call a close friendship. But Joey approaches Eddie, saying that Frank Sinatra wants to meet with him.

Eddie G is reluctant. He’s heard the stories about how Frank has ties to the Mob, and he doesn’t want to get involved with that kind of thing. In fact, it’s a little scary for him. So he bows out with good grace.

The problem is, Frank has a two percent stake in the Sands—and he knows Jack Entratter, Eddie’s boss. Jack calls Eddie into his office and makes it clear it would be better if Eddie G met with Frank. If, after meeting with him, Eddie doesn’t want to do Frank a favor, so be it. But at least meet with the man.The+Rat+Pack+RatPack

The upshot of the meeting is that someone’s been sending threats to Dean Martin. The scene where Eddie meets Dino is a good one. Eddie’s a little star struck. He thinks Dean is the King of Cool, everything the rest of the Rat Pack is trying to be. Dino don’t need Frank or Sammy, but they maybe need him. He’s just made Rio Bravo with John Wayne and shown he has acting chops. His Vegas runs are top billing, and he’s at the height of his career.

Dino might not need Frank, but it looks like he needs Eddie G. Dean isn’t convinced the threats are serious, but Frank is, and Frank considers himself Dino’s number one fan.

Mr. Randisi writes these books as if he lived in Vegas during the time period in question and remembers every little detail of what it was like. It’s all here: the showgirls, the casinos, the strip clubs, all the little and not so little seedy secrets Vegas hid back in those days. Under Randisi, we get the feel for what it was like to walk into the Sands, the Riviera, the Flamingo, the Desert Inn or the Thunderbird. We see the blackjack and poker tables, rub elbows with high stakes players, hear the ding of the slot machines. We get to go to a Rat Pack show, and get to go backstage afterwards.

I started reading this series with the newest book, The Way You Die Tonight, and loved it. I like reading these historical crime/mystery novels. I’ve enjoyed Max Allan Collins and Mickey Spillane. I like going back to the days before computers, cell phones, and CSI techniques when a guy had to solve the crime the old fashioned way: by being a gumshoe. Pounding the pavement. Meeting folks in person and taking the risks involved. There’s nothing high tech in them, and that makes them appealing. A nice getaway. The same reason I enjoy reading westerns.

I’m now in the middle of Everybody Kills Somebody Sometime, the first book in the series, and I plan to read every one of them I can. They all have titles that tweak the old show tunes—Luck Be a Lady, Don’t Die, Hey There (You With the Gun in Your Hand), and You’re Nobody ’Til Somebody Kill You just to name a few—and they all take you back to those halcyon days when Vegas was a wide open city, the place and time where everyone wanted to be.

So if you like your mysteries told with more than a dash of nostalgia, pick up any of The Rat Pack Mysteries by Robert J. Randisi. You won’t be disappointed.

Later,
Gil

Addendum: Since writing this post, I’ve finished the second book in the series, Luck Be a Lady, Don’t Die, and I have to say it’sRandisi2 getting better as I go along. Each book has had a logistical mistake in it, some big, some small, but the writing and the overall stories are so good that you keep going anyway. Highly recommended.

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Gimmicks

I recently watched a movie called Lawless. It’s a period crime movie that takes place in Franklin County, Virginia during the 1930s,lawless specifically during Prohibition. It concerns itself with the three Bondurant brothers, Forrest, Howard, and Jack. They’re bootleggers, and they have something of a mythic quality about them that says they can’t be killed.

It’s a great movie, based on a book called The Wettest County in the World by Matt Bondurant. Notice the last name? No, he didn’t give his characters his last name out of vanity. It’s a novel based on a true event, namely that of his grandfather and two great uncles. They were the Bondurants mentioned above.

I liked the movie enough I decided I wanted to see what the book was like, so I jumped on my local library’s website, saw they had it, and reserved it. Last Thursday, when I made my weekly trip to the library (and forgot to post to my blog, darn it), I picked it up. Didn’t look at it too closely till I got home. I’d been looking forward to reading this book and seeing how the movie differed from it.

Now I’m not sure I want to read it. Turns out there aren’t any quote marks in here. The guy thinks he’s Cormac McCarthy.

If one writer does this, that’s one thing. It makes him stand out. And, for the most part. Mr. McCarthy’s writing is good enough to back up this little quirk he has in his writing.

That doesn’t mean others should pick up the habit. I mean, really, what’s wrong with observing the rules of punctuation? I realize the writer isn’t supposed to intrude on the story (though I question that more and more lately. If not for the writer, we wouldn’t have the story in the first place). But by leaving out quotation marks, you’re intruding. It throws me out of the story. Quotation marks are already pretty much invisible, but let’s not make them literally invisible, okay? I like having that visual cue that says, “Here comes some dialogue.”

wettest countyWhen I see a writer do something like this, I have to wonder if they’re so insecure in their writing they have to come up with some kind of gimmick to distract you from their writing flaws. Or maybe they’re hoping to overwhelm you with their cleverness: “Oh, look, he’s doing this neat experimental thing, He must be really cool.”

And Matt Bondurant has degrees, one of which is in English. You’d think this kind of thing would offend his sense of the language.

Look, I get things like dropping gs and misspelling words to show dialect in dialogue and internalization. It makes the characters unique and gives us something to identify them with. But even that should be limited to just enough to give the reader the flavor without making it look like a bunch of gibberish. Some dialects, such as the one I call hillbilly that’s spoken where I live, would look like a foreign language if written phonetically: “Yew jest go up ’at t’ere hill an’ aroun’ th’ corner till ya git up ’ere ’bout uh mile er so an’ yew’ll see it t’ere onna left.” And that’s a mild example I came up with off the top of my head (I’m not good a pop quizzes).

I’m seriously considering not reading Mr. Bondurant’s book now.

Why can’t we just write, folks, and leave the gimmicks, at least these weird ones, off the page? Let me enjoy your story for itself and for the way you write without throwing in weird magic tricks to distract me.

What do you think? Do you like these gimmicks, or do they drive you nuts? Or somewhere in between?

Later,
Gil

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My Blog Tour Post

This is my part of a blog tour that’s been thrown my way. Unfortunately, I came to it kinda late in the game and pretty much everybody I know has already committed to doing this with someone else. The ritual here calls for me to find three other people to pass this on to—the idea being to drive our audience to others’ blogs—and put links to their sites at the bottom. I was only able to get my daughter, YA author Jesi Marie, to go into this with me.

You do what you can.

Anyway, it was humorist/satirist Russell Gayer who asked me to take part in this with him, so if you’re seeing this without benefit of knowing about the blog tour, hope on over and visit his site. And when you’re through reading my post, click on the link at the bottom to visit my daughter’s blog.

Let us begin.

What am I working on?

The first novel in my Rural Empires series entitled A Temporary Thing. It’s the one that tells the story of how my protagonist, Lyle Villines, came to be a meth cook. I’m sure readers will drum up similarities between what I’m doing and the show Breaking Bad, but I honestly started all this before I ever watched an episode or was really even aware of the show. I’d heard the title and knew it was about a high school chemistry teacher who starts cooking meth, but that was all I knew. Wasn’t even interested at the time.

Lyle gets involved for a reason similar to Walter White’s: his daughter gets acute lymphoblastic leukemia. But that’s where the similarity ends. Lyle takes an under the table delivery job to help pay medical bills, unaware he’s actually delivering drugs. He’s been told the product varies. But then he’s hijacked and threatened, and his boss has to take him off the road. The boss tells Lyle he owes the money lost on the load and he’ll pay it back by taking on a new job. That’s when Lyle is taught how to cook meth, though it ends up being very much against his will.

Beyond that, I have several ideas percolating on the back burner, and I have a couple others written that need some work to fit into the Rural Empires series. I’ve pretty much got my work cut out for me for the next several years.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Hmm. That’s a tough question.

I guess it’s because I try to throw a lot of humor in the mix, for one. I’m talking about humor of the everyday variety here. I’m not trying to be Carl Hiassen or Ben Rehder. The humor comes out of the situations my characters find themselves in and my observation that, when we’re stressed, we often find a way to laugh about it to relieve the tension. A lot of black comedy comes about because of this, and it makes us wonder about ourselves at times, but it’s how we are.

The other thing I think makes mine different is I write about the guys who are low on the totem pole of the criminal world. I don’t write cops in as main characters—though I do use one as a viewpoint character in Spree—and I don’t write about Don Corleone or anyone of his lofty station. All my characters are the guys who work for these people, and are rarely known to them. The higher-ups only figure in as walk-in roles, showing up to give orders or mete out punishment, if they show up at all.

And my Rural Empires series is set in the South, chiefly Northwest Arkansas, not a place you’d normally associate with high-end crime, but I’m sure it goes on. It certainly does in my books.

Why do I write what I do?

Because the criminal world has always fascinated me. Why do these folks do what they do? What motivates them? They know their lives will likely be short and violent, so why not do like the rest of us and get a normal job?

I tried for years to write science fiction and fantasy and, as much as I still love those genres from a reading standpoint, I can’t write them. I lose patience with all the world building that’s required because I can’t seem to come up with something new and original, at least not in my opinion. I did manage to finish a couple of fantasies back in the nineties, but they’d take considerable reworking for me to let them see the light of day. And it’s something I’m considering, since the main character is a bounty hunter. Crime fantasy, anyone? We’ll have to see.

How does your writing process work?

Very mysteriously.

I’m a pantser. By that, I mean I write seat of the pants. I get an idea and mull it over. If it sticks with me, I’ll eventually write it. If it burns in my brain, I’ll write it soon as possible.

But I don’t outline. I tried that one time with a space opera. Used the Marshall Plan for Novel Writing idea and adapted it to my own method. Me and a friend brainstormed over the course of several weekends, putting everything in order and writing down two- and three-sentence synopses of the individual scenes. You know, sorta like an elevator pitch, except we did it scene by scene.

I suspect two problems caused that project to die out. The first is that it wasn’t all mine. Several of the ideas came from my friend, enough so that I would have felt better calling it a co-authored work. But the other was that I knew how it ended. In detail.

When I work, I have a general idea of where I’m going, but I don’t dictate ahead of time how I’m going to get there. And I might not arrive at the end-point in quite the way I originally envisioned. I keep a file of notes for each novel, jotting them down in a notebook and then transferring them to computer, but a lot of those ideas end up falling by the wayside. The main point of them is to get the creative process working.

I have to write a novel as if I’m reading it, and I like that because I often end up getting surprised along the way. If I get surprised, it’s hoped that means the reader will too. It keeps me interested in the book and lets me finish it, rather than losing interest because it’s all mapped out and done already.

As for that eternal question all writers get asked—where do you get your ideas?— I’m a crime fiction writer. I get my ideas by paying attention to the news, for the most part. Or learning about real-life criminals. Spree is, in essence, a modern day Bonnie and Clyde. I write a novel to answer a question. In this case it was: could a couple of people get away with a thirties-style crime spree today? I wrote the novel to see if they could pull it off.

So that’s it. Next Monday, go visit my daughter’s blog where she’ll answer the same questions.

 

couch slouch

Jesi Marie has never licked a spark plug, and never sniffed a stink bug. And she’s never painted daisies on a big red rubber ball. And while she’s never bathed in yogurt and doesn’t look good in leggings (no matter how much she likes them), she has been to Boston in the fall. Not that any of this matters. What does matter is that she writes. Or she tries to. Sometimes she just feels like a pirate who doesn’t do anything. But, when she is doing things that aren’t in the sewing, schooling, cross stitching, doodling, or light gaming, she’s busy writing (mostly YA), reading (mostly YA), and editing whatever she can get her hands on. So she may never have thrown her mashed potatoes up against the wall, she probably has or will have a character do just that.

You can visit her blog over at http://jesimarie.wordpress.com/

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True Detective II

I think I’m starting to truly understand how it must feel to be Stephen King, at least when it comes to the subject matter he writes about. Folks question his sanity for a predilection for things that go bump in the night.

I’ve had people wonder why I write about crime.

It’s because it’s fascinating to me. That’s the only way I know to explain it. I write about the criminals because we’ve got more than enough stories out there about the cops. And my two areas of particular interest are the drug trade—both the Cocaine Cowboy days of the eighties and the modern Mexican wars—and serial killers.

In both cases, I ask myself this: what makes them tick?

Why do we have folks like Ted Bundy, Ed Gein, Charles Manson, John Wayne Gacy, and their ilk? Why are there people like Pablo Escobar and Joaquín Guzmán who know their lives will likely be short and violent, or end in long prison terms? Sure, they live a life of riches till then, but what’s the motivation there?

Most serial killer stories are told from the POV of the cops, and True Detective is a good example of this. But this show is different. We’re true detective 2not talking about clean cut cops like you see in Silence of the Lambs or Red Dragon. While they may be physically clean cut, they’re far from upstanding moral compasses.

And the world they live in is dark. It’s reflected in the way the show is shot. Every scene seems to take place under a haze, as if the clouds have moved into Louisiana permanently. And that’s fitting, because it’s a dark story. Rust Cohle and Marty Hart don’t live nice lives, and it seems the way their jobs intersect with those lives is telling. How can you investigate crimes like this and not have it seep into your personal life?

I won’t go into too much detail about that part of the show as I covered it just a couple weeks ago. And if you’ve seen the show, you’ll know what I’m talking about.

What I’m gonna talk about now is that I’ve finally seen the finale, so I can give an impression of the series as a whole, and I have to say I liked it. Yes, Episode 6 was a bit of a fall-off, but it was something of a transition episode, and transitions can be difficult to pull off at times. True Detective didn’t quite do it.

Still, if Episode 6 is the worst of the lot (and it is in my opinion), it’s only crappy compared to the rest of the series. It’s still a good part of the overall story and gets us where we need to be for the wrap up.

And what a wrap up it was. If we thought the original suspect from 1995 was a sorry example of humanity, the real culprit deserves a place at the top of the serial killer Hall of Fame. Creepy, non-human (I hesitate to say subhuman, as it doesn’t quite fit), he’s different from many who’ve come before him while still being recognizable. Yes, he probably had a messed up childhood, but as Rust says, we all make choices as we go through life, and our killer made a choice to be what he was. We can only blame the past for so long before others get tired of hearing it and do something about it.

And then, after the climax, the first shot we see of the Lafayette General Hospital is in bright sunlight. The darkness that haunted the show has passed, the true culprit is dead, and this is reflected by the changes made in both characters, especially Rust. They’re friends now, good friends, and Rust has had a life-changing experience, a near-death encounter that told him there was more out there than he believed for so many years. As he tells Marty at the end, in the beginning there was only darkness, but now there are a lot of stars out there, and the light is winning.

Yeah, it’s a little sugary, but from a storytelling POV, it’s pure gold. This was a story about change, and both characters changed over the course of the series.

In the end, I have to say this was one of the best shows I’ve seen since Breaking Bad. I was sucked in from the beginning and couldn’t wait to see how it all turned out. It took a direction I didn’t expect, and the surprise was pleasant.

If you haven’t seen it, get on Netflix or Hulu or wherever you can get it and watch it. I know I’ll be buying it when it hits DVD. It’s well worth another viewing, as I suspect I’ll see things I missed first time around.

Later,
Gil

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More Love/Hate

My friend—and fellow author—Pamela Foster recently wrote a blog post in which she talked about the love/hate relationship you’llsmall press undoubtedly run into with the publication of your first book by a small press. She’s right, you know. Small presses don’t have the resources to do PR for you. That’s all gonna be on your shoulders.

But I would add to what she had to say. Unless you’re a consistent New York Times bestseller, the big presses aren’t gonna do it, either. And you’re not gonna be able to have a personal relationship with your publisher. Your editor…maybe. But at a small press, the editor wears many hats. Make no mistake, though: they’re in it to make money for themselves. And to do that, all they have to get you to do is buy copies of your own book to sell. And you will, because you’re lost in a sea of books on Amazon. Trust me.

The big presses just do it…bigger.

Back when the Great Recession hit—and I could still stand to listen to what passes for news these days—I heard several stories on NPR about how the publishing industry was downsizing. Copy editors? Out the window. Technical editors? They’re in the bread line too. What’s that mean? It means even big press editors are wearing many hats these days.

Promotions isn’t one of those hats.

The major difference (besides royalty percentages) between big presses and small presses is the big presses invest a lot of money in your book before it ever hits the stands. Where small presses use print-on-demand services, the dinosaurs still make a print run of your book—and if it doesn’t sell all its copies, they have to eat it. The irony is, they’re not gonna invest a lot of money in promoting your book…just in case it doesn’t sell. Or maybe that’s more contradiction than irony.

Anyway, the point being, unless your name is Stephen King or Robert Crais or Tom Clancy, forget promo. That’s your job.

Now, once you start selling millions of copies, then we’ll revisit the idea of doing promotions for you. But not till then.

Even agents—about the only way you’re gonna get published by one of the big houses—want you to have the machinery in place to promote yourself. One of the first questions an agent is gonna ask if he accepts you is, “Do you have your platform in place?”

Ah, yes. The platform. Personally, I hate it. Why? Because they want me to spend time I should be using to write my next novel doing stupid stuff on Facebook and Twitter or writing my next blog post. Like I’m doing now.

There are ways around this. I write a blog post and have it publish to Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. I never get on Twitter, rarely visit LinkedIn (mostly just to approve connection requests), and shamefacedly admit to spending too much time perusing my personal page on Facebook. Using Facebook is like smoking: you know it’s a stupid habit, but you can’t help doing it.

Sometimes I’m tempted to get rid of my smartphone and go back to a normal cell phone. But I know I won’t.

So, if you get on with someone like Random House, congratulations. You’ve got an agent, and you’re hopefully on your way and won’t be another Harper Lee or Margaret Mitchell. I hope your agent got you a good deal, and I hope it takes you far. In fact, I hope to join you someday. Just don’t be surprised when you have to do the same thing I’m doing over here at my small press: hiring a PR agency to do all my hollering for me.

Later,
Gil

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