“Don’t Kill Your Darlings, Save Them.” Eric Smith’s trilogy of things he learned from working on my trilogy

The official title of Eric Smith at my publishing house, Quirk Books, is Social Media and Marketing Manager, but I just think of him as Internet Man. He spends his days tweeting, posting, blogging about Quirk authors—except when he’s writing his own books, like the hilarious (and handy) Geek’s Guide to Dating, pubbed by his Quirk colleagues, and the upcoming YA novel Inked, which’ll come out from Bloomsbury in the spring. 

Since I spend a lot of time writing blog posts that Eric tells me to, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to make him do one for me.

Take it away, Mr. Eric Smith Rocks:

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Eric Smith
This picture makes it look like Eric lives inside a video game, which he sort of does.

Over the past two years, I’ve had the pleasure of working on the online marketing for The Last Policeman, getting the series up on blogs, producing the book trailer, arguing over cover redesigns in meetings, running giveawas across countless websites… and just having a blast throughout all of it.

When I’m not talking to the Internet about books, sometimes I like to write. Looking back at the marketing campaign for Ben’s fantastic trilogy (which I’m very sad to see coming to an end), I realized there are a few fun things writers can take away from marketing a trilogy.

So, here’s a list, in trilogy format, of what you can learn from about writing from marketing a book trilogy.

Part I: Never Stop Looking for a New Story to Tell: The tricky thing about working on a series, is that after the first book hits and you’ve roped in lots of people to talk about it… there are still potential reviewers out there who might have missed out or passed the first time around.

Going back and reintroducing a series can be tough, so you have to think of fun new angles and new stories to make it enticing. What’s an angle I missed that could be touched on this time around? Should I talk more about the genre or the character? What thrilled the people who read it earlier? What can I do to bring new people in?

As a writer, this is an obvious tip, right? That you should never stop looking for that new story to tell. If you constantly stick to the same thing, you can get stale. Keep things fresh.

Part II: Read More Books: Whenever I find myself working on a book in genre I’ve never really explored, I try my best to really delve into that genre.

When I worked on Ransom Riggs’ Peculiar Children series, I started reading more YA. The book Taft 2012, which was a bit of political satire? Picked up some Christopher Buckley. The Last Policeman? It was time to check out more books about detectives, from novels by Duane Swierczynski to spending time with Bigby Wolf in Fables.

Why? It helps me out when I’m building those marketing campaigns. I can’t stand it when someone who is marketing something tries to infiltrate a community without at least knowing something about them.  If you’re familiar with the genre, then you can actually talk to people about these kinds of books. You can be genuine. You can be real.

Same applies to writing. There’s a quote someplace from Stephen King, where he says if you want to be a writer, you need to read a lot. True story.

Part III: Don’t Kill Your Darlings, Save Them: When a book is coming together, a lot of things go into it on the publishing side. The production, the design, the book trailers, the promotional materials… man, that list just goes on and on. And sometimes, something along the way gets cut. Maybe it’s a proposed cover you absolutely adored or some clips from a book trailer you thought were amazing.

Instead of dragging these things into the recycle bin, I always open up a folder, and save them for a rainy day. Those little extras can tell a brand new story. The covers that didn’t make it. The original ARC compared to the finished copy. Photo stills from the book trailer. These are all fun glimpses behind the scenes that real fans get a kick out of.

There’s a popular term in writing, a bit about killing your darlings. Don’t do it. Keep those bits of writing, and give them life somewhere else. Maybe those first two chapters that got cut can become a prequel short story. Or that character you really liked that didn’t quite fit… maybe he or she can appear in a new novel. Keep them in a folder, writers.

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All excellent pieces of advice—thanks, Eric! For some more advice, this time from me, click here. To see me on my summer tour, click here. To read the last few installments of my 2014 Reverse Blog Tour , stay tuned!

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Order my new book! Win fabulous prizes!

Last Policeman_Joseph Laney Illustration
These illustrated panels of The Last Policeman by Joseph Laney are objectively incredible.

The team at Quirk Books have announced an official “pre-order campaign” for World of Trouble, the concluding volume in the Last Policeman trilogy.

Prizes to be won include signed bookplates,  amazing fan art by Joseph Laney, and the official “Hank Palace Survival Kit,” which has to be seen to be believed, but which definitely includes a big bag of coffee beans.

See all the details here!

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The End is Nigh (in more ways than one)

The_End_is_NighOn March 1 you’ll be able to read The End is Nigh, the first in a series of apocalypse-themed short story collections, edited by John Joseph Adams, who publishes Lightspeed Magazine, and Hugh Howey , who wrote Wool and a bunch of other hugely popular sci-fi books. I love the story I wrote for this first volume– it’s called BRING HER TO ME (the all-caps is part of the title)—and the best part is that there are two more volumes to come, so I’ll get to continue the tale with two more stories. You can preorder The End Is Nigh, which also features contributions from Robin Wasserman, Jake Kerr, and a ton of other science-fiction authors, at this page.

And speaking of completing trilogies…World of Trouble, the third and final book in the Last Policeman series, is approaching the point of no return: it is being copyedited by the good folks at Quirk Books, while I do my final pass, which I call the “read the whole thing out loud to my cat” pass. (You can actually see said cat, and all my other writing accoutrements, in this picture). That book will be available on July 15 but you can order it now. Thanks to everyone who kept  asking me how it was going. Like all books, it was going real bad, then for a while it was great, then it was TERRIBLE, and now I think it’s pretty good. Ask me again next week, OK?

I’ll have a cover mockup to show you one of these days.

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Countdown Cities

The Countdown City book tour, just concluded, was my first time doing a book tour of any sort, and I found the experience to be exhilarating, exhausting, ego-boosting, mortifying, boring, joyful, all sorts of different things. It was definitely mostly a positive experience, and even the negative aspects—I’m not the best traveler, for one thing, and not all of the events were jam-packed, which can be anxiety-provoking—even with those negatives, it’s the sort of life experience (much like publishing a book in the first place) that for such a long time seemed completely unattainable, that I’d be a fool to  dwell on the negatives. A book tour! Holy moly! You dig what I’m saying?

 

images-1Highlights include watching the Ben Stiller/Vince Vaughn movie The Watch, late at night in my Portland hotel room, abiding by the universal law that demands that one must watch a shitty comedy that one would not normally watch, when alone in a hotel room late at night. Although, you know what? It wasn’t half bad—although not nearly as good as the cup of Stumptown coffee I had the next morning, at 5:45, when I woke up and wandered around the city, taking advantage of being on East Coast time, internally, to get an eyeful of a beautiful place.

 

Most of the highlights, though, are from the bookstores, themselves; which, just by the way, all seem to be doing amazingly. Powell’s in Portland was packed with shoppers.  Eliot Bay, in Seattle, has this gorgeous space in a super hip and bustling neighborhood, where I ate artisanal ice cream served by hipsters, and briefly fantasized that I had moved back to Brooklyn. Gibson’s, in my beloved Concord, New Hampshire, is in the process of expanding to a bigger space.

So, all of which is to say that the death of independent booksellers, at least in my very limited sample, has been greatly exaggerated. And thank you to all the super-nice store owners and store clerks…especially at Anderson’s, in Naperville, where store policy is to give one free book to every visiting author—a policy I ruthlessly exploited by getting the new fourth volume in Robert Caro’s massive, and expensive, multivolume biography of LBJ.

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While I’m thanking people: thank you, Patrick, the kid in Cincinnati to whom I hand sold a copy of The Last Policeman while he was getting coffee and I was working on book three in the trilogy at the Joseph-Beth cafe before my reading. Good luck at college, Patrick, and I think things will work out with your girlfriend, even though she lives in Texas.

 

Thanks to the family of five who came to see me in Seattle because mom liked Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, but who ended up buying copies of Policeman and Countdown City AND my middle-grade mysteries for their charming nine year old. Dig it, big sister.

Thanks to basically everybody in the city of Concord, New Hampshire, where I got to read at the great Gibson’s, eat at the Corner View Restaurant (the model for the Somerset Diner, in the books), and talk on the radio with Brady Carlson at the local public radio station, who plays with his little boy in West Park, the playground where McConnell chases down the smirking kid and yells “stop, motherfucker” in The Last Policeman.

And yes, I did go to the McDonald’s and use the bathroom where Peter Zell’s body was found. I didn’t intend to, I just had to go and I remembered it was there.

Gibson's

But now I’m home, where my family is, and where I have a lot of work left to do on The Last Policeman book III (as yet untitled, so don’t ask—seriously, don’t, I’m really anxious about it.). This fall I’m going to be popping up here and there here at home in Indianapolis—at the fall book festival, at a Butler University charity event called the Harvest of Writers, and a couple other things. So if you’re in Indy, come say hi. If you’re not, hope to see you next summer.

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What Would Detective Palace Read?

[written originally for the good folks at Amazon.com]

 

16046748When you write a book like The Last Policeman, about how everyone behaves when the world is going to end in half a year, people start to ask what you would do. Every time I’m asked that, the question fills me with anxiety. Would I remain on the job, like my hero, Detective Henry Palace, staying true to my moral compass? Or would I choose one of the less gallant paths pursued by a myriad of my other characters—those who run away from their spouses, commit suicide, or get drunk and stay that way?

Most likely I’d be like the kid that Detective Palace brushes against midway through Countdown City, the second book in the trilogy. Palace’s search for a missing man has taken him to the campus of the University of New Hampshire, which has been transformed into a radical communitarian encampment called the Free Republic of New Hampshire:

I see a pale boy hunched over the desk in a carrel, sipping from a Styrofoam cup, surrounded by books, reading. His face is gaunt and his hair a greasy mass. On the ground beside him is a clotted leaking pile of discarded teabags, and beside that a bucket that I realize with horror is full of urine.There’s a tall stack of books on one side of him and a taller stack on the other: out pile, in pile. I stand for a second watching this guy, frozen in place but alive with small action: muttering to himself as he reads, almost humming like an electric motor, his hands twitching at the edges of the pages until, with a sudden flash of motion, he turns the page, flings it over, like he can’t consume the words fast enough.

I’d be that guy, the guy trying to cram as many books into my brain hole as possible before sundown. But Detective Palace spends most of his time trying to ignore the fact of the asteroid’s imminence, or work around it, solving what small problems he can, rather than flailing in the face of the massive problem he can’t.

So what, if anything, does he read in the meantime?

The Constitution of the United States of America by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, et al
Palace is a by-the-book kind of cop, and since the book he mostly frequently mentions in the novels (Farley and Leonard’s Criminal Investigation) is entirely my own invention, I’ll give him the oldest text of American law.

The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon
In a first draft of Countdown City, I had Palace carrying around a paperback of Decline and Fall, because I thought its heft and immersive quality would appeal to him in quiet moments between subject interviews. But then I thought the whole “world falling apart” thing was maybe just a wee bit heavy-handed.images

Chronicles, Volume One by Bob Dylan
Detective Palace and I share a fascination with the great Bobby D., in particular the late-1970s period when the Jew from Minnesota found Jesus and got good and weird for a while. (The original title for The Last Policeman, as a matter of fact, was “Slow Train Coming,” after the Dylan song and album of the same name.)

Watchmen by Alan Moore
When someone asks Henry what his favorite book is, he cites the landmark 1980s graphic novel. I suspect he likes the book’s complicated questions about heroism and moral compromise. Personally, I like the portrait of a familiar-yet-unfamiliar world on the brink of disaster. Along with Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policemen’s Union and Nevil Shute’s On the Beachit was a major influence on me in creating this series.

The Bible
You learn things about characters as you write them, and one thing I’ve learned about Henry is that he has deeply ambiguous feelings about religion. But the world he must navigate to do his job is supercharged with questions about God. Specifically these: is this asteroid coming because there’s no God? Or is it coming because there is a God, and He is pissed?

For more on Detective Palace and Countdown Citywatch our video Q&A with author Ben H. Winters.

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Report from C2E2

I was a good two hours early for my appearance on Saturday at the Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo, or C2E2, because of the mid-air collision of two facts: A) my new hometown of Indianapolis is (for mysterious reasons) on Eastern rather than Central time, despite being essentially due south of Chicago, and B) I am a moron.

Because though I call it “my new hometown,” I’ve lived here for almost a year, which is to say long enough to, you know, find out what time it is. The point is, I got my wife and kids up and out of the house in time to bust it up to Chicago in four hours flat (it’s a three-hour drive, but anyone with small children will recognize the travel-time inflation that goes on), drop them off at the Field Museum, park the car at the Convention Center, race across the seemingly endless parking lot, weave my way through throngs of people dressed like Batman or Gandalf or the dude from Walking Dead with the crossbow…only to have my friends Nicole and Eric from Quirk Books wonder what I was doing there a full hour ahead of schedule.

But once I mopped the sweat off my brow, I had a great time. I sat on a panel about mystery writing with this guy, who writes paranormal mysteries, and this lady, who writes an online comic about an evil sorority. As usual, I rambled uncontrollably, but I think I said something true about how writing a mystery is like writing two books at once: you’re writing from the front, figuring out how your hero is navigating his way along, and meanwhile you’re also working from the back, constructing the “what happened” part, deepening your understanding of the backstory. The two books interact with each other as you go, and as you make discoveries in the frontways book they inform the backways book, and vice versa.

Also at C2E2 I got to meet artist and author Eric Hudspeth, who wrote the forthcoming The Resurrectionist, and who continued the streak of Quirk authors—like Seth Grahame-Smith and Steve Hockensmith and Ransom Riggs—who are extremely nice guys. (Women also write for Quirk, like the two women who wrote Tiny Food Party! and who are obviously geniuses, but I haven’t met any of them yet). And best of all I met a whole slew of people who have read and liked The Last Policeman—and other people who I personally talked into buying The Last Policeman, right there on the spot

We also gave away many copies of the sequel, Countdown City, although it was the “advanced readers copy”, so I felt the need to awkwardly apologize to each recipient about any errors they might find.

Finally I did some interviews with journalists, one of whom took this picture of me smiling awkwardly posed in front of the new Policeman cover. atC2E2wposter

If you were at C2E2, and I shook your hand through your big fake Wolverine-claws glove or something, it was nice to meet you! If you weren’t there, please come see me smiling awkwardly some other time, like this Wednesday at the Edgar Awards Symposium in New York, or later in the summer at one of the bookstores listed on my new APPEARANCES page—the Countdown City book tour begins July 16 right here at Big Hat Books in Indianapolis.

I don’t know what time that event is yet, but I am sure I will be an hour early.

 

 

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Cover to cover

There will be a new edition of The Last Policeman out in July, with an awesome new cover that complements the cover of Countdown City, the sequel, which also comes out in July. (I will of course post these covers as soon as my buddies at Quirk Books say I’m allowed to.)

last policeman button
Doogie Horner’s original cover: still fantastic.

One of several cool things about a second edition is that it allows me to correct a couple of mistakes in the first one–one a boneheaded science error, and the other a SUPER -boneheaded (because I should know better) spelling/usage error.

Have any of you readers out there spotted either of these errors? Send me a note via the contact form on the site here, and I’ll make sure you get a signed copy of Countdown City when it comes out. (Or maybe you’ll just send me ANOTHER boneheaded error that I can correct before pub date!)

* Right now I’m reading Stephen King’s On Writing,which besides recounting some super inspiring stories (like when he threw the first three chapters of Carrie in the garbage, only to have his wife pull them out and  tell him he was “onto something here”) includes a lot of great, down-and-dirty advice to the beginning (or not-so-beginning) writer. Like, take it easy on the adverbs, and like, read a lot of books. So far I wouldn’t necessarily put King’s book in my must-read-books-about-writing pile with John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction, but it’s really fun.

OnWriting
“The road to hell is paved with adverbs,” writes Stephen King, reproachfully.
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What’s in a name? Has anyone asked that before? I feel like maybe somebody has.

OK, so first of all, if you’re the Last Policeman superfan who created this lovingly detailed Wikipedia entry on the book, my hat is off to you to such an extent that I may never wear a hat again. There is nothing so gratifying to an author as the feeling that people are reading his work carefully, and now I know that at least one person has read this book very carefully indeed; I love that this anonymous encyclopedist correctly transcribed the name of my fictitious asteroid, 2011GV1, subscript and all.

The only thing inaccurate in this lovely entry, so far as I can tell, is the title of the forthcoming sequel, which Wikipedia now lists as Disasterland—which, to be totally fair, is sourced from this very blog, and an entry I made last week. Point is, since that time it has been brought to our (meaning mine and my publisher’s) attention that there was already a book by that title, and though you can’t copyright a title (ask Alison Bechdel, author of last year’s Are you My Mother?, which although a picture book is definitely not about a curious and melancholy baby bird, or the great Thomas Frank, who very purposefully borrowed the title of What’s the Matter With Kansas? from a much older book of the same name), we decided to switch to another title—which we then all decided we liked better anyway.

Point being, the actual title of the forthcoming second novel in The Last Policeman trilogy is (drumroll…) Countdown City. 

Now I’ll sit back and see how long it takes the masked Wikipedia writer to change it.  (Or maybe I’ll get antsy and change it myself.)

 

asteroid-2012-da14

P.S. Yes, I know there’s an asteroid coming within 75,000 miles of the Earth tis week, and if I had not been so busy the last few days doing a furious final pass on the aforementioned Countdown City I would have written an elegant and attention-grabbing essay for someone’s editorial page about the metaphorical implications of Near Earth Objects, and in particular what they can teach us about the constant unspoken nearness of death. I’ll get the next one!

 

 

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a new year, a new look

Thanks to the great Eric Smith at Quirk Books for refurbishing this website, and I will try to honor his effort by keeping it up-to-date with all things Winterish!

poe
Are you rooting for me, Mr. Poe?

Speaking of which, the big recent news is the nomination of The Last Policeman for the prestigious Edgar Award in the category of Best Paperback Original. This is actually my second nomination for an Edgar; the first was for The Secret Life of Ms. Finkleman, nominated in the Best Juvenile category in 2011.

It’s a good thing I have finished the manuscript for the Last Policeman sequel, because I will be  keeping my fingers crossed until the Edgars are announced on May 2.

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