NaNo for a cause

NaNoLogoHey, are you doing NaNoWriMo? (If you don’t know what that is, you’re probably not—It’s National Novel Writing Month, a collective-inspiration program where people try to write a whole 50,000-word novel over the course of November.)

If you are doing it, if you are in the throes of it as we speak, and might even need a little extra kick in the butt, I’ve got an offer for you: I’d like to read your finished manuscript, and give a you a detailed critique.

All you have to do (besides finishing the thing!) is make a donation of $25 or more to my favorite charity, Doctors Without Borders, the international medical organization that as we speak is doing crucial and ridiculously brave work in West Africa, and all over the world.

TO ENTER: make a donation to Doctors Without Borders ($25 or more) before November 30, and forward the confirmation you get to winters3000@gmail.com. (Feel free to redact your address & phone, if you want; their confirmation email does not include any credit card info).

THE PRIZE: I will randomly select ONE ENTRANT AS THE WINNER (out of all those received by the end of November). If you are that winner, then by December 31, author Ben H. Winters (uh, that’s me) will carefully read your NaNoWriMo manuscript, and offer a detailed written critique to help you get it from first to second draft.

WHY YOU MIGHT WANT THAT (you’re reading my blog, so you probably know who I am, but just in case someone forwarded this to you): I’m the author of eight novels, including the Last Policeman trilogy (which won both an Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America, and the Philip K. Dick Award for Distinguished Science Fiction), as well as The Secret Life of Ms. Finkleman, a novel for kids, and Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, a New York Times bestseller. I teach creative writing in the MFA program at Butler University, and I’ve taught novel writing (and mystery writing in particular) through the auspices of Boston’s marvelous Grub Street. I’ve also done plenty of one-on-one consultation with aspiring/emerging writers, and at least two of my clients have subsequently sold those novels to publishers.

Good luck, and keep writing!

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MORE things that changed my life

The nice folks at Crimespree magazine asked for five cultural artifacts (books, movies, music, etc.) that “changed my life,” and the list I came up with will surprise no one who has known me for any length of time: Elvis Costello, Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, Ira Levin, John Le Carré.

Wolf Hall
this book will make your head fall off, it’s so good.

The only thing is, I’m a little mortified, reviewing the piece, at its conspicuous maleness. For the record, I could and probably should have included Patricia Highsmith (“The Talented Mr. Ripley” and its sequels), Hilary Mantel (“Wolf Hall”, “Bring up the Bodies”), Lucinda Williams (“Car Wheels on a Gravel Road”), George Eliot (“Middlemarch,” “Silas Marner”) and yes, Jane Austen (uh, “Sense and Sensibility”)

austen
The great Ms. Austen, sans sea monsters.

It’s a fun thing to think about, for sure, works of art that changed your life, or at least changed your perception of yourself or of the world.

Anyway—shit, I forgot P.D. James. I gotta go back and add P.D. James!

 

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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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old books never die, but they do get marked down significantly on Amazon.com

Here’s one thing interesting and weird thing about being a writer: when you’re done with a project, it continues to have a life out there in the universe, while you sort of forget all about it.

So, for example, these days all I can think about is The Last Policeman and its sequel, Disasterland, which I just finished the first draft of.
last policeman.

(That’s all I can think about professionally: in my personal life I continue to spend a lot of time trying to master my new electric toothbrush, and wondering how and why a raccoon died on our lawn.) But meanwhile, out there in the big world, a musical I wrote seven years ago was just produced in New Zealand; I was interviewed this evening by a writer doing a nonfiction book about the science and cultural life of bedbugs, because of my horror novel about the little bastards a couple years ago; and I just got a long questionnaire from a doctoral candidate in Finland writing his dissertation on mash-up novels, because of Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters from 2009.

sea monsters

And I don’t know if other writers feel this way, but I personally have this strange and almost uncanny emotional distance from all of these old projects. I am aware on an abstract level that the experience of writing them was intense—like the experience of writing anything you care about and want to do properly. But when I think back on them now, I feel only a vague warmth toward them, like they are friends from elementary school who I remember being pretty cool, but that’s about it. Probably to get oneself properly invested in each new project, it is necessary to let go of the fervency with which you were committed to the last ones.

wildcat
My elementary school.

 

Which is why it’s so pleasing to imagine the things still wandering around in the world,  occasionally being encountered, so other people can get excited about them—even if only temporarily, for the two hours it takes to watch or the two weeks it takes to read.

I don’t have to be obsessed with them, once they’re done. I can be obsessed with the next thing, until it’s done.

 

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