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My Ten Rules of Writing

Dec 07, 2015

Years ago, the late, great Elmore Leonard published his ten rules of writing in the New York Times. They were both fun and instructive, the best of all being “Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.” He was then followed in this by Dennis Lehane, P.D. James and many others.

Without putting myself in their class, I humbly offer my own ten rules:

1. Create characters with strong needs and send them on a journey worth telling.
2. Place significant obstacles in their paths and reveal their characters through the actions they take to get around them.
3. Do enough research to be authoritative and plausible, but keep it to a minimum in the text.
4. Read voraciously, especially but not exclusively in your genre.
5. Tell your story with a sense of urgency, in the most compelling voice you can muster.
6. As Hemingway advised, end your writing day before you’re spent, so you know where you’re starting tomorrow.
7. Outlining, even in your head, can save you months of grief. And it can be every bit as creative as writing itself.
8. Throw everything you’ve got at the first draft. You can always cut it later.
9. Listen to the way people talk. Develop an ear for dialogue if you don’t already have one.
10. Do not, under any circumstances, make the mistake I did and quit your day job before your first book comes out.

11. Bonus: A first draft is just that. Once you finish it, get people to read it. Takes their comments graciously, even if you don’t agree with them. Sleep on them. See if they make sense in the morning. For me, revisions are where the best writing happens. Cut what’s not needed, tighten the springs that provide tension, sharpen dialogue. As much as you revise your completed text, polish your first few chapters to a fine point.  Bring them to a note of suspense. Create a worthy sample of 5,000-10,000 words to show an agent or publisher if you get the chance.

A Busy April

Mar 11, 2015

April is shaping up to be a busy month, with three appearances coming up in Toronto.

Thursday, April 9, 7:00 - 8:30 pm: I’ll be on a panel called “Hot Crime in a Cool Clime” at Oakville’s Queen Elizabeth Park Community & Cultural Centre, along with authors Linwood Barclay, Melodie Campbell, Jill Downie and DJ MacIntosh. Crime fiction critic Don Graves is moderating. We’ll discuss crime fiction and read from our work so come on out to the Black Box Theatre, 2302 Bridge Rd, Oakville. Tickets ($15) are now on sale.

Sunday, April 12, 10:00 a.m. Toronto’s charming City Shul is hosting a reading at The Wolfond Centre (36 Harbord Street). I’ll be there along with authors Bev Cline, Linda Rosenbaum, Susan Stern, Rhoda Green and Rabbi Elyse Goldstein. Admission is free.

Tuesday, April 21, 8:00 pm: This one is a treat for everyone, me included. I’ll be appearing with one of Canada’s most beloved authors, Howard Engel, creator of the Benny Cooperman series and a founding member of Crime Writers of Canada, and David Nickle, author of Rasputin’s Bastards and other works. Sandra Kasturi, co-publisher of ChiZine, will host. It’s at the Round Venue in Kensington Market (152A Augusta Ave., 2nd Floor).

Heartstopper: an interactive mystery

Oct 18, 2014

Less than two weeks ago, the Toronto Star commissioned me to write an interactive, online story for their October 18 crime fiction supplement. It had to have three different solutions to the same crime in a whirling, helix kind of structure the likes of which I had never seen.

My first instinct was to say no. These kind of computer games are for my kids. The deadline was too short. I am an artist whose characters have to grow organically, after months of painstaking research.

“Get over yourself,” said my wife.

So I plunged in—and had a fantastic time! Working with Books Editor Deborah Dundas, artist Paul Watson and J.P. Fozo, Senior Editor, Digital Projects, was a dream. They were entirely supportive and patient as we explored this new territory.

The result is Heartstopper.

I hope you check it out—and choose the right path to follow.

Now available: Online mentorships

Sep 23, 2014

Over the past few years, I have done one-on-one mentorships with a number of writing students who had well-developed manuscripts but needed help with character, plot, story or other elements. Over a period of two or three months, I would provide substantive editing notes, then look at revisions to keep the process on the right track.

If you have a work-in-progress and you think this would be helpful, click here for more details. 

Read Lostport free on Wattpad

Sep 23, 2014

if you like gritty crime thrillers, my standalone novel, Lostport, might be for you.

It’s the story of Ben McBride, who enters the U.S. Witness Security program—WITSEC—and relocates to a fading canal town in upstate New York. Struggling to find work and establish a new life in Eastport, Ben is stunned to find he is not the only protected witness in the county. There’s a whole group, brought together by a corrupt sheriff, Earl Keene, who forces them to rob an aging Mafia boss of five million in cash. But the sheriff has a surprise coming because Ben is not the man he appears to be. A former cop who had to seek protection after testifying against corrupt fellow officers in Tampa, Ben is going to fight for his freedom—and the money—with everything he’s got.

You can read Lostport free in serial form on Wattpad. A new chapter is posted every week (as of September 23, 2014, we are up to Chapter 16).

Interested? Curious? Chapter 1 starts right here.