Where I Get My Ideas, Part Infinity + 1: Freaky Search Results

Flight Aware Woo

Today I needed to check the status of a flight from California to Phoenix. I entered the airline and flight number into FlightAware.com and waited for the results.

Then stared.

The strange thing about the search result isn’t the image showing the route from Kansas City to Dallas/Fort Worth. It’s the flight status: Landed 11 years ago.

My lively imagination — by which I mean my fevered brain — immediately generated a series of thoughts, in roughly this order:

  1. Did I type the wrong flight number? I must have. (Checks.) No. I typed correctly.
  2. What the hell?
  4. Twilight Zone.
  5. In the epic novel I will write about this freaky search result, what caused the flight to travel back in time? Was it…
  6. A micro-black hole that dragged space and time into a spiral?
  7. A rift in the fabric of the universe caused by a secret government weapons project?
  8. A dying curse uttered by an evil clown?
  9. What happened to the passengers, and will they ever return to the present?
  10.  Maybe I should call my brother to see if I have his flight number correct. And to warn him, DON’T GET ON THE TWILIGHT ZONE FLIGHT.

Remember, kids: Everything’s material.

Blast from the Past: When Writers Meet Readers

It’s summertime, and I’m childproofing the house for little visitors who are flying in from far away. (Children. Not aliens. That’s another blog post.) So, while I pick up everything off the floor, here’s a post I wrote a few years ago, about meeting the folks who read your books.


Dear aspiring writers:

Get ready. When your novel, or memoir, or political exposé is published, you’ll get reactions from readers. From readers, that is, who are not your mother. So you need to prepare yourself for the range of responses your work will garner. I’m here to shatter a few myths and misconceptions.

1. Everybody will love you. Love you!

Many years ago, an acquaintance was offered a publishing contract. The author, in an understandable state of euphoria, told me, “Now nobody can ever say bad things about my writing again. I’m published.”

Sorry, no. Publication provides an unbeatable rebuke to people who doubted you could get published. But it opens you up to entire wondrous new worlds of criticism. I mean, have you ever actually looked at Amazon reviews?

That’s because:

2. You can’t please all the people all the time.

Have you written a vivid, deeply-felt novel, told with brio, courage, and a distinctive voice? Somebody’s going to hate it. The more distinctive your novel, the more certain it becomes that some readers will revolt against it. That’s life. The alternative — to back down and write inoffensive mush — is no solution at all. Be bold.

And get ready.

3. Readers will tell you:

  • Your characters swear too much. (“If my grandchildren used words like the hit man in your novel, I would wash their mouths out.”)
  • There are too many weapons in your novel.
  • The heroine in your novel does not use enough weapons. (“She needs to get strapped. Big time.” Even if your heroine is a pacifist.)
  • There are similes in your novel.
  • You don’t know what you’re talking about. You can be a trial lawyer who writes a legal thriller, and a reader or reviewer will say you’ve clearly never stepped inside a courtroom. You can write about your hometown, and somebody will claim that you’ve never set foot in the place. You can vet the science in your novel with a physicist and the medicine with a practicing physician, and be told that everything you’ve written is patently absurd. You can transcribe conversations verbatim, and someone will tell you it’s impossible that anyone would say such a thing (“Nobody would ever be rude to a disabled person. After all, normal people feel so sorry for the poor things.”).
  • You can’t write.
  • You can’t tell a story, unlike James Patterson.
  • Your characters are insufficiently religious. Or they have the wrong religion. Or you have the wrong religion.
  • Your books are filth. They have too much sex. Or they need more sex.
  • You’re a woman.
  • You’re a man.
  • You’re obviously a man, hiding behind a woman’s pen name.

So what should you do?

4. Don’t worry, be happy.

Remember your goal. Picture it. You’ve finished a book. It’s published. People are buying and reading it. Keep writing. Keep rubbing yourself with sandpaper, to develop that thick skin. Write back to readers who are polite. Ignore those who are plain mean and hurtful. Never enter into flame wars with reviewers. Never. Rise above it. Keep working on your craft, so your next project will be even more sparkling and suspenseful.

Smile. You’re a writer.

And once in a while, blog about it.

Oh — and never, ever, put a dog in jeopardy and leave its fate hanging at the end of a novel. You’ll get hate mail, and it will be deserved.

Wanna write? Gotta read.


A brief sermon on reading and writing, in Twitter form.

So get out there and write, folks. Write till your fingers and your brains bleed. And when you need to take a break, pick up a book.

Thus endeth the lesson.

Scene from a writer’s day

SETTING: My world

Me, to my son’s English girlfriend: If I write a story with a British character, will you read it to make sure she sounds authentic?

Girlfriend: Certainly! What’s the story about?

Son: Zombies, right? Zombies!

Me: No…

Girlfriend: What do English zombies sound like?

Son, in falsetto voice: “Braaaiiins, dahling!”

Girlfriend: Or, “Please, sir, may I have–”

Son: “–some braaaiiins?”

This is my life.

Goodreads discussion of Phantom Instinct


On Goodreads, the Crime Detective Mystery Thriller Group is going to discuss Phantom Instinct from July 20-Aug 20. I’ll be part of the discussion. If you’re on Goodreads, you can join the group and join the talk.

Readers can hit me with any questions about the book, or writing, or how I learned about handbrake turns for the scene where Harper Flynn teaches evasive driving in a Mini Cooper.

I’m looking forward to it. Hope to see you there.

Where I get my ideas Part One Million: friends’ nightmares

I know everybody thinks I shiver day and night in my writer’s garret, torturing myself over exactly the right wording for my latest action scene. But occasionally I scurry outside to experience direct sunlight. And sometimes I speak to friends. This morning I talked online with a buddy, who tried to convince me to get together for an outdoor weekend. Her lure: “The county fair means more cheesiness and people watching! So fun. The Rodeo beauty queen rides out around the ring on her horse which means you have to come!” Followed by emoji hearts.

She was trying to soften me up before revealing the real event of the week: an overnight trip to a mountain hut. She finally broke down and said: “There is a disturbing 8 mile hike involved which I will likely skip but the rest of the gang will embrace with enthusiasm no doubt. The hut nightmare is Thursday to Friday.”

At which point I got completely distracted.

Hut Nightmare 1

It was a good use of the word “copious.” It was indeed.

Hut Nightmare 2

At this point I should clarify, to keep my agent and editor from screaming, that I have not in fact abandoned any other work to write a book about the rodeo murders at 11,000 feet. But I have induced a nightmare in my friend’s mind.

Hut Nightmare 4

A dark and stormy night. The best kind of all. Have fun — I’ll be safe at home in my writing garret.

Thrillerfest: postscript


Thrillerfest was a lot of fun, because New York City, hell, yeah. The conference was held in Midtown Manhattan, a block from the Chrysler Building, seen above. And I spent time walking the streets of Brooklyn, seen below. In thriller writer terms, this is called research.


The panel I took part in, “HOW MANY CAN I MURDER? Deciding On Your Body Count” was jolly and upbeat. Mostly. One author on the panel had written a novel in which nobody dies, and one had blown up a planet. I fell somewhere in between. We all agreed that a novel’s body count is too high when a fictional victim is murdered simply as a plot device, or when a character is killed off just to provide the protagonist with pain or motivation… especially when a female character is killed to inspire the hero to action. (See “Stuffed into the fridge.“) Then we cracked some jokes, so that nobody in the audience left despairing about the state of modern culture.

Practice PitchFest gave aspiring authors a chance to try out their pitch to agents and editors before doing it for real. I joined a bunch of authors and agents to listen to proposed pitches and help the new authors work on them. All I can say is: folks are brave. Also: if you have only five minutes to tell a professional about your novel, dive straight into the story. Explain the kernel of the plot in compelling terms. In a few sentences, tell who the main character is, what problem they have, and how they have to try to set it right. And good luck to you.