About John Rogers

I have thought of myself as a writer for most of my adult life. In 2011, I became a fiction writer full time. I studied creative writing as an English major in college. Then came family and career. I worked in finance and biotech and did a wonderful stint in Vienna. Now, I have the opportunity to use those experiences as the substrate for my stories. My first novel takes on the world of Big Data and the very timely issue of cyber war. The second uses the manipulation of financial derivatives as impetus for attempted murder during a trip from Vienna to Budapest on the Danube. I have taken writing instruction at the Cape Cod Writers Conference and from The Loft in Minneapolis. I am finding writers’ groups to be very helpful as concept editors, as well as practical advice from the published authors. I am in three such groups. I have taken writing instruction at the Cape Cod Writers Conference and from The Loft in Minneapolis.

Publish

I have decided to self-publish Fatal Score, the first book in my Mayfield-Napolitani series, this November.  It has been a difficult decision, a long time coming.  I have sent many queries to agents, mostly unanswered. I’ve queried a handful of small publishers, mostly answered but no takers (though one expressed interest for a 2020 release).

As I toted up the rejections and ignores, I kept thinking the way we hopeful writers do, “Maybe next time. It’s not that my book isn’t good; it’s just that I haven’t found the right match at the right time.” Underneath it all, though, believing that to self-publish would be to admit failure.

A couple of years ago, a thought began whining in my ear like a Minnesota mosquito: maybe the traditional way of getting published is not for me.

And now I’ve decided: I’ll self-publish through my micro-publisher, Gotuit LLC, and release in November.

I am going to reorient this blog to track progress with weekly or bi-weekly comments on the many moving parts of the process.  Mark Twain called the exercise of writing about writing “chloroform in print.” I am grateful to the 250 readers who have been thus anesthetized over the several years of me reporting on my learning experience. I hope the process of publishing will be a little more interesting. If that proves true for you and you have not already done so, I hope you will sign up for e-mails (right margin).

Most important, I will look forward to your comments.

Next week:  The industry

 

Internet … Great Tool and Time Sink

I’m thinking how much the Internet has changed the world.

Back before the Internet, it was difficult, time-consuming and sometimes expensive just to get information.  Whether it was refinishing a piece of furniture, learning how to play the guitar, or wiring a light fixture, there were often no instructions.  Finding what you needed involved finding a knowledgeable person, going to the library or the bookstore, sending off for a catalog.

Now, the difficulty is filtering the massive amount of good, dubious and bad information on the net.  I have read several short books (generally badly written) on how to publish.  I have three conflicting sources on page layout.  It’s almost as time-consuming as it was before the Internet.Danny_Media

On the other hand, I’ve found a cover designer whose work I have been able to inspect in detail.  She lives in Nigeria.  Her contact page tells one a lot about the reach and capabilities of the Internet. As I write this at 2:00 pm Eastern Daylight Time in the States, Danny is on line at 7:00 pm in Nigeria.  She made a delivery 3 minutes ago and 346 people have liked her enough to rate her.  That’s a long, long way from the local Yellow Pages I grew up with.

New world.  Full of challenges and opportunities.

The Agony of Genre

I check agents’ sites occasionally, and yesterday I saw a note that a person had incorrectly classified her book as a ‘thriller’ in a query letter.  The agent said (quite correctly, I think from the query) that the book is suspense, not a thriller … but that’s okay, she said, because “thrillers are hard to sell these days.”

Ahhh, visions of my history with venture capital, when someone would have a Big Honkin’ Idea, would get funded and (shortly) acquired.  Within months there would be a dozen minor variations on the original idea looking for money, some of which would be funded.  Then the market would be saturated with look-alikes, and VC attention would turn to the next Big Honkin’ Idea.

So it is, I fear, with the thriller genre in commercial fiction.  I have two finished thrillers, one in rewrite and another in design.  So this is of some concern to me.

Once upon a time, the “thriller” plot turned on some big problem, something that would hurt thousands or millions.  Somehow the story’s protagonist, often an ordinary person (not cop, PI, lawyer, etc.), would discover some important detail and be pursued by bad guys until he or she was successful in exposing the bad stuff.  Then, sometime between Gillian Flynn’s Sharp Objects (2006) and her Gone Girl (2012), her marketing department made Gone Girl a thriller.  After that, there were a lot of thrillers came out. Most were suspense (the general classification above thriller), but ‘thriller’ sold.

It’s looking more and more like I’ll self-publish at least my first novel.

My timeline is collapsing.

Yesterday’s New York Times headline read, nay, screamed:

Cyberattacks Put Russian Fingers on the Switch at Power Plants, U.S. Says  (NYT, 3/15/18)

… And blew my fictional timeline to bits.

The first Joe Mayfield/Louise Napolitani novel, Fatal Score, turned on the idea that a good technological development (gene sequencing and analysis) is borrowed to shore up a socio-political problem (rising health care cost).  And, of course, in a thriller, the good idea is twisted to evil purpose.  It also seemed to me, back when I started writing in 2012, that the next front in international confrontation was going to be cyberwar.

It looks like I was right about the cyberwar part … but terribly wrong in timing.  I set the first draft of Fatal Score in 2050.  I have since pulled the date back to 2026, though the date is only mentioned once in passing.  I figured trimming 24 years off the calendar would be adequate.  To cut further, would put the first novel right in our laps.  Well, here it sits, uncomfortably.

The third novel, tentatively titled Fail Deadly, needs to be set in about 2030 … except it’s about Russian oligarchs hacking into the power grid.

The NYT article notes,

“The Trump administration accused Russia on Thursday of engineering a series of cyberattacks that targeted American and European nuclear power plants and water and electric systems, and could have sabotaged or shut power plants off at will.

United States officials and private security firms saw the attacks as a signal by Moscow that it could disrupt the West’s critical facilities in the event of a conflict.

They said the strikes accelerated in late 2015, at the same time the Russian interference in the American election was underway. The attackers had compromised some operators in North America and Europe by spring 2017, after President Trump was inaugurated.”

 

So much for 2050… maybe so much for … yikes! … tomorrow.

Reorganizing

I’ve changed the site around a bit. I am approaching completion on novel number three (Fail Deadly) and am sketching out number four.  There’s a new page on this site (Novels) with the blurbs for the first three stories.  Those of you who have had to go through the difficult process of creating a blurbs, please don’t hesitate to tear them apart.

Evolution of Agency?

I just had an interesting and hopeful experience.  At least one literary agency is wrestling with the issue all have been struggling with:  the tsunami of queries made possible by the Internet. And this one, Bookends, seems to have cracked the code of how to deal with the flood in what people from other industries would consider professional.

The Old Way … The New Way’s Worse

I’m readying myself to take my first novel to market and have thus been looking at agents’websites.  A pretty standard note encourages submissions, then says something like:  “Unfortunately, due to the large number of queries and submissions we receive, we cannot acknowledge receipt, we cannot enter into correspondence about our decisions, and we cannot return material.”

In the world I come from, that would be an admission of failure to manage one’s business. Nerve-wracking to be sending one’s work into a black hole.

Bookends uses an online submission form, then gives an address where one can track the progress of one’s submission.  Fight technology with technology.  Good for Bookends. For me, the change is hugely positive, because it cuts off the loose ends that are endemic with the send-it-off, wait, wait, wait cadence of most query activity.  It also made me realize that small, ongoing pain of not knowing is worse than the pain of rejection.

Anyway, kudos to Bookends.

… AND Spencerhill Associates, using same form

… AND the great online resource, query tracker.net … which has apparently bridged the gap between keeping track of a writer’s queries and managing the submissions literary agents receive.  BIG kudos on helping the industry put at least a toe in the waters of twenty-first century electronic media!

Technique, again

I am taking a look yet again at my first novel, Fatal Score (initially called Hack the Yak), which I am preparing to query. I asked an editor to look at the first three chapters.  The results were eye-opening.

When I began writing, I used interior monolog (protagonist’s thoughts), which I laid down in italics.  The editor would have none of that.

I’ve mentioned before that the Big Duh I’ve learned by writing, now, three novels:  there is this thing called technique.  The writer needs that ineffable quality known as Voice, to be sure.  And Mechanics (grammar, lexical sophistication, punctuation) must be spot-on or
any self-respecting agent will trash the ms without reading it.  The Big Duh was this thing I call Technique.  Frustrating, is technique (in Yoda’s words).  Some parts are common sense (when they become obvious), like letting a reader know where she is, who is speaking and what time it is at the beginning of a scene.  Some parts seem like a random variable extending over time.  Nineteenth-century technique (never mind punctuation) is different than twenty-first century for no apparent reason.  Eighteenth century writing embraced long, Latinate words; Hemingway didn’t.

So, I live and continue to learn.

And, yes, I dumped most of the italics.

Lazy!

Damn, it’s been a while.  I don’t expect anyone’s fallen into deep depression for lack of my insights on the writerly process.

I’ve been trying, generally successfully, to hold my tongue on the subject of the dismantling of collegiality, common sense, and gentility that’s progressing so rapidly. Of course, none of that belongs in a blog on writing.  I was perhaps afraid some untoward sentiment would leak out. Tax plan that makes no economic or social sense.

I’ve proffered my first two books to a couple of contests.  Crude tweets. A long list here, a “really great writing, but …” there.  I am readying myself to address agents and small presses.  The whole idea gives me heartburn.

On the plus side, my three critique groups have helped my writing enormously. Failure to hold up our position in the world. It’s not just the insights as to plot and character.  It’s the odd personal writing quirks I have that members catch.  I, of course, don’t recognize them until someone points them out.

More soon.  Gotta pull myself out of the funk

Smile, and the whole world wonders what you’re up to

It is said (apparently inaccurately) that the Inuit have many words for ‘snow.’  Why would that be?  Why, because they see a lot of snow, of course.

English has very few words for ‘smile,’ even though we see a lot of them (I hope).  Grin.  Grimace. Beam. Smirk. Maybe even Simper. And you can drag in fellow travelers Squint and certainly Leer. But really, not a very large collection of descriptives for something a writer needs often.

Smile, look, walk, and similar words  indicate classes of action but do not show specifics. Use them, and you leave the reader knowing what happened but not having a picture in mind.  They’re placeholders for better description. Boring, as well.

All of this was grating on my mind yesterday.  I was writing a three-person sequence in which a lot of smiling was going on, not all of it happy.  Sure, I could tell the reader that Weezy’s smile masked anger, but how does that look?

I decided to take a break and walk around Lake of the Isles, my favorite in-city lake in Minneapolis.  Usually, I use my walking time to work out plot and character issues, and that was the way I started my walk. A couple of blocks along the way, a late middle-aged man approached.  He took me in, then gave the very briefest horizontal stretching of the lips in a straight line.  Hard to tell whether it was a smile or gastronomic distress. That got me watching the people I encountered.  A young woman gave me the “I am smiling because I’m cool but don’t get your hopes up” rictus (ahh, rictus … I missed that as a near-synonym).  A young father gave me a possessive, prideful smile as his two, young bike-mounted sons ran me off the walking path. A mother’s joy-to-the-world smile as she glanced up from her baby. A hajib-wearing woman smiled with her eyes.  A young packed-with-energy guy gave me a nod of recognition as he ran by, served up with a smirk.  (I race walk. To him, I was surely old, hefty, and weird.) A woman gifted me a happy smile that took in her whole face – mouth, eyes, and forehead. It was the kind of smile that makes you want to know the person just to understand how she has successfully figured out the puzzle of life.

I was reminded there is no such thing as a generic smile.  The smile is a creature of the structure of a face, as well as the inner beauty or turmoil of the person smiling.  Guess I have to work harder on my smiles.  No one said writing would be easy.

No Genres!

Louise Penny, quoted in the New York Times book review, August 24th:  “I don’t buy into the notion of genres, perhaps for obvious reasons. I think that’s an effective marketing tool, but nothing more. Good storytelling is good storytelling. There are no borders or boundaries in literature and to try to define is to limit. Finis.”

Oh, Joy! Wonderful! Even ends in fine, archaic Latin.

… But, oh, yes.  She’s published.