Cabbages and Kings

A diary by the authors of the Louis Kincaid series

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Location: Fort Lauderdale/Elk Rapids, Florida and Michigan, United States

We are the New York Times bestselling authors of the Louis Kincaid series and other stand alone thrillers. We have taught writing at major conferences for ten years.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Crossing the finish line

First, an apology. Those of you who are kind enough to stop by and read my ramblings deserve better than this -- my sloth and sin of not checking in these past two weeks. But I got in the weeds really bad this week while finishing The Book.

But the friggin thing is gone, off to New York on a FedEx wing and a prayer. And I haven't been this relieved since my divorce became final. (First husband. Second one took.)

This book was a bitch. The WORST. You'd think about seven books, it would get easier, but we all know it never does. We are launching a new series, with a new lead character and are trying to impress a new editor and publisher. My sister Kelly says I was a raving lunatic with this one, like howling at the moon hard-to-live-with. My husband? Don't ask. The man deserves a medal.

How neurotic am I? I ended up in the hospital with chest pains. But my ticker is fine, my doc put me on Xanax for a week and I went back to yoga. I mean, get over yourself, right?

Do you guys get this bent? And I have another question for you. I am asking this to find out that I am not crazy, not the only one who does this sort of thing.

What do you do RIGHT AFTER you finish your book? What do you do to pat yourself on the back? A massage? A new pair of Choo shoes? A good night's sleep? Sex with the perfect stranger? Do you have a celebratory ritual?

My sister and I have a ritual, which grew organically over seven books, much as our collaboration did. See, she always comes down to my place in Florida in March, the month that has coincided with the final push of the first draft. She stays a month and we grind it out in 10-hour, seven-day-weekly writing marathons with two computers, like Ferrante and Teicher. Or maybe those guys in Deliverance.

And then...

We get to the last page of the last chapter. And we do the same thing every year.

I type: THE
She types: END

We have a big hug. Then we get drunk.

This year, we missed our deadline because the book was going badly. She had to leave before we finished. So the ritual was disrupted. She was in Memphis, I in Fort Lauderdale. We were tempting the fates.

But when I sent her the final chapter over AOL, she emailed back and said she liked it. So I emailed it back with THE at the end. She emailed it back adding END.

Then I went down to Publix and bought a really expensive bottle of Pinot Noir and toasted to the rituals of sisterhood and authorhood.

My little secret: I love rituals. My dirty little secret: I love writing but I REALLY love having written.

Save the Indy 500
Every week, I will be spotlighting an independent bookstore. Today, I'd like you to meet Augie Aleksy, the owner of Centuries & Sleuths in Forest Park, Illinois. It's one of my fave places to visit because Augie makes every author feel like royalty and his customers are the best. Take it Augie...

Centuries & Sleuths Bookstore
7419 W. Madison Street
Forest Park, IL

Opened November 1990, moved to present location 2000

How'd you get in the business?
An opportunity came along to open the bookstore of my choice, doing what everybody says they "want to do someday." I also had the support of my wife. But first, I developed a business plan and conducted surveys of my chosen store specialties: history, mystery and biography. I wanted to find out what types of books people had purchased in the last quarter of 1989. The survey results justified my choices.
Favorite thing about being a bookseller?
Meeting interesting people, both customers and authors. Also, my son who was only 6 when we opened, had the change to meet with authors like Steve Allen, Peter Ustinov and Sara Paretsky. My former jobs in the financial industry never gave me or my family such a benefit.
What's unique about Centuries & Sleuths?
It's the only store specializing in mystery, history and biography, and the variety and longevity of our discussion groups. Plus we've put on some unique special events: a mock Trial of Richard III with real lawyers arguing before a federal court judge; a mock impeachment hearing of FDR for his prior knowledge of Pearl Harbor. We've also done Beans 'n' the Pot, a presentation of food from history and mysteries and a dozen Meeting of the Minds events similar to the Steve Allen PBS program of the 1970s.
What's your best advice to writers?
Write good books and be considerate of booksellers and customers.
What's your advice for the publishing industry?
Reduce the minimums to get better than a 40% discount.
Free freight
Continue good return policies
Consider the small independent bookstore when you tour big authors.
Keep up the good sales staff who sincerely try to help the little guy/girl make their store a success.
Three books in your store you wish more folks knew about?
Books by P.J. Parrish (honest, we didn't tell him to say this)
The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey (demonstrates link between history and mystery)
The Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc by Mark Twain. (his personal favorite)
The Speckled Monster: A Historical Tale of Battling Smallpox by Jennifer Lee Carrell
What's on your night stand right now?
Will Thomas's third Cyrus Barker mystery The Limehouse Text
Stephen Kinzer's Overthrow: America's Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq
If you were an adult film star, what would your name be?
Adrian Youngblood


Anonymous J. Carson Black said...

Some books sure as hell are easier than others. My third book in the series felt like automatic writing at times. The one before that was a monster, and took four months to rework until I was satisfied (which coincided with the deadline). The new one I'm working on (still waiting for a contract, by the way, which just makes it that much more fun!), I could tell right away it was going to be more like Book 2. Hard. Maybe not quite as bad, but it's been running me around the block like I'm a dogwalker with fifteen dogs!

I just had a breakthrough on the plot yesterday, but as wonderful as that was, I have a very long way to go.

So, yes, sometimes I get to a point in the book where it all seems transparent, and transparent is not what you want to see in a whodunnit, and my soul wails. I think: there's no way out! There always is, but sometimes I'm cutting it close.

When I'm done, I usually have a great dinner with my husband, and some champagne. And buy myself a little something. On what I make, it's a very little something. Like a new jigsaw puzzle.

I love the idea of the two of you typing THE END together. When you said that, it reminded me of the ritual the guy in Stephen King's MISERY had.

Which reminds me--at least none of us has to use corrasable bond!

3:28 PM  
Blogger Bethany said...

Totally love the *have written* comment. IT is the best.

Me? When I finish a book, I spend a week watching movies and reading all that I can devour. The drunk part? I wish... with a kid in the house, I don't know good that would be. But then again, the movie might not be so good either. :-)

4:08 PM  
Anonymous Bob Morris said...

With luck, BERMUDA SCHWARTZ will be done this weekend. It was due, uh, a coupla months ago. My editor is da man. So I'll be sending him a bottle of rum with the ms. and I've already bought myself a primo zin to drink-all-up in a sitting when I'm done. Oh yeah, and a nice dinner with my wife. I've missed her during the last few months...

Then, first thing the next morning, I'll really celebrate -- by starting the next one. I am soooo ready to get going on something new that this is the gift I've been waiting for...

And thanks for shining light on the Indies. One of my favorite bookstores, Dickens-Reed in Mt. Dora, just closed its doors. The owner, Ruth Blake, was a great supporter of writers and always a wonderful hostess during signings and readings. Her store will be greatly missed...

7:34 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

First, a note on the bookstore. My wife & I would love that--me for thrillers and mysteries, her for history.

Second, in Stephen King's "Bag of Bones," Mike Noonan had a ritual at the end of the book where he got champagne and his wife typed the last line and The End, and she always said, "Well, that's all right then." When she died, it gets all tied up in his writer's block.

Yeah, some books are murder. My upcoming novel, The Devil's Pitchfork, was a tough one. Like a complicated game of chess with myself, where I kept going back, eliminating chapters, trying something else, deleting it, rewriting it the way it was before, deleting it, trying something different... the follow-up, The Serpent's Kiss (coming to a bookstore near you in 2007!) practically wrote itself.

Now Kris, try not to let your job put you in the hospital. Stick with the yoga, maybe buy yourself a heavy bag to punch to relieve stress. Good for the upper body. Take a deep breath and say, "It's just a book." (Yeah, yeah, I know. I don't believe it either.)

As for my ending ritual, I don't really have one. Stew and fret and send it off, I suppose. Start on the next one, although this last one I completed instigated the longest period between fiction in a very long time, except for a short story I cranked out and am sending out for free to anyone who e-mails and asks for it ("11 Minutes") that will be used in my marketing efforts for Pitchfork. Maybe I need to look at your list and pick one: get drunk, sex with strangers (odd that those two might go together), have champagne, running naked through the streets shouting, "Yippee!!!"

Mark Terry

11:14 AM  
Anonymous Carol Davis Luce said...

I celebrate when I write The End on the first draft. Now I have a book of sorts, to be tinkered with until its just right. Maybe it takes many months after that, but its a BOOK with lots of potential. I don't celebrate when I send it off--too nervewracking at that point. When it sells--big celebration!

I love to "have written," but I hate to "write."

12:59 PM  
Blogger PJ Parrish said...

I had forgotten the Misery thing until you mentioned it. What was James Caan's ritual? Something about one cigarette?

12:59 PM  
Blogger PJ Parrish said...


That Stephen King story you mentions sounds terrific. Wish I'd thought of that idea...

And your playing chess with myself analogy is right on. Kelly has a theory that this book was difficult for me because it is a female character and we put her thru some pretty grim times. I don't know if that is true or not but I do know it felt very different being inside a woman's head instead of a man's. (Louis)

1:02 PM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

"Bag of Bones" by Stephen King. My favorite of all his books. I especially recommend the unabridged audiobook read by King himself. He's amazing.

1:35 PM  
Blogger JA Konrath said...

If I had an adult film name, it would be Dick Chokum.

In fact, I may change my name to that anyway.

1:40 PM  
Blogger PJ Parrish said...

Funny, Joe, I always pictured you as Harry Johnson.

1:43 PM  
Anonymous J. Carson Black said...

Kris - you know, I don't remember. I know he was in a cabin in the woods, and he always locked himself up some place to finish the book. I think he had champagne, but didn't drink it. And the foolish thing was, he never had a copy of the book. Not a disk, not a copy anywhere. Which made it such torture when ol' Annie set fire to his Misery tome.

A bit of a plot device, there.

Bag of Bones--that was a great ritual.

1:44 PM  
Blogger Jude Hardin said...

BAG OF BONES is my favorite SK novel too, Mark. Every writer should read it, I think.

I always tie one on when I finish a book. Actually, when I finish a chapter or even a couple pages. Hell, just THINKING about writing something is cause for celebration.

My adult film name, by the way, is Sir Vic Spoker.

6:28 PM  
Anonymous J. Carson Black said...

Okay, I'll bite. If I were a guy, my title would be "with two you get eggroll."

10:25 PM  
Blogger Sandra Ruttan said...

Sorry to hear this one has been so tough for you, glad to hear you're on track with the yoga, etc. I understand. I get so caught up in what I'm doing, life stops. Several weeks later, I come out of my office, hair standing on end, and start to wade through the laundry and housework that's piled up while my husband has survived without me. Last year, I even slept in my office for a while - it just made it easier to get up at 2 am if I had a flash of inspiration.

How insane is that?

Now that I'm in the middle of the final edits, it's worse than ever. My husband emails to talk to me, because I only pay attention to my computer. And I did make myself sick. I'm relieved it isn't just me. And yet, somewhat scared about the fact that this won't get any better with future books.

10:43 PM  
Blogger PJ Parrish said...

Sandra, make ME feel better. I was up at 3 a.m. a lot with night sweats but unfortunately, I can't work during these dark moments. I just lay there watching old movies.

Caught "Bridge on the River Kwai" the other night. It is almost 3 hours long so by 6:30 a.m., I was able to forget about The Book for a while. Just let myself be dazzled by David Lean...

10:51 PM  
Blogger Sandra Ruttan said...

My problem is, I'm a workaholic. And nothing is more important to me work-wise than getting this book right.

The perfectionist in me is going to be the death of me, because there's no way it'll ever be absolute perfection.

I need a class on how to let myself down and get over it!

Good movies, though. Nice diversions. It's been a while since I watched that movie. Last time I was in such a state, I watched 12 Angry Men. There's something about a great classic you can just lose yourself in.

6:21 PM  
Blogger Toni McGee Causey said...

Sandra! My husband has to do the same thing. I end up writing at night because that's the only real stretch of quiet time I get. Then I have to get up fairly early to deal with our business (construction). Book 1 practically wrote itself, but even so, when I wrote "THE END" I was working nearly around the clock to try to get it all down while I was having a huge flash of inspiration. I celebrated by sleeping (actual hours, connected even) and then watching movies and reading. Book 2 is harder. Partially because I know book 1 isn't out yet, and there's this sense of, "did it work for the readers?" -- which I won't know for sure until after I've finished book 2. (Pub day is next May. Deadline for book 2 -- Dec.) I've already got book 3 sort of outlined and I suspect it's going to be easier than book 2. (I keep having epiphanies for it, damnit, which is way ahead of schedule.)

I totally relate to the chest pains / panic. I've forced myself to jump on the treadmill when that happens to release the tension.

8:48 PM  
Blogger Bernita said...

After I send something off I metaphorically sit in a corner with my arms over my head rocking back and forth and moaning.

9:10 AM  
Blogger PJ Parrish said...


Welcome to my blog. Your comment: "Book 2 is harder. Partially because I know book 1 isn't out yet, and there's this sense of, "did it work for the readers?" got me thinking that Book 2 IS harder in so many ways. First, you don't have the luxury of unlimited time that you had with the first. (Fact is, you will never have the luxury of time again once your career and/series gets really cooking because pubs expect a book a year and are increasingly pushing for one every 8 months.

Second is the factor you mentioned: Will my stuff find an audience and how does that affect what comes next? Faith is all.

But you are doing the right thing by just plowing ahead. Creative momentum keeps you from dwelling on things that are out of your control after you turn that baby in.

Good luck!

1:11 PM  
Blogger Toni McGee Causey said...

Thanks, PJ! It's really nice to know I'm not alone in feeling the book 2 frustrations / questions. Keeps me (sort of) sane.

12:20 AM  
Blogger Thorne said...

Thanks for a great Blog! Love it...

Anyway I hope it goes well with your new venture...

9:49 AM  

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