Saturday, May 26, 2012

Mr. Monk and the Happy Ending

Mr. Monk is a MessMy seven year, three episode, fifteen book relationship with Adrian Monk has ended. I've just finished writing my last book in the series, Mr. Monk Gets Even, and I will be sending it to my editor next week after taking one last pass through it (don't despair - the book series may continue with another writer).

My relationship with Monk has been long and wonderful. It began when  “Monk” creator Andy Breckman hired me and William Rabkin to write an episode of the TV series entitled “Mr. Monk Goes to Mexico,” which would end up being the first of three episodes we wrote for the show.

At the time, Bill and I were about to begin writing & producing the Lifetime TV series Missing and I was deep into writing the Diagnosis Murder novels, which were based on the TV series of the same name that we’d also written & executive-produced.

When Andy was approached by NAL about writing Monk novels, he declined the opportunity and recommended that I write them instead.  I took the assignment, which was an insane thing to do, since it would mean writing a new book by night every ninety days, alternating between Monk and Diagnosis Murder, while also running a TV series during the day.

That’s how much I loved Adrian Monk.

I kept up that brutal pace for two years before finally ending the Diagnosis Murder book series after eight novels.

Andy liked my first Monk novel, Mr. Monk Goes to the Firehouse, so much that he hired Bill and I to adapt it into an episode of the TV show. The episode, entitled “Mr. Monk Can’t See A Thing,” may be the first time in American TV history that a tie-in novel of a TV show has been adapted into an episode of the series….and by the author of the book, no less (if it’s ever been done before, we haven’t found it. And if it has been done, it’s obviously a rare occurrence!)

If it wasn’t for Andy’s enthusiasm and support, I doubt I would have written so many “Monk” novels or had so much fun doing them. He gave me his trust and the creative freedom to make the book series entirely my own, and for that I will always be grateful.

Mr. Monk Gets Even comes out in January...but Mr. Monk is a Mess, the second to last of my Monk novels, comes out in two weeks.

(Below is a trailer I did for a Monk book excerpt that appeared in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine)

Friday, May 25, 2012

Introducing One Angry Julius & Other Stories

This collection features the latest story from the multiple award-winning Julius Katz series, One Angry Julius and Eleven Befuddled Jurors, in which a very annoyed Julius finds himself sequestered on a jury and about to miss the gourmet dinner of a lifetime. Also in this collection are five very different types of noir stories that were previously published in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Cape Cod Noir and On Dangerous Ground, including the 2012 Thriller Award nominated story, A Hostage Situation. As an added bonus, The first chapter of Dave Zeltserman's upcoming horror novel, Monster: A Novel of Frankenstein has also been included. This collection is available for $2.99 for either kindle or nook.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Routines of Writing

Writers' Routines is a collection of short pieces detailing, as you'd expect from the name, the working practices and outlooks of various members of the writing profession:
"I was very vulnerable to criticism for many years. I could read a bad review and remember it my whole life. One day, in the early ’90s, my play was opening for the third time in Chicago. This free press paper gave it a terrible, terrible review, saying, “It’s horrible this type of play gets put on and keeps other good writers from getting their play put on.” And I looked at the review and thought, You know what? I wrote a play and he wrote a review and that’s the difference between us. And I was never bothered by it again."

Steve Martin
You can find more right here.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Koenig on True Crime

To coincide with the publication of his novel False Negative by Hard Case Crime, author Joseph Koenig writes on the Titan Books blog about his experiences on True Crime magazines:
Prior to going to work at the magazine I don't believe I had known a single murderer. Soon I was on a first-name basis with too many. They weren't original thinkers. All had the same idea stuck in their head, and it wasn't very different than the one that had landed them in stir. Somebody was going to suffer for their misfortune. The nearest available individual would do.

My murderers were not professionals, but garden variety rape-slayers, socially inept men with problematic IQs, and lacking movie star looks, whose best chances for sex were with a corpse, or with someone about to become one. They were not physically imposing. Yet they had killed, many of them more than once, and their good behavior in the office was not to be assumed. Because I didn't care to defend against murder charges myself, I didn't keep a weapon, not even a sharpened letter opener, in my desk. A paperweight, a snow globe that showed the Statue of Liberty and Empire State Building in a blizzard when you shook it, was available for dashing their presumed brains. It never came to that. Close calls aren't worth mentioning.
Read the full story here.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012


Lee Goldberg here...

I've written over thirty novels, and my process with all of them was pretty much the same. I had an idea, I wrote a bullet-point outline, and I started writing the book, revising my outline along the way (I call them "living outlines," since I usually finish writing them a few days before I complete my manuscripts). But the process of writing KING CITY, my new standalone crime novel that was released today, was entirely different.

KING CITY began as a TV series pitch that I took all over Hollywood four or five years ago. It generated some interest but ultimately didn't lead to anything. So I put it in a drawer and moved on.

But the idea nagged at me anyway and I began to think KING CITY might make a better book than a screenplay. So, between MONK novels three years ago, I wrote 200 pages and a broad-strokes outline for the rest of the book.

I sent the proposal to my agent and began writing my next MONK book. The first place she sent KING CITY to was Penguin/Putnam, my MONK publisher, because she felt certain they'd snap it up. Between DIAGNOSIS MURDER and MONK, I'd written twenty-some novels for them. We knew that they liked me and my work, which had been successful for them, so we didn't think they'd see KING CITY as much of a gamble.

But they passed, surprising us both. My agent felt the rejection was less about me or the book than the way the business had changed. Mid-list authors were being dropped, editors were being fired, and the days of selling book proposals was over. If I wanted to sell KING CITY, I'd have to write the whole book and then shop it around.

I wasn't wild about that idea. If editors who knew me and my work well didn't find the first 200 pages compelling enough to merit an offer, I doubted that reading the whole novel would change their minds. And if these editors, folks I'd worked with for years, weren't willing to gamble on me, why would someone else? Moreover, after years of having contracts before I started writing novels, I was spoiled. The idea of writing a book entirely on spec made me uneasy, especially given my experience with THE WALK and WATCH ME DIE. Both of those books were written "on spec" and, after years bouncing all over New York, were finally published by Five Star, who paid a pittance for them. They got wide acclaim but not wide distribution. From a financial standpoint, they seemed to be a bust. I wasn't willing to go through that again.

So I tabled KING CITY and went back to writing one MONK novel after another.

But then something amazing happened - the ebook market took off, and I started earning tens of thousands of dollars on my out-of-print backlist, like THE WALK. It changed my thinking entirely about the publishing business. About the same time, my TV agent started nagging me to write a spec pilot.

Which got me thinking about KING CITY again.

So, last November, when I was once again between MONK books, I re-read the 200 pages and realized I had the makings of a great spec pilot. I stripped the story down to the bare elements, reordered events, dropped some characters, and rethought everything. Over the holidays, I adapted my unfinished novel into a screenplay. Actually, it ended up being two of them: one-hour pilot and the second episode. I sent both scripts off to my TV agent and began work on my next MONK.

The scripts got me some exciting meetings at studios and networks...but didn't pan out into any options on KING CITY or a series staff job (at least not yet).  But I realized I had more than just two strong scripts - if I put them together, I had a remarkably detailed outline for the book.

So I decided to write it during my next MONK hiatus.

Along the way, I made lots of changes. I liked most of the choices I'd made for the screenplay, which tightened the plot and gave the story more of a narrative drive, but I missed some of the more "novelistic" elements that I'd dropped. So instead of novelizing my screenplay adaptation of a novel, I found myself writing KING CITY all over again... for the third time.

It's been a very unusual experience for me. I feel that KING CITY has improved with each draft, whether in novel or screenplay form. Adapting the original, 200 pages into a script forced me to take a hard look at everything, to sharpen the characters and tighten the plot, stripping away all of the fat in favor of narrative drive.  That relentless and mercilous focus on character and lean story-telling may be great for a script but not so much in a book, where taking the time to establish a sense of place, and to explore the internal thoughts of a character don't slow things down, they enrich the experience. Adapting KING CITY back into a novel again allowed me to see where I might have cut too deep, over-simplified the characters, or moved events along too rapidly.

I finished the first draft two days before I had to begin writing my next MONK novel  and sent it off to some close friends for their comments. They gave me great notes, and by that, I don't mean enthusiastic praise. They told me what worked... and what didn't. I revised the book and submitted it to Amazon's Thomas & Mercer imprint. They immediately grabbed the book and published it in record time - it's out today, only a few months after submission, in digital, print and audio.

I like to think this is the best version yet of KING CITY. But you'll have to be the judge of that...

Whoa. Let's All Just Take a Deep Breath

With The New York Times reporting that best-selling authors are now being told to publish more than one book a year, and a breezy analysis from Forbes which basically says that anyone with a good brand can become a successful author, Libby Fischer Hellman sees cause for concern:
Forbes is basically saying, if you can sell it, you’re a writer.

Well, no. You’re not.

Just because you can write doesn’t mean you should. Writers need to grow their craft. They need to understand point of view. They need to understand suspense. Develop three-dimensional characters. And they need to hone their prose. Strip out dangling participles. Eliminate TV dialogue. Deliver conflict on every page. Just because a writer has finished a manuscript doesn’t mean it’s ready. I know. I wrote four books before I was published.

Which, in a round-about way, brings me back to the NY Times article. There’s an old story in the mystery community about a woman with a full time job who, nonetheless, wrote a novel in a year. Then she decided to go part-time, thinking she could write one in six months. It still took a year. Then she quit her job altogether. It still took a year.

The point is that great novels, whether genre or literary, can take time—whether it’s research, editing, or just figuring out what the story is really about. The pressure of writing more than one book a year isn’t good for any author who cares about their craft. Most of the authors I know are always pushing themselves, trying new things, working to deliver fresh, dynamic stories and characters. The need to crank out more in less time threatens that drive and can lead to works of lesser quality. It’s a self-perpetuating danger which no writer, especially a best-selling author, should have to face.

But they are, mainly because other e-writers are putting out an enormous amount of product. Some writers release e-books at the rate of one a month. I’m sorry, but with a few exceptions, those are not books I am going to rush out and buy. I know they’re not going to be at the same level as a new Daniel Silva or a new Mo Hayder. I don’t care how much “branding” an author does. I can tell within two or three paragraphs whether I’m going to like a book, and that depends on the writer’s mastery of craft. If it’s not there, it’s not for me.
Read the complete post on Libby's blog, Say The Word. Healthy market or surge toward hackery? Some strong feelings on the subject, no doubt. Just remember that while comment is free, courtesy also costs nothing...

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Max Allan Collins on Mickey Spillane

Over at, our own Max Allan Collins writes about his collaboration with Mickey Spillane:
I grew up reading Mickey Spillane novels and, years later, was lucky enough to get to know the man behind Mike Hammer. Mickey and I did a number of projects together - co-editing anthologies, creating the comic book Mike Danger, plus my documentary, "Mike Hammer's Mickey Spillane" (1999 - available on the Criterion DVD/Blu-ray of the great film noir, Kiss Me Deadly).

About a week before his passing, Mickey called to ask a favor. He was very ill and knew it. He was working on what would be the last Mike Hammer novel, chronologically -- The Goliath Bone, Mike taking on terrorists in post-9/11 Manhattan...
Read the full piece, and an excerpt from the completed novel, here.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Style in Writing

Someone once asked me how to go about achieving a writing style. Like the caterpillar challenged about its coordination in walking, I stumbled as soon as I started thinking about it.

I think the best answer I could offer was that you should try to state the obvious simply, and the style would take care of itself.

In a blog post titled Good Stuff, Lee Goldberg lifts a few sentences from Walter Kirn's novel Up in the Air (source for the George Clooney movie) and expresses a fitting admiration for Kirn's handling of the words.

I genuinely believe that you can flip open a book and read any random sentence and it'll tell you whether time spent with the author will be wasted. It's not an absolute guarantee - I can think of many a literary novel where I've been seduced by style and let down by structure - but as a working principle, it serves me well.

I mean, think about it. How much do you have to hear to know whether a person can sing?