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Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Like Trying To Catch Water In A Net

The simple answer to the question what inspired me to start writing is reading.  The more I read, growing up, the more I was captured by the power of the written word; particularly by the truth that has been given the name fiction.  I have always found writing to be my preferred instrument of expression and creativity; I realized early on that I was more proficient with a pen than I was with a guitar or a paint brush.  Poetry, lyric writing, journalism, and ultimately book length fiction.
In the days before self-publishing the question put to published novelists by writers hoping to be published was how do you do it.  I often asked the question myself, and have been asked the same question many times.  My simple answer is I really don't know.  All I can do is relate what happened.

The summer of 2000 found this Italian-Russian Brooklyn boy working in an office in Columbia, South Carolina.  A fish out of water.  In the evenings I would write, working on my first full length novel.  And then one day it was complete.  Now what.

It was literally impossible to get a traditional publisher to look at the work unsolicited, so I was forced to go the prescribed route; attempting to find a Literary Agent who would champion my novel.  All of the agencies I researched would only accept query letters; would not even take a peek at a chapter or two.  If I imagined I could write a good book; I learned quickly that I could not write a convincing query letter.  The responses were short form letters which all said basically the same thing.  Thanks but no thanks.

When Van Morrison was asked what would you do if you never sold a song or a record he answered without hesitation that he would not stop creating because, he confessed, I can’t not write. Vincent van Gogh said If you hear a voice within you say 'you cannot paint', then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.
Determined to thwart discouragement, I did the only thing I could think to do.  I sat in front of an archaic Dell desktop PC and began to fill in a blank page.

I wished to write something unlike what I had written before.  I wished to take my mind off rejection.  Without much premeditation it began as a first-person narrative set in the office of a San Francisco private eye; and displayed humor that had been absent from my earlier efforts.  I wrote ten pages.

How a new work of fiction begins is as important to the writer as to the reader. For the writer, the opening pages are the seeds that will hopefully grow into a personally satisfying and coherent literary journey.  They are the cornerstone. For the reader, the opening pages are the hook that will hopefully inspire the fellow traveler to continue on that journey. When I face the blank first page I approach it as a quest, consciously or unconsciously, and try in time to reach some hidden treasure by the end of the excursion; with many detours and side steps along the way.  I do not know the final destination when I begin; the characters are created initially as composites of people I have known, and are fleshed out by their human responses to events.  The plot develops as a consequence of how these characters react, and is secondary to the characters since it is the people in a story that have always interested me most as a reader; and I get to know these characters more and more clearly as they move through the story.  In a series, such as the Jake Diamond books, there is the opportunity for the writer, as well as for the reader, to learn more about repeating characters in subsequent installments.  Plotting is extremely challenging, but when the theme of the work finally dawns on me, when I finally realize what it is that I am really writing about, plot offers direction. When I finally understand where the story is headed, I often need to back up to discover the path I have to be on to get there.  But at the start, when I begin, my books have always been initiated with a scene; one that will hopefully be recalled throughout the book, by myself and by the reader, as the circumstance that launched the expedition.

A few days after the barrage of rejection letters I was surfing the internet (more like rowing back in the days of dial-up) when I stumbled across the St. Martin’s Press/Private Eye Writers of America contest for Best First Private Eye Novel.  I decided immediately that I would finish a private eye novel and submit it before the deadline, which was less than a month away.  Apparently for the book’s characters and dialogue, and certainly not for its convoluted plot, Catching Water in a Net was chosen for the award.  The prize was publication by St. Martin’s (after a considerable amount of editing) and an advance against royalties.  Holy smoke.

Exactly one year later I received a final hardback copy in the mail.  It was a wonder to behold, and a thrill to hold.  The novel was released on October 1, 2001; less than a month after 9/11, making my first Bouchercon World Mystery Convention both an exhilarating and somber occasion.  SMP gave me two more shots before deciding that the Jake Diamond series, though well received by critics and readers alike, was not what they considered a cash cow.  I continued to write, of course, what other choice did I have; but the work seemed destined to remain out of the public realm.  And then, the net held water once again when Down & Out Books reached out to me and gave Jake Diamond and J. L. Abramo a second shot.

Over the course of eighteen months, D & O re-issued Catching Water in a Net, Clutching at Straws and Counting to Infinity as eBooks and published the stand-alone crime thriller Gravesend in eBook and trade paperback.  A prequel to the Jake Diamond series will be released in early 2013; and I am currently putting the finishing touches on a fourth Diamond novel.

We write, we paint, we sing because we need to.  And if we are persistent, and honest, and lucky, perhaps we can catch water in a net and reach an audience. We keep clutching and counting.  And we keep writing.


  1. Loved your post, particularly about the way you plot/grow your books.
    You're correct, of course, that we write because we must, but sometimes, I rail against whatever or whoever put that writer inside my brain alongside an easily distracted procrastinator!
    Kathy McIntosh

  2. Thanks for the comment, Kathy. For me, I don't find that it is distraction or procrastination that gets in the way of writing. When I have trouble filling a page it is usually due to a lack of inspiration. What is writer's block if not a period when you unconsciously choose to live a life instead of trying to force yourself to create one. When I am in the zone, on a tear, nothing distracts me and there is nothing else I would rather be doing than writing. So during the times I am not having an easy time at it, I try not to beat myself up too much. And I try to use that time to its best advantage, by being with other people; because writing is a very solitary activity. But when I am driven to write, I try not to let anything get in the way, and hope that those who miss me when I have gone into that other place will understand.

  3. I am enjoying your work. Very talented!