I write to music, and sometimes certain songs take on the feel of a soundtrack to me, adding layers to the characters and story. That’s never been more true than with The Prophet, when the music of Matthew Ryan and Brian Fallon, in particular, drove that book along. I got to know Matthew when he graciously agreed to let me use a quote from his haunting song “Return To Me” as The Prophet’s epigram, and since then I’ve taken a lot of inspiration not just from his music, but from his approach to his craft. (Read Michael’s 2012 interview with Matthew Ryan)
I don’t really have words to describe what it meant to have the chance to offer an intro in the liner notes of his new album, Hustle Up Starlings, which releases this week — and which happens to have been produced by Brian Fallon, who also plays lead guitar on every song. It was a rare, humbling, and special opportunity. I urge you to check out his work. I’ve never met a more dedicated writer…and then this poor guy has to put the words to music, too! I’m eternally grateful that he does, and in awe of his talent and his work ethic.
I now have the pirated edition of Rise the Dark in hand. Notice any difference between the bootleg and the real book? It’s hard, I know, but if you’re a trained detective like me you just might be able to figure it out.
Sadly, Amazon’s system did not figure it out, and so these things were sold alongside the real book, at $12.99 a pop, for a month. I suspect I was a trial run of sorts. I don’t sell enough books for anyone to make a killing on pirated editions, but I do have the right kind of release to piggyback on with a fake edition, as it blends in nicely among hardcover, Kindle, large-print, and audio versions.
Because I believe my book was used as a test, I really hope other writers are made aware of the tactic and keep an eye out for it. I will keep everyone posted on the feedback we receive from Amazon as to how this all came about and what measures will be taken to try to see that it doesn’t happen to more writers in the future.
And if you received the pirated copy, please let me know and I will replace it promptly with a signed hardcover.
Yesterday we discovered that a paperback edition of Rise the Dark was available for sale on the book’s homepage on Amazon. Apparently, it had been available since September 2. This was intriguing, because the paperback edition won’t be out for a year, and that seemed awfully early for a pre-order page.
It wasn’t a pre-order page. It was a pirated version of my book, selling at $12.99, below the hardcover and Kindle price. It had its own ISBN, and the publisher was CreateSpace Independent Publishing. CreateSpace, I learned, is a print-on-demand, self-publishing outfit that is, ironically, owned by Amazon. The stolen copy’s product page included the real book’s reviews and blurbs. It included a photograph of me, holding up physical copies of a real book in my real publisher’s warehouse. It included everything, essentially, that is on the real book’s product page. For the buyer, there was absolutely no indication that this was pirated.
Thanks to Amazon’s wonderful “look inside this book” feature, I was able to scan the pages. The copyright page was missing, naturally. An odd floating page had been added, announcing that this was “The Second Book in the Markus Novak Series, 2016.” Then the text appeared – wrong font, bad formatting, but the right words. It was my book, but someone else had somehow managed to upload it and sell it right alongside the real formats. Disturbing, to say the least.
Thanks to swift work from Little, Brown’s legal team, the pirated edition is off the site now. That’s a good start, but obviously doesn’t answer some critical questions. I hope to know a lot more soon.
If you purchased a paperback edition from Amazon, I would love to hear from you. I will happily replace it with a signed hardcover and my sincere apologies. I’d also love to see a copy of the bootlegged book.
Fraud in the e-book business isn’t new – fake novels by Stephen King, John Grisham, Michael Connelly and other major bestsellers regularly appear, and pirated versions of classics like The Great Gatsby abound. I’d heard about that before. I’d never heard about someone selling a fake physical version of a new release right alongside the real deal – with free shipping for Prime members, no less!
For now, I’m most interested in reaching any reader who got a pirated book in exchange for their real dollars. If you somehow ended up with a bogus book, please send a private message via Facebook or use the contact page on my web site, and we will do whatever it takes to make this right.
For other writers – you might want to keep an eye on all of your editions. If CreateSpace suddenly becomes your publisher, it is a serious problem.
Michael discusses craft, the advice he keeps in mind as he writes, and his rotten S.O.B. of an editor in his post on Literary Hub:
THE EDITOR INSIDE MY HEAD IS A CRUEL AND DEMANDING S.O.B.
By Michael Koryta, Sept. 2
When I worked at a newspaper, my cubicle walls were lined with little reminders about craft—things of the “every word counts” and “hard writing makes easy reading” variety. But my absolute favorite piece of advice was from William Blundell, who wrote a wonderful book called The Art and Craft of Feature Writing. This particular quote has traveled with me from desk to desk and from journalism to fiction; I still include it with handouts anytime I teach a workshop or give a craft talk. The only line that has equal mileage for me is the one from Michael Connelly that’s still taped to my computer today: “Write with your head down.”
Here’s the Blundell quote:
The mean writer is always a lean writer. He can’t help it.
By meanness I don’t refer to a harsh quality in his copy but to his attitude toward himself as he works. You may think it strange to cite an attitude as a consideration in good writing, but often it’s the only thing separating the work of two equally talented people. The one turning out fat, flaccid, talky stories is not being tough enough on himself.
The mean storyteller becomes two people, acting alternately as he works. The first is the sensitive artist-creator, the second a savage critic who eradicates every weakness in the creation. He’s cruel, derisive and obsessively demanding. He hoots at the writer’s affectations and pretty turns of phrase, blisters him for cowardice when he uses soft, passive constructions or hedges on conclusions, challenges every point of logic, demands sound reasons for the presence of every character and fact, and above all flagellates his victim for wordiness. He is a rotten, S.O.B., worse than any editor who ever drew breath, and he is the artist’s best friend.
I absolutely love that concept, and I believe in it, but I never realized just how literally my subconscious applies it until I combed through some old notebooks from works-in-progress.
Supposedly, the most-common question for a writer is , “Where do you get your ideas?” but in my experience, it is actually, “Do you outline?” I don’t outline, but I do fill notebooks with scribbled thoughts about where the story is and where it should be, and over the years I’ve realized that these pages inevitably take the form of a hybrid between potential plot moves and an editorial note on the existing material, as if I’m offering feedback on a student’s manuscript, or another writer’s work, rather than my own. Only, in this case, I’m the student and teacher, and I’m cultivating that “rotten S.O.B.” Blundell describes so well as the artist’s best friend.
Looking back at those notebooks, one thing has become painfully apparent: when things are going well, my subconscious is happy to view writing as a team effort. When mistakes have been made, though, the rotten S.O.B. is very quick to the point the finger at me. Mistakes become personal, and the rotten S.O.B. is not going to share the blame.
The notes shift from a plural pronoun approach “we” to an accusatory “you.”
Here are some samples from the notebooks of my 2015 book, Last Words. In the same pages, or even same paragraphs at times:
“A key question to hold in mind—how do we deal with the body of Evan Borders’ father?”
“We can use this to incite Ridley…”
“We’ve done a good job of building the sense of Garrison as a place of menace.”
See—it’s a team effort! “We” are all in this together, and doing good work! But then:
“You have missed some key opportunities.”
“Major mistake—you haven’t explored Ridley’s alibi.”
“You need to give him a line stating that the past needs to be left to him and Ridley.”
And my absolute favorite, a single-sentence shift:
“We have done a nice job with the emotional and sensory qualities of claustrophobia, but you haven’t anchored it in anything related to character. Mark could be anyone trapped in a cave, but not in the good, universal sense. We need to understand why this fear is unique to him and what it says about his past. Maybe he has a desire to control his circumstances as much as possible because in his damaged childhood he didn’t have that ability?”
“We” have done a nice job but “you” have screwed it up. This is what I write to myself, about my own work. I wouldn’t want to share those pages with a psychiatrist, but I’m actually grateful to see the unconscious way that I can look forward with hope and optimism about the opportunities I’ve created and simultaneously berate myself for mistakes I’ve made, or opportunities I missed.
There are countless books, essays, and interviews on craft that I’d recommend to every writer, but there are not many that I’d put in front of the William Blundell explanation about the requirement that there be two people at work on the same book.
He is a rotten, S.O.B., worse than any editor who ever drew breath, and he is the artist’s best friend.
Amen, Mr. Blundell.
Michael talks to Audible about the sound on the page with writers like Michael Connelly Books, Stephen King, Alafair Burke, Dean Koontz, and Megan Abbott Books.
The Voices Tell Me What To Do
This is about the voices in my head. It’s not a manifesto, I promise. I hope that it will never be used against me in a court of law, and I’ve made my wife sign paperwork promising not to use it to have me committed. In an attempt to validate this confession, I’ve even sought witnesses who will testify that they, too, have voices in their heads — and some of them say very bad things.
I love listening to a well-read audiobook, and I’ve had the good fortune to have my own work read by two great narrators, Scott Brick and Robert Petkoff. Robert was honored with an Audie Award for his reading of my novel, Those Who Wish Me Dead, and they sent me a duplicate of the award, which was nice but also amusing to me — because if the audiobook had been offered in my own voice, it would have been useful only as a torture tactic. What skilled narrators do with the words on the page is humbling and inspiring.
But it’s also nothing like what I’ve heard in my head for the many months along the way to publication.
By the time I’m done with a book, I’m really hearing the characters and am deeply familiar with their individual voices.
This is not a criticism of the narrators, who make the books infinitely better than I deserve, but rather just an explanation that, by the time I’m done with a book, I’m really hearing the characters and am deeply familiar with their individual voices. This involves more than accent or affect; it’s about rhythm, how quickly they speak, when they pause, if they linger on a word or hit it harshly.
Mind you, I can’t replicate this aloud, myself. When I give public readings, I don’t strive for any real change of my own voice because I simply lack that skill. It’s one thing to hear the way a voice sounds in your head and another to convey that, and this is what separates most writers from being able to do their own audiobooks. (Although there are certainly exceptions — if you want to hear the best of both worlds, listen to Terry McMillan on audio.)
The only thing I can do to help the performance when I read aloud is to put the brakes on in the right places, enunciate it in the way I’ve heard it in my head, or maybe hit a word harder than the text would seem to suggest. Of course, then I’ll listen to Petkoff and think, “Okay, he fixed that portion for me, and he sure gives that paragraph a flow that it doesn’t have on the page.”
While [the audiobook is] still your story, it’s a different, enhanced version of that story.
Listening to a great narration performance is kind of like watching a movie adapted from a book you loved — I never would have thought to cast her in that role, but she’s fantastic. The adaptation comparison might seem over-the-top, but I really don’t think it is, because an audiobook, like a movie, is an entirely different medium. You need people to bring certain gifts toward that medium, and while it’s still your story, it’s a different, enhanced version of that story.
Rhythm and cadence are among the most important elements of that thing we generally call a writer’s “voice.” Ben Yagoda wrote a really interesting book on this topic called The Sound on the Page. We read with our eyes, but also our ears. It’s largely an auditory experience. Dean Koontz told me that he not only “hears” distinct voices when he’s writing dialogue, but that he will “laugh out loud when a character says something funny and hiss ‘Yesssss’ when he or she says something either poignant or kick-ass.”
He captures perfectly the odd sense of being more on the transcription side of things than the authorial. I know the writing is truly going well in the moments when I don’t feel anything close to creative; rather, I feel as if I’m just trying to keep up with the voices. That’s also when it’s the most fun, by far.
Now comes another confession: I’ll speak while I write, without intending to. Not all the time, but often enough. And far more often than I speak aloud, I’ll catch myself mouthing the words.
If people watched me write, I think they’d feel like they should be on the other side of bulletproof glass.
In his book On Writing, Stephen King counsels to “write with the door closed.” He’s referring to avoiding feedback on first drafts, but in my personal case, it’s also prudent advice for maintaining any social ties in the world. If people watched me write, I think they’d feel like they should be on the other side of bulletproof glass. My lips move in the way a child’s might when he’s learning to read — sounding things out, quite literally. And that’s because there is a unique sound to it, and — particularly with dialogue — I need to know how it feels to say the words. It’s not a conscious thing, not a plan, just something I catch myself doing. It happens most often when I’m first meeting a character and learning who they are and how they talk, and then again in revisions, when I’m honing a sentence.
I’ve been curious what the experience of other writers has been with this, and so I sent out a few inquiries, asking people if they ever catch themselves speaking or mouthing the words that they write. Here are some of the responses I received:
Michael Connelly: “I do this all the time. I say dialogue out loud when I’m writing just so I know it sounds like something someone would say instead of write. I don’t do this with all dialogue, just those lines where that question comes to mind: Was this written or was this said?”
Dean Koontz: “I don’t move my lips silently while writing dialogue, but when, for one or another reason, there needs to be a certain rhythm to what a character says, I whisper the dialogue to get a sense of whether the beats are falling where I want them. I don’t speak it fully out loud, because I’m a rotten actor, and I’d give it such a ludicrous reading that I’d spoil the mood.”
Alafair Burke: “I know it sounds crazy, but dialogue plays in my ear as if I’m monitoring a wiretap. Even in the first draft phase, I know I’m in the zone when I find myself mouthing words as I write them on the page.”
Stephen King: “When I’m not sure, I always read it aloud. Again and again, until it’s right. ‘Easy reading comes from hard writing.’”
Megan Abbott: “I rely on sound heavily. I tend to rewrite and rewrite until what’s on the page ‘sounds’ like the, er, voices in my head. I always want the experience of reading my books to feel like the main character is whispering in the reader’s ear, and so that does lead to all kinds of crazy behavior while writing it. So you are not alone.”
(Bless you, Megan. You will be Character Witness #1 in my defense.)
In discussing this with other writers, it seems that many of them will pause to read aloud during revision. Some authors will read the entire work aloud as they go through copy edits. I know one writer who will even read his book into a recorder and then play it back just so he can be more objective about the cadence and pacing. That seems like a great idea to me, a total immersion in craft, the ultimate example of Strunk and White’s “every word counts” mantra, but whenever I’ve tried to read prolonged portions aloud the characters begin to fade on me, and then I’m only hearing myself (perhaps because, out loud, I can’t do the voices justice).
The responses on this topic seemed a little like discussing outlining — every writer has a different philosophy, and they’re wedded to what has worked for them. Alafair Burke said, “Before I let a manuscript go into production, I read the entire book aloud. I advise my law school students to read their memos and briefs aloud to find the clunky spots.” Megan Abbott said she knows several writers who do this but that she can’t, that it’s a “bridge too far” for her and that she is most likely to read aloud “when I’m revising, trying to nail the rhythm of a voice.” Likewise, Stephen King said that he’ll read it aloud only when he’s not sure if he has things precisely right.
A highly individual habit, but a consistent one, those voices in the head. Duly reassuring for me. I’ll save my next confession for another time. For now, there’s no need for you to know that I also find myself talking out loud when I’m hiking. No reason to share that at all! Although in Ron Chernow’s biography of Alexander Hamilton, he mentions that “Hamilton’s lifelong habit of talking sotto voce while pacing lent him an air of either inspiration or madness.”
So, if I did do such a thing, at least I’d be in good company — squarely in that comfortable spot between inspiration or madness. Don’t lean too far …