It’s a good ‘un!

Missing, by Sam HawkenIt’s been a touch over two weeks since the release of Missing to the general public, and consequently some feedback has begun to filter in from various sources. The latest to hit my email is a review from Crime Fiction Lover.

Crime Fiction Lover has been very good to me over the last four years. They’ve loved all my Serpent’s Tail releases and haven’t been shy about saying so. I hope that as I transition to publishing under Mulholland Books’ roof that they follow and continue to enjoy, but for now I’d simply like to bask in the sunshine of their affection for Missing.

It’s a lengthy review, so I’m not going to cut-and-paste the whole thing here. I will give you a couple of highlights in the hope that you’ll click through and give the entire piece a gander.

The Dead Women of Juarez and Tequila Sunset by Sam Hawken were nominated for CWA Dagger Awards. Based on the strength of Missing it’s easy to see why. The story starts gently enough, with Jack [the protagonist] going about his daily business and visiting his family. But as soon as Marina [his stepdaughter] steps across the border all hell breaks loose. It’s tense and downright scary. Hawken creates a fantastic sense of place in his narrative. The brutality of Nuevo Laredo, where a life is cheap, jumps off the page. The tension is so palpable it’ll make you yourself feel at risk of something bad happening. And a little grubby, too.

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[REVIEW] The X-Files — “Squeeze”/”Conduit”

The X-FilesWhen it comes to The X-Files there are two distinct camps. One camp prefers the “mythology” episodes, which are those episodes concerning themselves with the central conspiracy that forms the backbone of the show’s narrative. The other camp prefers the “monster of the week” episodes, which are episodes centered around various supernatural or preternatural creatures (or what have you) that generally appear in a single story and then are never heard from again. If I were pushed to identify myself with either camp, I would put myself in the mythology bloc, as I really do enjoy the stuff with aliens and back-room double-dealing and all that. That said, I also like many of the monster of the week episodes, including such classics as “Humbug,” which will come up in these reviews before too long.

As it happens, three of the first four episodes of The X-Files concern themselves with mythology. Some think this is overkill, but I tend to think it’s necessary. As I said before, the mythology forms the essence of the show, and whether you like how it developed or not, it was critical to follow those episodes in order to see the most significant progression of the characters’ arcs. Some important character stuff gets dropped in the monster of the week episodes, but not a lot. This is clearly a show about the mythology, with the rest of it present because no television network in the early ’90s — really, no network until the advent of Lost — would commit to a show about chasing aliens every week. Certainly not for nine years.

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I didn’t know that!

Every author tries to be interesting with their work. I mean, that’s the whole point, right? To be interesting? Readers who aren’t interested stop reading and they’re unlikely to pick up something else one wrote for fear that it, too, will be uninteresting. There’s nothing more certain to kill a writer’s career than being boring.

Whenever I sit down to plan out something new, I try to think, What is it about this work that makes it different from other works? Maybe it’s a character with a fresh approach. Maybe it’s a novel setting. Maybe it’s a storytelling method not usually employed. There are a lot of different hooks one can use to hang a piece of fiction.

It’s probably the number one reason I’m so hard on the hardcore crime-fiction output I see. It’s all the same. Drugs, sex, violence, awful people, wash, rinse, repeat. There are only so many variations on the old, tired crap a person can read before they give up trying anything else. I’ve gotten to the point where I explicitly avoid crime fiction because I haven’t been pleasantly surprised by anything in a long, long time. I’ve recently had to go all the way back to Robert Daley’s police novels from the ’80s to find something engaging. I should not have to cast my net so wide just to be entertained.

For the first three books of my publishing career, I decided the hook was going to be the setting. People hear about Mexico’s drug war in a sort of glancing, oblique way. When it comes to the feminicidios of Ciudad Juárez, most never heard of it at all until things like my book, The Dead Women of Juárez, came around. I wouldn’t go so far as to call anything I’ve written about Mexico educational, but the ultimate purpose of the books, beyond simple diversion, is familiarizing readers with something they know pretty much nothing about.

Occasionally this can annoy people who want more than a novel can give. I got a review a while back that complained The Dead Women didn’t explain why the feminicidios are happening. Believe me, anonymous internet person, the fellow who figures that out is going to be showered with attention and praise. I’m a storyteller and I tell stories. I’m not a criminologist.

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Camaro reloaded

Untitled Camaro OmnibusRevision. Ugh.

I could write nothing else in this entry and you would understand completely my feelings on revision. Lord, how do I hate it? Let me count the ways.

I am, as you may have heard by now, contracted by Mulholland Books to deliver two Camaro Espinoza novels in 2014 and 2015. The first manuscript has already been turned in and I’m told I’ll get my first editorial notes by the end of the month. So there’s revision on the way. But, hey, there’s always revision at this level, so I’m not going to complain too strenuously about it. If you can’t take editorial input, you aren’t cut out to work professionally as a writer. Go self-publish if your perfect writing can’t stand the touch of another person’s hands.

So let us be clear: I’m not complaining about what revision I’m about to be called upon to do. That’s part of the work. I know this and while occasionally I’m asked to change things I’m uncomfortable changing, for the most part I have had very good experiences working with my various editors. I like to think they’d say the same of me.

No, my revision grumpiness stems from another book in the Camaro series. Called Boiling Point at one time, it’s now called Across the Line, and it is the third Camaro novel. Which means that we’re talking about a book I have not even been paid to write yet. It’s written and nothing’s going to change that, but I’m well ahead of the game. I’m not even supposed to turn in Meaner Than Hell until September of next year, so it’ll be at least a year after that before I’m called upon to do anything with these words. And yet here I am, revising them.

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Breaking my back

You know that earlier in the year I decided to take a two-month siesta rather than get my work done and that this failure on my part has been eating away at me. Because I’m an obsessive sort, I decided to find out exactly how much work I missed during the course of the first six months of the year.

The first thing to do was figure out how many actual working days there were in those 26 weeks. I don’t work every day of the week and I also take breaks on those days when my son is off from school. So I pored over the academic calendar for the first half of the year. Between January and June there were 130 working days. A working day, for me, is defined as Monday through Friday. But there were 21 break days in there. So 130 minus 21 leaves 109 working days.

With that figure in hand, I had to work out how much writing I would have ideally done during that period. I try to write 4,000 words a day. So, 109 days times 4,000 renders up a figure of 436,000 words. That’s a lot. I did not write so much.

How much did I write? Well, I wrote Meaner Than Hell and that was 84,000 words. I then wrote Across the Line, which was 101,000 words. I followed this up with a completely new version of Meaner Than Hell that weighed in at 95,000 words. That’s 279,000 words’ worth of writing during the first six months of the year.

Subtract 279,000 from 436,000 and you get 157,000 words. That’s the total shortfall I accrued in that time. Had I actually written Gavel and Giri as I’d planned, there would have been no shortfall at all, and there might even have been a surplus. Cue me kicking myself in the head again and again.

Now to look at the back half of 2014. There are 29 vacation days between July and December, so 130 minus 29 equals 101 days. Take that 101 and multiply it by my target of 4,000 and you end up with 404,000 words. That’s a goodly chunk less that the first half of the year, so things are already looking up.

I wrote Dawn of the Ninja in July, which ran 24,000 words, so that left me with 380,000 words for September through December. August was essentially off, as you know. Anyway, I’d taken 16 of my total 29 vacation days as of September 1st, so I had 67 working days left in the year.

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