Archive for the ‘J. Carson Black’ Category

In the past year, my writing career has improved considerably—enough, even, to call it a career.  With my talented and hard-working husband/publisher, we’ve put ten books up on Amazon Kindle. Having used our own covers, product descriptions, product positioning and pricing, we were surprised and delighted by how well these books have performed.

Looking back, I realize the dream I chased for so long (Big Six publisher, six-figure advance, feted in New York) is gone for good.

Here’s a trip down memory lane: my experience with a Big Six publisher:

1) Agent makes the deal.  Editor calls to say, “We love you!” You say, “So you’re putting it in hardcover?”  Long pause.  “We’re thinking mass market paperback.  That’s the way to reach people. Hard covers are too hard to sell.  You’ll see–this is going to be huge!

2) Two months go by.  Editor asks for a handful of revisions and decides to change the title of your book.

3) Eight months go by.  Editor sends photo of the cover.  “Here it is!”  You ask, “Why did you put a werewolf on the cover?” You receive only stony silence, and despite the fact that the book doesn’t have werewolves in it, you soon grow to love the cover.

4) Publisher sends copy edits.

5) They assign you a publicist. The publicist writes a few lines down on one sheet of paper, describing you and your book.

6) The publicist misses the point of the book, so you ask her to change it.  You never hear from her again.

7) Book comes out.  There’s a flurry of excitement.  Will PW review the book?

8) Sadly, no.

9) You go to the local Barnes & Noble.  (Borders is closed.)  There you go look for your book, and you find it, spine out, two copies.

And there, at last, is that wonderful moment when you are standing in that bookstore, holding the book of your heart. You’ve arrived!

Absorb that wonderful feeling.  Revel in it.  Photograph the occasion.  Because in three weeks time, that book will be pulped and turned into a beer carton.  It will disappear off the face of the earth…

Until it crops up as an ebook.

*If you didn’t get a high six-figure advance


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My thriller, THE SHOP, has had a checkered career.  This book got me the agent of my dreams, one of the best in the business, who could get the undivided attention of every big publisher in New York.  She read the book on a plane during a terrible thunderstorm, and told me that reading the book was the only thing that kept her mind off the prospect of the plane crashing. She was positive the book would sell, and sell very well.

But that didn’t happen.

Meanwhile, my husband Glenn and I had built a promotional blog to attract agents and publishers called “Who Killed Brienne Cross”? http://www.whokilledbriennecross.com

Putting together “Who Killed Brienne Cross” was a labor of love. We created an alternate reality, adding stories, interviews, photos, and comments over two years’ time. Some of our friends commented, too—and those comments are pretty funny. If nothing else, “Who Killled Brienne Cross” should qualify as a very nice piece of performance art.  But I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t yearn to show it off to the world.

Fast-forward to the summer of 2011.  Thomas & Mercer, Amazon’s thriller imprint, bought THE SHOP as part of a three-book deal.  THE SHOP will be rereleased, newly-edited and packaged, on February 6, 2012.

No longer will we have to find a way to promote the book to publishers.

Now we want to promote THE SHOP to readers.

And so I have this labor of love—I’ll be frank with you, this is my baby—still sitting up there on the Internet, pretty as a picture and twice as sweet, and I’d like to put it to work.

So I’m asking.  Readers, fellow authors, entrepreneurs, marketing gurus, publishers, husbands, wives, kids, cute little kittens and
puppies.  How can we use this site to get the news out about THE SHOP? I’d love ideas, no matter how crazy, off-the-wall, staid, obvious, creative, or scintillatingly brilliant.

Please help.


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I’m happy to announce that I’m just days away from finishing Book Number Thirteen—ICON. 

I expect it will all come together, but there’s always some doubt about the outcome, since I’m one of those writers who doesn’t outline my books ahead of time.

Exciting, right?  Through the first two-thirds of the book, it doesn’t seem all that exciting.  It’s more like driving along in the dark, and seeing only as far as my headlights.  And I don’t have high beams. My headlights are wavering and dim.

I know there’s a destination up ahead, and it even has a name—the climax of the story.  Since I write thrillers, it’s usually the time and place where my good guy (or gal) faces off against the bad guy–the personification of evil.  Hopefully, my guy wins. Although sometimes I’m not too sure he will.

The road to this place is rocky and uncertain. Sometimes I go into a ditch and have to dig myself out, retrace my path or find another route.  That uncertainty is always there.  I don’t think of myself as a risk-taking personality, but in this one case, I leave a lot to chance.  Because I’ve (almost) written thirteen books, I am 99 percent sure that everything will come together at the end.

It always has.  

But finishing a book is an article of faith.

So.  This is my advice to writers just starting on their journey. If you love to outline, outline. If you just can’t bring yourself to outline, if that just doesn’t work for you, don’t.  Trust in the process and trust in the magnificent qualities of the human brain.  Your brain is way ahead of you.  It works while you’re sleeping, doing laundry, eating, raising children, going on vacation, or paying your bills.  Your brain is busy down in the mail room, sorting out all that correspondence, working overtime to bring your story to a strong and logical and possibly shattering conclusion.  This is flat-out miraculous stuff, which is one reason I cannot get enough of this whole writing deal.

Writing is about keeping the faith.  On so many levels, writing a novel challenges you as nothing else does.  Where else do you start with nothing—absolutely nothing—and end up creating a whole world?

Pretty darn cool.

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When I was a kid, my parents and I had a tradition.  One Friday night a month, we would go out to dinner at the Sizzlers, and I’d walk down along the strip mall to the Baskin Robbins for a mint chocolate chip ice cream cone.  And then my parents would take me to the House of Paperbacks.

Books were cheap back then.  My mother is a smart lady; she appealed to my materialistic nature, the desire to grab up as many books as I could. This is how she fostered my love of reading.

In Tucson, where I live, there’s a big used-book superstore called Bookman’s.  My husband and I like to go there on Saturdays and prowl around.  First, I go and see if they have any of my old paperback books.  (It’s humbling to see how many friends have sold books I’d signed to them years ago.  One of them was the best man at my wedding, and I’d blathered all over the page: “So-and-so, you are one of best friends I’ve ever had in my life!”) I love you, man.

After that, I look and see what the best writers in my genre have out new, because I like to keep up with them.  I buy their latest hardcovers to study.

Then I go to the Childrens’ Section.  

Over the years, I’d lost tons of books from my childhood.  They’re not famous books, but I read them at a time when they meant something to me.  A lot of them where Scholastic Books.  I remember coming across a favorite I’d read as a kid and had somehow lost: HOBBY HORSE HILL, by Lavinia Davis.  Oh, how I loved that book!  My husband was out of town, and I found myself reading it again—I was up until three in the morning.  It was as good as I remembered it.

So now I look for the older books, for books that strike a chord. They don’t even have to be favorites like HOBBY HORSE HILL.  If they have the same cover, I buy them.  I have 4 versions of MY FRIEND FLICKA. There were two books that came out with the same cover of a boy and a horse against the Wyoming hills.  One had pink up top and bottom, and one had dark green. All these years later, I found the dark green one.

The one book I really wanted had the original cover of SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES, by Ray Bradbury.  The cover brought me to that book, and distills its essence. It shows a dark sidewalk with leaves blowing up in a dust devil or scary words.  I wanted the cover as well as the book, even though I had the book with a newer cover.  But when I looked for it online, the darn thing cost $800.00.  Fuggedaboudit.

Then one day, I dropped by Bookmans. I always went to the Fantasy section to look for the book, even though I knew Bookmans would be too smart to let an $800.00 book go out the door for a couple of bucks.

But there it was, face out.  My cover!  Turns out, there was a book club version reprinted in the early nineties. The book was in perfect condition, and now I had the cover.  I think I paid eight dollars for it.

So I have a library of old faded books that came from my childhood and that I bring out and look at and hold—they are my talismans. 

Sometimes, these old books play into the novels I’m writing.  When I got the idea for THE DEVIL’S HOUR, the third thriller in my Laura Cardinal series, I kept thinking of the girls’ summer camp in DONNA PARKER: MYSTERY AT ARAWAK.  And so I put a girl’s summer camp up on Mt. Lemmon above Tucson, and as homage to the book, I came up with the name Camp Aratauk.  The camp only plays a bit part in THE DEVIL’S HOUR, although it is important to the story.

The books I read as a child formed me.  They went through a part of my life with me, whether it was a couple of days, or a week, or a month.  They will always be there, and I am glad to find them again and add them to the special shelf in my library.

Are there any books from your childhood that strike a chord with you?  

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My first book was called THE EASTER EEG.  I was five, and my mother helped me by stapling two pages together—my title complete with crayoned bunny, and a scrawl of unreadable sentences.

When I was a preteen, I got a manual typewriter and started writing novels.  Mostly they were horse stories with titles like MOONSTONE, A STALLION, and THE RED MARE OF WHISPERING PINES.

Here’s a secret: Writers can’t stop.  But a lot of times, writers can’t start, either.  Mostly because we’re afraid.  We are, after all, creating something completely out of nothing.  Sometimes that’s daunting.  But if you told us we could never write again, that we couldn’t even think about writing again, that the whole idea of writing something down was to be obliterated from our minds—we’d curl up and die.

Writing is about ownership.  When I was a kid I read tons of books, but the book that made me want to be a writer was Ray Bradbury’s SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES.  I wanted to own that book. I wanted it to have been mine.  He and I were simpatico.  I was filled with this longing to claim a piece of writing ground as great as that one.

Just the thought of it put me off writing for years.  

But it was always there, underneath, like a pot of water just before it boils.

When I wrote my first published novel, my ghost story DARKSCOPE—inspired by Peter Straub’s GHOST STORY and Stephen King’s THE SHINING—I threw everything into it.  I think it was over 1100 pages.  There’s even a kitchen sink in it. Really.

Mercifully, an editor liked it and cut it in half.  And it sold.  (Choir of Angels here.)  Years later, when Amazon KDP came onto the scene, my publisher Breakaway Media brought it back to life.

Writing is about learning to write. It’s about striving for a personal best.

It’s about reading, too.  What I want, what I want more than anything on this earth, is to reach people on a level that Larry McMurtry’s LONESOME DOVE reached me.  I’ve read that book three times.  And every damn time I become so immersed that I won’t eat dinner, I won’t go to bed, I wait for a chapter break even to use the john.  I read a book that is 945 pages long and as the pages get thinner I start to feel real loss.  What will I do when I reach the end and there is no more story?

So I know what you want.  And I’m just ignorant enough and ambitious enough to think that maybe I can give it to you.  I keep trying, at any rate.  I want to give you that gift, the gift that blocks everything else out of your life, a book you can’t put down and don’t want to leave.  I am that ridiculously foolish to think that maybe, someday, I can do that for some people.

Writing books is not about fame.  Or book-signings.  Or TV interviews or conferences or even (cue Choir of Angels again) the New York Times Best Seller list.  It’s about trying.  We’d do it for nothing—most of us actually have done it for nothing over the course of our careers.  That’s just how we roll.

Like any job you love, you don’t quit on it, and it doesn’t quit on you.  

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When I started writing my crime fiction series featuring Laura Cardinal, a homicide detective with the Arizona Department of Public Safety, I depended on three not-so-fairy godfathers to help me—a former beat cop, a DPS homicide detective, and a sex crimes detective with Tucson Police.  Here are ten things I learned from them:

  1. My DPS detective expert, Terry, made the two-hour drive to and from Bisbee, Arizona, and we walked the “crime scene” for DARKNESS ON THE EDGE OF TOWN. We covered a quaint and rather strange concrete area called City Park, which has a 1916 band shell, a perfect setting for a homicide victim.  Terry’s willingness to meet me there confirmed my belief that the majority of people who work in law enforcement are proud of what they do, and are generous with their expertise.
  2. Walking the crime scene with Terry, I learned a cute trick—keep your arms folded to avoid touching anything.
  3. I learned to walk the perimeter first, zeroing in slowly to the center of the scene, so as not to miss anything or corrupt any evidence.
  4. From my friend John, a cop-turned-pastor, I learned that a knife is even more dangerous than a gun if the knife-wielder is within 21 feet.  Every cop knows the 21 Foot Rule, and makes sure to maintain that distance from the bad guy.
  5. I learned that cops say, “bad guy.”
  6. I learned that when you’re in a bad situation, you first look for cover (something a bullet can’t go through), and if there is no cover, concealment (something to hide you), and third (and always) an escape route.
  7. I learned how to make a simple homemade bomb. In theory.
  8. I learned how to lure a sexual predator on the Internet from one of the best.  It helps if you text like a fourteen-year-old girl.
  9. I learned that people in law enforcement have deep loyalties.  First, you’re loyal to your partner. Then you’re loyal to your squad.  Then you’re loyal to your agency. Then you’re loyal to the other law enforcement agencies—you are brothers and sisters under the skin, and nobody else understands you. Then you’re loyal to your wife. (Or husband).  Then you’re loyal to the rest of your family. And so on.  When you get to football teams, you’re pretty much in line with everybody else.
  10. I learned that hostage negotiators and SWAT team members generally have two differing philosophies. The hostage negotiator thinks, “It’s only been seventeen hours, we’re close to a breakthrough.”  The SWAT team member looks at his watch and says, “It’s been ten minutes. Time to go in.”

J. Carson Black is the author of the Laura Cardinal Series, DARKNESS ON THE EDGE OF TOWN, DARK SIDE OF THE MOON, and THE DEVIL’S HOUR.  It’s a mystery to her why on earth she is so attracted to the letter “D.”

Darkness on the Edge of Town


Barnes & Noble

Dark Side of the Moon


Barnes & Noble

The Devil’s Hour


Barnes & Noble

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