Michael Cavacini

An award-winning arts and culture blog.

Archive for the tag “writing”

Celebrating Five Years!

Five years ago I started this blog because of a desire to write a novel, and I wanted to make sure more people bought it than just my parents. So, I figured this blog would be a great way to increase brand awareness – with the brand being me! So far, it’s been more than I ever could have expected. Not only have I written about books, authors and literature, I’ve interviewed nearly 50 celebrities, including numerous #1 New York Times best-sellers, as well as Tony, Grammy and/or Emmy award-winning musicians and actors. This blog has enabled me to meet Bruce Springsteen, James Patterson, Neal Schon, Dionne Warwick, John Oates, and countless other legends in the arts and entertainment world. Along the way, I’ve reached more than 700,000 people and had my content published in Reader’s Digest, Classic Rock Magazine, ABC News, and on the cover of The Aquarian Weekly, among other media outlets. Connecting with so many of my idols, as well as my readers, has been a thrilling experience that I look forward to continuing for many years to come. And I haven’t given up on that novel. Perhaps, that’s what I’ll be celebrating five years from now.

I Finally Started My Novel

Well, kind of. A couple days ago when I downloaded the Dragon Anywhere app on my iPhone – which I’m using right now to write this blog post – I decided now was finally the time to start outlining my novel. What will it be about? I can’t say just yet. How long will it take to write? Who knows. All I know is that it won’t get done if it doesn’t get started. One of the things I’ve learned from the myriad of successful authors I’ve interviewed and befriended over the past several years is that outlining a book before you write it can be incredibly helpful. I’ll keep you posted on how my journey is progressing and any key milestones along the way.

Three Books Every Aspiring Fiction Writer Should Read

There are many great writing books to choose from. But if you’re an aspiring fiction writer, below are three that should be at the top of your list.

Read more…

Couple Days Off

For those of you that don’t know, I’m entering my final year of grad school and the semester has begun. This fall I’m taking my last two classes and in the spring I’m working on my Master’s Project. To maintain my sanity, I’ll be posting less frequently to my blog, maybe once a week or once every other week. But there’s no need to worry because I’ve got great stuff planned for you this fall, including more interviews with best-selling authors and accomplished musicians, as well as my thoughts on a variety of books, albums and concerts. I plan on ending the year on a high note, so thanks for sticking along for the ride. In the meantime, I’m going to enjoy a couple days off.

FanFest: A Thriller Reader’s Dream

FanFestLast week I attended ThrillerFest IX in New York City. This annual event is held by the terrific organization International Thriller Writers, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. While at ThrillerFest IX, I had the opportunity to attend FanFest, a portion of the week-long event where fans get to meet and spend time with a multitude of authors over cocktails. Picture it: There’s a large room with Lee Child, Michael Connelly, David Morrell, and countless others at tables waiting to sign your book, take photos with you and chat. It was a great way to cap off my week at ThrillerFest IX. Below are several photos of myself and authors whom I spent time with during the conference or at FanFest.

Read more…

Book Review: Keep Quiet by Lisa Scottoline

Keep Quiet

Yesterday I finished Keep Quiet, the latest novel by one of my favorite authors, Lisa Scottoline. This book is about Jake, a father who’s looking to get closer to his son. Despite his good intentions, he makes a decision that could tear his family apart.

Read more…

Book Review – Missing You by Harlan Coben

Harlan Coben - Missing YouI’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Harlan Coben is my favorite author. His novels are replete with well-developed characters, believable dialogue, great humor, and they have more twists and turns than a steep mountain road. Coben’s last thriller, Six Years, was my favorite of 2013 and I just finished his new book, due out this Tuesday, Missing You. So, how does it measure up to last year’s offering? Read on, my curious friend.

My favorite part of Missing You is the inspiration for it’s title – the #1 1984 hit song “Missing You” by John Waite. Being a fan of all things ’80s, this brought a smile to my face and made me want to listen to John Waite, which, by the way, I’m doing right now as I write this review.

But let’s get back to the book. While it’s not quite as spectacular as Six YearsMissing You is a solid thriller that delivers the goods. The story’s protagonist, Kat Donovan, finds her ex-fiance on an online dating site and, as expected, things aren’t what they seem. This is an interesting premise and it pulled me in right from the start. In typical Coben fashion, there are multiple plots that eventually overlap, and he handles them deftly.

But where he really shines is the romantic scenes. For my money, Coben is the best author when it comes to writing a scene that conveys characters’ spoken – and unspoken – feelings toward one another. His books always move me at some point, and Missing You did so on numerous occasions.

The novel features a nice balance of dialogue and action, and the scenes where “business picks up” are edge-of-your-seat fun. If you’re a fan of thrillers or love Coben’s previous work, I think you’ll enjoy Missing You. It’s head and shoulders above the competition and the most fun you’ll have outside of listening to a John Waite song. I highly recommend it.

Below is the official synopsis, as well as the “Missing You” music video by John Waite that inspired the title of this book:

Synopsis 

It’s a profile, like all the others on the online dating site. But as NYPD Detective Kat Donovan focuses on the accompanying picture, she feels her whole world explode, as emotions she’s ignored for decades come crashing down on her. Staring back at her is her ex-fiancé Jeff, the man who shattered her heart—and who she hasn’t seen in 18 years.

Kat feels a spark, wondering if this might be the moment when past tragedies recede and a new world opens up to her. But when she reaches out to the man in the profile, her reawakened hope quickly darkens into suspicion and then terror as an unspeakable conspiracy comes to light, in which monsters prey upon the most vulnerable.

As the body count mounts and Kat’s hope for a second chance with Jeff grows more and more elusive, she is consumed by an investigation that challenges her feelings about everyone she ever loved—her former fiancé, her mother, and even her father, whose cruel murder so long ago has never been fully explained. With lives on the line, including her own, Kat must venture deeper into the darkness than she ever has before, and discover if she has the strength to survive what she finds there.

Janis Ian – This Train Still Runs

Janis IanMy musical tastes are eclectic – I like everything from Patti LaBelle to Chromeo. Regardless of musical genre, I’m a sucker for a good melody and a great lyric. “This Train Still Runs” by Janis Ian has both. My favorite part of the song is:

“Sure as a baby loves the teat
Sure as a high heel on concrete
Sure as the songs I’ve left unsung
This train still runs”

And my favorite line is “sure as a high heel on concrete” because it’s incredibly visual without being overly descriptive.

Below are the rest of the lyrics and a live recording of the song. Enjoy!

This Train Still Runs

Janis Ian/Jess Leary

“I felt a rumble in my heart, over the mountains
as the engine ate the spark, spitting out the miles
Times when I tried to jump the track
Weight of the world upon my back
Still after all is said and done

This train still runs
It doesn’t matter where it’s gone
This train still runs
and though the baggage weighs a ton,
we carry on
Nothing is forever young
I’m not done – his train still runs

I had a friend I left behind, back at the station
We used to burn the power lines, racing with the wind
But time has the manners of a thief
Young love turns bittersweet
Still we keep that lantern hung – this train still runs

This train still runs
It doesn’t matter where it’s gone
This train still runs
and though the baggage weighs a ton,
we carry on
No one is forever young
I’m not done this train still runs

Got a ticket in my pocket & I’m ready to ride
Got a motor rolling over to an easy glide
I’m gonna travel on the gravel to the other side
Sure as a baby loves the teat
Sure as a high heel on concrete
Sure as the songs I’ve left unsung
This train still runs

This train still runs
It doesn’t matter where it’s gone
This train still runs
and though the baggage weighs a ton,
we carry on
Nothing is forever young
I’m not done – this train still runs
This train still runs
This train still runs”

Author Interview: Steven James

Steven James

I met Steven James at ThrillerFest VIII. In addition to seeing him moderate several panels, I attended his workshop on organic writing and was very impressed. Following the conference, I read Placebo, his first book in the Jevin Banks series, and I’m currently reading his newest novel, Singularity, the follow-up to the aforementioned title. Below is my interview with Steven James; I hope you enjoy it. And don’t forget to pick up a copy of Singularity – it’s a great read.

Your newest novel, Singularity, is receiving even better reviews than the first book in the Jevin Banks series, Placebo. For those that have yet to read it, what’s the premise of Singularity and what inspired it?

Jevin Banks, one of the world’s greatest illusionists and escape artists, ends up stumbling onto a sweeping conspiracy while looking into the suspicious death of one of his friends. As far as what inspired the story, I’d say a growing interest that I have in emerging technology and the uncharted waters it’s taking us into.

Do you write a specific amount of words every day, and how do you keep stay motivated to stick to your timeline?

That’s a good question. I find that when I go by word count I get easily discouraged since I might fly and write several thousand words one day and then the next day delete everything I worked so hard on. Typically, I go by time. I set a certain number of actual manuscript hours that I would like to work in a given day and then as I write I keep a timer and take scheduled breaks, but keep track of the time down to the second (I know, it’s a bit fanatical, but it keeps me on track).

Some writers have said they barely edit their work while others put their drafts through several revisions. How do you handle the editing process?

There are very few people who can pull off writing great stories with very little editing and revising. I’ve read some of the work of people who say they barely edit their work and, honestly, you can tell. Personally, I go through a lot of drafts (with Placebo, I went through the prologue at least fifty times tweaking it until I was happy with it).

Steven James - Opening Moves

For fans that haven’t read your work, how does the Jevin Banks series differ from your bestselling Bowers Files books, and do you prefer one over the other?

Ah, so you’re going to make me choose between my children, are you? Well, the Bowers books are more police procedurals, darker, more suspense than anything else. The Banks books are a little more light-hearted and conspiracy/science thrillers.

Speaking of Patrick Bowers, what’s next for the FBI Special Agent?

I’m currently working on Checkmate, the eighth and final book in the chess series. After that, we’ll see what happens. I’m nowhere near running out of ideas for Patrick’s storylines.

One of the characters from your Jevin Banks novels is Charlene Antioch. Did you choose her last name, Antioch, because it means the “cradle of Christianity”? Additionally, what inspires other character names in your Bowers and Banks books?

Huh, I had no idea about that meaning. I don’t choose names that have hidden messages in them because because I don’t want anything to get between my readers and my stories. Decoding what different names might mean would be a distraction for readers. Instead, I just choose names that sound cool to me. Now my secret is out. But I shouldn’t admit that, should I? Yes, there is a master plan at work. I just don’t know what it is yet.

Do you use any tools like Scrivener or Scapple while writing? What are your thoughts on software designed for authors?

It’s funny you should ask that. I do use both of them—mainly Scrivener. I don’t think I could write a novel without it. I’ve abandoned Word and Pages, they’re just too slow and the features don’t help me with a big, complex project like a novel. 

Singularity by Steven JamesKurt Vonnegut once shared the following piece of writing advice:

“First rule: Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college.”

Some writers, like Vonnegut, despise semicolons while others think they’re perfectly acceptable. What are your thoughts on this never-ending debate?

I avoid them, but you will find a few in my books if the pace, flow and context call for them. My editor seems to like them and it’s a back and forth thing of me deleting all the ones she adds. I have a friend who says before you write you need to perform a semicolonoscopy on your writing.

Your stories are filled with characters and multiple plots. Since you’re an organic writer that doesn’t plot everything out ahead of time, how do you keep track of what’s going on while writing a story?

I find myself reviewing the story from the beginning—not necessarily reading through it all, but at least trying to keep the context in my mind as I write. I’m a big believer in context determining content and it boggles my mind that people can write a book without that constant scrutiny of what is happening in the story and what that means for the direction of the narrative.

Your Jevin Banks novels feature a considerable amount of scientific information. Do you gather this information prior to writing? When it comes to this information, how do you know when you’ve struck a healthy balance of showing and telling?

I had to do a ton of research for this novel on transhumanism, the hypothetical singularity, robotics and cybernetics, consciousness and nanotechnology. As you mention, it’s always a balance. As I edited the book if I found myself getting bored, I knew that readers would as well. When I was working on Placebo I needed to research quantum mechanics. Talk about confusing. I finally realized I knew as much as I needed to about physics to write my book. I think I included maybe one page of explanation in the final draft. So, you can over-research stuff. Most of the time the best bet is just sitting your butt down and writing.

Steven James PlaceboIn May 2014 you have an instructive book for writers coming out called Story Trumps Structure. Can you give us a preview of what’s inside?

Too many writers straightjacket their novels by trying to follow a certain structure—three acts or plot outlines and so on. That stuff can so easily get in the way of telling a great story. I couldn’t find any books that talked through how to break the rules to tell unforgettable fiction, so I decided to write one.

What made you decide to pursue an M.A. in storytelling and would you recommend other aspiring writers do the same?

At the time, I was doing a lot of speaking and working as a family entertainer. It was helpful to learn stage presence, how to come up with stories and tell them orally. Looking back would I do it again? I’m not sure. I think getting an M.A. in any creative writing field can be a big waste of time and money. We learn best by writing. I’d tell aspiring writers to read the books on writing craft that are out there, check out Writer’s Digest magazine, and write. That’s where the education happens. That’s how you become a writer.

At ThrillerFest VIII you moderated numerous panels and gave a presentation on organic writing. What did you enjoy most about the conference?

I’d say the organic storytelling workshop. It’s just so different from so many of the other seminars on plotting out your novels and following a certain structure and template that it was fun to get the word out there on how to write organically. It rocked the boat a little bit and that’s always a good thing.

Steven James leading a workshop about organic writing at ThrillerFest VIII.

Steven James leading a workshop about organic writing at ThrillerFest VIII.

When you’re not writing, what genres and authors do you enjoy reading?

I tend to go against the common advice that’s out there in which published authors tell aspiring writers to write in the genre they read. I read some thrillers, but for the most part I avoid them so that my writing doesn’t subconsciously mirror the writing or plot lines of other authors. I read books on the craft of writing as well as poetry and philosophy. When I have time I might pick up a literary novel. I wish I had more time to read recreationally, but I’m pretty consumed in my own projects and don’t get out of my writing corner in my basement much—either mentally or physically.

Did you have any mentors that helped you cut your teeth in the writing industry? If so, what were the most important lessons they taught you?

I had an editor fifteen years ago who called me a writer. I’d had a few things published, but no books. When he said that to me I told him, “No I’m not.” But he looked me in the eye and said, “Yes. You are.” That encouraged me and kept me going. Advice? Well, he once told me not to fall in love with my first draft and I’ve found that to be some of the most advice for my fiction.

Author Interview: Taylor Stevens

Taylor Stevens

Taylor Stevens is an award-winning New York Times bestselling author whose debut novel, The Informationist, took the literary world by storm in 2011. Since then, she’s published two more novels starring the popular protagonist Vanessa Michael Munroe: The Innocent and The Doll. I had the pleasure of meeting Taylor at ThrillerFest VIII in July, and she was kind enough to grant me the interview below. I hope you enjoy it.

You grew up in a communal apocalyptic cult where, as a teenager, you entertained the children with stories. What inspired these stories and did you use them as a way to briefly “escape” your dire surroundings?

Imagination was very much an escape mechanism. We didn’t have access to the outside world, so basically no novels, no television, no outside music and very, very few pre-screened movies. We spent a lot of time doing mundane manual labor—washing laundry, cooking, taking care of younger children—or out on the streets begging and that often meant considerable hours getting to/from our begging spots with nothing to keep our minds engaged in-between. Telling stories turned me in into the de facto entertainment and that’s pretty much how it started.

You’ve said that your scholastic education stopped at the age of 12 when you were separated from your parents. Having met you and read your books, I can say, without a doubt, that you’re a very intelligent woman. How did you go about catching up on those lost years of learning after you broke free from the cult in your 20s?

For some things, I still haven’t. There’s a huge difference between intelligence and education and although I’m very fortunate that I have the ability to self-teach through absorption, there are some things that I’m resigned to never grasping. For example, since math for me stopped when I was around 11, I still struggle desperately with math concepts. Math is one of those things that you can’t just skip three years and pick up where you left off by reading a few books. Even though I understand everyday mathematical concepts well enough to, say, manage money, I’m so bad at math in general that even using a calculator I still have to add numbers three times just to be sure I get the same answer twice. I read a lot—I’ve read so many text books cover-to-cover—that in many subjects you could say I’m better read than many people who’ve gone to college. But it’s splotchy and not exactly an “education” in the strictest sense. I couldn’t put it on a resume. I’m still kind of screwed in that regard if this whole writing thing doesn’t work out.

Being a mother, I’m sure finding time to write must be hard. How do you overcome this challenge and do you set out to type a specific number of words every day?

I do have to juggle around their needs and there are times when this is easier said than done, but it’s far easier now than it used to be when they were pre-school and kindergarten ages.  There are also chunks of time, for example during research and promotion—which in my case often means having to travel—as well as key points when contributing to a manuscript in its journey through the production pipeline, that it’s just not possible for me to put new words on a page. My goal, when I’m actually writing, is 1000 words per day, 6 days per week. I don’t always hit it, but that’s the goal.

The Informationist

The Informationist, your debut novel, was a bestseller that was well received by the public and critics alike. How did it feel when James Cameron’s production company, Lightstorm Entertainment, picked up the film rights? And will you play an active role in the development of the screenplay?

That was an incredibly surreal experience. I believe the exact words out of my mouth when my film agent gave me the news were, “I’m sorry. I don’t think I heard you right. Do you mean James Cameron as in “Titanic” James Cameron?” Whether or not The Informationist actually gets turned into a movie still remains to be seen. Last I heard he was working on Avatar 2, 3 AND 4. That’s a long wait. Generally speaking authors have no input on any aspect of movie making. There are exceptions—I expect if I wrote Twilight or Harry Potter things would be different—but I really respect James Cameron as a film maker and love what he’s done with the female characters in his films. I trust him and am just as eager as my fans to see what he does with Michael Munroe.

Do you draft an outline before sitting down to write a book or do you start with an idea and see where it takes you?

I’ve done it both ways. With The Informationist it was very much by the seat of my pants and it was probably more of a surprise to me how the story unfolded than it was for my readers. Vanessa Michael Munroe as a character was definitely a by-product of pantsing, because I certainly didn’t have her figured out before I started writing. But it also took me roughly three years to write The Informationist. Granted, it wasn’t my full-time job, but still. I do outline now.  This came about as a matter of desperation—I didn’t know if I could write another book, and I had to prove it to myself by first telling myself the story. But what I found from doing that was that I could write a whole lot faster when I knew what was happening before I actually began.

As it is now, because I work on such tight deadlines, I can’t afford to spend a month or more writing in one direction only to find out it didn’t work and have to go back and start again so I have turned into an outliner. I have heard of some authors making copious notes, writing out family histories for the characters and such, but I have never done that. My outlines are something closer to simply talking out the story to myself, a “tell don’t show” proposition that runs into about thirty pages. Once the writing begins, those thirty pages will turn into about 500 or so, which will be cut down to around 450 and that will turn into a 320-page book, give or take.

The Innocent - Taylor Stevens

My favorite book of yours is The Innocent because the subject matter was fascinating and it featured great emotional depth. Clearly, this was inspired by your experience growing up in a cult. Was writing this novel a cathartic experience for you? 

I actually get this question quite often and it always makes me smile. Drawing directly on my background wasn’t necessarily easy, but I’d long come to terms with and already made my peace with what happened growing up—I don’t think I could have produced the book otherwise. Mostly, it seemed like a perfect opportunity to showcase more of Vanessa Michael Munroe’s skill and badassery while at the same time offering readers access to a firsthand account of cult life that most thriller writers don’t have. If there was any part of the experience that was cathartic, it was in finally being able to give a voice to the hundreds and thousands of kids who were raised like me—to raise awareness of the issues and prejudices we face. There is so much misunderstanding and judgment against us simply because of where we were born and how we were raised, choices that were made by our parents, not us. Our story has been hijacked by the cult, by the media, by sociologists, by basically everyone. It was fantastically satisfying to finally have our story told from our point of view—not some twisted version put out for ratings and sensationalism.

What do you find most satisfying about being an author?

Every day I wake up grateful that I get to do what I do for a living. I consider each additional book to be a stay of execution which allows me, for one more year, to still get to plan my own schedule, spend hours alone in relative quiet, and be able to be available to my children whenever they need me. I’m completely ruined for real life. I don’t know that I could ever hold a corporate job—not that I couldn’t do the work, I just don’t think I could handle the lifestyle that comes with it.

Taylor Stevens - The Doll

In The Doll, you wrote the following line: 

“Munroe focused on the ground, processing. He’d given her what she needed to know, and she in turn had scattered seed that might lay fallow or might, if she was lucky, eventually sprout into saplings strong enough to split the hardened topsoil that kept him as the Doll Maker’s doer.”

As far as I’m concerned, you’re one of the most talented authors when it comes to metaphor usage and this sentence is a perfect example. Do you spend a lot of time coming up with these or do they organically flow out of your writing?

Wow, thanks for the compliment. I’m blushing. My understanding of grammar is still stuck in 5th grade and 5th grade was a long, long time ago so, if you asked me to explain what a metaphor is, I’d probably just give you a blank look. Most of what I write just comes from instinct, from trying to translate emotion and feeling into words that make sense to other people, and then attempting to craft those words with as little corniness and as few reading hiccups as possible.

What’s the most challenging part of writing for you? 

The initial draft, for sure. This is where the actual scenes are fleshed out, the characters are built, and the plot is intertwined. It’s torture. When it comes to the nitty-gritty: action sequences are the hardest, especially when they involve multiple characters. Conversations are the most fun and go the fastest—that’s when the characters get to come alive and their conflicts play against each other.

1270999_10151546617996261_879066557_o

Oscar Madison once said, “I don’t like writing. I like having written.” Do you identify with this sentiment or do you enjoy the writing process from start to finish?

Oh, yes, I absolutely identify with that sentiment. So many authors have been credited with that quote, and I’ve heard it used by so many friends, that I’m beginning to suspect it must be a universal truth among writers. Personally, I’m not really what I’d consider a “creative.” I’m far more comfortable with things like spreadsheets and data entry than crafting people and places and lifetimes out of nothing. It’s one thing to be able to make up a story with words, using broad brush strokes, and another entirely to bleed it out on paper in excruciating detail, so for me, developing the first layers of writing a book is incredibly difficult. Editing and re-writing after the initial creative work is finished is much easier and, since that’s the part of writing that makes a crappy story readable, that has worked out pretty well for me so far.

You just completed your fourth Vanessa Michael Munroe book, The Catch. What’s the story’s premise and in what countries is it taking place?

In The Catch, Munroe is headed back to Africa, this time to the north and east where she gets tangled up with a hijacked ship. Readers will have an opportunity to watch how she operates when she ends up in unfamiliar territory where she’s on her own and where she has no prior contacts or connections. And this time—unlike The Doll which entwined two timelines, two casts of characters, and two different plots—there is only one plot and one point of view. In The Catch, it’s pure Vanessa Michael Munroe, all the way.

 

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: