Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Writing Evil

How do you write evil? Evil is in the news these days, but is evil the absence of good or a force of its own? Writing can be similar to lawyering, in that we have to come up with justifications for our character's motivations. Every protagonist has to have an antagonist. So how to we make our antagonist human?

Do they have to be human? Zombies are easy. They're dead. They want brains. They keep coming. Repeat. I don't write zombie stories. George Romero who wrote Night of the Living Dead, once said that the bad guys were never the zombies, they were always the humans.

So how do you write evil? In my first novel, Rattlesnake Lawyer, I began my fascination with felon envy. The young lawyer couldn't help but notice that the alleged criminals were cooler than he was. While he wallowed in self-doubt, they did not. Evil was enticing, but in the end the main character stayed good.

In my second novel, Crater County, I attempted to make the "me" character the suspected bad guy, someone that the heroine could realistically suspect as being the killer. It was a fun book to write, but I wimped out in the end. Spoiler alert, the character was a nerd not a killer.

In my latest novel, Rattlesnake Wedding, I had to come up with motivation for a killer who shoots at several people during a wedding reception. I went with the grab bag approach--childhood trauma, abandonment issues, drug addiction, mental disorders, lost love and just to be safe a head injury from a fall while pole vaulting. I should have made her bitten by a radioactive spider from outer space just to cover all bases...

On Sixty Minutes, they recently had an interview with a man known as the "Angel of Death" who had killed dozens if not hundreds of people while working as a nurse. While they offered some history, when it came time for him to explain himself, he really couldn't. His biographer also had problems explaining the man.

It's hard to write evil.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Junk in my Trunk

I cleaned out my trunks last night and found thirty years of writing. Is any of it any good? If I get the magic phone call on my new novel, Rattlesnake Wedding,  just suppose someone asks me "What else have you got?"

What else indeed...

Supposedly Paramount has a salt cave in Missouri to store old scripts. I have a 5 by 5 storage cabinet. On the bottom I found a binder with football players in it that I bought in the sixth grade. It has TWO collection of handwritten  stories done when I was thirteen. The first is about superheroes, the second is a science fiction novel. The quality of the paper is poor, and the hand writing is practically in hieroglyphics. To decipher the writing would require not just a Rosetta stone, but a Rosetta stone mason. If they were deciphered, it would be the ramblings of a middle-school kid. If memory serves, there is also a scene with a robot. Let's just leave it at that.

There were also some old documents mixed in with my writings. I found my "coverage" of Rattlesnake Lawyer by Viacom in 1994. This is when the manuscript was in still  rough form, and yet the reader for Viacom loved it and said it had great potential and the vast conglomerate should "consider" it as a TV series. Right beneath it, was the article in the Albuquerque Journal that said I would be the next John Grisham. I nearly cried when I saw them both. What happened?

I went through some old scripts that lay in a pile in a corner of the trunk. I had a "spec" episode of the show called The Practice involving twins. If the show ever gets remade, perhaps I have a chance. I had to write a script for one class in four days by the end of the semester, and wrote something called  Vegas Valets about a group of wacky valets who have to save a dying casino (or something like that). I could see that becoming something if a team of wacky valets drive it over to a team of comedy writers to make the jokes funnier. I also found a script about a school shooting that needs "just one more re-write." I always vowed to rewrite it when there is a lapse from violence in the world. It will never happen and I will never show it to anyone. Ever.

I did find one gem, a published article "Sweet and Sour Romance" from ten years ago that was somehow lost on my computer after a crash and the paper ceased publication.
It actually holds up ten years later. All I need to do is pay someone to re-type it or type it myself.  That might never happen either.

I also found  two paragraph "episode ideas" that were supposed to go into Rattlesnake Lawyer if it became a series, some of them were clever. So yes, there's some funk in my trunk.
The question is how to take the funk to the bank.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Write Wedding

"You've written your best book since you got married," my wife said. She's write, excused me, she's right. I had feared that my writing output and quality would go down once I tied the knot, but the opposite is true.

We are a few weeks away from our first anniversary. I finished Rattlesnake Wedding, my best book, and wrote a very solid draft of a science fiction book. Not to mention this blog which several thousand of you have already read. I was extremely single the entire time when I wrote my first novel, Rattlesnake Lawyer, and it took ten YEARS to finish. Those weren't a happy ten years.

With the exception of the "writer's room" on a TV sitcom, where people crack themselves up by pitching jokes, writing is a solitary pursuit. Even the only dialogue in the writing process--getting "notes" from an editor --is hardly a social experience. An editor emails you an annotated copy of your book, and you click on accepting the changes. After awhile you forget that a person is asking you to make those changes, and it feels like your own manuscript is nagging at you to stop using the word "I" so much in the same paragraph.

Since I've been married, I still write by myself, but I am not alone. I sip gourmet coffee now as opposed to slamming an energy drink. When I was single, the sound of a passing car would break my train of thought, just think about what the sound of a passing train used to do. Now the sounds of my wife getting ready in the morning actually inspire me to write faster. It's better to get a thousand words out and join someone for breakfast, then get nine hundred words and gobble a power bar.

I do know a few writers who got divorced while writing their books. I won't be one of them.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

We are where we write

I am moving my office today, will that change how I write? I mostly write at home before dawn, however when I have a spare moment or two I've been known to jot a line down at the office. For the past two years, my office has been windowless and quiet. Will it change when I have not one but two windows with city and sunset views? I hope it's better than Starbucks.

I've never really been a Starbucks writer. You know the type. He or she sits at a Starbucks and types away over a single cup of coffee. There appear to be three sub-groups of Starbucks writers--the one who shows no emotion like a poker player. I thought one well-dressed woman was going over a spreadsheet for a technical consulting company, but when I glanced at her computer screen she was apparently writing steamy erotica.

The second Starbucks writer winces in pain while they furiously type away. These writers look like they are physically possessed by a demon. However, I have been fooled by this type. One man looked like he was writing a Game of Thrones type thriller--I thought that by his smell alone--however he was the one going over the spread sheet.

 Finally there is the writer who is not really writing, but is reading the purple section of USA Today. Technically the third one isn't a Starbucks writer, but merely someone who is "hanging out" at Starbucks. To paraphrase Fred Armisen from Portlandia, Starbucks is where the young writer goes to retire. I have been that writer.

I don't get much writing done at my office, because my phone is always ringing, but the last two years have been different. I now live with two cats and one wife at home. Or is it one cat and two wives? In any event, on weekend mornings there are times I like the solitude of a blank office, especially when the vacuum is on. Vacuums suck up creativity along with dirt.

Writing at the office is work not play. I once spent an entire morning dealing with tabs--the spacing and not the breed of cat-- however herding stray tabs in a 90,000 word novel can be like herding stray cats.

The new office is on the second floor of an old building. I will be the last office down the hall, and there is a window at the door so people can see in. That might not be a good thing. Will I gaze at the sun set over the desert to the west instead of writing? On the other hand, I will be able to see people going to the coffee shop all day. Who are those people? Are they characters in an upcoming book?

Perhaps offices should allow you to write a short story to see if they are conducive to writing. Landlords sometimes offer free rent, or no damage deposit. Maybe the first 500 words should be free.
If not, there's always Starbucks.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Where in the world is Image 87?

Where in the world is Image 87? The face of Luna Cruz, the main character in my second novel, Crater County, was hatched in a graphic artist's studio in Albuquerque a few years ago. I needed a cover model for my second novel, and my graphic designer showed me a collection of stock photos on her computer. After an hour of close calls, the 87th head shot seemed to shout "Pick me, pick me! I'm Luna Cruz" 

Neither of us had any idea who Image 87 was, but she had signed off on the rights to the image of her face to a stock photo company that the graphic artist had permission to re-use commercially. We have no idea when the photo was taken, she could be her in fifties by now. There was something timeless about the face, and her hair style was pulled back into a tight bun that could be popular today, or hundreds of years ago.

Image 87 looks Latina, but she could be Eastern European, Middle Eastern, or perhaps even a Gypsy. She has a Mona Lisa expression. There is a sadness about her, but also a grim determination.

We just clicked and Image 87 became our intellectual property. We did not call Image 87 for a re-shoot, we just used the image "as is" and the graphic artist photo-shopped it onto a desert landscape to create the cover. I had thought that the landscape depicted Shiprock in New Mexico, but the landscape actually showed Left Mitten at Monument Valley in the Navajo Nation. So when the book proclaims it is a "legal thriller of New Mexico," there are two lies-- first the photo shows Utah, and second, no one knows if Image 87 has ever even been here.

I wonder if that unleashes some type of curse.

Lord knows where else Image 87  has been. She might have been on the cover of a novel about a gypsy stuck in an arranged marriage or on the back of a bus promoting a telenovela about drugs wars in Juarez. I can also see her image selling Native American jewelry in the Navajo Nation or perhaps face cream products in Paraguay. She does bear a resemblance to the woman who depicted "Carmen Sandiego" in the  game, Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? so maybe she's on a game somewhere.

As she had already signed over her rights to the company, and presumably was paid, we did not have to notify Image 87, so she probably does not even know that she was on the cover of the book. The book came out nearly a decade ago and I have not heard anything.

She could be a grandmother by now. She could be in law school on her own. She might even be married to a drug lord and the real subject of a novel herself.

Does Image 87 ever gets recognized, and people think that she's a famous literary lawyer? The book sold out its first printing, and is well into a second, so thousands of people all over the world have seen her. With the advent of ebooks, her fame will continue to spread far and wide.

Does she know? Does she care?

Where in the world is Image 87?

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Fiery Book Fiesta

On Friday, May 10, I will be speaking at the Southwest Book Fiesta, which was organized by the people who brought you the Fiery Foods show. As you know, I love the Fiery Foods show, it is a tradition of mine to go from booth to booth and sample hot sauces from all over the world. I make it a point to drink plenty of water. I'm just as excited about the Book Fiesta and I can't help but imagine the similarities between books and sauces.

Someone specializes in sauces is a saucier, right? Sauciers and authors are noble professions. Cooking at its purest is a culinary art, so a saucier is a culinary artist. Still, in essence the Fiery Foods show is a trade show. On the first day, it's all about sales. Writing comes from similar noble beginning. Still, if Shakespeare was alive today, he'd certainly have a booth.

Many of the sauciers pride themselves on having unpleasant names. One sauce was called Widowmaker, another is Green Hell. It goes without saying that books often do the same. My novel, Lawyer Geisha Pink certainly has an unpleasant name. La Bajada Lawyer is not much better.

The sauciers brag about the Scovie scale which measures heat. Writers brag about their books ranking on amazon.com, and how many five star reviews they can get.

The saucier brags about the physical pain that his product can bring. "Watch for it, one said, this stuff will creep up on you," one saucier told me as he gave me a spoonful. I had a momentary feeling of tasting honey, and then I felt sheer fire on my tongue. The aftertaste was brutal I gulped down a water.

Unfortunately, some of my writing produces the same effect, and that doesn't even talk about the aftertaste.

So, I'm looking forward to the Southwest Book Fiesta. Don't forget to drink plenty of water!

Monday, April 22, 2013

Carpal Tunnel of Love

I am often in pain when I write. Not from emotional trauma that I am unleashing onto the blank page, but from an actual physical ailment affecting my extremities or buckling my back. Writing hurts, but no pain, no gain.

When I am in heavy duty novel writing mode, I often develop carpal tunnel syndrome. I once had it so bad, that my hands were literally shaking. The pain made me take a day off here and there, and perhaps the respite made that book more organized.

My carpal tunnels are flowing well today, but there a traffic jam of pain in my left shoulder. It is like there is a black hole of pain in the deltoid muscle. I honestly don't know if I got it from a sports injury or it is just the reservoir of all stress in my life in one small knot. It just came out of nowhere a few months ago, and won't go away even after a massage. For some reason, the pain also shoots down to my left bicep as if there's some kind of expressway of angst between the two.

The knot on my deltoid seems to throb as I write, especially if I write for more than an hour of intense emotional drama. Ironically, if I laugh really hard my deltoid hurts the worst. My goal on some mornings is to get myself to laugh hard enough that it does cause a pain.

You've heard of the Picture of Dorian Gray, where Dorian didn't age, but his picture did? Well, I've got the deltoid of Dorian Gray. I am a relatively young man with a very old deltoid.

And yet, I've been able to do the best blogging of my life the last few months. I wrote an 80,000 word novel with only aspirin for the pain.

The late Roger Ebert was able to write through cancer, and tweet without being able to talk. He never mentioned his pain, and was able to out-write the able-bodied.

I won't mention my own pain again...

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Beyond the Fringe

A woman claimed that  she drove ninety miles to see me at a book signing yesterday. I had to make sure that she was coming to see the right Jonathan Miller. One time, someone came to see Jonathan Miller, all right; they just didn't come to see me. I took a journey, beyond the fringe. . .

A few years ago, I was doing a signing at Barnes and Noble. The Albuquerque Journal hadn't done a write-up, they just gave me a line on the book page, said I was signing and gave the time. When I arrived at the store, the community relations manager told them that there were two women already there, waiting to get copies of my latest book. I had never had groupies before.

The women were Santa Fe stylish, in their sixties, and very, very pale. "Jonathan Miller," she swooned. "You look so much better in real life," she said in a clipped English accent.

"Thank you," I said.
She frowned. "You've lost your accent."
"I've been here for several years."
"I've read all your books and loved your sketches."
I wasn't sure if she was talking about sketches I jotted down in my loft, or sketches I had written when I took a comedy writing class at Second City in Chicago. "Uh thanks," I said.
"And weren't you just devastated when Dudley Moore died."
"Dudley Moore? I liked him the film, Ten, but..."
The woman stared at me. "Aren't you Jonathan Miller from Beyond the Fringe?"
"No, I've been inside the fringe most of my life."
It took a moment for us to figure out the confusion. Apparently there was a Jonathan Miller, who had been an English comedian who had worked with Dudley Moore.

She was disappointed that I was not the right person. We had a laugh about it. Still, she bought my book.

 I don't know if the other Jonathan Miller is still alive, but I have practiced my English accent just in case I need it to make a sale. Beyond the Fringe indeed.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Faith on the 40

Today, I'm going to do a book signing at the Author's for Literacy event in Moriarty, New Mexico. It's just a forty minute trip our on I-40. I can't help but think of one of my first trips on the 40, and an issue of faith that took place an hour or so east in Tucumcari.

So for the handful of you who've read my non-fiction book, Amarillo in August, this is a rehash of the Monster in Tucumcari, and yet it is an event worth re-telling. I was doing a book signing in Lubbock, and I stopped for gas in Tucumcari. My credit card was denied, and I only had enough cash to pay for a one way trip. I could either go forward to Tucumcari for the signing, or head back home to Albuquerque. If I went forward, I had to have faith that I would sell enough books at a Hastings store that would pay me in cash, so I would have a place to stay and then have ...

If I didn't sell enough books in Lubbock, I would have to sleep in my car, and then have to ask a friend or relative to wire me some money. I could only imagine the humiliation I would face. Hell, suppose no one wanted to wire me anything. I could be trapped in Lubbock forever.

I stared at the gas pump for a few minutes and then went out to the intersection to get back on the 40. I headed east to Amarillo rather than west to Albuquerque. I had faith. Needless to say, despite a rocky start, I sold out all four nights of the trip and even had enough left over to treat myself to a steak at the Big Texan, the place where if you eat a 72 ounce steak, you get one free.

 I didn't eat take the steak challenge. I have more faith in my writing than I do in my eating

Friday, April 19, 2013

Writing while Running

In honor of the Boston Marathon, in today's blog, I will discuss the creative process that often takes place during long runs. A runner's high can also be runner's write.

I mentally outlined my third novel, Volcano Verdict, during a forty minute run during a visit to see relatives in Connecticut. It was Thanksgiving, but surprisingly warm, so all of us went out to a park by the beach. I started running slowly and let my thoughts race. I had chugged a Red Bull prior to the run, and that bull was rushing through china shop of my mind. Bad idea after bad idea fell down and shattered. The few ideas left standing were literally the keepers.

The ideas were the dormant volcano west of Albuquerque on the fourth of July, a lawyer busted for drugs who died mysteriously of asphyxiation when he got out, a legal secretary with a million dollars in her purse Juarez pharmacies and a bi-polar Korean woman. Oh, and the bad guy would be the father of the main character.

By the end of the forty minutes, those wild  ideas coalesced into a narrative that worked. I had all three acts outlined in my head. In another long run, I added some more details.

In case you're wondering-- disgraced lawyer dies on top of the volcano during the fourth of July. His secretary is the suspect. She has to take down the Juarez mob, but finds that it is harder to do than she thinks because her father has some connection.

Then, I was ready to start writing it down. Because of that forty run, I was able to write a 60,000 word manuscript in less than thirty days.

Just think what some people will be able to write after a marathon.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Distilled Spirit of Radio or Rush to Judgment

You can hear my interview on internet radio today, KGLP.org. I'm glad I can tell you about it,  on my first radio interview to promote my book, I actually did part of it in a broom closet. Rush (the band not the radio host) had a song called "Spirit of Radio." Well, for about twelve minutes I felt that spirit.

My first novel, Rattlesnake Lawyer came out in 2000, and my publisher sprung for an ad in a publication called the Radio and Television Report. I got a phone call from a nationally syndicated show to do an interview during the afternoon rush hour. I thought it would be my big break. The host was someone who you would have heard of at the time.

At that moment, I was a staff writer on a TV show, Arrest and Trial. My position on the show was precarious to say the least. The ratings on the show were down, budgets were being cut, and every Friday, someone would get fired. It was like the Celebrity Apprentice, but none of us were famous. I have been a public defender --overextended and underpaid-- and this was the show biz equivalent of being a public defender. We weren't allowed to talk about the show on air without permission, and certainly not allowed to do radio interviews, even if it was about our own books.

We were in a converted warehouse off Santa Monica Boulevard. It wasn't Hollywood, it was Hollywood Adjacent. I shared the empty space at the bottom of stairwell with another writer and a Polish intern. I was at my desk, cranking on a script, when the host called. I was now live with thousands of people. I heard footsteps down the stairs so I hurried over to the closet and started answering questions about the writing process. The only awkward moment came when the host said "Mr. Miller is a writer on a TV show, but we can't say its name."

It made me sound like an outlaw. Hell, I was an outlaw. 

Other than that, the interview went surprisingly well. I felt like I was broadcasting from the front lines as I whispered into my phone. It was exhilarating. The interviewer was not as famous as Rush Limbaugh, or even the band Rush, but I felt I had gone national for twelve minutes.

I don't think my producers heard me or ever found out. This was before the advent of Amazon.com, so it didn't really lead to a rush of sales. Still, I felt I had got myself on the map. I was on for three segments, maybe twelve minutes total. And then suddenly, I was off the air and sitting alone in a closet. I went back to the stairwell and started cranking on my script for the week.

Perhaps there was a curse-- the radio host was taken off the air a few weeks later. Our own show was canceled as well. The spirit of radio within me was dead.

Today at 2PM on kglp.org, that spirit of radio comes back.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Cute 66

You've heard of Route 66? Well this year there won't be a "Cute 66." I'm NOT going to the LA Times Festival of the Book in Los Angeles this month, I will be heading to Moriarty Authors for Literacy event in Moriarty, New Mexico, population 800 instead.

To get from Los Angeles to Moriarty you get on the Old Route 66 and then head straight for about 800 miles. Cute 66 to Route 66 indeed.

When I was doing the LA event, there were hundreds of authors, many of them celebrities. Talk about cute-- one year, Pamela Anderson was signing her novel.  Let me repeat that, you could ask Pamela Anderson about her literary career. Paris Hilton was there another year. I think she was on a panel with Philip Roth.

Another year,  Mr. Spock, Leonard Nimoy, himself, was signing his book of erotic photography. The line of fans holding up Mr. Spock's book of erotic photography literally blocked access to my table where I was signing my book, The line of people in trench coats and Vulcan ears still gives me nightmares.

One year, I tried to play cute myself. La Bajada Lawyer has a model on the cover, I hired her to stand in front of our booth on the first day of the event. Other than someone with a trench coat and Vulcan ears, my sales were way down that day. The second day of the event, the model went home and I did much better on my own.

When I do my signings at the Moriarty Event, I just sit at a blank table with books. I always sell out. Sometimes, you don't have to be cute.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Walmart and Window Rock--Gallup on the Road to Damascus part III

Our story so far...I was coming back from Window Rock where I had what could only be described as a spiritual experience, as I reach the outskirts of Gallup, my phone rang)

It was a phone call from one of my law clients and he was not happy. Apparently, I had missed something on a document and it could cost him dearly. That mistake could cost me even worse. As I was in a parked car in a Walmart parking lot in Gallup, New Mexico, nearly 200 miles away on I40, I had no way of knowing whether this was true. While my phone had reception, my internet was still out.

After a ten minute tirade, he hung up on me, threatening to sue me or worse. He had vowed to "mess me up for good" except he didn't use the word "mess." I sensed oncoming complaint and perhaps even a lawsuit, but had I just received a death threat? I was actually glad that I could not check out his record on the internet.

A homeless man started to approach my vehicle, but he literally ran away when he saw my pained expression. What did he see on my face?

It was late on a Friday afternoon, I attempted a few phone calls, but everyone had already gone home for the weekend. I really had no idea whether I had made a fatal error, it was impossible to determine there in the lot.

The experience that I'd had in Window Rock a few minutes earlier seemed like it had been in a different timeline. I had a vision that in this timeline, I was about to lose everything, starting with my car which was making funny noises as it idled. Would my car even make it home? Would my home even be standing when I returned or would it be "messed up?"

For the first time in a long time, I wanted to cry . . .

And yet something gripped me in that Walmart parking lot in Gallup, New Mexico near I-40. A voice told me that everything would be all right and that I had nothing to fear. I just had to have faith.

I'd like to say that all my worries went away, but they didn't. I was literally at a crossroads, where the old Route 666, the Devil's Highway hit the old 66, the road to California, the old promised land.
Part of me wanted to stay there in the parking lot for the next forty years. Another part of me wanted to go to I-40 and like Bruce Springsteen, take a right at the light, keep straight on till night and be on my own.

Still, something kept me going EAST on that 150 mile stretch back home. I would like to think it was faith, faith that everything would work out, faith that there was a divine plan. I have no recollection of the rest of the weekend.

On Monday, I was able to get a hold of the other side, change one line on a document and have it signed by the judge before noon and filed right after lunch. When the gentleman called back that afternoon, all was well. He actually apologized for losing his temper. He even promised to pay me the rest of the money he owed me.

Many days when I am down, I think of those two moments-- the moment of pure joy staring at the Window Rock, and that moment of pure despair an hour later in the parking lot. I thought I had learned about faith at Window Rock. Actually, I learned about faith in a Walmart parking lot in Gallup, New Mexico.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Gallup on the Road to Damascus, Part II

As I was just interviewed on KGLP.org, (the interview will stream live on Thursday at 2 PM) I'm writing about a fateful trip to the Gallup area. In yesterday's blog, I had visited Gallup and had just gone up to the Window Rock itself...Here's Part II....

I stared into the blue sky in the "window" of the Window Rock and had an undeniable spiritual experience. Everything in the whole universe, past, present and future made sense.

Window Rock has long inspired writers and film makers. James Cameron for example. It couldn't be a coincidence that the Navi's sacred rock formation in Avatar had a distinct resemblance to the Navajos' Window Rock. I don't know if he had been here, but he must have felt the same thing that I felt.

There was also an episode of the original Star Trek, "The City on the Edge of Forever," where there was a "window" in the rock much like this. On the other side of that window, Kirk and Spock could see all of the past, present and future. In that episode, they even went  through the portal and changed the course of history. I'm not even going to talk about all the Star Gate TV series.

I felt I had that power.

I literally stared at the window for another few minutes, and didn't say a word. I might have had a vision, but I can no longer remember it. It must have melted away, moments later. I wonder if I can still get it back from hypnosis?

I finally turned around from the rock,and got back into my car and started driving back home. It was totally quiet in my car. Almost too quiet. I usually received 70 phone calls a day as a lawyer. Was there a magical field that was blocking all communication? If so, that field lasted for several miles.

As I came to the outskirts of Gallup, when I saw the first gas station, and that magical energy field must have died.  My cell phone started ringing again.

I pulled off the road by the Wal-Mart near I-40, and then had one of the worst calls of my life....

To be continued....

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Gallup on the Road to Damascus, Part I

I'm being interviewed on Gallup public radio today to promote my novel today. Paul had a vision on the road to Damascus. I had a life changing experience on the road to Gallup.

As a lawyer, I had a 9:00 AM hearing in Gallup. I had figured two and a half hour drive so I left at six and subsided on energy bars and Red Bulls. Unfortunately, there was construction on the freeway and I arrived at 8.59. Without getting too graphic, let's just say the Red Bull wanted to stampede out of my system. I checked into the court before heading to the rest room, but the judge called the case and I had to run up to the podium, literally writing in agony. The judge didn't care. "Ready?"

Thankfully, the other side, which had an office inside the building, was not in the courtroom. "May I be excused your honor," I asked, and the judge let me run out. That could have been the most embarrassing moment of my legal career.

The lawyer on the other side said that the elevator hadn't been working, but I wondered if something else had intervened.

After the hearing was done, it was a Friday I decided to broaden my horizons. The Navajo Nation Fair was taking place and I drove up to the village of Rock. I did not get phone reception, and it was like I had passed to a different era. I had some of the most relaxing hours of my life. I ate mutton for the first time and loved it. I saw barrel races on the rodeo grounds and got the autograph of Ms. Navajo Nation, a vision of beauty.

But something was missing. I saw plenty of rocks, but none of them had windows. I was then told that the actual rock formation itself was a few miles away.  What the heck, I thought. My luck has been good so far.

I deliberately lowered expectations. When I was a kid, I'd been to a natural history museum that had a replica of a blue whale hanging on the ceiling. It was the size of the Starship Enterprise to me, and yet when I had gone back to the museum as an adult the blue whale might looked more like a fake model of a tuna fish.

I parked on the side of some government buildings, and then I saw the Window Rock itself it was actually bigger than I had anticipated. I looked into the window, the massive blue space in the middle of the rock and it was like looking into a mystical eye.

At that moment, everything changed....

To be continued...

Friday, April 12, 2013

Selling my Soul in Santa Fe

As you all know, I'm speaking at Southwest Writers on Tuesday night in support of my new novel, Rattlesnake Wedding. Hopefully it will go better than an event I did last fall up in Santa Fe where I felt like I sold my soul, at a deep discount.

I did a book signing at a book fair up in Santa Fe in support of my last novel, the one with the funny name --Lawyer Geisha Pink. The signing was at the old Borders near the heart of downtown, with a handful of other local authors. Within blocks of the site, stores were selling Alpaca vests for hundreds of dollars and modern artwork for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

There is something called Santa Fe style, it's hard to describe, but the women and men streaming into the book fair had it in abundance. Every one coming in was Santa Fe stylish, with scarves that cost more than my car. I smiled. This was going to be a great event.

Something odd happened when the first person came to my table. She was the sixty-something owner of a gallery that had recently closed. She was interested in buying Lawyer Geisha Pink, especially when I told her that it was about a woman who sometime imagined herself to be a superhero. "That's just like me." She picked up the book as if it was a box containing potential golden additions to her visible collection of Native American jewelry. Her neck actually appeared blue from all the turquoise.

"How many copies would you like?" I asked with a smile.

"I'd love to buy all your books," she said. "But I'm a little tight right now since the gallery closed." For one moment, I thought of my dearly departed grandmother. I ended up giving her the book for five dollars.

Word must have got around the event, because soon I was surrounded by half of Santa Fe. Everyone was dressed to the nines, hell, they were dressed to the tens, elevens and twelves. All of them had jewelry that was probably stored in a safe guarded by laser beams, yet, all of them pled poverty-- gallery closings, real estate slumps and two consecutive people claimed "liquidity issues."

I obviously couldn't hire an investigator to find out, so I gave them the benefit of the doubt and sold everything for five dollars. I sold out, but lost a hundred dollars.

On the way out, I saw one person who bought my book for two dollars get into a Land Rover.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

50 Shades of Rattlesnake

"Don't you wish that you could write some thing like 50 Shades of Grey?" someone asked me recently. A few years ago, I almost had my chance. Unfortunately, there was no happy ending.

I was a vendor at a writer's conference in Phoenix. I had spent fifty dollars to rent a table to hawk Rattlesnake Lawyer. In addition to the blank table, the organizers provided a gift bag with the sponsor's name prominently displayed on the handle. The sponsor was a publisher that had an exotic name and a tag about fantasies coming true.

When I heard the word  fantasy, I thought about Lord of the Rings, the Narnia and my personal favorite the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant. I had billed Rattlesnake Lawyer as a darkly comic legal thriller, but I cam up with the obvious pitch. Dan Shepard, the young public defender, is transported to a magical world and is the public defender of the dwarves. A preliminary hearing with the Elves as attorneys and an angry wizard threatening to turn Dan into a newt  pretty much writes itself.

The publisher had a table right next to mine, so I asked the heavy-set woman if I could have a pitch session before the doors opened for the day. "Have I got a fantasy for you," I said, visions of Valinor dancing in my head.

As there was no one else in the room yet, she reluctantly agreed to chat. "What's your fantasy?" she asked. She had a resemblance to the opera singer Susan Boyle, AFTER she got famous. Susan looked at me with lonely eyes, was she trying to pick up on me? All the better for my pitch.

"You've heard of Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court? This would be a New Mexico Public Defender instead."

Susan frowned."Is there sex in it?"

"I guess so," I said, surprised by the question. Some of the elves in Lord of the Rings weren't that bad. I could see Galadriel getting it on, but certainly not with dwarves or hobbits.

"Do you know what we do?" Susan asked. "We are an erotic fiction publisher."

"Erotic fiction?" I blushed. "I thought fantasy meant fantasy like Lord of the Rings." I was so embarrassed that I beat a hasty retreat much like the orcs in the battle for Gondor.

"Call us back when you've got something," she said.

I've still never called. However, more people 50 Shades of Grey sounds better than Only 49 Readers of Rattlesnake Lawyer. Who knows, maybe there will be a Rattlesnake Romance someday.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

South WORST Writers, South BEST Writers

I'm speaking at the prestigious Southwest Writers  group on Tuesday, April 16. Needless to say, I've had some South BEST and some South WORST Writers moments during my talks there.

My South WORST Writers moment came a few years ago after I discussed how the iPad was changing the writing process. I thought the talk was well received, but an elderly gentleman came over to me. "That was the worst talk I've ever heard." He looked like a zombie Ernest Hemingway off his medication. You've heard of a moveable feast, this was a moveable beast with his wild eyes and bad breath.

I nodded and said something like "I'm sorry you feel that way, everybody else seemed to enjoy it."
He didn't go away. "I really, really hated your talk. You're terrible."

I had no idea what to say after that. Several of my friends in the group were  waiting to congratulate me, but "Ernest Hemingway" wouldn't leave.  He wouldn't stop, just droning on and on how I knew nothing about computers. I tried to explain that I was focusing on writing rather than programming, but he looked like he wanted to devour me, like the sharks devoured the marlin in the Old Man and the Sea. Thankfully, he finally left, vowing never to return.

He never did. No one had any idea who he was.  Perhaps he really was Ernest Hemingway, back from the dead to make sure I didn't develop hubris. I didn't have a "Farewell to Arms" after his tirade, I had a "farewell to Self-Esteem."

So I was a little nervous the next year when I returned to SWW. I don't remember my topic, but I do remember that it was the height of Charlie Sheen's very public meltdown. Charlie Sheen had been in the western film Young Guns, which filmed in New Mexico and I said that once he came here, the rest of his career went to pot. The audience nodded. I then inserted poor Charlie into every topic, and the audience ate it up like Charlie once ingested illegal substances. After several laugh out loud moments, I closed by referring to "Ernest."

"A guy last year told me that I was the worst speaker he'd ever seen," I said, then stared at the enthusiastic crowed. "Well as Charlie Sheen once said, WINNING!"

Yes, that expression feels dated now, but when I said "winning," the crowd erupted in applause, I had just had my South BEST moment.

So, on Tuesday night, April 14, 5540 Eubank NE, starting at seven PM, hopefully you will see me at my South BEST!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

April Anxiety

You've heard about March Madness, how about April Anxiety? After watching all the red and blue t-shirts at the Louisville-Michigan game last night, I reflected on an April many years ago when I was applying to college for myself. The stress was so bad that it caused a car accident. That accident could be a metaphor for my writing career.

That windy April morning, I was a senior at Albuquerque Academy, waiting to hear from Cornell University. The future seemed bright, even though my grades didn't match my SAT or ACT scores. I certainly wasn't getting an athletic scholarship. As I drove to school, I played the traffic light game. If I didn't have to stop at the light, it was a good sign. If I had to stop it was a bad sign.  I don't remember what the count was but if memory serves I ran the intersection of Academy and Wyoming Boulevard, a few blocks from school and was in a fender bender.  I don't remember whose fault it was, but probably it was mine. No one was hurt, but my car wouldn't start.

The police officer drove me to school after the car was towed. It was humiliating when the cop  dropped me off fifteen minutes late in front of the principal's office. As for the aftermath of the accident, there was no litigation, but I could imagine a TV ad for a sleazy lawyer-- "I sue drivers worried about getting into college!"

Could this day get any worse? I already knew the answer. An accident was not a good sign.

That very afternoon, I received a thin letter from Cornell University saying that I was waitlisted. I thought that the wait list was the worst thing ever. I would not get in off the waitlist that Spring, but three years later I would finally make it into Cornell and eventually graduate. As for the car, it was totaled.

As this is allegedly a writing column, the metaphor is obvious. Stress can cause an accident, especially if you try to force the issue as I did. I thought that I had been rejected, but a few years later, I got what I wanted. Patience is indeed a virtue, I didn't have to win it all that very moment.
Unlike last night's basketball game, where regulation ended after forty minutes, the clock is still ticking so many years later. Still, I'm going to drive carefully today.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Can the Mad Men save Hastings?

Saturday I killed some time at a Hastings Entertainment Store. Sunday night, I saw Mad Men. This morning I'm writing this blog. All those events are related.

As to Hastings on Saturday. I did many of my first book signings at the Hastings on Wyoming Boulevard in Albuquerque back when Rattlesnake Lawyer came out in 2000. From 2002-2006, I made a pilgrimage to Amarillo the corporate headquarters to sign at the stores there, as recounted in my one non-fiction book, Amarillo in August. I once sold 54 books on a Saturday afternoon.

Now, the store is radically different. The store is gradually becoming a used book store. I did see two used copies of my books back in the shelves. Other than a handful of best sellers, the store did not sell any book for more than ten dollars. 

They used to have coffee in the book section, usually offering something called Jamaica Me Crazy and free cups. Someone could sit in the back, sip some coffee and read a new book. Those days are gone, many of the people seemed to be buying toys, games and posters rather than books. I don't know if the Wyoming store is still a viable one for book signings. I doubt that I could sell ten there today.

As for Mad Men, while it is a story of the past, it is firmly grounded in our present. I'm sure it beat the network competitors like Celebrity Apprentice in the ratings. There's no doubt that Mad Men won the battle creatively.. After I watched the show, I checked the recap on EW.com to see if I missed anything. I don't even have to mention that you can download episodes on itunes or Netflix or see Megan sing that French song on youtube. You can buy a DVD of an entire season of Mad Men on Hastings by the way.

Years ago, I hoped to have Rattlesnake Lawyer be a network show, now I am hoping for a deal with AMC. Perhaps we can use kickstarter to finance some episodes that we can put on youtube.

And this morning's blog. There were blogs years ago, but now if you're an author, you have to have a blog to create a brand. More people will read this blog than I would encounter in a Hastings.

In the season premiere of Mad Men, Don is facing a world changing before his eyes. I feel the same way.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Michigan Madness or Deja Blue

Can you die of deja vu? Michigan is in the NCAA basketball final and that brings up the curse of Chris Webber. A few days ago, I had an experience involving Michigan, memory and madness, and it will forever effect my writing.

I hated Michigan since they didn't take me for law school. Go Blue! Ha! I took joy in remembering that Michigan was seconds away from winning the national championship, but Chris Webber called a time when they were out of time outs. There was a technical foul and Michigan lost. Despite his years in the NBA and as an analyst, Webber has never lived it down. Or so I thought...

A few weeks ago, I was on elliptical machine at a Sports and Wellness club, doing forty minutes while watching an ESPN had a documentary on the Fab 5, Michigan's amazing freshmen basketball recruits. The documentary showed the Fab 5's hardscrabble roots and their friendship. I found myself rooting for them in spite of myself. Go Blue!

I had been on the elliptical machine for quite awhile, and it felt like the flow of oxygen had stopped coming to my brain. The doc seemed to be ending when it came to the national championship game. Michigan lost. Chris Webber did NOT call time out. I repeat Chris Webber did NOT call time out. The program went to commercial and appeared to be over. Go Blue?

Had my memory failed me? I thought I had seen the game, but perhaps I had confused it with another final. Maybe it was Michigan STATE and not Michigan. In the last Star Trek film, the time line was altered, perhaps there had been a temporal shift and we now lived in a world where Chris Webber had defied his curse. As someone who had cost his teams several games over the years, I had undeniable joy. Perhaps my own curses could be lifted. Who knows, when I got off the elliptical, Fox had optioned Rattlesnake Lawyer and I was really a millionaire. Go Blue!

Remember, I had been on the elliptical machine for quite some time. I stayed on the machine, kept eclipsing or whatever one does, I just wanted to make sure that the program was over. My heart was literally racing. When the show resumed, I heard some chilling words. Something like, "After losing their freshman year, they Fab 5 decided to return for their sophomore year."

I let out a gasp. "Don't do it!" The woman on the next machine told me to be quiet.

I stayed on the machine for another half hour as the program recounted the team's sophomore basketball season. It felt like watching Titanic for the tenth time, after putting down money that this time the ship would avoid the iceberg. Go Blue . . . Sure enough, Michigan made it to the finals. Sure enough Webber calls a time out and costs his team the game. Out of the blue and into the black....

So what does that have to do with writing? As I stumbled off the machine panting, I made a vow. I had never been so gripped by a TV show where I already knew the ending. I wanted people to be equally gripped by my writing, and will stay until the very end, and perhaps even further. I want people to experience the stories again and again.

 Deja Vu? Call it Deja Blue!

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Would Roger Ebert give me a thumbs up?

I've already admitted to writing one of the worst student films of all time, a film so bad that the Director was deported back to Korea. With the recent  death of Roger Ebert, I always wonder, would he give me a thumbs up for my writing?

In other blogs, I've talked about negative non-professional  reviews for my books on Goodreads and amazon. As I go back through my archives, I can't find a single negative professional review on print, not one. As for online, in publications, I've received one harsh review from a fantasy site for my second book, Crater County. That was my fault. I was at a writing conference in Phoenix and I pestered the reviewer to review my book. He hated it because it wasn't really a fantasy book.

There must be something about Arizona, when Crater County was selected by the Tucson/Pima County library as one of the Southwest Books of the year, they also gave me a negative write-up despite putting me on the master list.  I re-read Crater County, they were probably right.

That was nine years ago, official reviewers have been kind to my words since then.

But back to Roger Ebert. I was a fan of his show when it aired on Saturday afternoons. I usually agreed with Roger. I would sometimes go to a movie on Sunday, purely on the strength of his thumb alone. I must admit that he would have hated my student film. Hell, I hated my student film.

There was a great quote in the New York Times, where when he described Rob Schneider's film, Deuce Bigelow, he stated; "that although Rob Schneider might (in my opinion) have made a bad movie, he is not a bad man, and no doubt tried to make a wonderful movie, and hopes to again.”

That reminds me of what my professor at the time stated after our student film's disastrous premiere. The late Frank Peirson, "Go and make great films." I never did. I was scared.

While I did write for TV for a few months, I never wrote another screenplay that was made into a film. Perhaps I was scared of what people like Roger Ebert would think.

In retrospect, I probably should have kept writing screenplays. Still, there's something about writing novels because you have a greater deal of control. So Roger, hopefully you have a kindle in heaven and you can download my new novel Rattlesnake Wedding.
Hopefully you'll give it a thumbs up...

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Take the Rattlesnake Wedding Tour

For literate jetsetters looking for a shorter flight, Jonathan Miller’s novel, Rattlesnake Wedding comes complete with a travel guide. Readers can follow Dan and Luna on their romantic journeys through New Mexico’s land of enchantment. The book is also available on kindle for the easy flight from the coasts to Albuquerque’s Sunport.

Rattlesnake Wedding offers several possible trysts for an Albuquerque weekend. Dan and Luna have their wedding reception at the Hotel Parq Central’s rooftop Apothecary bar. The bar, a favorite of the film making set shooting on location.
The hotel, a renovated hospital, is just blocks away from the Grove restaurant, a place to spot Bryan Cranston of TV’s Breaking Bad. After shopping Nob Hill’s eclectic shops, the jetsetter might try an artisan pizza for a late lunch at Farina where Dan drinks the potent local Marble Brew with a young, hip crowd. Dan and Luna held their engagement dinner at the High Finance restaurant on the Sandia Crest, at the end of the world’s longest aerial tramway. There’s a coupon for a free dessert included in the book.

For more adventurous souls, Dan and Luna took several day trips out of Albuquerque. A nice day loop heads up to Santa Fe, then to Los Alamos with a return on Route 4. The route takes you to the heart of Valles Caldera National Preserve, an unspoiled verdant valley reminiscent of New Zealand’s Lord of the Rings country. Route 4 next takes you through aspen forests to Jemez State Monument with some mysterious Native American ruins that Dan feared might be haunted.
After Route 4 turn onto Route 550, you arrive at the Santa Ana Indian reservation which straddles the Rio Grande River. In addition to a modern casino, Dana and Luna dined at the Corn Maiden restaurant at the Hyatt Tamaya resort. The Corn Maiden, an adobe gem, features nouvelle Native American cuisine with exotic dishes like Sratyi Tsatya and k’uchinak’u.

Jetsetters with a week or more to spend can follow Dan and Luna even deeper into the heart of the west. Las Vegas is a long day’s drive away on Interstate 40, with possible exits at Gallup, Meteor Crater, Painted Desert, Petrified Forest and of course the Grand Canyon.
To the southeast along Route 285, Dan and Luna visited Roswell with its UFO museum, and then down to the amazing Carlsbad Caverns. Those who spend their lives in the air might like going a few thousand feet underground for a few hours. Private tours are available.  

New Mexico is the land of enchantment of course, but Dan nicknames it the land of entrapment. Once you’re here, you want to stay. Dan and Luna get married in the atrium of Albuquerque’s modern District Court. The atrium has a view out to the 10,000 foot Sandia Mountains. The book has contact info for the courthouse.
After you’ve seen the land of enchantment, you might want to have a rattlesnake wedding of your own.

Rattlesnake Wedding, Cool Titles, 2012. Available on amazon on kindle and trade paperback.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Dyslexics Anonymous or Spell is for Children

My faithful readers have learned one thing, I can't spell very well for an award winning novelist. I also miss punctuation. It is time to make a confession. I am a high functioning dyslexic.

Dyslexia is a spectrum like a rainbow. If the colors of the rainbow are red orange yellow green blue indigo violet. I would put myself at yellow. For me however, if someone were to mix green and blue, I probably wouldn't notice. Well, I would notice on the third time I went through it. I've learned to compensate.

According to my mother, I had the highest math score the year I applied to Albuquerque Academy. However, she says that they couldn't read my hand written entrance essay. I don't know if that's true because I received a D in math. We use hand write papers in cursive back then, so needless to say I did set the world on fire. I wonder if all the kids who won spelling bees went onto write novels.

Perhaps the reason I did so well on standardized tests was that the choices were vertical rather than horizontal
rather than ABCD or ABDC as I would see it. That's just a theory, but it does make sense.

When I was in college at Cornell, a professor told me that I had an amazing term paper, but I was a horrible speller. I lied, he didn't actually told me that I had an amazing term paper.

When my first novel, Rattlesnake Lawyer was published, there were several hundred mistakes in it. Villalobos is spelled Villabobos. I now pay someone to edit my stuff. Spell check has changed my life. But there's no spell check for every situation.

So parents out there, if your kid is not doing well on the spelling bee, just remember they might grow up to be a nvolist.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Rock Chalk Book Talk

I am giving a talk on Tuesday night April 16 at Southwest Writers. I've had some incredible moments speaking at SWW, but in today's blog I'm going to talk about the worst talk of my life.

When I was in college at Cornell, I took a class in Communications,Arts in the Agriculture College. I used to joke that the communications department was in the Ag school because it was originally there to train livestock auctioneers. For some reason, I decided to speak quickly. It worked. My first few topics went extremely well and was looking at an A.

With law school on the line, a three credit A would probably get me into Duke or Georgetown. While other people chose non-political topics like "Why you should support the opera?" and "Libraries are good," I went all out. My topic "The Secretary of the Department of Interior should resign." It was political, it was edgy, it was passionate. I was swinging for the fences.

I did considerable research on the topic and learning about mineral leases under the Secretary's realm. I learned about the difference between sweet crude oil and sour crude oil, which led to my opening joke. "Before researching off shore oil policy, I thought sweet and sour gas was something you got at a Chinese restaurant." Well, it seemed funny at the time.

And then on the day of the speech, the Secretary resigned. I rewrote my speech on the fly. "He should resign and he did resign, so that's good. Really. I guess so. Ummm....yes indeed. Really good. I'm glad. Thank you, the end. In conclusion, sweet gas is good, sour gas is bad. The end."

Needless to say, if my talk was an oil well, it would have spilled. That three minute speech cost me an A and brought me down to a B-/. I was waitlisted at Georgetown and Duke law schools.

My topic on Tuesday April 16 is "How to turn your career into a novel." I won't be making any sweet and sour gas jokes.

Monday, April 1, 2013

April Cruel

I don't play April Fool's jokes, but I do want to tell you about the cruelest thing I ever did in my literary career. It did take place in April, but not on April Fool's Day. Do I regret it?

I was one of five authors signing at a booth at the LA Times Book festival several years ago. A man was making the rounds, going from booth to booth, lugging around a thousand page handwritten manuscript. He bore a stunning resemblance to Jack Torrance, the author portrayed by Jack Nicholson in the Shining.

Jack started with the author on the left of the booth. He told the author he had a manuscript and wanted the author to publish it. The poor author was taken aback. She was an elderly woman who wrote "cozy" mysteries with recipes in them. She politely explained that she was a self-published author not a publisher. I wanted to have sympathy with Jack, but he was so brusque with the woman, that he demanded that she publish the book for him. I've heard of aggressive panhandling, but this was aggressive publishing. She literally ran away, and Jack went to the next author, who was an elderly man who wrote mysteries which he pitched as Scoobie Doo for the over seventy set. Jack was equally rude to the man, when the man explained he couldn't help him. Jack looked at him as if he was willing to break down his door and shout "Here's Johnny!"

After the other authors hid at the back of the booth, Jack came to me and plopped the thousand pages in front of me. I took out my check book. "I heard your pitch," I said. "Would a hundred thousand dollars be enough of an advance?"

"Seriously?" Jack asked.I looked at the thousand pages that were typed on an ancient typewriter, and then embellished with red scribbling. "We can feed it into our machine and it will automatically edit it for you. Today's Saturday. Is it all right if it comes out on Monday?"

"Seriously?" Jack asked again.

"Are you free on Tuesday?" I asked. "I can get you a TV interview on the Today show."

Jack was literally panting with excitement. I pretended to write a check. "Who should I make the check out to?" I looked at the other people in the booth who were huddling near the back. They were genuinely afraid of the man. Without another word, I took the check book and put it back  in my pocket. "I'm just yanking your chain," I said. "You were rude to these other authors. Get out of here before someone calls security."

He left and didn't bother anyone else.  I do feel bad about it. Who knows? Perhaps he did sell the book and might someday be rude to me in ten years when I make the rounds.