Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Today's Mystery/Thriller Author Guest: J. L. Abramo


As promised yesterday, fellow mystery/thriller author J. L. Abramo is visiting my blog today. To read his bio and see his photo, please page down to yesterday's post. The photo above is the cover for his latest release, Gravesend, about which Crimespree Magazine said:

"In our top five for best of 2012 is J. L. Abramo's Gravesend. The discovery of a boy's body on the roof of an apartment building sets off a chain of events that will tie together a group of people in profound ways. Homicide Detectives Samson, Vota and Murphy of Brooklyn's 61st Precinct link the body to that of another boy, with no solid clues. As each detective works the case, each is also torn by other cases and other traumas, some very close to home. This is a remarkable book that will tie you in knots as you wait to see how it all plays out. A truly exceptional novel."

Gravesend is a stand-alone crime thriller set in the Brooklyn neighborhood of the same name where the author was born and raised. A crime novel on the surface, the book evolved into its present incarnation when Abramo finally understood what he was humbly attempting to explore...namely how the manner in which human beings handle adversity will ultimately define them as persons...good or evil...weak or strong...fair or unjust...loved or despised...admired or feared.

Sounds like a great read to me! Below is J. L. Abramo's guest article. He is running a free book contest for those who comment with a question or remark for him. A randomly selected commenter will win a free autographed copy of the trade paperback version of Gravesend. So fire away and good luck!


 Like Trying to Catch Water In a Net

My simple answer to the question, “What inspired you to start writing?” is reading.

Reading books, whether fiction or non-fiction, has always offered me the opportunity to expand my knowledge and my sensitivity while doubling as a terrific source of entertainment.  I have always found writing to be my preferred tool of expression and creativity, the instrument I wished to master.  I delved into poetry, song writing, journalism, short stories, and ultimately book length fiction.

The summer of 2000 found this Italian-Russian Brooklyn boy working in an office in Columbia, South Carolina.  A fish out of water.  In the evenings I would write, working on my first full length novel.  And then one day it was complete.  Now what?

It was literally impossible to get a publisher to look at the work unsolicited.  So I was forced to go the prescribed route, attempting to find a Literary Agent who would champion my novel.  All of the agencies I researched would only accept query letters; they would not even take a peek at a chapter or two.  If I imagined I could write a good book, I learned quickly that I could not write a convincing query letter.  The responses were short form letters which all said basically the same thing.  Thanks but no thanks.

When Van Morrison was asked what would you do if you never sold a song or a record he answered without hesitation that he would not stop working at it because, he confessed, “I can’t not write.” Vincent van Gogh said “If you hear a voice within you say 'you cannot paint,' then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.”

Determined to thwart discouragement, I did the only thing I could think to do.  I sat in front of an archaic Dell desktop PC and began to fill in a blank page.  I wanted to write something unlike what I had written before.  I wished to take my mind off rejection.  Without much premeditation it began as a first-person narrative set in the office of a San Francisco private eye and displayed humor that had been absent from my earlier efforts.  I wrote ten pages.

How a new work of fiction begins is as important to the writer as to the reader. For the writer, the opening pages are the seeds that will hopefully grow into a personally satisfying and coherent literary journey.  They are the cornerstone. For the reader, the opening pages are the hook that will hopefully inspire the fellow traveler to continue on that journey.  When I face the blank first page I approach it as a quest (often not yet fully realized) and try in time to reach some hidden treasure by the end of the excursion; with many detours and side-steps along the way.

I do not know the final destination when I begin. The characters are created and developed as composites of people I have known, including myself, and by human reactions to events.  The plot develops as a consequence of how these characters react and interact and is secondary to the characters, since it is the people in a story that have always interested me most as a reader. And, I get to know these characters more and more clearly as they move through the story.  In a series, such as the Jake Diamond books, there is the opportunity for the writer, as well as for the reader, to learn more about repeating characters in subsequent installments.  Getting to know my characters is far less challenging than discovering the need, when the plot demands, to end the life of a character I have come to know and have grown truly fond of, an episode which is often as surprising to me as to the reader, and one which may not please all readers.

Plotting is extremely challenging, but when the theme of the work finally dawns on me, when at last I understand what it is that I am really writing about, it provides direction. When I finally discover where the story is headed, I often find it necessary to backtrack in order to locate the path I need to be on to get there.  But at the start, when I begin, my books have always begun with a scene, one that will hopefully be recalled throughout the book, by myself and by the reader, as the circumstance that launched the expedition.

A few days after the barrage of rejection letters, I was surfing the Internet (more like rowing back in the days of dial-up) when I stumbled across the St. Martin’s Press/Private Eye Writers of America contest for Best First Private Eye Novel. Interesting coincidence. I decided immediately that I would finish a private eye novel and submit it before the deadline, which was less than a month away.  Apparently for the characters and the dialogue, and certainly not for the convoluted plot, Catching Water in a Net was chosen for the award.  The prize was publication by St. Martin’s Minotaur (after a considerable amount of editing) and an advance against royalties.  Holy smoke!

Exactly one year later I received a final hardback copy in the mail.  It was a wonder to behold and a thrill to hold.  The novel was released on the first of October in 2001, less than a month after 9/11, making my first Bouchercon World Mystery Convention both an exhilarating and sober occasion.  St. Martin’s Minotaur gave me two more shots before deciding that the Jake Diamond series, though well received by critics and readers alike, was not what they considered a cash cow.  I continued to write, of course. What other choice did I have? But the work seemed destined to remain out of the public realm.  And then, the net held water once again when Down and Out Books reached out to me and gave Jake Diamond and J. L. Abramo a second shot.

Over the course of eighteen months, Down and Out Books re-issued Catching Water in a Net, Clutching at Straws and Counting to Infinity as eBooks and published the stand-alone crime thriller Gravesend in eBook and trade paperback.  A prequel to the Jake Diamond series will be released in early 2013, and I am currently putting the finishing touches on a fourth Jake Diamond novel.

We write, we paint, we sing because we need to.  And if we are persistent, and honest, and lucky, perhaps we can catch water in a net and reach an audience. We keep clutching and counting.  And we keep writing.


How inspiring! Okay, readers, fire away and good luck in the free book contest.

23 comments:

Writer to be said...

This is a must read. I agree that the final destination is never known until we get there. We write to the end

J. L. Abramo said...

Please visit www.jlabramo.com for more about the author and the books...with links to Facebook...Twitter...Book Pulse...and the GRAVESEND Book Trailer...

Paula Gail Benson said...

Dear Joe,
I remember you spending time in Columbia and participating in our writers' group, the Inkplots. You gave me some very helpful advice in my short story writing. We still meet. I will have to tell the others to follow your success. Best wishes,
Paula Gail Benson

Paula Gail Benson said...

Beth,
Thanks so much for this post.
Paula

J. L. Abramo said...

Thank you Paula...please do send my best...and encourage members to keep me informed about their work at jakediamondmysteries@gmail.com
...and keep writing...

marja said...

Terrific post, and you are an inspirational success story. Thank you!
Marja McGraw

J. L. Abramo said...

Thank you, Marja...it is often said of lotteries...if you don't play...you can't win...so I always tell other writers...keep playing...
(I must be a robot...I can hardly read those numbers and letters.)

Donnell Ann Bell said...

I absolutely love your work and your persistence Mr. Abramo. Congratulations and wonderful blog.

Irene Bennett Brown said...

This post is a keeper. Thanks so much Joe and Beth.

Velda Brotherton said...

It's always so much fun to have someone write things you've always felt were true. The plot evolves with the characters and the location. Thanks for that and since I've not read any of your books, I'm going to start now.

J. L. Abramo said...

Yes. And as the plot evolves it can begin to turn the tables and make certain demands of the characters...even drastic ones...I am wondering if any of you have had a similar experience...where the evolution of the plot...often influenced by a particular character...makes eliminating that character necessary...and if such a decision has caused your readers to voice disappointment...I am sure you all remember Paul Sheldon and Annie Wilkes...

Prentiss Garner said...

Never give up!!!!

Beth Groundwater said...

I'm loving all these comments, folks! Keep them coming through tomorrow to enter the contest for the free autographed copy of GRAVESEND!

J. L. Abramo said...

This is fun...thanks Beth for the shot...I'm getting out my magnifying glass so I can read the code below and post this comment...

Eric said...

Joe,
Great blog, bro. As you know, not only am I your publisher, but I'm a huge fan first and foremost. I bought the first 3 Jake Diamond books when they were released and am humbled at having the opportunity to make your books available to the reading community. GRAVESEND is fantastic story that builds with each passing page. I hope everyone enjoys the ride.
---Eric
www.DownAndOutBooks.com

J. L. Abramo said...

Thank you Eric...and thanks to Down&Out Books for rescuing the Jake Diamond trilogy from the dreaded fate of the remainder bin and allowing GRAVESEND to finally see the light of day...unfortunatly...I am afraid you are not eligible for a free book...but I really appreciate your visit here today...

Amanda Ray said...

Sounds great! I'm looking forward to reading a "new" author-

Susan F. Craft said...

Joe,
I was a member of Inkplots when you met with us in Columbia, SC. Congratulations on your novels and good for you with your persistence. I'll be 65 this year and have been writing for over 30 years. Finally, I had a book published in 2011. I can't believe the positive reviews the novel has received. I wrote a sequel, which is represented by a literary agent. So, when you speak of persistence, I understand. Best wishes for future successes.

Paula Gail Benson said...

Susan's excellent book, The Chamomile, set in Revolutionary War Charleston, SC, also won the 2011 Fall Okra Pick from SIBA!

J. L. Abramo said...

Thank you Amanda and congratulations Susan...and it is great to hear that the Inkplots are still at it in Columbia...Susan and Paula please give my best to Carla and Bert and the rest...
(P.S. I spelled 'unfortunately' incorrectly in a previous post...where is the spell check on this thing?)

J. L. Abramo said...

Thanks to all who visited and commented...and to Beth for hosting the dialogue...Paula Gail Benson is the winner of a signed copy of GRAVESEND...Paula please email me at: jakediamondmysteries@gmail.com so we can arrange for you to receive the book...and to all...please drop in on my website from time to time for the latest news or just to say hey...adios...

Anonymous said...

Loved this .

though most of the books mentioned here are almost non available in my country ( india)

J. L. Abramo said...

Try here:
http://www.junglee.com/Gravesend-J-L-Abramo/dp/1937495345/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1359128428&sr=1-1
Thanks for the post...