Sunday, November 16, 2014

First draft done!

This morning I completed the first draft of The Riddle of Billy Gibbs, the sixth Steve Martinez novel. It came in at 65,600 words and by the time I'm done with the second draft (which will go out to the reading corps for their criticisms) it may approach 70,000.

The problem is that the second half of the novel is mostly breakneck plotting. It needs some supporting furniture—observations on character, setting and culture—to give it substance.

But that shouldn't be too hard to find. Upper Michigan is rich in history and memorable folks.

My target for the second iteration is mid-December.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Bringing things up to date

Tracking the Beast, the fifth Steve Martinez novel, is deep into production at Five Star Mysteries, and I expect to see the jacket art as well as copy-edited manuscript later this month.

Meanwhile, the sixth mystery has passed the 200-page mark and is nearing the end. Just two chapters to go, and I'm hoping the first draft will be done by Thanksgiving.

 I expect the length of the first draft to come up a bit short of the 65,000-word minimum, but I will need to go back and flesh out a number of characters as well as give more detail to some of the action. That ought to bring the final word count to close to 70,000.

And No. 6 now has a working title: The Riddle of Billy Gibbs.

Saturday, September 27, 2014


Today I finished assembling ancillary materials for Tracking the Beast, the upcoming Steve Martinez mystery, and sent them (together with the developmental-edited manuscript) to my publisher, Five Star Mysteries.

The ancillaries were jacket copy, catalog copy, review quotes for the back cover, an excerpt from the novel designed to whet reader interest, and a detailed synopsis of the action for the jacket designer. All this stuff used to be done in-house at conventional publishers, but Five Star aims its wares at the library and online markets, not bookstores. It expects its authors to be more involved in the publishing process than most others are.

Word quickly came back that Tracking the Beast will go into production on Monday. The manuscript will be copy edited, the interior design of the book done, and a jacket created. Soon I'll have a publication date.

Meanwhile, here's the excerpt I plucked from the manuscript:

The jefe nodded. “Okay, Diego. Do it.”
Diego dragged the bundle to the lip of the hatch and with a firm shove dropped it into the void. A short but sharp clang rose from the steel of the hopper bottom twelve feet below.
That’s not dope, Diego thought. That would have been a thud. That’s something else. And I think I know what it is.
“That did sound funny,” the man said, as if echoing Diego’s dismay. “Better take a look down there and make sure everything’s okay.”
The jefe handed Diego the penlight. “Go on, have a look.”
Reluctantly Diego took the penlight and pointed it into the dusty interior of the car, leaning into the open hatch to see better.
“Don’t see nothing,” he said. “Wait a minute. Paper broke open. Something leak.”
As cold metal suddenly pressed into the back of his neck, Diego realized the truth, and with that epiphany his world exploded in a flash of brilliant white.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Catalog copy

The fifth Steve Martinez novel, Tracking the Beast, has survived its second pass through the hands of an editor—this time, the developmental editor (the first was the acquiring editor)—and is awaiting a third pass, this time the tender ministrations of a copy editor. Meanwhile, I am charged with producing some other stuff, such as copy for the catalog. Here is a draft:

"When the skeleton of a little girl tumbles out of a hopper car in Omaha, Porcupine County Sheriff Steve Martinez knows he has a troublesome case on his hands. The car had sat for years on a railroad siding deep in the woods of the sheriff’s bailiwick.

"The case gets even more vexing when three more bodies turn up at the siding. Two are young girls, but one is a grown man shot in the back of the head.

"After Steve and his comrades sweat the initial spadework, the heavy-footed FBI moves in, as it always does in cases of child abduction and murder.

"The Feds focus on a single Unsub they think is both rapist and killer. But when more adult bodies turn up in hopper cars elsewhere, Steve deduces that the killer—or killers—may have hired someone else to dispose of them. Catching him, Steve thinks, will lead to the truth.

"With the help of state troopers, deputies, tribal police, game wardens, the Ontario Provincial Police and even a couple of Detroit mobsters, Steve doggedly goes on the track of what the cops come to call “the Beast”—although the FBI warns him to be careful not to tread on the Feds’ toes.

"This intricate police procedural, set in the beautiful semiwilderness of Upper Michigan, involves not only a high-tech chase around Lake Superior but also the revival of a clever World War II military deception.

"In the end Steve gets his man—and an unsettling surprise."

Readers, I hope this whets your interest.

Monday, September 15, 2014

It's on the way!

Tracking the Beast, the fifth Steve Martinez novel, is now officially in the hopper at Five Star Mysteries. The contracts arrived today and immediately were signed and returned. A publication date has not yet been set, but I expect it will be sometime next spring.

Next on the agenda is a reading by the developmental editor to ferret out impossibilities and inconsistencies, then a thorough combing and shaking out by a copy editor. Meanwhile, an artist will be designing a jacket for the hardcover.

And now to return to the manuscript of the sixth novel, as yet untitled and about two-thirds done.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

What's in a color?

Letter from a reader:

"I recently found a copy of Zephyr (perfect condition, with the original cover) in a small book shop here on the Central Coast of California.  The bottom portion of the book was buried, so I could only see the title, but the color told me exactly what it would be about.  No, I an not a “foamer” or an FRN, just somebody who never lost my boyhood love of trains, and who recognized that particular shade of yellow. 

"I really think I was born about 50 years too late, and would have loved to travel when the great name trains took Americans on trips where the journey was just as big as the destination.  Unfortunately, I don’t get to travel by train much, but your book has made me want to take a train trip soon and go somewhere just to see what’s there out the window.  

"Thank you for a great read, and thank you for being such a great observer of things and people.  I am sorry that I didn’t know your work before, but I will be sure to look for your other books in the future."

Cheers, and Happy (T)Rails,
Fred Potthast, Cayucos, California

Truth to tell, I never thought about the color used on the cover of the original 1994 hardcover of Zephyr. My editor at Times Books, Paul Golob, said it was chosen by the art department because yellow stands out sharply on tables of new issues at bookstores. Mr. Potthast's letter sent me a-Googling, and it turns out that that particular "Armour Yellow" was used on both Union Pacific R.R. and Southern Pacific Ry. passenger streamliners in the 1950s and 1960s, and is well known to railfans. The UP still uses that shade on all its freight locomotives today.

By the way, Zephyr: Tracking a Dream Across America, now in a third edition updated as an e-book in 2012, is my best-selling ebook. Railroad books are never blockbuster best sellers, but there's still a devoted audience for them.

AUGUST 13: Mr. Potthast sends this reply: "To me it looked like UP Yellow, but not freshly shopped.  It looks sun-faded and covered with dust and diesel smoke, like the SD40 helpers that sit in the San Luis Obispo rail yard waiting to push freights up the Cuesta Grade.  Because you mentioned it, I looked up the SP yellow color on the interweb (Wikipedia—Santa Fe Southern Pacific Merger), and yes, I guess maybe the color does look more like the yellow on the SPSF "Kodachrome" merger paint scheme.  Regardless, the color choice for the dust cover may not have been intended to mimic either of those, but it sure seemed that way to me."

Saturday, August 2, 2014


Tracking the Beast has been officially adopted by Five Star Mysteries, an offer has been made and accepted, and contracts are being drawn up. Publication date not yet set, but I'm thinking sometime next spring.

Meanwhile, I'm 80 pages into a sixth Steve Martinez novel, and if all goes well and I don't run into writer's block, it'll be ready to send to the publisher next March or April.