You've got to go do this (category: fun)

Perseus Books Group is going to publish Book: The Sequel (all proceeds going to the National Book Foundation), and you're going to help write it.

This is probably the most fun you can have as a book lover -- or hater -- today:

Write the first line of the sequel to a classic or well-known book. Go check out the examples, and then submit your own.

I submitted three so far - one for a sequel to Pride & Prejudice, one for a sequel to The Great Gatsby, and one for a sequel to Les Miserables.

Pass this URL around -- you and your friends are going to have fun with this. And feel free to post what books you chose here. Thanks!

Ask Me Thursday Q&A

Every week at Facebook, I have "Ask Me Thursday," where other writers and readers
ask me any questions they want about the writing life. Here are some of these
questions & answers, with the hope that they'll be of some help to you if you're a
writer -- or of interest as a reader.

I've edited from the originals to both keep the asker somewhat anonymous and the
answers as much to the point as possible. I'll post more of these each week, so
if you have "Ask Me Thursday" questions on any Thursday, feel free to post them in
comments here beneath the Q&A. Thank you.

* * * * *

Terri asked:

How do you keep your attention focused?

Douglas Clegg answered:

I'm focused because I'm interested in the story itself. It doesn't really matter
that much if it'll ever be published (although, coincidentally, they all seem
to get published at one time or another.)

I'd write this stuff whether or not anyone else ever saw my work. And
when I've finished something, I want everyone to read it.

* * * *

Trista asked:

How much do you read each work day?
(And has there been anything recently you've particularly liked?)

Douglas Clegg answered:

I try to begin a novel every week or two. I don't always finish, if
the book doesn't hold my interest. Recently I finished One Hundred
Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I'm currently reading T
he House of Wittgenstein by Alexander Waugh. I love 'em both.

In between I'm keeping up the research on the novella I'm finishing up
called The Innocents at the Museum of Antiquities. That means, several
books on Mexican history, art, culture, etc. Some are on my Kindle and
some are spread out over my desk, including a really good one that
Mick Schwartz (my friend Matt Schwartz's dad) gave to me called
The Flayed God: The Mythology of Mesoamerica.

* * * *

Richard asked:

What was your first writing machine?

Douglas Clegg answered:

I was too young to remember the first one -- I was about eight years
old when I used it. It was a kid-sized typewriter that was red. The ink also was red

After that, it was my dad's Smith-Corona electric typewriter, which was
very cool at the time. It hummed and clacked.

I had a Royal once -- when they were ancient -- but I never could change
the ribbon on it.

Then, I got an IBM Selectric II in a good cheap deal from my friend Sheryl's
office. Sheryl has gone on to be a major TV writer/exec and novelist, as well.
We lived nextdoor to each other at age 5 and then ran into each other again in
our college years and later drove across country to L.A. and pursued our
dreams in our 20s.

I mention that because I find it interesting that two little kids who lived side by
side at 5 happened to grow up and publish novels.

After that, it was Kaypro and Wordstar (I loved them both), and then on to the
rest of the replaceable and forgettable PCs and laptops I've had.

* * * *

Madelon asked:

When you are writing, do you read on subject or stay away?

Douglas Clegg answered:

Madelon - I read everything I can that interests me all the time. So when I'm writing,
I'll read a lot. But it's usually nonfiction.

To balance this intellectual pursuit, I tend to watch trashy T.V. shows by the end of
the day. Right now, The Housewives of Manhattan or whatever it's called has
become my new gothic viewing.

* * * *

Jorge asked:

What's the thing you like the most about writing (doing research, being by
yourself, etc.) and what's the thing you hate the most about being a writer (editing your
material before giving it to your editor, letting go of your stories and thinkin' you could've
done better, etc.)?

Douglas Clegg answered:

The same things I hate about writing are the things I love once I solve the problems
of the writing I'm doing.

So, the other day I felt like jumping off a cliff over a problem in the novella I've been
working on. Then, once I solved the problem I felt that it was the best problem to
have figured out.

I think all of life is problem-solving -- constantly -- and so what often seems dreadful
and unmanageable becomes wonderful once you put your mind to it and truly focus.
I think this is part of discipline in writing.

I love research because I only research what I already love finding out about or discover
that I love, anyway. I love being by myself (my spouse is at home 24/7, as well, and
brainstorms with me the way a great editor would, too), I absolutely love editing and
revising. I think if I have one dislike, it's simply those days, weeks, months or seconds
before I solve whatever problem is inherent in the work. At the time, the problem feels

* * * *

Harry asked: where is the publishing industry headed? I see talented men and women
desperately trying thrillers, YA, all kinds of things to stay afloat…I know you're likely to
say "write what you want," but curious if you've had this experience or care to share
some observations.

Douglas Clegg answered:

I'm not in publishing so I don't know where it's headed. It has changed a lot in the
past 20 years, as has bookselling. But I do know that a publisher will always want
a good story, well-told.

I always believe in writing exactly what interests me to write. And I've been lucky enough
to do it for 20 years -- so far. Knock wood.

I just think if a novelist doesn't know what he or she wants to write -- and instead
writes completely for a market -- the writer is not serving the novel or the world or

Most of the fun of writing, to me, is writing exactly what I want to write and demanding
as much from myself as I can, in the process.

Regarding freezing up, not sure if that's happened to me. = I spent the past 2 years
writing a novel very slowly and methodically as well as worked on about three or four
novellas which are not quite out yet -- but will be soon, beginning this summer.

If you come at writing from the idea of art, it will be what it needs to be. If you worry
about markets, you're writing someone else's book. Some writers can do it. It's not
for me.

I should clarify the statement: "If you come at writing from the idea of art..." -- what I mean
by "art" is the "art of writing" rather than "the business of writing."

There's the business of being a writer, but in terms of writing fiction, I believe -- when it
works -- the good stuff comes from an approach of "I am creating something using craft
and intelligence and imagination, not looking at a publishing schedule and seeing where
I can shoehorn my way into it."

I don't think I'm an artiste, but I am a craftsman and a bricklayer and a dramatist and a
storyteller -- all in the writing. And each of those is an art.

* * * * * * *

In answering your questions here, I hope I'm making what I do a bit more transparent.
Sometimes a writing career is sustained out of just wanting to be able to sit in a room all
day and write stories. That's the case with mine.

It's not always fun, and it's often difficult and painful. But I committed to this when I was
about eight and it's grown since then -- I doubt I'll be giving it up anytime soon. I think once
writing fiction becomes second-nature to a person, it's something that doesn't go away
or diminish very easily. It grows with use.


Douglas Clegg

Movie: Mermaid

Mermaid -- or more accurately, "Rusalka," the original title --  is a Russian import, a beautiful, whimsical and ultimately dark tale of a girl who is born with a magical sense of life and luck.

Alisa (or Alice, depending on subtitles) reveals that she was born from a mythic mating of a sailor and a Venus-on-the-half-shell version of her mother in the sea. Alisa grows up with a view of the magical realism around her as she and her mother and elderly grandmother move from the seaside to the the big city.

In the city, her sense of wishing things to be true and of bestowing luck itself becomes both good and bad for her. When she meets a man on whom she develops a crush she begins to confer her magical sense of the world to him.

That's not the best write-up of the movie you might read. It's a funny, quirky --  and lovely -- story of the absurdity of life as played out from a singular viewpoint: a girl to whom life seems, itself, a wonderful game. I loved it. It ends with a shock, but it's a surprisingly good ending.

The young actresses who play Alisa (first, as a very little girl and then as a teenager) are pitch perfect.  There's a Fellini-esque quality to the movie that never quite goes into the overblown circus of the Italian filmmaker's realm but gets near its edges. 

Highly recommended.

Here's a movie trailer for it, which will give you a better sense of it:

Movie: Left Bank

I watched a movie tonight called Left Bank -- a gothic horror thriller, basically, disguised at first as a sexy tale of love and mystery. I say "sexy" because the lead actress is naked through a lot of this movie -- and she and her boyfriend practice various positions before the movie's half over.'s tastefully done.

And integral to the story.

I mean it.

Left Bank is a Belgian film from director Pieter van Hees and the lead actress, Eline Kuppens, does a great turn as the Rosemaryesque heroine of the story. When young competitive runner Marie meets archer Bobby, the chemistry is undeniable. They embark on a love affair. While resting up from some health issues, she moves in with him -- and it's in his apartment in the area called the "Left Bank" that the inklings of something dreadful begin.

A woman named Hella disappeared months before, and the mystery of her disappearance becomes a source of morbid fascination for young Marie as she discovers secrets of the apartments where she lives.

I can't tell too much more without giving away the farm, but there are ritual occult dealings, a possible cult, pagan doings, hints of witchcraft -- and Marie's crazy mother who starts figuring out something's wrong with the Left Bank a bit earlier than her daughter does.

Despite a little confusion toward the end, it has a great ending that puts a spin on the story I didn't expect. I enjoyed it. It doesn't have the brilliance of The Others or Let the Right One In, but it was enjoyable. Not a scarefest, exactly, but a quiet tale of ancient mysteries in the modern world.

Here's the trailer for the movie:


Douglas Clegg

Email Newsletter Marketing for Novelists: The Basics

Email Newsletter Marketing for Novelists: The Basics

I've been asked about this before and a reader (who is also a writer) just asked again in email. So I'm answering here in hopes it'll help some of you who write books. I believe that any novelist who is online and has books coming out in bookstores should be doing this.

Always keep "free" in mind. People pay for their internet service, they pay for books they buy, they pay for all kinds of things. In your newsletter, bring free to them. Free information, free screensavers, free stories, free advice, free cool stuff, basically.  My friend Christine Feehan calls them "goodies," and I like that term.

Check out Christine Feehan's newsletter at some point at -- she runs it really well and has all kinds of freebies there.

1. Go set up a newsletter in one form or another via Yahoogroups, Topica, ConstantContact or any number of other services. My advice is: if you have a very limited budget, use and then later on, take your group to a paid service. On Yahoogroups, make sure you check off the choice to make it an "Announcement" group. If you're a programming whiz, you can set up your own on your computer. I just have no idea how to do that.

For a more professional look, a paid service is the way to go. I use's paid service. It can run more than $100 a month at times, but it's worth it to me. I've heard is good, too. I'm sure there are several good ones out there.

You can also use an RSS Feed, post your newsletter at your site, and people can "Subscribe" there. I just haven't done that, so I can't quite advise anyone on it.

Subscribe to my newsletter at and you'll see how Topica's paid service delivers it to you when the next one arrives. Plus, you get some goodies.

2. Put a sign-up form on your website with a "Please subscribe to my free newsletter..." and then add any additional text you want to put in there. My advice is offer them something free -- a chapter excerpt, an original story to read, a reprint, a screensaver...something a reader might want from a writer.

3. Decide how often you want to put out the newsletter. I used to think it was better to send it more frequently, but I've come to the conclusion that the fewer that go out per year, the better -- unless you genuinely have things to offer your subscribers all the time or have events they need to know about often.

I used to send the newsletter out weekly, but truthfully I didn't always have much valuable information (although for awhile there, I did have a "get a free bookstore gift certificate" contest each week). Now, I only send out an email newsletter when I have specific news, offers, or upcoming events. When a serial novel runs for my subscribers, the newsletter will go out frequently. At other times, it will go out when a new free ebook goes up, when a new novel is announced or comes out in the stores, or when an event's happening I think readers will want to hear about.

4. Do not sign people up to your newsletter -- ever. Even if they ask. Instead, show them where to sign up on your website so they can do it themselves.

5. My advice -- ignore if you wish -- is to make your newsletter as appealing as you can to anyone who hears about it.

It is your communication channel to the people most  likely to want to hear from you regularly about your writing -- these readers are important to you.

My experience is that they're a good group of readers, too, and as you hear from them over the years, you'll learn a lot about them from what they tell you about their lives and the books they're reading. And you'll have valuable insight into how readers approach your fiction.

5. I don't care if you have 10 subscribers or 100,000 -- no matter how large or small your subscriber base is, it'll keep growing over time so long as you treat them well and don't abuse the privilege of writing to them now and then. Each reader is important.

6. Keep your list clean. What this means is check for bounces, disabled accounts, old email addresses that are effectively "dead," because someone changed their email service, etc. Most paid services have an easy way to do it, and I suspect that has a way to handle this, too.

7. Do not abuse the subscribers. Do not send bulk invites from your Facebook to them. Instead, send a newsletter and let them know you're on Facebook and you'd like them to Friend you there. Do not ever use your subscriber list for anything other than sending them the email newsletter -- exactly what they've given permission for you to do when they subscribed.

No tricks, no abuse, no sharing your list with anyone.

All right, this is just a basic outline of setting up an using an email newsletter -- free to your subscribers -- to get word out about your books.

Go subscribe to various writer's newsletters to see what they're doing. Some of the writers are very personable and chatty, others simply announce a book when it comes out with a brief, nice note. Still others get elaborate.

The more valuable the information you offer readers, the more subscribers you'll get. I offer free ebooks, stories, screensavers, contests -- and as of the summer of 2009, a new serial novel called The Locust.

Once I announced the new serial, suddenly my subscriptions jumped by several thousand.

And I'd like it to jump even more, so please subscribe to my newsletter at -- you'll get instant access to the V.I.P. area of the website, which includes free ebooks, novels, stories, screensavers & more.


Douglas Clegg

Tips for Scary Halloween Stories Plus a Challenge

Five Simple Tips for Writing a Scary Story for Halloween Night

by Douglas Clegg

It's early for Halloween to be mentioned, but I want the idea of this to get around -- so I'm giving it a lot of lead time. Hope it helps you.

1. Find out what scares you -- whether it's something simple or complex, if it's not frightening to you then it will be difficult to communicate a sense of fear and dread to the reader. And don't forget, sometimes quiet is scarier than loud, and unease and fear are more powerful than an all-out assault.

2. Know where you're going before you begin. Whether in your head or on the page, structure your story so that its conclusion will seem inevitable. Then, go back and cover your tracks in the telling of the tale.

3. Involve the reader. Use emotion and insight and interesting twists and turns to make sure the reader is deep within the story and committed to its outcome.

4. Don't be too easy on your characters. If you like all the characters really well, it'll be hard to kill any of them off, drive them insane, or make them suffer. In horror, there's a bit of pain. Go with it. Unleash, if you wish. Better to go too far than to go nowhere.On the other hand, if you find that you're a complete nihilist and want to destroy every character (hey, Shakespeare did it in Hamlet), make sure we care enough about them before they go.

5. Entertain. Think. Be smart. Avoid cliches. Take the reader to the place in your imagination that will make them want to come back to you again. And again. Make it so they'll want to check out your other stories, and remember your name. A story meant for Halloween is for them, not for you. Give them an October gift.

* * * * * *
And now, I'd like to make a challenge. If you're a writer of any genre, let's make Halloween 2009 a very cool one. Yes, I'm thinking that far ahead (writing this in March, 2009).

If you're a writer, whether published or not, I want to challenge you to write a short story on your blog/journal to have up by Halloween night. Wouldn't it be cool if we got a thousand or more stories up that night to show the love of the holiday?

Feel free to reprint this in its entirety on your blog or site (including my sig below.)


Douglas Clegg

p.s. Don't miss out on the free horror thriller serial, The Locust, in my free email newsletter at

I Want My Torchwood

Among my open guilty pleasures (I keep the others secret) is my absolute adoration for Torchwood.

And where is it?

Why can't I see Captain Jack snogging Ianto? That is the great, unusual gay love affair of television...and I can't find it anymore.

All right, I've substituted the recent season of Dr. Who for it -- for now. And while I enjoy Dr. Who, it was that slight edgy quality of the otherwise innocent Torchwood that got me to love it in the first place. The stories nearly went into Outer Limits territory. My favorite may have been the one about the faeries, where at the end, well, it wasn't exactly a Midsummer Night's Dream.

What are you watching that's fun, but with an edge, or an adult quality brought into a show that might otherwise be called a kids' show by some?