Thursday, March 12, 2009


Andrew McAleer is such a name dropper. Who have you been chatting with recently, I asked? So he says, oh, Mary Higgins Clark. Elmore Leonard. Bill Tapply.

I say, come on, buster. NO way.

Way, he says.

And turns out, it’s true. He’s put together a truly charming and inspirational book called The 101 Habits of Highly Successful Novelists. It’s fun to read, full of honest and helpful stuff, and I must admit, I now keep it right by my computer in case I need a wake-up call or a jolt of compassion or a hit of writerly community.

HANK: How did you get all these wonderful authors to provide advice?

ANDREW: I've always enjoyed corresponding with authors and have made some great friends as a result. Authors like Elmore Leonard, Mary Higgins Clark, William Tapply, Kris Neri, and Robin Moore are just a handful of the authors I've corresponded with. They were some of the first authors I presented the idea to and they very generously agreed to contribute. I think once other authors saw contributions from such respected authors they knew it was a worthwhile project and also agreed to help. At the time I was writing the book most of my contacts were in the crime fiction field and I was a bit intimidated to ask established authors from the romance, western, and fantasy genres for contributions.

**SUZANNE BROCKMANN: “I never said…”

**MARY HIGGINS CLARK: “Where to get the idea? Easy. Just…”
**VICKI STEIFEL: "When I sit down to write, I have no..."

HANK: How did your take on that change, as the project progressed?

ANDY: I was a bit surprised by how generous everyone was with their time and willingness to share their secrets. Looking back, however, I shouldn't have been because I have found over the years that most established authors are delighted to help new authors of merit.

**JULIA LONDON: “If you were born to write, ideas will come to you. You will get them from…”

**SJ ROZAN: “Read read read read read. If it means less TV…..”

: “If you get writers block, it could be because you…”

HANK: Were there any surprises along the way?

ANDREW: I think the person most surprised was my editor because I submitted the manuscript right on deadline!

**KRIS NERI: “When I first started writing, I offered to…”

**JOAN JOHNSTON: “No one likes a….”

**ED GAFFNEY: “I believe that my subconscious mind…”

HANK: One of the lovely things about the book--writing is such a solitary endeavor. And sometimes you feel as if no one else has ever hit the wall. Or had a dry streak. Or wondered if they could do it again. When you saw the book as a whole for the first time--not just snippets of advice--did it become more than the sum of its parts?

ANDREW: It did. But not because of what I had done. I think the real credit goes to the people behind the scenes at the publishing house (Adams Media) like my editor Richard Wallace, the line editors, and the artists. They are the professionals who do the real mule work and often don't get the credit they deserve. My goal was to make the book as readable and straightforward as possible. If someone's going to shell out his or her hard earned pay for my book I demanded of myself substance over package. Fortunately, I was able to team up with a publisher that agreed with me.

HANK: Okay, here’s what some of them said, at least…the rest, well, you can (you know what’s coming) take a look at Andy’s book.

**SJ ROZAN: Read read read read read. If it means less TV, less family time fewer movies, whatever it means….

**RHYS BOWEN: “If you get writers block, it could be because you are trying to force your character to do something he would not do…

**SUZANNE BROCKMANN: “I never said if I get published. For me it was always when...…

So Jungle Reds, what advice and info about your own 101 habits do you have for your fellow readers and writers? And hey, it doesn’t have to be about books. For instance: I say steam the milk for your coffee in the microwave. Delicious! And I learned it from Hallie.

Andrew McAleer is the author of The 101 Habits of Highly Successful Novelists and the co-author of the number 1 best-selling, Mystery Writing in a Nutshell. Mr. McAleer is also the author of three novels including the critically-acclaimed, Double Endorsement and Bait and Switch. A prosecutor with the Massachusetts Department of Correction, Mr. McAleer is also an adjunct professor at Boston College and a recipient of the Sherlock Holmes Revere Bowl Award. He serves as a specialist in the Army National Guard. Visit Mr. McAleer at
His photo courtesy Stephen D. Rogers.


  1. This book sounds great..I love to hear what other writers do! I already love the snippet from SJ..."read, read, read..."

  2. Yeah, it's very reassuring to know that I'm not the only one who sometimes thinks--gee, whose idea was THIS?

    OR worse, when I have no ideas at all.

    Rosemary, how was your visit to the Mystery Company?

  3. Oh--and to learn about who's a Harley book winner--watch this space!

  4. My advice? Never give up. Never. And believe in yourself, because if you don't, who will?

  5. Consider any situation an opportunity to "work" on your current project.

    If you get stuck in traffic, watch the fading light skew the font of an angry message on a bumper sticker, turning hot words into a sort of benediction, or watch the way the slipstream from traffic on the moving side of the freeway causes the little weeds on your side to shimmy with pleasure.

    Any delay to the keyboard offers options for the writer with her eyes open. Procrastination is rarely my friend, but delays are inevitable. I think some writers find that frustration hard to shake off and concentration slow to clear, because they separate their living selves from their writing selves rather than allowing the process to be seamless.

    Henry James says 'Notice everything.' Sometime, somewhere, the lost coat at the dry cleaners and -- while you wait -- the chime of a dropped coin, the distorted reflection of a young man opening a car door will show up relevant in the middle of a page.

  6. Best advice I got was from Ted Gup:


    Not the pen...

    Butt In Chair

    Also, pay attention to what comes to mind as you wake up in the morning. All the garbage from the day before has had a chance to settle out and I find those first thoughts to be the most creative. I try to write in the morning before I have a chance to accumulate more garbage.

    (Hank: Now I have to spell check compulsively, because I know if I miss something, you'll nail me!)

  7. I'm with SJ, too. I always tell emerging writers to read three times as much as they write. It's a quote from someone famous, but I'll be darned if I can remember who it was. A daily goal really helps me, too.

    I'm going to order your book right away, Andrew--it sounds delightful and very useful. I'm always curious to know what works for other writers because I never want to stop learning.

    So, where do you keep your Sherlock Holmes Revere Bowl Award? Is it an actual bowl? Do you have to pass it on to the next winner like the Stanley Cup?

  8. Emilie Richards told me about a technique she learned from Linda Lael Miller. That is, make a list of twenty for each major character. It's a great brainstorming activity that really opens the floodgates. I've found it forces me to go beyond the obvious.

  9. Susannah, you always bring tears to my eyes. SO nice to see you..and can't wait to read your book! What's the scoop on that?

    Yeah, Kira. But this computer doesn't have the spellchekc toolbar. Doomed.
    (I spelled that wrong on purpose.....)

    "Read three times as much as they write"? Ah, Laura. How about the sleeping part??

    Joanna! The suspense. You mean a list of twenty--traits? What a great idea.

  10. Okay, first I'm going to order your book Andrew because it sounds terrific. Especially since one authors' advice may not work for you, but within that collection many voices will hit the mark.

    Second, Susannah, I think that may be the BEST advice I've ever gotten. Quite in keeping with the Thich Nhat Hanh book I'm reading currently. I truly appreciate it.

  11. Thanks for the welcome back -- and the kind words Hank and Jan! BTW, I look forward to Andrew's book, too. Next to a picture book of the rooms where writers write (I'm always curious about that), this book is the kind of thing sure to give both insight and a boost at the point most needed.


    Hank, most current news I have on my book is Spring '10 release, likely available for pre-order at the end of this year. There are rumblings of a possible title change. Book Whatsis, coming soon. Thanks for asking about it! :)

  12. Thanks, Rosemary. That was great advice I received from Ed Hoch also. I see that you're an early riser. I bet you're already reading!

  13. Hey Andy! You're just home from work--and you see all of us eager to chat.

    Did you do most of the research by phone? Or email? Or in person? Or do you have lots of collectible letters from the people you interviewed?

  14. Hi, Laura. Okay, I'll share some secrets about the Sherlock Holmes Bowl, which is awarded by the Speckled Band of Boston--the Boston scion of the Baker Street Irregulars. There are actually two bowls. You get to keep the original bowl for a year and then give it back. The-powers-that-be fill it full of a secret punch which is ladled out for the members. Then you are given a smaller bowl to keep with an engraving of the speckled band snake. I keep mine hidden in my slipper along with my pipe tobacco.

  15. Hi Hank. This happens almost every day. I come home and all of these talented and beautiful women are eager to talk to me. Much of the book was done via email. But I also met with some great authors like Robin Moore, Bill Tapply, and one of my favorite new authors Hank Phillippi Ryan. I also corresponded snail mail and have correspondence from Elmore Leonard, Mary Higgins Clark, William Link, and Greg Mcdonald. Sadly, both Greg and Robin passed away last year. Robin was the nicest and most humble person I've ever met.

  16. Hi Jan. Thanks for buying the book. We did a signing together for our first books at Walden Books in Lexington. That was how many years ago. . . ?

  17. The Speckled Band is one of my favorite SH stories.

    And I had no idea there was a group of Irregulars in Boston! Hmm.

    Anyone else reading this in it? Or anywhere?

    Jan, what book are you reading? And I do wish I could have seen you and Andy signing together..awww.

  18. Hi Andy, welcome to Jungle red! I was on the road so late getting to the party today. I'm looking forward to your book--I love reading collections of advice! You can always ignore what doesn't work and select what might...

    I agree with the daily goal advice. And make it manageable. If I tell myself 500 words a day, I rarely miss that deadline and can often do more.

    Thanks for coming to see us!

  19. Andy,
    Was that the sidewalk signing?? Where there were a bunch of us??

    Also, I happened to go to a friend's website -- Ted Murphy -- where he says he's in your book! I've already been to Amazon!

  20. Hi Jan,

    The book siging started out in the store and then we moved outside to the sidewalk. It was a warm December day. There were about five of us there including Robin Moore.

  21. Hank, The Speckled Band is one of my favorite stories, too. I just bought a new set of DVDs Incident at Victoria Falls and Sherlock Holmes and the Leading Lady staring Christopher Lee and Patrick Macnee. The leading lady of course was Irene Adler played by Morgan Fairchild. There is another Sherlockian group in Boston called The Friends of Irene Adler.

    Can you scoop us on any investigative stories you have coming up?

  22. Thanks, Roberta. I agree. Write each day. As Peter Lovesey--one of my favorite authors and a contributor to 101--points out, one page a day--roughly 300 words--is more than 109,000 words a year.

  23. Kira, I love your BIC advice. I like this little story I read once. When Edgar winner Joe Gores asked his college professor for advice on how to be a writer he was told: “Go to a big city and rent a little room with a chair and a table in it. Put your typewriter on the table and your behind on the chair. Start typing. When you stand up ten years later, you’ll be a writer.”

  24. ANd that's a lovely bit of advice to close the day! Thanks, Andy! We loved your visit, and hope you'll be back.

    (And no way I'm giving the scoop on our next investigative story..but watch for it Tuesday March 17 at 11pm!)