Thursday, March 13, 2014

Peter Swanson--How Do You Solve a Problem Like the Internet?

DEBORAH CROMBIE: We have such a treat today--Peter Swanson, author of the debut novel

It's an atmospheric tale of romantic noir with shades of Hitchcock about a man who is swept into a vortex of irresistible passion and murder when an old love mysteriously reappears

George Foss, a forty-year-old employee of a Boston literary magazine, has passed the age when he thinks he might fall madly in love or take the world by storm, or have anything truly remarkable happen to him. He spends most of his evenings at his local tavern talking about the Red Sox and the minutiae of everyday life, and obsessing over a lost love from his college days who vanished twenty years earlier. Until she reappears.

George has both dreamed of and dreaded seeing Liana Decter again. She isn't just an ex-girlfriend or the first love George could never forget. She's also an enigma and quite possibly someone who was involved in a murder years ago, a woman whose transgressions are more in line with Greek tragedy than youthful indiscretion. But suddenly, she's back-and she needs his help. She says that some men are after her and that they believe she's stolen money from them. And now they will do whatever it takes to get it back.

George knows Liana is trouble. But he can't say no-he never could-and soon his quiet life is gone as he is pulled into a terrifying whirlpool of lies, betrayal, and murder from which there is no sure escape.

Bold and masterful, full of malevolent foreboding and subtle surprises, The Girl with a Clock for a Heart is an addictive, nonstop reading experience-an ever-tightening coil of suspense that will hold you in its grip right up to its electrifying end.

Whew! I was hooked with that!  And here's some of the praise the book is getting:

"In The Girl with a Clock for a Heart a long-lost lover resurfaces, with chaos in her wake. A must read!"
- Harper's Bazaar

"The parallel stories unwind relentlessly with audacious and spectacular twists . . . An intense mix of noir, pulp fiction, and fun . . . The most unsurprising aspect of this book? It's already been optioned for a film."
- Boston Globe

"Who are literature's most lethal women? . . . Here's a new contender: Liana Decter, who causes endless heartbreak and occasional death in Peter Swanson's compulsively readable [The Girl with a Clock for a Heart] . . . should be a contender for crime fiction's best first novel of 2014."
- Washington Post

Not to mention the cover quote is from Dennis Lehane, who says--"A twisty, sexy, electric thrill ride."

But that doesn't mean Peter isn't dealing with the problems most of us writers struggle with every day, including--

Well, I'll let Peter tell you.

PETER SWANSONHow Do You Solve a Problem Like the Internet?

I know that there are some writers out there who still use pen and paper, but for people like me—people who can’t actually read their own handwriting—I do all my writing on my laptop. This means that the tool I use for writing also happens to be a tool for surfing on the Internet. In other words, when I write, I am always just a few key strokes away from an endless array of kitten videos, or from last night’s Portlandia episode, or from Tumblrs devoted to pulp fiction cover art. And these days, now that my first novel—The Girl With a Clock for a Heart—was published in early February, I can practice such self-affirming activities as reading my Good Reads reviews, or obsessively checking my Amazon rank. How does any writing (mine or anybody else’s) get done at all?

The way I see it, there are two solutions to the problem of the Internet. One is to allow absolutely zero access during your writing time. This seems like a reasonable method—write for a few hours, then reward yourself by finally logging onto the Internet and spending the rest of the day on Pinterest—but it’s only reasonable if you don’t cheat. I have heard that there are Internet blocking devices available for those who need a little help in this regard, or you can simply take a sledgehammer to your modem.

The other solution is the one that I employ. I’m a natural procrastinator, but I’m also one of those procrastinators that always gets my work done. In college, if I had a five page paper due for my three P.M. class I would start the paper at ten A.M., knowing I could write one page an hour. (This guest blog post, for example, is being written a few hours before its due date).

So, my solution is to allow myself Internet time before I write each morning. I just get it out of the way. Because if I don’t, the temptation’s going to be lurking in the back of my mind, distracting me from thinking about what happens next in whatever story or book I’m working on.

Of course, going on the Internet before writing only works if you have enough writing time in your day. I’m lucky. I have a job, but it starts in the afternoon, and I devote the morning to writing. I give myself the goal of writing five hundred words a day, every day. What this means is that I get up, brew some coffee, and make my way to the laptop. I tell myself that I’ll just check a few things online before I get to work. I read my emails, then catch up on the news, then it’s kind of downhill from there. Sports scores. TV recaps. The Internet Movie Database to see what celebrities are having birthdays today. Jungle Red Writers, naturally, to see if any new posts are up. You get the picture.

By the time I’m looking at the Facebook vacation pictures of some elementary school acquaintance I barely remember, I know that it’s time to start writing. I put on my headphones, crank up some sort of movie soundtrack (anything by Michael Nyman usually works), and start to write.

Pretty soon, if I’m lucky, I’m entirely involved in writing. And since I’ve already surfed the Internet I’m not distracted by wondering what the American League East standings are, or whether Netflix has added any new films for streaming. Because I already know the answers to these questions, and my characters, and the often morally questionable deeds that they are up to, are foremost in my mind.

So that’s my method. It’s mostly worked for me, even though I’d probably get more writing done if the Internet had never been invented. And my method is a lot cheaper than taking a sledgehammer to my modem every morning, and then having to buy a new one in the afternoon to find out the sports scores.

DEBS: This is a dilemma that is a constant subject of discussion among us here at JRW, as well as most writers we know. Some of us are in Peter's camp--check in first, then write--while some of us belong to the Write First club. But all of us who work on computers and have access to the Internet try to find some way to juggle the constant temptation. 

So weigh in, readers, and tell us how you deal--I have to admit sometimes I'm torn between breaking the modem and running away to a monastery...

Peter will be giving away five--FIVE!!! copies of THE GIRL WITH A CLOCK FOR A HEART  to today's commenters, so do drop in and say "hi!"

Peter Swanson has degrees in creative writing, education, and literature from Trinity College, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and Emerson College. His stories and poems have appeared in the Atlantic, Mysterical-E, Vocabula Review, and Yankee Magazine. He lives with his wife in Somerville, Massachusetts, where he is at work on his second novel. You can learn more at, or, or


  1. The internet certainly sings a siren song, doesn’t it?

    Generally, I check the important things . . . that would be Jungle Red Writers and the email . . . first thing in the morning. After that, it waits until I find myself with a few minutes to “take a quick look” while I take a break and have another cup of coffee. Unfortunately, I am extremely good at procrastination, so by the time I finally get to whatever it is that I need to do, it, it takes precedence over checking websites and email . . . .
    Truth be told, it’s actually all those books I want to read that tempt me far more than internet surfing; somehow it all works itself out . . . .

    Peter, your book sounds quite intriguing and is definitely going to be added to my teetering to-be-read pile . . . .

  2. I also checked regular mystery web sites first thing in the morning such as JRW and emails. If I have a pending deadline, the only way I can work without being distracted is to turn off my wifi. No internet connection, no temptation. When I go on vacation (like when I go to LCC2014 next week), I go cold turkey and turn off every electronic until the end of the day.

  3. Peter I have come late to your method… i used to try to write first, but you know, it didn't work! So now I set a time to start, say 10:00 AM. I can do whatever I want before that. And so far… So good!

  4. And I have heard such good buzz about your book! Cannot wait to read it…

  5. Grace, that is radical ! Hmmmmm.. does it make you more relaxed? Or just eager to get back to it…?

  6. Welcome Peter--your book sounds great. You can certainly identify the Internet procrastinators this morning! I've heard about the software that locks a writer out--I just can't bring myself to try it:)

  7. Hey Peter, welcome! Your book sounds fabulous. I'm also with you and Hank — if I give myself until 9 a.m. to check my sites and whatnot, I'm then able to concentrate without looking again. (Well, until at least noon!)

  8. I'm with Peter and Hank. I have to set a deadline. It varies from day to day as my activities do. Some days I have to be gone by 8:30 or 9 so I get up earlier to be able to surf the net. I have to get my daily fix of JRW.
    Peter, your book sounds wonderful. I look forward to reading and enjoying it.

  9. I always do my internet surfing first thing in the morning before beginning work at my day job. Like Peter said, if I didn't it would be like a sirens call, tempting me from the clifftop.

    And as Hank said, the internet buzz on Peter's book has been great. I can't wait to read the book.

  10. I have to check in first thing in the morning. For a while, I was going straight from check in to an hour-long Sprint with a partner (Hello, Edith!) but I got off course. Now I want to get back to that. (Hello, Edith!)

    I've also used IFW (Internet Free Weekends) when I'm overloaded with work. I have to announce this on Facebook, however, though I'm not sure why. Maybe I have the fantasy that someone cares?

    Good luck with the book, Peter! It sounds like a terrific page turner.

  11. I have to check first, partly, of course, because of JRW. And I have to admit I look at FB on my phone, because I have Android Covers and I just scroll through. If I see a link that looks interesting, I try to remember to go back later in the day. Then I answer urgent emails and after that TRY to stay off. Some days work better than others. Often take Internet free weekends, especially Sunday, which like Laura Lippman I refer to as Internet Sabbath. I love it.

    And belately--Hi, Peter! The book is fabulous! I hope you're working HARD on that second novel and not procrastinating!

  12. Morning is my most productive working time. So I get up between 5 and 6, put together a to do list for the day, answer overnight email and then start working on the important things.

    Around this time (9:36am) I break for breakfast and use the time while breakfast cooks to check in on my social media, blogs I read, etc.

    After the breakfast break, I'll get back to work and periodically take breaks during the day to check email, FB, etc.

    The thing that can get me in deep trouble is if I go onto the internet to do some research. If I'm not careful my natural curosity will lead me down a rabbit's warren of interesting things and I'll soon discover I lost the day.

    Best of luck with your debut novel.

    ~ Jim

  13. A procrastinator that always gets the works done. I never thought of it that way - but that's me. That can be good and bad. When the work always gets done and it's good, or even very good, hard to change that natural procrastination habit.

    I've just stopped working at a "real" job and realized I now have hours and hours to do whatever I want, which could easily be looking at JRW and other blogs all day long (plus reading from the TBR pile of course!). So I've allotted myself time in the morning for whatever I want, then I won't be tempted to take just one more little peek later that becomes a long break.

    Congrats on the book. Sounds intense, added to the TBR.

  14. It can be very hard to ignore the internet when also having to use it for work. I try to limit myself & sometimes fail.

  15. Just started reading your book, Peter -- and just as soon as I finish the final-ish (!) edit on my WIP, I'm looking forward to finishing.

    I think of the Internet as my "amuse bouche" between bouts of writing. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

  16. Hi! I'd love to win a copy of the book. Thanks.

    --Marjorie of Connecticut

  17. I need to stop checking JRW--just kidding--but your book is being added to my TBR pile, Peter!

    My solution? Two computers. A desktop with Internet connection. A laptop with no internet connection, deliberately, which I use for writing. That may change if I start traveling again, but for now it works for me. I do try to schedule all my surfing early, after checking for necessary emails from work. Then I remove my self from temptation and take the laptop somewhere quiet to get down to business.

  18. Wow, I'm with you, Debs. I was hooked on The Girl with a Clock for a Heart after the description. Sounds most intriguing. Thanks for a new addition to my TBR list, Peter.

    I'm struggling a bit with the Internet myself. It is interfering with my reading time lately. I do have a pattern, for better or worse. The better starts with Jungle Reds being my first stop of the day online. I consider that Internet time productive. However, then I go to FB and spend too much time there. I check my email, which doesn't take anywhere near the time of FB. Somewhere in there, if I have a book review to write, then I do so. I need to schedule more time for my book blog, and I'm working on that.

    I admire you wonderful authors that can discipline yourselves to writing and not letting the Internet distract you. I think if I were writing for a living, I would probably have to go Peter's route and surf first, then write.

  19. Like Marjorie of Connecticut, I just want to win a book! I am a complete mess when it comes to the temptations of the interweb!! I am restricting myself to 15 minutes a day of Bejeweled Blitz. I never get anything done!

    Thank goodness for deadlines.

  20. Ramona, of course we care. =).

    I have a day job, and it's in tech, so I'm on the Internet all day. Literally from the time I walk into the office at 8:30 until the minute I walk out at 4:30. For "rest breaks" during that time, I check the Internet. Hey, it is right there.

    The except is between noon and 1. That's my writing time. And I just -- don't go online. It's there, I could - but I don't. Same goes for weekend writing time. I just don't. I don't use applications or gimmicks, I just say, "Now is the time to write" and I do. Yes, there is a temptation to look up a street name or something, but I just write a note and research later. Does that make me disciplined, weird, or both?

    GIRL WITH A CLOCK FOR A HEART sounds fantastic. Congrats and good luck!

  21. hilarious and timely post….since I'm STILL cruising the 'net and not writing! thanks for this. cheers

  22. I love that title! Very evocative - makes me want to learn about her. Same as everyone here, the internet is always calling my name. But I do try to limit myself, a few minutes before I leave for work, breaks at work and then a few minutes again when I get home or just before bed. I reserve my evenings for READING, READING AND MORE READING! My husband thinks I read too much, but I tell him there's no such thing as reading too much.

    Peter, your book sounds fascinating. I love discovering new writers. I started reading JRW after discovering Rhys, then got hooked on Debs, now Julia and Susan. I'll get around to the rest of you, I promise! Because there's no such thing as reading too much!

  23. Wow, some great comments here. What I'm hearing is that most people can't resist getting on the Internet first thing in the morning. The trouble, of course, is getting off the internet, and starting writing.

    Ramona, I can't believe you institute IFW (Internet free weekends), but I'm impressed.

    Someone mentioned the internet interfering with their "reading time." and sometimes, lately, that's been happening to me. That, in particular, makes me upset, because like most writers (all writers?), we were hardcore readers first. I can live with a day without writing, but I need to have my nose in a book every single day. Luckily, I just got off a flight this morning, so I got some solid reading time in.

    Oh, and thanks everyone, for the nice words about my book. I'll check in later, and we'll pick some folks for the free giveaways.

  24. Peter, I already had your book in my TBR queue because of the other buzz around it (anything that Lehane recommends is always worth a look!), and it's nice to 'meet' you here. Said the booklover who was online when she should be working ...

  25. Your starting a paper a few hours before it's due reminded me of my husband back in college. His college career was interrupted by a stint in the army. When we got married he had a year left before he graduated. He would research like crazy for a paper and then start writing it the night before it was due. Since he couldn't type worth a damn (and I mean on a typewriter) I would take on that chore. I'd be sleeping between pages. He would change the spelling of a Spanish name halfway into the paper. I would panic, not knowing which version was correct. OMG. I'm amazed we're still married.
    Anyway Peter, your book sounds quite intrigueing (sp?) I'll have to think about what having a clock for a heart means. . .

  26. Ok - so I'm a procrastinator who prioritizes and sets limits. In the morning (on the IPad) it's Bible, Weather, Emails - that rarely varies. Then, if there's time left before I reach my time limit, it's Facebook, Blogs, Nat'l News, Local News, Library - and the order changes according to current interests. When the time is up I remind myself that if I run over I'm robbing myself of reading time and there are just too many great books waiting to be read. I hope The Girl With a Clock for a Heart gets to be one of them...

  27. James, I'm most impressed at the adherence to your strict schedule of "about 9:36 AM" for breakfast.

    You might very well be related to the Human Clock, aka, my husband.

    Which brings us right to THE GIRL WITH A CLOCK FOR A HEART. Intriguing title. Another Human Clock, maybe?

  28. Peter, I love the title and description of your book! Sounds like something I'm going to love.

    I'm like Hallie. I rise and check my email before breakfast to deal with anything important. Then I turn the internet off and write on my current novel. Then I turn it back on for a break before turning it off to do my current freelance task. Etc.

    Yesterday, I missed weighing in on JRW because I was applying for an NEA grant (otherwise known as the poet's lottery). When I'm doing long, intensive, mind-wrecking tasks like that, I'll often allow myself a couple of minutes of Facebook before switching the internet off to go back to the grind.

    The trick for me is to just shut the internet down completely on my laptop, except for times I give myself permission to check it (and often set a timer, as well).

  29. Fallow time leads to productivity in the end?

  30. I've had limited Internet access for a couple of months. To make up for it, I get to work at least half an hour early so I can check in with THE most important Blog EVER, and of course I mean JRW! Later on, if I can take a break for a few minutes, I check back in. On weekends I get myself to the library so I can get back on line and try to get caught up on Facebook. I can't - too much happens from one week to the next, but I do my best! It is way too easy for me to lose track of the time. When I have full Internet access again, I'll definitely need to set limits for myself. (Oh, and I work much better under pressure. It even relaxes me to work under pressure!)

  31. If I don't get some internet time, it just keeps calling me until I do. I can only completely unplug if I am beyond the reach of technology or on vacation.

  32. Your book sounds terrific! I'm retired but still spent too much time surfing. If I stay off Facebook and checking on all the kids/grands/greatgrands and only check emails twice a day I can get my chores/errands etc done. That's a BIG IF!

  33. When we were in Tanzania, my husband kept pestering me to check his email for him. Which I did for a couple of days, until I realized that the remote places we were staying had dial-up connections! I wasted more than one sunset/cocktail hour trying to download stuff, and clogging up everyone else's access doing so. I finally said it was time to disconnect.

    And you know what? We did not miss a thing. I 'm glad I got to meet some of the interesting people also having dinner at the lodges.

    I have a harder time at home, though. First thing in the morning for me, and then I can settle down to do real work. Mostly.

  34. Yes, as Karen, said. We go offline for a little while, and we "do not miss a thing."

    The problem is, of course, that we might be missing something, and if we don't check our email, or smartphone, then we'll never know what it is.

    I used to always take vacations and not bring my laptop, but now I have a smartphone, so I never really get away.

    It's a mixed blessing, but at least I spent nearly half of my life without internet access. I wonder what it will be like for kids growing up in this age.

  35. Like Peter, I've been traveling today (Hi from lovely, warm Scottsdale, AZ!) and for some weird reason my phone got hot and crashed. Putting it in airplane mode, maybe?

    But it was very unsettling to feel completely cut off... Different, perhaps, if you are planning to be cut off.

  36. I like to have the Internet on while I'm writing, but I have to turn Facebook off. And e-mail. And my favorite blogs. And Twitter. And the Beeb. And my calendar. Skype. Pandora. ITunes. I even have to turn off Scrivener, the very thing I need to write and organize my writing. If I don't I find myself going back to the tutorial and trying to learn it right all over again.

  37. Hi Hank,
    As you can see, I am logging on again early in the morning before work. But to answer your question from yesterday, turning off the wifi during work and vacation does NOT make me relaxed. I am eager to go back online but don't want to be distracted from pending deadlines, or enjoying the vacation locale (like Monterey next week)!