Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Chicago is...

My kind of town.

Just back from the SEAK Advanced Fiction Conference. Truly one of the best weekends of the year. Long days. I teach 8 hours the first day and seven the next, but a great group of students who are eager to learn. Had dinner and a cigar with Bill Young, the media guru. Bill knows more interesting and famous people than anyone I have ever met and yet he took the time to have dinner with yours truly. That says it all. Thanks Bill.

Thursday before I did Friends of Mystery in Portland with Phil Margolin. Another good man who puts out quality books every year.

And now, back to writing. New book due in September!


Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Goodbye, Again

Seven months ago my daughter rescued a kitten from an alley in Cle Elum Washington. The mother had a litter and a man found them. We appropriately named the kitten, Allie. I've never been much for cats, but there was something about this kitten that just touched everyone. She ran away once and a neighbor found her. Didn't want to give her back. She was tiny, a runt and had an amazing personality. Since I work at home Allie used to find her way into my office and jump into my lap. Sometimes she would just lay down and nap and others she would chase the cursor on my screen. But she also had a bit of the wonderlust, maybe from being born wild. If she got out, she'd run and we'd have a devil of a time getting her back. But she always came back, every time....except two nights ago.

Despite my daughter calling and calling, Allie never came home and in the morning she wanted to go out and find her, but she had a presentation at school and she had to be there. When I arrived for the presentation I found my wife fighting back tears, eyes swollen and red. Someone had found Allie the night before, in the road, dead.

We waited until the afternoon to tell our daughter, but she somehow had already sensed it. Still, the shock of hearing the words, "Allie is dead" sent her screaming - not crying - but screaming in anguish. "NO, No, NO." And then the tears, floods and floods of tears, followed by the questions. "Why? Why would God do that?" and "Why would someone just leave her in the street?"

And then she broke my heart. She said she felt most sad for Daddy "because you know, Mom, I think Dad really loved Allie and now she won't be with him in his office anymore."

And then I cried.

We buried Allie in the yard, under a cedar tree she loved to climb. We buried her with bulbs so the flowers would always remind us, every year, of the joy she brought in seven short months.

It's just a cat, I know some might say. And I would have maybe been one of them seven months ago. But not anymore. She was my daughter's cat, and that meant something to her. And it came to mean something to me. She wasn't just a cat. She was Allie.

And now she is gone and I have had to admit I'm going to miss her. I'm going to miss her an awful lot.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Carol Fitzgerald and St. Patty's Day

So how do two Italians from opposite ends of the country end up spending St. Patrick's Day together? With Carol Fitzgerald in town my wife and I had the pleasure of going to dinner with she of BookReporter.com. Lest you think that "Fitzgerald" means she's Irish, she was quick to note, "Irish in name only." I however, am half Irish and as proud of it as my Italian side. And if you don't believe me, just ask my Irish mother. Anyone out there have one of those? Then you know what I mean. Carol is as fun without her knitting needles as she is with them. She still owes me a sweater, by the way, though I didn't bring that up at dinner. Looking forward to seeing her again in NY at Thrillerfest. If you've never been, it is great for writers and fans. Where else can you find Steve Berry, James Rollins, Phil Margolin, John Lescroart and other great writers all in one place!

That's all for now,


Thursday, March 18, 2010

If it's Friday... Did I mention Elmore Leanord

it must be San Diego, San Francisco, Tucson, Portland...Chicago

Sorry I've been away, but for good reason.

San Diego Writer's Conference

I presented the keynote for what turned out to be a fantastic conference. Lots of classes on the craft and some talented writers. While I wanted the weather to be 80 degrees, I had to settle for mid-sixties the last week of January. I'll take it.

San Francisco Writer's Conference

I was set to do a half-day workshop when the great storm hit the East Coast. I was at the airport when Kathy Atrium, she being the Thrillerfest guru, to advise that my fellow panelists were trapped in New York and instead they wanted a repeat of the Thrillerfest workshop on editing. Having my materials with me, I agreed. Then I learned that Don Maass, uber-agent and teacher was one of the stranded and it was looking like his all-day workshop would need to be cancelled. Having taught all-day and two-day workshops I volunteered. Next thing I knew Elizabeth Pomada and Michael Larsen were on the phone asking, "Really?" I love to teach and was grateful for the opportunity. And what a great class - sharp students and terrific questions.

But no time for the weary because...

Tucson Festival of Books

I've been to several book festivals around the country, and all I can say is "Wow Tucson!" Could it get any better? When my driver picked me up from the airport he advised that he had one other writer to bring to the hotel as well. "Do you know Elmore Leonard?" Needless to say, that was a thrill of a lifetime meeting the master of the Western and crime novel. Got signed books to add to a growing collection. And just when I thought the weekend couldn't get any better, it did. The hospitality was amazing and the sessions were outstanding. I was on a panel with my buddy Phil Margolin and then met Thomas Perry for a second panel, two of the best in the business. That night we all dined together with Bill and Brenda Viner, the hosts of the entire festival. Don't know where they get their stamina, but thanks for a great evening and meal.

So now I'm back, meeting with homicide detectives, defense attorneys and other experts for the David Sloane book to follow Bodily Harm - to be released in May. But I'll have to write much of it on the road. I'm off to Portland for a Friends of Mystery event with Phil and then to Chicago for the annual two-day SEAK conference. I'm on my feet 16 hours over two days teaching and it remains one of the best weekends of the year for me. That old adage about learning more from the students rings true and any chance to hang out with John Hough Jr and talk writing is better than any text book on the craft.

Did I mention the tour doesn't start until May?

Be well,


Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Writer Magazine Article

I've been asked a lot about the article I wrote for The Writer Magazine, so here it is. I hope you enjoy it.


www.WriterMag.com • The Writer | 13
Don’t be afraid of striking out
In writing, as in baseball, you have to stick with it to hit one out of the park
I’m a Little League Baseball coach.
I’m also a writer, and the two have
more in common than you might
suspect. In both baseball and writing,
you often fail more than you succeed,
a hard but important lesson my
son taught me. When Joe turned 9, he
moved to minor-league baseball, in
which players pitch to the batter rather
than the batter hitting the ball off a tee.
It is a big adjustment.
The first game that year, Joe stepped
to the plate, and like many of his teammates,
he struck out. Paralyzed by the
thought that he might swing and miss,
he never took the bat off his shoulder.
As he walked back to the dugout, I tried
to be the good coach, shouting encouragement:
“That’s OK, Joe. We’re just
having fun here.” A few innings later,
Joe stepped up to the plate again. And
again the bat remained on his shoulder.
Again I offered encouragement. “No
problem, Joe. Good try. We’re just having
fun.” When Joe got up a third time
and again the bat never moved, my
mantra was well-rehearsed. “Hey, great
try, Joe. We’re just ...” Cutting me off,
tears in his eyes, Joe shouted, “Dad! It’s
no fun striking out all the time.”
My son was right. It is no fun striking
out all the time. It’s no fun feeling
like a failure. As a writer, I should have
been more sympathetic. I had struck out
many times.
In baseball, if you are going to play,
you must accept that you will strike out.
The statistical odds can’t be ignored. It
doesn’t mean you’re a bad player. In fact,
if you get a hit just three times out of 10,
you’re considered very good. Writing is
also a profession of failure. Rejection is,
at some level, inevitable. As writers, we
can’t become paralyzed at the thought of
rejection. We can’t fear it, or seek to
avoid it. Rather, we must confront it
head on, charge into it with reckless
abandon. We must look at rejection like
a ball player looks at striking out, that
thin line between trying and succeeding,
a line we must cross as many times
as necessary, knowing that on the other
side exist our dreams and goals.
In terms of my career, I bridged that
thin line by learning the three P’s—
patience, perseverance and persistence.
I have known that I wanted to write
novels since the seventh grade. But I am
also the product of a large family of
compulsive overachievers, and so I felt
compelled to attend graduate school
after college. I decided to attend the
UCLA School of Law, and knew within
the first three weeks of classes that I had
made a mistake, that practicing law was
not going to satisfy me. But compulsive
overachievers don’t quit. So for three
years, I gutted out the law-school experience,
and, like my classmates, I sought
out the best jobs. Before I knew it, I was
on that treadmill—and I was running.
I accepted a job at a fast-growing San
Francisco firm that suited me well, but
with each year it seemed that the treadmill
picked up pace, until I was sprinting,
working 50- to 60-hour weeks, feeling
as if I could never catch my breath. I
was named a partner of the firm early. I
was making more money than my parents.
By all accounts I had succeeded.
But I wasn’t happy.
Finally, one morning as I readied for
work, I had an epiphany. I thought of
that seventh-grade kid who wanted to
be a writer, who wanted to see his name
on the cover of a book, and I realized
that dream was slipping away. Standing
in my bedroom, my back to my wife, I
uttered five words that would change
my life. “I can’t do this anymore,” I said.
My wife never hesitated and whispered
back, “Then we won’t.”
It would take me almost a year before
I would utter those words to my partners
and colleagues. Some were genuinely
happy for me, and some later told
me that my courage had inspired them
to also change their professional course.
But it had not been courage that led
me to utter those words. It was fear. I
was afraid of looking back on my life
and realizing that I had never taken a
chance at my dream. I was afraid of
growing old and bitter and resentful,
feeling professionally unfulfilled. I was
afraid of never taking the bat off my
shoulder and swinging for the fences
because I was too afraid of striking out.
And I did not want the fear of failure
and rejection to dictate my life and how
I chose to live it.
In July 1999, I left the practice of law
and my home in the Bay area for Seattle.
I rented a charming, brick-walled office
—8 feet by 8 feet and windowless—that
my wife affectionately called “the prison
cell,” and I set to work.
By my calculations, I would write a
novel in a few months, and publication
would be right around the corner. Yes, I
was that naïve. So, following the mantra
of writing what you know, I created a
Off the Cuff Robert Dugoni
I was 40 years old, living in my wife’s
grandmother’s home and unemployed.
I felt like George Costanza.
14 | The Writer • February 2010
Off the Cuff
character named David Sloane, a San
Francisco lawyer who, though successful,
felt unfulfilled. Sloane, however, had
a remarkable ability to not only win trials
but get a jury to do whatever he
wanted. I called the book A Wrongful
Death. I had no idea if it was any good,
but I entered it in the Pacific Northwest
Writers Association’s literary contest
and, lo and behold, it won.
Buoyed by my success, I sent queries
out to five agents. Four rejected it, but
the fifth called and wanted a six-week
exclusive to read the manuscript. Of
course, I agreed. After six weeks, Clyde
called to tell me that the manuscript had
promise but that the second half needed
work. We set out to fix it.
Nearing Christmas, when it finally
came time to send the manuscript to
publishers, I had been gainfully unemployed
for 18 months. In that time, my
wife and I had a second child. I was nervous
but hopeful. Then I didn’t hear
from Clyde for months. “Why don’t you
call him and find out what is happening?”
my wife said. “No,” I said, “I don’t
want to bother him.” I was so happy to
have an agent that I didn’t want to screw
it up. “He said he would call,” I added.
Finally, in March, I received a 5-by-
8-inch envelope from the agency. It
looked suspiciously small for a contract.
Inside I found a card with a picture of
Clyde and the words “In Celebration.”
Needing no further prompting, I called
his assistant. “Please tell me that Clyde
is having a birthday,” I said. “I’m sorry,”
she said, “Clyde died.” “Oh, my God.
Was it sudden?” I asked. “Yes, about
three months ago. I’m sorry no one
called. ... And no one here does the kind
of ‘boy books’ you write. Good luck.”
I was 40 years old, living in my wife’s
grandmother’s home and unemployed. I
felt like George Costanza from Seinfeld.
The first thing I did was reconfirm
my goal. I said, “God, you gave me the
talent to write. I know that. I’ve written
all my life. I’ve written my way through
Stanford University and worked as a
reporter for the Los Angeles Times. No
one has ever said, ‘Son, you suck. Have
you ever thought of accounting?’ ”
The next thing I did was evaluate my
work. I realized that while I could write,
what I didn’t know was how to write a
novel. So I dedicated myself to learning
the craft. I immersed myself in the writing
business. I joined a critique group. I
began to attend writers conferences—
not to win competitions but to learn
from others. I pulled writers aside and
asked them all kinds of questions, including
what books on the craft they
recommended. Then I bought the books
and studied them until the pages were
falling out of their spines.
I realized that I had been making all
of the mistakes that agents and editors
could spot in a moment. My query letter
didn’t explain the theme of my novel,
and the synopsis was so long and convoluted
that they never read it. The opening
sentence of my first chapter didn’t
hook the reader, and the opening chapter
wasn’t compelling. I had flashbacks
and biographies that slowed the first 50
pages to a crawl. I had too many characters.
The plot drifted. I asked my wife to
give me more time, and she agreed.
It is said that we make our own opportunities
through hard work, and I
believe that. But sometimes we also
need a little luck. At a party I almost did
not attend, I met an agent from the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency. He
told me about an investigation that had
gone to trial and had become a seminal
case in the history of the EPA. That case
would become the subject for our nonfiction
exposé, The Cyanide Canary.
This time, however, when I sat to
write, I was armed with all of my hard
work. When I sent the book proposal to
10 literary agents, all of them wanted
the book. When an agent with the Jane
Rotrosen Agency called from her cell
phone to tell me she was getting on a
plane and asked me not to sign with
anyone before she landed, I knew that
was the agency for me.
We sold the manuscript, and it appeared
that I was on my way. But then
the editor who bought and loved Canary
soon thereafter left the publisher,
as did my publicist. Enthusiasm at the
house fell, and the book came out of the
gate like a three-legged horse.
Undaunted, my agent and I turned
our attention to my novel A Wrongful
Death, as well as two others I had completed.
She sent A Wrongful Death to an
editor generally considered one of the
best in the business, and again I allowed
my expectations to be raised. When my
agent called to inform me that the manuscript
had been rejected, I couldn’t
hide my disappointment. The next day
Jane Rotrosen called me, and she would
give me the best advice of my career:
“You have to be a bulldog in this business,
kid. You got to be a bulldog.”
I committed to being a bulldog.
Shortly thereafter, two publishers bid on
my first novel. Both were enthusiastic
not only about it, but about my writing.
I signed a two-book deal, and A Wrongful
Death became The Jury Master. It
made the New York Times bestseller list
and stayed there for three weeks. Damage
Control followed, and hardcover
sales surpassed The Jury Master.
Even after that success, however, I
have had to endure some anxious moments,
but I don’t panic anymore when
they arise. I have confidence in myself
and in my agent. When I signed with
Touchstone, a division of Simon &
Schuster, the publisher changed my
third novel’s working title to Wrongful
Death. Fate? Perhaps. All I know for certain
is that I never would have had the
chance to see any of my books to publication
had I never taken the bat off my
I did not want the fear of failure and
rejection to dictate my life and how I
chose to live it.
continued on page 47
www.WriterMag.com • The Writer | 15
shoulder, or quit when I first struck out.
My son Joe also never quit. He committed
himself to becoming a better
baseball player. He took hitting lessons.
He went to catching clinics. He hit in
the backyard until his hands hurt. When
he turned 11, he was named the starting
catcher on the Kirkland Little League
All-Star team and led the team in hitting
and runs batted in at the tournament
that year. More important, he smiles a
lot when he plays, even if he strikes out,
and now he tells me he has a lot of fun.
So do I.
We get through life with hard work, a
little luck, and the kindness of others.
During one particularly bleak moment
in my career, a good friend, Michael
Collopy, now one of the premier portrait
photographers in the world, but
once an executive at IBM, shared with
me advice that his father gave to him
when he expressed his desire to leave
the corporate world to pursue his art. “If
you follow your dreams, the money will
come,” he said. “Follow the money, and
you’ll lose your dreams.”
You have the ability to follow your
dreams, to overcome your fears of striking
out and to cross that line between
failure and success. You may have to
cross it more than once. Like me, you
may have to cross it many times. It won’t
be easy. You will strike out. When you
do, remember: Be patient. Things don’t
always happen on your schedule. Be
persistent. Those who succeed are almost
always those who have first failed.
Persevere. Those who give up have no
chance of success.
You have to be a bulldog in this business,
kid. You got to be a bulldog. Choose
to be bulldogs.
Robert Dugoni
Robert Dugoni is the New York Times bestselling author of The
Jury Master, Damage Control and Wrongful Death. His next
novel, Bodily Harm, will be published by Touchstone/Fireside
in May. Web: www.robertdugoni.com.
Adapted from Robert Dugoni’s speech at the Pacific
Northwest Writers Association’s literary conference.