WRITING: For the Curious: My Writing Workstation…

As there are always writers and fans who are curious about the work methods and gear of authors, I decided to show off my workstation.

Warning: this article has a high ‘gearhead’ ratio, so proceed at your own risk.

An Overview:

This is my workstation when I write at home, i.e. my stationary station. I also have a set-up for ‘on-the-go’ (which can be briefly seen here), but I’ll come back to that in another article.

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My seat of creativity… (photo by Martyn V. Halm)

When I write at home, I sit in the living room, street side. My living room doubles as a dojo (and a playroom for the kids), which explains the sword rack and the judo mats on the floor… In the picture, the curtain is down, but during the day I often have the curtain raised to let the sun in. The lower parts of the window are frosted so people won’t be able to see inside (and I don’t spend my valuable writing time gazing outside).

The Throne:

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The Throne: Stokke Gravity Balance with black leather upholstering. (photo by Martyn V. Halm)

My throne is a vintage Stokke Gravity Balance (currently manufactured by Varier). I fell in love with this chair when it first came out in 1987, but it was always hideously expensive. I bought this Stokke chair secondhand for four hundred euro. That might sound like a lot of money for a secondhand chair, but these chairs are built to last. The 2014 price for a Varier Gravity Balance with black leather upholstering starts at twenty-three hundred euro, so four hundred euro is a bargain. The leather was faded, but I managed to get it black and shiny again.

The Stokke Gravity Balance has four seating positions:

When writing, I rest my knees on the two lower pads (with my feet tucked under the seat) and the wooden curves rest on the ground, so the seat is tilted forward. This is an active seating position that fosters a tilted pelvis and a straightened spine.

When researching/reading/watching films, the seat will be in the neutral position (like in the picture). In this position, my feet are often between the two pads or on the left pad.

Listening to music, I lean back into the reclining position and put my calves on the knee pads. In this position I often sit while thinking up new scenes for my books.

Finally, I can push off and tilt all the way back into the ‘zero gravity‘ position. This fully reclining position can be used for napping. The legs, on the knee pads, are elevated above the torso, so the blood flows down to the abdomen.

My Laptop Table:

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The Platform (Photo by Martyn V. Halm)

My 15” MacBook Pro rests on a Lounge-Tek book table. The laptop platform can be tilted and swivel 360 degrees, and is fixed with an angled rod to the main post. On top of the main post is a smaller flat platform where I often place the covers of DVDs and CDs. The height adjustable post stands on two angled feet with hard plastic feet. The sturdy Lounge-Tek table is light enough to push and pull, but stable enough not to drop collapse with my expensive stuff on it. I’ve had this table for a couple of years now (it can easily used in beds or with couches that have a small gap where the feet slide under).

The Soundtrack Equipment:

I always play music when I’m creating.

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Up until a month ago, I used a Grado SR60i headphone, which functions pretty good with the iPad, but only pretty well with the MacBook and just adequate with my stereo. Since Grado has updated its line of headphones, I could get a sweet deal on a Grado SR325iS, which is a giant leap from the 60, but also a bit harder to drive. Hence the FiiO E10K Amp/DAC. So what does the FiiO do? While the signal from the headphone socket of the MacBook is pretty good, the E10K’s Digital to Analogue Converter connects to the USB port, where it both draws its power and converts the digital iTunes signal to analogue (sound) using an external sound card that is quite a lot better than the internal sound card of the MacBook. On top of that, the FiiO has a pretty powerful amp that can power 16-150 Ohm impedance headphones. As the SR325iS is 32 Ohm, the FiiO has no problem enhancing and amplifying the iTunes signal to near Compact Disc quality for the headphones. The E10K also has a Bass Boost switch and a low/high gain switch, as well as an analog and digital line-out. The headphone jack is coupled to the potentiometer to adjust the volume. To protect and store these high-end headphones I found a Sennheiser HH10 padded headphone support that clamps onto the laptop platform.

The Supporting Cast:

Of course I have other gear that doesn’t belong on the laptop platform, but still has to be within reach.

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The Supporting Cast (Photo by Martyn V. Halm)

From Left to Right: Seagate 1TB hard drive for back-ups, Klean Kanteen water bottle, remotes for when I listen to my stereo instead of my MacBook, my trusty iPad2 with bluetooth ZAGGkeys ProPlus keyboard for writing ‘on-the-go’, Samsung mobile phone, magnifier, reading glasses, pen, Kindle e-reader.

The Book Shelf:

Every writer has reference works.

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Reference Works (Photo by Martyn V. Halm)

These are non-fiction books on a variety of topics like crime, weapons, and psychology; and reference books on writing, medical terminology, grammar and proper usage.

That concludes the tour. If you feel like supporting me and help me to keep writing and publishing, head on over to the main page for links to the retailers that sell the Amsterdam Assassin Series.

Please comment if you want to discuss my set-up or your own.

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Like to receive a free REVIEW copy of Reprobate?

To get the Amsterdam Assassin Serie noticed among the many books already out there, I offer free copies of Reprobate in exchange for reviews on Goodreads, Scribd, Amazon, Kobo and iTunes.

REPROBATE

Assassin Katla breaks her own rules when confronted with an unusual witness…

Blessed with an almost non-existent conscience, Katla Sieltjes, expert in disguising homicide, views assassination as an intricate and rewarding occupation. Hidden behind her male alter ego Loki, Katla receives anonymous assignments, negotiates the terms with clients through electronic means, all to protect her identity. Her solitary existence satisfies her until she meets a blind musician whose failure to notice a ‘closed’ sign causes him to wander in on Katla’s crime scene. And Katla breaks one of her most important rules – never leave a living witness.

Reprobate is the first novel in the Amsterdam Assassin Series. With authentic details and fast-paced action, featuring an uncompromising heroine and a supporting cast of unusual characters, Reprobate gives a rare glimpse in the local Dutch culture, information on the famous Dutch capital, the narcotics trade, computer hacking, motorcycle gangs, mehndi bridal tattoos, martial arts, the psychology of social engineering, and the brutal effectiveness of disciplined violence.

This e-book now features a glossary.

So, if you want to support me and help me get noticed, send an email to katlasieltjes@yahoo.com with ‘Reprobate Review copy’ in the subject and tell me what e-reader you use and I’ll send you the Reprobate e-book file attached to the email. You can download the file and upload it to your e-reader. Available files are .mobi, for the Amazon Kindle, and .epub for the Nook, Kobo, Sony, iPad and most smartphones with e-reader compatibility.

Thanks to everyone for your support.


REVIEW: Falling Angel by William Hjortsberg

Falling AngelFalling Angel by William Hjortsberg
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If a mystery gets mixed with the occult or the supernatural, the result is often disastrous for the ‘willing suspension of disbelief’. Falling Angel is an exception to the rule.

Struggling private investigator Harry Angel is hired by a foreign client, Louis Cyphre, to find Johnny Favorite, a crooner from before the war. Favorite is supposed to stay at a private hospital in upstate New York, where he is treated for ‘shell shock’ sustained in the war, but when Cyphre tries to visit him he gets the runaround.
Angel visits the private hospital, only to learn that Favorite was transferred to the VA hospital in Albany in 1945. The transfer is bogus, but the person responsible turns up dead, so Angel has to dig in Favorite’s past in order to track him down.
Favorite used to hang out with an eclectic crowd—fortune tellers, musicians, voodoo priestesses and occultists—and Angel’s search takes him from the heights of the Upper West Side to the depths of Harlem.
The missing person case turns sour when it looks like Favorite is desperately trying not to be found; desperate enough to kill anyone who might know where to find him.
Angel follows, descending deeper and deeper into Favorite’s sordid past, only to end up knee-deep in corpses and to find his own past connected to Favorite’s in the most unusual fashion.

Not only are all the characters in this mystery finely drawn, the dialogue is quirky and surprising and the Faustian ending brings the mystery to a satisfying conclusion.

This novel was also filmed as Angel Heart, with Mickey Rourke as Harry Angel and Robert De Niro as Louis Cyphre.

View all my reviews


Rewritten: The introduction from my Work-In-Progress:

My work-in-progress is a stand alone noir crime fiction novel called In Pocket. The pitch/blurb:

If only Wolfgang hadn’t picked the pocket of the fat woman…

Nomadic pickpocket Wolfgang gets blackmailed into teaching his craft to the mysterious Lilith, a young woman with no aptitude whatsoever to become a pickpocket. Wolf figures the easiest way is to go with the flow and instruct Lilith in the art of emptying other people’s pockets, but even he could never foresee the dreadful things that follow…

IN POCKET is a standalone novel with ties to Martyn V. Halm’s Amsterdam Assassin Series. Follow Wolf as he gets entangled in a possible fatal web of violence and deceit, where nobody is who they seem to be and everyone has a hidden agenda.

Below is the rewritten beginning of the novel (old version is here), which is written in present tense. The rest of the novel is in past tense, except for the interludes…

The world is strangely tilted when I open my eyes to the deafening roar of the helicopter reverberating against the walls around me. The down draft of the blades stir the loose dirt on the grimy bricks and I shield my eyes as swirling grit stings my face. Around me everything remains dark. The helicopter’s searchlight must be trained on something else. Or someone else.

The wind dies down and the roar changes to a bass-line thumping as the police helicopter flies off. Just around the corner I hear a siren starting up. An ambulance, not a police vehicle.

I close my eyes again.

I must’ve passed out. For an instant, I think. Just long enough to lose my bearings. My shoulder smarts from lying on the bricks, but the dull pain in my abdomen is worse. I remember her face looking up at me. And the hard punches in my belly, now a faint throbbing.

Without opening my eyes, I push myself into an upright position, the bricks damp and cold against my buttocks. My legs feel like they’re asleep, but without tingling—the usual pins-and-needles sensation is mysteriously absent.

A bad sign. I think I can forget about running. Or even getting up.

I open my eyes and blink a few times to focus.

The wall across from me is less than two meters away. To my left, a dead-end. To my right, plastic garbage bags leaning against an overflowing dumpster.

The siren grows louder and I lean forward carefully to peek around the dumpster.

Sodium lights flood the sidewalk with sickly orange light that reaches into the dead-end alley just far enough to touch my grubby sneakers. A neon-yellow ambulance races past the mouth of the alley, the sound of the siren fading quickly in the distance.

I go through my pockets to check my possessions, but I seem to have lost them all.

Money, gone. Keys, gone. Straight razor, gone.

I look at my filthy pants, stained with dark spots and smelling of urine. I look at my hands, smudged with street grime. And it all comes back. Why I’m wearing these clothes. My possessions aren’t gone. I left them with her before the stake-out.

I only had my phone and the gun. They’re both gone.

All I have left is the small carton in my inside pocket…

Around the corner I hear muted voices and the crackle of a two-way radio. A moment later I hear a car start up. My right hand grabs one of the plastic garbage bags and a spasm of pain pierces my gut as I heave the bag and toss it next to my legs.

The car halts at the mouth of the alley and the bright beam of a searchlight shines on the opposite wall, then swerves around towards the dumpster that hides me from view. The beam briefly illuminated my grimy pants and the garbage bag hiding my sneakers, but moves away without a pause. The light clicks off and the car trundles away.

I realise I’m holding my breath and let it out slowly.

I listen, but don’t hear anyone else, just my own raspy breathing. I’m alone.

My left hand touches my belly, comes away wet.

Sticky.

I raise my hand to my eyes, but it’s too dark too see.

I peer past the dumpster again, but all I see is a cobblestone quay and a canal. Not enough information to determine where I am. Just another dead-end alley in the centre of Amsterdam. The street sign is missing. Or was never there at all. Not all dead-end alleys here have names.

I remember the carton in my inside pocket and take the pack of cigarettes. I open the lid and brush my finger over the filter tips. And the metal wheel of a cheap butane lighter. I breathe a sigh of relief. I don’t know what would be worse; no cigarettes, or cigarettes and nothing to light them with.

I shake one from the pack and light up. My hands automatically shield the bright flame to prevent giving away my position. In the light I count the contents. Seven left, not counting the one I just lit. And a folded piece of tinfoil curled around a tiny waxed paper envelop. I won’t use that unless the pain becomes too bad.

I glance at my left hand. The sticky stuff covering my palm is red. I lower the lighter to see my belly. The lower half of my shirt is dark with blood. In the weak light the blood looks black. I touch the mess gingerly.

Three holes. Bullet holes.

The lighter sputters and dies. As the flame goes, a ghost-flame shimmers on my retina. I shake the lighter by my ear. Sounds like there is still some fuel left.

I cup the glowing tip of the cigarette in my hand, return the pack and lighter to my inside pocket, and blink to restore my night vision.

A shadow glides over the walls as someone passes the mouth of the alley. I watch from behind the dumpster, unable to draw in my numb legs sprawled amid the refuse that litters the bricks.

The shadow flows over my pants and disappears from view.

I listen to the receding steps.

I don’t want to be found. Not after what I did…

I drag on my cigarette. No idea what time it is. If I’m still in Amsterdam’s old quarter, I should be able to hear the bells from the myriad of churches. And pinpoint my location.

I take a last drag and extinguish my cigarette against the bricks.

The numbness in my legs worries me. Maybe the bullets damaged my spine.

In the distance a church bell chimes.

Once. Twice. Silence.

That sounded like the Oude Kerk, but I’m not sure. If this was the Red Light District it would be busier…

Two strikes, so it’s two in the morning.

Six hours till dawn.

A whole night to die in.

And muse about the events that got me in this predicament.

If only I hadn’t picked the pocket of the fat woman…

I’d love to hear what you think, so please comment below. Also, before I will look for a publisher or publish In Pocket myself I will need beta-readers to make sure the story is as good as I can get it. So stay tuned!

If you want to read the next sample, wherein Wolfgang targets the Fat Woman and set in motion the chain of events that lead to his predicament, send me an email at katlasieltjes@yahoo.com with ‘password sample?’ in the subject line.

 

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Rate/Review this sample from my Work-In-Progress:

My work-in-progress is a stand alone noir crime fiction novel called In Pocket. The pitch/blurb:

If only Wolfgang hadn’t picked the pocket of the fat woman…

Nomadic pickpocket Wolfgang gets blackmailed into teaching his craft to the mysterious Lilith, a young woman with no aptitude whatsoever to become a pickpocket. Wolf figures the easiest way is to go with the flow and instruct Lilith in the art of emptying other people’s pockets, but even he could never foresee the dreadful things that follow…

IN POCKET is a standalone novel with ties to Martyn V. Halm’s Amsterdam Assassin Series. Follow Wolf as he gets entangled in a possible fatal web of violence and deceit, where nobody is who they seem to be and everyone has a hidden agenda.


I passed out. For an instant, I think. Just long enough to lose my bearings. I remember I was running. From someone. Or something? The back of my head hurts. Guess I hit the wall behind me. Without opening my eyes I feel the bricks, damp and cold against my buttocks.

My legs feel like they’re asleep. Without tingling—the usual pins-and-needles sensation is mysteriously absent.

A bad sign. I think I can forget about running. Or even getting up.

I open my eyes and blink a few times to focus. The wall across from me is less than two meters away. An alley. To my left, a dead end. To my right, plastic garbage bags leaning against an overflowing dumpster. I’m in a cul-de-sac.

Street lights flood the entrance of the alley with sickly orange light that touches my grubby sneakers. I listen, but don’t hear anyone else, just my own raspy breathing. I’m alone.

My left hand touches my belly, comes away wet.

Sticky.

Raise my hand to my eyes, but it’s too dark too see.

I peer past the dumpster, but all I see is a cobblestone quay and a canal. Can’t see which one. The street sign is missing. Or was never there at all. Not all dead-end alleys here have names.

I go through my pockets to check my possessions, but I seem to have none. Money, gone. Keys, gone. Straight razor—

I look at my pants, dirty and smelling of urine. I look at my hands, dark with street grime. And it all comes back. Why I’m wearing these dirty clothes. My possessions aren’t gone. I left them. I only had the two-way radio and the gun.

They’re both gone.

All I’ve left is the small carton in my inside pocket…

I take the pack of cigarettes from my inside pocket, open the lid and brush my finger over the filter tips. And the metal wheel of the butane lighter. I breathe a sigh of relief. I don’t know what would be worse; no cigarettes, or cigarettes and nothing to light them with.

I shake one from the pack and light up. My hands automatically shield the bright flame to prevent giving away my position. In the light I count the contents. Seven left, not counting the one I just lit. And a folded piece of tinfoil with the small white envelop beside it. I won’t use it unless the pain becomes too bad.

I glance at my left hand. The sticky stuff covering my palm is red. I lower the lighter to see my belly. The lower half of my shirt is dark with blood. In the weak light the blood looks black. I touch the mess gingerly. Three holes. Bullet holes.

The lighter sputters and dies. As the flame goes, a ghost-flame shimmers on my retina. I shake the lighter by my ear. Sounds like there is still some fuel left.

I cup the glowing tip in my hand, return the pack and lighter to my inside pocket, and blink to restore my night vision.

A shadow glides over the walls as someone passes the mouth of the alley. I watch from behind the trash cans, unable to draw in my numb legs sprawled amid the refuse that litters the bricks.

The shadow flicks over my sneakers and disappears from view.

I listen to the receding steps.

I don’t want to be found. Not after what I did…

I drag on my cigarette. No idea what time it is. If I’m still in Amsterdam’s old quarter, I should be able to hear the bells from the myriad of churches. And pinpoint my location.

I take a last drag and extinguish my cigarette against the bricks.

The numbness in my legs worries me. Maybe the bullets hit my spine.

In the distance a church bell chimes.

Once. Twice. Silence.

That sounded like the Oude Kerk, but I’m not sure.

Two.

Two in the morning.

Five hours till dawn.

A whole night to die in.

And muse about the events that got me in this predicament.

If only I hadn’t picked the pocket of the fat woman…


I’d love to hear what you think, so please comment below. Also, before I will look for a publisher or publish In Pocket myself I will need beta-readers to make sure the story is as good as I can get it. So stay tuned!

If you want to read the next sample, wherein Wolfgang targets the Fat Woman and set in motion the chain of events that lead to his predicament, send me an email at katlasieltjes@yahoo.com with ‘password sample?’ in the subject line.

 

1400px-inpocket


WRITING: Considerations before becoming a novelist…

When asked, many people will say they want to write a novel, but do they? While there are many considerations to make before embarking on this fickle career, these are some of the basic considerations you might want to ponder:

  1. Can I tell the story in less than 10,000 words?
  2. Can I create multiple characters all equally able to be protagonists in their own stories?
  3. Can I suspend the disbelief of my readers?
  4. Do I have the stamina to create a 80,000 word novel?
  5. Do I have more than one novel in me?
  6. Can I handle making less than minimum wage while I work almost 24/7?
  7. Can I handle the ridicule and stupid remarks if I go public?

The reason you need to consider these questions:

  1. 10,000 words is a short story. Novels take up more words.
  2. A protagonist needs peers and antagonists, who need to be equal to the protagonist to make the story interesting.
  3. Readers want to be immersed in a story, they want to believe in your characters. So the desire is there. If you weave a story that makes believers out of readers, you can be a writer.
  4. Although everything over 60,000 words can be called a novel, most novels are between 80,000-100,000 words. If you write a 1000 usable words a day, that means about three solid months of writing.
  5. Most successful authors are prolific with at least 5+ novels to their name. There are exceptions, but don’t imagine yourself to be one of them.
  6. Do you know the author Philip K. Dick? People who are serious about storytelling are generally in awe of his storytelling ability. His novels and short stories form the basis of movies like Blade Runner, Total Recall, Minority Report, Paycheck and a host of others. Even in his best years, Dick rarely earned more than 12,000$ per year. In fact, most writers don’t earn more than 10,000$ per year and most earn considerably less. Even Stephen King had to support his family with his teaching job for the first decade of his career. And James Patterson made his money in advertising before he turned to writing fiction.
  7. I’m fortunate that most people don’t want to antagonize me (based on my size and my encyclopedic knowledge of murder), but even I get disparaging remarks, or questions how much I earn with my books, or people who think their ideas are sufficiently interesting that they can tell them to me and I ‘just write them down’. Not to mention the many many people who would love to write a book, if only they had the time. Of course, the idiocy gets balanced by people who are genuinely awed by a writer’s ability to create stories and characters ‘out of thin air’ and readers writing you about the character they like the most and ask if that character will be featured in the upcoming book. Still, a writer needs thick skin. If you’re sensitive and insecure about your own abilities, you might want to reconsider choosing writing fiction as a career.

If you think other people could benefit from this information, please share this post using the social media buttons below.


OPINION: Why Bother?

Writing is an outlet for me. I’ve always enjoyed telling stories, but there’s not always someone around who has the time and patience to listen, so I write my stories down, just to have something tangible. My first novel had been pretty much ready for a decade, before I published it last year.

The people who can be bothered to read my work are glad they did, and encourage me to write more books. Not that I need their encouragement, as I would write my stories even if I wouldn’t be able to publish them, just to have them in material form, instead of telling them to myself in my head. Still, I enjoy receiving accolades from reviewers and beta readers.

My sales are not impressive, but I’m not that interested in bestsellers and being a flavour of the week. I’m in the storytelling game for the long haul. By all accounts, my characters remain present in the minds of my readers after they close the books, which is exactly what I wanted. Before I published the Amsterdam Assassin Series, people would see me writing and ask me what I wrote about. Now, I can just send them a link to my blog, from where they can sample or buy my books. So, I guess I will keep publishing my books, and writing more books.

I know there are 350,000 books published annually, and getting noticed is hard, so it might take until the third or fourth book is published before my sales go into the triple digits, but I honestly don’t care too much about that aspect of being a writer. I’d be doing this anyway. My only expense is hiring a graphic artist to make the covers, since I suck at that. And I found a student who can make my covers look reasonably professional without breaking the bank.

Do I ever have moments that I’d quit? I’ve had slumps and I found I became harder to live with when I stopped writing, for whatever reason. So quitting isn’t an option if I want to stay reasonably sane. Or, at least, not get any weirder than I’m now. And writing also gives me excuses to indulge in research, which is great fun. At least, if you enjoy looking at corpses getting eviscerated, destroying a leather punching bag with a Bic Crystal ballpoint pen, following a tameshigiri seminar to learn how to decapitate a body in one cut of a Japanese sword, or slaughtering a pig with a tactical folding knife to check if it can really handle the abuse of a brutal killing.

So, I guess I’d be writing and publishing far into the foreseeable future. And I hope you join me.