It ain’t as easy as you think.

Tell anyone you’re a writer and you might get a response like “Oh, I think it would be fun to write a novel.”

Yeah. Go for it.

There seems to be some thought that all you do is sit down at your laptop and…write. (Any writer reading this now will be thinking “Tell them. Please.”) A good story. Plotting. Character development. Story arc. Proper grammar. The right words. These are just the beginning.

We’ve got query letters, publishers, editors, cover designers. You consider book trailers, blog posts, readings and signings, all the other marketing tricks to sell your product. You might be a full-time writer but chances are you have a day job and other personal responsibilities (domicile, relationship, family, etc.). So, yeah, go ahead and have fun writing your novel.

Even among other artists, there is a kind of lack of awareness of what it takes to create your literary art. You ask a painter or sculptor what they’re working on and they’ll show you a canvas or a lump of clay and you can imagine the final product. Talk to a musician about their latest project and they’ll plop down at a piano and play part of a tune. Ask a writer and you get their elevator pitch followed by “Would you like to read a chapter?” No one accepts the offer. With the other arts, you can engage before you react. There is no way to react to a writer’s work without engaging in it.

When a publication date is announced and there is a book trailer and a cover reveal, there is a feeling of accomplishment for the writer. The prospective reader is waiting to feast their eyes on the work, maybe devouring the novel in an evening and relishing the complexity and nuances of the story. And that’s that. One night and perhaps two years of work and effort are consumed.

But, I tell you from experience, it ain’t as easy as you think.

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“Secrets of the Righteous” – Blurb, Release Date, & More

Baron Witherspoon, facially scarred WWI veteran turned beat cop in Arkansas City, KS, finds himself immersed in two different murder investigations that span the course of three years. Each case is heinous and filled with twists and turns. To catch the killers, he must go deep into their demented minds. What he doesn’t count on are the secrets—the ones that will be revealed and the ones he must keep. Will the knowledge he gains give him the answers he seeks or will it instead destroy him in the end?

SECRETS OF THE RIGHTEOUS, THE ARK CITY CONFIDENTIAL CHRONICLES will have its worldwide release on June 4, 2018. It will be available on Amazon along with the first book in the series, ARK CITY CONFIDENTIAL.

Check back here for a synopsis and excerpt on April 28, 2018. The cover reveal will be May 2, 2018. And within 24 hours look for a brief video containing photographic representations of the characters in the book. It’s what you might call a teaser trailer.

More information will be available on this blog and on my website.

And now…you can listen to it!

I’ve been writing since I was 6. That’s nearly fifty years. First, it was blue lined paper that I recall as being grayish. Then I progressed to the typewriter, the word processor, and finally the personal computer (desktop followed by laptop). I’ve adapted to the technology and while I don’t understand it completely, I am amazed by it.

It was intriguing when books on tape first came around. Commuters who didn’t have time to read would be able to stick six to eight cassettes in their deck in their car and “listen” to a book to and from work. It gave them something further to discuss around the water cooler and made them feel more “literary.”

As for myself as a writer, the eBook revolution is also captivating. There’s a tendency to think that people are reading more because they can carry around their personal “library” on a relatively small electronic device. While that’s not my preferred method, I appreciate the notion of getting people to read more.

The progression of my historical crime novel, “Ark City Confidential” went from: listening to stories from my wife’s uncle about Arkansas City, KS in the 1930’s; crafting a story; going through six drafts; pitching to a publisher; being accepted and getting assigned an editor; and going through further meticulous steps to create a tag line and a blurb and a cover. Naturally, the print book and eBook came out at the same time.

But when my publisher, The Wild Rose Press informed me of an opportunity to turn it into an audiobook, I jumped at the chance. There are, after all, a whole group of book lovers who prefer listening to a work, albeit not on cassette but on a rather more manageable digital format.

Therefore, I am extremely pleased to advise that “Ark City Confidential”is now available as an audiobook through Amazon. It is read in mellifluous tones by the supremely talented Bridger Conklin.

If you haven’t bought a print version or eBook, you should consider this wonderful rendition. As always, a review is a writer’s bread and butter. (Meaning, if we don’t get enough reviews all we’ll be eating is bread and butter.)

Go on; give it a listen!

When it’s NOT a lonely profession.

Ok, we’ve all heard the axiom that writing (as well as many other artistic endeavors) is a lonely profession. There is a good deal of truth to that but it is also stated from a limited perspective.

When my wife asks me what my plans are of an evening, I basically say “I’ve got work to do.” For the most part that means I will be in my office, hunched over my desk, with one of a number of files pulled up for continued effort, review, editing, or a more complex review of marketing strategy and social networking. The door isn’t closed. I find that to be rude. However, there is an understanding that “I’ve got work to do” means I shouldn’t be interrupted unless it is a matter of grave importance.

Whether it is research or your fifth draft, the entire process of writing (no matter if it is a novel, short story, or flash fiction) is not an endeavor that is shared. Outside of collaborators, most writers work alone. This has created that archetype of the lonely and withdrawn writer. We have historical examples of those who suffered mental illness, depression, drug or alcohol addiction, or worse.

Today, we live in a world connected by digital technology. Social networking means you can have friends, acquaintances, confidantes all over the world. Artistic soul mates with whom you can commiserate. While that may ease some degree of anguish brought on by the emotional torture we inflict upon ourselves, human connection is required.

This is where you find writer support groups, critique groups, and conferences. It doesn’t matter if it’s a handful of locals writing in different genres or a couple of hundred acolytes paying deference to a group of agents, editors, publishers, and successful authors, the connectivity and understanding to be gained by being around those who share your chosen avocation cannot be underestimated.

In barely two and a half weeks, I’ll be heading down to Oklahoma City to attend the OWFI conference. That organization will be celebrating its 50th year; for me it’s only my eighth. But in that short time, the friends I have made and the books I’ve been able to get published are a testament not to the lonely hours in a room with a laptop but to the human interactions, the acquired knowledge, and the encouragement that only fellow writers can give to each other.

So, while I sit here and compose this blog post and think of the direction my work-in-progress is taking and contemplate revising an old Transgressive novel, I’m looking forward to being around a group of folks of different ages and genres and levels of experience and success who all share the same love and passion for the written word.

Those are the times when it is NOT a lonely profession. Those are the best times.

Concentric Cycles of Ongoing Artistic Endeavors

At this very moment, I am:

Finalizing feedback and details for the audiobook version of Ark City Confidential.

Working with the editor and production staff for the sequel, Secrets of the Righteous.

Outlining the script for the book trailer.

Figuring out when to get together with two friends who were the inspiration for two main characters for a photo op.

Trudging through the first draft of book three, tentatively titled Lost in the Plains while determining when to go on a road trip for further research.

Reworking two older transgressive/experimental works to determine viability for publishing.

Oh, yeah, and the usual going to work, making dinner, running a house with my wife. You know, the day-to-day stuff.

It doesn’t stuff. It never ends. It is ongoing. The projects are like rhythms on some graph, cycles that overlap each other while at the same time cross at specific points. It is then you feel like a deer caught in headlights, the sum total of all your efforts and the entirety of your life coming together at one fixed point. The force of the energy is greater than a nuclear bomb and perhaps just as destructive. But you press forth, you move on, for it is the energy of creativity that is the single sole driving force in your life.

It is difficult at times to keep everything in order and to create a sense of clarity. I use apps and pieces of paper and still wind up with a very messy desk. Nevertheless, I am still able to see through all of the clutter. Every work, each project, has a clear and distinct voice that sings its own song. All these projects create a chorus of unique harmony rather than a cacophony of confusion.

This is my world. And I embrace it.

Passion

I was recently halfheartedly involved in an assignment at work that was comparable to a kindergarten craft project. It was to make Passion Buckets. Galvanized buckets were handed out with the instructions to decorate them and fill them with your “passions” (i.e. fortune cookie pieces of paper describing your passions). This was intended to allow your co-workers to get to know you better. As though anyone really has the time.

I printed three photos and taped them to the bucket, just to be done with it. It occurred to me I had truly identified my passions. There was a photo of Humphrey Bogart, my favorite actor from Casablanca, my favorite film, and a man who shares the same initials. There was Raymond Chandler in the famous pose with his black cat, smoking a pipe, the classic image of a mystery writer. There was Dashiell Hammett sitting at his typewriter. By quickly completing this project, I realized my one true passion.

Writing.

Now, those who know me might be taken aback. “Hey, you have a lovely wife and a beautiful home. And I know you absolutely love cooking and talking about food. How can you say those are not your passions as well?”

It dawned on me that before my wife and my home and my culinary interests, I was writing, fond of words and reading and writers and poets. I feel totally alive while writing, as though some deep inner energy emerges and allows me to BE who I am, who people see and encounter. It is akin to a life force.

Would I still be the same if I didn’t write? Perhaps. Maybe not so energetic. More like a robot running through the steps and paces and protocols. I have determined that in order to be who I am (who I really am; who I have become; who I have been all along) I MUST continue to write.

After all, it is my passion!

What if…

Those two words are the only magic a writer needs. They have been a mantra for me for many years as stories have developed from the mere notion of possibilities.

What if…A disgraced former Wichita cop who now is the chief of security at a casino in Minnesota is drawn home because of a mysterious phone call referencing the fate of his younger brother. (“Swan Song”, currently out of print.)

What if…A series of murders are occurring around the country in which criminals who haven’t been prosecuted or got off are being executed and a team of profilers finally determine it is the same perpetrator. (“The .9 mm Solution”, currently out of print.)

What if…A disfigured World War I veteran, now a beat cop in a small Kansas town, determines a new guy in town is likely a Chicago gangster and a key to his past. (“Ark City Confidential.“)

What if…A divorced forty-something man who hates his job and the petty commercialization of today’s society takes up contract killing to relieve his boredom. (“Weekend Getaways, or Adventures in Contract Killing”, unpublished.)

You watch the news, read a magazine article, have a general conversation, and, if you are perceptive, the possibilities materialize in your mind’s eye like a High Definition Wide-Screen movie and you follow along gleefully. That’s the key: being aware, being open, making yourself ready to recognize when stories fall into your lap.

We know there is much work after that. Outline, plotting, story arc, character development, your agent, your publisher, your editor, etc. But it starts somewhere very special. All with a simple…What if!

The public and private face of a writer

You may have seen me at book signings or a writers conference. We could have run into each other at the grocery store. I know we’ve talked about the current book, the new book, the audio version while at work and wondered if you, too, can get your name included (i.e. “be a character”). This is the outgoing face of a writer, the person who recognizes that the product IS the person. However, in order to get to that point, there is an awful lot that goes on behind the scenes, shall we say, that most people are not aware of.

First, most writers have their own special place where they reside: an office, an unused bedroom, even a corner of the dining room table after the meal is over. Many writers also retire to the confines of a coffee shop or small bistro with wi-fi in order to get away from the staid old surroundings of the familiar in hopes of generating the energy required to write. By this, we refer to mental energy, the fuel for any creative effort.

Depending on whether your “old school” or not, there is a kind of notebook, whether written or digital, that contains ideas and research material, character bios and possible plot lines. This goes alongside the laptop, tablet, or one-subject notebook where the work is being created.

While the external world provides the sensory data and experiences that are necessary, it is necessary to exclude it during this process. Perhaps if I were writing poetry and wanted to be inspired, I would be like Wordsworth and remain outdoors. When writing historical crime fiction, as I do, I need to be able to eliminate modern contrivances to allow my mind to inhabit a time period seventy or eighty years prior.

“Sorry to bother you” is an expression that, although gracious in its sentiment, breaks the concentration, especially if a scene was progressing fabulously. Gritting teeth and almost pounding the fists after an intrusion does nothing to regain composure but is a required outlet.

“I really need to get this done” is a comment made with a trembling of guilt in the voice because, after all, is writing more important than anything else? The answer is Yes.

As with all other efforts, there will be a time when the writer tires. It takes a great deal of that mental energy to write a chapter or edit a manuscript. If you are not a full-time writer (i.e. you have a day job and other domestic responsibilities), you may go into a writing session already short on energy. However, just being able to get something accomplished provides a great feeling of satisfaction.

In a rush, there is reaching out to your publisher, working with your editor, doing a cover reveal, announcing the release date, making marketing plans, creating a book trailer. All this requires yet another form of energy and specific mental calculation.

And everything leads to that guy you see at a writers conference or in the office, energetically talking about his book and the writing process. You will only ever see the public face.

Progress, at any speed

I suppose it is only natural to desire artistic success at a young age. I knew early on I wanted to be a writer. There were plenty of classes in school. I was raised in a home filled with books and art and culture. But I also recognized I just didn’t have it in college. Oh, there was desire and creativity. However, in terms of craft, I was not fully developed. Hard to tell in retrospect if it was lack of discipline or lack of understanding. Then again, it could have been lack of experience.

Then came the period from 1990-1995. The Boston Poetry Scene. Much diverse reading. Much experimentation with form and prosody. An even more diverse group of people to share and talk and commiserate. “Craft” with a capital C. It wasn’t anything you could hang a professional hat on. By the time I moved to Kansas, I was 33, still wanted to be a writer, but didn’t know where I was going.

Project Greenlight got me back into writing screenplays, something I studied in college in my 20’s. That effort went nowhere. Then I learned about NaNoWriMo and I figured it was the best way to jump-start my fiction writing. By that time I was 45.

There was self-teaching in blogs, self-publishing, social media. I was developing a platform (you know, whatever THAT is) and went to writer’s conferences and hung out with younger poets and could sense something was happening.

Progress.

Ten years after the first NaNoWriMo, I had two books published (which have since been removed from print by the publisher), found a new publisher, got a book published, am currently working toward having that book turned into an audio book, working with an editor on the follow-up, and am writing the third in the series. I’m 55. I’m not a 20-something prodigy. I’m a married homeowner with a full-time job and a bunch of personal responsibilities. BUT…there is progress.

Is a dream any more desirable because it is achieved earlier in life? Is following your dream, at any pace, still as satisfying? I think of my perceptions in my 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, to now. When the movie “10” came out, I was 16 years old and fascinated by Bo Derek’s slow motion jog down a beach in a one-piece swimsuit. Thirty years later, I empathized with Dudley Moore’s issues with aging. The movie hadn’t changed; I had.

The only thing that has not changed is my passion for words and writing and the literary world. Progress, at any speed, is desirable and satisfying largely because it means you have not allowed your dreams to die.

Keep dreaming. Keep writing.

What’s normal?

A while back, I came up for a unique idea for a novel. It was to be the fictional biography of an author (not me) named H.B. Berlow, being written by me, H.B. Berlow. The whole thing was designed to explore the nature of identity and how important it is to know more about the author than just reading the book.

Shortly thereafter, I read an article in Writer’s Digest that referenced ‘metafiction’ and upon further review, I discovered that was the concept behind what I had thought about writing. Then, I came across Eckhard Gerdes on Facebook, discovered the Journal of Experimental Fiction, and realized that my mind was naturally bringing me on a different course.

Background check: I was a young writer who wrote short stories. Then I was a college student studying film-making and screenwriting. That was followed by a thirty-something semi-bohemian poet who morphed into a writer of crime fiction. It’s what writers do: grow, change, progress, learn, develop craft, take from their life experience. Perhaps I had thought that writing experimental fiction was something for someone considerably younger. Then it occurred to me that I had ALREADY considered something different for me, discovered it WAS a genre, and determined my curiosity was still piqued.

I twice entered the Kenneth Patchen Award competition through JEF simply as a way to validate my efforts. While not a winner, I eventually came across a call for submissions to an anthology that Mr. Gerdes was editing. My entry was accepted. Offbeat/Quirky is an enticing collection of stories of a far-ranging nature. It is an honor to be included.

Since the acceptance (which was some time back), I’ve gone on to publish a historical crime fiction (Ark City Confidential) and am working on the next entries in the series. But something compels me to return to experimental fiction. The unique opportunities it presents allows me to break out from rigid structures and tell stories in a way that might hit directly to a reader’s core or open up their minds to another way of viewing the world around them.

The notion that literary fiction (or even genre fiction for that matter) is more “normal” is absurd. Anyone viewing the wide gamut of movies, television shows, music, even theater, can see that the “standards” have been broadened as artists seek to reach out to more and more people. For me, experimental fiction is like another cuisine to cook, keeping my culinary interests fresh, serving a meal that is not like yesterday’s or the day before.

As I challenge myself, I also challenge readers to step outside of their so-called comfort zone. Find something that is intriguing that may not be your standard. Don’t worry: it’s perfectly normal.

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