I’m doing it backwards!

In past posts, I have discussed differing writing styles, tendencies, and trends that I have in comparison to other writers. The “way” they tell you to do it in books. The “best practices” that are instructed in writers conferences or even in schools (although it has been 34 years since I last took a Creative Writing class).

I am a big advocate for doing what works best for the individual. By the time you are connected to an editor through a publisher, your “style” may be forced to change to meet the deadlines placed before you. In the meantime, until you get to that point, write as you wish.

If I actually paid attention to the books and the instruction, I would have to admit that I am doing things…backward! Assuming that the editing and revising process is for chipping away at a bunch of extra stuff you threw in on the first draft, a la a NaNoWriMo effort, all subsequent drafts are a purge and a cleanse. However, I am creating characters and telling a story in my first draft and am driven to just, for lack of a better description, getting it out.

In both my first historical crime fiction, “Ark City Confidential”, as well as the recently completed follow-up, I have come to realize that I am adding on to drafts two and three before purging and cleaning in draft four and onward. I look for logic errors in terms of character description or designation, add scene enhancements to color and flavor, maybe even throw in a red herring I hadn’t considered before.

I remember seeing a video on YouTube by Les Edgerton, who I had met at the OWFI conference a couple of years ago. He was fascinating and had some definitive ideas about writing. In the video, he talked about the process of being meticulous in his first draft in terms of sentence structure, word choice, and storytelling. There was an absolute precision about the first draft, no matter how long it took.

While I respect Les and his craft, that doesn’t work for me. Some people might point to his publishing success as an end result of his process. While there may be a correlation, I enjoy writing, the process of writing, and the craft. Publishing is a by-product of that process. So, while I respect and admire teachers of any sort, I also recognize the myriad methodologies that exist and the countless writers honing their craft.

Direction is a matter of perspective. Am I doing it backwards? Depends upon your point of view.

What’s your style?

With regard to the aforementioned question, I am not inquiring as to genre or even fiction versus non-fiction versus poetry. I have come to realize that all writers have a different style in the manner in which they write. For the longest time, we have accepted the notions of Plotters and Pantsers. Plotters are meticulous and detail-oriented, outlining their stories and creating intricate biographies for their characters. Pantsers, as the name implies, write by the seat of the their pants. They have a rough idea of a story and characters but are content to discover what happens along the way.

As we all realize, there is no correct way or proper methodology. But I would like to present two new concepts to you for thought as well as discussion. Flauberts and Black Maskers.

Gustave Flaubert was a French writer of the mid-nineteenth century, a leading exponent of literary realism, and known especially for his novel “Madame Bovary.” He had a scrupulous devotion to style and aesthetics and pursued the principle of finding le mot juste, “the right word.” There were other prominent French writers in literary realism of the time, including Honore de Balzac and Emile Zola, whose output was far more prodigious than Flaubert. As such, he can only be evaluated by a smaller group of works.

The pulp writers of the 20’s and 30’s, primarily those writing for magazines like the Black Mask, were paid by the word. Too often we find whole sections of action thrillers and crime and mystery fiction to be endless description or first-person narrative that drones on. It’s understandable when you consider the payment structure. However, you might come across a truly brilliant piece of writing, such as Jim Thompson’s “The Killer Inside of Me” that is as haunting as anything Stephen King wrote. These guys have long lists of short stories and novels.

Now this may be nothing more than a new take on the Plotters versus Pantsers. But I’d like to know: Are you a Flaubert or a Black Masker?

So much more to do!

What do you do after you’ve worked hard to write a book in a totally new genre, found a publisher, gone through the editing process, and eagerly awaited the publication date of your book? You write the next one.

But, wait, there’s all that marketing and promotional stuff and advertising and….

Yes, but you still have to write. You ARE a writer, first and foremost

If it feels like my head is spinning, it’s because it is. I made a promise to myself to complete the first draft of the follow up to Ark City Confidential, my Prohibition-era crime novel set in rural Kansas. And I did. This way I could focus on the OWFI conference. Which I also did.

Then, I outlined the third book in the series just because, well, the story was playing around in my mind and needed to at the very least be written down. So, now as I go back to the editing/rewriting process of the second one, I’ve come across more marketing opportunities for the first one and…

Oh, yeah, and I’ve got to make my lunch for work tomorrow and make a list for grocery shopping on Sunday and…

When you are a writer, you are literally in the middle of a tornado. (A fitting analogy for the guy who lives in Kansas.) There is no rest. I mean, here it is, Thursday night, paying bills, and I’m taking the time to write a blog post because I have something to say (wild and chaotic but it is SOMETHING!).

The most important thing to realize is that there is a “business” side to the arts, any discipline, and it has to fit in like a snug jigsaw puzzle piece into the rest of your life. There is so much more to do, yes. And with all this, I am enjoying every moment.

The Obligatory Post-Conference Blog Post

This was my sixth year attending the OWFI conference. That means I know more people now than I did, understand the publishing business with greater awareness, and have a better chance at success. For those writers that don’t attend conferences, allow me to enlighten you on a few things.

“Everything you learn at a conference is the gospel and should be followed to the letter.”
Regrettably, this is a fallacy. Every writer, every faculty member, is different with a different manner of conducting their lives and their writing careers. A conference is designed to offer a smorgasbord of options and possibilities for you to choose from. Pick what works for you, maybe try something different, but always remember you are your own person.

“At a conference, all you’ve got to do is deliver a good pitch and an agent or publisher is going to pick you up and sign you.”
No, unfortunately that’s a fallacy as well. While it is true that agents, editors, and publishers do attend conferences because they are more likely to find a special writer or property, you as the writer still have to make a full and complete effort. Do the research. Bring high quality work. Be professional and respectful. You might have a better opportunity than a cold query but you still have to do the work.

“A conference that is not geared toward my genre is of no use to me.”
Perhaps in terms of specific genres that may make sense. However, the craft of writing and the tools used by writers is the same regardless of genre. Not to mention the fact that you make friends and get your name and face out there (as well as your business card), you are making positive professional steps by showing up and attending.

“A conference is only an excuse to get together with other writers and party.”
Ok, part of this is true. However, all of that happens at the end of the conference when the sessions have ended and the banquet is over and the awards have been given out. Then, as celebratory human beings, writers have been known to imbibe in intoxicating liquid refreshments.

For me, friendships and deeper understanding of this crazy life as a writer is what make these journeys special and spectacular. It takes a great deal of work and effort to write, edit, publish, and market a book. Go to a conference and realize you are NOT alone.

Networking, or Meeting New Friends

I was involved in a chat session last night through my publisher, The Wild Rose Press, discussing networking with other writers. This is an invaluable concept, especially in this digital world. If you are not fortunate enough to be involved in a local critique group or writer’s support group, there are many online venues to stay in touch with other writers, share knowledge, get feedback and suggestions. We don’t compete against each other; we are thrilled for each other’s success and strive to attain our own.

What I find equally enjoyable is networking with readers. I am fortunate to have a small following at work, people who are thrilled to know I had a new book published, Ark City Confidential, and want to own it, perhaps because of the potential of future fame. You know: “Hey, I worked with that guy.”

Beyond the scope of the “real world” I have come across readers and bloggers who enjoy getting their hands on a new book and reviewing it, sharing it within the circle of those who follow THEIR insights. The virtual bookshelves are filled with volumes from countless writers, all reaching out and hoping to find a special audience. So it is these readers and bloggers who light the path ahead and make it easier to find a worthwhile story to download on their Kindle or Nook or tablet. Obviously they are not going to sign off on anything and impugn their integrity. So it is incumbent upon all writers to put forth quality work and reach out to ALL potential readers.

Networking is a way of making new friends with like interests. On one hand it is easier now with all the internet related options. On the other hand, an author has to work harder to present themselves in as true and honest a fashion as possible without the benefit of shaking someone’s hand or looking at them in the eye. My hope is that I have been able to do that.

For your viewing pleasure, please enjoy the book trailer. And if you have purchased the book and read it, please leave a review as this is the ultimate key to an author’s success.

The 10

When I moved to Boston from Florida in 1990, I was literally starting my life over again. I had gotten divorced and had spent eight of the prior ten years in Florida, with it no longer feeling like a home and with nothing to hold me back. Moving back to Boston was like returning to my youth. Of course, at that time I was 28 and uncertain of my future. Nevertheless, it was going to be a fresh start.

Clothes, my writings, and very few personal possessions were my entire world. And books. However, since space was limited (as well as funds for shipping anything significant), I opted to bring only ten books. Twenty-seven years later, I do not recall what they were. Suffice it to say, my house is currently a small library.

It got me to thinking about what were the important books, or rather, what would be THE important books if ever I were in a position of “starting over.” I realized I could make a list now and then later, tomorrow or a month from now, that list might change. My only caveat was that I could not name “complete” volumes or collections, other than poetry. There would also have to be a viable reason for each: WHY were they important. After some thought, here is my list (at least for today) in no particular order:

1) The Bible, Old and New Testaments, King James Version. For the poetry and for the beauty of the language as well as a reminder of my ethical roots.

2) The Razor’s Edge by Somerset Maugham. A story of a spiritual journey (which I first read at a low point in my life) seems an obvious choice if I were on a new spiritual journey.

3) Ulysses by James Joyce. I’ve only started it, never delved too far in. Again, the language is magnificent and the story of a journey within a day is impressive.

4) The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler. Never has murder seemed to be written about with such panache. A major influence on my writing.

5) Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens. The intricacies of thought coming from an insurance executive is stunning. Truly a craftsman.

6) Collected Poems of Dylan Thomas. Such unbridled passion and lyricism. There is nothing like him today.

7) Jazz: A history of America’s Music by Ward and Burns. The companion piece to the documentary series. You can HEAR the music while reading.

8) The Killer Inside Me by Jim Thompson. Well, we need some good pulp fiction. Bitter, brutal, nasty, and raw.

9) The Interpretation of Dreams by Freud. If you’re on a spiritual journey, it might be helpful to understand yourself.

10) On The Road by Jack Kerouac. A combination of lyricism, passion, brutal honesty, and unmitigated gall. And a reminder that the road doesn’t end.

That’s my list. I’d love to see yours.

“Persistence” is not a four-letter word.

Those who watched super Bowl LI saw a comeback of epic proportions. The number one scoring offense, the Atlanta Falcons, had a 25 point lead on the New England Patriots with about twenty-one minutes left in the game. I’m sure there were many viewers (some even Patriot fans) who turned off the t.v. or changed channels. Those people missed one of the greatest football games ever, largely because they thought it was already over.

Believe it or not, as much of a football fan as I am (as well as a Boston sports fan), this example is not meant to instigate a discussion about sports. All artists, especially writers, know that the “game” is stacked against them. The world at times acts as though it doesn’t need Art, doesn’t require music to move to, doesn’t need painting a nd sculpture to work its way into our hearts, and doesn’t need the thought-provoking collection of words that writers so desperately try to achieve.

Often, we use the notion of just wanting to complete the novel as a kind of miniature motivation. We have a story to tell and, damn it, we’re going to write our story. But, oh well, the market is flooded; it’s probably not that good; I’ll never find an agent or an editor or a publisher; even if I do, it’s going to be just one of countless books in the whirlpool of the Amazon galaxy; and on and on and on. We dig our own 25 point deficit by relinquishing the victory to others.

If you look at the game, the Patriots didn’t just score 25 points on one play or even one series. They chipped away and maintained their persistence. They did what they trained to do only they started doing it better. Each minor success lead to a bigger one. A score or two brought them respectability. Two more scores tied up the game, making the playing field equal again. And, when they had the chance to win, they marched down the field, an overwhelming sense of confidence glowing like an aura within that stadium.

Wouldn’t we all like more reviews, bigger sales, larger royalty checks? Wouldn’t we give anything for more time to access social media, do blog tours, be at book signings, and, well, write the next one? That’s a large chunk of points to swallow in one setting. So, we do what we can a little at a time until it all becomes manageable, until we are in sight of our goal.

Persistence is the key. Make it your mantra.

And we’re on to the next one.

Before I left the OWFI Conference last year, someone told me that publishers were looking for series characters. I had completed my Prohibition-era crime novel, Ark City Confidential but hadn’t yet offered it to anyone. There I was on the two and a half hour ride home to Wichita thinking about a series.

Without anything more than time and some jazz and lounge music, I cobbled out in my head the “scenarios” for three stories to follow. Obviously the most important one is the next one. What I have found so far is that it is harder than writing the original. There was a sense of discovery as the characters unfolded before me, revealing themselves, with minor epiphanies along the way. I remember the “Aha!” moment at work when I figured out how it would end.

So, now it’s published. It’s out there as a real world created in my imagination. Whereas stories can change and morph during a first, second, or third draft, I am finding that it is important to keep a sense of wonder about my main character, Baron Witherspoon, the disfigured World War I vet who is a beat cop in Arkansas City, KS. I can’t act as though “Oh, I told his story in the first book and now everybody knows him.” The truth is there is still more to learn. There is always more to learn such as it is with couples, friends, or co-workers. No matter how well you think you know someone, you must expect more in terms of depth that you have not yet fathomed.

The story is emerging slowly and the secondary characters are demanding their fair share of time. As long as they are interesting, they will be more than welcome in this world. And, as with the first, there is more historical research to do to maintain the proper sense of time and place. It’s really quite funny that I had been looking for something to work on after this one was completed. Looks like I’ll be busy for a while.

A Writer Defines Success As…?

Far be it from me to advise ANY writer what the definition of “success” is on any terms: personal, professional, spiritual, or anything else. Where you are in your career and what your goals are determine that? Did John Irving consider it a success to win an Oscar for adapting his own novel, “The Cider house Rules”, into a screenplay? How could John Kennedy Toole know his novel, “A Confederacy of Dunces”, would win the Pulitzer Prize over ten years after his suicide? And John O’Brien committed suicide two weeks AFTER learning that his novel, “Leaving Las Vegas”, was going to be made into a movie. The bottom line is that we can not judge.

I started with two self-published short novels, largely so I would have something to “offer” my parents who had been so supportive and encouraging throughout my life. Just to have them read those two minor works was a success to me. In a hospital shortly before being taken to hospice, my father inquired about my forthcoming novel through a traditional publisher. Regrettably he did not live to see it published. My mother got a copy and was upset when staff at the assisted care facility were negligent in returning it to her expediently. That was her prized possession. The second novel from that publisher was released after her passing.

Now, with the release of a new historical fiction through a new publisher, I have taken a step forward. Financially? No, not yet anyway. But professionally, I took a risk writing something with a greater degree of difficulty based on the necessary research. In working with a new publisher, The Wild Rose Press, I had the opportunity to work with an editor and graphic design team and a whole group of people who were sincerely intent on looking out for my interests and encouraging me to use all the resources they had available. How is it possible to NOT consider that a success?

Don’t get me wrong. There are the fantasies/dreams/hopes of the New York Times Best Sellers List and a movie deal and attending premieres. The ultimate success? Perhaps. As long as I continue to develop as a writer, tell and engaging story, and am able to connect with readers, everything ELSE that comes from that is just additional enrichment.

If you HAVE purchased “Ark City Confidential”, please leave a review either on the publisher’s site or at Amazon. This will go a long way to ensuring a measure of success.

“Ark City Confidential” – The Book Trailer

To be perfectly honest, book trailers are a lot of fun but don’t really resonate with audiences the way movie trailers do. After all, using a visual medium to entice folks to watch…a visual medium is a no-brainer. The book trailer simply presents images that give a potential reader the added interest after seeing the book cover and reading the blurb.

It is for that reason that I have created my own for all of m traditionally published books. It just doesn’t make sense to pay for something that doesn’t yield great dividends. For me, it’s simply about maintaining the digital skills that this new world of publishing requires.

I use my own existing photos or take photos so that I don’t worry about copyright infringement. I’ve also located Kevin MacLeod’s website, Incompetech.com. A Scottish musician and composer, MacLeod offers a wide range of music royalty free as long as it is credited. A donation via Paypal is graciously accepted.

For the book trailer to “Ark City Confidential”, I started by searching for the music. Ten options presented themselves before I settled on one based on mood and tone as well as length. Then I wrote a script. Like an old college class I took over thirty years ago on writing television commercials, it would be necessary to match the sections of the script with visuals.

This is where the problem arose. This novel was a Prohibition-era crime story. There were no photos I could take locally that would present themselves ideally and I didn’t have any photos. Or did I? When my father passed away in 2012, my wife and I returned home with boxes of photo albums which turned into a nightmarish scanning project. My dad, who was nearly 90, pretty much grew up in the time period.

Then there were a few photos from the past 40 years that could be changed to black-and-white or sepia for effect. In essence, I used my family as representations of criminals in a book trailer. My grandfather, father, uncle, cousin, and even myself, all converted into 1930’s gangsters.

I think they would have been proud.

“Ark City Confidential” is available from The Wild Rose Press and on Amazon.

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