A Tribute to a Black Cat

During the 1930’s, Chandler had a black Persian called Taki. He often spoke to her as if she were human. Sometimes he called her his secretary, because she frequently sat on the paper we was about to use or on copy that needed revising.

I first read this about Raymond Chandler in The Book of Lists 2 under the category 12 CAT LOVERS. The book was published in 1979. Along with it was this photo:

At the time, I was in high school, thinking I might want to be a writer, maybe a journalist, possibly in film-making. I didn’t read classic crime fiction like Chandler and Hammett, preferring mostly to watch the classic noir movies. But the thought struck me that crime novelists had black cats. I mean, what else would they have?

So, time goes along. I study screenwriting in college and didn’t do much with it. Wrote a lot of poetry, mostly tragic sobbing over a bad relationship. Got intellectual but still wasn’t writing anything worth a darn. It was in 2007 that I finally tried NaNoWriMo and the first thing I worked on was a hard-boiled noir crime drama. As dark and nasty as I could get. At the time, Mongo had been part of our household for three years along with Camille (a black and white bi-color) and Rupert (a tuxedo cat). Initially, they reminded me of Butch and Sundance and Etta, with Rupert being Butch (the thinker) and Mongo being Sundance (quick to shoot) and sweet Camille as Etta.

But then, as Mongo started to hang around in the office while I wrote, I was reminded of that Chandler photo and I realized I had Sam Spade, Joel Cairo, and Brigid O’Shaughnessy:

I was writing crime fiction and I finally had my black cat. Now all I needed was the photo:

This was the first take. I was lucky because the rest didn’t come out so well. Maybe Mongo didn’t realize what I was up to at first but he didn’t feel much like cooperating after that. I’m certainly not Raymond Chandler, but this crime writer has HIS photo with his black cat.

Mongo crossed over The Rainbow Bridge two days ago, worn out by his fight against cancer. He was truly a partner who showed me that all the best cat qualities can be found in the characters I put on paper. I will keep writing and keep reminding myself that a black cat possibly taught me more about human nature than over 35 years in customer service.

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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.

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.

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.

Wow!

Today was the release date for my Prohibition-era crime novel, Ark City Confidential.

That was the first Wow!

From the time I announced signing a contract (on my birthday, no less) to the past six weeks of blog posts, cover reveals, teasers, info, and a book trailer, there has been an amazing response, a kind of enthusiastic encouragement mixed with anticipation.

That’s been an ongoing Wow!

But today: co-workers with hugs and pats on the back; messages from family locally and afar; comments from old friends and newer ones; and responses from Facebook friends I have not yet met. I think there is a realization that writers are not out to compete so much as succeed. Granted, every writer has a different definition of success. However, I take most of these comments to mean “Hey, you did it. You accomplished something. You should be proud of yourself.”

And I am. And that’s been the biggest Wow! of all.

“Ark City Confidential” – Countdown to release date

Two weeks.

When I think back to starting this book in 2014…Wait, no, how about all the years my wife’s uncle told me stories about the underground tunnels and “Little Chicago” and now I’m just two weeks away from the release of the book.

A former publisher has removed my previous titles making it appear as though I am a “debut author” which I am not. But it feels new. The good folks at The Wild Rose Press have treated me as a professional worthy of consideration and respect. It is my hope that sales will be sufficient enough to warrant publication of the next book in the series.

Jumping ahead of myself? Not really. It is incumbent upon an author to keep writing. All this marketing and networking is important for the business ventures backing you. But you HAVE TO KEEP WRITING.

For now, I will revel in these last two weeks before the curtain is officially drawn back and hope to scrounge up some readings and signings and get myself out there among the readers and many friends and family who support me.

Just another two weeks.

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