Something like a guitarist

I came across an article on Facebook recently about a listing of the all-time great guitarists. These are subjective discussion starters (or perhaps argument starters depending on your level of passion). Naturally, I read the article, then Googled other lists. The usual suspects appeared in the top 10 most of the time: Hendrix, Page, Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and on and on.

As I read through these lists it was quite natural for small sections of music to come to mind with each article about the individual. Being 55, having grown up in the late 60’s and 70’s, many of these figures were part of my formative musical education. Not being a musician myself, I learned later on about a guitarist’s tone based on the guitar used, the type and weight of the strings and how he pulled or bent them. Other factors, such as amps and feedback and wah-wah bars, also contributed to that guitarist’s unique sound.

It occurred to me in a very delightful fashion that writers have a tone as well. It’s the way we use words, phrases, slang. It’s evident in the outlook on life that our characters express. Even the resolutions to our stories set an indelible tone.

I can easily ascertain a difference between Hammett, Chandler, Woolrich, Thompson, and Ellroy. It would be cool to provide an analogy of a guitarist to each writer but that would belabor the point.

Hard boiled. Noir. Dark. Sure, maybe they all share those components. But the reason I read them and like them is for their differences, the subtle nuances that declare each man to be an individual and not part of a collective genre. Something like a guitarist. Once you get past the external and dig deeper, you can recognize the tone that each writer sets and understand how they are captivating and bring you in to their world. I choose not to make lists or prioritize preferences. “I like X over Y” seems to diminish Y. “I like X because…” and then “I like Y because…” says you understand how a writer works his magic on you.

Blues rock vs. heavy metal. Hard-boiled vs. police procedural. Doesn’t matter. Like the music, give me good quality writing with an individualistic tone and you got me from cover to cover.

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Voice

I just started working with a new editor on the follow-up to Ark City Confidential. From one of her earlier e-mails she wrote:

“I enjoy your writing style and the tight control you have on writing.”

This is amazingly gracious especially from an editor. It was also something that got me to thinking more about “my style” and more importantly, my voice. I don’t believe that either develop from a conscious effort. Much as learn and develop your craft, your style and voice emerge from it.

Prior to actually reading classic hard-boiled fiction, I was very interested in film noir, even more so as I was attending the University of Miami in the early 80’s and studying screen writing and film-making. The genre, whose name was coined by the French, emerged from the German expressionists of the 20’s. Blacks and whites and grays combined with disorienting angles all for the purpose of revealing the uglier side of the human condition. Just check out The Lady From Shanghai or Touch of Evil, both by Orson Welles.

Now, I’m not a tough guy by any means. But as I developed a penchant for writing crime fiction, the lyricism of Raymond Chandler, the desolation of Cornell Woolrich, the rugged individuality of Dashiell Hammett, and the scatological poetry of James Ellroy all influenced me. Like ingredients in a fancy cocktail, these authors and their work were shaken up and filtered through my background, my sensibilities, and even my strengths and weaknesses as a person.

I certainly can’t describe my style or my voice. It would be like finding definitive attributes as to why I love my wife. Sometimes a thing exists, can be sensed and experienced without words. This would be the truest irony: being unable to define my own voice.

It is possible that, over time, that voice may change, much in the way that my style has developed up and around the craft itself. For right now, I deeply enjoy getting to know myself as a writer.

Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right…

It’s not my intention to have you visualize Michael Madsen as Mr. Blonde from “Reservoir Dogs.” I’m simply using a song to identify a pleasant crossroad for a writer.

I’m currently in the process of submitting the second book in the Ark City Confidential chronicles. (No news yet, but you’ll be the first to know.)

Obviously, there is also continued marketing and exposure for the first book while waiting for the “draft” of the audio book to review once it is prepared. (That means listening to MY book read by someone else. Which is cool and scary at the same time.)

If I get a contract for the second book, there will be a conscientious editing process. Of course, I have been meticulously outlining and researching the third book in the series. (I’ve learned that when you write historical crime fiction, there is more than just character development and plotting.)

I don’t know if the use of ‘crossroad’ earlier was correct. It feels more like being on a single path in which there are marionette-like strings attached to me pulling me backward and forward and holding me in place all at the same time. I’ve never been in this position before, working on the past, present, and future simultaneously.

Not exactly sure if I’m a clown or a joker. Right now, just a writer enjoying the process.

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.

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.

“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.

“Ark City Confidential” – The Challenges of Historical Fiction

You currently know how to make a call and text and surf the internet on your smart phone; where to get a quick bite to eat; how to get cash expediently. You have myriad options for entertainment whether it is television through any source, the movies, or even a video arcade. Your grocery stores are Super stores which means you can buy whatever you need just about twenty-four hours a day.

If you are writing contemporary fiction, you already know what you need to know. However, if you try to write any kind of historical fiction, you may fall into some traps.

Now, by “historical fiction” I am basically referencing anything before this time, now. The Reagan administration from 1980-1988 could be considered as historical as the French Revolution or the Crusades. We truly have no idea how life was lived in those times, the basics of everyday life. The question arises: What do we need to know and what do we need to include in our stories?

I have always felt that the more detail you provide, the more of a trap you might fall into. There is the danger of becoming so enamored of your description that you take away from the story. You might also be providing the reader with the opportunity for the classic response “That’s not how it was!”

More importantly is the manner of writing given the fact you have a 20th century mindset. A couple of flappers from the 20’s are not “besties” and the court jester to the English king during the War of the Roses was not “ROFL”. While those may be obvious examples, there are the subtle nuances that make you who you are in today’s world that have to be eliminated when writing historical fiction.

While it was a challenge, “Ark City Confidential” takes place in a time period (1930’s Depression-era America) that had always been a source of fascination for me, even while growing up. The opportunity to learn more about the state that has been my home for over 20 years was a further reward. It is my hope that I have captured the era and the essence in service to an exciting crime story.

“Ark City Confidential” has its worldwide release one week from today, January 11, 2017. It will be available in paperback and on Kindle through The Wild Rose Press and Amazon.

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“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.

“Ark City Confidential” – Excerpt

“I never heard the shell that exploded some fifty yards behind me, never felt a part of my skull chipped away. I could only see a mass of barbed wire coming straight for my face as I fell and wondered if those tiny pieces of metal actually could completely pluck out my eye. A soldier who witnessed the event told me I was like a wild beast caught in a trap, twisting and gyrating so fervently I actually caused more pieces of my face to be ripped away from the bone. Strange thing was I was trying to get away. Maybe I was always trying to get away. Fortunately for him, George McAllister never knew the tortures of the damned. If he was lucky, he never would. I hoped it wouldn’t take something tragic for him to learn.

I remember when Charlie Noble got himself an Indian and had the honor of being Arkansas City’s first motorcycle cop. They offered me a chance to ride one but I declined. I preferred walking my beat, which is probably why my feet were always bothering me. I liked being around the people I was protecting and keep a watchful eye over them. It was important to look at them and see their faces, look into their eyes, look into their hearts. They thought they could see into mine but they were usually wrong. Most of them were respectful when they looked at me, trying to see beyond the scars and remember the boy that grew up in their midst. I was grateful for that. It made it easier for me because I didn’t always remember as well.”

Worldwide release date, January 11, 2017 at The Wild Rose Press and Amazon.

“Ark City Confidential” – The Cover Reveal

My Prohibition-era crime novel Ark City Confidential, will have its world-wide release on January 11, 2017 through The Wild Rose Press. In the meantime, please enjoy the stunning cover.

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Ark City, KS, known as “Little Chicago”, has secrets buried as deep as its underground tunnels. But police officer Baron Witherspoon has secrets of his own.

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