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.

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It’s Actually Happening

As many writers are aware, there are many steps and check marks along the way of writing the novel. There is the initial idea, much like a spiritual epiphany. Then the first draft, kind of like escaping from Egypt, followed by the rewrites, which feels like the forty years of wandering in the dessert. The search for an agent, editor, or publisher seems like climbing Mt. Sinai. The contract and the publishing process is almost the same feeling as Moses being given the Ten Commandments. And then…

Yes, a lot of Old Testament biblical analogies. The joys, and struggles and pain of the entire writing process is very much like a religious experience. Writers know this; the rest of you may not. So, when you receive an email whose subject line is WORLDWIDE RELEASE DATE NOTICE, it feels like you’ve reached the Promised Land.

I am very pleased to announce that my Prohibition-era crime fiction, “Ark City Confidential” will be released through The Wild Rose Press on January 11, 2017. An intricate story of gangsters in small town Arkansas City, KS in 1934, known to many as The Year of the Gangster, this richly detailed tale of a disfigured WWI veteran turned cop locking horns with a sly Chicago thug hiding out will remind readers of Bonnie and Clyde and several other Depression-era tales.

There will be a cover reveal and book signings to line up and other types of marketing efforts. Sure, the whole purpose is to sell the book. But for one moment, I stop and reflect on all the various stops along the way. It’s been an exciting journey and it seems like it’s only just begun.

Being Virtuous

Family, friends, co-workers — anyone who is NOT a writer — just doesn’t get how the writing and publishing business works. If you send a query, people will ask “Did they read your stuff?” or “Are they going to publish it?” I am probably the only writer they know. The agents and editors and small presses get bushels of queries. The process is painfully slow.

Perhaps I should be more eager. At my age, there may not be as much time for real publishing success. Then again, I’m a better writer now than when I was younger and had more time. I’ve fallen into the comfortable mode of coming up with new stories and continually developing my craft. It’s a Zen thing (or maybe, in my case, a Dudeist thing).

There is a little bug creeping inside of me, scratching away at my more refined and in-control instincts. I’ve been around long enough to recognize that writing is not a money-making venture for either the writers or the publishers. Only a handful of writers are successful enough to make their living solely as writers. Even then, there is the constant networking and book signings and appearances at conferences for the purpose of selling their books.

I would like very much to be in that small circle. Not elitist, mind you, but just smiling that a long-standing dream had come true. But we know not to tempt fate and assume that a response to a query may lead to a request for pages; a review of pages might bring back an inquiry for the entire manuscript. Only twice have I gotten past that stage. It’s a gratifying feeling and I’d like to experience it again.

This system was not of my own creation. This is how it works. They say that patience is a virtue. I have no other recourse but to be virtuous.

Post Conference Blues; Pre Conference Jitters

Last month was the KWA Scene Conference. The Friday night started off with Pitchapalooza. all day Saturday was filled with a vibe and an energy. I came out of it like most people who attended — energized and ready to write, edit, publish, self-publish, network, promote.

And then Real Life set it.

I’m not saying I feel like the rope is slipping through my hands, but I’ve barely made a dent in transcribing my notes from my digital voice recorder and I haven’t gotten started on an edit for an existing piece and a complete outline for two new pieces.

And now, I’ve just determined that my work schedule is NOT changing and I WILL have the opportunity to go to OWFI Conference. Which is barely three weeks away. Which I sill haven’t registered for or gotten a discount rate on a hotel room.

I can hear all the comments now. “What are you waiting for?” “Go online and register.” “Don’t miss out on a good deal.” “You NEED to go.”

It’s the last one that’s the kicker. I think most writers go through a phase which starts with showing your work to mommy and daddy. They, of course, think you’re brilliant and wouldn’t say a word against you. You may have some friends who are not writers who you trust — until they read your work (because, after all, they’re your friends) and you realize you can’t trust their opinion. Spouses will support you. They’ll tell you they’re behind you. That makes for a great relationship but you know you need more.

That’s where writer’s groups and conferences come into play. Agents, editors, publishers, and other book industry people don’t necessarily think you’re brilliant, can be trusted, and give you what you truly want — an In. A foot in the door. A chance. An opportunity.

But they don’t come to you. You’re supposed to go to them.

So after this entry, I am going on to the OWFI site to read about registering. I am going to reserve that hotel room before it goes up (and what struggling writer can afford that?) And I will be as prepared as I can in the short time I have.

Because, the bottom line is I believe in myself.

Which pitch to pitch?

The Kansas Writer’s Association’s Scene Conference is less than two months away. I am, indeed, excited. There is new knowledge, old friends, and opportunities.

One of those opportunities is a thing called PitchaPalooza, described on some web sites as the American Idol for Books. Apparently without Simon. The idea is that you get one minute to pitch your book with the winner getting a meet with a literary agent. It condenses all the frustrations or all the joys of sending query letters into sixty seconds of your life. Live. In front of other people.

Oh, what the hell! I’ll give it a go. Sure, I get nervous in situations like that. But if I hide behind my Tikiman persona and figure I’ve got nothing to lose, then everything will be okay.
Except…I’ve got two books I could pitch and I don’t know which one to go with.

Which pitch to pitch?

There’s Swansong, my first NaNoWriMo from 2007 which I have fleshed out and developed over the last four+ years. A good piece of hard-boiled crime fiction. Detailed locales from here in Wichita, KS. Really out-there characters (as you would expect from something detailing the dark underbelly of the crime world). A troubled yet heroic anti-hero.

On the other hand, I’ve got Weekend Getaways, or Adventures in Contract Killing. Darkly comic and Transgressive. (Think Brett Easton Ellis or Chuck Palahniuk.) Looks at the notions of self-improvement and the extreme angst of call center customer service. Unusual fonts and integrated paragraphs of non-linear description. Probably unpublishable. But I absolutely love it.

Traditional vs. non-traditional.
Dark vs. dark comedy.
Fitting into the mainstream vs. swimming upstream.
Good work in a genre of a lot of good work vs. standing clearly outside the lines and daring the reader to step over.

I know it’s not much to go on, but I’m asking you who read this…

Which pitch to pitch?

Validation

One of my Works in Progress is Weekend Getaways, or Adventures in Contract Killing. It is a dark comic piece of Transgressive fiction that tells the story of an unnamed forty-something man who no longer finds fascination with the trappings of modern life. Upon meeting an unusual older man, he embarks upon a new avocation of contract killing.

Thematically and stylistically, it has echoes of other contemporary Transgressive writers like Bret Easton Ellis and Chuck Palahniuk. But it employs unique typography and is designed to be as much of a visual assault as a literary one. I’ve been working on it quite a bit, expanding it, fleshing out the themes, and, well, making it even “crazier” than when I started.

I’ve always felt it would be a tough sell, especially as a new unpublished writer. (Although Jessica Regel of the Jean V Nagger Agency did give me a 4-week read on the first three chapters.) Nevertheless, I keep plugging away at it because it is both a challenging and rewarding piece and then I work on a more standard police procedural Work in Progress.

In my efforts to absorb more of the Transgressive style and intent, I bought Irvine Welsh’s Trash. He is the writer of Trainspotting but I decided to start with this (to me) unknown book first.

Excuse the cliché but…Lo and Behold! Unique typography. A parasite living in the main character’s body is represented on the page covering up whole portions of the text. A chapter, written from the wife’s perspective, in boldface with a different font. The language entirely in Scots dialect.

Wow!

Now I am NO Irvine Welsh, that is for sure. However, good writing trumps all and there ARE publishers and agents out there who understand, accept, and appreciate the genre. Yes, I will still work on the police procedural. BUT I am plowing forth with my Transgressive work.

Skating on Ice versus Swimming in the Lake

Since 2007, there has been a flurry of writing activity for me.

I have participated in NaNoWriMo, that madcap literary dash to the finish, writing (scribing, transcribing, composing, etc.) 50,000 words on a “novel” within the month of November. And I have successfully completed this event in each of the last four years. I put it aside for the month of December and then begin the new year with a rewrite, editing, polish, etc. But not really.

After a profoundly interesting meeting of the Kansas Writer’s Association in May 2009, I realized many things that I did not know about networking and blogging and self-publishing with POD services, etc. So, I got business cards, started this blog, found two short novels of mine ripe for publication and set to the task of networking. But not really.

With my wife’s help, I reorganized the office, separated personal from writing, and got myself in a position to take care of household needs separate from literary ones. But not really.

Since 2007, I’ve been only touching the surface of these things, skating on a thin layer of ice, polishing the impressions while fearful of falling and losing ground. I should have been diving into the warmth of a lake in summer, splashing around, unafraid of getting wet or staying out too late.

I wrote recently of having lost notes regarding a novel I was still working on in first draft. It occurred to me that perhaps this was a wake up call to go slower, refocus the efforts on work that needs more attention. I need to take some pieces that are good but not great, interesting but not fascinating, entertaining but not must-read and flesh them out and bring them to a truer point of completion.

So, whereas my 2011 Writing Goals shows that I wanted to work on two new pieces, I am revising even that. My focus will be on three works (perhaps a fourth) that will undergo extreme scrutiny and finer revision. I will slow down the train of the agent search before I derail myself. I will place unwavering attention on the skill and the craft and the art.

I will finalize two poetry collection manuscripts for publication on Lulu only because, well, they’re poetry and the whole idea of Lulu for poetry reminds me of when everyone was putting out their work in chapbooks.

It’s winter time. we just had a snowstorm here in the Wichita, KS area and we got about 7-9 inches of snow. That’s the real world. As far as my writing is concerned, I’m going to go swimming in the lake for a while.

A Poetry Collection

I have put together a collection of jazz themed poems and am finalizing it on Lulu.com
The time was right to do so for a number of reasons. First of all, I wanted to honor, so to speak, the other elements of my literary interests. I haven’t written any new poetry of any value for nearly fifteen years. A combination poetry/spoken word piece based on the life of Charlie Parker is the central work of the collection. Most of the poems are from 1992-1994.
Second, there are two gentleman that I work with who seem spectacularly interesting in an artistic fashion. One is Jeremi who I have mentioned as the inspiration for my 2010 NaNoWriMo piece, Professor Thug. The other is Jared, who goes by Esper in the digital world. He is a poet, musician, and digital artist. For a while I have been intensely working on acquiring an agent and getting published and seemed to lost touch with the social and communal aspects of art and artists. (Which reminds me: I need to find a critique group here in Wichita and start attending REGULARLY.)
And third, Jennifer Neri’s recent post made me realize that blogging is another viable venue for putting out your work, reading the work of others and praising their achievements.
So, manuscript is uploaded, cover and back design created, photos determined, almost ready to be unveiled.
BUT…I will wait for the proof copy before that event.
And, continued thanks to Jennifer Neri for posts like that one. Because it does remind us that we are NOT alone out there. People DO read. People DO take note. Our efforts are NOT wasted.

Reflections on Resolutions

It was about a year ago that I composed a document: 2010 Writing Goals. I had never been much for New Year’s resolutions relating to diet or lifestyle or anything, really. But by the end of last year, I had started blogging and had published a book “Kansas Two-Step” on lulu.com, had gotten rather quaint business cards from VistaPrint, and felt that in some small way I was making progress and wanted to continue to encourage my own growth as a writer.
After printing up this document, I taped it to a shelf above my computer so that I could simply look up and refresh my waning memory. Well, it’s a year later and I am taking account of my efforts.
EDIT
I wanted to work on editing four novels. I did a fifth and sixth draft of “The .9 MM Solution” and a fourth and fifth draft of “Swansong”. Both were NaNoWriMo efforts. I did not get started on “Weekend Getaways, or Adventures in Contract Killing” (my transgressive novel) or “The Stooges” (another NaNoWriMo effort).
COMPLETE
I wanted to complete a first draft on two recent efforts: “The Last Road” (a literary piece about a widower’s cross-country adventure) and “All Day Long I Biddy Biddy Bum” (another even darker transgressive piece). The only NEW writing efforts were “Professor thug” (this year’s NaNoWriMo) and “Unemployed and Dangerous: A Trilogy of Transgressive Novellas”. After being terminated from my job of thirteen years, I had a lot of understandable anger which I filtered into these works. EXTREMELY dark in nature, they are not something I want to present to my 80+ year old parents as an example of my efforts. However, they do stand on their own as strong, well-defined pieces.
ACCOMPLISH
Multiple things on this section. No luck yet with finding an agent although I gave a four-week exclusive to Jessica Regel of the Jean V Naggar Literary Agency. Even though that did not turn out the way I wanted, it was a very good step.
As for networking efforts, I got onto Facebook and actively sought out people with the additional repercussion of contact relatives that I either hadn’t talked to in years or had allowed my efforts to lapse. Bonus points for that.
I did get two more books onto Lulu: “Quick” and the aforementioned “Unemployed and Dangerous”. In doing so I continued learning formatting and cover art (thanking my wife/my editor for the photo on “Quick”).
I started initial research on web sites and my brother-in-law (a talented software engineer who also happened to inspire “The .9 mm Solution”) offered his assistance.
Not on the original list was attending Writer’s conferences but I did go to the KWA Scene Conference here in Wichita as well as a seminar by Gordon Kessler earlier in the year. I also learned how to make small movies on Windows Movie Maker. I’m working on a book trailer, just to develop my skills. In the meantime, I did a project for the family for Christmas that was highly entertaining, especially if you know my family.
And finally, there was blogging. I may not have presented as many articles as I desired but I did what time would allow. And I also avidly followed other writers whose efforts seem somewhat similar to mine: refreshing commentary on their lives as writers.
Jennifer Neri (http://jenniferneri.wordpress.com/), a writer from Canada who shared her experiences with motherhood over the past year and still had time to pass on significant motivational comments.
Lawrence Estrey (http://lawrenceez.wordpress.com/), a writer and photographer and IT kind of guy from north of London who writes psychological thrillers, takes very moving photos, and has impressive feedback regarding storage systems and photo editing software.
Ryan David Jahn (http://gunsandverbs.wordpress.com/), a crime writer from Los Angeles, whose novel “Acts of Violence” won the Crime Writer’s Association Dagger award and yet talks about day-to-day life and his impressions of the minutiae as though they should be considered more strongly than the greater events.
Teresa Frohock (http://frohock.wordpress.com/), a dark fantasy and horror writer who gleefully advised her readers of her representation by Weronika Janczuk of D4EO and then of her sale of her book “Miserere: An Autumn Tale” while those of us who read her blog gleefully cheered alongside her.
I wish I could say that I follow more blogs regularly but Time is a beast with wings hovering over my life as a husband and homeowner and employee.
Overall, I would say that I got through nearly half of my goals, some to differing degrees than others. It is not measured as SUCCESS/FAILURE or PASS/FAIL but rather as another chapter on a long road. At some point within the next couple of days I will create a new document and tape it to the shelf above me. And I will proceed and continue and persevere and think and create.
And write.

Follow up to Book Sales in Unexpected Places

I got a call last night from my wife’s Uncle Larry.  He said he had a guy with him who had a bone to pick with me.  Larry is good for a razzing so I expected that the “guy” wasn’t going to pick any bones.

It was his friend Rick who we met when we went down to Arkansas City, KS to drop of both of my books and eat at Daisy Mae’s.  This was where I had left a few copies in the showcase on the “what if” premise.  Rick was a great guy and his wife was very outgoing.  Rick has a beard bigger than I had at one time.

I wasn’t expecting to hear that Dixie loaned him her copies of the book and that he went through them pretty quickly and enjoyed them immensely.  He seemed just like any other hard-working guy, honest and patriotic and decent.  From appearances, I wouldn’t have thought of him as much of a reader.  But read he did.

He especially enjoyed Kansas Two-Step with my Hawaiian shirt-wearing, gray-bearded, former hippie, professional hacker R.C. Bellicki.  And the “bone” he was calling to pick about was that he was waiting for the next book with Bellicki.

I’ve heard that same comment from several readers, local people and former co-workers.  So, if they all read it and they all are saying the same thing, then there must be something to it.  So….

Yes, I started on the next one.  And I’m trying to integrate that into editing my transgressive trilogy, outline a YA novel for my niece, continue to try to find and agent, and, oh yeah, get to work and do my job and take care of my responsibilities in my house. 

It’s gratifying to know that people like your work and want to see more of it.  I just hope they all realize I’ve got a full plate.  Being a writer, attempting to be a writer, or even wanting to be a writer takes a great deal of everything–patience, discipline, time-management skills, and support from your loved ones.

I’m getting more and more surprised by these little “out-of-the-blue” experiences.  It is often  the unexpected that yields greater rewards.

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