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.

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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” – 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.

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.

No, no, no. The work is just getting started.

Every writer knows this story:

You work on getting out a first draft. Six months. A year. Two. Or maybe the 30 days of NaNoWriMo. Whatever it takes.

Then, there is the hair-pulling teeth-gnashing headache-inducing editing/revision/rewriting process. You don’t want to delete an entire chapter but if it slows down the flow…You know. You’ve been there.

Now, it’s on to finding an agent or a publisher or an editor. You do the query letter, the pitch, the elevator pitch, the research, the writing conferences, the platform using every last bit of social networking you can think of.

And, voila!, you get your book sold to a small press, a contract is offered, and everything is peaches and cream.

HOLD ON! SLAM ON THE BRAKES!

You think you have gotten to the pinnacle, your longstanding dream has been realized and your mission in life is fulfilled. This is the time, you realize, when the work is just getting started. Everything up until then has been about your personal satisfaction, your accomplishments. But once you enter into a professional partnership with an agent or publisher, your dream is being shared and there is far more to do. You have a responsibility to ensure that THEIR dream is fulfilled as well. And that dream is successful publication and sales.

There is the editing process, the cover design process, the release, and the marketing, all while writing the next work to have something to follow up with as quickly as possible. If I were half my age, I do not think I would be prepared for this. However, I have been around long enough to recognize and appreciate the entire process, how it goes from personal to collaborative to business-oriented before returning to literary. Writing a book, by yourself, in your spare time, at a quiet location, is deeply personal and highly satisfactory. Keep in mind: you didn’t do it just for yourself.

I have had the good fortune of being signed by The Wild Rose Press who will be publishing my historical crime fiction “Ark City Confidential.” It has been an intense process, one I have not shied away from nor resented. In fact, all this has reinvigorated me and encouraged me more than the writing of the piece alone. It has given me the confidence to know that others are interested in your success as well and that it really IS a team effort.

So, yes, I am working and writing and editing and planning and continuing. That’s the main thing: to be able to continue to do the thing I love most.

Be That Thing

There’s a difference between saying you are something and being that something. If you introduce yourself at a social function by saying “I’m a writer”, chances are you’ll get various responses:

“Have you written anything I’ve read?”
“Do you know Stephen King?”
“That must be fun.”

To the first, I have no idea what you read. To the second, no. To the third, you have no idea. The other comment that comes up is “What have you published?” It’s a valid question because, to most people, you are only a pretend writer if you have not been published. Even self-published. Working on your masterpiece for the past ten years will get you little sympathy or continued interest.

There is a fine line between putting something out that is crap that will forever ruin your name and waiting infinitely for the mot just like Flaubert and not publishing until your creative offspring is the epitome of brilliance and perfection. What is of most importance is that your work be out there for review and feedback. You will never improve your craft by lingering over a sentence or a chapter or realizing that your main character is too boring to be a protagonist after your thirteenth draft.

As writers, we are story-tellers. If you have told a compelling story, it is ready for others to enjoy. By virtue of the feedback you get, you will learn how to correct and modify and tighten your work so that it is more acceptable. This is not the time to contemplate your financial worth in the marketplace. This is the time to do what you’ve said all along that you would do: write. Stop hesitating. Be that thing.

One size does NOT fit all

The thing that bothers me about weight loss ads is that they seem to target…everybody. Every race, gender, age. Everybody. They’re saying “Our product (or system or program) can help ALL of you.” But we know it’s not true.

Let’s extend that to writing, or any art form for that matter. I’ve heard keynote speakers and writing teachers, and I’ve read other blogs. Without disrespecting anyone, we have to be aware that what is being taught or suggested is one individual’s perception based largely upon their experience and success. As such, as they often state with financial investment programs, the results are not representative or guaranteed.

I admire other writers, especially those who have gained a measure of publishing success, who give back by identifying key points or pitfalls. I respect those who do not treat the craft of writing as some ancient text worthy of only the initiated. But writers have to be cautious of embracing the methodology of one as the singular and only protocol.

We are all aware of concepts of character development, realistic dialogue, three act structures, rising and falling actions, and the notorious “show, don’t tell.” It is acceptable to write in a different fashion. It is commendable to try a completely new approach. The only thing that counts is good writing. Of course, if the discussion is geared toward getting your work published, then a hard decision has to be made. Write like others, safe and unimaginative, and get published. Or write like yourself, in your voice, and know that their IS an audience out there for you. It just might be harder to find and take longer to do so.

I have just completed work on a historical crime fiction. It was a different genre for me but something that is mainstream enough for publication. I also have a wildly unpredictable metafiction and a novella that is within the same vein. I do not have great expectations for either. That does not mean I will not edit and revise them as fully as possible and seek to have them published. Some may ask, “Then why did you write them?” The answer is painfully simple: They were stories I wanted to tell. At the very least they are out of my brain and in a document.

As writers, we are, first and foremost, storytellers. That means when we have a story lurking in our inner core, it MUST be told. Consider publishing secondary; tell the story, in your voice and in your manner. You don’t need to fit in with everyone. That way you will stand out.

Hmm! Very Interesting! A Smashwords Experiment follow-up.

A couple of days ago I changed the sub-category of “Just Like Daddy” from Erotica>Suspense/Mystery to Literature>Transgressional. I was at 419 downloads. I stopped at 421.
The power of marketing or the minds of readers? Which do you think it is?

A Smashwords Experiment

This past year, my primary goals have been editing viable material and expanding my networking. To that end, I have gotten involved with Twitter, Linkedin, and Klout. I have published two collections of poetry on Lulu and continued to promote my existing catalog on Smashwords.

The world of e-publishing is expanding at an amazing exponential degree and Gordon Kessler, president of the KWA, has strongly advocated a focus on it. I decided to offer two short stories on Smashwords for free as a small way of generating buzz.

The first story was “Just Like Daddy” concerning an unnamed prostitute who dresses up for her clients to help them fulfill their fantasy. It ends with a violent crime.

The second story was “How to Kill Your Boss and Get Away With It”, a tongue in cheek crime story inspired by my wife’s comment after a particularly difficult day at work.

I placed the first one under the category Fiction>Erotica>Suspense/Mystery. The second one was filed under Fiction>Literature>Transgressional. I uploaded them one day part, the first one eight days ago and the second a week ago.

As of today, “Just Like Daddy” has had 406 downloads. “How to Kill Your Boss and Get Away With It” has had 25.

Title? Category? Expectations? Don’t get me wrong; I’m grateful for the reads. But I’m beginning to understand more fully the power of successful marketing in the digital age.

My Digital Progress — A Follow-Up

Per Dictionary.com, the definition of PLATFORM (item #7) was

a body of principles on which a person or group takes a stand in appealing to the public

So, we as writers and artists are intent upon building our platform for the sole purpose of appealing to the public, identifying ourselves, our character and personality as well as our work. We hope you will purchase said work because, if we weren’t interested in selling it, we wouldn’t be building our platform.

I’ve been doing this blog for four years, have been on Facebook, have signed up for LinkedIn and Twitter, hand out business cards, talk as much to non-writers (you know, The Public) as much as I discuss writing with those that suffer the same affliction as myself. I’ve uploaded works for sale in both printed and electronic formats on Lulu, Amazon’s Kindle Page, Smashwords, and others. Until now, the only thing I lacked was a website.

Until now.

I am pleased to announce the unveiling of hbberlow.com and hope that there will be visitors as well as purchases of books.

I am indebted to my brother-in-law Greg for getting the thing started. We’ve both been talking for years about each of us needing our own websites for different reasons. Every time I would agree and it would just stop there. Until he just went out and secured my name as a domain (thank goodness) and set up the initial skeleton and instructed me as to how to build up the rest of the body.

Thanks should also go to Gordon Kessler, the founder and current president of the Kansas Writers Association who, for this past year has been strongly advocating the membership to embrace the Digital world and heavily research and explore e-publishing.

Special mention should be made to Samantha Lafantasie, a woman who balances being a wife and mother and writer and adds a great passion to the KWA meetings. She has established a critique group and she is passionate about the craft. It is people like her (who are so utterly different from me) that motivate me in stepping into these new fields.

After all, I’m just an old analog dude living in a digital world.

Please visit my website and come along for the ride.

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