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.

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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.

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.

The Process (and how to achieve it)

I was recently helping a friend with a non-fiction project: a series of workplace anecdotes that I thought was going to be interesting, funny, and successful. In talking with him, I did something that I don’t often do: I outlined and detailed The Process. I tend to know, to feel, to sense what I need to do. To actual say it out loud is daunting and makes you question what you’re doing. This is what I told him:

-Write as many of these stories as possible. You’re going to wind up with crap that you’ll throw out.
-Look for an editor to review all the stories plus help you organize it into a cohesive unit for maximum reader enjoyment.
-Visualize a cover, a title, and perhaps illustrations or photos.
-Look for an agent or a small press. Make sure to consider those who work in your genre.
-Consider a marketing plan, whether it’s social media or book signings or former co-workers.

After indicating all this to him, I realized The Process is not linear. It’s not an ABC type of thing. Every time I see a writer friend on Facebook mention a recent publication or acceptance by an agent, mt first thought is “Great! Now get back to writing.” The Process is more like a Mobius strip. Writing, editing, selling, marketing may be to some a very specific system. There are writers who prefer the sense of completion and closure. To me, this seems to stifle the true Creative Urge.

I tend to sense when a work is as complete as I can achieve without obsessing over it for the remainder of my life. I have stories, countless stories, waiting patiently to be heard. I have a desire to sell my work. I am eager to network in order to meet other writers and artists and share commentary. All of this can not be accomplished by numbering these events 1-2-3.

So, perhaps I gave my friend an incomplete assessment of his forthcoming project. I should have advised him “You have to do this, this, and this…all at the same time.”

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.

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.

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.

Poetry Submission

My poem “9 November 1938” was accepted for Poetica Magazine’s (poeticamagazine.com) online Holocaust edition.  More details to follow.