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.

Advertisements

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.

The Process, or My Process

I just completed the fourth draft of my historical crime fiction, two days in advance of attending the OWFI Writer’s Conference. The last-minute finish has turned my attention to the processes I used on this particular work.

First, the story idea came from extended conversations with my wife’s uncle who lives in Arkansas City, KS. He spoke about a town often referred to as “Little Chicago” and underground tunnels. These tidbits were too interesting to pass up. (It was similar to the discussions I had with my brother-in-law regarding the judicial and penal systems that gave rise to my second novel, The 9 mm Solution.)

This was to be a historical crime fiction which basically caused me to strip away all forms of technology as well as my understanding of how things work today. Language, transportation, police procedural — all these things are not the same as they were in 1934 in rural Kansas. So, after creating an outline of characters and basic plot, I found websites for gangster and jazz-age slang, photos of vehicles and guns, and images of Arkansas City, KS in that time period.

The next thing to do was write. It was like blazing through a jungle with a machete and clearing a path for myself that lead, hopefully, to the other side. There were times when the story got muddled down but I pressed on until, about three-quarters of the way through, an epiphany came that showed me the ending.

The second draft was a grammar and language clean up, making sure tense stayed consistent, removing any modernisms of speech that had sneaked in, removing redundant expressions, confirming logic in terms of time frame and directions. It was like cleaning up the mess from a project.

But then came the third draft. This was like being a mortician and making the corpse presentable for viewing. (Strange comparison, I know, but the first thing that popped into my head.) I’m not excessive when it comes to description. This is, after all, hard-boiled crime fiction. Analogy works better than description in this style. It as important to give the readers the sense of time and place and to enhance the emotional content. This was the part of taking the bones of a good story and smoothing out the flesh.

It was then I stopped. Briefly. Four beta readers later resulted in the fourth draft. Enhancement of two small aspects based on feedback. It was nothing that altered the story and required any major plot revisions. This was like adding an appetizer and a dessert to the overall meal. With those minor elements added, I completed a final read through, strengthening a sentence here and there. In the end, from first to last draft, I went from 58K words to 65K. Of course, since I will be attending a conference, I also created a pitch. I am not as confident of that as I am of the work itself.

I am not as comfortable discussing my particular process for two reasons. First, I largely intuit it as I go for each project. There are different degrees of evaluation required based on the nature of the work. Additionally, I find too many people discussing the process from a purely academic standpoint. The semantics and the actualities are often two different things. Nevertheless, Ark City Confidential is ready to go. Let’s see how far we can take it.

Year-End Reflections

This time last year, I was in a dull funk as far as writing was concerned. Earlier in the year, I had started work on a historical crime fiction. It was to be a challenge for me but one I deemed worthwhile. I had to deal with selling my late parents’ home long distance. The process started out rather simple then devolved into chaos and confusion coupled with unprofessional people who I needed to trust. By the time that was resolved, it was the madness of the holiday season.
But in May, I recharged, going down to Oklahoma for my fourth OWFI conference, hooking up with my friend, Nick Lyon, meeting the amazing Les Edgerton, and generally reminding myself that I was still a writer.
Well, I completed the first draft of that book and am on the second edit now. John Lennon said it best: Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans. I’m just fortunate to have been able to get back to those plans.

Les Edgerton

9 mm Centerpiece

I moved to Wichita, KS twenty years ago from Boston, MA. Yet, I find this community as filled with artistic talent. I’ve met writers and poets, sculptors and artists, musicians — the gamut of what truly invigorates me. My wife and I had season tickets for several years to the Wichita Symphony Orchestra, regular attended shows at Music Theater Wichita, saw Cirque du SoleilTHREE times, and attended some great concerts over the past year at the historic Orpheum Theater.
But something makes me feel I haven’t explored as much of the arts scene as I could have and definitely should have. John Donne indicated that no man is an island unto himself. No man or no one interested in developing their art. I know I need to get out there more and meet some more people in this community who are passionate about creating something special and are urged on by a compulsion that can not be defined.

Why is it so difficult to disagree any more? Notice how I didn’t ask why we can’t get along. Personally, I think that’s overrated. But we seem to have lost our ability to disagree, civilly and intellectually. There is a pervasive attitude of “If you’re not with me, you’re against me” as opposed to “I disagree, but let’s hear what you have to say.” You see it in politics and in every aspect of contemporary culture, especially Facebook.
I went on a rant recently regarding something rather innocuous. A lady (who was a Facebook friend because she was a friend of a friend) commented, as was her right to do so. When the commentary started to become personal, I took offense. If you know me and can “analyze” me, fine. If you don’t know me, it’s best to stay away from that line of response. And I said so.
A couple of weeks later, after the rant had fully passed from my mind, I recalled with childish humor the whole exchange. I looked up the lady. Sure enough she had unfriended me. I figured it was her loss because I feel I am interesting and a good conversationalist. The real point is that she could not accept my comment on her comment and left.
Disagreement is not dissension.

I find myself more intrigued by experimental fiction. Metafiction, transgressive fiction, fonts and colors, non-linear story-telling. I still maintain my passion for noir and hard-boiled. Yet, I use the alternative styles as a playful experiment and wind up discovering something new.
I am fortunate to be friends with Eckhard Gerdes on Facebook and I follow an Experimental Fiction group. These writers are light years ahead of me but my fascination is part of the learning process. At 53, I am content to know that I am not stuck in a groove and have miles to go before I sleep.

The lingering after effects

The 2015 OWFI Conference officially ended Saturday May 2. A full three days later, my Facebook feed is still blowing up with comments and photos and shared feelings of fun and rejuvenation. This is a good thing.

However, it is more important to take that kinetic energy and focus it into the kind of controlled discipline that it takes to be a successful writer. Not just for a few days or weeks after a great conference, but ongoing, continuous, like a snowball rolling down a mountain, gathering momentum and size and speed.

Many years ago, it would be far too easy for me to wind down, so to speak, and fall back into the lurching movement of contemporary life with all the tedium and routine that it is known for. As I get older, I realize quite painfully that I do not have as much time to achieve what has always been my dream. Opportunities will be fewer and further apart. This is the time. Now.

Oh, I’ll continue to be responsible, go to work on time, every day, do the job possible. I’ll continue planning a menu, going shopping, making dinner, doing the dishes. The necessary tasks of a homeowner will be accomplished. But the eye will be clear and focused; the hand will sweep away the wasted time; and the heart will proceed forward.

These are not lingering after effects. This is the fuel for the future.

Notes on a Writer’s Conference – OWFI 2015

This was my fourth year attending and was, for me, the best ever. One of the primary reasons was due to the fact that there were more faculty and speakers who dealt with crime/thriller/transgressive/dark fiction genres, thereby making it more relevant for me.

Tops on the hit parade was Les Edgerton, the keynote speaker. Look up his bio on Wikipedia and that only scratches the surface. Les doesn’t have a filter, hates political correctness, has a wise-ass sense of humor and an absolute passion for the craft of writing. That kicks it into high gear beyond anything else. He graced our table at the Saturday night banquet. Trust me; that was an honor.

Richard Thomas is the editor in chief of Dark House Press and has proven that transgressive and dark fiction still has a place in publishing. He was self-effacing, personable, and accessible. I pitched my fully realized novel “Weekend Getaways, or Adventures in Contract Killing” (which I have commented on in this venue before). We’ll see where that goes (he said with painfully crossed fingers).

Andrew E. Kaufman doesn’t look like the kind of guy who would write “Twisted” or other psychological thrillers. But, again, the passion for the craft drives him and has brought him an incredible amount of success.

I am fully convinced that all you need to fully understand the intricate details of the police procedural is to consult with Lee Lofland. Everything about the sessions with this former police detective was filled with the most significant information to bring your story alive. Again, another interesting speaker with a unique sense of humor.

You have to consider all the sidebar events, gatherings, buzz sessions, pitch sessions, drinks at the bar, after-banquet jam sessions and impromptu conversations. I am convinced that the Embassy Suites in Oklahoma City is never as alive as it is when OWFI invades.

I’ve mentioned people. But this conference also instills hope and motivation. It provides not only the tools but the confidence to proceed in this journey of creativity. When Sunday rolled around and people were leaving with their suitcases, I knew it was all over. Whereas I would have preferred to stay and live in that hotel until next year, I knew that “real life” was beckoning. Part of that “real life” includes writing.

It wasn’t a dream. And the adventure continues.

I’m back! (Kinda. Sorta. Almost.)

When my mother passed away last year, it was one day before the OWFI Conference. Certainly, it was difficult, but there was no other option but to go and it is what my mother would have wanted. She and my late father always supported and promoted my writing. Creativity has long been a part of my family.

Over the course of the next several months, there were the legalities to go through involving the sale of her house. This was to be a long distance venture: the house was in Florida and I’m in Kansas. I chose who I thought was a reputable title company and went through an excruciating process based on my inability to make calls from work and time zone differences. There is far more to this part of the story but the details are not the issue. The bottom line is an unnecessary amount of stress was placed upon me by people who were far less than professional.

Then came the holidays.

In the meantime, I had to take a hiatus from my critique group. What started as temporary seems permanent. I had to recuse myself from attending meetings of the writer’s support group which I started. I pulled back and into a shell. The last quarter of the year I didn’t do a single bit of writing. I did some editing on a work in progress once or twice. In essence, I disappeared as a writer and, in so doing, lost my identity.

Well, the holidays have passed, my New England Patriots have won the Super Bowl, and I’m ready to start up again. I have to; there is no other choice. The alternative is to wind up like Amos Hart from “Chicago” (i.e. Mr. Cellophane). Life is too short to be occupied solely with the mundane and trivial. As writers, we create and bring to life the widest possibilities that exist around us. It is a feeling which I need to have again.

I will be doing a final draft on my Transgressive fiction piece, expanding it and making it even wilder than it is. I will be working on a second draft of the Meta-fiction, trying to expound on the notion of the Writer vs. the Writing. I will be picking up where I left off on my historical crime fiction.

Now, notice how I said “will be.” There are still a few plates that need to be cleared from the table, a better organization of my time, and a renewed dedication. So, I’m back, just not all the way yet.

#OWFI14 (Part 2)

I hadn’t noticed it before but the speakers at the conference were referred to as ‘faculty.’ Above anything else, this shows the organizations desire to present an educational showcase for writers, whether it is about craft or marketing. This year’s conference was especially balanced between both.

I attended two sessions by Jerry Simmons, the first on competing with the big publishing houses and the second on marketing. There was a hopefulness about the first session, clear ideas regarding the strengths and weaknesses of the big business model and the intricacies of weaving yourself in between. When you’re a small writer looking to get bigger, this kind of template is encouraging.

I spoke with Christine Taylor-Butler prior to attending her session on making a career as a writer. Her bio indicated she had attended M.I.T. and since I’m from New England, it was nice to reminisce. Plus, she lives in Kansas City currently. Her session addressed the aspects of a writing career that are parallel to any other careers and the idea of remaining professional.

It was David Morrell who sounded the most like your favorite professor in college. Small wonder given the fact that he was a professor in college. He spoke of writing a chase/fight scene that took place in a darkened room and the need of using other sensory input beyond sight. That one example and the internal consideration of it was worth the price of the conference alone.

This, ultimately, is what makes for a good writer’s conference. I am not at an spectacularly major stage of my writing career. I know I have so much more to learn in all aspects of this business. The socializing and camaraderie is vital and necessary. However, to come out of this event with a twinkle in my eye, a buzz in my ears, and a head floating with possibilities, makes it the kind of investment that has already paid rich rewards.

#OWFI14 (Part 1)

Too busy tweeting and Facebooking this past weekend to post on the blog. Was at the OWFI Conference for the third year in a row. It’s not an overly large affair but it draws a variety of writers from the region who are adept at various genres. It is really nice to attend a well-organized conference put together by a caring and supportive writer’s group.

For me, it was an opportunity to get together with old Kansas friends and new Oklahoma friends and, of course, make new friends. It really makes no difference what your age is or how many books you have published. When writers get together, they are all friends.

This year’s conference was especially rewarding as well as particularly challenging. My mother passed away the day before. Several people were surprised I was in attendance. But since my parents had always supported my writing endeavors, my presence was as much to honor them as it was to further my prospects.

It is always fun to be around my publisher, Dan Case of AWOC.com. He’s fun and funny and, more important, perceptive. I trust his instincts. That is important for a writer to have that kind of relationship with his publisher.

Now, before we get to the nuts and bolts of the conference itself and the great faculty they had, we’ll start out with a story that, fortunately, did NOT set the tone for the weekend. I got up at 5:40 am on Friday morning with the intention of working out at the hotel’s facilities. By 5:50 I was in the elevator which came to a bit of a thud on the first floor. I recognized that it was an unusual sound, so much so that it didn’t surprise me when the door didn’t open. I just pushed the call button.

The glass wall of the elevator was in sight of the front desk. I saw the security guard come over to the landscaped area on the first floor. I had to mime my cell phone number because I couldn’t hear him through the glass. Using the kind of logic that is employed by overseas tech support call centers, he instructed me to push a series of buttons. Like, all of them. This brilliant move did not work. I was advised that it would be about fifteen minutes before the maintenance man came.

Well, it was nearly three times that long. Forty minutes later, 6:30 am, the maintenance man extricated me from this tomb and apologized. The security guard apologized. The front desk staff apologized. I indicated that I expected more than just an apology. They comped my room for one night and three in a goody basket of munchies and snacks.

By the time I got to the gym, the ellipticals and treadmills were already in use. Fortunately the conference was much better than its dubious beginnings.

Diversification

It is vitally important as writers to be diversified. I do not necessarily mean writing in several genres or different voices. But it is painfully obvious that maintaining a kind of singularity will stunt one’s creative growth. I suppose if you have become wildly successful and are off-loading the majority of your work to ghost writers, you can do as you please, assuming you no longer care about your muse.

I prefer to write first-person crime fiction. There is a certain comfort zone that has developed over many years. However, knowing that I wish to explore all the possibilities that writing can offer, I am currently working on a piece of contemporary fiction as well as an off-the-wall metafiction. I won’t stray too far, just enough to find out what else is out there and how it can aid me.

It is also necessary to diversify with regard to your associations, the other writers that are both within and outside of your geographic circle as well as your scope of influence. At the beginning of May, I will be attending the OWFI Conference for the third year in a row. I felt like such a newbie the first year; now I actually KNOW some people. And they are not all from the same genre or level of experience or success. This is what makes it beneficial.

This past weekend, I attend the Northwest High School Spring Fling, a fundraiser for their Performing Arts Booster Club. Think of it: Helping high school kids with the performing arts. Not exactly the kind of venue for a writer of crime fiction. Or was it?

I had the good fortune to spend the afternoon with three other writers, talking about writing, attempting to sell our works. We come from different backgrounds and work in different genres and yet the one thing that remains consistent is that we are all storytellers. That IS the essence of who we are as writers.

Bonnie Tharp’s book, Feisty Family Values, will give any reality show a run for its money in both humor and pathos but has more honesty than any creation on television.

In Maggie Vaults Over the Moon, Grant Overstake has captured a magical and mystical tiger by the tail in this story of a Kansas farm girl overcoming tragedy through pole-vaulting.

If you can imagine a young boy saving a civilization of humanoids living on a dirty gym sock under his bed, then you’ll certainly be floored by Louise Galveston’s By the Grace of Todd.

It was these three that I shared an afternoon with as I set up a display of Swan Song, a neo-noir hard-boiled story that takes place in the very community where I was helping raise funds for a high school performing arts booster club.

No one said it had to make sense.

But there we were, the four of us, eating chips and chicken salad sandwiches and talking about what it was like to be a writer; the issues with finding agents, editors, and publishers; the marketing and networking; and, oh yeah, real life, like working and paying the bills and our family and friends and other relationships.

It wasn’t a spectacular sales day for any of us. But it was a day to be around different people, not safely stowed away in the comfort of our homes and offices and around the people who know us and love us and understand the difficulty of what we day. We were out among the readers and each of us was looking for that one special person to connect with and say “Hey, maybe something I wrote will connect with you.”

There’s only one way to do that: Get out there and diversify.

« Older entries