Monday, October 24, 2011

Arkansas part 2

Well, tomorrow turned out to be further away then I thought! But back to Arkansas--as I said, it is one of the most beautiful states in the nation:

And, unlike some other states, the place isn't overrun with tourists.
The bad? It's hot in the summer, the woods are full of ticks, and there is a certain obdurate hillbilly mentality there at times that makes my teeth grind in frustration(but, to be fair--there are plenty of states in the Midwest and South that share that particular trait).
All in all, it's a great place to go if you want to get away for a few days. I'm going back...soon.

Thursday, October 20, 2011


I've been gone for a few days so I haven't had time to post. One of my favorite areas is The Boston Mountain area of Arkansas, north of Fort Smith, Arkansas, and I just visited there. This is a neat area, with picturesque small towns and great mountain scenery. I wish this part of the country had fall colour similar to Michigan (my boyhood home--and still my favorite state!), but it is still a beautiful place! More tomorrow...

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Strong characters with character...

Strong characters = good book--it's that simple. Too many beginning writers stress out trying to come up with a great plot, while the characters in the book end up being ignored by the writer...and that's a recipe for disaster. Interesting characters will hold the interest of a reader better than an interesting plot. There are writers (Michael Crichton comes to mind) who can create thin, barely fleshed out characters and get away with it, but even those characters have to have enough personality to be interesting.
 Good characters are flawed. Good characters have issues, and they attract other characters with issues. Nobody wants to read about a character who lives a perfect, boring life--unless that perfectly boring life is symptomatic of a deeper problem. Good characters can be good or evil, (ideally they should be some of each) but they all have to be put into a situation that throws them out of their comfort zone--and that's the key to writing interesting stories; plot comes from the problems a character must deal with, whether it involves saving the world, destroying the world, changing the world, or simply learning how to put up with an intrusive mother-in-law.
Plot is the end result of an interesting character dealing with a challenge. An interesting character is going to tell the writer how to write--and the plot will take care of itself. Too often writers forget that, and it is a sure way to turn off a reader.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

My friend Jai Joshi told me it would be a good idea. “You should start a blog,” she said. “It would be funny, and I think you could do it.” After all, she told me, all writers should have a blog, and I'd just completed my first book. 
I wasn't so sure—it might be funny, in the sense of actually being a train wreck dramatized in print, or it might be funny...from the standpoint of reading about some poor goober and his quest to reinvent himself at a ripe old age (which begins to harken back to the “train wreck” theme), or even worse, it might be more serious than funny; a written record of ineptitude—the sort of tangible proof that a judge would cite when deciding to dispatch me to the funny farm. 

So I did what a man does when his freedom, ego, and dignity are at stake; I quit writing for a while. 
It was a handy little way to avoid blogging—and it had become apparent to me that the first book of mine that I'd been so proud of was a “typical” first book for a beginning writer—it was an all-in-one example of every novel-writing mistake that could possibly be made...and it was virtually unsellable. 
Not the end of the world—successful writers often write two or three “drawer novels” (books so bad that they end up behind the underwear in the bedroom dresser) before they write that first successful, commercially viable book. No big deal.

I'd gone another route—I kept the drawer in the bedroom for underwear pristine and I went ahead and self-published the book (actually, I self-printed the book—more on that later). My friend Jai was a successful self-published writer. Her superbly written book, Follow the Cowherd Boy, had done pretty darned well, so why couldn't I do the same?

I couldn't do the same...because I wasn't Jai. I didn't have her drive, her enthusiasm, and most of all, my product wasn't as good. I was a fledgling writer, still learning the basics, but Jai was (and is) a pro. 
My book, A Fortress of Lies, didn't sell worth a darn. I sold around 550 copies, and I gave away another 50 or sixty copies, but I never took the necessary steps to market the book; I never gave the book an ISBN number, I never did a book tour, and I never printed and distributed any promotional material. Jai did all of these things, and she succeeded. 

And that was least for a while. Then people started telling me things about the first book. (Which they eventually will do—but not right away. They always tell you the book was wonderful at first...but after a while they begin to tell the truth.) The book was too long. It was a bit confusing to read, because I'd introduced all of the characters (and there were so many characters...a classic rookie mistake) haphazardly at the very beginning of the book. The plot was too convoluted. The story rambled. 

But...most people still liked the book, even with all of it's faults. They liked the protagonist, and they found some of the supporting characters interesting. More importantly, they kept asking me if I was going to write another book, and would it be about Eb Maclean (the protagonist in A Fortress of Lies). 
I decided to write another book. This one would be perfect. I would be lean, mean, and spare with my witty, wry prose. I wouldn't make those mistakes that plagued the first book. 

Judgment Tramp, the second book in the Eb Maclean series, was finished in early 2010. I loved it—and I really believed it was a book that could get me an agent. This time I would go the traditional route—and I wouldn't stop until Judgment Tramp was in every book store in America! 

But fate intervened. My friend Frank Hackney was diagnosed with terminal cancer in April, 2009. It became apparent that he wouldn't live very long. Frank was a professional musician, and we were in a band together. A benefit concert-jam session was planned to help raise money for him. 
I was going through a rough patch financially. I didn't have any money to donate to the cause—and that really bothered me. Frank was more then a friend—he was like a brother. I had nothing to give, but I wanted so badly to give something. 

But I did have something—I could sell my book. I decided to print up some copies of Judgment Tramp and sell them at the benefit. It wouldn't be much, but it was the best I could do. 
We lost Frank on June 13, 2010. The benefit had been scheduled for the following Saturday, June 19. Now the benefit became a wake, and there was still a reason to raise money, because I wanted to donate what I could to help Frank's family. 

Frankfest was held on June 19, and I was able to donate $700.00 to the cause. I hadn't wanted to self-publish Judgment Tramp, but that's the way it worked out. I don't regret it one bit. 

But now I had another book to sell, I had more writing to do, and all of those necessary steps needed to be taken again to market Judgment Tramp; the ISBN number, the book tour, the printing of the material.... 

It was overwhelming. I wasn't ready. I missed my friend, and I didn't have the heart to do any of those things—in a way the book reminded me of losing him. So I did what I'd often done in my life—I quit. Reinventing myself would just have to wait. 

The waiting would either last forever, or it wouldn't—and I'm finally done waiting. Reinventing one's self is hard. I have days when I think I can't do it. I have days where the “train wreck” allusion is apt. But in the end, there isn't anything special about what I'm doing—we all have to reinvent ourselves periodically, and we can focus our mind on the process or it will happen without our input...because we constantly adapt to each new day. Reinvention is part of life—and without it we die. I'm not ready to die. 

So this is my blog. It might be funny, it might be serious, and let's face it—it very well could be a bit of a train wreck, but it will be real. I'm not a beginning author anymore, and I have writing to do, and a book to sell. I would love it if you took this journey with me.