Posts Tagged ‘new writer’

Website Wednesday: Paula Hawkins

September 6, 2017

Hello, Friends.  Not much new to report here, except that I’m back with another Website Wednesday entry.  This little diversion, started in May 2017, has helped me learn a lot about author websites as I think about my own.  As mentioned in past entries, I’ve compiled this from a list of Amazon Best Sellers.  Obviously, this list changes over time, and it may be time to refresh the list.  If you have any author sites that you’d like me to discuss, or would like me to critique your own, please feel free to comment below.  Until next time, happy writing and happy reading!

Paula Hawkins

It may seem like Paula Hawkins, the next on the author website tour, came out of nowhere with her overwhelming ‘debut’ novel, The Girl on the Train.  It would be even more impressive if this was indeed her debut novel—but it wasn’t.  After four successful romantic comedies under the nom de plume Amy Silver, Hawkins transitioned to the thriller genre with 2015’s The Girl on the Train.  The novel spent thirteen consecutive weeks (about three months) at #1 on the New York Times Best Seller’s list, and sold more than three million copies in its first six months after release. Sales surged after the 2016 film adaptation, starring Emily Blunt, and total sales are now north of 15 million copies.

In many ways, Hawkins does not epitomize the New York Times Best Seller. Not only did she transition genres and come out from behind a pen name, she also has transitioned from non-fiction to fiction, including a financial advice book.  Ms. Hawkins is of British-extraction, but was educated in Zimbabwe until she went on to her sixth-form college (much like a post-secondary prep school stateside).

Ms. Hawkins has a visually stunning website, designed by Cal Poly-educated web designer Ilsa Brink.  It transitions across two background themes; at the moment, these both apparently tie in to Hawkins’ current novel Into the Water.  The novel has a basic format across the top, with seven text buttons below the banner.  Two of these highlight her most recent books, but there is no reference to her “past life” as Amy Silver; indeed, if you go on to Ms. Hawkins’ Amazon page, there is no reference to her as Amy Silver, and vice versa.

The Good:

If you’re looking for a modern website with some pop, look no further than Paula Hawkins’ website.  It doesn’t do anything unusual, but it provides well-designed, strong visual cues, including pictures of the beautiful artwork on her book covers.  Due to the need for visual appeal, the website does a great deal to keep writing sparse.  With the exception of “Events,” there aren’t many items that are heavy with text above the fold.

The text, where present, is persuasive.  Not only does she include the copy that one would typically find on the jacket or on the back-cover, she also includes a copious amount of positive reviews.  It seems to come from the philosophy ‘if 9 out of 10 reviewers agree, you must read this book.’

One of the first items below the fold (for each respective book) is a button for a reading guide.  I’ve seen this on a few other sites.  I like the reading guide as a means of continuing the conversation, and of allowing readers to take ownership over some of the concepts in the book.  Many reading guides offer open-ended, judgement based questions, as well as some questions that require higher level speculation; Hawkins’ guides are particularly strong in the former.

The Bad:

I’ve said it several times before, but it bears repeating. Yes, you are using a website to sell your books, but you don’t need to make it so painstakingly obvious.  Hawkins’ homepage goes directly to the books.  Right after you see the covers, you see buttons “Order US/UK/CA.”  Before you know anything about the books (aside from what you brought with you when you decided to visit the site), you’re already asked to order.  There’s a little slugline about Hawkins’ credentials, but not much else in terms of telling you what to expect with the book.

Overall:

The site is beautifully designed.  Beyond this, if I became a Hawkins groupie, I would know where to find her on any given night.  I can’t fault the designer or the author for this site, as they are doing much of what they’re supposed to do.  I guess the problem I’ve seen is that there’s not much to draw me to this site if I’ve already bought the book.  Whereas some authors include games, notes, and other interactive items on their websites, this website does not hide the fact that it is there to sell books.

Advertisements

Review: The Dark Tower (2017 Film)

August 8, 2017

On Saturday, my wife and I went to see The Dark Tower, the long-awaited adaptation of Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, specifically The Gunslinger.  I’d read a lot of negative things about the movie, and was worried that the movie would devolve into one of those characteristic “1/4 plot, 3/4 fight scene” movies that seem to have infiltrated all of my favorite genres and franchises.  The short run time had me doubly concerned.  Nevertheless, I didn’t come away from the movie feeling particularly cheated.  In fact, I think that the movie was good for what it was.  At least, it didn’t try and fail to remain faithful to any one book.  Instead, it was the spiritual successor to The Gunslinger with a little bit of everything else thrown in for good measure.

I may not be doing my job as a long-time Stephen King aficionado, as I am not absolutely gushing over the movie.  Still, I showed up in my favorite Megan Lara shirt — probably the only one in the theater to do so, and ignored everything I’d read to that point.  I would have expected a full house on this first weekend, and was amazed that our local screening still had plenty of empty space.  We sat next to a few stoner teens.  We didn’t need to ask those teens whether they were fans, as they were chattering about their confusion pretty much as soon as they sat down.  It didn’t matter to me.  This was the weekend that I’d circled on my calendar months ago, and nothing was going to stand in the way of me getting a sense for the overall film.

First thing’s first: I’d recommend going to the film, if only to see how thousands of pages can be condensed into 95 minutes.  At the same time, I’d warn any Dark Tower reader that there’s things that you’ll enjoy, and things that will bother you a bit.  I’ve come up with five positive aspects and six negative aspects to consider if you’re on the fence.

As some of these deal with the climax or end of the film, or deal with novels outside of The Gunslinger, I’ll have to slap one big SPOILER ALERT to everything that you read below.  If you’re the type of person who hates spoilers, then this is what I recommend: read the bold text and then go see the movie.  You can get back to this later.

Things The Dark Tower Did Right:

1.) Continuity Nods: Granted, I probably didn’t catch everything, as it might take a few stop frames to do so, but the production crew certainly put in a few details that are nods to other books in the series or other Stephen King books.  the number 19 comes up several times. As does 1408, a nod to a Stephen King short story.  We don’t hear about “the beam” in quite the same way, but we get to see a beam of light attack the tower.  They refer to “the shine” more than they do in the books, which is a nod to The Shining and Dr. Sleep.  Finally, there’s a small discussion in which Roland draws a wheel with the Dark Tower at its hub, evoking a favorite saying about “Ka,” his world’s answer to fate.

2.) Casting Idris Elba as Roland Deschain: I’ll get grilled for this one in certain circles.  Yes, Roland was supposed to be a skinny, tall dude with piercing blue eyes.  Elba is at least tall, scraping the skies at 6’3″.  He’s not exactly skeletal, and it looks like the man could handle himself at the weight bench.  I think that the thing that really makes Elba stand out is his gravitas.  Yes, you could get someone like Keanu Reeves out there to play the role of the solemn hero, but Elba lends power behind his solemnity.  The only thing that I didn’t like about his characterization is the implication that this would have for a future conflict between Roland and Detta Walker. My wife would also mention that Roland smiles too much (i.e., at all).

3.) Streamlined characterization: Considering that they’ve pulled five books into one film, they did a great deal to make the movie less complex.  There’s no Eddie, no Odetta or Detta or Susannah, and no Susan Delgado, either.  As far as Roland goes, there is no love interest — or any real interaction with women.  Jake makes eyes at a young girl, but the story relegates most characters, outside of Roland, Jake, and “Walter” to the third string.  The only “second stringers” are Jake’s mother and (maybe) Sayre.   Considering how much they’ve condensed, it’s surprising that none of Roland’s other ka-tet is even mentioned.

4.) Shift in Focus: Do you want to make a movie with mass appeal? Put a kid in it.  Yes, The Gunslinger included Jake.  However, Jake doesn’t appear until the waystation.  He becomes important to the story, and to Roland’s characterization, as Roland nears The Man in Black, but that’s it.  The Dark Tower movie focuses on Jake, and starts with Jake’s experience, wherein he sees things that are not of his world.  Jake’s quotation from the book “there are other worlds than these” does not appear in the film (except on the promotional poster), but it is reflected within the movie — just in the reverse of what one might expect.

Ultimately, this aids in making viewers relate to the movie.  By the time they’ve seen the film, viewers have either been a teenage boy or have met one.  They have not met an otherworldly gunslinger.  Some purists may hate this switch, but I understand it.  One stoned-off-his-gourd guy sitting near me quipped that the movie was like Harry Potter.  I can understand this; the tropisms are evocative of Harry Potter, for all of the right reasons.

5.) Left It Open Ended: If this is all that we get of The Dark Tower, then at least we’ve seen a little of everything.  However, this movie is like a new series Dr. Who episode in the sense that the story resolves the main plot, but leaves with the characters ready to go on another adventure.  In this way, the movie does something that we don’t always see in individual books within the series — it ties together everything that needs to be tied together.

Things The Dark Tower Movie Did Wrong:

1.) Run time: I like long books.  I also like long movies.  I’m not talking about Lawrence of Arabia long, but 90 minute run-times are usually reserved for comedies, not epic action-fantasies.  Heck, Superbad was 1h 53 minutes, that’s 18 minutes longer than The Dark Tower.  Eighteen minutes would have been just enough time to add some backstory about how Roland knows The Man in Black, or why Stephen Deschain and Walter were at odds.  Eighteen minutes could have been enough time to show The Man in Black hold greater dominion over his underlings, or create an extended fight scene between Roland and The Man in Black.  1 hour 35 minutes was just a bit too short for the genre.

2.) Fight Scene Rather than Palaver:  In The Gunslinger, Roland’s interactions with the Man in Black are less about the fight than they are about the testing of wits.  As much as Roland’s struggle is a physical journey, it is also a psychological challenge.  In the book, Roland kills everybody in Tull after The Man in Black has poisoned their minds, but he only has a brief physical fight with The Man in Black, everything else is verbal.   In the movie, Walter’s silver tongue is nothing compared to his telekinesis.  Yes, he uses the power of suggestion multiple times for some important scenes, but the last scene is only a fight of the mind in the sense that Walter’s telekinesis is moving things with his mind.

3.) Condensed Narrative: It was clear that the writers were trying to get as many nods in to the book series as they could before their run-time was over.  After all, if this is all that we, Dark Tower fans, get, then it might as well have a little bit of everything.  We didn’t get Shardik, the giant bear, but we did get some forest predator.  We didn’t get Roland slipping into the mind of Jack Mort, but we did get him raiding a gun store.  We didn’t get his reunion with Sheemie, but we did get a look at the psionic blasts directed at the Dark Tower.  With items spanning five books, The Dark Tower series may need to reshuffle some material, or bring in new material entirely, in order to help frame any future installments.

4.) Too Much New York: Yes, New York has a few vital scenes in the series, but there isn’t anything except a little backstory until The Drawing of the Three.  Before Roland meets Eddie, he doesn’t spend any time in New York.  During this iteration, much of the action takes place in New York.

5.) Too Little Backstory: Aside from the encounter in Tull, one of the major omissions from the movie is Roland sharing what life was like in Gilead before the fall.  There is no mention of Roland’s mother, nor of Roland’s ability to outsmart Cort.  We get much more about Jake’s background, something that we only briefly glimpsed in the novel, than we get of Roland.  This, in part, works to the movie’s great benefit, but I think it comes as a great detriment to Roland’s characterization.

6.) No Oy! For everything that The Dark Tower introduces out of sequence, the one thing that bothered me the most was not the inclusion of the house, or too much time spent outside of Mid-World, it was the ommission of a little billy-bumbler named Oy.  The creature, which is like a domesticated raccoon, is the mascot, if not an important character, for Roland and his cadre of travelers.

Mr. Owen Ventures into Podcasting

July 9, 2017

Author’s Note: Apologies for the delay.  The July 4th holiday (America’s Independence Day) has fouled up my schedule, and I am trying to get back on track.  This coming week is going to be very busy for me, but I hope to post another author website feature on Wednesday.

Jim “James” Owen’s podcast appeared on Wednesday, July 5, 2017.  To hear it, click here.

Four months ago, I answered a post on Nanowrimo about being part of a podcast.  A few missed connections later, I was moving forward with my first foray into voice media since I was broadcasting basketball games at my college’s radio station.  I was on my way toward being a guest on The Modern Meltdown (For more about the Modern Meltdown, click here), an entertainment website that has scores of podcasts about everything from books and movies to video games.

It was not necessarily an easy process, as The Modern Meltdown is Australian, and Holly Hunt, the host of the Beyond the Words (click here) podcast, resides in Canberra. Canberra is seventeen hours ahead of the Bay Area, my stomping grounds.  Thus, 12:05AM Thursday here is 5:05PM Friday there, and 7AM here is 2AM the next day there, and so on.  Due to this significant time difference, and the fact that we both work more or less regular hours, either a Skype call or a phone interview would be out of the question.  I had to get creative, as I was looking forward to this opportunity, and I wasn’t about to let a time difference get in the way.  Thus, I had to make my own recording studio.

My Makeshift Recording Studio

Over the years, I have also done some recording for my company’s webinars.  Through this process, I’ve grown accustomed to using Audacity.  Audacity (click here) is a free, open source digital audio recording software package that has editing capabilities.  Designed and released in 2000, this package may not have great aesthetics, but basic capabilities are easy to find and intuitive to use.  All I needed was a microphone.

One of the problems that I’ve noted is that a lot of computer microphones don’t pick up bass nearly as much as they pick up higher registers, which makes my voice sound nasally.  When I was working on the webinars, the best microphone I’d used was a lavalier microphone that we’d simply used as a computer microphone.  Somewhere, I also have a wand microphone, but I haven’t bothered to look for that in years.  The microphone on my laptop picks up too much sound from my fan, and my phone?  Ha ha ha, that’s a good one!  I had a few other workarounds that I couldn’t get working, so I was left with a few interesting alternatives.  By using the microphone on my camera (very good quality sound), and capturing myself on video, I was able to pick up a broader register of sound.  I used another program (Lightworks) to separate the audio from the video by converting an .MP4 file to an MP3, and then used Audacity to clean up the audio.

This still left me with the issue of where to get the optimal sound.  While working on the webinars, our recording studio is an office with paned-glass doors and windows.  No matter where I sat in the room, the audio would pick up the sound of my voice bouncing off of the glass, giving everything a slight echo (or, if not, then the sensation that I was recording in a tunnel or a bathroom stall).  Luckily, my home office has two small windows and a great deal of solid wall.  Thus, while recording, the only things I needed to worry about were my voice, the content, and my cadence.

I was tasked with addressing the very beginning of a story.  How do I construct an opening?  Well, that’s a long story for me, but Holly Hunt (click here), a fellow author, was kind enough to provide me with a few questions so that we could play off of each other.

For my podcast debut with the host, Holly Hunt, please click here.

What I’ve Learned

Through this process, I noticed a few things:

  1. Mapping this out allowed me to be much more succinct with my answers, and (hopefully) more informative.

2. It’s hard to sound like an authority when the item over which I have authority, my book, is not even published yet.

3. I had a bit of trouble anticipating my audience, as my only experience with Aussies has been discussing basketball video games (as well as a few web comics I’ve followed over the years).  Was I over-explaining a little by describing The Scarlet Letter as if they’d never heard of it? I don’t know.

4. I think there was some broken communication about the intent of the questions, and a few questions were not as I remembered them (funny thing, memory).

5. Ultimately, Holly Hunt was great to work with, and I feel like she did a great job of putting together the final product.  It was an experience that I’d definitely take on again.

I listen to a few podcasts, and one thing that I notice in those podcasts is sound quality, but another is the amount of energy that the participants bring to the table.  If they bring too little, it makes me feel a little bored, but if they bring too much, it’s like listening to monster truck commercials for half an hour.  I think that both Holly and I brought the appropriate amount of energy, and I’m fairly certain that our Audacity-augmented process helped.  What do you think?  Did we do well?  Is there anything else you’d like to know surrounding getting started with a novel?  Please feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

Did you miss that link for my turn on Holly Hunt’s Beyond the Words?  Click here.

About Holly Hunt:

Ms. Hunt, host of Beyond the Words on The Modern Meltdown, is a Canberra, Australia, -based author.  She has published a dozen graphic and written word novels spanning the fantasy and horror genres.  In July 2017, Ms. Hunt published The Devil’s Wife (Click here), a print novel in which Lucifer is alive and roaming the streets of New York City.

About James (call me Jim) Owen:

Mr. Owen, a native of Santa Cruz, California, is an author who is looking to take flight.  Absconded by Sin, his first novel, is currently in closed beta.  A graduate of St. Mary’s College of California (with another stop at UCSC), Mr. Owen has spent the past 6+ years in market research.  Prior to that, he taught high school English… and lived to tell the tale.

Putting Together a Web Page / Blog Post for Your Book

June 5, 2017

Over the past several years, and particularly the past several months, I’ve shared my writing journey and my thoughts on writing, with you.  Over this time, I’ve discussed a little but about my process, my search for publication, and my various misadventures.  Today, I wanted to share something about other processes.  As you have no doubt seen from this blog, I’ve been working on this blog as a means of building a community and “marketing” myself.  I hate that word, marketing… even though that’s part of what I investigate for my daytime job.  Of course, there are benefits to marketing, if you approach it from the right way.  If you don’t “market” yourself, then nobody will know about who you are, how great you are, and the stories that you have to tell.

One of the easiest ways to share something about yourself today is via a website. The only thing you’ve seen from my website so far is my blog. That’s because I have one major thing holding me back from putting together a fuller site: visuals. I’m working on that, but I spend a lot of time researching websites through my primary employment, so I have a pretty good idea of what I need to do in order to get a successful website in place.  I was thinking about sharing some of that with you, but I decided that I should start a little smaller.  What do I need to do in order to successfully put together a blog post or a web page that specifically markets my book?  For this, I thought I’d share a process that David, my colleague, has shared with me and with our many clients.

My employer frequently shares what it would take to sell development tools to clients, so this isn’t exactly what we explain to clients (and we usually show an idea rather than tell it), but there’s a lot of crossover here.

Before we start, let’s take an example. Michael Wallace’s Quill Gordon Mysteries, because he is already doing a lot right when he introduces “The McHenry Inheritance.

Introduction

The first thing you want to do is introduce your book.  He does this with a slugline “It’s scary, and so wrong,” and then goes into the content that you’d find on the back cover.  This introduces the stakes and a few of the main characters. Mr. Wallace gives about two paragraphs of content, mostly summarizing the content of the book.  What he’s given is good.  The only thing that I might change is spending a bit more time toward the end taking a more distant view of the book.  “This is a mystery in the vein of [comparable author].” or “The McHenry Inheritance takes you on a ride through the sordid underbelly of Harperville, wherein everybody has reason to be suspicious of outsiders.”  This isn’t the best means of pulling away from the stakes, but it does leave a little more to the imagination.

If this is your only book, then it might be useful to share a little bit about you, but this is probably better left fro a dedicated “About the Author” page.  You’ll have plenty of places to share who you are, anyway.

Short Reviews

Okay, so you’re probably low on reviews if you’ve just recently released your book.  There’s ways around this.  You can ask your beta readers for some kind words (but, by all means, don’t give away their identities unless they want you to do so!).   You can wait for some positive reviews on Amazon, and then ask for permission for those.  Mr. Wallace has a review off in the corner.  It is a solid review, but he only needs a sentence or two from that review to let visitors know that his book is a worthwhile read.

If you have a positive review in your local paper, this is the ideal place to put it.  Not everybody will garner this attention in their early career, so if you have something here, might as well put it to good use.

Book Trailer

In an earlier post, I referred back to Mr. Wallace’s book trailer.  I think his trailer works on many levels.  It tells a little bit about Mr. Wallace himself, adding some credibility in the process; it talks about his process; it talks about the book itself; and, perhaps most importantly, it tells readers where they can pick up his book.

I think there’s a few nice balances Mr. Wallace makes here.  He keeps it simple, while still providing a glimpse at the setting.  He’s made a professional video, hiring professional videographers and video editors to make the short piece — I’m not saying you should go for pros every time, but he’s done so to good effect. Finally, he’s used original content.

This last little part, about original content, isn’t necessary — there’s plenty of content in the public domain that will work nicely — but it is important to show that he is the genuine article.  I’ve been gathering ideas for my own book trailer, and one thing that I’ve noticed from other production-quality book trailers is that they’re borrowing from movies (either stills or even short, live action sequences) that are not in the public domain.  This is very risky, as there are items that are covered by “fair use,” but taking an image of Sean Connery from Highlander may show the reader something about your book, but it also is something that others can recognize comes from somewhere else.

Passages

You don’t want to give away too much about your writing content, but it helps to give away something, so people can know what they’re getting into. If you’re nervous about this, you can always provide copyright notice.  Considering how much space these passages might take up, it wouldn’t hurt to hide them via a “spoiler” option if you have it in your given website.  It’s fairly common for BBscript, if that’s available.

If you have visual media, this is also a good place to show some artwork or whatever other pictures or charts you might have on hand.  If you’re going for the George R.R. Martin type of saga, a family tree is always helpful (provided it doesn’t give away too much about your book).

Links

In my daytime job, I’d recommend this if you have technical resources that help people see what your product can do, and how to do it.  With writing, it’s a little different. You could link to relevant items about your book within your site.  If you have full reviews, this is a great place to put them, as well.  Anything that is germane to your book can fit here.  If you’re writing a period piece about ancient Hippo (Annaba, Algeria), then perhaps a link to the Confessions of St. Augustine of Hippo would be relevant, or perhaps there’s a book, site, or society that is dedicated to ancient Hippo.

For Mike Wallace’s book, this might be something about his notes for his fictitious mountain town and some of the landmarks, such as Harry’s Tavern.  He might also provide some of the history of the quill gordon lure in fly fishing, or some other angling sites.  He has some media coverage that would fit in well here, such as this spotlight from our local Santa Cruz Sentinel.

This would also be a good place to provide links to your book in online booksellers. If you’re looking at American booksellers, Amazon has to be on there.  B&N, Lulu, and others are all important, but nothing does as much volume as Amazon.  There’s an important item to consider here: as much as you might want to feature where to find your book in bookstores, it really needs to be embedded in the rest of your post.  We, as readers, know why we’re looking for books, so it doesn’t do you any good to be pushy in getting people to buy your book.  By passing along your purchase information as just that, information, rather than overt marketing, you’ll attract more people who are on the fence.

Finally, if you haven’t attached links or widgets to your social media, then this should be at the bottom of your post.  It’s not critical to a blog / webpage dedicated to your book, but it is yet another way that you can connect with your audience.

****

I haven’t been able to apply the above to my own site.  As mentioned, I’m still missing visual media, including a book trailer and any sort of cover or collateral pictures, but these are items that I’ve been considering, and items that I must take into account as I put this information together.

As if I haven’t stressed this enough earlier, the blog post or website is a means of introducing others to your book and introducing yourself to your audience.  Thus, while I do make mention of telling people where they can find your book in the usual bookstores, I didn’t mention anything about telling readers to “buy it now.”  If you use those three words, you must be very subtle, as using that phrase as a command is bound to turn others off.

A big thanks to David for the idea.

Is there anything I missed? Please feel free to add them in the comments below.

Photo Attribution: Unsplash on Pexels. Creative Common 0 License

Unfinished Business (Part Two)

April 10, 2017

Note: This is the second in a three part series about unfinished drafts of famous and not-so-famous works.  The third part of this series is scheduled to go out on Wednesday.

Last week, I mentioned my mentor’s fondness of the Robert Burns poem, To A Mouse (1785), which ends with “/ an’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain, / for promis’d joy!” (essentially, the best laid plans of mice and men oft go awry, and leave us with nothing but grief and pain for promised joy).  Despite what we may plan to do with our lives, some things never come to fruition.  Due to writer’s block, frustration, illness, or myriad other things, some authors are forced to leave a work behind.

Of course, not all writers are fortunate enough to step away from a novel or long story and choose to set it aside. Some writers suffer from what tvtropes.org refers to as “author existence failure.”  The following are a few examples of writers who were not able to complete a famous work before they died:

The Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer – One of the early examples of great English literature (but by no means the earliest) is The Canterbury Tales, a story of pilgrims on a pilgrimage to Canterbury Cathedral. There are 24 completed tales, and centuries of debate that go alongside them. The general consensus is that Chaucer did not finish his tales before he died c.October 1400 at c.57 years old, because the pilgrims never make it to Canterbury, and Chaucer’s work ended in the middle of “The Cook’s Tale.”

The Canterbury Tales, for those who haven’t subjected themselves to them, are a trip because of the nature of the language in the text. It’s nominally English, but the thing that you need to realize about English at that time is that it was still coming together as a collection of languages based on British Anglic, Frisian (a German language that is still spoken in portions of the Netherlands), Norman (an earlier version of French), and a handful of other native British languages. As a result of this still simmering stew of languages, some of the words are the same in appearance as they are today, but sound completely differently than you’d expect; for instance, “pilgrimage” is actually pronounced “pill-gri-mah-juh.”  If you can cast aside the almost foreign English language, you’ll find tales with a variety of different content, from the pious to the profane.  A lot of the tales have to do with relationships and sex, at least one of them has to do with roosters, and all of them were intended to entertain people 600+ years ago.

The Faerie Queene – Edmund Spenser – Like Virgil before him and Walt Whitman after him, Spenser set out to create a national myth for his country. He intended to compose twelve books (more like long chapters or acts) of an epic poem that followed the virtues that mattered to contemporary Britain, personified by knights staving off giants, witches, dragons, and dark knights.  Spenser was so well liked, and so well known in his endeavor for a national myth, that he was a favorite of Queen Elizabeth I, and received a pension of £50 per year from the crown in order to complete it.  However, he died at age 47 in 1599, allegedly of starvation, having completed just five of his books. Any notes on the planned installments are lost, and it isn’t clear if Queen Elizabeth ever even read his work.

Don Juan – Lord Byron – Prior to the 1800s, novels weren’t really much of a thing for English-speaking audiences, and the epic poem was the closest thing to what we see today, which is why you see examples of verse, such as The Canterbury Tales and The Faerie Queene on this list. Lord Byron came in that intervening period where epic poetry hadn’t entirely phased out, but the novel was still evolving as an art form. His Don Juan was a satire about a man who was easily seduced by women (not the womanizer that we hear about today). He published sixteen “cantos” (effectively chapters) before he died. The first two were anonymous, because he was worried that he would get in trouble for peddling “immoral content” (19th century smut). He was working on a seventeen canto, in which he effectively calls out his critics while continuing the story from the sixteenth canto, when he died from a sudden fever in 1824; he was 36.

The Love of the Last Tycoon – F. Scott Fitzgerald – Fitzgerald was of notoriously poor health due to his almost surreal ability to drink copious amounts of alcohol, but his heart attack and subsequent death in 1940 still shocked the literary world.  Fitzgerald wrote about 163 pages into The Love of the Last Tycoon, his unfinished work that gathered insight from his years in Hollywood.  It follows a fictitious director’s rise to power, and the conflicts that he encounters along the way, including a rivalry with another director. His family published the incomplete draft in 1941.

Islands in the Stream – Ernest Hemingway – Hemingway was incredibly hard on himself as an author, and relentless at editing his own work. This is indicative of his overall mental state, as Hemingway is the only person who had the final say on when he died; he took his own life via shotgun in July 1961. Islands in the Stream and the subsequent The Garden of Eden were both published posthumously.  Despite taking almost two years to complete (nothing compared to the fifteen years spent on The Garden of Eden), Hemingway’s work on Islands in the Stream is rough.  His family did publish a complete draft of the novel, which follows a man as he goes from an artistic recluse to an action hero.  There are characteristics of the novel that are clearly Hemingway, but the rough nature of his word choice makes some critics wonder if the seemingly finished work was indeed finished, or if Hemingway intended to publish it as is.

Bonus: A Fourth Millennium Series book – Steig Larsson – This one is probably fresh in many of your minds, but Steig Larsson, the author of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was working on a fourth book in that series when he died of a heart attack in 2004. Furthermore, Larsson had written out notes for two more, and allegedly had plans for as many as ten books in the series. His partner, Eva Gabrielsson, inherited his laptop, which contained his manuscript and all notes, and elected to sit on them while she considered her options.  In 2015, David Lagercrantz, another author contracted by Larsson’s publisher, published a fourth book in the series.  It does not rely on Larsson’s original notes.

There are plenty of other well-known authors who have famously passed on in the middle of a famous work.  Are there any big ones that I’ve missed?  Feel free to leave some examples in the comments section below.

Unfinished Business (Part One)

April 5, 2017

Note: This is the first in a three part series about unfinished drafts of famous and not-so-famous works.  The second part of this series is scheduled to go out during the week of April 10th.

When I was in teacher training, I had no fewer than three mentor teachers.  I worked with one teacher per semester for three semesters.  For the fourth semester (second, chronologically), I assisted another teacher in an unofficial capacity before replacing her as a long-term substitute. The last of these three (or four) mentor teachers was a sharp-witted man named Nick.  Nick introduced me to a little tidbit that I’d either never learned or had already forgotten about John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. The title of that short novel stems from a few lines of a 1785 poem, “To a Mouse,” by Scottish poet Robert Burns:

“The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft agley, / an’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain, / for promis’d joy!”

(frequently as “the best-laid plans of mice and men oft go awry…”)

Let’s leave that last portion alone for a second, and think about the phrasing for “the best-laid plans” (one of Nick’s favorite phrases).  When I am writing at my best, I have a firm outline of where I want to go with my narrative.  I generally view it by act, following the same five act format that was popular in Shakespeare’s time.  At times, those five acts are reduced to four, and I group the denouement and the conclusion together. This doesn’t mean that I’m exactly successful at carrying these narratives out to the end.  In fact, only three of my novel-length works (and only two in my adult life) can count as completed first drafts — or beyond.

I’m not the only writer who has left something unfinished, either due to frustration, illness, or death.  Let’s take a look at the writers who stepped away from a novel, and were never able to complete it.

The Long Goodbye – Harper Lee – The woman who brought us To Kill a Mockingbird apparently had a follow-up that long predates her Go Set a Watchman “sequel.” The Long Goodbye was apparently 110 pages of what happened after the events of To Kill a Mockingbird, but I have not found out where it is in relation to Go Set a Watchman. It is among three known books that Harper Lee never completed during her lifetime, and abandoned long before her illness and death.

Dark America – Junot Diaz – Diaz is a darling for many contemporary lit teachers due to his economy of words, and the clever use of the words that he does use. His collection of short stories surrounding Yunior and Rafa, Drown, has graced many shelves since 1995.  However, Diaz has abandoned at least two novels, including Dark America. This, a sci-fi story about mutants, was something that, per the New York Times, Diaz found “stupid and convoluted.”

The Mysterious Stranger – Mark Twain – Over a period of nearly 21 years, Mark Twain tried and failed to complete The Mysterious Stranger. Each time, one of America’s most famous humorists, had to start over.  There are three vastly different drafts floating around somewhere, a fourth fragment that represents his earliest attempt, and who knows how many other false starts have vanished with time? They each follow the tale of a demonic figure, who is explicitly named Satan in at least one of the drafts, but the setting and story itself change from one draft to the next.  Each time, Twain set his story down, and there is no evidence that he attempted to publish any of those drafts.  The last version takes place in the same St. Petersburg, MO, a partial setting for several of his well-known books, was apparently “finished” in the sense that there is a beginning, middle, and end, but there are enough holes to make analysts highly dubious about its completeness.

Fountain City – Michael Chabon – If anybody knows the frustration of an incomplete work, it’s Michael Chabon.  Chabon started Fountain City, a book about architects who want to build a baseball stadium in Florida, and continued writing about it for 1,500 pages, before realizing that he hadn’t found the right way to end it.  He abandoned this book, but the experience inspired him to write the 1995 novel Wonder Boys, which was then optioned into a 2000 movie with Michael Douglas.  What is Wonder Boys about?  An author who cannot finish his 2,611 (gulp) page novel.

Eamon Diaz and the Vampire Queen – Larry Hama – You might not know the name, but comic book fans know his work.  Larry Hama is responsible for such titles as G.I. JOE: A Real American Hero and Bucky O’Hare, and has been an editor (as well as a writer and artist) on a number of Marvel projects.  A quick Google search does not yield anything about the content, but Hama’s oeuvre is enough to make this one notable, as if a Hiberno-Latino vampire hunter does not.

Bonus: The Cannibals – Stephen King – Stephen King is famous for the volume of books that he produces.  Because of his prolific nature, King was forced to publish several novels under the pseudonym of Richard Bachman.  However, Stephen’s consistency in delivering 2,000 words per day (a good sized novel every two to three months) has had a few misfires that he was unable to publish.  One of those misfires, The Cannibals, a project that King started in 1982, plagued him for years.  However, he was able to return to the book and, after a “partial” rewrite, he published the story as Under the Dome in 2009.

There are plenty of other well-known authors who have famously set aside a novel and never completed it.  Are there any big ones that I’ve missed?  Feel free to leave some examples in the comments section below.

Some Suggestions for More Robust Characters

April 3, 2017

Author’s Note: this started like an excerpt from a memoir, but eventually turned back to some fair reminders for characterization.

There are two aspects that are powerful when writing about characters, as everybody can relate to them on some level: nostalgia and jobs.  Everybody has their moments when they think back fondly on some period of their life, or when some aspect of their life reminds them of the way things were. Everybody has worked, does work, or will work at some sort of job, even if the job isn’t exactly the paying kind.  In order to create richer characters, and in order to draw readers into your characters’ world, bring relevant aspects of the characters’ pasts, as well as their roles in society into your narrative.

I’ve been pretty nostalgic lately.  Today, we went on a hike that reminded me of when I was first dating my wife.  We discussed her grandmother and her childhood friend, who are both since deceased.  Those memories spurred more memories, and so on.  I was fortunately enough to know her grandmother before she passed, and discussion of her grandmother hiking that trail reminded me of seeing this woman, then over 80, cutting the rug with her granddaughter at our wedding.  Aside from that, some alfalfa sprouts in my sandwich reminded me of sandwiches that my father used to order when I was a kid; I don’t know why he stopped having them, but you never see alfalfa on the menu anymore.  After that, tortellini with pesto reminded me of my childhood friend.  The point is, memories can flare and smolder like a campfire, depending on the kindling.

When discussing a character, and having that character advance through that plot, nostalgia doesn’t need to play a prominent factor.  However, consider all of the times you’ve been rolling down Broadway and you remember that swing-set that was there when you were a kid, or how that old theater reminds you of your first kiss.  Your characters aren’t going to reminisce of times passed when they’re busy hunting a serial killer, nor will they necessarily reminisce of times passed when they’re waiting for the bus, but there should be something there that hints at a time before your story began.

I’m in my early 30s.  My tenth college reunion is in the rear view mirror, and I’ll be closing in on forty by the time my next reunion (high school) takes place.  What this means, of course, is that I am part of our nation’s workforce. Regardless of what adults do in the workforce, from custodian to CEO, work takes up a great deal of their time.  How they go about their work, and what they feel about their work, is an important part of their character, as well.  My father repeats this one-liner from a movie (I think it might be the barbershop scene in Gran Torino) that goes something like “real men complain about their jobs.” It’s funny, but we all have stories from our jobs, whether mild frustrations or flat out grievances, peppering a character’s conversations and thoughts with complaints, worries, or even successes in their jobs makes for a more believable characterization overall.

For all of my fellow writers who are out there trying to paint a picture, use these thoughts and experiences to shape your character.  Is your character a former high school footballer who is stuck in the kitchen at the local diner?  Put in a little something about him grumbling about the big game.  Does your character know she is paid less than the manager’s underqualified nephew?  Add an interaction between the two of them!

Thoughts from an Unrelated Conference

March 31, 2017

I recently cited a Herman Wouk quotation that states that “a rule sometimes broken is better than no rule.” It has been a while since I’ve written new content, and the last time I worked on my current work-in-progress was Saturday, in which I spent time polishing a short section for reading at the Community Writers of Santa Cruz gathering.  A great deal has happened in the interim, but little of it is writing related.  My employers hosted a two-day conference, in which we had speakers from all over the high-tech landscape come and speak to other professionals.

One of the first speakers of the conference was a celebrity who crosses many fields.  Guy Kawasaki, a one-time colleague of Steve Jobs’, has spoken at conferences around the world, and on topics such as marketing to technical audiences, general marketing, and community management.  The general overview of his talk on Monday was evangelism, an activity he does for Canva, a company that provides free graphic design tools.  He generally speaks about the software development field, but many of the topics for discussion were general enough that they don’t need context.  It is very likely that I will mine these for content for future blogs, but also look to these to address my future endeavors as a writer.

I’ve mentioned another writer, Janice Mock, in my blog before.  Janice is a memoirist, whose debut memoir, Not All Bad Comes to Harm You, is currently available.  She has also harped upon Kawasaki’s book, Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur (APE): How to Publish a Book.  I haven’t read the book myself, but I have heard good things about it.  I have also seen a caveat, which is something that appeared in various forms after his talk at the conference.  It’s easy to get published when you’re Michelle Obama, Dwayne the Rock Johnson, or Guy Kawasaki.  During his talk, Kawasaki claimed that he’s getting 1,200 new Twitter followers per day.  It takes me a few weeks just to get that many Twitter impressions.  While there are probably a great deal of factoids that are useful in APE, it is important to understand that Kawasaki has a résumé that makes things happen on its own.

Not to take anything away from the man.  His presentation was great!  I also learned something very important through his presentation.  Along with Susie Wee, one of the CTOs for Cisco, Mr. Kawasaki introduced me to a concept that I hadn’t seriously considered before, using live video as a way of communicating with my audience.  Kawasaki and Wee used Facebook Live to live-cast their talks. In the time since their Monday talks, Kawasaki has had 7,700+ views.  Wee has just 39 views, but I have to think that she’s providing this somewhere else; Cisco is a major player in the tech world, and her presentation was simply outstanding.  I make a guest appearance in Wee’s video as a mortician who has ingested embalming fluid, so maybe that’s scaring people away.  My cousin’s husband, Steve, had already used the Facebook Live function to share his thoughts on life, but I didn’t think that such a medium would be particularly effective.  After all, it takes a second or two to get the gist of most Facebook wall posts, but a Facebook Live event might take five minutes or more for someone to extract all of its gems.  However, Steve got a lot of views.  As I sat in on Kawasaki’s and Wee’s respective presentations, I realized that what Steve had done could work for me, too.

On Tuesday, after I got home from the conference, I recorded my first Facebook Live session.  It had its moments, but was plagued with all of the problems with doing something live without any real testing.  After three attempts in which I actually went live, and numerous prior struggles with audio and video, I finally was frustrated enough to just go through with it.  There were small issues, as I was trying to flip through three pages of 8-1/2 by 11” document while reading from what I’d presented at Saturday’s Community Writers meeting.  I finally placed the three pages on a clipboard next to my camera.  It was my attempt to approximate eye contact with the camera – in essence, a kludge teleprompter without the “tele.”  This worked a bit better, as I was able to read through my work with just two brief transitions.  If you’ve seen the Facebook Live run, either live or recorded on my Facebook page, your teeth are likely grinding at the very thought of those transitions.  Surely, there is an alternative, but I will have to work this alternative out as I continue experimenting with this medium.

Tools for Live Recording

The Internet is the great equalizer when it comes to producing recorded content.  There are tools that make it easy enough to do.  Speaking as someone who came into it with no prior experience, I know that tools such as Windows Movie Maker and Camtasia can allow you to pre-record webinars with little more than a vision and a little intuition.  They are not necessarily professional quality, and will not be confused for something put out by teams that are dedicated to such tasks, but the bare bones are indeed possible, if not easy.  If you’re going for something that’s raw and grassroots, Facebook Live can instantly get you from ideation to a live broadcast. One of the major takeaways from Guy’s talk was the growing set of third-party tools that are already there to support you in your FB Live broadcasts.  There were three resources that he identified:

Telestream WireCast – This is a production studio toolkit.  It allows you to use multiple cameras and mics for Facebook Live, to capture live content, and to provide modern editing and layering to Facebook Live broadcasts. Telestream offers limited time trial versions, but the software itself runs around $500 for the base level.

Be.Live – This is more of a community for live creators, rather than a tool or integration itself.  This community is full of information.  One such post explains how you can download your live streams from Facebook.  This also sells “.live” domains for live content creators.  I’m not sure where the integration occurs here.

BlueJeans – teleconferencing technology that has integrated with Facebook Live.  From the website, it appears that most of this is done for enterprise teleconferencing, but I’m sure that you can stretch it to include live Q&A sessions with your fans, if you have the imagination.  There is a free trial of BlueJeans, but the full package is a subscription service.  With some exceptions, such as a 50% deal in March, the price is about $20 per month for up to 50 attendees at once.

Content is King

Later in the day, I watched my colleague, David I, illustrate examples of a developer portal that really doesn’t work.  He had some great points that make a lot of sense to all of us in the blogosphere.

The key point that resonated the most with me is that you may be trying to sell something, but the key reason why you should be producing content on your blog or site is to give something to your audience.  It doesn’t matter if that something is advice, information, or just you telling your story.  If you’re hocking something right off of the bat, you’re going to turn people away.

Another key point that I’d like to bring up is the volume of content, and the completeness of vision for your site.  If you’re reading this, you know that I have a blog.  I also have a Facebook author page that hasn’t gone live yet.  A large part of the reason why it hasn’t gone live is that it is still devoid of content and visual appeal.  With my blog, I have been focusing on delivering content, and do so because my only experience with blogs has been experience with text.  I have been exploring ways of expanding this to a full site.  For the time being, this is a blog, and the written content is king.  One of these days, when somebody picks up my blog, they will have a backlog of my thoughts, and will hopefully be able to trace my evolution as a blogger and as an author.  Right now, my Facebook author page has none of that.  For this and other reasons, I have not gone live with that page, and I may need to wait for some time before you, my friends, will see it.

If you haven’t heard about David I., then you’re missing out.  The man is a great presenter, and great storyteller.  He shares from his backlog of more than 45 years in the software development field, and his experience picking up an array of programming languages.  However, his reminiscing of days of compilers past is not what makes him so engaging as a presenter.  He has adopted numerous philosophies of presentation skills from presenter Jerry Weissman, and one of them is particularly helpful for those of us who want to use video as a medium for blogging and sharing content: ERA, earned run average.  Oops, nope. ERA…

Eye Contact – keep your eye on your audience, whether that is a camera or a live event.  If a live event, maintain eye contact with numerous people in succession.  A presentation is just a conversation with many people.

Reach Out – be welcoming, draw people in.  If you physically reach out (think with open arms), it’s like shaking hands.  There’s a visceral response to shaking hands, and it harkens back to centuries past, where you knew that if you were shaking hands, you weren’t carrying a weapon in that hand.  As most people are right handed, you’re proving that you’re at least vulnerable enough to not have anything in your dominant hand.

Animate – don’t just stand there, you corpse!  Lurch, the butler on the Addams Family, would stand there looking like the scenery, but most people are animated when they engage with others.  Use your hands.  Walk the stage.  If you’re only a close-up on a screen, laugh and smile, or gesticulate in some manner.

Closing Thoughts

After all that has happened this week, and my relative level of exhaustion, I didn’t think that this blog post would be as long as it is.  I’ll leave you with a few things:

  • If you’re trying to draw interest to your cause, try Facebook Live. It couldn’t hurt.  In fact, as of this posting, I have 165 views, and drew nine unique visitors to my blog in just under 40 minutes.  That’s not too bad.
  • Consider low cost or free production tools. Fiddle around with free tooling, and see what works for you. Some are fairly intuitive; even if they aren’t, you might learn something!
  • If you want to feel natural on the camera, you might not necessarily be able to animate, but try keeping eye contact with the camera as much as possible, and establish an open posture. If you look uncomfortable on the camera, then it won’t be any fun for your viewers.

Photo Credit: Cozendo on Pixabay.  CCO License.

If any of the above interested you, please check out the following:

Janice Mock
Guy Kawasaki
APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur
Susie Wee
David I

Breaking the Shell: Sharing my Work in Public (Again)

March 27, 2017

Writing takes time.  Good writing takes even longer.  If you do any writing for leisure, you can consider yourself a writer.  My grandfather often points to me, out of his eight grandchildren, as the writer in the family, because I write novels in my spare time.  He writes memoirs, and these are a gift to his grandchildren every Christmas.  He may not think of himself as such, but he is a writer, too.  Of course, there are certain aspects of the craft that he might not do as much as a typical fiction writer, such as editing or fretting over word choice, but he certainly can write.  His memoirs are frequently entirely in capital letters, but that’s a different story altogether.  He is a writer because he shares insights about a world that are lost to people of my generation; he has a tale to tell, and he uses the written word to tell it.

In this way, my grandfather is much more of a writer than I am.  I have written fiction for many years.  Many of the short stories that I’ve written are lost due to the burnt silicon of years past, and other works are still floating around my hard drive, looking for an ending.  I have two completed novels, one that has been edited, and one that is in need of a 33% reduction in length.  I also have enough incomplete novels to keep me busy for years. Outside of me, my wife, and a number of beta readers, I have not leaked any of these projects out to the public.  In fact, not counting the time I read a portion of my current work-in-progress to some fellow writers in a crowded restaurant, I hadn’t publicly shared any portion of my writing projects for about five years — that is, until yesterday.  For the first time since college, I’ve joined a writing group that has a regular meeting schedule, established rules, and a consistent following.  Yesterday, while most of the poets in the group were likely attending a festival called “The Celebration of the Muse,” I stood up in front of a sparse crowd of memoir writers and poets and shared my current work in progress, tentatively titled “Their Sharpest Thorns.”

I was one of the last readers of the day.  Considering how much others had shared, and how much free time we had, I could have read much more, but I kept myself true to the group’s designated time limit of 5 to 8 minutes.  As the new guy, I stuck as close as I could to the five minute mark.

Before I go on about my own writing, I’d like to share some thoughts about what I’d previously heard.  Before I got up to the podium, I’d heard one woman describe living in abject poverty in the midst of Oklahoma’s Dust Bowl era, another woman described learning to drive on one of the most treacherous roads in the region with her three siblings in the back seat, and a third described having her wallet stolen from her hostel on the first morning in a strange land.   These are three experiences that I have no real grounds for understanding.  California, and particularly the Bay Area, was booming throughout my childhood. I learned to drive on an empty country road, and waited months before I drove down Highways 5  and 99 for my first long trip by car.  I’ve never been out of the country on my own, and never spent the night in a hostel.  I’ve heard several people state this, but there is an entire generation that has never experienced war of the magnitude of WWI, WWII, Korea, and Vietnam.  There is still a lack of social justice in the World, but the fight is different than what the world “we” saw in the 1960s, even if it is the same fight, but a different venue.  Sharing those differences, whether it is a difference of time, socioeconomic status, gender, race, or anything else that makes you unique is one way of providing others with a perspective of what it means to be you.

As for my experience, it’s a little different.  When I write, I attempt to convey stories and illustrate characters.  On Saturday, I was the lone fiction writer, and my reading was nestled between two expressive and enthralling poets.  These two men, like most of the others in this group, are each at least twice my age.  They lived through the Summer of Love, and they saw friends and neighbors go off to fight battles on foreign soil.

The man immediately preceding me has a wry and capricious wit.  The other poet jokingly categorized his friend’s work as almost pornographic.  I wouldn’t go that far, but it was something that my parents wouldn’t have wanted me to hear when I was a child.  That said, it was very clever, and his use of wordplay, and the absurd personification of an MP3 player, was a treat.  “Ike,” or whatever his actual name might have been, served as a gentle reminder prior to my own presentation of the power of timeliness in wording.

After Ike presented, I stood up.  I was already talking, sharing a little bit about myself before I made it to the lectern.  This, is a presentation no-no, as a pregnant pause at the lectern reminds people that the chatter has ended and the presentation is about to begin.  It reminds you that your time as the audience has ended and that it is now your time to shine.  I forgot that, and needed a gentle reminder, after the fact, that I needed to do this in order to have better command over the room.

When I started, I blew through introducing myself and introducing my work so quickly that I was easily ten seconds ahead of when I’d timed myself earlier.  I was stumbling over words that I’d read several times (out loud to my wife, out loud to my cat, and in my head multiple times).  I knew that I needed to slow down.  I think I gained a little more command of the piece as I went through, but the nerves and “rust” were slow to slough away. By the time I’d run out of words to say, I felt spent.  I think the only adverb that I could use to describe my amble back to my seat would be “drunken.”  I was humbled as I took my seat in the midst of the seasoned vets, but their applause and comments were very supportive, and I knew that I hadn’t completely swayed from my intent.

After I sat down, the moderator, poet Keith Emmons, had a few kind words, and began reading from his own work.  As a spoken word poet, Mr. Emmons is enthralling, and it reminded me of how a talented rhapsode can evoke such interest in their words based solely on their delivery.  Through his poetry, as well as his delivery, he shared the essence of what it is to live the bohemian life in the Santa Cruz Mountains.  He was also there to pitch his book of poetry, Moondrifter Reverie.  I have heard Keith speak several times, enough to become familiar with his style.  I was happy to order his book.  I’m not a poetry critic, but I may share some of my findings once I receive my copy.

Moondrifter Reverie is available from Red Mountain Press of Santa Fe, NM.

—-

You may be curious about what I’ve shared.  At this point, I’ll just leave you with a synopsis of this scene from “Their Sharpest Thorns”:

An aging small-town sheriff is faced with his first major case in years; several people have died due to particularly grisly, ritual murders in his town.  He has just come from the scene of the first murder, where he recovered the body of a backpacker.  He already has another backpacker in his custody.  Is she the killer? He sincerely hopes that the answer is no.

—-

On a somewhat unrelated note, my company is hosting a conference this week.  For this reason, I may not be able to get to comments or follow-up posts until later this week. Wednesday’s blog post may be delayed. I hope that this conference will generate some useful tidbits that will cut from my career to my passion.  We’ll have to see.   I will announce my next blog publication through the appropriate channels as soon as it occurs.

Photo courtesy of Congerdesign via Pixabay. Creative Commons license.

Finding Time to Write

March 20, 2017

It has taken some time, but I am now back on a roll with writing.  After four straight days of contributing something to my current novel, I’m not riding a marathon high just yet, but I think I can work my way back to that kind of “writing shape” with relatively little effort.  Nevertheless, I need to find time to write.

Finding the time to write is an imperative for any writer, and it comes in increasingly short supply for all of us, whether one of those industrious writers who by either luck or the ideal cocktail of imagination and vocabulary are able to do it for a living, or for the rest of us who are hoping that we get there someday.  It has been difficult for me over the past several years, as well, with a job that has become increasingly rigorous in its demands, and a range of other interests and distractions that have shaped my life.  Some of these diversions and distractions are great, such as riding my bike and participating in “century rides.”  Others are not so great… thank you, Facebook and YouTube!

In certain respects, things were so much easier when I was writing Absconded by Sin, the novel that I completed in 2011.  At that time, I was transitioning between jobs.  Yes, there is a bit of euphemism there, as I was unemployed.  However, I was moving from education, a field that had consumed my life for four years (and well before that, if you consider my time as a student), to any field that matched my skills and interests.  At that time, I would spend a good four hours every day focused on fiction writing, another couple of hours spent on job hunting, and the remnants spent on cooking, errands, exercise, and household duties.  I could go to the beach, do hill repeats by running up and down the sand dunes, and sit down and spend as much time as I needed mapping out my next scene or considering my characters’ motivations.

After some time without a full-time job, I again joined the regular 9-to-5.  As I settled into being a desk jockey, I was still rolling to an end with Absconded by Sin, and had about a quarter of the narrative to go before I was ready to put my stamp on the first draft.  This latter portion of Absconded by Sin took a long time to unwind, and I was caught between trying to balance all of my focal activities from my transition period with the new job, while also trying to get up to speed with this new landscape.  On some nights, I was lucky if I strung together 100 words, while others yielded far less modest word counts.  Still, I didn’t have those four hours that I’d used to put together 2,000 word segments; when I did, they lacked the same flow and richness that I’d enjoyed in November of 2010 (my first NaNoWriMo).  Over time, I adapted, but I was far less likely to put together monstrous word counts.  Even then, it took about ten weeks to put together the first 140,000 words, and about four months to put together the next 45,000.  Believe me, it took a long time to reduce all of that by a third, as well!

Life always intervenes with writing.  In some ways, I’ve improved at striking this balance.  However, not every aspect has improved for the better.  The house I keep is not nearly as tidy as it once was – and I was never an expert at it, to begin with — and laundry often doesn’t enter the landscape that I paint for a given week.  Even then, I try to write a little every night, whether it is something that I will use in a novel or something I will use in any of the various side projects and endeavors that I undertake.  Even emails and other correspondence are important to my creative process, as long as I am writing something.

In October 2016, I was ready to start my current project, tentatively titled “Their Sharpest Thorns,” and I had a general outline of the story, up until the third act, and some decent character notes that I hoped to flesh out as the novel started.  At that point, I learned the hard way that it’s best to back up your writing.  After hours spent on outlining and uncovering critical details that would make my novel whole, I damaged my thumb drive – which contained the only version of that document – beyond repair.  Thus, going into November’s NaNoWriMo, wherein I typically make my big push on my projects, I was flying by the seat of my pants.  Some writers thrive in those conditions.  I must admit, I enjoy the spontaneity of such an undertaking, but I need my thoughts to look good “on paper” (to use a somewhat apt sports analogy) before I can commit words to the page.

I was able to eclipse 63,000 words during NaNoWriMo 2016, but now rest at 65,200, just 1,700 words and change beyond where I stood at the beginning of December.  Not all of this is due to inactivity.  Just a few weeks ago, I completed a project for a friend.  This is a 21,000 word (plus another 1,100 words from my wife) effort that mixes memoir with travelogue.  Through this, I intend to surprise my friend and pay a debt of gratitude for his kindness  — if you think you know who this friend may be, please keep this detail to yourself; I am sure that he does not read this blog, and I’d like to maintain the surprise.

In addition to that large project, I have rekindled my blog and am starting to promote both this blog and my book through various avenues.  As you can see throughout my various posts, these undertakings can easily exceed 1,000 words.  With that 21,000 word project off of my plate, and with the blog now flowing again, it is time to see another work of fiction through to completion.  There will certainly be more to share about this journey as my word count continues to rise. Until then, I’ll leave you with the words of Herman Wouk, author of The Winds of War:

“I try to write a certain amount each day, five days a week. A rule sometimes broken is better than no rule.”

Author’s Note: Ironically enough, as I put aside the time to write this post about finding time to write, I broke that four day streak of fiction writing.

Image Source: endlesswatts on Pixabay, listed as public domain.