If you're reading this blog, there's a pretty good chance that you know at least a bit of my story - how I fell in love with a beautiful young girl when I was a boy, lost her, then found her 27 years later. Now, we are busy (and often, not-so-busy, which is nice) enjoying our Happily Ever After. One of the best things about writing and sharing our story is that literally hundreds and hundreds of people have emailed me, or contacted me through my Facebook page to share their own stories with me. Stories of triumph and joy, stories of loss and despair. I often hear from people who still hold their first love strongly in their heart, but for one reason or another, can't be with them. I feel that strong sense of longing that was the primary part of my psychological makeup for so many years. If anyone can relate to what they are feeling, it's me. Now that I have told my love story with Dawn from two perspectives in Feels Like the First Time and Both Sides Now, I'd like to turn my attention to your love stories. I am planning on writing a series of non-fiction books that will focus on true love stories, starting in 2015. But, in order to tell those stories, I have to hear from you. Are you interested in having your own love story written and included in one of these books? Beyond a little bit of literary immortality, I can't offer payment for your story, but I will promise to tell it in an honest and straight-forward way. I'll even change your names if there are people who might be hurt by what is in the story. When I first sat down to write Feels Like the First Time, I started by researching what other books were already written about non-fiction love stories. You know what I found? There aren't many. I'd like to change that. I'd like to take true love stories and share them with the world. I don't care if your story has a happy ending, or a melancholy one - I want to hear it. I don't care if your love story takes place in America, or Europe, or anywhere around the world - I want to hear it. I don't care if your love story is sweet, or sexy, straight or gay - I want to hear it. If you choose to be a part of one these books, you won't need to do the writing yourself, I will do that for you. You'll have to read some of my books to decide if that's a good thing or a bad thing. What I will need from you is to be available for several interviews: first through email and later through Skype or via telephone. I'll also want you to look over your story when I'm done and tell me if I've written in any inaccuracies. I've found that most great love stories don't need embellishment - the have a raw power all their own. So, would you like to see your love story immortalized in a book? If you would, please contact me and we can start the process. You can drop me an email at shawninmon @ gmail.com (remove spaces) or message me through my FB page, which I've linked above.
This is Mossyrock, Washington, the town I was raised in. That's pretty much the entire town in one frame, which gives you some idea of the size of the place. I've traveled around almost all of the United States now, and I realize that I was pretty lucky to have been raised in this little town. It was a safe, if white bread, slice of American life in the sixties and seventies. I suppose I missed out on a lot, coming of age in a town of 400 people, but it didn't ever feel like that. To be completely accurate, although I think of Mossyrock as my hometown, it's not the town I was born in. That town is here:
That lovely view is of Riffe Lake, which was formed when the Mossyrock Dam was constructed in the mid-sixties. The town I was born in was also called Riffe, and it is now at the bottom of that lake, along with a small plastic backpack full of my favorite toys that I left behind on my last day at our ranch house in 1966. I didn't realy understand "We're leaving, and we're never coming back," at the age of six.
From the age of six through eighteen, I called Mossyrock home, most of it on Damron Road.Mere moments (okay, it was a couple of months) after graduating from Mossyrock High, I took off for the big city - Seattle. I left behind, albeit not voluntarily, the girl I loved. Thirty one years later, through twists of fate almost too incredible to be believed, I found that girl, now woman, again. I wooed her all over again and somehow convinced her to be my wife. Now she is sitting beside me on the couch watching Family Guy as I write this blog. Our life's story is in the midst of a Happily Ever After.
I wrote two books about those unbelievable events. I know they are unbelievable because occasionally someone will say, "I don't believe this is true" in an Amazon review. Many of the people who were part of those books have passed on now - both sets of our parents, my sister Terri, my nephew Tommy - but there are enough living witnesses who will testify that things happened pretty close to the way I wrote abut them.
This past weekend, Dawn and I took a trip back to Lewis County. While we were there, we made an effort to take pictures of a lot of the places that I wrote about in the books. This is one of the advantages of writing non-fiction. I'd love to take a picture of the roller rink where Jimmy Velvet met Buddy Holly for the first time in Rock 'n Roll Heaven, but that picture only exists in my mind. Since Mossyrock is real, I thought it would be fun to take some pictures and share the passage from the book where I wrote about it. That way you can see if I did an adequate job of transporting you there, or if I fouled the whole mess up. It could go either way!
This is Bill & Bea's, which is actually in Centralia, about 40 miles from Mossyrock. This is the location where I saw Dawn for the first time in 27 years, on December 1st, 2006. It's also the first scene in both Feels Like the First Time and Both Sides Now. Here's what I wrote about B&B's in FLTFT:
Up ahead, I saw a sign that read Bill & Bea's. I hadn't even known that place was still open. I'd eaten there a lot when I was in high school in the '70s, but I hadn't been back since I moved out of Lewis County.
This is the side yard of 141 Damron Road, where I grew up. Dawn's house was to the left in this picture. In the '70s, there wasn't a fence, or that row of plants and bushes along the left. Our yard and Dawn's yard were open, and that was where we spent much of our time hanging out - becoming friends, the big brother-little sister, then... more. This is how I wrote about it in Feels Like the First Time:
As the months passed, I started to look forward to hanging out with her. One evening we sat in our yard talking about things that were important to us - like whether Kojack was tougher than Baretta. That night, Dawn told me her favorite song was The Air That I Breathe by The Hollies. Since she had told me that Wildfire by Michael Martin Murphy was her favorite song just a few weeks earlier, I pointed out she could only have one favorite. She pointed out I was crazy, and she would have as many favorite songs as she wanted. That night, after Colleen called Dawn inside for dinner, I lingered outside, kicking the heads off of dandelions. I was sorry to see her go in, and I was a little surprised at the feelings for her that were growing inside me.
This is my step-dad's potting shed, which was attached to the back of his little shop, which he used as a Spousal Avoidance Center. I know it's just a rundown little shed, but it's the site of one my lifetime's happiest memories. From FLTFT:
I pulled the Vega up into the yard with the doors open and the radio on. Jackson Browne's The Load Out was playing loudly. I'd already soaped and rinsed, and was starting to dry it off when Dawn appeared. It was a warm spring day and she was wearing shorts and a halter top. The sun had been shining all day, but spring weather changes quickly in western Washington and the sky suddenly darkened.
The thought of rain crossed my mind when I felt the first raindrop, the size of a nickel, splash warmly against my arm. I looked up to see a sudden squall upon us. Drying the car was suddenly less of a priority. Both our houses looked far away, so we dashed inside the greenhouse my step-dad had built across the back of his workshop.
In the time it took us to run to the greenhouse, we were both soaked. Inside, the smell of potting soil, plant starts, and gardening chemicals was heavy in the air. The rain escalated quickly into a thunderstorm. It beat down with incredible force and noise on the tin roof of the greenhouse. The storm came on so fast it made us laugh with surprise as we watched the show Mother Nature was putting on for us. I looked at Dawn with her soaking wet hair and held her close. I sang the song Rain on the Roof by The Lovin' Spoonful softly in her ear. I'd never felt closer to another human being, almost whispering the words to her. I was in heaven, and wished those days would never pass.
By the way, you might have noticed that even in these little excerpts, there are several mentions of songs. Yeah, I do that a lot. If it bugs you, you probably won't like these books. If it stirs a memory in you, or you think it's kind of cool, you might like them!
Here's a couple more, then I'll save the rest for another blog in a few days. First, this is the G Theater in Mossyrock. If you were a teenager in Mossyrock, you didn't have a lot of options to entertain yourself There was Mossyrock Lanes, The G Theater, or parties at the gravel pit or someone's rural house. Almost all the great movies of my youth - Mary Poppins, Flipper, The Ten Commandments, The Godfather - were seen at The G. In 2010, when KISS II reunited, we were blessed to meet Mike and Vicky Howard, the current owners of The G. They were kind enough to give us the use of the theater at no charge for the weekend. This is what it looks like today:
...and this is what it looked like on July 30th, 2010:
I'm the second one from the right, in case you don't recognize me from my author photo. I hope you can see by our faces that a good time was had by all. Just in case you're curious, this is a shot inside The G that same night:
And one last shot for today, the reformed KISS II, on stage at The G:
L-R (onstage) Shawn Inmon, Jerry Weible, Brittany Weible. L-R (front row) Jeff Hunter, aka Wicked Lester, and Dawn Inmon, aka, The Most Understanding Wife in the World.
I've got more pictures from our trip, but I'll save them for the next blog. Thanks for reading and checking out our pics!
Publishing has changed in so many ways in the last five years. The gatekeepers are gone. Anyone can publish now, which is both good and bad. Authors publish a lot more now. A lot. In the '80's, when Stephen King turned out one long book per year, he was considered "prolific." Now, writers like Elle Casey and Russell Blake publish 10 books or more per year, without sacrificing quality. I'm not to that level, yet, but I am ramping up my production levels for the rest of 2014. I have a lot of different projects going right now, so I thought I'd bring you up to speed on what I'll be releasing the rest of the year. First up is the third story in the Second Chance Love series. It's kind of ironic that this has turned out to be my first series, since it was started as kind of a lark. In late November last year, I asked my Facebook fans to come up with some plot ideas and Second Chance Christmas was the result. The next installment will be called Second Chance Summer. It will continue the romantic adventures of Steve and Elizabeth as they settle in to being a couple and face a whole new set of challenges. Second Chance Thanksgiving and Second, Second Chance Christmas will be out later in the year. Second Chance Summer will be out the first week of July. I've got three other full-length projects lined up for the rest of the year. One that I'm really excited about is a currently untitled project that I am co-authoring with Terry Schott. This came about when I read Terry's book The Game (The Game is Life) while I was on vacation in Vegas. (You can download it for free here) I loved it so much, I dropped him a line to thank him for writing it. Coincidentally, he had just finished reading Feels Like the First Time and liked it as well. We got to talking about writing, one thing led to another, and suddenly we were writing a short story together. After two days, it was obvious that this wasn't a short story, it was a book. I think of it was a Science Fiction story with a heart. It's set in a dystopian near future where the world is winding down and escape off-planet is the hope for mankind's survival. Mostly, it centers on the relationship between Sarah and Zeb, two characters that I've already come to love. We don't have a release date on that one yet, because we're both tied up with other projects as well, but it will be sometime later in 2014. Another upcoming project is also untitled so far, but I think of it as my "reluctant messiah" book. It won't be called Reluctant Messiah, because Richard Bach used that very effectively as the subtitle of his book Illusions, which I love. This book came about because I am fascinated by the way the media focuses on one story at a time, like a missing airplane, or a little girl down a well, or the murder trial of a former Heisman Trophy winner. I started wondering, what would happen if the world focused its attention on someone - and then it turned out that they actually had something to say. Something meaningful. This book will be the result of that wondering. It is all plotted, and I've started writing it. I have a hope that it will be out by the end of August. Wish me luck! Finally, I've got another book started that I was originally calling Adorkable You, until my editor and everyone on my FB page told me that was a terrible name. Now it is also untitled, but I'm sure the perfect title will jump out at me soon. It's a young adult romance set during their senior year in high school. This book started out with a simple idea that I am very fond of: What would happen if the prettiest, most popular girl in high school chose to be with the nerdy boy instead of the captain of the football team? It's evolved into something more, now, and it has more depth. I want to explore the idea of what it is like when you are living up to other people's idea of who and what you are, instead of what is inside you. Almost everyone in the book will be doing that to one extent or the other, until they learn how to match their inside self to what is happening on the outside. I don't have a release date for it, but it will be some time in 2014. So, that's it for the rest of the year - a second chance romance series, a sci-fi with a romantic twist, a YA romance with a little depth, and a metaphysical allegory that means the world to me. I hope you'll come along for the ride with me, at least for one or two of them. If you're not reading them, it doesn't make much sense for me to write them!
There's a blog tour going on that is all about the writing process. I've been tagged to share the ins and outs of how I write. In theory, I was supposed to put the arm on a few other writers to also participate, but with the launch of a new book and leaving on vacation, that didn't happen. So, writer friends of mine, you dodged a bullet! There are four questions involved and I will do my best to answer them. Before I do, though, I think I should note that I came to this blog tour through Linda Boulanger. Linda is an exceptionally creative soul who writes terrific, interesting romances (like Dance With the Enemy, which can be found here) as well as being my friend and creator of all my covers. It's funny how the world works, sometimes. When I was ready to publish my first book, Feels Like the FIrst Time, I went looking for a cover artist by spending hours poring over their websites. I found someone whose work I admired, shot her an email asking if she would be interested in designing a cover for me, and was told "Nope." She was too busy. She did me the great favor of referring me to Linda, though, and the rest is history. She's designed every cover I've ever done. Okay, then - on with the questions:What am I working on? Like most writers,I have about a hundred books and stories sloshing around in my head like a big pot of creative soup. I'm thinking of a horror novel I hope to write later this year. I've also got the beginnings of a dystopian society story that I hope to write in early 2015. I'm also planning the last three installments of the Second Chance Love stories that will be out in July, November and December of this year. But, what I'm really working on (which means that I open the Word file every day and add at least a few words) is a currently untitled book that started its life being called Adorkable You. I got enough negative feedback from people about that title that I have raised the white flag on it and I am looking for something more suitable. I will find it.) The book formerly known as Adorkable You will be a high school romance set in present day. It started out with a single idea: what happens if the nerdy boy gets the beautiful girl instead of the jock? (Hmm... wonder where that idea came from!) It has evolved beyond that, though, and there are some themes and stories I'm really looking forward to exploring, such as Are kids today, with all their technology and advanced options, really all that different from the kids I grew up with in the '70s? I also want to explore the idea that so many people, including those we wouldn't suspect, are scared to show their true faces to the world. It's going to be book-length, but I am toying with the idea of releasing it in a series of four novellas of about 20,000 words each.
How does my work differ from others in its genre?
Well, as you can see by the list of projects I have listed above, with a horror story, a dystopian novel and a romance, I can't really claim a single genre. However, if I look at Feels Like the First Time, Both Sides Now, Second Chance Christmas, Second Chance Valentines and the upcoming untitled romance, there is a theme. I like to write love stories, but I don't think I would categorize them as Romances. I hit the primary requirement of a Romance in that there is a Happily Ever After at the end, but if I look at my romantic leads in those stories (myself in the first two, Steve Larson in the Second Chance stories and Spencer Davis in the upcoming book,) none of them are traditional Romance archetypes. There's no billionaires, cowboys, or rock stars among them. There's nothing wrong with writing that type of story, but they're just nothing that appeals to me. I like to write about love - the emotion, what it does to us, how it changes us, and what we're willing to do to find it. I don't need rich, dominating bullies to do that.
Why do I write what I write?
I admit, I am a spoiled writer. I publish myself, so I don't have an agent or a publisher saying "We want another book exactly like Feels Like the First Time, just because that book sold really well. Instead, I get to write what I want, and my readers let me know if I'm on the right path or not. So far, my readers have stuck with me through two True Love stories, a Second Chance love story, a tale of revenge, a Christmas parable, and a story about a down and out rocker who dies and goes to heaven. I feels so blessed to have found a supportive, open-minded readership. I also write the stories I would want to read, and I read a lot of different genres. Mostly, when I write, I try to find the heart of the story. The emotion. I started writing Rock 'n Roll Heaven because I was interested in writing about Buddy Holly, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Roy Orbison, etc. In the end, though, that wasn't enough to sustain a story. To me, it was Jimmy 'Guitar' Velvet's story arc that carried the day. He was much more interesting to me at the end of the story than he was at the beginning. He was a better person, too, and I admit I like that.
How does my writing process work?
My stories always start with an idea - What if a guy that had never had anything go wrong his whole life suddenly found that nothing would go right, for instance, was the kernel of the idea behind Lucky Man. To me, that was an interesting question. However, an interesting idea, as I mentioned with Rock 'n Roll Heaven, isn't enough. It has to be married with interesting characters. I became interested in the character of Brett Mann, but even more so in Mirela. To me, that's when a story comes together. I mentioned that the book I'm writing started as The nerdy guy gets the girl, but I didn't get excited about actually writing the story until I thought of the character of Alexandra, known in the book as Alex. She appears to have everything going for her - great student, popular, football player boyfriend, excellent athlete - but she is a completely different person on the inside than what she shows the world. That disconnect leads to a lot of issues in her life, and that's when the story got interesting enough to write. Though I occasionally write from an outline, mostly I am what other writers call a "pantser," i.e. someone who writes from the seat of my pants. Essentially, I am making it up as I go along. When I wrote Rock 'n Roll Heaven, I knew my beginning and I knew my end, but the whole middle part of the book was a mystery to me. I often feel like an observer, watching the events unfold, more than I am the creator, making them happen. When I try to force situations, they never work out very well.
Many writers believe you've got to have a "killer line" that leads off your book or story. Something that instantly hooks the reader into your story, that forces them to read on. There are famous opening lines, of course: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times" from Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities, or "Call me Ishmael," from Moby Dick. Meh. My favorites are lines like "The man in black fled across the desert and the Gunslinger followed," from The Gunslinger by Stephen King, or "All this happened, more or less," from Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut, or even "It was a pleasure to burn" from Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. For myself as a writer, I've never put that much emphasis on the opening line of each of my stories. In my books, I have a tendency to take something a little bit out of time or place and use that as a little introduction to the story. The first line of my first book, Feels LIke the First Time, is very simple: "Dawn was at the side of the room, crying softly." I guess that served its purpose - telling that this opening scene was fraught with emotional import and sadness. When I told the same story from a different perspective in Both Sides Now, the first line was a little more direct: "The instruction sheet had said not to eat breakfast." Without realizing it, I had immediately struck upon the dichotomy of those two stories. The first book, told from my perspective, focused on the emotional, which was the most interesting aspect of the story to me. The second, told from Dawn's perspective, was a little more numb and just the facts-like, which is exactly how Dawn was feeling at that moment. What might be interesting is that these first lines are virtually never the first line I write. When I sit down with a blank page staring me in my face, I never try to craft the perfect opening line. That's way too much pressure! If I did that, I'd never actually start a story, let alone finish one. Instead, I hold the beginning of the story in my mind and just start telling the story - framing the setting, introducing the characters, beginning the action. It's much later, often when the book is nearly finished, that I go back and write the opening line. At the same time, I try to pay attention to my subconscious. For instance, sharp-eyed readers may have noticed that from the very first book, my company is called Pertime Publishing. What there was no way to know until recently, is why I called it that. With the release of my latest book, Rock ''n Roll Heaven, the answer came at least partially into focus when you met the angel Pertime. What there is no way to know, is, why did I pluck the name of a character from a book I hadn't yet written to name my publishing company? The answer is, because Pertime's name came to me in a dream, like a gift from my subconscious. It felt right to honor that gift by naming my publishing company after it. With my new book, presently untitled, I had a similar gift yesterday. I woke up with four words ringing in my brain, and I instantly knew they were the first sentence of this new book: Later, there were questions. That's it. Very simple. But, it changed the whole beginning of this book. I had known all along that this book would be driven by a sudden, tragic event that happened five years before the real start of the story, but I had planned on looking at that event only in the rear view window. With that one line - Later, there were questions - that had changed. The story would, at least briefly, now look at that event. I am always fascinated by the creative process, but I've found that even when I am in the midst of it - when it's happening within my own brain - I still don't understand it. I'm just glad to have the freedom to explore it.
Whew! The past few days have passed like a whirlwind. On Wednesday, I released my newest book, Rock 'n Roll Heaven. I was a little nervous about releasing it, because it was different from anything else I've published. There is something of a love story, but it's not really central to the plot. This book is more about my love of the music I grew up on - Buddy Holly, Elvis Presley, Jim Morrison, Roy Orbison, Janis Joplin - than anything else. At least so far, whatever worries I had were unnecessary, as worries often are. The book is selling well, early reviews are good, and everything seems to be fine. Then, I ran a series of ads for my first book, Feels Like the First Time, and things got a little crazy. The book has been out for more than a year and a half and it's sold a lot of copies already, but it started selling like pocket protectors at an Engineering Convention. When the dust settled last night, our little memoir was ranked at #67 in the entire Amazon store. Out of 8 million titles, or whatever there is for sale on Amazon. Dawn's daughter Connie was up visiting at the time, so Dawn, Connie and I did a little happy dance around the living room (okay, maybe it was just me) and then I went to bed. That's my typical reaction to excitement: I go to sleep. Today, I wanted to share a little excerpt from Rock 'n Roll Heaven, to give you an idea about whether you'll be interested in reading it or not. This is the very beginning of the book, and includes the entire first chapter. I hope you enjoy it! Jimi Hendrix leaned his chair back, eyes shut, the wide, floppy brim of his hat drooping low over his forehead. His fingers flew over the strings and frets of his famously flipped Fender Stratocaster. He bit his lip in concentration, looking for something; a new sound, a new… anything. He slammed the chair down in frustration as he realized that the riff that had appeared in his head had rematerialized as nothing more than a slight variation of what he had done in Little Wing. He looked across the table at Gram Parsons, who was leaning his cheek against the neck of his guitar, shaking his head. “Nothing?” Gram said? “Nothing new,” Jimi said. Across the room, Bob Marley stood and stretched, rubbing his eyes. “Why?” Bob said in his Jamaican lilt. “Why bring us all together, then keep us from writing, from creating anything new? It’s what we do. It’s who we are.” “I think,” Jimi said, “this isn't heaven at all.”
Chapter One Jimmy ‘Guitar’ Velvet lifted his arm straight up, held it there for one beat, then two, obeying his own inner metronome, then whipped it around in his last windmill jam of the night. Sweat flew off him, splattering and soaking into the rough wooden planks of the dance floor. He kneeled at the front of the tiny stage like it was an altar and coaxed every last bit of fuzz out of his Fender Stratocaster. It was February 3rd, 1993, and Jimmy was celebrating his birthday. Like almost every birthday in his adult life, he was marking it onstage. Jimmy was still tall and lean at 44, wearing a black Ramones Gabba Gabba Hey T-shirt, faded Levi 501s and black biker boots. He looked every bit the aging rock star, even though he’d never actually been a star. The bartender had made his “last call for alcohol” announcement (“You don't have to go home, but you can’t stay here”) fifteen minutes earlier. Only two dancers were left, propping each other up in a drunken embrace, unaware that the last slow dance had been Home Sweet Home three songs ago. Jimmy turned to the rest of The Black Velvets and waited for them to join him in the final chord crash of Free Bird. They finished with a flourish, and the final note echoed off the back wall. Jimmy stepped to the microphone. There was tepid applause from the six or seven paying customers who had stuck around until closing time. “Thank you very much! I’m Jimmy 'Guitar' Velvet and this is The Loudest Bar Band in the World, The Black Velvets. Good night!” A few years earlier, Jimmy might have tried to remember the name of the town they were playing, so he could say “Goodnight, Walla Walla,” or “See ya next time, Longview,” but no longer. In those glory days, The Black Velvets would set down their instruments, put their arms around each other and take a bow, basking in the reflected glory of an appreciative crowd. Back then, Jimmy saved a killer song or two for the end, knowing they would give in and do an encore. One drunken straggler weaved toward the stage, Pabst Blue Ribbon bottle held high, yelling “Rock ‘n Roll! Whoooo!” There would be no encore tonight. They were playing The Eagles Nest, a bar owned by a former mechanic named Sal. In all the years Jimmy had played the Nest, he never understood how people found it, or where they came from, but when the sun went down and the sound went up, people materialized. The Eagles Nest had actually been Sal's auto garage before he decided that selling watery drinks was an easier living than fixing carburetors. Neon signs for Rainier, Heidelberg and Olympia beers covered the walls. Backstage, one could still see half-peeled posters on the wall that advertised tools and other things marketed to car repair shops. If you knew where to look, just to the right of the Wurlitzer jukebox, you could find a cluster of three bullet holes, the result of a legendary bar fight in 1978. The Nest had the potential to be quaint, or charming, but it wasn’t. It was a dump, typical of the places The Black Velvets played. Jimmy set his Strat in his guitar stand and turned to find Rollie waiting at the edge of the stage with a towel and a Coke. Jimmy sat down on a old wooden chair in what passed for a backstage. Before he had toweled off and drained half the Coke, J.J.’s drum kit was down and Mark and Drew’s guitar and bass were tucked away. A case for everything and everything in its case. As much as The Eagles Nest sucked, tonight's sets had been good. Tight. This most recent incarnation of The Black Velvets had been together for almost a year. Everyone in the band but Rollie was at least twenty years younger than Jimmy, but that didn't matter. They were starting to become a real band. Thirty years experience had taught Jimmy what he privately called 'The Evolution Of A Rock Band.’ It started with a bunch of guys hanging around, jamming together and playing the music they loved. You sounded like crap, but no one cared because everyone liked each other. If you stuck it out and landed a few gigs, you started to understand each other’s styles. Over time, you came together like one big happy family. After a few months or a year or two, you got to the peak, where everyone knew everyone else, the instruments working together as if guided by one mind. If your band was ever going to get past playing the Eagles Nests of the world, and make it big, that's when it would happen. If your crew didn't catch that big break, though, the wheels started coming off the Stardom Express. All the little things that never seemed to bother you before—drug problems, supersized egos, bad hygiene, and vocal girlfriends offering, unasked for, dippy ideas on “exactly what this band needs to do to make it” began to bug you. People began considering their options. For example, the rhythm section might hear of a band across town seeking a drummer and bass player. Pretty soon, the cycle began again. That was why there weren't many forty-four-year-old lead guitarists like Jimmy, sticking it out on the bar circuit. Still dreaming the dream. Or so I tell myself. Do I really dream it anymore? Sure, sure. Over the years, fourteen different lineups had played under The Black Velvets' banner. Jimmy would have forgotten how many, but Rollie kept track in a creased little notebook. Why he keeps it, I don't know. Maybe some sense of morbid fascination. Two constants had been part of all those different lineups: Jimmy and Rollie. They had met during their sophomore year in high school, when they were regular old Jimmy Andrzejewski and Rollie Klein. The Beatles had invaded, and every girl in school was fantasizing about the Fab Four. Jimmy and Rollie did not overlook this trend. His Uncle Bill had given Jimmy a real guitar for his tenth birthday. It was his first love. He couldn’t read music, but he took his allowance down to the record store every week and bought a new 45. He sat in his bedroom and played along with Oh, Boy or Wake Up, Little Susie until he imagined that could play them just like Buddy Holly or Phil and Don Everly. Until he observed the unique impact of rock musicians on his female peers, Jimmy'd never taken the music out of his bedroom. Jimmy thought that girls sighing over him would be very interesting, so he got the bright idea to form a band. He recruited Rollie, who had never before played an instrument, as the bass player. "All you’ve got to do is follow along with the drummer. It’s easy,” Jimmy had told him. They recruited two buddies, both of whom were also interested in any reasonably legal activity with the potential to induce females to remove their undergarments, and thus the first edition of what would become The Black Velvets came into being. The name hadn't come easily. One or more members had—mercifully, in hindsight—rejected names like Jimmy and the Jim Tones, the Mossy Rockers, and The Bugs. They argued about it for weeks before resorting to heavy weaponry: they stole a bottle of whiskey from Rollie’s dad, then locked themselves in Jimmy’s garage until they figured it out. Although they passed out before they settled on a name, morning brought them massive headaches and an empty whiskey bottle staring at them with their new name: The Black Velvets. They started out playing keggers in secluded locations where one could get by with copious underage drinking. They didn't get paid, aside from all the beer they could drink, but they learned three very important lessons. First: drinking lots of beer did not improve their music. Second: this deterioration in skill did not cause girls to love them less. Third: Rollie hadn't been bullshitting. He indeed lacked any performing musical talent. Another kegger band in the area broke up during that time. Rollie knew the bass player, a lanky guy named Jon Averill. Jon was the bassist Rollie wasn't, but instead of quitting, Rollie became the roadie and stage manager. His genius for holding a sound system together with chewing gum and baling twine did far more for The Black Velvets than he ever could have with a bass guitar. Jimmy and Rollie had been together ever since. Their friendship was the closest thing to a long-term relationship either one of them had ever experienced. This latest incarnation of The Black Velvets was starting to gel. If I'd found these guys fifteen years ago, we might have caught a couple of breaks, signed a record deal and be rich and famous now. Of course, all the other guys in the band had been in elementary school fifteen years ago, but Jimmy tried not to dwell on that. Jimmy liked to say that the only way he had changed over the years was that he had more gray hairs and far less hangovers. At times he wondered why he still played the rocker game, and usually concluded that it was about all he knew in life. Tonight, at least, Jimmy did it in order to fill up the Magic Bus with fuel. This meant finding Sal and being paid, which was likelier at The Eagles Nest than at some gigs. Jimmy stood up off the little stool, winced at a crick in his back, and glimpsed himself through the spiderweb cracks in the nearby full-length mirror. With sweaty hair and two days' graying whiskers, the image in the mirror could have been that of his father, now twenty years dead. By his early forties, Dad had married, had two kids, lived his life and died. By my early forties, I have played thousands of dives like this, made my hearing worse, and broken a long string of promises. Mostly to myself. What in the hell have I done with my life? “Sold my soul for rock ‘n roll,” he muttered under his breath as he went to search for Sal to collect the money. He tracked Sal down in the slimy little closet that was the backstage men’s room at the ‘Nest. “How was the crowd tonight, Sal?” Sal was somewhere in his sixties, with greasy grey hair combed straight back. He still wore his old garage shirt and pants, including a faded red-on-yellow oval name patch. He was intimidating despite lack of size, with a presence that tended to keep trouble at bay. And if it didn't, the bat and the illegal scattergun under the bar had the rest covered. Sal shrugged. “It was all right. Nothin’ special. After I pay you guys, I might maybe break even on the night. Next time around, we might need to renegotiate your fee.” Jimmy began to call bullshit, then caught himself. You goombah, I know how much you charge for those weak-ass drinks. You've made a mint paying people like me barely enough to get to the next joint. You never just 'broke even' in your entire life. But yeah, you were busting my balls back when I still had a good future ahead of me, instead of too much past behind me. You're an equal opportunity prick to everybody. “Whatever, Sal. I’ll give you a call when we’re passing through again. It wouldn’t be life on the road without a stop at the Nest.” Sal pulled out a leather wallet the size of a paperback book. He held it away from Jimmy and fished out two fifties and ten twenties. Jimmy nodded, climbed back onstage and started to pack his guitar and amp. “Another fabulous night in the life of a glamorous rock ‘n roll star, huh Jim?” Jimmy didn’t even look up from the cable he was looping. “Sho ‘nuff, Rollie. Hey, I got an idea…why don’t you go unlock the stage door and let a few of those groupies in I’m always reading about in Rolling Stone.” “Shit, man. I didn’t know you were going to be in the mood, so I sent ‘em all home disappointed.” With few variations, they’d had this conversation a thousand times. Less than an hour later, the amps, instruments and sound board were loaded on the Magic Bus, idling in the back parking lot like a noisy locomotive. Rollie had named it that fifteen years ago, but the only magical thing about it was how it managed to log so many miles between engine rebuilds. The Magic Bus was a ’59 school bus converted to the specific needs of a traveling rock band. Its exterior was a crazy quilt of its original yellow, primer gray and spray-painted graffiti. Storage space in the back held their equipment, with enough room left over so everyone had a little personal space inside. Personal space was a help, especially when one of The Black Velvets insisted on bringing a girlfriend on the road—or, more frequently, when a Black Velvet's lady friend insisted on traveling with the band. For The Black Velvets, it was home. Mark, Drew and J.J. climbed on board and settled into their spots while Jimmy and Rollie did one last stage walkthrough. It was all too easy to misplace cables, light boxes or duct tape. When you ran as close to the bone as The Black Velvets, you left no stray piece of equipment behind. By the time they got on the bus, Jimmy heard snoring from the back. Jimmy smiled, shook his head and said, “They don’t breed ‘em like they used to, do they? We used to play all night and party all mornin’. Now they crash before we even roll out of the parking lot.” “True,” Rollie said, “but that’s why we look the way we do. When they’re as old as we are, they’ll still be beautiful. Nobody’s accused us of that in a damn long time.” “I hope I die before I get old,” Jimmy muttered. For many of their years together, Jimmy and Rollie had partied with the best of them. And with the worst of them. They drank, smoked, injected, huffed or otherwise indulged in every excess they could get hold of. If something felt good, they did it. Even when it didn’t feel so good any more, they kept on doing it. Jimmy’s standard had always been simple: if he could get up on stage the next night and play, he was doing all right. Since he always answered the bell, he fooled himself into believing he didn't have a problem. Jimmy’s roundabout road to sobriety had begun ten years earlier in Pocatello, Idaho.That's the first chapter! If you'd like to read more, it's available for your Kindle here or in paperback here.
It's time to do one of my favorite types of blogs: The cover reveal. Before I started my writing career, I never gave much thought to covers, although I admit I did love some of those horribly cheesy Sci-Fi covers that TOR released back in the '70s. Now that I am not only a writer, but also my own publisher, I know how important the cover is. It does a tremendous amount of the heavy lifting as far as selling the book. I've read that the average consumer looks at a cover for two seconds before making a decision whether or not to investigate further, often in a small, thumbnail image. That's a lot of pressure on one small piece of art!
The cover for my newest story, Rock 'n Roll Heaven has been a long time coming, as has the story itself. For once in my life, let me start at the beginning. I had toyed with the idea of being a writer ever since high school, when I was named as one of "Washington's Most Promising New Writers" two years in a row, in 1976 and 1977. Unfortunately, I had never done the one thing every successful writer needs to do: write.
In 1993, I had quit my job as a retail manager and taken a job managing a 64 unit apartment complex, which left me plenty of free time during the day. That spring, I bought Stephen King's collection of short fiction, Nightmares and Dreamscapes. Like millions of others, I love Stephen King and I insta-buy pretty much anything he publishes. One of the stories in Nightmares and Dreamscapes was called Yeah, We've Got a Hell of a Band, which told the story of a young couple who got lost in Oregon and ended up in something that resembled Rock 'n Roll Heaven. Being a Stephen King story, it evolved into a horror story, with a menacing Buddy Holly, Janis Joplin and Ricky Nelson.
As I read that story, a totally different take on Rock 'n Roll Heaven sprang, fully-formed, into my head. I sat down at my Tandy computer (it was 1993) and wrote my original short story by the same name. Then, I put it in a drawer, but never forgot about it. The characters I created for that story - Jimmy 'Guitar' Velvet, Pertime the angel and the rock 'n roll legends Jimmy meets in Heaven were so real to me that I never forgot them.
A year ago, I decided it was time to finally flesh out the story and publish it. That's when I brought my cover designer extraordinaire, Linda Boulanger from TreasureLine Books, into the loop. Linda and I have an exceptionally collaborative process. I give her a vague outline of a story, she ships me three or four rough concepts, and then we zero in on the one we like best. Even after that, it isn't unusual for us to go through 15-20 new versions, tweaking a color here, a piece of artwork there, changing a font over there. I don't know how many different versions of this cover Linda did for me, but I know this: it was a lot. Bless her for the patience of a saint.
Without further ado, then, here is the cover for Rock 'n Roll Heaven:
Linda's final piece of the puzzle was finding that unique font for the title, which, for me, sells the entire thing. That is Jimmy Velvet, at the end of his life, but the beginning of his adventure, about to go forward into Rock 'n Roll Heaven, where he will meet his biggest idols - Buddy Holly, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Roy Orbison and more. Rock 'n Roll Heaven is a departure for me, and I know I'm taking a risk by writing it. It is very different from the sweet romance of Feels Like the First Time, Both Sides Now or my Second Chance Love series. I wrote it because this story was so strong inside me that I had to get it out. Dawn, the love of my life and one of my toughest readers said after reading it: "I never would have picked it up to begin with, but having read it, I loved it." If you think she would say that just because she is my wife, then you don't know Dawn! She also surprised me by telling me I made her tear up a little bit at the end, which is a good sign. Robert Frost once said, "No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader." There were plenty of tears in the writer as I wrote out Jimmy Velvet's story. Even though it is a little different than what I've written before, I really hope you'll give this story a chance. It is close to my heart. Rock 'n Roll Heaven will be released later this week. If you'd like to hear when I publish a new story, and get a chance to get a deep discount off the regular price, sign up for my New Release Newsletter. I only send you an email when I release a new story. I give you a 24 hour jump on the rest of the world and drop the price during those first 24 hours, just for my constant readers. You can sign up for my newsletter here. Special thanks, once again and always to Linda Boulanger, who turns my words into pictures.
I don't often write about writing, because there are several million blogs out there that already cover that topic. However, this past week, I have been working with my editor in putting the final touches of Rock 'n Roll Heaven, which will be released in about two weeks. (If you want to know when it or any of my stories come out, you can sign up for my New Release Newsletter here. I only send you a note when I have a new story out and of course never sell your address to anyone.) Many writers I know seem to have an adversarial relationship with their editors, and talk about the editing phase like Sun Tzu: My editor wants to take over the story, but I took a rear-guard action against him and I think I've got him in retreat now. This is foreign to me, because editing is my favorite part of the whole publication process. For me, "editing" actually starts in the very beginning. Before I ever write the first words of a story, I talk to my editor about it. Not in fine detail, but in big picture. My editor already knows about projects that I won't get around to writing until sometime in 2015. I'm lucky to have an editor who is willing to work with me at each step of the process. I think of this first step as a developmental edit - refining the concept. What many people think of as "editing" is actually "proofing" and it is the last stage of the process. No matter how sharp your editor is, I don't believe they can effectively edit and proofread the same story. After a while, the brain sees things that aren't there, and after several passes through a manuscript, it's very difficult to catch missing words, homonyms and the like. Here's my process: When I finish a manuscript, I let it sit for a day or two. Many writers recommend letting it sit for two weeks to a month. That's probably better, but I'm too damn impatient to do that. I do a quick run-through, looking for obvious orphans (where I started an idea early in the story that I ended up abandoning later) obvious cliches (my constant readers may express surprise that I am aware of these) and other obvious problems. When this pass through is done, I send it off to my beta readers, those kind souls who selflessly give of their time and intelligence to wade through my first draft. Beta readers are invaluable for early feedback. They tell me if they don't like a character or a plot arc, or if something I've written just doesn't make any sense. That happens more often than you might think. (Or maybe not.) I take the feedback from the beta readers and do another pass through the story with their thoughts and criticism in mind. When that draft is done, I am finally ready to send it to Jonathan Kelley, my esteemed editor. I met Jonathan completely by happenstance two years ago - he was the friend of a Facebook friend. That chance meeting has proven to be a boon to me, because Jonathan and I fit together very well as a writer/editor team. Jonathan makes an initial pass through the story as a critical reader. After that, he sends me a semi-detailed analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of the story. Yes, for the cynical among you, he manages to find at least a few positives in every story! If he feels the weaknesses are glaring enough, he recommends certain changes that he thinks might remedy the situation. On rare occasion, (as in a transitional scene in Second Chance Christmas where I needed to change Point of View) he will simply say "This needs to be addressed, but I'm not sure how." As the writer, it is up to me to have a good enough grasp on the story to fix what needs fixing. Many writers have adversarial relationships with their editors, fearing that the editor will fundamentally alter the voice they work so hard to achieve. I never worry about that with Jonathan. I know that any change he advises is to work toward one goal: to create the best story possible. Once I get through making whatever major changes need to be made, I ship the manuscript back to him. Being sports guys, we call this "passing the football." There can only be one master copy of a story at a time. Plus, we like sports metaphors. That's when Jonathan gets down to the hard work at hand. He goes over every line multiple times. He's looking for spelling, word misuse and grammar issues, yes, but more than that, he is looking to untangle the knotty sentences I put together. (Like that one, for instance.) It never ceases to amaze me how he can take exactly the same words I used, reorder them a bit and have them sound so much better. Here's an example: I wrote a short sentence: "Jimmy felt a shiver run down his spine." Jonathan edited it to read: "A shiver ran down Jimmy's spine." Yes, I know, it means the same thing, but it encapsulates several of my bad writing habits and how he fixes them. If you take that simple sentence and multiply it by several thousand, it makes a big difference in the way the book reads. What I love about working with Jonathan is that he doesn't just make changes, but he often takes the time to point out the why of the changes. It feels like I am becoming a better writer with each book I write, and I attribute much of that growth to these teaching moments we share. Once he's done with the manuscript, he ships it back to me and I go over every single change, deciding which ones to keep and which ones to reject. I know a writer who proudly proclaims that he "fights for his own words," and rejects over half of the suggestions his editor makes. Hmm. I would be willing to fight for my own story, yes, but Jonathan never messes with that, at least unilaterally. I find that when I look at examples like the sentence above, I accept his changes over 90% of the time. Jonathan often says that I give him too much credit in my Acknowledgements or Author's Notes. I feel like I can't give him enough. I would never consider inflicting one of my stories on the public without his invaluable input.
When I published my first book, I started sharing pictures of the cover when it was still in the theoretical stage, long before the final product was realized. I had never heard of the concept of a Cover Reveal. Let's face it, when I put that first book out, I hadn't heard of a lot of things. Over the last two years, one of the things I have learned is how important that cover really is. It does a lot of the heavy lifting for a book. It has to be appealing in a thumbprint size as well as full-size, it has to accurately convey the genre and tone of the book and ideally, it has to make a reader think "I'm interested in that story." All without the benefit of the story itself. That's why I feel so blessed to work with Linda Boulanger, who has now created the covers for all six of my books and stories, including this one:
First, I want to tell you that this cover is a little bit of a departure for the type of story it is. Second Chance Valentines is a love story. The conventional wisdom is, when you make a cover for a love story, you should see the couple front and center. In both Second Chance Christmas and now Second Chance Valentines, there are lovely, evocative images, but no impassioned lovers in sight. That was my decision. Unless you don't like it, then it was all on Linda. I kid, I kid. It was all me. When Linda showed me this gorgeous bridge, I didn't want to distract from it in any way. Plus, it has the benefit of being metaphorical, as I think of this story as a bridge between their Christmas Miracle and the relationship they will ultimately have. In any case, I enjoy looking at it, and I hope you do as well. Writing Second Chance Valentines itself was a little bit of a gamble. First, it is a short story, which conventional wisdom says doesn't sell well. Also, it is a "sweet" romance, which means that there's no sex or erotic content. Finally, it's pretty old-fashioned, because that's what I set out to write. Writing stories where few things are left to the imagination is what is trendy right now, but I just don't have that in me. A blogger recently said that I didn't write Romance stories, but that I wrote "Love Stories." I loved that, because that's exactly what I am going for. I want to explore that ineffable feeling of falling into and being in, love. In any case, Second Chance Valentines, the second story in the Second Chance Love series, is out and available on Amazon and can be found here. Both it and the first story are only .99. Thanks to Dawn Adele (who helped me come up with the plot) J.K. Kelley, my editor (who always makes my writing so much better than I ever could on my own) and my beta readers that tell me when I'm getting things right and wrong, I think it's a pretty good story. I hope you'l enjoy it.
I've had a life-long love affair with short stories. As a young reader, Jack London, Mark Twain, O. Henry, Brett Harte, Edgar Allan Poe, and Ambrose Bierce rocked my fragile little mind. When I was ten or eleven, it seemed intimidating to pick up a "big person's book," but short stories were different - more accessible. Some of those stories I read as a child and young man have stayed with me to this day. O. Henry's The Gift of the Magi haunts me with the perfection of its plot and moving parts. Mark Twain's The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg and Conrad Aiken's Silent Snow, Secret Snow constantly resurface in my brain. I don't know if you've ever heard of that last one, but its portrayal of a young boy sinking into insanity one day at a time is unforgettable. As I got older, I naturally turned to longer works, but I never lost my love of the story that could be read over the course of a single lunch hour. Every year, I looked forward to the Science Fiction anthologies that would deliver twenty or more short stories to me all at once. For a time, it felt to like Stephen King was keeping the short fiction form alive all by himself. His collection of four novellas called Different Seasons is simply brilliant, with three stories that were made into excellent movies: The Body (which became the film Stand by Me) Apt Pupil, and Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption (which became the film The Shawshank Redemption.) In fact, a story that King wrote (Yeah, We've Got a Hell of a Band) was the inspiration for the full-length novel I'm currently writing - Rock 'n Roll Heaven. I'm thinking about short stories today because I've just recently written and released two short stories of my own - Second Chance Christmas and Christmas Town. After writing these two very different stories, I am beginning to understand why the masters of the form kept returning to it again and again. There is something freeing about writing a short story. When I get an idea for a book-length project, I had better really love that idea, because I am going to be living with it for a few quite a while. With a short story, my commitment isn't nearly as great, (I can normally write a short story in three days or so) but I am still able to fully explore a single idea. For instance, in Christmas Town, I had the concept of an outwardly-successful man who has just made an exceptionally difficult decision - in this case it is to leave his children in Seattle and accept a huge promotion in Boston. I wanted to separate this man from his normal surroundings to give him time to reflect. If I had tried to take this idea and write it as a novel or novella, I would have had to back up from the starting point I chose and written 10,000 or so words that filled in his background and how he got to that point. With a short story, I was able to just throw him right in and explore the dilemma I was interested in. Second Chance Christmas highlighted the opposite side of that coin. When I was done with that story, I realized I had more I wanted to say about Steve and Lizzie, the two lovers who aren't reunited until the last few paragraphs of the story. The beautiful thing is, I can explore more of their story now with more short slices of their life.Their journey will unfold over a series of four more short stories over the next twelve months. There are a million changes happening in the publishing industry right now. Barnes and Noble, the last large chain of bookstores, is tottering precipitously. Traditional publishing houses and literary agents, the gatekeepers of the industry for many decades, are waning in influence. Self publishing has thrown those gates wide open, for better or worse. One of the best changes, though, is that short fiction is popular and viable once again, not just in a few literary magazines, but in the open marketplace. Have you hugged a short story today?