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?
Journey back with me, if you will, to a long ago time... It was December of 1976. Not only was there no internet at that time, there were no computers in our high school. Those wouldn't arrive until several years after I graduated. In fact, it had stirred up quite a bit of excitement when we had gotten in a few IBM Selectrics for Ms. Gehrman's typing class. (By the way, Ms. Gehrman would be proud - my fingers still rest proudly on the home row.) With no Facebook or texting or Tweeting to do, we had to find other ways to amuse ourselves.
On one special December day, we amused ourselves with Wall Ball.
Now, if you go to Google or Wikipedia and look up "wall ball," you will find articles about a playground game that incorporates a rubber ball and, logically enough, a wall. The dearth of information about wall ball circa Mossyrock in 1976 just goes to show how incomplete those sources of information can be. (Not really.)
Here's how The Great Wall Ball Episode of 1976 came to pass.
My best friends were Harold Crook and Jerry Weible. Harold had been one of my best friends since Kindergarten and Jerry since third grade, when he moved to Mossyrock. I don't want to say we were nerdy boys, but if Mossyrock had an AV Club, we would have been officers. As it was, we were founding members of The Science Club, The French Club and we were all in Drama. If that doesn't establish our nerd bonafides, nothing will.
On the last day before school let out for Christmas vacation, Harold and I were supposed to be working on putting out an issue of The Vintage Viking Newspaper. Harold and I were Co-Editors and Jerry was the Art Director for the paper. I hope you caught the key word in that previous sentence: supposed.
With Christmas vacation looming, a great ennui overtook us and we couldn't muster up the energy to begin work on writing or editing the paper. In fact, we spent the initial part of the morning in a great Mossyrock tradition: heater sitting. Mossyrock High school classrooms were heated by large radiators with blowers that sat against the windows. It was a long-held tradition to sit right on top of the blowers, sucking up as much heat as you could until just before you received an actual first degree burn. Then you would hop up suddenly, rubbing your backside for all you were worth and yelling "Ow, Ow, Ow!" until you sat back down on the blower again. I told you: we had to amuse ourselves.
At some point in the morning, though, I walked by Harold with a crumpled piece of paper in my hand and, for reasons that will never be known, attempted to throw it past his head. He ducked, swatted it down and said something witty like "Ha! In your face In-mung!" (In-mung was my derogatory nickname among my friends. I felt blessed to have received one so benign.)
Of course, I had to retrieve the piece of paper and try and throw it by him again. And again. And again. It didn't take long before we had appropriated Mr. Bartee's tape dispenser and we were wrapping tape around pieces of paper to weigh them down a little and make them fly in interesting ways. Soon after that, we marked off a section of blackboard that was our goal, a pitch-line for throwing and rules for pitching and defending. In short, in about ten minutes, we created a game.
For the rest of the day, we were consumed by playing wall ball. Aside from a break for lunch, I remember that we stayed in that room playing all day, until early release at 1:00. Over time, Jerry rolled in and played a few games with us as well, but as he was not there for the creation, he didn't seem to share our all-consuming need to master the intricacies of wall ball.
At the beginning of that day, we believed that day would last forever, as final days before vacations often do. Instead, it had flown by in a series of whoops, hollers and curving paper balls. Just a few minutes before 1:00, Harold and I put the room back in order and caught our buses for home.
A few weeks later, when we came back to our classroom, I found the remainders of the game - a tape-wrapped "ball" and a piece of paper with our scores on it. The fever had passed, though. We threw everything in the garbage and never played wall ball again.
To everything, there is a season, even something as rad and beautiful as wall ball.
A few weeks ago, I realized I wasn't going to have anything new to release to my readers in December. Initially, I had thought I would have my next full-length book, Rock 'n Roll Heaven ready to go in December, but delays caused by investigating the realities of using real people in a fictional book plus a complete change in certain aspects of the story I wanted to tell pushed that book out to late January or early February. That left my release schedule barren for the holidays, and that just didn't seem right. Since it was almost Thanksgiving when I realized this, I knew I would only have time to do a short story. Unfortunately, I didn't have any "Holiday Short Story" ideas ready to be written. So, I did what my sister and mentor Terri, always taught me: Use the other person's brain. (This was her #1 business management rule, and it has served me well throughout my life.) With that in mind, I went to my FB page, where I hang out with friends and readers at least a little bit every day. I asked them to give me some plot ideas they would like to see in a Christmas story. Man, did I get ideas! They ranged from "Write about your first Christmas back with Dawn" to "A modern day version of Gift of the Magi to "I love stories that have a scene that happens on a Christmas tree lot." I took about four or five of these basic plot points, threw them all in the blender that passes for my brain and went to work. About three days later, I had the story. There were echoes of my own story of loss (the couple in the story had been separated for 20 years) but there was also a tip of the hat to O. Henry's Gift of the Magi and the pivotal scene in the story was indeed set in a Christmas tree lot. I even got the title, Second Chance Christmas from one of my readers. There are so many things I love about being independently published, and this story exemplifies a lot of them. If I'd had this idea even fifteen years ago, there's not much I could have done with it. There was virtually no market for short stories, outside of magazines, so my little story would have been back-burnered until Christmas of 2014, at best. Now, since I am my own publisher, I can think of a story one day, write it the next and publish it the third. We self-publishers are nothing if not nimble! The story of Second Chance Christmas didn't end there, though. When I sent it off to my friend and editor J.K. Kelley to work his magic on it, he had reservations about the story, and rightfully so. What I had seen as "echoes" of my own story with Dawn, he saw as derivative. He also noted way-too-many similarities between Steve Larson, one of my two main characters, and myself. He was right. I had subconsciously projected myself into the story and made Steve too much like myself. Thankfully, with another few days and few rounds of brainstorming and editing, we got the manuscript whipped into a shape I could be proud to release. Then came the cover. As always, I used Linda Boulanger to design my cover. In this case, I told her that a key scene would be in a tree lot and that I wanted it to be "Christmas-y." Less than 24 hours later, she came back with this: I loved it. There was something sweet, innocent and evocative about the cover. Since that is exactly the type of story I had set out to write, I accepted it just as it was. And so, in just two weeks, I solicited ideas from my readers, wrote a story, re-thought and re-wrote that story and found a perfect cover. This story is very much a group effort and I wanted to give all credit where it is due. I had so much fun tackling this project that I have decided to try and squeeze in one more short story before Christmas. As of this moment, it is about half written. It will be called Christmas Town and it is a cross between a Christmas story and a Twilight Zone episode. It's one of those stories that started out as one thing and then took a right turn about halfway through and is going in a completely different direction than what I had planned. I love it when that happens - when a story tells me what it wants to be. I hope to have it out the week before Christmas. If you'd like to know when Christmas Town, or any of my books or stories are coming out, you can subscribe to my New Release Mailing List by clicking here. For signing up for the newsletter, you will always get advance notice when I publish something. Of course, I will never sell you name and I won't spam you with a lot of notices - so far this year I've sent a grand total of two emails to my mailing list.
When I was young, I was much more impressed with myself than I am today. It's possible I've gotten dumber over the decades and I am lucky enough to recognize it, or else I was never as smart as I once thought I was and I've finally come to grips with that. Either way, the golden glow of competency that I once believed I had has faded. This does not make me sad in any way.
During these passing years, however, I have learned a couple of things. Maybe the most important thing is that un-asked for advice is almost always ignored. This comes in helpful with spouses, children, friends, co-workers, really. almost everyone! Giving someone advice that they didn't ask for is like pouring water on a man dying of thirst who has their mouth sewn shut. It might be the thing that is needed, but if they're not ready for it, it just annoys and frustrates everyone concerned. So, over the years, I have gotten better at not giving unwanted advice. Again, this has marked an improvement in my own life.
Today, I am going to go against this personal rule and offer some advice that you did not ask for and may very well not need. If you feel that is the case, let me know and I'll refund you everything you paid to sign up for this blog. (Hint: I don't charge anything.)
As i sit here at my keyboard with way more years behind me than will be in front of me, this is what I'd like to tell you:
Be kind when you're supposed to, be kind when you're not supposed to. Feel free to be kind while the world watches, but doing it when no one else is watching feels best. I believe kindness makes you feel it best when you do it for someone or something that can't possibly repay you in any way.
Kindness almost always costs you nothing and I believe you'll get better ROI (Return on Investment) from kindness than you will from anything else in your life.
We all have many opportunities to be kind every day. The more we keep our eyes open for opportunities to be kind, the more those opportunities will arise.
I'm not going to list all the ways I try to be kind every day because those are my ways. You need to find your own way. If you tell yourself every morning "Today, I will look for ways to practice kindness," believe me, they'll show up. Besides, if I tell you about my ways, it kind of defeats the whole "doing it while the world isn't watching" thing.
Beware your own beliefs and opinions.
You feel strongly about some things. They might be religious, or political, or just personal viewpoints. Good for you! (I don't mean that sarcastically, in case it came across like that. I really mean it. Good for you.) It's good to have core values and strong beliefs.
But, here's the thing: Other people who are just as intelligent, well-meaning and thoughtful as you hold a belief that is exactly the opposite of yours. That is because, no matter how we try to fool ourselves otherwise, there is no one right answer. And that's okay. It's great, even. I'd like to say that these differences can make for great, spirited discussion, but anyone who's been on Facebook or the internet in general knows that's probably not the case.
So here's my advice: Celebrate your similarities and allow your differences with people. We all have more in common with each other than we'd often like to admit, but we spend so much time focusing on those smaller areas where we differ. I have strong beliefs and opinions on a lot of issues: gay marriage, religion, immigration policies, etc. I don't talk about those things with people because I've learned that I'm not going to change someone's mind. And, the fact that some of my best friends hold opinions that run completely counter to me doesn't impact me in any way. It's like if I went to McDonalds and ordered a Big Mac and got upset if the lady behind me ordered a Quarter Pounder instead. The fact that she believes that is a better sandwich doesn't invalidate my own sandwich in any way.
Also, it's possible, if you are an aware, growing human being that those opinions will change over time. Mine certainly have, and they likely will as long as I am breathing. I'd hate to belittle one of my friends for holding an opinion and then eventually realize I agreed with them.
I know that's not much, but that's what I've learned in my five decades plus on Earth. Be kind to each other. Allow others to have opinions you do not share. It's simple advice, and I promise it's worth every penny you paid for it.