Ideas

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Here’s another post from my defunct writers blog,
and it is updated and edited with permission of me.

A successful writer is inevitably asked about the fountain of their dreams. Do you have your answer ready? No? Then let’s ask a Mount Rushmore of modern writing: “Where do you get your ideas…”

Stephen King: “I get my ideas from everywhere. But what all of my ideas boil down to is seeing maybe one thing, but in a lot of cases it’s seeing two things and having them come together in some new and interesting way, and then adding the question ‘What if?’ ‘What if’ is always the key question.”

JK Rowling: “I’ve no idea where ideas come from and I hope I never find out, it would spoil the excitement for me if it turned out I just have a funny little wrinkle on the surface of my brain which makes me think about invisible train platforms.”

Nora Roberts: “I don’t believe in waiting for inspiration. It’s my job to sit down and figure out what to write.”

John Grisham: “I get the ideas, again, just by watching lawyers, watching courtroom dramas, and watching trends. When you watch lawyers the material is endless.”

JT Hume: Beats the hell out of me.

That’s not exactly true, but it feels like it sometimes. There are days when there is no inspiration. I once sat at the computer to write a blog post and felt empty. I cleared my mind and do what I do when the well is dry: I started typing and prayed. What you’re reading is the result.

For the bigger projects like books, here are my essential sources:

Random Imagination: It always starts there. As a child, adults said I’d rather be daydreaming than anything else. Well, why not? A fake dream world can be better than a horrid real world.

A-to-Z: Like Mr. King, I’m always intrigued by the “What If?” of a situation, and I will always take it to the end of the story. I am never satisfied with an open-ended story. I have to know how the tale ends.

Training: Many, many excellent authors achieved great success without taking a single college class or creative writing course. If that works for you, then stick with it. I’m an advocate for education and training, if only to find the eternal themes that work and continue to work for generations.

Exercise: All of my big ideas appeared while exercising. All of them.

Stubbornness: Once I get that idea, I don’t give up on it until there’s a bunch of chapters on the screen (see “A-to-Z” above).

The problem with lists is I always forget something, so you may see this post updated in the future. If you haven’t thought about the source of your ideas, now is as good a time as any. Who knows? There may be a New York Times interview in your future.

A Rainy Day

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Here’s another post from 2016 that got a love of love when it was first published,
and it is updated and edited with permission of me.

It’s a small hole, enough to let the sunlight peek into a dark attic corner. When the skies open and the waters flow though previously-uncharted creeks, the little hole acts as a flue for not gases, but fluids. I’ve stood under showerheads with less force and volume as this little hole, and the darn thing is wide open to the elements.

How did I let this happen? In this part of the Great Basin, you can count annual rainy days on your hands and toes, so roof maintenance is not an immediate priority when there’s a dozen other household chores and tasks in the way. Don’t get me wrong: you have a sad state of affairs if the roof and basement are not watertight, but doesn’t there always seem like something else at the top of the list?

Is there a writing metaphor here? “Hope for sun, plan for rain”? “There’s a silver lining in every grey cloud”? “Let a smile be your umbrella”? Let’s go with the obvious one, about success being an upstream destination (I may have made that up). There’s always going to be challenges and problems pushing you back. The trick is to remember that while you may be wading in water up to your knees looking for solutions, you will find dry land someday, and you’ll find it sooner if you keep pushing. It doesn’t matter if it’s a hole in the roof or a plot hole. Just keep swimming (that’s not original).

I write this post below the water fountain on the second floor. The tiny hole in our roof is unreachable behind load-bearing walls, so we need outside access, a twelve-foot ladder, and a courageous heart. If we had all of these, no sensible man or woman should risk their neck in this weather. All we can do for now is mop up the excess and look for a break in the rain, a prayer that is certain to be answered tomorrow.

Perception

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Below is a repost from the inactive blog of my other author account, updated and edited with permission of me. It was written in 2016 before the cochlear implant, a post for another day.

When you’re young, it seems like the horizon is limitless…then you get older…

Back in the day, or The Reagan Years as I call them, I could hear the flutter of a sparrow’s wings through glass as it fought for seed in the feeder outside. Whizzing by my 40th birthday, the tones in my ears became a cacophony of bells, and I was diagnosed with tinnitus, the beginning of my aural problems. The sound world continued to fade away from a combination of genetics and inner ear infections. The upper ranges are long gone, so no more Mozart’s “Magic Flute” for me. At this rate, Don Giovanni will be a memory.

The worst part of the loss is my world is much smaller . With full hearing, we have 360 degrees of perception on all axis. The world shrinks as your hearing fades. I can hear the noises and identify them by habit (a car engine versus motorcycle), but a room of people is a dozen trombones unless they’re standing directly in front of me and talking to my face. Fast talkers, high voices, and most accents are indecipherable, including Irish accents, sad to say. Think of Charlie Brown’s teachers and you got my hearing.

As you are probably a writer, you may be interested in the technical aspects of this loss, which was insidious in how it stole my ears. I did not wake up one day and go, “Whoops, I be deaf.” That would be inaccurate because I’m not stone-cold deaf (maybe 20% remains). I did come to realize people were tired of me asking them to repeat themselves, slower and louder.

As I am a writer, I sometimes forget that senses exist other than the visual. I have go back through my drafts, and make the conscious effort to have my characters experience life through every pore, and not just through the optic nerve. It’s an odd problem I never would have predicted but hardly unique. I’ve read books where the author is always moving events and people through car chases, it seems, not taking the time to stop and build the scenery through perception.

Is this something you do, forget about all of the senses? Do your characters ever draw a sensuous line across the skin of their loves, eliciting a shudder? Do they listen to the crickets of the cool night as a blanket of humidity covers the grass at their feet? Can they taste the spice hidden in a pan pizza pulled from a hot oven in Rome? Think about that, and don’t wait for a loss like mine to be reminded to expand the senses of your characters.

You’re So Vain

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Below is a repost from the inactive blog of my other author account, updated and edited with permission of me.

If you’re of a certain age, you’ll know the rest of the lyric is, “you probably think this song is about you, don’t you, don’t you?”. That’s from Carly Simon’s immortal musical burn of Warren Beatty. In that vein, this blog post will have you wondering if I’m writing about you. Rest assured, this is pointed at the 5,000 other writers I don’t follow, but please feel free to wonder if this blog post about you.

When I started the writing thing, the choice of primary social network was easy because everyone has a Twitter account (sometimes four or five). Twitter for writers has established networks, organized and otherwise, and specialized hashtags we can use to promote our work. Heck, there’s people out there whose livelihood is gathering and selling Twitter followers.

The blessing is also a curse: everyone has Twitter, a great tool, but some people have no clue how to use it. I didn’t realize this at first, thinking if someone spent the time to write a book, they hopefully spent a tenth of the same energy on their Twitter message. Wrong.

I’ve gotten wiser and pickier about whom I follow for various reasons. Since I’m all about sharing my pain, this is a list of my pet Twitter peeves. They are my buttons and mine alone, and they may go against the collective wisdom. Take them for the price you paid.

Pin a Tweet. Twitter gives you the option to pin a Tweet to your user profile, and it’s the first thing I look for when I might follow someone. Ideally, a pinned tweet contains a link to your favorite and/or your most recent work product (book or blog or something). Think of a pinned tweet as looking in someone’s eyes when you give a firm handshake: your best chance to make a good first impression.

Your Twitter should be Your Words. If your account is one long retweet, or if your pinned tweet is a literary passage or (dear God, no) a Shakespearean quote, then I assume you’re lying about that being-an-author thing. The point of writing to be original candle in the darkness, and social media is the place to display your literary talent. If you’re tweeting someone else’s words, then why are you bothering to write in the first place?

Grammar Matters. If your twitter has adverbs or misspellings, we’re done. You wasted three seconds of my life and I’m not coming back.

Lose the LSD Acid Trip. What is with all of the “Miami Vice” pastel colors, kaleidoscope patterns, and other crap? Who told you brighter is better? Folks, I used to lived in Vegas and neon is for the tourists. Turn down the volume. You’re a writer, not a fireworks show. Along the same lines, spend some money on your covers, would you? We can tell when you let cousin Pat try Photoshop for the first time.

Cover Your Tits, Men. I will see more twelve-packs and male nipples on Twitter in three months than I did in ten years in the Air Force. I understand some authors are promoting a brand of erotic or near-erotic writing. But when you do the same thing as 10,000 other “romance” authors, you’re adding noise to the internet, not substance.

Cover Your Tits, Women. No, I’m not letting the ladies off the hook. If your header or avatar is your heaving chest with thrown-back shoulders to better display what your Momma gave you, you’re wasting my time. I got better in my own house.

(Did the word “tits” offend you more in the Men or Women paragraph? Your reaction can be food for introspection.)

Auto-replies. There must be a dozen blog posts on the Information Superhighway that’s convinced you that auto-replies are the next big thing. Wrong. They’re another form of doorbell ditch: the illusion of being present without expending the human touch. If I reach out to you, I’m typing the keyboard. You send me a “thanks for following me” auto-reply, public or DM, my hand twitches towards the unfollow button. Free twitter services are not necessarily a good thing, folks. and too much a good thing turns it into a bad thing. ‘Nuff said.

Summing it up, your Twitter is your public face. It’s most likely where we first heard of you (not your book or your blog). If Twitter is a mess, then we can only assume the same about everything else you touch, including your books. Consider taking a step back and keeping things simple. Some social media creativity might take you further than you expect.

Giveaway

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Hey, folks, let’s do a Christmas Eve giveaway. This Sunday, December 23, and Monday, December 24, three of my favorite books are free for the taking. Download them and share them with your friends. Heck, if you’re bored, write a review on Amazon. Or write one if you’re not bored. We writers live and die by reviews (truth). Either way, thank you for your consideration!  Here’s the link!

Self-Publish: Why?

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Below is a repost from the inactive blog of my other author account, updated and edited with permission of me.

The indie publishing world was set afire a couple of years ago over Laurie Gough’s Huffington Post essay on her perceived lack of respect for the written word by self-published authors like myself, a stance she’s since stepped back from. There was a storm of protests, and accusations of poor research, both of which she addresses in her retraction on her Facebook page.

That aside, the column accomplished one purpose: it got me thinking why there should be indie publishing in the first place. Calm down your keyboards because you should already know I’m an advocate. What I don’t like mindless leaping over the cliff to self publish without knowing why we post the crazy things on Kindle that we do. To say, “We climb Everest because it is there,” is the weakest of rationals, so how about this?

We self publish for two reasons: a legacy and money.

My grandmother in her later years self-published a thinly-disguised memoir about her days as a young lady in a boarding school in the 1920s. She waited to write her book until her seventies, decades after earning a Masters in English from Stanford. I admit her book is not for everyone, but without it, there’s one less novel about an era of education and teenage experience, now lost to us a hundred years later.

I want everyone to self publish their life if they can because we’re all storytellers of some sort. The best traditions and tall tales are passed via a word of mouth through the generations, and sometimes our mouths are closed before our time. Our descendants would miss hearing how we struggled with our versions of the American Dream, both good and bad, and how they became the tapestry that makes America what it is. Once we put a thousand of those books together, we’d have a well-rounded view of history and Americana.

Let’s not forget avarice as motivation. We want money for our hard work, the difference between being the professional scribe versus a wordy dork with a Kindle account. Earnings and profit validates the countless hours of plotting, transcribing, editing, and editing again. You can assign a higher purpose here, if you’d like: support your family, pay your bills, take care of student loans, etc. Those are all good reasons, but if you’re not intent on leaving a legacy, then you’re in it for the money.

These are two wide brushes I’m using to paint a solution, so if you have some other motivation that drives you to publish that doesn’t meet these two outcomes, I’d sure love to hear it.

Edit: Reading this old post with fresh eyes, I see now that this post was both cynical and self involved. There is a third reason, the best reason: we want to help each other . We live in insane times where hate is the currency of life for too many people. I beg of you: if you have a light in this darkness, turn it on. Publish your stories, show us the way, and bring us a little hope. You’ll do us all a world of good.

Two Dogs

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Both dogs, at separate times, walk into the same room. One comes out wagging his tail while the other comes out growling. A woman watching this goes into the room to see what could possibly make one dog so happy and the other so mad. To her surprise she finds a room filled with mirrors. The happy dog found a thousand happy dogs looking back at him while the angry dog saw only angry dogs growling back at him. What you see in the world around you is a reflection of who you are.*

Shorter: Perception is reality.

I had an epiphany at the Day Job a few years ago during a particularly miserable time when management and staff were not in sync. “Loggerheads” is both a reasonable description and an underused word. The circumstances are not as important as the question at the height of the darkness: why do I hate coming to work? Many of us, if not most of us, dread Monday as a culture. The epiphany came when I took a step back and made a list:

  • My job is very interesting. The constant stream of questions and situations challenge me to do my best every day.
  • Most of my colleagues have their heads on straight. There are always exceptions, but they usually have bosses who will listen to reason.
  • The people I’ve been lucky to supervise over the years are the best in business, and most left my team with a promotion. Equally cool: some still talk to me years later.
  • I’ve been blessed with above average bosses 80+% of the time. The mediocre ones never last long.

The list showed me that my perception was the problem about the “going to work” thing. And fortunately for me, my perception is also the solution. Implementing the “get over myself” solution took months, but I’m coming along. My blood pressure is down, there are more good nights of sleep than bad, and I don’t hate Mondays.

One surprise outcome is how this has affected my Night Job. I don’t know if I’m a better or worst writer, content or technique, but I don’t hate opening Word or Google Docs anymore. I do dread opening them up when I lack something to write about, but the “I totally suck at writing” feeling is gone. Confidence is a wonderful tool.

Maybe it’s human nature to seek complex solutions for hard problems, but I found this time that pouring the camel through the eye of the needle wasn’t necessary. I changed my perception of work and I changed my life. And it started when I recognized the problem was me.

(*The parable above is from the internet, as is the puppy picture. Neither were posted with their creator’s name. Please forward their names and I’ll be happy to recognize them. Thank you.) 

Keep Going

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This might be one of the “biking as writing” or “writing as biking” posts. More likely, it’s gonna more proof that you’re never too old to do stupid shit.

The end of November didn’t suck, though the potential for major suckage stank up the place. The Bride was bouncing back from not one, but two bouts of strep throat, and the day job had me pinging off the walls. The Saturday before Turkey Day had me 28+K words shy of the needed 50K words to win Nanowrimo. There was lots of Real Life going on inside and outside the house, yet somehow…

Maybe I was having a letdown this morning from the stress, but The Bride got me a Trek Marlin 7 as an early Christmas present, so time to boo-yah some trails. (Hey, I’m a veteran. We can use military slang without understanding the correct context. We’re cute that way.)

Here’s where the “stupid poo-poo” thing sneaks in. It snowed yesterday. The dirt trails were snowy and wet, so they were (follow the logic here) muddy as hell. To multiply the “stupid ca-ca” thing, my spiffy new bike does not have wheel guards or fenders, so (more logic follows) I got muddy from the spin of the wheels. Hey, Mom, I’m a mudder now!

No, I did not have to get muddy and, yes, my pretty new bike is not pretty now, but darn it, I can’t remember the last time that five miles of hard work felt so good. This morning’s ride could be a metaphor for that last week of Nanowrimo: the long, hard slog in the mud. But the followers of this blog (both of you) are the smartest readers in the world and you already figured it out.

While I have your attention, I will mention ASIN continues to be read and bought, making it my most successful book. “Success” is relative, as Mr. King sells more books in a second than I have in my life, but I’m pleased as punch. For those of you who use Goodreads, my profile is updated and I’m posting short reviews of the books in my life. More about GR in the next post.

Time to gird the old loins now and try to hit the daily writing goal while watching truly awful Raiders/49ers football. Y’all be good to each other. Mostly, be kind. And if you’re having any small or large crisis in faith or confidence, gimme a shout-out because I believe in you. Take care.

 

Cover Charge

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(If this sounds like a rehash of an old post, I agree with you because, gosh darn it, I feel like I’ve written a version of this post before, but I couldn’t find it. Oh well. New followers won’t know any different, so apologies to older followers. Here we go!)

Creating art is an art, but there’s the analytical aspect. There’s no point in painting a Mona Lisa or sculpting a Rodin without discipline and a self-imposed system of quality control. For me, the most difficult quality control portion writing a book was not sentence structure or character development but picking out a cover.

I’ve used 99Designs for three or four books. If you’ve never used 99Designs, the premise is straightforward: you start a contest, you outline your needs, you have X number of days to pick a set of covers that will advance to a final round, and then another set of days to pick the finalist. I’ve developed a QC system that might help you in the future:

Communication: You cannot overcommunicate, in my opinion. When you establish the contest, you provide a book outline and some details, and a list of your expectations. As the contest continues and the book cover designers post their covers, you have opportunity to provide feedback. The biggest favor you can do for the designers and for yourself is to be open and candid. Provide sample chapters and links to your web sites (social media, blog, home site) so the designers can see your public thinking.

Rating: You can rate book covers on a system of zero to five stars. For me, I use zero to three stars, reserving zeros and ones for book covers I’m never going to use. Two stars are for book covers I’m not quite sure about, and three stars are for designs that I’m certain or near certain are going to survive to the final round. When designers ask why they received their rating, answer all questions. Don’t be afraid. The designers really want to give you what you want.

Be Realistic: Don’t fall in love with the first submissions (like I always do). You’ll have a lot of great designs by the end of the first round if you have adequately communicated your needs. Be patient and stick to your rating system from the beginning of the contest to the end of the contest.

The Final Cover: I have no idea how to pick up final cover. For my latest contest, I bounced back between three or four designs because they were all great. When I narrowed it down to two designs, I couldn’t decide, so I bought them both. They each have their strengths, and I would have been happy to post either on Amazon. The final decision came down to which cover do I want to see five years from now. (The winner is here, if you’re interested.)

If you have a better methodology, please share. To paraphrase Edmund Gwynn, “Writing is easy. Book covers are hard.” Thank you.

Cover Reveal

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Lots to cover, but as I have the attention span of a mayfly, let’s be economical with the words.

The first Emma Parks book is free for download on Friday, October 19th. Lots of positive feedback for this and the sequel, so grab it! Here’s the link to Hope Knocks Twice.

Second, yep, that’s the cover of my new book, A Sheriff in Nevada. I bought two covers and pinged back and forth for weeks. They’re both excellent, but this one nudged ahead by a hair because I feel it best represents my home state. The second cover will be the subject of a future blog post.

Last, the book itself will be available for pre-order very soon with the release date of October 31, 2018. Why release it on this date? Because that’s Nevada Day, gosh darn it, and a book about Nevada for Nevadans should be released on our admission day.

I want you to read the book, so I’m asking for less than a buck of your hard-earned money. You’ll get more than your money’s worth, I promise!

Edit: Amazon got the link up quick! You can pre-order right now.

That’s all for now. Thanks for reading and take care of each other, okay?