I suppose waxing philosophical is natural when a milestone
is reached, but I tend to be a quiet observer. If you’re expecting a boisterous
blowhard pontificating pompous bombast or boring people with flowery fluff,
that’s not me. I write a bit, though. Fortunately, I have editors to ground me
and help make sense of my ramblings that eventually make it onto a printed
There is nothing else like this feeling.
My love of writing compels me in a way that no previous
endeavor in life ever has. The physical execution of the process consumes a
portion of each day, but truth be known, I am writing all the time, even when I
rest, and always when I dream. In fact, a writer is never not writing. Even
while suffering from writer’s block, a writer is still engaged in the creative process,
whether it is realized or not.
Yesterday, I received a physical copy of the third book I’ve published since signing with Pandamoon Publishing. I published a few others before becoming a Panda, a couple of self-published things, and a pair of works released through another, now defunct, small publisher. Personally, I don’t consider those in my totals anymore. There will come a time when I revisit them as newly minted manuscripts, heavily revised and reborn, because the stories within are important and tie into the overall creative universe that has spawned Fried Windows and The Thuperman Trilogy. But I never recommend them, despite that there are copies of them floating around. You see, publishing is a thing that cannot be undone, especially once an ISBN number is assigned. But One Over X served a developmental purpose for me as an author. It granted me insight into the publishing business and book marketing. And it established a foundation that produced an ambitious project that occupied my time for better than seven years. That series has yet to be published, but I learned many necessary lessons from creating The Wolfcat Chronicles.
I was a different kind of writer twenty years ago when I was working on my first manuscript. My processes and the quality of what I produce has changed, for the better, I think. My stories ramble less. They have coherent structure. The dialog is more realistic, which is always a challenge when you write fantasy. The characters have lives to which readers can relate. All of that was acquired through the processes of learning to write, something that one must teach to self.
A friend and fellow author told me that anyone can dream only to have it evaporate into the mist of morning wakefulness, but an author can capture a dream and give it physical substance. There is a lot of truth in that. And I’m reminded of it each time I hold one of my books. It takes weeks, months and sometimes years to compose a manuscript. It takes courage to send it in raw form to beta readers to test the viability of its story. More months pass in revisions based on feedback received and then several more months pass while the manuscript is edited. Dressing it up into a pretty cover and testing the nearly finished version of the story with advance readers who will hopefully offer some reviews is the next step in the publishing process. And then the book arrives, launched upon a largely unsuspecting world that, for the most part, does not read books anymore.
On the surface, writing professionally does not make sense. For
nearly all of us who do it, it will never pay the bills. But there is
satisfaction at the conclusion of each journey when you hold one of your dreams
in your hands.
The launch of Homer Underby, Book 2 of The Thuperman Trilogy, is set for August 14. It continues the story of Will and Sandra, two precocious 8-year-old kids with active imaginations and budding superpowers. The story picks up where Becoming Thuperman, Book 1 of the series, left off. Sandra is grounded. Although Will is not, having his best friend unavailable is like being grounded. All they can do is wait until Saturday. If they win the first Little League game of the season Sandra’s grounding is over. But a new adventure is just beginning as the kids learn about a 20-year-old unsolved mystery involving the deserted old house down the street from where they live.
Homer Underby is a Pandamoon Publishing release available for pre-order at Amazon.
Six months ago, when it was a definite maybe that HOMER UNDERBY would launch sometime this summer, I thought about visiting the Midwest again, maybe even going to Normal, IL, where The Thuperman Trilogy is set. Usually, when I travel in the Heartland, I fly to Cleveland and connect with my best friend and publicist, Christine Gabriel. For the past few years, every we’ve gotten together to do something to promote our books. Last August we toured some schools, libraries and bookstores in Ohio, Indiana and Michigan. But this year, life has gotten in the way.
Last winter I relocated to the West Coast to spend time with my newborn grandson, Jackson. And a couple of months ago I helped my son and daughter-in-law move to Las Vegas. Currently, I live about three miles from their place. I like it here. The people are friendly. The city, despite its size and how much it is growing, still retains a small-town vibe – as long as you are away from The Strip.
Anyway, because of the expenses of moving and all that, I had to forego any plans of flying to the Midwest this year. Perhaps next summer, when THUPERMAN AND CASSANDRA, Book 3 of The Thuperman Trilogy, is released. We’ll see. A lot depends on how well books sell. And somewhere between Books 2 and 3, there will likely be the launch of the first book of The Wolfcat Chronicles. Busy times ahead, especially the next six weeks or so. HOMER UNDERBY launches on August 14.
Last Thursday, I spent the evening with my Rob, Laia, and Jackson at Knickerbocker Park in the Providence suburb of northwest Vegas, within walking distance of their house. Each year they have a 4th of July celebration there, with live music, food vendors and such in the park that rest on a ridge that overlooks the valley, and the city – a great vantage for all the fireworks displays both public and private. It was a little hot, but there was a breeze, and because the humidity is low here in the desert, once we found a shade where we could spread out a blanket and sit on the grass, it was comfortable. Note, grass is a rare thing here, sort of reserved for parks and golf courses. Beyond The Strip (which has a curious vibe all its own) Vegas has the feel of a small town. The community is diverse, not really by anyone’s design but the fact that it has grown in a period defined by a different set of circumstances. There are parts of the city that people consider less safe (usually closer to The Strip or the older, east side of town) but where most of the expansion west and northwest of town has come without any other qualification except being able to afford the mortgage payments. Also, I’ve discovered there are people here from all over, but mainly the Western states, especially California. Lots of younger professionals who have less of a stake in the Golden State come here to escape the high taxes and cost of living on the coast.
I had fun at the celebration. It’s always great spending time with Jackson. Every time I see him, he’s grown a lot. It had only been a couple of weeks since the Father’s Day outing when I last spent an afternoon with him and his parents. In that time, he has started sitting up by himself and playing and continued developing a personality. Jackson was unfazed by the exploding fireworks but mesmerized by the shower of colors. The Homeowners Association where my son and daughter-in-law live put on a 15- minute display that was up close and personal -launched from one of the increasingly rare vacant fields next to the park.
The other thing that happened on Thursday was the quake across the state line in the Mojave Desert. We felt it in Vegas, though it was a slight thing. We are about 150 miles away from the epicenter. I noticed it. Mainly I wondered why my window blinds were rattling. Since that there have been several other tremors and aftershocks, one larger than the original, but here I haven’t felt any of those. My thoughts are with the friends I left behind in So Cal, though.
Also, in the past month or so, I’ve started a Street Team in support of The Thuperman Trilogy. If you want to join the fun and receive notice of anything new going on with my books, Pandamoon Publishing, and my fellow authors, all you have to do is go to: https://www.facebook.com/groups/390025901609170/
This past weekend marked another milestone. HOMER UNDERBY is now on pre-sale for Kindle with a launch date of August 14th. That also means the ARCs are available and being distributed for pre-launch reviews. I’m proud of this book, not that I haven’t been proud of my others. But this one is a little different because of the collaborative effort that went into its conceptualization.
If you’ve been following my blogs, I mentioned that the first draft of BECOMING THUPERMAN was written in the summer of 2013, while FRIED WINDOWS was in editing. I polished up the draft a bit and submitted it to my publisher who eventually put the book under contract a few months later. From the outset I intended the book to be a one of kind thing as an author. It is a story about kids, after all, and although my books have been kid-friendly for the most part, they have been intended to be YA or older. Despite the ages of the two main characters, BECOMING THUPERMAN is not a children’s book, per se.
During the editing process for BT, about a month before it was released, Jessica Reino, the substantive editor, suggested that a couple of story lines might be easily extended if I feathered in some foreshadowing earlier on in the story. And after an hour or so discussing the possibilities, I had two more books plotted out in a rough outline. I know that’s the way some writers work, but it was unusual for me. My first drafts tend to be free form. I create an outline after the fact to organize the resulting chaos. So, you see, HOMER UNDERBY is the first book I have ever composed according to an outline. The third book in the series, titled THUPERMAN AND CASSANDRA, will be the second book produced that way.
What about all my other manuscripts? They were created the old way. However, I am revising all my Wolfcat books and have begun imposing an outline structure for the sections that require some rewriting. And for those who are interested in following their favorite characters in other series, Brent from Fried Windows is in HOMER UNDERBY and THUPERMAN AND CASSANDRA as well as THE WOLFCAT CHRONICLES. Will and Sandra from the Thuperman Series are also in the sequel to FRIED WINDOWS, titled CASTLES OF NINJA BREAD. Ela’na from THE WOLFCAT CHRONICLES appears in other manuscripts the titles for which have not been determined. In some of those stories Brent, Will and Sandra are also included.
It takes a lot to rile
me, but I’m also a Taurus. Whenever someone has the misfortune of pushing me
past my limit, it can get messy for a while. It’s happened a few times, more
frequently lately. It could be age-related, though that shouldn’t be an excuse.
I’ve heard that older people have less patience. After all, who wants to die
while waiting in a line. But I have a different take. As I have gotten
older the quality (or lack thereof) of customer service in some places I shop
has gone from bad to abysmal.
Read my bio. I spent a
while working in retail, long enough to know that the adage of ‘the customer is
always right’ is absolute bullshit. And to an extent, extreme customers who
have wanted to take advantage of stores’ pledges to put the customer first are
to blame for the erosion. For 30 years I worked in retail. I assure you
customers are often wrong, not that it matters a whole lot in the balance. As a
manager, you still need to listen and try to see things from the customer’s
perspective, if possible. If you don’t take care of your customers, you will
lose them. Very likely they will tell their sad story to from 5 to 8 people and
each of them will be less likely to shop at your store. A business will not
survive losing 5 to 8 customers every time there is a problem.
It might also seem easy to blame the decline in customer service on Amazon and
the lack of personalization rooted in the expansion of online shopping. But the
long slide in customer service was well underway before the Internet exploded
in the late 90’s and changed everything forever. Amazon’s customer service
isn’t great but, compared to some stores I’ve dealt with in the past few years,
they aren’t terrible, either. I could tell you some stories about Amazon, but
then the online parts of traditional brick and mortar businesses are nothing to
cheer about either. I had one bad experience just this past weekend, in
fact. But I can’t blame the lack of service on corporate culture except that
most businesses, whether online or offline, seem reluctant to resolve systemic
and often chronic issues they have. Amazon’s delivery drivers that support
their Prime model are either stellar or forgettable with little between, from
my experience. Perhaps the companies are trying to give the employee the benefit
of the doubt in cases of customer dissatisfaction but when there is a pattern
of problems, it indicates something else is going on. There are some people who
have no business interfacing directly with customers. As Brent Woods, one of my
characters, is prone to say, “A turd is always a turd.”
When I go shopping in
a big box retailer, I’m there for price not service. Let’s be honest, you are
too. But still, I should be able to expect a minimum acceptable level of common
courtesy. I don’t expect assistance loading large boxes into my cart of onto my
wagon. One must bring your own service for that sort of thing. But I can tell
you, there are ways of creating the illusion of customer service in big box
stores that doesn’t involve magic, smoke, and mirrors. It’s called putting a
few bodies on the floor and telling them to interact with customers. It’s
just the corporate bean counters with the MBA degrees have proliferated in
businesses ever since I was in college. They have made the strategic
choice to skimp at the store level to maintain six-and-seven-digit incomes of
those in the ivory tower. And if those people who made those choices earned
their pay by fielding customer complains from time to time, maybe things would
improve in the stores. But I wouldn’t hold my breath on that one. It’s
always easier to drop extra work on managers shoulders and let the front line
people figure out how to get it done.
The lack of customer service in large retailers and online should give rise to smaller shops, except their costs are higher and the prices are less attractive to those of us who count out pennies. If you need assistance, though, you balance that against the delivered price. Sometimes it’s worth it to patronize local, mom and pop shops. And those small store owners who understand how to compete with big box retailers, and even online behemoths like Amazon, know that you can survive by offering things the customer cannot get anywhere else.
I’m reminded of a
competitor in the same segment of retail as Home Depot and Lowes. Ace Hardware
survives and even thrives by offering items that require customer service to
complete the sale. They are a convenience store for those who need a few things
and don’t want to deal with the local Big Box. And frankly, the big guys suck
at doing little things well. Ace has people working there that know their
products, can give advice when necessary, and if you shop there frequently,
they may even know your name. That level of service used to set Home Depot
apart as well, but that ended around the time the bean counters in Atlanta
decided they could save so much money on payroll by becoming just like every
other retailer, shifting the preference in workforce to part time.
In other cases, a small
shop may include rare or unusual products in their assortment. Maybe even
locally made products that have an immediate interest or demand. Local
bookstores come to mind, and some have picked up on this, giving their
community’s authors a home to sell their books, do book signings and stage other
events. As a result, not only does the store survive, but also local authors
are able to grow a following organically, directing their readers, who want the
immediate gratification of holding a book in their hands, to a shop with an
intimate setting and the appeal of that printed book smell.
For the past couple of months I have been in revision mode working on some unfinished and unpublished manuscripts. Two of the novels-to-be serve as background on Brent Woods, the lead character in FRIED WINDOWS (IN A LIGHT WHITE SAUCE) published May 2014 and CASTLES OF NINJA BREAD (coming in 2020). Brent Woods also appears as a supporting character in the final two books of The Thuperman Trilogy, HOMER UNDERBY (Coming 2019) and THUPERMAN AND CASSANDRA (Coming 2020). So, it was important to sift through the background material I composed several years ago and flesh out something in book form about Brent’s past. His senior year of high school is chronicled in WRESTLING IT and HAVING IT as well as his first semester of college contained in Losing It.
WRESTLING IT and HAVING IT were originally contained in a draft that was over 2,000 pages. After revisions and putting the story that now spans two volumes on a strict diet, it’s now around 500 in total with the WRESTLING IT comprising about 275 pages while HAVING IT is around 235 pages. I’m hoping both will receive good haircuts in the editing process. The story covers a lot of ground and introduces several characters that become important to understanding Brent’s motivations and relationships. There is more story to be told, enough for a third book about Brent’s senior year but it feels anticlimactic. The draft of what part of the story was never finished.
LOSING IT, a book about Brent’s first semester of college, was already close to finished. In fact, I had arranged for an editor to take on the project and it was waiting in her queue. Over the past few years it existed under different working titles but has never been published. As originally composed, it was told in subjective as opposed to chronological order. So, one of the major revisions this year was to reformat its flow so that it events are presented sequentially. Some scenes were removed. These may appear in future novels or separately as short stories. Also, some sections needed to be rewritten to accommodate adjustments made to the WRESTLING IT and HAVING IT story lines, including the addition of new characters.
The third book I’ve been working on is titled DEADMEN DON’T WEAR WATCHES, another book with an odd title. Unlike the two FRIED WINDOWS books, this one is presented in third person. Brent Woods is a supporting character in this one and there are appearances of the grown-up Will and Sandra from The Thuperman Trilogy. The story is an urban fantasy, crime mystery thriller mash-up that follows Detective Mona Parker who is struggling with a perplexing serial murder case that threatens her job as well as her reputation for solving tough cases. DEADMEN is necessary to fill backstory elements for The WOLFCATS Series, book one of which is coming soon.
Writing is a curious habit by its
nature. Some attempt turning it into a profession with varying results. One
might have better odds winning the lottery than publishing a best seller that
makes the author wealthy. Don’t quote me on that. But I’ll bet the odds are
Creative people, like writers, analyze things, read things into situations
that others may not consider and, yes, see things that are not there. How else
could watching from your back porch as a bird sings in a tree in your garden
inspire you to write a murder mystery thriller? It happens.
With every book you write there comes a point, no matter what the book’s about
or how long or short it is, that you wonder if it is good enough to submit
for publication. If you have never experienced the magic of having someone else
validate your art by accepting your work for publication, you may only imagine
the exhilaration. It is a magical moment. But with each subsequent submission
you will always wonder if the magic is gone, especially if it takes months for
your publisher to get back to you.
In some ways I’ve had
an exceptional experience. Exceptional not in my subsequent success, but
in that it kind of goes against the grain and bucks the usual course. When
I wrote Fried Windows, I was in a bad place in my life. For many years
prior I’d been battling demons, both internal and external, imagined and real.
Toward the end of my tenure as a retail manager I was abusing alcohol
and frequently felt depressed. Often the two are linked. I’d been writing
for years. I’d published a few things, a couple of books through a small
publisher and others I’d self-published. I sold some books, but I didn’t feel
there was a great future ahead of me. Still, I never gave up on writing
because…well, if you’re a writer you know that stopping isn’t a
choice. It’s not how we are wired. I doubt my body would respond in the
same way as if I stopped breathing, but it would be close.
Work, my ‘day’ job that is, had long since ceased to inspire me. Since all my
kids had grown and were out on their own, I wasn’t sure why I was still going
through the motions any more. When I married, I made a commitment to family and
struggled a lot, putting in long hours, many too many times, to support them.
Although I wrote whenever I could, because, again, it is what writers do, I set
aside pursuit of my personal ambition of being a published author.
Every parent understands that a part of the job is subordinating private dreams
for the sake of putting your children first.
On February 22, 2012 I snapped. It occurred to me that no longer did I have a valid reason to continue putting up with my company’s abuse. It was my day off. Although I’d been scheduled to have at least one day off per week for the past 21 days, regularly, I was putting in 16-hour days and coming in on my days off. My masters were abusing their slave all because I was on salary and, let’s face it, they’d always gotten away the abuse before. Okay, technically they were paying me so it was not really slavery, but I wasn’t being fairly compensated for the hours I was working. You see, salaried = no overtime pay = abuse. They surely owned me for all intents and purposes. I received alarm calls waking me in the middle of the night that I had to respond to even when I had to come back later on to work an entire shift. And because my store was old the alarm system was buggy, It went off all the time. Only occasionally had there been a break-in.
I had been a manager all for the sake of getting paid a little more, never having my pay cut when business was soft, and maybe earning a bonus at the end of the year. That last part, by the way, is a moving target, a carrot that corporate dangles to entice while, in the background, doing everything they possibly can to make it unobtainable. If you have ever worked in retail management, you may have experienced some of that. Not every company does it, but the last couple for which I worked did.
It’s a given that nothing was ever good enough. And yet they told me I needed to be more positive. It’s damned hard to be positive when all you receive from your superiors is negative reinforcement. I was told to execute their plans not to think for myself. Hey, my last DM was an ex-Marine. He ran things as if he were still in the corps.
As a result of the pressure and stress, I drank to excess. Whatever didn’t hurt was so tense that I couldn’t sleep without putting myself into a stupor. Yeah, I know that’s an excuse. But it was why I drank so much. And so, roughly 7 years ago, I was enjoying my first day off in three solid weeks. Then, around 1 PM, I received the dreaded call from my boss telling me I needed to come in to work because his boss was there, in the store, raising hell about all the stuff that needed to be done. For some reason I was the only one on the planet who could do the work – oh wait, I’m salaried, so they were already paying me for doing it. Like Inspector Gadget, I was always on duty.
Like a good obedient dog, I went to the store. The guy I worked for was a new boss. In many ways he was the same as my old boss who had just retired about a month before, but in other ways he was not. My past manager was reasonable about dressing down if I was going to be doing physical lab, as in sweating a lot and getting dirty. Since the new guy told me I needed to put away freight, I assumed I could dress to make a mess. Ever before, when I came in to work ‘for a few hours’ to slam freight, that was what I did.. So, wearing casual clothes, I reported to work. When I saw my boss, he asked me why I wasn’t in uniform. I explained. He told me to go home and change. I started to do that, got all the way to the front doors and was about to go home and comply fully, when I asked myself, why am I still putting up with this crap?
Why was I killing myself – figuratively and literally, enduring the torment? My job was interfering with what I wanted to do with my life, what I loved to do, what I had been doing that day (my day off) prior to receiving the call – writing. I was divorced, my kids no longer needed Dad breaking his back to support them. Why was I doing it again and again and again? Because it was routine? Because I had bills to pay? Because it was force of habit?
There is an old saying that most managers know but few heed. Never allow your subordinate to reach the point of not caring. I’d been pushed well past that and, although everyone told me after the fact that I was crazy to do such a rash thing, I handed in my keys and never looked back.
What are you going to do now?
I don’t know, look for another job,
maybe something with lower stress. Or maybe I’ll just focus on writing. I’ve
always wanted to do that, and I got sidetracked.
Are you nuts?
I thought you knew me well enough for that to be established. Yes, I am nuts. That’s part of the reason why I write.
For a few years I’d belonged to an online writing community. I won a couple of feel-good trophies for my writing. But being among other creative people served a valuable purpose, validating what I wrote in draft and posted online for all to read. Having the almost immediate feedback of other writers, be they poets, novelists, script writers or short story writers bolstered my confidence in storytelling. It helped me improve basic writing skills and allowed me to explore and expand the range of my author’s voice. Without that experience I would have never evolved past where the brute force of hammering out words led me, a.k.a. nowhere.
For several years before that, I’d worked on downsizing my life. I’d started walking or riding a bike to work. Getting rid of my car was one huge expense eliminated. You see, subconsciously perhaps, I’d been adjusting for the inevitable all along. Something told me that I needed to learn how to survive on next to nothing because that was what it would take to become a full-time writer
I stopped drinking beer, not only
out of necessity because there was no money for it. but also, because the
reason for my drinking was gone. One day in March 2012, one of the people I
knew in the online writing community challenged me to write a poem about being
a child at a carnival. Not being a poet per se, what I wrote was
of dubious merit. But the poets in the community were kind and encouraging
about the noob’s effort. They wanted more of the same. But
the well had already dried up. Instead, I wrote a short story. And,
because that went over well. I wrote another story based on the first,
receiving a stronger response than before. I continued, for 16 days,
composing a story a day. Each story was part of a series that collectively I
had called Fried Windows (In a Light White Sauce), based on a scene in the
first story. Still, titling them as a bundle was for my sake and did not
necessarily imply intent for them to ever be a contiguous story.
When I finished, I set all that work aside to pursue other works in progress that, at the time, felt more important. Around me, my world continued falling to ruin. With no job, and no money. I was living with relatives. And, as every writer knows, relatives don’t usually consider writing a valid endeavor – because it doesn’t generate a weekly paycheck and all you appear to do is sit in your room staring at a computer screen.
Have you ever considered the lunacy of that last part? You can sit all day staring at a computer screen in an office somewhere outside of the home and no one has an issue with it (maybe because someone is writing you a check for your attention). But an author gets paid long after the fact – if at all. Therefore, that’s not a job at all. Uh, isn’t that the point? I want a profession not a job.
Around a year from the initial creative spurt that produced the nucleus of Fried Windows, I decided to stitch the sixteen pieces together, adjusting and amplifying the story arc that was there. You see, I’d always thought of the individual parts as a series of stories. But once i read it as a whole, there was some continuity. There were common characters and the same fantastic world. Why had I never read through the entire thing as if it were a novel? I saw the potential immediately. Sure, it was missing stuff. But there was magic in those pages. Somehow, I needed to continue that. Still, I wondered if I had it in me to transform what several people had validated as good, into something better.
Further validation came in a few
months later when I signed a publishing contract for the book. Still,
each time I write a novel there is concern about the magic – if it is still
there. Do I still have what my publisher saw in my first or every previous
work they have accepted? The answer is always ‘we’ll see’ as I send it
off. The only way you ever answer that question is to finish your work in
progress and push it out into the world.