Authors Life, Books, Fantasy, novel, Publishing, Urban Fantasy, Writing

I Wonder Is the Magic Gone

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 close.

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. 

New Cover for Fried Windows

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.    

Authors Life, Books, novel, Publishing, Writing

How My Fictional Universe Began

A couple of people have asked me about my first publication, ONE OVER X: FROM THE INSIDE TO THE CLOSER. They saw there were two books offered in eBook under similar titles. Here’s the story behind that.

In the mid-90’s I spent a lot of time digitizing a stack of typewritten pages. My now ex-wife regretted talking me into getting a home computer as every waking hour I was home I worked on that project. I had some stuff that dated back to my college years, a rough draft that has been titled TAROT, which as the title suggests had something to do with the fortune telling cards. I made an attempt to create characters based on the Major Arcana. I still have that rough draft, by the way. I’ve kept it around for humility’s sake. It reminds me of how badly I wrote at a time when I believed I wrote well.

Most of the material that I transcribed into computer files came from the period directly after my military service. You see, just prior to leaving Texas where I received a degree in Marketing, I threw away roughly 20,000 typewritten pages of accumulated bits of pieces of novels, short stories, and poetry along with the personal journal I kept throughout college. Trust me, it was trash and needed to be discarded. I’d say 95% if what I’ve written into draft manuscripts and published novels came from ideas I’ve had since 1987. However, ONE OVER X: FROM THE INSIDE TO THE CLOSER has roots in TAROT and shares many of the characters of a larger work, WOLFCATS, that date back to the late 70’s.

My wife and I separated in late ’97. For the next two years, in my spare time, I revised the material I had digitized. I wrote some connective material and rewrote large sections creating an extreme rough framework that would eventually become my first publication. While my first publisher wrestled with the editing, which all told took two years, I began writing a sequel titled A GAME OF HANGMAN. Roughly half of that book, which was also published through the same publisher, Ash Creek, and like FROM THE INSIDE TO THE CLOSER, is now out of print, became the core of the WOLFCATS story, which spans 10 as yet unpublished novels. I wrote that material in the summer of 2000, about a year before FROM THE INSIDE TO THE CLOSER was finally published.

I was never satisfied with either FROM THE INSIDE TO THE CLOSER or A GAME OF HANGMAN. The editing was sub par. At the time I was working in retail management, averaging over 60 hours a week and could not afforded the time to properly promote the books. However, I did not abandon the story. It is a series I plan to continue. There are drafts of two more novels. However, when the two ONE OVER X series books went out of print, I did a heavy revision of the material, using notes and comments from several readers as the basis for revision. Also, I split the book into two parts due to the length of the original material. In my opinion the story’s flow is much better. It is easier to follow Andy Hunter’s leaps and hops throughout the span of his multiple lifetimes. Also, it doesn’t take the reader over a hundred pages to figure out what is going on. Those books are available in Kindle format on Amazon.

Eventually, there will be a revised version of A GAME OF HANGMAN, though the WOLFCATS material has been extracted from the manuscript. There may or may not be two more novels in that series. There are additional stories involving Andy Hunter and Lee Anders Johnston of ONE OVER X, though some of that material falls into the FRIED WINDOWS series and THUPERMAN TRILOGY. So, the remaining story may be told as part of different series.

You may also notice another out of print book titled CURSE OF THE SPECTRE. The material contained in that book has been revised extensively, rewritten and reformatted. It is the prequel to the foundation material of the WOLFCATS series that I wrote int he summer of 2000. Much of the prequel is now contained in WOLFCATS I and II. Both are currently under contact with Pandamoon Publishing and I hope that one or both will be published later this year. The material that was extracted from A GAME OF HANGMAN is contained in WOLFCATS III. The remainder of the story I wrote as a separate volume during the summer of 2000 is contained in WOLFCATS IV through VII. Volumes VIII through X were written between 2005 and 2007, in response to several beta readers telling me they wanted to know how this, that and the other played out. Although there is a somewhat natural conclusion to WOLFCATS VII there are two major story arcs left unresolved. Those are completed in the final three books.

Authors Life, Blog, Books, Editing, Publishing, Urban Fantasy, Writing

2019: Starting Out in So Cal

I’ll be consolidating my Facebook pages from three to one. It has been cumbersome maintaining the three pages and, frankly, I haven’t been keeping up with regular posts. Also, my FB account has nearly maxed out with the mythical 5000 friends limit, so I’m directing everyone to my author’s page. I will be posting everything book related there and, for the short term, some of those items may be posted on my timeline as well. Ideally, I will end up with a author’s page and a timeline which caters more to my family and close friends.

2019 promises to be a wild ride. I’m starting out in So Cal. There have been some adjustments to make, but overall I like it here. And I can finally say I’ve eaten at In-And-Out Burger and shopped at Ralph’s. I’m not sure that makes me a Californian or that anything ever will, but that’s okay.

I’ve been working on a project titled Dead Men Don’t Wear Watches, which fits into the larger Fried Windows/Becoming Thuperman universe. Although the main character is a badass female detective named Mona Parker, Brent Wood and well as Will and Sandra make helpful appearances.

The book is set in this area of California. I wrote the draft for it several years ago and, while I’m here, I’ll be fine tuning the details to make a better fit to this setting. In the overall chronology of the fictional universe I’ve been working on, DMDWW come after Fried Windows and its sequel, Castles of Ninja Bread, which, of course, occurs a decade later than the Thuperman Trilogy (Becoming Thuperman, Homer Underby and Thuperman & Cassandra). It serves as a backstory piece for my Wolfcats series as well, filling it a few details not covered in that story. There is also a prequel to DMDWW, which is set in the Boston area as well as a sequel, which is set in central Texas.

Anyway, I’ll be busy for a while finishing those stories . For now, they exist in various stages of completion but certainly need updating.