For the past couple of months I have been in revision mode working on some unfinished and unpublished manuscripts.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.
I don’t know when it happened that most people in American lived in or around cities. When I grew up on a farm in the 1960’s and early 1970’s it didn’t feel that way. In the part of Ohio where I lived, I think roughly half the people at that time lived in small towns, on farms, or in the countryside. After visiting my old hometown, I get the feeling that things haven’t changed all that much in the past 50 or so years.
A few months ago, I wrote a piece about going home to South Charleston, Ohio. The visit was rushed because of the schedule my publicist and I were on. We had less than a week to cover scheduled and unscheduled visits in three states. It was interesting seeing some of the places I used to live, though. Noting what had changed and what had not (most things hadn’t changed all that much) fascinated me.
I had a crazy idea about visiting my old library, the place I learned to love books. I thought I’d donate my most recent books, the ones of which I’m proudest and a few others titles from my publisher, the great and underappreciated works of some of my dearest colleagues. Disappointingly, the librarians at the Houston Library of South Charleston were at best cool to the idea. To them, I was just another author (maybe they thought I was self-published) who wanted to get my opus onto the shelves of their hallowed halls. Really, what I expected was a brief conversation about my connection to the town and perhaps sharing a few anecdotes from the past – things that only someone my age might remember about the curious little town. That part of the conversation never happened.
It is a rite of passage for an author to have a book on the shelves of a library. It’s not as easily accomplished as you might think. Space in a library is at a premium. Although they may want to support authors, especially local ones, they also have to answer to superiors about their borrowing rates.
When I lived in Melbourne, FL, the local library was more receptive to my first two publications. I recall the feeling of accomplishment I had when later on I visited the library with my daughters and together we perused the stacks until we found my books, alphabetical by author. No, it didn’t appear that anyone had checked either of them out. But still, that ranked high on the cool factor for all concerned.
I was speechless after the reception I received in my hometown, which is something for me to say. My publicist commented that the ladies were rather rude. As I said in the previous blog post, they weren’t expecting me.
Since then, a lot of things have changed. I moved to Southern California, meaning I’m farther away from my roots. Although I have visited Ohio several times in the past few years, always before I stayed around Cleveland. The visits were intended to have a more local base of operation for other excursions. One year Christine and I went to Chicago, for example. As my publicist lives less than a hour to the west of the Cleveland, it made some sense going there and driving to various places across the Midwest.
Since I’m now three time zones distant, I’m not sure when I’ll next be able to swing a trip to the Ohio. I know that if I do return I want to have something scheduled for South Charleston, perhaps at the library of maybe Miami View Elementary. I’d also like to visit Shawnee High School in Springfield. That is where I graduated in ’74. Actually, I’d like to spend a few days in the general area, connecting with some old friends and relatives. On the past trip I was able to meet up with two of my cousins, Randy and Lanelle, but the schedule was so tight that even that almost didn’t happen.
I realize that everything in the world has grown older around me. I refuse to admit that I’ve changed too. I’m stubborn like that. There is a scene in one of my books where a guy who is my age is talking to a slightly older man who says, “When you get old everything starts falling apart, not just your body but the world around you, too.” To which the slightly younger character responds, “I’ll try to keep that in mind.”
Truth is that the potential I had at eighteen years of age when I went off to college has greatly diminished. I had lots of dreams, and some were pretty big. Forty-four years later, I’ve accomplished some things I set out to do, but certainly not everything. I have seen a lot of the world, places the average person from South Charleston, Ohio never has. I’ve lived here and there throughout the US. And I have friends from all over the country and many around the world.
I guess I’d like to go back home to tell the people who live there, people I have never met (or the sons and daughters of people I grew up with), that as scary as the big bad world may seem when you’re a teenager in a small town, there are enchanting places to see and wonderful people to meet everywhere you go. Most people are wonderful, you know – once you get to know them, once you get past the artificial barriers that separate us. Also, I’d tell them not to sell themselves short of the opportunity of stepping out and making a lasting mark. And, by all means, NEVER stop dreaming.
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.
I use Amazon. These days, who doesn’t? I own a Kindle Paperwhite and use it about 80% of the time when I read eBooks. When I read at my desk I use the computer Kindle App. And because the Kindle device and app synch, I can switch back and forth without losing my place. Convenient.
About once a month or so I order something, occasionally more, but it has never been enough for me to justify the expense of an Amazon Prime membership. Yes, it would be nice to download and read books for free, but not worth the monthly fee. And I’m not one of those people who needs two-day delivery on everything I buy. If I do, I guess I can pay for rapid delivery.
So, even though there are a lot of things about Amazon that I like, their hard and heavy push to boost their Amazon Prime memberships each time I buy something irritates me. What’s more, I don’t appreciate the heavy-handed tactics they use to entice people to subscribe. Let me explain.
In case you don’t know, Amazon delays shipping orders going to non-Prime customers. It is a fact. I’ve seen it first-hand. Things that I order will sit in the queue for 3 days (or more) before processing begins. It’s a penalty for checking the little box that says, “No, I don’t want my order shipped in the quickest way possible” – or whatever the exact verbiage is for that button I must check to not sign up for the trial Prime account they offer with each purchase.
If the order is fulfilled by Amazon from one of their warehouses, sometimes it appears to be routed from an alternate location that is farther away. Yes, I get it that sometimes a nearer location may be out of something, or perhaps they don’t stock the item, but it happens often enough that I think I’m right on this one. It is yet another way to delay an order from shipping.
The tactic used to be blatantly obvious. If you ordered two things, one fulfilled from an Amazon authorized supplier on the other coast from where you live and the other from Amazon (an item they stock in the warehouse nearest you) the item from across the country would arrive a couple or three days before the Amazon supplied item. To prevent that from happening (and being obvious), if you don’t use Prime, Amazon sits on your order for three days regardless of the fulfillment.
If you doubt any of this, test it. I have several times.
If Amazon wants (or rather if they need to because of a problem) they can get something to you from one of their warehouses on the same day you ordered it. They can certainly ship anything you order that is stocked in one of their facilities and get it to you within two days. That’s the Prime deal, right? They should be able to get a non-Prime package to me within four days, which I’m okay with. I think most people would be. But that is contrary to Amazon’s goal of having everyone signed up for Prime. So, without Prime I’ve come to expect seven days or maybe ten.
Why does Amazon rule the world? That’s the real question every one of their competitors needs to ask. You see, any company that wants to capture the hearts of disgruntled Amazon customers (like me) only has to do things the same or (preferably) better. For example, guarantee FREE two-day delivery for any purchase $20 or more, which undercuts Amazon’s $25 – without any membership fee. Heck, guarantee FREE 3 or 4 day delivery without a fee. That’s still better than the service from Amazon for non-Prime members.
Last Saturday I ordered a few things I’ll need for a trip I’m taking to the Midwest to promote my books. As always, I didn’t select the One Month Trial for Prime. And I confirmed that I didn’t want the items shipped in the fastest way possible. I expected I’d get them in a week or so. And that was fine. One of the four items was coming from an authorized supplier. The other items were fulfilled by Amazon, two from the warehouse south of Tampa and the other from a warehouse in South Carolina. I use past tense because the items have all arrived (two on Monday and one of them on Tuesday). Why so soon? Well, you see, I decided to cancel the item coming from the authorized supplier because it would take so long (possibly two weeks). I had decided to buy somewhere else or make a different selection. The box I checked for the reason for the cancellation was “It will take too long to arrive.” Then a funny thing happened. The next morning, Sunday, I received shipping confirmation on all my Amazon fulfilled items, showing them expected on Monday and Tuesday. This sort of proves that Amazon could get the items to me faster if they wanted to. Obviously, someone decided to get my stuff to me before I cancelled the whole order.
Despite my attempt to cancel the order for the last item (within 24 hours, mind you) Amazon was unable to kill the order with the vendor. I’m skeptical about that whole thing, but I’m receiving the item on Saturday. That is a week earlier than the expected date given to me when they sent the order confirmation. We’ll see if the product suits my needs, which was one of the reasons I tried to cancel the order. The supplier received some negative reviews about the item being a cheap knock off, not the real thing.
Yes, all this expedited order shipping could be a coincidence? Except, I write mysteries often enough that I don’t believe in coincidences. The fact remains that an 800-pound gorilla can do pretty-much what it wants. Amazon can make anything happen with shipping, if they want to. You can believe that.