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Making Believe

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If there is a secret to writing fiction, a difference that distinguishes a professional from an aspiring amateur, it is the art of making believe. In many ways it is akin to all the pretending and playing we did as children. You remember, everything was possible and every day was a new adventure, wasn’t it? The majority of people lose that gift for creative fantasy but writers don’t. Or, at least, writers can find a way back to the childlike mindset.

Now, having that ability to fabricate something from nothing doesn’t mean the process is childish. Certainly there will be those around you, the ones who consider themselves practical, who will tell you that you’re wasting your time or daydreaming on paper perhaps. But for those of us who write stories and novels it is a process that grows and develops over time. Eventually you reach a point that it is nearly impossible to turn it off or disconnect from the creative flow – then again, who would you want to, right?

There are times when being creative isn’t an asset. I’ve worked in business for most of my adult life. there have been times when my creative mind waged war on the part of me that paid the bills. It wasn’t pretty for others to watch and it was painful to experience. You see – if you want to write professionally there is a point of balance you much reach with your other life, the part that shows up on time for appointments, makes it to work at a day job when scheduled and ensures that the money to pay bills reaches the appropriate parties in time. You must figure out how to control the creativity to a certain extent. Otherwise the line between reality and fantasy becomes blurred.

I’ve found setting a schedule and observing a daily routine works best. There are times that my appointed times to write conflict with other responsibilities but usually I can get up early in the morning a knock out a few thousand words. It is quietest then and, other than the dog wanted some attention, there are no interruptions or intrusions from the outside world. I can enter the zone and be creative, channeling the flow directly onto a virtual page in my computer.

To write fiction effectively I’ve found it is almost necessary to disengage from the real world for whatever duration necessary to tell a story or part of a story to oneself. If your story is ever going to engage the reader enough to offer and escape from their own reality you must make the fiction believable, regardless of how farfetched the tale you are spinning. That is the art to writing fiction: making believe or more aptly making believers out of skeptical readers. The first step in that direction be selling yourself on an idea and building a world around it into which you can enter and, for whatever time you need to write the tale, jot down every important detail of what your imagination has conjured within your mind.

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Writing creatively is as addictive any drug but it can be mentally exhausting. I suppose in some instances it has been painful as well. I believe there are many people who have a creative impulse but substitute substances in lieu of being creative out of avoidance. It is easier to engage the imagination while under the influence. However, it is difficult if not impossible to sustain an artificially induced creative episode long enough to write a story. However, a glass wine or a couple of beers can take the edge off, I suppose, allowing the mind to slip into a relaxed state that is more conducive to facilitating the creative flow. The problem with substances is that abuse comes easily and ingesting or imbibing more doesn’t lead to better products. It is difficult to capture in words what one experiences and almost impossible to fully recall. However, if you expend the effort to regularly engage your creative mind you will need no chemicals to make the magic inside of you happen. Making believe will come to you are regularly as you desire if you are willing to invest the effort and time necessary to train your unruly mind to work for you.

#Writing #Creativity #WritingProfessionally #MakeBelieve #FictionWriting

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The Questions People Ask…

My favorite author has changed over time. So whenever someone asks me that inevitable question – as if an author can only have one favorite – it may actually be whomever I am reading at the moment. However, knowing that won’t work for the sake of an interview or even a general query from a reader, here is what I usually say.

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Kurt Vonnegut Jr was my favorite author through high school and college, though as my interests broadened I became interested in Douglas Adams for some of the same reasons I liked Vonnegut’s novels, but I also tended toward more intense themes and complex plots from writers like Samuel R. Delany, Ursula K Le Guin, Frank Herbert and Robert A. Heinlein.

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There are dozens of authors whose work I have followed over the years and many new writers I’m watching. Hopefully someone is observing my development as well.

Another question is: when did you decide to be a writer? I’m not sure there was an exact moment because I believe you are born with the gene and over the course of childhood you discover the inclination for storytelling. I think I always wanted to tell stories to people but it took some time to hone the skills to the point that I was better at it that the average person. From then on it became a matter of learning everything I could about the art  of writing in such a way that others would want to spend their money buying a book and their time reading it. For me, I became aware of the process around age 13. Mainly I was pissed off when my 9th grade English teacher wrote a note on a writing assignment that I took as a personal challenge. She said, “You’ll never be a writer.”

When do you know a book is ready to be published? I get that one every once in a while from aspiring writers. By the way, just because you have something published doesn’t mean you’re not still aspiring. A writer who is not still honing his or her craft has either lost the creative connection or has passed away. Writing is a lifelong adventure. Having said all that, I don’t know if there is a point that you as a writer know a book is ready to be published. There is a moment when you are satisfied that it is a good as it will get for the time being. You can overdo things, you know?

I think after the first dozen revisions, a book is probably good enough for others to read. That is not to say it is ready to be published. I think a lot of inexperienced writers are too eager to be published. He or she may arrive at the point of the latest book being as good as it will get for a while and mistake that for being ready to publish. Unfortunately, modern technology has permitted every writer to become published and all too often self published books are not ready for prime time. Whether the issue is substantive errors or lack of professional editing many a good story is not being enjoyed because it did not go through the complete process.

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Steph Post, author of the recently released A Tree Born Crooked, said in an interview that her manuscript went through a hundred revisions prior to publication. I have no trouble believing that. Recalling the editing process for Fried Windows, a hundred revisions may actually be a little on the conservative side. Also there isn’t a magic number or a moment or revelation when the author is completely confident that a book is perfect. There is no such thing as a perfect book outside of marketing hyperbole. Every book, no matter who the writer is or how many best sellers he or she has published or the accolades received, has some mistakes in it.

Post also pointed out that you need to really love your manuscript because you will be reading it over and over again. So, it appears that the first real test for whether a a piece of writing deserves to be a book is if the author can read it that many times and still enjoy it. There is some magic on the pages after fall the nit picking if, as the author, you can read through the book you have revised countless times and progress from cover to cover without wanting to change a single word.

There are moments in the process of writing a manuscript that you gain confidence in a story. That may come as a chill that passes through your body or a general sense that you’re connected to the creative flow of the universe – depending on your mental state, the time of day and whether you have been drinking coffee or wine. If several days later you revisit what you wrote and read it sober and it still gives you the chill, you may be onto something. Don’t get me wrong. I am not condoning writing under the influence. I have done some of that in the past but I have not written anything in the past three years that was not composed while sober. Also, I don’t drink coffee anymore. I have found that my writer improved greatly. The need to go back and correct errors diminished significantly and, guess what, my mind actually comes up with a lot of strange things all by itself without any artificial stimulation.

I believe writers as a lot are obsessive, compulsive people and therefore we are prone to addictions born of comfortable habits. We may need to have a couple of beers to take the edge off of things and allow us to slip more comfortably into the alpha state that creativity requires. There are other ways to accomplish the same results, though. Oddly enough, exercising – taking the dog for a long walk, riding a bike or jogging – yields greater mental focus and connection with creativity. Listening to music also works for most people. So, even though I fell into a rut for a time and felt I needed to drink a few beers in order to be creative I have since learned there are many other ways of accomplishing the same thing.

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#writing #authors #creativity #influences #KurtVonnegut #DouglasAdams #SamuelRDelany #StephPost #ATreeBornCrooked

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The Zone – Being Creative On Autopilot

 

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Fried Windows strikes a few chords with a lot of people who read it. What’s interesting is how many different things people take from it. Some have asked me If I planned that, or did I intend for this to be in there. Not wanting to be as evasive as this sounds, the answer is yes and no.

Any author of fiction will tell you about his or her method of writing – where and when they do it, and what the experience is like. For some it is scheduled at a certain time of the day. For others it is more spontaneous and serendipitous Others will tell you about being in The Zone.

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It’s a place that, if you’re lucky, you get to where the words flow well and almost everything you write is pretty darned close to perfect and magical in the first rough draft. No, it doesn’t last for more than a couple of hours or  maybe four. When you emerge from the state you are drained and pretty-much unable to write anything else. But what you’ve written is a keeper.

That’s not to say it might need some revision. It’s not to say that something else might need to connect with it to complete the vision you wish to convey. But you know you won’t discard what you just wrote. It is good enough that even in a raw state you just feel there is something special about it. It shines.

Maybe if you stayed in The Zone all the time you’d burn out or wind up a babbling idiot – not that I’m not getting there for other reasons. I believe writers and other artists can force their minds into an alpha wave state similar to dreaming but do it while conscious and functioning. While there we lose track of everything else and the creative energies of the universe flow through us.

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Okay, that’s out there. I’ll grant that. But I know there are some artistic folks reading this nodding their head right now

What separates authors from writers is the ability to find The Zone on a fairly regular basis. For a while, because of a lot of other issues in my daily existence (I won’t call it a life because it certainly didn’t merit being called that) I drank in order to get there. I believe other artists use drugs or alcohol to read a near meditative state of consciousness. Others can find it in different ways. When I wrote Fried Windows, for example, I had quit drinking. In response to a personal challenge I wrote a poem and from that exercise I reconnected wight he feelings and sensations of being a child. Also, I relayed that the child I had been fifty years ago was still there alive and well inside of me.

I’m not saying that a writer can’t produce good stuff worthy of accolades if he or she was not in The one while writing it. It’s just being there kicks things up to another level. When you can  connect with The Zone daily for a period of time what you write has universal appeal. Others will pay attention to it and enjoy in a special way.

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I don’t know if being The Zone is a gift or blessing; it just happens. After a while, if you have been practicing putting your feelings into words and expressing everything you sense in as much detail as possible, you make the connection. Reading the words of other authors who are adept at doing what you strive to achieve will help you get there. But at some point you really must shut out the world around you and allow whatever it is that compels you to write, your inspiration, to drive the process.

Being in The Zone is a high and like a drug it gives you an emotional surge and a physical rush. After you’ve been there you can’t wait to get back there. Connecting regularly with your muse or whatever you term what it is that gives you the experience is something you cannot turn away from. I sort of think that inspiration is only a guide, showing you the way that will lead you to The Zone. It takes some effort and concentration to be creative but that lays the foundation for finding you way top the euphoria of achieving art at a higher level of consciousness.

My mind is far from the adventure land that some may believe it is. I will admit to not being normal and even state proudly that I have never wanted tone considered normal. There are a lot of things going on in my head including fears, self-doubt of unrealized potential and misguided ambitions. In everything I have done in life, though, I have attempted to be the best I could b. Writing has been the only thing I have done that allows me to feel accomplishment without questioning why I did it. I answer to no one else when I write. I do it because I must for my survival as a human being.

A while agoI wrote in this blog about not being in competition with other writers. I truly believe that. Every writer had his or her reason for doing what they do. All that matters is that we write better today than we did yesterday or the day before. If we can continually improve we will eventually write something others will want to read. A part of that is finding the path to The Zone. Once there it’s obvious why we do what we do. It’s like everything else in the world shuts down. We float in our imaginations for hours.

There is are not breaks from the moment of being in The Zone. The phone may ring but it goes unanswered and unacknowledged. Cars drive by outside your house or apartment but no one hears. Anyone with the great misfortune to know and live with you will be ignored. While in The Zone hours elapse that seem like they passed in seconds. The duration is evident from the pages generated and the feeling of satisfaction when the words are read even if you wonder where some of them came from.

The Zone is unlimited and not exclusive to those of us who can dream wide awake. It is a level of heightened awareness that transcends being alert. All artists experience it. I’ve known professional musicians who feel it when they have written hit song, for example. When it comes it seems easy and you wonder how you ever missed making the connection before.

When I wrote the core sixteen short stories that followed the first 5000 words of Fried Windows I had those feelings daily for about a month. At times during the revisions, when I was writing connective pieces and additional story elements, I felt it again. It was like I knew the connection was there and what was emerging was magical, beyond anything I had ever written. That’s why I had no doubt the book will be successful. Everyone who reads it shares the magic that somehow passed through me while I was in The Zone for those periods during its composition

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Some Thoughts On Pricing For Art

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Art is one of the few factors that defines us as human and distinguishes us from the other animals of this world. As far as we know, no other species can create substance from mere thought, a world from a dream, an artifact that will endure beyond our brief spans to entertain and amuse others for generations to come.

I believe everyone is born an artist but at some point in our childhoods we unlearn it, setting it aside for more practical things like settling down, having a family, getting a job to support them and, of course, paying our fair share in taxes – whatever that really means. Practical minded people run things. They may pretend to have culture and appreciate art, citing the evidence of the library they maintain or the pieces of art they collect. But when budgets are cut, the arts suffer first.

It’s little wonder that artists undervalue the worth of their work. You see, artists don’t measure their efforts in time expended as if it were a factor in earning a wage. Art comes from the soul, expressed through the heart. It’s hard to assign a value on such things. However, one thing is certain, art should not be given away.

Since art in general is undervalued in the marketplace – if you don’t believe that, watch someone create a painting, a sculpture, a piece of music or a novel – I’m all in favor of artists making a little more money on each piece of art they produce. Having lived around artists for most of my life and having been a musician as well as an author I think I have a fair amount of expertise one the subject of fair pricing. Artists are the last ones paid when a work of art is marketed and distributed, and so, the margin upon which they are paid is thin at best. Those artists who are independent struggle more to get recognition but they can operate on higher margins for lower price points because of the reduced overhead.

When an artist is not well known, having not established a brand, they tend to use low price points to stimulate trial. Some times they will use a free promotion to gain interest from potential buyers. There is a potential flaw in this strategy, that any author’s core audience is attracted to free promotions. Think about it, if you are an artist do you want to always give your stuff away? Those who are attracted to free deals are no one’s core customer. They are fickle and will only response to the word FREE while you the artist will be working for free, giving your stuff away for the rest of your life.

Since my chosen art is writing, I’m paying attention to a couple of current trends in publishing regarding eBook pricing. They appear to be contradictory – going in opposite directions. Yet I understand why one is going down and the other is going up. You see, authors who have established a brand would like to earn a living from selling their art. And Authors without an established brand are shouting out with a low price to gain attention.

With the introduction of eBooks several years ago the concept was that the books could be discounted and sold as essentially software to use on a reading device. Since the up front price of the device was fairly high, the price of the books became the significant selling point – that over time one could accumulate hundreds of books at a considerable savings over buying a physical book. With hard covers running north of $30 and trade paperbacks prices at roughly half that, a $5 eBook was like a pretty good deal.

Regarding authors using publishers, eBooks allowed for slightly higher margins and royalties even at the lower retail price when compared to the much higher production and distribution costs of paper books. So it was a win/win situation all around. But with the grown in eBook popularity over the past few years a paradigm in the publishing business shifted. Many more authors are self-publishing. The stigma usually associated with that label in the past are evaporating as several indie authors have established a brand and following of avid fans for work that is on a par with many of the big five publishers offerings. Those authors are beginning to raise their prices to be on a par with the big publisher’s offerings and, guess what, they are selling books because of their supportive fan base. Also the authors are earning high royalties than if they had used a traditional publisher with their characteristically lower royalty percentages in lieu of their high editing, production and distribution costs.

The present situation is of considerable interest to anyone looking to publish a book. Do you and your manuscript off to one of big five and hope to wing he lottery? Do you self publish, forking over the money for a quality editor and quality cover artist as well as serving as your own publicist and book distributor? Do you opt for one of the many small publishers who offer carried levels of service and support, sometimes for a fee, sometimes for a contract again revenues after the sale? Often it comes down to what amount of work after the creation of the manuscript the authors is will to perform in reaching the potential reader. There simply is not right or wrong answer for an author faced with these choices. There are valid reasons for someone going with either one of the alternatives. However, as the publish paradigm has changed so have many of the basic concepts of promoting books.

In the past when the big publishers dominated the marketplace even mores than at present, they would heavily promote a new book at launch and follow through for 30 to sixty days afterwards. The book was launched in major markets with media support and advertising, advance reviews and interviews all targeted on the critical launch date. If the book did not sell well, bookstores would remove it from shelves to make room for the next great thing in the pipeline. For the author this meant that the book that took a one, two or more years to write was a done deal a month or two afterwards. It was relegated to the bargain racks or returned to the publisher for disposal.

With eBooks, the critical shelf space factor is removed. Books now enjoy a much longer window of opportunity for promotion and sale – out to two years and beyond. This means that an author of multiple titles can earn a decent income from the royalties not he sales of his or her books. All the time a fan base is maintained and enlarged as word of mouth generates around an author’s work. With multiple promotion periods scheduled through the year, a book can experience a series of peaks or spikes and each time the residual effect may maintain a slightly higher level of sales after the promotion. Each time a new book is released and promoted, the authors existing titles have experience coat tail effects from the new books sales as new readers want to catch up on an authors prior work.

The leveling out of the sales over an extended period may not be reflected int he algorithms used to arrive at best sellers, but the aggregate sales over a two years period for a book may actually exceed those of a book that flashed as a best seller for a month or two. The revenues may be the same and, in the case of the indie or small publisher author the book may continue to generate royalties at a higher daily level than the former best seller.

Specifically with books lower price points signal lower quality to the potential reader. This is not always true, but the major of lower prices books on the market are or lower production quality. The writing may be adequate but the editing and cover design are expenses some authors cannot afford, especially if it is a beginning effort. It is hoped that the Free deal followed by a 99 cent and then a $1.99 price point for a book listed at $2.99 will get the book into a maximum number of hands. As an author you must ask if the time you spend writing your novel worth so little? As a reader, such a low price begs to ask: what is wrong with this book or this author? What have you gained as an author if you have given your book to ten thousand people who probably will not read it?IMG_0233

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Making Progress Despite…

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Whether writing is a gift or a curse depends on perspective…and mood I suppose. Having met a lot of writers over the years I have determined there are a lot of similarities, despite our different backgrounds and approaches. The most obvious thing we all do is write. Yet that tends to be the one thing we try our best to avoid doing. You see, we are best a productive procrastination.

Yeah, I know it’s an oxymoron. I’m not sure I actually coined the term although the first time I noticed anyone else using it was weeks later on social media. I think my kids may have been responsible for the term getting around.

The first time I used it was with my son while we were moving some pretty heavy furniture items which included a refrigerator, a freezer, a washer and a dryer and one very heavy piano. It’s a miracle either or both of us wasn’t killed moving that last thing. Anyway, after exerting maximum effort in getting a piano down a ramp from a moving truck and into the sunken living room – yeah the house we moved into was built when that sort of thing was popular – neither of us were very interested in continuing with the move. My son stood an watched me carry in things like pillows, individually, and other light articles. After I made a few trips back and forth he asked, “What are you doing?”

Of course, my answer was, “Productive procrastination.”

Simply put, it is the art of finding something else to do that makes some progress while avoiding something more productive but not quite as desirable.

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As much as writers love to write, there are times when the experience is painful. I would say that most times it’s painful, but there are moments when the words flow as of the levee has broken and everything that was trapanned inside pours out. That is a good writing experience.

Mostly, writing is a lot of hours doing something that seems to take a few minutes. We enter a trance-like state during which we are awake and moderately aware of what is going on around us though largely oblivious to it. This we refer to as ‘being in the zone’. There is is possible to compose several pages containing several thousand words of story without being directly cognizant of the normal passage of time. This state can last for from four to six or eight hours. During it everything else is put on hold except for normal autonomic bodily functions and the need to purge. The need for such breaks can break the connection, but most writers acquire the ability to temporally suspend the writing session to take care of things. At times these random break allow for a new idea to rise to the surface and grab our attention.

The process is scary more so to others around us than it is to the writers. Beyond the first time when it happens and causes us to question our sanity we decide it is cool. I believe all writers – at least those of us who do fiction – are functionally insane by any conventional definition. However writers perceive everyone else, ally he so called normal people int eh world – as being the strange ones.

After we have wrestled with the crazy part of writing, ‘being in the zone’ we look at all the pages of words I produced and mostly it makes sense! It is astounding and rewarding. That’s how we generally respond. In the process all the voices inside our heads that were clamoring for attention have settled and receded into the background so that for a few hours we can sleep without interruption or accomplish something int he outside world that might actually make us seem normal to others – like washing the car, mowing the lawn or taking the kids to the park.

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Why would a writer ever want to avoid the creative experience of slipping into the zone? Well, there are times when a story you’re working on becomes difficult to write. You know a character is heading for certain death and, really, you’ve grown quite fond of him or her. Yet, for the sake of working out the plot and resolving the conflict, you know he or she must go. You resist doing that. Maybe the story needs to take a turn. You throw in a plot twist or two to delay the inevitable. But eventually the most difficult passage demands to be played out.

Sometimes as a writer you work to a point of major crisis that, for the characters at least, is not life threatening, but it is just something you don’t want to write about. From experience those times tend to be the most interesting and relatable parts of a book for the reader. So if one is a serious writer, you forge ahead with it.

Other times you claim is writers block and find any number of other things to divert your attention away from what you know must be written. You let it simmer inside until it boils up and there is no other solution but to write it down. Those events are also some of the best parts of a book.

Writers are conduits – mouthpieces of the gods, you will. There are characters who live inside of our imaginary worlds and each of them have a story they need to tell so that they can exist in the minds of readers. To them that is how they choose to exist, to enjoy their lives over and over again.

The writer may choose to delay telling the story, setting it to paper or the digital equivalent, but I don’t think it can be prevented. You see, I don’t believe those characters exist solely in my mind. If I don’t write about them, they will make my life miserable for a while but eventually they will move on to the next writer. But for whatever time the characters live inside of me I’m the one best suited to tell their stories.IMG_0233

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Down Into The Details

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Some people are fastidious, working with precision. We need people like that to design the marvels of modern life. But I’m not really into microscopic analysis or working with numbers although, I suppose I have some of that in my nature. You see, as far as my writing is concerned, the details count. Selling fiction to a naturally skeptical reader requires that the story be believable. Suspension of the reader’s reality is required in creating good fiction that draws the reader into the story and involve their thoughts and emotions.

There is nothing else I’d rather do than write. It’s not a particularly lucrative profession, but it has its rewards – a sense of accomplishment that is never spent. Creating new worlds as a backdrop for characters conjured from the imagination is a lot of fun. They say that writing is a lonely profession. And I suppose at the outset it is. But turning an idea into a story that others will want to read is actually an involved process spanning months or years involving the skills of many other artists and professionals. When you get to that point with a story you have written, expect it to take a year or more for a book to be transformed from something that makes complete sense to you to a work that will engage the imaginations of others.

Not to diminish the accomplishment of writing a draft, but the actually composition of a story is the first part of the journey. As a would be author, one is never aware of where an idea will lead. At its inception, the story may seem to be something entirely different than it eventually becomes. For example, when I wrote the beginning pieces of The Wolfcat Chronicles it was a college creative writing assignment to develop a character profile in two pages or less. Since I fancied sci-fi as my favorite genre, I created a fantastic being of blended characteristics, a wolfcat – though I did not name it that at the time.

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Unfortunately, my writing instructor did not care for sci-fi and fantasy. And so he picked apart the profile. Some of his critique benefitted me in later development of the characters, but mainly receiving a ‘C’ on the assignment was a sobering experience. As I recall the instructor also spent an inordinate amount of class time explaining the tries and tribulations of submitting manuscripts only to have them rejected – based on his personal experience, of course. I’m not sure what the purpose of that was other than to perhaps dissuade us from ever competing with him for the attentions of a literary agent or publisher. For a true writer, no one discouragement morphs into part of the compulsion to write. I’m not saying we want to be rejected, but to survive as a writer one must learn to deal with the word ‘no’, even to the point of embracing it as meaning, ‘not yet’.  A true writer believes in his or her story enough to continue refining and revising it until it is ready to be published.

The next time I revisited the idea of wolfcats was in the summer of 2000, some twenty-three years later . My first novel, One Over X was in edits with a small publisher. I was working three part-time job to help keep the family going until I found something more permanent. For entertainment I chatted online with a group of people who used to plat Dungeons and Dragons – a game I knew a little about but had never played. We contrived a virtual wolf pack and had character names.

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One of the members of the chatroom called herself the wolfcat. I committed to writing a story about her. I figured a few pages would do the trick. Four hundred and thirteen of them later I had drafted the nucleus of the central story of the chronicles that now spans five 200-page books and draws into the story many of the character personas front he virtual wolf pack.

In the beginning of One Pack there has been a devastating fire that has destroyed the forest and charred the plains forcing the wolf pack into a direct confrontation with an ancient enemy. When I wrote the story I spend a good part of each day commuting back and froth between the Suntree area of Melbourne, FL and the greater Orlando area. There were extensive wildfires I had to navigate in other to get to where I was going and at times the smoke was so thick that it was worse than driving through fog. That experience shape the story contained in the book.

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I’m not certain it’s a requirement for a writer mix elements of the real world around him or her with the fictional universe that makes it into words on a page, but I’m not sure how else one would make a fantasy seem real. In Fried Windows In A Light White Sauce, my current novel that is being published in a few days, the real world and the fantasy world converge as the main character, Brent Woods straddles the two parts of his universe. Fried Windows is another example of how a book starts off being something much less ambitious. Around St Patrick’s Day in 2012, I wrote a 5000 word short story. With the initial inspiration satisfied, I posted the story in a writers group to which I belonged and received a good deal of favorable feedback. Many suggested I continue the story, and so, I added pieces as discrete short stories involving the same characters – sixteen of them over the course of the next month or so.

Months later I added some connecting pieces to bridge the gaps in the storyline and create the framework of the novel. Not only did it become one of those quirky stories that that kind of wrote itself as it went, it also became the first story I composed almost entirely online, in installments, while receiving direct feedback from readers. By the end I had confidence that the story worked because a couple of down people had actually read the basic story line.

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There is no right or wrong way to write anything whether it is a story, a poem or a book. Like the inspiration it may some from the perfect sunrise on the beach even thought he story turns out to be about something very different. It could be a something someone says or a particularly odd use of a word that triggers the internal process of your creativity. What I know for certain it that there is only my way of doing it and  yours and I think that’s pretty much just how it needs to be. As writers we are not the ultimate judge of the value of our creations. The readers who hopefully will become our fans determine the degree of our successes and failures. And that is also how it needs to be.

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From a Misread Headline to a Manuscript and Beyond

There’s a new book coming-out soon. Nothing new about that – there are millions published each year. What’s different about this one is the odd title, Fried Windows (In a Light White Sauce) and the by line – it’s mine.

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Like every book I have written it was a labor of love though the creative impulse came unexpectedly. The core of the overall story – sixteen chapters really – were composed in less than a month in the early spring of 2012. I left a dead-end retail management job after more than four years and I had pretty much decided to pursue writing as a career. As is so often the case, it wasn’t the best of times to make such a choice.

The quirky title of the book fits the unusual story. It came from a misread news headline that, of course, drew me right in. I wondered what Fried Windows were and immediately pondered how one would serve them. In a light white sauce! – yeah, it was one of those days.

AF picture 1983

Somewhere along the way I was sidetracked, deviating far from my personal goals. Some of that I did because of three kids I believed in and a marriage I no longer did. I took that one last job in order to continue supporting my youngest while she finished high school. She lived with me for a couple of years afterwards before moving away, joining her older sister who was beginning graduate school up north. That event triggered something of a midlife crisis for me. Immediately after hugging her and her sister goodbye, I felt like I was left pretty much alone.

Certainly, I was not alone. My son still lived about fifteen miles away; he was also in graduate school. My ex-wife with whom I still communicated occasionally was on the east coast about an hour and a half away from where I was. My sister and brother-in-law lived on the west coast and my great niece was in the greater Miami area. Still, for all intents and purposes I was alone.

Family Photo around 2003 -1

My job frustrated me. I don’t know whether I had ever been satisfied though at first I believed a lot of the bull about being promoted, being given my own store, and the company’s desire to change its ways to become more modern and competitive. At first it seemed like that was happening, albeit slowly. Later on it became clear that it was a district effort that was not aligned with the corporate direction. The district manager was replaced. A company man took over and word went out that there would be changes. Foremost was an antithetical concept for me that I hadn’t had to deal with since leaving the military: we were being paid not to think but to execute on directions from above. That predisposes that upper management is always right and has an unambiguous direction in its policies – which was not the case at all. Ignoring feedback from the front lines is the formula for disaster in any campaign.

Anyway, there were other reasons for my eventual resignation. Many of those related to my unhealthy lifestyle that had evolved form working crazy house, making time to write trying to write, which was something I enjoyed, and dealing with the stress of working a job in which there did not seem to be any progress. A lot of what I was experiencing related to my desire to do what I always wanted to be before getting married and going to college. A little over two years ago it seemed like the last chance I might ever have to become a professional writer – a sort of now or never proposition.

Almost a month after quitting by job, I wrote a short story under the Fried Windows title. At the time I belonged to a writer’s group. I posted the story in two installments with the break roughly where the chapter breaks are now in the book. It received favorable reviews and some suggested I continue writing about the characters. Over the next few weeks I continued writing what I believed were related short stories. Afterwards, I shelved the project and continued working on revisions of The Wolfcat Chronicles, a ten book series I began seriously working on in 2002 though, honestly, the story has roots back to a character profile I created in a writing course at Purdue University in 1977.

Purdue-University Fall

For the next year what was left of my personal life pretty much fell apart. I experienced the worst parts of economic demise and personal embarrassment. I was essentially homeless by choice doing some couch surfing among my relatives. One can only do that for so long. The experience afforded me some time to finish revisions. One of the last things I worked on was Fried Windows. I wanted to submit the initial short story to a magazine. I always believed the story was good enough to be published somewhere.

A friend who lives a short train ride away from Toronto consented to editing the piece for me. Afterwards, I figured it was in pretty good shape for critical scrutiny. So, I submitted it, sincerely expecting that it would be published. My next concern was having something to submit as a follow up, envisioning the sixteen original stories as installments that the magazine would want after all the positive feedback they would receive my first short story. Yeah, I live in my own world a lot.

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While revising the pieces I found some continuity of story line. I wrote a couple of bridging pieces and what was a collection of short stories took shape as a novel – one starting with chapter three of the present book because, after all, the first two chapters were a short story that I expected fully to be published in a magazine.

The same day the rejection notification from the magazine came I finished revisions to what had grown into a twenty-eight-chapter novel. The story connected well into the overall Brent Woods universe of my other unpublished fiction ventures. I was disappointed, of course, but at the same time elated because now I had an excuse to include the short story that began it all as the first two chapters of the book. I repackaged it, renumbered the chapters and prepared it for self-publishing.

In the background I had been working on building a fan base through social media. Part of that was building up my Facebook and Twitter following. Already I had many friends who were authors and some who were publicists and small publishers as well as a couple of smaller houses with affiliations with the major publishers. Those were not really great connections for getting a book published but you start with what you have. Also, I had been seeking a literary agent for the past three or four years, discovering that finding a good one was probably the only thing harder than landing a publishing contract with one of majors which is something more difficult the gaining admission into an Ivy League school.

Somewhere in the few moments between finishing the revision of Fried Windows and setting it up for eBook publishing I receive a tweet from a small publisher based in my favorite city, Austin, asking for new manuscripts. The name of the house intrigued me enough to check them out. In the process I discovered they were a traditional publisher with a very different mission statement that focused on building author brand rather than selling books alone. Deciding that I liked their ideas for growing their business, I read and followed the submission guidelines and reformatted my manuscript accordingly. I sent it to them instead of self-publishing it. I figured I could wait a few weeks for the rejection I’d come to expect. In the meanwhile I could move on to other projects.

There’s a funny thing that happens in most author’s lives surrounding rejection. Eventually you do grow numb to it. You warp the universe around you to actually set a goal of receiving the maximum number or rejections possible for any submission. It makes sense in a way. If you try every avenue you might find that one yes. You get to the point that when you don’t receive another rejection letter to add to your growing collection you’re almost pissed-off. But then, in the next moment of disbelief, you re-read the acceptance letter as the surprise turns more toward suspicion that 1) you must have read the thing wrong or 2) there must be some catch – start looking for the fine print. Paraphrasing the immortal Grocho Marx, you wonder if you want to belong to any club that would have someone like you as a member. You’re so accustomed to hearing that your baby is ugly you disbelieve that anyone could actually like it. Even more surreal was that it had been less than two weeks from submission to acceptance. That’s unheard of in an industry that routinely takes a week to decide to get around to thinking about doing anything and several months to actual years to finally produce a novel. So, I remained guardedly optimistic going into a conference call regarding the acquisition of my book.

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Although I had experience in self-publishing I didn’t have good results. The failure was not necessarily the quality of the material but the lack of promotion behind my releases. After all I was still growing my network of followers and establishing my author’s brand. That takes time. I didn’t lack from material to publish, though. At that point, I had twenty manuscripts ready to go. It was just that when I was working sixty to seventy hours a week. I had plenty of excuses for why I didn’t have the time or energy to put forth in becoming successful. I had been stuck in the trying stage of reaching my goal for so long I had grown roots and settled comfortably in obscurity. With the successful negotiation and signing of a publishing contract all that ended. Someone else believed in one of my books. Together we were going to embark on a journey toward producing a novel. A publisher was committing to provide professional editing, cover design and marketing. And so, the long journey of taking a raw manuscript through to a finished novel began.

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Fried Windows (In A Light White Sauce) launches May 30, 2014 from Pandamoon Publishing. Sharing the dream begins then.