Blog, Books, Editing, life, novel, Publishing, Uncategorized, Writing

Being a Writer in the Modern World

full length of man sitting on floor
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There is something about a bookstore. Maybe it’s the special smell of relatively fresh ink on paper, or just the atmosphere of being surrounded by the worlds of imagination captured between the covers and shelved in row after row, divided by category. A library gives me a similar sensation. I love visiting libraries, too, but usually it is for research. In a bookstore I’m looking for a story and characters to love.

Some of my best memories as a father were reading to my children when they were little with bright eyes and minds filled only with potential. Everything was new to them. Anything was possible. And in a way that is distinctly childlike, they didn’t care whether they had already heard a story. They wanted to experience it again, perhaps something would change. Occasionally, I provided the change and almost immediately one or the other of them would point that out.

I loved taking my children to the bookstore to spend an hour or three perusing the shelves. As they grew older, of course they went off in separate directions in search of something different. It was an exciting place for them and for me.

The Barnes & Noble in Melbourne, Florida was where we usually went, even if we weren’t intending to buy anything – just to look around. Usually, each of us bought something, though. There was a Books-A-Million closer to where we lived, and we frequently stopped there as well, but the B&N always had a different atmosphere. My kids preferred it, and so did I, not to mention that they served coffee.

cup of coffee in distance with red rose
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At the time I had just published my first novel, One Over X. It was listed for sale on B&N’s website as well as Borders and the then upstart Amazon. Like most authors, I would have loved to see the book on the shelves in my store. What’s more, my kids would have loved seeing Daddy’s book added as part of that fantastic world of real, tangible, printed books. But alas, my publisher was a small press out of Connecticut. Even though everything about my first book had been done in a meticulously correct way according to acceptable standards, including have the press run completed at a one of the offset presses the Big-Name publishers use, the fact that I was not with one of the Big Five seemed the impenetrable barrier to getting my novel stocked in the bookstore chains. However, I was successful in getting the book into my local library, and a several others.

When I talked to the local store’s manager, she gave me the conditions for stocking my book, which, as a business person with years of retail experience, seemed summarily ridiculous. I needed to accept all returned, damaged and shop-worn books. It would be stocked briefly, on consignment and contingent only on my direct support with a book signing or a reading. If it sold well, they might reorder. Despite it not being a good deal from my perspective, it was a deal. I did my part and promoted the book with personal events.

As scary as it might seem at first, signings and readings are a lot of fun. I sold a few books and made some friends.  Still, the conditions up front were ludicrous and slanted way in favor of the store. Clearly, they weren’t going to lose any money, and for all the lip service they were giving me about supporting a local author, they had no interest in me making money. Yes, it was discouraging.

Of course, the goal with an author’s first book isn’t about making money, though that would be nice. First books tend to be about gaining an audience of readers who will, hopefully, want to buy an author’s next book and so on.

I had better luck with a couple of small shops. They displayed my book but, again, it was a consignment deal. Even though the book was available through Ingram, a major book distributor with channels worldwide, the store preferred calling me when they needed more inventory. I personally delivered the books. As I kept some inventory at home it wasn’t a huge problem. Still, being the distributor and delivery guy as well as the author limited my efforts to the immediate geographic vicinity.

Interviews on local media and reviews in local papers proved next to impossible. The first question asked was: which publisher are you with? And when it was someone they’d never heard of…We only accept submissions for review from major publishers.

My initial publishing experiences never dissuaded me from writing more books. After all, a writer does not choose whether to write but, instead, what to write. I was convinced that if I continued to write stories that eventually I’d grow a following, one reader at a time. And write I did. All the while I worked a full-time job to support a wife and three children, one of whom was already in high school.

After publishing my second book and having similar experiences with bookstores, I decided to self-publish my next. After all, I was doing everything anyway, I may as well handle the production as well and make more money on each book sold. There was a lot going on my life, though, and the company for which I was working was struggling. Eventually, they would go out of business. They paid me severance but I was unemployed for a little while. Money doesn’t last long. I found a summer job selling cars that lingered into the autumn. All the while I continued looking for something more suited to my background. Every evening I worked on a manuscript that eventually became two books. Around Christmas I landed another job that would see me along for the next few years.

In the background I witnessed the sad, slow decline of large bookstores chains. Amazon was growing its presence in publishing, while making the process of self-publishing easier than ever. B&N, et. al., claimed to support eBooks with their own version of a reader, but they still refused to deal with indie and small press authors whenever it came to stocking books in store. The funny thing is that most books published in the eBook format come from indie authors. Anyway, they treated indies as if our books were inferior, as if they carried the same stigma as vanity-press products of the past. They refused to adapt to the paradigm shift, turning down many good writers in the process.

What sours authors on queries to big publishers is the lunacy of the process. It is designed to dissuade unsolicited submissions. Rarely do the Big Five have open submissions. When any of them do, you can imagine what it’s like when the flood gates are opened. Odds are your manuscript upon which you have worked for perhaps a year or two will be lost in the shuffle.

The usual case for an author to gain approval for even submitting a manuscript is to go through a literary agent that the publisher recognizes. So, along the way I queried several literary agents in my genres. I learned that finding an agent is almost as hard as connecting with a publisher. Even when a manuscript is solicited, it may not be approved. And so, an aspiring author may expect to be out some money and wait forever only to be told his or her book baby is ugly.

Still, I continued to write, because that is what a writer does. By now, my family and friends figured I was insane— you know, the adage about continuing to do the same thing expecting different results? I wrote for at least three and sometimes as many as six hours a day. At times I missed doing things with the family because I was writing or taking a nap after staying up all night to enjoy the peace and quiet of the wee hours, a perfect time to compose.

There comes a time when it should be clear that the world has shifted, or perhaps moved on without giving proper notice. It also happens with businesses and I firmly believe that around the time I quit my last job in management the end began to accelerate for large box bookstores. Though I was determined to make it as an author, I knew that utilizing more time at self-promotion, brand-building and writing was what needed to happen. I never had the time while working 60 hours a week in management, always away from my home computer. And yes, when I quit my last job to devote full-time attention to writing, my family considered this proof positive that I had lost my mind.

It was a perfect time for a change. My kids were grown and moved away. I was divorced. I’d already begun to reduce my expenses. I didn’t have any money saved, but that was all right. I was going to walk a tightrope without a safety net. No, it didn’t work out all that well. I crashed and wound up couch-surfing with relatives, which was not as fun as it sounds. But eventually things turned for the better. I found a small publisher with goals and a vision of community that I share.

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As I approach bookstores anew with fresh product, I wish I could say that they have adapted to the changing times.  They still believe in the old system where five or so major publishers decide what everyone should be reading. The same barriers I confronted almost 20 years ago are still there. Meanwhile, some small bookstores have begun welcoming new authors as a means of survival. It still requires a good sales pitch, but at least they are willing to order through a distributor.

Over the past couple of decades as a writer, I’ve learned a lot about the publishing business and I’ve helped other people promote their work. It’s kind of funny, because as the influence of the big publishers over the marketplace wanes, the industry is reverting to the way things were done in the 19th Century. Back then, authors found ways to gain attention, publishing short works in newspapers and magazines. Those who had the funds published their own work, by and large, at least until they garnered a significant following and were able to contract a publisher to do the hard parts (editing, layouts and such) for them. A couple of hundred years ago, authors sold their books directly to the public and made their own deals with bookstores. The only difference today is that with the evolution of publishing technology a lot of the hard parts can be accomplished electronically with much greater ease.

Blog, Books, Editing, Fantasy, life, novel, Publishing, Science Fiction, Uncategorized, Urban Fantasy, Word, Writing

Luck of An Only Elgon (Well, I Am Part Irish)

Later this week we will be running a special promotion for FRIED WINDOWS for $2.99 in eBook. It is already discount priced on Pandamoon Publishing’s Facebook Store at $9.99 ($3 off). https://www.facebook.com/pandamoonpublishing My publisher and I are doing the promotion on Saturday 3/17/18, St. Patrick’s Day, along with a giveaway for a signed copy. To enter follow me on Twitter @ElgonWilliams or follow me at https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B001K8TYXU

Why that date? Funny you should ask:

FINAL Final Fried Windows Front Cover Only

 

That happens to be the 6th anniversary of the date I started writing the story. And yes, Fried Windows was the title from that first day. It comes from misreading a headline on a news feed. I read “Fired” and “Fried” (I really should wear my glasses when reading) and immediately wondered how to serve “fried windows”. Why? In a light white sauce, of course.

From the outset, the story was a quirky tale that fit the title well, but I originally envisioned it as a short story only. I posted the first draft on Fanstory, an internet-based writing community, to receive feedback, which was completely positive. Most reviewers wanted to read more about the weird characters.

So, I began writing a series of short stories, 16 of them in all, about the characters. And, except for shared elements, the stories were not linked. Neither did I consider the work a novel in progress, nor envisioned creating a novel.

A year later, I took the original story (about 8,000 words), edited it, sent it to a friend in Ontario for a good second edit. Yes, I know other writers there besides Pandamoon Publishing’s Alisse Lee Goldenberg and An Tran. And then, after receiving the edited copy, I submitted it to a magazine. I expected the mag to buy the story and just knew they were going to be asking for more installments. I was so confident that I was planning where to spend the money.

As I waited for a response from the magazine, I decided to edit the other stories in the collection, just to be ready for the magazine’s inevitable demand. As I did, I noticed some threads of a story arc. But it was only when the magazine rejected my submission that I considered the collection of short stories a viable draft novel.

Naturally, as a writer, I was accustomed to rejection. The response is always the same, revise and resubmit. But in this instance, I just needed some connecting pieces, which I wrote, and created a draft manuscript.

After a few more revisions, I considered self-publishing. I was almost ready to press the submit key with Amazon when I noticed a tweet from Pandamoon about accepting submissions. Since I had a MS ready to go, I submitted it. And the rest you know.

Blog, College, college life, fun, funny, hijinx, humor, hygiene, life, Uncategorized, uncomfortable, Writing

College Hijinx, Personal Hygiene, and Some Ugly Truths

As a rule, guys aren’t all that focused on cleanliness, especially before they start serious relationships with women. Then guys want to smell good, look good and follow everything else they are being trained to do, albeit with some backsliding moments.

You might think that some guys start playing the role at college, but from my experience nothing could be farther from the truth. For example, the frat I belonged to at Purdue was kind of like Animal House with a better-looking building to live in. It has a social area that sort of resembled a Pizza Hut that jutted out from in front of the dorm building. We were in the Tower Acres, which I know sounds really nice and exclusive. In reality, the “Tower” was the campus water tower, which stood atop Slater Hill. My frat house sat on the hillside lot directly beneath it. Of course, we were the black sheep fraternity of the neighborhood.

I fit right in, really. As my first spring semester ended, I moved in from the dorm where I’d lived as a Freshman. There was a dozen or so guys living in the frat house over the summer to attend summer school and/or work. Most of them lived in the frat year-round, I learned. I got a part-time job working at a local hi-fi store. It was convenient. I earned money at the store but turned around and spent most of it on stereo equipment and the latest LPs, which were sold at a record store that was conveniently located next door. Since the store didn’t open until 10 AM, I could sleep in a bit on the days I didn’t have classes. For summer I usually took two classes, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, and I worked at the store for the noon hour and in the evening until closing.

Teenage guys also have a lot more stamina about staying up later and such.  I don’t think I ever made it to bed before midnight. Often it was past 3AM.

I’d like to say I spent all that time writing, but usually not. I fancied myself an aspiring author, but I was into that concept of “everything I do is being a writer”. Still, as it turns out the life I led generated several characters for my future writing and created some interesting scenarios to explore as well. So, I guess it is true that a writer is always writing.

The second summer, we had a party over the 4th of July weekend. We bought multiple slip and slides and stretched them down the hill in our frat house’s front yard. At the end we piled some spare waterproof (plastic covered) mattresses to prevent us from tumbling out into the street. Yeah, all that was my idea. And somehow, reaching speed approaching 50 miles per hour while stretched out on your stomach or, worse, trying to surf down the hill standing upright seemed like a lot of fun. I even invited the girl I was dating at the time, she was in my radio production class. It was pretty cool. She and I worked on projects together and had a lot of fun. Little did I know that some of the guys in my frat took exception to be dating a black girl. They never said anything to my face.

It took a while for me to convince her that it was safe to slide down the hill. After showing her how to do it with several practice-runs of my own— and having consumed a couple of beers in the process— she was up for it. But she insisted I go first. So, I did, but toward the bottom of the hill a huge mud puddle had already formed, just in from of the mattresses. As I reached that, my feet came out from under me and I did a summersault with my feet winding up on the mattress and the rest of body, from the knees up were partially submerged in the puddle. into the mattresses.

Already, even before I’d landed, my girlfriend had started down the hill. Seeing that, I scrambled to get up, but slipped and fell backwards again, just in time for her to knock me back down with her bikini clad bottom resting on my face. You can imagine the howling laughter. And, in retrospect it was pretty funny. Both she and I were laughing too, that is until a couple of my frat brothers mentioned chocolate pie.

We remained friends after that and continued to work on projects together for class, though we did it at her place. But we didn’t really date anymore. I blamed those two frat brothers for that. One was nicknamed Cooker and went by his real given name, Larry. I never forgot about that, nor forgave them.

The summer of my junior year, my fraternity Big Brother, Brad, who lived next door to me, was attending summer school so that he could make up a course he’d had to drop earlier in the year. Both of us were a bit overweight. Hey, it happens in college. All the calories from beer and pizza is hard to burn off, you know? So, we decided that every night, around midnight, we’d go for a jog. Then we’d come back, shower and settle in to watch Star Trek reruns that aired around 2AM. As I recall, consuming a six pack before running was fairly common. And sometimes there were a few follow up brews shares while watching the show.

How does all this relate to personal hygiene? Well, you see, I used the same pair of sweat socks all summer— just about, anyway. After jogging, I just hung them over the rail in my closet and let them dry out, ostensibly because I didn’t want the wetness to corrupt the semi-dry clothes in the laundry bag. Sometimes I went for a month between doing laundry. That’s normal for college kids, right?

I guess, I sort of forgot about throwing the socks in the wash, because they were my favorite ones for running. They had thick soles that padded my feet nicely in the New Balance running shoes I wore. After a month of running every night, they became a little crusty and stiff. But once they were on, that went away. Then, somewhere during the second month, after running and showring, Brad came over as usual to watch Star Trek. But he started sniffing and complained about something smelling pretty-bad in my closet, so bad that it was penetrating the door and the pungent odor was saturating the room. After searching for the source, I determined it was my favorite running socks.

“I’ll have to wash them,” I guess.”

“What do you mean? You haven’t washed them lately?”

“They are my favorite socks for running. I only have the one pair.”

“So, when was the last time you washed them?” He asked.

“That would have to be before we started jogging every night.”

“Holy crap! Are you kidding me?”

From the blank expression on my face he knew I wasn’t.

“Look, I’ll buy you another pair. We need to get rid of those.”

“What? Just throw them away?”

“No, something that ripe needs to be put to good use,” Brad said.

“What do you have in mind?”

“You’ve got a master key, right?”

“Yeah, in case the fire department comes for an inspection over the summer.” As the only member staying for the summer who was a fraternity officer (I was social director if you can believe that) the responsibility fell to me.

“You want to get even with your friends from last summer?”

Of course, I’d told Brad about the 4th of July fiasco, so I knew exactly what he was referring to. “Yeah.”

Larry and Cooker shared their room for the summer with John, another brother who, like Brad, was making up a course over the summer but wasn’t a usual year-round brother in residence. They had an air conditioner in their window. Brad and I only had box fans. So there wa a bit of jealousy right there.

“Let’s sneak down there, open the door really quiet like, and toss the socks inside.”

I laughed. “That might actually kill them.”

“No, it won’t but they’ll wake up wondering what did die in their room.”

I continued to laugh.

Around 4AM, Both Brad and I had settled enough that we weren’t laughing in anticipation of what we were about to do. The execution of the plan was flawless. I slipped the key into the lock, opened the door, tossed in the socks, and carefully closed it.

The next day I woke, went to class, then to work, and afterward to my afternoon class before going back to work, just like had been my routine all summer. In the evening, when I came back to the frat, I entered the back stairwell, the one closest to my room. There were two stairwells, the other one was closed off because no one lived on that end of the building for the summer.

What hit me was the smell of many flavors of aftershave, as if multiple bottles had been broken on the floor or something. Having forgotten completely about what Brad and I did on the night before I ascended the stairs two and at time looking for the source of the overindulgent smell. Cooker and Larry’s room was open with a box fan blowing out into the hallway, John was inside.

“What the hell happened?” I said.

“I don’t know where it came from, but there was a really bad smell in the room, this morning. We looked everywhere for it and finally found a pair of rancid sweat socks.”

I nearly lost it, but I held in my guffaw. It hurt, though. And it wasn’t right that John suffered the indignity of his roommates, but over the years, I had a couple of run-ins with him as well. So, I didn’t feel all that bad.

When I regained my composure enough to speak, I asked. “What did you do with them?”

“There in the far stairwell. We tossed them down there and closed to door behind.”

When Brad came home from work and asked me why the frat house smelled like a bunch of teenage boys at their first dance, I told him what happened. And, we never mentioned it or told anyone what we did.

When the other brothers came back from summer and started moving back in to their rooms for the fall semester, the other stairwell was opened, and the socks and their lingering odor was discovered. This time the solution was air freshener… and lots of it.

Greg was another of my frat bros who was an ex-Marine Viet Nam vet, and a little crazy at times, was taking advantage of his GI Bill Benefits to get his degree. He seized the opportunity to don his old camouflage uniform replete with face paint and gas mask, to remove the offensive socks from the stairwell. When I found out, I asked him what he did with the socks.

“It was a successful mission. I used a rake to pick them up and I carried them into the woods next door. There I buried them, fairly deep.”

“Won’t that kill a tree or something?”

“Unfortunately, some sacrifices needed to be made.”

Uncategorized

On A Personal Note

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It’s been a while since I devoted a blog post to what’s going on in my personal life. There’s a reason for that. Mostly, it’s no one’s business. Also my personal life tends to be boring from other people’s perspective, I think. I’m okay with that. It’s my life, not yours. Anyway, pretty much, I work. Whether it’s related to my writing, being a publicist or working in a retail store, it is what I doddering my waking hours. Working retail is and has always been from the outset a temporary thing for me, though. Although I like interacting with the public and find it a great change of pace when compared to the solitude of writing, foremost, I am an author.

Since late September I have been staying with my son. Those of you who have followed my blog for a while will recall that in pursuit of my writing career I adopted an austere lifestyle and have been fairly nomadic, at least within the state of Florida. I have stayed with relatives, mostly, though I did rent a room for a while with strangers who became friends. I’m okay with living this way, but again, it’s a temporary thing as my personal life passes through this period of transition.

The goal is to be a full time writer, not necessarily to become wealthy but it is necessary to become at least moderately famous in the process of selling books. I’ve been using my experience and expertise in marketing and business to assist other authors with publicity. I’m compensated for my efforts. Though it is certainly not enough to pay my bills, it contributes to the cause.

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My usual day goes like this:

Wake up between 3AM and 5AM, depending on when I went to bed and what is on the new day’s agenda. I don’t often use an alarm as I am accustomed to waking early.

Search the Internet for news stories of interest. Post a few things on social media that may or may not be book related. Depending on the day of the week I may post to my blog as I am doing now, or post things to my publisher’s social media relating to the goings on in the author’s public lives.

Around 7 to 7:30AM have breakfast. Usually I eat cereal. It depends on what cereal was on ad recent as to which brand and what kind I eat. I like Honey Nut Cheerios and Raisin Bran but I have been known to eat Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Honey Bunches of Oats (various Flavors), Total (especially the raisin bran variety), Special K (nearly all flavors, Life, Oatmeal (various flavors). Usually I eat yogurt as well. I prefer blueberry and cherry Greek yogurt. Again the brand depends on what is on ad. I am not brand loyal as a rule. When I have them, I’ll also eat a couple of Halo Mandarin oranges.

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After breakfast I take my son’s dog, Rocco, for a walk. When I return I take a bike ride. Often this also coincides with going to the grocery store if I need to pick up something like almond milk, more yogurt, cereal, etc. When I return I write, revise or edit until around 2PM. Then it’s time to take Rocco for another walk. He reminds me of the time, trust me on that. Sometimes we go to the dog park, depending on the weather.

When we return from the afternoon walk, Rocco usually keeps me company while I resume writing, revising or editing. Around 5PM or so I feed him. He is always pushing for that from around 4PM on. He also whines for a treat from time to time. After he eats he returns to my room which is located in the front of the house where he maintains a vigil over the window watching for my son to return home. If my son runs late Rocco may take a nap on the floor in my room.

If I’m scheduled to work I set out on my bike about a hour or so before I am scheduled. It takes between 30 and 40 minutes to arrive, depending on headwinds. As I mentioned in a previous blog, riding a bike is always into he wind because the act of riding generate a headwind equal to the speed one travels. However, it seems that there is always a stronger headwind that I have to pedal into and it usually happens not he stretches of road that are slightly up-grade. Not sure how that works.

My work shifts vary. Sometimes I work in the morning but as my store has more business at night, usually I’m schedule in the afternoon or evening. On those days I arrange my other responsibilities and writing around work. If I’m not working I eat an evening meal. If I work, I eat whenever I get home.

I don’t watch TV per se. We don’t have Cable TV where I live but we have the Internet, of course. Otherwise, it would be difficult for me to post things, now wouldn’t it? I do follow a couple of TV shows via Hulu and sometimes watch other shows or movies with my son. Otherwise, I’m not a fan of TV. My set broke in 2007 and I never replaced it – and never really missed it.

News programming I avoid. I get my news from the Internet, various sources and I attempt to achieve some balance with those. So, I dare say I know what is going on in the world and perhaps have a better than average grasp on current events when compared with those  who watch network or watch one cable news channel. I have found that taking my news this way gives me the ability to select multiple points of view on news stories of interest to me. I also feel less stress in my life as I am not as subject to the biases of news organizations and their slanting of the news to incite public reaction.

If you think that doesn’t happen, stop watching news for a while – say a year or so. Read the news from he Internet. And then watch news channels elected at random along with network news. You will see each channels particular bias and also be very aware of the real story because, having read different sources for the same story, you have a more balanced and sometimes international perspective on events.

I write something everyday, regardless of what it is or how long. That is an absolute necessity for a writer. Also, I read a lot. There is a variety of course, from current events, social media posts, non-fiction (usually history or science) and fiction (whatever other author’s work I am reading at the time). I don’t have a lot of spare time and so I’m rarely bored. I chat with my publicist, Christine, from time to time, usually everyday. I also follow a couple of writers’ posts to the FanStory website.

I haven’t owned a car since 2010. I ride a bike nearly everywhere I go unless it is out of my immediate area (five mile radius of where I live) and then I arrange something with my son. I stay in touch with my daughters via text messages, private messages via Facebook and occasional phone calls. I also text or PM with my sister from time to time. At irregular intervals via Facebook I catch up with a few friends from school with whom I’ve reconnected and some fellow authors. I meet new people frequently whether in person or online. For an author that comes with the profession. I always enjoy hearing from people who have read my stories. It is important feedback because otherwise I’m not sure how well I write.

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