Monday, December 11, 2017

Tuskers IV is Live!

Tuskers IV is out in digital form for the first time, thanks to Crossroad Press.

You know, if I'm allowed to say, this book is a pretty good conclusion to the Wild Pig saga. It's hard to wrap up a long storyline in a satisfying way, and I think I got this one right. I probably shouldn't say it, but I think it's the best of the books, though each book has it's own reasons for being. You know, especially the first, which was sort of a revelation to me in how much fun it was to write.

Crossroad is talking about trying to get a "major promo, and with all the good reviews, it has a good shot" for the first book.

I assume they're talking about something like Bookbub, which for those who don't know, is a big deal. Or perhaps one of the other sites.

Anyway, it's nice to have a publisher being proactive. How fortunate I've been to find new publishers who are glad to have me aboard. Kind of unexpected, you know? I'd figured I'd be going off on my own, which means really that I'd being talking here and on Facebook and Twitter--and that's about it. Not enough in this day and age.

Very encouraging going forward.

I really need some reviews for this book if you feel like it. I really do think you'll enjoy it.

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07837H8BG/

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Time and intention.

This is a word splurge, probably because I haven't written on my story for four days.

Anyway, I've had some down time think about where I'm going with my writing.

My intention wasn't to get rich or become famous, though I've had much more activity in my career than I expected. My intention was to try to write a good book.

I was reading about some Indy writers and how much they are producing and earning and it is really quite amazing.

I really can't complain since I haven't really done the marketing work that it takes to make it as an Indy. In fact, I chose not to be an Indy when I went with the small publishers. The idea of putting out eight or ten books a year fell by the wayside. Instead, I've done about three books a year for five years. I could have done more than double that rate, basically. But if I wasn't going to promote I'm not sure putting out twice as many books would have resulted in higher sales.

I suppose if I want to do assembly line writing I could use a penname, and I probably should. But even there, I want to books to be as good as I can make them.

One major difference I see with the Indy writers is that I'm not dependent on writing for a living.

But, man, the amount of money some of these Indys are supposedly making is astounding if true. Then again, we're probably only talking about five hundred of these people in total. They did all the tricks, got in early, were highly aggressive, wrote to the market, produced lots of quantity.

I didn't do any of those things. Nor do I want to.

So like I said, I can't complain.

Meanwhile, the parallels to owning the store are still strong. Today I read a long article about "burnout," which is the thing I think most small businesses do wrong. Instead of staying small, they choose to grow, can't manage their growth, and burn out.

Writing needs to be fun. There has to be a certain level of engagement, and I'm still trying to find that proportion. I know I can't do what I did those first few years, which was put my head down and just write and ignore everything else.

I was afraid if I took my foot off the pedal that I'd drift to the side of the road. I still fear that. Sometimes it feels like that.

But then I remember that I finished a book just two months ago, that I've got half a book already finished. I need to keep the faith that I will be able to immerse myself once again next year. I've got The Last Fedora (maybe my personal favorite) ready to put up at the first of the year. I probably have an audio version of Led to the Slaughter coming out soon. My 80's books are getting published.

Things are happening.

At some point, I'd really like to go backward and completely rewrite all the novels in my Book Vault. Choose which ones to put out under my own name and which to put out under D.M. McKinnon. Also, maybe consider sending some of them to my new publishers.

I was thinking about Takeover yesterday and thinking about how much potential the idea had. I fell short probably, even though I think it has some of my best writing. I fell short because I was trying to do something I'd never done before. I tried for greater meaning.

But how do I imbue it with depth? How do I make it better?

Time and intention.

I have a feeling there is a way. I have a feeling that it involves rewriting in a targeted way. I think it requires time and context. Maybe six months, maybe a year, maybe both.

For instance, I once had the idea of writing a poem for every chapter, looking for the dreamstate words, and then taking those words and adding them. I still think that's a pretty cool idea.

I thought yesterday of how I should look at every page and ask myself, "What could I say that would add to the depth of this?"

Or alternatively, look at every page and ask myself, "How can I add action, color, sensation to this page?"

Or "How can I add to each character?"

I'm not sure if any of this would do any good, but I have in Takeover a good template for a serious book. I have a strong motif and a solid story and interesting characters. I just need to up my game, somehow, someway.

Time is the only thing I can really add to the mix. Time and intention.

Another insight I had on my walk yesterday was that planning and thinking about what I'm going to write is never a bad thing. The more I think about the overall book, the more I think about each chapter, the better they turn out.

The only problem is--at some point I want to turn that planning into words. Sometimes I'm forced to, because if words start flowing and if I don't write them, I lose them forever. So it's a constant tug of war between trying to incubate ideas and the necessity of getting them down on paper.

One thing I really want to do with the next book is take more notes. I often think to do that, but I don't always follow through. (Generally, I think I'm going to remember...) I don't really have a mechanism or process in place for this. I'm going to put a small notebook in my pocket and carry it everywhere. I'm going to open a Notes file for each book. I'm going to have paper at my desk to jot notes down.

The second thing I want to do is use my office as Writing Central. I've become way too dependent on writing while walking, which is fine as long as walking is possible. Right now it is 15 degrees outside, and there is no way I can sit and write when it's that cold. Last year I lost three months to snow.

But any kind of distraction at home also seems to be hard to overcome.

Right now, if the TV is on I have to go to the bedroom because that's the only room in the house where I can't hear the infernal contraption. I'm going to experiment with white noise in my office so that I can work there instead.

I'll probably still do most of my internet browsing at the kitchen table. Drink my coffee. That kind of thing. I'm sitting there right now. It's become my main station.

But I need to separate those activities from full-on writing.

In a sense, I'm sort of re-evaluating what I want to do. I'm ready to slow down, maybe get a little more serious. I mean, I've always been serious, but I have a much greater sense of what's needed. When I started, I chose to write quickly, figure out the best process, let myself write anything that came to me, not impede that progress in any way. My feeling was that I'd learn more about writing by writing than I would by studying or thinking about it.

I think that was true. I got better at it. It didn't always result in a better book, because there is a little bit of luck involved there, but I could feel myself getting the hang of it.

This progress has more or less plateaued, I think. I don't know that writing more books is the answer now. I think choosing bigger targets, spending my time thinking about them in advance, and then spending more time with them after the first draft is what I need to do now.

The middle part, the process of writing the first draft, that works great. I need to stick with that. I think I can give myself the luxury of giving myself at least several months after finishing for recharging and context before coming back to re-write. On some books, such as Deadfall Ridge and Takeover, I think I can give myself even more time. The one publisher who might have taken them hasn't given me a response, so they are orphaned right now even though I think they're good.

I'll be proud to put them out under my own name and impetus. But since I've got time, I might as well use it. I've already improved Deadfall Ridge dramatically with one rewrite. I'm betting I can do it again, and maybe even again. Just keep at it until it works. Same with Takeover; especially Takeover which is the book that has the most potential in my mind.

I kept thinking that if I continued writing I'd find an idea that was open to greater depth. Takeover is that book, and instead of being able to exploit it, I instead just managed a better version of what I was already doing. In other words, I couldn't quite step up to the full potential. Maybe I just have my limits, that's entirely possible. God knows, I read some authors and know I can never do that. But...I can try to up my game a little.

Watching a documentary the other day about session musicians and one of them used the phrase, "Good is the enemy of great.'

Well, good luck with that. If your goal is only to be great, well...that's a recipe for never starting or for quitting when you fall short. But...there is a kernel of truth there. The way I've put it, "Being good isn't always good enough."

I can't take a magic pill. I can't be deeper and smarter and more talented than I am. So I have to look for processes that will bring out the best in me. The two things I can do are "time and intention." Have the intention to write a "great" book, and take the time to do it.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

How else do you survive the modern world if you aren't diversified?

I'm trying to keep my hand in at  Pegasus Books. Feeling a little guilty about leaving everything to Cameron, though it's good practice for him if he takes over the store. I plan a series of tasks, but usually only get about half of them done, and then I've shot the day and even if I don't work the whole day it takes a chunk out of the middle.

We are overwhelmed with material. That's my doing. I've always felt the more we carry the more we sell, but I'm probably pushing the limits. (The basement is a scary hoarders domain.)

But for instance, I spent the last few months bringing in toys, finding every square inch to display them, and sure enough, sales on toys have doubled. Concentrating on games and books and toys has added to their totals at a time when Magic and comics are flat or slightly lagging.

There is quite the hubbub in the comic world over how things are going, but due to past experiences I long ago diversified Pegasus Books so that I could turn my attentions to those parts of the store that ARE working and using that money to help with the parts that aren't working. There is flexibility there, helped by the fact that we have customers off the street due to our location.

Due to being in Bend, I was never going to make it with comics alone. If I carried double the comics and graphic novels it wouldn't double the sales. So I was forced by circumstance to diversify. I can't imagined being a shop that only does comics now. Too much at the mercy of the marketplace.

This is the umpteenth time that there has been dislocation in the comic market. Sometimes it's Marvel, sometimes it's DC, sometimes it's both, sometimes it's the Indys, but it is a constant cycle that I've come to expect.

It's not just comics. Books are obviously going through a generational change, games are in constant flux, toys are completely unpredictable.

How else do you survive the modern world if you aren't diversified?




Sunday, December 3, 2017

"How much time do you spend writing?"

My struggles with "Castle La Magie" have unexpectedly highlighted the process I use to write books in ways I hadn't consciously formulated.

Process for me are the methods I use to allow the writing to happen. The habits I've formed to allow the creativity to emerge. I write a book in specific stages, which I've arrived at after much trial and error.

The beginning of the process for me were the Big Rules I formulated before I even started writing again, based on my bad habits from my first career in writing.

1.) No major re-writing until the first draft is finished.
2.) Write every day.
3.) Write one chapter of 1500 to 2000 words per day (then stop unless absolutely compelled to keep writing)
4.) Finish what you start.
5.) Re-write the manuscript a couple of times, but then lay off.


Eventually I arrived at a daily work process that allows all that to happen.

When people ask, "How much time do you spend writing?" I've never had a good answer.

When am I writing?

Is it when I'm lazing around the house? Talking to myself in the shower? Walking in the woods? Laying on my bed with my pillow over my eyes and asking myself questions?

If it is only when actual words are forming on a screen, the answer is I probably write only a hour or two per day. Sounds easy enough. A couple hours a day? I could fit that in between work and family, right?

Well, I spent 25 years proving that wrong. I constantly had the urge to write, I constantly started stories, but I could never get very far. Pegasus Books always got in the way. What became clear to me was that it wasn't the time involved, it was the headspace. Everything had to be cleared away so that I could inhabit the fictional dream long enough for the story to emerge.

So the prerequisite, at least for me, is that I have to be fully committed. The day ahead has to be devoted to one thing and one thing only: Writing.

I can't force it, but I can gently nudge my consciousness in that direction throughout the day. So that is step one of the process. I need to surround the hour or two of actual writing with hours of rumination and dithering.

Writing "Castle La Magie" has crystallized this for me. I have, in effect, been trying to write this book in a two hour window. I go out on my walk without any preparation and I sit down at the first station. (I have places to stop every half-mile on a four mile walk.) I pump out 250 words and continue my walk.

I've managed to make some progress, but it has been vaguely dissatisfying.

Slowly, I've come to realize that I can't write effectively without the full process.

1.) As soon as I've read the newspaper and downed my coffee and perused the internet, I turn my attention to the next chapter I plan to write. Usually this happens by noon.

2.) I dither and try to get my head into the story, not allowing any distractions. It can be hard, especially since I'm not forcing the issue. My brain is like a cold engine on a frosty morning. It doesn't want to turn over.

3.) I go to wherever the house is quiet and just try to think about what I want to happen next. What seems most effective to is to lay on my bed with the pillow over my eyes and just let it happen. I get vague notions, sometimes I get full-on ideas, and best of all, sometimes the words just start flowing. But more often, I run through a series of scenarios in my mind trying to figure out what I'm trying accomplish with the new chapter, which character is clamoring to be the point of view. I ask myself how I can mix it up from the expected, if there isn't something I can do that really grabs me.

Again, sometimes the story comes solid and complete and I never argue with that.

In the rumination process I start to save up ideas. It is only when I feel that I have sufficient material that I go on my walk. By then, I've already got a start to the chapter and some telling details to make it come alive.

If I don't have this, I don't write. But almost every time, I've gotten enough from my meditations to write a satisfying chapter. Then after I've written it, I think some more on what I've written and make a few changes or additions.

Then I read the chapter to Linda.

Next day, I start to process again.

Of course, it doesn't always work that way. Sometimes I dedicate myself to a chapter for hours and hours, and then late in the day it finally comes together. Sometimes I get an idea or two but decide to wait for the next day.

But basically, I'm incubating ideas all day long, staying inside the fictional dream, not allowing any distractions.

I've realized in writing "Castle La Magie" that I was trying to skip these amorphous hours, going straight to the story, and it doesn't work. Like I said, it's a cold start without any warmup. I've also realized that not only do the ideas for chapters come in the amorphous hours, but that the overall plot of the book is formed as well.

I've decided, starting today, that I'm going to go back to the full process for the rest of the month and finish the book.

Turns out, I can't be lazy about it. Turns out a book requires full dedication, hours of seemingly doing nothing.


Saturday, December 2, 2017

I essentially have three modes of writing.

1.)  The first and best is when I'm fully committed. That means everything else takes second place. I focus exclusively on the story. I spend hours sometimes just getting in the mood, contemplating it, creating a cushion around the actual writing, so that when I finally start typing I have a pretty good idea of what I want the chapter to accomplish, have visualized much of it, and have a bunch of telling details in mind.

I've heard creativity described as a shy pet that you must coax out from under the couch. I want to be persistent but gentle. This more or less takes all of a day. I can't let anything get in the way. Full attention, but not forcing it. Letting it come, but giving myself plenty of time.

When I do this, I usually write a full chapter, between 1500 and 2500 words.  (I probably could write more, but I think it helps to approach each new chapter fresh.)



2.) The second mode of writing is when I'm basically spending the mere hour or two a day it takes to put down about 1000 words or so. Not a lot of cushion or planning or mulling. Just jumping on the first idea that comes along and starting from there.

It's amazing, but this doesn't actually turn out that bad. But it's much less satisfying, somehow, and I suspect in the end there just isn't as much depth. It also requires going back and fixing things.



3.) The last mode I try to avoid. That's when I constantly revisit the same material again and again until I've lost all sense of what I was trying to do in the first place. This happens more often as a followup to the second mode--the idea that I can come back and fix it later, instead of having thought it out in the first place.



So why don't I always do the first mode?

Because it is exhausting and time-consuming. I get a little weird from isolation, I neglect things, my eyes and neck start to hurt. I forget to eat and bath and sleep. It is my price for being a writer.

I let myself do the second mode because sometimes I want to be casual, I want to think about and do other things. Holidays get in the way. Or I just reach burn-out.

The alternative to the second mode is not writing at all.

The third mode happens because there is enough substance to some of these second-mode stories to try to fix them. Most of them end up in my Book Vault, stories I may never finish or if finished, may never put out. None of the effort was wasted, though. I've learned something with every book. Sometimes I start out in the second mode and if the idea is strong enough, switch to the first mode. (And vice verse).

All of this is a consequence of trying to at least finish a first draft of every story I start. (It's very easy to fall into the trap of writing 10 or 20 or 30 thousands words, setting it aside and thinking I'll come back later. Those stories most often never get finished. I've got half a dozen in my word processing program right now.)

So I'm in the second mode right now. When I read the story back to Linda is sounds pretty good, even though I just tossed it off.

When the first of the year rolls around, I'm going to shift into first mode and write the next Virginia Reed book. Two to three months of hermitage while I write the first draft. It's both alluring and daunting. But I think it will get published and that's a high motivation.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Contentment writes a blank page.

This whole five year writing thing has been really interesting to me.

I had incredible creative energy when I started.  I kind of knew that it probably wouldn't last, nor could it be reproduced. That it was probably a one-time thing. I didn't know how long it would last. I probably never would have guessed a full year, much less the five years it ended up being.

The first year I barely raised my head or left the house. Once a week I needed to go to the store and that was probably a good thing. But mostly, I was into writing, writing, writing.

I didn't submit my writing until a full year went by.

The second year wasn't quite as pure as the first year. I was at least partially distracted by the publishing of my first books. Then again, it was quite the motivator.

The third year I could feel myself slipping a little in concentration, but by then I had pretty good processes in place and I was able to continue on at the torrid pace.

The fourth year started to see a bit of a slow down, a lot of concern about where the books were going and how they were doing. Instead of writing on my own inclinations I was obligated to finish books in a series or write a book I thought someone might like.

The fifth year was a continuation of that. Again, the processes were pretty established and I'd learned a lot about writing and if the energy flow wasn't at such a high level, my knowledge and experience made up for it. So no harm done.

Now...?

I'm not feeling the urgency. It's just not there. In fact, I'm feeling somewhat satisfied with what I've accomplished. I feel like I can rest on my laurels for awhile.

A long time ago I heard the phrase, "Contentment writes a blank page."

At the same time, I fear that taking time off would mean never getting back to it.

Ironically, by moving to new publishers, my books have new life. I'd stopped writing the Virginia Reed books, though my original intention was to keep writing one of these a year. Virginia would be only 26 when the Civil War starts for instance. She'd be 65 at the turn of the century. So her story can span the whole settling of the West, from the mid-1840's on. I can pluck weird events in Western history.

The new rollout of my published books will probably take awhile and I'm not completely certain what form it will take. How many will be published in physical form, for instance, or what kind of marketing the new publishers will do, or whether audio books will be done. I'll accept whatever happens. To me, this is all very lucky. I'm probably better off for it happening.

I've been writing a book without any sense of urgency, titled "Castle La Magie." I head out for my walk without any ideas. At my first station, I sit and write a quick 250 words. Doesn't matter what. Then the rest of the walk I think about it and more often than not, I manage to get in 1000 words. I miss occasional days, or only 700 words. This is slow for me, but I'm keeping my hand in.

I've written several books this way, sort of placeholders until a stronger idea comes along. I picked up one  my earlier "placeholders" the other day and...damn, it wasn't bad. It was actually pretty good.

Someday I'm going to do something about my Book Vault. But for now, I've got a new Virginia Reed book to write starting on January 1. Tentative title: "The Terrible Mr. Hoskins and the House of Many Rooms."

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

fantasy is my kryptonite.

My natural tendency is to go off half-cocked and just start writing some fantasy or another. Then I usually run out of ideas about 50 pages in, and I fumble around and sometimes I keep going, somewhat lamely, and other times I quit, but if I keep going I realize I haven't thought it through and that the world-building is insufficient and that I'll have to go back and redo the whole damn thing but it is so easy to just start writing these things and I love fantasy so much and I seem to have no end of these kinds of stories in my head or at least the beginnings of such stories so whenever I don't have another project in hand I just go off and start writing about dragons and such.

But when I have a real idea, it is usually something other than fantasy, and that focuses my mind, and the results are usually much better. The more I get the story in the first draft, the better the book.

Somehow, when I write horror or thrillers my mind is much more concentrated on plot and characterization, instead of the fantasy "feel" that leads me astray. Written in a real world I can concentrate on story instead of world-building, and I'm pretty good at pulling elements of history or culture into my stories. 

Anytime I tell myself I can go back and "fix" it, is usually a disaster.

The exception to my fantasy block are my "Tales of the Thirteen Principalities."  They are novellas, and thus don't require huge world building. In fact, over the course of the three and half stories I've written, each story has contributed to the world-building and someday I can go back and try to make them cohesive. 

I've told myself that someday I'll do a proper world-building, have a good strong plot and idea in mind before I start, and write my fantasy trilogy. Someday.

Anyway, I'm writing one of my off-the-cuff fantasies right now. It has a certain appeal. It's fast moving. I love the "feel" of fantasy, but as usual, I started struggling about 50 pages in.

I think I've had about 10 of these projects over the years. I've finished a couple of them and they are in my "book vault" and will probably never be published.

Someday, though.

I'm a writer because of Lord of the Rings. I wanted so much more of that and at the time, there was nothing out there, so my mind turned to creating stories like it.

Once I started writing stories, I ventured off from fantasy, writing weird westerns and thrillers and horror, and I'm really glad I did, but someday, by God,  I'm going to write that epic fantasy trilogy.


Saturday, November 25, 2017

Huge news. Lots to unpack.

Bear with me, because it all turns out really well. 

I'd hoped to announce all of this at the same time, but I can see that it isn't going to be as simple a process as that. I have a huge amount to announce all at once. Later on, as these things unfold, I'll discuss each of these events in turn.

1.)  Not long ago, Cohesion Press unexpectedly decided to close shop. Snaked had only been out a couple of months. I'd thought it a little strange that they'd done so little to announce it in advance or promote it afterwards, especially since they had a couple of very good selling "sea creature" books and mine fit right in.

I was asked to keep it quiet at first while they tried to find a buyer.

2.)  While all this this waiting period was going on, one of my other publishers, Ragnarok Publications, also announced that they were letting go of all their current and coming books.

This all happened within a week.

This was a bit of a gut wrench. It struck me harder than I thought it would.  Tuskers IV had only been out about a month. They hadn't even gotten around to releasing an ebook version.

Ragnarok ran into a little trouble a year ago, and several authors left, but the company was sold and appeared to be solid and most of the authors, including me, stayed put. I was paid what I was owed, as far as I can tell because their record keeping was a little shaky. But I wanted to conclude the "Tuskers" saga and so I stuck with them.

3.)  Meanwhile, my original publisher, Books of the Dead, had been quiet for a couple of years. Most of the authors left a year ago, but again, I stayed mostly because I had so many books in the works that I didn't want to have to deal with them too.

Right after Ragnarok's announcement, Cohesion announced that no buyers had come forward and that they were releasing all books.

Through the grapevine, I heard that several publishers were willing to look at books from Ragnarok and Cohesion.

4.)  I signed a contract with  Crossroad Press for Tuskers I, II, III, and  IV and for Snaked. I also offered them my three 80's fantasies, Star Axe, Snowcastles, and Icetowers and they took those too. It turns out they have an expertise in publishing backlists and knew how to scan them.

So right there was a huge bonus for me. I'd intended to self-publish these (I'd purchased the artwork to the original covers to Star Axe and Snowcastles) but the scanning process was much harder than I expected. Plus, with Crossroad there is a good chance that physical copies and audio versions might be done. (That's true of all the books I signed over to them, so that's cool.)

While this was going on, it appears that multiple prospective buyers had popped up for Cohesion. I felt that I'd already promised "Snaked" to Crossroad so told them I'd still be moving, though it would have been nice to have had another publisher.  (As a business owner, nothing drives me crazier than someone changing the terms of a deal after they've been agreed upon.)

But I'm only half over.

I decided this would be a good time to move my books from Books of the Dead. Crossroad was willing, but I'd already moved 8 books to them and wondered if maybe I shouldn't spread my books out a little more.

5.)  I was able to sell my "Vampire Evolution Trilogy" (Death of an Immortal; Rule of Vampire; and Blood of Gold) to Dragon Moon Press, a small but long-established Canadian publisher.

6.)  And it looks like I've also found a home for my "Virginia Reed Adventures" (Led to the Slaughter; The Dead Spend No Gold; and The Darkness You Fear) though since a contract has not yet been signed, I'll hold off announcing where for now. This publisher is also interested in continuing the series, which I'd postponed because BOTD had been MIA. They are very interested in doing audio versions, which is another bonus.

This is fantastic because the Virginia Reed stories are some of my favorites and I really wanted to continue these Weird Westerns. 

All three of these publishers seem interested in doing audio versions of the books. All are active in the business and all seem like very good homes, equal to where the books were before.

Net bonus is new life for the books, plus my 80's books published, plus probably more audio versions, plus new avenues to try to sell future books.

So how weird and wonderful is that?

I was able to get the rights to the contents and covers to all these books. 

It turns out my original publishers all had strong reputations in the horror publishing community for their content, which is nice to know. (In some ways, they were too successful, reaching for mass distribution which was a huge drag on their cashflow. When I started Pegasus Books I was warned of two potential problems: too little business and, strangely, too much business.)

I think in the future I'll be more encouraged to submit my books to new publishers, where I'd begun to back away.

Last but not least:

Most of these books are or will soon be out of circulation for a little bit, while the changes are being made. If you hurry (Ha) you can probably still buy some of them.

Meanwhile, my self-published books are still on Amazon (Faerie Punk; I Live Among You; Freedy Filkins; Gargoyle Dreams; and Blood of the Succubus). In my humble opinion they are just as good as the traditional published books, so please buy those while we're waiting. (Ha.)

I feel like I fell out of plane and landed in a soft bed of clover.





Thursday, November 23, 2017

Small article about Pegasus Books in The Source this morning under "Legends of the Game." Interviews with new and old businesses in town. It's nice of them to do it, especially since I don't advertise. My old friend Judy Stiegler was the writer, and of course, it seems like such a small amount of information compared to how much we talked, but that always seems the way.

The one thing that didn't make the article was my statement, "I'm grateful for not only surviving, but thriving." Pegasus is a functioning store. May not sound like much of an accomplishment, but it was always a struggle to get there. Years went by when we survived mostly on willpower and stubbornness.

I do believe people are being more supportive of local stores over the last few years. Used to be Black Friday was a complete washout, but now it's more like a slightly better than average day. Small Business Saturday so far hasn't been that impactful, but I think it's gathering steam. (The Halloween promotion this year, for instance, really took off...)

I'm thankful for so much this year. Normally, I'm not much of a sentimentalist, but I've been realizing how freaking lucky I've been. It seems like one thing after another has come to fruition over the last few years. It feels like luck, and maybe just hanging in there long enough.

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!


Sunday, November 19, 2017

A paucity of good TV shows.

This is probably the least number of shows I can remember that Linda and I regularly watch. Only six that are currently running.

Gotham: I like this quite a lot. A nice take on the DC universe, and it hasn't devolved into silly soap opera like so many of these shows do. (I'm looking at you, Supergirl, Flash, and ugh...Green Arrow.)

Lucifer: What it does, it does very well. Wouldn't work without the lead actor. The human detective is a bit boring, (and I can't take my eyes off her weird eyebrows) but the side characters are fun.

Walking Dead: I'll see it through to the end, dammit! I'm getting a little tired of the Mythologizing of the lead characters as if they're badasses when they're mostly lame. (Except Carol. Carol is a badass.) And zombies? What zombies?

Exorcist: This is an original show that goes there. The only thing I don't like is the younger priest ignoring the advice of the older priest as stupid conflict meme. Because he never learns? Whatever.

The Orville: Absolutely stupid and bonkers and I really enjoy it.

Ghosted: Is this a sitcom? I'm not sure, but it's the first half hour show I've watched in years. It's fun, the characterization is right on. Like a live action Futureama.


That's it. I dislike sitcoms, reality shows, so it's mostly dramas, and mostly with a genre twist.

Not counting Stranger Things, which I love like everyone else, Game of Thrones, which is great, Mindhunter which was interesting, but needs to be a little better to keep me.

There is one new show we're only four episodes into, but I'm really liking it a lot.

The Punisher: The reviewers seem to think this is too grim. It's the FUCKING PUNISHER! I think it has exactly the right tone. And it's so far leaving out all the angst that made me stop watching Iron Fist and Daredevil.  Straight ahead story. Good stuff.

Finally, I'm going to weigh in with probably an unpopular opinion about Thor: Ragnarok.

First of all,  to be clear, I liked it. It was loads of fun.

But the tone of the movie, following Wonder Woman and the two Guardians of the Galaxy movies, is a little worrisome.

It came perilously to being campy. I believe campy is the end to all good series. Superman I and II devolves to Superman V,  Batman (original) devolves to George Clooney.

Campy is a certain lack of respect, Hollywood showing its true opinion of the subject matter. Wink, wink, nod, nod.

It's a dangerous direction to be going.

Yes, I understand that movies like Superman versus Batman went too far the other direction. Too serious and grim.

Wonder Woman to me struck just the right tone, and the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie. But already by the second GoG movie, campy was creeping in.

Mark my words, Hollywood is going to take the wrong lesson from the success of these movies.

Just saying.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

A lot going on in the publishing world. I'm not ready to talk about it yet. Still trying to figure it out.

Funny thing is, all the changes may work out to be a good thing. Or not.

Still too early to tell.

So that's why I haven't been posting as much.

Vague enough for you?

Monday, November 13, 2017

Ten personal rules of writing.

What's worse: Getting a rejection--or never hearing back?

I hate to say it, but I think the rejection is worse. The never hearing back allows you to decompress. The uncertainty doesn't really matter, not if you are going to keep on writing anyway.

The current book is a little soft. I'm not digging into it deeply, but that is kind of on purpose. I needed something light to write, something I could just dish out every day. Even if I only write 1000 words a day for the rest of the year, this book would come in at over 70K words. I'll miss a few days because of the holidays, no doubt, but I rarely only write 1000 words.

Just another story to set into the book bank.

At some point I really need to go back to the book bank and start finishing stuff up.

The real project will be next year. The new thriller. I'm throwing two ideas for books together, trying to use the strongest character, doing it in third person, and I will be trying at least to have it somewhat outlined before I start. I really think the book would benefit if I can avoid flailing around for the first 50 pages and really start the story where it needs to start.

I want to really get this book right. Of course, that is a formula for writer's block, so I have to be careful. I have a whole bookshelf full of books about gold mining, which seems to be a reoccurring element in my books, and it might help to read them.

This I know:

1.) Research always helps. It give the story telling detail and often sparks ideas.

2.) I can't meander the first 50 pages again before the story takes off. I need to start where the story takes off.

3.) I need a strong central character. I don't like Duncan stand-ins, they feel amorphous to me, whereas specific strong personalities other than myself are much more fun to write and tend to be stronger.

4.) I should write in 3rd person. 1st person is very attractive and easy to write, but it's hard to gain any real depth, and besides I like have numerous POV characters.

5.) I like numerous POV characters, but I need to set a limit. I think no more than 4 or 5, if I can help it.

6.) I need to write the book to the end quickly, and then go back and fill in with perhaps more characters and elements.

7.) Note taking wouldn't be out of bounds. I often have ideas while writing, then think I'll remember them, and only later when I'm finished will I realize that I left out something that would have been nice to have.

8.) Rewrites are incredibly important. They make a decent story a good story.

9.) The more time I have between rewrites, the more perspective and the more willing to change.

10.) I shouldn't second-guess myself or let others critique the 1st draft. Finish it, and only then make changes. 

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Jump Forward

I was stuck for a couple of days.

Finally gave up and went for my walk without my laptop and of course the answer came to me. Hurried back to my car, quickly drove home, and wrote one of the two chapters I conceptualized.

The answer was to Jump Forward to where action is happening. It had been intended as a set-up chapter, where a POV character is responding to events. It was terribly boring. So I ditched all that and went directly to where things change.

Jump Forward.

That's probably a pretty good rule for writing altogether. Skip all the explanations, set-up, meandering character development. Because all of those things can be done within the action if you're clever enough.

For most of my books I've struggled with the first 50 pages. I discover my stories by writing them. I've tried to outline but I just can't seem to do it. In fact, most of the time I don't really understand the book until I've finished the first draft. That's why I don't interrupt myself with second-guessing when I write a first draft. I immerse myself in the story and finish it, and only then do I look back and see what I'm missing or what I'm doing too much of.

The pattern that seems to be developing is that I write the first 50 pages and then the story kicks in. So that's probably where the story should start. But I have just enough set-up on the first 50 pages to be unable to shed them. I can usually cut a good 30%, but it is usually pretty unsatisfying, both because it isn't a perfect solution and at the same time I'm cutting stuff I like.

So what I need to do is figure out those first 50 pages in advance,  jump forward to where the action really starts.

Jump forward, then jump forward again. And again. Action scene followed by action scene, always progressing toward the end of the story.

There is one trick I've learned. Write as fast as I can to the ending, and then go back and add elements that are missing.

Some books the beginning works, but the ending doesn't. Or the ending works, but the beginning doesn't. Or the beginning and ending works, but the middle doesn't work. Everyone once in a while all three work, but it's rare.

Linda and I are coloring mandalas at night when we're watching TV. So what happens is that you try to guess which colors will work well together, and sometimes you get them right and sometimes you don't but once you've chosen the colors you really can't do anything about it.

The point is no amount of experience can keep you from guessing wrong. Each mandala is intricate and different. So there isn't a point at which you can eliminate mistakes because there is always an element of guesswork.

To extend the analogy,  each time I start a book, no matter how much experience I bring to it, there is a certain amount of guesswork, and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. There is a steady progression in writing ability that isn't necessarily reflected in a steady progression of story quality. Some of my very early books are probably better than some of my later books, and it was simply a matter of hitting on the right subject in the right way.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

I was undecided about what to write next, but I wanted to keep writing, so I chose a silly little science fantasy that probably isn't all that good and I'm not sure where it's going but I'm having fun with it. Just writing each chapter as it comes. It may not come to anything, but it's keeping me going and I'm experimenting a little with style and process.

Basically, I'm letting my clunky stuff emerge. Instead of waiting for each sentence to feel fully formed, I'm just jumping at it, clutching the words, slapping them on the page, and wincing. I'm moving characters around and having them talk. About half the book is probably missing.

Like I said, it's an experiment, but it isn't that bad. It reads better than it should. In a way, it's giving me a chance to learn what's really necessary to the story and what isn't.

It may end up being a throwaway book, but it's better to keep writing than to wait around for inspiration.

I do want to write another thriller, but I want to have a killer elevator pitch, high concept, something that can be described in one sentence. "The Donner Party Werewolves" or "Bigfoot and the California Gold Rush" or "Wild Pig Apocalypse."

I do know that whatever I choose will be action packed from the start, very little backstory, just straight ahead plot. Again, probably more of an experiment than anything else.

I keep coming back to horror because I think it's the genre with the most possibilities. Any story can be turned into a horror story. The perimeters are pretty broad. I can write in the real world and yet indulge in my dark fantasy inclinations. It isn't what I expected to be writing, but I keep coming back to the fact that the genre is most suitable for my strengths and weaknesses. 





Tuesday, November 7, 2017

I don't enjoy world building.

I mean, I love fantasy. I think I have a feel for fantasy. But I know that part of what I love about "Lord of the Rings" is the completeness of its reality. It's as if Middle Earth actually exists. There is a palpable and pervading sense of nostalgia.

But when I try to write fantasy, I just want to tell a story with some interesting characters without all the effort it takes to construct a world around them. I think that's the main reason when I came back to writing that I started in the horror genre, and why the horror genre still attracts me. I can place the story in the real world. The only world building I need to do is the supernatural nature of whatever the threat is, and I can do that much. That much is fun and interesting.

Historical horror, the same way.

With thriller novels, the problem is the opposite. I don't like to have to research all the "realistic" details of a plot, the police procedures, the types of weapons, and on and on.

But I can force myself to do the work, but...I feel like thrillers require me to be an adult and I'm not sure I've ever been an adult.

Or I can just go off and merrily write "Gargoyle Dreams" and "I Live Among You," which are self-contained stories requiring no world building or research.

I could write these stores all day long.

Currently, I'm on a science fantasy book, which is usually not satisfying to either SF fans or Fantasy fans. Heh. The usual world building problems are coming up. In a way, the plot of a fantasy is contingent on the world, the religions, the geography, the customs, etc. My problem is that I plot my books, and then try to fit a world into it, instead of the other way around.

In my "Tales of the Thirteen Principalities", I've written two full novellas, one novella 2/3rd finished, and another 1/2 finished. In each story I've discovered more about the world I'm writing in. My goal is to write half a dozen of these novellas, and cross reference the different aspects of the world I discover in each story, which I can do as long as I don't publish. The stories are already probably more detailed than any other fantasy I've written, and it is because each story has brought out a little more of the world.

Anyway, I'm going ahead with my current little science fantasy and hoping it comes together. It's a little dangerous. I've got about 10 books set aside that I don't think made the grade, and this could be another one of those. But it is better to write everyday in my opinion than wait around for the killer idea or inspiration.

As I've mentioned before, whenever I'm confronted by a dilemma, I ask myself "What is the moral high ground?"

The answer here, I think, is that I probably need to challenge myself in my writing. As fun as "Gargoyle Dreams" and "I Live Among You" are to write, and as well as they come out (and I do think they are as good as anything else I've done) they aren't a challenge, and if I'm ever going to get better (and after this many books, that's a question) I need to push myself a little. At the same time, let myself write "fun" books every other time as palate cleansers so to speak.

I've held off writing my Trilogy. I have in mind an epic fantasy, when I'm ready. Everything else is in preparation for that. But I'll know going in that world building is absolutely crucial. I've learned that much about myself by writing.

Monday, November 6, 2017

D & D and Stranger Things

We sold out of most of our D&D this past weekend.

Wow.

It's great that people are finding or being reminded of what a great game this is by a TV show. What's more, the kids in the show are so appealing that it gives the game a nice halo.

I've put in an quick order this morning, and then will stock up for Christmas next week. How cool. Everything old is new again.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Buying toys with a vengeance.

I tend to cycle through my product lines at Pegasus Books, paying close attention to one at a time.

These last few months, it's been toys. I'd sort of neglected them over the last few years, picking up one or two, here or there.

When I finally got around to doing something about it, I kind of went crazy. I ordered mostly off the liquidation lists. The weird part about liquidation lists, and this is true of new books as well, is that the stuff I can order there at a steep discount probably range from 00 to 80% desirable, while if I was ordering new toys at regular discounts, the desirability range is 00 to 100% and I try to order the 90 to 100% toys anyway.

In other words, other than absolute standouts, there is no point not ordering a decent toy every time it is offered.

But inevitably, there are more decent toys than I can afford, and even more importantly, than I can make room for.

It occurred to me the other day that the way my store works is that I consistently OVERLOAD it with product, to the point where I have to be very creative in how I display, or I let some overflow spill out into places that it shouldn't probably be, or I am forced to remove older product.

This last option is always there, but the overflow generally stops just short of that.

Not this time. This time I told Cameron to just remove any old, dusty, or yellowed toys to make room for the new ones. It should brighten up the store. It's not that the new toys are any more likely to sell. I find with toys, posters, T-shirts, and other accoutrements that it's very difficult to know WHAT will sell and that I'm continually surprised.

Yet another reason to buy toys that are being taken off the lists by the wholesalers.

Another reason to buy this discounted product is that by the time I get it, it has cycled through the bigger stores so...ironically, I'm likely to be the only one who has them. The long tail theory that I just need that one person who wants that one toy.



Meanwhile, I had the brainstorm of asking my Facebook friends and followers what new books I should order. I had five books I wanted to order, and I needed to push that to twenty books, so I had an open call.

Boom. Great suggestions, one after another, and as soon as it started I decided to order every single book suggested if possible with the thought that one person's all time favorite book is probably a worthy book.

I was hugely gratified that I already had about 2/3rds of the suggestions in stock, which if I may say, means that I have a pretty good sense of what people are looking for. But it was a fun exercise and I'm going to do it again soon. Maybe should try that with games, or graphic novels, as well.




Finally, enamel pins are a thing, especially in comics, but I noticed that there were enamel pins for books as well. I found an outlet with 40 different titles, from Lord of the Rings to Pride and Prejudice, all great books. I couldn't resist and ordered 20 of the titles and they are now in the store.

If you love books, you should check them out. They are very cool. 

Saturday, October 28, 2017

When I was kid in Bend, my family would drive to Portland just before school started to get supplies and clothes. This may not sound like a big deal, but it was a different time. I remember a teacher asking a class how many kids had even been to Portland, and there was a large number who hadn't been, or hadn't been out of state.

Bend was maybe 13K people.

I remember the quickening sensation as we neared the metropolis, the traffic, the sense of entering a larger, busier world.

Weirdly enough, I'm getting flashbacks when I drive from Redmond to Bend. Going to the "big city." Who'd have thunk it?

When Linda and I say, "Going into town," we mean Bend. Weird.

Friday, October 27, 2017

"We don't sell a lot of one thing, we sell one thing of a lot."

Here's my answer to what kind of promotions for new books we do: we carry as many good books as we can afford and can stock. Period.

I do no promotion whatsoever, for reasons I won't try to detail here. Suffice to say, I think most don't work, or are more trouble than they are worth, and often, if time and energy are included, are actual drawbacks.

Originally, new books were brought in haphazardly, and to an unfortunate extent, still are. (If I had the time and energy to promote, I'd be better off making this process better.) I could do a better job of curating, making lists, making sure books don't fall off the list. So far, as if often the case with my store, I'm just making sure I have a steady flow of books coming in. I'm still trying to get up to speed on this.

The way my store works, I've committed to filling the space with as much stuff as I can squeeze in there, and once I went with that model, I realized that Overstuffing is the answer--getting more than I can reasonably accommodate and just keep doing it. Why that works, I don't know.

I have a great advantage for a bookstore in that I have--if I may humbly say--read one hell of a lot of books in my life, and not just in one or two genres, and I've got this sort of encyclopedic thing I do where I just keep slotting titles into my brain even if I haven't read them, I know what they are, to the point where someone will ask for a title and out of the murky recesses of my brain, the author and title will pop up, surprising even me.

When I was a kid, I'd read the movie review books from cover to cover, memorizing first the actors, then the directors and so on. It was a little game my Dad would play with me, trying to stump me with character actors.

I carried that mindset into a comic shop where at first the history of comics and titles was overwhelming but over the years I accumulated so much knowledge that I pretty much at least knew what someone was talking about.

As an adult, I read the New York Times Book Review from cover to cover for years, never reading most of the books, but just curious. And so on.

All this explanation is a roundabout way to say, I can usually separate the wheat from the chaff. And in books, especially these days, there is one hell of a lot of chaff. So being able to look at a long list of books and pick the 10% I should carry is a nice talent.

That's why I avoid most new bestsellers, because most of it is B.S. Some will endure for a few years, and THEN I'll pick them up.

Meanwhile there is a whole history of great books, and a pent up demand if the book is actually in stock and available.

I also order from liquidation sites, which are full of unsold books, but an amazing number of really good books slip through the cracks, enough to fill orders, and with these books I can take chances. Order old Greek plays, or Dante, or Homer, or...well, on and on, just books that I suspect there is Someone out there, in the course of a year or two, who will want it.

People often ask what my bestselling book (or comic or game) is and my stock (heh) answer is: "We don't sell a lot of one thing, we sell one thing of a lot."

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Store demographics: wild guess.

Dave Cline asked the following:

"Have you ever done any demographic analysis on your clientele?

I'm just wondering who in the world buys books from a book store these days?

Are they mostly vacationers, tourists, passersby who are way from their Amazon address and need a book to pass the time?

Or locals who are wandering downtown and have a nostalgic flashback about perusing a real-live-smelling bookstore?

Or?"


My answer such as it is:

So you got me thinking, Dave. Demographics are complicated.

If you include "locals" as meaning Central Oregon, and "tourists" as everyone else, that still doesn't tell the story.

Probably a more accurate way to look at it is how many of the customers are there as a "destination." That is, they have come into the store to shop and do so on a regular basis.

Locals who infrequently come downtown, for instance, are more like tourists.

So if you include the very casual local browsers as tourists, I think it breaks down as follows, very, very roughly.

Comics and graphic novels: 30% tourists.
Magic: 30% tourists.
Toys: 60% tourists.
Boardgames: 50% tourists.
Books: 90% tourists.

Something like that.



So for books, I really am depending on the appeal of nice books that people want--and some people still want books, believe it or not. Often, I'm often better off with a nice hardcover, even if it's expensive, than a cheap mass market paperback, even though (or because)it takes up the same amount room. (Space always being a premium.)

For readers, the cheaper versions are great, so I have my favorites that I can recommend, and evergreen books that people are always reading.

But for people adding to their libraries, the nicer books, hardback or at least, trade paperbacks, often do better.

I have to admit the whole thing surprised me, but it works great. I don't have to try to be a full-service bookstore, especially with the new bestsellers, which are everywhere. I just have to catch that person who has heard from 5 different friends that "Dune"is a good book, or who have heard of Bukowski but haven't read him, or want to get a copy of that Vonnegut book they remember.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Oh, the bounty.

I worked at Pegasus Books on Monday.

Cameron wanted a day off, the bastard. Ungrateful wretch.

Anyway, I took the opportunity to do a book order, going around the store, looking for holes to fill. There are no holes, but there were places I could still stack. Heh,

My mind flashed back to a day in 1997 when every category of product was in decline. Comics, cards, games, toys.

Worse, I couldn't think of anything to do about it. There was product out there, but I didn't have access. Toys companies were impossible to deal with, book distributors weren't much better. Diamond didn't deal in the breadth of stuff they do now. Even graphic novels were relatively skimpy.

I was ordering everything I could think of that was readily available and it wasn't enough. I'd hit a glass ceiling in Bend, limited by the population and the relative strengths of product that was beyond my control.

My decision was to dive back into Magic, which I'd abandoned because of rampant discounting. I gave in to reality, gave people discounts, and sales picked up, if not profits. The end result was that when Pokemon came along shortly thereafter, I had the mechanisms in place to take advantage of it.

Over the next few years, Diamond eventually came through, offering a wider variety of games, toys and books, and especially graphic novels, and the store became at least marginally profitable.

Little by little, I was able to get access to more and more stuff, and then--about a decade ago now--I dove fully into Games and New Books, both of which were a risk. Games were a risk because every single time I've invested, a full-service game store has come into town shortly thereafter. This time I just accepted reality and expected it and designed it accordingly. (Sure enough, two stores quickly followed, one mostly magic and the other boardgames and magic). But we can still sell stuff mostly because of our location.

But it was new books that was the real eye-opener. I'd stayed away from new books because the wholesalers really didn't want to deal with comic stores. Ironically, the popularity of graphic novels in regular stores made the bias silly and  moot and they finally came around.

I'd also heard so many horror stories about books. I kind of went all in when Borders and B & N were still going strong, when digital looked like it was going to conquer the world.

But the thing I've discovered is this -- if I carry a really good book, someone will buy it. And there is a long history of good books. It doesn't take research to realized that "Dune" will always sell or "The Alchemist" or "For Whom the Bell Tolls" and so on. I mean, there they are--proven books--and you are allowed to order them and stick them on your shelf, and then you find hidden gems, and then...

The point is--my problem is no longer finding enough stuff to sell, my problem is choosing which of those things that sell I can fit in my store.

A much nicer problem.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Bill Watterson's Kenyon College Commencement address.

Every few years, I re-read Watterson's speech. (Creator of Calvin and Hobbes). It's the best thing I've ever read about the creative life, and I've taken it to heart.

Read it and rejoice--or despair--whatever your inclination.

http://www.graduationwisdom.com/speeches/0025-watterson.htm

Friday, October 20, 2017

One of the stories I tell myself in remembering the history of Pegasus Books is that moment in the early nineties when we were in real trouble. I used to walk by the same corner near my store every morning and think, "if anything bad happens today, we're done." And every day we squeaked by.

I'm pretty sure that 9 out of 10 people would have quit. And it would have probably been a smart decision, at least on the surface.

But I had the deep conviction that I had learned my lessons, that if I didn't have ton of debt hanging over me that I could make the store work.

I was watching a program on PBS about small business at the time. I have two stories about that: the first is an episode where a young man was narrating his thoughts about his business while out fishing on a pond, and the thoughts in his head were exactly what I was thinking: and he had just gone bankrupt. It scared me.

That was the moment I went back to the store and instead of trying to compete with my cut-throat (and self-destructing competitors) I raised my prices to retail and let much of my clientele walk away. But at that moment we stopped bleeding money.

The other episode that had an impact on my thinking was an old gambler cleaning his swimming pool who had made a success of it (not my favorite example in that I think gambling is problematic) but his point was that of all his friends who'd started when he did, all of them had quit and gone on to other things.

But his thinking was; he'd gotten the hard part out of the way, that he'd learned his lessons, and just when it looked like he should quit was the moment he should go forward.

Anyway, to my present occupation: I feel I'm at the same point in my writing. At a moment when there seems to be obstacles, it's probably actually the moment when the hard work has been done and now's the time to move forward.

I recognize the same situation intellectually, but I'm in a different place emotionally. I was in my 40's back then, and it took another decade before the store really got to a profitable place. But I was willing to pay the price back then.

Now I'm 65, and I'm not sure I want to spend a decade trying to just get established. I love writing, and I see the struggle (and it's a worthy struggle and there is nothing wrong with it--in fact, it's probably what needs to happen) but I don't NEED to do that. I'm in a good place in my life, and I really like writing, and as I said earlier, publishing is totally confounding.

The biggest reason I survived in Pegasus Books was because I felt like I NEEDED to survive no matter what, that if I'd have had to work at Walmart my soul would have been crushed, that I was an odd duck that didn't fit in anywhere and couldn't really work with others and especially under bosses I didn't believe in.

I'm a self-directed person, and it frustrates the hell out of me to wait on others to get anything done.

What's wonderful about the current writing world is... you don't have to! You can do your thing. Sure, the difference in how many people read you is enormous, and there is a prestige gap, but neither of those things really have much to do with the actual writing.

So consciously, I think I'm willing to make the opposite choice I made back in the 90's. Not to quit, exactly, but not to struggle.

Just do my thing.

Where to go from here?

I'm between books.

A dangerous place for me.

I always feel confident and engaged when I'm writing. It's only when I'm not writing that doubts creep in. (Well, re-writing is the worse, when I witness the reality versus the dream.)

I'm not sure I've ever gone more than about a week after finishing one project before I've started another. Usually, I already have one lined up.

I do want to finish "The Wyvern Riders" which is on the final stretch. (My "Tales of the Thirteen Principalities" are going to be something I go back to again and again without any concern for publishing...I just enjoy them.)

After that? I'm just not sure. I could start writing anytime, but I'd like to have an idea really grab me. I usually feel compelled to write, so I'm waiting for that feeling to overcome me.

At the same time, I'm wondering if I shouldn't put some thought into it. My approach since I came back to writing has been to be open to all ideas, to say yes to everything, to not let myself talk myself out of anything.

Which is good for motivation, but maybe not so good for progressing. That is, it's been a good thing so far, but I'm not sure it's the smartest thing going forward.

What is it I want?

So I've always had sort of two tracks; what I call the "career" path and what I call the "story" path. The career path is at least being aware of whether something has a possibility of selling. The story path is not giving a damn.

However, while being aware, I haven't chosen what to write based on that. I write what I want to write when I want to write them.

Some of my favorite books are the story path: "Gargoyle Dreams" about a lovelorn gargoyle, "The Last Fedora," a golem coming to life from the love a young boy, "Fairie Punk," a travelogue of American mythology, "I Live Among You," about a serial killer who finds he is actually a hunter of evil, and so on.

Even when I've presented these ideas to publishers, after I've written them, I could tell they had zero interest.

My "career" type books I've always been aware that there might be some interest in them: "Led to the Slaughter: the Donner Party Werewolves" and "Tuskers: the Wild Pig Apocalypse" and so on. Fortunately for me, they weren't written for that reason, they were written because I was genuinely interested.

Anyway, I'm at a point where I either have to step up my efforts to get published or take a step back and just do my thing.

I'm inclined to do my thing. (Always with the possibility that something I write for myself has broader possibilities...)

Some of my best books have come from a lark. The idea of a man besieged by killer pigs started off as a joke story about a friend's garden torn up and his dogs chased by by javilinas, or an article mentioning a black sea snake washing up on the shores of California, thousands of miles from where it should be, or the idiocy of "child slave" colonies on Mars.

This is one of those moments, though, when I'm on the cusp. At a time when I want to step back, it may be the moment I should step forward. Be smart, choose the right project. I could double down.

But looking inside, I realize I don't really want go there.

In a nutshell:

Publishing is confounding and frustrating.

Writing is a joy.


Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Done and done.

Made one final big change and I'm done with "Takeover." I'll send it off on Friday morning. I'm going to spot edit over the next two days, just a little clean-up, maybe a bit of description, but basically I'm done.

It "feels" right to me. It's what I wanted.

I've tried not to pander to what I think the editor might want. I've stuck to my vision.

Enough readers suggested that the first half needed a bit more action and motivation, so I tried to supply that without warping the arc of the story.

I also took a suggestion that I take one of the chapters with one of the most colorful characters and where dramatic action happens and make it my "flash-forward" first scene.

I agreed in principle, but it never felt exactly right.

Someone else independently suggested the same character as the opening chapter, but an earlier scene. Still some action, but not quite so dramatic. So that was the final change. It made more sense, doesn't tilt the book so much at the beginning.

So I'm satisfied with the book. It's about as good as I can do.

I've come to recognize that "good" is not the same as "good enough." There are so many other factors involved that it's unknowable. But I'm proud of this book, proud that I took on the challenge. The subject matter was probably a little beyond my reach, but no one else was writing the book.

It's my idea, dammit. I think it had the potential for a literary author to find some real tragedy in the story, but I set out to write a thriller so while I tried my best, I did tip the book toward action, which after all, is what I prefer to read.

Dammit, it's good.

Logical ain't always best.

Well, that was interesting.

As a lark, I rearranged scenes in"Takeover" in the order in which they were written. The chapters fell right into place, a logical progression, much cleaner and more understandable than the current version.

(Which, of course, I kept. I don't make major changes without first saving the best current version. The wonderful thing about digital is that I can attempt experiments like this without ruining what I've already done.)

So you' d think this "cleaner and more understandable" version would be an improvement.

But in fact, it fell very flat. For some mysterious reason there was little life to it.

How can that be? It's the exact same content!

I reaching for "art" here, if you will. (I readily admit I'm probably falling well short.)

I've arrived at the best current version by making artistic choices, chapters that follow each other thematically, if you will, action chapters mixed with character sketches mixed with narrative. I tried idiosyncratic almost experimental points of view. In my own mind, I was trying to duplicate the chaos of real life, where no one knows what the others are doing or thinking but are living in their own worlds, reacting to what's happening around them.

It was done by feel, by a sense of what kept the story intriguing. Subjectively. Artfully, if you will. If it was somewhat awkward, well so's life.

I'd have colorful character statements, followed by a narrative chapter that objectively told what happened, then another colorful character statement, than action, then narrative, then foreshadowing, then narrative, and so on.

Putting them in a logical progressive drained all that away. In this version, for instance, half of the first ten chapters are a character who was purposely created to be the most logical and least colorful character in the book, a character who was meant to be level-headed to carry the narrative.

But he was designed to guide the narrative as a relief from the chaos. A couple of wild scenes, then one of the narrator scenes, then another few colorful scenes, then the narrative, and so on. The narrative scenes lumped together just don't move me.  The wild character scenes lumped together seem too much and without context.

This failure of the logical version is reassuring, somehow. Like I'm on the right track creatively.

This isn't a logical process, it's a creative process. I need to trust my instincts.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Reading my own book.

I don't read my books once I finish writing them.

Strange to say, but I just don't. I mean, I have the whole story in my head, it's part of me by then.

I decided to read "Takeover" from cover to cover. Just read it. No pressure, just enjoy. I have three days so no hurry. No intention of making changes unless they leap out at me.




Got to page 50 and found myself drifting. Sure enough, when I took a close look at the chapter I was reading, realized that the second half of it wasn't necessary. Cut it instantly.

Then took a break.

Will read at least another 35 pages tonight.  Figure I'll take three days to read the whole thing, or about 85 pages per night, maybe a little faster, but I'm not putting any pressure on myself.




Read to page 98. It works. The first fifty pages are still awkward, but also the basis for the entire book. The reader will need to invest, but I don't think it is all that onerous. The character sketches are snappy and interesting, I think, in and of themselves.

It's clear which chapters were new--they needed a little more polishing. Which makes sense. I'm very decisive with editing nowadays. I see something, I just do it, try not to second guess.

I found a few continuity errors, which isn't surprising considering how much I've moved things around, and an amazing number of copy-edit errors, considering how many times this has been edited. Then again, I've been messing with it. Copy errors just always seem to slip through...



Woke up this morning and read the same 98 pages again, this time making changes that I hadn't quite been ready to make last night. (If it struck me wrong twice the same way, it was time to change.)

Tonight I'll try to read another 100 pages or so, then go over them again tomorrow.



Didn't read any further yesterday, instead moved a chapter and inserted the chapter lines. The chapters aren't strictly necessary, but as a reader I think I would appreciate them, as break points, otherwise it's a bit overwhelming.

Adding the new first chapter is a gamble; it's hard to know if it helps or hurts, but ultimately I decided that starting a book with a chapter about the desert dust and mud probably isn't the way to go. So I added one of the more dramatic action chapters to the beginning as a flash-forward.


So today and tomorrow, I read the rest of the book.


Sunday, October 15, 2017

Well, I like the book.

So I sat down with the manuscript of "Takeover" and drank a little wine last night.

My biggest insight wasn't about the contents of the book, but how to present it. I need to make an effort to interest the publisher, not--as I am wont to do--just sending it in and saying, "Here it is."

I really need to work on the cover letter and then try to write a good synopsis.

Other than that, I didn't make too many changes to the second draft of the book.

I took a later action scene and inserted at the beginning of the book as a flash-forward. Which then necessitated that I put a timeline in, which I did.  (Previous blog post: I'd already done that in an earlier draft, but in the process of moving chapters around, I'd messed that up. I'll need to go through it one more time to make sure it all tracks.) The event went from being about six weeks long to four weeks, which I think is an improvement, actually. ("Three Days of the Condor" was originally "Six Days of the Condor" heh.)

I added a few details from my trip to the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. Other than that, I just sort of dipped into the book at random throughout the night and checked the writing, which can always, always, always be improved. I never read a page without finding something to change, but that never ends and it gets to a point where I'm not absolutely sure I'm improving things. Dangerous to keep refining until it smudges the original creative burst.

The book is now 92,000 words and I probably shouldn't make it much longer. I could probably reach 100,000 but that's a bit stiff for a 'beginner' thriller writer.

About that 'thriller' thing. I'm not sure that's what this is. In the first version, the first half was, if I can use this word, a regular novel, but the second half was definitely thriller territory. This new version is much action oriented and the sequence of chapters are much more forward leaning.

It's still a bit "awkward," but I think that's the nature of the book. Reflecting the"reality" aspect of the story.

What I'd say about this book is that it has "substance." I like the characters, the premise, the plot, the writing.

It ran into some criticism, but I'm not sure if that was because it had more problems than some other books I've done or because people, at this point in my career and because I kept asking for it, whether people were more willing to be critical.

Thing is, this is the book I wanted. It turned out really well, in my opinion. Of course, I always wish I was smarter, deeper, and more insightful, more talented, and I believe this book had huge potential if I was a genius, but I am what I am and the book is my book to do, and I think I pulled it off better than I'd ever thought I could.

There aren't any false notes for me. It all rings true, and that's the true test for me. Whether I believe the characters and scenario.

I think the odds are long of it being accepted, but I'm going to try. If it comes back to me, I'll probably set it aside for a time and come back to it again later. There is enough substance to this book that I could probably do that for years.

For the first time, I don't really know what I'm going to write next. I think I'm going to do another "Hart Davis Strawberry Mountain Mystery" like "Deadfall" this one called "Butcher's Cut."

It's a bit silly to write a sequel to an unsold book, but my creative mind doesn't work like that. It wants to write what it wants to write. I like the characters and the setting and the premise so I'm going to take a couple more stabs at it.
Chapter headings.

Because I write stories with multiple character points of view and several storylines and interloping timelines, I'm always tempted to put in chapter headings. It seems like a good idea, designed to orient the reader to time and place and narrator.

But I'm finding in practice it's way too distracting to the story.

I tried to do that with "The Scorching" and "Snaked" and both were better off without the headings.

It did me some good to try, though, because it made me pay attention to what, when, where, and who was happening, and I found inconsistencies that I could clear up.

Now, with "Takeover," the temptation is even greater because the book is epistolary, made up of vignettes from many points of views. Witness statements, depositions, diary entries, etc. etc.

Turns out, putting a heading at the start of each scene makes the book feel really, really cluttered.

So, for instance, I just added a flash-forward action scene to the front of the book, which might be confusing without a timeline, but when I put in,

 "Vanessa Johnson, Deposition taken Oct. 5, Blue Ridge Hospital, John Day Oregon"

And then followed up with the next chapter by putting,

 "Peter Sterns, Diary Entry, Sept. 2, John Day Fossil Beds National Monument"

It made it feel overwhelming already, like OH. MY. GOD...this is homework!  It's also redundant since that information is in the actual scene.

I may have stumbled across a solution, a halfway measure. One of my editors wanted a timeline, so I put the name and the following words, "Events of (the date.)" Somehow, this doesn't look distracting to me, because they are always the same except for the date.

So the first three entries look like this,

Vanessa Johnson, Events of Oct. 5

Peter Sterns, Events of Sept. 2

Joshua Calley, Events of March 10.

And so forth. Sort of blends in, not intrusive, and allows the reader to decipher the timeline if they so chose, or more likely, ignore it.

I'm going with that, and if the publisher (assuming I have a publisher) has a better idea, he will tell me.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Opposite of addicted?

When it came time to imbibe some wine last night, I was too tired.

I'm like the opposite of addicted to alcohol, in that time after time I intend to drink, and then don't.  Too tired, too busy, too much going on the next day.

Anyway, I do feel like getting a little buzzed can give me a slightly different or skewed perspective on my stories, and there are times--rare, but often enough to notice--that I'll get a true insight that is extremely helpful.

Linda is gone for 4 days, so it's a good opportunity to get soused, look over my book, see how it reads. (Linda has had like two drinks in her life and while she doesn't object to my drinking, it seems rude of me.)

Toby and Todd called birthday wishes yesterday and I told Toby my plans and he said, "What, alone?"

"Uh, yeah. You know me...party animal."

So nine o'clock rolled around and I was too damn tired, my eyes hurt from staring at the screen all day, and I said, "Screw it", watched a documentary, and went to bed. Yep, party animal.

Hey, eight hours of sleep.

So today, my goal is to stay off the computer for most of the day to save my poor eyes. Think about what I want to do with the book. Go for my walk, do some errands, and then much earlier in the evening, around dinner time, sit down with my book and a glass of wine.

That's the plan.

Friday, October 13, 2017

I sell books.

There is something about bookstores that inspires grand sweeping sentiment. My eyes roll every time I see it. There's a site called "Shelf Awareness" that has a header every day with one of these great mystical bookstore statements.

I own a bookstore because I like books. I also want to earn a living, have a nice place to hang out, and meet interesting people.

I'm not out to change the world. I'm not out to save your soul. I'm not floating to heaven from the worthiness of my enterprise.

I sell books.




Friday the 13th is a lucky day.

My dad always said, "Friday the 13th is lucky for the Irish."

I don't where he got that, whether he just made it up, but I've always abided by it.

Linda and I went on our first date on Friday the 13th and that turned out pretty well.

So today is my birthday and I have no fear.

I've spent three days working through the edits and my eyes are sore and I was actually seeing double vision on my walk. When I'm writing, I'm only staring at the screen for a few hours. When I'm rewriting, I'm staring at the screen for most of a day.

I'd hoped to finish last night and start my final go at it tonight, but I couldn't quite manage it.

"Takeover" is my most substantial book, in terms of characterization, plot, and theme. Can't say if it's my best book, but it was a challenge and I'm very happy with the way it turned out.

One of my readers said it was "awkward" in places, and I think that's the right word. But awkward in all the best ways, if that makes any sense. I wanted it to reflect reality (of course it doesn't, but I attempted it) and part of that is seeing the action from multiple viewpoints that don't always jibe--on purpose. Like I said, a more ambitious project that I'm accustomed to trying.

Yesterday on my walk, one of my characters popped up and said, "You're not done with me." It was sparked by something my editor said, about how I'd set up a character to be a certain way but hadn't quite followed through.

I thought up three small sections that totally redeem the character and fit snugly in the existing book.

Makes me wonder. Given enough time and thought, how many more of those kinds of nice improvements could be made?

I have to decide when I've done what I can, and when I might just be overdoing it, and my sense is--other than setting this book aside for another few months and getting more readers and spending months more pondering it, I'm not sure this book needs more work. Heh.

Whatever happens, I'm proud of writing this book.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

“Make your characters want something right away even if it's only a glass of water. Characters paralyzed by the meaninglessness of modern life still have to drink water from time to time.” 

Kurt Vonnegut.

Conceptually, the first 100 pages of Takeover were exactly what I was after. I wanted the book set in the real world, paralleling real events. I got into the heads of a bunch of different people, character sketches, really, that tell a story. There's some rich potential there, but I realized that I didn't have the chops to really pull of a serious literary work. Or perhaps I didn't have the interest. Or both.

So I turned to thriller plot about halfway through.

But that left the first 100 pages lopsided. Character development, lots of set up for the second half. The second half is all action, but there apparently wasn't enough action in the first half.

What the characters needed was motivation. They needed something they wanted beside to protest. I mean, once they were there, they'd done the protesting and all the remained were the consequences.

So now I'm back putting trying to add to the tension in the first 100 pages. Fortunately, it can be done. Just inserting a few scenes, not overbearing, but changing the tone of the story.



Later: So now that I've done that, I need to go back and slant everything in that direction.

I think I got lucky. It could have proven to be insoluble.

I'm pretty pleased with the solution I crafted. It doesn't contradict anything I've done before, just puts a different spin on them.

It does mean a detailed rewrite, but the book probably needed that anyway.

One more new scene to write and then on to the rewrite.



Finished the last new scene. I've spent three days collating all the different readers and editor suggestions. Start the rewrite tomorrow. Mostly all there.

I like this book. 

I've gotten all the feedback for "Takeover." Now I have to collate it.

It's a long slow process. Will probably take three days, at a guess.

Then a once-over lightly rewrite, adding the descriptive details I got on my trip, making sure the transitions work and the new scenes are covered.

But other than that, I like this book.

I read at writer's group. Only Pam was there, so it was more a matter of reading it aloud to someone and seeing how it sounded to me.

It sounded very smooth. I liked the characterizations and the interactions. It was more than fine.

I think I may have reached a point where I'm writing what I think is good material and have nowhere to send it, no way to get it noticed.

So be it. I know what I accomplished and I'm proud of it.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

When you like it and readers don't.

Wrote final scene of "Takeover" and I'm now working on beta reader and editor suggestions. Long and slow and arduous  and most often results in merely incremental improvements, but every little bit helps. Will probably take 3 or 4 days to get this done, then on to the rewrite on Friday. Going to to finish that within about 10 days and then be done.

I like this book. I like the way I did it. I like the characterization, the plot, the writing. It's one of the few times that I've liked a book that others have expressed doubt about. In fact, I like the very parts they didn't like.

I was able to add some stuff to the first half of the book without changing its focus, but I'm not doing more than that. Admittedly, I'm asking for a bit more patience on the part of the reader, but that's what makes the payoff in the end. At least, that's what I think.

Most of the readers thought the first half of the book was slow. I have to take them at their word.

Here's the thing: the setup of the first half and the characterization were built into the very premise.

Now I've always hated it at writer's group when there is a consensus that there is something wrong with a story that can be fixed but the writer says, "But I MEANT to do that. It's on PURPOSE!"

Rarely are these excuses valid. (This isn't usually a case of a huge misunderstood talent but simply lack of experience.)

Most often, it's because the writers aren't willing to kill their darlings. Sometimes you can't convince them they're shooting themselves in the foot. It's hard enough to get accepted, why make it harder? Many are simply beginner mistakes, which because they refuse to change will remain beginner mistakes because that's as far as they'll ever get.

Take the advice and fix it.

Nevertheless, I am using that defense.  I MEANT to do that. It's on PURPOSE!

Anyway, with this book I started off with a certain premise. I'd take a group of characters who I'd try to make as realistic as I can, put them in a realistic situation, have them interact, and out of that would come the plot.

All I knew was that there would be a murder and that a badder group of bad guys would come in so that the hostages and the original occupiers had to band together to survive.

But other than that, I wanted the plot to develop naturalistically.

Here's the thing: you can't be realistic and have a gun fight every ten pages. You can do that in a murder mystery or a thriller, and even though that's what I was what I was calling this book,  I found that the action had to flow from what the characters were doing.

As it happened, it took 100 pages to develop the scenario where the second half of the book was at least feasible.

100 pages of setup and 140 pages of payoff.

I personally feel there is enough going on, enough intrigue and interpersonal conflict, to make it work.

But I can't ignore that a bunch of people don't feel that way.

This is my second attempt at writing a realistic, non-supernatural book. Both The Scorching and Snaked were non-supernatural, but they had some largely fantastical elements. Big Stuff.

Both "Deadfall Ridge" and "Takeover" are more human sized. Mystery and thriller.

What I'm learning is, the for me the supernatural and fantastical elements are a bit of a crutch. I mean, I wasn't using them that way. It's my natural bent. But in trying to write human-sized stories, I'm realizing how easy it was to spice up a story by introducing some fantastical element.

So I'm learning.

But this book was a stretch and that's a good thing and if it's a failure (and as I said, I think it's the best thing I've done) then I think it was a noble effort.

I'm just going to say this right here: I think it's a good book the way it is. I added a couple of action scenes in the first half which I don't think hurt, and I do think the second action scene provides better motivation for the next 50 pages or so, so that was good.

But I'm not going to try to bend the structure more than this.

It's good.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Feeling good about the changes to "Takeover."

I added three new scenes, two of which were action scenes. But even more importantly, I re-framed the motivations by putting the park rangers in danger sooner.

But I also had to move sections around to make the new scenes work, and it's nearly impossible for me to see this objectively. I've asked some people to read the first 75 pages -- again -- to see if I pulled it off.

The new material itself I think is pretty good. I just don't know if it fits properly, or more to the point, whether the surrounding material fits.

I haven't really started the "editing" part of the rewrite yet. This was all structural. I know I want to slant the book in the first half toward more foreshadowing and danger, and I think I can do that with the new structure.

It's so hard to know when you make changes whether you're improving or detracting from the original story. My overall sense it that these are good changes. If there are problems with the first half, they may be in the original concept, which I'm not willing to give up.

I may just have to ask for the readers patience until the plot really kicks in.

Yeah, I know, good luck with that. 

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Heading for the John Day Fossil Beds.

Taking my long delayed research field trip to the John Day Fossil Bed National Monument.

I fantasize about walking in and saying, "Hey, what would you do if someone came in and took over the place?"

I see the park ranger hitting the panic button.

"Hey, if you don't mind saying, how many people work here and where do you sleep?"

Park ranger backs away, signals to coworkers.

"Do you guys have security measures?"

Cops flood the place.  "Up against the wall, motherfucker!"

"But I'm a WRITER!"


I wrote the book based on my visit a couple of years ago, and while I don't believe it's necessary to be accurate in every detail, it wouldn't hurt to add a few descriptive details and soak up the atmosphere and surroundings.

Walked into the visitor center, notebook in hand, looking for my pen. That turned into an easy entry into the topic of my book. So much for being coy.

The "interpretive ranger" at the counter was friendly at first, but when I explained more about my story she got a little antsy. She turned me over the the "chief paleontologist" who was very chatty. He quickly answered my questions. Probably was, I hadn't thought of enough questions in advance, so I let him talk and tried to learn details that way.

Then they let me wander around with my notebook, drawing maps and diagrams of the place and taking notes.

An extremely fruitful session. Probably won't change much in the book. I'd guessed correctly about a lot, but this nailed down some of the details. It will make a nice grounding to the story. I got some of the correct terminology that should help add to the verisimilitude of the story.

The biggest difference between the book and the actual location was that the interpretive center is surrounded by hills. Not a lot of places to camp. There are some relative flat spots in front of the place, that will have to do. I figure the barricade will be set up in front of the Cant House which is across and diagonal from the center.

Not an unworkable problem.

I decided to visit the Clarno unit of the monument and oh, boy. I didn't realize it would take me an hour and a half out of the way on very, very winding roads. Which wouldn't have been so bad if I'd started the day a couple hours sooner, but the last two hours of the drive were in the dark, so didn't even get to see the wonderful scenery.

Six hours on the road. But what fun. Eastern Oregon really is a marvel.