Saturday, April 25, 2015

On being out of journalism for one year

April 24 marked the one-year anniversary of Kevin Dale calling me into his office and notifying me that my job at The Denver Post was being eliminated in a reduction of workforce. I won't write about that decision today. That is so last year. But I learned a lot in those intervening months, so it's time for an update.

It is a situation in which there is good news and there's bad news. People given the option of what to hear always take the good news first. I will reverse that order. Those bad things sit deeper in my soul, as they should for anyone who put decades of effort into his or her craft or profession. So here are the three worst parts of leaving journalism.

1. I have so much to offer and no opportunity. I am a skilled journalist. I have numerous writing awards. I was a good copy editor who worked on some of the best newspapers not only in the West but in the world. What was that worth in the job market? Not a darned thing. I applied for any job that had the word "communications" in it. I applied with good businesses, various governmental entities, and with educational institutions. The result? One job interview and two great letters or phone calls from organizations that praised me for the strength of my resume but said I didn't make the cut for the finalists. Why? Read Point No. 2.

2. Age discrimination is alive and well. Every human resources department includes a section on a job posting that says that it doesn't discriminate in several areas, including gender, sexual orientation, religion and age. Do they live up to that? No. Any hiring source will say that discrimination is a key factor in making hiring decisions, if they are being honest. I sat in on a job search session in which the facilitator told us that her husband, who worked in a human resources department, takes the applications of anyone older than 50 and sets them aside. I have talked to enough people to know that the emphasis in hiring is to accent younger workers. I talked to two men recently who are on the older end of the job spectrum. One expected to lose his job because he just turned 64. The other, also 64, sent in nearly 100 applications and received zero responses. Both had a wealth of skill and experience that would fit with any good organization. That skill and experience is worth nothing to those who hire. I saw a T-shirt recently that says it concisely: Old Is The New Black.

3. I miss the daily interaction with fellow workers. It wasn't just talking to co-workers in the sports or YourHub sections of The Denver Post, although there were several people there that I still share ideas with regularly. It was the quick conversation with someone who works in the business department. It's the few minutes in the break room talking to the head of the features department about good restaurants in town. It's also the friendly talk exchanged with the head of Viva Colorado, the Spanish language department under The Post's guidance. Working at home leaves me with chances to talk to Jack, my dog, until my wife comes home from work. Those little workplace interchanges are lost.

But I can't say everything is negative. Here are the three best things about my year away from journalism.

1. Every day works under the schedule I establish. Workers would love to have a situation in which they determine what they do and when they do it.  Not having a job gives me that freedom. Do I have to jump into the shower and get ready to drive to work? No. Do I have to eat a quick breakfast and hit the road? No. My schedule starts with a couple of cups of coffee, a chance to watch a good morning show (CBS This Morning is my entertainment of choice), and then a writing session on my novel. That takes up my mornings and part of my afternoons, and I get to call the shots throughout the day.

2. No commute. My days in the sports department meant I rarely had to face a tough commute. Traffic in the middle of the afternoon when I went to work was tame, and my late-night drive home was shared only with other swing-shift workers and drunks. But my commute got tougher when I got into the YourHub job. I was in that early-morning and late-afternoon crush every damn day. I learned that certain lanes of traffic moved faster than others. Today I don't have to worry about any drive. I have been in downtown Denver three times since I was dismissed at The Post, and two of those times were to attend Rockies games.

3. No supervisors I don't respect. The number of supervisors I didn't trust at The Post were few and far between. Kevin Dale was the best thing in my experience there. Yes, he had to notify me that I lost my job once. He also hired me twice. But not every supervisor at The Post has Kevin's qualities. Nothing bothered me more than one supervisor. I told that supervisor that I was 100 percent behind their efforts to lead me and the department in which I was placed. I followed up on that 100 percent commitment. The problem was that the supervisor didn't. That was highlighted on one particular day. That supervisor talked to me early in the morning about an issue, and we left that session by trading smiles and handshakes. A few hours later, that supervisor turned 180 degrees in demeanor and had me in for a small "come to Jesus" meeting. How can one person be a smiling "friend" one moment and an accuser a short time later? This supervisor was able to do that. I was told by someone else who had worked for this supervisor that "(Name) will scare the hell out of you." Well, that supervisor didn't scare me, but disappointed me. I worked like a professional for that person, and I got no reciprocal treatment. I am very happy to see that person in my rear-view mirror. That person has no business leading others, in my humble opinion.

That's it. Thanks for letting me sift through good memories and vent about irritating problems. I feel better now.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Daniel Pace makes own success and fears

You have to tip your cap to Daniel Pace. He was like so many veterans who came home from Iraq with nothing but hope and a stash of combat pay. He started a small company in the Seattle area, and success built on success. Now he lives in a million-dollar home with a commanding view of the surrounding countryside. He looks like a winner on every count.

But there are signs that not everything is as it seems. He lives alone, and his social contact is limited once he lives his office. That beautiful home is surrounded by a high wrought iron fence, and no one gets in without knowing the proper access code. Is the fence there to keep threats out or secrets in?

I have one Pace first draft done, but I need to revise that considerably. I am about a third of the way through a second Pace novel, but I won't forge ahead without getting the first novel completed to my satisfaction. There is a lot of good stuff in that first novel, in my humble opinion, but it's just not there yet as a bright and tight finished product.

Here's my current author's scoreboard: One R.W. Clay novel finished and out to selected agents (although I ran into an unexpected roadblock that I will write about soon); a Sean McNabb novel that is out for reviews by my readers; a second McNabb novel in process; the two Daniel Pace projects; and some preliminary research starting soon for a second R.W. Clay novel. And I have preliminary plans for a single novel that will spin off a McNabb story, but that character hasn't even been written yet (although I know most of the details about his life).

So, I'm not exactly sitting here idle. I'm loving every minute of it.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

R.W. Clay has to grow up in a hurry

R.W. Clay is my least-challenged protagonist, but smaller challenges don't look that way when you are 17 years old. At the start of my novel, he has everything going his way. He is smart, has a great family, the perfect girlfriend, and he can hit a baseball a country mile. Colleges line up to give him free education, and pro scouts follow him on a regular basis.

But perfect lives aren't that perfect once a kid has to grow up.

I will give a few more details about R.W. He is from my old hometown, The Dalles, Oregon, which is a baseball town. He grew up on a wheat ranch, and he was forced to be responsible at an early age. He is a tough competitor, and there is nothing worse to him than losing. He doesn't have to lose often. He is all-league, all-state, all-academic, all-everything.

Okay, that gives you the basic idea. So why do I go into this genre of new adult while all my other works are mainstream fiction? Every bit of advice tells an author not to juggle genres. The only thing I can say is that this story rattled around and felt comfortable, and I had to bring it to life. Besides, if James Patterson can put out an Alex Cross thriller and a young adult novel at the same time, the barriers of genre-bending are erased.

I hope to find out how this work will fare in the marketplace soon. I have a literary agent reviewing the first part of the novel. That's a necessary first step, but there are other steps I want to take.

In the meantime, I continue to write new material. I am loving it. It's in my blood. It's my daily life.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The tortured protagonists: McNabb and Circe

I said I would give glimpses of my protagonists, and this is the first of three such unveilings. Don't expect a lot of detail. I will keep these lean and mean in order to protect story lines and characters. I also won't give the working titles. I will start with the protagonists I believe are my most complex.

Sean McNabb is on a losing streak. Everything he put his trust in disappears. He has a definite coping mechanism (sorry, no details, but I love working with the circumstances). The good news is that there are glimmers of hope. The bad news is that not everything is as it seems. His original set of problems would give anyone reason to worry. His new set of problems are simply earth-shaking. Can he overcome? Can he even survive?

He has company in the person of Darrington Circe. His dilemma is that he faces problems that are even more daunting. Does he retreat into a shell? Does he boldly move forward to see where his strange set of circumstances leads? Can he overcome? Can he even survive?

This novel is being reviewed by a few select readers who I know are honest in their appraisal and helpful in their advice. The response to my opening chapters has been very good. That is heartening. I took to heart the advice of Stephen King to not write to an intended audience, but to write for myself. It works. My characters are stronger for it, and I am happier as a writer. The opening chapter of this novel has had at least four phases, which isn't an unreasonable amount. That opening sentence, paragraph and chapter are vital to the success of an entire novel.

I hope my readers will be ready with their reviews in about a month. I will take advice under my wing, and I will make changes as necessary. I already flagged one inconsistency in timeline, but I will wait to alter my wording until my reviews are in.

There is one consistency in these characters, which is their vulnerability. I don't write superheroes. I write about real people facing average or above average problems. They triumph, they fail, they try, they have fears, they hold back because of perceived fears, they are a lot like all of us. They differ only in the enormity of the challenges they face.

Now I have to go write the sequel to this novel, which is my current project. I love this process. I am happy to have the freedom to devote the necessary time to it.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Key to my characters? Vulnerability

I have five projects underway, which keeps me busy. One project is finished, which means it is through initial editing and reviews by my readers, and I am approaching selected agents for possible representation. Another novel is through the first-draft stage, and I am lining up readers for that one. The other three projects are in dry dock. Two are in initial process, and one needs some serious trimming and refinement.

I have three protagonists, but there is one common trait for all of them. They are vulnerable. I write characters with internal struggles and ways of dealing with difficult parts of their lives. I will introduce you to those characters in separate blogs later.

That vulnerability factor caused me problems. One of my protagonists was designed to be the MC in a thriller series. The problem is that internal conflict is not welcome in thrillers. Those works want slam bam action and little personal reflection. I believe the biggest internal struggle in thrillers is whether Jack Reacher will head butt someone or merely kick them in the teeth. My guy, Daniel Pace, wrestles with a complex past. He is thriller hero in some aspects, but a vulnerable person in others. Hence, I submit my works for consideration as mainstream fiction.

Vulnerability makes characters real, and I want to present works that feature real people. That in a nutshell is my writing style.

I have to write today. That is like saying I need air to breathe. But which project? I have a Daniel Pace novel to rework, a second Pace novel that is hanging about one-third through the process, and I have a second novel in another series (featuring fledgling author Sean McNabb). All three are good projects. Maybe I will flip a coin.

First things first. I will line up two more readers for my first Sean McNabb novel. I have good candidates to contact, and I hope they have time to read. I have a stable of four readers, with two of them repeat readers because their viewpoints are varied and they are honest with me. That's a good thing. The other two? I like to rotate readers so I get new insights from talented people. That also is a good thing.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Novels are just expanded feature stories

My posts about my early days in journalism were fun for me to write. There were great memories, and even greater people. But those journalism stories contain little clues to my current work as an author. Those clues tell what I wanted to become in journalism.

That's what I wanted to become and not what I eventually ended up doing.

I was a simple goal. I wanted to become a features writer. I loved nothing more than to meet people, pull up a chair, have a good cup of coffee and slowly learn about their lives. I loved meeting Tintype Gordon in Guerneville, Calif. He was a former corporate middle manager who left that life and started taking pictures of people in period costumes, one of those photographers who create sepia-toned final prints. I loved talking to police officers. I loved talking to Forest Service employees about their lives and projects. I tried to treat them fairly as I wrote my stories.

But that feature story writer never had a chance to develop. The need for reporters and editors in other areas interrupted. I knew sports, and I heard there was a full-time job for a sports editor. I applied, and I got the job. That got me on that job track, and I stayed on it almost to the end of my journalism days.

But there is a strange phenomenon in journalism. As I worked my way up the job ladder, the jobs got more limited in their scope. My first couple of sports jobs involved reporting, photography, editing, staff management, and layout and design. My next sports job involved editing and staff management. My next job, which covered 16 years of my career, involved editing, and layout and design. My final sports job involved only copy editing and headline writing. I talked to an acquaintance once about my final job, and he said my skill set wasn't very wide-ranging. Where does someone go when that is their job skill? I told him about my earlier years, but he still wasn't impressed.

Of course, I have been the victim of two reductions of workforce in recent years. Unless the sky opens and someone drops a good job in my lap, my days in journalism are over. But that has enabled me to get back to being a features writer. It's just that my field of study is literary fiction and not the Tintype Gordons of the world. To a degree, I sit down with my characters and learn about them. I create characteristics, and problems, and intricacies they must face. Writing fiction is nothing more than writing features. It's just that I control all the facts.

I love that part of the job.

I must apologize for not posting to this site recently, but I have been working on two writing projects and planning for two more. I also have been active in my job search, which has been an interesting experience. I have blended a couple of incidents in my recent work history into my novels. I think certain people will laugh when they see their words in a work of faction. Well, maybe they'll laugh.

But I must go back to being a features writer. I can't leave my story subjects hanging for too long. And I promise to do blog posts on a regular basis. Really, I promise.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Eagerly Awaiting New John Hart Novel

It has been more than three years since John Hart released his last novel, Iron House. His new one is due out soon. How soon? That's where the mystery exists. It is coming out in 2015, but no release date has been announced. I promise that I will be one of the first in line to buy a copy.

Hart is a brilliant author. Those who have read my blog know I hold John in high regard. I am rereading his The Last Child, which won the Edgar Award for the year's best mystery. Hart is a nice blueprint for a new author to follow. He nails character, plot, pace, tension. He is one of the few popular authors I know who delivers great opening lines, which was one of the key points made by noted literary agent Don Maass during his workshop I attended a couple of years ago. Very few popular authors have first lines hat pop. They don't have to. John doesn't need to, either, but he still delivers. The reader in me appreciates that.

I could go on, but I want to get back to reading The Last Child. And I will keep my eye open for that release date. Too bad it isn't being released early enough for my Christmas wish list. Maybe later, John. Thanks for giving us literature worth savoring.