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.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Authors as God? That's an overstatement

I wrote in one of my earliest blogs that being an author was somewhat like being God. An author creates characters and situations, and is the great string-puller. The longer I live and write, though, I think my point reached too far. Humans are every bit as capable of doing things that keep other humans dancing like a puppet.

Think about the harsh words spoken to others. Certain series of words can drain the energy and emotion from a person or people, and it can even spark depression or another harmful state. A person with control over workers can shuttle one of his or her underlings into another position without any consultation. That move can even threaten that person's ability to hold a job. Managers and union members negotiate deals that can contain certain toxic results for those covered by that contract. A manager can be nice one minute, then turn around and rip an employee a few hours or minutes later.

You see, humans have that power. Many exercise it, and they don't care about the effects. That lack of empathy separates humans from God, by the way. God cares about his underlings. A human being doesn't have to, and in some circles it is advantageous if he or she doesn't.

So, I take back my earlier point, and I try to infuse my characters and situations with that knowledge. I guess that's part of learning to be a better writer. Of course, my situations are fiction, and my characters are imaginary. That separates me from the truly harmful ones among us.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Journalism tries to tackle money problems

I am going to be a money man this morning. It's not my favorite subject to write about, but times require a different perspective. Money and journalism used to be on friendly terms. It was a profitable business on a predictable basis. Well, you can forget those days.

Those of us in the business knew this was coming. One of my friends. Glen Crevier at the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, told me about 15 years ago that he hoped we still had jobs until it was time to retire. The fallout at The Denver Post started several years ago. The first to go were mid-level managers in jobs that were seen as redundant. The steady decline continued over the years. Copy editing jobs were slashed. Job slots for employees who retired or moved elsewhere were not filled. A few jobs were cut here, a few more there. I was part of the dreaded reduction in workforce twice.

Now, The Post and all parts of the massive entity of Digital First Media are for sale. That's how bad it has become.

My job at YourHub wasn't immune from the damage. I had to notify five employees they were losing their jobs, and that was the worst day of my career. My own job was removed in April. There used to be five designers on the YourHub staff. Now there are three full-timers, and another who splits duties between designing and reporting (a decision I was forced to make when my staffing was slashed). Still, I tried to find ways to bolster the revenue stream. One project in particular had what I thought was significant promise. Here's some history behind that.

The YourHub website is divided into two parts. One part is for staff-produced material, which goes into the main Denver Post system. The other is for user-generated copy, which is created by members of the general public (from public information officers of corporations to soccer moms), and that copy goes into its own system. That was fine until the old UGC system completely collapsed. No one could post new material. We had to come up with a new way to do things. Four of my employees, who I affectionately dubbed the Gang of Four, came to me with an idea for creating a WordPress-based website. Those four (Joe Nguyen, Sarah Millett, Kevin Hamm, Laura Keeney) came up with a presentation that impressed me, but impressing me went only so far. I didn't control the newsroom purse strings, so I had the Gang of Four deliver their message to news director Kevin Dale. He loved it, and we got the go-ahead to develop the system.

But before anything went from drawing board to reality, I delivered a message to the Gang: This new system must be able to generate more revenue. I hoped the new system would improve access to YourHub material on both sides of the website. More access would equal more page views, which would make YourHub more attractive to advertisers. The Gang of Four did a great job in developing strategies for the new system and getting them implemented. The resulting system is great. Our UGC contributors love it. However, the new system isn't exactly a revenue generator. Those access problems still existed.

My experience isn't new in journalism. Big ideas meet with limited results. I don't have the financial figures for The Post these days, but most media companies report falling ad revenues from both the print and digital sides. I know by combing the website that YourHub isn't having a great impact on The Post's bottom line. I hope it does better. And then there's that for sale sign for all DFM properties, which is a desperate sign of the times.

I watch the world of journalism from the outside now. Still, I know the hurt and uncertainty. There are so many great journalists on the DPost and YourHub staffs, and I fervently hope they all retain their jobs. That's going to require an influx of money, and that brings us to the same old problem. We work in a capitalist society, and we have to deliver or be sold. It's just the facts of life.