Tuesday, May 22, 2012

An Overloaded Schedule

I apologize for not posting anything lately. I have been a little busy.

You know those problems new authors say they have about juggling allotted time between crafting their works of fiction and their day job? Well, I can say from recent experience that the burden of time between tasks is much more daunting when it involves writing fiction and dealing with LOSING your day job. The Denver Post says I am out the door on June 15; I have a difference of opinion, but that will wait for another day. Part of my workload has been making contacts to determine  ... well, no details as of right now. Much of my workload has involved combing through job postings, then turning in applications for potential jobs. Some of the applications involve a good deal of time to connect all the dots. Add to that the stress of potentially losing my livelihood of more than 37 years and I think you can understand my angst.

My fiction hasn't gone untouched. I have started outlining the second novel in my series, a procedure I adopted after listening to a Jeffery Deaver presentation. However, I cannot do it the way Deaver does. He takes several weeks to come up with an outline from first chapter to last, and then he sits down to write. I cannot do that. I have outlined my first 10 chapters, but the words to the first chapter are banging at my brain in the middle of the night and in the middle of work shifts. I will write that first chapter, and I am sure several others will follow before I break and do a plot outline on the next section.

I also am revising my query letter. I feel it needs a few tweaks. Once this "losing a job" routine provides a break, I will begin sending out to a few select agents.

I feel like a juggler, but I wish I was juggling hoops and rubber balls. It feels like I am juggling elephants, but if elephant juggling is what is required then I will do it.

More later.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Select Settings You Can Embrace

My latest novel has four main settings. I am familiar with each, and I try to let my readers feel each location. Authenticity is such a beautiful asset to any novel. My settings are:

Downtown Denver. I have worked there for more than six years, and I know the details of the exact location where my action takes place. I also drove to the location and researched small details.

Suburban area north of Seattle. I selected the town of Mukilteo because I stayed there and thought it was one of the lovely parts of the Puget Sound area. I put my protagonist in a pretty upscale area of a beautiful Pacific Northwest location.

San Francisco Bay Area. I use Candlestick Park, where I have been about 40 times, and the northern Napa Valley town of Angwin, which I know from my working days in nearby Santa Rosa. There are little details about Angwin I will use to bolster reasons why one specific supporting character chose that exact spot.

Los Angeles and areas of the San Fernando Valley. I know these areas from my younger days. The L.A. neighborhood is just over the hill from Dodger Stadium, on the seam between L.A. proper and Glendale. The San Fernando Valley area was where my aunt and uncle and their family lived, and I know the boulevards and side streets. Of course, I never saw any of the action I have take place in these neighborhoods, but that is the advantage of fiction. As author Jeffery Deaver says about his days as a journalist, you have to use only facts in that job, and what's the fun in that?

I am not going to get very literary here. I think the best writers use areas where they know the slope of the hills, the twist of roads, the smells on the streets at supper time, and the main characteristics of the people who live there. That authenticity translates to their works, and they simply weave in story line to make the fabric of a novel. John Hart's best works are set in the North Carolina towns where he grew up. Joe Lansdale's best works are set in east Texas. I am just following their lead.

Now I am plotting out my next novel. I will start it on a Southern California beach and end it _ well, I am just beginning my outline and I haven't decided where just yet. I know WHAT will happen, just not where. The only thing I can say it will be a life-or-death situation, but that's the life of an author of thrillers. I can't wait to sit down and create it all.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

What To Do When Your World Collapses

Almost every author has a day job, save for those chosen few who are blessed enough to do the job they love for a profitable living. Well, my day job is collapsing, and so is some of the rest of my world. An explanation is needed.

I am a copy editor at The Denver Post, which is joining the parade of narrow-minded thinkers who decide that copy editors are the most expendable part of the publishing enterprise. I disagree strongly, but it's not my newspaper. I am under pressure to put in my resignation (the pressure being an enhanced insurance package for six months) and then walk out the door. I am not alone _ 16 or 17 other copy editors will join the unpopular exodus.

OK, the obvious question: Now what? First, I have kept a good attitude about all this. Well, there was yesterday when the impact of all this hit me. That, however, was a momentary lapse. Today I am focusing my efforts on building new revenue streams, to put it in the language of those who sever jobs for enhanced profits. I am sending out queries on my newest novel to those agents I hold in highest regard. I also am hitting job boards in the Denver area and combing through possible new careers.

I am putting one of my favorite movie lines as my theme for the coming days. It comes from Ed Harris in "Apollo 13" as the NASA team weighs the challenges facing it. The line is simple: "Failure is not an option." I like the sound of that, and I am as dedicated to that as Harris and Co. were. I will triumph against whatever odds life throws at me.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

A Great Writer Must Read

One of my lessons from the Pikes Peak Writers Conference was Joe Lansdale's advice to me to become a voracious reader. To put Lansdale's point in simplest terms: A writer can become great by reading other great writers. The writer-as-reader learns the art of it all that way. He knows that from his own experience. I had a cardinal rule when I was writing a novel: I did not read any other works. That meant for seven to 12 months I didn't pick up a work of fiction of non-fiction. I am mending my ways.

I am juggling reading three works right now, one fiction, one non-fiction and one educational. The fiction is Harlan Coben's "Live Wire" so I can see how a great mystery writer handles his work. My non-fiction is Antonio Salinas' "Siren's Song: The Allure of War" so I can drink in the atmosphere of a soldier on the battlefield. My educational work is Donald Maass' "The Breakout Novelist". I will give a short breakdown on each work.

Coben has an interesting style. He definitely creates characters who are bigger than life, and he puts them in larger-than-life situations. He also lets dialogue carry the freight more than most authors. He is an enjoyable read, and it is no surprise that his work shows up high on the NYT best sellers list.

Salinas is a young writer but a veteran soldier who is still on active duty. His memoirs of his time in Afghanistan are interesting and challenging. He is especially good at giving the reader the feeling of being on the battlefield, and in showing the mindset of a soldier at war. I am a veteran copy editor, and I would have worked on his copy more. There are several places I would have tightened the wording considerably. None of that takes away from the power of the narrative.

Maass' book is worth its weight in gold. He is one of the most powerful agents in the business, and he is a master teacher. He goes through the writing process from beginning to end, and he instructs and challenges the author along the way. This book will be at my fingertips as I continue down my road and become a career novelist. Is that lofty thinking? As the line in "Apollo 13" says, "Failure is not an option."

I have one work I will purchase and put on my must-read list. It is "The Bottoms" by Lansdale. After one of his classes at PPWC, Lansdale told me that one of his overall themes after decades of writing is the impact of racism. The story line of this novel hits that head on. It might not be a comfortable read in some parts, but a great writer learns by reading great writing. This novel won the Edgar Award as best mystery novel of the year. Winning an Edgar is no small feat, and I look forward to the experience. If there is a downside, it is that it took me that long to get around to it. Shame on me.