Monday, December 7, 2015

It's official. I'm retired.

Maybe I can label this as a birthday gift to myself, but all I am doing is admitting what is real As of today, I am officially, totally, completely retired.

That took long enough.

I really was retired in 2014 when Kevin Dale told me my job at The Denver Post was being eliminated. I just didn't realize it then. I won't go through all the time between now and then because I have detailed part of it in earlier blogs.

Here's where I am now.

I get up each morning and decide what I want to do. Usually that is to sit down and write a part of a novel. It also involves considerable time brushing up on German, and I am nearly finished with the intermediate course from an online educational source. (I am far short of speaking the language well because conversational German is far harder than breaking apart sentences on a computer.) I am sort of a house husband who takes care of the dishwasher, laundry and very occasionally the vacuuming. I take time for trips to visit family whether that visit involves a drive or flight of a few hours. Debbie and I have gone to Europe. We have another trip planned for this spring. I spend more time with Deb, which was not the case during my working days when one of us went to work early in the morning and the other one in mid-afternoon and worked until after midnight.

I also have become the main caregiver for my dad. I have learned so much. I learned that he is a cool guy at age 98. He is as independent as he can possibly be. Our time together has been a piece of cake. He is low-maintenance and most appreciative of even the smallest things done for him. I have learned even more about him since he had a stroke. He is mentally tough, and he makes improvements little by little. He has lived a life of doing what needs to be done day by day, and loving those around him, and that hasn't wavered. I am proud to call myself my father's son.

So today I raise my cup of coffee to my family members. I knew it before, but the true gems in life are the people who are closest to you. Deb and I are blessed to have three amazing grown children, and three fantastic grandchildren, and in-laws who are great additions to the family. I am blessed to have a beautiful loving and compassionate wife, and we strive to make our relationship better every day.

So I have a full schedule. It's that I get to determine what that schedule is. Now I am getting ready to welcome relatives who are in the area for a visit, and then we all go to visit Dad at a rehab center. The rest of the day? I will take what I want when I want to take it.

That is a great thing. I wonder why it took me so long to realize the wisdom of it.

Friday, October 23, 2015

How to stay busy during a mental break

I know the value of AIC (ass in chair) as an author, but I know the value of taking a mental break and getting my literary world in order. But that raises a question: What did I do during that time?

My days were filled with various tasks, but three stand out. First, I worked on revisions on my baseball novel. Second, I sent a single query letter on another novel out to a single literary agent. I guess I could label that as an exclusive submission, although that would be fudging the truth. Third, I brushed up on my German, which I did next to nothing with since high school.

I like learning languages, but like many other of my preferences I left this one on the back burner. Being involved in a career does that. I have more free time now, so I turn my attention back to one of my neglected loves. I figured German would be a good starting point because I had a one-year course when I was in high school. (I also took one year of Latin, but that is a dead language that should be studied only if you want to learn foundations of certain languages or enter the priesthood.) I am indebted to the hard work of Herr Norman Tonn during those German classes.

My first problem was finding something I could afford. Rosetta Stone lessons aren't cheap. Another source, Babbel, is much less expensive, but I favor free things. I did a Google search and got a list of websites that don't cost a penny. I started on one, but it had software issues that caused breaks in the teaching program. I looked for another source, and I struck paydirt.

I am learning on Memrise, which is based on London. It has a good method because it breaks down sentences into small bits, and by learning small bits I can learn longer sentences. I completed the basic course, and surged into Intermediate German. I am about a third of the way through this course, and I am hitting some complex new issues. I am doing well, at least by my standards. I couldn't walk into Berlin and strike up a conversation, but I could order at a restaurant and make small talk at times. To be honest, I might not advance past the "ich spreche ein bisschen Deutsch" stage. (That sentence means "I speak a little German.") I am not looking for a job as an interpreter at the U.N. after all.

A small side note: German lessons helped some while watching Bridge of Spies, which is set in large part in West and East Berlin. Okay, there's one point in my favor.

I continue my lessons, both in German and literary things. I don't like to stand still. It keeps life interesting, and I need to build on my interests. That is my simple solution to a complex life.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Write what you love to write

My time of reflection over the past few weeks has been very advantageous. I had been writing on projects for so long that I forgot why I was writing in the first place. That reason has become increasingly clear over the past few days.

The object of being an author is to write what you love to write.

Don't get me wrong. I love all three of my main characters who are the center of my novels. My time away to assess has directed me toward working diligently to finalize one novel. (Veteran authors say there really is no novel that is finalized, just one on which the work stopped for publication. That's very true.) This novel is closest to my heart. It is from a world I know best.

My favorite is my baseball novel. It is good for me because I am writing what I love to write. I don't believe it is good from a financial standpoint. Sports fiction is not a big seller these days. Most literary agents who list sports as a category they represent add that they represent nonfiction sports. It's easy to understand why. Nonfiction relates to a particular event or person, and that increases the potential profitability of that novel. Which is a sports fan most likely to buy, a book about Aaron Rodgers or one about a fictional character? Aaron is going to win that battle every time.

So why am I focused on a nonfiction sports novel? I know this world so well. To my followers from my old hometown of The Dalles, Oregon, here's the basic makeup of my protagonist: He is part Doug Sawyer, part Jim Willis, but the biggest part is just the creation of this fiction writer. There is no player I know of from The Dalles or anywhere else who is an exact copy of this protagonist. If I can't sell this project to an agent and publishing house, I will self-publish in time for next baseball season. That is set in stone.

I don't want to discount my interest in another novel I am working on. The baseball novel is so close to me that it has a special place in my hierarchy. The other novel I have in the finished (for now) stage is vastly different, and so is the subject matter. It touches on things that are relevant today, like job loss, broken relationships, broken dreams and chances to revive treasured hopes. I hear all this junk about how strong our economy is these days, but the anecdotal evidence says otherwise. Many careers, and not just those in journalism, are being wounded by job cuts. I hear friends who work in many different industries say that. The other thing I love about this novel is that my main character can be a jerk. It is that way in the first paragraph. I probably don't help myself by writing in a way that might put some people off. (My first paragraph is rather prickly, and intentionally so. I want a main character with flaws, someone who is real and not a caricature of what a protagonist should be. I am willing to take that chance because it begins a beautiful character arc.)

Again, creating a character with rough edges is what I like. It's like real life, and I try to make my novels mirror real life.

I will go about the business of writing while embracing the love of the game. I move forward with that as my foundation.

Monday, September 14, 2015

I needed a break

I read so much advice from published authors on the best things to do in certain circumstances. Most of them give adequate information. There is one I took to heart about a month ago. One author said that sometimes it's good to put a project away for a while and concentrate on other things if the creative process isn't quite right. I did that. I put my second novel in one series far on the back burner, and I concentrated on a few short stories.

I had to do it. I will try to explain.

I take time during my writing to go over my work at certain intervals. There is no set timetable, like stopping when I get approximately 30 percent of the way through my planned manuscript. I did such a revision with this latest novel, and I didn't like the results. There was the standard "lack of punch" that many writers have in a first draft, but there were other problems. I had a section in which I analyzed the impact of a series of events in my story line. I put it into the middle of one chapter. That was okay. The problem was that I also put it in at the start of another chapter about five chapters later, and I didn't realize that until my revision session. That means I am not concentrating well enough. How could I be so unaware? I need to get back the enthusiasm for my subject matter, which is lacking when judged by my results.

When I analyzed everything in the intervening time, I decided to keep that novel on the back burner and turn my attention to another novel. This one is more from my heart, and I have a desire to make that novel shine. I am starting to work on it as soon as I finish this blog.

Sometimes we need to step back and analyze where we are and what we are doing. Make changes if required, then put my head down and get the job done.

End of analysis.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

The joy of the short story

I discovered a wonderful vacation destination. It's called the world of the short story. Of course, novels are the foundation of my literary efforts, but my journeys into short stories provide nice stopping places. They are filled with different characters and situations, all varied and clearly defined in their own little spaces.

I enjoy the definition of the short story by author Joe Lansdale, a prolific writer in many areas who describes the short story as a novel with all the unnecessary parts taken out. I never fully understood his point until I started writing my own short stories. Each story has its own life, but with fewer complications. I lead protagonists and antagonists in novels through raging rivers and deep canyons of life, and I detail each point of their story. The short story still allows for those raging rivers and deep canyons, but I present problems in a more concise manner. That satisfies the journalist in me.

One part of short story writing I love is being able to detail many protagonists in a number of settings. I have written about a middle-aged woman whose past suddenly reappears; a young man with a series of tough times but with resilient dreams; a young woman doing what seems to be a meaningless routine that is neither meaningless nor routine; and an old man who injects himself into a troubled conversation of two younger people, and they all learn lessons.have other stories running around inside my brain, and I wait for the right moment to bring them to life.

I still have writing sessions each day on my novels, but I take these enriching visits to this other land. I have found that both sides feed the other. That is the kind of win-win situation I love to encounter.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Waking up with an impulse to write

I got up at 5:20 a.m. yesterday, and I had to do it. I had an idea for a short story rattling around my creative center. It had been there for a few days, going from the germ of a story line to a full-blown tangle of problems. I spent the next three to four hours putting everything on paper. I will spend time today making little changes to strengthen wording and flow.

This isn't anything surprising to anyone who works to be an author. This time my format was the short story. I often wake up in the middle of the night and have wording flowing through my mind. It could be a new section of a novel I am working on, or a revision of a section I worked on recently. It's part of an author's life. We live on our creativity after all. That creativity doesn't stop because the clock says it's time for sleep.

Yesterday my focus was on a middle-aged woman in a small Colorado town. Later today I will go back to the sequel of the novel I am pitching to agents these days, and Sean McNabb and his weird world will take over. And, yes, I wake up a few nights and try to figure out just how to create his newest problem, and the details of the world that tortures him.

I wouldn't have it any other way.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

The art of the tactful rejection letter

I met author John Hart at a Pikes Peak Writers Conference, and I had a question I had to ask: What is the first thing an author needs to learn? His reply: "Have a thick skin." Hart knows how difficult it can be to get that first offer of representation from a literary agent. His first novel, King of Lies, was rejected numerous times, and this book ended up on the NY Times best sellers list once an agent and publishing house took him under their wings.

I have a thick skin from my journalism days. A reporter or editor is harangued at times by readers or story subjects for certain things that are disagreeable to them. Well, readers are much more prone to being stinging with their criticism than story subjects, and journalists learn to live with that fact. I also have learned to have that thick skin in trying to sell my literary efforts. I have known rejection on numerous occasions. For every book you see on the shelves or an online list, there are tens of thousands of rejected works by authors with high hopes.

Here is the basic rejection letter or email: "Thank you for considering me to represent your novel, but I do not believe it is a good fit for me at this time. Other agents have other needs, so I wish you good luck as you continue to seek representation."

Some letters or emails are better than others. One agent said she strongly considered my latest work, but she keeps a modest number of clients and isn't looking to add to it at this time. Another credited me for researching my subject matter well. The best rejection letter I received was for one of my Daniel Pace novels, and it was written by agent Pamela Ahearn of New Orleans. I pitched the book as a thriller. Ms. Ahearn said if that was the genre I intended to use, then I needed to learn to write thrillers. I used much more depth of character development than allowed in the standard thriller. Thank you, Ms. Ahearn. I now list my novels as commercial fiction or mainstream fiction simply because that is what they are.

I keep two things among my computer bookmarks. One is a listing of literary agents and the genres they represent. The other is a listing of great novels that were rejected for various reasons. I have written about Kathryn Stockett's three-year efforts to sell her novel The Help. The great C.S. Lewis spent years trying to sell the first of his Narnia stories. J.K. Rowling got nowhere in the publishing world until an agent brought a manuscript home and a young relative starting reading it, and the young man asked if there were other novels by this author. The Harry Potter series has had money cascading in to Rowling, her publishing house and her agent since that little boy's request.

I wait for one of those moments, and I keep my thick skin intact in the meantime.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Time travel? Every good author does it

H.G. Wells captivated our minds with the story of The Time Machine, a device that allowed people to be transported into the future. It is a wonderful story, but authors don't need a tangible device. They already have one. It's called the creative mind. Even writers who concentrate on modern times take readers to other places and events, thanks to story line creation.

I wondered where I would put myself in history if I had the choice. I found the answer while watching a PBS documentary on train travel in northern Italy, especially the arrival in Venice. The show's host used a old travel guide from the early 1900s to illustrate his points. That guide book told of the introduction travelers received in Venice. The most prominent visitors flocked to the city because it was a haven for the rich and entitled. It was a place of great villas and venues where the rich could enjoy the benefits of their status. British upper class loved to come here.

The guide book welcomed visitors to Venice by pulling into the Santa Lucia train station. Visitors then walked down the steps to a line of gondolas that were ready to whisk them to their temporary quarters in the city. I have pulled into the Santa Lucia station, and I know the view from the steps of the station. The line of gondolas has thinned out because the main transportation source now is the water taxi, or vaporetto. My wife and I chose to walk to our hotel in the Santa Croce section, and we entered the main part of Venice by walking over the Scalzi Bridge.

What if I was back in the early 1900s when I visited? That is the time I would prefer. It was the time of bowler hats and suits for men, and women in their finery. It is far from the casual slacks and T-shirts of today's travelers. I would have loved to walk down the steps of the station and head to a gondola, and be taken to my destination. I would have loved to be in a suit and a bowler, and my wife Deb (or more properly Lady Deborah) in a white gown, and she would shade herself with a parasol.

There is one caveat to this wish. I would want to have the mind I have now, which knows of the tumult that was awaiting those early travelers. I would want to know about an archduke being assassinated in Sarajevo, and the tangle of alliances that led to the "war to end all wars." I would have that knowledge and watch those of privilege as they went about their lives. Venice was their adult playground, and the specter of approaching war had no impact on them. They would carry on with their parties, and wear masks like the entitled used to do in Venice. They would think their lives were safe and secure, and they would laugh and sip champagne.

And I would know better.

That's my type of time travel. Care to join me?

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The invaluable help of Kevin Vaughan at Denver Post

I can't finish any commentary on my time as the editor of YourHub at The Denver Post without mentioning Kevin Vaughan. Those who watch Fox Sports these days see Kevin as a reporter who covers the big stories, most notably the Aaron Hernandez murder trial. But I knew him as the trusted supervisor who took YourHub under his wing.

Kevin was my go-to guy when I needed to discuss ideas and problems. He had the managerial experience to know the tricky parts of leading people, everything from story creation and execution to personnel matters. I made sure to include Vaughan on any email I sent that involved my plans for the future of YourHub.

Vaughan's involvement with YourHub began when he was still at the Rocky Mountain News, which was where YourHub got its start. He was very interested in the concept of hyperlocal news, and he played a part in making that idea work from the earliest days of YourHub. Vaughan and YourHub were brought on board by The Post after the Rocky ceased operations, and I ended up being a lucky manager because of that. Vaughan always had an open door when I needed to talk things over, and he even sat in on a meeting to work on a personnel matter with one of my reporters.

But Vaughan left for other responsibilities, and a lot walked out the door when he did. One of those things was someone I could go to and discuss YourHub matters. I thought the job of being the YourHub adviser fell to the person who replaced Vaughan in his managerial position. That wasn't the case. In fact, no one stepped in to be the person I could turn to when I had questions and concerns, at least not to the level that Vaughan had.

No manager can say he or she guides without having others they can fall back on. You treasure the people who step up and become helpers. The Post lost a lot when Vaughan walked out the door, and one area of considerable loss was YourHub. I owe Vaughan a lot, and I am glad to talk about his dedication to the job. He's one of the very good ones in journalism.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Journalism rules that help in writing novels

I was delusional when I started writing novels. I figured that because I could write good stories for journalism that I could take those lessons and make an easy transition to being a novelist who specializes in fiction. That didn't work. I knew how to write plot, but I suffered when it came to building character. I am refining that part of my abilities.

Still, there are lessons from journalism that translate well to writing novels. Here are a few:

1. Be concise. A journalist takes a large volume of information and puts it into a compact package. Newspaper articles are 10 inches long, and a feature story can be 25 inches. Anything longer than that is rare. But that training in writing tight works well in crafting novels.

2. Edit tight. This is rule 1A in being concise. Even my journalism training didn't limit me to using just the words I needed to build a scene. I trimmed words and sentences that were extraneous on my first reading of my completed first draft, and I trimmed more in my reading of my revised manuscript. Be your own toughest critic.

3. Listen to good advice. I loved working for good supervisors who helped me write or edit better. Yes, I might rebel a bit at being told that I was doing it wrong, but I learned that good advice helped me improve. In the world of the novelist, the beta reader serves as that good supervisor. A good beta reader will tell you things you don't want to hear, but use that advice to your advantage. Also, I violate a "rule" of writing novels and have two family members among my beta readers. Both are very open in their criticism, and they don't hold back to "make me feel better." That's a good thing.

4. Make your subject accessible to readers. A good journalist can take a difficult subject and give it to a reader in an easily understandable package. The journalist avoids jargon and overly technical language. If that technical language is necessary to understand the subject matter, the journalist will explain it simply. Also, accessibility means making a tough or unique subject somehow touch a reader's sensitivities. I do that in my novels by centering on times and subjects that affect real people. I write about current times, or those in the near future. I also touch on subjects that the usual reader can relate to, things like depression, job loss, family tragedies, the pressures of growing into adulthood, etc. In a manner, I make real life the main antagonist. People can relate to that.

5. Be real. Journalism is the ability to tell real stories by using the facts. Sure, fiction is all made up, and it is more fun to write when I can control the world I am building. I also have learned to write honestly even in fiction. My protagonists have weaknesses, and I relate those in real situations. I won't publish what I have written, but one of my protagonists, Sean McNabb, is a bit of a jerk. No, make it that he is a considerable jerk. I make that plain in the first paragraph of the first chapter. I learned to craft a character that way from reading Stephen King's advice on what a novelist should do. Write what YOU want to write, not what you think the marketplace wants, or what won't jar people you know. I don't want to cheat my readers even in relating difficult subjects. That includes scenes involving violence or sex.

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.