Oct 26

My New Mystery Is Now Available

My new e-book mystery, MURDER IN MULESHOE, is available Amazon for Kindle and through Smashwords.com for epub and other e-book formats.  $2.99.  Enjoy!!

Murder In Muleshoe copy

Oct 25

Write What You Love

In 1987 Marsha Sinetar wrote a book about helping people find their career called Do What You Love and the Money Will Follow. That’s the bottom line for you as a writer. I’m not one of those who believes you have to suffer for your art. I think you ought to love it. If you’re going to get up and do it every day, nothing is going to motivate you more than your passion for your art.

French actor, playwright, Moliere said it best when he said, “Writing is like prostitution. First you do it for love, and then for a few close friends, and then for money.” Funny, sure, but also good sense.

I once worked at a university where everybody in one particular department just hated each other. They wouldn’t speak to each other in the hallways and saw everything any colleague did as somehow a slight against them. They brooded and snarled at each other — they gave themselves ulcers with the acid they constantly generated in their stomachs. I could never figure out why anybody wanted to work there. I would have been looking for another job every day.

Compared with the department I worked in where everyone enjoyed each other’s company and regularly had lunch together — it was the difference between heaven and hell every single day.

No matter what it is you write, romance, action/adventure, westerns, science fiction, mystery, history — whatever — you most likely aren’t an expert in it and have to do research for your writing.  That’s wonderful.  You keep learning.  Even if you are an expert, what you know also fuels your speculation and your curiosity. A famous Methodist minister in New York of the 1930’s and 40’s, Ralph W. Sockman once said, “The larger the island of knowledge, the longer the shoreline of wonder.” You already realize that “What if…” is the most important question of your profession. Your mind wanders best in fields of familiarity.

Think about science fiction — it’s mostly speculation about what we know of the science of our universe. What if there was a universe that operated by different rules? What if the rules of physics, sociology, or any other science were taken to it’s logical extreme — but what if these rules were taken to their illogical extremes?  What you know, what you love, is where you are your most comfortable and your most creative.

As a writer you need a platform — a collection of your work — upon which to build a career.  When you begin, nobody know who you are or what you write.  Of course, you could be a one-book-wonder, but don’t count on it.  You should be in this writing business for the long haul.  And the more you love what you do, the more of it you can crank out.  There are numerous writers who like what they do so much that they write more than their publisher can deal with.  (I write e-books so I don’t have that problem.)

British author Henry Patterson wrote thirty-five adventure novels between 1959 and 1974. Sometimes he turned out three or four such novels per year and his publisher demanded that he began using some other pseudonyms. So he wrote under his own name as well as those of James Graham, Martin Fallon, and Hugh Marlowe, and Jack Higgins.   Then in 1975 one of the novels he put out was The Eagle Has Landed under the name of Jack Higgins. That was a worldwide best seller. So his publisher ended up reissuing all of his other books under the Jack Higgins. His catalogue of books paid off wonderfully. This could happen to you.

If you try to write what you think readers like, but you don’t really enjoy the topic, the genre, or the field, it’s going to be like doing any job you don’t love. You can do it, you may even be able to make a living at it, but there’s no joy in it for you.

Now think about your writing. Do you write what you love? Would you read your kind of story if you hadn’t written it? Think about what kinds of books you read. You tend to read what you love. Is that what you write?

As I wrote at the beginning of this, write what you love. That’s where your bliss is — that’s what you can look forward to everyday. You only go around once. Why not ride the horse you like best?

 

Oct 18

Even When You’re Not Writing

There’s a magazine cartoon from either “The Writer” or “The Writer’s Digest” from years ago I remember. It showed a writer standing at a double window looking out on a fall day in his tweed jacket and a pipe in his mouth, talking to his wife dressed in an apron and holding a feather duster in one hand. The home office had full bookcase lined walls with an empty electric typewriter in the middle of a large messy desk. The writer was saying to his wife, “Just because I’m not writing, it doesn’t mean I’m not writing.”

We always have old ideas, storylines, and concepts percolating somewhere on a back burner. Sometimes it might be an almost forgotten character or incident which only needs the right stimulus to ignite into a glowing, roaring inspiration. Even when I’m supposed to be going to sleep, my wife will sometimes elbow me in bed and say, “Stop writing for today. I can hear the gears turning.” My wife is a poet, painter, jewelry maker and children’s story author. She understands how it works.

But it’s a concept many non-writers have trouble accepting — except, perhaps, for poets who are always seeing the world through unique eyes. Any moment for the poet can become like Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken.” But for the mystery, scifi, or romantic writer?   The same is true.

There are two requirements for the writer to be writing when he isn’t writing.

First there’s the awareness that you have your passive radar, sonar and both audio and video recorders always on. Something someone says to you or around you — even something you see or hear from a wall mounted TV in a bar or restaurant — could provide the missing puzzle piece you’ve needed for a long time or even for the scene you’re working on at the moment.   You have to develop this wakefulness at a subconscious level and make sure it’s on and operating.

It reminds me of the ol’ joke about the preacher caught in a flood when the local river topped its banks. The police came through telling everyone to evacuate. . But the preacher said, “No, God will save me!” As the water began to rise and covered the streets, the local fire department was able to reach his front porch in a rubber boat and offered to take him to safety. Again the preacher refused saying, “No. God will save me!” When the water swept his house into the river, the preacher had to climb up to his roof. A Coast Guard rescue helicopter dropped a sling with a Coastie rescuer but again the preacher shook his head. “No. God will save me!” The house finally broke apart and the preacher drowned. When he got to heaven he met God and said he just didn’t understand. “I thought you were going to save me,” he pleaded. God replied, “I sent the police, the fire department and the Coast Guard.”

With writers, we have to be willing to help ourselves — to be willing to pick up on available stimuli and to be open to see things for more than just what’s on the surface.

Singer/songwriter Don Henley of the rock group, The Eagles, said a friend of his was always coming up with phrases or sayings which ended up part of songs Henley wrote. For example, they were in a bar one night which catered to working rockers and trophy wives looking for an illicit one-night stand. Henley’s friend was looking at the women at the bar and said, “Look at those lying eyes.” Lying Eyes became one of The Eagles biggest hits.

The second requirement is a way to write down or record the flashes of insight. I always carry 3 by 5 cards with me and have them beside my bed, beside my easy chair and on my desk. But Evernote or Penultimate, Pocket, and an array of other note taking programs available for your phone or pad make it so easy to make yourself a reminder. And don’t forget the onboard camera. Sometimes the quickest way to get something down is to snap a picture. The important thing is not to forget that flash you got somewhere, somehow.

As a writer, even when you’re not writing, you’re still writing.

Oct 01

The Reluctant President

 

Reluctant President copy

What if in the dark, small hours of a morning you discovered Secret Service agents at your front door telling you that you were now the President of the United States?  That’s the way it happened to Porter Randall, a Texas Panhandle surgeon turned novelist who had been persuaded by friends to run for Congress for just a couple of terms.  Could a non-politician without rampant ambition or a lust for power fulfill this office? What would happen to the country?  Would he; could he make a real difference in the world as we know it?  Porter  becomes The Reluctant President and finds out.

This is the first book of the series.

Available only at Amazon.com

Sep 30

The Reluctant Incumbent

The Reluctant Incumbent (2)

Part two of my Reluctant President series, The Reluctant Incumbent, is now finished and up on Amazon.  It is a sequel and picks up right where the first story left off — and it’s political fiction.  It was fun to write and I hope as fun to read as the first one.

Sep 30

Character Appearance Thumbnail

One common thing all fiction writers have to do is to give a thumbnail sketch of new characters. The physical appearance of characters consists of the same things — face features, body type, hair and perhaps a memorable trait.

 

What I’ve been doing for the last couple of years is using an Excel spreadsheet with each of the above items listed. What I’ve recently discovered is a program called SCAPPLE which works with SCRIVENER. But it also is a stand-alone program.

 

If you’ve ever uses VISUAL THESAURUS, you know the spider type spread of information it displays for a word you have entered. SCAPPLE works the same way — only you get to set up all the words and their connections.

Here are the ones I currently use.

Click on each one and zoom in.

Body Types

Body Types

Face

Screen Shot 2015-09-30 at 4.51.38 PM

Hair

Screen Shot 2015-09-30 at 4.51.05 PM

You can see how you could set one of these up for creatures, monsters, angels, any type of fantasy characters. There are probably other uses you can think of for this — and remember nobody sees this but you; so your spelling and non PC entries don’t matter. This is a work sheet for you.

What I’d like to make is a way to enter a character’s name in a blank page which is associated with these pages and then by merely clicking on an item, any item, any collection of items, the end result would be an RTF file I could use to drop into my Character List.

One thing you don’t see here is age. I don’t figure I need that, although I’d certainly have that in mind as I put a character description together.

I plan to put one of these together with Quirks (chewing on glasses, drumming fingers on a table, tapping foot, facial twitch, etc.) and another for Hand Props (smoking pipe, toothpick, pocket watch, coin rolled from one finger to another, cell phone, purse, etc).

Like everything else, if this works for you, great — even if it spurs you to find your own layout such information — it’s something you might be able to use almost on a daily basis if you’re serious about your writing.

Sep 29

So Much Crap

I just finished cleaning out 67,500+ comments on this blog. That has to be the hardest part of running a blog. Who knew? If anyone knows how to eliminate the crap, please let me know.

I don’t need or use Viagra; I’m not selling footwear or insurance? So why do these people send in this kind of comment? I know it must be some sort of robo machine doing this but, DAMN, some people really need to get a life.

I’d really like to interact with anyone who has questions or comments about this blog.

Thus my task is to check in on it more often than I do.

Sep 28

Rethinking SCRIVENER

I’ve been working on my latest novel, a mystery, MURDER IN MULESHOE, and almost 30 chapters in I began struggling with it in MS Word. I’d bought SCRIVENER for both the I-mac, my main computer, and for my old luggable PC which I use when I’m away. But — there is a steep — although very worthwhile learning curve with SCRIVENER, and not easily finding what I wanted after my previous novel, THE RELUCTANT INCUMBENT, (political fiction), I went through all the labor of moving things back to Word before I published on Amazon. (Remember, I only write e-novels.)

So, back in the middle of my new novel I was having problems keeping up with everything; therefore I reluctantly returned to SCRIVENER — but only after I studied a half dozen Youtube videos and got a better handle on how the program works. Now, I’m very happy to be back in SCRIVENER because when you can do what you want, it’s a lot easier than stumbling around in MS Word.

Here’s what I mean: I don’t name my chapters I number them. But deep in the story I realize there is something I need to go back and correct or add in a previous chapter. I don’t know what chapter the original material is in — even if I’m close, I have to check out two or three chapters before I find the right place. Now with SCRIVENER I can display the whole novel as a single document and even if I continue to use the ol’ standard numbering system for chapters, I can find what I’m looking for in the text without having to open and close several chapters. An even better method I discovered on one of the videos is not to number the chapters but to give each a three or four word name that’s really the point of the chapter. Of course, I could do this in Word, but it’s still easier in SCRIVENER.

The way SCRIVENER works is that it will number the chapters for you when you’re finished and “compile” the entire document with a single key stroke. And the names I’ve given the chapters for reference never shows up anywhere in the finished document. If I decide I need to add an additional chapter, drop one, or reshuffle the order, I can do that with a simple drag and drop and the program will properly number the chapters correctly in the end automatically. There’s no more going through the whole mess of changing the chapter numbers in the file name and inside the chapter on its first page.

This alone is reason enough to make the switch.

But a second advantage I learned from one of the videos is to use DROPBOX in the cloud as my savings hub (I do a back up on both my I-mac and my PC, but the primary document is in the cloud. Both copies of the SCRIVENER on the PC and the MAC can read the DROPBOX files and so I can switch back and forth with no hassle. Another major plus.

I am writing all this to save you some grief. I got an I-mac because I like the big screen and I like to enlarge the print to make it easier to read and work with, too. But in order to access many of my old files which were on PC formatted discs, I needed to put Parallels, a program which allows you to devote part of your Mac to PC format and programs. So, now I don’t have to do so much switching back and forth between the two formats on my I-mac.

The whole point of this post is to help anyone who happens to read it — and has not ever heard of, much less tried SCRIVENER — to check it out. There is a free download available and even if you don’t move between machines, the program is so worth learning. I have even broken down and bought the Kindle version of SCRIVENER For Dummies (which I also recommend). The more you use SCRIVENER and the more you learn about it, the better I believe you’ll like it.

 

Sep 05

CLEANING HOUSE (DISK DRIVE)

When was the last time you scrolled through your files looking for something, only to have your eye caught by some file you know didn’t belong where it was? But, like most of us, when you’re on an errand looking for something else or in the middle of writing and need a particular file, you make yourself a mental note to go back and clean things up — soon.

Today is that “soon” day for me. I just finished going through my main hard drive and separated out short stories from novels, ideas from the general assemblage of files of all sorts. I discovered I needed to create a new list of files including these:

BLOGS

CHARACTER DESCRIPTIONS

E-BOOKS

(TITLE PAGE)

(COPYRIGHT PAGE)

(ABOUT THE AUTHOR)

(HYPER LINKED AVAILABLE E-BOOKS (K) )

(HYPER LINKED AVAILABLE E-BOOKS (SW) )

(HYPER LINKED AVAILABLE E-BOOKS (KO) )

(SAMPLE REVIEW REQUEST)

FICTION

(COVERS)

((NOVELS))

((SHORT STORIES))

(NOVELS)

((ADVENTURE))

((CHILDREN’S STORIES))

((ESPIONAGE))

((FAMILY HISTORY))

((LITERARY)) [this turns out to be one of my smallest — what does that tell you?]

((MYSTERIES))

((PLAYS))

((POLITICAL FICTION))

((SCREENPLAYS))

((VIETNAM))

((WESTERNS))

(SHORT STORIES)

(PLAYS)

(STORY IDEAS)

NAMES

POSSIBLE TITLES,

SPEECHES

TEXTBOOKS

(SCREENWRITING)

(DIRECTING)

WRITING

Of course I’m not including such files as DOWNLOADS, LETTERS, PICTURES and all the other files we all have and need. But within the writing I found that I needed a couple of files under each specific title of works in some stage of development. Those required files were: NOTES, and RESEARCH. Next I found that I needed these files under each project: CHARACTER LIST, NOTES, OUTLINE, and SAMPLE CHAPTER (with the words “Chapter #” the proper number of spaces between the chapter and the first line of text, but I began with the word, “The” indented and ready to go.

For e-novels I know I’m going to need the following items for the finished book: TITLE PAGE, COPYRIGHT PAGE, ABOUT THE AUTHOR, LIST OF AVAILABLE E-BOOKS, SHORT DESCRIPTIVE PARAGRAPH, and LONG DESCRIPTIVE PARAGRAPH. So, I include them in with each project. This list will look like this:

COMPLETE E-BOOK

((ABOUT THE AUTHOR))

((SAMPLE TITLE PAGE))

((SAMPLE COPYRIGHT PAGE))

((AVAILABLE E-BOOKS w/ HYPERLINKS))

((REVIEW REQUEST))

Finally, I’ll need a file where I can put all the chapters together with the title and copyright page, even a dedication page, the book chapter by chapter, an about-the-author page, a list of available e-books with hyperlinks and a request for a review with a hyperlink back to the Kindle, or Smashwords, or Kobo, or whichever site I’m publishing the book.

Now a typical novel will look like this:

FICTION

(WESTERN)

((GONE TO TEXAS))

(((BRIEF DESCRIPTIVE PARAGRAPH)))

(((CHARACTER LIST)))

(((COPYRIGHT PAGE)))

(((LONG DESCRIPTIVE PARAGRAPH)))

(((NOTES)))

(((OUTLINE)))

(((RESEARCH)))

(((SAMPLE CHAPTER)))

(((TITLE PAGE)))

(((Chapter 1)))

(((Chapter 2)))

Now, I’m ready to get back to work with a cleaned up disk drive and file system. Am I not a good boy?

 

Jun 11

KEEPING TRACK OF CHARACTERS

In another post I mentioned the idea of using the alphabet to keep from having too many characters whose names that not only begin with the same letter, but are even similar in the number of letters. Imagine having a story with characters named Betsy, Betty, Bessie, and Bossy. In screenwriting where the character’s name is over the dialogue, characters with similar names become very confusing.

Be it short stories, plays, screenplays or novels, it’s a good plan to keep track of all your characters, major, minor and even insignificant. What I’ve started doing is to have a Character List where I have an alphabet and whenever I introduce a character, I enter the character and a thumbnail sketch of information I know about them.

Here’s an example:

Doris Meany — 50’s, overweight, beady black eyes, beautiful complexion, nursing supervisor, divorced, mother of daughter who is missing in action in Afghanistan,

Able Ryan — 40’s, muscled, freckled, thinning red hair, disbarred lawyer turned private detective, married to an alcoholic, drug abuser who is in recovery

Melvin Thao — a Mong, (Hmong, Asian ethnic group from the mountainous regions of China, Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand) shorter than his partner, oriental looking, shaved head. He carries a .40 Glock 19 in a shoulder holster w/ 2 extra clips, and a Beretta 21 Bobcat, .22 in an ankle holster.

As I proceed with the story and the character develops or I discover more information about an already introduced character, I add to their paragraph on my Character List. I’ve found that when a character turns up again it is so nice to have their basic info easily at hand to both remind me who they are, and to note what parts of their character I’ve not created or revealed.

It also helps keep the names from being in a part of the alphabet I’ve already used by eliminating each letter from my alphabet as I use it. I only count one letter of the alphabet per character because I figure a character will primarily be known by either first or last name, maybe even a nick name, and that’s why I underline that letter in the character’s name on this list. Like this:

A

B

C

E

F

G

H

I

J

K

L

N

O

Etc.

Particularly in longer pieces, novel, scripts, it’s good to have all the character info in an easily accessible place. If you’re one of those who does not outline and just create your story as you go, you’ll find a list like this very helpful when you discover a character you had almost forgotten about who suddenly becomes a key player.

I used to think I would get an intern back when I was still teaching full time, to go through all my 30 odd screenplay and half dozen stage plays, as well as my novels and short stories and do this kind of thing for all my characters. But back then, I was thinking about putting the information on a 3 X 5 card. Doing this myself as I go now is easy.

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