ICYMI: The Remarkable Interview

In case you missed it (ICYMI) over the weekend, I finally gave in. As you know, I’m an intensely private person who shuns any limelight. However, I finally consented to a revealing, personal and truly fascinating interview…. with myself.

 Free Stock Photo: This image depicts a stack of books, topped by pair of eyeglasses.


Free Stock Photo: This image depicts a stack of books, topped by pair of eyeglasses.

The interview is posted here in two parts – one and two. Here’s a small sample. When I asked myself why I wanted to write my first novel, I replied to myself thoughtfully….

I’d always wanted to write non-fiction. I’ve got bl-ody degrees coming out of my…. well, but who gives a damn about what I have to say about anything. Or you for that matter. Everyone’s got an opinion. Like should Scotland be independent? How the hell should I know?

Now, just to set your expectations, I never made myself cry. I held it together until the very end. Good grief, I’m not Oprah. ;-)

PART 1: “Saturday Interview: All About Vampires.”
PART 2: “Our Interview With A Legendary Author, Part II.”

In The Home Stretch

Done. The sequel’s story is now essentially finished. That’s why no post here yesterday. I realized if I put my head down and devoted the entire day to it, I’d get across that line at last….

Free Stock Photo: Illustration of a business man jumping.

Free Stock Photo: Illustration of a business man jumping.

That’s the second one. I first started “messing around” at (secretly) writing the first book at our then home in Christchurch, Dorset, way back in September 2012. A few months later, I had given myself a firm, “three year” plan: treat it like work, not a hobby, and compose a trilogy.

Next, I read the manuscript from beginning to end. I will proofread it carefully for errors, dopiness, continuity issues, and to ascertain the overall “feel” of the “flow” of the tale from a reader’s view. After revisions, the final version will get “passed around” to others for their feedback. Given where I am, I may indeed make my “November 15″ self-imposed publication deadline.

If you drop by here regularly – “Hello again!” – you may know I had an emotional time with some of this one, much more so than with the first book. I had not realized before just how support on the net can be so helpful while writing. You here are excellent “listeners.” ;-)

The last part of the story I wrote brought back a variety of unpleasant memories. And our late girlfriend Kam does fit in well: she will make a “cameo” in it as herself as I had hoped “she” would. Life now and then may weigh us down and leave its impacts on our writing: overall, this one is a bit “darker” than the first book.

Last weekend, I’d also finally – finally! – figured out how to end it. The closer I had come to winding up the book, the more dissatisfied I had become with the tentative ending. I’d reached – privately, inside – the point of frantic over it.

However, as we were leaving church last Sunday, I walked by a man holding an envelope. I had a minor epiphany. (Could a location for one have been more appropriate?)

“Got it! Perfect! Why didn’t I think of it before?!”

We never do, until the idea smashes us in the face of course. Well, at least I think it’s “perfect” in my novelistic mind. After publication, I’ll find out what all the rest of you think!

And the third book is now increasingly bouncing around in my head. I have already started framing it. Happy Saturday! :-)

I May Soon Be “Discovered”

….although not in the way I had, uh, really wished. ;-)

First, please pardon a quick plug, which also provides necessary background. I’ve written before about an English friend who was working on what I had tongue-in-cheek termed a seriousguy book.” Along the way, when asked I offered him bits of independent publishing advice based on my own (pretty steep) learning curve.

Out of the blue, his wife messaged yesterday that it is now published. Far from being only for “guys”, it’s a thriller that’s stuffed with the likes of his uncanny ability to write well about living in the U.S. without ever having set foot in the U.S. Entitled The Bastard Reich, it’s on Amazon in U.K. paperback and Kindle, and U.S. paperback and Kindle, and, I suppose, on all the other Amazons around the world.

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Here are the opening lines in the book description:

In the final months of the Second World War a hospital deep in the heart of Bavaria performs vile experiments behind its sinister stone walls, but a cataclysmic event exposes the true nature of its evil work.

Meanwhile, downed American Pilot, Captain Jack Harrison, finds himself miles behind enemy lines and begins a deadly escape from capture by the Waffen SS, who are hunting him down….

Given that story, I’m sure new author S. Maidment will shortly be bombarded with those movie deal inquiries. Naturally, it’ll need a male lead. How about Tom Cruise? ;-)

I noticed also that he thanked me in his Acknowledgements. I’m genuinely flattered. I had not expected that.

However, I also saw that in “thanking” me he may have totally inadvertently opened the door to unmasking my “secret identity.” For without knowing I had gotten a mention in the Acknowledgements, my wife had already recommended it on Facebook. My uncle immediately jumped in saying he’s buying it.

See where this could be heading?

All my uncle needs to do is skim the Acknowledgements. He’ll see my wife’s name is there, but my real name is not. If he notices that same sentence opens with those “thanks” to an author named “R. J. Nello” whom he’s never heard of…. and if he “googles” that name?…. Voilà! I’m discovered!

My wife doesn’t think he’ll spot it. But I’m far less sure. He usually reads thoroughly, and I have to believe he would doubly so this time – including the Acknowledgements – given she recommended the book because it had been written by an English friend.

I was not planning on telling him, or anyone else in my American family. But if my uncle does at last find out by this back door what I’ve been up to, I’m prepared. I had always believed there was a reasonable chance he would stumble on my literary alter ego eventually. ;-)

So, as the cliché goes, watch this space. The days and weeks to come may be fun! I’ll keep you updated!

“How was your day, dear?” (I Wish I Could Tell You)

In an early post – when I had so few popping by, I suppose I was posting then mostly to myself ;-) – I had written that I did not really feel lonely or isolated while writing. In other jobs, I had long been used to working without close supervision. I had also often worked from home too, so the lack of an outside office and colleagues was not unusual for me.

What has become an issue in the last year is I’m realizing I spend a great deal of time alone in my head with my story in a way that no one – not even my wife – fully understands. I find that at the end of a day I can’t really offload about what I’ve done, or what’s proving a challenge. Others aren’t really all that interested (and that’s not unreasonable of them) in listening to me recount it.

Free Stock Photo: Red F1 help key on a keyboard.

Free Stock Photo: Red F1 help key on a keyboard.

Example: I spent much of yesterday working quietly at my desk. I was satisfied with what I had achieved by the time I’d called it quits. Yet sharing that in any depth was simply not possible.

“How was your day, dear?”

“Fine. I got lots done. I think I’ll pour myself a Vodka and Coke.”

[What I'd give to sit down with that drink for a while and really tell you. I'd explain I wrote more of that strange love scene that's been driving me bonkers. I also came up with what I believe is a telling (and in its way amusing) exchange at U.S. immigration, and then at baggage reclaim, at JFK. I'm thinking a Gulf princess could be involved too. Much tougher was I also got more written on characters' reactions to an illness, which I'd drawn from the true death of a relative, and which is also why I found myself fighting back real tears as I wrote.... and which is also why I seemed a bit grouchy when you'd asked me something totally unrelated to that which I was immersed in at that very instant. I'm sorry. And, God, there's always Kam. Straining to produce something worth unexpectedly dedicating to her memory is wearing me down emotionally. I get one shot at this. If I screw it up, I don't get another chance.]

If you write, you have your own personal burdens and perhaps similar feelings. So I’m finding this blog useful. After all, I just told you that…. which I’d told to no one I see in person.

A finished product may eventually impress readers, but it can be difficult to share the in-progress ups and downs that are inevitable in actually getting there. I believe I would’ve benefited from having a site like this during the writing of the first book in 2013. For this year, for its sequel, I know it’s an invaluable outlet on which I can blow off some “How was your day, dear?” steam: no matter what, I can at least tell you.

Thanks for following and reading. :-)

It’s Not A 40 Hour Week

The more book you write, the more you need to remember, and the more you have to keep together. Working through the first sequel, I’m juggling several families, as well as multiple locations in three countries: the U.S. and France again of course, and this time Britain too. Subplots blend together, or they may not. I have to keep personal histories straight. I need to keep the timeframe in mind.

Because I’m writing a “real world.” I suspect penning fantasy is easier in at least this respect: you may always make up something magical to move a story along. But, as I like to joke, I have no vampires, so the story must not only be compelling and break new ground, but it must fit into its historical locale (the mid-1990s) and ultimately read “believably.”

Gee, what could be easier? But before I wrote any of it, I had already outlined broadly what would happen all the way to the end. I had summarized for myself in a Word document where I wanted the story to go and how it would get there. It was not unlike a builder framing a house.

* * *

After that framing, I began constructing the interior – which is where I am now. I’ve got about 75,000 words. Some will definitely be changed, and some seem likely to stay as is; but I’m not nearly finished yet.

I regularly re-upload the manuscript-in-progress in .pdf to an “e-reader.” Last night, I had been re-reading a section I’d written, oh, at least two months ago. I realized I had actually forgotten lots of the story details in that part of the book.

Re-reading in a detached manner after an extended interval has its creative benefits. I found myself doing what I always do, thinking: “Oh, that’s good! I wrote that?” as well as, “Geez, that’s a bit amateurish. You aren’t 14 years old. That’s getting the chop!” I also had some pangs of concern: “Hmm, am I going overboard with that sex scene? Remember women friends will again be reading this!” ;-)

How my real life novelist uncle would laugh at me. In Passports, I’d slotted in a fictionalized tribute to him that stemmed from an actual conversation I once had:

“You should write something,” she prodded him. “Your uncle could help you.”

Distinctly uneasy with that recommendation, James discounted it. “What he writes isn’t what I like to read. I couldn’t write what he does. I remember my grandmother once telling him off about the sex. ‘Where did you learn stuff like that?’ she yelled.”

“Hmm, yes, I agree with her from what I have read,” Isabelle smirked. “I think your uncle has learned many things a mother would not want to believe her son knows. It does not matter how old he becomes!”

It is sneaky dropping bits like that in, I know. But, hey, Ernest Hemingway would! ;-)

* * *

So I smiled to myself when I noticed Author Alliance tossed this out the other day for the consideration of “Twitterdom”:

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Seriously? I was struck immediately with that being – for me, anyhow – impossible to answer. It was – also for me, at any rate – borderline silly. I tweeted back, “How long is a piece of string?”

Writing is not just the mechanics of pre-organizing the book, and then the typing, and the occasional extra research, and the editing. For me, writing these novels is all-consuming. They occupy and fill my mind.

They have become LIFE – which they should be if they are to be “alive” for future readers. Even when I’m not physically sitting in a front of a PC writing, I may well be thinking about what I will be writing, could be writing, or will change. How do I possibly note all that on a timesheet? ;-)

Oh, and Happy Bastille Day!

Road Trip!

Good Morning! (5:45 ET USA.) Me, on Twitter, last night:

Leaving early Wednesday morning to drive from Pennsylvania to the #FloridaKeys. After 3 overnights, we get there Saturday. Yes, we are nuts.

Just getting ready to head off. Will be on the net intermittently over the next few days while on the road…

Oh, and the sequel is downloaded to the iPad, via an app that does Word, so the tap tap tapping will continue. While writing a novel, you do not really get “holidays.” I’d never planned to put it down over these weeks; and ideas can spring up at anytime as well, so it is worth being prepared.

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And holidays also give you the opportunity, perhaps, to stock up on some new “story material.” ;-)

Some Literary Profundity….

….courtesy of Twitter:

@AdviceToWriters: Writing fiction is the act of weaving a series of lies to arrive at a greater truth.

KHALED HOSSEINI

Hmm. Is it? Do “lies” ever actually reveal “truth”?

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I see it rather more this way: If your fiction is the act of weaving a series of untruths, it’s ultimately a lie.

But that’s just my personal take, of course. ;-)

Write! Write! Write!

Earlier, in response to a post by Cas Blomberg at her excellent novelist blog, yeh, maybe I got a bit carried away. ;-) But I think my reply ramble is worth reproducing here in full:

Cas, that is a stonking good post. Much of what you write sounds familiar – especially the rewriting and “fixing holes” and the 39th book by age 18, and the British vs. “American” spellings. (In early drafts, I fell into that latter trap!) I won’t even begin to try to address all you note. You’ve delved into the issues so fully already.

I will say I don’t know that there’s ever been a time when a “good outcome” has been out there for authors. My uncle is a long-published HarperCollins fiction author. (He does NOT know I have written a novel and intend to write more of them; but that is another, decidedly personal story.) He has an established readership, but much of his back catalog is out of print. He wants to get the rights back to many of his earlier books; and I’ve suggested he get them on Kindle when he does. They need to be available or no one can buy them! He knows what the Kindle is, but overall, technologically, he is an author “of the 1980s/1990s.” He’s also now in his young 70s – he doesn’t even have an author site. He doesn’t “quite” understand that, nowadays (as with so many other businesses), in many ways your author web site is your “shop front.”

Myself, I wanted to write the books I wanted to write. And I work hard to make them good ones for readers. If anyone desires similarly to write (via self-publishing or chasing a traditional publisher), my best advice is…. write the book. Don’t worry about the other side…. yet. Fretting over publishing is a waste of time when you don’t have a manuscript. Write! Write! Write!

There had once been those “gatekeepers” preventing us from reaching any readers whatsoever. So there had been “vanity” presses. Today, we may self-publish and we will reach readers, even if only a few. But that’s how journeys begin: with a first step.

My wife has told me that I must consider myself an author; that that is now my career (for now, at any rate). Just because I don’t sell Stephen King levels of books does not mean I am not an author. Nor you. Thus far I’ve sold more of my first novel than I had thought I would – not thousands of course, but enough that I feel positive about where I’m headed.

Based on what I’ve heard over the years from my uncle, I’ve decided to try to find an agent. Authoring is sales. Success in sales in any field is about piling ups (sic) “nos” until someone finally says “yes.” I well-know I will have to keep at it and be tough-minded about it. If one says “We’ll pass,” or doesn’t reply, find someone else. Keep at it.

Can I support myself writing? Absolutely not. But does that mean doing so [is] impossible someday? Who knows? Achieving anything worthwhile requires work. Above all, the product needs to be something people want to buy. Many people won’t buy books any longer; but many people still do. Hundreds of millions of them around the world.

No one is going to hand us money. Anyone who seeks to write needs to remember that reality at the outset, and manage expectations. If we keep them low, as we exceed them we’re thrilled! :-)

On reflection, that does broadly speak to what I believe about authoring in the current publishing climate. It is not very different, really, to what musicians now face. Or actors.

Which reminds me. A few weeks ago, we enjoyed a production of Big Maggie outside of Dublin. Written in 1969, it is a much-produced play in Ireland.

The actors at the performance we saw were (in my humble opinion) excellent, and the show flew by. While we learned one had been in small roles on RTÉ television, most were P/Ters or amateurs. None had (so far) hit the “big time”: meaning, for instance, London’s West End or Broadway. Nor were most likely ever to do so.

So what? They were on stage and doing what they loved. And all of us, their audience in the small theatre, appreciated it greatly.

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That is what matters also for us as writers. Yes, it would be wonderful to “hit it big.” However, doing what we love, being proud of what we do, and reaching our audience – no matter how small or large that “crowd” may be – is what this is about.

And the absolute bottom line is there is no hope anyone will ever read your superb novel…. unless you finally write it!

And Robert Vows To Lighten Up

Halfway home now, more or less. I’ve hit 50,000 words. Only 50,000 more to go!

I’ve been writing with some gusto in recent days. Helpful in that was keeping mostly off Twitter and the web during that span. I got an entire chapter finished, other bits newly added, and others tidied up.

For reference and continuity checking (I hate stupid oversights and petty errors), I’d also simultaneously picked up Passports (the first book) and re-read large sections of it. I hadn’t done that quite as systematically and critically since it had been published in late November. In doing so, I have stumbled on a couple of issues.

First, I found myself reflecting on chunks of it where I thought, “Gee, that’s damn good. I wrote that?” And on others I found myself thinking, “Uh, that’s fine, but I could’ve written that differently or another way.” But what’s done is done regardless; there is no going back.

Worse, I am now also understanding how our personal lives as we write may impact what and how we write. My generally downer mood since our girlfriend Kam’s sudden death in early February has been leaving its ugly imprint on the style and tone of the sequel. In fact, “down” is often not a strong enough word: “angry,” “tearful,” and “depressed” at times are probably far more accurate descriptions.

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In the last few weeks, I’ve also been exchanging emails with her younger sister: they were incredibly close, so she is, unsurprisingly, devastated. We’ve been recalling happy memories, but also discussing grief. The other day I mentioned how for a time in February I could barely face the sequel’s manuscript: it had become painful for me even to look at it.

I wrote her that every time I sat down in front of the PC, I kept visualizing Kam in the pages. (One of the terrible pitfalls of real people as any inspiration for fictional characters.) There was one horrible moment I became so upset I considered giving up completely. But then I reminded myself that Kam would never have been in favor of that. I could almost hear her gently admonishing me, “C’mon, Rooooob. Don’t be silly. You have to finish…” I also wrote her sister:

I began to realize that grief must be forced to lead to something worthwhile. I told myself I’d dedicate this one to her, and make it worth that dedication. I’ve been told the first one is “good.” Well, I am determined this next one will be better.

Brave words, I know. As we also know, conflict and tension are necessary in tales worth the reading. But as I review sections of Passports and compare them to stretches of the in-progress sequel, the latter is unmistakably darker: it’s stuffed with nightmares, stalking, other ugliness and viciousness, clinical depression and fatal illness. And all of that in merely HALF of the planned total novel.

It is still rooted in varieties of real happenings, but this second volume is shaping up overall as harsher and bleaker than the first book. I’ve got to be careful here. I realize why I’d unexpectedly drifted in this direction, and it has to stop.

The first book certainly has its seriousness, but it also has its “fun” and “optimism.” I don’t want to lose that balance. I’ve got 50,000 words left to begin to “lighten up” the sequel somewhat. Kam was never a “downer” person. :-)

Hope you’re having a good Wednesday, wherever you are….

The Writer’s Dilemma

An English friend has written a book. He was, he said, partly inspired by what I have done. It is also VERY different from my “relationships/ travel/ students/ expats” novel(s).

My wife has read the whole of his (still very rough) draft. It is a military/ adventure tale – American WWII pilots, Nazi scientists, flashes forwards and backwards to and from Northern Ireland and 1990s Boston. It’s dense, detailed, and well-researched stuff.

Yet I’m beginning now seriously to commiserate with my novelist uncle’s decrying that he just has no time to read others’ works. Eventually, I will read my friend’s manuscript completely. But I keep having to put it aside (sometimes for days), so I then forget what was going on and then I have to reread much that I had already read in order to get back into it fully. Wash, rinse, repeat.

There is so much out there I would like to read (including works by you I follow and who follow me on here). But I’m finding if I spend too much time reading what others write, I don’t get as much of my own writing done. It’s a dilemma.

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As books on Amazon do, my Passports novel has a sample available. I’ve so far posted on here two “sneak peeks” into bits from the coming sequel. (There will be more.) I tend to obsess on style, sentence form and words: “Oh, that comma doesn’t go there!” or “That word’s not right!” I aim for short, punchy paragraphs, with choppy, realistic conversation, and background description that does not distract from the story flow.

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I want readers to find themselves immersed in the lives of the characters (and perhaps make friends with them, and maybe even fall for one of them). My regular day often includes a blog post here, while I also try to maintain my daily goal of 3-5 pages of draft writing. That may not sound like much, but moving from a mess on some pages into crafting quality takes much more time than one might think it does. And with my novels being fictionalized autobiographical / biographical, while writing I’ve actually upset myself at times as I recounted happenings that did more or less once really occur in my life – and which I have now imposed on characters who are themselves versions of real people I know or have known.

So when I’m done writing for the day, I’ve often mentally about had it. I can’t then bring myself to delve into another book. Indeed, even when I’m not actually writing my book, I’m STILL thinking about my manuscript and my characters. I CAN’T STOP thinking about them.

I had always been an avid reader, but in the last 18 months I have become far less of one. I know I have to strike a balance between reading others and writing my own books. I just have not yet quite managed it.

Happy Friday! And have a good (and if in Britain, a good long) weekend. :-)