Wall, Meet Head

Shortly after I awoke at 5:15 (uh, that’s “AM,” just to be clear), the subject for this post hit me.

You can write 100,000 words in a sweeping, multifaceted, transcontinental story. It may cover over a dozen major characters you struggle to bring to life, to make them “people” with all of their individual layers, quirks, and shortcomings as well as positives. Doing that’s the easy part.

Because eventually you have to pull it together. What is it REALLY about? Good grief, you have to try to sum it up.

It’s time for…. the back cover blurb.

Now, composing that is to discover true writing terror.

Eventually, after you’ve been through about your 863rd version, someone offers this helpful suggestion: “Just think of it as your elevator pitch.”

As if you hadn’t thought of that already? And you think, “Oh, shut up.” Only someone who never put all of themselves into those 100,000 words would ever employ a vacuous, reality TV, pompous “entrepreneurs'” dopey expression like that.

Sorry, sorry. That’s just my haughty, self-important novelist bursting out briefly. I’m still practicing it! ;-)

For Passports, I had a small (very helpful) “committee” reviewing my back cover, tweaking words, and making suggestions:

Back cover of Passports, on my ad hoc holiday cottage desk. Turleigh, Wiltshire. [Photo by me, 2014.]

Back cover of Passports, on my ad hoc holiday cottage desk. Turleigh, Wiltshire. [Photo by me, 2014.]

“You should include _____,” and “Make sure you mention _____,” and “Don’t forget to say _____,” and “You don’t really need to say _____.”

Above all, you don’t want to give away too much. You want a potential reader to get a sense of what’s inside – of what you battled to produce in 100,000 words. But you can’t rewrite the book on the cover. Thankfully, that helpful “committee” included a friend who’s a children’s book author, as well as another who’s a professional marketer.

By the end of the process, though, I still wanted to ram my head against a wall repeatedly.

Well, the sequel now really needs its cover blurb. No more putting off the inevitable. Here we go again…..

Have a good Wednesday, wherever you are in the world. Myself? Oh, look, there’s a wall just next to where I’m sitting typing this.

Hmm, it looks as hard as rock – which it should because it’s solid stone, not drywall. This is rural England. It’s not a wood-framed, suburban U.S.-style house we’re staying in currently.

Exposed stone, underneath the plaster, on the wall next to the entrance to the kitchen. Turleigh, Wiltshire. [Photo by me, 2014.]

Exposed stone, underneath the plaster, on the wall next to the entrance to the kitchen. Turleigh, Wiltshire. [Photo by me, 2014.]

Hmm. Maybe I should think twice about beating my head against the likes of that. :-)

“Messaging” Over Wine And Brandy

Now, this is English:

Puppy parking place, outside a shop in Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire. [Photo by me, 2014.]

Puppy parking place, outside a shop in Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire. [Photo by me, 2014.]

We’ll soon be in our new place in Trowbridge. I snapped that silly photo yesterday nearby in Bradford-on-Avon. B-o-A is a town that’s absolutely worth visiting.

B-o-A is hardly alone. Lots of towns in England are worth visiting. Sometimes, it’s hard to know where to start.

Here’s the view outside our holiday cottage window this morning, English roses included:

The view just after dawn out the bedroom window from our holiday rental in Turleigh, Wiltshire. [Photo by me, 2014.]

The view just after dawn out the bedroom window from our holiday rental in Turleigh, Wiltshire. [Photo by me, 2014.]

Last night, obviously intrigued by some of our Facebook photos and “check-in” locations, just after 11pm British time my uncle in the eastern U.S. “messaged” me:

Are u allowed to tell me what u guys are up to..and btw when u get a chance send a quick email to good ole Annie…she misses you guys.

Annie is another relation. I messaged my uncle back, explaining we are relocating within England for my wife’s consulting work. We are in the process of renting a house and getting a car.

Since I’m not involved in this consultancy work, and with my wife sitting next to me egging me on, and after we had had a few drinks, within my reply, I wrote:

….Maybe I’ll write that novel at last? ;-)

As I clicked “send,” my wife on a chair across the lounge laughing, I remarked, “Well, that oughta get a reaction.”

And it did. Within his next reply, seconds later he wrote me:

…As for you writing a novel I feel certiain you can write a Cozy that is a fine novel type..check it out..you have seen enough to write it..and a person like yourself can be the narrator…

A “cozy?” And “a person like” myself as the narrator? Oh, my.

After I read that aloud, wine glass in hand Mrs. “Pot Stirrer” Nello pushed for me to go a bit further.

Holding my brandy glass, though, with a smile I told my personal English rose, “Uh, no. That’s enough.”

Rule of thumb: When relaxingly inebriated after a long day, never start teasingly “messaging” your HarperCollins published novelist uncle about how you are now thinking of writing a novel after you’ve written a novel(s) that he doesn’t know you’ve already written.

Have a good Sunday! :-)

_____
UPDATE:

He’s been at me again, sending me this a couple of hours ago:

Maybe you’d prefer to write a thriller..I am teaching a class right now in fiction writing…a page a day in one year a manuscript of 365pgs…u can do it…

Oh, gosh, what have I started? ;-)

Amazon Reviews

Like most of you, I receive those post-Amazon purchase emails which ask for a review and a “1 to 5 star” rating. That’s hardly earthshaking blog material, I know. What prompted this post is I received one the other day for a friend’s new book:

From Amazon email: “Robert ______, what do you think? Please share your opinion with others on Amazon.com.”

That email got me thinking. Regarding his book specifically, even though I liked it (and in my opinion it’s a read that’s worth the money), I didn’t review it. One reason is my Amazon account is under my real name, which is vaguely similar to my pen name. Given that, I felt reviewing it would have looked tacky at best.

My uncle has told me more than once over the years that he doesn’t usually read reviews of his books. He has been reviewed in newspapers and magazines (on paper) in what now seems like an earlier time. So I suppose avoiding them was easy enough to do.

As for nowadays, I’m not quite sure how we avoid anything – be it negative or positive. New at this myself, I’ve read that Amazon’s “star system” is perceived by many authors as dangerous: the crux of the argument seems to be that those with an axe to grind give out nasty “1 star” reviews, while, conversely, hordes are sometimes organized to click out “5 star” reviews.

Personally, I have never – not once – reviewed a book on Amazon. Whether I’ve loved one, merely liked it a bit, or didn’t (and I don’t think I’ve ever bought a book I’ve disliked so much to have given it “1 star” anyway), I just never have done it. Is that strange?

Happy Friday! :-)

In The Global Spotlight

American Revolutionary patriot and diplomat, Benjamin Franklin, is quoted as once saying, “Either do something worth reading about, or write something worth reading.” As writers, most of us probably lean a bit more towards trying to achieve the latter. And that’s not unreasonable of us either.

After all, doing something could well mean that something will be something that means we won’t be around to read about ourselves anyway. So it falls to us to write. Yet, as if writing something worth reading isn’t fundamentally tough enough, we’re told everyone has to “know” us now too.

Okay, ahem, so, who are *you*? Tell us all about yourself. Don’t be bashful. We’re all listening. The world stage is yours. The spotlight is on you!:

Free Stock Photo: Illustration of an empty stage with spotlights

Free Stock Photo: Illustration of an empty stage with spotlights

Previous generations of writers shared mostly their books and stories. Authors were only rarely as well-known as their outputs. What they were as people pushing their pens, and/or typing their pages, was largely unknown to their readerships.

In contrast, today, as authors, we must use “social media” to become better-known to the world:

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Who is she? She’s Ana Franco, a Brazilian writer. And she deserves to be better known.

So now you know about her. Her post also got me thinking about this issue. When was the term “social media” first used? I suppose I could Google or Wikipedia that question, but I just can’t be bothered to right now. ;-) Presumably it has been in regular use less than 15 years.

A few months ago, I thought aloud to you relatedly on “fame”:

The default position seems to be everyone wants to be “famous.” The assumption narrowly in our context here is if you blog, or use social media, you are cravenly just seeking attention. However, I don’t buy that as applicable across the board.

Yes, out there are certainly the likes of my HarperCollins published uncle. He is a complete extrovert. He loves being on TV. He relishes being the center of attention in the room. Facebook is the worst invention imaginable for him: he can carry on to a couple of hundred “friends” about how he wishes he’d been in the Spanish Republican army in 1936 or something. (God, I hope he never sees my blog. Then again, he’d probably laugh, because he knows I’m right.)

Myself, I just want to write entertaining novels that stand on their own, which when a reader finishes she/he says, “I enjoyed that.” I seek to use this blog and Twitter to help spread the word and to be there for those curious about my books. However, I have no desire to be a “celebrity”…. as odd as that may sound in the novelist biz today.

So we understand why we do it. While it may be amusing to write entirely for your own amusement, if you aspire to write for others they have to know that your writing exists or no one will read it. “Social media” now makes getting the word out about your work easier than ever before.

Yet it feels odd to talk “about yourself.” I’ve even “interviewed” (at times decidedly tongue in cheek) myself on here. How weird is that? But doing so is also actually a worthwhile exercise in cultivating an improved self-awareness too.

Still it feels strange how we are expected to share so much of ourselves to the world. It’s also important to bear in mind that, although it’s highly unlikely, it is theoretically possible that any post – ANY post – you casually publish could end up being seen by millions around the world. So, uh, no pressure there then. :-)

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.

6242_wpm_lowres

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.” ;-)