Time To Celebrate…. I Guess

Well, Frontiers is finished….

Front cover.

Front cover.

….and so, for all intents and purposes, mentally am I (for the time being). Lastly, final checks as it goes through Amazon’s processes. After it has appeared, I’ll put a link up here in the sidebar…. and perhaps set off fireworks too:

Free Stock Photo: Colorful fireworks in the night sky.

Free Stock Photo: Colorful fireworks in the night sky.

Okay, short of fireworks, how about a celebratory drink?:

Cognac!

Cognac!

Uh, about that. It’s rather early here in Britain right now to consume any of that; naturally that photo is merely for show. At least until tonight. ;-)

I’ve written previously about the first time I’d had one. It was, shall we say, “memorable”…. insofar as I can, err, fuzzily remember it:

The first time I’d had one was in France a rather, uh, relatively long time ago. … I remember having had, umm, one too many. And so had a girlfriend. We were saved when her (sober, designated driver) friend “poured” us two into her tiny (French) car as we three left a party. I recall a lot of laughing among us being involved too.

In Frontiers, at one point James gets himself in a degree of trouble in France due to having imbibed a bit too much of that. His problem is much more serious than that which happened to me in real life. As to what goes on with him, well, you know I will say no more about that here of course!

On a serious note, I’d like to thank you again for reading and following my site. If you can bear it, in weeks to come I’ll probably start yammering on about the third volume in progress. 2015’s project.

Have a good weekend. :-)

“Delays, delays, delays”

For some reason, among all my London commuting on trains or in traffic I clearly remember one episode years ago of being stuck on the Underground’s Piccadilly line in north London. As the train waited motionless for what seemed like interminable minutes just outside a station (it was probably Arnos Grove), the driver came on the public address system and explained there’d been a problem at the station moments before and that he had to wait for verbal confirmation to proceed. We all heard him sigh and mumble, “Delays, delays, delays….”

Free Stock Photo: Illustration of a subway train

Free Stock Photo: Illustration of a subway train

What does that have to do with this post? It’s that I won’t get Frontiers published tomorrow. And I’m thoroughly annoyed at myself over the “delay.”

Yesterday, I found several more “tiny errors,” including the word “talking” where it should have appeared as “taking.” I’ve only read that chapter about, oh, half a dozen times recently. And I’ve also run it through Word’s grammar check? I don’t understand….

Not exactly something to put me in the best frame of mind. I desperately wanted it out for Kam’s birthday, which was November 9th. But I also thought to myself what she might say if I could tell her. With her warm smile, she would probably observe something like, “Rob, it’s soooo nice of you, but don’t release it for me if you’re not happy with it. Get it the way you want it. C’mooooon, now….” (She often softly drew out words for emphasis.)

So I will “scrub” Frontiers a bit more for a few days. I feel better finally telling you all. I had become increasingly grouchy as I realized I would not make my self-imposed deadline.

I’ve been at this since January. A few days more to “make sure” is neither here nor there. Everyone, do please try to control your eager anticipation for a little while longer. ;-)

Beware Too Many Cooks

You may recall I posted recently about a Messenger exchange I’d had with my uncle in which he’d suggested to me that I could write “a cozy.” When he did, I almost split my sides laughing. I wouldn’t know where to begin with a crime novel of any sort.

I’ve always suspected he sees me as a gentle type, and could never imagine me producing, say, a “stalker, slasher, serial killer, blood everywhere, horror thriller,” or some such. And in that, he would be right. (Although I’ve got stuff in Frontiers which might surprise him! Hey, I can do “thrilling!”) Still, as a crime novelist, he sees the literary world first and foremost from his perch as a crime novelist.

Although they are “thoughtful” (perhaps even, uh, “gentle” in some ways), I suspect the novels I’ve written would stun him. (The romance and sex especially!) Yet I also suspect that, after he’d thought about it a bit, he wouldn’t be nearly as stunned. So even those who know us well (even a long-published novelist) can’t always give us decent writing advice.

It is worth bearing that in mind. Seeking out too much advice and too many critiques has its own pitfalls for any novelist. As the saying goes, too many cooks spoil the broth.

Free Stock Photo: Hispanic women preparing food By: Rhoda Baer acquired from National Cancer Institute

Free Stock Photo: Hispanic women preparing food
By: Rhoda Baer acquired from National Cancer Institute

Because novels aren’t written by committee. Any five people out there will share their takes on your writing from their own five, entirely personal, perspectives. Other novelists chiming in are similarly biased, as my uncle demonstrated unwittingly to me. Indeed whenever I see authors “judging” and “helping” other authors, I can’t help also but recall my uncle’s bemoaning aspiring writers sending him manuscripts, and his noting he doesn’t really have time to read them (and I sense doesn’t even really want to): he is merely another writer, he says, struggling to get on with his own latest project. (Although, obviously, he’s a HarperCollins published one.)

Consider this too: if those “five” people have their varied opinions about your work, how do you think “100 readers” (likely mostly non-authors), or even 10,000 or more (should you be so lucky), will react to it? There are those who will open (or download) your novel and adore what you’ve produced. Others will roll their eyes that you haven’t quite nailed it. Still others will scoff that you write like you are still in high school and hate it.

Even Shakespeare had – and has – detractors. I had a laugh a few months ago on here also imagining Washington Irving having to cope with disparaging comments on Twitter. Bottom line: you will NEVER satisfy everyone, so don’t even try.

Above all, no one can write your book(s) for you. Yes, you may ask for the views of numerous others, and even a dozen other authors, but what you write is rooted ultimately in your unique background, your interests, your experiences, your outlook, and what you know. In the end, it’s all on you. :-)

November 9 is getting here way too quickly. Now back to polishing off Frontiers. It is entirely mine. No one else is to blame for it! ;-)

Have a good Monday, wherever in the world you are reading this!

Customer Experience

In proofing Frontiers, I am re-discovering that qualitative reading “difference” between print and e-books. Both versions have their pluses and minuses, and I still maintain I would not chuck out print books in exchange for e-books. E-books have their role, but they are not everything.

Free Stock Photo: Illustration of a stack of books and reading glasses.

Free Stock Photo: Illustration of a stack of books and reading glasses.

I do final corrections by reading the paperback proof, scribbling in the margins, and simultaneously have the PC (currently, a Surface Pro 3) open on the desk (currently, post-move, that’s the dining room table) to the manuscript. If I see a word, or phrase, or typo, or punctuation I want to change, I insert the revision as a “comment” in Word at that spot in the PC manuscript. Then it’s back to re-reading the print book.

I hope to get through the proof that way within a few days. I’m fanatical about the text. Every word. Every letter.

Because I absolutely haaaaaaaate typos and sloppiness. I get a sense from what I read on the net that some indy authors – eager to make their, uh, fortunes – rush to print having missed obvious errors or, worse, don’t seem to care about them. I don’t think either is acceptable from the perspective of you expecting people to separate themselves from their hard-earned money to buy your book. By making your book the absolutely cleaniest you can (I’ve seen major publishing house books with typos too and don’t think that’s acceptable either), I believe you show readers the respect that is their due in their choosing to buy your work ahead of others. It is standard good “customer experience” stuff that applies to any business.

Free Stock Photo: Close-up of the word business in the dictionary.

Free Stock Photo: Close-up of the word business in the dictionary.

In terms of craft, the tale is written as it is for reasons of my own. It’s personal. It’s mine. It’s like a painting or poetry (for me). I’ve often agonized for hours over the style and flow of a few paragraphs.

Indeed how it “sounds” not just in one’s head is important to me too. I tend to proof read, at times, out loud. (Naturally, that is helped immeasurably when I am alone in the house. And, no, you don’t want to hear my English-French or English-Russian accents! ;-) ) Doing an impersonation of an “audio book” I find greatly assists in tightening the story flow and reading experience.

Overall, what might appear to be a “typo” in a conversation is almost certainly not. I write conversation in the manner of “real chatter,” so it is often ungrammatical in the manner in which we all sometimes speak. I also write non-native English speakers’ accents in English….carefully. I am fully aware it can be dangerous to venture into that realm in case one accidentally drifts into caricature, but I believe it is vital for my story and characters. (I’m told I succeeded in that with Passports, so now feel more confident in continuing that style.) It’s always a case of knowing where to draw the line. (I’ve reached the point now that my characters are so familiar to me that I know whose English is better than whose!) So an awkward delivery by a non-native English speaker is presented that way deliberately.

Yesterday, I was able to finalize about 150 pages out of the nearly 390 of the full story. Not bad that. The day whizzed by.

Although it may not be possible, I would love to get Frontiers published on November 9. On that exact day. It would have been our friend Kam’s 46th birthday.

The Office

Like great athletes, we world changing novelists have our writing superstitions, peculiarities and habits. I’m discovering mine include “routine” and “order” – which I sorely miss when I lack them. Meaning this is just not gonna cut it for much longer:

The heart sinks a little. What will be the office. Trowbridge, Wiltshire. [Photo by me, 2014.]

The heart sinks a little. What will be the office. Trowbridge, Wiltshire. [Photo by me, 2014.]

Ahhhhh! That’s to be our office here! Eventually!

I’m trying desperately to finish the sequel. Sigh. In recent days, I’ve been working (when I can) on the last bits on a Microsoft Surface Pro 3 – a nifty device that is part PC/ part tablet. Unlike iPads, it has Word, which is indispensable. It also has Flash; again, iPads don’t.

You may think you don’t “need” a PC anymore, but you do. We also don’t have proper broadband yet either. (Sky says that’s coming Monday.) So I have to use mobile internet, which flickers… 3G to 2G, to GPRS, to E and back to 3G, and so on…. unpredictably.

But I have also learned that the other day I had a paperback sale out of our friends’ Chipping Sodbury shop! I won’t mince words: when people buy your work, it’s an immensely satisfying feeling. You must be doing something right! :-)

Bookends Of Christchurch….

….really deserves a plug here on my modest site:

A bag from Bookends, Christchurch, Dorset. [Photo by me, 2014.]

A bag from Bookends, Christchurch, Dorset. [Photo by me, 2014.]

I found that Bookends bag – which, ironically, held some old forks and knives – while unpacking our kitchen. We had lived in Christchurch (next to larger Bournemouth) for over ten years (until we sold our house there in mid-2013). Last Christmas, right after Passports was published, a former (very enthusiastic) neighbour of mine went into the shop and asked for it.

She’s one of those personalities in life we have to know at some point, or we’ve missed something. Earnest and honest, she has more than a touch of “Isobel Crawley” from Downton in her. (And her daughter is – yes, really – married to a “Lord.”) “I wanted to go into a real bookstore and pay for it at the till and walk out with it,” she later emailed me in a booster-ish, show the world determination, voice. “Not just buy it online.”

She also wrote saying that the shop had ordered two copies – one for her obviously, but also one for the shelf. When they came in a few days later, she rushed over and bought one. Knowing her as we do, I’m sure she’ll do all that eventually again for the sequel.

There are people who just make you feel good in this life. They aren’t easy to find. When you do, hold onto him/her as long as you can. :-)

Anyway, I’m sitting here “procrastinating.” Moving boxes don’t unpack themselves. Time to get back at it….

Who’s Your Audience?

This part of Kate Colby’s comment yesterday on my “Wall, Meet Head” post, helped prompt this post:

…looking at other books in your genre to see what works and doesn’t and figuring out other books/movies/etc. to compare you book to.

Continuing on from that “blurb issue” yesterday, an important related question is this: “Who’s your audience?”

Free Stock Photo: A woman sitting in a library

Free Stock Photo: A woman sitting in a library

I’ll be honest: I do not write for a “young” audience. My books are *not* intended for under-18s. Even more than the first volume, the coming sequel is NOT for younger readers.

These are books for adults, and not just because of some of their “mature” aspects. Rather, it’s due to the reality that once we’ve “lived” a bit we’ve all, in our own ways, probably been through at least some of the same things various characters are experiencing. And even if you – as a reader – personally never traveled to any of these places, or have never known people exactly like these, in your own life you’ve probably known your own versions of places like these and people like these.

For those looking at “age 25″ in the rearview mirror, I hope some of it strikes a familiar chord – and often in a good way. Possessing experience that the passage of time enforces on us, we follow these characters as we read and we may “remember.” We may look on recalling our own youthful optimism, while also hoping they don’t make mistakes we may have made.

And in fiction set in history as these books are, we know where the world eventually took us. These characters, naturally, don’t. In the mid/late 1990s, for those of us old enough to recall them, neither did we of course.

Have a good Thursday, wherever you’re reading this. :-)

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. :-)

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! :-)

Closing Another Book

If you have stopped by here throughout 2014 (Hello again!), you know it has been something of a difficult year for me. Now, I don’t claim I’m unique, of course. We all have personal challenges and troubles.

For me, 2014 will forever be the year of the death of one of my dearest friends, the near death of my father (and he is not out of the woods yet by any means), and being told the other day of the soon to be death of another friend.

And it’s not even stinkin’ October yet.

During all of that, I wrote a sequel to a novel I’d completed in 2013. In the new one, I’ve tried to pen (technically, I typed) 94,000 words that I again hope captures in entertaining fashion the ups and downs of a group of international friends and lovers. I hope it manages to convey both a youthful optimism as well as a need to never forget the fragility of what we think we so firmly possess in this life.

Free Stock Photo: A beautiful sunset over a lake

Free Stock Photo: A beautiful sunset over a lake

Yesterday, having concluded re-reading it for “errors, dopiness, [and] continuity issues,” I sat back in the desk chair feeling mildly depressed. Again. Much like I recall having felt as I had completed the first book about the same time last year. (Long before there was this site.)

Is that how it will always feel in winding up a novel? There’s an interlude of satisfaction at having conquered a personal mountain. But there’s also almost a sense of loss too: that book is, shall we say, closed as well.

I had also run its 380 pages through the spell and grammar check. (My characters’ conversations are often so deliberately ungrammatical, it took ages.) Next I will read it “as a reader.” As I do that, I make further corrections. After that, I hope I can ship it ’round late next week or so to my faithful volunteer reader/ critics.

As I finished late yesterday, I also realized that in the background Sinatra’s version of Send In The Clowns happened to be coming out of my iPhone. I’ll just leave that where it is. I’m not going to even attempt to interpret the meaning of that coincidence.

When all is said and done, like the first novel this one will stand or fall on its own merits. I think it’s at least as good as the first, and maybe better. But who the heck knows really? Whatever I went through in composing it is meaningless to anyone who will read it. Still, I had quite a headache by the end of the day. I was exhausted.

I had a brandy last night. In the tale, some of the characters are partial to those. They are because I like that drink…. and they are my characters, gosh darn it! :-)

The first time I’d had one was in France a rather, uh, relatively long time ago. (Now, I’m getting depressed again.) I remember having had, umm, one too many. And so had a girlfriend. We were saved when her (sober, designated driver) friend “poured” us two into her tiny (French) car as we three left a party. I recall a lot of laughing among us being involved too.

Mind you, I’m far more mature, staid and intellectual nowadays. ;-)

Have a good Friday, wherever you are…

______

Oh, by the way, I’m up to 444 social media shares as of this posting. In 48 hours, shares of my posts out there have about tripled. I don’t know where that’s come from, but I hope it’s an omen of good things to come. :-)