Opening With A “Hit” Single

Inspired, I sensed afterwards, by my grandfather memories that I’d posted in the morning, I spent the day yesterday smashing through the opening chapter to Distances. Although it’s not long (but none of my chapters are really “long”; I dislike “long” chapters), it’s – I believe – on target.

Textured. Sentimental. Sharp.

A new character also zooms in, offering the novel’s very first line.

Free Stock Photo: Illustration of a piano with music notes.
Free Stock Photo: Illustration of a piano with music notes.

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More “Distances” Cover Fun

I know this post appears much later in the morning than usual. However, when you have an unexpected light bulb go off over your head you have to drop almost everything and get the idea into your manuscript as quickly as possible. If you don’t, it may vanish forever….

Having done that, on to this post. Yesterday saw me pass 40,000 words. So with Distances looking daily more and more like an actual book, rather than just bits and pieces, I took a break and decided to have another mess around with a potential cover. That’s always fun:

“Distances” draft cover, April 28, 2015.

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The Quest Continues….

Well, everyone, I’ve struck out with the first literary agent. She emailed me that she likes my books’ idea (whether that’s really true, who knows?), but (and but is always the operative word) added that what she had read did not “grab” her enough. She concluded – quite politely – that she must “pass.”

Free Stock Photo: A Beautiful Young Business Woman Posing On A White Background
Free Stock Photo: A Beautiful Young Business Woman Posing On A White Background

Naturally not the response I had hoped for. Then again, not bad for a first try either. That’s the business. I took up this endeavor without illusions. You need a skin as tough as marble and to possess the ability to shrug off “passes” and move on immediately.

Because not everyone is going to be wildly impressed by what you write. Even the likes of Sir Salman Rushdie have produced books some consider “unreadable.” Every author gets rejected.

I choose to see this “pass” primarily as her loss. She had read only a little of it, and I’m sure if she doesn’t want it someone else out there will. As in sales, you just have to keep knocking on doors, and may have to pile up lots of unanswered queries and “Nos” until you encounter someone who says “Yes!” :-)

Fame Or Fortune?

About five years ago, we had a laugh with my English niece (now 16) and nephews (now 19 and 12) about which would they prefer: fame or fortune? At the time they said they wanted “fame.” We told them you don’t want fame, because you might be famous and unable to put food on the table.

But as young kids not having to put food on the table for themselves, naturally they didn’t quite get what we had meant. Things have moved on. We asked the question again recently of the older two, and this time they were emphatic the other way: they wanted “fortune.” My niece, in particular, loves money in her pocket – as we discovered a year ago when she was visiting with us here in New York; she could have shopped until we dropped.

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.

Free Stock Photo: Miley Cyrus singing on stage.
Free Stock Photo: Miley Cyrus singing on stage.

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. :-)

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!

Splits-ville?

The parents are now returned to Pennsylvania. I’m pretty sure they still have no clue what I’ve been up to. I know this because, if they did, they’d question me. (Believe me, restraint is not my mother’s strong suit.) Ah, the “fun” of writing under a “pen name.;-)

So, house guests gone, calm returns to the Catskills. And I can work again. After taking the sequel and cutting it in half, that idea I’d had of releasing the first half of it sometime in the summer is looking possible.

I had always planned the first sequel to be the same 5×8 size and font as Passports. So my dividing job yesterday revealed the book so far is 35,000 words in its first half, which is about 140 pages of text based on the Passports format. However, it is only 15,000 so far in its latter half.

Perfect. So this split may well work.

And now, we dance!:

Have a good Wednesday! :-)

“As a reader, which do you prefer?”

I had a light bulb go on over my head first thing this morning. And, no, it wasn’t because I’d turned a lamp on that happened to be behind me. ;-) Rather, an idea hit me about the in-progress sequel: Should it be two volumes?

Passports is nearly 400 pages and a complete novel. Unexpectedly, while I had been sitting at my desk doing some writing, and also thinking on the title for the sequel (and I think I’ve got one at last!), it dawned on me that having had that full 400 pages as a series opener allows me the flexibility to do what I want afterwards. I don’t need to do the same format yet again…. exactly the same way.

Meaning another “400 page” effort all at once is hardly required. Currently, I have around half of the sequel finished. But I am months away from completing it, and it might not appear before early 2015.

That strikes me as just too far away. However, I could instead release the first half of it during the summer. I have much more written of the first half than of the second, which makes this even more appealing an idea. If I concentrated from here on only on that first half, finishing that within weeks is not out of the question.

As a reader, which do you prefer? A longer, single novel? Or do you like installments that appear at shorter intervals? Which approach appeals to you more as you follow an ongoing tale?

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The halves put together would still add up to around another 400 pages. And they would have to be read as a continuous story, one after the other. In the future, after the second half were out for a while, I might re-package them as a single volume.

Hmm. Having the next 200 pages of the story out by August/ September? And another 200 pages out early next year? I like that idea. :-)

Hope you’re having a good Tuesday!

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.

Free Stock Photo: Clouds over the mountains at sunset
Free Stock Photo: Clouds over the mountains at sunset

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….

“Wow! Congratulations on your film deal!”

We spent much of the Bank Holiday weekend in Bristol with the friend (and his wife) I mentioned in the previous post.

He has been writing a book. The basics in Word are no problem for him; but he is also a self-proclaimed technophobe. So he and his wife (she handles the internet “stuff” in their house) asked me if I could orient him as to where to begin with independent publishing online.

Good friend that I am, I walked him through setting up a Createspace account, pointed and clicked as to how the process generally unfolds from there, and also explained how to get his book up on Kindle. He became so enthusiastic, we ended up getting his cover largely settled in half an hour. I told him if he had any further questions, he need only to drop me an email.

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Then, this morning, it hit me. His novel is “action adventure” – WWII American pilots, Nazi scientists, postwar contract killers, etc. I laughed to myself: yeh, he’ll probably end up selling, uh, like, err, a gazillion copies, and even get optioned for a major Hollywood film….

….and I won’t.

Hmm. You know, I bet she could handle a sword. Suddenly I’m thinking that, in the sequel, I may have to transform Isabelle into, umm, that glamorous vampire from another galaxy after all. ;-)

What We Encounter In “Book World”

I try to avoid negativity here. But now and then you just want to vent politely. And this has been bothering me.

For over a year, I had been up to my eyeballs in my own writing effort. It was really only as I was putting the finishing touches to it last autumn that I had begun poking around on the web to see what some other independent authors were doing. I had been largely ignorant.

Much out there is excellent. Yet, as I searched, I progressed from ignorance to, sometimes, shock at some offerings. If you have worked hard to produce an original and full-length novel, it can be a bit deflating when you discover what others try to flog to potential readers. “Rip offs” may be too strong an expression. Still, many titles seem, uh, to be charitable, rather hurriedly thrown together.

There are also lapsed copyright works merely repackaged with new, brief introductions. Some are also simply republished out of copyright books that don’t even bother with new introductions. However, at least such books themselves are “classics.”

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Separately, “fan fiction.” As a reader myself, personally those sort of works have never much interested me, so I don’t know exactly where I stand on the phenomenon. I do notice author attitudes toward it appear decidedly mixed: some well-known ones are untroubled when their works inspire it; others find it flattering; and others detest it.

If I were ever lucky that mine were to inspire any, I think I would view it mostly as flattering. I note “mostly” because, by the same token, I don’t know if I’d like to see my characters turned into, for example, sword-wielding vampires. They have become my close companions, and I care deeply about “what happens” to them. If I had wanted, say, Isabelle to be a vampire…. she would have been one. ;-)

Whatever a “fan fiction’s” individual literary merit, the overall enterprise itself strikes me as borderline copyright infringing. True, a huge selling recent book started out as “fan fiction.” Yet as I understand it, that novel apparently also did not take off in its own right until its author had re-crafted it into an original story. Somewhat ironically also, other writers now “borrowing” from that story is not something its now mainstream publishers appear too pleased to see.

To me, honesty and originality are vital. I’m not asserting I’m authoring for the ages. (I wish!) But when I decided to write novels, it never entered my mind to compose anything other than full books, populated by my own created characters, and placed in my own invented realm. I had always thought all of that is fundamentally what novels are supposed to be?

Eh, what one learns, huh? Just thinking out loud here. I hope you’re having a good day…. wherever you happen to be reading this. Cheers. :-)