A Message To Our British Friends

When she became a U.S. citizen, I warned my wife that becoming an American is a lot like joining the mafia – anyone’s free to, but once you do, you don’t easily leave. On a nation-state level, we also established that fact pretty definitively between 1861-1865. So matters are now crystal clear for everyone concerned: Americans know where we stand.

Today, the world watches a Scottish independence referendum unfold. Which way should Scots vote? Here in the United Kingdom opinions have been everywhere, tempers have occasionally run high, and the BBC has interviewed everyone living in Scotland at least three times.

All of that is to be expected in a situation like this. Twenty-four hours from now, Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom may be on the road to becoming very different places than they are this morning. Or maybe not. The polling places are now open, and the decision rests entirely with Scottish voters.

As an outsider I feel it would be improper for me to suggest what I consider the best outcome. It’s not my call. However, regardless of which way today’s vote goes, I would like to offer at least this bit of advice to all of our friends on this magnificent island of Great Britain, courtesy of the Bangles, 1986:

“When it’s over, when it’s done, let it go.” :-)

“Gimme a ticket for an aeroplane”

With my Dad doing better than we’d expected, Sunday afternoon I took an opportunity to venture up to the Catskills to check our house, and use Monday to mow the lawn and deal with anything else that may have needed dealing with. I admit I could also have called it my “24 hours of tranquility” away from the rural Pennsylvania Seinfeld episode in which I am currently trapped! ;-)

We have no broadcast TV in the house right now. Quickly I decided on an evening in front of the DVD player. I treated myself to the first few episodes of Mad Men from the very first series/ season.

Okay, trivia question: What are Roger Sterling’s first words ever said on the show?

Answer: “Morning girls.”

When I returned to my parents’ place last night, chatting I happened to tell my mother. She had worked in midtown Manhattan as a secretary herself briefly – pre-marriage – in the early 1960s. She laughed:

It’s true. They were my father’s age. That’s actually what they used to say to us.

Around the same time, she had also actually considered becoming a Pan Am “stewardess” – she who had never (and still has never been) on a plane. We discovered that when she revealed it to us at some point while the Pan Am TV show had been on the air. I still can’t believe it.

But I digress. Although there was no TV in house, I did have mobile internet. I wasn’t totally, uh, “cut off in the Catskills.”

However, pardon me here for maybe seeming a bit out of touch in this way. Recently I’ve been seeing bits on the net here and there about a site called “SoundCloud.” I did again on Sunday night.

I finally decided to click over and have a good look around on it…. and a listen. Noticing what was on the site, how it generally seemed to work, and with time to kill (after having overdosed on Mad Men), I searched for a couple of songs that were running through my head recently courtesy of radio (oldies) play. As a new novelist, I thought maybe I’d find cover versions by “unknowns” who might be worth a listen?

For “The Letter,” I stumbled on this singer. Incredible. Well, I just HAVE to share this:

In Barba Gwen31's stream on Soundcloud.

In Barba Gwen31’s stream on Soundcloud.

Barba Gwen31 has **some** voice. As we know, the web lets us now independent/ self-publish books. (Which, after all, is why I’m on here! ;-) ) Now it also allows singers to be heard globally whom we otherwise probably would have never heard of.

One frustration, though. I’d PAY, iTunes-like (yes, I’d separate myself from some money) to download and own it. However, I can’t figure out how? I don’t see how to do it? Ugh! :-)

Have a good Tuesday! I’m writing this post at my parents’ kitchen table. Near the sink, time to take his pills, they are on at each other…. again. Apparently he’s too inept to take them without her careful oversight:

“I love you, dear,” he told her off as she read the directions to him yet again.

“Read the rest of it!” she barked, handing him one bottle.

“It says, ‘Take one a day,'” he pointed to it.

“Old people get crazy taking medications. Oh, s-it, see what I just did!” she yelled as she took another of the bottles. “I’ll mix them up!”

“You’re an old person!” he shot back.

“Angie Gonzalez [an elderly, now deceased, relation] used to mess up her medication….” my mother droned on. “Oh, no one’s listening to me.”

“Mom, I am. Please stop now.”

A few more days remain in my Seinfeld episode. “Gimme a ticket for an aeroplane….” ;-)

Okay, So What’s On Your Playlist?

I suspect most of us don’t see eye to eye on everything in life with our significant other. How can we? It’s perfectly reasonable we have some differences.

Taste in music may be one. My wife and I don’t agree entirely on music and certain artists. So, she being 3,000 miles away in London currently, I feel a bit less guilty about using the speakers to listen to, uh, some Chris De Burgh.

Thinking on that also led me here. Right now, I’m writing, sitting alone outside at my parents’ house, in their screened-in rear porch. It overlooks, well, trees….

View from my parents' back deck, rural Pennsylvania. [Photo by me, 2014.]

View from my parents’ back deck, rural Pennsylvania. [Photo by me, 2014.]

At the risk of perhaps alienating some of you, I thought I’d share the artists on one of my mixed playlists:

Chris Cornell; Adele; Steve Winwood; Ivy; James Blunt; Sara Bareilles; The Wallflowers; Tina Arena; Peter Cetera; Amy Winehouse; The Goo Goo Dolls; Natalie Imbruglia; The Cars; Judith Bérard; Quarterflash; Pat Benatar; Survivor; Laura Branigan; Mr. Mister; Corynne Charby; Matchbox Twenty; Sophie Ellis-Bextor; Jean-Jacques Goldman; 10,000 Maniacs; Chicago; Patricia Kaas; Journey; The Bangles; Chris De Burgh.

Yeh, I know. I’m showing some, err, “age” there. ;-)

Dad is doing well again today. I’m taking some time to unwind this afternoon. We all hope a general recuperation period has begun.

I hope you’re having (or you had) a good weekend, wherever you are reading this….

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!

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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! :-)

’80s French Pop

If you celebrate, I hope you’ve had a good Easter. You’re so lucky you’ve stopped by today also. Because I thought I’d share some “inside info.” ;-)

Let’s take a brief trip down memory lane. That’s always fun. In the book, I allude to an unnamed performer here:

Waiting, [James] fingered through VHS tapes stacked next to the television. “All these videos. I don’t know most of the French ones,” he observed. “What’s this?”

Isabelle came up behind him to hand him his wine glass. She looked at the tape he held. “That is about a rich girl who loses her memory,” she explained, “and a detective is trying to find her.”

After giving him his glass, she stepped over to her cassettes. “I have a tape of her,” she said, digging it out. “She is also a singer.” Isabelle showed it to him.

If you haven’t guessed who she is by now (or haven’t the slightest idea who she is), here she is:

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Yes, the late 1980s. (1987, to be precise.) Here are the lyrics also. As is the case with most lyrics in English, you attempt to translate them entirely at your own risk. ;-)

By the way, for those of you who are also unsure about the meanings of a couple of words in that book excerpt? Don’t be embarrassed. It’s okay.

We know the 1980s and 1990s are an increasingly distant age, after all. If you need to, click here on “cassette” and “VHS.” You will be transported quickly to Wikipedia articles on what those 20th century music playback and video technologies actually were. :-)

Mood Music

Regardless of whether one is writing history or penning a novel, when delving into the past achieving “authenticity” is absolutely necessary. It is vital to fix your readers firmly on that era. The goal of course is to try to bring it to life within your pages as best you can.

As we know, there are now actually adults and near adults walking around out there who, born in the mid to later 1990s, don’t really remember that decade. My nephew and my niece, born in 1994 and 1997 respectively, are prime examples. Maybe you are one too? :-)

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For instance, I was surprised to learn that that (now 16 year old) English niece loves the TV show Friends. When I found out, I laughed and told her, “I remember when it was on first run!” (I was also one of those guys who at the time could never figure out how “Ross” could possibly have chosen “Rachel” over “Emily.” But “Ross” was a jerk, so “Emily” was lucky to escape him.)

Naturally such is the rhythm of the passage of time. Always has been and always will be. Yes, “1995” is now almost two decades ago:

“So you like Swedish pop duos,” [Isabelle] laughed.

Uh, yeh, I’ve dug out music by artists (who I remember first-hand from that now so long ago era), and I have been re-listening to them while writing the sequel.

It’s called doing serious research into your subject!

Okay, that’s enough messing around now on the internet. (Us “older” folks also remember when that didn’t exist!) Have a good Tuesday. Everyone back to work. ;-)