I Hate Repeating Myself

There was a time I inhabited a realm in which I had imagined I wanted to write a MASSIVE novel. Fortunately I came to my senses quickly, cut Passports to a sensible length, and saved lots for a sequel or two, or three. After all, I mean, really, who’s got time to read and digest the likes of this in one go?:

Herman Wouk’s “The Winds of War” – all 1,110 pages of it! [Photo by me, 2014.]

Where am I, you ask? Uh, I’m on page 310, and I think I’m doing fairly well. If I’m lucky, I’ll be finished by 2016. :-)

My first sequel was never envisioned by me as a 100 percent, stand alone novel. However, as I crafted it, I drifted into writing it as possibly being read as one; yet it’s still part of a series. Also I dislike it when a given book in a series rehashes too much that had already been covered in earlier volumes, so I’ve done my best with the coming second novel to avoid perhaps irritating readers of the first book with too much repetition. (My wife tells me the “Tom Cruise” “Jack Reacher” novels – which she loves, but I’ve never read – can be somewhat repetitive.)

The danger in that approach is new readers may find themselves “lost,” but I also view this tale as lives in progress, so being partly “confused” is, of course, what life is all about. So parachuting in for the second book without reading the first is certainly possible, but if one can start at “the beginning,” why not do so? Having read Passports will certainly assist a reader in starting the sequel already familiar with who the heck all of these people are – including, for instance, our inimitable crime novelist, Uncle Bill:

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I have been thinking I could also eventually combine the two novels into one grand, 800 page-ish tome. Again back to the notion of the “big book.” However, for now, they will remain separate. I’ll leave any decisions as to how they are to be handled beyond my lifetime to my niece and nephews: my trusted literary heirs. ;-)

In my current re-read of the sequel’s draft, I keep finding silly errors and typos that I should have found during the previous re-read. [Cue seriously annoyed expression.] Moreover, organizing our move from London to here in Trowbridge – or “Trow-vegas” as our Sky TV installer joked to me – has nearly stopped my daily production in its tracks for the last week.

I’d wanted my proofreaders to have it by last weekend, but I didn’t even come close to making that self-imposed deadline. Interestingly, aside from the “sneak peeks” on here, no one has seen the entire sequel as a full novel so far…. except myself. The first book was “shown around” initially at a far earlier stage.

Crunch time fast approacheth….

First, back to sorting out “the office” post-move. Currently, I use that word “office” only, uh, very loosely.

Have a good Friday, wherever you are reading this….

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….

Classical Stuff

This is one of the “media things” I love about Britain. Just before 8 AM, I’m listening to it right now. It’s the Classic FM music station:

Screen capture of the Classic FM web site.

Screen capture of the Classic FM web site.

Yes, NPR in the U.S. does classical music, of course. There’s a local outlet (WMHT) we like and often listen to in upstate NY. But often it’s similar to Radio 3 – which I like too, but at times is just a bit too “high brow.”

Screen capture of the BBC Radio 3 web site.

Screen capture of the BBC Radio 3 web site.

In contrast, Classic FM has more of a lighthearted feel. (It’s also commercial, unlike the BBC.) One minute a presenter plays Mozart, the next the theme from the Magnificent Seven, and then J.S. Bach, and then the Imperial March from Star Wars, and so on. It’s great stuff.

It’s pleasant music to have on while doing the authoring thing. And it makes for a necessary change sometimes. After all, we all get tired of listening to our old Corynne Charby CDs eventually. ;-)

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P.S. Moving day is almost upon us. (It starts later today, and really happens on Monday.) Lots to organize, and won’t get much of anything else done for a few days. I may be a bit quiet on here until Tuesday.

Have a good Friday, wherever you are in the world. :-)

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. :-)

Genius Will Not Be Rushed

One of my proofreaders emailed me last night asking, essentially, “Where’s the book?” She wants it. Actually, she wants it “yesterday.”

I tapped back hurriedly that it’s almost ready for her review. Really!

I will admit here I was at one chapter again tinkering last night. I’ve extra-wrestled with this one, and fought with it, and struggled with it for months. It’s a “dream sequence.” I have redone it several times after each version read to me, quite frankly, as ridiculous.

Please don’t suggest it. A vampire swooping down cannot solve this problem! No! No! No! ;-)

I’ve finally gotten it now, methinks. It’s subtle enough, but a bit of a shocker. My main problem all along has been I don’t want it to read “like” a dream for the overwhelming bulk of it. I want readers to think it’s “real”…. and then, at the last second, in the manner of our own dreams during the night…. WHAM, when we awaken we realize we aren’t living it and it was all in our mind. And then it dawns on us what had led our mind down that “weird” route while we’d slept.

For readers, during the dream clues are also cagily dropped in…. and they have to seem innocuous, and similarly “real” too. Eventually they create an “AH, HA!” moment later in the text, when what had led to the bizarre dream becomes clear.

So if you’re reading this post (and YOU know who YOU are), the book’s nearly there.

Narrow street. Turleigh, Wiltshire. [Photo by me, 2014.]

Narrow street. Turleigh, Wiltshire. [Photo by me, 2014.]

It’s also pouring outside the cottage here in rural England this morning.

Time for more coffee.

Have a good day, wherever in the world you’re reading this. :-)

The Local Library

Technological evolution is a constant in our lives, of course. For example, we all well-know how writing and publishing has been changed dramatically by the appearance of e-books. That newest technology, we are also told, seems sure to end print books as we know them.

But I remain skeptical. Yesterday, we happened to stroll by the local library here in Turleigh. It is in space vacated by the disappearance of another piece of one-time cutting edge technology:

The Village Library, Turleigh, Wiltshire. [Photo by me, 2014.]

The Village Library, Turleigh, Wiltshire. [Photo by me, 2014.]

The English sense of humo[u]r is often really second to none. :-)

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. :-)