“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. ;-)

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! :-)

Was It My “Blog Mob?”

We had a laugh yesterday. You may recall Tuesday’s Purple Parrot post. About 8:45 AM UK time, I had posted about store-owning friends in Chipping Sodbury, near Bristol, who’ve said they will stock my novels.

In doing so, I had linked directly to their site. About 11:30, I got an email from the Mrs. half of the store-owning duo, pounding happily on her keyboard that she had been inundated with web site visitors. About a thousand of them, she wrote.

She wrote that on an entire normal day, they do far fewer than that. The only explanation, she asserted, was me. My post was the only thing that she could ascertain had been materially different yesterday morning.

But I was stunned and shocked too. I wrote back that I wished I could’ve taken credit for it, but I get nowhere near 1,000 visitors daily – and certainly NOT by 11:30 AM. I took a quick snapshot of my internet-sourced visitors from midnight to that time yesterday morning:

My internet visitor stats, Tuesday morning. Not exactly a mob scene. ;-)

My internet visitor stats, Tuesday morning. Not exactly a mob scene. ;-)

I usually finish the day at around 50-100 max. Looking at those, I told her no way that her sudden “cyber mob” could have come from me.

But I also know many of you follow here via the WordPress reader. (Thank you!) I know I also sometimes kid about WordPress’s reader, but I do like it – it makes following blogs easy. Still, there is no way all those visitors could have come to them via my reader followers either.

We finished off just scratching our heads. Who knows what happened? It’s the net. However, if you did visit Purple Parrot yesterday, uh, thanks! :-)

High Street, Chipping Sodbury, England

Friends of ours have a shop outside of Bristol, in the market town of Chipping Sodbury. It’s in a part of England where towns have names like that…. and Old Sodbury, uh, Little Sodbury, and – yes, really – Pucklechurch, among others. A way to shorthand describe the area to outsiders is that it could serve as an excellent setting for an ITV murder drama.

Their shop has a variety of items related to dolls’ houses and other collectibles. Co-owner Stuart has recently authored quite a book too, and because they have sold several to people wandering in off the street, they are considering displaying some other carefully chosen titles by independent authors to see how they do. They have offered to sell my Passports, and are awaiting delivery of several copies.

I’m hono(u)red! I know Passports has been in some bookshops in the U.K., including one in Christchurch, after a former neighbo(u)r of ours there dropped in and asked for it. Bless her, the shop then ordered a couple! While it’s tough to keep track of that sort of thing, it feels extra-good whenever you learn your books are displayed in a shop.

So if you ever find yourself on the High Street in Chipping Sodbury, check out Purple Parrot:

Purple Parrot, Chipping Sodbury.

Purple Parrot, Chipping Sodbury.

There are reasons aplenty to stop in there and have a look and a buy besides, uh, my fantastic novel. ;-)

Have a good Tuesday, wherever in the world you are reading this. :-)

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! :-)