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! :-)

I May Soon Be “Discovered”

….although not in the way I had, uh, really wished. ;-)

First, please pardon a quick plug, which also provides necessary background. I’ve written before about an English friend who was working on what I had tongue-in-cheek termed a seriousguy book.” Along the way, when asked I offered him bits of independent publishing advice based on my own (pretty steep) learning curve.

Out of the blue, his wife messaged yesterday that it is now published. Far from being only for “guys”, it’s a thriller that’s stuffed with the likes of his uncanny ability to write well about living in the U.S. without ever having set foot in the U.S. Entitled The Bastard Reich, it’s on Amazon in U.K. paperback and Kindle, and U.S. paperback and Kindle, and, I suppose, on all the other Amazons around the world.

6242_wpm_lowres

Here are the opening lines in the book description:

In the final months of the Second World War a hospital deep in the heart of Bavaria performs vile experiments behind its sinister stone walls, but a cataclysmic event exposes the true nature of its evil work.

Meanwhile, downed American Pilot, Captain Jack Harrison, finds himself miles behind enemy lines and begins a deadly escape from capture by the Waffen SS, who are hunting him down….

Given that story, I’m sure new author S. Maidment will shortly be bombarded with those movie deal inquiries. Naturally, it’ll need a male lead. How about Tom Cruise? ;-)

I noticed also that he thanked me in his Acknowledgements. I’m genuinely flattered. I had not expected that.

However, I also saw that in “thanking” me he may have totally inadvertently opened the door to unmasking my “secret identity.” For without knowing I had gotten a mention in the Acknowledgements, my wife had already recommended it on Facebook. My uncle immediately jumped in saying he’s buying it.

See where this could be heading?

All my uncle needs to do is skim the Acknowledgements. He’ll see my wife’s name is there, but my real name is not. If he notices that same sentence opens with those “thanks” to an author named “R. J. Nello” whom he’s never heard of…. and if he “googles” that name?…. Voilà! I’m discovered!

My wife doesn’t think he’ll spot it. But I’m far less sure. He usually reads thoroughly, and I have to believe he would doubly so this time – including the Acknowledgements – given she recommended the book because it had been written by an English friend.

I was not planning on telling him, or anyone else in my American family. But if my uncle does at last find out by this back door what I’ve been up to, I’m prepared. I had always believed there was a reasonable chance he would stumble on my literary alter ego eventually. ;-)

So, as the cliché goes, watch this space. The days and weeks to come may be fun! I’ll keep you updated!

We All Love Free Stuff

Sandra Wheeler, whom I’ve mentioned several times recently, has been blogging her erotic novel, Falling In Cascades, for free. In a post yesterday, she tackles this question:

Why on earth are you blogging your novel?

Her answer’s worth a read. She addresses the issues anyone who writes finds familiar. “Confidence” is perhaps the biggest one: I don’t feel what I write is good enough to ask for money for it.

I dropped in my 2 cents (no pun intended) over at Sandra’s blog. You may click here to read it in full at her site. (Note: if this is your first visit to my blog, “my uncle” is a HarperCollins-published novelist.) I’ve reprinted my main points below:

….I had this same debate with my wife over a year ago. I had thought I would simply toss my “Passports” on the net. However, she – businesswoman she is – was adamant it warranted something back for all the effort I’d put into crafting it. “Don’t you dare give it away,” she assailed me. “There’s tons of junk out there that sells loads. Yours is much better. And it’s not just me saying that.”

The others who were saying that were its proofreaders – people we knew read it, and also passed it to several trusted friends or other family (who didn’t know me) who also read it. The gist of my wife’s argument was one I agreed with, but I needed her to reinforce it for me: if you work hard, you deserve to get paid for what you produce.

Giving away a novel for free is entirely a personal decision. Myself, I’ve sold more than I have expected so far. When I check and notice sales, it always spurs me forward as I work on the sequel. I am pleased I self-published. I control it all. Every word of it is mine and mine alone: I am intensely proud of it. No one tells me what should be in it, or what should be left out, or when there should be sex. (Would a painter have an editor?: “Oh, there needs to be a house in there, top right, among the trees.”) It won’t be “stolen.” Above all, who knows, at some point I might sell lots?

Just because your writing is imperfect does not mean it is not publishable. No one’s writing is perfect. Repeat: no ones. My uncle can’t spell. He’d be doomed without an editor. I’ve also read numerous books that had “professional editing” jobs, and which also still had obvious typos.

I took the view pre-publication (and which I maintain as my basic position) that I know I have not written “War and Peace,” but, by the same token, it’s more than a decent read. Several proofreaders absolutely loved it. So while my book(s) may not change the world, I believe they are worth something.

Writing is no different than being a plumber or a lawyer. You have a skill in storytelling and entertainment. It is like being “self-employed.” You really deserve to set yourself up so as to eventually perhaps see some (even just a tiny) return for your creative struggles.

Be confident about what you do! It is uniquely you! No one else writes exactly what you do!….

I believe that’s all pretty rational and reasonable. Come on….

Deer at the door. [Photo by me, 2010.]

Deer at the door. [Photo by me, 2010.]

….don’t look so surprised!

All kidding aside, I took that photograph of a deer looking in through our Catskills lounge sliding door a few years back. I’m not planning on ever publishing a book of cute, spontaneously taken, upstate New York wildlife photos. If I were, though, I probably wouldn’t have blogged that on here for free. ;-)

Have a good Saturday!