Could Those Things Really Happen?

A while back at a concert here in my home town an older woman I knew told me that she was reading my book. She said she had only 30 pages to go and liked it so much she had wanted to skip the concert and finish reading it, but her husband had insisted that she come.

And then this woman in her seventies asked, “Do those things really happen?”

I told her that the book was not based on any actual events, but that, yes, nasty things like I portray in the novel do happen.

And they do. Worse things. And they happen in our little town, on which the Candlesberg of my novel is based.

Since publication of the book late last year, in my hometown of eighteen thousand some residents: an 18 year old woman was stabbed in the back and her throat cut, allegedly   by the father of her two year old child; a 20 year old woman died of a heroin overdose and her two “friends” are charged in her death; a local young man was recently convicted and sentenced for holding up a drug store this past summer at gun point to steal narcotics to feed his addiction; another young woman, pregnant, was doused with gas and threatened to be lit on fire, and then punched in the stomach by the father of the child she was carrying.

The things the villain Jake does in the book are shocking and perverse, but they are not out of the realm of credibility. In a strange echo of Jake’s cluelessness about the evil of his own actions, the accused in the last instance cited above told authorities that he and the young woman had been “fooling around and maybe things got a little physical.”

Right.

Friends have said they wondered what I was thinking when I wrote those nasty things Jake does. I remember that when I first came up with one of the little “jokes” that Jake perpetrates on Angie, I thought it was funny, or at least very clever. As I wrote and rewrote though, I realized that what Jake had done wasn’t funny but was actually cruel and abusive. If I wanted to write reality based fiction I had to deal realistically with the consequences of those “jokes” and the real harm they would do. I left those things in—along with the vulgar language he and other characters use— because they help to define his character and make what he does later believable if not inevitable.

As a result though, A Girl in the Dumpster is a much darker book than I originally started out to write. But I think in giving a realistic, these-things-could-have-happened edge to these evil deeds, I also gave a less purely sentimental, more realistic edge to the kindness and love and justice that the book also presents. I wanted the good that people were trying to do also to be things-that-really-could-have-happened.

I think it worked. I don’t think that woman in her seventies would have been so eager to finish the book otherwise.

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Why Murder Might Be Necessary This Time

 

Killing someone is about the easiest way to get a work of fiction moving.

Think about it. To create drama in a story something important has to be at stake.  Kill someone–the sooner the better–and you’ve got that instantly. You don’t have to convince the reader that what has been lost is valuable. It’s human life. Nothing is more valuable than that—except to a murderer.

Do you want to raise questions in the reader’s mind that make them invest in finding the answers? Murder someone in the first few pages and the plot points are all right there: Who killed the victim? How did he or she do it? And, of course, why?

Yes, murder someone if you want your fiction to hit full speed right out of the blocks.

Someone famous or a complete nobody. Each has its advantages.

Describe the blood and gore, the agony, the smells, to bring the reader into the gruesome reality of brutal death, or leave the scene as cool, dry and two dimensional as a cartoon character on the front of a cereal box. Either can work.

Use the rest of the book to elaborate on the life of the victim, the personality, his or her hopes and dreams and sins. Or leave the description of the victim with just that one important aspect: he or she has been murdered. Your choice as long as he or she is suddenly and suspiciously dead.

Throw in some false leads, a little romance, an unusual location and, of course, a clever person to solve the case. The book writes itself.

Which is why I didn’t write a murder mystery (yet).  My first novel does not start with a death, but with the finding of a baby, the start of a life. Writing it I wanted to see if I could build dramatic tension and sustain it without someone dying right at the start. I didn’t want to do things the easiest way.

(Okay, so maybe bringing in a baby or a child in distress is an easy way to create drama too. But it’s not the easiest way. It’s not murder.)

You can read my first book (cited below) to see if I pulled it off. I think I did all right.

But now I’m having a lot of trouble getting going on my next project. So I’m thinking I may have to kill someone just to get the creative juices flowing.

Murder seems like such an easy place to begin.

A Girl in the Dumpster

A GIRL IN THE DUMPSTER http://www.amazon.com/Girl-Dumpster-ebook/dp/B006WOYYJG/ref=tmm_kin_title_0?ie=UTF8&m=AG56TWVU5XWC2&qid=1329225821&sr=1-1

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Preferring readers or buyers

“I bought your book!” a friend or acquaintance or relative excitedly tells the author.

So the writer asks, “How’d you like it?”

Friend or acquaintance or relative answers, “Oh, I haven’t read it yet. No time. Life is so busy. But I’m pimping it to everyone I know that reads!”

I suppose all published writers have had this experience at some point, authors of books in particular. And it’s fine. You sold a book to that person. You made money from your writing. That person is promoting your book which may lead to selling more copies.

Great.

But to me it’s not as gratifying as having some other friend or acquaintance or relative see you in the grocery store and come over and say, “I loved your book.”

You talk about the book for a while and find out that, no, she (it’s mostly shes who do this with my book) didn’t buy a copy. She checked the book out from the local library. A copy you know that you donated.

So you didn’t make any money on this reader. She may tell others about your book, but will also probably recommend checking it out at the library.

But still, she read the book you spent so many years working on. She knows the characters, she knows the twists.  She loved it.

That’s validation.

Of course I’ve had people who have both purchased the book and tell me they loved it. (Going by the number of people who have said they love my book, I think there is a certain amount of “affection inflation” going on these days. When someone says they “liked” the book the praise now seems almost tepid.) This is often followed by the
proud proclamation that they have “passed it on” to a friend or acquaintance or
relative.

Again, no additional sale there.

But an excited reader that liked my book so much that he or she wanted someone else to read it? I’ll take that any day.

Forget all that stuff about passing the book on gets it out there, that exposure is what marketing is all about. As an author what’s important to me is that someone read what I wrote and liked/loved it.

That’s what will keep me writing.

And donating copies of my book to more libraries.

 

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Writer’s #Etiquette?

At the fall conference of the Wisconsin Writers’ Association this past Saturday I was asked, “Where did you get the idea for your book?”

No, I wasn’t on a panel of #authors discussing creativity.

I wasn’t sitting at a table trying to sell copies of my book either.

I was standing side by side another guy in the men’s room at the Hotel Mead.

Still I gave the answer to this question that I give when someone asks it of me in a book signing or interview: “It’s a combination of two television clichés, the homeless woman looking for food in a dumpster and someone finding a baby in a dumpster.”

My fellow male writer nodded, zipped up, washed his hands and left without further comment.

I haven’t been around a lot of #writers before, but I must assume from his reaction that I had committed the faux pas of giving a literal answer to a question that was meant only as small talk between writers (in this case writers of the same gender). My response had been equivalent to someone asking “How things going?” and my actually telling
them how things are going, when the correct answer for the situation is “Fine.”

I #learned many other things at my one day at the #conference, such as (approximately) this from a fellow writer’s sales display: Never start with a description of the weather unless you are writing about meteorology.

Who knew?

Not me.

The first sentence— in my defense only the first half-sentence—of my novel is about the weather.

I worked for years on that sentence, rewriting it, honing it. Only to find out now that it is wrong.

Once again I had apparently not done my #homework.

But I am learning, slowly, the hard way, about how to write and how to be a writer. There is much useful, often free information out there that I need to avail myself of. I found out that  a writers’ conference is a good place to learn from other writers. Using what I learned at the conference and elsewhere my next book will be better.

And the next time someone at the next space in the men’s room asks me where I got me idea from I’ll know to say, “Fine. How about you.”

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No sleep tonight, perhaps I’ll write

“Well, looks like no sleep again tonight.”

I don’t know how many times I’ve read that tweet or something like it. Seems everyone I’m following has #sleep problems, particularly the authors.

And I have trouble with sleep too. Have had for as long as I can remember.

And I and my fellow writers on Twitter are not the only ones with trouble getting enough “good” sleep. Reports say that sleep is a problem for millions of Americans.

Is it any wonder that the American Dream seems so encumbered,

When we as a nation have inadequately slumbered?

(Sorry. When in #restful slumber I’ve spent too little time

My words have a habit of coming out in #rhyme.)

And with inadequate sleep being such an epidemic this trend has to be addressed when writing realistic fiction as I do.

#Insomnia is mentioned by  name only once in A Girl in the Dumpster, but I noticed after publication that the theme of disturbed sleep runs through it like a binding thread. No one in the book seems to get a full night’s sleep and wake up rested—except the evil antagonist Jake. And his continuous ingestion of psychoactive drugs and indulgence in illicit sex at every opportunity are hardly to be recommended as cures for #sleeplessness.

Oh, what a different story this novel would tell if all of the characters were sleeping well.

If decisions were made with clear and reasonable heads?

If that homeless woman had stayed that opening night somewhere asleep in bed?

It’s easier to get sleep deprived characters to to do impulsive, slightly out of character, that is to say, #interesting, things.

For a healthy mind a full night’s sleep is imperative.

But troubled sleep makes for a more dramatic narrative.

One does so many things poorly after a bad night’s sleep—particularly driving.

With sleepless characters it’s easy at a crisis arriving

Or maybe it’s just a case of this writer writing what he knows

That insominia into his writing he feels compelled to impose.

Oh this rhyming, perhaps you can tell,

That last night again I didn’t sleep very well.

The internet is full of advice on getting a better night’s sleep, from when to eat to how not to snore.

I know all the basics. Which I ignore.

Why?

After a sleepless night and a cup of coffee or two

I write more and more interestingly too.

Perhaps my fiction is simply dreaming while I’m awake.

And thus curing my insomnia would be a mistake.

Because with too many nights of restful sleep I fear I might lose my muse.

So there may be times when not sleeping is a condition I choose.

But I must sleep sometime so against medical advice and all that crap,

This afternoon after lunch you’ll find me taking a #nap.

 

 

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I Am Not a (Writing) Organization Man!

I just read another one of those annoying articles about how if writers want to write they have to write. Just get at it and stick to it. Set a timer for how long you are going to write. Keep a log of how many words you write each day. Do it at the same time every day. Write instead of watching TV. Write instead of sleeping in.  Get organized. Write those sex scenes instead of wasting your time actually making love.

Sorry, I’m not that kind of writer.

I don’t write outlines for stories or books. In high school and college I was one of those guys who, if an assignment called for an outline, I wrote the piece and then took the outline from it afterwards.

I have a pretty little recipe box with 3 by 5 cards with story ideas, interesting character names, etc. on them. I never look at them. I have notebooks in my day-job truck to jot ideas down in.  I do jot, but my handwriting is so bad I can’t read my thoughts afterwards.

I generally don’t do research beforeI start writing. I search for information as I need it.

My “writing space,” is a beat up computer desk in a corner of the dining room, open to every noise and distraction in the house. I share my computer with my wife, and with my son when his laptop craps out or he is cooking/baking in the kitchen and wants to
listen to the on-line radio.

As can be inferred from that my writing computer is also my time-wasted-on-the-internet computer. (contact me onTwitter and/or Facebook?)

I don’t have a set time of day for writing. Right now it is about 1 p.m., a time of day I can almost never be caught writing. And it’s Monday! I never write on Mondays. Mondays are forrunning around getting the day job stuff organized. But here I am. It just happened that today I can sit here and write for a bit.

Which is mostly how I write these days—in spurts. It’s how I wrote my first book too. So what if it took nine years.

I am fully aware that I will not produce twenty-seven novels this way. Not 600 page ones like my first book anyway (see previous post). Probably not even that many hundred and fifty page quicky books.

And so it goes.

I have tried the due diligence route–write every day at about the same time. Crank out a minimum of words. Ican do it. And I get a lot of words piled up on the hard drive.

And the next day I dump ‘em and start over again. I wrote this post once before earlier today. I had about 600 words. I dumped ‘em. This time around it looks like it will be about 500 words. Does that mean I have 1100 words on the day so far? Even if I dumped the first 600? This is progress?

Perhaps it is , but it’s not how I write.

Now if you’ll excuse me I have some other things to do.

I suppose those experts expect me to give up my naps and write too!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Forgive me, I’ve written a long book!

Forgive me for I have sinned. I have written and published a long book.

My novel A Girl in the Dumpster runs 616 pages in the hard cover and soft cover versions. Shipping weight is just over 2 pounds. Add to that the fact that it’s print on demand and it makes for a high cover price.

Some of the size is due to a larger than usual font I approved, but mostly it’s because the text runs over 234 thousand words. Even in (the reasonably priced) Nook and Kindle versions it’s long.

And did I mention that I’m not Steven King, that this is a first novel by an unknown #author?

A #first book should not be over 300 pages, better if not over 250. I had not yet seen this maxim in print at the time of #publication, but I was vaguely aware of the sense of it.

So I am not claiming ignorance of this tenet as an excuse. I done wrong. I wrote long.

In my defense I did not set out to write an #epic novel. This is not an ego trip of a book. The story just wouldn’t stop. Interesting characters kept showing up and I kept chasing their interweaving stories. (I did eliminate a couple of characters and reined back others. Really.) And the amount of description seemed to work at the time. And still
does for me.

And before you go jumping to any unkind conclusions, I did hire an #editor, a professional one, through my #publisher, for thousands of dollars. When I expressed concern about the length of the book to the company’s Editorial Consultant he assured me a professional editor would chop out at least twenty or thirty thousand words without doing damage to the story.

But the editor did not even suggest that the book be shortened, much less suggest any cutting. In fact when I had finished complying with all of her recommendations the book was actually a few hundred words longer.

The person who did the “professional editorial review” before her had not mentioned anything about it being too #long either.

The publisher gave the book its Editor’s Choice designation, so something about it must have been working for them. It couldn’t all be because I was paying for their services by the word.

But the paid reviewers have treated “the girl” like an overweight passenger booking an airline flight, charging big bucks extra for the ride if allowing her to board at all.

For the most part the free reviewers have avoided her like the chubby girl at the Junior High dance. (But not you Emily. Bless you.)

But the people who get to know the real “girl”—those who actually read the
book—almost all say that they love her, um, it.

And I love A Girl in the Dumpster too.

But, alas, my next book will be shorter. Petite. A quick read. Not to expiate my guilt for writing a long first novel—for I really don’t have any of that—but to bring attention to my first book with the success of the second.

Next time I will do better.

And I will start my new quest for brevity by writing shorter blog posts.

Next time.

I promise.

 

 

 

 

 

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Could You Describe That For Me?

Rumor has it that people don’t have much patience for #description these days, that they want all #action and right off the bat. And I suppose a lot of people are that way. Describing a scene can slow down the pace of the story. But in return when the scene is interestingly set the later action can be that much more compelling.

Some people have complained that there is too much description in my novel, A Girl in the Dumpster, especially in the opening chapters. I must admit that for much of the book a window is seldom just a window, or hair just hair, a car a car, a room a room.  But in my defense I try not to mention a window, or someone’s hair, or a particular car just to do so. I intend to include these details in the story to help define a character or a setting and I believe using specific details are useful for that.

Okay, and sometimes it’s just fun to use adjectives.

But details and description should add something to the story more than just increased word count.

That Angie’s original hair color was strawberry blonde and is at the time of the story tomato red, implies something about her to the reader; she is the kind of girl who likes to do bold things with her looks; or she is someone who doesn’t like the way she used to look; or she’s someone who likes to draw attention to herself. Saying her hair color is
now tomato red gives the story more flavor (though not necessarily a tomato flavor) than saying “she’s the kind of girl likes to do bold things with her looks.” Giving the specific detail allows the reader to interpret it. It’s “showing” more than “telling’ like is so emphasized in fiction writing courses.

Which is not say I think all description is good.  I don’t really like description for description’s sake myself. Saying a woman is wearing a teal jacket with matching teal skirt tells me a little something about that woman, but not much worthwhile. Saying she is wearing a teal jacket with tangerine pajama pants tells me something more interesting and the colors may be worth mentioning. If she is wearing only the teal jacket it tells me something else—and the color of the jacket is significantly less important.

I don’t mean to claim that I am particularly gifted at the utilization of this concept or always pay attention to it when I’m writing. When my friend Carla read my #manuscript before publication she noticed that nearly every time I wanted a #color for something—a pair of eyes, a set of towels, a sofa—I nearly always put “gray-green.” Now this happens to be a favorite color of mine. And I had written the book over the course of nine years without consulting earlier chapters to compare such details.  Still, unless I had happened to have been trying to give the #impression that the story was taking place in a very “gray-green world”— which I wasn’t—using the color over and over didn’t seem like such a good idea.  I changed most instances of it to other colors or dropped it.

There are also apparently times when some people want more description in my #writing. When I sent the manuscript to the publisher the person who did the editorial review of it to say what work he thought it still needed, he suggested thatI add more description of the characters when each first appears in the story.

I didn’t follow his suggestion because as a reader I want some room to imagine what the character looks like or sounds like to me.

And after all that description of everything else in my book I had to leave something to the reader’s imagination.

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Self-employed Writer

I’ve been self-employed almost all of my adult life. I’m my own boss, but that doesn’t make the work easy. My usual line when asked about it is that “I’m self-employed and the boss is a slave-driving jerk.”

I don’t punch a time clock, which means in most cases it doesn’t matter if I start work a little late, because just as often it means that there is no quitting time until the job is done.

I’m responsible for everything about the business. Before “work” or after “work”— “work” in this case being the things I do that can charge somebody for—I have to contact customers about new work or problems with old work; I have to keep the accounts up to date; I have to buy supplies and repair equipment. I have to work before and after work.

I don’t like to, but I still sometimes lose sleep over my work. work doesn’t like to stay at work.

I have to drum up new business, constantly. Right now I’m doing well and have enough work lined up to keep me busy for a while, maybe a month. But then what? The money stops, that’s what.

I don’t advertise in the papers because people don’t look for people who do what I do in the papers. Somebody from Google calls at least once a day insisting I need to list my business with them. People don’t look for me on Google and even if they did I doubt if I
would stick out amongst all the others just by my name or some ad. People who
hire me almost all hear about me by word of mouth; they believed the good reviews of my work that they got from others.

I’m not the only one in this business either. There are lots of others out there who do what I do. Some of them as good or better than I am, but many not so.  And it seems that everybody who’s looking to make a quick buck thinks they can do what I do, as well as I do. Cheaper.

Sure, it’s not brain surgery. And there are very few rules. Every day lots of people do what I do in their own homes. But I have developed skills and knowledge doing what I do that makes my work consistently good. Nobody is pickier about my work than I am.

I work hard for my customer’s money and I’m worth the money I charge.

Every so often I get to stand back and think, “That’s good, that’s the way it’s supposed to be done.” Then it’s back to the grind.

I’m not for everyone but I’m worth checking out if you’re looking for what I’m selling.

I’ve been a self-employed residential paint contractor for over thirty-five years.

And now I’m a self-published author.

I see the similarities.

 

 

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Do you need a “romance” to have a romantic story?

A romance novel is described as a work of fiction where the love story is the central theme.  The primary focus is between the hero and heroine and the obstacles they must overcome to be together.  The story must have a happy ending and be emotionally satisfying.

A Girl in the Dumpster doesn’t fit into these parameters of a romance novel. It doesn’t have that one available man/one available woman who end up together, probably headed for wedded bliss, after 200 to 400 pages of interplay, misunderstandings, false starts and sidetracks. That’s not the main theme, anyway. (And it’s not a put down of romance novels. Though not a hardcore fan, I have read and  appreciated writers like LaVyrle Spencer.)

The characters of the book certainly have many romantic notions, as in “beliefs that are fanciful or impractical or adventurous.” The actions of all of the characters—and all of us, to a greater or lesser degree— are based on beliefs that may not coincide
with the reality of their (or our) situations.

The most romantic character in my novel is probably the one who on the surface seems the least so—Angie, the teenager whose life has become a dumpster of drug abuse and ill-advised sex. She’s the least obvious romantic and the one who would buck the most at the description being applied to her. But her attraction to the wicked Jake Laakso
is all about romance. Not in the usual romance sense of the term, not the
attraction of a woman to handsome man. She sees in Jake, in his status as a big
fish in a small pond, as a very small time rock star, an opportunity for adventure. That’s where the romance is. And virtually the same thing fuels attraction to drugs, her belief, contrary to her experience, that drug experimentation will somehow turn out wondrous. Hard and cool as she wants her image to be, she’s a hard core romantic.

Angie’s mother, Carol, lives by the rose-colored self-deception that Angie is too smart and savvy to do anything seriously dangerous.

The storefront preacher Evan Isley and his wife Beth don’t seem to have much traditional romance left between them, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have romantic beliefs. Evan’s whole concept of himself as a man-of-God is a romantic notion. And Beth? Her whole life revolves around her notions of motherhood and how having a baby of her own would make everything right with her world.

Oh, these are all romantic people.

Even Anne Hedlin—the sanest and least sentimental major character in the book, and one who sees herself that way—has her romantic side. After all she takes a stranger and a baby into her home without so much as asking the woman what she was doing in the alley, partly because it is what she believes it is the right thing to do, and partly
because her decision making is clouded by her immediate affection for the baby.

All that may sound like I’m associating romantic thinking with being wrong-headed or worse . Which is not my intent. I don’t mean to imply that these characters—or anyone— would be better off being as coldly rational as Mr. Spock. I’m saying that there are more kinds of romance than just hot hormonal attraction. They are the kind that drive this story and our lives. In the book all of the romantic ideas I’ve mentioned seem like they would lead to pain and tragedy. But there are other beliefs, no more attached to cold reality, that in the end guide these character’s lives to better places.

If you agree with me that there are many kinds of romantic ideas that can drive a story, you may find A Girl in the Dumpster to be a satisfying read, even if your main reading diet comes from the more traditional romance rack in the book store.

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