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When the Cold War Collides with Love: Interview with Author Steve Gladish

Sometimes, we arrive at the idea for a novel and promptly write it, moving from concept to cover in a short period of time. In many ways, that’s the hook of independent publishing.

That has not been Stephen Gladish’s experience. The Tucson, Arizona-based author of the forthcoming Tracking the Skies for Lacy (On Sale August 28) has spent the past decade working with a central premise: his adventures with the Air Force’s Sixth Weather Squadron, and how romance, faith and harrowing missions seemed to mix.

Like many authors, Gladish struggled with deciding when to finish and release his work. First, there is a lot of story; Tracking the Skies for Lacy is the first of three forthcoming romantic military adventures in the series. Second, his protagonists weave in and out of all three books, creating a delicious read to mind and heart that takes awhile to present as seamlessly as Gladish does.

Most of all, Gladish wanted to get it right. Now, the retired English and writing instructor in the Arizona Department of Corrections system brings out the beautiful, thrilling and ultimately redeeming story of Luke and Lacy, and their windy road to romance. He also brings us the lushness of Polynesia, harrowing thrills of chasing tornadoes, a critical return to Vietnam, and more, in typical Gladish fashion — large, sweeping, ringing with imagery, and constantly working the heart strings.

Tracking the Skies for Lacy is coming out in time for us to reload on our summer reads. Perfect timing, as the enduring warmth of this story feels like a day at the beach — but one that makes us wiser when we finish reading.

Word Journeys: You went through a few ideas before settling on the final title, Tracking the Skies for Lacy. Could you elaborate?

Stephen B. Gladish: The military weather focus of Tracking the Skies for Lacy began long ago with my tours of Tornado Alley. Then I extended the scope to chasing tornadoes, monitoring nuclear detonations, flying helicopter rescue and attack missions, and making white water rescues. The unique romance of Luke and Lacy spanned all the new adventures and held them together. And each one of these chapters involved tracking the skies.

WJ: Where did the central idea for the book come from?

Tracking the Skies for Lacy author Steve Gladish

SG: In addition to my childhood inspirations, and my lifetime interest in weather, I wanted to call attention to the importance of weather in everybody’s lives. I served in the USAF 6th Weather Squadron (Mobile) and the Severe Weather Warning Command in the early Sixties. I want to take the reader through the sheer adventure of Luke growing into a man, just as the military venue designs it. From a weather warrior, he graduates to become an officer and a pilot, one of the few who came home from the Vietnam War psychologically unscathed.

WJ: Tell us briefly about Tracking the Skies for Lacy.

SG: Tracking the Skies for Lacy begins with a cloudy sky, metaphorically speaking. Lacy’s wealthy family moves to Luke’s hometown and they attend the same school, Park Avenue Prep. Lacy is beyond beautiful, and Luke, a handsome star student and athlete, is drawn to her. At age fifteen, Luke is confronted by class structure for the first time: Lacy is told by Mr. De’Luca, her father, not to have anything to do with any boy beneath her status. Thanks to Mrs. De’Luca’s compassion for Lacy, Luke and Lacy have years of hidden closeness.

Lacy goes on to Stanford University, while Luke follows a family tradition and joins the Air Force. Running a military gauntlet of tornadoes, nuclear atmospheric explosions, wartime helicopter actions, and white-water rafting dangers, Luke follows his quest to bring back the love of his youth. Lacy graduates from Stanford University, then shocks everybody by joining the Peace Corps. A wealthy girl, she lives in huts, rides on rundown old buses. A future with Luke? Luke could be swallowed up by Lacy’s family and disappear. Lacy has to give up a total life style to turn the corner.

Two years later, Luke comes home for a two-week R & R respite from the Pacific Nuclear Proving Ground/Marshall Islands. He had fallen in love with the beautiful and educated Talia Su’sulu, a Samoan teacher. He knew there would be no cross-class clash. But then there was Lacy…

Author Steve Gladish in the South Pacific – the setting for much of ‘Tracking the Skies for Lacy’

WJ: The dance between Luke and Lacy becomes the romantic tension that holds throughout the novel.

SG: Our hero falls in love with Lacy, grows up, and becomes a Sixth Weather storm chaser. He and his military sidekicks locate and record deadly tornadoes while saving numerous people in the nation’s Tornado Alley, and then they are island castaways recording nuclear detonations all over the South Pacific. Lacy is miles ahead of Luke. He plunges into college and intensive helicopter training. Now as an officer, Luke and his buddies hunt down the deadly enemy in Vietnam, and then attend a reunion where Luke finally connects with Lacy. But the story is not complete until he and his buddies coordinate a stunning rescue as white-water guides on “The River of No Return.”

WJ: Could you talk about how you transferred your experience into the characters of Luke and Chance?

SG: Sure! It was primarily in the military part of the story. Luke and Chance had advanced training in upper atmosphere weather, as I did. We worked alone and isolated and became close for that reason as well, a camaraderie and brotherhood you see in the book. I feel we need a lot more of that today. In Sixth Weather Squadron, we repeatedly surveyed the drastic damages of tornadoes. Saving lives was a key part of our mission. Across the world, pilots and aircrews depended on our weather reports and forecasts. We had mission and meaning in our lives. We got hooked on it, to be quite honest.

WJ: Typically in romantic adventure novels, the story is set in one or two truly romantic places. In Tracking the Skies for Lacy, though, you mix it up. We’re in Chicago, Oklahoma, Vietnam and Northern California — quite a mix of landscape and feeling — but we’re also in Samoa and briefly in Hawaii. Luke falls hard for the simple Polynesian life. Tell us how the paradise settings fit into the story.

SG: In my view, Polynesia was not only a visual paradise, but also a beautiful family-oriented place. The grandfather, or matai, guided the family. Children were raised by the whole family. One family could adopt other kids with no paperwork. Life was gentle. Lovemaking was natural, innocent, and an accepted part of the island culture. Unlike the U.S., there were no constant comparisons of income or status or the homes in which everybody lived. There was little unrest or unhappiness with one’s job, or career, or position. Natives were natural teachers, nurses, caregivers. Trained teachers were prized, valued, and respected far more than teachers here. Church leaders and pastors and ministers were treasured, churches filled with white-clad Polynesians who sang with a childlike devotion and a sublime beauty you have to hear in person to believe. I really wanted to present this life in the novel.

WJ: If you were to bounce around a library, comparing your novel to others, what would you come up with?

SG: Many of Louis L’Amour’s stories, like Sackett and To Tame a Land, carry an innocent young man with strong moral values into situations where he must prove himself as a man in order to win the woman he loves. And all American literature for boys begins with Huckleberry Finn, the story of an innocent boy running away from his Pap and into freedom. Herman Melville’s Typee, the first romance novel based in the South Pacific, has an innocent and moralistic hero as well. The Jason Bourne character from the Robert Ludlum series has parallels with Luke LaCrosse: masculine qualities, adventurous and ambitious, needs to win. Furthermore, Luke’s odyssey, like Ulysses’, involves one challenge and temptation after another, tortuous romance sailing through numerous reversals, crashing , picking himself up, setting sail again.

WJ: The two principal romantic interests, Luke and Lacy, as well as others, hail from the Chicago area, where you also grew up. Even though you have not lived in Chicago in many years, it still holds you in many ways. Could you share what the city means to you, and the sentiment you wove into the novel?

SG: Frank Sinatra once sang, “Chicago is my kind of town.” And then he repeats it. Hey, it is my kind of town too. Any time I leave, Chicago tugs my sleeve. It is the kind of town that won’t let you down. Carl Sandburg was right: Chicago is a big-shouldered man. He is stormy, husky, and brawling. He is a wildly delinquent Paul Bunyan the Lumberjack, remembered around the country with a twenty-foot high statue. He can outwork anybody, and fiercely wields an axe left and right, up and down, to reach his goals. Whatever he destroys he builds up with something else new.

WJ: Your novel provides a fictionalized account of military service we often don’t hear about — forecasting the weather and studying it. Since you were a ‘tornado chaser’, a member of the Sixth Weather Squadron, what is particularly concerning to you about climate change today?

SG: I spent a lifetime of study, especially on the cruel euphemism “global warming,” a blurred, imprecise way of “dumbing down” the debate. The real definition is catastrophic climate change. Global emissions of carbon dioxide exceeded 400 parts per million in 2017 — the highest in the 800,000 years they can study scientifically — and has been climbing for fifty years. It signals the build-up of human-related greenhouse gases from the burning of fossil fuels and forests.

Orwell said, “During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” That’s where we are right now — telling the truth in the face of those who wish to deny climate change to hang onto their vested interests. The world faces multiple catastrophes: sea level rise measured in feet, not inches, staggeringly high temperature rise with four hundred consecutive months of above-average temperatures, permanent Dust Bowls, the desertification of the West, massive species loss, more intense and severe hurricanes, masses and clusters of tornado outbreaks, the vast enlargement of Tornado Alley, and other unexpected impacts such as the violent rainstorms in Italy October 2011 which inundated towns of the Cinque Terre, Vernazza and Monterosso.

TRACKING THE SKIES FOR LACY releases worldwide from Christian Faith Publishers on August 28. It will be available through bookstores, Amazon.com, and other online booksellers and e-book sellers.

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July 5, 2018 · 5:03 pm

From Child Prodigy to Self-Publishing Expert: A.G. Billig’s Amazing Literary Journey

(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first in a two-part series on author/entrepreneur A.G. Billig, and how she is bringing her vast media, publishing branding experience to thousands of authors through SelfPublishingMastery.com. Here, she discusses her professional background, writing experiences, and her vision for the world’s most diverse self-publishing online platform.)

She wrote her first short story as a child. At age 13, the Romanian media dubbed her a child prodigy. Three years later, she was writing professionally for a popular national newspaper on teen issues. Then, at 17, she became a radio host — which led to producing a TV show for an independent Romanian network. Finally, when A.G. Billig entered her twenties, she became editor-in-chief for a variety of teen magazines.

Author, self-publishing and branding expert A.G. Billig

How’s that for the start of a writing career? A career seemingly predestined at birth? What happens if you add to that a Master’s Degree in public relations and communication and a sharp, incisive entrepreneurial mind?

Now, this captivating, multi-talented author, and international media and branding expert has established herself in the U.S., imparting her knowledge and insight to benefit thousands of authors. She is the creator of SelfPublishingMastery.com, a multi-channel platform that brings writing and business tips, consulting, books, writing and editing services, resources, online summits, professional referrals, the best writing instructors, a publishing imprint and much more. In 2017, it was named one of the Top 100 self-publishing blogs online. It’s only going to grow.

In an announcement I’m very proud to make, the editorial services wing of my company, Word Journeys, is shifting to SPM in a new partnership agreement.

As a writer, A.G.’s work is extensive in the journalism world, and growing in books. Her two books, Four Doors and Other Stories and I Choose Love, are award-winners. Her deep, thoughtful soul and incisive mind merge in her works to provide delicious prose that informs as it invokes feeling and thought, giving us insight into ourselves. Interestingly, that is what the greatest mentors do: show the way, often without stating it in those terms.

A.G. Billig presenting a workshop on branding and marketing for self-published authors at the Greater Los Angeles Writers Conference. Branding and marketing are central themes _ and features — of  SelfPublishingMastery.com

A.G. is a mentor to authors throughout the world, and has caught the attention of writers conference directors. She has presented at the Greater LA Writers, Genre-LA and Digital Writing & Self Publishing conferences, and recently conducted a Master Workshop on author branding. In this two-part interview, she unveils the full scope of SelfPublishingMastery.com, a huge author asset in a self-publishing market that saw an estimated 900,000 titles published last year.

WORD JOURNEYS: Let’s start at the beginning. What inspired you to begin writing?

A.G.Billig: When I was 8, my parents bought a brand new car. My excitement about the prospect of future summer trips across Romania translated into a short story, the first in a long series. My father, an avid reader and aspiring author, loved my writing and encouraged me to pursue it. By 13, I was winning national literary prizes for short stories. I wrote my first novel, a teenage love story, at 15 —and then took a break from writing fiction until 2012.

WJ: What was one of the biggest takeaways of your early journalism career, when you had years of top professional experience by the time you reached your twenties?

A.G.: It was a beautiful way to meet extraordinary people and share their amazing stories with the rest of the world, stretch my comfort zone, and learn new skills. It felt good whenever someone would stop me on the street to tell me they enjoyed my shows.

WJ:   What books did you read as a teen and young adult? How did they inform and shape the stories and book ideas you wanted to pursue?

A.G. Though Romania was still under Communist rule in my early years, I was fortunate to grow up in a house filled with books. My father was born in Paris. He loved French culture as well as universal literary giants. The moment I learned how to read, I started devouring writers such as Honore de Balzac, Emile Zola, Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, Lev Tolstoy, Anton Chekhov, Giovanni Boccaccio, Jane Austen, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and F. Scott Fitzgerald, to name a few. These authors and readings shaped my literary tastes and taught me how to write. I learned how to use description, write dialogue, and build solid characters from them. I also learned the type of emotional and cognitive experience a book is supposed to create for the reader, that essential element that stands the test of time. Although I never wanted to be like these authors, I always aimed at giving my best in my writing. We can all do that by being authentic and passionate about what we do.

WJ:   When did you start considering working with self-published authors? What need did you perceive?

A.G.: In 2015, at the London Book Fair. It seems like this event changes my life every three years — I wonder what’s going to happen in 2018! I attended as a journalist (I was a contributor to the Romanian edition of Playboy). I was already following podcasts on self-publishing and wanted to know more about it. The free talks and panels proved to be of great help. The success stories of self-published authors such as Mark Dawson and C.J. Lyons, making six-figure incomes on their books, gave me an A-HA! moment. I realized that the publishing game was changing and self-publishing opened a global market for authors, provided they had the necessary skills. Since I have an entrepreneurial mind, I seized the opportunity, not only for myself, but also for my fellow authors. I realized that they needed support with branding and marketing their books. They would needed resources, information, and education. “Why not use my passion for journalism to serve these people?” I asked myself.

Early in 2016, just about the same time I self-published I Choose Love, Self-Publishing Mastery was born.

WJ:   Let’s go back to your creative love – writing books. First, tell us about I Choose Love – certainly a timely read in this day and age.

A.G.: I never thought I would write a non-fiction book, but a lot went on in 2015 — terror attacks, natural disasters. The world was (and still is) governed by fear. The only way out was choosing love, again and again, every second of our life. At that point, I Choose Love came to me as what some would call a “download”. It took about a month to complete. It was easy for me, because it stemmed from my heart. I also had a clear structure from the beginning, and a thorough knowledge of the topic based on seven years of spiritual practice and personal experiences. It offers practical tools for overcoming fear and attracting love into one’s life.

WJ: Can’t think of a subject more purposeful! You also mentioned you shelved your teenage love of fiction writing until 2012. Typically, when we leave our story writing youth, we rarely find that thread again, but you did. Tell us about Four Doors and Other Stories.

A.G.: This book shows what can happen when we are in the flow. It marked my return to writing fiction, and it brought me a contract with a U.K. publisher.

I created this short stories collection about love, because love represents the foundation of who I am and everything I do, including helping other authors become successful. My vision was to portray love as our true essence, which can be expressed in so many different ways. Once I had this concept clear in my mind, I just allowed the inspiration to flow in.

WJ: What is your vision with SelfPublishingMastery.com? What are the features? How do you, and the platform, assist writers in their journeys?

A.G. My original concept for Self Publishing Mastery was to be the Billboard magazine for the global self-publishing industry. My vision was to support and empower indie authors from around the world to self-publish, and help them master the publishing process.

We began by (and are still) covering book marketing, the writing craft, the right mindset for success, writers’ conferences, success stories, writers Facebook groups, podcasts, and book blogs. After the past year of getting a chance to talk to authors, we decided to add an educational component. Now we will also have workshops, online courses, books, and an online academy. We’ve just further expanded the range of our services for authors through the full-service portfolio, twenty years’ standing, that Word Journeys is bringing in. We have evergreen content, constantly refreshing. We’ve also got some goodies for those who subscribe to our newsletter such as “The top 20 Amazon book reviewers list” and “The successful book launch checklist.” Authors can and will find all that they need for successful self-publishing on our site. Please stop by!

(NEXT: A.G. Billig breaks down SelfPublishingMastery.com, and the particular challenge self-published authors face with branding, distribution, and lifting their work above the growing mass of titles and voices — and how to reach their world of awaiting readers in the process.)

 

 

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50 Yrs Ago Today: When Paul Visited Haight-Ashbury to Preview Sgt. Pepper’s

Hard to believe that it’s been 50 years to the day since The Beatles released Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Today’s debut of The Beatles Channel on Sirius XM radio is part of a summer long salute to the band — and album.

One of two albums that defined the “Summer of Love” over all others: Jefferson Airplane’s “Surrealistic Pillow”. Marty Balin is back row right.

Besides its revolutionary use of the studio and the musical virtuosity of John, Paul, George and Ringo, the album symbolized a time of freedom, expression, consciousness, music, and the hopes of a new generation like no other. It, along with Jefferson Airplane’s Surrealistic Pillow, also served as the musical symbols of the #SummerofLove in San Francisco.

Interestingly, it was a visit Paul McCartney made to San Francisco in April, 1967, and the story Jefferson Airplane vocalist-songwriter-mastermind and Rock & Roll Hall of Famer Marty Balin told me about the visit, that sparked the beginnings of my new novel, Voices. 

Debuting 50 years ago today, “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”

Published by Open Books Press, Voices is a father-daughter-lost daughter story that celebrates the Summer of Love as the launching point for both story and main character, rock legend Tom Timoreaux. It’s also the music novel I’ve wanted to write after covering bands, albums, concerts and events the past 40 years, currently as editor of the Billboard Music Awards and American Music Awards publications and co-author of Stevie Salas’ memoir, When We Were The Boys.

Voices traces the beginnings of Tom and his band, The Fever, in 1967 San Francisco, with the Summer of Love and its enormous impact on music, culture and lives fully recounted through the characters. With festivities cranking up now in San Francisco, it’s a fun time to have a book that roots itself in that amazing short-lived scene.

Back to Paul’s visit, as recounted by Marty from his Haight Ashbury home when I was working with him for his memoir, Full Flight, back in 2001. Bear in mind: When Paul visited, Jefferson Airplane was the psychedelic rock band, thanks to Surrealistic Pillow, which was bulleting to the top of the charts. The Beatles were coming off Rubber Soul and Revolver, with no one yet knowing of Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band:

Marty Balin, now and then

“We were rehearsing in The Fillmore on an early April day. We were sitting below the stage, in this big room, playing by ourselves,” Marty said. “Suddenly, a big guy comes in wearing a suit and tie – it was Beatles road manager Mal Evans. He booms out in his thick British accent, ‘Master Paul McCartney’d like to visit.’

“What? ‘Well, then send him in,’ I said.

“In comes Paul. Man, we freaked out. I mean, any commercial success we were enjoying was due to The Beatles coming to America in the first place. So we sat around and talked about The Beatles, about the Airplane, about music in general.

“We broke up our rehearsal and went back to the apartment Jack and I shared, in this old Victorian off Haight and Fell. Jack and Paul got into a discussion about bass playing; the British musicians were learning what we already knew, that Jack was brilliant. Jorma and Jack kept trying to get Paul to jam with them; they were noodling all the time on their guitars. Jack took Paul back to his hotel room that night, so I’m sure they talked a lot more about music. There’s a story that Paul tried to play, but couldn’t, because he’s left-handed and Jack had a right-handed bass. I don’t know.

A typical day during the Summer of Love — music, hanging out, self-discovery

“I do know Paul just wanted to relax. He was mainly interested in shooting home movies of the Haight-Ashbury scene. I told Paul about some of the things happening in the Haight, and gave him some places to shoot. Ever since the early days of The Beatles, he’d taken the little home movie camera around and filmed the places and excitement surrounding them. He liked to film the scenes, gallery openings, people in their element; he wasn’t reclusive like John. Paul was always going out, socializing, meeting people.

“Later, I went into my room to get away from the crowd that was in the main part of the house. Paul came in, and we talked a little more about music. ‘What’s new with The Beatles?’ I asked. ‘What’s next?’

Paul smiled. “Oh, I happen to have a little tape here.”

He pulled a tape out and we put it on. It was the song “A Day In The Life.” (“I read the news today, oh boy…”) I just about lost it; I could not believe what I was hearing. Up until then, The Beatles had been like Gods to us. Anything they did was amazing, and in 1964 and 1965, it seemed that every two weeks, they had a new single. They were fantastic, and an inspiration to just about everybody in the rock music world.

“So he played this song. I just did not have the words to describe it. ‘Man, that’s the most amazing thing I’ve ever heard,’ I said.

This is one of many classic rock & roll experiences that weaves its way through Voices, which I will be sharing throughout the summer as the book makes its way into bookstores and online booksellers — and my signing appearances. I share it first because Marty Balin inspired me to write the book, with stories like this, and with his cool, quiet, understated way of using his magical tenor chops to become “The Voice” — literally, that was his nickname among his peers and early fans, and hence, inspiration for the book title. He and I also brainstormed  off my original story line while walking a very crowded Haight Street prior to the 2001 Haight Street Festival (as reimagined in Chapter 18 of Voices). That basic story line is very close to the final version.

Many more stories behind the writing of Voices are coming. Most of all, on this 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love, it’s my salute to what rock, pop, folk and blues music have meant, how they’ve informed my generation, and it also shows the beauty of music to bring us together in a spirit of joy and companionship, no matter our beliefs or world views.

Voices is now available through bookstores nationwide, on all online booksellers, and of course, on Amazon.com. Hope you enjoy it, and please post a quick review on Amazon or Goodreads — 50 words will do (and a few stars!).

 

 

 

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The Write Time: Feeding your Writing Needs Over the Holidays

Welcome to the 2015 Holiday Season … and Launch Day!TWT_WebCov

Today is the release of the second edition of The Write Time: 366 Exercises to Fulfill Your Writing Life, published by Open Books Press out of Bloomington, IN. Since it initially released, it has been used as a teaching tool in dozens of high schools and colleges. Of equal importance, it sits on the shelves of writers ranging from multiple book authors to those writing for fun. Now, we’ve brought in 20 new exercises, as well as fresh photos and a new foreword, to go with the other 346 exercises in the book.

For me, the beauty of this book is its diversity and variety. Since I was young, I’ve kept journals, with the specific intent of writing about something different every day. I believe that diverse writing, along with good reading, observation and life experience, builds our voices and fluency as writers faster than anything. When my book or editing clients say, “You can write about anything! How do you do that?” my answer is the same: “By many years of writing about different things and experimenting daily.”

That is why I created The Write Time — to present a sweeping approach to writing about the subjects that interest you, and trying new forms in the process. Between that, the stories embedded within the exercises, motivational and creativity quotes from authors and brilliant minds, and listings of 125 dynamic writing websites, I’m confident in stating that The Write Time goes well beyond typical writing prompts and exercise books. In fact, you won’t find another that offers such a rich experience.2015-12-01 06.23.33 2015-12-01 06.24.09

For The Write Time, I cobbled together writing exercises developed from the past 15 years of teaching at conferences, high schools, retreats and colleges, gave them stories, and brought them together. Every genre and type of writing is covered, from fiction to essay, songwriting to poetry, fantasy to literary narrative non-fiction. Whether you journal, write poetry or songs, novels or essays, short stories or major papers, The Write Time will be a valuable asset.

The other thing — you’ll never have writer’s block again. All you need to do is open the book to the date, or any random page, and it won’t take long for your words to flow. “It serves as a invocation to come sit at the shore of new creativity, take up your ink-cup, drink plentifully, and be refreshed by the waters of a new day, all intentionally assembled by a fellow writer, reader and lover of literature,” wrote Andres Torres, advanced placement teacher at Minooka (IL) Community High School, in the Foreword.

The Write Time is available through all bookstores, Amazon.com, online booksellers, and on the Open Books site. Or, if you’d like an autographed copy for a holiday gift for yourself, or writers among family and friends, contact me and we’ll get one to you.

Finally, to whet your taste buds, the exercise for December 1:

All complete stories arrive at resolution. We entered the story with characters departing from an opening situation. We followed them as they made their way through the world you created for them, enjoying the motives, conflicts, twists, surprises, realizations, discoveries, complications and sub-plots along the way.

Now, we’re ready for resolution. How will your story end?

Write the ending to your story — no matter where you are right now. The resolution can lead to either a predictable, surprising, or twist ending; your call. Whatever the case, make the ending solid and convincing. Refine it over and over. Then, use it as a compass to guide you through the rest of the story.

(Please let us know how you like The Write Time by reviewing it on Amazon and Goodreads).

 

 

 

 

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Who Are Your Top 10 Favorite Writers?

Today is a fun blogging day — a couple of “10 Favorite” lists.

I make these lists about once every, well, 10 years. They not only show who influences us most deeply as readers and/or writers, but also who grabs our hearts, minds and souls. The 10-year period between lists also shows how we’ve evolved as people. Several on my lists have remained the same over the years, but one or two invariably switch out each decade.

That said, who are your 10 favorite writers? Also, since it is National Poetry Month, who are your 10 favorite poets and/or essayists? Mine are listed below, with a quick bit about each.

Please use the comment feature on this blog to let us know who your favorites are, and why (at least for a few of them). We’ll post a composite of the responses at the end of April.

Bob’s 10 Favorite Writers, in no particular order (except for number one):

boyle

T.C. Boyle

Jack Kerouac — My all-time favorite. ‘On the Road’, and ‘Dharma Bums’ are classics of his tireless stream of consciousness writing. Did you know he wrote ‘The Subterraneans’ in 72 hours — and included a 1,200-word sentence in there?

T.C. Boyle — a mastermind of fiction and short story. He’s carried the mantle among American short-story giants since Raymond Carver died.

Anne Rice — I’m not so hot on her books (except for ‘The Vampire Lestat’ and book one of her ‘Christ the Lord’ series), but her writing is amazing. Who else can keep readers up for two nights with more chilling scenes?

Anne Rice, bewitching at a book signing

Anne Rice, bewitching at a book signing

Thich Nhat Hanh — This Vietnamese Buddhist monk has written some of the most beautiful, applicable books of the past 50 years, his style succinct and full of love.

Laura Hillenbrand — Journalistic narrative gets no better than ‘Seabiscuit’ or ‘Unbroken’, does it? She’s awesome.

Elmore Leonard — My man Elmore, a master of realistic dialogue and snappy, fast-paced storytelling. I read a Leonard novel every time I want to improve my pacing, or simply when it’s time for a great story and some laughs.

John Gardner — 90% of my fiction knowledge comes from the late, great novelist and author of the best book on the craft, ‘The Art of Fiction.’

Anais Nin

Anais Nin

Hunter S. Thompson — Forget how bizarre he was as a person; he greatly influenced me through ‘New Journalism’ (the grandparent of narrative non-fiction), his writing for Rolling Stone, and his two gems, ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’ and ‘The Great Shark Hunt’.

Anais Nin — Classy, erotic, cultured, full of irresistible imagery and beautiful writing. Unless your religious beliefs preclude you from doing so, every man should read a Nin book if they care about the innermost worlds of their women.

Joyce Carol Oates — She’s written hundreds of short stories and more than 40 novels. She plunges us into her characters’ worlds within two pages; I feel like I’ve lost my skin and identity when reading her. And her storytelling? The best. In her classic book ‘Blonde’, she admitted she felt like she was Marilyn Monroe while writing it. Priceless.

10 FAVORITE POETS

Gary Snyder, in his element

Gary Snyder, in his element

Gary Snyder — My idol as a poet and steward of the land since I was 16. In my opinion, he’s the greatest poet/essayist alive (and a pre-eminent translator of classical Chinese poetry). He won the Pulitzer Prize in 1974. In recent years, I’ve had the honor of befriending and being mentored by him. Love the man.

Paramhansa Yogananda — As beautiful soul poetry goes, this Indian yoga master has the touch. ‘Songs of the Soul’ is a classic.

Wislawa Szymborska — She recently passed, but in 2012, Gary Snyder called her ‘the best poet in the world.’ Her winning the Nobel Prize backs his claim.

Wislawa Syzmborska, the Polish wordsmith extraordinaire

Wislawa Syzmborska, the Polish wordsmith extraordinaire

Mary Oliver — How can you not love Mary? Her incisive images and attention to rhythm and detail are beautiful and exact.

David Whyte — He brings the spiritual, natural and inner human worlds together seamlessly; I get goose bumps every time I read Whyte aloud.

Billy Collins — Roll up your sleeves, pour coffee, and survey the little quirks and bits of magic in the everyday world. Billy engages us in the most accessible poetry of the last 50 years. (His protégé, Taylor Mali, could easily fill this slot – but with more obvious humor.)

Mary Oliver, bringing her words to life

Mary Oliver, bringing her words to life

Percy Bysshe Shelley — Let’s dial back the clock. Shelley only lived to be 29, but he defined the 18th-19th century Romantic poetry period. Such beautiful poems, and he mastered the difficult combination of storytelling and lyrical verse.

Rumi — There were more than 100 great Persian, Arabian and other Middle Eastern poets from the 8th through 15th centuries; Rumi has lived on. Who doesn’t feel better and deeper after reading one or two of his poems? Honey for the soul.

Li-Po — Like Rumi, he stands tallest among China’s wandering poets in the 7th through 10th centuries. Want to be a Chinese landscape? Read him aloud.

Sappho — She brought written form to lyric and spoken verse 2,700 years ago, creating Western poetry as we know it (though she wasn’t the first; Sumerian Enheduanna penned her poems on cuneiform tablets 4,500 years ago). Sadly, only about 2% of Sappho’s work survives; she was as prolific as Shakespeare.

There are my lists. Looking forward to seeing yours!

ON SALE THROUGHOUT NATIONAL POETRY MONTH: Backroad Melodies, by Robert Yehling. $9.95 print, $1.99 Kindle, .99 Matchbook. Through April 30. http://amzn.to/1Hb62Ei

Low Res Cover Backroads

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Bring On the Digital Publishing Revolution (You’re Already a Part of It)

Surf star Clay Marzo, the subject of "Just Add Water", tearing it up in Maui.

Surf star Clay Marzo, the subject of “Just Add Water”, tearing it up in Maui.

Back in the saddle after two weeks of working in Maui with surf star Clay Marzo on our book, Just Add Water (due out in Summer 2014 from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), meeting with musician Stevie Salas to discuss his memoir, When We Were The Boys (due out in Fall 2014 from Rowman & Littlefield), revving up the PR machine for author Allan Patch and his exquisite new novel, Passage at Delphi (due out in late November), and presenting at the Digital Author and Self Publishing Conference in Los Angeles …

… Which is where we’re going with this blog.  We’ve heard a lot in the past few years about the rise of e-books, online publishing, and the impending death of the printed book. While the printed book is not going away, at least anytime soon, it is no secret that digital publishing is taking over the industry – and self-publishing is a huge part of it.

One statistic bears it out more than any other: according to R.R. Bowker, which issues the International Standard Book Numbers (ISBNs) that every book must have to be distributed, the number of ISBNs in circulation has grown in the past 15 years from 900,000 to 32 million. That means there are 32 million different book titles circulating in bookstores, libraries, online booksellers, website stores and wherever you can buy a book.

"Passage at Delphi," the forthcoming novel by Allan Patch

“Passage at Delphi,” the forthcoming novel by Allan Patch

The vast majority of these books are self-published by digital means. In other words, I write a book, format it into a manuscript, and deliver it to either a print source (such as CreateSpace, the self-publishing arm of Amazon.com) or an e-reader service (Kindle, Kobo, Smashwords, Nook, Diesel, Sony e-reader, Apple, etc.). If Smashwords is involved, the e-books are made available for purchase on hundreds of online booksellers. Obviously, if CreateSpace is involved, you can find them on Amazon.com as a print or Kindle title.

Authors can also turn to any number of companies that offer these services, plus scaled-up services for marketing and distribution (extra charge). There are plenty of choices, but I’ll caution you now – do your due diligence. Some are exceptional, like PublishNext and Balboa Press, while others will gladly take your money, print your books and not worry about the quality of their service. Major publishers now offer self-publishing operations as well; two examples include Author Solutions (Penguin) and Balboa Press (Hay House).

This massive shift into self-publishing, or Indie Authorship as it is called among serious authors, has occurred for two reasons: 1) the technology to produce our own books inexpensively is available through our home computers; and 2) authors want the money from their book sales.

Which begs the question: Don’t authors get paid when their books are published by traditional publishers? Of course – but that book sale is cut many ways. On average, authors receive 10% to 15% of each book sold by a traditional publisher. If they are advanced money to write the book, then they only get their 10% to 15% royalties after the advance earns out – sales top the amount advanced. Given that the traditional publishing world has shrunk to five major publishers, their imprints and the smaller publishers, the opportunities to get published are shrinking by the day. Plus, publishers are more unwilling than ever to take a chance on someone who does not have a viable name and presence in the public eye – which is blatantly unfair to writers with good stories that would certainly be read.

However, that’s life in 2013. This is not our parents’ publishing world. What a shame.

The Indie Author approach puts sales in the writer’s hands. But it also includes the responsibility of marketing, promotion and publicity. That’s where a traditionally published book has a huge advantage. Publishers bring distribution, production and marketing to the table, and they do it with full staffs and decades of work on well-built networks. When you give up 85% to 90% of the cover price of the book, that’s where the money goes. (Well, most of it, but that’s another story that would take a very long day to discuss.)

However, writers who are smart enough (and have the funds) to hire experts in traditional and online book marketing, promotions and publicity (shop carefully; there are plenty of shysters out there) can prosper through digital publishing. After loading their manuscripts onto CreateSpace, PDF files on their computers, and/or the e-book readers, they retain 70% to 100% of sales. Or, you can try my approach, which is to collaborate with a publishing partner (in my case, Tuscany Global Publishing and the very exceptional Brian Wilkes). You write and promote the book, the partner handles the production, loading and fanning out to the online retailers, and you split the money down the middle.

Then there’s the world of hybrid authorship, which is where I reside. Agents and traditional publishers are getting used

Creating Adventures, Sharing Stories, a collection of 51 pieces derived from the Word Journeys Blogs

Creating Adventures, Sharing Stories, a collection of 51 pieces derived from the Word Journeys Blogs

to this approach, with the publishers having a particularly tough time of it. Hybrid authors self-publish and work with traditional publishers. For example, I’m working on two books under contract (Just Add Water and When We Were the Boys), while showcasing two other books that I put out with Tuscany Global (Backroad Melodies and Creating Adventures, Sharing Stories: Word Journeys Dispatches Vol. 1). With much more to come.

How the digital world has opened it up! The options are many. More and more good writers are capitalizing on them. Chances are, you own plenty of books by Indie Authors on your bookshelves or e-readers, and don’t even know it. Nor does it matter. What matters is how good the book is. That’s the beauty of digital publishing…

… and why this past weekend’s Digital Authors and Self Publishing Conference in LA was so valuable. Hats off to conference director Tony Todaro: he knows how to present diverse conferences that nail the pulse we feel on the front lines of this shapeshifting industry! Publishing experts such as legendary literary agent Ashley Grayson, agents Claire Gerus and Toni Lopopolo, CD Baby and Book Baby CEO Brian Felsen, science fiction icon (and one-time Star Trek writer) David Gerrold, and author-marketers Linton Robinson, Karen Angermeyer, Gary Philips, Steven Booth and yours truly, were among those discussing this crucial subject. The workshops were packed, the insights riveting and eye-opening, and the information invaluable.

You’ll hear plenty more from me in this blog about digital publishing, especially since I work with it all the time for my clients, and my own work. And that’s about to expand, greatly, but I’ll save that announcement for November…

 

 

 

 

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Why Thrillers Are Fun to Write, and #1 to Read: William Thompson Ong Interview

After he retired from a long career in the advertising industry, William Thompson Ong knew he wanted to return to his other love – 41z1MhGnReL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_writing – but didn’t know where to start. Like other writers, he wanted to draw plenty of fun and enjoyment from his daily sessions. However, he also wanted to write books that would find large audiences.

Ong did some research, and it brought him back to one of the favorite genres he read as a youth and young man: action thrillers with plenty of mystery. Bingo! He transformed into a typing thoroughbred, and burst out of the gates. In just a few years, he has written seven novels and a popular thriller series. In the second part of this exclusive interview, Ong reflects on why thrillers are so much fun to write, why they are the #1 fiction genre for readers (just ahead of the other ingredient in his books, romance), and how the stars have aligned ideally in the persona of Kate Conway, his protagonists for the novel series The Mounting Storm, The Deadly Buddha, and The Fashionista Murders, all available on Amazon.com.

WORDJOURNEYS.COM: What is it about the personalities and characteristics of investigative journalists that make them ideal protagonists for thrillers and mysteries? 

WILLIAM THOMPSON ONG: I’d like to answer with some comparisons between the detective and the newspaper guy or gal. Both appear to be dedicated to discovering breakthrough facts or evidence they can weave into a conclusive story or an indictment.  Aren’t they both in the same business, after all—fighting crime?

In Kate Conway’s case, the hurdles are set higher. The investigative reporter is in a class by herself at a newspaper or magazine journal, assigned to the really big and explosive stuff—stories and cases that go far beyond the murder story.  These are the bright, tenacious, and fearless guys and gals who won’t be home for Christmas—they’ll be spending it hiding in a basement in Teheran to escape a terrorist’s sword. These are the guys and gals whose names will appear on the stories that garner Pulitzer Prizes for their papers—(to say nothing of boosting circulation enough to keep today’s newspapers alive for another year.)  And in most cases they’ll be acting alone—not with the NYPD at their disposal.

Tom's jacket photo. Alicia #9 (preferred)WJ: You mentioned a disparity between typical education levels of an investigative journalist and detective, which creates major story problems in moving crime novels along because of the distrust with which one often views the other in real life. How did you get around that in your series?

TO: I made Kate’s father a gnarly ex-detective—(Paul Conway is a career dick from Brooklyn). When Kate needs help she whistles and Paul Conway appears, wise in the details of police procedure (which Kate and I choose not to be) and just dropping his name opens doors for Kate. Some may think I am cheating by supplying Kate with a crutch like this. But it allows Kate to cruise on a higher level and solve the really complicated crimes.

All of this explains why I lean away from the straight detective story in favor of the mystery-thriller. I’m still that stickler for detail.  But now I can keep a lot more balls in the air when it comes to plotting.

WJ: In The Fashionista Murders, and also The Mounting Storm, you give an expert’s touch to how you portray the high fashion industry and the high-end art world. Are these interests of yours, or just story drivers that you researched (well) and brought to life?

Like Kate Conway herself in The Fashionista Murders, I am totally turned off by fashion—which is why I attached the serial killer to the story. In The Mounting Storm, introducing Kate to Margaret Winship opened up the world of art and museums and society that heightened Kate’s search for the missing Monet she suspects belonged to her grandmother and triggered Kate’s unmasking the Nazi.

It also opened all of Kate’s subsequent novels to the swanky world of high finance and billionaires and celebrity society with its pretension and snobbery and deviousness—absolutely wonderful and trusty elements for layering your novel.  These elements are story drivers and not comfortable elements already present in my life—although at one time I seriously considered becoming an artist.

WJ: You had an interesting way of becoming a thriller writer after leaving the advertising industry:

TO: I did. My decision to write thrillers was based on some good old-fashioned seat-of-the-pants research.  I found thrillers to be the most popular genre. I also found there were more female readers than male readers, which helped lead me to inventing Kate Conway.  Discovering that romances were the second hottest genre convinced me to spread Kate’s adventures with hot and spicy romance.

WJ: Were you a big reader of mysteries, thrillers and crime fiction in your growing up years? Who were your favorite 41u0RCXXw7L._SY346_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_authors, and what influenced you most about their works, styles and/or voices?

TO: When I was 9, my father brought home The Five Orange Pips and lightning struck. I became a Sherlock Holmes fan forever, admiring his characters and atmosphere (who can resist The Hound of the Baskervilles for atmosphere?) as much as his sleuthing.  But as I grew older, my tastes gravitated to more intricate thrillers like The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, Gorky Park, The Manchurian Candidate, and The Day of the Jackal.

By the time I reached college, writing style became important—the   grace and class of W. Somerset Maugham as well as the biting vividness of Hemingway and the magic of F. Scott Fitzgerald. (I have worn out several soft-cover editions of A Farewell to Arms and The Great Gatsby.)

WJ: Story structure and writing style definitely resonates in your books. We start off on one trail, only to be switched to another – then another –  always with entanglements of some kind involved. Is this a reflection of the way Kate keeps changing and running into surprises? Or the storycrafting style you’ve decided to run with?

TO: It’s both. The multi-layering of plot that I began in The Mounting Storm logically became a pattern for all of Kate’s novels.  In the beginning I had no thought of making the novel into a series.  It was to be a dark and brooding Citizen Kane type of story dramatizing the deviousness of Stirling Winship with Kate almost a minor figure. On the advice of an agent I cut some 90 pages and 30,000 words of background color on Stirling and turned it into a fast-paced thriller featuring Kate. But almost all the plots and subplots remained intact and we were off to the races with the Kate Conway series.

41WA0IPiSeL._SY346_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_WJ: Rather than go the traditional publishing route, you’ve partner-published with Charles Redner and RiPublishing. Could you elaborate on the advantages you’ve found to the path you’re taking?

TO: The advantages? I am getting to see my books in print, I’m getting strong reviews, and I’m selling enough books to encourage me to keep going. Plus, it’s happening right now. This sure beats waiting around while an editor fiddles and fusses with changes for a year and then spends another year wondering whether the publishing house bosses will give me the final green light.

Self-publishing no longer bears a stigma. It’s attracting big name authors as well as beginners.  If you can’t afford to wait, it’s the place to be. If your books have the necessary magic, they will almost certainly rise to the top.

Partnership-publishing is even better. In Charlie Redner, I have the advantage of a fellow author who acts as my publisher and also my agent when it comes to advice.  There’s a lot of advice you’ll need, especially if you’re like me and have a mind that was built to function in the old days before the computer and the internet—back when we spent our time thinking and doing things instead of walking around pressing buttons on gadgets. (But thank Heaven the word processor replaced my typewriter!)

WJ: Final question: In each of your books, what is the one scene, situation, or character shift that surprised you most when it came flying from your mind to pen or computer screen?

TO: What a terrific question for ending this interview!

In The Mounting Storm, it’s the scene where Kate’s having dinner as the guest of Winston Winship.  She has found the guy an obnoxious bore and lets us know it. But then he says something encouraging about her idea for a new magazine—and she warms to him. When he invites Kate to the party he’s throwing in the Hamptons, which she absolutely hates…

            Kate looked at him before answering, digesting all over again his         coolness, his incredible confidence, his mastery at what he does, his   extremely good looks. And his eyes, those wonderful gray eyes with      their look of sadness.

           “Yes, I’ll come,” she said. “I love the Hamptons.

In The Deadly Buddha, in the party scene at the Hollywood movie studio, Kate has no idea the handsome dude chatting her up—and from whom she reluctantly accepts a ride back to her hotel—is the Welsh movie star she’s been ordered to interview.  He stops at the Griffith Observatory and they find themselves having a ball as they recall from memory the lines James Dean and Natalie Wood exchanged in Rebel Without a Cause. This is how the scene ends:

             Kate didn’t lean over and kiss him, although she thought about it. They were too busy laughing. They laughed all the way back to the hotel. The doorman helped her out. She turned to wave goodbye, but he was already in the circle and heading toward the Wilshire exit, his hand waving carelessly in the air.

           That was the moment Kate realized she didn’t even know his name.

In The Fashionista Murders, we go through the thought process that keeps Kate from giving in to sex, this time in the apartment-studio and in the arms of the handsome photographer covering the fashion shows with her:

Maybe the shrink her friends had dragged her to was right—instead of shutting men out of her life she should loosen up when she felt her buttons being pushed and let things happen. Maybe she needs to change—not just Cam.

          “You are not only a sex maniac but a full-fledged, card-carrying, conniving bastard,” was the way she began the terms of her surrender.  

           She took a step back, grasping both his hands in hers while shaking her mane of Irish red hair. “And now that I have made it ridiculously clear, you may do what you want with me—so long as it’s not boring, distasteful, or so devious it will land us in jail.”

 I warned you how much fun it is writing thrillers, especially when you decide to stretch the boundaries a little. Thanks again for inviting me into your sanctuary.

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