Tag Archives: novels

Sweet, Sweet Loving Music: This Writer’s Dream

As some of you know, I’ve been quite busy writing about music. There is a certain depth and lushness to words that describe great pieces of music, and the singers, songwriters and musicians who bring them to our ears.

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My music writing days go back to the beginning, when I was the second teenaged journalist allowed backstage at San Diego Sports Arena (or whatever it’s called now) to interview bands. Cameron Crowe was the first, two years before me. Cameron had had a nice career arc, writing for Rolling Stone at 14, then writing Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Jerry Maguire, and one of my favorites Almost Famous. If anything put a lump in my throat, it was Almost Famous — especially the scene of the young writer William Miller trying to get backstage in San Diego. That same backstage door has opened for me… and it has closed, too.

salas cover low resThe music writing has really picked up. Two years ago, my old North San Diego County friend, Stevie Salas, contacted me to help him with a memoir about his year touring with Rod Stewart. When We Were The Boys became a fine, fun, edgy memoir, a real add to music literature. It was also my most intense collaborative memoir — we wrote it in seven weeks. It’s done well since its release in September 2014… and is a great choice as you rev up for summer festival season. BTW, Stevie is playing Lollapalooza in Chicago at the end of July…

More recently,  I finished my novel, Voices, a father-daughter-daughter story set against a reunion tour by a legendary rock band. This took seemingly forever to write, mainly because I loved soaking into the musical atmosphere so much, and tinkering with the 50 songs I wrote in the personae of my protagonists (Tom and Christine Timoreaux). I couldn’t let it go — something I do not advise my clients to do. When you hold onto it too long, what looked good turns into an automatic rewrite. We’ve grown as people and authors, and we see things a bit differently — no matter how long the manuscript has been in the drawer.

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Marty Balin (left) playing in April 2015 with Jefferson Airplane bandmates Jack Casady (center) and Jorma Kaukonen. Jefferson Airplane’s first concert was August 13, 1965.

To give you an idea, I first came up with this idea in 2001, when Jefferson Airplane founder and Rock & Roll Hall of Famer Marty Balin and I were walking down Haight Street in San Francisco, talking about his memoir. I told him I wanted to write a novel called “The Voice” — his nickname when psychedelic rock launched in San Francisco 50 years ago. He gave me some great ideas, not to mention stories to repurpose. Fourteen years later, it’s going to see the light of day. Look for it soon.

Speaking of Marty, I’m preparing to reconfigure and expand his memoir we wrote in 2002 into a full-fledged biography. When you peel away the claims of people who say they launched psychedelic rock, one name stands above all: Marty (also, a nod to the band The Charlatans). He was the catalyst for psychedelic rock and the Summer of Love. He was the first to use the term “psychedelic rock” publicly. His band, Jefferson Airplane, was the flagship group of 1965-67, #2 among all rock bands in album sales, topped only by The Beatles. The Airplane was the first San Francisco psychedelic band to get a major album deal. In fact, they were the official headliners at Woodstock! Marty also owned The Matrix, which in 1965 was one of few places to allow electric instruments. It also was the first SF stop for many bands, including The Doors, Steve Miller, Love, and many more. Behind it all was this quiet man with a high tenor voice implanted by the angels. His ballads, particularly “Coming Back to Me”, “Count on Me” and “Miracles”, are on more than 50 film soundtracks. Now, Marty is going to finally get the credit he’s deserved for 50 years, though he’s far too humble to claim it himself.matrix-jademuse

Then there’s a real labor of love, helping my longtime friend Robert Munger on his music-oriented screenplay. Can’t go into detail right now, but we’re wrapping the first draft of the script, and then polishing it.

Finally, my new client Lory Jones presented me with an awesome novel to edit, and I mean awesome. It’s centered on a famous 18th-19th century composer, but you’ll have to guess which of the Big Five since I’m not at liberty to discuss. I love classical music almost as much as rock, especially the way it takes us on journeys one minute, and into full appreciation of the grandiosity of the musicianship the next. The Big Five were the rock stars of their era — Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and Haydn (or Liszt, Vivaldi, or Handel; take your choice).

Why do I love music writing so much? For starters, music is my hobby, poetry is my passion, and music ties them together. I love all parts of it —composition, instrumentation, delivery, shaping of performances, emotion it engenders, and of course, the lyrics. Whenever I write about music, I’m mindful of the dual origin of lyric and music in the west, through the magical pen of Sappho, the 7th Century BCE Greek genius. She wrote in lyrics, poems and short prose, and her successors took her example into both writing and music.

Most of all, I love the personalities and stories behind songs and bands, and we all know that great stories make great reading. Music, like surfing, baseball and art, cranks out endless great stories. When you put these together, the story can resonate with millions — because we all like music. It is the world’s most universal language, and I like using my writing to prompt that deeper, unspoken form of communication we all instinctively and intuitively understand.

 

As you start figuring out your summer reading choices, I invite you to pick up When We Were The Boys this year, and look for chapter excerpts from Voices and the Marty Balin biography on wordjourneys.com and Scribd.com as we close in on publishing dates that are ideal for any music book — tied to the Golden Anniversary of psychedelic rock and, in 2017, the Summer of Love.

 

 

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The Sleuthsayers: Six Crime, Mystery & Action Thriller Novelists Discuss Their Work

CHECK OUT THE 366 WRITING BLOG:

40 GREAT BOOKS FOR EVERY WRITER

(First of a 2-blog series)

THEY PRESS ON WITH THEIR DAILY LIVES, watching everything. Stories percolate constantly in their minds. They sit for hours, days, weeks and months, cooking up good characters and bad, and plots with more twists and turns than a mountain switchback road.

Frank Ritter

Frank Ritter

Meet The Sleuthsayers. These crime fiction, mystery and action thriller authors specialize in compelling page-turner books that exemplify solid storytelling and characters that jump off the page. They kill people, injure others, fall in and out of love, and solve one tantalizing mystery after another. In many cases, they carry the same lead character from one book to another.

Recently, I put a few questions to authors Jenny Hilborne, Frank Ritter (also an award-winning playwright), Gayle Carline, William Thompson Ong, Claudia Whitsitt, and Wes Albers, who is also the director of the Southern California Writers Conference.

These people are very good writers. Their average collective ranking on Amazon.com? 4.8 (out of 5). And on Goodreads? 4.9 (out of 5).

Other interesting trivia tidbits: Remember the 1980s TV series Simon & Simon? The series was loosely (or not so loosely) based on Frank Ritter and his brother, private investigators at the time. Ritter’s expertise really shows in The Killing Games. Our other on-the-job expert is Wes Albers, a longtime member of the San Diego Police Department. Meanwhile, Tom Ong is one of the original Mad Men from the New York advertising scene of the early 1960s.

I hope you enjoy what they have to say – and buy their books, either for yourself or for a favorite crime & mystery fiction lover on your Holiday shopping list. Now, let’s get the roundtable started …

Jenny Hilborne

Jenny Hilborne

Q: First of all, give us a snapshot of your most recent books.

Jenny Hilborne: The Jackson Mystery Series, which can be read as standalones. They include Hide and Seek and Madness and Murder.

Frank Ritter: The Killing Games, an adult thriller (now available), and The Devil’s Crib, another adult thriller, which will be out in Spring 2014.

Gayle Carline: I write the Peri Minneopa Mystery Series. A couple of titles include Hit or Missus and Hot Mess.

William Thompson Ong: I call mine the Kate Conway Series – The Mounting Storm, The Deadly Buddha, and The Fashionista Murders.

Claudia Whitsitt: The Samantha Series: Identity Issues (Book 1) and Intimacy Issues (Book 2).

Wes Albers: Black & White is my first published novel. It’s a look into the life of a street cop, told through the eyes of veteran San Diego Police Patrolman John Hatch.

Q: Do you set up your plot twists before you begin writing, or do you let characters and situations take you there?

Albers: I do a little of both. For Black & White, I didn’t start out with anything. I simply sat down one day and started writing. I let the story take me where it wanted to go, until I hit a point where I needed to get to a logical conclusion. It became necessary to start doing some plotting and outlining as I went along, but mostly so that I could drive the story where I needed it to go rather than any creative plot twist.

Gayle Carline

Gayle Carline

One challenge in writing about street cops is that their job doesn’t necessarily flow like a typical story. The thought of having something fall along the lines of Act I, Act II, and Act III is kind of contrary to how the job works. Not every story in a cop’s life resolves. Instead, a street cop’s life is often more a series of scenes.

Whitsitt: Plot twists–what I live for! I do some pre-plotting. It’s best to know where I want the story to wind up, but I’m always willing to let the characters take over. I find a mix of planning/free-form works best for me. The story sometimes stays on track but often the twists are created along the way as a result of my character’s personalities and the ways in which they handle situations. The story evolves through the writing as I continually play “what if”. And my characters have minds of their own—feisty crew that they are!

Ong: I set up a basic plot with plenty of twists and turns in every chapter. But once I begin writing, those unexpected plot twists and turns will come flying at me from every angle and provide the spice for my story. While writing my first novel, I learned two very big lessons: 1) the best way to create plot twists is to ask your characters what’s the worst thing that can happen to them; and 2) believe in your characters and they will help you steer the plot, taking you to places you never thought possible.

Carline: It depends upon the book. Sometimes I just know how everything’s going to work and sometimes I get the idea as I’m writing. I try to do a very general outline. For my first mystery, I was so frightened of having any loose ends or conflicting clues, I stuck to my outline like duct tape. I thought writing to an outline would be my system. Then in the second mystery, I got bored with a scene, so I hit Peri over the head with a golf club and abandoned the outline. The third mystery was a hybrid of outlining, then ditching the outline, then re-outlining. I’m now writing a fourth book, and there is no outline.

William Thompson Ong

William Thompson Ong

Ritter: I story board not only my books but also my plays. All plot twists, locations and even some character traits are worked out on my story boards. I also do a personal profile of each major character and their traits.

Hilborne: I write whatever comes into my head at the time. My characters drive the story.

Q:  How much pre-planning do you put into your characters’ spoken voices, so that their dialogue is distinctive and forward-moving?

Hilborne: I’m not a planner. I hear their voices as I write the dialogue.

Ritter: I work very hard at making my dialogue match each character’s background and speech patterns so that each has his/her own voice. I study slang usage, speech patterns for an American locale I may need, and the speech patterns of those for whom English is a second language, if needed.

Carline: Of all the pre-planning, my characters are my biggest focus. I write up a study of each one, what they look like, their occupation, likes and dislikes, even astrological signs. Then I write a journal for each one. I let them tell me what’s important to them. By the time I start writing the book, I know who they are and how they sound.

Ong: Dialogue is not something that can be wasted. It must either establish character or further the plot. Before writing I make sure each character is

Claudia Whitsitt

Claudia Whitsitt

fixed in my mind—from what makes them tick right down to those quirky little details that are so important—and voice here is key. Then, before each scene, I write a brief outline that describes the action along with snippets of highlighted dialogue. Then I write the scene. I rewrite again and again. When I think I am finished with a novel I go over it carefully, looking for places where sharp dialogue can replace those author descriptions that are too long.

Whitsitt: I wrote a L.O.O.S.E. character sketch before I began writing the series, but I mostly hear my characters’ voices; it’s quite instinctive on my part. I simply step into their shoes and voila! Dialogue! (Don’t tell anyone I hear voices. Please!)

Albers: Dialogue thus far has been a pretty natural process for me. Often it is the easiest part of storytelling. I have an image of the character in my head and any distinct voice for a character just seems to develop as I work.  When I’m not writing but simply daydreaming about the story and where I want it to go, sometimes I’ll get a flash of something unique that I want to attribute specifically to a character.  The sergeant in Black & White is a good example. When I started writing him I had lots of examples of bad managers, or supervisors, from my past so I simply had him strike an elitist, condescending tone and the words just came naturally, his voice developed organically. I must have struck some chord because readers have consistently reacted to him as an accurate reflection of a bad boss that everyone has had at some point.

Q: Out of all the books you’ve written, what are two of the most surprising in-story developments that you did not know would happen when you started writing?

Wes Albers

Wes Albers

Albers: The first was in another unpublished story. I had a bad guy tied to a tree who was about to be executed. Hope was lost, from his perspective. When I originally started writing the chapter, I intended it to be more about the events that would ultimately lead to his surprise release, but as I wrote, it developed into an internal dialogue where this vicious and foul person started reflecting on the tragic path that led him to that tree. Suddenly, he became human and relatable.

The other was the start of Black & White. I didn’t set out to write police stories. In fact, I actively resisted them but someone encouraged me, and then repeatedly pestered me until I made an attempt. I never expected the first line of Black & White would ever survive to print, but in an instant, I found the voice of veteran of the streets, a voice that spoke with the authority of experience.

Whitsitt: My main character, Samantha, has experienced deep moments of profound sorrow. I was surprised how moved I was by those events and the lingering effects her grief had on me—losing loved ones I hadn’t intended to “kill” before I began penning the book. Writing those scenes is exhausting!

The other in-story surprise that has occurred is how much I enjoy writing male characters, (I guess my five brothers are worth something after all!), so much so that I’m considering a new series focused on one of those men.

Ong: At the end of The Mounting Storm, I originally had one ex-wife fire all six bullets from a Colt revolver into the body of the villain. At the very last minute, I switched the revolver into the hands of the other ex-wife. That gave the ending the unexpected wallop it needed.

In The Deadly Buddha, I changed the outcome of the scene where Kate survives the shooting in Central Park after Zack throws his body across hers and Zookie’s and nearly dies in the process. It then became a scene where a very  confused Kate realizes how much she loves the guy—and decides to marry him instead of keeping him waiting another 50 pages.

Carline: The first one came with the first book, Freezer Burn. I had imagined one character, Benny, as an immoral lout (this was before I started all the character development techniques). After the first scene, I saw him for what he was: an obsessive-compulsive man who was confused by the world around him and needed help.

The second one that truly surprised me didn’t happen when I was writing the book, but it happened when I was journaling one of the characters of my current work. I had thought of the crime, figured out the who/what/where, but while one of my characters was telling me about his life, I discovered the motive for the murder. It was completely different than what I was planning.

Ritter: After I story board, I then begin my plot and location research. In the case of The Killing Games, although my research had developed the needed information to make the climatic explosion at the LA Coliseum really happen, I altered this information so as to not be giving out factual instructions to any idiots or truly bad guys. Other than that, because I story board, the only in-story developments while putting pen (computer) to paper have been characters that I grew to truly like and had to either hurt badly or even kill them off. Honestly, when that happens, it really hurts. In The Killing Games, the bad guy rapes a woman and later he rapes her 12-year-old boy. Those scenes were very hard for me to write realistically, but they needed to be there to set up later actions and character developments.

Hilborne: All of my books have surprised me. The endings are never how I might imagine them. The most surprising element for me is the themes readers pick up in my stories. I never intend a message, but readers have pointed them out.

Read Part 2

 

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More Reads in the Sun: A Mid-Summer’s Reading List

Now that you’ve already marched through your first round of vacations, visitors, backyard or beach barbecues, and stack of summer reads, it’s time to replenish. Which brings us to the Word Journeys Mid-Summer Reads list. It is the first of a quarterly series where we’ll present recommendations in the middle of each season.

I would like to share some books from my writing friends, all of which are excellent summer reads.  They are available on Amazon.com in print and Kindle, and can be yours in a matter of moments (thank you, Whispernet!). Beware: these particular works feed reading addictions! All are gems in a crowded summer reading field.

As an added favor, in the spirit of summertime, if you buy and like the book, would you be willing to drop a quick review on Amazon.com and/or Goodreads? You only need to write 25 words – and the authors will appreciate you more than you can possibly know.

So stoke up the BBQ, open whatever goodies and libations you have in the cooler, grab your board or fins, set out with your canoe or kayak, or lay down a towel, and take in one of these nine books, recapped below:

Losing My Religion, by Jide Familoni

Intimacy Issues, by Claudia Whitsitt

The Hot Mess, by Gayle Carline

The Fashionista Murders, by William Thompson Ong

Madness and Murder, by Jenny Hilborne

Fobbit, by David Abrams

Wilder’s Woman, by Laura Taylor

The Hummingbird Review, Charles Redner, publisher

Ridin’ Around, Elaine Fields

51OWOAxPA8L._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_Losing My Religion, by Jide Familoni: Femi Fatoyinbo leaves his native Yoruban culture and tradition in Nigeria to become a doctor in the American South. There, he tries to immerse in a culture radically different than what he knows, dealing with racial issues, relationships, and numerous adventures – some funny, some not at all. This poignant novel captures how a person can change and grow in unexpected ways when presented with an entirely new environment, but also be able to retain his core tradition.  Average Reviewer Ratings (out of 5 stars): Amazon – 5, Goodreads – 4.75

Intimacy Issuesby Claudia Whitsitt: Sometimes, you want to just ask protagonist 51OJ9sPrCdL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_Samantha Stitsill, “Do you plunge into sticky situations for the thrill of it?” This inquisitive mother of five with a sharp sense of humor is a hoot – and quite the amateur sleuth. In Intimacy Issues, Samantha releases she can’t move on after her dog, friend, and possibly husband are killed. So she tracks the killer down, going from the Midwest to Japan, and dealing with new questions as she always does:  with a mixture of moxie, reckless abandon, humor, and revelation. Average Reviewer Ratings (out of 5 stars): Amazon – 5, Goodreads – 4.5

51HFN4G3ehL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_ The Hot Mess: A Peri Minneopa Mystery by Gayle Carline: The author returns to her feisty favorite private investigator to find the real killer in a fatal house arson fire in which the owner, Benny Needles, is the prime suspect. Benny turns to his old friend, Peri, for help, but probably wishes he didn’t. During her investigation, Peri digs up long-held family secrets that create a dangerous turn – and spike the thrill meter in this thoroughly enjoyable book, the third to feature Peri. Average Reviewer Ratings (out of 5 stars): Amazon – 5, Goodreads – 4.55

The Fashionista Murders, by William Thompson Ong: Since we’re on a Mid-Summer 41z1MhGnReL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_heroine/protagonist roll, here’s another: Kate Conway, the journalist-turned-amateur detective who makes her third appearance in The Fashionista Murders. This time, Kate gets caught in a dangerous web after the queen of fashion media, Paisley LaForge, is murdered to set off a serial killing spree. We race from the runways of Paris to New York in a taut, well-detailed thriller as Kate, her photographer friend Cam, and her father, retired detective Paul Conway, work to track down the killer before he takes his next victim – Kate. Average Reviewer Ratings (out of 5 stars): Amazon – 5

 51dVdC6FtWL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_Madness and Murder, by Jenny Hilborne: What can mystery readers not like about a book that combines murder, mayhem, a madman, a woman trying to start a new life, and enough plot twists to strangle a pretzel? Here we go again. Homicide detective Mac Jackson questions his methods when he uses “bait” to track a sadistic serial killer. The bait, Jessica Croft, moves away from a shameful past to begin a new life — only to find herself the target of both Jackson and the killer. Desperate, she tries to lure the killer, which leads to … you’ll have to get the book to find out. Average Reviewer Ratings (out of 5 stars): Amazon – 4.8, Goodreads – 4.45

Fobbit, by David Abrams: Earlier this summer, we interviewed David Abrams in this blog, 51S4MUUXEQL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_and for good reason: Fobbit has quickly asserted itself as one of the best war novels ever written. It’s hilarious and tragic, cynical and fierce, troubling and redeeming. Starting with an Army public affairs specialist’s tour in Forward Operating Base, Baghdad, Fobbit showcases the stated necessity, and ultimate folly, of war from a half dozen character perspectives. I’m not a war novel reader, but I couldn’t put this book down. It received accolades from more than 300 media reviewers for a reason. Average Reviewer Ratings (out of 5 stars): Amazon – 4.3, Goodreads – 3.5

51QoQvHDExL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA278_PIkin4,BottomRight,-64,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_Wilder’s Woman, by Laura Taylor: This switch from war novels to romance seems rather abrupt, but Laura Taylor belongs on any list of great storytellers, regardless of genre. She’s been on a bestselling tear with her romance novels the past two years, and Wilder’s Woman again showcases the reason. The way she depicts the betrayal and separation of Tasha and Craig Wilder, and their painful attempts to reconcile, speak deeply to the motives of the human heart, and how interconnected every moment can be. The story is powerful, sensual, written beautifully, and a reminder of the complexity of the heart. Average Reviewer Ratings (out of 5 stars): Amazon – 5, Goodreads – 4.57

The Hummingbird Review, published by Charles Redner: Every Mid-Summer reading list 51wibrs-s8L._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_deserves an anthology, for those who like books broken into shorter pieces. At the risk of appearing biased (which I am), The Hummingbird Review is well worth checking out. The collection of essays, poems, stories and interviews from writers known and unknown has gained a strong reputation in literary circles. For the Spring-Summer issue, Hollywood was the theme, former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins the interview subject, Michael Blake and Martin Espada two of the featured poets, former Rod Stewart lead guitarist Stevie Salas and X vocalist/bass player John Doe the featured lyricists … and there’s even an excerpt of a screenplay by David Milton. Average Reviewer Ratings (out of 5 stars): Amazon – 5, Goodreads – 5

41IMAM3yCuL._SY300_Ridin’ Around, by Elaine Fields Smith: No summer reading list is truly complete without a summer cruising tale. Ridin’ Around is the story of four college frat sisters and their summer of cruising the streets in Texas, looking for parties, guys, and the next fun thing to do. It may feel like an updated American Graffiti, or a somewhat more toned down Dazed & Confused, but this story is unique in the way the author presents the characters’ lives and how they find further bonding and purpose through both entertaining and somewhat frightening situations. Average Reviewer Ratings (out of 5 stars): Amazon – 5, Goodreads – 4.71

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Why Back Stories Matter (part 2)

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Part One of Why Back Stories Matter appeared on the 366Writing blog. In part two, we look at the specific reasons people love to hear the stories behind the story – and I share a few as well from my newest collection of essays and poetry, Backroad Melodies, which will be released on Summer Solstice, June 21.)

Poring through some of 700 pieces of research at Skywalker Ranch for the book Blockbusting!

Poring through some of 700 pieces of research at Skywalker Ranch for the book Blockbusting!

WHEN WRITING BOOKS, authors spend months or even years pulling together backstory. Novelists must know the ins and outs of their characters, and their characters’ lives, loves and tendencies, before committing the first sentence to paper (or screen). Non-fiction authors must track down all available background information on their human subjects or central topics in order to present their material. In both cases, extensive research precedes any writing. It’s quite normal for an author to pore through hundreds of source materials (books, articles, papers, videos, transcripts, etc.) before writing a manuscript.On top of that, fiction writers invariably pull nuggets of experience or perception from their own lives, and weave them into their characters, plots, or subtext.

The final books that reach bookshelves, online stores, and our admiring eyes compare favorably to icebergs: ten percent of the research and raw material makes it into print. Maybe ten percent of that is character, subject or topical backstory woven into the fabric of the narrative.

As for the other ninety percent? Many writers like to entomb their source and research material into cardboard file boxes or backup drives, never to see the light of day again. As for me? I want to know the backstories, and I want to share them. For instance, in my novel Voice Lessons, I wove nearly a hundred personal anecdotes into the characters, events, lyrics, concerts, plot and subtext – not to mention the prose that took flame from research that included more than two hundred books and articles, two hundred CDs and another hundred DVDs. Will you know which anecdotes are from my life? Not unless you know me, well. Or unless I tell you. Behind each anecdote is another story, the agglomeration of experiences that created it. We could go on forever.

Which is the point: to give readers the experiences that shaped the wonderful experience they just had in reading a book. That’s why fan clubs exist. That’s why we comb through materials in all shapes and forms to find interviews, histories, biographies and reminiscences that add context, shape and perspective to what we just read. When we learn these back or side stories, lights switch on in our heads. Recognition parts our consciousness like Moses finding his groove on the Red Sea. “A-ha!” moments of realization break into smiles across our faces, accompanied by a warm, tingling feeling inside. Suddenly, we know more about what makes the author tick, what prompted him or her to write that passage in that way, or to drop in that particularly amazing detail. We feel good because we know more. Acquired and perceived knowledge always feels good.

51kzcyubVNL._SY346_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_51S4MUUXEQL._SY346_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_  Two of the best novels I’ve read in recent years – which I happened to read back-to-back in Spring 2013 – were Fobbit, by David Abrams, and Beautiful Ruins, by Jess Walter. These two men were among four panelists at a Los Angeles Times Festival of Books discussion entitled, “Fiction at a Sideways Glance.” Well, as this piece might indicate, I’m going to be the moth drawn to any writing forum that looks at the craft from a different angle. Both men were engaging and insightful, their shared experiences delighting the capacity crowd. It so happens, too, that Fobbit and Beautiful Ruins are two of the most talked about novels of 2013.

Each book offers a fiesta for backstory seekers: Fobbit draws from a journal Abrams kept while serving as a public affairs specialist in Iraq, thus offering both a comedic (sometimes hilarious) look at the war and a troubling, in-the-trenches perspective we saw or read about nightly during Vietnam – the tragedy and heartache that happens before medals are pinned on our great servicemen and women – but which was expunged from our awareness by the 21st century Pentagon. Dark comedy? Fobbit is one of the best. You won’t think the same about the war in Iraq, or war itself, after reading it. (We will have the pleasure of hearing from Abrams later this month in a Word Journeys Blog interview).

Beautiful Ruins is an exquisite story of a romantic spark between two people that stretches across fifty years of life, in all its ups and downs, set against three backdrops that the author painted with a combination of personal observation, experience and research: the early production Italian set of the epic Cleopatra (or, to be more specific, what went on between Liz and Dick); a tiny hamlet with Italy’s majestic Cinqueterre coast; and the playground of golden dreams and brass-knuckle realities known as Hollywood.

I am a glutton for good stories, and all great books are loaded with creation points that spider outward as far as you can follow. They are all truly silken threads.

Snowmelt descending down the South Fork of the Yuba River

Snowmelt descending down the South Fork of the Yuba River

BACK TO THE BACKROADS. The roads listed earlier anchor the overall backstory of Backroad Melodies. Many of the poems were written about or on them. Since I’ve opened a can of worms, and encouraged everyone to either seek out or share the stories behind the stories, here are a few from this collection:

• “A Day on the Rake”:  I took a day of silence during a long meditation retreat in Northern California (on MacNab Cypress Road), grabbed a rake, and spent an entire day working on a mile of paths that wound between hundreds of plant species and statues of deities representing all the world’s major religions. Truly energizing.

• “Birthing a New Day”: An experience from the inception of my relationship with Martha, at the base of Mount Palomar, in her backyard on Ushla Way, twenty miles from the nearest town. Years later, I can gladly report that very day feels like this poem.

• “Fossil Light”: Standing outside on a crystal clear midnight in February, temperature three degrees above zero, viewing the stars through the prism of their original conception. What we see twinkling today is the way they existed before modern civilization, before humanity … even before dinosaurs. Fossil light.

• “The Way Stones Tell Stories”: Sitting in the San Luis Rey riverbed during dry season, holding a stone, admiring its age and stoic presence. Every sentient being has its storytelling style; our job is to know how to listen, and what to listen for.

• “Morning Prayer”: Driving through Capitol Reef in Eastern Utah just as dawn erupted on the cliffs, canyons, domes and bridges of this monocline, known to geologists as the Waterpocket Fold. I feel Native American spirit and energy most profoundly in the Four Corners region … as on this morning.

• “Ghost Riding”: This could be subtitled, “the songs of trees on back roads.” When wires, lights and busy minds aren’t present, wind feels and sounds like ghosts while whispering through trees.

• “Tea Time”: Over a three-year period, I had the profound pleasure of walking next door occasionally and drinking tea with my friend and favorite poet, Gary Snyder. Few people are more conversant on so many different topics.

• “Four Pool Quartet”: On a hot, late September day in the Sierra Nevada foothills, one of my students asked if we could hold an outdoor class. You don’t have to ask me that question twice. We loaded up cars, and I took them to an out-of-the-way spot on the Yuba River, reachable only by driving a road you don’t want to think about in icy or snowy weather, then hiking down a trail steep enough to tax a bighorn sheep. We sat on giant flatrock, deposited when the Sierra Nevada range was formed five million years ago, and wrote and swam for two hours. (“Did you know this snow-fed, rock-strewn river has five or six different currents,” I told them, “only three of which you see above the surface?”) This poem was one of my two contributions for the day, written behind a back road, while sitting in a river pool.

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15 Common Points Between Writing & Running Marathons (part 2)

(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the conclusion of my two-part series that compares 15 points in common between the writing process – particularly book and extensive projects – and running marathons. Actually, it’s 18 points in common, but who’s counting?)

“The race begins at 20 miles”: Years ago, a friend, journalist and veteran marathoner said this to me. While most people might crash and burn at 20 miles (or before), serious marathon racers dig in the final 10K. So it is with book writing. The last leg is often the hardest. You’re tired, you’ve lived with the subject for months or years, and you want to be finished. But this is the most vital part of the book, next to the first chapter. Focus more intently than ever, tap emotional and creative reserves, and power through to the finish.

Enjoy the solitude: If ever four groups of people know and understand solitude better than the rest of the population, they would be runners, writers, artists and monks. We spend countless hours alone with our words. Enjoy the quiet time; enjoy the ideal atmosphere it provides you to create, think deeply, and work. Not everyone gets this chance. Ask someone who works in a cubicle or workstation all day. The material percolates in solitude. The more you can enjoy it and immerse in it, the more you can produce – and the more cohesive it will be.

Push the hills: One of the best road racing strategies is to push hills hard – and then surge for 30 meters or so at the top. All authors know there are many uphill climbs in the long course of writing a book – struggles with scenes, characters, getting the right information, fluid narrative description, etc. Some days, we feel like we can write anything; on others, our sentences feel like back roads clunkers. We all hit them; we all wonder how we’re going to get to the top. The answer: one word at a time. Push past the obstacles, while holding to the greater vision for your work. Write hard to keep the momentum going.

Increase focus as the race progresses: The same thing has happened in every marathon I’ve raced. For the first eight miles or so, runners talk to each other, compare strategies, talk about favorite runs they’ve ever taken, maybe shoot photos of the crowd (if they carry smartphones, which many do — not me!) and truly enjoy being out there. For the next eight miles, the focus tightens, paces become locked in, and the talking lessens. For the final ten miles, there is very little talking and very deep focus. Good authors take us deeper and deeper into their stories, a reflection of their increased focus as they deliver the goods. Focus, focus, focus.

Don’t hit too many aid stations: One of the myths (and, actually, physical dangers) of long races is that it is important to drink at every aid station. NOT SO. When I run marathons, I only drink six times – roughly once every 4½ miles. Everyone has their number, but point is: don’t take too many breaks. This applies directly to writing. Momentum and rhythm are everything; when you’re on a roll, stay on it. If you must, take only small breaks when writing books to recharge, but never more than a week or two. Long breaks are a no-no, unless you’re between drafts.

There will be pain: To borrow from a surfwear manufacturer’s 1980s ad campaign, Every marathoner knows the feeling. It starts at about 15 miles, hits fully at 18 to 20 miles, and envelops you the final 6 miles. PAIN. We know it’s coming when we toe the starting line, but we know how to handle it – by reaching down and taking the race one stride at a time. Likewise, book writing can be (and often is) emotionally painful and mentally taxing, especially tell-all memoirs and novels with characters exhibiting emotions that grab you from the page. When you read scenes like this, you know the writer is feeling it. Embrace the pain, and turn it into your ally. Use it to drive more deeply within yourself, opening new thresholds of possibility for your writing – and greater perspective as a person. The more you can work with writing pain in all its forms, the more deeply touched readers will be.

Head down; one step at a time: This extends from the last comment. I ran the 2009 Boston Marathon with moderate plantar fasciitis. In other words, the last five miles were hell. However, I nearly held my earlier race pace because I pulled my cap over my eyes like I was in the ‘hood, looked down at my toes, and took it one step at a time. That’s exactly how I write books; by adopting that technique, I’ve gone from being a good starter to a good finisher. Keep your head down and write one chapter at a time, one paragraph at a time – and one sentence at a time. This approach becomes especially important when revising and self-editing, when you make sure every word fits and every word counts.

Finish strong: One of the best ways to ensure good race results is to finish strong in each training run, picking up the pace at the end. Likewise with book writing. Good final chapters sew up the story or subject, and leave readers feeling: a) like they want more; b) wholly satisfied; or c) Googling you for more books, or for more perspectives based upon the great book you have given them. Reach down and give it everything you’ve got in the last chapter – just like a good racer.

Celebrate!: When we finish something as monumental as a book, or a marathon, it’s time to celebrate! Then take at least a week off from writing of any kind … your batteries will definitely need to be recharged.

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Brewing an Adventure Romance Saga: Interview with Stephen B. Gladish

Author Stephen B. Gladish

Author Stephen B. Gladish

(NOTE: Stephen B. Gladish is the author of a trilogy of adventure romance novels: Mustang Fever (2007), Storm Chasers (2013), and a reworking of a 2005 novel, now entitled Island Fever and currently in the final editing stages. The three books tell the interwoven stories, adventures, challenges and triumphs of a few memorable characters – Chance Chisholm, Luke LaCrosse, Annie Banner, Moana, and Cheyenne Autumn. Gladish is also the creator and co-editor of the 2006 anthology, Freedom of Vision, featuring writing from behind prison walls. He served in the Air Force, and is a retired creative writing teacher from Pima (Arizona) Community College. His writing is adventurous, colorful, deeply engaging and filled with characters who bring out the best qualities in each other … and themselves.)

WJ: Steve, what types of adventure did you weave into Storm Chasers to illustrate the title?
SG: It includes four variations of storm chasing: tornadoes, nuclear detonations, attacks via helicopter, and white-water rafting.
WJ: How would you describe the book in a long sentence?
SG: The storm chaser protagonist, Luke LaCrosse, locates and records deadly tornadoes in our nation’s Tornado Alley, is blasted and temporarily blinded as he tracks nuclear detonations in the Pacific, hunts down the deadly enemy in Vietnam, and effects a stunning rescue as a white-water guide Idaho’s “River of No Return,” through all of which he struggles to reconnect with and win back his childhood sweetheart, the one consistent love of his life.
WJ: That’s a long sentence — almost a taste of Jack Kerouac! Speaking of which, who are some of the authors that influenced you most over the years, as a novelist and as a teacher of creative writing?
SG: I have a long list, both from writing and teaching. All are pretty well-known authors: Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Louis L’Amour, Henry David Thoreau, Herman Melville, Emmanuel Swedenbourg, J.D. Salinger, James Fenimore Cooper, Larry McMurtrey, Herman Wouk, Ken Kesey, Stephen Crane, Langston Hughes, Stephen King, Flannery O’Connor, Truman Capote, Walt Whitman, William Faulkner, John Steinbeck, Robert Frost, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Edgar Allen Poe, Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, and Harper Lee.
WJ: Back to your latest book. Where did the idea for Storm Chasers come from?
SG: I wanted to call attention to the importance of weather in everybody’s lives, especially with all the climate change going on right now. I served in the US Air Force 6th Weather Squadron (Mobile) and the Severe Weather Warning Command in the early ‘60s. In this fictional story stemming from real life events, I take the reader through the sheer adventure of Luke LaCrosse 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.
In addition, I spent a lifetime of study especially on the cruel euphemism “global warming,” which I find a blurred, imprecise way of “dumbing down” the debate. The real definition is catastrophic climate change. Global emissions of carbon dioxide were a record high in 2011, and we had record high temperatures in the U.S. in 2012. The build-up of human-related greenhouse gases from the burning of fossil fuels and forests must not be ignored. Because of catastrophic climate changes, the world faces multiple catastrophes including: sea level rise of five feet, with sea levels rising as much as twelve inches a decade, staggeringly high temperature rise, permanent Dust Bowls, massive species loss, more intense and severe hurricanes, masses and clusters of tornado outbreaks, huge enlargement of area in Tornado Alley. There are other unexpected impacts, such as the violent rainstorms in Italy in October 2011 that inundated towns of the Cinque Terre, Vernazza and Monterosso, and almost sank Venice. As George Orwell said, “During time of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.
WJ: How long did it take to write the first draft of your manuscript?
SG: Twelve months and three hundred desert trail runs in the Rincon Mountains.
WJ: All of us who write novels have our dreams of seeing the motion picture version. With that in mind, which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
SG: If they were a little younger, Matt Damon would play Luke LaCrosse, Josh Brolin would play Chance Chisholm, and Elizabeth Hurley would play Annie.
WJ: Here’s a question that comes from the Next Best Thing Book Blog Tour, which I thought was quite revealing for readers who want to get a better grasp on an author’s influences and style: To which other books would you compare Storm Chasers within your genre?
SG: Though not technically in my genre, many of Louis L’Amour’s stories take 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: Sackett, 1961; To Tame a Land, 1965. All American literature begins with Huckleberry Finn, the story of an innocent boy who runs away from his Pap and all the sins in the culture of his time. Luke too runs away from a broken relationship into freedom. Both Luke and Huck find a true friend on their adventure. Huck’s adventure rafts on the Mississippi River; Luke’s adventure sails in the Armed Services. 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, an adventurous and ambitious protagonist, needs to win.
WJ: Who or what inspired you to write this book?
SG: The desire to fictionalize key events from real life, to show the infinite possibilities of life, to demonstrate what it takes to grow into a man. To bring to attention the dangers of catastrophic climate change; recent massive outbreaks of tornadoes; possibilities of present day nuclear bomb disasters, which in 1962 the United States strove to avoid as they developed and tested the most powerful deterrent; a thermonuclear arsenal.
WJ: Tell us a little more about Luke LaCrosse. He is quite a morally strong protagonist, truly a model for young men today even though you’ve set the story in the 1960s. On top of that, you show romantic love not as a quick, perfect event, but as something that, in many cases, you have to pursue for years.
SG: Luke’s odyssey, like Ulysses’, involves one challenge and temptation after another, as we experience Annie Banner and Luke’s tortuous and seemingly tenuous romance. Luke the adventurer has the need to feel like a warrior; he is quietly rebellious, leading to moments of anti-authority. He may be the last soldier to settle down, while Annie comes from a traditional upper class authoritarian family intent on her marrying anyone other than Luke. They both grow away from their families in independence. Theirs is an extraordinary journey with reversals and crashes on the proverbial rocky island shores, in war and in peace. They pick themselves up and in their separate crafts set sail again, hoping to connect finally on the sandy shores of a harbor home.

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Set Your Nets, Capture Your Moments: 10 Tips

To order The Write Time: 366 Exercises to Fulfill Your Writing Life

To order Writes of Life: Using Personal Experiences in Everything You Write

The rains poured down, flooding roads, soaking fields. Then they lifted—and a magical new world appeared on the steep forested hills of my property. Suddenly, eight streams rushed forth, the water pitching over waterfalls that, hours ago, were dry stones and bluff rock. The streams chattered loudly, their fluid voices rising over a land that, not a week before, was locked in a deep freeze.

I raced to my home office, grabbed a pen and notepad, ran up to the hillsides, and quickly scribbled out images. I rushed to describe the way the land looked and sounded as it happened, finding words to show the land’s arterial system coming alive in the dead of winter. I jotted images, scribbled a couple of stanzas, and fleshed out an inspired sentence or two. That was it.

The purpose: to collect raw material to use later. How will I use it? I have no idea, but there are plenty of options: a new poem; an essay; a scene description within a story or novel; an observation from a fictional character; for my next book on writing; a song lyric; maybe as part of a memoir twenty years from now. When I captured these images a few days ago, I never thought of putting them in a blog—but here they are.

Point is, I set my nets to capture the moment. I worry about the writing form later. By capturing the moment as it happens, I forever emblazon that experience on paper, which causes me to recall it vividly when I sit down to write a piece. It all feeds my purpose: to place my readers in the moment with everything I write.

As working writers, it is essential that we capture the moment — all the time. Personal experience provides the most authentic material for our stories, books, essays and poems, because we know it best. It teems with the resonance of being, requires complete presence, and often compels us to make decisions on the fly—all part of what drives characters in novels, for example. We need to become like newspaper reporters, ready for that next lead, “tip,” observation, piece of a dream, experience or recollection that can find a place into something we will write. The more we consciously practice “getting the news,” as we called it in my newspaper days, the better observers we become — and the more raw material we gather. It’s like mining for gold and storing away the nuggets for future use.

Setting your nets to capture life’s moments begins with discipline and commitment. Here are 10 tips on how to cast those nets and fill them up in your daily writing practice:

1. Set lots of nets. I have a journal in my bedroom, notebooks in the living room and office, tape recorders in both locations, and notepads in the kitchen and bathroom. My digital camera is always nearby. So is my phone — to record messages if I have no means of writing down a moment. These are my nets.

2. Cast widely. All you see, hear or do is the potential basis for a piece of writing. Record thoughts, observations, experiences, perceptions, conversations and dreams.

3. Don’t censor yourself. When you see something that captures your eye or fancy, write it down. Don’t grill it with your inner censor. In 99% of the cases, you don’t yet know how and where you will use this material—just that you want to have it available to you. Let it in.

4. Record at the speed of life. As a reporter, I often scribbled down interviewees’ comments as fast as they spoke. Only once in seven years was I accused of misquoting someone. I learned to be deadly accurate. Scribble down the moment as fast as you can while retaining enough legibility to read it. Try to write as it’s happening. Convey the speed of life.

5. Write in notes and images, not sentences. Unless inspired sentences or lines of poetry roll through you during the moment (which they sometimes do—recognize them for the gifts they are!), jot your notes in images and broken sentences. Use keywords and buzzwords; they will return you to the moment.

6. Sit and simmer … and circle back. After you’ve landed the “catch of the day,” sit with it for a few minutes, then circle back and add any images or observations you might have missed. Stay in the moment; don’t be reflective.

7. Organize your notes. Every week, I spend one to two hours gathering all the nets and decoding them, putting my scribble on the computer. I type rapidly, still not reflecting on the material. Then I put date, time and location on the entries.

8. Create a logbook. Gather your organized notes and create a logbook, whether paperless or in a binder. Along with your journal, these logbooks are the most important “research” materials you will keep long-term as a working writer.

9. Get back to your notes — soon. Within a day or two, return to your notes and see if something inspires you to write a poem, essay or vignette. Try to build out your observation in your journal. If nothing comes, don’t worry about it: The material will find its way into your work.

10. Keep casting. Never stop observing, fishing, seeking new moments or ways of looking at things. Allow these moments to visit you. When you set the intention to receive these moments, two things happen: a) Your mind becomes more creative and pliable, able to connect moments and convert them into fine sentences, paragraphs or stanzas; and b) The moments visit you in droves … liquid gold.

Cast your nets and turn every day into a life-gathering and experiencing mission. Then get it down on paper.

REMEMBER: The Write Time Writing Contest is now underway! $500 in cash prizes, plus publishing opportunities. Deadline is April 15. Check the Word Journeys Website – or the January 22 entry of this blog – for complete details.

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