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The Word Journeys Book Blow-Out Sale: 9 Titles from Robert Yehling

This is one of my favorite times of the year. Kids are in school, visitors have left Southern California, the ocean and sun are warm… and tis the season for writing and writers conference.

On Oct. 2, Crawl of Fame, the memoir I co-wrote with Ironman Triathlon Hall of Famer and lifelong friend Julie Moss, releases to bookstores and online booksellers throughout North America. Published by Pegasus Books, Crawl of Fame is the remarkable story of a young woman’s unlikely crawl to instant fame, how her courageous performance at the 1982 Ironman elevated triathlon to world sport status, and how she’s empowered women and men, girls and boys since.

To celebrate the release of Crawl of Fame, welcome to the Word Journeys Fall Book Blow-Out! The perfect time to grab new reads for yourself, and load up on holiday gifts for others. Between now and October 15, we’re offering substantial buy-direct discounts on nine backlist titles, signed and inscribed by me as you’d like.

How the sale works:

  • Choose your book(s), contact us (bobyehling@gmail.com or through WordPress) and pay via check (made to Word Journeys, Inc., sent to 2517 Via Naranja, Carlsbad, CA 92010) or PayPal (at the above email address).
  • Indicate if you’d like your book(s) signed.
  • We’ll ship immediately. Expect your book within 5-7 days of order.
  • If you buy 3 or more books, take an additional 10% off the sales prices.
  • Add $3 to ship 1 book, $5 for 2-3 books, and $7 for 4 or more books.
  • Enjoy your bounty!

Here are the titles:

Voices: The novel about rock music legend Tom Timoreaux, his rising star daughter — and emergence of his lost love-child, set to the backbeat of the past 50 years of rock and roll. Nominated for the Independent Publishers Book Award. 5-star ratings from Amazon. Regular price: $18.95. Sale: $12.00

Just Add Water: Biography of superstar surfer Clay Marzo, who lives with autism. Clay’s inspirational story of becoming one of the world’s greatest surfers, was a finalist for the Dollie Gray Literature Award. Regular price: $16.95. Sale: $12.00

When We Were The Boys: The memoir of rock star, singer-songwriter-guitarist and award-winning film producer Stevie Salas. This coming-of-age story focuses on Stevie’s turn as Rod Stewart’s lead guitarist on the 1988 Out of Order Tour — and how it launched his great career. Regular price: $17.95. Sale: $12.00.

Beyond ADHD: Written with Canadian ADHD expert Jeff Emmerson, Beyond ADHD looks at the many deeper causes of our diminishing attention span, the current rush to diagnose as ADHD and treat it with powerful drugs — and numerous ways to change lifestyles and embrace attention-growing attitudes and activities. Endorsed by Dr. Allen Frances, mental and behavioral health expert and chair of the DSM-IV committee. Hardcover. Regular price: $35.00. Sale: $25.00

Writes of Life: Using Personal Experiences in Everything You Write: Winner of the Independent Publishers Book Award, this book is for writers, students, educators, and anyone using their own stories in essays, journals, fiction, memoir, poetry… anything you write. Features 80 exercises. Regular price: $12.95. Sale: $10.00

The Write Time: 366 Exercises to Fulfill Your Writing Life: “The best writing exercise book on the market,” Poets & Writers said. Every day, a new exercise to stretch your writing muscles, explore new genres, and refine your skills. For authors, journalists, casual writers, educators and students alike. Features motivational quotes from authors and much more. Regular price: $16.95. Sale: $12.00

For lovers of poetry, lyric and essay, we also bring three poetry-essay titles: Shades of Green, Coyotes in Broad Daylight, and Backroad Melodies. All feature more than 60 new poems and essays, with elements of love, nature, relationship, ecology, music, the deep woods and the open road. More than 30 of my poems also appeared in journals. Regular price for each: $12.00. Sale: $10.00

 

 

 

We invite you to jump in, get some holiday shopping done early, find something for yourself to read and enjoy, and indulge in the Word Journeys Book Blow-Out !

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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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The Intersection of Literature & Free Expression  

The motto that symbolizes freedom of written expression

The motto that symbolizes freedom of written expression

Whenever I travel to San Francisco, one of my favorite cities in the world, I make sure to pay homage to the roots of my craft near the intersection of Columbus & Grant, where North Beach and Chinatown intersect.

It is a simple little tour, really: just three places. The first, City Lights Books, is a wonderful patchwork of angles, stories, perches, step-ups, cellars and basements loaded with books you may not find anywhere else. It is also home base to celebrated poet and publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who spent the 1950s writing poetry collections, turning a half-dozen unknown writers into the famed San Francisco Renaissance crew (or West Coast Beats), and taking on the U.S. Supreme Court when they censored his publication of Henry Miller.

Lawrence Ferlinghetti, the maestro of poetry and City Lights

Lawrence Ferlinghetti, the maestro of poetry and City Lights

Now 95, Ferlinghetti is a hawk of a man, tall, imposing and imperious when crossed. He and my old friend, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Gary Snyder, still read together once every October. Every time we write a page, article or book with anything we want to say, and then publish it, we’re reminded of who won that landmark censorship battle that culminated in 1961. It wasn’t the Supreme Court.

City Lights is my favorite bookstore, the bookstore that City Lightssparks me every time I walk through its doors. Now 60 years old, it is what an independent bookstore is all about — distinct character and personality, books carefully chosen by a well-read staff, a sanctuary of the written word, and the hub of a great writing community and movement. It is the best store to buy Beat literature in the world. Its selection of poetry, novels and literature reflects an open-minded, story-crafting, intelligence-promoting approach that is, well, the only approach that should ever matter in a society.

My favorite City Lights moment came in 2001. I walked into the store with Marty Balin, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame lead singer (and founder) of Jefferson Airplane, as well as Jefferson Starship. During their San Francisco concerts in the wild 1960s, bands used to ask poets to open their shows — celebrations of light, spoken word, dancing and music. Ferlinghetti was the Airplane’s designated poet on several occasions. As we walked inside, there was Ferlinghetti, perched in the checkout area. Marty and Ferlinghetti hadn’t seen each other in twenty years. Immediately, I felt like the luckiest fly on the wall as they caught up and discussed music, literature, and reminisced about those early concerts at Longshoreman’s Hall, the Matrix and The (original) Fillmore.

If the walls of Vesuvio's could talk, who would ever leave?

If the walls of Vesuvio’s could talk, who would ever leave?

Across the street from City Lights is Vesuvio’s, the colorful two-story pub that served as Jack Kerouac’s watering hole during his trips to San Francisco. Hemingway had Sloppy Joe’s in Key West, Henry James had the White House Tavern in New York City, and Kerouac had Vesuvio’s. He percolated large parts of On The Road, The Dharma Bums and other novels while sitting inside. Now, the place is lined with classic photos from the Beat generation, along with posters of Mae West, Janis Joplin, and other adornments that were part of the bar Kerouac knew. It looked like a few patrons and bottles of ancient booze on the shelves had never left, too.

The patron saint of Kerouac Way, which splits City Lights & Vesuvio's and leads to Chinatown.

The patron saint of Kerouac Way, which splits City Lights & Vesuvio’s and leads to Chinatown.

After that, we took our haul of books a hundred yards to Vital Tea Leaf, located in the middle of Chinatown. (Gotta love the way ethnic neighborhoods run into each other in San Francisco, so effortlessly, without fences or borders.) Our old friend, the 83-year-old proprietor with a sailor’s tongue and a sage’s wisdom, greeted us with hugs at the door. We then spent the next 90 minutes tasting teas made of nectar and gold (so it seemed), and listening to him mix insightful history and preparation tips with playful poking at customers as they walked inside. I find Chinese tea opens up the creative pores in a way that makes verse and prose pour from mind, body and soul; it is always my chosen drink when writing. So, I loaded up with pu’erh, milk oolong, cloud mist and lapsang souchong (the smoky tea), heard our host’s stories about each (cloud mist grows at 8,000 feet, for example), and headed off to write a few of my own.

To me, Columbus & Grant is not only the junction of ancient and modern literature, or the crossroads of shih and Beat writing and poetry. It is also the shining beacon that reminds me of two endangered species — the independent bookstore and freedom of written expression. As we move into National Poetry Month, we’re reminded of the treasures men and women have written for thousands of years. And the inalienable right and freedom to do so. That’s worth honoring in the best way possible — by writing.Kerouac sign

 

 

 

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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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The Hybrid Author Movement

During the Southern California Writers Conference in February, keynote speaker Michele Scott talked about a subject that has been near and dear to me for many years – becoming a contracted and self-published author … at the same time. This is otherwise known as hybrid authorship.

A fine multi-genre novelist, Michelle has written 23 books, some under a pen name.  If you look at this with traditional eyes, you would rightfully assume she keeps contracts with two or even three different publishers. That’s not the case – anymore. After years of selling her books to publishers, and developing a strong and loyal fan base that numbers in the high five- or low six-digit mark, Michelle took control of her creative process and began self-publishing.

Risky business? For sure. If you’re making a living as a writer, self-publishing can be quite risky. Suddenly, you are responsible for every penny spent to edit, market, promote, publicize, produce and sell your book – all expenses typically handled by traditional publishers. If you don’t know how to do all of these things, or sub-contract people who do, then it can be a one-way road to supreme disappointment.

 

WHY BACK STORIES MATTER: NEW 366 WRITING BLOG

 

Michelle knows how to do these things. Consequently, instead of merely satisfying her one-book-a-year deal with contract publishers, she can write and publish three or four titles per year … and keep all the proceeds after expenses are met. This is much different than traditional publishers, which offer advances against royalties (for those lucky enough to receive them), and then royalties in the 6% to 10% range of wholesale to retail price, escalating upward to 15% with increased sales – and 25 to 50% net on e-books. Unless promotion is great and sales are brisk, these numbers do not always add up so well.

Michelle has switched all the way over to self-publishing, even buying back some of her backlist rights (books already published). A few of her titles remain in circulation from her publishers. She’s in a win-win – royalties on books already published, plus pulling in the full bounty from all the books she’s writing now.

She is an example of a hybrid author, which is becoming more and more the way to go if you’re a prolific writer who has several books on your mind – and plans to write quite a few more. The hybrid approach is also the right approach for authors like me, who write in different genres and do not want to get tied down by contracts in which publishers want the one book for which they’ve contracted you to be the only book you write for a set period of time.

The subject of hybrid authoring is a big one at this week’s Book Expo America , the largest booksellers and publishers convention in the U.S. Traditional publishers are being compelled to relent from their “we buy your book, we take you off the market” philosophy, which forces many prolific authors to write their other books under pen names unless they have lucrative multi-book deals. More and more, authors are doing both, self-publishing titles they want to write while under contract for another book.

Hybrid authorship is not for everyone. First of all, you need to have the money to produce and promote the self-published books yourself. Or, like me, enter into an arrangement with a collaborative publisher (mine is Tuscany Global), in which you publish your book and handle all promotional costs while splitting revenues with the partner (in my case, the jack-of-all-trades Brian Wilkes), who handles production through a well-established self-publishing service (Amazon.com’s Create Space, in this case).

Then, you need to write and produce the books – and make sure none of them compete, in any way, with any books you might have under contract with the traditional publisher. In fact, the best approach – and the one that makes everyone happy – is to openly promote your contracted book at the back of the self-published title, and in any press releases you generate on its behalf (quick commercial: we offer such a service for all authors with books to be published, Beacon Publicity, where releases go to up to 10,000 targeted points and you get placement reports for a very low fee).

Hybrid authoring will become more and more common, especially in this era when writing e-books is so easy and self-publishing your book is a badge of respect, not the perceived scourge of vanity or province of poets it used to be.

As for forthcoming titles? Have Just Add Water under contract, another about to go there (When We Were the Boys, in which I’m working with author Stevie Salas and my agent, Dana Newman), and two titles – Backroad Melodies and Every Day Is The Write Day: The Best of Word Journeys Blogs, Vol. 1 – which will be out this summer through the collaborative/self-publishing route.

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Two Crazy Weeks of Publishing Bliss

It’s been quite a two-week period on the writing front, and just goes to show what happens sometimes when you throw enough seeds in the garden. So, this blog is going to feel like a combination of a newsletter and announcements.

PrintLast week, two books came out on Amazon.com with which I was involved: The Hummingbird Review Spring 2013 “Hollywood & Literature” edition, which I edited and also contributed a couple of pieces; and Brian Wilkes’ book Stroking the Media, for which I contributed a chapter on the four essentials of generating good publicity – Timing, Opportunity, Newsworthiness and Perception. Will get into these in a future blog. Never had two Amazon listings in the same week, but there they are! Please order a copy – and one for a friend!

This week kept up the pace. I wrapped proposals for two people I have admired for many years: former Surfer Magazine publisher-editor Jim Kempton, who is now shopping his fantastic book of exotic recipes coupled with great surf travel and cultural stories, The Surfing Chef; and Stevie Salas, the Contemporary Music Advisor to the Smithsonian Institution (and great guitarist from Carlsbad), with whom I’m working on his memoir (more details forthcoming). Add to that the chapters I’ve either cranked out or edited for a number of other clients, and it’s been productive.

That’s not all: On Tuesday, Houghton Mifflin announced the acquisition and forthcoming publication of Just Add Water, my biography of surfing great Clay Marzo, who does it all with Asperger Syndrome. For this book, which is truly a joy to write (as those familiar with my long background as former promoter of the ASP World Tour and writing for the surf mags know), I owe a special shout-out to my longtime friend Mitch Varnes, who is Clay’s manager and who suggested I take a shot at writing this book when we had dinner a few months ago.

Mitch and I have history in turning ideas into great books; 20 years ago, Mitch helped me button down my concept and connect me with astronauts and NASA officials for one of the greatest projects of my career, One Giant Leap for Mankind. It was the 25th anniversary publication for the Apollo 11 moon mission, one edition of which NASA later picked up.

Oh yes, one more bit of news: on Thursday, the popular online magazine Indie Writer Net picked up the first of my two blogs on last weekend’s Los Angeles Times Festival of Books (the second blog will be right here on Saturday).

So, to cap it all off, I’m headed up to Orange County later this morning to appear as the guest on the Write NOW! TV show, with hosts Judy Saxon and Charles Redner. We’ll be talking about, well, writing, but also the benefits of writing about something different every day, and reading on a wide variety of subjects with the curiosity and precociousness of a child.

A quick advisory note on that, to take into the weekend: When you spread out your writing subjects – and forms of writing, from letters to journals to essays and short fiction, and everything in between – you develop the diversity to tackle anything and everything. When you read widely, your brain comes along for the ride and makes connections and observations you never thought you had.

Enjoy your writing and reading this weekend!

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The Man Who Made Poetry Cool Again: A Few Words with Billy Collins

How many of us remember learning poetry in high school? Quick: name one poem that you studied.

Now that I have stumped most everyone, I confess: I was lucky to have two teachers who loved the lyrical word. One (Tom Robertson), freed a bunch of freshmen from their cluelessness by bringing in rock music lyrics and records, and going over them for a month, before returning us to our regularly scheduled program: the dead poets collecting dust in our literature textbooks. It worked. The other (Dr. Bev Bosak), gave me the job of co-editing the Carlsbad High School literary journal, Spindrift. I’ve been writing poetry since, along with newspaper, magazine and web journalism, fiction and non-fiction books, along with a lot of editing and ghostwriting.

Former Poet Laureate of the US and bestselling poet Billy Collins (photo by Martha Halda)

Former Poet Laureate of the US and bestselling poet Billy Collins (photo by Martha Halda)

Most of us weren’t so lucky. We caught up on sleep or gossip, got our weekend party schedule together, or played folded paper football or, as the century turned, with our cellphones while our teachers tried to analyze and interpret the poems of long-dead poets who, as Billy Collins says, “lived on a different verbal planet.”

Then Collins, the nation’s most popular and one of its most beloved poets, came along to make poetry cool. Cool for who? Us? Our parents? Librarians? The neighborhood bookworms?

No: for high school students nationwide. Seriously. When he was the Poet Laureate of the United States from 2001-2003, Collins developed the Poetry 180 program, which changed the face of how teachers taught poetry and students learned it. All of a sudden, kids not only read works from poets who were still alive – but, in some cases, just a little bit older than themselves.

“After becoming Poet Laureate, I immediately thought of what an awful time I had in high school,” Collins recalled during an exclusive interview for The Hummingbird Review I conducted earlier in the week, while he was in San Diego for a reading at Point Loma Nazarene University. “If you wanted to get beaten up in the parking lot, announcing you’re a poet would be a shortcut to that. Also in high school, the poems that were taught were hundreds of years old. I wanted to present poetry that would be cool, because being cool is the objective of high school – and it continues to this day.”

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Experience it they did. The Poetry 180 program was the biggest thing to happen to contemporary poetry entering American schools since the Beat Generation. Featuring very contemporary poets of all ages  like Jane Kenyon (“The Blue Bowl”), Ron Koertge (“Do You Have Any Advice For Those Of Us Just Starting Out”), Laurel Blossom (“Radio”), Geraldine Connolly (“The Summer I Was Sixteen”), and Daisy Fried (“She Didn’t Mean To Do It”), the two print anthologies have sold a quarter-million copies. The website that started it all (http://www.loc.gov/poetry/180/) has received millions of visits. Not only did reading poetry become cool for students, but so did writing it. Last time I visited my Twitter feed, I was following more than 1,000 literary and poetry journals, most started in the last five years, and most run by young adults. I would bet nearly all of them have benefitted from Poetry 180.

“It actually works, much to my surprise,” Collins said. “All these teachers said, ‘It changed how I teach. It changed my students’ whole idea of what poetry was. They like it.’ They ask, ‘Where’s the poem for the day?’ They remind the teacher, ‘Give us one of those poems.’”

Collections such as Picnic, Lightning, Sailing Around the Room, The Trouble With Poetry and Ballistics make Collins the most-read poet today. He’s transcended the niche of hard-core poetry readers, in largecollins2 part thanks to three events: appearances on NPR and A Prairie Home Companion, followed by his appointment as the Poet Laureate of the United States.

“That was kind of a booster rocket on this whole thing,” he says.” All these things oddly fell into place. Believe me, world poetry domination was not my objective here!”

Collins’ humorous take on the world – including himself – has added to the persona of Poetry 180. Not only does he give poetry a sense of present-day coolness, but he’s also one of those very cool people you love to hang around with as they pass through their 70s, dispensing wisdom and great humor, often in the same sentence. His poems convey the same feeling, finding extraordinary perceptions in ordinary moments, yet coming across with a simplicity that draws people in for what has become an enduring relationship with his words.

Which is exactly why he created Poetry 180 – to keep kids coming back for more, for the rest of their lives.

(You can read a full-length interview and profile on Billy Collins in The Hummingbird Review, which will be on sale in April.)

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Feasting on Words: Billy Collins, Southern California Writers Conference, and New Books in the Making

A few odds and ends while feeling very inspired and energized by the past ten days, which have included a wonderful Southern California Writers Conference, starting to put together what will be a smashing Spring 2013 issue of The Hummingbird Review, watching editing clients get one deal and opportunity after another, and Tuesday night’s superb event with Billy Collins, the former Poet Laureate of the United States…

The Billy Collins program at Point Loma Nazarene University was truly special. Billy has drawn hundreds of thousands of otherwise non-poetry fans into the world of poetry through his easily accessible, humorous, poignant and endearing takes on life’s otherwise ordinary moments. On Tuesday night before a standing room-only crowd of more than 400 at Crill Hall, he read 17 poems spanning his career (10 collections, plus several anthologies), including a couple from his latest, Aimless Love: New and Selected Poems 2003-2013, which will be released October 22. He also sat with PLNU journalism faculty member and Writer’s Symposium coordinator Dean Nelson, himself the author of a dozen books, for an excellent hour-long discussion.

One of Billy’s many funny lines? Check out this succinct take on science fiction: “There are only two directions for all of science fiction: We’re going there, or they’re coming here.” Priceless.

Discussing poetry with former Poet Laureate of the U.S. Billy Collins (photo by Martha Halda)

Discussing poetry with former Poet Laureate of the U.S. Billy Collins (photo by Martha Halda)

A couple hours earlier, I interviewed Billy at his bayside Shelter Island hotel for The Hummingbird Review. It was fun, lively, full of wisdom and humor – typical of Billy’s take on the world. We had a wonderful discussion about his poetics and vast contributions, a part of which I will share in this blog on Friday. For the rest, you’ll have to pick up The Hummingbird Review.

A really funny moment popped up during the interview. When my sweetheart, A Taste of Eternity author Martha Halda, and I told Billy how Carlsbad High School teacher Tom Robertson turned us onto poetry in our freshman English class, Billy looked at Martha and quipped, “So you were one of those mean girls!” He was referencing the fact that he (like me) was painfully shy in high school, and not on the radar screen of the school’s most beautiful girls. We informed him that Martha was one of the nicest (and best looking, and still is) CHS beauties, to which he replied, “So you were the nice one!” Gotta love this man.

• • •

I’m still pouring through notes from the Southern California Writer’s Conference, so I want to share a few comments that famed science fiction writer David Brin made that are great takeaways for writers and readers alike (with very special thanks to Alicia Bien for emailing her notes as well):

On the bad guys we all love to hate (or maybe root for) in novels: “Give the villain great dialogue so they are tempted. Make your villains so powerful that the U.S. government can’t beat them.”

Bestselling science fiction author David Brin (photo by Gayle Carline)

Bestselling science fiction author David Brin (photo by Gayle Carline)

On the purpose of writing: “Convey your sense of joy on the page. Control your ego, but believe you can write material that people want to read. Remember: writing is the only true form of magic.”

How to write a first page that hooks readers: “The first page must sing. Copy the first page of writers you respect, see how they move the story, and find that within your own voice, your own story.

Four keys to getting published and drawing your readers:

1)   You need an ear

2)   Bring on the criticism because you can be even better – and you know it

3)   Hard work

4)   Luck

• • •

Have been having a blast editing and/or writing proposals for some truly wonderful books that have made their way onto my computer in the past several months. Will rattle off their titles and authors now, so that you will grab them and share the experience when they hit bookstores in the next 12 to 18 months (as I am fully confident they will):

• A Taste of Eternity, a memoir by Martha Halda

• Home Free Adventures, a travel narrative by Lynne Martin

• Island Fever, Mustang Fever and Storm Chasers, an adventure romance trilogy by Stephen B. Gladish

• Who Will Cry for Us? a memoir by Davion Famber

• The Columbian Prophecy, a novel by Gary B. Deason

• Changes in Longitude, a travel narrative/memoir by Larissa and Michael Milne

• Red Hand, a novel by Seamus Beirne

• Forgoing Stress, a prescriptive book by Leo Willcocks

Next week, I will talk more about a couple of books coming from yours truly, including my forthcoming novel, Voices. We’ll also hear from authors Larissa and Michael Milne, Martha Halda and Stephen B. Gladish. Stay tuned.

• • •

Speaking of March, two events are coming up in the next two months that I hope you will participate in, if you are suitably located geographically: the Tucson Festival of Books March 9-10 at the University of Arizona in Tucson; and the L.A. Times Festival of Books April 20-21 on the University of Southern California campus. Between the two, more than 100,000 people will be in attendance. These events are a paradise for readers, a chance to meet and talk with hundreds of authors and publishers in all genres. Check them out.

 

 

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