Monday, December 5, 2011

Lost in the woods

OK, I'm moving forward step by step with this Indie publishing adventure I have set off on. But, sometimes I feel like I'm lost in the woods. I am getting more and more familiar with Kindleboards and have visited many other book blogs and am learning that blogging is an important part of getting noticed. So, with that being said I'm going to start blogging in earnest.

It took me 20 years to write The Vagabond King. In part it was because I needed to do so much research. In part it was because I had no idea what I was doing. In part because I never seemed to have enough time. But, 20 years of dedication and 25 drafts later I finished The Vagabond King about 5 years ago. But, because the book was finally finished I had lost my goal in life and, consequentyly, my direction. They have a saying in Buddhism that if you meet the Buddha in the road you must slay him because the point of the journey is to ever be striving toward the goal not necessarily to achieve it.

So now what was I to do? I don't do well without a goal in my sights. I felt like I had lost my way in the woods and have been wandering around in my own life for the past 5 years.

Now I'm back on track but I still feel overwhelmed. Victorine Leiske recommended posting on Kindleboads 18 times a day, then there's the blog I need to tend to, then there is critiquing the works of other writers on Critique Circle, then there is my job that keeps getting in my way and I haven't even started writing my next book yet. Frustrating. But, I'm moving forward anyway.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Latest update

Hi all,

It seems some new friends have joined since I last posted. Thank you and welcome. Well, I started A Work In Progress a while ago in order to serve as a marketing platform for my debut novel The Vagabond King. This blog is proving to live up to it's name. I obviously don't know what I'm doing, but have been thinking about it. One of the reasons that I started this blog was to help inspire begining writers to show them that they can reach the next point which is publication and sales.

Well, here's an update in my sales efforts with The Vagabond King. I published on Kindle on 11/11/11 and, to date, have about 11 sales and 3 reviews.

I've received 2 5 star reviews and 1 3 star review. The 5 star reviews had some glowing things to say for which I'm grateful. The 3 star reviewer seemed to like the book except for the main character. She said he was "whiney, self involved and very shallow until spending some quality time and learning life lessons from the Vagabond King." I appreciate that comment, at least I made the main character real enought to be disliked : ) And, since it's a coming of age story, the main character has to come from somewhere.

I am continuing to rack up interviews and review committments and, over the next few months, should have much more to report.

My goal is to start earning enough from sales of the novel to dedicate myself full time to writing. This is one of the reasons I have been so sporadic at these blog posts. I just don't have the time. However, once I do, it is my intention to start posting my trials and tribulations as I begin, in earnest, to write my second novel, The Mythological History of Chicago. I hope that my readers might find  it educational to see the writing process of someone else from the inside out.


Sunday, September 18, 2011

Here's a sample on how I piece together a scene

It's part notes, part description p,art dialogue, part random thoughts and all mess. This is where writing, writing and rewriting come in.


With each progression say they are going deeper and deeper into the underworld

Sandburg talks to people who tell him various anecdotes about the city

-          foul mouthed kid tells him how he lost money on cubs on the world series. “”Are you a cubs fan?” “No way. Sox.” “Then why did you bet on the Cubs because they should have won.”

-          He meets woman who was at the indian pow wow in 1835 and hears here description of it.

-          He meets professor who tells him about theory of relativity and how it effects time.

-          He meets jim o’leary and Louie Cohn who tell him they were playing cards and started the fire.

-          He meets other people who talk about alternative ways the fire started

Perhaps the kid is selling a competing paper which has a picture of Mrs. O’Leary because it is anniversary. Jim O’Leary says that ain’t my Ma.

Woman in streeterville send them to O’Leary’s

They met at statue shortly after dawn

“all I need is one lucky break…this is my lucky break”

While he’s waiting at statue tell how he discovered to look for a woman named BR. It was from a bricklayer at the new ball park (it wasn’t built until 1914)…edgar lee masters told him to look for sally simpson and the Sandburg handed this info to his contact (hunza) who knew everybody in chicago.

Waiting for his guide at lasalle statue he has discovered that Marshall Field was behind Haymarket bomb.

He has to get this info by sunset. This is his deadline….this is everyones deadline, everyone isconcerned with getting things done by sunset

He followed his journalist’s intuition against his better judgement

Portray sandburg as a country boy who hates the industrialized world, What lassale’s vision has become and only after being shown through the underworld does he appreciate the humanity of it.

Portray Sandburg as a Country boy who is in awe of big city

Hunza is his guide through the underworld. Hunza knows everybody

Hunza is a paid source of info that sandburg has used before

Hunza takes him to streeterville…Big Jim O’Leary’s, Caughlin & kenna’s, Everleigh club???

Hunza keeps humming Row, row, row your boat

THE WORDS OF THE POTOWATTAMI HOBO MUST LINGER W/ SANDBURG THROUGHOUT THE BOOK…perhaps he talks about nanabozho as a hunter of weendigos and this starts a theme throughout the book of viewing the world we created as a weendigo

Portray what breaking this story would mean to him

Perhaps he recalls last indian war dance / curse

He has got to get diary and write story by sunset tonight or else he loses his job.

He is struggling to define chicago in poetry.

He has talked to a number of people and discovered that he is looking for a woman named BR who has her father’s diary. He got this info at Big Jim O’Leary’s.

His guide arrives and takes him to where BR’s cousin is

Sandburg is killed???

O'Leary soon opened another betting parlor on South Halstead Street which he designed to include Turkish baths, a restaurant, billiard room, and a bowling alley, as well as the detailed race track results and other betting information to become one of the countries most prominent resorts by the 1890s.

The room was filled with north side nabobs and Dapper Dans from out of town, nobodies from nowhere who were rally suckers and marks to be fleeced and released by the faro Tigers and the Card Sharps.

Roogues and roustabouts wityh a devil may care attitude “Let the chips fall where they may.”

The gambling hall was filled with well heeled sports and suckers.

Braggarts, schiesters, scam artists, black sheep, muckety mucks and the occassional discount derelict sitting in front of a whiskey glass.

Men whose only hope in life was the eternal dream of getting something for nothing.

The place was a double-crossers paradise where the two faced gods of chance plucked the fattest suckers like grapes from the vine.

O’Leary was a tough man who always fended for himself. He was proud of the fact that he never paid a dime to the police for protection. “”QUOTE” H put his money where his mouth was and Sandburg now stood in front of an enormous iron bound Oak door. With steel plates on the outer walls and inner walls of heavy Oak covered with zinc plates, O’Leary bragged that his resort was fire proof and police proof and by the time Sandburg was standing in front of the dorr it had resisted several attempts by rival “businessmen” to blow it up or burn it down.

Inner walls were lined with red pepper so that anyone trying to break through to secret rooms behind them were blinded.

But, the goon standing between Sandburg and the door was the first obstacle to overcome.

“What’s the passowrd?”

Sandburg held his breath and hoped the phrase given him by xxx was correct.


the bouncer said nothing but looked him steady in the eye. He walked around him looking him over suspiciously and then patted him down for weapons before he rapped a secret code on the door and it opened.

The place was filled with scoundrels and rapscallions of every stripe…

The room was filled with big cigars and brass spitoons…

Somewhere between dry land and water, sitting on the silting sandbars of Lake Michigan, Streeterrville was a netherland of clapboard shacks and unpainted pine shanties. It was a half submerged haven for pickpockets and pox ridden prostitutes, flunkeys, junkies, grifters, drifters and derelicts of all kinds.

From the shadows steps a figure to follow them…

There they found a mournful woman named Morna.

It was a one room shanty with a loft. The woman sat nursing a baby and a black eye at the table besides a small pot bellied stove.

“Sure, Roisin is a dear soul,” she said between tubercular coughs. “It would be destitute I’d be if it weren’t for her and the money she provides”…SHE GOES ON ABOUT WHAT A SAINT SHE IS…”I light a candle for her every Sunday.”

She does all her shopping at Marshall Fields and she buys me such nice things there. Things she doesn’t have to go out of her way to get but she tells me “xxx”. She says that, she does.

You can often find her at the Symphony or the Art Institute. “Culture is not something you can apply like ketchup on a hotdog. yOu must absorb it from the roots of your being.”

Sandburg thought that this Black Roisin must be an amazing woman and looked forward to seeing her with his own eyes. She siezed upon his immagination and would not let go. How could a woman such as this have been, just a few years ago, a whore in a brothel?

“You remember hearing how Prince Henry of Austria was so enamored with one of the women at the Everleigh Club that he drank champagne from her shoe?” Sandburg recalled Masters saying. “That was Black Roisin.”

In his mind Black Roisin the image of Black Roisin slowly gathered with his image of Chicago until they became one and the same. Black Roisin was Chicago and Chicago was Black Roisin.

“She would perform the most depraved acts a man could wish for” Masters said. But this didn’t correspond to the picture of the woman Morna painted: devout, nurturing and, indeed, married. This woman had been married for the past ten years, Sandburg thought, and to a well connected gentleman. How could she possibly have worked at the Everleigh club only a few years ago? It was a mystery. She was a mystery. Black Roisin or The Dark Rosaleen or whatever her real name was.

How was a woman of such quality related to a woman the likes of which sat before him, Sandburg wondered.

How did Black Roisin, who had apperantly come from such a humble, if not criminal, background rise to a position of such quality, sandburg wondered, especially whennone of her family did the same. She must be a woman of considerable talent and ability, he thought.

Sandburg wondered about this woman and longed to ask her all the unformulated questions in his head.


“Are you her sister?” Sandburg asked.

The best way to market another book is to write another book

OK, well I'm back on track and figuring out this whole indi publishing thing. I've been posting on kindleboards and asking people how they market their books. The one that made the most sense is to write another book so that there are multiple points of contact for readers to find you.

Easier said than done. I once handed a would be novelist a stack of post-it notes and said "I know it doesn't look like much but it's the beginning of your first novel". I wasn't joking. For me, writing a novel is like sifting through silt or trying to piece together a story from the detritus of my mind. For example, here are some samples of my notes for my next book "The Mythological History of Chicago". Just a random sampling of dialogue bits, thoughts on platting etc.

Either in this story or another called the dream traveler the witch should explain that there are laws by which the universe works gradually she explains them revealing the law of attraction etc and by the end revealing that this god that everyone is searching for is looking back at them from the mirror. And we have created our own heaven or hell…it will both be a happy, comic and horrific ending at the same time depending on who is reading it.

“trying to make a dollar out of 15 cents.”

The Chicago fire takes place during Indian Summer just as does the world series.

Swamp Lily is the nickname of a prostitute in the Levee from Louisiana named Addie Beckly


One day chicken, the next day feathers


You know when she's lying, because her lips move.

I can be lovely person. I just have chosen not to share that with you.

Please deprive me of your company.

Anything happens to her, I have a .45 and a shovel. I doubt anybody would miss you.

Get out of the way or I shall tread on you.

Why do you get up in the morning?

“Never insult an alligator until you’ve crossed the river.”

“My friend, you have more balls than a farm full of bulls.”
Interesting stuff, I'm sure, but how do you make a novel out of it?

Basically, it's a noir novel and the idea of the book is that Carl Sandburg is writing a news story on who actually caused the Chicago Fire while he is trying to compose his masterpiece "Chicago".At the same time the Cubs and the Sox are playing the last game of the world series at Wrigley Field. This is at the same time that Rene LaSalle (the great French Voyaguer) is trying to tame the New World and slowly going mad. At the end of the book I intend for three different timelines to converge in the one eternal moment of NOW.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Back on track

Hi all,

I see some new faces have joined the party. Sorry I have not been that active. I have been building a website to serve as a marketing platform for my newly published book The Vagabond King. The website is intended to be a step by step guide for people who want to write a novel but don't know where to start. I am currently looking for people who might like to participate in order to market their own books. You could write an article and include a brief bio and link to your book etc. Let me know if anyone is interested. Below is a link to my book. Talk to you soon.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Building mystery with a muted theme

Writers often wonder how they can build mystery into a character. I know I used to. I used to wonder how to portray lots of things. The best way to learn how to portray something is to think about what it is that you want to portray and then break it down into it's elements and then portray those elements.

So, if we want to portray a character as mysterious we need to think about what the key elements of mystery are. Well, one of them is the fact a mystery is a question that we just can't find an answer for. There are suggestions as to the answer and multiple people might have different interpretations as to the answer which, of course, just adds to the mystery even more.

Well, one of the best ways to pose a question that has no answer is to use a muted theme. For example, if a character does something odd once and once only it poses a question but will be forgotten soon after. However, if a character does something odd on an on going basis there must be a reason for this odd behavior. What could it be? We are intrigued and want to know why they are doing this. It must serve some purpose.

I believe I first learned about this technique in an academic study of The Bible entitled The Book of God. If I remember correctly, in this book the author investigates the odd habit Sampson has of cutting the ears off of prey he has killed. What significance does this have? Why does he do it? What does it mean? It must have some greater significance because it is in The Bible. Nope. The author concludes that it is simply the use of a muted theme to increase the mystery of the Sampson character. We will never know why he does it and that is the point...and the desired effect on the reader.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Niche marketing ideas for books

The more I begin to familiarize myself with Inie publishing the more I'm glad I decided to go this route. My Book The Vagabond King appealss to too much of a niche market so it would be virtually impossible for a traditional publisher to make money on. I wasted years looking for a publisher. However, on the internet everything is niche marketing. There are millions of niche markets out there each appealing to millions of people.

Now, The Vagabond King is kind of a tough book to categorize. It is a literary coming of age novel about a 16 year old boy named Chris who discovers the man he was raised to believe is his father is not after his mother dies and he is haunted by a dark and mysterious apparition that forces him to question his pampered existence and embark on a spiritual quest.

Seeking sanctuary in the house of a middle aged waitress with a degree in philosophy and a penchant for sex, he discovers that she lives with her father. Chris finds himself out of his element and, ultimately, transformed by a cigarette smoking, beer swilling immigrant who spends his final days limping around the house in his boxer shorts, listening to blues records and making Chris get him fresh cans of beer.

The Vagabond King weaves mythology, science and religion into a metaphysical mystery as Chris learns that, like the old man’s skipping blues records, the roles we are playing have been played many times before.

Now that that bit of shamlesss self promotion is over I'll let you in on the idea I had to get deeeper market penetration with your books. To market a book you've got to put it into a marketing box (Thriller, YA, Romance etc). Now, The Vagabond King is not actually a YA novel but that, perhaps, is the market it most closely targets. Had I gone the traditioal route it would be placed on the YA shelff in the book store. But, I have read that a book store is the worst place to sell a book, simply because of all the competition. Now, here is where my idea becomes a benefit. Within each book there are sub niches. For example, my book contains themes of blues music, African history, Hungarian history, spirituality, Ancient Mesopotamian history, Astronomy and others.

So now, when marketing, I can target much more than YA websites to gain some attention. I can also target websites that focus on the themes contained within The Vagabond King. Every book has sub niches contained within it. I'd love to see if it works for any of you out there.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Putting a marketing plan together

Hi kids,

I've been quite busy latley developing a book marketing strategy and I thought I'd share it with you. My journey started out last winter by reading The Well Fed Self Published Writer which is a very good and comprehensive read but is more geared to non fiction writers, but still worth reading. I also read a book called Plug Your Book which is, again, highly recommended. It has copious information on all sorts of nooks and crannies in the internet to plug your book. Then I had the pleasure of meeting Victorine Lieske and Marva Dasef who were kind enough and generous enough to offer very valuable suggestions. Ultimately though, I felt like I was eating an elephant. There was just too much information to digest. However, it seems that all sources say that a website (or at least a blog) is essential to a marketing platform. But websites are a bit like door mats, just because you throw one down doesn't mean you will have company for dinner.

Thankfully, the fates have smiled on me again and I discovered a website called Site Build It which I mentioned in my last post. The problem with domain hosting companies is that they will sell you a domain and may even show you how to build a website but they don't really do much more. Site Build It is a very user friendly service which walks you through the process of not only building a website but of generating traffic to go there. It is not a quick process but it is a proven process and I am currently in the process of determining what kind of site would be best suited to support the sale of my book. Once I have the site up and running, and my brother is done with the cover art I plan to take a page out of Victorine's playbook and publish on Kindle. When last we talked she had sold 50,000 copies. Way to go Victorine! I plan to sell it at the .99 price point which is the same price point that Victorine finally settled on after some trial and error. Then I plan to make myself a regular presence on the kindleboards which, you guessed it, is just what Victorine did.

I will keep you appraised of my progress and would love to hear any comments from anyone else who is going the road alone in Indie Publishing.

Ciao for now.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

A work in progress is turning out to be an apt name

Hi kids,

Sorry for my lengthy stay away. I'm still trying to get my arms around this whole Independant Publishing thing. There is a lot to absorb and, ironically, I made contact with an old friend of mine whose mother in law is a literary agent in NYC. Well, even if she expresses interest in my manuscript I am starting to get really excited about the potential of self publishing. I am well past the traditional stigma of "Vanity Publishing". I have received enough positive comments at Critique Circle that I am confident in the quality of the The Vagabond King. It may not be every bodies cup of tea but then nothing is.

I wanted to share some really great sites that I found just yesterday. the first is The Shared Self Publishing Experience contains tales from people who have been down the road before. It is a great place to learn a lot as well as a good place to paste a link tou your book at the end of your article.

The other site is one I found through one of the articles on The Shared Self Publishing Experience. Site Build It contains a suite of products and services to help you launch a web based business (rather than just a web site). After having viewed the intro video I think I will probably buy the product. The thing I like about it is that it looks as if it will clear a lot of comnfusion out of the way for me about what I should and should not be doing. Once I get it and start building a business around my book I'll let you know how it works for me.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

You either have a story dying to get out, either you should get another hobby. :)

This week's post is inspired by a comment Stephanie Jones made after my Yoda post last week. "You're right - try doesn't get you anywhere in writing - I'm pretty blunt about this - you either have a story dying to get out, either you should get another hobby. :)"

It seems to me that there are a lot of people out there who like the idea of being a writer and the romantic lifestyle that it seems to be part of: drinking and womanizing a la Hemingway, living in self imposed exile a la Joyce, drinking and womanizing a la Lord Byron, and, of course, the ultimate in romance drinking absinthe and committing suicide because the world doesn't understand you. I must admit, what could compare with that?

And so, after college, I set off to seek this life and found it on the seat of a forklift from 7pm to 7am driving around a printing plant. I soon learned that it is only romantic when it is happening to someone else. When the trials and tribulations are happening to you they lose a lot of their luster and you need to really determine if this is how you want to spend your life.

I remember talking to a lot of bohemian types about art and literature in college over glasses of beer or wine. They talked and talked and talked but no one really produced anything. And, then they went on to jobs in the corporate world. This is fine. Everybody must be who they truly are and the sooner they find that out the better because otherwise you are living an imagined life.

But, it seems to me that people who must write, who must truly write, know instinctively who they are and will overcome any and all obstacles to meet that need. Human beings are physicaal manifestations of universal forces. We are all, in effect, the eyes, ears and voices of the universe. If you've got a story in you dying to get out that is the universal urge attempting to manifest itself into existance. And this is sad because so many people give up on their dream or, even worse, don't even start. That is why being a writer is a calling, not unlike entering the priesthood. It requires dedication, perseverence, faith and any number of other things. So, when you become frustrated with the writer's life you have to understand that it is a nobel life. It is a daring and romantic life by virtue of it's very nature. You have picked up the gauntlet that was thrown at your feet by the universe daring you to be the vessel that brings forth what it desires to be in existance.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Do or do not, there is no try - Yoda was right.

Something I discovered after many years of "trying" to write my first novel was that when I really put my nose to the grind stone and gave it the old college try and any other rah, rah platitude you can apply writing was really difficult. However, when I got really frustrated with the whole process and gave up, all of a sudden things started coming to me: ideas, dialogue for characters, sentences, paragraphes, metaphors, it was a virtual treasure trove. If you don't believe me just remember back to school days when you really liked someone and "tried" to get theem to like you. Nothing happened. No one likes a needy salesman. However, once you stopped "trying" something strange happened. People actually started liking you, in droves even, you attracted to you what you had been "trying" to, but without effort. Anyway, I quickly accepted that this is how the universe works because I'd rather not work at something than work hard at something...especially if I am getting better results.

However, it took me a long time to figure out how this all worked in the scheme of the big picture. After years of reading philosophical and religious texts as well as studying psychology and understanding a little bit about how the human brain and mind works I've got a pretty good lock on it. I won't bore you with the big picture but I will tell you why "trying" works against you and why I stopped "trying" years ago.

The act of "trying" actually implies the possibility of failure. Now Carl Jung, the great Swiss psychologist said that things that are not resolved within the subconscious must become manifest in the world around us. So, if you think that there is the possibility of failing you will manifest difficulty and potentially failure in your external reality. But, and here's the secret, drum roll please, failure, just like the existance of cold, is an illusion! Just as cold is really the absence of heat and doesn't, in itself, exist, it is impossible to fail. People who say they have failed have simply stopped moving toward their goal, they have given up. Things that appear to be failures are really lessons to teach you how to adjust your approach so that you will eventually reach your goal.

So take it easy, stop trying and keep working toward your goal.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

What is your writing process like?

I have said before in previous posts that I liken writing a novel to trying to turn a cross word puzzle into a book. I would be very interested to see what other writers processes are like. The fact that my actual writing process did not compare with the way I thought the writing process should be frustrated me as a young novelist. Perhaps you might feel the same way.
I had this conception that the writing process should follow some set order like ABC. I thought that this is how people like Hemingway, Joyce, Shakespeare etc must operate. However, I found that my process was something more like AZWCRT with large empty spaces in between each step in the processs on the page and in the calendar.
For instance, I finished my first novel about 5 years ago and began looking for a publisher while starting to write my second novel when, like Dante in the Divine Comedy, I had journeyed half of our life's way, I found myself within a shadowed forest, for I had lost the path that does not stray.
And so, I am getting back to the task of publishing and writing. The task of writing for me is about accumulating a whole bunch of notes, individual sentences, catch phrases and other mental detritus (you can tell I like this word because I’ve used it in another post) and figuring out how it all fits together.
For example I’ve got this saying that I think I’d like a character to use somewhere: “trying to make a dollar out of 15 cents.” And, maybe the only silver he has to spend is in his beard….who knows.
And, of course, Swamp Lily is a great nickname for a prostitute named Addie Beckly. And, she might say something like “a sexually satisfied man is a lazy and useless man. But, if you whip him into a frenzy and keep him there he can serve your purposes”. A manipulative little minx to say the least. I like her.
I’d also like to portray a drunk throwing punches at the moon and it would be really fun for him to say something like “Kiss the north end of a southbound horse”.
And, because the world ends at the end of the book I must somehow tie in the beginning of the world.
“In the beginning was the word, he thought as he walked across the…and down the…and the world was with God, and the word was God.
Just as Adam gave names to the animals in the garden of Eden with words, words, words, so too the indians gave names to the places of this world. They named Mackinac Island, Turtle Island where Nanabozho created the world on a turtle’s back with a bit of mud from a muskrat’s paw. They named the great lake Michigan, the Great Ocean Water, and the land of Wisconsin was the place where The Waters Gathered, Illinois was the land of Great Men and Chicago itself was the place of Wild Onions because the aroma of the swamp was to strong.
And, with each name they bestowed they became masters of their world. For, the act of naming defines things and gives you power over them. It is magical. “Things don’t exist until you give them a name.” His old college professor used to say. “This is the power of language. This is the power of the gods themselves.”
The indians named their world and each of those names told part of a story that portrayed their relationship with the landscape. But, why couldn’t he?”
Yes, why couldn’t he and why can’t I?
Oh, and let’s not forget that there is a Native American legend that says, " If you have a secret wish, capture a butterfly and whisper your wish to it. Since butterflies cannot speak, your secret is ever safe in their keeping. Release the butterfly, and it will carry your wish to the Great Spirit, who alone knows the thoughts of butterflies. By setting the butterfly free, you are helping to restore the balance of nature, and your wish will surely be granted."
This is great stuff because it ties in with the butterfly effect which is a concept in chaos theory that says, in effect, the movement of a butterflies wings in Japan can eventually lead to a Tornado in Kansas.
And so, I have all these little things I must string together like the flapping wings of a butterfly before they become a book. I’ve literally got hundreds of pages of this stuff that I must turn into a book. This is nothing like I thought it would be when I started out. It is more of an Easter egg hunt.
Found another one…
The room was filled with north side nabobs and Dapper Dans from out of town, nobodies from nowhere who were rally suckers and marks to be fleeced and released by the faro Tigers and the Card Sharps.
Good stuff, but what do I do with it now?

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Second Novel

Sorry I haven't posted in a little while. Life seems to have gotten in the way. I was just walking along, minding my own business and, out of no where, I discovered I am about to become a grandfather. Didn't see that one coming. Ouch. But thankfully we had some great conversations with some published writers. Thank you ladies. I wish you every success in your careers. I've just received Marva Dasef's The Tales of Abu Nuwas and will be reading it shortly.

But, this has all got me thinking about second novels. In the early 90s I remember hearing about a fantastic first novel called The Slynx by Tatiana Tolstaya. A few years ago I heard this writer mentioned on the radio in a conversation about writers and why following novels are not quite as good and it was conjectured that so much focus and effort is placed on the first novel that following novels are something of an after thought. Somewhat like the team whose goal is to get to the Superbowl rather than win the Superbowl.

And, then of course, life tends to get in the way. It certainly has for me. But, I want to tell all of you struggling novelists who are trying to convert a pocket full of post it notes into the Great American Novel that you will eventually get there. Life is a battle of minutes and inches, keep going and don't let life get in the way. The three authors who have been recently intervied on this blog did it and, as I prepare to publish my first novel The Vagabond King, I am actually a bit amazed that I did it as well. It took me about 20 years and 25 drafts but it is finally about to see the light of day.

And now on to the second novel. Are you ready for this one folks? The working title is The Mythological History of the City of Chicago. Not a title that trips lightly off the tongue, is it? Well, that's OK because the premise is a lot easier to swallow. The story is narrated by the Potawattami trickster god Nanabozho and simultaneously follows a reporter at the turn of the 19th to 20th century as he tries to discover the real cause for the Chicago Fire, while the voyageur Robert Rene Cavalier de La Salle slowly goes insane a few hundred years earlier as he tries to establish the empire of France in the New World and as the Chicago Cubs and the Chicago White Sox compete in the7th game of the world series at a time sometime in the future. Spoiler alert!.....The Cubs will win the World Series a feat that even the most faithfull somtimes doubt. And, with the Cubs victory in the World Series, the book must end with the inevitable destruction of the world.

Yes, I've got my work cut out for me. Thank God for the magic of quantum physics.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Author interview - Chrystalla Thoma

I have had computer problems recently so have been un able to make any postings. Fortunately, we have an interview today with recently published author Chrystala Thoma. She's got a fascinating story, and that doesn't even include her book. Thanks for joining us today Chrystala.

Please give me a general biographic background to introduce you to the readers. It can be anything you want to share: where you grew up, education, interests, employment experience, age, marital and family status, publication history etc. Whatever you feel comfortable with.

Hi dear James, thanks for hosting me today!

I bear the name of both my grandmothers (Chrystalla), which is a typical name here in Cyprus. I am Greek Cypriot, and until the age of 10 I knew about 7 words of English. Boy did that change later! J I left Cyprus to study languages and translation when I was 18 (back then there wasn’t a university here yet). I studied in France, then in England and Germany where I did my PhD in linguistics and translation. There I met my husband, Carlos, who is Costa Rican, so we moved to Costa Rica for a few years. Since summer 2010, we live in Cyprus. Like every self-respected author, I have gone through different sorts of jobs – from answering phones in KFC here in Cyprus to teaching English and French to children, from being the guide for Cypriot tourists in Disneyland-Paris in France to teaching linguistics at university students and working as a freelance translator. Right now, I work as the European countries officer and Magazine editor for the Thalassaemia International Federation.

When did you first decide to become a writer? What was that like?

I’m not original in this: I decided I wanted to be a writer when I was about 10. And then seriously decided it again when I was 12 and wrote my first novel. It was a wonderful feeling, like going home after wandering aimlessly for years. But it didn’t last, because I was discouraged by everyone I knew. Not because I was a bad author (for my age!) but because in the Greek world at least there is no money in being a writer. What it was like? Like falling from a cliff. Scary.

Who were the writers who inspired you when you were younger?

One huge influence was Jules Verne, another was Michael Ende (The Neverending Story, Mirror in the Mirror, Momo). It was obvious from the start I was into science fiction and fantasy, lol! My first stories and novels were fantasy as well.

What kind of obstacles did you face when you first began writing? How did you overcome them?
Well, let’s see… The first obstacle was in my mind: since writing in Greek isn’t really going to be a career, and since Greeks don’t go much for fantasy and science fiction, which incidentally are the two genres I really like, then the solution is to write in English. My English isn’t bad, heck I even have a BA in English literature and translation. But, for some reason, I was certain that no author can write in any other language than their mother tongue. So I had to get over that mountain of preconception and fear. My first attempt at writing a story in English (from scratch – not writing the text in Greek and then translating) was scary. But after that it got better and better. Perseverance I think is the word – mulish stubbornness. I want to do it, so I can. J

How long and how many drafts does it usually take to finish a novel?

Ooh, such a precise question, looking for a precise answer… Horribly many? Countless, I guess. My problem is that once I write the first draft, I let it rest too long. So when I return to it, I rewrite it completely. And so on and so forth. So I have a piece of advice here, which I formulated in the past year after one such experience: never let your writing rest for too long (for more than, say, two months). Unless you want to write a different story from scratch. There, I said it. Too much resting is bad for the dough, er, story.

What kind of obstacles did you face when you first published? How did you overcome those?

Oh my, very good questions. Hm… Well, I mostly published short stories in journals, and there the main obstacle is of course getting accepted. Now, for my urban fantasy novella, Dioscuri, my main problem was promotion. My publisher is excellent, so I had wonderful editors and a great cover – so my part was to promote, promote, promote. Make a trailer, do interviews, get reviews, post on the readers’ groups, write posts about the story. And believe me this takes up more time that the actual writing or editing of the story. I haven’t really overcome this problem. I have dropped out of the readers’ groups, but try to participate in the Six Sentence Sunday (a project where many authors post on their blogs each Sunday six sentences from a story they are publishing or currently working on) and try to post as much as possible about my stories.

What are your thoughts on self publishing vs. the traditional route?

Actually this is a topic that has been a lot on my mind lately. With the soar in sales of self-published books in electronic format – be it on Kindle, Pubit, Smashwords, Mac or any other format – the image of self-publishing has completely changed, due to the lack of publishing costs. I would love to try both the traditional and the self-publishing routes. I am very happy with my publisher and would like to submit more work to them – but would also love to self-publish a couple of things, see how it goes. What I particularly like about the self-publishing route is that the author has total control on everything – from the cover to the price.

What are you working on currently? Can we see a bit of it?
Right now I am working on a retelling of the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur. According to one myth from Crete, the Minotaur is Asterion, supposed to be King Minos’ son, but in fact his wife Pasiphae begat him with Poseidon who appeared to her in the form of a bull. Here are the opening lines (mind, though, that this is the first draft):

Asterion paced the length of the room, back and forth, fists clenched at his sides. The bull mask grinned at him from its perch on the altar, the golden horns sparkling in the candlelight, the gem eyes glittering.
“You must do it,” said a gravelly male voice.
“Or what? The world ends? Chaos will fall on us?”
“And if I said yes?”
Asterion halted. Bitterness welled in his mouth. “I can’t do it, silene. I can’t be his vessel for his gruesome sacrifice. I won’t kill them. I don’t owe Poseidon anything.”
The silene shook his shaggy head, long animal ears drooping. “He is your father.”

This story is set in the same world, in an Athens where the old gods have woken again, as my published novella Dioscuri, available now through MuseItUp Publishing here:

What advice do you have for aspiring novelists?
Write what you’d love to read. Persevere. Revise. Rewrite. Don’t ever give up.

Where do you see yourself ultimately taking your career?
I am working on a couple of science fiction and fantasy novels right now. I hope to publish some the traditional way, and some through self-publishing. And I hope one day to be able to concentrate fully on writing – so if anyone has a fortune they don’t need, please mark my email address and make me your inheritor. Please, and thank you. J

My blog:

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Interview with Victorine Lieske

Victorine and her husband live in Nebraska where they manufacture rubber stamps for the craft industry. They own and operate Victorine Originals Rubber Stamps from their home, where they raise their four children. Victorine has a degree in Art from BYU Idaho, and designs many of the rubber stamps they sell. She has always loved to read, and in her spare time she writes.

When did you first decide to become a writer? What was that like?

Funny thing is, I never decided to become a writer. I wrote my novel to attain a goal I had set for myself. I have always loved to read. As a kid, I decided I wanted to write a novel, so I started writing and got about 10 notebook pages done before other things took my interest. As an adult, I found a renewed interest in this goal so I began another novel, but again I gave up after a few pages.

Then one day I was lifting my daughter from her car seat and my back seized up. I couldn't move. I decided that was the perfect time to try to finish a novel. So I typed on my laptop and finished the first draft of Not What She Seems in one week. Then after meeting that goal, I decided I would try to see if it was any good. I'm go glad I found some honest people. The book needed a lot of help. So I joined and submitted the novel through twice, and it has greatly improved.

Who were the writers who inspired you when you were younger?

I read anything I could get my hands on. I read Beverly Cleary, C.S. Lewis, George Orwell, Madeleine L'Engle, L.M. Montgomery, Edward Egar, and Ray Bradbury to name a few.

What kind of obstacles did you face when you first began writing? How did you overcome them?

The first obstacle I had to overcome was being afraid of criticism. I didn't want to hear anything bad about my work. But I soon overcame that through posting on The next biggest obstacle would be finding the time to write. I'm still working on that one.

What kind of obstacles did you face when you first published? How did you overcome those?

Obscurity. I believe that is every authors largest obstacle. I had to let people know about my book. The best way to do this, IMHO, is to get active on the social networks that Kindle owners hang out on. (Because I published on the Kindle first.) It does take a lot of time, but it's not "hard" selling either. It's just getting to know people, and once they do, they'll naturally want to know more about your book. And they'll also want to tell more people about it if they liked it.

What are you working on currently? Can we see a bit of it?

I'm currently finishing up a novel titled "The Overtaking." It's a romantic sci-fi, with paranormal aspects. I posted the first chapter up on my website, if anyone wants a sneek peek at it. Just click Books and there's a link on that page.

What advice do you have for aspiring novelists?

My best advice is to join a critique group. Whether it's online like or in your area where you meet face to face, your work is going to improve through the critique process.

Where do you see yourself ultimately taking your career?

For me, it's about sharing my book with readers. If I can post my stories by myself to the Kindle and Nook, and earn a living doing it, that will make me the happiest person in the world.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Just give it up kid!

I would like to write a little bit today about the value of quitting. Yes, I know that sounds odd. Quitters ar not very popular with the mainstream. Quitting is frowned upon as a fault and not a virtue. However, as a young writer I found a hidden value in quitting and I'll tell you why.

The writing process was very difficult for me. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. The "creative writing" classess I had taken were absolutely useless, the teachers had no idea how to teach creativity or even the fundamentals of the craft of writing. I was working a job I hated (7pm-7am driving a forklift, then going home to care for my son while my wife worked and getting at most 2 hours of sleep a day) all because I wanted time to dedicate to writing. You can imagine how frustrated I was. I understand how frustrated you might be in your efforts to write your novel. And, this is where quitting comes in.

I frequently gave up. I said, "I quit, I'm done, it's never going to happen." And then, one,two, three weeks down the line and I started up again. I could not quit. I had a deamon inside me that had to come out and would not leave me alone.

You see the nice thing about quitting occassionally is that it will prove to you who you truly are and what you are truly intended to be. If you quit your novel and never return, great. Not everyone was meant to be a novelist and there is no shame in that. It simply means that your life's path lies down a different road. But, if you tak up the pen again you know that you are doomed. There is no getting around it. THE NOVEL HAS CHOSEN YOU. IT IS YOUR MASTER AND YOU MUST OBEY.

And, so when that happens you must take up the pen and resolve yourself with the stoicism of a, hmm, let's see, with the stoicism of a Stoic to write and revise, write and revise, write and revise until what must be has come to pass.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Interview - Marva Dasef

Marva Dasef is a writer living in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and a fat white cat. Retired from thirty-five years in the software industry, she has now turned her energies to writing fiction and finds it a much more satisfying occupation. Marva has published more than forty stories in a number of on-line and print magazines, with her stories included in several Best of anthologies. She has six published books. See a complete list of her work at

Her most recent release is "The Tales of Abu Nuwas." She'll be giving away a free ebook to blog visitors who leave a comment.

Q: When did you first decide to become a writer? What was that like?

I decided to become a professional writer in college. I was actually forced into it by getting a student job at the Computer Science Department. The head asked if I'd write technical manuals for using the various computer equipment. In addition, the student programmers were working on an NSF (National Science Foundation) grant to develop user-friendly software. That was one big reason the department head wanted an English major. I ended up taking computer science courses along with my lit and writing courses. Voila! I received the first technical communication degree (I think anywhere) with an English major and Computer Science minor.

I scattered some fiction writing here and there over the intervening years until I retired from a programmer/analyst job and decided to write stories instead.

Q: Who were the writers who inspired you when you were younger?

Science Fiction writers like Heinlein, Clarke, Asimov, Niven, and many, many more. SF combined my interests in science and literature. How perfect is that?

Q: What kind of obstacles did you face when you first began writing? How did you overcome them?

Not really an obstacle, but I had to overcome my learned terseness as a tech writer. Description in tech documentation tends to be sparse. "The cursor is shown as a blinking underscore." Ahem. Boring, eh?

Q: How long and how many drafts does it usually take to finish a novel?

I don't count drafts. I have a first draft, then I revise, but rarely rewrite huge chunks of material. Mostly, I add that color writing I tend to skip when getting the plot down.

Q: What kind of obstacles did you face when you first published? How did you overcome those?

Naivete. I thought any publisher was a good publisher. I had to wait out two-year contracts to get my rights back on two books. When I did, I went with self-publishing since nobody wants a reprint.

Q: What are your thoughts on self publishing vs. the traditional route?

I learned to self-publish from necessity. In addition to the two books I wanted to re-issue, I had a book of related short stories based on my father's boyhood in West Texas during the Depression. Again, nobody wants a book of short stories. I did submit the individual stories to magazines and sold seven of them. That's when I decided to put all the stories together in a single book and came out with "Tales of a Texas Boy." This is still my best-selling book. It's funny and nostalgic, reminiscent of Huckleberry Finn in that it's written in first person as an eleven-year-old boy. With dialect.

Q: What are you working on currently? Can we see a bit of it?

I have gotten too far into my next book because I've got four books already at a publisher. I'll be very busy working with the editors, cover artist, trying to get my publicity act together. My most recent release is the re-issue of one of those books released from contract. I added a frame story a la 1001 Arabian Nights to pull together the seven adventures of a girl and her genie. It's "The Tales of Abu Nuwas." I'm giving away an ebook or two to people who comment on this blog. I've included an excerpt below.

The four upcoming books are:

Missing, Assumed Dead - a mystery/suspense set in Eastern Oregon scheduled for release in July.

The Witches of Galdorheim series: Bad Spelling, Midnight Oil, and Scotch Broom. This is a MG/YA fantasy set in the real world of the Arctic, Norway, Finland, Siberia, Scotland, and other places you can find in an atlas, and some only in my mind. If I working on anything, it's a fourth book in that series, but is still in rough outline form.

Q: What advice do you have for aspiring novelists?

Do your research at places like Absolute Write, but don't discount small, independent publishers. Very few will get an agent and a contract with a big New York publisher. Certainly, give that route a good shot first. That is the ideal situation, but if a year goes by without getting an agent, decide whether you want a trunk full of unpublished books or do you want to be published.

Ebooks have made it easier to get contracts with up and coming small publishers. They're hungry for good writing.

Q: Where do you see yourself ultimately taking your career?

I expect I have achieved the height of my career already. I've learned a lot about writing fiction. I have a terrific publisher. I think I'll just keep on with what I'm doing.

“The Tales of Abu Nuwas”
Available in ebook format through:
(Use coupon DR46W to buy for 99 cents)


Abu Nuwas sits in the bazaar telling stories to the passersby he can tempt to pay. When Najda, a poor girl, offers him a packet of spice for a story, Abu Nuwas launches into a tale about a girl named Setara and her genie. As did Scheherazade, he leaves the girl hanging in the middle of each yarn to keep her coming back for more. While relating the fantastical accounts, Abu Nuwas learns more of the spice girl's life, then finds a way to save her from a forced marriage and find a better life.


Setara slumped to the cave floor. What, she wondered, could these superstitious tribesmen think was a mountain demon? Cloistered she may be, but she was well educated and did not believe in demons. These were old men’s tales to frighten children. It made no difference, really. Dead was dead, whether by a demon’s talons or a mountain cat’s fangs.

She smacked her head against the rock wall and realized she had dozed off. How stupid of me. I’m waiting here for something to eat me and I take a nap! She edged toward the entrance, kicking herself mentally. Why hadn’t she simply tried to push the bushes aside and get out?

She found the answer in the inch-long thorns on the shrubs, tied down so she couldn’t move them. When she had pushed on them with her tied hands, she got a gash for her effort. Now, the mountain cats would smell blood, and it would be all over.

Backing away from the thorns, she pushed her body into the wall. At least she could face the lions when they came.

A loud crash, followed by a slither of loose gravel sounded no more than twenty feet from where she crouched. Setara pressed herself harder into the cave wall, closed her eyes tight and clenched her teeth.

Her eyes and mouth popped open simultaneously at what she heard next.

“Why can’t they clean up these blasted caves?” a deep voice rumbled.

Suddenly, a torch flared, and Setara could see the source of the voice. An eight-foot tall figure loomed in the light. A turbaned head nearly touched the now visible cave roof. Setara gaped at the man. Or was it a man? While his features were man-like, the three-inch fangs, sharp talons, and beastly snout belied his humanity. Dressed in the old style, with ballooning trousers tied at the ankles, a brocaded vest opened to reveal a broad, hairless chest.

The creature held up the torch, which Setara could now see was a flame jetting from his upraised index finger. The monster glanced around until his gaze rested on Setara.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Where does inspiration come from?

"An apple assed half appalosssa named Alice got booed 'cause she pooed in the back of the palace".

That is what one of my good friends, a musician, used to say in college.

His brother. also a muscician, used to say things like "Time to change my life, lay down some roots...makin' love in lizard skin boots".

Ah, college and the stupid things we used to say. But, these were the people who set the example for me to become a writer...musicians.

But, whether you are a musician or a writer, inspiration is a difficult thing. Where does it come from and, more importantly, how doe you harness it once it arrives?

Most of my drafts look something like this...

I wanted to give Magda the stars in the sky and over the next few weeks I continued searching for a present for her. Though I continued looking for something for Magda over the next few weeks, it was no use. I wanted to give her the stars in the sky. But, I could find nothing, no matter how expensive it might be, that symbolized my true feelings for her. And so Chjristmas came and went and though I gave her something, it was nothing meaningful. PORTRAY HIS LOVE FOR HER AND THE THINGS SHE DOES.

The 12 days of Christmas, the bright fires, the yule log, the giving of gifts, carnivals(parades) with floats, carolers who sing while going from house to house, the holiday feasts, and the church processions can all be traced back to the early Mesopotamians.

Many of these traditions began with the Mesopotamian celebration of New Years. The Mesopotamians believed in many gods, and as their chief god - Marduk. Each year as winter arrived it was believed that Marduk would do battle with the monsters of chaos. To assist Marduk in his struggle the Mesopotamians held a festival for the New Year. This was Zagmuk, the New Year's festival that lasted for 12 days.

The sun is the king of time. But, day after day the sun sank lower and lower in the sky like the nodding head of an afed king whose crown had grown too heavy. To the ancients, Magda said, the sun was the one true God himself, the merciful source of all life, of all our blessings and everything we hold dear. So, it was cause for great concern when the radiance of the almighty grew weaker and the night grew longer and longer as if they would soon be swallowed by the universe itself.

...literary detritus, driftwood that has washed up on the shores of my mind. It means something, I just don't know what and it's my job, our job as writers, to translate these impulses and images that arise from the subconscious into something palateble for the masses.

Even though I am a novelist, I have always had an easier time writing poetry. It might take me 25 drafts to figure out what to do with all the disparate images that accumulate on the sea shore of my mind but, after reading Alan Ginsburg's Howl just once I said to myself "I can do that" and, in 15 minutes wrote.

The King is Dead!
And right and left, left and right,
upon two ragged and separating shoes,
the news is carried through the dying light.
The king is dead! The king is dead!
The word is muttered. It is said.
The word is heard but, like a ball
thrown into the wallless void beyond,
there is no customary response and call
proclaiming the sovereignty of the son.

With the click and the kick of Anarchy's gun
the lid slams shut upon the eye
and sends the regal orb a'rolling
down the pyramid's widening walls.
As in a pinball slot, or a ball gone bowling,
it wends its way upon a splitting fissure until finally it
into the void
scattering pins and people in the sunken sun.

And I ponder now the point of a pyramid
who's very reason for being is pointless.

A multitude of headless chickens react and race,
like contracting atoms,
about the yard to cluck and call.
"The sky is falling! The sky is falling!"
No, not really.
But the universe, it is true,
at least as far as I can tell,
is shrinking,
and no longer extends beyond the finite boundaries
of a mess of mortal organs
wrapped in human skin.

The king is dead and we are
like atoms,
by a trickster god.
You and I become me and you.
And hark!
Who goes there in the night?
One is black and one is white...
but only in the other's eyes.

And who is wrong  and who is right?

Who can judge now that our ruler's lost
and Juliet would be a son
and not a daughter?
We've tossed the truth out with the water
and got each other's reasons crossed,
like the hairy legs of a woman
trapped inside the body of a man.

The king is dead!

The word filters through our window
from the senseless central boulevard.
The word is spoken.
It is barked and bleated 'round our table
as our father's words are now taken as a token
to spend on candy and cheap diversions
before each and every frustrated one of us
separates for bed.

Dissenting thoughts now fill the heads of man and wife.
We chant our mantras beneath closed coffin lids
before each of us, coming to his and her own conclusion,
rolls away from the empty center of the marriage bed,
and satisfied,
we turn out the light.
And continue rolling,
and continue rolling,
and roll away into the expanding night...

Great, yet another piece of driftwood that I have to figure out how to fit into a novel.

I worked for years, hammering these things into a home, something presentable that I could show another reader. And, it literally took years before I had a draft that would make even the slightest bit of sense to someone other than me and the two or three other people who seemed to have taken up residence in my head in the time since I had begun writing. Know the feeling?

But, here is the thing. Human beings are physical manifestations of the universal mind, that great collective unconscious that we swim in when we dream. Most people don't realize this or, if they do, they don't care. Inspiration is all around us, we can't help but step in it like cow pies in a farmer's field. As artists, writers, musicians, whatever we have asssumed the task of taking this wift of wind called inspiration and crafting something that the rest of our species can understand. We are the translators of dreams. And our task is to determine what has meaning and what doesn't. That is why the poem above eventually made it into The Vagabond King...but so did the apples assed half appalossa named Alice.