Southern Scotch

Southern Scotch
After the Fall 2016

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

My Outrageously Sexy and Action-Packed Life

People often envy the thrilling life I lead. And I've learned to speak humbly about it.

The many fantabulous mountains I've climbed.

My bloody bouts of MMA.

My passion for riding the rails.

And, God help me, the insanely beautiful women I'm always making love to.

So, even on an average week I'm strapped for time to post here. But for the past two weeks my kicks have been curtailed by the sort of adventures I hate to describe.

I'm ashamed to admit that I've been holed up for the best couple of weeks--and not brawling or bedding or riding the rails or wrestling alligators. Holed up, I say! Like a lowdown lonesome scribe!

And what does that entail, if not yet another party at the Playboy mansion?

God forgive me:
--I've been proofing The Alcatraz Correction for Hold Fast Press to convert into Createspace format.  The second Boss MacTavin mystery will soon be available in paperback.
--I'm completing the outline for the fifth MacTavin mystery--one that takes the franchise in a brand-new direction.
--I'm also working 40 hours a week while looking for a new job before the present one moves out of town.

That's it, you ask? I know, I know. But trust me. I'll return to form soon, I promise. And once again I'll live the life led by all self-respecting Real Writers.

Reb MacRath, Action Hero.

This is my report.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Perception: Gaming the Odds


Here's a job search challenge you'll face one day, if you haven't faced it already.

Imagine that you're preconceived as being somewhat dated. Why? Let's say your last experience in the field that you hope to re-enter was fifteen years ago. And let's also say you've had several jobs since then.

With a chronological resume, your job skills might not even be seen.

40 years of reading resumes has taught me that most of them get less than a minute of review. The creative ones, the ones that yell out "Hey, look at me." are the ones who get more notice.
--John Jurkiewicz

You may try to better the odds, starting with your strong suit (way back when)--then flashing forward, as it were, to your present job and working back. But the jumpy timeline's as likely to leave employers dizzy as it is to work.

What to do?

And Double-Whoa what do you do if the company you're approaching has its own app form, requiring a chronological approach?

The MacRath Solution:

I decided to honor the company's requirements--while at the same time designing and ordering a simple but catchy attachment. And that attachment, I believe, will get me an interview: a 4x5 card on premium stock, giving the names of two bookstores I worked at for ten years. I provide my contact info and state 'Any hours/days, including holidays'. (That's a big issue in retail.)

Finally, on the back of the card, I added a little something extra that should further whet their appetites...and inspire them to see me as the brightest light.

Stay tuned for the results. I'll receive the attachment cards by 4/7 and hope to complete the application next weekend.

Come on, Lady Luck, goose Reb MacRath!

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Courage in the Little Things

We all want to be action heroes. And when the time and place are right we even plan to try. Some will be this way:

And some will be thus:

I've had moments of my own: 25 years of martial arts until my body gave beneath the weight of accidents and breaks...a half-dozen cross-country moves, including the latest to Seattle at an age when most men are winding down...the discipline and spiritual stuff to keep on keeping on after my publishing luck headed south...

But I've come to a curious crossroads. On August 21 my office will move to Renton, Washington...a daily round-trip commute of three hours, The new environment, an office park, will be sterile in comparison and corporate to the letter. There are no cafes nearby, where I might write before or after work. So I would in effect become a weekend writer, after having grown accustomed to writing a couple of hours daily before work, then another hour after.

Then again, I've grown accustomed to the security of benefits. Plus weekends and holidays off have been nice.

I called the crossroads 'curious' because dilemmas of this sort don't call for this sort of courage:

But there's no lack of courage in finding the guts and wherewithal to get out of the way of disaster.

Getting out of the way in this instance requires shifting my focus from the benefits I'll lose to the stark reality of a three-hour daily commute to an office park.

Wanted: a better position in town without long loss of benefits or writing time.

Required: superior planning, timing and execution of the search. And this can't be an occasional thing. It must be relentless and also all-encompassing--from an updated resume to every aspect of my professional image.

Writing strategy: protect the new book at all costs. Complete first draft by mid to late July.

A relentless, daily siege respecting even the tiniest things. Or as Vincent put it:

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Rain City Blues

It hasn't rained this much in Seattle, they say, since 1961. And I'm of two minds about that. It's a tough choice at the moment between:

Jerry Seinfield
“Seattle is a moisturizing pad disguised as a city.”


Tom Robbins
“In the deepest, darkest heart of winter, when the sky resembles bad banana baby food for months on end, and the witch measles that meteorologists call ‘drizzle’ are a chronic gray rash on the skin of the land, folks all around me sink into a dismal funk. Many are depressed, a few actually suicidal. But I, I grow happier with each fresh storm, each thickening of the crinkly stratocumulus. ‘What’s so hot about the sun?’ I ask. Sunbeams are a lot like tourists: intruding where they don’t belong, little cameras slung around their necks. Raindrops, on the other hand, introverted, feral, buddhistically cool, behave as if they live here. Which, of course, they do.”

It should feel more like spring now. Why?

--I've completed and published my new Boss MacTavin mystery, Seattle Red.
--On Wednesday, March 22, I'll be interviewed by Pam Stack on her live podcase, Authors on the Air.
--I've nearly finished laying the foundation for my next novel.
--I've joined a great local, affordable gym a few blocks from my apartment.
--Hold Fast Press has just issued a beautiful print version of Southern Scotch.
--Print plans are in the works for the three remaining Boss MacTavin mysteries.

And yet...

My brain's swimming in rainy day thoughts.
--I should have accomplished more at my age.
--Thinking of time, I feel a growing sense of urgency.
--Within six months, my workplace will move to distant Renton, requiring a far greater round-trip commute.
--The new job site is an isolated office park sending out smothering corporate vibes.
--Goodbye to the gym if I go there and goodbye to the writing time before or after work.
--Goodbye to my benefits, though, if I go and return to temp work.

Yeah, yeah. Boo-hoo, boo-hoo. When it rains, it pours, Reb. But why don't you also remember:

And Caesar wept, recalling that Alexander had ruled the earth before he died at 33.

So even the greatest had rainy day blues. And the blues may hold keys for an excellent spring.

--I can accomplish more if I find a new job in the city, either part time or an easy commute.
--I can reap more from my efforts if I can set up a schedule allowing time for both writing and savvy promotion..
--The sense of urgency is long as it includes more attention to personal relationships.
--And where it belongs, near the top of the list, the time's come around again for:

Years have passed since Juliette died. It's time again for a kitten--for which I'll need a lot more time.
So you see how it all comes together: from rainy day thoughts of elusive loneliness and the need for more time...

Yes, I see a spring kitten I'd better get cracking again on my work.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

It's Bi-Way or the Highway When It Comes to Books

A lot of writers out there prefer the other expression:

And, let's be honest, so do a lot of readers.

A My Way writer expects crowds to follow wherever his book wants to go--screw any and all expectations or rules. So readers run into undisciplined books filled with boring or madcap digressions...promising scenes that peter out or veer off in other directions...characters that disappear or are completely inconsistent...Or the novels seem unending--hundreds of thousands, even millions, of words. Literary circuses of font colors and typographical stunts.

A My Way reader wants a book that resembles other books written the way s/he feels books should be done. I met a lot of My Way readers in the ten years I worked in two book stores. In the Mystery section, some readers were ultra-specific. They wanted books by either male or female authors only: Sue Grafton, Jonathan Kellerman, Sarah Paretsky, Robert Crais. Or they wanted mysteries set in particular cities with male or female heroes who work in their own professions: banking, advertising, etc. Furthermore, they wanted books written in the Right Style: cozy or hardboiled, slowburning or quick, character or plot-based.

This isn't meant to ridicule either My Way writers or readers. Still, the extreme My Way writer resembles a delusional online game tyrant. In the 80's, when Horror was huge, a few of the bigger names liked to proclaim: Screw your agent and/or your publisher if they give you any grief--write whatever you want and then move along if you have to. Some writers took it to the next level: screw the reader too--our job's to write, their job's to read. There's no read to wonder where such writers are today...or their books. The real world, including the real reading world, simply doesn't work that way,

But don't stop there. The extreme My Way reader resembles a porn aficionado.

Extreme My Way readers can't get into a novel that fails to meet all their specifics--from the hero's height to where s/he works to the style of the prose. A repeat experience is the supreme goal...just as it is with adult films. Take your pick from endless lists: black, white, Asian...oral or anal,..soft or garish lighting...splashy or unsplashy...

Getting back, though, to writing and reading: Bi-Way or the Highway offers more elegant kicks and rewards.

A Bi-Way writer finds freedom in following--and occasionally breaking--the conventions of his/her art. When s/he breaks the rules, it's with the reader in mind, a shock-enhanced experience. Whether s/he writes plainly or likes to ride the purple page, again it's with thoughts of the reader's delight. 

A Bi-Way reader seeks a fresh, not a repeat, experience. This reader has a comfort zone that s/he likes to indulge. There are types of rides that s/he likes best. But s/he is always open to something totally long as it's done well. The style may be plainer or packed with more word play, more thoughtful or thought-free than his/her usual fare. S/he doesn't mind. S/he only cares that the writer does ask with his/her pleasure in mind:

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Re-Reading: Those Beautiful Big Dipper Books

Recently I asked on Facebook if other readers had books they'd returned to over and over again. I'd been thinking, in fact, of nonfiction: especially books so dense in wisdom that a single reading is nowhere near enough. Our understanding of some books is too 'heady' and not in the blood or the bone. So we reread certain books to come a little closer to 'getting' what they teach, instead of a 'Yeah, okay' reaction. Or, another way of putting that:

My FB post attracted some interesting responses: from John Molloy's New Dress for Success to Napoleon Hill's Think and Grow Rich, from a martial arts combat manual to a writing guide. Two readers voted for one book I know I've got to read: The Power of Now by Eckhart. With one exception we all agreed that some books be reading more than once...and some books can be revisited again and again through our lives.

But the one exception stunned me: This reader claimed that in his adult he has never re-read a book. He gets what he needs from a book, then moves on...and can recall influential passages from books he read fifteen years ago. The key phrases there would be getting all he needs from a book--and recalling influential passages.

Could anyone who's read The Prince, The Art of War or The Book of Five Rings--all tiny books on strategy--claim to really 'get them', in the most meaningful way, after just one reading? Limiting our sights to nonfiction, surely there's a huge difference between understanding something intellectually and having mastered the subject. I could write a detailed review or essay on Napoleon Hill's Think and Grow Rich. Yet, after all these years, I still have miles to go toward mastery of its lessons.

I have a handful of life study books--and I find that when I return to them I bring something new to the table each time....and walk off with something new.

Expanding our sights now to fiction as well:

You know when you hear a piece of music once, you haven’t heard it properly, you want to hear it again. A well-made book will reward you in exactly the same way as music does, in that you will understand and love a piece. You’ll feel the cadence and depth of it and hear things in it all the time. If you pay it a little more attention, it will reward you, like all art. Like everything, actually.
--Ali Smith

A classic is a book which with each rereading offers as much of a sense of discovery as the first reading.
--Italo Calvino

Thou shalt not let a day pass without rereading something great.
--Stephen Vizinczey

Sunday, January 29, 2017

On Art as a Confidence Game

Today I sent the fourth Boss MacTavin mystery off for formatting. And I plan to launch it around March 1, to prepare for a radio interview scheduled for March 22. At the same, Hold Fast Press is preparing the first print edition of Southern Scotch...then The Alcatraz Correction...and on.

So, all in all, it would be natural for you to think that I'm dancing on Cloud 9.

Actually, though, I'm of two minds. Yes, I'm on that groovy cloud--and I'm also here:

All the old anxieties surface again as I prepare to begin the next book. Which of the several ideas in my head shall I go with this time? Is my mojo still in order? Do I have the energy for another grueling siege directly after the last one?

As always, the process begins with what I call a war book.

For weeks, or months, I'll fill my war book with assorted Q&A's about setting, themes, possible plot lines, characters, etc. In this particular instance, I'm considering a sort of spinoff on the MacTavin series--with one of his partners setting up a branch in Seattle, dealing with insurance scams and retail theft (the plot line in the last book).

Setting these occasional spinoffs in Seattle will spare me the need for location research. And finding a simpler style for the different narrator will allow me to write these more quickly. I hope.

The main thing is, it's question time. And there's stress but no failure at this point--except failing to ask enough questions. If the old process holds true, my confidence will begin to rise again.

One day like any other day I'll start to fiddle with opening lines, one of which seems right to me. And I'll soon feel an intolerable itch that compels me to start writing. Once I've started, there'll be no stopping, though I well know the murderous struggle ahead through draft after draft after draft.

No complaints. I love it all. The part of it, though, that's a confidence game is always a struggle for me. That said, let it begin again.

Yeah, let it begin today!