A New Life in Seattle

A New Life in Seattle
August, 2018

Sunday, May 12, 2019

I've Enrolled in Russell Blake's Academy for AAAs

I heard the school bells ringing after seven years as a struggling e-book writer--and thirty years after my award-winning hardcover first novel. With fourteen books beneath my belt, the bold thought occurred to me that I shouldn't need to work in a grocery store to pay the rent.

Now, it wasn't as if I'd never asked myself this tough question before. I'd tried different types of books, built up a small readership, experimented different cover artists, learned the imperative of the ground running for all sample readers. My last book received a record, for me, 54 reviews--all 4 and 5 stars. As the first book in a new series, I felt encouraged. I'd stumbled onto something that floated readers' boats. And yet I remained in a grocery store, worried that I'd still be there in another seven years.

Let us segue to a happier note, one sounded out by a king: Russell Blake.

A USA Today bestselling author, Blake has written a half-hundred novels, in almost every genre. Unknown to Russell, on his blog he succeeded in founding a school:

                Russell Blake's Academy for Ailing Amazon Authors 

I believe I'm the first of his students. Or I'm the first, at least, to tackle his curriculum systematically and with a vengeance. (I'll provide the links below for your own tuition-free enrollment.)

A stern but compassionate teacher, RB starts with a checklist for his students. When there are no clicks--or when there are clicks that fail to convert into sales--we need to make way through the checklist:
Proper formatting
An interesting, unusual story
Riveting opening pages

I'd reached a point in my journey where I knew I scored A's on a number of fronts. On the new book, for example, I'd deleted the first 20 pages wherein I'd been clearing my throat--and came on now as if on stage, belting the tune at full force.  I'd used Grammarly Premium to purge the book of typos and punctuation pratfalls. Then I'd solicited feedback from two writers I respect: Brad Strickland and David North-Martino. And J.T. Lindroos' new covers were getting rave reviews.

Okay, okay. That's well and good. But I'm still in a grocery store so I'd better pay better attention to Blake. Where do I still have on a dunce cap?

Reading, and rereading Blake's posts, I settled on three weak spots I needed to address: product blurb, Amazon campaigns, professional ad agency assistance. Since I can't tackle all three at once, I decided to start with the first.
The blurb--or elevator pitch--is where, I hate to say:

Some pitch as naturally as others breathe. But Professor Blake enabled me to face my pitching suckiness and vow: "I'll pay someone to beat you!"

Today I followed Blake's lead and engaged the services of 

That's it for now. I'll keep you posted on the blurb results if there's any interest. 

Here are the links to my first three courses at Blake's Academy for AAAs:

Saturday, May 4, 2019

A Writer's Notebook: Blue Plastic

Let's try something different here: a completely random and spontaneous collection of thoughts about writing and the writer's life. In no particular order today...

Few of those who know us personally can believe that we might have real talent or maybe something greater still. Almost everyone thinks about writing a book--and what a beauty it will be! But they never get around to it for a few hundred reasons. The writers they love are all strangers, blessed not with more talent but more money and time and connections. They're not marred by our own flaws or plagued by our personal demons. So it's possible to admire their work and find within it an excuse for procrastinating or giving up completely.


Never judge a book by its cover? Puh-leeeeeze! We don't have much choice these days with a million-odd books coming out every year. The covers are a wilderness of signs coming at us at dizzying speed. Recently, a stranger sent me two of her self-published books as a prize for a contest I'd thoughtlessly entered. To this day I haven't read them. I gave one of the two a five-page look and the pages weren't bad. But I couldn't get past the two bland boilerplate front covers or the amateurish copy on the back. The covers discouraged me from reading on, and made me doubt the author's commitment to her craft or her ability to deliver the goods.

From Russell Blake, I learned the importance of redoing covers, if necessary, until we get them right. I tried doing my own when I started publishing online. Since then, I've redone all of them, sometimes more than once. Yes, it costs money, but the dough is well spent. After all, readers deserve our best and we're being judged at a glance.


We're told to steer clear of wordplay or verbal pyrotechnics, a word we also shouldn't use cuz some might have to look it up. The stated theory is this: nothing should distract the reader's attention from the story itself. I say the 'stated theory' because I have my own theory: that those who hold this are quick to condemn what they lack. And what's that? Not a sense of humor, certainly. I mean a mental quickness, the power to perceive and to pounce on connections that many others miss.

Come on, really. After all, one of the greatest literary thrillers dared to rope us in with this:L

'Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta.'


Moving on now. We all know the importance of proofing our work carefully. No, more than carefully: obsessively! And so we try harder...and harder...proofing 5, 6, 7 times! Still, time and again, more of the damned little beasties slipped through: a missing or a double period, a typo, a computer glitch, etc. Even the most tolerant readers will come to regard these as sand in their eyes, each grain a further betrayal of trust.

In my continuing education, I tried two experiments. And here is my report:
1) The free version of Grammarly will do wonders for your essential proofing, from typos to spellos to word wrongos to missing Oxford commas.
2) But Grammarly Premium is the one to get, even if you have an editor. GP will reduce your real editor's work, thereby reducing your cost. It will point out if a word or phrase is tired. If a word should be missing, and thus not picked up by Spellcheck, it will question the sense of the sentence. It will offer alternatives to a word that doesn't seem quite on the button.

That said, when the manuscript has been put through GP,  I've learned the imperative of having beta readers who are familiar with my work. Nothing is better than that kind of beta for catching inconsistencies within a series of books or for pointing out back story needed--and back story that can be shortened or scrapped.


One final point, for now, on rewriting. This new book has taught me that it's only in part about cutting. My final draft is always about half the original length. But in my quest for pith, I learned, now and then I scrapped things that readers had to know: a character's reaction, for instance, or a telling detail.

Here's just one example.

In the book, Starr is 'working' the town bouncer in a bar. She lies in claiming that her husband often can't perform at night. The bouncer commiserates. He knows what she means, he says, though his definition of ED couldn't be more wrong. In the original text, Starr says only, "That's it."

Readers, I'd thought, would see a droll, superior look in Starrs's eyes. But, in fact, they were just as likely to think Starr didn't know any better.

I added instead of subtracting:
Starr cries as if enlightened, "Right! I should've guessed it's got a name!"

Not perfect, no, but clearer.


Well, that's it for today. If the interest is there, we'll come back to this notebook again. Then I'll tell you how the receipt of a blue plastic item dovetailed with my research for the next book and kickstarted the outline. It's an explosive illustration of synchronicity in writing.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Know When Not to Take No for an Answer

There are certain things that no one should get used to. I gave up on smiling years ago when a certain procedure went wrong. It went wrong because I'd pinched pennies. My reward was a reverse, or negative, smile that frustrated and shamed me. 

Reverse and positive smiles look like these:

My speech had also become somewhat impaired. Over and over again, people asked me to repeat what I'd just said. And they seemed to be trying to read the lips I was using to cover my teeth.

Enough for the dental specifics. What counts for me, and what should interest you, is how easy it can be to get used to the worst situations. In a short while, we can learn to tell ourselves No more loudly and more often: No, I can't afford to fix this..No, it's too late...No, it's all my fault...No, No, No, No!

I'm here today, though, to talk about Yes. Five months ago, I was given a chance, if I had the nerve and the discipline to take it: my work insurance plan would cover half the cost involved in getting a positive, natural smile. To raise the balance, I saved like a son of a bitch. Then, in January, we began.

Today, three months later, I did a photo shoot with Edd Cox, a brilliant local artist. If it's possible to have a celebration party with a camera, that is what we did. I wanted to commemorate this dramatic step forward to Yes.

At the same time, I want to reinforce the sense of this Yes as a springboard to freedom. Where else have I surrendered to a lily-hearted No when a lion's roar was needed?

I'll share some of the photo results in my next blog entry.

Sunday, April 14, 2019


Instead of a post this week, I need to run a test. Somehow or other, I ended up changing my user ID or password elsewhere, and it's ended up changing things on Blogger. Now my default setting is under my main email rather than the account I used when setting up my blog.

As a result of that--which I can live with--the blogs show no traffic since March 31, though by this time I'd usually have hundreds of visits or hits.

So I'm posting this on Facebook and Twitter to see if any hits are recorded or if any suggestions come in.

Monday, April 1, 2019

Let the Lion Roar Some More

Of a sudden, I felt a lion's roar within.

The manuscript for my new book has gone off to five readers. I've run a third of the text through Grammarly, an editorial app, and should have an error-free copy in a few more weeks. I felt good. But then the lion roared and I began to grow hungry for more.

Now that I knew I was on schedule, not late, I sought to emulate my writing schedule of last year, taking notes and outlining for the next couple of months and then starting to write sometime in June. The first thing I needed: a hardback Moleskine-style notebook, the very sort I used last year.

I placed a rush order today, wanting--needing--to put on more speed.

Good, good, very good. And yet the lion roared again. How about the new job search I'd been thinking of for months? I'd acquired a certificate from an online course in medical terminology. Okay, while I finetune and buff my resume, why not take a second course in HIPAA (records privacy)? At two lessons a week, I can earn a second certificate in six weeks. Goal: a better job with a better schedule and more bucks for travel and promotion of my books.

One more roar now, lion, please: bring on the smile power now. A certain procedure that's gone on for months should be a wrap within three-four weeks. Keep your fingers crossed for me.

Coming your way soon:

No, wait. That's the great Owen Laukkanen's killer smile!

Let's all roar, once more, for mine by the end of April.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Surprise Yourself With a Staycation

I never thought I'd say these words in such a happy tone:

This sure wasn't what I'd planned. For almost half a year I'd planned on a new cross-country train trip with my arriving Sunday in a town I'd never seen. But for a number of reasons that wasn't meant to be. Not yet.

So, here I was with my time off work request approved...but not the bucks to travel.

I might have canceled the time off from work. But I decided to keep the five days (including my regular weekend). I could get ahead of schedule on my work in progress and see a few things in the city I've never had the time for.

In the first three of five days off, I've logged in three marathon writing sessions and tackled some narrative issues I hadn't known how to fix. I've slept in shamelessly until 7 a.m. each morning. I've taken long walks, exploring my new neighborhood. (Capitol Hill turns out to be much closer than I'd thought: no need at all to take a bus when I can walk there in only ten minutes.) Nights belong to Netflix or Amazon Prime and a little research reading.

Just halfway through my staycation, I feel more rested, recharged and refreshed than I have from a lifetime of travels at home and abroad. There was nothing that special about it. Lord Byron would not have approved.

Not would Hemingway:

Or Jack London:

Oh, I've had my own past adventures and I look forward to more still to come. And some may match, but none will surpass, the quiet joys of an unrushed staycation...and bringing a challenging new book to life.

Tomorrow, as a special treat, I'll take a cross-city trip to an independent bookstore said to be Seattle's best: Third Place Books/Ravenna.

So, remember, if you're in between jaunts to Cairo, Rome, or Katmandu...or if you simply need a break from wrestling alligators or hunting wild boar with a pencil, no gun...consider the alternative.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Something Big is Going Down

A day that might have been like any other day ain't so.

This day's been a long time bornin'. Four days from now, it will arrive with minimal fanfare but high hopes. After all, I dreamed of it for longer than I can remember and I worked like a bastard to bring it about.

But you all know all about that, in terms of your own lives. You've had your share of days like this, when you were on the cusp, at last, of a brand-new amazing adventure, the publication of a book, the start of a thrilling new job, the move to a new city. So you know how diabolically difficult it is to live fully in the present while you're counting down the days. And, of course, it's no less difficult to keep your head on straight: nothing will change completely overnight...no new city will be perfect...

Then again, a little realism can go a long, long way toward making sure our dreams will fail. 

You go, Bertrand Russell!

And you go too, Will Smith!

While March 14 approaches in its own loose, ambling stride, I march through the receding timeline that precedes it. I work daily on my new book and take care of the business at hand. I prepare to start actively seeking a new job. I do all the little things that add up to my life today, but with a little more pizzazz. I go for the gusto now.

So, okay then. March 14 is coming. And--yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah--not everything will be perfect. I fact, one or two things in my life may still suck. But I'm okay with that because I believe in March 14. And I'm telling you, it will be

And I can say that truthfully because I'll make it so.