Southern Scotch

Southern Scotch
After the Fall 2016

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Down and Dirty: The Ultimate Round Table Joust: 1

                                                            Dedicated to: Pam Stack

Four knights. One theme, of interest to writers and readers alike: the pros and cons of ebook and traditional publishing. The four knights, in alphabetical order:

Claude Bouchard
CB officially leaped into the writing world in 2009 and his Vigilante Series now boasts a dozen installments with more to come. In addition, he has penned Nasty in Nice, as part of the JET Kindle World, and ASYLUM, a standalone novel .

Leverett Butts
The author of Emily's Stitches: The Confessions of Thomas Calloway and Other Stories, and of Guns of the Waste Land, a series of novellas retelling the King Arthur legends as an American Western.  He lives in Temple, Georgia, with his wife and son.

Bill Kirton
Ex actor, director, voice-over artist, playwright, teacher, university lecturer. Now wood carver and writer of crime, historical, romance, satire, humour, non-fiction books for students. Also a gardener and lover of sport, sailing, good food and better wines.

David North-Martino
The author of Wolves of Vengeance and an ardent martial artist. His short stories have appeared in numerous fiction venues including: Epitaphs: The Journal of the New England Horror Writers, Wicked Tales: TJOTNEHW Vol.2 and Dark Recesses Press. 


1) Let's begin at the beginning: When did you first know you really were a writer, regardless of whether you'd published?

A bit of history to start. I wrote Vigilante in 1995, simply because I had a story I needed to get out of my head. Two sequels followed in 1996-97 and, although I did a bit of agent querying, it was more for fun than anything else. When I pulled out my dormant manuscripts in 2009, revised and published them and began writing the fourth installment of my series, I knew I was a writer.

I knew I wanted to be a writer as soon as I could read. I would read a book that I loved and then be depressed that there wasn’t more, so I started writing my own sequels, the the kids call fanfiction today. It was never very good, but it was what started me on my path to writing my own stories.

I’ve written since I was very young. But, in my twenties, I’d been sending radio plays to the BBC for a year or so; none had been accepted but they’d made nice remarks about them. Then a BBC producer mentioned to the late Tony Church, actor and director of the then new Northcott Theatre that I wrote drama. Tony invited me to look around the building and, whenever we met one of his crew, he said, ‘This is Bill Kirton. He’s a writer’. In my mind that validated it. I was a writer because someone else said I was.

Back in 8th grade I wrote a short story and read it to my class. Everyone, including the teacher, really liked it. After that, I was referred to as “the writer.” Before that I had wanted to be a comic book illustrator, and was always envious of the student in my school who was thought of as “the artist.”''

2) Traditionally published authors, as well as many readers, regard ebook writers as failures. Yet it's said that over 95% of traditionally published books are commercial failures. What are your thoughts on writing success and failure? Would you be happier if you'd sold 80,000 ebooks, Amazon bestsellers, or if you'd published a wonderfully reviewed hardcover book that sold 100 copies?

To clarify your wording, I’ll assume ‘ebook writers’ actually means self-published writers. What also needs to be determined is the unit used to measure a writer’s success or failure. Any writer who manages to hold the interest of an audience with his or her work is successful. If the number of trad deals or units sold or dollars earned are deemed to be the measuring stick by some, good for them. I’ve been paying my bills so, good for me.

If you measure the success or failure of writing based only on sales, you are dooming your self to be sorely disappointed. The fact is most writers do not get traditionally published, and most of those who do don’t get published by the major houses. If your book is self-published or published by a smaller, independent press, you simply will not make the number of sales that others by larger houses achieve.

It’s nice if you can be a best-seller, but I think a more effective measure of a work’s success is the feedback you get from other readers either in person or in the form of reviews. This feedback can tell you where you need to improve your writing and what is working well. Sales really only affect your pocketbook; they don’t tell you why your writing is selling well or poorly.

You’ve got two different sorts of ‘failure’ there. The first is a value judgement, equates to ‘loser’, and therefore has limited validity. The second is more legitimate since it’s based on the facts of balance sheets. Okay, the quality filters on ebooks are non-existent, but equally, there are many beautiful books which traditional publishers have missed. It would be nice if quality automatically brought tangible profits but |I’m a realist.

The ability to complete a novel, to finish what you start, to me, is a success unto itself. Traditionally published authors, who are fortunate enough to be working writers, are heavily invested in legacy publishing. Some of them hold their noses at indie writers, but writers who do work-for-hire get the same treatment, and literary writers and academia look down at genre and popular fiction writers. The readers are the only ones who count.

3) 'Ten years to mastery', they say, in any craft or profession. After that, many writers spend years hunting for agent, shopping for a sale, then waiting for publication. Is the immediacy of ebook publishing a major draw for you?

Once again, I assume ‘ebook publishing’ means self-publishing. The immediacy is certainly an advantage in that, once I have a work which is ready for the public, it is made available (in both digital and print formats) without delay. I much prefer having a book out there and selling than sitting and waiting for eventual publishing, maybe…

It is. This past summer my two volumes of Guns of the Waste Land were picked up by Venture Press, a British publishing house that only does ebooks, to be published in a single, electronic volume. I was surprised how quickly their turnaround was when they were able to get the book on the shelves in weeks instead of months. Self-publishing paper backs also has a quick turnaround, though, which can be a draw when trying to decide if to seek an agent and traditionally publish or not. For myself, I self-published my first book, a collection of short stories titled Emily’s Stitches: The Confessions of Thomas Calloway and Other Stories, and the first volume of Guns of the Waste Land, in order to test the waters and prove that the books could sell. I believe this helped Venture decide to take me on.

Yes. I’ve been published traditionally by publishers in the UK and USA but the process takes so long that I’m glad I can now get my books to readers in weeks rather than months or years. The drawback, of course, is that I have to be skilled in promotion and marketing, and I’m not. I haven’t yet tried any of these companies that claim to specialise in promoting authors, but that may be my next step.

It’s been ten years since I made my first short story sale. I’m sure I haven’t mastered the craft yet, but I hope that I’m at least on the cusp of writing at a professional level. I’ve been able to sell short fiction consistently to the small press, and have had interest from professional magazines. I do think the immediacy of ebook publishing, of publishing what I want, and when, was a major draw for me when I put out my first short novel.

4) Let's be contrary. The grating debate goes on and on: print publishing OR ebooking? But what if we replaced that one word OR with AND? We may never convert rabid anti-ebook readers. How do you feel, though about offering print versions of your work to offer readers more options--and to better your chances of getting reviews?

All my books are available in both print AND ebook with the exception of box sets and one title in Russell Blake’s JET Kindle World. Though ebooks make up the bulk of my sales, making the books available in print via POD is certainly worth the minimal effort in order to satisfy those who insist on a paper copy.

I like offering both. As a reader, I will always prefer the feel and smell of a hardcopy book in my hands, but I also find the convenience of carrying multiple books on a single device to be very useful, especially when I am reading multiple texts simultaneously. While we are on the subject of altering versions, I am even considering using CreateSpace to do audio versions of my books. This will make it convenient for those with long commutes, or who do a lot of running, or whatever, to listen to a book. I feel like the more formats a book can be put in, the better.

I’ll take your word for it that producing a print book increases the chances of getting reviewed. I still do enjoy (maybe even prefer) the whole familiar tactile experience of turning pages, feeling the weight of the object, the number of pages growing in one hand and decreasing in the other as you read, but I also appreciate the convenience of carrying a whole library in a small tablet. Both forms have their fans (as do audio versions), so yes, let’s keep books coming, however they’re delivered.

I think having print versions of our work is essential. It certainly allows us more options when it comes to reviews. Most reviewers, whether on Goodreads or elsewhere, want something besides an ebook for their troubles, and it gives them more incentive to write a review. There are also opportunities to do signings with print books. I belong to a local writers association that hits every major convention. Having a print version of my novel would allow me the opportunity to get out and sell at those venues. Local libraries and independent books stores might also be willing to carry books from local indie writers.

5) Is reader resistance any less toward indie-published print books than toward ebooks? If not, how do you overcome resistance?        

In the vast majority of cases,  print versus digital format has no bearing on reader resistance toward indie authors. Most print versions of indie works are available online only, not in brick and mortar stores across the planet. That said, readers are generally not faced with shelves filled with indie and trad print works and therefore resistance toward indie works in that context simply doesn’t exist.

I think the resistance comes from the “indie-published” descriptor than from any format. I feel that the best way to overcome that resistance is good word-of-mouth. Now if we could just figure out the magic formula for getting readers to review our books on Amazon once they’ve read them…

Is it really strong enough to be called ‘resistance’? Readers like books. If paper versions were banned, they’d still read them on their tablets, and vice versa. I see one difference, though. If a book turns out to be crap, you’re less likely to throw your tablet against the wall, whereas paperbacks…

Readers typically can’t differentiate between traditionally and indie published books, as long as said books look professional and include both ebook and print formats. Ebook only screams indie, and I do feel that many readers believe that indie books aren't up to professional standards.

The best ways to overcome reader resistance is to have a print book as well as an ebook, to create your own imprint, to purchase professional looking covers, to have your books professionally edited, to write lots of books, to have lots of reviews, and to competitively price your books with those of traditionally published authors. Simple, right? Haha!


Take seven, as in seven days, to stretch and think about Part 1. We'll be back next weekend with the provocative conclusion. Among other things, you'll learn if Claude Bouchard wears boxers or briefs. And you'll hear high praise for Russell Blake. Arrive early for guaranteed seating.


To learn more about these four authors and their books, just click on the following links: 

Claude Bouchard
Amazon Author Page:
Vigilante Series Box set - Books 1 to 6

Leverett Butts
Grand Central Review:
Author Facebook Page
My Amazon Author Page:

Bill Kirton 
Amazon Author Page
Best intro to his work:

David North-Martino
Amazon Author Page:

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Your Pass to Party Between Drafts

After eight brutal weeks spent second-drafting my new mystery, I'm looking forward to a pass. What's the difference, you ask. Good question!

For most writers, the second draft--of a novel or story or play--is a brutal affair that looks something like this:

The process is seven times harder than digging a ditch with a spoon. It involves grappling with everything from typos to grammos to putrid turns of phrase to moronic plotting blunders. There's so much going on in the first draft that it would be unlikely for a second draft to involve any less. Think of it: in the first draft we're trying to get it all down--from plot line to pacing to characterization to setting to atmosphere to theme--and, as if all that weren't enough--we're trying those damned word things right too! When most writers face what they've got for a first draft, small wonder that their expressions turn out to be something like this:

And when they've finished the second draft, they're left feeling like this:

Still, if we don't have a passable reading copy yet, we will by the third or fourth draft. Now that most of the absolute garbage is gone, we can get down to the fine points of style. And the real magic can find its voice.

But much can be gained by taking a short working vacation which I call a 'pass'. In fact, much can be gained by taking quite a few of these, each with a different focus. After my own bloody second draft, I'm taking a pass, or a go-through, on the watch for blanks that I need to fill in or--well, anything that strikes my eye. The blanks may be things to be researched or settings requiring more details. And in this pass, I'll take care of as many as I cab. As for things that catch the eye, it's essential to relax, looking for things that stand out: inconsistencies, improbabilities, etc.

I'll also be mindful, in this pass, of the novel's proportions and pacing.

But I know the third draft will take its toll on me again. So I'll treat this first pass as a working vacation.

I may do five drafts of a novel, or six. But in between those drafts will be numerous quick passes: two or three for least two to go over the timeline...two or three on the watch for any scene that needs more oomph...

It's your call for your own book. But try experimenting with a pass or two in between drafts. The results may float your boat. And also the boats of your reader.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

My Secret Birthday

Have you ever thrown a surprise birthday party for yourself? If not, then take my word: when you do get around to it, you'll wonder what took you so long.

This year my birthday, November 7, falls on a Monday. I arranged weeks ago to take the day off work. Though I hadn't planned anything special--certainly not a surprise party--I planned to relax, sleep in at least one of the three mornings, see Hacksaw Ridge, enjoy a rare restaurant meal...and spend happy hours on my Work in Progress.

But I remembered my little black book...though I couldn't recall where I'd put put it.

Years ago, in Charlotte, NC--one of the unhappiest times in my life--I listed in a black notebook like this a hundred things I wanted to do or felt I must accomplish. During that difficult time, I checked off a couple dozen goals. And, since the move to Seattle two years ago, I've checked off a few dozen more. Others will get their own checks in short time. But a small core of die-hards remained--things I keep telling myself I 'can't' do. As I reviewed the list now,in Seattle, I knew: they can't ever be accomplished unless I tackle the roughest, toughest of them all.

Pardon my vagueness. But being too specific here would be unfair to you. In this one instance, generality is good and necessary. I have my One Thing blocking me as it has for many years. But common sense tells me I'm not alone in this: we all have our own One Thing, the big bad mother of them all that mocks us and torments us and blocks us from our other goals. 

This year, remembering that black book of accomplished and neglected dreams, I swore to throw myself the best goddamn birthday party I have ever had, taking myself by surprise. I would do the very thing that's been spitting in my eye for years.

I'm on my way to Renton, Monday morning, to cross the blinkin' Rubicon.

If this works out, I expect to start throwing more surprise parties throughout the new year. And I hope you all do the same.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

How to Help Lightning Strike Twice

Once something magical happened to us--some incredible blessed-by-the-gods stroke of luck. And we spend our lives waiting for it to return. There's little that we wouldn't do to see it one more time. How we wait...and we wait...and we wait.


The time I've returned to again and again: 1988. A year of glory and heartache: I had a literary agent, my first book was in print--but I couldn't find it anywhere. My publisher, I learned, had failed to list it in their catalogue. I knew who would take the hit if I had zero sales. But lightning struck. I'd joined one writers' group and had their newest mailing list. I was widely read in my genre and started ticking off the names of those I would approach. Next, I and my agent worked on obtaining free copies of my novel from the publisher. They complied because they owed me. What next?

From there, the pieces all fell into place as I heeded both instincts and logic:
--I had a hardcover novel with a first-rate cover, a story of a stolen custom-tailored suit. Though the gift of a paperback book's no big thing, I thought my book might be well-received: a hardcover horror novel sent out to horror writers.
--Better yet, I could gift wrap each copy, including a personalized note.
--Also, I'd only approach writers who'd work I had read. And instead asking for favors, I'd the book as an expression of thanks for the pleasure their work had brought me.

Well, the gifts were well-received and the book was nominated for an award...which it went on to receive.


Now, here I am all these years later, wondering if lightning can strike twice.


Common sense tells me that it can't strike in the same way. I'm no longer a first-time novelist and won't pretend I am. For now I'm publishing original ebooks, which don't translate to my ancient strategy. And, sad to say, I've put on a few years. So looking back on the opening quote, the same place simply isn't here for lightning to strike twice in.


If I turn my focus from blessings that I can't repeat to new blessings I possess, I see ways to encourage the return of that groovy old lightning. I'm doing better work today and I've built a considerable body of work since my traditional publishing luck headed south. Furthermore, if I can't repeat my strategy, I'm free to draw on the principles behind it:
--Have a gift I can send that is cool in itself--and totally appropriate to the book, or books, in mind.
--Make the packaging striking, memorable--and equally appropriate.
--There must be no strings attached--not the tiniest whiff of 'I'm sending you this in exchange for or with hopes of a review, an awards vote or a date your daughter or sister.
--The goal should be both pure and simple: introduce myself to those whose books or reviews or service I enjoy. Regardless of their reaction, I have high hopes that the gift is enjoyed.

Now, I'm not giving the store away as far as far as the particulars of the gift this time around...or the ingenious packaging...or my mailing list. But in the end I've offered something far more valuables: a short list of working principles to try out in your own campaigns.

1) Don't ask for favors from strangers who are already under siege.
2) Let your introduction in itself be a memorable gift, without strings.
3) Ground your approach in your own reality. Once upon a time I had a hardcover I have a series of ebooks. Different hooks for different books.
4) Whatever else you do, project this aura: I'm looking at you.

This is my report.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Man Flu Blues Plus Teaser

Sorry, all. No post this week, since I've been down for three days with a cold.

But I'll make it up to you next weekend with an extra-lively post on two promotional projects nearly thirty years apart. Can lightning strike again?

Stay tuned.

All the more reason to change the place, eh?

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Thug City

So, here I am in a place I adore, writing of it as Thug City.

Almost all of the new Boss MacTavin novel will be centered in the notorious part of town known as Third and Pike. Aka, The Scourge of Seattle. And the crime here is horrendous: drive-by shootings, stabbings, beatings with ball pein hammers, muggings, corner drug deals, rape....and theft, theft and still more theft.

My forced research on the area involved my working for six months in a retail store at Third and Pike. I saw it all in my six months: petty theft, grand larceny, rumbles at the entrance, bloodied women weeping that they'd just been raped, security guards beaten and thrown to the ground...And this was in our store alone. Over and over, armed cops would do one freelance security gig--and swear never to return. One very large veteran cop warned me: "Man, your job's more dangerous than mine is. Get out."

Get out I did, and as fast as I could. I'd transferred here from a store location in Charlotte. Now that I had a studio and had gotten on my feet, I vowed to write of what I'd learned and seen. I also swore to learn still more about retail theft. 

I have and I've got a strong book in the works, one based on real experience. It's something new and exciting, I think. At the same time, however, I feel an obligation to do right by the city. Doing right would entail finding something between two classic visions of New York:

Scorcese's hellish Taxi Driver vision:

And Woody Allen's romanticized Manhattan:

For a tight thriller, the challenge is daunting. The focus must be Third and Pike, the horrors I saw daily. The blood and degradation. Yet it's not enough to plunge our hero into this pocket of pus, pretending that it is the city. It's not. Undercover, Boss may grow more sickened with each chapter. But he must catch scattered glimpses of the beauty of Seattle. And at some point he must seek them out to counter the poison that's flooding his soul. 

I've no plans to hold back on Thug City. But if balance is all, then let's have it here too: the city as a character that's flawed but lovely nonetheless.

Yes, by all means let's get Boss to Capitol Hill!

Saturday, October 8, 2016

A Reb Van Winkling We Will Go

In the past couple of years I've done a lot of Reb Van Winkling. And I'm of two minds about it. Waking up to things you've missed over the course of your life can be sad:

My own Winkle-ization went something like this
-- A somewhat wild Canadian decade after college, with beer-drinking playing a prominent part. No interest in music at all through those years. No interest in anything except writing and the bar scene and getting back home to the States.
--My return to the States in 1980 and a bold move to San Francisco. There I stopped drinking and began working out and committed myself more seriously to writing as a career. I knuckled in, moving on to New York, determined to conquer the city. There I finally succeed in publishing my first novel, began the second...and married badly. Really badly. Crash. No time for anything now but writing and recovering from the divorce.
--Onward to Atlanta in 1988, with hopes to start over again. No music, no TV or workouts. Working, writing and recovering,
--From Atlanta to San Francisco again to Atlanta again and on to Portland, then on Charlotte for six miserable years. I yo-yo'd and ran and reacted, and did nothing but work and write, even after my career in traditional publishing had ended.

Whoa, dude--glum stuff!

I know, I know. And I wouldn't have started this blog post if there hadn't been a turn.

It's tough enough being Van Winkle. But the tougher part comes when you learn that you've slept--and realize the time that you've lost.

Two years ago my awakening came after summoning the courage for one last cross-country move: from Charlotte to a city where I'd never been. And Seattle has been both good to me and for me. The first truly great adventure since my positive moves to San Francisco and New York. Here old Reb Van Winkle awakened more each day. And while learning ruefully how much I'd missed, I learned to rejoice in my late in life discoveries. 

Allow me to share a few.

1) Last night I discovered--God's truth, I swear--a DVD I'd bought but forgotten: Wayne's World. From 1992! Yes, Reb Van Winkle 'discovered' this classic 24 freaking years after it's release.

2) I 'discovered' this great band approximately 46 years after it began:

3)  After working two job for most of my life--many of those years in retail--I cut back to one job...with a boost from Soc Security. Better yet, the job was clerical, M-F, weekends and holidays off. Time to write!

4) I graduated from a flip phone to a smart phone, no longer reliant on free Wi-Fi to access the Web or my emails.

5) I checked out and fell hard for Uber, decreasing my morning commute time at a reasonable price...and buying still more time for writing.

I've awakened in so many ways that my general facial expression is one of a wonderstruck kid. And while it's true that I wish I'd not slept for so long, it's also sweet in later life to take pleasure in daily discoveries.

And if any of you are Van Winkling: