Southern Scotch

Southern Scotch
After the Fall 2016

Thursday, December 25, 2014

The Vanishing Magic of Snow: Back Again...For the First Time

If you've ever had an ugly duckling you'd meant to be a swan, then you can relate to this story.

My first ebook, The Vanishing Magic of Snow, had special importance for me:
1) After 25 years in The Desert, ignored by all agents and editors despite four published novels, it was the first all-new project I'd completed in roughly a decade. And I'd set out to prove that I still had the stuff.
2) It spearheaded my master plan to lay siege to EBookLandia with a razzle-dazzle blend of new work, rewritten versions of the work that I'd done in The Desert, and reissues of my four novels published under the name Kelley Wilde.
3) Though it's a work of fiction, TVMOS was sparked by a true life nightmare: I'd lost my job, could not find work and found myself faced with the dual threat of eviction and starvation. The first part of the novel was written in a white heat: I wanted to leave something, in case I didn't make it, to tell the world how it felt to go down without a prayer. When a miracle occurred, I continued writing: a fantasy about one man's desperate efforts to manifest his salvation through the power of positive action and thought. The theme had been on my mind since the 1970's, when I lived in Canada--and for the first time I found myself writing about my Canadian decade. Part fantasy, part thriller, part horror, TVMOS became part personal testament too.

Enough about me, though. My thoughts turned to you and my growing awareness that good writing is translation. More and more I realized that talk about Me comes to nothing--unless it is grounded in thoughts about You as a reader. No one cares--and rightly so--about Reb MacRath losing his job. So many of you have lost yours or know someone who has lost theirs. Somehow we need to translate our tales into universal terms. Where is the real terror that all of us can relate to? How can a wealthy CEO, an actress or a best-selling author relate to the tale of an old call center clerk who's made a mess of his life? The universal lingo had to be something that all of us share. And the book began to write itself the instant I thought of a premise that all of us could relate to: things in the hero's apartment begin to disappear--while he is in the apartment. The job loss is simply one more loss as his entire life begins to vanish piece by piece.

So, then, then book represented a writing milestone as well. Onward with next to no online connections, little knowledge of ebook publishing--and no needed skills to format my Word text for Amazon.  And this brings us, at last, to the part of the story I wanted most to tell: I succeeded in finding a formatter for only $25. The results appeared...well, a little strange when I viewed her work on the Kindle previewer: faulty indentations and line breaks...extra spaces between words...etc. She insisted, though, that the problem lay in the previewer. The published text would be perfect.

No such luck. The published version looked a little like a tone poem.  And though I acquired some five-star reviews, though nobody groused of the formatting, TVMOS became my ugly duckling I seldom talked about. The book I felt ashamed to tout.

So much for the bad news. The good news is this: my new formatter, Yvonne Betancourt, will  reformat the manuscript within the next week. And I've used the last few weeks to really bring the book to life with polishing and tweaking.

Result: TVMOS will soon take its proud place among my seven other ebooks. And I'll stage a free event for as long as Amazon will allow.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas Preview

Coming tomorrow: a short, true account of how an ugly duckling succeeded at last in becoming a swan. My first ebook, The Vanishing Magic of Snow, had a lot going for it--including a beautiful cover, a story line that hit home in the Great Recession and a few glowing reviews.

But the formatting had been bungled badly. And the TVMOS became the one book I couldn't bring myself to tout,

The post will tell you of the book's reformatting and my plans for a proud giveaway event.

Stay tuned!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Dreadful Clash of Symbols

So, there you are, blissfully ensconced in the new thriller you're reading. And suddenly you feel...creeped out. Yes, yes, there it is again! Once again the author has gone out of his or her way to beat you on your noggin with The Escalator. This is the seventh time in the novel that the action has come to a screeching dead stop to describe The Escalator: its history, its manufacture, the number of trips up and down every day, the ever-escalating rise of the hero's daily trips...And, worse, on the book's very cover is a graphic picture of--you bet, The Escalator, Though it has nothing to do with the action--the reason you're reading, to start with--and is never explained...still, The Escalator is established as a symbol and it gains in stature with every new appearance.

Now, this is a very old business with writers trying to gain extra mileage from tales that are usually thin. The monolith in 2001? What the hell was that about? Ask and you'll be answered by a scribe with a pipe in his mouth: It is what it is...Your private truth is in your mind...Etc., etc., etc.

To which I respond: Balderdash. And I propose a simple rule: If anything smacks of a Symbol, it should be bounced from the story. Why? Because it's attempting to carry more weight than it can actually handle. No borrowed strength should be allowed: The Escalator must also work as an escalator. The symbols that work and do not creep us out are those we perceive on our own. Fools can beat us till we're blue with Escalators and Monoliths and Whatevers. But nothing can compare with the reading magic we feel when we perceive a connection barely even hinted at.

Sayyy...Suddenly I'm thinking of that escalator scene back in the first chapter...or the monolith I briefly saw...and I'm seeing a new layer here...I don't want my noggin pounded with a silver hammer. I want to discover, as if on my own, new meanings to the story.

When in doubt, be subtle and let the readers have their joys.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

How's it feel? The pleasure ought to be illegal

Not that I don't have anything else to do--including giving The Vanishing Magic of Snow an edit and polish before reformatting...this after launching Red Champagne--but I'd still been dogging it on beginning the next book.

Oh, the itch kept growing...and ideas kept coming...but I might as well have just sat in a bar talking the book to death with drunks.

Today, though, the itch refused to go unscratched another day. Out came the new notebook with a growl--'You lazy friggin' bastard!'--and I began the grunt work that may go on for months: taking notes, asking questions, outlining possibilities...

Reb MacRath, back in the saddle again.

The thing is to trust in the process: one question breeds another...I have been through the same cycle so many times. And yet the great challenge remains ever new: simply to trust in the process. We defeat ourselves by thinking that we need to reinvent the wheel each time.

If a wheel has worked for decades, get out of its way and, by God, let it roll.


Thursday, December 11, 2014

Why I Gave a Post I Liked a Pair of Cement Shoes

When we're active on more than one blog, we have to consider positioning. A post I'd had high hopes for--paralleling cutting our own hair with formatting our own ebooks--didn't attract many readers. Rather than tout the post through daily ReTweets--netting me 100-200 readers--I chose to analyze my 'failure' and consider where else I might place it.

Conclusions:
1) Southern Scotch, this blog, is an occasional potpourri of short or shortish posts on whatever strikes my fancy. At least half the posts have to do with the writing process or publishing industry--but not necessarily ebooks. The other half include posts on Feng Shui, film reviews, inspiration, positivity, martial arts, other writers, etc., etc., etc. So a much longer post about formatting ebooks wasn't tailored to my audience.
2)  Then again, Authors Electric--the British collective blog consisting of 29 writers who all publish a post once a month--might turn out to be ideal. AE posts range in length--the ideal ranging from 1000-2000 words--but if a writer needs more room, the moderators are cool about that. The AE membership and readership share an interest in literary-minded posts. And: as the site's name suggests, the main focus is on 'electric' or digital authors. All in all, I had better chance of reaching more folks on AE.
3) My AE posts appear on the 12th of each month. This gives me a full month to Tweet and ReTweet, steadily drumming up interest. With care and correct application, I'm more likely to read hundreds of readers--maybe break a thousand--on AE than here on Scotch.

Why I changed the title:
The original title was On Cutting Your Hair and Formatting Your Own Ebook. But I had more room on AE and wanted to have more fun with it. At the same time I'd learned that even the cutest of titles had better deliver the goods--and be seen to relate pretty quickly. It might be fun to draw one other, shocking parallel: cutting your own hair...formatting your own book...and--what?
\
The new title after a few days' debate:

On Cutting Your Hair, Killing Your Spouse and Formatting Your Ebook.. 

I think it's found its proper home. Now I'm left to find a replacement post on this blog--since my fans don't like to wait too long between entertainments,.


Monday, December 1, 2014

Coming 12/3: New Post About Publishing Ebooks

Though it's been a while between shots of Scotch, the next one should prove worth the wait. I'm culling my experience from working with four different ebook formatters into a summary called:

Four Ways of Getting a Haircut...or Formatting a Book.

We'll also discuss designing our own covers as another form of self-cut hair.

See you here on Wednesday.








Sunday, November 23, 2014

Three Ways to Begin Almost Anything...Plus One



Those are the big 3 components of most start-up plans, whether we're starting a business or beginning a new book. I agree, but in my case I do need one more:




A small itch, to start...then the son of an itch...All the rest amount to nothing till I have that inner itch. I can nurse Ideas and play with Plans until the cows come home. But it won't make a damned bit of difference. I need the itch to get in gear. And the itch is the one thing that cannot be forced.

The itch manifests in several ways: the desire to find a new notebook, something a little bit different this time, in which to lay the groundwork...scheduling possibilities for writing daily while I work...a growing need to spend time with my characters...more and more questions about them...

This is quite different, for me, than sitting one day like a calm, controlling pro. As the itch progresses, in fact, I grow more and more controlled until I really can't resist scratching the itch as I must.

So yesterday I found the just-perfect notebook for the new Boss MacTavin mystery. I passed a slew of Moleskines to snatch a 9x12 stiff-covered, 80 sheet Cambridge notebook. What grabbed me was the 2" bordered column on the outside of each page. I could make special notes there, memos to myself, etc.

Within the next few days, after I've finished preparing Red Champagne for its December launch, I'll begin to scratch with pages of questions and notes...which, I'll know from memory, will quickly multiply. Questions breed questions and notes breed more notes. And this could be a dangerous thing--as the wannabe writers in bars will tell you between beers--if the scratching didn't generate an even fiercer itch one day:

To try out some opening sentences. No plan to really start writing--not yet! But one of those opening sentences will lead us to try out a second...then a third...

And then we're lost as well as found. We're into perpetual scratch mode...and loving every second...as our confidence grows while the happy itch goes wild.

What the hell. At least we're not suffering from this dread affliction:





Saturday, November 15, 2014

Thoughts on Letting Baby Go

I've begun the final--I mean final--proofing of my new book, Red Champagne. The cover's a wrap--and a beauty, I think. The book's in the hands of brand new circle of beta readers. I know I've given my best shot and believe that I have something special here.

Do I feel exhilarated? Sure. But my feelings add up to a very mixed bag. You can easily imagine its contents: anxiety, worry, depression, dread. For a passion of so many years becomes a way of life. What do I do, someone might ask. I work, read, live, love...and write Red Champagne.

Now I can say that no longer. Red Champagne joins the ranks of children I have raised and loved. And it must take its chances in the great arena. The mixed bag of emotions results, I think, from my failure to recall my creative process. When I forget that RC is my eighth published book, that I've actually written a good baker's dozen, the butterflies assail me. Where will my next idea come from? How long will it take me to draft it? And so on and so on. Pure silliness rules. I get into a funk and sweat buckets of blues.

Eventually, as now, I begin to recall past attacks of butterflies. Then I recall buying yet another Moleskine notebook, which I begin to fill with notes--not a thought of a deadline in mind. My notes are mainly questions: How about X as a setting? Why X instead of Y? What has happened to my hero since the last entry in the series? In what ways does he need to grow? How will the book end? What hurdles must the hero clear between the beginning and end?

This may go on for weeks or a couple of months. But day by day I'll start to feel my confidence growing again, my sureness that I really do have a new book. The next step is important--and it involves a certain mindlessness:

One day I'll begin to wonder what the new book's opening line might be. I'll fill pages with possibilities. Then one of those will grab me. The next day or the day after, expecting nothing, I'll try my hand at the new book's opening paragraph. I may even go on for a page. Then I'm hooked.


I'll need to focus, once again, on the here and now: the rush of drafting my new book at a preset pace. I'll set a quota to be met daily: no less than 500 words at the start...then more as the book goes along. Once again, I'll need to focus daily on the freedom and joy of first drafting--not the months of work ahead.

So next week I'll buy a new Moleskine and set out with my mixed bag, waving goodbye to my baby, RC. I had a hell of a journey that's left me hungry for the next.




Friday, November 14, 2014

Coming Tomorrow, Saturday 11/15/2014

Don't miss my new post on 'Letting Baby Go': about the mixed bag of feelings as I ready to launch my new book. Red Champagne, has had an especially long journey...first attempted back in 1998.

Sixteen years later, here it is. And I'll tell you of the pride in finishing this journey...and the fear of beginning the next.

See you then.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Claude Bouchard Unchained 2

RM: Good morning, Claude. It's been two years since we did that interview – Claude Bouchard Unchained – and I hope this time around we have as much fun. 

CB: We had fun the first time around? Oh… Right. Yeah, uh, we had a blast. (Nodding and smiling to hide my confusion and bewilderment.) Seriously, I much enjoyed our previous interview and I’m pleased that you invited me to do another.

RM: We've decided to try something different this time: focusing on one standalone book, ASYLUM, that's wildly divided your readers. Could you begin by telling us a bit about the book – avoiding any spoilers – and the range of readers' reactions? 

CB: For the sake of accuracy, expediency and spoiler avoidance, I’m copy/pasting the actual book description below:

As Managing Director of the Montreal Hospital for the Criminally Insane, Doctor Matthew Russell has always put his professional responsibilities ahead of all else. That is, until he one day realizes that he is losing his wife, Cassidy, and his two children, Stuart and Jennifer. With only his family in mind, Russell takes an adventure-filled, impromptu vacation of indefinite duration, leaving all else behind and stopping at nothing to show how much he cares for his loved ones in an effort to win them back. But, will he succeed… Or, will it prove to be all too late in the end? 

As for the range of readers’ reactions, of 56 reviews received on Amazon.com, 21 are 5 star, 18 are 1 star and the remaining 17 are scattered in between for a 3.2 star overall average – not quite a perfect bell curve, but close. Comments ranged from “Brilliant” to “uugghh”. :)

RM: This sounds like a classic case of seeing what we expect. Some fans of the Vigilante series went into Asylum expecting more of the same, only more so? That's ironic, to say the least – because Asylum's as heavy on action as any of the Vigilante books. Help me stretch my memory here. The hero stages several daring rescues – including one in a fire, one in a pilot-less air balloon and one in the Grand Canyon. He also battles muggers, carjackers, thieves and even a rattlesnake. Hard to imagine anyone expecting more from a thriller. But there is a difference, isn't there? Can you tell us – without any spoilers? 

CB: Thrillers involving daring rescues and victorious battles against violent criminals and deadly wildlife often, though not always, have a protagonist who is somehow trained or experienced in dealing with such situations or adversaries. Think Jack Reacher, Jason Bourne and countless others. Rarely is the hero a middle-aged, psychiatrist bureaucrat, even if he’s in decent physical shape. Perhaps, due to his position, Dr. Russell had received training over the years in dealing with crises and dangerous individuals, though this is not described in the book… Or maybe it’s something else. 

RM: One of the recurring charges against the book was its reading like a 'travelogue'. The hero and his family do cover a lot of ground: starting their vacation in Vancouver, proceeding down along the Western coast of the U.S... driving on to Florida... and flying on to Rio. That's a terrific vacation. But once again irony rears its devilish head. Your third-person descriptions of the travels do read as if they came from travel books. But, based on my second reading, I'm certain the descriptions were deliberately done this way. Am I right about this? 

CB: You are right about that, though, as some reviews made clear, not everyone liked it. The objective, which proved to be successful with some readers and obviously not with others, was to present a picture-perfect family vacation, even though it was temporarily marred on occasion by mishaps and conflicts. Put another way, if Asylum was a film, the vacation sequences would seem almost Disneyesque in nature.

RM: One other thing. Vigilante fans with blinders on may have been fooled by the pacing. You took your time getting us to the action-packed vacation. Anyone who's read your best-selling series knows that you know how to hit the ground running, action from the get-go. You seem to have felt the importance, this time, of building slowly, piece by piece. 

CB: An appropriate introduction of Dr. Russell’s life and problems was required before we could think of jumping into the action-packed vacation. This is what Part I of the book was, spanning over six chapters which represented under 14% of the entire novel. Hardly a huge block of reading to get through before the pace quickened and quite necessary to establish the events leading to Russell’s subsequent life-changing decisions and actions.

RM: You must have known going in that readers would regard the book as a real departure. What prompted you to take the chance, along with the risks it involved? Did you anticipate the blowback Asylum received from some quarters? 

CB: I’ll begin by sharing the Author’s Note which I included at the beginning of the book from the get-go:

For those of you who have already read some of my work, I wanted to let you know that ASYLUM is not a crime thriller. In fact, I had a hard time determining what genre I should consider it to be. Following much mulling and category searching, I hesitantly settled on “psychological thriller” though there were other possibilities. ASYLUM has aspects of action and adventure as well as of love, family and emotion. It deals with the struggles which many have had to deal with when attempting to balance professional and personal responsibilities. It reflects the turmoil one may be faced with when too much emphasis is placed on the workplace to the detriment of one’s family. ASYLUM is different from anything I had written to date but I enjoyed writing it and I’m pleased with the final result. I hope you will be too.

So, yes, I was aware the book was a real departure but what prompts any writer to tell a story? I don’t have to research very far to confirm that I wasn’t the first author to ever step away from my usual genre because I had something else I wanted to work on. As to anticipating the blowback Asylum received from some, one never knows how something will be received and should realize that it’s impossible to please everyone. Of my ten novels out to date, seven have at least one 1 star review. Ratings for my nine Vigilante thrillers range from 4.1 to 4.8. Such is life. In all fairness, when I consider Asylum and its 56 reviews, 29 are 4 or 5 stars which means more than half of the reviewers gave it an 80%+ rating.

 RM: I've avoided the next question in all of my interviews so far. But this time the question really asks itself: Could you tell us a little about the writing of Asylum? Did it take less or more time to write than the average Vigilante book? Did you write it in longhand, using my beloved #2 pencils? (How the hell'd you get my pencils?) Did you breakdance between drafts? That sort of thing, please. 

CB: There was nothing markedly different with writing Asylum versus my works in the Vigilante series. It was the usual ‘develop as I write and research’ I always do. A manuscript can take me anywhere from two to ten months to write and Asylum was done in seven so, it was right in there with the average. I’m confused with part of your question when you mention longhand and pencils. What are those things? Seriously, my use of longhand is reserved almost exclusively for grocery lists which are always composed using a ball point pen. Lastly, I’ve long given up breakdancing, having progressed to more emotion inspiring genres such as krumping, popping, turfing, locking and the occasional dunno move when it’s the least expected. However, I never ever polka.

RM: We've talked about readers and what they expect. Writers may not have the right to expect anything from readers. But surely we're allowed to hope. What are your hopes for the diehard Vigilante fans approaching this standalone title? 

CB: I’ll respond to that with a personal example from my reading past. I became a Baldacci from his first release, Absolute Power, back in 1996. His four novels which followed, though all standalones, were also all pure Baldacci suspense thrillers. Then came his sixth release in 2000, entitled Wish You Well. Murder, power, schemes and conspiracy from previous books were replaced with a 1940 story about two kids moving from New York City to go live in the mountains of Virginia on their great-grandmother’s farm. Was it what I expected from Baldacci? Far from it. However, having recognized the man’s impressive writing talent, I was more than willing to read his latest tale and to do so with an open mind, knowing this would not be his usual fare. I didn’t regret my decision. More succinctly, I would hope that diehard Vigilante fans would approach Asylum with a similar open mind – some have and others not – oh well.

RM: Asylum, for my money, delivers at least as much bang for our bucks as any of your other books. But it also delivers a few other kicks that are all its own. What can you tell any reader who may still be on the fence – about what they'll get from this baby that they won't find anywhere else? 

CB: I thought long and hard about this one and even bounced it off a friend who had just recently reread the book. In the end, the feedback he gave me made me realize that some reviewers who had really ‘got’ the book had already answered the question for me. Here are some excerpts of what they had to say: “I knew that there was something more to the story of Dr. Matthew Russell and his family...something that was just beyond my reach, something that I knew was there – ready to pounce – but I just could not put my finger on it.” "You get the feeling that something's off, almost like there are hints laying around, but it’s not something you can put your finger on..." "I examined Asylum every-which-way because I love mysteries despite nothing indicating Asylum is a mystery. But there were clues." "If you like an action packed book, then this book is for you. However, it operates on different levels according to the reader."

RM: Thanks for your time, Claude. And thanks for taking the chance on this book. I promised you ten questions – so please add a last of your own. 

CB: Thank you for inviting me for a second round, Reb. As for taking a chance with Asylum, I had a story to tell so I did. Considering there are almost 17K copies out there to date, I really can’t deem it a failure. And now for a question of my own. I wanted to come up with something different which had never been asked in any interview I’ve done, something deep and revealing which would give readers some personal insight about who I am and what makes me tick so, here it goes: Question: What are your five favourite cheeses? Answer: In no particular order, aged cheddar, mozzarella, provolone, parmesan and feta… Damn, I wish I had asked for ten…

Thursday, October 30, 2014

How Our Lives Between Books Can Become a Lot More

'One hates an author that's all author...' 
--Lord  Byron


Some actors we admire most pick their projects carefully, taking time between them to recharge, brood at leisure and prepare for their next  role. Two names that quickly come to mind:

Daniel Day-Lewis: just fourteen films since The Unbearable Lightness of Being in 1986.
Daniel Craig: A three-year break between Skyfall in 2012 and Bond 24 in 2015.

And, possibly not strangely, when each of these men is on screen we sense the hidden magic of a life apart from celluloid or any particular role. They live for their art, we are certain of that--but they also seem fully committed to working the art of their lives. Compare almost any film by either of these men with the desperate earnestness of some leading actors who churn out many more films...as if they'll die the instant the camera isn't on them. Dustin Hoffman, anyone? About 4 dozen films since 1969.

There are telling parallels, I'm sure, with musicians who crank out an album a year and those who prefer to let their next album grow. (Paul McCartney vs. Leonard Cohen?) Let's segue for today, though, to writers--in particular to a remark one critic made about Byron: how the most compelling about him is our powerful sense of real life off the page. That's sometimes revealed in off-handed remarks about his love and sporting life. But more often this truth is something that we sense. And when we learn more about Byron we know: no man who hadn't 'wasted' time swimming the Hellespont...boxing...fencing...traveling...seducing the gladly seduced by the scores...could have written a line of Don Juan. The work's cut from the very same cloth of his life.

My own output on Amazon is somewhat sizable only because I had the 'advantage' of 25 years in The Desert, in which time I finished a dozen-odd books. By revising these, using the skills I've learned since, and by adding two new books I've written, I'll have managed to put out eight ebooks since the summer of 2012.

The eighth book, called Red Champagne, was originally written in 1998-1999. So it had a long gestation before the big rewrite this year. And when it's finished--by December-I plan to take a few months before starting work on the next Boss MacTavin mystery. I expect that to take from 9 months to a year. Luckily, as I've said, I still have a backlog to draw from, including three more horror novels penned as Kelley Wilde.

But the fact remains: I'm a slow writer by most standards. I have good friends and colleagues who can finish books in the time it takes me to do a second draft. One best-selling ebook writer has written more books in a couple of years than I could begin to catch up with. I've never written--and I won't--for eighteen hours a day. Why?

I need to live between the lines to write the lines I do write...the sort of lines I like to read. And to my way of thinking I don't waste my time when I work on one of my three blogs...work out in Gold's Gym...network on Twitter and Facebook...brood while I'm working my new city's streets...study Latin...keeping my studio clean...

And how do your own lives fit into your plans? Are you working when, to others, you seem to do nothing at all? Are your life and work cut from the same lovely cloth?

 Recommended Reading:
http://www.amazon.com/Living-Robert-Grudin-English-Professor/dp/0395898315

and

http://www.amazon.com/Writers-Creative-Process-Through-Revision/dp/B000QSAM6I/ref=sr_1_12?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1414682411&sr=1-12&keywords=ke




Thursday, October 23, 2014

How to Spare the Rod and Really Listen to the Warm

Listen to the WHAT? Are we talking Rod McKuen, the millionaire Valentine singer and people's poet from the Seventies? Treacle pudding in person?

We are. And we'll get to why in a minute--when I tell you about the world's sexiest blanket--but first:

Born in 1933, McKuen had already been around a while--as a journalist, singer and composer--when he broke through as a poet with Stanyan Street & Oher Sorrows in 1966, then Listen to the Warm in 1967 and Lonesome Cities in 1968. In '68 alone, his books were translated into eleven languages and sold over a million copies. During the Seventies, he went on to receive serious recognition as a composer through his concertos, symphonies, chamber pieces and suites...But today we consider him in his best-known guise--as a poet. 

In turbulent times, with Dylan and Cohen rocking some serious boats, McKuen was a welcome voice, especially to lovers who wanted to hug, not protest. His verses were simple and sincere: 

"Thank you for the sun you brought this morning
even though the sky was full of clouds."

and:

"There've been so many who didn't understand

so give me all the love I see in your timid eyes
but give it gently
Please."

He made a fortune writing such. Still, you'd be hard-pressed to find four words that heaped more abuse on a writer than  'Listen to the warm.' Lovers of Dylan and Cohen jeered, I know. I was one of them. And I hadn't thought of McKuen in years--until last night, when I woke in a chill...and looked at the cushy new blanket I'd left at the food of the bed.

My entire body was aching and cold, for I'd had a brutal morning workout and had left one window open. Now, when I signed up at Gold's and decided to get serious, I also made a solemn vow: to listen to my body--what I needed to eat, when I needed to rest, etc. You need to understand that I had decided to listen. If you understand that, then you'll understand that I heard my cold and aching muscles crying out for warmth. Or, as Rod would say, for warm.

As I slid the blanket over me, then tucked it in on both sides, I felt enveloped within a cocoon. And I found myself listening too to the warmed: taxed muscles finding required relief. The comfort found from a blanket in the midst of a cold night astounded me. It also humbled me because I'd done Rod an injustice--and also the readers who loved him.

He may not be my cuppa--I prefer Auden or Ovid or Horace--but he produced a brand of warm that millions have loved since the Sixties. And he wrote four words, at least, that never slipped my memory.

Now in his eighties, Rod McKuen still maintains a lively blog well worth a look:

http://www.mckuen.com/flights/flight.htm

You never know. You too may find yourself to be one of the warmed. 


Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Return of Claude Bouchard

One of my most popular posts here was an interview with Claude Bouchard, published on 11/3/12. It attracted a blog record of 500 hits and inspired me to raise the bar for future interviews.

I've continued to read and admire CB but saw no valid reason to do a second interview--that is, until now.

Claude Bouchard Unchained 2 is coming your way in early November. Subtitle: Escaping Into Asylum. In it, CB will open up about the one book that most divides readers. Did the devil make him write it? Or was his Muse simply in a wickedly mischievous mood?

The floor will be his. And I'm certain he'll surprise us all, myself included.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

On Writing As a Reality Show

You can't hope to win the game unless you know which show you're on. Check out my controversial post on Authors Electric--and you may come to hear the call of Jeff Probst, Simon Cowell...or someone even better.

http://authorselectric.blogspot.com/2014/10/hey-bubbaloos-which-reality-show-are.html

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Reviews: An Updated Assortment

By way of introduction, for those who haven't tried my work: here's an updated sampling of reviews. They cover both my earlier novels as Kelley Wilde and my new work as Reb MacRath.


PRAISE FOR REB MACRATH

One of the greatest Christmas stories ever written—but one that may never be published.
    --Agent Henry Morrison on April Yule (formerly titled White Knights)

Reb MacRath writes with wit and pace. His prose can spin in unexpected directions, or with the precision of an expert pool player can send one—smack!—right into the corner pocket. Pay attention, because in one short sentence he can dazzle, baffle, and shock you. And in a book, well, just enjoy the ride!
    --Brad Strickland on April Yule

His writing style is unique and...he writes with such depth and emotion I can't help but wonder what he'll bring to the writing world in the future.
    --Kirkus MacGowan on Nobility

Nobility ranks right up there with Oh Brother Where Art Thou, a rendition of Homer's Odyssey also set in the south. The word craft is delicate and beautiful..
    --Leila Smith on Nobility

Dazzling, visceral, heart-wrenching...A 152-page masterpiece.
    --John Logan on The Vanishing Magic of Snow

Pure escapist fun. Think James Bond meets hardboiled noir with a colorful cast of characters.
    --David North-Martino on Charlotte Kills

I liked this book on several levels. Firstly, I liked the hard-boiled style of part one, which satisfied all the expectations of this style of book. The characters were good and realistic and played their roles well. The writing was atmospheric and descriptive, and the action scenes were also realistic. In part two, I liked the mystery element and the twists, and when the sting finally took place it was a surprise.
    --Chris Longmuir on Charlotte Kills

Vicious violence, black humor, quirky characters, a style that races along--MacRath's novels takes the reader into a murky world of crime and retribution...and a Boss who deals out what he calls Corrections. The author has written intriguing speculative fiction, and this is a new direction. If you like thrillers hazrd as nails, cool as ice, and smooth as Scotch, give this one a try. I think you'll enjoy it.
    --Brad Strickland on Southern Scotch

If you haven't been hooked by the cunning stories written by Reb MacRath, Boss will drag you into his writer's fan club. Boss is a gritty, one-eyed, 'Southern Scot', a hero who hit rock bottom, suffered, and literally emerged as a new man. In this second book of the series, readers visit the seedy underbelly of San Francisco, meeting lowlifes and very scary characters. But if you're with Big Bad Boss, you're safe...and you'll be singing his praises soon.
    --Diane Rapp on The Alcatraz Correction



…AND FOR REB WRITING AS KELLEY WILDE
Wilde handles his ideas with wit and energy. A skilled writer has produced an engaging novel.
    --Publishers Weekly on The Suiting

Highly readable, with both laughs and chills.
    --Library Journal on The Suiting

Strongly original. One of a kind.
    --Kirkus Reviews on The Suiting

A tasty bit of modern horror with just the right touch of madness. A writer to watch.
    --The Buffalo News on The Suiting

Wilde has a flair for horrific showmanship and an instinct for the jugular that rivals the best writers of the genre.
    --John Farris on Makoto

Wilde’s style fits the story perfectly—it’s as sharp and polished as a samurai sword, and just as dangerous.
    --Rick Hautala on Makoto

One of Wilde’s particular talents is getting inside his characters’ heads. Whether it’s a dream, a cocaine high, or a slooow torture scene, his expert streams of consciousness and incredible sound effects put you right there.
    --Fangoria on Makoto

Untamed, unpredictable prose—that’s the trademark of Kelley Wilde. He writes like a bucking bronc, and each time out of the chute the Wilde man keeps improving. He’s got the moves!
    --Rex Miller on Mastery

The most unforgettable train ride since Agatha Christie booked the Orient Express.
    --Tyson Blue on Mastery

An exotic, mysterious puzzle that's impossible to put down--and impossible to forget.
    --Ray Garton on Angel Kiss

Thursday, October 9, 2014

This isn't Reb--or What's-His-Name

Has an article or poem or song ever stuck in your mind, longer than you recall, and kept replaying through the years? Like your shadow, it stays with you. Or like something you've touched, now a part of your prints.

Once upon a time I read a lovely Aikido essay by a popular writer, George Leonard. The piece was called "This Isn't Richard", I'll provide a link  below for those who want to read it. The subject: the spiritual breakthrough of a self-centered, selfish student in a brutal black belt test. I warm to the piece partly because I myself studied under the teacher, Bob Nadeau, for years. But the mojo of the piece is the moment of the breakthrough: Richard, the disgusted teacher who called him only 'What's-his-name' and all the students present become aware that the man on the mat...isn't 'Richard'. A new man stands emptied of the self that he'd been too full of. Later, some spoke of an aura or a nimbus of light around him as he got more and more into the flow. By all accounts, this was a brilliant performance. And the Richard who'd been 'Richard' had left the building forever.

The great breakthrough recorded in the the phrase This isn't Richard has become both a goal and a touchstone for me. In both my life and my writing..which no longer seem to be two. In furnishing my new Seattle studio or fine-tuning my new novel...in forming new habits and ditching the old...in pushing the envelope daily as I search my own sense that This isn't Reb...I find new liberation in those glorious moments when I am not Me.

Here's the link to the essay, with hopes you have a look. Caution: the essay starts at page 198 of :Leonard's book The Silent Pulse and stops abruptly at p. 203. So it isn't complete but you'll get the idea:

http://tiny.cc/clkhnx


Wednesday, October 1, 2014

A free-for-all that's free for all

The first issue of an online monthly 'zine has gone Live today at :
http://theseattlekid.blogspot.com/2014/09/reb-macraths-seattle-rock-v-1-100114.html

If you're craving something more than just a little bit different, you should find this worth a look. If nothing else, you may enjoy the Classifieds and Ask Reb sections.

See you there!

Monday, September 29, 2014

When I Use the Term Feng Shui, It Means...

...an arrangement of things in MacRathWorld that leaves me with a greater sense of harmony, oneness and peace. Now, the Chinese and even our experts might scorn my definition. But if last night's experience doesn't count as real feng shui, then the word ought to be discontinued. Hear this:

At a glance, when I came home to my new Seattle studio, I saw that I'd made a mistake. I've made my share of slip-ups, but none of them ever struck me in this disturbing way. I had the air mattress in the wrong place and facing the wrong way. To put this in perspective: I only had two pieces of furniture, so all mistakes were magnified.

You reach the living area after a long L-shaped hall, just past the bathroom on the left, then the kitchenette. The living area measures about 16' x 14 '. The tan carpeting is clean and new. On the far wall are two great casement windows with curved tops. On the right side of the room, till my futon's frame is assembled, sits the purple steamer trunk...also doubling as a seat. I'd placed the air mattress against the opposite wall, with the head part just under the window.

Now, I'd done nightly tossing and turning with the bed in this position...but had blamed it on the air mattress. Last night, though, I wondered: wouldn't it be better to swing the mattress around to the right so that it ran along the wall beneath those lovely windows?

Two big things happened instantly:
1) I saw a strange correctness about the change in position. And the room no longer seemed empty--it had a sense of spartan fullness with just a trunk and air mattress.
2) The very second I lay down, I knew the air mattress had not disturbed my sleep. If I lay down on my back--with my head at the left wall--I had a glorious view of both curved top windows above me and two of the large windows on the wall across. If I turned to my right side, my preferred position, the window-side wall 'had my back' and I had a clear view of the room, its wide open space. Furthermore, within easy reach on the window sill above, I could set my cell phone, glasses and a bottle of fresh water.

Next up: a small utility table and chair for use as an interim desk. Placement: on the left wall, not directly across from the trunk. Its surface must always remain clean and clear except for my Stoker Award...a holder for writing utensils...and my work for the next day.

Feng shui. MacRath style. I plan to use this strong physical sense of harmony, clearness and peace as a touchstone for evaluating everything I do now. Does a new book/job/relationship provide that same sense of correctness? Does its new wall 'have my back'? Do I feel natural and free...or somehow forced and constricted.

I feel good to go here now, moving on all eights. Feng shui!


Sunday, September 21, 2014

It's the Tiniest Thing(s) That Can Get You

By the 49th draft of a novel, you'd think that you've got it down pretty well pat. A bit more pruning and prettification, then you'll be set to go. Right? Well...

The enemy at this point is a simple fact of life: with every pass through a novel, our blinders grow more tightened to anything we've missed. We're quite right to search with new fury for typos, spellos and grammos that have slipped past our eagle eyes. At the same time, though, we need to renew our hunt for wrongos that can undo us: inconsistencies, lapses in logic, glitches in the timeline, etc. 

I'd also add to this list small wait-a-second spots. These are especially deadly for writers of suspense, for they break the charmed narrative spell and cause readers to scratch their heads in wonder: Wait a second, haven't we established that the character's wearing brown socks and not green?...Wait a second, now the author's saying that his character was warned by X about Y two or three chapters ago? Where's the warning hidden?...Wait a second, the hero was listed as fourth on a list of seven victims--and now he'll be the third to go?

Wrongos occur for good reasons sometimes, A character was dropped, for example, resulting in the changing of a list. Or the timeline was condensed to add some more oomph to the story or simplify things for the reader. And, not to be too unkind to ourselves, wrongos are inevitable when we're spending months, even years, on our books. Even with the best of charts, our characters' eye colors may change on us...or, God save us, we may forget the color of their socks.

I'm happily hunting for wrongos these days as I work on RC, my new winter release. And each day's work starts with this mindset: small slips are waiting to get me and I need to take them down. I owe that to my readers.

Charge!

Monday, September 15, 2014

On Doing It Over and Over Again



(Not my own new place...not yet.)

One of the first things you learn moving into a studio apartment is the importance of habit. Correction: the imperative. For unless you get into the habit keeping the space clean and neat as you go, it'll turn into a wilderness of confused and angry wonderings: where the devil are my keys? where's my bus pass? who the hell took my flash drives and Altoids? Things tend to pile up quickly...then shift and slide to chaos. And the end result can be a weak sense of helpless despair.

I know: I faced exactly that with my one bedroom apartment in Charlotte. And it took me nearly half a year to sort, prune, organize...and take out a whole lot of trash. In this new smaller space, I knew, I'd be facing worse if I didn't start constructing some far better habits. Today.

As a man who's kicked booze and tobacco--and failed a few times with tobacco--I knew the importance of mindset and realistic thinking. Aristotle put it this way, 'We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence...is not an act but a habit." There's no succeeding at any life commitment in 3 days, 3 weeks or 3 months. And the effort must be not a battle but a daily chance to grow in strength and sense of purpose.

It helps to have clear, powerful vision. I saw an immaculate, spartanly furnished studio. And I saw just what I needed, placed where it belonged with a Zen-like respect for space.

Of immediate importance: staying organized and neat on a strict daily basis. Since I'm furnishing slowly, from scratch, I can't have everything at once: dresser, filing cabinets, desk...These will come. For now, I use cheap plastic modules from Target. One broad slate window sill supports my Stoker Award and a cover blowup of my third book, Mastery. On another I lay out the personal things I'll need for the next day: keys, wallet, etc.The kitchen counter top, just for now, holds one newspaper I haven't finished reading and a couple of pieces of mail, all very neatly arranged.

Nothing, nothing on the floor except what's meant to be there.

Garbage: taken out each day. Every scrap and stitch of it.

Used laundry: in the closet's special bag immediately after use.

Bathroom: spot-cleaned daily, toiletries neatly arranged.

I know, I know. It all sounds so banal. But the spiritual discipline involved is the very stuff of life--what Napoleon Hill once called Cosmic Habitforce.

Zen and the Art of Living in a Studio.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Where Do Good Ideas Come From, They Wonder

When I first started writing, I worried about this endlessly. How did the writers I liked get  their stuff and how could a no one like me get my own? Years later, I'm amazed that any of us need to ask about this. For the themes and ideas we're meant to use are really inseparable from our own lives. Don't confuse that with writing your autobiography--which no one except your family will really want to read. But the images and themes that should be the soul of your writing are concentrated essences you simply can't escape from and shouldn't bother to try: core memories and lessons and dreams and regrets that are uniquely and naturally you.

Here are 2 personal examples to show you what I mean:

1) Born in the US, I lived ten years in Canada as a stateless person, intending to become a Canadian citizen. Bad mistake, I came to see. After a years-long struggle, I was able to go home with a Green Card because of a family petition. Five years later, I became an American for the second time. I tried writing an autobiographical account about my experience. But because it was all about Me and everything I'd been through, I couldn't bear to edit it and it ran on for 600 pages. Almost every U.S. agent praised my writing style...but said the book couldn't be sold.
    I despaired...till I started to wonder: What if I re-created the essence of the story...as a horror novel? A transplanted American who's become Canadian finds and steals a haunted suit that begins to change him into its dead owner. The book became The Suiting. It won me an agent who sold it to Tor as part of my first two-book contract. A Stoker Award followed, then a small option for film. And this came about because I'd stopped looking elsewhere for ideas and also stopped thinking of Me. I'd learned to translate an essence into narrative lingo the readers could get.

2) Today I spent happy time pre-applying for Washington Enhanced ID. More time on the phone setting up an appointment. But I never thought of this as drudgery. Since returning to the States I've always been obsessed with having the proper ID--as if with every move I make I reprove that I'm American. And I also realized today that every book I've written concerns, in one way or another, a stranger who's in a new land...and must fight to establish his spiritual ID.

My best advice on the challenge is this: don't look harder, or further outside yourself, relax into your history--and you'll find all you need right there.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

My Greatest Train Adventure


20th Century Limited



It's funny how our greatest adventures never seem to happen exactly as we'd planned. Now that I'm here in Seattle, after four and half days on trains, I can say:

The only thing that happened even remotely as planned was my rewriting, on the tracks, my upcoming winter thriller--set on the greatest American train: the Twentieth Century Limited. Even so, it took me longer to get going than I had intended.

You see, this should have included a train-bound romance...breathtaking scenery...happy hours spent online with my Kindle Fire...a movie or TV show as well...good food in the diner...all the sleep I needed after five years of working nights...

But in the past, I'd always had a private cabin, with all my meals included. I'd never deigned to travel coach. And in the past I'd always taken the spectacularly scenic route of the California Zephyr. And I'd been younger in the past, a more likely candidate for a hot fling on the rails--especially with my own cabin. And I found it tricky to sleep, even catnap, with my long legs in the coach seats. And I couldn't afford $25 for a meal. And, misery, except for the first train--an 8 hour ride--wi-fi was not included.

Finally, the scenery was nothing to get too excited about--until halfway through Thursday when it began to heat up.

So Reb MacRath, the great positive thinker, wasn't having the time of his life as he'd hoped. Enter the zone of the Big-Time Boo-Hoo...until the scales fell from my eyes. And I saw: I had a rare opportunity here to work without distraction at any time of day or night, even without a table...if I could make one adjustment. Believe me now, I'm serious: I'd never used a laptop as a LAPtop in my life. If I could learn to do that comfortably, using the touch pad or miniscule joystick...I did.

Sometimes using the adapter, sometimes the 2-hour battery, I worked as I had never worked. I worked in my seat, in the little cafe, in the observation car...completing work on the first third of my book.

Now, wait a minute, someone says. That's your greatest train adventure?

Yes, yes, and yes again. I'd had more cinematic train adventures, I'll admit. But nothing I'd seen, said or done on a train had led me to feel this empowered. I'd learned something new, pulled myself from a funk, and used my present discomfort to fuel my dream of that legendary train. I tuned into the rhythms and sounds of my train, transforming them into the Century's. For that long stretch I was as free as any hobo ever.

And so I sign off no with one last loud Yes. I had an amazing adventure. And I'll share the results in November. Till then, racing down the tracks: a tale of mystery, magic and murder...with affectionate nods to the great Oscar Wilde, who would have loved the Century.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Hello, at long last, to Seattle--almost...

If you have any long distance dreams of your own, here is my happy farewell to a challenge of nearly six months: preparations and actions I took to pull off a difficult cross-country move.

This short portion of my Seattle adventure will remain as a self-contained unit: seven 'blocks' tackling one hurdle after another. And you don't need to move to Seattle to gain from a short time watching another warrior's game.

Here's my happy goodbye before I board the train--and a happier hello to new adventures that await me:


http://theseattlekid.blogspot.com/2014/08/block-7-home-stretch-part-3.html

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Meet Richard Monaco, the Hippest Arthurian Writer

I've just finished reading and reviewing a novel by a brilliant writer whom you may not know. You should. He's been around a good long while--and many of you, on the strength of this book, will become Monaco fans.

Here's the link to my review of Blood and Dreams, one of his Parsival novels:

http://tiny.cc/f0l3kx

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Three Cheers for Lady Striker!






I've been haunted by one memory for nearly twenty years. And it's much on my mind as I work on RC, my upcoming winter release...which continues a battle I've fought for as long: the word count required for a book to be called a novel. RC, when it's finished, will weigh in at just under 40,000 words. In terms of length, tight narrative and speedy style, it's cut from the same cloth as Nobility, April Yule and The Vanishing Magic of Snow. My three 'action mysteries' starring Boss MacTavin aren't much longer, really--45,000-50,000 words.

The short form seems naturally suited to me. And I won't object at all if my books are called Short Novels. But they are not novellas or long short stories. Let's come back to this in a minute...after you've met Lady Striker.

On board a train to work one day, I watched a well-dressed and very pretty blonde--clearly not a nutcase--defacing a thick hardcover book. Estimated length: 800 pages easily. She wielded a black felt tipped pen. Her expression was calmly, but happily, sadistic. At a pace of three pages a minute or so, she blacked out words, sentences or entire paragraphs. She did not deliberate, moving on decisively.

I wondered then and wonder now: Why not return or trash the book if she felt that strongly about it? Why destroy it in that time-consuming way? My personal impression: she was a writer or an editor, or just an angry reader, who'd had it to here with the padding and fluff used to pump short stories up into epics. I believe she may have taken this book as an example--a chance to see what was actually left when the padding and fluff were removed.

I came to call her Lady Striker. And I've known since that day I did not want that woman taking her Sharpie to one of my books.

                                                                    #####

The length issue's made out to be far more complex than it should be. A good starting point on the subect can be found on the website goodshortnovels.com:

http://www.goodshortnovels.com/how.html

When I first started writing Nobility, the first of my Short Novels, I met with such length resistance that I sent out a full-page list of short books sold as novels on the shelves of major stores. The list included The Postman Always Rings Twice, The Old Man and the Sea, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, etc. I'd also noted gift holiday books made up of a few dozen pages but sold as novels nonetheless. But publishers and agents then were unenlightened on the subject--except when, beyond doubt, bucks were to be made.

I believe we need general guidelines. A twenty-page book printed in 16-point type should not be considered a novel. But, regardless of its page or word count, short and long novels deliver these goods: character growth, thematic richness, narrative complexity and resolution.

Now, we don't always want a twelve-course meal:



But even the shortest of novels should offer us more than a bon-bon:




We should finish a novel, regardless of length, with a pleasant sense of fullness...not a hollow craving for more after this: