A New Life in Seattle

A New Life in Seattle
August, 2018

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Weapons of Mass Construction

I know some young digital warriors who embarrass and befuddle me with their high-tech gizmos and space-age savvy. They write every word electronically, including shopping lists and daily journals.

I salute them. And, as an older warrior, I hope to put on a little more speed by blending
 a few of their toys with my own geezer strategies.



Allow me to share my new Weapons of Mass Construction, beginning with the newest.

1) Don't laugh. Pinky, the manly man's pen/pencil case from Yoobi, is ideal for a longhand-writing guy who's often on the go. Inside, it holds a slew of pens and mechanical pencils, highlighters and refills for both pens and pencils. On the back side, there's a separate pouch for a prized pen/pencil set used for composition. And, on the front, a small pouch contains a precious daily jolt: three squares of dark chocolate.




2) The Sanford PhD pen/pencil set. I'm as attached to these as any other writer to the main tools of their craft. The key difference here is that the PhD line has been discontinued. So it's imperative that I look after these since replacements on eBay can run $40 apiece.




3) Amazon's Basic notebook is an excellent, and affordable, version of the Moleskine brand, with good paper, solid binding, plus the inside pouch and outside strap. At $9.99 each, I'll use 5 or 6 of these in the course of a 40K word book. 





4) Here's a shot of the notebook in action. After months of notes and outlining, I've started the first draft, using the right side for writing and the left for notes toward the next day's work.




5) Dragon Naturally Speaking is a terrific tool for longhand writers. Several times a week I'll dictate all or most of the pages I've written. This way, I won't be stuck with a month or more of typing at the end of my first draft, most of my typing riddled with typos and other errors. Plus, I can dictate hundreds of words a minute instead of typing badly 60 wpm.





6) Grammarly Premium. 


Grammarly's free plan should lead you to try, at least, the premium plan. What a difference it made to me! By the time I sent out my new book to beta readers, GP had cleaned up about 98% of all typos and glitches, also questioning word usage, sentence construction, missing or unnecessary commas, etc. I got an annual subscription at a special rate of $50--and I'll definitely renew, even at full price.


7) Extreme energizer. Whenever I feel pussywhipped by the prolificness of certain writers, I take a gander at this list. Wonderful books have been written by writers with more modest words.


Sunday, May 26, 2019

1000/100/10: My New Facebook Plan

The joke was on me for believing that great numbers on Facebook mean power. How I envied any writer who had 5000 Friends! When I cracked my first 1000, I wanted to stand on a rooftop like Jimmy Cagney and roar:



Aside from family and a few personal friends, my Friend base consisted of:
95% writers
5% readers and fans.

Of the writers, at the start, 98% were horror writers. Though I hadn't written horror since my fourth Kelley Wilde book in 1993, I craved the communal sense. But nothing ever came of it and I saw that it was an illusion. I had little interest in horror fiction and these friends, in return, had no interest in my new direction despite my Sizzling Sales Events.

After a half-dozen years on Facebook, I needed to re-evaluate the size and makeup of my Friend base while improving my use of the platform. I've decided on these strategies:

Base Size and Makeup
1) Reduce from 2500 to 1500 a.s.a.p., then prune this down to 1000: writers, readers and people with whom I share some common ground and will keep in touch with on birthdays, event days, occasional whatever days.
2) Within the thousand, choose a hundred as the core and nurture these friendships with care.
3) Within the hundred, select ten tried and tested, rare vintage souls as the heart of the core.
4) Create a beautifully proportioned mix of writers from all genres: Horror, to honor my roots, but also Mystery, Crime, and Literary fiction.



Guerilla Tacks for Non-Gorillas
If you're a Gorilla like David Morrell, James Patterson, or Stephen King, you can have 5000 FB Friends who'll buy your books and ask nothing more of you than the honor of being your Friend. With your Author Page then you can add thousands more. If you're a Gorilla In Training, you'll need a secretary to help you build your base while feeding FB and Twitter non-stop entertaining fluff to keep your name in view.



Otherwise, guerilla tactics will help you satisfy a thousand while freeing you to properly nurture the hundred and ten.
1) When my list is down to 1500, I'll honor every birthday.
2) I'll respond to everything that pops up in my Notifications with either a Like or a message.
3) For the hundred, I'll Share aggressively: news of events, reviews of their books, etc.
4) For the ten, I'll become a great gardener.


                                                     DEADLINE: JUNE 30


By this date, I plan to have whittled my friend base down to 1500, a strong start.  So far I've cut close to 200.

And by then I'll have chosen my hundred.

If you've read this and want to remain Friends, it's easy: reach out. Leave a Like or comment so your name comes up. Once I respond, we should start showing on each other's Notifications.

We don't need to be Gorillas to make the most of Facebook.








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
Cover
Proofreading
Editing
An interesting, unusual story
Riveting opening pages
Etc.

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.
vow
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.'
--Nabokov

                                                                       *****

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

Testing...Testing,,

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.


Sunday, February 24, 2019

The Manly Art of Ironing

Has a small decision in your life ever been a real Eureka moment? Say, instead of doing something the usual way you decided to do it another. And then, seeing that the new way was better, you saw a slew of other things that called for changing too. Not just new ways of doing things, new styles of inner architecture.

 



My adventure started with a lovely pre-loved flannel shirt with two pockets whose flaps needed pressing. I'd acquired so many shirts that I'd already started to dread future cleaning bills. Now and then, I'd think wistfully of buying an iron and ironing board--but I was a man. Men don't iron. Yesterday, though, on my way to the dry cleaners, I stopped. How hard could it be to learn the fundamentals of ironing shirts? And what would the cost be, compared to dry cleaning some 65 shirts every year?

I decided to test my ingenuity and skill, starting off with a visit to Target. I found a dozen-odd irons to choose from and an array of ironing boards. My determining factors:  studio-friendly size...a brand name that I trusted...cost.

I left with a small Sunbeam steam iron:

                              
And, to go with it, a countertop ironing board:

                                Standard Ironing Board Light Gray Metal - Made By Designâ„¢


My total cost was less than that of dry cleaning just 30 shirts. But I still didn't know how to iron!

Thumbs up to Sunbeam for clear instructions on the use of and care for the iron. And the ironing board mounted flat on the kitchen countertop. I'd learned I could use the steam function with tap water--not distilled, as I'd guessed. Or I could dry iron if I pleased. I pleased, for my initial run at least. And I'd start with the flap-wild shirt pockets and collar.

It sounds silly to make a big deal of this, yes. But as an exercise in mastery, there's nothing silly about it. Next: what were my options for ironing a full shirt? I could fine-tune, as I pleased, but were there agreed-upon basics? Did I need a book to learn this or should I ask everybody I knew? No, I'd learn this privately, with a little help online.

The online friend I've learned to trust for all masculine matters is The Art of Manliness. And there I found just what I needed:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0EpinulvKTA

Now the great ripple effect was in motion. I began to think of other ways and modes of thought that needed changing.

Writing:
1) To gain speed, I don't necessarily need to compose more quickly. I do need, though, to dictate my handwritten drafts into Dragon Naturally Speaking regularly as I go.
2) I need to make better use of the promoting services Amazon offers now that I have a modest hit in The Big Bopper. (50-plus 4 and 5-star reviews.)
3) I should look into approaching Kirkus for a review of my WIP, which is strong and offbeat.

Job search:
1) I need to follow my original plan to sit tight until mid-March when I've made full use of my medical/dental benefits. But instead of doing nothing, I need to prepare.
2) Preparation includes touting the certificate I've received from an online course in medical terminology.
3) I should also buff my resume to justify the higher salary I'm worth.


And so on. You catch my drift. Your own adventure can begin with anything...including a neatly pressed shirt.






Monday, February 11, 2019

Let Your Writer's Bible Save You

Let's begin with the moral, up front: a mountain of knowledge and research are worth no more than a pile of beans if you can't retrieve what you need in a blink. If you've found yourself wondering 'I know I read about this somewhere...but where?', then you know what I mean. You try Googling the subject, finding thousands of related entries...but not the one you want. Then you look at the shelves of books you read for research...but where in those thousands of pages is the one nugget you need? Or--here's something for all series writers--what are the ages/heights/weights/histories of your characters?



Years ago, I'd tried mastering this challenge by using index cards. But a pair of problems bested me:
1) I had to write my entries in longhand, an arduous process often yielding illegible results.
2) The eventual bulk became daunting as the card numbers swelled to a thousand, then five...I'd have needed a team of monks for updating and cataloging. 

Through the years I tried other strategies, none of them truly successful. But last year, when I published the first of the Seattle BOP mysteries, I knew that I needed a Bible. If I intended to write convincing mysteries about insurance fraud, I'd damned well better know my stuff. I faced the same problems I outlined above after reading a shelf filled with pricey, first-class texts over the course of a year.

Here's the strategy I followed as a writer requiring hard vs. digital records:
1) I flipped through every text, tagging with Post-It Notes the passages I'd already checked.
2) I bought a new 5x8 ringed ARC notebook with detachable pages. As time passed, I knew, I'd be adding more pages or shifting some about. I paid more a handsome notebook that I'd take pride in keeping.
3) I put Dragon Naturally Speaking to work.



After selecting the double-page format, I dictated all the passages I'd tagged, careful to list author, book, and page. I dictated in full for three reasons: I couldn't be sure, in advance, how much or how little I'd use. I wanted protection against accidental plagiarising. And I wanted to be able to cite my resources if anyone questioned my research.
4) When I'd finished--at this first edition of my Bible--I had about 10,000 words. I took the flash drive to FedEx/Kino and had them copy and cut the pages for my ARC.
5) After hole-lunching the pages--one page at a time, alas--I mounted them with clear section dividers between. Once again, I needed speed!

Results of my first trial run:
In the third draft of the new series' second entry,  I needed to find two things quickly: information I'd gleaned about 'medical mills', just enough to make my hero seem to know more than he does. And I needed a cool trick I'd gleaned, something or other about office phones. I found my two answers in twenty seconds, total.

What's up next?
I need to add a section for the main series characters.  Luckily, this is a new series, so there's no need to go back through all the Boss MacTacin mysteries. At least not yet. But I do need to re-read The Big Bopper, making notes of all the key characters' data. Readers are right to raise hell over inconsistencies from book to book. (Hey, what about X's green eyes? You said Y was 29!)




The first edition of my personal Good Book has already saved my bacon twice. From here on, the key for me is keep researching--setting my series apart from the pack--then dictating and printing my quotes as I go.

I plan to sin no further now that I've seen the light. Write your own, or keep yours digitally, and I'm certain you'll soon say the same.


Sunday, January 27, 2019

It's that time, cat time, again



I adore cats and always have. For ten years, in Atlanta and Portland,  I was blessed with the companionship of a brother-sister pair of cats named Romeo and Juliette. They kept me sane in difficult times. Then, when Romeo died in his tenth year, I took Juliette with me to Charlotte. We formed an especially close bond in the final five years of her life.

After her death, I moved to Seattle, where I've been cat-less for over four years. Here's what those four years have taught me:
1) We can come up with many good reasons for putting off getting a cat: I'm not home enough to take proper care of a pet...I can't afford the food and vet bills...It hurts too much to see a pet die...A cat may destroy my apartment...Etc., etc., etc.
2) If we're meant to have a cat, one day we'll know that the pros outweigh the cons. And we'll begin tackling the cons one by one: pet insurance...a better paying job with a more cat-friendly schedule...a reasonably priced pet supply store with cool toys and scratching posts...a no cat zone, if necessary, for precious clothes or papers.
3)  It isn't a chore and it's more than a duty to care and look after a small, furry friend who wants nothing more than our love in return. Well, that and cool high spots to jump...delightful things to hang from...and ways to drive us delightfully nuts.
4) Finally, it's a lot worse than selfish for us to refuse to recover from the passing of a cat friend. Other cats need loving homes and deserve a place in the procession.




Cat Day will be in March for me. So far, I've found a fine place for adopting and a great pet store for supplies. I'm looking into pet insurance and my apartment building will work will allow me to spread out the pet security deposit. The main remaining task is to make my place cat-friendly, with a few good jumping spots, window seats, etc. My dressing room will be off limits when I'm at work our out.



Gender: I want a female cat.
Age: I think 1-2 years old will be best.
Name: I think I'll go with Nova unless another name comes to mind when I meet the right cat...the just-purrfect cat for a writer.