Author Archives: sirsteve

Handwriting

handwritingI’ve mentioned in other blogs how I like to write my books in longhand first then transcribe it to a word document. I’ve mentioned how I can think faster than I can write, and my mind is moving ahead of what my hand is writing, if only a little bit in the future. I can think of what I want the next line to say. This is opposed to if I’m typing, I can type faster than I can think, so I would be pausing after almost every line to ‘catch up’.

The typing of the handwritten is actually the first edit. It’s the first chance to see how the sentences will sound, sort of, and if I can usually see a bigger picture and maybe think of things to add or delete from this section of others.

The problem I run into a lot is sometimes I can’t read my handwriting. Yes, it’s true. I will freely admit I have crappy cursive. Always have from my elementary days. Not very many teachers could read it and there were times, as there are times now, when some words were/are not able to be deciphered by me. Maybe I can remember what I meant if I go back and read the sentence and try to put the word in context, but there have been many times when even that fails.

The problem is I write too fast. I’m trying to get down those words and move on. Because of this, I stumble, and have to go back and cross out words, lines, or even entire paragraphs because my mind figures out that something doesn’t work. Sometimes, while I’m trying to figure out the right words-and the order of them-I will go back and in tiny script, write in an extra line. Other times, I have realized I need to add a short conversation or a description, so I will turn the page sideways and scribble in the margin.

Longhand gives me the advantage of being able to write at times and in places I couldn’t if I relied on having a laptop. Riding in a car. At a restaurant/coffee shop. On the plane. (Although I haven’t flown in years. However, if all goes well, I’ll flying to Phoenix next year. Long story, ask me about sometime.) All I need is a notebook and a pen. If it’s cooler weather, I have a pen in each coat/jacket. If warmer weather, I will remember to put the notebook in a folder that can hold a pen.

Having a folder is why I also prefer legal pads. Carboard back slides right into the folder and I’m set. I’ll buy a pack of three, four, or five pads. Some months ago, I discovered I had a bunch of notebooks, so I’ve been using up those. I also discovered that I had acquired a bunch of scrap paper, and decided to make my own ‘notepaper’ by typing lines on a word document and printing them onto the blank scrap paper. I don’t know why, but I then decided against using the paper, maybe because I had a bunch of sheets and didn’t have a place to put them. I think I stored them away from future use. At the time of this writing, I am now using those sheets. I bought a three ring binder, three hole punched the sheets, and am using them. What the hec? I know notebooks aren’t that expensive, but if I have the paper, why not use it? Sometimes my mind gets a bit quirky.

I know another writer who also writes longhand for part of her stories, so I’m not the only one. At least she can read her own handwriting.

Maybe someday, I’ll learn to slow down and make mine legible…

…probably not.

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Smoking, Part II

noir smokingSeveral years ago, I wanted to write a story that reflected the noir mysteries of the thirties and forties. About the world-weary private investigator who stumbles from one mess to another trying to solve the case he didn’t want in the first place. I wanted this guy to be completely different from my heroine Mallory Petersen in every respect.

This guy is in his mid 40s, smokes Lucky Strikes, and drinks Ten High bourbon. (If anybody can think of a cheaper quality bourbon, please let me know. I had Maker’s Mark to begin with but changed it to something less expensive.) He smokes and drinks a lot. He’s not used to a lot of modern technology. He doesn’t own a cell phone and is frustrated by the multiple steps needed to fill up his mid 70s car.

I remember attending a seminar where author J.A. Jance spoke. I was honored to have a chance to talk to her for a few minutes one on one after the seminar. I mentioned how I had enjoyed listening to the audio version of her books and thought the narrator at the time had done an excellent job. During the seminar, she discussed her Seattle detective, J.P Beaumont. He, too, drinks in the early books in the series. Later, he finds help to quit. After she had written a few books, she received emails from readers who told her that Beaumont, while a good detective, would not have been able to function and do his job with the amount of alcohol he drank in each book. So, in subsequent books, she had to ‘fix’ the issue.

When I set out to create my smoker/drinker, I kept that in mind. Originally, his name was John Habeck. During my reading of the chapters to the critique group, it was mentioned (for another writer’s piece, not mine) that John was a pretty bland name. Not that it couldn’t be used, but if another name would work better, then the writer should consider changing the name. I did. I hunted around for a better name, one that would still fit the character. I want to give credit to a couple friends of mine in Ohio for suggesting the name, but I can’t. They moved to Ohio from Iowa long before I joined the critique group, so I’m a bit confused myself as to why I think they gave me the name. I have to admit, I’m not sure where I came up with Sebastian. Maybe I was perusing a baby name book and that name popped out and stuck with me.

As to his vices, he begins the story waking up from a three day bender celebrating New Year’s. He immediately feeds his stomach another shot of bourbon before accepting a case to find his missing ex-niece. Well, I must make a slight correction. He begins HIS story waking up in his office, not THE story. I’ve read where one shouldn’t begin a book by having the main character waking up. So, I added a short beginning chapter to introduce the girl who goes missing.

Throughout the book, Habeck smokes a lot. He doesn’t drink too much, just sips from a flask now and again, which probably is not proper since he drives. However, he is able to function and take on the missing girl case as well as a second case involving the nephew of a sandwich shop owner.

I wrote the book in first person present tense. I hope I give the feeling of the old mysteries with his judgments and use of metaphor/simile, the quotes at the beginning of each chapter, and his occasional use of words that might have you scurrying for a dictionary. Yes, I included those words on purpose, because that’s also part of his character. Despite his slovenliness and smoking and drinking, he is an intelligent man still in love with his ex-wife who is also his landlord and secretary. Yeah, what a complicated relationship. Where Mallory has fun going around Des Moines having adventures in various corners of the metro, Habeck portrays the city like it’s one big bad neighborhood in New York or Chicago. Dismal. Snowy. Dirty. Too loud. Too confusing. But, he can’t leave because, well, it’s home.

In the book, I bring up the matter of drug addiction and play the irony card about his. I hope New Year Gone will be published soon so you can enjoy a different type of character than fun Mallory.

Smoking. I will have to remember to have future characters smoke. Either bad guys or minor characters. Either way, I’ll have the vice either humorous or annoyingly humorous for the main character.

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Character Traits – Smoking

smokingI’ve touched on this subject in the past, but I want to revisit this to discuss one thing I should try to include in my stories more often than I do.

Let me start by reminding you what you saw in a lot of those old black and white movies. Three main things come to mind.

  1. All the guys wore hats.
  2. Depending on the movie, nobody drank anything but alcohol. Every time somebody came into the house, he/she headed to the bar to pour a glass of scotch or whiskey or to make a mixed drink. Martinis were served before dinner. Wine or spirits was served at restaurants.
  3. Most of the characters smoked. Again depending on the movie.

All of the private investigators in the noir films smoked. I can’t think of one femme fatale who didn’t have a cigarette, usually stuck in the end of a long holder. Hero and heroine, bad guy or gang dame smoked. Characters such as what E.G. Robinson played usually smoked cigars. Some of the fashionable heroes lit a pipe.

I’ve never smoked. Okay, I admit, I puffed once on one cigarette, a cigar, and tried a pipe, but they so awful I never did it again. Besides the health issues, I don’t understand how people think they ‘taste’ good. The odor gets into everything. One of my downstairs neighbors where I used to live, who left after a short-term residence, smoked, and for months my clothes had a cigarette odor. Faint, but there. In Junior High, I walked into my math teacher’s room and developed a headache from the cigarette he smoked…an hour before. (This was back when teachers could smoke in the rooms and not restricted to the teachers’ lounge.)

I loved the commercials about the toothpaste for smokers. Remember the one showing the pretty blonde meeting her boyfriend and they hug and kiss and he comments how she must have stopped smoking because her teeth are so white and her breath is so fresh? They hug and she gives a mischievous smile at the camera. She still smoked but used the toothpaste which erased the evidence. Uh, excuse me? Did he not smell the smoke in her hair, on her clothes? Did they get into her car afterward? Bet he wouldn’t besniffing that ‘new car’ odor. It was a ridiculous commercial because there was no logic to it. Anybody with common sense found the problem right away.

Anyway, I was thinking about my stories and how I don’t have too many smokers. I think it’s because I don’t smoke that sometimes I don’t remember that others do. In movies, on television and in books.

Of course, Mallory doesn’t smoke. Are you kidding? She’s the all-American gorgeous blonde, martial artist. Sure she wears the Sam Spade trench coat and hat, but that’s as far as she’ll imitate Bogart in that role. She liked his grittiness, how he spoke, and how he dealt with the bad guys. She wouldn’t have missed the cigarette, but understands it was part of the persona.

Lawrence, her boyfriend, doesn’t smoke. She wouldn’t have dated him had he lit up. In fact, almost none of my characters in any of my books smoke. I do have a few exceptions.

  1. Chief Peter Inis in Alpha and Dum Blonde (currently in rewrites). He smokes everywhere and doesn’t care about the bans on smoking in public buildings, including the police department.
  2. The two Rays briefly seen in Beta and who get more spotlight in Gamma. However, they partake in marijuana rather than straight tobacco.
  3. In another novel I have mentioned, New Year Gone, the main character smokes.

Next time, let’s discuss this guy.

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Thomas

thomas 1This wasn’t going to be my regularly scheduled post, but felt compelled to write a little something here. I wasn’t going to go on Facebook or Twitter and make the announcement, but I thought since I write a regular blog, I might as well do it here.

This was written yesterday after I had to say goodbye to a buddy of mine who’s been with me for 18 years. When I moved out of an apartment complex into an apartment house, I was allowed to own a pet. I went to the local animal shelter and found a cat that they figured was around a year and a half old. The shelter had named it Tom, so I formalized it to Thomas. He was a big cat and that was one of the reasons I was attracted to him. I had to wait a week for the shelter to confirm with my landlord that it was okay to have pets.

I remember he was so scared when I brought him home. He hid behind the couch for three hours, came out once for just a short while then returned to hide for another two hours.

He soon became acclimated to the apartment, running up and down the stairs, room to room, sliding across the linoleum to bang into some shelves (he did that only once). I lived on the second floor and there was a long stair well down to the door and outside, a balcony that had stairs to the ground. I found some bouncy-type balls and countless times we’d play at the bottom of the stair well. I’d toss up the ball and he’d bat it. I’d do that for a few times, then throw it up the stairs and he’d run after it. He loved toys, but he also loved simple things like paper balls. I remember one time I was in bed with a snack. I tore off the top part of the plastic package, rolled it up and threw it off the bed. He jumped off the bed, retrieved it and brought it back. We spent 20 minutes of my throwing it off and his bringing it back.

I had placed his food dish on top of a computer box and he’d jump up to get to it…until he became a bit older and didn’t feel like jumping that far.

He never liked a permanent collar. Six month’s into our time together, I tried a collar and discovered he’d tried to paw it off. Unfortunately, it hadn’t gotten stuck in his mouth. However, one of the great things we’d do is I’d put on the collar and hook up a leash and a long nylon rope and we’d sit outside. He’d go down the stairs and lay on the sidewalk or the grass. At first he was scared of the traffic and people but in time became used to everything. He even explored and became the mighty hunter by taking down his first and only bird from a bush.

Then we did something that we would continue for years after. We went for walks. At first around the house, always on the leash, then into neighboring blocks. Many times, it took some persuading, but he’d do all right. One of our favorite spots was up at the Oskaloosa town square and some of the offshoot streets. Mainly the square, though, once around the perimeter, then we’d sit on a bench for a while before returning home. All of this walking was done at night, because he was pretty scared of daylight activity. The square at night, though was quiet for the most part. Sometimes he was scared, but we always got through it.

In 2013, my job took me to southeast Iowa where I lived in a my sister’s camper trailer at a campground/permanent trailer park. Moving day was stressful and he didn’t like being in the carrier. When we were settled in to the trailer, he found a hiding space until he became acclimated to the trailer. After a time, we started our walks. A different environment than the city and only once did we travel any distance. For a three week period, I had to change to my parents’ trailer while my sister used hers. I was still working mostly the night shift, so there were many nights I was up till the early morning hours. I remember one night I was outside on the deck either reading or writing and I didn’t realize the screen door to the trailer was ajar. Thomas wandered out and away. At first I was upset and searched the entire area of the camping area. I couldn’t find him anywhere. Then I was scared because he had no concept of wild animals and was defenseless with no front claws. I fretted for about half an hour when he leapt back onto the deck fine as anything.

We moved to Carlisle in the fall of ‘13, and once again, he found a hiding place in the apartment until he was used to the new place. We continued our walks, usually uptown and some neighboring streets. He became more resistant to walking, but most of the time did all right. We fell into a routine where I’d park at the beginning of the block, we’d walk the length of the block, over to the alley, cut through a parking lot to the next street. At the ‘third’ corner of our route we’d take a break at the restaurant that left tables and chairs out on their patio. I remember one time a patrol officer came by and the female officer was amazed at how Thomas would go walking. After a ten minute break, we’d walk back to the car and go home.

This year, since I was forced to work at home, we spent a lot of time out on the front steps. We walked around the building and we did it so many times he knew the route and would even initiate the walk. After a while, I didn’t even bother with the leash.

Throughout the years he’d been sick a couple times. Once early on when I fed him some cheap food and he developed a urinary tract infection. Last November he had constipation which had us at an all night hospital at midnight. A few teeth pulled but annual checkups. He was due for one this July, but in May, I noticed him walking around like he was confused. And he’d walk in circles. And he had something wrong with his legs, that he was walking weird and standing in an awkward position. He’d want more attention from me. The vet worked him in and determined that there was some neurological issue affecting his brain that also affected his muscles. She gave me some medicine for arthritis which seemed to help and for a few weeks, he was almost back to normal. Then more problems manifested. His vision started failing and he wasn’t jumping on the couch like normal and he wasn’t realizing where he was walking sometimes. One time, as we were coming back inside, he got turned around, went between the rails and walked off the side of the steps. He wasn’t hurt, but I kept a better watch on him after that.

Well, the end came yesterday. And it came faster than I thought it would. Around 10, he walked over for some attention and I obliged for a bit. Then around 11, I was up making lunch and I came around the edge of the wall and saw him laying on the floor where he never rests and his abdomen was jerking like he had the hiccups. Turned out he was gasping for breath, that he wasn’t getting oxygen. The vet thought there might be a clot in his lungs, suggested an X-ray, but said sometimes that didn’t show anything. I could take him to a hospital where they could do some expensive procedures which might work.

I made the decided to end the suffering. I held him while the vet gave him a sedative to numb him. He was a little violent because the fluid hurt going in. He gave me some good bites, but after a bit, he was numb. I handed him over to the vet for the final procedure and went home.

No, I didn’t have a place for burial and I didn’t opt for the ashes.

I came home, emptied the litter box and put it in the tub to give a thorough cleaning, emptied and washed the food and water bowls, and picked up a couple of toys on the floor. I still have some canned food I bought last month and a new canister of litter.

I’m writing this hours afterward because I wanted to get something down so I’d have a record to go back to if I wanted to remember.

Thomas enjoyed a good brushing and a belly rub. He didn’t like baths and though resisted going outside, was pretty cool once we were out there and the walks helped. I think the extra activity was an aid to a longer life than normal. Just over 19-1/2 years.

I’m saddened, but the loss hasn’t really hit me, yet. Yes, I’ve lost pets before, but they were family pets. I remember Spot the dog and Tramp the dog. I was pretty young when I discovered Spot had died. Tramp was with us for a long time. I would never say they were less important, but Thomas was my pet, the one I cared for, loved, and was a buddy to. Friends helped during the times I was gone from home for more than a night and he took to them well.

No, I don’t like working from home, but with the onset of his condition in May, I’m glad I had the extra time to spend with him.

It’s too soon to think about getting another. I need time to think and be sad and remember. This hit so fast I haven’t been able to take it in what with needing to stay busy at work.

I know this isn’t the best blog writing I’ve done and it’s longer than normal, but I don’t care. As I mentioned earlier, I felt compelled to get down some highlights of the past 18 years.

I’ll miss my buddy. He was always a good cat.

thomas 2

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Rules of Writing

rulesRules. Everybody has them. Some I agree with. Some I don’t. Some I don’t understand.

Rules for driving: Move over if you’re in the left hand lane and someone wants to pass. Use your turn signal. Watch out for errant pedestrians who don’t understand math. (Your car is around 2000 pounds. The pedestrian weighs an average of 160? My math says 2000 goes over 160 one time with nothing left over.)

Rules for the workplace: Be on time. Give the employer a full hour’s work for a full hour’s pay. Don’t stand up in front of your boss and shout, “This @#$!%^$&^%@$& project is absolute !@#$%^&*

Rules for dating: Yeah, I don’t understand them anymore. But that’s a story for another time.

What about rules for writing? What are they? Can they be broken or at least bent?

In one of my critique groups the moderator has often stated the first rule of writing: Never be boring.

Let’s explore that.

I’ve read stories where the punctuation is missing in places, the grammar is not quite the Queen’s English, the dialogue is average, but the plot and storyline are excellent. Yes, some editing needed to be done, but because I enjoyed the story, I can-somewhat-forgive the errors. When what is written and how it’s written doesn’t work and the storyline has holes, and my enjoyment level has dropped, all of the mistakes are that much more apparent.

Don’t be boring. You will write a first draft. Unless you are Rex Stout and a few others, you will write a second draft, maybe a tenth. In some form or another. You try to fix the things that don’t work. However, be aware of the good things about your story, the parts that people enjoy. Take notes of the things those critiquing find off, but take note of the complimentary comments. Did they like your dialogue? Did they like some bits of phraseology? Was the action scene riveting enough to keep them interesting? Be aware of that because then you know what good things you’re doing and to keep doing them.

Sometimes, my mindset is a bit…illogical. Years ago, I had the thought that I must tolerate an inferior product because somebody gave it to me to use. Towels from my mother. I felt I had to use them because it was my mom and they were free, so I had to use them even though they really didn’t do the job anymore. I bought anthologies and read every story because that’s what you do. I bought the book, I wanted my money’s worth, so I read every story even though some of the shorts were average or below.

I don’t do that anymore. If the towels are old and too small for my purposes, I’ll use them for something else other than drying my body after a shower. Or I’ll buy new towels. Ditto with other products.

With books, I haven’t bought anthologies for a while. Even from very good authors whose novels I’ve purchased and read. Sorry, but some of the short stuff doesn’t work for me anymore. They start out boring and I don’t want to waste time reading them.

I’ve downloaded a bunch of audio books. I’m listening to them either on my phone or on re-writable CDs in the car. When I downloaded them, I looked at the blurb to tell me a bit about the story. Most of the stories are fine. Great, in fact. There have been several where I can’t get into the story or lose it quickly because the work I’m doing needs my attention and the part of my brain enjoying the story sort of goes into neutral. If that happens, I’ll take them home and try them on the CDs. In the car, it’s a bit easier to drive and listen and take in the story. If, for some reason, I lose the line of the story, I won’t tolerate it and knuckle through it. I will give up and move to the next book. I have hundreds of books to read and/or listen to. I’m not going to get myself bogged down into something I don’t enjoy. Ditto with some of the e-books I’ve downloaded. Grab my interest within a chapter or two or I’m gone.

So, rules. We all have them and most of us follow most of them. Just don’t catch yourself trying to enjoy something when it’s not. Move on to the next book…like mine. I guarantee you mine won’t be boring.

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History Of Writing – V

Des moinesWow, so much has happened in the last 6+ years. I don’t know if I’ll be able to keep everything in order.

When I moved to Carlisle, I rejoined the Knoxville group. I also rejoined the Barnes & Noble group. New members, some people I’d met at writers retreats, smaller group. More poetry than before.

I’ve been attending conferences. One time down to Nashville, the annual one in Montezuma (actually Grinnell last year), Minnesota. Author events all over the region. I joined Sisters in Crime and developed the logo for the Iowa branch.

I finished Yellow Belt Youth and Camo Belt Caper. I finished Nights of Wine and Ghosts. I wrote a number of short stories which have been included in several anthologies. For links to those, check out my blog at stephenbrayton.wordpress.com. White Belt Weapons was published in full. In 2018, Neo Leaf picked up and republished Alpha and Beta. I have written horror shorts that have won three contest put on by the Knoxville group.

Two years after I moved to Carlisle, I took a position at a company that was called Gannett Image and Design Company (and is still referred to by the acronym at times) but has been renamed DesignIQ. Because of my hours changing, I’ve found time in the morning to write and make progress on new stories. I try to come in every day at 6 and spend at least a couple hours either writing new material or typing in what I’ve written into Scrivener. I’m still attending the Tuesday night group at Barnes & Noble. Not every week, but enough to keep everyone happy. I have had a poem published in Lyrical Iowa 2018 and 2019 and have submitted three for consideration in hopes that one will be included in the 75th anniversary edition in ’20. In the past, I’ve expressed my shoulder shrug for poetry. I will continue to say ‘I don’t write poetry’ even though people don’t believe me. I’ve been asked to finish the colored belt short stories in order to put them in one volume.

I will continue to seek out publishers/agents to get Night Shadows, Night of Wine and Ghosts, and other stories. I will continue to attend author events and conferences. I will continue to write new material.

I will continue to add to the history of writing.

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History Of Writing – IV

booksI will always remember when I made an informal query to Oak Tree’s acquisition editor at the time. We had met and talked at the KN conference and became email friends. She accepted the resurrected Alpha and Oak Tree published it in 2011. I remember attending the KN conference that year to sell my books. They arrived a bit late but made for me to sell a couple that year and none the next time I attended. In 2016 (I think that’s correct), Oak Tree closed. Sales numbers may have been low, but I never received one dollar of royalties. While I feel for the publisher, I will say the company was not organized very well and there was zero foresight.

By this time I had started on Delta (the next in the Mallory Petersen series) and trying to get Night of Wine and Ghosts (sequel to Night Shadows). I also had discovered the Marion County Writers Workshop in Knoxville, a wonderful critique group that meets every Thursday at the Nearwood Winery, a couple miles south of town. Its members write. Most of them have something to read every time they attend. The critique is constructive, beneficial, and worthwhile. The group does have fun, but we’re there to improve our writing.

In 2012 I was contacting colleges and bookstores and radio stations and newspapers and magazine in an attempt to promote my books. One of those magazines was Taekwondo Times. Since I was in martial arts and writing about a martial artist, I was hoping for an interview and some promotion. They accepted. In November, I received a call from one of the company’s staff with a proposal. They would provide me with free advertising in exchange for some short stories that could be serialized. The magazine was published every other month so I had plenty of time to get my stories submitted. Well, I happened to have a couple of those colored belt shorts ready to go. I submitted White Belt Weapons in three parts. I was ready to get writing to crank out the whole range of colored belt stories.

The next May, my life changed. The motel for which I worked was sold and I knew I wasn’t going to be employed much longer. However, the company had an opening at a motel in Keokuk. I had two weeks to move. I lived at a campground, in a camper trailer until October, when I moved to Carlisle. While in the extreme southeast part of the state, I was eager to receive each issue of Taekwondo Times and see my story and the book promotion. The Parts 1 and 2 came out, but Part 3 was not published and there was no further promotion. When I called the company, I discovered a few things.

  1. I had a live and learn moment in that I should have required a written contract with the company instead of a verbal agreement with the businessperson with whom I spoke. I was informed that a decision had been made to not continue with the stories or the advertising.
  2. Most everybody at the company are freelancers and they change personnel more often than I change my underwear. So, there was no record of any agreement, nobody passed along any information, and nobody called me to tell me of their decision.
  3. The second story I had submitted was lost in the system and probably had been deleted.

I find this a horrible set of business practices. Good magazine, good article, good martial arts coverage, terrible business operations. I wrote a letter to them telling how nobody won because of their decision. The magazine lost a regular provider of material. The readers lost some entertainment. I lost promotion. Plus, did it make any sense to publish the first two parts of a story and not publish the third, then cancel the stories?

Let’s try to wrap this up next week when I move to the Des Moines area.

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History Of Writing – III

writers groupI enjoyed the B&N group. I met another writer and we became friends, meeting often and traveling to conferences together. The group, though, was being edged out of the store and the numbers dwindled. After we left B&N, we met at Borders Books. Unfortunately, the numbers continued to fall and the number of people reading every week fell, too. When it came to the point where, for example, eight people showed up and only three read and we all broke up to go socialize, I stopped attending. I felt I was wasting my time

A smaller group formed but it soon broke up when one member moved and another was going off to do other activities. I tried another group that met once a month, but soon discovered that the dates set just didn’t work for me and the group broke up soon anyway. There was another group at a library off 9th that I attended once, but just didn’t feel connected.

Not sure when, but somewhere in the middle 2000s I started writing some short stories with Mallory Petersen. My thought was I’d write a short and have as part of the title one of the colored belts in my taekwondo organization. Hence, White Belt Weapons, Orange Belt Opportunities, Yellow Belt Youth, Camo Belt Caper, etc. Currently, I have those first four completed and Green Belt Greed outlined. More about what happened with those short stories later.

Around 2005 or ’06, I joined a group of six writers as the token male (lol), and we formed Shades of Ink. A small weekly critique group and most of us had works in progress. I think that group helped me learn more of the craft of writing because we had attended seminars and workshops. One of the conferences we attended was a collaboration of two conferences that had merged. Dark & Stormy and Love is Murder. It was held one year in February, and the cool thing about this conference was that they had agents, acquisition editors, and publishers who were accepting story pitches. I met my future first publisher, but she didn’t accept my stories. In fact, none of them did. It was disappointing to learn that most of those agents and editors listened to the pitches, asked for submissions, then rejected everything. If any manuscript was accepted, I didn’t hear of it. I did, however, have another chance to further edit Beta.

Things change and SoI dissolved and I moved on. The Killer Nashville conference was up next and I re-met my first publisher, Echelon, and after pitching the same story, plus Beta, was asked to submit. This time, Beta, Night Shadows, and a few short stories were accepted. This is when I learned the next stage in publishing. Edits and delays. I became an editor for Echelon for a short period until I ran into an atrociously written book about vampires. How it got through to acceptance, I’ll never know, but I went through four rounds with the author before handing it off to someone else. I was later told it never should have come to me and never should have been accepted. The problems were too numerous to list. The premise was relatively fine, but the physics, continuity, punctuation, and common sense things didn’t exist. For example: The story took place near a swamp. Louisiana and Florida are the only places I know in America containing the type of swamps mentioned. That’s fine, but you can’t have the women out tanning by the pool one day and having a snowball fight the next in either of those places. There were plenty of other things wrong and I don’t think it was ever published anywhere.

Beta and Night Shadows came out in 2009 in eBook format. No print, which meant I didn’t have copies to sell and nothing to show people at author events. Sales were dismal. The short stories were never published. In 2014, Echelon went on a ‘hiatus’ that has lasted about six years so far. I received back my rights.

In 2009, I met the acquisition editor for Oak Tree Press and I’ll continue next week.

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History Of Writing – II

hardy boysMom recalls the story I wrote long ago. It was about a boy who got himself into trouble and was disciplined. Apparently, it was sort of an autobiography but, I don’t remember writing it. She still has it somewhere.

I remember I enjoyed books early on. Book stores became a favorite haunt and I admit I probably spent more money than practical at times. Like the hardcover version of Stephen King’s It. I won’t get into the number of books I’ve bought over the years, but at some point, in the mid-seventies, I had an urge to write stories. I remember I started a story about World War III and having the President being killed. I thought it was daring of me for one of the characters to mutter, “Damn President.”

I also loved mystery stories. Hardy Boys, Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators, others. I wanted to write mysteries. I’ve told about how I created a cop name Sam P. Peterson, but recall writing only one story, The Mysterious Couch, where Sam is after some jewel thieves and gets kidnapped and put into a room with a couch in which he finds the jewels in the stuffing. He figured out that the robbery was an inside job because the thief was stupid enough to break the glass from inside the display case.

During high school and college I didn’t write anything except term papers, but was assigned to start a journal in one of my college courses.

My first job out of college was a cashier at an Amoco station in Danville. I had to be there early in the morning to make the doughnuts and coffee. That lasted about a month before I moved to Kewanee, IL, but my boss was a cool guy who was into comic books and pro wrestling and we became friends. His goal was to create his own series of comic books. While in Kewanee, I developed a superhero called Nightshadow and submitted it to him. I wrote the text and he was supposed to draw the comic. Unfortunately, he didn’t hold up his end. Years later, we would try again with a group of artists and I submitted another story but, the project fell flat when the artists couldn’t get their end finished.

After my five year high school reunion, I developed an idea where I would use my classmates in a fictional way, pair my hero (me) with a girl for whom he had a crush and send them on a series of adventures where they’d have to rescue each classmate from his or her own problem and cement the bond the classmates had with each other. I managed to write the first in the series and partially outline the second but it never went anywhere. I think I still have the original story somewhere in my stacks of writing projects. Maybe one day I’ll return to it.

I moved to Oskaloosa in 1990 and in 1991 joined the American Taekwondo Association. In ’95, as I’ve mentioned in interviews and other blogs, the first version of Alpha and heroine Mallory Petersen came to mind. I scribbled out about 40,000 words but didn’t know what to do with it. Around 1999 or 2000, I met Mike Manno who was promoting his book and he told me about a writers critique group in Des Moines. After that for many years, I was a regular attendee of that Barnes & Noble group, travelling about 90 minutes one way. I’m not sure what I read that first night since I didn’t know anything about the group, but it may have been a children’s story I had written. I had scribbled out a few short stories that included two of my sister’s cats. I think on my second visit, I read a chapter or two from Alpha and discovered I had a lot to learn.

From then until I stopped going, I tried to write a short story per week. Some were better than others, but I was writing. I had put aside Alpha because the ideas for Beta had started forming. I kept at that story and a few years later started on Night Shadows.

Next week, let’s continue on this journey.

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History Of Writing – I

history of writingYes, I want to go back to the first recorded words written on parchment and discuss the highlights of some of the best stories and documents throughout the centuries. People like Moses, Voltaire, Plato, and moving up to the modern author.

Okay, I’ll have to admit Moses’s writings were pretty cool, but the rest I can leave at the local library. I did have to read Voltaire in college, but by then I’d already had my fill of ‘the classics’ from high school.

See, I read books and listen to audio books for enjoyment. If it’s not enjoyable, then I’m reading it. Very few non-fiction stuff interests me and the deep thinking literature as these classics are purported to be bore me to tears. If you’ve enjoyed them, that’s great, and I’m not out to trash these books. I just didn’t enjoy reading them. The Old Man and the Sea, The Pearl, A Tale of Two Cities, The Scarlett Letter, Death of a Salesman, and others I dredged through in high school and have thankfully forgotten. Ditto a lot of the Shakespeare stuff. Egads! I want to understand the language, not have to work to decipher what’s going on and then to find deeper meaning in it. Really, Romeo and Juliet? Two teens so in ‘love’ that they kill themselves? Just goes to show that even without cyber bullying, the children of that day had issues, too.

My dad enjoys some biographies and I will admit to perusing a few. Can’t remember who but I think I read a couple chapters of a couple. George Burns wrote a bunch of books and I did read through one of his. If I want a biography, I’ll read Wikipedia.

In college, I too Narrative Reading and had to read some really forgettable stuff. I can’t even name them because I’ve forgotten them. I just remember the afore-mentioned Voltaire was in there and also The Red-Headed League by Sherlock Holmes. For some reason, that has stuck with me throughout the decades because, hey, I enjoy Conan Doyle, seen the movies (come on, who doesn’t like Basil and Nigel?), read the stories, listened to the radio shows. It’s stuck with me I read that story because it was assigned to show how bad it was compared to the deep thinker Voltaire and other foreign writers of stuff for which I didn’t care. Okay, maybe compared to other Holmes stories The Red-Headed League was farther down the list of quality stories. I mean, Sherlock did solve the puzzle with minimal clues and one had to stretch the imagination to allow him to ‘deduce’ the mystery the way he did. So, was it really fair to compare that particular story with one of ‘the classics’? I’d rather read ANY Doyle story than slog through Hawthorne again.

I’ve mentioned before how I’ve downloaded a lot of books and a lot of audio books and am working my through them. Not one of them was written before 1900 and I have stopped reading or stopped listening because I didn’t get into the story or I lost the story and where it was going. Let me give you a prime example. I downloaded an anthology titled Worlds Enough and Time by Christian McEwen. This sounded like an interesting book and it contained five long short stories. This was an audio book and I thought I’d give it a shot. It starts out with an introduction to the book. The introduction starts by the author understanding how some people don’t like introductions to books or stories within an anthology and then he goes onto to introduce the book. Within this intro he tells a couple short stories of how he came up with the ideas for the books that seem a little like he’s rambling with no purpose. This last for about 15 minutes. Then he introduces the first story in the book and rambles on with unconnected snippets. When he got to the definition of the some of the bigger words in the story (long about the seven minute mark), I gave up. This narrator had droned on for almost 25 minutes and we weren’t even to the first story yet. I’m sorry if you like this author and I’m not going to trash his book…because I never listened to the stories because of the lengthy introduction. Get on with it!

Anyway, originally, this wasn’t what I had in mind when I started this blog, but it seemed to flow well, so I stuck with it. I was joking when I said I wanted to give you a history of the world’s writing. I really wanted to give you a history of my writing. Where I started, some of the projects I’ve done. Next week, let’s delve into that.

You may now go back to your regular reading of Moby Dick. (No, I didn’t have to read that one in high school or college. Not going to get a copy now. I know how it ends. The whale wins. Sorry to play spoiler to anybody who is working his way through the book.)

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