The Successful Writer?


The funny thing about being a writer is what happens when people discover you’re a writer.  Even people who have known you for years suddenly look at you as if you’re some strange new species.  The discussion takes a dramatic shift and quickly hits all the same questions you have no doubt seen covered in author interviews with the biggest names in the business:  What made you want to become a writer?  What type of books do you write?  Where do you get your ideas?  Any movie deals coming up?

Then they ask you two questions which both live as cozy roommates in the minds of everyone who feels he or she has a story tucked inside of themselves:  what advice do you have for someone who is just starting out as a writer?  What’s it take to be successful and make lots of money?

During this conversation, no doubt your own mind is full of memories of all the late nights and guzzled caffeine spent fighting the good fight against the written word.  Maybe you’re frowning over the size of your audience base, and how difficult it actually is to get your work noticed.  Maybe your entire royalty check for that month was spent on the coffee you’re now holding in your hand.  All the same, it’s obvious to you that the way your company suddenly sees you is not the same as how you see yourself.

The more you run into this situation, the more you wonder what you’re doing wrong.  There must be something–or why would everyone you meet instantly draw the conclusion that somehow the very act of writing immediately leads to smashing financial success?  Should there be a swimming pool full of money in your spacious and landscaped back yard?  Should there be a roomful of suits standing around signing checks in your name at black-tie cocktail parties which are full of celebrities?

You study yourself in your mental mirror.  You see yourself standing in grubby street-clothes, wearing tennis shoes which have blowouts in the sides.  You live in a very modest home, or perhaps an apartment.  You work a day job.  Your book sales come in spurts when they come at all, and very few of those sales result in reviews.  You were just that very morning stressing about some bill, and wondering how you’re going to pay for it.

Your inquisitor sees you as the Monopoly Guy.  You’re a writer, after all–and you must be successful, since after all they’re able to find your work listed on Amazon and perhaps Barnes and Noble or Booksamillion.  And as a successful writer, you must have some sage advice worth offering.  So… what advice would you give a new writer, then?

Never mind all of that, what advice should you be giving to yourself?

Since you’re reading my blog, dear reader, here’s my personal answer:  recognize that you’ve just fallen into a trap, and get yourself the hell out of it.

No, it is a trap.  Yes, it is!  Remember when you were first writing, and you’d set goals for yourself?  Maybe it was something like three pages of manuscript each day.  Maybe it was finishing a particular section.  Maybe it was simply clearing your schedule so that you had time to write at all.  Each goal you achieved felt like a triumph.  It was a success.  When you saw your work out there in the public realm, each new sale was a success; it meant that a new reader had just discovered you, and was about to invest several irreplaceable hours of his or her life reading your hard-fought words.

Yet now here you are examining the word “success” as defined by your company’s standard–in terms of money.  Fame.  Movie deals.  Not on Suzie in Ohio, who just contacted you from off of your blog to tell you how very much she loved your work.  Not on John’s raving Amazon review–he can’t wait for your next book, says he, and you’re pretty sure his name was just added to your mailing list.  Instead of savoring these things, you’re now focused on the fact that Universal Studios isn’t knocking down your door to have you write a screenplay or at least discuss buying rights from you.

Don’t get me wrong:  it’d sure be nice if something like hitting the bestseller’s list or getting interviewed in Playboy ever happened.  But never allow yourself to feel like a failure when it doesn’t.  For most writers, it won’t.

It doesn’t matter to Suzie in Ohio, or to Amazon John.  It shouldn’t matter to you, either.

Author Stephen King is a rock star in the writing world.  He also has been writing novels since well before some of us were even born; he has over fifty books to his credit–and if you’re only counting books, you’re not even scratching the surface.  At the beginning of his career, he’s mentioned repeatedly about how there were bills to be worried about and credit cards which were being relied upon.  Still he wrote.  And wrote.  And wrote.  And wrote.  And for variety, he wrote some more.  His successes with each day’s goals added into the sum of his successes with the completion of each new project, which added into his success at exposure, which added into his success at earning a living.  He was a successful writer before he ever became a “successful” writer.  While I’m sure he’d agree that the money is nice, it clearly wasn’t his driving force.

The love of writing was, and still is.  I guarantee you that if somehow our economic system ended tonight, he’d still get up tomorrow and write some more.  While I have yet to have the pleasure of meeting the man, I don’t think he’d mind me saying so.

I also don’t think that author David Morrell would mind if I shared with you the gist of the online conversation we had about readers themselves.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with Mr. Morrell’s work, he is the creator of the character Rambo, which first appeared in his novel First Blood.  In fact he’s done a lot more work than that.  And still more.  He’s a man who has experienced the bestseller’s list several times.  Do you know what he’s noticed?  That interest in reading has declined over the years.  As writers, we compete with the instant and easy gratification of online binge-watching and on-demand articles, not to mention social media.  People still have free time, yes; it’s just that they have more things to choose from in order to fill it.  The rate at which people buy and read novels has taken a hit as a result.  Do you know what he does about it?  He continues to write.  It’s in his blood.  It’s what he’s made of.  (I’ll just insert my wink right here, thanks.)

Now let’s go back to you, you little writer, you.  You don’t have fifty books out there, do you?  And you’re frowning over slow book sales, having never before known the love of the bestseller’s list, aren’t you?  You’re worried that your reader base isn’t growing as fast as you expected it to, right?  If you’re judging success according to the amount that’s in your bank account, you’d might as well call it a night.

Suzie and John sure hope you don’t.  You see, when it comes to entertaining them–maybe giving them something to think about, or maybe providing a source of enjoyment that (who knows?) might be rare in their lives…

Well, you’ve succeeded.  You succeeded in writing and bringing your work out into the world.  You succeeded in gaining appreciative readers.  That’s success.  Wealth doesn’t really factor in here:  keep in mind, some people are born into money.  That’s not  success–it’s random chance.  Some people buy the winning lottery ticket.  That’s not success, either–once again, it’s random chance.

Those who build their fortune a bit at a time, starting with little more than an idea and a belief in themselves… well, now that’s success, right?  Wrong.  The money is a side effect of their success.  The success is in creating something that people are willing to consume, even if they have to buy it.  Only when that happens does money have its place at the table.

All of this means, of course, that there’s only one answer for our advice to the newbie writer:  write.  Write some more.  It doesn’t matter if you’re an indie author or if you have a traditional agent and publisher–just write.  Read the prose of others and learn from them.  Perfect your craft because your craft deserves it, and forgive yourself of your missteps along the way.  Once each project is done, keep writing.  If that sounds like work to you and you’d rather skip right to the money, then that means you’re not in it for the right reason.  Might I suggest the Stock Market?

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have another book to write.  So do you.  I’m sure if we both stay focused, we’ll be successful.


What’s in a Name?


“After reading your Author’s Note  proceding ‘On the Path of Outcasts,’ it’s become apparent to me that you’re a feminist liberal who is using your work to push your agenda.  I demand that you stop.”

No, this isn’t a direct quote of the email I received.  I had to clean it up considerably for the sake of clarity, context, language, and respect for the proper use of the caps lock key.  As promised in the “Contact” link, I won’t identify anything connected to the email address since no expressed permission to do otherwise has been granted.  I also do not wish to sic defensive fans into his direction or turn this blog into yet another political rage carnival–we have more than enough of those already.  Besides, I have no doubt that this individual will identify himself by way of a retaliatory negative Amazon review after reading this entry.  So be it.  Negative reviews are bound to happen, anyway.  It’s part of the job.

Having said all of that, I do still wish to address the scope and intent of this message.

I doubt anyone who has even a passing interest in today’s political climate can deny that we live in volatile times.  While I’d like to say that it’s as bad as our country (and world, really) has ever seen, I know too much about history in order to make such an assertion.  As Yogi Berra might say, it’s déjà vu all over again.  What gives me hope is knowing that we emerged from it then… so perhaps there’s a chance that we’ll emerge from it now.

Until next time.  And not to burst anyone’s bubble here, but friends?  If we survive this round, there will indeed be a next time.  Trust me on this.  But I digress.

A lot of this hostility, in my opinion, is linked to our need to place labels on everything.  These labels are then placed on shelves much like library books are categorized.  Whether liberal or conservative, feminist or male rights, both sides do it; as a human being, I’ve even caught myself tripping over it–especially during emotional times.  Anyway, the book is placed upon the shelf within its category, and rarely viewed as anything else.  In fact, it’s often forbidden to see it as anything else.  I think it would surprise a great many people to know that they, by doing so, are committing the logical fallacy known as the hasty generalization.  It’s a logical fallacy for a reason, and I recommend curious readers look it up before they commit to using it.  Correct your course immediately if you recognize yourself in what you read.

Labels are a way of generalizing, after all.  As an intellectual species, our tendency is to find ways to make cognition easier, and generalizing does exactly that–to a fault.  By placing a mass of individuals into a single volume and categorizing it as a whole, it winds up making lazy work out of thinking.

Any person can liberally apply lotion, and then conservatively take some aspirin.  You see, “conservative” and “liberal” are descriptors for actions or ideas.  They weren’t intended to be used as all-or-nothing labels for people.  Somehow they’ve become interchangeable with being a Republican or a Democrat, respectively–which is funny when you realize that a Republican president once had the very liberal idea of freeing slaves.  Presently such a person might be villainized for being a moderate (in this context, it’s another adjective, not a title).  Remember the good old days when a person could have a mixture of conservative as well as liberal values?  I do.  And I’m not that old.

Many of my political views do indeed have some very liberal stances–but not all of them do.  To dismiss me as entirely liberal shows some of that lazy thinking thing I just talked about.  If one was interested in compromise, he or she would miss the chance to find our common ground.  All because of using adjectives as an absolute title, and placing far too much of one’s sense of identity upon them.

Feminism.  Now that’s an interesting one.  I think many people on both sides of the fence confuse “feminism” with “misandry.”  Words matter.  If I identify as anything at all–and you’re backing me into a corner here–I’m a humanist.  Feminists shouldn’t have a problem with that, since when it comes to feminine rights and respectful, equal treatment, we hold identical goals.  I also hold great concern over toxic masculinity, forced gender roles, and racism, all of which affect both sexes.  In my view, there’s a lot of overlap.  Hell, most feminists I know are also humanists.  You can play quite a shell game with labels, can’t you?  That’s the trouble with them.

Especially when what we’re really arguing about is morality.  That’s scary and dangerous stuff, folks.

By all means, continue to attack the actions and statements you feel passionately against.  Freedom of speech means nothing when you feel restricted from speaking your mind–in fact, that’s the very time this freedom is needed the most.  Hold people accountable for what they say and what they do.  Drive home what you find is wrong with what they are doing.  Do not, however, lump a mass of people into an entire identical group–especially if you have to change word usage to do so.  Single them out by the property you disagree with.  Single out their ideas and their actions.  You’ll find that some members of their “group” fall away because they never belonged there in the first place.  People you otherwise may have seen as enemies might turn out to be allies to unite against the very thing toward which you’re objecting.  It sounds crazy, but it’s true.

I covered a lot of this ground in my Author’s Note for On the Path of Outcasts.  That’s the second book in a series, meaning that if my critical friend wasn’t reading out of sequence, he had already read my first novel.  Through the Eyes of Outcasts clocks in at some 57,000-ish words, and was designed to be a fast read.  On the Path of Outcasts is approximately 112,000 words.  Based on some quick math, I have to conclude that he read through some 169,000 words until he decided to tell me to stop.  That’s dedication.

I do not mind that my critic had taken the time to write to me; that’s his freedom to do so, just as it’s my freedom to retort.  It’s also true that I hold no grudge against him for finding something I said objectionable:  you can’t please ’em all.  No, my issues here involve his revealing use of fallacy as well as his command that I stop.

Well… I’ll use this platform to tell him what I propose.  I’m not going to stop writing so long as I possess the desire and ability to do so, and I’m not going to restrict my writing to only what certain people approve of.  You, my friend, can stop reading what I write at anytime you so desire.  Such an arrangement frees us both, and I think we can both live with that.

It’s a compromise.


Is There Anybody Out There?


“Does anyone still manage this website, or has it been abandoned?  I haven’t seen new content here in awhile.”

I’m a huge fan of HBO’s Game of Thrones.  It’s easily the best series I’ve seen on television, period.  Not “the best in a long time,” but period.  I can remember my frustration toward creator and author George R Martin when I learned that the television series was outpacing his ability to finish his novels, and that the series might have to be placed on hold in order to allow for him to catch up.

When I become frustrated at most things in life, my default position is to step back and try to view the situation as an outsider.  I try to imagine what it would look like if I had no vested interest–if I had no dog in this fight.  The result of disconnecting emotion from most any subject is, one starts seeing it objectively.

Mr. Martin is, after all, a human being.  He’s not a word processing lump of meat who is fused to a chair somewhere peeling perfect final-draft-quality first-attempt pages from a magic typewriter, each page falling perfectly on top of a stack of other perfect pages which are ready to be bound and shipped to his publisher.  HBO scriptwriters aren’t kneeling by his feet, jotting down his scenes and dialog as his loud and boisterous voice dictates it.  And by that token, those HBO scriptwriters aren’t emailing their notes to a film crew which shoots those scenes as soon as they’re sent to them.

That isn’t how writing works, and I know that all too well.  Even without HBO’s involvement.  No, these things take time, and no two authors follow the same creative flow.  First drafts rarely represent a final product, and countless revisions lead to countless complete rewrites and countless hours of editing–and sometimes the entire process only leads to having a different first draft than the first draft you had when you first had a first draft.

It’s complicated.

Not only does that not describe how writing works, it also doesn’t describe how being a human being works.  Not even remotely.

I’m the kind of man who insists on keeping deeply personal aspects of his private life… well… private.  That said, I’m a human being.  Just as human as you, Dear Reader.  And as human beings, we share one thing absolutely in common:  life sometimes throws curve balls at us, and never at a time when we’re prepared to even attempt hitting them.  The game changes at the drop of a dime, and very often the only thing we can do is roll with it.

This year has been one of those years where I’ve had to roll with it.  It’s been a lot of rolling.  That said, the water’s calming and the storm has pretty much passed.  Myself and everyone involved are sliding into our new normal, and the winds have died down.

The third and final entry of the Outcasts saga is still in development, and I’ve got several new ideas which are begging for my attention concerning further projects.  Hopefully, this entry shows that this website is indeed still being managed.  I’m still here… and there’s a lot of catching up to do.  While I regain my footing, I appreciate your patience as well as your support.

We’ve still got a lot of ground to cover.

Research for Fiction?

“How much of what you write could actually happen?  What research, if any, do you do?”

While I’m paraphrasing for the purpose of this blog post, this is one of the better questions I think I’ve ever been asked about my writing.  It’s easy to think that no research at all has to happen in order to write fiction, but the fact of the matter is that readers are more skeptical in today’s world.  People from various walks of life are going to stumble upon and consume your work, and their suspension of disbelief will be shattered if you as a writer try telling them something that they know fully well is not the truth.  Authors also have to pay attention to the fact that our work can influence others who get caught up in the fantasy of what we’ve created.  These are awesome responsibilities, and as a writer the best way to approach them is to make sure that your story has some grounding in reality.  Sure, as a fiction writer, you’re lying to your audience for a few hundred pages–but remember the old saying that the best lies are based on truth.

If you want to be a better liar, you have to be better at telling the truth.  That means research.

I’ve made some missteps along the way, being a human being.  When I first published Through the Eyes of Outcasts, I was convinced that my descriptions of the firearms used throughout the novel were accurate, having been raised around guns and familiar with their use.  Alas, I was approached by a former firearms instructor who had read the book–and while he was generous with his opinion of the story itself, he told me that there was a detail that bothered him which he could just not let go of:  unless my characters were using World War II-era weapons, they were not using clips.  A Colt .45, for example, utilizes magazines.  It’s very true that many people still refer to magazines as clips, but he found it impossible to believe that any character with a military background would ever make that mistake.  He was of course correct, and the story has since been revised.  Oops.  You live, and you learn.

While writing On the Path of Outcasts, it quickly became apparent that I would need to research the exact role police officers play when responding to a scene of violence, and how they approached their duties.  A lot of this information took place on impulse while I was eating my lunch at a local restaurant.  A patrol officer and his partner (what branch, I didn’t know–I saw them only as most citizens do:  they were cops) entered, ordered their food, and were about to leave with bags in hand.  Recognizing opportunity, I rose from my table and approached them.  I first thanked them for their service and introduced myself, then asked permission to interview them if they had the time.  They traded glances, frowned at one another, then agreed so long as I was brief.  Neither could inform me of crime scene investigations (“We’re patrol officers, not investigators,” one explained), but I was given a wealth of information that wound up on the pages of my novel.  Their responses and reflections also led me toward new areas to research.  While I did take some liberties with what I learned (that blame lies squarely upon my own shoulders, not theirs), I think they’d more or less approve of what survived countless revisions and drafts.  I never did catch their names, but I’m grateful for their time and answers.

My descriptions of what a given firearm can do to a human body are very accurate.  When writing about violence, I recognize that I have an obligation not to glamorize it.  We live in an age where firearms are almost as easy to purchase as hamburgers.  You don’t have to know anything about them to gain ownership of them.  Depending on what type you buy or from where you buy them, you might not even have to pass a background check.  You certainly don’t have to receive any sort of training on their use.  But creating the deaths of others is nothing to take lightly nor is it something to fantasize about.  It’s permanent, and leaves lasting damage.  As Sarah once quoted from Dennis, you cannot unfire a bullet.  It is true that I overblow the gore content somewhat in certain scenes, since I do use the blood and carnage metaphorically.  Having said that, the damage described to people and objects in my novels has indeed been sketched out based upon objective sources.  Living in the United States, unfortunately there are a lot of sources to draw from.  So, no, you will never read about bullets exploding gas tanks in my books.  You’ll never read about small-caliber weapons throwing victims theatrically through windows, or having the capability of chopping through objects which would have in truth stopped that given round cold.  You’ll never read about things such as car doors or drywall acting as effective shields.  You will, however, read about the irreversible damage they could have caused in the situations described.  I’m not here to feed the superhero complexes of those who equate firearm ownership with power.  Sure, I’m here to entertain… but some lines do need to be drawn, and that’s mine.  It’s based on reality.   That means research.

I’m just trying to be a better liar.  I’m pretty upfront about that.  Honestly!

Piracy in the Digital Age

“I just ran a Google search for your book, and noticed it’s on several piracy websites.  How do you feel about your work being pirated?”

I’ve run into this same question on multiple writer’s forums–so when I was asked personally about this topic, I already had plenty of time to form my opinion.  As with most of my views, I like to tap it down from more than one angle.

If it’s really a question of whether I have a problem with people reading my work for free, as an author my answer has to be, “Of course not.”

No, that’s what my answer has to be.

No matter how you’re published or how you market your material, not every reader is a sale.  Let’s say a library purchases one of my books.  That same library is going to allow hundreds of readers to borrow it.  None of those readers will add anything more than the single sale I made to the library.  It’s the same deal as Stephen King has.  It’s the same deal as J.K. Rowling has.  I want that library to buy my book, nonetheless.  Do you know why?  Because hundreds of readers will find it that way, free or otherwise.  They’ll know it exists.

I don’t make all-inclusive statements lightly, but I’m willing to say that every avid reader in the world has visited a used book store, or purchased a used novel at a yard sale or thrift store.  If you buy my novel from such a place, all I’m going to do is thank you and hope that you enjoy it–even though not a single penny of that sale ever made its way into my bank account.  You may have spent money to purchase it, but from my point of view you’re a free reader.  I have no bones to pick about that, either; as a matter of fact, it puts a smile on my face.  Pass it around to friends and family, knowing you’re doing so with my unreserved blessing.

In forums, I’ve seen other authors rage and foam about lost sales for every copy downloaded from a torrent.  I can’t join them in their anger.  Let me put this into proper perspective for you:  The e-book version of Through the Eyes of Outcasts is, at the time of this writing, priced at $3.99.  Four bucks.  About the price of a latte.  Less than the price of a deli sandwich.  Less than a month of Netflix.  If you were to purchase this work through my Payhip store and share the link on social media, you would pay $2.  That’s probably less money than you have hidden in your couch cushions.  If you wouldn’t pay $4, and you wouldn’t pay $2, you’re not a lost sale.  Enjoy your pirated download.

No, I have no problem with others reading my work for free.  Obscurity is far and away a larger enemy to myself (or any other author) than Internet piracy.  Besides all of that, there are so many of these sites that I would be wasting my time playing whack-a-mole trying to clean things up.  I’d rather be writing.

The only thing I do have a problem with is finding my work for sale under a different author name.  My writing is from me to you, and I don’t give a damn if it sounds selfish to say that I claim ownership of it.  I’m the one who spends sometimes up to a year writing and refining it.  I’m the one who puts money and time into creating it.  You bet I’m selfish about owning it.  If I ever find out that someone else is listing my work under his or her own name and claiming credit for it, I’ll own that person.  I register my work.  I have proof of publication dates.  I also have the ability and will to pursue the matter in court.  Make no mistake, I’ll win.  If this paragraph is speaking to you, all I can say is… your move.  Choose wisely.  My advice is to write your own book.

I also have a problem with the prevalence of viruses and malware that infest some of these piracy sites.  I build and work with computers on a daily basis, and I can tell you horror stories about the agony of those who were infected with such things.  Surely avoiding all of that is worth $2-$4 to you.  Or maybe it isn’t.  Either way, you get what you pay for.

You also might not be reading the most up-to-date version.  I’m a human being, and sometimes despite my best efforts the specter known as Typo makes his appearance.  Maybe my terminology wasn’t correct, and it mattered enough to the story that I decided to fix it.  While these things don’t matter much to a paperback book–that version of the novel is what it is and can’t be changed–anything you buy on legitimate sales channels is going to represent my latest and greatest.  I also can’t claim responsibility for any formatting errors the reader encounters when the pirate may have added formats I never made available.

Pirated work may be freely available, but sometimes free comes with a price after all.

Be True to Yourself?

“How much of you resides within your characters?”

This was an interesting question recently ran by me, and I thought I’d not only share my answer but also elaborate a bit upon it.

Like most authors, I put a lot of myself into my characters.  Writing isn’t just about entertaining–it’s also about clearing the cobwebs and making sense of the world that I live in.  I may create a strange world or extraordinary circumstances into which to stick a character, but my central interest is in what strength this character will draw from in order to dig him- or herself out and overcome the conflict… or will he or she be consumed?

To fall back, the deepest well I have to draw from is within.  What would I do?  Why?

I can answer this more accurately if I give the character some of my own traits–and indeed, I may be providing buried insight into overcoming an issue within my own life.

In Through the Eyes of Outcasts, Scott Ingram is in desperate need of development.  He has dug himself into a rut where he allows himself to be self-arrested on all fronts.  He’s created a comfort zone, only to discover that zone isn’t so comfortable after all.  Scott wants to belong to something.  He wants to matter.  He wants love, and to be loved.  Who among you hasn’t found yourself in a situation that fits this description?  If you can answer that you never have, I’d sincerely like to meet you because I know I’ll never meet your like again.  That said, there’s plenty of life experiences to draw from.  There’s a lot of common mental ground to write into such a character.

Sarah Bollinger starts off sounding very much like the logical voice of reason (which I probably don’t listen to as often as I should) inside my own head.  Harsh and disappointed at times… but always honest with her opinions.  Vulnerable as most of us are, but also strong in many areas–again, just as most of us are.  This is why she only exists within Ingram’s thoughts in the first book.  She’s my voice, she speaks in the cadence of my own internal dialog… and she’s a leading character for the rest of this series.  She’s very much me.  Even when I develop her identity and give her a personality not necessarily matching my own, I’m the cement in her foundation.

Douglass Stevens is trapped in a situation he’d rather get out of, and all he wants to do is get the unpleasantness over with so that he can move ahead with his life under his own terms.  (Sound familiar?  Again, if it doesn’t, we need to have a talk over coffee:  I’m going to find you fascinating.)  What would motivate me in his situation?  How confused would I be, and how would I form plans?  Those answers become his.

Anna is the version of me who knows that her logical voice is screaming against what her heart wants.  She knows what she’s stepping into, she knows at least enough to be sure it’s a bad idea–but she also knows that she’s going to do what is in her heart and make sense of the details later either way.

Even antagonists such as Rob and Lance represent what I feel would happen if I let my worst impulses steal the ball and run off with it.  We’ve all got that little devil inside.  What if we gave him the wheel for awhile?

At the end of the day, it is fiction–and those are fictional characters.  But in their cores, they are alive and breathing, and thanking you for reading this entry.

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