Sometimes people flatter me by telling me that I’m creative. Some ask how I come up with the plots for my novels. Part of the answer to that question is what I call the “then what?” method. When thinking about what might happen in one of my stories, I’ll start with a simple circumstance or action, and then ask myself, “then what?” I answer the question and again ask, “then what?” I repeat the “then what” five to ten times until I’m satisfied that I’ve created a good scenario for my book. For example, in my short story, The Scenic Overlook, I decided to have Rhett and Toni take a walk on a hiking trail behind the Bishop’s Lodge near Santa Fe. Then what? When they reach the top of a mountain, they see below what appears to be a man strangling a woman on a terrace behind a large house at least a half mile away. Then what? Rhett and Toni yell, but realize that from that distance they cannot be heard. Then what? They have no cell phone, so Rhett and Toni determine that Rhett should stay on the mountain and watch what happens, and that Toni, who is in much better shape, should jog down the trail and get to that house, with the police, as fast as possible. Then what? Rhett sees the man drag the now limp body of the woman into the house. Then what? Five minutes later a car leaves the garage from the house. Then what? Toni finally arrives with a policeman and finds an empty house. The use of “then what” forces the story to continue. If I answer the “then what” with something that I don’t like. I’ll change the answer until I’m satisfied. In some cases the “then what” suggests what should naturally happen next. But what I like to do is answer the “then what” with what should happen next that the characters in the novel wouldn’t want to happen, or that it should be something unexpected. I hope the answer of what might happen next could be both credible and would peak the interest or concern of my readers. In short, the “then what” method I just a structured way of playing make believe. And it’s something I can do when trying to fall asleep, or when taking one of my long walks in the afternoon, or when I’m driving cross country on a road trip. At some point I’ll stop and jot down notes so I don’t forget what I’ve created, because if I do forget………….then what?
I’ve heard reputable people say that climate change is real. I’ve heard other reputable people say that climate change is not real. After this year’s winter, I’d say that global warming may not be as obvious as some think. I personally believe that climate change is a phenomena that has been part of the earth for the past 4.5 billion years. Of course, man contributes to greenhouse gasses. But I also believe that climate change, and that would include global warming, is affected more by natural factors….like activity on the surface of the sun, volcanic eruptions, undersea seismic events, etc. All this hype about man being able to reverse the course of the inevitable is, in my opinion, ludicrous. If, in fact, we’re worried about global warming, our efforts should not be in trying to stop it, but to prepare for it. It’s like dealing with a hurricane, something we do regularly on the Gulf coast. Nobody tries to stop a hurricane. But people do prepare for it. They move inland. They shore up property where it makes sense. They get food and water…batteries, generators, etc. They know they can’t stop mother nature, but they figure out a way to survive. It seems to me that people who believe in global warming should prepare for it, not try to prevent it. (Of course, I’m against pollution, but again, I don’t think man can stop the inevitable.) So yes, go for cleaner air and alternative energy production, but also take steps that are based on the assumptions that are scaring our children…rising oceans, warmer temperatures, extinction of polar bears, etc. I’ve always been a “glass half full” kind of guy. If the earth becomes warmer, and if the oceans rise, then people living right on the coast may have to relocate. There would be other problems as well. But with a warmer earth won’t our agriculture growing seasons be longer resulting in more food production? Won’t cold and flu seasons be shorter, saving lives? Won’t the resources and funds needed for winter heating be reduced? Not related, but within fifty years I think man will develop an economical way to desalinate the oceans to make sea water potable and usable for agriculture. Water shortages around the world will be a thing of the past. I think continued medical advances will make us healthier, with longer life expectancies. I’m tired of people speaking of doomsday, especially when they profit from it financially or politically. Our world can actually be a better place in the future, but few people are willing to admit that.
I finished the draft for my latest novel, Clean Slate. I edited it once, and now I will edit the entire manuscript two more times, and then I’ll send it to two or three proofreaders. This process will take about three months, as I have other work to do, and I certainly cannot work on the manuscript and nothing else without going a bit mad.
My editing process has several purposes. First I need to make sure the information is consistent throughout the story. For instance, I discovered that on page seventy I mentioned that Richard Weed had seven previous clients. On page two hundred and five, I mentioned that Richard Weed had five previous clients. Inconsistencies like that are unacceptable. Another purpose is to correct any typos or grammatical errors. And another purpose is to replace/upgrade wording. A full edit also includes an evaluation of the plot, and making changes when I have a different idea. Also, when I wrote the first draft, I was writing at five hundred to seven hundred and fifty words per hour. In some cases I was telling a story as fast as I could, using nothing but a factual account of what was happening. My edits give me the opportunity to slow things down, add more descriptive phrases, additional adjectives and adverbs, and letting readers have more of a sensory feel for the plot. Sounds. Smells. Visual descriptions.
I could edit a hundred times and always find something to change. But I’ve found that after three edits, I need to get it out there so to speak. My proofreaders, besides looking for typos and grammatical errors, will also provide feedback that will let me know if the novel is, indeed ready.
Clean Slate is the fifth novel in the Rhett and Toni detective series, and it’s pretty good. Maybe my best in the series. I had a great time writing it, and, of course, I enjoyed the research process. I hope readers enjoy it.
I’m very close to finishing the draft for my novel number seven. The working title is A Clean Slate, and I’ve written over 85,000 words. I consider the ideal length for a detective novel to be between 90,000 and 100,000 words, so I’m definitely in the final stages. The plot is a political murder mystery, featuring my protagonists, Rhett and Toni Sanders. The story takes place mostly in Houston and New Mexico. I’ve outlined the final chapters, so I just need to sit down and take care of business. I’ll probably be done in two weeks, and then I’ll start the editing process. I know this is my best detective novel to date. My publisher has not yet agreed to publish this one, so we’ll see. I’m also finalizing a new web site, as I prepare for a significant marketing effort beginning in about a month. So I’m excited. My publisher just released (re-released) Something Else in Common, and will re-release The Final Tour of Duty in the spring. By the summer, I should be ready to release A Clean Slate, which will be my first truly new novel since Canyon Road a couple of years ago. It’s going to be a good year.
I love writing for several reasons.
First, I like the research. It allows me to learn, and learning means I’m still growing. I can research insignificant facts, like what the temperature of the water is in a creek in the Black Hills of South Dakota in May, or I can research something more complex like Native American customs. In all cases the research makes my stories more credible, perhaps gives my readers some information they’ll enjoy, and the research always stimulates my curiosity.
I also like writing, and I don’t mean to sound sacrilegious, because in a way I get to play God. I’m the creator. I determine who has a role in my stories. My characters succeed or fail based on what I want to have happen. They do things only because I let them. They go where I want them to go. And I decide who lives and who dies. Nowhere does a person have more power than an author of fiction.
When I write, I escape reality. While at the keyboard, I’m transported into my story. Whether I’m fighting the Pawnee in the Black Hills, investigating a murder in Santa Fe, New Mexico, or just having a conversation with a pretty woman in Houston, I’ve temporarily left planet earth, immersed completely in a world I’ve created, a world away from my normal routine, and away from that real world with so many problems I read about every day in the news – problems over which I have little or no control. For a few hours while I’m writing, I’m somewhere else, and I’m in control. What a wonderful place it is.
I like writing for the number of times people demonstrate respect for me because I took the time and discipline to write novels. And finally, I like writing for the many times I run into a friend or stranger who tells me they read my book and enjoyed it. What a sense of value and pride to know that I’ve done something that gave others a bit of entertainment.
I was happy when I signed a deal with a publisher. Now my novels would be available through Ingram and other world-wide distributors. My previously self-published novels would be re-released, and everyting would be available through Amazon including e-books. I can buy my novels at 50% the retail price for my own purposes. But active promotion is still up to me. I could hire a publicist. One offered to help me for $20,000 over four months. For that investment he’d try to get me interviews on radio and TV. I didn’t hire him. Why would someone want to interview a guy who wrote books nobody’s heard of? I tried to arrange a book signing in SantaFe. The store said they’d sell my books on consignment and pay me 50% of retail for every book sold. All I’d have to do is do some advertising or direct mail. Hmmm. So I’d lose money. I’ve sent personally addressed and signed flyers to over 200 book stores promoting Canyon Road, Lakota Betrayal, and The Improbable .38. But Ingram says it cannot tell me if any sales were generated. They report sales every six months, and all they include is the number of books sold. Not where they were sold. Not what month they sold. So it’s impossible to measure the impact of the flyers. It would therefore be impossible to measure the impact of a radio or TV interview in a specific city. So it’s very frustrating, especially for me who has a background in marketing and advertising. So what do I do? Keep writing. Keep promoting. Hope for the break. Above all else, keep writing. And just have faith that eventually something good will happen because I’m published. Thank goodness I love to write.
I went to St. John’s School in Houston. We were the Rebels. Now we’re the Mavericks. Those responsible for the change said that a teacher they wanted to hire from New Jersey wouldn’t accept a position at a school with a Rebel mascot. So forget what alumni want, or students want, or parents want. I told them I’d never donate money again to the school, and I haven’t. Martin Luther King was a rebel. So was Jesus. The Rebels of the CSA were not evil slave owners. About 95% of southerners never owned slaves. But, PC above reason.
Now Lamar High School in Houston, coincidentally next door to St. John’s, has been mandated to change its mascot, which has been Redskins since 1936. It’s too bad our Native Americans didn’t do what the African Americans did to make skin color something of which to be proud of, e.g. “I’m Black and I’m Proud,” Black Power,” and Black is Beautiful.” Maybe Redskin could’ve been defined as representing a people who were close to the earth, a people who were fierce warriors, or a people who were the first real Americans. But too late. Maybe the PC crowd behind the name change feels guilty about the white man’s role in the Trail of Tears, the broken treaties, confiscating land, including hunting grounds and sacred lands, or the provision to Indian tribes of blankets infected with small pox, the massacres including Wounded Knee, the slaughter and near extinction of the American bison, and forcing Native American to live where nobody would choose to live, like the Pine Ridge Reservation, where poverty and hunger continue to cause pain for Native Americans. Why don’t these PC crowds do something that really matters?
I’m hoping Lamar becomes the Apaches , Comanches or Kiowas, tribes who inhabited Texas. What’s offensive about honoring a speciofic tribe? But I’m sure that the new mascot will be something inane. Like a color or a maybe a tree. Oh by the way, after graduating from St. John’s, I went to school in California. Menlo College. We were the Oaks. California was way ahead of its time.
I’ve been actively writing novel #7 and it feels so good. I’m done with the editing chores required with re-publishing novels numbers, 6, 4 and 1 in that order. When I go for walks, I’m thinking about my next chapter. When I’m tossing and turning in bed during the middle of the night I’m thinking about how to input more drama and suspense in the story. And when I’m at the keyboard, I’ll occasionally stop for a moment, stare out the window, and suddenly in through the glass oozes the words I’m searching for. Writers may have to get involved with promotion. They may have to do some bookkeeping. They might spend hours or days making a living through some other endeavor. But writers are definitely happiest when they are writing. I’m happy. Even though I’ve only outlined the first 20 chapters, and I’m not certain of my ending, I know that through my process of writing — the hours spent at the keyboard or in contemplation on my walks — I will be able to complete the novel with a satisfactory ending. I trust my process. And in three weeks I go on vacation with my wife to the Black HIlls, to revisit the inspiration for novel #4. This is a great time.
I have the first 20 chapters outlined. I’ve done a lot of research. I’ve visited the actual place where my first murder takes place — Aspen Vista in Santa Fe. I interviewed the Commandant of the New Mexico Military Institue as one of the characters in my next novel is a cadet at NMMI whose mother is murdered. I’ve even written the first two chapters. And I’ve worked on this novel not at all for the past four weeks. I’ve been editing and proofing novels #6 and 4. Getting them ready for re-release by my publisher. I’ve also been reading Chicago Manual of Style, which has a lot of good information, but what it’s done is convince me more about my style — that I’d rather communicate clearly than get an A+ in grammar. I’ve also spent time trying to figure out what I need to do to promote sales of all my books. And what I’ve learned is that when I’m not creating a new novel, I’m frustrated. All the other work is, of course, important. The editing and proofing — darn I’m tired of reading and re-reading my stuff. And I have also come to the realization that I will have to spend several hours every week marketing and promoting. But it’s the creating that makes me most happy. So if I’ve snapped at anyone the past four weeks I’m sorry. If I’ve not been my usual cheerful self, I hope you’ll understand. I think I’ll be through with proofing by the end of next week, and I’ll be much better. If I can spend just two hours a day writing the new novel, then I won’t mind doing the other work. I’ll even be content to add new posts to my blog, something I’ve not done as consistently as I plan to do in the future. So another week, and back into novel #7 and relative bliss.
After five self-published novels, I have finally been accepted by a real publisher, Sunstone Press of Santa Fe, New Mexico. Sunstone is a small/medium size publisher with an impeccable repuation. Last week week I met the key personnel at Sunstone and liked them very much. My next novel, Canyon Road, will be released in a few weeks. Trade paperback and e-book. It will be available to bookstores through Ingram, one of the largest distributors in the world, and through Amazon. I will take on most of the responsibility for generating sales, and will hopefully learn more about that soon and then begin a consistent effort. I still believe it will be critical for me to sell movie/TV rights if I’m to ever make the really big time as a novelist.
Sunstone will re-release all of my previous novels over the next two or so years, after some edits and using new titles. It’s true that you can teach an old dog new tricks. With my publisher’s urging, I’m writing movie treatments and writers guides for all my books. Readers guides (for those who may not know like me until a month ago) is a list of questions for use by book clubs or classes. This will take another month to complete.
Then I’ll begin novel seven. I’m planning to bring back Rhett and Toni as the main characters, and write a political murder mystery.
Anyway, I’m thrilled to have a publisher for many reasons. The owner of the company, Jim, told me he likes my writing, believing I do a better job than John Grisham. Jim’s right hand man, Carl, considers my work literature. I’m flattered and gratefulk to have professionals who believe in me. Also I’m pleased to now have exposure through Ingram and Amazon (I was available on Amazon before), and through other avenues that reach international markets. I sold about 5,000 of my self-published books, and now I can stop worrying about inventory storage, or delivering books to book stores, or mailing one book at a time, or lifting heavy boxes. I’m out of the distribution business.
There is some added pressure. I need to justify the faith in me Sunstone Press has shown, and take full advantage of the opportunity to take my writing to a much higher level in terms of sales. It’s good pressure.