Archive for September, 2009

Lakota Dreams Research

September 29, 2009

Besides the joy of immersing myself into a fantasy, the creation of Lakota Dreams was enjoyable because of the research involved.  I had the help of two professors of Native American Studies, one from the U. of South Dakota and the other from UT.  I also relied heavily on Internet web sites and compiled a notebook of a couple hundred pages of interesting facts. I learned about different tribes and their customs, buffalo hunts in the 1870s, wagon trains, firearms, the Seventh Cavalry and much more.  I used the names of many people who actually were involved in the Dakota Territory at the time, both white men and Native Americans.   One person suggested that in promoting my book, I should position myself as an authority on the subject of Native Americans or on the frontier in South Dakota.  Doing such might be useful in arranging speaking engagements.  But I’m no expert, and the novel is so full of fiction presented as fact, that if I tried to pretend I had such knowledge I’d be labeled a charlatan.   Sure, I know a whole more than I did before I wrote the book, but I’m just a story teller and not a historian.   The novel is fiction, a revision of history, and is certainly not intended to be a textbook.

One item I came across in my research is not in Lakota Dreams, but I’d like to share it.  It’s an account of  a gathering of some of the wives of the men of the Seventh Cavalry on the day of “Custer’s Last Stand.”  It was written weeks later by  Elizabeth Custer and I wish  I could write like her.

“On Sunday afternoon, the 25th of June, our little group of saddened women, borne down with one common weight of anxiety, sought solace in gathering together in our house.  We tried to find some slight surcease from trouble in the old hymns: some of them dated back to our childhood days, when our mothers rocked us to sleep to their soothing strains.  I remember the grief with which one fair young wife threw herself on the carpet and pillowed her head in the lap of a tender friend.  Another sat dejected at the piano, and struck soft chords that melted into the notes of the voices.  All were absorbed in the same thoughts, and their eyes were filled with faraway visions and longings.  Indescribable yearning for the absent, and untold terror for their safety, engrossed each heart.  The words of the hymn — E’en though a cross it be, neared my God to Thee — came forth with almost a sob from every throat.  At that very hour the fears that our tortured minds had portrayed in imagination were realities, and the souls of those we thought upon were ascending to meet their Maker.”

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Why Lakota Dreams?

September 29, 2009

The fabulous artisit who is designing the cover for my novel, Lakota   Dreams, asked me why I’d written such a long story (it ‘s about twice the length of any of my three detective novels.)  Unprepared for such a question, I just told him I’d always had an interest in Native Americans, and that I’d developed a passion for the Black Hills of South Dakota.  But then I gave it more thought. 

Yes I’m interested in Native American lore, and I’ve had conflicting thoughts about what happened to the American Indians.  For years they’ve been portayed in conflicting manners by Hollywood and others.  On the one hand they depicted as ignorant, theiving, pagan savages, and on the other as people of integrity, spirituality and an uncommon connection to and respect for Mother Earth.  When I play devil’s advocate, I can objectively posit that the Native Americans never demonstrated an ability to create a lasting civilization…never building a permanent town, enaging in effective commerce, exploring new worlds, developing a real country. When compared to Europeans for instance, who constructed beautiful cities, explored the world, built armies, and generally were socially much more organized, our American Indians  seemed to be much less ambitious, and therefore susceptable to being vanquished and/or conquered.  But just because American Indians were no match for “more developed ” civilizations, doesn’t make it right that they were evicted from their lands and subjected to a future life on reservations that were shamefully made their prison. 

Lakota Dreams is a story that suggests that the way of life of our Native Americans was worth perserving, even though in the 1870s it was already considered a very backward way of life.   The protagonist in the novel, Nate Henderson, a young white man, was willing to live that way of life.    That’s part of why I wrote the novel, to suggest that the Native American way of life was acceptable to those who understood it.  That living simply, without all the modern conveniences, does not necessarily require sacrificing a more happy or more meaningful life.

Another reason for the novel is to share the feelings I have about the Black Hills of South Dakota.   And to tell a story about the pursuit of dreams, however unlikley it may be that they can be achieved.  I think of the movie Field of Dreams and the character, Moonlight Graham, who never got a chance to go to bat in a big league game.  When he finally did (after he’d been dead for years) on the field of dreams, he hit a fly ball to right field that was caught.  No matter.  He finally got a chance to pursue a dream.

Combining these elements into one story required many pages.  Plus there were many “scenes” I felt needed to be included to add to the excitement.  So Lakota Dreams is long, but frankly, I could have kept writing because it was fun for me to place myself emotionally into the story.  It was actualy difficult to bring the story to an end.

Writing Diversity

September 22, 2009

A few days ago, I met with a local publisher who is also a consultant and was told that it would be best for my novels to stick to a single genre.  My first three were contemporary detective novels, and could be considered old-fashioned in that they were suspenseful, but relatively wholesome with minimal obscene language, no graphic descriptions of violence or sex.  I sold about 4,000 copies.  I’ve just finished my last edit on a novel that is nearly twice as long as the any of my first three, and is a post-Civil war frontier saga with a lot of historical references.  My fifth novel is a combination of a murder mystery with cold war techno-intrigue and government conspiracy.  It will be a bit edgier and more R-rated than my previous novels.  My interest in changing genres — and who knows, I may want to write a romance novel in the future — is to find success as a writer whose works form the basis for film or television.  The many query letters I’ve sent to prospective agents have all been rejected.  And yes, I’m told not to be discouraged and that rejections are part of the struggle.  But if I didn’t get a bite on one genre, I’ll try something else. . . keep changing bait until I find out what “they” will swallow.  Also, I have enjoyed the variety, and especially the research involved in the frontier novel.  The dilemma I face is when I do get that Hollywood contract, is what they bit on first what I will then concentrate on forever?  I’ve considered using a different nom de plume for my different genres.  But on the other hand, I ask myself are readers that controlling that they wouldn’t appreciate that one author could venture off in varous directions?  For now I think I’ll just create and write the stories I think readers will enjoy regardless of the genre.  But I can’t wait to find out what I’ll do when I do get the big offer.

Creativity 101

September 17, 2009

I’ve participated in many book events, and made more presentations than I’d like.  One of the most frequent questions I get is how I come up with my ideas for the stories I write.  These people flatter me by saying I’m creative.  John Irving said the secret is to take something in life that’s ordinary, and exagerate it…then exagerate it again. Mary Higgins Clark said she often reads stories in the newspaper and asks herself “what if?”   I think being creative is nothing more than a willingness to let go, use your own experience, and guess, deduce, play make believe, and don’t stop.  An exercise I often do involves strangers.  For instance, while I’m taking my morning walk I’ll see another person, either in their front yard or also out for some physical exercise on the street.  I’ll conjure up some description of the stranger as I continue my walk.  Here is an example.  I saw a young woman yesterday, probably in her thirties, walking four dogs on leashes.  Clearly a professional dog walker by the command she held over them.  She had dark brown hair, pulled back in a pony tail.  She was lean and muscular.  Reasonably attractive and wearing cotton shorts, t-shirt, and Nike running shoes.  And so I begin with my story.  She wasn’t raised in the neighborhood, because she’d be embarrassed if people who knew her when she was young believed that all she amounted to career-wise was a dog walker.  But her interest in animals tells me she came from a small town, probably in Texas . . . a town like Huntsville or Brenham.  Yeah, Brenham for sure.  She lives alone, and her job with her dog clients give her a chance to interact with other breathing beings on a regular basis.  She doesn’t trust people like she used to, and has sworn to herself that she’d never allow a man to break her heart again.  In the summer she works in Sedona, Arizona, as a guide in one of those pink jeeps.  As she lost her faith in humans, she became more attracted to nature.  She’s sorry she moved to a big city, but financially she’s doing okay.  She rents a garage apartment for a hundred and fifty dollars a month from a friend of a friend of a cousin, and she makes enough money from walking dogs to pay for her food and other essentials.  Her parents dies four years ago, and the proceeds from the sale of their property is in the the bank in CDs.  Over three hundred thousand dollars.  She wonders if she’ll ever be married, but she’s unwilling to take any chances to meet men.  So she reads a lot, and spends a lot of time on the Internet looking at web sites dedicated to nature.  Maybe she’ll meet more friends at the gym where she works out four days a week.   Maybe the friend of a freind of her cousin whose garage apartment she rents will introduce her to an acceptable man she could date.  She’s patient.  Her goal is to survive and live a healthy life.  She eats a lot of salads, and red meat only once a week.  The man who broke her heart didn’t mean to hurt her.  They dated for six months, and she thought this was the one she’d marry.  But the one he really wanted, the woman who broke his heart the year before, came back, and without much thought he took her back into his heart.  And that’s when she moved here.  Her name is . . .  hmmm.  Jennifer.  Jennifer Parks.  And that’s sort of how the process works.  Just start guessing, deducing, describing, and don’t stop, and make it real in your mind.  Gee, I hope Jennifer meets a good man soon.  She’s really nice.  See, I actually believe I know her.

The Poop on What’s Wrong with America

September 10, 2009

It’s official.  I’m old.  Confirmation is in my thoughts and words, “What’s happened to America?” and “Life was better when I was a kid.”  Just like my parents said when I was young.  Now I could discuss the current political climate, but I’ll save that for later.  This blog is just a beginning of several that will reflect on the “good old days,” or just be part one of what really is wrong in our country.  The first topic relates to dog poop, but is also about loss of freedom and a government that passes ordinances and other legislation to protect the weakest in our society, and thereby establishing the weak as the foundation for our country.  I remember when I was growing up, walking or riding my bike in the neighborhood.  I recall going barefoot.  I remember the large Doberman four houses down the street and the fear I had to overcome to pass that house.  I recall stepping in dog poop, sometimes it squished between my toes.  I watched dogs chase cars.  And I recall the freindly dogs that would greet me and let me scratch their backs.  Nowadays in the mornings, I often take walks in the same neighborhood.  Because of leash laws, I rarely encounter a dog unless it is being walked by its owner.  And that poor owner — doing his or her best to exercise the family pet — carrying a plastic bag either full of warm dog poop or about to be filled.  I can’t imagine.  And I feel as sorry for the dogs as I do the owners.  Maybe moreso. No freedom to roam the streets.  No visiting their friends around the block.  No opportunities to demonstrate their courage by chasing cars away.  If out of their back yards, or out of their homes, they’re always tethered.  And when they have to do something that is natural, someone immediately picks it up.  I’d be so humiliated.  Poor dogs.  So what’s wrong with America?  Our kids, if they go barefoot at all, will never step in poop, and believe me, a good life leson is that shit does happen.  And that when it does, you can deal with it.  You hose it off.  Keep playing.  Kids today, if they do walk to a friend’s house, never have to steel their nerves to pass a dog on the loose, or devise a plan — an alternate route — to avoid a canine confrontation.  So what’s happened.  We’ve made our kids soft.  Unable to deal with adversity.  Unable to handle a challenge.  And we’ve embarassed man’s best friend.  I’m just getting started.

Writer Update

September 1, 2009

Yesterday I finished the tenth edit of my novel, Lakota Dreams, and now the difficult part begins — publishing it.  It took a year to write the first draft, and then after feedback from about ten readers of the manuscript, I believe I’ve made the necessary changes to consider it my best work to date.  It truly is a good story, with historical references, and about a subject for which I have a lot of passion.  Although I wrote the finest query letter I’ve ever composed, all I received were more rejections from potential agents and publishers.  Undaunted, I will go on, but this time, I will promote differently, using the support of a young webmaster, hopefully sending millions of messages about Lakota Dreams to various target audiences.  The result will be selling many electronic versions of the book, and hopefully finding someone out there who has the wherewithall to get the story transformed into a film or television mini-series.  I’ve talked to other self-published and non-published authors, and feel I have an advantage having a marketing background.  Most “creative” types abhor the selling process, and/or are intimidated by it.  Some just are uncomfortable selling themselves.  While I share some of those sentiments, at least I have a lot of famliarity with all those often demeaning efforts — telemarketing, direct sales, mailouts, research, etc. —  so I can get through the undesirable part of being a writer.  Of course, if I had a damn agent, a good one, then I could spend more time doing the pleasant part of being a writer and that obviously is writing.  In three or four months, I will have selected a publisher and launched the marketing campaign for Lakota Dreams.  In three years, maybe something great will happen.  In the meantime I’ve begun a fifth novel which combines a murder mystery with Cold War intrigue.  The book is based partially on my expereince in the Navy when I tracked Soviet submarines from a small island naval facility using really cool technology.