Another newspaper – The Oakland Republican in Oakland, Maryland –  picked up my “Looking Back” column on a monthly basis last week. I’m pretty happy about that because I love researching the stories and writing about them.

For example, I found a story about a man who was called the “Champion Miner of the World” in the 1920’s because of how fast he was at mining coal. I wrote about his story for The Republican, but in researching it, I found out that this man’s son, was a frontline reporter in WWII who won a Pulitzer Prize. He also got his reporting start at another newspaper that carries my column so I had two columns from one idea.

Right now, four newspapers – The Catoctin Banner, The Gettysburg Times, The Cumberland Times-News, and The Oakland Republican – carry my column, though at one time it was four. Even though multiple papers carry the column, I write different columns for each paper. It’s sort of a hybrid between a local column and syndicated column.

It certainly would be easier if I could just publish the same column in multiple newspapers, but I don’t think it would be as fun.

Actually, I wouldn’t mind being able to get another couple newspapers to carry the column, hopefully, in places that I’m not too familiar with. Then I get the joy of discovering of the interesting people, stories, and places in that area.

Here are the links to the newspapers if you want to search them for my Looking Back articles:


Here I am at The Book Center in Cumberland, MD, on Nov. 19. I'm the one on the left, in case you couldn't tell.

Is it so misguided to want to write a book because you are in love with the story? That’s how I have always chosen the book projects I’ve done. Yet, as I read some books about marketing your work, it seems like it doesn’t matter too much what you write about or how well you write it.

I’ve read more than one marketing book over the past few years where the author actually brags about the fact that he or she doesn’t like to read or isn’t a good writer, yet has written bestsellers. True, they haven’t been New York Times bestsellers, but they have sold tens of thousands of copies.

Meanwhile, I work to shape an interesting book that’s well written that doesn’t do nearly as well.

And then there’s the celebrity books. The publisher pays a huge advance to a celebrity or political figure for a book that doesn’t even earn the advance back.

What am I missing?

Aren’t books written anymore because of the love of the story and not how well it can be marketed?

It’s even infected me to a point. I found myself the other day telling a writer who was passionate about a non-fiction story that he researched that he needed to find a way to make it interesting to the reader. He wanted to find ways to improve the writing for a general audience, and I told him that, as described, I didn’t think it would appeal to a general audience. I didn’t tell him not to write the book. In fact, I told him to press forward, just that he needed to find a way to make it more interesting.

In other words, more marketable.

Unless you’re writing something simply for yourself or to be used as a reference, I know it doesn’t make much sense to write a book that won’t interest readers. Books need to sell. That means they are getting into the hands of readers and that’s good.

But so much of what is being put into the hands of readers nowadays wasn’t written to tell a story. It was written to be marketed.

So where does the line get crossed? I’m not sure. So far, it’s a matter of “I know it when I see it.”

I love to write. I have enjoyed telling stories since I was a kid. So if I had no story to tell, why would I want to write? Just to make money? It doesn’t make sense to me.

I sure hope that I’m a late bloomer. An article in the U.K. Telegraph has given me hope. It looked at some of the breakthrough books written by popular writers and found that writers like Dan Brown and Nora Roberts had their breakthrough books in their 40’s.

Now I will turn 49 this year (shhhh! Don’t tell anyone). Lee Child, John Irving, Mario Puzo, and Janet Evanovich all had their breakthrough books at my age or later.

Blinkbox Books looked at best-selling authors from 2001 and 2014 and combined it with a list of authors from the BBC Big Read. They looked at authors and how old they were when their breakout books were published.

For some of the authors, their breakout book was their debut novel like Richard Adams’ Watership Down published when he was 53 years old. Other authors like Philip Pullman had been published for decades before they had their breakout novel. Pullman was first published at age 27, but his bestseller, Northern Lights, was published when he was 50

Here’s a link for the article and list. Check and see if your favorite authors are mentioned.

Last To Fall CoverIt can be said that the last deaths at the Battle of Gettysburg were two marines who fell from the sky in an airplane in 1922.

Confused? Are you starting to type a comment to tell me that the Battle of Gettysburg was fought in 1863 and there weren’t any marines there?

You would be right on both counts. However, during the first week of July 1922, nearly a quarter of the U.S. Marine Corps re-enacted Pickett’s Charge in a historical way and also using modern equipment, such as tanks and airplanes.

Think about that for a second. There’s a whole sub-genre of science fiction based on alternative history. One of the standards of the genre is Harry Turtledove’s “Guns of the South.” In it, time travelers give the Confederacy Uzis to use in their Civil War battles.

That is fiction, though. This training exercise was like having an alternative history come to life on the battlefield as planes dropped bombs and shot down an observation balloon and tanks rolled across the fields impervious to bullets. And while it may have only been a training exercise, two marines died during the re-enactments.

It’s a little-known and written of event in Gettysburg history, but now you can find out the whole story along with more than 150 pictures in “The Last to Fall: The 1922 March, Battles, & Deaths of U.S. Marines at Gettysburg.” The book will retail for $24.95 when it is released in early April, but you can purchase autographed copies for $20 as a pre-order on my web site.

Marines in action, Gettysburg 1922

KingTypewriterphpHere are Stephen King’s top tips for writers. It all starts with the first line. “An opening line should invite the reader to begin the story. It should say: Listen. Come in here. You want to know about this,” King said in an interview in The Atlantic.

I’ve included link to the list here. Some of my favorite ones are:

You need to write the story that you want first and then worry about getting it right. He said, “When you write a story, you’re telling yourself the story. When you rewrite, your main job is taking out all the things that are not the story.”

Turn off your television. It’s a distraction. Your TV can be your reward for when you accomplish your writing goal for the day. Besides, the book is always better than the movie so why have the movie on to be your inspiration while you’re writing. On the flip side, he says, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write.”

King says that a first draft should be written in three months. “The first draft of a book—even a long one—should take no more than three months, the length of a season,” King said. This is where having a good outline will come in handy.

“You’ll find reading your book over after a six-week layoff to be a strange, often exhilarating experience,” King said. I find this hard to do with the schedule I keep, but it is soooooo worth it. It is like reading your book for the first time. You’ll catch a lot of errors to be fixed and improvements that can be made.

So read through the list and see which ones are gems for you.

CanawlersAt a time of war, the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal was caught in the crossfire between two nations.

Hugh Fitzgerald proudly calls himself a “canawler.” He works on the C&O Canal transporting coal nearly 185 miles between Cumberland, Maryland, and Georgetown. For nine months a year, he and his family live on their canal boat, working hard to get them through the lean winter months.

The year 1862 was a hard year to live on the canal, though. The Civil War was in full swing and the canal, which runs along the Potomac River, marked the border between the Union and Confederacy. To this point, the Confederacy has stayed south of the canal, but now the Confederate Army intends to go on the offensive and take the war into the north.

Not only are the Fitzgeralds’ lives endangered by the increased activity of warring armies and raiders on the canal, but the Fitzgeralds’ secret activity as a stop along the Underground Railroad only endangers their lives all the more.

Then fate takes Hugh away from his family, leaving his wife, Alice, to hold the family together. With the help of her children; Thomas, George and Elizabeth; Tony, an orphan from Cumberland; and David Windover, a disillusioned Confederate soldier, they will face the dangers presented by the war, nature, and the railroad together.

Midwest Book Review called this book, “A powerful, thoughtful and fascinating historical novel, Canawlers documents author James Rada, Jr. as a writer of considerable and deftly expressed storytelling talent.”

Now you can get the Kindle version of Canawlers for limited time for just $1.99. It will introduce you to Fitzgerald family who featured in three novels and a novella about the canal during the Civil War.

fisherman_catching_shoeI got a copy of the 2015 Writer’s Market the other day. I don’t buy this annual regularly, but I do get one every few years. I particularly like this one because it also gives me access to Writer’s Digest online database.

One of my complaints about Writer’s Market is that very few of the magazines that I have written for appear in its pages. I have found a few more in the database, but I’d say about 75 percent of the magazines I work for aren’t there.  You can look at that as I have less competition, but if it’s that incomplete for my region of the country, what about other areas. Are there potential markets I’m not seeing if I rely on that database?

That’s why it’s not my only source. I use it as a tool. One of many to hunt down potential new markets.

I’m also always curious about the rate pages that lists the high, low, and average payments for different types of writing. The numbers always look pretty good until you realize that it’s a range. I tend to ignore the top end because I figure that’s very few markets and the assignments are few and far between. However, even looking at the average, I am surprised at how high it is.

The numbers I see in my region of the country tend to skew lower. So maybe Writer’s Market tries to weed out the lower-paying magazines, but I’ve written for some big magazines that pay anywhere near the top end of the scale.

I’m curious as to how you get those high-end rates. For instance, who pays $600 for a local newspaper column and what is the column about? How often does it run? How about $1,040 for a newspaper feature article?

I used to work as a newspaper reporter. I was expected to write multiple stories each week. So by these numbers, I should have made around $2,200 a week or 114,400 a year as a reporter. Maybe in three years, but not a year! And my writing won plenty of awards so it’s not like I was the reporter whom the paper kept on to do grunt work.

The rate chart is a nice tool to have. While magazines and newspapers don’t negotiate rates much, I find these numbers very helpful when quoting copywriting projects. The chart is written evidence from a reputable to back up my quote with a client.

So I’ll guess I’ll go fishing in  and see how big an assignment I can find

Challenge_Future_New_Year_ResolutionsSo it is New Year’s Eve and a time to evaluate 2014 and look forward to 2015 in terms of my writing and goals as a lot of other bloggers are doing.

I only had one new book come out this year, Lock Ready. It was the conclusion of a historical fiction trilogy that has been 10 years in the making. I had plenty of articles published, but as far as I can tell none of them were in any new publications.  I did get my “Looking Back” history column into another newspaper, though.

I did about 50 percent more speaking engagements and festivals this year, and I started teaching occasional writing classes at a new college.

For the past month, I’ve been working hard to write at least 1,000 words each day. I’ve been able to hit that goal, but I’ve found that it takes longer than I thought it would, particularly if I cut a lot from a project I’m editing (I subtract that amount from my totals). What seems to be suffering if my marketing, and that was never my strong area to start with.

So my output could have been better, and I’m seeing that reflected in my income for the year. However, I also laid a lot of groundwork that should start paying off in 2015.

I expect to be editing and writing for a new quarterly magazine coming out in the spring. I’ve already lined up about a dozen speaking engagements and festivals for next year with more on the way so I think I will probably see another 50 percent increase in that area.

I’ve got six books that I am actively working on. Three of them should be published next year. I was able to handle to increased book workload this year because two of the projects are being done with co-authors (something new for me) and one project is editing and adding some material to an unpublished memoir from the 1940’s (also new for me).

Since 2000, I’ve been writing history and historical fiction. I’ve dabbled in some other areas with e-book projects. Next year, I will publish a YA novel. My very first novel back in 1996 was a YA novel, but I was never able to get a second one published with that company and moved onto historical fiction.

The new project will be published under a pen name, J. R. Rada. I know it’s not very different than my real name. I’m not trying to hide who I am. I just want to develop this pen name as a brand for my future YA and fantasy fiction.

So what are my writing goals for 2015?

  1. Publish three new books.
  2. Ready three more books for publication.
  3. Get two new projects started.
  4. Get published in three new magazines.
  5. Attend at least 50 festivals, speaking events, or booksignings.

Anybody have any suggestions for anything else that I should include?

canstock9790341My son went off to boot camp at Parris Island where he isn’t allowed his phone or use of a computer. We are having to communicate by actually writing letters now. As awkward as it is for me, it is even harder for Ben. He grew up in an age of texts and tweets. He is not used to writing a letter.

He has grown up using a computer to do most of his writing so his handwriting has a lot to be desired.

He is also used to the immediate response that he gets from texting. Texting with its poor grammar and even poorer spelling still allows for the appearance of a conversation. The mail system we are dealing with now is pretty sluggish. Our letters are crossing in the mail so it’s hard to carry on that semblance of a conversation.

My point in telling you this is that in this computer age with so much information at your fingertips ready to be accessed in a nanosecond, how much attention are we actually paying to the information? It seems that our attention spans have shrunk to news sound bites and 140-character tweets.

It makes me wonder about the future of books. Will my children ever want to read a 1000-plus-page book? When they read a news article, will they be willing to read beyond the headline to get the whole story?

I’ve been thinking about venturing into new writing waters lately, as if I haven’t been doing enough of that already with doing my first biography, my first co-authored book, editing someone’s memoirs, and doing work under a pseudonym. Anyway, now I am thinking about publishing a book in the public domain.

I came across an interesting historical character and had considered doing a biography about him. When I did some preliminary research, I discovered that he had written his own autobiography in the early 1800’s. The book has seen limited circulation and is in the public domain. So I thought, “Why re-invent the wheel? Maybe I should just reprint this book.”

I do have some issues with the original book. I would want to give it a nice cover and a better title. I would also want to do some light editing and add some illustrations.

I’ve seen some reprinted public domain book out there that have a plain cover and the interior pages are scans of the original book pages. You can see that the publisher didn’t put much effort into them so is it any surprise that they probably don’t sell? The only ones I’ve ever purchased are the ones that I have specifically been searching for for research.

Having never published a public domain book before, I wasn’t sure if there was anything I needed to do to reprint this type of book. I put the word out on some forums that I’m part of to see what people had to say. Boy! I got answers all over the place!

Some did recommend this web page, which I found immensely helpful. You should definitely read it if you are considering going this route.

I also found out that by making the alterations I wanted to do, I would be making the book able to be copyrighted because I would be making it my unique version of the book. In the future, someone could certainly reprint the book, but they wouldn’t be able to reprint my version.

So this project looks like it will move ahead. Of course, finding the time to get it ready for publication will be the real trick.


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