C03aaClay Soldiers: One Marine’s Story of War, Art, & Atomic Energy is out and starting to show up on the shelves of stores. You can also find it at online retailers, most notably Amazon.com.

I took some copies over the Chuck Caldwell (the subject of the biography) last week. He started to get choked up when he saw the finished product. I think he thought that he would never see the final book.

I have to say that I wondered at times myself. It was mainly early on in the process when I was trying to bring together all of the various times and stories from Chuck’s life. You would think that with a biography that would be easy to do. You follow the timeline of his life.

The pieces weren’t working together as I wrote them. I knew that they had to because Chuck lived them. So I went back to the source time and again, digging for more details. I used my early drafts to find the gaps in his story and talked to him about those times, looking for stories that even if they weren’t part of a big event were interesting and showed more of the type of person Chuck is.

It took a year and a half (making it the second-longest time it’s taken me to write a book), but all the rough spots got smoothed out and the final book tells a great story. I think it will topple Saving Shallmar: Christmas Spirit in a Coal Town as my favorite non-fiction book that I’ve written.

I like both books for the same reason. I have living people who I could interview. Doing this, I was able to get a lot of details that wouldn’t show up in other places. I know because I scoured historical societies, newspapers, etc. looking for information on both topics. Still, there are plenty of things in both books that you won’t find anywhere else except those books and the memories of the people who I interviewed. Those details give the books a richness of setting the time and place or the story or portraying the people involved.

While I work hard on all of my books, I think I may have worked even harder on Clay Soldiers because I knew that I was telling the story of Chuck’s life. It was going to be the summary of his life and his one chance to see it as a book. I didn’t want him to be disappointed.

He wasn’t.Scan1z (2)z

I think what I like best about the book was that I was able to bring it full circle. It begins with him as a 14-year-old boy attending the 75th anniversary reunion of the Battle of Gettysburg where he met and had his picture taken with Civil War veterans. The book ends with the roles reversed. He is now the aged veteran as the 75th anniversary of World War II begins. The youths will be coming to him now to hear about his experiences and have their picture taken with him.

If you missed my preview of the first chapter that I published a while back, you can catch them in this series of blog posts.

Clay Soldiers

For a writer, this is an interesting story to follow and see what develops. It could change the way writers write or totally flop. 

A company has started data mining the information that is collected from e-book use. The company, called Jellybooks, gives readers free e-books. The readers then click on the link in the book so that all kinds of reading data gets sent to the company.

Some of the questions that the New York Times suggests can be answered by studying the data include “Do most people devour it in a single sitting, or do half of readers give up after Chapter 2? Are women over 50 more likely to finish the book than young men? Which passages do they highlight, and which do they skip?”

There seems to be so many ways it could be sliced and diced that it could lead to having so much information that you become paralyzed in your writing. You want to write to please all your potential readers, but you realize that something is always going to turn off one group or another.

In the past, I’ve had books rejected by publishers who make decisions by committee. One person wants this change made. Another person wants another change made. You make the changes to try and please them, but then there’s someone who nixes the whole thing, although everyone else was fine with it.

That’s what I envision happening with books if author’s rely too much on data like this.

Books written by committee will lack a single vision and a sense of cohesion. Instead of a race horse, you wind up with a camel.

Another problem that I see with this is that it studies reading habits of e-book readers. This may be anecdotal, but my encounters with readers tell me that many physical book readers have a different reading style than e-book readers. One example I can think of is that an e-book reader may read on their smartphones using an e-reader app while waiting in line. Physical book readers may read for longer times because they aren’t disturbed by the backlighting on many e-readers.

So far, the technology is still new. The company has studied 200 books for seven publishers. Each book gathers data from 200 to 600 readers.

Here is some of what was found:

  • Less than half of the books tested are finished by a majority of readers.
  • Most readers give up early on. Women seem to give a book 50 to 100 pages before deciding whether to give up or not. Men will only read 30 to 50 pages before making the decision.
  • Only 5 percent of the tested books were completed by 75 percent of the readers.
  • 60 percent of books were finished by 25 to 50 percent of readers.
  • Business books have a low completion rate.

In the end, I think what will still turn out to be the best course of action is to write the best book that you can. Make it a story that you believe in and love. Then go find the readers with whom it resonates.

new-amazon-kindleI was out enjoying the beautiful weather yesterday afternoon when I dropped my Kindle. It had a cover so it didn’t shatter the screen. That was the good news. However, I couldn’t get the text-to-speech function to work anymore. I tried a variety of things, but I’m pretty sure the audio is fried.

I’m pretty disappointed about it. I use the text-to-speech to read books to me when I’m bicycling, walking, and working out. It’s a nice way to multi-task. I can be active and still keep up with the pile of books that I want to read.

Now I’ve got to get a new Kindle and they no longer make my Kindle Keyboard. It was the perfect Kindle for me.

None of the current Kindle e-readers have a text-to-speech function. I’m going to have to switch to a Kindle Fire. I like them, but then they don’t work so well outdoors and I do like reading on the beach or in the park.

I spent the morning pricing Kindle Fires and I was surprised to find that many of them are cheaper than the Kindles. Why does a devoted e-reader, i.e. the Kindle, cost more than something that pretty much a table, i.e. the Kindle Fire?

Anybody have any thoughts on their preferences? I could use some input.

CanawlersThis week, I had an enthusiastic reader insisting that my Canawlers novels should be turned into a movie. She has even gone so far as to contact someone she knows with Disney movies about the possibility. I haven’t heard anything back about that, but I’ve got my fingers crossed.

It’s not the first time that someone has wanted to see Canawlers as a movie, but it’s the first time that someone has taken action toward that goal. That includes me!

In fact, when she asked me about it, I said that I really had no clue how to go about. I said that I would keep writing my books and hope that somehow they got discovered. Well, she even went and found a link that suggested things that I could do to get my books optioned.

What I gleaned from the article is that I need to pitch the book to producers and the most likely ones who would be interested would probably be independent movie producers as opposed to the big-name Hollywood one. The article recommended using The Hollywood Creative Directory or Writer’s Market to find some.

I couldn’t find movie producers in my copy of the 2015 Writer’s Market, but I did find another book by the same publisher called Pitching Hollywood that looks promising. I also found two books on Amazon that look like they have plenty of information. They are Hollywood Producers Directory and Hollywood Screenwriting Directory.

The article recommended making a synopsis of the book that’s no more than four pages long. It also said to register it with the Writer’s Guild of America to protect the concept. I don’t think this is necessary if the book is already written because the book itself is already protected by a copyright, which would protect my movie concept.o&d_0001

The process of pitching to producers is just like pitching to publishers and agents. The key is finding producers who are interested in the genre that the book is in. For instance, science fiction producers wouldn’t be interested in historical fiction.

So I guess I’ll start looking for potential producers and see what happens. Wow, since there are four books in the series, just imagine all four of them becoming movies! I wonder who would play David and Alice?

Here’s the link to the article I was sent if you want to read it.

As my income from ebooks continues growing, I find myself paying more and more attention to the trends in the market. My income is not at the level where I think it could be so I can see a large market that I’m not fully going after yet.

I know some readers don’t enjoy reading ebooks, but the market for them is still going strong. Sometimes that can be hard to tell from the reports that you read. Depending on the source of ebook data, it can be very skewed.

  • Some studies only look at ebooks with an ISBN number: More and more e-books are being published without one, though, because it’s not needed. My physical books need one to make it easy for bookstores to use. My Kindle ebooks get an Amazon code for tracking through their system so I don’t need an ISBN, which saves me money.
  • Some studies include all ebooks, including free copies: Free copies will make your sales numbers increase, but they aren’t really sales in my mind. The author isn’t getting anything out of the transaction. Ebook sellers will separate free and paid bestsellers because a book has more value when a reader
  • Paid sales do include reduced-price ebooks: Selling a book at a reduced price will certainly bump up your sales and it can be argued that if you run a lower-price offer for a book that is normally sold at a higher price, the results will be somewhat skewed when comparing that title to other ones. However, the same is true for physical books that are sold at a discount in bookstores.

Another author introduced me to Authorearnings.com. It shows the most-complete picture I’ve seen of the market and breaks it out in ways that I understand.

The most-recent report that looks at the previous 23 months ending in February 2016 shows that indie-published ebooks account for nearly half of e-book paid sales while the ebooks from the big publishers has fallen off dramatically. This seems to dovetail with the news that Amazon gave the big publishers more control over the pricing of their titles.

From my experience, I’ve seen titles from my favorite big-name authors priced at $7.99 or higher. I am reluctant to pay that much for an ebook unless I really, really want it. This doesn’t happen much because I’ve got something like 40 ebooks on my reader that I haven’t read yet. Instead of buying that high-priced book, I put it on my wish list and check to see if it goes on sales. Meanwhile, I’ll read my other unread books. It’s a pile that never seems to shrink because I do buy books by new authors who have priced their books very competitively.

Ebooks should be priced lower than paperbacks since there are no physical costs to producing them. It’s not devaluing the product, it’s just pricing it reasonably. You wouldn’t expect to pay hardback prices for a paperback book. That’s because the production costs of a hardback are more than a paperback. The same thing holds true for ebooks vs. paperbacks or hardbacks.

This difference in pricing strategies between indie publishers and traditional publishers can be seen in this chart.


From Authorearnings.com

Indie books sell for less and so they generate fewer overall dollars (45% of unit sales but only 25% of dollars). That fine because ebooks are very profitable for an indie author.

Selling a $25 hardback earns the author around $3.25 (15%) and selling an $8 paperback earns the author around 80 cents (10%).

An ebook priced at $8 will earn the indie author about $5.40 (68%). A traditionally published author will be lucky to earn $3.20 (40%) from the sale.

An indie author selling a $5 ebook will make around $3.40 (68%). That means indie authors can sell their books at a lower price and earn more per copy than traditionally published authors get from selling higher-priced ebook or even hardback books. In addition, the lower price of an indie ebook helps it sell more copies.

The reader gets a value-priced ebook and the author gets a higher royalty. There’s nothing wrong with that unless you’re a traditional publisher.



Clay Soldiers: One Marine’s Story of War, Art & Atomic Energy comes out next month. It is a biography about WWII veteran Charles Caldwell. It’s the first time that I’ve written a biography and it was a much-different experience than I expected. Here are some of the things that I learned.

Scan1z (2)zIt’s always better to have someone to talk to. Since I write history articles and books, a lot of times, I can’t speak to someone who actually lived through what I’m writing about like I could when I was a newspaper reporter. Having someone around that I can interview is invaluable. It allows me to personalize the story. I was able to include lots of anecdotal stories to major events like the Battle of Guadalcanal and the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg that add more depth to the story and present a view that you won’t read elsewhere.

Research, research, research. Even though I was able to interview Chuck Caldwell for hours at a time over the course of a year and a half, I would still need to go home and research what we had talked about. His memory is still sharp and he had plenty of letters and diaries to supplement, but there were still gaps that I needed to fill in at times or additional information that I found on a subject that I could ask him about. I usually began each of our interview sessions with a list of questions that had come up in my research. After we went through those, we would start talking about other subjects.

Find something different. Each person has an individual story and you can’t forget that. You need to capture that in a biography. What is it about the story that that first attracted you to it? In Chuck’s case, it was that he had an autograph book filled with the autographs of Civil War veterans he had met at the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg and pictures of himself with those veterans. He is also a WWII vet and the 75th anniversary of America’s involvement in that war begins this year. It struck me that young kids would be approaching him this year like he approached Civil War vets in 1938. Things had come full circle. C03aa

Never forget it’s about a person. It’s a biography, which means that it needs to tell the story of a person. You can’t get swept up in the events that the person was part of and forget to tell your subject’s story. You have to put yourself in that person’s shoes and try to envision things through their eyes. Sometimes that means you write a much narrower view of major events. However, I have found that although events may be interesting, readers need to connect with people. Writing a biography means you have your main character already. Just tell his or her story.

The first draft is not final. Even after I had the first draft written, Chuck would read sections that would trigger other memories. He would go digging for a picture or letter and tell me a new story that I would then need to weave into the draft. I didn’t mind this. It was why I had given him the draft. Even as a writer, sometimes, I just need to see something on paper to realize that it needs more or less or the written differently. Even while my beta readers were reading what I thought was my publishable copy, I was also reading it and rewording things or researching something to add more detail to it.

Clay SoldiersSometimes I never thought it all would come together. I wrote chapters out of order, which was highly unusual for me. I would look at them and think, “How am I going to tie this together in a way that makes sense?” Then I realized, it already tied together in a way that made sense. It was the story of a man’s life. All I needed to do was tell that story as best I could.

That’s what I’ve done. I probably even pushed myself harder to do a good job with this because Chuck got more excited about having his life written down for his family as time went on. I didn’t want to disappoint him. I hope that I haven’t.

He talked with Civil War soldiers, fought against the Japanese in WWII, and chased mushroom clouds after atomic bomb explosions…

Caldwell 3

Chuck Caldwell in his contamination suit at the Nevada Test Site in 1957.

Chuck Caldwell was always fascinated by history, so much so that as a 14-year-old boy he traveled to Gettysburg, Pa., in 1938 to meet with Civil War veterans at the last, great Civil War Reunion. Besides the 75th anniversary reunion, he would go on to attend the 100th, 125th, and 150th anniversaries of the Battle of Gettysburg.

Joining the Marines at the beginning of World War II, he went on to fight in some of the most-harrowing battles of the Pacific … Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Guam. He survived with two wounds, a Purple Heart, and malaria.

After the war, he worked for the Museum of Atomic Energy in Oak Ridge, Tenn., and spent summers at the Nevada Test Site collecting data at Ground Zero after atomic bomb tests, sometimes standing beneath mushroom clouds as they rose into the sky.

Though it all, Chuck has his art. He drew, painted, and sculpted miniature figures that have become sought after by collectors around the country.


Chuck Caldwell’s artillery gun crew on Guadalcanal during WWII.

Clay Soldiers is the story of a man who became part of this of America and chronicled it through his art. It is the story of an ordinary man who has lived an extraordinary life.

Clay Soldiers is due out in late April, but you can pre-order your copy now at a reduced price of $15.00 and have an autographed copy shipped to you when it is released.

Clay Soldiers

Sometimes my goals exceed my endurance. I expect it to happen when I’m working out. My goal is to bench press 300 pounds, but I can only manage 280 or I want to bike 28 miles in 90 minutes, but I can only manage 20 miles.


The same sort of thing happens when I’m writing, but it sort of sneaks up on me. I set daily and weekly goals. Sometimes I hit them. Sometimes I don’t. I can handle that.

However, sometimes I have the time to achieve one of my goals but I just can’t bring myself to do it. Some people call it burnout and other call it writer’s block.

I see them as two different things. They both show themselves in the same way. I just can’t get anything written. The difference is how I recover from them.

When I first hit a point where I can’t write, I assume it is mild burnout. My treatment for that is simple. I take a day off of writing and rest from it. I even have a rest day scheduled into my weekly plan. I don’t write on Sundays. I take a break and usually come back strong on Monday. I use the same theory with my biking. I bike hard on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. On Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, I do some other type of exercise that allows my legs to recover.


If a day’s rest doesn’t allow to start writing again, then I assume that I’m suffering from writer’s block. Beating writer’s block is more than simply needing a rest. It’s your subconscious trying to tell you something. The cure can be a variety of things or a combination of things.

The best way to avoid writer’s block is not to run into it at all. Here’s are some tips to do that:

  1. Write every day. If you are keeping your writing creativity primed, then it’s easy to keep things moving. Newton’s Third Law of Motion: An object in motion tends to remain in motion. An object at rest tends to remain at rest.
  2. I like to keep multiple projects going. If I get stuck on one article, I’ll jump to another and come back to the original project at another time.
  3. I had an editor give me useful advice. Don’t try and get it perfect. Just write through it. You can always come back and edit it.
  4. Jump to another place in the book and article and work on it. If the problem is the story itself, either the change will give you a fresh perspective or you’ll realize you need to play with the story.
  5. When all else fails, I’ve found that nothing beats having a deadline that I need to meet.

Your goal is to do what is needed to get your writing project moving again.

lifespan-desk.jpgI got my bicycle out for the first time this year last week when Gettysburg had three days of temps in the 70s. It’s great exercise, which is something that anyone with a sedentary work life, such as a writer needs to be concerned about. You don’t want your backside filling out to match the bottom of your desk chair.

Along those same lines, I also have a treadmill desk in my office, which I use for short periods of time, and a Garmin Vivofit. All with the goal of making me more active.

Benefits Beyond Health

Besides, the fitness part of being active, there’s a benefit to creative people as well. If I’m feeling weighed down with a lot of work, it helps dissipate some of the stress so that it feels more manageable. I find exercise helps clear my mind of a lot of the clutter, and I start to think about articles and books that I’m working on.

Now, when I’m walking, this is not a big problem. I can pull out my phone and use the recording app to dictate notes to myself or talk through a scene I’m envisioning in a book. Then when I get home I can dictate the scene onto the page.

This can become a problem when biking, though. If you think talking on a phone while driving is distracting, try doing it while biking. You may wind up in a ditch or someone’s front fender. Even if you’re willing to take the risk, it probably won’t work. I have my phone mounted on my handlebars so I can check the GPS app that I have. One time, I tried recording while I was biking. I didn’t die (obviously), but when I checked the playback later, the wind noise from me biking was louder than my voice and I could only catch about half of what I had recorded.

So I either have to hope that I remember the great idea I’m having or I have to pull over long enough to record my notes.

I tried remembering what I wrote, but … wait, I forgot what I was going to say … oh, yeah, I had forgotten parts of it by the time I got home because I had other thoughts I was trying to remember.

I don’t mind pulling over to dictate something, but this can be inconvenient if you find yourself stopping every five minutes because you’re on a roll with ideas.

That would be a nice position to be in, wouldn’t it? It can happen if you’re getting lots of blood pumping to your brain and getting those endorphins working for you.

Work is important, but don’t become so involved in it that you neglect your health. Then you will harm not only your health, but you’ll miss a lot of great ideas.

Part I

Clay SoldiersMy new book, Clay Soldiers: One Marine’s Story of War, Art & Atomic Energy, is finished and formatted. I printed off some set to send out to beta readers.  This is the nervous time for me. Essentially, it’s the public debut of the book. People have seen bits and pieces of it, but this is the first time it has all been put together.

I am using a mix of beta readers. Some I know, some I don’t. Some are writers and some are just people who like to read history. I figure that I have a good mix of readers.

Their feedback is important, particularly if more than one reader mention it. A lot of the feedback that they give me is opinion and I have to take that into account, but I do consider each comment. Some of them are very insightful even if I don’t want to hear it.

Beta readers are a great resource for you as a writer. If you don’t have any people who you trust to give you an honest opinion, you can join a writer’s group or even find a Facebook beta readers group.

Some things to keep in mind with your beta readers:

  • Don’t take everything they say as gospel. Everyone has an opinion and some of those opinions will be conflicting. If five people say the same thing and one person says something different, then you should give more weight to the five. However, if it three saying one thing and two saying another, then you have a more balanced consideration to take into account.
  • You can’t please everyone. There’s an old saying that a camel is a horse built by committee. If you have a vision of what you want the book to be. Don’t give it up easily. If you try and please everyone, you will wind up with something bland that probably won’t please you.
  • Ask your beta readers for a review. Reviews are important for a book. Give your book a jump start and ask all of your beta readers to post an honest review about your book.
  • You don’t need dozens of beta readers. I like to use three at a minimum because I feel that gives me a good well-rounded opinion of my book. For this particular book, I’m using six, mainly because more people got back to me when I started making inquiries about beta readers. More doesn’t mean better, though. You still want people who are readers and/or knowledgeable about writing and who will give you an honest opinion.
  • Show your appreciation. I always make sure to send my readers a finished copy of my book as well as telling them, “thank you.”

Here are a couple other articles by other writers about getting beta readers.

Peer Reviews: Seek Quality in Your Beta Readers, Not Quantity

How to find a beta reader


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