You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘writing a book’ tag.

writersblockI realized today that I’ve got writer’s block although I’m still writing around 6,000 words a week. I’m writing articles, blog posts, newspaper columns, and presentations. What I’m not writing is my next book project.

So can that be considered writer’s block? After all, I’m still writing. I’m just not working on the projects that I want to be writing. Even when I free my schedule up so that I’ll have time to write a few pages of my new book, I still wind up doing something else.

At first, I thought it might mean that the new book just isn’t working. I’ve been dabbling with three potential book projects, though, and I’m doing very little work on any of them.

Has anyone had this happen to them? I didn’t even realize it at first. Since I was writing, I thought everything was going fine. Writers write and I was writing. It was only when I started trying to focus on writing my book that I realized I had other things I could be writing.

Now that I’ve recognized the problem, I’m going to redouble my efforts to get some of my book writing done. Hopefully, I can break through the problem.

Some other post about writer’s block:

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thSome writers say that staring at the blank page and having to fill it with a story is the hardest part of writing. It’s the getting starting and gaining some momentum that is hard.

I have run into that problem when I write fiction. My efforts tend to go nowhere until I write that first page and get the first scene right. Even if I have other later scenes written, I need to get that first scene written before the story starts to move forward.

I guess my mind is treating me like a reader as well as a writer. I’ve got to hook myself into the story before I can see what happens next. My fiction writing tends to be very linear. I start at the beginning and write through to the end.

My non-fiction is a different story. It’s not the intimidation of the first page that causes a slow start. It’s that I have too much information that I can’t set parameters for the story and find where it starts.

Getting a non-fiction project started is like herding cats. Just when you think you’ve got them all in place, one of them jumps out of the corral.

A similar thing happens when I start a non-fiction project. I spend a lot of time and energy collecting my research and interviews. Then I have to figure out what the scope of the project is going to be.

When you are writing non-fiction history, you are writing about life and a very small part of life in the grand scheme of things. Your non-fiction history is a link in a very long chain of events that happened to cause what you are writing about and continued afterwards influenced by what you wrote about.

Your job is to cut out a section of that chain and write about it, but finding where to cut is hard sometimes because everything is connected. There may be something interesting, funny, or tragic that happened that you discover in your research. You have to decide whether it is pertinent enough to the larger story to be included, and if you do include it, does it change the scope of the story.

When I’m still in the process of herding all those cats at the beginning of a new project, it can seem overwhelming because everything seems to be in motion. Once I decide on the scope of the story and look at things through that perspective, I can start to make sense of all that motion that is my research.

At that point, I can start to get scenes down on paper. Writing things down also helps me further define the scope of my story. Oddly, I don’t necessarily need to start at the beginning when I write non-fiction. I write the vivid scenes that are in my mind. Once they are on paper, it allows my mind to focus on other things.

No matter how you start your story, it will probably be slower going than how you write much of the rest of the book. It’s all part of the process, though. Work through it, knowing that it does eventually get easier.

These articles may help you get started on your book:

 

 

 

 

October Mourning Cover

The current cover for October Mourning

BookCoverPreview

The new cover for October Mourning

 

 

 

 

 

When I first started independently publishing, I had my books printed by a traditional book printer. They did good work, but it was a big upfront cost for 1,000 copies at a time. It also gave me headaches when I tried to decide whether to do additional printings.

These early books were listed on Amazon, but under their Advantage Program. You couldn’t tell the difference on the Amazon page, but my net profit was far less than it is under the Createspace Program, which I’ve used to print my books for the past few years.

As I’ve been selling out of the traditionally printed books, I’ve been switching them over to Createspace. It hasn’t been a problem until now.

October Mourning is ready to be switched over, but unlike the other traditionally printed books, I don’t have a cover to use for the new printing. I tried to scan one of the books, but it’s not working. Each scan I try was some problem with it.

So I decided to do a new cover.

That’s not too big an issue because I was never really thrilled by the old cover. However, I decided I didn’t want to use a cover designer because the book is now 10 years old. I wasn’t sure that I could make back the cost of the cover.

So I worked up a cover. Actually, I came up with two, but this is the one that I decided I liked more. How do you like it compared to the current cover? Do I nail it or do I need to go back to the drawing board?

I’m really curious to see if the new cover will breathe some new life into the book. If it does, I have a few older books that I may recover.

So my need to create a new cover for one book has turned into a marketing experiment that can help multiple books.

 

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.

curiosityKillCat

A great Far Side cartoon by Gary Larson. While curiosity may be deadly to cats, it’s an essential quality for writers.

I read a post this morning by Annette Dashofy called “Write what you want to know.” That title struck a chord with me so much that I knew the point she was going to make and why before I even read the post.

I often tell students in my writing classes that they need to be curious. Writers can’t rely on painting a word picture all of the time. They need to beyond that and look at why things are the way they are.

When I was a reporter, I found that a lot of reporters didn’t like to deal with numbers. They were wordsmiths, after all. So they would listen to a budget presentation, for instance, and simply parrot back the points that the budget officer would make without bothering to look at the raw data and see why the final numbers came out that way.

Years ago, I was reporting on a dispute between the sheriff’s office and the county commissioners. The commissioners were complaining that the sheriff’s office kept blowing their budget numbers with too much overtime and the sheriff’s office kept telling the commissioners that grants were paying the overtime. Neither side was giving an inch and nothing was getting solved.

So I looked at the sheriff’s department’s budget and I read through the grants that were being used to pay for the overtime. Then I looked through the county budget office’s numbers for the sheriff’s department. It turned out that yes, the grants paid for the overtime, but not all of the overtime. Taxes and benefits still had to be paid for by the county. So the sheriff’s office was reporting everything as being paid for by the grant and the county was only recording the net amount to the grant.

It was something that wouldn’t have been discovered if I hadn’t wanted to get to the bottom of the dispute.

Certainly having the command of language to create a beautiful scene is a talent, but to move characters through that scene realistically and to have them interact with the world around them in a believable way requires something more.

It requires research.

I can’t think of a book that you might write that wouldn’t require research of some sort. Even an autobiography would require at least cursory research to verify dates.

I would even say that most stories and articles require research. At the very least, you would want to check and see if you’re writing something that has been done before.

Good research goes further than that, though. Understanding character motivations, how things work, and the history behind things requires work.

I’m working on a biography of a WWII Marine right now called, Clay Soldiers. I’ve been lucky enough to spend hours with the subject interviewing him, but I have also had to research a number of topics, including Guadalcanal; Tarawa; the S.S. Bloemfontein; Auckland, New Zealand; the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg; the last living Civil War veteran; atomic bomb testing; Oak Ridge, Tennessee; Orrville, Ohio; sculpting; the 1968 Washington, D.C. riots; and Walt Disney to name a few. Not every topic has required the same level of research, but they all needed more information than the person I was interviewing could provide.

So how do you know what to research?

Curiosity.

If you are writing and find yourself wondering about something that’s your subconscious telling you that you need more information. Perhaps there’s a gap in your logic or your lack of understanding about how something works is showing when you write about it. Trust that instinct and find out more.

I have never been disappointed when I did research. I found out enough to write knowledgeably about the subject. I didn’t always include everything I found out, but having that knowledge allowed my writing to sound authentic.

Often, I would find out something I hadn’t known that when I included it, made me sound a lot more knowledgeable than I am. I might also find out new storylines to pursue.

Your writing has to engage readers and make them curious enough to want to read on, but if it doesn’t engage you as the writer and make you curious enough to ask questions and want to find answers, then you need to go back and rework your story.

Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it’s the writer’s best friend.

 

Publication1

Here is the short fiction that I’ve published electronically. Two are novellas and two are short collections. Two also have previews of novels with the same characters in them.

I waver back and forth as to whether I like e-books or physical books better. Both have their advantages, but one of e-books biggest advantages is that it has brought back the viability of short fiction.

I remember when I was writing a lot of short fiction back in the 1990s that a professional rate was considered 3 cents a word or more. That means you needed to get paid at least $75 on a 2,500 word short story. At the time, I was making at least 10 times that amount for a non-fiction article. Plus, the market for non-fiction is much larger.

While some novellas could be published as chapbooks, it could be costly, both for the publisher and the reader. I independently published a 65-page novella that I needed to retail at $5.99. That was really too much for a novella that size, but between the printing costs and the retailer cut, that’s what was needed to make it financially viable.

The one area that did work for short fiction was a collection or participating in an anthology. For me, anthologies were always iffy because I usually bought one because a favorite author of mine was part of it, but usually there were other stories in it that I really didn’t like. With short story collections, my impression is that they never seemed to be as big a seller as a novel by the same author.

Then along came e-books.

You can publish a novella and price it at a $1.99. You can publish a short-story collection, just a couple short stories, or even a single story and price them appropriately. Electronic publishing opened up a lot of new avenues for short fiction. These new avenues can pay royalties indefinitely, eventually making the author a lot more money than he or she would earn from publishing a single story in a magazine.

Short fiction e-publishing also makes a great marketing tool. First, these e-books are usually priced very affordably so that a reader would be willing to try out a new author. Second, these e-books can be offered as perma-free without the author feeling he or she is giving up a large royalty. Third, short e-books can be used to promote upcoming novels.

I have seen the latter happening more and more. The author has a new novel coming out in the fall. In the spring a short story is released for 99 cents. Besides the short story, there is usually a preview of the new novel attached at the back of the story. As an added benefit, publishing short fiction along with your novels helps keep your name out in front of readers.

As a reader as well as a writer, I’m happy to see the resurgence of short fiction. I’ve got quite a few on my e-reader that I read and enjoy.

edgarallanpoeI am editing a book right now and thinking about how I would classify it. When I first wrote the book years ago, I considered it light horror, but now I’m not so sure.

I don’t want to give too much away, but the gist of the story is this: Because of how Lazarus of the Bible was resurrected, whenever he is about to die, his body steals the life force from the nearest person. During the early 19th century, Lazarus meets up with another resurrected being who was possessed by a demon at the time of his resurrection. The demon sets out to kill Lazarus and Edgar Allan Poe gets caught in the middle.

The bulk of the story is set during Poe’s lifetime, although there are modern-day scenes and scenes from Biblical times forward.

As I’m editing this, though, I realize just how much historical information is in the book, particularly about Edgar Allan Poe and his life. I did a lot of research and worked to weave my story around actual events in Poe’s life.

So I’m wondering if this could be considered historical fiction. It certainly isn’t what I consider historical fiction. It has a lot of fantastical elements in it. Something similar might be Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter. My story is not as heavy on the fantastical, though.

What are your thoughts? Would historical fiction readers be turned off by this story because it is too fantastic? Would horror readers be turned off because it has too much history? I’m trying to figure out how to market the book, but first, I need to be able to explain it to a potential reader.

collage-2015I’ve been putting the finishing touches on my workshop for the Mid-Atlantic Fiction Writers Institute Writers Conference. It’s going to be a PowerPoint presentation. I sure hope I don’t run into some of the problems I’ve have giving PowerPoint presentations this year, such as having no way to project the presentation, having the project die on me during the presentation, and having the host computer mess up my formatting. Maybe fate is telling me not to do PowerPoint presentations!

I’ll be talking about writing historical fiction on Sunday, Aug. 9 from 9:15 a.m. to 11 a.m. I think I’ll be able to offer some useful insights not only about the fiction writing side of things, but also the historical side. I’m coming at the topic from the viewpoint of someone who write both non-fiction history as well as historical fiction.

I’m also sitting on a panel discussion with Tess Gerritsen, Robert Bidinotto, Merry Bond, Harrison Demchick, Leigh-Anne Lawrence, J.P. Sloan, Desiree Smith-Daughety, Mark Stevanus, and Jason Tinney about marketing, branding, and social media. We’ll be sharing tips and techniques to define, build, and get the word out about your books. I think I’ll record this session since I probably won’t be able to take notes while I’m participating in the discussion. This session is also on Sunday from 11:15 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

I’m excited for the conference not only as a presenter but also as an attendee. I plan on attending as many different workshops as I can. There’s a lot of talented writers who will be sharing their knowledge and I’m going to learn as much as I can.

I am definitely looking forward to Tess Gerritsen’s keynote address, “I’ve Got a Great Idea for a Book…Or Do I?”

There’s also sessions on worldbuilding, creating characters with psychological conditions, and thriller writing. I can see a usefulness of the topics not only with my current writing but also with stories I want to do in the future.

Even though Nora Roberts name is no longer in the conference title, she still supports the group and is hosting a book signing at the end of the conference for all of the presenters who have published books.

All in all, this is a great regional conference. Any authors who live within an hour or two of Hagerstown shouldn’t miss it. Check out the web site here.

img099I’ve been working on a biography of an interesting World War II veteran who is 94 years old. His name is Chuck Caldwell. It’s the first time I’ve written a biography on a living subject. I’ve been sitting down to interview him for a couple hours every week then taking the information he has given me to use as a jumping-off point to research deeper and track down others to interview.

Once I write a decent draft of a chapter, I’ve given it to Chuck to read to make sure the facts are correct and to see if it makes him think of any other stories. Usually, I leave the draft at the end of one of our interviews and pick it up the next time we meet.

The other week he actually asked me to stay while he read through the pages that I handed him. I thought that I would be bored waiting for him. I wasn’t. I gave me a different insight into what I was working writing.

I watched as Chuck read. At times, he would nod his head. Other times, he would actually chuckle. He would write a few notes in the margins here and there.

At one point, he stopped and said, “This is going to be great for my children to read.”

Suddenly, a lot of the doubts that I had been having about the process and whether I was doing Chuck’s story justice fell away. I knew that I was on the right track. Watching his reaction, I was invigorated. This was the first feedback that I was getting on the story so it meant a lot to me.

Now I am back at work on the next chapter, pulling in pieces from our various interviews to create a timeline that I will match to archival research and other interviews. I am also excited to see where this project takes me because so far, it has definitely taken me outside of my writing comfort zone.

I can’t wait to see how it ends.

20150422_181251Usually, I can come up with pretty good titles for my book projects. I come up with a few ideas and one of them usually jumps out at me.

I’m working on a biography now and I’m stuck for a title. It’s the story of a very interesting man who fought in the Pacific during WWII and was awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart. He also worked out at White Sands for a bit when they were doing nuclear testing. He attended the 75th, 100th, 125th, and 150th anniversaries of the Battle of Gettysburg and met and corresponded with Civil War veterans. He is also a very talented sculptor. (The picture shows a figurine that he did of my son.)

So, I’m enjoying talking with him, researching, and writing his story. I would like to have a title, though.

Here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

Clay Heroes: One Marine’s Story of the Civil War, WWII, Art, & Nuclear Energy

From the Civil War to WWII and Back Again: One Marine’s Story

Which one do you like? Any other suggestions?

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