When your family doesn’t read

I saw a Facebook post this morning from an author asking how other authors feel when their family members don’t read their books. That started me thinking because I have that problem.

It is frustrating that my family doesn’t read. They used to. My wife used to read a lot, although she never read my books. My oldest son was never a reader. My youngest son read a lot until he discovered video games.

I’ve asked them to be beta readers to encourage them, but they never take me up on my offer. I dedicate some of my books to them, hoping they will want to read them. Nope.

I have a son who is in prison. It is a sad situation, but my non-reader son has taken up reading. He even read War and Peace! Once, I found this out, I started sending him books by some of my favorite authors to keep him interested in reading. When I talk to him, he tells me about some of the books he has read, what he likes, and what he doesn’t. It’s a nice connection to have with him in sad circumstances.

Now, if I could just get my youngest son and wife to read without something bad happening to them.

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The benefits of joining a writer’s group

Writing can be lonely work unless you count your characters as company. Even if you’re writing non-fiction and interviewing people, the relationship is different than if you’re talking with friends.

That’s why I enjoy being part of a writer’s group. I’ve been a member of a half dozen or so over the years and have enjoyed them all. It’s nice to get together with other writers occasionally and talk about projects you’re working on, the craft or even something unrelated to writing.

Sure, a lot of writer’s groups are about reading pieces and getting feedback, but the value I get from them is simply being able to talk to someone else who understands the frustration of writer’s block, the joy from having a book published or the sadness at having one rejected.

That said, here are the top five benefits of joining a writer’s group as I see them. Let me know if you have anything different to add.

  1. Leads for new work. I actually got a new job writing a weekly column because a member of my writer’s group told me that the editors had changed at a local newspaper.
  2. Sympathetic ears. As I said, it’s nice to talk to someone who understands the writing life.
  3. Discussions about how to improve your technique. Lots of writers pay hundreds of dollars to hear other writers talk about creating fuller characters, writing vibrant dialogue and other things. In a writer’s group, you get it for free.
  4. Camaraderie. It’s nice to have friends with shared interests.
  5. Feedback on writing. What are you doing wrong? What are you doing right? Find out before you make a fool out of yourself by sending your manuscript to an agent.

writers-critique-group

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A writer’s winter

winter-blues-snowmanI finished up my last event for the year, and now, for me, winter begins. It’s not only a season, but it’s also the time when my business slows down. It won’t pick up again until mid-March.

In some ways, this is a good thing for me. I catch up on writing projects so I’m on track to release the early books I have planned for the year. I have time to do more research for stories. I get all of my tax information together to fill out my taxes. I lay out plans for my broad-term marketing for the year.

On the whole, though, it’s a rough time for me. I don’t have as much income coming in. I have to tap into my business savings to make up shortfalls.

I’ve learned to plan for this period. I save up during my busy months to have income for this time. I put off certain projects knowing I will work on them during the winter.

It’s all part of being a full-time writer. For anyone planning on a writing career starting with the New Year, don’t let the slow start off put you. It’s typical and cyclical.

Things will get better, but then winter comes every year.

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One reason I’m proud to be a writer

wayside2 (1).JPGI’ve done a lot of interesting things as a writer. Some have been fun like competing in a demolition derby. Some have appealed to the nerd in me like leafing through a 500-year-old illuminated manuscript. Some have made me part of history like being one of the first reporters on the scene of the Shanksville crash on 9/11.

Today, I’m taking part in something that makes me proud. A memorial wayside erected in Gettysburg to honor Marine Captain George W. Hamilton, a highly-decorated World War I Marine officer, and Gunnery Sergeant George R. Martin, is being dedicated today.

Additionally, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf has issued a proclamation declaring June 26, 2018, as Captain George W. Hamilton and Gunnery Sergeant George R. Martin Remembrance Day “in grateful recognition of their military service.”

Marine Captain Hamilton, of World War I fame, survived the bloody Battle of Belleau Wood in 1918 (also known as the “Germans’ Gettysburg”), with honors, only to perish in a dive bomber crash on the Gettysburg Battlefield during Marine maneuvers held in 1922, along with Gunnery Sergeant Martin, a veteran of the Santo Domingo campaign.

On June 26, 1922, Captain Hamilton was piloting a de Havilland dive bomber over Gettysburg battlefield, with Martin, at the head of the column of 5,500 Marines arriving for training maneuvers and Civil War reenactments, when their airplane crashed while attempting to land on the Culp Farm, killing both aviators.

The deaths of the aviators were declared as line-of-duty deaths, resulting in their being the last such deaths to have occurred on the historic battlefield since the 1863 battle itself.

wayside1.jpgThe effort to create the memorial came about after I wrote The Last to Fall: The 1922 March, Battles, & Deaths of U.S. Marines at Gettysburg, (co-authored with Richard D. L. Fulton). The book is the only one on the topic, and it made local Marines and citizens aware of this forgotten event.

Years ago, a couple articles I had written led to a name being added to the National Officers Down Memorial. I was proud that day, but in that case, the memorial already existed. The Marine wayside would not have existed if not for the book Rick and I wrote. Now, the two Marines killed on the battlefield in 1922 will finally have their recognition.

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Staying healthy at work

McLGX78KiWriting can be stationary work. Sure, I get to go out and do an interview, attend a meeting, or do an interesting activity from time to time. Most of the time, however, I’m sitting behind my desk. That’s not the healthiest way to live.

I get up from time to time and walk around the house. The creaking in my joints lets me know it was a good choice.

I try to use the treadmill desk, but I’ve never gotten over the awkwardness of it. I do use it, but for probably only an hour or two a week.

My point here is that writers need to stay healthy. Besides helping you live longer, the less you are sick, the more productive you can be. My grandfather used to tell me a story that after he went deep into debt borrowing from anyone who would lend him money in order to build a small grocery store so that he could go into business for himself. He told me that every night he would pray that the Lord would keep him healthy so he could work and pay back all those people whom he owed money.

If you are ill, you won’t be writing and earning a living. So stay healthy.

I do a lot of bicycling during the summer. I like getting out and exploring my county. I also do resistance training with resistance tubes. This hasn’t been as effective for me as the biking.

I decided to rejoin the YWCA in town and use their fitness center. I love spin classes. I can also start using the free weights for resistance training again.

Meanwhile, I have also started jogging again. (Some people may call it fast walking.) I haven’t done this is decades because of a bad knee. My body does not like this much, but I am slowly getting better at it.

It’s all in the effort to improve my health, keep me away from the doctor’s office, and keep writing.

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92 More Books to Write!

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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.

I was doing some organizing the other week and decided to put all of my book ideas on a spreadsheet. At the time, they were written down on anything from a scrap of paper to pages. I put everything onto the spreadsheet including working title, genre, notes, and summary.

It took me quite a while to put together the spreadsheet because I kept finding scraps of paper in different folders in my filing cabinet. Eventually, I got everything transferred. At least I hope so. I haven’t found any idea scraps in a week or so.

My final list totals 92 book ideas!

I’m pretty prolific. I average about three books a years. That means that I have 33 years worth of books yet to do, and that’s only if I don’t add any more ideas to list. That won’t be happening. I’ve already added a new idea this month. My list also includes some books that are parts of series. The list might include an idea or two for additional books in the series, but what happens after that?

Now not all of those books will get written (obviously) because I won’t be able to flesh out the story enough to make it work. Still, when I look at the list, about a third of the titles already have a significant amount of writing done.

This is one of the reasons that I’ll never retire. I’ve got too much writing that I want to do.

The other reason that I won’t retire is that I enjoy what I’m doing. I still get frustrated at times from trying to figure something out or stressed out over deadlines, but overall, I love my job. I get to meet fascinating people and do fun activities (all in the name of research, of course!).

I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was in elementary school, and now that I am, I’m going to make the most of it. That means I’ll be writing and writing and writing.

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Telling the life story of a living person makes me nervous

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Chuck Caldwell and I at his home during an interview he did with the Hanover Evening Sun. For more Evening Sun photos from the interview, visit here.

I had a presentation this past weekend at the annual WWII Weekend at the Eisenhower Farm in Gettysburg. Now, I’ve been given an average of two presentations a month for the past couple years, but this one made me nervous.

It was a talk about Chuck Caldwell, a 92-year-old WWII veteran whom I got to know while writing his biography. I had spent about two years working on the biography, Clay Soldiers: One Marine’s Story of War, Art & Atomic Energy. So I knew the topic.

Why was I so nervous?

I think it was because I know the audience would have preferred to have Chuck speaking to them. Heck, I would have preferred it and attended. However, Chuck spoke at the weekend two years ago and the heat got to him and he collapsed. Since that time, he’s been gun shy about going back.

It just felt odd for me to be talking about the life of someone who was still alive. Some of the audience members would know Chuck. What if I said something different from their memories? What if they thought that I didn’t do Chuck’s Forrest-Gump-type life justice?

I was nervous because I really wanted Chuck to proud of the job I did even if he wasn’t there.

Well, the presentation went fine. Once I got started, I only rarely looked at my script. I even started throwing some anecdotes that really showed the way Chuck has interacted with history. For instance, one time during an air raid on Guadalcanal, he and another Marine dove into the nearest air raid shelter for cover. Well, inside that shelter was none other than Marine General Vandergrift and Army General Patch discussing the Army’s takeover of the island from the Marines. Chuck and the other Marine decided to run back out and face the Japanese bombs rather than the two generals.

Chuck Caldwell is one of the greatest people whom I have had a chance to meet and I’m glad I have gotten to know this American hero.

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