Creating new worlds, one story at a time

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Musician’s Muse

I’ve had a Dan Stone novel in my head for a while but I’ve had to set up the character, and frankly, I didn’t think I had the skill to write the story a year and a half ago. I think I’m ready to try, but only after finishing my Mexico story. In this new story, Dan falls in love with a musician.  I’m interested in the unlikely pairing of a man of action, ostensibly without much in the way of artistic sensitivities, with a world-class artist.  And, further, how he becomes her muse.

Over the past year or more, as my mind had rambled over this theme, I found myself remembering an obscure book I had read years ago about the Spanish art of flamenco.  Now flamenco is often thought of as a form of guitar playing or aggressive tap dancing with much rhythmic clapping.  There are those elements, to be sure, but flamenco is really about the singer and the song.

Deep in the back streets of Grenada, Spain, you can find dark clubs, where you can hear the raw, gypsy-inspired flamenco.  It’s all about the songs; songs of raw emotion where the singer unabashedly shows his or her pain.  The songs are about a lost love, the love of a city or culture now gone, the singer torn from his or her home and roots.  The songs speak about pain and heartbreak being a part of life; a part one cannot escape.  If one has life, one has pain; there is no avoiding it.  You can let the pain eat you or you can force it through you and out into song.  In song you can let out the raw emotions, unashamed, unapologetic and, so, for a moment, shed your pain by sharing it with others.

The guitarist plays in an extravagant style that mimics the raw expression of the singer.  It provides a suitable fill and accompaniment for the rough-edged singing.  The dancing and clapping, sometimes done by the singer, provide the cadence and rhythm to the singer’s emotional expressions.

The best flamenco is found in the bars and clubs filled with small audiences.  The singer does not send out all that emotion, that crying out for what has been lost, that pain, into the vacuum that can often be found in a large concert hall.  The singer is communicating to his or her audience, looking to connect, to draw the audience into their pathos.  “You understand my pain.  Let me tell you more about my broken heart.  I see it in you. I want you feel it like I do.”  The singer connects.  The audience experiences the catharsis the singer goes through.  Everyone absorbs the sadness, the tragedy felt through the song and all go home washed in that experience.  I wonder whether or not the best flamenco singers could perform without an audience.

So, in my new story (still in my head), the protagonist finds he is touched by the artistry of this world-class musician.  This connection he experiences starts to feedback to her and she finds herself opening up her art to become more expressive.  She wants to touch him (her immediate audience).  He becomes her muse, and out of this synergy her music and a love story grows.

The musician in my story is like the flamenco singer without the rawness of expression.  Interestingly, I heard of a famous pianist (from Argentina) who retired from concert performances and would only play small recitals.  After some years of performing in large concert halls, she found them to be too sterile, too draining.  The smaller venues gave her the feedback loop she needed as an artist, the connection to the audience that fed her artistic expression instead of draining it.  Maybe the artist needs the audience.  Maybe the audience completes the loop of creativity and enriches both parties. Yes, I understand many artists would create even if no one listened to or looked at their work. But in the performance arts—music, dance, acting—the audience is perhaps a critical part of the creative process.

That’s what I’m going for as part of my story.  It should be fun to write and bring an interesting interlude to the middle of all the thriller action.  Let me know what you think.

PIcure is from a youtube video by Eli Ramirez. You can find the video here.

Genre Switching (not Gender Switching)

Genre switching; That’s not gender switching, but something more literary than physical. It’s what I’m going to attempt. Since I started writing I’ve had a desire to write in the “thriller” genre. As fate would have it, my first novel was inspired by a post apocalyptic story, so I began there. Post apocalypse (PA) stories have a certain freedom to them. You can create whatever type of world you want to put your protagonist into, but they do require you to build that world.

A thriller on the other hand exists within the framework of a known world. Admittedly it’s not a world in which most normal people exist. Thrillers are what they are because the characters experience life events far outside of normal; that’s why we read them.

But there are similarities:   both types of work have lots of action, a protagonist who must overcome challenges, and generally an antagonist to defeat. There can be fantastical situations to overcome (high tech dangers stopping short of science fiction) which can be taken further in PA literature.

My challenge, and it’s a bit scary, is that my readers have come to me through their interest in post apocalyptic or dystopian literature. Now I’m going to offer them something different. Will this fall flat? Who knows? But it is a concern to me as I approach publishing.

I take comfort that my first novel, Jason’s Tale, started from nowhere; I was non-existent on Amazon before publishing the story. However, it rose to reach #1 in both PA and dystopian genres. So I hope my first thriller, Payback, can be successful as well; (maybe not that successful as there are some real super stars in this genre). You can order the ebook as a “pre-order” on Amazon. When it is published in August, you’ll be sent the book automatically.

At least I now have a group of readers who know I exist and my hope is that many of them will follow me to this new novel. I’m working hard to make the writing my best. While I’ve read some PA novels that were not well written but did well in sales ranking, ButI firmly believe quality forms the basis of all successful writing in the long term.

Grunt work; that’s what I’m now I’m engaged in. The novel is written and has had one edit pass. But three trusted beta readers have commented that while most of the story is prime-time quality (yea!), the first part needs work. After the opening chapter, which they think is good, the story gets a bit lost in the “back story” that explains how the first chapter could have happened. It goes on for about fifty pages.

Structure/restructure: The work now is about structure, or restructure. This is not as creative as the original writing but has to be done carefully. A story becomes interlocked in many ways, so to take it apart one has to be very careful in order to not result in a chopped up narrative that doesn’t flow easily. Big time writers probably have staffs to work on issues like these. The rest of us have to figure it out for ourselves. That can actually be a good thing, providing lessons along the way. It’s just a bit daunting and different from the writing part. Luckily my issues are at the front where things are not strongly interlocked.

My first pass at this resulted in shaving the story around the edges. I took out a scene in the look-back part that I didn’t like and streamlined some others. I cut out five pages of the back story, but I’m not sure I’m there. The only thing to do is try another version with more serious chopping. First I’m going to read through what I changed to see if anything else jumps out at me. Waiting for the obvious solution to show up, but what the hell do I do if it doesn’t?

Oh, well, I’ve got a couple of weeks to solve this in order to still meet my August deadline. More to come on the polishing work. This is going to be good. A writer friend of mine says he can’t do a critical read because he gets so into the story he’s just turning pages without stopping; music to an author’s ears. Check out the book Here and set up your pre-order; coming soon in August!

Audio Book Completed

It’s out! The audio version of “After the Fall: Jason’s Tale” is available on audible.com. Follow this link to connect.

By Monday or Tuesday you’ll also be able to purchase it from Amazon and iTunes. The narration took longer than I expected to complete, but what did I know? I started the project last summer. Near the end, we ran into some technical problems, but my narrator, Gabriel Zacchai, worked them out. It’s exciting to hear the words I’ve labored over for so long spoken out loud.

It’s priced at only $19.95 (I don’t have anything to do with the pricing) which seems pretty good for an audio book. You get 7 hours, 44 minutes of listening pleasure; perfect for a road trip or a week’s commute. I hope you enjoy the narration. You can even leave a review on Audible. For an audio book you can offer three ratings: “overall”, “performance” and “story”; kind of cool.

Would you like a copy for free?
I have 10 promo copies (codes, actually) that I’m giving out to my reader group. To get one email me at david@davidnees.com and say, “Send me the code.”  With your permission, I’ll add you to my reader’s email list so you can follow my progress, get access to new writings and generally let me know how you feel about what I write.  A writer puts words down on “paper” for the readers, so we want to know how you feel about the results of those efforts.

I want to thank you all for your support in this endeavor. They’ll be many more stories and audio books to come.  Look for the sequel, “Catherine’s Tale”, to be out early in the first quarter next year.  It’ll be worth the wait.

Thoughts on success

While I am a new to writing, I’ve had some experience with success in three other fields of endeavor:  motorcycle racing, motorcycle dealer, and fitness equipment store chain owner.  In each of these I learned more clearly what is necessary for success.  So many have written about how success is a matter of hard work, perseverance, breaking the rules, making up new rules.  They are all pertinent and I’ve used them all in the course of my career.

I’ve found helpful, encouraging information from established self-published and hybrid authors, such as J.A. Konrath and Hugh Howey.  Inspired by them, I humbly offer my addition to the large collection of success advice; mine having to do with the concept of visualization.

A story from motorcycle racing

Kenny Roberts is champion motorcycle racer, winning two Grand National Championships (US titles) and three 500cc World Championships (equivalent to a Formula 1 championship).  These are an individual accomplishments equivalent to winning multiple Olympic gold medals, multiple Super Bowls and many other sports pedestals where few ascend.

Robert Road racing

Roberts revolutionized pavement motorcycle racing.  His lean-off-the-bike style led to greater cornering speeds and his background in dirt track racing allowed him to be comfortable with the motorcycle drifting and sliding on pavement.  The result was a form of riding that dominated the Europeans who, until that time, did not think to slide their machines on pavement.  His style was so effective it changed how motorcycles were raced on pavement and changed how designers built the bikes; they had to accommodate this faster style by changing how their machines turned into a corner and how they reacted when the rear wheel started to slide.

Trans Atlantic Match races

This story is from the days before he became world champion, when he was involved in a spring racing series in Great Britain, called the Trans Atlantic Match races.  The format involved the top U.S. racers traveling to England to compete with the top British racers each spring over the three days of the Easter weekend.

It was a compressed format; three races at three tracks in three days.  In the morning there were practice sessions where you had to get the motorcycle dialed in (adjusted to the circuit and the current conditions) and learn the lines through the corners.  Right after the noon break, a qualifying session was held to determine your starting position.  A good position was critical since overtaking was difficult on most of the circuits.  An hour after qualifying, the race was held and at the end of the day, everyone packed up to head for the next circuit.  There wasn’t a lot of time to get it right.

A bad day at the track

Now England in the spring is cold, rainy and not friendly to motorcycle pavement racing, especially for the U.S. riders, many of whom came from sunny southern California.  Cold pavement lacks traction, and when wet it is treacherous, demanding a delicate hand on the throttle be fast enough to win yet not fall down.  At one of the tracks Roberts was having a difficult time of it.  He could not post competitive times during the morning practice sessions.  After struggling through two rounds of practice, having tweaked the settings on his motorcycle to no avail, he skipped the third and last round of practice.  Instead he went into the Goodyear tire van, threw a bunch of racing tires up to block the entrance and sequestered himself alone during the last practice session.

After the noon break, he went out for the qualifying session.  In that session Roberts turned the fastest time of the field to start on the pole position.  He then went on to win the race.  After, people came up to him to ask how he did it, since his times were so poor in practice.  How did he turn it around?  Did it have anything to do with his secluding himself in the tire van?

Roberts explained he was so frustrated during practice that he went into the van to review the track in his head.  He took each of the corners, ran through them in his mind, tracing the perfect (fastest) line:  the braking point, the turn-in point, the apex, how much brake he applied and where, how much throttle he applied and where.  When he had the corner figured out in his head and memorized, he went to the next corner and did the same thing.  In each of the corners he visualized how the motorcycle felt, how it would react to his inputs of braking, steering and throttle.  When he had all the corners down in his head, Roberts said he then connected them together so that he could run a pole-setting lap in his head.  “Then I just went out and replayed the movie in head, on the track,” he said in his signature laconic style.

We all accept that visualization works, but few of us have experienced it in such a dramatic fashion.

Don’t drift into fantasy!

One thing to note is that Roberts needed to visualize the corners in a way that didn’t violate the laws of physics.  He couldn’t “fantasize” about flying around a corner defying the laws of motion and energy, ignoring the coefficient of traction of his tires, the force vectors on them, velocity limits, how quickly the motorcycle would react to his steering inputs, and dozens of other factors in play.  The visualization process involved taking the corners apart and dissecting them, figuring them out and only then putting them back together.  But the process had to be grounded in reality.

I have watched amateur racers try visualization without taking reality into consideration.  The results were not pretty.  Some of the racers that engaged in the sport for the fun and adventure of it went on to pay a huge price in damaged bodies for their misplaced confidence.

So it goes in any endeavor.  If you want to visualize your success, you must break the goal down into its supporting parts.  These are the building blocks to the success you seek.  Visualize them, not just the end goal.  Keep your visualizing grounded in reality and then you can go out and “replay the movie” that is in your head.

What about writing?

What are the parts to writing success?  Here’s my list so far.  One should consult other writers who have ascended that mountain.  But I’m sure the list includes:

  • Write every day. It’s a skill and like any, grows with practice
  • Get critical advice and review. No great musician, sports person or artist got there without tutors or coaches.
  • Learn all the parts of what make up a good story. It is central to success.  If you don’t write well, don’t learn how to tell a good tale, engage the reader and keep them engaged, success with be hard to find.  Racers without Roberts’ skill set could visualize all they wanted but would not achieve the same results.
  • After a good story, if one is self-publishing, one has to figure out the “business” parts of the job. Much has been written on the business of self-publishing and I’m still digesting it.  My business background, hopefully, will make that part a bit easier for me than some seem to find it.

So to reach your goal, break it down to all the parts you must master to achieve it, visualize doing them correctly, then go out and “replay the movie in your head”.  Let me know if and how visualization has worked for you.

Novel Revision and Sequel Update

Just finished revising After the Fall: Jason’s Tale; a friend read the book and she has a natural gift for proofreading. She uncovered about 15 small proofing errors which I corrected over Memorial Day weekend. I smoothed out a few other passages along the way and toned down one scene.  It was important as a driver for subsequent action in the story, but I didn’t need to be so graphic; that was a distraction to the overall story. I also made some revisions in my references to the smell of the battlefield; for those detail oriented readers.  If you haven’t read it yet, the story is even more improved.  If you have, you can recommend it to others knowing I’ve improved it and smoothed it out.  The revised version is available now as an ebook and the paperback will be available in two days.  You can go to here to order.  And if you like it, write a short review; reader reviews are very important.

Speaking of the proofreading challenges, my experience convinces me of what brain researchers tell us. Our brains are programmed (wired) to fill in “blanks”. We can see partial shapes and identify them, partial words, partial sentences are part of that phenomenon as well. It must have an evolutionary use, such as helping us to quickly assemble a picture of our surroundings with incomplete input. I can read over a passage multiple times and not see a missing word…or a word misspelled, because my brain fills in the blank or corrects the error.

I’m going to hire a proofreading professional for the sequel. I spend too much time on the task and it still is incomplete when I’m done. Speaking of the sequel, I feel the hot breath of public demand. That’s good, but I don’t want to rush something into print. I’m not being smug or pretentious when I say that my readers deserve my best efforts. The work an author produces goes out there for the whole world to read (hopefully), so, in a way, we are exposing ourselves. That is something new to me. But it is not just my pride that makes me want to present only my best, it’s my respect for the readers; you deserve my best efforts if I am to ask that you spend your time with what I’ve written.

I have read bad books, as we all have, especially in this era of self-publishing. The reader purchases a book on an act of faith and I want the reader to feel a sense of satisfaction when they finish a novel of mine. I hope to write many more and want the readers enjoy and appreciate the fruits of my labors, even if I don’t get a new novel out every three months.

I’m a little over half way through the sequel (by word count), but am reworking the beginning once more (third time now). I woke up around 2:30 am last Saturday with a new slant to the story, one which allows me to get Catherine into the narrative sooner (the working title is “Catherine’s Tale” after all). It shouldn’t negate what has been written, so all the previous work is not lost.

None of this is said as an excuse for not getting the work done. I’m showing up every day so inspiration can find me working. I will do my best to make the wait worth it.

The Big “UN”

No, it’s not the U.N. but the “un” agented and “un” published.  More correctly referred to as the great “un” washed.  These are the masses of people who write stories and have the temerity to try to sell them.  Literature is unique amongst the arts.  Many people cannot carry a tune, read music, play an instrument or draw, but everyone can write and most do it every day.  So, many people can be induced (self-induced?) to think they can write for commercial consumption.

From that pool of would be writers, many actually give it a try; give it a go.  They write something, family and friends say it’s good and they offer it up to the world.  If they go the traditional route, they solicit agents in hopes of acquiring one, which will lead to a publishing deal and author nirvana.

Decades ago publishers accepted manuscripts from writers directly.  Over time, starting after WWII, literary agents saw a value in inserting themselves into this process, similar to how real estate agents inserted themselves between the buyer and seller of a house.  They made a fine art of providing some added value to earn their cut of the deal.  They do the work to find the offerings (if working for the buyer) or create the listing (if working for the seller).

In this same way literary agents found it profitable to get in the middle of the writer/publisher process.  In doing so, the writer was helped by having a “salesperson” on his/her side.  The publishers also benefited as they quickly realized the agents could be a first “filter” and relieve them of a huge work load, evaluating manuscripts.  The process kept developing until it is now hard to find publishers who will accept writer’s offerings directly.  The agents have become the gate keepers.

Why does the industry need gate keepers, you might ask?  Think how art galleries could be swamped if everyone thought they could paint and many started submitting their bad paintings to galleries.  It’s hard to imagine because so few of us claim the skill of painting or drawing.

So I have this image of the great “un”washed, clamoring at the walls and gates of the castle.  Inside reside the publishers and their stable of authors, those who had survived the gauntlet and are now the insiders.  The walls are too high to climb; the would-be authors beat their heads and bodies at the gates and the blocks of the walls.  Agents look through this thick stream of literary traffic, looking for a winner amidst the crowd.  They are doing their agreed task for the privilege of earning a cut of the author’s profits for as long as they both can hang on to each other.

Agents get up to 50 query letters a day.  Due to this volume, I’ve read that agents will look for anything, even something in the first sentence, to disqualify a piece and throw it in the reject pile.  This is a tough situation for an aspiring writer.

Now practical self-publishing comes along.  With modern, high speed, digital printing and binding machines a quality paperback book can be printed on demand (POD).  The author doesn’t have to resort to what were derisively called “vanity presses” to self publish.  Such presses may soon be things of the past, like typewriters.  Add to this innovation, the ebook and you have a revolution.  Many of the great “un”washed are turning from their assault of the castle and simply going around it to find their own publishing platform.

Amazon leads this revolution, having purchased CreateSpace for POD and having invented the Kindle.  They have 75% of the ebook market in the U.S. so they have become the marketplace.  I spent 6 months, soliciting over one hundred agents with only one request to read the full manuscript (to no avail).  Now, to be honest my story (my product if you will) was not fully ready for prime time.  Six months passed from my turning away from agents to self-publishing.  During that time I continued to learn my craft, so my novel was much improved by the time it came out this spring.  (I was making changes to it within days of publishing.)  That said I’m not sure I could have gotten a look by continuing on the traditional route and submitting to agents.  It was time to move forward.  Both the economics and the timing called for pursuing a different path.

But it isn’t all sweetness and light.  It’s just as big a challenge to break out in self-publishing as it is to get noticed by an agent.  One is still competing with the immense volume of work that is not ready for commercial presentation; remember, there are no barriers.  All it takes is a little ambition, very little talent, and one can put out an ebook or paperback.  The challenge is to rise from the mass of new works offered and get people to read what you’ve written.

I think I have a novel that rises above what can be called the amateur level.  The reviews from people I don’t know are bearing this out.  In my life, racing and business, I was acutely aware of the difference between an amateur and profesisonal.  I always tried to place myself on the professional side of the equation.  That meant more work, more time refining, more practice and less trusting to luck.

I think it’s worked; time will tell.  The good news  for readers is that there are no more walls or gates to publishing for all practical purposes.  The bad news is there are no more walls or gates—filters, if you will.  So, as consumers of books, especially ebooks, you, the reader, must become your own filter.  Let me know how you do your filtering.  I’m curious.

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Getting There

t has taken a lot of work and a lot of time to get to the point of publishing a professional novel. Along the way I wrote a second full length novel (in the process of polishing) and started a sequel to this first one.

There was a lot to learn; it was like drinking from a fireplug at times. For those contemplating writing, I’d like to recommend some resources that helped me along my journey. The first one (and the first one I came across), is a site called Author! Author! published by Anne Mini. The site is not active at the moment, but it was filled with an enormous quantity of blogs sharing her wisdom about writing and publishing. From the site I learned how to format a manuscript for submission to agents; something I did faithfully to no avail before turning to the self-publishing route. Her most important advice was to print out my manuscript, and read it aloud, word for word. That is the best advice I can offer any beginning writer. It was amazing to me how many typos, missing words, bad syntax and artificial dialogue I rooted out by following her advice. In the end I did that three times with my manuscript.

To try to get out of the trap of being a member of the big “UN”; “unpublished” and “un-agented” (a whole other blog discussion in itself), I turned to some on-line journals to try to get published. Most of them don’t pay any money, but that wasn’t my purpose. I’m thankful for the following journals for accepting my work; excerpts from After the Fall: Jason’s Tale as well as a short story I wrote:

Even though most of these on-line journals don’t pay, they have some pretty high standards. If you can meet them, you’re getting close to publishing standards.

Below are some of the other sites that were helpful. The list is not exhaustive as there are many routes to knowledge in this arena, but I’d like to publicly acknowledge some that I found helpful.

  • Duotrope; this is a site that I used to query on-line journals in my initial search to be published.
  • AgentQuery.com and AgentQueryConnect.com; the first helps you search the thousands of agents to, hopefully, find one. The second is a community of budding writers all sharing what they’ve learned in their journey. It’s very helpful for a newbie. They are evolving to focus more and more on self-publishing as the trend grows.
  • Ellen Brock, a professional editor produces some informative videos on YouTube that I found helpful.
  • Hugh Howey, the author of “Wool” is the inspiration for all self-published writers. He is very knowledgeable and convincing on the economics of being your own publisher.
  • J.A. Konrath is a prolific self-published author who also writes convincingly about the benefits of being your own boss. Often acerbic but always entertaining.
  • Pikko’s House; Crystal Watanabe offers professional editing/proofreading services. I hired her to do a “beta” read of my novel which helped a lot. It would have been even more helpful to have hired her earlier in the process…but what did I know? I was still trying to figure it all out.

There’s a ton of proof readers, editors out there catering to the self-publishing market. I haven’t used any of them so I can’t recommend them, even though I’ve visited their websites. My guess is that the prolific and successful self-published authors use copy editors, proof readers and cover page designers to help them produce their work which helps them spend more time in creative writing. I hope to get to that stage…it’s a process.


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