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Morning Is Broken

No, we’re not talking about the good ol’ Yusef Islam (nee’ Cat Stevens) tune of a similar name. Today the topic is why you’ve already wasted half your day when you could have been writing. It’s because your morning – the time that you could use to do great things – is broken.

A common lament among people who want to be writers goes something like this: “I have a full-time job, kids, PTO, and yard work to do. How the hell am I ever going to find time to loose upon the world my literary vision of sparkly, sexy vampire aliens who attack earth with non-stop tentacle porn and demands from their leader (who looks remarkably like Oprah) to turn over all basset hounds under the age of three to our new rulers?”

Everyone who has ever wanted to write and simultaneously eat and have a roof over his head has asked the same (OK, maybe not exactly the same) question. And it’s a really good question. How do you find the time to bang out 250 pages of brilliant prose when time seems in short supply.

Recently, I was up earlier than honest people should be (about 4:30 a.m. – on a Saturday, no less) to drive to a book festival about two hours away. I stopped by my neighborhood Wawa (the Nirvana of convenience stores, for those outside the Northeast corridor/Philadelphia metro area) to get much needed coffee and some breakfast, and there was a guy standing outside the store showered, shaved and fully dressed in office clothes, on his cell phone already taking care of business. After I got my purchases, I watched him wrap up his call and drive away in his very expensive car.

This man reminded me that a lot gets done in this world before most everyone is already awake. The people who truly bust their asses are all up before first light and likely on the job before the rest of us hit the snooze the fourth time. My wife, a nurse practitioner, is one of them. When I worked at an afternoon newspaper (with a noon deadline) I was one of them, too. And when I was determined to finish my novel Immaculate Deception, I became one of them again.

Here’s how it works: You get up early, write for an hour or so, then get on with your normal life. Rinse and repeat for eight months to a year and you’ll have a completed manuscript.

Naturally, it’s not quite that easy. There are zillions of places you can get time management advice that will increase your productivity throughout the day. What I’m going to talk about here is some help for those of you who want to carve out time from your  busy life to write, but don’t know where to start. So here’s a little primer based on my own personal experiences, assuming you have a typical 9-5 job and an otherwise busy life.

  • First of all, commit. If you’re going to whine about shifting your hours around to accomplish this tremendous and admirable goal you’ve set for yourself, look somewhere else. Consider this as a second job, and work at it accordingly.
  • The night before – Assess your evening routine. Are you addicted to Letterman or The Daily Show or anything else that keeps you up until or past midnight? If so, either break the addiction or DVR everything to watch the following evening (at a decent hour).
  • Also regarding TV – Consider what you’re watching between 10 and 11 p.m. If it’s just some dreck that you’re using to pass the time until the news/late-night bloc kicks in, eliminate it and make 10 p.m. your new bedtime.
  • In the morning – ease your wake-up time backwards 15 minutes each day for a week, until you reach the desired wake-up time (I like 5:30 a.m. – early, but not too early). Once you’re there, DO NOT HIT THE SNOOZE.
  • To ease the waking and working routine, have a reward ready. If you drink coffee, get a timed brewer that can have your Joe ready when you stagger to the kitchen. Get an insulated cup to pour it into so it will stay hot and you won’t spill it, then head to the computer.
  • DO NOT get online. Don’t even open the browser. Just don’t. This is crucial, since you’re not up at this ungodly hour to check Facebook or personal e-mails. Save that for during breakfast or at work (don’t tell your boss I said that).
  • Use a kitchen timer or the timer function on your smartphone (I have a great app called Timers4You on my Droid that has three different timers built in) and set it for the desired amount of time you need to work.
  • Open your word processing program, open your file, scroll down to where you finished the day before and … GO!
  • DO NOT STOP until your timer goes off.
  • When the timer rings, stop. Save the file, close it and get on with your day. Save reviews and edits for your lunch hour (you do use your lunch hour, right?). Note: If you are fortunate enough to live in an area where you have a good public transit system, use it. Your laptop plus a half-hour or 45-minute train commute equal even more working time automatically built into your day.  While I was finishing Immaculate Deception, my 45-minute train ride to my job in Philadelphia was gold – no family interruptions, no phone, no idle conversation – just work.

Follow these simple suggestions, and here’s what it gets you: if you have to be at work by 9 a.m. and want time for a shower, quick breakfast and a half-hour commute, a 5:30 a.m. wake-up – shazam! –  gets you about an hour and a half to two hours of work every day. Assuming you have even a partially formed concept going in, this will get you a completed manuscript in a year or less.

Naturally, no one will tell you that it’s guaranteed to be a good manuscript, but you will at least have a complete first draft to hone and craft to face-melting excellence. That is the difference between telling people you’re writing a book and actually getting the book written.

P.S. Here’s a little musical bonus, hoping that with these new found hours to your day, your soul will indeed be psychadelicized.

I’ve Got Your Show, Don’t Tell RIGHT HERE, Buddy

One of the most perplexing, vexing and generally pain in the ass phrases any aspiring writer hears from other (usually more successful and – let’s be honest – smug) writers is “show, don’t tell.”

Really, as if writers didn’t have enough problems with making rent, working the day job and dealing with friends, family and spouses who don’t really believe that you’ve been working on the book you casually (and constantly) tell them about, here comes another god forsaken “real” writer with this tired, worn-out old piece of advice that is rarely followed by a decent explanation.

And that’s the biggest part of the problem – the advice is legit, but those who dish it out rarely stop to elaborate on what the hell it means. Despite what some think, it’s not self-explanatory. Show what? Don’t tell what? What’s the difference between showing and telling? And while we’re at it, why is the chick who wrote those Twilight books rolling around naked in her own money while I’m still working as a barista and eating ramen noodles for three meals a day?

Well, some questions we might never know the answer to, but I can tell you this: There is a decent answer to the question of “What the hell do you mean by ‘Show, don’t tell’?”

And it is this: Rather than indulging in long, drawn out bits of exposition to reveal something about a character, a place or a situation, instead simply allow the details to reveal themselves in the story or – even better – bits of dialogue, relying on your reader’s imagination to fill in details.

You want some great examples? Here’s the shortest I can think of, by none other than Ernest Hemingway: “For sale. Baby Shoes. Never used.”

Absolute friggin’ tragedy, sorrow and desolation wrapped up in what could very well be the text for a six-word classified ad. That is some righteous show, don’t tell, kids, and even if Uncle Ernest never wrote another word after tossing those six out there, we’d still be talking about them today.

Another great place to find excellent examples of show, don’t tell is in pop songs. Why? Well, you’ve got three and a half minutes to tell a story or elucidate on a bit of philosophy. Think it’s easy knocking out even a bad pop song? Go ahead and try it. Chances are you’ll be pulling out your hair by the time you’re on your third ream of paper.

Driving around the other day, I was listening to the radio and realized Warren Zevon’s “Lawyers, Guns and Money” would fit very nicely into this discussion simply because it’s an exceptionally short song – three main verses, a bridge and  chorus in about two minutes and 50 seconds – that tell us quite a lot about the its main character . It’s essentially an entire Elmore Leonard novel in the time it might take you to shave or do your make-up.

(The punks at YouTube cut off the embedding for this, but you can link to it below. I highly recommend it.)

If you tried to convey all this information – that there’s a guy who got in over his head with spies and a Cuban casino, and is now appealing to his father for assistance both legal and illegal in getting out from under his debt, eventually escaping to Honduras until things cool off  – in a linear, expository fashion … well, you’d have the sentence I just wrote and it wouldn’t make a very good song, now. would it?

Consider what we know about this guy. First, he’s a rake. “I went home with a waitress” tells us one thing, but throw in “the way I always do,” and we have a wide open window into this guy’s libido and man-whore tendencies. Second, he’s in Havana, where Americans aren’t legally supposed to be, telling us he lives just outside the normal parameters of the law. Third, he’s a gambler willing to roll the dice on long odds, confirming the lawless assumption. Fourth, he’s probably a douchebag trust fund kid who’s putting his family money on the line and expects his father to extricate him through any means necessary – thus the title – every time he does something stupid.

Honestly, entire film series have been predicated on less information than the lyrics in this song. Just from a few lines, Zevon has drawn an exceptionally rich character that could easily carry a Steven Soderbergh, “Oceans 11”-style trilogy.

The key here is that Zevon hasn’t started with some lame “Once Upon a Time” format like many prose writers do – he jumps right in. If Zevon hadn’t already used it, this first line would make a great opening to a short story. Few songwriters have the luxury of extensive exposition over thousands of words, so to avoid the temptation to ramble on with it yourself. Act as if you have no time to get things clear.

Instead of saying, “It was cold,” have your character react to the cold in a concise fashion that might reveal something about him or her at the same time. Instead of going on in the third person about how your character was fired from her job, have her allude to it in her dialogue, with the other characters responding accordingly. Better yet, if your story is set in winter in New York City, we’ll know it’s cold, so there’s no need to even tell us, unless the character is somehow unreasonably cold thanks to poverty, a mugging, a specific costume or other unusual circumstances.

In closing let me give you a few pop culture references that keep me from telling rather than showing. The first is the character of Basil Exposition from the Austin Powers movies. As Austin’s boss, he’s there to do just what his name implies – give us exposition to move the plot forward. It’s an age old device employed in almost all the James Bond movies (which the Powers series so nicely mocks), usually in the person of M, Bond’s boss.

All I have to do is remember how ridiculous Basil’s clunky film moments are, and I’m dissuaded from doing the same thing in my own stories.

The other reference that keeps me on track is the concept of monologuing, as described in the Pixar film The Incredibles. It’s an inside superhero joke shared early in the movie and later mentioned by arch villian Syndrome, in which a bad guy so enamored with his own evil scheme rambles on to the main character, describing every detail of the plan up to that point. If you ever – EVER – find yourself monologuing, step back and find a new way to say what you’re trying to say.

Is it Hot in Here?

Full confession: I never set out to be a writer of erotica, but I’m seriously starting to consider it, if only to tap (heh) the obviously fertile (heh, heh) “horny housewife with an e-reader” market.

I already had a vague notion that this market existed when I started researching e-books in preparation for Immaculate Deception to enter the market in its Kindle version. What I found was a little startling. It seemed like every second title among the Top 100 Kindle books was some form of erotica aimed squarely at women. And not prissy little Harlequin Romance works, either. These tales  were hard-core in the traditional (meaning porno) sense.

If you see your wife or girlfriend reading this, rest assured it is not a book about fashion.

Lately, one cover I’ve repeatedly seen popping up in 50 Shades of Grey. The frequency of its appearance should have tipped me off to something, but it wasn’t until I read this story in the Philadelphia Inquirer on Sunday that I realized what a phenomenon this book has become.

Headlined “Steaming up moms’ e-readers,” the story details the wave of readership for this naughty novel that details the relationship between a young woman and a significantly older man who’s into all sorts of rough play, known among the folks who haunt leather gear and sex toy shops by the acronym BDSM – that’s bondage, discipline, sadism and masochism to you poor, missionary-position, vanilla, whitebread folks out there who don’t think wrapping your mouth around a rubber ball gag in someone’s suburban basement “dungeon” is a great way to spend an evening.

The story got me thinking about eroticism in my own work, where it comes from and how people have responded to it.

Boris Vallejo is perhaps second only to Hugh Hefner in causing American moms to spend countless hours banging on bathroom doors asking, "Honey, are you OK in there?"

As I said, I never intended to write erotica per se, but I came to a realization a long time ago after reading Eye of the Needle by Ken Follett when I was a teenager. It’s about a Nazi spy who figures out what the Allies are up to with D-Day, but ends up trapped on an isolated island with a lonely Englishwoman who does her duty for king and country in a particularly hot scene that to this day still resonates with me.

That realization was this: The best books are made even better by a little booty.

When I sat down to write Immaculate Deception around 1989, my experiences with things carnal weren’t terribly in-depth. As a young lad, I got away with bringing nekkid pictures into the house thanks to two gentlemen, Msrs. Boris Vallejo and Frank Frazetta, both masters of the fantasy illustrating genre whose pictures of semi-nude and nude warrior women grace many an Edgar Rice Borroughs and Conan novel cover.

As the idea for the Church of the New Revelation developed, I realized that because it was a sex-and-drugs-based church, there would probably end up being some sexy-sexy in the novel itself.

That realization was solidified as the character of Veronica Whitaker shaped up. There was no way a woman of such surpassing hotness and carnal motivation could be represented in my novel without actually displaying how that shaped her behavior, particularly toward her husband, Lawrence, and the main character, Jon Templeton.

"I have talents you're not even remotely aware of."

So, what has resulted can be easily wrapped up like this: Chapters 28, 29 and 38, wherein Veronica reveals the true depth of her … um, passion in a variety of ways. Suffice it to say that if sexually abusing viticulture was a punishable offense, she would be in jail for a long, long time.

The reaction to these steamy scenes has been particularly puzzling. For instance, before reading the novel, my mom repeatedly told me that my next book needed to be sexy. I assured her that she should read this one before assuming it didn’t fit into that category. From her I have heard not a peep of admonition. However, from her sister, who holds a place in our family as the progressive, open-minded 1960s rabble-rouser, politely suggested that the scenes verged on the pornographic. So apparently I was indeed writing erotica all this time and didn’t even realize it.

What’s particularly amusing is reviews that warn readers of things like the “overwhelming amount of NC-17 content” in the novel. Really? Overwhelming? If the entire book was based on sheer sexual activity and character motivation and development (like, for example … um … 50 Shades of Grey), I could understand. However, the above chapters are really the only that contain any measurable explicit behavior. So why don’t reviews for any other books that have a few naughty bits carry big, scary warnings? Beats me.

I do, however, know that plenty of other people enjoyed those parts (just how much, I suppose we’ll never know, other than by the soft moans we hear from their rooms as they re-read those dog-eared pages). And that’s really what they’re there for. In working in literature as a medium, my end goal is always to provide entertainment. If it’s entertainment that informs, is thought-provoking or titillating, so much the better (especially if it’s all at once).






Assisted Development

Anyone who’s written anything of considerable length –  whether it’s a novel or a report for a class in college – knows that it’s a solitary pursuit. In fact, if you ask most writers what they like least about their craft, it will likely be the hours and hours they must spend by themselves to get the job done.

It’s this part that pro writers like to clarify for writing “civilians” when talk turns to the “glamor” of being a writer.

Really, sitting in a room (or coffee shop or cabin in the mountains or oceanside cottage) all alone, typing made up stuff into a computer is, at its core, actually pretty damn pathetic. Really, who would choose to do this? Especially when there’s absolutely no guarantee that it will ever pay off in any sort of fame or financial success, it seems like the work of a person with genuine social issues. After all, didn’t the Unabomber live like this?

But if we’re lucky, we writers aren’t completely alone in the process. Regardless of whether you’re a beginning writer or someone who has been successful at it for years, it’s important to have someone you can turn to whose opinion you respect to give you honest, non-judgmental feedback on your projects.

For some, this comes with a critique group, which is frequently a group of fellow writers who regularly gather to pass around their work and get opinions from others. It’s a fine idea and pitched as a perfect way for writers to workshop works in progress to see if they’re headed in the wrong direction or if there are massive holes that need to be filled.

I have to be honest – I’ve never been a part of a critique group per se, and I’ll tell you why: Sometimes there are folks who just don’t get it. You know the type (and, come to think of it, maybe you are the type). They seem to be fans of every genre but the one you’re writing in. Or, they ask questions about your piece that aren’t immediately relevant to the criticism you seek. Or, they’re jealous and will take every opportunity to tell you that you suck. The worst critique groups are filled with these types of people.

The best, though, have none of them and are full of open-minded, thoughtful individuals genuinely who appreciate the genre you write in and are focused on trying to help you make your story a hundred times better. And I’m sure there have been many fantasy stories written about the fabulous mythical land in which these groups exist.

If the critique group thing isn’t for you, consider what I’ve found to be an immense amount of help – my very own bar stool development editor. We’re lucky at Codorus Press to have possibly the greatest example of this “writing advisor” in the form of Tom Joyce. Tom worked alongside me, Codorus shaman Wayne Lockwood and Codorus author Mike Argento during our time together at the York Daily Record, and early on displayed an uncanny ability to home in on what makes a story good. (Read Tom’s blog, Chamber of the Bizarre, for more of his insights).

Part of what makes him so valuable to the Codorus team is that he’s an excellent storyteller himself (you’ll get to find out just how excellent when Codorus comes out with his novel The Freak Foundation Operative’s Report in late 2012/early 2013). His skills come from both his history as a voracious reader and a dedicated reporter and copy editor.

We in Codorus Press are also fortunate that we come from the newspaper business, where honest and forthright criticism is something you learn to accept and dish out fairly quickly. There’s no room for angst-driven whining about an element of a news story being “from your soul” or part of a larger effort to offer a metaphor about the futility of human pursuits in the vast nothingness of our universe.

That kind of talk will not only get you mocked openly by your peers, but very likely thrown out the door and kicked down the street until you enroll in a Masters of Fine Arts program and stop bothering people with real jobs and looming deadlines.

Newspaper folks simply don’t have time to plumb the depths of their souls when someone says, “Deadline is in 15 minutes and your story is two inches too long. Make it fit or I’m going to cut it.” So Tom respected that I had a skin grown thick from dealing with editors and reporters and knew that I could handle his thoughts without being a crybaby.

When Tom was working his development editor mojo on Immaculate Deception, for instance, it usually went like this: He would read a chapter of the manuscript. A few nights later, we would meet with our newspaper friends and colleagues for after-deadline drinks. When everyone else had departed or the crowd had significantly diminished, he would settle in over his second (or third) pint and, in his inimitable style, cover point-by-point any issues he found with story, character, plot, theme and continuity.

We would discuss what he thought the particular issues were. Then we would trade ideas – basically just a “what if?” session. Our goal was to work within the bounds of the story but make it better than it was, rather than suggestion something that would alter the entire narrative and require extensive additional exposition or character development. Then I would take his thoughts and recommendations, merge them with what I was trying to achieve and apply them – or not. The point is that they were always worthy of considering and never off-point.

His perspective was particularly helpful to me in nailing down an overarching theme of the narrative that I hadn’t even realized was there – that of real estate development run amok. It’s what resulted in the main character losing his job as a reporter and – thanks to Tom’s input –  eventually is revealed as the underlying motivation for the story’s antagonist.

And because he is Tom – friend, colleague and fellow fan of many of the same genre titles – we had a shared language and reference points to use in our discussions. He was also familiar enough with my work and my personality to not be surprised by some of the other themes *cough*sex*cough* that ran through the novel. Try throwing your over-the-top adult material into a critique group full of grandmas who just want to write a family history for their grandkids and see what that gets you.

So if you find that your experiences with critique groups just aren’t working for you, I’d suggest perhaps finding one person among the group who does seem to get you, take him or her out for a beer, and set up a regular story workshopping session over a pint or two. It might prove to be far less painless (at least thanks to the beer) and a whole lot more productive.

Keep It Short

I’m proud to say that I’m a member in mediocre standing of a great writers’ group, the Brandywine Valley Writers Group, that regularly features great and informative guests at its meetings. My mediocrity stems from only being able to make about half of their monthly meetings thanks to my wife’s rotating work schedule.

So when I was able to attend the November meeting with no elaborate scheduling shifts or kid hand-offs required, I was pretty excited (of course, it might have also had something to do with the meetings being held at a great Irish pub with Guinness on tap, but that’s neither here nor there).

The speaker that night was Dennis Tafoya, a writer of modern noir who lives in another part of the Philadelphia area

Dennis Tafoya, author of crime thrillers

and whose novels include Dope Thief and The Wolves of Fairmount Park. The vibe at BVWG meetings is pretty informal, much like a dinner party where one guest is allowed to hold forth and everyone else gets to eat, drink and be educated. Dennis was very gracious in sharing with us his process of writing, his literary philosophy and what drives him to do what he does.

One thing I found particularly interesting was that his success in mainstream publishing can be directly attributed to his having short stories published with a few online journals, then discovered by a West Coast film agent who steered him in the direction of an East Coast literary agent. It’s that magical publishing kismet that you sometimes hear about, then hate having the knowledge that this apparently really happens to some people.

My first response to this was surprise that Hollywood folks, who only seem able to rehash old crap or generate new crap these days are actually trawling through online fiction journals looking for great stories and their authors. My second thought was, “Wow … I’ve really got to up my short story game.”

That would be, at this point, a game that doesn’t really exist. Approximately 20 years ago, I managed to bang out and finish a nice little story that was published in the University of South Carolina literary magazine, Portfolio. Please ignore that it was at the same time I happened to be the fiction editor. Really … that had nothing to do with it. I swear.

Anyway, that story won an honorable mention in a statewide competition, which was very cool. Since then, though, I’ve been stuck. No nice little awards – not even honorable mentions, mainly because there haven’t been any stories.

See, my trouble with short story writing is that A)  the things I begin working on intending them to be short stories morph into full-scale novels that end up taking 20 years to finish (please see Immaculate Deception), or B) I have great ideas that I get started on but never actually finish.

As I speak, I have between 10 and 15 half- or 1/4-complete short stories sitting in a computer file awaiting my attention after months or years. If they were people, they would have given up and moved on long ago. Even though they’re just stories, I still imagine them tapping their feet and looking at their watches impatiently, wondering when I might return.

Yeah, me too, guys.

I try doing a little self education every so often, attempting to get myself into the short story groove by re-reading collections like William Gibson’s Burning Chrome and Neil Gaiman’s Fragile Things, and even the hefty (especially in paperback) collection of Mark Twain’s shorties hoping that some of their excellence at brevity will rub off on me. I like to think that rather than soaking it up right away, I’m slowly processing and absorbing it in the hopes that at some point it will blossom within me and I’ll be able to easily crank out some stellar (and short … and entirely complete) piece of fiction.

So far, though … nothin’. Well, that’s not true. I did start something the other day, but if I had a nickel for every time I started a story I didn’t finish I’d have … um … it looks like about 75 cents.

Something Cinematic

Commercial motion pictures didn’t exist until the 20th century, and it’s a pretty safe bet that since then it’s been tough for writers of prose to ply their craft without those pesky images from a darkened movie theater encroaching on their work.

I know that in my brain there’s an ongoing battle between what I imagine is original and what’s already been done. There’s a scrawny hipster of the old video store variety living up there who’s constantly second-guessing my creative choices as derivative hackery cobbled together from43 years of pop-culture immersion and ravenous movie watching.

But in retrospect, writing “cinematically” – that is, while imagining the events played out on the page as a running visual narrative in one’s mind’s eye – was likely happening long before putting images to celluloid was even considered. After all, the primary element of our human capacity to imagine is to see things in our heads, whether through dreaming or conscious effort, as if they were really happening. Plus, acting out stories onstage predated film by thousands of years, so the art of rendering a story with actors playing established parts had plenty of precedent.

However, I’m sure some artists who consider themselves more pure of heart would argue that our 21st century immersion in cinema (and TV and videogames) has somehow negatively altered the writer’s art. I could see how this might be the case if all the writers out there were somehow taking everything they learned from the Transformer movies and translating blind action and idiotic dialog to the page. (Actually, that does happen quite a lot in movies, but that’s a conversation for another time).

But long before there were movies, bad prose still made it into print. During the Victorian Age, when the novel as we know it now first emerged, there was plenty of crap being written throughout Europe and America, and no one had the luxury of blaming it on Michael Bay and giant robots randomly blowing stuff up.

Great books are often defined by their standout lines of narrative or dialog. So are films. So who’s to say that “Call me Ishmael,” or “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” can’t be ranked right up there with “We’re gonna need a bigger boat,” or “Yippie-ki-yay, motherfucker”?

As for being derivative, no less a writer than William Shakespeare was accused by his contemporaries of the very same thing. Sure, he used tried and true plot devices and narratives that had already been a part of folklore and wandering minstrel storytelling for years, but when he took them into his own hands, he added his own unique pathos, wit and social satire to create something wholly new, immensely popular in its time, and brilliant enough to be repeatedly performed over the subsequent five centuries.

In short,  intelligent and talented writers take what they learn from personal experience, personal experience, established story structures and – yes, other art forms and media – and cleverly fold them into what they are doing on their own.

In my own case, I can tell you outright that my writing is highly influenced by films I’ve seen throughout my life, the books I’ve read and the TV shows I’ve watched. But perhaps most of all, it’s influenced in rhythm, pacing and atmosphere by the music I listen to.

The idea for SHAG, the terrorist organization made up of youth-obsessed octogenarians in Immaculate Deception, emerged directly from my experiences with the Baby Boomers of Florence, S.C., who grew up dancing the shag to Stax and Motown R&B on the jukeboxes in Myrtle Beach nightclubs.

So in crafting the story itself, these songs stuck in my head and I imagined them playing along with certain scenes in the novel. The same went for the character of Eli, who at least appears as an elderly Rastafarian surfer. That necessitated some reggae.

So in my mind, along with imagining the scenes of the novel as if they were playing out onscreen, I also had musical accompaniment. What resulted was a full “soundtrack” for the entire work, from opening title sequence (Matthew Sweet’s “Divine Intervention”) to classic reggae (“Rivers of Babylon,” by the Melodians) to beach music legends (“Give Me Just Lil’ More Time” by Chairmen of the Board). For the full cinematic experience, you can listen to the complete soundtrack here.

It’s not only a great extra element for me as the author, but it serves the readers in much the same ways as book trailers or audio books do. A novel soundtrack – born from an author’s head and laid down in electrons like a globally connected mix tape – is a way for readers to add an extra dimension to their reading experience and perhaps build upon their enjoyment of the novel itself.

Lots of folks have been very kind in suggesting that Immaculate Deception would make a great (even blockbuster!) movie, and I’d be lying to you if I said I hadn’t imagined that it someday would make it to film. But in the meantime, the novel itself will have to do – with a little bit of appropriately cinematic music thrown in.

Sons of Beaches

Forgot to mention last week that Immaculate Deception was named a reader pick for “great beach reads” in the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Summer Reading package from the June 26 edition of the paper. Find the story online here.

Do the Hustle

There are plenty of newbie or wannabe authors roaming around out there that are still under the mistaken impression that a big publishing house will do the work of marketing and promotions for every author it takes on. Every time I come up against this misconception (usually put forth by someone who has rejected independent publishing out of hand as something that “real authors” don’t do), I do my best to correct it.

This week the Philadelphia Inquirer went a long way towards doing that for me with this story on how all authors are now responsible for a good portion of their own marketing, and are forced to be darn creative about it, too. For instance, the author who wrote a book about the New Jersey Shore has done much of her marketing – especially now that summer is here – at the exceptionally busy resort towns along New Jersey’s coast. As a result she targets not only year-round locals, but the year-round residents of New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware who flock their in droves as soon as Memorial Day arrives.

I have a colleague and fellow novelist, Bob Yearick, who wrote an excellent novel called Sawyer that is essentially a detective mystery set in the world of professional football, with one of the players serving as the de facto private eye. When we saw each other at a professional event not long ago, he tapped me for a little marketing advice and the first thing I suggested was that he start setting up tables to sell the novel in the dealer rooms at sports memorabelia events, trading card conventions or other sports-related gatherings. It doesn’t matter that you’re selling books and you therefore feel like all your appearances should be at libraries and book stores – the goal is to find where your readers will be and go to them.

That also means going beyond the physical world and deep into the virtual, targeting bloggers that can help spread the word for you in a much quicker, more efficient and, most important of all, less expensive (often free) way.

I’ve seen written a number of places that as much as “launch parties” can stroke an author’s ego, there’s really no payoff for the ordinary – and certainly not for the independently published – author. You’re announcing a party to a public who has no idea who you are and frankly doesn’t really care. Aside from giving friends and family a chance to congratulate you in person, such an event is really pretty useless as far as building the buzz needed for a book to succeed.

For me, the target market  for Immaculate Deception from the very beginning has been split between science fiction fans and folks interested in how we’ve gone about setting up Codorus Press. As side markets, there are the coastal areas of South Carolina, in which the novel is set. The only real “signing” I’ve done was in my home town, where I knew I had a ready base of buyers from my time spent there as a child and as a newspaper reporter during adulthood.

Otherwise, the press itself has done larger events like the Philadelphia Book Festival and other regional book events. This fall we’re shooting for, among other things, the Collingswood Book Festival and the Brooklyn (N.Y.) Book Festival, as well as PhilCon – the Philadelphia area’s huge science fiction convention.

We’ve also made shameless use of our former (and current) newspaper connections. Some of the best traditional press I’ve received so far has been from newspapers I used to work for. We’ve also used the editorial judgement we developed on the desks at a number of papers to craft better and more effective press releases. We know what editors see as a story, and we try to give it to them each time we send out a release.

So in marketing your work, make sure you explore all angles, both the most and least obvious. It’ll result in a better payoff for you all around.

Work That Mojo, Baby

If there’s one thing I’ve learned during my career as a journalist, it’s that you can’t be afraid to put yourself out there when it comes to people you don’t know.

In journalism school at the University of South Carolina, one of the first assignments we received during our senior “practicum” semester, was to go somewhere we would otherwise be completely uncomfortable. For instance, the prim and proper middle aged woman from England was sent to a truck stop.

I was sent to a gay bar. I don’t think it was because of an obvious homophobia on my part, but instead because I came off to others as so vigorously heterosexual. Suffice it to say that it was no big whoop (after you see your first guy in assless chaps, the rest don’t really make much of an impact), but it proved to me once again that people were people, even if what they’re up to at a given moment might seem a little out of the ordinary based on your own personal experience.

We weren’t assigned to actually interview anyone, but that would come later. The purpose of the exercise was to get us a little more comfortable with otherwise uncomfortable situations.

As a reporter, those would more often than not be hostile police departments, the offices of less-than-friendly politicians or situations where someone had died in an unpleasant fashion, and rather than just making it through a couple of drinks (and politely refused propositions), I was required to actually speak with those people and extract from them important information they were often reluctant to share.

Now, as I ply the waters of indie publishing, I’m finding those “putting myself out there” skills are coming in handy again. As ID has made its way into Barnes & Noble stores nationwide, we at Codorus Press have mounted a concerted effort to make sure that the other stores where it really should be have them on the shelves. Those include, most importantly, the New York City stores (where big-shot reviewers and tastemakers could stumble across it) and the Southern stores, where readers will recognize the places and characters in the novel most clearly.

That’s involved what most people dread – cold calling. Every day, Codorus shaman Wayne Lockwood and I are on the phone and paying visits to the folks who can make the decisions to get us in front of even more readers. We don’t know these people and they don’t know us. In addition, they’re wary that we are trying to sell them on a product that might somehow be inferior or unprofessional. Not only must we be bold about introducing ourselves, but confident enough in the product we’re pushing to make them take notice.

To paraphrase the Kinko’s guy from Jerry McGuire, sometimes you just have to hang ’em out there. And that’s essentially what aggressive marketing is – hanging them out there and hoping they don’t get cut off.

And speaking of mojo, I just couldn’t help including this. Enjoy.

The Love That is Linkage

I was just tipped off by Wayne Lockwood, the wise and mighty shaman of Codorus Press, that our great neighbors at the Philadelphia Book Festival gave us some link love via their blog Me Want Food.

Leigh Ellwood and Kat Lively had the booth next to us on that particular very rainy day. Leigh writes erotic lesbian fiction and Kat writes rock-themed mysteries. Both of them were very cool ladies and seemed to really appreciate some of our clever little bits of marketing (like the faux Church of the New Revelation religious tracts – specially designed to look cheap and cheesy, just like the real thing!). For our part, we really like their style and the whole vibe of their booth (which featured a sign declaring “Ass Kicking Fairies!”).

A funny story – I realized toward the end of our damp day that I had actually shared some time with their boothmates previously when I appeared at The York Emporium in York, Pa. (birthplace of Codorus Press) at this time last year for their Sci-Fi Saturday event. There’s video of my interview with Jim Lewin, owner of The York Emporium, from that appearance, as well as a reading. Check out the interview below and follow the link for more of the event (thanks to Codorus team member Tom Joyce for shooting).

Speaking of events, I’m looking forward to some other events later in the summer and into the fall, both focusing on ID and Codorus Press. As the marketing word gets out, we’re hoping to get more interest in presenting our indie publishing road-show, The Wandering Heretics Independent Publishing Tent Revival and Old Time Medicine Show, at book stores and other locations. We’re also planning for a couple of book-related events, including the Collingswood Book Festival in Collingswood, N.J., and PhilCon, the annual convention of the Philadelphia Science Fiction Society.

We love interacting with fans of ID and anyone interested in indie publishing, so we hope to see you out at these and even more events throughout 2011 and into 2012.