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Storytelling (Nostalgia ~ #13)

A short story, novella or full length novel often begins with a snippet of a story. Sometimes from your own past experiences, sometimes from others. Sometimes from a collage of different people melded into one. I just finished reading a 500 page novel that was born out of some brief family history of the author’s. The following memory came to me suddenly, about my Dad. Many of the subtle nuisances were lost on a child but now they make exquisite sense. 

My Dad was a ‘butcher’ his entire life. Beginning, I would assume as an apprentice when he was very young right up to being a civilian butcher on troop ships delivering men to the Korean Peninsula. (Civilian because he had lost sight in an eye during WWII and couldn’t re-enlist). After he returned and twenty years of working for someone else he bought a small butcher shop. Today his shop would have a fancier name like John’s Custom Meats, but back then I believe the signage said, ‘Meat Market’. Super Markets were just catching on but people were suspicious and preferred the specialty shops and small grocer so he did fairly well.  His work day would begin at 6a.m. and the shop would close at 6p.m. He would work another 1-2 hours moving all the trays of meat

 from the case into the cooler for the night. Then he would meticulously clean the inside of the cases. He scrubbed the top of the butcher’s block with salt and saw dust, using a wire brush. When all was clean he would collect the saw dust from the floor and replace it with fresh. 

Back in the 1950’s the meat cases were made mostly of wood, stretching the horizontal length of the front of the store. Glass in front and accessed in the back by wood-framed glass sliders.  Behind the counter was a large wooden butcher block table. But not the ‘butcher-block’ that we think of today. No, this table was made from one huge, square block of wood with legs attached. A saddle indent in the wood, on one side, was made from years of where my father (and the men he followed) stood and cut meat. The floor was covered with fresh saw-dust, changed out nightly. His knives, which no one else was allowed to touch, hung on a magnet strip on the side of the table. 

Weekly a truck would back up to the rear door of the butcher shop and my Dad would help off-load halves of a whole beef, and whole pig carcasses. Nothing was precut. My Dad would ‘break down’ the meat, cutting steaks (sirloin, rib-eye, T-bone, and Filet mignon), using a meat saw to go through bone. Racks of ribs and roasts, all cut by hand. Every left-over scrap of  beef was tossed into a bin (everything was stainless steel back then; no plastic was used). He began filling the cases with his beautiful cuts of meat. Next he would process the scraps of meat, collected earlier, through the grinder to make hamburger. (Hand cranked; he couldn’t afford electric saws or grinders back then.) There were only two grades; ‘hamburger’ (the cheapest filled with more fat and less meat) and ‘ground round’ (the leanest and most expensive.) The ground meat would fill long trays that fit inside the display case. When a customer asked for hamburger, my Dad would hand scoop one or two pounds from the tray, slap the meat into a sheet of waxed, white butcher paper and weigh it. He was never off on the weight and mostly put it on the scale for the customer’s benefit. If he had weighed heavy he never took away from the mound of meat; that would have been bad customer service in his view. In those days a butcher was allowed (by Federal regulations)  to sprinkle in a chemical that would ‘brighten’ yesterday’s hamburger that had turned a little brown. He would do this regularly and put it on ‘sale’ the next day.  

My mother would drive him to work and pick him up every night. As I mentioned, he was a veteran and had lost the sight in one eye during his time in the South Pacific, thus preventing him from driving. Frequently Mom and I would go early and help close up. Mom and Dad would also make their own sausage to sell. Using scraps of beef and pork they would make huge batches of ground meat, mixing in special spices. Placing a special tip on the grinder, they would attach a casing made of pig intestine on the end. They pressed the meat through the machine and into the casing, tying off  the lengths of sausages with a quick couple of twists of the casing.  

All the years I helped in the butcher shop I never saw my Dad dressed differently. Pure white t-shirt under a crisp white, short-sleeved dress shirt (ironed by my mother), blood stained white apron, with chino (kakis) pants. In the rear pocket was a pint of whiskey in a brown paper bag. His face was clean shaven, his fingers cracked and covered in small cuts. His hair neatly trimmed and slicked back with Brylcream. No matter what time of night we got home, my mother had dinner almost ready. Nothing left to do but ‘fry up the meat’. From the front door to the kitchen sink to wash up, to the dinner table to the couch was my father’s journey. The whiskey had navigated from the hip pocket to a glass sitting on the coffee table. Together we would watch boxing (my Dad’s passion) and shows from the 50’s:  Rawhide, Ed Sullivan, Ozzie and Harriet, What’s My Line, and Candid Camera. 

Now, with a few decades of life experiences behind me I realize my Dad was probably never without pain. Pain in his back from carrying sides of beef and long trays of meat. Working fourteen hour days. And the untreated, jungle rot (tropical ulcers) on his legs must have been excruciatingly painful by the end of each day. No wonder he lay flat on his back on the sofa, self-medicating with whiskey.

I’ll end this story with a funny anecdote.  My Dad hated the narrator for the Skippy Peanut Butter commercial on tv. This was before all of our electronic accessories  of today. But finally one day he happened to read an ad for a remote mute button. It attached to the tv by a cord that ran across the living room floor and ended in a small box with a mute button. Yes, that was it: an on and off button. It finally arrived in the mail and we hooked it up. That night, my Dad waited in anticipation for the Skippy commercial to appear during our nightly shows. The the minute the commercial began my Dad gleefully pressed the mute button and yelled at the tv, “Take that, you S.O.B!” 
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Motivational Moments…for Writers (Retread)

It ‘s worth repeating. Writers!  You can do it!

Procrastination is just a word.  Write one new word, one new sentence.  Breath!  That sentence should make you want to write another.

What?  Why? When? How? Where does that sentence lead you? Breathe. It doesn’t have to be perfect…it’s the first draft.  That’s what re-writes are for.

                             ‘Writers aren’t exactly people, they’re a whole lot of people trying to be one person.’
                               – F. Scott Fitzgerald

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                                  ‘As a writer, I marinate, speculate and hibernate.’  Trisha Sugarek
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MY BLOG features INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!    December: Dervla McTiernan – January: David Poyer 
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The Lost are the Last to Die ~~ Book Review

reviews, authors, writingreviews, authors, writingreviews, authors, writingreviews, authors, writing4 out of 5 quills ~~ Book Review

The Lost are the Last to Die by Larry D. Sweazy is a new, old west tale. 
Fans of westerns are going to love this story.  Set in the early 1900’s, the horse is being replaced by the automobile, the Great War has just ended and the lawlessness of the ‘old west’ is being rooted out.

Ranging from 1911 (flashbacks) to 1934 (present time for this story) Sweazy’s hero, Sonny Burton has enjoyed a stellar career in law enforcement. Surviving fighting in the Great War, he comes home and joins the Texas Rangers.  But life has served up a couple of career changing setbacks and Sonny must find new meaning in what seems like a meaningless life. 

The writing is superb. Larry leads the reader on an exciting chase with many twists and turns in the plot. Sonny Burton gives the reader someone worthy of rooting for. We want him to win even when it seems most unlikely.  

My Review of other Sweazy books.
Did you miss my interview with Larry Sweazy?
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When will My Stories be Discovered??

TS. I wrote this post back in 2012….seven years ago. But most of it still holds true today.

Okay, so now you have a publisher…your books will fly off the shelves or through cyberspace, right?  Au contra, it’s still going to take some time. Or at least, that’s certainly been my experience….

Samuel French (biggest publisher for stage plays)  picked me up in 2004 and has since published four of my stage plays.  I am so grateful to be in the same publishing house as  Louisa May Alcott, David Mamet, Anton Chekhov, and Tennessee Williams. And the staff is so nurturing to their authors.  But, here’s the reality: No sales the first year, a few the second year, more the third year and so on…….but, sadly, no BIG immediate discovery of this playwright!  Not like in the movies!!

So I kept writing and editing and submitting……and writing more!

I am happy to share with my readers the news that I received a nice fat check from French with reports that reflected my biggest sales period EVER, the first quarter, this year (2012)!  Over the last six months they have sold seventy scripts of mine.  Most orders were in multiple quantities which means a theatre company was buying enough books for cast and crew.  And that means that somewhere, out in the world, theatre companies are producing my work!  You might be saying to yourself, ‘that’s not so many’  but think about it.  That’s 11.6 scripts per month. And like I said, most of them were NOT perusal copies (of one) but the number that they would need to produce a show! One production in Bangor, Maine and the other in Phoenix, AZ.

Last year (2018) a play of mine was produced in Iceland and the UK.

My books are finally selling with some welcomed regularity on amazon.com (USA and Europe) and other book outlets. After eight long years!!

So my message to you is: Keep writing, fellow writers.  Keep editing, rewriting. That’s where a really good story/book is born.  When you get rejection after rejection  (as I did) let that be the spur to write more! Use ‘Self publishing’ . ‘Vanity’ books are a thing of the past…or almost.  Most of us, as writers, have something important to say and vanity is far, far away from our thoughts.  With the advent of ‘print on demand’ self publishing is not the huge investment it used to be.  I self publish for less than $100. plus the wholesale cost of the finished book.  Sure your publisher takes a cut…but!  You’re published!!

Writing is a lonely business but keep at it.  I’ll believe in you if you’ll believe in me!
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MY BLOG features INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!  December: Australian mystery writer, Dervla  McTiernan
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Write Your First Play

Over the many years writing my blog the stats report a recurring key phrase,  How  to write a play’, and I thought my readers might find it interesting to read about what inspired my play scripts. 

The short answer is:  A true story…. something that caught my attention that was someone else’s story.

The long answer:  My first play ‘Lost Child back in 1994 was based on a true story of a Dad dealing with his gay son.  Back then HIV and AIDS was a death sentence.  The father was homophobic and macho.  He rejected his son.  To make the story complete I added another set of parents that were  totally supportive of their gay son.  Sadly this story did not end well and the script was lost on my hard drive  ….someday, I may finish it.

Next came ‘Cook County Justice‘ based upon a fifteen minute segment offered on one of those TV magazines like 20/20. Bill Heirens had been incarcerated for over 40 years (even though his sentence included parole) for a murder I came to believe he didn’t commit.  This story took me on a six year journey; letters from Bill (inmate), support from his team trying to set him free and several productions of my play.

While visiting Bill in the Illinois state Prison for Men early one Sunday morning,  I sat in the reception area waiting to be WOW.play. cover4_20march2014‘processed’ through into the visiting room.  I was surrounded by women of all ages and their children.  Mothers, sisters, wives, daughters….as I sat there they figuratively took me by the nape of my neck and shouted….’you must write about us…tell our story!’   That was the birth of ‘Women Outside the Walls’ a full length play and later a novel.

 

 

book_shop_BillieScent of Magnolia A Tribute to Billie Holiday was conceived in 2001 when a very talented jazz singer/actress out of Chicago asked me if I would write her a one woman show as Billie Holiday. I used, as my inspiration, the early years of Billie’s career before she succumbed to alcohol and drugs. 

 

NEXT! A Hollywood Tale  was based on my own experiences as a young actor in Hollywood and all the story swapping we would do in the green room, waiting to ‘go on’.  There was nothing worse than going to a cattle call audition and in the midHollywood, actors, stage play, actors playing actorsdle of your monologue or reading have the casting director yell:  ‘Next!’  That was your cue line to exit right.   The razor sharp teeth of the machine known as Hollywood chew up aspiring actors and spit them into the gutter.

 

I grew up on my mother’s stories about growing up in the forests of Tumwater, Washington with her 13 siblings.  Back at the turn of the twentieth century life and its entertainments were simple.
Alaska, sisters, adventurers, gold rush,

‘The Guyer Girls’ is a cross between Little Women and I Remember Mama.  The first act is almost all based upon her stories.  The second act was my creation of what happened when the six sisters come back home fifteen years later. With this age of technology I didn’t want these stories to die with her or with me.

 

‘Sins of the Mother’ was also partly biographical.  Again stories told by my mother of her years in San Francisco (1920’s) as a bar owner, women’s basketball player, flapper, and mother.  She used to say,  “I’d work all day and dance all night!”  This full length play developed into a novel, ‘Wild Violets’.

There’s more but this is where I will stop. Every play plot has conflict. The trick is to solve it within two and a half hours.

This post is a re-run from 2014 but well worth the read. 
Want more? Click here for Part 2 

 

A Journal/Handbook to Start YOU writing! 275 blank pages for your work; each margin with an inspiring quote from a famous actor, writer, playwright, or poet.  Sections on ‘how to’ will get you started.

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Revise, Edit and Re-publish

My first novel was written in 2011. Being known as a playwright, I was urged by friends and fans to expound on the play by the same title. They were left unsatisfied by the play (even though it was a thumbnail of the story and quite successful on the stage.) They wanted more. What happened to the three women in the story? 

Writing a play is child’s play (pun intended) for someone like me. After all I’ve read thousands of play scripts and portrayed hundreds of characters from other plays, not my own.  One hundred pages is a walk in the park. But 300+ pages of a work of fiction. A Novel. I still remember the day I sat at my keyboard and faced the blank page 1. I was scared out of my mind.  Thank the stars I had a story plot and the stage play to refer to. 

Now, eight years later I brought it out and dusted it off. (Remember I’ve written about this before.) The first thing I do is check for my personal idiosyncrasies when writing: those words we all use too much. Mine are ‘just‘ and ‘that‘.  So I checked the first one. 264 ‘Justs‘ and I only needed about 28 of them. So I went through the manuscript and deleted a couple hundred. Ugh. 
Now, let’s see about the second word. ‘That’. 723. Oh dear!

Several years ago I was reading one of my favorite authors (when I’m not writing, I’m reading) and something was irritating me in the back of my consciousness, a little niggle. 

Then I realized the author repeatedly used the word ‘snickered’ or‘ snicker‘ when describing the tone of the dialogue. (Let the dialogue set the tone.) I doubt the author was even aware of it. ‘Snickered’ was exactly the same as my ‘that’. There’s a whole slew of synonyms for ‘snicker’ (she could have mixed it up) Scorned, scoffed, mocked, derided, sneered, snorted, etc. Once I discovered the culprit of my irritation, I couldn’t unsee the word and it spoiled the story for me. I put the book away, unread.

Technical Note: For those of you who don’t know how to find a word used to excess: Use the keys ‘Control F’; a box will open. type in the word that you might have used too much. It will tell you how many times it was used in the ms. And the word will be highlighted in yellow so you can easily edited them. 

So whenever you edit, clean up and revise an older work you will get a better story out it. You will achieve better writing. You may even find a new chapter or two.

“The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter. ’Tis the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.” ― Mark Twain
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MY BLOG features INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!    July — Catherine Ryan Hyde.  August:  My interview with Susan Wiggs  September: Alan Foster (sci-fi) and October: Kristina McMorris
 
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How to Create Tantalizing Book Covers

Intriguing cover. I see a young man and an old lady. Something tells me they are not related. The woman is blind. (see cane) Right away when I saw this cover I knew that they were unlikely friends. BTW, it turns out this is the best book I’ve ever read!

Nine Tips on Creating your Book Cover when self-publishing. There are dozens of platforms to create a book cover. Most publishing platforms have a ‘cover creator’ that you can easily use. This post is not about building a book cover. These tips are about  content. Images and titles that attract your reader. Making them want to pick up your book.  The ‘do’s’ and ‘don’ts’ by example.

  1. A book cover is the very first thing a book buyer is going to be attracted to whether it’s in a book store browsing the shelves or surfing the digital pages on the web. It is the first and most important step in marketing your book. 
  2. Your cover should tantalize, intrigue, and compel the buyer to pick up the book or stop scrolling (on the Internet) and delve into your book.
  3. Your cover image should not be obscure. It should represent what’s inside. But just a tease.
  4. Park your ego at the door. Don’t be artsy, egotistical, or have a “I’m the author” moment when designing your book cover. Step back and try to objectively visualize what a reader might be attracted to. Represent your story with the cover image.
  5. There is a fine line between being clever and being stupid about the design for your book. 
  6. The artwork (find yourself a good graphic designer) should be as good as you can afford. The title should be in the largest font. A tag line is nice on the front cover and absolutely mandatory on the back. The author’s name is the least important.  Yep, that’s what I said. Unless you are Nora Roberts or Stephen King with enormous name-recognition, your name should take up the least amount of space. 
  7. The artwork (images) should tease; suggest what the story line is; make the buyer curious about the story inside.
  8. The image should suggest but not be specific; leave something for the reader’s imagination.
  9. Here are some samples of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ covers in this blogger/reviewer’s opinion: 



    Say Goodbye For Now
    . Looking closely, it appears to be a younger Caucasian boy and an African-American boy. The dog looks like a Shepard/husky mix or a hybrid wolf. The cover is tantalizing; are the boys friends? how does the dog fit in? Who is going to say goodby? I give this a strong  

     

     

    The Orchid Sister. Too artsy and too dark in tone. The font is hard to read. The Cover doesn’t say anything except that there is a sister.  The vibe I get from this cover is it is probably about the occult. Which it was not. Poor decisions all around.
    I give it a                                  

     

    The Oysterville Sewing Circle. This cover is too obscure. It’s a deeply rich story but the cover short-changes it and  implies that it involves a bunch of women in a sewing circle which it is not.
                                                                                             Have to give it a

     

    Dance of Murder. I give my graphic designer (David White) all the credit for this one. So I can use it as an example. Over the years, I have developed such a relationship with him that I can give him a synopsis of the story and what I envision and let him loose. This is what I got.  I’m going to rank it as I had little to do with the creative side of things. This cover tells the buyer/reader that the story is about strippers who are murdered. The neon color of ‘Dance’  emphasizes that the story is around a strip club. The art work teases just enough to intrigue. It gets a

     

    It’s Getting Scot in Here. I’m of the school that you should never show specific faces of the characters on the cover. The reader wants to have their own idea of what the characters look like, especially the heroine and hero. Why a gazebo on the cover? They were in one for a total of 3 seconds in over 300 pages of this book. While I was caught up in this fine story, my imagined lovers looked nothing like the people on the cover.
                                                                                                                                  This is a sample of what not to do:

    My Own True Duchess. This is what you should do. This cover represents exactly what the story is. A period romance. The reader can barely see what the lovers look like and leaves it to the imagination.  I give it a

      

     Blue Hollow Falls. I prefer that authors leave me to imagine what my favorite characters look like. This cover tells me that there is a single woman, probably in conflict. She appears to be discovering this conservatory or greenhouse for the first time. Her dress and the wild flowers tell me the season. I’m curious.  I give this a


    The Colonel and The Bee
    . This cover teeters between being too obscure or being just about perfect. The story is wonderful with fine writing. But the cover doesn’t tantalize like the story deserves so I have to give it a Only until after I read this fantastic story did I understand the cover. That’s a bad thing. I had never heard of the author. Something about the title made me purchase this book. But nothing about the image attracted me.

     

     

    SEE ALSO PROOF. This is one of the worst covers I’ve seen in a while.  The Title makes no sense and doesn’t present even a clue as to the story. I read the book so I can say the 5×7 note card has no relevance. And I dislike a plug for another book on the front.  Too bad because I really like what this author offers. The tag line, while a little long, is acceptable. But a very poor cover over all.                              

     I give it a

     

     

    Women Outside the Walls. Yep, this is mine. But it’s a good example of what you want your cover to achieve.  The three women speak of how different they are in social status and education. There’s rebellion and grief in their expressions. The title makes the reader wonder; are they outside prison walls? Probably. But how did they get there?  Again, the value of a graphic artist.  I give it a

    I want to emphasize how important the cover is. If you can, invest in a good graphic artist. My experience has been to give them some room to create. The front cover should be simple as far as text:  title, author’s name, a tag line. The back cover is where you put the synopsis, some reviews, another tag line (if you want) and a short bio of the author with a small photo. 
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    MY BLOG features INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!    July — Catherine Ryan Hyde.  August:  My interview with Susan Wiggs  September: Alan Foster (sci-fi) and October: Kristina McMorris
     
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Interview with Author, Kristina McMorris

TS. Kristina was inspired to write by the newspaper photo shown below. I was inspired by the beautiful cover of Sold on a Monday to buy the book and subsequently interview her. Kristina McMorris is an acclaimed author of two novellas and five historical novels, including Sold on a Monday, which is now celebrating five months on the New York Times and USA Today bestsellers lists. Initially inspired by her grandparents’ WWII courtship letters, her works of fiction have garnered more than twenty national literary awards. Prior to her writing career, she owned a wedding- and event-planning company until she had far surpassed her limit of YMCA- and chicken dances.  She lives in Oregon with her husband and their two sons, ages thirteen and fifteen going on forty.

Q. Where do you write? Do you have a special room, shed, barn, special space for your writing? Or tell us about your ‘dream’ work space.

KM. Something that’s probably unique about my writing space is that, although it’s always located somewhere in my house, the specific spot changes with every book I write. By the time I spend a year or more working on a manuscript, I’m so tired of sitting in the same place day after day (my rocking chair, office desk, kitchen table, living room couch, etc) that I have to switch it up for the next book. I often joke that after a few more books, we’ll have to move to a new house because I’ll have run out of fresh spots for writing!

Q. Do you have any special rituals or quirks when you sit down to write? (a neat work space, sharpened #2 pencils, legal pad, cup of tea, glass of brandy, favorite pajamas, etc.)

KM. As a recovering event planner, I still absolutely have to have a clean work space. A large tumbler of decaf tea is a must (admittedly with an embarrassing amount of vanilla creamer) and fuzzy socks are the norm.

Q. Could you tell us something about yourself that we might not already know?

KM. I was fortunate enough to spend an entire college year living in Florence, Italy, an incredible experience that taught me an enormous amount about pasta and wine and, best of all, tiramisu. Ha. Seriously, though, I learned so many important life lessons there, and now even enjoy weaving Italian characters into my stories.

Q. Do you have a set time each day (or night) to write?

KM. That’s an easy one to answer: school hours. The clock starts when the kids get on the bus and stops when they come charging back through the door full of stories from their day!

Q. What’s your best advice to other writers for overcoming procrastination?

KM. Unplug from the Internet. (It’s hard, I know!) Take a walk, think about where the story is going, write the next scene by hand if needed (in other words, change things up), and sit down in the chair and just write.

Q. Where/when do you first discover your characters?

KM. A nugget of a premise always comes to me first, then I start to imagine who landed in that situation. I figure out how they got there by backtracking and digging deeper into their lives until I finally understand who the characters are at their core.

Q. What first inspired you to write?

KM. About a dozen years ago, I was creating a homemade cookbook featuring my grandmother’s recipes, meant as a Christmas gift for the grandkids. When I interviewed her for the biographical section, she shared that she and my late grandfather had dated only twice during WWII, fell in love through an ongoing letter exchange, and were married for fifty years until he passed away. Then she said, “Would you like to see the letters?” After spending an afternoon poring over those beautiful wrinkled pages, I envisioned a Cyrano de Bergerac-type story set during WWII, which ultimately became my debut novel, Letters from Home—and the course of my career at that point completely changed.

Q. Do you ‘get lost’ in your writing?

Review of Sold on a Monday

Don’t miss Part II of this Interview next week.
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MY BLOG features INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!    July — Catherine Ryan Hyde.  August:  My interview with Susan Wiggs  September: Alan Foster (sci-fi) and October: Kristina McMorris
 
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Interview with Sci-Fi author, Alan Dean Foster (part 2)

With Tom Christian, great-great-great grandson of Fletcher Christian – Pitcairn Is.

Q. What first inspired you to write?

AF. In Carl Barks Uncle Scrooge comics, Scrooge has to travel to unusual, exotic places either to check on his vast array of businesses or to hunt for treasure. Very early on, these comics inculcated in a desire to emulate Scrooge. Before I could do so in reality, I did so in my imagination. That desire has continued to afflict me to the present. My parents also had an old book by Richard Halliburton. I remember very clearly a picture of Halliburton standing in front of the Taj Mahal. I thought it impossibly romantic (and yes, I got to the Taj eventually).

Q. What comes first to you? The Characters or the Situation?

AF. Could be either one. If an interesting character occurs to me, or if I meet one in my travels, I might build a book or story around them. If a plot idea comes first, I’ll populate it with suitable characters. I never know which will come first.

Q. Do you ‘get lost’ in your writing?

AF. Completely. I’m told my writing is very visual. This is because I “see” everything I’m writing about. I literally describe what I’m seeing. It’s as if I’m operating a video camera in my mind. I go to all the places I’m describing.

For example, this was taken of me in Tuareg headdress where the borders of Niger, Mali, and Burkina Faso meet. Not a safe place nowadays due to the depradations of Isis and Boko Haram. In life, you have to pick your spots.

Q. Are you working on something now? If so tell us about it.

AF. I do a monthly column on art and science for a local monthly paper (5enses; you can read the column on-line. Book-wise, I’m in pause mode.

 

Q. When did you begin to write seriously?

AF. My senior year at UCLA I discovered the film department. I’d always been a facile writer in high school. Film and TV writing courses offered an opportunity to acquire credits toward graduation that was very easy for me. I didn’t realize it was difficult for everyone else. To take a break from writing scripts, I started to write short fiction, and submit it. My first sale was to Arkham House. A long Lovecraftian letter that I thought might amuse the editor, August Dereleth. Imagine my surprise when he offered to buy it and publish it as a “story”. Payment was fifty bucks. I intended to frame the check…a resolution that lasted about ten minutes. The story, which is included in my first collection, was “Some Notes Concerning a Green Box”. It was set in the bowels of the UCLA library, an on-campus sanctuary for me.

Q. How long after that were you published?

Dog’s name is Zipper. Cat is Caesar.

AF. Although “Some Notes…” was my first sale, my first published fiction was the short story “With Friends Like These”, which appeared in Analog magazine in June, 1971.

Q. Do you think we will see, in our lifetime, the total demise of paper books?

AF. Not in our lifetime. But eventually, mass market paper books will disappear as a consequence of cost and ecological concerns. I believe there will always be a market for those who love to collect “real” books.

Q. What makes a writer great?

AF. Find a new way to describe the human condition and how it interacts with is surroundings.

Q. and the all-important: What does the process of going from “no book” to “finished book” look like for you?

AF. George Orwell once said that anyone who wants to be a writer is certifiable. It’s slow, agonizing, brain-wrenching work. And it never gets easier. As I tell students, page one is easy, page 400 is easy. It’s the 398 pages in between that’s hard. Ideas, characters, plots are easy enough. Turning them into stories that people want to read…that’s hard.

Q. How has your life experiences influenced your writing?

A. My travels percolate all through my writing. Locations, characters, new ideas…they all show up sooner or later. Sometimes, like the aforementioned oriental gentleman, an acquaintance will become a character. Other times I’ll get an entire book out of a trip, such as SAGRAMANDA (India) or INTO THE OUT OF (Tanzania/Kenya). Or parts of a book, like CATALYST (Peru, Australia). I don’t know how writers can imagine or create other cultures without having explored those right here on Earth.

Q. What’s your down time look like?

Alan with Ronnie Dio

AF. I lift weights, now only twice a week. I spend too much time on the web surfing the planet. I read as often as my strained eyesight permits. I am not averse to television, everything from The Simpsons to American Experience (PBS). I enjoy spending time with our pets (currently six cats and one tolerant dog). I listen to a lot of classical music interspersed with heavy metal and interesting newcomers (Angelina Jordan, Courtney Hadwin, The Hu). Me and the late Ronnie Dio, of DIO…a big fan of Spellsinger. After a concert. I was perspiring more heavily than Ronnie was.

Q. Have you or do you want to write in another genre`?

AF. I’ve written science-fiction, fantasy, contemporary, historical, western, detective, and non-fiction. I’m very comfortable sliding between genres.

Note to Self: (a life lesson you’ve learned.)

AF. No matter how bad you think your situation is, it is undoubtedly a thousand times better than that of the person next to you.

Check out Part 1 of this Interview
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MY BLOG features INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!    July — Catherine Ryan Hyde.  August:  My interview with Susan Wiggs  September: Alan Foster (sci-fi) and October: Kristina McMorris
 
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Other Writers Will Inspire You If You Let Them

I’m enjoying everything written by Catherine Ryan Hyde. I stumbled upon her as I searched through online book stores a few months back. Looking for  new authors to read and possibly interview….but mostly to read.  The cover of Have You Seen Luis Velez? caught my eye. Two figures (from the waist down) walking together; one obviously a boy with his worn jeans and sneakers. The other an older woman in a house dress and ill fitting coat. A white cane searching the pavement out in front of her old lady shoes. It intrigued me. It could be a grandson with his grandma but something about the image said no. It was something else. I ordered it and thanked my lucky stars I went with my instincts.  As I have said before, it is #1 of my top ten hits. It’s beautifully written and a gorgeous story. 

After that I read Allie and Bea. The joy of reading Hyde’s writing continued. Luis Velez was not a one shot wonder as I had feared. 
I am now  reading Say Goodbye For Now. The beautiful prose continues. Catherine Ryan Hyde is a master. It’s a turn a phrase, connecting words perfectly—(now I’m just plain gushing). But let me give you an example. It’s a small one but worth the mention.
 

On page 138 the two young boys are talking. It’s the dead of night and neither of them can sleep. The day had been jarring and scary. Pete is a thoughtful young boy. He isn’t quick to answer or judge or act. The two boys are exploring if it’s only scary when you’re a kid or are grownups scared too. They find it a depressing thought that just being a person, no matter what age, will be scary. 

Pete’s new friend has asked, “Just…I don’t know. Being a person, I guess. Is it just me, or is it really scary?”

“That’s a good question.” Pete says. “I’ll have to think about that.”

(Here’s the example of this writer’s thoughtfulness and mastery with words)

‘But once again, Pete didn’t exactly think. More left simple openings for thoughts or feelings to volunteer.’

AND: (on page 293)
“She couldn’t quite read his expression.  His face looked the way it always did. The way it always had, as long as she had known him. Maybe his sadness over these new events was no bigger or more powerful than the sadness he had brought with him to her door on that first day.”

These questions, thoughts, observations are on every page. They are sometimes so subtle, like this one, you have to be on your toes to even notice them. But, damn! They’re beautiful when you catch them and stop a moment to taste them.

Did you see my Interview with Catherine Ryan Hyde?

Watch for my Review and the Release of her newest book, Stay  (On sale December 2019)
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 

MY BLOG features INTERVIEWS with  best-selling AUTHORS!    July — Catherine Ryan Hyde.  August:  My interview with Susan Wiggs  September: Alan Foster (sci-fi) and October: Kristina McMorris
 
To receive my posts sign up for my 

  On the home page, enter your email address.  Thanks!