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Writers are liars

Let me be specific. While non-fiction writers and journalists sometimes make errors in research, get their facts wrong, or shade their story to suit their bias, overt or otherwise, I am talking fiction writers. They are all liars.

Their is no Huckleberry Finn or Tom Sawyer. No Sherlock Holmes or James Bond. There was no Ahab chasing a whale (didn’t he have something better to do?) and there is no Count Dracula with a neck fetish. All lies. None of it is true.

Jane Austen lied to you, as did Mark Twain, and yes even contemporary writers like Thomas Pynchon, Gillian Flynn, Roberto Bolano, Umberto Eco, Paula Hawkins, and every other writer in the entire history of literature. Al liars.

So why do we read these insidious devils who have trampled on one of the ten commandments? I think lying is one, but I’m not sure, I don’t pay attention to most of the commandments; but if it isn’t a commandment it should be. And while we are at it, there is nothing wrong with looking at my neighbors wife. Touching is out, but looking should be okay.

We read these liars, to get back to the point, because in reading these lies we see truth. For within the lies are emotional truths we recognize as our own; the experience we see that happens with the characters we recognize as our experience, even if the action is crazy. We might not be astronauts, but the feelings they have, the experience they have we can identify with. We can empathize.

Unlike Ahab, I will not chase a whale. I get seasick. But I understand his motivation; I know why he goes on the insane hunt. I will not venture to Dracula’s castle (yes there is one) for I have heard rumors about him and know to stay away from people who avoid the sun. I also know to use garlic and carry a cross. This is what happens when you believe the lie. It becomes real, you see.

So if you want to be a writer who wants to tell the truth of the world, then start writing lies. We all do. And it works.

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why e-book errors are here to stay

The sentence below is an excerpt from a best selling author’s e-book. I will not, of course, out of respect, list his name. The scene has a woman in a car and a male approaching the car who has exposed himself, thus the term yanking.

“It seemed so absurd that she started to laugh, but she thought better of it as he strode up the door other car and began yanking in her direction.”

An obvious mistake here. Does the author mean the ‘other car door’ or does he mean ‘door of her car.’ It makes a bit more sense that ‘other’ should be ‘of her’ but of course that is my thinking.

I do not know if the author did the formatting, or his agent, or an agent’s assistant, or if it came from the publisher. No matter, because a proofreader missed it, and the author should have proofread. For all I know he may have and missed it. I found another error, but it is not my intent to point out everything I may find, but to indicate that errors are going to be found in e-books. And we must live with them.

Proofreading, especially by the author, is far more time consuming than the actual writing. In my case with my latest novel,  “Silent Murder” which is by no means an exception, I proofread in Word.doc six times, then sent the file to my formatter and once it was converted to Amazon friendly Kindle, I checked through my Kindle app and found more errors; usually a missing period or quotation mark, or ‘ instead of ” and so on. In the Kindle I went through another six readings, finding errors I never saw before. What? Where did this come from? How did I not notice?

It is brutal. There are digital gremlins. I am sure of it.

The point being in one of my reviews of an earlier book the reviewer mentioned a few grammatical errors, but they did not interfere with his or her enjoyment of the story. It still bothers me that the book has a few errors. But the author reaches the point when he/she has gone through the readings so many times, with time off in between to clear your mind, that one must let it go to keep what sanity you have left.

So I apologize to anyone who finds a mistake along the way. I did my best, but we live in a new world of story telling, and if best selling authors can publish e-books with mistakes and grammatical errors, then we must forgive. I wish we could all write perfect books, but readers and proofreaders who read a book before publication, along with the author, and those insidious digital gremlins, will miss something.

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How not to publish an e-book

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This is the cover of my recently published e-book. And it was a dicey, maddening run to publish.

Rule one, if you are planning a specific release date, make sure you leave plenty of time for proofreading-of course you know that. But there is something else you need to plan for and that is when things go wrong-everyday.

I wanted to release this book Halloween week for obvious reasons. So I knew how long I had to proofread, have my book formatted to Amazon specs, go through the process on Amazon with categories, keywords, uploading, pricing, and other fun things, then blog and Twitter before Halloween.

But gremlins living inside cyberspace, my computer, and probably under my bed conspired to stop me.

(1) I uploaded my file to the company that formats my books. I then send the mobi file to my Kindle PC for a final proofread, the reason being  is that seeing your book on a Kindle before publishing is great for editing as a lot of things you missed jump out at you. Seeing what needed changing I went to the formatter and the document was not only gone, but the vertical scroll bar was gone-not that it would have helped. So email to support and wait. The next day everything was okay, so I spent two days doing the last fix. I still had time to publish, though it was now Monday of Halloween week.

(2) My mobi file disappeared from my computer, Tuesday I found it in a search.

(3) Still Tuesday I send the mobi file to Amazon and uploaded the book. Yeah! Rule two, do not celebrate early.

(4) Amazon, though I followed-mostly-followed their guidelines on keywords-nonetheless was told they would overwhelm searchers. (Hey, isn’t that what I want). It took three tries before they were satisfied. This is my fourth book, and had no keywords problems before.

(5) So after a long Tuesday I was told the book was under review. Wednesday an email told me the book was live. Yeah! See rule two.

(6) I clicked ‘here’ in my email and indeed the book was on Amazon. Unfortunately it was not on my authors page. After an email to Amazon support, the problem was fixed later in the day.

I was lucky to have the book go live three days before Trick and Treat night.

So now that you know what can go wrong, be advised to plan in advance so that you finish the book and everything is ready a week ahead of time, maybe two weeks. There are cyber gremlins waiting to attach. Now if I can just get the cat off the top of my head.

 Here  is a link to the book that survived the gremlins. There is no guarantee the link will work though.

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Ah writer! Ah Poverty! Oh crap!

I don’t know the 2015 statistics, but in 2006 the Book Expo of America claimed that 93% of all books sold less than 1,000 copies per book and that one of ten first time authors did not get a second book published. Now I know why the homeless population is growing. The growing homeless are not druggies, nor alcoholics, nor depressed mental health people, but writers. It all makes sense. 

Then there is Amazon and e-books. I read on a Kindle forum this past April-and I can’t verify the number-but Amazon has 3.5 million e-books on their site. I have published three and will have six by the end of November, so I am clearly a minnow in an ocean of digital books. 

I don’t write for money or success; the odds clearly against me and the vast homeless majority of writers, but I gladly accept donations at Amazon where my less than 1,000 sold copies of wonderful e-novels are waiting for you.

I write to offset my depression. Writing fiction with e-novels that take place in 1911, 1922, and 1927 take me out of this world and into another time and place and I love the research, the putting together of a sentence, of a paragraph, of a scene between characters; it puts my mind in a better place. For some reason my short stories  tend to be horror stories, not the bloody kind, not the monster kind, but the Twilight Zone kind, though once in a while something gruesome does happen.

I have no idea why my short fiction is on the dark side, but it does exorcise demons, airs out my nightmares, and allows me a better nights sleep, so I don’t fight it. I think writing is therapy for most fiction authors, something many authors have hinted at, if not outright confessed.

So, if you are a writer like me, a minnow in the ocean, do not be discouraged by lack of success in book sales. I get monthly royalties and have received good reviews and while both lift my sprits a bit, it is the act of writing that makes my spirit soar and I hope writing does the same for you.

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The biggest mistake fiction writers can make

See if you can find the mistake in the following paragraph:

A tall man walked out of his hotel and into a bar across the street. He was stopping in Tulsa overnight to get some rest on his long journey to Alabama to see his dying sister. He sat at the bar’s counter and ordered a gin and tonic. The World Series between the Braves and the Yankees was playing on the radio. It was October of 1957 and once again the Yankees were playing for the title. The tall man hoped the Braves from Milwaukee, a blue collar middle American town, would thump those damn Yankees.

The mistake, assuming there is only one, is in the bar. The man could not have ordered a gin and tonic in Tulsa, or anywhere in Oklahoma, for they never ratified the 21st amendment to the Constitution ending prohibition in 1933. In fact, prohibition was in their state Constituent prior to the 18th amendment that banned alcohol sales and consumption (as the country winked). Oklahoma was a dry state until 1959. As the great humorist Will Rogers said, Oklahomans “would vote dry as long as they could stagger to the polls.”

This is important to fiction writers because you can never, ever, not once, assume. When you do research every tiny detail is huge. Readers in Oklahoma who know their history will call you out.

In my e-novel “Loonies in Hollywood” I have my two main characters in a car tailing another car that previously was tailing them. I did not look at just any map, I looked at a 1922 map of Los Angeles and Hollywood. I did not want to make the mistake of naming a street that in 1922 may have had another name in 2013. Street names get changed from time to time. Did I go overboard? Probably, but I want realism in place and setting. If the characters go into a restaurant or nightclub, I want to know who owned it, what went on there, who were the customers. It has to with the ambience of the scene. If you want the past to come alive, you must dig into the past and find out what is there and how to present it best for your story.

I read in another blog that a writer had made the mistake of saying a revolver had a safety, and the blogger said that revolvers don’t have safeties. Did I take her word for it? No, I try not to take everyone’s word for anything. I do my own research and a I found that it is rare, and if there is a safety on a revolver, it is a grip safety. Do I take his word for it? No I keep researching, getting as many views as possible. 

I have probably made some errors in my two, soon to be three, historic e-novels, but I did the best I could. And I love the research. It is amazing what nuggets you can find.

And if you think I made up the Oklahoma story about remaining dry until 1959. Here is a link. Always check what someone says. Did I mention that?

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What I would like to do but can’t

As a writer I would love to do two things. One is to thank the people who took time out of their very, very, very,  busy lives to give good reviews of my books on Amazon. The second is to castigate those who wasted their time on a bad review. But I can do neither.

A number of years ago I wrote an article summarizing the draft picks of an NFL team on a sports website. One person commented that I was full of s… among other choice remarks. So I commented on his comment that he can disagree all he wants, but that his language did not help his point of view. Naturally many took his side, not mine. As someone wrote, “You can’t win.” Lesson learned. It was my first encounter with an Internet troll.

I decided to write this article after going on to my Amazon page and reading a four star review (my second) for the first book I wrote, one that is close to me for many reasons. The review was well written, well thought out, and it made me feel great. And I did not know this person in case you are wondering.

But I have also had a bad review on another book, a one star review. I did not mind that so much except he gave away the ending. Clearly he has no conscious. That being said, he took the ending literally. He may be right-if you believe the story of the person in question. The person could have been lying. Or could have been telling the truth. But the story is more than who did what and why. Some people get it and some don’t.

The point is one can not thank those who give you a good review, as much as you want to, nor can you rip those who hate your story, as much as you want to. You just have to go on writing and publishing and hope for the best. Nor can you ask Amazon why a four star review of a book disappeared. They will just blame those tricky, sneaky algorithms. I think that lost review bothers me more than the one star review.

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Ray Bradbury’s Zen exercise for writers

In his book “Zen and the Art of Writing” Ray Bradbury wrote that at one time in his career he began to make a list of titles. They were simply nouns done without thinking, trusting his subconscious. For example he used this list: The Lake. The Night. The Crickets. The Ravine. The Attic. The Basement. The Trapdoor. The Baby. The Crowd. The Night Train. The Fog. The Horn. The Scythe. The Carnival. The Carousel. The Dwarf. The Mirror Maze. The Skeleton.

He did this to discover who he was as a writer. He learned about himself from these lists because they came out of his subconscious, reminding himself of things from his childhood. And some of them were scary.

What he would do was to take one of the titles and begin to write a long prose poem based on the chosen title. He said about the second page, the poem changed into a story as a character would inject himself into the poem-story and a story grew out of the poem. In the last title listed above-The Skeleton-he remembered as a child drawing skeletons and showing them to his female cousins to scare them. He then goes on to say how he came to write a short story in a few hours.

The point is that his unconscious writing of lists would reveal hidden memories within them and his stories flowed out of the exercise. And many times he did not need to begin with a prose poem.

Just as you can’t be being who you are, you can’t help writing what you write. Unless you are Elmore Leonard and can write in every genre with equanimity, but few of us are that adept. Lets me use The Baby as an example. Some may write a story about a baby dying in infancy and how the family copes  with the tragedy. Can the family stay together? Some may write a suspense story about a kidnapping of a baby. Others might write a comic novel wherein the baby is narrating about how he sees the new world around him. For me, being an old-time baseball fan, I see a story about a bonus baby player who does not live up to expectations, his career spiraling downward, rejected by the game, by friends, and what the player does to redeem himself.

Even if you know what type of writer you are, it is a good exercise to find story ideas. And after you  make a list-done without thinking-and examine what each word mean to you-you may open doors into yourself, doors that open to something unexpected about yourself. I hope it doesn’t scare you. If it does, then write horror stories.

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