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First, Let Me Apologize

I haven’t written a post in some time. You were sitting on the edge of your seat, wondering, I know. I must admit to feeling, let’s say, less than enthusiastic as of late. Why is that? Am I having trouble with my latest novel, WHERE SHADOWS LOOM? No, actually, I’ve completed the manuscript. I’m excited about that. I’ve taken SHADOWS as far as I can without a second and third pair of eyes poring over it. Now, I’m letting it stew while I mull things over. I need a proofreader with fresh, discerning eyes; a talented, perceptive editor; I could desperately use an agent with major contacts; and ultimately, of course, I need a good publisher. I’m panting for air just thinking about all that.

Writing is hard work, excruciatingly so sometimes, but it’s not the writing that gives me pause. Stirring the creative juices far outweighs the hammering out of a story’s devilish details. So why the weary sigh? Well, the fact of the matter is, selling books requires marketing, and believe it or not, pounding a fist against my chest while shouting how wonderful my work is, is not something I naturally am inclined to do. Frankly, I find it distasteful, and I suspect many of you find it annoying. For that, I apologize, as necessary as it nevertheless seems to be. Long since obliterated is my youthful notion that writers write and publishers promote. The thought that a writer’s time is too valuable to waste with the thorny details of marketing is, of course, laughable. Unless your name is Stephen King, you best learn to write fresh stuff while simultaneously shouting at the top of your lungs why readers should be buying up the stuff you already have in publication. Writing is a craft; in some cases, it’s an art; but above all, it’s a juggling act. And juggling requires a skill of its own–a concentration of its own.

That’s what I keep telling myself. But I don’t compartmentalize well when I’m engrossed in my writing. When I’m obsessed with my writing, some would say. I keep reminding myself about that, too. After all, as I mentioned, writing is hard work. And I didn’t sign on to be that clown, juggling knives at the weekend carnival, in front of a sparse crowd, never mind my feeling like the butt of a cruel joke now and then. Besides, catching knives with bare hands can be dangerous.

Tough shucks of worm-eaten corn, you say. Everybody has to toot their own horn nowadays. We live in a narcissistic world! It’s all about the self! More often than not, it’s about the id! If you don’t start shouting, who will? So, get to it! Roll up your sleeves and start juggling! Shout with the same enthusiasm you have when you peck away on the keyboard–and at the same time! Make people know you’re out there! Make them know you have something that must be read! This is a narcissistic world, remember? And what’s more narcissistic than thinking what you write actually is worth someone else’s reading? So make people hear you! Make yourself heard above the deafening roar of a screaming social media! Do it!

Okay, okay, alright already. Can I dry my eyes first?  Does anyone have a tissue? Oh thanks. Yes, better. (Deep sigh.) Now where was I? Oh yeah.  So–so, if you haven’t taken the time to read WANDERING WEST, please do! You can buy it right here on my website! I think you’ll like it–I really do! But don’t take my word for it; check out the reviews! You can find them right here on my website, too! And when you’ve finished reading, help me get the word out! Write a kind review, tell a friend to read the book, pass the word, and so on! Shout it at the top of your lungs, for crying out loud! Please? I mean–please! Meanwhile, amid my own shouts, I’ll keep working to get WHERE SHADOWS LOOM ready for publication. I can juggle, just like the next guy. And by the way, keep an eye out for more on WHERE SHADOWS LOOM. I’ll be posting about that again soon.

Now where are those knives?

Wandering West and Across the Border

In a scene in Chapter 1 of Wandering West, Jack, in his conversation with Sadie Mae, addresses the problem of illegal immigration and how its solution must be rooted in the country of origin. A porous southern U.S. border only exacerbates the problem, complex as it is. Sadly, this subject is being played out before our very eyes. I have pasted to this post below the excellent article of 6/22/14 by Kristin Tate, Illegal Immigrants Hopping ‘Death Train’ to U.S., Hoping For Amnesty.

HOUSTON, Texas–Thousands of illegal immigrants are flooding the U.S.-Mexico border and the problem isn’t likely to get better anytime soon. In a mad dash to make it to the U.S., many of the Latino minors are hopping aboard a network of Mexican freight trains called “El Tren de la Muerte,” or Death Train. The phenomenon may support claims that the Obama Administration’s lax stance on immigration is encouraging thousands of children to put their lives at risk.

Children who travel via Death Train must jump onto a moving freight car. Minors who cannot successfully pull themselves onto the traveling cars fall onto the tracks–many are left with extreme injuries.

Erica Dahl-Bredine, an El Salvador representative for Catholic Relief Services, told the Colorado Gazette that those who get injured on the train tracks often return home. She added, “The couplings between the cars are notoriously dangerous. I see children who have lost an arm and a leg or both legs.”

The Obama Administration’s actions and rhetoric, which has caused Central Americans to believe they will receive amnesty if they come to the U.S., is likely the driving force behind the surge at the border.

“The U.S. is partly responsible for foreign nationals taking extreme measures that risk the lives of their children,” Zack Taylor, Chairman of the National Association of Former Border Patrol Officers, told Breitbart Texas. “Our government is encouraging foreign nationals to come into our country illegally and stay.”

Upon arrival in the U.S., instead of being turned away, the Latino children are given taxpayer subsidized benefits that include housing, food, recreation, counseling, education, and legal advice.

On top of this, each week authorities are currently releasing hundreds of illegal immigrants onto U.S. soil. Many of the freed immigrants are told to show up in court at a later date and are then released and reunited with their family members in the U.S. Victor Manjarrez–a professor at the University of Texas El Paso, former Chief Patrol Agent of Tucson Sector, and former Chief Patrol Agent in El Paso Sector–told Breitbart Texas that the migrants are “scheduled for a hearing sometime in the future. They promise to show up then get released. They then [often] call up relatives in Central America and tell them they got released.”

It is easy to imagine that the release–coupled with the benefits while in custody–only further incentivizes minors to hop on the Death Train.

Despite such considerable factors, the Obama Administration has claimed no responsibility for the young lives being put at risk during the trek north. The only reason for the spike in illegal crossers, the White House claims, is violence and poverty in the migrants’ home countries. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson claimed at a press conference earlier this month that he is not “encouraging illegal immigration in any way, shape, or form.”

The Challenge and The Reward of Writing Wandering West

photoI was asked some time ago to explain the challenges and the rewards of writing Wandering West. Well, writing fiction is both challenging and rewarding–period. I think virtually all writers of fiction will attest to that. It is a grueling process. Writing fiction challenges the soul, if you will. For me, it is taxing emotionally. It requires such attention to detail, such a focus and a commitment, that I tend to become obsessed with my work. (Don’t take my word for it; ask my wife!) I tend to live within the bubble of the story with my characters until the last word is hammered out, and then, for a little longer still. Not until the story is complete do I feel any real sense of satisfaction, any real sense of achievement. Actually, it’s an overwhelming sense of relief that I experience at that point. Here I’ve created this monster and finally–finally–I can put it to bed! Did I mention that writing is a grueling process? That goes double for writing fiction.

So why do it? Why get up in the middle of the night–maybe repeatedly, night after night, month after month–to jot down a thought, to correct an incongruity, to change this, to improve that, etc.? Life is too short, and life offers up enough misery without creating that of my own making. Maybe so, but, for me, the rewards more than make up for these challenges. I think virtually all writers of fiction will agree with me when I say that the creative process itself is what I find so rewarding. It’s what makes writing fiction so worthwhile. The creative process is what drives me. It can send a lightning bolt flashing through my veins like few things on this Planet Earth–except for, well, maybe a lightning bolt. I really do get a charge out of fleshing out a character, working out a scene, and ultimately, building a storyline.  It’s my thing, as they say.

But the question was: what did I find challenging and rewarding about writing Wandering West specifically? Well, specific to Wandering West, there is a hospital scene in the first third of the story that, I think, illustrates this idea of writing fiction being both a challenge and a reward. This scene was difficult for me to write emotionally. It is rather autobiographical in many respects, and so was a little painful to get into.  But once I did, the words flowed as fast as my fat, arthritic fingers (Yes, that’s rather autobiographical, too, where Jack Stiler is concerned.) could hammer them out on the keyboard. Writing truly is the spontaneous overflow of human emotion, as Wordsworth put it. For me, writing this scene was evidence of that. I meant this scene to be poignant, and after reading it for the upteenth time, I think I succeeded. I hope so anyway. It still moves me.

For those who have read Wandering West, I hope that scene moved you, too. If you haven’t yet picked up the book to read it, well, as I often write on this blog, while you’re here, you might as well click onto the book section and make a purchase. And let me know what you think.

Epigraph to Wandering West

Among the multitude of Europeans to wander west to America in the Nineteenth Century was a teacher and poet from Lisburn, Ireland by the name of Henry McDonald Flecher. It is his poem, The Homeless, taken from his book, Odin’s Last Hour, that serves as my epigraph to Wandering West. I discovered it while searching for just the right quote to put at the beginning of my book. When I read it, I knew it was the one. Flecher was not just any poet. He was a renowned poet of his day, honored, alongside Tennyson, by Queen Victoria. An interesting tidbit about him is his claim, privately at least, that Tennyson stole a few of his verses. Whether that is true or not, well, who can say? Maybe Tennyson would argue that Flecher plagiarized a few of his lines. Maybe it was a case of sour grapes, for Tennyson, as we all know, became world renowned and of historic literary significance. None of it really matters now, other than to provide an interesting footnote to an interesting life. After teaching at a small college in Connecticut for a time, Flecher made his way to Blossom, Texas, where he taught Physics and Metaphysics at Lamar College. He continued to write, having published several volumes of prose and poetry, until his death in 1902.

Why am I blogging about some Irish poet who virtually no one has heard of and who died so long ago? What’s the point? So what if I used one of his poems as a lead-in to Wandering West? Big deal. I might well have found one of Tennyson’s to use. Who cares? Who reads poetry anyway? Well, in my own small way, I wanted to honor this man, that’s why, pure and simple. You see, I wouldn’t be here without Henry McDonald Flecher. He is my great-grandfather.

For those who have yet to read Wandering West, here is its epigraph:

. . . All too busy, all too eager

Hunting pleasure, grasping gain,

To regard that form so meager

Drooping in her drought of pain . . .

Hearts to love her, homes to shelter,

Let the lonely wanderer find,

Screen her from the storms that pelt her,

From misfortune’s rain and wind.

—“The Homeless,” from

 Odin’s Last Hour

by Henry McDonald Flecher

For those who have read Wandering West, I think you’ll agree: The Homeless is a fitting, thematic introduction to my novel. If you haven’t read the story, please do. And while you’re at it–after you’ve purchased Wandering West here on my website–you may want to mosey on over to Amazon or Barnes & Noble to pick up a copy of Odin’s Last Hour.  Here’s a link:

It’s food for thought.

Elevators, Speeches and Wandering West

Image 3My first conversation with the publisher’s marketing director for Wandering West was a little awkward to say the least.  She asked me to give her my elevator speech.  Believe me, I know all about elevator speeches.  I give them all the time, where my financial advising business is concerned.  If you want to know about a stock I like, my view on the markets, the economy, etc., I can spit something out by the time we move from the parking garage to the seventh floor.  After nearly thirty years in The Bizz, I’ve been around the block a time or two.  That doesn’t mean I necessarily have the answers.  It just means I understand some of the questions, and to some of those, I may think I have at least a part of the solution.

But this is about my elevator speech for Wandering West.  When the young woman from Lulu Publishing, in her sweet voice, asked me to explain what Wandering West is about–and to do it in thirty seconds–well, I stuttered and stammered my half minute into–finally–an admission that I wasn’t quite sure how to do that.  I mean, heck, it took me 100,000 words–300+ pages–to tell the story, riveting yet poignant as it surely is.  As I’ve explained in previous posts, I don’t enjoy being put on the spot about my writing, nor about much of anything else, for that matter.  Who does?  Moreover, my writing starts from a mood, a feeling if you will.  I have to get my sea legs under me, my narrative voice at just the right pitch.  From there, the characters are developed, and the storyline takes off like a Virgin Galactic flight into outer space.  Hopefully, the flights will take off like my story does, for the passengers’ sakes.

So, what is my elevator speech, now that I’ve spat it out for the upteenth time?  As they say, practice makes perfect, or in my case, almost functional.  Close your eyes and pretend–no, don’t close your eyes. You can’t read the rest of this text if you do that. Pretend we’re in an elevator, soothing elevator music (naturally) playing softly from the speakers overhead.  You have just asked–with great interest, mind you–what Wandering West is about.

And I clear my raspy throat to say: Wandering West is a contemporary, literary novel set in South Texas, in the rugged, desolate, rather inhospitable terrain, not far from the Mexican border.  It’s about an older fellow, by the name of Jack Stiler, who has lost his beloved wife to cancer and his Wall Street career to a humiliating scandal.  Jack returns home in a desperate attempt to save the family ranch from financial ruin–from the invasion of smugglers of people, guns, and drugs–in the midst of a drought of historic porportions–and, while battling to hold on to those he loves, he struggles also to save himself from the demons that torment him.

My elevator speech doesn’t really do justice to Wandering West, I don’t think.  You’ll just have to click onto the book section of my website and order the book itself.  I think you’ll be enthralled if you give it a good read.  I tend to write better than I give speeches, in an elevator or otherwise.

Wandering West and the Christmas Spirit

Recently, I was asked what three words best describe Wandering West and its characters.  I thought about it for a minute.  How could three words possibly describe a book?  Of course, no three words can really do that.  At most, they can maybe capture the essence of a story.  The essence of Wandering West is the enduring of life’s challenges, however insurmountable they may seem.  So, my first inclination was to answer with the word ‘perseverance’ three times.  That indeed is the heart of Wandering West.  But on further thought, I decided another response to the question might as well be the words ‘faith, hope and love.’  God’s three gifts are what Jack clings to in his quest for redemption, in his struggle to overcome difficulty and in his search for peace and contentment.  

That said, Wandering West is no Sunday School lesson for the kiddos.  Far from it.  Wandering West is a depiction of one man’s life–a mere glimpse of one man’s life–and we all know that life, even a mere glimpse, can be crude, brutal, unfair, sometimes cruel and, all too often, seemingly godless.  Yet, without giving away too much of the story, let me just say that, in many ways, nonetheless, Wandering West captures the spirit of Christmas.  As much as life is about persevering over difficulty, it’s also about having faith, hope and love.  Without these three devine gifts, perseverance really has no meaning. 

Merry Christmas, everyone, to you and to yours!

Scenes and Characters to Highlight

Gary C. StalcupSome weeks ago, I received a standard questionaire–well, I assume it’s standard since I’ve never received one before–from the publicist.  Among the topics was the request to highlight a scene or two and/or a character or two from Wandering West.  One might think such a task would require more than a little perusing of the novel to joggle my memory, a memory that I have often declared to be good, just short.

I had no such problem locating the needle in this haystack.  We’re talking about Wandering West, after all, a novel with many a highlight.  Right?  Heck yeah, right.  The only problem is: which one to pick.  The sun shines brightly on this glistening heap of straw.  It’s like choosing which star twinkles brightest against a moonless, inky sky.  But I have my eye fixed, however squinted, upon a particular star–err needle.  I know exactly which scenes and which characters I want to draw attention to.

They can be found in Chapter 3.  The particular highlight I chose is all of  Chapter 3.  A lot goes on in these seven or eight pages.  They lay the foundation for the rest of the story.  Here, we learn a great deal more about Jack, the protagonist, how he had suffered along with his wife while she lay dying, how he grieves still long after her death.  The scandal that destroyed Jack’s Wall Street career is explained in more detail.  We learn how he still grapples with its consequences.  The death of his beloved wife and the destruction of his once-stellar career are what have brought him to this time and this place now.  We begin to understand why Jack’s state of mind is what it is.  He wrestles with his inner demons, some of which he has lived with for years while others have sprung to life from his recent past.  We get the sense that more are yet to surface.

Jack’s son, Jackson–no pun intended–is introduced in Chapter 3.  Their relationship is fleshed out, and the family dynamic is put into high gear.  The chapter ends with the rather cryptic discussion of Jack’s other son, Johnny. This conversation begs many a question, but you’ll need to read Chapter 4 and beyond to learn about all that.  I hope you will.  Jack’s struggles have only begun to manifest themselves, his demons only beginning to haunt.

Let me make one small yet significant suggestion, if I may: start with the Prologue, and then proceed with Chapters 1 and 2 before dancing into Chapter 3.  There are plenty of needles to pluck from the haystack and stars at which to gaze.  You won’t want to miss them.

Capturing An Audience

Who will want to read Wandering West?  That was just about the first question to pop into my brain once I decided I had a story to tell.  One of the slew of questions that followed–from the slew of questions that never stop–is the more pertinent one: who will actually read Wandering West?  More to the point, who will even know the story exists to be read?  Without promotion, the potential reader’s discovery of a book’s existence is akin to the hiker who stumbles onto the tree deep inside the forest where the wallet was last seen.  Without having blazed a distinguishable trail to get there, the likelihood of finding that lost wallet is remote at best.

For me, by far, the most frustrating part about the entire process of writing, editing, publishing and marketing a book is the marketing–the capturing of an audience.  Before I can target that audience, I first must have an idea who comprises it.  So, who, exactly, will Wandering West appeal to?  Well, my answer to that question is rather simple.  I think it will appeal to a broad range of readers.  I hope so anyway.  After all, the book possesses many of the same ingredients that are found in other works with broad interest.  It has elements of suspense and mystery, scandal and romance, humor and tragedy.  If I do say so myself, Wandering West is funny in places, and it’s sad in places.  It’s tense in places, and it’s thoughtful in places.  It’s about life.  According to the readers to whom I have spoken, it is fast-paced, a real page turner.  Yes, I’m smiling like a proud pappa as I write that, but it’s true.  That is what they tell me, to a person.  I certainly intended to make it so.  I get bored easily.  No reader should get bored with something I write.  At every turn, Jack Stiler is confronted emotionally, and oftentimes, in physical, life-threatening ways.  Because he’s an older fellow, Jack suffers from a few of the more typical ailments of aging, so I think the older reader will identify with those things, and with Jack’s growing sense of mortality.  At some point in life, the realization that a heart has only so many beats begins to gnaw at us all.  As actively-paced and energetic as Wandering West may be, I also intended it to be poignant and thought-provoking.  I think Jack’s empathy and introspection see to that.

So, my fingers and toes are crossed in the hope that Wandering West will attract quite an audience.  The trick now is to make that potential audience aware that the book exists, that it’s now available to be read and enjoyed.  I just need a well-trampled trail to show the reader the way.  I hope you’ll help me get the word out.  An author needs all the promotional help she or he can get.  No one wants to get lost in a forest in search of a meandering and obscure trail, least of all, me.

The Message

My iPhone was on speaker, set at full volume.  “What was that?” I asked, pretending not to hear.

“I said I finished your book–and I thought it was just wonderful!” the woman’s voice sounded, excitedly, again.

Ahh, what a glorious sound it was, too: I-finished-your-book-and-I-thought-it-was-just-wonderful!  Yes, there was an exclamation point in there–I heard it.  Exclamation point!  Yes!

“And I loved the message,” she went on.  “It was a strong message.  A positive message.”  I was wondering how this lovely woman had gotten my phone number, but I wasn’t about to ask her now.  Keep the glorious sounds of music playing!  “It’s all about persevering,” she was now explaining, gloriously as ever.  “Just like your dedication page says in the front.  Jack had everything and the kitchen sink thrown at him.  The others, too.  There was one conflict after another.  It was a real page turner.  I thoroughly enjoyed it.  So much.  Well, I know you’re busy, Gary–”

The dear woman’s melodious voice was beginning to wane a tad.  The music mustn’t stop yet.  It was way too early for that.  “Yes,” I said, quickly, “Wandering West, as much as anything, is a story of redemption.  Jack is constantly faced with the age old conflict of duty versus emotion as he strives for redemption.  As  he struggles to cope.  As he searches for peace and contentment.”

“Like we all do,” she added.  “That’s what makes it so special.  Jack is any one of us.  We could be him.  Well, kinda.  I’m not so sure I could handle what he did.  But we do what we have to do, don’t we?  Well, I better let you go, Gary–I know how busy you must be.  Working on your next novel and all.  I just wanted you to know how much I enjoyed Wandering West.  And how much I look forward to the next one.”

“Thank you,” I said, wishing she wouldn’t hang up quite yet.  I still didn’t know how she had gotten my cellphone number.  Surely, there was one more song for her to sing.  If only multitudes could hear this magnificent soprano.

Oh yeah.  They can at least read the lyrics.  Right here.  And then click onto the order tab in the book section of this website.  Good idea.  Great idea!  Exclamation point!





How I came to write Wandering West

Wandering WestWhy did I write Wandering West?  What inspired me?  Or, to censor an old friend’s recent admonition, “What the heck were you thinking, putting yourself through such a gut-wrenching, thankless–self flagellating–process, and for what?”  When the subject of my having written a book comes up, these are the immediate and inevitable questions I get.  I generally stammer a bit, clear my throat and try my best to explain that writing–gulp–simply, is in my bones.  I am compelled to express my life’s observations through writing fiction, as sometimes daunting and generally inefficient as that may be.  Most people who know me aren’t aware that I have always been something of a writer.  In my twenties, I wrote several novels, acquired a literary agent and endeavored to make writing fiction a career.  After all, didn’t Faulkner get his writing career off the ground in his twenties? Didn’t Hemingway?  Didn’t all writers worth anything?  Ahh, to be so naive again.  To put it bluntly, as an author, I was not yet ready for prime time.  In my case, I hadn’t lived enough to develop the depth that my characters needed to write the type stories that inspired me.  Besides, by my late twenties, I had a family to care for, and yes, better things to do than coop myself up in front of an IBM Selectric all day.  Yes, I know.  I’m dating myself now.

Life, as they say,  got in the way, until recently.  At the time, I was in one of my contemplative moods, something I am afflicted with all too often, I’m afraid.  I was reflecting on my life, how I had gottten to this point.  I was savoring the occasional minor victory and pining over the all-too familiar traumatic defeat.  Where was I headed, now that  I could actually glimpse–however blurry the view–old age on the horizon?  It was, after all, in the not-distant-enough future.  It dawned on me that any ordinary person, placed in an extraordinary circumstance, confronted with the realization of growing older, would have a story to tell.  I had this image of an older guy wandering toward the sunset–the sunset of his life, if you will.  The title, Wandering West, then popped into my head.  I knew immediately that I would write this aging man’s story, or at least give a stab at it to see how it developed.  Once I fleshed out Jack Stiler’s character, at least in my mind, the story took on a life of its own.  That’s generally how I have always written.  I develop characters and let them tell the story.  In the beginning, this is nothing more than a vague concept, a feeling or a mood more than anything.  I have no elaborate outline, detailing this and that.  I can’t work that way. I’m as surprised as anyone when I get to point D from point C in the story.  For me, that’s what keeps it fresh and alive.   As a writer, I get hooked the way I hope the reader does.  In the case of Wandering West, I completed the story in three to four months, a rather quick pace in light of my previous writings.  I think this one was champing at the bit to get out.  If you’ve already read Wandering West, pardon the pun.  If not, get to it!   Click on the purchase button in the book section of this website.  And thanks!