All Posts in Category: Personal Background
No, I haven’t given up writing.
That to my readers who regularly ask the related question. Thanks for asking.
Actually, I completed my third novel some time ago. I think it’s written well enough–in fact, I think it’s pretty darn good–but wife Becky thinks it’s too dark, that maybe I shouldn’t be writing that kind of stuff. Not that Where Shadows Loom didn’t have its–well, shadows. She liked it well enough, or so she said. But this third one, Water Standing, was my attempt at a full-blown dark story, a la Edgar Allen Poe with a dash of Stephen King. Or is it the other way around? However feeble some may judge the attempt, it was fun to write; dark stuff usually is. The human psyche being checkered and all.
So, we’ll see what comes of it. Maybe I’ll post chapters of Water Standing, one at a time, to gauge your interest.
Meanwhile, I write when the spirit moves me, searching for just the right vehicle of expression. I want to write something uplifting, now that I’ve tiptoed out from the standing water. Maybe a love story of sorts; I’m a sap for a good love story. Like I said, we’ll see.
Thanks again for asking about my writing. As always, I appreciate your interest, your reading of my work, and your passing the word. My marketing skills need all the word-passing they can get.
Until next time, let’s all keep reading good books. If you need an idea, I have a couple.
I just want to take up a little cyberspace to say thanks to those of you who have commented so favorably about Where Shadows Loom. As I have said many times, that means more to me than you know. For me to take blank sheets of paper–cyber or perfect bound–turn them into a story, and then have you, the reader, say it was a task well done–well, that truly is the essence of what motivates me as a writer of fiction. Moreover, my success as an author is directly correlated to your promotion of my work as a reader. In a nutshell, I depend on you.
So, thanks again for the kind words. They are at times overwhelming and yet humbling always. Now, if you will–please–turn those kind words into favorable reviews and into a subject of conversation, I will be grateful all the more. After all, a writer needs an audience, or what’s the effort for?
As I mentioned in a previous post, Where Shadows Loom will be going live before long. I still have the galley to proof and the cover design to approve–that sort of thing. Now that it’s about done, I can say I had fun writing this book, its twists and turns, developing its unsavory characters. The story is largely about greed, how it can get the better of people. One bad act leads to another and so on. It is also about one’s facing his or her fears. These characters are forced to confront issues that have haunted them throughout their lives. How they deal with these confrontations is what propels the story to its conclusion.
As you have probably figured out, Where Shadows Loom is a departure from Wandering West. Though Wandering West certainly has its episodes of suspense, Shadows is a suspense novel, a genre that seems to come naturally to me. I hope you enjoy the read, and as always, let me know your thoughts.
Meanwhile, I feel another story stirring inside these creaky old bones. Time will tell whether or not this one succeeds in nudging my quiescent brain into the manic state of writing fiction. If it appears destined to make its way onto perfect-bound paper and electronic screens, I’ll let you know.
Good question. I don’t really have a good answer, just the ‘write’ one. (Sorry, I inherited a propensity for making puns from my dad.) Actually, writing can be a royal pain in the butt. Excruciatingly so sometimes. To be honest with you, I dread the thought of it, until an idea strikes me the way a chair rocking over an outstretched tail enlivens a slumbering cat. It gets me moving, if you will.
But if writing creates such an emotional upheaval, why do it? Are you just a glutton for punishment? Are you just stupid? I refuse to answer that–and don’t you answer it. Well, why not just curl your tail between your legs–away from the blasted rocker? Another good question. I guess the answer to that is, I can’t. You must really love to write then.
I love to create. If I could paint, I suppose I would paint. If I could make music, surely I would do that. Either of those would be wonderful vehicles for creating, if only I could ride them. I know what many of you are thinking right about now. Gary, you can’t pedal the writing tricycle without a wobble either. Well, that said, we do the best we can with the tools available to us, don’t we? I create the only way I know how. In my mind, I am a painter of canvas. I am a composer of music. Only I use words rather than paintbrushes or piano keys. Words are my notes. Paragraphs are my backdrop, my rhythm; and chapters, my melody. The story is my song and I sing it as best I can. So, yes, I guess I do love to write fiction. Because that is how I create. I find my rhythm, work toward a crescendo, and then let the music play itself to a conclusion.
I hope you listen to my music. I hope you envision the image on my canvas. Creating–it’s what I am compelled to do. My painting. My song. So let the music play.
I realize this past full moon was no blue moon. How could it be? It occurred on November the sixth. It’s mathematically impossible to be a blue moon. It’s astronomically impossible.
Most full moons–blue moons included–are cause for angst. For me anyway. I dread them. I really do, in a mild, casual sort of way. Experience has taught me that full moons, more often than not, bring with them more than night shadows and starless skies. They generally bring me higher blood pressure and sometimes a bruise or two from furniture jumping in my path at the most inopportune times. There are goblins and spooks in those shadows. Pranksters for sure. I’m telling you, there are. Full moons make things happen. Most of those happenings are of the unpleasant variety. I could go on and on about my bloodied, nerve-wracked bouts with full moons, but that’s not why I’m writing this post. Not this time anyway.
I’m writing about the fact that this past full moon was a blue moon of sorts. It was one of those rare occasions when the stars align themselves to my unexpected pleasure. This time, there was a distinct lack of furniture jumping in front of my shins, and the blood pressuring through my veins was surely a meander. For once, there was no struggle between imagination and actual occurrence. My focus was harnessed in fact. The coffee table sat perfectly still. Even my heartbeat was steady, harmonious and rhythmic. Pleasant things occurred. This time, they did.
First, out of the blue–pardon me for overusing that word, but I couldn’t help myself–I got a call from my marketing person with the publisher. She imparted no startling piece of news really. She just wanted to ask how I was doing and pass along the comment that she uses Wandering West as an example for would-be authors to follow. I’m not sure what the significance is to that, but you must admit, it’s a rather kind thing to say. Especially to an author who mopes around waiting for kindly spoken comments about his book. Then, not long after I set my smartphone on my desk–without its giving even one hint of leaping to the hard, unforgiving, tile floor–I got an email from Writer’s Digest. I had long since forgotten that I had sent the publication a copy of Wandering West for a review. It so happens that Wandering West was critiqued in glowing terms. I mean, they rated it a 5 in every writing category (5 being the best on a scale of 1 to 5). The only blemish received was the publisher’s cover design which measured in at a 4. Not too shabby. I thought about pasting those comments for you here, but in some ways, it explains too much of the story for those of you who have been dilatory in picking up a copy of my book. Incidentally, you can do that right here on my website, as soon as you finish reading this post. Oh and shipping is free for the next few days with code HSQ2. Talk about blue moons. I wonder if that’s the publisher’s way of apologizing for Writer’s Digest’s sticking my cover design with a 4. I need to see if I can leverage that somehow. And speaking of picking up copies of Wandering West, I moseyed on over to my account on the publisher’s website and, to my great pleasure, discovered that I had sold more books in the past few days than I had in the entire previous month.
So, all in all, November’s full moon was not so bad an occurrence. Once in a blue moon, the full ones are like that.
As I mentioned in my previous post, I am in the process of peddling to literary agents WHERE SHADOWS LOOM, my recently-completed suspense novel set in the Eagle Ford Shale of South Texas. A few weeks ago my query letter gained the attention of a highly-regarded literary agent in New York. Needless to say, I was thrilled. Signing with a big-time agent is a big deal. It can be a game changer. Doors will likely open that otherwise would not, at least not for a little ole writer like me. This guy read my manuscript, said he found the story “very compelling,” but after mulling it over, declined to represent me because “this genre is really struggling right now.”
My question is: What genre? Suspense/Thrillers? That genre appears to me to be healthy enough. I suspect–which is all I can do since I can’t read the collective minds of the publishing establishment–the guy was referring to westerns. You see, thus far, my stories have all been set in Texas, and so, naturally, they must all be considered westerns, right? Of course, the agent knows better. He read the story, after all. But his point is well taken: would-be readers will make that assumption, right or wrong. I know that is at least somewhat true, but why? Why is a thriller set in California not pigeonholed this way? Or one set in Connecticut? Or Florida?
I can’t do much about the stereotype, and for a guy born and raised in Texas, writing stories set somewhere else that attempt to reflect life seems a bit disingenuous, pretentious even. A setting is merely the vehicle for which the writer states his/her case. WANDERING WEST is not exactly a contemporary western, though I can see where readers who read word lines and not the spaces between them might draw such an incomplete and inaccurate conclusion.
So you be the judge. Below is the body of my query for WHERE SHADOWS LOOM. You tell me, after reading it, whether or not you deem the premise to be a western of sorts or a thriller of sorts. If you want to call it a contemporary western thriller, so be it. I can live with that, so long as that loose interpretation doesn’t prejudice your thinking before actually reading the story.
Wendall Connor isn’t sure what to believe anymore. His mind has begun to play tricks on him. After seven years in the NFL, he has suffered concussion more times than he can count. And what can he do about it anyway? A throbbing mass of mangled flesh and splintered bone, his body is held together by little more than titanium steel, surgical glue, and the sheer determination to put off the next surgery for as long as he can.
But he has to do something. Who else is there?
His friend and neighbor across the street, U.S. Senator Juanita Guajardo’s son, and the loan officer at the bank are both missing. Wendall left them alone for only a few minutes and now they’re gone. Are their stories true, as fantastic as they seem, or is this another distortion created in Wendall’s addled mind?
Did his friend and business associate, Conrad Murphy, really kidnap Sergio Guajardo? Would he really murder Lester Russell? Wendall Connor knows Conrad Murphy is selfish and demanding. He’s well aware that Conrad’s business empire is struggling, and he once witnessed Conrad’s violent temper firsthand. But is the man so desperate he would steal public funds and then kill Lester Russell because the poor guy overheard the details of that scheme?
WHERE SHADOWS LOOM is an 82,537-word suspense novel set in a rugged, desolate area of the Eagle Ford Shale oil play in South Texas where the boom has gone bust.
So that’s my basic query for attracting the interest of agents and publishers. Regarding the genre, let me know your thoughts. A writer trying to break preconceptions in a world of preconceptions needs all the help he can get.
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?
Do you do that, too? Do you search for the fiery dragon and find only the creaky old windmill? I know I do. I have a tendency to hear the squeak and, therefore, see only the rust. Nevermind the fact that the blades are, otherwise, shiny and oiled. The blasted thing is still turning! But the squeak! It’s maddening! Well, that’s human nature, I guess. Especially when it’s our squeak we’re hearing, and our blade with the rust that we’re seeing. That’s kind of where I am these days where writing is concerned. I’m listening hard for that squeak, and if I listen hard enough, I’m sure gonna hear it.
Can a story move too fast? Can it be too tight? Have I fleshed out too many characters? Not enough? Have I spent too much time on this scene, and not enough on that one? I’ve been asking myself questions like these quite a lot lately. First drafts are like that, you know. Insecurity abounds. What will the reader think of this? Of that? Well, as Willie Shakespeare himself wrote, “To thine own self be true.” Everyone has to have a rudder to get anywhere in life, right? Mine is channeled pretty deep after these so many (yes, many) years. So, despite the insecurity, I press on with the original draft of my new novel, WHERE SHADOWS LOOM. Actually, I’m feeling better about things just telling you about them now. Thanks, future reader. I’ll let you know more as I channel on. I’ve got a can of 3-in-1 oil right here beside me, should I hear another squeak, whether I need it or not.
Now where is that fiery dragon? I need it for my next scene. I know it’s around here somewhere.
Just so you will know, my sleeves are rolled, my reading glasses are perched over my nose, and I’m hovered over my keyboard the way a mother pigeon flutters over her squab. I’m hard at work on my next novel, WHERE SHADOWS LOOM. Like any expecting parent, I’m excited about the prospects but a little anxious about the results.
Writing is hard work. Writing well is exacting, hard work. As Sir Francis Bacon wrote (And I’ll quote it the way my dad did rather than how it was written because I like the sound of it a little better.): “Conversation maketh the ready man, reading maketh the learned man, but writing maketh the exact man.” No truer words were ever written, about communication at least. Conversation, indeed, prepares us to communicate offhand, which, by its very nature, lends itself to inaccuracies. Reading certainly teaches us, provides us with that precious gift of knowledge. It gives us the authority with which to communicate intelligently. But, as Bacon’s quote so eloquently states, writing–writing well–forces us to express what we mean and to mean what we express. I can assure you, writing well–saying what you mean and meaning what you say–is harder than it sounds. It is a struggle, a slog through a grueling process, that is matched only by the exhilaration of the creative process.
So, I toil away, reminded of Dad’s admonition and Bacon’s eloquent insight. Beyond that, I can only hope for the best. That great beyond is in your hands, the reader’s hands. When the time comes–should WHERE SHADOWS LOOM be deemed of sufficient quality to be published–I hope you’ll give this old, bleary-eyed writer his due. Read my work. All any author can ever ask for is to be read.
I know what you’re thinking about now. Here you are almost through reading this post and Gary still hasn’t told us one blasted thing about WHERE SHADOWS LOOM. What the heck is it about? Well, you’ll just have to stay tuned to future posts for answers to that question. I will tell you that I’m excited about it. I’m having fun with my flawed characters and the mounting circumstances they find themselves in. It is a rather tense work with many moving parts. Keep your fingers crossed that ole Gary can pull this one off. And stay tuned for any future developments I happen to divulge.
Oh, and while you’re staying tuned (Thank you very much!), if you haven’t already done so, give a look to a previously toiled-over piece of fiction I wrote, WANDERING WEST.
I 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.