When I started writing these stories well over a year ago, it was purely to give myself something to do. I don’t want to bore you with the details, other than to say that my lifestyle allows for a considerable amount of free time. I was already (still am) a published writer of outdoor lifestyle memoirs and humor articles and books. But when I was not being outdoorsy, there wasn’t much to write about. (It’s hard to write cool things about living on a boat and cruising all around the eastern seaboard when I was in Colorado.) I was also a published writer about sales, marketing, and business development stuff.
I had never written any fiction before, and during one very long period of inactivity, I decided to give it a shot. Unfortunately, I let my thinking get sucked down into the abyss of complacency. I thought, How hard can it be? Well, it was, indeed, hard. I thought my stories and scenes were entertaining, and my characters had some life, but at first, they were a bit jumbled up. My early output was, at best, sketchy. My grammar was putrid, punctuation was a bit of a mess, and, my God, I hate past tense.
I self-published on Amazon and Smashwords, promoted on Facebook and Twitter, and low and behold, nothing happened to them sales-wise. Zippo. Oh, I sold a few, and even got a favorable review or two, but overall, it was underwhelming.
Now, I had no illusions about sales. I don’t need the money and it wasn’t a make or break thing for me. But a little feedback would have been nice. And I did get some. Here’s what the main feedback was: too simple, good voice (my dialogs, apparently, were good), and fix my tenses. My self-made covers were pretty bland, too.
Over the last several months, I’ve poured myself into a project to do justice to the stories and characters that I have grown to like so much. I have written, rewritten, edited, re-edited, and otherwise tinkered with them to the edge of obsession. And while they are still not perfect (They never are, are they?) I think they are at the point that I can let them live on their own in the virtual world, come what may.
I am not an expert at writing, or anything else for that matter. Well, maybe I am an expert at being me, with all my foibles, and even at that, I’m still kind of sloppy at it. But I have learned some lessons through the experience.
People don’t use good grammar. However, God does. Have you ever really listened to how we mere mortals talk? Not write, but talk. We use terrible grammar, in all its forms; catch phrases, bad adverbs and adjectives, ending sentences weirdly, etc. So, when my characters are speaking in dialog, I try to give them a voice that is natural sounding. But God (that is, the narrator or expositor) does use good grammar. I mean, God would. Right?
I appreciate rules, but…. Some years back I taught myself how to play the bass guitar, and I got pretty good. I practiced my scales and technique until I got to the point that I jammed fairly decently. I also read everything I could get my hands on to hone my skills. Guess what? The entirety of the subject was as conflicted and confusing as all the available writing tips are. However, there was one bass guru, whose name I have unfortunately forgotten, gave the bit of advice I needed to really give my playing the boost I was looking for. He said that all of the practice and skill development exercises were good, but to really learn how to play the bass guitar, you have to play. He said to join just about any band you could, play to records of all different genres, or just noodle around. If I wanted to get good at playing the bass guitar, I had to play the bass guitar. Not just work on technique, but jam, make mistakes, put it out there, and grow.
For every “rule” about writing that you find, there are a plethora of conflicting rules. So, how did I reconcile all that? I follow good grammar and punctuation rules, I watch my tenses, and I write. I write every day. I write whenever I have time. And most importantly, I enjoy it. I think my writing has improved.
Pre-planning can suck the joy out of anything Now, before I go any further, I want to unequivocally say that I am not anti-planning. Quite the contrary, actually. Remember I said that I’m a boater? Trust me when I tell you that when it comes to that, I am the biggest compulsive planner that exists on the planet. But when I really bared down and decided to figure this whole fiction writing thing out, I was amazed at how complicated the planning regimens were that other writers employed. To each their own, but some of it seemed so lifeless and contrived to me. And my opinion is not a rationalization for not planning myself. What I’m writing are fantasies, adult fairy tales, whimsy, expressions of my imagination. Maybe I’m being naive, but how do you plan fancy?
When I start a new project, I sit at my computer, turn my imagination on, and I write. One of the greatest joys that I experienced in all this was to see where it took me. There have been countless times that when I wrote, the action took some interesting twist that blew my mind. “Holy crap! What the heck just happened? She did that? Did he really say that? How are they going to get out of that mess?” I have had to do some brainwork ahead of time before I delved into some parts of my writing. For instance, I had to do basic time lines of all the characters in the Unconventional Affairs Trilogy because all the events took place over a five year period, and I wanted to keep it all straight. But other than that, I wrote and enjoyed the ride.
I am my audience When I sat down and wrote all of these stories, I pretty much knew that the chance of them getting published or sold was pretty slim. I wasn’t following the right formulas, they weren’t sophisticated enough, or whatever excuse I could come up with for not trying to capitalize on them. I recognized that the settings and storylines were not positioned well in the sweet spot of mass appeal. There weren't any zombies or vampires, I guess. I didn’t have an audience. But, you know what? I did. Me.
I love these characters and stories, and I still read them just because I enjoy them. I can feel the victory and joy when Carol and Doug run into each other’s arms in the lobby of Washington-Baltimore Mortgage Company. I love following Monica as she grows so wonderfully from a shy nerdy geek to an empowered beautiful young woman. (And Gabe is one cool guy.) And, honestly, I cry when I read how Marie begs Mark not to die after he was shot by Marshal Culver in Key West. I appreciate how Amy’s opinion about Danny changes while she watches him cook breakfast for them while she sitting on his kitchen counter wearing his St. Louis Blues sweater. And, except for my wife, I think Connie Tangier is the hottest woman on the planet. I created a little world inhabited by interesting people that do interesting things. They’re fun to hang around with.
And there’s a lot of me in there too. I’m the person that likes Doctor Who, and wants a C7 Stingray. I’m a fan of the St. Louis Blues NHL hockey team. I also have spent years as a business man and have worked countless conventions. I've spent a great deal of time in both Annapolis and Charleston and think they are wonderful places. I also believe that there is no other woman in the world like my wife, and she is everything I want and need. And, perhaps most important, I believe that confidence is magic.
If you have reached this point, thank you for taking the time to get here. And, since you’re here, that makes you special, and I’ll be glad to send you a free copy of the Unconventional Affairs trilogy. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Welcome to my world. I think it’s a pretty cool place to be.