I’ve been a novice. Now I’m working on my seventh novel. I’ve been writing poetry all my life and authoring articles and blog posts for a good portion of my career. I have some simple suggestions to share that may seem intuitive to some but are definitely worth considering.
First, know your craft. I would offer the analogy of building a race car. If you have never worked on this type of car before, the task would be monumental. Imagine starting the project without knowing about aerodynamics and drag coefficients. You can't depend on engineers correcting your design after the fact. Similarly, poor grammar or disjointed plotlines can be caught and corrected by editors, but you shouldn’t count on an editor to know your intent. Also, I believe you should know the rules before you break them, purposely.
Next, strive to be profound. Dictionary.com defines “profound” as “penetrating or entering deeply into subjects of thought or knowledge; having deep insight or understanding.” This should be the goal of most pieces of literary work. Whether you are writing poetry, a short story, a narrative or a full-length novel, you should include a unique point of view, aspect, comparison or conclusion to make the read interesting. Why bother spending your time writing if you are just going to repeat or regurgitate what has already been written? A narrative without insight is simply boring.
Be satisfied with baby steps. Not many great books have been written in a hurry, nor many careers made in a day. My first complete novel was actually my third attempt. When it wasn’t working, I stopped, took some time, reviewed my process, changed my strategy, and tried again. The third time was a charm. I’ve written hundreds of poems, but I started with one, then wrote another, then the next, and so on.
Network. I’m continually surprised at how many writers, even famous authors, take time to help novice and experienced writers alike. The Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers group is a prime example of this, but I’ve found this to be true in a variety of interactions I’ve enjoyed. At the RMFW Gold Conference a few years ago, after meeting several best-selling authors, I wasn’t reduced to “what was I thinking?” With their encouragement I changed my thinking to, ”I just might be able to do this!” and finished my novel two weeks later. I have paid it forward in various ways, such as assisting members of online writing groups and other aspiring authors.
Last, gather validators, including friends, family and colleagues. I’m under the opinion that critique itself isn’t enough, and too much critique can truly be counter-productive. However, readers of your genre can validate a variety of factors (or not), such as plot formation, reader interest, believability, character construction, and more. It was especially important for me to know if something was off. I was fortunate indeed to have a wife who had read hundreds of mystery and spy novels, so she was able to validate my plotlines and believability as I progressed. Reliable validation like this should be sought and cultivated.
Sometimes cultivation is what a novice needs most.
Before I go into detail about my writing process, I thought I would share a question I get quite often. This one was asked in AMAfeed.com (amafeed.com/user/47451):
Question: How do you keep your plots unpredictable without sacrificing plausibility?
My answer: Some readers might disagree that my plots are plausible... I hope they are, but let's face it, this isn't the news and it's not a story based on facts. I really focus on the characters and try to be true to their nature in any given situation. The other thing is that I believe in coincidences and have no problem having them be part of my story.
So you can see that I have my work cut out for me. In Book #7 I have six other book's worth of plots and subplots that shouldn't be repeated. In addition, movies and detective-based TV dramas are a constant and I'm always afraid once I use a plotline, it will come out in other media by someone else. For example, I had the ending of my first novel copied by one of the Mission Impossible movies (okay, maybe they never saw my book, but it came out well before the movie did). I don't want to copy plots from other work either.
So, here's my process. First up, I try to think of a few possible book titles that could spark interest. This is a two-way street in that often the plot suggests a title, but just as often it's the other way around. I spend several days thinking about possibilities for both.
Next I set up the structure on Scrivenor, the writers' word processing software I use. I like Scrivenor because it is fairly simple to publish to a number of formats, including Kindle's mobi, and allows me to storybook on the fly. I set up the title page, even without a title, a publishing info page that lists copyright notices, previous books by me, etc. I also add placeholder pages for Acknowledgments, then add in a section for About the Author, social media an review links, and another with the excerpt from the Pat Ruger short story I always include in a new book. This changes to an excerpt of the next one as soon as Chapter 1 of that book is mostly finished.
Speaking of storyboarding, that is my next project. This can sometimes take as long as the writing itself, since I need to consider sub-plots, new characters, plausibility (see my AMAfeed Q&A), length and complexity. Sometimes I leave some of the storyline to develop as I write instead of during this step. Very often, the storyboard will change as I realize that this character wouldn't do this or that plotline doesn't make sense in black and white. Also, I don't want to hold up the writing to get 100% of the story planned. I might make a chapter that says, "Pat gets out of trouble" or "The FBI is annoyed," and then think it through while I'm writing the previous chapters.
One additional step here is the first chapter, which I think have been eyecatchers in my books so far. I usually spend a lot of time prepping and planning for this.
Finally, I begin actually writing Chapter 1 and I try to write 1,500 to 2,000 words in a sitting. Sometime this is a full chapter, sometimes not. With the completion of each chapter I review the storyboard and make sure that either I'm on-plot or need to change the storyline. I do this again before beginning the subsequent chapter. After every 10,000 words, I tackle my wife and ask her to read it for context, obvious errors and other problems. She has read over a thousand books, mostly murder or spy novels, and knows a thing or two about what readers like.
At some point I assume the title and plot will stand and send ideas for the cover to my very special cover artist, Elizabeth Mackey. She sends me questions or samples and we get a final graphic completed.
Assuming I haven't gone insane, I finish the book and complete all the remaining structural pages. I publish the manuscript to various formats and send them out to my proofreading team, of which I have a few standing editors and some that change from book to book. I get all the feedback, correct mistakes and make suggested changes that make sense to me. Then I send it back to a couple of my best proofreaders.
Once I'm satisfied that it's the best it can reasonably be, I publish the ebook to Amazon.com and create the PDF (from the Word version that I've formatted for size and pagination) to send to Createspace for the print-on-demand paperback version.
There may be other small steps I've left out or forgotten, but this is basically the process I've been following since Book 3 of the Pat Ruger series.
There's a fine line that a book series needs to walk. Each novel really should be standalone, which means that you have to bring a new reader up to speed with regard to characters and history, yet not bore your series fans. So writing a series has both advantages and disadvantages. Regardless, Book 7 has begun!
The first time I heard this phrase was in the Dennis Quaid movie, "D.O.A.," one of my favorite films. Quaid plays a college English professor who had two novels published, if I remember correctly. The first one was a blockbuster and got him noticed by the university, the second received lukewarm reviews and the third book just wasn't happening.
"Publish or perish" meant that you could lose your job as a teacher or scholar if you didn't continue to produce work for the establishment who employed you, at least until you reached tenure. Independent authors have the same dilemma, in a way. Stop publishing new books and you will quickly sink into obscurity.
Fellow YouTubers may have it worse than us authors. The video market is most definitely a "what-have-you-got-for-me-right-now"-type of industry. While the occasional cat or puppy video might make several rounds on the Internet, the vast majority have one shot, and a short one. Worse, it can take 8-15 hours of their time to make one 15-minute video, so channels like "The Motorhome Experiment" and "Less Junk, More Journey" are constantly looking for fresh new locations and scenery to film, even if it means driving to the Arctic Ocean, then spend significant time editing, narrating and adding music to their pieces before needing hours of uploading time to get them to YouTube from the middle of nowhere. If they stop for any appreciable amount of time, oblivion happens quickly. Many fans and subscribers who don't get their fix quickly enough simply move on to more developed channels and more content.
I finished my latest manuscript a couple of weeks ago and am working feverishly on polishing and publishing. I will need to spend considerable time on marketing, even with help from my social media team. However, I can't sit on my laurels (do people still wear laurels?) with regards to Book #7. That work has to begin before #6 is even on the market. Even with my relatively modest reader base I was under pressure to give them the new story for their favored characters as quickly as possible.
I became an indie novelist with my eyes wide open. I adequately perceived the market and decided to self-publish, since chances of getting a traditional publishing contract were remote and would take time away from writing. The truth about "publish or perish" weighs heavily on me, but I'm up to the task.
For as long as I can remember, I've wanted to take a sunrise photo from Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park in Maine. Yesterday, I crossed that puppy off my bucket list.
Cadillac Mountain is one of the highest points on the eastern seaboard. Most people think that this peak is first to see the sun all year long, as I had thought, but we were mistaken. Even though it's not the easternmost point in the US, Cadillac's height does allow it, for roughly half the year, to receive the first rays of sunshine in the continental US. The other half of the year, from March to October, a slightly taller peak near the Canadian border has that honor. The tilt of the earth and changing position of the sun throughout the year is what causes this difference.
Regardless, as a photographer, it was still high on my bucket list. I've been camping (glamping?) the last two weeks about 20 miles from the Park, which resides on Mount Desert Island on the rocky Maine coast, and I wanted to see and photograph the sunrise there. However, another quirk of Maine's environment nearly foiled that. Almost every day I've been here it had either been raining or extremely foggy at daybreak -- until yesterday.
I had been checking forecasts twice or three times a day since I've been here and it finally appeared that Thursday would be clear. I went to bed early so I could get up at 4am to set out for Cadillac and was awakened at about 12:30am by a severe thunderstorm, one that had not been in the forecast. I decided to give it one more day and fortunately, the weather stayed clear on Thursday night. At 4am Friday morning it was as dark as midnight but I packed a brunch and headed out.
When I arrived at the park a little more than an hour before sunrise, it was quite foggy but it was starting to lift. However about a half-mile from the parking lot, cars were parked on both sides of the road. This didn't bode well. Sure enough, I drove through the jam-packed parking lot and back down the road to the end of the parking line. There must have been 500 vehicles parked in and around the mountain peak's visitor center.
I hiked through the crowd carrying my camera backpack and my own tripod, stepping down several levels of rock shelves and I was able to get to a large stone block with no other photographers in front of me. I set up just as the sun poked out of the fog. If you have never taken sunrise or sunset pictures, it's difficult to understand the excitement of the time limit you're given. The sun is moving with or without your readiness or the equipment's corporation.
One of the exciting aspects of our full-time RV'ing adventure is that these bucket list opportunities will avail themselves with some regularity. In a sticks-and-bricks home, it's just too difficult (and expensive) to take the time to do it all.
No, it's about political posts...
I grew up in the Watts-riot, Vietnam-war-protest, Cold-War era. Needless to say, I've seen passion in politics. Passion can bring about change and unite the public in ways that the news by itself cannot. After all, if you are truly concerned about your children, your grandchildren and the future of the planet, passion can be a catalyst.
However, blind passion without common sense, with only dislike or hatred at its core, can bring about stagnation, as the opposition employs the same. There are two (or more) sides to any political argument. Too often the most important thing to the supporters of a candidate, an elected official or a proposition is to win the election by any means necessary. I'm not idealistic enough to ignore 240 years of mudslinging and dirty politics in this country. However, the Internet and access to the American voter, combined with a new generation of Americans that have grown up with the Internet, have amplified mudslinging to levels never before imagined.
I have been unfollowing people recently on my personal Facebook account, even family members, not because I dislike them or even for their views, but simply because they refuse to do even the simplest fact-checking before they re-post something as long as it supports their agenda. Let me repeat, before they re-post something, meaning they don't often submit original thoughts. This re-posting mania has been the reason the Russians have been so effective at distributing fake news and political lies. There are several fact-checking websites for political statements making the rounds, such as snopes.com and factcheck.org, that will give people as unbiased an opinion about a statement as is possible and it takes only moments.
I'm not saying that all political posts are lies, either. Successful politicians often start with a truth and twist it to suit their purposes. This is why the fact-checking sites will commonly say that a specific claim in a statement or ad is somewhat true but needs context. Remember that end results from statistical analysis can be made to justify any particular view. For example, I saw a post that said that the nine states with the worst poverty levels had one thing in common, that they were all right-to-work states. Okay, so I asked the question, how many of the other 41 states were also right-to-work states? The answer was 25. So being a right-to-work state really didn't make the difference for poverty levels. The statement was literally true, but the implication that right-to-work was the root cause of poverty was incorrect, or at least gravely misunderstood.
I'm asking a few things from my friends and family. First, do a simple fact-check before you re-post or share a political statement. Second, write your own posts on occasion instead of always sharing posts from others. Last, grow a thick skin. Not everyone will agree with you and that doesn't make them bad people, or ignoramuses. It just means they have a brain of their own, and possibly interests that don't line up with yours.
One more thing about passion: just because someone has passion doesn't make them right, as the South found out in the Civil War.
I was thinking back this morning to my first ever standing ovation at karaoke... Around 25 years ago, heck, maybe it was 30 years ago, I was fairly new to singing and was at a Chinese bar/restaurant in Kennewick, WA, and my brother, Paul, was the KJ (Karaoke Jockey). I chose an easy song, "Horse With No Name," and evidently nailed it because when I finished, to my surprise, the audience of about 60 or so patrons stood up, cheering. I was taken aback.
It occurred to me that the people who started the standing O' probably didn't realize at the time that they not only made my day, but helped create a lifelong memory. It also provided me confidence singing in front of people that I didn't yet have. I'm sure none of that was on the minds of those patrons when they stood up. They just liked what they heard (and must have been America fans) and showed appreciation.
I continued to have some success in karaoke, getting occasional standing O's, winning a contest here and there, and even getting to sing a duet with Paul for a karaoke contest finals in front of a couple thousand people at a county fair. If not for that first standing ovation, maybe none of that would have happened.
The point I'm making is that small acts of kindness, even towards strangers, can have positive effects for those people, perhaps even for a lifetime. Cliche? Maybe, but the overwhelming positive feedback I received in that karaoke lounge directly affected me and my self-confidence for decades. I only hope I have helped others in this same small way.
Announcement: Below is the new cover artwork for the next novel in the Pat Ruger Mystery Series, "Oblivion Highway." My cover artist, Elizabeth Mackey, did another fantastic design and I'm delighted to reveal it.
Currently, the tentative release schedule has pre-sales available starting the end of July and the live release occurring near the first of September. For more information as it is available, be sure to subscribe to my newsletter at jackhuber.com/subscribe.html.
A few weeks back I was invited by the makers of a new web presence called "Ask Me Anything" (or AMAFeed.com). They were trying to get professionals in different industries to participate, including authors. I looked over their concept and decided it would be a great way to interact with fans and followers, and that perhaps people would ask questions they wouldn't otherwise ask on Facebook, LinkedIn or via email.
From the AMA website:
"From all walks of life and nearly every continent on the planet, we came together to build a community of passionate knowledge seekers... With a shared mission and a passion for questions, we're driven to build tools that empower our community to openly share their thoughts and experiences through AMA, the greatest interview format on earth."
I think it's a great idea and I have set up 2 Ask Me Anything events so far, one about my writing mystery novels and another about writing on the road, and both have kept me busy. You can find them at authorsama.amafeed.com/user/47451 and click on one of the AMA session headings listed. You will need to register for a free account to read anything on the site, but it's quick and easy.
I answered nearly all the questions on the day they were posted, though questions posted before the actual event starts aren't viewable until the time arrives. The second event is ongoing now and I have answered 27 questions so far.
My publicist is in process of sending out a press kit for radio stations or other media that might like to interview me while I'm on the road. It quickly occurred to me that many of the questions I'm being asked are great sample questions for DJ's and interviewers. Obviously someone wanted to know what was asked and they cover a wide gamut of ideas.
I'll be posting other AMA event after the current one closes, though I'm open for the next subject. Let me know if there is something that sounds good to you. In the meantime, if there's something on the current subject you'd like to ask, feel free to post it there. After all, you can ask me anything.
I was going to post this in my Travel blog, but it's really about my life and not so much about travel.
A lot has been written about how great it is living the good life of retirement in an RV, but now that we're into our second month, I'd like to suggest some reasons it's not so great. Mind you, I'm not advocating turning back and selling the 5th wheel, but it hasn't been all wine and roses either. Here are 9 reasons NOT to become an RV nomad:
9. You don't have a garage. Or car port. Wherever you are camping, there's probably shelter for you and your spouse from tornados, large hail and the like, but probably not for your RV, pickup or tow vehicle.
8. Local news is... well... local. Even when we find stations from far-away cities, TV news has become trivial. Do we really care that there was a robbery in Davenport, Iowa, or that there's a marathon being run in Rockford, Illinois? Not really.
7. Limited night life. Ever try to find a karaoke bar in the middle of rural Missouri or Illinois? I tried to today. No luck. Even if I find one, I hesitate being an outsider at a local redneck establishment.
6. No neighbors from Monday to Thursday. This might be a good thing for someone living in the city, but when you are hoping to meet other nomads and share some wine or other beverages, the middle of the week sucks.
5. The opposite is also true on the weekends: tons of families (and children) camp from Friday to Sunday, and we're way past dealing with kids.
4. Fuel cost. When you think about it, it makes sense. We sold our high-gas-mileage Kia because we couldn't take it with us -- we're pulling a 5th wheel with our Ford F350. But that also means that sightseeing is done using diesel at 15 mpg instead of gas at 30 mpg. Our only driveable vehicle is a gas-guzzler, or, I should say, a diesel-guzzler.
3. It feels like we're on vacation, but we're not. The temptation is always there to eat out at the local hangouts, do all the tours, drive everywhere. However, we're on a tight budget in order to sustain this lifestyle and often we have to stay put in the campground instead of spending all of our time -- and money -- as tourists.
2. Guilt. Let's face it, when you have to get up at 4:45 am every morning for years because you have a job to go to, sleeping in until 7:30 am feels great but comes with unexpected guilt. Ditto with not going to work and collecting a nice paycheck. Intellectually we both are all-in on our budget, but emotionally, we feel like we should be more productive.
1. Cleaning, fixing, prepping -- there's always something to do. When you have a bricks-and-sticks house, you have room to spare, possible even a storage or clutter room. That is a luxury we don't have in our 360-sq.-foot 5th wheel. Set a glass down on the wrong surface and the whole place looks a mess. Things break on the road, and you can't wait until something becomes serious before fixing it, since you don't want to be living in your rig while it's parked in a repair facility.
There are other reasons not to partake in this lifestyle and we're sure to learn many more of them. But, after a few weeks on the road, these are my first impressions. Feel free to add your reasons in the comments. You'll feel better.
It's taken over a year, but two Pat Ruger mysteries, "For Hire" and "Caribbean Shuffle," have been released for sale in China. Rather than relying on the Amazon-translated version, a Chinese publisher, Fiberead, agreed to take on all the novels in the series to translate and take them to market in China.
If you've ever used a translating program, you know that nuances are often lost in the conversion and the translation is practically word-by-word. This doesn't especially work well in fiction, where descriptions of action, characters and scenes, as well as dialog, can be vital to the plot and to readers' understanding of the story. Publishers like Fiberead hire translators who speak Chinese and English to manually convert books to the desired dialect of Chinese. They are able to review a section or even a chapter and make sure that nuance, context and continuity are maintained.
The next three books in the series are currently being translated and will be released on their own timetables. Subsequent books will also become Fiberead projects. More info to come...