Friday, December 20, 2013

NaNoWriMo -- Why?

National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo for short, is either the largest concentrated waste of time ever created, or it's the most ingenious idea ever fashioned by editors and self-publishing companies, the prime beneficiaries of such an event.
 
More than 300,000 would-be authors entered this year.  It’s a mystery as to how many actually met their goal of producing a manuscript of at least 50,000 words, and it's a bigger mystery as to how many of these novels will actually get read.  

For an entire month, husbands disappeared into their dens, kids made their own meals, and employees dozed off at their desks after typing into the night--all to stay on pace with 2,000 words a day. Daily routines were tossed into the air, but somehow NaNoWriMo writers still found time to tell their pseudo-friends on Twitter and Facebook what page they were on--the writer's version of a cyber high five to fellow entrants.
The promoters and participants accept that some amount of “crap” comes out the end of the NaNoWriMo 30-day digestive system.  They say it’s as much about the creative process and getting new talent interested in writing as it is the quality of the manuscripts. And who can argue with bringing more creativity into the world?    
Still, it's my guess there are 300,000 new manuscripts in need of a good editor.  And who knows, with a good scrubbing, maybe several great novels will result from this process.  With 300,000 entrants, the laws of probability come into play.
Now, before a quarter million NaNoWriMo authors point to my  book sales in an attempt to discredit my perception of this event, let me say my comments are not personal.  It’s not about the NaNoWriMo contestants, some of which are among my pseudo-friends on Facebook and Twitter.  It’s about me and the enigmatic attraction to this contest. I’ve never understood it, so I've never entered.  It may be my loss.

But really, couldn’t 300,000 intelligent, creative people find something more constructive to concentrate their efforts on in November?  Don’t any of you play fantasy football?                                          

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Prioritizing Your Time for Writing


Prioritizing your time--everyone has to do it, especially writers. Writing takes time and lots of it.  So, how do you decide where and when to position your writing time?
I’m fortunate to be retired and living off my prior 32 years of hard work, but I know many writers have day jobs, and for them, 9am to 5pm is taken. So, prioritization of their remaining time is even more important.  
My approach for prioritizing time doesn’t apply universally to all writers.  I recognize there are writers who are moms with young kids, doctors, adults caring for elderly parents, firefighters, teachers, and people from other challenging walks of life.  Demands on people’s time vary greatly.  I get that, and I’m not saying my approach works for everyone.  I’m just saying everyone needs to prioritize.  Consider my ideas as food for thought—nothing more.
I’ve found I need to arrange my time into two buckets: my time outside of writing and the time I specifically dedicate to writing. 
My activities outside of writing are grouped and prioritized as follows:
1.      Family and Friends - Time with family and friends always takes top priority. It doesn’t really matter what form or how long it takes.
2.      Exercise - At 60, taking care of my aging body is a high priority.  I dedicate 30 to 60 minutes a day to stay in shape. Still, you won’t see me in any of those bare-chested, cowboy and firefighter photos posted by romance authors on Facebook and Google+.     
3.     Home Care - Shit just happens and you can’t put it off. Caring for things associated with home ownership takes time.  Anyone who owns a home knows what I’m talking about.
4.     Vacations - Everyone needs to get away, even if it’s just once or twice a year on a three-day weekend. My wife and I try to take several trips each year, alone, and to places not associated with work or to visit family. But I have to admit, I’ve done some writing while on vacations.
5.      Writing - This is where writing activities fit into my list.
6.      Hobbies - Whatever free time I have after the above, I spend on my hobbies.  
From this list, it appears writing is low priority for me, but in reality, I spend four to six hours per day writing and with activities associated with writing.  Most of this time is either early morning or late in the evening, allowing plenty of time to be with my wife and to care for the other higher priority items on my list.    
My writing activities are grouped and prioritized as follows:
1.     Writing - Writers need to write. I write novels and short stories. Once I’m into a new book or short story, I spend 75% of my time dedicated to that work, backing away sparingly to update my blog, to read, or for marketing activities.
2.     Blogging – My blogging consists of posting: original articles on writing (like this one), author interviews, short stories, and book reviews.  I find most authors have a blog to create a following, and that is the primary purpose for my blog.  I also find it’s a way for readers to review my short stories.  My goal for posting to my blog is one original article per week, one new author interview per week, one original short story per month, and one or two new author book reviews per month.  It’s aggressive, but so far, I’ve been able to stick to that schedule.
3.     Reading – In addition to my casual reading, I commit to one or two new author book reviews per month. As with my author interviews, once I commit, I follow through and will dedicate whatever time is needed to complete the review and get it posted.
4.     Marketing - I wish I had a better approach to marketing my writing.  I wrote about it in a prior blog entry, but admittedly my marketing falls to the bottom of my writing activities. My marketing is just me, but is multifaceted.  You can read more on my approach at It’s Time for a Marketing Plan.
So, that’s enough time dedicated to this blog post. I need to get back to my next book in the Miles Stevens series.    

Sunday, November 24, 2013

What's Next for Miles Stevens ?


In book one of the Miles Stevens series, MELTING SAND, Miles and his CIA partner, Terri King, are sent back in time from the year 2050 to stop geopolitical dominos from tumbling toward a 2027 nuclear war in the Middle East.  You’ll need to read MELTING SAND to find out how Miles and Terri fare in their mission.  I won’t give it away here, other than to assure you that Miles does return!
I’m now beginning the second book in the series, and I’m looking for reader feedback.  Specifically, what disaster should Miles be sent to stop next? 
The event challenging Miles in book two can occur any time before the year 2050, the year in which he and his CIA handlers are based.  It should be worthy of the involvement of Miles and the CIA’s newly formed Department of Historic Intervention (DHI).  Some ideas I’m considering include the following, all taking place in the year 2030:
1. A series of biochemical attacks of U.S. installations around the world -- The unknown perpetrators are randomly selecting sites and altering their delivery systems to keep the U.S. military and intelligence organizations on their heels, their ultimate target being Washington, D.C. 
2. A cyber-attack targeting military intelligence and financial I/T systems of the U.S. and its allies -- The impact from these attacks cripples U.S. defense systems and is rapidly bringing worldwide financial systems to a halt.
3. Orbiting satellites are tumbling to earth, crashing into major cities, killing thousands -- A newly formed terrorist group gains access to laser-guided technology capable of redirecting these satellites to targeted locations on earth.  The terrorists are ramping up their demands of the U.S. and its allies to stop their onslaught.   
So, there you have it.  You can vote for one of these three, or give me one of your ideas for the challenge Miles should face next.   
I look forward to reading your suggestions, and by commenting  below you're registered in this month's GIVEAWAY for a chance at a $20 Amazon gift card.  

Sunday, November 3, 2013

A Short Story. . . Hmmm


I’d always wanted to write a novel.  I don’t know why.  Maybe I envisioned myself attending cocktail parties in a tweed sport coat, discussing character development with groups of my admiring readers.  Well, I’ve self-published three books, and the closest I’ve come to this daydream was at a book fair where I was mistaken for someone else.  I guess my sport coat threw them off.
I’m still chasing the novelist’s dream, but I have recently discovered a challenging, fast-paced, bite-sized writing experience – short stories.   Definitions vary, but a short story is typically defined as something comfortably read in one sitting, usually 1,000 to 5,000 words. 
I’d always thought that “real writers” wrote novels, but I may have been living in a fool’s world.  There are several famous authors who’ve come by way of the short story: Poe, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Bradbury, King (as in Stephen), O. Henry, and Asimov to name just a few.  
I’ve found writing short stories can be rewarding for many reasons.  Here are but a few:
1.  Short stories provide immediate gratification, and I’m big on IG.  My three novels have been around 90,000 words each, taking 8 to 12 months to write.  I can kick out a 2,500 word short story in a week or less, including editing.  It gives you the chance to explore and write about a range of subjects in a short period of time.   And if one of them sucks, well, it only took a week.
2.   You learn to be concise.  You can’t waste words when you need to set scenes, develop plot(s), and build characters in less than 5,000 words.  It’s a good exercise for all writers, novelists and short story writers alike.
3.   There are tons of writing competitions to benchmark your skills and receive critical feedback. Weekly, monthly, and annual short story competitions can be easily found -- ranging from small prizes to major recognition from publishers.
4.   Short stories are popular.  While it’s true magazine publishers have diminished in recent years, there remain several venues for short stories: literary magazines, online literary journals, consumer magazines, and books of short story collections. This isn’t to say that finding a publisher for a short story is any easier than for a novel, but at least there are many avenues to explore.
5.  We have become a mobile reading society with smartphones and notepads everywhere, and short stories are a perfect fit.  They’re easily read on a commute to work, or while jogging on a treadmill, or over a quick lunch at a coffee shop.  There’s no need for bookmarks – one sitting and you’re done.
6.   Posting short stories to your blog or website (yours or from guest authors) is a great way to add variety and interest to your site.
So, give it a whirl.  Pick a topic and write away. 

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Self-publishing - It's Okay by Me


In today’s world of self-publishing, there are few limitations to putting Author behind your name. Each year, tens of thousands of aspiring, new writers sit down at their keyboards and begin their journey to becoming an author.  What they write about is as varied as their backgrounds.     
In the past, a handful of publishers determined what manuscripts made it to print and into the hands of readers.  The odds of new writers having their first book published were only slightly better than a Republican becoming mayor of Chicago.   As a result, it was only the most determined and best trained writers who prevailed.  If you were published, you probably had been a writer for many years, or you had a formal education in literature or composition, or you got lucky, or all of the above.
With today’s print-on-demand and e-book technologies, cooks, teachers, salesmen, bankers, moms, dads, coaches, and politicians are all becoming self-published authors.  Some have had little or no formal education in writing beyond high school composition, but that doesn’t slow down their fingers from rattling across their laptop keyboards and producing 80,000 word novels.  By definition, they are now authors.  
The ever-increasing volume of self-published books has some concerned with the perceived “lower quality” writing now reaching readers, even calling for self-publishing guidelines or requirements that must be met.  I’m not among the concerned, and I would feel this way even if I were not a self-published author.  Sure, with tens of thousands of new authors each year, the quality of writing will be inconsistent, but it’s a free enterprise system, and readers will quickly sort through their likes and dislikes.  After all, most self-published books are reasonably priced, and often the first several chapters can be downloaded at no charge before readers need to make a purchase decision. 
I’ve been posting interviews of aspiring, self-published authors on my blog, and I’ve found the experiences of these authors diverse and intriguing.  And in many cases, their writing is quite good.  I’ve also found many of these authors just enjoy writing and sharing their work with as many readers as possible.  Fame and fortune are not typically among their top motivations.  And it's a good thing, because most will sell fewer than a hundred copies of their books. They simply strive to improve their product and enjoy their writing journey. To my point, I’ve recently come across an author who had moonlighted as a professional wrestler many years prior, and he's currently working on a Master’s degree in English and has published several novels. 
I say let the cooks, teachers, salesmen, bankers, moms, dads, coaches, politicians (and professional wrestlers) write and self-publish as much as they want.  I look forward to perusing their book covers and reading many of their books.  And by the way, a few of these authors  who start out self-published do make it.  Ever hear of John Grisham?
Here's another interesting article on self-publishing - http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-jim-taylor/are-self-published-author_b_4017301.html

Thursday, October 17, 2013

It’s Time for a Marketing Plan


I’ve self-published three novels, yet I’m still not sure I’ve come up with the right approach to marketing my books. If the goal of a marketing plan is to maximize sales and improve brand image, I haven’t seemed to make much progress.  In fact, my sales haven’t improved much from book one to book three.
Most self-published authors will tell you that marketing is the toughest job they face.  I’ve found it to be the case for me as well.  It’s difficult to balance time writing with establishing and executing a marketing plan.  But without a comprehensive plan, indie authors' works will likely be viewed only by friends, family, and whatever small following they create via emails, Facebook, and their website/blog.  I’ve seen surveys* estimating half of self-published authors sell fewer than two hundred books and earn less than $500 per year.  There are a lot of reasons for these low sales, but ineffective marketing is clearly one of them.
Many authors are uncomfortable selling -- not because it’s hard work (which it is) -- but because it comes off as self-serving.  When I claim, “My book provides riveting drama from chapter one through the final page,” I can almost hear the reaction of the reader.  “Yeah, yeah. I’m sure your child is brilliant. Whose isn’t?”  It would be much easier to turn the marketing reigns over to an agent and/or publisher, but that requires a costly marketing budget or landing a deep pockets publisher – neither an option at this point.   
So what’s a self-published author to do?  After two book launches, I’ve learned from my shortcomings and composed a list of work items where I need to improve.  Fortunately, I still have time to apply this plan to my latest book, MELTING SAND, published this month.
1.       Focus on the product.
Without a quality product, marketing is futile. This means writing comes first and then editing, editing, and more editing before publishing.  My editor and I take three passes at the manuscript before I make the final proof available to beta readers for their feedback.  With my latest novel, I also put the first chapter on my blog where dozens of readers provided their thoughts.  I do believe I’ve made progress in my writing and editing with each novel I’ve published, but there’s always room to improve – always.
2.       Begin marketing before your first draft is complete.
Let readers know how your writing is going. Posting short blog and Facebook updates about your book’s progress is a good way to do this.  Some authors even create a separate Facebook page for their upcoming novel.  I recommend building interest gradually and not overdoing it – maybe post one update a month and then more frequently as you approach the launch.  Also, once you have something to share (like a first chapter), post it to your blog or website.  These activities don’t take too much time away from writing, and they’re a good way to build interest.  I’ve done some pre-publication communications in the past, but not as consistently as I should have.
3.       Put as many oars in the water as possible.
I’ve found social media is necessary but not sufficient.  Most authors use Facebook, Twitter, blogs, websites, and e-mail, but these alone will not drive books sales.  And if you overdo pushing your book on social media, the effect can be negative.  With my first two books, I relied too heavily on social media. I should have engaged other channels and resources.  Going forward I plan to deliver press releases to local newspapers, schedule book signings and appearances at bookstores, libraries, and radio programs, and solicit space on author/reviewer blogs and websites.  There’s no question these marketing activities will take time away from writing, but I’ve decided it is work that I must do if I expect to find and grow readers.
4.       Include interesting, consistent, and professional content on your blog and website.
Attract readers and writers to your blog and website by offering interesting articles, author interviews, book reviews, etc.  While it’s fine to market your books on your blog, it should be balanced with “consistent content” that readers and writers view as interesting and valuable.  If you update your blog regularly and let readers know what to expect, they will return. 
5.       Benchmark your work.
There are dozens of writing contests and reviews available for you to submit your manuscripts. Some very large and prestigious, others on a lesser scale.  Some have hefty entry fees, others are free.  With the exception of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award, which I entered with my first book, I haven’t submitted my work to any of these contests or reviews, but I plan to.  It not only tells you how you stack up to others in your field/genre, but it gets your name and work visible, especially if you receive a few favorable reviews.
6.       Join and participate in writing forums and groups.
This is not marketing in the strictest sense, and writing forums and groups are not where you should be “pushing” your books, but they do provide a source for learning about what other authors are doing to be successful, and through sharing your ideas and experiences, they also help to get your name and work known.  Goodreads, LinkedIn, and other social sites have writing and author groups and are a great place to start.
Okay, that’s my plan.  It’s taken me three years of writing to figure out my marketing has been lacking in both consistency and content.  Hopefully, a year from now I’ll look back and say this plan was the turning point. 
 

Monday, September 23, 2013

Rainbows - What they say about you


This rainbow appeared late in the afternoon following a brief shower.  I was on a deck with friends who noticed it simultaneously. I thought how they reacted described more about them than they realized. 

"Refraction at work," one person said.  "There's a pot of gold out there in those trees," another quipped.  "I used to love rainbows as a kid," a third person offered. 
  
To me, immediately explaining the wonders of a rainbow as refraction, or as light rays being bent at varying wavelengths through a prism of water, signals that the 'mystery of nature' has been replaced by the 'reality of science' for this person.  That's not always a good tradeoff, even if the explanation was true. 
 
Thinking first of the pot of gold shows that whimsy still plays a role in this person's life.  They know there's no pot of gold in the trees, but at some point in their life they probably believed there was, and even now, they likely want to believe. 
  
Associating a rainbow with childhood experiences says this person has pleasant memories of those times.  Their youth was likely filled with other happy memories, rainbows being just one.
 
While it's obviously unfair for me to label anyone by their fleeting comment after witnessing a rainbow, it made me think of my own reaction and what it said about me.  I won't share that here.  
 
            "You can't enjoy a rainbow without first enduring clouds and rain,
             yet not every storm will guarantee you a rainbow." -- Unknown

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Twitter Town


 
I grew up in a small, Midwestern town of less than 1,800 people.  Most of the families have lived there for several generations.  There are few strangers and fewer secrets in my hometown.  My high school graduating class had 50 students whom I’d grown up with since kindergarten.  Over 40 years later, I can still name them all.  So when I see that I have over 7,000 followers on Twitter, I have to stop and put it in context of this background.
Social media didn’t exist when I was in high school.  Hell, it didn’t exist through most of my working career.  I discovered it in the past five years, about the time I started writing.  I wanted to learn more about others diving into my new avocation, so I jumped on the Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads and LinkedIn treadmill and hung on for dear life.
What I’ve learned is there are few parallels between my 7,000 Twitter followers and the 1,800 residents of my hometown.  First off, I know very few of my Twitter followers, maybe a dozen or so I recognize when their Tweets fly by.  These are the same dozen that Retweet my messages on a regular basis, and I theirs.  We occasionally share a URL of interest, or we might even go so far as to link to each other’s blogs or share our Facebook pages.   
These 7,000 followers obviously don’t live in the same small town.   In fact, nearly one-third of them don’t even reside in the U.S.   They reside in a “virtual town” where they have congregated around common interests instead of common terrain.  In my case, their interests are writing, reading, editing, and reviewing books, but they could just as easily be pop music, political causes, or cooking.  You know the minute someone new sets foot in my hometown, but it’s hard to put a fence around my virtual literary town, and I’m not sure it would be a good idea, anyway. Although, I do find myself ‘unfollowing’ the occasional weirdo that breaks in.    

So, why bother with this?  What’s in it for an aspiring, middle-aged author?  Well, like I said before, it was originally a way to learn about others with common interests.  It’s worked well in that respect. I’m not sure I know any of them well enough to invite them on vacation, but I’ve benefited from their views and ideas.
I’d also hoped that it would be a way to develop a following for my writing, but I’ve learned that marketing on Twitter, Facebook and the other sites is not that easy.  In the bat of an eye, they can pass by your Tweets or Posts, paying them no interest.  As an example, if I send a Tweet asking my 7,000 followers to check out a new blog post I’ve written, I might get five hits to my blog in the next hour – not all that effective, but it’s something. 

I’m still learning about how to be more successful in social network marketing. There are tons of articles on the subject. Most of them recommend: look and stay professional, be consistent with your messaging, don’t sell too much, include interesting articles and ideas, etc., etc.  It all makes sense.  After all, my virtual town only knows me through my Tweets.  They didn’t know my family or grow up with me from kindergarten.  There are only 50 classmates who did, and most of them already have my books.   

Monday, September 16, 2013

In Sickness or in Health -- Really?


I just came through a tough cold. It was the typical mucousy, stuffy head, fever, cough 'till your chest explodes kinda cold. I'm rarely sick, so when I come upon one of these spells it reminds me that health is everyone's number one priority. Everything else is a distant second. 
      It also brings to light one of my largest faults. I am a TERRIBLE patient. When I'm sick, nothing satisfies me, and everything irritates me. My wife does the only thing any reasonable person can do. She retreats to the far end of the house leaving me to live or die on my own. When my coughing begins to subside, and she no longer hears me rustling around for meds and canned soup, she gradually returns to see if I've survived. She says, "I'm glad you're feeling better," as if nothing has happened, and life continues.
      Neither I nor my wife really played out in our minds the reality of what "in sickness or in health" really meant before we blurted out  "I do," but then if we had, the ceremony may not have reached "You may now kiss the bride."

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Book Reviews


As a writer, your novels become your children.  You’re blind to their faults, but you know they’re there.  It’s okay if you notice the imperfections and make an effort to correct them, but when others shine a light on them, you become protective, defensive, possibly even a little agitated.  It’s somewhat natural for writers to feel this way.  After spending months, or even years, crafting your novel and exposing your innermost thoughts and imagination, you become proud of the total work.  The characters become real. The story, even if fiction, begins to border on reality. So, when a review is posted highlighting your misuse of tense in chapter 9, you begin to wonder why you expose yourself to such rigorous inspection.   
       Here’s why.  As much as you disdain nitpicky criticism, you need it to improve.  Just as runners strive for faster times and climbers pursue higher peaks, writers seek approval that can only come from constantly improving their product.  There is a unique difference for writers, though.  Runners face their time, and climbers face the terrain above them, but writers face the opinions of hundreds, hopefully thousands, of readers.   For writers, it’s a numbers game.  You will never please everyone, but for some reason, writers will always try.   You may have dozens of five-star ratings on Amazon, but it’s the few two-star ratings that will have you reading and re-reading their comments, analyzing their credibility and accuracy. 
       In the end, there’s only one thing worse than getting a bad review -- it’s getting too few.  We need the feedback.  We want to know that readers care about what we write.  We log on every day to Amazon and goodreads to see how many and what kind of reviews we’ve received.  When we get an especially good one, we wave it triumphantly like a flag on our Facebook page for all to see.
       Still, our novels are our children.  We bring them to life.  We direct their future.  It’s up to us to determine how and if we use the feedback to continue shaping them.  We only hope readers will continue to share their thoughts and give us that chance.        
 
 
      

Friday, August 16, 2013

Draft is Complete - The Work Begins


It's time to break out the Chardonnay.  I just finished the final chapter of Melting Sand - The Preview, the first book in a series featuring Miles Stevens, CIA agent, and his travels back in time to alter world events. By the way, I’m aware that Cab and a cigar is more in vogue, but I continue to be a tobacco free Chard writer.  

The draft is just over 90,000 words and 395 pages. Oddly, within a couple thousand words of where my first two novels ended. I’m pleased with the characters, story, and energy of the book, but now the real work begins, turning 395 pages of draft into a novel.  This is the tough part, but I hate spending months writing a novel and then having a reader start off a review telling me I changed tense twice in the same paragraph. Ugh!!!

The first chapter of Melting Sand can be seen on my blog at
 http://drshoultz.blogspot.com/p/chapter-1-october29-2027-friday-evening.html

Friday, August 9, 2013

Multiple Genres


I'm trying my hand at a YA paranormal novel-- UNINVITED VISIONS. It's the story of Robert Bates, a Belton, Illinois high school senior, who finds himself with powers of premonition and able to foresee tragic events.  As he struggles to disrupt these events, he discovers other Midwestern teenagers with similar powers.  They team up in an attempt to remove these visions of terror from their lives. The story takes place in the Midwest in  the late 1960s. 
 
I actually wrote UNINVITED VISIONS over a year ago and set it aside, but I've recently read it and think that I'll take some time after I finish my current project to brush it up and publish it. 
 
My first two novels, CORRUPT CONNECTION and BETTER LATE THAN EVER are adult fiction suspense novels, as is the novel I'm currently writing, MELTING SAND.  I struggled with the idea of writing across multiple genres.  After all, I'm an aspiring writer and still trying to find my identity and gain credibility in the highly competitive space of  fictional suspense novelists.
 
I've decided the best way to improve my writing is to write -- and then write some more.  As long as I focus on my intended audience, develop believable characters, and deliver a compelling story, it shouldn't matter what genre in which I chose to write.  What matters is delivering on the characters and the story and entertaining the target audience.

You can read the first chapter of Uninvited Visions on my blog at
http://drshoultz.blogspot.com/p/chapter-1-friday-night-december12-1969.html

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

BOOKENDS

Bookends -- Our house is filled with them.  In the forms of duck heads, bears, sea shells, wooden blocks, candles, flower pots and bricks, they rest among the shelves and table tops supporting the books that we've read over the years.

 My favorite bookends are atop my writing desk and encase the novels I've written and continue to write.  Two are published, CORRUPT CONNECTION and BETTER LATE THAN EVER.  Two remain works in process, UNINVITED VISIONS and MELTING SAND.  Seeing them sitting between the duck heads in clear view gives me motivation to continue, knowing much has been accomplished and that much more remains.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Do Overs -- Would you?


Still in your pajamas, you gingerly retrieve your newspaper from the center of your shrubs, unsuccessfully avoiding the thorns of the barberry bushes.   Your right forearm has become permanently scarred from this morning exercise.  Glancing down the street, you see your pimply-faced paperboy rounding the corner on his motor scooter.  He’s flipping papers behind his back in the general direction of front porches.   One of these days you’ll actually catch him – One of these days!
With the work on your office desk already haunting your thoughts, you take your first sip of coffee¸ still standing in front of the coffee pot with the newspaper under your arm.    The family cat hears your bagel pop from the toaster and takes a Pavlovian leap onto the kitchen counter. Shoo! Get down.  It’s too late.  Whisker prints already adorn the butter dish.   The bagel is partially burned, but time is short.  It will have to do.  
Finally reaching the breakfast table, you unfurl today’s tabloid and lean forward, peering through the bottom half of your glasses.   In the lower right hand corner on the inside front page, an ad with a picture of an Aladdin’s lantern catches your attention.  The words Do Over were being formed by the cloud of smoke seeping from its spout.   The ad read – Pick one DO OVER from the following list. Delivery Guaranteed!  A ridiculous claim, you are intrigued and start down the list.
Education – Don’t like your degree? Pick a new school and diploma.
After thinking about it, you realize a degree in animal husbandry from Beloit Tech might not have been the best choice.  The only animal in your life just smeared his face in your butter.  You move to the next item on the list.
Relationships – Tired of your spouse or significant other?  Pick someone else.
You immediately think about the girl you took to your high school prom twenty-two years ago.  She’d become a cosmetic surgeon.  At your twenty-year reunion, your classmates wore their graduation pictures on their lapels.  She looked like hers.  You think, This item has potential, and you move on.
Career – Hate your boss? Want more money?  Tell us. We’ll make it happen.
Having worked the past fifteen years for your father-in-law as a buyer for his food distribution company, you take a long sip from your coffee mug and begin to daydream.  As a smile expands across your face, careers as a captain of a South Seas cruise ship, lead singer in a rock band, first baseman for the Red Sox, and male model all pass through your thoughts. Rudely, your daydream bubble is popped by your wife yelling from the back bedroom, “You’re going to be late! Daddy’s expecting you early today!”   This do over takes the lead as you move to the next item on the list.
Family – Were you switched in the hospital at birth?  Do you wish you had been?  Pick a new last name.
With each new suggestion, you are hoping more and more that the ad’s claims are real.  Images of your life as a Buffet, Gates, Trump, Walton, or Zuckerberg flash into your mind.  But mom and dad would miss me you think before remembering the call you received from your brother last night.  He was late on another car payment.  Your dad had sent him to you this time.  Yeah, I’d pick Gates.  He seems like a laidback kinda guy.   You tear the ad from the corner of the paper and set it to the side.   There’s no need to read further.  You’ve made up your mind.  But one more item remains.
Happiness – Are you as happy as you could be?  Choose endless happiness.
Damn!  Just when you thought life as a Gates was all you’d ever want, they offer you endless happiness.   This choice screws up the logic you’ve used on the previous items, as convoluted as it may have been.  You start to think of the times you’ve been the happiest: at parties with your friends, driving in the winning run in your company’s softball league, at dinner with your spouse to celebrate your latest pay raise, attending your son’s graduation and your  daughter's wedding.  Choosing any of the previous Do Overs would, or could, erase these happy times.  What could they offer that would make me happier?  
Your cat jumps onto your lap, interrupting your thoughts.  You stroke his back a couple times as you take a final look at the ad lying on the table.  You pick up the scrap of paper and wad it up before rising to get ready for work.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Oh, to be an artichoke plant

I've always thought that as we aged we should not only become more wise, but we should also become more attractive.  Unfortunately for the human race, our good looks and wisdom cross, headed in opposite directions, somewhere in our 40s. I haven't done a lot of research on this, but let me know the next time you find a wise 28-year-old.  And if you get a close-up of the Three Wise Men, you'll see they are all AARP eligible -- and they're not the most attractive trio in Jerusalem.

It seems if I had only been born as an artichoke plant, my wish to age beautifully would have been granted.  If you neglect this plant past its prime and fail to harvest its fruit, it morphs into a beautiful deep purple blossom.  It spends most of its life as an average-looking plant before reaching its peak, when it produces a pineapple-looking fruit that 'foodies' like to toss onto everything -- even pizza.  I'd like to propose we save our pizzas and instead enjoy the beautiful purple flowers.

I've just recently learned about the artichoke's ability to transform as it ages, which implies my wisdom is still in the process of evolving, and my looks have not yet completely eroded.  But alas, the end of the transformation is nearing for me.  There is no purple flower in my future, only grey hair, wrinkles, and the shift of my center of gravity toward my belt.  Oh, to be an artichoke plant.  

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Dear Friend Available



I recently had to put my dear canine companion, Deacon, to rest.  He and I had a great 12 ½ years together, but it’s never easy when it’s time to say goodbye.  That’s why it’s impossible for me to imagine over 4 million potential loving pets being euthanized every year in the U.S.  Of the 6 to 7 million dogs and cats taken to community animal shelters, over 60% are eventually put to death.
The 5,000 community animal shelters across the U.S. do amazing work to save as many animals as they can, but they need help – money, food, volunteers, advocates, and most of all, caring homes.  Your contribution can potentially save the life of a devoted feline or canine friend, making a huge difference in their life and enhancing the life of a future owner.  To ensure your contribution gets directly to these needy pets, it’s best to give to your community shelter.  You can find the animal shelter nearest to you by going to http://theshelterpetproject.org/shelters .        

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

TIME TRAVEL - Can it be done?



In my next book, MELTING SAND, planned for Fall 2013 publication, the main characters, Miles Stevens and Terri King, are sent from the year 2050 back to 2027 to stop a chain of events leading to nuclear war in the Middle East.   Obviously, this is far-fetched fiction.  Or is it?
Ever since H.G. Wells wrote his famous 1895 novel, THE TIME MACHINE, time travel has been the subject of many authors and the fascination of countless readers.   Recently, in his novel 11/22/63, Stephen King sent Jake Epping back in time through a “rabbit hole” that Jake discovered at the rear of a Maine diner.  Jake’s mission was to intervene in the assassination of JFK.
Why all the fascination with time travel?  Maybe it's  because it’s implausible but not impossible. Fiction bordering on the possibility of reality expands the reader’s imagination and more easily draws them into the story.      
Check out this recent article by Paul Davies to learn more about the “real” possibilities of time travel. http://www.cnn.com/2013/05/13/opinion/opinion-time-travel-paul-davies  And please stay tuned to my blog at http://DRShoultz.blogspot.com for updates on my upcoming book, MELTING SAND.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Dare To Be Unique


Of the over 10,000 species of birds, there is only ONE that can hover and fly backwards for extended periods of time.   If that’s not enough to set the HUMMINGBIRD apart, these tiny feathered friends, weighing less than a buffalo nickel, migrate up to 2,000 miles each year, some from as far as Wisconsin to Mexico and back.  
An estimated 200,000 novelists will sit down at their keyboards today.  I wonder how many will find a way to fly backwards . . . to be unique.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

1,000 Words?


Is a picture worth 1,000 words?  Likely it’s worth much more.  As in a 400 page novel, a picture has a foreground, or preface, that gains your attention and pulls you into the frame of the picture.  It may contain multiple subjects, each with their own role to play.  There are transitions from the foreground to the background that do not steal from the subjects, but rather provide cohesion.  Finally, the background adds mystery and interest.   This photo of the Florida Intercoastal,  taken last winter with an iPhone in one hand and glass of wine in the other, has all these and more.  

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

A Life Shared ...


 
Several hours a day, this is my world.  Now that my wife (and editor) is retired from her day job, I need to adjust where the hours fit into our day, but I still find the time – early morning, late night, when she’s out for her walk or in the garden.  She’s a wonderful woman and willing to share her life with my coffee cup, keyboard and mouse.

Monday, June 10, 2013

RAINY DAYS ...


Expectations wane on rainy days, freeing our thoughts.

The relaxing patter on the roof reminding us there's nowhere to go,  drowning out any disruptions.

Today's one of these days.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Tweeting - One Man's View

 
I grew up without social media.  Even if there had been social media when I was a teenager, I doubt if my small, Midwestern hometown would have discovered it until I was middle-aged.  Given my recent introduction to Twitter, I’m not sure I’m qualified to comment on the subject.  But, even as a rookie, I’ve noticed some obvious dos and don’ts that many people choose to ignore.    
Twitter appears the most baffling of the social media offerings, lacking any clear guidelines for use.  If you’re an outside-of-the-lines nonconformist, this is the place for you.   There have been a few Internet articles written on how best to build a base of Twitter followers.  I agree with many of their recommendations, but find they didn’t capture everything.  Here’s what I would add:
- If you don’t want your mom to see it, don’t tweet it.  Tweeting 140 profane characters with an attached picture of your groin is not a good idea.  
- Spelling counts, especially for authors and writers.  Fortunately, the Twitter editor has spell check, but they’re, there, and their are not interchangeable.  
- Please, stop with the quotes!   There is one guy I used to follow who has over 70,000 tweets, and 99.9% of them are quotes.  Unfortunately, he’s not alone.   Acknowledging Mark Twain’s humor and wit is only mildly entertaining and definitely doesn’t prompt me to hit the FAVORITE or RT button.
- Be consistent with your messaging.  If erotica is your genre, that’s fine.  But don’t strap Candy to the bedposts in one tweet and then tell us how cute your son’s puppy is in the next.
- It’s hard to be funny in 140 characters.  Don’t try.  Okay.  I admit it.  I violate this one all the time.  But more often than not, tweets that were hilarious the night before, I can’t delete quick enough the next morning.
- Don’t put anyone or anything down.  Even if followers agree with your putdowns, you come off as a complete bore.  Uplifting messages are much safer, but even these become tiring if overdone, or if they become preachy.
- Sell no more than 25% of the time.   Most everyone is selling on Twitter, but 75% of your tweets should contain thought-provoking messages, interesting observations, or pictures where the tweet is as much for the follower as it is for you.
- Don’t hash tag and abbreviate to the point that the tweet becomes uninteresting and unreadable. Example… #TopRated #Superhero #Series – 170+ 5! On #Kindle. Happy to be part of this cool #FathersDay #treasury for #dad 
If you’re looking for more recommendations on tweeting dos and don’ts, check out these articles: