Monday, December 29, 2014

Lettin’ Go is Hard to Do

I've had the first draft of CYBER ONE, the second book in the Miles Stevens series, completed for some time.  I originally thought I’d get it self-published and onto the Amazon shelves before Christmas, filling the demand for a holiday cyber-terrorism spy novel.  Well, the ball is dropping on 2014, and I still don’t think it’s ready.  But do most authors ever think their novels are ready?

This is my fifth book.  Writing, editing, and publishing my books are all under my control.  The only exception is that my wife, a former newspaper editor, takes the final pass at my manuscripts.  Editors by their nature are difficult to control, but an editor who’s also your wife is impossible to control.  However, it isn’t editing that’s delaying publication of my books.   It’s more a matter of me not wanting to let them go. 

To me, publishing a book isn’t much different than having a teenaged son or daughter about to get their driver’s license. You get one chance to make sure your child is ready.  Once they get their license and the keys to the car, it’s too late.  Likewise, once the final manuscript of a novel is turned over to the publisher, or in my case submitted to CreateSpace, it, too, is out there on the streets.  All it takes is the wrong use of they’re, their, there, an overused phrase, or a poorly developed character, and the book becomes inferior in the readers’ eyes--or worse, they post a review, magnifying the error.  Even if I do make changes and publish revisions, some readers will have already seen the initial product and formed opinions which will be hard to change. 

As I sit with the CYBER ONE manuscript ready for publication, I just know that one more pass will find something that’s been overlooked.  It’s almost like the ghost of my high school composition teacher, Ms. Hyde, is sitting on my shoulder, threatening me with a C- unless I tighten it up one more time.  

Ms. Hyde is right.  My novel isn’t ready for the streets.  I’m not letting go until I’m damn good and ready.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Happy Holidays

From my desk to your computer, tablet and smartphone, I wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy Holiday Season.

I hope you stop back and visit in the New Year.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

A Blue Ridge Moment of Zen

On Thanksgiving morning, we woke to a fluffy four-inches of powder, turning the Blue Ridge scenery into a life-size snow globe and signaling that fall was officially over.

Armed with my iPhone, I took photos that a crew of professional photographers fully-armed with high-powered lens would be proud to post on their websites.

There's a path near where we live that we call the enchanted forest where we take our new black lab puppy on morning walks.  It's an alley of 50-foot tall pines that have shed their needles on the lower portion of their trunks, creating a shadowy, gnarly path that is normally a little spooky.  The snow, clinging to the lower arms of the trees and blanketing the floor of the forest, made the path appear more magical than scary.

It's early for snow in the North Carolina mountains, so this may be a sign of bigger (and deeper) things to come this season.  If future snows are as beautiful as this one, then bring them on.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Fall, it's over too soon

Fall is my favorite season. It's what brought me to the North Carolina mountains--the brilliant colors, the smell of newly fallen pine needles, the thin, crisp morning air.  Every year I want it to last forever.  It just doesn't seem fair that it's over so quickly.  

All four seasons are roughly 90 days long, but to me, it seems that summer and winter frequently steal days from the front and back end of fall.  Officially, autumn starts with the September equinox (around the 24th) and ends with the winter solstice (around December 21st), but fall really starts with the first crisp, cool morning that makes you think of football, and it ends when the colors fade, the leftovers from Thanksgiving dinner have been consumed, and the first snow transforms the landscape.  

To my surprise, a 2005 Gallup poll found the most popular season to be spring, receiving the nod from 36% of those polled.  Fall came in a distant second at 27%.  But if you look more closely at the favorite months, May was at the top with 14%, and October was second at 13%, a much closer race. The bumper-to-bumper traffic on the Blue Ridge Parkway in October would indicate the gap between the leading months to be very thin. 

I think spring benefits by getting credit for signifying the end of winter, the most hated season.  Most people (skiers being the exception) look forward to the end of winter and the coming of spring, while fewer people (mainly sunburned redheads) look forward to the end of summer.

Personal characteristics most commonly associated with those liking fall are: creative, calm, and hardworking. Those linked to liking spring are considered: cheerful, optimistic, and friendly.  I can't disagree with these associations.  As I look out my window this morning at the beautiful North Carolina landscape, bursting in color, it brings me a sense of calm and inspires creativity.   

I hope winter stays away a little longer this year.  

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Writing productivity - Life gets in the way

My writing productivity has hit an all-time low since I took up this avocation five years ago.  It seems life is getting in the way, and that’s not a bad thing.

My wife and I recently returned from a two-week tour of Alaska.  It was on our bucket list, and the cruise and overland excursion were everything we’d anticipated--and more.  I enjoyed doing some reading on our trip, but even though I’m 60,000 words into my next novel, I didn't write one paragraph over the two weeks.

If you read my blog, you know that I’m a supporter of the work done by animal shelters. My wife and I had planned on getting a rescue puppy from a local shelter following our Alaska vacation.  We’d lost our long-time canine companion more than a year ago, and we agreed it was time to add to our family.  Well, we did.  We picked up Milo, a black lab puppy with a Heinz 57 mix in her blood line, and our life has been forever changed.  Milo has her own blog, and you can read about our adventures with Milo at

My wife and I are very fortunate to have a group of great friends. With our children and their families living so far away, our friends are very important to us, and it seems every weekend includes time with them.  I anticipate my writing will take a back seat to time with family and friends with the holidays approaching. 

If you add in community volunteering with its associated time commitments, finding time for writing becomes very challenging—and I’m retired.   I’m amazed when I read about writers with small children, full-time jobs, and similar life events to those challenging my time.  I don’t know how they do it.

I’m not complaining. I wouldn't have it any other way.  There was a time soon after I retired when my life stopped.  I didn't know what I would do.  Writing was my way forward, and thankfully, life has slowly gotten in the way.                 


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

A Hybrid Approach to Outlining

Where do you get your ideas for your novels?  Do you outline your novels before you begin writing?  Do you have an ending in mind?  How do you maintain continuity as you write?  These are questions frequently asked of authors, and from what I’ve read, their answers vary.
For me, I start with a ‘premise’ for a novel.  It’s usually high level, more of a concept than a story.  As an example, in Better Late Than Ever, I was inspired by a bachelor friend who’d recently retired to a warm-weather, planned community.  I thought I’d add a 'fountain of youth' aspect to his retirement experiences and set the story a few years into the future to enable yet-to-be-discovered medical advancements to come into play.  That was it.  That’s all I had when I began.  I had similar detail when I began writing my other novels. 
My next step is to write the first chapter, or maybe a couple chapters, to introduce the characters and establish the setting for the story.  Getting 10 to 20 pages in print also gets the creative juices flowing. After this, I will start to build an outline of where the story will travel next.  My outline, which is really a collection of bullet points (or story developments) grouped into chapters, might be five or six chapters in length, or it might even stretch to the end of the book, but at this point, the outline is very malleable and in dire need of content.
As I write and flush out content, I continue to maintain the outline with each chapter getting better-defined bullet points.  Over time, the outline becomes a reference for keeping track of where characters, plot developments, and details are introduced and for maintaining continuity as I move forward. The outline is also useful in quickly reviewing each chapter and rating them for interest, suspense, or drama, and then going back and ‘beefing up’ the story where it’s needed.
My outline stays ahead of the novel, but evolves with it. By the time I’m finished, the outline has developed into a detailed summary of each chapter, with ten or more points each.   It’s a hybrid approach to writing, somewhere between those who outline their entire novel first and those who just sit down and write.  One approach focuses on structure and continuity, and the other optimizes free-flowing, creative thought.  I like to think my approach blends both, but in the end, it’s best to use whatever works best for you.

Don’t like my approach?  Here’s a look at the routines of famous authors.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Tech Expenses - Are Yours Out of Control?

I just looked at my cable TV and cellular phone bills.  Have I gone mad?   Have we ALL gone mad?  Whatever happened to having a home phone hanging from the wall with a 20-foot spiraling cord and being satisfied with three network channels?   Do I (we) really need all these apps, cable channels, turbo internets, and streaming? I’m still not sure what streaming is, only that it requires another box and monthly fees.
It’s just my wife and me at home, but we each have a smart phone.  We also have two homes with internet and cable TV at each.  Before you get the wrong idea, it’s not like we retired and bought a second home in the Hamptons.  We each brought a modest home into a mid-life marriage, both with a mortgage that we spent a lifetime paying.  Mine is in the mountains where it’s cooler, hers in the city where there’s civilization, so we kept them least for now. 
Anyway, if not for what we pay for cellular phones, cable TV, and internet services, we might actually be able to afford a home in the Hamptons.  The total amount of these bills is rapidly approaching our largest monthly expense.  I’d provide the actual number, but it’s embarrassing.
The crazy thing is our fees would be much higher if I didn’t engage my cable providers in a regular dialogue.   You see, they will continue to increase your fees unless you occasionally call and question the undecipherable list of offerings on your monthly invoice.   They claim that “packaged offerings,” or promos, expire, which causes your bill to periodically spiral upward.  One of our monthly cable bills recently rose 80%, excessive even by cable company standards, so I called.  After an eternity on the phone analyzing each line item on the invoice, the customer services agent (a misnomer) magically found more packaged offerings.  Our bill still increased 20%, which is probably what the cable company had planned anyway, so I’m not sure who won.  It’s such a game.  I wonder what the customers who don’t call are paying. 
I’ve thought about getting rid of all of it.  You know, going out for dinner and actually talking with my wife without each of us thumbing our way through our smart phone apps as we wait for our food.   I’d like to try going back to a “dumb” cell phone, one that only makes calls (okay, also texts) and a digital TV antenna to access local broadcast channels.  I’ve checked.  In our area, there are over 20 channels broadcast over the airwaves.  That’s right, floating for free, right outside my window are digital HD channels.  Do I really need more than 20?  Have I (we) become so “wired” to social media and cable TV that suggesting I would give it all up sounds like I should be committed?  I think not.
As a first step, I decided to give up cable TV and just get internet (a service I need more than want) from my cable provider. I bought a digital TV antenna for $30 and found the picture quality as good as cable and the channels were acceptable.  I figured getting rid of cable TV should cut my cable bill at least by half.   Wrong!   It turns out it would only reduce my bill by 30%.  You see, “bundles” are not really bundles; they are “handcuffs.”  Since my cable provider is my only source for internet, I am captive.  I can’t escape, unless I want to take up residence at a nearby coffee house with free Wi-Fi.
It’s my view that I (we) will get to the point where we’ve had enough. I’m old enough to remember having just one house phone and watching a TV with only three network channels.  I survived.  I’m sure I would survive with a “dumb” cell phone and a digital TV antenna with 20 local channels.  Our homes are filled with books that we haven’t read, or haven’t read in years, and there’s a library down the street.
Maybe it’s time we all go back to the future.            

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Time Travel – It’s Possible

In my new action adventure series, Miles Stevens is a time traveling CIA agent who works for the Department of Historic Intervention (DHI) in the year 2050.   The mission of the DHI is to alter tragic events that have occurred in recent history, with recent history defined as 2020 to 2050.   This time period was conveniently selected to give me the ability to conceive outrageous, yet plausible, disasters for Miles to confront.
In Melting Sand, Miles and his partner, Terri King, are sent back to alter events that have led to a devastating nuclear war in the Middle East in 2027.   In Cyber One, Miles and a new DHI team are sent to uncover those responsible for levying a paralyzing cyber-attack on U.S. financial systems and electrical grids in 2032.
Sound farfetched?  Well, maybe not.  Those far more knowledgeable than I am on the subject of time travel suggest it is indeed possible, and it’s the possibility, not the probability, that makes time travel intriguing.  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.   In his novel, 11/22/63, Stephen King sends Jake Epping back in time through a “rabbit hole” that Jake discovers at the rear of a Maine diner.  Jake’s mission is to intervene in the assassination of JFK.
One of the quandaries of time travel that makes it so captivating is something called the ‘grandfather paradox.’   This paradox asks if you traveled back in time and kept your grandparents from meeting, would you have been born?  More broadly asked, if you altered any prior event impacting your existence, would you continue to exist?  I handle this paradox by declaring that if my protagonists happen to alter events impacting their existence, it would lead to ‘devastating consequences.’  And what would constitute devastating consequences?  You’ll need to read my novels to find out.
One of the articles attached below states for macroscopic systems, time travel faces problematic paradoxes.  You and I aren’t likely to find time travel capsules at the local mall any time soon.  So, until we do, reading about time travel is our only outlet. I hope you check out my novels at
Here are a couple recent articles on the subject of time travel: