Wednesday, March 15, 2017

TG Recommends

As regular readers of this blog are aware, Thriller Guy doers not review many novels, and in particular his friends' novels, on these pages. TG has stated the reason before, but if you missed it, he learned early on that when he recommended a book, friend or not, someone always wrote in a comment complaining that the book was crap and TG was a fool who had caused the commenter to waste whatever paltry money he/she had spent on the book. This was distressing to the friend, and even TG was discomfited. And as regular readers know, TG is a hard man to discomfit. (Yes, TG just looked the word discomfit up and learned that it originally referred to those who had been killed in battle. “The ground was strewn with the
Nancy Peacock
discomfited.” Stephen Crane)

But, even knowing that out there is some dimwit who will probably write a crappy comment, TG is going to recommend a book by a friend: The Life and Times of Persimmon Wilson, by Nancy Peacock. TG knows that this book is not a thriller, so please don’t write in pointing out that the novel is not a thriller. The author, who lives down the street from TG, has an interesting publishing history. TG is aware that many of his readers are writers. All writers are interested in how other writers get published, particularly, these days: Indie publishing? Legacy publishers? Self publishing? TG asked Nancy about her publishing experiences for the blog. We’ll get to that in a moment; first, the book.

A former slave named Persimmon Wilson is accused of the murder of his ex-master Joseph Wilson, and the kidnapping of Wilson’s wife. In the street below his cell, carpenters are building his gallows. In the town there is gathering excitement over the upcoming execution for Persimmon Wilson is notorious. Not only is he a black man who killed a white man, and “degraded” that man’s wife, but he is also the “black Indian” known as Twist Rope who rode, raided, and terrorized Texas settlements and farms with the Comanche Indians.

The book begins… “I have been to hangings before, but never my own.”

You can buy the book here. TG says it’s a terrific read.

Nancy Peacock speaks to Thriller Guy on her publishing history…

"My first novel Life Without Water was very well received. I published with a small press without an agent. Lee Smith - another Hillsborough writer whom you may have met - was my mentor and she mentioned my book to John Yow, editor at Longstreet Press. She called me and told me to send him 3 chapters right away - which I did. He convinced the house to take it on. The whole experience could not have been better. Longstreet worked hard for that little book, sent me to various venues, and got it reviewed in NY Times, Washington Post, and other prominent places. The book was chosen as a NY Times Notable that year.

I sold my next book Home Across the Road- agented - to Longstreet, and the experience could not have been more different. Unbeknownst to me Cox Newspaper that owned Longstreet was selling the house, and had found an in house buyer. Knowing they had a buyer they did not care about the company, and the buyer had not protected himself or his authors by having a clause in the contract saying they needed to fulfill their current obligations. They didn't. At the time my book was published and being reviewed (NY Times again, Southern Living -- it was Christmas) it was not available on any shelves. The publisher had simply stopped printing it. This was heartbreaking to say the least, and at the time I did not know what was going on. It was later that I found out and pieced it all together.

This experience taught me that anything can happen in publishing.

Third book, A Broom of One's Own: Words on Writing, Housecleaning and Life was sold to Harper Collins. It is my only nonfiction book, and while it has received great reviews on Amazon (Cheryl Strayed loved it) it has still not earned out its advance yet.

So I was pretty discouraged about the whole thing - writing and publishing - by the time Persy strolled into my mind with that opening line. I knew I wanted to follow his thread - his story - but I was so heartbroken over my publishing history (it had basically gone downhill book by book) that it was difficult to want to write it. I felt like I needed more control over my writing life (maybe what I needed was lower expectations) so I told myself I was going to write this book and self-publish it. I wasn't going to go through the usual channels.

This actually turned out to be a good decision - for me, for the experience, for the indie version, and also for the traditionally published edition that just came out.

Good for me and the experience because I truly got to see how much work goes into producing a book. Of course it's easier if you're a publishing company with lots of departments than if you are an author doing everything. But, self-publishing is becoming more respected, and in my opinion more necessary. The publishing houses are interested in big bucks, which makes sense, but it also means a writer like me is competing (and receiving less of an advance) than a celebrity who isn't really a writer but is courted and given a book deal. So many authors who are good writers and deserve success are being left behind, and it's the publishing industry that's doing this. So self-publishing is, in my opinion, a fine thing to do and a fine statement to make. In my indie journey though I met a few snobs, people who assume an indie book is not a good book. And many are not, but many are. (As an aside I think it would be great to have a well-respected review newspaper that covers only indie titles) But I digress, apparently!

It was good for the indie edition because The Life and Times of Persimmon Wilson won the
Self published edition
Writer's Digest Self Published Book Award in the mainstream novel category. It also won Shelf Unbound's Award for best self published novel.

Good for the new edition because I gathered blurbs for it and one of my blurbers sent it to his agent, and that's how I landed a new agent. He liked the book a lot, but when we initially spoke he felt skeptical that he would be able to sell it. When it won the WD award he began sending it out, and within months had an offer from Atria. I think this surprised him.

As I promote the book, I never forget or hide my self publishing history. I'm proud of both editions. Both paths are really difficult, and I wouldn't say one is better than the other as a path to fame and fortune. The take away on traditional publishing though is that anything can happen, so to think it's the sun of glory and fortune is foolish. I was foolish when I first got published. I've found the key to be lowering my expectations while at the same time maintaining faith."  Nancy Peacock


Next time TG will discuss the lessons to be learned from this account.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Larry Speaks

Book Reviewers Can be Jerks

By Larry Kahaner
My pal Larry blogs at The Non-Fiction Novelist. This is one of his blogs about book reviews. As a professional reviewer I'm passing it along to those of you who have been reviewed in publications or are reviewed on your Amazon book pages. I review for a living (such as it is) and I put up reviews for books I like on Amazon. I also have been reviewed for my fiction and my non-fiction many times. The great majority of my reviews have been positive -- a reviewer at a small newspaper in the mid-west once declared my first time travel novel as "the best book that had ever been written," hah! and I have been denounced as a writer of "pathetic rubbish," so I've seen it from both sides.
Larry has an excellent new novel out, USA, Inc. Buy it and submit a review.

OK, back to Larry.
Whether you are a seasoned author or just published your first book, reviews play tricks on your self-confidence as a writer. Like everything else in life, some people like your stuff and some people hate it (thanks, Captain Obvious) and there’s nothing you can do about it.
Every book has its supporters and detractors, and if your head isn’t screwed on, it can be a career killer.
Let me stipulate up front that most reviewers, indeed, the vast majority of reviewers are writing honest, objective reviews. This blog is about the other ones.
I offer some points to remember if you decide to read your reviews. I say ‘if’ because many successful authors never read reviews. I used to think this was BS, but it’s true. These folks understand the reality of reviews.
And here they are:
  • Reviews are supposed to be objective, but they’re not. Readers bring themselves into the review based on their own beliefs. Here’s a personal example. I published a book titled AK-47: the Weapon that Changed the Face of War. Pro-gun people said I blamed all the world ills on this ubiquitous weapon. Anti-gun people said that I glorified the weapon. Both can’t be true. Right? I even read one review that chided me for not including more pictures of guns. Hello… it was not a gun-porn book, but a political view of the world’s most-used weapon.

  • Some reviewers and readers are pissed off about a specific subject matter so they give a low rating hoping that potential readers will ignore a book. Think books about climate change. Others love the topic so they give a high rating hoping that others of their ilk will buy it and somehow bolster the cause. Neither reviews have anything to do with a book’s merit. Case in point: I once wrote a book about a company called MCI (not the MCI WorldCom that was later involved in a scandal). The title was On The Line. The company beat AT&T in court and this opened the way for competitive long distance phone service. I got hate reviews from those who were angry that AT&T was no longer the country’s de facto monopoly phone company and venerable Ma Bell (youngsters, stay with me on this) was being broken up. Others were glad to see the old monopoly split into regional companies which eventually ushered in the telecommunications system we have today. I even received a letter from David Packard, head of Hewlett-Packard, chiding me for writing about this start-up company which he believed would lead to the downfall of Western civilization. What about the book’s merits? Didn’t really matter. And no sour grapes here by the way. The book did really well.

  • Last one: Reviewers are swayed by what the reviewer thinks the author stands for. The classic case is Salman Rushdie who penned a novel in 1988 titled Satanic Verses, which caused a stir among many in the Muslim community. They accused Rushdie of blasphemy, and in 1989 the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini of Iran issued a fatwa ordering Muslims to kill Rushdie. Many death threats followed and Rushdie went into hiding with armed guards. To show their support for Rushdie and their dislike of the Ayatollah many people bought the book – it became a best seller – and critics offered rave reviews because they supported free speech and wanted to strike a blow against radical Islam. It had been reported at the time that many Western consumers bought the book but never read it. They just wanted to make a point. Rushdie says he is not anti-Muslim. He was born into a Muslim family and now considers himself an atheist. By the way, many reviewers wrote about the controversy itself and not the book. That’s not their job.
My final point is this. You can’t please everyone. Mind you, I’m not talking about warranted, even constructive criticism, but make sure a review is about your book and not about you or anything else before you react. Write your book the best way you know how and work on having a thick skin or don’t read reviews at all. Your choice.
Coda: I have a good writing buddy who also is a reviewer for a respected trade publication.  I often send him my blogs to gut-check them before posting. He had this remark: “Perfectly reasonable blog, though it will never make anyone feel better about a bad review. They always hurt, even if you know you were treated unfairly.”

Friday, December 23, 2016

Pie!



This entry should be on my memoir blog, but that’s on hiatus at the moment, so I’ll put it here for now…

When I was probably around ten-years-old, right around Christmas, I was walking by the Bonnet’s house up the street from us. They lived on the corner of Maxwell Avenue and 19th street. They were a numerous clan, I can’t remember how many kids there were, and they were a lot of fun, parents and children. Mr. Bonnet was in the back yard digging in a snow bank. As I watched, he dug up a large cooking pot, brushed the snow off and went up on the porch. I asked him what he was doing. He told me he had made a pork pie last night and had buried it in the snow overnight to solidify. Did I want a piece?

Pork pie! I had never heard of such a thing and couldn’t even conceive of it. Pies were sweet and they certainly didn’t contain meat. No thanks.

Several years later I took him up on his offer of the Christmas Pork Pie. Of course it was fabulous. I recently found Mrs. Bonnet’s recipe in an old cookbook she wrote for her family. Here it is, in her words, a Christmas gift from Thriller Guy, Allen Appel, and all the other Appels. It is not necessary to bury the pie in a snow bank and let it sit overnight, but it’s a nice touch.

Dick Bonnet’s Pork Pie

“This recipe should be in a book by itself. It’s not a meat recipe, or a pie recipe; at least not the usual meat or pie recipes. But it definitely belongs in this book. It’s not something you can “whip up” in a hurry, and certainly no way to impress guests, unless they are British.

It has always been dad’s late evening winter snack. Also, Grandma has made it for all your Uncles and Aunts and has actually mailed it on occasion. Absolutely indestructible!

The first time I ever went to visit Grandma and Grandpa Bonnet, way back in 1947, we arrived in the late evening in a snow storm and Grandma had made a pork pie for Dad. Maybe she wanted to discourage me! Anyway, I ate it “to be polite” and have eaten it “to be polite” ever since. One suggestion, don’t try to make it yourself until you have watched the master (Dad) make at least one.

This is not an ordinary recipe – This is ANOTHER BONNET CHALLENGE.

6 cups flour
1 ¼ cup lard
1 ½ tsp. salt
¾ c water

Boil lard and water until lard is melted. Add flour and salt. Knead until smooth and elastic – about 10 – 15 minutes or when it no longer falls apart and has the consistency of putty. Shape dough on a cookie sheet, building sides about ¼” thick and about 3” high. So it will hold meat. Save ¼ of dough for cover.

Get a very lean piece of pork, about three pounds. I usually get a fresh ham and use what is left for a small roast. A “picnic” shoulder is cheaper, but has a lot more fat to cut off. Cut meat in ¼” cubes, cutting off all fat. Meat cuts easier if it has been left in the freezer about an hour. Put in a bowl and salt and pepper generously. Put pork in molded, unbaked crust. Roll out top crust with rolling pin. Cover pie, pinching edges together so it is tight. Cut an X in the center of top so steam can escape. Bake in oven for 2 hours. The last 20 minutes of baking brush top and sides with egg white or milk to make it shiny. Raise temp to 400 degrees for last 20 minutes.

While pie is cooling, boil 1 cup water with 2 bouillon cubes, one pk. Gelatin and an onion. Boil about 15 minutes. When pie is completely cool, add this mixture to X in top of pie, a little bit at a time. Refrigerate several hours before serving.”

Or, as noted above, bury in snow overnight.

Merry Christmas everyone. Don’t forget to go to audible.com and order your audio copy of the Christmas classic, The Christmas Chicken. You can listen to it while you cook up your Pork Pie. 


Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Sorry.




Yes, I know, it’s been awhile. I apologize to those anxiously waiting me to tell them the secret of how to work a decent writing schedule into their day without upsetting regular life. Here’s the awful truth: it’s not going to happen.

Back in my youth, what the kid’s call my hippie days, the late fifties and early sixties, women were throwing off conservative conventions and trying on lifestyles that allowed them to work full time, raise children, have partners who were equal helpers and lovers, lead healthy lifestyles, look good and be cool. In other words, women were determined to Have It All. There were scores of self-help books advising women how to accomplish this goal. A quick look at Amazon shows me that there are still scores of books claiming the same thing: Yes, Women, You CAN have it all. There are no books telling writers that they can have it all as well.

The thing is, you can’t actually have it all. Or at least you can’t have it all and do everything effectively. Yeah, I know, I’m going to get pushback on this, so go ahead, send me your comments, take me to task.

If you’re going to write, especially if you’re going to write novels and live a reasonably sane life at the same time, some elements are going to be short-changed. Either Life or The Novel. The question now is: Can I Live a Life Where One or Some of the Things I’m Doing Are Not Going to be Done All That Well Some of the Time, or Even All of the Time While Devoting Time and Effort to My Writing? It makes for a very unwieldy, not very hopeful book title, one that’s not going to sell many copies.

The first thing that my friends and those I talk to about this problem say is they will put their novel off until they retire. This is a sound solution, particularly if you are old like Thriller Guy, but what if you die first? Or what if you keep putting off retirement because you want or need to earn more money. And worst of all, what if you wait, sometimes for many years, and when you finally do have the time to write you find that you just can’t do it, for any number of reasons: you no longer have the stamina, (trust me, it’s hard physical work and you’re not as young as you used to be,) you don’t have the ability to force yourself into the chair in front of the keyboard, you find it too painful, or it’s just too much damn work. And not fun at all. (Trust me again, if you are approaching it in a workmanlike manner, it’s not going to be much fun. See the archives; Thriller Guy has written on this aspect of The Writing Life many times.) So I don’t recommend putting it off.

For one thing, you’re wasting valuable time. It is said that scientists do all of their useful work when they’re young, and I could make an argument for novel writers as well. Yes, I can think of many exceptions, but common sense and simple numbers bear this out. If you decide to keep a notebook of good novel ideas over the course of a year you’re going to have a hell of a lot more good ideas if you actually think about them and write them down than if you put it off until you retire. Duh.

If you try to write every day, or once a week, or on vacation, or on the way to work on the train, or while on airplanes, you may not be able to scrape together enough time to write a novel in a year, but you’re sure as hell going to get more done stealing time than if you didn’t try at all.

And if you don’t want to steal the time, ask those who are involved with you in life to let you borrow some, or to even give you some, even though it might make things harder on them. You will be surprised how many partners and spouses are willing to give those they love a chance to do something they feel so strongly about.

So ask for help. Negotiate. Try to manage at least a partial plan.  Stay up later. Get out of bed earlier. Do less around the house. Do less with your family (as long as everyone understands.) Just don’t be a pig. Don’t be an asshole. And you don’t need to feel guilty. Or go ahead and feel guilty, it will make you work harder.

You can’t have it all, but you may be able to have enough of it to make your life feel all right. Not great, maybe, but good. It might take you longer, you will have to make sacrifices, but you can add pages to the pile, ideas to the notebook. At the very least, you’ll have more than if you did nothing. More than if you wait. Is that enough?

Probably not. But it’s better than quitting, giving up, or never starting.

Ask nicely.

Get to work.



Friday, October 14, 2016

All You Have to Do Is Write Two Pages a Day...


But it sounded so good. I believe it was Stephan King who first offered this cruel advice, but I passed it along just like a lot of other writing coaches. Write two pages a day, we said, confidently, smugly, and in one year you will have a book. Yes, it’s true, if you write two pages a day every day for a year you’ll have 700 pages of written material.

But you’re not going to have a book. Even if you could actually do this, I contend you wouldn’t even have a workable draft to rewrite.

Of all the problems I see my writer friends facing, finding the time to work is the most intractable, heartbreaking, guilt-inducing difficulty they face. My first advice (actually, my first advice is to not start in the first place, so this is my second advice) is to find a girlfriend, boyfriend, partner who has a good job or is wealthy and who is ok with you taking time to simply write. Unfortunately, finding this person is not easy. Neither is hacking out time to write from a regular life – having a job or a family. So then along comes King who says it’s not that difficult to find enough time to write two pages a day, and he’s right. That’s about 500 words if you double space it, and you should double space it, not all that much when you sit down and do it. But…

Far more goes into writing a novel than just putting words on paper. Putting words on paper is typing. It’s finding the right words that is the difficult part. So much goes into constructing a novel beyond the writing: voice, structure, POV, plot, characterization to name just some of the more important aspects. All of these variables have to be thought through; connections have to be made. So when are you supposed to figure all of this out? When you’re writing your two pages a day? Yes, it’s possible, but then your two pages a day will be taking four or more hours a day, which blows apart the notion that an extra half an hour or even an hour stolen from some part of your normal life is going to put you on the path of a completed novel.

It takes me a year to write a novel. I work on it every day, all day. I do the physical, writing part for around four hours; rewriting may take up another couple of hours. The business part – dealing with publishing aspects, the Internet, goofing around when you should be working, etc. – takes another couple of hours. Now if you’re regular civilian -- meaning you have a normal job -- you put in your eight hours and then you’re done. (Yes, yes, I know, many people have far more demanding jobs that they work on for long hours.) But if you’re a writer working on a project as large as a novel, you’re still not finished when you get your eight hours in because the damn thing gets lodged in your head and your brain works on it while you’re doing everything else – living your life. When you’re eating, sleeping, driving, putting gas in your car, shopping, watching television, working out. When you’re conscious or unconscious.

Lawrence Kasden, the screenwriter, once said, “Writing is like having homework for the rest of your life.” He was correct. But it’s much worse than that. Writing is having an obsession for the rest of your life. How you deal with that obsession is the writer’s constant dilemma.

Oh look, I’ve finished my two pages. 550+ words. I guess I’m finished for the day.

Actually, I haven’t even started on my own work. Blogging is extra, something I have to fit in around and into my normal writing time.

So what’s the answer?

To be continued.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Moving Is Like Writing a Novel, Sort Of

They say moving is one of the most stressful events in a person’s life, second only to the death of a loved one. I believe it. But it occurred to me recently as I was driving down I-95 for the fifth time, shuttling between suburban Maryland and my new hometown in North Carolina, trying to keep straight in my mind a list of things I had to remember to do while concentrating on not crashing my loaded car, that the mental contortions that I was going through were, or at least they felt so to me, just like those my brain undergoes when I am in the throes of writing a novel. In both instances there are just too many things one needs to remember, and not only remember but constantly keep in mind because one event almost always influences another.

Did I remember to have the utilities turned off? On? Has the realtor put in the closing extension paper? Did the termite guy turn in his report? Did the movers deliver the boxes? Did I remember to put in a scene in Chapter One about the restraining order, or did I just think that I should do it? Is there enough backstory about Maria? Does Trevor need a Dark Secret in his past? What the hell is going to happen in the end?

Look out! Jesus, where did that truck come from? Where am I? Richmond! I can’t be in Richmond already. Where the hell did the last 45 miles go?

I’m sure you’ve had the same experience: you’re alone in the car on a trip, you’re driving along and suddenly you notice you’ve been on autopilot for X number of dangerous miles. This lost time might have been spent in simple reverie, but in the two experiences I’m discussing here, Moving and Novel Writing, you can blame the intense mental work involved with each.

And that’s just the technical details, the lists of Things To Do. That’s to say nothing of the extreme pain that involves both. Most people have the experience of at least one big-time move in their lives. Say from a house of many years where you’ve raised a family and piled up all the crap that one collects and suddenly you have to figure out what to throw away and what to take with you. Same thing with a book. You’ve piled up many pages over the years it’s taken to produce a draft and suddenly you realize the damn thing needs to be drastically cut (every novel needs to be cut) so you agonize over what’s important – to you and to the book – and throw out what isn’t. So that’s what you’re doing hurtling south on I-95 at 75 miles an hour. Throwing things out, making lists, rearranging furniture and material.

Look out, world. There’s a guy on the highway with 14 boxes of books and other assorted crap in the back of his vehicle and he’s got a lot on his mind. Or maybe he’s a novelist and he’s blocking out a scene where the sailing ship has an encounter with a white whale. In either case, he’s dangerous. Trust me, I know. That guy is me.