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Because I have been unemployed for the past several weeks I have been able to write every day.  Great joy.  And as a result I just finished the first draft of my latest novel.

Now, since I do not write with a predetermined outline, but rather let my characters drive the story, I really don’t know what I have until I have finished and do my first read through.  It’s both exciting and scary.  But it seems to work for me.  I did the same with my first published novel, Divas Never Flinch.  I was surprised at how well it works for me.  My characters seem to know their way and have a knack for finishing up at the end just where they should be.  A miracle that never ceases to amaze me.  In the first novel, since it was my first, I found rewriting was dealing with really careful examination of each sentence and paragraph to make sure there were no extraneous words, and the meaning was clear.  I would come across a passage that was awkward or unclear and I would work it until it was clean and clear.

With this book, my fifth, I find that the writing is a lot clearer with less work to do on the individual paragraphs.  However, this book is a political thriller with more diverse characters, and I had to keep them all in mind as I wrote, and had to make sure all the story threads were wrapped up and completed appropriately.  So my first read through was to see if I had any loose threads sticking out – story lines where information was introduced but not picked up again later.  It was like a weaving.  I had to go back and tuck in all the loose threads.  And that was my first job on this manuscript.

Now, after doing that, I am going through for a second general read.  I pick up a sentance or paragraph that needs work and will fix what I can, but I am still really trying to get a sense of the whole.  When I am satisfied with that, then I will go to the next stage.

And that is the fine tuning and polishing stage.  Here, I go through over and over each paragraph to make sure it is as polished and clean and clear as I can make it.

Of course, the real test is to have someone else read the work.  Unfortunately, unless someone is really skilled at reading and vetting a manuscript, what I usually get is, “Oh that’s nice,” with not much useful information I can use for rewriting.

Another technique I use that is helpful is to let the manuscript sit for a while without looking at it. Then go back to it later with fresh eyes.  That can be very useful.

Again, I say that rewriting is very subjective, but this is what works for me.  I’m sure everyone has their own way of working, and it can vary drastically from person to person.

I know some writers overwrite and have to edit like crazy.  While other writers under write and have to add and fill out.  I am closer to the later.  I like really clean and simple writing.

I know this is not an exhaustive look at the subject of rewriting, but there are many fine books out there on the subject.  I have read several, but like all books covering a general subject, some of the issues addressed are helpful, and some are not.  One just has to pick out what is useful to you and disregard the rest.

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I feel certain sex is the number one interest in most writing, but close behind must be food.  I know it plays a big part in my writing.  The very first sentence in my first novel reads: Sonora Livingston-Bundt examined in minute detail the delicate moist jewels of caviar, nestled in folds of creamy goat cheese, cradled by leaves of crispy endive.  I just can’t help myself, I am always writing about food in one form or another.  Sprinkled all through the rest of the novel are references to dinners, parties, snacks, shopping for food, coffee, tea, drinks, pies – a whole subplot involves opening a pie shop.  And I am sure there are many other references I can’t remember.

With obesity such a prominent subject these days I decided to write a children’s book – middle grade I believe it’s called – for kids 10-15.  It is set as a treasure hunt adventure.  Three very bright kids need to search for their parents who have not returned from a trip abroad.  In trying to find out where they might have gone they discover two books.  The father’s journal, and their mother’s journal of recipes.  She is a cookbook writer.  The father’s journal is a coded map to where the parent’s might be.  The kids must follow clues and go to various countries in various times using their father’s invention of a time machine.  The clues are coordinated with the mother’s journal of recipes.  The clues are in the recipes.

The purpose of the book was to introduce kids to healthy eating by exploring food from around the world.  Healthy international recipes that are simple to make and that the readers can do themselves.

That book was a lot of fun to write and of course was radically foodcentric.

I have always been intrigued by the idea of incorporating complete recipes right into the story itself.  I did that in a short story about a group of friends getting together for an Easter feast.  Just to give an example here is a sample of using the preparation of a dish within the story.  Hopefully one can enjoy the unfolding storyline while also getting a complete recipe as well.  Here’s a portion of the story.

George lived in a fantasy house on a cliff right above the ocean.  His house looked like a French half-timber manor with a Norman tower that descended to the beach via a spiral staircase.  George had been a Hollywood cinematographer for many years but escaped from the rat race to retire to his retreat where he puttered, and lovingly restored his dream house over several years. 

George had a houseguest this weekend.  Samantha was a British lady of some years (she would never reveal her true age) who resided in York City and would visit for several weeks at a time.  They had met many years ago on the beaches of Mexico, and had kept up a scintillating friendship ever since. 

George was adept at salads and simple breakfasts involving smoked salmon but had absolutely no idea how to approach a Moroccan feast.  On this Saturday morning he was plowing through a Mediterranean cookbook someone had given him one Christmas because “the pictures were so nice.”  He was mumbling and cursing and swatting at pages looking for something suitable.  Samantha came to the rescue.

 “I can’t believe you have no idea how to cook at your advanced age,” She taunted as she pulled the book from him and turned smartly to the index.  She studied the entries under Morocco and pointed.  “Here, just the thing,” she pronounced as she selected a Tagine Batata Hloowa, pointing to the entry like she was instructing a toddler in calculus.

George stared at her as though she had just given birth to a calf.  “I have no idea what that is.”

“Of course not, you’re an infidel.”  She pointed to the top of a kitchen cabinet where he had a fancy array of culinary pottery displayed – all for decoration; probably covered in dust; and, without a doubt, never used.  “And what do you suppose that is?” she asked in a very superior mode, pointing to a rough-looking dish with a tall conical lid.

“A dish,” he replied, not about to let her snippy attitude cow him.

“A tagine,” she smirked.  “A Moroccan baking dish.”

“Well goodie.  Looks like it will hold a dandy salad.”

“Oh…” She brushed him aside and started rummaging through his cupboards and refrigerator.  “Get it down.”

“Please?” he taunted.

“Yes.  Please.”  She looked at it as he brought it down.  “And clean it up while you’re at it.”

As he was washing the tagine she pulled out several cans of pearl onions left over from some Christmas long ago – some yams, some carrots and a bag of somewhat dried out pitted prunes.  “Do you have any sesame seeds?” she asked fishing through a cupboard of spices and pulling out what else she would need to season the dish.

“What are they?”

“Useless, useless,” she mumbled, finally finding a small packet at the back of the shelf.  “Good, this will work out nicely.”

“Need any help?” he asked,  indeed, beginning to feel useless.

She looked around at what she had gathered.  “Yes, can you peel the yams?  You do have a peeler somewhere, yes?”

He rummaged in a drawer and pulled out a splendid peeler, presenting it to her like he had just brought home the Heiseman Trophy.

“Excellent.” 

He continued to hold it up, quite unaware what to do with it.

“So peel the potatoes,” she nudged.

“Oh, yeah.”  He turned to the sink and began to peel the yams.

Samantha sautéed the pearl onions in a pan with some butter.  She took out half and placed them aside.  George had finished peeling the yams. 

“Here peel and slice these,” she directed, giving George several carrots.  She cubed the yams and placed them in the sauté pan with the remaining onions and added the carrots when George was done, cooking them till they were slightly browned.  She added two cups of vegetable broth, a quarter cup of honey, some cinnamon, ground ginger, a cup of the pitted and chopped prunes and some salt and pepper.  She placed the entire mixture into the bottom of the tagine, covered it with the lid and put it into a 400º oven and baked it till the vegetables were tender.  When she lifted off the tagine lid the most delicate and intoxicating aromas filled the kitchen.  Samantha added the reserved onions and cooked the tagine for five minutes more.  She had toasted the sesame seeds and kept them aside to sprinkle over the tagine just before serving.

George commented as she took the tagine out of the oven for the last time.  “Wow that smells pretty damn good.”

Samantha nodded and acknowledged the obvious.  “Of course.”

There, hope you enjoyed that.  As you are aware food plays a major part in our lives and, speaking for myself, also in my writing.

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Last week the temporary job that I have held for seven months ended.  Y-e-a and B-o-o.  Y-e-a because it frees me up to write, and B-o-o because my income will plummet.  I may be eligible for a pittance of unemployment, which would allow me to keep going, but it will curtail any but the most basic expenses.

I am now about three-quarters done with the first draft my latest novel.  It would be so sweet to really focus on that, and work every day to complete it.  And that is what I have been doing – except I have needed to go to doctor’s appointments, apply for unemployment, and spend a morning applying for food stamps.  And there seems to be an endless array of other little distractions nibbling away at my time each day.  Even with what appears to be unlimited free time, life just gets in the way.

Today I have an interview for a new job that would start immediately.  It will be full-time, while my last job was just 4 days a week.  More money – yes.  More time to write – no.  Of course I may not get it, but if I do, then I’m back struggling to find the time to write.

It’s the same with travel.  I love to travel, but if I’m working –  I don’t have the time.  If I’m free – then I don’t have the money.  Of course, this is not new, nor am I unique in struggling with this dilemma.  It is just another facet in the joys of being a writer who is not yet supporting himself by writing alone.  May that day come soon.  And, by the way, I am not complaining, just commenting.

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I know this is hardly an exhaustive examination of this subject, but I wanted to say a few words about an element that I find most helpful in my writing.

A subtle pleasure in reading (and writing) are the effects of rhythm and pacing, whether it is in the line, the paragraph or the chapter.  One can think of this in musical terms.  Rhythm is the regularly repeated beat within a given structure.  In music you have notes.  In writing you have words.  Just like in music, the properly repeated beats of words, phrases or sentences can have their own intrinsic pleasure, independent of the meaning.

For me, one way to accomplish this is with what I call the rule of three.  There is something inherently satisfying in the repetition of elements in sets of three.

For example – which do you find most satisfying?  The man laughed. (or)  The man laughed and ran.  (or)  The man laughed, ran, and jumped for joy.  My guess is you would choose the third example.  Not only because of the repetition of three elements in the sentence, but also because of the three elements in the last phrase as well.

Another example would be the repetition of the same word three times in a sentence.  For example: The kid was black, the kid was kind, and the kid could hold his own in any situation.  Here we have the repetition of the word “kid” three times, and it lends a rhythm that emphasizes the subject of the sentence as well as satisfying on a purely rhythmic level.

This is not unlike the famous opening of Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. 

 It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way–in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

I think it is very easy to see the use of rhythm and repetition here.  I will let this fragment speak for itself.

Pacing is a slight variation on Rhythm.  For example if one were to describe a lazy river countryside one might use long flowing sentences, using the writing to help convey the feeling and meaning of the sentence itself.  Long languid sentences matching the nature of the lazy river.  The boughs of the willows graced the silent, silver surface of the flowing river.  Wild flowers graced the banks, and sparkled like stars in the vast firmament of the fallow fields, lending a sweet brillance to the majesty of the royal, flowing water way.

If one were to describe a car chase one might use short choppy sentences to match the feeling and nature of the chase itself.  For example, the chase might read: The car careened around the corner, hit the curb, and dashed through the intersection. The wheels screeched.  The pedestrians jumped from the street. The roar of the engine pierced the silence of the sleepy street.

I know this but touches on a subject that can be more fully explored, but I wanted to introduce you to these thoughts.  I hope it was not too pedantic and that you might find it useful.

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I had a quite shocking experience not long ago while working on my latest novel.  I had nearly finished a segment with just a few paragraphs to go.  It suddenly became very clear to me that I had to kill off one of my main – and very favored – characters.  I stopped writing.  What was this?  I had never considered or even wanted to write such a thing.   But it was very clear that the story was demanding I do this.  It left me almost breathless.  Could I ignore this demand?  I very seriously considered not following the directive.  But then I realized I must do this.

Now when writing I have never plotted out the story ahead of time.  I always let the characters and story reveal themselves to me.  This process has worked very well for me before.  When I start writing I have a vague idea of the nature of the story and its general direction, but I never work it all out ahead of time.  And I realized that if I did not follow where the story was taking me I might stop the flow and actually dry up the source of the story itself.   In other words I had to kill off my character.  I really had no choice if I wanted the effervesce of the story to continue to flow.

Now I realize that is not everyone’s method of writing, and I am not advocating any one method of developing a story, but I just wanted to reveal how it works for me and the surprise I had with this process.  This goes back to the creative mystery and how it works.  Over and over again I am confronted with the mystery of the creative process.  And each time I marvel at how it works.

Every single one of us has our own style and method of writing and I am sure there are as many different ways of approaching writing as there are writers.  Interesting isn’t it?

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I have a background in theatre and script writing.  While I left that behind many years ago, I have found the influence is still with me.  I was an actor for a number of years, including professional acting with the American and New York Shakespeare Festivals.  The reason I mention this is because I find that my acting experience greatly influences how I write my dialogue in my novels.

Part of understanding a character as an actor is to explore the character’s background.  By creating a back story for the character the actor begins to feel inside the character, and out of that the actor finds the voice for the character. 

I find this very useful as a writer as well.  By feeling myself into the character I find that I find the voice of the character, the cadence, the way the character speaks, and even what they will speak.  When I am writing dialogue I put on the character like a bathrobe and walk around in their skin, then I find that the dialogue just flows.

Not only do I find their speech this way, but I also find the character itself.  I rarely plan ahead what the character will do or say, but rather, I feel them developing within me.  I am growing as the character grows.  I explore with them, and discover with them, and am sometimes led to very unexpected places.  The characters definitely develop the story itself and can lead me along very interesting roads that I would never have thought of on my own – trying to figure out the story.  Fascinating process.

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All of us have been influenced, in one way or another, by other writers.  When I first started out writing I thought that the influence of other writers might color my own writing, but I don’t think it has.  Perhaps when one is very young that might be a more likely outcome.  At that age one might be more inclined to copy the voice of a favorite author, but as one gets older it may be easier to find one’s own voice.  I think that is so my case.  However, I would like to discuss a few of my favorite writers and why they tickle my fancy so.

First is the adorable Jane – Jane Austen, of course.  In many ways I feel perhaps most influenced by her.  We certainly share similar circumstances.  Both of us wrote on our own, somewhat sequestered away, writing about the world we were observing around us – based on characters we were familiar with in a limited setting.  Her world was rural England in the late 18th, early 19th century.  Mine is 20 – 21st century, small town Santa Fe, NM.  I most admire her subtle satire of manners and mores, done with love and compassion.  Even her villains deserve your respect and understanding.

E.F. Benson, an English writer of the early 20th century is another writer I much admire.  His series of novels, collected together as Make Way for Lucia, are based on dominate women in rural England villages.  They delight me no end, and have given me inspiration for my own novel Divas Never Flinch.  He is little known, but should be more recognized.  I highly recommend checking out his writing.

Ethan Mordden is a contemporary author whose work throughly delights me as well.  He wrote a series of books on gay life in New York City that captures a time, place and a culture quite wonderfully.  I particularly admire his quirky sense of humor.  His work grew darker as the AIDS epidemic set in.  And has stopped writing this series completely, although he is still active in writing about opera and the theatre world.

Michael Cunningham is another writer I greatly admire.  Best known for his Pulitzer winning novel The Hours, I have read most of his work and find he is a beautifully descriptive writer.  Not the humorist like my other favorite writers.  But there is one passage in his book, Flesh and Blood that just takes my breath away with its evocative writing.

In all honesty I don’t read nearly enough, since I work a job and need to do my writing on weekends.  But I did want to share a few of my favorites.

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When I wrote screenplays a few centuries ago, I would spend a lot of time developing character and story before I even wrote the first “Fade In.”  The form of the screenplay breaks down into three acts, and has very specific lengths for each act.  In order to successfully design your plot one has to have fully developed characters.  A lot of thought went into character development, because the main character had to drive the story to its very precise conclusion.  And there had to be a protagonist and an antagonist – very structured.

However, when I started writing narrative fiction I found that my very precise character development ahead of time just did not work in that form.  And I have become endlessly fascinated by how a character can take over its own creation and development.

When I was writing Divas Never Flinch, my first novel, I had not written narrative fiction before.  I did have my main characters in mind and a list of supporting characters sketched out, but none with any full development nor any idea how they might play out in the story.

It was fascinating to see how each character took on their own life and demanded their own trajectory.  In fact I was nearly halfway through the book before a third major character suddenly presented herself and demanded to be a part of the story.

I quickly learned not direct the character myself, but to let the characters reveal themselves to me in their own good time.

Let me end with an example of a novel I am working on now.  I have a major character who is very strong, opinionated and demanding – a US President in fact.  I was writing a scene where he had just learned some devastating news and had not been able to react to it fully.  The event demanded strong action from him.  However, he had to bottle it up and go to a formal banquet first.

I was having some difficulty seeing the direction that the scene at the banquet would take, and struggled to find the next moment for the scene.  When that happens, I try not to push an external idea about how the scene should go, but try to let the character direct me.  Much to my surprise, and without any forethought on my part, the character suddenly collapsed just before he was to give a toast.  It was the perfect end to the scene, and a complete surprise from the character.  I had never dreamt that the scene and character would go in that direction.

I guess this is why I love writing.  You get to meet the most interesting people.

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Gotta admit it.  I’m a first class goon.  As an author my publisher pleads with me to get out there and work the social media.  She advises me to go to the Yahoo groups and get in there and work them with sizzle and shine.  She wants me to blog – which I am doing right now,  don’t ya see – she wants me on Facebook, Twitter and all the rest.  But I am totally helpless and clueless.  I have shunned these exercises like they were infected with a twelfth century plague.  We seem to be undated with a constant wash of personal agendas all screaming IN CAPITAL LETTERS demanding our dwindling attentions.  I really don’t care about what you had for lunch or if you brushed your teeth or not.  And I am for damn sure no one cares what I do about these activities.  Am I crazy?  Am I alone thinking like this?  But…but…but I’m a reclusive writer.  All I want to do is work on my latest book or story.  How am I expected to do that if I have to be doing all this other stuff as well?

Sigh.  I should have been born a whole lot earlier, or at least started writing earlier.  I know, it’s an age thing.  If I were twenty I would be all over it, but I’m 70 for chriz sake.  Leave me alone in my stupor and backwardness.  I can’t be out there pushing myself like a used car salesman.  Give me a personal break.

So, I shall make this blog mercifully short and hopefully sweet.  I have had my little say.  So if  I disappear into the cyber void so be it.  For those of you who are adept at these activities I wish you well, and forgive this goon who continues to stumble along in the darkness.  But hey, I did learn to write on a computer.  That’s gotta count for something.  Right?

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It seems to be the general industry practice that a traditional publisher will not consider an unpublished manuscript unless it is solicited by the publisher, or is presented by an author’s agent.  It would be a waste of time to try to query publishers directly if you are looking to get your book published.

The exceptions are the self-publishing houses that solicit manuscripts from authors who then pay the full cost to get their manuscripts published.  This is not recommended unless you are looking to publish just a few copies of your book – for instance, for a family history where there will only be a few copies needed, and no sales or promotion required.

However, the new trend in publishing is what is called subsidiary publishing.  In this arrangement you submit your manuscript to the publisher and they evaluate it just like a traditional publishing house.  If they believe the manuscript warrants publication they will offer the author a contract for publication.  With a traditional publisher the author might be offered between 8 and 10 % of the royalty.  However with subsidiary publishing the author can receive up to 50% of the royalties.  A big advantage.  However, the author will be requested to put up a certain percentage of the publishing costs as well – about 17 to 18% of the total publishing costs.  A number of major publishing houses are now offering this type of contract as well as smaller houses.

My first novel, Divas Never Flinch, was published in a subsidiary publishing agreement with Brighton Publishing.  Their website is www.brightonpublishing.com.  There is a lot of good information on their site about the various forms of publishing and it is certainly worth a look if this is a route to publishing you might wish to consider.  They also tell you how you may submit manuscripts to them.  My experience with Brighton has been very positive so far, but we are still in the process of rolling out the printed version of the book.  Of course, e-books are the new wave of publishing, and Brighton seems well versed in this process as well.  You will certainly want to consider a publisher experienced in e-book publishing.

I consider my experience with the publishing world to be modest at best, and I am certain there is much more that could be written on this subject.  However, this is my experience and I wanted to share it.

I am certainly open to comments and additions from any of you if you care to contribute.

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