Please, go ahead & judge this book by its cover!

The sequel to my 2019 novel, John J. McDermott & the 1971 U.S. Open, is finally for sale at Amazon.

I think I bettered the six months it took John J. McDermott & the 1971 U.S. Open to make it from finished manuscript to published but not by much. It’s a great feeling to be finished writing but a lousy one to anticipate all of the annoying steps that have to be taken before anyone can read your book.

Right now, it’s eBook only. An issue with the cover formatting undermined me at the last minute. Hopefully, you lovers of paper books will be able to grab a copy later in the week.

In the meantime, Cottonwood the eBook is waiting to be read.

Please, go ahead & judge this book by its cover!

February 7: Musicians who are missing in action

The internet is an endlessly fascinating place. It has made finding new wonderful musicians easy and immensely satisfying. I could not begin to name all of the musicians who have crossed my path, quite by accident, over the last decade or so.

The odd thing is that occasionally one of them (or two in this case) will go missing, leaving only the music that led me to them in the first place.

The first is Brendan Campbell. He may have had another record at some point, but the only one I know of is Burgers & Murders. I’m listening to Pleiades right now. This guy is so gone that he doesn’t even have a licensing deal with iTunes anymore. I found that out when I realized that none of his songs were on my iPhone. Had they not been downloaded to my MacMini years back that music would have been gone, maybe forever.

Brendan Campbell

The other musician is even more obscure. All John Danley left behind are a handful of videos. He was (is?) a wonderful finger-style player. From what I’ve been able to find he’s totally done with the whole music deal. The last reference I saw about him mentioned that he’d turned to a career in psychotherapy.

John Danley

A handful of years ago, he had a working website. What must have happened for him to let both his website’s eponymous domain and the site itself slip below the electrons of the internet? I just don’t get it. It’s just too easy and inexpensive to keep a website online to let one slip away. I actually mentioned Danley’s name to Will Ackerman a couple years back, along with a link to one of his videos. I had a kind of fantasy that Will might have recognized Danley’s talent and would want to set about using his industry connections to get him discovered, but Danley’s anonymity remains frustratingly intact.

How many more wonderful musicians am I doomed to find and lose? To put a tiny spin of optimism I could say I’m fortunate to have found Danley & Campbell at all, and that’s true. It’s always hard to keep from wanting more, I suppose.

Thanks for reading.

P.S. Had I been willing to let this post wait until tomorrow I would have done a better job. For some reason tonight the WordPress desktop app will let me do everything but write a post.

The optimist would say how lucky I am to be able write what I have on my phone.

February 7: Musicians who are missing in action

February 5: Hill climb & pano

The winds have been blowing off & mostly on for more than a week. When we had measurable rain a while back I allowed myself a bit too much optimism, at least as regards the drought.

Now that optimism is being blown away and that’s a lousy feeling. The only benefit of Santa Anas this time of year are cloudless, scrubbed-blue skies and fantastic visibility. Even though the winds were less intense today, the skies were still quite clear.

My valley to valley hike is front of mind. I’ve been looking for a map that shows all of the fire roads in Los Angeles and Ventura counties but I haven’t found one so far. I made a trip to REI today since they have a good selection of maps and guides on hand but they didn’t have what I needed. There was an interesting trail map of Conejo to the ocean that should have easily covered the entire relevant area except that the folks at NatGeo decided to plop the map’s legend right over the west end of the valley, where it meets up with Palo Comado. Oh well. What do those folks know?

This is iPhone pano looking northish (those are homes in Bell Canyon on the left).

This is a nastyish hil climb I use to inaugurate my legs and lungs every time I use the Victory Trailhead. From the middle to the top you actually ascend on toes. It’s possible to descend it but if it happens to rain again this hill will be impassable both up and down. The photo doesn’t do it justice; it’s damn steep.

No hike is complete without a refreshment and today I promised myself a blood orange IPA from the pizza and beer tavern at the intersection of Victory & Valley Circle. Somehow I’ve managed to miss the name of the brewery both times I’ve enjoyed it there. That fact gives me a good excuse to drop in for another pint someday soon.

Tonight’s writing soundtrack is He’s Fine from The Secret Sisters 2017 record You Don’t Own Me Anymore. It’s far and away the best song on the record; clean, simple and bound to no genre or time. It’s fantastic.

Thanks for reading.

February 5: Hill climb & pano

January 16: Sunday in Sacramento

Like I said, this has been a quick trip. Maybe too quick when you think about the numbers of miles to & fro but you know what they say about beggars.

Our Sunday started out slowly with breakfast at Cafe Bernardo’s-Pavillions. There are a couple others Bernardo’s in the chain but this location is my favorite, especially when it comes to their fantastic pancakes. Today’s were sublime; tender, good buttermilk flavor, not over or undercooked and the perfect thickness. I got by with one cake but I would have been able to devour four if self-preservation hadn’t gotten the better of me.

Later, we took a ride out to the Effie Yeaw Nature Center in Carmichael, in the same park as the Ancil Hoffman golf course I mentioned yesterday.

The nature center has a number of trails that meander along and around the American River. As on the golf course there are deer everywhere as well as wild turkeys. The air was just crisp enough to keep a jacket on even with the sun out.

Afterwards, I noticed a brewery in nearby Rancho Cordova that I wanted to check out called Fort Rock. Everything was just a little disappointing. It was too loud (the 49ers were playing Dallas), the tap list was a little blah as was the strip mall ish location. I tried the Lights Out IPA. It was Ok but far from soul-stirring. Maybe I was expecting too much or maybe the relentless din from the TVs and the football fans tweaked my tastebuds. I hate to scratch a brewery off the list after trying only one beer but I may have to in this case.

Ah, but dinner! Dinner was at Obo. Now why the hell can’t I have an Obo in Los Angeles? It’s Italian and it’s fantastic. I went all in with spaghetti & meat balls and it was good as it was last summer, the winter before that and so on. They also have a full bar, a small but well-curated tap list, and a $10 rye old fashioned.

Are you kidding me?

We were celebrating a birthday (not mine) so I had two old fashioneds and the three of us split a slice of cheesecake, chocolate mousse and a chocolate-dipped cupcake that took a ride home with the lucky birthday boy.

It’s HGTV again tonight as we wind down but least it’s Home Town and not the drivel I subjected myself to last night. Nope, I didn’t come up with any ideas for my next book. Maybe tomorrow. I’m not even any more relaxed than when we left Los Angeles but at least we had us some fun and were blessed with good company and a wonderful host.

Tomorrow will be 388 easy miles and a return to reality. I can’t say I’m looking forward to either but I’m glad we made the trip.

Thanks for reading.

January 16: Sunday in Sacramento

January 15: Sacramento

Thank goodness for the MLK holiday. It gave us a little time to make our way to Sacramento for a very quick getaway and a opportunity to dodge Omicron outside of Los Angeles County. I like this place. It’s not perfect but then again, neither am I. It’s not hard for me to confess the two big things that help me like it here.

The first is the welcome availability of quality golf that’s not crazy expensive. The 27 hole complex at Haggin Oaks was one of the best municipal facilities I had ever played until I was lucky enough to play Ancil Hoffman in nearby Carmichael. This last summer found me sitting on the patio at Ancil Hoffman drinking the biggest $8 Captain & Diet Coke you’ve ever seen. It is a beautiful layout that was in fantastic shape for the middle of summer, or any time of year for that matter.

Of course, that was summer and this is winter. It’s colder here than it is in SoCal. Worse, even though there’s no rain in the forecast the air is incredibly heavy, making tonight’s 43 degrees at 10pm feel quite a bit colder.

So, it’s cold, the days are short, what’s to do? There are great indoors are here aplenty. THat brings me to the second thing I love about Sacramento; the scores of great restaurants and bars. There are also tons of micro breweries around here though I must admit the pale ale I had from Berryessa Brewing this evening was not very good, but those are the breaks.

However, the cheddar burger at Hook & Ladder Manufacturing was superb. Stupid name for a place that is supposed to have an educational vibe (teacher’s desk inside the front door and school auditorium seats for use while waiting for a table).

But wait, am I so simple that burgers, booze and decent golf is enough to get me to relocate to Sacramento? Who knows, but I wouldn’t rule it out. Tomorrow I am hoping to write down some ideas for my next book. I hope you’ll be here to read them.

Sorry, no writing soundtrack tonight. Some idiotic home improvement show on HGTV is filling in, and doing a lousy job of it, I might add.

January 15: Sacramento

120,000 words & conventional wisdom

I was fooling around looking at the word count of my novel the other day and I stumbled across a number of amusing articles contending that 120,000 words is some kind of magic number that one was unwise to exceed, especially as a first or second novel writer.

My favorite quote so far is:

“Word count limits can seem like they stifle artistic flow, but they exist for a reason.”

Uh, not really.

This is 2020. There are front list books. There are back list books. There long and short list books. But, there is no inherent relationship between word count and quality and I don’t care if the author is a newbie or Dostoyevsky.

The fact is that duration or word count might well be inextricably bound to the depth and complexity of the writer’s vision. If ebooks and contemporary printing technology has brought us anything it should be freedom from arbitrary limits respective to word count and the like.

So, if some stodgy old editor tells you differently, feel free to ignore what they say.

Only the author (and his or her trusted editor) can say whether a book has too many words (or too few).

To say otherwise would be to go back to the 20th or 19th century.

Let’s not…

 

120,000 words & conventional wisdom

Best writing advice ever!

I’m in deep into the sequel to my first novel,  John J. McDermott & the 1971 U.S. Open.

The working title (and my bet the final title) of the sequel is Cottonwood.

I am dedicated to moving the narrative along at a rapid clip. I hike fast. I play golf fast. I speak fast and I write fast, until I take a break, which I did too often with JJM.

That’s a mistake I will not make again. In fact, I’ve put a serious time limit on writing the narrative to the sequel. I want to finish the narrative by the end of 2019. It’ll take another three to five months to edit and format the dang thing, so it’s really not all that fast compared to other writers.

Anyway, I wanted to pass along the best writing advice I ever heard. The advice is in Doug Nichol’s 2016 film, California Typewriter and it came from the late Sam Shepard.

I’ll paraphrase the advice:

Never quit when you’re stuck. When you start up again you’ll still be stuck.

Now the funny thing is that I rarely consider myself to be struck. If I fail to work on my book it’s nearly always because I’ve been distracted by lesser things like work. But, there’s still a lot of wisdom and usefulness to what Shepard said. Since I heard his admonition I try to quit when I’m on a roll I know I can keep it going later. In fact, a lot of times the momentum of the roll is actually enhanced by the renewed energy that comes from taking a break to go on a hike or drink a fine IPA.

When I do nudge up against stuckness (to borrow a word made up by Robert Pirsig) I dedicate myself to the kind of written thrashing about that, if I’m lucky,  gets a few more words and hopefully good ideas onto the page. The small success of getting those kinds of difficult words down blunts the sharpness of feeling a little stuck and replaces it with the confidence that a way forward can be found with a bit more effort.

Anyway, think about what Sam said the next time you find yourself stuck.

 

 

Best writing advice ever!

How (and how NOT) to discuss a friend’s new novel.

I’m going to take a few minutes to explain how to discuss a friend (or loved one’s) new novel.

Please consider my premise:

The novel was a royal pain in the ass to write. It was a wholly unreasonable thing to try to create while holding down a day job of any kind.

It started out hard & got harder.

Then, as if by magic, it was done.

In the end, the writer failed in ways he never imagined.

In the end, the writer succeeded in ways he never believed possible.

A book should be read, it must be reacted to, so the writer gives it to the audience he imagines will be the most kind and receptive and responsive.

You’re that audience and I’m going to tell you what the writer wants you to say and ask (and also what he hopes you won’t).

First, be aware the writer knows his novel is flawed.

He didn’t write the novel to get rich.

He didn’t write the novel to become famous.

He wrote the novel in an effort to convey an idea or series of ideas in the best and most engaging way he could.

Let’s cover those pesky don’ts first.

The writer doesn’t want to hear about what you’re reading right now and that you’ll get to his book when you’re done.

The writer doesn’t care when you read his book, only how.

The writer doesn’t want to be asked how he intends to promote his book. It’s a valid subject, of course, but in the heady time just after the book has gone up for sale it’s probably not front-of-mind for the writer.

The writer doesn’t want to be reminded how great it is that it’s become so easy for anyone to write a book and sell it on Amazon.

The writer doesn’t want to be asked how many copies have sold so far.

The writer doesn’t want to be asked if he he’s going to send the book to any real publishers.

Let’s move along to what the writer does want you to ask about.

The writer wants to know if you liked the book. He wants to know if you found any of the characters likable or loathsome or fun or frightening.

He wants you to ask him how he went about writing the characters the way he did.

He wants you to ask if any of the characters were based on people he actually knew or knows.

He wants you to ask what it was about the real person that made him want to form the person into a character in a fictional book.

The writer wants to know if you didn’t like the book.

Trust me on this.

He wants to know if you simply didn’t find the story intriguing or the characters engaging. If he fell short (and he surely did), you’re his best chance of figuring out how he did and maybe even why.

The writer wants you to ask how you decided on the book’s sequence. He wants you to ask how you were able to handle the different times and places while maintaining the book’s coherence and flow.

The writer wants to be asked why he decided to write a book at all?

Why make the effort to do something that consumes literally thousands of hours and, in many cases, years to complete with a vanishing a chance of being appreciated by more than a few readers, let alone to achieve financial compensation commensurate with the effort?

It’s a good question that every aspiring writer has asked himself not only when he first set out to write the book, but likely every single time he sat down to work on it.

The way you ask that question may help the writer draw a closer to his own answer when he asks the question of himself.

He also wants you to ask him about other subjects he may be interested in, or may already be working on.

Finally, he wants to be asked what he learned from writing the book.

He wants you to tell him what you regard as the best part and worst part of his book.

Lastly, the writer wants to know what his book made you think and feel. Were you happy to be done with it, to be relieved of the perceived obligation of reading it, or did its ending leave you wanting more?

Did reading it make you think differently about the writer? Did it change the way you thought about what he might accomplish in the future, based on what you see as the promise or lack of promise manifested in the book you just read?

The writer is asking himself each of these questions as he lays his head on his pillow every night.

Is the writer is an honest soul, looking to achieve beyond his prior achievements?

Though obvious to me, I should say that everything I write here assumes the writer in question is an honest soul. I assume the writer was trying to achieve something bigger and far more importantly than bigger or longer, a work beyond anything he may have written before.

Thinking of a novel as leap of faith.

I think every novel represents a leap of faith for a writer and I believe a writer simply wants to be asked what made him want to take the leap.

That’s a question he’s asking himself, too.

How (and how NOT) to discuss a friend’s new novel.

My novel is done, done, done.

My novel is done. No, you can’t go buy it yet.

I’m preparing it for submission to a handful of publishers and it turns out they don’t fancy looking at books that are already in the throes of a self-publishing campaign.

I’m quite certain that’s where my book will end up and that’s OK by me. I’m glad I wrote it. It took a lot longer than I had hoped but I learned so much about the kind of long-form writing thought that a novel requires that I now regard the span of time as something of a necessity. That’s another way of saying I’m a slow learner.

I had written a great deal over a very long period of time before I decided to write a novel. Now that I’ve done it, I want to do another and to do a better job of it. I can look back on my book and can see it clearly for its good and bad. Something about writing it broke away a kind of resistance that had set in to that kind of writing ambition. Suddenly, writing a book seemed like something I could do and do with meaningful results.

I think often of Steve Earle’s dark years in Amsterdam when he was addicted to heroin. When he had finally clawed his way back into the light, he had a creative boom of sorts, making records and writing books and plays with a speed and intensity he never showed before. He attributed the burst of work to his release from smack.

Even though I wrote for both pay and fun I avoided the idea of writing a book until I hit my 50s. Rather than being addicted to heroin I had instead succumbed to the belief that I didn’t have anything to offer; that I wasn’t that kind of writer. It turns out that I am…

So, I’m grateful that I simply had the idea to write my book. Obviously and as always, it is the idea that made everything possible.

Now I have another idea and it’s led me start writing my second next novel.

Here’s hoping it moves along faster than the first one.

 

My novel is done, done, done.