Sunday, January 22, 2017

The Writer's Bug

No matter how many books you've written, whenever you sit down to write a new book you feel the same challenge - how do you shape this story into a book people are going to love. Cassandra Clare.

Spring, and I'd just gotten word my second novel had been accepted for publication. There would be a ton of work to do - editing, fixing, rewriting and rearranging. There is the give...and the take. That is, the editor gives you marching orders and you take them.  Sorry, Marci. Kidding.

Police careers have a fairly predictable trajectory. Getting hired is harder than one might think, even though the applicant pool has shrunk a bit. Little things that would not hinder job prospects in some fields are fatal when the employer intends to allow the person to carry a gun on duty. Once that considerable hurdle is cleared, the Academy looms.

Most new hires arrive at the Academy door with a mixture of anticipation, anxiety and, well...fear. It usually turns out for the best, although the stress can be overwhelming. The challenge of mentally preparing men and women to be officers is at least as important as the skill-building and physical training they endure. 

Field training is no picnic. Imagine if someone watched you like a hawk, day in and day out, for every second of your work day. Their critical eye evaluates how the new officer dresses, talks, moves. Even the wrong body language and facial expression are critiqued and corrected. Sixteen weeks of intense scrutiny. Oh boy. I had written about what that looks like to an experienced officer in The Heart of the Matter. That was the book the publisher had accepted.

Finally, the day a cop solos. Exciting, a little spooky. Everything is new, one can list the calls they went to. Animated discussions of burglary investigations, the experienced officers rolling their eyes. Just wait, kid.

Indeed. At about year five it's gotten to be routine, even a bit mundane. Nights are long (especially in winter, when it is dark when the officer gets up, dark for their whole shift and dark when they go home). The calls sort of blend together. The money is good, but court OT on a day off is a huge pain in the ass. It's a tough time - little things pile up, and many officers look at getting out, either to a different department, or away from the profession altogether. That's where I wanted my character to be.

And that's when things would go badly wrong. But, how?

Drones, guns and constitutionalists. Lawful orders that don't sit very well. Death, despair... Boy meets girl.

A More Perfect Union didn't fall together very easily. Oh, the plot is relatively straightforward (the fun being in the details). But, it had been a while since I'd been at the crucial five year point. The main character was one dimensional, her dialogue lacking in emotional depth. I asked around for help, and got it. More help than I could have hoped for. Pro tip - writers searching for help with a manuscript are wise to find people who are honest. False flattery wastes your time, and betrays your characters. There is going to be that person who will drop everything to help. Maybe a couple of somebodies. Find them, quick.

So, now I have another book for sale. You'll like Cici. She has a heart of gold, but it has deep wounds, some of which haven't really healed. She's tough, she's aware. And she desperately wants to do the right thing when there are so many good reasons to quit. Eventually, the showdown comes, good against a terrible evil.

Does she have it in her? 

Monday, January 16, 2017

Last Man Out

"Son of a bitch!" Apollo 10 Astronaut Gene Cernan, in orbit around the Moon, May, 1969.

Noting the passing of Gene Cernan, Astronaut.

LM Pilot Cernan's words were broadcast over an open mike 240, 000 miles, from the Moon to Houston to our living room. He and his crew mate Tom Stafford were executing a maneuver in the Lunar Module, the spidery craft designed to land on the Moon, that would reunite them with John Young, piloting the Command Module in orbit forty-ish miles above. Suddenly, the machine pitched out of control.

Eugene Andrew Cernan was a typical early-era NASA astronaut. Engineer, military test pilot, cool customer. He had a master's degree and 200 "traps" aboard Navy carriers. He had three space flights - one in the small two-person Gemini, and two aboard the more sophisticated Apollo moon craft. 

His first trip to the moon - Apollo 10 - was a dress rehearsal for the landing made two months later. The space agency already had ten years of experience with the super competitive, profoundly confident fliers they employed. Apollo 10's LM, called Snoopy, had intentionally been shorted fuel. If Stafford and Cernan had "accidentally" landed, there was not sufficient fuel to depart.

So they played by the rules, flipped a few switches and... Chaos. In low (50,000 feet) orbit around the Moon, out of control. What would you say in similar circumstances? 

They were all test pilots, familiar with how experimental technology can suddenly turn a good day, bad. They got things back together, took a few deep breaths, and finished the maneuver. And took some not too gentle criticism for the salty language.

Captain Cernan went on to walk on the Moon as commander of Apollo 17, the last mission. He holds the official "Land Speed" record in a rover (about 12 mph) and along with Dr. Harrison Schmitt (Harvard-educated geologist) brought back about 250 pounds of rocks.

His parting words echoed those of the first landing. 

"And, as we leave the Moon at Taurus–Littrow, we leave as we came and, God willing, as we shall return, with peace and hope for all mankind. Godspeed the crew of Apollo 17."

With profound thanks and immeasurable respect, Godspeed Captain Cernan.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Little Notes, Big Idea

Any man who keeps working is not a failure. He may not be a great writer, but if he applies the old-fashioned virtues of hard, constant labor, he’ll eventually make some kind of career for himself as writer.
– Ray Bradbury

Out of Ideas wasn't my first published work. It wasn't even the first novel I finished. It, in many ways, was an accident.

My friend John and I had traveled to Wisconsin, pulling a pop-up behind his SUV. We'd been friends for almost twenty-five years. He was a pilot, in addition to being a police academy classmate - he had, more or less, taught me to fly, if one broadens the definition of that skill to someone who could keep the plane flying straight and mostly level. We were in Oshkosh to witness AirVenture 2005, the Experimental Aircraft Association's annual fly in.

One need not be a total airplane geek to appreciate field upon field of flying tin that descends on tiny Wittman Regional Airport. Row after row of new planes, old iron, warbirds and military might are crammed into every nook and cranny. We spent over a week there, and never really saw the same thing twice. Vendors, static displays and everywhere the jocks, the pilots.

One night the weather descended, the skies opened up and drenched the festivities, the airfield, the stage tent (where Harrison Ford was speaking) and us. The following day low clouds led to some changes in the program; the Mustangs flying by were at a lower altitude. 

The Mustang is an amazing aircraft, flown at the show mostly by amateur pilots with enough money to pursue an explosively expensive hobby. They roared past in formation, or one after another. John's portable aviation radio picking up exhortations between the fliers as shows, or ad hoc fly-bys, took place overhead. On one occasion, several of the jocks seemed a bit miffed with a cohort whose flying was less than precise. They finally prevailed on him to land.

The next day, reading the local paper (which was hardly the New York Times) I discovered that, during one of the afternoon events an airplane had crashed off the airport property. The pilot, a dentist by profession, was killed. We had seen the aftermath of one accident the first day we'd arrived, so the tragic news was also not a surprise. With all of the activity there was no way things didn't break.

The end of the week came, unfortunately, and we headed home. Then... My mind burst into overdrive. What if?

I had written a manuscript called A Parasol in a Hurricane, urged on by my wife, and by a friend at work who offered insights into my main character I'd never thought of. The experience was energizing. I love to write, even as the ongoing business of publication gives me some trouble.

What if the pilot was an imposter. What if this was a murder? What if a tall, attractive woman was my main character and I could say, in as many words, abuse a woman and pay a price? I wanted to create a main character that was tough and tender, stand-offish and passionate... A warrior who crawled into bed with her soulmate and made him forget how to walk.

I was off. John had a little note pad that I scribble on until three AM. Yes. True story.

It became Out of Ideas, my first published novel. I had a lot of help, together we made a lot of changes (read the "Thank you" pages where I name names) and it was published.

Alas, the publisher has retreated for a while, leaving me sole owner of this property. After a short break, it's available again.

Adam and Karen. I promise they will come alive for you.

UPDATE: Out of Ideas is now available in paperback. 


Monday, January 2, 2017

In Print

I felt that I had to write. Even if I had never been published, I knew that I would go on writing, enjoying it and experiencing the challenge. Gwendolyn Brooks

Over the last ten years I have had the privilege of working with Marci Baun and her imprint, Wild Child Publishing. The first time a writer reads the words "We'd like to talk to you about publishing your work" it matters little who, or what...or where.

Wild Child has taken a break, falling...not quite victim, but finding the landscape nevertheless the rapidly evolving world of publishing. It is all too common to see good work, done by talented writers, failing to find an audience. There are myriad explanations, but no cure.

Marci is a warrior. She will win the fight.

In the meantime... If you would like to purchase my novels, they are (a bit at a time) available on Amazon. The Heart of the Matter, which I consider my best writing, is now in print form.

Print form. Two readers - one fabulous friend and one daughter - have Facebooked pictures of them, a novel I wrote called A Miracle of Zeros and Ones that is the only other book in print, and the beach. It was an amazing thing to see.

Heart is ready for your beach.  

A Thing Brought Home

If one finishes a work read to them on Audiobooks, have they, in it?

My downloaded copy of Miles Gone By, an anthology of William F. Buckley, Jr. essays previously released, was intended by him to be autobiographical. The work was read in whole by the author, at a time in his life when the ravages of age and lifestyle choices rendered his stentorian tones and New England-esque elocutions uncertain. There were moments when he seemed to be running out of steam, but he would rally - other sections, he had regained his voice and verve. It is wonderfully written, and haunting, for in the end the listener knows that Mr. Buckley, having lived a charmed and profoundly eventful life, has been dead for nearly ten years.

Having finished listening, I searched the house for my print copy. The book had been around - I found it in a second hand store in Lahaina, on Maui, in 2010. I'd read almost all of it already, but... I had to hold it in my hand.

The word is personification. I attributed the human characteristic of experience to this book. It had been with me in Hawaii, in Mexico. It was a faithful companion aboard airplanes, and at my late mother's condo. It was Mr. Buckley telling me what it was like to have common experiences with uncommon people, to sail the oceans and then somberly give up his sailboat forever. He'd skied Utah, visited Antarctica and descended in a cramped submersible to see HMS Titanic with his own eyes.

I couldn't put the book down, but could not bear to read a page.