Book Cover reveal: ALL THE DIFFERENT WAYS LOVE CAN FEEL

 

This collection of short stories is twelve years in the making. I wrote the first story that appears in ALL THE DIFFERENT WAYS LOVE CAN FEEL in 2005. Father’s Day was rapidly approaching, and I was a broke graduate student at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. I had no money, so instead of buying my Dad a necktie or coffee mug on credit I wrote him a short story called “Five O’Clock Lightning.” It was about a fifty-year old high school math teacher who, with the help of his psychologist son, tries out for a local minor league baseball team. Like me, my old man is baseball fan, and he enjoyed the story.  Back in the day, practically all professional baseball games were played during the day (no stadium lights available), and when the 1927 New York Yankees had “Murder’s Row”–Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Miller Huggins among others–the saying went that these sluggers hit so many home runs they could change the score as quickly as lightning strikes. At the time, I thought five o’clock lightning was a fitting metaphor for a middle-aged man’s comeback.  I wrote that story when I was twenty four. Now I’m middle-aged and am looking to make a comeback of sorts.

Between 2005 and 2017, I wrote the rest of the stories in this collection, some while I was a creative writing student at UAB; others I wrote later after I became an English instructor, a husband, and a father.  “The Man Who Wore No Pants,” a lengthy story about a single father who buys a lake house with a dying man still living in it, took me nine drafts (and six months) to complete to my satisfaction. Memory serves, the germ of that story came from an NPR story about a man who had terminal cancer and was selling his house, but with two possible asking prices: a buyer could have the house for a song if the seller was allowed to stay until he died, but if he had to leave, the price was set at market value. It was a fascinating story, and I’m pretty sure I heard it on This American Life. Anyway, “The Man Who Wore No Pants” was picked for Best of the Net for 2010 and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. That story marked the beginning of my dedication to (or perhaps obsession with) third person narration, for that is the point of view I’ve written in almost exclusively ever since. That story is also primarily about a father trying to connect with his son, which is why I chose it to be the first story in ALL THE DIFFERENT WAYS LOVE CAN FEEL.  The last story in the collection, “Just Gus,” also features a father and son. In this story, which I just finished in March of 2017, Gus Lockhart, an eighteen-year old about to leave for college, steals his father’s prized record collection, and the father attempts to better understand why it happened. I’m not one for boasting, but this is a very good story–it’s funny, it’s heartfelt, it’s honest. . .

As are the rest of the stories in ALL THE DIFFERENT WAYS LOVE CAN FEEL. Or, at least, I think they are. I hope they are. Either way, I wanted to share the book cover I created. I’m planning on writing more about the process of self-publishing on Createspace, so, if you’re so inclined, be on the lookout for my thoughts on that. In the meantime, voila. . .the book cover for ALL THE DIFFERENT WAYS LOVE CAN FEEL.

Kindle book cover for ALL THE DIFFERENT WAYS LOVE CAN FEEL
Kindle book cover for ALL THE DIFFERENT WAYS LOVE CAN FEEL

 

 

Quick Writing Tips: On Routine

TIP: always stop writing for the day in the middle of something. 

Never finish writing a chapter or a scene or a piece of dialogue without beginning another one. A writer should always leave himself or herself something else to write for the next day. This, I’ve found, is a time saver as I don’t spend a frustrating amount of time at the beginning of a writing session wondering what I am going to write about that day. This also helps combat the dreaded Writer’s Block. Give it a try. (Oh, and I’ve discovered that this little trick helps my mood as well as I no longer brood throughout the day, speculating as to what my narrative and my characters are gonna do next).

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Quick Writing Tips: On Character

TIP: Always make sure that characters are driving the plot, not the other way around.

As readers, we are going to gravitate toward interesting, complex, flawed, likable characters, and if those are present in a book, the pages will turn themselves. Too, if the writer has created an interesting character, said character will naturally get involved in interesting situations, and there’s your plot. So, writers, if you’re writing scene after scene with a character, it’s just not working, chances are it is the character’s fault.

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3 Patience Exercises to Help You Finish Writing Your Novel

More than anything, a writer needs to be patient in order to succeed. Far too often, we get frustrated and step away from the computer/typewriter and never go back. We write 2,000 words, or 10,000, or 30,000, and then get stuck. Sometimes we get bogged down with details, or research, or voice, or plot. But whatever the reason, we just can’t seem to see the project through to completion. I should know, for I wrote in the neighborhood of 100,000 words before I finally finished (not published) my first novel, which wasn’t worth using as a coaster let alone as a form of entertainment.

Which leads me to some simple but albeit odd exercises I did (and do) in between writing sessions that helped me finish writing Go Go Gato. These exercises helped me become more patient and deal with the general stresses of life a whole lot better.
1) Stand in long lines. Whenever I go to the grocery store or post office, I deliberately join the longest line. While standing there, I slow my breathing, clear my mind, and focus on a spot on the wall like a colorful poster or a window. As I stare at the spot, in my mind I repeat the mantra that calms me down: “Patience is a virtue.” After several seconds, my blood pressure slows, and I begin to notice the other people in line muttering to themselves and frantically checking their watches. Funnily enough, the more I did this the easier it was to endure the daily frustrations of writing a novel.

2) Don’t pass slow cars. When I drive on the highway, for instance, and a car in front of me is going well below the speed limit, I do not tailgate or honk. Instead, I take a deep breath, slow down, and maintain at least a two-car length distance. As I drive, in my head I calculate just how many minutes I would save if I passed the slow car. Usually, the amount of time saved is very small. This exercise also proved helpful to my writing process as I often have to slow down my breathing and my racing mind to hit my daily word count target.

3) Listen without interrupting. When I listen to other people talk, instead of allowing my mind to fill up with what I want to say next, I clear out the words and images pinballing around in my brain and focus on the speaker’s words. I do not interrupt the speaker; I wait until he or she has finished talking, I count to three, and then I respond to what was said. I have noticed I retain a lot more of the information that was said since I’ve begun doing this exercise, and I have also noticed I enjoy my conversations more. Too, when I do not interrupt people, they are far more likely to say something interesting since they are confident that I am giving them my full attention. Likewise, when my characters are speaking I do not interrupt them. I let them speak—at length, if needs be. That’s when they’re more apt to say (or do) something interesting.

I’d love to hear from anyone who has a tip for staying patient while writing.

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On Why Villains are Fun. . .

The world needs villains. Especially in Judeo-Christian America, we need villains in order to validate our own moral superiority; we need villains to be the living embodiment of Evil, to be out there committing the Big Crimes, so that the rest of us can shake our heads and keep right on cheating on our taxes and stealing our neighbor’s WIFI and parking in handicap spaces.

But philosophical and moral arguments aside, we need villains because well, they’re cool. And they have way more fun than most of us.  They allow us to watch (from a safe distance) as they not only succumb to their base desires, but really revel in them. Personally, I enjoy them for their unapologetic nature, for thumbing their collective noses at the world and saying, “I do whatever I want, whenever I want, and stop me. . . if you can.” Really, how fun does that sound?

Now think about this.  What would Superman be without Lex Luther?  Answer: just an uptight guy with glasses and a strong chin.  I mean, James Bond is just a womanizer without the likes of Auric Goldfinger and Dr. No;  without the many foes Bond has battled and defeated in those books and movies, he would be a cliche, a very one-dimensional character, who would have to find a rich widower to pay for his first-class air travel, gadgets, and dry martinis.  Hell, even my beloved Red Sox are much more fun to watch when they are pitted against the Evil Empire known as the New York Yankees.

Which brings me to an article on villains and villainy I found at a tumblr site called CleverGirlHelps. I linked to the entire article below, but I’ve excerpted some choice bits for those interested, as I am, in the dynamics of villains.

On the difference between a villain and an antagonist:

What makes a villain a villain is action. What makes an antagonist an antagonist is force against the protagonist. Again, these things can overlap, but do not always do so. I would like you to disregard the notion that villains and antagonists must be characters. They can be, but they do not always have to be.

On villainy as a reflection of the hero:

A villain can be a reflection or shadow of whatever the hero stands for and loves. A villain who is good at their job might be this because they represent whatever the hero fears, loathes, or is scared of. A reflective villain is more than not-the-hero, a villain is the essence of not-the-hero.

On villainy as conflict:

Conflict and villainy can easily coincide. Conflict is the basis of the story, the thing that drives the plot and spurs on the characters. Bear in mind, if your villain is a part of the conflict, I expect you to deal with the villain somehow before resolving the plot in its entirety.

Here’s the entire article, which is filled with smart observations on the subject as well as a variety of examples to back up her opinions. Check it out.

http://clevergirlhelps.tumblr.com/post/84565698794/hi-i-was-wondering-if-you-have-any-advice-on

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10 Vital Novel Writing Tips from The Marshall Plan

I’m always looking for a way to simplify the process of writing novels, and again and again, I return to the Marshall Plan for Novel Writing. These ten key tips, I’ve found, to be extremely helpful. Click on the link below to read the full article.

http://themarshallplan.net/tenvitalnovelwritingtips.htm

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our story’s lead must be a sympathetic character. To achieve this end, build in four key characteristics: courage, virtue, likability, competence – See more at: http://themarshallplan.net/tenvitalnovelwritingtips.htm#sthash.wmgwkzPO.d
our story’s lead must be a sympathetic character. To achieve this end, build in four key characteristics: courage, virtue, likability, competence – See more at: http://themarshallplan.net/tenvitalnovelwritingtips.htm#sthash.wmgwkzPO.dpuf
our story’s lead must be a sympathetic character. To achieve this end, build in four key characteristics: courage, virtue, likability, competence – See more at: http://themarshallplan.net/tenvitalnovelwritingtips.htm#sthash.wmgwkzPO.dpuf
our story’s lead must be a sympathetic character. To achieve this end, build in four key characteristics: courage, virtue, likability, competence – See more at: http://themarshallplan.net/tenvitalnovelwritingtips.htm#sthash.wmgwkzPO.dpuf

Checklist for Writing a Mystery Novel

One of the many mystery/crime writing blogs I follow is called Writing Mystery is Murder by Elizabeth Spann Craig.  Craig is an accomplished mystery novelist and award-winning blogger, and she always posts incredibly helpful articles about the business of being a writer.  Recently, I was scrolling through the archives of her blog, and I came across a post entitled “Mystery Writing Checklist.” As I was (and am) in the process of outlining my third book in the Eli Sharpe mystery series, I read the article and found still more useful tidbits about preparing a mystery novel to be sent out into the publishing world.  Below are the items I believe are the most important. A link to the entire article is posted below.

Genre: Have you got a clear genre for your book? Thriller, cozy, police procedural, hard boiled? If you can’t identify your genre to an agent or editor, your manuscript won’t go too far.

To add to that, you might want to have a good idea what published authors write in your milieu; both agents and publishers always want to know where your manuscript will fit in the current market.

An Engaging Beginning: Have you started out with a bang? Or have you started out with some messy backstory that no one wants to wade through at the beginning of your book? Make sure you’ve lured your reader in from the very beginning so they’ll want to stick with you.  Think twice before using a prologue or using flashbacks at the beginning of your manuscript.

Personally, I do not like books that begin with prologues, particularly prologues that do not begin with action. Too, and this is just my humble opinion, many times too much of the mystery is given away in a prologue. Start with action, and sprinkle in relevant backstory throughout the narrative.

A Murder that Happens in First 50 pages or so: Don’t wait until you’re half-way through the book for a body to be discovered. Your reader may give up on you.

When I read mysteries, I want someone to get killed, kidnapped, blackmailed, or beaten pretty quickly. (And yes, I know that sounds awful).

Protagonist: This will be your sleuth or police detective. Are they likable people or at least people interesting enough for your readers to want to spend time with? What special talents do they have that make them capable of solving the crime? Are they easy to talk to? Have they spent many years in the police department? What sets them apart?

Of all the elements in a mystery, the protagonist is the most important to me. If the star of the book is interesting, I’m in. Characterization is always the hook for me. Write interesting characters, and interesting situations will follow. And when interesting situations follow, I’ll be reading.

Suspects: Do your suspects all have motive, means, and opportunity? Does their motive make sense and is it believable? Have you given the reader a chance to meet each suspect and learn about them? Have your suspects misdirected your readers and provided some red herrings? Have they lied to the sleuth and the reader? Do they have secrets? Do they have some depth?

Always remember MMO (motive, means, opportunity). And when it comes to suspects, try to avoid cliches.

Clues:  The clues need to be made available to the reader as well as the detective.  You have to be fair with your reader in providing them the clues, but make sure they don’t stand out too obviously in the scene.  If they do, think about pointing the reader’s/detective’s attention in another direction, quickly.  There also needs to be more than one clue–preferably three or more.

 

Exciting Chapter Endings: Don’t let your reader put down your book and go to sleep. Do you have some exciting chapter endings so they’ll want to go on reading?

When I was rewriting the second book in my Eli Sharpe series, I realized just how important chapter endings were (and are). Think of it like show business: always leave the reader wanting more.

Resolution: Did you catch the bad guys in the end? Did you tie up all the loose ends that you created? Did you explain how the sleuth/police followed the clues?

A professor of mine once said that the ending of a story has to be surprising yet inevitable.  The resolution, by extension, must make sense, and, if you’re writing a series, perhaps you could give a bit of hint about what’s next for the protagonist.

http://elizabethspanncraig.com/1386/mystery-writing-checklist/

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Make Your Mystery Stand Out: Tips from the Marshall Plan for Novel Writing

True story: about a year ago, I received feedback on my mystery novel from a literary agent based out of Los Angeles. Along with a two-page critique, she also sent a multi-page checklist of items she and her agency require before signing a new client. The checklist included dozens and dozens of very specific items–too many to mention here–and while I studied the checklist carefully and gained some helpful insight on what agents are looking for, I was still a bit overwhelmed. . .which brought me back to The Marshall Plan for Novel Writing. Below are excerpts from an article entitled “Make Your Mystery Stand Out.” In it, Evan Marshall–literary agent and best-selling author–boils down the list to three essential elements.I found this incredibly helpful, especially when I was writing the first draft of my detective novel Go Go Gato.

Look for the Hook

In fiction, a hook is a way to promote a book through some aspect that has commercial appeal or provides publishers with a gimmick or “handle” that lends itself to publicity. Your detective might have an occupation that is of high interest in the current culture, is especially timely, is interesting for its very obscurity, or is the same as that of the author. For instance, Patricia Cornwell’s series of mysteries featuring Dr. Kay Scarpetta first became popular at a time when public interest in the world of medical examiners had been heightened by such nonfiction books as Coroner by Dr. Thomas Noguchi, L.A.’s coroner to the stars, not to mention the tremendous public fascination with true crime. That’s Ms. Cornwell’s hook.

 

Dig Into Your Characters

Today’s readers want richly textured characters, especially in the series detective. A clever puzzle for your mystery novel is important but not enough. We must know all of your major characters as people, just as we would know the characters in any well-written novel. For purposes of characterization, think of your book as a novel with mystery, not a mystery novel. Tell us about your characters’ pasts, their psychologies, their faults and weaknesses, their relationships to one another. Remember, it’s your characters who will bring your readers back for more.

 

Devise a Clever

Don’t settle for a plot device if you can recall seeing it in another book, in a movie, or on TV. Work hard to come up with something different. Granted, there are only so many ways to kill someone, but the canny mystery writer will give one of those ways a new twist. The same goes for motive. There’s no excuse for stale clichés; your plotting is truly your own and should bear your distinctive fingerprint.

See more at: http://themarshallplan.net/mysterystandout.htm#sthash.WDGd8jxA.dpuf

5 Tips from The Marshall Plan for Novel Writing

Years ago, I skimmed Evan Marshall’s book The Marshall Plan for Novel Writing.  At the time, I was an undergraduate English major who did more drinking and talking about writing than actual writing, so the book didn’t really make much of an impression on me. Cut to six years later.  I was in a graduate program for Creative Writing, and my professors, all accomplished writers with decades of wisdom and knowledge, were explaining to me, in laborious detail, just how much work it was to write well, and it finally dawned on me that I needed to work on my craft. So I dragged a desk, a laptop, and The Marshall Plan for Novel Writing into the windowless closet of my 400-square foot apartment and got to work. One of the first sections of the book I read (and re-read, and annotated, and applied) was Marhsall’s section on breaking bad writing habits. Suffice to say, I was a serial offender (and still am before revisions), and I wanted to pass a few of these along. I’ve excerpted several very helpful tips below from Marshall’s website, which I’ve also linked to at the bottom of the page. Read and apply!

1)Identify Character Perspective at the Beginning of Each New Chapter

A globally popular mystery writer often likes to start a chapter or new section without identifying which character she’s writing about—the character is “he” or “she” and we scratch our heads, trying to guess who it is, until the writer decides to tell us. Then, once we know, we have to go back and reread those paragraphs to get the fully import of what’s been written.
2)Repetition of Phrases or Body Movements
Perhaps the most common bad writing habit is “She nodded.” “He nodded.” One book I read recently had so much nodding that I had a picture in my mind of a bunch of bobble-head dolls, like in the back window of a car.
3)Unnecessary Punctuation
A common bad writing habit is “Morse Code”: constant use of dots (ellipses) and dashes. This is frequently a beginner’s habit. Characters are always trailing off or being interrupted. Remember, fiction is like life, only neater. Try to let speakers finish speaking whenever possible, and save the Morse Code for when it’s really necessary.

4)Edit Descriptions
Delete unnecessary details. Not: He opened the cupboard, took out a can of beans, opened the drawer, took out the can opener, and opened the can of beans. But: He opened a can of beans. . .Don’t describe what doesn’t need describing. We all know what certain things look like. Describe an object only if it differs from what we’d expect.
5)Describe weather…sparingly
Spare us the weather reports. If the weather matters, describe it quickly and move on.
Reading Marshall’s book and applying the principles therein helped me secure a book contract for my detective novel Go Go Gato. I give his books and website my highest recommendation. I plan on dropping many more of these pearls of editorial wisdom in the future. In the meantime, I’ve linked to two articles on Marshall’s website, one called “Breaking Bad Writing Habits” and one called “Novelist, Edit Thyself.”
http://themarshallplan.net/novelisteditthyself.htm
http://themarshallplan.net/badwritinghabits.htm
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