Sunday, October 30, 2011

Scary Stories

It's that haunting time of the year again -- Halloween.

On the various cable TV channels you'll find an assortment of horror films designed to make it difficult to sleep at time. I have my favorites, such as "Invasion of the Body Snatchers," "Nightmare on Elm Street," "Frankenstein," "Dracula" "An American Werewolf in London," "Race with the Devil" "Night of the Living Dead" and "Poltergeist." 

But it doesn't have to be Halloween to conjure up those kinds of scary stories.
While interviewing Frankfort, Ky., author Jerry Deaton on a cable TV program about his book, "Appalachian Ghost Stories: Tales from Bloody Breathitt," we agreed that scary stories can be told any time of the year. Some of the stories in his collection are ones he heard while growing up in Breathitt County, Ky. He'll be a the Kentucky Book Fair on Nov. 12.

I remember sitting around the campfire during my Boy Scout days listening to tales that would have you trying to sleep with one eye open. I believe most folks have some kind of scary tale from their past.

Needing a ghost story? How about ghosts, how about Charles Dickens's "A Christmas Carol" to keep you on edge? Stephen King's "Carrie," certainly wasn't a sweet story about a prom queen. And Grimm brothers' fairy tales could be quite, well, grim!

And, sadly, we only have to pick up newspapers or watch the nightly news on TV to learn about true-life horror all around the world. And it's just not in the Middle East; we have our share of it in the United States. Norwegians can attest to horror by the massacre this past summer by an alleged lone gunman that claimed more than 75 lives.

Truman Copote mined real life with "In Cold Blood." Norman Mailer did the same with "The Executioner's Song." And a friend of mine, Rena Vicini, wrote about a gruesome murder in Lexington, Ky., called "Fatal Seduction." You don't have to look very far to get inspired to write true-crime stories, if that's something that interests you.

Until the next time...

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Get On Your Mark

For those ambitious souls out there, it's almost time for National Novel Writing Month -- also referred to as NaNoWriMo.

The idea is to write a novel in November, beginning on the first day and ending on the last day of the month. For NaNoWriMo, the goal for adults  is 50,000 words over 30 days. Doesn't sound like much? Hmmm....try it.

A disclaimer here. I've never participated in NaNoWriMo. I always seem to have too much going on to make that commitment. That's not to say I won't try it this year. I'm still thinking about it.

I know I can write daily. That's what I've done on all my novels. My first novel, The Touch, was written in six weeks -- about 75,000 words. 

I do think NaNoWriMo is a great way to put some words down on the computer, or wherever, because it's a challenge for the writer to stay focused for 30 days. Perhaps as it would be for a runner and deciding to participate in a marathon. You want to see if you can go the distance. 
I'll let you know on Nov. 1 if I have stepped up to the starting line. The more I think about the event, it sounds like it could be a lot of fun.

And like a marathon, it really doesn't matter if you win. The goal is to finish. And if you do write the 50,000 words, or more, you'll be rewarded with a certificate and Web badge. By the way, it's open to all age groups, and those 17 and under have different individual goals. 

Interested? Find out more, and sign up, at

I wish you luck!

Until the next time...

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Bucky and Me

My sweet and lovable Bucky passed away this week. He had congestive heart disease and his little body couldn't handle it any longer. He died in my arms. 

I know how most dog owners feel about their pet -- that they have the best dog in the world. I'm no different. Bucky was a very special part of my life for 8 1/2 years.  So, in a sense, this blog is dedicated to those who understand the sadness one experiences when their beloved pet dies.

Bucky would wake me in the morning, licking me on the face. He would greet me when I came home from work. Have you ever seen a dog that could smile? Bucky had that trait. It would melt your heart. 

My wife called Bucky my shadow because he would always follow me everywhere in the house. While some Yorkies aren't content to curl up and sit on your lap, it was Bucky's favorite spot. I did a lot of my writing with Bucky resting on my legs.

Bucky loved to travel. He sensed when I was about to go on an errand. And whenever I could take him with me, he'd ride shotgun on my left knee. One of my future plans was to take a trip out West with Bucky.

Bucky would get excited when I told him one of my sons, Justin and Sean, would be coming home for a visit. He'd wait at the front door and jump up and down when he saw them pull into the driveway. When my wife came home from work, Bucky would be at the top of the stairs to greet her with a smile and kiss.

He loved our next-door neighbor, Mary. Every time I opened the front door to let him out to potty, he would look over at her house. And if he saw her, he'd make a beeline to receive her affection and give her some kisses. He felt the same way toward other neighbors.

Oh, yes, Bucky was a kisser. Not a kisser in the sense that he would lick and lick and lick. He'd give a kiss or two, just to show his love.

Bucky was protective as well. He wouldn't let any harm come to those he loved. One time while walking Bucky, step-brother Baxter, and Chloe, another Yorkie we were dogsitting, we came across a much larger dog. Bucky quickly came between us and the dog. I'm not sure if the other dog was that frightened of Bucky, but he did go the other way. Bucky puffed out his little chest like a conquering hero.

I could go on and on about Bucky. I'm glad I have the wonderful memories and photographs of him especially during this grieving period. 

A friend wrote that dogs aren't like family, they are family. He is so right. We bring them into our lives and they give unconditional love in return. We can learn so much from them.

Another friend wrote that her dog passed away about a year ago and she still cries when she thinks about her companion of 17 years.

Several years ago when I was working for the AP, my friend George Hackett called me on the phone. He was in his 70s at the time and crying because his dog Patty Paws had died. While I tried to console him, I really didn't understand his pain. Now I do.
Until the next time...

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Making Demands -- One at a Time

Why do some people have a problem with print-on-demand authors? It seems like some folks equate POD with self-publishing -- as if there is something inherently wrong with that (see previous post).

POD is relatively new. It's part of the digital age of publishing -- a book is printed when a consumer wants it. The book is digitally stored and a copy is printed when it is ordered from the publisher.

I've heard derisive comments such as, "Oh, that book is a POD." Oh, well!!!

For the uninformed, many publishers, and not only the small operations, use POD technology. While the print-per-book is higher, it sure saves the publisher on having unsold books returned to its warehouse by bookstores. Sometimes it does benefit the consumer when they purchase books on the remainder tables. But the bookstore doesn't profit much, the publisher profits little (if any) and the author doesn't see a dime for his efforts.

POD has helped e-book publishers offer their titles in trade or hardback copies -- one at a time. And it has helped keep publishers afloat by not having to have large print runs, keep books stored in warehouses, and deal with returns (for the most part).

As for self-published books, they've been around for many years, long before POD. And by the same token, POD has been a blessing for them because they haven't been forced to order a "minimum" of books.  Just check out Amazon, B&N and other e-book/POD opportunities.

I've had books published the traditional way and POD. There's really not a difference. A book is a book is a book.

So just remember, when you order a book from a POD publisher, it's still a book. Just one at a time! 

Until the next time...

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Publishing Pointers

Traditional publisher or self-publish? That's a question I often hear from aspiring authors.

Let me say that it's more difficult going the traditional route. There are several steps that you need to go through to find a publisher for your manuscript. Writers know what that entails. A lot of work!

For those interested in self-publishing, it's having the money to have your manuscript printed. Aside from writing the manuscript, you can skip a few steps.

A few years ago there was a stigma attached to self-published books. Most were simply referred to as products of vanity publishers that would put practically any manuscript in print if the author paid the price.

While the author was in a state of euphoria when the book arrived -- seeing the title and byline in a bound edition -- it didn't last long. After looking inside the book, the writer realized it could have used some editing. And then they realized that it was difficult getting the books into bookstores. They discovered that it was even difficult selling their book to friends and relatives -- with mothers being the exception.

I met one writer who was talked into ordering 5,000 copies as the publisher told him that the unit cost would be cheaper than if he had about 1,000 copies. That's true. But the publisher didn't tell him how difficult it would be to sell 5,000 copies. So the author several thousand books in unopened boxes in his basement. I haven't seen the author since our encounter, but my bet is that he still has several thousand books in unopened boxes gathering dust in his basement.

Self-published books have gained some acceptance in recent years as publishers offer editing and layout services, and some of the books have found coveted places on the shelves in bookstores. And online venues such as Amazon and B&N have opened doors, even providing services to writers to self-publish books.

My advice to writers is to research their options and talk to published authors, especially those who are self-published, about their experiences. Another piece of advice, if you plan to self-publish, is to treat the process as if you were going through a traditional publisher. By that, I mean, have your manuscript as clean and polished as possible.

Until the next time...

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Agents of Time

While sorting through some correspondence in my never-ending endeavor to organize my study, I stumbled across some rejection letters from agents.

Since I try to stress the positive in my Ramblings -- for the most part -- this one should be viewed as constructive criticism to agents.

But first let me say that I have nothing against agents. They have a purpose in life and that is to find the very best manuscripts, sell them to publishers, and make money for everyone concerned. Even the authors.

But my beef are those rejection form letters that many agents -- and publishers -- return to authors. They usually have a disclaimer that they are so inundated with proposals/manuscripts that they can't take the time to answer every query letter.

My heart certainly bleeds for those folks. It's like authors have all the time in the world to craft a query letter but they don't have time to return the courtesy.

I suppose I should be more understanding because all the author has to do is research/outline; write the manuscript; edit/rewrite; scour the Internet, magazines and reference books to find suitable agents and publishers; write a query letter; mail or e-mail the query; wait six weeks or longer for a reply and then receive a nice two-line rejection form letter.

Yep, we authors have all the time in the world.

So agents (and publishers), why not show some professional courtesy? If all the time you can spare for a rejection is a minute or so, at least take the time to write it and sign it. 

And furthermore, don't advertise that you're actively seeking authors/manuscripts if you're so overwhelmed with work. It'll save all of us precious time.

Until the next time...

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Just a Quote

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, "I hate quotations. Tell me what you know."

While doing some research on Emerson on the Internet, I found a site that contained 692 quotes from the famous Transcendental poet. essayist and philosopher. From my point of view, he's great for quotes.

And others are great for quotes about life and death -- and everything in between.

What I enjoy about quotes is that they contain nuggets of truth (or falsehood) that a person can ponder one at a time. Instead of being bombarded with numerous ideas and insights in one reading, we can take that one quote and concentrate on its meaning. It's not nearly as confusing.

I generally leave a quote on my Facebook page every morning that I find humorous, enlightening, wise, or simply stupid. My latest novel, Shooting Star, contains quotes from the legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden.

Since this blog primarily focuses on reading and writing, here are a few quotes I'd like to share:

"The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who cannot read them." -- Mark Twain

"You don't write because you want to say something; you write because you've got something to say." -- F. Scott Fitzgerald

"The art of writing is the art of discovering what you believe." -- Gustave Flaubert
"The two most engaging powers of a good author are to make new things familiar and familiar things new." -- William M. Thackeray
"Four basic premises of writing: clarity, brevity, simplicity, and humanity." -- William Zinsser
"They can't yank novelist like they can pitcher. Novelist has to go the full nine, even if it kills him." -- Ernest Hemingway
And to close with Mr. Emerson, "People do not deserve to have good writing, they are so pleased with the bad."

Until the next time...

Sunday, October 2, 2011

All A Clutter

Sometimes you don't realize how much stuff you have until start rearranging and removing clutter. I have an overabundance and more.

For the past few weeks I've been painting some rooms and getting them ready for workers to remove carpet and install new flooring. That means I've had to empty closets, move items to other rooms, and in the process, deposit some stuff in the garbage can.

I don't think I'm a hoarder (although some family members would disagree). I like to think of myself as more of a collector. The problem is that it would appear I collect everything. And we all know there are things that may be worthless but still hold sentimental value -- if you can remember what that was when you put them away.

But appearances can be deceiving. I do throw things away. Actually, in the past couple of years, I've refused things because I knew they would add to the clutter in my life. So you might even say that I've been virtually getting rid of things before they entered my house. That has to count for something.

In the meantime, I've been taking books to the Friends of the Library drop-off bin to be sold in the bookstore and annual sales. I've tossed quite a few magazines and given some away. I've gone through old paper records and shredded them. I've taken clothes to the Goodwill store. So I'm making progress.

The decluttering is a work in progress because I don't know when it'll end. But I'm going to keep at it until I can see that proverbial light at the end of the tunnel.

Until the next time...