“You Can’t Try To Do Things; You Simply Must Do Them.” Ray Bradbury

Words are important. I was recently reading one of my older books and I kept noticing unnecessary words. It’s a tendency of mine. What are the words and why do I use them? That’s an issue that’s bigger than just editing. It gives me insight into my creative process.This is an area of writing I spent more and more time on. I just prepared a new workshop about it; what I view as going from the craft of writing into the art of writing. It’s what my wife and I work with people on during our Writing Scenic Workshops. That’s the best bang for your time and energy because a lot of if is subconscious but if we become aware of it, we can change it.

Am I qualifying statements? Is my point of view ‘floating’?

In life we do the same. We qualify. We use words like “maybe” “some day” “if only” “try”.

The saying from Ray Bradbury cuts to the core of this. It’s also what we called the “wanna-be” syndrome in Special Operations. Lots of people want to wear a Green Beret or the SEAL trident. But do they want to actually BE a Green Beret or SEAL?

The other day I got asked: “What is the best preparation I can do to survive Special Forces training?” My instinctual response was: If you phrase it that way, you won’t ‘survive’. The question should be “What is the best preparation to succeed at Special Forces training?” There is a profound difference between the two questions. It’s the standing wave front of our conscious and subconscious mind that we’re propagating. Which affects our reality.

I see it in query letters by authors. They’re “Hoping”. They phrase things in the negative. They’re backing into their future instead of striding face forward into it.

So instead of saying “I’m going to try . . . ”

Say “I’m going to do . . .”

Nothing but good times ahead!

Why did Custer lead half the 7th Cavalry into a massacre?

Last in his class at West Point. What we called the “goat”. He had some of his men executed for going AWOL, yet went AWOL himself when he wanted to. He was the youngest general in the Civil War. He was gifted the desk on which the surrender was signed at Appomattox. Custer is a controversial figure. The first trip my wife and I ever took was a road trip out to Little Big Horn– turns out she’d also been fascinated by the battle. I’d never really understood what happened until I got there. Once I saw terrain, it all fell into place.

Was Custer more focused on the upcoming Centennial and national convention in St. Louis than the matter at hand? Too much in a rush for glory?

When I was in the 1st Cavalry Division they used to play Garry Owen. And the 7th Cavalry was one of the units. I was in the 1st of the 12th Cavalry. My horse was named George. Not. Anyway– here’s some of the info on Custer:

If you’re out west and in the area, I highly recommend stopping by Little Big Horn and studying the terrain on which the battle was fought. My own theory is that Custer was among the fist wounded crossing the river and because too many people in the section he took with him had family ties to him, the command structure broke down quickly. There are other theories. The bottom line: half the the 7th Cav was wiped. The story of the survivors is also quite interesting.

Notes from a Writers Panel

I just listened to a panel of authors at the Northern Colorado Writers Conference. Here are some questions and answers, as best I could write them down. The panel consisted of Kerrie Flanagan, Jon Davis, Chuck Wendig, Denise Vega and Warren Hammond.

The replies are approximations, not exact quotes, so please don’t hold anyone accountable!

What’s the best piece of writing advice you ever received?

Denise Vega: Don’t follow trends

Chuck Wendig: Finish what you start

Kerrie Flanagan: When someone says “no” you say “next”

What consistent piece of advice you give your students?

Jon Davis: Start the next book

When you’re stuck; what do you do to get past that?

Chuck Wendig: I look at my mortgage payments

Denise Vega: I move. I free my brain up. I ask myself a question—whether about a scene or a character? Sometimes I take it to bed and wake up with the answer.

Warren Hammond: step back. let your subconscious work on it.

Jon Davis: I used to write screenplays. I let the computer read it back to me in its terrible voice. Gives me a new perspective.

When are you ready to submit when you’re? How do you know when its done since it can always be better.

Warren Hammond: It’s never finished; you just give up.

Denise Vega: Raymond Carver said when you take all the commas out and put them back in, you’re ready.

Chuck Wendig: Use beta readers; but once you have five or six books you have a feel.

Process?

Denise Vega: Sometimes you have to change your process. How do you work best? Try different things. I used to not plan or plot—now I’m doing it and it’s going so much better.

Jon Davis: Take a screenwriting course. It teaches you about the shape of a story. I’ve used a screenplay as an outline.

What things do you use to help creativity?

Jon Davis: I spent some weeks in a famine house in cold weather in Ireland. Being away from everyone for three weeks.

Kerrie Flanagan: Getting away. Go to a cabin with no internet. No TV. Just yourself and your thoughts.

April Moore NCW conference chair—we have a retreat. Being around other writers gives creative energy. (link)

How do you carve out the time to write?

Denise Vega: On Sunday I write out my schedule and put writing in just like any other appointment. It’s sacred time.

Kerrie Flanagan: Train the people around you to give you time.

Jon Davis: No one wants you to write—they want you to have written. It’s your job.

Chuck Wendig: Treat it like a job. A regular job. Would you treat someone in an office like this?

How far in your writing journey did you have the realization you are a writer?

Kerrie Flanagan: At Universal Studios. When people asked me I would say “I used to be a teacher.” At universal studios there was a sweatshirt that said WRITER. I bought the shirt and it reminds me all the time. We have to accept it and own it. So go get a sweatshirt.

Denise Vega: If you’re writing, you’re a writer. You don’t have to be published to be a writer. I had people around me supporting me.

What time of you day do you like to write?

Kerrie: Creative in the morning. Business in the afternoon.

Chuck: Same.

Denise: I don’t check my email first. Morning tends to be better. But whenever I find the time.

What % do you spent on the business?

Denise: It varies. In children’s books there’s an expectation you’re going to help market. I’m spending a lot of time connecting with booksellers, readers, etc. But often it’s a procrastination technique; I’ll do that instead of working on my book. Checking email is not going to help you solve the problem if you’re stuck.

Chuck: 75% to craft. 25% to business. You don’t need to be on social media.

Social media?

Denise: if it feels like a chore, it’s not good. I’m pulling back. I’m not convinced it helps with sales.

Warren: Publishers latched onto social media as free marketing. There are some success stories. Publishers push the marketing back on authors. There are a lot of authors who aren’t good at it. There are authors who get in trouble on social media. Social media should be more of an afterthought. Writers write. Publishers sell books.

Chuck: The more you’re willing to do, the less your publisher has to do. You’re training your publisher. Don’t do that. You want your publisher to get you opportunities. My career has kind of been made by social media. It’s not a great place to sell books. Keep that noise down. Promote other people. More people want to know what I like rather than what I promote. The professional value of social media is to engage with readers; to make professional connections. It’s a professional watercooler. I like social media.

Kerrie: One thing people don’t think of is writing for magazines. A byline is valuable and you can put your web site there. I get a lot of contacts that way.

Chuck: Branding might be a bad thing for writers- no one wants to read Coca-Cola.

Denise: Finding the joy in the work is key. I focused too much on “Will this book get published” I lost it. I had to re-find it.

 

It’s always good to hear other creative people talk about their process and their reality. The longer I’ve done this, the more I want to learn how to do things differently. And the best way do that is to listen to others.

Class of 1840– United States Military Academy

This the listing of graduates from that class. There were 41 graduates. The number, called a Cullum Number, is a cumulative number starting from the first graduate of the Academy.

There were 41 graduates in this class. Note #1022. It’s interesting to see where various graduates ended up and their fate.

 

What William T. Sherman predicted for the Civil War in 1860– and was sent home as “crazy”.

Sherman wrote this to another professor at Louisiana State Seminary (where he taught) in 1860, seeing the inevitability of a Civil War. Sherman had seen combat in the Seminole Wars.

You people of the South don’t know what you are doing. This country will be drenched in blood, and God only knows how it will end. It is all folly, madness, a crime against civilization! You people speak so lightly of war; you don’t know what you’re talking about. War is a terrible thing! You mistake, too, the people of the North. They are a peaceable people but an earnest people, and they will fight, too. They are not going to let this country be destroyed without a mighty effort to save it … Besides, where are your men and appliances of war to contend against them? The North can make a steam engine, locomotive, or railway car; hardly a yard of cloth or pair of shoes can you make. You are rushing into war with one of the most powerful, ingeniously mechanical, and determined people on Earth — right at your doors. You are bound to fail. Only in your spirit and determination are you prepared for war. In all else you are totally unprepared, with a bad cause to start with. At first you will make headway, but as your limited resources begin to fail, shut out from the markets of Europe as you will be, your cause will begin to wane. If your people will but stop and think, they must see in the end that you will surely fail.

Sherman was sent home early in the Civil War because of his extreme pessimism– he was deemed a bit crazy. Turns out he was very accurate. A piece of trivia I also discovered researching my Duty, Honor, Country books was that he was ship-wrecked not once, but twice, coming in to San Francisco harbor. And he was on the expedition that confirmed the discovery of gold in CA, which started the gold rush.

Here’s his entry in the Cullum Register of Graduates for West Point where he is #1022, which means he is the 1,022 graduate of the Academy. Hmm, had to look mine up. I get #38625. Still, that’s not a lot since 1802.

Hidden History: “Fear not death too much, nor fear death too little . . .

. . .  lest you fail in your hopes; not too little, lest you die presumptuously. And here I must conclude with my prayers to God for it, and that he would have mercy on your soul.” The Lord Chief Justice on 29 October 1618 to Sir Walter Raleigh who was awaiting execution.

Raleigh had been living under a death sentence for a couple of decades, but his luck had finally run out in 1618.

On Giving Up Running After Four and a half Decades

I started running back in the day when the first “waffle” shoes from Nike came out and were sold in the Bronx from the back of a van. My first pair of running shoes as a high school freshman were leather Puma. At least they weren’t high top Chuckies, which is the pair of sneakers I had up until then and were our equivalent of Michael Jordan’s.

I ran cross-country, indoor and outdoor track for four years in high school. For indoor we’d do an hour and a half train trek to the 168th St. Armory in Manhattan to work out and for meets. Before they spiced it up– it had a flat, splintery, wooden floor. Rattlesnakes in the stands and dragons in the stairwells. Yeah. Cross-country was mostly at Van Cortlandt Park where they still run the same trails. The Flats, Cemetery, the Cowpath. Sound familiar to anyone? Coaches used hourglasses with sand to time us.

At West Point I joined the Marathon Team. I did multiple New York, Boston, Jersey Shore (aka Jooisey Shore), Marine Corps in DC and some others. My first was NY in 1978 before it was really, really big. I was booking, hit 20 in a little over 2 hours and then hit the WALL. Last six miles took an hour and a half. I learned from that. Boston was the easiest since it actually loses elevation from start to finish. One year I wasn’t in the greatest shape after an injury (or walking the Area for punishment tours at West Point, I can’t recall, but there is yours truly tooling around on the left) and a buddy and I decided to just sort of cruise it. That worked until we hit Wellesly and all the screaming co-eds. Next thing we were clicking off six minutes miles and finished under 2:50.

I remember the runner’s high when you’d be just sort of floating, feeling like you were hardly breathing or exerting yourself. After that, I continued to run to work out. Plus it was “Army training”. I tore my Achilles doing martial arts in the early 90s and was never really able to do much distance after that, no matter what kind of shape I managed to get in. Go over eight miles and I could feel it start to give. So. It was a long time since I’d had the runner’s high. But I continued to trudge it out. I’d take Gus to the woods on Whidbey Island, then in NC and now here and we’d meander along on the trails. Becca was smarter than either of us. Any time she figures we were doing an out and back run, she didn’t bother with the out. Running was never high on her agenda.

But Gus is over 8 now and he’s a big dog. We’ve learned that the hips for big dogs are key. And Gus also had a knee operation. I could tell even though he still wants to run (he was whining this morning, wanting to go) it wasn’t good for him. Dogs don’t know how to take care of themselves in some ways and its our job to do that for them. Plus I don’t know how to take care of myself very well without Deb to remind me. Anyway, I decided to follow Gus’s example. I’d been splitting time between running and biking anyway and now I’m just biking.

We moved in January to a house not far from the Greenway here in Knoxville. I can go down the driveway, catch the Greenway in a quarter mile and bike to the TN River, follow it around downtown, across the river, through iJams Nature Center to Forks of the River. Knoxville has a great system of Greenways and parks.

I had a mountain bike I’d bought in Boulder, CO when we lived there and I took it to Whidbey, where the weather is tough on things. I finally accepted it was time to get a tune up so as I was leaving for a conference I dropped it off at the local bike store. While I was gone, the bike guy called my wife and told her he wasn’t going to tune it up. He wouldn’t take responsibility for any work on the bike. Apparently it wasn’t in the greatest of shape. So I got a new bike. That was in 2009. Yesterday, I stopped by REI and saw their new line of bikes and made an impulse buy (most unusual for me). Okay, the impulse was, I liked this bike, looked it over, went home, looked it up on line, emailed my son the physicist and mountain-biker, asked my wife (I guess she’s unusual, because she always says DO IT! whenever I ask about buying something), did some more research, then went back and bought it. For the shrink I had who told me I needed to be spontaneous, that’s about as spontaneous as I get.

Today I’ll be driving up to North Boundary at Oak Ridge and doing some trails to test out the new wheels. Also its where I get my Y-12 glow on. My running shoes are sitting on the shelf in the garage, gathering dust. It was fun for over four decades, but it was time to move on.

Nothing but good times ahead!

Oh yes– today’s bundle special free: Military Science Fiction 2: The Rock and Atlantis Devils Sea.

Area 51: Resurrection– and a cover contest

The title says it all. I’ve begun work on a new book in my classic Area 51 series. Readers have been asking for more since there are unanswered issues from the end of Area 51 The Truth. After all, Lisa Duncan is an immortal who crashed into Mars with the Grail. Also, there is the larger issue of the Swarm versus the Airlia Interstellar War and also the revolt of the humans, which spread here to Earth.

I’m finishing up St. Valentines Day (Time Patrol) as I re-read the Area 51 series and make notes and outline. I actually have an outline from when I finished Area 51 The Truth and sent proposals in for follow on books, but we decided to go with the prequels of Area 51 Legend and Nosferatu.

Let me know your thoughts on what you’d like to see in Resurrection; loose ends from the series you think need to be addressed. In essence, the story will be Turcotte rescuing Duncan, but nothing is ever easy!

As part of this, since I’ll be needing a new cover, I’m opening this up to anyone who’d like to give it a shot. If someone submits a cover I choose as the one to be used, I’ll pay a prize of $300, and, of course, will acknowledge the winner in the book and here on the blog. I’ve been looking at covers and I think a fresh approach is needed overall in the entire market. Of course, I’m not smart enough to figure it out on my own. My brain goes to words, not images. Since it doesn’t involve food, Cool Gus isn’t much help either. Deadline is the end of May for submissions.

The cover is for the eBook version, although it will be used in the print eventually. Thus it needs to pop in thumbnail. Any images used can’t be copyrighted by someone else. Size should be roughly 1,600 pixels wide by 2,400 pixels tall with 900 DPI. Should be jpg and no larger than 1mb. If there is a winner, something to consider is I’m looking at re-branding almost all my book covers– we’re talking over 70 titles. So this could turn into something big.

For Area 51, since it’s part of a series, the only one where I don’t control the earlier books, my name and the words Area 51 and Resurrection, need to be the same as the rest of the series in terms of font, color and placement. Other than that, it’s wide open.

What I’m envisioning is an image of Mars at the bottom with RESURRECTION across it, and then something lancing up into space above Mars. Of course, that would look a lot like The Truth’s cover. But my vision often gets over-ridden by someone else’s good idea. The covers above were done by 47North. The earlier ones below were the ones we had at Cool Gus. But I’m thinking, given the success of The Expanse and the scifi genre, that they’re not scifi enough?Here is a cover by itself.

Questions, comments, suggestions? Email me at bob@bobmayer.com