Still Standing. Lessons learned in 3 decades in the “arts”.

Ever see those “one-hit” wonder loops on Youtube? That show music videos of some individual or group from 20 years ago and you remember the song; but the singer? Hmm?

IMDB—International Move Data Base—is an interesting place to dive into. Sort of 6 Degrees of Kevin Bacon. What you begin to see is lots of actors/actresses who had one or two roles and then disappeared. Then you see someone whose face you recognize, but you can’t place the name, but they’ve been on show after show for decades, never starring but always there. Working.

Still Standing.

What’s the difference between a one hit wonder and Bruce Springsteen? Talent? Hard Work? Luck? New Jersey?

But more importantly, what’s the difference between someone who had a brief burst of success, then disappeared, and someone who has been a character actor for decades? Because there are a lot more character actors than superstars.

I wrote my first book in 1989. I’m still writing books for a living. I’ve seen a lot of stars come along and do great. But I’ve seen a lot more writers get a shot and disappear after their first book contract is over. In the indie world, I read the blogs and watched people posting great numbers during the golden age; now I don’t see those people on social media at all.

I’m still writing. 70 some-odd books. Still making a good living. I’ve had some luck. The biggest was timing with self-pubbing and eBooks coming along at exactly the right time for me. But I’d also written all those books and been traditionally published 45 times before that occurred and hit all the bestseller lists. Under four different pen names. I failed numerous times and reinvented myself. I did many things wrong. Still do. But here are a handful of things I think keep someone in the entertainment business STANDING after decades in the business:

Work hard. Sounds simple, but I can’t have a book without writing it. You can’t have a screen credit without taking a role and performing. You can’t have a song without writing it. You can’t have a career unless you keep producing product. That’s called work. Those who try ‘gimmicks’ might have brief success but not in the long haul.

Perform. You can’t have fans if you don’t ‘perform’. For writers it’s not only writing more books, it’s responding immediately to your readers on social media. Making your readers the priority. For musicians it’s live performances. Whether it’s in a stadium as an opening act, or some dingy bar.

Change: Insanity is doing the same thing again, thinking you’ll get a different result. If something we do fails, we try something different. We are willing to say the three hardest words to come out of a man’s mouth: I was wrong. Then we figure out how to do it right.

Be positive and good to work with. I’m willing to bet a lot of those successful character actors/actresses are extraordinarily professional to work with. They don’t show up to the set drunk. Or late. They take direction. They’re positive. They’re good people to be around. They’re a plus on the set, not a black hole. Yeah, you read about the successful ‘jerks’ but how many of them, even if they’re big names, don’t eventually go down? And they also consider what they can do to help others—everything isn’t always about themselves.

Network. When someone with some influence has to make a choice who to ‘pick’ and it comes down to someone they can put a face to and someone who is just a name, they tend to go with the face. For a writer, going to conferences, making meetings, is key. This year is the first where I didn’t go to Seattle to meet Amazon reps or do a major book conference, but I’m already making plans for Thrillerfest next year and some other networking events. But even the minor events I did this year are paying fruit in terms of networking. I can get better at it and will. My rule of thumb is it takes around three years for a network contact to bear fruit; sometimes faster. So . . .

Be in it for the long haul. This will be the subject of another blog post, but you ever hear of a novelist retiring? Actor/actress? Rarely. We write because we have to.

You never have it made. The second any writer thinks they have it made, their career is over. I’ve seen this more times than I can count.

Be crazy. Artists are not in the bell curve and if you study them, most are not on the ‘good’ side of the curve. In all my time writing I never seriously considered I would fail even though the harsh reality is that very, very few people can make a living writing, especially this long. I knew I would have hard times, and I did. I had drk times when it appeared as if I would fail. But, I had the attitude I think makes all the difference in the world. That is . . .

I WILL MAKE IT WORK. A successful artist sees rejection as an opportunity to do something else. A successful artist laughs into the face of adversity. A successful artist spits into the wind—okay, maybe not that one. They use adversity as motivation. No matter what happens, a successful artist has one core mantra:



How Do We Stop An Imperial Presidency?

The Founding Fathers actually counted on self-restraint to be key to the office of the Presidency. After all, the first President, George Washington, was offered the job of “king” first. And he declined to run for a third term.

But Presidents have occasionally flouted the law. Sometimes for what they thought was the greater good. Sometimes for personal reasons. Sometimes for the desire for Empire. Jefferson, himself, pushed the edges of the law with the LA Purchase. And Texas would be Mexico’s problem, except for Polk pushing things with Mexico, looking for an excuse to start war and to gain territory.

Lincoln flat out broke the law in order to prosecute the Civil War. But, most importantly, he did not stop the election of 1864. The fact we had an election in the midst of a Civil War is rather stunning when you think about it.

The Jefferson Allegiance which hit #2 at Barnes and Noble when first published is FREE today on Amazon.

Here are some of the Presidents who have faced the Allegiance in the book:

Survival Monday: How to Prepare for and Deal with Flooding– and some empathy needed

A particularly apt post given what’s happening in Southeast Texas. Even if you don’t live there, are you prepared? If you watch what’s unfolding, you will see that the vast majority of people weren’t ready. The preparations for a flood are very similar to the preparations for any natural disaster. As is being reported, what is happening in Texas is unprecedented. We must all be ready for more of the same in various ways. I cannot stress enough the need to make basic preparations!

Our house flooded in Boulder, Colorado, where we lived on top of a ridgeline, miles from the nearest creek. It started raining so fast and hard, the water table simply rose up into the house. Floods can happen anywhere!

All that having been said, let’s also have some empathy for those whose lives have been uprooted by this disaster. I know there are people who simply can’t afford to “be prepared”. One reason I give away the condensed version of my two survival books for free. There are people who can’t afford nor have the means to evacuate. They don’t own a car. They don’t have credit cards. They can’t afford a motel room. All they have has now been lost. We’re all not the same, but one thing we all are is Americans. We need to stand together.

To donate to the Red Cross to help victims, go HERE. Otherwise, search on line and find your own way to help, if you want to be more specific. But now is a time for us to unite as one.

Cool Gus says: No Great Wall can stop a Great Dog.

A long time ago, far away, some people built a Great Wall. Dogs solved the problem by getting invited through by those same people

It’s the way dogs solve most problems. By getting along.

After all, dogs used to be wolves. Until one very, very smart wolf, decided to be the first dog.

Things have been better ever since. But there’s still that Big Wall.

Writing Wednesday: Point of View

I believe that for most writers, the way not to get read/sell your book is:

1. Don’t have a good idea.

2. Don’t translate good idea into a good story with interesting characters.

3. Point of view.

Point of view is your voice as a writer. There are writers who have such a good point of view, they can write about pretty much anything and people would want to read it.

It also one of the most difficult topics to teach. I hope this slideshare helps a little bit.

We have one slot left for our Writing At Scenic Workshop on 23-24 September. We’ll do a 20% discount if you mention this blog post!

Talk Tuesday: What Is Your Dream Place To Live? House Hunters?

My wife looked at me the other day and said “A boy from the Bronx shouldn’t end up in this house.” The one to the right we’re currently renting.

To the left is the view of the Intracoastal from a house we rented years ago. I started counting how many places I’ve lived one day and it go confusing. Not just in locales, but also in various apartments, houses in the same locale. The Army can do that to you. But even after the Army, my wife and I have this bug where after 3 years we’re ready to move. She was an Army brat, born in Ft Leonard Wood, spent time in Berlin (was there for Kennedy’s speech), school in Monterey at Ft Ord, etc etc. After West Point, I lived a number of places. Also, in Special Forces, we traveled a lot– my first year in Group I was gone around 340 days. When you’re deployed for six months or so, that’s kind of living somewhere. But none of those places are ones I’d want to go back to.

We like watching those house hunters shows. Not only because they show you interesting places– we were watching Bordeaux, France yesterday– but you can tell a lot by the couple right away. No need for long therapy sessions.  You can see the relationship right there. You can tell who makes the decision. Who is willing to compromise what they want, etc. etc.

I know there are people who are living in the same place they were born. I was talking to an older lady down the street the other day and she told me her grand-daughter was going to the same elementary school she did. I was born in the Bronx and was out of there when I was 17 and don’t have much desire to go back. Living in Manhattan would be different, but way too busy for me now.

As a writer, I’ve been extremely fortunate in being able to live wherever. I could complain and say when you can choose anywhere, it’s hard, but that, as Cool Gus would say, is whiny. I can’t say I’ve lived any place I didn’t like, although Ft Bragg isn’t a tourist destination.

So where would you like to live? No practical concerns like job or cost, just being able to live there?

Writing Wednesday: Plot III. Narrative Structure

There is a template for story. Actually, there are many. I give one example here. Do you have to follow it? No. Should you understand it as a craftsperson writer? Yes.

Remember, we can only break rules if we know them first. The trend that I’m seeing, is less and less emphasis on a narrative, linear flow to story. But we have to remember the reader who has been programmed for story a certain way.

Cool Gus Says: 12 Years In History

These are times, places, people, etc that Cool Gus finds interesting. He hopes you do too!

We’ll have one every Saturday. Also, in the future, Cool Gus will start telling his own stories, but more on that later.

Cool Gus says history is pretty cool. Not as cool as bacon. Or chasing a ball. Or a nap. Or bacon. But still . . .