Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Prologue

The Winning Cover (so far)
I'm working on the second draft of my murder mystery novel.  Below is a short excerpt from the beginning of the book.


My road of regret is paved with many stones. Many. But I set the biggest one on a Friday. It was early in the morning, late in September. The air was crisp. The sky was bright. And my love sat at our kitchen table, for the last time.

I laid the clipped stack of cell phone bills on the laminate top. Liz looked up at me from her magazine, her auburn hair flowing onto her shoulders, afire with early morning sun that streamed through the window.

“What’s up?” she asked, reaching for her mug of coffee.

“Who is it you call every day and talk to for almost two hours?” I sat in my usual chair.

She didn’t answer. Set her steaming coffee back on the little round table.

I waited for her to fill the silence. The sound of our daughter, Elise, rustling in her bedroom, getting ready for school, seemed distant.

“You’re never here.” Almost a whisper.

“So you call your old boyfriend every day?”

“Well of course you already knew the answer to your question before you asked it, didn’t you, Detective?” A blaze kindled in her hazel eyes.

“Are you really going to your mother’s in Cincinnati this weekend? Or are you going to see him in Knoxville?” Either destination was easy and about the same distance from our apartment in Lexington. Just take I-75 North to Cincinnati or I-75 South to Knoxville.

Her nostrils flared. Her cheeks glowed. I didn’t ask whether it was because I was so wrong in my suspicions or because I was so right. I longed for happier times. Liz and I at the movies laughing, walking in the rain downtown while out to dinner, making love in a hotel, holding Elise for the first time, seeing her get on the bus for school. I longed, but I held firm.

“Maybe you should take Elise with you. I don’t think I’ll have time to stay home with her this weekend after all.”

“She’ll have to miss a day of school.”

“What’s one day in the grand scheme of things? She would love to see her granny.” Liz’s mother detested that word.

“Of course, you’re never home to talk to me so why should you be home for your daughter.”

Elise came padding into the kitchen, wearing a short sleeve pink shirt and a white and pink polka-dot skirt. She hadn’t put on her shoes yet. She headed straight to the cabinet of cereals and pulled out a box.

“Guess what.” I said, putting on my best smile. “You’re going with mom to see Nana.”

She stopped mid-stride on her way to the refrigerator, and looked at us, her big almond brown eyes going from one to the other and back.

“After school?”

“Nah, we’ve decided you don’t have to go to school today.”

Big grin, a couple of jumps.

Well played, I thought.

The thing is, I still don’t know where Liz originally planned to go that day.

Some mysteries are better left alone.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Cover Boy

I've been working on some ideas for the cover of my ebook.  Ebook covers ideally need to be considered as separate entities than paper book covers.  First of all, everyone will be viewing them initially as tiny little thumbnails on their devices.  So the title of the book really needs to stand out.  Some pleasing but catchy colors can also be effective.  Because the old advice to never judge a book by its cover is hardly ever taken.  At the same time, if you, like me, have a reader instead of a tablet, the cover needs to work in black and white as well, meaning it has good contrast and the colors don't all convert to the same shade of gray.  And, of course, there needs to be a strong graphic on the cover to catch the eye as well.  I have found working on this little sub-project over the weekend to be both fun and frustrating.  I worked up the daytime picture in Lightroom 5 and various Nik plug-ins to give it a darker look, the assembled it and the lettering using multiple layers in Photoshop Elements.  Version 9, I believe.  Anyhow, here are 4 variations on a theme:

And one that is completely different.

What do you think?  Any comments?  Suggestions?  Thoughts?

Monday, July 22, 2013

E-books and Haystacks

As I have begun the second draft of my novel, I have also started doing some research on the publishing world.  When I started writing, I had a vision of a physical book in my hand, and on bookstore shelves, some day.  But that is a long road.  First I would have to find an agent, which is a huge task in and of itself, starting with a query letter in which I would have to sell the idea of the novel in a short summary. If someone actually found it interesting, I would send them the whole book.  If they found it potentially publishable, then I would have an agent, who would then try to sell the book to a publisher.  If that hurdle were cleared, I would get an advance.  A year or so later the book would come out.  Bookstore shelf space is limited.  A new book from a first time writer is unlikely to receive much of a marketing push from the publisher, and is not going to be kept on retailer shelves for long unless it actually sells.  The time frame for a new book to start selling is measured in weeks.  Poor sales means the book is returned to the publisher, and it then ends up sold cheaply as remainders or destroyed.  I have read that 40% of all books printed end up destroyed by publishers.  And if the book does sell well enough to remain in print, the first royalty check comes a year after publication.  That's two years after the advance.

In the e-publishing world though, things are different.  No agent is needed.  No publisher is needed.  Your book can be launched as soon as you get it in the condition you want.  You don't get an advance, but the book is available online as long as you leave it there, giving it far more time for word of mouth to get around and to build a following.  You can sell the book cheaper and get more in royalties per book than through traditional publishing.  And as e-books take off, outselling paper copies, you are entering a market on the upswing.  Oh, and it costs nothing, or nearly nothing, to do it.  And the royalty money comes in every two months or so instead of annually after a two year wait.  All of this is wonderful.  But of course this ease of access has a dark downside as well.  Everyone, and I mean everyone, can write and issue a book.  Anyone can be a published novelist.  And the simple truth is that it is hard to find a good self-published (or "indie published") book.  There are several e-books available to walk you through what you need to do, but all I have read have had a good number of typographical and grammatical errors.  So when the author advises you to get your book edited either by a professional or by several volunteers, it is obvious they haven't used their own advice.  And writing in most of the books on the bestseller list has been, to me, a bit underwhelming.  I'm not saying mine is better.  I'm just saying that I hope mine is better.  It is only going to get worse, I suspect.  Still, there are success stories in the indie publishing world, and good books to be found (Hugh Howie's Wool books for example), but it's like looking for needles in haystacks.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

PET Scans and Prestonsburg Pics

I haven't been around much lately, I know.  I have been very busy at work.  Then an assistant who had been with me for 13 years "retired effective immediately."  No replacement is planned at present so those of us left must pick up the slack.  Two days after that, my wife, Ann, was diagnosed with breast cancer.  A bad week became much worse.   Learning out of the blue that you have breast cancer (or that someone you love has it) makes for a very stressful day.  And that stress continued to grow as we waited for the PET scan to make sure the cancer had not spread.  Finally, she had that scan on Thursday.  The oversimplified explanation of a PET scan is this:  one is injected with radioactive sugar; one sits quietly for an hour or so while the radioactive sugar is circulated through their body; the scan is performed and takes only a few minutes; one is advised to avoid close contact with pregnant women and young children for six hours because they are radioactive (?!); one goes to their oncologist to get the report.  This test is very accurate because, you see, cancer loves sugar.  Something to think about during your next dessert.  Or maybe something to try not to think about.

We were joined at the oncologist's office by our two children and Ann's friend, Liz.  It is hard to imagine a more stressful time than waiting on a PET scan result.  Unless it is, maybe, getting bad news from it.  Unfortunately I know first hand the stress of the wait.  Thankfully, I don't know the stress of getting bad news as the scan indicated that the cancer had not spread.  A cheer went up in the conference room.  After two weeks we could exhale.  The good news, as it turned out, was that my wife can now have surgery (a lumpectomy we anticipate), chemo and radiation.  Now you may think it is not a great day when that is the good news, but everything is relative, and for us it was a great day.  My wife has a blog about her journey, called Keeping You Abreast.

This morning, for the first time in weeks, I found the time and inspiration to go out for a Sunday morning outing.  It wasn't a particularly long one and I didn't return with a ton of great pictures, but it felt good.  It was a beautiful morning.

The Old Bridge

Birdbath Fly Trap

Out of Business

Sunday, July 14, 2013

First Draft is Complete!

I finished the first draft of my novel today!  Those are words I wasn't sure I would ever write.  I grew up wanting to be a writer, and I wrote and wrote, banging out stories on an old manual typewriter before I ever even had a class on how to type (or keyboard).  Wow, those stories were bad.  Then I got busy with life and a career and marriage and raising children.  There were several short attempts at writing a novel but these failed.  I was under the mistaken belief that just because I had read a lot of books I could write one.  Finally I bought some volumes on how to write fiction, but I didn't like what I was reading.  I wanted to write like I wanted to read - surprised by the twists and turns of the story, never know what was going to come next.  And that seems to work for some people.  But it never did work for me.

As it turns out, I needed  a roadmap to keep my story on track.  So I reluctantly created some characters and devised a plot line with Plot Point 1 and Plot Point 2 and a Climax.  Then I created the scenes, one by one, to arrive at each major point in the story.  And then, still too early, with too many scenes not fully realized in my mind, I began to write the tale.  Six months later, here I am with 62,500 words under my belt.  I should have more, I know, but the story is in place.  The common wisdom is that the second draft is for cutting, but I think I will be adding.  Maybe the cutting will have to wait until the third draft.  But I've never gotten this far before, so I am pretty excited.  It was especially fun to finally write the chapter leading up to the climax, and then the one that the whole book had been building to, and even fun to write the short scenes after that tying up loose ends and trying to work in one last little twist.  Because, you see, it is a murder mystery set in the town where I live, with, I hope, a good amount of action, suspense and plot twists.

A good deal of the book was written while I have been busier with my day job (you know, the career that pays the bills) than ever before.  How?  I've cut way back on play time, TV time, movie time, etc.  I have found writing my own little tale more interesting than any of those things.  Well, more interesting than most of those things.  My photography time has suffered too, although digital helps keep the workup time on pictures to a minimum.  But since I tend to do most of my writing on Saturday and Sunday mornings, and since Sunday mornings has historically been the time I go out and shoot pictures, my productivity on that creative activity has definitely declined of late.  Though I learned long ago that I always return to the camera.