Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Avoiding the Time Suck™ (And Other Philosophies For Life)

As some of you may recall, I've been enjoying (!) the throes of home improvement this summer. While trying to get readers to "discover" my stories that are out there on the web, plus working full time, I've also been finishing the entire basement level of our house (and doing much of the work myself).  It's been a nearly ten month fiasco of ups and downs, hiring some good people to help, hiring some bad people to help, discovering problems, working around them, getting frustrated, starting over a few times.

What has this meant?

Well, for starters, it's been hell on my efforts to read, write and market my books. And for seconds, it's meant little time for the things I value even more than that: time with the family.

I thought there might be some value in me talking a bit about the scales of importance in my life. Obviously, my little one and my lovely wife are at the forefront of importance. Immediately following that is my desire to get my writing in front of as many people as possible without sacrificing the next tier on my ladder, which is: the basic necessities of life. Shelter, food, safety. You know the drill. It's all those things we need for survival for ourselves and the people we love.

And none of that comes without spending time on a job or career. I value my career beyond its intrinsic value to provide the necessities of life. I'm very good at what I do and I'm getting better at it all the time, but it is, as you know, part of a much larger balancing act.

This is where commitments trade off positions on the Ladder of Life momentarily to get the hard stuff out of the way and into a more comfortable state of Being Taken Care Of.

Let's look at the example from my life: finishing the Basement Ordeal.  How important are the home improvements when you look at them relative to everything else? They are third in line, right?  Way behind family, writing and the job. So they are the least important in the big big picture. Right. Right?! But why then, do they trump writing, reading and marketing of me as an author right now?

Home improvements move around on the scale because the rewards are so high.  At least, that's how I view it.  Finishing a previously unused basement into fresh, new living space offers a multitude of things to me.  The improved organization of all our space will help me relax and reduce stress, thus giving my mind freedom to wander and come up with fanciful worlds to write about, time to decompress and truly think about things.  Of course, there will be increased functionality or usefulness of the space: I have built a new studio space down there to allow me room to roam, write, work on painting and music. Plus these are enhancements that make the home a more appealing space, like flower beds, clean, well-managed lawn, decks and fences. Sale value of my home, should I need to move, just went way up based on the calibre of work here. And I save a lot (and I mean a LOT) of cash doing much of the work myself. I know every square inch of that renovated space and feel much stronger in my abilities and comfort level with tools.

But the Time Suck associated with home improvements is high because I own very few of the pricey niche tools necessary to do complex projects so I had to research techniques and tool rentals. Plus, my inexperience or newness to a particular task meant it would take me a lot longer to complete a task than it would a professional. Finding a professional can take a huge chunk of time because of researching their skills, scheduling, coordinating the arrival of materials, dealing with bad work, dealing with poor delivery (like the time a load of doors meant patches to walls and ceilings when the "professional" delivery people bashed into things more than the bumper cars at the local fair.)

Near the end of such a major project (thankfully, I am very near the end --phew!), I can't help but step back and look at the value-for-time relationship of such an undertaking. Ultimately, was it worth it for me? I would say yes, but with some regrets. My son is young and I've missed too many weekends at home with him when his mother took him to the park or the pool or the lake and I couldn't join because I needed to wait on a delivery of trim or get down on my hands and knees to install flooring. I have not been able to savour some of his childhood moments and those are the regrets that such a thing carry.

Essentially, when looking at my Ladder of Life, I have decided on three main statements which will help me determine the importance of things...and how much time I wish to spend on them.
1. For me, being rich in time has more value than being rich in money.
2. Finding/Making time to do the things I enjoy is tantamount: being with my boy, writing.
3. Avoiding things that offer few rewards: too much work at the expense of anything I cherish.

What's on your Ladder of Life?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Now Available on Amazon Kindle

"On The Gathering Storm" is now available for purchase and download onto your Amazon Kindle reading device. See it or get it here!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

J Goes To The Movies: 127 Hours

I follow film in the same way I follow literature -- tagging along with writers and directors who do good work.  Well, the new film by Danny Boyle who brought us "Slumdog Millionaire" and "28 Days" and "The Beach" looks, from the trailer at least, as if it's going to be well worth the price of admission when it opens in November. Only thing is, I can't wait that long.  Seriously, you should check out the trailer. If the movie is half as well-made and interesting as this thing, it will be a really good flick.

It's the first trailer I've seen in several months that literally begs me to see it. It's now on my must see list.

Others that have piqued my interest are "Black Swan" from Darren Aronofsky and "Never Let Me Go" from Mark Romanek and Alex Garland, both set for the fall.  What are y'all wanting to see at the theatre?

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Book Teaser: Long or Short?

You readers out there: when you come across the description of a new book, either on the web, on your e-reader, or standing in the store and reading a book jacket, how long and detailed do you like it to be?

Do you want to know all the major plot details or would you rather have a teaser and discover the details as you read?

I have heard many movie-goers complain about movie trailers which show spoilers or major plot details about the movie itself. As we all know, sometimes the ads for a movie can contain all the funny or dramatic moments and the movie may only serve as joiner between those big moments. 

Years ago I remember attending a pre-release screening of a horror movie called "The Relic" starring Penelope Ann Miller and Tom Sizemore. Because it was not in wide-release I hadn't seen a poster, an ad or even a short teaser about the movie. I didn't know if it was a horror flick or an Indiana Jones-type action movie (with a title like "The Relic" it could have been Angelina Jolie on an archaeological dig with robots, for all I knew). What I do remember is the sheer joy in NOT KNOWING A THING about where the story was headed.  I had no residual memory from a trailer which allowed me to say, "Oh, that critter is going to jump out at us. And that train car is going to explode." It was pure bliss for me, but I do know that many (most?) people would rather know a good lot about a movie or a book before they A) pay for it and B) spend their time on it.

Here's an example of a synopsis for a friend's novel, Vincent Zandri's popular suspense story, "The Remains" which is currently available just about everywhere.  It's a successful book, currently a Kindle bestseller at Amazon.com and the outline below appears to give a clear picture of what's in store for the reader.

Thirty years ago, teenager Rebecca Underhill and her twin sister Molly were abducted by a man who lived in a house in the woods behind their upstate New York farm. They were held inside that house for three horrifying hours, until making their daring escape. Vowing to keep their terrifying experience a secret in order to protect their mother and father, the girls tried to put the past behind them. And when their attacker was hunted down by police and sent to prison, they believed he was as good as dead. Now, it s 30 years later, and with Molly having passed away from cancer, Rebecca, a painter and art teacher, is left alone to bear the burden of a secret that has only gotten heavier and more painful with each passing year. But when Rebecca begins receiving some strange anonymous text messages, she begins to realize that the monster who attacked her all those years ago is not dead after all. He s back, and this time, he wants to do more than just haunt her. He wants her dead.

And here's the synopsis for my own book, "On The Gathering Storm" which is available in all the major e-formats. I think we can agree that this one is shorter, by about a third, and that it displays less specific information about the plot.

Hannah Garretty is snatched from her bohemian life on the island and vanishes into a forest lair where unspeakable things have happened…and will continue to happen. We catch visceral glimpses from before the abduction, when she last came face to face with her own mortality. But can Hannah find a scrap of light in the absolute darkness of her ordeal?

I don't know that one is particularly stronger than the other but I do believe that story teasers are an art form, much like movie trailers demand their own set of unique skills. What do you think? Does one make you want to read the story more than the other? Is length a big factor or is it more about what is said in the synopsis and less about how much is said? Sound off!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Availability Update

"On The Gathering Storm" is now available directly from:

If anybody has a buying experience to share (good or bad!) from any of these ebook stores, I'd love to hear it.  My novella and other short stories are set to be up on the iPad/iPod Touch/iPhone platforms in the next week or so as well.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

What Am I Working On?

With my home renovations nearly complete (at least for now!), I'm looking forward to more time here in late August and September to get back to writing.

I have a short story on the horizon which looks like it will really get cooking soon.  I am so eager to see how it turns out.  It is always very exciting at the early stages of a story before you've stared at the pages so many times. The characters are new and their world is like that first snowfall of the season. You haven't yet grown tired of shoveling the walk and it's still novel to see the flakes coming down and putting a new layer of white on everything.

Also, there is the first of a three-novel series which I am looking to finish drafting and continue editing. This trilogy involves a young man on the brink of adulthood but there's more to it than that: are people coming back from the dead? As usual with my stuff, there's a bit of the nuance of everyday life mixed with some amped reality tweaked so the laws of the world as we know them are bent out of recognizable shape.  This story has some weirdness to it but that's expected from me, isn't it?

Lastly, I have begun on the next chapter in the Night Walk Men saga. This is a longish set of stories that involve the mythical beings first seen in my short story, "The Night Walk Men", which is proving popular on Smashwords right now.  If you haven't read it yet, check it out. It acts as a bit of a primer on the Nightwalkers and a prologue to the stories yet to come. I've gotten a lot of reviews and word-of-mouth on this story which mention a desire for more so I'm taking that as a cue that I should go ahead with my original plan and keep writing about Sparrow, Fallow and their Next In Lines.

Keep in touch to learn more about these projects as I have more to share!  I can't wait for you to read them! 

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Behind The Words // Road Markers

Every so often, I hope to post short anecdotes about the impetus behind some of the characters, backdrops or ideas expressed in my writing.  Up now is a little depth regarding my short story, "Road Markers" which is available for free at Smashwords.

There's a section in the story, "Road Markers" which has Dean thinking back on a perhaps imaginary memory from his childhood which may or may not have happened. In the stream of consciousness we peek in and witness him as a boy, possibly taking a summer road trip with his family and seeing his "companion on the road to another world" in the back seat of another car.

It was one of those instances where you’re doing a hundred or so down a road and, in the lulls when the radio signal’s gone and your own thoughts are nothing but muck, you notice the same car ahead of you as you did a hundred klicks back.  You’re never sure, no, no, that it’s actually the same vehicle.  But you feel like you’ve been driving with that car for a while.  And you always feel a momentary nag of sadness when it turns off, when you realize it had no shared business with you.
When you were a kid maybe you imagined a beautiful girl in that car, the same age as you, bored out of her brain too, on some pathetic effort of her father to culture the family during their vacation instead of just going to some theme park and staying in expensive hotel rooms where there was a cheesy three-storey resin plastic waterslide in the pool area.
She, that beautiful girl in the back seat, would have her chin in her hand, semi-tanned legs with white lines where the band of her sandals sat on her pre-summer feet, pulled up on the seat.  Dad was in the driver’s seat, middle of the night and pushing on to the next stop despite mom’s protests from the front passenger seat that it was too late to keep going.  But dad, no he had an agenda and he was sure there was a rest stop here that he remembered.  One with a map on two wooden posts and a garbage can and a widened shoulder with a path that led down to a view of the valley and the glittering Oceana beyond.  He was leaning forward over the wheel looking for that path, dear old dad, looking for that rest stop because it was part of the culture, part of the knowledge, part of the life, he was trying to give his daughter.  And his wife.
And in another life, when you were a boy, you’d journey along in the back seat of your own dad’s car.  You’d pull up alongside and overtake beautiful back-seat girl and her dad and mum, when your pop came up to the passing lane, a third lane that widened for a brief stretch of a few kilometers.  And you’d see her there, with shiny hair caught in some glare of a headlight in the opposite lane, shadows tracing and then falling away from her features.  She’d see you and you’d spend the rest of your own holiday with your parents wondering what she was like and if you’d amble up to your hotel room with key in hand (that you’d begged mom to let you carry) to find that she, boyfriend-less and missing her own friends back home, was in the room right next door.  And, oh yeah, both rooms had a direct view of, no not something cultural, not something natural or beautiful, but instead the bright blue tub-tubes of resin plastic:  the three-storey waterslide.
A magical thought, the other car.  The voyage buddy, the companion on the road to another world.  It was even, for me now, epicurean to imagine the lives in that other car.  They were going the same place as me, caught in the time-warp of a highway between two spots in the night.  But likely, they headed there for very different reason.  God, I hoped so.  

This runs runs parallel to how Dean sees his life being piloted in the present. He's stuck in the back seat at work, feeling overwhelmed and unfairly managed by his boss, LeFevre. Dad's driving the car to a predetermined destination and Dean feels like he's in the back seat, unable to steer or influence the direction of the car. All he can do is sit still and be content to look out the window, watching the world pass him by: his ex-wife getting a plumb new job in Japan before finding a new fiancĂ©, his semi-estranged step-daughter growing up and moving on with her life.

But now, at the moment of the story, he's truly in the driver's seat. He can take that car in any direction he wants. The question is, where will he go?

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

New Short Story: "The Night Walk Men" / "Shed" Proving Popular

I've published a new e-only short story at Smashwords, entitled "The Night Walk Men".  The official synopsis is:

A little girl named Gabriela is playing with her brother on a train platform and two mysterious strangers will decide her fate over a cup of tea. Is there such a thing as destiny? And, what is the value of doing your job, even if you don’t think it’s right? 

It's another thriller so there's a bit of weirdness and everything's not quite what you think -- similar to "On The Gathering Storm", or "Road Markers", another recent short story of mine. Hopefully, you'll enjoy it.  If you do, feel free to leave a review at Smashwords or drop me a note here at this website.

* * *

A quick note on "Shed", which is proving popular. It's been up at Smashwords for about a week and has been getting attention. It has been added at Goodreads.com and the fine people at obooko and Online Novels have added it to their collections.  

Obooko currently lists "Shed" on their homepage or you can find it under the "Crime, Thriller & Mystery" section.  Susan Crealock over at Online Novels contacted me and has graciously offered to provide a listing for the story on Online Novels as well.  Thanks to you both!

If any of you have stumbled across this site or the books through obooko or Online Novels, I'd love to hear from you.

One more thing. "The Night Walk Men" is free for download in all the major e-reader and pc-friendly formats.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

New Novella: "Shed"

I've published a new e-only novella at Smashwords, entitled "Shed".  The story takes place in 1974 on a small island off the coast of Washington State in the Gulf Islands.  Two young brothers, Simon and Rupert, experience a turmoil like no other when their Mama marries a new man, Everett. He is an abusive and domineering presence in an age and place where wives still feel compelled to need and stay with a husband no matter what.

To perpetuate the boys' problems, many of the island town's residents have been disappearing and Simon, the older brother of the story, has some knowledge about what may be happening to them...because it may be happening to him.

The story is classed as a novella because it's shorter than a feature-length novel like "On The Gathering Storm", but it's a heftier read than "Road Markers" another recent short story of mine.  By all means, have a read, and let me know what you think!

Almost forgot. "Shed" is free for download in all the major e-reader and pc-friendly formats.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

New Short Story: "Road Markers"

A new short story called "Road Markers" has been published at Smashwords. As with "On The Gathering Storm" this one is available in all the popular e-reader formats, plus PDF and text files for those of you that would like to read on a laptop or personal computer...or if you want to print off your copy and climb into the bathtub to do your reading.

So. What's it about?

It's always precarious for a writer to try and "sell" his own work with a description but here's a synopsis I feel sums it up relatively well.

Dean is a forty-something sales rep for a company that ropes small, mostly blue-collar firms into long term cellphone plans. Heading home from a bad meeting, he begins to see evidence that he can will things to happen just by thinking about them. But will this tantalizing realization lead him to cross the line for good? 

The story is a short musing on the idea that we can influence our lives and those around us. How much influence do we have on whether we get that new job, date the pretty girl, or hit it big in the stock market? And if we truly had enough power to dictate what would happen in the world around us, would we use such a power for simple gains or would we let our desires get out of hand?

Oh, did I mention that "Road Markers" is free?
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