This blog is devoted to remembrances and essays on general topics, including literature and writing. It has evolved over time, and some older posts on this site might reflect a different perspective and purpose.

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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Writing It Is the Easy Part

            There are two kinds of people in the world: Those who can’t imagine writing a book, and those who can’t imagine not writing a book. Most of my friends belong to the first group, and they sometimes ask me how hard it is to write a book.
            My standing answer is that any idiot can write a book, but that it takes a certain level of skill to write one that anyone will actually read. That doesn’t entirely answer the question, I know, but it’s the best I can do.
            As I approach the publication, in a few weeks, of my second Quill Gordon mystery novel, it occurs to me that there is a postscript to my standing answer. That would be that writing the book is the easy part; it’s all the stuff that comes afterward that’s the real work.

Mistakes on Top of Mistakes

            I happen to be thinking of this because yesterday afternoon I got an email from Lauren Wilkins, a former colleague at the newspaper, who is doing the final outside edit of book two, Wash Her Guilt Away. I decided to pay someone to do this after hearing from my friends about the mistakes they were finding in the first book, The McHenry Inheritance. (At least Amazon made it easy to go back and clean those up!)
            Already I’ve taken a week off to do nothing but edit and rewrite the second book, and after I was done with that, I gave it to my wife, Linda, for another read and made the corrections she indicated. Now Lauren is saying she’s making good progress and is surprised by how much stuff she’s catching.
            That both gratifies and mortifies me. I’m mortified because I don’t feel so much should still be wrong at this point, but gratified that my decision to hire an outside editor turned out to be justified. With any luck, my friends will have less to point out this time around.
            A key determinant of the ultimate publication date will be how much time it takes me to go through the manuscript and respond to what Lauren caught. I’m hoping the book will be out in late April, but realistically, it might not be on Amazon before May.

Who’s Hosting This, Anyway?

            Meanwhile, I met with my webmaster last week to redesign my website. Right now it’s doing a good job of promoting one book, but from here on out, it has to promote a series of books, which means completely restructuring it. That’s daunting enough as it is, but it turns out that neither the webmaster or I could initially figure out who’s hosting the site.
            Eventually that got figured out, but it was obscured because I have two accounts with the server business, owing to my propensity for forgetting log in ID’s and passwords. Fortunately that got sorted out in little over an hour; they were very helpful, and if I’d had to go somewhere else, that might have been a long slog.
            At the same time all this is going on, we’re waiting for rain so the final footage for the video trailer can be shot; a storm just moved in today, and the videographer is hoping to take care of business now. And of course I’m planning the promotional work for the book, which will really pick up once it’s actually published. With such a full plate, I’ll barely have time to follow March Madness this weekend. I’m rooting for Stanford and Tennessee, but only the Vols have much chance of going to the Final Four. You read it here first.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Sort of Like Howard Hawks

            Yesterday morning I got together with videographer Chip Scheuer and retired Watsonville Police Chief Terry Medina to shoot a video trailer for my second Quill Gordon mystery, Wash Her Guilt Away. Along the way, photographer Tarmo Hannula of the Register-Pajaronian, who I’ve known for years, showed up to take a picture.
            And somewhere in the process I got to thinking, this must be what Howard Hawks felt like when he shot a western with John Wayne. Let’s get together with some friends, head for the great outdoors, and have some fun making a movie.
            Of course Hawks was paid handsomely to make his movies, whereas I’m paying out-of-pocket for mine and doing it on a budget. I have to because a You Tube video trailer is considered essential to book marketing in the digital age. I will say this for making a video, though. It’s a lot more fun than applying for an ISBN number for the book.

Shooting in the Great Indoors

            Actually, this video was shot in the great indoors, which if you’re talking about Howard Hawks/John Wayne movies calls to mind Rio Bravo. What we were trying to do this morning was recreate the interior of a hunting and fishing lodge in an isolated mountain area of Northern California, which is the setting for the book.
            Had I but funding enough and time, I would have taken a weeklong trip to the mountains to scout for appropriate locations, rented a place for the day, and brought everybody up there to shoot it properly. In the real world, I was reduced to doing it on the cheap near where I live.
            I considered a few places to serve as the background for the interior of the lodge, but it turned out the right place was literally under my nose. My Rotary Club meets each week at the Watsonville Elks Lodge, which has a huge fireplace, with the head of a mammoth elk mounted over it. The bar and its furniture are of the late fifties, early sixties vintage that the lodge in my book contains. We figured we could make it work by shooting carefully and atmospherically.
            Ideally, we would have had a rainy day, like the ones in the book, but no such luck. It was bright and sunny, but Chip got around that by framing shots tightly and focusing on the fireplace and building artifacts.

One-Take Terry Does His Scene

            Having stood up at numerous press conferences as police chief, Terry is a pro when it comes to being filmed. He also did video training for city employees and earned the nickname “One-Take Terry,” because when he stepped in front of a camera, he generally got it right the first time.
            We did more than one take this time in order to provide different options, camera angles and inflections when the film was edited, then Terry was sent on his way. Then we shot the rest of the scenes and some footage to go with voice-over, and we were finished in three hours.
            When Hawks and Wayne made the classic Red River in 1947, they found themselves sitting on their hands for days because of heavy unseasonable rains. My video has the opposite problem. We’re going to be sitting on our hands until Chip can get out and shoot some rainy-day footage to complete the project. In this year of California’s major drought, that’s a stresser, but the Weather Channel is saying there’s a good chance of rain next Tuesday and Wednesday. I certainly hope so; the show must go on.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Good to See You Again

            Going into the donut shop as usual last Saturday morning, I saw Les sitting at a table in the corner, reading a newspaper. Not surprising, given that the donut shop is across the street from the office complex we both occupied over a seven-year period.
            Les is an accountant, and like me, he works erratic hours, so it was not unusual for us to run into each other on evenings or weekends, when the office was mostly deserted, and strike up a conversation. It’s been more than five years since I moved out of the office, but Les is still there — though apparently not for long.
            After I picked up my donuts we got to talking, and it seems he’s about ready to ease into retirement, which would mean not being across the street from the donut shop on Saturday morning. We caught up on things for several minutes, and I had the opportunity to find out about his big step and to wish him well.

Leaving Matters to Chance

            Afterwards I got to thinking about the sheer luck of the encounter. If I’d been there twenty minutes earlier or later, as I easily might have, I’d likely have missed him altogether. And if he retired and started getting to the donut shop less because he’s not coming to work on Saturday mornings, I might never have seen him again.
            That chance encounter reminded me again of how fragile our human contacts are, and how easy it is for people to slip out of our lives and for us to slip out of theirs. We have very few people who are friends for life, but plenty of others could have been friends for longer than they were if only one of the parties had taken a bit more initiative to maintain contact.
            Over the years I’ve tried to keep in touch with people and have probably been a bit above average in that regard. Several friends have told me that they appreciate my taking the initiative to get together for lunch or coffee because they often feel too swamped to make the move themselves. Even so, I’m far from perfect  and hold numerous regrets about people I wish I’d called sooner and more often.

The Other Issues

            Two weeks ago I turned 64, and while the indicators are good for my show running a while longer, I am becoming acutely aware of the fact that there’s a final curtain waiting out there — for both me and my friends. Staying in touch with people, and in some cases trying to rekindle friendships that burned out when the fire was neglected have to be priorities now.
            Other issues arise from not seeing people in a while. I’ve been involved in the community for decades and know a large number of people at least somewhat, but I’m starting to find myself occasionally forgetting a name or mistaking one person for another. At a recent book-signing, I was mortified when I called a woman “Gwen,” when her name is Nita. I read in the Times that the reason older people are more forgetful owes less to brain malfunction than to the fact they have so much to remember. I really wish I could believe that — especially when the computer between my ears disconcertingly clicks on the wrong icon.
            On the other hand I was recently reviewing some soon-to-be-public documents for a client and caught a misspelling in the name of a man known to almost everyone in town. So I suppose I still have a few marbles left, and as long as there’s even one, I can keep on playing. And inviting a friend to join me.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Rebranding My Detective

            When my mystery novel The McHenry Inheritance was first published in July of 2012, I described it in shorthand as a fly-fishing mystery. Although that may have been accurate as far as it went, it’s a marketing decision I’ve come to regret.
            The regret arises from a growing belief on my part that identifying or describing the book in that way may be putting off some readers who would enjoy it but who have no interest in fly-fishing. Nor does it seem to be pulling in large numbers of readers who have that interest; if a fly-fisherperson doesn’t read mystery novels, he or she is unlikely to wade through the other 190 pages of the book to get to the ten that have to do with fishing.
            From the beginning, I saw the book as the first in a series featuring the same protagonist, Quill Gordon. The running theme of the series would be that Gordon goes on a fishing trip, becomes enmeshed in some aspect of the small-town drama at his destination, and plays some part in solving the murder that arises out of that drama.

Lord Peter Goes to Scotland

            In many respects, that’s similar to Dorothy L. Sayers’ Five Red Herrings, in which Lord Peter Wimsey goes on a fishing trip to Scotland, becomes enmeshed in the drama surrounding a group of artists who live in the small town where he is staying, and helps the police solve the murder of one of them. No one would refer to that book as a fly-fishing mystery, and while my tome has more fishing detail than Sayers’ book did, the fishing plays the same role: it gets the protagonist into the setting and situation.
            Sayers used the fishing device only once, whereas I would be using it in every book. But what my books will really be about is an outsider (Gordon) becoming involved in a community and its issues, and in some way bringing his outsider status and perspective to bear on solving a crime that has disrupted the community.
            Several readers of the first book — all male, by the way — have picked up on the outsider aspect and have commented that Gordon reminds them in some ways of Lee Child’s character Jack Reacher. They’re both tall, both loners and they go where they want to go and do what they want to do, but the resemblance pretty much ends there.

Jack Reacher Meets Miss Marple

            Gordon is perhaps what Jack Reacher would be if he had a permanent address and substantial investment income — respectable in other words. In that regard, Gordon is something like Peter Wimsey, but he also is like Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple, who travels about and solves crimes, mostly in small towns, based on her life experience and observations.
            The Gordon series is more in the classical mode of Christie and Sayers than the modern action-thrillers that Child writes. And it has occurred to me that the classical aspect of the series should perhaps be emphasized more, though exactly how, I’m not sure. But with a new video to make and with having to redesign the Quill Gordon website to work in the second book, I’ll have some chances to work on the rebranding.
            If, as I hope, I keep adding more books to the Gordon series, there will be plenty of additional opportunities for redefining what a Quill Gordon mystery is, and maybe I’ll eventually get it right. And there’s always the old fallback. If you tell good stories, which I’d like to believe I do, there will always be readers who appreciate that.