Too many books? Puh-shaw!

The first stack of my BTR pile, aka Books To Read.

The first stack of my BTR pile, aka Books To Read.

“Book Blogging” seems to be a popular topic now, which means I’ll probably try it in a few years. I may be an early adopter as far as tech toys go, but when it comes to other trends, I am usually a day behind and often a dollar (or more) short. Case in point: I only recently started to tweet here. Still getting the hang of that one. Pinterest? Fairly new, but on there here. As for Instagram? So far, not enough days in the week left open. But I digress from the original thought – what is this book blogging anyway and should I do it?

Simply put, book blogging is where you read a book and then post a review. Sounds easy enough. Of course, as my old marketing professor would say, it’s always about dollars and cents. True, many book bloggers, once they reach a certain level of readership, will start to receive ARCs, or advanced reader’s copies from publishers. The idea is you get a free book before the general public can purchase one, and the publisher and author get free and early advertising which, in a perfect world, increases sales.

There is a dark side, however. Maybe not exactly dark. More like a dim side, I guess. Depends on your point of view. Affiliate sales are the little links and ads the reader might select after reading the review. Click on the link enough times and the blogger receives a few pennies. Click on the link and then actually buy a book? The blogger gets a small percentage of the sale. The more popular the book blog, the more likely you will see these affiliate sales links.

Is this bad? Not really. For some bloggers, this is necessary income. The rub comes in when a blogger pushes a mediocre book as “a must read” in hopes of gaining those affiliated sales. Should this happen? No. Do most book bloggers participate in such deception? No. But does it happen? Well, as one man once told me – if you can think of it, then someone on the Internet is doing it and making money by doing it.

As for me? I would love free books. Who wouldn’t? But until I get through my “just had to buy this book and I’ll get to it soon, really, I promise” pile, I’ll need to beg off this book blogging trend. As they used to say – ain’t got time for that. See how timely I am with the popular catch phrases? Told you.

Any way, if book blogging is your thing, more power to you. I’ll try to stop by and read a few of your reviews. Put a link to your site in the comment section and I’ll help spread the love.

Until then, in between writing recipes for The Milk Chocolate Murders, and outlining the follow-on book – The Wedding Cake Witness, I will stick to reducing my collection of BTRs – books to read. The photo at the top should tell you how long this may take. And that photo doesn’t include the books I have stashed at work to be read at lunch. Or the other books sitting in the bedroom. Or the unabridged volume of work by some guy named Poe.

As soon as I get through these books, I’ll consider acquiring more. Unless I find myself in a bookstore, in which case all bets are off.

Don’t wait up. This could take a while…

8th Annual Sea Level Singer/Songwriter Festival

Singer/Songwriter Sarah Jarosz

Singer/Songwriter Sarah Jarosz

Yesterday, I took a short break from revising the last 30 pages of my second book, The Milk Chocolate Murders, and sifted through the contents of the daily mail. My wife told me it was all “junk” mail – and she would have been mostly correct. No surprise there. But I did see one postcard that piqued my interest.

I was cordially invited to attend the 8th annual Sea Level Singer/Songwriter Festival, this year featuring an outstanding bluegrass folksinger/songwriter/picker, Sarah Jarosz. And by invited, I mean pay for a ticket. But it’s all good. I wasn’t going to buy a banjo anyway, at least not until I received the first advance on royalties for my novel. And I’m still waiting on that check. Buskers everywhere are safe.

Now, I have a hard enough time writing a decent short story, and I average a mere novel and a half every year or so. Can people put words to music, tell a story, and somehow make it all work? That takes talent. Let’s just say I have not yet dusted off space on the bookshelf for the Grammy next year.

People do try, however. And in our little part of the world we have a festival for it. It’s kind of like a writer’s conference, but with more performances and less classes. Still, there are many similarities between writing books and writing songs. Let’s compare and contrast, shall we?

Writing novels compared to writing songs

Novels require main characters. Songs are usually about somebody, too.

Novels have structure (3-act, monomyth, etc.)  Songs have form (AABA, ABA, etc.)

Novels have an arc (character must change over time.)  Songs have an arc, too (subject changes over time, with chorus/refrain reinforcing the overall theme.)

Both writing a novel and writing a song can cause delusions of the following: grandeur, overnight success, fame, and fortune.

Both novelists and songwriters can be found waiting tables for $2.17 per hour plus tips at some of the finest restaurants around. Some even get to work at the drive-thru window!

Finally, both novelists and songwriters are hopeful, creative, positive souls who live on and keep writing after countless rejections.

The world needs more of them!

So if you are in Hampton Roads on or about April 2 – 4, check out the Sea Level Singer/Songwriter Festival, sponsored by the Tidewater Arts Outreach in Norfolk, Virginia.

You may just hear something worth writing about!

 

We heart writing “on location”

View from the Artist Loft - Cape Charles Coffee House

View from the Artist Loft – Cape Charles Coffee House

Yes, it’s Valentine’s Day and the two of us decided it would be a great day to do something together, out in public. No – not that. This is a family blog, you know. But given the outside temperature is in the 20’s (-3 or so Celsius) and the high winds not helping matters, a relaxing morning inside the warm comfort of the Cape Charles Coffee House was deemed to be public enough.

A few pancakes, some scrambled eggs, a yogurt fruit parfait and muffin later, we found ourselves upstairs. The building, beautifully restored to the elegance it had over a century ago, has a nice artist’s loft. Paintings by locals hang on the wall; there are small and large tables, plus comfy chairs. A perfect place to hold a small informal meeting, or in our case – plug in the laptops and write.

Truth be told – once my trilogy of culinary cozies hits the press, readers may see a coincidental resemblance of this coffee house to the diner-headquarters of the main character. Why shouldn’t I use such a great space for the setting of a novel, right?

So here we sit for a while – me catching up on my social media accounts and eventually moving on with revisions to book number two. My better half? She’s doing work. I know, not as fun as my quest, but she gets to work in an elegant space. And with such fine company!

Valentine’s Day or not, if you need a space to write, look for a quiet place that still has some life to it. You might try a coffee shop, a library (yes, that building with all of the books,) or anywhere people will ignore you, yet be visible for inspiration. Heck, try the waiting area at your local airport. You’ll definitely see a cross-section of humanity there!

Wherever you write – may inspiration hit you like a strong cup of hot coffee; and may any writer’s block be vanquished!

Revision & the Post-Nanowrimo Reality Check

How many of you participated in Nanowrimo 2014? You know, the month of literary abandon where writers of all ilk try to pen at least 50,000 words into some coherent fashion – all during the month of November?

Thousands tried it. Thousands finished. You may be one of them!

And literary agents now cry during the month of December as their email in-boxes explode with submissions. Now, let’s give credit where credit is due: there could be a bestseller in there somewhere. Odds are against it. But it could happen.

And that’s why writers submit their Nano Novels.

Alas, the writer may be ready to be a bestselling author, but the story is not. Many (smarter?) writers use December to revise their draft. Good idea! But now it’s January. The revision must be ready to submit, right?

Here’s some advice from a long time Nano winner, me. I’m the one whose first novel is getting good reviews, but has yet to be traditionally published.

Wait.

Revise.

Wait.

Revise.

Wait some more.

Revise again.

Give your brain a chance to think about other stuff. I wrote a new novel (the sequel) while I was waiting. I put the first book up for critique on the online writer’s peer group, Book Country. I had a few beta readers offer me their opinion. All good feedback, even if not always what I wanted to hear.

The point is – good on you for writing a book in November. Most people could not do it. Ever. But don’t waste that effort. Revise it. Work it. Peer review it. Do something else and then come back and read it with fresh eyes. Trust me. It is worth it.

And eventually, you will find less and less to change. Finally, perhaps a year (or more) later, you will feel confident enough in the work to send it out.

And when you do, I send you my best wishes!

Now put down the draft and go read a book! Make a bucket list and check some things off! Go to the coffee shop and – gasp – talk to someone instead of hiding in the comfy chair typing away. You can do it, you know you can!

Give your book a chance to become as ready for the world as you are!

New Years Resolutions for the Writer

The crab pot fell, signalling the new year in Cape Charles, Virginia.

The crab pot fell, signalling the new year in Cape Charles, Virginia.

Happy 2015, everyone! And now that you’ve seen the ball descend at Times Square, or in our case – the crab pot fall in Cape Charles, Virginia, let’s talk about your resolutions for the new year.

It goes without saying – of course you are going to lose weight. I think 40 pounds would be a good goal for me. Probably less for you, but to each their own. According to StatisticBrain.com, losing weight is the most common New Year resolution. You can’t fight data.

Then there’s that gym down the road. Getting fit is in the top 5 of resolutions, as you may or may not know. And next Monday this resolution will be proven true as every gym on the planet will be crammed full of people hell bent for leather on becoming a cover model for a fitness magazine. If you actually are a gym rat, you know the deal. Just come back in February, once the novelty has worn off and your gym is back to normal.

But what about us writers?

Sadly, when it comes to losing weight and getting fit, writing is an activity involving long periods of sitting down. Not much there to get our heart rate up, except maybe for those who pen romance novels. But still, writing isn’t known for its cardiovascular benefit. And for many of us, our daily nutrition starts with a pastry or two and a side of coffee. Dinner depends on what pairs well with the wine already in our glass. All of this adds up to many writers needing those two resolutions stated above.

Can we do better in 2015?

Of course we can! Make those resolutions and stick to them, right? Not so fast, Hemingway. HuffPost recently published an article featuring Harvard B-school professor Amy Cuddy, who said the typical resolution is composed of unrealistic absolutes. Goals that are not attainable set us up “for failure – and failure is not a good motivator.” It seems, to paraphrase (and take out of context) a quote from Jack London, we are like rats in a trap.

As a writer, what do you always want to do? Write, of course. So let’s be general and stay away from absolutes when creating resolutions to help us achieve our goal:

1. Write something every day. It may not be more than a few sentences, an idea for a plot twist, or perhaps just a quote overheard on the tube from that particularly nasty passenger who reeks of stale cigarette smoke and moldy newsprint from the racing forms stuck in his tweed jacket pocket – but write something.

2. If, for some reason known only unto God, you cannot write something – then read something. Anything. It may only be the back label on that bottle of wine, but somewhere along the way, a writer put those words on paper. They deserve the satisfaction of having someone to read them. And you never know, you might just pick up something you can use in your own writing. I’m not saying plagiarize by any means, but technique, voice, structure, attitude – it can all be gleaned from the writing of others.

3. We must not forget about our own health and wellness. Make better choices.  Coffee? Sure – but only one cup in the morning. Switch to tea in the afternoon, perhaps only one glass of wine with dinner. Make salad the main meal. Reduce the starches and increase the raw vegetables and leafy greens. Doughnuts? Make it a special occasion. And only three, not three dozen. Water? Start drinking it.

4. Finally, resolve to “live as long as you are alive.” Taken from a favorite quote said by a friend who is battling cancer, writers would do themselves great benefit to live a little. You can’t write what you know if you don’t know anything, right? And how do you know stuff? By doing stuff. Take a few minutes and put down the iPhone. Stop posting to Facebook. Finish writing that chapter and step away from the laptop. Now take a good friend and visit that museum you’ve always said you wanted to see. What? There’s a vineyard down the road? Well, there you go. Unless you are writing on a deadline – you have time to live a little. And if you are on a deadline? Hey, if you had time to eat – you had time to do something away from the keyboard.

One last resolution: see all of the usual doctors and dentists. And see them before you are sick. (Did you hear that? My wife is saying I told you so!) If they recommend changes – do them. You never know, you might live longer. And that means you will have more time to write. Don’t wait for any bell to toll for thee. Consider that Hemingway wrote some good stuff, but once he passed – his output dwindled rapidly.

The bottom line is this: as a writer – resolve to write – and read! And as a person, make better choices and live beyond the laptop on your desk. Take care of yourself so you can take care of your writing!

 

 

 

 

And now I’m published!

The World Unknown Review, Vol I

The World Unknown Review, Vol I

Shameless self-marketing post:  One of my noir-ish humorous shorts was chosen for the first volume of The World Unknown Review, with L.S. Engler, editor. Containing 11 short stories and one novella, this new literary review features authors who have an impressive publishing background, as well as those (me) who are just breaking into the business.

My story? Titled The Crucible, this tale is a slice of life featuring an English teacher at an exclusive private school. Distraught with the futility of his efforts, he receives a ray of hope in a promotion to headmaster, only to see…well, you will have to read it for yourself.

If you are a teacher, you can probably relate to this story. If you aren’t, you very well may be one of the characters!

Yes, I’m excited! And you should be, too. Eight clams and some change for the paper version (huzzah for an editor who wanted to make a traditional book!) and just under a dollar for the Kindle version.

If only there was some occasion where you could use a new gift. Hmmm.

Now, back to my happy dance!

The Dreaded Author Photo

The latest mug shot of D.J. Lutz

The latest mug shot of D.J. Lutz

Well, sports fans, the time had come for a new author photo. For those of you who know me, I have never enjoyed having my picture taken. Yet, duty called and I had to submit a new photo, this time in a landscape format. I would have used an old photo, but most were formatted in a square, since that worked best in my social media accounts. That said, I was being interviewed about wellness for writers – and they wanted a photo.

Lemony Snicket had the right idea: never be seen except as a shadow, or perhaps from behind. In a throwback to the iconic Alfred Hitchcock, I could do the same thing? Or maybe pretend I’m Wilson, the neighbor in Tim Allen’s old show Home Improvement, where all you see is Wilson’s eyes and forehead as he peers over the fence.

If you Google Author Photos, you will see that the search engine helps you out by categorizing the photos by quality. Great, Good, Bad, and – Worst. Dare I say it? I hope mine does not end up being placed into the Worst zone. Maybe I can slip Google some cash to bump me up into the “Meh” or even the “It’ll Work” category? No, they probably don’t need the money. And I only have about ten bucks in my pocket right now anyway.

What do you think of your own photo? Any opinions on what constitutes a decent author photo? Anyone want to sub in?