Big News Coming

The ink has to dry first, but I have big news coming. In the meantime, let me drop a teaser consisting of a photo and a bullet list of facts.

space museum 11

  • The first war to feature rocket warfare, submarine kills and aircraft carriers was…the American Civil War. (The Hunley was a Confederate sub that sank the US warship Housatonic. Floating flattops were used as launch and landing pads for observation balloons.)
  • President Abraham Lincoln was nearly killed by a friendly rocket test.
  • Thousands of individuals fought for both sides during the Civil War.
  • Manned rocket flight was proposed (and perhaps tested) in the first part of the nineteenth century.

Watch for further announcements!

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Finding the Time to Write

timeWriters procrastinate. In a busy world, finding something other than writing to do is easy. Having dawdled away entire decades, I found myself without anything to show for the time spent talking about writing (most often with a beer in my hand). By the time I got serious, I was a forty-year-old man with two full-time jobs, a mountain of debt, and three children to worry over.

That’s when I began to write my first novel.

My two jobs left me with a weekly writing window of about five hours—Sunday morning from 2 a.m. until dawn. Because that was my only free time during the week, writing had to share time with a VHS movie, some cooking and cleaning, and the aforementioned beer.

I maximized my efficiency by spending working hours inside my novel’s world. The more mindless the task (and there’s nothing more mind-numbing than a cook deveining shrimp), the better I was able to slip into my novel. Time dissolved for me, a phenomenon that had its drawbacks. Cooking involves sharp knives—it’s a wonder I kept my typing fingers intact. By week’s end, however, I was ready to put words on the page.

I don’t mention this time of my life to illustrate my superior will-power. I’m setting up a punchline. My kids are grown. I’m down to one job. My evenings are free. And I still have trouble finding time to write.

So must it always be. But rather than commiserate, let me offer some suggestions for a problem that I believe is, for writers, universal. I present you with four tips for finding the time to write:

  1. Steal time. Too often, your grandiose plans for a full day of writing go astray. Plan your sessions in smaller blocks, which allows you to jam your short sessions into a few minutes of dead time between the breakfast dishes and the laundry. Have a long commute? Try dictating your novel as you drive. Sneak away from the family whenever you can, and be happy with your page or two—they add up.
  2. Plan to avoid distractions. When you choose a location to do your writing, select somewhere that’s off the beaten path. (The living room of a family home might not be the wisest choice.) Stay away from television screens, and shut off your social media. (Will you really miss those political posts on Facebook?) Explain to friends and family that you are working (and be prepared to repeat yourself endlessly).
  3. Plan for efficiency. Project management tools like outlines and do-lists can help. If you have trouble with a scene, move on. Make a note of your sticking point, and go to the next scene. Efficient writing also means a quick start. Try leaving your previous writing session in the middle of an action sequence or dramatic scene to make picking up the storytelling that much easier at your next session.
  4. Enjoy writing. Finding time is easier if you revel in your craft. And if you love writing—really love writing—you’ll find the time.

When discussing this topic with successful writers (some of whom post maddening daily word count totals on the social media I advised you to ignore), the common prescription is “just do it.” For most of us, that’s not helpful. Hopefully, you found a useful nugget or two here to apply to your situation. Happy writing!

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A Small Favor

crittersCritters Writer’s Workshop is a free, online workshop for writers, fun by Andrew Burt, former VP of Science Fiction Writers of America. Critters holds an annual poll for the “best-of,” and my novel, The Fat Lady’s Low, Sad Song was nominated for novels (all other genres).

This being a poll, I’m posting to ask for your vote. If you’re so inclined, visit:

https://critters.org/predpoll/novel.shtml?fbclid=IwAR3UiIj3S5b7ze06BxnhXCU7f2j3Sc_2NZN8uisIKQoigUB5qv8tIWTDbHM

When you scroll down, you’ll find that I’m in the first category. Voting is pretty easy (two minute’s work). Critters will want your email address so they can send you a verification email.

Pretty simple. And if you vote, much appreciated!

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Good News

PenCraft Award smallIt’s official! The Fat Lady’s Low, Sad Song has won the 2018 PenCraft Award for General Fiction. My baseball novel about a young, female knuckleball pitcher in the minor leagues, featured on the Kirkus book review podcast, is starting to get some industry recognition.

The PenCraft Awards were founded in 2016 to promote books of quality. My novel was nominated by a reviewer at AuthorsReading.com. The annual banquet was held last Saturday in Lumberton,

 

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Hearing the Fat Lady Sing

marlinThe Fat Lady’s Low, Sad Song is now an audiobook.

Marlin May is a stage and voice actor living in Windsor, Colorado. Marlin reached out to me through Facebook to say he’d been contracted for the audiobook version of my novel. It didn’t take me long to discover that I was familiar with his work—he has a credit list of over 80 plays, and I’d seen two of them (one on OpenStage and the other at the Bas Bleu Theater, both here in Fort Collins). My novel wasn’t his first shot at audio books either—his credit list includes more than twenty books, including both fiction and non-fiction.

I like audiobooks. They allow me to listen while I commute, filling dead time with words. I hadn’t considered the idea of an audiobook of my own work. My previous small press publications didn’t include audio.

Happily, my publisher (Black Rose Writing) pursued that option, and I didn’t have to wait long to listen to the result. Marlin messaged me to let me know he’d finished his work just two weeks after our first contact. Shortly thereafter, the book was available on audible.com. I bought a copy—waiting until I got home to listen. I popped open a beer, went to my study and turned out the lights.

May’s voice was outstanding, and his delivery was pitch perfect. I wondered if the rhythm of the words would sound as I’d imagined, but I punctuate toward that end (see https://authorbriankaufman.com/2018/04/26/punctuation-is-sound-direction/).

I loved the result. May is an outstanding voice actor.

I had one unexpected reaction, however.

I was not prepared to have my thoughts sounded out in another person’s voice. Eerie as hell. I kept stopping the book and starting again, trying to calm the feeling that someone had invaded my skull—someone with a calm, reasonable voice. If one, dark night, I encountered a ghost, I think I’d react with the same unnerved sense of the not-quite-normal.

I finished the book with the lights on. That said, I can heartily recommend the audio version of The Fat Lady’s Low, Sad Song.

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Advice on Writer’s Conferences

writer's conferences.jpgAt some point in your writing career, you’ll probably consider attending a Writer’s Conference. That idea may seem daunting. How do you prepare? What do you do once you’re there? How do you follow up when the conference is over? Here are some suggestions:

What do you need to prepare?

  • A thirty-second pitch. You’ll be meeting authors, editor and agents who will ask, “What do you write?” You need an enthusiastic answer that hooks the listener.
  • A ten-minute pitch. When you meet agents and editors formally, you will have ten minutes to persuade them to take a closer look at your work. A good pitch has several elements, including a brief description or hook, setting, an introduction to the main character (and perhaps the villain), what it is your character wants, and what stands in their way. Close with a call to action—ask if the agent/publisher wants to see the manuscript. Don’t be bashful about this last part!
  • Business cards. You will be networking, and you need to trade cards with everyone you meet.
  • Study in advance. If you have scheduled meetings with an agents or publishers, you should do background work on their career. Who have they published/represented? How does your book fit into their interests/past successes? Don’t limit yourself to one or two. Go to the conference website, get a list of guests, and research all of them.
  • Make a list of promising classes. What seminars do you wish to attend?

What should you do at the conference?

  • Attend classes. These seminars are taught by experts who will help you round out your knowledge of the craft. First, analyze your shortcomings as a writer. (If you don’t know what they are, ask your fellow critique group members. If they care, they’ll tell you.) Target those areas as opportunities to improve.
  • Meet every agent and editor you can. This can be done in three ways. First, schedule a formal meeting at the conference. Authors cancel their pitch sessions constantly (nerves), so if someone you want to meet with is already booked, get back to them. Put your name on a waiting list. Second, sit with people you wish to pitch to at mealtimes and be sure to give them the sixty-second pitch. Third, you can catch folks in the hall or in the bar, do so. (I blocked one poor agent from going to the toilet in order to pitch. I got a card, and I got a reading, and he got to the restroom before his bladder burst.)
  • Everyone is a contact. Exchange cards with as many people as possible. When you sell a book, you’re going to need a list of contacts. Conferences are a great way to build your list. Wondering how to keep everyone straight? Write something on the back of the card to remind you of that writer/editor’s interests and projects.
  • Listen. You can hear really good stuff at a conference. Listen at lunch and dinner, in the halls, at the bar…

Here are some Don’ts:

  • Don’t offer up a physical manuscript. Those are sent or emailed later. No one can carry around pounds of manuscripts or take them home on the plane.
  • Don’t try to pitch an unfinished project.
  • Don’t be overly modest, and don’t brag. Find the professional middle.

After the Conference:

  • Thank-you notes are in order, whether in writing or via email. A simple note saying, “It was a great pleasure to meet you” will establish contact, and allow for future e-mails (one of which might be, “Hey, remember me? I published a book. You can buy it at…”)
  • Mail your manuscript. You don’t have to send requested manuscripts immediately, but you should set a schedule, and stick to it.
  • Evaluate. Did you meet your goals? What got in the way? Did the conference measure up? And most important—list things you’ll do differently at the next conference.
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It’s Alive…The Fat Lady’s Low, Sad Song

The+Fat+Lady's+Low,+Sad+Song+eimage

My baseball novel, The Fat Lady’s Low, Sad Song, is available from Amazon, so it’s officially alive. This book sat on a back shelf in my mind for nearly two decades, and I think the wait was worth it. There is something to be said for letting ideas percolate.

A huge thank you to Black Rose Writing for publishing my story. Thanks to my two writing groups (the Raintree Writers and the Penpointers) for great editing help. A special thanks to Patricia Stoltey, April Moore, and Chris Pimental for badgering me into sending the manuscript out for publication. I had intended to pull an Emily Dickenson and shove this story into a desk drawer. This is better.

 

 

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A MODEST GRAMMAR PROPOSAL

funny-thief-help-police-comma-comicThe grammar police (“To correct and serve”) have a legitimate complaint. Language is under assault, and the malevolent perpetrators are, as in Dickens’s time, ignorance and want. No offense to educators (take note—offense intended by its denial), grammar isn’t being effectively taught. Even newspaper headlines contain horrible gaffes (“Bishops Agree Sex Abuse Rules”).

On the other hand, the silent judgment of grammar totalitarians can have a dampening effect on communication, which is the legitimate purpose of language. To dismiss an argument over grammar flaws, instead of faux facts or logical fallacies, strikes me as a modern form of class snobbery (and a cheap way to avoid an otherwise well-structured claim).

Authors know that grammar and punctuation serve an important purpose. For a serious explanation of what that purpose is, read my blog post on punctuation:

Punctuation is Sound Direction

But why so serious? We’re not all writers, and not all communication needs rigorous editing. In our contentious political world, there seems to be no middle ground for any dispute. If only someone could clear up a few of the more common errors with an out-of-the-box solution…

With that in mind, allow me to propose a tiny fix. One of the more vexing grammar errors involves the use of your and you’re. What if, instead of killing a forest full of trees in the form of blue pencils, we simply agreed to use the third in the triad of homonyms—yore.

I can hear you now. Yore right. Yore idea is perfect!

Start there (not their) friends. Baby steps! But if this works, I’ll write a blog that will forever solve the problem of the indefinite pronoun in conjunction and possessive forms. Don’t scoff. Itz possible.

 

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Bilko

Bilko

Bilko’s 1962 Topps card

My lifetime love affair with baseball was often unrequited. A chubby kid in high school, I made the baseball team, but never cracked the starting lineup. I had a large collection of Mickey Mantle cards, but my first wife threw them out after our separation. I played softball well into my sixties, but by then I ran so slow, my baserunning was a huge team liability. (In a footrace, bet on the glacier.)

As an author, however, my love of baseball yielded a treasure trove. Five decades of reading, watching, and playing left me with material for a dozen novels. How to narrow my scope to a single book? While planning The Fat Lady’s Low, Sad Song, I went back to the essentials of my own failed infatuation—fat kid falls short.

And I remembered Steve Bilko.

Steve Bilko was a minor league slugging star who had two nice seasons in the majors—a pair of intriguing bookends to his largely unknown career. Bilko played most of the year for the Cardinals in 1953, hitting 21 home runs. But the Cardinals were never comfortable with Bilko’s weight. Manager Eddie Dyer put Bilko in a rubber suit to sweat the pounds off. Dehydrated, he could still knock a ball 400 feet. But when the Cards sent Bilko to the Cubs, he was demoted to the minor leagues, where he spent most of the next seven years.

During that time, Bilko hit more than fifty home runs in a season twice (55 in 1956 and 56 in 1957). Playing for the Los Angeles Angels, a team in the Pacific Coast League, Bilko was a fan favorite—so popular that the team was dubbed the Bilko Athletic Club. Phil Silvers named his CBS-TV con artist character “Sergeant Ernie Bilko” after big Steve.

Bilko had some interesting off-the-field skills. After a game, he would seal the motel bathroom door with towels and turn on steamy hot water so he could drink extraordinary amounts of beer without getting intoxicated.

Teammates and fans adored him. By all accounts, he was the nicest guy on the team—a regular guy from a coal mining town who happened to have a great swing.

Near the end of his career, Bilko was drafted by the expansion Los Angeles Angels. With just 294 official at-bats, Bilko had another 20-homer season. The following year, a leg infection landed him in the hospital, and soon, he was out of baseball.

Future all-star Bobby Grich said, “He was our Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Ted Williams all rolled into one.” Bilko was elected to the Pacific Coast League’s Hall of Fame in 2003. So why was his major league career so short? Officially listed at 230 pounds, Bilko’s weight was certainly more. (According to Bilko, he was “between 200 and 300 pounds”). Teams didn’t believe in him because of his weight.

I wrote The Fat Lady’s Low, Sad Song thinking, in part, of Steve Bilko. I still have his 1962 Topps baseball card. He’s one of three men to whom I dedicated my novel. My protagonist, Parker Westfall, is a chunky, beer-loving first baseman who has a fabulous season for an Indy league team. Part minor league legend, part high school fat kid who never got off the bench, the fictional Westfall is the greatest hitter who never was.

Steve Bilko died in 1978, but in a happy twist of fate, his fictional counterpart is still unashamedly overweight, still hitting the long ball.

Thanks to the following sources:

The Bilko Athletic Club Blog, http://www.bilkoathleticclub.com/

Warren Corbet, Society for American Baseball Research

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Poke a Wound

_Fixing_a_broken_heart__by_Nonnetta

Art by Nonnetta

Should you write about what you know, or something you don’t know? Let me answer by going sideways. Write about what hurts.

I attended Colorado State University at the turn of the century (sounds so long ago when I phrase it that way), studying English Literature and Creative Writing. I had already published poetry but wanted to hone my skills, so I took a senior workshop course under the state’s poet laureate, Mary Crow.

The class was excellent. I submitted poetry and the class workshopped each piece. Later, Ms. Crow went over my work, praising some and making spot-on suggestions for most. One poem caused her to pause. She handed me the poem—no comments on the page—and said, “This subject isn’t worthy of you.” She was right.

So, what makes poetry (or prose) worthwhile? Craft matters, of course. What about the subject matter?

One of my writer’s groups discussed one member’s difficulty with a novel. The subject was autobiographical, and the writer in question kept restarting the project. Perhaps the subject was wrong: “Maybe you’re too close. Maybe you need a little distance.”
I disagree. I think that if a subject makes you uncomfortable, touches a raw nerve, and leaves you conflicted, then that subject is worth exploring. If the act of writing becomes painful (more so than usual), then the emotion may well find its way to the page. If too painful, you won’t finish, but if you finish, the work will be important because it’s important to you.

My advice—poke a wound.

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