Aug 13, 2012

Almost there and damn proud!

After five years of effort (on and off, mostly on), the first printed proof of the book is supposed to arrive in the mail today. I can hardly stand the suspense. I published the Humanism for Parents book, but that was totally different. It was non-fiction, which is monumentally easier to write than fiction (for me) and it was a topic that I could write about off the top of my head. The novel took 1.5 years of research before I could even start and then a little over half-a-year of reviews for me to realize my "craft" wasn't good enough. Then two years of higher education before I felt comfortable rewriting the novel.

In many ways, this book is my single biggest accomplishment in my life to-date. I've done hundreds of projects (technical/software), lived overseas twice, raised four kids, have three advanced degrees and my BS, and this book beats them all.

What is making it feel like such an accomplishment is that writing fiction is just not something I am a natural at. And yet... this book was so important to me that I ignored that, wrote it, and then went and did the work to become better. Now I am at the point that people see the first chapter and there is no doubt in their mind that I am a serious, professional writer. That, to me, is an accomplishment for someone as analytical as me, and I'm finding that I am quite proud of it.

See or

Jul 10, 2012

Two steps forward, One step back

In so many ways, this process of writing a novel is making progress only to find that there are still issues to be resolved. I just recently completed the major revision of the novel I had been planning since starting the DU graduate program in Creative Writing.

However, near the end I realized that there were too many of certain words I had been using. Then a couple of writer friends of mine who were reviewing the book told me the dame thing.
So, even though I am done with the major revision, I decided to go back through the entire thing to look for these words. Then when I started doing that, I found other improvements I could make. Now I am back to doing another edit of the book.

I do admit that each full edit makes the book better, but there has to be an end to it at some point. I am really hoping this will be the last one, especially since I want to get this released to the public in September.

The good news is that pretty much everything else is in place. The website is up and running and taking pre-orders and requests to be on the mailing list ( I have trial marketing runs going on Google and Facebook to see how the ads perform. I have a FaceBook page up and running ( And, PayPal is all set up to take payments. Even my personal web site and my humanist web site have been updated.

My mind is partly on the sequel, Tamdiu, so I really need to get this one out there so I can start on the next one...

Jun 19, 2012


I have been using Dropbox to share my files with reviewers of my book and it has been awesome. So good in fact, that I have moved all of my documents into it and use it for my regular repository. That way everything I add/edit is immediately uploaded there as a backup.

Twice now I have overwritten a file accidentally and was able to go onto Dropbox and recover the previous version. It is like having source control, if you know what this is from computer science, on all of my documents only it is seamless.

Really awesome tool/site. The only negative I know of is that it is pretty costly if you want to buy more space. Their lowest paid upgrade is 50GB for $100/year. I don't need that much space and it is way too expensive. I'll stick to the free account and get as much space as I can through referrals.

So, if you are going to use Dropbox, use this link and we both get extra space:

Jun 14, 2012

Copy editing...

A late dilemma in this process... One of the things I learned researching self-publication is that the author should always get professional copy-editing for the book. So, I budgeted that in (at about $2.50 / page, which is what my research showed it cost).

However, reality is sinking in. I looked at a professional editors site for Colorado. Of the 16 (or so) people I have contacted, most of them were too busy to even consider more work. Of those that would consider it, three have supplied a sample edit. Unfortunately, two of them went way too far and the third did not go far enough. I want a copy-edit, not a deep dive and 6 comments in an entire chapter isn't really worth the $1100 (or so) I would have to pay. Ugh!

Since the package I am planning to get from Wasteland Press includes 20 hours of copy editing (that they admit isn't really enough), I am considering using them as my final editing. I would like to find the right level of editor out there, but it doesn't appear to be happening and so far my daughter has proven to be a superb editor (good thing that is going to be her career).

May 22, 2012

The Home Stretch - Part 2

This is a multi-part series on the steps involved during the final stretch of publishing a book.

This second post is about a list of the details that I have to work through in order to actually, and successfully publish the book (in both print and digital form).

Some explanation of the follow list is in order. For marketing purposes, I wanted my own web site (separate from the site I maintain). I obtain the domain names and a while back, so I decided to use those. I also wanted a site for the book, so I just put it under the site (so the url for the book is Then, Google sent me a $100 coupon for advertising, but it had a time limit, so I decided to stand up an ability on the site to to pre-orders of the book and do some trial marketing. I think the rest of the list makes sense. The gray areas are items that are complete. Also, this does not include the minutia like figuring out actual postage costs or any of the decision making process (e.g. do I handle digital conversion myself or hire that out, do I hire a company to do social media marketing,

  • & web site
    • Home
    • Writing
    • Humanism
    • Career
    • Personal
    • Repoint  primary GoDaddy site to w/ sh as domain redirect
    • Check all links, titles, and metadata
    • Get new icon for web site
    • Setup Google Analytics
    • Copy edit
  • Propositum web site (under
    • Home
      • Polling mechanism
    • Contents
    • Sample
    • Reviews (temporary)
    • Purchase (Pre-purchase)
      • Hook up to PayPal for pre-purchase
      • Include ability to add to mailing list
    • About
    • Check all links, titles, and metadata
    • Get new icon for web site
    • Setup Google Analytics
    • Confirm prices with Wasteland and update if needed
    • Copy edit
  • Setup pre-order/trial marketing run
    • Requires and propositum sites to be completed
    • Design pre-purchase page: pre-order and add-to-mailing-list
    • Update to include reference to new book
    • Design ads (3?), post on Google, turn on conversion tracking
  • Complete book:
    • Finish revision
      • Internal reviews (family/friends & at least two writers)
    • Professional copy edit (possibly with Authoright)
    • Preface by Burton Mack or some other author/scholar
      • Multiple emails sent to HarperCollins trying to track him down
    • Validate permission to use the maps
    • Update website after book is complete (contents, sample)
  • Publish:
    • Determine publisher & package - Wasteland Press, Ultimate package
    • Format for publishers requirements (interior design) - none needed
    • Cover design - Wasteland will do this
      • Update website once cover is designed
    • Determine if using digital conversion service or doing it myself, convert if needed
      • Kindle, Nook and others - find where to post digital availability
  • Post Production paraphernalia
    • Business cards (temporary ones done; may update after cover design)
    • Book trailer?
    • Bookmarks, post cards, posters, etc.
    • Get reviewers to post review on amazon
  • Marketing/Advertising
    • Send to friends: Facebook, linked-in, Google+, others
    • Facebook ads, Google AdSense
    • Email all known contacts
    • Contact known related (US) organizations for reviews, speaking events
      • COCORE members
      • AHA member list if I can obtain it
      • AAI (or American Atheists) member list if I can find it
    • Contact old haunts (schools, cities I've lived, etc.) for speaking events
    • It's a Book mailer from RMFW
    • Hire marketing firm?
      • Authoright P.R does social media  (and other things) based on book

May 11, 2012

The Home Stretch - Part 1

This is a multi-part series on the steps involved during the final stretch of publishing a book.

In this case, the novel was completed quite a while ago and I've been in the middle of revising and improving it. In recent months, it is coming together nicely and so I have had to consider exactly how I am going to publish it. With the state the publishing industry is in and the fact that publishers don't do much to market or sell a book for a first-time novelist, I decided to self-publish.

My first (non-fiction) book was published through That worked well because I did not expect to sell a ton of books and I wanted to learn the industry, so it was acceptable to do it all myself. For this book, I want it done professionally, so I purchased The Fine Print of Self-Publishing by Mark Levine and researched more "robust" self-publishers. I narrowed it down to two (Aventine Press and Wasteland Press). Then I did a comparison of the features and what it would really cost me. Since Wasteland provides 500 copies with their Ultimate package (and 25 review copies), I made the assumption with all three that I would need that many to sell directly.

The table below shows the results. What is fascinating about this is that Wasteland looks the worst to start with because of the high initial costs, but because they include 500 copies, that cost is easily (well, relatively easily) recovered.

Assuming I need the list of deliverables (in purple below), the total cost with Wasteland is half what it is with Lulu and below Aventine as well. This is because I would have to buy the 500 books from the other two at the "author" price.

Assuming I can sell the 500 books directly, the choice is pretty clear (though Aventine is a close second). The only downside I see is that the author price is a little high with them. So, if I ended up selling many more than 500 directly, it may end up better (financially) to be with Aventine.

Feature Aventine Wasteland Ult Lulu Free

Initial Cost  $(399)  $(3,400)  $-  
Direct Royalty ~$15  ~$14 ~$11
Indirect Royalty ($22/book) 2.40 2.97 2.50
Hardcover   $(295) $(250)  $-  
Cover Design  $(295) incl  $(500)
Interior Design Template  Template Template
Copy Editing  $(1,000)  $(1,000)  $(1,000)
Indexing 25 words  ?  ?
Initial Paperback Copies 2 500 0
Initial Hardcover Copies 0 0 0
Review Copies 0 25 0
Retail Price $22 range, assume 22 22.24
Author Price (paperback)  $6.35  $7.50 $11
Marketing n/a Press Release n/a

Cost given deliverables of:  $(5,324)  $(4,650)  $(7,275)
initial fee


cover design

professional copy editing

500 paperbacks

0 hardbound

25 review copies

May 7, 2012

Viewing the World as a Writer

One of the things school tried to teach me was to view the world as a writer. I didn't understand that for a long time. However, as my craft grew and I began to see the nuances in writing, I also began to see them all around me.

I remember sitting at a Sting concert one evening. He was playing at the Red Rocks Amphitheater (the best venue in the world) with the London Philharmonic. I actually lost track of the music for a while as I sat pondering the words and their hidden meanings. And then, I started to see how the music presented a mood to go along with those meanings. Of course, it helps that Sting is an intelligent person and writes complex, almost 3-dimensional, music.

After that, I started paying attention to the subtleties and the art of the written word. I saw it in posters and advertisements, in lyrics and speeches, in lectures and well-done movies, and sometimes even in casual conversation.

It also completely changed how I read books and possibly not for the better. Now, I tend to notice a word here or a phrase there and how they change the feeling of the writing. Poorly written books also annoy me more than they used to. Reading as a writer is improving my writing, but I think in some ways it has lessened my pleasure in reading because now I am as much critic and student as I am reader.

Apr 26, 2012

Maturing Voice

Finding my own voice in writing is something I have been told will come when I am ready. But I believe I already have a voice. I was born with it, like everyone else. It just needs some development. It happens to be its teenage years. Full of energy and fervor and passion. Slightly awkward and not very refined. So how do I help my voice mature? What kind of dirt, sun and rain does it need to be ready for the world in which it will live? (These are the same questions I ask myself in thinking about how to best guide my son toward maturity). So I ponder. 

And in the meantime, I do what I have always done. I pick up a book. I am reading about others and their journey. My recent read was a Georgia O'Keefe biography. An artist and a woman, there is much about the exploration of her own voice that resonates with me. Although she is probably most known for her Southwest scenes, she explored herself and her craft in a variety of ways. She meandered in various forms and with various subjects. Although she was not a perfect being, she plunged forward, exploring which aspects of her craft (and voice) suited her during various stages of her life. And in the end, they were all part of her voice. And that voice is a useful guide in growing my own voice.

So I shall take advantage of my wisdom and be patient with my developing voice. Give it the space and the freedom to go where it needs to go. I shall pay attention to it and witness its inclinations. Stepping in only when I feel a little guidance is needed. Guiding with a book here, an experience there and some formal education. When it comes to voice, it really is about the journey. 

Apr 2, 2012

Creative Writing Education

So, ~133 thousand words later (or more if you count cuts and rewrites) I completed the novel! That was an accomplishment in itself and maybe the most important one. After all, I thought, the goal was to write a novel, not necessarily get it published. However, what drove me to completing this novel was the fact that I thought (and think) it was important. Important enough to try hard to get it published.

I had quite a few people review it, starting with friends that were quite positive even while providing some small number of critical comments. Then I graduated to acquaintances and finally to a local book club. As I advanced into people that knew me less, the criticism grew. The people that made it through the first half-dozen chapters read the entire thing and really loved the story, the plot, and the intriguing idea behind it. But, getting past my writing style proved difficult.

While I was doing that, I also took an on-line class from Writer's Digest. It wasn't an earth-shattering class, but it, along with the reviews, did teach me that there was another level of depth in writing. While my story was great, my "craft" was not.

I decided to go to school to take my writing to a new level.

There are hundreds of on-line programs nowadays in creative writing - and it is very difficult to tell which ones are any good. Given how prevalent they were, I decided to try to go local (to Colorado). There seemed to be two programs with reasonable reputations; one at Colorado State University and one at the University of Denver. The problem with the CSU one was that I had just missed the deadline for the following fall program and they only accepted applications once a year. That meant it would be over a year and a half before I began. Being an impatient person what it comes to making progress, I couldn't accept that. DU on the other hand accepted applications any time and I could start that spring/summer (a few months hence). The cost was similar with most of the universities I looked at, so that was not an issue.

I ended up going with DU and started in the summer of 2010. At this point (spring of 2012), I am almost done with the program. It has been a fairly good program. There are certainly some classes that are less useful that others and the "adviser" is so rigid as to be not only useless, but damaging. But, most of the classes have been useful and I do feel like my writing has improved tremendously.

Mar 27, 2012

Random Selection

I have been thinking about the urge to create. Whether it be a painter, a quilter, or a writer, how does the artist choose which thought to put into production and which thought to allow to roll on by? This question led to thinking about my own process for choosing a writing topic. Since I began with journal writing, I am able to dump emotion onto the page with ease. I write to process and "talk" through situations and decisions. But during the course of my graduate coursework, I am learning other ways to choose a topic. I will write down my thoughts while I am reading something or if something strikes me. Then I return to it at a later date. There are often similar themes, which is the benefit of writing down random thoughts.

But more often than not I do not write them down. Partially because there are a lot of random thoughts in my head. And they race around quickly. My thoughts are awake long before I pull my body out of bed. I recently read a book about ADHD where the author describes ADHD as having a race car in your brain (I can relate). And you have to learn to use the breaks. I am not sure this applies to only those with ADHD. After all, it seems to be the goal of much meditation practice. First, learn to be conscious of your thoughts and then learn to drive them where you choose.

As a writer, this could be a gift. The ability to drive those thoughts. Yet, some of my most creative ideas and best writing come from the meanderings of my thinking. Much like a hike or drive with no map, you never know where you might end up. It could just be lost, but it could also lead to a magical place that you never would have found with a destination and map in mind. So as I practice putting on the breaks, I will make sure I remember how to let the race car just drive.

Mar 13, 2012

My Brothers Letter - A Short Story

One morning during my process of trying to become a writer, I had a dream. It was while I was starting to wake up and I remember thinking 'this would make a great story' and so I stayed in the dream long enough to develop it and then woke up and wrote the short story. It made me feel like writing was becoming a part of my life. The story was about two civil-war brothers. I have no idea why I dreamed that particular dream... Below is the resulting short story.

My Brother’s Letter

For days we slept little, ate gruel while marching, pissed only when necessary, and slept little. We were weary, exhausted, dirty and hungry, and then we had to take a detour to avoid the enemy’s scouts. We had been trying to reach McClellan’s army somewhere near Washington to help stop the damn Confederate invasion into the north. We and finally reached the Union Army of the Potomac, outside Fredrick, Maryland. They appeared well organized and efficiently assigned us an area to camp in and we slowly but doggedly set up camp in what appeared to be a horse pasture near an abandoned farm house. After a tasteless meal, though one that appeared to actually include small pieces of meat, we hit the sack and slept through the night.
At first light the bugle sounded and we dragged ourselves from our dilapidated tents to find the lieutenant looking at orders from the General’s staff. The angle of his head and the furrow lines in his forehead indicated he was furious, probably at being given orders without a chance to rest. But, I wasn’t surprised given the dire situation with Lee’s army moving towards Harrisburg where it was thought they would try to cut the railroad line that supplied the northern armies. LT, as we called him, looked up at us and said, “Get something to eat, we move out in thirty minutes.” I heard some of the men sigh and a few grumble until LT remarked casually, “You know that won’t do any good, just get going.”
I smiled at how matter-of-fact LT was, followed the other men towards the mess tent, and thought about my brother Joseph. There was the possibility that Joseph was with Lee’s army. I touched my breast pocket briefly recalling his last letter, stored there, which I had received via his wife, Ana. He had received a field promotion under General Longstreet, who was one of several generals under Lee. I wondered if, given his position, he kept himself better than I did. We looked almost like twins with light brown wavy hair, short wide noses, and dark brown eyes that looked contemplative. But, I had grown my hair out and enjoyed a long scraggly beard whereas I imagined Joseph maintaining a respectably trimmed beard and shorter hair and he probably bathed more often than I did.
He always was a more capable kid and competing with him as a child was challenging because he was three years my younger, but he seemed to be better at almost everything. It was still depressing to remember the argument we had about him going into the Confederate Army. He was so adamant that states were sovereign and if they wanted to secede from the Union, they had the right. Worse, he didn’t seem to care about the situation with the niggers and he certainly didn’t think Lincoln should have divided the country over such a disagreement.
Recalling the moment when I realized that I might be fighting against my own brother, the intense pain in my stomach and the pure heart ache returned. The pain back then was palpable and it hadn’t diminished much since. As we neared the mess tent, I tried to calm myself by reasoning that the likelihood of fighting him was small given the relative size of the armies and the type of assignments each of us might have. I shook my head at the thought of running into Joseph in battle and someone distracted me with a nudge and pointed to the food.
After breakfast and relieving ourselves, our platoon of almost fifty men set out north from Fredrick to scout the area. Longstreet’s brigade was supposed to be northeast of us somewhere, so we would have to be careful, but there shouldn’t be any contact, except possibly with other scouts. We were still sore and tired from the previous forced march and it took us a while to warm up. We had been told to march one day straight north, scout the area, and return the next day. The march north was uneventful and we made camp just inside the edge of a wooded cove backed up by steep hills, figuring we could detect anyone approaching. Guards were posted and we ate jerky and cold gruel because we didn’t want to risk fire. LT scheduled the guards and I was happy to find I wasn’t included and was able to hit the sack in relative peace.
The next morning we woke to find autumn dew on the ground and a small flock of annoying birds in the trees overhead. We broke camp as LT and Sergeant Brown worked out a scouting pattern for the area. We headed east and then north around the small hills and finally west towards the confederate army. The expectation was that by late morning we could head south and reach the main army by nightfall to report.
The only sign of life around the hills turned out to be some deer we startled just as we started to head south again. LT was debating trying to shoot one for food, but the long march would be difficult with the weight and it wasn’t our mission. Just as we turned away from the deer I spotted a confederate scouting party coming towards us from the east. I shushed everyone and got the LT’s attention and pointed to where the group was emerging from a rocky outcrop, partially hidden by shrubbery. LT quietly told us to hide and we all looked around for cover when the shouts and frantic movement from the gray backs told us it was too late.
Both sides quickly pulled their rifles off their shoulders and raised them to fire. It was haphazard and disorganized and no way to fight a battle, but there was little choice. We fired as we could and my first shot actually hit one bedraggled man in the chest just as I saw my good friend Samuel take a shot in the leg and go down. Most of the men started to reload while I went to help Samuel and then I heard the LT yell “Charge!” With the confederates behind rock cover and us with nowhere to safely hide, we had to close the distance to fight hand to hand, attaching bayonets while on the run. On the way, a couple more of our men were shot and went down, but then we reached the outcropping and saw that there were only a dozen or so of the enemy with one of them shot, apparently dead, on the ground.
As our determined advance and superior numbers frightened them, they panicked and turned to run. We pursued them, but the LT yelled at us to halt because our job was to scout, not engage. I stopped just short of the man I had hit during our first volley and cocked my head as I realized he seemed familiar. I stood their staring in surreal denial as awareness slowly dawned that the man’s build and the back of his head looked like my brother. I put my foot under his side and kicked to flip him over; knowing that my feeling was false and I would find some stranger. The face was dirty with a ragged beard and the hair was too long, much more like mine than I would have expected, but I stared in horror at the face of my only brother. My mind went numb as I mumbled, “I killed him” over and over. After what seemed like hours I fell to my knees in front of him and took him in my arms.
A part of my mind heard men asking me what was wrong and then they all moved away excited at something the LT had found. I squeezed harder and then Joseph coughed and I realized with joy that he wasn’t dead. I looked up and thanked God for his life and went to hug him, but he put a hand on my chest, looked into my eyes, and pulled a letter from his breast pocket. He handed it to me and collapsed, dead. I wanted to curse God for the betrayal of taking him away again. The emotions going through me were more than I could handle and I went blank, rocking back and forth, back and forth, oblivious to the men around me. All of my being was focused on the feeling of my brother in my arms and the steady stream of tears streaming down my face.

After some period of time I must have fallen asleep with Joseph in my arms. When I woke up, the platoon was gone and I had a feint recollection of them trying to get me to go with them, but me refusing and pushing them away. They had said something about finding some Confederate plans wrapped around three cigars, proclaiming they had to leave even if I wouldn’t go. I must have ignored them or told them to leave without me, I can’t remember.
I looked down at my brother and felt drained of emotion. I slowly got up, straightened Joseph out and found rocks to cover his body and then I began to walk. I wasn’t going back to the platoon. Seeing my brother dead, at my own hands, had brought all the frustration and anger about this war back to the forefront of my mind. I couldn’t condone or participate any longer. I didn’t know where I was headed, but it wasn’t back to Fredrick.
I walked for days, sleeping when I couldn’t stay awake any longer and eating the jerky and nuts I had in my bag. I could have hunted but that would have meant I wanted to live and I wasn’t sure I did. After almost a week of this I remembered the letter Joseph had handed me. I pulled it out of my side pocket, sat down with my back against the dead stump of a tree and began to read. And the tears flowed. The letter was to his wife and was about how he was going to quit the Army and return home and ask me to do the same because he couldn’t stand the thought of fighting against me any longer. It portrayed all the same feelings I had about this damn civil war. It went on about how much he missed Ana and the kids and how he looked forward to seeing them again.
I leaned over and fell asleep with the letter in my hand. When I woke up, I read it again and cried myself back to sleep. On waking the second time, I folded the letter and put it back into my pocket. At least now I knew where I was headed; back to Ana to deliver the letter. And then I realized that I had been headed that direction the entire time. Maybe part of me knew that that’s where I should go.
I still didn’t hunt and didn’t want to. I rationed what was left and ate only a mouthful or two a day. It would take me a week or more of walking to reach Ana and the food in my bag had to last that long.
A few days from Joseph’s and Ana’s home, or so I expected, I was walking a well-worn path and heard someone up ahead of me. I jumped aside, not wanting to interact with anyone and fell down a small ravine. I scraped my left side and sprained my right ankle. After letting the men pass, I tried to stand and found I couldn’t put much weight on my ankle and my side was bleeding. I ignored the blood, as best I could, found a long walking stick that was, luckily, within crawling distance, and made my way back to the path towards Ana.
My progress was slowed and I was getting light-headed from lack of food, but I trudged on. Some number of hours later I fell again, mostly from exhaustion and rolled off the path to sleep. I awoke at sunrise, soar and wondering if the letter was worth it or if anything was worth it. Not sure I wanted to go on, I pulled the letter out and took one look at it and realized I couldn’t quit. I put it back in my pocket and forced myself to stand and keep walking. It was hell. My ankle was swollen and red and the scabs on my side had broken open with the fall and began oozing blood and puss. That couldn’t be good, but what did it really matter?
I lost track of time, sleeping when I had to and making slow progress the rest of the time. At some point I realized the terrain was looking familiar and I looked up to see a path I knew near my brother’s house. I followed it, ever so slowly, until I reached the edge of the property. I walked to the side and sat down with my back against a large tree, staring at the house I remembered building with Joseph, and tears came to my eyes again. I was so tired that I decided to sleep there until I had enough energy to get up and make it all the way to the house and to Ana.
The next morning, I awoke to the sounds of children playing. I sat back up against the tree and looked towards the house to see three children, Joseph’s, chasing each other in the yard.  The older boy, Peter, was acting like a monster and chasing the two girls, Elise and Veronica. I smiled and realized it was the first time I had smiled in a long time. Joseph was right, I mused, the war wasn’t what mattered; family, children, friends, those mattered. I started to get up, but my body wasn’t responding and then I looked at the children and decided to sit and watch them play a while longer.
I must have fallen asleep while watching them because I woke up and they were no longer there. Instead, I saw some hands unloading hay near the barn. I watched them for a while and fell back asleep. The next time I woke up it was night time and I realized I couldn’t go see Ana until the morning, so I went to eat some food and realized my bag was empty and wondered how long it had been like that. Oh well, there wasn’t much I could do about it until morning, so I leaned over and went back to sleep, though it was restless sleep with horrible images of me looking at my brother in the eyes and shooting him in cold blood.
At sunrise, I woke up and pulled out the letter to read it again. As I was reading it, I heard the children making noise and looked up to see them and Ana dressed for church. They boarded a wagon and began to ride towards the front gate. I looked at the letter and back at them and tried to command my body to stand up and get up to the house, but it would no longer respond. I lifted my arm to wave at them, but it went up only a few inches and went unnoticed.
I read the letter through over and over as I dreamed of my brother and the good times we had had as children; the fighting and playing and competitions and the hope for a bright future in great nation. And then I opened my eyes to see the wagon returning home from church. I smiled at the life they had and wished I hadn’t taken their father away. I was a traitor to my kin, my own family. How could I face them? How could I tell them what I had done? I felt utterly exhausted, totally drained, and cold.
And then as I heard them yelling about a man sitting against a tree, I closed my eyes for the last time and thought; I’m glad they’ll get their father’s letter.

Mar 7, 2012

Finding the Write Space II

I am taking a poetic images course this quarter. So far, the course has focused on space as a poetic image. We have been contemplating the images of houses, nests, shells, and drawers/chests. (See The Poetics of Space by Gaston Bachelard). But the chapter and focus that really has held my attention is the concept of a corner. He writes "...every corner in a house, every angle in a room, every inch of secluded space in which we like to hide, or withdraw into ourselves, is a symbol of solitude for the imagination". Exactly! I needed my space to be a symbol of solitude for my imagination. My writing space needed to be a corner.

I selected our office. It needed the most help and had the most potential. I moved the chair and ottoman to a different corner. I got rid of the kind of stuff I really don't need and rearranged the computer desk to be away from my writing space. My own little corner. Away from the distractions of technology and near the window where I could stare outside and day dream. I found a small writing table and put it my corner. Then I placed on top of it a lamp, my journals and a cup of pens. I took the chair from my son's room and voila, I had my writing corner. My space to write.

What I found though is that it took about two weeks for the piles of papers, mail, and additional items to clutter the small desktop. My corner became unusable. How did this happen? Was it effort that I was lacking? Perhaps organization? No, that was not it. I continued to write in my journal and write for class. What is lacking is time. There is always something else to do, someone else that needs me, or some event that needs to be handled. Thus, my corner sits piled high with things that keep me away. It seems that it isn't only the physical corner I needed to establish. It is my own corner of time that will require the real commitment. 

Jan 16, 2012


As I began to think this could actually work (once I had written a scene suggested by the protagonist), I started looking for some people to review it. I had been talking with my kids about the book for a year and a half and one of them in particular, my 12-year-old daughter, was particularly interested.

I thought, why not, and let her review the first few chapters. I was quite surprised at how thorough she was and how many constructive comments she sent back my way. I remember sitting in a Barns & Noble one evening with her telling me what was wrong with a particular chapter I had written and I couldn't help but smile. There I was, a 40-something-year-old father being corrected, rather adamantly, by his (at the time) 13-year-old daughter. It brought tears to my eyes.

After she started reviewing the chapters, I found two adults, one an avid reader and the other a Jew (by heritage, not religion), at work to review them as well. So, I had three reviewers who received the chapters as they came out. Of course that took the next year and a half.

Then, once I had a completed novel, and had rewritten the first three chapters at the initial reviewer’s insistence, I started looking around for more reviewers; this time with specific intent (subject matter experts, various religiosity (since this is a novel about Christianity), age, gender, reading habits, etc.). I wanted feedback from various types of people to see how they would react and what they thought of the characters.

After revising for all of the comments I received from the various reviewers, I had a book club here in town review it en masse. That was the most difficult. Book clubs are notorious for trashing books, and they didn't disappoint. The first words by one of them were something like "I couldn't get past 90 pages it was so poorly written." So much for all my work with other reviewers…

After getting past the initial really-negative comments from this first guy, it got a little better. Many of them agreed that it got better and better as the story went along and they really liked the second half of the book. I wrote down two pages of single-line bullet points from all of their comments. Some of the comments were about writing style and were things I had already seen and figured out from having read some books on writing fiction. Others were interesting in how they perceived the story and the characters (e.g. there wasn’t a consensus on who the protagonist was, which was a surprise to me since I thought it was pretty clear).

The review was disheartening, but an important step. It taught me, if nothing else, that I had a ways to go to hone my writing skills. I had accomplished the first part of what books on writing say: "just write." Now I needed to fine-tune the art of writing.