I once told my editor that “I could not not write.” The implication was that I was a driven contributor of words to society, a dedicated writer of truth, and that churning out words was an inseparable part of my life.
I probably said that to him because I had heard someone else say it and saying it sounded noble: a true writer is one who writes to live and lives to write! Constantly at their craft, never straying from trying to achieve the ultimate novel or short story or poem, always with the nose to grindstone. I’ve read several stories about writers and the standard by which all writers are compared is the writer who is at the mercy of their pen, their typewriter, their keyboard, or their muse. They spend their lives constantly scribbling tiny words on scraps of paper throughout the day. They rise early to pour out their thoughts while others still sleep. They have words bursting from their inner spirits, they see visions that must be written down, they hear voices that must be obeyed.
Uh-oh. For the last several months, in the era of COVID-19, all I’ve heard was my Lazy-Boy recliner calling me.
I’m not lazy, nor undisciplined. I usually produce a book a year and I’m about to receive a box of the first 50 copies of my twelfth novel, which took a year of focus to write. My writing has always been prompted more by creativity than by goals, routine, or guilt, and if my creativity is not in production mode, neither are my fingers.
I thought it would be different with the forced isolation associated with the pandemic. I thought that having more than my usual amount of uninterrupted time would be an opportunity that would cause my diligence to come forth, my passion to rise, a clarion call to be heard, and I would sit for hours as my fingers flew across the keys.
It didn’t happen. In fact, it’s been the opposite, and I don’t quite understand why.
The first month was okay. I dredged up an ill-written novel from my virtual desk drawer, rewrote it, made it better, and was happy in my achievement. The second month was good: I identified a possible sequel to my new novel, found some good history books describing the time period I was interested in, and spend hours thinking of possible plots and characters. It was time well-spent.
The third month was a gentle slide into a lot of sitting and thinking of all that I wasn’t doing, and by the fourth month I had settled into watching old movies (You’ve Got Mail – best movie ever). Now I’m spending my time working on the plumbing under my house and making sure the birdfeeder is full. I don’t have the faintest urge to write.
For having a record of enjoying my writing, I don’t understand why I’m suddenly literarily inert. Maybe I’m experiencing depression, or that I’ve finally had too much time alone, or that I’m feeling fat because of irresistible snacks. Maybe I’m suffering from mask fatigue. I may be feeling adrift because of the lack of socialization (I truly hated surrendering my routine of having lunch with friends), or maybe the cause is a general lack of goals, measures, structures, communities, and other things that I usually manage on a day-to-day basis.
It could be that isolation took away all the people that I usually blame for being unproductive and I’ve been left standing naked in the snow. Maybe I’m just tired of waiting, waiting, waiting.
I’ve also considered that I’m experiencing latent anger that’s keeping me distracted and uneasy. I haven’t ruled that one out, yet. There’s a lot to be angry about these days and a lot of it concerns my “values”, which really ticks me off. There’s nothing like anger to squash creativity.
I’m working to understand my feelings and am finding myself getting more interested in using words to express my situation. Our culture assumes that each of us (at least at my age) understand what we feel and why we feel it. That’s baloney. I think we’re surprised all the time by our feelings.
Not understanding my innards and being surprised, as well, has given my situation a tinge of intrigue, and that’s kicking my creativity back into play. My fingers may not be typing away, but my ears are listening, my eyes are watching, my heart is looking for resonance, and my brain is slowly accumulating patterns of behavior that reveal me to be different from who I think I am. I’m also listening and watching the people around me and they’re getting more interesting, too. Being solitary is not easy, even for introverts, so people developing coping skills is fun to watch.
I know of at least two writers’ groups that have responded to the isolation and no-meetings restrictions by moving to electronic formats. Groups sign onto ZOOM and talk about their writing, making it look like everybody is excited and productive; electronic newsletters are substituting for face-to-face conversations; someone else is hosting online writing challenges to prompt people to keep typing. It seems like people are afraid that if they stop writing, they’ll never go back. It may be more the fear that if they stop contact with others, they’ll be forgotten.
I think I’ll wait for real meetings to begin again. It seems like listening, watching, and storing up is my role for the moment.
I am announcing that my website, DonaldWillerton.com, now has a feature that allows reading the first two chapters of each book that I’ve written and published, including Teddy’s War, which won’t be available for some weeks.
I developed this feature to encourage people to read my books. Think of it as a test drive. For the Mogi Franklin mysteries, you can see the historical drama created in the first chapter, then typically see how it impacts the modern-day situation of young Mogi and his sister, Jennifer, in the second chapter. For the adult books, Teddy’s War, Smoke Dreams, and The King of Trash, you can be swept up in the horrors and heroism of WWII, experience the thoughts of an ancient spirit-infused Victorian mansion, and discover a plausible way to clean up the plastic in the oceans. Each will introduce you to a story line that I believe you’ll want to continue.
With the feature of previewing the books, you can direct members of the middle-grade crowd to the mystery books to judge their interest without having to risk buying a book they won’t read. For readers who have already read one or more, they can see the story lines of the other tales.
Let me also recommend that you direct older people to the Mogi books. Being sixty-nine next month, I’m in a perfect position to say that the middle grade mysteries can be vastly entertaining to the sixty and older crowd, especially if they have lived in the Southwest or have traveled in the Southwest. Each book’s mystery takes place in a real location in the Southwest, and the descriptions of the history, geography, and cultures are authentic. When a lot of your time is spent in memories, a little adventure in the past is a good thing.
For transparency, I have to mention that The Captain’s Chest is not located in the Southwest. It takes place on the island of St. John’s in the Caribbean, with Mogi and Jennifer on a semi-vacation. This story was the result of my talking to a group of third graders in Houston who wanted nothing to do with an author who had not written about pirates. The Southwest has a lot of interesting characters, but there aren’t a lot of pirates. Thus this book was created, dealing with Blackbeard, himself, as he plunders a Dutch sailing ship that leads to the Dutch Captain hiding his chest, which, of course, becomes a central theme for my enthusiastic teenagers.
My website is still undergoing changes, but developing the feature to preview the first two chapters of every book is a good thing. Check it out. You might be surprised how wide ranging the topics are and how interesting I’ve made them. Also, if you have comments or suggestions about how the website can be improved, send me a response through this blog.
And, as always, if you like what you see, if you like what you read, tell other people to check out the website, as well.
I was going through the collection of paper money that my dad brought back from Europe after World War II. Most of the bills are dated between 1917 and 1924, and includes currency from France, England, Belgium, Germany, and Poland. Only a few are from the war years, and I found only one that includes a swastika.
The Treaty of Versailles was signed to end World War I, and it was brutal in what it expected from Germany. It divided up land, reset boundaries, gave away industries, set the maximum size of any future Germany army, and had a lengthy list of other demands, most of which were aimed at making sure that Germany could never again have the military, industrial, or economic strength to wage another war.
The Allies also demanded that Germany pay for the war. In April, 1921, the reparations bill was assessed at $33 billion, which was a staggering sum at the time. Walther Rathenau had become Minister of Reconstruction and it was his unlucky job to find a way for Germany to make the payments.
Unfortunately, in June 1922, Rathenau was assassinated. The day he died, the Mark fell to 300 per U.S. dollar. A month later, when the first reparation payments were due, it had fallen to 500 per dollar. By late October, 1922, when the second payments were due, it had collapsed to 4500 per dollar.
By April, 1923, inflation had become hyperinflation and by November, it took twelve trillion German Marks to buy a U.S. dollar. In 1921 there were 120 billion Marks in circulation; Two years later, there were nearly five hundred million trillion Marks in circulation.
The cost of an egg was five hundred thousand million times more that it had been in 1918. A five hundred million Mark note (pictured above, along with a million Mark note, a 50 Mark note, and 10 pfennige note) might buy a loaf of bread. People were known to carry their money in wheelbarrows, looking to exchange their notes for higher denominations, and it was not unusual to find people burning their bills in furnaces to heat their houses.
Another feature of the era was that since most of the centralized government of German had been dis-empowered significantly, major cities printed their own currency. In the bills in the picture (there are two pictures on the website that show 4 bills), two were printed in Berlin in 1923, one in Munich in 1920, and I can’t make out where the 10 pfennige (that’s a penny; the note is the equivalent of a dime) was printed in 1917.
The point is, Germany after World War I felt that the only recourse to increasing the economy was to print more money. It wasn’t until the Weimar government appointed a Commissioner of Currency in 1923 that things got better. He introduced a new currency, the Rentenmark, with an exchange rate of one trillion old Marks to one new Rentenmark, declared it the national currency, and then had it guaranteed by the government. The hyperinflation disappeared very rapidly, within months, and Germany was brought into a workable system.
Most of this information comes from Germany, Memories of a Nation, by Neil McGregor, printed in 2014.
Early last week, I received the “proof “of my book from my publisher, but it came in pdf format rather than the usual printed copy. A pdf is an electronic version of my book that, when viewed on an electronic screen, appears exactly like the printed book will look; think reading something on a Kindle, a Nook, or a tablet. It’s a standard format and most electronic devices will read it with no problem. A “proof” is the first version of a book produced by a professional book printing business that is meant to be reviewed by the author for the purpose of making sure everything is correct before more copies are printed.
In the past, I’ve received printed copies of the proofs my books that came directly from the printer. I went through each one, word by word, marking the changes or corrections needed and then typing them into a Word file. It was cumbersome because I have to record the page number and paragraph number, and then have to write “change such and such to read like this:”, followed by the different words that I wanted. When finished, I emailed the corrections file to my publisher and he makes the changes to the printer’s file.
No matter the format, the proof typically will have several errors introduced by converting the text from a Word format into a ready-to-print format. My publisher will insert the text file (provided by my editor) into his book composition software (there are several packages; I don’t know which one he uses). He then sets the different font styles, adds the chapter headings, page alignment, page numbers, headers, footers, page breaks, different margins for the spine side of the page versus the outside of the page, etc.; adds the beginning pages (the title page, the copyright page, the dedication page, blank pages); adds the end pages, if any (the author’s biographical note, for example); and then prepares the cover in a different file. Those two files – the text and the cover – will be sent to the professional printer who is producing the book.
My proof had about thirty or so errors – lack of paragraph indents, missed spaces, too many spaces, incorrect chapter headings, italics used in the wrong places, incorrect punctuation marks, and others. Overwhelmingly, the errors are related to transcription and formatting.
Only two or three concerned words or sentences that I chose to replace or rewrite. I’ve written before about giving up my liberties to do wordsmithing before this point in the process, but sometimes I don’t see problems until I’m reading my words in a book format. I want to make the book to be absolutely the best book that I can, so I make the changes, anyway. My publisher and editor understand and have learned to expect a certain small number of changes that I cannot resist making.
I went through the file twice (which took a lot of effort; the finished book has 305 pages), indicated the corrections using a “notes” feature of the pdf reader (which allowed me to append a text message with the changes to a specific location in the pdf file itself. It’s like an electronic Post-It note.), and then returned the file to the publisher. I’m hoping to see the corrected pdf, and maybe even a printed copy of the book, sometime this week.
At which time, I will celebrate.
Unfortunately, I then get to sit around being irritated. I will have a physical book in my hands but even I won’t be able to buy a copy from Amazon until November. I wrote about this in a blog a few weeks ago; it’s no surprise, but it’s no less irritating.
I’m looking into buying several of my books from my publisher at a discounted price and offering them through my website. I don’t want to do it. I would have to put in a lot of money up front, hold a certain level of physical books at my house, take orders over the phone or through email, accept credit cards over the phone, provide receipts, package the books, mail them, and then pay county and state Gross Receipts taxes. I’d probably have to also get a town business license.
It would be better to find a business that already sells things and get them to sell my book, giving them a cut of the revenue. Regular bookstores (my town doesn’t have one anyway) don’t do that sort of business for the same reasons they don’t sell self-published books. I don’t currently know a local business that would do it, but I’m looking; I’ve got one good lead that I will follow as soon as I have a printed copy to show them. It may also be that my publisher would sell individual copies, but they haven’t done so in the past.
I’m going to find a way to do it. It’s a shame to hold an incredibly timely book in my hands that no one can buy for six months.
Today is the 75th Anniversary of the discovery and liberation of the Dachau Concentration Camp a few miles outside of Munich, Germany. Begun in 1933 by Heinrich Himmler, it would terrorize over 200,000 Jews, Poles, Czechs, Russians, Gypsies, Slavs, disabled men, women, and children, political leaders, and more than 3,000 Catholic Priests during its twelve-year existence. More than 40,000 would die from outright murder, starvation, sickness, beatings, or other brutalities. When it was found, the German SS had abandoned the facility and left more than 32,000 sick and starving prisoners behind. The US Seventh Army assumed responsibility for the camp, treating the sick and starving prisoners until they were able to leave.
We should never forget.
I read a book this week about the German submarines (called U-boats, short for Unterseeboot) in the North Atlantic that were disrupting the shipping of food, fuel, and supplies from the United States to Britain. The war between Britain and Germany had begun with the invasion of Poland in September of 1939, but it was with the fall of France in the summer of 1940 that Britain had been forced to rely on transatlantic shipments for all of her oil, most of her raw materials and much of her food and supplies. In total, a 3,000-strong merchant shipping fleet had brought 68 million tons of imports to the country each year, of which 22 million tons was food.
In the fall of 1940, hoping to starve England into submission, German naval high command authorized a total blockade of Britain, giving U-boat commanders the mandate to attack ships without warning or prior approval from superiors. Five years earlier, Germany had signed an agreement barring this kind of unrestricted use of submarines as weapons of war, but that agreement had been quickly forgotten.
The U-boats became very good at achieving their goal, mostly due to one man: Karl Doenitz, the Commander of the U-boat fleet. Doenitz had been a U-boat Captain and believed fervently that defeating the ability of Britain to receive goods from America would win the war for the Third Reich. To that end, he helped develop and mandate attack strategies for U-boat commanders to use against the large convoys that Britain and the Allies deployed for crossing the Atlantic. It was Doenitz who created and implemented the infamous “wolfpacks” that hunted the northern sea.
A Game of Birds and Wolves, written by Simon Parkin, is the story of the development of the German submarine fleet and its strategies, the terrible toll they extracted on Britain, and the development of Allied tactics to counter those strategies. It is a fascinating story about Gilbert Roberts, a retired British naval officer who had tuberculosis, and his team of two dozen or so women (called Wrens, the British naval equivalent of American WACs) who designed, implemented, and taught game-based battle strategies to the ship captains and navy escort commanders responsible for getting convoys back and forth across the North Atlantic.
The ‘game’ that Roberts and his team created is very much like Milton-Bradley’s game Battleship. They used the linoleum floor of a large building in Liverpool to create a basketball-court-sized scale map of the North Atlantic. Using captured intelligence from Germany, assembling radio messages between submarines, and the experiences of actual Allied encounters with the wolfpacks, the strategies used by Doenitz were finally realized. The team then replicated actual submarine attacks, designed counter-strategies, and played out ‘games’ on the floor, using little carved figurines of ships, submarines, and even clumps of steel-wool to represent fog and smoke, all moved by the Wrens according to player instructions and all moved according to a timer that replicated durations of real time. Even the most hardened naval commanders came to appreciate the value of using the game.
The climax of this back-and-forth struggle of strategies culminated in May of 1943. Over sixty U-boats and a hundred surface vessels and aircraft from the United States and Britain clashed for seven days near the coast of Greenland. The wolfpack used its time-honored strategies and the convoy and its escorts used the strategies developed by the gaming team. It was the costliest submarine battle that Germany would fight and the U-boats would never again dominate the North Sea.
In the book’s epilogue, Parkin relates the story of his grandfather being the captain of a cargo ship crossing the Atlantic during the last week of June, 1943, one month after the sea battle. For the first time in three years, he saw no German submarines during the crossing.
If he had been watching during that last week of June, he may have seen the Queen Mary and her convoy passing in the other direction. The luxury liner had been refitted as a troop carrier and was carrying several thousand soldiers on their way to join the war in Europe. My dad was one of them.
I am especially grateful to Gilbert Roberts and his remarkable Wrens for making my dad’s war experiences much more than they might have been.
I want to recommend a fine book for anyone to read, but an especially important book for people who are or who want to be writers.
Mockingbird, by Charles J. Shields, is a portrait of Nelle Harper Lee, the author of To Kill a Mockingbird.
It is an engrossing description of one of America’s most famous authors, including her grandparents, her parents (her father was the model for Atticus; her mother was emotionally unbalanced), her family (two sisters, and a brother who served as the model for Jem), her growing-up environment in Monroeville, Alabama, and her neighbors (including the very young Truman Capote, who became Dill; an elderly woman who became Mrs. DuBose; and a persecuted man in a dysfunctional family three doors down from her house who became Boo Radley), and her later life.
Shields does an excellent job of describing Nelle’s schooling, up to and including an almost finished law degree, and then her years of working jobs in New York City as she spends her free time as a writer. Under the tutelage and grace of a good editor and good friends, she worked full-time on To Kill a Mockingbird for a year, submitted it, was accepted, and while the proof was being created, took a month to serve as a “research assistant” to Truman Capote as he began his five-year stint in writing In Cold Blood. Shields takes the reader on the full journey of her friendship with Capote and its eventual demise.
After Nelle wins the Pulitzer Prize, and after the movie comes out, there are a few years when she accommodates being famous, and then resolves to shun public life. She lives either in Monroeville with her sister (who remained a practicing lawyer into her nineties) or in a modest brownstone in New York City, and even though she completes the manuscript of a second novel, it is stolen and she never finds the desire to start over. To Kill a Mockingbird would be her only book until an earlier book manuscript, Go Set a Watchman, is discovered and printed after her death.
It's fascinating to read about someone who is very gifted and yet so internally ordinary. She never relinquished who she was to fame and stayed faithful to being a small-town Alabama girl.
The most interesting part to me was how she was able to create such a powerful story out of the circle of her young life (which was, more or less, only an area around her house that was not much more than two blocks long and a block wide), and to turn her authentic childhood acquaintances into famous literary characters – Atticus, Scout, Dill, and, of course, Boo Radley. These were real people that she grew up with and she rendered them with few embellishments.
Her work is an example to us all in both writing her book and in boldly living her extraordinary life. I encourage you to find the book and spend some time with it.
Is everybody tired of being at home? I take my hat off to parents who have school-aged children at home. Even though school systems are making huge efforts to accommodate remote education, I can imagine that teenagers are feeling confined both physically and intellectually, and have considerably more time on their hands that they didn’t normally have.
Fortunately, I’m hearing that reading books is making a comeback, and on-line sales of books are booming.
If you have mid-school kids (ages 10 to 14, plus some older ones) who need good books to either read on their own or to be read to, consider the Mogi Franklin Mystery Series. There are currently nine books featuring a fourteen-year-old boy and his seventeen-year-old sister, both of whom live with their parents in Bluff, Utah.
Each mystery book begins with the first chapter being set in the past. Something happens and the reader is left with a mystery. The subsequent chapters are in the present, where my two heroes find themselves in a separate mystery or social crisis that is somehow linked to the mystery in the past. Solving one requires solving the other.
Each mystery takes place in a real, find-it-on-the-map location, all (except one) within a day’s drive of Santa Fe, New Mexico. Each story is relatively true to the geography, the history, and the culture of the location. Each story is also independent; you can read the books in any order. They are all exciting books, and are family-oriented with family values.
The one book that isn’t local to the Santa Fe area is the result of a visit that I made to an elementary school in Houston. The class wanted nothing to do with me because I had no story that featured pirates. Well, New Mexico has a lot of interesting characters, but no pirates. So, to answer their needs, I wrote a story that occurs on the island of St. John in the Caribbean and features Blackbeard. It turned out to be one my more clever mysteries.
You can find descriptions of each book, book reviews, and photos of the locations on my website: DonaldWillerton.com. Each book is available from Amazon.com and can be ordered through my website.
The Ghosts of the San Juan (#1) won First Place in the Southwest Writers 2001 Contest, and a Finalist Award in the 2017 New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards.
The Lost Children (#2) won the Juvenile Book category in the 2017 New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards.
Outlaw (#6) and The Lady in White (#7) received Finalist Awards in the 2019 New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards.
The Lake of Fire (#5) won Honorable Mention in The 2019 Eric Hoffer Book Award contest.
My editor for Teddy’s War, my new novel about World War II, returned her edited version of my manuscript on Tuesday. Yea! She and I then talked (on the phone; stay-at-home rules plus our usual coffee shop meeting place is closed) for 3 hours on Tuesday afternoon, 5 hours on Wednesday, and an hour on Thursday morning, working through a list of questions that she had written down regarding specific words, sentences or paragraphs in the text. She also had some questions about the story itself, usually regarding how much a reader was going to understand or appreciate the information I was using.
Here's a survey: if I use the terms in the context of World War II, how many of you know what a grease gun is? What a deuce-and-a-half is? Who Sad Sack was? Who Willie and Joe were? Can I use those terms without explaining what they mean or who they reference?
When we were done, she created a pdf of the file and taught me how to use the “notes” feature in the pdf reader to indicate changes that I would like to see. Following this, I launched a marathon editing session of my own that eventually involved almost 25 hours over the next three days of my going word-by-word through the text, making changes for correctness, conciseness, smoothness, and completeness. I made three passes through everything, including one pass where I went backwards through the chapters.
I finished with about 100 changes to be made, which, using the “notes” feature, will take my editor less than an hour to put into her Word file. I deleted more words, phrases, and sentences than I added. In my mind, at least, the resulting manuscript will be near perfect in both content and structure. I am very happy with the effort that she put into it, her final result, and my final result. The book reads much better than what I had initially written. It is a helluva story.
The next step is the publisher transferring the final Word file into Quark, which is publishing software; reformat the text for appearance, including page size, text size, font type, pagination, page numbers, and special features (like italics, underlining, different margins); add in the front pieces – title page, copyright page, blank pages; and then put the cover on it, including the front page with title and author, and the back page, with the text, bar code, and pricing.
The next time I see the book, which may be a month or two, I will be able to hold it in my hand. That will be the “proof” of the novel and I will review it for any printing errors. I’ll return it to the publisher and he will incorporate it into his final publishing file and give it to the printer. He’ll then notify the distributor that it’s ready to sell.
The editor and publisher have asked that the book include two special, back-of-the-book features: an interview with the author (me!) about writing the novel and a list of questions that can be used for book clubs. This is exciting to me because it sounds like they consider my book worthy of the features and also that there will be an audience who will appreciate the features. I will work with my editor to create these.
The bad news for the month was the publishing schedule. The initial projection was that the book would be available on Amazon on November 1st. Whoa! This year is the 75th Anniversary of the end of the war in Europe (VE Day), the liberation of all the concentration camps, the end of the war in the Pacific (VJ Day), the Trinity Test, the dropping of the bombs, the Nuremburg Trials, the return of the soldiers, and a slew of other dates that celebrate the end of the war. Waiting until this year is over to publish a WWII-centered book seems like a disadvantage to me.
Ignoring the fact that COVID-19 may prevent many of the activities, I was expecting the book to be published by early summer so I could take advantage of the many military veteran activities, newspaper articles, magazine stories, and media reports that would occur. I don’t honestly expect to participate in these things, but I wanted to identify the people (especially the military) who were talking, hosting, or were heads of the organizations involved, and get them a copy of the book. I’m hoping that they will then talk about it to others who would be interested.
I wanted printed books to give them, not a sheet telling about a book that wouldn’t be available for several months.
The problem, by the way, is not the publisher or the printer, but the distributor. The book distributor is an organization that front-ends the publishers to the sellers. Amazon and Barnes&Noble, for example, don’t buy books from the publisher, but from the publisher’s distributor. Distributors work on their own schedules that define when books are released to the sellers.
I expressed my concerns with my publisher, who negotiated with the distributor, and the publisher has decided to print the book by sometime in July and have it available for preview, give-away, and selling-by-hand before the books become available from seller outlets on September 1st. That’s three months earlier and I can live with that. Given COVID-19 slowing down businesses everywhere, no one will be surprised.
The problem with my living in a “socially distant” society is that my creativity goes to zero. I’m not sure if it’s directly related to being forced to be “socially distant” because I’ve always been relatively that way, but being forced to stay away from people and places (especially places to eat) is feeling vastly different from it being a simple choice on my part.
Being isolated is not the same as feeling isolated. I rely on seeing life to write stories about it and if I’m prevented from seeing (touching, talking, hugging, listening, sharing), it’s as if I’m waiting for someone to restore my password or something. Just waiting. Not working, not thinking, not feeling like I’m on a vacation, not using the time to dream – just waiting. It’s not freedom or extra time off. It’s like being constantly reminded that I’m boring.
The Tucson Festival of Books was canceled so verbally selling my books at large gatherings remains to be tested. My regular meetings of the New Mexico Book Association have been canceled. The New Mexico Book Co-op meetings have been suspended. My regular writers’ group in Albuquerque is also on hold.
The community of writers that I like being part of is trying to convince itself that we can still socialize and support each other without physically being around each other. I don’t think it’s going to work. Even if you don’t overtly visit with individuals, there is a connectedness that develops when you’re surrounded by a group of people with similar interests. I don’t think having an “electronic closeness” will satisfy us.
There have been some positive things happening.
My novel editor, whose regular job is being a high school teacher, is at home for a while (NM schools are closed for three weeks). I’m expecting her edit of Teddy’s War may be completed by the end of next week, so I’ll be getting back to it. A preliminary book cover has been developed and I think it looks great. Wait until you see the historical photograph that was used.
I’m working on the tenth Mogi Franklin mystery, called The Death Train. It features the Castaneda Hotel in Las Vegas, New Mexico, with a bank robbery and murder happening in 1942. The plot is tied up with the troop trains that were used during World War II to move soldiers around the country. I wrote it two years ago but was not satisfied with the plot and put it on the shelf. I’m now rewriting it for publication sometime this year. I’m not sure what to change to make it on the par with the other mysteries, but I’m working on it.
I am continuing to read books about the Santa Fe Trail and have made the commitment to drive the trail in the fall. It should be a lot of fun. I’ll take two or three weeks to hit all the good spots and I’m planning on using a small RV to make the drive, rather than staying in hotels and buying every meal. I’ll keep a daily journal and will self-publish a cheap travelogue about the trip that will guide other travelers. Next year is the 200th anniversary of the beginning of the Santa Fe Trail and there should be a heightened interest for learning about it.
I’m going to the yearly Tucson Festival of the Book next week, held at the University of Arizona. It’s the third biggest book festival in the United States. I’ve not attended before and it’s not clear how or how long I will be involved. Saturday and Sunday will have talks, classes, presentations, interviews, round table discussions, and panels, plus a large venue where individual guests, writers, authors, publishers, sellers, distributors, librarians, bookstore owners, representatives from big box stores and other organizations can visit with authors, writers, and publishers, and buy books.
My role is to be at a table full of books for sale, amongst which will be three of my own – The Lost Children, The Lady in White, and Outlaw. Each serves as an example of the Mogi Franklin Mystery Series. The table is hosted by New Mexico Book Association officials and will feature books written by the members of the NMBA in Santa Fe. I am a member and I have volunteered to be at the table and talk with people who stop to peruse the books.
I’m betting that shaking hands will be discouraged; I will have to remember to take disinfecting hand wipes.
I will have five copies of each Mogi Mystery at the table, with more copies in the trunk of my car. I can sell each copy (NMBA handles the money) but I prefer to use them to illustrate the form, function, plots, characters, and types of stories used in the series, and then give away lists of all nine Mogi books, with addresses of the distributor and publisher.
I expect to not sell a single copy of any of my books, and expect that no one will be interested in ordering them. Not that the Festival is a worthless trip, but I have been to other venues for selling my books and most of the buyers that I meet, other than random individuals, will be accustomed to buying books recommended to them by national organizations like the American Library Association; the six major publishers (Random House, Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin USA, and Simon & Schuster); bookstores like Barnes& Noble; or follow recommendations from best book lists (like the New York Times Best Seller list), Goodreads, BookBub, Amazon, and the million book bloggers and/or book reviewers who put out suggestions.
In short, an individual author with a hang dog expression, standing next to a table of typically unremarkable books, holding a never-heard-of book in his hands, doesn’t stand a chance.
Unless the prospective buyers actually stop and talk.
My writing books, as well as other authors and publishers, tell me that personal contact is everything when you’re selling books. Not blogs, not websites, not fancy brochures, not business cards, not bookmarks, and not even the cover or the blurb on the back of the book, is as effective as an author personally telling someone about their book. That’s why I will develop and rehearse a short (under a minute) paragraph about my books – what makes them different from other middle grade mysteries, why they are good to read, and why middle grade students will enjoy them. I’ll also prepare a short paragraph about myself – how I got started, why I write for middle grade students, and what I like most about the series. After that, the buyers typically ask questions.
I’m not, and never have been, Mr. Warmth when it comes to talking casually with strangers, but I will answer honestly and directly, and then, hopefully, ask questions of my own – where the buyers are from, what kinds of books they are interested in, who their audience is, how they like to buy their books, and how successful they have been in the past with picking the right books. If I can make to that level, then my speaking to others will go okay.
And, to be honest, selling my books isn’t really why I’m going to the Festival, anyway. I’m going because I’m a writer and an author and I like to be around other writers and authors, and because I like to be around books and the book business. I like the excitement of people who have created books; I like their stories of how they did it; and I like being reminded that I’m a member of a community of people who write.
Don Willerton has been a reader all his life and yearns to write words like the authors he has read. He's working hard at it and invites others to share their experiences.