A Good Conference and Great Doughnut

Tori and I spent a great day in Houma, Louisiana, at the Jambalaya Writers Conference Saturday. Here are a few of the highlights.

Before I talk about the conference, let me say this. At the opening, when people were checking in, they had THE BEST doughnuts I have eaten in my life I’m not kidding, the very best doughnuts ever, and I’ve eaten a few doughnuts. They were by a local bakery called “Mr. Ronnie’s Famous Hot Doughnuts,” and they were so good. A little doughier than you usually get, but not too chewy, and yeasty and – well, just delicious. So there’s that. If you’re ever in Houma, do not miss the doughnuts. I had five.

Now. About writing.

“You have to confront your worst fear, and maybe your worst fear is you’re not as good as you think you are.” But you’ll never find out if you are or not if you don’t try.

That was Washington Post reporter and crime novelist Neely Tucker, who looks a LOT like Billy Bob Thorton. Not that his physical resemblance has anything to do with him as a writer or a speaker. It’s just a thing. I missed his keynote speech after lunch, had to go out to the pickup and don my pirate gear for the book fair portion of the event, which followed.

But he spoke again in an afternoon session. I’d love to have made that a full quote, but that’s all I was able to hear. His mike was dying and it was a big room and at that point in the talk I was only picking up about half of what he said. But the context was that fear that you’re not good enough is NOT a reason not to write, and what he said after the bit I couldn’t quite make out wouldn’t have made any sense if he was saying “You have to confront your fear, so don’t even think about being a writer.” I’m confident that what I’ve written there is what he was saying, if not the exact words.

And it’s good advice. As Tori and I often said when contemplating our move from Oregon tot he Caribbean, “You’ll never learn if you can fly unless you throw yourself off the cliff.” Either way it makes sense. You’re itching to tell a story, but you’re afraid you’re not good enough? Scratch the damn itch.

A Long Flight

Another presenter was a guy who has been an editor for Random House for 31 years. He was talking about “the state of the publishing industry today. (Short answer: Upset, worried, unsure, but like 31 years ago.)

But he also told the story about the longest day of his life. This happened before he had learned one of the first rules of being an editor at a major publisher – if someone asks you what you do for a living, so you’re an insurance claims adjustor, or an actuary (no one actually knows what an actuary is, so unless the person who asks actually is one, you’re safe) or a pastry chef, ANYTHING besides a book editor. Because if you tell someone what you really are, they’re going to pitch their book, and sometimes you’re trapped.

Sure enough, sometime around 30 years ago he had just gotten on a plane. The guy sitting next to him was chaperoning a church group of young people on their way to the Holy Land. And the guy asked him, “What do you do for a living?” And he said, “I’m an editor for Random House.”

Wouldn’t you know it, the guy had written a book! Who could have guessed that? And not just any book, oh no. Not even any church related book.

No. This guy had translated the Bible. The whole Bible. The holy scripture, the revealed word of the lord, so to speak.

And nothing so mundane as a rate language. He had translated the Bible into …

Wait for it …

Limericks. That’s right. The word of god as if the almighty were a bawdy Irish storyteller. Can you imagine? I’m just guessing, because the editor said, with some regret, that he no longer had the manuscript, but it might have gone something like this.

The Lord set it off with a word –
The earth, every tree every bird.
But a snake spoke to Eve
With a trick up his sleeve,
And now paradise is deferred.

OK. Not very good. But I’m not pitching it to an editor, either.

I Surprised Myself

I was at the conference because I had been asked to do a presentation on “getting the word out” on your book. Marketing. I don’t know why they asked me. I’m not sure how they even had a clue about me. I had been to the library last October for their book fair, sold a few, had a nice time. I was as surprised as anyone when I got the invitation to present. But I took the risk. Kind of goes back to what Neely Tucker said about writing. Maybe I’d be awful, and then we’d know that and could move on.

But I was pretty good. In fact, I had a room with about 30 or so people who listened, smiled, interacted ­hell, some of them even took notes! That surprised me, to look out at them and see people with their heads in their notebooks scribbling. What had I said that was worth writing down? Maybe it was my presentation.

They put me and Tori up a the Marriott across the street from the library. My presentation was in the first round of the morning so we had the rest of the day to attend others. I’ll pass on some of the stuff I picked up later this week, along with what I had to say – after I go through my script and figure out what it was I said that was interesting enough to take notes on.

Being a Pirate Is All Fun and Games

Ol’ Chumbucket asks Zoey for her favorite letter as he reads “A L’Il Pirate’s ABSeas.”

You never know what you’re going to get when you face a roomful of kids. Monday in the westbank community of Algiers Point, we got a lot of fun.

Captain John Swallow, Sjeka Hellbound Groves and Copper Otter.

“We” were me, my wife Mad Sally, and three buccaneers from NOLA Pyrate Week, which is going on this week. The leaders of Pyrate Week, Captain John Swallow and Quartermaster Sjeka “Hellbound” Groves, organized the event with the Algiers library and the Confetti Park Kids organization. We were also accompanied by Copper Otter the pirate. 

There were about 30 kids in all, ranging in age from, I would guess, about a year and a half to a class of about 20 kids in the first or second grade range. They all came in and sat neatly on the floor and cushions in the children’s area of the library, one of the old Carnegie Libraries, built in 1907 and a perfect match for the quaint neighborhood.

And they stared at us. They were intrigued, but they weren’t giving anything away.


Kids always have their hands up – sometimes they even have questions.

So Captain Swallow introduced us, and suggested perhaps I’d do a reading. You know me, of course I said “Sure! But first, a song!” 

I don’t like to do all the work by myself, so I taught the kids their part, and they were great. I sang “Being a Pirate” – and if you’re “of the brotherhood” you know the song. “Being a pirate is all fun and games, ’til somebody loses an eye. It hurts like the blazes, it makes you make faces, but you can’t let your mates see you cry …” and on through the various body parts a pirate might lose, ear, hand, leg, “whatsis.” Each time I got to something being cut off, many of the kids would wince or gasp. But on the chorus, “It’s all part of being a part …” and they’d shout out their part – “A pirate! A pirate!” with some much gusto the room shook. “You can’t be a pirate, with all of your pa-a-arts! Oh! It’s all part of being a pirate” – and them again, “A pirate! A PIRATE!” – You can’t be a pirate, with all of your parts.”

Mad Sally, Sjeka Grove and Copper Otter.

What fun, and when we were done the kids belonged to us. I didn’t try to read to them from “Chrissie Warren: Pirate Hunter,” because it was much to young a crowd, although I made sure to mention to the handful of parents in the room that I had copies with me for sale and they might really enjoy it. Instead, I’d had the foresight to bring the children’s alphabet book Cap’n Slappy and I had written – “A Li’l Pirate’s ABSeas.” I didn’t read the whole thing, but I let them call out their favorite letters and read those to ’em. And I made sure to finish with the letter U, because it’s a kid’s favorite. 

“U is for UNDERWEAR, every crew wears ’em.
Each man has his own, and nobody shares ’em.
Some personal things belong just to you,
And shouldn’t be shared with the rest of the crew.
One is your boxers, but – Please! Keep ’em clean!
‘Cause if they get stinky, the crew will get mean.”

As the father of six, I know that “Underwear” is the second funniest word in the English language to that age, second only to “Butt.” Really. Go ask any five year old.

Slappy and I have always said that “A Li’l Pirate’s ABSeas” is NOT the book perfect parents buy for their perfect children. It’s a book the perfect child’s drunken uncle or wild aunt buy them so they don’t grow up to be complete prigs.

Reading to the powder monkeys.

Anyway, we all had a blast. Captain Swallow and Hellbound talked to the kids about pirates – who they were, what they did and some of the things everybody “knows” about pirates that just ain’t so.

The kids had questions – Oh lord, the kids had questions. They always do. At that age, when a kid raises his hand, it means one of three things. The kid actually has a question that might have something to do with what you’re talking about, the kid wants to say something, that might or might not have anything to do with the subject, and – most often – the kid really wants to have a question but when you call on him or her, she or he hasn’t actually thought of one or has forgotten it.

Good times.

Anyway, it was a fun morning and I like to think everyone had a good time. And I even sold a couple of books – one of each! So that was fun too.

Pirates meet youngsters at the library in Algiers Point. Below – Chumbucket teams up with the Terrible Pirate Zoey, and Super Pirate!

Politics, work and odds and ends

Went to the polls Saturday and voted for Bernie Sanders in the Louisiana primary – and he lost 71 percent to 23.

It’s part of a long, proud tradition. My primary support over the years has gone to George McGovern, Fred Harris (You’ve never heard of him, right? He’s still my all-time favorite candidate.), Mo Udall, Jerry Brown, Gary Hart (pre-Monkey Business) and Howard Dean.

On presidential elections I’m even – 5 wins, 5 losses – but in the primaries, man, I’m all over the map. Just not often in the winner’s circle.

Getting ready for the road –

I need to get more organized. There’s all this stuff that I need to do, and in the morning I tend to pick whatever feels right, which means stuff that needs to get done isn’t. Look, I’m not James Patterson. I don’t have that kind of luxury.

So for the rest of the month, I’m going to try holding my own feet to the fire. 8 a.m. to 11 I work on the WIP. Break for lunch, then spend two hours setting up the schedule for the late spring, summer. I have three big events, but I have to plan as many readings and appearances as I can around them. Have leads, now it’s time to start nailing them down.

The sad truth is, even if you have an actual publisher, you still have to do most of the work of getting the word out about your book and making sales yourself. (Got some stories on that regard that perhaps I’ll share in a later post.) And when you’re self-publishing, that’s obviously doubly true. The launch of “Chrissie Warren: Pirate Hunter” went about as well as I could expect. Of course, not as well as I’d hoped. Who doesn’t hope for overnight success?

And I’ve kind of taken the winter off from all of that. Time to dive in with both feet. There’s a lot of potential, but it’ll never be any more than that until I make it happen.

Things you don’t expect to hear –

Driving your wife to the emergency room at midnight, you don’t expect to hear the complaint, “You’re driving too fast.” (That was two weeks ago. Turned out to be a bad scare but not to be any of the things we were afraid it was, and all is well. No need for worries or wishes or prayers or anything.)

For the record –

The non-partisan group Politifact, which fact checks political statements and campaign claims, notes that of the statements by Donald Trump that it has checked, a whopping 79 percent are mostly false, false or “pant’s on fire.” So what does that say about his claim to have a large dick? (Or did he say he is a big dick? It wasn’t clear to me.)


A Solid Delivery from FedEx

We all do it – don’t we? The FedEx truck heads down your street, or the brown UPS van, and you watch it drive by, maybe with your arms extended as if beseeching the driver, but he drives on by. Sometimes he acknowledges the comedy with a smile or a wave, but usually he’s in too much of a hurry and drives on by.

I’m not alone in this, right? We all do it? Or is my penchant for street theater surfacing again?

File Dec 01, 1 08 41 PMAnyway, the FedEx guy drove down the street yesterday and – he stopped at my house! And dropped off two boxes of books!

It’s the hardcover, a special, one-printing-only version, signed and numbered by yours truly, with special interior illustrations only available in this edition. And, like I said before, people were willing to pay a premium to get it. It was my alternative to trying a Kickstarter campaign. In truth, it was only semi-successful – I didn’t sell as many as I’d hoped, but did sell more than I’d feared. So I made back a little of the overhead for getting the book out.

And I’ve gotta tell you – as exciting as the first box of paperbacks was when it arrived, the hardcovers were so much more. There’s something about a hardcover that is so much more impressive. It’s solid. It’s a book.

It’s also a quick and easy Christmas present for my kids, who no doubt will be thrilled. (Well, it’s “a” gift, not all any of them are getting.)

Now I’ve gotta sit down and start signing them. They have to go out by the end of the week. I’ve bought a special pen for them (which also can go on my taxes as a business expense) and I’ve gotta get to work.

THAT Makes It Really Real!

Stepped out the side door this morning and there it was. A box. A big box.

I had been expecting it next week, so I didn’t let myself get too carried away. But then I saw the return address – CreateSpace.

It was the books – 25 copies of “Chrissie Warren: Pirate Hunter.” I had never seen, touched, held or – dare I say? – fondled my book yet, and there it was.

I was hoping they’d be delivered by next Wednesday, the day before I fly to L.A. for my first book event. They were a week early. Sp that’s a check mark in the plus column for CreateSpace. They get the job done.

I did not get misty or tear up. I admit, however, that as I put the box on the counter and carefully cut it open, I was having a little trouble inhaling and exhaling.

Gotta tell ya, that’s as beautiful a thing as I’ve seen in a while.

And to top it off, two hours later the mailman brought the postcards. We had designed and ordered 500 postcards for marketing – ordering information on one side, the cover on the other. Tori has been assembling a list of newspapers, bookstores and other places to send them to. They’ll also come in handy if I go to an event and (oh please, god, please) sell out of the books on hand. I’ll be able to give them the card so they can order it on their own. Hell, I’ll even sign the card for them.

So we’re in business. Chrissie is here, and we’ve got work to do. Because now it’s really real.

“Chrissie Warren: Pirate Hunter” is now on sale at these sites

And here it is. Days of anxious waiting are over and now “Chrissie Warren: Pirate Hunter” is available for sale. Now months of anxious waiting are on the horizon as I try to keep from obsessing on sales numbers – if any.

Here are the links:

csFINALfrontFor the trade paperback edition ($12.95, 268 pages)

This link takes you to the CreateSpace estore, where the paperback is loaded.

This link takes you to the site where you can advance order a special, signed and numbered hardcover edition: ($45, 272 pages)

This is a one-time-only limited edition hardcover of “Chrissie Warren: Pirate Hunter,” signed and numbered by the author. This volume also contains three interior illustrations by cover artist/designer Katherine J. Bishop, not contained in the paperback.

Orders will remain open through Nov. 1. When orders close, that’s how many copies will be printed. They will be shipped to me where I sign them and mail them to those who bought them. They will arrive in plenty of time for Christmas. This is the only opportunity to purchase a signed copy of the book online.

When you order, make sure you use the “Notes to Seller” tab at the bottom of the checkout page to tell me who you want the book signed to – your name, or the name of someone you intend to send it to as a gift. Otherwise i’ll just sign my name.

And of course, the Kindle version has been available all week. If you’re a Kindle reader, you can purchase it here:

And the first person to purchase the Kindle version has already posted an Amazon review, which I’ll share here, because, well, damn.

“This is a very compelling story, moving at a great pace. I hope there is a sequel in the works, because the story leaves you wanting more, in a good way. While I am technically not a young adult, I think they will enjoy this, too.” D. Van Middlesworth

I know that eventually someone is going to write a pan, tell me it’s a terrible book and I’m a terrible writer, because that’s the nature of the beast. I’m practicing being philosophical. I’m also laying in a supply of rum.

Picking the Last Nits

When I say we’ve been poring over every word of “Chrissie Warren: Pirate Hunter,” over and over, I really mean it. This photo shows the detritus from the latest, and final, round.

Fortunately, what we’re seeing in this last go-round is minor, a missing space here or there. Tiny stuff. And we laughed every time something was found. “Got another one!” my wife, Tori, will say. I’ll pretend to groan, although really I’m relieved as I go in and root it out. One less thing to annoy a reader.

Writers, especially writers who are about to self-publish, are encouraged to hire editors. Sometimes it’s just for copy editing, or line editing as it’s called in the publishing world, sometimes it’s someone to take a look at the story and plotting and make suggested revisions. Those can be very helpful. Hiring an editor is a very good idea.

Here’s why I didn’t.

First, I’m an editor. I’ve made my living as a news writer and editor all my adult life. News editing and the kind of editing a novel needs are different. My novel is NOT written in AP Style, which has been my Bible for more than 30 years. But I know my way around a sentence and can pick the flaws out of bad grammar better than most people I know. Those of my acquaintance who are better at it are almost all newspaper copy editors.

Second, I also married one. Tori isn’t a professional editor. She’s a middle school English teacher, so she knows her stuff. She was an English major in college, and those two things combined give her both a deadly eye for spelling and grammatical errors and a keen nose for sniffing out problems with plot and story. (Plot and story are not the same thing, but that’s a topic for another day.)

Look, there’s only so much money. I’m spending quite a bit of money on the cover. I paid for the editing by taking my wife out to dinner lasat night. It was a very good deal, and a very good meal. (Drago’s Seafood in Metairie. Char grilled oysters. Mmmmm.)

Still, I am not denigrating the value of a good editor. When my friend Mark Summers and I had our book, “Pirattitude,” published by New American Library, our draft was turned over to an in-house editor, Cherilyn Johnson. The poor woman was really good at her job, and didn’t know what to make of us. She sent sent us reams of questions and suggested corrections, stuff that had never even occurred to us. After all, we made up a bunch of the “facts” and words, starting with the title, so line edits and fact checking seemed sort of superfluous. For instance, she really wanted us to come up with a consistent, standardized spelling for “Aarrr!” But the whole nature of the word, which can mean almost anything depending on how you say it, fights the concept of standardization. It’s not so much a word as a sound indicating a state of mind. So she had to give in on that one, but we put in a note at the end of the book absolving her from all blame.

With “Chrissie” I’ve also had the help of Eddie the Agent, who picked it apart twice, calling for rewrites and closer editing before he finally started pitching it to publishers. It also went through someone at his agency, who offered some trenchant observations that I adopted.

Whether you use a critique group, hire an editor, or marry one (I recommend it!) having multiple sets of eyes on your final draft is important. There’s not much that ruins a book more than a host of typos and grammatical errors. Readers have to trust you. If they get a few chapters in and start thinking, “My eight-year-old writes better than this!” you’re in trouble.