Back to Work

Yes, I still live. I’ve just been otherwise occupied. My apologies.

Haven’t written much. Had a cold that laid me low for 10 days. Got busy with work. The sun got in my eyes and the ball took a bad hop. All excuses, and lame ones at that. Just ran across an article about the essayist Dinty W. Moore, who kicked me in the ass when he said, “I don’t believe in inspiration. I believe that you sit at your desk, and you push your pencil around, and you feel lousy about yourself for a while, and eventually, you start writing.” So back to work.

Actually I do feel as if I needed to recharge my batteries. And the good sign is, ideas are starting to bubble again, things are starting to connect and I’m getting excited about the story I want to tell. So that’s hopeful.

I spent a very frustrating two weeks wrestling with the cover for the hardcover special edition of “Chrissie Warren: Pirate Hunter.” Won’t bore anyone with the details of the fight, but every time I tried to upload the cover file, the printer’s system wouldn’t accept it because it said it was the wrong size, and it would give me a different size. And every time it gave me a different set of numbers. Poor Katherine, my cover artist, turned out four different files, none of which it would accept. Just about the time I decided it was time to look for a different printer, I tried one more time with the original file and it worked just fine. No idea what the problem was. All I know is the hardcovers should be delivered just about the time we get home.

We’re in Knoxville, Tenn., visiting our friends Robyn and Daniel for Thanksgiving. Took about 10 hours to drive and my butt will never be the same. I’m getting old.

Daughter Kate is cranking away on her Na-No-Wri-Mo project and is almost done with a week to go. This is her fourth time through. Good for her.

Went to the doctor for my six month checkup, after nine months. My weight was down, not as much as I’d hoped but down pretty significantly. More important, my cholesterol was down, and the LDL (bad cholesterol) was  way down. So we are encouraged to continue. I’ll see him again in February and I WILL meet my weight goal, despite the fact that Robyn bought an 18-pound turkey.

What else? Seems like there should be more, but no, I think that’ll do for now.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Writing Your Book Is Not the Hard Part

Writing a book is not easy. Editing is hard.

Both of those are a breeze compared to selling the damn thing.

I’ve had a mixed week. Got the online distribution channels set up, the book is all formatted. All I need is the cover image and we’ll be ready to “go to market.” That’s all on the good side.

I’ve also had some frustration. Besides the online presence, you’ve got to make appearances, got to get out there. And I’m having trouble finding venues.

I’ll be on Los Angeles for Talk Like a Pirate Day, and the appearance with Cap’n Slappy at Studio City Tattoo (owned by Talderoy, the big mug of a pirate with a heart of gold) will be great. A big deal and I think I can move some paper – or electrons if they opt for the ebook. But if I’m flying all the way from New Orleans to Los Angeles, I’d like to lay in a few more, get the most bang from my buck.

There’s a Barnes & Noble less than two miles from the tattoo shop and I thought that’d be easy. If they’d have me, I could do an event there the day before, during or the day after the pirate party. I called ’em and worked my way up the phone chain to the person who coordinates events for the store. She sounded remarkably unimpressed. Can’t blame her. But she didn’t seem moved by the 130,000 Facebook likes, or the millions of visits to our website. She all but yawned at the enormous following the holiday has gotten around the world. She took my name and contact info – or at least she said she did – and said she’d be in touch. That was three weeks ago.

Meanwhile, I tried another bookstore, Vroman’s in Pasadena, the oldest bookstore in L.A. County. They’re sort of the gold standard of Southern California bookstores. Now I want you to understand, I’m not blaming Vroman’s – I’m not. It’s a tough world out there for brick and mortar bookstores. They have their policies that protect their interest. Fine.

Yes, they had an opening on Sunday, Sept. 20, the day after the holiday and the big party. Yes, they’d be willing to let me do a reading and signing there that day. BUT – books would be on consignment. Actually, that part was fine. But I was going to have to sign a
“gold level consignment contract,” which included a fairly hefty fee. I did some quick math. If I sold 161 books, I’d lose money. I would break even and actually make 12 cents on the 162nd. That was a non-starter.

It’s par for the course. You’ve gotta keep grinding away at it. This is not my first rodeo, as the saying goes. When we (my pirate partner Mark “Cap’n Slappy” Summers and myself) decided to go it alone on “Well Blow Me Down,” our first attempt at writing a book, it was 2004, right on the rink of the self-pub revolution but still not there. Print on demand was not well know. We found a printer we liked who offered the services we needed. We figured out how much money we could afford to lose and had him print 10,000 books. Half of them he kept in his warehouse and fulfilled orders from bookstores. Happily, there were a lot of those.

The rest were shipped to us. My wife, Tori, printed 1,500 post cards which we sent to every bookstore in any state we had reason to believe had a pirate population. We sent press kits. And I hit the road. I’d make a list of five to ten bookstores in an area – the Oregon coast, Portland, the mid-valley, etc., and start driving. There were a LOT more bookstores then. And get to work. You’d paste a smile onto your face, walk into a store and ask for the manager. Talk to her or him, show her the book, explain. Answer questions. Then most likely he or she would say no, you’d thank them for their time, leave your card and head to the next store. Do it again. And again. And at the end of the day, eight or nine stores under your belt, maybe not having sold a single book, or only a couple, you’d go into the last store on the list pasting on just as big a smile and being just as hearty and positive as the first one.

It’s just part of the job.

We also did quite a few personal appearances – at libraries, bars, museums, basically anywhere people would have us. We did a gig in Las Vegas, for the annual national convention of faux artists – they are a surprisingly large group and have a lot of money to throw around at their convention. I may have chosen the wrong profession. And over the years we’ve done – I’m not joking – somewhere between 700 and 900 interviews for radio, television, newspapers and various and sundry other media.

We eventually sold enough that we more than broke even. More importantly, the sales of our self-pub were good enough that we were able to interest New American Library in publishing a sequel. So it was all good. That book, “Pirattitude,” went through seven printings before it finally went out of print.

I just noticed on Amazon you can still buy “Well Blow Me Down.” It’s out of print, of course, part of the deal with NAL. But there are 33 used copies offered for sale today, beginning at 32 cents and going all the way to some delightfully optimistic person who’s asking $62.14. More power to him.

It’s a pretty safe bet the copies for sale are signed. As Mark pointed out, it would probably be harder to find a copy we didn’t sign. We signed a lot of books. You’ve gotta do what you can to sell ’em. That’s the hard part.

Straight Outta …

The movie “Straight Outta Compton” is out this week, and this is part of the buzz-building machine for it. Got a good picture in which the lower half of the middle is more or less vacant? Upload it at http://www.straightouttasomewhere.com/ and have fun.

StraightOuttaSomewhere

My friend Mark Summers and I invented International Talk Like a Pirate Day (long story that we’ve told many, many times already) and have been riding that wave ever since. The holiday is celebrated every Sept. 19, which is – not coincidentally – why my book, “Chrissie Warren” Pirate Hunter,”  is coming out that week. This is just a fun little thing. But if you’ve got a pic, go try it out.

The Never-Ending Battle

Tori is making a last pass over the manuscripts and found more words that I can’t use in “Chrissie Warren: Pirate Hunter.” One of them I should have known better. In fact I DID know better, just didn’t think about it. Can’t call Davy Leech’s eyes mesmerizing. First used in 1829, the word refers to the German hypnotist Franz Mesmer, 1734-1815. So that’s out. So is hypnotic, which existed as a word in the 17th century but only in the sense of “sleep-inducing,” which is sort of the opposite of what I mean.

And I can’t let Jack Farmer call himself “a real spellbinder” in 1718 if the word didn’t exist until 1808. So I figured I’d just switch it to raconteur, a great word – which unfortunately was first recorded in 1828.

And I can’t replace it with the obvious “yarn spinner,” because the first use of “spin a yarn” to mean “tell a story” wasn’t recorded until 1812. Yes, in a nautical setting, but almost a hundred years after my story.

Why do I care so much? After all, most readers won’t recognize I’ve used  a word that didn’t exist yet, probably 98 percent of the readers. (Well, mesmerize would probably ring a lot of bells, but other than that I could probably get away with them.) I suppose it’s because I’d know, and it would annoy me if no one else. Keeping the language period is important. You’re trying to tell a story in a real, believable, recognizable world, and language is one of your most important tools. If it causes one reader in a thousand to stop and say, “Wait, ‘okay’ didn’t exist until the 1820s, this guy is an idiot,” that’d be one too many. It’s like the very popular mystery I read last year that had a character shot down in his Spitfire over Berlin in 1940. The author should have known the Spitfire was a short range fighter that never flew over Berlin. If she didn’t, what else didn’t she know? There were a couple of other even more egregious things (Duke Ellington’s “In the Mood? Come on!) that I have never been tempted to pick up another book by that author.

I love “Chrissie Warren: Pirate Hunter,” and can’t wait for readers to get hold of it. But I’m really looking forward to getting to work on my next project, which will be set in the present. That’ll be one problem off my back. I’ll be able to use any damn word I know!

A Voice from the Past

I was looking through the folder on my desktop that holds my MS for “Chrissie Warren: Pirate Hunter” and, as luck would have it, I came across a file from 2011 called “notes on Chrissie Warren final draft.” These were notes my agent – Eddie the Agent – sent me after he read what I then naively thought was the final draft of the book.

It was, by my estimate, about the fourth draft and it had already changed quite a bit. What was so interesting to me was to see how much it has changed since then.

Most of his notes were about tightening it up. Places where I could trim a sentence. Places where half a paragraph could be trimmed with no ill effect. Or where an explanation of some obvious point could be disposed of.

And places where the story meandered off in a direction that just didn’t need to happen. Some action or thing that didn’t advance the story. For instance (spoiler alert!) when Chrissie’s ship arrives in Nevis, in the original version it took about three days before she and her friends left the ship. In the version that will go on sale soon, the ship arrives in port in the morning and they’re gone that night. I liked some of the stuff that used to be there, there were a couple of fun new characters introduced and a nice picture of shipboard life. But it dawdled – there’s no other words for it. The action didn’t go anywhere, the characters, while colorful, had nothing to do with the story. It dawdled.

In the rewrites that followed – and I do remember bleeding over this for the better part of a week – I telescoped it from three days in five chapters to one day and one chapter. And “telescoped” is a polite word. I beat it, hacked at it, agonized over every word. The version I’m about to introduce to the world is almost 8,000 words shorter than the version Eddie the Agent commented on, about 10 percent.

I knew that’s what I had to do to keep the pace up.

Pace. The whole thing can’t go at breakneck speed (that’s one of my biggest problems with “The Da Vinci Code.” It would just be impossible to do all they did in such a little amount of time. Don’t they ever sleep? Go to the bathroom?) But you need to be aware of the pace. It has to build, then relax slightly, build more … Each jump in the pace raising the stakes a little more, like each wave reaching a little higher up the beach as the tide comes in. And then, once you really get going, it just becomes relentless.

The original version of “Chrissie,” the very first bits of the first draft (which as near as I can tell no longer exist anywhere) was very, very different. The family was different. The situation different. And most importantly, it took forever for her to decide to go to sea, which is the turning point and needs to come in the first quarter of the story. There were some really nice scene in there. One scene – long gone – involved Chrissie walking to one of the big houses in Hampton, looking for a position on the kitchen staff. On the one hand, it really illustrated the conundrum she faced and the choice she had to make. I thought it was a well-written scene. On the other hand, it was too damn long and too much of a detour to the story. Who cares about the condition of scullery maids in 18th century Virginia? Just get to the damn pirates!

Serve the story. That’s the only rule. Serve the story. Or, as Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch said, whenever you feel compelled to commit a particularly fine bit of writing, whenever you find yourself oohing and aahing over your prose, go ahead and give in to it. Write it, get it out of your system. Then, delete it. That’s what the rewrites are for. Or in Sir Arthur’s words, “Murder your darlings.” The best prose is something you don’t really notice. Good prose doesn’t exist for its own merits. That’s called showing off. It exists to move the story from your brain as directly as possible into the reader’s. The story is the only thing that matters. You, as the author, matter not at all.

It was kind of fun looking back over that old version of the story, but I don’t regret the changes I’ve made. It’s better now. A better story. I think readers will like it a lot.

That Feels Real Now

Been very heartened by the response my initial announcement received, a lot of you out there seem very positive about my decision to self-publish “Chrissie Warren: Pirate Hunter.”

While it was all great, I have to say my favorite comment came from my friend Lance “Clapeye” English, who said, “We who are about to read salute you!” Colorful as always, Clapeye.

Yesterday I spent some money, getting the ISBN and a bar code, for the three versions of the book. It’s one of those business things you have to consider when you’re a “publisher,” as opposed to simply a writer. Each version – the ebook, the paperback and the limited edition hardcover – have to have their own ISBN, which is the string of numbers that identify the book when it is sold. I only need one bar code, because the trade paperback, at this point, is the only version that will ever even potentially be scanned at a cash register. But it all added up to a tidy enough sum that I had to say to myself, “You’re sure about this?” Well, I am, and having announced it, I really had no choice.

This isn’t like when I said I’d quit smoking, then didn’t. Yesterday involved real money that I really spent. So this is feeling more and more real.

Next step is to set up the pre-order. Have to have that done in the next few days. I want everything worked about by next Thursday, when I’m off to take in the Billy Bowlegs Pirate Festival. Don’t want anything hanging over my head. Just want to enjoy being a pirate!