Sunday, March 2, 2014

Winter, Too, Must Pass

One form of writing I haven't discussed here before is poetry. That's mainly because it's something I haven't indulged in for many years. I wrote a bit of poetry in my younger days and published one or two when I was running Nashville Magazine back in the sixties.

This was our second issue, dated February/March 1963. The cover is described this way on the Contents Page:

"After the pure havoc created by the weather in Nashville during January, we chose the serenity of a rural view for this month's cover. Called 'Valley in Winter,' the Edward W. Redfield painting hangs in the Main Gallery of the Parthenon in Centennial Park. It is part of the James M. Cowan Collection, donated in 1927, which has been called one of the finest small collections of art in America."

The magazine's graphic logo at the top, created by Art Director Hermann Zimmermann, is a representation of the front of the Parthenon. An exact replica of the Athenian temple, it was built originally for the Tennessee Centennial Exposition in 1897.

The Redfield painting is wider than shown on the cover. It's full width is shown on a two-page spread inside, followed by smaller winter photos and my poem:


The sky glistens in the winter night
like frost crystals
reflecting from a darkened pane...cedar smoke, sweetly piquant,
spices the heavy cold, conjuring up wistful scenes
before an open fire...but every silent breath
hangs in the air like a frozen sigh.

The night wind brushes icy fingers
across a reddened cheek...gaunt, bare arms
of once-stalwart oaks shudder in the maddening chill,
and warmth seems all but lost save in the memory
of a summer past.

Can life, once so vibrant, so compelling,
so filled with quenchless thirst be forever
locked within this bleak and frigid vale?

No: winter, too, must pass...dreams frozen in their prime
by the icy grip of fate
shall be revived as the sap of life
flows once more—
even through the bitterest night
the spark still glows,
for in the unfailing promise of spring
dwells winter's lingering hope.

The poem was not signed. This is the first time in fifty-one years that I have acknowledged authorship. I might look around and see if I can find some more.

Friday, February 7, 2014

The Other Stuff to Write

Today's guest post is by Nikolas Baron, who says he has the pleasure of being tasked with talking to writers, bloggers, teachers, and others about how they use Grammarly’s online proofreading application to improve their writing. Nikolas discovered his love for the written word in Elementary School, where he started spending his afternoons sprawled across the living room floor devouring one Marc Brown childrens’ novel after the other and writing short stories about daring pirate adventures. After acquiring some experience in various marketing, business development, and hiring roles at internet startups in a few different countries, he decided to re-unite his professional life with his childhood passions by joining Grammarly’s marketing team in San Francisco. His free time is spent biking, travelling, and reading. Here's Nick:

You need to be honest.  Years have passed; the novel has not materialized. You have not written it.  The little that you have written is sitting in a file “in the cloud” taking up a pitiably small portion of its virtually unlimited storage.  You are not going to write that novel, are you?  Well, if not, do not just sit around gathering dust.  Write something else.  Use that A+ that you received in English Literature.  What can you write other than that thing that you obviously are not going to write?  Here are some ideas that will put your atrophying creative voice to work.

  • Short Stories
            If you already had an idea in mind for a novel, you have a great start for a short story.  Consider a short story as a brief episode in one of your character’s lives.  Are you familiar with Winesburg, Ohio written by Sherwood Anderson?  This collection of short stories focuses on the inhabitants of a small town; I will let you guess where.  The characters interact with each other, so the stories overlap.  Sherwood Anderson compiled the stories into one book.  I am not a huge fan of short stories, but I loved this book because of how the stories relate to one another.  Take one of your characters and develop a story around a major theme in his life.  Before you know it, you may have populated a small Midwestern village with characters as interesting as those in Winesburg!

  • Blogs
            Blogs kill two birds with one stone.  On one hand, you are exercising your writing muscles.  You can write about your life, travels, and interests.  Blogs are a vehicle for sharing writing tips with others.  As followers give feedback, you discover what your readers really want to read.  When you are ready to tackle “the Great American novel,”  you have built a fanbase eager to hear your story.

  • Poems
            Those who write stories are not necessarily talented at writing poems.  Poems require a different set of skills.  Trying your hand at this art form will bring a refreshing change to your routine.  As an added bonus, magazines often accept submissions of a single poem.  

  • Product descriptions
            Would you like some extra cash?  Companies pay freelance writers to describe their minventory.  Companies rely on product descriptions to inform the public of product features and to entice them to buy.  Often, you will need to learn how to use SEO, or search engine optimization.  Take a class in this skill online.  

  • Reviews
            A lot of online articles about writing encourage new writers to read many different types of novels.   While reading, why not write a review?  Your analyses will teach you what makes a novel fail.  When you write, you will know what to avoid.  Furthermore, reviews are also great content for blogs.

  • Grants/Proposals
            If you want to support a non-profit organization, donate your writing talent to help them to gain funding for special projects.  Otherwise, grant writing is another way to generate income from your writing skills.  You will need special training because grant writing requirements are very specific.  

  • Query Letters
            Do you work best under pressure?  If a publisher accepts your proposal, it will obligate you to start writing.  Use the loads of templates available to give you ideas.  Do not copy them, not even brief phrases.  Many publishers use plagiarism checkers to ensure that content is original.  Any suspicion that it is not equals an automatic rejection.  Besides, if you cannot write a simple letter, you have no business proposing to write a novel.

In addition to what I have already mentioned, there are tutorials, screenplays, and dozens of other writing options to explore.  A masterpiece of a novel could be a part of your future, but you still need to be busy now.  Experiment with other writing styles and genres.  What a great way to get your mind moving again!

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Greg McKenzie Mysteries Boxed Set

Readers unfamiliar with the Greg McKenzie mystery series can get a jump start with the first four books now available for the Kindle in a boxed set. With ebooks, of course, it's a virtual box. The books—Secret of the Scroll, Designed to Kill, Deadly Illusions, and The Marathon Murders—are $2.99 each for the Kindle, but the four-book set is only $7.99, a one-third savings. You'll find it HERE.

The set follows the adventures of Greg and Jill McKenzie from their fateful trip to the Holy Land, through a trek about Perdido Key and the Gulf coast in search of a murderer, an agonizing venture around Nashville involving a missing client and an assassinated Washington bigwig, and a puzzling 90-year-old cold case that leads to more murders.

A retired Air Force Office of Special Investigations special agent in charge, Greg puts his experience to work in the first two books. By the end of book two, it is apparent that Jill possesses her own talents in the investigative field. After that, it's the adventures of a partnership known as McKenzie Investigations.

Those who finish the boxed set have more to read, namely book five with the title A Sporting Murder. This episode follows Greg and Jill on a tantalizing case that finds them narrowly escaping death in an explosion only to come face-to-face with an armed murderer on Christmas Day.

If you've finished the exploits of the McKenzies, you'll find more exciting reading in the two Sid Chance mysteries. And then there is the global sweep of action in the trilogy of Post Cold War political thrillers featuring former disgraced FBI Agent Burke Hill and a cast of unique characters that will transport you from one side of the world to the other.

You'll find them all HERE at my author page on Amazon.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

You Can't Please Everybody

One of the advantages of doing a promotion with BookBub is the big boost in reader reviews that come after the promo. My first experience was with Designed to Kill, the second book in my Greg McKenzie Mysteries series. After it appeared for three days as a freebie for the Kindle, reviews tripled to 63. Happily they include 33 5-star and 17 4-star entries.

My second BookBub promo was for The Marathon Murders, book four in the series. It ran free for three days during the last week in October. In a little less than two weeks, reader reviews have climbed from 20 to 33. Again, favorable reviews predominate, with 20 5-stars and 9 4-stars. Checking through the list, though, I found an interesting phenomenon.

As you have probably noticed, Amazon includes a line at the bottom of each review that says "Was this review helpful to you?" It's followed by "yes" and "no" buttons. By far the majority of reviews have nothing checked in that department. Of the 4 and 5-star ratings, only a handful had anything checked, with one 5-star showing 9 of 10 people found it helpful and one 4-star showing 8 of 9 people found it helpful.

But for the 3-star ratings (2), one listed 35 of 39 people found it helpful and the other 13 of 16 the same. For the 2-star ratings (2), one listed 20 of 25 found it helpful, the other 18 of 25. It would appear that some people just look for low-ranking reviews as an excuse for not reading a book, regardless of the opinions of the vast majority. What I found really striking are the contrasts between reviews that run next to each other.

Here's the first 2-star review under the heading "mediocre":

"This started out well, but it went on too long. After a while, the author's style became annoying. I did finish it, but I won't pick this author again."

The review that followed is a 5-star under the heading "Great read!":

"Very well written story. Hard to put down. Excellent read. The story moved along at a fast pace that made it a pleasure to read."

Here's the other 2-star that appears in the midst of five 5-star reviews:

"Picked this up thinking it might be a good read and quality characters to follow in his other books. I'm an avid reader of suspense novels (military, police, espionage and so on)and enjoy repeat characters in an on-going series of novels. This book (and the characters) failed to deliver. Marginal at best. The writing style was amateurish compared to what I normally read. It's as if the book was written for high school students as reading material. The chapters were kept short. The story plodded along and never gained any traction. Basically a 'simple' book. Sorry, but I wont be spending any more time with Mr Campbell."

I find it quite interesting the way different people react to reading the same book. Just goes to prove the old saying that "you can't please everybody." But as long as I'm pleasing 29 out of 33 (almost 90 percent), I'm happiy.

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Accidental Novelist

I suppose I should be called the accidental novelist. Unlike many of my writing colleagues, I never penned stories as a kid or spent hours at the library checking out children's mysteries. As a teenager I enjoyed reading fiction, but it was mostly short stories in magazines like The Saturday Evening Post and Liberty. My Nashville high school had a student newspaper, but I never had any interest in writing for it. The closest I came to being involved in the literary field was as co-advertising manager for my high school yearbook as a senior in 1943.

I first wrote about my accidental entry into the writing game when I updated my website several years ago. I wrote an article titled "Reflections on The Writing Life—My 60-year odyssey with the written word." In it I told how I volunteered for Aviation Cadet training in the Army Air Corps after graduation in June of 1943. I was called to active duty the following January after turning eighteen. With the air war in Europe going our way, they didn't need as many new pilots, bombardiers, and navigators as they did when I signed on. With the rank of Aviation Cadet, I was shifted about the Southeastern Training Command, winding up in the summer of 1945 at historic Randolph Field in San Antonio.

After first serving as a guinea pig in the School of Aviation Medicine, where I was probed and prodded by candidates for Flight Surgeon, I was assigned as a clerk in the Transient Bachelor Officers Quarters. Another cadet and I
Classic Spanish design of buildings at Randolph Field, now Randolph AFB.
mostly checked in and out pilots there for an overnight stop. We also served as cashier in the Officer's Mess that occupied another part of the building. My partner, a cadet named Wolfson, had spent a year at Yale before entering the service. While we were chatting one day, he said, "Ïf I had it to do over again, I'd study journalism."

That somehow struck a chord with me. Up to that point, all I'd ever wanted to do was fly airplanes. But with the war winding down, it didn't look like that would happen. The more I thought about it, the more I became obsessed with the idea. Journalism schools only dealt with upper class students, so after my discharge I immediately enrolled at the University of Tennessee, intending to transfer to some place like Wisconsin or Missouri in my junior year. But the accidental nature of my career still ruled supreme.

When my sophomore year began, the executive editor of The Knoxville Journal took a year's sabbatical to teach a newspaper reporting class at UT. I immediately enrolled.Then I learned the university was bringing in a new professor to start a full journalism curriculum the following year. By then I was working on the student newspaper and was in line to become managing editor of one edition. But shortly after school started that fall, The Journal editor, who had returned to his old job, called me and a couple of other of his former students and offered us jobs as reporters.

Since The Journal was a morning newspaper, we could go to school during the day and work as reporters at night until the first edition was put to bed, as we journalists would say, around eleven o'clock. But it gets even, more complicated. While browsing the library near the newspaper office one day, I came across two books by Horace McCoy, They Shoot Horses Don't They? and No Pockets in a Shroud. I devoured them and became hooked on the mystery genre.

While going to journalism school during the day and working at the newspaper at night, I managed to squeeze in time on my little portable typewriter to write my first crime novel. I had filled in occasionally on the police beat and wrote a tale of a young reporter helping solve a murder. I gave it the title Time Waits for Murder, sent it off to a publisher, and soon had my first rejection slip.

I also wrote a spy story in the sixties, but it was 2002 before my first published book came out. My journey as an accidental novelist would take too much space to continue here, but if you'd like to read the full story go to my website where  you'll find the article I wrote in 2008. Incidentally, that 60-year odyssey is now up to 66.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Free Promo Does Well

That free promotion of Designed to Kill covered in my last post turned out well. It recorded more than 49,000 downloads, by far the best results of any such promotion over the last year. And while Designed to Kill hasn't set the world on fire as sales since the free deal went off, all of my other books have been doing well for the Kindle.

Secret of the Scroll (Greg McKenzie book 1) and Deadly Illusions (book 2) have been the best sellers. The other salutary effect of the promotion was a near doubling of reviews on Amazon for Designed. It now has 43 reviews, including 22 five-star and 12 four-star. So hopefully it will continue to do well in the days ahead.

I'm planning another freebie promotion in a few weeks and will announce the book shortly. Meanwhile, if you haven't read my new trilogy of post Cold War political thrillers, give 'em a try. The final book, Overture to Disaster, is a real tour de force, with parallel plot lines that take you around the world as one crisis after another piles up.

I've started work on the sixth Greg McKenzie mystery and hope to have it finished in the next few months. That is, provided I don't pull any more tricks like the one I did last week in Dothan, AL. If you haven't seen my Facebook post, I banged my head on a tile floor on the way to a vacation in Florida, resulting in seven staples pulling my scalp back together. We cancelled the vacation and came back home. I had the staples taken out today. I don't advise trying this trick.

Check my website occasionally to see what I'm doing. Saturday I'll be in a booth at Gallatin, TN Main Street Festival. Just click here:

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Designed to Kill Is Free Today

If you're new to retired Air Force investigator Greg McKenzie, and his wife, Jill, here's your chance to get started for free. Today (Saturday, Sept. 14) through Monday (Sept. 16), the second book in the series, Designed to Kill, will be available in ebook format for the Kindle at no cost.

Don't have a Kindle? No problem. Download the free version to your Windows computer or tablet, Android phone or tablet, iPhone, iPad or MAC, Blackberry or Windows phone. Just go to the Free Kindle Reading Apps Page and pick your device.

Designed to Kill is a tale of greed that leads to murder. It involves a high-rise condo on the beach at Perdido Key, Florida designed and engineered by the son of Greg and Jill's best friends from the first book in the series, Secret of the Scroll. A party in the 15th floor suite celebrating completion of the project ends abruptly when the balcony falls, killing two celebrants.

The investigating sheriff's officer tells Tim Gannon his balcony caused two deaths. The next morning Gannon is found dead of a gunshot wound at the nearby Gulf Islands National Seashore. The deputy says "suicide" and the medical examiner agrees.

Tim's dad, Sam Gannon, Greg's best friend, disagrees. He asks Greg to go down to Florida and find out what happened. As Greg digs into the case, assisted by Jill, he finds lots of disturbing facts.There are plans missing, an obstinate contractor, a too-slick developer, and an inspector angry over a disrupted love affair.

When Mafia goons rough him up, Greg realizes it's time to target a murderer. But who? Jill's help with the case leads to a partnership that goes through the next three books. And there's another in the works.