First Base and Beyond

“If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. It’s the hard that makes it great.” – Tom Hanks as Jimmy Dugan in A League of their Own

Yesterday was the start of the 2019 major league baseball season, and it passed me by. I grew up a Yankees fan but after major league baseball cancelled the World Series in 1994, I lost most interest in big-league baseball. But I still find baseball closer to its roots to be a pleasure to watch in person, and enjoy attending a couple Nashville Sounds games per year.mark-duffel-352915-unsplash

Hank’s character was responding to one on his team complaining that playing baseball was hard, and the quote has become a favorite for encouragement memes (seriously, just Google it). Its popularity is rooted in its simple truth. Anything that is worth attaining is going to take much effort and sweat equity.

I think some of us enter the writing trade severely underestimating the difficulties ahead. I know I did. When I proudly self-published my first novel I thought that once available on Amazon people would find it, buy it, and I’d join the ranks of other successful novelists, because in my quite-biased opinion what I had produced was simply that good. But the truth is that you can have the next Old Man and the Sea ready to upload and no one may know, or care.

That’s not to diminish the huge accomplishment of getting to that point. I don’t know the statistics, but I’d guess that at least 30% of people in the United States have considered writing the great American novel, and of those maybe a quarter attempt to, and of those maybe 5% reach Amazon whether traditional or independent publishing. That’s 0.375% of the population or about one in 267 (and even that seems high).

I recently attended a writers conference where Bob Hostetler emphasized that there are nine ways to reach first base, not because he was teaching the attendees the rules of baseball but to illustrate that the same line of thought applies to writing success. I had only focused on one or two ways, and my lackluster (that’s being kind) sales reflected my tepid efforts. I realized I hadn’t tried most other venues (consistent blogging, email lists, conference attendance, and so on) because, well, they were all hard. Lesson learned.

My goal is not to stop at first base. I want to score runs and win the game, because I feel I have meaningful tales that can positively change lives inside of me. I have to embrace the hard. I just hope that when the work pays off and I reach the World Series, they don’t cancel it.

For a free download of my inspirational first novel Forgiveness sign up at https://bookhip.com/XFCCLN

Photo by Mark Duffel on Unsplash

 

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Workout

Ever have one of those mornings when the blog topic (or any writing task) just was not coming easily? I’m there today. I thought for several minutes about what to share this morning and saw nothing but a blank wall (literally – the wall in front of me is a blank pale yellow-white in the warm dim glow of the incandescent LED desk light.arthur-edelman-745266-unsplash

Writing is like any other exercise, we need to practice it daily in order to strengthen and perfect our skills. There are some days I just don’t feel like working out, no motivation, no energy, no spark. I try to work out daily, whether it be going to the gym, running, or cycling. Today was a cycling day, the first one of the year. I’m blessed to be able to cycle to my office. Undoubtedly a topic for another blog post; I’m already running with this one.

If I succumbed to every inkling when I “just didn’t feel like exercising” I would not be quite as fit as I am today (a perpetual work in progress). But i do, and so have gleaned the benefit of a low resting heart rate and the ability to run a marathon (been a few years), cycle a (metric) century, and bench press more than my weight (my most recent met physical goal. All required dedication on a daily basis to achieve.

The same applies to writing. Why do we think we can always be up to the task? Or at least I do. I’ve found though that if I just do it, eventually the flood of words comes. Whether they are quality words is another matter and one that you, dear reader, may judge.

Thus, I turned my stare from wall beyond laptop to the pale white glowing screen and began to dance my fingers over keys, not because I have something to say at the beginning of the post but that I was sure by the end a point will have been made. The infrequent days when I don’t exercise, usually due to odd schedule commits such as traveling on a business trip, I feel “off” because I am out of my routine. I want to get there with writing and have pledged to continue to daily attack my WIP and contribute to my blog.

Some say it takes 21 days to form a habit, some 28, some claim such quantifications are incorrect and therefore meaningless, but whatever. It’s true when you change your habits, you change your life. I am changing mine one letter at a time.

Authenticity in Christian Fiction

I have written three novels. The first two are best categorized as fantasy, while my third, Leaving Darkness, is my first Christian novel. I have since realized that is the genre I am called to write in.

I just read a tweet that said something to the effect that the advice to write what you know about is wrong. The implication was it limits the subject matter and thereby cannot effectively hold the interest of the reader. To remedy, you need to research to write about what you don’t know, as well.

In some aspects, I certainly agree. For example, my second novel relies upon a Soviet covert plot to infiltrate the United States Catholic Church during the mid 20th century. This was an area I had no expertise in. I realized I’d need as much realism to prop up the fantasy of such a ridiculous idea, so I Googled for facts that could have possibly been interpreted by conspiracy theorists that such an infiltration attempt existed. To my surprise, this actually occurred!aaron-burden-233840-unsplash.jpg

But there are areas I disagree, a most significant one being Christian fiction. Christian fiction differs from other genres in that its purpose is to spread the Gospel and advance the kingdom of God. Those called to write Christian fiction sense a need to use the written word to promote the path to light and salvation. It would be impossible to write authentically about the saving grace of Christ in lives without knowing that personally.

Authenticity goes further though. A Christian fiction author must live their life as a Christ follower. Obviously this does not mean a sinless life because that is impossible. However, to convey the authenticity on paper (or screen) the author needs to follow Christ not just for an hour and a half on Sundays, but rather live, breathe, and proclaim through actions their devotion to Christ.

One of my favorite ways to explain if you’re doing this effectively is if people can identify you as a Christian without you explicitly saying so (either outright or tangentially through other discussions such as church activities). Being a Christ follower changes you – not just internally, but externally.

It should surprise no one that this change is reflected by the written pages as well. Authenticity allows your love of Christ to leap from the words to the reader’s heart. And as a Christian fiction author, that is the primary goal, after all.

For a free copy of my inspirational first fantasy novel Forgiveness sign up at https://bookhip.com/XFCCLN

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Slow Down!

Slow down, you crazy child
And take the phone off the hook and disappear for awhile
It’s all right, you can afford to lose a day or two

-Billy Joel

Yesterday I wrote about discipline. A few hours later I ignored my own words. In a perceived rush, I deviated from disciplined driving and made an error that could of had disastrous results. It didn’t, but the rest of my journey I mentally slapped myself for momentarily losing discipline.zach-meaney-249436-unsplash

The funny thing is I wasn’t even running late. I was invited to speak to a class of graduate students about information security and had plenty of time baked into the drive. As it was, I arrived about 35 minutes early. Not smart.

We seem to live such rushed lives nowadays. I yearn for simplicity. Part of that involves just slowing down. Whether that be driving or anything else including writing, we sacrifice the great gift of the now when solely focused on the end goals. I’m sure everyone’s experienced driving to work with much on the mind and maybe running a bit late, and when you arrive at the office it’s difficult to remember much of the drive. Why would we remember anything? All of our focus was landing in the office.

Goals aren’t bad, rather they are like any other tool – beneficial when used properly, detrimental than not. My writing goal as I work on a 10,000 word novelette is 1,000 words per day. Today I was halfway through my goal when I wrote the line of dialogue “That was then, this is now.” Sound familiar? It did to me. That was a Monkees hit in the 80’s.

Ah, the Monkees, that silly made-for-TV 60’s group that actually churned out some good popular songs. I remember watching the show as a child, laughing at the antics of Mike, Davy, Peter, and Micky, and singing along to the opening theme (“Hey hey we’re the Monkees…). I hadn’t thought much about them recently until last month when Peter Tork passed away.

Maybe that still lingered in my mind when I wrote that line. I had a desire to stop writing (egad!) and  find the video for the song on YouTube. I did, and the next four minutes I was transported back to 1986 during their “reunion” tour (only Peter and Micky).

I didn’t need to slow down and stop writing, and certainly distractions while writing can be detrimental to progress. But we don’t need to go to extremes (another Billy Joel reference – yes!). Take a break every now and then, maybe to recharge, but certainly to remind yourself of this wonderful world around you, beyond the word in creation on the monitor.

Photo by Zach Meaney on Unsplash

Discipline

I’m about three-and-a-half weeks into a four-week exercise of discipline. I decided I would, for four weeks, not eat any processed food, dairy, and grains. With the exception of a couple of times when I slightly bent the rules when eating out (my wife and I celebrated the anniversary of our first date where we met, an Italian restaurant, so not eating a bit of bread or pasta was not an option), I have kept to the plan.

Part of the reason for doing this is physical. I set a goal not of losing weight but getting in a size smaller jeans. I have lost about four pounds and I can get into those pants (albeit not comfortably). I’ve also noticed that I’ve generally felt better as the period went on. Not unexpected, but certainly happy to have achieved that result.sean-mcclintock-789423-unsplash

The primary focus, though, was discipline. I wanted to exercise discipline because all too often it’s easy to slip once on a goal then falter to the weakness of having failed. For example, eating a bag of chips then leads to another, because the goal of avoiding junk food had not been achieved.

Discipline is one of the most important tools a writer has. We all set goals for daily word count or manuscript completion or publication date and on and on, but we can only achieve those lofty goals by maintaining the discipline of the little things. My lunch break today reminded me of this.

Normally, my creative writing time is early in the morning, be it a WIP or blogging. Today, though, it was well past noon before I could find any time to write. We all have days like that, but how we handle the effects of those days is what is important. I almost kicked my daily goal of 1,000 words to the curb. What difference does one day make? What difference does one bag of chips make?

You know the rest of the story. I focused on the task at hand and banged out my 1,000 words for my draft WIP during lunch. Conveniently, that exercise in discipline gave me a topic to keep up another discipline goal, blogging daily (except on weekends, I leave those days as optional). I strive for blog posts of 300-500 words and since I now just hit 385, this task too is done, thanks to exercising discipline.

Join our mailing list and receive a free download of my first novel Forgiveness! See BookHip.com/XFCCLN for details

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Change of Identity

I originally started this blog with the intention of creating a platform to share my journey as an indie author. My first post was over two years ago, a short hello to describe my hope that “my musings will provide my peers and others interested in the indie space information, comfort, and encouragement.”Capture

That goal has not changed, but I have. I have since released a third novel, which also is my first Christian novel. Leaving Darkness relates how one lost in depression finds a way to the light from the Christian faith. With its creation, I realized my calling is not just to create fiction, but Christian fiction with a purpose.

I don’t mean to imply that all Christian fiction doesn’t have a purpose, so perhaps that isn’t the correct way to state my calling. More accurately, I am drawn to write about heavy topics and show how following Christ leads to solutions. I’m not a preacher and never will be. However, what I think I am is a simple person with a somewhat modest gift for writing. That gift comes from God, and I need to follow His will for using it.

Hence the change of identity, or rebranding. I have changed the name of this blog from Second Chance Publishing (under which I self-published my first two novels) to Leaving Darkness, not just as a reference to my first Christian novel, but to describe what I hope to do with my future fiction writing. My next novel, in development stage, tackles abortion.

Another reason for the name change is that my next novel I plan to traditionally publish (at least that’s my thought at the moment). Therefore, the previous tagline “An indie author’s musings” becomes inaccurate. I’ve changed that to reflect where I’m at today: “A Christian Fiction Author’s Musings.”

This isn’t to say I won’t change again in the future. For that reason, I’m keeping the secondchancebook.wordpress.org domain. Who knows, maybe one day I’ll open a small Christian publishing house and name it Second Chance Publishing.

Novelette

I’ve never written a novelette before but read somewhere that creating one for a book is a great way to market a book and your brand. I’m working on building my email list, something honestly I should have done several years ago when I wrote my first book, Forgiveness. Live and learn.ben-white-197668-unsplash

I’m working on a new novel tentatively titled Fatherhood and will share more about that book as it develops. Childhood is the novelette I’m developing as a prequel to Fatherhood. Fatherhood is told from the father’s point of view (POV), while childhood from the mothers. Childhood, as the title implies, presents how the couple met as children and the development of their relationship through college.

My main purpose for writing Childhood is to have a freebie to give away in exchange for a mailing address to build my mailing list. I understand that agents and publishers look closely at that as part of the author’s platform (a term I did not know of until my first writer’s conference a week ago, the Mid South Christian Writers Conference). Therefore, my plan is to create this 10,000 word or so novelette (complete with professional editing of course), add a nice cover, and self-publish through Ingram Spark as I have done with several other works. It may even generate some revenue, but it’s email addresses I’m interested in.

As I’ve written the first draft the past few days (5000 words, so about half done) I’ve realized another important benefit. I’ve progressed significantly with the development of the characters and the world building. I see this as such an important offshoot of the novelette exercise that I will probably continue to do this for all of my future novels. When I began five days ago (my goal is 1,000 words on average per day, so I’m right on track) I didn’t even have names for the two main characters. Now I have that, their background, some personality traits, and a great foundation for the conflict that Fatherhood will create.

I’ll announce here when the novelette is available. I don’t have a timeline, as I need to ensure its quality and therefore don’t plan to rush its release. But the process of creating Childhood has certainly been positive and exciting.

Interested in a freebie now? Receive a free copy of Forgiveness at https://dl.bookfunnel.com/kc5ix83t35

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Time to Write

What is your best time to write? Without doubt, I find the early morning to be when my creative juices flow best. I’m not sure why that is, but I’m sure it’s in part due to being a morning person. I routinely wake up before 5 AM and am often in the office before seven. Incidentally, this is a complete flip from my college years. I joke that now I wake up around the time I used to go to sleep.federico-respini-314377-unsplash

I have daily writing goals measured in words, as with most authors, when I’m working on a novel. For me, since I have a full-time job (I own a small virtual CISO firm), I don’t have the luxury of time to have lofty goals of 5,000 words or more. No, for me if I can reach 1,000, on average, for weekday mornings that’s fine. Weekends I relax my goals somewhat; if family time permits, I’ll get in some time to lay down words, but if not, that’s fine. Balance is key.

Sometimes people assume that my job is highly technical but that’s not the case. Yes, there are technical elements for sure, but more so I focus on strategy and my clients’ business goals, not the minutia of what most people think about with regard to information security (firewalls, antivirus, and so on). At times I’m called on to invoke my writing skills as well, mostly when crafting policies and assessment reports. However, I  don’t get a chance to exercise my creative side, at least not in the creating fiction sense.

I think that’s a prime reason why I am a morning writer. By the time I’m thinking about, say,  how the GDPR may affect a client’s operation, my brain has shifted its creativity to security and privacy strategic mode. It’s more difficult for me to shift to creative writing in the middle of the day than to start at it fresh in the morning. Plus, and I have no proof to back this up, just a feeling, creative writing to start the day seems to fuel my mind for the other security and privacy tasks at hand.

Therefore, I try to block the first hour I arrive at my office for creative writing. It’s quiet as I’m usually one of the first to arrive at my office suite. I don’t have the distractions of writing at the home office. So long as I can resist the urge to check work email, if I can give myself an hour of uninterrupted time before tackling the day’s duties, I usually meet (or often exceed) the 1,000 word goal.

I wonder if a study has been performed to see when fiction writers prefer to practice their craft, and why – anyone know?

Photo by Federico Respini on Unsplash

Situational Awareness

Last night I did something dumb. I left the gas on one of our stove’s burners. No flame, just a low leak of natural gas. Fortunately my wife realized it a bit later, and after airing out the house just to be sure we resumed our normal lives.vidar-nordli-mathisen-544139-unsplash

Except that I have a fear of dementia. I don’t have a family had the history of it but I wondered out loud to my wife if this is how it begins. We talked about it for awhile and eventually chalked it up to absent-mindedness.

I tend to be absent-minded those times when I’m distracted, either externally (such as with the case of the stove) or internally (if I’m thinking about a plot twist, for example). These are normal situations that we all live with and through. Yet I had another epiphany at the gym yesterday that makes me think more is involved.

I was near the end of my workout, sitting on the triceps machine, staring at my phone, reading some article on some news site I don’t recall. I spent the time between sets reading random stuff because I had forgotten my headphones. My usual distraction is to listen to a podcast, talk radio, music (80’s or Christian usually), or an audio Bible. I couldn’t do that, so I filled my head with random reading.

I  had a sudden desire to put the phone down and just soak in the atmosphere at my local YMCA. I was a bit surprised how crowded the workout area had become since I had started about 45 minutes earlier. Our veterinarian was on a rowing machine. Who else was there that I may know and ignored?

I think that in the age of having constant information on our hips we have lost some of our situational awareness ability. Like any muscle or skill, if you don’t use it you’ll lose it, to a point. Perhaps my situational awareness skills have atrophied to the point where minor distractions can prevent me from noticing things such as a stove top burner not shut off properly.

Perhaps this also affects writing. Is it possible that we can fill our brain with so much garbage information that we affect its other functions, such as creativity?

I don’t believe I’m experiencing early dementia, but rather the effects from letting my situational awareness skills weaken. I plan to reverse that, meaning less reading about subjects that I really cannot influence much and cause great stress (such as politics) and more just staying in the now, soaking in the environment I’m in at any and every given moment. Maybe, just maybe, that will help my writing as well.

Photo by Vidar Nordli-Mathisen on Unsplash

The Next Project

(Below is from the About Me section)

I am a Christian, husband, father (to rescue dogs), veteran, and information security executive consultant. I write Christian novels about tough subjects and how God’s grace can lead us out of those situations to live the lives we are meant to live, usually from the male point of view. I am seeking an agent.

I wrote my first novel in high school. 0It sits in some nondescript box in my basement in its original form on various types of ruled paper. Then, I’d write using whatever I had available, including spiral notebooks. I always hated the messy edges tearing a page produced (however, I am by no means a connoisseur of neatness). That novel, The Balance of Power, dealt with a topic as weighty as the title and too heavy for a teenager, a Soviet internal takeover of the United States. One day I will read it again – and cringe.

I always seemed to have a project in mind, and when not thinking about a manuscript I drafted poetry. It’s not that I particularly liked poetry – I didn’t. In fact, I would probably say then I hated it. But I did like songs and envisioned each “poem” as the next Bruce Springsteen hit.

The second manuscript idea was also one over my head, another national emergency with the glorious title American Terrorist. I abandoned, or at least put on hold the idea because I thought the premise was not realistic. Then Oklahoma City happened. Rather ironically, during the time I pondered creating this novel, I drove past Timothy McVeigh’s house every day on the way to work. That one never made it past a few chicken scratch pages, likely also on spiral notebook paper and now having long returned to its elements in some landfill.

Novel attempt number three began in 1991 as a method to deal with my divorce. I found myself fantasizing about “what if” scenarios. What if we hadn’t married early? What could I have done differently to prevent the pain I struggled with daily? I needed to live that fantasy, at least through writing. I wrote in the basement wood-paneled bedroom of my post-divorce house I shared with three others, I wrote during lunch at work in my cubicle, and anywhere I could find a few free minutes away from the world.

After a couple of years, a move to the south, and recovering from divorce depression, I touted what I thought was a finished masterpiece of time travel and romance. I took a community education course on becoming published and excitedly wrote query letters to the dozens of agents whose contact information the instructor had provided as part of the class materials. I’d be having to make the hard choice of choosing which agent to represent Second Chance soon, I was sure.

Then they came. Rejection after rejection after rejection. One had the gall to tell me I should change the protagonist from male to female. Ha! This was my work, my life. No one would tell me what to write.

And so that manuscript returned to storage, likely in the same nondescript coffin for The Balance of Power. A few times over the next 15 years or so I attempted to resurrect it but the crushing realization that no one would want to publish Second Chance discouraged me from going further. My passion was meaningful writing, not crafting useless query letters.

Then a conversation with a colleague in 2012 changed that. He worked for Ingram and mentioned their new product called Ingram Spark, a complete self-publishing platform. At last, I could get my book published, even if not traditionally. My spark (no pun intended) for writing had returned.

I set about reviewing the manuscript, at first anticipating only a few tweaks and then this masterpiece would be available for all. Much had changed though since those sad basement days, and the original story seemed, well, bland. And mushy. And cutesy. Even the title evoked images of a Harlequin romance paperback. I was no Fabio, nor was I a romance writer. Minor tweaks became major rewrites.

I needed a lesson, but what? What was I passionate about? I didn’t spend too much time on this, as I knew the answer. Abortion is a much-debated issue, but to me abortion for convenience is murder. No one speaks for the child, but I could through this book. Second Chance became Forgiveness, and soon I joined the ranks of gazillions of other indie authors with a book available on Amazon.

My nativity hit again. I thought that simply by listing on Amazon and a few tweets coupled with a basic web page ensured sales success. While many who read the book offered very positive feedback, the truth is sales were close to non-existent. I had to do something to market the first book and in the process made in hindsight a bad decision. I immediately began another book, buying into the concept that the best way to market a book was to write another, and ignored all other marketing opportunities.

That was the beginning of my list of mistakes. In crafting Temptations of the Innocent, I created such a complicated world comprising of this life and a fictionalized (certainly not Biblically based) version of the afterlife. I didn’t stop there, adding in an antagonist who is pure evil (if not the devil himself) and a Soviet plot to infiltrate the Catholic church. I like to write about weighty subjects, remember? Sprinkle in a span of 80 years and several continents with a few historical events and figures (one character meets President Reagan), and you have a recipe for disaster.

Perhaps disaster is not the right descriptor. Temptations of the Innocent is (in my non-objective opinion of course) a well-thought out and intertwined story that tells the backstory of Forgiveness. Everything fits together and lays the groundwork for the planned third novel Redemption, the sequel to Forgiveness. It is just too complex a story. I didn’t market the book at all (see my marketing efforts for Forgiveness), and sales reflected that.

I was left exhausted and with no desire to write anything further, let alone the sequel. Then in January of 2017, I received a God nudge to pick up the pen again. I sketched out a three-act story on a piece of paper that would tell the story of healing through small group ministries. I had at that time been involved with one such ministry for several years and was very passionate about it, having seen firsthand the positive changes this eight-week group had on people willing to change.

I accepted God’s assignment and began to plan the story. I was determined not to repeat the mistakes of the first two novels. This one would follow a simple arc but would involve a weighty topic, necessary to show healing. I chose depression and began creating my third novel, Leaving Darkness.

This time, I did not self-publish solo though Ingram but rather contracted with WestBow (the assisted self-publishing division of Thomas Nelson). I worked with an independent development editor, a worthwhile expense. My goal for sales was not income but to get this in the hands of those struggling with depression so they may realize the path to healing through God’s grace, so I wanted this story to be the absolute best it could be. Leaving Darkness was published in the fall of 2018.