How the Hell Can You Write If You Don’t Read?

Maybe one of you can talk me off the ledge. I was sitting with some of the members of my writing group the other night, and I innocently asked who everyone was reading at the moment. Fully half the people at the table gave me some variation of, “Oh I don’t read much these days,” or “I haven’t read a book since college.”

What in the name of Robert Ludlum is going on? I thought all writers, especially fiction writers, were voracious bookworms. Apparently I”m living in a fool’s paradise. But seriously, how can you write well if you don’t read widely?

I’m not even talking about the “great books.” I know a lot of people who got turned off to older works in college and never came back. But I’m a big believer that reading anything–even the stuff I lovingly (and jokingly) refer to as crap–is invaluable for a writer.

I know this is a thing. A good friend of mine in Chicago has three pretty good novels out in the world and hasn’t read anything written after nineteen sixy- four or has over two hundred pages. It wouldn’t kill him to read a book that isn’t a pulp-detective-crime novel, but hey, I’m not his mom.

I look at genre books as a gateway drug. As a kid, my first introduction to adult work was Classics Illustrated Comics. Frankenstein, Ivanhoe, The Three Musketeers were all brought into my world in inked panels. From there it was an easy step to the real thing.

Reading my dad’s cold-war spy novels like Ludlum and Van Lustbader (which nobody will ever confuse with great literature, but they amused the hell out of me and if you talk smack about them I’ll fight you) led me to Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky.

As an adult my reading, especially fiction, slacked off. But when I decided to try writing stories again, beginning with Count of the Sahara, I went back to school

First stop was Esquire’s list of 80 Books Every Man Should Read. While I’d read a fair number of them already, I worked my way through the list. Some, like Winters Tale, I never expected to like but I loved and learned a ton about descriptive writing. (I wish I loved my wife, my daughter or the Blackhawks as much as Mark Helprin loves New York City, just saying.)

Some of those books I hated and swore never to inflict writing like that on a reader, which is a valuable lesson.

Then I started reading genres I haven’t really read before. Nobody believes me that I’m now a sucker for epic fantasy like Robin Hobb, but there’s actually a lot historical fiction writers can learn about world-building from fantasy writers. It’s also, you know, fun. Nothing wrong with that. And a lot of those folks can write circles around more respected literary authors.

Lately, I’ve been challenging myself to read writers from other countries in translation. I am a sucker for Spanish authors like Arturo Perez-Reverte and Carlos Ruiz Zafon as well as the Cuban Leonardo Padura. The Korean writer Un-Su Kim’s The Plotters rocked my world.

I’m not a snob, I”m just trying to learn my craft from people more successful than I. It was the same doing standup. If a newbie on an amateur night couldn’t go further back than Pryor or Carlin, I didn’t think they were serious. If they could talk Jack Benny, Fred Allen and Alan King, we could hang.

Film and TV are great ways to learn plot, pacing, and action, but writing–fiction writing–is a very specific and demanding art.

There’s be no Count of the Sahara without Rafael Sabatini, and no Acre’s Orphans without Kipling.

What do you all think? Am I wrong? Am I just an old geezer and this is the literary version of “get off my lawn?” Talk me off the ledge!

I’m On the Radio- The Internet is the Author’s Friend

Most of you probably don’t know what little formal education I do have consists of an Associates degree in Broadcast Journalism from BCIT. I love the medium of radio. I was recently interviewed for the Aspects of Writing radio program. The topic was: The Internet is the Author’s Friend. Lord knows it’s mine…

Listen to the show here:

In this wide-ranging and somewhat insane interview we cover doing research for historical fiction, getting the word out about your book, why dinosaurs changed my life, and how the internet is both a frightening time suck and the best way for indie authors to network and share their work with a readership.

Thanks to James Kelly and Joyce Kaye Gatschenberger for letting me ramble.

Where did Lucca the Louse Come From?

No doubt by now you are aware that Acre’s Orphans will be published on January 28th. Many of you are familiar with its hero, Lucca le Pou (or Lucca the Louse for those of you who don’t speak French.) He’s a popular little guy, and a number of people ask me how I came up with him.

Put simply, Lucca started as a fun idea, and was finally created out of horrible tragedy. It’s probably a story worth sharing, and very few of you will have heard this one. So it started here:

Me in Jerusalem, about 2007

This is me standing in the old city of Jerusalem in November of 2008 on the site of the Hospital of St John… the Hospitallers for those of you who follow such things. As I stood there, thinking all kinds of Crusadery thoughts, I kept asking myself, “what the hell were they thinking?”

The Crusades have always held a fascination for me. I’m a sucker for knights and jousting and swords are always cooler than guns. So I tried to imagine what would make someone travel halfway around the world to fight in a war that, to my modern mind, makes no sense at all. Especially the battle of Hattin. What the hell makes someone do that? And what must it have been like for people who weren’t nobility or churchmen– the average folks? I figured there was a story there, but I couldn’t figure out what it was. Acre’s Bastard originally started as the tale of a Hospitaller knight, and it wasn’t particularly inspiring, given that most of them would be slaughtered at the end.

Then this picture flashed around the world.

This picture of 5-year-old Omran Daqneesh was from 2016 when Russian bombs fell on the Syrian city of Aleppo. Aleppo is about 300 miles from Acre, and was a constant scene of battle even back in the 1100s.

Omran Daqneesh is the original Lucca

I couldn’t get the idea out of my head that children had been dying in wars in the region since the beginning of our history, and it just gets uglier and more vicious. That led me to think about other stories of children caught up in war. I was much more interested in the civilians than the knights and nobility. What would it be like for a child back then. If Lucca was a bit older, you know who he reminded me of???

One of my favorite stories is Kim by Rudyard Kipling. An orphan caught up in wartime, befriending soldiers and living on his wits. If you haven’t read it, you’re missing out.

So, I made him more like one of my favorite characters

And so, I imagined Lucca as old enough to not be traumatized like young Omran, and not old enough to actually have to fight, and there you have it.

Now he’s on his second adventure, Acre’s Orphans. There are still lepers, knights, spies, and swordplay. There will be tears and, yes, a lot of laughs.

Check out the new book when it’s published on January 28th. It is available to pre-order on Kindle and the paperback will be available by January 20th.

Of course, if you haven’t read Acre’s Bastard yet, get on it!

My latest short story- The Towel- is on Storgy.com

My latest published short story, “The Towel,” has been put into the world by one of my favorite fiction sites, Storgy.com. It’s a tale of boxing and blood, both literal and metaphorical. I am really proud of it, and I’d be honored if you’d read and spread the word. TAKE A LOOK  HERE

I don’t know what it is about the fight game that inspires these short pieces, but this is the third pugilism-based story I’ve done in the last couple of years. The first was based on a real-life incident, “Bayamon, 1974,” and published in the Irish journal, Dodging the Rain. (For the record, Storgy accepted this one too but DTR had already accepted it for publication.) READ THE STORY ON THEIR SITE

Image result for Los Angeles, 1952The final entry is a story I love and have never found a home for. Also history-based, “Los Angeles, 1952” is a tale of boxing, old Hollywood and a first date that may or may not be going well. The only place it has a home is on Scriggler.com (which is the online elephant graveyard for pieces I couldn’t place anywhere else) and my site here. CHECK IT OUT AND SHARE IT IF YOU LIKE IT.

If you’re new to my work, welcome. If you’ve been a patient reader, you don’t know how much I appreciate you. The new novel, Acre’s Bastard, is set for January. Get on my email list and you’ll learn more as soon as I do.

Thanks for following me, and I hope to keep giving you reasons to stick around.

Don’t let the weasels get you down.

2 Stiffs Writing Historical Fiction

One of my favorite things about being a writer is connecting with other writers, and one of my favorite literary humans lately is Jeffrey K Walker, author of “None of Us the Same” and “Truly are the Free”.

Two Stiffs Writing Hist Fic (Part the Second)

He’s taken it upon himself to share some of our correspondence in a running feature on his blog called “Two Stiffs Writing Historical Fiction.” If you’d like a peek inside the minds of two guys who are trying to figure out the whole “writing about the past” thing, take a  look.

Here’s this month’s edition

And the first conversation we had.

“Last Good Cigar Day of the Year” was Scriggler’s Story of the Day

 

My little writing exercise, “The Last Good Cigar Day of the Year” was the “Story of the Day” on Scriggler.com. You can read it on the Scriggler site, along with the kind comments from total strangers. Yes, my neurotic need for approval from complete strangers is in full roar right now as I search for a publisher for my new novel. I’ll take this gladly….

scrigglercigarday

Now you can read it on my site with the rest of my smaller pieces. Look under Short Stories or click here

From the Silly Dreams Come True Department- Writer’s Digest

Like many fledgling writers, I have spent a lot of years reading Writers Digest. From the early 80s til last month, I would read the articles and think, “Man, you must really know what you’re doing to get an article published. Wish I could.”

Know what? It happened. November 23rd’s Online Edition, Brian Klems’ column has an article by yours truly: “6 Ways Standup Comedy Can Make You a Better Writer”

 

Hey, I'm in Writers Digest just like a real writer.
Hey, I’m in Writers Digest just like a real writer.

Fact is, while 15 years of my life looks like a black hole on my business resume, nothing has prepared me in life like the time I spent telling jokes to drunk people for a living. I’m happy to have shared the lessons learned with other writers.

Has anything really changed as a result? Probably not. I may have sold a few more copies of Count of the Sahara (in Kindle, of course, because other writers are as broke as I am.) Am I a better writer for having done this? Did I make any money on it? Did my ego really need more reinforcing that doesn’t actually improve my lot in life? The answers to all those are a big old no.

The weird part? Someone out there is reading that, envying me. Life is strange, huh?

 

7 Days in July- Revisiting the Civil War with Kenneth A Griffiths

I may be the only person in America not obsessed with the Civil War, but a good story is a good story. 7 Days in July is a new work from Kennneth A Griffiths. I interviewed him about the book and what inspired it.

So what’s the Ken Griffiths story?

KAG Photo 001 (1)
Ken A Griffiths , author of 7 Days in July

Born in Iowa, raised in central Florida, military school for 2 years in Atlanta, Florida State University, accepted into US Army Judge Advocate General’s Corps for many years. I declined selection for early promotion to Major, left active duty.  Hired by The Coca-Cola Company, passed Ga. bar exam, held 5 legal/management positions over the

next 11 years, resigned and became a commercial real estate broker first with a large national company , then a company in which I was a founder.  Remained in Army Reserves and retired as a Colonel. I’m married, three adult children and 4 granddaughters, all of whom are in or near Atlanta.

In a nutshell, what’s the story of 7 Days in July?

This book tells the story of the Battle of Atlanta during the Civil War

The book, “Seven Days In July” tells the story of the 7 days leading up to and including July 22, 1864, on which “the Battle of Atlanta” took place.  The history is as good as I could make it and,  I used fiction, hopefully informed, to illuminate otherwise dark, unknowable corners of history.  The story is balanced and is seen and told by men on both sides and at different levels of rank.  An effort was made to understand motivation as well as behavior.  Reader’s comments indicate some success in that regard.

Especially when it comes to the American Civil War, everyone has their own motivation for writing. What’s yours?
When I was 10 or so years old my paternal grandfather died.  As part of his estate, a box arrived at our house containing 2 civil war swords, a double barreled shotgun, a telescope, a drinking cup and a likeness of a man in uniform.  Additionally a 10 volume set of the “Photographic History of the Civil War” was in the box.  I had never seen a sword, knew nothing of Captain Henry H. Griffiths and had never seen photographs like those contained in the books.  My Dad served in WWII but never spoke of it, we were a non-warlike family, these things from the box were the stuff of fancy to a boy of 10.  These material items planted  an interest in family, genealogy, reading, history, patriotism and the law.  I discovered Captain Griffiths, my great grandfather, had fought in the Atlanta campaign and I set out to discover where he and the First Iowa Battery were located during the summer of 1864.  He makes an appearance or two in the book and served as a catalyst and inspiration for the story but it is not his story in any meaningful way.
Without giving away spoilers, what’s a favorite scene in the book?
My favorite is a fictional account of the death of Confederate General and division commander, William Walker.  The death of fiery, old Walker may well have been a costly turning point for the south as the attack by Hardee’s Corps jumps off.
Where can people find your work and your book?
You can find me and the book at Amazon or on the Indigo River Publishing web site at Seven Days in July | Kenneth A. Griffiths

So, Hotshot, who’s publishing your book?

When I announced that my first novel, “Pith Helmets in the Snow” was going to be published, I got a lot of questions about who the publisher was.  The answer, is TheBookFolks in the UK.

I have two reasons for telling you this:

First, I swore I wouldn’t self-publish my first novel. And I’m not–quit asking.

I have nothing against self-publishing. In fact, two of my best selling books are self-published. There’s a part of me that’s all about “death to the middleman and seize the means of production,” and all that. But I swore with my first attempt at a novel, I wanted someone other than my blood relatives to think I could write. I wanted an agent and a “big six” book deal. If not that, at least a “real” publisher.

Basically, I wanted someone I wasn’t related to validating my talent. I also know that my ego basically demands someone kick my butt in the editing process to have the best possible outcome. Left to my own devices, my book would be an embarrassing wreck.

While I didn’t find an agent, I did find a publisher who really believes in the book, sells books all over the world, and who seems to be hoodwinked into thinking I can write. A thousand blessings on his house and camels.

Secondly, I want to introduce you to the company I’m keeping.

The first thing I did after sending Erik the full manuscript was to check out the other writers in his stable. I can tell you that I’m in good company.  I have read a lot of indie books lately, and most of them are abysmal. There isn’t one of the four I read that didn’t “deserve” to find readers, although some I enjoyed more than others. That’s what reading is about, right?

More than that, I am proud to be in their company. Thought I’d just share them with you.

Only 24 and she can write circles around me. If you like Arthurian fantasy ( I do) and hot sex (no comment) you’ll enjoy the first book in what will be a great trilogy.

 

A creepy action thriller set in Britain.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A creepy Sci-fi murder mystery set in Australia. Never read one of those, have you?

A crime thriller spanning 50 years of British life. Really dug the tone and the twists.

 

So there you have it. I hope that answers the question and helps you find some new authors to check out.

Don’t let the weasels get ya down.

JR Lindermuth and History From the Pennsylvania Coal Mines

This is the first of many interviews to come with indie/small press authors of Historical Fiction. Our first guest is JR (or John, or Jack, he answers to all of them) Lindermuth, author of Watch The Hour.

Author JR Lindermuth, author of Watch The Hours
Author JR Lindermuth, author of Watch The Hours

He is a retired newspaper editor and currently librarian of his county historical society where he assists patrons with genealogy and research. He is the author of 14 novels and a regional history. He is a member of International Thriller Writers and currently serves as vice president of the Short Mystery Fiction Society.

So in a nutshell, what’s the book about?

In the 1870s in Pennsylvania ’s anthracite coal region, mine owners and their employees, particularly the Irish immigrants, are in conflict over working conditions. Private police forces commissioned by the state but paid by the coal companies are sworn to protect property of the mine owners.

Ben Yeager is one of these police officers. He does his best to follow orders while trying to be fair to the workers whose lot he sees as little different from his own. Despite his efforts at fairness, his job makes him the enemy of the Irish, and that’s the cruz of his troubles…. Ben is in love with an Irish girl.

What is it about this time period you find so fascinating?

I grew up in the coal region and many of my ancestors worked in the mines. A few even served as “coalies” (as these police were known). I write a weekly history column for two area papers and have published a regional history (Digging Dusky Diamonds) about the lives of the miners and their families in the 19th and 20th centuries.

So, hook us. What’s a scene in the book you think is pivotal?

A pivotal scene in the novel is when Ben is beaten into unconsciousness and laid out to be killed on the railroad tracks, an attack immediately attributed to the Irish. Without identifying the actual culprits, the incident is important because it solidifies once and for all the love between Ben and Jennie.

Sounds great. How can people find out more about you and your work?

My blog is http://jrlindermuth.blogspot.com/. 

My Amazon page  https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/1005496.J_R_Lindermuth

Goodreads https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/1005496.J_R_Lindermuth

Twitter @jrlindermuth Facebook http://www.facebook.com/john.lindermuth

Check out his work, and support the work of indie and small press writers everywhere. Do you know of someone we should feature in this blog? Drop me a line or put it in the comments below.