Are You Writing Because You Like It?

September 1, 2016

renaissance-centerThe Renaissance Center – GM World Headquarters on the Detroit River.

Eight years and six months ago I was sitting in my cubicle by the window high in the 400 Tower of the Renaissance Center in downtown Detroit, waiting for my professional writing career to begin.

In truth, it wasn’t the beginning of a career. It felt more like the end of one … and I was far from certain I was doing the right thing.

It was a chilly March morning on the river, and I had just signed the papers indicating my acceptance of an early retirement offer from General Motors, effective the first of April.

I’d originally been hired to produce the GM annual report, and that was my main responsibility for almost twenty years. It kept me busy from September to March. Days were routinely 12-16 hours long.

The rest of the year I considered peaceful … I only worked ten-hour days … producing a host of other material, from news releases to technical journals. I even produced a newspaper GM circulated to all domestic employees (at the time, that was about 800,000).

Occasionally, I was allowed to write an article for the paper. When I did, I wove storytelling elements into it. My editor didn’t care for that, but our VP liked them, which made all the difference. He didn’t allow the articles to be changed. I even got a byline.

In nearly three decades with GM I had many assignments, all dealing with communications and marketing. I even got to create and lead an early group that dealt with designing the new communications tool that appeared in the mid-90s … functional web sites.

But by then I was managing people, not creating a thing.

On my last GM assignment, I wasn’t even doing that. As Marketing Operations Manager, I was a group of one … responsible for reporting to our VP on how well brand teams used their advertising budgets.

It was not something guaranteed to make friends. In fact, except for the time I had to tell 30+ people they didn’t have a job any more, it was the most disheartening work I’d ever had to do.

That chilly March day in 2008, although there was a lot on my mind, none of it was about writing. I was tired of what I did. I wanted out.

Decisions
My main concern after deciding to leave boiled down to these few words: What am I going to do with the rest of my life?

Given what’s happened since, you might think leaving to write fiction would seem like a natural choice to make. After all, I’ve enjoyed it and played around with it since I was seventeen.

But it wasn’t. A natural, I mean.

I wanted to keep working in a creative capacity for a few years … but thanks to some really bonehead moves by our President at the time (G.W. Bush), by mid-2008 our economy faced its most dangerous crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s. There was no other work of any kind to be had … anywhere.

So, with nothing else to do, I wrote.

I’d written lots of stories, but the decent markets for short stories were becoming smaller by the day. I decided if I was really going to write fiction, I had to write a novel.

I took some of the earlier things I’d done and expanded them to create a novel about kids in a fictional town during the tumultuous Vietnam era, trying to capture the essence of what it felt like to grow up back then in a small, working-class community.

That’s how REICHOLD STREET was born.

Then in June 2009, right about the time GM filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy (making my decision to leave seem clairvoyant), I began searching for an agent, since none of the main publishing houses would even talk to me without one.

It was a decidedly painful experience.

After almost two years of getting essentially nowhere, I finally decided to produce the book myself. I thought I was getting too old to wait for the publishing gods to smile on me.

It was the right thing to do. People liked it. It won a Readers’ Favorite Gold Medal and was reviewed positively by Kirkus Reviews.

I Like What I Do
For years I had been asked to plainly state facts in a way the audience could quickly grasp. You know … the who, what, when, where and how kind of writing most journalists learn, along with the AP Stylebook.

Boring stuff. Which is why I snuck storytelling elements into as many articles as I could.

Now I get to play with ambiguity and nuance, dialogue and metaphor. If you’re a writer you know what I’m talking about … making something out of nothing … the things that make writing fiction interesting.

I’ve published six books so far, including four award winners. That includes my latest novel, BLOOD LAKE, which was just named a Bronze Medal Winner in the 2016 Readers’ Favorite competition (Young Adult Horror) … and, more importantly, I like what I do.

Funny thing is … the work part of it is a lot like the other writing I used to do … only harder. I still have to do a lot of research, but it goes far beyond who, what, when, where and how.

I have to investigate local and world history, politics and religion, semantics, period jargon and dress styles, and specific-location weather. Not to mention period music, literature, radio and television shows, period magazines, local attractions and sometimes even plant species, all to help create an accurate sense of place.

But I don’t feel like I’m wasting anyone’s time … including my own. I’m not making tons of money … but I’m enjoying myself … and I’ve decided that’s what it was always about anyway.

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On Saturday, October 8, 2016, I’ll be attending the fabulous Ninth Annual Rochester Writers Conference at Oakland University.

On Sunday, October 23, 2016, I’ll be signing books from 11:00am-5:00pm at the Books & Authors Event at Leon & Lulu in Clawson, Michigan (96 W. 14 Mile).

On November 19, 2016, I’ll be in attendance at the Readers Favorite award ceremony at the Regency Hotel in Miami.

On December 3, 2016, I’ll be signing books from 1:00-4:00 pm at the annual “Giving Season” event at the Orion Township Public Library (825 Joslyn Rd).

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My books have all garnered some terrific reviews and you can see the ones I have available by using the Amazon link below. Look for them. Better yet, buy one and read it. You just might like it.

buy now amazon

You’re invited to visit my web site, BROKEN GLASS, or
like my Book of Face page. You can find me on Goodreads, or follow
some of my shorter ramblings on The Twitter.
 
If you’ve written an interesting book too, consider submitting it to the Readers Favorite annual contest by using the banner link below.
What do you have to lose?

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Comments posted below will be read, greatly appreciated and perhaps even answered.

Are Your Monsters Memorable?

August 8, 2016

black-hand
 
There have been a couple of dark characters in my recent books. Real monsters. It seems almost counter-intuitive, but writing about them was actually a lot of fun.

I’m sure we all think we know about monsters. They lurk in dark corners and come out when everyone is asleep. We see their shadows at the end of a street where the lamps are broken. We feel them watching us, hidden by the gloom.

A lot of people imagine aliens, ogres and demons, but you don’t have to write sci-fi or fantasy to have monsters.

For instance, when people say Stephen King is strictly a horror writer they are totally missing the point (or else they’ve never read anything he’s done). His best stories are not about monsters.

They’re about people.

Take Something Normal and Twist It
As Edgar Allan Poe said, “The scariest monsters are the ones that lurk within our souls…”

As authors, we want people talking about our characters long after they’ve read the story. We want those characters seared into our readers’ brains, making our stories unforgettable.

So how do we create characters that leave such lasting marks?

Truly terrifying fictional characters mix the trivial and mundane with the grotesque in a way that both entices and terrifies … and writers have been doing it for a long, long time.

Hesiod, in the Theogony (700BC), took an unusual old woman living alone, replaced her hair with snakes, gave her gaze the power to turn men into stone, and created the horrifying legend of Medusa.

Likewise, Horace (65BC–8BC) wrote down the oral legends about a bull with the torso of a man, living in a maze, with a craving for human flesh … and the Minotaur entered our literature.

In the modern era, an intellectual forensic psychiatrist with a taste for human flesh became the cannibalistic serial killer, Dr. Hannibal Lector, in Thomas Harris’ Silence of the Lambs.

To build such great fictional characters, those authors started with an everyday thing, then twisted it and made it memorable by adding something that makes readers almost want to turn away.

Almost … but not quite.

Play On Existing Fears
The good news is, there’s no need to create new fears when there are so many that already exist. We simply need to ask ourselves what are we afraid of? – and build the monster from there.

We usually feel safe in our churches, or in our homes behind locked windows and doors. Yet, secretly, we’re afraid our castle (or our faith) isn’t as strong as we think. Fear comes when there is something in the night that can breach our walls.

When I wrote about the insane Shadow Man in One Way Street, or the evil Micah, in Street Light, I played on this fear by having them attack people in their places of safety.

Show Us Something About Ourselves
We also need to ask ourselves what our characters say about us as a species. The very best monster characters hold up a mirror and reveal something horrible. When they do, they are truly terrifying.

H.G. Wells, in The Time Machine, used his Morlocks to show the terrible nature of social classes. His characters reveal that making some part of our society subservient, as we often do, is more than just a case of rich and poor. It’s a fundamental flaw in the character of our species … that will ultimately lead to our destruction.

Draw on your own experiences to create memorable stories. Twist normal people into outrageous beasts … and in doing so you’ll create characters that will lurk in the dark shadows of your reader’s imagination long after the book is closed.

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Goodreads Book Giveaway

Blood Lake by R.L. Herron

Blood Lake

by R.L. Herron

Giveaway ends August 31, 2016.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

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My books have all garnered some terrific reviews and you can see the ones I have available by using the Amazon link below. Look for them. Better yet, buy one and read it. You just might like it.

buy now amazon

You’re invited to visit my web site, BROKEN GLASS, or
like my Book of Face page. You can find me on Goodreads, or follow
some of my shorter ramblings on The Twitter.

**********

Comments posted below will be read, greatly appreciated and perhaps even answered.


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