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Thoughts About Writing a Novel

I’m one month away from publishing my next novel and it got me thinking about how I got here. Although I had written a novel and two-thirds of another back in the 80’s, their drafts sit gathering dust in a closet. I began writing in earnest when I retired at the end of 2011. And here I am, with two novels, two books of short stories, and soon a third novel.

I’m beginning to think that writing, like raising children, takes a village. Where would I be now without the help of people in the Northwest Independent Writers Association–Roslyn McFarland, Jennifer Willis, Jamie McCracken, Lee French, Pam Cowan, Jonathan Eaton, April Aasheim, Larry Powers, among others? Or friends at Goodreads, including Ginger Bensman, David Rose, Michael Gardner, and others? My monthly critique group, the Salem branch of Willamette Writers, and the weekly library group, Writers Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow are also a part of the community that supports me.

The gestation period of my new novel is just about nine months to the day. I’m giving birth again, this time on Halloween! Who woulda thought? And it began in the early days of last February with a simple incident: I went hunting for agates with my daughter’s family on the Oregon coast. That’s all I knew–I had no outline for a story, no idea where it was going to go, no plot. I just wrote about a man trying to find agates, all the while keeping a wary eye out for sneaker waves. Then I found out he was a widower and a college professor. Shortly after that, I discovered he knew the college professor who had committed murder in my short story “Eye of Newt.” Oh my goodness! I hadn’t seen that coming! But that’s how it grew. And I realized that the murderer had to get his comeuppance after escaping the clutches of Officer Whitehorse in the short story. After all, I couldn’t help but remember Alfred Hitchcock assuring his audience that crime doesn’t pay just after the troubled housewife who had murdered her husband with a frozen leg of lamb roasts it and serves it to the policemen investigating the case!

So there we are. I’m pleased with the way the novel came out, and I’m very happy with the cover. I hope it keeps you up reading way past your bedtime!

Here’s the link to pre-order it: Woman in the Waves.

New Book Cover

Dear Friends,

My apologies for neglecting to stay in touch. I have quite literally been devoting all my spare time (with the exception of my movie time!) to my new novel, which I hope to publish by the end of the year. Though I am still in the rewrite/revise/edit phase, I went ahead and hired Roslyn McFarland (farlandspub@gmail.com) to create a cover for me. I give her my highest recommendation. She is a joy to work with, amazingly affordable, and very good at what she does. Here’s a first look:

 

Movie Review: Netflix Series “13 Reasons Why”

Seventy-five years ago, the French philosopher Albert Camus wrote, “Living, naturally, is never easy. You continue making the gestures commanded by existence for many reasons, the first of which is habit. Dying voluntarily implies that you have recognized, even instinctively, the ridiculous character of that habit, the absence of any profound reason for living, the insane character of that daily agitation, and the uselessness of suffering. . . . in a universe suddenly divested of illusions and lights, man feels an alien, a stranger. His exile is without remedy since he is deprived of the memory of a lost home or the hope of a promised land.” (The Myth of Sisyphus).

When 13 Reasons Why begins, Hannah has already taken her life. Before doing so, however, she made 13 audio tapes, each addressed to a person who contributed to her untimely demise, through acts of omission or commission, neglect or bullying. Each of those people must listen to all the tapes and then pass them on to the next person on the list. What unfolds is a gripping mystery, unraveling the sometimes casual insensitivity, sometimes brutal crime that is the stuff of relationships. It is a journey into everyday darkness, a descent into a world without redemption. And it all takes place in a high school.

It seems that the older we get, the easier it can be to dismiss the upheavals of adolescence. We belittle the pain by calling it “teenage angst” or “drama.” We’ll say things like, “How bad can it be? Their parents pay all the bills, put a roof over their heads, clothes on their backs, food in their bellies.” This series is the antidote to such inane sentiments.

Over the course of 13 insightful episodes, we meet a group of adolescents who range from the shy and decent, to the bold and criminal. If you are a high school teacher or guidance counselor, you should watch this series. Your students are already talking about it. If you are a mental health therapist, you owe it to yourself and your patients to see it. But it is not a program for the squeamish. The graphic scenes of rape and suicide (without the slightest bit of prurience) may cause you to turn your eyes away. That said, it is a masterwork. The writing and dialogue are crisp, the production values high, the youthful actors uniformly excellent. It may be the most heartbreaking show I have ever watched and I am still haunted by it. You have been warned.

Free Book

Again I want to thank all of you for your generous support of my writing ambitions. For the next five days, through Monday, April 24, the Kindle edition of my book The Pieta in Ordinary Time and Other Stories will be free. Please consider gifting a copy to a friend or family member. (Or several copies to several friends and family members!) Show them why reviewers are saying things such as:

“It isn’t often that a short story sticks with me for years and years. But some of these tales are unforgettable.”

“This is a great collection. I don’t want to play favourites; every single piece in this collection is finely written. Nonetheless, for me some went beyond mere excellence; I have to call them sublime.”

“This is a staggering collection of 16 short stories which explore the darker side of the human condition: death, grief, mortality, mental illness, prejudice, abuse and so forth. It isn’t light reading, but it is powerful stuff: shocking, lurid, hopeful, uplifting.”

“Reading these stories felt like a visit to the Twilight Zone (a whole season’s worth).”

Click the book title above for a link to the page on Amazon.

Meanwhile, work on a new collection of short stories is proceeding. I’ve got about half a dozen pieces so far. The book will be entitled Catch of the Day and will boast a cover painted by my wife Sharon, whose artistic talents have been exploding in recent weeks. Color me proud!

A Free Book and a Review of Beauty and the Beast

Starting today and until March 29, the Kindle version of my novel Seal of Secrets will be free on Amazon. If it’s already in your library, consider gifting a copy to a friend. I thought it would be fun to offer it during spring break week, when people may be traveling and enjoying some well-earned vacation time. Just click on the title to go to the book’s page on Amazon.

That said, let’s talk about Beauty and the Beast. I confess it wasn’t really on my “must-see” list, but my eight-year-old granddaughter was home from school yesterday, and I thought she might enjoy it. As we left the theater, the first words out of her mouth were, “That was awesome!” And it truly was. I haven’t seen the animated version in many years, so I can’t contrast the two, but I was surprised by how BIG this movie is. It is truly a spectacle of epic proportions, well worth seeing in the theater before it’s available on disc. The music and choreography are exciting, and the CGI in the “Be Our Guest” sequence is breathtaking. Emma Watson (of Harry Potter fame among other films) and Dan Stevens (of Downton Abbey and, more recently, Legion on FX) lead the stellar cast, while Luke Evans (remember him killing Smaug in The Hobbit?) is a wonderfully over-the-top Gaston. Humor, action, heartbreak–the film has it all in spades. There are far worse ways to spend a rainy spring afternoon!