Writing Marathon-July 23, 2020


Today is July 18, 2020. Next Thursday, July 23, 2020, I am going to do a personal writing marathon. As soon as I am up and caffeinated I will start writing and keep at it as long as possible, taking only necessary breaks. I’ll make entries on this blog throughout the marathon. I will also post on my Facebook writer’s page at www.facebook.com/writerriherd. I will Tweet @riherdcreates. I will do some Instagram where I am writerriherd. I’ve created a hashtag: #writetillidrop. Other writers may join me. So far, a couple of other mystery writers have said they’re in. If they are out there writing next Thursday I’ll introduce you to them here.

I want to see how much I can write in one marathon session. Hopefully, it will inspire me to write much more going forward. Other than to update the above mentioned social media sites I will not be caught in the time suck of Facebook or random scrolling through Twitter or Instagram.

If I can figure out how I want to do it between now and Thursday. I may do some live video. For those not blessed or cursed with the urge to write fiction, that will be an opportunity to see just how boring and lonely a task it is.

I have several projects going, but that day will be nothing but working on Peak Performance, my current Samuel Lock novel in progress. You can go read a draft of the first chapter of that book on here under the Main Menu item “Books” (Or by clicking here.) While you’re there order the other two. I’ll be glad you did. You might be glad.

So, check back in next Thursday. Knowing you’re there makes writing easier.

Where I’m At

The current work in progress has been a challenge. I have completely changed the second half twice and am changing it again to make it work for me. The first change resulted in me realizing that what I originally called part two of this novel will work better as the plot of a future Samuel Locke adventure.

Because I am writing from the seat of my pants today during this writing marathon, my word count will be lower than might otherwise be expected.

At this moment, twenty-five minutes into the official marathon time, I’ve written what you see here, which doesn’t count. Answered one personal email that just showed up. Made one cup of Maxwell House Max coffee (1.75 times the caffeine) and started my Some Of The Best Songs In The World playlist on Spotify (available for sharing and suggestions). Currently listening to Whole Lotta Love by Led Zeppelin (one of the best rock and roll love songs and the only one I know of where the singer wants to be her backdoor lover).

My mood today is affected today by not only the ongoing pandemic and social isolation stress but mostly by the death yesterday of friend from high school from Covid-19 and the discomforting knowledge that other friends and members of the family of friends have been diagnosed positive (RIP Nicole Roberts Bailon). I will avoid Facebook today, other than my writer’s page (viewable here), first because it is a time-suck and, secondly, to keep down the anger from people cavalierly dismissing the responsibility to wear masks in public out of either ignorance or some misplaced idea the doing so subjects them to the risk of oppression. I do not need to shift this mood into anger and disappointment.

So, here I go—into the world of Samuel Locke and his friends, another new romantic interest, and a twenty-year-old death that may or may not be murder (I’m betting that it was murder).

(Grrrr…and for some reason my internet is super slow. That messes me up with all the cloud-based resources I use—everything from Word to my notes and outlines in OneNote and my ability to update this blog.)

Okay. Here’s an update for you: My computer, although showing fully signed in to my WiFi and allowing internet access here and there, keeps reporting I need internet access to do this or that. The printer is also saying it can’t find the internet. It’s taken me over an hour and a half to trouble shoot, I think I have it and I’m about to reboot to cure the situation. But that means an hour and a half in and my word count is zero for the marathon.

And when frustrated and trying to focus on the computer issue, the music distracts. It’s turned off.

So, contrary to the white board pictured above, it is now 0805 and I’m going to start writing right after a reboot.

This Too Is Writing—UPDATE 10:00 AM

Good news: The computer and internet are working just find.

I mentioned I was starting fresh on the section I’m working on and that a lower than usual word count could be expected. I spent some time reviewing notes and making some notes. I have a better sense of direction now but I’m going to spend some time outlining as much of the remaining book as I can. I’ll write some more where I am sequentially but at some point today, I will do what I do and jump ahead and write some pivotal scenes. That is how I maintain direction in the book without a formal outline. (Pause: One good thing about doing this update and planning on upgrading my white board record keeper as to coffee consumed, I remembered I had a cup of coffee on the coffee maker. If I were tracking other beverages formally, it would note one glass of Coca Cola-Spilled on Worktable. If my lovely bride sees this, don’t worry, the side worktable not the desk. Cleaned up. Nothing hit the floor. No electronics harmed. It was the dog’s fault.)

As noted in the above pic, my official writing marathon word count is a negative 6. But everything I’ve been doing is also writing.

Oh, and the number of distractions should be two. In addition to spilling the Coca Cola, I had a discussion with Sears because for two weeks I’ve been getting notices about my item being shipped. I haven’t ordered anything. At first, I deleted everything because I thought it was a phishing scam. Then I got phone calls. Finally, I double checked a link and confirmed it was really Sears so I followed it and found the address of whoever ordered something. They must have put in the wrong phone number. I called Sears two days ago but didn’t want to sit on hold. But this morning I got a series of text messages and three auto calls, so I called them determined to wait. It didn’t take long, and I explained to the guy what was going on. After listening to him confirm my phone number and assuring him that yes, the address he had was not me and no I didn’t know them and yes I was sure, he said he’d pass the info along and maybe somebody could reach them. If it keeps happening, I might take deliver if the item isn’t huge and drive it to the folks myself. The link would let me change the delivery address.


Much better progress. I’d have done more except for a lightening strike about a half a mile from my house that started a brush fire.

I drove up the street to watch the aerial fire fighting attack and to get some photos.

All is good. It looked well contained just before I left and it has since started raining. That will help.

Now. Something to eat. And some exercise. And then back to it.

Y’all take care.

Celebrities, Tabloids, and the Importance of Proper Punctuation

In the tsunami of incipient writers inspired by the digital explosion of the number of books being published, many claim it is okay to not worry about the rules of punctuation and grammar. The reasons advanced for that position include 1) artists should not have to worry about such rules, 2) editors will fix it, 3) rules don’t matter if readers understand, 4) etc. There is some smidgen of truth in all the reasons advanced, but mostly they are simple excuses for not wanting to put in the work necessary to learn the craft.

A recent example of the importance of knowing the rules is making the rounds in a snarky story presented as satisfying irony. The reasons for the snark are not true, but like all things generated by our sad cultural desire to tear down those we build up, there is an underlying lesson.

Misplaced Tabloid Induced Celebrity Ridicule

Lori Loughlins’s daughter Olivia Jade is suffering because of her parents ill-fated decision to commit fraud and bribery to get her and her sister into USC. And we, those the tabloids make money off by feeding our cruel desire to take pleasure in the embarrassment of celebrities and cultural icons, are taking a certain amount of delight in trashing her for things that otherwise would have been innocuous events in her life. She’s paid the price for being on a USC official’s yacht in the Bahamas when news of the scandal broke. We ridicule her statements about being more interested in partying and doing her blogs and YouTube vlogs instead of actually attending school. Recently she had trademark applications rejected because of ambiguity of language and punctuation errors. Now we can laugh that her trademark applications were rejected for the very things one should learn in school. Never mind that every thing we are laughing about are things said or done before the scandal started. Without the scandal we wouldn’t be dogpiling on her.

Not only would we not have noticed, the trademark applications were not her fault. Just like being on the yacht when the scandal broke, the news of the application rejection is a coincidence. She is not responsible for the errors in the application. Perry Viscounty, the attorney representing her parents regarding the scandal, is the attorney of record on the trademark applications. According to Mr. Viscounty’s profile on LinkedIn, he is a litigation and trial partner in the law firm Latham & Watkins. His information notes he is a nationally recognized trial attorney handling high-stakes case. His list of expertise includes intellectual property right areas including trademarks.

Mr. Viscounty signed off on Olivia Jade’s trademark application. He is responsible for its content including any ambiguities or punctuation errors. That’s what Olivia Jade hired him to do. If there is embarrassment to attach because of the irony of the application’s rejection, it is his. Unfortunately, it is Olivia Jade that gets to bear the focus of the celebrity spotlight. Viscounty is responsible even if he relied on information provided by her. A copy and paste of a client’s material is not how an attorney is supposed to fill out something as detailed and technical as a trademark application.

In rejecting Olivia Jade’s application the Trademark Office stated: “Proper punctuation in identification is necessary to delineate explicitly each product or service within a list and to avoid ambiguity. Commas, semicolons and apostrophes are the only punctuation that should be used.”

Trademark applications are notorious for requiring exactness. An attorney with expertise in the areas knows that. The content of an application is often subject to much back and forth between the United States Patent and Trademark Office and the filer, whether that is the individual claiming the trademark or an attorney representing the individual.

Olivia Jade’s trademark applications were originally filed on May 3rd, well before the scandal broke. The errors were corrected and resubmitted on April 1 and approved on April 2. In the normal course of things, we would have never heard of the rejection. But now? I just did a search on Google for “Olivia Jade Trademark Application.” Google found about 6, 630,000 references.

Mr. Viscounty did not do his job.

(An aside: The news this morning reported that Lori Laughlin and her husband were offered a plea bargain that included two years incarceration. The prosecutors said those who do not reach a plea bargain will face additional charges. As I wrote on this blog entry, the news announced that Lori Laughlin and her husband have been indicted on another felony, money laundering. A conviction on money laundry carries a longer possible prison sentence. I hope Mr. Viscounty is not messing up his representation of the family again.)

(Another aside: For an example of a Trademark controversy in the writing world that never should have happened, go do a search for “Faleena cocky trademark” and check out the resulting internet eruption known as #cockygate.)

The Takeaway For Writers

Here’s the point for writers of any kind.

Learning the craft means learning and using the rules except in rare circumstances whether you are technical non-fiction or you are creating stories.

Yes, much of grammar and punctuation use can be a matter of personal style. There are also conventions that fall in and out of fashion. But fundamentally the rules are there for assuring the ideas and meanings imparted by written material are easily understood or, if very complicated, can be understood with careful consideration of the rules. Punctuation errors have consequences. That’s true whether the errors are in the telling of a story in fiction or in the most formal of writing. In fiction the consequence is a simple failure of the writer to convey his story clearly. Failure in more formal writing illuminates the importance of knowing and using the rules because the error often ends up with a cost in very real money.

Olivia Jade’s trademark application got rejected for sloppy writing. It cost her a bit more of her reputation. It let us make fun of her a bit more. It probably cost her some attorney’s fees. It delayed her trademark protection. It might have caused more problems if the Patent and Trademark Office had ignored or not noticed the error. A trademark might have been issued that didn’t protect her as expected. A missing comma in a trademark application might mean the issued trademark covers one unintended thing instead of covering two separate things as desired. That could cost the owner of the trademark money.

A missing Oxford comma can cost millions. Oakhurst Dairy found that out the hard way when a 2017 appellate court decision ruled that a statute without an Oxford comma meant that the dairy owed overtime to truck drivers.

The statute listed certain activities that did not qualify for overtime. The law listed activities exempt from earning overtime pay, as follows:

The canning, processing, preserving,
freezing, drying, marketing, storing,
packing for shipment or distribution of:
(1) Agricultural produce;
(2) Meat and fish products; and
(3) Perishable foods.

Note there is no comma between “shipment” and “or.” The truck drivers claimed the law exempted from overtime the activity of packing for shipment or distribution, but not the singular activity of distribution of the products. The truck drivers sought overtime for time spent distributing the goods, not for packing the goods for distribution. The appellate court took the side of the drivers in a decision that cost the dairy millions. After the ruling Oakhurst settled with the drivers for five million dollars.

You can read about the comma problem here.

In writing fiction the goal is to tell a story. The way we convey ideas and meaning in writing has evolved overtime. Some rules are there to assure the reader and the writer communicate. The trendy, extreme example of today is the title of Lynne Truss’s book Eats, Shoots and Leaves. Does a panda actually pull out a gun, fire off a couple of shots, and then depart after he eats? It is an absurd example. But a writer should not rely on absurdities to make his ideas known.

I’m not going to get into the subtleties of other punctuation rules such as the reasons to use a semicolon instead of a period or why you should avoid a comma splice. I’ve been writing this blog entry in time I could be using to work on the first draft of Peak Performance. Talking about how to impart a story is meaningless if the story never gets written. So I’ll save some stuff for other moments of procrastination.

I depart imploring writers to learn and use the craft the best you can. Sure, it is extremely easy to publish a book these days without worrying about the rules. Millions of books are out there full of such errors. No court will find you owe monetary damages for not conveying your story clearly. But if you do that because you don’t know the craft, you sacrifice your art for expediency. You are not telling the best possible story. Not only that, you contribute to the erosion of the ability of writing to impart ideas. In 2011 the Oxford Dictionary, in a surrender to common usage, added a meaning to the word “literally.” The definition expanded to include the use of literally to being a word used for emphasis while not being literally true. We literally lost a word. Don’t be a part of such a travesty.

Typos – The Cockroaches of the Publishing World, Only Worse

You write. You edit. You find exasperating typos that you cannot imagine how you typed them originally. Or maybe it is easy to understand how your fingers fumbled. Or you spelled it one way that made sense, but you discover it was wrong. So you correct them. Then you read it again and typos are found that you cannot imagine how they slipped past you in your last edit. And it happens again. And you send it to another editor and she finds some you missed. And you correct those. And eventually you get a galley out of your prepared to print file and you read it and find more. And your rant and rave and fix those. You get your first printed writer’s proof of the book. And yes … you guessed it. You find another or two or three. And you correct them. And finally you sell some books. And you get an email from a fan that says, ” I really liked your new book. Just so you know, there seems to be a typo on page 113.” Or worse, somebody reviews it and just says, “I did notice a couple of typos.”

Typos. They run. They hide. They seek places in the dark only to appear suddenly, munching on the art of your creation. Like cockroaches.

Independent publishers, like my publishing company Dustivus Media, already fight battles to be noticed in the swamp that is Amazon. We struggle mightily up the mountain that is a pile of independent and self-published books tainted with a reputation of ungrammatical poor writing riddled with typos. And like the fanciest, most luxurious hotel in the world that gets five star reviews from everybody until that one customer finds a dead cockroach in the bathtub and suddenly that is the review that goes viral–we see the readers who review and say, “I’m giving up on self-published books. I tried to read one and then I found a typo. I immediately quit reading that book”–and suddenly, we cannot sleep at night. We cannot eat. Our very being is brought into question. No longer do we occasionally feel like the gods are directing our pen. It is Satan, the dark lord of typos and he is sucking us into the eternal torment of Hell.

To keep going we must cling to something. Us writers develop a way of reading that, in many ways, destroys a part of the joy reading used to bring us. Before we started writing. We read with a critical eye, looking for the things of style and form that makes one author successful and wealthy over all others. And, with luck, we find typos made by famous writers in books published by the holy institutions known by writers as The Big Five (Listen closely and you will hear a heavenly harp play a hallelujah chord whenever you say or read that. Say it reverently with me: “The Big Five.” Ta da. (heavenly chord fades into celestial space)). Yes. The Big Five (Or whatever their equivalent is if even more mergers have come about making the market even less competitive for anybody not named Kardashian); Penguin Random House, Macmillan, HarperCollins, Hachette, and Simon & Schuster; … where was I? … oh, yeah … even they publish books with typos. And that is a good thing for us to find.

Finding typos in big books from big people means that we do not struggle alone. There may be many things separating us from those blessed with listings on the New York Times Bestsellers lists, but it is not the fact that we have a typo in a book. So do they!

I keep a list.

For all you writers out there, or presented for self-reflection to critical readers trashing us struggling writers because you find a typo or two … okay– three or four, below is a link to my ongoing list of some of the typos I have found and made a note about. They are mostly by famous writers published by the big guys. I need to go through a history of World War II multi-volume set of books I have because I made a note of typos I found there and currently cannot find that note. More fun, I need to read all the Nero Wolfe novels in my collection because I saw one in one of those books, swore I’d remember where, and forgot before I could get it noted.

Presented here is my growing list. I will update it as I add to it. Feel free to comment or otherwise let me know if you discover typos in the stuff you read. This my list and I won’t add to it unless I personally see the typo, but I have 4000 books around here. I might have the one you read or I might run across it somewhere in the future. I will carry your notes with me and look for the typos you reference. I’ll add them when I see them.

See the list here.

Writing Journal – 4 Mea Culpa

Yes. Mea Culpa. I am to blame.

I keep saying I’m going to blog the progress of writing my current work in progress, Peak Performance. And then I fail to blog. There is no good excuse. I’d like to say it’s because I am so busy writing on the book that I haven’t wanted to take the time. But that would be true only if pervasive procrastination could be considered writing on the book. Even then I could write a blog about the procrastination. Or share what I am doing while I’m procrastinating if it is interesting. That last one I’m going to try to do, share the interesting procrastination efforts.

Here’s where I am with some of what involves me sitting down and writing. I’ve been using a laptop, but it is having issues. I can be working along and all of sudden some part of the computer suffers from some massive memory glitch. I get static and the computer shuts down. I let the diagnostics run, restart it, recover my documents, and carry on. Also, for some reason, certain Windows updates fail. So something is wrong there. And in the last couple of weeks I got boot errors as it started. All very scary. (I need to get my 24,000 photos backed up but my two 2Tb external hard drives are pretty much full. So there’s that.) Anyway, all of those issues exist and I wanted a bigger screen anyway, so I bought a new computer.

My new computer is a Windows 10 system which is new to me. So several hours of not writing in the past week have been because I’ve been learning the ins and outs of the new system and moving software and data over. The machine came with 25 gb of DropBox storage and I found it easier to use than my Google Drive so I used DropBox to move files and I’m using it as my primary cloud storage for now.

A couple of days ago, I started playing with Microsoft’s OneNote. I like the way it organizes things so for the last two and a half days, I’ve been setting it up to keep track of all the notes and research I use while write a book. I’m even using OneNote to store an outline. I’ve never been known to use an outline. But the things about the last two books that bug me the most, might have been avoided with enough forethought expressed in at least a rudimentary outline.

A little further back in time, I was working all gung ho and actually fooled myself that I might finish the current work in progress by March. I just forgot that Thanksgiving and Christmas fell in there. A visit to relative’s new place in the wilderness above Tombstone, Arizona, at Thanksgiving and seeing the kids in Texas over Christmas took up a lot of time. (On my list to buy some day is a better tablet. One more conducive to working on the road. I don’t like carrying the laptop for one reason or another.)

Delay on the new book was also caused by taking the time to redesign  the way the final books are created and, to a certain degree, how they are designed. I went back and made changes to the first two books accordingly. Plus, I got rid of some more typos (pttui a curse on typos). A beauty of the digital age is the ability to make changes on the books as desired.

But now, I’m working on the new book. All of that stuff is done. There will be a few things in the coming weeks. I’m going to New Orleans for a few days. On the second of March, I’ll be speaking at breakfast on the last day of a Texas College English Association conference at Texas A&M – Kingsville. I’m looking forward to that. In honor of the honor of being asked to speak, I just sent one of the characters in my new book to college there.

So, we’re all caught up. I’m in the daily grind of writing the way I do. I’m skipping some stuff to go back to and writing the stuff that’s firmer in my mind. I’m worrying that the writing sucks and that the story is boring. I have a knot in the middle of my neck. My arthritis woke me up last night. I need to get up and move more. I need to walk the dog. I was going to spend time with my lovely bride this afternoon but she’s watching “The Way We Were” and I’m not going to do that again.

I sent a couple of letters out asking for some assistance from professionals in areas involved in this story. And as I wrote this blog, I thought of somebody else I could reach out to and maybe get a faster answer on some stuff. So, I’m going to conclude this blog entry and go find an email for a forensic consultant.

Thanks for being interested in what I do. Stick with me. I’ll share the pain of learning how to write with all you writers out there. And maybe you readers will enjoy the journey of the evolution of my writing.

One of my favorite fictional characters is Travis McGee as created by John D. MacDonald. I’d read all of the McGee novels before I came across the short story that was probably MacDonald’s first published exploration of the character that became McGee. I enjoyed seeing the evolution of McGee over time. Maybe you’ll enjoy the same about my Samuel Locke.

There’s a new character making an appearance in Peak Performance around whom I intend to create another series.

I’ve been wanting to write what most people call a Young Adult novel inspired some events I found emotional challenging. That story is finally starting to gel in my brain.

There’s also that screenplay I wrote that I intend to put in book form.

Dustivus Media, the publishing company I created to put out the Samuel Lock books may publish a couple of books by other writers. I’m waiting to receive the final manuscript of one currently titled Designing Diva and second, currently title Dancing on the Bar, may be ready this year as well.

Take care my friends. Read on. Write on.

Writing Journal – 3 Where Ideas Come From

In this Writing Journal, I’m going to describe where I get ideas for my books. Starting with the next Journal entry, I’ll be tracking my progress as I work on my next couple of books with occasional trips down rabbit trails as they occur.

An Idea, Any Idea, Used as Inspiration.

The idea for my first published book, A Crimson Grace, came about this way: A long time ago, I decided to write a short story and submit it to Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. I had no plot or character ideas. I was working as a suit at the time. I went to my secretary and told her I was going to write a short story and asked her to give me one idea about something that should be in the story. She is an artist. She said: “An artist. Or a drawing.”

After thinking about that for only a short time, I started the short story with the discovery of a body of an artist who lived on the beach. She was a friend of the protagonist in the story. He ended up with her sketch pad and in it found a drawing she had made late one night of something suspicious. The night she drew it, a person engaged in the nefarious activity noticed her watching him. At the time he was not in a position to pursue her. He tracked her down and killed her.

The idea of how to use the sketch evolved as I wrote the book, but drawings remain a very important plot point of the novel.

Writers: If you’re looking for plot ideas, ask a friend or family member to name something, anything. Build a story around that idea. Even if the idea will not support a story, making yourself use it to construct a plot may just generate a direction for your book.

Another time I thought about what could my protagonist observe that would end up being a clue. In the midst of casting about for ideas, I got in my car and ran the windshield wiper to clear the condensation off the windshield. I thought about the naturally occurring condensation and decided to find a way the condensation on a windshield of a vehicle could provide a clue. And, I came up with something. I worked on a book in which the clue provided by the condensation was pivotal. I set it aside some time ago and the book is only partially written at this point. It may very well be revised to become a Samuel Locke murder mystery.

I read that Elmore Leonard started developing his book Stick with a vision in his head of a man walking across a bridge into a city while traffic passed by. Leonard did not know the man or where he was walking, but he saw the scene. After he thought about it for a while the man became Stick, recently released from prison and walking in Florida. That walk across a bridge evolved into one that is in the first chapter of Stick. The book was a success and made into a movie starring and directed by Burt Reynolds.

Potential Titles

I keep a list of potential book titles that pop into my life from many sources. For instance, some time ago, to pass the time while commuting, I came up with the phrase “Chocolate and Champagne.” At the time, I was thinking about trying to write a few romances of the Harlequin Romance novel type. When I mentioned to my mom that I planned to try my hand at that she started sending me boxes of them. I had no idea she was reading them, but every six weeks or so, she’d send me eight or nine. I read one in which the female lead was an entrepreneur owner of some kind of shop (might have been a florist). And that’s all I really remember.

During my thirty-five mile commute in Houston style traffic, I drifted to thinking about small, boutique type shops and what they sell. Chocolate came to mind. And a really nice wine store. And chocolate and wine is a thing. That took me to the bit more alliterative Chocolate and Champagne. Then, thinking about a possible series of romance novels with some kind of theme carried through the title, I started going through the alphabet. The most memorable idea was “Blues and Ballet.” As of today,  the title of my most recently published novel is The Blues and Ballet.

The Blues and Ballet did not turn out to be a formula romance novel. I loved the phrase and it stuck with me. Later, after receiving a rejection letter from Harlequin for a proposal with a completely different title which, according to the letter, did not emphasize the sex enough, and while in the midst of writing A Crimson Grace, I started thinking about the next Samuel Locke novel. Using my favorite entry on the proposed title list, I came up with the first line of a book: “I was listening to the blues and watching ballet the night they fed the dead guy to the alligator.” And for the longest, that was all I had. But, from that, followed all the ideas that came together to create The Blues and Ballet.

An aside: A theme of this blog is how ideas are everywhere if you cultivate what you encounter every day for its potential as a part of a story. Coincidentally, it just happened as I was right at this point in composing this blog. I’ve got music stuff on YouTube streaming as I write. Luis Fonzi was just in a video talking. Fonzi composed the biggest song of 2017, “Despacito.” He mentioned how he woke up one morning with the melody and rhythm of the word “despacito” as it is sung in the composition. He said it was so clearly formed that he did research to discover whether he’d simply heard it somewhere. After he decided it was original, the song was written in a couple of hours.

That happens when you practice being open to ideas, when you’ve spent hours putting the moments of your life into the plot (or song) generator of your mind. Things start popping up by surprise. Writers often talk about the mystical ways their characters will take off on their own, behaving in ways the writer never intended or saying things that seemingly come from the experiences and personality of the fictional character independent of the writer. Something in the writer’s brain is working subconsciously in ways unguided and unexpected by the conscious perception.

I mentioned up above that I keep a list of potential titles with absolutely no idea of what a book with that title might be about. I was only half paying attention to what Luis Fonzi was saying but, in the middle of his discussion, he described what happens during the creative process to be a “beautiful madness.” That phrase popped out at me and, before I appreciated the coincidence of it happening in the midst of writing this blog, I grabbed a pen and jotted down “A Beautiful Madness.” It would make a good title. And, while writing this aside, another channel of my brain is running through dozens of potential plots and themes that might be a part of a book titled “Beautiful Madness.” And that, my friends, is an excellent example of what this blog is about.

Now, back to the blog.


I am inundated with visuals. In moments where I can contemplate what I’m viewing, memories get stored that are composed in a way that I know I can create a story around them. Being a photographer has trained me to see things as storytelling images, to snap stills from the moving picture that is life. The lonely beauty of a stretch of road during a road trip put a short story into my head. The story was about the loneliness of the driver, a redeeming insight gained from a hitchhiker in need, and the time it takes to drive a length of a long highway in Texas.

I’m thinking about always using one of my photographs on the covers of Samuel Locke novels as an element of branding, at least until Putnam writes me a huge check to publish some and they want to design the cover. I’ve never loved the cover of the first in the series, A Crimson Grace. I was going through my thousands of Texas Coast imagery looking for a possible replacement when I found an image that I thought would make a decent, moody cover, just not for A Crimson Grace. But having that image in the plot generator of my mind and envisioning its use on a cover for a Samuel Locke novel led to the mostly completely formed story of the Samuel Lock story I’m getting back to working on right after finishing this blog, eating lunch, making beds, cleaning the kitchen, taking a shower, and shaving.

I thought about posting the photo here because I like to illustrate my blogs, but I’m going to hold on to it for a cover reveal one of these days.

Other Things of Life

Anything that creates an emotional response in me has the potential of inspiring a story.

The news story about the death of Natalie Finn, a sixteen-year-old starved to death by her mother in middle America suburbia two years ago affected me. I’ve started the personally difficult job of outlining and planning a book based on my response to that horror.

I sing along with the radio. Often, while doing so, I create a fictional rock band in my head. I start visualizing them on stage. I start giving them backstories. My fictional band may become a part of a book concept I’ve been thinking about for decades, a multi-threaded epic story that incorporates dozens of random ideas and becomes an allegorical story of the life of a city and its people. Yes, I agree it sounds hoity-toity, so much so that it intimidates me to the point of, so far, failing to make much of a serious start on it.

Visuals, stories, conversations, memories, newscasts, song lyrics, landscapes, all the curiosities of life—each is a potential plot.

The next Writing Journal blog will start the story of my story. I’ll blog about the day to day process of writing my current works in progress.