The End

Quite unexpectedly, I finished my novel this afternoon. I still don’t think it’s sunk in yet.

As you may recall, I began writing “Dream Sailors” four years ago. Soon after moving in, Tara suggested we set aside time every Sunday to write. She has long been supportive of my writing – was, in fact, the first person to buy “No Time For Kings,” long before we even started dating – so I was strongly in favor of the idea. It had been a couple of years since NTFK was published, and I was feeling the writing itch again. There were a few false starts as I decided what to write; at one point it was going to be a sequel, but then I decided I wanted to go in an entirely different direction. First-person POV instead of third-person; male protagonist rather than female; a story with a sci-fi element versus a straight-up thriller. An NTFK sequel would have been easier; revisiting the characters I had grown to love would have been like slipping on a favorite pair of shoes, familiar and comfortable, but I feel it’s important to challenge yourself as a writer and not take the easy route.

I have long been fascinated with dreams. After all, a particularly vivid one brought me and Tara together, so they seemed like a topic worth exploring. Throw in my own personal lucid dreaming experiences, and the stage was set for my next novel.

Things went well in the beginning. For a few weeks, we set aside a good chunk of time every weekend to write. I worked on my new novel, and Tara blogged.

And then we both just stopped.

I don’t really know why. I think part of the reason is the fact that living together was a novelty, and we were both out of work at the time, so we filled our weekends exploring. And then I landed my dream job as a content specialist. Writing five days a week for eight hours at a stretch, I didn’t particularly feel like doing the same thing in my spare time, too. So 30 pages in, my novel languished. I had zero motivation to continue.

Time passed.

Years passed, actually. There was a wedding. I sold my townhouse. My daughter came to live with us. We moved to an apartment. I guess you could say life happened. I was now a professional writer, but was I truly a writer?


Last year, I started to get the itch again. After publishing “No Time For Kings” in 2011 I was content to rest on my laurels for a long time, but I started to miss the process of writing. The “writer’s high” is a real thing, and I began to crave it the way an addict craves drugs. So I hatched this plan to try NaNoWriMo, booking myself a vintage trailer for a weekend writing retreat in order to kick-start my long-stalled novel and get back into the groove.

It worked. I “won” NaNoWriMo. Dashed off 50,000 words in 30 days. Breathed new life into my long-gestating novel.

But then November ended, and my frenetic writing pace came to a halt.

I expected it would take me another couple of months to finish “Dream Sailors.” It ended up taking four and a half. Because I am a creature of habit; once the daily motivation of word counts and monthly goals was gone, I struggled to continue.

But I knew I had something good, and the finish line wasn’t that far away. So I pushed on. I didn’t write every weekend, but I wrote most weekends. 50K words turned into 60K. 60,000 turned into 70,000.

The finish line was near.

I wrote for a couple of hours yesterday. The finish line was still near, but also distressingly out of reach. I figured I had another month or two to go.

Then I fired up my laptop this morning, and a funny thing happened: I quickly realized I was close to finishing my novel. Like, really close. Everything clicked and fell into place. This is how it works when you don’t have an outline: quite suddenly, it can all come together. And that’s exactly what happened today. I quickly realized the finish line wasn’t only within reach, it was right there, ripe for the grabbing.

So I grabbed it.

Around 1:00, I knew I was two sentences away from finishing. I didn’t want to rush the process – I still didn’t know exactly how the book was going to end, believe it or not – so I shut down the laptop and went for a long walk. I knew that I’d be mentally engaged in the ending and would come up with something, so I left the house and let my mind wander. 45 minutes later, I had my perfect ending. So I came home, added one final paragraph, and then typed the two best words in the English language – “The End” – and that was it.

“Dream Sailors” is finished!

“Finished,” of course, is a relative term. It’s simply a first draft. Now I have to go through and edit the whole thing. After finishing “No Time For Kings,” two years passed before I actually published it. I am 100% certain the process will be quicker this time around, but I’m still months away from publishing. And I’ll have to decide whether to go the traditional route (try to find an agent and a publishing house) or self-publish again through Booklocker. My experience with NTFK has been nothing but positive. I may very well end up going the same route, and there will be no shame in that if I do.

It’s all a little unreal. I did not wake up this morning thinking I’d finish the novel I’ve been working on for so many years, but lo and behold, it is done. So I’m drinking wine in celebration and allowing myself to bask in the glow of a job well done.

Interview With a Ghost: Cole Carter Speaks

Last month, Lisa Nowak – fellow author and Portlander – graciously allowed me to promote my book on her blog. Her idea was for a character interview with the protagonist, so Rachel Sullivan – heroine of No Time For Kings – dished about what’s been happening in her life after the events in my story. I thought this was an excellent idea, and served as a clever bridge to my follow-up novel (in progress). If you’re interested, you can read Rachel’s interview here.

Lisa Nowak, author and fellow Portlander.

I’m returning the favor now and letting Lisa plug her new novel, Dead Heat. This is a fascinating read: a ghost story at heart, but more complex, dealing with social issues like child abuse. I urge you to support Lisa and pick up a copy (there are several links below). And now, without further ado, here is Lisa’s interview with her protagonist, Cole Carter.

Character interview with Cole Carter

Cole, a man in his early thirties, befriended Alex, a fifteen-year-old machine whisperer, at the speedway. Cole was the first person ever to offer Alex hope for his future. Two years late, Cole died in a racing accident and risked his chance at a peaceful afterlife by staying on earth in spirit form to protect Alex from the abuse of his meth-addict father. That’s where Dead Heat begins.

So Cole, tell me a little about yourself. What are your talents and skills?

Cole: I used to grill up a mean burger. :) I could drive the wheels off a race car. I was a finish carpenter, and I did good work—paid attention to detail. I was good with rock, too. I built a killer waterfall in the back yard.

What is your biggest fear?

Cole: Seeing someone I love hurt. Seeing Alex mess up his life. That kid’s got such a good heart and so much potential, but he doesn’t believe in himself and I can’t make him.

They say scent is the most powerful sense. What’s your favorite smell?

Cole: I have several. Fresh-cut cedar, a burger on the grill, and racing fuel.

What is your goal or motivation in life?

Cole: Don’t you mean was?

Oh right. Sorry. So, did you have a vice?

Cole: Probably those damn hamburgers.

Well, as bad as they’re supposed to be for you, at least they didn’t kill you.

Cole: Yeah, I guess I played that right.

This interviewing-a-ghost thing isn’t so easy. I have to revise all my stock questions. Here’s one that should work: describe your most embarrassing moment.

Cole: That would be the night I met Torey. My buddy Doug had been fooling around at work, as usual (I’m surprised that guy’s managed to keep his job so long) and he accidentally whacked me in the back of the head with a two-by-four. If the boss hadn’t seen it, it wouldn’t have been any big deal. But then I wouldn’t have met Torey, either. He told Doug to take me to the emergency room. It seemed like an overreaction, but I guess he was covering his ass. So I got to the ER, and this hot little nurse, barely out of school, took my vitals. The doctor checked me out and left the nurse to tell me what I needed to do when I got home. She said that since I had a mild concussion, someone should stay with me that night. Doug, smartass Casanova that he is, said, “So, are you volunteering?” I wanted to strangle him. He knew how bashful I was with girls, and I’m sure he was well aware of how attracted I was to this one. Fortunately, she had a sense of humor about it.

Nice. So on a less jovial note, tell me about the last time you cried.

Cole: It was after I died, when I first saw how Alex was living. I guess I wanted to believe things weren’t that bad for him because otherwise I would’ve had to do something about it. And I knew if I had, he’d have never forgiven me for betraying his trust. But it was incredibly selfish of me. When I saw the conditions he was living in and witnessed firsthand how violent his father was, I knew I’d really screwed up. I should’ve got him out of there, even if it would’ve meant never seeing him again. It broke my heart to realize he’d suffered two years longer than he needed to because of my selfishness.

How has your experience with the abuse Alex has suffered affected how you feel about discipline?

Cole: Discipline should be about helping a kid become a good person, not about punishing him. I’m all for rules—I think you’re not doing your job as a parent if you don’t enforce them. But if you’re using discipline as a way of getting even, you shouldn’t have kids. And abuse is in no way discipline.

Who are your heroes in real life?

Cole: This is going to sound sappy, but I’d have to say Alex. That kid has lived a hellish life. I’ll bet he hasn’t had a single day when some part of him wasn’t hurting, and yet he doesn’t walk away, because he loves his mother and wants to take care of her. And then there’s the thing with me. He saw who I was, how I get stupid and fly off the handle when I see things like child abuse. He figured I’d get myself killed, going after his dad, so he refused to tell me where he lived, or even his last name. That’s one tough, brave, honorable kid. It breaks my heart that he can’t see himself the way I see him 

If you knew you had exactly one month to live, what would you do?

Cole: It’s a little late for that one, don’t you think?

Oh, right, sorry. It’s those damn stock questions. Okay, so now that you’re dead, if you were allowed to come back as any person or thing, what do you think it would be?

Cole: I’d want to come back as myself. I wasn’t done yet.


A man who longs for a son, and a boy who can’t escape his father’s violence. Even death can’t break the bond they share.

Alex is a machine whisperer. He can tell what’s wrong with a broken-down car with a touch. But his gift can’t save him from the brutality of his meth-addict father. For two years, Alex experienced kindness through Cole, his mentor. Now Cole’s dead, and the violence in Alex’s life is escalating.

When Cole reappears as a ghost, Alex clings to the tenuous link. Then he learns Cole might’ve sacrificed his chance to cross over. Jade, the first girl to look beyond Alex’s past, assures him Cole can reach the Other Side—if Alex escapes from his dad. But a previous terrifying attempt has convinced Alex it’s impossible. Unless he can find the courage to try, his friend may be earthbound forever.

Dead Heat blew me away. It’s a gritty ghost story interwoven with all-too-real subject matter that will make you cry for Alex, ache for Cole, and thank God for Jade. I was invested in these characters’ lives and you will be too.”

~ Stacey Wallace Benefiel, author of the Zellie Wells trilogy

About the author:

In addition to being a YA author, Lisa is a retired amateur stock car racer, an accomplished cat whisperer, and a professional smartass. She writes coming-of-age books about kids in hard luck situations who learn to appreciate their own value after finding mentors who love them for who they are.






Not Grandmother Approved

I’ve come up with a new marketing slogan for my novel, No Time For Kings.


Both my grandmother and Tara’s read the book, and while it’s received very positive reviews from the majority of readers – including glowing recommendations in San Francisco Book Review and Portland Book Review – neither of our grandmothers were especially enthralled with the novel. I know mine was put off by the violence, profanity, and sex and I suspect those same elements contributed to Tara’s grandma’s lack of enthusiasm. Rather than stew over this, however, I’ve decided to embrace it. Doesn’t the lack of such an endorsement lend to its appeal? Doesn’t it make you want to read it even more, knowing that its edginess was simply too much for an older crowd to stomach? I want to have “Not Grandmother Approved” stickers printed up and slapped on the cover! I’m dead serious.

The new and improved cover of my book!

My friend Mike said, “Now you just need to have your book banned.”

Michael, I am officially hiring you as my Public Relations Correspondent, because that is freakin’ (sorry, grandma!) brilliant. Can you go to work, getting school teachers to loathe it? (It shouldn’t be that difficult, considering my protagonist starts dating her daughter’s middle school teacher who happens to be a recovering alcoholic. Surely this sends a negative message that just might inspire a few teachers to want to ban – or better yet, burn – the book).

Maybe I can insult the Taliban while I’m at it and have a Fatwa issued against me, Salman Rushdie-style. The book is about terrorists, after all! Granted, they’re home-grown eco-terrorists, but that’s just a minor detail. Surely those damn pea-brained knuckle-dragging idiots in the Taliban won’t be smart enough to figure out the difference.

There. I’ve laid the groundwork. Top of the Bestseller charts, here I come! (And no, I’m not worried about having to hole up in a safe house. I’ll bet I could have a pretty luxurious safe house with all the money that’ll be rolling in soon).

This is great. More than a year after publication, I’m still coming up with marketing schemes.

One thing I did recently was drop the price on the Kindle version of No Time For Kings. By 67%, no less. After researching pricing strategies for e-books, I decided to set the cost at $2.99 (it was going for $8.95 before). I think it’s important to be competitive in today’s marketplace, and $2.99 is a low enough price to entice people who might otherwise be on the fence. I’m only pricing the e-book that low on Amazon, but then again, that’s where the majority of my sales have come from. If you already bought the novel at the original price, I apologize, but hope you still found it a worthwhile investment.

Unless you’re a member of the Taliban and bought the book at the higher price. If so…HA HA! Suckers!!!

(Marketing is a 24/7 job).

Click here for a link to the Kindle version of No Time For Kings.

I also decided that I’ve rested on my laurels long enough, and have begun a new novel. I tossed around several ideas – a character-driven portrayal of the grunge movement circa 1992, a drama about the search for the supposed Woodstock baby, a high-concept time travel fairy tale – before settling on a project closer to my heart: it’ll be a sequel to No Time For Kings. Or rather, a continuation of the series. I like my characters, having spent years developing them and getting to know them, and figured there are lots of dramatic situations a strong-willed female investigative journalist in Portland could get herself into. The book will be called Crimps and deals with illicit drugs, political corruption, and a secret network involving the infamous Shanghai Tunnels that lie beneath Portland’s downtown streets.

Sounds like another one that won’t go over well with the grandmothers. Yay!

I’m still working out the plot details so progress will be slow for a while, but if I can have it finished by next August – in time for the second anniversary of No Time For Kings – I’ll be happy.

Since I’d like to continue writing books, I broadened the scope of my Facebook page, transforming it from a No Time For Kings page to an author page. Feel free to “like” it here.

If you’re a self-published author, I’d be interested in hearing how you decided to price your book. Do you feel that a low price gives the impression of inferior work? How low will you go? Would you ever give it away for free? What marketing strategies do you use?

If you’re a potential reader, would you be more likely to buy a book that is Not Grandmother Approved?

And if you’re the Taliban, will you kindly go pound sand?

Hidden Nuts, Sexy Feet and Unnecessary Apostrophes

How Do They Locate Their Nuts?

Sipping coffee from my back patio this morning, I watched as a squirrel buried a nut in the damp earth beside a row of arborvitae.

What a cliche, I thought. I actually muttered it out loud, to be honest. And then I wondered, how will he ever know where to find that later? It was a question I pondered for several long minutes. I became fixated on it because it was bothering me so much. Seriously, how will that squirrel ever remember the location of that particular nut? Do they possess some sort of homing instinct, like pigeons or salmon? Or do they just happen upon their buried hoard by pure, dumb luck? I was so perplexed I Googled that very question, and Ask Yahoo! says it’s either through the use of smell, the use of landmarks, or by possessing a really good memory. The article goes on to state that squirrels never find all the nuts they’ve buried, and their undiscovered stashes help new forests to grow and prosper. In a roundabout way, they are ensuring the survival of future generations of their own species. That’s kind of fascinating when you think about it.

I have a love/hate relationship with squirrels, by the way.

I was thrilled when they first moved into the neighborhood, marveling over their furry little gray bodies prancing happily through the grass, but glee soon gave way to resentment when I caught them robbing my feeder of birdseed. I then engaged in a one-man war against these rodents, chasing them away from the bird feeder with angry shouts and flailing arms every time they drew near. Invariably, they’d come back as soon as I went  inside the house, and the whole process would repeat itself. Had I really thought they were cute? Whatever. Squirrels are rats with bushier tails, that’s all.

Wacky Search Terms

I always marvel over the search engine terms people use to find my blog. In the past few days, these have included pacific northwest man action figure (bet he’s able to leap over tall lattes in a single bound!), clark griswold in lederhosen (better than Cousin Eddie in a wife beater), what’s that weird sound when the sun comes out (umm…huh?), and space vampires vs zombie dinosaurs (sounds like a great, cheesy B-movie!). I get hits from lots of people looking for the Smurfs, sexy pictures of Pippa Middleton, and – oddly – the Hot Dog on a Stick uniform. This stands to reason, as I’ve written posts that featured those topics at one time or another. Occasionally it’s just blind luck; I wrote a post about Icarus a year and a half ago, when nobody was reading this blog, and a few months later a Kid Icarus video game was released. Hence, “Icarus” remains my most popular search term, with a whopping 2,890 views.

There you go, fetishists: Piper's feet! Actually, they are pretty cute... (Courtesy of

Interestingly, 4 people today searched for Piper Perabo feet. Why the sudden interest in the Coyote Ugly actress’s feet, I wonder? Have the fetishists of the world decided that her feet are particularly alluring? Or was this just one infatuated guy really hoping for a glimpse of her toes? As a guy who enjoys a sexy pair of feet as much as the next person, curiosity got the better of me, and in a weirdly ironic vicious circle found myself Googling Piper Perabo feet. Turns out there are websites devoted entirely to celebrity’s feet, and Piper’s are especially popular, a fact that would have escaped me had I never been recruited to write about guilty pleasures. You learn something new every day.

I suppose now I’ll get a lot of hits from people looking for “celebrity’s nuts” since I’ve mentioned both in this post.

My Own Worst Critic

With my book now officially for sale, this has been an exciting week for me! I have a bunch of friends who have bought copies already and are currently reading it. I wait with bated breath for their feedback. The early reports are promising, at least. I swear, I feel like a candidate on election night, watching as the results begin to filter in. It’s pretty nerve-wracking, actually. I am my own worst critic, and forever second-guessing myself.

I finished reading my copy of the novel yesterday. I’m very pleased with the story in general, and think it’s fast-paced and well-written, with a little something for everybody. I wouldn’t change a thing about it. However, there are a few minor errors here and there. An apostrophe or three that don’t belong. A missing page break between two separate action sequences that somehow disappeared during formatting. Plus, gosh, I sure do love commas. Like I said, nothing major, but the perfectionist in me bristles. I could correct these errors – already have in my original document – but any changes made now cost money. It’s amazing how many times I went through my manuscript and had others read it – and still managed not to catch a couple of things. I keep telling myself, most books I read contain an error or two, and those have undergone professional editing. It just proves that nobody is perfect, and I need to chill out about the whole thing.

It’s been fun looking up my book on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other places – even Powell’s! And interesting that not all prices are the same (something I have no control over). Amazon is especially cool; they really cater to authors, offering a bunch of services for free, like an Author Page where you can talk about your book, link to your blog and Twitter feed, etc. And while I’ve always considered myself anti-Kindle, I cannot deny it’s a popular format and there are some cool things you can do with your book, like adding additional content – say, more information about the settings and locations; in-depth character backgrounds; or even a discussion of the themes and symbolism in your work.

I may become a convert yet.

You’re So Vain, You Probably Think Self-Publishing’s About You

Sunday was quite amazing. After all, it isn’t every day that your book is released.

It started out with a text from Rusty in the morning. You’re the number 1 “No Time For Kings” on Google search now. Yes! This pleased me to no end. You see, there’s another book out there with my same title. Also self-published, back in 2004. I discovered this a couple of years ago, halfway through the writing process. I debated changing the name…for about thirty seconds or so, but decided my title fit in perfectly with the story and I didn’t want to give it up. Besides, there is no rule against this – in fact, many books share the same title. Did you know there are at least four novels named Twilight, for instance? And three of them were not written by Stephenie Meyer. Think that’s bad? There are no fewer than 22 books called Night Shift! Obviously Stephen King’s is the most popular. So, the fact that there was another NTFK out there didn’t bother me in the least. I simply said, “Well, I’ll have to knock that book from its top perch on Google, and I will do it…mark my words.” So we’d been checking Google periodically. A few days ago, the other book was still number one. Yesterday, it was knocked down to 3rd place when I looked. And that is when I discovered my book had officially been released for sale.

I didn’t know what sort of fanfare – if any – would accompany the release, so when I saw it posted on Booklocker’s website, I was pleasantly surprised. Barnes & Noble and Amazon quickly followed suit. Suddenly, there my book was, available for sale online! And thus began the next step in this grand adventure: promoting my novel.

A few days ago, I read an interesting post from Lisa (Woman Wielding Words) called Advertising Self. Timely, because she talked about the art of self-promotion, and how uncomfortable it makes her. That’s something I can relate to. I actually have a Bachelor of Arts degree in Advertising, but by the time I reached my senior year of college, I knew in my heart advertising was not the career for me – I felt the business was too cutthroat, and dependent upon false claims. I didn’t feel comfortable manipulating people out of their hard-earned money, but by then I’d completed the majority of my mandatory coursework and wasn’t about to change majors and sign on for another couple of years of college, so I took the piece of paper and hoped a degree alone would be sufficient to help me move ahead in my career. The verdict’s still out on whether or not that was the right move, but simply having a degree has opened doors for me, so I suppose it was worth it.

Anyway. I’ve also had opportunities to work in sales, and always turned those down, for similar reasons. I’m just not comfortable selling things! So it’s ironic that I’ve chosen to pursue a profession where if you don’t sell yourself, you’ll never succeed. Truth is, that’s borderline terrifying. But there’s one major difference here: I’m selling a product I believe in very strongly – and that makes all the difference in the world.

Courtesy of

Some say self-publishing is for the vain. Trust me when I tell you, I am not like that at all. I consider myself to be quite humble, actually. I’m not comfortable in the spotlight. But I believe in No Time For Kings so strongly, I had to see it through to print. It doesn’t matter that a hundred different literary agents fed me the same “sorry, this project is not for us” line: that in no way means my novel isn’t worthy. Not a single one of them read it, and I understand that’s the nature of the business these days, so forget about them. I forged ahead on my own because I think the story is exciting, fast-paced, timely, and well-written. And I believe, if you buy the book, you will agree. It’s got action, adventure, intrigue, drama and passion. Explosions for the guys, a love story for the girls. I don’t expect to become rich or famous from the novel…I just want to entertain people and, if I’m lucky, maybe have a few more doors open up for me. Do you know why I can assure you I didn’t self-publish a book just to see my name in print? Because I’ve got three other manuscripts tucked away, gathering dust, and they will never see the light of day. They simply aren’t good enough, and no amount of massaging and editing will change that. Sure, I could have put them out, too. But what good is achieving immortality if your work sucks? I’d rather not be remembered if that was the case!

No Time For Kings is worthy. I believe that with my whole heart.

And so, I begin the arduous process of self-promotion. Like it or not, it’s a necessary part of the job. Some might say the fun part. They’re doubtless Type A personalities, and good for them! I’ll just do the best I can. I have a master plan that started with a Facebook page and will spread to book reviews, press releases, booths at festivals, social networking, etc. There are many different ways to promote a book, and I want to try them all – even some that have never been thought of before. This is all pretty exciting (okay, maybe it is a little fun!) but also scary, because now I have to see if people will actually buy my book, and if they do, whether they’ll like it.

With that in mind, here are some links to purchase my novel. I am willing to sign copies for anybody interested; we’ll just have to work out the logistics, but I’ve got some ideas I’m working on. The book is available in paperback on all three sites. There’s also an e-book version available at Booklocker, and in a bow to technology (if you can’t fight progress, you might as well embrace it!), a Kindle version for sale through Amazon. I’ll also be posting all this information to my Buy My Book page.

Buy on Booklocker.
Buy on Amazon (paperback).
Buy on Amazon (Kindle).
Buy on Barnes & Noble.

Thank you for your support – and let the fun begin!

What’s That Weird Buzzing Sound?

$30 Paperweight 

I picked up the phone the other day to call my dad, and got a busy signal. That took me aback – when was the last time I’d heard one of those?! It occurred to me then that busy signals also belong on my list of things that are obsolete nowadays. Thankfully, because they’re annoying. I tried calling back again and again, only to get that same ingratiating tone – one that is slightly less unpleasant than a buzzing alarm clock before the sun has come up. With cell phones, you don’t have this problem. The phone rings even if the person you’re calling is on the line, and either goes to voicemail, or the other person can pick up thanks to call waiting. I love the efficiency in that whole process.

As irritating as the busy signal was (it took twenty minutes of repeated attempts to finally get through), at least I knew what it was. A few weeks ago, Rusty had to call my parents for something, so I handed him my phone. He dialed the number, waited a few seconds, then gave it back to me.

“There’s something wrong with the phone,” he said.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“There’s a weird buzzing sound, and nobody is picking up.”

I snatched the phone from his hands, dialed it myself…and laughed. My son had no idea what a busy signal was! I was incredulous at first, but then realized that he probably had never heard one before. That’s either sad or incredibly funny. Maybe both.

My parents have a cell phone – they just never use it. Hell, not only do they have a landline, but the phone in the living room is a rotary dial. You should have seen the looks on my kids’ faces when they saw that for the first time. My parents aren’t exactly “early adopters.” I remember in the early 90s trying to convince them they should invest in an answering machine, and up until last year they still used a VCR to record shows. Thankfully, they converted to a DVR (which, naturally, they love).

Something tells me their cell phone is always going to be nothing more than a $30 a month paperweight, though.

Nature’s Air Conditioning was on Full Blast

Yesterday, my dad asked if I’d be interested in driving into the mountains for a nice little summer hike and an exploration of Ape Cave. I took him up on his offer, but insisted on driving because his car does not have air conditioning (see what I mean about not being “early adopters”?) and we would surely need it since it was, after all, the middle of summer.

We stopped for a picnic lunch at Beaver Bay, a nice little spot situated on the banks of Yale Lake. The sky was overcast, a stiff breeze was blowing off the lake, and we shivered beneath sweatshirts and jackets while eating our sandwiches. This may yet go down as The Summer That Wasn’t, I’m telling you. “It’s just the wind on the lake,” I told him optimistically, but when we arrived at the trailhead – 2700 feet in elevation – the air was every bit as cold. My dad said it felt like we were hiking in an air-conditioned room, and that was a pretty accurate description. The sky remained gray with clouds obscuring the tops of the trees, and the temperature couldn’t have been warmer than about 58. Regardless, it was beautiful, even if the hike to June Lake is all uphill and gains 700 feet. I have hiked many times when it was sunny and 85, and I would much rather have a cool, cloudy hike.

Breathtaking scenery despite low clouds and a crisp August chill.
The smaller of two waterfalls spilling into June Lake, elevation 3,400 feet.
My dad, navigating the entrance to Ape Cave.

Ape Cave was just a few miles away, so we hit that next. This nearly 3-mile long lava tube was formed 1,900 years ago when hot molten lava from Mount St. Helens poured down the volcano’s southern flank and entered a stream channel. The surface of the lava cooled, forming a hard crust, and insulated the lava flowing beneath, which was able to travel a great distance.

/geology lesson.

I had never been to Ape Cave before, despite living here for nearly seventeen years! My parents have gone many times, and even my kids have visited. It was nice to finally get out there and explore it. Caves are fascinating, and this one was fun.

On the drive back, I did turn the A/C on, just so I wouldn’t feel like I had driven my car all that way for nothing.

We didn’t really need it, though. The high in Portland was 69.

Good Things Come in Cardboard Boxes

Later in the evening, I stepped outside to check the mail, and found a package resting against my door. It was a book-shaped cardboard box, and I knew what it contained without even opening it. An advance copy of my novel was due to arrive any day from the printer, and so I tore into it eagerly. I cannot tell you the jubilation I felt when holding my book in my hands for the very first time.

Holding my book for the first time, I felt like a new father showing off his baby.

I stared at it. Flipped through the pages, read the back cover, the introduction. It is indistinguishable from any book you would pull off the shelf in your local bookstore. In other words, it looks “real.” It IS real, of course. I do not believe there is any stigma left in self-publishing these days. Not when the finished product turns out looking so professional.

In just a few more days, it will be available for sale!

I crawled into bed last night and, as I so often do, curled up with a book. Only this was my book, and I can’t even begin to describe how amazing it felt to be reading it. I’ve only ever seen it in manuscript form before, double-spaced on 8.5″ x 11″ paper, and even though I know how the story ends, it is so incredibly cool to be reading it as if it were a book I’d just purchased at Powell’s. I read the first three chapters and can’t wait to dive in again.

You Want Me To Put That Arugula WHERE?!

Shut Up And Let Her Cook

I’ve been watching a lot of cooking shows lately. I mean, I’ve always been into them – but now, even more so. I go through phases with what I watch; for a while it was nothing but true crime shows. Then old sitcoms. Now, if a show’s got the word “chef” in it, you can pretty much guarantee I’m watching it. Top Chef, Master Chef, Extreme Chef…and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Let’s not forget Chopped and Hell’s Kitchen and Diners Drive-Ins and Dives. I am fascinated watching a group of competitors open a mystery box to reveal ingredients they must use to create a dish. Some of these shows really stretch a chef’s creativity by including oddball ingredients like blueberry jelly beans and duck testicles and cheese crackers. I get a kick seeing what the contestants will come up with, and I think the reason for that is simple:

What on earth can you come up with using these ingredients that's not only edible, but actually tastes good?! (Courtesy of

I’m a foodie.

Which is really just a fancy term for “culinary snob.” Whatever – I can admit it. If it’s processed, frozen or comes in a box, I typically wrinkle my nose in disgust. I’m a fan of Richard Blais on Facebook.  Plus, I’m not afraid to pay $6.00 for eggs. I am forever trying new recipes, and the fancier, the better. Last night for dinner, I had my parents over, and I wanted to dazzle them with my cooking prowess, so I whipped up a sage and black pepper crusted pork tenderloin served with green chile and garlic grits cakes, an apple slaw, and portobello mushrooms brushed with basil oil. It was all quite good – but man, a lot of work! And for the record, I don’t really think I’m special because I can put together a meal like that – cooking doesn’t require much more than the ability to follow directions. I’d be more impressed if I create recipe ideas from scratch, like the contestants on those cooking shows do. When confronted with a basket full of hot dogs, butterscotch candy, carrots and chia seeds, they do not wither under the pressure. Instead, they create dishes that are original, daring, and usually – according to the judges – pretty good. Until I can do that, I’m very blase over the whole thing.

Even when I don’t have the kids and am not having company over – when it’s just me – I tend to go overboard with my meal creations. The stereotypical bachelor lives on Top Ramen and bologna sandwiches. Not me, though I wish that were the case sometimes. It would be a lot less work. Occasionally, I’ll grow bored with cooking or feel too tired to whip up something gourmet, and will resort to the ol’ guilty pleasure standby: a tuna fish sandwich. And if there are Cheez-Its on hand, even better.

I have to admit it, I get especially excited when somebody else is doing the cooking. My parents usually have me over once a week, and those are good days because I don’t have to lift a finger. I do sometimes find myself telling my mom to soak her chicken in buttermilk first, or use smoked paprika to bring out the flavors in such-and-such a dish, and I’ve got to knock that off. She’s been cooking since before I was born, after all. We foodies can be an annoying lot, I’ll be the first to testify to that. I’m making a vow from now on to just shut up and let her cook.

Cover Me

The highlight of this past weekend? On Sunday, I received an e-mail from Todd, the graphics designer with Booklocker tasked with creating the cover for my novel. For two weeks I’ve been anxiously awaiting his response, dying to see if the cover he came up with would do my story justice. I had communicated my ideas to him early in the process, suggesting things like incorporating red to signify bloodshed and green for the environment, while keeping the tone of the cover dark. I mentioned some possible images that would fit the story – a whaling trawler, black helicopters, the planet earth. All I can say is, Todd paid attention. When I opened the attachment and got a first look at my cover, I gasped out loud. He did a fantastic job with it, turning out something I find not just visually appealing, but stunning. Much better than I’d hoped for.

No Time For Kings

I sat there and stared at the cover for a full hour. I am not even exaggerating! I can’t begin to tell you how excited I was to see it…one of my friends remarked, Holy Smokes!! It looks so “REAL”!! And I get that, I do. One of the most important things a book needs – self-published or not – is a good cover, one that will grab your interest, and I think this one does exactly that.

Plus…there’s my name. In print. With a barcode and an ISBN # on the back. This is real…and it feels amazing! The culmination of so many years of hard work. Best of all, I’ve got an amazing and supportive group of friends who are contributing their time, money and talent to give me a fighting chance at success. Heidi, my friend who puts out Sacramento Book Review and its sister publication, has promised me not only a free review of my book – something that is crucial for exposure and sales – but also a half-page ad that she will personally design. Another friend knows somebody who owns a bookstore in the area and says she can get my book on the shelf there. This outpouring of support has me stoked, and while I have no illusions of becoming either rich or famous off this book, at least I am content in the knowledge that I have some big advantages other new authors don’t, and am grateful as can be for that.

I suppose if I don’t make it as a bestselling author, I can always train to be a chef.

Six Weeks To Immortality

Eggceptional…But Worth The Price? 

One of the comments on my last post had to do with the eggs I purchased from the farmer’s market on Saturday. The ones that cost me $6.00 for a dozen. This blogger asked if they were really worth the price, which was funny, because not more than an hour earlier my mom was wondering the same thing (though she took things a step further and berated me for paying so much for eggs, when she just bought them for $1.19 at WinCo…I know, I know, you can find them a hell of a lot cheaper, but I was curious and always wanted to try farm fresh eggs and, by the way, mothers never stop mothering, even when their children are slightly north of 40, do they?).

First off, I have to say, the eggs were delicious. I cooked them over-medium and served them with bacon and toast. I thought the yolks were big and creamy and a beautiful golden color. When I told my dad they were the best eggs I’d ever had, he wondered if I wasn’t just swayed by the perceived quality of the eggs, not to mention the high price I had paid, and suggested a blind taste test might be in order. I’ll admit that he could be right, and that’s not a bad idea. I think we’ll try that one day soon.

Are they worth $6.00, though? It’s hard to believe a dozen eggs would ever be worth six bucks, to be honest. But then I started thinking about economies of scale and how that translates to fifty cents apiece; the breakfast I had yesterday probably cost me $4.00 but would have run double that in a restaurant, and I have to wonder. Maybe it isn’t such a bad price after all, when you look at the big picture.

I’d have a more convincing argument if I weren’t unemployed, of course.

Dreams Do Come True. Even if You Have to Pay for Them. 

When I began this blog, my goal was to chronicle my journey from cubicle-dwelling aspiring novelist to published author. Along the way, some things changed – like, well, the cubicle disappeared, for instance – and I branched out to talk about a wide variety of topics. I like it that way; being able to write about whatever I feel like is liberating. My overall dream, of course, never changed. I always said I’d one day become a published author, or die trying.

A dozen years ago, when I decided to take a serious stab at writing novels, I balked at the notion of self-publishing. It didn’t feel legitimate, I thought, and screamed “vanity project!” more than anything else. I wanted to get published the real way, and went about my due diligence through traditional channels, crafting query letters and sending them off to dozens of literary agents. For every request to see material I had to wade through fifteen or twenty rejections. It’s frustrating to not have anybody even want to read a chapter or two of your work, but that’s the nature of the business. The marketplace is full of agents and publishers who deal with hundreds of queries, proposals and unsolicited manuscripts a week. Breaking through is next to impossible.

Over the past few years, however, the industry has changed. Even many established authors are self-publishing their books and bypassing the traditional publishing houses – it’s the best way to maintain creative control over their visions, I suppose. Self-publishing doesn’t carry the same stigma it did even five years ago, and there are success stories out there, people who have sold a ton of books on their own and then been picked up by a big-name publishing house. Granted, this is the exception to the rule, but it can – and does – happen. Social networking provides authors with so many unique and far-reaching marketing channels that, with a lot of hard work, you can really get your book out there…and hopefully noticed.

Plus, with the rise of POD (Print On Demand) publishers, the expense has gone down drastically. You no longer have to buy a hundred copies of your book and try to sell them; the publishing company will, instead, print each book on demand, as it is ordered. This keeps everybody’s costs down, and makes the whole process affordable.

So, when I secured funds for my life-changing road trip last month, I also put enough aside to self-publish my book. I have been waiting for years to have my book published, and this would be the culmination of all of my hard work and determined effort. It would be a dream come true! Albeit, a dream I was paying to have come true, but at this point – who cares about the how’s.

I’m going to be a published author!

Six Weeks To Immortality

The first step was finding the right company. There are a lot of big names out there – Lulu, Xlibris, AuthorHouse, iUniverse and Amazon’s CreateSpace, to name a few – but I chose a smaller outfit called Booklocker. Why? Not only do they offer competitive pricing and receive high satisfaction ratings, but they have standards: contrary to the practices of many companies, they look for quality books with potential, and don’t publish just anybody’s. They have to approve your manuscript first. They are essentially a mom ‘n pop outfit (something that appeals to my anti-corporate sensibilities) but offer all the same perks as the other guys: 35% royalty on book sales, your own ISBN (International Standard Book Number) and barcode, distribution through Amazon and Ingram, e-book options, cover design services, etc. Last week, I uploaded my manuscript, and nervously awaited their response. I’m so used to rejection, I think I expected it. Finally, they replied.

While I don’t have time to read entire manuscripts, we do have a specific formula for reviewing them. Basically, if we start reading and want to keep reading, that’s great. We also look for errors and try to determine if we feel there is a market for the book.

Your book has been accepted for publication by Booklocker.
Give yourself a pat on the back. We reject the vast majority of incoming proposals. (You would not BELIEVE some of the stuff we see…and, sadly, our competitors are putting this low-quality material on the market).

Welcome to the family! We’re very happy to have you!!

I was ecstatic upon reading that! I have waited so long for this to happen that, even though I’m paying for it, it still feels like a WIN!

The past few days have been an exciting blur. I’m already marketing my novel – I created a Facebook fan page for No Time For Kings. Feel free to click here and “like” it – I’m posting daily updates on the progress of my novel and sharing fun things like character backgrounds, cover proposals, etc. My friends have spread the word to their friends, and I’m conversing with people I don’t even know, trying to build “buzz.” I’ve always been pretty good at this marketing stuff, and I’m off to a solid start!

I also formatted my novel, going through it once more for any last-minute changes; signed the contract; uploaded the files; created a dedication and an “About The Author” blurb; and, most exciting of all, am working one-on-one with a graphics designer to come up with an original cover. I talked with him today about the ideas I have – dark and brooding, incorporating the environmental/terrorist themes, suggested color schemes, even a few possible images. I can’t wait to see what Todd comes up with! I’ll own the cover artwork when it’s complete, as I’m “buying” it as part of the contract. Oh, and I came up with a tagline that I like, too. Saving The Earth is Bloody Business. It fits.

My friends are being amazingly supportive, and my kids have jumped on board, too. Rusty even designed a promotional poster using a photo of Mount Rushmore I took just a few weeks ago. It’s related to a pivotal scene in the book, and I think it turned out fantastic. Audrey, meanwhile, has decided she’d like to become a writer too, and is working on a book of her own. I’m proud of them both.

This is all very exciting, and I plan to update progress here on my blog, of course. In just six short weeks, my book will be available for sale. I can hardly believe it!

Not the cover (though it would certainly work)! Rusty designed this promotional poster based on an image I took a few weeks ago. It's been doctored a bit - I promise I didn't destroy any national monuments while on my trip.

Feeling Sorry For Clouds

I was taking a walk after dinner last night. It was about an hour before sunset and the westering sun was low on the horizon but still shining brightly. A few clouds were drifting lazily by. They weren’t the puffy white cumulus variety, but rather stretched out and gray: shapeless, lacking form and definition. They weren’t associated with any approaching or departing storms, so they were most likely going to just fizzle out and dissipate somewhere to the east with nary so much as a sprinkle to show for their very existence. And I thought to myself, I feel sorry for those clouds. Is that a weird thing to admit?

These poor guys will never amount to anything. (Courtesy of

I know clouds don’t have feelings, but I couldn’t help thinking that the ones dotting the sky last night just weren’t living up to their potential, and it saddened me. If I were a cloud, I’d want to be a rainmaker, you know? I’d want to make a grand entrance, dark and stormy, and have people notice me. Unleash a few bolts of lightning, a couple of claps of thunder. Loud ones, so people would jump. I’d want to feel like I had purpose. I would love to be the cloud that dumped the first rain on a parched area in weeks: an ender of droughts, an irrigator of fields. I’d want to fill up a thirsty man’s canteen or douse an out-of-control wildfire. Even if I couldn’t precipitate, at the very least, I’d like to spark a child’s imagination. I’d want some kid somewhere far below lying on his back looking up at me and seeing a tiger or a dragon or a stick of cotton candy from the county fair. I would want to be something, anything, other than those poor clouds I saw last night, the ones who will never amount to anything.

If you’re going to be a cloud, be a cloud. Know what I mean?

Now, it’s true that I’d had a couple of rum and Cokes earlier, around dinnertime, but I swear I was lucid. Perhaps my imagination was in high gear because, earlier in the day, I’d participated in a short story writing contest. There’s a website, Writer’s Weekly, that caters to freelancers and is affiliated with Booklocker, a POD self-publishing company. Four times a year they sponsor a 24-hour short story contest – the entry fee is $5, it’s limited to 500 participants, and the top three prizes are $500, $300, and $200. Plus, there are loads of “door prizes” for honorable mentions and random entries. It’s an intriguing concept: at a predetermined time (10 AM PDT Saturday, in this case) an e-mail appears in your in-box with the first paragraph of a story, and you’ve got 24 hours to finish it. And by short story, I mean short story – it couldn’t exceed 900 words. For some reason I find novels easier to write than short stories, but they are something I want to work on improving, because it’s far easier to get a short story published in an anthology or magazine than it is to sell a novel. I had fun with the contest last year, and am pleased with what I came up with yesterday. In six short weeks, they’ll announce the winners. Fingers crossed!

I am also finally ready to begin work on a new novel. I finished No Time For Kings in October of 2009 and have spent a year and a half editing and polishing it and trying to find an agent or publisher interested in it. I’ve had a few bites but haven’t landed anybody yet, and am seriously looking at self-publishing my book now (possibly using Booklocker). There used to be a stigma associated with self-publishing (and I’ll admit, I was against it myself), but times have changed and the “traditional” publishing industry is nothing like it was even ten years ago. For a little over $500 I can get my book published, and then start marketing and selling it. That will free me up to start writing again – something I sorely miss. I have a great idea for a new character-driven novel that would take place in Seattle and Portland in 1991 and involve disaffected youth clinging to their ideals while the grunge scene+Microsoft+Starbucks  is exploding all around them, changing the Emerald City from a blue-collar town barely on the radar to a hip and trendy destination. I’m excited to begin writing again, and hope to start very soon.

Speaking of writing, thanks to all who voted in my last poll. I asked which topics you’re most interested in reading about, and the winner – with 44% – is “other.” LOL. “Current events with a twist” and “more personal themes” also received some interest, so I’ll do my best to come up with more of those types of posts.

One of the “other” requests asked for me to write about complisults again. I mentioned them briefly in a previous entry, but would love to touch on them in more depth now. Complisults are, in essence, backhanded compliments – or more directly, insults disguised as compliments. I first heard the term used on NBC’s Community and immediately latched onto it. Here are a few examples of complisults:

  • “Great haircut! It really brings out your gray.”
  • “You look thinner than usual today!”
  • “Love the Hawaiian shirt. It draws attention away from those sandals you’re wearing.”
  • “You drive the coolest minivan in the neighborhood!”

Mastering the complisult is an art form. The complisulter must deliver it smoothly and in such a way that the complisultee will confusedly believe he or she has been complimented for at least a few minutes or, ideally, several hours. They may have a nagging feeling that something wasn’t “quite right” with your words and then, at some point, they’ll have that “a-ha!” moment usually followed by a “hey, wait a minute…” It’s great fun, and I urge you to try it. Just be sure the person you are complisulting can take a joke (or is smaller than you and, therefore, not likely to be able to cause much bodily harm).

Happy complisulting!