Thursday, September 18, 2014

Life Long Learning

Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks? One of the beauties of being retired is that I now have numerous opportunities to pursue new forms of learning. First of all a caveat. I retired from a high tech career into the world of writing. Since the time I decided to pursue writing in 2001, I have found many educational opportunities that have been valuable and eye-opening. Here are a few:

Citizens police academies—As a mystery writer, I have benefited from three different police citizens academies I’ve attended, two city and one county sheriff. They provide a chance for ordinary citizens to learn more about law enforcement. I’ve also volunteered as a role player for police training. I’ve been a hostage, hostage taker, assaulter, aggressive panhandler, drunk, traffic violator and illegal camper, to name a few.

Citizens fire academies—I’ve attended two programs to learn about fire fighting. Again, an awareness-building experience on the variety of services provided by fire and rescue organizations.

University classes—The University of Colorado has a wonderful program for older people. If you’re fifty-five or older, you can audit any class for free with the instructors permission. Living in Boulder, I availed myself of this and took two fiction writing courses to jump start my mystery writing.

Educational hikes—Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks hosts numerous educational hikes. I’ve learned about subjects including the geology of our region, the impact of the September 2013 flood, flowers, animals and photography.

Book clubs—I’ve periodically attended two books clubs, which both have well-read and articulate participants. As well as reading interesting books, I’ve appreciated the insights of involved readers.

Volunteering—One of the activities that has taught me the most is volunteering in our community. I’ve been on the Boulder County Aging Advisory Council, a respite volunteer and mentored/tutored kids. Talk about learning from both elders and young people.

Civic engagement—Opportunities abound to become involved in local issues. Lately, I’ve been supporting improvements to senior housing—providing a variety of housing options for our rapidly growing senior population.

The bottom line—we are surrounding by opportunities to keep learning no matter what age we are.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Hybrid Authors

At the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Conference this last weekend, I attended several panels and had a number of interesting conversations on the subject of hybrid authors. So what’s a hybrid author? It’s someone who is published both traditionally (through a publisher) and independently (self-published).

I’m a hybrid author in that my eight books are available through medium and small publishers, but I’ve also self-published four e-books, the first four books in my Paul Jacobson Geezer-lit Mystery Series because I retained the e-book rights to these. Since then my publisher has decided to publish e-books as well as print books.

The advantage of traditional publishing is that the publisher bears all the costs of editing, book cover design, production and distribution. Also, traditional publisher have established sales channels to get books to market.  The disadvantage is the author gives up control and receives a relatively small percentage of the money earned.

The advantage of independent (self-publishing) is that the author controls the whole process and gets all the money earned on sales. The disadvantage is that the author must bear the upfront costs and take the time to manage and do much of the upfront work. Also, the author must bear all the brunt of sales and marketing of the book.

The hybrid world now allows an author to pick and choose which manuscripts to publish through the traditional route and which through the independent route. This gives the author the best of both worlds depending on the particular manuscript.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Conference

One of my favorite writers conferences is taking place this coming weekend (Friday through Sunday) at the Westin Hotel in Westminster, Colorado—The Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Conference.

I’ve attended this every year since 2002, a year after I started writing. The first year I knew one other person (a writer I worked with in the high tech world), but since then I’ve made many friends there.

I’m particularly loyal to this conference because I sold my first novel as a result of a pitch session in 2005 to editor, Deni Dietz, of Five Star. She told me to email my manuscript to her after the conference. I went home, made one more editing pass, emailed it, crossed my fingers, and three months later I received a contract offer. The result, Retirement Homes Are Murder was published in January, 2007.

The conference offers something for everyone. There are workshops on craft, the art of pitching and selling your manuscript, and promotion once a book is published. I attend workshops on all three levels. I’ve learned that I always need to continue to improve my writing.

This year I’m organizing moderators for the conference, will teach a workshop titled, “Rejection Is Not a Four Letter Word,” and will host a table at Friday dinner for David Wilk, publisher at Frederator Books.

I’m looking forward to seeing friends and making new ones.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Brainstorming in the Writng Process

When I was in the corporate world, I participated in a number of brainstorming session. When I started writing, an author suggested brainstorming ideas for novels. I had never brainstormed by myself and wondered about that advice. Then I gave it a try.

Here’s what I learned. The process can work with one person. When I’m planning a new novel, I often use walking time to brainstorm. I carry a pad of paper and a pen and jot down ideas as they come to me. Like with brainstorming in a group, no idea is a bad one. Just get it down. Then I can go over these later to pick the ones I will incorporate into my novel.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Police Role Playing

I had a chance again this week to be a role player for police training. Four new police officers were in training, two with previous law enforcement experience and two brand new to the police world.

My scenario was to be a person who had been fired from my job, not allowed to take my personal belongings and had come back in to break into my old locked office to reclaim my personal stuff.

As a mystery writer I then embellished the basic scenario by adding that my employer had been stealing things from my desk and I had returned to retrieve a thousand dollar engagement ring that was in my desk and that I needed to give to my fiancée.
Needless to say, I got cuffed and arrested all four times. Sigh. One more taint to my law abiding reputation.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Editing Process

Okay. Now the rough draft is done. On to editing. Some writers rewrite as the go, but I prefer to get a fast rough draft completed and then go through numerous editing passes.

Editing pass number one: I read through the whole draft to get a feel for what I’ve written, correcting any content errors along the way.

Editing pass number two: Now I really focus on readability. How can I write things more clearly.

Editing pass number three: On to punctuation, grammar and word choices.

Editing pass number four+: I go through and search on certain words I use too much such as “about” and change or eliminate.

My final editing pass is to read the manuscript out loud. Now I catch things that my eyes have skipped over before.

Then the manuscript goes to my wife, my first reader. After she give me comments, I make another editing pass.

Next, on to my critique group. Once all those comments have been incorporated, I make another full editing pass. Now I’m ready to submit it to the publisher.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Research Trips

One of the things I enjoy about writing is taking research trips. These have included an Alaskan cruise (the setting the fourth book in my Paul Jacobson Geezer-lit Mystery Series, Cruising in Your Eighties Is Murder) and visits to Venice Beach, California, (location of Senior Moments Are Murder).

We just returned from a two night stay in Glenwood Springs, Colorado. I have a manuscript that takes place there, and it addition to a nice vacation at the hot springs, I wanted to check on several of the scenes I had written. Good thing. I discovered a major error. I had an important scene where my protagonist goes down to the Colorado River. The problem: the place I used didn’t work because of a small impediment: I-70 runs along the river with no way over or under the freeway at that point. By walking around, I found a pedestrian bridge that crossed the freeway and ended up in a lovely park, Two Rivers Park. With some minor editing, I can now set it right.