Marketing, Uncategorized

To Hemlock Run

THR promo 3

When reporter Jason Reynolds is asked to look into the disappearance/abduction of a young woman in rural Washington State, he agrees to do what he can. What he discovers is this is no ordinary case of domestic abuse. Instead, he’s stumbled upon something bigger and more dangerous.

What he’s found is the Barton family, the de facto rulers of Dunham County. Not only are they the wealthiest family and largest employer, but they have nearly total political control of the county’s legal system. Residents of Dunham County like to say: “You don’t cross the Bartons; bad things happen to people who cross the Bartons.”

And no one has ever crossed the Bartons like Jason Reynolds crossed them.

Soon he is dodging the Bartons’ Sheriff’s Department and trying to find a way to bring them to justice without sacrificing his life and the lives of his friends.

Read To Hemlock Run by James Boyle, out now.

 

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And…He’s Back

I know, I know, I’ve been neglecting you the past few months. There are reasons: getting my latest novel To Hemlock Run ready for publication (look for it in February/March 2017; a very contentious election here in the States (and behalf of all progressive Americans I apologize in advance to the rest of the world); and a scarcity of new ideas. I found I was beginning to repeat myself in my posts. Not a good idea. So I decided to take some time off to replenish the well, if you will.

Now, with the end of the year looming in the near future, it is time to look back on the accomplishments and defeats of the previous year.

I did finish the first draft of my new novel, an accomplishment all on its own. The first draft is probably the most important step of the writing process because it makes all the others possible. There are no edited or finished drafts without the first one.

I have also edited, revised, re-thought, and re-written To Hemlock Run and refined it to a state where I feel fairly comfortable releasing it into the world. I will be beginning the publication process next week.

Last year, I devised a reading program for myself, pledging to read forty-eight books over the year, with a particular emphasis on writers who were not white American men. I did not fully complete that plan. While I did read the forty-eight books (actually fifty-two as of today), I did not range as widely as I’d hoped. I only managed to read a couple of novels by black authors and a handful written by Native Americans. However, I did read several written by European authors, set in European countries, with all the cultural and accompanying differences. I did read many more works (most very, very good) by women writers. Again, just because of societal pressures, the world is approached somewhat differently by a woman, than a man.

There will be more about what I’ve learned from these authors in the coming weeks.

In the coming year, I hope to continue my reading. Reading, for a writer, is really a type of industrial espionage, combined with a tutorial session with an established master. I very seldom read anything of consequence without noting how the author accomplishes the effects she does. For a writer, reading is seldom simply an exercise in escapism or entertainment. A part of the mind is always paying attention to techniques and choices.

Have you ever played “first draft” with a novel you’re in the process of reading? At some point, about halfway through the work, stop at the end of a scene and close the book. Now ask yourself: if I were writing this, what scene would come next and what would it accomplish? If you want, write that scene, then compare it to the scene the author wrote. Did the author make a different decision than you? Why might that be?

My reading program for the next year will be an attempt to read quality, more than quantity. I’m only pledging to read twenty-four novels, but I intend for half of them to be classics. I have several works by authors such as Hemingway, Faulkner and Steinbeck, Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy, Hugo, Dumas and Flaubert lined up and ready to go. Since many of these works are long and very dense, I expect to read fewer of them, but perhaps learn more with each. To lighten things up, I will still read works in my favorite genre, friend recommendations, and newer works that strike my fancy.

And, of course, I will begin to work on another novel at some point in the near future. Ideas are beginning to flit around my consciousness like moths around a campfire.

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Uncategorized, Writing and Editing

Lineup Set For South Coast Writers Conference

Those of you who have been reading this blog for a while know how much I value the experience of attending a writers conference. There is quite frankly nothing you can do that better rekindles one’s enthusiasm and optimism than spending a few days surrounded by people who are struggling with the exact same battles you are.

I came to this belief after a close friend talked (badgered, nagged, wheedled) me into attending a small conference in my home town, the South Coast Writers Conference. I was so transformed by the experience that I volunteered to be part of the conference planning committee. I have been a part of that committee for more than ten years.

With no further ado, as part of the planning committee, I am pleased to announce the lineup of presenters for:

20th South Coast Writing Conference

The lineup is set for the 20th annual South Coast Writer’s Conference, in Gold Beach, Oregon. The conference is held every year on Presidents’ Day weekend, (February 12 and 13 this year) and provides the opportunity to devote a long weekend to writing and enjoying the natural beauty of the southern Oregon coast.

The South Coast Writers Conference is an eclectic gathering of writers in every genre and every level of expertise and features some of the American Northwest’s best writers holding workshops to share, explore, and celebrate every form of writing.

Workshop presenters this year are: Jason Brick, Barri Chase, Peter Brown Hoffmeister, Anne Osterlund, Bruce Holland Rogers, Heidi Schulz, Eric Witchey, Carolyne Wright, and Miriam Gershow. They will be joined by songwriters Kate Power and Steve Einhorn.

Workshops are scheduled to begin on Friday, February 12, with participants selecting one of three day-long seminars. Workshops continue Saturday, February 13, with twenty, ninety-minute workshops offered over four time slots throughout the day.

The fee for the Friday workshop alone is $55.00. The fee for the Saturday workshops alone is $60.00. The fee for both Friday and Saturday workshops is $115.00. Early registration is encouraged to secure a seat in participants’ desired workshop.

More information on the conference and the workshops offered this year can be found on the conference website: http://www.socc.edu/scwriters.

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Pardon the Interruption; Housekeeping

I will not be posting my usual attempt at insight this week because I will be tied up (all but literally) with putting on a writers’ conference. But I’m quite sure I will return next week with all sorts of new ideas (and new ways of looking at some old ones).

In the meantime, some housekeeping:

Recently, someone asked me to read some of their work and prepare a critique. I agonized over this decision for several days. I have the teacher’s spirit. I enjoy passing my knowledge on to others. I also consider helping others a way of paying back the Universe for all the help I’ve been given over the years.

However, I decided to pass on the critique.

I based my decision on two factors. First, I between my own writing projects, marketing my books, this blog, working with the other members of my critique group, and my work with the Writers Conference, I don’t really have a lot of free time. I certainly don’t have time to take on very many new projects. And, once I agree to do it for one person, I pretty much need to do it for everyone who asks.

So it is better, to just say no, thank you.

The second reason that pushed me toward saying no was something I read years ago on Stephen King’s website. I believe it was in the FAQ’s where someone asked whether they could send manuscripts for him to look over. In response, he politely requested that no one send him their manuscripts. Whether we like it or not, we live in a society that likes to file lawsuits. The best defense against an accusation of plagiarism is the ability to prove that we’ve never seen the work in question.

Like it or not, cynical or not, it makes sense. It’s a good business decision.

So sorry folks, but for the above stated reasons, I am unable to critique your works at this time. (Much as might want to.)

See you after the Conference!

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Uncategorized, writing

Eulogy For Daniel Boyle

This post is going to be something a little different. Rather than my humble opinions on various aspects of the writing craft, I will instead offer a small example of my writing. A sample, if you would, of the finished product.

I had published some examples of fiction earlier in the life of my blog. Then I discovered that many publications consider works published on a blog as “published.” In other words, they won’t touch them. So, no more fiction I might wish to publish later.

But first, a short explanatory note about this work. For those who aren’t already aware, my father passed away on July 8. As we were preparing for his memorial service I was told I needed to write the eulogy. Apparently, my family thinks I have a way with words, or something. Whatever the reason, I did write and deliver the eulogy at my father’s funeral.

It is the most difficult thing I have ever written.

So:

EULOGY FOR DANIEL BOYLE

I have been asked to say a few words about my father. My Dad.

Thanks.

Where to start? How do you do justice to almost seventy-five years of life, of loving, in a few paragraphs? How do you put into words what words were never designed to convey?

My Dad would answer that question this way: you do the best you can.

So. Who was my Dad?

My Dad was a man.

“Well yeah,” some of you are saying. “We kind of figured that.”

No, not just an adult male; he was a man. There is a difference.

A man is strong. Look up the strong, silent type and you’ll find a picture of my Dad. He worked hard for years to make a better life for his family and that meant taking overtime whenever he could get it. There were many times when the family would be gathered around the dinner table in the evening and the phone would ring. Us older kids would ask “Are you home?” And he would usually nod that he was.

I once asked him how he’d worked for the same company for twenty-five years. He told me that you just kept going back the next morning.

So yes, he was tough and he was strong, but he was so never violent. He never raised his hand against the women in his life and never against us children. (Other than the rare butt swat we always deserved.) In fact, I never saw, nor heard of him raising his hand against anybody. When he raised a hand it was to help someone, not hurt them.

He celebrated his children’s victories and consoled us in our defeats. All he wanted was that we do our best. And when we did screw up or make a bad decision he never belittled us, never made us feel stupid. Usually, he’d just ask a simple question: did you learn anything from this?

Lastly, Dad had a deep and powerful faith in God. He didn’t talk about it very much; it was a private affair, between him and God. But as the saying goes, actions speak much louder than words and those of us close to him know that he honestly, consciously tried to live his life in a manner that Jesus would approve. And he came pretty close.

In his final hours at the hospital, we tried to find a priest to give him last rights. The hospital staff called one, only to find that he was out fishing and couldn’t be reached. They tried valiantly to find another priest, but were unsuccessful. This never happens in the movies. Personally, I wasn’t worried about it. In my mind, the extreme unction would almost be just a formality.

I’ll leave you with an image in my head.

(I have lots of images in my head, but I’m only going to share this one.)

Dad stands in front of St. Peter’s desk outside the golden gates of heaven. Not the battered, worn-out body he lived in toward the end, but the lean, strong body of the young Marine, ready to take on the world.

St. Peter consults his reservation book and hesitates, stroking his beard.

“Is there a problem?” Dad asks.

“Well, a minor one,” St. Peter says. “But yes, there is a problem. It seems you did not receive Last Rights before you passed over. I can’t let you in without Last Rights.”

Dad sighs. “What happens now?”

“You’ll have to go to the waiting area until other arrangements can be made.”

Dad is clearly disappointed, but the rules are rules. Before he can move, a shadowy figure emerges from the billowing clouds on the far side of the gates and steps up beside St. Peter.

It’s Jesus.

“Is there a problem?” he asks, smiling at my Dad.

“Yes,” St. Peter tells him. “This young man has not received Last Rights, so he cannot gain immediate entry. I was just about to show him to the waiting area.”

“Oh, Peter.” Jesus smiles and shakes his head. “Don’t be such a Pharisee. Let the poor guy in.”

St. Peter starts, but then nods, writes something in the book, and the gates swing open.

Jesus steps over to Dad. “Forgive him. I love Peter like a brother, but even when we were wandering the hills of Galilea it was so hard to get him to see the big picture.”

“Thank you.”

“Come, walk with me,” Jesus takes Dad’s hand and leads him toward the gate. “I think there’s some people who want to see you.”

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The Fiction Politic

As writers, I’d like to think we tend to be a little more tuned in to the world around us. We notice more details than the average guy on the street. We try to see trends and identify where the culture we live in is going. For better or worse. Often that includes the world of politics and the social issues of our times. And since every writer I know also has an opinion and isn’t terribly afraid of voicing that opinion, the question arises: do political and social issues belong in our fiction? Now I’m not talking about political thrillers and that type of genre where politics is an integral part of the plot. I’m talking about ordinary, mainstream fiction, the stuff we all write.

For instance, if you’re writing a western novel set (as most of them are) between 1870-1910 in the American West, should you include a discussion of civil rights? The situation of the Native Americans? Women’s suffrage?

The short (and easy) answer is that like everything else about your writing, it is entirely up to you. It’s your story do what you want.

The longer answer (as in most things) is a bit more complicated.

First of all, if you’re something of a political junkie, that mindset is going to infuse your fiction anyway, whether you consciously plan it, or not. If you’re a hardcore socialist (for example) you probably won’t write a work that serves as a ringing endorsement of libertarianism. The reverse holds true for dedicated libertarians. Even if you don’t consider yourself overtly political, your world view (whatever it might be) will naturally inform which stories you choose to write and how you write them. It’s human nature.

All that aside, there is a long, distinguished history of writers using their work to affect social change (or to at least bring an issue or problem to the public mind). Some of the greats did it: Sinclair Lewis, John Steinbeck, Mark Twain, are just a few modern examples. So using your fiction to advocate for your favorite cause or issue is not automatically out of the question. It can actually serve to do a great deal of good in this world.

But realize as you write that novel exposing the evils of X that a significant portion of the reading public will quite possibly disagree with you. If they disagree strongly enough, they may never read another word you write. Ever. You will have lost them and probably all their friends too. (I have never read Atlas Shrugged for this very reason. I cannot buy into its central premise.)

It is something to consider.

Another pitfall is the danger of morphing from demonstrating an idea through your fiction to advocating a particular position in your story. It is very, very hard to advocate without coming across as preaching to the audience. Nobody picks up a novel or clicks on to a short story hoping to be preached to. There is no surer way to lose a reader in an otherwise well-written story.

Even some experienced, otherwise well-regarded authors have fallen into this trap. Read John Grisham’s The Street Lawyer for a good example of preaching. Mr. Grisham couches it in dialogue between two characters, but it was still preaching and a less dedicated reader might have put the novel down. (I merely found myself skimming a few paragraphs).

And then there is the issue of timeliness. Many issues that make headlines every week now will be merely footnotes in a history book a few years from now. If you base your novel around that issue, your novel will become dated as soon as the issue recedes from the public consciousness. It becomes dated. Even if well-written, it still comes across as quaint because the issue is no longer important. This is even more of an issue if the problem the story is highlighting is solved. (Even if the public just perceives it is solved).

Think of the great anti-war novels that came out of the late sixties and early seventies: Catch-22, MASH, Slaughterhouse 5. While still excellent reads, in the current pro-military mood, they seem somehow quaint and naïve. They are novels that captured the mood of a particular time in American history (the end of the Vietnam War) and don’t translate as well to the post 9/11 world. (Though some might argue they should).

Again, it is something to consider.

And, as a final note, just as it is all but impossible to write a story without having it reflect (if only unconsciously) your world and political views, it is also virtually impossible to write a realistic work of fiction set in the modern world without mention of political issues. If your novel is set, for example, in a modern American city, how would an author avoid at least mentioning the issues of poverty, drug abuse, unemployment or homelessness. Leaving them all out is a type of political statement in and of itself.

How you have your characters react to these issues is also an opportunity for a political statement. And again, having them ignore the issues is also a political and social statement, not to mention a great way of showing character.

Personally, I have followed politics since I was in middle school (when Nixon resigned). However, I seldom write overtly political fiction. Instead, my political and social views are born out more through my characters than anything else. (My protagonists tend to me of a liberal bent, though often with a very strong moral code). Occasionally, they will even get in brief disagreements about things with a political shadow. These conversations are never a major part of the narrative and serve to enhance characterization more than anything else.

That is how I choose to deal with most political and social issues in my fiction. At least up until now. (Tomorrow could change all that. I make no promises). How you deal with your issues is entirely up to you.

Just know what you’re getting yourself into before you make any decision.

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