Tuesday, December 18, 2012

One column, one chapter, one writing assignment - oh my

NUEVO VALLARTA, Nayarit, Mexico - The draft of The Fracking War continues to be, well, kind of war-like in the writing, though day to day, chapters are piling up but few bodies for a book with the word War in the title.

Slow and steady wins the race and gets the draft of a novel done.

Writing slow, but steady
Today's lifeless body - only the second person killed in 20+ chapters - is that of a high school chemistry teacher shot in an incident with a Bushmaster rifle brought into her high school classroom.

Isn't it amazing how real life and fiction mirror one another?

That chapter and section was written after I had already written a column for the Finger Lakes Times about the Newton, Conn. shootings. I realized (after a trip to the beach to think) that the characters in my book are dealing with all the same issues inside the book as I am outside of the book. Sometimes I think they are outside and I am inside. Or something like that.

Make any sense?

In the meantime, another piece of good writing news arrived this week -  an assignment from an international magazine to write a piece about life in Mexico. It's supposed to chronicle my experience here. This could be interesting.

Back to the school shooting in The Fracking War. A police helicopter just arrived and I don't want to miss the action.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Characters seize the keyboard in drafting of 'The Fracking War'

NUEVO VALLARTA, Nayarit, Mexico - Friday and Monday (yesterday) the characters in my first draft of The Fracking War apparently got tired of waiting for me.

They started moving the story line along so fast I had to shut down Microsoft Word for a few hours while I outlined where I wanted the book to go next.  I was half afraid I might open up the last chapter and find they had added to it!

I retired to a chair on the beach to do some outlining. It was a welcome respite from the dreary winter upstate-New York setting for the book.

The characters hadn't staged a coup by the time  I started writing again. But I could hear their lament: If this book is about a war, where's the freakin' war?

Admittedly, the book is already at 22 chapters (about 15,000 words) and there has been but a single violent death, lots of nasty stuff and some quite classic vandalism. Think: The Monkey Wrench Gang. But there are crusading journalists, evil gas company workers, lots of solid science about why hydrofracking is such a disaster and a dog.

Yes, a dog. It's an old labrador named Belle who showed up this morning with a female environmental specialist/activist from Colorado hired by the newspaper. I didn't say she could bring a dog, but she did.

Novel characters and actors are like that.

All in all, the draft is moving along fine and if I read my outline correctly, it seems that tomorrow the good guys and the bad guys are likely to meet in a serious clash, like matter and anti-matter (with a similar explosion), unless that is happening already while I have been away typing this update.

More next week, with a hot war underway. Maybe.

Monday, December 03, 2012

Death in the afternoon (actually a nap) - after writing all morning

NUEVO VALLARTA, Nayarit, Mexico - The second full week of writing my first draft of The Fracking War ended last week and today started the third with about 10 chapters (more or less) in the bank. Many more to go, then revise, then... I don't want to think about it.

It took the full two weeks to get into the right cadence because even with the time blocked out to write, plot sort of set up, characters developing faster than teenagers, it still has been hard as all hell to write.

Part of it is the tendency to get waaaaay too complicated.

Several scenes take place in an upstate New York diner in a little place called Horseheads. I started going into great detail about this diner, then realized it only existed because the characters needed a place outside of the newspaper office to go talk.

Who gives a flying shit about the decor? That's information way beyond what any reader wants and/or needs.

The good news this past week was that I stumbled onto a rubric to make it easier for me to slam particular kinds of information to the readers without struggling as a novelist.

The main character will be writing a regular newspaper column and, voila, each column will be integral to the story.

His first column, headlined "Three Women, Three Cancers" is one smokin' piece of writing, if I do say so myself.

And I just did.

More next week, unless I become a casualty of The Fracking War and decide to start writing sonnets instead of this novel.

Monday, November 26, 2012

A week into the 'The Fracking War', and the war rages

NUEVO VALLARTA, Nayarit, Mexico - A writing project like The Fracking War at first is a lot like starting an exercise program after a long layoff.

The first day feels sooooooo good. But the second day, oh the muscles are sore!

And the third day, you begin to question your sanity as to why the ^&;*$(%^&; you ever decided to do it.

Hydrofracking and clean water
A week into this, with a side trip to our Arroyo Seco property, I am happy to report that I didn't find any sharp knives to do surgery on my wrists on the third day - though it was tempting.

Instead, again on the third day, I realized that I had started writing the story in the middle. And flashbacks are ok, but they are not my style.

As of this writing, there are drafts of six chapters sitting in another file. Seven characters have been created (they created themselves actually) and now I have to keep at the writing five or six days per week and see what they want to do.

Fictional characters rarely want to do what you want them to do.

In the meantime, the whole business of the dangers of hydrofracking for natural gas is in the news so much every day that it is providing me plenty of material to think about.

I mean for the characters to think about...

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Getting back on the horse, after riding on sailboats

NUEVO VALLARTA, Nayarit, Mexico - After a busy writing and journalistic summer in upstate New York, followed by a whirlwind reporting assignment in Vava'u, the Kingdom of Tonga (covering the Regatta Vava'u sailing extravaganza), it has taken me until today to finally establish a writing schedule.

Sign for Regatta at Tropical Tease shirt shop in Vava'u
After returning from Vava'u, I spun my wheels for weeks with traditional queries to magazines and major newspapers, meeting limited success at landing articles. Limited might be too generous a description.

But as the great travel writer Rolf Potts told me, what's most important is having the material in hand. In this case that means my notebooks full of impressions and quotes, roughly 5,000 excellent photos and enough video to keep a Steven Spielberg editing for a whole winter.

The Tonga/Vava'u stories are going to be a welcome contrast to write when compared to the book I have promised myself to complete before summer. The working title is The Fracking War and while it will be a work of fiction, it will be based on the well-documented horrors surrounding hydrofracking for natural gas. Several excellent non-fiction tomes have been written by journalists, even using some clever literary journalism techniques.

Taking notes the first day in Vava'u
But none of these has hit the level of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, which is what is needed to grab the public's attention to a cataclysmic environmental disaster in place and growing daily.

I'm shooting for the hyrofracking version of Uncle Tom's Cabin.

This piece is appearing today because outside forces were conspiring to keep me from doing any writing. And I was a co-conspirator. Why write when you can boogie board, swim in the pool, walk on the beach or simply turn on the blender and mix up a concoction that requires salt on the rim of the serving glass.

Doing serious writing here in Nuevo Vallarta in my seaside (and poolside) condo might prove as difficult as studying for the Catholic priesthood in a strip bar.

Still, I have earplugs, a soon-to-be completed office area and if I stick to my schedule, it should work.

Vamos a ver (we will see). I will post progress reports here weekly.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Home from the big trip, let the writing and editing begin

SACRAMENTO, Calif., USA - I am on the last leg of my month-long voyage from the Finger Lakes to California to the Kingdom of Tonga (and back), landing tomorrow morning in beautiful Elmira, New York.

To steal a phrase, "What a long strange trip I have been on."

All of that now has to be translated into stories, publishable photos and videos. In other words, the real work begins now.

The cornerstone assignments were for Cruising World magazine and also a Zumba publication. But we have quite literally more than a dozen secondary markets already in the pipeline, as well as many others yet-to-be contacted.

We ran across so many different possible stories while in Vava'u, Tongatapu and Fiji, I filled two notebooks with story ideas and notes. Adm. Fox shot thousands of photos to illustrate the stories. And video? I think I have about five hours of raw footage - maybe six.

One story might be about the fellow in this photo, a chap named Billy who has a tiny - and I mean tiny - theater right on the main drag. He packs in - and I mean packs in - an audience several nights a week, working with an actor named Augustine.

I have video interviews with both Billy and Augustine that might make for an interesting mini-movie all by itself.

After reading several short travelogue style books, I'll bet a 50-100 page memoir book might be within my reach (and grasp, I hope), time permitting, of course.

The organizers of Regatta Vava'u want exposure for their corner of paradise so more tourists will visit next season - May through September.

I'll do my best.

But I should probably go visit next year to see how it all turned out.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The fun stories, the good news stories are needed, too

DUNDEE, New York - For most of the summer, I have been chasing stories for the Elmira Star-Gazette, the Ithaca Journal and Mountain Home magazine (out of Pennsylvania). All have been fun stories and/or stories where I knew what I was writing/photographing/publishing would be well appreciated.

Over the past weekend, I went to the Finger Lakes Wine Festival where I managed to find some friends pouring wine for their amigos (who own a winery) and voila! I was able to publish a photo of them, which promos their friends' winery quite nicely.

Plus, of course, they liked seeing themselves in the newspaper.

LINK: Monday's Wine Festival article in Star-Gazette
Then Tuesday morning there was a feature I had written about a local guy who is raising alpacas.

His hobby turned into a business that now has his entire family hard at it with a entire production of making yarn and products for sale.

He's living the dream which I chronicled and also gave a helluva boost to his business.

Right after it was published, I received several emails from people asking me for good directions to the ranch and little store. Multiply that times the circulations of the two newspapers and the family is in for a windfall.

It deserves it.

LINK: A passion for alpacas...

The experience this summer has taken me in a time machine back to when I started in the news business, writing hard-hitting, expose-type stories mixed in with features just like these. Looking back, the softer pieces may have made a bigger dent in the cosmos than any 'gotcha' story I ever wrote.

It's fun to make people happy.

I once took a photo and wrote a story about a local boy scout leader whose son had attained Eagle Scout - no small feat when your dad is the big kahuna of the troop. I can still see them standing there, posing for the photo. And the next day, when the photo and story were published, the dad came in and bought 50 copies of the newspaper.

One proud papa.

Professional journalists will often scoff at such stories, but know in their hearts that they count for a lot.

Nice to be reminded of it after all these years.

Saturday, June 02, 2012

Always get the names, always get the names, always get the names...

WATKINS GLEN, New York, USA - Forty pix into the Seneca Lake Wine and Food event this afternoon and I was sure I had at least a half-dozen good shots to accompany my story for the Elmira Star-Gazette newspaper.

And I was careful to get names and sufficient information to write captions.

I thought, I thought.

Wine in four packs

After writing the story (382 words), I dispatched eight photos to the editors. And in one photo, there was a young woman pouring wine who was clearly identifiable. But I hadn't gotten her name because I was at a booth where I thought I knew everybody.

I thought, I thought.

The rule of thumb in the journalism business is simple: If someone is identifiable, well, identify them damn it!

And so I after I sent over the photos - sans her name - I waited to see which of the eight shots the editors might pick. No sense going crazy to find the name unless I needed to.
Music at the event was great

You already know how it worked out..

That photo was THE photo they wanted to use - time to go crazy.

And so the Admiral and I went catapulting back to the event at the local park a mile away, only to find that the wine tasting was all closed up for the day.

Santo Crappo.

Using a very old-fashioned method - the telephone - I tracked her name down and so tomorrow's Elmira Star-Gazette will have Alexandra Doniger of the Hector Wine Company proudly displayed, along with one of her bosses, Justin Boyette.

Story over, lesson learned.


Saturday, May 05, 2012

Rookie mistakes are not limited to rookies

MILLPORT, New York, USA - The assignment was one I had done hundreds of times: go out, take notes, shoot a few photos and write the whole thing up by deadline for a daily newspaper. In this case it was the Elmira Star-Gazette of (of course), Elmira, New York.

So today's walk-in-the-park assignment seemed just like that.

There were chatty Boy Scouts and leaders, an even chattier park employe and the coordinator of the event - a devotee of the hiking trail being cleaned by volunteers - was a reporter's dream, full of information, quotes and background.

Here's a link to the story: Catharine Valley Trail/Elmira Star Gazette

The rookie mistake? A spelling error in the story I turned in to the editor.

The name of the trail being cleaned is the Catharine Valley Trail. No big deal, except that in my life, one of my favorite aunts was named Catherine. Catherine with an E, not an A. Added to that was my spellcheck program defaulted to the spelling with the E. And even when I went to change it later - when the error of my ways had been pointed out by my editor at the newspaper - the damned name kept coming up spelled incorrectly, for the story anyway.

Lesson learned: Read signs more carefully, doublecheck all spellings, then check a couple of more times before you turn it in.

Sounds just like what I taught my undergraduates at CSU, Sacramento and CSU, Chico for nearly 30 years.


Montour Boy Scouts cleaning the Catharine Valley Trail, Catharine with an A, thank you...

Sunday, April 29, 2012

'The Last Supper potluck' ready for publication

WATKINS GLEN, New York - My second short story in a month was finished two days ago, a sci-fi piece called The Last Supper potluck.

Battlestar Gallactica, Last Supper
Yup, there's a little Christian tie-in, coupled with some time travel, techno-madness and corporate politics.

All the usual crap, you know.

But it felt soooo good to finish it, it was incredible. It took several rewrites to get the characters to do what I wanted them to do. Christ, you would think they were stage actors they were so hard to move around.

Still, in the end, I won the argument as the author. Can't wait to run into the same characters in another piece of fiction. I'll be ready for them.

And my projects on deck?

Well, there is the book I want to complete before leaving for Mexico in October (still in the planning stages, going out to sit in the sun and outline in a moment).  And a third short story is already filling my iPad, with about a fourth of it written.

That tale is tentatively titled The New Textament.

Someone has to go after the youth market, after all.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Book review offers a reminder about access to authors

WATKINS GLEN, New York, USA - I make it a practice to write a short book review at least once every few weeks, depending, of course, on the books being read.

Susan Orlean
I rarely write a review of any stinkers. I prefer to write reviews of books that I think people will like, (or should like anyway), and most important, should read.

This week I finished a book called 'Wild Coast' that fit all three categories.

Also in keeping with routine, after I posted the review (in my blog From Where I Sit: LINK: From Where I Sit) I sent a brief email to the author letting him know I posted something.

Today I received an email back from author John Gimlette within an hour. I have never communicated with Mr. Gimlette before, but received a very warm note in return... He said he will post my review on his Facebook page for people to check out.

In past, I have had similar experiences with other authors. Not too long ago I engaged in an email dialogue with Jodi Picoult.

That was fun.

And now onto my next bit of reading, a book about the pooch Rin Tin Tin, written by Susan Orlean, one of my favorite Literary Journalists.

I have her email address marked already.

Monday, April 23, 2012

The discipline of fiction writing, or, fiction writer needing discipline

WATKINS GLEN, New York, USA - With my second short story almost done (a piece of science fiction called "The Last Supper Potluck"), it's time to think about the book I have been spinning in my mind since last spring and summer.

You know, The Book.

Note that I said the second short story is almost done. That's very different from saying something is done, except for. If the story isn't ready to be read and reviewed, it is not done. Except for doesn't count.

All of this is relatively important because the weather changed in the last few days, making writing a little easier. There are fewer distractions to worry about. But the colder weather also induces a kind of lethargy that cuts into productivity, too.

So it goes. (Borrowed that from Vonnegut's classic book, Slaughterhouse Five.)

What is The Book about? At first blush, it is about the tension between the people who want to hydrofrack for natural gas and those who are fighting against it. How hard will each side fight to make their point?

Good question. That's what the spinning in my mind has been all about.

So as the next weeks and months move ahead, so will The Book. I hope.

The deadline (mine) for my draft is Oct. 15, right about the time I expect to climb on a plane and head to California, then wing on to Mexico. In Mexico, a very different book will take shape I hope. One likely to be filled with angels.

Yup, angels. All types, sizes and shapes.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The fiction-writing ouija board strikes again

NUEVO VALLARTA, Nayarit, Mexico - I am just 1,000 words or so into my next short story - titled 'The Last Supper Potluck' - and I am having a helluva time getting my characters to do what I want them to do.

I have had this problem before, in drafting my yet-to-be unpublished novels, but these people in this story really have an attitude.

Writing fiction has some similarities to columns and writing news, but really, in these stories I simply describe what I see going on. It's kind of like a movie in my head, I just write about the images.

I would like to say I am controlling this movie, but I don't think so.

I was headed in a nice orderly direction, about to introduce some scientific explanations when suddenly a huge earthquake wiped out half of Japan's nuclear power plants and volcanoes all over the world started erupting.

I did not order that up, thank you very much. But there it is on the page.

Then I realized, fiction writing - at least for me - is less structure and more ouija board. I'll try to remember that tomorrow when I start typing to find out what happened with the volcanoes.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Sunday, March 18, 2012

To find an agent, publish a novel first - What?

NUEVO VALLARTA, Nayarit, Mexico - Here in deep coastal Mexico, I have been itching to get my unpublished novels off my computer and out to an agent who can market them for me.

Or tell me to get back to non-fiction writing and forget the whole fiction thing.

So I set about trying to find someone to represent my work this week.

I found several promising leads, then discovered that the agents only wanted to work with people who had, in fact, already published novels.

If that were true, why would I need an agent?

This will all get sorted out when I am back on the ground in U.S. and have access to the books, I suspect. Then I can send out sample chapters, plot summaries, book proposals.

All the things that keep a writer from actually writing, and turns writers into marketers.


And if I can't find an agent, well, there is always the self-publishing route and/or simply publishing on the Internet.

Patience, in this case, is hard to come by.

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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

A little fiction writing is good for the soul

NUEVO VALLARTA, Nayarit, Mexico - My on-again, off-again love affair with writing fiction is, well, on again.

And about a month ago, I spent a feverish few days writing a 5,000-word short story, 'The Milagro in Santa Serena.'

Yup, there's a miracle or two in it, perhaps the biggest how fast I was able to bang it out and how much I enjoyed writing it.

My novels might regain my attention when I am back on U.S. soil, but I think my short-story roots are showing and I need to tend to them.

My short stories will appear on the website, The Backpack Journalist, the link to which should be posted here on Writing for Money and also on the Captain's Blog.

And yes, you can make money writing fiction. At least I hope to prove that.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad