Tuesday, March 19, 2013

It’s All History

Good stories have the same ingredient: characters we care about on a journey fraught with challenges and adversity.  Really good stories create real doubt about whether or not the character will succeed or even survive.  We really don’t know until that last page is turned how it all ends.  Who lives?  Who dies?  Will I get more of this story in a sequel?  Will there be “loose ends”?

The first stories I fell in love with took place in a setting very different from those of Laura and Eric.  Most of them took place in the days before the automobile.  Characters named Jackson and Lee, Washington and Cornwallis, Wellington and Bonaparte filled the pages of the books I read.  Whole civilizations lived and died by the success and failure of these men and their soldiers.

It’s hard to imagine now, but there was a time when the safe money wasn’t on a rag-tag rebel army standing up to the most powerful empire the world had ever known.  The victory of Wellington and Blucher outside a little Belgian backwater in 1815 was not a foregone conclusion.  And, how could anyone know in 1940 that Hitler’s and Hirohito’s armies would be defeated by August of ’45? 

People watched and waited for word from places like Gettysburg, Bastogne and Saratoga.  They wanted to know if Richmond or Paris would be spared military occupation or razed in street-by-street fighting like Stalingrad or Berlin.  Would The Reign of Terror ever end? Who would be left?

See, to us, they’re amazing stories that have been handed down from generation to generation, stories that we take for granted as being the way things have always been.  But to the people who lived them, it was their life.  Would their loved ones come home?  Would the bombers return?  Would the enemy army reach their city?

It was, as war always is, a very terrible drama.  A drama that these people lived.  They paid a heavy price for paving the way for us.  Someday, I encourage you to put down that exciting novel you’re reading and pick up a book of our history.  Read the full and tragic story of a man named Benedict Arnold, or, how the relationship between Ben Franklin and his son, William changed forever during The American Revolution.

And, remember, regardless of what we think of the politics putting them there, we have men and women spending months and years away from their families, facing great danger and adversity for us.  I am always grateful to those brave souls writing our history in their blood.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Business End of Writing Can be Fun, Too!

A week ago, I was prepared to write a post about the frustrations of the business side of writing.  I was going to talk about how much work it is and how frustrating it can be, about how much there is to learn and how I’m always playing catch up as a rookie.  But, the fact of the matter is, I’m learning and fixing mistakes I’ve made as fast as I can.

When I first started this journey into authorship, I didn’t want to do these things.  I wanted to write good stories and sell them.  I’m a simple man of simple tastes.  I enjoy life as a relatively anonymous firefighter. I chose a pseudo pen name: T. Allen Diaz as a lame attempt to shield my identity (The T. stands for Thad). 

So, I entered the fray of the independent writer.  I made a website centered on my book, not me.  I created a Twitter account and an author Facebook page that’s still collecting dust.  I created an author page on Amazon, and an author page on Goodreads (currently experiencing technical difficulties).  I got an account with the World Literary CafĂ© and created this blog.  Eventually, I placed some pics of myself on these sites (the bow tie pic is from my daddy/daughter dance with my girls and the one on the railroad was taken by my son on the tracks I can literally see, right now, outside my window).

But it was all grudgingly.  I didn’t know how people would find me interesting.  True, I write books, but I’m no superstar.  My name’s not some household word, and that was never my goal.  I’ve often said: “Fortune is great!  You can keep the fame.” And, with this “business model” I was failing. 

But, over the couple of days, something has happened: I’ve turned a corner.  It’s true, I have a long way to go and I’m not seeing best seller tomorrow, but I think I might have the beginnings of a fan base.  People have started chatting with me about my work.  I’ve received messages from Tweeps who are “checking you out on Amazon” and “can’t wait to read Procythian Reign!” I even got the most treasured: “Just grabbed Procythian Reign on Amazon!  Looks exciting!”

I admit, to date my commercial success wouldn’t qualify as modest, but there are signs of life.  More importantly, I’m having fun talking to a firefighter from Springfield, Illinois, a nurse from Australia, a battlestar commander from across the pond, a D. C. reformist, and self-professed geeks and nerds from all corners of not the country, but the world!

I’ve been humbled by the support and camaraderie of writers who’ve offered guidance and encouragement.  People who have taken the time to write to me and say: “Hey, it takes time.” Or “How’s it going down there in Flawda?” I’ve enjoyed these people and this venture.  These folks have helped me realize that going out and mingling with writers and readers alike doesn’t have to be about ego or narcissism. 

It’s about people and enjoying good conversation and company.  I can genuinely enjoy prospective readers and fellow authors without trying to push some book on them.  Sure I want to make money, but I don’t want to use people just to make a sale.   Maybe that’s been by big aversion to “fame” all along.

I still have a lot of progress to make  I’m still a rookie.  I’m still fixing mistakes I’ve made and trying to play catch up.  I’m still not using all of my tools to their fullest potential, but I’m doing ok for a working-class-stiff-holding-down-two-jobs-and-planning-a-wedding.  

I’m on the right path.  More and more people are visiting this blog.  I’m getting more traffic on my Amazon site.  And, I’m seeing a trickle of sales grow.  Someday, I hope I will look at these days and smile at them as the hard days before it all came together.    



Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Joy of Writing

I had a blog half written.  And, then, like often happens when I write fiction, I realized I was writing in the wrong direction.  Maybe someday we'll talk about the business side of writing that is taking all of my time in one frustrating bite after another.  But not today.
Today, we're going to talk about writing and all of its joys....well, some of its joys. 
When I was a child, I spent many a day alone in my backyard, dreaming up some fantasy or adventure.  Sometimes it took place in the stars.  Sometimes it was a rewrite of history.  Sometimes I was even a character, but not usually.
Years later, those daydreams and fantasies stayed with me.  And I began to see elements of a great story in other people or the news or from characters in history.  I am fascinated by the conflicts into which people are drawn, especially people of principal.  I'm captivated by the choices those people are forced to make and the price they pay for making those choices. 
What if you had to chose between the life of your spouse and the life of your child?  How would making such a choice affect you?  I know, terrible question.  But, the joy of writing, and the thing I think I enjoy most, is the fact that I get to set the rules and put these people in situations where we can ask: "what would I do there?" or "how would that affect me?"
The story gives us a chance to explore many things, often things we wouldn't want to face in real life. It gives us a chance to think about what makes us tick and why we do what we do.   
It is a long held truth that character is what makes a story compelling.  I believe that.  And, I hope that you love these characters as much as I do,.  They are the reason you keep turning the page and coming back for more. I try to make my characters flawed and human.  I want them to be relatable.
I want you to empathize.