Joy

I have been reading lots of articles about how to write novels. No matter how many one has written, you can always learn something. But, in a recent article the author talked about the drudgery of writing. The theme was that writing is a long, grueling task. One is rewarded only by getting to the end of the book. I thought to myself, how wrong that is. That’s certainly not how I read a novel. It’s as much about the trip as it is about the destination. Right?

So, I want to say to those who aspire to write, don’t be deterred by such a sentiment. Writing is, for me, about the trip as well as the end of the travel. If you don’t find delight in writing, it may not be for you. Each night when I sit down to incorporate the days thoughts into the pending manuscript, there is a joy and excitement. If my body wouldn’t protest, I would feel I could go on and on. I laugh at the mirth in a paragraph and cry at the poignancy. Each new character I build becomes a friend for better or worse. I travel to each land and venue and enjoy all the scenes. I experience the danger and angst of the characters. But, I know of their honor and commitment. I have lost a few good characters along the way, Serge, in The Last Sicarius,  comes to mind. And Uncle Sonny. I grieve for them. They are not forgotten. Michael even made it back from apparent death in The Last Sicarius  to redemption in 7.  Isn’t that the way life is?

Writing is work…hard work at times. My word count target for a completed novel is ninety-five thousand words. My first novel, Judas the Apostle, I re-wrote twenty times. You can do the math. But, it’s never grueling. Writing the dialogue for Robby, the seven year old boy in 7, was so up-lifting I could have gone on and on. But, that’s part of writing, knowing when to quit. So, when people tell you that writing is drudgery, know that they are not writers but people who teach or try to teach writing. To reach inside oneself and to pull out a novel whether it takes six months or six years is a form of joy few are privileged to know.

May you be so blessed.

 

 

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Literary Agents

To a writer and would be author, a literary agent is everything. Most publishers have a caveat on their websites that they are only taking new work through agents. I’m only speaking of fiction-novels-because that’s all I know.  So, to get to a traditional publisher you have to go through an agent. I think agents mainly help people who have some sort of fame or notoriety that enables book sales. Well, I guess that’s business. However, lightning does strike and I’m sure some agents can point to an unknown writer that he or she got published. We all hope for that, don’t we?

So, it’s simple. Just get an agent and send some of your writing. You will be on your way. Not so fast. Many agents have notices on their websites that they are not taking new writers. Some say maybe ten percent new writers. Others are not so discriminating. However, you will have to ask nicely and say pretty please to get them to look at you. You have to write what is called a query letter. No over the transom manuscripts. The query letter must be written to the strict specifications  of the particular agent. Some only accept emails but no attachments. Some only want snail mail. Send the first five pages of your novel! Can you really evaluate a three hundred page novel in the first five pages? Apparently so, as I got numerous  form rejection notes that the novel did  not sufficiently grab the agent. In five pages?

Oh, and you have to carefully select the agent to whom the Q letter is sent. You do your best to try to figure out which agent likes Biblical Thrillers but I can tell you it’s not easy. Even among those who accept fiction, the rejection letter often says that they appreciate your sending the work but it’s not their cup of tea. The excuse is always that they have 700,000 submissions and only a forty hour work week. What can they do? They are overwhelmed. They cannot possibly read your manuscript so good-bye and good luck.

For my first book, Judas the Apostle, I queried every agent in the book who accepted fiction and new writers. I followed the submission instructions to the letter. I sent letters, emails (without attachments) and waited. And waited. Then the rejection letters began to come in, flooded in. Most were just forms-we cannot possibly write anything personal to everyone we reject. They broke my heart. Only a writer would understand. Well, maybe anyone who had undertaken a project, wrote ninety-five thousand words and re-wrote it twenty times with endless letters and queries, might understand.

However, God is good and even the worst round of golf you ever played contained one or two good shots. In my case, I received five actual responses. My editors though this was pretty phenomenal. The responses varied but were generally in the vein of we kind a, maybe, might  like what you sent. Send along a couple of chapters or a synopsis. More work. More letters and, eventually, the rejection letters was were unanimous, ”don’t give up your day job”.

I didn’t, but I didn’t give up either. Over the years, I’ve come to understand that the agents and the publishers they represent-I think many agents used to work for publishers-hence their connections, represent a dying industry. They have made the path so difficult for new, fresh writers that the internet has figured out how to go around them. Internet publishers are truly turning out some of the best fiction while the traditional publishers continue to publish celebrity books and safe books from legacy authors.  That can only last so long.

Know that I don’t write literary fiction. A hundred years from now no one will mistake me for Melville or London. I just write good stories that have something in them about biblical history that you might like to learn. Some have said they are “beach” books, something you might read on the beach on vacation. So, if the agents I queried had had their way, my books would never have been published and sold. My readers would never have enjoyed that afternoon read on the beach or wherever. That they did is plenty for me.

Check out the books at Amazon under my name. See if you think the agents were correct. In the end, literary agents are everything to a new writer and, unfortunately, for most of us, nothing.

 

 

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First Grade

A funny thing happened to me in the first grade. This was my first ever class room experience. I was in a small Catholic school in a class taught by a nun in full habit. Everything was very orderly with the desks lined up perfectly and about thirty children, quiet as mice. Sister Agnes entered the class room and swept to the front of the room. Each of us had a number two pencil and a Big Chief pad before him or her.

Sister Agnes began by writing her name on the board in pinched, block letters. She then turned to us and said we should write our names at the top of our pads. I certainly knew my name, my address and my parents’ names. I was carefully trained to be able to recite this and I knew our telephone number by having used it. I remember very well that we were in the “dickens” or “DI” exchange with a party line of only one other person. That’s probably news to a lot of people but when Baton Rouge was young there were rotary phones and not enough numbers to go around. So you had to add a pre-fix, like an area code, and then dial the number. Two of them were Dickens and Elgin. Maybe there were others.

I looked around and saw my class mates assiduously writing on their pads. It took most a minute or two to write their names but they completed the assignment. It did not take long for me to find my way to Sister Agnes’s radar. She walked over and studied my blank pad.

“Do you know your name?” she asked to snickers around me.

“Yes, ma’am,” I smiled.

“Yes, Sister,” she responded.

Now I was confused, but she said, “When you respond to us you say ‘yes Sister’, not “yes ma’am. Now, do you know your name?”

“Yes, Sister,” I said, having already learned something in the first grade.

“Can you write your name?” she asked.

“No ma’am…Sister. I don’t know how to write. That’s why I came here.”

By this time the other kids were howling and my face burned.

After it quieted down with a look from Sister Agnes, she asked, “Did you go to Kindergarten?”

“I don’t think so because I don’t know where it is.” I replied.

She then asked who had been to Kindergarten and the hands went up all around me.

Right then I learned the value of an education.

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Characters

One of the most interesting things in writing novels is the creation of the characters. They are your people. The writer imbues them with everything they have. In my experience, they are a combination of people we have crossed paths with over the years and new characteristics that might fit the narrative. Many times they are composites of people you might know, even casually.

Take Thib, the father of Cloe and grandfather of J.E. in the original Judas the Apostle. He was a member of the greatest generation. I think those of you who may have read the book would agree Thib acquitted himself very well. Except, you will be thinking, he should never have sparked that argument with Cloe. How could he? How could he blow up the family like that? How could she? Yet, many will say they know people with pride like that.

Anyway, Thib had characteristics of my father but he wasn’t my father. His military experiences were similar. His steadfastness, stubbornness were similar but not the same. We evolve. My father was in later years  kind and gentle but earlier, when he fought in the war he was hell on wheels. So Thib was one thing but he changed. He just couldn’t get back.

In the latest Cloe Lejeune book, “7” I write about a seven year old boy, Robby. Is he the “7”, well, you’ll have to get the book to see. This all started a few years ago when a young boy who was familiar with my writings asked me when he could be in one of the books. I was fascinated by the question and told him off hand he would be in the next one. This got me pondering how to write a seven year old boy into a biblical thriller.

So I came up with the idea of  him being a part of a group who would be called upon to do terrible and heroic things to save humanity. But a seven year old boy could never be allowed by his parents to go off and do such things, so it was a non-starter. How could the young boy be a hero in the book with helicopter parents? So I created Bully, a hundred pound English bulldog. He’s Robby’s best friend and protector. He’s a dog but he’s so much more.  Even Robby’s mother trusts Robby with Bully. Voila, problem solved.

But that’s just the beginning. It gets back to characters. Writing the dialogue for Robby was the most. fun. A seven year old is at the intersection of a strange sort of wisdom and naïveté. I love the part where Robby is trying to explain his mission to his mother and tells her it’s a lot like Noah and the Ark. And, his mother says, yes but Noah was called by God.

And all Robby says is, “Yes ma’am.”

Characters.

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Hello 2017

A lot has happened since my last post. Mainly, life has happened. Storms, marriages, deaths have all visited. But, I write tonight a fortunate man.  My health is good, thank God. I’m still at my full time job of being a business attorney which I dearly love. Two of my children work with me. I see them everyday. What a blessing. My third child, a daughter, works in health care. I’m so proud of them all.

The third book originally entitled “Suppose…” has been published. Unlike the others, I completely changed the title after I finished it. It is now “7”. After the editing process, this seemed most appropriate. It’s political with the president in the book declaring marital law and putting off the next election until the “trouble” is over. It’s  scary with strange events happening over the globe. St. Peter’s is destroyed and the Vatican is sacked. The mob seems to rule. One man rises to take advantage of the chaos. Cloe, J.E. and the monsignor mobilize to combat this terrible evil but he is very strong. Cloe is betrayed. There are new characters including a mystical seven year old boy and a hundred pound English bulldog which may be something else. Seven souls converge on New Orleans for a purpose they do not know but they are driven. Famine, plagues and wars abound and the pope is thought murdered. Can this evil be beaten? The answer is in Cloe’s research into the journal which takes her all over the world only to end in one of the most ancient crossroads known to the pre-Christian world.

I hope you will enjoy the book. Let me know.

I’m twenty-five chapters into the fourth book tentatively entitled the “Tentmaker”. It’s the story of St. Paul’s mythical voyage to Spain. For you readers of the New Testament, specifically the Acts, you will know that St. Paul promised to spread the faith to the ends of the earth which in that day on the western side was the precursor to Spain. Did he get there? Maybe. You’ll see in the Tentmaker.

Another bit of news is that an independent film company has contracted to make a movie of the first book, Judas the Apostle. How about that? The company is Film Incito which has produced a number of movies including Gods Not Dead, Caged No More, etc. The thing I really like about this is they are Louisiana people, serious people, and we have a lot in common. They understand the venues in the books in Louisiana and have a successful track record. They understand Cloe and her roots.

We have just finished the screen play, adapting the book to the film format. I was able to consult with them on the adaptation. It was a fascinating change in perspective from a book where you had to write the scenes for the reader to visualize to the screenplay which includes a visual element. You don’t have to write: “Cloe saw the man enter the room”. The actor just enters the room. I know it doesn’t sound like much but it was very interesting trying to adapt from having to write all scenes, emotions, dialogue to letting the actors do a large part of that.

Well, the screen play is complete and it will be copyrighted. The next step is Film Incito is putting the budget based on the screen play. Then it goes to the executive producers who put up the money for the production. If we get the financial backing, the next step will be a lot of fun-its the casting. I really need input from my readers. Who would you like to see play Cloe? The Kolektor? Let me know.

The movie will mainly be filmed in Louisiana. That’s pretty exciting. If we are able to complete the film, it will be distributed. The old movies studios still control a lot of the movie theaters but there are now many more outlets that crave content. There are cable channels, internet channels and foreign distribution. You know my books are liked and have sold well in Britain. What a ride. I’m not giving up the day job but stay tuned and we’ll see. Best.

 

 

 

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Suppose…

Dear All…this is the tentative title to the third novel in the Cloe Lejeune series. Is it the last? Maybe so. So many people seem to have enjoyed the first two books, Judas the Apostle and The Last Sicarius, that I started on the third book in 2014. But 2014 was a busy year for a lot of reasons including emergency gall bladder surgery and a daughter’s wedding. So, I have just this week written the tentative last word of Suppose…. I say “tentative” because there is much editing to be done. I’m a seat of the pants writer which means the story just comes through me and I write to get it down as fast as I can. Whether I think it’s good or bad, I don’t worry or edit. I just put it down. My goal is 95000 words which is a median length novel. I’m there now and the story seemed to finish as well.

Now the next hard part. I have to go back and edit and in some cases re-write. I have to add color, detail and move the characters. I’ve already added a new first chapter and the first ten chapters need to be re-ordered. Then we’ll see. This will go on for some months until I get the story I want and I’ve polished it as much as I can. After that it will go to my editors to be taken apart and put back together again. To write a decent book, if you’re not Hemmingway or Dickens or some other genius, requires a lot of work. It probably did for them too.

So what is this “Suppose…” about? It’s about choices and the consequences. Boring? Not really because that’s what all novels are about. That’s like saying the theme is good versus evil. That’s what everything is about. It’s what writers say when they don’t want to give away anything. What I can say is our three heroes, Cloe, J.E. and the Monsignor are back with more action than ever. There are new characters and, maybe, an old acquaintance. You will learn things about New Orleans, Malta and Megiddo that you probably didn’t know. Humanity itself will be tested and judged. I’ll post some sample chapters as I go along. Be a READER. Thanks.

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A Reader

I’ll tell you how it happened to me. I was about seven years, maybe eight. In those days, one set of grandparents lived a block away and the other set two blocks. I had been sent to the grandparent’s house a block away on Napoleon St. Some called the street St. Napoleon St. although my dad always doubted that man could have been a saint.

It was just me and my Grandma. Grandpa worked on the railroad and was away on a trip. There was no TV and the only electronic entertainment was a big old radio mounted on a shelf in the hall. It was perpetually tuned to NBC radio. I was out of my mind with boredom. I was on the bed in the “boys” room. Finally, I fixed on a small shelf on the opposite wall. It couldn’t have been more that eighteen inches long but it was filled with books. I got up and walked over. The books were dusty as if they had not been moved in a while. They were all hard bound but like the Readers’ Digest book of the month club binding. Nothing special.

With absolutely nothing else to do, I studied the titles and selected one. I lay back on the bed and opened the cover. At that point, I can most assuredly tell you that my life changed. Whatever it might have been, it could no longer be. I fell into that book and became a READER. I read that book cover to cover that first day. I wanted more. I found out where the library was on Laurel St and went there. I read every book that author had written. It was more than thirty books. I read pretty much every volume in the adventure and science fiction section of the library and then started on books on science.

Reading and being a READER can change your life. It changed mine. Oh, that first book? What was it? It was the original Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs.

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