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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Sicarius

The Last Sicarius is the title to the sequel to Judas the Apostle. What is a Sicarius? Well, there was a band of first century Judean revolutionaries named the Sicarii who fought the Roman occupiers of Judea. Sicarius is the singular of Sicarii. Some scholars believe that Judas’ last name, Iscariot, is derived from the word Sicarii. It is speculated that Judas may have been a member of this band of revolutionaries. If so, that would be completely consistent with Judas’ biblical actions. But to figure that out you will have to read Judas the Apostle.

The Sicarii were feared by the Romans even though their numbers were quite small. They were thought to be assassins with a unique signature. The Sicarii, also known as the dagger men, carried short, wicked knives and would attend political and social events where important Roman leaders were expected to be. The daggers, concealed under the robes of the Sicarii, would be used to silently dispatch the Romans. In effect, they were first century terrorists.

Finally, the Romans got fed up with the Jewish rebellion and the Sicarii  and Titus was sent to put the rebellion down. He sacked and burned Jerusalem in AD 70 and destroyed the Temple. To this day, it has never been rebuilt. But the Sicarii escaped the trap in Jerusalem and fled to the mightiest stronghold in the known world at that time…Masada. They thought that they could hold out against the Romans. The Last Sicarius details what happened. It’s one of the most amazing tales in biblical history.

What happens to the Sicarii over the next two thousand years is part of the story and the mystery of who becomes the last Sicarius  and lives to carry on the tradition will not disappoint.

Hope you enjoy.

 

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Biblical History-The Last Sicarius

By now my readers know that my books are fast paced thrillers with a biblical/historical background. I’m fascinated by biblical history and find reading the bible looking at its historical basis to be amazing. The ongoing digs in the Holy Land are peeling back this history layer by layer. As soon as we think we know something a new layer either confirms it or casts it in doubt. We’re talking thousands of years here.

The first book, Judas the Apostle, dealt with historical information on Judas himself. Researching it and writing about it was intensely interesting. For example, the field, the Bloody Acre, where Judas may have died known to the Jews as Hakeldama exists to this day. A reader can Google a picture of it. This kind of historical perspective makes a book interesting on many levels.

The most recently published  book, The Last Sicarius, is the sequel to Judas. The same three principal characters that readers seemed to like star in Sicarius. Cloe, J.E. and the Monsignor are all back along with some new characters. Since the Judas history was done in the first book, I looked for something else in Sicarius. There is such a wealth of fascinating areas it wasn’t long before I found some that really interested me. I will only say a couple of things so as not to give too much away. Did you know there is an alternate Calvary site? That’s right! I thought the place where Jesus was crucified and buried had long been settled. In fact, there’s a church built on the place, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Well, it turns out there are problems with the location. I could write about this all night but I already have-The Last Sicarius.

Also, I like good action venues. I think my readers will agree Judas had a couple of whoppers. Well, in Sicarius we have the lollapalooza. This is a place constructed a hundred years before the birth of Christ. Stunning.

The third book also involves Cloe, et al but is set a few years in the future. We look back on decisions made and their near term effects. The  Book of Revelation sets the tone and one of the most amazing places is Uruk. Uruk was an urban metropolis two to three thousand years before we divided time into BC and AD. I know, I know-its BCE and CE now but call me old fashion.  Any way, you’ll be amazed by this city and its people. They had one of the earliest forms of cuneiform. Got you there, didn’t I? Their written language consisted of little wedges arranged in various patterns. This book, tentatively entitled Suppose…, is about half-finished. I’m thinking of changing the title. Maybe something to do with Philistines. It definitely has a Philistinean quality about it. Best.

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Publishers

All…in writing a successful novel, there are at least three phases. First, one has to write a good story and tell a good tale. Second, you have to get “published” if you are going to have more readers than your parents and best friends. Three, the author has to sell the book.
This post is about number two, the publication of the book. There are both so many publishing options and there are none. How can this be? I start from the no name, no “platform” position. The major publishers are out there. Mainly, you have to have an agent to get published by a traditional publisher. If you are a new author with a good story but with no platform you have as much chance of getting an agent and a traditional publisher as getting struck by lightning. Still, lightning does strike, right?
What’s a platform? It’s some form of notoriety that gives you a leg up in generating an audience who may be interested in anything you have to say. In todays cable news cycle, you have lots of people who have their fifteen minutes of fame. Have you ever wondered why so many of these people write books? Well, they really don’t. But, there is a cottage industry who will take a person on whom fame has smiled and write something for him/her. The person’s name will sell books whether they are a starlet in the news or someone whose house has been swallowed by a sinkhole.
Traditional publishers have so many of these offerings that it’s hard to find time and space for the unknown author with a good product. But, the people get what they want to read…witness the magazine stands at the super market check out counter.
A platform can also be earned over many years with a body of good, credible work such as a college professor who keeps banging away at scholarly manuscripts. Keep writing your novels and someday you’ll have a body of work and lightning may strike. See John Grisham, Stephen King and many others.
My work has been turned down by all agents I have solicited even though some evidenced a bit of interest before hastily retreating. Most authors wear this as a badge of honor and I do too. Still, on balance, I rather have a competent agent than all the rejection letters.
In the end, I decided to use a niche publisher to edit and print my book. To be sure, this is greatly different than taking your manuscript to a copy service and printing and binding a hundred copies and trying to sell them. Now, that’s what I call self-published.
My publisher is a subsidiary of Penguin Books so I thought they might eventually become interested. Maybe they will.
My publisher is very good at editing and printing the manuscript. Both of these are critical. This does cost money but you get the value for these services. The cover copy and art are very good in my experience but keep in mind the author has to come up with all content. Also, the cover art will come from stock photos to which the staff has access. Still it can end up very good. You judge. The cover from Judas the Apostle came from the publisher’s stock photos while the cover of The Last Sicarius was designed by a graphic artist I employed.

So, in my opinion, these types of publishers can help you put out a quality, well edited novel with good cover art. What I personally have not seen good results from are the marketing services of the niche publishers. Traditional publishers may pay you for the book, do the print runs and market and distribute the book. If they are successful, everyone makes money. The niche publishers will sell you marketing services according to various packages and your checkbook. A lot of this ends up being press releases the author has to write because your marketing professionals haven’t read your book and will tell you it’s not necessary for them to do so to sell the book. These will be sent to press release services who dutifully disseminate them. There may be so call lists of newsletter subscribers who are just waiting for a book in your genre. I haven’t seen much result here. They will also set up social media for you, a website-usually static-, blogs, FB, Twitter, etc. This is good but in the end these are the means for you to market your own book. There is rarely a really good publicist who runs with the ball and actually sells your book. You’ve got to do it and if you are like me with a consuming day job, it’s very difficult as social media can consume all the time you are willing to give it.
My last three years of writing, publishing and marketing my books have given me a world class education. I now know what services to buy and what value to expect. I also know what I can do better myself or by hiring someone locally. I guess the bottom line is that the author is not a vendor at this point but a consumer. Just like all successful shoppers, you have to buy smart and for good value. You must marshal your resources and stay in the game. Keep turning out good stories and publishing well edited, attractive works. After all lightning has to strike somewhere. Best.

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