It’s Only My Opinion

Not long ago I stated, or implied, that I thought Ayn Rand was a bad author; or at least Atlas Shrugged was an awful book.  That is an opinion.  An opinion is “a view or judgment formed about something, not necessarily based on fact or knowledge.”

My morning routine includes reading several on-line newspapers.  Much of what I read is opinion, not fact.  TV news seems to be dominated by people stating opinions.  While opinion columnists have been a part of newspapers forever; those editorials used to be somewhat segregated to emphasize their distinction from factual stories.  Today the emphasis seems to be on opinion.

Some of this, I think, is because facts can be messy.  Opinions are clear, absolute, black and white; and often stated in the form of “here’s the facts.”

Aside from news sources, how do we get our facts?  Everyday we gather facts about all sorts of things by observation.  I observed the sun came up in the east.  That is a fact.  I observed a wreck on I-25 this morning, a fact.  Much of what we know is based on empirical evidence.  Empirical: based on, concerned with, or verifiable by observation or experience rather than theory or pure logic.

Of course, much of what goes on in the world is outside of my observation.  Government happens in far away places, often behind closed doors; not something I can observe.  I must rely on someone else to tell me what is happening.  This has been the role of reporters.  But we, as a society, have lost confidence in reporters or the newspapers/television networks they work for.  We can’t observer for ourselves, and now we can’t trust reporters.  So, illogically, we have decided to “trust” non-reporters stating their opinion. 

Authors are also opinion writers.  Sure, there are authors who are stating facts, but all those facts are skewed by the author’s opinions.  When I write books, they are not factual. The story is made-up about made-up people doing made-up stuff.  I have written a book about financial matters which is a non-fiction book.  Is that fact?  No, it is opinion.  My opinion about anything is not a fact.  On the other hand, what I had to say about business could be based on facts. 

One of my characters in the Muckraker books was based on an opinion writer, who actually existed.  I knew him well, and we often discussed on an ethical basis what he wrote.  He readily admitted he made things up; he lied.  He wrote things to increase his readership and felt protected from liability because he was writing those “lies” in a newspaper.  If he could get it past the editor, he was safe.  Yes, he was my friend, but he was a sleaze-ball.  He was eventually fired.

He stirred the pot of hate and prejudice for his own gain.  Many of his readers would make the comment “at last, someone telling the truth.”  He was lying and getting credit for being a truth teller because he was passing on negative gossip, and the readers readily believe the bad gossip to be true.

We seem to have an instinct about what is true.  That instinct is based on what we already believe.  As such, we only believe what we already “think” is true.  So, if we think all politicians are crooks anything we read or hear that confirms that belief is automatically true.

When I’m creating characters for my books, I fight this truth instinct because if I don’t, all of the characters will be the same.  My bias would make the hero a good guy and the crook the bad guy.  So, is that bad?  Yes, the story needs to convey “reality” with characters who are human, with both good and bad characteristics. 

Opinion “reporters” are bad writers.  They want the entire world to reflect their narrow beliefs.  To attract an audience the opinion person must convey only one view of everything, it cannot be nuanced with confusing facts bumping into more confusing facts.  Ayn Rand was that bad writer who constructed a world view that was based only on opinion and reflected the way the writer wanted the world to be.

The Muckraker opinion writer went on in real life to publish a scandal sheet in which he spread malicious gossip.  He stated he didn’t give a crap about threats of lawsuits because he had nothing of value and was judgement proof.  He really was a sleaze-ball, like many of today’s opinion writers.

Thanks for being a reader!

Getting Smarter Every Day?

My viewing habits seem to lean towards murder mysteries, especially from Great Britain.  I write murder mysteries so maybe that’s not so surprising.  The older British shows are at a pace that is, in a kind word, leisurely.  It’s hard for me to critique my own writing, but I think I also like to build the story a little slowly at first, with lots of character development.  Sure, the whole point of a mystery story is to get to the conclusion and find out who did it and why.   But, along the way, it’s important to understand all of the characters and how they fit into the big picture.

Agatha Christie is a favorite.  She always had a vast list of suspects and lots of details on how these people were connected.  I’ve seen some horrible adaptations of her books. TV/Movie shows that did not understand the pace was a critical element of the presentation.  Reaching the conclusion was the goal, but the trip there was more important.

My first book, The Bootlegger’s Legacy, was not a murder mystery.  It was difficult for me to classify the book and led to some frustration.  The story was about the search for treasure and the circumstances that led to that search; both in the present time and the past.  It was literary fiction but had elements of an adventure story.  It was my first attempt to market a book.  The lack of a clear category became a handicap in that effort.  The result of that frustration was part of the decision that my next book, Dog Gone Lies, would be a murder mystery.  This is one of the largest categories based on book sales, right along with romance novels.

The debate for me was whether it would be a cozy mystery or hard-boiled.  That decision was not made until I started writing.  I could have gone either way.  As a result of my leaning in both directions I think my books are cozy mysteries with gritty language.  So, what did I do?  I wrote a murder mystery and then did it in such a way it did not fit neatly in one sub-category.  So much for simple marketing.

The Vincent Malone series was going to be more hard-boiled, but I could not help myself; it also ended up with elements of a cozy mystery.  My objective, at first, was a book that had violence, but not too much, a book that had romance, but not steamy, and a book that had humor.  Hopefully, I achieved that, but once again mixed marketing categories.

Why does it matter?  The biggest reason is that the reader wants to know what the book is; murder mystery, adventure, cozy murder, hard-boiled and on and on.  Readers find their niche and usually do not venture into other types of books.  If a book is mis-labeled, you run the risk of alienating readers or missing your target audience.

I always thought that The Bootlegger’s Legacy never reached the right audience, because it ended up labeled a murder mystery, which it is not.  That was partially my fault in that I did not know what I was doing in the beginning.  Know more now, but not all.  Once the second book came out as a murder mystery, I was labeled as a mystery writer and both books were categorized together.  While readers can find your books without the proper classification, it is harder in the age of Amazon.

Some of my favorite books were based on browsing in a bookstore.  Just sort of poking around with little concern for time because you loved the environment.  And then suddenly something catches your eye.  Sure, you can browse on-line, but it is not the same. 

The Muckraker series was another hybrid.  I wanted to tell the story of a major city newspaper war and all the ugliness that develops between competing papers.  But to have marketability I thought it was best to make it a murder mystery, which I did.  That could have been a mistake.  I think this series of books takes on a lot more than just a murder mystery.  The decision on the titles was more marketing.  I thought that I made better decisions on these books regarding how they would fit into marketing schemes; but they sold less than the others.  So much for having more knowledge and thinking you know what you’re doing.  Tommy Jacks was one of the best “heroes” in any of my books but found the smallest audience.

After many years and ten books, I’m still not sure what is the best approach.  However, one thing I’m sure of, the books are just fine as hybrid books that fit into several categories, murder mystery, cozy mystery, romance, humor, adventure and literary fiction.  Got all bases covered. 

Yes, that is a baseball reference, happy season opening day.  Go Rockies!

Hate verses Goodness

On some days it feels like hate is running rampant.  Hate is defined as an intense or passionate dislike.  Dislike is defined as a feeling of distaste or hostility.  As someone who writes murder mysteries, with murder representing the most hatred, you would think I would not be surprised at the level of hate that seems to run through our world.  Now this maybe mostly political hate and more scripted than real; but the evidence of real hatred is strong.

Most of my fictional hatred is very personal; usually revolving around love gone bad or money.  There is always some element of madness that runs through most murder mysteries, not real crazy, just a little deranged crazy.  Many of my characters, who are not murderers, are also a little deranged.

In my books I see the hate as an element in human existence.  Not something that is evil but more something that is “normal” for a human.  Of course, that is a fictional world.  I have had a few readers comment that my villains are not evil enough, which may be true.  My villains are often only slightly crazy but terribly angry about some offense or wrong that they have suffered.  I have never written a book about the totally insane serial killer who is evil, but awfully clever.  Those stories never appealed to me as a reader. 

The word distaste is an odd word to use in the definition of hate.  I really distaste you!  Okay, not only is that bad grammar it also doesn’t make sense.  Distaste is something you feel about someone’s diet or wardrobe choices.  My distaste for Billy led me to murder the poor sod.  Nah, that’s not right.

So here we are in our modern world of constant communication where almost every day there is an example of great hate.  One group hates another.  Murders and mayhem happen every day almost everywhere.  What is this?  Why do humans find it so difficult to not hate?

Maybe the answer is that it is human to hate.  Could it be that the natural state of humans is a lot of hate?  I hate this, I hate you, I hate that hat, I hate everything. Not a very pretty picture.  But if we think about the past, the very distant past, survival might have been dependent upon that angry hatred that gave energy to an ugly survival skill of killing or being killed.  How many generations does it take for a new survival skill of discussion, negotiation, and compromise to replace the kill or be killed instinct?  Probably many.

This feels like I’m reaching the conclusion that humans are just bad.  Well, that is not what I believe.  I believe exactly the opposite.   The most common quality I see in humans is goodness.  The problem is that the goodness of many is overshadowed by the evil of a few.  One lone madman can make the world an ugly place for the vast majority.  One good person just goes unnoticed.  Acts of kindness do not show up in headlines or breaking news.

In the past I had the unfortunate opportunity to observe human nature during some of the worst times for many people.  Court room appearances before a judge to hear their fate determined by an overly bureaucratic criminal justice system.  These proceedings had all the structure of what I would imagine a cattle call would exhibit.  Any human quality or blind justice was not on display.  People were shuffled in and out with an efficiency more akin to the DMV than a hearing to determine whether someone is facing years in prison.

The experience of observing these proceedings over many months changed me.  I observed the hearings and the people.  The accused people who were facing grave consequences.  You could see the fear, you could hear the anguish and helplessness.  These were people trapped in something that thrived on dehumanizing all involved.  But what I saw demonstrated by the people waiting to hear their fate was not hatred but caring.  Often the caring was demonstrated by one person waiting to have their name called, consoling another waiting.  These were mostly people at the bottom of our society.  They had extraordinarily little in terms of money and knew a lot about pain and suffering.  Every day as I observed, I saw acts of human kindness that touched my heart. 

I know there is bad in the world, and I will continue to write my murder mysteries regarding some of that bad; but mostly I see good.  Maybe my viewpoint is more delusional than anything else.  Disregarding all the headlines and breaking news, I choose to believe in human goodness.  I’ve seen it demonstrated by people in the worst possible circumstances and trust it is a quality we all share, even if reluctantly.  We are all different and we are all the same.  Be kind.

Thanks for being a reader!

Soon after this post is published I will record the post to a new podcast. Also in the process of recording past blogs, this will take a while; but soon should have a good size backlog. If interested you can listen on Spotify or Google Podcast and a few other places where podcasts are available. Thanks.

Writing Struggles and Con-men

A likely suspect?

I’ve been writing mystery books for some years now, and the process is always bumpy.  There have been times when I just wrote, almost non-stop, until the book was finished.  Currently, I’m in one of those periods where everything is hard.  I’ll write for a while, but then it stops.  Not real sure why?

My current project is Durango Two Step, the fourth Vincent Malone book.  I’ve had the outline of this book done for longer than I care to admit.  It started off with a burst of energy for about five chapters. Then it bogged down.  I’ve written about this before, often as therapy.  If I share my problem, maybe it is the beginning of digging out of the ditch.  Obviously, that hasn’t worked as well as I would have liked.

Lately I have made progress.  Slow, for sure, but real progress.  I have an outline with all of the characters, which includes a list of suspects in the murder, a big step.  It is key to have “good” suspects.  They can’t all be obvious, but they all have to be credible.  No surprise villain—the guy no one suspected did it because he was having a bad day.

One of my favorite authors, Agatha Christie, seemed to have that weakness.  The killer was either someone nobody suspected, or it was obvious.  The stories were still good, but the endings all seem to lack something.  Maybe that demonstrates that endings are hard.

I do generally follow the Christie model, in that most of my victims are bad people.  They deserved to be killed.  So, the first part of the book is to establish that the person killed was hated by a rather large cast of characters—the suspects.  Now, sometimes I have twisted that logic a bit, but all in all it is not a bad approach to writing a mystery book.  A lot of suspects give the writer the opportunity to lay out clues without giving away the storyline.  The victim is easy; the suspects take time.  Good suspects look guilty but turn out to be innocent; or at least not guilty.

In Durango Two Step I have six suspects.  They all have motive and opportunity.  This is an important step to have a complete outline of all the suspect characters and why they could be the killer.  The other trick for me is that I have not decided which one did it.  For the middle part of the book, as the hero (PI Vincent Malone) is investigating, I still am not sure “who did it?”  This keeps me honest in that each suspect cannot be cleared until the end.  But I do have a favorite.

Now all I must do is get the words flowing again.  My target date to complete the book is June-July (yes, this year); so, we’ll see how that turns out.

If you are a regular reader you know I’m a baseball fan.  My favorite team is the Colorado Rockies.  This team goes from okay to awfully bad on a regular basis.  Most national sports writers are predicting the Rockies to be one of the worst teams in baseball this year.  Mostly because they have made few changes which included giving away their star player for a bucket of balls. 

Even though there is complete logic to the analysis that says my team will finish close to the bottom, it is spring training and hope springs eternal.  Yes, even though I agree they will most likely be a bad team, I have this preseason feeling that maybe, just maybe, they will surprise everyone and be one of the best.  This absurd “feeling’ is maybe the definition of a fan.  No matter what negative you know to be true, you will not believe it until it happens.  Optimism does not have to be logical; especially when it comes to baseball.

$69.4M NFT image?

You probably are not that familiar with non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and could care less about another strange virtual world scheme.  If you care, there is a good article in today’s Washington Post (might have to have a subscription to read—but just google NFTs if you are interested in learning more.)

I was approached about turning some of my art into NFTs.  In a nutshell this is taking digital anything and with a little computer manipulation creating something that is supposedly unique and verifiable and then marketing it into the cyber currency world. 

The whole thing feels like a modern-day con game without the endearing characters of the actual con-men participating.  But still one of these made-up creations recently sold for something approach $70 million; that is one hell of a con

Guess I won’t reject the concept out of hand, even though I should.

Cheap art?
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In Search of Philosophers

One of the oddest things to arise out of the US political divide is the admiration as a writer and philosopher of Ayn Rand by so many who have little idea what this woman thought or believed.  I’m sure many people have not read any of Rand’s books; much less her over-hyped tome Atlas Shrugged.  If you have read it and you are still impressed with Rand, I’m not sure what to say.

My observations are mostly non-political but literary; Atlas Shrugged is the worst book I have ever read.  I tried to read this monster back in the day of youthful belief and found it atrocious.  Thinking as the book was exalted by so many I must have not been “in the mood” those many years ago, I read it recently.  It was a struggle to finish because it was so bad.  The story is silly, the writing horrible—were there no editors available?  And the worst part; it goes on forever.  Bad books should at least be short—this is bad and long.

I detested everything about this book.  Yes, even the mostly nonsense philosophical parts.  The world really needs a social stratum that places the wealthy at the top and everyone else as takers contributing nothing to the betterment of humanity.  The wealthy and wealthy want-to-be see this as justification to demonize anyone who has not reached the elementary human objective of vast wealth (and power) along with a superior attitude that is mostly laughable. 

And yet people, generally non-wealthy, see this philosophy as having value in their lives.  Stated in the simplest terms, Rand believed in selfishness.  If it does not benefit you directly, it has no value.  What an interesting belief to be held by so many who claim to be Christian.  How is it that one poor writer who led a questionable moral existence could have such influence over people who if they had known her personally, would have no doubt shunned her?  What makes these silly beliefs attractive?

Many of Rand’s characters are denied their rightful place in the heights of success because they will not sacrifice their higher standards to “just make a buck.”  I think that is the appeal.  If you are not wealthy and successful, you can blame it on your unwillingness to lower your standards.  So, you can feel superior and still be a failure. 

Not sure what has me so riled up this morning; maybe it’s the disconnect from what I feel is important—family, caring, humanity, community, art, love and accomplishments (even, small non-profitable accomplishments) and the hollowness of selfishness.  We are all selfish.  It is human nature to have self interest at the top of your priority list; but to demonize unselfishness seems a reach for me.  What jumps out at me about much of the philosophy that comes from Rand’s writing is the need to belittle and even hate people who disagree with you.  (Maybe I’m doing that myself?)

Of course, I did not know Rand, and maybe she was a kind, thoughtful person—but I doubt it.  Now, if you are someone who thinks Rand has all the answers, you should, at least, be required to read the entire Atlas Shrugged.  Especially the unbelievably long passages where she lays out her philosophy of me-ism.  These pages go on and on.  While reading them it feels like the writer is out-of-control and mindlessly rambling.  Maybe in need of an intervention.

If asked to list our most important philosophers most scholars would say the big three are Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle.  Not exactly current age folks.  At least Rand was alive in the last hundred years.  Most of us probably could not name a living philosopher—the only one that comes to mind for me is Noam Chomsky.

“Noam Chomsky, in full Avram Noam Chomsky, (born December 7, 1928, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.), American theoretical linguist whose work from the 1950s revolutionized the field of linguistics by treating language as a uniquely human, biologically based cognitive capacity. Through his contributions to linguistics and related fields, including cognitive psychology and the philosophies of mind and language, Chomsky helped to initiate and sustain what came to be known as the “cognitive revolution.” Chomsky also gained a worldwide following as a political dissident for his analyses of the pernicious influence of economic elites on U.S. domestic politics, foreign policy, and intellectual culture.”

Some might say Noam is no more palatable than Ayn Rand, just a different leaning.  And that would be somewhat true, they are on opposite ends of the political scale.  One plus for Chomsky is that (as far as I know) he has never written an almost 600,000-word book outlining his philosophy disguised as fictional literature.  To put that book in perspective, I believe the King James version of the Bible is about 750,000 words.

Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle might be the big three when it comes to philosophers; but if they were alive today, they would still have a hard time getting on TV.  We have hundreds if not thousands of philosophers alive today, but we don’t know them because they have no relevance to our TV viewing habits.  Maybe we need a philosopher’s channel, and please no new Ayn Rands.

“What me worry?”
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Movies to Remember

For March’s newsletter I put together a list of my top ten favorite movies.  Really, who cares?  The number one movie was Lawrence of Arabia, which I saw in 1962.  One of my reasons for this being my favorite movie is where and how I saw it for the first time.  There was a time in moviedom when movie houses were huge, magnificent structures.  Often ornate and gaudy beyond belief. 

The Midwest Theatre in downtown Oklahoma City was just such a place. 

“The Midwest Theatre opened August 1, 1930 with Richard Barthelmess in “The Dawn Patrol”. Seating was provided for 1,700 and it was equipped with a Wurlitzer theater organ. It was operated by Warner Brothers Theatres. The architect was John Eberson who designed the auditorium in a Spanish Renaissance/Atmospheric style. Publicity at the time of opening also credited M.C. McKee as the designer of the theater. In 1947 the World Premiere of “Black Gold” was held at the theater with the star of the movie Anthony Quinn making a personal appearance. On December 1, 1960 the World Premiere of “Cimarron” starring Glenn Ford was held at the Midwest Theatre.”

“John Adolph Emil Eberson was a European born American architect best known for the development and promotion of movie palace designs in the atmospheric theater style.”

I’m not sure what the atmospheric theater style means, but this place would have knocked your socks off.  I said gaudy but that’s probably an injustice.  Everything was overdone.  The men’s bathroom had a public urinal that was huge.  I have no idea how many men could have stood, doing their business, around that massive structure, but I’m surprised it passed the health department’s inspection—had to be some violation involved with such a thing. 

The monster screen allowed seating of 1,700, most current theaters might seat 200 to 300 people.  My guess was the Midwest balcony seated about 700 with the remainder below.  Okay, it’s downtown Oklahoma City but I would bet there were not too many theaters any more remarkable than this one.  And I was impressed!

My friend, Jerry Moore, and I skipped school and went to the matinee to see what was being described as the most notable movie ever made.  Moore was especially interested because the famous Thomas Edward Lawrence was a noted motorcyclist, which he was riding when killed; and Moore loved motorcycles.  Lawrence was his hero.  I once mentioned that I had read that Lawrence was only 5’5” tall.  He scoffed like I had made it up, which I hadn’t.  In his eyes, he was a giant. 

We entered this astonishing place and fell immediately under it’s spell.  It was magical.  The movie was over three hours long and there was no question neither of us had sat that long for anything.  But we left in awe.  It was the most inspiring thing I had ever seen.  The movie itself was beautiful.  It took us to another world in a way no other movie ever had.  Plus, it was so sad.  While there were many exciting action scenes, the overall movie was about failure and the horrors of war.  Even the death of the hero was sad and somehow mundane.  I still feel the same bitterness I felt that day about how the “great” allied nations treated that part of the world and its people.

Another movie on my list at #4 was The Wizard of Oz.  It was still being shown in movie theaters in the 1950s.  My older brother took me to the Skytrain Theatre in Midwest City, Oklahoma, to see this classic.  I never forgave him.  It scared me to death.  A witch, flying monkeys, a child abandoned in a strange land; what kid wouldn’t be alarmed.  My brother thought my reaction was funny.  I secretly think he was also scared in parts—who wouldn’t be afraid of flying monkeys?

Of course, I have seen that movie many times since; but that feeling from the first time always seems to be close to the surface.  The movie hits at a small child’s greatest fear of being left alone.  It also incorporates the threat of the most powerful against the weakest.  Not sure it is a good film for children; but maybe I was just a fraidy cat.

The circumstances of how I saw those movies had a lot to do with them being included in my favorites.  Obviously, I had mixed emotions from both films, but there was no question they had great impact on me.  It was lasting influence that continued for many years—maybe that is the definition of a great movie.  I don’t know.

Another odd thing about my top ten movies was that five of them were war movies; of course, three of those five were anti-war.  So, once again mixed signals.  Also, three of the movies were made by Stanley Kubrick.  Not sure what that says other than I thought they were great movies.  And I saw most of those movies either in small, crummy theaters or on TV.  I do know that the experience I had at the Midwest Theatre was inspirational and had an impact on me that I sill don’t understand.  I thought T.E. Lawrence represented the worst in people, while my friend thought he was the best.  We didn’t agree on much after skipping school and experiencing an epic motion picture which gave us different messages in the most luxurious surroundings. 

I became anti-war, he became a soldier. We saw the same great movie but the influence was entirely different. I’m sure Jerry Moore would have thought the whole witch and flying monkey thing was silly; I had the good sense to be on alert for witches and flying monkeys for the rest of my life. Better safe than sorry.

Today (March 4, 2021) is a free e-book day on Amazon for Santa Fe Mojo. If you haven’t tried the Vincent Malone series now is your chance, can’t beat free.

Thanks for being a reader!

It’s All in Your Head

I’ve been writing some non-fiction business books lately, and it struck me that all writing is story telling.  It is obvious when I’m creating a fictional world for a Vincent Malone mystery; but how does that fit the less than inspirational story of double-entry bookkeeping.  Wow, that accounting story was sure some page turner!

The story about business may not be all that exciting, but the concept of keeping the reader’s interest is the same as a mystery.  Story telling is to let the reader or listener experience something new; maybe for entertainment or maybe to educate.  While I see similarities in these different categories of writing, I’m really missing the made-up stuff.  I can’t introduce a whole new set of accounting rules just to provide reader interest; but in fiction I can do whatever I want.  The new character joining Pacheco and Chino is a vampire with a keen interest in bird watching.  May not be good stuff; but nobody can stop me from making it up.

The first book I wrote was The Bootlegger’s Legacy.  (Now for absolute honesty, which is not always advisable, the first book was The Originals {which is no longer available, thank goodness} but it was not particularly good, so I prefer to think of TBL as my first book).  I believe this is my best work.  I think that is because I was connected to this book more than any of the others.  Almost every aspect had a strong connection to my life.  Now, of course, I did not know a bootlegger who hid millions and left clues for his son to find after his death; but I had a childhood connection to a bootlegger in Oklahoma City.  All the locations are places I had lived and experienced in detail.  The characters were drawn from my past more than any of my other books.  It was a made-up story but also detailed “things” and people I had experienced.

There was one significant break in that pattern.  One of the most important characters in TBL was Sally Thompson.  This character was the heart and soul of the book.  This was the character that made sense of the whole story.  And this character was not based on anyone I knew.  It was all made-up to fit the story.  It was what was needed to make the other characters real, to make the story have depth, to allow the bad to wash away in this character’s good.  All completely made-up.  Now where did this come from?

This is the part of writing that still intrigues me.  It happens in every story I write (exception is those accounting books).  A character just pops out to fit the story.  This is what the story needs so viola; a new character is born created from nothing.  No experience, acquaintance, memory; nothing, just made-up to drive the story.  We all know this happens in almost every fiction book; after all it is fiction.  But how do these characters suddenly pop into the writer’s head.  I have experienced it many times, but I still do know how it happens.

I guess the easy answer is that this is the creative part of writing.  You have a plot and a cast of characters and then as the story develops you need new angles to make the story flow; or maybe a new character to make the whole scene make sense.  So, you create it.

I plan my books.  I develop lists and outlines.  I will sketch out my entire idea of the book before I start writing.  On occasion I have visited those beginning notes and ideas after the book is finished; and it is amazing how different the book turned out from my original plan.  Often in major ways.  When I’m writing it is almost like the characters take over and develop the story themselves.  Okay that’s a little weird.  But as the characters interact and events occur, the story starts to write itself and my original plans go out the window.  Those creative “juices” can create a great book, but without them let’s hope it’s an accounting book I’m writing.

Sally Thompson was the best example of that creative drive while writing. She turned a good story into a great story.  Still don’t know where she came from, but I believe she is the best character I’ve written about.  I was more connected to this fictional character with no basis in my past than I was to many of the characters who were based on someone I knew.  How that happens is one of those mysteries of writing fiction that has no explanation but is the true meaning of creative writing.

Thanks for being a reader!

New Ramblings about Success Paths

If you’re a regular reader you know that I have written some business books under the heading of Success Paths.  The first book was about placing a value on a small business.  I was in the process of planning the launch of this new series of books when the pandemic hit.  Decided it was best to delay that project until things returned to something more normal.  Looks like that “normal” might be on the horizon.  Let’s hope so.  This brighter outlook has me working again on this new series of books.  Going to preview some of the material in this blog on occasion.  Maybe once a month or less.  You may not be interested in the subject matter, but hopefully for some of you, it will have some value.  I will place these blogs under new categories.

One of the books in the Success Paths series will be “How to Start and Run a Successful Small Business.”  This book is based on chapters detailing “Keys to Self-Employment Success.”  The first one was presented several weeks ago about the most important keys; capital and luck.

This presentation is not technical, and I hope it will be useful but also entertaining (where possible).  My fallback position during my long career has always been self-employment.  My instincts always ran towards a business venture as my best path to success.  I think we are entering a new world economy where this will become the best option for an increasing number of people.  I don’t have all of the answers, but my desire is to share some of my experiences, both good and bad, and offer my humble opinion on the best paths to achieve success in the small business world.  You may disagree, which is most acceptable, but it is based on my experience and what I have seen over many years.

I’ve owned 15 small businesses; some were successful, some were not—but I learned a lot in each endeavor.  My background is financial.  Degree in Accounting, CPA, been a Controller/CFO of 5 different companies in diverse industries.  Worked as a small business consultant helping small business owners achieve their dreams.  My information/advice may or may not be what you need but it will be relevant and based on facts that I have learned over the years.

Success Paths is a series of blog posts outside my “normal” ramblings about art, writing and being creative.  These posts convey my thoughts and experiences as an entrepreneur in starting and running a successful small business.  This is real world advice not “book knowledge” about the exceedingly difficult world of small business ownership.

Self-Employment Keys to Success Part 2

Attitude and Planning

In part one I talked about the importance of capital (the more the better) and luck in achieving success.  I’m sure many of you want to concentrate on your hard-work, industry knowledge, personal skills as more important than just money and dumb luck—but you’re wrong.  The more capital you have the more likely you are to succeed, and dumb luck is almost always a factor in success of a small business.

But on the other hand, your knowledge and hard work fall just behind those other aspects of success.  I’ve assisted many people in analyzing their business plans for their new venture; and almost always, they will say something along the lines of “I can do a better job than my boss in running a business,” or “I’m tired of working for someone else and busting my butt for no real gain,” or “I want the freedom in being my own boss.”  All of those represent the wrong reasons to open your own business.

Anyone who owns their own business understands the fallacy of “independence or freedom” associated with that ownership.  As an employee, you might have one boss or two, but as a business owner everyone is your boss.  You need that key customer, you rely on that key employee, the bank tells you what to do, your suppliers have more control than you do; everyone seems to have some control over you and your business.  Dreams of being “free” and doing what you want with your own business are not realistic.

I think one of the real keys to success, especially in your first small business, is to understand that you will need to be totally dedicated to that business.  You will work more hours, you will take less money, you will never stop thinking about your business, you will sacrifice your family time, you will put everything at risk for success.  That mindset will not make you the most pleasant person to be around; but if you want success you have to be totally committed.

In the past one of the first steps in exploring a new business venture would be to develop a business plan; today that is not necessarily so.  Business plans can be a requirement to raise capital or to secure a loan—but often today investors and lenders are more focused on the key idea of the business and less so on the mundane details.  This is a “new economy” trend that might not make much sense; but it is nevertheless true.

Doing a detailed business plan with complete financial support documents can be a luxury that many business start-ups will happily avoid.  The business plan with its supporting documents still offers the new entrepreneur an opportunity to “test” the business model on paper before you invest much time or money.

In some ways the need for a business plan is based on what it is you’re pitching.  If this is a business based on innovation, maybe all you need is an explanation of what the innovation is.  If the business is based on your mother’s recipe for sloppy joe sandwiches, you might need more detail analyzing the market and establishing that Mom’s sandwich is something everybody wants to buy.

The other factor regarding a business plan is related to how much money you are trying to raise and/or borrow.  If your total investment is $5,000 and you are pitching your plan to your family members or friends—you might only need a good story.  Details might only get in the way of basically asking people who know you to trust that you know what you are doing.

On the other hand, if you are looking for $5 million a more detailed approach will be required with lots of supporting documents to support your assumptions.

To summarize this post, emphasizing the importance of attitude.  You need to think through what it means to start your own business in terms of commitment in both money and time.  Don’t go in with a rosy picture of a perfect life of money and freedom; recognize the unbelievable time most small business owners spend developing their businesses and the lack of control you will really have.

The other is planning.  The best approach is to plan extensively.  Not because it always required, anymore; but because it will help you see the weaknesses in your assumptions before they become realities.  Planning on paper is cheaper than experimenting with real money.

Thanks for being a reader!

Message From a Village in a Swamp

One of the great things about Amazon (and yes, there are also bad things about Amazon) for a writer is that your books can be found by almost anyone in the world—that is with an internet connection.  I have received emails from people all over the world.  Usually, they are genuinely nice and mention how much they enjoy my books.  It always gives me a strange feeling thinking about someone in Russia, Vietnam or China reading my stories about New Mexico or Oklahoma City.

I recently received an email from someone in a village in a swamp (her description) talking about the artist she lived with for 45 years.  I do not have her permission to convey the whole email.  It is especially poignant when she reflects on her life with her creative artist partner.  But I think a small excerpt about her house will be okay to share.

“In a normal house I suffocate, everything is according to numbers and plumb rules and nice paint. Here I can look around and see the wood growing old, feel from which direction the wind blows, meet the first little buds on the vine which crawls in through the roof, see the tiles get dark from moisture when the water is high (this village is in a swamp, waterlevel is just a few centimeters below ground level). Nothing around me is straight or square or without life.

It is a great place for creativity.”

I believe this woman knows much more about a creative life than I do.  I loved the way she described her home and her creative life.  I function in spaces that are accommodating to my needs but have little emotional connection.  A “great place for creativity” suggests a whole different connection between artist and the artist’s work. 

When I was young, living in a very non-creative environment in Oklahoma City, my dream was to move to Santa Fe, New Mexico. and become an artist.  I think the actual dream was to become a “world famous” artist.  Maybe that is the problem with many creative people; they want recognition (money?) as much as they want to create art.

The woman who wrote the email described her life with a great artist who spent his life creating art “for himself.”  That is her description a “great artist.”  The tenderness in the email conveyed great love and sense of respect.  She did indicate he found international fame once his works were made public.

I’m a creative person, so naturally I turned this one-page email into a whole, wonderful story of beautiful people who have lived a life of accomplishment while being mostly anonymous.  Love of art, love of life, love of place, human love, all existing in a village in a swamp. 

Well, true confession time, I’m not moving to a village in a swamp to awaken my creative mind to a whole new perspective on my art.  I will continue to reside in my comfortable, multi-computer, high speed internet world in Denver, Colorado. 

I admire the lady who wrote the email, I admire her devotion to her artist companion, I admire her understanding of life that I cannot even contemplate, I admire her obvious courage, her obvious intellect; and I wonder why we still have such massive hostilities to people who are different than ourselves and fail to see the common traits of love and caring that makes us all humans.

Our amazing ability to connect with people all over the world and share our humanness seems to be driven more by hatred than love.  Let’s hope that our common connections can override our suspicions and biases and we can find the wonderful human connections of love and respect.

Artists, rather than tyrants, need to have more say in how we function as people.  We all have much in common.  We just need to open our eyes and hearts to these real connections that matter; even if our village is mostly concrete and our house is mostly common.

Thanks for being a reader!

Writers Block #12

I write mystery novels; or at least I try.  Writing mystery novels is either hard or easy.  It all depends on the flow of the work.  For much of my career I was a “numbers” guy.  The work flowed from an endless stream of numbers that needed crunching.  Little thought was given to the creative side of numbers crunching—it’s actually frowned upon.  Now my work is controlled by something called a creative process.

This process seems to work fine on some days and others, it does not.  The writers’ block problem has been talked to death—and who cares anyway?  But still, why does the process get bogged down?  Why isn’t writing more like numbers crunching; just get to work and the output flows.

I’ve had the privilege (burden?) of working with some world-class liars.  These people had an answer to everything because it was all made up.  Ask them the meaning of life and prepare for an endless stream of bullshit.  That obviously is the same creative process as making up a mystery novel, right?  The liars never seemed to run out of bullshit.  Why do writers hit brick walls and the big mouth in the office next door can spew a novel length yarn of nonsense at the drop of a hat?

Now one possibility is that if you could get a written transcript of the bullshitters never ending gushing of nonsense you would realize it is just that: nonsense.  When you buy a mystery novel you expect it to make sense, have sone kind of meaning, follow a logical story path and of course resolve the mystery in a completely sane, in retrospect, outcome.

So as a mystery writer you cannot just pound out page after page of garbage.  If you do and someone accidentally buys your book they will never, ever buy another one.  The writer must please the reader, in some fashion, or they will soon be writing books just for themselves.  Wait a minute, I do write books for myself!  If I’m only writing for me, the flow of brilliant prose should be easy—I’m not that self-critical; just write.  But now it becomes clear, I’m writing for you—the reader.  That’s what creates the pressure and dams up the flow of words.  I’m worried that last paragraph I wrote will displease someone other than me; therefore, I can’t write the next paragraph.

Writers block is a fear of rejection.  The solution is to not give a damn what the reader thinks and just write for myself; but I must never say that out loud.  I need to keep saying that my readers are the most important people in the creative process but not actually believe that.  I’m now free to write my bullshit without fear of rejection as long as I pretend to not care about rejection.   Life is simple in complicated ways.

Wall Street Madness

Speaking of outcomes; I have written a couple of posts about the illogic of the stock market valuations.  The stock market has become more akin to a betting site than anything to do with the underlying company’s actual financial performance.  Nothing wrong with that if you understand what it is. 

Then along comes social media entry into the cloistered world of Wall Street and guess what?  It is a betting site that can be driven up or down based only on the wiliness of “investors” to act illogically.

So, a company like GameStop, whose financial condition is not good, can go from $4 a share to $300 a share based on nothing to do with the company.  No logic at all.  Like most schemes (cons) the original “investors” usually make a fortune and the last people who jump in lose a fortune.  Maybe I’m just disgruntled that I didn’t get in at the beginning of the madness and had the good sense to get out before the reckoning.

My best bet is to stick to writing mystery books; I can always control the outcome in that world.

Thanks for being a reader!