Power, Madness and Caring

I’ve mostly been a rule follower.  For much of my life, at least in my head, I was a rebel; even though all evidence would say I was no such thing.  Can you be a rebel and not rebel?  In most societies the rule followers make up most of the citizens.  They spend their lives dealing with the day to day chores of “getting by.”  But these rule followers can see when the rules are wrong; when society has stopped being a passive environment in which you can seek the mundane without a care.  When rule followers become rebels, the world explodes.

This, of course, has happened many times.  The trigger for this transformation is often some minor abuse by the powers that be.  Power seekers are the opposite of rule followers.  Power seekers have an inner, moral obligation to seek power and personal gain that overrides all societal considerations; and as such, they seldom see the damage they are doing.  In their eyes achieving their need for power is a greater good that everyone should want; in other words, they are some of the dumbest people on the planet—but they have power.  They usually achieve this power by a willingness to use violence against the rule followers.

The willingness of the rule followers to remain passive for long periods, while enduring vile and often deadly treatment by the power seekers, is one of those human traits that doesn’t seem to make sense.  But in the context of who the rule followers are, it is not surprising.  They focus on small circles of influence as their entire world, usually family or small communities.  What is going on in the bigger world becomes background noise; until it isn’t.  These are the people who want to be left alone to live their lives; mundane or not, it is what they want.  Seeking power, dominating other people is completely foreign to their existence.  They are slow to recognize the evil that exists.

I have thought of the power seekers as the crazy people in the world.  I know that is an amazingly simple explanation for a vast range of behavior; but to want to dominate (and harm) other people seems to mean crazy to me.  So, were the power seekers always crazy, or did they become crazy because they sought power? 

Anytime I think of madness, I can’t help myself I think of the photo of Tolstoy.  The man was obviously brilliant in the extreme, but my guess is that he was totally crazy.  His madness was directed at 500,000-word tomes, not conquering his fellow man.  Sorry about tossing Tolstoy in.

In psychiatry there is the term hypersanity.  This is not a common word in the profession but more like a theory.  Hypersane people reach that state through a path involving insanity.  Way beyond this blog but it amounts to reaching a new level of consciousness by delving into madness.  Okay, you can stop laughing now.

It is striking to me how much time and energy we spend trying to understand madness and little time at all in understanding sanity.  Sane people might be too boring?  Crazy people are interesting?

For some time, the world has seemed out-of-order.  Without order there is chaos.  With chaos everything in life becomes more difficult.  During this current period of chaos, the mundane existence of day-to-day life is more difficult with a greater level of stress.  Why?  Well, of course, we have the pandemic, we have unsettled politics, we have extreme weather, we have a society that seems split in significant ways, we have little that feels comfortable and normal.  All that places great pressure on the rule followers.  They really want to follow the rules, but what are the rules.  Can each person have their own set of rules?  Why are your rules different than mine?

Not sure if there is a trigger built in there that leads to greater chaos or not.  I hope not.  No one should want to turn the rule followers into the crazies; it’s not their nature and once it starts it is hard to stop. 

But right now, it feels like the crazy power seekers are winning.  Unfortunately, the power seekers have no goal beyond seeking power, and if they win, they will eventually just destroy everything because they know nothing else.  Power and destruction seem to go hand in hand.

During my formative years, there was a kid who sat in the back of my 5th grade class and made dinosaurs out of clay.  They were the most impressive dinosaurs anyone had ever seen.  He never said anything and had little to do with the rest of the class.  It was obvious to his classmates he was crazy.  He was mostly ignored and never asked for anything except clay.

The other dominate male in the class was almost twice the size of any other boy.  It was rumored that he was in his third attempt at 5th grade.  He only did one thing; he hurt people.  On the playground he would push people down and usually sit on them or stand on their legs.  He laughed when kids cried.  I don’t remember anyone saying he was crazy.  He was something that existed in the world, and everyone had to adapt to the menace.  The goal was to survive and make it to the 6th grade; hopefully, he would be held back another year.  The teacher was literally afraid of the man/child so there was a good chance she would promote him no matter what his grades were; after all she had her own life to worry about.

What was odd is that the bully kid was the only one who talked to the dinosaur kid.  By all accounts they were not even the same species, but they seemed to connect.  Since on many days the bully kid was barred from going out to recess due to his previous antics on the day before, he would stay with the dinosaur kid, who never went out to recess (never knew the reason?); and they would talk.  It was a strange friendship that seemed to flourish.  By the end of the school year the dinosaur boy was going out to recess with his friend the bully, and neither were bothering anyone else.

Don’t know what happened to either one of them; but I have this warm feeling that their friendship survived into adulthood.  We are all connected.  It just takes a little effort, and maybe a bit of luck.

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Yep, that some my art as a shower curtain. Cool!

“expletive this and expletive that!”

Been thinking maybe I should add a language warning to the descriptions of my books.  Some reviewers don’t like the foul language and have given me bad reviews for just my choice of words. 



    blasphemous or obscene language.

    “an outburst of profanity”

    synonyms:  oath · swear word · expletive · curse · obscenity · four-letter word · dirty word · execration · imprecation · blasphemy · swearing · foul language · bad language · cursing · cuss · cuss word

My books contain gritty language or even profanity.    Gritty is not meaningful enough and profanity is too harsh.  Maybe I mean cuss words or foul language; but it’s not blasphemy, or is it?  How about imprecation?




    a spoken curse.

    “she hurled her imprecations at anyone who might be listening”

I’m fairly sure I have never used the word imprecation in any context.  Maybe I should add a warning to my books “IMPRECATION WARNING!”  Probably not helpful?  Malediction?  Anathema?  Strong language might work, although it sounds rather like a grandmotherly warning; now, now you better watch that strong language!

Banned words would have had meaning at one time.  Banned words were usually from books; but today I’m not sure there are banned words.  TV might have been a standard for language but that also is gone.  Now it is shocking to watch a cable show and not have a few fucks tossed in. 

I had one reviewer write that I was part of the society wide problem of low morals.  As far as I could tell this had nothing to do with my morals only my language.  This person was applying the standards of past generations to today’s society.  This is a problem for all of us; social norms or standards change.  The change is usually perceived by the young as good and bad by the older members.  In many ways the bad is as much about change as it is about what has changed. 

My father swore.  His swear words were mostly “colorful.”  There was no question he was swearing but the actual meaning was not so clear.  Knucklehead was a favorite.  Bump on a log or peckerwood were used as swear words but only in the context of they were not said in “mixed company.”  My father used damn and hell, but most of his obscenities were descriptive of people.  He was from a southern rural background and racism was always close to the surface.  And yet, he was religious and considered to be a pillar of his community.  He would be shocked at the language in my books.  Sorry, dad, it just slipped out.

Language tells us a lot about ourselves, our society and where we fit in the world.  I use language in my books as a way to convey an understanding of the characters, stress they’re experiencing, energy level in the story, fear, all sorts of emotions.  Having someone scream, SHIT! tells us a lot about what is going on with that character.  Some writers would use a different way to convey the frustration or anger of the character; but I often use these “dirty words” to convey those emotions quickly and, hopefully, meaningfully.

My books tend to be an odd mixture of hard-boiled and cozy mysteries.  This is not by accident.  I liked both of those genres and made the decision that what I wanted in a book was a little bit of both.  This probably confuses some readers and makes some mad, because it is not either pure cozy or hard-boiled.  I’m going to work on better descriptions so readers are not surprised by the books and will take them at face value and have fun reading.

Conspiracy theories exist because the human brain wants to connect the dots.  The brain seeks patterns in all things to avoid danger and be more effective at finding food.  Nice, simple and close to the truth.  Patterns have been shown to control much of our brain function.  The details get a little fuzzy to me but can be found with an internet search.

Writers layout stories that allow us to connect the dots.  It’s one of the reason fictional stories have such power, they fit into one of the brains key functions of finding patterns.  When we read a mystery story (or watch a movie or TV show), it allows us to perform this key brain function without physical risk, and it gives us pleasure. 

People who readily believe conspiracy theories are prone to finding patterns in almost everything.  And based on some things I have read, it appears that it becomes a habit.  The more patterns you see, the more likely you are to see patterns.

The counter to pattern seeking and conspiracy believing is critical thinking.

What is critical thinking? Critical thinking refers to the ability to analyze information objectively and make a reasoned judgment. It involves the evaluation of sources, such as data, facts, observable phenomena, and research findings.

Good critical thinkers can draw reasonable conclusions from a set of information and discriminate between useful and less useful details to solve problems or make decisions.”  thoughtco.com

One of the buzz words in public education for a long time was to teach critical thinking.  This is a life-long skill that can be taught and leads to inquisitive students who don’t accept truth as a given.  Public education leaders soon discovered while having critical thinking skills was an admirable goal in practice, it was a pain in the butt to implement.  There is still some lip service to this goal, but it is a lot easier to just have kids shut-up and believe what they are told.  Plus, most parents really don’t want critical thinking kids; they want their kids to believe the same conspiracy theories they do.  Without critical thinking the more the pattern seeking brain believes conspiracy theories.  It becomes a family tradition.

This whole post feels like a conspiracy; but I have no idea what the dots connect.  Maybe I can explain that next week.

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Memories and Talents

Often the past is a fond memory because our memories tend to make the past somewhat fuzzy.  I was an avid reader at a young age.  One of my favorite activities was reading the daily newspaper.  Can’t say with any accuracy when I started reading a newspaper every day, but without a doubt, I was in grade school.  One of my clearest memories of a newspaper story was about a Leopard escaping from the Oklahoma City zoo.  I can recall with detail the many pages the paper devoted to this event.  There were large diagrams showing how the tiger leaped from one perch to another then completed an amazing leap of faith to reach the top.  I spent hours probing the details.

Now the shocking part is that this occurred when I was six.  It makes no sense to me that I have such a strong memory of this story and the details that were printed in the paper; but they are there.  In Oklahoma City at that time (1951) there were two daily newspapers: a morning paper and evening.  Both owned by the same dominate, powerful man; E.K. Gaylord.  Much later, a start-up newspaper prompted an ugly newspaper war in my hometown.  That is the basis of a series of books I wrote, The Muckraker Series.  My books are fiction, but much of the conflict between the old-guard paper and the new upstart presented in the books actually happened.

I’m not sure about my memories as a six-year old reading the newspaper, but I do know that I have been a daily reader of newspapers for a long time.  Today most of what I read are on-line versions.  The days of two competing papers in a market putting out multiple editions and huge, massive Sunday papers is long gone. 

When I first moved to Denver, the Denver Post and Rocky Mountain News were in an ugly competitive war.  It did not turn out well for the papers, but as a reader it was wonderful.  These were both huge newspapers and they were almost giving them away in their frenzied competitive effort to defeat one another.  The sports sections alone had more local coverage pages than the current version of the Post has in the whole newspaper.  The glory days of newspapers are over.

Over the years I’ve known several newspaper people and they all had a common trait: a dedication to the truth.  One of the characters in the Muckraker books was based on one of those acquaintances.  His book name was Taylor Albright.  The real Albright was a mild-mannered, soft-spoken man who was fearless.  He had been threaten so many times it had become a normal part of his life; but he never backed down.  His obligation to the truth was a reason for being.  He wrote about politics, corruptions, the police departments, crooked businessmen, social injustice; he was loved and hated.  He once told me that he expected to be fired every day, because he wrote about the truth and his employer was in the advertising business pushing mostly lies. 

The real Albright was fired and started putting out his own “free” paper.  That paper was what a friend of mine called a “hoot.”  Albright extended no mercy to anyone and wrote what he saw as the truth.  Of course, his truth had a known bias; his.  The free newspaper didn’t last long (even with my help) and Albright soon disappeared, like a ghost. 

The memory of him and his quest is no-doubt much like the Leopard story, fuzzy.  He left town owing a lot of people money, including me; and as best as I could tell nothing he wrote about actually changed.  But many people talked about what he was writing, they disagreed often; but they also changed their minds.  He influenced people who were able to change things.  Maybe those things did not change that week or even that year, but I think he influenced them to look at the problem and acknowledge the truth.

I will continue to read stories by people who are seeking the truth wherever I can find them.  Soon there will only be on-line newspapers which is sad; but the content can still have impact.  One of my favorite “reporters” today is Matt Taibbi who I have been following since his Rolling Stone days.  Check out his latest.  Truth seekers, like Matt, are often people you don’t agree with but always make sound arguments for their positions. 

Sold a little artwork this week.  Thanks so much.  Some of those were people from my past.  It was great to reconnect.  One, who I will call R.M., was someone I admired for his talents.  He was a great musician.  I have mentioned before how I had certain talents and have continued my entire life working on those skills, but what I wanted to be was musical.  It was magic to me to watch my friend R.M. play music.  If I could trade, I believe I would trade whatever skill I have as a writer or artist to be able to play the piano.  And before you scream at me, believe me, I have tried.  Yes, I tried and failed.  Maybe that is the definition of talent; some have it, some don’t—and if you don’t, you can’t fake it.  Oh well, maybe I will give piano lessons one more shot—if only my wrist wasn’t already hurting from writing.  How about singing—nah, not a good idea.

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Labor of Writing

Watched a great movie the other night, the new Little Women.  Louisa May Alcott, the author of the book the movie was based on, was both revolutionary and inspiring.  The story is loosely based on her life.  In the movie we see her writing in long hand under difficult circumstances.  Poor lighting, ink stains, sloppy/difficult error corrections and pulpy paper.  The dedication and effort it took to write a book is so different than today’s world. 

Maybe there is a point in the future when the latest MS Word will write your story based only on an outline—or maybe just a thought.  Type in a brief synopsis of your latest book and presto a full-length book.   Editing might consist of asking MS Word to expand the book from 60k words to 90k.  Or maybe the author is tasked with naming the characters.  The story is written by the computer with Character 1, Character 2, etc.  Oh, the hardships of writing.

On the other hand, the labor of writing (achy hands, strained eyes, blank mind?) could be an important part of the process.  If Ms. Alcott worked long hours under poor conditions to put down her story of joy, hardship, and family; it was much more her story due to that effort.  If it had been easy, it would not be the same story.  Not sure about that, but I do believe that effort in any activity is not wasted.  If you have re-written your story twenty times is it better?  Or should you have stopped after the first try?  I think the answer is yes.  It could be its best on the first try, or it could be much better after the twentieth. 

I write in a comfortable room that is well lit, sitting in a cushioned chair, using an amazing computer with a huge screen.  Maybe I’m too comfortable?

Okay at this point I’ll throw in a photo of Leo Tolstoy, regular readers will understand.  If not a regular—it has something to do with Tolstoy writing War and Peace long-hand running over 400,000 words.  Now that is pain (and you can see it on his face).

Politics is everywhere, and it is mostly ugly.  This blog is not a political blog, and I will not turn it into one.  However, I would like to refer you to an interesting group.  Unite America.  “Unite America is a movement of Democrats, Republicans, and independents working to put voters first by fostering a more representative and functional government.  We invest in campaigns to enact reforms and elect candidates so that the right leaders have the right incentives to solve our country’s greatest problems.”

In the current environment this may seem Pollyannaish.  We need a better way of conducting our elections, and I believe much of what Unite America is about makes a lot of sense.  You may not agree, but I think it’s worth checking out.

One of the odd joys in sports is being able to root for a losing team.  Now, of course, as a fan you don’t want them to lose; but most sports have only a few winners and many losers, so most likely you root for one of the losers.  My favorite team is the Colorado Rockies; and yes, they lose. 

The Rockies happen to be in the same division as the LA Dodgers.  Unless the Dodgers decide to abandon their current pattern of success; the Rockies will never beat the Dodgers.  But there is always hope of second place, right?  Well, not so much.  The San Diego Padres are also in this division but had mostly been worse than the Rockies.  Not now.  Not only are they better, but they just made a ton of trades and became even better than before.  The path for the Rockies looks very rocky.

While losing is not fun, I’ve decided that rooting for a losing team builds character.  Okay, you can stop laughing.  So, my rooting for the Rockies is making me a better person; of course, if they started to win, I would gladly give up some improved character points.  Go Rockies!

A reader of the newsletter dropped out stating that it was too spammy.  I would guess this is about me trying to sell things, books and art.  More than likely this reaction was due to the new emphasis on art.  All I can say is that the newsletter is mostly about things I’m doing which happens to include books and art.  I believe the only reason people signed up to receive the newsletter was to be kept informed about my doings.  Sorry, if the sells pitch has gotten to be too much, I’ll tone it down with more emphasis on insights into writing, publishing and books in general– with a little art.

PS.  If you’re not a subscriber to the monthly newsletter, you ought to check it out.

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Truth or Fiction?

The process I use to develop a book is not very precise.  Sometimes things just come to me, and other times I spend a lot of time doing research on a key point that had triggered the idea of a book.  So, book ideas have come in a flash and have been based on more thoughtful detailed analysis. 

All my books start with something familiar.  The Bootlegger’s Legacy was based on a gossipy story I heard while drinking with a group of male companions.  They were talking about two people who were sometimes part of the group.  These were all business people meeting at bars to discuss work and various other subjects to lessen the anxiety of not being the person you wanted to be.  Much of these discussions centered around money.  The story was that these two not so bright businessmen were going to do a drug deal to pay-off their massive business-related debt.  It was an act of desperation laced with stupidity.  As it turned out, this was just bar talk and nothing ever happened.

From that tiny memory I had an idea for a book.  It was going to be a buddy adventure with lots of screw-ups by the amateur drug dealers and their encounters with Mexican criminals.  It was going to be, hopefully, funny.  I sat down to write.  After a few pages it wasn’t funny, and I had no idea how any of the plot lines would develop.  I knew nothing about Mexican drug dealers. 

While I was thinking about how to make this small idea into a book, I remembered my childhood experience with a bootlegger in my middle-class neighborhood in Oklahoma City.  I liked the idea of two friends trying to find a way to make some quick money because of their business problems so it occurred to me to have them look for money hidden by a bootlegger from the 1950s in dry Oklahoma.  One idea ended up as something entirely different: but still with some aspects of the original.

This happens over and over with my books.  Take something, an experience, a location, a profession, known characters, an encounter or just an idea and turn it into a full-length book.  This requires a lot of imagination and good deal of bullshit.  To keep me centered while I make stuff up, I rely upon familiar settings to make the scenes feel more real to me and the reader.  I’ve been there, I know that town, that place, that bar; it is comfortable to write about and it makes the characters more real—to me and hopefully, the reader.

My current project is China Deep Dive.  It is not about China.  It’s about something that happened that I was a part of.  It’s mostly about a very large con-game that was led by the most unlikely people to fleece a bank, a major US company and the China government out of millions of dollars.  It occurred, in of all places, little Las Cruces, New Mexico.  In case you are wondering, I was not part of the con.  I was very much an innocent bystander, conned as much as anyone.  But I did help provide a veneer of respectability.  The story is about how all of that blew up, left many people financially harmed or dead.  Yes, I said dead—that’s mostly the made-up part.  While there was a tragic accident in the “real” story, the fictional one has many people dying.  It adds to the drama.

So, what is real and what is fiction?  I would guess (not through with the book yet) that something like 20% is based on the true story and 80% is pure fiction.

One book that might be even more true is Murder So Wrong.  That book (and series) was based on an actual newspaper war that came about due to a defeat in a governor’s election in Oklahoma.  I was in Oklahoma City at the time and became friends with one of the major players at one of the newspapers.  In the book his character is Taylor Albright.  At the time, I had no idea I would write a book about those events (otherwise, I would have kept notes).  Many of the characters and events in that series actually happened.  Although, once again, much of the mayhem that drives the stories is fiction. 

As a bonus (I hope) for reading my blog, I’m enclosing the first chapter of China Deep Dive.  I’m working on that book right now and would anticipate a completed book in three to four months, unless I sink into another one of my black holes.  If that happens all bets are off.

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My Forecast is Gloomy with a Light Mist

Some time ago I posted a blog about the unbelievable high valuations of public companies in relationship to private company valuation models (note; public companies are always valued higher than private companies for obvious, and not so obvious, reasons—but that is not what I’m talking about).  In short, the market value of companies makes no economic sense.  Well, now they have gotten even higher.  Why?

I have no answer as to why.  The stock market should represent the value of a company based on its financial performance and the anticipated future performance of both the company and the overall economy.  That future window is often months out and can be years.  The future analysis is, of course, skewed by speculation, which does not have to follow any logic (see bubbles).  So here we are in a pandemic recession, grave doubt about the future economy, huge questions marks about our whole social and economic system, during a highly confrontational presidential election; the stock market has gone up.  I see no logic in that. 

My financial experience (in case you forgot or didn’t know—I’m a CPA whose career involved private company transactions) as a business valuation expert suggests the market is being driven by factors we do not completely understand.  Maybe this is behind the curtain stuff, but for some reason “normal” logic is not driving the stock market. 

What is my point?  I don’t have one.   It is just an observation from someone with a little knowledge on the subject.  (Full disclosure; I’m often wrong about all kinds of things!)

My foray into the indie book world and now into the on-line art sites has me amazed at the abundance of talent that exists in our confusing world.  If you look at the top art sites, they claim to represent something close to a million artists selling a vast array of art.  Now some of this art does not suit my tastes, but it is an amazing display of people creating all kinds of art; much of it fantastic. 

The internet is obviously a mixed bag of good and bad (lots of hate out there).  But if you look you will see a vast sea of individuals worldwide creating things, all sorts of things.  Books, art, crafts, jewelry, sculptures, poetry and on and on.  The amazing thing is that this is mostly individuals working alone creating something unique to express themselves without any clear objective other than to create.  It is very human.

When I first started writing I read a lot of articles and books about how to achieve success.  A common theme was to write the best book you can and continue to write.  Good books in quantity was an often-mentioned path to success.  After some years of sticking with that approach I have come to a new conclusion.  Bullshit!  The path to success is blocked with a sign that says, “pay here.”

Of course, the first thing we need to do is define success.  My goal in writing was to make money.  There was the creative side, but let’s be honest, the goal was money.  Not a huge sum but a useful sum.  Each of us can define what that sum might be.  I now have ten books in the marketplace, and they generate a sum of money I would consider useful.  Not huge, but useful.  So, have I met my goal.  No way in hell.

Because I have spent a substantial portion of the income on promoting, advertising, hawking, yelling about those books to be able to generate that useful sum.  Okay, does that mean I’m giving up.  No way.  I’m just saying that the so-called path to success may work for a few, but for most writers I think it’s a pipe-dream. 

I read somewhere that there are over a million fiction eBooks on Amazon.  And of those books, almost half have not sold a single book in over a year.  Now, I can’t remember my source, and maybe I got that wrong, but if true that is amazing.  Is that several hundred thousand authors who have books available but did not sell one?  What is their dream?  Many of those books could be trash and shouldn’t sell, but they could also be treasures and not sell one.  The reason?  Advertising.  Spend a thousand dollars on Amazon advertising, and you will sell your book; trash or not.

If I were starting today, I would spend less time worrying about the quality of my book and more time understanding how to promote my book.  And, of course, books in a series are a better way to sell more books—but the reason is because they fit an advertising model that maximizes the return on your promotion dollar.  It is about marketing, nothing else.  And who benefits from that model: Amazon.

I had plans to introduce a new series of small business books (SuccessPaths) starting about now.  I was doing that even though the pandemic had changed almost everything about business, because I thought the basic info was still valid.  Decided I was wrong.  My plan now is to rewrite the books and plan on a pub date sometime in mid-2021 or later.  Reality is that much has changed and more will in the future related to small business.  Time to wait and see if the sky clears.

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Creative Pickle

Stan, a friend of mine, and also co-author of the Muckraker Series, passed along a link to an article about the social significance, if any, of the hard-boiled detective/crime fiction genre.  Thought it was an interesting read, although not sure I agree with the conclusions.

“Undergirding the entire genre is an understanding that those who guard money and power, hurting others in the process, are suspect. This is a basic premise that has driven crime fiction from Edgar Allen Poe to Scooby Do to Jessica Jones—and, fortuitously, it’s the same premise driving social justice movements today.”

Sometimes it seems the observers of creative activities often see hidden meaning in the results that never occurred to the creators.  Although it is obvious no artist or writer creates their works in a vacuum; I think more often than not the end result is about little more than telling a story.  The grand scheme of reflecting society is more by accident than intent.

Received a less than wonderful review on one of my books (Dog Gone Lies); where the reviewer seemed to think it was full of clichés. 

What is a cliché? 

“A cliché, or cliche, is an expression, idea, or element of an artistic work that has become overused to the point of losing its original meaning or effect, even to the point of being trite or irritating, especially when at some earlier time it was considered meaningful or novel.”

You could probably make a case that a murder mystery book, by design, is a cliché.  Is that bad?  Or maybe it was the main character being a retired rural sheriff?  Overdone, maybe; but cliché?  How about the huge Apache sidekick, who is also a computer guru?  Or a Disbarred attorney, hiding from the bad guys, who drinks too much; that must be a cliché?

I think the reviewer probably thought that was a clever thing to write and had no idea how the book was a “cliché.”  The reviewer should have just said he didn’t like the book.  Straight forward and no way to argue with that, since it was just his opinion.

My books all deal with the power structure of our society; with an emphasis on cops, lawyers and political corruption.  But each story is about individuals who are doing their best to survive in their world.  Those individuals might be dealing with troubled grown children, or family histories that cause trauma in the next generation.  Their lives could be mixed up with corrupt law enforcement or the ugly negative ripple of abuse.  Or drugs and the depressing impact that has on so many.  Also funny moments and loving moments.  You know; life.

So is that a cliché?

I seemed to be spending more time lately dealing with edits of old books rather than writing new material.  This is not my strength.  (I hate it!)  Some came about because of the Pacheco & Chino audio books.  In preparation for the narration, several “typos” (or stupid mistakes) were discovered.  As a result, those books went through another round of editing.

Some of these corrections are also the result of Amazon’s quality checks.

I have mixed feelings about Amazon.  Without them the indie book world would not exist; with them it’s an autocratic approach to marketing that devalues any one product (book) for the benefit of Amazon.  And why not?  It’s their web site and they should be able to do anything they want.  But, computer quality checks on books?  When did we become so sensitive to typos?

Much of this gets back to the consumer.  Most of my reviews are ok.  But there are some, usually due to language, that feel unnecessarily ugly. Often these involve comments about errors–usually something along the lines of this writer needs to hire an editor.  Internet reviews of all things have given a significant sense of power to many senseless people.  By far the majority of my readers have received free books.  I have distributed several hundred thousand free books so I could sell tens of thousands.  With those number differences, it is logical the majority of my reviews are from people who spent zero on the book; and yet, they complain, and apparently complain to Amazon about errors.  This isn’t a blender that does not work–it’s a creative work product.  If you hate it, so what.  But to complain about a few errors seems bizarre. 

Obviously my writing about this is probably on the same level as those consumer complaints/reviews.  Pointless.

I know this is a somewhat rambling post; but that fits my current mood.  Everything seems disjointed.  The world just feels out of sorts. 

I’ve been uploading much of my older art to my new art web site.  www.tedcliftonart.com.  In the process I noticed several periods of intense activity.  There are exceptions, but many of my paintings were done in those particular years; and all of those years represent bad times for me.  Usually some kind of financial pickle that caused stress.  Maybe creativity is a human way of dealing with unusual stress.  If so there should be a bunch of creative works coming out very soon.

Raining Ideas

Look an ad for artwork; how did that happen?

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Grammar Police

A story in the Guardian states; “Robert W Trogdon, a leading scholar of 20th-century American literature, told the Guardian that Hemingway’s novels and short stories were crying out for editions that are “as accurate to what he wrote as possible” because the number of mistakes “ranges in the hundreds.” Although many are slight, he said, they were nevertheless mistakes, made primarily by editors and typesetters.”

Wow, I thought it was just me that had errors caused by me others.  Yes, the dreaded editors or proof readers who are fixing your wonderful manuscript, but somehow manage to make it worse.  Okay, I can hear my editors screaming obscenities from many miles away.  Sure some of those elusive “mistakes” were mine, but weren’t you hired to fix that?

Hemingway probably had a much better set of excuses than I do—some of his manuscripts were hand written.  My god, if I actually “wrote” these stories in long-hand it would take a magician to fix them to the point they would be readable.  Plus, there was another step in Hemingway’s world where the manuscripts were typeset.  Many years in my past, I was in the printing business, and those typesetting machines were like very bad old typewriters—of course there would be mistakes!

I like the line “made primarily by editors and typesetters.”  Mr. Trogdon probably has some natural bias about saying Hemingway was a sloppy writer (I understand he used to drink—a lot!)  It’s a lot more convenient to place blame on nameless, faceless editors. 

In one of my past blogs I talked about Tolstoy (I do this quite often so I can run his picture with the blog—the poor man looks insane), and the fact that War and Peace was 1,225 pages long, and he did write in long-hand.  What’s amazing is that I read somewhere it was actually almost twice that long, but was cut down to keep it at one book. A book that size might be pushing 400,000 words; I’m exhausted after writing a 70,000-word book.  This may get back to his state of mine, and why he looks the way he does in that photo.

Errors have been on my mine lately.  Amazon does quality checks on some e-books by running them through what appears to be very sophisticated software to find grammar/typo errors.  This is not Word checking grammar and typos, because it catches things that are not obvious. A couple of my books had some errors—about 7 was average on each book.  That is after three (yes, three!) editors had reviewed the books.  Those 7 errors were mostly typos and a couple were not mistakes at all because it was a syntax I was using to fit a character.  Still I get this rather unfriendly notice that I should fix the errors or Amazon would label my book as flawed.  I assumed the next step was to attach a Tolstoy pic to my bio.

After a moment of irritation, I realized Amazon just did me a favor, at no cost.  The errors were easy to fix and a new file was uploaded and cleared Amazon’s approval process.  I’m just not sure that Amazon should be the standard setter for all things, but I guess if nobody else is willing to do it why not them?

So I had a 70,000-word mystery book that is often free, and it had 7 errors; and I felt bad.  As if I had not provided perfection at zero cost to my reader. I’m starting to seriously wonder why I write these things?  Maybe it is punishment for some of my sins in grade-school.  I was primarily an artist in grade-school and had bad penmanship, plus it was on my permanent record.  I knew that would catch up with me sooner or later.

Art Update


Adding new art to my site almost everyday. These are things I’ve done over many years. Take a look www.tedcliftonart.com.

Lots of Cactus

Just like Hemingway, I also enjoyed a nip or two on occasion, which might explain some of these images.

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Private Movie Director?

My blog postings have mostly been about writing fiction books, in particular mystery fiction books.  Other interests and thoughts creep in now and then; but the focus has been the writing.  I would anticipate that to be true going forward; however, I have a renewed interest in my art.  Many things that related to indie books also fit into the indie art world.  The largest common factor is on-line marketing.  Unknown writers and unknown artists share this wonderful vehicle for promotion and sales and also share the burden of this monster that captures every free moment of your time.

The oldest artwork, that I still have, is dated almost fifty years old.  Not ancient as a lost artifact, but still pretty damn old.  No internet, few computers; a different world.  Does that change art?  Well of course it does.  I have done some digital art that obviously did not exist back in the day.  Also, I believe we are much more attuned to images today than the past.  Not that paintings were not great images of all sorts of things, but the common place use of images for everything is relatively new.  We are now bombarded with images ranging from informative to titillating. 

One of the great pleasures in reading books was the need to develop our own images of what we were reading.  The author could lay out all sorts of descriptions of events or people in the book, but it was up to the reader to turn those words into pictures in our heads.  One reader could imagine Blackbeard the pirate as something entirely different than the next reader.  We created the image that had meaning to us.  Sort of private movies.

Today we imagine less and are exposed to more images.  Some of these, created-by-others, images are ones we would have never developed for ourselves.  We have become not the creator of visual images, but the recipient of someone else’s opinion of what we should see.  It is no longer our world, but one we visit; often with trepidation.

When I create art, there is often a story in my head about that art.  “A hot summer day in the desert with the intense sun making everything look extra bright and bold, while my thirst increases with each minute waiting for someone to find me lost is this burning hell.”  The result—a painting of a cactus with tumbleweeds hanging around in a menacing fashion.

Okay, maybe not all that menacing.

On the other hand, when I’m writing, the pictures form in my head and I can see my character (Vincent Malone) walking down a cobblestone sidewalk in Santa Fe anticipating a cold beer in his favorite dark bar; anxious about seeing his new love interest Nancy, the bar owner.  I see him walking with a sly smile on his face and I feel like I know him.

Albert Einstein is quoted as saying, “If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”

The exact meaning of that statement can probably be argued; but to me it says intelligence is more imagination than learning facts.  I worry that we may not be developing our imaginations to the degree we could.  I remember having my mother read to me and closing my eyes and seeing the story she was reading.  It was alive to me in great detail.  Later, as a very young artist, some of those thoughts became my first drawings.

I’m sure we have all met people who say they are not creative.  I don’t believe that is true.  Everyone is and can be creative.  I think many don’t try because they think there is a standard that they would not be able to meet.  That is nonsense.  There is no “right” art or “wrong” literature (although there are a lot of grammar rules related to writing; there are no rules related to the content of the story).

My art and my books live in the same world.  It is telling a story.  Maybe with words or images, but it is still conveying an emotion about our connections with others and the world.  And most importantly, it is about not letting other opinions about your story interfere with telling it.  Even though someone might give my books a bad review (yep, that happens); I like my story and my pictures.  If others don’t, well that is just too bad.  After all, it’s my private movie not yours.

Now, the part I don’t like is the on-line marketing, but that is another story.

Rockies up 2 wins to 1 loss–Yippee!
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Dreams and Hopes

Selling art and selling books feels like the same world.  You, as an artist or writer, are a small drop in the huge ocean.  Thousands, or maybe millions, of artists and writers around the world are creating and selling their stuff; often very good stuff.  Dominating the whole process are these large, nee huge, web sites who sell art and books—best and biggest example; Amazon.  In the art world there are FineArtAmerica and ArtPal along with many more.  They are very functional with huge data bases of art ready for the consumer to browse and chose great looking art and products for their personal use at relatively small prices.  The artist gets a small (very small?) piece of that sale.

My ebooks are exclusive to Amazon for several good reasons; some economic and some convenience.  The largest cost for marketing my Amazon books is paying Amazon to promote them in this sea of competing books.  I don’t know the number of indie authors Amazon has as an exclusive, but it has to be hundreds of thousands.  Their product ads are sold to this somewhat captive audience.  It’s a brilliant business strategy.  Now, of course, those authors chose to be in this situation so it is not Amazon’s fault that it works better for them than the authors; that’s just how it is.  I’m not particularly happy with this system but don’t know how it should be changed.  Of course the obvious solution is fewer authors—but if they started excluding certain authors –I might be gone.  So, that’s not a good solution.

When I first started writing, maybe ten years ago or so; I was deeply absorbed by the writing experience.  It was hard work (which I think surprises non-writers), but I enjoyed the whole troubling process.  Even the editing and debates over cover design.  Everything felt important and creative.  Having those first books show up on Amazon and start generating sales and reviews was thrilling.  I fretted over every negative review and redoubled my efforts to write a perfect book.

Now I spend more time marketing/promoting than I do writing.  It doesn’t feel productive.

The art has many of the same characteristics as writing.  Creating art is energizing.  I can become absorbed in the process.  Sometimes I will labor on artwork for hours and hours; or sometimes it is more inspiration than perspiration.  I once did a sketch in a matter of minutes as a present for my brother’s birthday.  We were headed out for the party and realized we had not purchased a gift.  I did a quick charcoal sketch and thought it was one of the best pieces I had ever done.  My brother loved it—of course, he was my brother.

Marketing art is worse than books.  While the web sites have many tools, they are not the equivalent of Amazon and books.  My art is purchased for decorating.  Colors, designs, hues, blends, shapes all have some aspect in the decision process but in odd ways the art is all the same.  A book is very distinct, good or bad—it is usually unique.  Art starts to all blend together in shapes and colors.  Does this match my sofa?  How would this look in the hallway?  Those are valid decisions but very subjective.

My art is bold, graphical and colorful.  One critic, who actually liked my stuff, described it as “primitive.”  He was describing a certain art style not suggesting I was ape like (or at least, I don’t think so).  Books are personal but art is very, very personal.  A good PI mystery can be enjoyable even if your preference is sci-fi.  Art seems to fit into narrower and narrower categories.  “I only like pictures of flowers or birds!”

One of the great things about all of the internet stuff and digital this and that is the availability of amazing art and great books at ridiculous prices.  You could probably spend a lifetime reading nothing but free books (or maybe up your limit to $2.99) and never run out of options.  And there is incredible art for very low prices that can be delivered right to your door—ready to hang.  My art is available on towels, handbags, face masks, pillows, shower curtains(?), and on and on.  Unique art on anything and everything.

I know it’s my own design–but I bought this pillow and I really like it.

All of this access is good; but I wonder if there is too much of something does it start to lose value.  A thousand free e-books on Amazon today may lessen the value of those books, or even all books.  The best-selling book last week was the tell-all gossip book about Trump by his niece.  I’m sure someone thought that was an important book (maybe the niece, since it sold a million copies in one day at full price).  That book had value because it was unique or sensational; but a free mystery book has little value—so why even bother downloading if its worthless, much less take the time to read it.

The plus side to all of this is a monstrous marketplace for all sorts of creative endeavors that has never existed before.  As a consumer of art or books or most anything creative the supply has never been this vast, this accessible or this cheap. 

For the artist and writer, the opportunities have never been this wide open.  Pre-internet book publishing was controlled by a very few publishers who had more gate-keepers than editors.  The snobbery of publishing was legendary; don’t know someone important, fuck-off.  The art world was controlled by academics and a few odd-ball loonies.  Not a member of this elite class; then you know –F-off.  All of those barriers have collapsed.  Today you have to compete with the hordes of other authors and artists, but you are competing.  The doors are wide open.

It is still a very small number who reach their financial dreams being creative, but the number of people who can now legitimately dream of that kind of success is almost unlimited.  Dreams and hope have great value.  We are lucky we live in this time.

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