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

Detention

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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Another Dead End?

If you’ve stopped writing are you still a writer?  Maybe you’re an author.  That sounds more past tense and passive.  Someone made a comment to me that it must be a great time stuck at home to write.  Seems like it should be; but why is it not for me?  For most of my late-in-life writing career I have stayed at home, so no major change there.  Although the circumstances are different, if you have decided to be less “out-and-about” versus the Governor deciding you should stay home.

One of my projects in-waiting is Vegas Dead End.  My plan was to revisit Las Vegas, New Mexico, and refresh my memories of this unique town, but that has been delayed.  Seems like my new “normal” is becoming slower and a little bit less engaged. 

When I first started writing I was actively employed in a high pressure job.  My biggest challenge at that time (besides coming up with an interesting plot) was time.  My day was full with stressful meetings and deadlines.  During that time, I was doing most of my writing very early in the morning.  My routine became several hours of writing starting around 4 am.  Even with that less than ideal schedule, I felt energized and couldn’t wait to spend time writing.

Now, some years later, I have ample time all day long, undisturbed to write.  So what am I doing; nothing.  Why?

My first book was during that busy work time with the early morning writing.  It felt like I was on a mission to write a book.  My whole focus on the writing was to complete that one book.  I had approached this lark as more of an exercise than a burst of creative energy.  The whole process gave me great insight into the difficulty of writing a full-length novel.  I finished the book, and it was published.  It felt like I had proven to myself I could write a book and could more or less put that behind me; as a completed task.  I began to realize that the book was not all that good.  Mostly because I rushed the final chapters; I was ready for it to be over.

As I slid into semi-retirement, I began to rethink writing.  This time I took a different approach.  I did extensive research and spent a great deal of time in planning and organizing the book before I began writing.  That project, The Bootlegger’s Legacy, took off like a rocket.  During the time between the first book and The Bootlegger’s Legacy I had taught myself a lot; I was now ready to be a “real” writer.  While technically The Bootlegger’s Legacy was my second book, I consider it my first “real” book.  The other book was no longer available, and I chose to ignore it. 

Now I have written ten books in about five years.  Each book has had its own unique struggles.  There have been dry spells when it seemed nothing was working and some high energy periods where my writing was frantic.  I still don’t understand the ups and downs, but they do not surprise me anymore. 

This current dry spell may last another day or month or forever; I have no idea.  In the past, after the inactivity has ended, have written with greater energy and focus.  Hopefully this will end soon with an explosion of creative energy and a trip to Las Vegas to find the meaning of the new book Vegas Dead End.

That first book was The Originals.  It may still pop up some places as a used book; if you see it please don’t buy it.  It really was a training experience.  And while maybe not my best work, I learned more from writing that book than I have from the next ten.  The first lessons are often the most meaningful.  The biggest lesson learned was that I had to write every day—even if it was only an hour at 4 am.  That lesson is still true; but now I can’t.  Of course, I haven’t been getting up at 4 am since I have a whole day with nothing much to do.  Okay, I see a plan; 4 am tomorrow Vegas Dead End.

Rise and Shine
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Aim High or Not?

When I was the financial analysis guy for a large department store chain, I was asked to develop a method to evaluate advertising costs related to the benefits of increased revenue.  The CEO asked me to tell him if he spent an extra $1 in promotion costs what kind of return would he get.  I spent considerable time analyzing various ways to track and measure the impact of advertising; but one of the issues was that there had never been a time in the company’s history when they didn’t spend a considerable sum on promotion.

One of my recommendations to the CEO was that the company should stop advertising for a period of time allowing us to establish a benchmark on what revenues would be without any promotion.  The look in his eye seemed to suggest he was considering tossing me out of his office window.  It was only the third story but my chances of survival were not good.  Thankfully, he chose another option.  He thanked me and did not speak to me for weeks.  It was conveyed to me by one of his assistants that he thought I was an idiot.  He also increased the adverting budget 20% without any factual justification.

While he was the one who asked the question, he knew that there was no way he was going to risk his job by suddenly decreasing or even lowering advertising expenditures.  To deal with the increased promotion costs he cut the staff.  He didn’t get to be CEO by being dumb.

My book sales are driven by promotion.  If I stop advertising, book sales drop to almost nothing.  The only exception to this, is to put out a new book; which will generate short term increases in sales for all of my books.  The problem I have is very similar to the department store CEO years ago, how do I justify spending money on promotion when I cannot measure results.  Sure, I can measure number of books sold during the one-day or two-day promotion; and if that is the measure I should stop all promotions, because I do not generate a profit from those days.  I see this all of the time from “experts” advising how to measure your book sales based on ROI.  I spent $100 and got a bump in sales that brought me $150—okay, no problem; I will do those promotions each and every day.  But how about if I spent $100 and received $40?  That looks like I should stop all promotions.

Of course the problem is how to measure and for how long.  If I run a promotion today and sell books a week from then—did that promotion have anything to do with that?  Or how about in my case I sell some books but also have an increase in pages read (which I receive some compensation from Kindle Unlimited) but can’t really put an exact number on that.  In essence it’s the same problem as my old CEO; stop all promotion and see what happens.

I’ve sort of done that in the past.  No promotions equal zero (or close to it) book sales.  Okay that’s a known; but should you spend $100 to generate $40?  If I had staff, which I don’t, I would follow the tried and true path, and would increase the promotion budget and fire the staff. 

There is another approach to this problem, which I have advised many times as a wise (and expensive) consultant—when in doubt do nothing!  This follows the principle of “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.”  During my days as a business consultant the most common approach taken by business leaders was always postponement.  While we have the image of business owners/leaders as aggressive “let’s do something new and different” types; the reality is that most successful businesspeople are reluctant to change anything.  I’ve advised people staring at bankruptcy who were reluctant to change anything, including the high-priced brother-in-law who was as dumb as a rock.  Change means responsibility.  The people who most often have tremendous ideas on how to change things often work in the warehouse.  They have nothing to risk, so their advice is throw out the bath water and the baby.  Baby is often the current leader/president/CEO of the business; warehouse people have no fear.

If you follow my blog you know I have this love hate thing with advertising/promotion.  I just want to magically have massive book sales and basically be left alone.  That’s not going to happen.  So the question is the same; what should I do, nothing or something?

I’ve decided to stop whining (I’m sure you can appreciate that, if you’ve read this far) and re-double my efforts on advertising.  Also I’m going to get back to work and finish the two books in progress.  Of course taking a more aggressive approach to marketing, costs money; and since I don’t have the staff to fire, I will have to cut my own pay.  Based on my analysis a twenty percent reduction of nothing is more than doable and reflects my overall commitment to myself.  Recognizing all along I was going to change whatever plan I decided on for this month by next month, the long-term consequences will be minimal.


Baseball folly?  Okay, enough already!  Both sides should immediately compromise.  It’s time for baseball—I’m tired of these scripted TV shows.  We need real drama—bottom of the ninth inning drama.  Go Rockies!

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In case your interest The Bootlegger’s Legacy ebook is FREE today on Amazon.

Jerry-rigging–a family tradition

Owning an ice cream parlor in my early twenties was the beginning of a long career in business.  During times when I was not self-employed, I offered my services as a financial person—usually a Controller, Consultant or CFO.  As such I knew, or was expected to know, how to make businesses work better.  I understood the rules and how not to follow them to achieve results.

What I was not was “handy” as in handyman.  Sure, I did home repairs and fix-ups, but I was not very good at it; I was a jerry-rigger.  My tools of the trade were tape, glue, wire, screws and pooky.  Yes, the oft shamed gooey stuff that could be used to “repair” almost anything.  Now, I believe, there are a lot of other meanings of this non-word.  Some of them are no doubt offensive, I’m not using the word in that manner—it could also be called goop.  So if pooky is offensive, Word keeps correcting it to poky, let’s stick with goop.

Jerry-rigging came to me naturally.  My father was a jerry-rigger.  He could fix anything with wire—his best go-to staple.  My father had some not-very-interesting stories of fixing various cars with wire.  From tires, exhaust pipes to engine problems, wire was the essential ingredient for any by-the-side-of-the-road emergency repairs.  He would often intone philosophically how his father was not a wire man but had been a devotee of rope.  Different time –different forms of transportation.  These musings seem to imply that dad had improved on granddad’s dated methods.  The next generation tops the old folks, once again.

Because of this unspoken family tradition, I own an unusual amount of wire.  I really seldom use the wire (I’m a tape guy), but it gives me a warm feeling to carry on the family tradition.

My older brother was, of course, a jerry-rigger.  He actually turned this skill into an impressive career.  He was one of the very early (1960s) computer programmers.  He actually dealt with wired boards to instruct machines on what to do—more wire.  The early computers were incredibly dumb and opaque.  He had a natural ability (thanks dad!) to work around the machines that mimicked the use of wire and rope to achieve an outcome that did not match the textbook approach; but got results others couldn’t.  He was hailed as a genius, although it was only jerry-rigging like grandpa; only with different kinds of machines.

Now, if you’re a jerry-rigger and a gooper, you can end up with one hell of a mess.  This ugly mess can sometimes be covered up with tape but often even tape won’t help.  At this point the jerry-rigger starts thinking about things to cover the handyman’s completed task, that now looks like crap.  Cardboard is the resource that always comes in handy.  Cardboard, tape maybe a screw or two and viola—it looks brand new.  Maybe a little paint would help?

Today I’m an author.  My dad didn’t write, nor my granddad; they would probably think it was not much like work at all.  Sitting at a desk all day staring off into space cannot be work, can it?  I write fiction, which in itself might be a form of jerry-rigging.  I tell a story that is made up.  If something is not going right in the story, I just change it—apply a little goop; and its all fixed.  Editing is the ultimate goop.  My slip-shod writing is patched up by competent editors—it’s the way of the writing world.  Just get it on paper, and we can fix this mess.

I look out at the mess the world is in and wonder if it is time for a re-write.  Could we do better?  Sure some of the mess would be in the re-write, we still need flawed people or there’s no plot; but maybe a little less flawed.  Maybe we could jerry-rig some of our flawed systems—shouldn’t everyone have the basic minimums in life, food, water, air, health care, shelter?  How do we do that?  Do we want to do that?

It may sound odd but when I was in business and things weren’t going well; I felt great.  Sure, I didn’t want bad outcomes, but I never felt more alive or engaged as when I was trying to fix problems.  Most business activities come down to just that, fixing what is broken.  Sales are slow—get to work on better products, better advertising, better customer service, better………; stop complaining and fix it. 

Maybe we need more wire, pooky, goop, screws, cardboard or whatever, along with a bunch of jerry-riggers so we can get stuff fixed—it’ll be fun.  And, if the results are not perfect, we can cover most mistakes with a good coat of paint.

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Alerting The Reader

A reader said the characters in The Bootlegger’s Legacy were boring.  His comment ZZZZZ.  Okay, it’s one of those reader reviews I should ignore and wish the person good health and happiness.  Well, maybe not happiness.  The two characters he was referencing are Mike and Joe.  Mike is the son of the bootlegger in the title and Joe is his best friend since second grade.

The excitement in this book is not thriller stuff—it was not intended to be.  It is about two ordinary guys who stumbled across a mystery about the past and see it as a way to make their lives more meaningful.  Not massive bomb blasts or twenty people mowed down in a hail of bullets.  Nothing close to political overthrow of the government; just a couple of guys trying to figure out how to live.  Maybe that is mundane.

So more than likely the reader was expecting action (which I think means greater risk to the protagonist—like a thriller, or maybe more graphic violence).  Either way that is not this book.  So was the book misclassified?  How, as a reader not familiar with the author, do you determine if the book is something you’re interested in reading?  Probably by the description provided by the author, the genre of the book or reader (or editorial) reviews. 

First the description on the book’s page on Amazon.

“Joe and Mike, middle-aged losers, have discovered the promise of abundant riches and a better life; if they can only solve the cryptic clues from the past. Clues left by Mike’s bootlegger dad, whose legacy is immorality and astonishing wealth. Mike finds a troubling family history and Joe discovers his love for someone already dead. This adventure of discovery may lead to happiness or misery; but they will not be able to stop themselves from unlocking the past. The answers will surprise everyone.”

I’m not proud of my descriptions.  It is one of my many weaknesses.  I have trouble with hype or hyperbole and therefore, they all sound kind of boring or flat.  So if that reader read the boring description and expected something else, that can’t be the problem of mischaracterizing the book.

The genre of the book is mystery.  Well, that covers a ton of books from one extreme to another.  There is a sub-group of Cozy Mysteries which this book might fit into, except for my use of gritty language.  Of course I’m not real sure what the actual dividing line on cozy verses regular mysteries is—so who knows maybe it is, or maybe it isn’t.  Definitely this book was never intended to be a thriller with lots of high tension moments putting the characters at risk of losing their lives. 

There are no sub-classifications regarding mystery; in-depth character development or mystery; fun story with only a little violence—so the huge pool of mystery can, of course, lead to not finding the mystery book you were looking for.  I often think of my books more along the lines of British mystery books with a slower pace and more dialogue—but they are not the same.  That quality can be boring to some readers looking for action.

This book has another element that can be confusing.  There is a flash back to the life of the bootlegger in the 1950s.  And any real “action” in the story occurs there.  Most of the mayhem is “off-camera,” but the main characters in this section of the book are put at risk.  Pat (the bootlegger) and Sally (his mistress) have contact with the bad guys in this part of the book.  Their lives are at risk and the action drives a main point of the plot.

So I suppose you could say that the flashback portion is more of a thriller than the current time portion.  The reviewer I mentioned at the beginning did not refer to the characters in the flashback section as being boring (only Mike and Joe); so maybe the reviewer thought that portion was okay and was only giving a snoring review for one portion of the book.

The last way to evaluate a book (other than reading it—even at full regular price e-books are cheap) is reviews.  The Bootlegger’s Legacy received good reviews from several professional reviewers including Kirkus.  Also, the book received a Benjamin Franklin award.  There are 236 reader reviews on Amazon with an average rating of 4.3 stars out of 5.  But, of course, some reviewers may have better insight than others—how would you know?  Obviously, you wouldn’t.

I have often said this is my best book.  Not necessarily the writing, more the narrative.  The Pat and Sally story as a flashback I think is a great tale of very different people who meet for a short time but leave a lasting impression on many people.  I greatly enjoy those stories of people’s lives that impact the future of so many others—and I thought this was a good one.

So this blog seems to be me promoting my book, okay; maybe.  But it did not start that way.  I am very concerned about how to help readers select the best books for them to read.  In that regard I’m going to re-write all of the descriptions of the books with a new emphasis on less promotion and more information.

Attempt 2.

“The Bootlegger’s Legacy is a non-thriller adventure by two ordinary guys, Joe and Mike, whose lives have hit a wall.  Desperate for money to solve their problems they embark on a lark to find treasure from the past.  The past is about Mike’s father who was a bootlegger in 1950s Oklahoma and his accumulation of great wealth and his illicit love affair with the most beautiful woman he had ever seen.  That legacy of wealth and love drive the later story of self-discovery and fulfillment by the next generation.  Great characters, some romance, some adventure and a bit of humor.”

I don’t know, I think I like the current description better than the new one?  Guess I will try again, later.

Or maybe the approach should be full-on bullshit—

“#1 New York Times national bestseller by one of the best authors writing today; The Bootlegger’s Legacy by superstar author Ted Clifton.  This book has been nominated for every award in existence and is currently being made into both a TV series and a major Hollywood movie.  The Bootlegger’s Legacy is so popular that, if you do not buy it today, all copies could be gone.  Currently the e-book is on sale at only $4.99 from the regular price of $129.99—what a bargain!”  Note; only 5 star positive reviews are currently being accepted for this book per agreement with anybody who matters.

Next book genre, fantasy.

Thanks for being a reader!

Writer and Book Salesman

Indie writers are actually in the business of selling books.  It happens to be books they’ve written, but it is still book peddling. 

For an indie author the first step of producing a book is, of course, writing the book; but also having it edited, cover designed, building the structure of the book (e-book, paperback, hardback, audio) and then having it produced (printed, file creation etc.)

Next step in selling a book is that old bug-a-boo marketing.  Writing this blog about indie authors and the process of writing, I have covered marketing on numerous occasions.  Usually complaining about the time and money involved and the inability to predict results.  Just because you can write a book does not mean you know diddly about marketing that book.  My approach to all marketing is trial and error with a great emphasis on error. Half of my time devoted to being an author is spent (or wasted) dealing with the marketing aspect of book sales.

I have a web site, blog, newsletter and a data base of email addresses.  Also I participate in other blogs, share marketing ideas with people in the industry including other authors.  I place ads on Amazon, Facebook, Bookbub, Twitter, Instagram, Google, Bing; have also ran ads in some trade publications.  I pay to have ads run on Twitter or Facebook by third parties.  Also I giveaway thousands of e-books, utilizing web sites who market the free books to their audiences—I pay for that privilege. 

Generally, I design my own ads (probably a mistake—but I do not need another fee to pay out).  I subscribe to various software sources to construct these ads.  I will spend several days out of every month designing and placing ads with questionable results.  On occasion I will feel rebellious and decide I’ve had enough of this nonsense and will stop placing ads and giving away books.  Sells go to zero pretty damn fast.  Marketing with all of its complications and headaches is a necessary evil.

The results of all of this marketing effort is book sales.  That was the primary goal and at some level it works; not as well as I would like, but it works.  The other result is book reviews.  Reader reviews have some impact on sales, because other readers read them and also because Amazon likes them.  But reader reviews are a double edge sword.  Some reviewers seem to have anger issues.

Probably one of the most popular and acclaimed books ever written was To Kill a Mockingbird.  On Amazon it has 18,800 reviews (wow!) with 3% of them 1 or 2 stars (there are no zero star reviews –it is not an option with Amazon).  Okay 3% bad reviews that is not a big deal—right?   That 3% for To Kill a Mockingbird is over 500 readers who said this was a bad book, not worth reading.  And none of those 500 received the book in a free book promotion—because the To Kill a Mockingbird people don’t have to do that to find readers.

Marketing books is a chore.  I will spend as much time marketing, promoting, advertising, hawking my books as I do writing them.  Writing is what I do and what I enjoy.  I do not like marketing.

In my previous life as a financial analysist I was asked by my employer (a very large department store) to analyze their advertising/marketing efforts and establish a method to measure the results on a cost/benefit basis.  My first suggestion during a large meeting with the top executives was to not advertise for a period of time to establish a floor to measure marketing results against.  You could only measure results if you know what the results would be with no advertising.  All of their attentive faces turned a ghostly shade of white.  It was a while before anyone spoke.  The CEO thanked me for my suggestion and sent me back to the accounting department to measure less important things like ROI.  The next month they increased their advertising budget.  Better to overspend than to run the risk of no customers.

I could take my own advice and stop marketing for a couple of months and then would have the data to measure the impact of advertising.    It would cut my workload in half and relieve me of all this self-doubt about my marketing skills.  On the other hand, I think I know the results.  After some thought I have decided to double my marketing efforts for next month.  Better to have some books sales (with a few less than perfect reader reviews) than to become a private indie author writing only for myself.  Although if I was the only reader, my reviews would be glowing—unless I was having a bad day.

Thanks for being a reader!

Favorite Artists

In my monthly newsletter I have featured authors and artists whose work I enjoy.  The list of these people would be all over the map; from famous to unknown.  The only common element is that I like their stuff.  Personal preference is a fascinating human characteristic.  Why does one person think an artist is the greatest in the world, and someone else can describe the art as trash?  This can often be people who, on most matters, agree; but when it comes to art or writing see the world through different lenses.

For no reason, other than not to dwell on covid-19 or politics, I was giving thought to my favorite painters.  With only scant thought, I came up with a list of eight.  What I immediately saw was a common theme of bold colors.  The one exception was Monet; with his softer tones but engaging imagery.  I like abstract, I like somewhat realistic, I like color, I like daring images with bold hues.  Not sure what this pattern is or isn’t?  The famous quote “I don’t know much about art, but I know what I like” is a way of saying that the best art is just personal preference.  The fact that a list of the top fifty artists would have mostly the same names has to do with who compiles those lists and their native biases. 

My list has famous names not because they are famous, but because I like their stuff.  But, also, it’s because those are the artists I know.  Many, many artists never become known outside a very small following (thanks, mom!).  In that “who the hell is that list,” I’m sure there are artists who could replace Picasso as my favorite—but only if I know they exist. 

Painters and indie-authors share this lost in the crowd problem. 

My list of favorite artists (at this moment):

Pablo Picasso

Claude Monet

Henri Matisse

Jackson Pollock

Andy Warhol

Georgia O’Keeffe

Vincent Van Gogh

Diego Rivera

O’Keeffe and Van Gogh probably had the most influence over my attempts at art.  O’Keeffe in particular, due to our shared fascination with the landscapes of New Mexico.  While Van Gogh was a Dutch painter, many of his paintings had the same sense of space and color as O’Keeffe. 

Art and fiction writing are two distinct areas of expression, but for me they have a lot in common.  The stories in art are usually less obvious, but the stories exist just the same.   Fictional murder mysteries are not art in the sense of a Diego Rivera painting but the attempt to tell a story in words has a lot in common with painting.  Some stories are bold and jump out at you with a sudden explosion of emotion; while others build a story layer by layer until the picture becomes clear and meaningful.

Okay, my favorite, favorite artist of the unknown variety.

Ted Clifton


New book by one of my favorite authors.  His “The Devil in the White City” is one of my all-time favorites.  Have not read this new book but I would bet it is terrific.

Thanks for being a reader!