Is there objective truth?

“The very concept of objective truth is fading out of the world. Lies will pass into history.”

We seem to be living in a time when truth itself is subject to interpretation.  My truth is truer than yours.  Just the idea of that deserves a Wow! 

“The idea that all truth is subjective, that there is no objective truth, is a myth. Everything either has an absolute truth value (even if we can’t know it) or is an opinion or belief.”

“This doesn’t mean we can know every truth, this doesn’t mean that what is true for the observer isn’t unique to the observer. It just means that ultimately, underling that, “that which is the case, is the case, independent of our ability to confirm it” and “statements phrased correctly have an absolute truth value.”  From an article by Thomas DeMichele.

My older brother had an outsized influence on my early years.  One day we were discussing something and he asked me if I had empirical evidence for my statement.  Of course as an ignorant kid I had no idea what empirical meant.  This is pre-Google, so I found a dictionary and looked it up.

“based on, concerned with, or verifiable by observation or experience rather than theory or pure logic.”

That made sense to me, the truth is something that you can demonstrate as true because you have verified or observed the evidence of its truth.  “I saw it with my own eyes!”

Fast forward to today and our almost unlimited sources of “information,” “facts,” “eye witness accounts;” and we find ourselves in a world where truth itself is subject to interpretation.  Even though I believe I can see with my own eyes (under the right circumstances) that the world is curved; someone else observes the same thing and says its flat.  We both believe we have observable facts (empirical evidence) of the opposite conclusions. 

Everyone has bias.  Old verses young is a bias.  White people view the world differently than black people.  Republicans live in a different environment than Democrats.  Rich have no idea how the real world looks to the poor.  Religious people see one thing, secularist another.  Everyone has a bias.  Can any of us view empirical evidence without our bias determining the “truth.”  Probably not.

Through much of our history we have relied upon other people to guide us toward the truth; to help us overcome our natural bias.  Priests and preachers have often been our truth tellers; even when we knew much of their truth was not true.  Politicians, leaders have on occasion provided a guide towards the right answer, not so much today.  Scientists have always guided us towards their truth; but today we are suspicious about science because much of it contradicts things we want to believe.  Judges once held a lofty position in our society, but they too are under a dark cloud.  Where do we go to find “real” truth?

Your answer to that question will be based on your bias.  That is a problem.  How do we reach a consensus to what is true if there is not an authority that can establish truth from myth or propaganda?

That search can lead to trusting charlatans because they are very good at scamming people.  Honest people often say they don’t know; the con-man always knows.  The people with absolute assurance that they have the answers are almost always wrong.  So here we are needing a truth teller who is willing to admit that they don’t know the truth all of the time; sounds like a hard sell.

There have been times in my lifetime when we trusted journalist to tell us the truth.  In many ways, that is still the answer.  Our founding fathers thought so and built it into the constitution; with the protected rights of a free press.  But technology and the vastness of communication has worked to create confusion on how the free press does its job; and has gotten entertainment all mixed up with actual fact finding.  Now our bias dictates what press is correct and what is incorrect.  No objective truth, just choices.

I have a real bias toward books as a source of truth; but of course I write fiction (nice word for lies).  But there are authors who have been able to convey truth while telling a story.  Maybe we should read some of those wise men again. 

Technology may be the ultimate solution.  Our national truth computer one day may be able to take all of the facts and sort through the noise and spit out the truth.  Of course many people will not believe the machine, which obviously was built and programed by people with bias.  Even with a truth machine, it will be easier just to live in our own bubble and believe what we want to believe; after all, I am right.

Long live the King!

This is a special Thanksgiving week post replacing the usual weekend timing.  Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

Thanks for being a reader!

Bless the Editors!

Writing is mostly a private activity—it’s definitely not a team sport.  My best writing takes me to the world of the characters and becomes immersive.  When that is working, I write at a rapid pace and the results are good.  When I’m distracted or the real world is demanding my attention for one thing or another, it is difficult to write; and if I do write, it’s usually not good.  So left alone, undisturbed by the outside world; I’m an okay author.  If the other stuff is interfering, I’m not an okay author.  I’m mostly a grump.

I emphasize this to make a point, writing is not only a private activity it is also very selfish.  My guess would be that some of the best authors were some of the worst people—they cared about themselves and their books; not much else.  Ernest Hemingway had a reputation for drinking, direct prose, many wives, and a foul mouth—he was quoted on more than one occasion stating he was a man’s man; and he lived his life to please himself.  As a person he was considered cold, aloof, but he also had great friends; which seems like an odd contradiction.

From a Philip Young article, “Hemingway’s prose style was probably the most widely imitated of any in the 20th century. He wished to strip his own use of language of inessentials, ridding it of all traces of verbosity, embellishment, and sentimentality. In striving to be as objective and honest as possible, Hemingway hit upon the device of describing a series of actions by using short, simple sentences from which all comment or emotional rhetoric has been eliminated.”

Someone once said I wrote like Hemingway; I took it as a compliment, until he explained further that I wrote simple sentences.  Still not sure if he was trying to insult me or if it was praise.  I decided it didn’t matter.  The famous intellectual Popeye said it best “I Yam What I Yam.”

As I have written more books, the total is ten or about 700,000 words; I realize that you cannot write any differently than the way you write.  All of those words have to be mine.  I cannot write a Hemingway novel any more than I can write a Tolstoy or Christi novel.  For good or bad, it is mine. 

You may be wondering “how about those editors, don’t they change your words?”; yep, they do.  So I lied, the books are not just my words they are the words of several people who help me—and I don’t like it.  Left to my own devices I wouldn’t have an editor.  Stupid, but that is what I would do. 

Would my books be better without an editor?  Absolutely not.  The only reason I would forgo editing is my selfishness.  But even one of the most selfish great writers, Hemingway, had an editor.  Supposedly it was the same person for many years and Hemingway was very dependent on his work.  Hemingway might have been selfish, but he was not stupid.  Now the greatest novelist of all time, Leo Tolstoy, probably didn’t have an editor.  If he had that thousand-page War and Peace would have been whittled down to about four-hundred pages at most.  It would have been just War.

I have just gone through the process of making changes to the Muckraker Trilogy.  This involved new covers along with some re-writing and new editing.  I would much prefer producing new manuscripts without any old baggage to tidy up; but the process of review has improved these three novels.  These books written with Stanley Nelson as a co-author have not had the success of my other books.  Could be the story, location, time or characters don’t fit well with my other series; but this is a very good story.  I know that’s not exactly an unbiased opinion.  You should try at least one.  You will discover Tommy Jacks and a wonderful odd-ball group of support characters.  It’s a murder mystery but much more.

My best-selling book, all-time, is Dog Gone Lies.  It’s the first Pacheco & Chino novel and the second book I wrote.  It has consistently been the best-selling book—even last month it was the number 1 seller.  I have a sneaky suspicion that is due to the word Dog being in the title.  People love dogs and that title alone may be the reason it’s the top seller.  With this insider knowledge it was tempting to rename the Muckraker books to something that would spark sells.  Some ideas included; The Dog Murders, Dog Days Mystery, Dog and Cat Murders, Puppy Crimes, and my favorite, Dog Gone Good Murder Story. 

It was after that private brainstorming session on new titles that I realized I had been spending way too much time alone.  Of course my trusty editors would have never let me rename the book; Dog Gone Good Murder Story, even if it would have been a best-seller.  Bless those editors.

Thanks for being a reader!

Cynics and Idealists

Most of my books feature main characters who are flawed and cynical.  That cynicism comes from a life time of experience that demonstrates it’s a cynical world.  There are exceptions.  Tommy Jacks in the Muckraker series, is an exception; he is an idealist.  But he is young and has yet to experience the harsh reality of life over an extended time.  Although he has plenty thrown at him in those books, at the end he is still more positive than negative about his fellow human beings.  Tommy is the exception, someone who might be idealistic their entire life.

Vincent Malone and Ray Pacheco have both sought to find a new place to hide from the cynical world and they both discover new reasons to be optimistic.  These were jaded, hard-edged people who mostly had a sneering approach to their challenging existence.  Now in their “golden years,” they have discovered fulfillment and meaning when they were least expecting it. Both had lived a large portion of their life as non-trusting tough guys, but now they are positive, even unsuspicious and almost romantic.  Contrasting traits tend to make great characters.

I have gone through long periods of my life where I was a cynic.  My defense for this curmudgeon attitude was based on experience.  With the exception of a couple of decades, most of my life I have been self-employed.  This involved numerous business activities; ice-cream store, popcorn concession-stand, shoe stores, accounting, printing, real estate development, business broker, consultant, financial adviser and a few I’m sure I have forgotten.  One of my first business ventures in my early twenties might have led to some of my cynicism.  It was a popcorn concession-stand.

Lots of circumstances played a part in how this happened, including the involvement of my father, but suffice it to say we ended up with a lease in the lobby of a new concept discount store.   This is the late 60’s and Walmart had not happened, yet.  This was a huge store and something new.  It was a big success with massive crowds waiting almost every day to get inside.  The stand was right in the middle of that huge lobby.

We sold peanuts, popcorn and drinks.  You would think you might make a little money peddling such low dollar items; but this was a monstrous winner.  The first year was an amazing success.  Have trouble remembering all of the numbers, but I think the profit for the first year was close to $30,000.  May not sound like much but that was 1969.  In today’s dollars that’s $205,000—selling popcorn! 

The lease required us to pay a percentage of revenue to the discount store.  I reported my sales to them every month and gave them their slice.  They couldn’t believe it.  One of the managers said they had no idea you could make that much money just selling popcorn. 

We had a five-year lease and of course realized with these numbers they would either demand a much higher percentage or they would not renew.  But I couldn’t blame them—it was just a hell of lot more profitable than anyone thought when we started.  But we were going to enjoy the five-year run.

Right after the first year we received a letter saying they were terminating the lease.  They indicated in their letter that they were exercising the option as spelled out on page 14, paragraph H4. Rights of Landlord.  To cut to the chase the landlord had the right to cancel the lease for almost any or no reason at all (should have hired a lawyer before signing that lease).

Here I was barely in my twenties, married, two kids and a group of big businessmen in suits decided my little popcorn business looked too good not to steal (legally, as it turned out).  That would make almost anyone a cynic.

Now to be fair, over the years I have met many business people who were as ethical and honest as anyone I have ever known.  Also many of my less than successful adventures into business deals were aided by people who invested or encouraged me to try whatever my latest scheme was.  Almost always trying to help without any reward for them.  The opposite of the discount store suits.  But it’s funny how you tend to remember the scoundrels who populate our lives while overlooking the good people.

Maybe that is why my books are chocked full of these types of characters.  A flawed person tends to be a more interesting person.  Plus, they are so much easier to write about.  As an author I would think a book about only nice people would be very difficult to write; and maybe even difficult to read.

The latest book I’m writing, Durango Two Step, has a long list of bad guys in only the first few chapters making it great fun to write.  Many of these bad guys will not survive; but our heroes, Vincent Malone and George Younger, will be fine.  It’s great to be an author and create your own world.

Thanks for being a reader!

Don’t Judge a Book by its Cover

If you have ever tried writing a book or maybe a long letter, or even a multi-page report; anything that takes many sessions, then you will understand when I say “I’m back!”  I go through these spells where I just can’t write.  I would like to, but it just isn’t happening.  The pattern is identifiable to me now.  It starts with anger.  This can be almost anything.  As little as my favorite team losing (which most of my favorite teams do a lot), or politics, or wet heavy snow that has to be shoveled—you can see the trend; it is life.

Something will get me out of my writing rhythm, and I can’t get back.  I try.  It’s not fun to be a writer and not be able to write.  What follows is a period of time where all ideas on the next chapter are absolutely stupid.  The effort becomes a farce.  Sentences are impossible.  A single word is like pulling teeth.

I have just lived through one of those spells.  It has been months since I have written anything on my book projects.  My latest book, Durango Two Step, is the fourth book in the Vincent Malone series.  I started that book during a high energy period and had the first few chapters in a very short amount of time.  I had also done an extensive outline and had the overall plot.  But then life struck.  Don’t remember the exact cause, but no doubt something silly.  No writing for months. 

Just as the blackout came on unexpectedly, so did the light.  I’m writing again.  Yippee!


Durango Two Step takes place in Durango (duh!) which is located in southwest Colorado.  It’s a touristy place with a narrow gauge railroad that travels from Durango through the mountains to Silverton.  The scenery is magnificent.  The train ride is okay, but still it is a ride on an old train.  The fascination is, of course, that it is an old train and with only a little imagination you could find yourself thinking about the same trip in the 1870s.  But comfort is not necessarily a main feature of the adventure.  If you are ever in that part of the world I would highly recommend a visit to Durango; a very interesting place with lots of great restaurants.


Also I have been spending time working with a designer to re-do the book covers for The Muckraker Series.  The first book Murder So Wrong originally had a red cover with a capitol building.  After the book was released I decided I didn’t like that cover and a new one was designed.  Both old covers are below and the new (improved?) cover the last one.

This discussion is not to try and get you to buy these books—you should wait until the new re-edited editions with the new covers come out—probably in a few weeks.  This is about the process of picking book covers.  Most indie authors sell their books on-line (Amazon, B-N, Kobo, Apple and others), so book covers are small images that potential buyers will only glance at, but the cover is a very important piece of the marketing puzzle.  Will a book sell better with a great cover—obviously the answer to that question is: Yes!  Do we know what makes a great cover—NO. 

Sure there are people who claim to have this knowledge about what is good and bad about these little images.  But I doubt you could prove one theory over another.  There are many elements that drive sales of on-line books; descriptions, reviews, advertising/marketing, price, author’s ranking and many more.  To isolate just the cover would be difficult.  Even with that said the cover obviously does have some impact; maybe a lot. 

There is a whole industry marketing services to indie authors.  One of those services is cover designs.  I have seen prices from $100 (the example of the covers on this web site showed some great looking covers for only $100? —looked too good to be true) to high-end services for thousands.  Typical prices are $350 to $650 for both an e-book and paperback cover.  I would not argue with the value of the “typical” prices, but trying to select the right designer is mostly guess work.  Because the covers are so small on-line, usually bold titles and limited detail is necessary.  But what’s a good, bad or great cover is just one person’s opinion.  The ultimate judge would be if you could isolate book sales based on the cover, but you can’t; so it just speculation.

I have redesigned the book covers (and re-edited the books) to improve the books generally, but to more importantly improve sales.  That would be the ultimate test did the new covers increase sales.  I will be testing that over the next few months as these new covers are released and promoted.  After a few months I will report back the results and maybe then determine if there was an impact or if it was just shuffling of the deck chairs.


Blog direction.  Since its inception this blog has been about writing, indie books and the process of producing/marketing those books—it will continue to be.  However, a new direction will focus on the locations of those stories.  My books take place in the southwest United States and the general region.  This includes New Mexico, Colorado and Oklahoma. 

The Bootlegger’s Legacy takes place in Oklahoma, El Paso, Texas, New Mexico and Juarez, Mexico.

Pacheco & Chino Series takes place in New Mexico and El Paso, Texas.

Muckraker Series takes place in Oklahoma.

Vincent Malone Series takes place in New Mexico and Colorado.

I will feature in future blogs specific places in these areas with special attention to food including favorites restaurants and places to stay if visiting.  Hope you occasionally enjoy reading about these places and their attractions.  (And, yes this may just be a way for me to deduct travel expenses as business costs but don’t tell anyone.)

Thanks for being a reader!

Fictional Books and Real Life

Despite being fictional, literary characters are near and dear to our hearts. But sometimes, those fictional characters turn out to not be so fictional after all.

SHERLOCK HOLMES in The Sherlock Holmes Stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
INSPIRED BY: Dr. Jo
seph Bell

Arthur Conan Doyle met surgeon Dr. Joseph Bell in 1877, when he served as his clerk at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary. After writing several popular stories about consulting detective Sherlock Holmes (who really needs no introduction), Doyle admitted that the man was at least partially inspired by Bell’s super observant ways and his ability to make large assumptions with little evidence. Apparently, Bell was quite proud of the connection and even went on to help with police investigations in Scotland alongside Sir Henry Littlejohn, whom Doyle also cited as an influence. In a letter to the author, Bell even joked, “You are yourself Sherlock Holmes and well you know it.”

Ten Fictional Characters Inspired by Real People


Have spent the last several months re-editing the Muckraker books.  That would be Murder So Wrong, Murder So Strange and Murder So Final.  This was my first time to return to a book and look at the results with a critical eye.  While there were changes made, the most obvious will be new covers, overall I really (still) liked the story.  I think this round of tweaks does improve the reader experience and hopefully will increase the popularity of this series.  The new look is not available yet but will be shortly.

These books were written with a co-author; Stanly Nelson.  We share backgrounds, both being from Oklahoma, and also a love of newspapers.  Me as a reader and Stan as an editor-writer on several papers.  The books are about a time in Oklahoma City when two major newspapers battled for the market with very distinct and opposite perspectives.  We both lived during those times and enjoyed the competitive energy that was created by the warring groups.

Many of my books are based on actual events that I experienced or people I have known.  The main character in the Muckraker books is Tommy Jacks, a recent journalism grad who is having his first encounter in the real (and very dangerous) world of cut-throat reporting.  His mentor in the story is Taylor Albright, a fish-out-of-water New Yorker trapped in the totally different world of middle America.  Taylor is cynical and totally without fear.  Tommy both admires Albright and hates him.  It is a relationship with many facets. 

The Albright character was based on someone I knew at the time.  He was an abrasive, smart, and fearless columnist for the new paper trying to carve out a market against an old established publishing empire.  The real Albright pushed the boundaries of acceptable journalism until he was fired.  Anyone who read his columns knew he would soon be gone.  He offended everyone.  One week he would be cheered by one side as he attacked the other side and the next week it would be the opposite.  He seemed to have a desire to have people hate him.  I liked him.  Of course he never wrote about me in his columns.

After he was fired, I helped him put out his own very small circulation tabloid—I owned a printing company at the time.  Eventually he alienated all of my employees and we parted, although we were still friends.  Never heard from him again. 

I’ve mentioned before how important it is to me to have an element in my books that comes from my own experiences.  Obviously (or maybe not?), I have not experienced the murders and general mayhem I write about; but the places and the people are familiar to me.  In the Vincent Malone books I use Santa Fe almost like a character—something familiar and comfortable.  Having often been in Santa Fe and experienced its unique, quirky qualities, helps me make them real to the reader.  I know the atmosphere and it helps me feel comfortable with the characters by placing them in those surroundings.

The Muckraker books take place in Oklahoma City and Tulsa.  I grew up in Oklahoma City and definitely knew every part of that town.  Way into my twenties it felt like home.  Then something happened, no doubt, something to me.  It started to feel different, less comfortable.  I felt like I didn’t belong there.  Wasn’t sure where I did belong but definitely not there.  Why would that happen?  Cities change, but that’s not the most likely reason.  It’s people.  I changed and Oklahoma City stayed the same.  Eventually we moved to New Mexico and it felt comfortable.  I was a stranger, but felt at home.

Places have an energy to them that either fits a person or doesn’t.  Not sure what it is but I know when someplace is good for me almost immediately and when it isn’t.  Houston and LA were good for me; New Orleans and Dallas were not.  The good place list includes my current home Denver; but it has been amazingly cold recently so San Diego is sounding very nice.

The Muckraker books brought back a lot of memories.  Triples was a real place, so was the Denny’s on Classen Boulevard Albright frequented.  That was where I met the real Albright by accident.  Deep Deuce in The Bootlegger’s Legacy was an area I knew.  I was known to visit a few of the bars that hung on past their prime in that part of town.  All familiar memories with history—even some bad history.

So I write about things known to me as I tell stories that are total fiction.  The real gets mixed in and creates a sense of knowing even though much of the story is only imagination.  My books are about characters.  We can all relate to them as they try to solve a mystery or untangle a past action; make-believe based on real people.  They are flawed, but I hope they are people you can care about.  The locations add texture to the story, but it could occur most anywhere—as long as the writer can capture the real feeling of the place and can help the reader feel that uniqueness. 

Below is a sneak peek (don’t tell anyone) of a couple of the new covers coming for the Muckraker books. I’ll let you know when the updated books are available.

Thanks for being a reader!

My dread of Halloween

I write mystery books.  Also on occasion I write short-stories.  For no particular reason these often are about my childhood in Oklahoma in the 1950s.  You probably grew up in a different time and place, but I hope you find these little odes to the past interesting, or funny, or maybe even a little sad.

This is a true short, short story about Halloween.

In small town America in the 1950s Halloween night found every kid within miles walking in the neighborhood seeking those wonderful treats.  There were no trailing parents or watchful cars standing by to rescue little Johnny, because no one perceived a need for such caution.  It was a time when people had a sense of belonging that created a, no doubt, false sense of security.

On one memorable Halloween I had spent hours out with my group of buddies canvasing our immediate neighborhood and several blocks over in both directions.  At many of the houses the adults knew some of us and greeted us warmly.  There were kids everywhere going door to door.  Now, to be fair, there were a couple of houses we stayed away from.  One was occupied by an incredibly old man who glared at kids if they got close to his domain.  The kid rumor was that he was an escaped convict hiding in our neighborhood.  The legend was that he had been convicted of murdering his own children.  The chance of that tale being true was exactly zero; but every kid knew to stay clear of his un-kept house.

On this one night I had stayed out longer than usual, because I was also collecting Halloween goodies for my friend Bill who was sick.  He begged me to take his bag and get double treats—it was a pitiful scene with this huge kid begging me to get him candy while he coughed all over me; condemning me to catching some dreaded disease. 

My last lap was one street over from mine.  It was the rich people’s street in the neighborhood.  I had waited until the final push of the night to make the biggest haul.  Some of the houses had turned out their lights, but most had not.  There was an occasional grumble about me collecting two bags but most were still pleasant and generous with the goodies.

At the end of the rich people’s block I was loaded down.  It was about the maximum I could carry and I felt both joy and a self-important sense of accomplishment.  I couldn’t wait to get to Bill’s house and give him his bulging bag.  Bill was in kid’s terms, the fat kid.  He ate everything and in huge quantities.  He was going to be delirious.

It was late, even for Halloween, and I was now alone on my last leg.  First stop would be Bill’s and then finally home where I could explore my huge bag of sugary joy.

I heard the car before I saw it.  It had stopped hard just behind me.  When I turned I saw a car full of teenagers.  Now if you’re a pre-teen kid in safe, small town America there was one great fear in your world.  Teenage boys.  Often you knew them; maybe even friends of your older brother.  But you had seen their group behavior before.  Bullying, head rubbing, taunting; they were the most feared menace in your protected world.

It was the apocalypse; four teenagers on Halloween night charging a ten-year-old kid with two huge bags of candy.  In a flash I was on the ground with pain in my hand and elbow without any candy.  The old Ford hauled ass down the street.  I thought I could hear them laughing.

I stayed still for a while.  Then without warning I started to cry.  Curled up in a ball on a very dark Halloween night in the middle of a stranger’s yard, all alone, I bawled.  Just like a baby.  All of that work, hours and hours of trick or treating; gone in a matter of seconds.  Soon I stopped crying and almost immediately became angry.  More angry than I ever remember being before.  I stood in the middle of the night and shouted “Shit,” as loud as my little body could muster.  I knew that was wrong, but I had had it with being bullied and stomped on by those stupid teenage hoodlums.

I made it to Bill’s and gave him the bad news.  He was obviously very sad.  He suggested I still had time to go back and get some goodies.  I just looked at him like his head had exploded.  I said good-night and went home.

Once home I told my parents the story.  My dad was furious.  He debated about calling the cops or getting in his old car and finding the creeps.  My mother soothed him and told him it was bad but it would be best just to forget it.  He mumbled something and went outside to smoke his foul smelling cigar.

My mother consoled me, telling me those boys did not mean to hurt me, they were just being teenage boys.  That seemed like a lame excuse to me.  She hugged me and I cried again.  She tucked me in and read one of my favorite books.  I dreamed of the day when I would be a teenage boy and how I would treat everyone so nice and wouldn’t tease or torment little ten-year old kids.

From that time on I dreaded Halloween.  When I became a teenager, I definitely had my typical teenage boy moments, but I never tormented little kids and usually stayed home on Halloween.


Another holiday short story.

Click to go to my web site where you can download this short story

Thanks for being a reader!

Pigsties and other homes

My mother was always concerned about manners.  The constant reminder from her anytime we went out into the world was to “mind your manners.”  She had two boys who were not all that keen on etiquette, but she tried her best under difficult circumstances.  It’s probably a shame she didn’t have a daughter who she could have guided through the proper upbringing with considerable attention to manners and proper civilized behavior.  As the youngest son, I suffered from some of her pent up zeal for the proper way for a girl boy to behave.

My mother’s America was a place where class didn’t matter and all people were equal, and therefore were responsible to behave in proper ways.  Even at ten years of age, I knew that was nonsense.  I had seen the huge houses in the rich part of town and knew that those people were different.  The world treated them differently than my parents living in their nine-hundred square foot home with two bedrooms and one bath.  My dad worked two jobs; days at the new air force base post office; nights and Saturday selling shoes at a local family shoe store.

The man who owned the shoe store liked my dad, or so my dad said; and had invited our family to his huge house for barbeques and other outdoor activities.  I thought it odd that we always attended events at his mansion for outdoor things.  My mother just said it was because they didn’t want some unruly kids breaking any of their good stuff.  Yeah, sure mom, class doesn’t matter in America.

My mother’s worst attempt at civilizing me was dance class.  This was to teach me to be a gentleman.  I never grasped how dance class related to being a gentleman, but I seldom argued with my mother.  Even when I knew she was wrong it was just easier to go along and hope for the best.  The first few months of dance lessons were horrible—I was usually the only boy and the girls seemed to find great pleasure in my obvious discomfort.  But after some time I started to enjoy the whole experience.  I liked the girls and, big shock, I liked dancing. 

Now I suppose if this was today, there would have been whispers about me being confused about my sexuality or something—but it’s the 1950s and those types of discussions were not allowed.  It didn’t matter because I was not confused about my sexuality and yes, I liked girls.  And at a very early age I discovered having a bunch of girls paying a lot of attention to you was not a bad thing.  On the other hand, my mother may have been confused about my sexuality—there was no doubt she would have preferred her second child to have been a girl.  Of course, she would have never said that; because she was too polite.

I soon progressed from dance class to baseball and my mother handed me off to my dad.  It would make a good story if I could say the dance lessons made me a better baseball player; but that was not the case.  My dad tried but he didn’t have my mother’s patience and I soon longed for dance class as I sat on the bench.  My dad never said much but I could tell he wondered if the dance lessons had ruined my baseball career.

It seems we have lost some of our fondness for manners.  My mother would be shocked at the rudeness of people today.  Miss Manners wasn’t a household name yet; but if she had been writing at that time she would have been. Emily Post was the manners guru of the day. Most people believed it was an important aspect of human interaction to be polite. 

Now it is often rudeness and even hatefulness that stands out as more courageous than consideration of others.  Political correctness has somehow gotten mixed up in the discussion about manners.  Polite, respectful people are now weak, sniveling beings afraid to say what’s really on their mind.  Being direct and speaking your mind is now the honest way to interact. Fuck the consequences.

My mother didn’t live to see the downfall of civility that dominates the internet; but if she had, her advice would have been to turn it off.  You’re never going to win that wresting match in the mud with a pig; just move on and ignore the foul odor. 

I’ve taken criticism in reviews for my use of certain words in my books, and as a result contributing to the decline of civilization.  Maybe, but I find it hard to believe that an occasional f-word tossed into a murder mystery book is driving the decline of civilization.  I don’t believe the problem is our words, but the menacing tone behind those words.  There is an anger in the world that hangs in the air like a foul smelling pigsty, and I don’t believe we know how to turn that off.

I think even mom might be stumped on how we get back to being polite and respectful to each other for no real reason other than it’s just the right thing to do—it’s proper behavior.  As mom would say; “mind your manners!”

No News Newspapers

It’s hard to imagine a day without newspapers; but it’s here.  Not long ago the morning began with the driveway search for the paper and brewing of the first cup of coffee.  It had been that way for as long as I can remember.  It was comforting.  Alone with coffee and the paper was my ideal way to start the day.  Not so much now.

I no longer read the paper newspaper.  Now it’s on-line.  No doubt, it’s more convenient, up-to-date and searchable; but it’s not the same.  My paper, for much of my life, was The Daily Oklahoman.  That paper was owned by one man who was a legend in Oklahoma.  During my high school days, a new paper, The Oklahoma Journal, appeared.  I read them both for years.  One was very conservative and the other was only a little less conservative (it is Oklahoma).  I wrote a series of books about this time; The Muckraker series with Stanley Nelson.  Most of the story is fiction but there are facts tossed in, too.

Newspapers are not what they were.  Most of their power and influence has declined.  There are still great papers and journalists, but many papers have become not much more than advertisement flyers, with the added bonus of sports pages.  A mere shadow of what they once were.  Of course a lot of the power and influence was used in ways that did not always benefit the country, only the owners, so maybe the decline was inevitable.

Not personally being involved in decisions can allow a person to be critical without really knowing the facts; but who decided that the best way to survive as a newspaper was to reduce the amount of news and increase the number of ads?  That decision seems dumb on the surface but maybe, if your goal is to survive, you do things like that.  Plus, you get rid of editors so most of the paper will have obvious errors in the little that is actually still news content.  Everyone likes errors, right?

When I moved to Denver there were two major papers in the market; The Denver Post and The Rocky Mountain News.  At that time, they were competing in a fierce price war and the competitive juices extended to the newsroom.  Some of the best journalism I have read came from that overheated era of nasty competition.  Cheap papers and great reporting—a reader’s dream.  But no doubt a financial disaster. 

Those papers used to be so heavy, even on weekdays, that you almost had to make two trips to the driveway.  No doubt it hastened the end of many a delivery person trying to toss the equivalent of a couple of bricks every morning—to almost every house.

Success in many things is not to be the best, but being the most profitable.  Today much of our news comes from people talking to other people who give great opinions but offer very little in actual news.  The advent of cable news in effect killed much of the news gathering business and established our current culture of bubble seekers.  I want to find the news that fits my beliefs—to hell with anyone else’s facts.

The larger national papers still seem to generate an abundance of great reporting but local papers have taken a significant step backward from what they were in the past.  It would seem inevitable that most towns, even big ones, are going to be without an active news gathering organization in the future.  I would imagine that soon they will abandon the pretense of being a “newspaper” and only have a sports section and celebrity stuff along with ads.

I’m adapting to the easy access of electronic news.  The constant updates and endless drum of breaking news becomes tiresome but also addictive.  While I think it is important to stay engaged and informed, we may be going a bit too far with the never ending drone of breaking news flashes. 

Is it possible to know too much and therefore nothing at all?  The volume of news seems to change its importance.  My past morning ritual of reading about the news from the previous day in the early hours over a leisurely cup of coffee seems to be a fading memory; now it is constant updates on my phone about what happened in the last hour. 

Maybe this morning I will watch the cartoon network for a few hours and just relax. Uninformed may not be so bad?

Thanks for being a reader!

My Advice Is

Advice: guidance or recommendations offered with regard to prudent future action.

On occasion I get questions from one source or another about writing.  Many of these are prompted by “interviews” for web sites that promote books.  One such question was; “what advice would I give someone who was thinking about writing their first novel?”  Generally, I respond to these in kind of a casual way, more or less assuming nobody actually reads the answers.  But for this one I was stumped, it seemed to deserve a more serious answer.

One of the first things I learned about writing was that it’s hard.  So maybe I should pass that along—hey, this is hard and more than likely will cost you money and a huge amount of time.  You might self-publish something and have the first review on your Amazon page be by someone who thinks; “This book is terrible. There are punctuation errors and my goodness this author sure needs a better spell checker.  The cover sucked.”  You have spent thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours to produce this masterpiece and the first review just tossed it into the trash.  My advice is; don’t do it!

Okay that would be a bit snarky.  So what would my advice be?

Expect disappointment, but never give up.  Sure the hard work is more like digging a forever ditch than anything creative, but there are wonderful rewards for doing something that is uniquely you.  Nobody else can write the book you write.  It may be great or may be not so great, but it is yours.  Tell a story you have in your head and be proud of the results.  The number one way of becoming a good (and successful) writer is to write.

I’ve written before about practicing to be creative.  That idea seems counter to what we think of in producing something creative.  We want a burst of creative genius, not hard work or practice—but the dirty little secret is that most creative activity, from writing, to art, to singing, to dance is based on effort and practice. 

In my circle of family, friends and acquaintances there are people who believe I write a book over the weekend.  They have never said that; but by what they do say– it is apparent they think writing is based on talent and happens in a flash.  If you have talent you just dash out a 300-page book like it was nothing.  I’ve tried to correct that misconception with information about the hours it takes to write a book.  For me it is usually about three months of writing, but often that writing is interrupted by periods of no activity.  This can be just the outside world needing my attention or it can be writers block.  I have written books from beginning to end without any delays; that would be the three months I mentioned, others have taken much longer. Usually when I give out this real information, I get looks that suggest they don’t believe me, and I’m just trying to make what I do sound harder than it really is.  My list of family, friends and acquaintances that I talk to is steadily getting smaller every day.

After my private writing part of the book is “finished”, it is only the first draft.  Currently my books are going through months of editing by up to three editors.  This could be because I’m a sloppy author and if I was better this wouldn’t be needed.  But all professionally prepared books are edited at some level or another.   And then you have cover design and other aspects of publishing.  All and all, at least for me, it is about six months from start to finish—assuming none of those writer’s block demons drop in.  Of course there are examples of great works taking the author years and years or maybe, even decades.  That is dedication!

Writing a book is not easy.  It is hard work.  Once all of the work is completed and you have a finished product there is a great sense of accomplishment and pride.  The author knows better than anyone the effort it took to complete.  Now you publish and submit it to the public.  Unless you’re a proven, known author you have no idea what will happen.  You work on promotions and marketing and hopefully sell some books.  Then you see the bad review; highlighted, one star, standing out like a sore thumb –saying you wasted your time.  You’re a moron.

If you do something creative that is subject to this sort of criticism, then you will understand the angst that is created by someone, who may or may not have any ability to objectively comment on anything, who says whatever they want regarding something you spent hours, days, months and often years creating.  In a matter of minutes, they can turn that effort into a hurtful, ugly feeling of self-doubt.  Tiny bit of more advice—ignore them; all of them (except those wonderful, obviously accurate 5 star reviews).

Write every day, seven days a week and never worry about what some faceless person says—it’s your story to tell how you see fit.  Stay true to yourself, study your craft and write the next damn bestseller.  Screw everything else.  The more you write; the better it gets.

Thanks for being a reader!

Reading for Pleasure

A strange thing happened to me when I started writing; I stopped reading.  From a very early age one of my great pleasures was reading.  If you’re a regular reader of this blog you know that my favorite “literature” as a child was Classics Illustrated comic books.  The great joy I experienced then has continued throughout my life—I have read lots of books.  And I mean lots. 

Then I decided to try my hand at writing a book.  It was kind of a lark based on an encounter with a “published” author.  This was in a social setting and the person was a creative writing instructor at a local community college.  He and I got along—we agreed on a lot of important stuff; like politics.  Our wives got along, so we ended up socializing on other occasions.  At one of those he gave me his book—the only one he had written, I think—which apparently experienced a level of success and was published by a known publisher.  I read it (at that time I read everything) and decided it was okay but nothing special; still I was impressed that he had written a book and it was published.  Based on the grade school playground logic of “if he can do that, so can I“— I decided to write a book.

It was day one in my new writing career.  I won’t go into the ugly details, but it was mostly a disaster.  Nothing was easy and no one (other than maybe my family) gave a crap about my sudden declaration of being an author.  The whole experience was demoralizing.  I did write a book; sort of.  It was a mess.  I just jumped in not knowing what I was doing and thought some sort of inspiration would take over and guide me to a great book.  The inspiration never showed up.  What I learned is that writing is hard.

After that experience, I licked my wounds for a while; but eventually decided I still wanted to be an author.  Now I knew I needed guidance, professional people to assist in the editing, cover design and all sorts of things to produce a successful book.  From that first experience, it was almost six years before I wrote again.  Some of that time was healing time, but most was doing the things I should have done before.  I began to do the prep work on becoming an author.  I found people to help me in various areas and spent time thinking about writing, reading about writing, and studying about writing.

Once I decided I knew enough to try again, I started writing.  That book was The Bootlegger’s Legacy.  The whole experience was different.  It was still not easy.  I had worked on an outline and got about three chapters into the book and decided it was not going well—but rather than scream, I started over.  The second attempt worked.  I finished the book and was pleased with the result.  That first “real” book won a Benjamin Franklin Award from the Independent Book Publishers Association and I was hooked.  Suddenly, I really was an author.

During the writing of The Bootlegger’s Legacy, I found it was disruptive for me to read other books.  Not sure why or if this happens to other people; but it was difficult for me to enjoy reading because I was comparing it to my writing.  I was critical of the writing; I couldn’t seem to concentrate on the story, because I was focusing on the structure, or punctuation, or the totally stupid way the author said something.  I had never done that as a reader before.  Now I was a critic.

I stopped reading.  That was about five years ago and I have rarely read since.  I was a person reading dozens of books a year and enjoying the experience. But now, due to my writing, I couldn’t enjoy reading other people’s books. 

The primary way I learned to be an author was by reading.  Now my head was full of my stories and other people’s stories just interfered.  So, I guess, today I write because I need something to read.  Four Corners War was just released.  I worked for a long time on that book—I’ve written before about that experience so I won’t retell it here; but it was a very difficult project for me over an extended period.  By the time it was done, I was mostly exhausted by the whole thing.

After a little lull in writing, I decided to actually read the finished book; Four Corners War.  Okay, I shouldn’t say this, I liked it –a lot.  News flash, author likes his own book!

There were points in the process, like time schedules, deadlines, and endless editing that made me lose sight of the actual story.  Even if it is my book –it’s a good story about characters I have come to know as people and care about.  I’m glad I have the book to read.  Of course, if need be, I could always return to my childhood favorite Classics Illustrated comic books. 

Thanks for being a reader!