New and Innovative

I’ve mentioned before that I get requests to do written interviews. This usually comes from blogs and web sites focused on indie authors–often sites hawking something themselves. They send me a list of questions that I do my best to answer in thoughtful, honest and even funny ways.

Recently as part of a long list of questions from a web site, they asked: What are some things that haven’t been done in the mystery genre that you hope to introduce through your books?

What an interesting question. Things that haven’t been done in the mystery genre? What the hell would that be? How about divulge who did it at the beginning? Have the good guy commit the crime? Have no mystery at all? It was such an interesting question that I could not stop thinking about it. Then it occurred to me; why would that even be important?

Why screw around with something that works? It’s our addiction to new, innovative—different. As consumers, we want the latest thing there is; so that must mean as readers, we want something different, right? I stumbled across an article where some people (none known to me) were predicting the future trend in book genres; they mentioned—Urban Fantasy, Science Fantasy, Utopian stories, and Cyberpunk. Maybe this is new and innovative; but I write mysteries—I don’t think I’m going to end up on anyone’s trend list.

Many of my books follow a rather predictable path. An introduction, character development, a crime is committed (usually murder), investigation, a few twists, discovery of the truth and the conclusion; which must address all of the details that have not been fully explained before. Hey, it is a mystery novel –what were you expecting.

I’ve seen way too many movies that just end. Did they run out of money and this was all they could finish? Or maybe that is being creative. In the middle of a scene the movie just ends. What happened to the characters in the movie—how did it really end. I definitely would not want to read a mystery book that ended before the mystery was solved—or is that something new; let the reader solve the mystery however they want! I would think most readers would not be pleased with an abrupt ending without knowing who did what.

My answer to the question from the web site was: Wow, I have no idea. If I knew I might not tell you—something that hasn’t been done in a mystery after a billion mystery books—I’m going to think about that.

So, now I’ve thought about it, and I’m going to stick to the classic format of mystery books. For innovation I will work on better, more in-depth characters, improved realistic dialogue, unique settings and more surprises in each book. Nothing really different than a thousand other mystery books, but do it better.

This brings me to a confession of sorts. The Hightower series was an attempt to break my pattern. Hightower is someone who, mostly by accident, has discovered how to extend life. The book starts in 2020 and at that time Hightower is 120 but still looks as if he is in his 50s. The murders that are at the heart of the story took place in the 1930s and Hightower knows (and the reader knows) who committed the crime. This book will fit into several genres including mystery; but it’s different. So maybe I do want to write something innovative. Now for the confession part—I’ve hit a brick wall. Yep, not sure what to do next. Approaching the half-way point in the book and not sure where to take the story. I’ve been here before.

That time it was Four Corners War. I got stuck in 2016 and it took three years to get back to the book and finish it. During that time, I wrote five other books—but FCW just laid there; waiting for inspiration. When I returned, it all came to me how I wanted the story to go and quickly finished the book. It had never left my mind. It will be published Sept 3rd, 2019.

Pre Order Now!

My cure for my Hightower blues will be the 4th Vincent Malone book, Durango Two Step. While Hightower rests I will complete DTS. In the next few weeks I will give you a peek at the first few chapters of DTS. This will be Vincent’s most challenging adventure, putting all of his new life at risk.

What’s in a Name?

What’s In A Title?

Currently writing the first Hightower series book. Working title has been A Doctor Hightower Novel: The Case of the False Prophet. Maybe as a consequence of the writing going slower than I would like I’ve decided the series name and the title of the book are wrong. Yes, this may be akin to shuffling the chairs on the Titanic—but I’m going with a different name. For the series it will now be Hightower Chronicles and this first book will be False Miracle.

Could this possible matter at all? Okay, maybe this is just a smoke screen to hide the current delay in progress, but my honest answer is yes, it does matter. The second Vincent Malone novel was going to be about artists and the art business in Santa Fe. I envisioned some unique or possibly even odd characters populating this story of greed, lust and murder. I was looking for a clever title and decided on Blue Flower Red Thorns. Okay, nice words; but what the hell does it mean. Maybe it is allegorical referencing beauty and pain. Maybe it has no meaning and was designed to confuse and irate readers? Of course, that would be very stupid thing to do. Or would it?

The name could be a reference to a Shrek movie where the donkey is sent to search for a blue flower with red thorns—which he bemoans would be easier if he was not color-blind. Searching for a healing flower while you cannot see the difference does sound like something with lots of hidden meanings. Maybe it relates to the beauty of the great art produced by less than perfect people. The characters were seeking beauty but not seeing the ugliness in their midst. Could be.

Another possibility is from the Urban Dictionary: “a way of saying you don’t care about someone else’s current situation, or what they are trying to do, because you have shit of your own to take care of.”

That attitude would definitely fit the story line of some very egotistical self-absorbed characters. So there is the answer– it is a vague reference to something most people do not know that reflects the overall attitudes of several of the main characters.

The metaphor with the flower and contrasting thorn (no matter the color) fits the contrast between the beauty created by a talented artist and the challenge of a troubled person who is creating that art.

Now the question is; was that a good idea to name the book something that is at best confusing? I think the answer is no. If I had it to do over again I would choose something else. But I’m not changing the title—it is what it is. While I think my logic about the title had merit it was just to obscure to have general meaning to most people. I could have made the title Elephants and Rats and it would have meant as much to most.

I thought Blue Flower Red Thorns had some of the most interesting characters I have written about. Some of this inspiration came from my short-lived desire to be an artist. When I was young my ambition was to be an artist. I was talented but not exceptionally so—as a result I could have the dream, but the reality stayed far away. But my experience in the art world introduced me to people who more often than not saw the world through a different lens. The main character in BFRT is Ilse De Vries, one of the most talented contemporary artists in the world—all at an incredibly young age. She swoops into Santa Fe and creates a storm of not only artist expression but mayhem.

In ways maybe not obvious, all of the characters in Blue Flower Red Thorns referenced the contradiction in the title; sometimes nice, sometimes very nasty. Much like the art world in general.


Pre-Order Now!

The latest (and maybe last) Pacheco & Chino book, Four Corners War, is now available for preorder on Amazon. This book is definitely inspired by my personal experiences in Farmington, New Mexico. Much of my working career as a financial adviser was related to business acquisitions. One such experience in Farmington was especially memorable, and much of what I saw many years ago is the basis for FCW—although in the book it is enhanced to make it more interesting. Plus, a large portion of the story is just made up out-of-whole-cloth. It was great fun to write because of that past connection—but this book took forever; for various reasons. I enjoyed writing FCW but am also glad that it is done.

Polite Society?

“That is not polite!” Not sure how many times I heard my mother say those words as I was growing up—but it was a lot. I accounted for most of those utterances, but also my brother, neighborhood kids and the world in general had a few dressing downs.

What does it actually mean to be polite?

Dictionary.com says;

  1. showing good manners toward others, as in behavior, speech, etc.; courteous; civil: a polite reply.
  2. refined or cultured: polite society.
  3. of a refined or elegant kind: polite learning.

Sounds like a good thing—being polite. Have mothers stopped telling their children to be polite? Maybe we stopped teaching what it means to be polite? Something has happened. Maybe as a society we have decided that being polite is a sign of weakness. Or maybe we just don’t care anymore? Something has happened, all right; because being polite is no longer the mother standard it used to be.

Of course all of this gets confused with political correctness—which seems to be the same as being polite but with a negative label. In one form political correctness seems to be limiting the words that can be used to describe people. Usually offensive words.

Dictionary.com says:
Marked by or adhering to a typically progressive orthodoxy on issues involving especially ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or ecology: The actor’s comment about unattractive women was not politically correct. The CEO feels that people who care about being politically correct are overly sensitive. Abbreviations: PC, P.C.
Or from Wikipedia:
The term political correctness (adjectivally: politically correct; commonly abbreviated PC) is used to describe language, policies, or measures that are intended to avoid offense or disadvantage to members of particular groups in society. Since the late 1980s, the term has come to refer to a preference for inclusive language and avoiding language or behavior that can be seen as excluding, marginalizing, or insulting groups of people considered disadvantaged or discriminated against, especially groups defined by sex or race.

I’m sure my mother was not overly concerned with group identities being infringed with marginalizing words; but I’m also really sure she understood the impact of uncivil, hurtful words and knew they were not polite.

I use words to tell stories. Many of my characters would not be considered polite by my mother. Actually she would be upset that I know some of those words and more than likely blame the whole vulgar words usage on Johnny who lived down the street and was known not to be a polite child. He had obviously been a bad influence on me when she was not watching. If she could have, she might even call Johnny’s mom.

Writing is about words. While many readers think there are bad words and good words; I don’t. Words are just a way to describe something. If the word is vulgar, maybe the use of that word is intended to convey ugly emotion or anger–something vulgar. The correct word used to fit the right time and place.

What troubles me is someone using words to harm people. Name calling was forbidden on the elementary school playground for a very good reason; words can be cruel. How we got to a place where being a name caller, using hurtful language is okay for so many people who lead our society, is just bizarre.

Once again my mother: “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” Of course this is not original with my mom; but she believed it. Now on occasion I did hear her pass along some gossip about some of the ladies at the church or in her garden club. It’s hard being perfect 24/7.

Maybe it was just easier in the past to be polite? No internet, no Facebook, no nasty tweets. It’s hard to maintain the same venom in a long-hand written letter on scented paper. Also a key factor is that much of our ugliness today is directed at a faceless, nameless audience. Anonymous postings aimed at the dumb, stupid, idiotic people who deserve to be hated.

My mother lived to be over a hundred years old. She came from a time that was very different. She left a world that had become richer and full of amazing things; but a world that was much less polite. Being polite might be a sign of weakness to some, I think it is really a sign of great strength. Shouting vulgarities may attract attention but it is not an indication of a good, thoughtful person. Moms do know best.

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Good, Evil and Stuck

Doctor Thomas H. Hightower the Third is a new character in a new series. He’s a secretive man who has a very troubled past and is engaged in an epic battle with evil. Evil in the form of one monstrous person Trevor Boxer. The man who killed Hightower’s wife.

To the world Hightower appears to be a semi-retired attorney who has odd ways and takes on occasional cases that peak his curiosity. Living a reclusive life in the Denver foothills would make him eccentric; but not all that unusual—but he is very unusual.

The first book in the series, Case of the False Prophet (debating title –it may change), is progressing rather slowly from idea to book. This process should probably be best hidden. Better from a reader point of view to think of a book as a burst of inspiration that leads to a few months of frantic writing and viola; a completed manuscript. None of my books have been like that. Some have been smoother than others, but all have had periods of mental challenges.

I’ve read about authors who have worked on a single book for years, even decades; I can’t imagine. While I’m writing a book it never leaves me, I’m always thinking about the story; where it’s going or maybe not going. Every day, even when I’m not able to actually write, it stays there—churning away, trying to reach the conclusion. Going through that mental process for years would be painful. I know because it happened to me.

I got stuck. Some call this malady, writer’s block. It was Four Corners War, my next book scheduled to be released in a few months. I started FCW in early 2016. Quickly wrote about a third of the book and then I hit a wall. At that point I had written and published three books in about a year’s time. I expected to finish FCW in three to four months. It didn’t happen. I got stuck and couldn’t move. For over a year I didn’t write one word. Eventually, I took on another project, Murder So Wrong, with a co-author and left FCW hanging.

During this period, I wrote three Muckraker books and three Vincent Malone books, but FCW was always there; waiting. The story never left my mind. Once whatever was causing the block went away, I quickly finished FCW.

Most likely the block was due to holes in the plot. I write mysteries and have a bad habit of starting books before I know the complete story. I trust myself to be able to develop the total plot of a book while I’m writing. I have a broad idea about the story and the characters but expect some things to change as I write. That approach has worked for me—but no doubt it was that lack of planning that caused FCW to stop. I reached a point where I had created plot lines that no longer felt like they were connected and did not have a good way to end the mess I had created. So I was stuck.

To get unstuck, I walked away. But it was more than that—I wrote other books. That process helped me build a better plot for FCW. I didn’t just come back to an unfinished book and complete it—I changed it. It was wrong, and I didn’t know how to fix it. The idea of the book and the problems stayed with me the entire time I was writing other books, and eventually, I knew what to do to complete Four Corners War.

If this all sounds a little chaotic or maybe even a bit unhinged—I think it was just that. This is no way to write a book. Do not do what I do. I admire the heck out of people who prepare detailed outlines, develop scene story boards, construct character lists with descriptions and backgrounds—wow, those people are real writers—that’s not me. I jump in with an idea and start creating that wonderful, exciting story on the fly. My creativity requires that I let the characters interact with the story in ways that would not have occurred to me at the beginning, would not have fit a preordained outline—in other words; loosy-goosy.

Of course, there is a problem with loosy-goosy; sometimes I get lost. That may be happening with Doctor Hightower or it could be a spell of creative thinking which will be followed by a period of creative writing. We’ll find out soon.


The audiobook for Santa Fe Mojo is still in the works. Due to lots of complications this project has taken a lot longer than expected but is now getting close. It has only been recently that I was able to listen to a portion of the book. I liked all of the elements of the audiobook, but it was strange to hear. I had never listened to anyone read one of my books before.

During the process of writing, editing, reviewing and reviewing again, I probably will read a book fifty times or more before it is finalized. To hear it read by someone else (a very good narrator, by the way) was strange. This may sound odd to you, but it was like the book had been private before but somehow now it was public. Remember this is a book that has thousands and thousands of copies distributed—obviously it’s not a secret. Hearing a book read is really a different experience than reading to yourself. The book that was in my head was private this audiobook is very public.


Want to thank everyone for reading the blog. My current schedule is to write a post about once a week. I also put out a newsletter once a month. The newsletter is a little bit more structured with recurring features. You can subscribe to both the newsletter and blog from links on this page.

Thanks for being a reader.

Lies and True Lies

Where do story ideas come from? My first book, The Bootlegger’s Legacy, story idea was to have a couple of “normal” guys try to make a drug deal to help them with their financial problems. It was going to be about how they managed to screw everything up—since they were not criminals, just people with money problems looking for an out. As much as anything, I think at the beginning I saw the book as a comedy with some stupid crooks making all kinds of lethal mistakes. This idea came from my own experience in Oklahoma City in the 1980s.

This was a difficult time for most people in Oklahoma with a sudden and dramatic collapse of the oil industry. This was especially true for small business owners. Of course, with the local economy in the toilet, business was bad for most everyone. But there was an ugly ripple effect related to banks. All of the local banks were heavily involved in the oil industry, and when that industry tumbled, it brought down banks. The bank failures led to small business loans being called by the FDIC. Even a healthy business usually cannot pay-off a loan immediately that was not expected to be due. And, of course, there was no way to get another bank loan because the whole banking industry was on the ropes.

One such business was owned by a friend of mine and he sought my advice. As you may or may not know my background is financial—CPA and financial consultant. I helped him analyze his situation and basically told him there was no hope. Not what he wanted to hear. He had to come up with a boat load of cash or he faced bankruptcy. This actually is the first part of The Bootlegger’s Legacy story.

I did not know it at the time, but heard later, that he and another fellow developed a scheme to make a drug deal with some people from Mexico to solve their money woes. Fortunately, for my friend, his plans fell through. He never executed his absurd idea—where more than likely he would have been killed. He brought a partner into his business who had some cash and they were able to refinance the debt with an out-of-state bank. As the economy recovered his business grew and thrived.

So the actual story I based my idea on was basically boring. Nothing much happened and with a little luck the business owner survived. He never had a wild, dangerous adventure in Mexico, never got shot, never did much of anything except refinance his debt. Not exactly a book anyone would read.

But from that kernel of an idea came an adventure involving a bootlegger, a vast hidden fortune, a gorgeous mistress, divorce, romance, new life paths, family mysteries solved, great wealth and new loves.

Why did the story change? Because the actual story was not very interesting; the original idea was okay but the real story was just plain boring. So, I did what writers do; I made up a bunch of stuff. Hopefully fun, interesting, exciting stuff—a story you would want to read. Much of the story I made up as I wrote. Obviously this is not the best way to write, but it seems to work for me. I just get started and it seems to take on its own life, going from one thing to the next based on what seems right in the world I have created.

The Bootlegger’s Legacy became an entirely different story than what I thought at the beginning. In retrospect that was very good.

My next book, Dog Gone Lies, was a direct result of The Bootlegger’s Legacy. There was a small part in that book for a local sheriff who helped the TBL guys while they were in Las Cruces, New Mexico; Sheriff Ray Pacheco. I liked this character a lot and decided I wanted to know more about him—so I wrote a book where he was the main character. In a way TBL and the Pacheco & Chino books are a result of a bad idea a friend had on how to solve his financial problems that he never really attempted. Ideas for books come from all sorts of things– even out of thin air or some past experience.

The third Pacheco & Chino book, Four Corners War, will be available for pre-order July 1st. This story also was due to one of my own experiences. While not a true story by any means, many of the events in FCW did actually happen; but none of the murders. Maybe that is what novels are—real life stories exaggerated and contorted to make them more interesting to read. After all; it is fiction.

Interview

Why would I lie?

Occasionally I have an opportunity to be interviewed. These are either web sites or blogs about authors and writing. The structure of these interviews is usually a written Q and A. Some of the questions can be pretty lame but all and all these people work hard to make the interview interesting. This is not a give and take type interview so the exchange can be very static; but recently did one and thought it might be interesting.

Q. How did you come to see yourself as a writer, and what inspired you to seek publication?
A. From a very early age reading was a vital part of my life. I think many avid readers imagine themselves writing a book someday—and I was no exception. Family and career dominated my life for the majority of my working years so I never wrote that book. Towards the end of my career and as indie writers had more opportunities to get a book published, I decided to give it a try. It was not a complete disaster– but close. From that humbling experience I spent time learning a new craft, along with understanding the process of writing and publishing. Some years later I published my first book “The Bootlegger’s Legacy.” Currently I have written ten books and now self-identify as an author. You can’t change your past, but if there is one thing I would re-do, it would be the waiting so long to become a writer.

Q. Tell us something about your writing process that’s unusual or that you haven’t revealed before.
A. The unusual thing about my writing process is that it is not unusual. I write at a desk with a laptop and an extra-large monitor. Most of my writing happens in the morning. I’m an early riser and will have written for several hours by the time the household begins to stir. I may write some throughout the day but the heavy lifting is always in the early morning.

My original answer to this question included that I wrote while submerged in a vat of lime Jell-O; it was funny, to me, but sounded stupid–so I deleted it.

Q. Which of your characters would you most and least like to trade places with?
A. While he is probably my favorite character right now; he would also be the character I would least like to trade places with–Vincent Malone. A man so flawed he is almost toxic. From what was going to be a great life of privilege and honor; disaster occurred as everything fell apart due to his weaknesses. For the next few decades he punished himself because of his failings. I wanted the reader to sense that Malone was a good man who had lost all of his confidence and was merely looking for a way to die in peace. He was done, a broken man. He had paid the price for his tremendous shortcomings and now wanted to be left alone. That is how Santa Fe Mojo starts–he’s just about at the end. The story of how he finds his “mojo” in Santa Fe is uplifting, but I don’t think I would like to experience the lows of Malone’s life.

The character I would most like to trade places with is Joe Meadows from The Bootlegger’s Legacy. This may be odd in a way because Joe is probably the character most like me. It is not me, but we had many similarities. Through twists and turns that can only occur in a book Joe finds wealth and great happiness. Most everybody would want to be like Joe.

Q. Which of your characters would you most and least like to become romantically involved with?
A. One-word answer for most likely; Sally. A portion of The Bootlegger’s Legacy takes place in the past when a 1950s Oklahoma bootlegger and his mistress (Sally) plant the seed that is the “legacy” which drives the main story about the next generation. This is my favorite portion of any of my books, and Sally is one of the best characters I’ve written about.

Least likely would be Joe Louongo—I shudder at the thought. He is a secondary character in the Muckraker series. Louongo is a loud, foul-mouth attorney who has no ethics and maybe no redeeming qualities of any kind—but a great addition to those books. These less than admirable characters make writing so much fun.

Q. What advice, as relates to your writing career, would you give your younger self?
A. The best advice is to keep doing. I have had many different occupations and few have offered the satisfaction I have gained from writing. It would have been very easy for me to think that the chance to be a writer was something I had passed up; but that was not true. My advice to my younger self would have been to not give up on your dreams.

Q. What experience in your past or general aspect of your life has most affected your writing?
A. I had a long career in business which impacted my writing. Much of that time was as a financial adviser related to business acquisitions. While number crunching does not lead to very many novels, I have been fortunate to meet an amazing number of unique characters. That stored resource of all of those wonderful, awful, funny, sad, smart, stupid and unique people has been a fantastic treasure trove to populate the books. And it’s not just the characters. My next book Four Corners War is loosely based on actual happenings I experienced while working on a business transaction in New Mexico. My books have consistently been affected by what I actually saw and then enhanced by a few murders, millions in lost treasure, dogs, crazy sheriffs and heroic detectives.

Characters Make the Book

Writing books is a chore. Yep, it does not just happen—it takes work. Obviously there is the mental issue—no that’s not saying you have to be “mental” to write books—but; okay, it helps. Before writing you have to have an idea for a book. Let’s say you want to write a mystery. You have to have a plot—or maybe several. Is it a murder mystery? Who was killed and why and by whom? Of course there must be characters—some of my books may have thirty or more —each needs to be developed to fit the story and described to the reader.

If you read my blog you know that I claim the characters write the book—just a little BS there. The characters drive the story; but they are directed. As you write, the characters take on their own existence and reactions in the book are based on those characters and how they would respond to what is happening. Of course they don’t write the book—that task falls to the author. Hours and hours of writing.

The characters make the book—usually more than the plot. People read books about people. My focus has always been on the characters. Often these fictional actors are a mixture of people I’ve known or, even in small ways, myself. Of course many of the characters are completely made up to fit the needs of the story.

The character I’m currently writing about is Doctor Hightower. He’s a man of mystery living in a small town in the foothills outside of Denver. He’s an attorney and apparently a doctor of some sort. But the most interesting aspect of this reclusive man is that he has discovered the fountain of youth—or at least a laboratory created substitute. Through the whims of happenstance, he was in the right place at the right time to stumble into a chance for everlasting life. That gift was accompanied by the tragic loss of his greatest love and the pain of a life of loneliness and grief—a never ending life.

So here is a character, who has no resemblance to anyone I knew—seldom ran into folks who claimed to be hundreds of years old—well wait a minute, there was that time in a bar in El Paso, never mind; that is another story. Dr. Hightower sure isn’t me. So a character that I’m not familiar with—how do you write about this unique person. Easy answer –you make it up.

I’ve never met a famous author, I know some people who write but they write mostly non-fiction, historical stuff. I often think about the great authors of the 1800s and early 1900s and the amazingly long novels they wrote, by hand, about the human condition. Some of these works explored the misery that existed for so many people; and yet more often than not these writers were usually well off—often from elite, wealthy families. One of these authors in particular fascinates me—Victor Hugo. His two greatest works were Les Misérables, 1862, and The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, 1831.

These stories take us into the underworld of misery and injustice that existed for most people at the time. How does someone like Hugo write with such detail about something he had not experienced. What I have read is that he did research. For Les Miserables he visited some of the horrible prisons that existed at the time and talked to men who had no hope. But research is just observation and data gathering—he was still able from a position of privilege to describe the misery that existed in a way that touched everyone who read his books. He made it up.

A fiction author is someone who makes up stories. There is always an element of truth buried in every fictional account. Maybe it’s the author’s experience, or maybe observation, or maybe it just popped into the head of the author from some place we don’t yet understand.

Children are very good at making things up, even creating their own worlds; but are often scolded by adults for this creative act. Story telling becomes a no-no. A good fictional author may be the result of non-scolding parents who loved their children’s stories or maybe these authors are just good liars.

PS. I first read Hugo’s books as Classic’s Illustrated comic books. These comic books from the 1950’s had a great impact on my life—I still recall the wonderful feeling of reading these great stories. Obviously Hugo’s writing was dumbed down for kids—but the overall impact was still there. Both Les Miserables and The Hunchback of Notre-Dame were available as comics and they were two of my favorites. The sadness of the stories had a great impact on me. I spent a great deal time thinking about how these people lived and must have suffered. Why other humans would be so cruel was very troubling. I still don’t know the answer.

Where are we headed?

Wonder where this goes?

Recently I watched several TV shows on cable that had scenes that I found offensive. Several involved sex scenes that just seemed inappropriate for viewing unless you’re some kind of voyeuristic peeping-tom, also there were story lines involving extreme violence including mutilation of bodies—it was gory and offensive. These shows were supposedly entertainment and cost me money to watch—both aspects of that statement seem wrong.

Many shows on television have a rating of TV-M. I guess that stands for mature. I really question whether a mature person would watch some of these programs. Not sure who slaps that rating on TV shows but I believe it is not like the movies, where there are people who get paid to spend their days watching some really horrible movies to attach a rating.

Of course, I’m an author and have had a few people compare my works of fiction to trash because I used words they do not approve of. Are vulgar words the same as sex scenes or graphic violence. I don’t think so but maybe I’m wrong.

Why aren’t books rated the way movies are? Sounds like a good question doesn’t it? The answer is kind of silly–because there are too many books and it takes too long to read them.

Maybe a silly answer but it does make sense. There are thousands and thousands of books released every week compared to a small number of movies. Authors would have to pay fees to support the structure to allow for the army of book readers to read and rate each one. Starting to sound like a very bad idea. Movies take a couple of hours to watch– a book can take five times that or more to read. And of course the rating (just like movies) would be subjective.

I know there are people who have sites that rate books. These sites are looking for books that are family friendly–I guess that means no sex, no bad language and only good violence. Probably the bad language would have to be broken down into bad, very bad, super bad or something like that. Or maybe it would just be volume. Say a 70,000 word book can only have 100 bad words and still be okay for general reading–excluding kids.

There is a segment of the reading population that only wants books that have no “vulgar” language–none! A book rating might be nice for them but it is totally unnecessary. The vehicle for this information is the reader review. Somewhere around 5% of my reviews are about language–cuss words, vulgar words, dirty words, potty-mouth words; and these reviewers are not only passing along information but they also find time to scold me for such behavior.

I have written before about the context of my language choice. The gritty language is usually limited to the bad guys or the good guys under stress. There are exceptions–a couple of characters just had a tendency to use crude language in almost all situations. My other defense was that those “words” were not that frequent. But as I said before I don’t think the quantity is too important to the “bad word” people who are offended by any word that they consider bad whether it’s one or fifty.

For funnies I checked one of my books for offensive words. It happened to be Four Corners War which is the third Pacheco & Chino book and will be released in August. I chose that book because it is the one I’m working on and the manuscript was handy. I ran a word count and found a little over a two-hundred words that might be offensive. That is in a 70,000 word book—so less than a half of one percent of the words were gritty. I would guess that’s about average for my books–except for maybe the first one The Bootlegger’s Legacy–in that book most of the bad words were at the very beginning in the prologue where the gangsters are waiting to kill our hero and they are chatting–using a lot of vile words–after-all they are gangsters in a bar, what would you expect.

So what is the point? Where is this headed? We seem to live in a world without clear guidelines on what matters. Some things matter a great deal to some and none at all to others. We definitely don’t have a consensus on what is acceptable and what is not as it relates to entertainment. We have TV shows on cable that are violent beyond reason, where every other word is fuck where sex scenes are thrown in just as filler. Could I write my books without certain words? Sure. Will I? No. Why not? The why not is because it would change the book. The characters would be different—and I don’t want too!

Does that make me a hypocrite if I complain about sex and violence on TV but find crude words acceptable in writing. Maybe it does; but I think it means that I have defined my personal guideline and that is something we all can do. I have never resented the bad reviews related to the “bad” words, I always saw it for what it was—a message that if some words offend you –stay away. I agree.

I use words to tell a story and sometimes a good F-bomb is the best way to tell that story. And if someday someone decides to do a TV series of one of my books I will insist that they limit the violence and keep the sex behind bedroom doors. They would probably tell me to F-off.

Time to Write?

One of the recommendations I keep reading about on how to be a successful author is to write more books—one every three months is often suggested as a standard—why not one every week? In some ways it seems absurd to measure the success of a creative enterprise based on the time you spend creating. But, of course, what is being measured is more about marketing and the short cycle of attention that demands something new every day. Having a new book every three months would maximize marketing dollars and increase the author’s visibility so it must be good. Or is it?


I write quickly, when I’m writing, so producing a book every three months would be within my capability. But as an Indie author I spend about as much time dealing with other aspects of book writing as I do writing. The details of publishing and the time consumed by marketing will usually be about the same as writing. Of course someone else could do that—but I’m not in the position to hire someone for those other tasks. That probably means that two to three books a year is about my limit.


Usually I’m carrying around with me every day at least two, sometimes ten ideas for a book. They just sort of bubble around inside my head until one day I begin the story. Very little prep work –I just start. There are authors who will spend almost as much time preparing to write as they do writing—I really admire this approach and wish I could do it. Prepare a detailed outline, develop a story board for scenes, list all of the important characters, even write character descriptions—wow, this is so impressive. Authors also do extensive research on locations, the elements of law in a book, details about specific issues related to crime, the courts, jails, anything you can think of; it is amazing the details that will be in a book—even a book of fiction. This is not how I work—I wish I could. It just sounds so orderly and efficient.


I have said this before and it still sounds a little goofy, but it seems to me the characters write my books. I start the process and lay out the basics but often the story takes on a whole new approach as I’m writing. The characters by their actions will dictate how a story progresses. I didn’t plan it—it just happened.

The first book I wrote, The Bootlegger’s Legacy, was not going to be about a bootlegger (obviously that was not even the title of the book when I began) it was going to be about two normal guys, honest business-people who found themselves in financial trouble and decided to do a drug deal to save their businesses and their families. That idea came from something I had actually seen happen. From day one that kernel of an idea grew, changed, and then exploded into something entirely different. It was still two guys dealing with financial and family issues but it became a different story. A much better story I might add—with almost all of it made-up. The kernel of fact turned into something unknown to me until I started writing.


Some writers need the details planned in advance, for me that would be a serious mistake. I need to start an adventure and see where it leads. That first book taught me to write on the fly and see where it goes. But I still envy the writers who can plan and devise details in advance of writing—it just sounds so organized and mature.


That three-month cycle of writing books is a recent ideal, no doubt, based on something to do with Amazon algorithms. Authors are infamous for taking as long as it takes to write books. Many famous authors took what in Amazon terms would be a lifetime to write a book. Margaret Mitchell took ten years to write Gone with the Wind—and supposedly only began writing because she was bored and never intended it to be published. J.R.R. Tolkien wrote the Hobbit and was asked to write a follow up. Some seventeen years later he finished The Lord of the Rings. The manuscript was 9,250 pages which his publisher decided to break up into three books. Based on the Amazon driven standard of four books a year Tolkien would have written 68 books during that time not just three. Maybe the 68 books would have all been great; but somehow I think we’re better off with the three Tolkien actually wrote, no matter how long it took.


Since I’m not Tolkien or Mitchell I will stick with my goal of two to three books a year because it’s what I can do and it seems to work on Amazon—which I guess is a good thing?


PS. The 9,000 plus pages of Tolkien’s manuscript could easily have been 25 books rather than 3. Must have been a massive editing job. Wonder what was cut? I cannot imagine writing that many pages and then have it chopped down to maybe less than 20% of what I wrote. I think I would have been cursing the editor. From one write-on-the-fly guy to another –maybe Tolkien should have planned better.

Hey, whad’ya think?

I think of Indie authors as being lonely people. Not that they don’t have friends and family it’s just that most people don’t want to talk to them because all they care about is their silly books. They keep asking have you read my latest book, what did you think about the cover, did you see that review I got….on and on. So people start to avoid them. Wisely so.

But still; have you read my latest book? What did you think of the cover? Yep, I’m an Indie author desperate for information. Who are my readers? Are they male, female, under 40 over 60? Which of my books have the most appeal, why? What should a good cover look like. What are readers willing to pay for an e-book, how much does it matter? Information/data –it drives everything. If you had good data you could make better decisions on marketing, cover design –every aspect of writing books.

I currently have nine books published; it would be great if you could share with me any information you have about my writing. Which of my books have you read? What do you think about the covers? Just anything that might help me understand how other people view what I’m doing–it would be helpful. Or maybe just a comment of books in general, what you like; don’t like? What you’re willing to pay?


Reading for Health?

Reprinted from May Newsletter. Sign up for the newsletter on the web site tedclifton.com.

Most of the male members of my family do not read books. And maybe only about half of the female members read. When I realized this some years ago I was shocked. I’ve always been an avid reader and, since I love living in my bubble, assumed most everyone read a few dozen books a year; but not so. Now to be fair I do have relatives who read—but it’s the exception not the rule. And especially men do not read books; why is that?

I’m sure most of you have heard that there are health benefits to reading books. Here is an excerpt from an article by Andrew Merle for Mission.org which lists these benefits.

Reading has been shown to do all of the following:

Reduce stress levels (by 68 percent!)
Preserve brain health and lower the risk of Alzheimer’s and Dementia
Alleviate anxiety and depression
Help you fall asleep
Increase life expectancy
Boost happiness and overall life satisfaction

Reading accomplishes all of this by activating your mind, providing an escape from day-to-day life, and offering refreshed perspective for life’s challenges.

Some of my more obtuse relatives might say that they can get most of that from watching TV—most particularly the help you fall asleep part. But research contradicts that. Apparently reading has a unique effect on the brain and it’s hard to find other activities that provide this level of benefit.

Of course I write books so maybe I just want people to read so they will buy my books—the answer to that is; yes. But even if I didn’t, there sure seems to be some major potential benefits to reading and if you’re lucky you might even enjoy the story. So why don’t people read?

Maybe it’s just the effort required. Reading is not a passive activity. Now it’s also not an exhausting activity– like riding a bike; so when I say not passive, it is that it takes thought and thought is not passive. Some of my books may have two or three plot lines with twenty or more characters—you have to pay attention to follow the story. That is the joy of a mystery—all of the characters, clues and suspects coming together for that surprise ending—the one you knew all along. That is fun and enjoyable but it does take effort.

So now we have the answer. Non-readers are lazy. Well this certainly fits several of my relatives; but I don’t think that is all. I think for many it is that they never enjoyed reading. They didn’t read books growing up. Books that they treasured and read many times. I haven’t tested this but I have the feeling that many non-readers just didn’t read books as a kid–they didn’t form that habit of reading. Sure mom or dad read books to them on occasion; but as they got older they did not graduate to reading on their own. They didn’t read the Boxcar Children’s books, they didn’t read The Hardy Boys, nor Tom Sawyer nor The Three Musketeers. Or even maybe they didn’t love comic books—I know I did. Some of my favorite kid memories involved reading Classic Illustrated comic books—okay I’m weird. They also didn’t read those wonderful books as a young adult Catcher in the Rye, Sherlock Holmes, Treasure Island, Lord of the Flies, and more and more and more.

So now they don’t read because they really never did. They never felt that wonderful joy and comfort of your favorite book waiting for you when you got home from school. Books were all about school, not fun or enjoyment, just work.

The sad part of this story is that all of those people who don’t read are not teaching their children to read. A big event will be a movie costing $60 for a family that last two or so hours. The movies are so aggressive it makes us even more mentally passive. An e-book today is dirt cheap and will last many more hours than a movie and could last a lifetime. I know the joy of reading can last a lifetime and bring tremendous benefits.

So my final thought is that you should give someone you care about a book. It is good for their health and very cheap. Did I mention that I sell books?

Thanks everyone for being a reader!