Archive | January, 2012

Loose Ends

31 Jan

1. Susan Schnelbach has created a great blog for readers and writers alike. I was lucky enough to be the subject of an author interview. Head on over to The Tameri Blog and give it a read.

2. My head is spinning from the rave reviews on Amazon for The Stand In.  (I swear my mother had nothing to do with them.) Seriously, I’m so grateful for readers, and reader who review. Thank you.

3. Kobo and Sony eReaders, fear not. You’ve been so patient. BookBaby has assured me that The Stand In will be available in both of these formats soon. No exact dates, but it will happen.

4. And finally, my former German publisher is reading The Stand In, considering publishing. My earlier books were translated into 23 languages.  Cross your fingers and stay tuned!

Best,
Brad

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Hall Monitors of the Internet

29 Jan

I remember a girl from grade school whose name was Vickie, and she came to class every day looking as though she were going to church – her hair was perfectly curled, she wore scuff-free Buster Browns, and her skirts stuck straight out from her sides, held stiff by several rustling petticoats (it was the 50s, after all).  She didn’t own a lunch box, as most of us did, but carried her lunch in a neat little satchel purse that matched her perfectly-polished shoes.  In other words, her mother had literally dressed Vickie as a living doll.  The trouble was that Vickie towered over all the boys and possessed the general build of a linebacker.

Perhaps this dichotomy of style and physique is what turned her vicious, for Vickie was a depressingly enthusiastic tattler and blamer.  The moment one of us in the classroom committed an infraction – passing a note, whispering to our “neighbor”, reading a smuggled-in magazine instead of our text – Vickie’s hand shot up to inform the teacher of our trespasses.  Instead of minding her own business, Vickie was constantly monitoring ours – and woe betide any child found lacking in her own strict code of moral behavior.  Every one of us in that classroom knew, resentfully and with absolutely certainty, that Vickie’s eye was on the sparrow.

I remember the sheer glee that lighted her face when she caught me peeking at my neighbor’s paper during a math test.  (Math was like Urdu to me and I was more to be pitied than censored.)  I silently pleaded with her to ignore it, the blood draining from my head as I saw a demonic light come into her eyes.  She had me in her sights and wasn’t about to let me go.  As though moving in slow motion Vickie turned in her seat and the dreaded hand reached upward.  Vickie was responsible for sending me to the Principal’s Office that day, where I had to inhale stale cigarette smoke and endure a lecture on honesty.  Because she was a girl, I couldn’t take her out by the baseball diamond and beat the shit out of her, as she deserved, and I’ve nursed a burning, bitter enmity toward her ever since.  (I’m 61 now and subscribe to Robert Kennedy’s dictum – if you’ve got to hate, hate BIG.)

Inevitably she was elected Hall Monitor by the class, if only to get her out of the classroom for an hour or so and off the playground.  I think even our teacher was relieved to see her go, for she had taken to answering Vickie’s omnipresent raised hand with a resigned and somewhat dolorous, “What is it this time, Vickie…?”

To this day, I cannot understand Vickie’s wretched zeal to correct the transgressions of her fellows.  Mine is a much more laissez-faire attitude; if someone is sinning, it just isn’t interesting enough for me to do anything about it  unless that sin directly affects my own well-being.  The wagging forefinger is about the most nauseating gesture there is, as far as I’m concerned, much worse than the third finger held aloft.  I simply am left amazed that anyone would presume – or have the time –  to sit in judgment over other people, much less glory in it.  What do you get?  What do you win?  Isn’t there something better to do with your time?  I’m pretty certain that the same impulse to correct and amend other’s behavior gave birth to the Third Reich – scratch a hall monitor and you’ll find a fascist, I say, anxious to blame and punish.

I’m sure you’ve met Vickie sometime in your life.  After all, she was in all our classes and, later, our offices.  The toady, the prig, Little Mr. or Miss Perfect – s/he goes by many names.  Over the years I’ve often wondered whatever happened to Vickie.   And then, just the other day, I found out:

She’s on the Internet.

As most of you reading this blog are aware, I’ve written a new novel called The Stand In and have chosen to go the self-publishing route.  Most of the effort at this point goes into making others aware that my book exists.  To that end, I went to a Kindle fan site, since Kindle is where most of my sales are generated, and posted a small blurb about my book.  (No more than two lines, really.  Maybe three.  Okay, four.)  Well, it turns out that the Kindle site I had happened upon was not about books, per se, but about how to operate the Kindle.  (Incidentally – just a random observation here – the people who had posted on it seemed to all possess “Harry Potter” nicknames – not that there’s anything wrong with that).  But they had no wish to talk about books at all, but merely the Muggle apparatus that displayed them.

Well, in about an hour I checked back and only then discovered my mistake.  Instantly I took the comment down and posted it in its proper venue.  But it was too late.

Vickie had caught me.

The next morning my email box was flooded with emails from her and her minions (who are legion, it turns out) chastising me for my grievous mistake.  Some merely were content to point out my error – “No self -promotion on this site!” – while others descended into old-fashioned abuse – “Can’t you read, idiot?”  The rest of the Vickies assured me in the sternest of possible voices that they would never – never! – read my novel, no matter how entertaining it was!

I was a bit shaken.   It wasn’t so much the loss of dividend I mourned (I figured that with Amazon’s cut factored in, I was out about $2.50), but I was trying to think – why are they so upset?  Then it came to me, with flashes of Vickie’s hand going up, reawakening what I thought were long-dead memories:   I had been BAD.

Somehow I had utterly shaken their universe, just as I had Vickie’s so many years ago, and I was to be roundly excoriated for it.

Always one to take on any guilt, I decided that perhaps I really had done wrong to them, that somehow I had inadvertently infringed on their need to express something profound with my cheap shot at promoting my novel.  So I went to their own websites and Facebook pages and Comment Threads to see what grand thoughts they were thinking.  There I found posts such as “OMG – like I am so totally on board (sic) with that!” and “LOL!  I hear you!” and “Awesome, dude!”…well, you get the picture.  (My alternate title to this blog was “Making the World Safe for OMG”.)

Don’t you just love these people?  Can’t you just picture them sitting at their computer, absolutely poised to pounce on every imperfect act, every sin, every flouted Internet law?  (And, silly me, I thought the Internet’s power lay in the fact that it had no laws!)  Yet thank God that those people are there – but for them, I’d never know what a truly horrible person I am.  Or so quickly.

So, after much rumination, I’ve decided to respond with this blogging equivalent of an upraised middle finger (the same one I raised to Vickie all those years ago – after school).  To Sherry, Fred, Gillian, and all the other Vickies out there – I can absolutely assure you that if you didn’t like what I did before, you’re really not going to like what I’m doing next.

Finally, my question is this – and I’m throwing this out to my readers – am I the only one to have noticed and suffered the wrath of these self-appointed Internet gatekeepers?

Write to me and let me know.  Perhaps we can foment a small revolution of our own.

A Little Crowing for My Latest Novel

26 Jan

A review posted tonight for The Stand In on Amazon… “Nothing like reading a book & enjoying the excitement of not wanting to put it down so as to keep lusting for what is going to happen next! Mr. Geagley has a knack for setting you right in the midst of this Hollywood era when the words “who done it?” was a bitter reality for those caught up in the outrageous lifestyles of the rich & famous. Notoriety, money, greed…. What a combo! I was able to visualize his characters so vividly which adds that edginess of prejudicial suspicion! Didn’t think I would enjoy a “modern day” read from this Author since his expertise seemed to be prominently in Egyptian History. Surprise, surprise!”

Thank you for indulging me. 

Five Essential Steps to Beginning Your Novel

24 Jan

Ah, that most terrifying of all things in nature – the blank page.  Contemplating it is like looking at the vast and empty universe from Mt. Palomar.  It is Sisyphus’ stone, hell’s bottomless pit, the dank moat in front of the castle – and your dwelling place for the next year or so.  In this edition of my blog, I’ve composed a few suggestions that will help you start writing your novel, and the first thing you must know is that all success lies in preparation.  As the adage goes, if you want a good ending, make a good beginning.  This includes your novel’s original concept.  Obviously you’ve been telling yourself the story of your novel in your mind for some time.  It’s nagged at, thrilled and inspired you.  You’ve thought about it in the shower.  Perhaps you’ve dreamed about it.  You might even have written a page or two just to get the juices flowing.

Stop!  Write no further.  There may be some steps that you’re forgetting.

1.     Ask yourself whether or not your idea is original (enough)?  Do your homework.  Check out the competition.  Find out if there are already other books in the marketplace that echo, resemble, mirror, or baldly resemble yours.  If there are, determine whether or not yours is sufficiently original to set it apart from the rest.  If not, go back and make sure that it is.  You might even want to read those other books, just to make sure you don’t trespass too far on their territory.  Find out which of their ideas work – for as Chekhov said, “Great artists don’t plagiarize – they steal!”  (In other words, repurpose and rewrite those ideas that you admire, but use your own voice; don’t slavishly copy them, particularly to the point where they will be recognized.)  Find out, too, which ideas do not work in those other books – repudiate clumsiness and banality.  Embrace sublimity.  Don’t be intimidated by either.  Yet, don’t be too original, either.  Originality, something that has never been seen before, seems to scare and intimidate editors because they won’t know how to sell it.  If your book comfortably fits into an established genre, all the better.  If not, make sure it points to one.  (I’m speaking to the ordinary working writer here and not to writing prodigies who write literature; I’ve nothing to tell the latter, and rarely read them anyway.)

2.     Identify your audience.  If you are working in a genre, as I work in the mystery/thriller/historical fields, find out your readers’ median age and make sure you can reach them through your prose.  For instance, mystery novels are usually read by people over fifty years of age.  That’s why I could set my latest book, “The Stand In”, in Hollywood of the 1950s.  Most of my readers grew up then and can remember what it was like, and I can therefore refer to people, events, and places that the audience will know and respond to.  If your audience is young adult, you would naturally eschew such details.  But remember, that your first audience is your agent, the second your editor, and finally your readers.  In other words, your idea must have commercial viability.  If you don’t write with an eye toward sales, I can safely predict that yours will be a solitary and lonely career.

3.     Do your research on your subject matter.  If yours is a contemporary or historical work, you must write convincingly about the subject; this is called “verisimilitude”.  If you’re writing about Washington, D.C., for instance, I would recommend that you go there.  There is no substitute for describing the smells of a place until you have smelled them yourself.  What does the sunlight look like?  How does it slant in the summer breezes?  What is the atmosphere like – is it heavy, clean, revitalizing, smothering, what?  If writing about a distant time and place, read the firsthand accounts of people who were there at the time.  When I wrote about ancient Egypt, I made sure to not only read the history of its kings and queens, but also books that included such mundane things as ancient laundry lists.  For instance, I found out what the Egyptians called their underwear.  (It was “underwear”.)  There is no substitute for this kind of research.  Make notes.  Pull historical incidents out that will make great action sequences.  But then do this, too – don’t make your prose sound like you had a thousand note cards at your disposal.  Remember that you are writing fiction – you don’t have to be so accurate that you lose the thread of your story.  Verisimilitude means the “appearance of truth”, and not the truth itself.

4.     Outline, outline, outline.  Nothing, at least for me, is so important as this step.  Though there are some writers who can mentally keep track of their prose, their characters, their subplots, etc., and who compose their novels merely by writing them from page one to the end, I cannot.  In a mystery or thriller, which is heavily dependent on plot and the logical (and sometimes duplicitous) revelation of clues and events, an outline is especially needed.  Now, it need not be anything more than a simple step outline in which a single sentence may describe an entire chapter.  But I don’t work that way – my outlines contain everything I can think about in regard to a particular scene or chapter, from bits of dialog, to its mood, to character descriptions – anything I can dredge up at that moment when committing it to paper.  I shake the scene like a dog shakes a toy.  I chew on it.  I rearrange it.  I put down those ideas that I may not even use.  What I don’t do is worry about word choices or making it into art.  That’s for later.  Some people worry that this approach will actually constrain their final work.  But I always allow myself to diverge many times from my outline, for writing the final prose brings discoveries of its own.  You can go into places that the outline had not foreseen.  I can guarantee, however, that you will finally come to the point where you lose the thread of your original story, or have painted yourself into the proverbial corner.  That is when the value of your detailed outline will become apparent.  All you have to do is go back, find your place, and go on from there (with a few little adjustments).  If you didn’t have that outline, onerous and frustrating as the work usually is, you’d be lost.  All my unfinished pieces remained unfinished because I did not complete it.  As a result, my novel’s internal structure simply collapsed on itself.  I had been so excited that I started work too early.  DON’T DO IT!  Plan, prepare, and lay the foundation for a complete work before you write even one word.

5.     So you’ve identified your competition, found your audience, did your research and composed your outline.  The next will be your simplest step, but also the hardest.  Here it is:  Go into your office.  Plant your butt in your chair.  Raise your hands to the keyboard – and start.

In conclusion, there is one thing I can promise you – if you have accomplished the four previous steps the vast wasteland of that first blank page will not seem nearly so intimidating.  The only words I have left to say are…good luck, and please keep me posted on your progress.

Bette Davis was Right, “Old Age Isn’t for Sissies”, Deal with It

17 Jan

I Remember Nothing is Nora Ephron’s latest collection of essays.  I like Nora’s writings better than her movies, because she instinctively brings up the very same things I’ve been wondering about and then proceeds to give her riff on the subjects at hand.  In I Remember Nothing, she is mainly wondering about getting old.

I’ve been wondering about that a lot lately, too.

For those of you who read my blogs, you’ve learned that I just turned 61.  This is a fact that gives me considerable pause.  How did I ever get this old?  What happened to my forties – hell, what happened to my fifties?   They seem to have dropped effortlessly into the great oozy haze of my past, from which I can extract individual memories but to which I can no longer assign an exact time frame.  Everything seems to have happened yesterday, or the day before.  Or maybe earlier this morning.  Sometimes when I’m writing a check I will fill in the day and month correctly, but in the space for the year I’ll write 1987.

Really?  Is that the year where I’ve been marooned for the last two-and-a-half decades?  It seems about right.  I think that’s just about the time when I hit that oil slick and have been sliding giddily toward death ever since.

But here’s the funny thing – I don’t feel old at all.  In fact, I’ve never been more in touch with my younger self than I am now.  It’s weird.

Let me try to explain.  Yes, I certainly feel the effects of aging on my physical self.  I have attacks of psoriatic arthritis mainly in my feet, and sometimes my left knee, that are true miseries in their own right.  When they occur, I hobble about like Walter Brennan playing Grandpappy Amos in “The Real McCoys” (other 61-year olds will understand that reference; anyone younger – forget it).

Everyone has told you all along how miserable aging can be, that your body and mind become frailer and that the old coot looking back at you from the mirror is actually – gasp! – you.   Or that the youngest person in your life has just turned 44, and you begin to mentally calculate that if s/he is that old, then that makes you – Oh, my God!  I do remember one thing from my fifties – I was able to tell people my true age and everybody would rush in to compliment me on how young and fresh I seemed, and how no one would ever guess – !  Now when I tell someone my true age all you can hear is the crickets. (In tepid response, I have banned flash photography from my life – the cruelest reminder of your age that has ever been invented.)

“Old age isn’t for sissies!” Bette Davis used to proclaim in interviews, and that’s certainly true.

But no one tells you how fun it can be.  Things that bothered you for years don’t bother you anymore.  You are finally out of that dog-eat-dog competition that passes for youth; and it’s not that you can’t compete anymore, it’s that you don’t care to.  The only thing with whom you’re competing is yourself and your own expectations.  The great job, the great house, the great car, the great restaurants are nice to have but not if it means that you’re working only to pay for them.  Who owns who at that point?  Somehow, by 60, you internalize all this.

I used to always accept invitations to parties because I actively feared that if I turned it down I’d never be asked back.  Now I’ve learned that wherever I am is where the party is.  I don’t have to be surrounded by merriment to be merry.  And people ask me back because they genuinely like to have me around.  (Of course, there are some people that have, regrettably, banned me irreversibly from their lives because something in my character genuinely irritates or intimidates them; well, my response to that is – tough titties.  I’m not going to put on a disguise anymore just so you’ll like me better.)

Simply, I don’t have the energy anymore to be something I’m not.  And that’s the most fun thing about aging that no one ever tells you about.  You don’t go around like a whirling dervish anymore, trying on this mood, playing with that attitude, taking up this belief, or assuming that pose.   You think instead – and truly believe it – that this is who I am. This is what 61 looks like.

Note to the rest of the world:  Deal with it.

All of this, of course, is manna for a writer.  Being 61 actually means that I have real human truths and emotions to write about, things that happened to me personally, incidents and observations that I can exploit in a myriad of ways.  I don’t have to experience things second hand in books or films anymore.  I have sinned, I have raged, I have triumphed, I have shone, I have succeeded, and I have failed – and it’s all grist for my personal mill.  I’ve become my own emotional and experiential Wikipedia and my writing only grows better because of it.

Pearl Buck believed that a writer had to be at least 30 before they had anything serious to say.  For me, I was in my 50s, but I’m a slow learner.  Maybe you’re 30 and have learned all you need to learn to become a great writer; and I say unto you – mazel tov!  But for those of you, like me, who clung to every belief that was forced on you until you had to shed it almost by force, here’s the good news:  By 60, nature does it all for you.

And the best thing of all…?  I can write what I want to write.  When I worked at That Entertainment Company for many years, I was forced to write for their characters, all the while making sure that nothing new (or interesting) was ever done to them.  It was exhausting.  Writing is hard enough to do when you actually like what you’re doing, but not when you despise it.  At 61, I’ve earned the right to tell my own stories and every day is like a gift given.  I can make what I want to out of it.  (Believe me, that was certainly not true when I was young.  Youth may be wasted on the young, as George Bernard Shaw said, but I’m damned well not going to waste my old age, too.)

I have to end this with an absolutely true story.  When I attended my first mystery writers conference in Toronto, I knew I had found the right place for me to be at that time in my life.  Know why?  Because the author who won “Best First Novel” at the conference used a walker to go claim his trophy.

Isn’t that great?

 

Kindle Mystery Authors, In the Spotlight; Brad Geagley

16 Jan

Forget the Golden Globes! I’m in the spotlight today! Head on over to the Kindle Mystery Author’s site and read a whole new excerpt from my new mystery, The Stand In.

Would you mind answering a quick question?

12 Jan

No sign up, no email required. Just a quick click to help an author out. I want to understand my readers, especially my friend on Kindle, eBooks or iPad. 

My First Interview for, The Stand In

11 Jan

Head on over to Curling Up By the Fire, one of the best book sites around in this author’s opinion for my author interview with Stephanie.

Read a Chapter from My Newest Mystery, The Stand In

10 Jan

I’ve posted a chapter from my newest mystery, The Stand In here. I’d be thrilled if you would read it. And unlike other authors, I love feedback and it doesn’t all have to be five star.

Although, that’s wonderful.

More Books I Adore! Shirley Jackson’s, The Sundial

7 Jan

It is my policy to comment only on those books that I can enthuse about.  I dislike those who snipe at and savage a literary work; I’ve found that many times it is my own transitory mood or temperament that affects my reaction.  As Andre Gide wrote in “The Counterfeiters”, “My evening’s self would not recognize my morning’s self” and I distrust first impressions.  If I like a book, I must read it many times in order to evaluate it properly and discover just exactly why I liked it in the first place.  If I dislike it, it has already taken up too much of my time –why bother, then, to take up more time to review it?  What I strive to do with my reviews is to introduce works to other readers that have both changed the way I write, and have given me some true enjoyment.  Such a work is Shirley Jackson’s, “The Sundial”.

Like many of her works, one of the main characters in the novel is the House wherein the action takes place.  In “The Sundial” it is the Halloran mansion, a massively ornate house of perfect symmetry.  The only blot on its mad balance is the sundial itself – disjointedly out of place, an eyesore, engraved with a quote from Chaucer, “What is this world…?”

The characters, all of whom are distinctly nasty and small-minded, are the world in miniature.  And it is not pretty.  Soon after the beginning of the book, one of the characters – a neurotic spinster named Aunt Fanny, daughter of the man who built the house – suffers a dubious visitation from the ghost of her father.  He tells her that the world will be ending soon and that all who stay in the house will be safe.  The idea is as crazy as Aunt Fanny.  Imagine telling the story of Noah’s Ark and dwelling not on salvation, but upon the petty fights for predominance in the world to come among Noah’s sons and their wives.  “The Sundial” has an extremely nasty view of humanity, but it is also screamingly funny, with some of the best dialog ever created for a novel.

At the end, we are left wondering – for as the last day approaches, clouds and high winds indeed grip the house and unnatural darkness reigns.  Are we supposed to think that this is really a novel of the Apocalypse, or merely a case of mass hysteria produced by a handful of weak and self-centered misfits?  Shirley Jackson never answers.

It is interesting to know that Ms. Jackson herself suffered from a form of agoraphobia during the time she was writing this novel.  Some critics have seen it as an explanation about why she retreated from humanity – that she saw her neighbors as petty place seekers and bigots and simply wanted to be away from them.  Perhaps.  It might also portray the mind of the agoraphobic herself – that the more self-centered and narcissistic one becomes by retreating from the world, the more mean and petty are the slights and hurts that one imagines.  Who knows?

I’m probably making “The Sundial” sound like a chore to read.  Please believe me when I say that it’s not; it’s pure delight.  Just know that there are no conventional heroes in this book, and that it ends – as in Eliot’s poem – not with a bang, but with a whimper.  If you can get past this, there are riches galore to discover in it.  Just don’t expect to have a higher faith in humanity after you are done.

One of Shirley Jackson’s final stories (she died in her sleep at 48 years of age), is called “The Possibility of Evil.”  An elderly lady in a small town terrorizes the residents into submission by sending small anonymous notes to various people she considers guilty of adultery or dishonesty or secret alcoholism.  That is how I like to think of Shirley Jackson – sending out her novels and short stories, alerting us to the possibility of evil inherent in all of humanity, including ourselves.

For more of my reviews, friend me on Goodreads and Facebook (easy links are to your right) and be sure to download my new book, The Stand In. I cannot wait to hear your review.

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