Favorite Novels

book cover to kill a mockingbirdWhat is at the top of your list of favorite novels? You know the one you have read so many times you’ve nearly lost count. A truly great novel is like a great love affair, the experience of reading it can be that intense. The bond of affection you feel for your favorite novel is timeless, it’s impossible to erase. Such a novel can be literally life-changing and becomes forever a part of you. I’ll tell you mine and how it was life changing for me and how that i still relevant today many years after I first read it. I hope you will tell me about yours.

Last year I saw the Denzel Washington film, The Equalizer. If you’ve not seen it the film is about a man who believes he has put his mysterious past behind him and has dedicated himself to beginning a new, quiet life. But then he meets a young girl under the control of some violent Russian gangsters and he decides he can’t stand idly by, that he has to help her. I thought it was a very good and entertaining movie throughout but there was a minor side-story in the film I found intriguing.

Robert McCall, Washington’s character, was always reading a book in the opening scenes of the movie. It was revealed after a time that his wife had been reading the books on a list of the 100 best novels of all time but she had died before finishing the list. As a tribute to his late wife, McCall was finishing the list for her by reading the remaining books.

The idea of reading the 100 best novels of all time really captured my interest and so I searched the Internet for a top 100 novels list. I discovered that there are actually many such lists, but I settled on one of them and beginning this past January I started reading the books on my list.

Having been an avid reader since childhood, not surprisingly I had previously read many of the books on the list at one time or another during my life. But when I decided to commit to reading the books on my top 100 list I decided that I’d read them all, including reading again those I’d read before. At the moment I am reading To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. It’s been one of my personal favorites for a very long time now. This is actually the fifth time I’ve read the novel. I believe I was around 12-years-old when I read it for the first time.

To Kill a Mockingbird is primarily a novel about growing up in the 1930s in the Southern United States. One of the things that makes the story so brilliant is that it is told from a child’s point-of-view, that of Scout Finch, a tomboy who lives with her brother Jem and their father Atticus in the fictitious town of Maycomb, Alabama. The book covers a span of three years when Scout is aged 6 to 9.

Telling the story through Scout’s eyes, an innocent little girl, Harper Lee is able to discuss sensitive issues like the manner in which people of color were treated by whites in the Deep South during that time period in American history when racism was sadly so commonplace. As a child, Scout was able to make observations about racial slurs and racial discrimination that an adult would avoid or sugarcoat in the interest of political correctness since readers would be likely to be forgiving of a child’s perception whereas they might find it offensive for an adult to make the same observations.

Central to the book was the story of the character Tom Robinson, a black man arrested and tried for the rape of a white woman, a crime that he not only did not commit but that never even actually happened. Tom was vigorously defended by Scout’s father Atticus and even though Atticus proved Tom’s innocence at trial, the all-white jury convicted him nevertheless because he was black. That part of the book, the outcome of the trial, the fact that an innocent man was convicted of a serious crime simply because of the color of his skin made me angry even as young boy. That explains to a large degree why To Kill a Mockingbird for me was one of those truly life changing books. I came away from the reading of that book determined that I’d never treat a person of color any differently than anyone else.

Frankly, I’m not even sure I really understood what racism was at the time I first read that book. But reading it certainly made me aware of how wrong it was to use racial slurs or to discriminate against someone on the basis of race or skin color. One point that was forever driven home to me as a 12-year-old boy was that racism is produced by ignorance, only ignorant people are racists.

Reading the book To Kill a Mockingbird was not only a very formative experience for me but instructive as well given the era I grew up it. Segregation was still in effect in the public schools when I attended primary school. Whites and blacks attended separate schools. I remember watching the civil rights marches on the news on a black and white television set and saw on television Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. deliver his “I Have a Dream” speech. The first civil rights act was passed when I was aged 8. I personally witnessed racism and discrimination and know what it looks like and that it is ugly beyond tolerance.

It seems ironic that I’m reading To Kill a Mockingbird once again at a time in this country when racial unrest between blacks and whites is perhaps the worst it has been in more than 50 years. In April 2015, violent protests erupted in Baltimore, Maryland following the death of a black man at the hands of Baltimore police. Riots that included the burning and looting of businesses on a scale that hadn’t been seen since the Los Angles Watts Riots in 1968 ensued.

More recently, racial animosity between blacks and whites reached a whole new level less than two weeks ago when Dylann Storm Roof, a mentally troubled and hate-filled 21-year-old white male, entered Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina and murdered nine innocent African-American men and women attending a Bible study. The firestorm of controversy that has erupted as a result has re-opened old wounds dating back to slavery and the American Civil War which ended 150 years ago. The United States is being portrayed throughout the world as a country mired in racism and racial unrest.

The election of Barack Obama in 2008 as the 44th President of the United States was hailed as a water-shed moment for this country. As the first African-American to be elected to the nation’s highest office, many Americans as well as those of other countries regarded his election as the end of the shameful legacy of racism in America. Distressingly, race relations between blacks and whites in the United States rather than improving have steadily worsened during Barack Obama’s presidency.

Uniquely qualified and positioned at a time in history when he might have “bound the nation’s wounds” in a manner not seen since Abraham Lincoln’s presidency, President Obama has shown himself unequal to the task. Rather than the unity he promised while campaigning in 2008, it can be argued that the unwise actions of the president himself have encouraged the resurgence of racial divisiveness in America.

In addition to the leadership failures at the highest level of the federal government, the inconvenient truth is that there are still far too many people in this country, both white and black, who are intent on keeping racism alive to serve their own personal interests and agendas. Those most prominently featured in the news continuously lamenting racism and telling us all what a huge problem it still is, for the most part have earned their very livelihood off continually raising the specter of racism their entire lives, finding evidence of it around every corner and behind every bush. Without racism they would not only lose all relevancy but their powerful positions and paychecks. They can’t afford to let racism die and so continually administer CPR to the patient to keep it alive.

The horrific, mind-numbing violence visited upon those innocent people in Charleston, South Carolina should never have happened and is condemned by every decent American regardless of race. The institution of slavery that existed in the United States for more than 80 years is the most shameful period in the history of a country founded upon the very words “All men are created equal.” Thankfully that ended 152 years ago with Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. Today in 2015, there remains alive no one who gave the offense of slavery and no one remains alive who was offended. Yet the historical existence of slavery remains for some a ready torch to illuminate the specter of racism and to kindle the fires of racial strife.

I find the current events reported in the media today just as illustrative as I found reading To Kill a Mockingbird for the first time. There still remains far too much ignorance in the United States, first on the part of history revisionists who loudly proclaim their ignorance of American history by shrill insistence that the sole cause of the Civil War was the desire on the part of Southern states to retain the institution of slavery when slavery was nothing more than a peripheral causative factor. Then we have the ignorance on the part of professional race-baiters who out of greed for fame, the trappings of power, and filling their own pockets with cash refuse to allow racism to die.

To paraphrase the words of Christ in Matthew 26 when he spoke of the poor, sadly it seems the ignorant we will always have with us too. But having been born and having lived during the era of segregation and open racial discrimination against black people, I have not only personally witnessed the ugliness of racism and inequity of discrimination, I have also witnessed the decline of racism and steady improvement in race relations throughout my lifetime. That is the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the achievements of the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1968. Those telling Americans today, including the mainstream media that racism remains a huge issue in this country are quite plainly ignorant or intentionally pursuing some evil agenda.

Thankfully the vast majority of Americans of every race, color, and creed, are too decent, informed, and educated to believe that a person’s worth is to be judged by the color of his or her skin. The race-baiters and the hate mongers are the minority and I am confident that they will not prevail.

It both incenses me and offends me to hear people portray the United States as a country where rampant racism exists because I assure you it does not. The acts of one deranged, racist individual does not make all of the same race guilty by association.

Admittedly racism is not yet dead in this country but it is definitely on life support, being kept alive by artificial means by the ignorant. In truth, Dr. King’s dream has largely been realized during my lifetime and those who refuse to accept that diminish the legacy of arguably one of the greatest men in the history of this nation. I continue to believe that one day his dream will be fully realized, that one day “all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing the words of the old Negro spiritual, ‘Free at last, Free at last, Great God a-mighty, We are free at last.'”

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A 15-Day Challenge

Do you woman white water kayakingenjoy a challenge? If so you might be interested in reading more about the one I’m working on.

A few weeks ago I learned about Natalie Sisson’s “15-days to Freedom Blog Challenge” and decided to participate. The challenge in no small way was the genesis of this blog. As part of the challenge, participants are required to create a blog and to make every effort to publish a post for fifteen consecutive days.

As Natalie explains it in her own words, “I designed this challenge to get you into the habit of daily blogging while creating more freedom in your life and business through proven strategies and techniques delivered one daily challenge at a time.” (Source: “15 Days to Freedom Blog ChallengeThe Suitcase Entrepreneur. N.p., n.d. Web.)

I actually learned about Natalie Sisson and her 15-day challenge from reading a post at the blog of a former participant who shared how much he had gotten out of completing the challenge. His words really resonated with me because I immediately could see how what he had learned from the challenge experience could readily be applied to my own aspirations as a novelist.

Frankly, in only the first eight days of the challenge I have already found the experience to be even more eye-opening and instructive than I even imagined. Natalie is an amazing entrepreneurial coach and a great motivator. She simply has heaps of great tips and strategies that I’ve already found to be very useful and valuable to implement.

While I haven’t been entirely successful with respect to publishing a new post every single day during the challenge, I have completed all the other daily assignments each day and that is really the part of it all that I have personally found most beneficial and valuable. Make no mistake. There is a lot more to Natalie’s challenge than just writing some blog posts. In my view the blogging part of it is to help you think about and focus on all the other valuable things you are learning along the way.

The assignment for today (Day 8) was to think of three major goals that I want to achieve over the next 12 months and to annotate them on a calendar. The goals could be personal, business-focused, or a combination of both. Here are the goals I decided to set:

  1. In August of this year I’m taking a 3-week holiday to spend time with my partner in New Zealand.
  2. In October of this year I am going to publish the debut novel in my new detective fiction series.
  3. In April 2016, I am going to finish writing and will publish the second novel in my new detective fiction series.

The first goal makes pretty clear where my priorities lie. My partner lives in New Zealand and I live in the U.S. While we communicate almost constantly via text and phone, it’s been almost five months since we were able to actually spend time together. While we have both learned that being in a relationship with someone literally on the other side of the world is not easy, we’ve made it work. But we both want to remove the distance from the equation as soon as possible and hopefully that will happen before the end of the year.

In the meantime, while she has been so wonderful and patient we are both craving some face to face time together. So, I’m taking time in August to make that happen. My writing is important to me of course, but my partner and our relationship is and will always be my number 1 priority.

The remaining two goals I came up with are focused on my writing but actually it is fair to say that they too are in a real sense related to my relationship goals as well. While my partner is keen to relocate here and to experience life in the U.S. I don’t for a moment expect her to permanently give up her own country, her friends, and seeing her family at home on a regular basis. So the plan is that we will split time living together here and in New Zealand.

While I write simply because I enjoy it and love telling stories that others find interesting and entertaining, I would also in the future very much like to succeed as an author in a financial sense. This would give me the freedom to travel whenever I wish and the financial resources to realize the dream of spending a part of each year in New Zealand with my partner.

After writing and publishing the first two books in the new series I have planned, I think I’ll have a good sense about whether I can grow an audience large enough to make writing a realistic means of earning a living.

No matter what you do for a living, if you haven’t heard of Natalie Sisson before reading this post, I urge you to visit her blog and learn more about her “15-days to Freedom Blog Challenge.” Beyond working through the daily challenges myself I also get to read about the experiences of others who are completing the challenge while I’m doing it. I can honestly say that I’m not the only one who is really benefiting from participating in it by picking up heaps of useful strategies and tips that aren’t just applicable to business success but to a living and enjoying life to the fullest on a personal level as well. Participating in the challenge is completely free. All you have to do is register.

On Book Pricing

Image of a kindle readerAssume that you are considering purchasing a novel in a genre you already really like but written by a new author you’ve never read. How much of a factor in your final decision would the cover price be?

Frankly one thing I dislike about self-publishing is having to set the cover prices of my books. For my upcoming detective novel, Come What May, I had to face that earlier than with my previous books.

For the first time ever I have made a book available for preorders. My primary book distributor recommended it and sold me on the idea on the basis that preorders enable more effective advance book marketing.

The eBook version of Come What May is now available for preorder at Barnes & Noble.com and Kobo. It will also be available for preorder at Apple iBooks. Because the time frame for preorders differs at Amazon from the other outlets mentioned, it will likely be sometime in July before the book can be preordered there.

For the curious, you can see the listing for Come What May at Barnes & Noble here and at Kobo here.

If you have read this far and have assumed this post is going to be a pitch for you to preorder my book, you can relax now. I only mentioned the book being available for preorder as an introduction to the topic I actually want to discuss today, pricing an eBook. Who knows? You might find it interesting.

Setting the cover price for a book isn’t as simple or straightforward a decision as someone might assume who has never self-published a book. It’s isn’t just about price but value, two very different things. A great many books have been written on how to price an eBook. In fact if you Google a phrase like “how to price your eBook novel” the search will return about 192 million results.

Authors have different goals when they set out to write and publish a book. For the purposes of this post I’ll focus on just the two most common goals:

  1. To maximize income from book sales.
  2. To maximize the number of people who read the book.

Candidly, writing is one of those things I’d do whether I ever made any money from it or not. While I like money as much as the next person and making a little extra is always quite nice, I don’t for example depend on book royalties to put a roof over my head or food on the table. Suffice to say that earning royalties from book sales, while of course always welcome, is not my primary objective.

I’m definitely in the “to maximize the number of people who read the book” camp as far as my primary goal for this book. An author’s goal behind writing and publishing a book is one of the factors to be considered in pricing the book. Someone who hopes to derive substantial income from book sales, all other things being equal, is going to set a higher price for a book than someone like me who is seeking to build an audience, not just for this book but the ones that will come after since Come What May is the debut novel in a new series I have planned.

A self-published author can conceivably set a price for his or her eBook at anywhere between zero and infinity. I’ve seen eBooks with cover prices set as low as ninety-nine cents and as high as $75. Truthfully, I’ve never purchased an eBook with a price at either of those extremes. I suppose the reason is I’ve doubted that a quality book worth reading could be had as less than a dollar and can’t really imagine any eBook being worth $75.

I could of course give my book away for free in the hopes of maximizing the number of people who might download and read it. But setting the price at zero might very well gain fewer readers than putting a price on it which of course wouldn’t satisfy my goal. People in our culture often equate price, at least to some degree, with quality and value. Plenty of people might assume that a book being given away free is probably not very good and not worth their time to read. Many people do in fact consider just about anything offered to them free as having no value at all.

A good illustration of the preceding principle is a joke I heard in a comedy routine once. The comedian said he replaced his old refrigerator with a bigger, newer model. He placed his old refrigerator at the curb with a sign on it that read “working refrigerator free for hauling away.” He said the refrigerator remained at the curb for weeks. No one had shown the slightest interest in it.

The comedian said he wasn’t out to make any money on the old refrigerator, he just wanted to get it hauled away, hopefully by someone who could get some use out of it. So he got an idea. He replaced the original sign with one that read “working refrigerator $50.” He said that he woke up the following morning after changing the sign and looked out. The refrigerator was gone! Someone had stolen it during the night! Evidently someone decided the old refrigerator had some value after all.

I’d actually be perfectly happy to sell copies of my book for ninety-nine cents, if I could feel confident that more people would read it than if I set the price higher. That of course would satisfy my primary goal, maximizing the number of readers. But there is of course no way to predict how many people might buy and read the book if it was priced at ninety-nine cents in comparison to how many might buy and read it if I set the cover price a bit higher. As a first novel or at least in this case my first novel in a new genre, there is no historical pricing point data on which to base a decision about the cover price.

With this first detective/mystery novel I haven’t any reputation or credibility with my target audience. I lack a body of work on which readers might form opinions as to my competency as a writer and my skill as story teller. On the opposite end of the spectrum, consider my favorite crime fiction author. He has written 41 novels and in my opinion they are all uniformly good. He has lots of fans who enjoy reading his novels and his books carry the imprint of a well-known and respected publishing house. I think I paid $10.99 each for the electronic versions of his two most recent books and probably an average of $9.99 per eBook over the years I’ve been reading him. Obviously, I’m not going to command a price like that for my first crime fiction novel or even for the next several books in the series I’m beginning.

I’m sure you’ve noticed that there is a significant difference in the price of a hard cover book and the electronic version of the same book. That’s another factor in setting cover prices. Again using my favorite crime fiction author as an example, I paid $10.99 for the eBook version of his most recent novel but the list price for the hard cover edition on the date the book was released was $28.95. Part of that of course is the difference in production costs. There are substantial costs involved in printing and distributing a hard cover book while the costs involved in producing an electronic book are very modest in comparison. That however is only part of the reason behind the price difference.

If you think about, when you purchase an eBook you aren’t really purchasing a book at all because you never own it. Instead you’re purchasing a license that entitles you to download and read a book. You can sell an actual book or even donate it to the library when you’ve finished reading it. But until relatively recently you couldn’t even loan an eBook to a friend once you finished reading it much less resell one. Even though under some conditions you can loan electronic books to friends today, it still isn’t nearly as straightforward a proposition as simply handing your friend the copy of a book. That is the real reason for the significant price difference between physical books and virtual ones and also a factor is setting the cover price for an eBook.

What really keeps a self-published author up at night is hoping he or she won’t miss hitting the sweet spot when it comes to pricing his or her book. Price it too low and many people will assume it must be awful and not work reading. Most people won’t knowingly pay even a $1 for a book they think is bad. Price it too high and many people will be unwilling to buy and read it because they won’t believe the book has enough value to justify the price. A price that is too high might also price some potential readers out of the market simply because they don’t have unlimited disposable income to spend on books. The elusive best price then lies somewhere in between too low and too high.

As you can see now unless you already knew it before reading this post, setting the cover price for a book isn’t as simple as you might think at first blush. There are a lot of moving parts, a lot of factors to consider. Along with selling a book you also must sell a buyer on the idea the book has a value and a value that is commensurate with the price. When reduced to the lowest common denominator, a book like most everything else consumers buy is really worth what someone is willing to pay for it. That’s the real value of the book from a purely economic perspective.

For any of my readers who may be considering reading Come What May, I do hope you will consider visiting my official author’s website, While there you can opt in to receive my free monthly newsletter by email if you wish. It’s not really a great commitment since if you choose to subscribe to the newsletter but change your mind later you can of course cancel at any time. I mention this because in connection with the release of my book in October, my newsletter subscribers will receive an exclusive special offer to purchase the eBook version of my novel at a price substantially below the cover price. There is also a contest in the works where some subscribers will win the chance to receive the eBook absolutely free.

Testing Your Mental and Physical Endurance

View of the Grand CanyonJust read an interesting article that reported more people were rescued at Grand Canyon National Park in 2014 than in any year since 2001. The Associated Press story reported that a half million dollars was spent on 324 search and rescue operations at Grand Canyon National Park in 2014. According to park officials the huge increase in rescues was due primarily to inexperienced and unprepared hikers attempting hikes that were beyond their physical capabilities.

Backcountry hiking is one of my passions. Technically speaking I’m more of a backpacking enthusiast than a day hiker. The Grand Canyon story interested me for that reason but also because it is one of my most favorite places to hike.

A couple of years ago I spent an entire summer hiking the Grand Canyon and the Kaibab National Forest that surrounds the park. There is so much to love about the Grand Canyon ― the scenery is amazing, the ruggedness and vastness of the canyons just defies human understanding. It’s almost impossible to get your mind around it. The canyons are really to be experienced not simply viewed and hiking is one of the best ways to do that.

It’s easy for me to understand why people get into trouble hiking the Grand Canyon. When you stand on the South Rim near the Bright Angel Trailhead you feel almost irresistibly drawn to start down Bright Angel to the Colorado River a mile below. For some people the allure of the descent simply overcomes common sense and some are prone to overestimate their abilities. Getting down is quite easy. Getting back up, not so much.

The first time I descended Bright Angel Trail and then started hiking back up to the South Rim I quickly realized that hiking the Grand Canyon is very different from most other hiking experiences. Returning to the rim from the bottom tests your physical and mental endurance to the maximum. It is so demanding in fact that even the most experienced and physically fit hikers emerge sore and fatigued. I think backcountry hiking at Grand Canyon is a great way to test your mettle and learn heaps about yourself and what you are capable of achieving.

Another thing that gets people new to the Grand Canyon into trouble is not understanding there are two distinct environments at Grand Canyon. There is the rim environment and the environment at the bottom of the canyon which are radically different. Due to the elevation summers on the rim are typically quite pleasant and mild. Once you descend to the bottom of the canyon however, the environment is more akin to what you would find in Phoenix than say in Flagstaff with regard to temperatures. The heat can be brutal with temperatures that can range from 106-112 F (41-45 C) during the day with overnight lows only falling to around 80 F (27 C).

Here are a few tips I’d offer to anyone planning a Grand Canyon hike:

  • Realistically access your physical and mental abilities. Confidence is great, over-confidence can be deadly.
  • Take the right equipment and wear the right clothing.
  • Know and respect the terrain.
  • Adequate water and food consumption are absolutely vital to safety during any Grand Canyon hike, particularly in summer.
  • Tell people when and where you’re going and when you expect to return.
  • Be safe but above all enjoy yourself.

Have you visited the Grand Canyon? Ever made the trek down Bright Angel, the South Kaibab, Hermit, or the Grandview Trail? If so, I’d love it if you would share your experiences at the Grand Canyon in a comment.

Wanderlust

Map of the worldEver thought about moving to a different country? I’m not speaking of going for a holiday but a permanent relocation, establishing residency abroad.

After leaving the military in my early thirties, by design I chose a profession that was not only something I wanted to do for a living but that I also knew would allow me to retire early with a pension. Twenty years later that became a reality. I relocated to the town where I grew up but hadn’t lived in since I graduated from high school. The first couple of years I stayed busy building the house I now live in, something I’d always wanted to do. After the house was finished I spent some time traveling. On a trip to Europe it first occurred to me that it might really be fun and interesting to try living in a different country. I then started do do some serious research on moving abroad.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my own country and have always taken pride in being an American. I just think it would be very interesting to live in another country and become immersed in another culture. I can’t see a circumstance where I’d ever wish to give up my American citizenship but of course you can become a legal resident of another country without having to do that.

When I first began thinking seriously about moving abroad Belize was the first country I considered and researched. Belize does offer several advantages for the American ex-pat. Except in some of the more exclusive areas, the cost of living is considerably less by U.S. standards. It’s on the Caribbean which means lots of sunshine and beach time. The people are friendly. In addition, since Belize  (formerly British Honduras) is a former British colony, English is the official language which renders it unnecessary to learn a different language.

As I continued researching countries I thought I might like living in, I eventually settled on Ecuador. The weather, the people, access to quality and affordable health care, the stable government, the beautiful scenery, and a low cost of living were the things I found most appealing. It’s a Spanish speaking country but I think learning Spanish would be an enjoyable part of learning about the culture.

There are of course heaps of places in Europe I’d love living but my modest pension wouldn’t be sufficient in any of the places there I find most appealing because the cost of living is actually higher than here in the U.S.

I had gone as far as to start planning a month-long visit to Ecuador to learn more about the country firsthand but just months before I planned to go I met a woman and we began a relationship so my focus sort of shifted away from moving abroad for a time. The relationship didn’t last in the end, although we remain close friends. After we parted I again started thinking about investigating a relocation to Ecuador but as luck would have it, I met my current partner and once again a relationship became my priority.

I’m happy to say that I’m exceedingly confident that this relationship will stand the test of time. Still, my current relationship doesn’t mean I will have to suppress my wanderlust. My partner lives in New Zealand at the moment although we are making plans for her to relocate here. That is her preference because she is quite keen to try living here in America. I expect however that as time goes by we will likely split time between the U.S. and New Zealand which is great as far as I’m concerned because New Zealand is such a beautiful country filled with some of the most gracious and friendly people I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet.

My partner also loves to travel as much as I do. We already have a rough outline of places we want to visit together in the near future. Our last holiday was spent in Hawaii and she has already proven herself a fabulously fun travel partner. I know we will have fun wherever we end up.

How about you? Ever had the urge to move abroad? Or perhaps you have already done it. In either case, I’d love to hear about it and hope you will share you thoughts about living abroad in a comment.

My Approach to Writing a Detective Novel

Image of Raymond Chandler
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Most contemporary authors I expect are influenced by writers of the past. Without a doubt, the author I have been most influenced by is the legendary crime novelist Raymond Chandler (1888-1959), known for his influential detective novels like The Big Sleep and The Long Goodbye.

Chandler didn’t invent the detective novel but arguably he certainly transformed hard-boiled detective fiction. Even though he wrote only seven novels in his lifetime, Chandler is perhaps second only to Dashiell Hammett as the most important writer in the genre. I think a 1945 article published in The Atlantic magazine says it best. “To the writing of his detective stories Raymond Chandler brings the experience and the skepticism of a newspaper reporter, the narrative gifts of a born storyteller, and a mastery of pungent American dialogue.”

To influence means to have an important effect on someone or something. If someone influences someone else, they are changing a person or thing in an indirect but important way. That is what I speak of when I say that Chandler influences me as a writer.

That doesn’t mean of course that I strive to copy his writing style. I’m working on establishing my own. In addition Chandler lived in a different era. If you read a Chandler novel today you will find the language quite dated because our language is in a constant state of change. Words and manners of speaking popular in Chandler’s day are out of fashion and antiquated by modern standards of usage. But I do try to emulate Chandler’s philosophies in writing crime fiction. Chandler made that very easy to do by leaving behind his ten commandments for writing a detective novel:

1. It must be credibly motivated, both as to the original situation and the dénouement.

2. It must be technically sound as to the methods of murder and detection.

3. It must be realistic in character, setting and atmosphere. It must be about real people in a real world.

4. It must have a sound story value apart from the mystery element: i.e., the investigation itself must be an adventure worth reading.

5. It must have enough essential simplicity to be explained easily when the time comes.

6. It must baffle a reasonably intelligent reader.

7. The solution must seem inevitable once revealed.

8. It must not try to do everything at once. If it is a puzzle story operating in a rather cool, reasonable atmosphere, it cannot also be a violent adventure or a passionate romance.

9. It must punish the criminal in one way or another, not necessarily by operation of the law…. If the detective fails to resolve the consequences of the crime, the story is an unresolved chord and leaves irritation behind it.

10. It must be honest with the reader.

(Source: “Raymond Chandler.” Open Culture. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 June 2015)

I realize that readers have limited dollars to spend on books as well as limited time in which to read. Understandably book buyers want assurance that a book they are considering purchasing is a quality book worth their hard-earned money and time. Obviously a new or unknown author in this genre has no reputation and thus little credibility with those who enjoy crime fiction novels.

I feel one of the best ways to build credibility with potential readers is give them some insight into my philosophies and approach to writing. If you enjoy a good detective novel and decide to give me a chance by reading Come What May, you can be sure I have kept Chandler’s ten commandments firmly in my mind while writing it. My goal is that those who read it will consider it both money and time well spent.

The Deliberate Author

Image of notebook and penReading the author interviews at Goodreads is something I enjoy. Quite often in interviews of famous book authors you find examples of “the unintentional author,” someone who never had a plan or sometimes even any inkling that he or she would write a book. Then some catalyst came along that motivated them to write one or write several.

It didn’t happen that way for me. I purposefully chose to write. I even intentionally chose a profession quite early in life on the basis that it would allow me to retire early so that I would have the time to write.

I’d wanted to write a book since my childhood, mostly I think because my love for books instilled within me a deep admiration for authors. When you admire someone it is quite natural I think to desire to emulate them, to be like them, to in a sense be one of them. To this day, a good many of the people I truly admire are book authors. A few of them I even think of as friends even though I’ve never met them or even corresponded with them and perhaps never will.

Curiously it is far easier to identify the things that didn’t trigger within me the desire to write than the things that did. As an example, I’ve never had any intention to earn a substantial income from writing books. I’ve never had the ambition to become a famous author. Perhaps that is because I’ve always been more of a pragmatist than an idealist. While I like to think I can tell a reasonably good story, I’ve never had any illusion that I possess the talent and skill of a Steinbeck, a Faulkner, or a Hemingway. Not at all.

When I published my first book I had an ambition to sell a few hundred copies when I started, and then – when I sold the first thousand copies I was beyond thrilled. I never really expected to make any real money from it. But that part of it was just a bonus. What I found most meaningful was discovering that a good number of people were interested in reading something I’d written. That is what really motivated me to want to keep writing.

Perhaps I write for the same reasons that people like to read books. Recently I saw a poll that asked the question, “Why do you read books?” The top three reasons given were:

  • to learn something new,
  • to be entertained, delighted, and enchanted, and
  • to momentarily escape from reality.

American journalist, critic, and essayist Joe Queenan has written, “If you have read 6,000 books in your lifetime, or even 600, it’s probably because at some level you find ‘reality’ a bit of a disappointment.” That sentiment seems to square with the results from the poll I mentioned. It seems likely then that one reason I write books is because within the pages of a fictional story I too find temporary escape from a “reality” I find a bit of a disappointment.

Image of author at Pearl Harbor HI

A Welcome from Larry Darter

Hello and welcome. I’m Larry Darter, a crime fiction writer and this is my official blog. I also have a website which you may visit by clicking this link or by typing www.larrydarter.com into your web browser.

You may be wondering why I have both a blog and a website. Good question. Actually there are a couple of reasons. I’ll begin with a confession. I am not by any stretch of the imagination a web page designer. While I did manage to create a website that actually works, I wasn’t able to include a blog on the website as I had originally intended. Since I wanted to have a blog I was forced to create this one. I am learning more all the time about web page design and management. So who knows? Perhaps one day I will learn how to incorporate a blog as a page on my official website and this one will become unnecessary. But in the mean time I have somewhere to post my thoughts.

Another reason I have both a website and a blog is that I intend for each to serve a different purpose. My website is my official presence as an author on the web. It serves primarily as a repository of all things related to my writing. There you can find information about my books, book excerpts, and information such as newsworthy items and scheduled events related to my books. By visiting my website you can also subscribe to my monthly newsletter which I hope you will do. While the website will be primarily static and won’t change much from month to month, my blog will have regular infusions of new information since I plan to publish new posts here regularly.

While my website, as websites often are, is somewhat formal I want my blog to be completely informal. I want this space to be a cozy place where we can connect and hopefully become friends. While I may choose to write about my books here from time to time, that will not be the focus. Instead if you are interested, this blog will be the place where you can learn more about me as a person rather than as an author. For example you may learn here about my friends and family, You may have the opportunity to read about things like my other interests aside from writing and my vacations. I plan to write here about what I’m reading and perhaps you will discover here books by other authors that you might enjoy reading.

Just like on my website, I have provided a “Contact” page here that you can access from the site menu. You can contact me through this blog just as easily as you can by visiting my website. Whether you have a question that you can’t find the answer to here or on my website site or would just like to comment on my writing, I’d love to hear from you. You may also have your say by leaving your thoughts in the comment section at the end of any post here. You will also be able to read the comments of others and my responses where applicable. I encourage you to comment on my posts because I hope to connect with those who spend time reading the things I write. By commenting you will transform the posts into a dialogue and in my opinion a dialogue is always better than a monologue. I hope you’ll enjoy this blog! Thanks for visiting and thanks for reading..