Sunday, March 03, 2013

New Amazon Review: Characters to care alot about

A new review for Harkness on Amazon:

Characters to care alot about
Amazon Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: Harkness: A High Desert Mystery (Kindle Edition)
It's always a throw of the dice to buy and read a first-time novel from a new writer. I won, with this one. Mr. Bigham has given us a real community, a gruesome murder, and a detective we can care about. Harkness is flawed, not quite sure he is up to the job, yet in his quiet, uncertain way, shows us the woman he loves, the politics of a true small community, and he manages to figure things things out.

I have to admit I am disappointed there aren't more books from Michael Bigham. Readers who love a filled-out character, a real place, and a true mystery will love Harkness. I'm a real fan. Let's hope Bigham is working on more of Harkness to give us.

 Yup, I'm working on the next installment in the Harkness series. The working title is An Alien of a Different Sort. I'm hoping to have it out by the end of the year.

If you're interested in reading Harkness: A High Desert Mystery, it is available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Revising the manuscript

In a previous post, I mentioned that I tend to revise drastically.  An example, this is the first draft of  first page of Chapter 1 of my mystery novel in progress:

The wiener dog growled at the footsteps on the stairs.  Two men by the sound of them, one wearing taps. “Jesus H. Christ,” I said when they reached the bottom, “you fellers sure are quick.  Agnes Flehardy just left.”
“I don’t know to what you are referring,” the tall one said.  He was all Adam’s apple, elbows and the brash arrogance of youth.
“You’re government men,” I said.
“How so?” said the short, broad one.  He looked the type that went into bars looking for fights. I’d done it myself.
“Florsheims, fedoras, grey flannel and packing heat.  You’re either G-men or gangsters, and there ain’t no reason for gangsters to be sneaking around God’s country.”
“I’m Ivy,” the short one said.  His suit was something from a mail order catalog. “This is Slocum.  We’re with the FBI.” He flashed his identification card.
I glanced at the card. “Sheriff Matthew Harkness at your service. You’ve come regarding the flying saucers,”
“Flying saucers?”  Slocum put his hands in his pockets. Better suit, tailored.  East coast money, I figured.
“I’ve had half a dozen reports of lights in the sky over Grizzly Mountain. Folks think we’re about to be invaded by aliens.”

Not bad, but not what I was seeking.  Here's my next pass:

Blood dripped from the maw of the log grinder. Bits of viscera hung to the blades. “Ollie,” I said, “go back to college so you won’t have to deal with this shit for the rest of your life.”
It wasn’t as if I hated lumber mills. I’d worked in this one after the War, pulling green chain, sorting finished lumber; brutal work, sweltering in summer, freezing in winter; choking on the sawdust that plugged my pores, settled into my clothes; after a shift, all I could smell was the dust.
The dust, the heat and the hard work were tolerable, but I couldn’t stand the noise; the screaming whine of the head saw biting into fresh logs. A scream you heard miles away. Always there, hammering at me, a presence more than a sound, it vibrated down into the soul, pushing up dark voices, pushing me into madness. I still worried about the madness.
The mill was quiet now; just me, a young mill jock named Ollie Binam and some poor sod that had gone through the grinder. Only bits of flesh and chunks of bone remained. Whoever this had been, we’d have to pack him back to the morgue in buckets.
My knees cracked as I stood up. “Run me through how you discovered the body,” I said to Ollie.

Chapter One is preceded by a prologue which I've completed but won't post here. ( A writer has to have his secrets). My first pass spoke to elements of the plot, but the second attempt speaks to the inciting incident, the murder. When I was plotting the book out in my head, I figured that the discovery of the body would be at the end of Chapter 1 or the beginning of Chapter 2, but I  realized that the murder would be the compelling force for Harkness, my protagonist. The lights in the sky and the FBI are important, but since the story is from Harkness' POV, I have to go with what drives him.

Monday, February 25, 2013

There's a poem in them there hills.

Blogs of Note

Bookendings by Yvonne Horton

After leaving police work, I got an MFA at Vermont College of Fine Arts. Being a fiction writer, I hung out with other fiction writers. We didn't talk much, but spent most of our time hammering away on our stories in the computer lab. The creative non-fiction folks were there too, though they would take time off to debate the true nature of creative non-fiction. Hint: Never, ever ask a creative non-fiction writer about the rules of their genre unless you have a couple of hours to kill. They're very passionate about it and everyone has a different opinion. Then there were the poets, ah the poets, they'd sit out on the grass, smoke cigarettes, drink wine and chat. Just chat. God, how I wanted to be a poet.

Yvonne Horton's blog is a true poet's website: great design, passionate poems, weighty, well-thought out essays. It is a blog to which I aspire.


sljameswriting is another poet's blog. Sian James is a poet and fiction writer from Derby in the East Midlands of England. She's currently working on a poem a day project.  It's well worth a visit.

Photo of the Day

Friday, February 22, 2013

Birthing a novel

God, I hate starting a new writing project - I'm not a notecard kind of guy, so I try to pull together the whole thing in my head - developing plot points, fleshing out characters, establishing narrative peaks. Oh, I do write stuff down, but I'm not organized enough to do a detailed outline. Julian May once said that she does a very detailed outline, then does one draft - just one draft.  Ha! As if.

My last novel was a straight mystery.  This one might be a little more adventurous. Same era, 1952; same setting, Oregon High Desert; same protagonist; Sheriff Matthew Harkness, but with more added punch - maybe Commie hunting FBI agents and flying saucers.  Then again, maybe not. Where I begin and where I end in my writing often are two widely disparate places.  When I revise, especially from first draft to second, it's usually not just a word here or there, but massive changes in direction Here's a sample of the second scene of a very rough Chapter 1.

I squinted up against the slanting late afternoon sunlight and meandered down Main Street.  The old, lame and diseased sat in rocking chairs on the covered portico that fronted the south side of the Ochoco Inn.  It almost being the weekend, those poor folks had come into town from all over the state, seeking the healing touch of our local faith healer, Jessica Love. Among them, were a couple of locals, Prometheus Hawthorne and some old fart I’d seen before, but couldn’t name.
Theus hailed me.  “Sheriff, come and meet my grandfather.”
“Sisyphus Jones, I presume.”
The old man glanced at me with flint eyes.  “You’re not as funny a feller as you think you are,” he said.
“Some people like my humor.”
“His name is Hank.” Theus spit a brown glob of tobacco off the porch and onto the pine board sidewalk. “Grandpa was telling me about the time he met Wyatt Earp down in Arizona.”
“So you were around when the Earps shot it out with the Clanton gang?” I said.
“Gunned them down, more like.”  The old man’s face was like scarred up leather, brown and broken.  “It wasn’t much of a fair fight.”
“No need to fight fair when your life is on the line.”
“Gramps is here to see Jessie Love and get healed.”
“Rheumatism,” the old man added.
As we chatted, Ed Dilkes sidled up to us.  He poked me in the ribs with a finger.  “Here tell we’ve got reports of flying saucers.” Dilkes was the editor and publisher of the local newspaper.  I’d deck a lesser man for that. Dilkes was a pesky man, but one with a certain moral compass. I admired him for that.
“Pardon the interruption, boys,” I said. “but Mr.  Dilkes has no sense of couth.”
“Don’t know a newspaper man worth his salt that does,” Dilkes said. “Now about them saucers.”
I grabbed Dilkes by the elbow and steered him away from the Joneses. “You’re crazy.”
“And federal agents are poking around, looking for little green men.” Dilkes was a narrow-faced man with a blue-black beard and rapid-fire east coast speech.
“Don’t know what you’re talking about,” Sometime the best lie is the grand lie.
Dilkes rubbed his palms together.  “Feds and flying saucers, gosh, this is going to be a great story.”
“If you didn’t have three kids and a pretty wife, I’d wring your scrawny neck.”  He hadn’t tumbled to the commie list yet, but knowing Dilkes, he would sooner than later.
“You remember when they had those saucer sightings up in Portland?  ’47, I think it was.”  A steno pad and pencil appeared in his hands.
“I was still down in Frisco back then,” I said. 
“Bunch of folks saw them flying over Oaks Park, including a couple of policemen.  All over the Oregonian for weeks.  Government said it was weather balloons.”
“I am skeptical of everything, but dismiss nothing.”
“Me too.  How about an exclusive.”
“How ‘bout an exclusive kick in the ass.”
Dilkes laughed. “You still on the wagon?”
“What does that have to do with the price of ‘tators?”
“I’m just watching out for you.”
“I watch out for myself, thank you all the same.” I lit up a cigarette.  The smoke felt good in my lungs.
“There’s a meeting of folks trying to stay sober down at the Community Church on Wednesday nights.  You’d be welcome if you decided to poke your head in.”
“Not much of a church-going sort.  Mother was, a brimstone Baptist.  We’d go to church, then when we got home, she’d whip me with a strap, just ‘cause.”
Dilkes was smart enough not to ask, but he did anyway. “’Cause?”
“Cause she could, ‘cause my old man up and died when I was eight. ‘Cause she was a mean bitch. ‘Cause I have no fucking idea.  That enough?”
“Don’t have to get sore about it.”
“Ain’t sore at you, Ed, but the whole thing left me sore at the world.”
“Door’s always open.”
“Appreciate that,” I said.  We parted with a handshake.  I meandered by Doc Silverman’s office.  He’d told me once that he had been a Commie back before the War. Him, being one of my few true friends in this county, I thought I’d tell him about the FBI on their witch-hunt.  He wasn’t there, so I decided to drop by the high school and palaver with the science teacher, Malgauss.  I wasn’t too partial to commies, but I was less partial to G-men stirring up problems in my county.


Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Self-publishing promotion and other stuff

Novel Contests

An ad in the current Poets and Writers caught my interest: Novel contest with a $5,000 prize. No money up front.  "What could go wrong?" I asked myself.  The contest is sponsored by Inkubate, a service that promises to "show writers’ works to publishers and agents".  Great idea, but I already have a publisher, Muskrat Press, a small press established by a couple of my writing buddies, Jeannie Burt and Lisa Alber and myself. My goal isn't to find a publisher or agent, but to promote my book. Winning literary prizes will help, but to enter the Inkubate contest, you need to create a profile on their website and upload your novel to their servers.  Honestly, I'm not willing to do that. Though I haven't found any bad press about Inkubate and it may legitimately help writers get published, the whole concept makes me leery.

For me the prize money is secondary to the exposure. So, I'm going to pony up some bucks and enter the Independent Publisher Book Award Contest. "Established as the first awards program open exclusively to independents, the "IPPYs" recognize hundreds of the year's best books, giving them instant credibility and bringing them to the attention of booksellers, buyers, librarians, and book lovers around the world." Entries cost $95 per title per category for printed books, an additional $55 if you enter the regional contest and $55 for e-book entries. 

Blogs of Note

Molly Greene: Writer

 I've been trying to figure out how to use Twitter as a promotion tool.  In that journey, I've found a couple of blogs worth your attention.  One is by Molly Greene called, simply enough, Molly Greene: Writer.  It's packed with information for the self-published or small press author.  An entry that I found particularly fascinating was on Kobo Writing Life.  If you've published an e-book, you probably know about Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing and Barnes and Noble Pubit, but those outlets only cover a portion of the market.  While Amazon focuses on America, Kobo reaches out to the rest of the world. Better yet, it uses the epub format, so if you've converted your files for the Nook, you're all set for uploading to Kobo.  Just one of the tidbits on Molly's blog, it's a great resource for the emerging novelist.

Ksenia Anske

Another blog worth checking out is Ksenia Anske's blog.  She's an emerging novelist with a great voice. Voice is the toughest skill for a writer to master - some writers are born with it, some have to struggle a long time to develop it.  Ksenia is born with it. Her voice is strong and clear and well worth reading.  Check out her novel excerpt on her blog and you can say you knew her when.

A word of warning though, her prose can be dark. The title of her novel in progress is Siren Suicides.  As someone who worked as a counselor on a suicide hotline, I found the passage to be engaging and authentic.

High up on the east side of the Oregon Cascades.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Cover Art

When it came time to do the cover art for my novel, I wanted to work with someone locally here in Portland.  I looked at several sources, including Craigslist and web searches, but ended up using elance.  Sorting through the local graphics designers there, MacKenzie Griffith.  McKenzie did a great job, though I must admit the process took quite awhile.  Part of the reason was procrastination on my part.  To do well in this process, you need to have an idea of what you're looking for in a cover before contacting someone.  I really didn't. 

Cover art can cost anywhere from $149 from Bookbaby to several thousand dollars from an established designer.  Some author opt to do the design work themselves.  If you're doing that, make sure that the images you use are in the public domain and make sure that you meet the requirements for both e-books and the print versions.  A good resource for examples for retro cover art is Dave Lewis' blog: Davy Crockett's Almanack.

For me, a professional designer was a necessity.  I probably could have muddled through the ebook cover which are jpegs, but the print versions require conversion to pdf.  I wasn't willing to shell out $650 for a copy of inDesign and take the time to learn the ins and outs of the program.  The requirements for both e-book and print versions are exacting.  It's better to have it done right the first time.

Oh yeah, my novel is now available at Amazon.  How cool is that?

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Editor-in-Chief:  A Publishing Journey

When you're publishing a novel on your own, perhaps the most important step is to put your ego aside and spring for a professional editor.  You're too close to your own work and your writer friends might be helpful, but you need someone who knows their business.  The surest way to turn off your reader is with a novel full of typos, misspellings and grammar errors.

When my time came, I looked around at various options, both local and online.  I finally settled on Lynn O'Dell of Red Adept Publishing.  At the time I subscribed to Lynn's blog, Red Adept Reviews.  Alas, the review site has closed up its doors, but editing site is up and running.  Lynn's price was reasonable, perhaps even more so when you realize what you get.  She copy edits your manuscript, providing feedback both by phone and e-mail.  After each revision, she reviews the manuscript again until you're satisfied with the draft.  That draft then goes to a couple of different proof readers.  By the time they're done, your manuscript is sparkling clean.  Not only that, but the process picks up other errors along the way. In my novel, Harkness, I had Mussolini's body hanging from a lamppost in Rome.  One of the proofreaders pointed out that it was actually in Milan.  Nice catch.

If your manuscript needs more than copy editing, I think there are two choices -- first, find yourself a solid writer's group, one focused on your genre and also workshops your manuscript. If your manuscript is complete and needs some serious input, you might think about a manuscript consultant.  I wouldn't recommend this unless you're very serious.  I used one of my instructors in the Vermont College MFA program, Ellen Lesser. She isn't cheap, but she is very, very good.  This is one service I wouldn't get from an ad in the back of a writer's magazine.  Check around with your writer friends, see if there's someone they would recommend.  Read the consultant's work.  If they haven't published, move on to someone else.  Published writers are good, MFA instructors are better.  Don't expect them to do your work for you, you're the author, they're helping you round your manuscript into shape.  After working with Ellen, I realized my novel needed a complete make over.  The characters and general plot would remain the same, but the basic structure needed to be remodeled.  I'm still working on that one.