There’s a new murder mystery author in town and I’m happy to be one of the first to introduce him to the reading world. Ron Wick began writing for others as a ten year old when his parents gave him a small rotary printing press with handset rubber type. Maybe not as old as this puppy…
…but not a new Mac computer either. It was good enough to allow him to “publish” The Golden Nugget News where he wrote about the latest neighborhood happenings for the next two years. I wonder if he had neighbors to write about like John and Ada Gillespie, who lived next door to my Dad and who let him, as a five year old, “drive” their draft horses,
Bob and Dick, while they moved steadily back and forth pulling a rope to haul hay up to the upper reaches of their barn.
But I digress as that’s a story for another time…
As Ron moved through life, he progressed from a ten year old journalist to being a teacher and administrator in Snohomish County, Washington where he influenced the younger generations for 30 years. As an educator he also worked with police and court authorities involving many criminal issues, ranging from juvenile delinquencies to suspected pedophiles. Also during his teaching tenure, he co-authored a collection of high contrast photographs and poetry centered on motorcycling which was published by Ellis Robinson Publishing. He is dedicated to improving the quality of life for all humanity and will donate 10% of his royalties from his new book, Gold Coast Murder, to Lions Clubs International Foundation, the charitable arm of the association of which he has been a member and officer for 35 years.
And now, let’s learn a little more about Ron, straight from the horses mouth, so to speak…
Milk in Bottles
Do you know that milk used to come in bottles? I remember those in my youth. When I was 5 years old a broken bottle of milk changed my life and taught a lesson in helping others, something I believe in and have done my entire life.
Dad and I were walking to the neighborhood grocery store, Mrs. Wickstrom’s, in Ballard. Another boy about my age was coming out the door with a bottle of milk in a paper bag. The bottom of the bag gave way, the bottle of milk hit the sidewalk, glass and milk went everywhere.
The boy jumped then began to cry. My dad went to him and asked if he was hurt.
“No,” he said. “My dad’s gonna beat me when I get home. We don’t got any more money.”
“Come with us,” dad said patting him on the head. “It’ll be alright.”
We went into the store. Dad got another bottle of milk for the boy and paid for it. Mrs. Wickstrom put it in double-bags and showed him how to carry it with one hand under the bottle.
“Thank you, mister he said going out the door and still trembling as he passed the man cleaning up the glass.
My dad was a commercial fisherman, halibut in the Gulf of Alaska. He always described the money he made as “…chicken today, feathers tomorrow.” That day we were in the “feathers” stage. Dad bought the milk and loaf of bread we came for. We didn’t get the ice cream.
That day I learned from example. Dad’s only comment was, “Sometimes you’ve got to help people. Sometimes others might help you.”
I didn’t know about kids getting beaten. I didn’t know some strangers would help you just because they could. What began that day carried into my life of writing, teaching, and serving my community through my 35 years as a member of the Lions Clubs International. My writing today reflects the observations and themes that began to form when I was a 10 year old writing and printing a neighborhood newspaper. Those themes and passions are shaped by life experiences, some wonderful and some brutal.
When I retired in 1997 I began expanding my love for poetry and short stories. The creation of the Santiago Mystery Series provided a vehicle to share fictional stories around fictional characters built around real life themes.
When the body of a young black woman is found in a bathtub at the Avenue Hotel in Seattle’s University District the victim is unidentified. The crime scene yields little evidence beyond a blue banquet ticket to a teacher conference from the night before, a possible semen sample on the bed sheets, bruising on the victim’s neck, and the torn tissue of her earlobes. The specifics of the crime are withheld from the media. The desk clerk identifies the room renter as John Smith; large, early thirties, married, wearing a big southwestern watch on the left wrist, and Caucasian.
Homicide detective Michelle “Mitch” Santiago is young, smart, sassy and sexy. She is a twenty-eight year old University of Washington graduate, Police Academy graduate; and member of the Seattle Police Department for four years including two on homicide. She is on the fast track to advancement; a gifted but independent investigator. Santiago and partner Chance Stewart are assigned the case. As the investigation proceeds Santiago is forced to deal with personal issues and a lifestyle that parallels the victim’s.
Using the limited clues Santiago and Stewart identify the victim as Hailey Cashland through a missing persons report filed by gay artist neighbor Terry Shaw. They discover Cashland led a double life with a sordid background beginning with a childhood of sexual abuse including rape, to college and the porn industry in Las Vegas, to the day of her death; successful teacher by day, many lovers by night. The case becomes high profile enough Santiago and Stewart’s other case, the killing of a hobo at Golden Garden’s is shifted to another team.
Santiago and Stewart focus on four persons of interest. Jack Hartley, Superintendent of Gold Coast Academy, has known Hailey for years going back to their days in the Las Vegas skin industry. They are close and he has a unique and distant relationship with his wife. Moses Cruz is an infatuated student athlete stalker, a jealous and confused teenager. Terry Shaw is the angry gay artist neighbor who loves Hailey like a naughty sister, reported her missing, and tries to manipulate the investigation. Trevor Gunn is the mystery man in her life, known of by all her colleagues but not by name; a man with an alcoholic wife, two sons and unable to earn tenure at any of three community colleges where he has taught.
The investigation leads Santiago and Stewart back to the hobo killing, linking one of the suspects to both murders. The suspect runs. He’s traced to Port Angeles, Washington. Did he take the ferry to Victoria, British Columbia or go into hiding? Santiago discovers he once had a relative living in Forks. He is traced to La Push. The motel is staked out. .
When found the suspect is battered and bruised after meeting the enraged brother of a local Native American woman he had attempted to seduce. He is confused and disoriented as he fluctuates back and forth contemplating escape, starting over, suicide and murder. All the key players are present. At the close Santiago moves closer to resolving the personal issues revolving around her background as a stripper while in college, sexual harassment within the squad room, and whether to remain with SPD.
I’d like to welcome guest author, Jennifer Fulford, to my blog today. Her interview with Brian Felson, president of BookBaby, has some great insights concerning the self-pubishing business.
This post evolves from my curiosity about ebook self-publishing and how the trend can help or hurt the unsigned, unpublished author.
Very organically, meaning by a natural outgrowth, the ebook self-publishing business has gained legitimacy with writers who feel the need to take their work to the streets themselves in an increasingly dismal marketplace. Writers are faced with many options and some tough decisions nowadays. Slug out the traditional route, clawing for an ever-shrinking publishing hole, or hold your breath and jump with two feet into self-publishing?
I do believe the stigma associated with self-publishing is as distasteful as you want to make it. If you take yourself seriously as a writer, you logically will also take a serious look at your publishing options. For me, it’s been an evolution. First and foremost, there is the act of writing. There’s the self-education to get better. Then, there’s the coming to terms with feedback and criticism. Somewhere along the way, there is commitment. The last hurdle is the push for publication. For many writers, traditional publication basically means that their work is worthy. They’ve made it. The writing is obviously good. We think getting a book accepted by an agent or a publisher will validate our talent. I’m not so sure anymore about that last statement.
Brian Felsen, BookBaby President
My doubt increased after I spoke to Brian Felsen, the president of an e-publishing startup called BookBaby. Felsen let me hang out with him recently at the Portland, Ore., headquarters of BookBaby, CDBaby and HostBaby and unequivocally made the case for what he calls self-release. (Of course, we want release, in more ways than one!). In terms of economics and marketing, he sees self-publishing as the hands-down winner.
Granted, this is the nice man with the gun who suggested the bus to Cartagena. Disclosure statement: I took no gifts or gratuities to speak with him or to publish this post and the transcript of our interview. I’ll still have to pay the $99 to e-publish my book via BookBaby, if in fact I chose to do so. I simply went on a fact-finding trip, and he was nice enough to cooperate. Laid-back, no question. A man not afraid to use the word poopy in an interview. Sure, he’s running a multi-million dollar company that is breaking into a competitive market, but he was still a nice guy.
BookBaby is new among the electronic book publishers, competing with the likes of Smashwords and CreateSpace. It has released only about 4,000 titles in the last year of doing business. Its competitors have somewhat different models, though I won’t outline the pros and cons here. At BookBaby, you pay an upfront fee, a real person processes your manuscript by hand, and it gets distributed to all the major retailers. The writer keeps 100 percent of the profits after the retailers take their cut. BookBaby has the benefit of being a spinoff of the highly successful CDBaby, a 13-year-old company that is the largest distributor of independent music.
Felsen is an artist and businessman. He writes poetry (no kidding), composes music and used to play rock ‘n’ roll. The way he sees it, self-publishing cuts out a lot of headaches. “It doesn’t hurt you if you release your work now by e,” he said. “Either you can get it pulled down and then get traditional distribution later or still give up the e-rights to it later, if you want to. Or, it’s the calling card for you to get future works noticed, but you shouldn’t put your career on hold and spend tons of money trying to go traditional with awork that’s completed and drive yourself crazy if it’s not imminently happening.”
For e-rights, he says it’s silly to let a publisher take them from you, especially when so little of the revenue from ebooks goes back to the writer. “There’s no warehousing or distribution, there’s really nothing. It’s not rocket science. There’s nothing to it. The sort-of dirty little secret of publishing is that publishers don’t add a ton of value in terms of marketing your work to the readers. They market your work to book sellers. But so many famous authors still have to go to book conventions themselves. They still have to manage their social networking presence themselves, have a website and Twitter accounts and reach out to fans and have contests and do all this stuff that they do, but you’d have to that as an independent author anyway, so you might as well keep the money.”
His logic is this: The publishers and agents are already looking for plug-n-play writers. Why play their game? Do it yourself. “Now, will traditional publishers look at you different? Well, traditional publishers are going to tell you they’re going to look at you differently because you are out there eating their lunch. So, you know, I talk to people, to traditional publishers, many of whom I’ve interviewed on camera for the BookBaby blog, and they would, they’ll say, ‘Yeah, there’s a stigma to self-publishing.’ Well, of course, ‘cause they’re taking an unreasonable cut with unreasonable overhead, and they’re going out of business, so of course they’re going to say that. But if you’re self-released, and you’re one of the top sellers, or if you win awards, they’re gonna want to sign you so badly and so fast, they’re not going to say, ‘Oh, yeah, he’s just writing, a family memoirist.’ No, not at all.”
I still believe publishers are looking for high quality. But I also agree that their model of selling to book sellers is dying. They already know that. Where does that leave us whimpering newbies? The outlook, according to Felsen, isn’t all that rosy in traditional publishing. “As bookstores are going away, as the publishing houses are consolidating, the mid-tail author is becoming more and more abandoned. It’s like the shrinking middle class. The mid-tier author is not getting the advances that they were. They’re not getting the publicity that they were; there’s not the outlets that there used to be; advances that are doled out are doled out over three years in quarterly installments, and it’s still not really—the pot at the end of the rainbow is a very small one nowadays, and it’s not for everybody.”
The interview with Felsen is more indepth and worth a read. For every new author (and some of the old ones), every option is on the table. It may mean I’ll need an attitude adjustment to worry less about how my work ends up with readers and to focus more on the real goal: satisfied readers. And those readers will let me know whether or not they’re satisfied, regardless of how I publish.
Harvey Stanbrough’s poetry has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, The National Book Award, and the Inscriptions Magazine Engraver’s Award. He’s also one heck of a great editor. If you’re interested, visit his website, www.stonethread.com
What is your biggest pet peeve when editing?
Having to convince writers that someone else’s advice was bad. For example, some writing instructors tell writers to delete all instances of “had” from their writing, or to delete all “ing words” (gerunds) because they create passive voice. The truth is, past progressive and past participle are necessary in fiction. There are a lot of bad writing instructors out there passing out bogus information, and a lot of them are in college and university programs.
2. How many times should an author self edit a book before sending it to an editor?
The author should at least put it away for awhile, at least a week or two, and then re-read it with fresh eyes. Make any changes that jump out at you, then send it to an editor. I strongly recommend against writing by committee. You can employ readers to give you recommendations, but consider those recommendations and then apply the ones that you believe help the work and discard the rest. If you change the character, story, etc. each time someone says you should (especially if that someone is not a professional writer or editor), you’ll never get your work published.
3. Could you discuss your “leave the lady in the shower” technique?
Author C. J. Cherryh once said to avoid writers’ block, leave your character in the shower when you stop writing for the day. When you come back to writing, you’ll have to write the character out of the shower before you can do anything else, and that will get you back in the flow of your WIP.
4. If you could give writers only one suggestion, what would it be?
If any writing instructor (myself included) tells you something that he or she can’t explain to your satisfaction, don’t listen. For example, the writing instructor who says “show, don’t tell.” When a student asks what that means, the instructor says something like “Well, I can’t explain it but I know it when I see it.” No, he doesn’t. If he knew it when he saw it, he could explain it. And if I were invited to give writers a second suggestion, it would be this: Don’t allow your narrator to use the physical or emotional sense verbs (saw, could see; heard, could hear; etc). Instead, have the narrator describe the scene; then the reader can experience it right along with the character. The narrator’s only task is to describe the scene, period. This is also called “deep point of view (POV).”