On Becoming an Author – Part 3: Why Write?

Route66RoysA personal question if there ever was one. Let’s start with my writing career and hopefully that will cause you so examine your own motivation to write (or not!). I had written a short story the summer after seventh grade. It was about a girl and me driving cross country in my favorite car like my idols did on a TV program called Route 66. Even though the show had two guys, I had a girl for a partner and our adventure began as we cruised across the prairie of Nebraska and came upon a huge multi-car pileup.  We learned that we could be great partners who rescued people, had the ability to be up to our elbows in intestines, and were therefore destined for medical school. I remember I loved writing and rewriting the story until it had the emotional impact I wanted. I gave it to my mother to read. I remember she read it, stared at me for a while, and then reread the story.

“This is great,” she said. Coming from my English major mother, that was excellent praise indeed.

“You should try writing it again without the female character. You’re too young to be writing about girls.”

I had no interest in rewriting the story so it sat on a shelf in my room until I needed a short story for an English class the following year.  As English class usually bored me to tears, my grades in that area were terrible. The teacher called my home and accused me of plagiarizing someone else’s work. My mother confirmed that it was my original work that I had written the previous summer. With what I suspect was considerable regret, the teacher did give me an A. I was fascinated by math and science so writing didn’t become part of my life for many years. When my mother found my letters from college and Vietnam fascinating to the point she thought I should polish them and try to get them published. I never did.

Man TypingWhen I retired from a super techie career of mathematics and firmware engineering at age 61, I was looking for something to do in retirement. I decided to see if I could write a novel, the first of which relied heavily on personal memories. That accomplished, I wrote two more and realized that anytime I sat in front of a keyboard story lines would come rolling out of my head. For all you would be writers out there, let me caution you… the ideas are only about 3 percent of the effort needed to complete a novel. Maybe you’ve heard that a writer agonizes over every word. It’s true. Each of my novels goes through at least twenty revisions before I think it’s ready to send to an editor which of course means more revisions after she looks at it.

Why go through all this? I live for the challenge of refining and polishing a scene until it has the emotional impact I’m looking for. In one sentence; that’s why I write.

What motivated you to write? When did you know you wanted to write?


Becoming an Author – Part 2: Criticism: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly, and The Worthless

One of the not so happy aspects of being a writer is that everyone who has ever read a book has advice for you. Here are some of my thoughts on the types of advice I’ve received.

The Good

UpwardGood criticism comes from someone who is knowledgeable about writing and editing. It can be about one line, one chapter or an entire book. It consists of specific suggestions that improve my writing. That means a suggestion that mentions a specific problem and a solution that would correct that problem. I’ve written what I think are some excellent chapters for my books but when someone else reads them, they realize that they don’t help move my story along. When you’re busy in your role as a wordsmith, sometimes it is hard to see the forest for the trees. Good criticism can also come from someone who enjoys your genre, and is a potential reader of your efforts. This usually isn’t as specific but may help guide your story to your intended audience.

The Bad

TheBad_BrokenDownCarHow many times have we been told that someone has an idea for the world’s greatest piece of literature but just hasn’t gotten around to writing it?  Why do these people then give us their idea of sage advice on how to improve and what we should be writing? At least half of these people have trouble speaking in complete sentences let alone communicate a coherent thought. I smile and listen patiently to these well intentioned mental litterbugs. When I was in my career as a mathematician, I didn’t run into these types of people but now that I’m writing they seem to be coming out of the woodwork.

The Ugly

Mud Dancer Wearing a MaskAs soon as criticism becomes personal attacks, it’s time to excuse yourself and walk away. I sent a manuscript to an editor who must have been awfully angry with the world because he attacked everything short of my manhood in describing the problems with my manuscript. And I paid big money for his insults. I don’t mind negative critiques that I can learn from; but angry rants have no value.

The Worthless

When someone says my novel was cute, sweet, or nice, I find they didn’t like it but don’t want to tell me why.


TheGood_ThumbsUpThe best critique I have received from my readers:

“You write female characters better than most of the authors I have ever read.”

“It brought tears to my eyes when she lost her parents.”

“This is one book I will keep.”

Each of these indicates my success with my most important critics; my readers.

What do you find helpful in critiques? What has been your best and worst advice from readers?

Happy Writing!

On Becoming an Author – Part One: The Struggle

writing blog, authorBack when I was in college, if I had difficulty with a mathematical proof, I would ask an upper classman for help. Invariably their answer would be, “That’s trivial!” Of course it was trivial for them; they had already put in the time and struggle to learn the material.

Writing is like that. It is simple for me to write down a story.  I either define some characters or a struggle of some type which I populate with characters and story lines pop into my head and I write them down. If I’ve defined the characters carefully enough, the writing process will consist of the characters telling me the story. Once that’s done the hard work begins. I truly agonize over every word. I’ve had many occasions where I’ve re-edited a single sentence fifteen or twenty times. My fourth novel went through 15 iterations BEFORE I sent it to my editor. I’ve removed so many carefully crafted stories, (even entire chapters!) that didn’t precisely fit the story line, I’m attempted to turn out a book of short stories which would be filled with the chapters or subplots that didn’t make it into my novels!

story outline, writing, author

I’m also mystified by authors who tell me they write from outlines. I attended a seminar on writing a synopsis and the presenter said she writes the synopsis before she writes the novel and uses it as an outline. My writing process is completely serendipitous.writing checklist, story outline, author

My current project is a novel (book 5 of the “Meant to Be” series) which starts in 1834 in Cork, Ireland and ends a few years later in Independence, Missouri at the gateway to the Oregon Trail. That previous sentence was my “outline” as I began writing. I certainly didn’t know I would be writing a mostly humorous scene of a birth with a six year old girl helping her Mother deliver a baby! The Native American woman and French trapper who meet on a mountain top near present day Chelan, Washington, weren’t any part of my story until I had many other characters and their stories on paper. Their story entered my imagination when I needed a character to teach a five year old how to throw a spear! That five year old character inspired such a vivid story of a romance when he became an adult, I wrote and polished his romantic adventure even though it won’t be used until my seventh book which I plan to start six months from now.writing outline, story outline, author

So, is writing “trivial?” Thinking of a story is trivial.  Turning it into a finished product that someone else would like to read is not. It is always a struggle; an “every word on the page must be analyzed” type of struggle. I work ten hour days on average. I usually try to take one day a week away from writing but usually write at least a half day on my so-called day off. Since I’ve become an author, I’m astounded how many people have told me that they have an idea for a great book but haven’t gotten around to writing it. I have a feeling they don’t want to deal with the struggle part of becoming an author.

Like any other profession, it takes hard work to learn this craft and hard work to transform a story line into excellent work.

frustrated author, writing outline, storyline

Part Two of this blog series will be entitled, Criticism: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly, and the Utterly Worthless.

Part Three will be entitled, Why Write?


New Year Clock

As I complete my third year as an author of fictional accounts of a family’s saga, I want to take a moment to thank some of the people who have helped me develop this career.

None of this would have been possible without the encouragement and hard work of my wife and partner, Carolynn.  She creates the covers, listens carefully to my ideas, does the marketing, and provides a sounding board for the stories within the main story that are so crucial to my novels.  She’s the one who finds writer’s conferences for me, scans websites for writing tools and books, and still finds time to make a nutritious and delicious dinner for us each evening and a proper beginning to the Sabbath each Friday night. As we approach our golden years, nothing elevates my spirit more than the knowledge that she is my life partner. Firecrackers In The Sky - Sunset

My editor, Lisa Martinez, provides thoughtful criticism and crucial feedback as she edits my work. Much more than providing grammatical corrections, Lisa has insight into my writing style that helps bring a sense of realism and continuity to the situations that my characters find themselves in.  Much of the readability of my novels is due to her input.

I also would like to thank all the authors who took the time to write about their craft. The knowledge gained from two books in particular, have provided a solid foundation for my writing efforts. Steven King’s book “On Writing,” recommended by my son David, and Sol Stein’s book “Stein on Writing.” King’s book taught me that my creative process wasn’t as unique as I had imagined.  Stein’s book, among many other concepts, demonstrated that the non-fiction I had written during my firmware programming days wasn’t that far from my present day fiction writing as I had imagined. Those books are worth far more than their cost. In addition, I have found “The Emotion Thesaurus” by Ackerman and Puglist a fine addition to my writing tool chest.

I wish you all a Happy, Healthy, and Prosperous New Year and Great Reading in 2013.


When the Writing Bug Bit

Many people ask me why I started on this new career as an author.  They wonder if I’ve always had the writing bug.  When my boys were young, I used to write short stories for them.  They were always the heroes.  I’m sorry I did not keep those stories as they grew older.  That, however, had not put the writing bug in me.

Richard Alan, Village Drummer Fiction, Writing Bug, blog
Writing Bug

It all started when I was asked to write an article for a blog (http://memoirsfromnam.blogspot.com/) about my experiences in Vietnam.  I submitted the article and it was published.  The blog owner, a published author, asked how long I had been writing.  I replied that I hadn’t ever been and she replied that I should.  That was about a year and three months ago.  My wife has often told me that I am a great storyteller.  (We’re talking about family history kinds of stories.)  She encouraged me to take some time to try writing a novel.   Since then I have written and published Meant to Be and The Couples.  My third novel in the Meant to Be series, Finding Each Other, is currently being edited and I have over 20,000 words written for my fourth book in the series.

Richard Alan, Village Drummer Fiction, Writing Bug, blog

There is NO cure!

Richard Alan, Village Drummer Fiction, Writing Bug, blog

The only relief is writing!

I may not have always had the writing bug, but now that it has bitten me, I can’t think of anything else I would rather be doing.  I love writing.  Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night with a fully formed story in my head and spend the next four hours writing it down.  Other times, I will be doing something completely unrelated to my writing and a new character or plotline will fill my imagination.  I then have to stop what I’m doing, open my laptop, and start writing.   I don’t do outlines.  My process includes first developing the characters and then they tell me their stories.  The stories they tell me always provide twists and turns.  I follow them wherever they take me.  Sometimes I am as surprised at the outcome of a relationship as I’m sure my readers will be.  Occasionally a subplot will be very interesting but not fit the main thrust of the book.  I save those for subsequent novels.

Meant to Be introduces the reader to Meyer and Joan, the main characters.   They meet in the library when they are 4 and 5 years old, respectively.   At the time, they had no idea the two of them would be spending a lifetime together.  Their friendship took off slowly due to their age difference.  Joan did not want to bother with someone who was not old enough to be entering kindergarten. They reconnected a few years later when Meyer’s family moved from Iowa to the Seattle area, where Joan’s family had moved the year before.

Joan and Meyer remain friends throughout their high school years until Meyer leaves for Viet Nam and Joan’s family experiences a tragedy that impacts Joan’s view of friends and family.  The interactions of three generations of friends and family help them reconnect so that they can celebrate the good times and get through the difficult and tragic times as loving partners.

I had so many ideas for future characters and storylines, I realized Meant to Be would never come to an end.  It was then I decided to break the book into a series.  The Couples continues the theme of people who may belong together and how the world around them helps, or sometimes defeats them, in their search for a life partner.  It follows the lives of couples, their friends, and their support systems, as they explore their relationships.

Meyer and Joan return in The Couples, along with several other characters from Meant to Be.  New people are introduced who also interact with Meyer, Joan, and others.  Anna and Michael, both of whom are techies, are the main characters.  Michael is emotionally hurting due to the sudden death of his fiancée a few weeks before their wedding.  Anna has to get over her poor self-image and learn to trust her feelings.  The book centers on their ability to help each other and to grow to become a couple.

Richard Alan, Village Drummer Fiction, Writing Bug, blog


There are several supporting characters.  One of them is suddenly confronted with the opportunity to become the mother of the daughter she gave up for adoption ten years earlier.  Another is a rape victim who is trying to rejoin society as a whole person.  Also there is a teenage boy musician who is trying to get past his unrequited love and finds happiness with a ranch girl. These and several others come together as a community to support each other in finding their life partner.

My hope is that the characters in these books are people that readers will want to know.  You will laugh, cry, and love with them as they seek the partner they are meant to be with for the rest of their lives.

What motivated you to become an author?  When did that writing bug bite?  This is my third major career, but I’m sure it is the last.  I will write for the rest of my life.  How many careers have you had?  Do you expect writing to be the last?

Happy Reading and Writing!

Richard Alan

Write Campaign 11 Question Tag! I’m It!

I am participating in Rachel Harrie’s Fourth Write Platform-Building Campaign.  Fellow campaigner Diane D. Gillette tagged me in an amazingly fun game of 11 Question Tag, so without further delay, here’s my answers to her excellent questions!

The 11 questions Diane had for me:  

1.  Where is your favorite writing spot and why? My home office because it is quiet and I am surrounded by the math and science books I love.

2.  What author/book first made you want to write?  It was not a specific author or book that got me started.   I wrote an article for http://memoirsfromnam.blogspot.com/. The blog owner, @CJHeck60, asked me how long I had been a writer.  I told her I hadn’t and she said I should.   With CJ’s and my wife’s encouragement, I decided to give it a try.  I found I really love writing.
3.  If you could no longer write, what would your creative outlet be?  First I would perform research in mathematical analysis.  Second I would drum.  I am a second generation percussionist and two of my sons were state HS drum line champions.  When our last son moved out we converted his room into a drum room.

4.  Music or silence when you write?  Absolute, positive, and complete silence.

5.  What is your writing goal for 2012?  Publish at least 4 new bestselling novels.

6.  What pushes you out of your writing comfort zone?  I’m always comfortable writing.  Occasionally I might feel the pain one of the characters feels, but I also get to feel their love.

7.  Where do you go when you need to escape for a while?  I start writing mathematical proofs or work on learning a foreign language with Rosetta Stone.

8.  Which series are you eagerly anticipating the newest release for? (If you aren’t addicted to any series right now, then what new book by a favorite author are you waiting for?)  Book 3 in the Meant to Be series, Finding Each Other, is due out early summer.  Full disclosure:  I’m prejudiced.  I’m the author.

9.  What’s your favorite online resource for writers?  There are several great ones.  I can’t narrow it down to one.  I frequently visit:  John Kremer The Book Marketing Network, The Book Designer Practical Advice to Help Self-Publishers Build Better Books, World Lit Cafe Where Readers and Authors Unite, and Jane Friedman’s Writing Advice  Free Advice for Writers

10.  Do you read any literary magazines? If so, which ones?  No.

11.  What’s something that made you smile today?  Seeing my wife and knowing she is my soul-mate.

Now it’s my turn to tag people.  I choose http://thegoldeneaglesblog.blogspot.com/http://caitlin-lane.blogspot.com/,http://www.christinetyler.net/http://nickwilford.blogspot.com/http://sallys-scribbles.blogspot.com/http://cjparmenter.wordpress.com/http://bornbookish.blogspot.com/http://www.donasdays.blogspot.com/http://writer-steps.blogspot.com/http://raeann28.blogspot.com/

My 11 Questions for You:

  1. If you write about characters who love each other, does their love reflect the love you have in your own life?
  2. Would you be able to write in a genre you really dislike?
  3. You are having a dinner party.  What 4 authors (dead or alive) would you invite and what would you serve them?
  4. What about writing do you enjoy that non-authors don’t realize is fun?
  5. If you listen to music, while you write, does the music influence the mood of your story?
  6. Is your writing better in the early morning, afternoon, late evening, or is it always the same?
  7. After someone tells you they enjoyed reading your book, what positive comment would you like to hear about your book?
  8. If you consider writing your passion, and assuming you have the time, how long would your days be and how many days per week would you write?
  9. How many characters in your writing mirror characters in your real life?
  10. When you meet fellow authors, do you inspire them?  If yes, in what way?
  11. Do you find it difficult to end a story or would you prefer to continue writing the current story?

Have fun!  Happy Reading and Writing!

CONGRATULATIONS! And the winner is…

CONGRATULATIONS to Christopher Belton @ BeltonWriter for winning the signed copies of  MEANT TO BE and THE COUPLES.  Christopher, please contact me with mailing instructions (DM using Twitter).  As an added bonus all subscribers to this blog will receive a Smashwords coupon for a free download of MEANT TO BE.  Anyone signing up for the blog between now and the end of this month (February 29 – Yeah leap year) will receive the same free coupon for a MEANT TO BE download.  Sign up in the box one column over.


   Platform badge author network

Fourth Writers’ Platform-Building Campaign

I am very excited to be participating in the Fourth Writers’ Platform-Building Campaign.  It is running now until March 17.  The campaign is the brain-child of writer and blogger, Rachael Harrie.  She states in her current blog:

“My Writers’ Platform-Building Campaigns are a way to link writers, aspiring authors, beginner bloggers, industry people, and published authors together with the aim of helping to build our online platforms.

The Campaigners are all people in a similar position, who genuinely want to pay it forward, make connections and friends within the writing community, and help build each others’ online platforms while at the same time building theirs.”

This is a super idea!  For more information and to enroll, click Fourth Writers’ Platform-Building Campaign.

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I will also be participating in a Pump Up Your Book: Virtual Book Publicity Tour during the month of March.  I will be tweeting my locations on Twitter, so be sure to follow me @VillageDrummerF.  Visit Pump Up Your Book! for more information about virtual tours.

I will be blogging about both of these experiences as they take place.  Advice from anyone who has experienced these networking events is very welcome!

Happy Reading to All,

Richard Alan