Monday, April 29, 2013

It’s all about communication -- or not

I call him a friend, though we’ve never met. Yet for years George and Ms Tioga have been an important part of my day. For all that timw he called himself a “Vagabonder Supreme,” a title I once dreamed of earning for myself.

Now, however, George has turned introspective, seeking to understand himself better and doing his best to explain his new insights to the audience he first won by describing the life of a boondocking vagabond. He is setting off in a different direction, and trying to explain that change to those who follow him. To do that will be a matter of communication, which seems to me his strong point. 

Last evening those thoughts of George and his new direction had me considering my own situation as I launch my own expanded blogging effort. Before long I was dwelling on a very different sort of communication dilemma. In my Best Friends and Promises story Aaron Peck has just checked his wife of fifty years into an Alzheimer’s ward. Now, alone in the big and very empty house, it is the absence of communication that demands his attention.

“He was reminded of how much he missed her presence and the subtle interactions they shared ---the soft touches in passing, the seemingly unnoticed smiles, even the unspoken aggravation she could communicate with the simple raising of an eyebrow.

In a particularly introspective moment Aaron reflected on how much of their relationship had been played out below the surface---those times when their verbal interaction was little more than redundant phrases and muttered code words, each carrying a long-established significance, conveying volumes of meaning in a handful of syllables.

It hurt, knowing that the personal dialect which had served them so well had ceased to be. The way they had communicated their love and caring was no longer effective, as though he was the only person left who spoke their dying language.”

As I read that bit of the story for the first time in months I realized how frustrating it must be, trying to communicate a head full, or heart full, of things you want to say when the one you want to hear your words will not, or can not, listen? 

In that case, what am I to do with all these thoughts and words I need to set free? Sometimes they will emerge as a prayer. Lately, however, those October Year insights have made their way into a story or blog post, to be shared in that way. Near as I can tell, that seems to be working for my friend George. Perhaps it will work for me. I’d like to hear what you think.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Let's explore the October Years---together

As you might expect, writing about the October Years---in either a novel or blogging format---is different than writing about the April Years we sometimes long to relive. By now my audience and I have probably become more realistic in our expectations. We have lived out at least some of our April dreams and hopefully by now we have learned what is real and what is not. Though we may revisit our own memory-laden April and May from time to time, we know that in October we are bound to come face to face with the real world. 

We know too that as we’ve moved across life's calendar our priorities have changed. Though the trials and the rewards are no less intimidating now, they are very different. In the course of the nine October Years stories I have written I have touched on many of those changes---the hurtful times that bring turmoil to once settled lives, the retirement gone wrong or a life-partner lost, the once stable financial future turned sour by a failing economy. I’ve even described the nearly indescribable pain of dementia forcing its way into a long and loving relationship.

In the face of those real-life trials there are times when the October psyche seeks relational support to carry on. Of course, there is no way to replace the loss of a loved one, and no sense of victory when we learn to cope with such life-altering events. But when the only other option is numbing aloneness there may be satisfying alternatives.

For too many of those October Years folks the enemy is loneliness and isolation. It can literally hurt to face those times alone. Perhaps it’s the way they are wired. And though I understand it is not the answer for everyone, it is hard for me to imagine that facing those October trials alone is preferable to being there with a caring and special someone. Of course, as much as I believe that, in a novel setting I can’t have my characters arrive at that understanding too quickly. They must find their own way to their own answers, otherwise I have no story.

I suppose it was the importance of overcoming that aloneness that drew me to the October Years and the stories I tell---the ones about Tanner seniors in search of the relationship that will overcome the curse of life lived alone. That search, of course, seldom turns up simple, ready-made answers. We never know what’s coming next, or how we’ll deal with it. Sounds like real life doesn’t it?

So, with your input I’m willing to steer this October Years conversation in most any direction you would like to take it. I hope you’ll come along. Welcome aboard.

New, more frequent blogs

(Originally posted April 19, 2013)

By the time I finished my last post, which amounted to a thumbnail recap of my retirement writing journey, I realized for the umpteenth time that I was recounting a journey that must have begun a lifetime ago.
Like a least some of you readers I wrote my first book when I was seven or eight. Cabinboy Cal was perhaps a dozen small pages of penciled, block printed text. (It was before cursive entered my life.) What I did not recognize at the time was the emergence of a new and persistent passion, a lifelong need to communicate my deepest feelings in a written form. Chances are some of you, perhaps many of you, have experienced that same passion.
A contributing factor in my case was undoubtedly a childhood speech impediment that made verbal communication something to be avoided. For as long as I can remember, through my Cabinboy Cal days, and the years of sportswriting for school and local newspapers, expressing myself on paper was easier and more appealing---a way to dodge the sometimes cruel judgments of my awkward speech. Perhaps that same urge had a role in prompting my family’s great English adventure in 1972.
I was thirty-five and though my career in the family business was doing well, I wanted to be a writer. I knew that much---and no more. I had no idea what I wanted to write or what I wanted to say. I just wanted to be a writer. And how to do that? For some reason I decided I had to go overseas. Apparently I believed that I could not be a writer at home. (As I am now.)
There were six of us---four children, ages 10 to 1, the mother who would hold us together for the next ten months, and a wannabe writer who understood that it was time to put up or shut up. We settled into a cramped apartment in historic Winchester and I went to work. The book itself (I still have the manuscript.) is hard to describe. I plan to have it printed one day, just to have it on my shelf.
By the time that first draft was done, a matter of three or four months, I had learned at least one important lesson. I still wanted to be a writer, but I did not like to write. It was harder than I expected---demanding more of me than I wanted to give. (Liking to write---looking forward to that, would come much later.) In the meantime, my writing adventure turned into the most memorable family holiday our clan has ever had. We  saw the sights, from one end of the UK to the other, visited our family’s history, and made wonderful, lifelong friends.
Then, having scratched that inexplicable writing itch, I returned home and slipped back into the family business. For the next thirty-some years that nagging passion lay dormant. Except for a box full of scribbled notes, unstructured thoughts on a wide range of deeply personal, often philosophical ramblings, I wrote nothing.
It was not until 2005, as I looked ahead to my fiftieth high-school reunion, that those long-quiet urges returned. Once more the need to express myself, to be creating stories, had bubbled to the surface. Once those tales started flowing there has been no turning them off. Perhaps you know how that feels.
And now, with a few books on the shelf and more on the way, I am looking forward to exploring a new (for me) form of written expression. I intend to use this blog format to explore the connections between my own motives and philosophy and the themes and experiences I bring to life in my characters. If you are a writer you know that connection exists.
With that in mind I expect to post the results of my seeking every few days. I hope you’ll mark this as one of the blog you return to one a regular basis.

The long road to here

(Originally posted April 17. 2013)

Hey, wasn’t that fun? The Amazon Breakthrough Novel Contest has pared its original 10,000 entries to a semi-final list of 25. As expected they are moving on without me. But how can I be too disappointed---having made it to the final 500, and winning three very complimentary reviews along the way?
I took a few minutes the other evening to revisit the earlier blogs I have posted here, beginning four years ago. From beginning to end it reads like a travel diary of this retirement journey I’ve been on. I read of the bold decision to serialize my first stories here on the website. At the time they resided in three ring binders on my bookshelf. After daughter Amy created the appropriate format I started posting serialized entries of 6-8 pages twice a week.
I remember the anxiety that accompanied those first entries. For the first time I was going public---offering stories written by an amateur, about seventy year-olds who wanted to feel that way again. What would people think? The first one begins at a fiftieth class reunion. How bizarre was that? No wonder I was second guessing myself. In truth, I can’t imagine why I was so uptight. After all, until I told someone about the stories, no one would even know they were there.
I posted those serialized stories (there would be eight in all) twice a week for nearly two years before the notion of turning them into ebooks took hold. My first excursions on the internet to learn about that process were a bit depressing. The ebook revolution was just taking off, spawning dozens of would-be publishers, all of them wanting to cash in.
 I had decided long before that my stories, and my budget, did not warrant sinking dollars into vanity publishing schemes or pricey ebook providers. Not for the stories I was writing. Instead, my nationwide search led me all the way to Corvallis, Oregon, thirty miles from home. Ray Hoy’s Fictionworks would design and create the ebook files, then send them off to all the major ebook sellers. With no out-of-pocket cost to me my stories were available as ebooks, earning a modest royalty.
Just as remarkable, Ray and I finalized our deal over lunch---discussing my books and talking about the next night’s football game, when the two Corvallis high schools would play each other. His grandson was a starter for Crescent Valley HS. My grandson started for Corvallis High. The next night we both watched Corvallis win by a single point.
I was in the ebook business. And still, until I personally told my prospective audience about it, no one would know the books were available. That same truth applied to my first Print-on-Demand paperback---a handsome volume, badly in need of proofing---that I ordered in mid-2012. It was a great feeling, having a book of my own sitting there on my shelf. But it was expensive. Getting all eight books on that shelf would cost more than I was willing to spend.
Then, along came Create Space. I’ve mentioned in recent blogs how that low-cost, do-it-yourself approach to Print-on-Demand self-publishing fits me like a glove. In a matter of three months all eight titles were on my shelf, and available online in very affordable paperback and Kindle versions. What’s not to like about that?
Just as that task was accomplished, I was surprised to find a pair of very special desserts on my plate. Barbara Curtin of the Salem Statesman-Journal wrote a very nice article about my efforts. Though I wish she had said more about the stories themselves, instead of her fascination with an old fossil who writes love stories about old fossils, I definitely appreciated her article. Then, just weeks after that came news of the Breakthrough Novel results. My last posting told of that, and the first professional reviews I’ve ever received. That was seriously gratifying.
And now? In one of my earlier blogs I wondered out loud about how many unpublished (in the generally accepted sense) writers there are out there. Amazon’s 10,000 entry limit was filled in two or three days. In fact, millions of us are writing the stories we want to tell. We may spend years bringing our characters to life, the ones who live out the tales we create. Every story, no matter the genre or style, represents an extraordinary investment of time and self.
Having made that investment, what are we hoping for in return? There are probably as many answers as there are writers. Some may be seeking fame and fortune---a viable career. Chances are most of us would settle for a piece of that. But the odds are not in our favor. Yet I’m certain that most of my writing peers would agree on at least some things.

1) Each of us revels in the opportunity to pursue our own, very personal way of expressing ourselves---of saying what we want to say, in ways and settings that we have created.
2) Each of us longs to have our stories read and hopefully appreciated. There is a fine line between being appreciated for our efforts, and our results. Most of us are hoping for both.
3) Having invested so much of ourselves in that process we hope the reason you have passed on any given book of ours is because you have checked it out and decided it’s not for you, instead of not giving it a look.
With that in mind I hope you’ll follow this “Author’s Page” to the brief descriptions of all eight books and how they can be ordered.
Finally, as I prepare to return to the writing I set aside to focus on creating the paperbacks, I am reminding myself of the many ways this retirement project of mine has become such an eventful journey---always interesting and full of surprises, with so much to be learned. Who knows what I’ll be posting about in the months ahead? I hope you'll come back to see for yourself.

Some new and exciting

(Originally posted April 12, 2013)

After eight years of writing I finally have an unsolicited professional review of one of my stories. Actually, there are three of them, and they are all quite complimentary.
I've managed to reach the Quarterfinals of Amazon's Breakthrough Novel Competition, meaning there are 500 of us remaining from the beginning 10,000. (There are a lot of us wannabes out there.) That has earned me a pair of nice Editorial Reviews, and one (so far) very flattering Customer Review. I'm not too old to be flattered. It just doesn't happen all that often. Anyway, you can read those reviews here.
I'll admit that I'm partial to the review at the bottom of the linked page, where the Amazon reviewer gives the story 4 stars and says---"Finally a creative idea that veers away from the beautiful young woman looking for love. It is well written, the characters are solid. A good story perfectly executed."
"Perfectly executed?" Oh my, does that mean I killed it? In fact, the reviewer is a professional, so I'll take that as a compliment. He or she has reviewed dozens, maybe hundreds, of the Amazon books. And, of course, I've already decided that he or she is obviously very perceptive. In any case, I thoroughly enjoyed reading his or her professional appraisal. As much as I appreciate positive feedback from family and friends, it is hard to beat unbiased input from a highly qualified reviewer. 
Now, since the next cut in the Breakthrough competition will trim the remaining 500 to 25, I'm sure that I've had my moment of glory. Still, when you're not writing for $$$ those nice reviews help make it all worthwhile.
Thanks for stopping by, and please take a moment to check out the above link.

The cat's out of the bag

(Originally posted March 18, 2013

It’s only been a month since my last post and I’m back again. Fact is, there’s been a lot going on. First of all, after eight years spent toiling in the semi-darkness, someone turned on the light. On Sunday, March 17, Barbara Curtin of the Salem Statesman-Journal published a very nice article on my Tanner Chronicles efforts.
I think Barbara did a good job of describing my unorthodox retirement project and where it has taken me. My only regret is that I didn’t emphasize how much I’d like to have folks read those Tanner stories. For those who enjoy reading of real people dealing with real life I think they are worth the time. As I've said elsewhere, there’s nothing more “real” than those October Years I write about. 
Still, I will admit to a certain satisfaction---knowing that “Tanner” is now aware of its “Chronicles.” Even better, her story was just one of the good things to come my way lately. In addition to revising the Tanner Chronicles website, courtesy daughter Amy, who does such a good job keeping the site up-to-date, my Author’s Page is up and running now.  The Author's page details all of my stories and sells them in both paperback and ebook editions.
Lastly, I’m only weeks away from having all eight books available in paperback versions. And though I would like to see lots of people reading them, Barbara had it right when she described my satisfaction at having those humble volumes lined up on my bookshelf. Besides, with that accomplished I can finally get back to telling a new story. Like I’ve said before, I expect to run out of days before I run out of stories.


(Originally posted February 22, 2013)

How do you plan to spend your retirement? The path you choose is bound to define your remaining years.
Will you take up golf? I tried that myself. Or will you go looking for the hobby that is just right for you---choosing from the many thousands of activities that bored retirees have used to fill their empty hours? I've done a bit of that too.
And, of course, there is travel. The wife and I have explored places from the left coast to the right, and lots of sights in between. We did our mini-Grand Tour of Europe and lived in England. In our retirement we've been there, done that, and enjoyed it all.
Then, on the eve of my fiftieth high-school reunion I was unexpectedly hijacked by SECOND CHANCES. Before long that introduction to Tanner, along with other stories about the friends I made there, had become THE TANNER CHRONICLES---which in turn had become something of an obsession. What began as timid scribbles on yellow pads had morphed into serialized website stories, then ebooks, and now Print of Demand paperbacks.
It has been a slow, sometimes bumpy learning process---creating the eight novel-length stories that sit on my shelf. But with my English teacher traveling partner on board for the ride, acting as proofreader, editor, and critic, retirement for me has become a matter of too-few hours, not too many. Though I may have run out of golf to play or places to see, storytelling has proven to be a different matter. Chances are I'll run out of hours before I run out of Tanner stories.

A paperback! Who would believe that?

(Originally posted June 39, 2012)

July, 2012  --- Only eight months since my last blog entry. Is that too often? Fact is, it’s been a very busy few months --- a time I want to recap, if only for my own purposes.
Every so often I scold myself for not getting more done. After all, for the first time since I started this site I have no backlog of stories waiting in wings. Does that mean I’m going out of business? Probably not. It does mean I’ve spent a lot of time revisiting earlier stories --- proofreading, tweaking, trying to make them better. In fact, when I step back to review what’s happened in the course of those eight months I really can’t complain.
Topping my list of “what’s happened” is the publication of Going Home in a paperback version. No matter how satisfying it is to see one’s ebooks displayed on Amazon, I'd never trust any writer who doesn’t get a little giddy holding a copy of his or her paperback for the first time. More than that, it’s taught me a bunch about the publishing process.
Having the paperback available has also taken me to a very different place. For the first time I have something I can actually hold in my hand and show you. That’s what led me to my first ever Author’s Fair at the Salem Public Library. Though it was a low key event, it was something I couldn’t do with ebooks. (How can I show you how cool my ebooks are?) Anyway, I’ve been in an Author’s Fair. That must make me an author.
Now I’m beginning to address the possibility of selling Going Home directly from this site. That of course leads to questions of whether anyone is willing to pay for the book, and more fundamentally, who even knows it’s out there? When those questions bubble to the surface I’m forced to return to an earlier question --- who am I writing these for? I suppose I answered that a long time ago when I decided to write what I write. If I was worried about selling books I’d have chosen something a bit more commercial. Or taken up another hobby. 
Anyway, by mid-July the ebook version of Family Matters will be available. That’s another of those stories where I just held on while it led me to where it was going. I knew where it would begin, but wasn’t at all sure where it would end until I got there. 
And finally, I’ve just begun serializing Going Poor, the last story. (At least at this point.)  It’s still a work in process. The version I end up serializing won’t be the last. I’ve learned enough about my own writing routine to know that. Still, it’s good to be back in the blog posting business.

The last project I’ll mention here (Mainly because I want to come back here in six months and see if I’ve actually done it.) is a rewrite of Maybe This Time. I’ve been kicking this around for a couple years now, wondering if it’s the right thing to do. It was my first attempt at an unhappy ending. The result was pretty harsh, not subtle at all. I kept telling myself that endings aren’t always happy, that bad stuff happens. But after rereading it a couple months ago I realized that I felt bad for Carl. I had put a lot of myself into him, and I didn’t like the fact that I’d left him hanging out to dry like that. Now I want to see if I can stay true to the story and still help him out a bit.
Rereading that last paragraph reminds me how attached I get to these people I write about. Someone like Carl Postell came to life as a figment of my imagination, someone I made up out of thin air. The fact is for month after month I rummaged through my mind clutter, choosing the pieces that became part of the story --- things that said what I wanted to say, that showed what I wanted to show.
You can’t spend as much time as I have sorting through a lifetime of memories and impressions without ending up with characters you want to treat right. I think I've done that for the Harris brothers, Aaron Peck, Tom Fedder, Hank Rolland, and Dan Pagett. Compared to the way those fellows fared, it feels like I’ve shortchanged Carl a bit. I’m curious to find out what I can do, if anything, to treat him a little better.

Check back in a few months and see if I’ve given poor Carl a helping hand, or doomed him to a life of disappointment.
Thanks,  GS

So much for the ivory tower

(Originally posted October 13, 2011)

It’s October 2011, six and a half years since I filled that first yellow note pad page with what would become SECOND CHANCES. It was a few weeks before my 50th high school reunion and I was letting my thoughts drift off in that direction. Now, in some ways it feels like I’m returning to an even earlier incarnation, back to the rough and tumble world of business, where we spent our days selling whatever it was we had to sell. Long ago the Stanford University Business School had tried to convince me those efforts were somehow noble. I’m not sure that lesson stuck. In any case, I’ve been there and done that -- sometimes very well, sometimes not so well at all.
Then finally, with retirement, those constraints were removed. After stumbling around for a while I learned that I could move beyond that “business” foolishness. I had graduated from the “down and dirty” world of commerce to the pure and untainted ivory tower universe of creative writing. It had taken most of a lifetime, but I had moved beyond the profane pursuit of sales.

Except ------ having spent years creating these stories I realized I was facing a familiar dilemma. A couple years ago, in "Me and My Stories" (see sidebar), I explained how I, and any writer who conceives and gives birth to the characters that inhabit his or her stories, who nurtures their “becoming”, inevitably wants the best for the “friends” they have created. We want our creations to be seen, read, even judged. Anything but ignored. Here in the “minor leagues” of e-book writing who else will do that if not the author?
So here I am. For me step one in that process has been the new and improved website you are visiting right now. I owe daughter Amy for that. With the unanticipated promise of an e-book future for these Tanner stories, what began as a forum for serializing each book has been transformed into a sales tool, complete with overviews and excerpts, ways to help a potential buyer know what he or she might be buying. I expect this change, along with an expanded email update about the site, and a very modest venture into Facebook advertising, to be the extent of my expanded marketing efforts.
On one hand, a part of me shivers at the prospect of going so commercial. I thought I was escaping that. Still, another part is anxious to see where this grand experiment takes me. Will people read them? More importantly, after reading one, will they read a second? 

Thanks for checking in. And no matter how this turns out, I hope your retirement is as interesting as mine has become.

My Lord, a new posting

(originally posted October 11, 2011)

Over the last day or two I have reread the earlier entries on this blog, the last one posted more than two years ago. How’s that for consistency? It was an interesting process, stirring some feelings I’ll never forget, and others I scarcely remember. I do recall how bold it felt, taking my serialized stories to the internet for the first time. There was a website to be created and installments to post. For the first time in the course of a depressingly bland retirement I was really pumped.
Yet, when those installments were up and running, who knew the stories were there, waiting to be read? It’s one thing to have your work go unread because prospective readers have looked it over and decided it’s not for them. I can deal with that. To be overlooked because no one knows you’re out there was somehow less satisfying. So I spread the word myself in a modest way, then reminded myself I would keep on telling my stories, whether or not anyone read them. That too, was less than satisfying.
Then in time it was on to the next step. I have some idea why I finally pushed for an e-book presence for these stories. And I know why I insisted that it happen on my own terms. That it ever came to pass was perhaps a matter of dumb luck more than anything else. But, however it happened, I am left with a new, more daunting version of the same old question. How do I let potential readers know we’re here, waiting to be read?
You can tell from earlier postings that it took me a while to get past my own self-consciousness about the stories I tell and the way I tell them. Thankfully I got over most of that. But it’s one thing to accept what I’m doing, but something else to brag about. (Isn’t that what marketing is?) So now I find myself planning a very modest Facebook ad campaign. Hopefully I’m prepared to accept the truth it may reveal. In a matter of weeks I may have more proof than ever, solid empirical evidence, that what I’m writing just doesn’t work for prospective readers. I don’t want to know that -- but I do.
I’m not a fan of long, rambling blogs. So I’ll keep this short, and be back here next week to explore what comes next. 
Thanks for reading,

There's no getting away from it

(Originally posted September 15, 2009)
Vacation time. The idea was a relaxing get away: time to think about something other than the normal stuff that fills our everyday lives. It’s been a welcome break, just the two of us. Morning fog may hide the surf when we look out from our balcony, yet most afternoons have been just right for long walks on the hard sand next to the breakers. It’s been everything a vacation should be.
Why then am I so easily drawn back to everyday thoughts, the ones I’d planned to leave back home? Of course, there’s no way to do that: to leave the ordinary behind. The mind matter we pack around is too much a part of us to be set aside.
I don’t know about you, but there are times I wish that mind full of stuff I drag along behind me wasn’t so heavy. Why couldn’t it be more logical, or in many cases, more worthy? There are parts of it I’d like to erase altogether, though I suppose those are the very things I’m meant to remember, to learn from, and hopefully avoid the next time
However, that reservoir of experience is also a source of raw material: uniquely personal elements from which to assemble a story. I sift through the overburden of life impressions that clutter my mind, looking for bits that illustrate an idea or make a point. I’ll be looking for pieces that fit together, like parts of a jigsaw puzzle. Sometimes it’s one of those rejected snippets, the ones I wish I could forget, that bubbles to the surface, ready to serve in a unexpected way. That happens even on vacation, surrounded by so many attractive diversions: her good company, hours of uncharted mind wandering, or a good book. (Interesting how Nuala O’Faolain allowed the embodiment of a long ago dream to find a home in her story.) Though there’s no computer on hand, I have a couple yellow writing pads to fill.
For three days I’ve been filling pages with words that offer the promise of a new story. As always, it’s a casual, almost haphazard process: following an idea where it leads me, hurrying along, trying to keep up. There’s no need to spend time finding the exact words or perfect metaphors. The purpose is to capture the story as it arrives, knowing that whole paragraphs, sometimes whole scenes, will eventually be discarded or reworked beyond recognition.
For me, that first draft is a time for absorbing the feel of what the story is becoming. The ideas can come so fast that good ones, at least I think they were, escape before I can put them on paper. It’s easy to get sidetracked. If I pause to tweak a sentence before moving on, by the time I return to the story line I may have lost the stream of consciousness, that progression of ideas that I hoped would be my story. Other times I’ll try to hold a thought that just interrupted the sentence or paragraph I’m finishing. I’ll promise to return to it in a few seconds. By then, of course, it’s gone, lost forever.
Finally, it all comes down to the one question that matters most. Is there really a worthwhile story lurking in all those pages of scribbled notes? How many weeks, one time months, have I spent stalking an idea that led nowhere: a story that had no reason to be told?
I take all those bumps in the road as signs that after five years I remain a late life beginner: having my fun, stretching my mind, getting my kicks by stringing words and ideas together on paper. Then, taking advantage of today’s incredible technology, I send the results off into cyberspace, to either vanish forever, or be intercepted by a curious mind that I hope will find meaning in the words. It seems to me a fascinating concept. I launch my stories into space, never knowing whom, if anyone, will read them. And even at the cost of a disrupted vacation, I count myself fortunate for the chance to do that.
Anyway, if you’re reading this you can tell that;  1) I’ve had too much vacation time on my hands, and  2) I’ve cleaned it up enough to post once I get back to a computer. 

One story down, eight to go

(Originally posted September 4, 2009_
This afternoon I posted Installment #36, the last of Maybe This Time. My first complete story has seen the light of day. It’s been an interesting process: dissecting into bite sized pieces what had been conceived as a whole. Sometimes that was a challenge, parceling out half a scene, hoping it would stand alone, at least until the arrival of the next installment.
Perhaps I’ve learned how to do that better. In any case, after a short vacation, during which I’ll make every effort to leave the stories behind for a few days, I’ll be back in mid-September with the next story.
In the meantime, I’d like to encourage some feedback from you readers. It turns out there are quite a few of you. Certainly more than I had expected. I would love to hear your opinions, pro or con, about MAYBE THIS TIME. The COMMENTS link at the end of each posting is a simple, painless way to do that.
Finally, as I noted in the introduction to #36, these stories will remain here on the site, always available. If you know someone who might enjoy reading about Carl and Jack, Maria and Cynthia, please pass the word about Tanner-Stories. It’s easy to access, and the price is right.

 With that, please join us on September 16th for GOING HOME.

Flunking retirement

(Originally posted August 10, 2009)

How did I manage to get myself in this place---laying my modest stories on the table for anyone to read? There must be a million ways that lead to where I am today. I suppose my path has been as unlikely as any. For a whole career (actually a pair of different careers) I tried my best to please the right people. After all, it was their opinion made my choices right or wrong. Most of us will do that for a paycheck. Until, that is, the day arrives when they tell us we’re free to please only ourselves.

Retirement 101 I called it, the first grade of a brand new kind of school. The thought of it was seductive. The fact of it proved disappointing. In fact, I very nearly flunked Retirement 101. I started out assuming that it would be an easy thing---using the skills I’d gathered over the years, answering only to myself. After all, I was on my own. Actually, we were on our own, the two of us, about to be surprised how differently each of us understood what that meant.

I stumbled around for nearly five years, trying to make sense of retirement, before I bumped into my storytelling obsession. Looking back it feels like it been there all along, waiting to draw me out of my funk. Of course, there's been a lot to learn, but that is the attraction. For some, that can mean finding something that draws them beyond themselves. In my case that "something" pulled me deeper within myself. Either way, it has us looking ahead. That's an important October lesson to learn.

I believe that "something" is waiting out there, in one form or another, for everyone. It’s a very individual, very personal thing---but it's there, waiting to be found. I hope you’ll take the opportunity to explore the possibilities, in what ever form you choose to pursue. 

Having waited a lifetime to get there, why shouldn’t retirement be a liberating experience? For perhaps the first time in my life I have only myself to please. (Correction: it always works better when it pleases Her too.) The thing is, if even a few readers get a slice of the enjoyment I receive from telling these stories, I’ll count that as a win.


For another take on being ready for retirement, check out Nancy Schlossberg's article.

It's a very personal thing

(originally posted July 27, 2009)

Almost from the beginning I realized that telling a story is a very personal thing. There is no right way, no wrong way. The proof is in what works. That's as true for the reader as the teller.

Even among the experts, those differences hold true. The professional judging criticism I have received  illustrates that. What one judge praised (albeit faintly) as my "dialogue based" style was seen by another as “lacking in detail and description, the texture that brings a story to life.” 

You will find no flights of scene setting description or lengthy personal description in these stories. For some that may be disconcerting. It may feel like they are operating with incomplete information. The fact is, I tend to let my characters tell their own stories, in their own words and thoughts, with as little narrative interference as possible. I realize that most "experts" do it differently. That’s one reason they’re professional and published, and I am an unpublished amateur. 

So why have I arrived at my  approach? Because it’s my way. As a writer who doesn’t have to worry about what sells, I get to do that. Besides, you may not be surprised to hear that I have a theory about why my stories turn out that way.

Perhaps like you, I'm a child of the radio generation. For reasons I find hard to explain to my grandchildren, I grew up spending hundreds of hours in the front room, staring intently at the big Philco upright, while the dramas I followed (from the Lone Ranger to Boston Blackie) were played out in nothing more than spoken dialogue, and mood setting sounds and music. With only those minimal prompts to pull me along, it was left to my imagination to fill in the visual details of the characters and their settings, to paint my own pictures of the action they depicted.

Is that why I lean toward a dialogue driven (both spoken and internal) format to tell my story? As long as I provide a minimally furnished stage on which my characters can play out their roles, is it fair to expect the reader to fill in the colors and fabrics? I know there was a time that worked for me. After all, how else would I have known that Sam Spade looked just like my dad?


About me and my stories

(originally posted July 10, 2009)

Writers number in the millions. Authors (ie. writers who have been published) perhaps in the thousands. Though I'm very thankful to have made my way into the world of e-books, the earlier challenges of finding a readership remain. I still consider myself a writer, a member of that crowded universe hoping to be read.
As near as I can tell success in this demanding craft is dictated by the blending of two essential ingredients. Is the story I tell compelling enough to win an audience? And can I tell it in a way that holds their interest?
As measured by the high priests of publishing, I fall short in both respects. I accept that, because it is probably true. However, like a gazillion of my fellow writers, those professional judgments have not dampened my enthusiasm for telling the stories I want to tell, or my attachment to the persons I have imagined into being. As their stories come to life in my thoughts, on a yellow note pad, and finally on my computer screen, it seems that some proprietary instinct, perhaps even a maternal impulse, takes hold of me. It's a trait I am sure I share with my peers.
For those of us who write fiction, no matter what we write or how well, the stories and the persons we create take on lives of their own. We birth and nurture those individuals: the ones who inhabit our tales. We spend months, sometimes years, doing our best to bring them to life. By the story’s end, those products of our imagination have become very real to us. Like all our close friends, we care about what becomes of them. 
Predictably, I have been stalked by the nagging certainty that my creations deserve more than a few bytes of space on my hard drive. I realize they are not destined to grace the New Arrivals table at Barnes & Noble, but I do owe them more than the stale air of my half lit Cave. I owe them a chance to see the light of day. To that end, I set out to let them experience life among the citizens of Cyberville, as serialized novels. Later, when the opportunity showed itself, I expanded their reach to include the rapidly expanding world of e-books. I'm looking forward to seeing where those new possibilities lead.
Meanwhile, for those of you who have followed the serial installments of each story, that will continue, with the last six installments online at any time. The serializing process had been a helpful editing tool that I'm reluctant to give up.
As always, will continued to offer relational stories of hopeful, perhaps overly optimistic, sexagenarians and septuagenarians - each of them wondering if it can happen again.