My novel EVELYN MARSH has just been released in audio format, narrated by Susanna Burney and engineered by Eric Eagle in Seattle, Washington. Susanna does a great job of capturing Evelyn’s voice and bringing the story to life.
Why an audiobook? As the saying goes, “So many books, so little time.”
I’ve been a big audiobook fan for more than a decade. I find that I only have time to read a dozen or so physical books (paper or ebook) a year. With audiobooks all the hours I spend driving, shopping, cleaning, cooking, gardening, or exercising can now be spent listening to 50 or 60 audiobooks a year. I’ve managed to get through a long list of classics and have discovered numerous contemporary authors along the way, authors whose books I simply wouldn’t have the time to get to if it weren’t for audiobooks.
I’m currently working on an ensemble piece set in the small coastal town of Seal Cove in Northern California. Seal Cove is a fictionalized version of Moss Beach, where I’ve lived most of my life, combined with neighboring Princeton by the Sea at Pillar Point Harbor, and perhaps a few touches of Del Mar, where I grew up.
I began work on it this summer and was hopeful of getting it done before the end of he year, but I was overly optimistic, and I’m now shooting for March 1st. The first working title was Cypress Cove, but I found that title had already been used for a series. I then settled on Smuggler’s Cove, with he same results. For awhile it was Rum Beach, which is a good title, but gives the expectation of a Caribbean setting, which doesn’t fit. At this moment I’ve settled on Seal Cove, which is an actual cove about a mile from my house.
I’ve lived all but a couple of years in seaside towns and have never used the coastside as a setting for fiction (save for an unpublished novel called Fog Beach). Seal Cove is about life and death and aspirations and disappointments, expectations, surprises, hope and discovery. It’s about the people who live here, or might have lived here. They’re a nice group of people trying to find their way through life.
Reading books allows you to live life through another’s eyes. So does writing books. As a result I’ll never write a story about social injustice, or hopelessness. It would make me too depressed. There are plenty of things in this world that inspire outrage, or anger, or pity, or disgust. If you read a book that centers on any of those themes, you’ll be done with it in a few hours, perhaps unsatisfied, but relatively unscathed. If you write that same book you’ll have to live with those characters and situations for months or years, and that can be very unsettling. My novel With Artistic License is a story about Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained. In it the main character is going through a divorce. To write fictional characters you have to put yourself in their place and see the world through their eyes. By the time I’d finished writing the novel I felt like I’d gone through a divorce myself, though I’ve been happily married for 40 years. The characters in my current work-in-progress have their problems, but no one’s situation is hopeless, and there are amusing moments, which keeps this writer happy.
I was hoping to finish by the end of the year, which now seems doubtful, but at least I’ll be spending that time with characters whose company I genuinely enjoy, whose problems are nothing too dire. As usual, I’m covering new ground. To be very successful as a writer (defined by the number of readers one has) it helps to stick to one genre. That way you can build a base of supporters. So far I haven’t covered the same ground twice. With Artistic License is a literary novel leaning toward dark romantic comedy. Time Management, a novel, is part fantasy, part historical adventure. Evelyn Marsh is a novel of psychological suspense. The one thing that ties them together is a wry sense of humor and uplifting endings.
Speaking of Evelyn Marsh, an audible edition will be coming out very soon. More on that in the next post.
In this era of unconstrained publishing, many authors give away their work for free. In principal I’m against the practice. I know of no other profession where the creator is expected to work for free. The average cost of my books runs to less than a penny a page, which I consider a bargain. Nonetheless, when you’re an unknown quantity it’s hard to get anyone to pay attention to creative work; there’s just too much available to winnow out the wheat from the chaff. Brand awareness has become more important than ever.
So in an effort to alert potential readers to my work, in the month of September I’m giving away four copies of Time Management, a novel, and five signed copies of Evelyn Marsh on Goodreads. You can find them here:
The usual question a stranger will ask after finding out I write fiction is, “Where do you get your stories?” There is no singular answer. Each story has its own genesis. I always see the beginning and the ending clearly. The middle part is always nebulous and takes a while to flesh out.
I wrote a failed novel called Fog Beach several years ago. The kernel of the story was planted fifteen years before that, when my brother was auditing a small oil company and found evidence of a scam involving government subsidies. There were a few good scenes in that book, but it was dense and too complicated to follow.
The bare bones concept of With Artistic License came to me in a dream, scene by scene over the course of a night. I dreamed of a six-year-old boy drawing on a wall and woke up laughing (I often laugh out loud in my sleep, which drives my wife crazy). I kept waking up laughing and jotting down notes before falling asleep and dreaming the next scene. By the morning I had the bones of a screenplay, but decided to explore the characters in more depth by telling it as a novel. The actual writing took three and a half years.
The concept of Time Management, a novel had been with me since I was a kid. I began writing it in my forties, abandoned it, picked it up again in my fifties, and finished it in my sixties. It took me a long time to figure out what the internal and external conflicts were, and once I had those in place it again took three and a half years to write.
Determined to work faster, I decided to write a novella next and kicked around a few ideas with my wife. I was just finishing up Time Management and we were driving through an affluent neighborhood of Santa Barbara looking at stately homes with their well-tended gardens, and imagining the occupants I wondered, “What would drive a normal, mild-mannered, well-educated woman to commit murder?” I put that idea on the back burner in May of 2015 and didn’t think of it again until I sat down on January first 2016 and began making notes. Evelyn was a short, sweet affair. I started the actual writing on April first and was finished on September first, a total of nine months from start to finish. There was a little editing and tweaking after that, but for all intents and purposes it was done.
For this new book (working title Rum Beach) I want to write an ensemble piece with several characters whose lives intersect in the small town of Rum Beach. I can’t tell you how or why a character springs to mind. They seem to lurk in the background and then step forward and say, “What about me? Tell my story.” I had several characters in mind and left them to simmer for seven or eight months, letting the story coalesce around them. The goal is to have the first draft written by the end of the year. It’s an ambitious goal, but something to shoot for.
Taped to the top of my computer monitor are the words: “Storytelling and writing are actually two entirely different skill sets.” I think that quote is attributable to K.M. Weiland. It’s what makes writing a novel so difficult for me, and so seemingly easy for James Patterson. He comes up with so many plots so fast that he has to rely on co-writers to help write all the stories that pour out of his head. Patterson is a storyteller first and a writer second. I wish I had his facility for coming up with compelling “what if” situations and following them through to a finished novel that readers can’t put down. Alas, I’m a writer first and a storyteller second. Some lucky bums are equally good at both (Stephen King comes immediately to mind). So for me storytelling is the hard part.
Hemingway wrote, “Prose is architecture, not interior decoration, and the Baroque is over.” I respectfully disagree. Had he said “My prose is architecture…” I’d agree wholeheartedly. For me, on the other hand, storytelling is architecture, style is interior design, and prose interior decoration. The first two come before the latter. Story and style are the skeleton, the actual writing adds flesh. And if the writing is to be more than a paint-by-the-numbers knockoff, the process must allow for serendipity, unforeseen juxtapositions and tangents.
I’m currently working on a story set on the San Mateo coast, where I’ve lived for the past 42 years. I’m getting to know the characters, their backstories, their motivations, their voices. I’m not yet quite sure how they all fit together, where their lives intersect, and what tone I want to adopt. Other than notes there isn’t much actual writing being done, and I’m getting antsy to start. But I still need to find that moment when all of the characters find themselves in the same place at the same time, and possibly even in the same pursuit. It’s a puzzle. Being an ensemble piece, I’ll require the assistance of more than one muse working in concert. I hope they’re able to get along.