Monday, December 13

Signing Books: Five Places I Visited For 50 States

Book signings are finally coming back in fashion, but still not everywhere. Some bookstores are holding out for one thing or another. My own book, 50 States, missed out on meet-and-greets last June. Nobody would host book signings back then, so I eventually settled into dropping signed books off at select locations — usually coinciding with my daughter's travel softball schedule.

I didn't mind. I still had a chance to visit some pretty cool bookstores and meet some great people, sometimes leaving with more books than I brought. I'm grateful to them all, so here's a holiday shout out.

BookMonster in Santa Monica, Calif. BookMonster was the first bookstore to pick up signed copies. I wrote a post about the experience, and my gratitude hasn't diminished. The store has been an icon at 212 Santa Monica Blvd. in Santa Monica, just northeast of Ye Olde King's Head and King and Queen Cantina. My book currently has a home at the store on the second shelf (top to bottom) of D07. They shelved it there because the first edition description sounded a bit metaphysical (but it's not, really). 

The book is listed "like new," and it is new. You can reserve your copy online

The store is pretty cool with a big square footprint that is surprisingly deep. The shelves along the outside walls run floor to ceiling. Once past the front area (reserved for new books and accessories), the store is organized with two columns of spacious rows all the way to the back of the store. The store also has some scarce books protected by glass cases in the very back. They have a sandwich board outside the store that counts how many books they've sold today. 

BookEnds in Kailua, Hawaii. Before traveling to Hawaii, I reached out to almost every bookstore on the island of O'ahu. Most of them didn't respond or weren't interested in carrying any titles from a debut author. I almost gave up until I reached out to one more the same day we arrived on the island.

The manager asked me a few questions about the book. Then she said she loved the hook, loved the wholesale price, and asked how many copies I brought with me. She took them all. 

BookEnds is a small neighborhood bookstore. What it lacks in size, it makes up for in character and books. There are shelves of books, stacks of books, and piles of books that make up a meandering book garden of sorts. The longer you wander, the more likely you are going to find that one hidden gem you can't find somewhere else.

The store is located at 600 Kailua Rd, Ste 126 in Kailua, on the southeast side of the island, northeast of Waikiki. The drive through the mountains made the side trip worthwhile. And we look forward to exploring more of Kailua the next time we go. 

Barnes & Noble in Henderson, Nev. I've had some interesting experiences reaching out to bookstores in Las Vegas. The best of them was with Barnes & Noble in Henderson. Once they knew I was a local author, they didn't hesitate. 

Barnes & Noble does it a bit differently than indie stores. They prefer to order copies instead of accepting them from the author. When the books came in, they contacted me to schedule a visit. I really appreciated it because they also had their hands full with a store remodel. 

This Barnes & Noble, located at 567 N. Stephanie St., gets books, authors, and readers. Not only did I sign the books they had on hand, but they also did a quick in-store promo that they shared on Twitter and Facebook. And, they noticed I did my own post about the visit. You can find a copy of 50 States on their local author bookshelf toward the store's back (in front of the digital media section). 

I've visited the store several times over the years, and I have to add that the remodel has transformed it into a book lover's paradise. If I need some last-minute books, this will be my go-to Barnes & Noble, even if it is a little more out of the way. 

BookMaze in Mesa, Arizona. The Phoenix area is a little more like Las Vegas in that not all independent stores are friendly to debut authors. One will even charge indie authors a stocking fee to sell their book on consignment and charge them for any unsold copies.

I didn't qualify for this program because my book is available from major distributors, not that I would have accepted the offer anyway. Instead, I discovered the out-of-way BookMaze in Mesa, Ariz., that stocks scores of books with a floorplan that lives up the store's "maze" name. 

While the front entry can be a little offputting, the bookstore itself is like a lost city of books at deeply discounted prices. The shelves are arranged in interesting angles, broken up by a few cubbies and seating areas like you might find at the heart of a maze. 

My visit felt awkward because the bookstore owner wasn't in when I arrived and no one knew they were picking up 50 States. But after showing my messages to one of the clerks, she was happy to help. I'm not the only one. The bookstore has a reputation for helping people — they recently donated 400 pounds of candy to our troops! 

Adventures Underground in Richland, Wash. Adventures Underground, located at 1391 George Washington Way, was an absolutely amazing discovery. It's part bookstore, comic shop, gaming hub, and collectibles gift store all rolled up into one — the kind of eclectic coolness you wish you could find in every city. There is even an inviting cafe attached with coffees, smoothies, and other tasty treats. 

My family and I browsed more shelves in this store than any other. Most of mine was spent perusing an extensive sampling of metal fantasy figures on pegboards (an old hobby I haven't paid much attention to lately) and thumbing through some of their comic book drawers. 

Ultimately, I didn't find any comics to fill a few holes in my collection. However, my daughter picked up a limited-run comic series featuring Gamora from Guardians of the Galaxy. If we had had more time, we could have browsed for hours. But as I mentioned before, many of these stops happen between softball games. 

Future Visits 

These were the first five stores with which I arranged signed book drops, but they won't be the last. Next year's softball schedule will take us to several cities, including Denver. I'm incredibly excited about that stop because the Tattered Cover serves as a setting for one of my stories inside 50 States. 

With book signings finally coming back into fashion, I'm hoping to arrange in-person signings for a few hours instead of the sign-and-dash book drops next year. The timing couldn't be better. Right now, 50 States is in audiobook production, and the long-awaited hardcover edition press check recently shipped. 

Of course, more than all that and to the point: I really do appreciate these stores for adding 50 States to their shelves. Brick-and-mortar bookstores are vital to our communities, and I hope you find some time to visit them — whether you are looking for 50 States or not — to fill your holiday gift list. Good night, good luck, and happy reading.


Tuesday, November 16

Being Native: Native American Heritage Month

When I was younger, 
I didn't know but always knew I was part Native American. Despite what others told me, I could see it in the photos of my late father. I could see it on my skin in the summer, a tan five shades darker than other boys. I could feel in my heart, preferring to play the role of Geronimo or Lone Wolf during any game of "Cowboys and Indians." 

There were other tells as well. Too many to share today. Suffice to say, some of my early interests made more sense when I discovered this part of my heritage. 

I'm one-quarter Native American, with my most immediate roots connected to the various small bands of people who inhabited the Rio Grande valley. Some were called Coahuiltecan. Some were called Karankawa. Some were called Tejanos in Texas. Some may have been Lipan Apache. My deeper roots are tied to the Quechua. It's conclusive, with some of my DNA markers unique to only them (a tribe that was older but later part of the Inca Empire).

It seems to fit. Under different circumstances, my surname would have been Navejar, which means navigator in Spanish. My paternal ancestors migrated north with Spanish explorers, voluntarily or not, before settling in areas of northeastern Mexico like Nuevo León and southern Texas around Corpus Christi — families intertwined but also on opposing sides during the Texas Revolution.

Growing up with missing links. 

I wish I had known more about my Native American heritage while growing up. It may have spared me a few uncomfortable moments over the years, especially from people who either don't believe it or want me to deny it. Our country tends to place too much emphasis on pigment and perception.

I can't tell you how many times I've sat in a meeting with someone claiming the board is too "white," leaving me to wonder if I have the energy to correct them. Or, conversely, finding out someone is surprised that I'm my daughter's father because they thought I was "Mexican" and her skin is too fair.

My children have a complete picture of their heritage. They are primarily German, Welsh, and Native American on my side. They are primarily Scottish, Irish, and Portuguese on my wife's side. They are proud of all of it. But more than that, they are Americans. Most people in the United States are Americans, yet too many people forget it. In my opinion, we would be better off placing any other descriptors after American, e.g. American Native. 

Native American Heritage Month 

There are some fantastic resources to understand the first tribes better, recognize their accomplishments, and consider the complexities of how indigenous Americans connected with other Americans. The United States maintains a Native American Heritage Month website with links to hundreds of other resources, exhibits, and collections. 

Some of my favorites include Bureau of Indian Affairs photos and Flickr exhibits maintained by the National Archives, cinema showcases presented by the Smithsonian, and location histories by the National Parks Service. I also recommend the National Museum of the American Indian. The museum honors the generations of American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian members of the United States Armed Forces beginning with the American Revolution. It captures the complexity of history.

Complexity is a concept we need to reintroduce to the study of history. While the duality of humankind tempts us to choose sides, objective reality doesn't bend so easily. Mostly, history is filled with people doing the best they can in the world that was presented before them. Occasionally, there are one or two who move humankind forward, for better or worse. Maybe we could judge less and empathize more.

Native Americans in my book, 50 States 

My heritage influences my writing from time to time. I've written several stories that include Native Americans. In my anthology of short stories, 50 States, there are two that explicitly include indigenous peoples and three with characters who are part Native American. 

The story of Chief Math-tope of the Mandan (Numakiki) tribe is featured in All The Wild Horses. It's about a girl who attempts to save a herd of Mustangs in North Dakota by moving them from the Badlands to a reservation. The other, The Qallupilluk, is about a Yupik family that saves a runaway in Alaska. 

The other three include Four Fathers (Georgia), Indian Wrestling (Minnesota), and Spinning Wheel (Florida). The reference to their heritage is subtle to nonexistent. Like any of my stories, things like heritage or race are only important to a story if it's important to the characters. You know. It's like real life. 

The digital book is on sale everywhere in celebration of Native American Heritage Month, with the best deals at Barnes & Noble and Amazon through November 30. Paperback copies are available from most booksellers, and you can find a shortlist of bookstores with signed copies here. The book is doing well. I'll be sharing an update, along with an exclusive short story, via my quarterly newsletter very soon. Sign up today to make sure you receive it in your mailbox during the first week of December.

Thursday, October 7

Opening October: The Spookier Side Of 50 States


Some people think the thrillers inside 50 States are scarier than any brush-ups with the supernatural. Still, some speculative tales do work overtime in creating the right atmosphere for Halloween. Kirkus Reviews called a few out, knowing that their review was coming conspicuously close to October.

So what should you look for inside 50 States? While plenty of stories could qualify on a longer list, I've narrowed it down to five short stories that fit the season.

Five Stories From 50 States For Halloween

5. All Your Joys. This story is about a boy who breaks into his neighbor's home, never considering the consequences of doing so in a town like Salem, Massachusetts. The cost for his infraction is more than he could have imagined.  

4. Papa Ghede. An orphaned teen decides to embrace unknown monsters over the monster she knows in New Orleans, dabbling in the darker side of voodoo as a means of escape from an abusive uncle. The story is named after the corpse of the first man who ever died. He now waits to take souls to the afterlife. 

3. Top Rung. An industrious young career woman contemplates her success in contrast to her sister's failings while taking an early morning run. As she loses herself in thought, her run is interrupted — first by a careless driver and then something just outside her peripheral vision. 

2. Into The Bardo. Block Island, off the coast of Rhode Island, is well known for being one of the most "spirited" locales in the United States. This short story recounts one such incident involving the final hours of a fishing trawler before it's lost beneath the waves. 

1. Shine On You Crazy Diamonds. There is a house in Michigan with a history. The bad luck began with the Diamond family in the 1920s and followed every visitor afterward, including three boys who trespassed on Devil's Night.

Two of the stories already have companion pieces. I shared The Shut Out, which tells some of the original Diamond family troubles, in my first quarterly newsletter. I followed Papa Ghede up with The Night Bus, a short story slated for my 50 Threads project.

Right now, the kindle version of 50 States is on sale for $4.99 via Amazon. Other digital versions are on sale for $5.99. The print version price varies. For a complete listing of stores — including a growing number of places where you can find signed copies — visit my author page on Copywrite, Ink. Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, September 22

Burning Things: Inside A Story Form 50 States

Where's There Smoke
Every time I read an article about wildfires sweeping the western United States, it's always accompanied by an acute sense of loss. I feel for every family forced to evacuate, never knowing what they might come home to or if there will even be a home to go back to when they can return.

Last year, more than 17,000 structures were burned or damaged, many of them houses. More than 550 homes were lost to California's Dixie fire just this year. That's just one fire. And wildfires are not the only culprit. Every year, more than 14 million people go homeless after natural disasters around the world. Events like Katrina in 2005, for example, added 12,000 new homeless in the New Orleans area alone.

Reading about it sometimes makes me wonder what I might do if I was forced to evacuate. We make a mental inventory of what things might be worth saving. Or, in some cases, we wonder what things would be sacrificed. My home, for instance, displays a dozen or so paintings my father painted before his death. He was only 19 when he died, but his talent was phenomenal. The paintings connect me to him. But I don't see how we could save them in an emergency.

What is it about the rest of it?

Aside from family photos and other heirlooms, what about the rest of it? Most of the items in our homes will one day be reduced to an estate sale or hauled away for the trash. And yet, for most people, these possessions become as much a part of them as their memories. 

Early last year, my home was broken into by one of our neighbor's kids. Every item they took was an individual violation, with the worst of them being two cars we left in the garage. One of which, my vintage Infiniti, was nearly totaled (technically totaled). So, I get it. 

And yet, there is always this tiny holdover from when I was 10 years old and forced to give up everything I owned — except for three choice playthings — when I was dubiously moved from one household to another. Things are just things, you tell yourself. Let them go.

Inside 'Where There's Smoke.'  

I wove several themes into the short story 'Where's There Smoke' inside 50 States. But most people who read it see what's on the surface first. One of the last families to evacuate a wildfire that will almost certainly consume their home sees presumed looters racing up to the house as they leave it behind. 

I write about them and what they would do. But if it was you, what would you do?

On the one hand, the fire will likely consume the entirety of everything left behind. On the other, strangers will invade your home, taking those things you painfully surrendered.

There is a grayness here where no one answer is the right one. It's a life-defining moment, regardless what decision is made. If you continue down the hill to safety as your home is ransacked, it says something about you. If you decide to head back to the home to scare them off, that says something about you too. And so do all those supporting decisions in between.

By the way, if you are wondering what to do about wildfire, the American Red Cross has a wildfire relief fund. You can read about wildfires and the volunteers who help evacuees receive the support they need.

Monday, September 13

Writing: Why Fiction And Why Bother?

When I told one of my clients that I would eventually retire into writing fiction, she blinked in disbelief. 

"Do you really want to do that?"

"Yes," I said. 

As an executive, it didn't make any sense to her whatsoever. Why would a guy with mile deep resume as a strategic communication consultant and A-list marketing and advertising copywriter start over as a fiction writer? It might be nice to write something for myself for a change, I said. For the last 30 years, I've only written for other people.

That's what I told her. But the answer is a bit more complicated, one with several answers that depend upon how the question is framed — including that old standby many authors have. It's an itch that needs to be scratched. 

Why do you love writing fiction? 

Initially, it was really about telling stories. Storytelling is so important in our lives. Once a child's basic needs are met, the next step in their development is to hear a story. "Tell me a story," they ask and ask.

I was no exception. I always asked for stories. And as soon as I was old enough, I starting telling stories too. I had a story about everything. My stuffed animals had backstories. My play activities (like army men) had back stories. The games I made up with friends had back stories. I told so many stories, my grandmother used to laugh about it. If you don't become an artist, she said, become an attorney.

Ironically, I wasn't a very good reader (or writer) despite my love for stories. All of my stories were illustrated, play acted, or verbal. It wasn't until I changed majors from psychology to journalism that I became a strong writer — good enough to have established a 30-year career after it became my go-to medium over art and illustration (which I'm trying to brush up and catch up on nowadays). 

Right. That's a bit of a back story, but it doesn't answer the question. So here it goes.

Why do you love writing fiction?

More than any other form of writing, it seems that fiction empowers us to open up deeper conversations about life experiences. And, because fiction involves fictional characters, it creates a safe space to talk about those experiences because well-written stories involve us emotionally without requiring a personal expense. Ergo, we may be vested, but we have no skin in the game. 

When fictional characters make decisions in the face of life-defining moments, we can agree with their choices or not, understand their paths or not, and make our own decisions about how we feel or what we might do too. When the story works, it can be a powerful experience.

But hey, why not nonfiction?

As a journalist and sometimes as a writer for the nonprofit sector, it wasn't uncommon for me to write about complex subjects, but the exercise is different. It's grounded in reality, with the story being told belonging to someone else. While these too can lead to powerful experiences, it's often without the ability to explore someone's pain or joy beyond the empathy we may or may not feel for them. 

For example, several years ago, I developed a campaign about pool safety. We shared some stories with local newspapers, but the heaviest lifting was a series of print and radio advertisements. 

What I learned then, as I know now, is that fiction hits different from fact. When people read about real life drownings, they often react with outrage toward whomever left the child unattended — often a flash-in-the-pan emotion. But when they experience it as a fictional story like the one we developed for radio, the award-winning spot just hit differently. 

In the radio commercial, the narrator (a father) tells the story of a little boy who wanted to grow up to be a fireman. The little boy, the father continues, even bought him a fire truck — one that made so much noise (you know the ones) that it became annoying. The father even laughs before his voice cracks, lamenting how he misses that annoying siren now because his son, the want-to-be firefighter, fell in the pool while rescuing a toy and drowned. 

There is no outrage. The listener feels the story as if it's their story, and it sticks because they feel the character's remorse as opposed to judging a neglectful parent. Even then, I was writing fiction.

There are no pool stories inside 50 States: A collection of short short stories, and I seldom, if ever, include a definite stance on any outcome like I did in the pool safety commercials. Often, just like life, there isn't any right answer in the decisions my characters make or how they cope with their decisions. And that's what I love about writing and reading fiction. 

Friday, August 27

Flipping Pages: 50 States And 50 Stories


What's your book about? It's the most commonly asked question and an easy one to answer for most authors. For me, it's a bit trickier to answer because I don't have one answer. I have 51 of them. 

The first answer, which should be my 51st answer, is that 50 States is a debut collection of experimental, psychological, and speculative short-short stories. Each story takes place in a different state and touches on different states of mind. It's an accurate depiction but doesn't really share enough. 

So, if someone doesn't ask about a specific state, I ask them what they like to read and mention which story or stories match up. There is a little bit of every genre inside 50 States, and most of them, I'm told, cut darkly. Here's a lexicon of sorts so you can see what I mean:

A look inside the 50 stories that make up 50 States.

Broken People. Idaho 2003. Fate gives a farmer another chance for redemption.

The Lake House. Conn. 2005. A grandmother shares how fixing a family is like refinishing furniture. 

Dead Ends. Utah 1992. A couple takes an adventurous turn off a desert highway. 

The Blue Door. Calif. 2019. A woman feels the gravity of her decision to open a motel door. 

The Best Life. Ark. 2019. A man trolls the Internet for old flames after acquiring a unique gift. 

Shine On You Crazy Diamond. Mich. 1975. Three kids visit a haunted house on Devil’s Night. 

Wet. Wash. 1971. A teacher strike becomes a catalyst for action in a coming-of-age story.

Private Conversations. Colo. 2020. A loner hears whispers on the mile-and-a-quarter MallRide. 

A Beautiful Day. Penn. 1990. A patient asks paramedics to sound the siren for heaven. 

Good Neighbors. Nev. 2019. Two neighbors have their first conversation as one moves away.

The Qallupilluk. Alaska 1982. A runaway becomes immersed in the Yupik culture.

The Chain. Iowa 2016. A woman confesses to a police officer while sharing her past. 

The Straw. Va. 2012. College students test the boundaries of their friendship. 

Leftovers.  Wyo. 2020. A woman works to reconcile a relationship with her grandfather. 

Spinning Wheel. Fla. 1969. A young artist decides to reunite with his son in another state. 

Vertigo. N.M. 1955. A man has one final thought after he jumps off a hotel roof. 

The Domino. Mo. 1962. A shanty town family is warned that the time to run has come. 

The Interview. N.Y. 2017. A recent law school graduate interviews with a Manhattan firm. 

The Stranger. S.D. 1982. A mysterious stranger wanders into the back room of a dying diner.

Forget Me Nots. W. Va. 1971. An aging mother relives the same day in a nursing home.

Bad Things. N.H. 2018. A veteran and recovering alcoholic hides out in a crossroads bar.

The Engagement. N.J. 1981. A fortune teller predicts doom just days before an engagement. 

Papa Gede. La. 2014. A teenager attempts to practice voodoo to escape an abusive uncle. 

The Standoff. Ariz. 2017. Two immigrants from different countries face off under Arizona’s sun.

As It Seems. Kan. 1971. A farm family welcomes strangers into the safety of their storm shelter. 

Screen Door. Wis. 1981. A narrator recounts his regrets after losing a family cottage. 

A Hole In The Wall. Hawaii 2020. Two teens meet at a hole in the wall that isolates them. 

Where’s There Smoke. Ore. 2019. Looters look to capitalize on a forest fire evacuation. 

Punching And Hugging. Md. 1990. A groom has second thoughts on the day of his wedding. 

All Your Joys. Mass. 2019. A troubled teen chooses the wrong house to rob in Salem. 

Four Fathers. Ga. 1968. A father explains how only one of his children had the best of him. 

The Samaritan. Ind. 2016. A teenage girl escapes harassment by taking a ride from a stranger. 

Indian Wrestling. Minn. 1968. Two boys challenge each other to prove their courage.

Into The Bardo. R.I. 2017. An investigator discovers something sinister off the coast. 

Tidy Lines. Mo. 1992. A brother demonstrates contempt for his sister’s boyfriend. 

The Catch. Texas 1957. A German circus lures a local lad on the promise of extra work. 

Time Capsule. Maine 2017. A young woman returns home to find her hometown unchanged. 

Top Rung. S.C. 2013. A successful woman contrasts her sister’s choices on a morning run.

All The Wild Horses. N.D. 2019. A ranch girl interferes with the round-up of wild horses. 

Sidelines. Ill. 1963. An aging mid-level manager wonders why one boy never boards the bus.

On The Fourth Of July. Del. 2018. A babysitter is attacked inside an affluent coastal home. 

Mockingbirds. Okla. 2006. A writer reflects on life after meeting a recovering veteran. 

Precinct 13. Ky. 1978. A gang of kids hatches a rescue plan to save two neighborhood pets. 

The Extra Mile. Ala. 2008. A man wonders if God might work at a convenience store. 

Siren’s Call. Vt. 2019. A family’s home becomes the target of revenge and retribution. 

The Right Choice. Neb. 2010. A retired delivery driver for Hostess regrets saving a child’s life. 

The Sweeper. Miss. 1972. A filmmaker uproots his family for racial unrest in the rural south.

All The Odds. N.C. 2020. A woman celebrates her deceased brother’s birthday with a drink. 

The Thin Blue Line. Ohio 2017. A delinquent teen is pressured into robbing a rail patron. 

Wheels Go Round. Tenn. 1977. Two runaway teens only have one bus ticket between them.

50 States is moving forward, much like it was written, one story at a time.

I always knew 50 States would move forward much like I wrote it — one story at a time. Every day, I ask one reviewer to consider my book (several reviews are pending now). Every trip, I ask one bookstore to stock signed copies (which I'm now listing these locations here). Every month, I've re-formatted editions for Apple, Kindle, Google, and Nook.

At the same time, I'm moving many of the stories inside 50 States forward, writing new stories that either continue, link, or otherwise keep those listed above very much alive. If you want to follow along, you can find me on most social networks or subscribe to my quarterly newsletter. I hope to see you there. Writing and publishing can be a fun and exciting adventure! Good night and good luck. 

Tuesday, July 20

Visiting Bookstores: BookMonster In Santa Monica


BookMonster in Santa Monica has earned my long-term gratitude. They became the first brick-and-mortar bookstore to place signed copies of 50 States: A collection of short short stories on their shelves. 

They were one of four independent bookstores I reached out to around UCLA, where my daughter was attending a weekend softball camp, and we immediately struck up a dialogue. After some discussion, they agreed to take a couple signed copies at wholesale price, which they’ll likely offer up at a discount online and/or in the store. 

Why I’m thrilled that BookMonster was first.

BookMonster was among three independents I called because they almost permanently closed in March. The store hasn’t had an easy go of things. They were looted last June when things got out of hand in Los Angeles, and that was after being among several struggling booksellers that innovated curbside pickup during the peak of the pandemic. 

The primary reason they survived at all, which is also why they didn’t close on March 31, was because of the generosity of area book readers. People in Santa Monica didn’t want to see their local bookstore close. It’s an icon in the area, located at 212 Santa Monica Blvd. in Santa Monica, just northeast of Ye Olde King’s Head and King and Queen Cantina (which is where we had lunch after the book drop).

They also have some great member benefits, including 5 percent of every in-store purchase amount in points. Members are also the most likely readers who sell their books back. BookMonster buys books, up to 20 items per visit, provided they are in excellent condition. Many customers accept store credit in lieu of cash, using the title they turn in as an opportunity to walk out with a few more. 

If you have never been to BookMonster, it’s certainly worth a visit. In most cases, you wouldn’t ever guess most books inside are used. Even a handful of rare books in the back have been carefully preserved. This store is top-notch. The staff is excellent. The average visit time for browsing is a bit more than an hour for anyone who loves books. 

Bookstore visits are still a mixed bag for authors. 

I’m also grateful to BookMonster for two more reasons. Since book signings haven’t come back to all brick-and-mortar bookstores, accepting books from authors backed by new or small publishers isn’t easy. Brick-and-mortar bookstores are taking a bigger chance on every book they decide to stock. Even when I posted the event on my Facebook author page, I appropriately called it a book drop rather than a signing or meet-and-greet. 

The second reason I’m grateful addresses another wrinkle for bookstores in general. There are more books and authors today than bookstores have shelves. So many, in fact, that independent bookstores aren’t answering every inquiry. They might be more inclined if book signings were back, but we’re still a few months away from that. 

Of course, that doesn’t mean I’ll give up on contacting bookstores when travel softball takes us to a new location. In between whatever schedule my daughter might have, I can usually set time aside for at least one bookstore visit. Even if signings aren’t possible, I can still drop off a couple of signed copies — and then help them help my book by telling people online where they can find it. 

So please stay tuned. I may have a few surprises in the weeks and months ahead on where 50 States might show up. But for now, if you are in Los Angeles, the go-to bookstore for 50 States isn’t the oldest or the smallest or the hippest. It’s BookMonster in Santa Monica. They are the coolest.

Thursday, July 8

Telling Stories: The Fiction - Nonfiction Dichotomy

His question almost stumped me. While taping my appearance on Ira's Everything Bagel, award-winning broadcaster Ira David Sternberg asked me to talk about the dichotomy of fiction writers/readers and nonfiction writers/readers.

Is there a difference? I don't really think so.

Sure, some people think so. Many people feel like Beasts of No Nation author Uzodinma Iweala as captured by Miwa Messer's column on Barnes & Noble Review. Despite his first book being fiction, he always felt that historical accounts of war and biographies seemed more relevant. There were more facts to hold onto and tangible lessons on how to live a life grounded in historical relevance. 

Other people say the opposite. Chris Elder, for example, wrote a post on Bookstr a few years ago. It's titled "Why Reading Fiction is Better For Your Brain Than Nonfiction." He quotes Mark Twain to serve his point. "Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t," said Twain. He might have been on to something. Even the Havard Business Review has made a case for reading fiction.

Then again, how much of a dichotomy is there, really? I line up a little closer (but not exactly) with writer Mark Grant, which is why the question almost stumped me. "In general, fiction refers to plot, settings, and characters created from the imagination, while nonfiction refers to factual stories focused on actual events and people," Grant writes on Book Riot, right before delving into the fact that the two often intersect.

Maybe the dichotomy is made up or, if it exists, is razor thin. 

This might be a bit too philosophical to some, but the entirety of reality is made up of stories. In fact, homo sapiens arguably evolved from an unexceptional savannah-dwelling primate to become the dominant force on the planet because of them. 

It didn't really matter if those stories were fiction or fact. All that mattered is we learned to tell them, sharing past experiences or imagining a different experience altogether. In fact, this is the very premise of Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harai and a concept I hard-baked into many communications classes and presentations over the years, including the one I delivered to the National Recreation and Park Association in 2015.

People are the only creatures on this planet that exist with a dual reality — one formed by our perception of the world around us (the desk, the chair, the window) and one that is formed entirely by abstract concepts, societal constructs, and public opinions. In short, most of our facts are not facts at all.

Maybe our brains can't tell the difference between fact and fiction either. 

I don't mean this rigidly. The brain processes sensory information and imagined information differently. We can tell a character in a novel apart from a living person. And yet, we can't deny that fiction acts as a sort of surrogate life. It can even influence how we see the world, doubly so if that fiction is packaged as real (like more documentaries pretend to be).

There are reasons for all this. The capacity for cognitive empathy is why we feel for fictional characters in stories, novels, and movies. So while our brains might process sensory information and imagined information differently, the sensory input of a book or film can still be mirrored by specific neurons, causing us to feel what all those characters feel or believe what those characters believe. 

One might even say it's the embellishment of fact that has made David McCullough, Adam Makos, and Brad Meltzer some of the most successful historians and biographers out there. Their storytelling ability helps bridge the gap between fact and what we fantasize about, triggering cognitive empathy and creating stronger, longer-lasting memories. 

Who knows? In some sections, they might have embellished plenty, much in the opposite way some fiction writers rip off reality on a regular basis. Or maybe I just made that up. Good night and good luck.

Postscript. Great news. The Kindle edition of 50 States will be available on July 21. Preorder today.

Tuesday, June 22

Writing A Book: 50 States by Richard R. Becker


Two years ago, I started writing short short stories — so short that I sometimes called them scraps. And since I didn’t belong to any writer groups, I started sharing them on my Facebook author page. 

It wasn’t the first time short fiction appeared there (or longer stories on this blog, for that matter), but two things changed. It was the first time in my life I started treating my short stories like an assignment, with equal weight to any advertising/marketing deadlines I might have. Second, it was the first time I was committed to publishing fiction with consistency so people could anticipate a new story every week on my author page. 

Experience had already taught me both habits needed to happen if I ever wanted to add fiction writing to my repertoire. These were among the habits I adopted to become a freelance writer (which quickly evolved into Copywrite, Ink.), several publications (Key News * Las Vegas, and Liquid [Hip], and even this blog (which took off in 2007 when I made it daily). You have to be in it to win it.

Immersion is a critical key to creativity.

What I didn’t expect was how immersion opened up inspiration. After sharing the first few stories, I fell into a creative rhythm, and an overarching idea began to crystalize. 

I was inspired to write about seemingly random events happening or having had happened to different people in different places — stories that could stand on their own but were also left open to be continued in unexpected ways or possibly intersect with one another. I felt so strongly about this concept that I adopted some guidelines: each story would be set in a different state, and each would touch on a different psychological state as people face or cope with different life-defining events.

Once I formalized this idea, I applied lessons learned from two friends and colleagues to keep me going. One told me to always work for myself first. The other provided a proof of concept to be disciplined. One of his projects, The Daily Monster, was an exercise in illustrating a new monster every day, no matter what. 

I knew I couldn’t write a daily story, but I did feel confident I could write one a week. For a while, I was so motivated by the immersion of writing that I would sometimes write two in a week, scheduling the additional story in advance. It was a good thing I did too. Like many creatives, last year was very disruptive to the process. Having a few scheduled in advance kept me on track when I needed an extra week for some. 

The outcome was better than I could have ever imagined. 

50 States: A Collection of Short Short Stories was an exciting project because I didn’t always know where each story might come from or go. Most often, I would work on three story concepts simultaneously, mulling over the details until one of them solidified. Other times, the story might grow out of my research. It was really important to ground even the most speculative stories to a time or place.

For instance, I knew the story I wanted to tell about two runways meeting at a Greyhound bus station in Tennessee, but I didn’t know much about the Jackson transportation system, circa 1977. Research is essential for set dressings. 

Conversely, that story about a middle-aged man and a young basketball player in Chicago isn’t as reliant on location. I could have set this story in almost any midwestern urban center, and it would have worked. However, I thought name-dropping the short-lived Chicago Zephyrs lent a nice touch for a story taking place in 1963. 

The third story I call out on the back of the book's cover didn’t have to be tied to Oregon either. But once I decided Oregon could become a home for it, I researched wildfires in Oregon so I could use it as a reference for the fictional one in the story. Now, I couldn’t imagine this modern story playing out anyplace else. It belongs there.

Intersecting stories and paths that cross, divide, and double back. 

To keep track of what states were complete, I used to color in the state shape on a line art map every time I finished a story. I also added them to a project table list. The table includes: the title of the story, the state, the date it takes place, the word count of the first draft, the date of origination, and how many actions (likes, shares, etc.) were taken on the story once I posted it to Facebook. While it didn’t influence my writing, it was nice to see how some stories resonated relative to the number of people on the page. 

I have yet another document I’m using to track every character too. Knowing some details at a glance will help me later as every character could appear, connect with, or intersect with other characters or stories in the future. Some stories already have connections in 50 States, but it’s not apparent.

I did publish a longer short story (3,600 words) on Facebook about the Diamond family from the story Shine On You Crazy Diamond that appears in 50 States. It's called The Shut Out. Unfortunately, the story was removed from Facebook when it disabled a blog-like feature called notes. The feature never really took off, but I loved it and shared several longer stories there — some of which are being slated for another project. 

However, I am sharing some new short short stories on Facebook. This new project, 50 Threads, has obvious connections to the stories in 50 States. The very first short I shared was called The Beige Door. It is a direct continuation of the story The Blue Door, which can be found in 50 States. 

Keeping tabs on various projects and what’s next. 

My company, Copywrite, Ink., partnered with Blurb on the production and distribution of the project. Anyone interested in the book can track the 50 States by Richard R. Becker page as the book is added bookstores and booksellers. I’ll also post links to booksellers on the 50 States page hosted by my company Copywrite, Ink. 

I am publishing a newsletter with exclusive “first look” content and other news. The next newsletter is out in October 2021. I am also answering questions on Goodreads. I will no longer be sharing 'first look' content on my Facebook author page, but I will post announcements there (as well as on TwitterLinkedIn, and other social networks) so you know where to find it. 

Bookmarking this blog wouldn’t be a bad idea either. I see this space as in transition, with a little more focus on life, fiction, and writing. Who knows? We’ll see. Good night and good luck.

Monday, June 7

Erasing Content: The Future Of The Internet Is 404

It goes by many monikers: HTTP 404, 404 not found, 404 error, page not found, file not found. All of it refers to content that has been erased, moved, renamed, or otherwise missing from where it used to be. 

Some people consider fixing this issue among their staple services — they troll the web looking for broken links that lead nowhere. Then they contact the site owner and ask them to insert a new, often very loosely related link, to some content destination that might benefit their client in the short term. 

The service is sold as a win-win because most site owners don’t like broken links. But it isn’t a win-win because the new connection can never capture the source material the author linked to 15 years ago. So mostly, bloggers and journalists ignore those requests and let the 404 stand. Or, if they are actively managing their content, they will look for a better-suited link.

As for the lost source material, it’s anybody’s guess what happened. While site redesigns can move things around, destination 404 is more often the result of dead content. When blogs and magazines die, they leave Swiss cheese-like holes of nothingness. When bands break up, publishers give up on books, or writers decide they don’t like an article anymore — it’s all destined to become 404. So much for dreams of immortality. Digital data is temporary. 

The Internet is awash in dead service providers.  

Of course, this explanation only addresses 404 on a small scale. The truth is that the Internet is awash in dead social networks and content services. When one of them goes by the wayside, they take thousands of accounts and hundreds of thousands of content creation with them. 

I’ve known it for a while now. Geoff Livingston and I hosted a series of communication columns on a platform called Bumpzee in 2007. We called the series “BlogStraightTalk” and billed it as a weekly discussion on the best and worst of blogging content practices, presented in a contrarian format (e.g., Ebert & Roper or Kornheiser & Wilbon). 

When Bumpzee folded, so did BlogStraightTalk. Error 404. Bumpzee wasn’t the only one. Geoff sold his first blog, The Buzz Bin. Blogcatalog, which was once a prominent social network for bloggers, is long gone. So is RecruitingBloggers, which I mentioned in the article.
 
There are other examples too. A platform that grew out of Blogcatalog had its day too. BloggersUnite used to promote social causes and did well enough to attract the interest of CNN and the Wall Street Journal. One campaign even changed foreign policy in Darfur, Sudan (2008). Today, there are only hints that such a campaign occurred, fragmented content surrounded by 404 emptiness. 

These examples are just the tip of the iceberg. FriendFeed is gone. iTunes Ping dead. Google Wave, Google Buzz, Google+ are barely remembered. Friendster, Vine, Utterz, and Merrkat. MySpace is still around, but not most of the content that once made it a major social player. Technorati, too, which was a blog search and ranking site that most early bloggers relied on, left us in a lurch sometime in 2014 (if you can Digg it). The Internet is littered with the ghosts of a past no one really cares about — and that may include your content too. It certainly includes mine.

One unfair decision by a social network can cost all your content. 

A few days ago, I noticed my Facebook account acting a little wonky. I didn’t overthink it. Wonky is par for the course. 

Eventually, the wonkiness turned into something a little more than an inconvenience. Facebook had disabled my account, turning years of memories into 404 content. It didn’t just happen to my account. It happened to everyone’s account I know — every share, tag, or comment I ever made was erased. If I wished you happy birthday, you won’t find it. No warning. No appeal.

And if that wasn’t damaging enough, every page I was listed as a solo admin on was taken down with it — including an author page with 1,400 followers and two nonprofit softball pages. I have another page for Liquid [Hip] that I cannot access. It was spared being shut down because there were two admins listed. Unfortunately, the other admin has been awol for four years now, so I cannot access it. I’ll explore how to salvage the page when I take care of bigger issues. 

So what happened? It’s a question I get pretty often now. The short version is this: I provided consultation to a few Facebook groups last year, gratis. When a family emergency involving my grandmother distracted me, I forgot all about those groups (and plenty of other unimportant things). Unfortunately, these groups went sideways over the last six months (some people even claim sabotage), and Facebook decided to take the groups down. 

Anyone listed as a moderator saw their accounts restricted. Anyone listed as an admin, which included me, saw their accounts disabled. No warning. No appeal. Ironically, I almost left those groups a few weeks ago, but my family had tested positive for Covid. Then we had to travel to southern Arizona to clean out my grandmother’s property. You know. Real-life priorities. 

I was fortunate in that I could revive an old account that had been dormant for more than a decade. And now, I am in the process of rebuilding everything that was lost while providing my friends and colleges a cautionary tale. 

Your content exists at the whim of whatever network you use. Facebook can delete everything you’ve ever written, shared, or contributed to. Everyone you are connected with will be affected. They just won’t know it. The only evidence that something is missing will be lost in the lack of some reminder that used to pop up from time to time. Those reminders won’t happen.

There is a bright side, but only because I choose to see one. 

When I joined Facebook in 2007, I did so at the urging of fans from a canceled television show called Jericho. So I joined reluctantly and set up Facebook to repost my tweets for lack of having better content. Of course, as Facebook evolved, so did my content and connections in a sprawling, haphazard way — leading to an account with thousands of people I didn’t know. 

While I know hundreds of people, adding them back has placed friends and family first, which has changed my feed for the better. I also have a clean slate to work with and will remake my account with almost 15 years of experience none of us had when Facebook first hijacked our social connections. 

I won’t be penny smart and pound foolish either. Losing my account cost me scores of personal quips and family stories that I shared about my kids growing up. Those are all gone now. So, I won’t leave anything to chance. Copy any content that matters to you from time to time. You are the only one who cares about it. Facebook certainly doesn’t care about it.

I already knew this to be the case. Facebook used to sport a feature called stories, where I used to store longer short stories. Then one day, Facebook decided to put that feature on ice. While they did provide a little warning it would happen, a little notice doesn’t fix all the broken links associated with content removal. Lesson learned then. Lesson learned again. 

Here are two more takeaways that might spare you some future heartache. 1. Always have multiple active admins on every page you manage. If Facebook targets one admin, the other admins should be able to preserve the page. 2. All those advertising dollars you invested in your page are only as good as the service provider, which means marketing there is a necessary evil with no real value. My author page grew to 1,400 followers because of great content, hard work, and smart ad campaigns. The network erased it in an instant. Oh well. 

If you would like to help me restore my author page on Facebook, please like or follow it today. I am only weeks away from publishing my first book, a collection of short, short stories. Facebook will be one of the places I intend to promote it as long as possible (or you can subscribe to my future newsletter). Along with book updates, I will share more first draft short stories there, curate author-related content, and post progress on some other exciting projects from time to time. I really do hope to see you there. It’s already growing again. 

Goodnight and good luck.
 

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