Saturday, November 27, 2010

Why I don't write from notes

Here are my notes (thought I'd try to write from notes) for Chapter 63 of Sexton Sand:

Sexton Sand

    Benecala in the chamber under Balfour. He doesn't care what's going on above.

    Steps over some bodies /w muskets & thinks briefly about the connection to earth, and his Amercian friends.

Sees the chamber--the...

What's there?

See? I won't know until I write it, much like you won't know until you read it. Ah! The writing life I love.

Autograph your book? Can I? Really? Me? Heck yeah!

I hope I never forget what an honor it is to be asked to autograph someone's copy of one of my books. I saw a kid get rebuffed by a pro golfer once, and I promise I won't do that to someone. It's a very small chance I'll ever be overwhelmed with requests for me to sign a book, but should there ever be a high demand for my signature on books, I'll meet the demand.

    Tonight I left work and the driver of the shuttle that carries us to our cars was waiting. He was reading a book while he waited. When I got on, he handed me the book and a pen and said, "I'd like you to autograph this for me."

   What a thrill! Probably a bigger thrill for me than it was for him, but I don't know. I can tell you I was tickled pink (it's an expression...don't get excited!) to sign his book. He told me a couple of weeks ago he was going to order it, but I'm a count your chickens when they're frying in oil kind of guy. He also told me I was going to autograph it when he got it...but again, that chicken wasn't out of the coop, let alone in any oil.

   Tonight, on a dark bus, at 11 PM, a dark bus leaving a chicken restaurant...he asked for and got my autograph.

   I'll call that a good night. Want to know what makes it a great night? ...He was already 1/3 of the way through the book. Now that's a compliment.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Decorating the Christmas tree--Steele style

I used to hate decorating the Christmas tree. That was before I learned to turn it into a game. I've been doing it for a couple of years now, and it only gets better.
When I was a kid, full of holiday spirit and dying to help decorate the tree, my mother would guide my small hands. My little brother and I would place the ornaments with care...and she would re-arrange them when we went to bed.
No more of that! Ha!
Now I volunteer to decorate. I stand on the far side of the room and toss the ornaments onto the tree. If they land and stick...they get to stay. If they bounce, they get one more shot at tree fame, or it's back in the box with however many pieces I can find.
If I start having a high success rate, I raise the bar. Then I start tossing them through the ceiling fan (I increase fan speed as I raise the stakes still higher) and see if I can get a good bounce and still land the ornament on a piece of the fir.
Moral of the story? Well...if you'd like to send me an ornament, I'll be glad to put it on our tree...or toward our tree, or through...and maybe even on top!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Question 3 from the local paper (Vassar, MI Pioneer Times) asked and answered:

Q: I did read your brief bio on your blog, but I was hoping you could tell me a little more in depth about yourself. Where are you originally from? What brought you to Vassar? Have you always been interested in writing? Family?

 I'm originally from Kalamazoo. I was an executive with the Boy Scouts and served this area from 1988-1991. I loved Vassar from the first time I saw it: the people I met were great, I like the look and feel of the town, and the proximity to Saginaw and Flint.
 I met my wife—who is from here and teaches at the high school—when we served on camp staff together. We lived in Midland when we were first married, then moved to the Chicago area, then Wisconsin, then Ohio with my job with the Boy Scouts. When I got ill in 2005 (the illness I describe in the book Green Goblin) and decided to leave the Boy Scouts to pursue a writing career, it seemed only fair and natural to move back to Tanya's hometown. I'm glad we did. I love it here!
   I have always been interested in writing. I wrote my first short story in third grade, and I've been writing ever since. I didn't think much of it, and actually thought I wasn't very good at it. In high school I competed and won trophies in the children's storytelling section of forensics tournaments and took second place in the state using a children's story I wrote. I still didn't think I was very good at writing.
   In college I was toying with a novel manuscript—I can't remember the premise or anything about it—and tossed the draft into a wastebasket in the student union. The director of the Reagan Scholarship fished it out of the wastebasket. He was impressed and set up my mentorship with Terry Brooks, Stephen R. Donaldson, and Clive Cussler. All three of those authors told me I could write...and I believed them. I'm very grateful for their encouragement.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

My first speech in 5 years...

...Felt like I hadn't skipped a beat. The strange thing--and this has happened to me several times in the past--I don't remember what I said! I didn't go over the allotted time, or screw up the speech. The audience was receptive and asked several very good questions. My Mom and Dad were in the audience, which was really cool and the first time that had happened since my Eagle Scout Court of Honor in 1979. They've seen me in plays, but speeches are a different beast.

I had an opportunity to speak to the Kiwanis Club of Kalamazoo (great organization, Kiwanis--I was a member for 15 years and loved it) today. It made for a long day. Three hours of driving to get there, an hour and a half for the meeting, 25 minutes behind the podium, and 3 hours back. Worth every minute.

There's a speaker's high that comes when you're in the groove. The audience was very receptive. The questions were very good... Maybe some of the folks there will buy my books. I hope so, but even if they don't it was worth the effort to make the speech. I have a feeling I'll talk about my books at any and every opportunity.

I do remember they seemed impressed when I said (the only thing I really remember saying), "I was unhappy with my profession and my wife offered to support me if I wanted to leave the profession, take a part-time job, and write books. Shortly after that, I fell seriously ill and spent some time in the neural intensive care unit, quit my job, took a part time job cleaning toilets in the middle of the night, and started writing books."

It sounds like the actions of a madman when I hear myself say it. Maybe it is. I don't know. I don't care much, really, if it sounds like the actions of a madman. I will tell you this: I'm glad I did.

And--I almost forgot--they gave me a pen. A very cool pen with a Kiwanis logo on the clip. If you follow this blog at all, you know I love nice pens.

Question 2 from the local newspaper, asked and answered:

Q: When did you begin the novels? When were they published?

I wrote the first Sexton manuscript when I was still in college. My fraternity brothers got used to the sound of my typewriter at all hours of the day and night. It was a cheap electric typewriter and for some reason I still don't understand, the 'g' stopped working. It became a great exercise...writing without using a g. I still did well on term papers, but it wasn't easy. The first novel manuscript sat ignored for more than twenty years. When I looked at it after that time, I decided it should stay buried.
   The idea for the series remained. I wrote Sexton a couple of years ago.
I published Sexton, the first in the series, in July of this year. I published it as a Kindle book on Amazon's Kindle store. Self-publishing wasn't an easy decision, but I decided I had waited long enough. The economy has hit traditional publishing hard. I took it as a bad sign when I saw brand authors like Stephen King and John Grisham on talk shows like the Today Show, trying to sell their books. My thought was that if those guys are having a tough time, publishers were probably being tougher than ever in terms of accepting unsolicited manuscripts from unknown authors.
    I decided not to wait for the economy to improve before doing something with my books. My wife—a great source of encouragement and always my biggest fan—strongly suggested I do something with my work. I had a stack nearly two feet high: completed drafts of 3 novels. It was time. I published one in July, one in August, one in September, one in October, and one in November.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Question 1 from the local paper, asked and answered

Q: What inspired you to write the Sexton Chronicles series?

A: I was a Reagan Scholar at Eureka College, and as part of the scholarship the college arranged individual mentorships (one-on-one job shadowing programs) with national figures. I met with authors Terry Brooks, Stephen R. Donaldson, and Clive Cussler. Clive invited me to stay with him and his wife Barbara at their home in Colorado and provided instant and sometimes brutal critique of the material I wrote. I spent several hours in his guest room banging out stories on my portable typewriter.
   Inspiration came by accident. The stories I wrote at the time were set in a world called Sexton, but I had a bad habit of including images and thoughts for the characters that had a distinctly American tint. Clive pointed that out several times—usually by drawing a thick black line through the text I had just written.
   Finally, in exasperation, I created characters who came from America to the world of Sexton. I liked the freedom it allowed me as a writer, and Clive enjoyed the storyline.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Why self publish? ...I'll tell you why I did.

I write books I and others consider entertainment: good entertainment, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-drawers adventure. Fantasy you can believe in. I self-published them.

I did it because I could. Print on demand makes it possible to publish my books without paying upfront fees, earn good royalties on sales, and have the books available to a worldwide audience. I own the copyright for every bit of fiction I've ever written.

Self-publishing has a bad reputation. I think it has a bad reputation in large part because traditional publishing houses want it to have a bad reputation. The implication--sometimes not so implied--is that if a book was any good at all, it would have an imprint from a publishing house with a Manhattan address. Self-publishing also has a bad reputation, in my opinion, because of the vulture-like speed and persistence with which places that print self-published books strike. Want to see what one of those strikes looks like? Call the 800 # or send an email to one of them and see how fast they contact you to sell you on their services. I clocked one at 10 minutes after I sent an email--and I sent the email at 11:00 PM!

There are advantages to having a publishing house publish your work. I won't kid you. If a publishing house called me tomorrow, I would give serious thought. I know that's not going to happen, and my plan involves having enough sales of self-published books to make a publisher take a serious look at my books. I'm sure there are publishing houses out there that won't touch a self-published book...but guess what. They don't need an official excuse to reject my work. I'm not going to worry about a traditional publisher rejecting my work because it's been self-published. Frankly, if they can't be confident that their house can't sell more books than I can as an individual, I sure as hell don't want to sell them my copyright.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The way I write a book...

   If you're looking for a step by step method, you're not going to find it here. I like to entertain myself with my writing. There is a lot written on this topic. If you want books on plotting, they're out there...along with books on just about every aspect of writing.

My method is to start with something in mind, but nothing concrete. At the moment, I'm working on chapter 62 of Sexton Sand. In this chapter, Andy, John, and Tom are carrying King Rajahd'een down a street in the capital of Crescens. They just finished a fight with a bunch of guys, but don't know if there are more people around who would kill them (cheerfully) and proceed with their day.

Fact is... I don't know what's going to happen next. I won't know until I finish the chapter. Given my style, I can tell you the chapter will probably be about 1,500 words long and that it will end with a mini cliffhanger. Then I'll move on to something else happening.

I think the next chapter will be about Benecala in the Fortress Balfour, looking at the thing the druids want so badly to retrieve.

Fact is... I don't know what will happen with that either.

I'll find out the way the reader (hopefully you, by the way) will find out: one word at a time.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Fountain pens--they're older than you think

I bought a new fountain pen today...with royalties, which made it feel even better to buy. (Allow me to insert this for my younger friends who might have never seen a fountain pen--they're old pens, that have to be filled with liquid ink by their owners. They have funky tips and have to be handled carefully.)

I love fountain pens for a variety of reasons, but I think the biggest reason is I have a love for old technology. I did a little research on the history of fountain pens, and was quite surprised. For example, the first documented use of what has become the modern fountain pen was 1,100 years ago in Egypt in the year 953 AD. The caliph of Egypt demanded a pen with an internal ink source that could be held upside down without leaking. He got it.

Fountain pens have changed over the years: the style of nib (tip) has seen its share of tinkering, as has the reservoir. Until I got this pen today, I always used the chicken-shit method of ink delivery--a disposable cartridge--but no more, baby! The pen I bought today came with a bottle of ink and a mechanical whatsis that brings the ink into the pen and stores it.

I bought a good pen--a treat to myself. Don't ask to borrow it. The booklet it came with says the nib will wear in a way that's beneficial to me, but use by others will effect it in a negative way. Besides, it's a pricey pen...a little under fifty bucks. A royal fifty bucks, if you will.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Put it on your reading list...War Remains, by Jeffrey Miller

I wouldn't promote my books if I didn't think they're good, and I certainly wouldn't promote someone else's book in the venue I'm trying to promote my books if it wasn't damn good. War Remains, by Jeffrey Miller is an outstanding read. You'll care deeply about the characters and their story will speak to you. If you know someone, or have relatives or ancestors who dealt with war and its inevitable fallout, War Remains will speak to you.

Here's the "blurb":

More than fifty years after his paternal grandfather Robert “Bobby” Washkowiak was reported missing in action, body never recovered during the Korean War, Michael Washkowiak makes a startling discovery of what really happened to his grandfather on one of the battlefields of that forgotten war.

Available in all electronic book formats at Soon it will be in paperback and hardcover from

Friday, November 12, 2010

I wonder why they're called royalties

I've never received a lifetime award for anything and I hope I never do. I haven't lived a lifetime yet! ...How do you like that? I'm digressing before I start. That should be as impossible as receiving a lifetime achievement award while you're still alive.

I don't know why the money paid to artists for the sale of their work is called a royalty. If you know, I'd appreciate it if you would post it. I'm curious.

...But that's not really why I'm posting this tonight...

What I really want to say is that I'm delighted to report that my first ever royalty check is on its way to me. In addition to wanting to cheer out loud (which, by the way, I have done this evening), I feel like reflecting. It's long been a dream of mine to write and publish books. By publish I mean writing a book (in my case it's plural and getting plural-er by the week), getting those books for sale to the public, and receiving income from sales.

When I get that check next week from Lulu Enterprises, Inc., it will be the fruit of that dream. I really don't know how the term "royalty" came to be when it comes to paying the artist a portion of the sales price. I think it's an interesting word to use for those payments. I also think it's really cool that it is the work, not the writer, that is and will generate those royalties. If I get hit by a truck tomorrow and killed (which, btw, I aim to make sure doesn't happen), the royalties will keep coming. The books will generate income as long as people buy them.

If you're a writer and you're considering publishing, my advice to you is not to stop with eBooks. I've blogged about those before and I haven't changed my mind. It's a growing portion of publishing. For now, and for the foreseeable future, just so you know...the money is in print books. I have to sell 3 Kindle copies of Sexton to make as much as I do from one paperback copy of the same book.

I'm looking forward to getting that check. I hope it's the smallest royalty check I ever get. I'll know without remembering. Before I cash that check, I'm going to make a copy and frame it. I'll treat it like...wait for it...royalty.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Er...unintended consequences

This one caught me by surprise--a rare treat, by the way--and I laughed pretty hard at it.

I can look at stats for this blog and see how people found the page. I don't get to see who visited, but I can see from where they visited.
I started this blog by blogging about what I call the "Moby Dick Exercise", in which a man copied the book Moby Dick by hand. I copied (re-typing) several books while I was recovering from Wernickes.
So...when I saw that someone found this blog through a Google search for "Moby Dick Exercise", I was intrigued.
That's where the "Er..." comes in.

Guess what I found when I backtracked the "Moby Dick Exercise" search.
...Well... The searcher was concentrating on the second two words. Not the first two!

Monday, November 8, 2010

I think I'll give credit to brain damage

Brain damage, and credit? Brain damage is a serious matter, and I'm not making light of it. In my case--and in so many ways I am a very lucky man--brain damage has shaped my life in a good way. Do I have your attention yet?

I had grand mal seizures as a child. That was in the early 1970's, and something happened (probably as a result of those seizures) that made me use both sides of my brain for language. In 2005, I suffered an acute bout of Wernickes--which I've describe in detail in Green Goblin. In 2008, I had a neuropsyche exam--which is not a psychological test to see if a feller has his marbles or not, but a test of brain functions--that revealed I am what they call "lateralized"...meaning there is a large gap, a really large gap, between my verbal and procedural I.Q's. On the verbal side, I test high. The word descriptor was "very superior." On the procedural, or math side, I tested low. The word descriptor was "impaired."

I have loved to write since I was a little kid. I wrote for fun in junior high, I wrote for fun in high school. I didn't know I was any good at it until college...when I asked, quite honestly, for help with an English paper. Some awards for my newspaper columns, some awards from the college literary magazine, a mentorship with Clive Cussler, Stephen R. Donaldson, and Terry Brooks later, and I started to think I was a pretty decent writer.

I'm getting ready to speak to a Kiwanis club in Kalamazoo, MI later this month about my books. Until a little while ago, I didn't wasn't sure what to make the basis of my speech. I want them to buy my books. Not going to kid about that. But that doesn't make much of a speech.

Overcoming brain damage...using it to build a skill that all too few seem to possess a lot of? Well...that's a topic for a speech.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

New chapter (finally!) in Sexton Sand...

Rorak shook his head and watched the Americans. “Just what do they think they're doing this time?” He saw them emerge from the kiosk carrying a man, an unconscious man judging by the way his buttocks nearly dragged on the ground while Tom and Andy carried his shoulders and John held the feet at his waist. He was still chuckling when he turned his attention away from them and looked back the way they had come. Given the ruckus from that direction, men were on the way. A lot of men. Men unamused at the sound of the explosion Andy made.

Feels good to write new material again!

Volume of volumes of Sexton

By "volume" I mean noise, and by noise, I mean throwing a lot out there in hopes of receiving return.

In a word: Huh?

I read a piece written by a guy who's name I can't remember. In it he tries to explain that it is possible to make a living writing and selling eBooks. His claim is that he makes $100,000+ selling his electronic books. Like a lot of self-help gurus, reading his stuff doesn't really spell out how he does it.

I figured out his key to success, and I'm going to emulate it. It's simple. He publishes a lot, really a lot, of stuff. Royalties grow over time, word spreads over time. Have you ever noticed that it takes years to build a good reputation? (It's the opposite of a bad reputation, especially in that bad things spread fast while good things inch along.)

So... since July, I have published 3 books in the Sexton Chronicles series, 1 true-life story of a difficult illness I overcame, and 1 anthology of short stories. I've published them as Kindle books, and Nook books, and paperback books, and hardcover epub files, and mobi files, and pdf files. Four months isn't long, but I'm not going anywhere soon.

I'm not running out of material either. Or time. 

Next up... Sexton Sand. No kidding... I promise

Friday, November 5, 2010

Depending on how you count, I now have 5 or 6 published books!

The quibbling is about Green Goblin/Bouffont Vert. One is in English, and one is in French. It doesn't make a bit of difference to me how anyone counts them.
I'm excited about my latest publication, a little book entitled Just for Fun: A Little Sexton, and Some Other Stuff. I published it kind of as a lark. I have a couple of short stories that won awards in college that have been dormant for far too long, and a partial Sexton manuscript that might be of interest to fans (if, Lord willing, I have some of those someday--you know, fantasy-loving-trivia-bugs-of-the-sort-that-think-Elvish-is-a-real-language-and-not-a-Las-Vegas-showperson-impersonator.)
What I'm really excited about in the book is my journal from Peru. I was there for 9 weeks in 1987 and it's a good story even if it is nonfiction. The cover could be a photo of the place where I almost drowned saving a guy from drowning in the Urabamba River. Peru is a lot more stable now than it was then, but it has always been a beautiful country.
You can take a look at the book if you want (and buy it!). I have a preview set up at the bottom of the page.