midlifedude

Man at midlife making second half matter

Archive for the tag “novel”

Book Review: Pat on Back or Punch in Gut

If you’re going to ask someone to evaluate your written work, you have to be as ready for a punch in the gut as a pat on the back.

I got some of both in a lengthy, comprehensive review of my first novel, Three Yards and a Plate of Mullet. After reflection, as the saying goes, I’ve been able to “meet with Triumph high-resolution-front-cover-5243558and Disaster, and treat those two imposters just the same,” embracing both the barbs and laurels with ego holding steady.

On the recommendation of a publicist, I paid a small fee to a writer/editor who reads and reviews books by independent authors and posts her reviews on her EMP Publishing website and other sites, including Amazon.

I respect and appreciate the reviewer’s opinions and the details she offered to back them up. She split down the middle, giving a rating of 5 out of 10 to the novel about a rookie sportswriter’s adventures covering an intense season of high school football in a backwater Florida town and uncovering a conspiracy involving a powerful coach and elite program. She wrote:

“I grudgingly recommend this book for diehard football and sports fans, as the chapters covering anything and everything to do with this will be fun for them to read. If you like the ‘80s and constant cultural references (there are multiple nods to ‘80s songs, TV and films) that might be fun.

“If you like quirky, gonzo-pulp journalism stories, combined with ‘Friday Night Lights’ sports dramas (two genres difficult to mix), you might enjoy this book…

“If you can’t stand any kind of racism or prejudiced language, or you don’t care for misogyny, sexism or objectification and disrespect of women, this book is decidedly not for you.”

[Read the full review here.]

The words “racism,” “misogyny,” “sexism,” and “objectification” were initially hard for me to absorb. But after chewing them over, I embrace them. The book is intentionally irreverent, maybe over the edge in places. It is admittedly “politically incorrect,” and contains profanity and language that no doubt will be offensive to some.

The book released by Sirenian Publishing, based on my own experiences as a sportswriter in Florida, dealt a lot with race, as Florida, like many places, especially in the Deep South, grapples with segregation, cultural divides, abject poverty and clear perceptions of “right and wrong sides of the track.” I did the best I could to deal with black and white issues.

But the book’s content dealing with African-Americans – numerous characters in the novel were African-American — was not the subject of the “racism” the reviewer cited. She was flabbergasted by a chapter meant to be comical about a business relationship between the book’s protagonist Jake, a young Jewish soon-to-be sportswriter, and an Arab immigrant lingerie shop owner for whom he was hocking wares on city street corners to earn enough money to get to Florida. The relationship was feisty and based on mutual disrespect and profanity-laced insults, which the characters used as a sideshow to attract attention on the streets and generate sales.

Again, this was based on a real-life experience, but exaggerated ten-fold. But the reviewer hated it, citing several offensive passages of dialog.

On the citations of misogyny, sexism and objectification, I won’t plead guilty, but I acknowledge I can certainly be charged. Three Yards and a Plate of Mullet represents the point of view of a 22-year-old male and recounts his thoughts and dialog with his similarly immature, objectifying buddies. There’s a “raunchy” factor. I knew that some female characters in the book – but not all — exist mostly as the object of the male characters’ base desires. I’ve always been concerned about what female readers would think. Jake as much as admits that he’s a chauvinistic, sexist pig in this piece of internal dialog when he meets with the newspaper’s high-achieving, attractive female managing editor, cited by the reviewer:

“I pondered whether I should feel guilty for being such a chauvinistic, objectifying, dismissive sleazebag in the presence of a smart, accomplished, regal, and dignified woman, but I really didn’t.”

Beyond the initial shock of reading those inflammatory, culturally explosive words used by the reviewer, I had to remember to separate the author (myself) from the fictional characters portrayed in the novel. The novel does not contain my thoughts and opinions; it contains the thoughts, opinions and actions of made-up characters. The novel, I must remember, is not me; it’s a creative expression.

My aim was to strive to create believable, authentic situations, dialog and characters while still being humorous and somewhat outlandish and ridiculous in spots, stretching but not shattering believability. Real life and real people are not “politically correct,” and neither is Three Yards and a Plate of Mullet.

On the whole, I believe the novel is a funny, coming of age romp with a good sports story, insights into newspaper reporting, a conspiracy angle and buddy misadventure tangents.

Some readers may be offended and insulted, as was the reviewer. I understand and accept. But I don’t say I’m sorry and I don’t apologize.

12 Things I Learned from Writing and Self-Publishing My First Novel

12 simple lessons I learned, and am still learning, through writing my first novel, Three Yards and a Plate of Mullet. The story follows an overmatched, rookie sportswriter in Florida covering a season of high school football in a football-mad, semi-backwater town who runs up against a powerful coach from a dynastic family who just may have orchestrated a bribe to get the best athletes redistricted to his school.

  1. If you have difficulty adopting long-term views or goals, try to adapt or don’t bother starting.
  2. There is such a thing as “powering through” with willpower when it comes to writing; it’s just a different type of pain.
  3. Taking public transportation to work is a good way to get a lot of writing done.
  4. You don’t have to plan out your whole plot and every detail – but having a basic idea of a story sequence helps speed the process.
  5. One of the hardest things about fiction-writing was remembering details about plot, characters and scenes that were written one or two years prior, to ensure story lines and plot connections were logical and to avoid sloppy errors.
  6. The Chicago Manual of Style is more a hindrance than a help in many instances.
  7. It’s a good idea to have Beta readers for pre-publication feedback. I didn’t, but will find them next time.
  8. Writing a self-published novel as a first-time, unknown author is an extremely difficult way to make money, so you better have a passion for the act and the process.
  9. I didn’t realize the importance of having or building a “platform” to market and sell a novel, but now that I’ve self-published, it appears essential for success.
  10. I’m glad I self-published despite much popular wisdom that says only traditionally published novels optioned by an agent bestow credibility on the novel and author. Publishing house acquisition is a long road to hoe, and immediate gratification rather than posthumous glory was my desire.
  11. I signed up with the first self-publisher I researched, and would recommend CreateSpace to others based on my experience.
  12. There are many people in the U.S. Very few care that you wrote a book. It’s your job to find a few more who will care…then a few more, and a few more.  ThreeYardsCover

When “Someday” Came: A Novel Idea

I just accomplished a big life goal, one of those that you say you are going to do “someday” and that “someday” often never comes. Someday came on April 16, 2015, when my first novel, Three Yards and a Plate of Mullet, was published and posted on Amazon.

Sometimes social media, including blogs such as this, are all about self-aggrandizement and self-promotion – I did this, I did that, look at me, aren’t I great, aren’t I special? I cop to this to some degree, with this post being Exhibit A. Writing the book was half the battle, the first offensive. But if I want it to get out in the world, I will have to embark on a publicity and marketing blitzkrieg to cover all flanks, and, yes, self-promotion.

But maybe my story can inspire someone else who is still thinking about that great accomplishment or effort or plan they will make “someday” in the indeterminate future.

I had thought about writing a book for all of my adult life, but never very seriously, at least not seriously enough to ever determine or commit to what exactly I would write about or to draft a first sentence. As I got further into midlife, that lack of commitment began to bother me. You can’t call yourself a writer if you don’t write; you can’t call yourself creative if you create nothing. It’s just unrealized potential.

If you do write, you may find out you are not a writer – at least not a novelist/author, the way you believed you were – so it may be safer not to write so you can maintain your self-perception or self-delusion that you are. It’s the same with many things: the fear of failure can prevent you from trying, which can serve to preserve your self-image.

On many bus rides home from work, I began thinking seriously about actually starting a novel or possibly a non-fiction book, with a growing sense of now-or-never urgency. It was dawning on me that “someday” may never come, and that I was just a fraud (as an author, at least). I mulled over several ideas on the bus, and in the first act of commitment, sketched out some plot ideas for two novel concepts.

I finally decided on one, because I knew it best. The novel would be based on my days as a sportswriter in Florida, my first job out of college, where I covered intense seasons of high school football in a football-mad community and lived a typical bachelor life with other guys at the same stage, except in a tropical environment.

Three Yards and a Plate of Mullet is about a 22-year-old sports fanatic from up North, who lands a job in an insular, foreign community down South, and soon runs up against the region’s power broker, the intimidating coach of the perennial high school football powerhouse, who just may have masterminded a school redistricting conspiracy to keep his team on top, and the eccentric characters the sportswriter meets along the way.

In real life, when I first set foot on a deserted Florida high school football field on a scorching preseason August 1985 day, I remember thinking two things about my new adventure: “Where the heck am I?”  and “Someday this would make a good novel.”

One day on a Christmas break from work in 2011, I went to the library, intending to start writing, but came home with nothing. Later during that break, I wrote my first two paragraphs longhand. I didn’t wind up using those paragraphs, but that was my breakthrough. For me, it’s like running: The hardest part is putting on the clothes and getting out the front door.

I decided to start with a prologue – setting up the story line of the book with what came before. That allowed me to basically write about my youth and everything that led to me becoming a sportswriter without having to make up much fiction yet. It worked, it got me writing. I also had an idea for some action in the first chapter that would set the scene and the plot of the book, and wrote that next. After I wrote those parts, I gained a sense of possibility.

Writing the book was a long grind, and anything but a straight line. I had only a vague outline of how the story would go, and made up a lot as I progressed. I wrote a lot of it in pieces, not in sequence, and then looked for ways to connect the parts and make transitions.

Time was a big factor. My workday commands 11 hours, including commuting time. That left weekends and weeknights, when I was already physically tired and tired of sitting in front of a computer. I also had just started a graduate school program.

But I started getting good at squeezing in bits of writing whenever I had the chance. I wrote half or more of the book longhand during my bus commutes to and from work. I also wrote in airports, planes and hotels while on travel, while “watching” my daughter’s half and full marathons, at work in the lunch room, and on Capitol Hill while killing time before a work event.

A few months into my effort, I broke my leg in a soccer game.  I became depressed, to the point where I lost inspiration to write, and became consumed with rehabbing and just trying to get through my workdays. It was several months before I could motivate to resume.

All told, it took three years to complete a draft, about 111,000 words. One of the most challenging parts was trying to remember what I had written a year or two earlier to make sure the plot would make sense and there weren’t errors in consistency. It had seemed like an interminable project until the last four months or so, when I sensed that I could actually finish. I powered through a lot of writing during two weeks off of work. I can see how a lot of people may start something like this but never finish – it’s a commitment to persistence and a long time for a payoff.

I went the self-publishing route, which took about three months – it was more important to me to publish, and in a timely way, not sell.

But I sure do want to sell now. Someday is here. ThreeYardsCover

Covering a Continental Basketball Association game as a Florida sportswriter (on the right)

Covering a Continental Basketball Association game as a Florida sportswriter (on the right)

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