Thursday, September 10, 2020

How Deep Research Helps Me Write

And so I've begun work on a new novel. Upon publication of American Socialite, I decided to take the rest of the summer off after a blast of grassroots marketing. Of course, the marketing will continue, but now the creative part of my mind is focused on my next book. That means I'm doing research. Not just any kind of research, but what I like to call Deep Research. I prefer to go beyond the normal bounds of learning about the subjects I use in my fiction. I like to reach the point of absorption. It's similar to method acting, only there's no acting involved and I obsess on the task before me on a complete 24/7 cycle. 

I started doing this kind of detective work back when I worked on a screenplay about my hero, Joan of Arc. My Deep Research for that project took me everywhere from New York City to France, and led to my studying everything from Renaissance courtrooms to 15th century shoes, to what kind of flowers people back in Joan's own era cultivated. Since that time, I've felt I've cheated when I didn't dive head first into the far end of the research pool for a project. For American Socialite, I read Betsy Bonaparte's own letters, got information on the obscure names she mentioned in them, studied the layout of Baltimore at the time, and even taught myself about the fine dining practices of the era. And that was just for starters. 

I feel this kind of work puts the reader in the world better than a cursory examination of people and places will. Deep Research also allows my to really understand the world of my characters. What's more, it provides me with a sound foundation whereupon I can decide what real life material to keep and what to fictionalize for the overriding and all important good of the story. To me, research isn't homework. It's a month's and sometimes year's long vacation of the mind. If I'm not living in the background of my work in progress, then I'm not doing my job properly. I'm also not getting everything out of what should be the most entertaining aspect of the book writing process. Research, believe it or not, is captivating and can be intensely fun. 

Unlike my first two novels, my new novel won't be centered in the 1700's or 1800's. Instead, it will largely take place in the pop art culture of the 1960's. That's such a jump in time that my new novel will barely even qualify as being historical. Still, I'm engaging in Deep Research yet again, for I need to absorb everything I should about the people and world I'm going to write of. Everything. Otherwise, I won't be doing my job. 

To grab a copy of my latest novel, American Socialite, just click on the link below:

Thursday, September 3, 2020

Betsy Bonaparte And The "It Factor"

I think it's safe to say we all wish we had it at some time or other - even though we probably can't even define it. I'm talking about the "It Factor," which to me is that ethereal, illusive something that draws people to an individual. I've read that the It Factor has to do with talent and ability, but to me it has more to do with personality. Ability and talent are important, of course, but all things being equal, a person with the It Factor has a leg up on the competition. Like most people, I know what the It Factor is when I see it, but am perfectly unable to define it. 

Perhaps the It Factor is best put as something unique about an individual that elevates that person to be more attractive than the rest of us. Strangely enough, the attractiveness doesn't have to be physical. There may be beautiful stars, co-workers, friends, and family members who have the It Factor, but many do not. The one person I know of who most certainly possesses the It Factor is neither young nor attractive. He gets preferential treatment, however, wherever he goes. And if he finds himself somewhere where people aren't particularly impressed, he simply moves on to somewhere else where most people will be. 

Betsy Bonaparte, the subject of my novel America Socialite, most certainly has the It Factor. Jerome Bonaparte, the brother of the feared and powerful French conqueror Napoleon, asks her to be his wife even though he could probably choose countless other woman on earth. And even when her marriage disastrously and suddenly falls apart ("explodes" might be a better way of putting it), Betsy, an American commoner, is still taken in, beloved and helped by those of the upper echelon of European society. Just how much of an It Factor does Betsy have? Enough to say no to a king's invitation.

Yet Betsy is not entirely happy. Nor is she entirely successful in achieving her dreams. Perhaps having the It Factor leads to a set of expectations that can never be fully realized. American Socialite is ultimately a novel about expectations, how they can negatively impact us, even when it appears we're operating miles above the rest of the world. Could it be that too-high expectations are a great equalizer, as even the It Factor can't seem to prevent their destructive impact? Maybe. Then again...

You can pick up American Socialite by clicking on the link below:

Friday, August 28, 2020

How An Obscure, 20-Plus Year Old Article Led To The Creation Of My Novel

"How long did it take you to write it?"

It's a question I get all the time since my novel American Socialite was published this summer. The answer is harder to give than it seems. Although I started writing American Socialite in December of 2018 and finished my final revision in June of 2020, there's a lot more to the story. For the publication of American Socialite marked the end of a journey that began in November of 1997. That may have been a long time ago - who am I kidding, it was - but to me it still seems like yesterday. 

It was right around Thanksgiving. Princess Diana had died a few months earlier and the Lewinsky Scandal was a few months away from exploding. I remember it as being a period of brief respite from a deep depression I was in, a time of impending holidays, Jamiroquai, and rumors that James Cameron's upcoming historical film about an ill fated voyage was about to become a box office bomb (so much for the accuracy of box office predictions). Overall, however, I look back on it as a time when I received the most recent issue of American History Illustrated. Actually, it's an article from that particular issue that stays in my mind the most. 

For, in the pages of that edition, was a story about an obscure woman who had every right to be well remembered, a scandalous American girl who had made her way into the glamour of European high society. It was a story I found both tragic and comical. Most importantly, though, it was a story that had the WOW factor about it. Here was a person who was bold, charming, glamorous and stubborn all at once. Never had a I read of someone like this before. Her name was Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte, and I was hooked. 

I knew right away I had to write about Elizabeth - or Betsy, as she was commonly known. Yet, strangely enough, I never wanted to write a nonfiction work about her. Betsy, who left America on the arm of Napoleon's brother, only to be abandoned, deserved more. After all, even as a deserted wife and mother, Betsy had managed to make herself world renowned - a true celebrity if ever there was one. How then, I wondered, should the subject be treated? 

For years, I dreamed of and dabbled with writing out Betsy's story as a screenplay. The whole thing just struck me as very cinematic. The script never came to fruition, though. All these years later, I know why - it's a hard story to write. There isn't only Betsy the scandalous socialite, but also Betsy the political pawn, Betsy the parent, Betsy the business woman and, eventually, Betsy the aging celebrity. No wonder there's so few novels and movies about her - her story is a monster to write in narrative form. 

Once I decided to present Betsy's story as a novel, however, the narrative finally took shape. Even more importantly, I was able to see myself in the story. The truth is, I put myself in my fiction. I'm there, whether it's the ballroom, the battlefield, the bedroom, or the kitchen. Fiction isn't only art and entertainment, it's therapy for the author. . 

If I can add anything else to this rather odd tale, it's that sometimes it's worth the wait. Whether it's twenty minutes or twenty-plus years, timing can be essential. We writers have to make sure we're writing the right thing at the right time. Also, we can never be afraid to recognize when something - be it an article, situation, or moment in time - grabs us. That something may prove to be invaluable.

*You can buy American Socialite by clicking on the link below:

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

My Hard Earned "American Socialite" Vacation Is Nearly Over

Gotta make sure there's still time for kayaking

After the initial rush that came with the launch of my novel American Socialite (marketing my book, gauging reactions, keeping an eye on sales), I decided to take the rest of the summer off. That didn't mean I was going to stop logging into work each day at Post University or cease writing articles for Boxing Insider. It simply meant that, rather than obsess over American Socialite's journey through the book selling process, I would instead swim, kayak, nap, eat, and drink. Needless to say, I've done all those things over the past several weeks, and have had a pretty damn good time doing them.  

With September right around the corner, though, I realize that it's almost time to get back in the figurative saddle. A new semester is about to start - that means a new term with new students. The weather's about to change, too. Going to Lake Quassapaug five days a week is about to be replaced by swimming laps at the YMCA. What's more, the sport of boxing is heating up after a long, COVID induced drought, and I've got to do some deep research on Edith Wharton for an article I'm working on for The Berkshire Edge. Perhaps most importantly, though, I've got to get back into gear as a novelist.

Don't get me wrong...I haven't been slacking. I just feel Hemingway may well have been right when he referred to creativity in terms of a well. I can be productive to the point I risk having  the well begin to drain and the quality of my work suffer. I only want to produce fiction when the PASSION is there, which means I sometimes have to force myself to take a break. Again, this isn't laziness - in fact, it's more like torture, for a writer is never more comfortable than when writing. Needless to say, I have the idea for my next novel all lined up. I just have to be sure there's enough water in my well for what promises to be a long, hard journey. 

And then, of course, there's the matter of American Socialite, a novel that's only been on the market for less than two months. It's already selling well, but like all authors, I want my work to sell better than it is. Which means I'm going to need to buckle down and prepare for the second round of salesmanship that awaits me in the very near future. With all this in mind, I suppose I better savor the remaining days of summer while they last - busy times are around the corner. 

To pick up your copy of American Socialite, just click on the link below.

Monday, August 17, 2020

The Joys Of Self Publishing My Novels

 And so now my second novel, American Socialite, has been on the market for just over a month and is doing quite well for itself. I wasn't sure this would be the case. We're in the middle of a pandemic, after all, one that finds a lot of people out of work. What's more, these are tumultuous times. To make things all the more uncertain, I've never written anything like American Socialite before. My first novel, The Regulator, was set against the turmoil of Shay's Rebellion. American Socialite, on the other hand, is based on the true story of Napoleon's scandalous, strong willed American sister in law. Although both novels take place in the earlier days of the United States, they are nonetheless world's apart.

Needless to say, my worries proved to be unfounded. As of my writing this entry, American Socialite is tracking to sell better than The Regulator did- and The Regulator sold surprisingly well. Frankly, I have to give Amazon some credit here. I say Amazon specifically, because that was the entity I chose to publish my work through. There are other outlets for authors to use, of course. The main point is that self-publishing has proved to be quite rewarding for me. This is perhaps the biggest surprise of all. If you had asked me just two short years ago if I would be happy being a self published author, I'd have probably pushed out my chest and shaken my head. Now, though, I've seen the light.

Not only has self-publishing allowed me to see my work in print and on Kindle, it's given me incredible freedom. I get to decide when my work is ready to get out into the world. I get to decide how it will be presented to the market. I even get to decide what cover to use. Important and inspiring stuff. Although I wouldn't recommend anyone self publish until their work is as strong as possible, I would highly recommend self publishing for a person whose book is ready to go. 

The Regulator, my first novel, has an interesting history behind it. The right kind of people (meaning those on the inside of the publishing racket) liked it. Ultimately, though, no one wanted to put the money up to bring it out into the world. Having already known what it's like to get my writing published for money thanks to my short fiction and work as a boxing journalist, I ultimately decided to go it alone through Amazon publishing. I was hesitant, however. Would people really want to buy a self published work? Would they even take it seriously? In the end, would anyone actually want to read my book?

Apparently, people did.  What's more, I enjoyed the experience of self publishing so much, I never even attempted to have my new novel, American Socialite, get into the hands of a publisher. The novel launched in mid-July on Amazon, and I've been thoroughly pleased with the results. I've got my third novel already in mind and will start seriously working on it at the end of summer. Until the, I'll simply enjoy the success of American Socialite, and let people know that quite often, self publishing is indeed the way to go. 

*You can pick up American Socialite by clicking on the kink below:

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

How History Is Only The Starting Point for "American Socialite"

Just days away.

These are frightening times. I don't think anyone can rightly deny it. Times have been frightening before, however. Really frightening. Those who still remember living through the Depression and Second World War could probably teach the rest of a thing or two about living through the worst of a way we could relate to, no less. That's what's cool about history - we can look at it and see ourselves looking right back at us.

As I've said before, it's my belief that humans are essentially constructed the same way. We all have the same emotional traits and reactions in our possession. We certainly deal with them differently, but I challenge you to find a person who hasn't been scared, or happy, or bored, or aroused. That person doesn't exist. Times change - but people, by and far, don't.

That's why I enjoy penning historical fiction. I can actually put myself into the past. Rather than grind out stories about my own experiences, hoping someone, somewhere, somehow finds them interesting, I can place my obsessions within the context of a particularly colorful venue. That being said, I'm particularly pleased with the subject of American Socialite, which will be on sale next Thursday.

Elizabeth "Betsy" Bonaparte (1785-1879) was a real life person, one of the most colorful I'd ever read of. For years I found her's to be a story that was dying to be told. But the story offered to be so much more than places and people and dates. The story offered to provide  insight into the human experience we all live through. Hence, I  simply used the facts as a starting point and made American Socialite a novel. Not just any novel, but a novel of extreme highs and searing lows, of explosive international events and the quiet moments we all find ourselves reflecting in.

Mainly, though, American Socialite is a book about a woman who chooses to do things her way rather than someone else's. Her willfulness takes her to the peak of elite society, but also brings with it extreme  consequences. Betsy is a character with sky high expectations. Whether or not those expectations are met can only be revealed in the reading. If I do say so myself, the reading is well worthwhile.

"All good books have one thing in common," said Ernest Hemingway, "they are truer than if they had really happened." I believe those words ring pretty true in this case.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

My 7 Amazing (Or Not) Rules For Writing A Novel

Elizabeth Bonaparte, who American Socialite is based on.

With the publication of my second novel, American Socialite, just around the corner, I've hunkered down to give my book that last shot of intense attention it needs before it's fired off into the world. I'm currently working with a cover artist, carefully giving the manuscript a final read over (the most grueling part of the entire process, by far) and am trying to promote the novel as effectively as possible.

With so much going on, though, I thought it would be good to let off some steam. I recently read articles from a well known publication where famous writers presented their 7 best pieces of writing advice. While I'm far from famous myself, I thought it would be fun to take a break and present 7 rules of my own.

And so, with no further ado, here are:

My 7 Amazing (Or Not) Rules For Writing A Novel

  1. Only write something you're truly excited about.
  2. Become an expert (or close to an expert) on whatever your subject is.
  3. Don't rush, either to start or to finish. 
  4. Except when you're in the zone. Then put the pedal to the metal.
  5. Give your novel theme songs that you play on loop while working on it. 
  6. Take breaks from your novel when needed.
  7. Revise and polish until you think you might be losing it. Then take the hint your mind is giving you and wrap it up.

Each writer has her or her own process, of course, but this one certainly works for me.

Remember to pick up American Socialite at when it goes on sale July 16th!