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A Christmas Song List to Spice Up the Holidays

It’s been a holiday season full of words and music as I push onward with on a pair of book deadlines right now. Right now, I feel like the fat red-suited bearded dude’s reindeer after the Christmas Eve toy run.

The first, Just Add Water, is the biography/memoir of international surfing star Clay Marzo and his life with Asperger’s syndrome. Am wrapping the main chapter writing and moving into the revision and polishing phase.  It will be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in Summer 2014.

On the second, When We Were the Boys, I’m helping author Stevie Salas turn his story into a memoir. The book revolves around Stevie’s big career break, when he played lead guitar on Rod Stewart’s “Out of Order” Tour in 1988 – and his experiences in the ensuing 25 years. It will be published by Rowman Littlefield in Fall 2014.

So, since it is the holiday season, there is only one way to fill the air while writing – with good Christmas music. But not just any Christmas music. How about a mix of old classics, alternative rock, hard rock, blues, reggae, and folk? For hard rock fans, Glenn Hughes’ version of “O Holy Night” will blow you away – an incredibly beautiful performance. Same goes for The Dandy Warhols’ version of “Little Drummer Boy.” We saw this live three years ago … brilliant.

I started this mix two years ago, while listening to Tom Petty’s Buried Treasures on Sirius XM. I downloaded the songs from his Christmas show, then kept adding to it.

If you need some spice to those Christmas carols you’ve been listening to since birth, here’s a list for you. There are a couple of duplicate songs, but you’ll see why when you note the artist. It’s powered Martha and me through a very busy holiday season – with a lot of fun, dancing and celebration attached. Enjoy!

            Praise Jah, It’s Christmas – Alton Ellis

Little Saint Nick – The Beach Boys

Santa’s Beard – The Beach Boys

White Christmas – Bing Crosby

Silver Bells – Bing Crosby & Rosemary Clooney

Silver Bells – Booker T & The MGs

Monster’s Holiday – Bobby “Boris” Pickett

Jingle Bell Rock – Bobby Helms

Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree – Brenda Lee

Gee Whiz, It’s Christmas – Carla Thomas

Run Rudolph Run – Chuck Berry

Back Door Santa – Clarence Carter

Silent Night – The Dandy Warhols

Little Drummer Boy – The Dandy Warhols

Please Daddy (Don’t Get Drunk Tonight) – The Decemberists

Santa Baby – Eartha Kitt

Santa Claus is Back in Town – Elvis Presley

Christmas Blues – Eric Clapton & John Popper

Winter Wonderland – Eurythmics

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer – Gene Autry

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer – Jack Johnson

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer – The Smithereens

Santa Claus is Coming to Town – Gilby Clarke (Guns ‘N Roses)

Happy Xmas – John Lennon

It’s Beginning to Look Like Christmas – Kate Smith

The Christmas Song – King Curtis

Father Christmas – The Kinks

Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow! – Lena Horne

Let It Snow – Luscious Jackson

Boogie Woogie Santa Claus – Mabel Scott

The Christmas Song – Nat King Cole

Merry Christmas, Baby – Otis Redding

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas – The Pretenders

Santa Claus is Watching You – Ray Stevens

Santa Bring My Baby Back – The Smithereens

Christmas All Over Again – Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers

O Holy Night – Tracy Chapman

O Holy Night – Glenn Hughes (Deep Purple, Black Sabbath)

Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow – Vaughn Monroe

God Rest Ye, Merry Gentleman – The Ventures

Red Baron Christmas

There you have it! Download some of these and start the celebration. Merry Christmas, everyone.

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Thanksgiving Blog: A Writer & Editor Gives Thanks

ON THE WORD JOURNEYS BLOG: INTERVIEW WITH PASSAGE AT DELPHI AUTHOR AK PATCH

We’ve arrived at the season of giving, and giving thanks, so wanted to share about some of the writing- and life-related people and things for which I am so thankful this year.

First, to the two people who have entrusted me to write and work with them on their magnificent stories, both of which will be published worldwide in 2014 – surfer Clay Marzo, and musician-producer Stevie Salas.

Clay Marzo, at play in the waves of the world

Clay Marzo, at play in the waves of the world

Clay is the fabulous pro surfing star from Maui who lives with Asperger’s syndrome, a high-functioning aspect of the autism spectrum. “Fabulous” is putting it mildly. On any given day when the waves are right – like last week’s epic 15-foot day at Golf Balls, a secret spot in Maui – Clay is one of the two or three best surfers in the world. What he does on a wave defies description. What he does on land gets more and more valuable every day – shedding light and hope to autistic children and adults, as he’ll be doing this weekend at a Surfers Healing event in Waikiki.

The book I’m writing, Just Add Water, will be published in Summer 2014 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. The beauty of it? Clay tells part of the story himself – well beyond the limited interviews he has given to this point.

Just Add Water grew out of a dinner my fiancée, Martha, and I had with my long-time friend, Mitch Varnes. Mitch and I last teamed up on a big project in 1993, when he worked at NASA and I wanted to do a 25th anniversary tribute to the Apollo 11 moon landing. Voila! Ten months later, One Giant Leap for Mankind was the official 25th anniversary publication for NASA – and I had the honor of meeting and working with 11 of the 12 then-surviving moonwalkers.

Times change. Now, Mitch is an athlete agent and the producer of a number of outstanding distance races and triathlons, including the USA Master’s Half Marathon Championships. He’s also Clay Marzo’s manager. We put two and two together at dinner – and now, I’m three weeks away from turn-in of the manuscript.

• • •

Stevie Salas (right) performing recently in London

Stevie Salas (right) performing recently in London

For those who grew up in North San Diego County in the 1970s and early 1980s, like I did, Stevie Salas is a bit of a legend. In a span of three years, he vaulted from playing in the hot local band This Kids to becoming Rod Stewart’s lead guitarist on the Out of Order Tour. Since then, his body of work is that of a highly talented, well-connected workaholic – 11 solo albums, playing and producing sessions on dozens more, guitarist-musical director stints on tours by Mick Jagger and Terence Trent d’Arby, musical director of American Idol, contemporary music advisor to the Smithsonian Institution, executive producer and co-host of the Canadian People’s Choice Award-winning Arbor Live! TV series, a star on three continents, and a hero to Native Americans in the U.S. and Canada.

Most recently, Stevie has been through a rough time. His beloved father, Larry, passed away two weeks ago. The eulogy he gave at Larry’s service on Tuesday was one of the best tributes I’ve ever heard – sad, funny, poignant, gripping. People were laughing and crying at the same time.

I am working with Stevie to complete his memoir, The Kid’s In The Band, to be published September 2014 by Taylor Trade, a division of Rowman-Littlefield.

• • •

Along with these books comes a special literary agent, who believed in both when I presented them to her – and who promptly secured our publishing deals. Many mahalos, Dana Newman, for these and other projects on which we’ve worked the past two years …

Which brings me to the rather long list of authors on my Thanksgiving gratitude list.  These are the people who came to me to work with them on either advising, editing, promoting or marketing their books … and tomorrow, they will sit with their friends and/or families with published or soon-to-be-published books in hand.

1461789_10152056766079316_1047927258_nFirst, Lynne Martin. Lynne’s travel memoir, Home Sweet Anywhere, will be published by Sourcebooks in Spring 2014 – and Sourcebooks is loading their promotional cannons big-time. Rightly so. Lynne wrote an article for the Wall Street Journal about the way she and her husband, fiction author Tim Martin, live in different places of the world, a few months at a time. That was in October 2012. She called me, we hurriedly wrote a proposal, and sent it to Dana in November. By December, she had a deal. And last week, Lynne proudly sent around the cover. Want to read a great travel narrative full of life, humor, both the hard and soft spots of living in different places – and the sheer adventure of spending your retirement this way? You can pre-order now on Amazon

This week marks the launch of AK Patch’s fabulous novel, Passage at Delphi, about two professors PAD cover lo-reswhisked back into one of the climactic wars of Ancient Greece – part of a deeper training orchestrated by Apollo, the Greek God of Prophecy (among other titles). Dr. Patch also has a feminine heroine lead character, in this case Lauren Fletcher. Passage at Delphi has already received strong reviews from Midwest Book Review, Library Bookwatch and Underground Book Review, and promises to give you a look at Ancient Greece you’ve not seen before – through the eyes of two 21st century professors. The writing is riveting, the descriptions so clear you can reach out and touch our distant creative and democratic roots. Many mahalos, Dr. Patch, for bringing me onboard.

51lzXiMlrFL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA278_PIkin4,BottomRight,-64,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_Then there is Claudette Marco, whom I met and befriended at the Southern California Writers Conference in February. Claudette is a young adult fantasy author with a trilogy underway, The Satchel & Sword Trilogy. We worked on the edits for her first two books, along with some promotion. On Monday, the first book in the series that stars 15-year-old Amazonian warrior Nevaline Scarcliff, The Search for the Saluka Stonereleased. Claudette is already on her way: in May, she’ll be a guest panelist at the ConCarolinas Sci/Fi Fantasy Convention, one of the largest in the country.  Not only has her writing blossomed, but also her confidence at realizing that she is one of the best new YA fantasy voices in the country. What a gratifying thing to bear witness to!

Earlier in the year, I had the pleasure to work with Dr. Jide Familoni on his novel, Losing My Religion, the 51t2LrH51sL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA278_PIkin4,BottomRight,-64,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_tale of a Nigerian man’s struggles (and triumphs) to live in the culture of the American South while retaining his native Yoruban tradition. Based somewhat on Dr. Familoni’s own story, Losing My Religion poignantly shows how culture clashes and differences can tear at us at the heart and soul level. This book also features a great thrill ride of intrigue and danger. Thank you, Jide.

Once again, I set to work with my good long-time friend, Stephen B. Gladish, on his trilogy of novels – Storm Chasers, Island Fever, and Mustang Fever. We spent much of the year re-editing and re-working the books, getting them primed and positioned for a 2014 release. They follow the stories, adventures, perils, failures and triumphs of Chance Chisholm and LukeLaCrosse, close friends and servicemen in the Air Force’s 6th Weather Squadron. These books are historical adventure romances, with a secondary military component. Can’t wait to see them in print.

Then I came across a group of authors who are, quite simply, 24/7 producers of fine books. They include William Thompson Ong, Claudia Whitsitt, Laura Taylor, Gayle Carline, and Jenny Hilborne. I’ve known all but Jenny for several years, from the Southern California Writers Conference, but this year, I came to appreciate their works and their absolute commitment to their craft and readers. Isn’t that what writing books is supposed to be about? Story and readership? I helped Claudia with a couple of her books, but otherwise, sat back and became a fan of these four women, one of whom (Laura) is a multiple best-selling author. Thanks to all of you. And an extra thanks to Laura for introducing me to Drs. Patch and Familoni.

Also, my thanks to Charles Redner, who lets me indulge my poetic side every spring when I edit his publication, The Hummingbird Review. Charlie is one of my favorite people, and also a great person with whom to discuss literary topics.

There are many others to thank, authors whose works have passed through my desk are are headed toward publication down the line. They include: Elizabeth Allen, Jennifer Hillman, Isaac Lomeli, Leo Willcocks, Davion Famber, Christine Magnus Moore, Steve Jam, Rondi Brown, Amin Nash, Lillith Black, Traci Goodman, Gloria O’Brien, and my fiancée, Martha Halda, who is hard at work on her stirring memoir, A Taste of Eternity. She’s grown into a fine writer while having to put up with a sometimes maniacal one.

I could go on and on … but I’m already way past maximum word count. Final special Thanksgiving thanks to my webmaster and co-publisher, Brian Wilkes of Tuscany Global Publishing; to Michael Steven Gregory and Wes Albers of the Southern California Writers Conference; to Tony Todaro of the West Coast Writers Conference and LA Digital Writers Conference; and to Charles Warner, publisher at Innovation & Technology Today, the man who convinced me to jump back into the magazine editing business after years away from it. To those I missed, I’m really sorry – but I thank you with all my heart.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. Am off to run the Oceanside Turkey Trot 5-mile and 5K races Thursday morning, then engorging on football and turkey the rest of the day.

40 Great Books for Every Writer’s Library

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With Labor Day fast approaching, it’s never too early to grab those early-season holiday gifts, right?

I thought I’d create a “gift list” to use when shopping for your writer friends and relatives – or yourselves.

This list is very simple: 40 Books For Every Writer’s Library. I realize it is subjective, and I may have missed one of your favorites, but it covers every angle for working on our books, articles, essays or other projects. This list is also designed to spark new ideas, or to further exploration of ideas you already have.

In the list, you will find several self-help writing books, collections of conversations with authors, memoirs, technical books, books addressing other creative genres (music and art, specifically), and works written by some of our greatest authors.

In no particular order (except for #1, #2 and #3), here is the list, with personal impressions from my experience:

51eTXTqabwL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_ 1. Writer’s Market: Every August, I eagerly run down to the bookstore and buy the new copy of this annual publication, published by Writer’s Digest. I consider it a bible for writers, not only because of its 5,000+ listings of book, story and article markets, but because of its articles. Every year, literary agents and industry experts pen fantastic, insightful articles that every serious writer should read. They provide nothing less than the keys to the kingdom of publishing, and save countless headaches, rejection slips and embarrassing moments.  If you don’t have this book (which comes with a CD that provides year-round, online contact), stop what you’re doing, find $40 somewhere, and buy it. Now.

2 & 3. On Becoming a Novelist and On Writers and Writing: by John Gardner. We start with a bang – a two-for-one. No novelist has ever conveyed the craft and writing life better; then again, he was perhaps the nation’s most refined fiction writer and teacher of fiction at the time of his death in 1982.

4. Writers Dreaming, by Naomi Epel: Conversations with noted authors on their dreams, plots or ideas that came from dreams, and how they work with their dreams. A vital read if you, like me, believe the 6 to 8 non-waking hours of the day contribute mightily to the writing process.41aP7rdkxBL._SY346_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_

5. Storycatcher: The Power of Story to Change Our Lives, by Christina Baldwin: Reading and working the prompts in this book is like drinking nectar, further flavored by your own words when they spin together perfectly. In other words, this book does magical things to one’s ability to journal, write an essay or story, and heal. Life’s Companion: Journal Writing as a Spiritual Quest is another Baldwin title worth owning.

6. Ensouling Language, by Stephen Harrod Buhner: In school, we are all taught critical thinking, and academic writing – stating facts or theories, and substantiating them through research and examples. In other words, thought-based writing. Consequently, most of us developed the habit of writing sentences and choosing verbs that emphasized thinking over feeling. In this book, Buhner takes us through our hearts and souls, encourages us to develop a vocabulary of “feeling words,” and transports us to a place where we write lyrically, soulfully, and beautifully: the type of writing that not only resonates with readers, but often changes or transforms their lives. Absorb this book, and readers will feel the heart and soul of your work as though they can rub it off the page.

7. The Elements of Style, by William Strunk and E.B. White: After nearly a century, this book remains a staple of working writers and teachers. Its greatest value might be in emphasizing the need to write tight – crisp, concise, to the point.

51sS3rx58NL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_ 8. Punctuation for Writers, by Harvey Stanbrough: This book deserves a spot on every writer’s desktop alongside The Elements of Style. It presents punctuation as a timely, valuable asset to every written sentence, rather than the necessary evil we first met in grammar school. Whenever I write a book, this gem sits on my desktop. Another Stanbrough pick: Writing Realistic Dialogue & Flash Fiction. You’ll become a conversational dialogue writer, the best kind, after working with this book.

9. Zen in the Art of Writing, by Ray Bradbury: Zen connotes space, presence, serenity, succinctness. All of which you find 51JP9AJJVVL._SY300_in Bradbury’s prolific writing style. I was at a signing when science fiction’s greatest living writer toured this book 20 years ago … I’ll never forget his encouraging comments to me. This book remain a treasure.

10. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, by Annie Dillard: In my opinion, one of the best memoirs ever written. I’ve read it 10 times, and counting. This masterpiece brings together nature, voice, observation, listening, creating, inner feelings, outer environment, hubris and hope … and every word sparkles with brilliance. What else is there? If you want more Dillard, go with Three By Annie Dillard – a collection that also includes An American Childhood, and The Writing Life.

11. A Natural History of the Senses, by Diane Ackerman: This is a tremendous book on how the physical senses play out in the natural world, and how we can attune better to our own senses … a critical aspect of deep writing. Some of the stories of how animals use their senses are breathtaking – and reminders of how much more sense-itive we can (and should) become as writers.

51lBeA6xvFL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_12. Color: A Natural History of the Palette, by Victoria Finlay: This book contains a history of primary colors, how they were mixed for artists since prehistoric times, and the fascinating stories behind the substances and creators of these colors. A great book of observation, journalism and craftsmanship. Good writers always form close alliances with color and tone; here’s a wonderful map into that journey.

13. Library: An Unquiet History, by Matthew Battles: I believe every writer should know basic library science and library history – and this book provides a wonderfully off-beat account of both. From Sumeria to your local library, the adventures of the printed word and its storage – and the wars fought over books – could not be better told.

14. The Browser’s Book of Beginnings, by Charles Panati: As writers, we should know the origins of every subject about which we write – and the etymology of the historical words we use. The incredible material can either be used in your works – or prompt little “archaeological” digs of your own. An alternate selection: The Book of Lists, by David Wallechinsky.416Y2Y9RE6L._SY346_

15. Keeping a Journal You Love, by Sheila Bender: A wonderful friend in the writing-teaching community, Sheila has dedicated the last 20 years of her life to helping writers improve their craft. She’s written several books, but this brings home the essence of what it takes to be a compelling writer: Going deep inside, taking your life experiences and world view with you, and percolating wisdom and compassion through journaling. This book erases writer’s block – fast.

16. The Best Writing on Writing, Jack Heffron, ed.: Jack is a former Writer’s Digest Books editor who occasionally teaches writing workshops. He also compiles very good anthologies. This annual release offers plenty of great pieces for writers looking for a tip or some inspiration.

17. Dimensions of a Life, ed. Jon Halpern: Written to honor great poet-essayist Gary Snyder on his 60th birthday, this collection of essays, stories and poems by more than 70 contributors focuses on aspects of Snyder’s life, work, personality, cultural influences, and more. It’s like taking 70 gemologists, peeling a diamond open, and seeing how that diamond comes together, one side at a time. Alternate selection for fans of Beat poetry and literature: Lighting the Corners, featuring the works and conversations of Michael McClure.

18. The Artful Edit: On the Practice of Editing Yourself, by Susan Bell: For most writers, the hardest part of the process comes after you finish writing the draft – editing your work. In my opinion, this is the best book on editing. It contains tips, strategies, counsel from the greatest book editors of the past century, and interviews with top-selling authors. The author’s personal touch makes self-editing very inviting … and I invite you in, because these days, books need to go to publishers very well edited.

19.  The Language of Life, by Bill Moyers: The subject of a 1995 PBS special, this book features conversations with 25 great current poets. In it, you will see how writers and poets develop voice, and read priceless insights on observation, imagery and craft.41Qag8YXNPL._SY346_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_

20. Henry Miller on Writing, by Henry Miller: This book changed my writing life; I learned to really finish my book manuscripts after reading it. One of the 20th century’s most prolific writers and artists shares his take on the art and craft of writing – and the insights and tips fall from every page like fruit trees perpetually in season.

21. The Crossing Point, by Mary Caroline Richards: Every writer, teacher, artist, artisan, poet and those concerned with the creative process would do well to own this book of essays, talks, poems and musings by one of the 20th century’s greatest purveyors of personal creativity (and part of the famed Black Mountain literary movement). My copy is hopelessly ripped, underlined and dog-eared from extensive use; I can feel my creative electrons jumping each time I open this book.

22. How To Think Like Leonardo DaVinci, by Michael Gelb: Here it is, in a single hardback book: the visual imprint of the creative mind and creative process. Its exploration of the ultimate Renaissance man brings out the creator in all of us. This book is filled with page after page of creative inspiration; I can’t last more than four pages at a time without putting it down and writing to exhaustion.

23. A Writer’s Diary, by Virginia Woolf: The beauty of this diary is that we truly see the inner triumphs and struggles of a great literary figure – but also how every minute of every day was spent writing or gathering the seeds for future works. A great look at the inner world of the perpetually working writer.

24. The Gang That Wouldn’t Write Straight, by Marc Weingarten: The story of the New Journalists – the writers to whom every current journalist, memoirist and narrative non-fiction author owes a debt of gratitude. Beginning with Norman Mailer and Truman Capote, these were the pioneers of incorporating fiction-writing and deep inner personal feelings into non-fiction work.

51CEuzp6m9L._SY346_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_25. The Faith of a Writer: Life, Craft, Art, by Joyce Carol Oates: If you could mate pure, distilled wisdom and vision with the intimacy of a deep romance, this book would be the offspring. What a treasure, by one of the greatest writers on the planet.

26. Writing Down the Bones, by Natalie Goldberg: A modern classic for writers seeking the deeper, inner places from which to write, and the relationships of their feelings and perceptions to the outside world. The vignettes and essays in this book are tight, concise – and built to prompt you to write.

27. Practicing: A Musician’s Return to Music, by Glenn Kurtz: Music and writing are so closely linked, structurally and creatively, that it behooves every writer listen to music deeply, if not play or study it. But this stellar memoir is about more than music: it is about the art and hard work of practice, and how practice creates ultimate attunement with one’s instrument. In the case of writers, that means written vocabulary and voice.

28. Bird By Bird, by Anne Lamott: Anne’s deeply felt, highly observant look at the little things in life – a prime topic of both her fiction and non-fiction books – informs this collections of essays/prompts. In it, she shows how she invents verbs to suit the action of the moment – reminding us that we, too, can invent words.

29. On Writing, by Stephen King: The man who re-invented the horror genre – in both books and films – wrote this heartfelt, deeply informed book to the writer who fights, struggles, bleeds, perseveres and stops at nothing to write … then comes back for more. Ten years after it’s release, it remains the most-quoted book at writer’s conferences and MFA programs. The advice is sound, insightful and applicable, as you might expect from a man who has sold more than 350 million books.51o6c5YQTmL._SY346_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_

30. Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting, by Robert McKee:  The author put 40 years of screenwriting experience into this book, which rises far beyond the world of the screenplay into something much more universal – the art and craft of writing a compelling story by visualizing a moment and then drawing it out. This book works for all writers. Alternate selection: The Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller, by John Truby.

31. On Being a Writer, Bill Strickland, ed: I kept this in the Top 30 list until the last moment. A great collection of conversations with our finest authors, who discuss voice, technique and process openly, in a way that every writer can absorb.

32. The Power of Myth, by Joseph Campbell: We need to be in contact with the mythologies that formed the archetypes we use in our writing. We also need to know the art of mythmaking as storytellers. This book, first published in conjunction with a PBS series in the late 1980s, brings myth into the present. Worthy companion: Mythology, by Edith Hamilton.

33. Telling True Stories, edited by Mark Kramer and Wendy Call: This compilation of essays and perspectives by many of the top narrative non-fiction writers and journalists (Nora Ephron, David Halberstam, Tom Wolfe, Susan Orlean, Malcolm Gladwell, Phillip Lopate, etc.) paints the artful marriage of story crafting and real-life events or circumstances. It discusses techniques, strategies, and most of all, ways to create masterful stories with actual events. If you want to write essays, memoirs, biographies or any type of non-fiction book or article, buy this book and your writing will expand forever.

            34. Writing Begins with the Breath, by Laraine Herring: This new release borrows from William Carlos Williams’ philosophy of poetry, which launched the Beat poets movement. Part Buddhism, part instructional … a fine book.

            35. Dare to be a Great Writer: 329 Keys to Powerful Fiction, by Leonard Bishop: Another Writer’s Digest Book, this is one of the most thought-out breakdowns of the fiction writing technique and process.

            61hdpLlsL8L._SX260_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_36. The Writer’s Compass, by Nancy Ellen Dodd: I’m usually not a big fan of story mapping, although if you’re a formula genre writer, or creating an alternative fantasy or sci-fi world, I don’t see how you can live without mapping. However, my opinion has been changed by Pepperdine University professor and author Nancy Dodd’s detailed, rich breakdown of 7 stages that take you from story map to finished draft. This book is loaded with insight. It is an excellent companion for both new writers and those getting off to a tough start with their next idea.

37. The Life of Poetry, by Muriel Rukeyser: A beautifully rendered part-memoir, part-instructional discussion of poetry by one of the greatest writers of the mid-20th century.

            38. Journal of a Solitude, by May Sarton: As those who have been in my workshops know, I am BIG on journaling. This wonderful book is best read by a fire, with a cup of coffee or tea, quiet music … and a journal alongside. Because you will be sparked by the writings of the ever-wise May Sarton.

39. The Art of the Personal Essay, Philip Lopate, ed.: This should be a staple in every aspiring and practicing essay writer’s home library – from ages 10 to 100. The variety of essays, and informative lead-ins, make this one of the best edited and selected writing anthologies ever.

40. The Best Writing on Writing, Jack Heffron, ed.: Jack is a former Writer’s Digest Books editor who occasionally teaches writing workshops. He also compiles very good anthologies. This annual release offers plenty of great pieces for writers looking for a tip or some inspiration.

And finally, one of my own:

            The Write Time: 366 Exercises to Fulfill Your Writing Life, by Robert Yehling: It’s hard for me to include myself in any list, but I’m sharing the vibe I’ve received from readers and reviewers. The exercises in this book are both stand-alone and mini-series pieces that cover every genre and leave plenty of opportunity for personal interpretation. I will say that it is perhaps the most diverse book of writing exercises and challenges in the market.

All of these books are available on Amazon.com. Most can be found in chain and independent bookstores, or at writer’s conferences and book fairs.

Start your shopping season now. You will definitely make the writer you know (or are) very happy with any of these selections.

U.S. Open of Surfing Folo: CNN, Get Your Coverage Right!

An unfortunate but necessary departure from my usual blogs on writing and authors …

On Sunday, championship day of the Vans U.S. Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach featured big victories by Brazil’s Alejo Muniz over California’s Kolohe Andino, and 2011 ASP Women’s World Champion (and current women’s world tour leader) Carissa Moore of Hawaii over California’s Courtney Conlogue.

2003 Vans U.S. Open of Surfing champ Alejo Muniz

2013 Vans U.S. Open of Surfing champ Alejo Muniz

It was a huge day for Muniz and Moore, played out before tens of thousands of spectators at

Huntington Beach Pier, which has hosted the mainland’s largest world tour event since the old Op Pro days of 1982 – and before that, the United States Surfing Championships.

Unfortunately, six hours or so after Muniz and Moore raised their arms victoriously in front of their fans, some rowdy non-surfers from outside the Southern California coastline turned what should have been evening of celebration on Huntington Beach’s Coast Highway and Main Street into a riotous mess. And just as unfortunately, the national news media jumped in and blamed the surfers and their fans!

We’ve been down this road before. In 1986, I was working with the Sports Illustrated crew at the old Op Pro in Huntington Beach when a huge riot broke out. While officials and surfers huddled on the well-secured central scaffold, hundreds of drunken maniacs cut loose, turning a great sports event into front-page news for all the wrong reasons. I pulled an all-nighter on the phone, pleading with Sports Illustrated’s fact checkers to minimize the riot coverage. “Surfers didn’t cause the riot,” I said. “Professional surfing has nothing to do with the people who came to the beach to make trouble.”

2013 Vans U.S. Open women's champ Carissa Moore, the 2011 ASP World Tour Champion

2013 Vans U.S. Open women’s champ Carissa Moore, the 2011 ASP World Tour Champion

Thankfully, Sports Illustrated listened, reducing riot coverage to a few sentences.

I only wish the same could be said today for CNN, and even some California news stations – that fueled their sensationalistic agendas this morning. “Surfers riot, clash with police,” reads the video link on CNN.com’s home page.

Give me a break!

First of all, surfers did not cause the riot – just as they had nothing to do with the 1986 fracas at the Op Pro. Trouble-seeking, drunken idiots who have nothing to do with the beach lifestyle did, turning over port-a-potties, no less. Second, a very small percentage of surfers on this planet have ever exhibited violence – and even then, the vast majority of instances amounted to fistfights in the lineup. Nothing more. They sure as hell aren’t going to trash Surf City USA while still abuzz over a great week of professional surfing and the scene that is the Vans U.S. Open. This is like saying all competitive surfers are stoners – a perception I spent the entire decade of the 1980s and first half of the 1990s disproving while building the case for surfers as serious amateur and professional athletes.

Clearly, CNN didn’t take any time to check out their story. If they had done a single fact check, they would have known the riot didn’t ensue until six hours after the contest ended. And the locals, the surfers, tried to stop it! They proved yet again that solid, resourceful, fact-centered journalism is a dying practice. CNN only covers professional surfing when the waves are 10 feet plus in Hawaii during the Triple Crown of Surfing. That’s their editorial decision, which is fine. What is not fine is launching into the sensationalism of a riot to pin it to surfers.

"Soul Surfer" author Bethany Hamilton, one of the most inspirational athletes in the world.

“Soul Surfer” author Bethany Hamilton, one of the most inspirational athletes in the world.

This weekend, many of the top women surfers in the world will compete in the Ford Super Girl Pro at Oceanside Pier, 60 miles down the coast from Huntington Beach. Among the competitors will be surfing’s miracle girl, Bethany Hamilton, who lost her arm in a shark attack and later wrote Soul Surfer, a bestselling and deeply inspirational memoir later adapted into a motion picture. Think Bethany is popular? She has more than 659,000 “likes” on her Facebook page!

Also on hand, undoubtedly, will be a strong police presence. This happened in Oceanside in 1986, when the Stubbies Pro was held at Oceanside Harbor four weeks after the Op Pro. An unusually large continent of cops turned out, even though it was totally unnecessary.

Hard to believe history is repeating itself. For those of us who are planning to attend the For Super Girl Pro, let’s get out there and cheer on these great athletes, and remind the CNNs and other media hell-bent on irresponsible, headline-grabbing, ratings-generating stories about the real world of surfing.

It certainly isn’t what they want to create. Put the blame where it belongs. All you need is your own video cameras and feeds to see who started the riot on Sunday.

Running Jokes: The Stories Behind A Few Fleet, Funny Moments

Sharing poems and stories with The Spoken Word Group

Sharing poems and stories with The Spoken Word Group

The other day, I had the pleasure of being featured reader before The Spoken Word Group in Laguna Woods, Calif. I read for about a half-hour from my new book, Backroad Melodies, as well as from my other three poetry-essay collections. It felt great to bring out the voice of the material, as well as revisit two of my old favorites, “Appoggiatura” and “Ode to Sunrise,” from my 2007 book, Coyotes in Broad Daylight. 

The greatest moments of levity came when I trotted out “Running Jokes,” a 12-poem suite from Backroad Melodies that celebrates how quirky and random long-distance running can be, especially when spread over a number of years, locations, and situations. I wrote these pieces after runs ranging from caddying ultramarathoner Pam Reed in 130-degree Death Valley heat to long, moonlit pre-dawn runs in 5-degree Munich weather. All of them had funny moments, judging from the crowd’s reaction.

So, to lighten up the atmosphere a little bit, thought I would share a couple pieces from “Running Jokes,” and give you the backstories behind them:

He looks at me like I’m

the dumbest creature on earth

for running through a desert wash

In summer at all,

let alone without water—

not clever & coy, like him.

He turns to his pack, sticks his tongue out,

hunkers down behind a bush

after a night of rabbiting.

This run took place in a desert wash outside Tucson, Arizona. I intended to run eight miles on the roads near my friend Charlie Redner’s home on the Omni National golf course, but overextended the distance. I had to get back to make an appointment on time, so I took a shortcut — through a dry wash. While plodding through the thick sand wash, the previous winter’s rushing waters a buried memory, I imagined what I looked like in the eyes of a coyote that I passed. Didn’t have to imagine very hard: it was written in Running_01his eyes.

Loping along Highway 60, ten miles into a run,

sirens blaring ahead,

pursuing a Sunday appointment with Epsom salts,

donkey feed, my sofa and NFL football.

I pass an old orchard,

owner in front sets up a yard sale, yells:

“Why you runnin’ so hard?

The cops are AHEAD of you.”

This one doesn’t need much explanation. When he said it, I burst out laughing.

One-thirty a.m. An eighty-five degree wet blanket

passes for air beneath the football lights.

Fourteen hours into a 24-hour relay, and they’re on me:

A blonde on one side, a blonde on the other,

looking up, screaming at me for making them

go to bed and rest.

“I get to stay up!” one yells.

“If she can stay up, I can stay up!” the other shouts.

“You’re tired. You’ve run eight miles each already.

You’re both eight. You have to sleep a little.”

“We’re on the team as much as you,” they yell, in unison.

I throw in the towel.

Ten minutes later, they’re sprawled in the tent, asleep.

When I was coaching cross-country, we held a midsummer 24-hour relay to raise funds for the program. These 24-hour relays can be wacky affairs. Teams of ten band up, with each member running a mile before yielding to the next person in line – for 24 hours. Sometimes, like at 1:30 a.m., they don’t answer the bell, so who gets to run? The coach. The two eight-year-olds in this piece ran 13 miles apiece. Now five years later, one of the-then eight-year-olds, Elle Buser, is the fastest seventh-grade miler in Kentucky, running a 5:29 at her 2013 regional championships and then racing in the state high school championships.

A hundred thirty degrees, the dash thermometer says,

so I jump out of the van,

away from the four-foot block of ice in back,

and pace her, Miss Ultramarathoner –

She’s doing one hundred thirty five miles,

the first fifty through Death Valley.

I’m doing six to keep her company,

all pumped up for my morning on Mercury,

toughness confirmed by being here.

Less than an hour later, I crawl into the van,

lay on the ice, parched as bones in the Panamint Range,

never to run in Death Valley again…

She carries on, for twenty-four hours, wins the race.

This is the story of the day I caddied for ultramarathoner Pam Reed in the Badwater Ultramarathon, one of the most insane races on earth. Competitors run from the bottom of America to the top, from Death Valley to Whitney Portal, a distance of 135 miles – in mid-July. I enjoyed a number of memorable runs with Pam, one of which was the aforementioned 5-degree run in Munich, before I interviewed her at the ispo SportsDesign Forum. The long-time director of the Holualoa Tucson Marathon, Pam has won Badwater five times.

There’s more. A lot more. Twelve of these segments run in Backroad Melodies, but there will always be running jokes, so I have chosen to make it a work-in-progress. Will share a few more pieces in the next blog.

The Joy of Cutting Loose

My work as a writer and editor involves a lot of deadlines. Whether I am getting a book to one of my publishers, or sample chapters to my agent, I seem to be in an intimate relationship with the clock. The same holds true when I edit clients’ books, write book proposals, or ghostwrite.

Visit the Word Journeys Blog 

As days, weeks, months and years march on, it’s becoming harder and harder to find time to cut loose, write spontaneously, just throw down those words on any subject and have as much fun as a kid playing in the sandbox. Or, as the late Lester Bangs, one of my favorite music writers back in the day, put it: “Writing for the sake of writing.”bob at skywalker-lores

After another grueling ten-week period of deadline work (editing four novels and Innovation & Technology Today magazine; ghostwriting one book and part of another; sending a book proposal for another co-writing project to my agent, Dana Newman, who also finalized my deal with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for Just Add Water, the biography-memoir I’m writing on surfing great Clay Marzo; running advance publicity for Jide Familoni’s fine novel, Losing My Religion; teaching at the Greater Los Angeles Writers Conference; five writer interviews for the 366Writing and Word Journeys blogs; and wrapping up my latest poetry-collection collection, Backroad Melodies, published by Tuscany Global in late June), I finally broke away. I headed to the majestic mountains and forests of Montana and Idaho for a week of hiking, running, swimming, and visiting old friends. As I boarded the plane, burned out and sleep deprived, I was ready to dismiss all word-related matters for a week. To that end, I left my computer and iPad home. A week without keyboards … aaaaaah.

2013-07-10 12.18.22All of that happened, leaving me rejuvenated, refreshed, and just about ready to call Montana home. But so did this: more than 70 pages of new writing in my journal, in the free form, slap-it-down, just write for the sake of writing spirit of things. I wrote as Jack Kerouac or Lester Bangs did, like a madman, letting my powers of observation intermingle with my heart, mind, soul and the inexhaustible word bank in the sky. Feeling the exquisite burn of unharnessed creativity. I was again the kid in the sandbox, making a mess and playing with my toys. My journal, which I have been keeping since 1978 but not so much in recent months, now looks like a disturbed anthill after you pour water on it, with new paragraphs, sentences, ideas, and sketches running amok.

Since I’m a multi-genre, multi-subject writer who has no problem taking chances with new forms or topics, I spent the week writing about: the incredible scenics of Glacier National Park, Kalispell National Forest, Flathead Lake, Coeur d’Alene, the Bitterroot Mountains and the Salish-Kootenai National Bison Range; the effects of climate change on Glacier; the three-day visit with my high school running coach, Brad Roy, and his family; the unparalleled integration of fitness, sports, medicine, physical therapy, coaching/mentoring and rehabilitation at Brad’s facility, The Summit Medical Fitness Center; my sweetheart Martha Halda’s exploits at the Missoula Half Marathon (as recounted in the July 17 Word Journeys blog); Martha’s “homecoming” to Coeur d’Alene (where she attended college in the late 70s-early 80s); and a dozen other topics. The writing came out as poems, idea sketches for everything from novellas to short stories, article ideas, short prose pieces accompanied by drawings, and vignettes. Also, there was plenty of stream-of-consciousness scrawl, the heart and soul of any good journal.

From just cutting loose for a week, I have enough story, poem and article ideas to last for months … or 2013-07-13 13.16.45longer. More than that, I’ve tapped again into the pure spirit and love of writing, the inexplicable feeling of unleashing all inhibitions and censorious mind games to put words and sentences together. Or, as my friend and client, the memoirist Davion Famber, puts it, “drop some rhymes.” Nothing feels quite like spending an hour or two dropping some words, filling journal pages, writing out the essence of life itself: holding court in the present moment, feeling all of your power and creativity in that instant, and rushing in that adrenalin-fused, breath-catching state of mind that we as writers know.  Who knows? There might be a sentence, paragraph or entire piece that you can grow out.

There is nothing more therapeutic than cutting loose with words … or for our creativity and productivity as writers.

Be sure to cut loose today — and enjoy the results.

Other Blogs to Check Out:

Interview with “Fobbit” author David Abrams

Interview with “A Taste of Eternity” author Martha Halda

Interview with “Losing My Religion” author Jide Familoni

Interview with “Identity Issues” and mystery author Claudia Whitsitt

Interview with “Satchel & Sword” Trilogy author Claudette Marco

From War Journal to Bestseller: How David Abrams Created ‘Fobbit’

PART 2 of a 2-Part Blog Interview

TO READ PART 1

David Abrams didn’t know what to expect when his smashing debut novel, Fobbit, was released in late summer 2012. Would readers like his sideways approach to the war in Iraq? Would they understand and like his characters? Would they resonate with the bevy of emotions and circumstances that surround soldiers and families in war-time situations? Would they like the way he interwove dark humor, sarcasm and the way people interact in a theatre of operation?

"Fobbit" author David Abrams. (Photo: Lisa Wareham Photography)

“Fobbit” author David Abrams. (Photo: Lisa Wareham Photography)

A review in The Washington Post summed up the answer: “Fobbit blends fiction and journalism, an apt reflection of literary influences combined with [Abrams’s] experience in an Army public affairs team. . . . Though absurd, these Dickensian characters are all so skillfully wrought that we quickly accept their idiosyncrasies. . . . What’s most intriguing about this work is that, at its center, it is both a clever study in anxiety and an unsettling expose of how the military tells its truths. Fobbit traces how ‘the Army story’ is crafted, the dead washed of their blood, words scrutinized, and success applied to disasters.”

Fobbit landed with a flourish, becoming a bestseller and a fixture on the Best Books lists of many organizations. Every bookseller, it seemed, jumped on the bandwagon, including the biggest: “Barnes & Noble has been very good to me,” Abrams said. Not only did the subject matter captivate readers who wanted to know the truth of how it felt to be in Iraq and fight a war many thought unnecessary and poorly conceived, but also how the book was written.

In part two of our exclusive interview with Abrams, we discuss the process of creating Fobbit, and the book’s inherent value and legacy moving forward.

366Writing: Are you surprised with response Fobbit has received?  

David Abrams: This is going to sound really corny, but I wake up every day feeling like—as Gary Cooper said in The Pride of the Yankees—“the luckiest man on the face of the world.”  I’m proud of Fobbit and I’m grateful for the way my publisher got completely behind the book in support, but I never expected it would have the level of response from critics and readers that it did.  I thought I’d publish the book, enjoy a couple of months of reviews and readings and emails from readers, and then slide back into semi-obscurity.  I’m so very grateful that it’s continued to have a life of its own—one that’s totally out of my control at this point.

366Writing: What was your process of going from daily journal in Iraq to writing the final manuscript? How long did it take, and how dissimilar to your first run was your final draft?

DA: I think of my journal as a muscle-stretch before writing Fobbit.  I did a lot of writing on a daily basis during my year of deployment (the only time I ever stopped writing in the journal was during the two weeks I was home on leave with my wife….when I had other priorities).  I think all that information-dump and crafting these little scenarios out of what I saw and heard really helped limber me up for the larger experience of writing what was initially a 200,000-word manuscript (later dieted down to a slimmer 100k).  I think tonally Fobbit was pretty much the same from first draft to final draft.  There was still all that same anger and irony on the page.  Plotwise, it was a lot different, though.  The earlier drafts had a lot more story—I overstuffed it with plot—too many sardines for the can—and it took a very wise, very patient editor to help me see the book Fobbit needed to be, the smaller guy inside the fat suit.

366Writing: None of the writing or set-ups felt forced. You exercised considerable restraint, not going over the top with hyperbole or overwriting battlefield scenes. Could you talk about the importance of writing within the emotional field, as it were, that the subject suggests?

DA: Well, thanks for saying that, but truth be told, we cut a lot of unrestrained passages during the editing process.  It can be hard to identify a situation or a line of dialogue as over-the-top when you’re in the act of creation.  To the writer, it just feels like a piece of writing that tickles something deep inside.  I’m learning to distrust those times when I’m tickled by my own writing.  I look at them askance, suspecting they’re imposters who need to be sent back where they came from.  Even when writing satire—perhaps especially when writing satire—the writer has to keep pulling back, exercising restraint.  Comedy is so delicate.  One word too many and you’ve blown it, one word less and the joke is too obscure, leaving readers scratching their heads and going, “Huh?”  I’m still learning the difference—which is not to say I’m not still guilty of crimes against comedy.

366Writing: You also went to great lengths to be sure we knew the emotional impact Sgt. Gooding, Capt. Shrinkle, Sgt. Lumley, Commander Duret and the others felt from each action or decision – inside the FOB, out in the field.  We not only got sand in our noses, but hits to the heart. How did this work itself out as you wrote the book? Did you follow the course of the characters?  Or the situations?

DA: Character and situation are intertwined and so, looking back, it’s hard to say which came first.  Did I create the situation in order to illuminate a certain aspect of the character?  Or did I just follow the character and let him lead me to the situation?

Take that first major scene involving the stand-off around the possible suicide bomber rammed into the back of the tank.  When I started writing that chapter, I knew I wanted to place my characters in a tense, morally-challenging situation, but I never expected Captain Shrinkle to piss his pants, and I never thought Brock Lumley would be the one to finally pull the trigger on the terrorist and then go privately vomit up his fear.  Both of those actions would eventually define the characters. Since that chapter was one of the first scenes I wrote involving Shrinkle and Lumley, it led me down a path toward better understanding of who they were as people.  But when I created the situation, I didn’t know how it would all turn out.

366Writing: My dad was a commander in Vietnam, so I remember being parked in front of the TV every night during the Tet offensive, getting fresh information the Huntley-Brinkley Report or Walter Cronkite. This leads to my next question: Why will wars never be reported to the American people again in the way they were during Vietnam, when we were implanted in the thick of it, night after night?

DA: I, too, remember sitting in front of the TV watching Walter Cronkite deliver the latest news about Vietnam while American and Viet Cong body counts were shown in the corner of the TV screen like they were baseball scores.  I think both the media and the military learned some valuable lessons during that conflict: the media learned to distrust the military, and the military likewise started to look on the media as the enemy. It took a long time for the military to recover from the mistakes it made during Vietnam—they were still making some of those same mistakes when I joined in 1988—but eventually, the commanders burned by reporters in the 1960s and ‘70s retired and a new generation of colonels and generals begrudgingly admitted that maybe the media wasn’t the enemy, and perhaps we should loosen up and see how we could use them as a strategic tool to “tell the Army story.”

I think the military has come a long way in evaluating itself, identifying its flaws, and earnestly working to improve its relationship with the media.  Embedding reporters with units and trusting them to tell a balanced story is just one example of how we’ve bridged the divide.  We’re still not all the way there, but at least for now it’s like a bitterly divorced couple trying to be best friends.  We’re on good speaking terms with each other.

366Writing: Who are a few of your greatest writing influences? Fobbit has been compared by some reviewers to work by Joseph Heller (namely Catch 22), Ernie Pyle and Tim O’Brien, even Karl Marlantes (Matterhorn author) in your battlefield scenes. We’ve also seen comparisons to Dickens in your presentation of humor, but to me, some of the dark humor has a little of the over-the-top outlandishness of Tom Robbins. But all in a distinct voice we’ve never read before in the genre — yours.

DA: I’m ashamed to say I haven’t had the chance to read anything by Robbins (but I hope to correct that soon).  As far as comic influences, I can point to writers like Flannery O’Connor and Charles Dickens.  They were fearless and pitiless in their humor.  But I also can’t discount the movies, which were part of my cultural diet growing up, films by Mel Brooks, Woody Allen and, later, the snap-crackle-pop dialogue of Preston Sturges.  While we’re at it, let’s not forget the TV shows like Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C. and Hogan’s Heroes, which formed my earliest impressions of the military.

 366Writing: A lot of writers try to convert their journals into memoirs, novels or travel narratives. Very few succeed. What are two or three pieces of advice you would give writers seeking to move journal material into narrative form?

DA: If we’re talking about turning that material into fiction, then I’d say: consider the journal only as an inspirational starting point, a diving board into a swimming pool of stories.  You have to give yourself permission to lie and take the narrative into unexpected directions.  While writing Fobbit, I used my journal only as a diving board; there are only a very few passages which were lifted almost verbatim from what I wrote in my hooch on Camp Liberty in 2005 (some of Gooding’s diary entries, for instance).  For those wanting to turn their journal into a non-fiction narrative or memoir, give yourself permission to offend the real people who might show up on the page.  If you’re sticking with the truth, then you can’t worry about pissing off your mother, your best friend, or your boss.  Nobody’s ever going to be completely happy with the way you write about them anyway, so why not just tell the truth?

366Writing: What have been the most surprising responses you’ve received from readers, and people who have come to your signing events?

DA: I’ve been surprised at the way a comic novel has helped readers in some very serious ways.  To give a couple of examples, when I was on tour in Oregon and talking to a group of high school students, this very bright girl came up to me afterwards and said to me, “You know, your book helped me cope with my mom’s colon cancer.  Right after we found out she had it, I wanted to read something which would help take my mind off it.”  She told me that laughing her way through Fobbit made her forget the cancer, if only for a few hours.

More recently, I was giving a reading in Billings, Montana and during the question-and-answer period, a woman told me, tears in her eyes, that thanks to Fobbit, she’d learned the truth about her son’s death in Iraq:  “I had the official account of his death, the basic facts.  When I read your novel, I learned there was such a thing as a Significant Activities Report.”  The woman did some digging and eventually found the Sig Act report for the incident in which her son died.  “So, I want to thank you for leading me to the truth about his death.”

Both of these are completely unexpected reactions which floor me, humble me, and remind me that you never know how your words will go out into the world and what they’ll do once they get there.

366Writing: What’s next for you?

DA: All I can tell you is that I’m still getting up at 3:30 every morning and banging out the words on the keyboard in hopes that some decent stories will emerge.  Actually, I’m trying something new, handwriting the first draft of a new piece of fiction set in Iraq.  Every morning, I grab my coffee, sit down with my Moleskin journal, and fill as many pages as I can before my hand gives out or it’s time for me to go to work at the Day Job.  I was reluctant to write another war story, but I like where this one is going.  I thought I was through with the Iraq War, but apparently it wasn’t through with me.