Category Archives: Junebug Series

The Things We Remember

It's interesting how certain small things burn into our memory when we are kids, only to come back to the front when we are adults. Even more interesting to people who aren't writers is how often these things make it into our books.

As an example, one of my fondest memories of summers as a child was going to Louisiana and staying with my grandparents at their home a few miles outside of  Natchitoches, La. Many of the settings for my stories and books are based on that area. I may say it is Texas or somewhere else, but when I am writing it and picturing it in my mind, it is always there that i picture.

I have always been a voracious reader and visited the library at least once or twice a week there during the summer, joining the reading contest and always leaving with an armload of books after every visit. I can still remember sitting in the air conditioned library in a soft leather chair with the smell of old books surrounding me and looking out the back wall, which was made of glass, and out over Cane River which stood at the bottom of the hill behind the library. Often I would leave the library and wander a few blocks down Front Street, struggling with the stack of books, until I got to St. Denis Street, turning there and going to the P & C Rexall Drugstore. 

The P & C was one of those great stores that not only carried comic books, make up, assorted medical supplies and prescriptions, but also had a counter where they served sodas, sandwiches, and ice cream. To any of those reading this who visited the P & C they will remember that the ice cream scooper was square, and I can still taste the delicious chocolate ice cream cone I would eat while sitting there on a revolving bar stool at the counter, struggling to read a book without dripping the melting ice cream and waiting for my grandparents to pick me up after they had finished their shopping elsewhere in town.

The P & C isn't there anymore, stores like Wal Mart and K & B Drugs having put it out of business, and the library has moved somewhere less scenic and that I'm sure doesn't smell as musty but they will both live in my memory just as the settings still live in my book, Junebug and The Body.

 

Heroes and Villains

My wife convinced me to read the YA trilogy, The Hunger Games and I must say I'm pretty impressed. Being YA books they are a very fast read but the author does a great job of creating a complete world even though the books are unraveling at a breakneck speed.

The villain in the story is both the system and a character named President Snow (who I invariably picture as Newt Gingrich), but it raised interesting questions in my mind as to how books develop.

It is generally accepted that novels have to have a protagonist (hero) and an antagonist (villain) although sometimes the real villain is a system or way of life although that can also be embodied in a specific person. 

This was done wonderfully in the Hunger Games books just as J.K. Rowling managed to do in the Harry Potter series. Both President Snow and Voldemort are absolutely evil with no redeeming features, as opposed to a more sophisticated embodiment of evil such as Hannibal Lecter.

In my own books, I have one character in No' Chance, Silas, who is evil and I made no attempts to develop a reason for his evil or gave the reader any sympathy toward him. In Junebug and the Body, there is a villain (I won't give away who it is) that, while they're not evil, they are definitely the bad guy.

In The Bottle Tree, my personal favorite to write, I used a character to embody the racial atmosphere that existed in the Deep South as a way of life at that time. 

One of the new books I am working on, in addition to the second book in the Junebug and the second book in the Noah Chance series, is about methamphetamine use and the villain in that book is really the drug and poor choices in life.

What are your thoughts? Is one kind of villain preferable over the others?

I know many of my readers are also writers. If that is you, which type of villain do you prefer reading about and which do you prefer to write about?

To Kill a Character

One of my pet peeves is when an author/writer spends a lot of time building up a character just to kill them off. Sometimes it is necessary to the story and I understand that but some authors, Stephen King for instance, does it in every book. I'm not sure if it is a belief he has, a predilection to mayhem, or if he just gets sick of characters after spending so much time writing and kills them due to some perverse need (as his main character did in Misery) . It could also be that he relieves homicidal instincts that way but since I don't know Mr. King I won't hazard a guess as to that.

However, I think with many writers it isn't a conscious action. In my case, for instance, as much as I hate it happening I have started books knowing that a character won't make it to the end. In fact, in one of my projects, it was the death of a character in my head that started me to writing the book in the first place. I won't mention which book it was, because that might act as a spoiler.

In another book, I intended from the beginning that one of my characters would die because it was going to set up the next book in the series. However, when I got to that part I was surprised to learn that it didn't happen. I tried to kill them off but darn it, they refused to die and instead another much more minor character died instead. 

To anyone that is not a writer that may seem strange or contrived, but I think most writers who do not work from a carefully plotted outline will understand.

When I am writing, I usually have a general direction that the book will go in, usually because it take a little "push" to get started. I can't sit down and have the words just start spilling out, it takes a while for me to warm up. However, once I get going the story and characters take on a life of their own and often go in directions that i hadn't imagined. Occasionally that results in a problem.

For instance, when I was writing Junebug and the Body the book twisted on me toward the end and I couldn't figure out how to make it work or a way to tie two different story lines together. For weeks/months the book just sat there, 90% completed and STUCK!!!

One day my family and I were travelling back from visiting my mother in Louisiana, my wife driving while I napped in the passenger seat. Suddenly and without any warning BOOM! the problem was resolved. An idea on how to wrap up burst into my mind and the first draft of the book was finished a day or so later. I'm not sure what prompted the revelation since I was dozing and not even consciously thinking about the book but sometimes that's the way it happens. The story wrote itself. I had to go back and make a few small changes to tie the new idea in but once I did it was over. Except for the editing of course.

I said all that to say this, try not to be too hard on us writers when a favorite of yours gets knocked off.

Sometimes we didn't do it.

They killed themselves.

Why I Write for the Kindle and Nook

A couple of people have asked if I'm going to publish print versions of my books and the answer is, probably so, but I'm not in a big hurry to do so.

Yes, many people don't have access to Kindles and Nooks and that limits my market right now. I know, people can read them using the free viewers for Kindle and Nook available for computers, but I'm not a big fan of reading on the computer and I suspect many others feel the way I do. Reading on the Kindle is a pleasure as it appears to be for the Nook. As a side note, as I get older the ability to increase the size of the font on the Kindle becomes a favorite feature.

One main reason that i write for the Kindle and Nook is that it's easy. I can write what I want, how I want, and don't have to listen to anybody telling me to change it so it looks more like something else that is on the market. I could mimic someone else but then it's not really me writing and, as other writers know, we write because we have to write not always because we want it to be marketable. As a character in the television series Supernatural whined, "Writing's hard!"

Another reason I write eBooks is because I can set the selling price. Since I got my Kindle I have gotten very, very conscious of what books cost. For some reason it sticks in my craw to pay $1 less for a Kindle book than a print copy. Certainly, I still do it sometimes but I know that the prices the big publishers charge for eBooks could be cut, they just choose not to and fight the market. I have found some great books on Amazon that were priced at $4.99 or less, and some for as little as $ .99 (even a few for free) and so I now look for more independent writers and spend less time looking through the bestseller lists. Sure, some have a few spelling or grammatical errors and some have formatting issues (I know from experience there are still bugs in the conversion programs)  but I can forgive a lot for a $20 savings.

I LOVE the feel and smell of a book, but realistically eBooks are the wave of the future not only for the reasons cited above, and I will again emphasize the ability to increase the font size, but also because they read well in the sun and are extremely convenient. I can carry hundreds of books around with me in a package smaller and lighter than most printed copies. Since I travel a lot, this is also a big deal.

Harry Potter and Nostalgia

I love reading and that love is probably one of the reasons I love writing.

When I was a kid I used to go down to my grandparent's house in Natchitoches, La. and spend every summer there. My grandparents lived outside of town a few miles and once a week or so my grandmother would go into town to buy groceries or shop. She never learned to drive and so it was usually a family trip involving assorted aunts or uncles and was an eagerly awaited affair.

I wasn't much on the shopping so they would drop me off at the library where I would bury myself in the books while sitting on a comfortable chair looking through the wall of glass onto Cane River. To this day, the smell of old books is still one of my favorite things (that and the feel of the book are the only things that make me prefer physical books over my Kindle). After picking out my stack of books I would go to the P & C Rexall Drugstore and get a chocolate ice cream cone (they used a ice cream scoop that made them square) and wait to be picked up, often spending part of the time reading comic books from the stand at the store.

These experience made it into my book, Junebug and the Body, and as I read it over and over doing edits it never failed to bring back those memories. I get the same feelings when I read one of the books that were available at the library. The Henry Reed series, Beverly Cleary's books about Henry Huggins, and, as I grew older, the S.E. Hinton books are sure to trigger memories.

I wonder if the kids raised on Harry Potter will experience the same sense of nostalgia? It is probably more common nowadays for parents to buy books for their children than it is for the kids to go to the library. I can remember every summer there was a reading contest at the public library with a party at the end. The winners, which usually included me (just like Junebug), were presented ribbons.

Harry Potter was the biggest thing to hit the world of children's books EVER but  I'm curious to see if that has long term effects on the industry or if children will gradually slide back into the world of video games and television with no time for the heroes of the printed word.

I hope not, because "leaders are readers" and the world is sorely lacking in independent minded imagination right now and we need a generation of people willing to "go on walkabout" and not just be lemmings.

A NOTE TO eBOOK AUTHORS:

When publishing on the Kindle I make it a point to  check the box to allow lending and I'd urge you to do the same. As writers we have at least a little duty to try and encourage people to read and some just don't have much extra money now. A plus is that by allowing at least some of your books to be loanedt you can pick up fans. 

Why Self Publish?

Someone asked me the other day if I was still going to look for an agent and publish through conventional means if I had the chance. 

Really, my answer is probably, but not if I have to spend a lot of time doing the things other than writing.

I wouldn't mind if I was asked to do interviews and book signings, although I've been through the "seeking fame" route in another career, what I really mean is that i'm not going to spend hours and hours trying to find an agent, hassling with them, then rewriting my stuff because someone thinks "this is what it needs to sell". At least not without money up front.

I write because I like to write.

At some point I lost sight of that and started writing to get published, which is a completely different concept. 

I wrote Junebug and the Body, which I am still waiting for a cover to publish, because I liked the characters and the story, and the time in which it was set. In 1974 I was about the same age as Junebug and Joe Ben, and the town which I consider my home town, Natchitoches, Louisiana, was a lot like St. John, the fictional town in the Junebug series. As a matter of fact, when the boys enter the drugstore to get ice cream cones I'm describing one I used to visit when I was a kid.

At one point, an agent asked me to rewrite it and set it modern day. Use video games, a lot more television, and make them modern kids.

I actually did that, and cut the size of the story down a lot. Unfortunately, the story lost its soul , so the version I am publishing is back to being set in 1974.

So…I went all the way around the bush to get to this: Why self publish? Because I can write what I like and how I like. If it doesn't sell…well…I may try something different on the next one, but at least I only have myself to blame. 

Oh, and Agents…feel free to contact me, info on how is on the home page. I'm still willing to be a fabulously wealthy and famous writer, but I'm not going to spend hours sending out cold call letters any more.

I'll still have time for you if you contact me.

 

UPDATE: Junebug and the Body is now available at both Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble.com!