Friday, August 16, 2013

Behind the Scenes: Research and Homework

For most of my books a modicum of research has been required. Not so much as to spend weeks buried within the virtual libraries of the world, yet just enough to spark my creativity. Of course, research comes in many forms. Sometimes, just asking people’s opinions about a subject can generate a plethora of ideas and points-of-view. TWEET, my satire about marketing and the demise of the individual, was that kind of project. The book was about how individuals deal with their lack of say – so why not ask the people involved? I asked everyone I encountered while writing the book. What could be more relevant than that?

 Then there’s the more direct approach. When I was writing DUTCHING THE BOOK, a story about horse playing in 1960’s Brooklyn, I reached out to the people that could give me the best perspective – the people who had actually lived it. The story is about my father, who was a world-class horseplayer, and his cronies. I thought I knew everything but something was missing. So I invited my dad out for dinner and asked his ex-best buddy to join us. After a lifelong friendship, they hadn’t spoken in years. Following an awkward silence, I placed a tape recorder and a bottle of vodka on the table. Then the stories flew – stories I had never heard, life changing stories, comical stories, betting scheme stories, caper stories and personal stories.  What I had learned in that evening formed the core of the book.

My preparation and research for THE BIG EMPTY was quite different. Although the story takes place in post-911 New York, THE BIG EMPTY is a mystery that is based on American history. So I researched New York history, the Dutch-English wars, Wall Street, New York City bureaucracy and New York City landmarks. I wandered through the canyons of Wall Street and spent days visiting the physical sites where the story unfolds. I trudged through New York City bureaucracy to get a first-hand feel for the process that my lead character would endure.  I saw and felt what he would see. Additionally, I acquired a new understanding of Native American history. All of these experiences play a strong role in the storyline – I had the fabric, now it was up to me to weave together a captivating and credible story. 

So for each book, the approach and research varied significantly, from casual conversation to intense study and homework, yet each played an essential role in developing the compelling storyline.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Saturday, August 3, 2013

The Creative Journey

I spent most of my adult years on Wall Street. No, not manufacturing the money, rather developing the technology that supports it. I found it an extremely creative process. Contrary to today, technology was still new; most people did not understand it and had no idea what to do with it. Yet, they understood that it was important, whatever it was. To me, technology was a paintbrush and the business world, the canvas. In a left brained environment, I used my right brain to succeed.

I was them – part of the machine. I had my successes, paid my dues and navigated the turbulent waters of the corporation. I was very successful: a rising star, a comer, the next-in-line to be next-in-line. Then I quit. Yep, I had a few bucks in my jeans (ok, my 401k), and the time was right. I decided to pursue my right brain and ventured into writing and painting.

At first, I enjoyed the freedom of making my own day but somehow I missed the structure and the camaraderie of the corporate world. That soon passed as a new structure evolved – write in the morning, paint in the afternoon. Left brained mornings, right brained afternoons. Of course, flexibility was the key – if the mood struck, write from dawn until dusk. Sometimes, I would paint for weeks and never lift the quill. Often, the reverse held. My only criterion, my mark of a successful day, is one where I accomplished something, anything.
One great distinction from my former life was the impact of planning. As Yogi Berra said: “If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll wind up somewhere else.” Undeniably true when you are dealing with complex technology projects. However, in my new life, I found that planning in the creative process was just a jumping off point – not the process. The creative course has to evolve, and, well, create. When I plan I project (book or painting), I know that it will change. I am counting on it. In fact, if I execute as planned, I probably have failed because my objective is to enable the creative process to take over and change things. I find a greater satisfaction in discovering new ideas, thoughts, approaches, characters, plots, twists, etc. along the journey than having them fully thought out beforehand.

So the journey is the process. Any small successes along the way encourage me to continue. Of course, success breeds success. But, interestingly, I found negatives that stimulate me as well. In fact, they are essential components of the creative process.  I am referring to failing and boredom.

Yep, failing is one of my greatest muses. Yep, if something isn’t working as I hoped which happens quite often, it forces me to think fresh, try a new approach, deviate from the plan and explore another part of my creativity. It forces me to take risks I might not have attempted if everything was working as planned. After all, why mess with something that is working? Failing is a necessary and healthy form of learning.

Boredom is one of my greatest motivators. It also forces me to try something new and break some rules. That’s why I have several outlets (writing and painting, my top two). That’s why my books are all different- from humor to dramas to mysteries. That is why I would find it very difficult to write a series. I need the character to change, grow and experience some catharsis – very difficult to do repeatedly.

I always remember what Yogi said and try to know where I’m going. How I get there is the adventure. And, if where I’m going is not where I want to be, that’s open to change as well.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Motivation and inspiration

I have many books in my creative pipeline – all in some stage of development – from idea scratchings to almost-completed, ready-to-go-except-for-one-more-thing, tomes. Sometimes I start a book because I have an idea, a beginning, or a character or a particular voice – quite often I have no clue where the story is going or how it will get there. Quite often, the storyline and plot have not been fully thought out and are in a constant state of flux. That is the adventure of writing – you can change your fictional reality.

But there are two aspects that distinguish my completed books from the rest - the characters and the message.

I know my characters well - who they are, how they will react, what they will say and do in any circumstance. In fact, as I write, it’s as if the character’s hands are on my keyboard and I am just witnessing the birth of dialogue. I am not inside the character’s heads; I AM the character.  I love strong characters that are elegantly flawed. And I love to experience them as they succeed and fail and change and grow.

So the character is my vehicle and my message is my goal. How the character gets from here to there evolves through the story. Every book I have written has had a strong message – not a moralistic one, rather something I want to bring into the reader’s awareness. In TWEET, it was a humorous account about consumerism and how we have become an impersonal society where the individual has no say. I chose Glebe, quirky and very funny, as my lead character. In DUTCHING THE BOOK, my message was to depict the mini society of horse playing and gambling in 1960’s Brooklyn, which was based on real people and events. In this case, I actually knew the characters well in real life, so writing about them was like reliving moments that I had never been part of. 

THE BIG EMPTY, my latest book, presented a different challenge because I wanted to deliver the story on several different levels. My goal was to convey a socially significant narrative through the gritty first-person voice of gritty Rick Wallace, a washed up Native American lawyer with a buried past.  As gritty as he was, I wanted to convey the thought of destiny and some external influence on our actions. Simultaneously, I had a personal mission to reveal and remedy past historical injustices.  

THE BIG EMPTY started with a character and a message and, after years of writes, re-writes and re-writes, everything came together in a multi-layered, slow burning, gritty mystery. I had three layers of storyline that I had to weave together – that’s the fun, frustration and challenge of writing. So the constants are the same – characters and a message – the rest is the journey of the creative process.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

The Big Empty -my motivation

My latest book, THE BIG EMPTY, was ten years in the making. It started as a screenplay and a feature film was in progress until the economy faulted and the film with it. I decided that the story was too good and the message too strong to let it lie - so I re-wrote it as a novel. It is a dramatic mystery that starts simply enough and morphs into an intricate and suspenseful plot. I consider the plot somewhat geometric as it continues to double in intricacy and reveals throughout.

The story is told through the point of view of Rick Wallace, a down and out lawyer. His voice is reminiscent of a classic private investigator novel. We see him change radically as the plot unwinds through deceptions and betrayals -personal and cultural.
A strong part of my motivation for writing this story is my compassion/passion for the Native American culture. Although the story is set today in New York City, it draws heavily on history, tragedy and betrayals of the past. I'll stop writing now lest I reveal the twists and final outcome of the plot. I'll leave the rest to you.

The Big Empty

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Caring about the characters!

Dutching the Book Review by Blitz-Berger
I just love it when an author gives you enough empathy to care about the characters right from the beginning. This book starts very dramatically and you are immediately drawn to the characters. So much so, that it's hard to put down. Then again, it's the kind of book that you don't want to end, wanting to know so much more.

Blitz-Berger March 10, 2012

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Sunday, February 26, 2012


My simple formula for life is:
"wake up in the morning looking forward to the day and 
    go to sleep at night feeling like you accomplished something."

I cleaned out my garage today. :)

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Pigeonholes and blackholes

The cliche of the last twenty years has been think 'outside the box' but we are constantly rewarded by being inside the box. We are pigeonholed, demographic'd and stereotyped into convenient little statistical niches so we can be target marketed, zeroed in and classified and dealt with economically and effectively. How nice.
Of course, that makes it easy for us as well, the consumer of goods, art and expression, as we cope with the plethora of material and content. Since they shrunk the day to only twenty four cramped hours (effective day one), we have only a fixed amount of time to digest the input. So we carefully discern what goes in and what stays out. Hence, we pigeonhole as much as our more powerful corporate brethren. Each of us has our subliminal list of goes-intas and goes-outas.
So we have somehow evolved to a society of lazy thinkers-somehow afraid to explore, afraid to get lost, afraid to miss one of our regular pigeonholes we consume so readily, for the sake of something new.
Doesn't fit you? Perhaps. How many times have you tried a different route to a regular destination? A route you had never taken before...a route that you are unsure of where, or how, or if it, will get you where you wanted to go?
Let me know when you do.