Apr 17, 2014

Foreword Review's 2013 Book of the Year Finalists Announced

READERS: I'll be on air at 10am Alaska time, 11am Pacific, 2pm Eastern TODAY with Radio Free Palmer. Click the link and then click the tab that says "Listen to FM Stream."

Today's post is a reprint of the press release published this week by Foreword Reviews, announcing this year's Finalists in this very honored competition...including Flashes of War listed as a Finalist in the War & Military Fiction category along with 8 other authors! Winners are announced in July -- let's celebrate and also hold our breath, cross our fingers, and our toes. This one's a biggie for my little green-pea-of-a-book. Feels good...


TRAVERSE CITY, MI, March 13, 2014 — Foreword Reviews, the only review magazine solely dedicated to discovering new indie books, announced the finalists for its 16th Annual Book of the Year Awards today. Each year, Foreword shines a light on a small group of indie authors and publishers whose groundbreaking work stands out from the crowd. Foreword’s awards are more than just a shiny sticker on the front of a book; they help connect the best indie books to readers eager to discover new stories written by previously unknown authors.
In the next two months, a panel of over 100 librarians and booksellers will determine the winners of these prestigious awards. A celebration of the winners will take place during the American Library Association Annual Conference in Las Vegas on Friday, June 27 at 6 p.m. with awards in over 60 categories, cash prizes for the best in fiction and nonfiction, and widespread recognition.

Ready to read the best indie books of the year? Here is the complete list of Foreword Reviews’ 2013 Book of the Year Award Finalists.

Apr 7, 2014

In His Own Words: A Veteran Listens to Flashes of War

Last month in Alaska, I had a few readings in the smaller towns around Anchorage. Little did I know that, when the dates were booked, it was the first weekend of spring break. Add crystal clear sunshine and five inches of powdery snow to that glitch and suffice it to say I had a few events that were very slimly attended. But if I've learned anything on book tour, it's that no matter who comes or how many people make it to your event, you always learn something from the experience. It was my honor and privilege to meet one veteran in particular while I was there, writer and radio personality Dan Grota. Here's what he has to say about his experience with Flashes of War at Fireside Books in Palmer, Alaska--his first time attending an author reading.

At the Bookstore on Flashes of War
by Daniel D. Grota, Retired Army, Operation Iraqi Freedom '04 & '05 Veteran (among many other tours)

Earlier this month I was in Fireside books for some R&R after my Thursday stint volunteering at KVRF Radio Free Palmer. I go there to unwind a spell, talking to the staff about the shared love we all have for anything about books. Dave Cheezem was there, as per usual. The tiny store was quiet as Dave came up to me bearing a book.

"You should be here this Sunday. I'm having this author here for a book reading," he said. Dave held up a book with a dark green cover. The image of a plastic Army man toy (like those I played with as a kid) graced it. I took it, trying to hold it at arm's length so I could read the title (my glasses were buried in my pack at the time). Once things came into focus, I could read the title print which read "Flashes of War-- Short Stories by Katey Schultz."

Dave pointed out a round, yellow label on the cover saying, "Check it out. She won the 2013 Book of the Year from the Military Writers Society of America for Literary Fiction."

I replied, "Really Dave? Cool."

Dave smiled saying, "I think this is right up your alley. It's about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Can you be here this Sunday to meet her?"

I mulled it over for a bit. "I don't know Dave, I work on Sundays. When is she going to be here?"

Dave looked at me through those thick glasses of his. "About 2 o'clock. Does that work for you?" He asked. 

"Sure, I get off at that time and it is only a five minute drive from work to here. So yeah, I'll be here Sunday a little after two." I put the book back on the shelf and headed out the door of Fireside Books waving goodbye to all. Bundled up for the cold chill of winter that was still on at the time, I headed out to my car for home.

Sunday rolled on in. A quiet day at work with little to do.Time dragged on until the appointed hour of two pm. The painter showed up at the last minute for some work inside the building. After making sure all was ok leaving her there to do her thing, I left late and in a rush for downtown Palmer. Lucky for me, there was parking right in front of the store, free. It was still quite cold outside as I got out of the car. My Army OD Green field jacket was zipped up. The darn thing is beginning to look a little on the worn side, matching the owner's looks on wear and tear. With my Army logo hat, I looked every part of an old veteran grizzled and grey. A proud one at that too.

Once in the store, a tall young woman with long brown hair in a blue down vest greeted me with a warm smile. She was standing next to Dave along with another woman. The woman in the vest was Katey Schultz. She was talking to the other lady who was leaving before turning towards me.

"You must be Dan. Dave was hoping you would be here. He has been telling me all about you," she said, warmly shaking my hand. I smiled and apologized for being late, while giving Dave the "What did you tell her about me?" look at the same time. Dave, trying to look innocent, could only shrug and smile. Katey went on tell me that these were a series of short stories about GI's, their families, and some of the people in the caught up in the middle of the wars of Iraq and Afghanistan. And they were all works of fiction. "Would you like to hear a few read to you?" she asked.

Well, after all, this was a reading--my first, by the way--and I was more than intrigued at what this soft spoken lady from North Carolina could write about war. Dave and I sat down in the little alcove just off to the left of the front door of the bookstore. Katey sat across from us and began to read out loud from the first of the short stories in her book.

After the first story was read, I was impressed. Really impressed. She got into her characters' heads as well as the environment of life in the war and at home after it. The characters were so real to me I asked if she interviewed GI's for her stories. They walked and talked like most GI's did. She said no. It was based on her research and her imagination. She went on to read a few more and I began to tell her some of my stories. Pretty soon we were swapping tales like two old soldiers telling war stories. If someone could have walked in on us they would have sworn it was all real. Except hers were works of brilliant fiction, mine born from a hard reality. No wonder her book won that award.

And it wasn't just stories about GI's in her work, but family members of those that served and even those natives caught in the middle of wars lighting up in their back yards. Katey wrote from the heart and a vivid yet very realistic imagination. A rare thing; a civilian who truly gets it.

At the end of reading session, I had Katey autograph a copy of her book for me. She asked for a photo of the both of us with Dave trying to work the digital camera she had. Now we have a picture of me with a goofy grin in that old field jacket holding the book in my hand and Katey standing next to me with a smile. It was later posted on all our Facebook pages for all to see. I read the book from cover to cover in short order. A good read altogether; worthy of the award it earned.

Apr 3, 2014

Revising the Novel: Logistics on the Screen

Earlier in the week, I discussed the logistics of drafting the novel on paper. When it came time for my second pass-through on the work, I was screenward bound! Even though I wrote by hand, I had also been going back every few days and typing my handwritten pages into the same document in Word and saving it. After some time and space away from the work, I went back to this document and took a long, heavy breath. Time to get messy...

The second pass through kept me working with that same, original, single Word document. In retrospect, maybe that wasn't the best choice--as a lot can be learned by retyping (and inevitably changing) lines. That said, I felt I was under pressure to produce a draft or at least a strong first fifty pages, and so I forged ahead. My revisions were mainly at the line level and dealt also with section breaks, chapter breaks, and parts of the novel. In other words, I was making large-scale structural decisions and constantly tinkering with the table of contents to keep it updated. (Again, here's where Scrivener might have helped.) I did not question the major premises of my characters or plot at all, which was also a bummer. But you can only hold so much in your mind at once, and perhaps this is why novels take so long to write.

Then I sent out that fifty pages to a few kind folks, and those kind folks told me it wasn't ready yet but that they really cared about the work and would truly, honestly be waiting for it when I had it more fully developed. Oh, kind folks. Thank you for existing. And I'm sorry I sent you what I did--I didn't know what I didn't know, you see, and therein lies every novelist's struggle.

Much more time passed. Months and months and months and a lot of my book tour for Flashes of War, in fact. Finally, I came back around to make a third pass on the novel, and this is the process I've been documenting in posts this year. This time around, I did not work in the same, single document in Word. Instead, I opened the main document and then a new document, and literally typed each new word and sentence from the beginning. I did not cut and paste and I still refuse to do so. I work with both documents open side by side on my screen, like this:

I'm going painfully slowly, working scene by scene, line by line, looking for windows and openings where before I had breezed over something. I'm thinking critically about structure on a small scale, the level of scene once again, and tearing without hesitation into later parts of the novel to bring them forward, forcing action and reaction sooner. I'm opening, I'm closing, I'm cutting, I'm adding. It's surgical and intimate and that feels right--and for the first time in a while, it's also exciting. Is it also hard? Hell yes. I don't think that will ever go away.

I couldn't be doing this without all the work I did on paper after that second pass through but before this third pass. What work? This work, and this work here.

Mar 30, 2014

Revising the Novel: Logistics on Paper

I've received a few questions about whether or not I revise by hand, cut and paste on the computer, use Pages or Word or Scrivener, etc. when drafting the novel. Today, I thought I'd take a moment to give a quick play-by-play of how physical composition is working for me on these drafts.

I wrote most of the first draft by hand, sometimes using shorthand or abbreviations (N for Nathan, b/c for because, etc.). I wrote on blank, white pieces of paper that were in my "seconds" pile next to the printer--pages I had printed for something or other at one point in time, but no longer needed. Keeping this early drafting process as informal and "un-precious" as possible helped me take my own expectations down a notch. After all, I was just scribbling on the back of recycled paper, wasn't I? Just leaning into the couch still wearing my pajamas, scribbling away on a clipboard, seeing what would happen. No pressure.

Technically, the Pilot G2 Retractable Gell Rollerball
I did, however, number my pages and occasionally re-read them, making scribbles and small line-level edits as I went along, then picking up where I'd left off the day before. This was a sort of warm up for me, and over time I added a few complementary sheets of paper to help organize my thoughts--I listed character names and ranks, places, significant dates or events that had happened in the novel so far, and even a few stick figure sketches of physical arrangements for more technical scenes. I had to store the information some place, but wasn't yet ready to leap onto the computer. 

Oh, and I did it all with my blue, black, or red Pilot G2 Rollers, of course. They write like a Uniball (my former favorite) but don't explode on airplanes (boo Uniball) and they don't have caps you can lose. Also, they come with handy refills, which I feel quite righteous using. Just don't get the "fine point" version because they lose that Uniball-floaty-feel and start to take on the "over-sharpened pencil" feel.

I wasn't a complete Luddite during all of this, however. After a few days of successful sessions drafting by hand, I found it very helpful to go back to my shorthand writings (which now had added, small changes etched over the top of them), and type what I had drafted into the computer. Inevitably, more small changes were made during this process and in that way, the "real first draft," I believe, is damn near impossible to ever pinpoint. Sentences begin before we even put them on the page, and the very act of writing or typing them changes how they come out from thought to breath to ink. Add in the re-reading and tinkering, then the leap from paper to computer, and somewhere in the middle there's this abstract concept of a "First Draft."

I continued this process until I wrote my way--still by hand--to the every end of the novel in its first run-through. As I was coiling back and typing the scenes from the days or week prior, I used Microsoft Word. I considered Scrivener but decided, ultimately, that it would distract me more than help me. I didn't want to lose my forward momentum by having to learn a new software program. Knowing what I know now, however, I might have taken the time to look into Scrivener more carefully. Writers I know and love, such as Shannon Huffman Polson and Molly Gloss, use this program and swear by it. Certainly now, many drafts later as I'm working scene-by-scene, I realize it might have been helpful.

That's how it worked on paper. next up I'll discuss how revision works for me on the screen!