Thursday, December 29, 2011

New Year's Resolutions


It's that time of year when we start thinking about the New Year and making those pesky resolutions. Most of them go unfulfilled. The goal of losing weight vanishes and a gym membership is wasted. Maybe a vow to go back to school or to save more money--June comes and you realize that you didn't make it.


I remember one New Year's resolution of mine that happened almost by accident. One New Year's Day I was sitting at my computer, Word on the screen and staring at that horrid blank page, trying to come up with a story. I had the character, John Logan, former spy, and nothing else. I'd tried numersous times to come up with a plot, something, anything to build that first novel on, and after a couple of years of work, had nothing to show for it.


Enter my daughter.


She came in and saw me at the computer and in her unique way asked me a question. "Are you still trying to write that stupid novel?"


I confessed that I was and that I was getting nowhere. My daughter said, "I will bet you a McDonalds milkshake that you won't have it done by Christmas."


I turned back to the blank screen, staring morosely at it, knowing that I'd just made a bet with my kid that I'd probably lose. I thought about the past attempts and what had gone wrong. I'd tried everything I knew and still the story wasn't clicking. So, in sheer desperation, I thought of an idea. What if John Logan was a former spy but is now a private eye?


I straightened up in my chair and began writing the first paragraph, the plot already forming in my head and by the second paragraph, John Logan had found his voice. The first draft took me three months and it was pretty bad but I went back and rewrote it, changed it, began sculpting the story and I learned so much on the way. My daughter bought me the milkshake in March.

That experience taught me a lot about writing and setting goals. It also taught me that without conviction and perseverance, there is no use setting a goal. Most of us set goals that we don't really have a passion for doing. Everyone I know who has fulfilled a New Year's goal has done so because they were passionate about accomplishing the goal.


Whatever you goal is this comng year, make sure you have the passion and desire to get it done.





Happy 2012, everyone.

Sunday, December 25, 2011



Just finished a fascinating book by Edward Girardet entitled Killing the Cranes: A Reporter's Journey Through Three Decades of War in Afghanistan.

When the author first came to Afghanistan, he was a young reporter out to make a name for himself. There were rumors that the Soviets might be invading so Girardet stayed around. After covering the Soviet war and pull out, he then covered the lesser known civil war between Communist and anti-communist forces for control of the country. In the book he offers the reader a perspective on Afghanistan that is lost to most Americans and never understood by politicians.

For example: while other countries have attempted to invade this nation and impose their own vision of a national government, Girardet points out that Afghans, for the most part, don't care about a national government. They are loyal to their tribe and the last strong ruler of Afghanistan held only a limp grip on the nation as a whole.

He speaks of the amazing hospitality of the Afghan people: how long it takes to travel anywhere because each village welcomes you to tea and biscuits even though many are very poor. It is a custom to welcome visitors, even ones they may not like. To do otherwise would be rude.

There is a saying in Afghanistan: you can rent and Afghan but you can't buy him. The Afghan people are a fiercely independent people who don't mind outside help with their problems but they do mind countries trying to impose their vision of what Afghanistan should be.

He writes of America and the huge political failures we have made in backing the wrong polticial and military leaders simply because they spoke English. He writes that America must learn the same lessons that the Soviets, the British, and many others have: a military solution is not possible in Afghanistan.

Friday, December 16, 2011

I've been away from the writing corner for nearly two weeks. My mom suffered a heart attack (she's fine now) but it took me out of town to run to her side. Now I'm back with the weekend ahead of me and I have to get back to my novel in progress.

Wow, is it hard. The characters--even the concept of the plot--seems so distant and stale. Faded like an old photograph and now I have to get back into the trenches and pick up where I left off two weeks ago.

Many a promising novel has been left on the scrap heap of unfinished works because of this. Lawrence Block has admitted there are many novels that he's never finished simply because he's realized somewhere through the process that he shouldn't have even started them in the first place.

So what am I going to do?

I'm going to get back into that world, maybe see what I've written so far and do some editing. That kind of eases me back into the writing process and slips me undetected into the plot so that I can pick up where I left off two weeks ago.

There are those who say it can't be done but I've done it before. Stephen King did it following his accident when he was hit by a car. Life happens and sometimes your writing schedule will be interrupted through no fault of your own. You have to prepare yourself to get back into it and to make up your mind to slog your way through it until it clicks again.

Okay, enough of the blog. This is not getting this novel finished.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Commiting Murder
A lot of times when you’re a writer, you have to commit murder.
I’m not just talking about your characters. I’m talking about your writing.
There is an adage in the profession, supposedly said by a writer: “Kill your darlings.”

You see there will come a time in your writing when you will write a scene that is, in your opinion, the best thing you’ve ever written. The images will leap off the page and the prose will flow perfectly and you will sit back and read it again and again and think, wow!

That’s happened to me before. You write something and, oh, perhaps it was just one of those times when you were really “on.” Everything in the universe came together at that moment and you created the best writing of your life.

Sometimes you have to kill it.

If the scene doesn’t add to your story, if the chapter you just finished, slows the pace down or contributes zip to the plot, you have to get rid of it. Cut it, edit it. Kill it.

God, it’s a tough decision. To sit there, reading something that you created knowing that it’s GOOD and also knowing that it doesn’t belong. It can hurt. I mean physically.
Sometimes you luck out and can rework some minor things so that it can stay, but those times are rare. Sometimes you just have to realize that no matter how good the scene is, it has to go.

Just did it. Deleted half a chapter because it didn’t belong. It was taking the story in a direction I didn’t want it to go. So I wrote another chapter.

And I don’t like it, either. This one has all the excitement of a bowl of pudding.

So here I sit at the keyboard, finger on the button, ready to kill my creation. It hurts. Kinda.

So how can I do it, Rick? How can I cut something I’ve written?

You have to keep in mind several things:

One: No writing is ever wasted. Every word you write is practice, making you a better writer. Whether anyone reads it or not, it helps to mold you, sculpt you into making you the writer you need to be.

Two: It’s not about that scene or that character in the end. It’s about the quality of the overall project. I killed a lot of scenes, lots of words before Surivor’s Affair was published. But it’s a better book because of it (and the reviewers have agreed so there!). I killed some more in THE AFFAIRS OF MEN to get it the way I wanted it.

It’s easy to compromise when you’ve put weeks, months, even years into this novel that just slogs along and you wonder if it will ever get finished. It’s easy to compromise for the sake of getting it done, or sparing you a long rewrite. Believe me, I understand. Anyone who’s written a book can relate.

Kill your darlings. Mold those words, that scene, that book, into your vision and don’t compromise because it’s easier. That’s the mark of a weak, amateur writer and you don’t want to be that kind. Hit the button and put it out of it’s misery and start again.

One day, you’ll be glad you did.
I remember the moment like it was yesterday.

I’d ordered the book after stumbling across the sequel in my college library. The sequel was titled THE MIKO and I loved it, but I found that there was a first book, THE NINJA, and I knew I had to read it. So I ordered it from a local bookstore and it arrived. I opened it and the first line stared back at me.

In darkness there is death.

I remember reading the book and when I was done, I spent days thinking about what I’d read. Martial arts, sex, a murder mystery–everything that captivated a geeky college kid. I searched for more titles by the author and came across BLACK HEART. A different protagonist but still deadly and some of the best scenes of unarmed combat that I had ever read sent me into fits of sheer amazement. But it had started with that one sentence.

In darkness there is death.

I began to think a lot. This character had been in my head. Orphaned at six, raised in Japan by his uncle, taught the ways of the Japanese. Special Forces trained, John Logan had been rattling around in my head for months before I picked up Eric Van Lustbader’s books. And those books got me thinking.

Oh, I had found other books years before that had inspired me. Don Pendleton’s THE EXECUTIONER series had caused me to spend a lot of money in my early teens reading about Mack Bolan, the soldier who declares a one man war against the Mafia for the murder of his family. I can still recall the opening chapter of Book #13 Washington IOU as some of the best paperback prose I’d ever read. It caused me to begin my writing as a kid, although at that time it was just a hobby. Pendleton caused me to fall in love with words and writing, but Lustbader–well, THE NINJA and BLACK HEART caused me to start looking at John Logan and thinking a crazy thought: That I wanted to write a novel, a novel with John Logan.

That began a journey of learning, of writing scenes. The dream was still there in my military days, using a spiral notebook to jot down scenes and short stories. My first attempts at trying something serious was amateurish, awkward, and just plain bad.

Then came the day when I picked up THE COMPLETE GUIDE TO WRITING FICTION by Barnaby Conrad. I devoured the book in one sitting and it changed my life (I still have the book on my desk). One day, after being challenged by my daughter (“Are you ever gonna write that stupid novel?”) I sat down and began for the hundreth time, an attempt to get John Logan on paper.

And I knew I had it. In three months the first hideously rough draft of what would become SURVIVOR’S AFFAIR was done. Ten years later and countless drafts later, it got published. My first book.

You never know what path your career will take. All those scenes, all of that work–do I consider it wasted? Not at all. It was practice, learning the craft. Remember that no writing you do is ever wasted. All of it–the good and bad–is part of the process of learning the craft.

In darkness there is death.

Such a good line. Wish I had thought of it.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Welcome!

This is the start of a new blog where I will attempt to chronicle my life as a husband, father, employee, all within the context of being a writer. Through this you will get to share my ups and downs, frustrations, joys, and sorrows of being a published indie (independent) author.

I am the author of Survivor's Affair and The Affairs of Men both featuring former spy turned PI John Logan. A third Logan thriller, The Sheltering Tree is due out in 2012. For more details you can catch my author website at www.wix.com/richardn45/rick-nichols

I hope you join me for the ride.