The Man of Many Excuses

No Excuses

 

 

“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” – John Lennon (“Beautiful Boy”)

 

Hi. It’s Lou. Remember me? I used to be a writer.

When I set up my schedule for the year, I had planned on publishing my novel, Driven, in June. For the first five months of the year I had been cruising along. In January I published the novella, Back on the Road; in February I published the novella collection, Road Stories, and in March I published the digital novella, Promised Land. Then life happened.

First, I moved in April to be closer to my son’s school. In May, I moved my 90 year old father in with me, then a couple of weeks later my divorce became final. A couple of weeks after that I got bronchitis for the first time in my life, then my father wound up in the hospital (We’re both doing fine now. Thanks for asking.) Then there were vacations and car breakdowns and dating and a particularly nasty sinus infection, and…well, you get the picture. A lot of stuff happened, and I used all of it as an excuse not to write.

I find this particularly embarrassing because I’m the person who has preached for some time that the difference between writers and wannabe writers is that writers actually write. Wannabes make excuses. In the last few years, I have not allowed anything to get in the way of my writing. My marriage broke up, I kept writing. I went back to grad school, I kept writing. My mom died, I kept writing. I was determined not to let anything get in the way of my word production.

Then life happened…

I’ve been feeling pretty bad about myself these past few months. I kept making plans to start writing again, but then another excuse would present itself, and I’d stay on the sidelines, letting my half-finished novel gather digital dust. Finally, that changed last week.

I’m not sure what changed, but I forced myself to sit down and work on Driven. In just four days I was able to finish the outline for the book and get ready to put it all together. Life is still happening, but at least for now, I’m continuing to write.

Driven should be out in the next few months. I’m going to keep writing, but there’s Halloween, then Thanksgiving, then Christmas and New Year’s. Life will keep happening, and I’ll do my best to keep writing.

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Promised Land (Chapter 1)

FINAL EBOOK

 

Have you read Promised Land yet? A couple of months ago, I wrote about the story-behind-the-story of Promised Land. You can read it here. If you haven’t read the book yet, here’s chapter one, free of charge. No. No. Put your money away. It really is free. Of course, my hope is that you like what you read, and you go out to buy ten or twenty copies.

Happy reading!

 

Promised Land

 

Chapter 1

The first call came on the night we set up the toll-free number. The phone was in my room because the jack in Daddy’s room wasn’t working. When the phone rang, I jumped out of bed and stared at it for a second. On the second ring, I answered it.

“Mandy Reeves Hotline,” I said, just as I’d been instructed.

“I know where she is,” the voice on the other end said. It was a man’s voice, rough as gravel.

I felt weak and misty-headed.  Mama had been missing for two weeks. “Where is she?” I blurted into the phone.

“Not so fast. Is there a reward?”

I turned on the light in my room so I could read the words right off the missing person poster. “The family of Amanda Reeves is offering a one-thousand dollar reward for information leading to the solving of this missing person case.” My Aunt Kay had put up the money for the reward. It was her idea. We didn’t have that kind of money.

“Just a thousand dollars?”

“Where is she?” I asked, trying not to yell.

“I guess a thousand is better than nothing,” he said. “She’s in Egypt, near the pyramids. I saw her in a dream, clear as day.”

I realized I had been holding my breath. When the guy with the gravelly voice said “Egypt,” I sat down hard on the bed. “Who is this?” I asked, trying to command as much authority as my fifteen-year-old voice could muster.

“I don’t want to give my name.”

I was holding a pen, getting ready to write the information into the notebook on the nightstand. “How can we get the reward to you if we don’t know your name?”

“Oh, right,” the man said. Then he went quiet.

“Hello? Are you there?”

“Never mind,” he said. I heard a crackle as the line disconnected.

I hung up the phone. In the notebook I wrote, “Man says Mom is in Egypt by the pyramids. Wouldn’t give his name.” A worthless lead.

The detective Daddy hired, a guy named Billy Hanks, got the toll-free number, 866-Find-Mandy, and told us to write down everything anyone said when they called. He said you never knew what little piece of information might lead us to Mama.

Daddy couldn’t afford to hire a detective, so he cashed in what little retirement he had to get the money. Billy’s ad in the Nashville phonebook said he specialized in “missing person cases.” Daddy gave him a call, and Billy drove out to our place in Christiana. He said the cops didn’t know what they were doing, and it was a good thing we called him. I followed him around the house as Daddy asked him questions, hopeful he’d have the answers we’d need to bring Mama home.

I turned the light out and went back to bed, but I couldn’t sleep. I was buzzing, full of adrenaline from the phone call. I thought about the day Mama went missing. She had gone to work that morning at the nursing home. The ladies there said she acted normal all day and then left to go home after her shift. Nothing unusual. No one saw her after that.

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Pantsing vs Plotting

Literary SausageThis post is a little “inside baseball,” and delves into my writing process. If you don’t like watching the sausage being made, this post may not be for you. On the other hand, if you like sausage manufacturing, read on. (NOTE: This post has nothing to do with making sausage.)

Basically speaking, there are two types of writers: pantsers and plotters. Pantsers write by the seat of their pants (hence, the name). They don’t plan out their story. Instead, they allow it to unfold as they write. Often, you’ll hear writers say they were as surprised as anyone about what happened in a story because they didn’t see the twist coming until they wrote it.

Plotters, on the other hand, plan out their stories. They’ll often start with an outline, and they’ll know the beginning, middle, and end of the story before they start writing.

Until recently, I was a pantser. Everything I’ve published to date has been written by the seat of my pants. I had a vague idea for a story, and I started writing, not knowing where the story was going to end up. I think most literary fiction writers are pantsers. It might have something to do with allowing the muse to direct their writing rather than being too logical and planning things out ahead of time. That’s just a guess, but I think it makes sense.

I attended a conference one time where bestselling thriller writer Jeffrey Deaver was the featured speaker. Deaver explained that his writing process consisted of six months of research, two months of outlining, one month of writing, and one month of revising. In other words, it took Deaver ten months to complete a novel, but only two of those months were spent actually writing. He said that his outline was so detailed that it was almost like a very poorly written first draft. It just needed to be beaten into shape.

I was sitting with mystery writer Don Bruns during Deaver’s presentation, and he said that while he appreciated Deaver’s process, it would never work for him. As a former attorney, Deaver was very analytical and process oriented. Outlining his book before writing it was very natural for him. But for Don, a former musician, being a pantser was much more natural.

For Driven, my upcoming novel, I’ve changed my approach. I’ve turned to outlining for this book, and I have to admit, I like it. It’s taking some getting used to, but it feels right. So far, I’ve written beats for 48 chapters, and I can tell that when it comes time to actually write the book, the writing is going to come fairly quickly and easily (or at least more quickly and easily than my previous books). I’m looking forward to finishing up the outline and getting down to the actual writing.

That’s all the sausage talk I have for today. Stay tuned for my ten-part series on Dieter Roth and the Wurst of Literature.

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The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men

Quote -- E.M. Forester

Back in January, I laid out my plans for the year, listing month-by-month what I intended to do from a writing and publishing perspective. For the first three months of the year, this is what I had on my agenda:

 

Good news! During the first quarter of the year, I accomplished everything I set out to do. I pushed things to the limit, publishing Road Stories on the final day of February (Thank God for leap year!), and Promised Land on the final day of March. Even so, I’ll count this as a success.

I’ve gotten really good feedback on both Back on the Road and Road Stories. Promised Land was just published last week, but I’ve already heard from a few people who bought the book and really liked it. This is all good news. I made a plan for the first three months of 2016 and I stuck to it. That’s about to change.

My plan for the next three months was to publish A Good Life in April, and my first novel, Driven, in June. That’s not going to happen. A Good Life has been a difficult story for me to get right. I’ve worked on it on and off for the past couple of years, and it’s just not coming together the way I would like. I have some ideas to make it better, but that’s not going to happen for a while. As a result, I won’t be publishing A Good Life (or anything else) this month.

Driven is coming together, but I’m not certain it’s going to be ready in June. That’s still the goal, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

Not sticking to my original plan bothers me, but not too much. I’m a big believer in getting the book written and out to the readers, but I also know that if I want to put out the best books I’m capable of, I need to give the writing process the time it needs.

So for the next three months, I’ll be concentrating on finishing Driven. I’ll spend whatever time it takes to make it the best book it can be. And if I can get the book done and ready to be published by June, I will. If it takes more time, then I’ll invest more time. I just want to write a really good book.

At some point, I’ll revisit A Good Life, but for now, it’s going on the back burner. When the time is right, I’ll pick it up again. Until then, it’s time to work on Driven.

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Promised Land is Now Available

FINAL EBOOKI’m pleased to announce that my latest novella, Promised Land, has been published and is available on Amazon.com. Promised Land is only being published digitally for now, but it could end up as part of a short story collection I am thinking about publishing sometime in the future.

Here’s the book description for Promised Land:

Jake Reeves is a fifteen year old who should be enjoying his summer vacation from school. Instead, when his mother suddenly vanishes, Jake is confronted with his father’s strange interest in a TV preacher, and a police detective’s suspicion that foul play is involved in his mother’s disappearance, with his father as the lone suspect. Just when it seems that Jake’s summer can’t get any more confusing, an older girl he has a crush on starts paying attention to him, and then she disappears too.

Sounds interesting, doesn’t it?

Be sure to pick up your copy and give it a read this weekend. In the meantime, I’ll be working on an update to my plans for the rest of this year. Things have changed a little, and I want to let you know what to expect.

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Promised Land Cover

FINAL EBOOKMy last three book covers have been designed by a young lady from Athens, Greece named Elena. I’ve been really happy with all of her designs, and this new cover for Promised Land is no exception. How do you like it?

Promised Land will be published this Thursday, March 31.

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Promised Land: The Rest of the Story

Oxford AmericanI had picked up a copy of the Oxford American because I wanted to read an article Tom Franklin had written about his relationship with the recently deceased writer, William Gay. I was interested in pursuing an MFA at the University of Mississippi where Franklin was teaching at the time, and I thought it would be a good idea not only to read a little of what he had written, but to also learn more about Gay, a writer who was extremely well respected, but who, at the time, was a complete mystery to me.

I was touched by Franklin’s personal remembrances of his late friend, and the article prompted me to buy a copy of I Hate to See that Evening Sun Go Down, a collection of Gay’s short stories. I enjoyed the book, and it helped to define for me what Southern writing, and particularly Southern Gothic, is all about.

In that same issue of Oxford American (Summer 2012), I found an essay written by David Lumpkin entitled “Church is Wherever You Are.” In the essay, Lumpkin told the story of the disappearance of his mother when he was fourteen years old. There were a lot of strange twists in Lumpkin’s story, including that his mother, to everyone’s surprise, was under investigation for theft at the time of she went missing. But the twist that stuck with me was the way his father turned to TV preachers to help him cope with his wife’s disappearance. I’m not sure why I latched on to that one odd fact, but I knew I wanted to write a fictional story about it.

I worked on a rough draft for the story back in 2012, but it really never went anywhere. Eventually, I put the story away and forgot about it.

A couple of years later, in the fall of 2014, I was looking for story ideas for a fiction workshop I would be taking the following spring at the University of Central Florida. I knew I’d have to turn in two short stories, and I really wanted to have one of them completely finished before the fall semester ended. I had no idea what I was going to write.

In late September of that year, I attended the MTSU Writes Writing Conference at Middle Tennessee State University. I had been asked to introduce the keynote speaker, Tony Earley from Vanderbilt University. I was excited for the opportunity, and looked forward to attending the conference.

As I listened to the various presenters, I thought about the difficulty I was having in finding a story to write. I knew the semester was about to get much busier, and I really wanted to have a story completed before that happened.

I remained lost in my thoughts until I heard the next speaker start to tell the story of how his mother went missing when he was just fourteen years old. Wait a minute, I remember thinking. I know this story. As I listened to the speaker (I couldn’t remember his name), I started to remember what I had read in the Oxford American, and what that essay had prompted me to write. Talk about an omen. I knew that I had to finish the story I had started two years earlier.

During the next break at the conference, I asked Karen Ford, the event organizer, about the guy who had spoken about his missing mother. “That’s David Lumpkin,” she said. “He teaches here at MTSU.” I got excited all over again. Not only had the essay been reintroduced to me, but the guy who wrote it taught in the same town where I lived.

I was so excited, I went up to David and introduced myself. It was then that I realized I really didn’t have anything to say to him. Why would he care that I had previously read his essay or that it had prompted me to write a story? I felt like an idiot. David was very polite, but it was obvious that he wasn’t particularly comfortable with the attention I was paying to him. I felt like I had blindsided the poor guy, and I knew I should just end the awkwardness and walk away.

I was about to end our encounter when I abruptly and involuntarily blurted out, “I’m writing a fictional version of your story.” Okay, I may be dramatizing it a bit, but this is how it felt to me. For some reason that I still don’t understand, I felt compelled to tell David that his life and his essay had prompted me to write a story. My excitement was genuine and my intentions were noble, but I’m certain that I must have seemed like a madman to him.

David probably should have called security or told me to leave him alone, but he didn’t. Instead, he was very kind and indulgent. I finally regained control of my faculties, and excused myself. I can only assume that I left David wondering what mental institution I had most recently called home.

I revised the story David’s essay had inspired, and got some excellent feedback when I presented it in workshop. This led to more revisions, and eventually, some quality time with my editor, Melanie Neale. Melanie had some great ideas (she always does), including the suggestion to change the title of the story. “Missing,” she said, was too bland. She proposed “Promised Land,” and just like that, the story had a new title.

And now you know the rest of the story.

Promised Land will be published later this week. Stay tuned…

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Road Stories is Live!

Road Stories eBook CoverToday is the big day. My collection of novellas, Road Stories is live and available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, and at great independent bookstores like Parnassus Books in Nashville, Powell’s Books in Portland, and Prairie Lights Books in Iowa City. It’s an exciting day.

If you been following along on my journey, you know that Road Stories is a collection of my three previously published novellas: Tierra del Fuego, Lake of the Falls, and Back on the Road. If you’re not familiar with these novellas, here’s a little bit about each of them:

Tierra del Fuego — Matt Cravens has always trusted his wife, but lately she’s been acting strange. He fears she’s having an affair, and when he confronts her, she promises to tell him the whole story when she gets home from work. But she never makes it home. When she is killed in an auto accident, Matt is consumed with feelings of grief and betrayal, emotions that prompt him to leave his home and his job, to find answers in one of earth’s most remote places. Will Matt find the answers he’s looking for? If he finds them, will he ever be able to return home?

Lake of the Falls — Kevin Hargrove is a workaholic attorney who has been in a rut so long that he has given up on ever getting out. That is, until he takes a trip with his father to their former small hometown in Northern Wisconsin. Kevin hates the idea of going back, but when he unexpectedly runs into an old high school flame, he starts to think that getting out of his rut is not only a possibility, but a necessity. Can a divorced workaholic really change his life in his childhood hometown or was Thomas Wolfe correct that you can’t go home again?

Back on the Road — The year was 1983, and three college friends set out on a road trip inspired by Jack Kerouac’s book, On the Road. They planned to spend most of the summer traveling across the country, seeking adventure and putting off adulthood, but sometimes, even the best laid plans don’t turn out as intended.

Whether you buy the print version of Road Stories, or you opt for the digital version, I hope you enjoy it.

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What is Road Stories?

Road Stories eBook CoverI’ve had a couple people mention to me that it sure seems like I’m writing and publishing a lot of stuff in a very short time. I can understand why people would think that, but it’s not quite what it seems.

I published Tierra del Fuego in September 2015, Lake of the Falls in November 2015, and Back on the Road in January 2016. Now I’m about to publish Road Stories next week. But don’t be deceived. Road Stories isn’t new material. It’s a collection of those first three novellas. I’m publishing Road Stories because I wanted to offer the novellas in printed form, but each novella is too short to print on their own. So I’ve combined them into a collection, and am offering them in both print and digital formats. I hope to have an audiobook version available soon, as well.

If you haven’t read my first three novellas, pick up Road Stories. You’ll have all three stories in one place, and you’ll save a little money in the process. If you have read the first three novellas, be sure to pick up Promised Land, a new novella that will be available in March.

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Ernest Hemingway, Sir Sterling Moss, and Lou Mindar in the Same Sentence

Road Stories with HemingwayHey, isn’t that Lou Mindar’s book, Road Stories, sitting next to three of Ernest Hemingway’s most famous novels, as well as a replica of the Mercedes Benz 300 SLR that Sir Sterling Moss drove in the 1955 Mille Miglia? Why yes, yes it is.

That’s a proof copy of Road Stories in the photo. I’m excited that the book is ready, and will be officially published on Monday, February 29. The book is available in both print and digital, and can be found wherever fine books (and not so fine books) are sold. That’s right, even in bookstores (although you’ll probably have to order it).

 

 

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