At Year’s End

Dear Uncle, godfather, friend, and 1980s-2000s crime novelist (1940-2015):

Well, 2019 is concluding. The idea for a year end post hit me. I thought post-Christmas I’d offer up some thoughts minus any, uh, colorful metaphors we often used in our casual chats as if I were telling you.

[Potton, England. Photo by me, December 2019.]

Okay, you wouldn’t like lots of current U.S. politics. So we’ll park that one.

I want to talk about books: Mine. How’s my authoring going?

My two best sellers of all time have been Passports (2013) and Conventions: The Garden At Paris (2017). You read the former and liked it, you told me; it was my personality, you thought, and you said you meant that as a compliment. My newest, which I’m sure is my personality as are all of the others, Tomorrow The Grace, was out in mid-October…

[Excerpt from Tomorrow The Grace, Copyright, 2019. On Kindle for iPhone/iPad. Click to expand.]

…and it has opened like all of my books: they always start “slow” from the published gate.

One problem I am now I think going to have to address in the coming year is I have never done personal self-promotion very well. I am not an attention seeker and never have been. My rather “passive” blog here has always been central in attracting readers, but I’m sure I could do more.

But there is a line: I HATE tacky/spammy book social media promos. Geez, you should see some writers’ behavior on Twitter for example. They become so annoying eventually I end up muting them for some relief. They post the same ‘LOOK AT MY BOOK!’ tweets over and over and over:

[From Twitter.]

After all, being “muted” defeats the purpose of social media. I have also been “discovered” and sold through other social media. Word of mouth has been important too, so my sales don’t tend to diminish but instead gradually increase in the months post-publication as readers tell friends and family.

I have a suspicion also that I may be wearing some long-time readers out with two massive historical novels in a little more than two years. That’s understandable, I guess. I have to give readers a chance to “catch up,” I suppose.

So this is perfect then, as I have basically worn myself out writing too for now: I’m taking a few months off. It will be my longest break since 2012 as I consider what to write next. Thinking back on all of them, I’m proud of all of my books. Artistically I’m particularly pleased with some of the writing in Distances, Conventions, and Tomorrow The Grace: my most recent three novels.

Yet looking at Passports again recently, it, and Frontiers, strike me as arguably so “innocent.” As you recall the former has this anecdote which you shared with me about a writing experience you had had with Grandma…

[Excerpt from Passports: Atlantic Lives, 1994-1995, Copyright, 2013. On Kindle for iPhone/iPad. Click to expand.]

…and I recall after you had read that bit, you said you thought it was amusing to be reminded of that. I think too that given you had read that book in early 2015, and Frontiers just after, if you had lived to have read Distances, its ending would have surprised you – how the story had moved on.

Maybe I will revisit writing some “short stories.” I started one in the summer of 2017 and abandoned it as junk. I haven’t looked at it since. Perhaps I should? I know you would say I should.

I understand now more than ever when you told me about all of the hard work necessary to get your “two dollars” per copy… when I had seen the “$19.99” hardcover price. Writing is indeed not easy. I’m now more sorry than ever about how I used to dig at you now and then about you writing fiction.

[Dust jacket cover to first edition of This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1920. Public Domain.]

I have been a reading a Scott Fitzgerald biography. I knew the major milestones of his short life, but never so many details. How tough it was for him to have had such acclaim and monetary success so quickly and so young. Subsequently his readers expected every successive book to be This Side Of Paradise… part 2, part 3, part 4.

So when Fitzgerald tried to broaden his writing scope, many Paradise readers disapproved or just disappeared. Perhaps that is why many writers are “one trick ponies”: they write the same stuff again and again. Insofar as up until now I know I do write “a certain type” of tale, I always hope also to evolve while keeping earlier readers yet also attracting new ones.

Looking back at the first historical novel (Conventions), compared to the first three novels I think I did some “different” writing in it:

[Excerpt from Conventions: The Garden At Paris, Copyright, 2017. On Kindle for iPhone/iPad. Click to expand.]

Whether it is good or bad writing is always up to readers. Regardless, plunging into history as the central background felt like a new writing world opening up before me. In both that and the new Tomorrow, I had some fun, too:

[Excerpt from Tomorrow The Grace, Copyright, 2019. On Kindle for iPhone/iPad. Click to expand.]

Your books were full of those you actually knew but fictionalized. And the one featuring that woman detective being optioned in the 1990s by that well-known actor jumped to my mind yet again the other day because I saw her. She was being interviewed on TV.

That led me to remember yet again. I often recall you saying that getting something adapted to the screen is the best route to “big success” for any author. But, of course, that is unlikely ever to happen.

So I do what you also suggested: take pride in the books themselves, because in the end they are all there is. What writers do: Fitzgerald based all of the main characters in Paradise on people he knew, including himself. You actually knew in real-life some of the source people for main characters in my “new adult” first two books which became a trilogy after your death. I don’t often think about my novels as films anyway, but I admit I have wondered now and then which unfortunate actor out there could actually currently portray “you.” LOL!

[Market Square. Potton, England, December 2019.]

Oh, and talking of movies, and endings, we watched a film last night called Avengers: Endgame and those 3 hours of my life – THREE HOURS! – spent on that utterly ludicrous, overdone superhero movie (Did all the film editors die recently? Is anyone left who knows how to cut?) that is now the top grosser (Dear God) in film history, are lost forever. (See my feelings on Skywalker, but that looked like Shakespeare compared to that Avengers film, which EVEN WORSE got many excellent critical reviews… which causes me to ask only what the heck movie did they sit through for THREE HOURS!? or I should probably just give up on films altogether for the rest of my life because am I totally out of touch.), but, uh, let’s park discussing that too. LOL!

Anyway, that’s where the writing is as 2019 ends.

Miss you.

Your Nephew.