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Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Happy New Year


I devote the first ten days of each new year to reorganizing my life. I began that tradition in the early eighties when I started buying wholesale copies of my own books to sell at signings and readings. Books are taxed by the State of Illinois at the same rate as jewelry and clothing, and state sales tax receipts must be filed with the state treasurer no later than the twentieth day after the collection period ends. Fortunately (or unfortunately depending on your viewpoint), I haven’t received enough income from retail book sales during the past ten years to be required to file monthly. I now file annually, in January, for all the retail book sales I made during the previous year.

            I am a lazy record keeper, and I toss all of my receipts and sales records into a big pile on top of one of my many desks (the one in the back office where I file business records) and don’t give them a second thought during the rest of the year. Each January, I go through all of the receipts for the previous year and enter them into categories in a spreadsheet. I used to do this manually, but for the past twenty years I have used Microsoft Excel. This year, to make everything easier, I purchased Quicken for Home and Business.

            Now, as all you old-time writers who migrated from typewriters to dedicated word processors to computers know, there is a learning curve associated with new technology. I am in the process of learning how to use Quicken. It has some amazing features that will make life easier. For example, I don’t need to enter anything manually. All of my bank statements, including deposits and paid checks, are automatically downloaded from the bank and the income and expenditures placed in the proper categories. The same holds true for credit card purchases and payments. I also download sales figures from Amazon and Amazon Advantage. I can snap a picture of paper receipts with my Nook, sync the tablet with my laptop, and the data is automatically input into Quicken. Once I complete the initial set-up, I should be able to maintain real-time records of all transactions. O Brave New World that Hath Such Wonders in It!

            I also purchased two new 72-inch tall wooden bookcases. Once I get them assembled, I can pick up the random piles of books littering the floor and be able to find titles quickly and easily. The two new bookcases, once I get them assembled, should fit into a corner of the office adjacent to my business office where they will join seven other bookcases of the same size. That is the last available wall space in my entire house. I have twenty additional bookcases packed tightly against walls of the basement, and nine more crammed into my top floor bedroom.  Pulp magazines are in boxes in a walk-in closet of the bedroom, comic books and horror magazines are in Rubbermaid containers stacked in the center of the basement floor and on the floor of the upstairs bedroom. Copies of my own published works and copies of all manuscripts fill fourteen filing cabinets in my downstairs writing room. CDs, DVDs, cassette tapes, WHS tapes, and vinyl records fill twenty media cabinets and cases scattered over all three floors.

            In another life I was a librarian. I earned my MA in Library and Information Studies from the University of Wisconsin. I learned how to organize written material and assorted media for quick identification and retrieval. But for the past three years, I have been too busy writing to be organized.

            So, for the next ten days, I will limit my writing time to mornings and spend my afternoons and evenings getting organized again. I will also limit my time on social media.

            Who knows? I may even find some time to do a little cleaning, dusting, and vacuuming.

            And then it’s back to writing full-time. I intend to complete six new novels and ten short stories during the year. I have them already planned, as much as I am able to plan anything, in my mind. Soon it will be time to flesh out the characters and generate the life-changing events that propel the characters into action. I eagerly look forward to looking over their shoulders as they become my closest friends and allies or deadliest of enemies. And, although I have their lives planned out, I know the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. Therein lies the true story.

            Happy 2015 to one and all.

 

Monday, December 22, 2014

Happy New Year


Despite the passing of more good friends, 2014 has been a much better year for me than either 2012 or 2013. I reconnected with my daughter, Tammy, visiting her in Medford, Oregon, in May, then helping her to buy a condo and get everything moved to her new digs by the first of December. I wrote and sold four new novels and two short stories, though they won’t see print until next year. I did autographings or panels or workshops at three major cons, reconnected with dozens of writer friends in person and many more on Facebook, and lectured on writing and hypnosis at Rock Valley College. Macabre Ink and Crossroad Press will soon re-release The Devil Made Me Do It, Claw Hammer, and Daddy’s Home as e-books, and David also agreed to publish a couple of new never-before-published novels I sent him in manuscript.

            2015 looks to be even busier than 2014. Abandoned is scheduled to come out in paperback and hardcover by the end of February or beginning of March. I am so very fond of that novel and its sympathetic characters that I wrote four sequels containing some of the same characters. I’ll be signing copies of Abandoned at Barnes and Noble in late February, the World Horror Convention and Wiscon in May, the World Science Fiction Convention (Sasquan) in August, and the World Fantasy Convention in November.

            Impossible is developing nicely. I’m in the fun process of building the sexual tension between Jack and Sylvia at the same time they’re fleeing for their lives from two teams of super-assassins. Jack doesn’t dare tell Sylvia everything, and Sylvia, of course, doesn’t believe half of what he has told her and certainly doesn’t believe the threat is real. Her naivete keeps putting them both in jeopardy. Let this be a lesson to you, guys. Leaving the woman you love in the dark can be hazardous to your health.

            My writing was often interrupted by the real-life dramas of people close to me. Too many of my friends developed cancer or heart conditions, and several friends died quite unexpectedly. Some of my friends made life-changing decisions or endured life-changing events. On the plus side, Elizabeth has remained clean and sober for more than a year, and Tammy now has a more stable living environment. I had my annual physical and the doctor tells me I can expect to live for another year or more. Maybe I can equal Isaac Asimov’s output before I die. I’ll keep working at it.

            Happy New Year to all my friends, family, and fans. May each year be better than the last.

           

Monday, December 8, 2014

Bah! Humbug!




I hate winter.

As each day gets shorter and nights get longer and increasingly colder, people around me die. That, dear reader, is a fact.

It seems like all my good friends and close family members chose to die between November 1st and March 1st: President Kennedy in November; my mother and my wife in January; my father, my nephew, my aunts and uncles in December; Rocky Wood and Chellis French last week; just the night before last there was a fatal automobile crash directly in front of my house that distracted me from writing with dozens of red and blue flashing lights and wailing sirens; Elizabeth got a phone call yesterday that the pastor of her church passed away; and early this morning I was awakened by more sirens because the old guy across the street kicked the bucket. I was once again reminded how fragile life can be as winter steals precious time from my life and the lives of others.

 I have tried to protect myself and my house from death’s intrusion by surrounding the place with huge living trees and a berm of thick bushes. Twice in the twenty-some years I have lived here those trees and bushes intervened to save my life by stopping careening cars from crashing through the front of my house. I live on one of the busiest east-west thruways connecting the city of Rockford with Chicago, and cars daily race past my house at dangerously high rates of speed. I have witnessed automobiles crash into my big magnolia trees, and I have had my picture window punctured by bullets during drive-bys while I sat near the window writing. Not all of these things happen only in winter, of course. But it seems attempts on my life happen more frequently between the first of November and the first of March.

My thesis and dissertation advisors insistently reminded me throughout grad school that correlation does not prove causation, and I rationally realize that darkness alone does not cause death. After all, Elvis died in August, and plenty of people do die during daylight hours. But I see the grinning spectre of death hanging around my house during the darkness of winter, waiting patiently for me to emerge from my fortress. Let him wait, I say. I don’t plan to venture out into that long goodnight anytime soon.

This is the mood that infects my writing in winter. I have half a dozen short stories currently in progress, plus three new novels. All focus on death and dying. Come spring, my writing will focus on rebirth. Writers cannot help but be affected by their environment, and that includes weather and diminished daylight. Several of my writer friends have found their output in winter adversely affected by bouts of illness. Other friends have mentioned debilitating depression. I empathize with them. Winter takes its inevitable toll on all of us. I hate winter with a passion.

My protagonists are survivors who battle darkness to emerge victorious from winter, and the eight protagonists of my upcoming Abandoned-series of novels are able to consciously choose when to die. They cannot escape death entirely, although some of my antagonists try. Only one of the Abandoned novels was written in winter. It’s titled Winds. It’s followed by Darkness and then by Light. The fifth novel is entitled Time.  Abandoned will be published next March by Eldritch Press. They are all stand-alone novels with some recurring characters. Each is around 120,000 words.  That’s nearly a million words devoted to the themes of death, dying, and rebirth.

In each of those novels, a primary protagonist dies. I want readers to know that death is not the end of the adventure but the beginning. Yes, dear reader, there is light at the end of the tunnel, and day always follows night.

So be of good cheer, and don’t let the darkness get to you. Celebrate the holidays and the return of the Light.

 

Monday, December 1, 2014

Rocky Wood, HWA President, passed to the Great Beyond today

Rocky Wood was a friend. I only met Rocky once in person, and that was last May at the World Horror Convention in Portland, OR. Rocky was wheel-chair bound with ALS, and he communicated primarily via computer. Rocky was the man who personally welcomed me back to horror after a twenty-year hiatus, and he invited me to attend the Stokers and be on a Stoker jury. We shared several e-mails about the founding of HWA (I was one of the original trustees and Rocky asked me several questions about the incorporation of HWA). Rocky was one of the nicest people I have ever met, and he had a true love of literature and especially horror and the works of Stephen King. I was looking forward to seeing Rocky again in Atlanta. Goodbye, my friend. You will always be remembered.