Category Archives: writing

An Interview With Joe Combs


Smashwords Interview, February 2, 2015 .

What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
My daughter and the sunrise. I had neither when I was on submarines.
What do you read for pleasure?
Mostly biography and autobiography, non-fiction, and I still enjoy the classics.
Hemingway, Twain, Dumas, Tolstoy I could go on, but those are my four favorite.
What are your five favorite books, and why?
The Old Man and the Sea, because I feel it is the best book I have ever read. Hemingway does more with less than any author.
Tom Sawyer, I enjoy almost anything by Mark Twain. However, I grew up on a large river and imagined Tom living in my neighborhood. That feeling made the story more personal to me.
White Fang, I felt like I was in the great outdoors, a part of the story.
Moby Dick. My parents said that before I started kindergarten I was telling anyone who would listen that when I got big I was going to sea, and I did. I have always been fascinated with the sea and it was the first nautical novel I read.
The Count of Monte Cristo, like the other books it was pure adventure. Plus it had a wronged man who was avenged.
How do you discover the ebooks you read?
I always try to read the works of the writers on my friends list, even the ones who write in genres I do not normally read. After that I would say word of mouth is how I find most of the books I read. Once in a while I will go to my favorite ebook retailer and do a search on my favorite genre and just see what comes up.
What is your e-reading device of choice?
I like both the kindle and the nook.
When you’re not writing, how do you spend your time?
With my daughter, reading, painting, sometimes carving wood, talking with my readers on Facebook, and doing things with my friends. Lately I have been doing a lot of travel as well.
Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
Winnie the Pooh was the first story I read on my own. It made me want to read more and more because I enjoyed the story so much.
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
Yes, I do. It was an essay on how kids could help fight water pollution by pulling water hyacinths from the boat and boat trailer while their parents were putting the boat on the trailer.
By doing that they would be helping to prevent the spread of water hyacinths to bodies of water that did not already have them. I won the essay contest.
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I grew up in the South. North Florida a little town called Palatka to be exact, not far from St. Augustine and Jacksonville. I have always had an insatiable curiosity and enjoy history. The area I grew up in was awash with history. I was always listening to grown-ups talk about the past. So, today I approach my research in much the same way. I go to the source, people, documents, official records. And just like that small boy I show up with a thousand questions and want them all answered. Those answers always lead to even more questions. Some times I just have to stop the research and write the article or book, if I don’t I will never get anything written.
When did you first start writing?
I won my first essay contest when I was about nine years old. When I was a submarine sailor I used to write short stories at sea to entertain myself. But, I never thought of myself as a writer. When a college English professor told me I should write I laughed at her. But, about ten years later I published my first book, “Titanic, A Search For Answers,” I have been writing ever since; and I began writing full time in 2014.
Describe your desk
I write on a small 1940s maple table that has been my desk since high school. My table holds: a photo of my daughter, 3X5 cards, notepads, an assortment of pencils & pens, my dictionary, a small table lamp, my computer, the 4 or 5 books I am currently reading, and a lead crystal water pitcher.
The pitcher was my great-grandmother’s. When I was about 5 their house did not have running water, and every morning she would fill the pitcher with water from a hand pump and place it on the kitchen table so you did not have to pump water every time you wanted a glass of water. I keep that pitcher fill with water on my desk. It keeps me grounded and connected to my family.
What do your fans mean to you?
My fans are part of the writing team. One fan, Sheri, asked me if I would write an article (for my blog) about her great-great-grandfather. As it turned out, I had studied her great-great-grandfather quite a bit in my youth. He was a Marshal for Napoleon and one of my early heroes. It was a pleasure to write about him. But, the real joy came when she told me she learned things about him from my articles that she did not know.
Anyone can send me a friend request on my facebook page, and I have fans who have. Like I said, my fans are part of the team, sometimes I will ask a fan to read a draft I am working on and give me their opinion. Sometimes I’ll ask my fans what would they like to see me write about next. I enjoy research and thanks to my fans, I have learned many interesting things I might never have learned if it had not been for a request from a fan. I know all writers say this, but I really do have a great bunch of fans and have become friends with many of them.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
The research is fun, but I really enjoy doing rewrites. Sounds crazy I know, but when I find a way to say the same thing with fewer words I get a feeling of accomplishment. If I can improve the meaning of a sentence while shortening it, that is joy.
Like I said, I know it sounds crazy, but it is what keeps me writing, my little brother says it is the perfectionist in me.
What’s the story behind your latest book?
A mythology I remembered from my childhood of a Roman soldier who bullied Jesus he on his way to the cross. Because of that he was cursed to walk the face of the earth until Jesus came back.
One afternoon I began thinking about all of the world events he could have witnessed, and my imagination was off.
What are you working on next?
I have two things I am working on next. A collection of short stories called, “Growing Up Southern,” and the next Cartaphilus book.
The first Cartaphilus book will be released on March 27, 2015. That book will be followed by my book about the Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley, which I sent to my editor in last month.
What is your writing process?
I get an idea and I play with it in my head for a while. Then when I get something that I like I’ll quickly jot down those thoughts. Then I begin to write the story in my head.
While I am writing in my head I begin to list references that I will need. Then I do an outline and write the book. The outline keeps me on track and prevents me from wandering around. Then I go back and use my references to check facts. Then I set the work aside for a while. When I come back to it, the first time I use text to voice software to listen to the book. Then I start my rewrites.
What motivated you to become an indie author?
Having to learn all aspects of the business. I mean let’s face it, as an indie writer you have either no or very few people on staff. So, you need to learn to do everything. Even if you hire out aspects of the work, you need enough knowledge to be able to pick good people to hire. So, far my picks have been 100%. I have very talented people I can turn to when I need help.
How do you approach cover design?
It depends whether I am going to do the cover myself, or hire someone.
If I hire someone, I tell them what the story is and then turn them loose to come up with some ideas. It really is great working with talented people.
If I am doing the cover myself, I shoot for an idea that will be recognizable as a thumbnail and that tells the book’s story in a simple picture.
What book marketing techniques have been most effective for you?
Word of mouth has been the most effective for me. There is nothing like a reader who enjoys your work to help get the word out.
How has Smashwords contributed to your success?
Of all the retailers around the world that my books are with, only one of those is not through Smashwords. That alone would be enough, but the tools available to authors and publishers make the entire process of publishing/distributing easier and quicker than any distributor I have worked with. There are many user friendly tools that can help with each stage of the process which other distributors do not have.
What piece of advice do you have for people who want to be a writer?
Write. Writers write, if you are not writing you are not a writer. Race car drivers race cars, teachers teach, and writers write.
Even if it is only one sentence a day, write something. Just once sentence a day will give you several paragraphs by the end of the month. Do not worry what you are writing about, just write.

Published 2015-02-02.

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Our Voice


"Lev Tolstoy in Yasnaya Polyana", 19...

“Lev Tolstoy in Yasnaya Polyana”, 1908, the first color photo portrait in Russia Français : « Léon Tolstoï à Iasnaïa Poliana », 1908, le premier portrait photographique en couleur en Russie. Suomi: “Leo Tolstoi Jasnaja Poljanassa”, 1908. Ensimmäinen Venäjällä otettu värimuotokuva. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have been blessed in my life to have the opportunity to travel the world, and quite literally sail the seven seas. I seen so many interesting places, and met so many wonderful people. I have learned much in all my travels, and have cherished each experience, and each teacher. One of the things I have learned my travels; in the entire world, there is only one thing made by the hand of man that is truly infinite. My library. I purchased yet another new book this week.

I may have grown up poor in the Deep South, but I learned early on poverty would only hold me back if I allowed it too. As a small boy; I sailed on the whaler Pequod, raced dog sleds in Alaska, whitewashed a fence in Missouri, and captured Spanish treasures ships with Captain Edward Teach onboard the Queen Anne’s Revenge. Some of the places I read about as a boy, I visited as a man.

This week, while I should have been working on my article, I was enjoying the latest edition of my always-expanding library, Invented Voices by Donald Newlove. Invented Voices is a book of dialogue from some of the world’s greatest movies, plays, scripts, poems, and novels. While in my moment of solitude, I remembered what I liked about many of the scenes Mr. Newlove shared. It was the originality and honesty of those dialogues. Dialogues from artists, for these people are more than authors, of people like Ernest Hemingway, William Shakespeare, Herman Melville, Anne Tyler, Stephen Crane, Leo Tolstoy, and so many more. To be sure, the originality and honesty is that of the author’s. More important, the originality and honesty is that of the characters. In each of these works, we came to know people like Captain Ahab and Elizabeth Bennet, just as surely, as if we had been properly introduced to them.

I also remembered reading the intro to a book by an independent author, someone I had never heard of before. The first sentence stated that this book was written in the style of “Stephen King, Ernest Hemingway, and James Patterson.” No, I did not download the book, even though it did have a catchy title. Although, I do have to admit, I almost downloaded the book just to see how you could combine these three styles.

In the classics (and soon to be classics), the character is as real, and as original as you or me. The author stepped back and allowed the character to speak their own words, in their own voice. If Hemingway had written in the style of Mark Twain the old man in The Old Man and the Sea, would have been contrived, forced, and false. The words and thoughts would not have been those of the old man, but of Ernest himself trying to be Mark Twain. The author is merely the soapbox the character stands upon to shout their words to the world. When I want to read Ernest Hemingway, I read Ernest Hemingway. When I want to read Stephen King, I read Stephen King. When I want to read Scott (http://wp.me/IYiO) or Sheri (http://wp.me/P2IjCG-2), I read Scott or Sheri.

Each person, throughout all time, has a voice that is unique and their own. It does not matter if that person is you, Tom Sawyer, or me. Each of us is at our best when we allow our true voice to come out. But, we cannot make others into our own image, they too have to speak out in their own voice. As authors, when we write “in the style of …,” we have reduced ourselves to a mere copy. We do the same when we act as we believe others would have us act; when we suppress our dreams, our desires, and our passions. We do the same to others when we try to influence them to “be what they should be.” Why would you read something written “in the style of Mark Twain” when you merely need to pick up Tom Sawyer? I won’t. The same is true of our lives, and the lives of others.

Succeed in life, be honest, be an original, be you!

Cover of "The Old Man and The Sea"

Cover of The Old Man and The Sea

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For Those We Love


English: Photo of author Vince Flynn taken by ...

English: Photo of author Vince Flynn taken by Phil Konstantin in San Diego on October 31, 2008. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This week saw the loss of several people we all know of, though most of us have never met. The one who caught my eye and occupied many of my thoughts this week was novelists Vince Flynn. Vince was 47 years old. He was diagnosed with cancer three years ago. There were several things I contemplated while thinking of Vince. I have several personal friends and acquaintances who have fought cancer, some of whom lost their valiant struggle. Vince is a couple of years younger than I, and his youngest daughter is one year older than my daughter. Then of course Vince wrote 14 best sellers, and I write (I am still working towards my first best seller). Vince is survived by his wife Lysa, a stepson 16, and his two daughters 11 and 9.

Cover of "Term Limits"

Cover of Term Limits

Like so many bestselling authors, Vince’s first novel, Term Limits, was rejected by the established publishers. He collected 60 rejection slips before he self-published Term Limits, which went on to become a success, after which he received a publishing contract and an agent. He wrote 15 novels and his latest novel is coming out soon.

I never knew Vince, but there are several things I would like to point out about Vince, things we can all learn from him.

First, he did not quit. How many of us can say we could take 60 rejection slips and still push forward. Like so many of the other people I have written about over the past year, Vince did not become successful on his first try, his second, or even his sixtieth. When people kept shutting the door on Vince, he created his own door, publishing his first novel on his own. Perseverance, that is what it takes to be successful.

His family morns him now, but they have their memories which they will always cherish, the best of all legacies. Equally important to Vince, if not his family, is his ability to provide for his family even after he has left them. Copyrights are good for 50 years after the death of the author, they are also transferable like other property (such as money, houses, cars) and can be bequeathed in a will to your survivors. So, until June 19, 2063, Vince’s royalties from his work will continue to be paid to the family he loved so much. His children will be older than I am now when the copyright runs out. His grandchildren, yet to be born, will also benefit from his work as a bestselling author.

It is very fortunate for not only his family, but also us his readers, that Vince persevered and published Term Limits on his own. If he had put his writing aside instead of publishing it himself, it would be sitting on a shelf somewhere today, collecting dust. It is rare for a discarded manuscript to be published after the author’s death. So, what are we to learn from Vince?

Finish your book, no more excuses, finish your book. Fiction, non-fiction, poetry (poke poke Mon Chere), it matters not what you are working on, PUBLISH YOUR WORK.

Louis L'Amour

Louis L’Amour (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Second, even if you have not published anything before today, tomorrow make sure you include a clause in your will stating who receives your copyrights when you die (for me that person is my daughter). You can leave your copyrights to anyone, even a charity if you wish. Louis L’Amour left his copyrights to his son and daughter; to this day (25 years after his death) new printings of Louis’ work continue to be released under their direction and benefit. You can take care of those you love, for the next 50 years.

Though it is a pretty safe bet your work will be no more popular tomorrow than it is today, you cannot make that claim for ten years from now, next year, or even next month. The single most important influence to your financial success is the taste of the public. Yes, I know (please no comments refuting that last statement) the quality of your work is important, and you should never be satisfied with your work. You should always strive to make your next piece better than your last. However, if you go to Amazon.com you will see many bestsellers replete with editing errors.

There comes a point of diminishing returns, sure you could rewrite again, but your work is as good as it will ever be. Spending another month or another year, you may find a few more places to rewrite a few words. At that point, you are merely finding excuses not to publish. Except for a few people (who have as their main vocation writing bad comments and reviews), readers do not expect perfection, they expect good.

So, get those poems together and publish them (poke poke Mon Chere). Stop rewriting (for another 100 times) that book of fiction or non-fiction, and publish. PUBLISH.

While you are at it, checkout Vince’s last book when it comes out. If you have not read any of his work, download one of his books today or buy a print copy. Vince is one of us, a writer, he is a coworker of ours. When you get your first (or next) Vince Flynn novel you will not only be buying a good read, but you will be helping your coworker take care those he loved, for the next 50 years … and that ain’t too bad.

Thank you Vince. Thank you for showing us, for showing me, an unselfish example of perseverance and strength.

Vince’s website is www.vinceflynn.com

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The 7 Secrets of Great Writing


I saw something the other day that a friend wrote on facebook, and I wanted to share it with you my friends, print this and put it by your “writing device.”

from Peter

I thought about that for a few moments. Then I told Peter I was going to share this. When we think back to our most successful works, regardless of our field or genre we have done this; columns, articles, books, stories, poems. Sometimes we are surprised with the success of something we have written. However, if you take Peter’s concise list in hand, and compare it to your work I think you will find you followed his advice, even if you did not know you were doing so at the time.

Write when moved. We have all had these moments. Sometimes we know exactly what we are going to write. Sometimes we only know the essence of what we are going to write. Sometimes the idea just hits us, all at once, and we begin to write. Other times it is something that nags at our conscious for days, something vague and yet specific. However it starts, when we begin to write it flows, at times it is all we can do to get the words out fast enough. When we are finished, before we begin editing, we look at what we wrote and marvel at how fast it all came together (wishing to ourselves that writing was always like this).

Be grown up. Mmmmm, be grown up. Well, first off, the kind of writing we are talking about is for your public, your regular readers. That is whom I write for. We are not talking about a letter to a lawyer who thinks you are negotiating when you are just trying to do what is right. (A word of advice, do not ever try to do what is right when dealing with a lawyer. If you do, they will not be content, and will continue pushing until they are taking the food from your mouth. Then they will tell you they are letting you off the hook, and you are lucky they are so generous.) Since you are writing for the public, and it would be nice to attract new readers, stay on the positive. There is always a positive and a negative to everything. If you do not see both, keep looking, they are both there. All of us have enough negative in our daily lives. Your readers do not need to turn to you for the negative. They can drive in rush hour traffic and get that. Give them the positive. If you can find the positive where most people miss it, that is even better. Be grown up — stay positive.

Know how to distribute. There is no easy answer for this, you learn over time. Start with a blog, a social network, and some site that will let you publish e-books at no cost to you. Then link them all together. It does not matter what kind of writing you do, you need at least those three. I will give you two examples:

1)      I am a blogger, I am not an author. That may be true. However, no matter how well you map your blog, at some time it will start to become difficult for people to navigate their way around 300 plus posts just to find their favorite posts. When your blog gets to that point, take you most popular posts (the ones with the most views) and put them together in an e-book. You regular readers will appreciate it. Make this e-book free or .99 cents, you are doing this as a gift for your regular readers to show your appreciation of them. Do not put a $14.99 price tag on this e-book, you are not doing this so you can buy a new Porsche, you are creating value for your regular readers. This will expand your regular readers, and show them how much you appreciate them.

2)      I write books, not blogs. That may be true. However, your regular readers have made an investment in you. They have given you their time. Time they could give to loved ones or other interests, but they have chosen to give it to you. So, once a week, or once a month, let them know what you are working on. Take your most popular book and tell your fans how you came up with the idea for their favorite book. Take some of your notes and drafts for a book and let your readers see how that book became the e-book on their e-reader. Let them inside the process. Also, always, always, give them a chance to talk with you. Listen to what they liked and did not like. Answer some of their questions. This will expand your regular readers, and show them how much you appreciate them.

Be heard. There is no magic formula for this, but if you give your readers value, and you appreciate them. You will be heard. How do you do this? Well, you provide value to your readers by teaching them something new, giving them ways to save money, encouraging them, or entertaining them. If you can do several of these at the same time you are doing even better. There is one more though that is a must, no matter what else you do, you must be passionate. I am not talking about romance, love, and sex. I mean you need to be writing about something that is important to you. Poetry, history, blogs, fiction, it does not matter what you write, write what you are passionate about. You cannot fake passion, you can try, and you may pull it off for a while. But, eventually all your readers will see through the ruse. When you write about subjects you are passionate about, you are taking a small part of you and giving it freely (this is not about price), willingly, openly. This is not about 1,000 downloads on Amazon. When someone reads what you wrote, it is an intimate one-on-one conversation — writer and reader. They want your passion; they already have too much in their lives that lacks passion. Why is Norm Abrams so successful? There are many others who can tell you how to build a deck for your house. Norm is successful because he is passionate about home improvement and working with wood.

Be recognized. This is something else that you cannot do very much about, directly. You can enter contests. However, the personal tastes of the judges have more to do with who wins. The type of recognition you should be concerned with is from your readers. When your readers enjoy your work so much they tell others about it, or provide links to your work so others may enjoy it as they do, THAT kind of recognition is exhilarating and humbling at the same time. It is the best kind of recognition you will ever receive.

Be a mover. When you write with passion, believe me, people will be moved to action because of your words. Historical, poetry, how-to, fiction, it does not matter what you write. If you write with passion, you will reach your readers, and they will take that passion and act on it in their own lives.

Be warm. You should never write for “the mob” or the “demographic group” you are shooting for. The United States has more than 350,000,000 people living in it. Just one percent of that is 3,500,000 people. Warmth has to do with passion and intimacy (once again this is not romance, love, and sex). Intimacy is being open and vulnerable it is a one-on-one connection. You do not get that by writing for 3.5 million people. You get that by writing for one person, you get that by holding nothing back, you get that by being positive. You do those three things and the warmth will come through. You do those three things and your readers will become important to you, individuals that you care about, and those feelings will create the warmth. Painting, sculpture, writing these are intimate expressions of you. Be intimate one-on-one with each reader and you will succeed one person at a time.

Now a word about my audience. Writing “how-to” books are always talking about “know your audience, write for your audience.” Those noble educators of the craft of writing are talking about a demographic group. You know, a certain; age, sex, race (sometimes), political view, religious view, and et cetera. This nameless, faceless group is the supposed consumers of your work. Therefore, of course, I do not follow this tact. The group I write for is very specific, and (fortunately for me) gains more faces than it loses.

There is a man who is about my age whom I share much in common, but we have just enough not in common to complement each other.

There is the talented historical author breaking down her own barriers by being both black and female, while possessing a real talent for history.

The poet who bares her soul for the entire world to see, inspiring the most dejected among us while doing so.

There is the couple restoring an historical home, a home that our government should have assumed care for a century ago.

There is the sea captains wife, though she has never said so specifically, I suspect she uses some of their precious, limited time they share to tell him about an occasional column I have written.

There is an extraordinary woman who just lost her soul mate of many years. She has shared the loss that she and her children feel, with her readers. She is dealing with this one day at a time. Some days are not too bad, and the not too bad days are slowly increasing in number. One day she will be back to normal. A new normal, her life will never be the same again. A part of her will always mourn her loss, but she will smile again, and laugh again. Knowing that her husband would want her to, will make it easier for her.

There is a young feminist, an old feminist, and a former feminist, a couple of artists, and some other writers as well. Some are as young as 7 and some as old as 70. I have left out many, but it would take a book length tome to do real justice to them all. They are really a neat bunch of people, whom I treasure. Some leave comments, some send e-mails, and some just read and smile. As I said I do not follow what the experts say we should do to build an audience, I do not have a narrow faceless group of 3.5 million people for whom I write. I write for an individual, someone I care about, someone I celebrate with when they win, someone I cry with when they hurt, someone I care for and pray for, even though they may be an atheist.

The audience I write for is too narrow, I know that. However, it works for me. I did not start writing for just one person. I started writing for this 3.5 million person demographic I wanted to reach. It just did not work for me. If it works for you, use it. But, there will be something else, just one thing all the experts say you should do, one thing you just cannot do.

That one thing robs you of the voice inside you screaming to get out. Follow what the experts say, but when that one thing you are not supposed to do presents its self, follow it. This is what makes you unique; it is your style, your voice.

It will come to you, do not force it, do not say, “I am going to do this and it will be my style.” If you do, it will come across as contrived. Contrived is fake you want genuine. Follow the experts until you reach that point where you say to yourself, “I do not care if I lose all my readers except my mother, I cannot do this anymore.” Then follow your spirit.

You may lose readers, and it may take a long time before you begin to gain readers again. Do it, do it anyway, and do not ever go back to what you did before (remember, if you always do what you always did, you will always get what you always got). What you did before silenced your real voice that is why you left it. Your new audience will come, do not worry about them. They are searching for you right now, waiting on you to find that voice deep within you. They will find you. They will not quit searching for you until they find you. Be patient and as Shakespeare said, “to thine own shelf be true.”

If you have ever studied art seriously, you know that there are certain “rules” of painting. These rules have evolved over centuries; they are really observations of what make paintings attractive to the viewers. Ever see a painting you just do not like? It probably violates several of the observations. Good paintings make you feel at ease, calm, all is right in the world, they follow all the rules. What sets off the good from the great? One observation, one rule … just one. The artist had just one thing he could not bring himself to do (or her). The artist knew to break that one rule could mean disaster for them as an artist, it did not matter. “To thine own self be true.” The truly great did just that. Following all the other observations, they broke one rule and that is what sets them apart from the crowd, that is their style. They said to themselves, “If no one ever buys another of my paintings I do not care. This is what I must do.” You cannot force it, but in time, it will come to you too.

Thank You !!!

Thank You !!!

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