August 19, 2013

A Brief Update from a Busy Life

It has been far too long since I turned my wandering eye to this website and provided an update.

Even the Pale Rambler, my mainstay blogging alter ego, must be scratching his pink and balding scalp and wondering what has become of me. After all, he was created for the sole purpose of providing a creative outlet for the wanna-be writer trapped deep inside of me. He hasn't always had profound things to say, but he had been posting fairly consistently up until recent months.

Truth be told, time has been scarce. What little spare time I've managed to get my hands on has been devoted to writing the second book in the "Psi Squad" series. I've never written a series before, and to date I've only completed two books, but I take seriously the challenge of completing the nine-book series as originally outlined. That leaves little time for pale ramblings or other online shenanigans.

Some day in the distant future, when I smell like my Grandfather and worry more about the regularity of my bowel movements than the earning of a paycheck, I might find the time to sit and write all the day long. Rather than scratching down errant sentences or paragraphs here and there on scraps of paper in the hopes of tying them together into a collective whole, my energies can be focused from dawn to dusk when the mood strikes and the ideas are flowing.

It's a pleasant dream, just not one to be realized today. Today is meant for more important things.

Today was spent bringing a meaningful wage into our household. Today was spent calling the school (and being called by the school) to straighten out my twin sons' schedules on their first day of middle school. Today was spent talking with my daughter over breakfast as she prepared for her first day of eleventh grade. Today was spent sitting at the dining room table as our entire family of five attempted (and failed) to solve a sixth-grade math problem. Today was spent enjoying a quiet lunch in a noisy restaurant with my best friend.

As time continues to pluck hairs from my head only to plant them in my ears, I realize how fleeting are the opportunities to carpe the remaining diem of my children's childhoods. The memories of walking Sara through the hallways of middle school for the first time have hardly faded, yet here we are entering her critical college-planning year. Two years might sound like a long time, but for a parent looking at the prospect of sending a first-born to college it might as well be two weeks.

And so, the Pale Rambler waits patiently, as do the "Psi Squad" characters. They'll be there when I need them. They'll come running when I call them out to play.

In the meantime I will cling tightly to every hug, capture the essence of every laugh, collect kisses and wipe away a few tears. Those are the things that make up a life, and they are far more valuable than any silly dream.

© 2013 Mark Feggeler

May 13, 2013

Critical Reaction

Now that a handful of reviews have rolled in on Amazon for "The Psi Squad," I'm finding it interesting to see what the readers have to say. In most cases, and since the reviews have so far been of a positive and praising nature (despite the fact my Mother did not write them (all)), I'm in agreement with many of the comments made.

After all, if there's anyone who should be able to recognize the good points about my writing while simultaneously turning a blind eye to anything that might draw criticism, it's me. Aren't authors supposed to be wildly optimistic and pathologically in need of complimentary fawning? And who doesn't enjoy getting their ego stroked?

Even so, I fully expected at least one negative review by this point, and I'm sure it's coming eventually. Some reader somewhere won't like the main characters, or the story, or the brevity of the book, or the simplicity of the cover, or the price, or the spelling of my last name. You can't make everyone happy, which is why I stopped trying to a long time ago. Honesty, though, I am disappointed I haven't yet received a negative review. Praise might be the thing we desire, but criticism is what we really need. How better to grow as a writer than to have someone publicly point out an error, be it in style, or continuity of character, or simple grammar? A little humiliation never killed anyone, particularly when the critic is correct.

Perhaps the best review I've received hasn't come in the form of words, written or spoken.

When I received my first small batch of "Psi Squad" paperbacks, I donated one copy to the library at the Pinehurst Elementary School where my boys are finishing their final year before heading to middle school. One day last week the media specialist who runs the library stopped me and asked for ten more copies. It seems so many kids have checked out that first copy in the past few months that the book is showing signs of wear and tear.

And aren't those kids the readers I was writing for in the first place?

April 04, 2013

Word Count Envy

I'm not one of those fortunate few able to spend countless hours each day writing to my heart's content. When I see comments by authors on blogs or in group discussion threads wherein they refer to writing two thousand words a day, or eight thousand words during the course of a weekend, a fleeting sense of envy does surge through me.

Imagine my output of published (albeit self-published) works were I capable of dedicating similar quantities of time to writing. The remaining eight books of "The Psi Squad" series would be finished by the end of 2013. And those two murder mysteries I've outlined? I'd be celebrating their sales by this time next year!

Instead, I'm lucky to manage three thousand good words a week. Why?

Well, let's see. Among the things getting in the way of daily writing are: cycling class, breakfast, bringing the boys to school (sometimes), bringing my daughter to school (sometimes), work (and that handy thing called a salary that comes along with work), business travel, meetings, phone calls, laundry, lunch, more work, picking the boys up from school (sometimes), picking my daughter up from school (sometimes), dinner, helping with homework and projects, dance, hockey, church, church youth group, marching band boosters, band concerts, after school meetings, and sleep. Oh, yes, don't forget that every now and then I wouldn't mind spending quality down time with my wife and children, which is why I don't even think about writing on weekends.

It seems my problem stems from not being able, or willing, to give any of that up. All that stuff makes up my life, such as it is at the moment, and it's all meaningful and rewarding. My resulting writing time consists of a maximum of two, maybe three, hours wrenched in bits and pieces from each busy week, but that's okay.

If nothing else, I've discovered a slow pace has forced me to think more about what I'm writing than I otherwise might have. It allows me to fully consider the seven-hundred words for the new murder mystery (working title "RevPAR") and the four-hundred words for the second "Psi Squad" book I cranked out in an hour Tuesday morning before I advance to the next scenes. All that time for extra thinking helps me catch plot holes and fix mistakes before I get too far ahead of myself.

You other writers go ahead and write your two thousand words a day, if only because some oft-quoted remark from Stephen King has you believing you're not a serious writer if you don't achieve that daily goal. Go ahead and celebrate NaNoWriMo by cramming during the month of November to complete an entire novel in thirty days. I did enough last-minute, panic-fueled, late-night writing during college to last me a lifetime, thank you very much. If self-imposed deadlines and massive word-count goals are the things that feed your passion for writing, then God bless and best of luck.

I'll continue to envy your production levels, but I'm not interested in trading places with any of you.

© 2013 Mark Feggeler

March 25, 2013

Outlining a Book

By the time I started writing my very first novel-length book, I had read so many different how-to articles, columns, essays and blog posts on writing techniques that I should have been an old pro long before I typed the first word.

The reality is, however, that most of you people -- and you know if I mean you -- don't know what the hell you're talking about. Not that you aren't smart people, or that you haven't figured out how to get the most out of your own writing time, just that you don't know me. You do not have the necessary understanding of my personality, work ethic, bad habits, good habits, and mental deficiencies in order to authoritatively declare what will or will not work for me when it comes to writing a book. Trouble was, having never written anything longer than fifteen pages, neither did I. After piddling around with the idea of writing a murder mystery for a brief period of time, say twenty or so years, I decided to put aside all the conflicting advice and get to it. Write the damn book, already, and get it over with.

So, the experiment began with me believing I could jump in and write the bits I felt strongly about and fill in the open spaces between. It took less than three days to see the error of my ways. In order to maintain consistency of tone and character traits, it would be necessary to start at the beginning and tell the story straight through to the end. But how is a person with a memory like a sieve supposed to do that? With an outline, of course. Easy solution. Outline the story, noting important actions and scenes, to provide a roadmap. Okay. Great idea. Now, how do I go about creating an outline?

The first outline I threw together was a pages-long, micro-detailed rant that essentially was me telling my future self: "Hey, stupid! Write what I'm telling you to write and don't stray an inch from the path laid out for you."

Apparently, not only do I behave like a pissy little girl when other people tell me what to do, it turns out I behave like a pissy little girl even when it's me telling myself what to do. Psychiatrists around the world, had they been able to observe those early days of the writing process, would have had a field day watching me argue with myself about the ridiculous character notes and story elements I was telling myself to force into my own book. The uber-specific outline lasted only a couple weeks before being replaced with something much looser.

Too loose, it turned out. Instead of the seventeen obsessive bullet points per chapter of the first outline, the second outline allowed too much freedom and not enough guidance. It was like suddenly going from living with the most controlling, uptight parents in the world, to living with communal, pot-smoking, free-loving spirits to whom things like goals and objectives were just tools "the man" used to keep you down. Clearly, the proper outline for the kind of writer I was striving to be lay somewhere between the two extremes.

And that's exactly where I found it. A couple bullet points to serve as reminders of the most important things to have happen in any given chapter, a note about a character or important bit of dialogue to introduce here or there, and then get going. Structured, but not rigid. Informative, but not detailed. A roadmap, but one that offers options along the journey.

Now, after having successfully completed two books using this method, I begin two more secure in the knowledge I am gradually moving closer and closer to the realization that I don't really know what I'm doing, but I can fake it if I'm smart enough.

© 2013 Mark Feggeler

March 17, 2013

Salvaging An Idea

Somewhere during the process of writing the first draft of Damage, one of my former coworkers asked if the murder mystery I was writing took place in a hotel. This was not in any way a strange question, since I have worked in the hospitality industry for more than 13 years and have a wealth of stories I have gathered from my experiences. The immediate answer, however, was no, Damage would not involve hotels.

But the question got me thinking how fun it might be to weave some of the bizarre tales I'd heard and lived through at the seven hotel brands I have represented throughout the years into one comical story. A fun murder mystery, in which the mystery is a minor support element to the real story: the interaction between diverse and eccentric characters brought together under the roof of a single hotel.

The biggest problem facing me was this story could not serve as a sequel to Damage. Good or bad, Damage is a serious-minded murder mystery that deals with death and suicide in a manner as realistic as the limits of my writing talents would enable me to present them. There was no way for me to take the main character, Ray, and drop him into a farce without whittling away significant aspects of his personality in order to cram him into lighter fare. So, I cast the idea aside and continued with the more serious task of finishing Damage.

Still, the idea of using the hotel setting to throw some memorable real-life characters together for a night or two nagged at me. Every time I thought I had put it out of my mind, another idea would pop up for a scene or a snappy line of dialogue. Unfortunately, I simply couldn't develop an image of the lead character, the hero. He, or she -- I had no prejudice -- was stubbornly refusing to present himself, or herself.

Then, only recently, while sitting on cold metal bleachers one night and waiting for my sons' hockey practice to end, it struck me. There was a minor character in Damage I had used for a little levity and to help move the action along. A senior reporter at the local newspaper at which Ray works, Walter would be perfect to carry this new comical story. He is opinionated, intolerant, self-centered, sexist and boorish -- all wonderful qualities, to be sure, that did not get much opportunity to shine through when he was merely a supporting player.

Any reservations I might have had about making him the lead for a comedy/mystery vanished when I started giggling like a schoolboy at the myriad ways I could torture him with a hotel full of people he hates. Now, only six pages into the first draft, the ideas are coming so fast and furious I find there's barely enough time to jot one down before the next one comes along.

2013 Mark Feggeler

March 07, 2013

Finding the Right Writing Group

The first, and until recently the only, time I joined a writing group was way back when during my college years.

I had written several short stories, one of which won an annual fiction award sponsored by an alumnus, and had been told writing groups were the thing to do if I intended to be a serious writer. A writing group would offer constructive criticism, support, and a chance to test out on others bits of what I had recently written. So, I joined. After attending only three times, I realized it wasn't for me.

I had absolutely no problem with the constructive criticism I received, because I never received any. Nor did I have an opportunity to sample the support a group of fellow writers might have given me. Nor, again, did I have the chance to receive feedback on my writing from the group.

You see, the problem with the college writing group in question was that it was not so much a collective of writers banded together to support each other as it was a small gathering of bootlickers huddled together to feed the egos of two group members whose poetry had been published by small local presses. These two poets, who cumulatively had not netted enough advance to pay for a pitcher of beer, were the unofficial leaders of the group because they were published. They lorded over the meetings, reading aloud their latest poetic offerings, monopolizing the conversation, and spiking my blood pressure with their dismissal of others in the group. Little wonder I don't care for poetry...

Fast forward twenty-some years, and there I was considering the possibility of joining another writing group, as if I hadn't got my fill of bloated windbags the first time around.

Two ladies from my church, it turns out, had been meeting monthly to discuss the children's books they were writing. My wife, who regularly encourages me to attend author presentations and events at our local independent bookstore, suggested I contact them to ask if I could join their meetings. Reluctantly, I agreed it couldn't hurt to try again. As a result, I've come to realize through recent months that all writing groups are not created equal.

The three of us meet for two hours once a month. We start off talking about recent developments with our existing projects and how we've applied, or disregarded, each other's comments and suggestions from previous meetings. Then, we take turns sharing new writings and inviting criticism. No egos, just simple and honest give and take of ideas, which is exactly what a writing group should be. Best of all, my confidence and productivity have both improved.

Who knew?

2013 Mark Feggeler

March 01, 2013

Welcome to Books by Feggeler!

There's been quite a bit of activity since the start of 2013, even though most of the hard work came long before that.

After more than a year of waiting patiently for me to finish writing about them, the characters of "The Psi Squad" finally saw the light of day when Book One of the series went live in January. Now available as an eBook for Kindle, Nook and Kobo, "The Psi Squad" has already garnered some stellar reviews at Amazon and Written for middle grade readers (age 9-12), this book is intended to help fill the gap between children's literature and more mature YA material. I've already begun drafting Book Two and am very pleased with the shape it's taking.

Click HERE to learn more about "The Psi Squad."

And another project three years in the making became available in February for Kindle, Nook and Kobo in the form of "Damage" -- a murder mystery set in North Carolina. My first novel-length book follows a week in the life of newspaper reporter Ray Waugh as he finds himself personally involved in a murder investigation. This is not a book for kids: there's a little foul language and a bit of violence sprinkled here and there. It is a murder mystery, after all...

Click HERE to learn more about "Damage."

Links to purchase "The Psi Squad: Book One" and "Damage" can be found on the HOME page or by clicking the tabs at the top of this page.